El Caminito del Rey

I consider the personal comfort zone for every individual as a slight variation from the feared friend zone by singles failing to date someone outside their assumed expectations. But unlike the friend zone, where someone else determines this social station for you, the comfort zone is something we do to ourselves, most of the time unknowingly.

It’s the way we live our lives, comfortably. And in the big picture there is nothing wrong with living a comfortable, ordinary life. In fact, it’s something I strive for. But when the little things in life aggrandize themselves much larger than their inherent quality or character initially intend that is the moment you must push yourself outside of your own self-determined friend zone and reengage that seductive mistress that is your life – or if you prefer to picture a tall dark handsome stranger as the personification of your life, well, that is fine too.

My wife and I (and our friend Dave) did this recently with a little not very well known trail called El Caminito del Rey (The King’s Walkway or The King’s Little Road). This trail has been proclaimed as one of the most dangerous trails in the world, if not the most dangerous – although I believe there is this path in China that could easily contend, but I digress. Located on the cliffs of El Chorro, the trail is but three feet wide and hundreds of feet above a beautiful teal colored stream that would give no relief if you fell. Built originally in 1905 as a way for workers to access the hydro-electrical plant, the trail has long fallen into desuetude. The cement path has broken up in many parts, several gaping holes peer down to the trickling water below, and in a few areas nothing remains at all except the rusted steal beams that stand out as a skeletal reminder of the path’s former glory.

The technicality of the path is not difficult, especially if you have done any previous climbing before. It’s your own mentality that must be overcome, and the fact that people have died on this trail. I have rocked climbed before, but that has been a couple of years ago. There is no easing oneself into this experience. The trail begins with a shear cliff face traverse even before reaching the walkway. And even when upon the walkway itself there are numerous times when you are peering down to the canyon below as you inch along to the next section of the path. Hands against the rock and feet sliding along a rail, like a rib of a decaying corpse exposed to the elements, each movement is deliberate and planned. There were many times I had to steady my nerves, as my knuckles grew white and my hands clenched the rock face. The beauty of the trail is baffling, and mixed with the adrenaline of the climb there really is nothing like it.

The climb took half a day as we took our time exploring caves and taking pictures. After we returned from our time outside of our comfort zone, everything came into sharp perspective. How can anything seem to be so worrisome, so troublesome, when I just succeeded in traversing the El Caminito del Rey?

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(photography by Dave Meyers and Kelly Anttila)

I Dream of Brugge

There is a little town that lies just an hour outside of Brussels, Belgium. The cobbled stone streets are narrow such as the canals that cut through the town’s center in an almost unplanned network of waterways. Rooted structures of businesses and dwellings align in rows hemming the calm waters as boats full of tourists snap pictures and horse drawn carriages rattle along the uneven roads constructed lifetimes passed. And a charming village it is. A charm, ironically, that only maintained its pristine appeal by suffering through centuries of poverty. Nearly untouched since its golden age, not modified nor updated to the varying modern trends in architecture passed down through the decades, Brugge is a medieval town untouched and somehow lasted through the centuries and all the calamities that come with human idleness, such as modernizing and war. Brugge actually narrowly escaped a massive bombing by the Nazis in WWII because a German officer refused to bomb the picturesque town; something the locals have inscribed into legend as one of two miracles that saved their town from total destruction.

When I had visited Brussels – that unique city that could easily be identified through its savory gastronomy, wide assortment of beers, and a statue of a little boy peeing – the existence of Brugge’s charm eluded me. It was only when I returned back to Spain that a friend had inquired of my travels north and if I had visited Bruja (Spanish for Brugge and coincidentally means witch). After declaring my ignorance he showed me image after image of an anachronistic town that exuded beauty and graceful allure from a simpler era. It took eight months before I found myself in northern Europe again, but this time my wife and I were visiting Amsterdam. We found a bus that would take us to Brugge in three hours – two hours more than if we had traveled from Brussels. It was our best, albeit only, chance to finally visit Brugge and we were not about to miss it a second time. I had suspected the trip to be uncomfortable and long, but with the low lying lands of the Netherlands unfolding before us in varying hues of green and giant windmills turning in their process of irrigating the lands, it was difficult to be annoyed by tight quarters.

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After the bus dropped us off we remained with the tour group only so long as to determine the meeting time and location for departure. Our taste buds began to dance in anticipation. Returning to Brugge is like a kid going to a candy shop after eating only broccoli for a week.  You don’t count the calories, you simply allow yourself to forget the judgmental voices in your head and gorge yourself on all the delectable flavors Belgium offers. And after temporarily satiating our appetites on steamed mussels and fries we began to meander through the ancient walkways of Brugge.

