Sunday, August 28, 2016

Getting Home

We are back from our big adventure in Spain, which for the record was a great trip, but it's always so nice to get back home. Then again, getting home was particularly sweet because the trip back was a crazy adventure in and of itself. That's what traveling is all about, right? I read a quote that said when things go wrong, the real adventure begins.

We spent our last night in Granada (this is the view of the Alhambra from our hotel), which was a bit crowded and hectic for my taste, and then drove our car north toward Madrid, with a stop in Almagro for the night. I may have spelled that wrong. Either way, Almagro was a small dusty little town about 200km south of Madrid which didn't have a whole lot going on, yet it seemed to be a tourist destination as evident by the fact that there were tourists everywhere. It has been designated as a nice tourist destination though I couldn't quite figure out what the draw was. Sure, it was a quaint and pretty little town, but it was also hot and in the middle of nowhere. We did learn, however, that it is the hometown of Pedro Almodovar, which is kind of cool. It was also hard to find our hotel because the maps didn't seem to make sense, or rather they didn't make sense from the way we entered the city. We were all turned around and couldn't orient ourselves to the map. Consequently we drove around in circles looking for certain streets before finally finding the hotel.

Once in town, we explored the town (it's small) and enjoyed eating at the local restaurants. The hotel we stayed at, Casa Rural Tia Pilar De Almagro was kind of neat and quirky, with all these little antique touches everywhere. There was some sort of connection to Almodovar there, as well. In fact, the town had a very Almodovar-esque feel to it. Either way, the hotel had a pool and breakfast came with the room, a win-win in my book. We chowed at breakfast and then headed north to get to Madrid, bearing in mind that we had to return the car to train station by 2:00PM or incur their wrath.

On a quick note about the rental car, they really try to scare you into getting full coverage on the vehicle, throwing out large numbers in the event that anything happens. I really resented it and rejected the coverage, though it made me mega-paranoid whenever we got into the car. All I wanted to do was get that thing back to the agency. Getting full coverage would have tripled the cost of the rental. Is that crazy, or what?

Anyway, we got up early, ate a killer breakfast, and then headed to Madrid, but not before stopping in a small town just south of the capital, Consuegra, where the windmills that supposedly inspired Cervantes exist. It's actually a cool little town and we drove right up the windmills and checked them out. We probably spent too much time there because by the time we hit the road it was getting dangerously close to the rental car return time. In fact, I was pushing the gas pedal to make up the time, and that was just the beginning. As we approached the city, it became clear to us that the map was going to be useless in guiding us to the train station, which is where the rental agency (Hertz) was located. We were literally going into the situation completely lost because the street signs are virtually non-existent on the highway, the traffic was terrible, we were racing against the clock, and Madrid is a huge town. We were on the outskirts and knew at some point we were going to have to dive right in, the question was, when and where.

I don't know why but at some juncture we just turned into the city and hoped for the best. We were just plodding along on the streets when we noticed the train station sign "atocha" except that it was on the highway and we were on the streets. We drove along until we found an on-ramp and crossed our fingers that we hadn't passed the exit for atocha, which we thankfully had not. We followed that sign like it was a beacon of light from heaven, and before we knew it we were in the heart of the city and at the train station. Our challenge, however, was not over yet, not by a long shot. We still had to figure out where the darn rental agency was, and the traffic by the train station was madness. I recalled that someone told me that rental agencies were all down in the big parking lot below the station, so we took a chance and went down a massive driveway where lo and behold, there they were. We found Hertz, pulled up the car and got out. The time was about 2:10PM.

We turned in the car, there was no damage so we managed to come out unscathed despite their scare tactics (except for emotional strain), and then it took us about 45 minutes to find our hotel even though it was just across the street from the train station - it's a big train station. At that point it didn't matter because we got rid of the car with no damage and I was just happy to on my own two feet. Sometimes you just get tired of driving. We spent a mellow evening in Madrid and then flew home on Iberia Airlines, which had great service, not to mention movie screens on each seat. We were tired when we landed in Boston but happy to closer to home, and then took the bus to our car where we discovered that we had a flat tire. A quick call to AAA fixed that, and we were on our way.

We were exhausted when we got home and went to sleep, though I had to work the next day and was extremely jet-lagged, but these are all stories for another time.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

More Touring Andalusia

After a couple of days acclimating to the Euro time zone it's been a bit of a whirlwind tour of Andalusia, and it's amazing to me how much I don't recognize from our previous trip. Then again, it's been over 15 years, pre-parenthood mind you. We left Madrid and headed to Seville, which I personally think is a great city. I don't know why but somehow that town just has a cool vibe. I felt it the last time we came and I felt it this time. Two days in Seville and then off to Arcos de la Frontera, which is a beautiful and stunning Moorish-influenced town on a massive hillside. From there we headed to Ronda which was hectic and crowded, more so than I recall. A little nutty, but the gorge (pictured here-a Roman bridge) was spectacular. We spent the night there and headed off to a tiny village near Villanueva de Tapia to spend the night at a little B&B and have our birthday dinner. The place was beautiful but extremely secluded and quiet. Perfect for boring adults like us but a little harder for kids, though there was a pool, which is always nice. It was nice and our birthday dinner was nice, though we were looking forward to a super-quiet night of sleep and were awoken by dogs and chickens. We then hit the road for Granada and from here we will begin the journey back to Madrid.

