Thursday, July 26, 2012

Reunited and It Feels So Good!

Houston, tenemos muebles! Our second shipment from the US finally arrived yesterday, and we have been reunited with all of our favorite furniture, decor and kitchen items! Can I get a Hallelujah, amen please!?!?! I still have a lot to do, but the piso already feels so much cozier now that it is filled with our things.

Unpacking the boxes and sorting through all of our things was pretty exciting and surprising. You have to remember that we packed everything up the first week of September 2011, so it's been in storage for nearly a whole year! By this point, we really couldn't remember what all we decided to bring with us and what we left at home in storage.  I had a few good laughs, a few "What were we thinking moments?" and lots of giddiness over things I was really glad that we packed! 

First, I packed at least three varieties of measuring cups. (I found even more after taking this picture!) Before we left, I did hear that it would be difficult to find measuring cups since Europe uses the metric system (everything is in grams, liters, etc!) as opposed to the cups and tablespoons that we're used to in the USA. However, I might have gone a little overboard.  I'm also planning on buying a food scale in the very near future so that I can figure out what 100 grams looks like! When you buy cereal or something in the grocery store, all the nutrition facts are listed per 100 grams although 100 grams isn't necessarily the serving size. It's taking some getting used to and a food scale will certainly help. It goes without saying that we will have no excuse for not knowing our portion sizes for the next 18 months!

Not one, not two, but three frisbees! Because, well, I just don't know why one or two wouldn't have been sufficient!

Two large containers full of pens, pencils, highlighters and at least two calculators. Unless you're a student in 8th grade algebra or senior calculus, who even uses a calculator anymore? Everything we'd ever need to calculate can be done right from our phones or laptops! And I'd be willing to bet that half the pens and markers stored in those containers don't even work!

One pull-up bar, two sets of 5 lb hand weights, one set of 8 lb hand weights, a set of interchangeable weights including four 7.5 lb weights and four 2.5 lb weights. Also, unpictured are tennis balls, a jump rope, two tennis rackets and two sets of golf clubs. Even on cold or rainy days when I don't want to walk to the gym, there will be no excuse for inactivity during the next 18 months!

We came to Spain where there is an abundance of fine, affordable wine and tasty sangria; yet, we brought only four wine glasses.  All stemless! I'll have to buy more before we can even have guests. (Oh, what a shame! I hate when I have a good excuse to buy something.)  It should be noted, however, that these Nantucket wine glasses that we bought on our honeymoon are above and beyond my favorite, so I was really glad to see them!

Although we didn't bring many wine glasses, we were sure to include our collection of corks that I'm sure we'll add to over the next 18 months. For some reason, these bring me great happiness (even after the wine is long gone!)

In addition to the things above that I thought were kind of funny and/or random, I unpacked a lot that I was so happy to see again. For example...

Our spools and brown glass bottles. I have a little bit of an obsession with these things and can't wait to find the perfect spot in our apartment for them (and also to add a few Spanish spools and bottles to our collection!)

Our trunk! So happy to see this beauty again, and it is currently serving double duty as a coffee table since we didn't pack ours and storage for the weights, tennis rackets, board games, etc mentioned above. 

Our beautiful stained glass from Nana and Garland! I can't wait to figure out a way to hang it.  We get such great sunlight through those windows all afternoon, so I know it will be so pretty hanging there!

Our wedding album and pictures including this one, which is one of my very favorites from the whole wedding! Love seeing these sweet, happy babies every time I'm in the living room!

I couldn't remember packing anything to hang on our walls, so I was pumped to see this drawing along with a couple of other things to hang. We won't have empty, white walls after all!

When we came to look at this apartment, the girl living here had two lanterns hanging from each of the balconies, and I thought it looked really cool but was sad because I was just certain that we didn't pack any of our lanterns. Well, guess what!?!?! Along with the one pictured, we also brought two additional ones that I am going to figure out how to hang from our balconies and hopefully put a plant or candle or something in them!

 And finally, our bed! Over the last 11 months, we've moved from our house to my parent's house, to an apartment in Dallas, back to my parent's, to a hotel in Spain and then for the last 2 weeks, we've been in this piso but on an air mattress.  While the air mattress far exceeded our comfort expectations, it was really nice to be in a big, fluffy bed again complete with the pretty feather blanket that we received as a going away gift from my family! (I've still got lots of work to do in our bedroom so please ignore the growing pile of give away items in the corner, and yes, that is a cardboard box covered by a sheet that is currently serving as my bedside table.)