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All those images my friend showed me of Bruja from before were now alive in front of me. It was almost like walking through a favorite painting. Everywhere I turned was a mental portrait I could easily frame and mount on a wall. Stone structures with modern businesses and century old family restaurants lined every street while an extensive plaza unfolded into a picturesque and tranquil setting. The canal tour, however, is by far the best attraction you could encounter. Unlike Amsterdam or Copenhagen or even London, Brugge is much smaller and so too is their network of canals and boats that float them. The canal boats are still elongated and lie low in the water, but they are an open boat which allows for a certain connection to the village from a point of view that cannot be experienced on foot. We floated under several walkway bridges as ducks and swans languidly moved from the path of our overfilled vessel.

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I wish I could have spent a week there, just eating and drinking and being merry in an environment that sheds stress as if it were a thick winter jacket. But in the end we were there only for a day trip and we had to catch our bus.

I do not know why the Spanish call that charming town by the name of Bruja. Maybe it’s a simple repurposing of a word – like many Spanish words I know – or possibly there is another legend I simply am unaware of. What I do know is that the town certainly possesses a certain attraction, an almost bewitching magnetism that draws on a deeper level of every tourist.

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AmsterDAM!

 

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Capital of the Netherlands and home to over 1200 bridges, Amsterdam is a city full of charm and character and several museums, including one on medieval torture. The museum that most interested me, however, was the Anne Frank Huis museum. Like most of you I was forced to read her diary in junior high, and back then it had little, if any, impact on my life that was already full of Nintendo and shyly talking to girls that had no interest in me. It wasn’t until my adult years that I went back to reread her diary that her words spoke more to me than ever before. Although I could not relate to her circumstances or the time and era in which she wrote, I did connect with the deep emotion and insights most kids her age simply are unaware of, at least I know I was at her age.

“We’ve been strongly reminded of the fact that we’re Jews in chains, chained to one spot, without any rights, but with a thousand obligations. We must put our feelings aside; we must be brave and strong, bear discomfort without complaint, do whatever is in our power and trust in God. One day this terrible war will be over. The time will come when we’ll be people again and not just Jews!”

Entering the building that was her father’s workplace and progressively moving toward the secret annex where Anne Frank and seven others, including her family, had hidden in secret from the Nazis for just over two years in near darkness, her words came back to me, her story coming alive before my eyes. We entered through the very bookcase that had obscured the secret entrance to the annex, ascended the neck-breaking staircases and room after room we moved in rows and totally in awe of the living history we were experiencing. Anne’s room had several photographs of famous celebrities of her time plastered to a wall of insipid color, making it more comfortable and inviting for her long seclusion from the rest of the world. It was the Annex’s attic window that was the highlight for me to see. The same window that Anne Frank looked out of for hours hoping, praying, wishing to be released from her cage, like some wild bird willing itself to be free again.

“I go to the attic almost every morning to get the stale air out of my lungs… Whenever you’re feeling lonely or sad, try going to the loft on a beautiful day and looking outside. Not at the houses and the rooftops, but at the sky.”

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Afterwards we left the museum and went to a little café where continued to talk about Anne Frank and her experience, and the legacy of her and her father’s ongoing message of persecution of others based on irrational misconceptions. You can say it was an impactful experience. To cheer us up a bit we ate delicious pancakes, which the Dutch seem to separate into two categories: savory or sweet. I choose savory, which included spinach with ham, tomato, and cheese, whereas my wife went with sweet and enjoyed an extremely rich pancake that was similar to a flat, spongy apple pie. Later we went to the Heineken Brewery.

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The Heineken Brewery marks the third brewery we have visited since living in Europe; the first was Smithwick’s in Kilkenny, and the second was Guinness in Dublin. After visiting Heineken it has become very apparent that each brewery, through huge marketing endeavors on their part no wonder, project a particular image, style, and even personality that goes along with their beer, and the brewery tour is designed as a reflection of that personality. Smithwick’s was a quaint, comfortable, and personal type setting, where one feels almost at home the moment you walk into the door. You had a host that walked you through the brewery and answered every question as if it was the first time he heard it. Smithwick’s is the friendly beer. The beer you hang out with on the weekends and go fishing. I don’t fish but you get the point. Guinness is an institution for the every man. It’s the perfect beer after a long day at work, and when you need to revitalize your body with its rich dark flavor. Their brewery tour is self-guided, but makes up for the lack of personal attention through amazing attractions; including a small waterfall. Heineken is none of these. Heineken is a party, a club, a young, wild twenty something year old looking for the time of his/her life. Heineken is all about “yolo,” and what ever comes tomorrow can wait for tomorrow. And Heineken projects this through its club like atmosphere, music, games, and a small ride where you the audience personify the beer making process – bubbles included. A couple of beers at the end of the tour are always a nice touch as well.

