Fiesta del Carmen 2.0

One of the great things about living abroad is celebrating the local holidays. There’s always something a bit quirky and unfamiliar on these special days – from Russian marathon “piknik” days in the woods, to British horse-and-hat exhibitions, to Norwegian bunad costumes… and, now, to the crazy, overwhelming and hangover-inducing land of Spanish fiestas.

For the past two weeks, our little town of Arguineguin has been in the throws of its annual Fiesta del Carmen, celebrated every July in tribute to St. Carmen, patron saint of the sea. I’m not sure how honoring this lady translates into foam parties and all-night DJ extravaganzas, but so it is.

The highlight of the fiesta is on the last day when St. Carmen is paraded through town, loaded onto a boat and taken down the coast to her sister church in Mogan. Sounds like normal, respectful behavior towards a beloved, sea-faring saint, right?

Hardly.

Do you remember that flotilla boat parade they organized on the Thames in London for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee? The Queen and her entourage stood in full ceremonial attire with proper British decorum, calmly waving to the crowds and the boats that passed.

Respectful flotilla behavior (The Guardian, 2012)

Respectful flotilla behavior (photo courtesy of The Guardian, 2012)

Yeah. This one in Arguineguin is slightly different…. (Note that some photos below are from last year’s celebration but never posted before. ‘Cause that’s the punctual way I work.)

I'm sure St Carmen appreciates your tribute (2012)

I’m sure St Carmen appreciates your tribute (2012)

Parading down to the harbor (photo courtesy of La Provincia, 2013)

Parading down to the harbor (photo courtesy of La Provincia, 2013)

The boats begin their journey (2012)

The boats begin their journey from Arguineguin to Mogan (2012)

Boat procession (2013, photo courtesy of Gran Canaria Info)

Boat procession (photo courtesy of Gran Canaria Info, 2013)

Shipping St Carmen to Mogan (with a totally-no-obvious plug for Per's hotel in the background, 2012)

Shipping St Carmen to Mogan (with a totally-not-obvious plug for the Radisson resort in the background, 2012)

Arrival in Mogan (2013)

Arrival in Mogan (2013). No idea where the lady saint went, not sure it matters to these people…

Per, Per Christian and "Uncle," thankfully wearing more clothes than many other fiesta-go'ers

Per, Per Christian and “Uncle,” thankfully wearing more clothes than the other fiesta-go’ers

Honestly, this fiesta and boat procession will be one of my favorite memories from living in Gran Canaria. The crazy-factor is high and people-watching opportunities abound, but even despite that, it’s a great day out on the water with an authentic Canarian party atmosphere. What could be better than that?

You can read more about the annual Fiesta del Carmen here, here or here.

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Summer in Seville

The Svendsen clan was lucky enough to actually get away for a real summer holiday this year, something we haven’t done since Per Christian was three months old and we went to Greece for 10 days. That was a hell of a trip, to say the least – a real introduction to how our holidays would NEVER be the same again.

This year, I was insistent upon visiting “The Mainland,” believing in my heart of hearts that living in resort-dominated Gran Canaria was not the same as seeing Spain. So we joined forces with some good friends who have a son relatively equal in age and energy to our own, and we rented this villa together in the Ronda mountains of southern Spain for a week.

Pappa P and I spent a few days in Seville with Per Christian before we drove south, which suitably heightened my itch for a return to urbane life ASAP. Seville is a lovely city, complete with an ancient, cobble-stoned pedestrian area, a lively city centre with plenty of shopping, and oodles and oodles of tapas bars to quench our boredom with Canarian papas con mojo.

In typical Svendsen fashion, we were hopelessly lame tourists and took zero photographs in Seville. Forgive me, grandmothers. I’m afraid Per and I have never been good at the whole castle/museum/cathedral shin-dig, preferring instead to spend our time mindlessly wandering the streets in between stops for tapas and cava.

And how about Per Christian, you ask? How did we manage with a two-year-old in the midst of all this cava? Somewhat surprisingly, it was just fine! He walked around with us, slept when he was tired, charmed the waitresses into giving us better service, and pointed out all the buses, cars, taxis and horses along the way – just in case we didn’t happen to see them ourselves. I think his favorite part was the hotel room itself (thank you El Rey Moro hotel for the lovely service and babysitter arrangements) and he adored the TV channel that played Top Gear on continuous repeat.

