Time... What is time? By definition time is the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole. You think and hear everyday about the word time, and it feels as if we are racing against the word no matter where we are in life. Although the moments where we "stop... and smell the roses" for me always seem to be the most precious and memorable moments of my life. The last year has been this period for me. It has been that "TIME" to stop and smell the roses, and it has been ever so delightful. I wrote in an earlier blog of my discoveries about myself, and developing new self affirmations and goals. Now with only 2 months remaining of our adventures abroad and preparing for our departure I wanted to feel, process, reflect and share this particular moment. Not to mention my mother, the english teacher, thought this would be a great blog post to aid in finding my inner voice, and passion for writing again. (Thanks mom!)
When we first arrived I had many occasions to think, and although a lot to process, my first reaction was to create more for me to do. I had a conversation with my employer and now one of my best friends Raquel, and I was in tears because I felt like I wasn't "doing" enough. When she said to me, "Chelsea take this opportunity for you, because you will never get this time back." I didn't quite understand at first, but now I can honestly say my perspective on the subject has changed quite immensely.
The element of time had manage to become one of my best friend from my worst enemy. "In my past life" I would stress and complain about not having enough of it. Now I choose to embrace ever moment and do the things I choose to do to continue to work on the best version of me. It's not as easy as it sounds. Of course in many instances, I revert back to my old ways, especially with preparing to go home. I think about all the things I have to do to prepare and get sucked into a whirlwind of unnessary anxiety, but then I remember a little saying one of the Three Amigos and dear friend, Kathryn said to me one day that altered my thinking..."you have to do is so harsh how about replacing "have to do" with you "choose to do". That simple change in phrase made a world of difference. I choose to...
As it gets closer and closer to departure a sense of homesickness lingers. I guess that's a good thing because if I didn't feel all the positives of our future, I wouldn't want to go back, but it has also given me perspective. I have had a period to reflect on my "past life" and change the things that I can control, and I am learning (a constant journey) to let go of the things I cannot. Learning to let go of the past is a challenging, liberating, and life altering practice. In my "past life" I never chose to forgive myself and let go. I would often worry myself and fret over things I couldn't control and remember telling my father on different occasions, "Oh, _____ made me feel so sad!" His response, "Chelsea no one can make you feel anyway other than yourself. Only you can make you happy." Not understanding this, and still to this day I am practicing this mantra. My solution in the past, was to suppress these feelings, and to make myself busy busy busy. Instead of actually coming to terms and accepting my feelings. This opportunity and experience abroad has given me the vision to understand, breathe, learn to accept, let go and work on making myself happy. I'm not sure if it's the Spanish culture, the fact that I am learning the language, that I have had the ability to listen more than talk, or the lifestyle we are leading while here, but I intend to take every bit of what i've learned back with me. Embracing time instead of pushing fast forward on life. This is a beautiful trait the Spanish seem to have figured out and that I value.
Part of the fear of the unknown is when we return. I fear that now that I have learned this trait, will it be easily forgotten? Will I sucum back to the "past life" thoughts and feelings? That however, is just the the thing, I would have done this very thing in the past... feared the unknown. Although, with this era I have left here in this beautiful experience I choose to embrace time in it's exsistance and live in the moment. When I do this it almost feels like everything has slowed down. Like slowing down long enough when you are out on a walk and a rain cloud moves over you. Instead of running for cover, I chose watch the clouds roll in and, feel the large droplets of rain hit my forehead, trickle down face, cooling me down from the warm summer heat. In that moment one might say to themselves "urgh rain again" but I choose to bask in its glory. I have been given the opportunity to feel things I never knew exsisted. One way I learned this was to listen and I mean really listen.
My grams used to ask me after a job interview, "Did you listen? Because I am not very good at it and sometimes I just talk, and don't listen. Truly listening, my darling is a trait everyone wishes they had." It was wonderful advise, and although I said "Yes of course Grams I listened," I never knew the meaning of her words of wisdom, until I have had the opportunity to take notice in what others were saying. Listen inwardly, outwardly, and to my surroundings. Trey is an excellent listener, so is my father, my grandfather, even Trey's father. We women have always been the talkers in my family..."talk enough for the both of us!" Grams would say. I admire the men in my life because they are such wonderful listeners and never understood why at times they would be completely silent and not give feedback. When I would ask in a frustrating tone "Why aren't you saying anything", a simple response from all of them in some form or fashion has been "I'm just listening." I used to think it was cop out, but oh how I was wrong. Not everything needs feedback or a response and sometimes people just want you to listen. While living abroad, not speaking the language has certainly had an impact on me in this aspect. Its amazing how many people will talk to you and carry on a complete conversation with you, even when you can only understand bits and pieces of what it is they are telling you. With a nod a smile and the "time" one spends with an intent to understand can make someones day! Cash our canine companion, is a prime example of this. He may not understand what it is that I am saying. However, when I have a hard day, he sits next to me and lays his little head on my lap,he sighs, and I can't help but cuddle him and thank him for listening. Listening a dog? Why yes, his response is the best feeling and I feel one of the happiest and wondrous ways to really listen.
I of course am not a self-help book writer and don't intend to start (although I am a strong believer in many of them). However, I felt the need to write on this particular subject because I feel it is and forever will be an on going process for myself and for many others like me. When I was mid writing this I told Trey some may read this and think "Oh sure Chelsea was able to live abroad, to discover these things. Thats not reality." One thing a very good friend and fellow expat, Stephanie quoting Picasso, said to me " Everything you can imagine is real!" One thing I have taken from this experience, is all of these things were there all along and that in itself is the reason for my sharing. If nothing else, as a reminder to myself to...
Take the "time" to "choose" to "listen" to what "makes myself happy" because "I will never get this time back"! These are just a few of the realizations that I have come to on this adventurous journey. My fear of the unknown, and whether or not I will be able to continue this way of life and thinking when we return state side, has subsided. How? Why? Because in the end, I simply just need to remind myself to stop... and smell the roses.
7:00 came pretty quick on Saturday morning after a long week of work, but we were up and at em ready for our next trip to Ronda. We boarded the train at 8:30am and would be to our destination by 12:40, just in time for lunch! Trey had read in Hemingway's, Death in the Afternoon, that Ronda was one of the best places in the South of Spain and was a must see! Let me just say Hemingway did not disappoint! Side note when Trey said, we were going to Ronda I couldn't help but sing the song Help me Ronda by the Beach Boys every-time Ronda was mentioned. I must be my mothers daughte,r because my mother used to break into song when she was reminded of lyrics from a song even if it were in the most inappropriate times. It always made everyone around her laugh and still tickles me to think inherited this trait. Anyway I know this song so well because more specifically when my sister and I were children and we ask for help she would sing this very song!)
The train ride was exceptionally great with the sun shining, clear sky, and a coffee and Bailey's to get us started right. The train weaved in and out of the hills of the south and we finally reached our destination just as expected. We decided to walk to our Airbnb since it was such a gorgeous day. We walked all through Ronda's artistic and intimate little town stopping in a several little artisan stores and Spanish suvienere stops. We had made it to the center of Ronda where the famous look Puente Nuevo overlooked views you couldn't even dream up, we looked at each other laughed a little giggle smiled and instantly knew this was going to be one of our favorites of Spain.
As our excitement heightened so did our hunger. We decided to get checked into our Airbnb and ask for recommendations. Our little room was perfect clean, comfortable bed, with our own private bath, amazing light, with a million dollar view of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The best part was when Marco our Airbnb owner took us up to the roof top and explained the entire city from the terrace. He pointed out the best look out points, and gave us a great lay of the land. The view from our terrace alone was simply breathtaking! We asked for recommendations for a place to grab a bite to eat for lunch and he sent us to the best little tapas bars in town called Bar Convento. Marco gave us the keys and we were on our way.
I do have to brag a little about this conversation with Marco because 2 reasons. One it was a half an hour entirely in Spainsh and 2 Trey and I both spoke and understood 90 percent of the convo! We both have had our ups and downs with learning the language, and when you can carry a conversation with a native it is feeling of pure satisfaction. It feels so good when you can comprehend and natives can understand you! I'm not saying we are the best, in anyway shape or form, and we both have so much more to learn, however, it is rewarding and encouraging to continue when this occurs.
We walked up the street to where Marco told to have some excelente tapas muy rico(very rich or delish). It was packed but managed to get a drink and wait for a spot to open up. We were placed at the bar where we were able to have lite conversation with both the bartender and waitress. We enjoyed some of our traditional Spanish favorites like the pimentos (peppers fried in olive oil and salt) and an incredible dish of roasted asparagus with jamon and a fried egg. The last plate was a small pork roast. I was so full from the first two dishes, but of course with Trey Stone by my side I never have to worry about wasting food! My human garbage disposal was able to finish off every last morsal. I had a nice tento verano(which is similar to sangria but better) and Trey had a few beers so we both were feeling great and almost euphoric like because of the beauty and atmosphere of our surroundings. We decided to adventure out to a really good look out again suggested by Marco. We walked down away from the city into the rolling hills and towards a vineyard in the country side. I remember breathing in deeply and feeling I never wanted this feeling to end! Trey and I had conversations of past and future as we basked in the glory of the present. Once we reach la Casa de Amarillo (the yellow house) we turned to look at the view Marco admired. We knew exactly why this was one of his favorites, there we stood gazing at some of the most beautiful sites in all of Spain. The sun was beginning to set and I told Trey I wanted to do a little shopping before the stores closed and see the sunset from the highest point in Ronda. We began our treck back up to the city along the dirt road and trails that led directly to the city center. We wondered in and out of the quantity leather shops, galleries, and souvoneer stores. We enjoyed the quaintness and originality of Ronda. It was a clean, and artistic city and everywhere you turned there was an unimaginable view. After traveling and walking all day we ventured to look out point to watch the sun set and take a load off before dinner. We had made reservations at another recommended spot, however this time from one of the three amigos and dear friend Kathryn. We had some time to kill before dinner so we decided to take a look at the bull fighting arena and park. It was a beautiful evening and Trey and I enjoyed strolling through the city finding new hidden gems all along the way. We decided it was time to make our way toward the restaurant where we had made dinner reservations at Hotel Montelirio. We entered the hotel where the restaurant over looked the famous picturesk view of Puente Nuevo. We started with a bottle of cava and enjoyed yet another unforgettable meal talking about our love for this experience and country. The food was wonderful starting with soft-shell crab as an appetizer followed by local fresh veggies and a beautiful salmon plate. Since we had such a big lunch we kept it simple at dinner leaving us at a perfect full. Perfect full meaning still room for a night cap of course! We walked the streets of Ronda and the cool breeze filled the air. We visited Ronda when we did because it was a holiday weekend, and we would have some time to enjoy all it had to offer and have time to get back to Madrid to get ready for the work week. Therefore, unfortunately all of the main night life was closed. We wondered into a bar called Duende's (Trey's favorite 20 questions game if you remember form a previous blog post) and purchased a bottle of the same wine we shared at lunch. We decided to take the bottle back to our airbnb and drink it up on the terrace. We stayed up until nearly 4 in the morning talking about anything and everything. It was as if we were in state of Duende! As I write this I enjoy reflecting and remembering how special moments like that truly are. This experience has taken our relationship to another level, and I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity and time with my best friend I call my husband.