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I wish we had a week in Amsterdam to explore everything there was, but as always, we never have enough time. We meandered the streets avoiding the hundreds of cyclists, trams moving back and forth along the roads, and crossed dozens of little bridges that span the network of canals dispersed throughout the city. We visited the floating flower markets and ate at a vending machine fast food place where you insert some coins then pull out a deep-fried delight from behind a glass door. We even saw the famous windmills the Dutch are famous for, but that was on a bus ride into the countryside on our way to Brugge, Belgium, and that is another blog for another time.

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The Land of the 12th Man

I am the reason why quarterbacks lose track of the play clock and offensive lines shift nervously before the hike. I am part of that mad mob that unleashes confusion and frustration among teams visiting our Great Northern house. I roar green and blue in my stadium known for causing geological tremors. I have become temporarily deaf and mute among my thousands of brothers and sisters united in cacophonous thunder. Together we swell in ranks and our team, the Seattle Seahawks, rain down upon all those who stand against us.

With Pete Carol and his gladiators of the field football has never been more exciting. Though the 12th man is largely concentrated in the Pacific Northwest, as it should be, our reach is vast. Well beyond the geographical borders of the U.S. the 12th man circumferences the globe. Fellow 12rs, like myself, cheer in unison at ungodly hours of the late evening that bleed into early morning and across countries and cultures that know nothing of our crazed pride. And here we are, going to the Super Bowl to prove ourselves once again that we have the better players, the better team. Although I may not currently reside in the land of the 12th man, I am a 12er through and through, and when kickoff launches into that frozen air of MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, I will be screaming at the top of my lungs in a small bar in the south of Spain at 12:30 in the morning and hoping, just hoping, that the pride of this 12th man will be felt half a world away.

GO HAWKS!!!

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Gladiators and Pizza

When we went to Rome, Italy, I believe I was a bit delusional to think that I might actually see Russell Crowe dressed up as a gladiator signing autographs and performing live reenactments from his movie. And of course he was not there. Although I did see a gladiator – or at least a man dressed up as one – order an espresso from a local coffee shop we were eating breakfast at. I guess today’s gladiator needs to get his caffeine fix before his long day of taking photos with tourists in front of the Coliseum.

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Rome is the ultimate sightseer/tourist destination. You can walk anywhere in this beautiful city and turn a corner to see something utterly remarkable. It could be an ancient Roman structure, fountain, statue of some naked person, or a string of wonderfully delicious and creatively designed restaurants with dog parking. In fact, one of my favorite parts about visiting Rome was that if we got tired of walking around we could simply stop at any restaurant, order wine and pizza, and enjoy the view. No matter where we were at in the city we always had a view of something. But other than meandering the streets of Rome for hours – with our mouths gaping wide at everything we saw like we were a part of some Charlie Brown Christmas special – we did have an agenda to keep.

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Our first stop, of course, was the Coliseum. However, some research before arriving in Italy proved extremely helpful in avoiding the long lines. The Coliseum can be purchased as a package deal with some other attractions, and by buying the combined ticket at one of the other sights we avoided the hours of standing in line. There were literally only ten people in line at the Roman Forum compared to the hundreds waiting to buy tickets at the Coliseum. And after buying our tickets we then walked to the Coliseum, passing all the other tourists impatiently waiting in line, and gained entrance in seconds. This just goes to prove that a little research beforehand always pays off when traveling. The Coliseum itself, to my surprise, is not round. This might just be me but I always thought the structure was designed as a perfect circle when in fact it’s oval, and very similar to the way football stadiums are designed today; although I doubt many football stadiums have an underground network of walkways and rooms caged off for wild animals right under the main floor. The Coliseum is an amazing feat of engineering and just beautiful to explore its many levels, and if you want the experience to feel just a little more epic then watch the movie Gladiator before visiting. Just don’t expect to see Russell Crowe.