It was really fun to unpack all of our things, and overall, I think we did a really good job.  Right now, I can't think of anything that I wish we'd really brought along, and though some of the things aren't really necessities, they may come in handy.  My theory for packing has always been to pack as much as you possibly can. Whether you're going for 18 hours, days or months, if you've got the space you should use it!  And we're really lucky in that we seem to have large closets and an abundance of storage space, which isn't always typical in a Spanish apartment. 

As I get rooms all organized, I plan to do little tours of them so our friends and family can picture where we are and get excited for their visits! Now I just need someone to start actually planning a trip so that I have motivation to clean up the guest room. It's currently serving as a catch-all for extra furniture, empty boxes, golf clubs, etc. Get on it, people!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Museo del Prado

Madrid is home to the Prado Museum, which is one of world's finest collections of European art and according to Wikipedia, "unquestionably the best single collection of Spanish art."  Thanks to my Madrid guide book, I learned that entrance to the museum is free from 6 - 8 during the week and all day on Sundays.  A couple of Sundays ago, Luke and I headed over to take advantage of the free entry but found a line that looked like this:

When it became quite obvious that all these people were waiting to enter the museum in a line that appeared to wrap all the way around the huge building, we quickly decided that we'd rather pay 12 euros than stand there for hours and then have to fight the crowds once inside as well.  However, since Luke has been working late this week (until 2 am last night :( ), I decided to try the free entry once again on my own this time.  I left my apartment around 5:30, stopped for a coffee on a shady terrace along the way, and got to the museum just after 6.  Much to my surprise, there was no line at all!

Once inside, it was a bit overwhelming because the museum is massive with long hallways and room after room after room.  I grabbed a map of the museum and started wandering along.  Because I'm not a true art lover, I was trying really hard to make myself take my time, read the plaques alongside the paintings and try to learn something.  However, I quickly realized that I'd be there until Christmas (and bored to death) if I continued with my plan.  I took a better look at my map and realized there was a section called Masterpieces that had a small picture and location of each of the Collection's best known works.  So I decided to try and see as many of the masterpieces that I could in the remaining 1.5 hours and just glance at all the other pieces as I walked along.   Plan B worked much better! I saw roughly half of the masterpieces before they began ushering people towards the entrance, and I would even say that I enjoyed it! 

The collection's masterpieces featured works by Velazquez, Zurbaran, Goya, Rubens, Rembrant and Raphael, just to name a few.  The collection's best-known work on display is Las Meninas by Velazquez.  My favorite of the masterpieces that I saw was The Three Graces by Rubens.  The accompanying plaque said that the three women were painted to represent love, beauty, sensuality and fertility and that the artist painted it in celebration of the love, happiness and pleasure that he had in his marriage.  I also really like The Naked Maja by Goya.  (And no, I'm not an 12 year old boy and don't like these simply because of the naked women. However, it was nice to see curvy women being celebrated as opposed to the emaciated bodies that we're so used to seeing in today's media.) The Naked Maja was interesting because it is hanging right next to a very similar painting of the same woman but clothed this time, so it was neat to read about the comparisons and contrasts between the two.  Also, though I didn't put it together at the time, Luke reminded me last night that "Maja" is one of the new Spanish words we've learned since being here that means cool/pretty/good looking.  When we were looking at apartments, one older lady kept referring to us as maja and majo.  Although I didn't see any signs outlawing cameras in the museum, I figured it wasn't appropriate, but here are a few images of the pieces mentioned above along with a couple more for good measure. 

The Naked Maja by Goya
Jacob's Dream by Ribera
Apparition of the Apostle St Peter to St Peter Nolasco by Zurbaran
The Three Graces by Rubens
Las Meninas by Velazquez
At some point, I plan to go back and work my way through the rest of the masterpiece's or maybe even do the guided audio tour.  There are two other renowned museums in Madrid, Museo Reina Sofia and El Muse de arte Thyssen-Bornemisza, that also offer free entry during specific times, so I'll try to hit those up at some point as well. Though I ended up really enjoying my visit, one art museum per day week is good enough for me!

Friday, July 20, 2012

San Sebastian

After our time in Asturias, we drove East over to San Sebastian, which is located in the North of Spain, on the Bay of Biscay and only 20 km (or about 12 miles) from France.  San Sebastian is known for their gourmet pinxtos (similar to tapas), so our first night there we crawled from place to place sampling a different pinxto at each place.  The pinxtos are all set out on the bar so you can see exactly what you're going to get and pick by sight and not description! Contrary to some of the tapas in Madrid, the pinxtos weren't free; however, there were more options, and they were more fancy than what you would get as a complimentary tapa in Madrid.