The weather has been beautiful though a big hot. It is so much Californian, hot and dry, though it cools off nicely at night. The food and people have been wonderful, and the history of these small towns simply amazing. Will probably check back in in Madrid, or maybe when we get back home.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Touring Andalusia

We've spent the past two days in Seville and it's been a lot of fun, it's such a cool city. Mom and I had been here 16 years ago (can you believe that?) before the kids were born and I remember really like it then, and it still has a magical quality for me. I can't quite put my finger on it but more than Madrid or Rome it strikes a cord for me. I really enjoy it, and believe me, it's filled with young, fun, hip and beautiful people. From here we're going to tour Andalusia and with stops in Granada and Toledo, I think. We'll see.

Have to keep things brief because there's little time to stop and blog. Hope everyone is well and thanks for reading, and thanks to Steve Major for the pic.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Buenos Dias

So we arrived in Madrid safely though it was a brutal day of traveling, with the long car ride, then the bus ride, then the overnight flight to London then Madrid. We flew on British Airways which was sort of novel and sort of cool, it was so civilized. They even fed us, which en par for the course with international flights, though I'm so used to domestic flights that it came as a surprise. We were jet-lagged to no end and sleeping has been a bit of a challenge, but we are getting by. We spent two days in Madrid and had a lot of fun, I enjoyed it more than I had in the past, and now we are in Seville for a couple of days. It's a really cool city, again cooler than I remembered, but it's been 15 years. Wow, is that crazy, or what?

It's hard to do blog entries so I'll be off and on intermittently for the next two weeks. Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to KSBD Photo for the pic.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

We're Off

We are on the cusp of our big adventure and it's a bit of an unusual path this time. Normally we are scrambling until the last minute trying to tie up loose ends and getting our stuff together, but somehow this time seems a bit more relaxed. This is not always a good thing because a misplaced sense of confidence can often lead to complacency, which can in turn lead to screwing things up, big time. I'm not saying I like to stress and rush at the last minute, but I also don't want to think things will magically take care of themselves. Then again, when does that ever happen?

It doesn't help that I had to work late last night, and got home around midnight. The weather was crazy, we got slammed by a big storm that dumped tons of rain and knocked out the power. Fortunately it only lasted a few hours and by the time I got home it was back on. It was still a late night and I couldn't fall asleep right away, then I woke up early and now I'm beat. Maybe this will help me sleep later tonight. We'll see.

In the meantime, I think I'll just keep my feet moving. Stay tuned for more. Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to My Little Corner for the pic.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Where's the Beef

We are trying to eat less meat and while I can appreciate the health benefits of such an endeavor, it ain't always easy when you not only enjoy eating meat, but you have growing kids who might benefit from it. Even still, we don't eat a lot of red meat. We never eat steak, even though I love it, and rarely eat burgers, though N and I will get them when it's just the two of us on the go. Five Guys beckons us. We tend more toward chicken and have been eating more fish than I ever had in my life.

Now we're learning that beef might not be so bad as long as it's grass fed, which is great because when you live in New England, local grass fed beef is the way to go. In fact, we have a friend who specializes in grass fed beef and they operate on a pretty big scale so they are reliable and reasonably priced. It's a bit more expensive than discount ground beef, no doubt, but you can't beat the quality and taste. We used to buy from them when we did dumplings at the market, and I feel better giving it to my family. Sometimes when you buy really cheap industrial meat that you get from the store, you just don't know where it's been.

The only issue is that I have to make the trek over to their house and get the beef, which I buy in 10 lb. increments. It's a big slab of meat, but it sure goes a long way in this household.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to bour3 for the pic.

Weed Whacking Fun

Along the lines of the kids helping out, N has stepped up and taken over weed-whacking duties, and he says he enjoys it. A win-win situation if there ever was one. I think he likes anything to do with machines, especially ones that destroy things in their paths. The weed-whacker does a great job of obliterating plants, and even I have to admit that it's both satisfying and fun. Like everything, however, it's just one more thing to deal with and when you have a long list of jobs to do, even fun ones can become a burden. I'm glad he likes it, and now our yard is being attended to.

It also feeds into his engineer itch because he's interested in not only how it works, but how to maintain it. He actually did the hard part of re-loading the twine, which I find to be a chore. And he did it with minimal intervention on my part, which is too cool for words. He's pretty much self-sufficient in terms of using the machine, leaving me more time to sit on the couch and take naps... not.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to K. Carter for the pic.

Racquet and Club In Hand

N and I have become quite the country club regulars, taking full advantage of my access to both golf and tennis, on the indoor court, no less. There's racquetball, as well. The Inn has an 18 hole golf course that is pretty nice and we get to use it because of my job. It's a pretty serious course so we have to abide by the rules and decorum, which includes shirts with collars. I wasn't even sure if I owned a shirt with a collar. We try to go when it's least crowded because we don't want to play with a crowd around us, either in front or behind us. In front because I can't vouch for the control my shots, and behind because we're a little on the slow side and don't want to hold people up. Since you have to make a reservation they're good about scheduling people with enough of a time cushion so that you're not all on top of each other. They know the drill.

The other day we made a reservation but we got rained out. Luckily we also had our racquets with us so we just headed over to the fitness center and played tennis on the indoor courts. They were being used so we just played racquetball until they were done, though the transition from racquetball to tennis is an odd one and takes some adjustment. The two sports require a completely different arm motion and you have to transition between the two.

It was a fun day and I have to say that it's been nice playing tennis and golf this summer. N is becoming quite adept at both sports, and it's nice for him to develop interests other than hockey. As much as I love the sport there is a level of fanaticism that I am not completely on board with even though I succumb to it when it's around. It's good to have some healthy balance in life, don't you think?

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to NAU Rec Center for the pic.