Bon Viatge!

Meg and Grant go to Barcelona & beyond

Festa Major de Gracia

I have never seen a festival quite like the Festa Major de Gracia. Its reputation certainly preceded it, and we were told even before we moved to Gracia that it was one of the largest and most fantastic festivals in Barcelona. It did not disappoint!

The whole community came together to make the festival happen. Not only were there spectacular concerts and performances every night, there were between 5 and 10 events happening at any hour of the day for a full week (tortuous for my FOMO – fear of missing out – side!). It was incredible how the party just went on and on. The closest celebration I’ve been to like it has been Mardi Gras in New Orleans (the real one in the actual neighborhoods, not just Bourbon St!).

Gracia was originally its own village outside of Barcelona, and it was eventually absorbed by the city. The most characteristic part of the festival is the street decorations. About 12 different streets in the neighborhood work for months ahead of time to create and build beautiful themed scenes that you can you walk through. All the decorations are made by residents who toil tirelessly outside of work hours to produce whimsical worlds.

The festival was also the first time that we’ve truly seen Catalan traditions in full swing – including human towers, giant paper mache figures, drums, traditional dances, and lots of fire and fireworks.

Opening weekend with Kat

We were so lucky to have Kat visiting us the first weekend of the festival! I got to experience the beautiful Sagrada Familia with her as well as explore the streets of Gracia for the first time. We caught the large opening parade on Saturday, but unfortunately, it started raining pretty hard right as the parade was supposed to happen! We grabbed a table under an awning and tried to wait out the storm. Luckily, it ended in time for the gathering in the main plaza to take place. The mayor of Barcelona even attended. I was excited to see her, as she is the first female mayor of Barcelona.

IMG_0517 IMG_3721

First, the Gigantes danced. Basically, these are paper mache figures that are larger-than-life people. The queen and king danced together a few times in the square.


Several cultural groups performed traditional dances with ribbons and other props.

Then, the castellers started to perform. For me, this was the highlight of the performances. The castellers are human towers. In order to build them, people form this strong base at the bottom and other people literally climb up the base to form the structure. The strength of the bottom support is really important, and there are at least 50 people on each casteller team (most of the people serve to help support the bottom layer). The structures are characterized by how layers of people high they are, as well as how many people are on each layer. There are always at least three kids at the top who scale the whole tower of people to make their way to the top. Once at the top, the highest kid blows a kiss to signal that the structure has been made. There is stunned silence in the crowd as the structures are formed. A band starts playing when the structure is close to complete, but the crowd doesn’t go wild until the kiss has been blown. Then everyone goes crazy.


It is amazing to be up close and watch the whole process. Each casteller member wears a tightly-wrapped elastic around their lower back to protect their backs. As the structure is built, each casteller member just stares directly ahead with a hypnotized expression. We later learned that this is because they are focused on balancing by focusing intently on one object in the distance. There is a director who is yelling out directions, instructing people when to climb.


One of my favorite parts of the whole process is people getting down. They literally slide down the backs of the other people. It is an ingenious and amazing things to watch. When we were in Tarragona, we learned that the casteller tradition originated near there. Peasants came to the city demonstrating this as their contribution, and it’s been a tradition ever since. This was the most unique tradition I had ever seen in Catalonia, and it is definitely something to see in person!

IMG_3805 IMG_3875

The biggest surprise came next! All of sudden, guns were being fired and fireworks shot off into the gathered crowd. The colla de disables had arrived to kick off the festival! These are people who are literally dressed as devils. They have these sticks with huge sparklers attached to them that they light and then spread out into the crowd. Some even have these sparklers attached to fantastical animals and figurines – especially dragons, as these are special in Catalan culture. The whole plaza was filled with light, sparklers, and smoke. Needless to say, it took us by surprise. 🙂 Grant also wondered how he never knew that he could have been a part of the festival by running around with fire.

IMG_3746 IMG_2957

Decorated streets

We got to walk all the different decorated streets. Basically, the decorated streets made the whole neighborhood like a fairground since the party just continued between the decorated streets. We have seen people working on these decorations for the last couple of months. Excitingly, the decorated street right next to ours won first place in the competition; it was themed “Japan”. It was the street that we got to see evolve the most. All the decorations are made from sustainable or recycled materials – for instance, the bamboo in the picture below is made from putting coke and beer cans on a stick and then wrapping it all in green tape. Many of the decorations are paper mache and everything is handmade from scratch – barely anything bought. It is amazing.

Here are a few examples (ok, a lot more than a few!)


IMG_3694 IMG_3695 IMG_0462 feature IMG_3755

Duplot castle

IMG_2959 IMG_3748

IMG_0534^one of my all-time favorites 🙂


Moulin Rouge (complete with an Eiffel Tower!)

IMG_3767 IMG_3766 IMG_3769 IMG_3772


IMG_3775 IMG_3776




IMG_3820 IMG_3824

^I thought we were looking terrified, but as it turns out, everyone else looks normal. Ah well.

Amusement park


Nintendo land

IMG_3814 IMG_3817


As I mentioned, there were activities pretty much constantly. Grant and I got to experience some of these other fun activities: kids’ magic show in Catalan, a pole dance show, a bollywood dance show, swing dance band concert, and lots of spontaneous drum parades.

IMG_3860 IMG_3874 IMG_3714


In other important news, Grant found a good burrito place here, FINALLY! It took him a few times of ordering to figure out how to order it the way he likes it, but he finally got it. This is good news, because his burrito meter was getting dangerously low.

All the small things

You wouldn’t believe how easy it is to fill your days when you aren’t working. Or maybe you would. I have time to sleep, work out, make healthy meals, try my hand at painting, try out freelance magazine writing, explore different dance classes, bike, and go to various summer events happening around the city. It’s like eternal summer camp around here.

Although we haven’t done any big trips lately, we have been busy doing a lot of small things. We are trying to space out seeing some of the lesser-known tourist sites in Barcelona, such as the Sant Pau Hospital, a modernist hospital which at the time it was built offered the most space per patient in all of Europe (also pictured as the cover for this blog post). The architect who designed it, Lluís Doménech i Montaner, is quickly becoming one of our favorites, because his projects focus on bettering the lives of the common man.

We discovered a Gaudí house which is literally less than 10 minutes on foot away from our apartment. It’s Casa Vicens, and it’s currently being renovated to open for tours, so right now you can only look at the facade. We’ve also done more day trips from Barcelona to explore the rest of Catalonia. The more we explore Catalonia, the more I fall in love with the culture. Did you know the Catalan flag pre-dates the Spanish flag? This culture runs deep.

I think it is fair to say that within the 4 months since we’ve moved here, we are pretty well adjusted. When we first moved, I was still very anxious about trying to figure out exactly what we were going to do. I went through some major work withdrawals (I know this sounds ridiculous, but it’s so true). Now, I am just loving the time to dabble in various activities and try my hand at some different skills. I judge myself for saying this – but I could live without a job for the rest of my life, no problem. That’s not realistic, and that won’t be happening, but yeah. I have fully relaxed into this lifestyle.

To be fair, it’s also the culture that has relaxed me. People just can’t be bothered here to get upset or worked up about things. Everyone is treated with much more patience and grace. This is like sweet, sweet medicine for my anxious soul. Being in this environment, one thing I have learned about myself is that I will always find something to worry about. But it’s nice to be surrounded by people who aren’t going to yell at you if you’re late and who understand that life happens. I think it is slowly untying the anxious knots inside of me and reminding me to focus on the things in life that are worth worrying about.

Here are some of the highlights of small trips and explorations we’ve been doing lately.


