Madrid, Galicia and Asturias…

I just got home after being away for 17 days. 17 days is sort of a long time.

The first two weeks I was in Madrid for a very super-intense training course. By very super intense, I mean I left the house at 7:30 in the morning, got home at 7 every night, and had four or five more hours of work to do. Yeah. I was the oldest in the group by 11 years (I don’t even like being able to say I was 11 years older than someone, for the love…), but MOST of the other folks were 20-nothing. As in they could have been my children. But they were fun, and aside from all the work (I did pass, by the way…although the actual end result is still up in the air), I was reminded how much I love Madrid.

I love, love, love the tops of the buildings. When you go to Madrid, you just have to look up.

I love, love, love the tops of the buildings. When you go to Madrid, you just have to look up.

I love the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum. It's one of my favorites, definitely my favorite in Madrid. And Degas' ballerinas...if I had all the money in the world, I'd line my living room walls with them.

I love the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum. It’s one of my favorites, definitely my favorite in Madrid. And Degas’ ballerinas…if I had all the money in the world, I’d line my living room walls with them.

IMG_2262And I love Madrid for the fact that there are still museums I can discover, hiding all over the city. I played tourist over the weekend (yep, got the map out and everything) and hit the Naval Museum, the Museum of Decorative Arts, and El Museo del Traje (not quite sure how that translates…something like costume or clothing museum?). They were all really interesting and different. I concluded I should have lived in the times of these dresses. What a fine way to hide a big caboose. Snicker.

When I finally finished my course, I flew to Santiago. C and I had made plans a while back with some friends to go to a music festival in Galicia (Boimorto to be specific), and that was the easiest way for me to get there. C met me at the airport (he had driven) and we spent the night in Santiago. Aside from having the Camino vibe (I don’t know whether it’s a Camino thing or what, but every time I see the cathedral there, I cry!) it also has a vibrant nightlife, and loads of restaurants and bars. What it also has that I had never been to is an absolutely eNORmous market. Like the Mac Daddy of all markets, the biggest I think I’ve seen in Spain, and that’s saying a lot. And the best part is that it maintains its culture – sure, there are tourists and pilgrims, but it is also swarming with little old ladies in old lady clothes, with fantastic faces full of character. I always say I want to take pictures of them but I mostly hold off – I saw one guy who blatantly took a shot of a vendor lady and she immediately barked, “COME HERE!” and asked him to pay her for it. Yikers.

My not-so-successfu attempt at non-chalant photography. But you get the gist. Nothing screams Spain like the old ladies in a market.

My not-so-successful attempt at non-chalant photography. But you get the gist. Nothing screams Spain like the old ladies in a market.

From there, we drove to Boimorto for Festival de la Luz. Luz was a famous Spanish singer, and the concert is in her birthplace…basically in the middle of farmland (like we crossed through some corn to get to our tent). This was only the second year, the first they sold 4,000 tickets and this year was double – but it still felt pretty small. The two-day lineup was basically unfamiliar to me, though some of the smaller bands seemed to have quite a following. And there was a mixture – rock, bagpipers, folk-ish, Latin – a little of everything.

This is Budiño, a very cool bagpiper group. Very folky, sort of Irishy, the kind of music you can't sit still to. Plus two guys in the group did some AWEsome folk-dancing. Gotta learn how to do that, I think it would be a real party pleaser. Snort.

This is Budiño, a very cool bagpiper group. Very folky, sort of Irishy, the kind of music you can’t sit still to. Plus two guys in the group did some AWEsome folk-dancing. Gotta learn how to do that, I think it would be a real party pleaser. Snort.

The view stepping out of our tent the first morning. Tons of people camp out, and although the first day was sort of rainy, the second was perfect.

The view stepping out of our tent the first morning. Tons of people camp out, and although the first day was sort of rainy, the second was perfect.

Nap time, for those who can sleep anywhere. Le sigh.

Nap time, for those who can sleep anywhere. Le sigh.

This is Carlos Nuñez, one of the most famous Spanish bagpipers. He explained he had been to the US and the whole group (plus a big band of local bagpipers) busted out a fine version of Cotton Eyed Joe. HiLARious. Also very fun music. This guy definitely makes drastically receding hairlines and playing a large recorder VERY COOL.

This is Carlos Nuñez, one of the most famous Spanish bagpipers. He explained he had been to the US and the whole group (plus a big band of local bagpipers) busted out a fine version of Cotton Eyed Joe. HiLARious. Also very fun music. This guy definitely makes drastically receding hairlines and playing a large recorder VERY COOL.

Fito y Fitipaldes was like the big name band that played. Everyone knew all the words to every song. Except for me.

