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, booking.com. 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…

Quick wedding recap

I don’t have the official photos back from our wedding photographers yet, but I wanted to get a little snapshot of the day up here as soon as I could. So I cobbled together some photos that Mike’s dad, my stepmom, and others took. I think it tells the story pretty well.

In short, the wedding was everything I hoped it would be and then some. I was ready for things to be less than perfect, and some things did go wrong (our event coordinator quit four days before the wedding, the forecast was for really chilly weather, etc.). But in the end it was as close to a perfect day as I ever could have asked for. Things fell into place, all my DIY work paid off, and people looked like they were having a blast. My mom read a wedding limerick. There was an impromptu Michael Jackson dance-off. Mike’s parents did the polka to Ke$ha’s “Take It Off.” We roasted marshmallows. We ordered 12 extra bottles of wine. It was bliss.

I will write a longer post later, but you can read about some more of the DIY details on the Fresh Home blog.

Big changes

It feels like I’ve been holding in this news for an eternity, so I’m thrilled to be able to announce that in addition to our upcoming marriage, Mike and I will also be moving to Berkeley, California!

Mike got a job with a super cool non-profit journalism group called California Watch, and he will be heading out there in November to start working. We are hoping to officially move Dec. 1.

I have been on an incredible journey over the past year or so with my career, and now it’s Mike’s turn to explore some new options. It is a big and scary change for us lifelong midwesterners, for sure, but one that we’re ready and excited for. Berkeley has the kind of spirit that I love in a city, so I can’t wait to get to know it better. Imagine the possibilities for Nia and yoga!

Waiting to hear about this has been a huge distraction for me the last few weeks, but now it’s time to focus on the wedding and honeymoon for a while. We leave tomorrow for Minnesota, and we are just finishing up the last few details. Yesterday I was a little panicky, but today I am just trying to enjoy the calm before the storm.

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…

Wedding blogs

When you’re planning a wedding the volume of information out there can be totally overwhelming. It helped me a lot to add just a few blogs to my reader — the ones that captured the spirit and aesthetic of the wedding I wanted to have. I also got a subscription to Martha Stewart Weddings, but I pretty much limited myself to those.

Here’s what I read, and why I loved them:

Once Wed – This was the first wedding blog I started reading, and the first one I noticed featuring DIY weddings with stellar photography. Plus, they promote the idea of the used wedding dress, which I love.

A Practical Wedding – Far and away the best wedding blog, in my opinion, because writer Meg addresses not only the wedding, but the marriage itself. What a concept! Brides pour their hearts into wedding graduate posts, and I love the thoughtful conversations sparked on topics like family drama, same sex unions, and having kids.

Brooklyn Bride – Obviously I don’t live in Brooklyn, but I’m often inspired by the chic urban weddings featured here. There are plenty of ideas you can use in your wedding, no matter where it is.

100 Layer Cake – This blog is pretty, pretty, pretty. Written by three designers, it features all sorts of inspiration and DIY projects.

The Bride’s Guide, from MSW – At times the Martha Stewart Weddings blog is a little over the top for me, but it’s still a good source of projects and advice on etiquette and tradition.

iDIY – It’s pretty self-explanatory. Lots of helpful project ideas.

A DIY Wedding Day – This one has less frequent posts, but still some good ideas.

Offbeat Bride – Many of these weddings are really offbeat, but they still inspire you to think out of the box and to realize that you are in charge of creating your own tradition.

Ruffled – This one’s all about vintage inspired weddings. The photos are absolutely beautiful. Since I’m incorporating some vintage elements into mine, I connect with this blog a lot.

Summer of love: Celebrating with Erin

Erin and I have been best friends since we were highly awkward seventh graders (with much embarrassing photo evidence to prove it). And now we are both getting married in the space of a month. This weekend we’re celebrating her shower in our hometown, Lawrence, Kansas.

I couldn’t be happier for these two.

I feel like I’ve said that sentence a lot this summer. That’s a good thing.

Brianne and Joe on APW


photo by Laura Wehde

Remember my adorable friend Brianne and her amazing wedding?

Today you can read more about the wedding on A Practical Wedding, probably the greatest wedding Web site out there.

I can definitely relate to the feeling that you want to please people close to you while staying true to yourself. Even for those of us who have been living on our own, or with our future spouse, for a number of years already, the wedding really does represent a letting go and a moving on in life.

World’s longest receipt

This is the receipt I got yesterday at Michael’s. I knew when I got the 25% off your entire order coupon via e-mail that I was going to use that opportunity to purchase as much as I possibly could for the wedding. So I loaded up a monster of a cart, and then watched as the computer took $60 off my total. Oh yeah.

I like to see this kind of thing.

I still need to buy a few more things, but I crossed a LOT off my list.

I also noticed (after my spree) that they had a bunch of Martha Stewart photo books on clearance. I think they had the big ones down to $11.99. So I might go back and get one for the wedding and/or honeymoon. I used one for my Mediterranean photos, and it worked really well.