Tarragona is about an hour’s train ride south of Barcelona on the coast. It has tons of Roman ruins, because it was the first major Roman settlement outside of Italy. Who knew? The societies after the Romans just built on top of the ruins, which ultimately served to preserve the old Roman walls and buildings. Now, you can walk through a large part of the old Roman city. Some people say that it has much better preserved ruins than Rome itself.


We rode with our bikes on the train to Tarragona. In the morning, we did a 40-mile bike ride through some of the countryside beside Tarragona. The countryside was beautiful once we got off the main roads. It reminded us a lot of Sonoma and Napa with rolling hills, fields of produce, and the occasional winery.


We happened by chance upon this gorgeous modernist chapel in the middle of nowhere. We turned a corner on the road, and all of a sudden there was this beautiful white church shining on hill. We had to investigate up close. It turns out that it was designed by a apprentice of Gaudí who had helped out with the tiling of the facade of Casa Batllo. We could definitely spot the Gaudí influences in the catenary arches and the clean, modernist facade.


I love biking for these random surprises it gives you – we would never have known this chapel was here otherwise.

We biked into the city to lunch before a walking tour that afternoon. It turns out the place that we lunched was actually built on part of the old Roman circus. After a post-lunch nap in the park, we headed out on a private walking tour of Tarragona. I was so glad we did this, because there is so much to see, and it’s hard to know what’s important and what’s not! It is amazing to see how the Roman ruins are still present in the modern-day buildings. Those Romans really knew how to build structures that stood the test of time.

IMG_3532 IMG_3535

It was a long day, but we had a great time exploring this coastal Catalan treasure.

St Miquel de Fai

I found this obscure abandoned monastery on a hiking website, and decided we definitely needed to see it. We took a bus about 45 minutes outside of the city and hiked from there to the old monastery in the mountains.


We got to see a whole different side of the Catalan landscape. On our hike on the way there, it was like we were in the Grand Canyon or any other desert landscape. The soil was rocky, and the plants were dry and low bushes. We didn’t see a single soul the whole time we were on the trail. A takeaway for us? Maybe take a machete along on hiking trails in Spain. The trails weren’t totally in disrepair, but they definitely weren’t as maintained as we are used to. We passed a local swimming hole on the way, and we were just about ready to abandon the hike and jump in.

IMG_2896 IMG_3639

The monastery itself was actually much more crowded than I anticipated. Since it’s no longer functioning, the main attraction is to walk around and enjoy how the structures have been built right into the mountain rock. There were also waterfalls from mountain run-off and caves to go inside. It was a stunning sight to see the monastery nestled among the rocks and waterfalls. It struck me as one of those places where it is definitely not hard to find God.


IMG_3653 IMG_3662 IMG_2928

On the hike back, we experienced a totally different side of the landscape, which was more like a green forest with shaded trees. It was bazaar to think how close the two trails were to each other and how different they were.

One of my favorite parts of this whole experience of living in Europe is how much Grant and I get to talk and share life. We were so involved in our conversation on the way back, that we added a few extra kilometers going the wrong way. Grant and I are able to talk about anything and everything – all our hopes and dreams, what it’s like to be removed from our past lives, and the beauty that surrounds us on our trips. One of our friends described it like we were on an extended honeymoon. It really does feel that way at times.

Of course, there is strain at times from spending so much time with one other person. I think, on the whole, we are getting better at laughing at ourselves though.


^No hike is complete without a post-hike snack of patatas bravas and cerveza.

Montgat with Kat

On our bikes rides along the coast, Grant and I had seen an inflatable obstacle course in the ocean. We had vowed to come back at some point and try it out.

Kat was visiting last week and wanted to get some beach time in. Grant found the obstacle course in Montgat, about a 30 minute train ride outside the city. The beach was so uncrowded compared to the Barceloneta beaches, and the weather was nice and overcast. I think it’s the beach to come back to.



Anyway, we all got to try out this obstacle course, American Ninja Warrior style! There was a rock-climbing mountain to scale, balancing obstacles, a huge slide, and large inflatable steps to scale. It was a real workout! It looked pretty simple, but let’s just say that it’s been a while since I’ve had to pull myself up out of the ocean and onto a raft, much less up a moving rock-climbing mountain (which by the way, I could never succeed at). Grant was like a mountain goat scaling all the obstacles.

fish-spaOf course, before the beach, to have feet that were beach-ready, Kat and I went to a fish spa. Basically, you put your feet in this tub of water with fish, and the fish eat all the dead skin off your feet. It kind of tickles! The time passes very quickly, because you get to watch the fish in action. It was kind of awesome (but expensive). I would totally do it again!

This weekend Kat will be back in town, and the local festivities of the Gracia festival will be in full swing. Stay tuned for more of our adventures during the festival!

P.S. For those of you who are waiting for the promised Cinque Terre post – I have just abandoned it at this time. Next time we talk, I promise that Grant and I will fill you in all on the hilarious details.

Visting Kat in Milan

What happens when two Davis girls get together in Europe? Lots and lots of laughter. I’m not sure Europe could handle all three of us at once.


Grant and I traveled to Milan to visit Kat, who is temporarily there on a work assignment. We had traveled throughout Italy during our honeymoon, but we never made it to Milan. It was fun to explore a new place with family and watch Kat try to interact with the locals using her Spanish, with a distinctly Italian lilt, and ridiculous over-the-top hand motions.


Kat immediately greeted us with some aperitivos drink when we arrived at her apartment. Grant especially loved this drink (by loved I mean he poured his into my glass when I was in the bathroom). You’d be surprised at how quickly one acquires the bitter aftertaste of aperitivo, though. We decided to hit the big sites during the weekend while Kat didn’t have to work. First stop was the Duomo area. We walked through the large outdoor shopping center, and we each tried to make 3 turns on our heels on the famous mosaic with a notch in the bull’s testicles. None of us succeeded, but we did look really cool trying.

IMG_3112 IMG_3120


Next was the Duomo cathedral itself! It is enormous (I mean check out the size of that door!). It was one of our favorite things during the trip. The tickets allow you to walk along the roof, which gives an up-close view of the architecture and all the details of the facade. There is also a pretty good view of Milan from the roof.

IMG_3128 IMG_3143 IMG_3163

IMG_3314I have to pause here to say that visiting Milan in July was literally the hottest I have felt in any recent memory. Barcelona is warm right now, for sure, but it has ocean breezes that keep it bearable. Milan is just plain hot. People in Milan also don’t use their air conditioning if they have it, so that means it seems even hotter. I say this because you can assume between every activity that we did in Milan there was a pause for a drink, a granite (delicious slushy drink, my favorite flavor being mint), or gelato.

Saturday evening we went to a burlesque circus dinner show, at which we got to observe all the bachelor and bachelorette party traditions of Italians (the place was crawling with something like seven different parties).

On Sunday, many things are closed in Milan (as they are in Spain and throughout Europe). We walked through Chinatown first, which was an interesting contrast to the rest of the city. Kat had started me salivating about salsa, since she offered to make us some, so we picked up a cheap blender and some dubious looking peppers for salsa later. On a side note, good salsa is one of the biggest things we have missed in Spain. Salsa and burritos.

Then we checked out the Milan canals area, called the Navigli District. There were pretty shops and artists set out along the canal. Of course, halfway through, we had to duck into a dark bar to escape the heat. That evening, we bonded watching Silicon Valley, which is a hilarious HBO comedy about a 20-something who starts his own business in the Bay Area. It is freakishly accurate.

IMG_3235 IMG_3239

One of my favorite memories from the week with Kat was a simple memory of going with her to get her laundry done. None of us knew Italian, so getting around was a rather interesting affair. We did discover that they could pretty much understand our Spanish, and we could get the drift of their Italian. Anyway, we walked in with Kat, and Kat immediately asked if they could speak English (which they couldn’t). Then began this electrifying conversation, conducted more with hands than words, in which Kat and the lady at the laundromat tried to communicate what needed to be washed, how long it would take, and how much it would cost. The back and forth conversation just got more animated and louder as time went on, and Grant was fearful of what would have happened if we had stayed another five minutes. It was hilarious to watch as Kat subconsciously took on these Italian inflections of speaking to communicate. Needless to say, the lady at the laundromat was extremely kind and patient. And Kat got her laundry done. No matter the situation, Kat always seems to find her way – which makes her a great traveling partner.

