It all started in Aug. of 2016. We had gotten back to Madrid from our 21 day vacation and were already planning our next adventure... Christmas! We knew we had a week off of work and wanted to make this Christmas extra special especially since it was the first holiday season away from our families. When we were sharing our possible plans with Trey's dad, Trotte, he expressed interest in coming over to this side of the pond to join the festivities. With out a second thought we had booked his flight and began planning a compact 14 days of pure adventure. Its funny, many people don't really care to plan and organize an research for trips, but I for one really enjoy it because it feels like I have already started the adventure.
It was finally time to enjoy the fruits of our labor and Trotte landed in Madrid on Dec. 22. Trey picked him up from the airport and we had just finished a homemade brunch and pitcher of "Bloody Mary's". We were able to show him The Temple De Debod at night and Cash's favorite spot Parque De Oeste. We came back to the apartment for a glass of wine. Angel a fellow South Carolinian joined us for dinner and we enjoyed a 5 course meal at Nonina's a local restaurant near our Park and casa. It was a perfect evening full of laughter, and amazing food! Trotte knew that we wouldn't steer him wrong in this category, so he trusted that all the meals during his trip would be as good as the first and oh how he was right. We all stayed up until nearly 3am talking catching up and enjoying quality family time.
Waking up the next morning was a little difficult for all of us, but we eventually managed to get up and around and head to one of "The Three Amigos" favorite brunch spots Federal. This place is very trendy with a European coffee house feel and the food will blow your mind. With full and very happy bellies it was time for Trey and his dad to catch up. They went to the the Teleferico so Trey could show his dad our beautiful city. Meanwhile Kathryn and I went back to the apartment to settle last minute travel plans and have some down time before our big night. This night was our Christmas present to Trotte. Trey and I purchases tickets to Devour Spain's Wine and Tapas tour. This was an absolute blast our tour guide Caroline was super fun, informative, and full of energy. We were joined with another family from Indonesia. They were on Holiday and searching for some colder weather. It was fun to exchange stories about our different countries, cultures, and travel. One thing I enjoy most about this experience and traveling is all the people we come in counter with learning about one another. We went to many different stops tasting our way through traditional Spanish dishes! After the tour we were discussing our favorite dishes. Trotte said the meatballs without any hesitation. Trey and I agreed that the incredible meat balls at Bodegas Riola were some of the best tasting tapas we have yet to come across. Caroline, our guide, explained that the owner of the restaurant does not make these for the pubic anymore. It was a secret family recipe and they take hours to prepare. They became so popular she had to remove them from the menu. Caroline said on occasion will still make them for the tours. Stay tuned for our review blog on our experiences with Devour Spain!
After our tour we ventured around Sol and Plaza Mayor showing Trotte our beautiful city all decorated for the Christmas holiday season. We decided to call it an early evening since we heading to Segovia in the morning to begin the next leg of our holiday adventures. It is Christmas Eve and 10 am came around very fast, but the Stones were up and ready for departure when Kathryn arrived to pick us up. I have officially documented this moment because it is a very rare occasion when the Stone men are "ready" before the actual time of departure. We made our way towards Segovia where our EuroStar hotel Covento Capuchinos which was a Convent and Church converted into a five star hotel and gourmet restaurant. We drove past the incredible monumental Roman Aqueducts of Segovia just as the day was starting for many of the locals. We were amazed how this ancient piece of architecture was still standing with out anything but stones of granite keeping it up and together. We drove up the narrow winding roads to the front entrance of our hotel. It was everything I had imagined and more. One of our rooms was ready and so we went up put our luggage in the room and headed out into the cold to explore the city of Segovia. We were all a bit hungry, so we strolled into this little restaurant in the corner of the plaza. Everyone was getting ready for there big Christmas Eve Lunch. The plaza was still waking up and people were setting up speakers in the plaza for a music show later in the day. We ordered some traditional tortilla, tomato and toast, and some coffee and tea. We could begin to smell the feast being prepared by the restaurant. Just as we were paying we noticed one of the waiters bringing out one of the biggest tortillas we had ever seen. He placed it in the front window, they were building the beginning of their Holiday display. The plaza had finally begun to wake, music was playing and the stores began to open. We walked all through this quant and historic little town. Kathryn and I ewing and aweing over the cute little stores and the historical Spanish architecture. Meanwhile Frick and Frack were taking pictures of anything and everything. Trotte had just got a new camera and Trey loves to click away, as you know from my previous postings. Therefore, the two peas in a pod were several steps behind clicking away. When ever there was a dull moment Trotte would say... "Well, lets take a picture!" It became one of the most common catch phrases of the trip! We stumbled into many little stores selling all kinds of things. We went into antique stores, clothing stores, knick knack stores, and even stumbled upon food museum. Can you imagine that struck our interest? It was free to enter and it educated us on the land, produce, livestock, and ancient culinary traditions of Segovia.
