Road trip: Monterey and Big Sur

We decided that since Mike had the week off between Christmas and New Year’s for the first time in pretty much ever, that we should take advantage and go on a road trip. We didn’t want to spend a lot of money or leave the dogs alone for a long time, so we opted to take the roughly 3-hour drive down to Big Sur and check out the redwoods.

It turned out to be pretty much the best idea ever.

We picked a day when we heard the weather would be nice, and we ended up the most picturesque day you can imagine. First we stopped in Monterey to check out Fisherman’s Wharf. We couldn’t believe how much wildlife you could see (and get close to) in such a short amount of time. Plus, we made a mental note to come back another time for a while watching boat tour.

We saw seals and sea lions and otters playing in the water and sunning themselves on rocks.

Then we had fish tacos and tamales at a really yummy Mexican place, and continued the drive down the Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur.

The drive alone is worth the trip. It was crazy windy that day, so it made for dramatic scenes of waves crashing up against the cliffs.

We opted to hike in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park based on some online recommendations, and it did not disappoint. For a mere $10 entrance fee, we got to explore the amazing redwoods and hike up to a pretty waterfall at the end of the trail.

The scale is just unbelievable. I didn’t even realize how unbelievable until we came home and saw our photos.

We saw this guy on our way back. Fortunately we saw no mountain lions.

I highly, highly recommend this trip, and anyone who comes to visit us will be going there for sure!

Headin’ west

The drive to our new home in California was pretty simple: Get on I-80, go west.

Really – we live very close to an entrance ramp for I-80, so it was pretty easy to get here. For the most part the drive was long, with lots of miles in between towns. The snowy mountain ranges were beautiful (and thankfully not snowy on the actual roads). I loved our stop in Salt Lake City, and want to go back sometime. The wind in Wyoming was unbelievable!

We ended up mailing three boxes of stuff that wouldn’t fit in the car and we still crammed more stuff than you would believe into our tiny Yaris. But the dogs curled up on their makeshift bed and pretty much slept through the whole trip.

In pictures…

Checking out my new home

Even though I’ve known for a while that I was moving to the Berkeley, California area, I had not actually been there before. I went to San Francisco in 2004 with Erin, but that’s been a while, and we never got to Berkeley.

So last week I met Mike out there and we looked at some houses. As much as it broke my heart to pass on a house with avocado, fig, lime, and kumquat trees a bike ride away from Mike’s office, I totally fell in love with the other place we looked at just outside of Berkeley.

The price tag is more than double what we pay in Des Moines, but we got a whole house with garage, yard, and an extra basement room I can use for crafting and shipping my Etsy packages.

Instead of fruit trees, I get lots and lots of succulents and pretty flowers growing in the yard.

Also, perfect weather, a cute neighborhood, and proximity to an Anthropologie, Paper Source, and cb2. (happy dance!)

Side note: Have you guys used Zipcar before? I think we used it three times, and we thought it was about the best thing ever.

I had some time to explore Berkeley on my own, so I started out walking around the campus. There’s a trail that goes through a woodsy area right in the middle of campus. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the trees.

After a while I got tired of walking, so I did what everyone else was doing — laid down in a big grassy field and just hung out for a while. I didn’t have a book with me, but I had my iPod. It was one of the best things I did the entire trip.

Mike was telling me about the “gourmet ghetto,” the foodie neighborhood where Chez Panisse is located. There’s a pizza restaurant called the Cheese Board that serves only one type of pizza per day.

You can get it by the slice, or in half or whole pizzas. We got a half with swiss chard, fontina, and citrus zest, and we ate it outside because the restaurant was so packed.

I don’t know if you can tell but we were actually sitting in the median of the road next to a bunch of other people. They should put benches out there!

We also tried some pizza at Jupiter, which is just around the corner from Mike’s office. He had one with figs and I had one with golden potato slices. Very yummy.

I think I still have quite a bit of exploring of Berkeley left to do, but I definitely preferred the areas further away from downtown and campus. There are some very cute neighborhoods and lots of great restaurants and shopping.