The next morning we woke up to the sun peaking through our bedroom window blinds. We showered and packed up the little things we brought with us on our over night romantic getaway. We had one last cup of coffee on the roof top terrace and said our goodbyes to yet another 10 out of 10 Airbnb. We didn't have to catch the train until 4:30pm so we set out in search of a lite brunch. The weather was gorgeous and we were feeling rather refreshed form the evening in the honeymooners paradise. We stumbled into this little garden that overlooked the vineyards and listened to the birds. We stopped there and sat for a moment to take it all in when we both realized something wasn't quite right. We both were a bit restless so we decided, there was still so much we wanted to see in town before we had lunch. We continued walking through the winding steep hills of Ronda, taking pictures and admiring all the generations of different architecture, from Roman to Islamic, to Moorish to Spanish. We went up and down and all around when we finally work up an appetite. We stopped in another little outside courtyard with views you just have to see for yourself to believe how magnificent they really are. We each had a nice wrap and several chilled cocktails to top off our feeling of love and enchantment for the sweet city of Ronda. We walked across the smaller bridge Puente Romano, and Puente Viejo as the sun grew hotter. We ducked into a very interesting museum and hunting lodge. I most definitely have never seen anything like this before and my perspective on it was much different than Trey's. It made me feel sad and I couldn't quite understand why something like this existed, don't get me wrong it was beautiful to see the animals up close and they were so life like it was haunting. I will say it is a form of art I can see is beautiful but a form of art that I may never quite understand. :That is all I have to say about that."(In my best Forest Gump accent). What to do when in a city like Ronda you say? Eat, shop, see, do! We had almost accomplished all of those however, I still had an itching for some more shopping. We made our way toward the main shopping area which fortunately was on the way back towards the train station (how convenient right?). Now we have thought about our loved ones quite a bit on this trip and what we should take back to each of them! Nothing really had struck our fancy on our journeys because we wanted it to be from Spain and not a cheesy shot glass or fan. However, Ronda had it figured out! We went into several stores collecting many little take home items for our friends and family. The other place we will be taking back things from is Toledo and Madrid of course, but Ronda had the true Southern Spanish Flair and artistic originality With many bags and walking nearly another 3 more hours we finally called it quits. We found this perfect little place to stop for a nice cool beverage before we boarded the train. We worked up yet another appetite with all that shopping, so we ordered some fun tapas as well. We hated that we had to leave and were going to enjoy every last minute we could until it was time to depart. That is just what we did until we literally had to run to the train station to ensure we were going to make our train. With a slight buzz and high from shopping, food, culture, romance, nature, and architecture we made it to our platform with 10 minutes to spare.
Ronda will always hold a very special place in both Trey and I's heart as it was one of our favorites here in the South of Spain. I know I say that on nearly every post I write and honestly when we visit the North I am sure we will say it again. BUT Ronda is a magical city full of life and we will return! Thank you Hemingway for the recommendation and thank you Ronda for memories of a life time!
After an unbelievable 4 days in Paris the Stones were off to join Trainwreck for a glorious 4 day stay in Prague, Chez Republic. I received an email just a few hours before our departure from the owner of our Airbnb stating he upgraded us to his newest property because the one we had booked unfortunately was needing work, because the hot water heater broke. We weren't too disappointed considering it was a two bedroom and brand new everything. When we arrived around 8:00pm we took an Uber into town. Rick and Troy were already in the apartment waiting for us to arrive. They were just as excited about the upgrade as we were and gave us the grand tour starting with the doggie water and food bowl in the entry filled with treats and bones for little world traveler, Cashman. Then into the grand living room with fresh flowers and fruit in every common room with little chocolate Easter treats all over the apartment. It was a very thoughtful and hospitable treat from our host Brandon. We all felt like VIP guests. After getting reacquainted with the traditional Prague liquor drink Betrovka, we all set out to find some food and drinks. Our location was perfect! I told Troy when planning this trip that I wanted to see Frank Kafka's moving head and lo and behold, we stayed in the plaza with the head. We could even see it from our bedroom so we were able to enjoy it our entire stay!
We made our way to a near by Cuban Bar where we had our first cocktail in Prague. This bar was full of personality with speciality cocktails, Cuban cigars, and the decor like an old library feel where you drink Scotch and enjoy a cigar. We all ewwed and aweed over our cocktails mine with a refreshing floral flavor, Rick's was a smoking drink, Trey's had a feather and was called the Hemingway, and Troy's was the most memorable because of the name and garnish...the cholesterol served with a bacon garnish and the glass was inside a little fast food french fry container with sweet potato chips. After we all began eyeing Troy's garnish we realized we all needed some food. Off we went into the night in search for food. This became more and more challenging as we all would get side tracked by all that there is to look at in this magical city, which we hadn't even started to scratch the surface. Trey began to tell us his story of his last time in Prague when he first arrived with his dad 12 years ago. Long story short the only food open at 12:00 at night was the KFC and that's what they ate there first night in Prague. I try to avoid all fast food in the states so we tend to steer clear of it in Europe as well. Just as Trey had finished the story, and we had concluded that everything in the city was closed, directly in front of us was a KFC. At this particular juncture any food would have done the trick, exactly like Trey and Trotte's first night in Prague 12 years ago. I don't know if it was the fact that I was extremely hungry, or the fact I was with my American friends eating American fast food, but KFC chicken never tasted better! With full bellies, we decided it was time for us to head back to the flat for a good nights sleep. We didn't have anything special planned for the first day, but those tend to turn out to be the best days.
We all woke up around 8:30 am, had our coffee and showers and headed out on the town in search of shoes. If you know me I walk very hard and tend to go through shoes very quickly. In Paris I had completely worn out my flats to the point they had holes in the soles. Rick was in desperation for a hair cut, so we made a pit stop in one of the coolest "Man Malls" ever, just as it was beginning to rain. It had a ton of men's clothing stores, mens shoes, mens cologne, a vintage record store, and the barber shop. While Rick got his hair cut he enjoyed a nice glass of bourbon, Trey, Troy, and I made our way through the mens wonderland. While I went into the cologne store to smell Troy's selections, Trey went into the disneyland of clothing and found the most beautiful Italian shoes. Trey is an excellent shopper and when he told me he found some amazing shoes I said," Lets go look at them." He directed us to the amazing shoes and I told him we should get them. 30 minutes later we had a very happy Trey and a very happy Rick. Trey and I had no idea Prague was so fashion forward and there were so many things to look at throughout this entire city. From fashion, to art, to furniture, to cool vintage toy stores I mean this place had it all. Our next mission was to continue the search for shoes. Cold feet aside I was going to be very picky about these shoes because I needed them to be practical and fashionable, I never knew this existed or at least never searched for such a thing until this year...must be because I am now thirty and my feet can't bare walking in heels 24-7 anymore. We probably went into every shoe store in Prague and I couldn't find what I was looking for. Rick and Troy even found some fabulous shoes in our search. Finally, on the top floor of a 6 story shoe store I found my match. However, I didn't buy them right away. I thought looking more would be a good thing and going back if I couldn't find any others. WRONG oh so wrong if you find a pair that you love do everyone a favor and buy them. We had all worked up quite an appetite. We went for some Chez street food which was out of this world. Trey had a huge bratwurst sandwich, and I had a langos, which is a giant elephant ear type of fried dough, cheese and homemade ketchup. It tastes way better than it sounds I promise its a must try for sure! Trainwreck had haluski which is a basically a glorious mixture of sourkraut, homemade dumplings, and ham . They generously shared there bowls with us and we had reached a food coma once again. We went back to the apartment to drop off our recent purchases and have an afternoon cocktail before we headed back out to return to the store, where I initially found my shoes to purchase them, I even bought a pair of socks to wear them out of the store.
As we continued to walk around the city all in our new shoes we made it just at 6:00pm to watch the Astronomical Clock strike 6:00pm. This was really neat to see everyone gathered around waiting for the little figures to move and dance on the clock. Next, we set out to window shop, walk, take pictures and go into anywhere we thought would be fun. Around every corner was another treasure. We were like the talking dog with ADD in the movie Up,"Eww shiny ball, squirrel!" We stopped in several art galleries and took in all the different forms of art, drawings, paintings, sculptures, you name it Prague had it. Strolling through the Jewish Quarter we stumbled upon a Fashion Outlet. This store was like finding gold it had everything from Chanel, Dolce and Gabbana, to Valentino, to Couture. It was absolutely EVERYTHING. We all had a blast touring this amazing store of two warehouse size floors of pure art. Somethings we tried on and considered, but when coming back down to reality decided it was time to leave when they turned the music off in the store. Honestly, it is places like this that you wouldn't find if you had every moment planned, that you come across in a random gander around the city, that can seriously can change your life and perspective. There is nothing more exciting than going down an unknown alley or road and finding a treasure at the end.
After a complete shopping high we came across a Restaurant called Lokals. Since our friends and favorite restaurant owners, Mike and Petra Petrillo, of Crave International Foods and Catering and Lokals Seafood in Charleston, SC have the same name we knew it had to be good because of two reasons. One, because Lokal in Chez means watering hole or gathering place and our Lokal's in Charleston is just that but with the famous Mike Petrillo's unbelievable chef abilities that turned this watering hole into a culinary wonderland of fresh local seafood. Two, Petra being from the Chez Republic came up with the name. With her creative, artistic, fun loving, hospitable, knowledge of incredible food and delicious drinks I knew the name of this place had to be ligit. We went in and it was absolutely packed wall to wall with locals. We had hit the jackpot. Unfortunately, we were not able to eat there that night so we made reservations and went back the following night for a real traditional Chez meal. However, Lokals was known for there Pilsner beer so we all had a huge mug and stood outside and enjoyed watching all the locals. We were all feeling right and continued our journey. Again, with no plan in mind other than to stop where we felt looked good. I saw a big sign that said wine and gastro bar so in we went. There was no-one in this bar except for the bartender which made it even better because we could have it to ourselves. We walked in and the bartender asked us what we wanted. We ordered wine which was served out of taps. We had never seen this before. The bartender was in his late 60's and wearing an awesome cowboy hat. He told us in his broken English that his friend made it for him. He asked if we liked Johnny Cash since we were from the states. We all replied, "Of course!" With a huge smile on his face he smiled and turned around to the computer to put on Johnny Cash throughout the entire bar. He then turned back around started to dance and little and as he tilted his hat he said, "Me, I Johnny Cash only for one night, OK?!" We all laughed clapped and enjoyed our drinks with Johnny Cash. I tried to tell him we named our dog after him but he didn't understand. He wanted to communicate very badly so he handed me a piece of paper and a pen and we played a bit of charades with Mr. Cash for some time. Before we knew it we had bought a bottle of some kind of storage Chez Liquor and Johnny Cash was drinking with us. We went through a few different music genres and told our new friend goodbye. We were all feeling right and it was time for some dinner. We found a cool Thai Restaurant called Remember ( the irony of this restaurants name is I had to look at a picture to remember), and enjoyed some authentic ethnic cuisine. I had the best Pho and after yet another unforgettable meal we were all ready to head back to the flat, walk the Cashman, and get to bed for another day of adventures.
Again, we all did our morning rituals and made today our official tourist day unlike our booze and shoes day. We stopped at a local bakery for some breakfast and bought a day pass on the tram. Our mission was to head up the funicular to take us to the Strahov Monastery and Library. The trip up was amazing and the weather was perfect. The sun was shining and all the flowers and landscape were just starting to bloom. We came at such an amazing time of year and it felt as if we were in OZ. Trey of course snapping away and me repeating over and over "oh look at that" we had made it up to the funicular, our first time on a fun method of transportation like this (which is super cool by the way, I strongly recommend to do this if you are ever in Prague). We were all feeling a little thirsty and a there was this sweet little lemonade stand with right on the path with Fresh juices. I had lemon and ginger and it was the perfect thirst quencher. We made it up to the Strahov Library and it was closed until 1:30pm so we had about 45 minutes to kill. We turned around and there was the cutest path that lead to this really neat restaurant with outside seating that overlooked the city of Prague. We stopped there for some amazing brick oven pizza and charcuterie. The day couldn't have been written out anymore perfectly. We made it into the library and it was everything and more than I expected. This amazing library of the Premonstratensian monastery at Strahov is one of the most valuable and best-preserved historical libraries – its collection consists of approximately 200,000 volumes. The oldest part of the library, the Baroque Theological Hall, was established between 1671 and 1674; the main Classicist vaults of the Philosophical Hall date from 1794 and are two storeys tall. Both halls are dominated by ceiling frescoes by Siard Nosecký and Anton Maulbertsch. I felt very moved in this building with all of the incredible wisdom that surrounded me. It also made me think of my mom a lot. I know this is a place that she would absolutely adore, perhaps one day we can all return together. The other neat things about this library were the numerous cases of taxidermy. They had them of insects, underwater life both fresh and seawater, and many many others. Many of the places that we have traveled to on our European adventure have moved us in ways that is indescribable. The beauty and wonder we have experienced I wish I could better explain but some things you just need to experience for yourself. Prague was full of these feelings.
