Thursday, May 31, 2012

La Costa Blanca: Valencia/Denia

Meet Fede.

Fede is a Rotary exchange student from Denia, Spain, currently living in my hometown, Jefferson City, Missouri, USA.  I met Fede and his family last summer, in Madrid, when I was playing tour guide for the Russells, another Jefferson City family. Fede was to spend the 2011-2012 school year studying at Jefferson City High.

I remember talking with him about my hometown, the high school rivalries between JC and Helias, high school differences between the USA and Spain in general, and finally I had to explain the fact that the only people who would be able to speak Spanish with him were Spanish teachers or waiters at El Jimador, our favorite Mexican restaurant! I imagine that threw him off a bit, but it clearly hasn’t phased him.  A quick catch up over Christmas proved to me that the only way to learn a language is to throw yourself, head first, into a place that doesn’t speak your language. 

Fede did just that. 

By Christmastime, he was speaking really great English. We rarely spoke in Spanish and when we did, it was to clarify a word or two, but grammatically, he had improved drastically! (I wish I could say the same about my Spanish this year…) We shared stories (that I mentioned in my Christmas blog) about Americans asking him if he knew what a cell phone was and his daily adventures in the cafeteria, where getting out alive was sometimes difficult. (They don’t eat lunch at school in Spain; they eat around 2pm after they finish school for the day!) 
Hanging out in Jefferson City over Christmas break with Fede (andDusty the dog!)
Just recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Fede’s family in Denia, Spain.  While most Spaniards thought I was crazy for going to Denia from Friday to Monday, I found it quite easy to get there/get back with trains and busses.  You see, Denia is on the complete opposite side of the country… now, when you say it like that “I went to the other side of the country,” it sounds a bit far, but it was just a 3.5 hour train to Valencia from Madrid and a two hour bus from Valencia to Denia. We broke the trip up by spending Friday afternoon and night in Valencia before making our way to Denia on Saturday. 

Valencia was quite relaxing… but, we walked a lot. (Katie and I blame Will.) We toured the center of Valencia, visiting the Cathedral and tower to look out over the city.  Later, we had some authentic Valencian paella (Valencia is famous for it!) I did, actually, enjoy our walk to see the Arts and Science Buildings, as we walked through this old river bed that has now been converted to a grand park, full of climbing jungles, orange trees, and fountains. It really was a fantastic place to find!
Traditional Paella Valenciana: It's what's for lunch!
First plates: chips, ensalada and calamares
Valencian oranges are some of Spain's best!
Orange trees!
Plaza de la Reina/Cathedral against a great sky!
Overlooking Plaza de la Reina from the Cathedral's tower!
It was a little windy up there... photo with my travelmates, Will and Katie
Streets around siesta time: empty.
Walking in the old river-bed park... wonderful surprises like this were around every turn!
We made it! Arts and Science Park!
We didn’t go into any of the Arts and Science Buildings for two reasons: 1) they were closed. 2) I had been to the science and aquarium buildings when I went to Valencia with my Jefferson City friend, Zach, and his family in 2009.  I didn’t have much “ganas” to pay again. 