Fito y Fitipaldes was like the big name band that played. Everyone knew all the words to every song. Except for me.

We camped out through Monday since the concerts on Sunday ran late. Monday morning our friends headed home, and we started to meander…C wanted to see some places for clients he has coming this year, so we made a few stops. We hit A Coruña, which is up along the coast, north and ever-so-slightly west of Santiago. A really nice city, they happened to have a tapas festival going on so we took advantage.

I know it looks like whipped cream, but it's not. It is lime-y foam deliciousness.

I know it looks like whipped cream, but it’s not. It is lime-y foam deliciousness. And some octopus (because you have to eat it when you are in Galicia) in the background.

Then we passed through Ferrol (less than spectacular, but perhaps on a pretty day it would have looked nicer), Mondoñedo (where I had been for a medieval festival not that long ago, but it has a cathedral, so…well, yeah, so we had to stop), and ended up staying the night in an adorable town called Cudillero, also along the coast, in Asturias. We had a spectacular meal there…problem was that it was a lil rainy and chilly and so I didn’t take pictures. Bummer.

And to wrap it up the next day, we hit Avilés, and specifically the Niemeyer Center. It’s architecturally very interesting and happened also to have an exposition of National Geographic’s 50 Best Photographs. LOVED seeing it, they had explanations of each picture and were running videos of the photographers talking about how the shot came to be. Really, really extraordinary. Made me want to get out my big camera.

One angle...

One angle…

...and in the other direction. Sort of space-center like, no? On top of that spiral thing is a restaurant.

…and in the other direction. Sort of space-center like, no? On top of that spiral thing is a restaurant.

ANYhoo. That’s my last couple weeks in a nutshell. And now, what to do with the 3 lb. zucchini I just plucked from the garden…

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Visitors, Sightseeing, and Chickens

Two days after returning from Ponferrada, my parents showed up.  The timing of their visit was based on the date of our July Spanish wedding celebration, so they were in town a few days before, and stayed a few days after. The day after my parents arrived, so did one of my best friends – and the day after that, a friend of C’s (those were our four US based representatives at the party here!). Like I said, July was a busy month.

I wish I had more pictures to share of our “wedding” here. I eeked one off of Facebook, but we we went to see them yesterday (they are GREAT) and hopefully I’ll have a link or at least some more pics to share soon. It was a really lovely celebration, nothing to do with the one in the states. It was very casual, C and his bagpipe group played, we involved our nieces and nephews, wrote some silly vows, had a traditional dance group come and dance around us, and then spent the rest of the night eating, drinking, and enjoying the company of everyone (we had about 100 people!).

Just before the vows that went something like this: "L, do you take C with his bagpipe, his tendency not to speak, his excessive love for churches, monasteries, castles....?" and "C, do you take Lynne, her cats, her tendency to break into Broadway song at any given time...?" You get the picture.

Just before the vows that went something like this: “L, do you take C with his bagpipe, his tendency not to speak, his excessive love for churches, monasteries, castles….?” and “C, do you take Lynne, her cats, her tendency to break into Broadway song at any given time…?” You get the picture.

And in the days before and after, we managed to show my parents a little more of Northern Spain. We hit Burgos, Los Picos, and San Sebastian, and they also had a chance to spend a little time in Bilbao. We ate well, drank well, introduced them to the ninnies (that’s what I call my cats), and had a lot of laughs.

Love this shot of them in Lost Picos. And if you even think that my mother got any closer to any sort of railing, you are wrong, wrong, wrong.

Love this shot of them in Lost Picos. And if you even think that my mother got any closer to any sort of railing, you are wrong, wrong, wrong.

This railing was at a much more digestible height. :-) Mountains one day, beach the next. I live in a pretty cool place.

This railing was at a much more digestible height. 🙂 Mountains one day, beach the next. I live in a pretty cool place.

We dropped my parents off in Bilbao but stuck around San Sebastian for another night. It was the very beginning of their annual Jazzfest and it just so happened that one of my favoritest people in the whole world was performing that night, free, on the beach.

Monstrously huge amounts of Jamie love I have. HUGE. Love.

Monstrously huge amounts of Jamie love I have. HUGE. Love.

I think I’ve mentioned before how much I love San Sebastian. There were LOADS of people in town for the festival, so it was a wee bit on the crowded side for me, but I love the food and the vibe and the location…lots of Jamie love and lots of San Sebastian love. A repeatable trip for sure.

SO. In the middle of all this, while my parents are visiting, C and I come home from the grocery store one day to find a surprise wedding gift in our backyard.

