Welcoming family to our home

Welcoming family to our home

Todd is the youngest of three brothers, and the first to retire. When his oldest brother made plans to come visit, he made it clear that they didn’t want to sight-see; they wanted to see how we live. Four days wasn’t enough, but we managed to jigsaw together some of our favorite places.

We met them at the airport and rode the bus back into town. They immediately got a taste of life in Alicante: the day they arrived was a holiday, which meant a parade through the main square by our apartment, so the bus couldn’t run its regular route. Todd talked to the driver, and he actually managed to get us to our corner before he reached the police blockade. We still aren’t sure how the got through—or if the driver had back up a block to take a side street.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to take jet lag into account: they came to us from a week in Paris.

We dropped bags and headed through town to the beach and our favorite summer hangout: Xiringuito. As always, the staff welcomed us with hugs, and they welcomed our family as family, too. A pleasant afternoon of sangria for the girls and beer for the boys and lunch from the kitchen, and all was right with the world:

us with Giaccomo

Score: Little Brother – 1

On Wednesday morning, we headed to the Mercado. With Tuesday being a holiday, there wasn’t much seafood, but everything else was as beautiful as always:

Girona 

We ended the visit with lunch at Katana, creating our own sampling menu:

Katana - us

Score: Little Brother – 2

Wednesday evening, we invited friends to join us for a jamon tasting. Todd put together a beautiful spread of jamon, cheese, and fruit, and we opened several bottles of wine.

Score: Little Brother – 3

Thursday morning, they walked up to Castle Santa Barbara to explore and enjoy the views.

Score: Little Brother – 4

After they returned to the apartment, we headed back toward the Mercado for the tasting menu lunch at To-Bar with the locals.

Score: Little Brother – 5

Dinner Thursday was in Old Town at Taberna San Pascual, where we visited with some visitors from Ireland who were in town looking at properties to buy for a vacation home. Just another evening in Alicante.

Score: Little Brother – 6

Friday we opted for something different and took the tram up the coast to El Campello. Even though it was May, the town was still quiet. We walked the beach and window-shopped, stopping to admire a sand castle, then stopped for lunch on the promenade:

sand castle

Score: Little Brother – 7

We finished their visit with dinner at Casa Mia Italia, where Andrea put on his usual great show and directed us on what to eat and drink.

Score: Little Brother – 8

Saturday came too soon, and we walked them to the train station to head to Madrid, where they had a few hours to explore before the day ended and they took their flight home to Texas the next morning.

They’re already working on plans for a return visit later this year.

Vale!

 

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Rome: the infernal Eternal City

Rome: the infernal Eternal City

It took me a while to get this post up – this trip was, in many ways, a disappointment for us. The negatives were pretty much user error on our part, I think, so we confirmed some things about ourselves as travelers. Herewith, our journey to Rome:

Sunday – arrival

When we arrived at the Rome airport, we checked into taking a train into the city, but at 18 euro apiece and several metro/bus transfers, we figured we were just as well off with a cab for 48 euro total. So, off we went. It was dark, and we really didn’t get a good look at anything. So we woke up Monday with no real sense of the city.

Monday

Not feeling Rome yet. Maybe it was the rain and cold. Maybe it was getting off several bus stops too early returning to the hotel. Maybe it was staying in the ‘burbs rather than in the city center. Maybe it was right after a trip to Barcelona to meet a high school group, with the 5-hour train trip back home before the flight to Rome. In any case, Monday wasn’t our best travel day ever.

We slept in, had breakfast at the hotel, then headed toward the city center. After a false start, we finally figured out the instructions to get to the bus stop: the hard part was getting off the hotel property; from there, it was a matter of just a few blocks. We hoped the rain was over, but it started up again just after we got off the bus at the Piazza Venenzia:

We proceeded with our plan to do the hop-on/hop-off tour bus to get our bearings. And the rain blew in. And it was cold. Even with the awning up and sitting behind the windshield. But we persevered for the whole loop plus another stop. And we got some good pictures:

We managed to have lunch (really good pizza with a restaurant full of American students on spring break – we opted not to speak to them) and do some window shopping with no rain. We wandered for a bit in search of fountains and churches:

We ended up at Piazza Navona, where we got some great pics:

The bus ride back to the hotel was crowded, but the sun was shining.

Tuesday

Another cold, rainy day. Another late start.

We decided to save the Colosseum for later in the week. After picking up our Roma Passes, we headed to the Capitoline Museum, where we spent several hours wandering. We kept finding rooms we hadn’t seen before. Husband focused on faces, feet and hands of statues. Generally, I prefer ceilings.

A magnificent lunch at a beautiful restaurant: Ristorante Vecchia Roma: a lovely red table wine; roasted Jerusalem artichoke; mixed salad with a fabulous simple dressing of lemon, oil, and vinegar; pork chop with rosemary and balsamic vinegar (pork chop doesn’t do it justice); risotto with pistachio and parmesan; crème brulee; and Italian coffee.

