Snow Wonderings

13 01 2017

This has been one hell of a winter. It’s 9am on a Friday, and instead of greeting my students at my classroom door, I’m sipping cup-o-joe number two in my jammies. Again. Simba is snoring loudly in front of the stove and my car hasn’t moved in 3 days.

We’re buried in snow, yall. Like, a LOT of snow. Feet of snow. And the temperatures aren’t warming up, and the forecasted rain never came.

Hello extended break! School has been canceled almost every day this week. We made the attempt on Tuesday, but they had to delay three hours. That’s a lot.  Nine days off this winter so far. My poor kids are going to be in school through July at this rate…winter wonderland Hood River OR 2017

So I’ve been in a weird place. I haven’t had this much down time in so long I forgot what to do with it. Fear not, it didn’t take long – I dug back into my pre-grad school hobbies and have been pulling all sorts of things out of the closet. I’ve been knitting, writing, cooking, talking to my mom, and takingthe longest tromps through the snow with Simba. I dug out a new knitting pattern and hit YouTube to figure out double-pointed needles. I started making a photo book of trip photos and ordered a super cute fleece jacket for Simba. I sat on my bed staring at my DSLR camera, trying to decide if I should try again at non-Instagram shooting. It hasn’t happened just yet….but I did charge the battery….

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It’s the tromps through the snow with Simba that have been the best. I run around in my base layers all day, so when it’s time to tromp, I can throw on my outer layers and off we go! (Ok, 20 minutes later when I finally get ready, off we go…)

Down the driveway, skidding out in the street, stumbling through the piles left from plows and shovels, slipping on hidden ice. Simba spins out on the ice like a cartoon and I clunk along in my huge boots and 15 layers of clothes like the little kid in A Christmas Story.  We head down the hill and turn west. The main street has been for-real plowed, but the sidewalk is buried. The first couple days, we broke trail, wading through knee-deep fluff, Simba following behind so he didn’t have to swim. By now, the path has been packed down by boots and skis and snowshoes and paws.

Sometimes we turn uphill a couple blocks over, up to the trail that winds past the pastures and orchards. Other times we turn downhill, plummeting down the trails through the blackberry thickets towards the big fancy neighborhoods at the bottom. Simba runs back and forth, sticking his whole head in the snow, floundering every time he falls off the path. It’s exhausting and exciting and tons of fun.snowday Hood River OR

The snow is so so quiet. Even in the daytime, we rarely run into anyone else. The frozen world is still and muffled, blurred around the edges and shiny. Night is my favorite. The snow is magical in the glow of streetlights; the sky doesn’t quite get dark and the houses all look warm and inviting.

I wonder as we wander. My mind weaves stories about the people in the glowing windows. My imagination plays with tales of the winter birds twittering around the bare trees. My heart wonders about the folks that don’t have glowing windows or 15 layers. Simba ponders if he can get his leg high enough to pee on that tree.

For some reason, the snow wonderings also make me nostalgic. And make me miss my momma. I talked to Hope for a long time on the phone a few days ago, and yesterday Ijumped online and bought a ticket to go visit. My Texas family balks at the negative temps and piles of frozen precipitation, but I can tolerate 95 degrees in April for 6 days with my folks. I daydream about me and my momma in the houses I pass, wishing she lived closer and could come hang out.

Then we end up back at our own house, with it’s own glowing windows and J waiting inside with steaming mugs of hot cocoa. I emailed the plane ticket to mom so she can block out the week on the calendar, and I curl up on the couch with my JBoo. I might ache for the family I left in Texas, but this snowy wonderland is my home now.

And I love it.

 

 

winter layers Hood River OR

 

 





Pocket Meadows and Campfires

27 07 2016

JBoo has to work some weekends. I don’t. Therefore, in order to spend time with him, I sometimes tag along.

Last weekend was one such tag-along situation. J needed to hike up and check out some areas affected by last year’s wildfires, and I needed time with my man and nature, preferably simultaneously. So we set out for an over-nighter, hiking up the west side of Adams, pretty close to the lovely section of PCT Simba and I hiked a couple weeks ago.

By now, it’s pretty clear that I like to hike. If you’ve ever met me, in person or just on the interwebs, you probably caught on that I love the mountains and forests of the PNW. I’ve only lived here about 6 1/2 years, but I feel this is the place where I most belong. I assumed that eventually, the amazement and wonder would dull, maybe even wear off entirely. Mountains would all start looking the same, a pine tree would be just another pine tree, and every trail was just another walk through the woods.