We were actually staying in San Francisco via a work connection of Mike’s in probably the most fabulous version of couch surfing I’ll ever do. The couple we stayed with own a house in North Beach, very somewhere in between Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street, and Telegraph Hill.

They own the whole building and have extra apartments available when people visit. The rooftop view at night was absolutely gorgeous. There’s no way I could have captured it with a photo. And we even got a home-cooked French meal of warm bread and tomatoes, souffle, and haricots verts. We were definitely spoiled.

The house is that neighborhood.

If you peeked over some of the hills you could see through to the bay.

In between there and the BART stop, we had amazing dim sum in Chinatown, Italian at the cutest place on Columbus Street, drinks at Vesuvio (an old haunt of Jack Kerouac and the beat poets), and awesome Mexican at this tiny place we found by googling essentially “is there a Mexican restaurant on this street?”

We also found the most adorable hat shop that’s been in business for more than 100 years. I don’t have any pictures yet, but we decided we were brave enough to each buy a hat. Apparently some of their designs were made off of the original molds, so they are definitely legit.

Apart from the super touristy stuff, I just completely fell in love with San Francisco. If there is a city that’s me, that’s the one. It has such a romanticism, but it’s also eclectic. And it’s a huge city, but in places it feels nice and quiet. The food’s unbelievable. It’s just so cool that I’m getting to live in the bay area.

So now we have to get to packing, and there’s a LOT to get done. But it’s nice to finally be able to focus on the transition, and to know where we’ll be living!

Honeymoon part 5: Sevilla

To get to our last city, Sevilla/Seville, we decided to take a bus because it was a much more direct route. It started out as a pretty nauseating ride through the hills while this old man next to me hacked up a lung. But eventually things smoothed out, and we got there really quickly.

We struggled a bit to find a place to stay, as there were very few listings online and they were really expensive. We finally found out it was because U2 was playing a massive concert there that weekend, so everyone had to pay festival rates for hotels.

(By the time we left, we were pretty sure Oprah was going to show up at the Minneapolis airport, as the president and Bono had already derailed our trip in parts).

We ended up in a pension that had a great location, but was definitely not worth the cost. Oh well. If that was the worst we did I’d say it was pretty good! At least the maid left us a tiny rose.

The first night we asked the guy at the front desk for a dinner recommendation and he suggested a place he said was populated by locals. So we tried it out and it was probably the best tapas experience we had the whole time.

The bartenders were racing around, telling jokes and laughing, and one guy in particular kept teasing all the patrons. Fortunately Mike knew enough Spanish to keep up with him, so we got two seats at the bar and ended up helping two French girls and a bunch of Dutch tourists order their stuff. The French girls were so funny. They were getting help from this older guy at the bar and before they left one of them gave him a kiss on the cheek. Then a minute later the other one came back and kissed him, too. Everybody cheered and he was so embarrassed.

I don’t have any photos of that but I do have photos of what we ate! We tried a tapa with a slice of chorizo covered with a quail egg.

Though I stayed away from most meats on the trip, I have to say the chorizo was pretty good. We also ordered Roquefort cheese with blackberry jam, and were pretty surprised to see them scoop this enormous hunk of cheese onto the plate. We didn’t begin to finish it, but it was really good.

Then we drank too many glasses of vino blanco and wandered back to our hotel for the night. You know, the usual.

The next morning I convinced Mike to take a carriage ride through the city, and it ended up being a great idea. It was still cool enough in the morning to be able to enjoy being out in the sun, and we spent a lot of time clopping through this huge garden in the middle of the city.

Our tour guide was very entertaining. He knew just when to pull over and take a photo of us.

The park was so serene and beautiful. A lot of people were taking their morning jog there.

Seville was a pretty cool city in general. They have a new tram that runs through the city, and a bike rental system that seemed pretty well used.

We found some lingering signs of the strike while we were there.

By the way, how cool is it that they still paste up signs? I don’t know why I liked that, I just did.

Passing by this wedding was a lot of fun.

