Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Click Your Heels Three Times and Say...

"There's no place like home." Truer words were never spoken! Last week, I took Husband's parents, "Jay" & "Dee", to Toledo for the day. We had a great time! Toledo is the former capital of Spain and has quite an interesting past. In his book, "Rick Steves' Spain 2010," Steves tells us that Toledo, "perched strategically in the center of Iberia, for centuries was a Roman transportation hub with a thriving Jewish population. After Rome fell, the city became a Visigothic capital (554AD). In 711, the Moors (Muslims) made it a regional center. In 1085, the city was reconquered by Christians, but many Moors remained in Toledo, tolerated and respected as scholars and craftsmen. While Jews were commonly persecuted elsewhere in Europe, Toledo's Jewish community--educated, wealthy and cosmopolitan--thrived from the city's earliest times. Jews of Spanish origin are called Sephardic Jews. The American Expression 'Holy Toledo' likely originated from the Sephardic Jews who eventually immigrated to America. To them, Toledo was the holiest Jewish city in Europe...Holy Toledo!"
We started our journey through this walled city of 10,000 with cafe con leche (of course), then toured the amazing cathedral, witnessed local artisans making damascene (plates and jewlery with inlaid gold), ate lunch and drank deliciously bubbly sangria with a lazy black cat at a little outdoor cafe, and walked around the ancient town while Jay took 128 great pics. Check them out in the slide show located to the left on the sidebar. He especially likes to take pictures of doors. As a matter of fact, I have his "Doors of the Riveria" hanging in my dining room. But I digress...back to the story...let's just say, we had a great day! Time to go home...
We wound our way through the very confusing streets of Toledo (Don't take my word for it, Rick Steves thinks so too), and finally made it to the city gates and out to the car. Time to program the Garmin to "Go Home." It was in my purse because I had been using it in the city. It has a pedestrian mode, but once inside the city walls, I had put it away. I turned it off before placing it in my purse, but it must have gotten swtiched on while inside because when I clicked it on, it was dead. Okay...I plugged it into the car jack, and still I saw nothing. It was sunny, and I thought maybe the glare was making it hard to see. I used my hands to shade it, still nothing. I passed it around to Jay & Dee. They saw nothing. We checked the connections. Still nothing! Aaaaaah! What to do? We pulled out the road atlas of Spain that we keep in the car...Oh wait...WE DON'T HAVE ONE! I know, I know...Then I remembered that my blackberry has a GPS feature. I was moderately familiar with it as I've been using it while walking Sammy the Dog around the neighboorhood. If I didn't have such a crappy since of direction, I might not have had any experience with it at all. Thank goodness for small favors. I fired up the GPS, and after a little bit of trial and error, we had directions for home! Now all the had to do was follow them. Poor Dee had the task of navigating and it wasn't easy. The directions were extremely precise, maybe a little too precise. Example..."Drive 439ft and enter roundabout." How on earth are you supposed to measure that you've gone 439 feet in a car??? Then the screen would go blank into powersave mode and Dee had to figure out how to get it back to the directions. Not hard once you know how to do it, but it is quite horrifying when the directions disappear as you enter a roundabout. We found our way out of town and back on to the "autovia." We all breathed a sigh of relief and sat in complete silence. With Dee "off duty" for the next 30 miles or so, she decided to take another look at the Garmin. It was ON!!! Apparently, the battery had been so completely run down that it needed to recharge enough to even come on. We started plugging in the info to get home, and the girl in the garmin, Tiff calls her Karen, was still a little sleepy. She wasn't making a lot of sense and wanted us to turn around and head back to Toledo. Once she "acquired satallites" and we let her know we weren't in Toledo anymore, she got back on track and led us all the way home! Way to go, Karen! As we pulled into the driveway, I found myself thinking, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home, there's NO place like home! " Hasta luego...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Date Night...Madrid Style

