Asturias and Galicia

I know this post is a little late, but it’s a doozy. In the beginning of May we took a “double couples” trip to visit the green landscapes of Asturias and Galicia in the north of Spain. It was my first trip to either of these regions of Spain, and I found them absolutely different from the arid landscapes I am used to seeing in Andalusia. I believe I could live in Asturias or Galicia one day if I could get past the frigid winters.

I believe we visited about 12 different towns along our way, so I’ve listed them below with some descriptions. Of course, with so many places and a short period of time, we visited several for only an hour or two.

 

Burgos 

Our first stop brought us to Burgos, which is in Castile and León instead of Asturias or Galicia, but it was the perfect halfway point. We munched on their famous morcilla (blood sausage) and patatas bravas and strolled the city to admire the buildings. I really liked the windows in the older part of town. The closest English translation I can think of would be “bay windows”, but I’m not certain they are the same. 

 patatas bravas, beer, and floor decorations.

You know you are in Spain: patatas bravas, beer, and floor decorations.

Morcilla from "La Favorita"

Morcilla from “La Favorita”

 

 

Covadonga/Cangas de Onís

We spent the first night in Asturias at a small hotel called Casa Asprón. The hotel was wonderful and served a delicious breakfast. This area was my favorite part of the trip. We were surrounded by forests and even a waterfall.waterfall close to the hotel

The rural house is in Picos de Europa National Park and we could see the Basilica of Covadonga from our window. Covadonga is the patron of Asturias. In the 700s, the Christian Visigoth army made a stand against the Moorish army in the caves of Covadonga. It was reported that before the battle, the Christian commander prayed to a statue of the Virgin Mary which had been saved during the conquest. The Moorish commander died in the battle, and the rest of his army fled. After the victory, King Alonso I ordered a monastery and shrine to be built there. The shrine sits nestled in the mountain and is really a sight to see.

Basilica Covadonga

Basílica de Santa María la Real de Covadonga

Covadonga Shrine

Covadonga Sanctuary

 

I’ve never seen anything like the Picos de Europa National Park. There is a trail which circles several lakes, forests, and mountains. Everything was super-green and we even found cows grazing on the hills.

Picos de Europa landscape 20140502_125638Picos de Europa lanscape

At the end of our hike we had worked up an appetite, and the fog was so dense that we couldn’t see any buildings. We ended up following our ears, and the sound of a generator, to find a small restaurant. We ate cheese, fabada, goat, arroz con leche, and strawberry cake. I’d be willing to go back to that area and park many times! (hint: other anniversaries)

Fabada

Fabada

cheese

stawberry cake and arroz con leche

 

Soto de Luiña

We spent the next night in a small town called Soto de Luiña. We stayed at Hotel Valle las Luiñas. There didn’t seem to be very much to see in the town, but it was a short drive away from Cudillero.

 

Cudillero

Cudillero is a beautiful fishing village. It seems to get a lot of tourist traffic, but not completely overpriced. I think I found the best arroz con leche I’ve ever tried at a place called El Remo.

Cudillero Cudillero

 

Luanco

We stopped briefly in Luanco. The newer part of the city was not very lovely, but when you reached the water there were interesting buildings and a church on the waterfront.

 

Cabo de Peñas

“Cabo” means “cape” in Spanish. We enjoyed the views and lighthouse, but we struggled to get there. First, we parked the car in a tiny village called Viodo and asked one of the locals if it was possible to walk to the lighthouse. We should have known by her laugh and response not to try, but we finally found it after getting lost in the field a few times. It turned out fine in the end. Who doesn’t like a little adventure!?

cabo de peñas

 

Candás

Another short stop in Candás allowed us to stretch our legs. We took a quick stroll to see the beach. While walking on the beach I saw many small, raised mud tunnels in the sand. When I tried to dig one that was moving up to discover the creature underneath I found nothing.

 

Luarca

Luarca is yet another seaside town. We stayed less than an hour, but drove around a bit of the town and saw the port. Maybe one day we’ll go back with more time.

