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!***


  1. Welcome home, dear friend! I'm both totally jealous that you got to go on this epic adventure with Will and so, so glad that you're home since I've missed your posts these past days!

    These are really beautiful pictures and I can't wait to see the rest. I'm most certainly using these as my own vicarious escape...

    Hope all is well with you guys on the homefront and that your return to normalcy is going well!



    PS. Thanks for the input on my idiotic injury. Everything is fine now and I'm thankfully back to my normal routine, which is good for everyone in our household.

    1. Sara! I'm thrilled to be back and writing about it (although if I had to choose between writing it and living it, I'd chose the latter; I hope you don't mind!). But I couldn't stay away from F&G any longer than I did; they may have been the sole reason Will and I didn't just pack it up and move overseas.

      Hope you guys are well!