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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Spain and Noelia's Wedding!

This July, I was blessed and excited to have the opportunity to go back to Spain - the first time in almost eight years since we moved back home!  The occasion was the wedding of a friend and former roommate, and the timing happened to work out just right.  

I traveled alone, which for the long flights was nothing new for me, but the week spent traveling around Spain mostly by myself was, and it made for lots of selfie's as I passed by some of my favorite places.  

I spent the first two days in Madrid, walking the city all day long, just enjoying walking by all the places we used to live, work, eat, hang out, and shop.  Everything was so familiar, which was a really great feeling, yet at the same time the memories are now a ways back in my mind, so it was a very odd sensation. I found myself just smiling as I wandered the neighborhoods we used to spend time in.

First stop:  Jimmy's old apartment, and our church, which was still right across the street.

Next, I went three blocks south, to one of our favorite restaurants, Tanino (a wine and pizza bar), which was on the same block at my old apartment where I lived with Noelia (the bride-to-be).  We still try to recreate our meals from there, which we call 'Tanino Nights', with yummy homemade pizza.  This day though, I sat outside to enjoy the weather, and had an amazing bowl of Spanish Gazpacho.  We have yet to have a Gazpacho in the United States that even comes close to resembling those they make in Spain, so it was a delicious and refreshing treat. 

The plaza near the travel agency where we used to work.

This is the main post office in Madrid, and since the day that Cat and I first came up out of the mouth of the Metro to find it by accident, has always been one of my favorite buildings.

For those familiar with Madrid, you've probably seen the Tio Pepe sign (a brand of Spanish Sherry) that is iconic in the city center, the Puerta del Sol.  I, along with many displeased Spaniards, was very surprised to see that it had been moved atop a different building from where it had been since 1936.  El Oso y el Madroño statue, another iconic landmark and meeting spot, had also been moved to a different location in the Puerta del Sol.  Strange to see these things in different locations.

After living nearly four years in Spain, I tried to think of anything I hadn't done while living there that I could do during this trip.  The only thing I came up with was visiting the Palacio Real (Royal Palace).  I had been outside of it on several occasions, but had never entered to tour the inside.  It was beautiful, and interesting to read the history of what each of the rooms was used for.  And on top of it, entrance was free that day!  

One of my first roommates in Spain, from back when I was studying abroad and living in a flat (apartment) with about 8 other people, was Cristina.  I stayed with her and her husband and baby girl, and even though I only had the evenings with her after she got off work, it was so fun to see each other and just catch up on life.  

Traditional spanish food for dinner on night one... jamón, tortilla española, crunchy breadsticks, croquetas, and more jamón.  Mmmmmm...

The next day we met for lunch at a restaurant where Cristina, Cat, and I, and later Jimmy, Cristina and I used to eat called Lateral. 

On day three, I took a train up to the city of León, about three hours north of Madrid.  (I love traveling by train, its comfortable and relaxing to not be in a cramped car).  Noelia is Spanish, and she is from León, and her fiancé, Nico, is from an area near Bordeaux in France.  Noelia and I lived together for close to three years during the time I was working in Madrid. 

Noelia and her father picked me up at the train station, and after meeting Nico, I got to spend the rest of the day with them running wedding errands around town.  It was so great to hang out with them and be a part of the last-minute wedding prep.  

Lunches and dinners with Noelia's family... parents, sister, nieces and nephews, grandmother, and me - all in Spanish, and all so Spanish, which made my heart happy to be back in a place I love. 

Here's a rundown of the evening (pay close attention to the times...):
6pm: The wedding ceremony was at a small church near Noelia's parents' house in the center of León.  The ceremony was done in both French and Spanish, and afterward we threw rice!  I don't think I've ever been to wedding where they do that, since it no longer happens in the U.S.!  What a mess though... Rice in the bride's hair, rice powder on the groom's black suit...

Pictures with friends and family after the ceremony

8:30pm: Two large busses pick up all the wedding guests to transport us to the venue for the reception, which is on the outskirts of town.  

8:45-10:00ish: Cocktail hour in an enclosed patio with amazing gastronomical treats, all of which had beautiful presentation...And of course plenty of jamón for everyone.