While Kat was at work during the week, Grant and I did a few day trips from Milan. I’m working on a different blog post to cover the laughably disastrous Cinque Terre experience we had, but our trip to Lake Como was very beautiful. Lake Como is about an hour North of Milan, and it is easily accessible by train. I found this church that I really wanted to visit around Lake Como, which has been named by the Pope as the church of the patron saint of cyclists, Madonna del Ghisallo! I got this idea in my head that we could rent bikes and bike up to it. What I didn’t keep in mind was: a) how hot it was and b) how high the church was located. In the end, we took a train to a ferry to a bus that took us right up to the little chapel. After having ridden on the air-conditioned bus and seeing how it precariously maneuvered the hairpin curves of the switchbacks climbing up to the church, I was very glad we had opted to take the bus (and not been run down by the bus while cycling!).


The church was the most unique one I have ever been in. It was set up high on a mountain overlooking the lake. The church itself was filled with bike paraphernalia that famous cyclists had given over in faith. There is an eternal flame that is there for cyclists who have died. It was a very special place for me – having grown up Catholic and now loving cycling so much. I took a saint card for Madonna del Ghisallo and plan on carrying it with me on every ride I do moving forward.

IMG_3303 IMG_3302


O Mother of the Lord Jesus, We pray that you kindly assist and protect us in our cycling activities.

We ask that you keep us strong and healthy in body, pure and fervent in spirit and keep us away from dangers both in training and in races.

We ask that you make the bicycle a tool of brotherhood and friendship, which may serve to elevate us ever closer to God.

We pray for our dear friends who, torn from our company, you wanted with you in the kingdom of your Son: he gives them the joy of Thy bliss, and allows their families to accept this ordeal with faith and resignation.


I think the church meant even more to me because someone I was riding with a few weeks ago was in a bad cycling accident. I know it can be dangerous, especially in the city around cars, but I typically take my safety for granted. I’m usually more preoccupied with whether I’ll be able to do a climb in a certain amount of time than I am preoccupied about safety. Anyway, I’ll hold this church in my heart for future rides.


The towns around Lake Como were made of twisting cobbled streets that followed the curve of the mountain they were built on. They were charming just to stroll on. We got to enjoy a ferry ride back to the train and the shining blue water in front of the bold blue mountains in front of the clear blue sky. I would highly recommend Lake Como – it definitely exceeded my expectations. Not only was it naturally gorgeous, it was also uncrowded. Let’s just keep this secret between you and me.

IMG_3335 IMG_3350


It was sad to say farewell to Kat (although we are crossing our fingers that she will be able to visit us in Barcelona in a few weeks!). We needed a dose of family time, complete with homemade salsa and Italian wine.

Thanks for hosting us Kat! Drink up some granites for me!

¡Gora San Fermin!

When we first decided on Spain as a place to live for the next year, I immediately marked the Running of the Bulls on our Google calendar. This weekend I got to check “watch crazy people run in front of bulls” off my bucket list, but more importantly, I got a better appreciation for the Sanfermines festival and the Basque culture.

No, we did not run with the bulls. I am much too clumsy and anxious to handle a mob of people scrambling towards me.

We took a six-hour bus ride northwest from the capital of Catalan country to the center of the Kingdom of Navarre and Basque culture – Pamplona. Pamplona is nestled among rolling hills and mountains, and a river runs weaves town. The old city walls are excellently preserved and are integrated directly into the a park that runs the length of the riverfront. The city is green this time of year, and there are still cool breezes in the evening. In short, Pamplona is beautiful.

IMG_2941  IMG_2922IMG_2919

I was not expecting how beautiful Pamplona would be, and Grant and I wished we could see it when it is not in “festival mode.” The whole city was in full-on party mode. The closest parallel I have to draw on is New Orleans’ Mardi Gras. Everyone was out in the street drinking and partying all day and night. I mean everyone – grandparents all the way down to grandkids. One of the things that I love about Spanish culture is that all ages are included in celebrations. This means the family stays together and everything is more family-oriented in general. You will see school-aged children wide awake at 11 PM. We noticed this at the FC Barca football game, as well. You rarely see sloppy drunk Spaniards celebrating. People enjoy their drinks, but they don’t overdo it. That isn’t to say that there weren’t enough tourists here to stumble down the streets sloppily with drink in hand for everyone in Pamplona!

Since the streets of Pamplona were ripe for people-watching when we arrived in town around 5 PM on Sunday, we grabbed what turned out to be a very expensive beer (3 euros for what amounts to be Bud Light equivalent) and hit the cobble stone streets. In many ways, the Pamplona streets reminded me of the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona. However, instead of Catalan flags, there were Basque flags, and instead of Catalan translations, there were Basque translations. The streets were filled with tourists, and rather unfortunately, covered in trash. All the restaurants and bars had their doors flung open on their hinges and were serving copious amounts of beer. There traces of the bull run everywhere – bull cardboard cut-outs and street signs indicating the route.

IMG_2933 IMG_2928 IMG_2932

IMG_3089We stuck out like a sore thumb because both ofus were wearing dark grey/black shirts. The traditional outfit of the festival is white shirt, white pants, red belt, with a red bandana around the neck. I had seen photos, but for some reason, I thought it was a gimmicky thing. No, it turns out everyone who is anyone wears this outfit. Lesson learned! We stopped by some tents selling festival gear and got ourselves set with red bandanas for the next day.

That is when I saw …. the shirt. The funniest shirt! It’s Grumpy Cat wearing a red bandana for the festival. I fell in love, and the deal was sealed when I found out that the woman selling the shirts had designed them. Done and done.



We walked to the bullfighting arena (the third largest in the world), where the bulls from that morning’s run were set to bullfight. I was open to seeing a bullfight until I read in detail about exactly what would happen. I decided that was not something I wanted to support, as every bullfight ends in the bull being slain, and the whole thing is really a ritualistic killing. Bullfighting is actually very controversial in Spain right now. Catalonia has led the way in outlawing bullfighting due to animal cruelty concerns, but it is still a central part of other parts of the country. For example, ninety percent of the seats in this bullfighting arena were owned by local families and passed down generation to generation.

We headed to bed early that night, since we had to be up by 6 AM the next morning to walk into town for the actual running of the bulls event. From July 6 to July 14, every day at 8 AM, six bulls are run from one part of Pamplona through the streets to the bullfighting stadium. It is a different six bulls every day. People run the few street blocks in front of the bulls for as long as possible to show how brave and daring they are. At the last second, the goal is to dive out of the bulls way. My understanding is that it really only counts to run with the bulls if you have touched the bulls or been within touching distance of them. This tradition literally started when they had to move bulls from one place to another and cocky men started jumping in front of the bulls to show how brave they were. Now, it is known worldwide.

Bleary-eyed, we started walking into the city center around 6:30. I had contacted a local resident and arranged for us to rent their balcony to watch the running of the bulls (la encierra) that morning. The apartment balcony was in the middle of Estafeta, the longest and straightest street on the bull run. As soon as we were situated in this nice woman’s house, I had deja vu that we were about to watch the Thanksgiving parade in New York or something. The lady had the TV on with coverage, and we had a great view over all the preparations for the event. The TV camera actually ran right past the balcony we were on. Once we got some coffee in our blood, we started waking up. The anticipation leading up to the actual running was, dare I say, more fun than the actual event!


