¡Hola! España

We have arrived in Madrid – to flamenco, hot chocolate and churros, and the delicious freedom that comes with free, (hopefully…) unlimited wifi.

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Out the AirBnb window

We’re AirBnB-ing it near the Estación de Atocha (Madrid’s largest railway station). We were met by Ricardo, who is from Portugal. He has left his 2 children in Portugal because he had concerns they wouldn’t adapt or pick up the language (?!), so he was interested to know how Matilda has moved through life in Australia, China and now Spain. She moans constantly and her dream is to live in one big house surrounded by all her family, and she constantly makes me wonder if I am a cruel parent for dragging her round the world all these years.

Saying that, although she is all in a muddle after 2 months in Oz with family, I think the years are paying off now she is older. She turned 11 right before we flew, and this is the first overseas travel we’ve done where she has jumped straight back into it, and we’ve had none of the drama and tantrums (me) that have sometimes plagued our past travels.

I booked Madrid for a week as initially we thought we’d have paperwork that would be done more easily in the capital. That plan changed, but now we have a chance to explore before we transition to our new life as unemployed folks who cannot afford to travel!

I’ve been hit by terrible jetlag so our first few days have been slow, and yesterday (Monday) was bureaucratic – SIM card etc. We have discovered not much (business-wise) is open on the weekend in Spain. Also, similar to Asia, things don’t open until mid-morning (gah). Can’t say much about the evenings yet as I keep falling asleep at 5:30.

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Metro trumpet player

Getting around: we got a Madrid Metro Tourist Card on the first day. I am not sure we will end up taking enough travel to justify the €40,20 (1A/1C), mostly as the main line from our apartment to the city is closed for maintenance. We met a friendly local girl while we were trying to buy the ticket which made it all worth it. She is teaching English, has worked in Costa del Sol and was able to give me some advice. It made our first day a little bit special. On the 2nd day a random guy played the trumpet in the carriage for our entire trip. So the Metro has made our “good beginning” in Spain.

I think I’m going to cave and also pay €31 to do the Madrid Tourist Bus. These are good for getting a feel for a place, and the city does feel like it is kinda sprawling. I also want to get Matilda excited about the history, and it’ll sound better coming through headphones than from me!

SIM card: Spain’s prepaid mobile plans are even more rubbish than Australia. I really thought Telstra had the monopoly on “world’s worst Telco”, but there you go. €15 for 28 days with 1.5 paltry GB, 50 mins talk and NO SMS with Vodafone. Other options are apparently Orange and Movistar.

So, it’s been less museums and history and more bureaucracy and falling asleep on the couch at 5:30pm so far!

Viva la adventure lol.

Roadschooling

We’ve come back to Bundaberg for a week with Nanna, and this is a chance to get stuck into our roadschooling adventure. The enormous challenge at the moment is the absence of wifi. Mum doesn’t have it, and Telstra being the monopolied rip-off merchants they are don’t offer a prepaid service that meets our needs. They also have very interesting methods of calculating data use. How the heck they think I used up 6GB in 1 week checking email, social media and using Google Maps, The End, is beyond me?

Anyway, we’ve made use of the Bundaberg Library, which is a lovely space (today they randomly had a highschool brass band playing) and I’ve finally been able to subscribe to Mathletics. On the road I have also purchased a bunch of workbooks which, given the state of flux we are in puts my mind at rest for the time being. My biggest challenge at the moment is finding a free online curriculum organiser that will help me keep track of things.

Our rough curriculum at the moment is focussed on getting into a routine.

Maths

I’m being very boring with an hour of Maths each day, starting with revision: New Wave Mental Maths (who have helped us uncover some main problem issues), followed by a unit in Nelson Maths. Now we have Mathletics we might focus on that as I think she’ll be more motivated there. I’m still stuck in teacher-mode, worrying about which grade she should be doing, but trying all the time to shift my thinking to the level where she is being challenged, but not being completely overwhelmed.

Language

An hour if we can, letting Matilda choose the language: English, Spanish, Chinese. I added about half an hour of grammar to this today with a Grammar Rules workbook I picked up in the local newsagents (much to her disgust). Once we get to Spain she will focus on Spanish and I will need to keep an eye on English. Chinese is a little more problematic. I think we are going to have to rely on a serendipitous encounter for this.