Truth be told, Pappa P and his son were equally pleased with that little discovery.

So, unfortunately, we have very few photos of the holiday, but here are the few existing shots to help soothe the hearts of our love-sick Grandmothers out there:

Future career opportunity...?

Future career opportunity…?

Pappa offers the best skyline view

Pappa always offers the best skyline view

Don't be fooled - that cute, little Sivert can really pack a punch!

Don’t be fooled – that sweet little man can really pack a punch!

The boys were delighted with the horses in the mountains

The boys were delighted with the horses in the mountains

See....?! It's the best view!

See….?! It’s the best view!

Two-on-one iPad time. Wine essential.

Two-on-one iPad time. Wine essential.

Listen up, ladies... Handsome pappas = cute babies.

Listen up, ladies… Handsome pappas = cute babies.

I don't know. Really. I just don't know.

I don’t know. Really. I just don’t know.

Upon returning to the island, Per Christian received critical "sharing" lessons from his pappa. We're still working on it...

Upon returning home, Per Christian received critical “sharing” lessons from Pappa. We’re still working on it.

Just photos

The Svendsen family is finally – finally! – taking a two-week holiday off the island. We’re heading back to our old Oslo stomping grounds, then on to Bratislava for some much-needed time with dear friends.

We’ll be offline while we travel, so here are some recent photos of our full-fledged Fidel to tide everyone over until our return.

Old enough now to enjoy our neighborhood park…

… and crazy about cars at our local shopping centre:

Braving the heat in the pool at Pappa’s hotel

… and also in the sea:

I hand-on-the-bible promise this was Per Christian’s own idea:

Keepin’ it cool in Gran Canaria:

See you all again in a few weeks!

Opening day

There comes a time in every hotelier family’s life when all of a sudden – after weeks or even months of long working hours, late evenings and work-filled weekends – after all that, finally, finally things become very, very good.

(Cue Etta James belting out “At Last”…)

That day for Family Svendsen came June 1st when Pappa Per’s resort in Gran Canaria finally opened its doors and accepted its first guests. Per Christian and I packed our bags and our swim trunks and left the house and all our cares behind. Why yes, we’d love to spend a weekend in this superior oceanfront suite with pool and playground below, thank you very much

One of the perks of marrying someone in the hotel business are weekends away at their hotel. We didn’t even leave our little town of Arguineguin, but it felt like we were on holiday anyway. Breakfast, lunch and dinner all served at your leisure, drinks by the pool or up on the rooftop, someone stopping by to clean your room and empty your diaper trash every morning, endless hours of amusement for active 14-month-olds, jumping from one pool to the next and back again…

And best of all for all us mommies in the audience – a baby monitor that works while you’re sunning by the pool and junior is napping upstairs!!!

Now that’s what I call a holiday.

Below are my rough, completely non-professional photos of the newly-opened Radisson Blu Resort, Gran Canaria. Of course, we’re completely biased in our views since we’re related to the manager and all, but for me and little Per Christian, it was everything we’ve been hoping for – life is good!

Homesickness

A funny thing happened today in Gran Canaria…. it rained. I know this sounds like I’m mocking everyone who lives with rain throughout the year, but I am actually serious. I’ve seen rain three times since we moved here last October, so it is indeed a rare thing to behold.

Funny enough, the rain makes me homesick for Oslo. I always enjoyed curling up under a blanket and sipping coffee in the mornings, but such a thing is more unusual here. “Koselig” (the Norwegian word for “cozy”) is used in all kinds of situations – an evening with friends around the table, a gathering of children happily playing together, a weekend getaway to your cabin in the mountains. But most often, I think of koselig as snuggled under a blanket with either rain, snow or grey skies outside my window.

Norway is in the news a lot these days because of the Breivik trial. My family was traveling back from Crete on the day of the attacks, so we only heard the news through frantic text messages and patchy media coverage. We were in Oslo for much of the aftermath though, including the street closures caused not by the attacks themselves, but rather by the heavy outpouring of roses and flowers around Oslo’s main cathedral.

Never once did I hear that Breivik’s message against multiculturalism had taken root and would continue to grow. Instead, I heard the Prime Minister say that the attacks would make Norway stronger in its resolve to be an open, democratic country. In typical stoic Norwegian fashion, crowds gathered to mourn silently, yet proudly, and to illustrate that this tragedy would not be their undoing.

