Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Christmas!!!

Christmas is a big day for my family, and it was nice for all of us to be together, as Danielle is the only one of us still living at home. My mom and dad just got a new puppy, so she was enjoying romping around while we opened presents. Zander, my 3 year old nephew, is getting to be the perfect age for Christmas, and he was very good today and patient with the present opening!!

After opening gifts, we went over to the Alvar's, where I gave my young paduan learner a matching t-shirt. Now we are all part of Team Cullen!!

The next stop was the Kings to drop off gifts. Elizabeth and Sammy were enjoying the Christmas Spirit!!

Our final stop of the day was the Vestal household for Christmas dinner. Matt's mom made a delicious prime rib and polish sausage, with all my favorite side dishes!!

Moving In

My boyfriend Matt and I decided to move in together, and we moved the weekend I returned from Spain. Here are few photos of the two of us, with Sadie, Matt's adorable dog, settling into our new place. We have a 240 gallon fish tank in the living room that looks amazing, and on Christmas Eve we installed 2 pallets of sod in the backyard. Our new place is coming along quite nicely, and Matt and I are enjoying only having each other as roommates!!

Leaving Spain-December 3rd & 4th

My Spain trip drew to a close, and I have to say it was definitely one of the best vacations I've ever taken. Doug is one of my good friends, and it is great that we travel so well together. He and I are both into history, and so he didn't mind lingering at castles, armories, and other sites of historical significance. Our last day in Spain Brent had to be at the school, so Doug and I tagged along to tour the campus and use the internet. We went back to the house for dinner, then dressed up and headed out to flamenco. I'm not sure why, but I don't have any pictures. The flamenco was amazing though. We arrived to the flamenco bar early enough for dinner, and since we also had dinner, we had the best seats in the house!! I actually felt the sweat from the dancers.

We got our drunk selves home, then played cards until 2:30 in the morning. I tried to get a couple hours of sleep, but we had to be up at 5 to get Doug to the airport. I though my flight was at 10, but it turns out I read my reservation incorrectly. I ended up sitting at the airport for 5 hours, since my flight was at 12. Oh well, I had plenty of time to get my tax refund, wander the shops, and eat my last Bocadilla del Jamon.

I flew home through Philadelphia, and the travel time is 2 hours longer going home. I felt every minute, mostly because I was anxious to get home to Matt. I have attached the requisite photo of my phone with all my emails and messages, as well as Elizabeth enjoying her flamenco dress I brought home!!

Spain 2008-December 2nd El Escorial & Valley of the Fallen

Kelby, one of Brent's grad students, arrived from the States today to spend a week in Europe backpacking around. Fortunately for him he had a free place in Madrid to stay for a few nights. After Brent got back from the airport with Kelby, we let him have a bit of time to unwind, eat something, and shower, then we headed out to El Escorial, seat of the Spanish Inquisition. We toured the castle there, which is also the burial place of the Spanish Royalty.

We ate lunch at a local restaurant, with Kelby getting his first taste of Spanish beer and Paella. After lunch we drove the 6 miles to Valle de los Caidos or Valley of the Fallen. The Valley of the Fallen is a memorial to the Spaniards who died in the civil war, and to General Franco himself. The memorial is breathtaking, and we enjoyed a brief snowball fight.

We stopped at the grocery store on the way back to the house, where we picked up the ingredients for a tuna steak and grilled vegetable dinner. After dinner we had sombrero fun!!

Spain 2008 December 1st-Madrid

Brent was finally able to break away from his duties at University of Madrid to play tour guide to Doug & I. After breakfast, Lara dropped us off at the Metro Ligero, and we got to enjoy our second experience with Spanish Public Transportation. We hopped the Metro Ligero back into Madrid. We got off the stop, and immediately I was shown proof that there are nerds world wide with a large advertisement for the Star Wars convention. Unfortunately we spent too much time with silly things like castles and cathedrals and didn't get to attend the convention.

We walked from the Metro station to the Royal Palace and toured the grounds, and then the castle itself. Doug got in trouble with the palace guards for standing on the concrete dots trying to take pictures. It was a beautiful castle, and I enjoyed the artwork, the furniture, the antiques. It was amazing.