Our first stop for vino and pinxtos.
Doesn't your local bar have legs of ham hanging behind the bar?
Pinxtos galore.
The next morning, we went for a run on the boardwalk right along the coast line for probably 3.5 - 4 miles, and it was beautiful.  The sun was bright and shiny but the breeze from the sea was nice and cool.  It was such a beautiful morning, and I was so excited to go change into our bathing suits after the run and head to the beach.  However, by the time we had gotten what we needed from our hotel room, a cold front had blown through! It was cold, gray and windy. Our plans to lay on the beach quickly changed.  Instead, we had a nice seafood lunch with views of the sea and then walked through the old town checking out the cathedral and lots of shops.  We even stumbled upon a wedding taking place and sat in on the Mass for a few minutes.  (No pictures of this, though, because I didn't want to be too disturbing.)

Looking goofy in my hat.

A little light reading while waiting on our lunch reservation.

Warming up with a tiny Irish coffee.

In one of the little shops, we purchased our first Spanish antique, an old Parcheesi game board (in Spanish) framed in an rustic wooden frame.  I loved it because of the old frame and pretty colors, and it reminded Luke of playing Parcheesi at his Grandma Smith's house as a kid, so we knew we had to have it.  I think we're going to hang it on the green wall in the kitchen of our apartment, and someday it may go in a nursery or gameroom when we're back home.

Our first Spanish antique.
Old town San Sebastian.
After breakfast on Sunday morning, we decided to make a quick stop in France since we were so close.  We drove about 20 minutes to St. Jean de Lux, just across the border between Spain and France.  We tried a French macaroon, bought some French cheese and wine to take back to Madrid and shared a true French kiss before packing back in the little Fiesta for our drive home. 

I think I prefer American macaroons.
French necessities.
Cute store in St Jean de Lux where we bought the cheese.
A kiss in France.
Beautiful blue skies above the French shore.
All in all, we had a wonderful weekend in the North of Spain and certainly enjoyed the cooler weather and lush natural landscapes before heading back to the big city streets of Madrid.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

17.07.12: Luke's 28th

Last night, we celebrated Luke's 28th birthday! We've quickly adapted to the typical Spanish time and had dinner reservations at 9:45! Sounds crazy, but since it stays light until nearly 10:30, we stay up later (but also rise later), and were relatively late diners in the the first place, it was a pretty natural change. We met at our apartment when Luke got off work, and he opened his gifts before we walked over to El Paraguas (The Umbrella) for dinner.

Like I mentioned before, I found one of Luke's gifts on Sunday at the Rastro.  He always loves and has wanted a picture of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus, and I just happened to see one at the market that was the most beautiful colors. A little bit of impulse and a few negotiations later, I had purchased Luke's first birthday gift! We are thinking that it will go in the entry way above the red table in our apartment and then probably in our dining room when we make it back to Lake Highlands. I also got him a leather bag that he wanted to carry his laptop and papers to and from work (because a backpack just didn't look right with those new, nice suits), a cool potted house plant and a six-pack of cool Scottish beer since anything but Spanish beer is not widely available around here.  (He actually got these the night before his birthday, so he had something to open when the clock struck midnight but was enjoying the Imperial IPA as he opened gifts!)

Dinner was at El Paraguas, and it was all we had hoped for. Before our appetizer (la entrada), they brought us a tiny sampling of their gazpacho, which was really tasty and a nice little touch. We had croquettes de fabes for an appetizer. Croquettes are a typical Spanish food that you'll find frequently in a lot of tapas bars. They're basically fried balls of gooey, creamy potatoes and are sometimes filled with jamon, fish, etc.  The ones we ordered were filled with fabes, which is a large white bean. (Jones Family: Think about the white bean soup from Monte Ne, roll it in a doughy shell and fry it. How could it not be good?) They didn't disappoint.  Luke had all of his and then some. Next we had a stir-fry type dish of green veggies and mushrooms ("setas") followed by our main course.  Fresh calamari (in their black ink!) with rice for Luke and merluza (a flaky, white fish) with apple compote for me.  Everything was very good. It sounds like a ton of food, but everything comes in relatively small portions.  In fact, I think that if you were to do the "menu" option that is offered at a lot of places, you each get 4-5 courses. We shared the first 2 courses and were still stuffed by the time our main dishes arrived.We left satisfied and happy; a couple kilograms heavier, but a few Euros lighter so it all balanced out.  Vale la pena. (It was worth it.)
Dinner at El Paraguas. July 17, 2012.
We finished the night with a Skype call to Luke's dad and mama since they're the reason we all have this great guy in our lives in the first place. Happy birthday, Lukie! And many more....