Next stop was the Monastery and it was again like nothing I had ever seen before. It was very neat to listen to Rick tell us his knowledge of the Catholic religion and what certain things meant and represented. The church jewels were magnificent and the murals and different places to pray were tranquil and made Trey and I feel very safe and calm. We spent close to two hours touring this amazing piece of architecture. One of the things that Trey and I found very interesting was a room that had these jeweled pieces of art that enclosed different Saints body parts. For example there was a thumb or a hand. The story is that back then churches would create these pieces to attract people to come to see their artifacts and the more beautiful and detailed they were the more people would come from all over to pray and admire these monuments and donate more money to there church. All in all the day of touring had been a success and it was time for us to head back to the flat for a siesta, Cash walk, and to get ready for our traditional Chez dinner.
When we arrived we started with a pint of Pilsner and some fried Cheese. Oh my goodness this incredible ewe gooey piece of heaven was like a giant cheese stick but oh so much better. Rick and I ordered the goulash with steamed dumplings. Trey and Troy had a pork Shnitzel with potato salad, and cabbage. We all were full up to our ears and had to walk off our delicious and ever so heavy meal. We made our way to a little outside venue with some live Jazz. We enjoyed the music for almost a set while letting our meal settle. We left when the Jazz saxophone player and singer went on break and headed to a called Cash Bar. It had a vintage prohibition era atmosphere with speciality cocktails and great Jazz music. Trey and Rick ordered the Absinth and Troy and I got the lavender vodka, cosmo. It was the perfect way to end a fun filled day in Prague. We were right by the famous Charles Bridge and thought it would be a good time to cross we started to and changed our minds to save it for the day time because there were so many people and we weren't feeling like fighting any more crowds. On our way back to our flat we found a place that made the famous cinimonroll like cones with chocolate inside with two scoops of your choice of ice cream. I chose the pistachio and we all shared this delightful treat, not like any of us needed it after the meal we had but it was worth every bite. We finally got back home walked Cash around the revolving head and called it another fantastic night in Prague.
Each time we go to a new city with Cash we try to make it a point to have a Cash day. Today was that day. We all headed out the door around 10am and headed to the popular Choco Cafe. They let us bring Cashman inside and gave him a little bowl of water while we all decided which cup of chocolate we were going to enjoy as our sugar high, I mean breakfast! It was remarkable and drinking chocolate an experience everyone should try at least once in there life. The tingles on your tongue and the warm in your belly will leave you ever so satisfied. After a piece of quiche to soak up all the chocolate we made our way across the Charles Bridge, where we experienced the street venders and musicians, over to the park. We walked past a little midivil festival under the bridge where they were selling hats, knifes, hand made crafts, and jewelry, and midivil costumes. Cash enjoyed some off the leash time while we were in the sculpture park admiring all the large art in little nick and carneys all over. It was the perfect weather with a slight breeze. Even being on the river we weren't cold so again we were very please with the time of year we came to Prague. We walked through the park past the crawling babies and headed back to our flat to drop off our very tired little pup. He went right to the sofa for a nap and we headed out to continue our tour of Prague.
We hopped on the tram once more and headed to the Cathedral and Castle. We walked through the gardens and made it up to the Cathedral. This was something else to see. We have visited a lot of churches and cathedrals while traveling in Europe but it never ceases to amaze me these incredible pieces of architecture. This gothic style was remarkable and the details in the stone were stinkingly beautiful. When we entered the Cathedral I am always in awe of the beauty of the stained glass. We had gone in just at the right time to see the sun shining through the windows to give the entire stone cathedral a warm and homey feeling even for a building of that size. The Crpse under the Cathedral was neat to see as well. We headed on down the hill out of the Castle walls when we came across another little festival like setting. They had food venders, crafts, and artisan work with music playing and a fun vibe. Rick and Troy needed a little snack pick me up and Trey and I found a neat hand blown colored glass ball that we will be bringing back to the states with us. We were looking at art and we decided that this piece was art and perfect to remember our trip not to mention it is small and easy to fit in a suite case.
Back on the tram we went and headed to this Arabic cafeteria that Troy was Jonsing for. He had seen it the last time he was in Prague and desperately wanted to check it out. Well Chef Troy knows his food, and has never steered us wrong and this Arabic food did not disappoint. We headed out for some more wondering to see what we could see and stumbled into yet another hidden treasure in a corner of an alley called Fear House. Rick and Troy love creepy crawly scary things and noticed this advertisement on the wall for Fear House. It has zombies eating human flesh on the outside of it and honestly really grossed me out but Trainwreck thought it was cool! When they looked up they noticed the sign and began walking in the direction of the entrance. I told Trey if it is a haunted house they can go I really don't like to be scared. Rick told us to come on... and began walking down the stairs into the dark dungeon. When all of a sudden creepy music began to play and images of batts flew onto the wall. We continued and a very nice zombie greeted us and told us to enter if we dared. We walked in a the room, me very hesitantly with my heart ponding we walk into a haunted bar. There were body parts hanging from behind the bar and tombstones as the bar stools. The Bartenders had on make up and the drinks were served out of skulls. It was by far one of the most creative bars I have ever experienced. We had a blast with the vampire waitress as she walked around the room giving us shots out of syringes, and Kiss playing in the background. We laughed and enjoyed our "deadly cocktails" and took in this RIP experience.
We wondered back to the flat to catch a late afternoon siesta before we painted the town red for the evening. I searched several bars for lives jazz or live entertainment and everything had been reserved for the evening. Rick came across the Velmont Club and said he thought it looked to be right up our alley. We all dressed up and made our way to the velvet roped entrance of the Velmont where we were greeting by a lovely lady. She took our coats and welcomed us to the club. In the main entrance there was a velvet victorian sofa with an all glass bar and fresh flowers, she directed us to go down the black spiral staircase. Down we went into the club and Chandiliers and mixologist awaited us. She showed us the two different rooms, the back room which was more a club setting and the front room which was more like your high end lounge. We chose the ladder and she told us we could wait for a private table or sit at the bar. We were all happy to sit at the bar and soon met a new best friend Phillip. Phillip was from Slavina and chatted with us the entire night. He was an excelled mixologist who made us refreshing cocktails and entertained us with his whity humor. As more and more people began to enter the club it really began to come alive. A women dressed in a glowing outfit with wings and a giant headdress began to walk the two rooms of the club. They told us that the show would begin shortly. We all stepped outside of the Club for a quick stroll of the city for some fresh and and to see if there were any other gems.
We followed this group of people back to this hidden alley with a hidden entrance to another bar. Unfortunately, it was full so we decided to go back to our cozy underground club. On the way back we noticed the window of the most beautiful vintage clothing in all the land. When I looked closer I realized it was all Channel. Troy and I starred in this window dreaming for close to 10 minutes when Trey and Rick brought us back to reality and guided us away from the window. When we arrived back to the Velmont there was a line out the door. We waited and the girl who showed us to our spots the first time remembered us. She took us right back to our spot where we were the first time and asked a few people to move so we could all sit down. It was awesome, talk about VIP! Now the club was heating up we watched a women with fire do a dance and another women who had her face painted swing from a swing in the back club, we even had a magic show from a magician. It truly was quite an entertaining experience and when the crowd died out we decided it was time to call it quits. Leave it to Trainwreck and Trelsea to go out of a city with a Bang and that is exactly what we did. We went back to the house for a late night snack and Cash walk and soon there after lights were out.
Last day and Prague and we all had a slow morning. We were to be out of the flat at 12 so Trey and I packed up our bags, showered, walked Cash and were ready for some grub. We headed out the door around 11 and went across the street the an amazing Indian Buffet. It was exactly what all of us needed after a late night out. After a tray full of food the only other thing we needed was a nap. Our flight didn't leave 6 so we had plenty of time to take a nap at the airport. We said our goodbyes to our host Brandon and thanked him for the hospitality and upgrade. We gave our hugs to Rick and Troy. I tried to make it a quick one because I am never good at goodbyes. Now reflecting back on I can honestly say this was one of the best experiences I have ever had. Rick and Troy are such very special friends and I am so thankful that I was able to experience this with them! Never a dull moment when you have those two around and I will cherish these adventures forever. In a nut shell Prague I can honestly say was one of my favorites of our Travels thus far. I felt right at home and felt as if we fit right in with every aspect of this treasure of a city! Thank you Prague and the Stone's shall return!
To start off, I have been told Paris is a beautiful city but the people are rude, they expect you to speak French, and will try to rip you off. I have heard the same stereotype about people in New York as a Southern boy. I am here to tell you after now twice actually going and exploring these Meccas of art, culture, history, and style that none of the stereotypes regard merit. It all comes down to how you treat people and how you express yourself.
We loved Paris and the Parisians were more than accommodating in sharing their beautiful city with us. I feel like we experienced a true European gem at the perfect time of year and saw and did the best of what the city had to offer in our four day adventure into the myth, the legend, Paris!
We flew out of Madrid early, with our Cashman in his doggy bag, and set off for the eight day trip splitting time between Paris and Prague. We arrived at the Paris airport, with no complications, just after noon. We were going to grab a taxi to our apartment, but were immediately turned off by this mode of transport to the city as they wanted 60 euros to drive us in. Deciding to save that money for our trip we opted for the alternative and took the bus. Without clue of what was going on we hastily purchased a ticket at one bus platform then walked to another. We purchased tickets for the rail and went on the bus. Being herded into the bus like cattle we quickly realized we purchased the wrong tickets for our transport but with the number of people that boarded just went with it and off to the city center we went. We arrived at the center of Paris where all lines were accessible and the city life all around us. The people were bustling around like in Madrid and we were focused on the task of getting to our apartment. We found the metro line to lead the way, were guided by a polite Parisian, and informed to keep our metro tickets, and got closer to our apartment. When we got off we weren't exactly where we needed to be and after walking in a circle decided to hail a cab. Finally, after getting in the taxi, we were only 5 minutes from our place, or so we thought. I had been researching the city and the big monument, the Eifel tower, was getting farther away and we were crossing the river we weren't needing to cross, so I explained we weren't going the right way and the driver realized his mistake and righted his path. It was a nice introduction to Paris to see the river, the street art, the people, the restaurants of one of the posh districts before finally arriving at our destination. The cab driver properly deducted our out of the way fare and we had arrived at a beautiful building that housed our four day Parisian love nest!
Our Air B&B host, Robin, was at the place to greet us. We toured his place and made sure all our questions, including how to get back to the airport by rail, were answered and left us to it. Wow! That is what we had to say about this place, it was everything we could have asked for and more, a rare find to be in such a gorgeous place in such a gorgeous city in such a great district! We were first taken back by the amazing light that shown into the bedroom and living room from the ceiling to floor, windows that looked out over the street. Our pad had a full kitchen, large comfy bed, vintage style decor, a full bath, wifi, and all the comforts of home and then some. We quickly unpacked, refreshed ourselves and then off to get a bite to eat.
We stepped out of the front door of our building and Chelsea said we were at our destination. We walked across the street and found our table outside in the sunshine with Cash delighted to be out and about in the city with us. We got ourselves situated in the sunshine and were greeted by a fresh faced waiter that got us setup with an amazing lunch of salmon and tuna bowls with fresh vegetables and rice accompanied with white wine. We savored the dish, took in the scenery, had great conversation and enjoyed getting recharged. The waiter commented on how slowly we ate for Americans and then began to befriend us, talking to Cash, and giving us valuable tips about the Parisian culture, the districts, the nightlife, and learning about us while he also explained his life. My favorite piece of information was that in Paris the wait staff treat their restaurant like their home. When you go to eat even if you want to sit outside go in and let them seat you. This gets you started off right with them and allows them to help you best enjoy your dining experience with them. We found that advice useful and had great service throughout our time in Paris.