Our next stop was … wait for it … the cathedral!

Actually, that’s not true. We went to this cool museum that had tons and tons of maps from the early exploration of the Americas. For Mike, a certified map nerd, this was amazing, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, too. But I didn’t take any photos there.

Seville’s cathedral is absolutely massive. In fact, there was even a certificate from the Guinness book of world records certifying that it’s the biggest church in Spain, or something to that effect. And I believe it!

This might have been the biggest door yet.

This was certainly the biggest altarpiece. It was so intricate you couldn’t really focus on anything.

Inside there were parts that were more like a museum, with beautiful artwork and pieces that had belonged to royalty.

This Goya was just stunning.

Most of the cathedrals we saw had relics like these.

One of the main reasons people visit this cathedral is that Christopher Columbus’ tomb is there. Apparently there is some disagreement as to whether or not his remains are actually buried there.

We took another climb to the top of the bell tower there. This one was awesome – instead of steps it was more like a ramp to the top. This was so horses could go up and down.

Looong way down!

I couldn’t help but take more pictures of doors. They are just so grand.

After the cathedral, we wandered over to a park and watched two guys do tricks on rollerblades while some adorable kids played with their nannies. Then we decided to go down to the area by the river and check it out.

It was beautiful over there! And I don’t think the book even mentioned it. We took a seat at one of the cafes and just watched people pass by on rowboats.

Before we left, I was determined to get one more thing: chocolate and churros. If there’s anything in Spain that seems like it could be a state fair treat, this is it.

The churro is sort of like a funnel cake and you dip it into a cup of really rich chocolate. Definitely a good idea.

That night we went to bed early since we had to get up at 4:30 a.m. (!!)  in order to catch our first flight home. We ended up going from Madrid to Philadelphia with 15 Spanish middle schoolers and their supervisor who had absolutely no control over them. Needless to say, I was so glad when we finally got home.

Overall I think we had an amazing trip, and we covered as much as we possibly could in that amount of time. In retrospect we wished we could have changed the order so we went to Ronda first (for more relaxation) and Barcelona last. But I think we’ll take a more low-key trip when we get to California. We want to go back to Spain another time so we can see Madrid and the northwest region. A lot of the foods we loved were from the Galicia region, so we’d like to see that. And maybe Portugal as well. So much to see!

Next up, my big post about the wedding. We finally got our official photos back and they are so, so good.

Honeymoon part 4: Ronda

Can you believe this honeymoon is still going? I can’t, and I was there!

Ronda was the first part of the trip that really felt like a honeymoon. It’s a much smaller town with beautiful views and all kinds of romantic vibes. Everywhere you looked you saw PDA. So you figured, why not join in.

We chose Ronda because we read that Hemingway and Orson Welles had both spent time there, and we knew we’d need a break from the bigger cities at some point.

The train trip there was beautiful. We took good old Renfe again.

Spotted a corn field!

Not this time…

This is the view from our hotel room, which was right next to the bullfighting ring, one of the oldest in Spain, opened in 1785.

I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but I noticed that all of the hotels we stayed in had original artwork in the rooms, not the cheesy prints you’re used to seeing. Sometimes they were a little racy!

Our first morning there, Mike woke up with the intestinal bug, but after a little rest he felt well enough to tour the bullring.

Neither one of us is interested in bullfighting, so we were there more for the history. Fortunately there was a great museum there, and even though it was national strike day, it was still open. It had a lot of great artwork and some original promotional prints.

There’s also an equestrian training center attached to the bullring, and we really enjoyed peeking at the horses and riders.

This horse was really enjoying his bath. (And I can understand why – it was HOT there!)

We explored some more during the afternoon, including a hike down a steep gravel path for some great views of the city. Ronda sits atop a massive gorge. So pretty much everywhere you look there’s a beautiful vista.

After we hiked back up the trail, we rested in this little plaza.

That night we had dinner at a very crowded tapas place that was worth squeezing into a tiny window seat for. I didn’t take any photos but I had a wonderful creamy vegetable soup with crusty bread and we shared a deconstructed goat cheese/walnut/pear salad.

