Saturday, December 31, 2011

English Funny

In the Madrid airport, we came across this gem of Spanglish. It is on a luggage cart promoting the VIP lounge you can pay and wait in. Not only can you buy snaks, but they want you to siéntete, or feel yourself! Or do they mean seat yourself. Hmmm... (both are accurate translations with one being a formal, and another an informal request) Maybe they just mean feel free or feel LIKE yourself, you know, at home or at ease. Who knows!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas presents from the States

It's Christmas time and we got presents!!!!

My brother Jay and his wife Tammy made us lap blankets (one of which I'm wearing as I type this) and sent us American seasoning, vanilla extract, and powdered and brown sugar none of which are we able to buy here. You will also notice, I am wearing my Christmas red long johns, and showing off just how fat my neck can look.

Monday, December 12, 2011


Michelle and I road-tripped with another couple, Heather and Joey, (Joey works at Michelle's school, and they are both from Oregon) to Gibraltar. They pictures tell the story pretty well.

On the way down, we missed an exit and the GPS told us to exit into this little town. Expecting it to lead us back to a freeway or turn us around, we followed it's directions down a road heading out of town. This road deteriorated to a dirt road between two fields. It went for 8 miles without a thing in sight and even some potholes. Luckily we didn't come across any tractors heading the opposite way. The blue line on the GPS was the route we took. The other lines are major freeways.

Joey was threatening me. I don't recall why, but it was obviously a big deal.

Various pictures of the famous windmills of La Mancha, that Don Quixote tilted at. Well, he was tilting (jousting) at giants in the fog, but they got so scared of him that they turned into these windmills. A few of them are original from the 16th Century. Located in Campo de Criptana.

There was a stencil on the wall of a building of what appear to be nuns, or at least old women. They inspired us, so we had to pose like them.

These windows, barred and chicken wired, were directly above the urinals in the men's restroom

Photos from a scenic overlook on the side of the highway. We are looking down at the railroad tracks.

Various pictures from our tour of the Rock of Gibraltar. The pretty picture of stalactites is from St. Michael's cave which is old and awesome and was used as a hospital during WWII. The other cave pictures are from the siege tunnels drilled through the rock in order to place cannons to defend it. The monument is to the pillars of Hercules, one of which is the Rock of Gibraltar. The other is disputed, but is on the northern coast of Africa. The old man posing with Heather and Joey is our tour guide Jackie.

Hey look! I'm really close to a monkey! (Technically barbarie macaques are apes)

Oh look. The monkey is touching my head.

Michelle and I have the best fake phone conversations.

A small monument to the U.S. Armed Forces for their assistance in defending Gibraltar. There a couple different ones commemorating the aid given in different wars.

The first time I ever touched the Mediterranean Sea. It was really cold that day and we were leaving soon, so I only dipped my big toe in, but that was enough.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Cenx" Giving

While Spain doesn't celebrate the American Holiday of Thanksgiving, there are a few folks with Americans in their family that do. Our friends the Freire family have a daughter-in-law from Arizona, and she got them celebrating it every year. They invited us this year. The parents (whom we stayed with for a week while we were finding a place to live when we first moved to Spain) hosted. Three of their kids (one single and two married with families) and one of their nieces and her husband and kids, all live in the area, and attended.

We had a great time eating food (most of it tasted quite American), turkey, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, stuffing etc. I played some music with Hermano Freire, and after a rest, they busted out the Wii and we played Let's Dance. A really fun game where you imitate the dance moves of the shadow on the screen to music while holding the Wii-mote in your hand. They even made gravy, a completely unknown food to Spaniards!

Michelle pointing to the dishes we brought! Mashed potatoes and salad.

Charlie and Theresa (cousins) sharing a trike.

Brian taking the jackets off of the coat rack for everyone to see.

Lucio and I playing music while Charlie stares admiringly at his grandpa.

Stephanie and Michelle dancing around after dinner. It was hilarious to watch people dance, not because anyone was bad at it, but because it was very well coordinated and easy for people to pick up. They totally looked like back-up dancers.

It was really fun to spend thanksgiving with family, even if it wasn't ours.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Amusement Park

When our friend Christian came to town we went to the amusement park that I had mentioned in our ZooQuarium post. Christian and I had a great time going on all of the spinny rides and roller coasters, while Michelle patiently enjoyed watching us. She did enjoy the ride where you drop straight down (akin to the Puyallup Fair's Tower of Terror) and the roller coasters where you don't go upside down. Also, as it was a cool November Saturday, there were almost no lines and we got to ride many of the rides multiple times. Our collective favorite was a roller coaster that also allowed free 360 degree spinning on each of the cars (they went one at a time) so you don't change to direction you faced as you turned corners, or you started twisting while going straight. It was called the Tarantula, but was broken for the second half of the day, and we only got to ride it once.