The lady whose balcony we were on helped to explain some of the traditions of the preparation. First, they clear out the people from all the streets and set up the fences that keep the bulls running towards the stadium. Then, there is an inspection of the streets by the event coordinators. Finally, the pastores, people who follow the bulls with wooden sticks to make sure they keep moving in the right direction and aren’t agitated by the crowd, walk backwards down the path to the applause of all the people along the way.

IMG_2995The streets started to flood with white and red clad people minutes before the event. What happens is that people are released onto the roads and can choose wherever they want to start their run with the bulls (whether it’s at the beginning or towards the end). I think this is necessary because of the sheer number of participants. It made me realize, though, that this is a “choose your own adventure” scenario. You can definitely take an easier way out depending on where you start.

A rocket at 8 AM (maybe the only thing ever in Spain to be on time) indicates that the corral gate where the bulls are kept has been opened. A second rocket a second later notifies the runners that all the bulls have left the pen. We watched the first part on the TV as the bulls tore out of the pen and up the streets. Through the TV, you can see the fear raging in the people’s eyes as they position themselves directly in the bull’s path for their thirty seconds (if they’re lucky) of fame. Then the bulls started to turn the corner, and we flung ourselves on the railing of the balcony to see the infamous Mercaderes-Estafeta corner, la curva, where the bulls tend to slip as they maneuver  around the sharp curve. A chaotic wave of red and white pulsated towards us and only when they were almost beneath us could we see the bulls themselves.

IMG_3001 IMG_3002

Almost directly in front of us, a runner tripped and fell. The man curled quickly into the fetal position, protecting their head and stayed there as the bulls raced directly past and on top of them. I am told that this is the only way to survive a fall during the race – if you get up, you will likely be gored by a bull. When the dust settled after the crowd had passed, the man got up and was ok.


The encierra literally lasts 3-4 minutes. It is quick. You barely see the bulls before they are well past you. Some runners seemed to thrust themselves in the path of danger, some simultaneously amidst three of the bulls, while other runners seemed to shy around getting close to the bulls at all. After we saw the encierra, I asked Grant if he wanted to run it now that he had seen it. His answer: “I mean I would do it if you wanted but it doesn’t particular call to me.”

The shop windows were filled with TV’s with replays after the running was over. There were a few close calls, but it didn’t look like anyone was getting major medical attention today. Apparently, between 200 and 300 people are injured every year. Those aren’t good odds. Honestly, it seems like the biggest danger is from the other runners and the mob mentality than from the bulls.

A nap was in order before we went to a pinxto restaurant for Basque-style tapas. We had some creamy, rich seafood tapas and fruity white wine in the sunshine before we got back on the bus to take us home. We saw one Camino de Santiago pilgrim as we were heading out of the city center and he was arriving. Pamplona is one of the stops along the Camino de Santiago, the religious pilgrimage route over which people hike for 30-40 days. I attempted to look up the history of Pamplona while we were eating, thinking it would give us more insight into this city. However, it has quite a lengthy history that I was not able to follow well at all! It started as a Roman camp for General Pompey in 75 BC – I can’t even fathom that far back in time.


Our 24-hour trip to Pamplona was quick, but we got to see the event we were really looking forward to: the encierra. Maybe our future trips will bring us back to this lovely city to enjoy her when she is not stuffed with tourists wanting to have the claim to fame that they ran with the bulls. As for us, all we can claim is that we did dress the part.

Our first visitor in Barcelona

We were very fortunate to have my friend Melissa come visit us in Barcelona a couple weeks ago! We have been in Spain for about three months now, and it was nice to spend time with a familiar face (and discuss our American reaction to Spanish culture). Fourth of July was right after Melissa’s visit, and Grant and I realized that we really only know one other American here that we would call up to hang out with on the Fourth (and as it turns out, she is really Russian, but grew up in America. So it only sort of counts). Most of the people we have met here are expats from other European countries. All this to say that we had a really fun time with Melissa and got to play tourists in our own town. It was about time that we stepped into Sagrada Familia, anyway.

We covered a lot of ground while Melissa was here, so I thought I’d try to break up the visit into a series of short stories of some of my favorite moments. Here goes!

Cable Car of Doom

On the first day, we walked all around the Old City and the beachfront (I think that day we had the highest number of steps according to Melissa’s fitbit). We decided to take the cable car from the beachfront to Montjuic, because we’d heard there were some great views from there. It was such a clear day with a bright blue sky! There were indeed great views, but the cable car ride itself was a bit nerve-wracking! First, it started with the elevator, which was pretty shaky. Then, once we were on the car itself, It jittered on the cable. But we survived! We got some spanning views of the city and shared our inaugural pitcher of sangria at the top of Montjuic (that made the ride down a little easier). Not a bad way to start the trip off.

IMG_2404 IMG_2414

Giving light and music to the common man

One of the things I enjoyed most about the visit was that I got to learn some historical tidbits that have given me a new way to view Barcelona. We took a guided tour of the Palau de Musica, which was a music hall built very specifically for the common working man in Barcelona. The music hall was built was to give respite to the laborers with a venue that was accessible, light-filled, and exposed them to music, which was a luxury. The architect not only envisioned the space in detail, but he also delegated out specific parts of the building so that it was finished in three years (NOT like Gaudí, as our tour guide pointed out). Once you start to look at the detail of the building, it gives you new appreciation of the mastermind who could balance out so many symbols of music, Catalan culture, and worldwide influences. I also learned recently that the Barcelona neighborhood Exiample was likewise designed deliberately with more space between the blocks to give the common man seemingly more space. The block intersections, which are shifted 45 degrees to open the space between streets up, are a striking contrast to the small streets of the Old City.

IMG_2461 IMG_2458 IMG_2471 IMG_2472

Lolea wins again!

Grant and I discovered sparkling sangria, called Lolea, at a restaurant, and we have been obsessed with it ever since. Naturally, we had to share this obsession. 🙂 We went back to Elsa y Fred to share this beautiful bottle of sangria. Come on, I know you can’t resist the cute polka dots! I think it’s safe to say it’s Melissa-approved (and so were what some would say are the city’s best patatas braves!)

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 12.06.39 AM

Forget the bars: The best rooftop view in Barcelona is Catedral

I have seen many churches in Europe, but I was genuinely surprised at the magnitude and grandeur of the Catedral in Barcelona. It definitely holds it own. One of the highlights of our visit there, though, was going to the rooftop. A theme of this trip was finding the best rooftop bars to get views of the city. What we discovered, though, is that the best views of Barcelona are actually closer in than the very high buildings, like on the third floor. From the Catedral roof, for example, you can actually look out and see Sagrada Familia at eye-level, as well as many of the other landmarks. Once again, we were amazed at how little guardrails and safety precautions there were on the roof, but then again, this is Spain.

IMG_2512 IMG_2521

Rooftop jazz at sunset

What is better than sipping a glass of cava and watching a live jazz performance with friends on a rooftop at sunset? Enjoying all of that on the rooftop of La Pedrera, Gaudí’s apartment building masterpiece. La Pedrera runs a special series of jazz performances on the roof during summer. When we first stepped onto the roof at dusk, I felt like we had stepped on to the moon – Gaudí’s architecture takes on an ethereal, other-worldly quality in the dim light. It was a surreal experience to be able to enjoy the excellent jazz music, cool night air, beautiful architecture, and view of the city. That is my happy place.

IMG_2576 IMG_2596 IMG_2618

Gaudí for Days (“I’m a Gaudí girl in a Gaudí world”)

IMG_2625Barcelona offers so many opportunities to experience Gaudí’s work – some of the buildings are open for touring, and others are not. I think there are 8+ major Gaudí works, at least. I have to say, I wasn’t convinced that seeing all of them would be very interesting, but the more Gaudí we saw, the more we appreciated his philosophy and approach. Gaudí’s buildings, especially the facades, look like they are out of a Dr. Seuss book. However, once you understand his intentions, his designs suddenly turn from the silly to the inspirational. I would highly recommend that you see several of his works to scratch the surface of what was going on in his head and what he was trying to achieve.