We decided to head out to find the beach; because it was a “beach weekend” after all, and we couldn’t wait until Denia on Saturday! After nearly 50 hours of walking, we made it, “Damn lemons” in hand, for a nice night at the beach. We taxi-ed it home, which was probably the smartest decision we made all weekend!
Love me some claras con limon.
Saturday we left for Denia. Fede’s mom, Belen, and Fede’s older brother, Jaime, met us at the bus stop. We went to their house where we met, Fede’s father, Jaime, and their Rotary exchange student, Maryse. We had a really nice meal, arroz al horno, while we shared stories about our experiences teaching and studying in Spain and how I wasn’t quite sure what Fede liked about JC. (After living in Navalmoral, I know it’s not what is around you, but who, so I can see why he will miss JC so much!) After lunch, Maryse kindly showed us to the beach… and later, to the port for a few drinks! We went back home and cleaned up for dinner, deciding to stay in at Fede’s house with Jaime and his friends to watch the Madrid-Barcelona game. We had a very “American/Canandian” (Maryse is Canadian!) dinner, complete with pizzas and mac&cheese!  We drank a few beers and watched the game before heading out to see some of Denia’s night life.
Views from the bus from Valencia to Denia!
Know that distance doesn't make you forget...
Trying to get tan.
Denia's port with Katie and Maryse!
Holding myself up in one of Spain's smallest streets! (It's harder than it looks!)
Sunday was just as adventure filled. First stop? Of course, the beach. Second? Lunch with our Denia family, and saying goodbye to Jaime (the dad), as he was off to participate in a bull fight! That means, Saturday afternoon was full of bulls. We went to a nearby town, just outside Denia, to watch the bull fight – a bull fight for charity, to raise money to build a school in Africa.  No bulls were killed, and the toreros were more armatures. Fede’s dad even took a whirl at it, saying that even though the bull was a baby, he was more scared than anything! Mainly, we watched as the grown men ran from the bull, something that never happens in a real bull fight. It was such a unique experience and I’m so glad we had the opportunity to see it and be a part of everything. It was cool thinking “I know that bull fighter!”
Denia's main street on a Sunday morning.
There's a castle up there surrounded by trees... view from the beach!
Fede's dad, Jaime, all ready for the bullfight!
In true festival fashion, we had carriages and flamencas.
Preparing for the fight! Do you see Jaime!?
What a festival it was!
Maryse, Katie and me in our sunny seats!
It began to rain just as the bull fight was coming to an end, so we went back to the house, got comfy, and took a tortilla making lesson from Belen.  It was just as good as it looked! I hope Will took lessons, so he can cook one for Katie and me! (wink wink!)
Tortilla lessons!
Monday was spent traveling, as we decided to go straight from Denia to Madrid vs. Valencia to Madrid. It saved us some money, but not in travel time, as it was just about 7 hours to arrive to Madrid from Denia… even stopping in Calp, Alicante, and Benidorm, three of the big tourist beach cities on Spain’s eastern coast. After arriving to Madrid, we had to travel back to Valladolid in first class on the train… which, besides the price, wasn’t so bad, as they gave us free champagne and nuts!
Calp - you couldn't miss the gigantic rock! Incredible!
Don't mind our faces.
So, thank you to my dear friend, Kris Arthur, for setting me up as “tour guide” for my new-adopted-parents, Jim and Mary, who belong to Rotary… so I could meet Fede and his family in Madrid last summer… so I could go and spend the weekend with them and see their life this spring! I had a fantastic time (Katie and Will would probably agree!) and can’t wait until the next time, with Fede in attendance!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Easter 2012: Traveling with Mom

I had been looking forward to Easter holidays for quite some time. 

While it looks like I’m always away (which I won’t disagree that I’m not!) I’m also working and bored most of the time I'm in Valladolid. Traveling is one of the only things keeping me sane. If I can’t be with my friends in Salamanca or Extremadura, I’d rather be practicing my Spanish in Valladolid – which isn’t always possible due to people taking advantage of my native English skills. So, I travel.

BUT, Semana Santa traveling is different. The Spanish schools get one week off for holiday; in Castilla Leon, we had holidays from April 5th to April 15th this year. Last year, my mom came over for a two week Spanish adventure. It was so much fun, we decided to repeat the experience again – except this time we went to England, Ireland, Scotland AND Spain.

Mom arrived to Madrid early on April 5th, even earlier than expected due to a tornado in Texas that rerouted her plane through Chicago. Wahoo! Two more hours with mom! So, to take advantage of these hours, I got on the 4am bus to the airport so I could be there when she arrived to Spain. She was quite surprised to see me, as she thought I would be arriving a few hours later, since I told her I couldn’t get there any sooner. Well, since she ruined the surprise when I went home for Christmas two years ago, I decided to surprise her! It worked out just great! We didn’t have any cell phone sim cards in upside down or any fiascos this year! (You’ll have to ask her about that.)
First photo of the trip! Mom is in Spain!
We checked in our suitcases to the airport so we could spend the afternoon in Madrid, before our evening flight to London. We went to see the Plaza Mayor, Royal Palace… we had some tasty snacks in the San Miguel Market and also some torrijas (the typical Easter treat) in Sol. It was a quick visit, but we were off for our real adventure – 10 days in the UK! (Technically Ireland isn’t part of the UK, but rather the EU. For the sake of this blog, are going to call it part of the UK because it’s easier to group all of the countries together. Vale.)
Aceituna skewers for dos.
Mom found a new amigo on the way to the Royal Palace.
Madrid, Spain
While I’ve been to London, now 4 times, I can’t say that the city ever gets old. It’s so big with so many things to see and do, that I don’t think you could ever see it all without living there. My mom had never been, so I played tour guide.