Making their big blog debut...drumroll please...allow me to introduce Beyonce and Shakira (yes, seriously).

Making their big blog debut…drumroll please…allow me to introduce Beyonce and Shakira (yes, seriously).

My parents were like Oh. My. God. Charles was like Holy. Crap. And I, well, all I could think is WTF are we going to do with CHICKENS???? At first I think we were both a little overwhelmed by the idea. But then by like day 3, when we had named them (snicker), we were like OH this is sort of FUN. We have chickens! Snort.

They are relatively easy to take care of…we feed them every other day, give them water, and move that cage around on the yard every couple days cause they tear the crap out of the grass. They poo a lot.  But we discovered chicken poo makes good fertilizer, it like totally revived our strawberry plants! And they don’t make a lot of noise, though I do hear a flurry of clucking occasionally. Otherwise, for the most part, they each lay one beautiful egg every day. Beyonce lays mack daddy eggs, the things are like an egg and a third. I keep trying to see them actually lay one because I understand they come out clear and whiten up with the air. C even set up his GoPro out there, but Beyonce got camera shy and protested by laying her egg on the other side. (See, even as I write this, I can’t believe I’m actually writing this.) I get a little giddy every day going out to look for eggs. And for the most part, when you take them out, they are even still WARM. Soooooooo cool.

See? The ninnies were even like WTF is in the yard. This kills me. LOL.

See? The ninnies were even like WHATTHEFUCK is in the yard. This kills me. LOL.

And, that brings us through the end of July. Almost caught up.

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REALLY Being Hospitaleros

Well, the time had come. We  packed our bags for two weeks, took a delightful detour, and we – just like the GPS lady says – arrived at our destination. Ponferrada.

First a little about Ponferrada. It’s in the province of El Bierzo (hello deeeelisssshhhh wine…yumyumyum…I feel like I say that a lot, woops) in Castilla y Leon, and has a population of around 70,000. It’s actually a nice little town – it has a pretty old quarter with some big plazas, lots of restaurants and bars (sounds like Anywheresville, Spain so far, no?) and some noteworthy tourist attractions such as the Castillo de los Templarios, among several others.

Being that it was our first time as hospitaleros, and our first time in the albergue there (we didn’t stay in Ponferrada on the Camino), we didn’t really know exactly what to expect! The albergue itself is very large, and really very nice. (I can say this especially because I have seen a little bit of everything.) There are bunk beds for 148 people split among rooms of 4, 6, and 8, and two very large rooms of 30+. There were six big bathrooms, a really large and fairly well stocked (pots, pans, fridge, etc.) kitchen with two stovetops, two big open patio areas, a library  (where we’d also put people on mats on the floor after we filled the beds), and a chapel on the property. To give you an idea…

This is a view from upstairs looking out...so you can see the covered patio - complete with a fountain - the outside patio covered by trees, and also the chapel.

This is a view from upstairs looking out…so you can see the covered patio – complete with a fountain – the outside patio covered by trees, and also the chapel.

Looking toward the front door.

Looking toward the front door. That table is where we check everyone in…

The library - what it looks like when we are pushing 200 people and had pilgrims on mats. During the day, it's a nice big open room for folks to chill and relax.

The library – what it looks like when we are pushing 200 people and had people sleeping on mats and on the couches there. During the day, it’s a nice big open room for folks to chill and relax.

The kitchen from one side...soooo many people stayed in and cooked. And you should have seen what some of them made. I saw homemade gnocchi, pasta cooked in white wine and cream sauce...I mean...there were some pretty good pilgrim chefs, I must say.

The kitchen from one side…soooo many people stayed in and cooked. And you should have seen what some of them made. I saw homemade gnocchi, pasta cooked in white wine and cream sauce…I mean…there were some pretty good pilgrim chefs, I must say.

The stove side...the very. Well. Used. Stove side.

The stove side…the very. Well. Used. Stove side.

We were lucky here to have, among the five hospitaleros who were with us, really awesome people. A girl from Italy, another from Columbia who was living in Australia, and another from Spain. We got along great, and worked together – for the most part – remarkably well. AND the hospitaleros here have their own own rooms (C and I in the “couples” room), a bathroom only for our use, and our own kitchen as well. It makes a huge difference to be able to have your own space among so many people!!