So when I read about yesterday’s gathering of more than 40,000 people to – once again – stand together against the hateful messages coming out of Breivik’s trial, I am filled with awe at the Norwegian people’s resolve.

I miss my dear town of Oslo. Even though I was only there two years, it does feel like home to me. Maybe because it’s where so many of our friends live, or maybe because it’s where my son was born. Or maybe because it’s where I spent so many koselig days and nights. Even more likely, it’s because I can identify with the Norwegian people gathering together to sing in the face of ugliness.

The world is watching you, dear Norway, and you are setting a sublime example for us all.

Number 7

I’ve written here and here about how to spot a Norwegian in Gran Canaria. Now, ladies and gentlemen, I have a new addition that tops the list!

Yesterday I was out walking with Per Christian and I saw something unmistakably Norwegian. Like good, dedicated researchers everywhere, I quickly grabbed my camera and sneaked off two photos paparazzi-style. ‘Cause that’s how unbelievable it was.

So here it is – #7 on our growing list of How to Spot a Norwegian in Gran Canaria:

Roller-skis! Frequently seen in Norway for cross-country training during the warmer months, but they still crack me up every time I see them.

How to spot a Norwegian in Gran Canaria

After my last post, I received a lot of emails from people asking, “But Mommy Svendsen, how do you really know all those people passing you on the steps are Norwegians?”

(Okay – not really. Such popularity is only in my head. Nobody wrote and asked me anything. Moving on…)

Despite this self-imagined popularity, the question still remains – how exactly does one spot a Norwegian in Gran Canaria? I mean, when people greet you, do you respond by saying, “hola” or “hello” or “heihei”? This is an important thing to know!

To answer this important-only-in-my-own-head riddle, I took it upon myself to spend a pleasant (i.e – “childless”) afternoon hour in downtown Arguineguin sipping cortados, people-watching and gathering my thoughts.

(Okay – not really. Arguineguin doesn’t have a downtown. Such grandness is only in my head. It’s more like of a small town’s main street. But I was childless for the hour, which is definitely something. Moving on…)

The result, outlined below, is now available free of charge for all my adoring fans and readers worldwide.

Top Five Ways to Spot a Norwegian in Gran Canaria:

1. SandwichesThis might sound like an odd way of spotting a Norwegian, but not once you’ve lived and breathed in Norway for a few years. After living there, you’d never do anything as crass as actually eat a sandwiches with your hands. No way! Norwegians eat their sandwiches, burgers, etc. with a fork and knife. Very civil-like. Take a look around the Arguineguin cafes, spot the clean-fingered sandwich eaters, and you’ll instantly know you’re among friends.

2. Backpacks – Look closely and you’ll notice these aren’t just any normal backpacks. These are the ubiquitous “Bergans of Norway” hiking backpacks, famous throughout Norway where every person lives and breathes the Great Outdoors. Bergans is so much a part of everyday life that you don’t ask if someone has their backpack or jacket before leaving the house. You ask if they have their Bergans. If you see someone with a Helly Hansen backpack, proceed with caution – their origin is questionable. But a Bergans? The answer is obvious.

3. Trekking poles – I know a lot of older people come to Gran Canaria during the European winter in order to defrost and enjoy the numerous hiking trails. That’s impressive, and I can respect that. Good for you for being 80 years old and regularly hiking up the side of a mountain for exercise. Bravo! But listen, do you really need your mountain-essential trekking poles while walking around the cement sidewalks of Arguineguin??? There must be some serious pedestrian perils I’m missing in my ignorant youth, but the older Norwegians among us  – they know better.

4. Ecco sandals – This one’s a bit tricky. The presence of these god-awful sandals doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve met a Norwegian. You may be amid Germans, or even a Dutchman. BUT! If those sandals are worn in combination with a Bergans backpack OR are worn by someone eating a sandwich with a fork and knife – breathe easy, my friend. You’ve definitely found yourself a Norwegian. However, beware if these sandals are worn with socks, especially black socks. In that case, no matter what the assumed nationality, do not stop and chat. Keep walking because you do not want to know this person.

5. White wine before noon – Norwegians, especially sea-faring ones, usually have rules about these things, like “no alcohol before noon.” Such rules keep many a drink-lovin’ Norwegian (my husband included) from succumbing to the seductive lure of alcoholism. But just as they sometimes forget their own national etiquette rules when abroad (like not helping stroller mommies, or shamelessly walking topless in public), Norwegians on holiday also love themselves a bit of liquid before lunch.

