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Espana

Time. It can feel fast. It can feel slow. 2018 has been a rush of leisure for us. We have hurried through days and lounged for weeks, nicely adopting our new country’s attitude on savoring the moment and living a slow life.

One of the great pleasures we have had this year is showing our new home to our families. Dan’s mom has visited several times and different members of my family came and went for an entire month during the summer. Watching them experience our day to day life was fascinating. In such a short period of time, our routines and attitudes molded to Spanish culture and it wasn’t obvious to us until we were sharing our new life with our loved ones. We already take things for granted. It was eye-opening. (You will also notice some guest stars in some of the pictures).

Being an expat is “difficult”.  We live in such a beautiful country and our list of “must-see” places is ever growing.  On the other hand, we want to see the entire continent of Europe too.  When planning our travels, our attention often feels divided. We have the privilege of being able to travel frequently and the question always is: Explore Spain or a new country in Europe? Most of the time this year, Europe won, and I will catch you up on those travels in a week. But today, I want to show you the tiny portion of our new country that we have traveled to so far. There is still so much to see!

Bilbao

If you have ever traveled to Europe or even researched traveling to Europe, you know that Europeans love trains. While airfare between countries is unbelievably affordable, trains are still a very big deal. (When I say affordable, think 25% of what a plane ticket from Indiana to Missouri costs). So, we decided to take the train to the northern coast of Spain, Bilbao.

Bilbao is in Basque country. It is known for beautiful architecture, excellent food and a Guggenheim art museum. The city is easily walkable and comfortable. It is divided into two areas by the Nervion River. And you can tell a difference too! One side has been completely overhauled into a modern European city and the other side is, well, a little dirty.

During our two-day trip, we toured the Guggenheim and took a funicular to the top of Artxanda Mountain to get in the views.

Check out Bilbao…

Tenerife

This is in my Top 3 for the year. I still find my mind going back to our short little getaway to the tiny Canary Island of Tenerife. There is an endless supply of activities you can do here or you can relax.  Both seem to be equally encouraged.   In just a few days, we…

• Went whale watching
• Went on a star-gazing tour
• Dan rented a jet ski for an afternoon
• Visited an 18th century winery
• Spent a day at the pool
• I read an entire novel and Dan, of course, read two books 😊

It was beautiful, relaxing and English friendly. I would go back tomorrow…
(Tenerife will also always hold a special place in my heart because it was where I felt Squirms move for the first time).

 

Toledo

There are several cities near Madrid for day trips or even afternoon outings. Wanting to escape the city for an afternoon, we rented a car and drove an hour to Toledo. I knew nothing about Toledo, Spain.

The hubster LOVES an ancient walled city.  Toledo is surrounded by a river on three sides and a nicely preserved wall on the other.  In the city centre, the streets are so narrow that driving them is impossible. The town is full of twists and turns, giant old cathedrals, stunning architecture and it is remarkably easy to get lost. 🙂

For literary buffs, Toledo is near La Mancha, where Don Quixote’s adventures take place.

We were all surprised at how beautiful and interesting we found Toledo.

 

I love sharing our adventures with all of you.  Next week, I will show you where we have spent our time outside of Spain this year.

Love,
Nan

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Alicante

Man, am I behind! As it turns out, keeping up with a blog while traveling is challenging. Add in the joys of growing a human and you will find that it makes for a lengthy absence :). I found myself thinking about you a lot. I took many pictures in the last few months, some of which I took specifically to share with you.

So… I am going to work backwards to catch us up.

Last week, we decided out of the blue, to take one final trip, just the five of us, before Baby Girl arrives in January. We loaded our pups into a rental and drove to the east coast of Spain… Alicante!

Alicante is located about an hour and a half south of Valencia and about five hours from Barcelona. Both of which are on our list for future exploration :). But we were seeking a quiet and relaxed getaway this time and Alicante provided just that!

We stayed in a tiny hunting lodge, surrounded by the mountains. The accommodations were, to be polite, rustic.

Our heat was a wood-burning stove, the 20 square foot kitchen had countertops 30″ off the ground and we had a very interesting shower situation with no hot water (Check out the rock!) The lodge is located at the top of a fruit grove and surrounded by the almost constant sounds of donkeys, roosters, and virile cats. As with most places in Spain, there were no restaurants open late to cater to our hunger and the city of Alicante went dark around 6pm, right along with the sunset.