SO. We had to find our own rhythm, a schedule and division of labor that worked for us (like every new group of hospitaleros has to do amongst themselves). The first days we were sort of walking in circles, like a bee colony with no queen bee or something. But after like 3 days we had it down. It went sort of like this:

5:20am – C and I – voluntarily (I am a morning person anyway) would get up to unlock the doors. The albergue is locked from 10:00pm until 5:30am – no one in or out. We had some very hot days (in the 90’s) when we were there and there were almost always 3 or 4 people up and waiting by the door to get an early start, beat the heat, ensure they have a place to sleep whenever they wanted to stop (July is a SUPER busy month, good heavens…and yes, there are albergues that can fill up). One morning someone told me that a guy had jumped the wall at 5:20 because he wanted to get out. Hellloooo….that’s a serious wall-scaling with a 20 pound backpack, and for 10 minutes? But to each his own.

5:30am – 7:30am – We would mull around, send people off and wish them a buen camino, answer questions, etc. From what we heard, we were the first hospitaleros to do this (the others woke up, unlocked the door, and went right back to bed), but we both really enjoyed it. I especially loved seeing everyone’s faces as they got going, watching their morning foot-preparation rituals, that wince as they put their backpacks back on. Plus it’s a really pretty time of day, cool, crisp, you can watch the sun come up…

7:00ish – The other hospitaleros would be up and about. Many of the pilgrims were gone by then, on average I’d say they left around 6:30. BUT we always had a few stragglers, a few folks who just couldn’t pull themselves out of bed, or who miraculously slept through the morning bustle of everyone ELSE packing their bags – everyone HAD to be out by 7:30, so between 7 and 7:30, we’d be wrangling folks out the door, starting to organize the morning cleaning, and if it was especially quiet, making a dent in the day’s chores.

7:30am – 8:15amish – We started the cleaning process. And what a process it was. We had to divide and conquer the work…scrubbing all the bathrooms (toilets, showers, urinals…and mind you, after walking 20 or 30 kilometers, you do NOT show up clean and shiny, so these bathrooms got a beating), the kitchen (including all that food people left and the dishes they didn’t do and the messes they left), the patios, the big bedrooms downstairs (wiping down all the beds, washing the floors), the library, the trash and separating all the recycling…

8:15amish – Normally we were at a good breaking point to sit down and have breakfast together, which we always, always did. At about that time, the two fabulous ladies who came to help clean showed up, and – because it was our lucky two weeks – we had a team of five SUPER awesome visiting Franciscan brothers who showed up around this time and ALSO helped us clean. Lord only knows how long it would have taken us without them. Poor guys had no idea when they signed up to come to Spain that they’d be scrubbing toilets every day. But they were such good sports.

8:30amish – 10:30 – Massive, aerobic, intensive, thorough cleaning. It’s good for what ails ya. No seriously. Aside from some barf-worthy stuff, I don’t mind it at all. I got seriously schooled in cleaning products. So there’s that. When we got back home, I had to buy a new mop because ours suddenly looked wimpy.

10:30am – A mandatory break. We would have coffee – all of us with the ladies – and the priest would show up every day to catch us up on anything, to pay anyone who had gone grocery shopping (we shopped as a group, and always got reimbursed), and just to chit chat. At first, I was like “ugh, I’m in my rhythm, I just wanna get this DONE” but then I realized it was a daily bonding moment, and I really enjoyed it. We had a lot of laughs.

11:00am – Back to work to finish up whatever we needed to…after a few days, we had gotten into a pretty good rhythm and were usually not working much past this. So then you had time for a quick nap, or a run to the store, or a shower – all really depended on your schedule for the day.

1:00pm – Doors to the albergue open, and C would always play his bagpipe to announce it. There were usually at least 20 people waiting, sometimes more. We created a daily rotating schedule and worked in two hour shifts – always two people at the door at a time, 3 in the first two hours which were usually the busiest of the day. Checking people in means writing down their name, ID#, where they are from, where they started the Camino, and stamping their Camino passports. One person would do that (everything was documented in books) while the other person figured out how to distribute the beds/rooms and where to put everyone…it would change if someone was by themselves, or in a group who wanted to stay together, (and occasionally accommodating requests for the lower bunk…which EVERYone wanted because EVERYone on the Camino has some kind of “tendonitis” or what have you…for the record, I always took the upper bunk, and thank heavens, so did some other people), etc. etc. The crowds would vary from day to day, sometimes it was steady all day long, sometimes people showed up in big massive spurts. But always, always, always a lot of people. From 1:00 until 10:00 when we closed the doors, two of us were always at the desk. And the others? Resting, running errands, chatting with and helping the pilgrims (the questions…never ending! Ranging from “where’s the nearest store/bank/restaurant?” to “Help, I lost my wallet…” to “I need a doctor…” to “I have a million questions about the next towns along the Camino” to “Whats the bus/train schedule…” You name it.).

The line of people waiting to come in one day when the doors opened at 1. People would show up at wait outside from as early as 9am!