This displays our beautiful windblown hair after such rides as the spinning chairs on chains 150 ft in the air. Also, we randomly found the Oscar Meyer Wiener Mobile, but there was no one inside giving out free whistles.

They had all of the classic rides, one, that launches you up in the air while allowing you to flip forward and backward, the ring of fire, the pirate ship, the free fall tower, nausea inducing teacup style spinning rides, airplanes you ride in while going up and down, and an assortment of roller coasters, both the looping and non-looping kind.

Michelle has a poor stomach for spinning rides and there was one that spun you in a circle as it launched you up the sides of a half-circle. Christian and I both thought it was pretty great and just to see if her stomach still couldn't handle it, Michelle tried it once at the end of the day. She couldn't. She didn't throw up or anything, but was very glad we were headed home.

I am really excited to go back, but don't want to go alone as that creepy, lonely, older guy that hangs around the amusement park by himself and doesn't really speak much Spanish.

Real Madrid

Also, during the week that Christian and his girlfriend Stephanie came to visit, we went to a Real Madrid Soccer Match. (It's pronounced Ree-al, meaning royal in Spanish). It was against the Dinamo Football Club from Zagreb Croatia. We all loved Bernabeu Stadium, because even the worst cheap seats (ours) had a great view of the game. Madrid beat 'em good.

This is a picture of Michelle and I desperately trying to keep our eyes open for the picture, despite the flash. I think it just came of a bit creepy

This is the teams warming up before the game as fans filed in.

Christian and Stephanie excited for the game.

A couple of pictures of the four of us after the game.

This is what it looked like cramming into the metro after the game. I love the two guys on the right side totally hamming it up!

After the game, the security held the Dinamo fans (they were all kept in one section) until after most of the stadium had cleared in order to try and prevent riots and violence. They even had to expel one guy in the Dinamo section halfway through the game for some reason.

Madrid with Christian

These are some pictures from around Madrid. Most of them were taken when we were showing our friend Christian around.

This is the interior of the H&M on Gran Via in Madrid. I think they converted a hotel. Talk about classy casual wear.

This is a picture Christian took of Hollis in front of Bernabeu Stadium, where the Real Madrid soccer team plays.

This is us in front of the northern facade of the Madrid Cathedral. Completed in the 1990's, it is the newest cathedral I've ever been to.

This is the courtyard in front of the royal palace. We haven't gone a tour yet, but I hear it is fantastic. It is directly across from the cathedral as viewed in the picture above.

Not actually a picture of Hollis, he was the excuse to take a picture of the Spanish guys in the the cafe window.

And there are lots of motorbikes that just get parked wherever.  This one was pretty cool.

'Cause frowning while posing with a cool scooter makes the picture even better.

This is what it looks like when they tear down a building in Spain. Almost every city block here is solid buildings, even though each building is owned and built by different people or groups. When they demolish a building, they spray a orange foam sealant on the surrounding walls until a new building goes in. Sometimes buildings stand like this for a very long time.

Hollis and Christian (former roommates and kind of/almost related) in front of the gates of the Royal Palace.

Snaking on the train ride home. We were pretty beat.

At the Bernabeu shop, we came across these beauties. They are some of the lightest soccer cleats in the world. Literally what the pros wear. They weighed about as much as half of a small/medium sized apple.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


I don't know who decided to put an aquarium in the middle of the Madrid zoo, but they were a genius. Not only do we get to enjoy both land and water animals, I get to call it a ZooQuarium!
Michelle and I each bought a season's pass to the zoo, that also includes most of the amusement parks, water parks, and zoos in Spain. So we immediately went to the Zooquarium, and then a couple weeks later, to the local amusement park. Also awesome. Here is a collage of some of our favorite pictures:

A stunning pose of Hollis and a bear; Michelle and the flamingos; self portrait of Michelle and Hollis posing as lemurs; the bears giving Hollis the cold shoulder, and both of us with a porcupine. 

It was chilly and few of the animals were up and about, but it didn't stop these lemurs from being adorable!

These bears were being all photogenic for the camera and not hiding like the stupid tiger was.

PostScript Editor's Note (May 2012): Since Michelle has been pregnant, she has been endowed with the super-sniffer and we have yet to go back to the ZooQuarium.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Around Alcalá

These are some pictures from October when we first wandered around Alcalá.

There was a bonsai showing of miniature trees of all types from all around the world. These two were our favorites.

If you look closely, you can see the wire holding up the stem. Most of the trees had to have some form of support, either on the stem, or holding up the branches.

Alcalá is known for its storks, or ciguenas. I had never actually seen storks before, but they have nests all over historic downtown because, not only have they been there for years, their nests are protected by law. Once they go up, they can't be taken down. There is one perched on the top of the weather vane on top of this tower.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Here in Spain, peppers are super cheap, especially at the local outdoor market (4 huge peppers for 1€, ~$1.30), so I've been putting them in most of the stuff I cook, and I cook about 80% of the meals.
I've created a delicious recipe for pasta sauce in an attempt to satiate Michelle's deep abiding love for pasta. Since inception, I've made it at least once a week.

