Apologies!

Hey lovely readers! Sorry for the long pause in updates.  Chris and I have been busy enjoying seeing friends in Rome and celebrating his 30th birthday in Montepulciano.  We are now in Pompeii – Chris for the rest of the summer as part of his whole archaeologist thing, and me for a few days to relax before going back to Rome for another week.  I hope to get caught up in the next few days, though I may be helping things get set up around here, as the season starts tomorrow.  If not, I will definitely use my last few days in Rome to focus on my posts!  Hope you all are doing well!  ❤

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Here we go again!

Greetings from Southern Spain, dear readers!  Malaga, to be exact.  We arrived safely yesterday afternoon and are eager to get our newest adventure started.  

Things will be a bit different this year fro m last.  The largest difference for me is that I did not bring my laptop. It’s quite heavy, and the only thing I truly needed it for was photos, and so with all the possibilities of banning laptops in the cabins on planes…I just decided to leave it home.  

Which means that I will be posting from my phone or iPad, which will probably take some getting used to, so apologies in advance for any weird occurrences.  

This year will also be MUCH more relaxed than last year.  We won’t be visiting as many places, which means we will be able to take our time and enjoy ourselves a bit more.  We’ll be going back to a few places (starting off with Malaga), but we’ll also get to experience some new cities, like Barcelona.  I am excited, as ever, to explore new places, but I’m also excited that we get to go back and have more time in some of the places we went last year. 

I do have to say that, as much as I love traveling and as excited as I am for new places and foods and experiences, I found myself feeling a bit nostalgic as we packed our bags and readied the house for our departure.  It must be a combination of things – as I get older, travel will simply become more and more physically demanding, but also I had this feeling that I was leaving more behind this time.  Certainly our little furball daughter, who is the best thing to ever happen to us ever, but also friends and experiences at home in Cincinnati.  I love living in Cincinnati, and there are so many fun events going on over the summer that I always feel a bit jealous of my friends who are home to enjoy them. I know this is totally ridiculous – I get to spend five weeks in Europe!  But I can’t help it.  As for friends, I was able to develop some amazing friendships this past year and it is always bittersweet when we leave for the summer.  But I guess that is what the internet is for!

So here we go again, off to explore new things and taste new foods and hopefully not get sunburned.  

Peru

Hello dear readers. I have decided that I will not be posting to the blog while in Peru. Access to the Internet will be too sporadic to really make it worth it, but I will be sure to post the link to my Flickr page once I have uploaded all the photos. Thanks for reading along while I was in Europe!

Day 21 and 22 – Malaga to Granada and 1st day in Granada

Today (day 22) was great! Yesterday wasn’t much – we woke up late(ish) in Malaga, went to a fun little café for a real breakfast (bagel with egg, cheddar, and bacon!!), then drove to two fish salting sites (one was added en route – yay for more surprise vats…?!) at Torrox and Almuñécar. The second site at Almuñécar was pretty impressive – so many vats all grouped together in the middle of this cute little city park. I had a nice time reading on a shady bench while Chris did his thing. After a not-surprisingly disappointing lunch (we just picked the first spot we saw), we drove to Granada. The drive was stunning. Over the past few days, we’d been driving from place to place with the beautiful ocean on our left and impressive mountains on our right, but now we drove up into the mountains. It was gorgeous – and a bit scary too! Pretty windy roads (and I mean “windy” in both senses – as in, the roads curved around a lot AND there was a ton of wind), but luckily driving in Spain is a lot saner than either of the other countries we’ve been to. People use their blinker and pass at reasonable distances. I appreciate that.

Anyway, we made it to Granada, parked the car (more large-car-in-small-spaces trouble), and collapsed on the bed at the hotel. We were definitely exhausted, but we had laundry to do, so we started that then enjoyed some Sangria at a bar nearby while the washing cycle progressed. I was able to catch up on the blog a bit and Chris did some reading. I wasn’t feeling too hot when we finally went to dinner – a combination of cumulative stress of travel and lingering digestive issues (thanks, Morocco), but the place we went to was fine. We had an ox tail stew and sautéed vegetables. Nothing spectacular, but certainly not awful.

Today we woke up early early early to get to the Alhambra by 8:00 so we could print out our tickets (tip: pre-book your tickets!!!) and be ready for the 8:30 opening time. It was a bit of a hike from the hotel – not far distance-wise, but pretty hefty incline-wise. But, we were among the first to enter the site, which was really nice.