Maybe this will happen someday, but it most definitely hasn’t yet.

This particular trip was up trail #64, the Riley Camp Trail. J spent lots of time up here with the fires last year, and I expected lots of burnt, scarred forest. The climb started in nice old growth, just like the PCT, but the climb was steeper. Simba ran around like a fool, the little saddlebags of his backpack flopping up and down. I admire his optimism – he doesn’t care where we’re going, he’s just so happy to be out! And I think he knows the big backpacks mean a campout and sleeping in a tent with his people….

dog camping, riley camp trail, mt adams wa

I’M JUST SO EXCITED TO BE HERE

Anyway, the trail did wander through some areas of the burn, but not as much as I thought. The reason was a surprise to me: meadows! We laced in and out of these amazing open meadows full of lush grass and wildflowers. The lack of fuel makes the fire burn around them, and they become little green oases in the middle of the blackened remains of forest. Most are pretty small and J called them “pocket meadows.” I couldn’t help but be delighted with this – how charming! Like I could sneak one in my pocket and take it home, put it on the window sill, and act like I’d had it forever when J asked where I got it! (I’ve never done this…)

The “pocket meadows” also appeared suddenly, adding to their delightfulness. The terrain is rolling and the trail wound up and over and around rock outcroppings and ridges and the general bumpiness found up in the mountains. We would come around a corner or up over another “bump” and BAM! pocket meadow! So exciting. A couple times I stopped in my tracks to gaze a moment at the splendor and would feel a furry collision as Simba ran into the back of my legs. He really shouldn’t hike quite so close.

riley camp trail, mt adams wilderness, wa

Man-to-mutt discussion over lunch.

After 5ish miles, we left the main trail and I assumed we were just going to detour by the creek so Simba could get a drink. Instead, we crossed the creek and headed for the middle of the latest meadow. Finally, I noticed the square of logs and realized there was a campsite here. Yay! Slumber party with the pocket meadow! We dropped our packs and got right to work setting up camp. Simba scouted the perimeter, marking our spot just in case anyone got any funny ideas, and helped out where he could.

We set up the tent, hoisted our bear hang, and secured our packs, then set out back up the trail. J had some work to do, I had new scenery to gawk at. Up and down the trail we trod, through beautiful open forest complete with streams and wildflowers. So lovely. We stopped at a little lake and put out a campfire we found still burning (some people are such idiots…), then started back down.

But this time, we ventured off the trail. J’s expertise allows him to do such a thing, and I followed along merrily as we made our way down through another series of pocket meadows. Soon we were following the same stream that babbled along next to our own meadow camp. I was astounded by the natural masterpiece, though lesbehonest, it should be no surprise by now! Nevertheless, I ate a few bugs with my mouth hanging open and tripped more than once for not watching my footing.

Back at our camp, we got to work settling in for the night. JBoo started dinner as I gathered firewood. Soon I had a nice little fire a-blazing and J had gnocchi spooned into two bowls. We opened our special treat: a little box of red wine that turned out to be totally worth the weight of packing it in. (I can say that because it was delicious AND it rode in J’s pack…)

The evening was magical…except for one thing. Apparently, news spread and every mosquito in southwest Washington came to join our party. And they all brought a friend. Swarms covered Simba’s face as he tried to curl up in the tall grass. They bit through my pants, despite my deet-filled repellent. Even in the warm evening, I wore my fleece to protect my torso, sweating as I tended the fire. The smoke helped a little, but there were just so many of the little buggers! We fled to the tent while there was still daylight, just to escape the awful insects.

The next morning was a race against the tiny critters, and we broke camp faster than I’ve ever seen, including breakfast. The morning was warm and the ‘squeeters were ferocious. The trail offered movement that kept them at bay.

J had a search and rescue waiting before we even got back to the truck, so our mini vacay was over rather quickly. But that evening in the pocket meadow, playing in the campfire with my two favorites, recharged me for the coming week. Another “duh” moment of remembering that the mountains and forests are my therapy and should be visited as much as possible.

Here’s to the hope of another adventure just around the corner!





Appointment with the Mother

4 07 2016

This is my mother:

amazing mom mothers day vancouver wa

She is one fabulous woman.

She added purple to her hair and flew half way across the country to watch me walk the stage and get my master’s degree. She has supported me every step of the way my entire life, even though I rudely moved so far away from her. On my list of amazing women, she fills the top slot.

This is my other mother:

mother nature mount adams wilderness wa

She may be your mother, too.