 

Puerto de Vega

Puerto de Vega was another stop with marvelous views of the ocean.

puerto de vega

 

Ribadeo

Our next stop took us to Ribadeo in Galicia. This town is on the border of Galicia and Asturias. The next “Salimos el Sabado” will be about a great restaurant we visited called Casa Villaronta so I will make this section brief. There were some beautiful spots to see close to the city, such as, the Pancha Island lighthouse.

ribadeo lighthouse lighthouse galicia

 

Lugo

On the way back from our whirlwind trip, we stopped in Lugo to see its Roman walls, the Cathedral, and other sights of the city.

Lugo Cathedral

 

Astorga

We needed to eat eventually so we stopped at Restaurante Serrano in Astorga for a delicious lunch. This small town had some surprising things like the Palacio Espiscopal which was designed by Gaudí.

Palacio Espiscopal

Palacio Espiscopal

 

Valentine’s Day Origami

Happy Monday everyone!

This is going to be a short and random post, but I thought maybe some of you are looking for Valentine’s Day activities for your kids or students which don’t involve making cards.

Normally I’m not one for making a big deal out of February 14th. Everyone knows that being single on this day isn’t the greatest. Sometimes it was even awkward if I was dating someone because I felt a strange mix of wanting my SO to do something nice along with not wanting them to go through the trouble just because it’s expected by most females.  Anyway, back to fun with paper…

This is my second year making origami hearts in my 1º ESO (students around 12 years old) classes. If you search “heart origami” on YouTube you will find plenty of results. I chose the first one because the video and sound are good. A young boy(?) goes over everything step-by-step. First, I let them watch the whole video one time without touching their paper. Then, I play the video again and let them follow along. I paused immediately after the more tricky sections to make sure everyone was caught up.

heart origami

The finished product!

The origami paper I’m using is from Tiger and only cost 2 euros. You can use different paper, but make sure it’s square! Sometimes a couple boys in the class groan a bit about having to make hearts, but I tell them to surprise their mom or grandmother with them, which normally works.

I’m using the leftover paper to make hearts for my younger students from private classes.

Are you doing anything to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year?

Liebster Award Nomination

I was shocked earlier to receive a comment saying my blog had been nominated for something called the “Liebster Award”. I admit that I had absolutely no idea what a Liebster Award is, but hooray! This is my first award nomination here on WordPress. I did a little digging and found that the “Liebster Award” is to promote newer bloggers and hopefully allow them to gain followers and drive more traffic to their sites.

Look how shiny it is!

Look how shiny it is!

A big thank you to Courtney at Cartas de Courtney for the nomination! She is also living in Spain as a teaching assistant and I love reading her blog for travel ideas.

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THE RULES ARE:

ü 1. Thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog.

ü 2. Answer the 10 questions given to you by the nominee before you.

ü 3. Nominate 10 of your favorite blogs with fewer than 200 followers and notify them of their nomination.

ü 4. Come up with 10 questions for your nominees to answer.

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Nominations:

(Quick note: I know I must have chosen a few with over 200 followers).

The Rooted Traveller – Ghezal is another teaching assistant in BEDA, but I’ve been following her blog before my move to Spain. Funny how we met and became friends before knowing we were following each others blogs.

Sunshine and Siestas – Cat writes a lot about Seville which is one of my favorite cities in Spain. I found her blog before moving to Spain and it helped drive my desire to become an expat.

The Book of Ness – Vanessa’s blog is a mix of expat and entrepreneur posts.

Kaley…& Más – Kaley’s posts make me realize things which are true, but I never really considered before.

Lady in Spain – A fellow Marylander, Yari, really helped me when I was trying to make my way through the pile of paperwork needed for my visa to Spain.

The Expatriate Adventures – Dan is a fellow BEDA member who writes about his travels and life in Madrid.

Hola Yessica – Jessica’s blog is another I followed before I became an expat myself. Her posts are mainly about Barcelona.

Curiosity Travels – Jessica has a colorful and fun blog with plenty of posts about travel and teaching English in foreign countries.

Estrella Explores – Estrella is another English Language Assistant in Madrid and her blog is about her life abroad.

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1. What do you consider “home”?

For most of my life, Maryland was my only home since that is where much of my friends and family – my “roots” -, are located. After that, New York and Wisconsin were close contenders because I’ve visited many times to see family. During my first trip to Spain this idea of home was skewed. How could a place I had never been to before feel as comfortable as home? Right now I suppose I have two homes: My USA Home and Spain Home. I’m comfortable with that for now.

