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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Madrid for Easter in the perfect location

We spent the week before Easter in the city of Madrid. We traveled with another couple, Chrissy and David Hammond. It was David's first trip across the Atlantic. The reason for my trip started when my co-worker that has been all over the world and I went to London with said Madrid was her 2nd favorite city in the world, after London. This I had to see.
The hotel to stay at is the Westin Palace Hotel. It has a perfect location right in the heart of the city across the street from the famous Prado Museum. I booked the trip for Chris and I complete with the Palace. Chrissy was in and decided to make the trip a Valentines Day surprise for David.

We flew Delta thru Atlanta to Madrid. The flight over went pretty well. On the long flights Delta has done the same as almost all the other airlines where you pay extra for some extra leg room. We realized it was not just the extra leg room, but they took that extra leg room from regular coach. With it being David's longest flight ever, he was extra uncomfortable. Lucky for him Chrissy paid the extra for the leg room on the return.

Our room at the Westin was very nice. The bathroom was complete with a bidet that Chris found super entertaining. The rooms were older but well kept. It wasn't as fancy schmancy as I thought it would be but I didn't have any complaints.

We did the double decker bus tour that drove all over the city. The main pick up is right across from our hotel so that was super convenient too. They give you head phones and you pick the language and it's all pre-recorded. A little different than if you have done similar ones in London or New York. This first glimpse made me realize I knew nothing about Spain. I had not even really thought about it. I knew they ran with bulls and did flamenco shows but all the past Kings and Queens and history, no clue.
We got off the bus at the Plaza Mayor and it was pretty neat. Lots of restaurants with outside seating and street performers. It reminded me of Venice, without the smell. We sat at one of the little tables for some tapas! The boys tried some local beer, Chrissy had Sangria (I was so jealous! I was pregnant on this trip) and I sipped on an over priced bottle of coke. It was great people watching. It looked like some people had apartments in the square. I reminisced about Matt Lauer who was just in the Plaza Mayor for his Where in the World is Matt Lauer 2011. We didn't have Flamenco dancers performing just for us but it was still pretty cool.

We made a stop at the Hard Rock. Hard Rocks always seem to happen on vacation when there is one. It was only a couple blocks from the hotel so when we pulled up in like 2 minutes I understood why the cab driver looked annoyed when that's where we wanted to go.

Our big adventure was to Segovia. Chris really wanted to ride the train so we bought tickets in advance and it's an easy one to get to. I think the cab to the train station cost more than the train tickets. It was a misty rainy day. When we got off the train I asked Chris to ask the information booth where we go to visit the castle and old town. He came back with "we can walk or take the bus". The bus looked like sardines and I was like "let's walk!" So we started walking. It was foggy so we kept assuming it was right around the corner. Nope! We walked and walked and walked. We finally came to a gas station (and nothing around us looked 2000 years old or castle-ish) and with our combined Spanish figured out we had walked 3 kilometers and we were not even close. A cab finally came for us and we were off!
Segovia is also known for the aqueducts. It was a neat town with lots of shops and hills but after our long walk in the rain, we ended up going to a Italian restaurant and biding our time in the warmth before our train went back to Madrid.

The other little town we visited was Toledo. It was old! We did an escorted tour of Toledo and it was a whirlwind. We should have done the full day tour instead of the half day tour. There was 0 time on your own except at the end where they take you to a tourist trap place where they made jewelry. There are pros and cons of doing it on your own and then taking a tour, obviously!

One highlight of our trip was eating at Botins. It is the oldest restaurant in the world (so they claim and so says the Guiness Book of World Records). All I can say is good thing we had a reservation. It was packed and a total zoo but they had their system down. It kind of annoyed me for the prices you paid it was kind of a cattle call. Chrissy was brave and had the suckling pig that they are known for. We all were shocked when we ordered. The biggest tip for this restaurant is split everything and be specific with your waiter. Like they even charged for bread and like 1 euro for a tablet of butter sooooooo when we said we wanted bread and butter for the table we should have thought, "how many of us are actually going to eat it?" I think we had too much of an American mentality at this place.

We did a flamenco dinner show our last night. Chris loved the guitar playing. It was a fun night. It was a small restaurant with a stage. We sat really close (well everyone does).