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Our First Weekend in the New Piso

Luke had to work both Saturday and Sunday (boo!) last weekend, but with the late nights that are typical of the Spanish lifestyle, we were still able to enjoy some time together.  Thursday night, we signed the contract for our new piso and the landlords showed us around our new neighborhood, pointing out some of their favorite spots, grocery store, etc.  It was so extremely nice and friendly! We are very lucky to have found this awesome place! After that, Luke and I celebrated with dinner at Boga Bar and an after dinner gin and tonic at a nearby piano bar. 

The remains of our arroz con bogavante, which is a rice and lobster dish. Messy but yummy!

Gin and tonic and live piano was a great night cap.
Spanish singer who dedicated a song to us. :)
On Friday, we finally started to move into our new piso! I brought a couple of bags over early on Friday and then hung around while the new couch and our first of two shipments from home were delivered.  When Luke got off on Friday evening, we met back at the hotel to grab the rest of our bags and head over to the new place together.  Although my sister, Meg, thinks I've had ample time :), our place is still a mess.  All of our furniture (except the couch that we bought over here) is coming in the second shipment sometime next week, and we have boxes and boxes of mostly clothes all over the place.

What were we thinking and where are we going to put all of this?!?!?

Looking out our balcony at Calle de Piamonte. 

Saturday morning, Luke headed to work, and I went to my new gym for the first time and ran a few errands.  For no particular reason, I had a kind of hard day on Saturday and was a little bit emotional, down in the dumps and frustrated by a few things. It's hard being in a new city that speaks a different language and does everything differently than you're used to! Anyway, we decided that what I needed was a laid back night at home.  So we made pizza and enjoyed it on the floor of our new dining room, started some laundry since we haven't done any since arriving nearly a month ago and made our first Spanish tortilla. It was just what the doctor ordered.

My new gym. Women only and extremely nice, including multiple hot tubs and sauna.
Pizza, olives and wine followed by dark chocolate. Perfection.
Our clothes line. So far so good. The worst part is going to be all the necessary ironing. :(

The amount of olive oil used in this was ridiculous. Luckily, it's super cheap over here.
On Sunday, we had breakfast together at a place called Mama Framboise before Luke headed to work, and I headed to El Rastro, which is a huge outdoor flea market that takes place every Sunday in Madrid.  There's a ton of junk and cheap clothing, and you have to be careful because it's known as a place for pick-pocketers to thrive.  But if you brave the crowds, hold tightly to your bag in front of your body and get past all the junky clothing and souvenirs, there are tons of antique shops and cool finds.  On Sunday, I found this awesome box, and I was quite proud of myself for negotiating the price in Spanish. Right now, I'm using it to store a few towels in the guest bathroom.

Love at first sight.
It doesn't hold all that many towels, but sometimes functionality has to be sacrificed.

I also had one more awesome find, but it's a surprise for Luke's birthday tonight so that will have to wait.  However, as I was carrying it around, several people tried to talk to me about it.  Although I couldn't understand half of what they said, I was able to try a little bit, and I had a really good experience.  One old lady nearly talked my ear off and was so friendly and endearing to me! It was exactly what I needed after a rough day on Saturday. When  Luke finished working on Sunday, we met at a nearby place for a drink before starting the week over again.  This floor of this bar was completely covered in sand!

Please ignore the crack in the upper right corner.
Once we get all settled in our new spot and everything, I hope to get on a regular blogging schedule.  There's so much that I want to share, and even though I'm not working, I'm running around like a crazy person all day trying to gather things for our new place, prepare for Luke's birthday, etc.  Everything takes so much longer over here. You can't just run to Wal-Mart, fill your cart and be done, and  I don't have a car so I can't buy too much at one time.  I'm trying to remind myself that it will take a little bit of time, but eventually, this place will feel like our home (at least if I have anything to do with it. :))

Now that I've gotten myself fully caffeinated, I'm off to finish a few more errands for Luke's birthday. Happy 28th to the sweetest husband, bestest friend, and forever my King of Spain. 

So handsome in his new suits, and I'm so proud of what a good, hard worker he is!