2. How long have you been traveling or living abroad?

The first time I traveled outside of the US (other than Canada) was to Guatemala when I was 17 years old. Before I was born my parents traveled all over the place and lived for a while in Guatemala. When we went, my family and grandparents spent Christmas and New Year’s there so we could see the village where they used to live and experience the country. My first trip to Europe was in 2011. After travelling with a friend in Spain I continued alone to Paris and Berlin. During this trip I was overcome with the insane idea to quit my job and move to Madrid. Somehow I made it a reality and have been living in Madrid since September 2012.

3. Do you have a favorite destination? If so, what is it?

I absolutely love Seville and Alicante. I have known Seville for longer and the atmosphere is amazing along with the sights. Alicante has great weather and beaches. It is much more relaxed than Madrid. Sometimes I consider moving to one of these cities for a change of pace.

4. What is your biggest struggle as a blogger?

Bah! I have two I constantly struggle with. One is that I don’t find it easy to be a creative writer. Sometimes I write something and think, “Seriously? That is the most boring and dry ‘ish’ I’ve ever seen. You should be ashamed of yourself.” The second problem I have is getting into a writing routine. I have an idea for a weekly piece, but I just haven’t gotten around to starting it.

5. What is your favorite blog and why?

At the moment, my favorite blog is Nowhere to Go but Everywhere for its beautiful photographs and simplistic style.

6. If you could spend a month anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

A month in Thailand would be amazing. Send me to the sun and sand!

7. After being away, what is one thing you know you took for granted at home?

I have to choose being around nature. My old home was surrounded by three different bodies of water and a forest. Here in Madrid the atmosphere is very different and you can smell and feel it.

8. What is your favorite music to listen to during a plane ride/bus ride/commute?

If it’s on the AVE I listen to Telepopmusic or Thievery Corporation. This sounds strange, but the first trip I took on the AVE I was listening to those groups so now whenever I travel it’s my traveling music while watching the countryside.

During day-to-day commutes I listen to a playlist of over 500 different songs I have on Spotify. Chromeo and The Prodigy were made for Monday mornings in the metro.

9. Do you consider any certain item a “travel necessity”?

My travel-size toothbrush and toothpaste!

10. What is your favorite book and why?

It’s a strange book, but 1984 has been my favorite since I was a child. It’s so warped!

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New Questions for My Nominees:

1. What is your favorite blog right now?

2. What’s the strangest food you have ever eaten?

3. Do you have a favorite travel destination?

4. Now choose the song which bests describes that destination for you.

5. Describe a moment you decided to make a drastic change in your life.

6. If you were given 500 euros where would you go and what would you do?

7. Explain something you do well as a blogger? Then, describe something you struggle with.

8. What is one thing you found while traveling that you would bring back to your home country?

9. Were you ever in a dangerous or awkward situation during your travels?

10. Where do you see yourself ending up? Will you wander the globe forever?

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Thanks for reading and thanks again to Courtney for the nomination.

Happy Travels!

Shopping Online in Spain

Hello everyone! Right now the rebajas (sales which last the month of January) in Spain are in full-swing. This is a great time to pick up items you were eyeing while Christmas shopping. Sadly, I have no rebajas budget this year because I spent all my money during the holidays and I need to save for my next trip at the end of this month.

My family and roommates already know this, but I tend to be a bit of a shopaholic if I have some extra cash. I apologize if this is an “enabling” post for some of you! I’d like to share some of my favorite online shopping sites here in Spain. Almost all of these sites have a referral system which allow you to earn money to spend on their website.

1. Amazon BuyVIP – This site by Amazon offers discounts on different brands every day (it’s a bit like RueLaLa or Ideeli in the U.S.). The brands are normally good quality such as Diesel, Liebeskind, or Nike and you can find items more than 50% off the usual price. What annoys me is you can’t mix the brands in your shopping cart. So, if you want to order something from two different brands you have to put the items in your cart for one brand, pay, and then repeat the process for the other brand. This means you pay twice for shipping.

2. Vente-Privee – This is similar to the BuyVIP site. The website is a bit stranger and tricky to navigate, but you can find some good brands and prices here. Shipping prices are normally 6€ for each order, but sometimes shipping is free. Free shipping seems to be limited to larger items.

