Thursday, February 25, 2010

Eroski, I Love You!!!!!

When we first moved to Madrid and we were staying with Tiff, she bought some frozen pizzas for us and the kids. We were very busy and it was very hot at the end of the summer, so we wanted some foods we could make real fast without too much effort. The pizzas were okay, but not great, especially as far as the kids were concerned. Even the plain pizza varieties seemed strange...Four Cheese, and not one of them mozzarella...Jamon (the non-boiled variety) or some other combo of strange meats and sauces...I figured we just weren't going to be able to find a frozen pizza to our liking. Then one day at the Carrefour, I found a brand, Casa Tarradellas, that offered Margarita and Pepperoni varieties. I didn't want to get my hopes up, but this could work! Normally, I wouldn't have been this excited about frozen pizza, but being in a foreign country where your youngest isn't a big fan of foreign food, finding something familiar is important. We baked them up, and though the Pepperoni wasn't all that, the Margarita was pretty good...just tomato sauce and cheese. Jackpot!

Of course, after I found the pizza that the kids loved, they stopped selling it at Carrefour! Are you kidding me??? They had tuna and bacon, but no plain old cheese??? I resisted the temptation to stand in the frozen food section and scream..."WHY????" I started checking all the Carrefours, and the SuperCors, and the OpenCors...No Margarita pizza. Just too plain for Spain, I supposed...

Then last week, I went with Tiff to Islazul Mall to visit this olive kiosk she had found. Right next to the olive place was a grocery store called Eroski. I thought it was Russian or something like that, but after researching it on the internet, I found out Eroski started in the Basque country of Spain. Anyway, Tiff and I picked up some groceries we needed and as we were cruising down the frozen food aisle, I saw them...The Holy Grail of Pizzas...the Margarita!!! Aaaaaaah! I bought them out. I wasn't going to at first, but Tiff and I both agreed that I should since who knew if I'd see them again...and at such a great price...a Euro 89 at Eroski compared to 2.10 Euro at Carrefour. I had no choice really, I had to buy all 24 pizzas! It was the right thing to do. And today, when I offered to make the kids frozen pizza...they were ecstatic! It was a good day! Hasta luego...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wordless Wednesday #2


Monday, February 22, 2010

A Tale of Two Segovias...