We visited the most important things Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Harrod’s all in the first day. Luckily, the Changing of the Guard was happening on even dated days in April and we were able to see it up close and personal, as we arrived about an hour early to get a good viewing position outside Buckingham Palace. Since it was Easter weekend we even saw a special concert played by the guards in front of the Palace, a special concert for the thousands of people who came out to see the Changing of the Guards that day. 
Changing of the Guards, Buckingham Palace.
Outside the Royal Gates.
Red boxes in Trafalgar! Don't go inside, they smell.
Showing WestMO a little love.
Up close and personal. Nice to meet you, Ben. You're big!
Westminster Abbey, Parliament & Big Ben across the Thames River.
The London Eye. If you plan on visiting, go first thing in the morning because lines just get longer.

Street performers, artists and musicians take over the London Eye zone.
("Everything we know we learned from The Simpsons." - Alba, former student)
View from Tate Modern Museum: St. Paul's Cathedral across the Thames.
Borough Street Market where we had tasty Turkish delights.
You'd think it was the famous "London Bridge"... but Tower Bridge is actually the famous bridge!
Tower of London and Tower Bridge, a lovely place to visit in the afternoon (better in sunshine!)
Thankfully, we had the whole day without rain, one of the few times on our trip. We really enjoyed walking around to visit the famous sites of London – and by night, we visited Piccadilly Circus (London’s Time Square in a way, all decked out in lights!) for dinner. We found this fantastic little Italian restaurant on a side street – SO fantastic, that we went back the next night too! They had great pastas, pizzas, steak…and a tiramisu to die for! Our waitress was actually the owner, which made impersonal London a little more personal. (They remembered us the second night, too!) 
Piccadilly Circus by night.
There are so many lights, you don't realize it's night time when you're there!
Saturday, we spent the day outside of London, on a day trip to Windsor Castle, Bath, and Stonehenge. Our tour guide kept referring to the bus as “her family” as she described the views around us in her dry, British humor. First stop was Windsor Castle, the official home of the Queen. Since our guide, “Mary Poppins” as my mom called her, could run faster than the other guides (because she said they were many years older than her) we were able to get straight into Windsor Castle and avoid any lines! Wahoo! 