Mother Nature may not have given birth to me, but she does help support me and my mental well-being. As my real mother is in Kansas this weekend with my broski, and celebrating my insanely fabulous niece’s birthday, I didn’t want to bother her. So I turned to my second mother.

The plan was spend several fun days hiking around and playing outside with JBoo. I took a summer job with WSUV, so I still live in Vancouver, but I was able to leave Wednesday night and come home to Hood River early. Five and a half days with JBoo!! We haven’t spent that much time together since winter break!

And I arrived to find him in the fetal position on the couch, buried in blankets, sick as a dog. Poor thing. So I took care of sick J and got other stuff done…but J woke up Sunday feeling like a human being, so we quickly started making plans for a fun-filled day of hiking and swimming and playing outside. Before I even finished getting dressed, our plans came crashing down around us with a single phone call: a climber on Adams fell and broke his leg. J is not only the Wilderness Ranger on Mt. Adams, he’s also on the search and rescue team. He immediately took the lead organizing the rescue, and I silently packed mine and Simba’s gear into my pack.

We hit the road for Trout Lake, making a quick stop for food in White Salmon. With all the rush, I hadn’t had a chance to sneak any food or coffee, and it was almost 10:30. I was hangry and caffeine deficient. And therefore silent. J coordinated all the various pieces of the rescue as we drove, me eating all the while, then gave me a map and a Spot device at his office. He showed me a trail where Simba and I could hike.

“Uh, I’ve been on that trail several times. And it’s like two miles out of town. Give us a real trail.” I was antsy to go hike and might have given a little more sass than was necessary. But J just turned back to the huge map on the wall and pointed again. “Ok, you could hit this section of the PCT at William’s Mine.” He gave some brief directions and several “stay right” and “stay left” instructions that I tried to pay attention to, then Simba and I bolted for the truck.

Even as I drove up the mountain road, my anxiety started to ease. I don’t need J to hike. Simba and I can do just fine on our own. You go save people, we’ll play without you! But as I parked J’s truck at the trailhead, I realized my grumpiness was from missing him, not because I was mad at him. Dang it.

The last of my moody funk melted away as Simba and I stepped into the shade of the old-growth trail. Simba fell in behind me after his initial spaz-tastic run-around, and off we went. I took a deeeeeeeeep breath and sighed. Hello Mother.

Not far in, we came to a little bridge over a creek where three men had stopped for a rest. As I walked by with a smile and hello, one asked me, “Are you out here all on your own?!” They were all a bit older and seemingly innocently surprised by my aloneness, so I gave a simple, “Nope, I’ve got my dog” and kept walking. I could hear their surprised conversation fading behind me. “A young woman out in the woods by herself? That seems dangerous. She didn’t even seem afraid…..” blah blah blah.

Really guys? Where are you from? Three men are about the greatest danger to me in these woods. Why should I not be able to go for a nice hike in the beautiful forest by myself? Sheesh. I put them out of my mind quickly and got straight to business: my appointment with Mother Nature.

This was long overdue. Have you ever had that feeling where you didn’t know how much you missed or needed something until you finally did it again? That was me. As I breathed the pure air and stretched out my legs I felt a familiar calmness setting in. An almost forgotten calmness.

You’ve been gone too long.

I know, I’m sorry. Things happened. Life got in the way. Grad school got in the way.

I could have helped you. You needed me. You should have come anyway. 

You’re right, of course. I should have come. But I’m here now. I missed you.

As my legs settled into a rhythm, my shoulders relaxed. The last lingering tingles of headache faded away. This therapy that I used to rely on had been canceled when I needed it the most. The anxiety that has been waking me in the middle of the night, robbing me of sleep and joy, was no match for the Mother. She took it from me, filling my heart with song and my soul with light. My mind cleared of all the noise clogging my thoughts and opened to the simple purity of the natural miracles all around me.

As I wound my way up the hillside, the old-growth gave way to burn. Mother Nature’s scars seemed harsh at first, in the charred snags and crusty, black, peeling bark. But the clouds gave way to sun as the air sweetened and I noticed that the whole slope was covered in blooming bear grass. I smiled and chatted with Simba about how cool it was to see the forest growing back after the devastation of the unnatural wildfire. The constant panting and occasional tickle of fur against my leg let me know my faithful companion trotted along with me.

bear grass in a burn, mt adams wilderness WA

Bear grass everywhere!!!