The line of people waiting to come in one day when the doors opened at 1. People would show up and wait outside from as early as 9am, especially in the hot weather. If they got an early enough start, they could have already covered 20km by then.

During this time, we would also be giving credentials to anyone who was starting the Camino in Ponferrada – every pilgrim needs credentials to stay in the albergues. Basically, this is documentation that says you are actually a pilgrim walking the Camino. In 2012, almost 7000 people started their Camino there. (By the way this links to some really interesting statistics if you’re interested!) Those folks always had a ton of question too, especially if it was their first time! People would show up all day long – folks who were staying or weren’t staying at the albergue – didn’t matter. One morning I had an 83 year old woman waiting outside the door to pick up her credentials at 5:30am – she was starting that day and told me it was her 8th time doing the Camino. WOW.

9:30pm – We would begin to rally everyone inside. Our rule was 10:00, in bed, lights out. Most people are tired and ready to hit the sack. Others? Well, notsomuch. It IS hard sometimes, by 10 it was just a lovely time of day and people have had a few drinks and are relaxing and having a great time with their Camino friends…who wants to go to bed?? We never really had a huge problem – one night a bunch of 20-somethings wanted to go out later than the albergue was open, so they took their sleeping bags and came back at 5:30 in the morning. Ah to be young. It was really fine with us…the rules we had were to help allow people get the rest they need to get going the next day, as long as we did that, we’re doing our jobs.

Once we got everyone in bed, lights out, all the talkers and stragglers and smokers and wanna-be-escapees in bed…we all retreated to the kitchen for dinner, a few glasses of wine, and general daily recap.

Our moment at the end of the day in our kitchen.

Our moment at the end of the day in our kitchen. Note the wine in water bottles…LOL…we’d fill them up and keep wine chilled in the fridge cause it was so hot!

Repeat.

I loved it. I loved the routine, being so busy that the days flew by, falling into bed exhausted at night…plus the people, talking to them helping them, learning from them, laughing with them. People from all over the world, all sizes and shapes and ages, every day something different, every day never knowing what kind of group it would be. It was awesome.

This is Evaristo. He lives at the albergue and does just about everything as far as maintenance goes. He is a character like no other, but he is a good man and must have the patience of a saint to put up with a new group of clueless people every two weeks...having to explain everything over and over...we had a lot of laughs with him.

This is Evaristo. He lives at the albergue and does just about everything as far as maintenance goes. He is a character like no other, but he is a good man and must have the patience of a saint to put up with a new group of clueless people every two weeks…having to explain everything over and over…we had a lot of laughs with him. And he had a lot of laughs with us. Nothing quite like screwing with the newbies. 🙂

We had three different pilgrims come by donkey. Obviously the donkey sleeps outside...

We had three different pilgrims come by…or should I say with?…a donkey. Obviously the donkey sleeps outside…

The guy in the pink is Carlos. He is a nurse and he and his wife have both been hospitaleros and live in Ponferrada (they met on the Camino). They are some of the most wonderful, generous folks I've ever met. Carlos would come almost every afternoon and help people out with their ailments, mostly badly blistered feet. Plus, he showed us all around, would pitch in and help if we were busy, answered all our questions, advised us...he was like our albergue angel.

The guy in the pink is Carlos. He is a nurse and he and his wife have both been hospitaleros and live in Ponferrada (they met on the Camino). They are some of the most wonderful, generous folks I’ve ever met. Carlos would come almost every afternoon and help people out with their ailments, mostly badly blistered feet. Plus, he showed us all around, would pitch in and help if we were busy, answered all our questions, advised us…he was like our albergue angel.

The number of young kids doing the Camino with their parents blew my mind. What strength!! Kids walking, biking...either way, what a memory for a child to have, and what an amazing way to open your kids' eyes to the world. Loved seeing them.

The number of young kids doing the Camino with their parents blew my mind. What strength!! Kids walking, biking…either way, what a memory for a child to have, and what an amazing way to open your kids’ eyes to the world. Loved seeing them.

Finally after a week, we got some rain in the afternoons...cooled things off and made for some beautiful double rainbows. These folks came with three horses...we had a few pilgrims on horseback those weeks!

Finally after a week, we got some rain in the afternoons…cooled things off and made for some beautiful double rainbows. These folks came with three horses, and opted to camp out with their animals…we had a few pilgrims on horseback those weeks.

Our  youngest pilgrim. They were traveling with three kids...the whole family was lovely. What a bunch of troopers.

Our youngest pilgrim. They were traveling with three kids…the whole family was lovely. What a bunch of troopers.

