A Week in Rainy Pamplona

J’s favorite cliff site is ten minutes outside Pamplona in Spain, and he used to go every Christmas vacation (the climbing season there is October to March). He also used to sleep in a tent in the village playground (so, not Pamplona) or on country roads near the cliff. But it was always very, very cold in the evening so at some point he gave that up. This year we packed up Littlest and his aunt and rented an apartment on an AirB&B-type site a 15-minute walk from downtown Pamplona.

Unfortunately the weather was pretty terrible but the two days that Littlest and I stayed in the city without J and his sister, we still managed to have some satisfying walks around the historic city center.

Pamplona is really very pretty and walkable. We took the elevator/funicular to get up to the city center from the exterior, which is something I was unaware of before. I think we had always driven in and parked right near the main square. J and I managed to get pintxos and beer one afternoon with Littlest in tow.

Otherwise Littlest and I made the most of all the amazing Spanish playgrounds. They really are better and more numerous, at least than in Poitiers. There was even this one with an area for very small children:


We spent two days at the cliffside with J and his sister who tried to make the best of the terrible weather.


The Past Weeks

Before my trip to Warsaw with the students, J and I took advantage of this last May’s ridiculous week of multiple holidays and took off to the northwest of Spain (Santa Gadea) to do some bouldering, just us and Littlest.

The drive was a PITA and J only realized the night before quite how far it was—7 1/2 hours not counting breaks. I said fine but we are not doing a drive like that again with Littlest all in one go.

It was the first time we’ve been to Spain without really getting to experience Spanish culture. We were all alone at the bouldering site—I guess most people come in summer.


Littlest watching us climb from the safety of his stroller (to prevent him playing on the crash pads)


Somebody spying on us



Ouch (so that was my last boulder of the trip)

It was a nice trip though, and Littlest got to take advantage of being outdoors and seeing the different animals wandering around. Unfortunately there was no climbing guide book available so J had to do research on the internet in the evening to more or less guide us to the right areas the following day. Not all that practical but we made do.

The other big thing for us in May was that I bought a new car. I found it at the same garage that sold me my trusty 98 Corolla which I now have to try to sell. It needs a little basic work before I put an ad up—cleaning, inspection, oil change. It’s hard to find the time to get this type of stuff done these days but maybe in June I’ll have more time.

In work news I’m trying to get my colleagues to get on board with using Slack instead of e-mail. I’m really tired of the deluge of one-line e-mails and really hoping I can drag everyone into this—at the very least my fellow English teachers.


What I found as a gift to J for Father’s Day shhh don’t tell: Le Petit Cube

The Truth about Not Being Able to Breastfeed: from a woman with insufficient glandular tissue

Why Are My Fellow Whites Still So Awful at Naming Children?: YES

What’s Going On In Your Child’s Brain When You Read Them A Story?

France Inter, La Tête au Carré: Nouveau regard sur la naissance et le nouveau-né (just the first ten minute segment is about biodiversity, the rest is on topic)




Rock-climbing with a Toddler

We successfully pulled off a rock-climbing trip with Littlest toddling around! This was a bouldering trip where we both planned to climb, with our rock-climbing club, so about 10 other people. The club had rented a minivan and two mobile homes in a campground near Fontainebleau. We took our car as well which seemed much more manageable given the always present possibility that Littlest will get tired of the car at any moment and start grousing.

Upon arrival we reserved the bathroom in one of the mobile homes for Littlest to sleep in, which meant taking quick showers when we got back in the evening so that we could get him to bed, but which also meant that we were tranquil in the other mobile home eating dinner with everybody.

It wasn’t really all that possible for me to climb in the morning when Littlest was awake. We’d arrive at the boulders at around 10:45 am (we had to wait for the morning dew to dry off) and I would typically get in one or two tries before realizing that Littlest needed my attention and it was his lunchtime anyway. Fortunately he then went down joyfully for his nap in his little tent. There was always some exploratory time in the tent where I could see his little head poking up at the top, but he settled down painlessly within about twenty minutes every day. I highly recommend the tent we bought, a Deryan Child Travel Cot. It opens up super quick and is easy to fold back up. The bottom part is transparent so that air can pass through, and Littlest always seemed to end up with his head there, so I think the breeze was important. But it meant that we had to leave the scene in order for him not to see us and get sad.


Mornings were wetter than afternoons so we did put his waterproof pants on, which was super cute.


Once he was napping, I was able to climb freely and am pretty happy with my first outdoor bouldering experience.



I’m on vacation! I survived the cursed month of March and made it to the spring vacation. I had a lovely but tiring time hosting our exchange partners’ teachers, thankfully with multiple lovely colleagues helping out. All of that along with oral exams, practice exams, grading, and evening meetings, made this the worst March of the past seven years, in terms of workload.

So here we are and what do we have planned? Hanging out with Littlest all day has gotten … umm … boring and annoying (in French there’s one word for both those things). So I’m trying to take him out a couple times a day, pre- and post-nap, for a walk, to a store, to a playground… we’ll see how it goes.

