Friday, March 25, 2011

The Blog According to Kenna

So, yesterday was Wednesday and we were off to begin another day of fun and adventure. There were the eight of us: Ray, Heather, myself, the Lloyd family and, of course Holly’s invisible friend Rick. Our plan was to rent a car and visit Segovia (town, Palace and Roman Aqueduct), El Escorial (Monastery/Palace) and the Valley of the Fallen (Memorial). It is lot to do in one day but with Rick to guide us and Holly cracking the whip ( too is invisible but, trust me, she has one.) surely we can do it all.
Okay our ‘early start’ was delayed because of the late night before. No worries, it was fun and we weren’t too late. A quick run to get the cars may have had a glitch or two (or 8) but it all came together and we were on the road by 10:00ish.
Now I have to admit that we did come close to aborting the whole trip shortly thereafter (Holly and Rick not withstanding.) as we were driving up into the mountains and it became COLDER. Okay, we all left the apartment that morning with Madrid weather in mind. Yes, we did bring rain coats (come on we ARE from Vancouver) but none of us were really prepared for the snow; no mittens, scarves or heavy coats among us. (Why none of us considered the possibility of it being colder in the mountains is a curiosity – we ARE from Vancouver.) Anyway, the result was that for some minutes before the road descended to the valley on the other side each of us considered the possibility that the day might be more fun in Madrid. To our relief when we arrived in Segovia we had only some wind, a little rain and, thank heaven, no snow.
Segovia is a quaint little town, reminiscent of Whistler but WAY older. Oh and it also is home to a Palace, a Cathedral and a Roman Aqueduct all of which are fascinating and steeped in historically significant events, people and culture. Oddly enough though, the image that comes to mind is none of these but rather the ‘house of a thousand beaks’. It is a real “must see” kind of place. You know, the kind of thing that you don’t see just anywhere.

At this point, Holly stopped channeling Rick Steve’s helpful and fun information about the town and …CRACK! “Time to go people!” and so…we grab a sandwich and make a run for the cars. We were on our way to El Escorial. Now, you might think that since we had just seen the many wonders of Segovia, another Palace/Monastery might just be overkill. Oddly, though the Monastery at El Escorial is my personal favourite. Why? You might ask. Well….it could be the Royal Pantheon which is completely decked out in marble and gold, including the stairway that leads down to the crypt. It might be the FANTASTIC inlaid wood doors that I could have stared at for the entire day and still found new details. It may also have been the ancient tomes and maps that lined the Palace library or the details of the paintings on the walls in the Hall of Battles. Any of these magnificent sights could be the most significant to me but….well…this is me and there are other memories that will stay with me longer.
My favorite memory from El Escorial will be Heather, Holly and I laughing almost hysterically as we strolled through the Hall of Battles (there really is a chicken in most of the painting and the soldiers stopping in the midst of battle to pose for the painter struck us as amusing). Another good memory will be the image of Heather being (almost) physically escorted from the library because the man with the keys wanted to lock up but she “wasn’t done yet.” Finally, I will hold forever the image of Rhys standing across the courtyard, shrugging his shoulders to let us know that he (our last hope) had no idea where Ray was and they really were locking up!
Fear not! It all worked out in the end. We found Ray…or he found us, we found our way to Madrid (only one wrong turn), we found the place we had to drop off the rental car (only a few extra loops), we found some wine and we found ourselves spending a good night of talk and laughter at the apartment.
But wait! You may remember that we had planned to visit the Valley of the Fallen. We only had time for 2 of the 3 tours that we planned. So much for Rick’s sage advice and Holly’s invisible whip.

Teachers on Tour

It’s Wednesday now and we’ve had some time to adjust to life in a very small apartment with seven people. The question is: are we still talking? I am happy to say we have not yet had that little hissy fit that sometimes comes when people live in very close quarters. We all seem to roll along pleasantly EVEN though three of us are females of an age where certain times of the month are more intense and we all seem to be there now. It probably comes as a surprise that I can get MORE intense but it HAS been known to happen.

Yesterday we dragged our sorry little selves out of the apartment quite late in the morning and had about enough time to take in ONE art gallery: the Thyssen. The interesting thing about this gallery is that it was owned by one family and sold to Madrid for what seems like a lot until you visit the gallery. The place just goes on and on and on.

In fact, Kenna dragged on her observations of the final statue in the Gerome exhibit as she waited for Tom. Then Tom and Kenna waited for the kids. Then Tom, Kenna and the kids waited for Ray. And eventually, Museum Slug and Heather came up from the bowels of the museum.

Now, lest you may think Museum Slug was the cause of this; it was clearly Heather who was taking the time.