Hangout time. When you can finally take a load off...get in, take a shower, do your laundry and chill. The fountain was great for sore feet (and even better for startling unsuspecting pilgrims). And of course, people just showing up. Constant movement.

Hangout time. When you can finally take a load off…get in, take a shower, do your laundry and chill. The fountain was great for sore feet (and even better for startling unsuspecting pilgrims). And of course, people still showing up. Constant movement.

Sleepy hospitaleros. Gotta squeeze in a few minutes of sleep whenever you can...

Sleepy hospitaleros. Gotta squeeze in a few minutes of sleep whenever you can…

The five of us on our last day.

The five of us on our last day.

Like I’ve told everyone I’ve talked to about this…being a hospitalero is a lot of work. You are go-go-go all day long, for us, from 5:30am until usually after midnight. You feel a strong sense of responsibility to take care of all 150+ people sleeping under your roof, and to make sure they have a really good experience staying with you. On top of that, it is a lesson in how to work with other people, in being a team, in group problem solving, a test of patience, kindness, of your ability to put all judgment aside and treat everyone with warmth and respect. And it is incredibly rewarding – pilgrims were so kind with their words and their gratitude, by being there for them, or helping or listening, or whatever it is they might have needed, you have literally changed their Camino in some way.

I’d do it again in a heartbeat. We WILL do it again. I’m already looking forward to it.

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Oviedo

A while back I had talked about being hospitaleros. Well, not too terribly long after that weekend course, we found out that we were assigned to an albergue in Ponferrada for the first half of July. Ponferrada is about 330 km away from us, to the southwest…SO…naturally we decided to take advantage of the ride and make a stop or two in some places we’ve been wanting to see.

Queue Oviedo. Oviedo is situated in Northern Spain and with a population of about 33,000, it is the capital city of Asturias. It is known in some travel books to be the “prettiest city in Northern Spain” and it also has a lot of pre-Romanesque architecture (C: “Did you say pre-Romanesque architecture??” hahahahahaha). So of course we had to go check it out. Plus, although it was a wee bit of a detour, it was more or less on our way to Ponferrada.

When we got there, there was a big market going on...loved the colors of this building and the flowers.

When we got there, there was a big market going on…loved the colors of this building and the flowers.

Right after that, we started the Church and Museum tour of the city. Deep breath.

This is San Julián de los Prados, dating back to the beginning of the 9th Century and also named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This is San Julián de los Prados, dating back to the beginning of the 9th Century and also named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Then there was the Cathedral. There were like five weddings going on that day - there and at other churches - almost all with bagpipers and guests alllll sortsa decked out.

Then there was the Cathedral. There were like five weddings going on that day – there and at other churches – almost all with bagpipers and guests alllll sortsa decked out.

Then despite getting a bit lost, we eeeeeeked in just in time for the last tour of the day here, Santa Maria del Naranco, completed in 848. There wasn't really all that much to see, and our teacher-from-Ferris-Bueller-like guide was not incredibly insightful. But the views of the city were lovely.

Then despite getting a bit lost, we eeeeeeked in just in time (thank heavens) for the last tour of the day here, Santa Maria del Naranco, completed in 848. There wasn’t really all that much to see, and our teacher-from-Ferris-Bueller-like guide was not incredibly insightful. But the views of the city were lovely, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This was Part 2 of the tour, yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. San Miguel de Lillo was completed in 848. It, too, is...well...fairly nondescript. But we can check if off the list.

This was Part 2 of the tour, yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. San Miguel de Lillo was completed in 848. It, too, is…well…fairly nondescript. But we can check if off the list.

Then finally we visited El Cristo, a enormous statue (note the people next to it) high above the city, and also boasting lovely views. Check, check. Movin on.

Then finally we visited El Cristo, a enormous statue (note the people next to it) high above the city, and also boasting lovely views. Check, check. Movin on.

That night we drove to Gijon, a coastal city not 30 minutes from Oviedo. We got there in time to check out the nightlife, which was pretty fun and vibrant, and very pretty along the water.

That night we drove to Gijon, a coastal city not 30 minutes from Oviedo. We got there in time to check out the nightlife, which was pretty fun and vibrant, and very pretty along the water.

The next day, we had to make our way to Ponferrada so we took a bit of a scenic route. It was a gorgeous day and the landscape was so pretty, I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

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Love the thistles, especially since we had them in our wedding flowers!

Love the thistles, especially since we had them in our wedding flowers!

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And these, I donevenknow what they are but I luff them.

And so that was the last peaceful 24 hours before we arrived in Ponferrada. The calm before the storm…

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And then came May and June…

In May we were settling back in from all the excitement around the wedding, our trip to Tuscany, and we were both back to work right away (which is why our trip to Tuscany was like a mini-moon…). And in June, well, in June we were settling into the summer and getting ready for a very busy July (more to come on that).