We spent our first two days reading and walking the pups, who seemed to enjoy the getaway as much as we did.  We even caught Ruby watching the sunrise on our first morning.

On the third day, we went into town and visited a bodega. Our tour guide, the owner, spoke beautifully broken English and was so proud of his wine, he may have tasted more than Dan. :). After, we found a restaurant that was open until 4pm to have paella. While the food was fine, our scenic views were what our lunch conversation centered around. Not surprising, Valencia orange trees ripe with beautiful fruit were all around us and we felt safely hugged by the mountains. If you are looking for quiet and slow living, this is the place where you find it.

Our final day before heading back to Madrid, we took a half hour detour and found the Mediterranean Sea for Jezza.

What a life!  Up next, Bilbao!

So good to be back,

Nan

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Stop #12: Chueca: Linea 5

Man, I have A LOT to catch you up on…  I promise that I haven’t forgotten about you! This summer has been UNBELIEVABLE and its not over yet.  😊

So I don’t overwhelm you, Dan and I did a metro stop last week that I can’t wait to share.  We traveled to Chueca, an alternative area of Madrid and finally found a great pizza.  Pizza is a love of mine and Madrid, well, doesn’t have good pizza at all.  In fact, our real estate agent bragged that the best pizza in town was Dominoes.  :/  Not exactly exotic.

My appreciation of Instagram continues for leading us to Roostiq, recently named best pizza in Madrid.  Wanting to get out of the house for an evening, I coaxed the hubster into pizza for dinner and a Flamenco show for dessert.  Neither disappointed. The pizza was cooked in a wood burning oven.  The ingredients were from a local farm.  Dan had pork cracklings for an appetizer and they were amazing.  And for dessert, apple pie that tasted like home.  This may be my favorite date night so far in Madrid.

The Flamenco show was in a brick-walled cellar.  The stage was just big enough for five chairs and two dancers.  It was authentic Spanish flamenco.  Beautiful and loud.  I didn’t know that much about Flamenco before this evening and I exited the show with a desire to know more.  Expect more Flamenco shows in the future 🙂

June and July updates to follow…

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Stop #11: Tribunal: Linea 1 and 10

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Make no mistake, life here in Madrid has sped up a bit.  We have slowly started to get into a groove and that equals appointments and commitments.  And while my life more resembles that of a European retreat most days, our time and attention are getting pulled in different directions like they used to back in the US.

So, after a Spanish lesson this week, we saw an opening for a little exploring and seized the day.  Metro stop: Tribunal.

I have gotten into the habit of looking at my Google maps as soon as we emerge from the metro to orientate myself within the city.  Sometimes, still, I have it completely wrong.  Where I think we are north, we are actually south and vice versa.  As it turns out, we have never been in the Tribunal metro area before.  Funny, honest confession:  We had made plans to go to Mercado San Anton (near Tribunal) for bagels one Saturday morning in early February.  But I chickened out.  It was one of those weekends where I wanted to hide my head in the sand and only hear English.  It was a weekend where I wanted to order familiar food, be in a kind environment and for things to not be so complicated.  We had more than one of these weekends.

So, how surprised were we that we had actually stumbled upon Mercado San Anton on a random weekday in May.  We marveled at the many different types of rice being sold, ordered two filets (in Spanish) from a butcher, ate a simple, yet unbelievably good, tapa with artichoke hearts, serrano ham, three eggs and cheese with the best crusty baguette you can imagine.  We then topped it off with gelato.  And this time, there was no intimidation.  It was just a lovely evening with good food.  My, how far we have come in such a short period of time. 🙂

And as always, we marveled at street art, amazing architecture and look at what else we found?  Two more checked off my list…

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Stop #10: Serrano: Linea 4

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One of the most difficult things about being an expat is that sometimes we aren’t privy on the happenings around town.  We don’t tune into the news and our social circle is still very limited (although growing).  So, we rely on the internet to tell us what is going on and most of the time, we are late to the party.

Today is a national holiday in Spain,  The Feast of the Saint Isidore. And while I don’t know that much about the holiday itself, I do know quite a bit about the festival, Gigantes y Cabezudos, or the Festival of Giants and Big Heads.  I read about our local festival the day after it occurred and it bummed me out.  How could we miss a parade of gigantic paper mache heads bobbing through the streets?  I swore to never miss it again.  I already have the festival in my 2019 planner.