There are several cities that are good day trip destintions from Madrid, like Segovia, Toledo, Avila, and many more I haven't had the pleasure of exploring yet. But of those I have seen, Segovia is my favorite. Less than an hour drive north up into the mountains, Segovia is an ancient city that has it all...the gravity defying aqueduct, a medieval wall, an amazing gothic cathedral, the Alcazar, the Plaza Mayor, and fantastic little shops and eateries. I consider Segovia a "must-see" for anyone who comes to visit us. In the four months we've lived in Madrid, we've had two sets of house guests, mis suegros (my in-laws) and mi cunada y mis sobrinos (my sister-in-law and my nephews). We took both of them to Segovia! The first time I visited Segovia, I went with my friends, Tiff and Tab. It was a very relaxing time. We started with food and we ended with food. During the 20 minute walk from the Aqueduct to the Alcazar, we perused the shops, stopping anywhere that looked interesting and taking pictures all the while. We left Segovia by 2:30 or so, and beat the kids' school bus home. It was wonderful! I couldn't wait to share "my" Segovia with all my visitors. I knew where to park, where to get cafe con leche and a "postre,"where the the bathrooms were, where the best shops were, as well as a great little place to have lunch on the Plaza.
In October, we had the opportunity to share Segovia with my in-laws. My father-in-law is a real history buff and a really good photgrapher. Not only does he love to get shots of the historic sites, but also of doors, windows, and the views down the winding, narrow streets.
Spain is a Catholic playground. As the self-appointed protector of the faith throughout history, Spain has an unbelieveable abundance of churches, cathedrals, convents and monestaries! The same goes for Segovia.
With the Aqueduct, the Cathedral, and the Alcazar to see, the in-laws were on a mission. So while I did convince them to indulge in some cafe con leche, lunch was out of the question. We had too many great sites to see. And, to their credit, we did see it all, including climbing to the top of the tower at the Alcazar.
I'm including some of my father-in-laws pics, because when he is here, I don't take many pictures. I have no need to. He is the official family photographer. In fact, all of the photos I've used so far in this post are his. Only problem is, he doesn't get into too many of the shots.
Contrast this with the December visit to Segovia I took with my sister-in-law, LJ, and my two newphews, Thing 1 and Thing 2 (from Cat In the Hat). I was going to use H & N, but I thought people might confuse them with the clothier H & M, so Thing 1 and Thing 2 seemed a better choice. After all, my newphews are a riot, energetic and adorable, with personalities so big, they can really only fully be appreciated on the big screen! ;-)
Their three day visit was a blast. They are great house guests and Twelve and Eight couldn't believe their cousins were coming all the way to Spain to see them. It was by way of their grandparents' house in Belgium, but who cares? They didn't have to make the special trip down here to see us, but they did! We hope they come back this summer and bring Uncle Al with them too! Okay, enough gushing, back to Segovia. LJ definitely wanted to get out and see something outside of Madrid. As I've said, I thought Segovia was the perfect place!
Like I said, it's a twenty minute walk from one end of Segovia to the other. You start with the Roman Aqueduct, hit the potty at the visitors center, head to the Plaza Mayor for coffee, snacks, and a photo op in front of the Cathedral. Then continue on to the former royal residence, the Alcazar, and call it a day. Kids nap in the car on the way back to Madrid...Sounds great, right? Well, the nephews are five and three, and as most of you parents out there know...they don't give a flip about your stinking schedule...LJ and I outsmarted them though...We didn't care either! Our philosophy was "Smiling photos serve as proof of a good time had!" So it didn't matter that right after we finished with the potty portion of the tour, the Caja Mar cash machine charged LJ's account, but gave her no money. Nor did it matter that the bank guy had us waste 45 minutes of kids' "good mood" time, only to tell us that we could come back manana and get the money. Errr. A phone call to her bank cleared things up after we got home. We used that 45 minutes to pacify the kids and ourselves with sugary waffle treats. After the bank gave us the Seinfeld "No Soup" treatment, we went on to the Plaza where LJ and I finally got our cafe con leche. The kids were already restless, thanks to the ensuing sugar high. Luckily, the waiters were taken in by their cuteness and entertained the boys by making them think a beer cap was sticking to their head by magic. Hey, it worked and served as a cheap souvenir. Next we went over to the St Miguel Church, billed as the location of Queen Isabel II's coronation. Once at the church, we saw the original church had actually been destroyed years ago, by fire or something, and the present church was rebuilt on this site that was somewhere close to the coronation location. So much for truth in advertising!
By this time, the newphews were getting restless, so having our digital proof, we proclaimed the trip a success and headed back to the car. As luck would have it, when we reached the Aqueduct, we caught the tail end of a Christmas performance by local school children. Their parents had come down to see them sing in the shadow of the Aqueduct then take them off to lunch...Wow...It was really cool!
So there you have it, the difference between sightseeing with two active parents and two active children...One thing remains the same, however, no matter who you go with or how much you are able to see, you will LOVE Segovia! Hasta luego...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Avila-All Walled In...