Here are a few highlights.

I took more pictures of my cats. Snort. I take pictures of them like, oh, every day, so I gotta work them in  here somehow! Plus, for a short period of time, I changed a setting on my camera accidentally and the proportions of all my pictures were square. Odd. I've fixed it since then.

I took more pictures of my cats. Snort. I take pictures of them like, oh, every day, so I gotta work them in here somehow! Plus, for a short period of time, I changed a setting on my camera accidentally and the proportions of all my pictures were square. Odd. I’ve fixed it since then.

We harvested our first - of MANY  - strawberries. I'll have to write and entirely separate update about the garden.

We harvested our first – of MANY – strawberries. I’ll have to write and entirely separate update about the garden.

C debuted in full costume with his bagpipe group. He's still learning, but he's come a long way, baby.

C debuted in full costume with his bagpipe group. He’s still learning, but he’s come a long way, baby.

At the same festival, there was a guy making albarcas - I've mentioned them before (and we even gave out mini ones at our wedding) but I like this shot of them actually being made.

At the same festival, there was a guy making albarcas – I’ve mentioned them before (and we even gave out mini ones at our wedding) but I like this shot of them actually being made.

We took a little hike one day. Nothing crazy, but how gorgeous is this flower???

We took a little hike one day. Nothing crazy, but how gorgeous is this flower???

We also took an overnight trip to Vitoria. Vitoria is the capital of Basque Country and has a population slightly larger than Santander, about 235,000 people. It is a super cool city, great vibe, a wonderful mix of all kinds of people, and super artsy - there are these big, magnificent murals painted on building walls all over the city. I wish I had taken more pictures, they are pretty amazing and add something really special to the city.

We also took an overnight trip to Vitoria. Vitoria is the capital of Basque Country and has a population slightly larger than Santander, about 235,000 people. It is a super cool place, great vibe, a wonderful mix of all kinds of people, and super artsy – there are these big, magnificent murals painted on building walls all over the city. I wish I had taken more pictures, they are pretty amazing and add something really special to the city.

These are "typical" of Vitoria (or so they say...I never know if that's really true or not, but I feel like it's my responsibility to know the local pastries.) :-)

These are “typical” of Vitoria (or so they say…I never know if that’s really true or not, but I feel like it’s my responsibility to know the local pastries.) 🙂

Then we had a very fun day paragliding off the coast of Bilbao. The weather was perfect and the views were stunning. I had never been - and I LOVED it. I giggled and squealed the entire time - the guide told me afterwards he had only ever had one other woman who did that...ooops. But I couldn't stop. I was a wee bit nauseous for like three hours afterwards, but it was worth it.

Then we had a very fun day paragliding off the coast of Bilbao. The weather was perfect and the views were stunning. I had never been – and I LOVED it. I giggled and squealed the entire time – the guide told me afterwards he had only ever had one other woman who did that…ooops. But I couldn’t stop. I was a wee bit nauseous for like three hours afterwards, but it was worth it.

This was from my own flight up! I have videos too but I can't really watch them because they spin around in circles and make me feel sort of barfy.

This was from my own flight up! I have videos too but I can’t really watch them because they spin around in circles and make me feel sort of barfy.

Here's C getting ready for liftoff. You literally just sort of start walking and POOF you are in the air. FUN.

Here’s C getting ready for liftoff. You literally just sort of start walking and POOF you are in the air. FUN.

And FINALLY by the end of June we had our first Tuesday night picnic. (Notice we are bundled up still...it didn't really feel like summer here till July!) LOVE our picnics. Even if someone did steal the benches off the tables. So random.

And FINALLY by the end of June we had our first Tuesday night picnic. (Notice we are bundled up still…it didn’t really feel like summer here till July!) LOVE our picnics. Even if someone did steal the benches off the tables. So random.

And that’s that.

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Weekend in Tuscany: A Photo Post

I’ve slacked off again. We had a wonderful quick trip to Tuscany following the wedding. Here are some shots.

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Snicker. :-)

Snicker. 🙂

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Our Portugal “Pre-honeymoon”

During the school year, we need to plan any extended vacations around the school calendar. That means two weeks at Christmas, a week and a half at Spring Break, and dozens of miscellaneous scattered holidays that sometimes fall on a Thursday and therefore turn the weekend into four days. (Love those.) Our wedding date didn’t necessarily fall on any particular holiday, meaning we took time off for the wedding itself (and prep, and travel time, etc.) but the following week we both had to be back to work. Let me clarify that I am NOT complaining in the least, simply explaining.