The next day we toured the Cathedral, and found it a little disappointing. By this point our standards were sky-high!

We toured a city museum and learned about some of the caves in the area. It was so fascinating how far back each city could trace it’s culture. Underneath the Christian remains were the Muslim remains. And underneath that were the Roman ruins. And they were all so well preserved. Great stuff for geeks like us.

Also loved how the museums had these beautiful porches and courtyards.

Next we made our way down to the Arab baths, some of the best preserved ones in the world. They had a very sophisticated aqueduct system that would scoop water out of the river, send it down to the baths, and then pour it over heated stone to produce steam.

Then we made the long hike back to the rest of town. We definitely earned our tapas that day.

We had a couple hours to kill before our bus ride to Sevilla, so we found another park next to an overlook and just sat there listening to some musicians play.

Not a bad gig, eh?

Honeymoon part 3: Granada

Granada is such a cool city. Because of its proximity to north Africa and its Muslim history (it was a Muslim stronghold from the 700s to the 1400s), it has a really different look and feel than the other cities we visited. Even the hotel room had a sort of Moroccan feel.

(It’s funny how we kept getting doubles with two beds we had to push together. So romantic!)

When we arrived at the train station we got a cab to our hotel in the Albayzin, the old Muslim quarter. Our driver took us on the ride of our lives through these tiny, twisting streets. At one point he had to fold in the side mirrors so they wouldn’t scrape the walls.

We had to laugh over the fact that this little walkway was an actual street.

After our harrowing ride we got into our beautiful hotel, which used to be someone’s mansion. Then we headed out to a cool restaurant, with all kinds of funky objects and hanging hams for decor.

So I might have had a little too much to drink. Spanish wine is definitely stronger!

The next day my stomach wasn’t too happy with me, but we headed out anyway so we could stand in line to get tickets to the Alhambra. The Alhambra is a HUGE tourist attraction there. It’s a massive fortress and palace that belonged to Muslim sultans then Christian rulers before being abandoned and then restored.

Here’s the view during the day,

and at night.

Our book told us that we should buy advanced tickets, but we were so rushed the day before that we just didn’t. So after standing in line for a good half an hour we heard that there were no more tickets left for that entire day. Gah!

You also couldn’t buy tickets there for the next day. So we tried buying them from a cash machine – no tickets. Then we went to an internet cafe to get them online – no tickets. In desperation (because we definitely wanted to see the Alhambra), we ended up buying pricier tickets from a tour company.

We had also bought our train tickets to Ronda in advance, thinking we were finally getting smart with that, only to realize that the tour would make us miss the train. But oh well. We had to see the Alhambra!

Since we had a whole day to kill, we went to Granada’s cathedral. This is another photo that will always make me think of our trip.

Once again, the cathedral was spectacular in size and decor.

If you looked closely you could see the pomegranate details.

Granada is the pomegranate city. That’s where the word “grenade” comes from, because some grenades are shaped like pomegranates.

Sometimes you even saw them growing fresh.

Oranges, too.

And everywhere you looked you saw animals.

These dogs sunning themselves looked so happy.

This man was painting the cathedral.

I kept thinking as we saw all of these great works of art and architecture how cool it would be to attend art school here when you can actually go and see these things in the flesh. Amazing.

We had a really nice lunch that day at an outdoor cafe. I had gazpacho,

and a really good pizza. I hate to say it but some of my favorite meals were pizza and pasta!

Mike had what they call a Russian salad. To me it was a salade Nicoise, but who’s counting?

On a side note, I would have enjoyed many of these pleasant lunches more if there weren’t so many smokers in Spain. It was bad! Someone even smoked on our plane to Barcelona. I admire Europeans for a lot of things they do, but they seriously need cut back on the blowing smoke in beautiful public places.

OK, back to focus.

The next morning, we finally got to visit the Alhambra. One of my favorite parts was walking up the long hill to the entrance. It’s very woodsy back there. It would be a great place to sit with a book all afternoon.