When making a trip to the bathroom, we saw a single guard, red uniform and black hat and all, down at the far end of the Castle. He was all alone and it looked like a nice photo opportunity, so we went to see him. We were divided by the huge fencing, but to our surprise, he came RIGHT over to us!!! I thought he was just marching to give us a little show, when I realized he was headed straight at us – like, right up to the gate. I thought it would be a bit strange to not talk to him, but at the same time, I didn’t think he could respond. I immediately said something he didn’t have to respond to, “It’s a bit cold out today!” and he RESPONDED! He greeted us to Windsor Castle, asked if we were from America and proceeded to tell us that he had a brother living in Boston! Wow, were we shocked! He wished us a good day and we thanked him for coming over to chat!
Windsor Castle
Still can't believe he came right over to us!
We continued to tour the castle, which is just as amazing as you think it would be. We headed outside for the Changing of the Guards, another special Easter weekend edition, and then went to the back of the castle to see our new guard friend be changed out. There were only a handful of people in the back, so it was a more intimate change, not all fluffy with people starring and shooting photos. I like to think our guard friend was excited to see us return!
Windsor Castle
A few of the guards after the main ceremony, going to change out the guards on the back side.
Seeing our guard friend being changed!
Windsor Castle overlooking Windsor, the town.
After Windsor, we went to Bath, to visit the Roman baths. Of course. We had a short time to explore the town, too, which was very cute. Lots of famous actors and musicians live in Bath, and Mary Poppins was sure to point out there houses from the bus as we were off on our way to see Stonehenge!
Row-houses in Bath.
Roman Baths
While a little rainy, the setting couldn't have been any prettier!
Can you see the steam coming off the water?
Not quite sure how these little ducks were swimming in the hot water!
Streets of Bath on a rainy afternoon.
Our next stop was Stonehenge! I guess I’d never pictured the grounds where Stonehenge is located. Out in the middle of nowhere lies these huge stones, one stacked up on another in a circular design.  There are burial grounds, small grass covered mounds, before you arrive, but besides that, there is vast nothingness. Sheep. Lots of sheep. And tourists. I’d heard that Stonehenge was overrated but it was cool to actually be there. I’m really glad we went to see it for ourselves. It's always important to see something with your own eyes and not just go by what others think!
We made it!!!!
Bird on a Stonehenge.
Sheep! They get to enjoy Stonehenge and tourists taking photos all the time!
Our third day in London was spent in London town again. It was Easter Sunday! Last year we were in Malaga for Easter, so it was quite a change! We went to a prayer service followed by mass at Westminster Cathedral. We had time to go to the top of its bell tower to overlook the city too – which was still visible on a cloudy day! Big Ben, Westminster Abbey… it was all there!
Easter Mass at Westminster Cathedral
Overlooking Westminster Cathedral from the Cathedral's tower.
View of London from Westminster Cathedral Tower. Little foggy in the photo, but you could see everything!
After Easter mass, we visited Covent Garden, Camden Town/Market, and Portobello Road and Nottinghill.  It was a relaxing day, but we had walked so much the previous days that our feet were killing us! However, we went at our own pace, stopped to see some street performers and really enjoyed ourselves. We went on an Easter egg hunt... well, kinda. We didn't actually pay to participate, but we enjoyed seeing the artistic eggs all over Covent Garden that were up for auction. Now, I don't usually eat McDonald's... but I gave in and had a Cadbury Cream Egg McFlurry. Cadbury Cream Egg! (Easter Egg Hunt and Cream Egg McFlurries! So great!) I couldn't believe it; it was so tasty! Later in the evening, it was nice to escape the crowds of people in London center and head for calm, quiet Nottinghill… I think that is the one downfall of London: massive amounts of people, everywhere.
I've seen this same performer every time I've been in Covent Garden. He's wonderful!
There was an Easter Egg hunt for charity! This reminded me of Theta Love bracelets.
Mom's favorite: the brown egg.
A visit to Harry Potter's Platform 9 3/4. It's actually changed locations since I was there last.
Cadburrrryyyyy Creammmm Egggg!!!!!! Yum! Yum!
Camden Town, London's edgier scene. Not sure if mom was a fan!
Near Camden Market there is the Camden Lock... which ends at Little Venice.
We didn't make it as far as Little Venice, but we made it to the zoo and peeked over the fence!
Notting Hill. Super Euro.
An absence of people after the Portobello Road Market is closed.
The bookstore from "Notting Hill" the movie which is now a shoe store!
The only bad part of the trip would have to have been the "hotel". The only thing that made it a "hotel" was the fact it had an elevator. The room was small and the staff was super, super unfriendly. Absolutely no customer service. One night we even had our internet privileges taken away after we didn't have exact change... which, of course, was our fault. Most of my close friends and family know I like to speak my mind and I'm not going to be "in the wrong" when it's not my fault. I let the man know just how I felt and after clearly upsetting him, he took our internet away. Mom came in to save the day and our internet. I sent the company a really "nice" email after we arrived back to Spain and received an even nicer email back that said: "even respond you is not worth." 1) I wanted to respond again to tell him I was an English teacher. 2) Seriously, when I told the man he should be fired, I think that proves my point. Ugh.