Units of Inquiry

We’re not doing so well on this as we haven’t had time. We’re focussing on Australia, makes sense as we are here, but although she is discovering a lot of new things (museums, art galleries, rainforest walks), we have not had time to follow it up. She has collected about 3000 brochures and the plan is to put them together into a sort of journal/record of the trip, but this is a bit low on Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Science, Society & Environment, Geography etc

This is a bit annoying as I have to do more work before she can. I’ve decided to check out the ACARA (Australian Curriculum) and Scottish curriculum topics and see what she should cover as these are the most likely curriculums she will end up in for Secondary. I want to try to incorporate these into the UOI as much as possible.

Music

Gah, don’t even speak to me. Only plus is that she is missing it and keen to start learning again when we get to Spain.

All in all, it feels like it’s more work for 1 student than for a class HAHAHA

Chengdu chill #blogjune 27

245am before we finally crawled into bed after foolishly booking late flight, which was delayed, then half an hour in taxi line before picking lunatic driver who said yes, yes, yes and took us in the wrong direction 😭 

We’re feeling it today. Lessons learned: 

  • wheeled suitcases are great. Just because you have a fancy backpack doesn’t mean you need to use it
  • Late flights are just silly
  • Overnight sleeper trains vary according to train class. No more K trains!
  • Luggage lockers only appear when you don’t need them. If you need one because your back is about to break and you are sweating up a storm and wishing for death, then Nanjing local government will build 2 new railways and NOT install luggage store

Good news is there’s no hurry. We don’t really have to be anywhere. So we wandered Chengdu this morning, ate some pancake flatbread thing for breakfast, washed down with hand squeezed orange juice outside a Buddhist university. 

<still no photos because VPN can’t handle the upload>

Currently sitting in the Bookworm cafe, one of the longest serving western establishments in Chengdu. The concept is cool – what’s not to love about a cafe inside a bookstore? It seems the sort of place where you could hide in a corner with your laptop and never have to fear being moved along. Service is awkward and slow (they just came to let me know I can’t have a cappuccino because there is ‘something wrong with the machine) but staff are sweet and the food is good. Times like these I really should improve my TripAdvisor reviewing abilities…seeing how much I rely on them for advice. But I just want to lie here with my new book…

China farewell #blogjune

Languishing in Nanjing airport. Blog June has fallen by the wayside as I’ve frantically raced to pack, ship, trash, clean, book flights, trains, hotels, cars, arrange gifts, attend farewells and send ‘last emails’. Oh, and finish my Library Annual Report. Can’t believe I managed to do it. It’s not 100% but I did it in such a short timeframe and in spite of being told nobody cares and I shouldn’t bother by just about every staff member)

Our Farewell China tour commenced with an overnight hard sleeper train from Qingdao to Nanjing which I am bitterly regretting right about now. NB – don’t forget trains in China decline not only in speed, but in amenities, cleanliness and general passenger behaviour the further down the train heirarchy you fall. My daughter is obsessed with hard sleeper (6 berth, no door) so I thought we’d try just one. But foolishly booked a K TRAIN!!

On arrival in Nanjing our plans took a dive as both railway stations are being upgraded and don’t have storage facilities. Ludicrously I decided we’d both carry backpacks on this trip so after 2 hours we got on the train to the airport, where I am currently trying to stay awake until our 9pm flight to Chengdu. I could try to get us on an earlier flight but I don’t think I have the mental capacity right now 😁

You’ll have to imagine photos as my tired, cranky brain cannot deal with slow China Internet today. 

Logistics #blogjune 17-18

Falling behind with #blogjune but I have an excuse! We have finally found a way to ship some boxes of stuff to Spain. I’m not sure how confident I am it will actually arrive. All the stuff for shipping is slowly being stockpiled in the lounge room:

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Mostly I seem to be shipping suitcases. How many suitcases does a person actually need? I think I have around 15…and that’s not counting those half handbag/half carry on bags!