I’m not sure what was happening with this fountain, though.

Inside, the Generalife gardens are also beautiful, in a more manicured way. And the views of the city are spectacular.

I wish we could have seen it all sans crowd, but it was the crowd that helped us figure out why we had so much trouble getting tickets. There was a national strike the following day! Yes, in addition to Obamas’ Philadelphia visit holding up our plane and a U2 concert making it hard to get a hotel in Seville, there was a national labor strike during our vacation. Crazy!

So everyone wanted to visit the touristy places the day before, when they were sure they would be open. In the end, we didn’t experience any troubles, as most of the hospitality industry didn’t participate in the strike. But we heard some others say their plane and bus trips had been canceled.

Anyway, once we got inside to the palace, we saw the most beautiful parts of the Alhambra. We were even inside the room where Queen Isabella signed off on Christopher Columbus’ fateful trip.

I will just let the photos do the talking.

At the end of our tour, this man explained how artisans make beautiful inlaid wood boxes.

Apparently for some of the more intricate parts, they roll up bars of different materials a la a sushi roll and cut them into slices, revealing the geometric patterns.

This is the one I got for myself.

We also toured the remains of an Arab bath. Some of the original tile work was still there.

All in all, Granada was just a feast for the senses. And like Valencia, even if it’s not the most famous city in Spain, it’s a must-do if you travel there.

Honeymoon part 2: Valencia

When we were planning our trip to Spain, a couple people told us that Valencia was way underrated, so we made sure to include it in our trip. And after going there, I agree completely. Even though it doesn’t have the big touristy sites that Barcelona and Granada have, it’s just a beautiful city. If there was anywhere we thought we could live, it was Valencia. It seemed like every time we turned a corner we came upon a quiet little plaza with flowers and a trickling fountain, or a gorgeous building with unique architecture. Even the train station was covered with murals and beautiful tiles. It’s right next to the bullring, both of which were close to our hotel.

This is the ceiling inside the post office. We didn’t have any letters to mail, but we went inside just to gawk.

The plaza outside was just as beautiful.

This little girl was having such a great time chasing the pigeons.

I should say, though, that the first morning in Valencia I woke up not feeling so great. So while I spent the morning in the bathroom or napping, Mike rented a bike from the city and explored a bit. We loved how easy it was in pretty much every city to grab a bike for the day. In the bigger cities it seemed like locals were using them to commute rather than having their own bikes and worrying about storing them or them getting stolen.

This photo cracks me up because it reminds me of what a poor decision it was to have a blue tote bag as our carryall for the trip.

Poor Mike ended up carrying it when I couldn’t anymore. Next time, we buy a neutral looking backpack or messenger bag!

Anyway, while he was out, Mike ended up scoring tickets to a soccer game, where Valencia’s smaller team happened to be playing one of the best in the world, Real Madrid. More on that later…

By the afternoon, I was feeling a lot better and ready to see Valencia. The main site to see, as in pretty much everywhere else we went, was the cathedral. It was closed when we first stopped by, so we walked around the outside a bit. This is just the side door.

As we got around to the other side we noticed these two statues that were missing their heads.

I wandered around taking more pictures and then I noticed that this old man in a beret had approached Mike and was talking to him. I thought he was trying to ask for directions in Spanish, but it turned out he was explaining the headless statues. It kills me that I didn’t get a photo of him, but I didn’t want to be intrusive. Anyway, Mike thinks he was trying to say that no one wants to talk about it, but some people were killed at that exact spot. Either the statue heads were removed because of that or they were shot off in the process. He wasn’t quite clear on what he meant. But it was chilling nonetheless.

When we finally got inside, the church was having a service. The people looked so tiny compared to the massive altarpiece.

We paid a couple of euros to climb up to the top of the bell tower and get a better view of the city. I wouldn’t say I’m terrified of heights, but every time we did one of these climbs we got squeezed into a crazy tall spiral staircase with a bunch of other people and a rickety railing to hold onto. It freaked me out a little bit. The view from the top was amazing, though.