We spent about 4.5 hours wandering around the vast complex of palaces, gardens, and fortifications. If you’ve never heard of the Alhambra before, go read about it and definitely look at some pictures. It is one of the most stunning examples of Islamic architecture in the world. Delicate columns and arches, expansive gardens, and everything accompanied by the sound of running water provided by the ubiquitous fountains. It was so peaceful and so incredibly beautiful. I remember learning about it in Mr. Lerch’s Art History AP class as a sophomore in high school and just being totally floored by just the pictures. Actually experiencing the space itself was awe-inspiring. I will be sure to post here when I finally get those photos uploaded!

Side note: quick thanks to Mr. Lerch for inspiring me to travel to see all those wonderful works of art you showed us. ☺

After the Alhambra, we stopped for a quick rest at the hotel before going out in search of lunch. We tried to find a place recommended on Trip Advisor only to find it closed, so instead we stumbled into an adorable family owned place. We ordered gazpacho and broad beans (a.k.a. fava beans) with ham and a fried egg.

Ok, I know I said before that cold soup is an abomination, but after walking around the Alhambra for five hours, I was ready to give it another shot. I am happy to say that my mind has been changed: this gazpacho was delicious! It definitely helps that we heard the blender whirring in the kitchen, so we knew it was fresh, but goodness! It was so fresh and refreshing! The broad beans were also great – the ham added the perfect amount of flavor and salt to the beans, and everyone knows that a fried egg on top makes basically everything better.

After lunch, we walked to the cathedral. Like so many of these cathedrals, the area around Granada’s is so built up that it’s hard to really get a sense of it from the outside. But once again, I was stunned as we walked into the space. Granada’s cathedral is very similar to Cadiz’s and Malaga’s, with soaring pillars carved into columns and a sort of key pattern decorating the domes. I like Malaga’s better, honestly, but it was still lovely to walk through with the audio guide that came with the entry fee (the audio guide was really, really fast – one moment we’re looking at a side chapel then the next we’re supposed to be looking at the organ in the nave! It was quite the sprint around).

Once we had finished in the cathedral, we hopped next door to the Royal Chapel to see the tombs of Isabella and Ferdinand. There is something really moving and impressive about seeing those huge monuments to such huge figures in history. There is also a little museum attached that holds devotional objects that belonged to Isabella, as well as her crown and scepter, and Ferdinand’s sword. There is also a lot of religious art, including a nice little Botticelli.

Back out in the blinding sun and fierce heart (41 degrees Celsius!), we realized that we were exhausted and famished. We decided to check out a little café that is supposedly known for churros and chocolate. Churros are long strips of dough fried lightly in olive oil, then dipped, sometimes in to coffee, but most often into cups of thick, steaming hot chocolate. It was utterly divine, and definitely the perfect snack after a long day of site-seeing. In fact, the book describes this place thus: “It’s 5pm, you’ve just traipsed around five vaguely interesting churches and hypoglycemia is rapidly setting in…” This described our situation almost exactly (minus the “vaguely interesting” part – everything was very interesting!!), even down to the time we got there.

Since we were so tired and didn’t really have anything left on the agenda for the day, we went back to the hotel after our churros and chocolate to rest and upload pictures and watch soccer before going out to dinner. It is so nice to be able to take our time in a place and rest when we need to. That’s the hardest part of traveling, I think – you feel like you have to see everything!!!!!! or else it’s a total waste, and it’s easy to run yourself into the ground that way. Though I think we could have see everything we wanted to in Granada in one day, I’m glad we have tomorrow as well so that we could pace ourselves and take our time and rest – at this point in the trip, we’re both getting pretty tired.

Anyway, dinner!! Thanks again to Trip Advisor for recommending a superb paella place, La Parralla. It was incredible. We hadn’t had paella yet on this trip, and we figured we’d better get on that since we’ll be leaving Spain in five days (!!). So we ordered a cheese plate and some wine to nibble on while we waited (it takes 25 minutes to cook, since they always make it to order) and then out it came, in the wide, shallow cast iron pan – ours had pork, chorizo, cured ham, and mushrooms in it. It was divine – I’m getting hungry again just thinking about it! There are many types of paella, so if you get the chance, try a lot! You can get a seafood one (avoid this if you are squeamish around tentacles and fish heads), a variety of meat combinations (chicken, rabbit, pork, though I haven’t seen one with beef in it…), a mixture of the two, or even a vegetarian one! So many options, so no excuses not to try this quintessentially Spanish dish.

After dinner, we went to Ireland for a bit! Not really, obviously, but we did stop by an Irish pub near our hotel to watch the second half of the Ireland-Italy Euro Cup soccer game. It was really fun, sitting there with a surprising number of Irish, and even more fun when Ireland won (as much as I love Italy and want to root for them, every time I see them play I am just so disappointed – they play really dirty, and I really don’t like that).