A stroll to the Trevi Fountain, where we made our way through the crowd down to the bottom of the fountain area:

Then a taxi ride to St. Patrick’s to pick up our tickets for Wednesday’s papal audience. Between us, we managed to leave a backpack in the taxi. Note to travelers: ALWAYS make note of the taxi number. We’ve since started snapping pics of them. It may help prevent gouging, too.

Then a taxi back to the hotel, where we crashed for the evening and did our research for tomorrow’s visit to the Vatican.

Wednesday

We’re not Catholic, but, man, I love this pope! We were worried about the rain, but it cleared early. We had been advised to get to St. Peter’s Square at least 2 hours early for the 10:00 papal audience, but we didn’t quite make that. Still, we managed to get seats in the first section, maybe 15 rows back. Lots of young kids from all over the world. Francis made his appearance about 9:40 and circled the square several times before approaching the dais. It was like a pep rally: a youth choir singing, band playing, jumbotron focused on the Pope. Lots of joy!

Listening to him speak was like hanging out with a favorite uncle. He joined the crowd in laughing when his cap blew off – that later made the American news. Lots of official translations: English, French, German, and more. He did his own translation into Spanish. Flags everywhere for him to bless. We didn’t even think to take our Texas flag, so it remains unblessed.

We didn’t get to appreciate the Swiss Guard uniforms: they were bundled into coats.

As wonderful as the morning was, the afternoon was the worst travel experience we’ve ever had.

We returned to the Vatican to tour the Vatican Museums. The week before Holy Week, spring break, the day of the papal audience: BIG MISTAKE. It started out crowded, then quickly became unmanageable. Shoulder-to-shoulder and elbow-to-elbow through the whole place, and we could only move forward. No stopping to admire. No moving ahead to the things we really wanted to see. No joy in the Sistine Chapel – guards yelling the whole time to keep moving and no photos – not that we could move our arms to take any had we been so inclined. It soured the whole Rome experience for us. They offer an evening after-hours tour, and if we were to return, I think we would check that out.

3 buses later, we were back at the hotel. At the second bus stop, we ran into a group from Husband’s family’s home area in Kansas. Small world, indeed!

Thursday

Finally, the Colosseum! It was all that we expected! Truly a marvel… Great views inside and outside, and not as crowded as we had expected.

We took the Metro to the Borghese Museum, but the second metro line was closed, maybe due to a strike? So – so much for that idea! We ended up walking from the bus station to the Borghese. Stopped for pasta on the way, of course.

The Borghese is run like a museum should be – the antithesis of the Vatican Museum! We had a 3:00 admission and got there about 2:00. No early entry, so we wandered the grounds and watched dogs playing in the park area. Limited number of admissions, admitted every 2 hours, half sent to the second floor, half starting on the first floor. No rush, no crowd, plenty of time to admire and take photos. We lingered for an hour and a half or so, and left feeling much better about Rome.

After the metro fiasco, we taxied back to the hotel. The driver fussed about how much it would cost, but we insisted he run the meter. It cost less than half what he had wanted to charge, but we tipped him extra because he had to fight traffic back to the city center. Note to self: we are city center people – no more staying in the suburbs!

Friday

With an early evening flight out, we were able to pay 20 euro for a really late checkout. We headed to the Pantheon and window shopped for a bit. Lunch at a fabulous family-run restaurant. A lovely low-key last day in Rome.

 

best of 2017

best of 2017

Our first year in Spain has been all that we expected – and more.

We saw London dressed in her best for the Christmas season:

We wandered through Christmas markets in Germany:

We admired the snow-topped Alps from our hotel window in Murren:

We watched our oldest propose to his girlfriend at Sagrada Familia:

We explored the Alhambramore than once:

We roamed the Mezquita and the old quarter of Cordoba:

We enjoyed seafood on Mallorca:

IMG_1325

We immersed ourselves in culture in Italy:

We investigated the past in Cartagena:

We revisited Prague, one of our favorite cities:

We tasted wine and tapas throughout Spain:

We spent the weekend in Paris:

We became regulars at Xiringito:

We shared our new home with friends from home:

Best of all, we made really good friends in our new home:

what we’ve learned after a year in Spain

what we’ve learned after a year in Spain

People back home ask us what’s different than we expected. Nothing, really.

We’ve learned a lot, though.

We’ve learned that paperwork takes time. And multiple trips to multiple offices. And prepayment of fees at the bank.

We’ve learned that a smile and a positive attitude go a long way toward communication.

We’ve learned to shop for just what we can carry.

We’ve learned to appreciate fresh foods that actually have taste.

We’ve learned to slow down and enjoy meals. No more 20-minute lunches.

We’ve learned to just chill at the beach and watch the waves – and the people.

We’ve learned to spend all afternoon – or evening – nursing a drink.