We are flying AirNZ to Australia (squee!). They’ve always been one of my favourite airlines, but sadly leapt out of my price range when they started emulating budget airlines with a ridiculous Seat+Bag+Meal pricing model. Somehow by stopping over in Auckland for a few nights en route we managed to find the cheapest flight home. Yes, I realise I will spend those $$$ anyway by staying in Auckland, but it’s been too long between NZ visits! Ironically, given price moan above, they are letting us bring 2 x 23kg bags EACH. What on earth? I’ve scoured the web to see if I can get this deal going to Spain, but so far nope. I even considered ditching the shipping and paying extra to fly AirNZ to Europe, but I have a hatstand and a rug and can’t see that getting stowed by any airline.

As we are backpacking south China for 2 weeks before we fly to Australia we’re going to leave our big bags in the apartment until we get back from our Yunnan/Guizhou/Sichuan adventure. Speaking of which, I haven’t kept up with blogging due to the pain of trying to book that trip. If only China had a rail pass for travellers! But as with everything, why on earth would they try to create new markets when there are already 2 billion people chasing the product?

China farewell tour #blogjune 14

Before we depart China we plan to travel mostly by train from Qingdao to somewhere near Guangzhou. The train is my Ms 10’s idea. She is particularly fond of overnight trains (ugh). Fortunately they’re not too bad in China. A couple of good websites for travel planning are helping us identify places to stop: Travel China Guide and China Highlights. They can be a little liberal when it comes to the realities of what is on offer in a particular city, but their info is usually up to date and very thorough.

For booking in China, I use local travel website, Ctrip. It’s okay, but has some limitations, such as stupid rules that won’t allow you to book adult and child tickets together online. They also won’t let you book train tickets instantaneously. I usually find prices on Ctrip then take the screenshot to a local travel agent to purchase. This agent is a desk inside a mobile phone store. One of life in China’s infinite frustrations is that one end of the desk is for booking flights and accepts card payments, while the other end of the same desk is for train bookings and accepts cash only.

China Itinerary

Well, since having this idea it seems overnight trains may be frequent North to South, but not so much East to West. We may need to fly some routes. Or take a weird southerly direction to get East, hence:

Nanjing: Nan 南 means south. One of the cool things about Chinese cities is that some of the major ones are named for their points on the compass.  “Bei” 北 means north (Beijing), “Xi” as in Xi’an, means west. Nanjing has been the capital of several empires and the Republic, and features in many important events in Chinese history – the Opium Wars, Taiping Rebellion, and was the site of the worst horrors of the Japanese occupation.

Wuhan: water village sort of outside Shanghai

Our main stops though, are:

Chengdu: home of the panda 

Lijiang – Shangri La, tiger leaping gorge, minorities 

Guiyang/Guizhou: minority groups and hand papermaking. There are supposed to be UNESCO listed villages (listed for their traditional methods of papermaking) in this area. 

Guilin/Yangshou: pretty. You know those dome shaped mountains and rice field photos of China you see? They’re mostly taken here. 

Kunming/Guangzhou: depends who has the cheaper flights back to Qingdao

Now I just need to get all this booked!

Catchup #blogjune 10, 11, 12

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Insadong hanok house

We’re home from Korea, back at work and back behind the Firewall.

Seoul is very cool. Could live there. Incheon airport could be better. No ATMs airside, and only 3 in the arrivals area. 1 would not accept Aussie visa, or China unionpay, and a big queue for the other. (On that point – a Citipoint ATM in the Seoul subway gave me a receipt for withdrawing 100000krw, but didn’t actually give me the cash. Am still negotiating on this with my bank)

Hanok guesthouse: ok – something to do once in a lifetime. Having to move between bedroom, wardrobe & bathroom via an external verandah got to me a bit. So did having the hosts around all the time. Every time I fumbled the front entry and couldn’t get in, one of them was there to make me go through it again, with them watching and instructing, (and of course it worked first time). Argh.

Great coffee in Korea. The trap of traveling to all these cool places in Asia while we live in China is that every time we get out we are so desperate for western food and comforts we sometimes miss out on local cuisine because we are so excited about bread, or pies, or crepes.

We stayed between Insadong and Bukchon, so had art, culture and tourist delights all at our doorstep. And giant ice cream. Matilda found no less than 3 different types.

Last stop was Kyobo Books, which meant we had to check in our carry-on bags as they had doubled in weight.