This month marks sixteen years of matrimonial bliss for Husband and me. We celebrated by having a date night in downtown Madrid. With the kids safely in the care of our friend, Tiff, we set out on the metro for a night of museums, good food and good drink! We decided to take advantage of the fact that many of Madrid’s museums are absolutely free in the evenings. Such is the case at the Reina Sofia, which is free from 7-9pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The Reina Sofia houses Pablo Picasso’s famous painting called Guernica. According to Wikipedia, “Guernica depicts the bombing of Guernica, Spain, by German and Italian warplanes at the behest of the Spanish Nationalist forces, on April 26, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish Republican government commissioned Pablo Picasso to create a large mural for the Spanish display at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne (1937) Paris International Exposition in the 1937 World's Fair in Paris. Guernica shows the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts upon individuals, particularly innocent civilians. This work has gained a monumental status, becoming a perpetual reminder of the tragedies of war, an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of peace. On completion Guernica was displayed around the world in a brief tour, becoming famous and widely acclaimed. This tour helped bring the Spanish Civil War to the world's attention.”
Obviously seeing all the great works of art was amazing, but so was simply being in the museum at night. Walking through this former hospital, with all of its dark windows and shadows was truly mesmerizing. It was almost like strolling through a photographic negative. I loved it and highly recommend it to all. After the Reina Sofia, we walked over to the Casa Encendida, another Madrid museum, to see an exhibit called, Camuflajes (Camouflages). It was really cool. They had photographic presentations as well as paintings, and video displays. One of my favorites was a landscape, presented in a “paint by numbers” style. It included a legend of camouflage patterns of military uniforms from different countries. The artist used these camouflage patterns to create the mountain scene. Now it was time to eat! We walked over the Plaza Santa Ana, which was pretty crowded, so we sat down at one of the only available tables there. We decided to just have a glass of wine and some olive oil potato chips, then hit a little café we’d seen on the way over. While we were enjoying our wine, we were treated to a little impromptu flamenco music and dancing by some street performers. Once their performance was over, we asked for “la cuenta,” the bill, paid the 4.50 euros and headed back to the charming Café del Principe, located on one of five corners at a busy intersection in Madrid. It was teeming with traffic and people and we had a great time sharing the menu de la noche and taking it all in. The Café del Principe is located at Plaza de Canalejas 5, between the Puerta del Sol and the Plaza Santa Ana. It cost only 11 Euro per person to dine outside among the hustle and the bustle. The service was great and the food was even better. What a deal! To cap off the evening, we headed over to the Plaza Mayor to the Chocolatería San Ginés. Open since 1894, this little shop serves churros y chocolate 24 hours a day! Pretty cool and pretty tasty too! Feeling every bit of our age, we called it a night, and hopped on the metro for home! Being out until 1:30am was pretty late for us, even though it’s not by Madrid standards. Maybe we’ll stay out all night long for New Year’s …hmmmm, maybe not…Hasta Luego…


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Say Hello to Segovia...

You know how it is…It’s your anniversary, but it’s the middle of the week and you’re not even going to get to go out to dinner because your husband is working late. So what are you going to do? Go out with your girlfriends instead! Last week, after the kids went to school, Tab and I took Tiff to the ancient town of Segovia for Tiff’s anniversary. It’s only about 50 miles northwest of Madrid, making it a perfect day trip destination. Before I moved to Spain, I saw a show on PBS where the hosts visited Segovia, famous for its Roman Aqueduct, gothic cathedral, and famous castle called the Alcazar. When Tiff and Tab talked about all the great shopping there was in Segovia as well, I was pretty excited about the trip too…even if it wasn’t my anniversary!

Making this trip was also an opportunity to check out the city and see what the kids might enjoy when we visited Segovia as a family. The three of us went to the old part of the city, which is surrounded by a wall, with the aqueduct at the eastern end and the Royal palace, the Alcazar, at the western end. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from the aqueduct to the Alcazar. Segovia also has its own Plaza Mayor, where Tiff, Tab and I enjoyed a ‘café con leche’ and ‘pan con tomate.’ The ‘pan con tomate’ served at the La Concepcion in Segovia is made with airy sourdough, split in half and served open-faced, topped with olive oil and a very fresh tomato sauce. It was delicious and the service was great. The staff looked so dashing in their black suits. There is also an amazing gothic cathedral built around 1525 which is the last of its kind built in Spain. It is visible from the plaza and creates quite the backdrop for sipping coffee.

After we finished our morning treat, we continued our walk through the city. There are so many little shops with pottery, iron works, leather goods, religious artifacts, and much more. Besides shopping, we walked over to the Alcazar, but we couldn’t go inside because the Prince of Spain was visiting that day. We didn’t see him, of course, but we did get to walk around the grounds. We continued to shop until the restaurants opened for lunch around 1:30. We ate at a great little restaurant on the plaza. I can’t recall the name. We were looking at the different restaurants’ menus of the day, rather than at the restaurants’ names, themselves. Our restaurant served their wine in the cutest little carafes. We had a tasty butternut squash soup and some stewed chicken, with roasted potatoes. We finished off our meal with ice cream and another café con leche. After lunch, we walked back to the car and headed back to Madrid to meet the kids at the bus stop.