After that we explored some more. I’m not even sure what this building was, but it was beautiful inside.

It had a courtyard inside, filled with what we first thought were lime trees. But then we realized, duh, they were orange trees and the fruit just wasn’t ripe yet.

If you pay attention, you notice orange-themed details all over town, like these door knockers holding oranges.

I thought this sign summed up Spain better than any other photo I have.

For lunch, we decided to revisit a restaurant we had passed the night before. It was right in one of those little plazas I was talking about with the trickling fountains.

It even came complete with a musician.

There was some version of this guy pretty much every time we ate out. It was cheesy, but I loved it.

In the evening we took a cab to the soccer game. We felt like we were finally out of the tourist realm. It was a little uncomfortable at first (especially since the ratio of men to women was like 80/20). But after a while it felt like any other sporting event. We were right behind a group of superfans who had the most coordinated cheers I’ve ever seen.

The funny thing was that this little Valencia team ended up tying Real Madrid 0-0, which we considered to be a victory. There were all the usual faux injuries and arguments. If you look closely you can see #7, the rockstar Rinaldo.

Valencia at night is just as beautiful as it is during the day.

We were sad to leave, but excited to see Granada, so we took a train there the next day. As I was looking out the window I noticed that there were fields and fields of orange and olive tree groves.

Just like you see corn in Iowa, you see olive trees everywhere in Spain. Honestly, I was a little disappointed by the sameness of it, like I expected European agriculture to be vastly different than ours or something. But it was funny when you did see a random cornfield here and there. It seemed like something special in comparison.

Next stop, Granada. And it’s a good one!

Honeymoon part 1: Barcelona

Though my camera broke pretty early in our honeymoon, we still managed to take more than 1400 photos while we were in Spain (!!). Mike took most of them, and his camera is much better than mine anyway, so I have to give him a lot of credit for the documentation.

I’m dividing up our trip into several posts, so it’s not too overwhelming. We spent the first three nights in Barcelona, adding one more day than we planned so we could be there for a local festival. So I’ll start with that part.

Sunrise out the airplane window as we flew in.

The best decision we made in Barcelona was to stay at the Hotel Constanza. It was very cool and modern, and had a great breakfast every morning that went until 10:30, sometimes 11:30 a.m. Also, the shower alone was worth the price (which wasn’t bad).

Just in case you are going to Europe at some point, I can highly recommend the site we used to book all of our rooms, Mike used it when he went to Denmark, so we tried it again, and it proved a lifesaver throughout our trip.

The other lifesaver? My Chaco sandals. I’ve had a pair for probably 6 years, that is the only pair of shoes I can walk in all day and not have sore feet. But enough recommendations – back to the trip!

We took the obligatory walk down La Rambla, which is this bustling, touristy ped mall so we could check out the Mercat de la Boqueria, a huge market.

It was just about to close down, but we got a peek at some of the goods.

Everywhere you go you see these shops with cured hams hanging up.

From what we could tell, Spaniards eat ham pretty much all the time. It was on menus for breakfast, lunch, dinner, tapas, everything. I know its a beloved part of the culture, and I did try some, but by the end of the trip I was seriously over all the jamon. Maybe I was just squeamish over the fact that all those ham legs still have a hoof on them.

For our first sampling of tapas, we tried a place recommended by our Lonely Planet book (pretty much our Bible for the whole trip), and it definitely seemed like the real deal.

Mike tried the pulpo (octopus), and then we ordered some pimientos, little green peppers from the Galicia region that they deep fry and sprinkle with salt.

That was probably our favorite tapa anywhere. We also accidentally ordered a whole bottle of white wine. That was fun!

The next morning we did our unofficial Gaudi tour. We walked by the apartments he designed, before heading to Park Guell.

(And by the way, the metro subway in Barcelona is amazing. We never waited more than 5 minutes for a train the whole time we were there).

The park is huge, much bigger than we were expecting. It’s like something out of a dream, very surreal.