1 chorizo (a bratwurst size Spanish pork sausage)
1 large red bell pepper
1 large spicy Italian pepper
1 medium sized onion
1 carton of tomato sauce with olive oil (about a cup and a half. I can just buy it at the store, and it is not as good with just plain tomato sauce)
dried powdered garlic
mozzarella cheese (optional)

Cut the chorizo into small chunks a little larger than a centimeter a side and fry it in a pan until cooked. Drain the grease. Chop the pepper (being careful to remove the stems and seeds) and onion into ~.5 centimeter squares and add to the meat. Allow it to cook together for a few minutes until the vegetables are cooked (I like the peppers to be a little firm and crunchy). Add the tomato sauce and olive oil and allow it to simmer for a while and spice with oregano and garlic powder to taste. Serve hot over pasta (cooked) and top with mozzarella or like shredded cheese (I really like emmantal).

I've taken to chopping up our peppers and the appropriate proportion of onion and freezing them, making prep time only about 20 minutes.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"We're getting out of here like the Moores!"

Today, Christian Johnson, Stephanie Schenck, and I went to Toledo. It's about 30 minutes by high speed train from Madrid and only about 18 Euros roundtrip a person. It was very fun.

First of all, if you take a train to Toledo, walk from the train station (which was probably my favorite building) to the city. As you do, you get to cross an awesome old footbridge over the river that runs around Toledo and through the huge city gates. And then you climb the stairs along the wall the old city and look out the surrounding area and a lot of the newer parts of the city. It was kind of sad that these beautiful long stone staircases were covered in litter and graffiti. The stairs come out a few blocks from the main square on top of the hill where old Toledo sits.

Christian and Stephanie in Front of the Train Station

Toledo is known for its gold work and swords. Most cities have souvenir shops of one kind or another (Granada had knick knack shops of arab influence), Toledo's shops are filled with knives and swords. They are alllllll over! We wound through the city more or less in the direction of the Cathedral for about 20 minutes, enjoying the architecture, and the views from the hill. One of the most interesting things to me about Spain is that buildings are all connected to each other along the same block. The only thing that separates buildings are streets and alleys or courtyards. Other than that, one wall of a building forms the wall of the adjacent building. Usually each block is one solid building. Because of that, you have a lot of building materials and styles all smashed up against each other.

Me in an Alley

Most of the buildings in Toledo are made of brick or stone, and most of the newer buildings are then covered in plaster and some are even then painted to look like bricks or stone. Also many of the doorways look to have a strong Moorish (Arabic/pre-reconquest Spanish) influence. The top is a arch, but it's almost a full three quarters of a circle, instead of just half, and then it goes straight to the ground. Also there was even a couple of walls of a house that looked like they were just kind of including any rocks they found along with the bricks. They could be seen because the plaster covering them fell away.

A Seam Between Two Buildings

The Cathedral was beautiful from the outside. It was smaller than the one in Granada, but the outside was much more ornate, probably because the Cathedral in Granada was built with waning funds. It even had a full larger than life stone carving of the last supper above the lintel of the main front doors. Another interesting aspect of the Cathedral was how you could see when different pieces were added on because a different color or shape of stone was used.


Unfortunately, due to various circumstances this morning, we didn't get to Toledo until about 2:25 PM and because we were having Thanksgiving dinner that night, we had to catch the train back at 5:30. So, we stopped at a little cafe for lunch around 4 and I had a Womba Bocadillo and Stephanie and Christian both had plates of Paella. Paella is a traditional Spanish dish made with Saffron rice and lots of seafood. Bocadillos are Spanish sandwiches made on a piece of bread much like a baguette. The Womba Bocadillo had what tasted like red pasta sauce on it with very thinly cut pieces of pork loin with cheese on top. It was delicious.

Womba Bocadillo

After lunch I bought a couple of postcards and then it was time to go. In fact, it was about 8 minutes past time to go. And whats more, because we had been just kind of meandering while looking for a place to eat, we didn't know where we were. But Stephanie and Christian whipped out the map, pointed us in the right direction, and we took off back to the station. It had taken us about 25-30 minutes to get to the top of the hill from the Station and we were planning on about 30 minutes to get back. We had about 20, so we hustled. As we were flying down the long stair cases (ever so carefully as to not trip and die falling down all of these stairs), Christian laughs and says, "We're getting out of here like the Moores!" We all had a good laugh.

Building in a Hill (We took it on the way in.)

Since we knew our way back, once we got to the top of the hill again, and because it was almost all down hill, we made it back to the station in about 15 minutes! Oh and we also didn't stop to take pictures on the way back.

Me on the train ride back