J had told me as we scurried out of his office that he expected 4-5 hours to wrap everything up, so I decided to hike 2 hours up and turn around for 2 hours down. My trusty fitbit kept the time for me and conveniently tracked my steps. It was hard to turn around. The trees were getting fewer and the rocks bigger as we approached treeline, and it was one of those perfect days that made me feel like I could hike on forever. Canada here we come! We had set a nice pace and the day was just so perfect. Knowing J would be waiting on me, though, Simba and I snapped a quick selfie with Adams and reluctantly turned around.

mt adams wilderness, PCT trail WA

Selfie time! Simba, Adams, and me 😀

The trip down did have me daydreaming about hiking the entire PCT one day. My imagination ran away on me and I dreamed up all sorts of good schemes. By the time I reached the truck, I had planned out classroom projects and management systems and blog posts. While my brain drifted in a meditative state on the way up, it went into full planning mode on the way down. The optimistic, excited, ready for world domination kind of planning mode.

I felt like I had received a full-body tune-up. My legs had that sweet ache of working after long months of too much sitting. My lungs felt fresh and clear of the city gunk collected from a year away from my mountains. And my brain felt recharged, rebooted, and revived. The anxiety locking up my shoulders was gone and my thoughts clear and unfoggy. Why had I waited so long? Why didn’t I realize that I missed spending time with Mother Nature.

No need to contemplate on bad decisions, I’ve resolved the issue. J was excited to hear about our adventures and we compared my descriptions to the map. Based on time and what I saw when we turned around, he guessed our round-trip to have been 6-7 miles. My fitbit said we took around 24,000 steps!! I felt powerful and strong and super ready to take on whatever comes next!

Mother Nature, I’m sorry I neglected you for so long, but fear not, I’ll be back soon!!!





Marvellous Malaga

4 04 2016

It’s been about 3 months since we got home from Spain, but I had to immediately jump back into grad school, student teaching, and all that goes along with both of those. Now I`m on Spring Break so I have time to catch up on our adventure!!

After a rather epic couple of days in Ronda, I was sad to move on. I wanted more time – time to poke around the ruins, time to explore the hills, time to permanently etch this little white village in my brain forever. Instead, I got a picture of us in the daylight on the bridge in “our spot” and was back in the car headed southeast.

This drive was different. We almost immediately climbed into the mountains and started winding around the dizzying curves. Felt more like home! Instead of towns and orchards out my window, I saw mostly bare rock and short scrubby trees.

Finally, before I succumbed entirely to car sickness, I noticed a change in the houses and buildings starting to pop up: they were massive! Big estates and haciendas. Then I found the reason on the horizon: my first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea!! Malaga is more of a resort town, filling to the brim in summertime.

Thankfully, it’s not summertime and we had little traffic to fight. We ditched the car and headed to our next apartment. Malaga is a lot bigger than I thought! I also realized from  the cab driver that I’ve been mispronouncing the name all along. I had been drawing out the middle ‘a’ like Ma-laaaaaahhhhh-ga, when the accent is actually on the first ‘a’ like MAL-aguh. Anyway, I was glad to fix that right up. Welcome to MALAGA!

We had a bit to wait before we could get into our place so we grabbed a sidewalk table at a cafe down the street. The air in the alley that housed the door to our apartment was heavy with the aroma of urine, and I was stoked we didn’t have to hang out there. Before long, we were settled in and back on the streets. What shall we find today?!

We wandered the maze of streets through narrow alleys and wide, main, thoroughs. Activity bustled everywhere under the Christmas lights strung building to building across the streets. We crossed a couple plazas and found the mega huge Cathedral. Hard to miss, really, with the steeple piercing the clouds and the bells tolling every hour. We poked around the outside and wandered off….but soon returned. The beautiful plaza housed cafés and restaurants, and we were in the mood for paella.

Nestled into a table under the tent of the restaurant, I gazed at the monument built for worship, stuffed my face with incredible food, and fell under the romantic spell of the street musicians. I liked this place.

We took an afternoon siesta then explored more of the city. A gelato shop right around the corner from our apartment earned J’s business and stamp of approval. We ventured back to the cathedral to tour the inside, which completely took my breath. Boy the Catholics love to display their wealth. The alters and enclaves and tombs and paintings and sculptures – OH MY!

Back outside, we meandered the wide pedestrian lanes. Here, they were full of trinket vendors, almond carts, performers, musicians. The lights overhead lit the night sky, but the crowds pressed in from every side. We finally pushed through to the park by the harbor and to the cool walkway along the water. The sun was setting behind the big Ferris wheel and splashed colors across the horizon. The Mediterranean reflected the color and made quite a scene.

Mediterranean at Malaga Spain

I touched it!