Full and having setup intention for the day we took about 50 steps and were then surrounded by a spring time neighborhood tradition, the vintage markets! We walked through and saw amazing furniture, art, clothes, and endless vintage Persian treasures. We mingled with the locals and were made to feel right at home in a new city. Chelsea did manage to find a headband that she couldn't leave behind and found us bread, cheese, and meat from a local vendor that we planned to snack on later.
We then headed back to our apartment for a nap before getting ready for our fancy dinner out we had planned. A dear friend of mine, Max, from university exchange program in Austria 12 years before, was living in Paris and had made us reservations at 20 Eiffel. He said the restaurant had fresh local ingredients prepared in traditional Parisian fashion close to our place at a good value.
We took the short ten minute walk up the street, the Eiffel Tower guiding the way, and arrived in traditional early bird fashion in Europe at 7:30 in the evening we were the first to be seated. We were seated right by the window with the art, smells, and champagne to get us comfortable in our dining room of the evening. I ventured for the escargot appetizer, they reminded me of mussels only cleaner without the salt and occasional grit. Then had a lamb dish and vegetables followed by creme brûlée for dessert. Chelsea had tiramisu. Satisfied but not stuffed, the best way to eat in Paris, we ventured to the Eiffel Tower to take it in at night with a nice wine buzz and the lights and sounds of Paris. Holding hands and walking through the the magical park we decided we had a wonderful first day and retired home for a glass of Rose, compliments of the host before lights out.
Day two began early, we were to be at the Louve by 12:30 and needed to first find our crepes we had been Jonsing for and navigate there. We decided to start to the museum and find breakfast on the way. We found a great crepes place and sat outside with machiato and cafe with Baileys watching the Sunday pass by in Paris waiting on our crepes. I got mine with chocolate and Chelsea got hers with Nutella. Both were exceptional and after settling up with the waiter off we went to the Lourve. If you haven't been and you like art then this is a must see. I have been to many museums now over the years and this one is the best I have ever experienced! The Renaissance oil paintings had colors I had never seen before on canvas. The building itself an amazing work of architecture and detail, the statues from Greek and Roman origin, the collection of French art, the Egyptian tablets from BC, the South American and African wood sculptures, the Asian oriental furniture, the collection of palace furniture, pocket watches, every art form imaginable was displayed there, you could even take a selfie with the Mona Lisa, if you were so bold. My imagination ran rampant and the sheer excitement of being able to experience such great masterpieces and priceless artifacts made me so humbled and really creates a more worldly and balanced view of art and creation. After spending 4 and a half hours in this wonderland and experiencing art overload it was time to move on, after all we had reservations to skip the line at the Eiffel Tower and still needed to play with Cash before we went. We went into the center of the Lourve and took in the beautiful sights of the outdoor section of the museum then sadly said goodbye to the largest, most comprehensive, and amazing museum I have ever had the privilege to attend.
We knew the trip to Paris wouldn't be complete without a chance to ascend the iconic Eiffel Tower. Thanks to Chelsea's experience of the city and thoughtful planning she setup for us to skip the god awful line that exists. To avoid this mess we had to sign up for a tour. As we were walking to the meetup Chelsea expressed interest in meeting new people. We began the tour and about 20 of us are walking together. I started chatting up the tour guide and Chelsea joins in. He explained his connection to Spain, how he speaks four languages, and how he started giving the tours last week. It was nice to take the tour with him. Meanwhile Chelsea was off to her usual of meeting other people and striking up conversation with them. We skiped the line, yeah!, and began our ascent. We got to the first level and were taken around by our guide and shown various buildings, the history, the river, the park, and neat facts about it all. We then were left to roam freely with tickets to the summit. We waited in line to take the elevator and Chelsea began to start up a conversation with Ryan and Sara, a couple originally from Miami and now living in LA, Chelsea began conversation with while we walked around the first level, while I began to speak with Siobhan another new friend Chelsea had befriended from Scotland. We all got along so well and all enjoy each other's company. We instantly all become friends and as the elevator took us to the summit we continued to talk and stay with each other. We got up to the summit and spotted the champagne bar. Chelsea shared our plan with the group, that we were there to see the sunset! Everyone was on board, we got a round of champagne, and continued the conversation on for hours until the sun set. I enjoy, "bro time" and Ryan, IT guru, was the perfect guy to shoot the breeze with as the evening slowly got brighter and cooler. Of course Chelsea was with the girls and paid us no attention except for the occasional, "you remember so and so, or how did this go?" Until the sun began to set and we were privileged to a perfect sunset atop the Eiffel Tower with our new friends! Once the sun set we decided it was time to go but the new group didn't want to split up yet. We were enjoying each other's company too much. We decided to head back closer to Chelsea and my place since we were closer and get a bite to eat. I walked back and picked up the Cashman and we ate dinner outside at a traditional Parisian restuarant. The meal was excellent and we decided to move the group one more time to share a bottle of Bordeaux from France we picked up the day before. We went back and were able to host in our best Air B&B yet, and went in the wee Parisian hours getting to know our new Floridian and Scottish friends. As all good things, our evening had to come to and end, and as our new friends went to catch the taxi and metro home. We planned for our next adventure, reuniting with my great friend from 12 years ago, Maxime Chanoine during his lunch break the following day.
The best of friends are able to pickup right where they left off no matter how much time has passed. I was over joyed to have the opportunity to meet up with my closest friend from the before Chelsea semester abroad in Austria. While getting ready I told Chelsea fond memories of Max and couldn't wait to see him. The time finally came and we met at a close train station to his work for a lunch. We reunited with big hugs and formal introductions before being wisked by Max into a local restaurant he frequents and were seated with warm welcome by the waiter. We felt very at home and local as Max explained the specials and we thoroughly enjoyed our reunion with my long friend and was so proud to introduce him to my wife, catch up with the ten years that brought him a wife and three new children, and share what we could of updated events we could in the hour we had together. Max then walked us over to the posh Parisian shopping district to continue our day and headed back to work. What a guy! Max I miss you already and look forward to our next meeting, hopefully sooner than 12 years from now.
We walked into our first of many high end fashion centers that completely changed my way of seeing clothing and fashion. We were introduced to all of the designer labels with awesome displays of the cutting edge trends of the highest quality. I have been to many stores but these had clothing that inspired you and actually made you want them. I know this sounds vain but I was there and you have to see to believe what I am talking about! Chelsea and I wandered through viewing designer labels at their best and took it all end, we even brought a souvenir home!
Back home we got some rest for the big event of the evening, our visit to the Moulin Rouge! We got dressed to impress so as to not stick out in the best cabaret in the world and off in the Uber we go for a pleasure for our senses. The experience begins to turn me off in the beginning as we wait for 45 minutes to be seated as we are herded through the practice area and back through the front before being seated. Once we got to our seats the entire perspective changed. We were seated, a waiter popped a bottle of champagne, and then we had a moment to take in the ambiance, not a bad seat in the house, 150 people dressed to impress drinking champagne and getting ready for a spectacle that has been a Parisian tradition that has wowed and impressed generations of guests, including Chelsea's grandfather Joe! When his wife Wanda asked him what he saw there he said they did nothing but the can-can and he was right! In his time I could see the can-can being the big finale. It has probably been the greatest show of it's time throughout it's existence to develop a reputation as it has. In our show we saw dancers, both men and women, dressed in the most amazing costumes, performing various routines with talent and class. The music pumping through the first rate sound system was excellent, and the singing we saw was great too, or as great as you could expect with all of the dancing and jumping around happening on the stage. We were awed for an hour and a half as we were mesmerized by the show. The occasional bump by Chelsea to fill up her drink or the occasional comment about this or that were all that broke my concentration of the spectacular. The acts were incredible, performed with wonderful choreography by a group of women that shared a very particular body type, weight and ability, in numerous costumes that were over the top but very tasteful, accompanied by a group of attractive but no so syncopated or rhythm-gifted men, and setup in front of a multi-dimensional stage that included revolving sets and even included a pool filled with anaconda snakes! The costumes were very pleasing to the eye as most were designed without tops and the body style of the women was something to be admired and enjoyed! Even though the set performances were amazing Chelsea and my favorite parts were during the intermissions. During the time the performers were changing and the next set getting into place there were individual performances. We witnessed a muscular acrobatic dude perform gravity-defying feats on glass tables and use bars to lift his body in ways uncomprehendable to most. We also saw a couple dance inside of a ring together so beautifully and with much ease. Also, from what appeared to be the most veteran of the crew, a performance with each other that made Chelsea think they were using wires, but I prefer to believe the guy was just that strong, experienced, and talented to be able to pull off the stunts he was doing with his gorgeous partner. The scene that I remember the most was when a pool elevates from below the stage floor and a girl jumps in and starts to swim and dance in the water with anacondas swimming all around her. The girls dressed like various birds, in bedazzled everything, different genres, glamorous, and wearing hardly anything at all, but don't get me wrong, while I enjoyed viewing their bodies it was the dance moves and talent they were showcasing, more than the lack of clothing, that sparked my interest. Just when Chelsea and I polished off the last of our champagne the spectacular ended, the lights came on, and we were left in awe in wonderment. If you are ever in Paris don't let the ticket price stop you, dress to impress and attend, this show should not be missed!
High on life and a bottle of champagne Chelsea and I weren't finished with the night quite yet. Our great waiter had informed us of some bars we should attend to we headed that way. We decided to order a pizza and get a drink at a swanky bar next door while we waited. There we met a man from Africa who made us some excellent martinis, which is a luxury since they don't shake for you in Spain, and we met yet another friend as we enjoyed our nightcap waiting on our pizza. With another evening drawing near an end we enjoyed our late night snack and prepared for yet another action filled day in Paris to come!
We took advantage of the planned break on Tuesday and slept for a few extra hours. I then cooked us a nice breakfast and we got ready to meet our new friends Ryan and Sara to go to the Palace of Versaille. Both us and them were about an hour behind and we leisurely made our way to meet them to head to our destination for the day. Once we got to the train station it was apparent we weren't the only people to visit Versaille that day. Once we arrived to the exit we were glad to get off the train but the long lines had just begun! We spent the next two and a half hours waiting in line to view the palace! This was by far the longest we have had to wait for any attraction. This was made okay and tolerable by the fact that we had our new friends with us. The time passed effortlessly as we all got to know each other. If we hadn't had people to get to know Chelsea would have gotten very bored of me telling another story she had already heard at least twice already! Finally, we got to the front of the line! We walked through and saw a cool palace with great chandeliers, furniture, artwork and views. The only problem was that there were so many people and you felt rushed and didn't get to take in all the views you wanted to see. Once we got through the palace we all needed a break and some caffeine. We stopped at Angelina and got some coffee, macaroons, and water. I have always heard how fancy macaroons are and this place makes some of the best in the world. I had never tried them before and we got some to share. My favorites tasted like fruit loops. If you ever want to share macaroons with me I'm down, they are so good! While we were relaxing Ryan wanted to get another bottle of water. When he returned much later he was red and looked flustered. What he was about to explain next was probably the best story I have heard while in Europe. He went to the cashier to purchase a 3 euro bottle of water. He had a 2 euro coin, a fifty euro bill, and his debit card. He ordered his water and went to pay with the card but she wouldn't accept the card for such a low amount, then he asked if she would take a 50 euro bill, which she said she would take. He then proceeded to get his bill that was in his waist pouch under his shirt. He presented the bill to the woman and she gave him a blank stare and asked, "do you feel shame for your Fannie pack?" Ryan couldn't believe it and said he didn't until now. She then asked him if he was afraid of pick pockets and he said yes. She didn't understand him she said and stated she could not break a bill so large. She then decided to allow him to use the card. The Fannie pack distraction caused her to run his debit card for fifty euros instead of the three euros for the water. She got the manager and then gave him the change back in cash. She told the manager she was so distracted from the Fannie pack, made Ryan show it again, they both laughed at him together in amusement while handing him change. All of this took at least 10 minutes for a bottle of water and the line behind him was backing up. Moral of this story, don't flash your change belt in Paris unless you want to get called out by a young waitress, Feel the shame!