When my in-laws were here in October, we saw just about everything we could get to in Madrid in the surrounding area. Having just gotten here August 31st, we hadn't had a chance to do much sightseeing. We were too busy settling in. Having my in-laws here, was a great opportunity to show them the sights and see them ourselves as well. So we went to Segovia, Toledo, El Escorial, the Valley of the Fallen, downtown Madrid, and Avila. I've blogged about our visit to Toledo already, so here's a little bit about our day trip to Avila...
Avila's claim to fame is its meticulously preserved medieval wall. Built in 1100AD, it is one of the oldest and most complete walls in all of Spain. You can actually walk up to three-quaters of the wall itself, and that's exactly what we did. It was amazing! I can only imagine what it must have been like to be a soldier patrolling along the wall oh so long ago...without any hand rail. Hope they didn't have too many cervezas prior to their shift because it's a long way down.
Before entering the city, we followed Rick Steves' advice, and took in the best view of the wall from the Cuatro Postes (Four Posts) along the Salamanca Road. The condition of the wall really is a testament to the people of Avila. It is obvious they have a great sense of history and hard work in order to keep the wall in great condition so it can be appreciated for years to come.
It was Husband's birthday, so he got to pick the destination of our trip that day, and obviously, it was Avila. Once we checked out the view from the Four Posts, it was time to head into the town itself and find a bathroom! Coffee was working on Dee and me, and since we didn't have any pee pee cups (see my BYOPC entry), we needed to find a bathroom, and fast. All we needed was a cafe, and we'd be in business...cafe con leche and a potty break, then off to walk the wall. Unfortunately for Dee and I, Husband and Jay were in search of one of Rick Steves' parking places for the information center. Now that's all well and good, Rick's spot would put us in perfect position to get info, climb the wall, see the cathedral, and go to the bathroom. The only problem was Dee and I REALLY needed to go to the bathroom right then. We would have found Rick's spot pretty quickly if it weren't for a confusing sign that kept us from entering at the proper point. Having missed our turn, we were relegated to following the wall around Avila looking for another entry point. We didn't find one...Now Dee and I REALLY, REALLY needed to go to the bathroom. It was getting tense in the car...I may have possibly made a few comments about looking for the perfect spot and how annoying that was when people really needed to go to the bathroom, especially someone's mother. Said comments may or may not have been well received by the men. I don't know because there was only silence. Feeling the pressure, Husband decided to follow the sign to a McDonald's. The sign assured us it was only a three minute drive away. It was only 10:30am, and I told Husband that I really didn't think it would be open yet. Most fast food restaurants don't open in Spain until noon or later, but since the sign said it was only three minutes away, Husband thought we should check it out, and he was sure it was open anyway. This was a tourist town after all. After about 10 minutes (note: not three), we reached the McDonald's which WAS closed. I was so mad that I could NOT resist the temptation to say "I told you so," even if it was his birthday. We finally just went back to where we had BEEN earlier, and parked by the cafe, we had SEEN earlier, and parked. Errrr. We planned to go to the cafe, but then saw there was a line at a building that ended up be the infomation center we were trying to find all along. Finally...we could go to the bathroom!Like I said, it was a little tense, but the Spanish sunshine and amazing atmosphere soon put us all in a better mood. How can you stay mad when you are staring at a 30 foot tall example of what people can do when they work together? Not me!We decided to skip the cafe con leche and walk the wall. On our way, we saw a beautiful marble statue honoring St Teresa, a reforming nun, mystic and writer. There is a convent in Avila, named in her honor. She and her mentor, St John of the Cross, are credited with founding the Discalced (shoeless) Carmelite movement. We opted to see the Cathedral, but wish we had visited the convent instead, which has a room of relics included St Teresa's emerald ring, one of her sandals (apparently "shoeless" didn't necessarily mean "barefoot"), and her finger...Yes one of her fingers. No pictures of the finger allowed...Darn, that would be a great one for the blog!Walking the wall provides great views of the town and countryside. Residental areas, adjacent to the wall, give you a glimpse into the lives of the townspeople. I wonder what it would be like to live in the shadow of this wall, so close to so much history!
Besides walking the wall, we visited the Bascilica of San Vicente, built in the 12th century, which we all agree was more impressive than the Romanesque Cathedral. San Vicente was built on a site where three Christians are believed to have been martyred by the Romans. Inside the church, we found ornate carvings and statues, as well as a tomb for the martyrs. I don't know if they are actually buried there, but the tomb depicts the story of their martyrdom.Avila's Catherdral was a bit disappointing, on the outside at least. Finished in the 16th century, it is considered the first gothic cathedral in the country. In his book, Spain 2010, Rick Steves notes that "with it's granite apse actually part of the fortified wall--[this] underlines the medieval alliance between cross and sword." Unlike some of the other cathedrals we've toured in Spain, the outside of this one appeared dirty and unfinshed. The granite stones and mortar looking a bit like concrete cinder blocks awaiting their final facing. The most interesting thing about the facade of the Cathedral to me, were the huge nesting areas built by cranes on the spires of the church itself. I'd hate to get kicked out of that nest when learning to fly.With no time for lunch, (we had to get back to get the kids off the bus) we bought a box of yemas, a pasty made of soft-boiled egg yolks that have been cooled and sugared by local nuns. They weren't bad, but very rich. We took some home for the kids to try, but when we told them how they were made of, they refused to taste them. Oh well...
Like many castles and medieval structures in Spain, the wall in Avila is all lit up at night. I look forward to going back there, as well as to Segovia, this summer to see what these amazing sights look like under the night sky. Hasta luego...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Rooster Next Door...