There’s a hierarchy to the liquid though, so be careful that you’re not mistaking a Norwegian with someone else. For example, if there’s beer in their glass, keep walking – they could be from anywhere… if there’s something dark in their glass like Canaria’s famous honey rum, then you’re getting closer – maybe you’ve met a Danish or a Finnish friend…. but if there’s white wine in their glass and the clock has yet to strike twelve, you’re in luck. Pull up a chair, order yourself a drink, and feel confident that you’ve entered some welcoming Norwegian territory.

So go ahead – with this essential information, you can wave and say “heihei!” to all the Norwegians in town without fear of being misunderstood! Bravo!

(Okay – not really. Norwegians don’t talk to strangers. Such an extroverted display of cheeriness from a real, live Norwegian would only happen in my head. Moving on….)

The Steps of Loma Dos

A few months ago, I briefly posted on the good and not-so-good parts of our temporary housing situation in Gran Canaria. We still have two months to decide if we’ll keep this house in Arguineguin or move elsewhere, but I think we’re feeling pretty settled where we are. And now that our shipment from Norway has arrived, I think the chances of us actually wanting to move again are fading with each box that’s opened and unpacked.

But there is one thing about our neighborhood with which I will never, ever make peace:

Welcome to The Steps of Loma Dos.

Our neighborhood is literally named “Two Hills,” which means that the town centre is downhill no matter which way you go. We’re at the top of the hill, the town is below us. The only way to get there is to conquer The Steps.

I’m sure that any normal (i.e. “non-mother”) reader in the audience is thinking “big deal.” But to those of us that know better, you know exactly where I’m going with this…

Steps + baby + baby carriage = Deciding to stay home

Maybe I was spoiled in Oslo, but steps were rarely an issue there. If there were steps, there was also a ramp. Easy-peasy. The only time I regularly confronted a difficult set of steps was getting on and off the city trams. But even then, there was usually a polite, kind-hearted fellow passenger offering to help with the stroller. (A side-note to the punk-ass teenage boys in Grunnerlokka who failed to assist me even when asked… Shame on you! Your mother would be so embarrassed if she knew…)

But not so in our little Loma Dos. No matter where you’re located in the neighborhood, you’ve got stairs separating you from your freshly-brewed cortado in town. So Per Christian and I bump up and down the stairs on a nearly-daily basis. And with our little 10-month meatloaf packing on the kilos, it gives Mommy quite a workout.

Here’s the thing I don’t quite understand… I get passed on the stairs on a regular basis by Norwegians who don’t stop to help. I’ve never been passed by a Spanish person, male or female, without them stopping for assistance. I just don’t get it – the same fellow countrymen and women who always help a stroller-wielding Mommy at home somehow come here and develop social amnesia. It’s as if they forget all sense of being decent, respectable Norwegians as soon as they take off their shirts and stroll topless in the streets.

Shame on you! Your children and grandchildren would be so embarrassed if they knew… Come on peoples, put your clothes back on and help a Mommy in need every once in a while!

Geesh.

However, seeing as how the rest of Europe is covered in a blanket of cold snow, I suppose I shouldn’t complain too loudly. After all, once we’re actually down the steps, the view is pretty fantastic…

Casa Svendsen a la Loma Dos is quickly getting booked up for the spring and summer season! So make your reservations early – special discounts apply for polite, stroller-assisting folk.

A day in the life…

When Per and I moved to Gran Canaria a few months ago, everyone was imagining the Svendsen family living amid the constant sunshine, with long, relaxing days on the beach, Mommy sipping prosecco and little Per Christian cheerfully playing in the sand next to me.

So now inquiring minds want to know… how exactly does a Mommy on full-time maternity leave spend her days in Gran Canaria? Is it all sea and sun and a life of leisure?

Surprisingly, the answer is no.

I’m the mother of an active, inquisitive and sometimes challenging ten-month old. I’m not working at the moment, so I spend my days the same way as most stay-at-home-mommies all over the world – I feed my son, I play with him, I (try to) get him to nap, I clean his clothes, I change lots and lots of dirty diapers, and I (try to) get us out of the house once a day.