Monday morning, we left England and headed for Ireland...via shamrock plane! Dublin was our first stop! After getting our green passport stamps, we headed for our hotel via a double decker bus.
Next stop? Of course, Ireland.
Thankfully, our hotel was located right in the middle of Dublin, just a few minutes walking from Dublin Castle and Trinity College. We made the most of our early arrival by heading immediately into the town to see the sites! We visited Trinity College, one of Europe’s oldest universities, walked past Christ Church and the Dublin Castle, and finally made our way to the Guinness Storeroom! We toured the factory, which is amazing – they have put so much money into making it Ireland’s number one tourist site and one of the most visited in the world, alongside Coca-Cola.
We did "Dublin in a Day" - sorry for the abundance of photos!
An alley of bars just behind the hotel.
Entering Trinity College
"Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!" - Dublin's Molly Malone
Walking the streets of Dublin, after some shopping and before visiting Dublin Castle.
St. Stephen's Green, Dublin's Central Park - feeding the swans.
Dublin Castle - Well, the part we visited. We didn't feel like visiting "another castle"...
Christchurch - on the way to the Guinness Storeroom
Insignificant and often overlooked, loved these hearts on the fence!
Down this scary alley... lies the Guinness Storeroom.
St. Jame's Gate!
World Famous.
In all it's glory... Guinness.
Mom pouring the "perfect pint" :) Good job, mom!
In the evening, we opted for a dinner and traditional dancing/music show. We had lamb stew and Guinness and steak pie while we watched Riverdancers perform! Since my childhood dream was to become a Riverdancer, I was in heaven. I think it’s still my dream to dance in Riverdance – it’s amazing how they move! Not to mention, I love Celtic music! We had a GREAT night at the Arlington Hotel. If you’re ever in Dublin, I highly recommend it – while it does boast an atmosphere of “TOURIST!!!!” its well worth it!
We decided Dublin was just “another big city” – and we really wanted to see some of the “40 shades of green” countryside. We decided to do two day trips instead of the one we had previously booked. So, Tuesday was spent on a last minute trip to kiss the Blarney stone!!!

We went on a “Paddy Wagon” tour, which is very laid back and instead of telling you about the sites or real history you’re seeing out the windows, they point out the pubs:  “The green pub, next to O’Shamrock’s pub, and if you turn at the red pub you’ll arrive at O’Neil’s pub…” It was a fun tour though, that advertises “guaranteed handsome driver and sexy accent”. They are a good value for your money, and I have to admit, the driver did have a great accent!

While Blarney was our main destination, we were also able to visit Cork for a short time, Kinsdale, a small fisher town where Julia Roberts lived for a while, and Cobh, the last port of call for the RMS Titanic! (Not going to lie, it was really neat to be in Cobh…as we were there, 100 years minus one day to the actually sailing of the Titanic! There were benefit concerts going on and lots of special Titanic flags flying about. We got to see the “White Star Line” ticket office and the original port/deck entrance to the Titanic too! Everything is still how it was 100 years ago they say!)
Cork, Ireland

So tranquil; I can see why a superstar would want to escape to here.
Kinsdale, Ireland
Cobh, Ireland - last port of call for the RMS Titanic.
In front of the original dock of the Titanic with the White Star Line ticket office behind.
The windows were full of Titanic memorabilia and stories...
Were were in Cobh 100 years minus 1 day to the sailing of Titanic!
I can’t believe we actually kissed THE Blarney Stone! They say if you kiss the stone, you'll get the gift of gab or skill at flattery for 7 years… lots of famous people have kissed it, Winston Churchill and Mick Jagger to name a few. To kiss it, you have to lean backwards off the castle's edge! Luckily, there are rails to hold and an old Irish man holding on to you, which makes it just a little less scary! (Actually, not sure if the little old man makes it less scary or more scary...)