The good news is that because of missing this, I scoured the internet for more upcoming events and have found a website that I can use as a tour guide.  Which leads me to Sunday…

One of the most popular paintings in the Prado Museum is by Velasquez and its called “Las Meninas” or “Ladies in Waiting”.  When we went to the Prado, it was one the paintings that had a large crowd around it.  The little girl in the painting has a crinoline under her dress that makes her look very grown up, i.e. a little lady in waiting…(My very elementary critique).  So, just like Toronto had a painted moose exhibit or when Chicago displayed cows everywhere, Madrid has created 80 statues of “The Lady in Waiting”.  Dan and I went and found some…

The statues are scattered around Madrid until the middle of July.  Just in case you want to see them all before I post them on here…  Las Meninas.  I vow to find them all before they leave.  A majority of these were found near the Plaza de Colon.  We also found the Archaeological Museum, the National Library, an enormous Spanish flag and an outdoor patio to have lunch.  It was a perfect day.

(Also please find pictures of our dogs patiently waiting for the pool to be summer-ready and our olive tree that has about 5000 baby olive buds on it)  🙂

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Stop #9: Anton Martin: Linea 1

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Today, on our 4 month Madrid anniversary, we have decided to profess our love for Madrid and celebrate with a planned Metro Challenge to the Anton Martin stop. How in the world has it been four months already? Apparently, we blinked.

As you have probably noticed, a lot of the metro stops here in Madrid are named after historical European figures. Anton Martin was the immediate successor of Saint John of God. He lived from 1500-1553.  In all of the metro stops we have visited (so far), there is a wall that pays homage to its namesake.

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Spain has such a rich and unique culture, we can’t seem to soak it up fast enough. And what is more Spanish than tapas? So, I signed us up for a four hour long tapas cooking class. On the menu: Sangria, Catalan cream (think crème brule), garlic shrimp, chorizo in cider, Spanish tortilla, and potato bravas. The class size was small. There were a group of four Parisian girls here for the weekend and a couple from California and our teacher. We had hands on instruction and when we left, our bellies were full.

The tapas tradition started when King Alfonso XIII (who also has a metro station named after him), insisted that bars serve food along with alcohol because workers were coming back from “lunch” drunk. And boy, did it catch on… Now, whenever you go into a bar, you are served a small dish of food (for free) before you order your drink or meal or both. Although now, they are consumed mostly between the long lunch (2-4pm) and dinner (10pm and on).

We love tapas. Most nights, we only eat tapas for dinner because they are quick, easy and healthy-ish.  Our favorite are chorizo stuffed mushrooms and pan tomate. Somehow, the Spanish have taken something so simple and made it into a lifestyle. It’s certainly a lifestyle change that is permanent in our house.

 

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Grande Paris

Earning first place in anything is difficult. It requires determination and stamina. Maybe a little flexibility and persistence. Time after time. Year after year. Things are repeated, evaluated and corrected until they have been perfected…

It is my humble opinion that Paris has rightfully earned her place on top of the “World’s Greatest Cities” list. She is passionate and resolute. She has high, uncompromising standards. She is the prettiest and knows it. Her citizens carry this weight as a badge of honor and burden. Being Paris seems to be both effortless and exhausting.

This was my first trip to this famed city. As we drove down the picturesque streets to our hotel, the Eiffel Tower welcomed us. She seemed to always be in view, wherever we were in the city, watching over us, grand and breath-taking. While some parts of Paris were too popular to enjoy (sorry Louvre), others were anxious to show us the goods (literally… Bonjour Moulin Rouge).

At the end, it was the service and food that really set the city apart. I have to admit, I have fallen a bit in love with our girl Madrid, although I am not loving her cuisine just yet. French food, however, is my type of food. Our first dinner in the city was divine. (I have never used that word to describe food before, but there it is… the food was divine). And not only that, the service was enough to make Dan run to the hotel room and give a five star Yelp review. It was the kind of meal that makes you a little sad at the end. Proving their reputation true, the French are relatively rude people. But not those in the service industry. They have perfected the craft of customer service to almost an embarrassing level.

I will miss Paris. I will probably even dream of Paris. And if my life is as magical as I believe it is, I will find myself wondering Paris’ cobblestone streets again. Next time, the Mona Lisa will be on top of the to-do list (along with another performance of the Moulin Rouge 😉 and maybe a more intimate look at where Ernest Hemingway spent his time in the roaring 20s.

Pictures are in the Photos tab. Enjoy!