Informal pictures during the cocktail hour... 
These girls were so much fun to hang out with at the wedding!  
(Sister, friend, sister, me, cousin, and childhood friend)

Around 10pm:  We were invited into the main hall to be seated for dinner, which lasted until almost 1:00 am!   The menu was huge... A shrimp salad with ceviche on the side, Monkfish with baby squid, a green apple and cider sorbet to cleanse our palette (see picture below), and Lechazo (Jimmy's all-time fav) which is super tender slow cooked baby lamb dish with potatoes, peppers and salad, and then a cake with turrón ice cream.  Wow.  And seconds were offered of everything!

Noelia's cousin, and Noelia's niece Valentina, who was very excited to take a picture with us.  Such a sweetheart.

Around 1am after everyone finished eating, the dancing began.  It was so much fun to see the Spanish/French fusion throughout their wedding, with Spanish, French, and a bit of English being spoken around the room, people giving toasts in both Spanish and French, and then the music, which was a mix of both Spanish and French songs so there was something for everyone.  I wish I could figure out how to get the videos off of the phone I used while in Spain, because there was a great one of a large table of Noelia's parents and family friends, all in their fifties and sixties, singing old folk songs from that region of Spain.  No one was shy, no one minded, and those who knew it joined in the fun.  Later during the dancing time there were some friends and family who sang songs in French to the bride and groom, and also a lot of dancing in a big circle with our arms around each other and kicking our feet.   It was so much fun, and I just went along with whatever dancing was happening, whether I knew how to do it or not (usually not).  And somehow, amazingly, I made it until the end (almost three hours of dancing) with my stiletto's still on!


Don't look at the picture of Jimmy and I below, but instead notice the time and date.  The wedding began on August 31st at 6pm, and I captured a screen shot of when we were loading back into the busses to return to our hotels.  Believe it or not (I hardly could), the kids, ages 3 to 10, lasted until about 3am!!!  Only in Spain!

 I wish I had more pictures to share from the wedding and the time before and after that I spent with the family in León that conveyed the experience, but it was one of those times when it was just enjoying it in the moment, and just having fun with new people.  The families were super welcoming, very inclusive of me in everything that was going on, and they went out of their way to invite me to meals, and make sure I was enjoying myself at the wedding since I didn't know many people.   The day after the wedding I was also invited to have lunch with the bride and groom and all of his family that was in town for the wedding.  Only one of them spoke English, and none of them knew Spanish, so the conversation was all in French, with the exception of Nico speaking Spanish with me from time to time to include me.  It was nevertheless a cool experience just to sit and listen to everyone speaking French, trying as I could to understand, but picking up almost nothing! 

On Saturday I afternoon I took the train back to Madrid.  I didn't have anything planned for my last night, so I did some more wandering around the tourist center of town without an agenda.  On my flight over I was sitting next to an Argentine girl who has been to Madrid a handful of times in the past five years, and she was telling me about the mercados, or markets, that have begun to pop up around the city.  Posh, modern, and with amazing food.

This one was called Mercado de San Miguel, and it is located right off of the Plaza Mayor in a building that has been vacant and closed as long as I have known, at least as far back as 2001 when I was studying abroad.  Click here for better pictures, as the ones I took with my phone don't do the place justice:

In recent years, it has been reopened as a market with a number of individual food vendors, each specializing in something different.  You go from vendor to vendor choosing the food you want, and either stand and eat it there, or find a table in the center of the market to sit and relax.  It was a bit awkward hanging out there by myself since it was such a group setting, but I tried to just enjoy the moment and take in all the surroundings and people watch.  

Below left are little paper cones filled with all sorts of dried sausages, and on the right, huge glasses of chilled Gazpacho soup.

Part of my dinner... Gazpacho, a bocadillo (baguette with thin slices of dried salami), and a caña as they refer to small glasses of beer.  

I stuffed myself silly, stopped to buy a few souvenirs for the boys, and then headed to pay a surprise visit to our friends Frank and Luke, who own a bar called Public House.  Frank is from NY, and Luke from New Zealand.  They didn't know I was in Spain, and it was fun to catch up and let them talk with Jimmy via WhatsApp.

P.S. A huge thank you to Jimmy for letting me go back to Spain, and without him.  I know how badly he wants to return, and I hope that we can both travel back there together, soon....

Thursday, September 10, 2015

July 2015

Fourth of July Traditions for our family... Pancake breakfast, which I guess we didn't get any pictures of this year, and this was the second year that we had a front yard barbeque with our neighbors, complete with plenty of legal fireworks ;)

These three boys had tons of fun running around and being silly.  Behind them are the long party sparklers that we used as a grand finale for our own pyrotechnics fun. 

The boys have found more things to build with these building pieces than I could ever list.  This day they made Star Wars ships to fly around the house.  I love the creativity!