As we got ready to go home we realized that hotel was at the start of the parade route. And their parades for Easter are intense. People dressed in these long purple robes and people just pack the streets. We had to get up extra early and just take a cab to the airport to avoid the crowd. This picture was from the lobby of the hotel.

All in all it was a good trip. I wouldn't say it's my new favorite city. It was very clean, the people didn't speak much English (except for the people at the hotel and Starbucks), there was lots of history (that I had never heard of) and the food was just ok to me. I love going to new places though! I just don't know if I need to go back. I have checked it off my list. I do miss the olives and balsamic served at every meal. I even have started buying olives from the olive bars at places like Whole Foods and Sunflower Market. Just thinking about it makes me want to go run to the store right now (but that might be the pregnant girl talking....)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Eating and Shopping Our Way thru Texas

My husband decided we hadn't gone on vacation in a looong time (Dec until February really isn't THAT long but whatever) so we decided to spend President's Day weekend in Texas. We dropped our 6 pound yorkie off at Chris's parents house in the Dallas area and continued onto Austin.
This was my first Austin experience. It totally reminded me of Portland, OR. It even rained the whole time we were there. We stayed at at resort right outside of town called the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines. It was not convenient for visiting the city of Austin but it was a really neat resort. When you turn off the main road onto Hyatt Road or something like that it takes about 10 minutes of driving down a tree lined road to get to the resort. They had a golf course and horse stables. The horses weren't out and about because of the rain but it looked really neat. They had trails all thru the woods.
We ate dinner at Sandra Bullock's restaurant, Bess Bistro. It was really good! I had a starter salad and the salmon. Chris went for the shrimp bisque and lamb shepherds pie. I am still anti-lamb since I grew up with neighbors who had sheep and we would play with the babies. It's like eating a cat but I can handle watching someone else do it. Anyway, the atmosphere is great. There were wine bottles everywhere and a big fish tank. You walk down stairs from street level and it's like you are in a cellar or basement. The ceiling wasn't finished and the brick showed thru on the walls. It all added to the ambiance.
After dinner we ventured down to Whole Foods which I guess is the first Whole Foods in the country. It was probably about 9pm and the place was packed. It guess this is the place to be on a Friday night. You park underneath and take a escalator up. It was huge! So many different food stations and a nice wine area where people were sitting around enjoying there in the store. Very impressive. Chris and I bought a bunch of mini desserts from the pastry bar and brought them back to the hotel. Since I was in my first trimester, I pretty much fell asleep when we got back to the hotel and didn't eat them but the next morning they were amazing!
The next day we went to San Marcos, TX and O.M.G. it has the biggest outlet mall I've ever seen (and I am an outlet connoisseur). There were 2 outlet malls right next to each other. The Premium outlets and the traditional outlets. We spent probably 3 hours there and I don't think we hit 10%. My primary goal for this outlet mall was to visit the Pottery Barn outlet which was huge and amazing. Chris said he was surprised I didn't tell him to go rent a U-Haul. I was good though since at this point I don't know exactly where we will be living so it's hard to buy big ticket items without having a spot for them.
We ate at this local restaurant called Garcia's which was rated online as the #1 Mexican restaurant in all of Texas. That's a pretty amazing recommendation. It was very hole in the wall. It was super busy and it was super good. I don't know if I would say "best in all of Texas" but it was really good and cheap! The most expensive thing on the menu (which of course Chris has to get, that's par for the course) was $7.50. I had a chicken fajita salad and the chicken had a really good flavor.
We spent the next 2 nights at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country in San Antonio. It was really similar to the Lost Pines (minus the horses) but you didn't have a 2 mile drive in from the main road. It was very Texas. Everything smelled like mesquite liquid smoke. They even added it to the food. I'm sorry but creamed corn doesn't need to take like mesquite. Gag me. They had a lazy river and a bunch of swimming pools. It would be a good place to come back in the summer.
We did lots of shopping (well more walking around shopping places, than buying things) while in San Antonio. We went down to the Riverwalk one night and ate at Boudro's. It was pricey but it was really good. They made guacamole table side with oranges in it. I've never had it with oranges so that was a yummy twist.
Anyway, all in all I really like Texas as a state but...since I live in Oklahoma, Texas still sucks :)

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