We’ve learned that ex-pats – no matter where they’re from – automatically have enough in common to become friends fast.

donde vive la corazon

donde vive la corazon

We’d lived in Spain just over a year when we took a trip back to Texas.

We caught up with our doctors (even though we’re healthy, getting older sucks).

We overdosed on our favorite restaurants and foods that we can’t get in Spain (Tex-Mex and Ruffles with Borden’s French onion dip and Velveeta-and-Rotel queso).

Most importantly, we caught up in person with family and friends. Facebook is a godsend, but nothing beats face-to-face with drinks in hand!

I expected to feel a bit torn between the two worlds. But, while it was great to spend time with family and friends, I missed our life in Spain. Spain had become home.

I missed our Mercado, with all of its fresh seafood and fruits and vegetables:

I missed our pedestrian lifestyle with convenient public transportation.

I missed our favorite cafes and bars:

I missed our frequent parades and fireworks:

I missed our Alicantino friends.

Texas will always be Home with a capital H, but my home now is in Spain.

Vale!

 

through others’ eyes

through others’ eyes

In our first year in Alicante we had five sets of visitors, and it’s been interesting to see our new home through their eyes.

They love our sunny apartment, with our view of the Med:

view - Mediterrean

They love our Mercado, with all of its sights and smells and our favorite stop-in: Katana.

They love our beach, with its lack of body shaming and our favorite stop-by: Xiringuito Postiguet, with its views, drinks, music, and friendly staff:

They love our castle, accessible by elevator:

They love our old town, with its sidewalk restaurants, including La Taberna San Pascual, run by our friend Antonio:

They love our neighborhood park and its outdoor bar: Sotello:

They love our sangria.

Our olives.

Our tapas.

Our paella.

Our parades:

Our fireworks:

IMG_0582

Vale!

a weekend in Paris

a weekend in Paris

That sounds so pretentious to my Texas self: We spent the weekend in Paris.

Loving Husband pieced together flights so we could meet in Paris for the weekend. I left Madrid about the time College Roommate headed back to Texas; Todd left Alicante earlier and had a layover in Barcelona. We arrived in Paris within 2 hours of each other – just long enough for me to grab something to eat and get to where I could meet his flight.

A 40-minute cab ride from Orly into the center of town took over an hour. Someone was demonstrating – I never understood who, exactly.

Our hotel, the Hotel du Louvre, was being renovated. Half of it was closed off. But our room was right across from the Louvre, and we actually had a view from our room of some of the antiquity statues:

IMG_2698

We left the hotel and roamed away from the Louvre to find dinner. We stopped at a café that seemed popular, and a lovely gentleman with an American accent who was having an espresso asked us if we wanted to sit at the table next to him. We told him we were just perusing the menu and asked him if he would recommend the place.  He put his finger to his lips for a moment, then pointed up the street. “If you go up about 3 blocks…” Apparently, he didn’t recommend the place. We moved on.

After roaming a bit, we found a little Italian place. The food was good – not as good as our favorite place back home, but we’re spoiled. We got to chatting with the French couple at the table next to us and introduced them to Jimmy Buffett. As we were talking, the owner of the place piped in with “My girlfriend is from Austin.” More conversation with him after the couple left. An additional round of lemoncello – because his girlfriend is from Austin.

Our culture goal: the Louvre. We’ve gotten the hang of getting tickets in advance and downloading guide apps to get a preview, so we were set. Of course, there’s too much to the Louvre to get in one visit, but we did a pretty good overview. I will say that it’s much better laid out than the Prado. And with the first admission time of the morning, it wasn’t too crowded for most of our visit.

We then walked through the park and the statue garden, up the Champs Elysee. No time to stop anywhere, but the looking was enough for a first visit:

The next morning, a visit to Notre Dame. After all of our visits to Spanish cathedrals, which are constantly in a state of being cleaned and restored, we were saddened. We would have willingly paid admission if the money were used for restoration, as it is in Spain. But the exterior was dirty and the windows – beautiful though the were – were sooty, and much of the interior was in shabby shape.

And then: the reason we were in Paris: the Jimmy Buffett concert! At home, his concerts are in huge outdoor concert spaces, with 20-25 thousand spectators. La Cigale in Paris holds 1400. We were THAT close! We had seats on the first row of the balcony – perfect, considering all of the floor was standing space. 2 ½ hours of music we’ve known for 40 years – he seemed to be having even more fun that he usually has at his concerts. And 1400 people singing along all the way through…

Our return tickets were out of Beauvais – an hour bus ride from Paris to a terminal with only five gates and seats for 100 or so – by the time our plane boarded, we were packed into the waiting area like sardines. Some savings aren’t worth it.

Observations about Paris:

  • Paris is a city for couples, home to the People of the Tiny Table
  • As long as you’re wearing a black skirt, it doesn’t matter what else you have on—you’re stylish!
  • The 6-euro cokes were a shocker, but the iced carafes of cold water were awesome.