After laughing about that for a few minutes we were off to the next part of the Versaille Palace, the gardens. It had taken so long to get through the line and palace that it was late afternoon. We walked though the garden trails taking our time and enjoying being outside and away from the crowds. We were having such good conversations and enjoying the weather so much that we walked past the Palace grounds to a public park where they were renting boats. We purchased some wine and planned to take a paddle on the water but the rental company was packing up for the day. We decided instead to sit on the green grass, enjoy the sunshine and continue our conversations. Hours later the sun began to set over the palace giving some wonderful light, the ducks were getting out the water for the day, and we began the long walk back watching the colors change minute by minute as the day gave way to dusk and we watched another sunset and had the gardens to ourselves. It made me think of golf cart rides in Ravenel with Pops and Shakey Sue, while appreciating the great colors and weather of spring.
We caught the train back, said our goodbyes, picked up Cash and headed for yet another fantastic culinary experience just minutes walk from our apartment. I dined on the spagehtti bologna accompanied by a glass of red wine and enjoyed watching Paris pass by my little family sat outside and took it all in. Life is so good!
Our last day in Paris we packed and cleaned up the house, finished off the breakfast food in the fridge, and then went on a riverboat cruise through the Seine River. We saw the must see buildings, the Eiffel Tower from the river view, and the numerous bridges that are works of art themselves with statues and ornate decorations abounding in exquisite detail. The weather again, perfect! The company, perfect!
We were leaving the boat and decided to keep the group together, get Cashman, and have a picnic in the Champs de Mars park overlooking the tower. We shared a bottle of champagne, various tasty lunch snacks and sandwiches while soaking up the sunshine one last time before heading to the airport. Cash chased after the pigeons and stretched his puppy legs to the delight of the crowds around us. People video taped him and pet him and it felt so good to let him be free before going on our flight.
We then grabbed our gear and navigated back to the airport this time properly by underground. We were even assisted yet again by a very friendly Parisian who helped us through the maze of walking and buses to get to the airport terminal. Yet another dream come true, full of adventure, romance, fashion, food, culture and people. Paris was an unforgettable place that will always be a special place in the Stone's book of adventures we will forever have a Passion for Paris!
This was Chelsea's thirtieth birthday weekend, combined with her friends dinner the previous weekend, so I had to go big to show how much I love my Darlin. The weekend began with me picking up the rental car on my way to work at Escuela Inglesa, followed by my race through Friday traffic, to finish the week. Chelsea then navigated through the bus maze to get to the academy for the first time. Since it was already 9:30pm when I got off it was time for dinner. There is an Indian restaurant I have been eyeing next to the academy and since Chelsea loves this cuisine I thought the perfect opportunity to try it out. The restaurant did not disappoint! With every table filled we walked right in and they had us seated within 15 minutes. We got our usual favorites of spinach, chickpeas, rice, and garlic nan. No alcohol because of the long drive but an amazing culinary experience with the semi spicy warm flavors of perfectly seasoned Indian delights to satisfy our craving for good food and keep us nourished for the long drive ahead.
I introduced Chelsea to the Fiat Panda, the lowest grade vehicle we have driven yet, but quite satisfactory to take us on our Granada adventure. We got the music adjusted and off we went beginning our journey with a bright moon lit sky and unusually clear night where the stars shown bright as we worked our way out of the city and onto the open road. We had the road to ourselves as this time of night on this non holiday weekend left the roads empty except for the occasional pair of truckers we passed to the right of us. We enjoyed the opportunity to talk deep and fun about our memories of the trip so far, family, friends, life, and the future. Even still living away from all our previous responsibilities it is still difficult to find quality time to enjoy conversation with my lovely wife and this long southern stretch of open road gave us the time needed to check in and really enjoy each other's company.
What was a 5 hour journey slipped by like the tornadoes I feel like our parties are and we had reached our destination, so turning from the Google maps to the perfectly printed directions we began the ascent up hundreds of years old cobblestone roads to our villa below the main house in the quaint village of Granada. Chelsea is gaining confidence, in my I admit learn on the go European driving skills, and assists me through two way streets just large enough to fit the compact Panda through. Twice we were forced to reverse uphill to allow fellow commuters to get by us and also had to avoid the slew of university aged pedestrians walking to and from their watering holes at an unusual hour of 4:30 in the morning. Alas, we arrive at out garage, park the Panda in the spot, again just big enough for it, flip the rear view mirrors in to avoid any insurance claims and take the short walk to our accommodations. There we rang the buzzer and within seconds had a response on the other end. We were quickly and efficiently guided to our weekend love nest and shown how to get around town. We unpacked, got comfortable and turned the lights off to a beautiful evening ready for the new adventures that await us with the rising of the Granada sun.
I put my feet on the floor, start my routine, and flip the curtains back to reveal a beautiful courtyard. Open the door to let the fresh air and light in, and so our Saturday begins. We get ready and I sit in the courtyard while my love gets dolled up for her palace birthday experience. I have a book about the palace to keep me company and read about the history, architecture, gardens, and life of the amazing world treasure we are about to explore. Finally, with my girl looking like a million bucks, fully charged camera in hand, we set off to see what awaits.
We begin walking the narrow streets and are pleasantly greeted by small colorful shops with handmade trinkets that are a step above your average plastic souvenir crap. We keep our pace as we have reservations to enter the palace but take the feel of the city in. Street musicians playing by the shops, the hum and buzz of vendors selling their goods, the smell of incense burning, teas brewing, the clatter of dishes in normal Spanish style, and find our way down to the city center. There at the center there are more restaurants, street performers, and tourists mixed with locals. We find our way to our destination and are told to run do we don't miss our reservation time. We begin a ten minute run uphill that takes our breath away, running by lines of 100 plus people, and ducking under swinging ropes. We arrive! Safe to enter. We catch our breath and instantly begin taking photos of wonders so beautiful that the camera doesn't do them justice. Hand carved intricate ceilings, walls, columns, all fit for fine royalty in the Arabic Muslim style overlooking breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada mountain range from a bird's eye view. We experience the water, present everywhere, and the tranquilizing effects of its cool relaxing sound as it runs in trenches all around you and flows from features up and back down into pools filled with fat happy fish of all types and then you see another type of architecture that wows you, then another vista view, and this continues for about an hour until you have reached the exit.
But the exit from the main house is just the beginning of gardens that make my beloved Magnolia Plantation look like an infant baby compared to the size, painstaking symmetry, and plant training that only genius level horticulturists can develop over centuries of time to put the perfect plants and trees in the perfect places to produce the harmony and connection with the land displayed in the General Life gardens. Then another breathtaking piece of architecture, and it overlooks another breathtaking view, and so the cycle continues.
On our decent and rise back up the mountain we managed to grab some wonderful Mediterranean snacks that we carried with us. Finding a sunny spot next to a trickling pond where children were laughing and carrying on in different languages admiring the bullfrogs on Lillie pads in the gardens we refuel our bodies. Our souls were already getting filled and are running over. We found the most magical place in Spain and there was still more to enjoy.
We finish and continue on our walk with the waves of euphoric emotions continuing as we view, breathe, taste, and feel more natural beauty. Then a beautiful piece of architecture, another unreal backdrop, then into the next section. We see jasmine that reminds me of my mother, lilies that remind me of my grandmother, happy and healthy crape myrtles that remind me of Charleston. Amazing how a palace so far away can even evoke memories from a childhood thousands of miles away!
Finishing this tour, walking up to the lookout towers to take in the breathtaking views from atop the Torre de la Vela it was time to call it a day. Chelsea looked at her watch, we had toured for four hours. The time most people take to tour the Alhambra, so I guess we did it right.
We walked back down to the city center and then took a taxi to a lookout and got some tapas and a drink. We soaked up some sunshine and talked the afternoon away. Finally we decided to walk around Granada a bit more, get a to go pizza, and head back to the house. After 14 miles of walking for the day it was time to relax in our outdoor garden watching the colors of the sky as the sun went down and then call it a night.
We awoke Sunday energized from a good nights sleep ready to explore again. After packing and getting our perfect villa in tip top shape for our wonderful hosts we made our way to find some breakfast before getting back on the road. We made the decision to visit to Castillo de Almodóvar, about 2 hours out of the way but highly recommended by Chelsea's employer. We found a quaint spot to enjoy salmon lockes, coffee, and juice and then back on the open road we went. We enjoyed this journey because now we could see the mountains we knew we were missing on the way there. We saw mountains, countryside, wonderful colorful wildflowers, wind mills and other beautiful things as we cruised to the castle. We kept getting more rural and off the beaten path until we reached the castle.
We arrived and there was a mideval festival going on! The parking lot we were supposed to park in was converted into an area filled with tents for local vendors, food, and fun. We luckily found a parking space right next to the gathering and excitedly jumped into the mix.
After perusing the vendors we decided to make the short hike up to the castle. Again, amazing architecture and spectacular views of the Spanish countryside from all levels from this very cool old castle, Castillo de Almodóvar. There was even a very interesting sword collection. We enjoyed the entire castle, went to all the viewpoints, and then made our way back to the festival.
When we got back down we found a good Arabic food tent and got a fantastic lunch. While we were sitting to eat an acrobat that performs in a ring came by to get setup. Our timing couldn't have been better to have an opportunity to see his show! He dazzled the crowd for 20 minutes and we were able to take it all in. When he was done performing so were we. We gassed up the Panda and got back on the road, Madrid here we come!
Pushing the Panda to it's limits we got home at a decent time, I dropped Chelsea off so she could get us unpacked and walk the Cashy while I took the car back to the train station. My confidence of driving in Spain has increased as it needs to. Our next road trip in August requires a van and hairpin turns in the mountains of northern Spain. Car returned and back to bed.
We wake up on Monday morning remembering our weekend as if it were a dream, the best part is that it really happened. We have the photos to prove it!
Our journey began at 7:00am on Saturday morning. It was yet another 3 day weekend in Spain and we were off the the south of Spain, Seville in our handy dandy fiatt 500. The drive was beautiful,the sun was shining, the radio was booming and Trey and I were having one of our many deep conversations of life, love, and travel. We passed several Spanish farms raising olive and orange trees. It was a pleasant site to see solar pannels for miles. Spain has very expensive electric so this is something they have taken seriously in Spain to produce efficient and cost effective power.
With 4 and a half hours behind us we finally arrived in Seville. The weather was gorgous and reminded us of a spring day in Charleston. We rolled down the windows as we rode through the city streets of Seville. We rode through the old town ewwing and aweing over the old architecture and beauty of this city. The streets were swarming with people and the parking was impossible. After we dropped off our luggage at the Airbnb we had to find parking. Apparently this is a very difficult task to do in Seville and we were unaware that this would be an issue. After driving around for nearly an hour with me every so often saying "oh there...nope garage entrance", we finally gave up and searched for public parking. We noticed a blue parking sign with an arrow and the word Saba on it. Without further hesitation Trey jumped in the line. We both were thinking okay maybe the garage is backed up no worries we are on vacation we can wait. Another hour
and a half later and only 4 miles to the entrance of the garage we had finally made it. Trey and I were exhausted and became hangry. We didn't know if the public garage was overnight parking or not, so we both dreaded the thought that we might have to move the car.
The hanger took over me and I had to use the restroom. We hurried through the Corte Ingles in search of a restroom. Salvation was ahead just past the flamanco dresses to the left. What a relief but now to conquer the hanger.The idea was to arrive in Seville and find a great lunch place, but at this point at 4:30pm we would have eaten anything. We realized we needed cash and we're in search of a bank as well. Trey's lack of energy from the "hanger" and my irrational running around from the "hanger" landed us around the corner and finally were able to take a load off and recharge.