We walked to the Alcazar de Segovia. We had timed it perfectly to tour Alcazar and head back toward the plaza for our big Christmas Eve Dinner. Alcazar was impressive, large rooms decorated in art and hand made tiles, and cloth. What captured most of our attention was the size and the deep motes around the castle. We had worked up our appetite snapping many pictures and were ready for some of Segovia's world famous suckling pig. I had done some research on some of the best restaurants that severed this dish and my research landed us at Mason de Jose Maria's. When we arrived it was absolutely packed. Wall to wall standing people in the bar and every table occupied by reservations. They walked us through the restaurant and it was run like a well oiled machine. It reminded me of when we went to Burns Steak House in Tampa Bay FL. Both establishments were pristine, well organized, massive in size but still had a very intimate feel for there dining guests, and class. We sat down and were greeted by the owner himself welcoming us to his restaurant. As I looked around the room I noticed families of all ages dining there. This was a prefect place to spend our Christmas Eve, a place of tradition, family and delicious food. The waiter was extraordinary! He knew we were there for the suckling pig and some good wine. He suggested we order a salad and the house soup. Because it was a bit cooler in Segovia than in Madrid some soup to warm us up was exactly what we needed. The broth of this soup was the broth of the marinated meat. The meat had been cooking in this broth for days. It warmed us up from the inside out and we had very happy bellies ready for when the pig arrived. The waiter brought the entire pig to the table. He poured hot broth on top of the pig and then cut the pig with a plate, breaking the pig up into four large pieces for each of us. We all fell into a blissful state of no talking other than the every so often "Oh my goodness" and "MMMMMM". About half way though the waiter brought us out a salad. Even the bottomless pit aka Trey mentioned this was going to be a meal difficult for him to finish. We were all in a glorious food coma. We shared an excellent Sobremesas, translated literally means over the table talk. The Spanish value the conversation piece of the dining expereince after the meal very much, which is why you will never get forced to leave once you are finished with your meal (you know the common turn and burn mentality in the states). The waiter will never bring your check unless you ask for it in Spain, which is a trait I admire very much here. We finished our glasses of wine and the one dessert we ordered to split between the four of us. Yes, I know we said we were full right... well we all managed to save a little room for a taste of sweet. He brought out the homemade tradition Carmel flan. The owner again came around to our table to ensure we had a pleasant dining experience. We thanked him for having us into his unforgettable restaurant. Heavenly, the entire experience it was a Christmas Eve Dinner we will never forget!
We decided to head back towards the live music and grab a drink while the sun went down. We wanted to see the beautiful city of Segovia lit up with lights before we retired back to the hotel for the evening. We found a little place just on the corner of the plaza where we were able to catch an after dinner aperitif and a view of the plaza filling with people. The sun finally set and the the plaza was full of the Christmas Spirit. It was a the perfect was to end our Christmas Eve exploration of Segovia, Spain. We ventured back to hotel where we some how found room for a light snack of jamon, queso, vino, and this pub mix we liked to call "Christmas Crack" we couldn't keep our hands out of this ever so delicious combo of peanut, chip mix. Kathryn and I finally retired to our rooms, and left the Stone men to finish the bottle of wine.
Christmas morning was upon us! We had reservations to take a tour over Segovia in a Hot Air Balloon. One of items Trey and I had on our bucket list and we thought what a better way to cross it off than on Christmas Day while we were living abroad. When we originally told Trotte of our plans he without any hesitation said yes sign me up! Once we had done it he said oh wait you were serious...He was excited to try something he had never done before but I think a little hesitation because of a small fear of heights. Once we arrived to the landing site he asked me if we would have parachutes. This made for much comic relief for the day. Manuel the pilot explained that we needed to wait for the fog to diminish before we began our journey. Trotte chimed in "Yea thats a good idea maybe another day!" Manuel also told us we would be flying with 5 others that afternoon! We again met some very interesting people from all over the world. Trotte and I were the first out the car and we began taking pictures. I will never forget that moment of complete silence, standing in the middle of a field in Segovia Spain, as the sun coming up over the mountain, while the hot air balloon began to fill with my father in law standing right next to me. We didn't have to say anything to each other, but I know he felt it too we were both so happy to be alive and experiencing this together!
Slowly but surly as the balloon started to fill more of our party began to get out of there warm cars to join the excitement. We all took turns taking pictures in the partly blow up balloon and we all began to enter the basket. This was quite a show and I am sure comic relief for the flight crew. All of us managed to in some form or fashion, flop into the basket, some with help from others, some without, some gracefully, and some not so much... either way we were all in! Manuel welcomed us and gave each of us Santa hats as he went over some safety tips and procedures. Finally it was time and...up up and away we went!