”” I WAS NOT THE CAUSE I WAS LISTENING TO THE MUSEUM SLUG’S AUDIO TAPE WITH THE MUSEUM SLUG OFFERING OTHER INFORMATION TO GO ALONG WITH THE AUDIO TAPE!!! Apparently I am being censored so there is little hope you will get to read my words. It is sad to have something to say and have no one want to hear it.

What is sad is that someone with as much writing talent as Heather has put all her quotation marks at the beginning of her speaking role, but I digress. Let us move back to our day.

At 5:00 everyone was starving except those of us who had been culturally fed. However, in the interest of common health, we decided to find a nearby tapas bar.

We traded tapestries for tapas.

Oh, I missed the bus ride. Well, we had to take Bus #27 because Rick Steves said so. Ray had to go to the bank and we waited while Bus #27 went by…twice…but we aren’t bitter. I was really happy standing there.

Cheapo Holly said, “Don’t go for the 18 Euro bus ride. Let’s take the city bus for 1 Euro”.

The only thing I liked on the bus tour was the end. Those two buildings tilted. That was cool.

So the bus tour was brief but fun. We sat at the back and watched the buildings fly by as I read Rick’s commentary. It was one euro people. Get over it.

After the tour, we went home to dress more warmly for the evening events. The kids stayed home and enjoyed a lovely microwave meal. The rest of us went tapas hopping. Our first stop on the Rick Steve’s beginner’s tapas tour was the Museo de Jamon. This was a brightly lit, busy spot with ham hanging from the rafters in attractive patterns.

One euro wine! The seven of us ate there for 6.50! We didn’t see that kind of pricing the rest of the night.

And they say I’m cheap. We hopped up the street to the next place which was my personal favourite. This was the seafood spot: Casa del Abuelo. They had prawns deep-fried on swizzle sticks! That’s kind of like candy, isn’t it? As in many of the tapas bars, they encourage you to throw the garbage on the floor because it keeps the counters clean. They liked us because they gave us coupons for a free drink the next time we visited. We crossed the street to the next tapas bar and lo and behold, they accepted the free drink coupons! Woo-hoo!

But nobody liked that drink.

I didn’t see you turning it down. In fact, as I contemplate this, it occurs to me that you drank mine too.

Only half! Tom drank the other half.

Yes. Well. We tried a variety of interesting tapas that nobody cared for much but cost a lot. One was Pig’s Ears and we all agreed there are some body parts that are better left to the dogs. They love them, apparently, and don’t even demand them to be heated and served in an attractive dish. Another tapas was mini-green peppers sautéed in garlic. These were the best. The last experiment was red with white stuff inside. We think it was pimiento stuffed with potato and cheese. We liked that too but Ray didn’t finish his and since he’d already licked it none of us felt like finishing his either.

From there, we hopped on up the street and around the corner to the last recommended spot. I guess we were slow on the tapas crawl because that’s where all the other Rick Steve’s readers were. We all congratulated each other on our refined taste in guidebooks. This was where we finally tried Sangria, a heavenly drink we had previously shunned. I don’t recall Sangria tasting like this. I think there was nutmeg added. We also tried mushrooms sautéed in garlic and other stuff. That was really good. We had Potatoes Bravas and they were good. We gave the rest of our jug of Sangria to our new Rick Steve’s friends from Illinois because although I thought it was delicious the rest of the crowd weren’t as enamored. Oh, wait, Ray liked it too.

We walked home from here so we could get a good night’s sleep for the next day.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Madrid with Friends

Well, some of you may know that in Madrid a few of my colleagues have joined us. Before I begin to poke fun at them, let me just establish what an incredible joy it is to have them all here with us. I say this with all the warmth red wine can produce. No seriously, having these people here with us is as exciting and fun and enjoyable as it sounds. Tonight, we sit on our second evening together, having consumed a few bottles of excellent red wine, debating the larger political issues of the world. Can you hear the laughter, pontificating, and loud voices? That’s us. My children have long since escaped to their hidey hole. I am sure they are listening avidly.

We began our day slowly, each of us arising in our own way. Kenna was up and out of the apartment by 6am. Ray lounged in the living room where he had to be awake… just in case. Heather rolled out of bed next, having spent the past few hours awakening every so often as she battled jet lag. I heard Kenna come back about 8 and got up and then my children and husband dragged themselves awake.

We went on a self guided tour a la Rick Steves. My friends really had no choice but they feigned interest quite well. I had the book and led the group. Was there ever any doubt? I wonder how long that will last? Teachers on tour. How scary is that? We wandered through the streets of Madrid, admiring the interesting little spots Rick pointed out. My favourite was the convent where we had to buzz to be let in. Then the nun who stood behind the lazy Susan was supposed to sell us cookies but sadly, the English speaking group before us must have irritated her because she wouldn’t even acknowledge our existence. Never mind, it wasn’t about the cookies. It was about the experience.