We order a lovely appitizer of salted cod and fresh avacado with a drizzle of balsamic it was just what we needed. Next we ordered our entrees Trey ordered cod stuffed ravaoli and I ordered salmon and veggies. We almost didn't come up for air. The "hanger" had subsided and we both had returned to ourselves again! Team Trelsea was ready on the go. We found out we could leave our car in the garage for the weekend if we purchased a weekend card. So that is just what we did and we're happy we didn't have to move the car again. We walked back to our Airbnb to take a siesta and get ready for the evening.
After a nice nap we were ready to go out on the town. Trey called and made reservations at a flamanco show. We wanted to see flamanco in the South where the art had originated. We had seen flamanco before in Madrid, but we had a feeling it would be different. We were off to the show and as we walked to the autotorium we admired the beautiful cobblestone streets of Seville. I most of all enjoyed window shopping and looking at the clothing botiques on every corner. I know Trey was happy we were strolling later on the evening so he wouldn't have to go into all of these stores, and his wallet was happy as well. We wound around to the old autotorium and collected our tickets at will call. We were lucky we arrived early because it was first come first serve seating. We sat front row to the far right of the stage it was perfect. The show began and Trey and I were entranced in the beautiful story. We enjoyed that the male and female dances the most. They did 3 dances together. At the show in Madrid, it was each dancer by themselves, so this was nice to see the bond and chemistry you must have to flamanco together. The music was a little different the guitarist was fantastic! The dancers really felt the music and told a beautiful stories through the art of flanamco. We throughly enjoyed the show. After the show we thought we would walk around for a bit and get a feel for the night life in Seville. It reminded us in certain areas of King St. on a SAT. night. The only difference everyone was speaking Spanish! We weren't feeling much in the bar mood so we stumbled upon a quite street just off of the busy plaza, and went into a very swanky Asian restaurant called Wasabi (no not your American chain friends hehe). It was very busy and everyone that went in had reservations. They told us they did not have a table for us but we were welcome to sit at the bar table. We had no problem with that. We ordered some white wine and ejoyed the relaxing ambiance. The sushi was incredible. It was hands down the best we have had in Europe. We watched the skill of the kitchen and wait staff as they ran there busy Sat. night like a well oiled machine. Trey and I mumbled in between every bite about the flavorful sushi we were craving for almost 6 months. After the house graupa and amazing violet and green tea infused ice cream we decided it was time to turn in for the night.
It was Sunday morning and we stopped into a little cafe just down the street, for a glass of fresh squeezed oj, a cafe con leche y Baileys and tostado con tomate y jamon. It was a perfect way to start our morning. It's funny how when we get older how we spend our days. We used to love to stay up late and enjoyed being night owls and sleeping in, but now we both rather go to bed early and wake up early to enjoy the full day and are the most active in the morning. My Aunt June used to say, "mornings are the best time of the day." Then I thought she was crazy, now I very much agree.
We followed the cobble stone roads to the main tourist area where the Alcazar and Cathedral were. It was a gorgous day! As the horse drawn tours went by we felt right at home. We didn't reserve tickets in advance for the Alcazar so we waited in line for about 2 hours to enter. Despite the fact, Trey hates crowds and lines we both didn't mind waiting and watching the beautiful plaza outside of the Cathedral and Alcazar come to life. We had live music while we waited and the sun was shining keeping us nice and toasty. We shared a frozen lemonade and much to your surprise...took lots of pictures.
We finally made our way into the Alcazar and were very impressed the this amazing piece of Morrish influenced arctitecture. The details the this building were mind blowing. We often asked ourselves, How long do you think it took to create that small corner? Do you think they carved it into the building or carved it and mounted it up? The architecture and art we have seen on this trip amazes us. It truly is remarkable to see the time and details they put into there life long work.
Our favorite part of the Alcazar,and all of Seville for that matter,was the Alcazar Gardens. It was like a magical kingdom of natural beauty, with amazing water features, and lookouts where you could see the entire garden, and stare off into the distance for hours. We both sat on a bench by the peacocks for almost 30 minutes and said nothing. We just breathed it all in...It's moments like that I will cherish forever. Where we just soaked in all of our surrounding beauty, and enjoyed eachothers presence. After spending nearly 4 hours there it was time for us to head on to our next destination Plaza de España.
We walked from our place at one side of Seville to the center to the other side of Seville. It was perfect because we were able to cover the entire city in just 2 short days. We passed a park and a Terrance that was shaded by beautiful trees getting ready to blossum for spring. We said we would go back there for a snack and drink once we finished at Plaza De España. We reach our destination and we're in awe of it's beauty. It was like what you seen in the movies. Many people in a plaza surrounded by a beautiful piece of arcitrchure with a fountain in the middle and a park on the other. We enjoyed people watching here! As our stomachs began to growl and our months got dry we decided it was time for us to head to the terrace near the park for a snack and refreshment.
We ordered a bottle of cava and shared the oxtail tapas. It was just enough food to hold us over to our 10:00pm Spanish dinner time. We then walked down the riverfront viewing all the happy hour places coming to life on a hot late afternoon. We toured the Seville Bull Fighting Stadium and head back to our place for a siesta and shower before dinner.
We were ready for another night out and went to a restaurant our Airbnb owners recommended Arte y Sabor. It was a tapas bar and exactly what we were looking for. It had a variety of fusion tapas, so we went the tabuli, kufta, jamon asparagus, grilled goat cheese and pita route. Random but so good! It was delishious. We love tapas infusion because you can try many dishes share and still be full! We thought about venturing out for a night cap but decided against it because we had a big day planned for Monday and still had to travel back to Madrid.
It was Monday morning and Trey and I were heading to Córdoba for the afternoon to meet our friends Kiara and Rachael. They had stayed in Córdoba for the weekend and it was on the way home so we had to check it out. We left our Airbnb around nine thirty and took our luggage with us to the center where we parked our car. We sat at a little cafe outside and enjoyed a nice breakfast before our journey to Córdoba. We talked and wrote post cards and lost track of the time. We finally asked for the bill and realized we had been there for almost two hours. We got in the car and were Córdoba bound.
2 hours later we had arrived. Trey noticed a sign that said in Spanish permitted vehicles only, we ignored it and after about 30 sec. I wish I hadn't said, "oh we aren't parking we will be fine." Driving down cobblestone roads as narrow as our vehicle, I literally had to pull in the mirrors so they would not hit the wall so the buildings, and people walking all up and down these streets made for a very anxious Chelsea. Trey however kept his cool and drove on. He amazed me with his driving skills. While being here in Europe he has driven down many many old narrow roads, up impossible hills, down forbidden roads like a champion. I say this now and may regret saying this in the future, but my husband is a fantastic driver, and I will no longer be his passenger seat driver...just his trusty navigator. Much to your surprise while traveling we rarely ever argue about driving or directions while in a car. Maybe because this is the least used method of transportstion here in Europe, but it has made us stronger and a pretty good team!
Finally, we made it through the maze as we drove past the famous Masquita of Córdoba and parked our car in a public parking spot. We stopped at a little corner spot and shared some patas bravas, croquettes, and had a drink. The sun was beating down and again we couldn't have asked for better weather. We wondered to and fro down the streets of Córdoba and noticed the beautiful potted plants hanging all down the sides of the buildings. In May the city has a competition of who has the nicest patio, things were just starting to blossum, but I can imagine this to be absolutely gorgous time of year for the sweet little city of Córdoba.
We met up the Kiara and Rachael and walked around the Jewish quarter for a bit and went into a really neat ariboc tea shop. We all bought some tea and were ready for some more food. I know I know we eat alot don't we! Just keep in mind Spain is all about tapas so little tastes here and there. They girls took us to a place they were eyeing since they arrived. It was the cutest little restaurant with a gorgous open terrace in the middle of the restaurant. We enjoyed a veggie cous cous dish and amazing conversation. Kiara has such a wonderful way about her to make us all laugh. We were discussing the Plaza De Espana and told her we noticed on the wall of all the cities in Spain there was a city called Palencia. Kiara had to comment "Valencia and Palencia," she said in her Australian accent, " How odd to name cities in the same country so similar, it would be like naming a city Boo York after naming one New York." We laughed at her commentary and we will truly miss her humor when we return to the States.
After our meal we headed to where the girls had stayed for the weekend to collect there things. We headed to the car to load there things in our little fiatt 500, that Kiara was ever so excited about, and headed for one last look of Córdoba from the famous bridge. We walked along the bridge stopping to admire some Spanish guitar. As much as we all wanted to stay we had a long car ride back to Madrid ahead of us. We loaded up and headed back. We played an exciting a humorous game of 20 questions to keep us preoccupied as we waited in traffic for nearly an hour. We were all thinking outside of the box with our topic expect for Trey. With his first attempt of the game we all guessed his topic in less than 2 min. flat, his first truck, the Ford Ranger. I asked him to go again and to make it difficult. After 30 minutes of guessing he began to give us hints. When he said it was a Spanish word Kiara, part Spanish, was determined to figure it out. The hints were it was a feeling, it can be sexual, its a form of inspiration, and you cannot touch it. Just as we were about to give up he began to spell the first two letters I yelled out "Duerme?" Trey filled with excitement yelled out, "Yes!!" We all laughed hysterically saying really, Trey you are tired is sexual? He laughed and said," No, I thought you guessed it, it was Duende." He gave us the definition of duende which he had read in one of his books about Spain. Duende is a gypsy term used as the mysterious magical force, fairy like, that Spanish creative sprits obtain, which inspires the best of flamanco, His choice of 20 questions topic the second time around summed up our Seville trip rather nicely.
All in all we felt Seville to be a very charming city. The people, the culture, the architecture, the food, the weather were all components that made Seville one of our top 5 favorites thus far.
It's not everyday you get to spend time with one of your best friends in Europe, so when Maggie told me her and a friend were coming for a short 3 day visit, of course I began the planning. When they arrived I had made a cheese board for us to snack on and some cava to celebrate there arrival. We then headed to the Renia Sofia to see some Picasso and Dali. We stopped off at the corner for some coffee and recharge, and then we were ready for some art. After a nice afternoon in the museum we headed back to the house to get ready for dinner. I had been eyeing Jardin Secreto for dinner for some time, we passed it many times while we were out and about, so I made reservations for 10:00. Trey had been to the Athletic Madrid game with a friend, so we were all feeling right and in the spirit. When we arrived I gave the host my name as usual, Chelsea Stone, that is what you do when you make a reservation right? Well for some reason or another the Spaniards hear my name way differently, so the host responded back, " No sorry, No reserve for Chelsea... then less than a second later he says, "Oh espara, Sophia Estone?" The girls started laughing, and when I told them this wasn't the first time they said "well now you have an official Spanish name then... come on Sofia!" For the remainder for the trip they called me Sophia and from now on when making reservations while in Spain I have learned if can't beat em join em...Sophia Estone it is! The ambiance was fantastic the food was different and good, but nothing I would write home about, except for the carrot cake and delish chocolate cake we ordered for dessert. It seems that was what you go to Jardin Secreto for...the dessert and fun cocktails. We then set out for an after dinner drink at Dry Bar 1892. We each enjoyed our own speciality cocktail and caught up on life.
I woke up at my usual time to go to work and was back before they woke up. I had made brunch reservations at one of my favorite little secrets here in Madrid that is above a store and has a private courtyard terrace. Everything about this place is just too cute from the place mats, the ambiance, to the little coin pouch shaped as little pastries that the bring your bill in. We had much comical relief when we began to hear American pop music in the background sung by what we thought was one of those Now CDs volume 8. After an awesome brunch we walked around Sol and headed to Plaza Mayor. After a quick mini tour Trey and I had to head to work, so we left the girls to navigate Madrid on there own. They had a wonderful afternoon getting lost around the city shopping and having afternoon refreshments.
