A Day In Seville

Narrow pedestrian street in Seville

The next stop on our whirlwind Spain trip was Seville. We had limited time there, so I had it planned with little room for error. We hopped on a 6:30 a.m. train from Granada and arrived around 9 a.m. After dropping our bags at our hotel, we hit the Starbucks that was on the way to our tour of the cathedral and the Alcázar.

Although I normally eschew American food chains in other countries, one great thing about them is you usually find foods and beverages you can’t get in the US. And we did. In addition to my compulsory oat milk latte, we ordered bocadillos so we didn’t start our day hungry. Bocadillos had quickly become Joe’s favorite new thing. I mean, how do you go wrong with crusty bread, Jamón Iberico, and manchego cheese? You don’t.

We headed to the meeting spot for our tour and prayed we would find our guide among the throng of tourists. We must have looked lost because someone with a tour group list approached us and got us sorted. The Seville Cathedral (Catedral de Sevilla), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Our guide said it is also the third largest cathedral in the world. I thought the Granada Cathedral was impressive, but this was something else. So large and grand, it was impossible to capture it all (or even most of it) in one photo or in one visit. To demonstrate the scale, I had Joe stand next to a pillar.

Feeling small in the big, wide world

Our guide first showed us an impressively large painting called The Vision of St. Anthony, painted in 1656 by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. In 1874, some knuckle-headed thieves cut St. Anthony out of the painting and made off with him. They then attempted to sell the canvas to an art gallery in New York. Fortunately, the owner of the gallery recognized it as the missing piece, bought it for $250, and returned it to the Spanish Consulate. If you look at the section of the painting above St. Anthony’s head you can see a line that shows where the cut was made. Funny to think St. Anthony, patron saint of missing items and lost causes, managed to get himself returned. He does good work. Another item of note in the cathedral are the remains of Christopher Columbus. Yes. THE Christopher Columbus. Or, as our guide explained, about 300 grams of him. No one is entirely certain where the rest of the remains are. But at this time, in the Seville Cathedral there are verified remains of Christopher Columbus, a man who traveled more after his death than during his life. There is also an impressive altar, Altar Mayor. The altar features wood-carved depictions of the lives of Jesus and Mary and took 80 years to complete. Hard to tell from the photograph because of the gates protecting the private chapel, but the altar is 66 feet high and 60 feet wide.

After the cathedral tour, we had the opportunity to climb the Giralda Tower. Thirty-five ramps and 16 stairs transport you the top where Seville spills out in front of you. It was definitely worth the trek up. The tower itself was initially built by the Moors as a minaret, but after the Catholics took over they added a Renaissance-style belfry to complete the tower we see today.

Next stop was the Alcázar of Seville, another UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe. Its name means “fortification” and, indeed, you pass through a fortified stone wall to enter the courtyard where the palace sits. The Alcázar appears Moorish, however it was designed and built by Muslim workers but commissioned by a Christian king more than 100 years post Reconquista. In addition to the ornate palace, there are nearly 25,000 acres of gardens to visit. I wish I could say we had time for all that but, alas, we did not. Still, here are some photos.

Trying to fit in as much of Spanish culture and time with actual citizens as possible on this trip, I had booked a guide for a food tour and a flamenco show. Elena is a Seville native with a foodie instinct. A teacher by day, she does these tours in the evening to fund her love of travel. First, she took us to try an aperitif of Spanish vermouth, white wine fortified with spices, herbs, and botanicals and then aged in barrels. So delicious. Joe and I were surprised how much we liked it. After all, it is called vermouth.

After our aperitif, we went straight into the pork. The Spanish love pork. The black-hoofed hogs that graze on acorns in the Spanish countryside are the reason. The acorns are filled with lovely fats that make their meat like nothing else, melt in your mouth gold, similar to Italian prosciutto but with a more intense flavor. Elena made a point of telling us that these pigs are free range and live great lives, until they become dinner, of course. After eating Jamón Iberico, I began to understand how one would arrive at that justification to ease your ham-eating guilt.

So many different ways to have it prepared, using as much of the animal as possible. All of them are amazing. After our snacks, we headed to a restaurant that prepares serves up Spanish dishes with little modern touches. The food was wonderful and the prices were quite reasonable, so we returned the next night for ensaladilla de Rusa (potato salad with tuna), patatas bravas (potatoes with a red sauce the Spanish call “spicy”), and squid ink spaghetti with scalllops, prawns, and seafood. While we were eating, Elena talked to us about the history of flamenco, the costumes, and the how the performances work. Her father was a student of the different flamenco styles, and he passed his love of the art onto a younger Elena who learned to dance “for the dresses.”