From the top of the hill there we could see the Sagrada Familia in the distance.

It’s a constant work in progress. The tour guide said it’s still only 60 percent finished. But a lot of work has been done in the last couple of months because the pope is coming to consecrate the church in November. We were lucky to go when we did, I suspect.

Since Gaudi died in 1926, he only got to see part of it finished. That side is a little more traditional in terms of the statues on the outside.

But we loved the other side, which was designed by another artist. The figures reminded me of a Picasso painting.

And the blocky text on the doors reminded me of Des Moines’ Nomade sculpture downtown.

Photos could never capture what it’s like inside, and I couldn’t even really describe it.

The scale of the church (and all the cathedrals we saw) is just overwhelming. And I love how Gaudi designed the interior with the intent to bring nature inside. The columns branch out like trees. The stained glass circles on the ceiling reflect light onto the floor, just like the dappled light in the woods. It was truly extraordinary.

We paid the extra money to go up into one of the towers and see a view of the city from the top.

But to get back down you have to descend this windy windy dark staircase. At one point I was the only one in there and it was kind of creepy!

The next day we visited Barcelona’s Cathedral, which is also massive and beautiful.

I loved the little courtyard, complete with goldfish and birds.

I was also smitten with the grand entrances you see all over Spain. It’s incredible how much effort they put into just the doors.

The second day we tried paella at a place we just stumbled on, and it was really good. I tried the traditional seafood variety and Mike had the black rice, made with squid ink.

It took a long time to get used to the way they eat there. Small breakfast, huge lunch at around 2-4 p.m., then dinner at around 9:30 or 10.

I don’t have any pictures of these, but we had cafe con leche in tiny cups just about everywhere we went. It’s funny — portion sizes seemed pretty huge compared to what I was expecting, but when it came to drinks they were all like miniature versions of what I’m used to. In Barcelona, I especially loved the way they serve toasted bread slices with a swipe of crushed tomatoes and olive oil. I am definitely stealing that trick!

Randomly, we also found this place that was kind of like Spain’s version of Starbucks and every afternoon we’d buy coconut bars they called “flapjacks”. They were like our energy bars for all the walking we did.

Our last night we went to a parade that kicks off the Festes de la Merce. The first part of the parade featured giant paper mache monsters with sparklers coming out of their mouths and drummers playing a different beat for each statue.

The second part featured people figures, including the king and queen. It was probably the most energetic parade I’ve ever been to, so I’m glad we stayed for it.

I loved the festival posters, and if I could have torn one off and taken it home, I probably would have.

Notice the headlining band, Belle and Sebastian. Not exactly who I would expect for such a party crowd!

The last morning there, we went to the beach. Strangely it was the only time we spent on the actual Mediterranean, so I’m glad we squeezed it in.

Mike tried baby octopus at a restaurant there.

Unfortunately we underestimated the time it would take to get back to our hotel to pick up our luggage and we ended up racing through the subway with our super heavy suitcases only to miss our train by 5 minutes.

Luckily though, there was another train in 3 hours, and the customer service agent took pity on us and gave us new tickets for just a few euros more.

Would you believe that this is the extremely condensed version of the very beginning of our trip? We are incapable of relaxed travel, I think. But I did tell Mike I want honeymoon 2.0 when we get to California, involving wine tastings, massages, and sleep.

More to come soon…

T-minus one week

The shore of Lake Superior at Lutsen Resort.

So the wedding is a week from today. It’s felt really far away for so long — it’s hard to believe it’s actually happening.

I had a massage this morning (from the uber-talented Bridget). That was a good idea.

I have approximately one million more little things to do before the wedding. But not too many big ones. I have short moments of freaking out, but mostly I am calm.

Brianne made me cry last night. I’m sure those were the first of many tears!

On another note, I was wondering if any of you have advice on places we should visit during our honeymoon to Spain.

We’re starting in Barcelona, then traveling south to Valencia, Ronda, Grenada, and Sevilla. There is so much to see. Obviously we have guide books, but I’d rather have personal advice.