When I got home that evening we went went to Temple De Debod to watch the sunset. We walked back to the house for a "dress drink" and we're in an uber on our way to a Flamanco dinner show. We had arrived fairly early so we enjoyed watching the restaurant fill up. I explained to them that the last time Trey and I were there, we were also the first to show up because the Spanish are always late. The dinner was very good and we all enjoyed a few bottles of wine. The show was excellent, and Crystal the dancer of the group, was very moved by one of the performers. After the show we headed out to look for one more drink before heading home. We got scooped up in a tourist trap, but honestly it was kind of fun. He offered us 3 free drinks and free entry if we followed him. We thought... hey why not when in Spain right? When we entered the bar some modern music was playing the it was your typical club scene. We each got a drink and hopped on the dance floor. We stayed for about an hour and then I had to get to bed because I had to work the next morning. We got back around 2:30am and I saw a really cool cabnet on the side of the road we all took a good look at it to make sure it was ligit and before I knew it, Maggie and Crystal in there high heels, were carrying this cabnet up the stairs.
As I directed them telling them where the next step was, I flew open our apartment door to find Trey up and watching TV. He definitely wasn't expecting us to be coming in with a piece of furniture. We all finally settled down and fell asleep.
After waking up at 6:30am again for work, after not going to bed until nearly 3:30am I was beat, so I took a small nap while Trey made the girls homemade tortilla. It was a perfect way to soak up the booze we had the night before. Raquel gave me the afternoon off so the girls and I planned to go to Toledo for the day. We went to the train station and took a 30 min train to Toledo.
We found our way to the city center and enjoyed seeing an old Spanish town with a true Spanish feel, away from the big city. We stopped off at a cute cafe for some lunch and wine and we were feeling great. We wondered through the streets of Toledo and snuck into some cute stores to do some suvienere shopping. I will talk more about Toledo in another post when Trey and I have made the journey together. It is such a neat city and so close to us we can take mutiple trips. It was time for us to head back to Madrid so we made our way down the city bridge which was stunning all lite up at night, back to the train station. Once we got back to Madrid we made our way to a roof top bar for one last parting drink.
It was a shot trip but ever so sweet! I am so glad I got to share a taste of what Trey and I's life is like here abroad with one of my dear friends.
In the the last few hours of my Friday classes last week I unusually preoccupied because I knew there were friends in town and Chelsea was taking them around Madrid without me. Robert, a childhood friend, had just sent me a picture of he and Cash playing with a caption saying, “waiting for daddy to get home”. I had also watched Chelsea prepare the iberian ham, olives, cheese and bread board earlier that I was sure they were getting into. There was also a few nice bottles of Spanish wine waiting on them I was positive they were savoring. All of this was true but I still had to finish my work before I could play!
Fast forward to 10:15PM as I opened the door to our apartment when I found the crew laughing and having a good time playing with Cash just as I was suspecting. Robert and I embraced in a big bro-hug and the weekend with the Georgens finally began for me. I took a moment to catch up with everyone and then off we went to our long anticipated dinner reservations at Casa Mono. As we were walking it was great to catchup on what the day had brought our fellow Ex-pats, who are from Charleston spending time in Spain as well. They went to Temple Debod, took a ride on the Teleferico, walked Cash in Parque de Oeste, and got back to the apartment to talk and wait on me.
We walked into the restaurant and knew instantly we picked the right spot. The bustling Friday night Madrid crowd is out and as we look at the posh decorations and vibrant atmosphere we are whisked to our table to begin yet another fine dining experience with our friends. Casa Mono, Robert says, means “monkey house.” I hadn’t thought about it but he was right. No problem getting our drink order in because how could we go wrong with the house Rioja? We exchanged Spanish and English menus back and forth and decided how we wanted to break the meal up. We then proceed to order and then continued to catch up on the present and have Robert enlighten Chelsea on stories about our childhood and BC (Before Chelsea). Our dinner and two bottles of wine were fantastic and we decided that it was too early for us to go to bed and so we opted to Uber to the local music joint El Junco for some late night entertainment. We arrived and I was pleasantly surprised that there was not too many people in the relatively small dive. The band was rocking! It was a blues band that could have been from the United States. They reminded me of Johnny Mack and the Booty Ranch from back in Charleston, SC. They played some great blues standards, Jimi Hendrix, Mad Dog, and by the time we left had the entire bar dancing all around. Some of the best live music we have seen yet in Madrid! We could have stayed up all night with the rest of the Madrios but we had a big day planned the next day… A chance to fulfill a boyhood dream of Robert and myself’s and go see a Real Madrid futbol match!
When we woke up everyone was a little slow. Its funny how you have so much energy when you first get together catching up running on pure adrenaline. I was the first up to get my day going and was soon told I was making too much noise. Robert knew exactly how to handle the situation and tells me he wants some American coffee and we should go find some. It is the first time to Starbucks in Europe and it is different and yet nostalgic of home all in the same time. We get our American coffees to go and sat outside watching Madrid wakeup. We caught up and had great guy time acknowledging it is pretty cool two guys from Charleston, SC to be sitting in Europe on a fine winter’s day. Life is good!
When we got back to the house the girls were up and at em. Breakfast was ready and we made some pregame bloody mary’s (All the way from Indiana courtesy of Katie and Charlie) to go with the quiche Chelsea made. Lo and behold, he had yet another feast. Our timing was good and we were ready to head to the stadium, so with tickets in hand off we went. I was as excited as getting ready for another Gamecock football game in Columbia, SC.
We got to the stadium through metro with ease and started to find our way to our side of the stadium. We snapped some photos and browsed the souvenir stands and the official Real Madrid store. Still I am not sure how our tickets are going to be and am pleasantly surprised to see that they are amazing. We were behind the goal about forty rows up and the stadium is massive and starting to fill up. We took it all in and that took us some time. The beating of the drums, the warming up of the players, the fans getting to their seats, the buzz in the air were all quite a spectacle for the soccer fans from across the pond. We finally get situated in our seats and off we go. We watched the warm ups and we find the big name players as they get ready. When the starting lineup was announced the crowd went wild. It really is great to see the game live. The match moved so much faster and there was so much more interesting things to watch besides just the game. Real scored a goal on our side and everyone got so excited. The fans were also unforgiving to the referee if he didn't make a call in their favor and made as much noise complaining as celebrating on quite a few occasions. Then in the second half Garreth Bale was substitued in to return to the field for the first time since October 2016. He quickly makes his presence known and scored the second goal in the second half on the other side of the field in only seven minutes after getting in the game. Wow! Once the exciting game drew to a close it was concluded that a good time was had by all. Robert and I got to watch our big game together and the girls thoroughly enjoyed themselves as well.
As we roll out of the stadium we tell Robert and Suzanna their surprise for the weekend. We had Raquel, Chelsea’s employer, make reservations at a restaurant that overlooks the stadium. We had some time before they opened so we took a moment to get a coffee and a pastry at a local shop and then relax in the stadium shopping mall for a few minutes. We were in typical American fashion in Spain and are the first in the restaurant. We got a drink at the bar and then were taken to our seat overlooking the stadium. From our seats we were given another moment to marvel at the amazing field and stadium while we enjoyed a very Spanish meal. Suzanne and I split a seafood rice, Chelsea had the meatballs, and Robert the ox tail. No late night music or late night at all for that matter this time as everyone was exhausted. We were ready to party in the bed tonight and by party I mean sleep.
The last full day for the Georgens in Madrid was a sightseeing day. Chelsea and I enjoy taking people out because it gives us a chance to see more of our city we have grown quite familiar and fond of and also gives us a chance to see more. We started at a nice brunch place called Roll and had a typical American brunch and good craft beers. We then moved onto the highlight of the day the modern art museum the Sofia Reina. It is the coolest museum in Madrid in my opinion as we seem to prefer modern art. We only got to see the second floor but did see all of the really popular works. If you go on Sundays you get in free and it would have been worth the admission but free is even better!
We then hopped in a cab to see the Madrid Palace, a place Chelsea and I have walked by often but not been into. When we got there the palace was closed for a special event that was not shown online but still with it being such a gorgeous day it didn’t matter and we enjoyed the outdoors and sat between the palace and cathedral and took in the sunshine, listed to a man play his violin, and took a few pics before deciding to walk back home. It was such great weather and we continued to walk until we decided to keep going down Gran Via instead of going home. We ended up in Sol and walked around the busy streets being tourists for a day. For a mid-afternoon treat we took Robert and Suzanna to get Churros at a famous churro cafe in Sol. We ate those scruptious churros after dipping them in the fine chocolate until we had our fill and then headed to Plaza Mayor. When we got to Plaza Mayor we had a pleasant surprise. Chelsea grabbed me by the arm and said she thinks she found our first art piece of this trip. We have been looking everywhere and nothing has caught our eye yet that we can afford. That was until we met Max. Max had an original color canvas painting of Gran Via in Callo by the Swchepes building on the Capital side looking out over the street. This is only about 1 km away from our apartment and we had been down the street numerous times. The picture was just right and we made the decision to go for it and we now have our first European piece hanging in our apartment.
We got home and put up the picture and took a rest for a minute and then went to find some good Indian food. We had a great meal with great company and then went home to again call it a night after another full day.Up and ready to take the Georgens to the train station. I navigated them through the metros and sent them off with big hugs and nothing but smiles.
We had a great trip with you Robert and Suzanna and you are welcome back anytime. It is so good to spend time with a great friend and catchup in an amazing country after not seeing each other for over ten years. Salude!
We were to be at MU at 8PM. We have run late with Andy and Roxanna before and we didn’t want to mess it up this time. We arrived ten minutes early and they were already seated and waiting on us… and we realized there is at least one couple in Madrid that doesn't run on Spanish time! We were greeted by the owner and feel very welcomed. This Argentinian restaurant off Grand Via in the busy shopping district of Madrid is small and cozy and we were made to feel like celebrities as soon as we walked in quite an awesome feeling if I do say so myself. The celebrity treatment had more to do with Andy and Rox than us and that was because they are from Uruguay, so they know good Argentinian food and frequent the establishment. Roxanna helped us with the ordering and after we put our order in we continued on with a wonderful evening.
The food was fantastic! Fresh empanadas, tasty salad, warm bread, then a mouthwatering steak with fries. We finished with a little sweet, and I ordered the flan and Roxanna talked them into putting some dulce de leche on the side, which is extremely popular in Uruguay, on the house. If you ever get the chance to try dulce de leche do it, you won't be disappointed! We finished our meal, settled with the owner, said our goodbyes, and are whisked out the door with hugs and kisses all around. Once we turned around the table was ready for the next set of guests being welcomed in. What a great restaurant with amazing food and great owners! We will return, thanks Mu!
We were then off to the next part of our double date, karaoke! We got to Cher's Karaoke Bar which has some real cool retro gear like an old gas pump, a car couch, and a Spanish looking James Dean statue propping himself on the wall by the bar. We got settled into our reserved car couch and found our songs to sing. We put our songs in and Roxanna bought us a round of drinks. We were enjoying our time together and the energy in the bar was really happy. It was fun to listen to Spanish karaoke as they like songs that aren't even remotely known or popular in the US. Some of the songs had never been heard by Roxanna, who is a native of Uruguay and native Spanish speaker, and the Spaniard patrons were all singing in unison together like it was a number one on the chart that day. Andy got up first and rocked out an excellent AC/DC song and then we waited and waited more. Almost two hours later Chelsea's song comes up and we sang "Wild Horses" together. We got a great ovation either because we are finally finished or because they liked it, and then we exited the bar.
As we walked down the road we continued our great conversation with our two friends. We feel so lucky to have met Andy and Roxana here in Madrid and feel that every person we encounter on this journey is for a reason. We are looking forward to more exciting nights with our fellow expat friends.
“Many small people, who in many small places do many small things, can alter the face of the world.” - East Side Gallery. Berlin, Germany with Trainwreck Written By: Trey
We are free for a long weekend! Cash is at home with Katheryn and we are heading back on a plane from Berlin reminiscing on a great weekend with our longtime friends from the United States, Rick and Troy aka Trainwreck. They live in Germany in a small town near Berlin and frequently visit the city of Berlin because of the creative, colorful, and uncharacteristic infusion of cultures that doesn't exist as much in the rest of Germany. It is said to be different because the city was completely rebuilt later in time after being destroyed that gave it the opportunity to be a different German city.