We strolled down the lane and browsed the artisan market. We reached the beach and I touched the Mediterranean Sea. I collected a few shells and we drifted on. Back in the main pedestrian lane, we both got super irritated with the ridiculous crowds and ducked into a pizza stall to catch our breath. Munching on giant slices of pizza definitely made me feel better, and we took a zig-zag of back alleys back to our apartment.

The next morning, we prepared for our day’s grand adventure. Malaga is very strategically situated on the Mediterranean and was thus a desirable stronghold for whoever held the city. The impressive and nearly impenetrable fortress, alcazaba, and wall are still watching over the city. Off we went to explore! The Spanish built on top of the Moors, who built on top of the Romans, so there are ruins on top of older ruins on top of ancient ruins. We started at the bottom, wandering an ancient Roman theater. I could scarcely breathe I was so taken with the history. The whispers of the past were almost overwhelming…

Roman ruins at Alcazaba, Malaga Spain

Roman theater found under the castle ruins. Civilization on top of civilization!

Farther up the hill we entered the first part: the Alcazaba, the castle first built by the Moors and added onto my Isabella and Ferdinand when they finally managed to conquer Malaga in a massive siege. We poked through rooms and passages, popping through the keyhole doorways into little courtyards with gardens and fountains. Once we finally had our fill, we headed to the Castillo de Gibralfaro, the fortress up the hill. A trail led us along the wall, up and up to the top of the cliff.

Not accounting for the Mediterranean weather, I had dressed in a cute but fairly heavy sweater, thinking I could wear this and not have to haul around a coat, too. We were barely a fourth of a way up the steep path when I started sweating. By the time we reached a loookout over the city, I was dripping sweat, cursing my sweater and J the mountain goat, and ready to sell my soul for a damn hair tie. Determined to overcome, I pushed on, trying to focus on the cool wall and the flowers growing along the path. The view of Gibralfaro finally rising just ahead of me nearly made me weep, but I had already sweat out all moisture reserves in my body.

hiking to Castillo de Gibralfaro, Malaga Spain

Practically panting…ugh, stupid sweater

We climbed the walls and I had trouble remembering what time period we were in. There were far fewer people up here and we roamed and played in the towers and stairs and gardens in the middle. But the walls were the best, giving views and fueling my imagination. I’m reading “Outlander” and can’t help but imagine myself in Claire’s shoes, transported to 15th century Spain instead of 18th century Scotland…..

Castillo de Gibralfaro, Malaga Spain

Defending the castle!!

After a quick tour of the little military museum, we strolled back down the formidable hill to the crowded, noisy 21st century below. We found a table at El Pimpi, a much-talked-about restaurant in the plaza next to the Alcazaba. Enjoying the cooling evening air, we ordered wine and some amazing fish dish to prolong our visit. We were entering the time period when the Spanish seem to come out for drinks and maybe tapas. It’s too early for dinner but perfect for socializing. Joining in, we decided to do a tapas hop. First stop: Central Beers, home to 15 taps and over 150 bottled choices. A big screen on the wall showed the choices, and we each picked a beer. I love how most places have a small glass, like a mini beer, so I didn’t have to drink a whole pint of one kind. We were soon chatting happily with a really nice Swedish man sitting next to us.

dinner at El Pimpi, Malaga Spain

Dining in the shadow of the Alcazaba. How cool would it be to live here?!

We stopped in a little place called Nacalu next, sitting under the awning on the sidewalk. More delicious wine and incredible tapas. I only remember one: the most delicious calamari I’ve ever had! It took all my will power not to grab the plate and stuff it all in my mouth but to enjoy my half and let J have his half. A large family sitting at the table in front of us kept me vastly entertained, and their little mop of a dog was adorable.

Back to the streets once more, we made a final stop at a little place called Taberna el Mentidero. We sat inside among really cool matador decor and J ordered a traditional dish we had been looking for: espetos de sardines. Six little sardines on a plate, whole and salty. The old, bent waiter motioned how to eat them: nibble nibble one side, flip, nibble nibble the other side. They reminded me of eating chicken wings…little bits of meat, watch for bones. I was skeptical but they were pretty good. After a bath with the wet wipes, we finally decided we were full and headed back for our lofty bed.

The next morning we packed to go. With so much walking around, I feel acquainted with the streets and shops right around our little temporary home. I say a silent farewell as we walk away, to the super stinky alley and the little gelato shop, the restaurant with wine barrels as tables and the shop with beautiful gowns in the window. Dragging our suitcases behind us, we popped into a little cafe for tea, coffee, and a croissant…and wifi. I couldn’t help but watch this cute little couple near us. The man held the woman’s held and stroked the back of it with his thumb the whole time they were deep in conversation. It was just the sweetest. Then we grabbed our stuff, hailed a cab, and off to the bus station we went!!!