Part I: Colonia Guell

We knew we had tickets lined up for Sagrada Familia the next day, but we had read about Gaudi’s crypt at Colonia Guell as we passed through an exhibition at La Pedrera. We decided to go check it out. It was commissioned by the Guell family to be the church of what was essentially an industrial community – all the people who worked at the Guell factory lived in a compound with medical care and education provided by the company. More interestingly yet, Gaudí intended it to be a mini-Sagrada Familia, so many of the concepts that he used in Sagrada Familia are displayed here at a smaller scale. Albeit left unfinished, the church did showcase Gaudí’s ideas – and as a visitor, you could actually touch the arches and sit in the pews. Of all the Gaudí works, it was the most accessible, the one where I didn’t feel I was so much in a tourist attraction as I was a participant in Gaudí’s experience. Rather unfortunately, the industrial colony around the church was well-preserved but not well curated. I think this was one of the hottest days, and we were all wiped after being in the heat for the day.

IMG_2642 IMG_2668

Part II: Casa Batlló

Doing the audio tour of the house Gaudí designed for the Batlló family on the Block of Discord was a last-minute decision, but as it turns out, a really good one! The audio tour for this was fantastic and really helped to break down Gaudí’s vision. Two things made this stand out: 1) It is finished and preserved and 2) It showcases Gaudí’s interior design and furniture design, which shows his attention to detail on a small scale as well. We got to take our photo on the outside facade with the beautiful mosaic tiles. Now, we were finally prepared to see the Sagrada Familia.

IMG_2695 batllo

Part III: Sagrada Familia

So, I don’t know how this happened, but I literally had not seen a photo of the interior of Sagrada Familia in the recent past (or since I can remember). I always thought it was famous for its exterior facades. This heightened the experience of stepping into the illuminated, canopied interior for the first time. The Sagrada Familia is truly unlike anything I have seen in my life, yet utterly familiar due to Gaudí’s design based on nature. It felt to me as if I was standing in the Garden of Eden before the fall to sin. Having visited the other works of Gaudí, we knew what to look out for and found ourselves acting like “Gaudí experts”, telling each other “…and did you notice the way the columns look like tree trunks?” We took a guided tour, and then got to walk up to one of the towers to see the ongoing construction up close. We didn’t expect the narrow winding staircase at the end, but we justified it to ourselves by pointing out how Gaudí must have been inspired by a seashell or snail to create a staircase like this.

IMG_2743 IMG_2754 IMG_2767 IMG_2775

Part IV: Park Guell

We were in for another treat going to Park Guell, because we got to meet up with our friends from San Francisco, Pat and Christine, who were in town on vacation. Strolling through the park, we got to catch up and share the experience of Gaudí’s landscape design. Afterwards, we went to the top of Mt Tibidabo to have a sunset dinner overlooking the whole city. It was a special night to share with friends!

IMG_2781 IMG_2805

Sitges: Vacation from the vacation

After several days tromping through the the hot streets of Barcelona, it was time for a little beach vacay. We took the train 30 minutes outside the city to a small coastal town named Sitges. Not only is it known for its great beaches, Sitges is also known for being a center of gay pride (unfortunately we missed the pride celebration by a few weeks). In fact, it kind of reminded me of the Castro in San Francisco. We got to enjoy relaxing time laying out on the beach, and the water was warm enough to get in as well! The town itself was very cute with white-washed buildings and romantic doorways. Being in Sitges called for indulging in some fresh pina coladas and gave us a small taste of nightlife in this town. This mini-trip was a perfect way to wind down after several packed days of sightseeing.


We ain’t classy enough for the W

On Melissa’s last night in town, we wanted to go to the rooftop bar at the W Hotel on the beach. However, we were denied entrance because of what we were wearing – apparently, yes, they have a dress code at 6 PM in the evening for drinks. Flip-flops nor shorts were acceptable. So we took a walk down the beach and enjoyed a drink at a beachside chalet instead.

All in all, a trip with some great memories! We were delighted to experience all the sights for the first time with Melissa. As our first guest, Melissa can vouch for our small side operation of a bed & breakfast for friends and family. A huge thanks (and hug!) to Melissa for coming to visit! Hope you had as a great of a time as we did!


The Alps: Are you thinking of blue snow-capped mountains hugging small green towns in their valleys? Are you thinking summer hiking and outdoor adventure? So were Grant and I when we booked our tickets to Switzerland! Our nature-oriented itinerary didn’t exactly work out as planned due to weather, but in the end, Switzerland redeemed itself with her lovely chocolate, cheese, wine, and small towns.

Our original dream for Switzerland was to hike part of the Via Alpina from Engelberg to Lauterbrunnen (close to Interlaken). Switzerland an extensive network of accessible hiking trails. Our plan was to fly into Basel, train to Engelberg, hike to Lauterbrunnen, then train to Zurich and fly out. The highlight of the trip we planned was to experience the top of the world while through the Alps. Alas, it was not meant to be.

Arrival in Basel

We arrived in Basel on a dreary Monday afternoon. Basel is a city at the corner of Switzerland, France, and Germany. Even in the airport, there are signs to either exit on the France or Switzerland side of the building. The first thing we did was get a Swiss SIM card for Grant’s phone so that we could access data in the country if we needed to. In every way possible, Switzerland is the exception to other European countries. For example, our phones with the Spanish SIM work in all the countries for a reasonable rate but not Switzerland. Switzerland still uses Swiss Francs as the currency, so we were constantly carrying around two sets of currencies.

We visited two unique museums in Basel: the Vitra Design Museum, the factory of famous Swiss furniture maker, and a museum dedicated to Jean Tinguely, an innovative artist and inventor. The Vitra Design Museum was a factory complex made up of architectural masterpieces. We were very confused when we couldn’t find a museum building, per se, until we realized that the whole group of building were indeed the showcase. We were especially fascinated by the Vitra Haus, which is a building that is filled with delicious discoveries of staircases, rooms, and passageways. Just walking around it was an experience!

IMG_1834 IMG_2416

The next day we visited the Jean Tinguely Museum, which showcased moving and interactive sculptures from everyday objects. I have never seen anything quite like it! Below is a taste of some of the exhibits.


Train to Engelberg

We had bought our train tickets and booked our hotel in Engelberg ahead of time to keep costs down. Unfortunately, when we woke up Tuesday morning, we realized that the weather in the Alps was most likely not going to cooperate for hiking. We decided to head to Engelberg anyway, and check it out for ourselves. We knew we’d be kicking ourselves if we didn’t make sure the hike was not going to be possible.

Engelberg is primarily a winter sports town, and it is folded in the valley between two ski mountains. In fact, it’s a rather recent phenomenon that it’s open in summer at all. Much of the town was closed down, save for a fromagerie, a monastery, and the lifts up to the top of the ski mountains.


We decided that while we were there, we might as well go to the top of one of the ski mountains. It was pretty expensive, so we weren’t sure about it, but we took our chances. And boy! Did we see a view!  A view of the inside of a huge cloud covering up the top of the mountain!

Haha, joke was on us! We couldn’t really see anything from up there. This cemented our decision that the Alps hike was not going to be pleasant nor pretty. The only part of the entire country of Switzerland where it would not be raining for the next five days was Geneva – so we switched gears and headed there! Thank goodness for the reliable and convenient train network of Switzerland that got us to Geneva within 4 hours!