After the castle we toured the cathedral, where I found a memorial to a saint with the last name Acosta. Chase, here lies one of your husband's ancestors :)

We then toured the town, with Brent pointing out significant historic spots. We made our way to the main square, and stopped for lunch at the Museo de Jamon or the Museum of ham. We ordered a few plates of assorted cheeses and hams, as well as a few bottles of wine. It was quite an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon.

Afterwards, I did a bit of souvenir shopping, including purchasing myself my very own Spanish cap to match Doug & Brent. Lara, Kelly, Jocelyn and Bryce met us for dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe Madrid.

After dinner we wandered through the Christmas lights display, then called it a night and journeyed on the Metro back to Boadilla.

A Madrid Thanksgiving-November 27th

I spent Thanksgiving in Spain, and the Alvars did a wonderful job of pulling together a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner. This was Ana and Alfonso's second Thanksgiving, as they spent 2007 in the U.S.A. They managed to cook two turkeys, make mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, and veggie/relish trays. Unfortunately Spaniards aren't familiar with "pie" so we had to make due with cakes from the local pasteleria. (bakery)

We had a great time, Doug & I decorated the table, the undergrads helped Brent cook, and we played football in the yard while waiting for the turkeys to brown.

At dinner we laughed, ate, and played games. The girls even got to wear their Thanksgiving dresses I brought them!! I was thankful to have accompanied Doug on his trip, and to spend the holiday with good friends, both old and new.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Spain 2008-November 28-30th

Denia, Javea, & Valencia

Doug found a very nice Marriott resort on the Mediterranean coast in Spain, in a small town called Denia. So on Friday morning, Doug, Brent, Kelly & I loaded into the Picasso car and headed for the coast. Friday was the girls last day of school, so Lara, Bryce and Joc took the train down after school got out. Denia was about a 4.5 hour drive, but it was interesting to go through the countryside, see the different landscapes, the small towns, and the industry. The giant bulls on the side of the road are advertisements for a Spanish Winery with the label "Toro." They are all over.

We arrived in Denia after a few small mishaps with the GPS unit, and unloaded our luggage and took off for the bar.

We even enjoyed the spa in the hotel for a bit, relaxing our travel-sore muscles in the jacuzzi and steam rooms. After that, we headed into Alicante, about an hour south, to have dinner and collect the girls from the train station. Alfonso had given us recommendations on what to eat, so we had the Arroz a la banda, which is a traditional rice dish with shelled seafood. It was excellent!!!

The next morning we drove about 15 minutes from the resort to Javea, a beautiful town on the coast where the British have their winter homes. We had breakfast, walked, took pictures, and stopped for hot chocolate. I even scaled a (miniature) lighthouse. The town was gorgeous, the sea was turquoise, and the clouds added to the beauty of the pictures.

Later that evening, after relaxing in the resort, we dressed up and headed out for dinner on the beach. We had only a slight delay, where Lara pulled herself over when the Civil Guard was just waving us through the intersection. Unfortunately, they were quite upset that we had 7 people piled into a 5 person vehicle, so Brent, Doug and I walked the remaining 4 blocks to the restaurant. Again, the food was amazing. We had Arroz a la Banda again, Arroz Negro (died with Squid Ink) and Fiduea, which is the traditional rice dish, but with pasta instead.

The next day we headed out to Valencia, where Doug, Kelly & I caught the train back to Madrid, so we wouldn't wind up in jail for having too many people in a car. The train ride was very nice, with a different view of the countryside. I tried to take pictures, but got quite a bit of reflection from the inside of the carriage. Once we arrived in Madrid, we had to take 3 more local trains, and then the light rail back to Boadilla, where Brent was waiting for us with the car.

Spain 2008-November 26th

Toledo-Home of the swordmakers

Today Lara took Doug and I to Toledo, which is famous for its metalworkers, and also the huge Cathedral they have in town, which surpassed only by Rome for the riches within. The drive was about an hour, and again it was 0 degrees Celsius when we left. We arrived and parked at the train station; the main part of town is very difficult to drive, as the streets are all very narrow and cobblestone. I love being in all of these old towns, with their palaces and stone bridges. It feels like you have stepped back in time. Toledo was an open community, and the architecture is a combination of Jewish, Moorish, and Christian.

The Cathedral was breathtaking, with the stained glass windows, the art by El Greco. We shopped and wandered the streets, then stopped and had lunch in a tapas bar. We were the only tourists inside!!

Toledo is also the setting for the Man of La Mancha, by Don Quixote, and there are signs all over town commemorating his journey.