So now we’re off to bed, with the promise of a leisurely day tomorrow!

Day 10 & 11 – Thoughts on Portugal (6/10-6/11)

Phew! The past few days have been quiet a whirlwind! We finished the first stage of our trip and are currently on our way to catch the ferry to Morocco. Crazy! I have always wanted to go to Morocco, but never really though it would happen anytime soon, but here I am, on my way!

Anyway, our last two days in Portugal were fairly uneventful. We drove around and visited various sites with fish salting vats (or that were supposed to have vats but then didn’t). So instead of detailing where we drove and what we did, which isn’t really that interesting, here are a few things about Portugal, facts and thoughts, in no particular order:

I really loved Portugal. Everyone we encountered was extremely friendly and there was a really nice atmosphere generally.

Salted cod, which is basically the base of the Portuguese diet, comes from Scandinavia or Iceland. Cod are not found in the Atlantic off the coast of Portugal. Portuguese sailors discovered in the 1600s that it was cheaper to sail north, fish for cod and salt it there, then bring it home rather than fish the waters right off their own coast. The cod, once salted, is rehydrated before cooking, which makes it really economical for the consumers as well; one filet (?) of salted cod can feed A LOT of people. (This whole thing about the salted cod totally blew my mind when our walking tour guide, Elsa, told us about it).

Apparently, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to have contact with Japan. They founded Nagasaki (apparently) and the Japanese for “thank- you,” arrigato (I’m sure I spelled that wrong), is derived from the Portuguese obrigado (apparently). I haven’t had time or the internet connection to check this, but it seems plausible. Anyone else want to look into that for me?

While Portuguese is definitely not my favorite cuisine, the food was pretty solid, as I have mentioned before. I wouldn’t choose it, but I also didn’t have a bad meal while we were there. I also really like sardines and could absolutely eat fish every day, so that helped (Chris was not in the same boat as me on either of those points).

I definitely think that Italy and France have more beautiful architecture, but I found the history of Portugal’s architecture fascinating – basically everything was destroyed in the earthquake in 1755 and had to be rebuilt from the ground up. So everything looks pretty uniform and almost cookie-cutter. It’s really too bad because you don’t get to see the layers of Portugal’s rich history – there aren’t any buildings that use Roman columns in the walls, or any mosques that have been converted to churches. But there are a few things that survived the earthquake and allow a tiny glimpse at that long history.

Driving in Portugal was a lot less scary than I anticipated (apparently Portugal has one of the worst driving records in Europe). People drive scary fast on the highway, but as long as you’re cautious, driving is really manageable. I will say that I am terrified of driving in Morocco, so wish me luck on that!

I definitely want to go back to Portugal and explore more of the country, spend more time just getting to know the place. And I would definitely recommend it to anyone who hadn’t been there!

Preparation

Phew! Part of me still can’t believe that the school year is over. This one was pretty tough for me and I found myself really struggling to make it to the end. Thank goodness I had such a great summer to keep me going! Chris and I leave on Tuesday, so our house is a flurry of activity right now. I’m not really the best person to post about packing, since I am a terrible packer, but I would like to publicly announce my appreciation for my amazing husband’s organizational skills. Chris has been packing for extended summer travel for the last ten years, so he’s pretty freakin’ good at it at this point. He has a check list (made in Evernote) that he uses, and then, as he’s assembling things on the check list, will create another list for things we need to get.  He has even made notes after summers past about how much of certain toiletries he’s used over a certain period of time (“Well, I wrote here that I only actually used 2 ounces of shampoo while in Pompeii last year…”) so we know which size bottle to buy.  Seriously, it’s incredible.  If anyone can be half as organized, they’re on the right track.

So, I’ve been letting Chris take care of the actual packing while I have been frantically cleaning the house.  We’re doing something new this year – we’ll be having a friend actually living in the house while we’re gone.  The main reason we’re doing this is because of the newest addition to our family – our wonderful little furball kitty, Minnie.  She’s the most amazing thing to ever happen to us, and we wanted someone to actually live with her, rather than just stop by for half an hour or so each day.  And luckily, a friend of ours was planning on moving anyway, so it all worked out!  The downside is that now I have to clean a house that has been sorely neglected for the past two months or so, and not just clean it, but clear space for someone else to live here.  Mostly that just means me ferrying boxes of miscellaneous stuff up to our third floor storage rooms, but still, it’s exhausting!  But it’s worth it for the knowledge that our little kitten (as well as our house) is going to be well taken care of.

How do you, dear reader, prepare for a big trip?  Any tried and true tips or tricks?