IMG_1889 IMG_2521


I have to admit, at this point in our journey, I was feeling a little grumpy. I was really looking forward to getting out in nature instead of being in big cities. However, the train ride vistas wrapping around Lake Geneva on our way into the city tugged at the corners of my cheeks and made me smile. Could it be there were other parts of this country that were equally gorgeous in their own ways?


In Geneva, we strolled along the lakeside, meandered between independent chocolate shops, and flexed our worldly citizen muscles in the United Nations and Red Cross Museum. As it turns out, the tour of the United Nations was composed mostly of covert glances into conference rooms and meetings. I did learn quite a bit about which councils meet, how often they meet, and the origins of the U.N. from the League of Nations.


The crown jewel of Geneva for me, though, was the Red Cross Museum. As a UX designer, it was a treat me for me to experience interactive exhibits and appreciate the clever details of the design. For example, they had life-size video projections of people who have benefited from Red Cross work to explain the extent of service. You could walk up directly to these projections and touch your hand to theirs to start them talking to you. I also learned about a whole arm of the Red Cross that I wasn’t aware of – Reconnecting Families, which keeps records of prisoners of wars and helps to facilitate communication between them and their family.

Although Geneva had some interesting landmarks, the region around it won over our stomachs (and therefore our hearts!)

Chocolate and Cheese Trail

Yes, there is indeed a hiking trail in Switzerland called the Chocolate and Cheese Trail! Naturally, when I discovered this was a mere two hours from Geneva, I insisted that we go! For Grant and me, the two days spent in this region were the very best of the trip. The hike started in the charming village of Charmey, crossed over a dam, weaved through a lush gorge, stopped over in Broc at a Cailler chocolate factory, and then continued through cow-dotted pastures to the castle of Gruyeres and a famous fromagerie.

The hiking trail was marked very clearly. Unfortunately, it was also marked as “closed”. Being the adventurers we are, though, we decided to ignore the signs and go through the trail anyway. It certainly was a fun way to pass the time guessing why they had closed the trail (was it the fallen tree over the path? the fence that was broken? or the bridge that was crippled from a recent rock slide?).


IMG_2578 IMG_2147

IMG_2602We started to smell the roasty chocolate in the air as we climbed out of the gorge into Broc. Grant claims he has never seen me hike so fast (what can I say?). Unfortunately, we were 15 minute too late to go through the chocolate factory; fortunately, the gift shop with copious variations of chocolatey goodness was still buzzing with sugar-frenzied people. We each got some chocolate – for sustenance for our hike, of course. Then it was off to the land o’ cheese!


This stretch of the trail was distinct for the soundtrack of heavy bells echoing off the mountains from cows along the path, as if they were playing an elaborate chime piece for us. We were back in the creases of the mountains and headed straight for a striking castle town in the distance, which seemed to be floating on its own island of a mountain: Gruyeres.



The castle of Gruyeres provided stunning views of the surrounding countryside and walking through the main street of the village transported us back in time.

IMG_2213 (1)


We are really good at getting to places at ALMOST the right time. This was the case again with the fromagerie in Gruyeres (just closed!) and subsequently the bus we needed to take to the neighboring town to get to our hostel. We found out the bus schedule we had on our phones was wrong from a friendly man whose shop we wandered into in order to kill time waiting for said bus. Upon calling the hostel and asking if they could pick us up in a car, we were notified by the hostel manager that we could walk 3 miles up the mountain to get there instead. Thankfully, the shop owner took us under his wing and offered to give us a ride to Moleson and our hostel. We stocked up on dried meat, cheese, and wine at his store as a token of our gratitude. As we winded up the mountain road to Moleson, the shop owner led us through his life experiences as a chef aboard a cruise ship (sometimes docked in San Francisco), a restaurant owner, and finally most recently as the owner of the town’s train station. He had such an interesting story, and I don’t know what we would have done without his kindness!

At the hostel, I leaned in to give him the Catalan familiar salutation of a kiss on each cheek. In this part of Switzerland, though, I learned, they give three kisses – one on the left, one on the right, and then one on the left again. We were also informed that in France it is four kisses. As if I wasn’t confused enough by this time about which language people spoke! In this region of Switzerland, the prominent language is French but in other parts, it is German.


When we woke up the next morning, my hankering for fondue had grown overnight into an insatiable monster. I had to have fondue before we left Gruyeres. Grant looked up the highest-rated fondue restaurant, and of course, it was one we had dismissed as a tourist trap on our way into town. We decided to hike back down to Gruyeres to catch the train back towards Lake Geneva. As we are avoiding cow paddies in the path and crossing through pastures, we stumbled upon a mountain shack restaurant selling fondue on our way down. It was owned by this cute elderly Swiss couple who only spoke French. We were the only ones there – save their Bernese mountain dog who greeted us enthusiastically. We had an interesting time ordering without knowing what we would get, but I don’t think we could have gone wrong there. We had the freshest goat cheese fondue I have ever tasted in my life, with an incredible view overlooking the valley.

IMG_2298 IMG_2312

All cheese’ed up, we were ready to head back to Lake Geneva and check out the World Heritage Lavauex vineyards terraced along the lakefront. These vines have been around since Roman times. You can hike among the vines between tasting rooms. The vines are built into the slope of the land and are organized thoroughly with rows and steps for care and hand-picked harvest. Grant was especially fascinated by a machine that resembled a small roller coaster to let wine makers harvest hard to reach areas of grapes. The wine was a wonderful way to cap off our food adventure.

IMG_2342 IMG_2377

On our last day, we visited the Chillon Castle in Montreux, which was occupied by various families that controlled trading routes through Switzerland. The castle is built right into rock in the water and is in very good condition.


While our trip to Switzerland wasn’t exactly what we had envisioned, we were won over by the beauty of the southwestern corner of this mountain-adorned country.

Note on Expensive Swiss Livin’

One thing we (should have) but didn’t anticipate was how expensive Switzerland was! Not only is there not a very good exchange between the swiss franc and the euro, the actual price of items is also marked up. It is a beautiful country, and it is very safe – but you pay for it. I had an interesting conversation with someone who worked at a hotel we stayed at. He told me that every 3 months, he would drive across the border to France to go clothes shopping as to avoid Swiss prices. Hilariously, he and his friend flew to Madrid, spent a few days there, and got a tattoo for cheaper than just the cost of the tattoo in Switzerland.

Jibe ho!

Grant and I just spent the last 5 days on a yacht getting our “Competent Crew” RYA certification, which basically just means we know our way around a boat and know the basics of which sails do what and how to raise & lower them.

The course was about an hour north of Barcelona on the coast, in an area known as Costa Brava. There are gorgeous Spanish towns that just tumble from the mountains to the rocky shore. Needless to say, it was a great place to learn to sail and even better place for the views!

Lots of houses like this one built right onto overhanging rocks:




There was 1 instructor and 4 students, including us, on a 38-foot sailing yacht. We slept on board in the marina every night and sailed about 5-6 hours a day, about 100 miles in total.

Our home for the last 5 days:



Grant down below (that’s the berth we shared in the background):



Part of the crew at work:


As you might expect, Grant already knew quite a bit going into the course from his Corpus Christi and A&M sailing days. He was a pro! In fact, the other students called him the upwind specialist. The instructor pointed out that you can always spot a dinghy sailor because of their understanding of wind. Grant easily picked up on some of the more advanced skills beyond our course, like maneuvering the boat in the marina.

The upwind specialist at work:


I was quite nervous going in – thinking what if I’m seasick the entire time? However, it turned out to be a blast, and we had a lot of fun! I learned a LOT in a short period of time. It was nice to be surrounded by experienced sailors to ask whatever question might come up.