After we were stuffed, we walked to the show. What made it so much more impressive than I expected is that Elena explained that the shows are not choreographed. The music, the vocals, and the dance are all improvised. Clapping by the performers creates a percussive beat. We observed each performer watching the other performers for cues and changes so they could work together to create a cohesive performance. The singers, dancers, and guitarists combine their unique styles of flamenco and somehow manage to finish the performance in sync, despite not being choreographed. At the venue we were at, the performers are changed daily. So it is likely that the five persons on stage have not all performed with each other in that exact combination before, which demonstrates just how improvisational flamenco is. Photos and videos were forbidden during the show, but they did one last short song so we could get the obligatory photo.

The show finished around 9:30 p.m. and, although we had already garnered over 20k steps, we decided to go to the Plaza de España in case we ran out of time for it the following day. Built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 in Maria Luisa Park, the buildings in the plaza form a huge semi-circle and the buildings are accessed by crossing bridges over a moat. It is now is used as a government office building, but you have to see the architecture because it is iconic. We were walking around the plaza and being silly, pretending to fall into the moat and fountains, when we were spied by security personnel. Apparently, we were there past hours. In our defense, the gates were open and nothing suggested we shouldn’t be there until a guard showed up in an electric vehicle and started yelling “Cerrado” at us. Oops. So, I guess the area closes at 10 p.m.

We beat a hasty retreat and returned to explore the hotel. The hotel is music themed with rooms named after famous composers, and it has small salons where musicians can practice. We stopped in at the rooftop patio, which featured a hot tub, a small pool, and a bar. From the roof, we took a pause and our final photos of the day.

The Seville Cathedral lit for the night

Next up, Ronda and the white towns of AndalucÍa.

Peru Adventure – Cusco/Lima

July 15, 2014


After a lively, late night dinner with our tour group that included the opportunity to make our own Pisco Sours, surprisingly we were up early for our final morning in Cusco. Our first stop was to Starbucks. Don’t judge. Old habits die hard, and Starbucks has free wifi. And reliable caffeinated beverages. And we wanted to Facetime with our sons. We hadn’t seen their cute little faces in days. We were due.

Just another morning in Cusco city
Just another morning in Cusco city

This Starbucks store sits on the second floor of an old building right off the main plaza, so it offers a nice view of the city while you wait for your latte. While we were sitting there, a procession of local, Catholic school children was making its way down the street in front of the store. Some were dressed in uniforms. Some were in angel costumes. All were adorable. It was one of those scenes you just don’t get to see in suburban Denver, so we snapped a few photos to share with our kids.I don’t feel one bit bad for visiting that highly commercial, Seattle-based coffeehouse. The way I had it figured, we were supporting American workers.

Love how the locals use blankets as backpacks
Love how the locals use blankets as backpacks

With caffeine on board, we went out to find some final souvenirs before heading to the airport. Walking around the central area in Cusco is fun. The city is both modern and ancient. You’re just as likely to encounter a hip student on a cell phone as you are a woman in traditional dress walking an alpaca. We lucked out and ran into Ray while we were trying to decide the best place to buy some last-minute gifts. It’s great to have a local to give you tips when you’re not familiar with an area. They can be invaluable in suggesting restaurants and pointing you in the right direction for exactly what you need. It helps when that person is also energetic, fun, and an all-around nice person. I was glad to discover that Ray is on Facebook. Facebook, for all its absurdities, makes the world a bit smaller by allowing me to stay in touch with amazing people I meet along my life’s journey.


We got to the airport with time to spare before our scheduled departure. While we were sitting there waiting, Andrew went off to buy some snacks. He returned carrying a bottle of Inca Cola. We’d seen this on the menu nearly everywhere we went. Inca Cola is Peru’s answer to Coca Cola. It looks like Mountain Dew, but Ray told us it tasted like bubblegum. Andrew poured us each a sample in a plastic cup and we toasted to our trip and our successful completion of the Inca Trail. Salud! Turns out it does taste pretty much like bubblegum soda, which I thought would be horrific but really wasn’t as disgusting as I had imagined. Not saying I’ll be buying cases of it on Amazon or anything, but I always figure I’m better for every new thing I’m brave enough to try.