Really Ronda

5 01 2016

Despite a few hiccups with the rental, we made it to Ronda in one piece.

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The countryside was once again just lovely. I sprang up in excited surprise every time we would pass a castle or a ruin. J lost count of how many times I squealed, “There’s another one!”

Then we pulled into the little town of Ronda, a white-washed village high on the cliffs with a deep gorge slicing down the middle. I was stoked to jump out and explore every inch of this paradise….but we had to park the car. And that turned out to be quite a challenge due to the insane amount of people EVERYWHERE. We finally found a lot and parked without running over any pedestrians or going the wrong way down all the one-way streets and checked into our place. Wow! Our patio looked straight the gorge!

We couldn’t wait to get out and about. We headed across the Puente Nuevo, the “new bridge,” to poke around the “old” city. I lol’ed all over the place when I realized the “new” bridge was built in the 1700’s! But the “old” bridge went back to the days of Moorish rule, possibly even Roman times, so I guess it’s all relative. 

New or not, the bridge is beautiful. It spans the Tajo gorge and is just under 100 meters from the river below. Being American, I had to convert that – over 300 feet yall! Great views, of course, of the valley below and much of the city. Once in the old city, we found walls still erect that we could clamber about on. The remains of the castle still stood quite tall and a church steeple rose high to complete the skyline.

I tried to keep my jaw off the ground as I gaped at everything around me. The town might have modernized as the years passed but it was basically still a little medieval village! We found our way down the hill to a cool little restaurant where we enjoyed a cerveza and people-watched while waiting for a table. We headed to bed pretty early (especially by Spanish standards!) to rest up for our next adventure…

VIA FERRATTA!! It’s not even our anniversary and J tried to kill me. We met our guide that next morning and geared up with helmets and harnesses. Routes have been placed up the cliffs: metal rungs that make it look like a ladder running up the cliff wall. The sport of via ferrata is like rock climbing; clip into the cable and climb the ladder. Easy enough….

Sort of. It wasn’t bad but still a bit nerve-wracking when you’re clinging to the side of a cliff, way high, with just your trust in the rung and your cable. But it was super fun – we hiked to the bottom of el Tajo, under the puente nuevo, and climbed up. After surviving that, we hiked along the bottom of the gorge, next to the river, and got a very different perspective.

I thought our day was done but when we piled back in the car with our guide, Ivan, we headed out of the city….? Oh no! We’re being kidna– wait, nope, just to a neighboring village to climb a second route. This one was a bit harder and included a monkey brjdge!!

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Such a thrill!! Afterward, we gathered around a table at the little local bar of this tiny village. There were 5 of us: our guide Ivan, his lady Sophia, and another woman that joined us for the 2nd climb. Beers, snacks, a shared plate of a potato salad-type dish and we had ourselves a true local experience. I almost waved to the group of old men on the patio as we left.

I didn’t think the day could get any better, but after freshening up, we explored the nooks and crannies of the old town a bit more. Many of the old streets can’t accommodate cars and we found some surprises tucked into some back alleys: churches, towers, walls, etc. We crossed the old bridge by lamplight and looked down on the ancient Arab baths. This place was magical!

Back up on the new bridge, hungry and near-bursting with the overdose of excitement crammed into the day, we paused to look down into the gorge again. Then J did the only possible thing that could out-do all the rest.

He proposed.

All I could say was really?!





Spectacular Seville

31 12 2015

The high-speed train from Madrid to Seville was AWESOME. America is totally behind the times in terms of transportation. We flew through the countryside at about 186 mph in comfortable cars that definitely beat any economy airplane seat.

I felt so sofisticated tucked into my little seat between J and the window. I had grand plans of writing away the 3 hours to Seville, letting my imagination run wild through the Spanish countryside out my window, merrily making friends with the English family sitting in front of us….

Unfortunately, I was sound asleep before the train fully left Madrid. The change in time zones and schedules and my cold that was clinging on made sleep elude me the night before. The gentle sway of the train took care of that in a jiffy.

The train stations are super easy to navigate and we were in a nice Prius taxi zooming off to our next AirB&B in no time. I needed no more convincing that Spain is a lovely country, but Seville threw in its two cents anyway, adding more and more to my list of things to adore, just from  the cab window! After a bit of a scare when our taxi had a bump-in with a scooter, we settled into our new apartment and dashed out the door.