Me watching the wind direction as I take the helm:


One great thing about the sailing course was how laid back everyone was. Certainly, we learned rigorous safety standards and techniques, but each day was capped off with a cerveza on the marina, getting to know the other sailors. As chance would have it, all of us on the boat had quit our jobs around April of this year to take time off. I think this week really cemented for me the seize the moment attitude that I’ve been trying to cultivate in this time off. I have never felt so at peace with our decision to take time off and move abroad as I do right now. There is just no way I would have done what I did this week without Grant and I giving ourselves the time and space to do it.

IMG_2329 IMG_2363



The next RYA course is called Day Skipper and would allow us to charter a boat up to 60 miles offshore anywhere in Europe. It focuses more on how to actually steer the boat, calculate passages, and maneuver the boat in close quarters. After this week, Grant and I are both thinking that we will do that training! We’re also going to seek out more opportunities to sail. Our end dream is to be able to sail around the Greek isles on our own chartered boat.

So, who wants to join us for a Greek isles yacht trip?

How to spend a free life

I haven’t written in a while. The reason is because I haven’t been sure of what to write about. My emotions have been flying all over the place lately, and they never seem to stay put long enough for me to understand them myself, much less articulate them to other people. I started embracing something that I learned in yoga meditation – when trying to quiet the mind, acknowledge the feelings and observe them. Don’t pass judgement on them, just let them flow through you. So, instead of trying to pin down my feelings, I have just been observing them as they pass through me.

We have also been taking it easy as Grant completely recovers from his bouts with illness. We have been taking care of each other and staying in Barcelona, resting up! He is almost completely recovered now.

Moving abroad – being in a place totally separated from everything and everyone I define myself by – has stripped down layers I didn’t even know I had around the core me. I am deciding who I want to be – how I want to behave and what I want to do with my free time. There have been so many opportunities that is is hard to focus.

In the air the questions hang

Will we get to do something?

Who we gonna end up being?

How we gonna end up feeling?

What you gonna spend your free life on?


Characteristics to cultivate

I have certainly learned a lot about myself. There are a few character traits that I want to develop and learn more about because these are weak spots for me.

Humility – not being too proud to ask for help, not believing that I can do it all, letting go of control over everything, taking risks without worrying about failure

Patience – being able to roll with it when it all falls apart, dealing with disappointment, not hurrying so much to the next thing that I miss the now, having patience with other but starting with patience for myself

Perspective – realizing no experience, no person, nothing in this world will ever fully make me happy; how little material things matter!

Skills to cultivate

I have also narrowed in on what I want to put my time & energy towards. Here is a sketch showing my various goals & pursuits (as of now):



At the center is travel. Ultimately, experiencing many different places, cultures, and peoples is why we decided to take time off. Next week, Grant and I are taking a sailing course which will teach us how to be crew members on a boat. Our ultimate hope is that we will able to do some sailing on our own eventually.

There are many creative pursuits that I have started to go after:

  • Screen printing (which I have started classes for)

serigrafia2_color1 copy serigrafia2_color2 copy

  • Cross stitching (pictured below is my first attempt at lemons)


  • Jewelry making (most interested in laser cut rubber & leather and was recently inspired by this beautiful necklace Grant got me!)

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 3.30.31 PM

  • Electronics as applied to cross stitching & jewelry making (think LEDs, EL wire, etc.) and the intersection of all three of these art forms
  • Freelance online writing course through Stanford (thank you to everyone who has encouraged me after reading along with the blog!)

This is also a perfect time for me to prioritize health & wellness. These are the activities that are easiest for me to participate in with the language barrier. It’s easy to follow along physical instructions in a class and model after the teacher.

  • Biking, spin class, and weight lifting
  • Dance of all kinds (pole dance, modern dance. etc.)
  • Exploring nutrition mobile apps from a ux perspective (this is an area both Grant and I are passionate about)

That is how we’ve been spending our free lives lately…


Our bravest and best lessons are not learned through success, but through misadventure.
― Amos Bronson Alcott

To date, I’ve chronicled mostly fun adventures and discoveries, along with everything that’s going on in my head & heart. You’re really in for a treat, today, reader, because I’m going to chronicle our misadventures to date. Pour yourself a glass of wine or iced tea, and get ready to laugh at with us.

  1. Arriving at the Barcelona airport at 1 AM, wandering the airport looking for the airport hotel, finally finding an information desk and asking for directions in Spanish – promptly leading us in the wrong direction because I didn’t really understand the directions – then finally giving in and sending Grant back for directions in English because I was too embarrassed to go back
  2. Walking into a restaurant and telling the waiter we are here to cocinar (to cook) instead of the correct word cenar (to eat dinner)
  3. Going to a Mexican restaurant, ordering tamales, and getting a dish that is clearly a quesadilla….eating it, still thinking this is a quesadilla but not feeling confident to point it out, because maybe we don’t know what quesadillas in a Mexican restaurant in Spain are supposed to look like (it was a quesadilla brought to the wrong table, but this just goes to show how you learn not to assume anything in a foreign country)
  4. Getting a ridiculous look from the doctor when trying to put the thermometer in Grant’s mouth – everyone here knows it’s more accurate temperature under the arm (turns out this is up for debate)
  5. Discovering the hard way that grocery stores and most restaurants aren’t open on Sundays (errr, let’s fast?)
  6. Buying the laundry detergent with a lamb on it because it’s cute and discovering our clothes still smell baaaaaaaad after using that
  7. Going into an electrodomestico (store that sells home electronic appliances), asking for a brita filter for water, being shown a tea infuser filter, figuring they don’t sell water purifiers, then seeing one in the front window as we walk out of the store
  8. Buying sheets and towels from the expensive department store with the help of a very attentive and friendly salesperson, discovering we overpaid, returning said sheets and towels specifically avoiding the salesperson who sold them to us, then the store clerk calling the salesperson to come do the returns (awwwwwkward)
  9. Being on time to a club meetup and being the first person there (yes, Spanish time is a real thing)
  10. Making microwavable popcorn out of the bag on the stove because the promised microwave has not yet arrived (and then burning the bottom of pan…whoops)
  11. Being told by the gas company that I would need to visit a store in person because they couldn’t understand me well enough on the phone
  12. Waiting all day for the internet provider guy to show up….only to have the power in the whole apartment building go out 20 minutes before he arrived (lucky him – he got to hang out at the bar on the job waiting for our power to come back on)
  13. Freaking out that we had to get to the immigration office within 30 days of our arrival only to be told when we got there that it’s ok, make an appointment and come sometime in the next 3 months
  14. Buying a 25 cent bottle of water at the grocery store on the St Jordi holiday and getting a complementary rose (pretty sure the rose cost more than the water)
  15. Insisting to take a photo in front of this cute sign the day we arrived when it was really crowded and we had to wait for the photo opp only to realize that it is really uncrowded during the week
  16. Taking the first shower in our new apartment and having 1) the hot water not work and 2) the showerhead break and water go everywhere (…reasons why you should make your spouse test everything in the place first….)
  17. Feeling disappointed that we are never going to get our passports stamped passing through EU countries (it’s like we were never in France)
  18. Finding ourselves humming twinkle, twinkle little star in the middle of the day subconsciously from the hours of hearing it from the street performer outside
  19. Shopping in the cereal aisle at the grocery store, realizing all your childhood dreams of candy cereal have come true because everything has chocolate in it – and then realizing you don’t really want that anymore (chocolate for breakfast?)
  20. Having the hard realization that we’re not really on vacation anymore so we should probably not eat gelato every night (just maybe every other night)
  21. Being left a Burger King coupon in our airbnb room, because A. we’re American, B. Americans eat Burger King, so A. therefore B. we want to eat Burger King
  22. Strava trying to take us on the freeway on our bikes (trust me, nothing can go wrong)
  23. Grant thinking that Gaudi’s work is too gaudy
  24. Me discovering that it’s totally normal and acceptable that at the end of every dance class, we give each other massages (I knew modern would be a good fit for me) and me being the most awkward person about it (why is that person moving my bra strap without talking to me?)
  25. Not having enough hands to carry our luggage so strapping on a huge rolling suitcase to the back of my backpack as a tail
  26. Not being able to spell my own name in Spanish because I’ve forgotten how to say the alphabet in Spanish – and Grant jumping in spelling it perfectly using his recent Spanish lesson knowledge (I felt like a cave woman pounding on chest…me…meg…grunt grunt)
  27. The painful realization that not all patatas bravas are delicious
  28. Sharing a double bed with your spouse after having had a queen bed (enough said)
  29. Realizing that locals are wearing scarfs in 77ºF weather (we are going to melt in summer)
  30. Making frito pie with 3D bugles because there are no fritos (one word: soggy)