I went to bed at 2am, looking forward to sleeping in on a lazy Saturday morning. We didn't have anywhere to be and planned to spend the day doing some chores around the house, maybe even taking a long walk around the neighborhood with Sammy the Dog. Why was I going to bed so late? Well, I'd been out that night at a friend's house playing bunco with a group of American ladies. When I came home, I found Husband at the computer. He'd been researching laptops for me and he thought we were ready to put in an order. Well, everything takes longer than you think it will, and so, at 2am, with the laptop ordered, we were climbing the stairs to our bedroom. I read for 15 minutes and went straight to sleep.

I slept until exactly 5:11am when a I heard the cock-a-doodle-doo of the new rooster next door. Really?? Come on! If the rooster had only crowed once, then no big deal. I'm pretty good at falling back to sleep, but nooooooo. He did not crow once, or twice or even three times...in fact, I don't know how many times he crowed because I lost count. I believe what I'm dealing with here is an egomaniacal rooster who actually thinks the sun rises because he wills it to do so. I thought roosters were supposed to crow AT sunrise. It was 5am, there is absolutely no sun shining anywhere in Spain at 5am ever...that's right, I said "ever!" Because of the late nights Spaniards keep, I thought maybe the rooster's cock-a-doodle-doo meant it was time for everyone to go home and go to bed. At any rate, this rooster didn't stop crowing until the sun came up. At this time of year, that is around 8am, at which time I went back to sleep until 10am or so. Ugh!
What's funny about this whole rooster thing, is that for the past couple of days, Husband, Tiff's kids, Seven (who is now Eight, and will be referred to as such from here on out), as well as Twelve and I all heard random chicken noises coming from Senora C's weekend/summer house across the street. I've blogged about Senora C and her fabulous house before. Back in September, Senora C heard us talking and climbed her wall to ask us over for cafe con leche. We have since discovered that while we think she really did want our kids to play with her grandkids, she was actually more interested in renting her house recently vacated rental to another set of Americans. Since we helped her find a renter, we haven't exchanged much more than exuberant waves and "hola's." Senora C, her children and grandchildren spend a lot of time at the house on weekends and in the summer. I hear them out on the paddle ball court mostly this time of year. The house didn't look to be insulated at all, but it was so lovely when we got to go inside. I'm sure they'll be spending more time there as the weather warms up. Her gardeners are there, everyday, whether she is or not, taking care of whatever needs to be done, which now apparently includes feeding the chickens. We really don't know if there's more than one or not. We can't see into her property. We can't really see too much of anyone's property in our neighborhood. Everyone's home is walled in with hedges and tall gates. So like I said we don't know if it's just one rooster or a whole flock of chickens.

On Thursday afternoon, I was walking into the my gate when I heard the low bawking noises of chickens pecking around on the ground. But as soon as I noticed it, it stopped. Hmmm...surely not, I thought. We don't live out in the country. City buses run through our neighborhood, for goodness sakes. The next morning, I went to let Sammy the Dog out and when I closed the door behind him, I heard a cock-a-doodle-doo. I immediately opened the door, and waited, but heard nothing. Yet when I closed the door, the rooster crowed again. I flung the door open, but heard nothing except an idling car. I thought to myself that maybe it was some weird car horn. When I came back from taking the kids to the bus stop, I heard the chickens again, so I called Tiff, as I always do when something weird is happening to me. She told me the that girls had told her they thought they heard chickens the day before, but she dismissed it as silliness, and told them to get in the car. Well, not so silly now. I mentioned it to Husband that night, and he confessed that he'd heard the rooster crow that morning when he went out to the car to go to work, but he assumed he must be mistaken. Well, as of this morning there is no mistaking that there IS a rooster living next door. There's one more thing I know for sure...I'll be sleeping with the oscillating fan on tonight! Hasta luego...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Top of Germany-The Zugspitze...