Heather thought the convent was her favourite too which is strange since she has since admitted she now walks the streets of Vancouver. She goes dancing. She hasn’t really elaborated more than that so we’re taking turns filling in the gaps there. Kenna thought her favourite was making fun of me during the day, which she apparently has missed. Wait, it’s only 11:15 pm so the day ain’t over yet and honestly, I have difficulty believing she has not once laughed about me since I left. Okay, I just read her the blog and she insists her favourite was the scuff-marked symbol on the sidewalk which symbolized the centre of Spain. All roads lead here.

Ray thought the Puerto del Sol which means “gateway to the sun” was the high point. This was one of the plazas we stood in. We saw the statue of Charles II there. He was instrumental in establishing the postal service and more importantly, the public school system in Spain. Naturally, we had to have our picture taken with him. We also saw the symbols of Spain; a bear eating madrono berries. Bears used to roam the parks in Spain and the berry was used for a special alcohol here. We saw this symbol on a flag, on the sidewalk and so on throughout our walk so thank goodness we had the Rick Steves guidebook to explain its existence. Another interesting feature of the square was the attractive model having her shoes photographed. Some of us admired the shoes. Some of us admired the model. Some of admired the Ipad laptop she was carrying. You can guess who was who.

For Tom the favourite of the day wasn’t the poster we printed for our nephew but the area that it was in. It looked like at any turn you could enter a tapas bar or order a cerveza. You could do no wrong. You could sit on the patio and the rays of the sun could heat you. It was good. It was a nice part of town and it elevated his interpretation of Madrid. He thought it would be quite industrialized but it’s not. Kenna says we just haven’t seen that side.

Heather is now changing her mind saying that tonight has been the most fun; the sharing, laughing and discussions. The world is a better place for our discussions. Isn’t it interesting that that is where we started at the beginning of this blog?

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Valencia was really loud. It was a lot like the Carnival in Nice. Except louder. Loud.

The apartment we stayed in was beautiful and fun (it didn’t hurt that the lady gave me candy :D) but later we found that it was super humid. Our clothes didn’t even dry, and they had 3 days to! It was loud or so I thought. It was quiet compared to the down town places.

The first day we went for walk, and the whole time I was scared that I would step on a fire cracker :/ and my foot would explode. It didn’t… in case your wondering. It was so loud, but after a while your stop jumping. The walk kind of gave us a feel for the city. Actually, no it didn’t. The city was really loud, the big firecrackers went of right beside you! God, it was SCARY.

When we went down town we went to these really cool futuristic buildings, that could have been resorts. Dad said they were like a town center with meuseums and stuff. Personally I would rather have pool’s and tennis courts then science museums. But they did have all these volleyball places to play on the beach.

We went to the science museum. You can see my excitement when I found that out. YaAaAaAaay. It was cool though. A lot like science world actually. Except in this one part I wasn’t tall enough to do any thing. That was only one part though. There was other parts too. It was a lot of fun actually. There was a lot of stuff like Wii games. There was also this awesome on where you sat across from someone and spoke into the mic. and it changed you voice to this awesome chipmuck voice. Mwahaha.

That night was really weird because I fell asleep and then I opened by eyes and saw firworks just outside of my window it was insane!
Day of burning: When I woke up mom was mad because she missed a bridge thing. Rhys was awake when I got up. I know ‘Rhys’ and ‘awake’ aren’t meant to be in the same sentence unless there’s an ‘isn’t’ in between them. But he was. We got out and did stuff until about 5ish when we went home. We packed. Then went back out back out.

Night of burning: I got tiered around 10:00. I know, I just have this super-natural ability to stay up late. 10 was when they burned the small thing then we had 2 long boring hours until the real one would burn. We had awesome seats though. When the thing started to burn people cheered and every time something fell people cheered. It was a lot of fun.


In Valencia we went to a science museum, a parade, and a unique event where they burn floats. Everywhere you went there were exploding noises from firecrackers that came in lame, small, medium, large, very large, frightening and so loud and chest pounding that it could seriously damage your hearing. I don't even know why someone would buy a firecracker that big, let alone light it.

We had to stay up till 2 in the morning to see the floats light on fire, but it was worth it. I have a video of it in 3 parts,you should be able to watch the videos (approx. ~20min total) as a playlist here

We didn't buy any firecrackers while we were there because we're those who buy them, and also it was very difficult to find a store that sells them. I'm not sure if they were just sold out, scarce, or homemade, or not visible from storefront; not likely sold out because the stores we did find were mostly empty of PEOPLE, probably not hard to find everybody was lighting off firecrackers, and I don’t think they're homemade because they sounded pretty consistent and were made of materials that looked specifically made for the purpose.