3. Groupon  – I used this site ALL the time when I was living in the U.S. Each day there are new deals on things available in your city such as services, goods, and vacations. You buy a voucher for the deal which is good for a certain amount of time before it expires. This is how I went on the all-inclusive trip to Mallorca last year. You can also buy something from “Groupon Goods”, for example an iPhone, and it’s shipped to you without messing with the vouchers. My most recent purchase was for a salon treatment and cut for 29€ which is normally worth 190€. Not too shabby.

4. Letsbonus – This is a company run by LivingSocial, which I also routinely used in the U.S. The idea is the same as Groupon. When you find a deal you want, just buy the voucher and redeem it later. They also have goods to buy without using the voucher.

5. Atrapalo – This site is different from Groupon or Letsbonus, because you don’t buy vouchers. You can find discounts on things such as, tickets, trips, and restaurants, but sometimes you must reserve the days and times at the moment of purchase.

6. Voyage Prive – This site only offers vacation packages. You can find some good deals, but it seems to cater more towards luxury travel (not that anything’s wrong with that). I haven’t had a chance to buy from here yet, but I often daydream while checking out the options. Right now there is a 5-star hotel in the Maldives for 5 nights in a water villa for just over 2,000€ with flights. Most offers have options for all-included and flights, plus the possibility to choose how many nights you want to stay. There are also some good offers within Spain.

7. Enolobox – I pretty much love this idea. You pay 25€ a month and receive three different wines with a write-up about what you are getting. If you have already tried just about every reasonable option in Corte Ingles or Carrefour (hey, I’m guilty too) then this is a good choice. The only problem is you have no control over what you get. During the summer I received a box of three white wines when I almost never drink white wine. With Enolobox you can earn points towards a free box of wine by participating in their online panel or inviting friends to join.

enolobox red wine

8. Restalo – You can use this site to make restaurant reservations anytime, but there are sometimes special offers, such as, 70% off if you reserve online.

9. El Tenedor – This is the same concept as Restalo. Sometimes I use these sites to check out new places or to see if a restaurant I want to visit is offering discounts for online reservations.

Some Tips:

  • Check the return policy whenever you are buying online. Some brands on sites like AmazonVIP allow returns while others don’t.
  • If you are interested in booking a trip or restaurant check their main website or a site like Tripadvisor for reviews, photos and maps. The photos on sites like Groupon are sometimes different from what you are really getting.
  • Before booking a trip or hotel you should read the special conditions because some deals aren’t valid during peak travel dates.
  • Also, don’t forget to pay attention to the expiration date for your vouchers! Don’t wait until the last minute to make your appointment before your Groupon or Letsbonus voucher expires, because their agendas fill up. Some places have been nice enough to accept the voucher after it expires, but not everyone will!

Lastly, happy shopping, everyone!

Do you have any favorite online shopping sites I missed??

May in Mallorca – Wishing for Warmer Weather in Madrid

I know it’s only the first week of December, but I’m already wishing it was summertime. It’s probably the fault of looking for warm getaways for the upcoming holidays and semana santa. This led me to remember my May trip to Mallorca and how I never posted anything about it! Well, this will be my warmer weather reminiscing for this month.

Mallorca view from the plane

The view from the plane. Helloooo blue waters!

I didn’t know very much about Mallorca before I moved to Spain, but it’s part of the Balearic Islands east of mainland Spain.

I can’t remember which one of us stumbled on the deal first. I’m sure someone will remind me after they see this post. Within a short while we were ready to buy a Groupon for a six-girl vacation to Mallorca. You could choose a 1 – 7 night stay in Cala Millor, Mallorca for two people and it only cost 99 euros a night. After you split that between two people it was not bad at all. We bought three of the deals and decided to stay two nights in the resort. Another perk was it was an all-included offer so all of our food and drinks were included in our stay. The problem with all-included vacations is that you stuff yourself for each meal. At least that’s exactly what we did.

The taxi ride from the airport to the resort was about one hour. When we arrived at the resort I think we were a little surprised to find we were the youngest guests there, but we had a lot of fun all the same. One thing I found surprising at first was the amount of people there who spoke German. I was confused when the resort staff began conversations in German instead of Spanish. I wasn’t used to it.

beaches of Mallorca in Cala Millor

Mallorca had some of the most beautiful water I’ve seen.

The view was paradise, but the temperature wasn’t so cooperative during our trip. We went in May, so it was our own fault for taking the trip before warmer weather arrived. We still toughed it out on the beach in our bikinis and shorts. Some brave souls (not me, okay?) even went for a swim.

Cala Millor Beach in Mallorca

Everything for us! Brrr…

Cala Millor, Mallorca, resort

Our view from the terrace

all-included Mallorca

This wristband was my ticket to…gluttony?

One of my next posts will be about the different shopping websites in Spain you can use to find deals like ours. One thing I wish for my next trip to Mallorca is that I get to explore a bit more of the island instead of staying at one resort the whole time.

What was your favorite spot in Mallorca?

The World’s Getting Colder and I’m Getting Older

Brrrrr! It’s finally jacket weather in Madrid. Autumn is my favorite season, but eventually it gets cold enough where you don’t want to crawl out of bed, doesn’t it?

I know I haven’t written much in a while and it’s really bothering me. It’s not like I’m overworked. I’m teaching 6 private classes a week and I have fewer hours in the school this year (read: less money). You won’t hear me complain too much, because I have an amazing schedule. I’m only working in the school mornings and one afternoon Monday – Thursday. Yes, this means I have a three-day weekend every week!

Maybe all of this free time is making me a little restless about my career situation because I’ve been trying to figure out what I can do to attach myself somewhere permanently. Aside from regular positions I think about starting a business every day. I have a couple of ideas, but just can’t decide what I should do or where to really begin.

Last weekend I blew out some birthday candles which also probably led me to question my position here. At 27 I’m a bit older than the majority of people in the same teaching program. It’s good for now, but if I am going to stick around for a while I need to find something more concrete. Unfortunately, it’s a bit difficult for me to get a job in my degree field (Political Science) in Spain right now. I don’t know if I should be looking into getting a Masters here or in the U.S. Both options would take a lot of preparation before I could even apply.

On a more upbeat note, my birthday weekend fell on the puente and I visited Ávila for the first time. It’s only about an hours drive from Madrid so it’s a good choice for a day trip. The city is small, but beautiful and largely surrounded by walls. I read that work began on the walls in the 11th century. You can walk along a portion of the walls. The city is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Avila

Views from outside the walls

Avila

Views from outside the walls

Walls of Avila

Walls of Avila

Walls of Avila

Avila

We ate lunch a little outside of the city in a small town called Mingorría. There was so much food that afterwards I felt like I was waddling around Ávila. I think the chuletón is basically a big prime rib and the tostón was a cochinillo (roasted baby pig MMMM). If you look closely at the photo you can see my meal came with tail and foot!

chuletón and tostón

chuletón and tostón

There were signs for “Yemas de Ávila” everywhere. Yemas, egg yolks in Spanish, seem to be made with, you guessed it, egg yolks and a lot of sugar.  They are not my favorite, but they aren’t bad. I can only eat maybe one or two at a time.

Did you ever visit Ávila? What would you recommend doing there?

One year in Spain

I’m so happy to share that today marks the one year anniversary of my life in Spain! I think I’ve got things pretty good after one year. I have a job/income, a roof, good friends, and I’ve seen and done many new things. Every day is another learning opportunity and I’m incredibly thankful!

When I look at this list of some things I’ve done in one year I just can’t believe it.

  • Two trips to Sevilla (one was for la feria)
  • Valencia for las fallas
  • Casablanca, Fez, Tangier and Chefchaouen, Morocco
  • Barcelona
  • Zaragoza
  • Toledo
  • Mallorca
  • Trips to Alicante (one for Hogueras)
  • Ibiza
  • Florence and Rome, Italy

In addition to the places visited I completed a half-marathon and finally began to like children. For any close family and friends who read this…you know what I mean. I’ve improved my horrendous Spanish a bit and also found out that I can live on my own without starving to death.

I can only hope the next year and years following continue to get even better. 😉

La Feria de Abril – Sevilla

Oh, Sevilla! One of my favorite cities in the world.

Ever since my first trip to Spain, I’ve absolutely loved Sevilla. It’s one of the places I considered when choosing a location in Spain. In the end, Madrid seemed a better and more central hub to find work.

Back before I even stepped on Spanish soil I researched different things to do in Spain and added “la feria” to my list. When a roommate told me she was going in April it didn’t take much convincing before buying my RENFE ticket. “La feria” is a giant fair in Seville about two weeks after Semana Santa, so either in April or May. After experiencing it for the first time this year I can see myself going back again and again.

Some things which stick out the most are the colorful casetas, and sevillanas dresses and music. This is also most likely what this fair is most famous for. Many families reserve their own caseta, or small house, for family and friends. Normally you can’t enter unless you know someone inside, though there are a few public ones. Thankfully, we were there with some people who lived there, so we were able to enter several.

Most women wear colorful and sometimes extravagant sevillana, or flamenco, dresses. I felt a little awkward (go figure) asking people if I could take their photo, so I didn’t take any good dress photos. I think you can get an idea from this photo, though. So many polka dots!

Sevillanas

There seemed to be a never-ending stream of Sevillanas music and dancing flowing from each caseta, especially at night. Before going I only had time for ONE Sevillanas dancing lesson so I left most of it to the professionals. After a few drinks I may have tried… a bit…

I found this video on Youtube from last years feria.

Another feature of the fair are numerous horseback riders and carriages. Watching them trot down the street was like seeing a very, very Spanish glimpse of the past.

Carriage and Casetas

How cool is that?

It seemed each caseta was uniquely decorated.

At night, the party was turned up a few levels. The music and dancing continued and spilled onto the streets. Like most places in Spain, you could stay in a caseta until the wee hours of the morning. Some common drinks in the casetas are rebujitos or manzanilla.

Feria at night

 

Don’t let my serene expression deceive you. I probably had one too many rebujitos by this point.

I plan on going next year! The next feria will be May 5 – 10 2014. Maybe I’ll even have a dress.

Have you ever been to la feria or Sevilla?

Barcelona & Zaragoza with the Abuelos

Back in April, my grandparents flew from New York to Madrid to visit me. I wasn’t exactly sure of our plan until they arrived and I discovered we would rent a car then drive to Barcelona and Zaragoza. Since I ran in a half-marathon that weekend, they went off on their own to explore cities near Madrid.

I love driving, and it was awesome to drive in Spain again. The last time was during a December trip to Morocco. The drive from Madrid to Barcelona took about 4.5 hours. The first thing my grandparents wanted to do after we checked into the hotel was find a drink. Gotta love them! I wish you all had the chance to meet them, because they are crazy in a cool way. I want to be like them when I “grow up.” Some of the earliest memories I have of them is flying in their plane and visiting their law offices. Now my grandfather is retired, and travels around the world doing what he loves; taking photos. Several years ago now he even took his Harley Davidson out for a spin on his 82nd birthday. My step-grandmother is 15 years younger and still enjoying working and traveling.

Our first dinner in Barcelona was at Tenorio. This place was very stylish and the food was really good.

Dinner at Tenorio

Next day we took a bus tour of the city. If there’s one thing I want to say to Barcelona it’s, “I’m not finished with you.” My grandparents weren’t feeling up to walking around too much and we didn’t go inside any of the tourist attractions. It’s okay because now I have an idea of what I want to see next time. We found some cool shops like this music shop.

Composers aplenty!

That evening we had dinner at 7 Portes which was another great restaurant, but very different from Tenorio.

Delicious dinner at 7 Portes. My grandparents are characters!

After Barcelona, we made our scenic way to Zaragoza. I probably drove through over 60 roundabouts and several small towns. The city was smaller, but lovely. I definitely want to return again to explore more. We visited the cathedral, walked around the streets, and ate and drank MORE. After this trip I felt like a complete blimp, but it was worth it. La Ontina is the restaurant in the NH Gran Hotel, and it was awesome. It was a bit comical when I had to do my best to translate everything on the menu and being said into English. Seriously delish!

La Ontina

It was a sad parting when we arrived in Madrid the next day. I’m so glad they were able to come out to see Spain and me and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to visit them when I make the upcoming short trip back to the US.

What places are worth checking out in Barcelona or Zaragoza?