The next time I’m in Segovia, I want to tour the Alcazar, go inside the cathedral, visit the Church of San Miguel, where Queen Isabel I was crowned, and climb up and walk along the city wall. The view of the aqueduct from there is supposed to be fantastic. I see myself returning to Segovia again and again. I think you should too. Hasta luego…

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Don't Drink the Water...Out of the Bidet!

We have a bathroom in every bedroom of the house, and all but one of them has a bidet. We haven't used them yet, and maybe we never will. It's an American thing I suppose. I was at Bunco last month, and the topic of bidets came up. For the most part, the Americans here don't seem to use them...at least not for their intended purpose. My friend, Tiff, used hers for a planter when they lived in Germany. Another friend uses hers to store extra rolls of toilet paper. I use mine as a toilet-side table, setting my diet coke, my book or even my towel on it, as needed. I found, purely by coincidence that Seven had been contemplating using his as a water fountain! Yikes!

I don't know why I was in Seven's bathroom, but I was. I think he was getting ready to take a shower and needed help with his shower door. It likes to stick. Anyway, we were waiting for the water in the shower to warm up when all of the sudden he said, "I'm thirsty." Then, like it was the most normal thing in the world, he opened the lid of the bidet and reached for the handle. "What are you doing?" I shouted. He said, "What? I was just gonna get a drink out of the faucet. John drinks right out of the faucet on the sink." I then informed him that while drinking from the sink is poor form, it is totally different than drinking from a bidet. I told him that a bidet is for cleaning your...well, he got the picture. At any rate, once I explained what a bidet was used for, he said that he had never drank from it before and this was going to be the first time. I don't know if that's true or not, but I decided that I'm going to believe it was. I guess it's not that bad considering we never use it. It gets cleaned every week, just like the toilet, and the water comes from the same source as the kitchen sink, but still...It's the principle of the thing. I have standards...I don't let my dog drink out of the toilet and I refuse to let my kids drink out of the bidet. I might just have a shot at that Mother of the Year thing yet...Hasta luego...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Imagine My Surprise...

I awoke this morning to find a wonderful little surprise message in my inbox. "Liz in Virginia" who writes a great blog called "21st Centruy Housewife" at http://twenty-firstcenturyhousewife.blogspot.com/ had posted a comment to my blog. She informed me she had a little gift for me and all I had to do was go over to her blog to get it. I went over and saw that she had selected me for a "Friendship Award." She highlighted several blogs, one of which was mine, she felt were kind, welcoming places. I was truly touched that she thought of me and my blog. The point is to pass it on and I've spent the day thinking of just who I'd like to pass this kindness on to.

Here's what I am supposed to tell you about this award (and I quote):
*This award is bestowed on blogs that are exceedingly charming.
*These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends.
*They are not interested in self-aggrandizement.
*Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated.
*Please give more attention to these writers.
*Deliver this award to other bloggers who must choose others to pass it on to and include this
*Cleverly-written* text into the body of their award.
Here are just a few blogs I think should be highlighted with a Friend's Award:
Please take the time to visit these blogs, and Liz in Virginia's as well, I definitely think you'll find it worth your while. If you like these blogs, or any blogs, for that matter, let the writer know...Post a comment, tell a friend, and become a follower. Hasta Luego...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Gazpacho Mondays...


I’ve been in Spain for a little over a month now, and I’m puzzled by one thing. Actually, I’m puzzled by many things, but for the purposes of this entry, let’s just say one. How do the Spanish, and particularly Spanish women, stay so skinny? They drink café con leche, beer and wine. They eat lots of bread and pastries. They use tons of olive oil on EVERYTHING. They even fry their potato chips in it and use it to make their sandwich bread. Not only do Spaniards embrace alcohol, carbs, and sugar, but they do it at an alarming frequency and late into the night. Most restauranst in Madrid don’t even open for dinner until 8 or 9pm, at the earliest. Their eating practices fly in the face of nearly all the conventional wisdom we hear in America about nutrition. Yet they are skinny, and we are fat! Why is this?