I’m sure there are a million more little moments like these. There is nothing more humbling than discovering a new place, a new culture, and a new way of doing things. It heightens every experience – either it’s super disappointing to try to engage with the new culture and fail – or you make a connection, someone understands you, and you feel like you’ve won the lottery. Sometimes all you can do is laugh about it (or cry a little bit) and realize that you are a small part of the world with a small slice of experiences. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows calls this onism.

Not a day goes by that I don’t say something completely wrong in Spanish. I’ve enjoyed David Sedaris talking about his experiences learning French in Paris as an adult. I’ll leave you with this hilarious (and all too close-to-home) quote from his “Me Talk Pretty One Day”:

On my fifth trip to France I limited myself to the words and phrases that people actually use. From the dog owners I learned “Lie down,” “Shut up,” and “Who shit on this carpet?” The couple across the road taught me to ask questions correctly, and the grocer taught me to count. Things began to come together, and I went from speaking like an evil baby to speaking like a hillbilly. “Is thems the thoughts of cows?” I’d ask the butcher, pointing to the calves’ brains displayed in the front window. “I want me some lamb chop with handles on ’em.”

Paris with Monsieur and Madame Mullins

We had the wonderful opportunity to visit Paris this weekend to hang out with my Uncle Kelvin and Aunt B, or should I say Monsieur and Madame Mullins? It was so fun to see them and fill my family love tank.

It was so surreal to be meeting up in Paris, and the whole day I kept thinking, is this happening? We are in Paris with Bridget and Kelvin!

Eiffel Tower

Grant was feeling much improved after this week of rest, so on Friday afternoon, we jetted off to Paris. We didn’t arrive until late in the evening, so we headed to dinner and then to see the Eiffel Tower at night. I couldn’t go to sleep on our first night in Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower!


The Seine

The next morning we met Bridget and Kelvin at their hotel for a day of adventure! Their hotel – like many things in Paris – has a rich history. Apparently, someone stole the Mona Lisa at some point and kept it in this hotel until they were caught.

I had a short list of things I wanted to see, but for the most part, we were game for anything. It was Bridget and Kelvin’s last day in Paris. We were lucky to have such wonderful tour guides and company!


First, we walked along the Seine. The weather wasn’t wonderful – it was drizzling lightly almost the entire time we were there, but it was still beautiful in the haze. We walked along the Pont d’Arts, which is a bridge on which couples lock padlocks, pledging their love. The bridge is so full that they have started boarding up sections so that you can’t add locks. With good reason! Here is an article explaining how part of this bridge had collapsed before from the weight of the locks: I still think it’s wildly romantic though.


Next, we visited Notre Dame. It is stunning. We simply don’t have structures of this enormity and elaborate detail today. We contemplated how generations of men went to work to build this, without ever seeing the final product.

…and sometimes we just goof around too….


The inside of Notre Dame was stunningly lit up. We didn’t realize when we entered, but there was actually a funeral service happening. I did feel strange filing through a church while the funeral service was happening, but the voices of the chorus and the lighting set a very different tone that made me reflect more deeply on the cathedral, on religion, and on God. Older places of worship always make me think about how many people worshipped here, and how long ago, and how disconnected I feel from them – yet how similar we are as human beings in this world worshipping God as best we can.


Latin Quarter

Next, we walked through the Latin Quarter to whet our appetites before lunch reservations 🙂 The small pedestrian streets and wafting smell of crepes drew me in. Check out this pile of huge meringue pralines we saw on the street:


Centre Pompidou

We looped by the Centre Pompidou to check out the inside-out architecture of this modern art museum. The tunnels on the outside seriously look like gerbil tunnels built for humans!


Authentic French Lunch

One of Bridget’s co-workers had recommended a restaurant in Le Marais. This restaurant is so popular that they could only get reservations for lunch. We walked in and it was nearly empty, but within 30 minutes, the place was FULL. Most everyone in the restaurant looked local, so it was a fun experience trying to figure out what to order from the French menu. The food was delicious – rabbit, veal, and lamb.

The most delightful part of the whole experience, though, was ordering the the chocolate mousse. The waitress brings over a bowl of mousse so that you can scoop out whatever portion you want. The four of us shared a big spoonful, and let me tell you, it was so rich! It was the creamiest, richest mousse I’ve ever tasted.




It was hard to stir after lunch – can you say chocolate mousse coma? We did manage to walk some of lunch off in the charming streets of Le Marais as we window shopped. This part of town was so cute. I have to say I was amazed at how the architecture of Paris was so distinct. Even though there were variations in buildings, all of the streets we walked down looked like Paris.


The Catacombs

One of the things that the Mullins had not gotten to do yet was go to the catacombs – the underground tunnels where over 6 million people are buried. It is know as the “world’s largest grave.” So, of course, in the light mood we were in, we had to do that.

We stepped out of our taxi as we arrived, and there was a twisting line of umbrellas all around the corner waiting just to get tickets. It was about a 3 hour wait! Yikes.

Luckily, we were in the company of one of the friendliest, most charming Texas men. Kelvin asked if there was any way that they could fit us in as it was our last day in Paris – and they did let us in! It never hurts to ask.

I was amazed at both how far down the catacombs went, as well as how long they were. I would not want to get trapped down here without lights with 6 million ghosts. The bones were organized by year and neatly stacked. You’ve got to wonder whose job that was!


Seeing these skulls immediately conjured up the Bible verse that we are from dust and to dust we shall return. All of these skulls represented unique, living people. Yet, when it comes down to it, all of our mortal bodies end up the same way – a pile of bones.

Wrapping up the day

Sometimes the simplest things bring the most joy. We picked a sidewalk cafe to sit in as we ordered drinks, people watched, laughed, and caught up. We remembered some great memories (like that time that my uncles, Stefan, and Kat “welcomed” Grant to the family at our wedding), and we dreamed about future memories. I am so very thankful to have a family that I am close to. You can’t choose your family, but I am so blessed to have a great family – especially Kelvin and Bridget!

It had been way too long since Grant and I had seen Kelvin and Bridget – about a year and half, and even longer since we had gotten to hang out one on one. I am so thankful that family bonds allow us to pick up where we left off. It is hard to describe the way seeing family makes me feel – but it brings me this underlying sense of peace. It grounds me. There are people in the world who have known me my whole life and still like (and love) me! There are people in the world who have the same smile and laugh as me – and my weird quirks are suddenly completely normal. There are people in the world who always have my back, no matter what.

Spending the day with Kelvin and Bridget, there are many things that I admire about them. I admire the love they have for each other – both completely independent and separately interesting people who find a way to support each other in their unique pursuits. I love listening to their stories – they can re-tell a moment to you that makes you feel as if you have just re-lived it with them! They are the type of people with whom you can discuss everything from hilarious cultural faux pas to the deepest thoughts about traveling and life.

Thank you Uncle Kelvin and Aunt Bridget for a wonderful time in Paris! We love you!

Page 3 of 5

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén