Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Spain, part dos

Thank you all so much for the sweet comments, emails and phone calls about my swollen knee.  I feel so lucky to be surrounded by friends and family who not only genuinely care that I have re-injured myself, but who understand how hard it is not to be able to engage in your normal exercise/running routine.  It’s amazing how just a day or two of forced rest can wreak havoc on your mental fitness; so just knowing there are others who have been there is very comforting.  And the prognosis?  My doctor drained my knee (again; I know, I thought I would die … again), injected me with cortisone, and ordered an MRI.  It seems he detests our annual meetings almost as much as I do.  Here’s hoping the MRI will finally answer that burning question of “what IS wrong with Lucy’s knee?”

But enough about my knee, let’s move on to Spain, shall we?!!


After our tours through Madrid, Seville, and Granada, Will and I took the bus to Malaga, a large city on the Mediterranean coast of Spain.  The entire reason for our Spanish holiday awaited us in the nearby town of Benalmadena:

The happy couple

Will’s cousin, Jen, and her now husband, Vesa, exchanged rings and vows in what has officially become my most favorite wedding ever. 

The wedding location
The best man
The children in attendance (most of whom stayed up much later than I did.  Endless energy.)
The romantic part (my favorite part!)

Cousin love

Vesa is from Finland, Jen’s father is British and her mother is from Atlanta, Georgia—needless to say, the wedding group was an eclectic but incredibly fun bunch.  The nights rarely ended before 3am (or so I hear.  They ended much earlier for me.  I am nothing if not a wimp at staying up late). 

Father of the bride

Father of the groom, standing next to best man extraordinaire (who was also performing his translating duties), Markus.

It also bears noting that in a party full of Fins, Brits, and Lithuanian descendants (Will’s family), I was by far the tannest person in the room.  And believe me, that doesn’t happen often to a blonde, German-blooded girl from Virginia.

We had a blast.  Everyone was unbelievably nice, and even though some of Vesa’s family spoke very little English (frighteningly enough, we spoke to some of them in Spanish), we all found out very quickly you didn’t need to understand each other to dance, sing and drink Spanish wine.

The guitar trio was great.  They played everything from La Bamba to the Macarena (the only time I've ever actually liked that song)

Cousins (and might I just add that Jen was simply the most stunning bride I have ever seen.  Oh to be tall, thin and gorgeous.  Vesa is a lucky man!)

Cousins (Carol, Will, and Jen) - not taken at the wedding, but I had to include it!


Besides the wedding itself, the guests bonded through a day trip to Gibraltar to see, what else, the Rock of Gibraltar (or just “The Rock” as the locals call it).

And now I must confess that The Rock was not for me--don't let that smiling girl fool you.  In fact, Will took all of our pictures of The Rock and the small town of Gibraltar because I was doubled-over, head between my legs, knees shaking like two dried leaves terrified of the entire experience.  It is absolutely not for those of us who are scared of heights. 

If you look closely at the middle of this picture, you can see the tiny airplane runway that services Gibraltar.  We watched military planes land on this small piece of land and even I have to admit that was pretty darn neat.

It was beautiful.  You could see Africa (AFRICA!).  It is a hugely significant part of history.  And I was a nervous wreck.

The view of Africa, very faint on the horizon
Will's aunt, Audrey, her daughter (his cousin) Carol, daughter Emerson, and husband Brandon.

There were also wild monkeys that live on the Rock, which only added to my anxiety.  These little furballs were aggressive and clearly convinced that I had some kind of monkey-nip hidden in my backpack because they kept trying to jump on my back.  I have to laugh now, but I’m fairly certain I cursed out my husband at least twice on the hike down The Rock.  If I haven’t apologized enough, I’m sorry Will! 

Just about to pounce.
The city of Gibraltar - very British!

Benalmedana (where the wedding took place) was utterly charming.  It reminded me a lot of Seville except it was even cleaner, even whiter and, with the blue Mediterranean Sea in every background shot, even more beautiful.  I was in heaven.

We stayed in a villa on the mountainside and awoke to this view every morning.

Siiiiighh, I miss that so much.  And in case you can’t tell from the pictures, the arid climate results in weather that is always sunny, zero clouds, zero humidity, zero rain, and zero bugs.  The villa owner mentioned that it rained “about two hours” in November and “maybe four hours” January.  Six hours total??  How is that for a guaranteed beautiful summer vacation spot!

Eventually though, our time in paradise had to end and we packed up and took the train to Cordoba.


Cordoba is about an hour train ride north of the coast, but still part of southern Spain’s Andalusia.  The city was charming and very tourist-friendly.  The main attraction in Cordoba is the incredible Mezquita.

The Mezquita is a Roman Catholic cathedral built in the middle of a mosque (which in turn had been built atop a destroyed Christian church).  During the Reconquista, the Catholic church destroyed many mosques to build their cathedrals, but much like the Alhambra in Granada, the mosque in Cordoba was simply too beautiful to destroy.

The cathedral

The mosque

I was in awe of the hundreds of candy cane arches (made out of stone and brick, so the colors have remained vibrant) in a giant room that was far too large to capture on film.  If you have a chance to see this cathedral in person, do it!  You will not believe your eyes.

The town of Cordoba is another beauty; small lanes, clean streets, and friendly people.  It was boiling hot (in all fairness, no different than any other place we’d visited), but I always feel like I can deal with any tough situation when the kids aren’t there.  I would have worried constantly about Frances and George’s comfort this entire trip, so it was nice to just worry about me (and Will, too, of course) for a change.

After only one night in Cordoba, we had to make our way back to Madrid to fly home the next day.  We were sad to leave Spain (and our beloved couple-time!), but very ready to see the kids and do laundry—ten days out of a suitcase is a long time.

MADRID (again!)

We did manage to squeeze in a bit more of Madrid before we flew out, including the Royal Palace (no cameras allowed inside):

The Prado museum (again, no cameras allowed inside):

And various other sites and sounds of Spain’s capital city (including a 50,000 person rally starting right outside of our hotel and ending at one of the city’s main squares.  It was exciting to see!):

Uncensored PDA - one of Europe's most frequent sites

Will took many of these evening pictures because I managed to catch a bad cold the last day we were in Spain and stayed in the room that night.  I was so impressed at his adventurous spirit—I had forgotten that Will spent most of his college abroad experience traveling alone.  I’m not sure I could do that, but I’m so glad that he didn’t let me slow him down.

The last picture of the trip—a typical nighttime stroll in Madrid.

We left that Sunday at 12 noon Madrid time and arrived safely home at 6:30pm Virginia time (about 12 hours of total travel time).  The kids seemed to have grown at least a foot each and were speaking in paragraphs (even George!) about their adventures with Nana, Gram-E and Mr. Pyles.  It was the ultimate homecoming—endless hugs, kisses and “I missed you, Mommy” to make any mother’s heart melt.

Before I sign off, I must thank my parents, the Pyles and Will’s parents for letting us take this incredible trip—we truly could not have done it without them.  My mother managed to do in 10 days what I could not accomplish in a year—replace our kitchen sink and garbage disposal, plant fresh flowers to replace the heat-exhausted geraniums I had been desperately trying to keep alive, polish many of our silver pieces, grocery shop, buy new napkins and other kitchen accessories, all the while keeping Frances and George happy, fed, clean, well-rested and entertained.  I have no idea how she did it, but I am so grateful that she did.

Thank you SO much to our Midlothian “village!”

And happy Tuesday, everyone!

*** Click here if you missed Part 1!***

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Unexpected delay

On the right, you will notice one cantaloupe-sized knee that appeared without warning in the middle of the night last night.

I have no idea what I did to re-injure it (no "It's Raining Men" involved this time), but I’m off to the doctor tomorrow to find out more.  Until then, I just don’t have it in me to write a happy post (Spain, part dos) about our recent trip.  Without my usual morning run and other routines (and the prospect that I won’t be running my fall races), I’m feeling a little sorry for myself today.  Even though I logically understand that injuries are a part of running, each one you get can seem catastrophic at the time.

Here’s hoping for a little more perspective after seeing the doctor tomorrow and a little less “poor pitiful me” posts from here on out.

Happy Sunday, everyone!

Friday, July 27, 2012


Do you want to know the best part about being gone from your children for ten days?

The endless hugs, kisses and “I love yous” you get on the other side.  They’ve helped soften the blow of reentering reality, which also includes both kids testing that Mommy’s rules still apply.

Here’s hoping the weekend includes many more sweet smooches than idle threats of going back to Spain “if you two DON’T STOP FIGHTING RIGHT THIS MINUTE!”  That was definitely the low moment of the week.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Spain, part uno

I finally have some semblance of normalcy back in the household—groceries have been purchased, laundry is in process (isn’t that always the case though), the ridiculous pile of mail has been sorted 90/10 (junk/bills), and the kids and I are back to our usual pool, naptime, errands routine.  And considering I have been chomping at the bit to write about our Spain vacation before I forget those ‘unforgettable’ details, I am thrilled that I finally have a good 60 minutes to sit down and focus on just that.

Our adventure started at Dulles Airport, two+ hours north of Richmond, where we took a non-stop flight from Washington DC to Madrid.  We booked through United Airlines, but lucked out (both ways) in having an Aer Lingus airplane complete with the best personal on-flight entertainment I have ever seen (granted I am not the most seasoned traveler, but I think everyone on board was impressed)—at least 20 new release movies, hundreds of TV shows, and endless music at our fingertips.  I am a reader by nature, but I was able to catch up on some of those “maybe one day I’ll watch that movie” movies, which made the eight-hour flight feel fairly quick and painless.

My first picture of the trip - our shuttle ride from the cheap parking spaces at the airport.

This was our tour guide extraordinaire (Rick Steve's Spain).  I highly recommend it.  

The flight left at 5pm and arrived at 7:30am Madrid time, which meant the bulk of our travel occurred when I would normally have been sleeping—and since I have never been able to sleep on an airplane, when we landed we kept the momentum going by walking, touring and eating.  However, this would probably be a good time for a minor digression: Will was at the office until 4:30am the day we left for Spain.  Yes, that’s 4:30 am, my friends.  Have you ever had that moment of panic when your alarm goes off and you realize your spouse is not sleeping beside you and his head has obviously never even graced the pillow?  Not fun.  We were like two ships passing in the night when he finally arrived home—I was off for my morning run and Will was off to squeeze in two hours of sleep before the kids woke up.  But that is a very long-winded way of saying that (thankfully) Will had absolutely no problem sleeping on the plane.


Madrid (Spain’s capital and located pretty much in the dead center of the country) was our coming and going point.  We didn’t have any major sightseeing planned in Madrid, but we were lucky to get to see a lot of the beautiful city on both ends of our trip.  When we arrived that first morning we realized we had a good 3 hours before our train left for Sevilla; so we strolled the huge, pristine park located within walking distance of the train station.

This park was once part of the Royal gardens, but one monarch (please forgive me, I have no idea what king it was) decided to open it to the public and I could kiss him for doing that.  It was breathtaking and enormous (as in Central Park enormous) and the perfect place for our first taste of Spain.

Later that afternoon, we boarded the train to Seville (or Sevilla as the locals call it).  I must now sing the praises of public transportation, particularly the trains, in Spain—they are amazing.  The trains and buses run like clockwork.  If the ticket says you will leave at 1:03pm and arrive at 3:34pm, you will actually, actually do that.  I have no idea how they do it.  Not only do the trains and buses run on time, but they are clean, modern, smooth, comfortable and complete with charging stations at your seats and movies on each car.  Our experience made me realize how embarrassingly behind  the U.S. is when it comes to public travel – come on Amtrak and Greyhound!


Sevilla was enchanting.  The city is credited as the birthplace of Flamenco dancing, which is apparent around nearly every charming corner of the quaint alleyways:

As if it were even a question, we bought a flamenco dress for Frances--black with red fringe.  But if I had been really brave, I would have bought the green one for me.  It was stunningly beautiful.  I think the "flamenco" look needs to make a comeback soon.

When we finally arrived in Sevilla, we were running on fumes—48+ hours of no sleep and feeling a bit like refugees.  That evening, we did some relaxed touring and had a dinner of tapas and sangria, whereby I managed to essentially fall asleep in my squid and spinach (Spanish cuisine is not for the unadventurous).

This is what two days with no sleep looks like.  And PS - sangria is my new favorite drink.

Coming home to this gorgeous room (and a solid 13-hours of sleep) was just what the doctor ordered:

The next day, we toured the huge cathedral in the heart of old town:

And the Alcazar (the Royal palace, still used by today’s monarch):

And various other incredible Sevilla sites:

Sunday, our last morning in Sevilla (sob!), we trekked over to the modern sculpture synonymous with the city:

I was so sad to see Sevilla go – as it turns out, it was my favorite inner coastal city we visited.  It was clean, beautiful, easy to travel on foot (our preferred mode of transportation), and the people were incredibly friendly.  Sevilla kindly let Will and me cut our teeth on Spanish culture, particularly the eating schedule and nightlife.  For a morning person like me who is most energetic during the day, Spain was an adjustment.  Even the local Starbucks didn’t open until 8:30am (although I am proud to say I only caved in once to my usual indulgence) and the restaurants closed midday to reopen late evening (sometimes after 9pm) for dinner.  But once we learned to eat a bigger meal early on, siesta in the later afternoon, and take advantage of the beautiful evening weather (including a 9:45pm sunset time and no mosquitos) we felt right at home.

Adios Sevilla!


Sunday midmorning, we boarded another prompt and clean train for Granada.

Hola Granada!

Granada is grittier than Sevilla, but has an interesting mix of people and the most incredible main attraction of our trip – the Alhambra:

The Alhambra is one of (if not the) most preserved example of a Moorish palace in Spain.  The Moors were pushed out of Spain in the 1400s (I think; please don’t quote me on that), and many of the incoming Christian leaders destroyed their mosques and temples to make room for cathedrals and other palaces.  But thankfully, the Alhambra survived this fate in part because of its sheer beauty.

The tour took most of the day (it is enormous) but completely worth it.

Exhausted but happy.

Granada was the first city Will and I let ourselves be typical American tourists—our first dinner was pizza and cold beer and we loved every second of it (in fact, I have no pictures of our meal because I was too busy stuffing my face).  The second night we chose a Moroccan restaurant recommended by our guidebook that opened at 7:30pm for dinner—and we were the only ones at the restaurant for nearly our entire meal.  Even with our “hola’s,” “gracias’s” and broken Spanish in ordering food, we were so very clearly “the Americans who eat dinner early.”

After two nights in Granada, we boarded the bus for the Costa del Sol, my unabashedly favorite part of the trip—Mediterranean views, mountaintop villas, and as much seafood as you could eat.  But for now, I’ll sign off and reposition my brain from Spain nostalgia to productive and responsible mother of two.  I have a feeling it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

***Click here to skip right to Part 2!***