Otherwise, this Thursday we are heading to Fontainebleau to go bouldering with the rock-climbing club for four days. We have been preparing Littlest for this trip for a while, by which I mean buying various pieces of equipment. Using this post from Pregnant Chicken as inspiration, we are now hooked up with:

  1. a toddler camping bed: basically a little tent with a mattress that he can nap in during the day
  2. a harness: yes we are going to leash him to a tree if necessary (and it will probably be necessary)
  3. rain pants and a rain coat: hopefully I can cover him in these and the amount of dirt he gets into won’t matter

So, we’ll see how it goes! It’s rock-climbing trip number three with him and since he changes completely in between trips, one will never be like the others. All of this stuff will be useful for a few years, and we’ll be heading out again on a trip in May.

He will also soon have a little table and chairs thanks to my parents. (But those are staying home.)

The Past Week

This past week J was in Angers for work, but we spent yesterday in Paris at the World Rock-Climbing Championships at the arena in Bercy. J got free tickets since he is a regional elected official in the escalade world, but we only accepted them for yesterday since I wasn’t sure what physical shape I would be in. We were right to, it turns out, because those seats gave me some serious back pain by the end of the day.

But it was a pretty great show. Sunday we saw the women’s bouldering final, the handi-escalade amputee (leg) category final, the women’s speed climbing final, and the men’s lead (=wall) climbing final.

The most physically spectacular was of course the amputee category. Showing different handi-escalade finals in the middle of the other finals (it was all in the same arena) was an important improvement from four years ago when the handi-escalade competition wasn’t even open to public viewing!

There are a few pictures on the Equipe website here. Rock-climbing has been officially selected for the Tokyo olympics in 2020 for the first time, and everyone is buzzing with talk about the effect that will have on the sport, not the least because the olympic committee decided to have one “combined” category rather than have bouldering, speed, and lead climbing. Speed climbing is a very new discipline and hardly anyone who does bouldering or lead climbing practices it seriously. So in the next few years everyone who wants to compete at the olympics will have to start speed climbing. (IMO Speed climbing is cool the first time you watch—they go SO fast—but gets boring fast. And you can’t start out rock-climbing by doing speed climbing since the route is actually pretty difficult just to get up.)

We took advantage of the trip to go to the newly opened Five Guys in Bercy Village. The walk there allowed us to discover the very pretty park at Bercy. As a former Five Guys employee there were a lot of things that I saw going wrong in the restaurant but I still got my perfected burger out of it (little bacon cheeseburger: hot sauce, pickle relish, ketch-up, grilled onions, lettuce). The hot dog and milkshake will have to be for next time.

Nothing else really going on, except that I’m blowing through The Americans.

Visiting Rocklands, South Africa (as a non-climber)

The impetus for our trip to South Africa (as it often is) was, besides a long-standing desire of mine to visit it, a world-class bouldering site called Rocklands three hours north of Cape Town, in the Cederberg Wilderness Area.

Rocklands map

Rocklands is the northwest corner of the Cederberg Wilderness Area, which is not marked here because it’s a purely rock-climbing map

Unfortunately this is the fourth world-class bouldering site we’ve done without me being able to climb: Hueco Tanks, Texas (foot operation #1), Albarracin, Spain (knee accident), and Squamish, BC (knee accident), being the other three. I tried a little indoor bouldering back in May and it was clear that the knee wasn’t ready and also that not being able to let myself fall because of the baby interfered too much with climbing.

We had somewhat of a hard time finding a place to stay near the rock-climbing site, but were happy in the end with the choice we found, which was a collection of cottages 10 minutes outside Clanwilliam, Clanwilliam being the main city near this part of the Cederberg Mountains.  The place we stayed was not known by rock-climbers, who tend to stay at places higher up in the mountains and closer to the climbing, but farther from things like groceries, cafes, and bars.

Our cottages were on the edge of a marsh filled with birds and next to a gigantic rocky hill in the style of the Cederberg Mountains.


We rented two cottages: this was our friends’, where we ate and hung out.


The marsh in the afternoon


The hill in the afternoon


The bilingual Afrikaans/English Bible in our cottage (in this area we heard almost exclusively Afrikaans rather than English between white people and in black-white interactions)


The marsh before sunet


The marsh just before sunset


The hill during sunset


Sunset over the marsh


The dirt road we drove down for ten minutes every day to get to the cottages

The first days in South Africa were cloudy and chilly but the weather quickly improved. It did freeze one night, and since there was no heating in the cottages we were QUITE cold. Fortunately it warmed up afterward.

Clanwilliam was quite convenient with a Spar supermarket (with well-marked toilets), liquor store (liquor stores are separate and just outside the supermarket), banks (it was interesting to see everyone lined up by the banks on Friday evenings), an off-brand cash-only clothing shop where the boys bought coats, and a few tea rooms. Rooibos is from this part of South Africa, so everyone but me (too much peeing) drank their fill, and we also tasted some Rooibos flavored deserts at Nancy’s Tea Room. There’s a Rooibos factory that you can visit but we never got around to it.