Caleb is five!  He opted for pancakes on his birthday, and got a special addition of whipped cream which he was totally into. 

On his birthday he also wanted to go to the Science Museum.  They happened to have the bearded dragon out for feeding and observation through these green kaleidoscopes.  It was really cool to look at!  Take a look below...

I didn't really expect these pictures to turn out, but I put my phone camera up to the eye piece of the kaleidoscope and you could see the lizard's head and green from edges of the table in cool designs!

(Photo of me, taken by Caleb)

I think I've mentioned in previous posts how into puzzles the boys are right now.  These wooden brain puzzles at the museum are a favorite, especially this one. They literally spent a half and hour working on them and I had to drag them away to go have lunch at the shoppe - usually something that motivates them immediately!

Yes, he wore his rain boots to the Splash pad!

Crystal, who works at the shoppe, LOVES the boys and was super excited that we let her take them on a date to go see the Minion movie.  They loved it too, and mommy and daddy got an impromptu date and picnic lunch to Oak Farm Vineyards. A win-win!

During one of my out-of-town Jazzercise trainings, the boys and Jimmy went to a Rivercats game on a Star Wars theme night.  This was part of Caleb's birthday gift, and they LOVED seeing all the people dressed in Stormtrooper costumes.  Super cool experience for them.

Lego building skills continue improving... Though he didn't do every step correctly, Caleb was able to put this birthday set together all by himself following the instructions. 

In mid-July we spend a day in San Francisco with the boys.   We haven't really done much in the City with them yet, so we were excited for it, and especially since we had a special tour planned, too.  My dad's cousin, Mike Phipps, has lived his whole life in San Francisco, is a huge history buff, and is also on the board for the Cable Car Museum.  We planned to meet up with him at the museum for a personalized tour of the facility that powers all of the cable cars in the City.  It was really cool to see how it all works, see the oldest surviving cable car (the only one post-1906 quake), learn how frequently they have to change out all the cable running under the streets because the grooves that give it grip wear down very quickly (something like every few days...), and see the upstairs area, normally closed to the public, where all the maintenance work and storage happens for the cars.  We learned a lot from Mike's tour and it was a really cool experience for all four of us!

Ringing a cable car bell

Upstairs where the cars are parked and maintenance performed on them...

Part of the personalized tour ended up being an offer for us to ride right out of the Cable Car Museum, all the way down to Powell and Market streets, and then back the other direction to the opposite end of the line down by the wharf.  VIPs :)

We have never taken the boys to the Exploratorium, and now that it is in its new location, Jimmy and I were also interested to check it out.  The boys love the Science Museum in Lodi, and this is much, much larger with endless experiments to check out. It was super cool, but we definitely need another trip or two to interact with more of the exhibits because there were so many and lots of people around, too.  

This little room was one of my favorites.  It had a yellow or orange light illuminating it, and the walls had pictures from around San Francisco neighborhoods, along with a bench, this gumball machine, and a few other things.  Everything appeared monotone with the single color light, but when you shone a flashlight on things in the room, the white light allowed all the diverse colors to show... the colored gumballs, brightly colored houses, and different cars.  

I'm not sure if this is a permanent exhibit, but it caught my attention and made me laugh... It is a toilet, never used as such, with a drinking faucet spout installed on it (look closely in front of the little girl).  It was a question of ethics...Would you drink out of this water fountain???  I'm not sure I could!

This is the strangest looking picture the way it turned out, but it is about symmetry, and the machine would take a picture of your face, and replace the right half with a reverse image of the actual left half of your face, and vice versa for the left half.  So in these two goofy images, my right and left sides of my face are exactly the same - mirror images of each other.  What appears to be a widows peak and really bad parted bangs are the way my hair appeared when it mirrored the one side of my face that my hair was parted to.  

Backyard camp out!  Jimmy has attempted on two or three occasions to set up the tent, both indoors and outdoors at home, and try to sleep inside it with the boys.  It has always ended up with the boys wanting to go sleep in their own beds, even after Jimmy has carried their mattresses, pillows, and blankets out into the tent.  It has been awhile since the last (frustrating) attempt, so Jimmy promised the boys they would do it this summer.  Here it is, complete with a bonfire and S'mores (in a hole dug into the dirt).  They actually went to sleep in the tent for the first time, only to have Caleb wake around 2am crying with stomach pains.  Baby steps I guess...  Maybe next time they will actually make it an entire night in the tent!