Dinner at Saqra
Dinner at Saqra

We arrived in Lima hungry and tired. When we checked in at our hotel for our last night, I pulled up TripAdvisor and looked for a restaurant nearby. Saqra was ranked #14 in Lima and, bonus, it was just around the block from the hotel. It was a definite find. The ambiance was modern, fun, and funky, and the food was delicious. Up until that point, the four of us had been fairly conservative about what we ate and drank because, well, we were nervous about being sick on the Inca Trail. But with our trek behind us, all bets were off. We started with our first official Pisco Sours of the trip. The night before we’d sampled them but didn’t commit. I finally understood why people rave about these drinks. They’re tasty, they hit you like a ton of bricks (hello…cheap date here), and despite the lovely buzz there were no ill-effects afterwards. We ordered a couple appetizers, Parmesan scallops (which were served on their lovely shells) and ceviche to start. Perfecto! I settled upon ravioli for my main course and was not disappointed. The most fun part about Saqra was the restrooms, which were infinitely more amusing after a Pisco Sour. There are two unisex rooms. One is decorated with walls covered floor to ceiling in padded, red vinyl. The other room is entirely mirrored. Neither was occupied, so I had my choice. I won’t share which one I drew me in first, but I will tell you that a second Pisco Sour and another glass of agua con gas guaranteed that I eventually got to experience them both. When I got back to the table, as gauche as it is, I mentioned that the restrooms were not to be missed. I was curious to see what room would intrigue my friends. I’m all about initiating spirited (and occasionally inappropriate) dinner conversation among friends.

After dinner, we were worn out from shopping, touring, sampling, flying, drinking, and laughing, so we called it an early night. We had to rest up for our last full day in the City of Kings. Tomorrow we would tour Lima, visit a museum, and enjoy one last Peruvian meal before boarding a red-eye back to the States. As excited as I was to see our boys, I was melancholy about leaving Peru. Or maybe it was merely the effect of my Pisco Sours wearing off.

My Suburban Life On The Edge

Almoose but not quite dressed
Almoose but not quite dressed

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been invested in my appearance. Some might call it vanity. I call it self-respect, and my mother insisted upon it. We were not allowed to leave the house wearing inappropriate clothing. We could follow the trends of fashion as long as we were adequately covered, and our clothing was age appropriate. This meant my parents did not buy me high heels (3″ wedges) until I was about 16. As a teen I wore the requisite four layers of preppy era clothing, ensuring my parents did not have to worry about my leaving the house in short shorts and cropped tops like I see so many young girls wearing at the bus stop today. In college, I never once went to class in sweatpants. My ironing habit is legendary among my friends, most of whom have declared me insane for bothering with ironing when I don’t work outside the home. Perhaps ironing is not the best use of my precious time on this planet, but I can’t seem to get that monkey off my back.

This morning I woke up tired and not exactly at my best after last night’s bottle of Barbera. I desperately needed caffeine to wash down my Advil. Since my coffee slave had plans to ride his bike with a friend, I hopped in my car and headed off to Starbucks sans make up and sporting an entirely unkempt outfit comprised of a sleep tee, pajama pants with moose on them, and my flip flops. I was going through the drive-thru. I knew the Starbucks barista would overlook my slovenly attire. I’m probably not the first person ever to show up for drive-thru coffee early on Saturday morning in pajamas, right? It would be our little secret.

As luck would have it, though, the drive-thru line was approximately 96 cars long, extending out well into the parking lot while parking spots directly in front of the store remained wide open. Sigh. Apparently I was not the only lazy person in Littleton attempting to stealthily access pricey, espresso-based caffeine in pjs. This would not do. I had to get home before my coffee slave went for his day-off ride. I did the unthinkable. I pulled into a spot directly in front of the door and jettisoned any attempt to maintain the persona of a respectable, 45-year old woman. I entered a business establishment in my pajamas.

I know that many people won’t understand what the big deal is. So what if I stepped out in totally age-inappropriate moose pants, right? Who cares? There are thousands of families in Colorado who are currently homeless due to the recent flooding. In the grand scheme of things, this is less than nothing. I understand that. But this was one of those “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” moments for me. I put myself out of my comfort zone. I stood there in my pajamas and ordered and waited for my usual tall soy latte while striving to appear wholly comfortable in my moose-laden pants. I practiced what I readily preach to my sons and I tried not to take myself or life too seriously. This is not easy for me as I was raised to be decorous…especially in public. Thanks to little moments like these, though, it is getting easier to relax in the pajama pants I’m in. Take that, pride! Today, expedient coffee won out. Now I just have to convince myself that I’m evolving rather than simply becoming a bigger slob. One growth moment at a time, I guess.

Five States In Three Days – Chapter Two

Our travel map for the day

Our car trips (and, sadly, our entire lives) are fueled by Starbucks. Knowing we needed a latte for our two hour drive to Mystic, we decided this morning to tempt map fate by driving to Connecticut directed solely by the map on our Starbucks app. So, we picked a store near Walpole, Massachusetts, as our first stop and then continued following the map of Starbucks stores ever further south, inching our way toward Mystic. Chasing Starbucks stores…that’s how you live life on the edge.

While we drove the entire length of Rhode Island, we were on a mission to meet our friends and didn’t stop to visit the state properly. Still, we spent two full hours on its interstates, so we’re calling it an official visit…with the caveat that we will return and visit Providence and Newport one day.