SO, we decided to take advantage of Spring break for a “pre-honeymoon” trip. Neither of us had been to Portugal, which seems super silly considering where we live, right? We did a bunch of research and planned a driving trip of 11 nights…driving wasn’t so bad at all, minus a slightly longer trip on the first day, and the hike of a return trip from Lisbon on the last day, we spread it out pretty well. And although it rained, like a LOT, we had a great time and somehow the sun decided to show itself on just the right days for sightseeing.

Our first stop was actually in Aldea del Obispo, Spain, to break up the length of the drive into Portugal. The hotel was a fort began in the 1600s and finished near 1750. It was awesome.

Our first stop was actually in Aldea del Obispo, Spain, to break up the length of the drive into Portugal. The hotel was a fort began in the 1600s and finished near 1750. It was awesome.

OUr next stop, where we spent a few nights, was Oporto. It is a really beautiful - hilly - city situation right on the river, with great food, great Port (if you're into it), good wine, and just a really cool vibe.

OUr next stop, where we spent a few nights, was Oporto. It is a really beautiful – hilly – city situation right on the river, with great food, great Port (if you’re into it), good wine, and just a really cool vibe.

In an effort to not make this a 22 page post, I am trying to put only one picture of each place. And I'm even skipping over some of the stops we made in between cities. But I love this view - there are cafes, bars, markets all along the river, and it was finally sunny!

In an effort to not make this a 22 page post, I am trying to put only one picture of each place. And I’m even skipping over some of the stops we made in between cities. But I love this view – there are cafes, bars, markets all along the river, and it was finally sunny!

We stayed one night in Coimbra. It's a pretty little town, but sort of unremarkable for the most part. There is a big university there, and some pretty streets. Otherwise, the draw is Fado, a type of folk music accompanied by guitar, and in Coimbra (there are more types of Fado throughout Portugal), sung only by men.

We stayed one night in Coimbra. It’s a pretty little town, but sort of unremarkable for the most part. There is a big university there, and some pretty streets. Otherwise, the draw is Fado, a type of folk music accompanied by guitar, and in Coimbra (there are more types of Fado throughout Portugal), sung only by men.

Then we moved on to Sintra, a city of fairytale like castles and palaces at every turn. We were lucky enough to have a really spectacular day and see just about everything there was to see. Obviously, one picture can't represent it all, but this one was taken from above the city at the Castle of the Moors. Loved Sintra.

Then we moved on to Sintra, a city of fairytale like castles and palaces at every turn. We were lucky enough to have a really spectacular day and see just about everything there was to see. Obviously, one picture can’t represent it all, but this one was taken from above the city at the Castle of the Moors. Loved Sintra.

I lied, just another Sintra shot, the Monserrat Palace.

I lied, just another Sintra shot, the Monserrat Palace.

Dangit, okay, last Sintra picture and then I'm moving on.

Dangit, okay, last Sintra picture and then I’m moving on.

Next stop, Evora. The Roman Temple of Diana is probably the most well known landmark in the city, but there are many other interesting sites -  the Chapel of Bones, the cathedral, and several beautiful churches. And some really amazing food, although we seem to have found that everywhere.

Next stop, Evora. The Roman Temple of Diana is probably the most well known landmark in the city, but there are many other interesting sites – the Chapel of Bones, the cathedral, and several beautiful churches. And some really amazing food, although we seem to have found that everywhere.

Snicker. He said he was trying to get it to raise it's feathers. I know how it looks...

Snicker. He said he was trying to get it to raise it’s feathers. I know how it looks…

Lisbon, our last stop. A cool, vibrant (REALLY touristy) city...plenty to see and to do, half of which we didn't even get around to. Fun, different neighborhoods, and something interesting around every corner.

Lisbon, our last stop. A cool, vibrant (REALLY touristy) city…plenty to see and to do, half of which we didn’t even get around to. Fun, different neighborhoods, and something interesting around every corner.

The church/monastery/castle/palace count on this trip was HIGH to say the very least. But we can't possibly take a trip without a stop at some ruins. These, at Conimbriga, were huge and some parts really well preserved.

The church/monastery/castle/palace count on this trip was HIGH to say the very least. But we can’t possibly take a trip without a stop at some ruins. These, at Conimbriga, were huge and some parts really well preserved.

Like I said, that is just a summary. We have a whole photo book’s worth of pictures from every stop along the way, every site. It was a wonderful trip, we really did see a little of everything (and a lot of some things…snort), but I’d go back and spend a long weekend in Oporto or in Lisbon in a heartbeat.

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