The word "Blarney" came about like this: Someone was trying to convince someone of something.... and in frustration Queen Elizabeth I said "This is all blarney. What he says he never means."  And so the word "blarney" was born. (Sorry I know no more detail.) We also learned the difference between "blarney" and "baloney". Baloney is when you tell a 50 year old woman she looks 18. Blarney is when you ask a woman how old she is, because you want to know at what age women look the most beautiful. They had wonderful little signs that had interesting information like this all around the castle! Made the wait seem a lot less... thank goodness!
Blarney Castle (& me and my umbrella)
Proof: Mom did it with the little Irish man's help!
Proof: I did it! You can even my lips on it...and the ground below!
Relaxing after our climb to the top of Blarney Castle!
Rain droplets on one of the poisonous plants in the poisonous garden. No smelling or touching! Be careful!
We arrived back to Dublin with enough time to visit the famous pub: Temple Bar. Besides my mom getting hit on and kissed three times (on her cheek and twice on the top of her head) we really enjoyed our Irish cider and Heineken (clearly we weren’t fans of the Guinness the day before…) while we listened to the live band.
Live music and great drinks, Temple Bar
The next morning, Wednesday, we headed on another day trip. This time, we were in route to see the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland’s top site. We went to Limerick by train and then began the bus tour. After visiting Bunratty Castle and touring the folk village to get a better idea of what life was like in the olden days... we stopped in Doolin for lunch, for some gigantic 12 euro hamburgers that looked better than they tasted. We did buy some amazing fudge though in this tiny shop: the best kind? Raspberry! Mom and I fought over it the rest of the trip, as we rationed it to last the whole time! We were also able to see the Araan Islands from Doolin, just a short ways out from the land.
Bunratty Castle

The incredible view from Bunratty's roof. This is the Ireland I wanted to see!

Georgie and Jeanie... Jose and Pedro's new Irish cousins at the folk village.
Did you know donkeys can live to be 50 years old? Our little Jose and Pedro are 4 and 6... haha
The Cliffs of Moher (as seen in the final scene of the film Leap Year and other movies) are so breathtaking! Seriously. Ireland's top attraction is fantastic! Drop off cliffs, several hundred meters high are the last things you can see before the vast ocean that goes for as long as you can see.  It was rather windy; good thing we weren’t close to the edge! We climbed to the top of a tower to get an even better view and were nearly blown over! 
Proof we were there! Yeah!
The small tower on the right gives you a really nice view of the Arran Islands.
Up close and extra personal, just a little sunny. Can you see the birds?
You could never take an ugly photo at this place.
The Cliffs of Moher...rock. (haha)
Cuidado! Be careful!
After the Cliffs, we were able to drive through The Burren, the once floor of the Atlantic Ocean! All rocky and Mars like, it’s strange to think that the ocean use to once be there! We made our way though “Mars” and were happy to see green grass again, patchwork fields full of sheep and cows. Late in the afternoon, we made our way to Galway, a quite charming old, small town, to get the train back to Dublin.
Driving through the Burren; what a scary/cool landscape!
Here we are at the Burren.
I'm not lying when I say "it was windy."
Galway, Ireland
When we arrived to Dublin around 9:30pm, we went to have a traditional Irish breakfast! Yes! Breakfast for dinner! Irish Breakfasts are worse than the traditional “American” breakfast… as Irish Breakfasts come with sausages, eggs, potatoes, a fried tomato, mushrooms, bacon, toast, coffee or tea. It’s enough food to split between two people, so we doubled up on the toast and coffee (hey, it was included and part of the “traditional” breakfast so we gave in and drank it!) and called it a night.
And the say American's eat a big breakfast???
Sausages, ham, egg, mushroom, more sausages, tomato, hash brown, bacon AND beans.
We had to rise and shine on Thursday morning in order to get to the airport to catch our 6:45am flight. We were all about saving money, so that unfortunately meant rising before the sun a few times. However, when we arrived to Edinburgh, we were happy to have arrived so early to explore more of the city. I think Edinburgh was my favorite city of the trip!