It was much more peaceful that I had imagined. I had imagined it to feel like how it does when you are on your way up and you finally reach the top of a roller coaster. It wasn't like that at all. It was very gentle and didn't even feel like we were moving. Before we knew it we were several thousand feet in the air overlooking the magnificent city of Segovia. We all began to get comfortable talking about where we from and why we were in Segovia. There was a mom and son from New York, which totally blew my mind I thought this young man was in his early 20's dating a cougar honestly! Much to my dismay he was 16 and studying abroad in France as a highschooler. I was very impressed with this young mans goals, ambitions, and maturity it was well...inspiring! Her story was also moving, a single mother putting her self through medical school, determined, driven and sassy! There was a couple on board where she was from Spain and he was from Belgium. They had been visiting her family for the Holiday's and he had got her the balloon tickets as a surprise for her birthday. They were a sweet couple and spoke English to each other since neither one spoke the others native language. I thought this was very romantic they had plans to begin learning each others native language as well. There was also a woman from Malaysia. She was traveling solo and enjoyed traveling all over the world! Trey of course announced us with his southern accent, "We are the Stone's and we are from Charleston, SC. " Kathryn is from the UK and has spent the last two years exploring many parts of the world. One thing we all had in common was a passion for travel and adventure. We took a lot of pictures and shared many laughs as we all took in the beautiful sites while floating in a hot air balloon. Manuel suggested that we land in the field about 100 meters from where we were to avoid the gust of wind sending us into an unpleasant landing off the side of a plataue. We all agreed ending our trip 10 minutes early would be just fine! We gracefully landed and waited for the vans to pick us up to take us to a Christmas Brunch and mimosa, this was included in our flight package which was a great extra bonus! Before we could enjoy our feast the balloon had to be packed up. We all pitched in to make it go faster so we could get to brunch. We all took turns scrunching the balloon together and jumping on the balloon to release the air. It was actually a lot of fun. It was another funny site to see grown adults throwing themselves on a large balloon sinking to the ground and trying to get up with grace. Finally it was all done and and time for us to eat, when the mother asked her son where his phone was. He looked at her and said in my pocket. As he went to grab for it he realized it was not in his pocket. We all began to look around on the ground for his phone. When he said it has to be in the balloon. The flight crew suggested we leave it for now and they would search for it there next flight and mail it to him. We jumped in the vans and headed to a very nice little restaurant with a chimney in the middle. The young man that lost his phone didn't show he was upset about losing his new iPhone 7 he just got for Christmas and continued on having a good time. The gentleman from Belgium commented on how well he was handling it and how mature he was. When we got back to the take off site the flight crew dropped us all off at our cars. We noticed they began to unwind the balloon again. Everyone in the group went back to the balloon in search for the phone. After all it was Christmas! Starting at the beginning no luck ,then towards the end of the balloon the phone was found and all was good in the world again! We all worked together as a team to put the balloon away once again. It was truly an experience that we all will never forget full of laughs, great people, incredible views, and Christmas Spirit!
We had arrived back to our hotel and had some time before our Christmas Dinner reservations. We all took some time to get ready and take a little siesta and exchange Christmas Gifts. We then met in the lobby just before dinner and took pictures of all of us dressed in our best! The restaurant was serving a special set menu for Christmas and the Chef had prepared quite a meal indeed. It was a fourteen course meal and every single dish was absolutely exceptional. This meal was by far one of the most exquisite meals, prepared with an artistic flare that I had had never experienced before. The flavors were mouth watering and every bite of every dish was unique. Each course also had a wine pared to enhance the course. Our conversation that Christmas dinner was about travel, exploring, future trips, life, love, and embracing the very moment we were in right then and there. It was a magical dinner and I could go on and on about each course but instead...I wish for you all to take the time to experience a fine culinary experience such as this at Vellina. If you are ever in Segovia and looking for a special dinner Vellina will not dissapoint. Again, we were the last reservations of the evening and the last ones remaining in the restaurant. We closed our tab with Trotte and Trey purchasing a Cuban Cigar from the the Restaurant owners collection.
Now, it was Spa time! We had a nice Sobremesa to let our food digest so we went to our rooms to change and hit the Spa. We were shown where everything was and the changing rooms. We all dove right in. First the plunge/swimming pool, that had many many different jet cycles and shower heads. Then to the steam room, sauna, and repeat. We did this for about an hour and a half when we put on our robes and laid in the tranquil calming room where we could enjoy tea and calm music. We had quite the weekend and I think this was just what we all needed to relax. I showered, skype my wonderful family, and went to bed. Meanwhile the Stone men headed out on the terrance of the hotel to enjoy there Cubans, a nice bottle of vino, the view of Segovia, and each others company for one last evening before Trotte had to leave us!
We left the hotel around 6:30am to get back to Madrid to take Trotte to the airport for his 9am flight back to Charleston. We hated seeing him go but knew our adventures together in Spain were not over. Fortunately, we are planning another trip in Aug. to continue the Stone's exploration of Northern Spain! Stay tuned! As we talk about our action packed 4 days with "Pops" we honestly couldn't have dreamt up something any better. We throughly enjoyed every minute of this magical, family Christmas Adventure!