When we landed we found our way through the small airport and to Rick and Troy who were waiting for us to take us to our apartment we were sharing for the weekend. We took the bus to the metro and marveled and laughed at Rick and Troy showing off their German. We were really glad they were with us because without them we would be lost and not able to communicate. Our Spanish doesn't work in Germany.
Once we got settled in and had our Czech aperitif, The Prague Smash Becherovka, we were off to check out the local neighborhood Peruvian restaurant. Rick is from Columbia so is fluent in Spanish and we got to show off our language as well talking and ordering with the camanera in our best Spanish. Rick got us a delicious Peruvian drink, Pisco Sour, and we got our table filled with a variety of Peruvian foods. After getting our fill we went back to the apartment to get ready for bed because Berlin awaits and we needed our rest to be ready for the adventure!
We took the later showers so we could get a few more minutes of shuteye. Trainwreck were up and dressed when I made the way to the shower, the morning starting with, "Guten Morgen, Guten Morgen to you", a song they were singing and dancing to as I walked through the hallway. Guten Morgen to you too, a smile on my face, and so our first day in Berlin began. We started off at a local bakery to get our coffee and pastries. Spain knows their bread and Germany knows it's pastries. Anything with apple in it, sweet, colorful, different shapes and sizes for whatever your sweet tooth desires. We all get a coffee to get the caffeine buzz started and off we go to the city.
We take the metro into the city to see the Berlin Wall, bundled up in our warmest of clothes because it is cold as you would expect it to be in Germany in January. When we arrive at the wall we instantly begin to wonder what life was like when this was a working divide of a city. How did the people feel about the divide? How persecution and the splitting of a city can destroy morale and make the cold of winter seem even more depressing? How many families were split? How much bribery and corruption occurred to allow exit for some? What happened if you got caught crossing without proper authority? You had to get your passport stamped like six times every time you wanted to go between the wall. It is long and tall and they have kept sections of it intact. The creatives of Berlin are allowed to use them as a canvas to create their own scenes of inspiration, hope, history, persecution, globalization, freedom, love, and many other themes. While we are on the subject of such outward symbolism of the dictatorship, persecution, and divide of the people of a country Berlin stands as a symbol of divide. It was constructed by the German Democratic Republic of East Germany. In 1961 the Berlin Wall cutoff East and West Germany. The wall was
built to protect the socialist state from the West German Facists, but in reality was built to keep the East Germans in. Before the construction of the wall in 1961 it is reported that as many as 3.5 million East Germans fled out to West Germany and to other Western European countries. During the 29 years of the wall's enforcement as many as 5,000 East Germans attempted to escape and 5,000 or more were killed. In 1990 the socialist state was dissolved and the German reunification occurred and most of the wall was taken down. We walked the wall, snapped pictures, and played street games but this wasn't your average tourist attraction. Even with the wall decorated it still felt chilling to be around a place where so much persecution and death occured within this century. At the end of our wall walk Rick pointed out a hot wine stand and so we were introduced to Glühwein (German mulled wine). This became a great pick me up to warm us and keep us going through the trip through Berlin!
We then moved to an attraction more fun and much older.
Lunch time and my favorite European lunch, the Doner Kebab! I talk about this sandwich all the time because while on my exchange in Austria for five months after college I lived off them. Since we have been in Spain we have had failed attempts of having a good one. Here in Germany though they know how to make Kebabs and my faith has been restored that are in fact as good as I remember. Chelsea has apologized in the past if you were present for one of my reminisces about the Kebab but she does now admit it is a really good sandwich!
With full bellies what best to do but shopping with Trainwreck! They knew a really cool vintage store where we found many amazing pieces. We had Chelsea a dressing room full of options but in the end only her vintage hat fit just right! With shopping out of our system it was time for a drink break before heading on so we found a trendy coffee shop and warmed up with a nice cup of hot tea while Trainwreck went for some champagne. After warming up and taking in the ambiance of a trendy Berlin coffee shop we were off to the monument arc to take some photos like tourists do.
We got to the monument arc while the sun was starting to set and took some good photographs and had some laughs with all the other tourists. We enjoyed the moment, warm happy and taking in the wonderful winter sunset colors. We then walked through a white blanketed park to get to our next tourist destination, The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and as the sun set so did our excitement quickly change to quite contemplation.
The Holocaust Memorial is a sleek and clean arrangement of concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern in a sloping field. The slabs vary in height covering an attached underground "Place of Information" that holds the names of approximately 3 million Jewish Holocaust victims. We walked through the memorial thinking about the genocide of millions of European Jews and how it must feel to have been a European Jew in that time. Living in an established and well off community to then not be allowed to work, be stripped of the rights to purchase food, have curfews enforced, and have limitations on rations of food available to you and your family. Then to have possessions removed from you for the war effort, not be allowed to go certain places in the city. Then made to wear a yellow star to show your religion, have communities setup that you were not allowed to exit, then transported to concentration camps like Dachau and Auschwitz where you and your family were killed after being forced to live in horrible conditions. Still some were instead deported where they were scattered through other European countries and typically lived in ghettos or forced labor camps until they died or were murdered. The memorial is a clean and large. It is built to not upset a rebuilt city but it is big enough so that the citizens and tourists of Berlin will never forget what happened between 1939-1945. The youth of Berlin are very vocal about what happened as they do not want this to ever happen again. It is good that these acts not be pushed out of memory because to do so would only allow something similar to happen again.
Whew, after a day of sightseeing and ups and downs like a roller coaster it was time to head home. We had quite a walk to the metro so split up the trip to warm up in a neat bike shop where we sat and enjoyed a nice beer before getting on to the apartment. Talking about the day and catching up in this cool bike shop was a perfect way to wind down before getting home. Once home we rested for an hour and then made our way to the local German Restaurant to get our first taste of authentic German food in Berlin. The food was amazing. I had steak and gravy dish with potatoes, sauerkraut and cabbage that was hearty, filling, and tasty. Washing it down with a German beer recommended by Rick and great conversation with Trainwreck and Chelsea the dinner was a great ending to our first full day in Berlin. We were tired and in need of good rest, after all Berlin still had more to show us as we passed through.
If you haven't been able to tell yet Trainwreck enjoys food as much as we do so we got up and we're ready for another German breakfast at a local pastry shop. I got my fill of bread and a sandwich, another coffee that I must say isn't as good as Spain's cafe but had the caffeine necessary to get us going for our final full day exploring Berlin. With our German friends leading the way Day 2 begins!
We go to the Pergamonmuseum, located in the museum district of Berlin. With a light snowfall and the cold temperatures the area looked and felt European. As we entered the museum I still was not aware of what we were about to experience. After getting our coats checked we immediately walked into a huge room containing The Ishtar Gate, the eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon, constructed in about 575 BC. This was by far the oldest thing I have ever seen face to face. Even though it is a reconstruction rebuilt and painted on original brick it is extraordinary. Babylon being a major city of ancient Mesopotamia in the fertile plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers it is said that Babylon was the largest city in the world between 1170-1670 BC and again between 612-320 BC and was the first city to reach a population of over 200,000 people. The remains of the city are 85km south of Baghdad and I am really glad we didn't have to travel there to get a taste of Babylonian culture. Instead we were able to take in the gate and streets leading to it inside The Pergamonmuseum. This was only the first gem we were to experience. On the opposite wall of The Ishtar Gate was an example of Roman Architecure, the large marble monument The Market Gate of Miletus built around 100 AD. It was destroyed in an earthquake but has been reassembled at the Pergamonmuseum. Those were two of the highlights based on the vast size of the monuments and them being reconstructed and housed inside of a museum. It felt like we were stepping back in time and this duo was an excellent way to begin. But there was much more to see as there are 500,000 artifacts held in this museum and three distinct sections. According to the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, "The Antikensammlung is one of the most important collections of Greek and Roman art worldwide. The Vorderasiatisches Museum presents artifacts from ancient Near Eastern cultural history from over 6 millennia, primarily from Mesopotamia, Syria and Anatolia. The Museum Fur Islamische Kunst is one of the world's largest and most significant museums of it's type. It unities masterpieces of Muslim societies from the 7th to the 19th century."
I had a blast taking all of these amazing collections in and took some time to take some great pictures with our Sony Rx10. We have some of the pictures up on the blog but if you are interested in going deeper we have a large catalogue of pictures from this museum I would be glad to share.
After all that intellectual, historic, architectural, geographic, and cultural artifact stimulation we were hungry! Time to find some authentic German near the museum district and that wasn't hard to do. We strolled down a strip until we found the oldest and coolest looking place we could find. The chalkboard menu having our specialty hot wine drink of the trip enticing us in didn't hurt! We got all our warm weather gear off again and settled in for another German culinary feast. The consensus between everyone was to try the Currywurst which should not be missed. I was a bit on the adventurous side and wanted to try the pig knuckle. Wow, a pig's knuckle is huge! It took up almost the entire plate with sauerkraut, red cabbage, potatoes, and mustard taking up the rest of the plate. I found my inner hollow leg and filled it up. Man what a feast! With another round of hot wine to finish off the meal a nap would have been welcomed but with a full tank we needed to keep moving as there was still more to see.
One more sight on our list was Checkpoint Charlie. We arrived and it was cold and the place was crowded. Of all the places we had been so far this was the most touristy of all the places. We took our picture at the checkpoint and hopped on the next metro. Enough tourist time, if we are to properly go out to Gay Clubs for the night we need our rest. So home for a nap before going to experience the rainbow Berlin has to offer.
We get off the metro in the Gay district and have us a nice Thai meal. It is warm cozy and the food is excellent. We all get something different and share and also have John, one of Rick's coworkers, joining us for this experience. We enjoy our meal and then get moving. The first club we go to is too packed so we keep walking. There are leather shops everywhere and I wonder how in the world to get some of these outfits on and off and then decide just not to worry about it. There are antique stores that Chelsea drools over, restaurants galore, bath houses Troy tells me never to go into, and lots of fun bars. We settle on one that is conservative and quite. We post up and order some rounds. I look behind me and the latest edition of Boner magazine is sitting behind me. Taking it all in I see Troy and Rick both get propositioned for sex, I have one man absolutely amazed by Chelsea's beauty, and I was awkwardly hit on in German, so I just continuously shook my head no. Once the Rent Boys, young male prostitutes, came in and were shooting pool Trainwreck said it was time for us to move on. So move on we did and we had no problem finding another bar that was right up Chelsea's alley. A 1920's prohibition themed bar where we enjoyed real martinis and let more hours slip by with great conversation, laughs and friendship before calling it a night. The temperature had dropped even more and it was snowing so we hailed a taxi and got home to our warm apartment quickly. Another fantastic evening and we were off to bed. Our last leg of this adventure required Chelsea and I to navigate the metro and bus systems to get to the airport by 6 AM for our flight.
After a quick power nap we are up again to pack and put ourselves together to make it to the airport. We make it with no problem because we have learned to travel pretty well now. Four hours on horrible plane seats that make your whole body hurt being forced to listen to sales pitches for perfume, furniture, and liquor and we finally get back to Madrid at 10:30 in the morning. So we metro it back to the apartment to catch up with the Cashman and have some time with Kathryn who was nice enough to look after Cash and our apartment for us. We were so pleasantly surprised to have a chicken and a vegetable curry waiting for us on the stove. Exactly what we needed to nourish ourselves before we hibernated, or so that was the plan. A job opportunity that started the following day awaited me. I showered and put on my suit and found the bus route to my new employer for an interview. What a difference a day makes, now I have more work that I want and it couldn't have come at a better time after enjoying the Holiday break with friends and family.
Another chapter begins as another ends. I begin my work as an English academy professor. Watch out Spain, this southern guy is about to teach you some more English!