To sum Edinburgh up in three words: IT IS BEAUTIFUL. It’s got Salamanca qualities, in the fact that the buildings all boast the same color stone (more dreary gray stones than Salamanca’s golden stone). The town was centered around the Royal Mile, a street that stretched a little more than a mile – from the top of the Castle to the bottom where the Holyrood Royal Palace is located. Hollyrod is where the Queen stays when she visits Edinburgh. (I’m starting to wonder just how many residences she has…) The Royal Mile had many shops, including Kilts for Hire and Scotch Whiskey Experiences.  Mom and I opted for some plaid scarfs to take home for souvenirs as we didn’t think the men in our lives (dad, grandpa and my uncle) would appreciate kilts. Haha
I think this was the beginning of the old town that we saw, and I was amazed!
Greyfriar's dog; this little guy sat by his owner's grave for years and years until he himself died.
They say a dog is a man's best friend, well, this dog proves that true.
Grassmarket, Einburgh - WOW!
Haggis, neeps and tatties = lunch.
Looks gross, but it was quite tasty. I won't tell you what it was. ;)
EVERYTHING was plaid. Seats in the bus, carpets, chairs....
Scottish and English pound notes.
Choose your pattern! ;)
You know, they say the boys don't wear anything under these... haha
The Royal Mile has about 70 “Closes” that exit from the main street. A “close” is basically a small alley. In years past, the way past, there used to be over 200 of these closes, but they have been demolished or closed due to expansion. But, they are fantastic little places; we made sure to visit a few!
Connecting from one part to the next!
The closes were such cool escapes from all the people!
Another great escape!
All of the closes had signs like this. "Paisley" reminds me of Maria!
Our second day in Edinburgh, we visited the "Fourth Bridge" - a famous bridge that connects Scotland's capital city, Edinburgh, with Fife - where St. Andrew's Golf Course is located. It was Britian's first major structure built of steel, around the same time as the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It's 1.6 miles in length, making it one of the world's largest bridges! It can been seen on the 2004 issued 1 pound coins! It carries trains; there is a second bridge that carries cars across... and we saw a third being built due to the over-usage of the second bridge!
Fourth Bridge - which we saw from land, from sea and from sky (when we left for Spain!)
Fourth Rail Bridge
Wild seals just hanging about!
A church out on an island just near the Fourth Bridge. We didn't leave the boat, but enjoyed the view!
How peaceful... seals and a sailboat!
Back to the mainland, which was really a cute area near the Fourth Bridge.
After visiting the Fourth Bridge, we went to visit Edinburgh Castle; the castle that sits at one end of the Royal Mile. I've seen many castles while living in Europe, but this was my first Scottish castle - complete with a church, jail, soldiers in kilts and the sound of bagpipes.
Mom at Edinburgh Castle!
Overlooking Edinburgh - what a nice view!
Scottish cannons.
My grandma is from Argyle...thinking of all our family!
Photo opp at Edinburgh Castle.
Mom went to jail. She wasn't too excited about entering the small room.
In the afternoon, we were able to visit a Spanish friend of mine, Alvaro, who I met in Salamanca in 2009.  Alvaro is currently studying English in Edinburgh! It was nice to see him and I think he enjoyed having us around too! We went to the top of this hill to get a great view of the city! There was a monument there – something that resembles the Parthenon in Athens, but it’s only half finished! Alvaro said that legend has it that the men drank too much and there was no more money to finish the monument because the money was all spent in the pubs! I’d believe it, as we never saw the people in restaurants ordering water. Casi nunca! After Alvaro showed us where he lived, we had a nice dinner together and then he accompanied us to the movie theater before going out with his friends.

Why to the movie theater, you ask? Well, we saw The Hunger Games! I can’t say mom was a fan, but I had been dying to see it, in English. It wasn’t even out in Spain yet, so I guess it was almost VIP like! Haha
With Alvaro, visiting Calton Hill.
From Calton Hill, there is a great view of the Queen's residence "Holyrood".
Rose Street, where we had lunch!
After a nice few days in Edinburgh, it was time to go to our next stop in Scotland: Glasgow! The first views of the city reminded us of St. Louis – a mix of new and old buildings and architectural structures. I don’t think Glasgow would have ever been on my list of places to see, but a very special person just happens to live there: Maria!
Main shopping street... we found this early on.
We decided that all there is to do in Glasgow is shop, eat, and drink.
Nice hat, dude.
I never caught the name of this plaza, but it was really nice - complete with a Ferris wheel.
Biggest Heinz sauce collection ever made lunch extra fun.
Pasty, beans and chips.
After lunch, we checked into our hotel and decided to visit Maria at work! We took a double decker, and sat in the front row like tourists, mom even propped her feet up! When we arrived to Maria’s work, we walked in circles trying to find her! I had to ask another worker where Maria was, and she directed me to her! I’m pretty sure we shocked her, as she twirled around and started screaming and freaking out a bit. But, I think Maria knows me pretty well, as she said “I wondered if you all just wouldn’t come in today!”