Though Spaniards do many things on the American Nutritionist’s “No-No” list, they also do a lot of things right. They eat lots of little meals throughout the day and they love their seafood. When you are surrounded by as much water as Spain is, I suppose that’s a given. They drink a lot of heart healthy red wine, much of which is made right here in Spain. They also restrict most of their fats to healthy ones, like olives, olive oil and almonds. On all the Spanish cooking shows I’ve seen, I have never seen them use one ounce of butter. They understand the importance of protein in their diet, and they use a lot of lean cuts of meat, like their specialty hams. Spain has a love affair with gazpacho. They sell it in milk carton packaging right in the refrigerated food section so it’s ready to go at a moment’s notice, and it IS good! Even Husband and Eleven love it! They also love to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. They seem to avoid some of the nutritional pitfalls of the US as well. The Spanish don’t seem to use much of the cheap sweetener, high fructose corn syrup, in their packaged foods. I’ve noticed something else as well. They are conscious of their portion size. I went to McDonalds here and they still use the “old” small, medium and large sizes. All their packaging is tall, slender, and smaller, while ours is shorter, stockier, and bigger. I think it actually affects their state of mind. Their packaging is long and lithe and so are they. They seem to want to get most quality for their euro whereas we seem to focus on getting the most quantity for our dollar.

I have a few pounds I’d like to shed, so I have decided to incorporate a little of the Spanish food philosophy into my diet and see what happens. That’s where Gazpacho Monday comes in. I once read a book called “100 Ways to Simplify Your Life.” One of the tips in this book was to do a juice/fruit fast on Mondays. Weekends tend to be a time when people splurge, so Monday is a great day to take it down a notch and detox, so to speak. Diets like the Zone promote the idea that proteins, fats, and carbs all have a place in a healthy diet. I also know that small changes can make a big difference over time. Drawing on all these ideas, I came up with a little meal plan I’ve called “Gazpacho Mondays.”

On my first Gazpacho Monday, this is what I ate:

8am- 4oz of Gazpacho
9:30am-Café con leche, ½ apple, a little Spanish ham
11:30am-a small handful of almonds
2pm-10oz of Gazpacho, some Spanish ham, and 10 olives
4pm-a small handful of almonds
6pm-10oz of Gazpacho, some Spanish ham, 10 olives, sautéed zucchini and onions
8pm-a small handful of almonds, 4 oz of gazpacho

I also drank water and diet coke throughout the day.

Will this work? I don’t know, but it sure was delicious and I never felt hungry. I’ll keep you posted. Hasta luego…

Monday, October 5, 2009

Going "Todos," A Massage Story


On Saturday I had a massage, my first in Spain, and it was truly an experience! I strained my back while reaching over a pile of boxes to open my Rouladen window shades. After a week on my neighbor’s heating pad, I was still in a lot of pain. Tiff had told me about a wonderful masseuse she found in our neighborhood, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to make an appointment and try her out. Senora “M” gives a 90-minute massage for 22 Euros. That’s about $30 at the current exchange rate. That’s pretty darn reasonable. A 90-minute massage in the States can run as much as $85 or more. Way too steep to be a regular occurrence for me. That’s why I used to volunteer my time at our local massage school in Texas. I’m a big supporter of higher education! So you can imagine my excitement when Tiff told me about a 22 Euro massage. I have to hand it to the Spaniards--they know how to live! Tiff made me an appointment with Senora “M,” who speaks only Spanish, for 11am on Saturday.

As part of my massage prep, I called Tiff to ask about my clothing options. She told me it was customary in Spain to go “todos.” This is the all-clothing OFF option. In the States, it is customary to go “sans bra” and slip under the sheets wearing only your panties, but even this is a bit too much (or should I say, too little) for some American ladies. As I’ve blogged before, I am trying to embrace the Spanish Way and I want to “go native” as much as possible. It was in this spirit that I decided to say “Si!” to Senora “M” when she asked, “Todos?” I was not entirely unprepared for what I was about to experience thanks to the candor of my friend, Tiff. Many months ago, I received a call from Tiff after her first “massage experience” in Spain. We laughed and giggled as she told me about going “todos.” We talked all about American Puritan stereotypes, about how Americans are self-conscious of their “neck-id” bodies, and about how in Europe, nudity just isn’t as big a deal. It reminded me of a Seinfeld episode…In Europe, they are all just “sooooo… sophisticated.” She talked about the masseuse pulling the top sheet all the way down to her waist while she was lying on her back, “braless,” and then massaging her pectoral muscles using a “figure eight” technique. She was taken completely off guard. No one had warned HER about the peculiarities of this sort of a massage. I told her I thought I would just die if that had happened to me. She said she probably would have died too if it wasn’t a 50-something woman giving her the massage. She said that after a while, you just don’t think anything of it…