It was Christmas Eve, after all, and places had different operating hours than normal. And we had things to do! Well, specifically, I had a castle to conquer: Real Alcazar.

The first section was a castle built in the 900s by the Moors. Christians took over at some point and various royals added their own touches. Extensive gardens go on and on and various patios, niches, and hidey holes took a while to explore. The intricate tile patterns made me dizzy but I loved the baths underneath and the patios around every corner. We spent a considerable amount of time here and even bought some postcards!

Alcazar, Sevilla Spain

I now declare this Castillo de Kalista!

Seville was once one of the most major cities of the area. Isabella and Ferdinand met with Columbus here, after his second voyage, at Alcazar! Trade with the new world was regulated exclusively through Seville’s ports! There’s a piece of a Roman aqueduct still standing in the city!! So many things.

We spent a lot of time wandering the beautiful streets, admiring the architecture and the Christmas decorations and the interesting people. We found another mercado that had stalls of tapas and wine and enjoyed some more incredible food. I love these places, with ham hocks hanging from the ceiling and happy folks congregating around the groups of tables. Such a warm ambiance.

Christmas morning came and went…we slept right through it! We knew everything would be closed anyway so we didn’t bother to wander outside til evening. Back down to the old plaza by the castle, we slowly circled the grand cathedral, soaking in the expansive wonders. It’s the largest Gothic cathedral in Europe and ridiculously intricate and ornate on the outside. We knew it was closed today so we were just admiring the outside…

Then I saw a line of people going in a side door! Hoping for maybe a quick walk around this side chapel or a glimpse into the big chapel, we slipped through the door…and accidentally joined Mass. The priest said the opening prayers as J and I quickly stood in front of a pew as though we belonged. We took a minute to gape at the incredible alter and stained glass and paintings – and this was just a side chapel!! – before sneaking back out the door to the street. Oops.

I wanted to see inside the main part, especially the tomb of Christopher Columbus, but we didn’t manage to make it happen. I so wanted a picture to show my 5th graders – they’re studying the explorers right now!

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We did some more exploring of the city, passing some more grand buildings and fountains and statues. The sun set over the river in a blaze of color as we strolled down the main avenue, trying to guess what was on the other side of the wall we walked next to. Flowers draped over the edge and every once in a while, a domed tower or spired rooftop would poke into view. We passed a stadium used for the great bull fights (a Plaza de Toros), and a fancy building with a concert on the steps. We entered a huge park, quiet and empty in the dark, save for a few runners.

Then BAM! A building such as I had never seen stretched before my eyes. A tower at each end and an enormous fountain in the front, I was immediately convinced I had found the royal palace. I don’t even have the words to tell you of the intricate details that made this place so stunning – I just stared and stared. A little water canal ran the length of it, with pretty bridges crossing to the building. Balconies and columns and mosaic tilework…. Straight out of a fairytale. We found a staircase to climb up to a second story balcony and I was absolutely in heaven. Whatever this majestic place is, I was ready to move in!!!

We finally ventured back towards our apartment, my head full of dreamy stories. We tucked through back alleys and tiny streets, hoping to come across the secret local flamenco club, but they weren’t having a show that night. Ah well, we had to get up early the next morning.

And up early we were, to try one last time for the cathedral. A no-go yet again, we settled for mini ham sandwiches and a cab ride to the train station, we braced ourselves for the next leg of the trip: we rented a car for a road trip to Ronda!!! I was sad to leave this beautiful city and all its history. I hope we meet again, Sweet Sevilla! Hasta luego!

*Stayed tuned for the next exciting chapter!





Magnificent Madrid

25 12 2015

Excellent news, everyone: I’ve decided to move to Spain!

Ok, fine, that’s not actually going to happen, but my imagination has been going wild since I stepped foot in this fabulous place. A girl can dream!

Traveling was a bit of hell to make it here. We caught a red-eye flight to NYC from Seattle and there was little sleep to be found for either of us. Planes are insanely cramped these days! Even laying over on J didn’t work. With a really long layover, we had time to launch a quick excursion into New York City.

We grabbed the train and hit the streets of Manhatten. Madison Square Gardens, Times Square, 5th Avenue, we walked as much as we could in our short time frame. It’s funny how much was familiar from TV and movies. We ate a pretzel and hot dog from a street vendor in Central Park, walked along the base of the Empire State Building, and rested on the steps of the huge library. I could just sit and watch the people walk by. I lost count of languages I heard, thought a saw a drug deal, and almost laughed a hundred times at people going by. Just awesome.

(I have some awesome pictures that I would love to share but can’t figure out how to get them into a blog post on my stupid tableg. Lo siento mi amigos.)

We took the train back to JFK and finally got on the plane for Spain. Equally cramped, our hopes for sleep were dashed once more. We did get food and beverages and movies but I would have traded it all for a little leg room. We somehow were lucky enough to also have a screaming baby behind us…again. Wonderful.

Then, about 6 hours later, I slid the little window open and caught a glimpse of coastline. Portugal maybe? The sunrise began painting the horizon beautiful pinks and oranges and it all slipped away. We were almost to Spain, for Pete’s sake! We landed and zoomed through the airport. Customs was a breeze, getting our luggage was a breeze, hailing a taxi was a breeze. I love this country!

The taxi dropped us off in front of the AirB&B  where we were staying. I had tried to pay attention as we zoomed through the city, but I was mostly charmed by the narrow cobblestone streets and fabulous architecture of our neighborhood. Flowers spilled out of pots from  the balconies above, the wooden doors marked the discreet enterances, and first-floor shops were just opening for the day. It was like a movie!

After a quick shower and a delightful nap, we hit the town. I had been worried about walking, but Madrid is a super walkable city. People were everywhere: walking, on scooters, drinking at sidewalk cafés. I tried not to gawk, chanting “be normal, blend in” over and over to myself. But that was pretty hard. Spanish women are slender and elegant, all class and dark beauty and neutral tones. I was a grinning fool in a fuscia wool coat, pale pale skin, and no cigarette in my fingers.

The city streets wind and zigzag, and I was thankful for J’s directions so I could just take it all in. We soon reached the Gran Via, similar to 5th Ave in NYC. The wide sidewalks bustled with people, the towering buildings shone with Christmas lights and flashing electronic billboards, the high-end shops boasted their fancy wares in the windows. We saw some fancy federal buildings with big statues and fountains. One had a giant banner hanging that said “REFUGEES WELCOME” and I couldn’t help giving them a mental high-five. You go, Spain!

We finally popped into a mercado, where stall after stall offered tapas, wine, sangria, and more tapas. We sampled a few different kinds and I found yet another Spanish thing to love: jamon iberica  (there should be some accents in there but the tablet out smarts me once more). It’s a type of ham that is out of this world delicious.

More walking, tasting as we go. You can just pop into these little places and grab a couple tapas for a few euros. Genius. Pizza, gelato, tacos, wine – we ate our way back to the apartment. A woman played her guitar in the courtyard below our window, the folksy sound putting us straight to sleep.

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The next day, we hoofed it across town again to the Prado, a significant art museum we couldn’t miss. We popped into the cathedral just behind it, too – my first European cathedral! I was not disappointed. Though small, it was pretty incredible. I gave some coins to the old woman outside that urged us to go in, and we headed for the museum.

I have no words for the vast amount of incredible art inside that building. Classical art, masterpieces, priceless works that left me speechless. We barely scratched the surface of the museum and I felt cheated that I didn’t get to see it all. The Roman sculptures impressed me almost as much as the work of French painter, Jean Ingress. I mean that guy was G.O.O.D.

We finally left in search of lunch and found a cute little café. Two courses and dessert later and off we went again! We stopped by a modern art museum, the Reina Sofia, which I think we were both unimpressed with. It’s hard to follow the Prado with modern, abstract, weird art. I have yet to learn how to appreciate modern art the same way. After a nap, we caught a cab to a different part of the city for dinner, again at a big mercado.  More delicious tapas, this time several different types of seafood and a bowl of paella washed down with sangria.

We decided to walk home and wound our way back through the narrow streets, arm in arm. Despite the huge size of the city, it’s much cleaner and smells a lot better than NYC  (or at least this central part is much nicer). Rather than the constant stench of urine and garbage, the air here is full of fragrances from cooking food, coffee, passing gents, and tobacco. Our short time in Madrid is almost over, as we caught the train out of town the next morning. So I tried memorizing every detail as we walked, pretending I lived here among these stylish, beautiful people and their stylish beautiful city….

Magnificent Madrid, I hope we meet again someday!

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Our next city is Seville, where we spent the most lovely Christmas. I hope you all enjoyed your holiday, whatever you did, whoever you saw, and wherever you are! Stayed tuned for the next leg of our grand adventure! (Maybe I’ll even figure out how to get some picture in here!)

FELIZ NAVIDAD!!