Better get back to my to-do list…

My happy place

Pretty much immediately after we recovered from Ragbrai, we got in the car and headed to Colorado for another wedding. Our friends Jennie and Patrick, home brewers extraordinaire, got married in Lyons, Colorado and had their reception at Oskar Blues Brewery. It was awesome, and I’ll post about that soon. But before the wedding we got to hang out in Boulder and catch up with my former coworkers and some friends we hadn’t seen in a while.

I call Boulder my happy place because I can’t be anything but happy when I’m there. It’s some combination of the mountains, the weather and the hippies that makes me feel at home, I guess. And this was the perfect recharge for me, especially given how much is going on the next couple of months.

We started out with breakfast at Dot’s Diner.

Their tagline is appropriate. It was just like old times — giant biscuits and breakfast burritos with peppery potatoes. Boulder has the best breakfasts, I think because they assume you’re going to be hanging off a mountain the rest of the afternoon and you need the fuel. I’m not gonna lie, I bought a roll of Tums after this meal, but it’s all good.

Friends from college: Mary, Pete, and me at Dot’s.

Then we headed downtown for a little window shopping. The ped mall on Pearl Street is sort of the heart of Boulder. The didgeridoo people were there, of course, along with the street performers, and kids playing in the pop jet fountain.

By the way, some of these photos were taken by friends (thanks, friends!), and some by my smudged camera. Sorry about that.

I had good luck and bad luck with shopping. We wandered into the Prana store to look at mats because I’ve been feeling like as a teacher I ought to have a nicer one. I looked at a few before I noticed the sign that said “yoga mats 40% off.” Sweet! So I got my mat at a crazy good price, and Mike hauled it around for me.

Then I found these incredibly cute sunglasses at a vintage store, bought them, and within an hour had broken them. Sad face.

But, my spirits were lifted when we headed down to the farmers market (where literally everything is certified organic).

We bought ourselves a picnic lunch of bread, dilly goat cheese, fig spread, peaches, and my favorite part – a tiny pie!

After getting fried in the sun all morning, we decided we needed shade, so we headed down to the creek path (what my friend Pete calls the dog and baby show), and found a spot on the grass.

I knew we were in the right place when I saw this girl reading. It looked like exactly what I wanted to be doing.

Tubers were making their way down Boulder Creek as we sat there. That is one thing I never did when I lived there because the water was dangerously high that year.

(Side note: It’s not unusual to see cars driving down the street with tubes hanging out the side.)

(Other side note: Look what’s made it all the way to Boulder – Kum and Go!)

Anyway, a few minutes after we sat down, a couple of guitarists sat down and played some lovely music while we ate. I think maybe they were a band practicing, so we got a free concert.

At some point Pete became lodged in a tree and we had to extract him. Not really, but it was fun to pretend.

I also forgot to mention one of our other morning stops. We visited Tee and Cakes, a cupcake shop that also sells cute screen printed T-shirts, designed by my friend Brian, who used to work at dirt with me.

Brian’s girlfriend Kim bakes the tastiest cupcakes. Apparently they hatched this idea and decided to do it after only knowing each other for a few months, and now they are crazy busy and popular.

Here is a spread of their baby cakes.

I tried the red velvet (amazing), but they are most well known for their bacon cupcakes. I guess people love that salty-sweet combo. Or maybe people just love anything with bacon.

Outside the shop there was the most adorable dog tied up.

We also noticed at another place there was a sign saying not to leave your dog unattended. I guess they just have different problems in Boulder.

This is the building where I used to work.

Sorry, Register, I think the Daily Camera has you beat as far as views are concerned.

So that was our day. We packed in all of my favorite stuff, except for a hike, but it was way too hot to enjoy something like that.

I must admit it was also really nice to go to numerous restaurants that were vegetarian and vegan friendly. I felt like a normal person for a change.

The drive back was pretty painful (so, so many hours of Nebraska), but we did see this group of Hell’s Angels riding together. They were from all over the country, according to their jackets.