Lighthouse view

We arrived in Mystic and met Edie and Tom at, you guessed it, Starbucks. From there we headed to the lighthouse museum in nearby Stonington. We don’t have many lighthouses in Colorado, so the maritime information was quite interesting. The museum is housed in what once was a functioning lighthouse. We climbed the stairs (and a small ladder) to the lighthouse tower to take in the scenery. I got to use the panorama feature on my iPhone 5 to capture 180 degrees of the view. The museum also had whale bones. Colorado doesn’t have many whale bones either.

Preparing the apple mixture for the press

Our next stop was the B. F. Clyde’s Cider Mill in Mystic. We made it there just in time for the 3 p.m. cider pressing demonstration. The mill contains the last steam-powered cider press in the United States. We watched as they spread the chopped apple mixture onto the pressing plate and then ran the plates through the machine. Once the cider had been collected, they moved the remaining apple pulp out to a collection bin behind the mill. The mill, aside from producing incredibly tasty cider, also makes apple wine and hard apple cider. We purchased some apple cider donuts, which we devoured, and some 28-proof hard apple/cranberry cider for later.

Mystic, CT

It was raining when we left, so we headed into the shopping and restaurant part of Mystic along the Mystic River for some dinner. Edie had picked a cute little restaurant called The Ancient Mariner. Steve had lobster macaroni and cheese and we both tried “stuffies,” which are stuffed clams. We’d never eaten clams before (don’t have many good clam restaurants in Colorado), so we had to give it a shot. Afterward, we took a short drive to get a scenic view of Mystic. The town, which is as darling as you would expect, was even more charming today in the rain.

It was another great day of travel. Tomorrow we spend some time in Massachusetts. Planning to visit Salem before heading back to Denver, exhausted, well-traveled, well-fed, well-educated, and ready to see our boys!

Growing A Spine ~ One Vertebrae At A Time

The drink that nearly caused me a stroke.

Yesterday I wrote about a big risk I’ve decided to take. But, as I was thinking this morning about the steps to becoming a braver, better me, I was confronted by the stark reality that it is honestly easier for me to take a big or foolish risk than it is for me to take a small and relatively painless one. Allow me to elucidate. This morning, I went for an inline skate. After about 9 miles on my wheels, I was hot, tired, and in need of a pick-me-up. I decided a trip to Starbucks was in order. I got back into my car and began rifling through my wallet to see how much cash I had. That’s when I saw it. A gold star card for a free drink. I looked into my crystal ball and spied a Venti Cool Lime Refresher in my immediate future. Come to mama, you green coffee goodness. Then, I flipped the card over. It expired on May 15th. Dammit.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right for thinking it. You’re thinking So what? Ask if you can use it anyway. Right? But, I am a rule follower, and I’m averse to small and completely harmless risks. Need someone to stand on a broken swivel chair on a concrete floor to retrieve a crate of broken glass on a high shelf? That I would do for you without a second thought because I’m not a worrier. I stand on swivel chairs all the time. (Sorry, Officer Buckle.) But, ask the clerk at Chipotle if they’d be willing to donate to the school’s annual silent auction? I’d get the cold sweats before breaking out in hives. Merely to attempt something like that I would need to consume several shots of high-quality vodka, and I’m not sure that’s the right way for a mom to go about asking for donations for a Christian academy’s silent auction.

I attribute this paralyzing fear of small risks to my parents who taught me not to be a bother. I can’t tell you how many times while growing up I was informed that “Children should be seen and not heard.” I was a good kid. I listened to them. I never questioned authority. I never broke a rule. I didn’t even ditch on Senior Ditch Day. You know that squeaky wheel? I was not it. I’m still that way, although I wish I wasn’t.

I sat staring at the card in my hand. Over three months expired. Not a day or two but THREE long months. I found a $10 bill in my wallet and an unused Starbucks gift card. I didn’t need to risk the humiliation of having a clerk tell me they couldn’t accept my free drink coupon. I would just pay for it. End of story. I started my car and put it in drive. Then I thought about Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote: “Do the thing you think you cannot do.” I’d never asked anyone before if I could use an expired coupon. It seemed so brazen. Could I do it? The internal struggle between my rule-following brain and my wanna-be brave soul reached a deafening crescendo in my head.

Finally, I decided. I would not let Eleanor down. I needed to look my fear, sad and stupid as it might seem, in the face. I went to Starbucks, ordered my drink, and handed the gal my expired coupon. I’d thought about going into a long explanation about how I’d just found it buried under a pile of papers in my house and could I please use it even thought it was expired, but decided instead just to hand it to her as if it were no big deal. Sure enough. It was no big deal. She handed me my drink, told me to have a nice day, and I pulled away from the drive-thru window feeling like Bonnie minus Clyde. I know that you must think I am certifiable. You have a fair case. Just remember that everyone has their demons to face. Mine are small and silly, and I think I prefer them that way.