There’s not too much sun and leisure in there, I’m afraid. Here’s what a typical day looks like for Mommy Svendsen:

7am – In the shower, dressed and semi-assembled before Per Christian wakes up (Hint: this is the key to everything!! Getting myself up first means I’m at attention and ready for enemy fire from the very beginning…)

730/800 – Wave One begins. PC is up, gets his first diaper change and his morning bottle. Then a bit of playtime in the living room while Mommy catches snippets of the BBC and slurps down her first coffee of the day.

900 – PC gets breakfast, which means that he practices getting fruit in the general vicinity of his mouth and Mommy practices her clean-up skills. Second (and sometimes third) diaper change of the day. Second (and sometimes third) costume change of the day.

930/1000 – PC goes down for his morning nap. Angels sing in heaven and Mommy breathes a (small) sigh of relief. The morning nap used to be a good two hours, but lately our sneaky little boy has been cutting this down to an hour or so. I am not impressed with this development.

There is just enough time during the morning nap to quickly clean up the disaster from Wave One (dishes, laundry, pulling porridge from my hair, etc.) and to get ready for Wave Two. I prep his lunch “matpakke” so we can eat out during the afternoon wherever we are, I check and refill his diaper bag and make sure the car/stroller is all packed and ready to go. Also Spanish lessons twice a week during this time (all the while praying PC stays asleep just a little bit longer….).

1030/1100 – Wave Two begins. We have a good three hours to get out of the house around this time everyday. We do grocery shopping once a week. We hit up the local fruit & veggie stand (with a stop for cortados and shameless flirting with the vacationing grandmothers). We go down to the Norwegian church for their children’s sing-along hour, or we go by Pappa’s office and distract him. We even sometimes get out the dreaded baby jogger and try to put it to good use. When the weather gets a bit warmer, this is hopefully the time when we’ll get down to the beach and get little Per Christian’s toes in the water.

1330/1400 – PC goes down for his afternoon nap. Angels sing in heaven and Mommy breathes a (slightly longer) sigh of relief. The afternoon nap is usually at least two hours, and it’s the best time of the day for me to get my own stuff done. I do some writing, I take care our finances, I email friends, I research local barnehagens, I do a bit of dinner prep, etc etc etc. If I’m very lucky, I may even finish my to-do list just in time to put my head down for exactly 42 seconds before Per Christian awakens.

1530/1600 – Wave Three begins. Snack time and play time and, quite honestly, the nicest time of the day. We’re all finished with our errands by now, so it’s just me and my son and the fantastic afternoon sunshine. We bring the play-mat outside to enjoy the cool breeze on the terrace, where there is a lot of room for Per Christian to crawl around and play with his balls. This is the time of day when I’m most grateful to have this precious and oh-too-fleeting time with Per Christian.

1730 – A final race for the finish line… bath, pajamas, bottle, lullabies, bed. I love, love, love bath-time. Per Christian can sit on his own in the tub now, and he enjoys playing with his stacking cups and rubber ducky friends. He gets a nice, long soak in the tub to wash away all the debris from Waves 1-3. (Note: the length of time spent on dirt-removal increases in direct proportion to the length of time he’s crawling around the terrace. It’s getting longer every day…)

1830 – Glorious, glorious bedtime! Per Christian falls asleep very well on his own now, so there’s not much to worry about after he goes down. I get to make dinner in peace, and then Per comes home and we have an actual, real-life meal together.

The ironic part is that, within an hour or two of Per Christian falling asleep for the night, I start to miss him. I find myself checking on him several times, just peeking into his room to hear him snoring away in his crib. He’ll be asleep now for 12-13 hours, and then we get up and do it all over again.

So that’s the less-than-glamorous island life for the Svendsen family these days. It’s a bit different than we originally expected, but make no mistake – I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

Exploring the island: Agaete

This weekend, quite by accident, Per and I discovered Gran Canaria’s answer to the Amalfi coast. If any readers were present at the 2010 Svendsen wedding, you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to… a beautify, twisty road along the Italian coast, with cliffs to one side and a steep drop to the water on your other side.

On Saturday, we drove north into the mountains, and then took a sharp left to find the coastal road to Agaete we had heard a bit about.

We were not disappointed.

Per Christian surely won’t remember anything about the trip, except perhaps the fabulous new teething biscuits he’s fallen in love with…

There’s definitely a lot more to the island than sun-bathing at the tourist resorts! Hopefully we’ll have plenty of chances to get out and explore some of the lesser-known sights over the coming months.

I hope you all had a great weekend also!