We had made plans earlier in the week to have dinner together: Maria, me and our moms! Maria’s mom, Agnes, had made reservations at this great Italian place in the center of Glasgow: La Vita. We enjoyed sharing stories about Navalmoral de la Mata, the city that made us friends.  It was almost surreal to be there, in Glasgow, with Maria and her mom. I never thought that our moms would have the chance to meet, but I’m so glad they did!
Agnes, Maria, Me and Mom :) So happy to see you both!
After dinner, mom and I tried out Maria’s new little car – just sitting in the driver’s seat was strange! Ross, Maria’s fiancé, describes her Ford KA as “the car that came with a Barbie.” Yeah, it’s pretty small, but it managed to hold four people, two big suitcases and two smaller carry-ons on Sunday when Ross and Maria took us to the airport in Edinburgh! Hey, that’s almost more than I can say about our room in London! No joke!

Before we headed to the airport for the last leg of our adventure in Spain, we visited the park and museum near Glasgow University. We had a really nice lunch in an old movie theater, too! I’m so happy we were able to get together two days! While it was quick, it was well spent! Miss my hermana already!
Check the speed limit! ;)
Maria, Ross and I in the University Park.
A visit to the museum...
Giraffes, moose and airplanes - oh my!
Cute little neighborhood where we had lunch in an old movie theater!
"Picture Theater" - In Scottish, you can say "we're going to the pictures" and people
understand you're "going to the cinema/movies"....
Ross, our driver, and mom our co-pilot.
We arrived super late on Sunday night back to Spain. Instead of staying the night in Madrid, and wasting more money, we decided to take the bus back to Valladolid, a trip that would take 3 hours instead of 1 it would usually take by train. But, it worked out just fine, as we arrived in Valladolid around 2:15am. We made our way to my piso and went to bed! 

We slept in late the following date, as it was just a day to be spent in Valladolid seeing the sites. My roommate, Katie, came with us for most of the afternoon to have some tapas and chat about our trips. Mom and I were so tired and worn out from the previous days that we decided to take a Spanish siesta before going out with some of my American friends, Will, Natasha and Katie. We hit up some of the famous tapas bars in town, El Corcho, El Jero, and Guaguita. We had corquetas, tostas, and langostinos. SIX orders of langostinos; they were that good!
Police having an afternoon drink... WINE.
Old bullring in the center that is now flats. Super tranquilla.
Touring some of the little known sites! (This place is wonderful at night!)
Afternoon snack. Chocolate cake and churros con chocolate.
Tabla de tostas for 6.
Yummmmmy! Ignore the eyes and head.
Tuesday morning we visited my school. We made my normal hike so mom could get a good idea of my daily walk. We arrived just around the break time, so we could have coffee with the other teachers.  Everyone was interested in meeting mom, language barrier and not. I became her personal translator – even though I’m sure she could have figured out what they were saying to her in the end: Welcome to Spain. Nice to meet you! I hope you are enjoying Spain! And the ever popular, I don’t speak English! (That actually came out more like, “Me English, noooo” as they waved their hands frantically.) We had a really nice morning at school, went on a small tour of the English department rooms and the school grounds.

Cafe in my school where we had coffee with the teachers!
We had a nice walk around town and visited the park and then had a nice lunch in town, a menu of the day with paella and lechazo (baby lamb) and escalopines (strips of meat in a sauce). We did some shopping and saw a few more sites in town, reliving memories from Easter the year before, when we spent a few days there seeing the Semana Santa processions.

White asparagus at the market in Plaza Espana.
Peacocks in Campo Grande Park.

"I want paella for lunch" - Mom.
That night, Concha, my “boss”, invited us to have dinner in her house. We had a fantastic dinner and even better company! It was nice to just talk about all types of things and to have my mom there to share it with us. We arrived home nearly around midnight, had just a few hours to sleep, before we were off again to Madrid for mom’s flight back to Missouri. 

I had such a great time traveling with my mom and only wish that we could repeat it more often, versus just once a year.  Mom says we need to win the lottery…. maybe we should start buying tickets! 

Until next year, mom! (And dad, grandma, grandpa, Aunt Lisa, Uncle Cliff, Gina, Kasie on your honeymoon… anyone who wants to come, really!)