The boulders in Rocklands have a very aggressive grain and my climbing companions found themselves in need of a lot of rest days. So besides eating at Nancy’s Tea Room, we also went to Lambert’s Bay on the Atlantic coast twice. The first time, we visited Bird Island:


Masses of Cape Gannets on their breeding ground




Cape gannet

We returned to Lambert’s Bay another day for a massive seafood buffet at a restaurant on a dirt road on the beach.


The restaurant before the buffet


Preparing the food




The beach outside the restaurant


Our beach booty

Rocklands itself was also beautiful, and I enjoyed the warmer days sitting around reading and watching the others climb.

One of the rock-climbing spots was located around the local campsite, and accessing it involved doing this:


After a day of rain

It did not motivate us to stay at the campsite for any future trips.

The car clearly got quite dusty during this part of the trip but not as dusty as these that were parked at the campground:


After a day of rain

Visiting the Cederberg requires buying a permit, and it took us a day or two to figure out where to buy one, but the best turned out to be at the official park entry cabin… we just hadn’t seen it. It cost about 30 euros for two weeks. And they do patrol the park and ask to see your permit.

While this area was less touristy than the others we visited, visitors were clearly not unexpected. In a future trip we would get started on the accommodation search a bit earlier and try to find something with actual heating (rather than just fireplaces), but overall we were very happy with where we stayed.

One final picture from this part of the trip:


Caterpillar in front of our cottage

Le Pays-Basque

I don’t typically tag along for an entire rock-climbing vacation with J, but since this time it was only a week after the wedding, I wasn’t up for spending so much time alone at the house. So after our mini-moon, we headed down to the Basque Country with J’s sister and her boyfriend for two weeks of escalade.

We didn’t actually know where we were going exactly until the night before, which made for very little planning. I had at least looked up camp-sites for the two rock-climbing sites he wanted to go to and written down the addresses.

The first place J wanted to go is called Araotz, and it’s a cliff not far from the Spanish city of Vitoria-Gasteiz. Araotz is in the middle of mountains, and the nearest mid-sized city is called Oñati. While J’s sister and her boyfriend have a van that they’ve fitted out for camping (fridge that works when their solar panels get enough sun, sink, mattress), I was not prepared to spend two weeks without a toilet. So J and I stayed at a campsite that was 18 kilometers from the cliffs, but a thirty-minute drive what with all the switch-backs.

To give you an idea of why it took so long to get from the cliff to the campsite, here is a picture of our tent:

View of our tent from Lakiola Campground

View of our tent from Lakiola Campground

A walk farther up the hill brings you to this type of view:

View from above Lakiola

View from above Lakiola

We spent a little over a week there, taking one rest day to go to the beach at Deba. The sanctuary of Arantzazu is also right near Araotz, so we went up there one evening to see this very modern-looking church

The Sanctuary at Arantzazu

The Sanctuary at Arantzazu

The Sanctuary at Arantzazu

The Sanctuary at Arantzazu

The Sanctuary at Arantzazu

The Sanctuary at Arantzazu

Looking out from the sanctuary

Looking out from the sanctuary

Next we headed down to Valdegovia, where the campground actually was full (fail for rock-climber-style vacation planning there), so we spent two days on a “squat” taking full advantage of J’s sister’s van. Fortunately the village pool nearby let us take showers there for two euros.

Valdegovia is pretty cool though, pretty much a meadow leading up to the cliff-face, which is different from any other rock-climbing site I’ve seen. They typically involve walks up a mountain-side. Valdegovia did require some cow-pie-related vigilance though, since the meadow is occupied by Spanish cows who keep the grass nice and short.

The cliff at Valdegovia

The cliff at Valdegovia

Cliff + meadow

Cliff + meadow

For a second rest day we went to Bilbao where I mostly wanted to see the Guggenheim and eat pintxos.

We started with the Guggenheim in the morning, where we spent most of our time in the Jeff Koons exhibit. Then J’s sister and her boyfriend joined us and we walked to the Casco Vieja where we ate pintxos for lunch and walked around. We stopped in the North Face store to buy me a backpack and finished at the beach at Solepa, which to our surprise was a nudist-friendly beach, so no pictures of that, even though it was really beautiful.

The Puppy

The Puppy

In the Casco Vieja

In the Casco Vieja

Turron in the Casco Vieja

Turron in the Casco Vieja

Street sign in the Casco Vieja

Street sign in the Casco Vieja

Building decorate with umbrellas in the Casco Vieja

Building decorated with umbrellas in the Casco Vieja

Looking up from a covered walk-way in the Casco Vieja

Looking up from a covered walk-way in the Casco Vieja

In the Casco Vieja

In the Casco Vieja

While we did end up staying in the campground for the last four nights, it was so crowded that I think we might have been happier at the squat with J’s sister. I’m just still really attached to toilets. But all in all, it was a fun time, though it might have been more fun had I had time to prepare more, as in research things to do besides read books at the cliff-side. It has made me more curious about the history and culture of the Basque Country, so I hope to read up on that at some point.