At 9,718 feet, the Zugspitze is literally the Top of Germany! In the spirit of our family tradition, the Top of the World tour, rolled on right through Germany. We've been to the "top" of the Great Wall of China, the "top" of Paris (i.e. the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Notre Dame), faced with the opportunity of going to the "top" of Germany, we took it!
According to one of my favorite online resources, Wikipedia, "The Zugspitze is the highest mountain in Germany. It is located at the Austrian border in the town of Grainau of the district of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bavaria. On the Austrian side is the town of Ehrwald in the district of Reutte, Tyrol. There is a cog railway (Zugspitzbahn ) leading from the tourist resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen to the peak. There are also two cable cars that go to the peak from the base: one ascends from the German side of the mountain at the lake Eibsee (Eibsee Cable Car), and the other ascends from Austria near Ehrwald (Tyrolean Zugspitze Cable Car ). The peak is regularly crowded with tourists. For those wishing to reach the summit under their own power, various hiking and ski trails can also be followed to the top. Hiking to the top from the base takes between one and two days, or a few hours for the fit. Food and lodging is available on some trails. In winter, the Zugspitze is a popular skiing and snowboarding destination, with several slopes on both sides. The Zugspitzplatt is the highest ski resort of Germany and thus has enough snow all winter."
Our visit to the Zugspitz was amazing! We took the 75 minute cog railway ride to the top of the mountain. It cost 55 Euros round-trip for each of us. We didn't go to ski that day, but that 55 Euro price included a lift pass for skiing the Zugspitz as well. On the way up, there was a great film about the building of the cog railway, completed in 1931, as well as what to do in case of an emergency...a little unnerving, but what are you going to do? Continue going up, and up, and up! After the cog railway ride, we took a quick trip up to the summit on a cable car. Once at the summit, we were immediately smacked in the face by the cold and wind. There was a lot more to do and see at the top than I thought.
Skiing, sledding, eating, souvenir shopping, and seeing the "Hochzeitskapelle," a little wedding chapel which was consecrated in 1981 by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI, is touted as Germany's highest altitude chapel. While we were walking around the top of the Zugspitze, I had the strange sensation that I was going to fall off the face of the earth. This was ridiculous, of course, but it was still freaked me out a bit. We were nowhere near any kind of cliff, persay, but it was just this eerie feeling that we were so high above everything.
Although we weren't prepared to ski, we did rent some really cool sleds so the kids could do "something" in the snow. These were the best performing sleds I'd ever seen. Chalk it up to good ole German engineering, I guess. The kids had a blast, and so did Husband and I.
I highly recommend the experience for anyone who vists the Garmisch area. The ride down was much quicker than the ride up. We rode the cable car all the way down in just 10 minutes. Just like that, we were brought back down to earth...More to follow on Germany...and of course, Spain...Hasta luego...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

More from Our Trip--German Pastries...Yum!

I would have mentioned it yesterday, but it was my first "Wordless Wednesday" and I didn't want to mess it up by writing, but I haven't been able to post for the past couple of weeks due to some computer issues. I think it's all fixed now so I plan on continuing some more posts from our family trip to Germany in January, and then I'll be putting up some more Spanish day trip posts. But for now...More about Munich...Imagine our delight when we stepped of the U-Bahn and into this Carbohydrate Utopia. In front of us was what I can only describe as a "pastry stand," and though we had already consumed a hearty breakfast back at the hotel, we simply had to partake in a "little" pastry. After all, you don't get German pastries every day in Spain...
Seven chose a pastry that was lliterally the size of his head...and he ate it ALL! It was called an apfelschnecke...Does that sound like something right out of a Dr Suess book or what????
Loved the German pastries we ate on our trip to Germany, but I must admit, I could have used a cafe con leche to go with them...Hasta luego...

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