Fast-forward ten months. Now it was my turn. At least I knew what to expect, or at least I thought I did! I showed up all clean and scrubbed and shaved at Senora M’s beautiful casa just a few minutes before 11:oo. I introduced myself in my best Spanish, and we began to talk about Tiff, our families, and of course, my poor back. Then, the time for small talk was over. “Todos?” she asked. I said “Si” before I could change my mind. She pointed to the massage table, and indicated that when I was done changing, I could make myself comfortable up on the table. She even pointed out a little step stool to make the ascent easier for me. It all looked very luxurious, but I noticed something seemed to be missing—the top sheet. No matter how much I was trying to embrace the Spanish way, there was NO way I was going to get up on that table, buck-naked, without so much as a sheet over me. Immediately thankful for the Rosetta Stone lesson which taught me how to say “the cat is on top of the TV” and “the cat is under the bed,” I said, “De bajo la sabana?” pointing to what was clearly meant to be a bottom sheet rather than a top one. She got my point, pulled out another sheet, and laid it on the table. I said, “Gracias,” and she left the room for me to change. I undressed and took my place on the table…snuggling happily under the sheet.

Senora “M” returned, put on some Moorish tunes, and explained that my “head to toe” massage would begin at my feet. She started with my feet, then moved up to my legs. In the States, when the masseuse moves up to your legs, she uncovers one leg at a time. In Spain, when the masseuse moves up to your legs, she flips the sheet up over your waist. As Seven would say, “THAT was totally unexpected.” Couple that with the realization that I had, indeed, decided to go “todos,” and you may be able to understand my wanting to have a massive coronary right then and there. The feeling of wanting to die passed quickly, of course, and I was left alone, so to speak, with my nervous embarrassment. Anyone who has known me for very long knows that I am a “nervous laugher.” I fought back giggles during my wedding vows, for goodness sakes. So there I was, laying face-up on a massage table with the sheet up, trying anything and everything to stifle my nervous laughter. I chewed on my lip, but it was no use, the laughter was coming. I could feel it. I had to do something drastic, or I was going to start laughing out loud like a raving lunatic…not very sophisticated. So I started to think of the saddest images I could. You certainly can’t laugh when thinking about such things, but as soon as I stopped, the embarrassment came back, and so did the impending laughter. I tried meditation and prayer. Certainly God wouldn’t choose this moment to humble me. I said the “Our Father” and the “Hail Mary.” That seemed to stave off the giggling and before I knew it, Senora “M” was movin’ on up. The massage for my “top half” was slightly less embarrassing. At least I didn’t have to conjure up unpleasant images to stifle nervous laughter. After the figure eights, I was treated to a mini-facial…very nice. Then it was time to flip over and repeat the process all over again for my backside. I have to say that when Senora “M” whipped the sheet up to my waist this time, the embarrassment factor seemed greatly reduced. This struck me as odd, and as I had nothing else to do at that moment, I pondered why that might be. Why did some kinds of nudity bother me, while other kinds did not? In my relaxed state, I reconciled it thusly. It’s like the motion picture rating system developed and used by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The MPAA has decided that a brief sighting of a naked backside garners a PG rating, topless scenes definitely deserve an R rating and any bottomless front shot require an NC-17 rating, for sure. That was it in a nutshell. Since I had only experienced PG massages up to this point, it was natural for me to be a little uncomfortable. Too bad the MPAA only has jurisdiction in the US, and cannot therefore, apply their standards to spas across Europe. Not only was the massage, itself, different from anything I experienced in the States, but so was the conclusion of the session. When the massage was done, Senora “M” removed the top sheet, and began to give me follow-on instructions about certain stretches I could perform to maximize the benefits of the massage. I sat there and listened intently, trying to appear casual as I could with my legs crossed and my arms folded across my chest. After about five minutes, she left the room and I was able to change back into my clothes…alone. As soon as I got home, I called Tiff to relay my experience. She told me Senora “M” probably stayed in the room that long because she’s used to people getting up and changing while she’s still in there. I’m not sure I’ll ever be THAT Spanish! All that being said…the massage WAS great! And, I do plan to go “todos” again…this Friday, as a matter of fact. I suppose that to Senora “M”, the whole massage experience is much like any other chore. There is a job to be done, and there’s nothing to do but get down to it. I will try to think of it that way next time. I post this piece as a public service for those of you who may get the opportunity to “spa” abroad. Let my embarrassment serve as a cautionary tale for you…If you go “todos,” be prepared to “go naked.” Hasta luego…

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