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There is this famous fountain in Rome, the Trevi Fountain, which has been used in numerous films worldwide and is a must for tourists. There is also a tradition that goes along with visiting this sight. The tradition states that one must sit at the fountain’s edge and throw a coin with the right hand over the left shoulder, which signifies that you will return to Rome. There is also another legend stating something with three coins that leads to romance and marriage, but since I already had that in the bag, I threw one coin into the fountain and saved the rest for pizza. Only in Europe and possibly Canada can you have a pocket full of coins and be able to have a good night out on the town. The fountain itself is quite remarkable. It was the original end point to one of the many Roman aqueducts and features larger than life-size carvings of Tritons, horses, and a nearly naked guy that goes by the name of Ocean. We stopped by the Trevi fountain a couple of times during our visit and it always appeared to be very popular. So after squeezing our way through the crowd to the fountain’s edge, we threw our coins in and promptly left for more wine and pizza.

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The last location on our itinerary was to visit Vatican City. How could we be in Rome and not go to Vatican City? After traveling for the last year and a half around Europe we’ve become accustomed to knowing which locations you should join a tour group and which ones you really don’t have to, and this is definitely one attraction that you should. Not only do you gain deeper insight to the history of such a marvel, but you also bypass all the other tourists trying to save a buck. I would gladly pay an extra few bucks not to stand in a line for hours. Vatican City is recognized as the smallest independent state in the world and governed as a monarchy, placing the Pope in the big chair while possessing all legislative, executive, and judicial powers. This independent state also has its own flag, minted coin, license plate, and postage stamp, and in my opinion it’s one of the coolest places to visit in all of Rome. Just make sure to wear the proper clothing or you will not be admitted beyond the security checkpoint (ie. no shorts or exposed shoulders allowed).

Because Vatican City sees roughly 25,000 tourists a day, hallways, rooms, even outdoor areas become extremely crowded with bodies from around the world. With so many people from all over the world it’s kind of like an international mosh pit of culture and language. No one really knows what anyone else is saying. Due to this roaming mosh pit of tourists everyone in our group were given a one-way radio where we could hear our guide and know exactly where he was at all times. Paintings, tapestries, and statues appear to be boundless throughout Vatican City. One could spend a lifetime looking at every single piece of art if they so desired. We took about four hours. I was surrounded by art from some the world’s most renowned masters, and it was amazing if not a tad overwhelming. Each piece desired hours of consideration, but my mental capacity nearly ran dry after the first. Again I walked in rows – lemming following lemmings – eyes unblinking, astonished at everything I saw but hindered in movement by the thousands of other tourists. Unfortunately I couldn’t land a selfie with the Pope, but I did capture a string of Cardinals off in the distance.

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At the end of the tour we entered the Sistine Chapel as guards hushed tourists filing into the room. I figured them to be the Vatican’s noise police. I had seen the picture many times in textbooks growing up, but to my surprise when I first looked up to the ceiling and saw Michelangelo’s painting “The Creation of Adam,” all I thought was how small it was. The picture had always appeared larger than life in photos reprinted and commercialized in the U.S. It was an epic moment captured in fresco (paint on plaster). Not to reduce the significance of the piece – neither in its artistry or symbolism – but it’s funny how an image can aggrandize in one’s mind until he/she comes face to face with it. The image yet remained captivating but very distant (sorry no pictures, all photography was prohibited in the Sistine Chapel).

For the rest of our trip we lazily walked through the city, stopping to eat pizza or drink wine and appreciate the city for what it was: a unique blend of ancient and contemporary culture. Eventually I saw that pseudo-gladiator again, or one of his several counterparts, and this time he was eating a slice from one of the many pizza shops. I could only guess that he was carbing up for an epic battle, but then again that could just be my own wishful thinking.

Sometimes I wish I were a Viking

I once had a professor from Copenhagen, Denmark. He savored pancakes, pastries, and most of all a fine cigar. However, one of the more interesting attributes of his character – besides appearing vaguely similar to Sigmund Freud – was that he always rode his bicycle to work. Now this may not seem to be all that significant at first glance, but when you live in the outskirts of Seattle and rain is not just an everyday weather forecast but a mode of life, to see someone ride a single gear beach cruiser in a tweed suit and broadly smiling as if he’s just on a lovely Sunday ride in the park, he struck me as a bit odd if not a tad eccentric. So when we flew to Copenhagen for one of our mini-vacations I was eager to experience this exotic land from which my – well, let’s just say unconventional – professor had originated.

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Denmark is an interesting northern country (in reference to mainland Europe) and only a small bridge away from Sweden. But besides its geographical location it is the home to the Tivoli Christmas Market, the famous story of the Little Mermaid, and the origin of the once widely feared Viking. Of course the Viking long ago traded in their swords and battle-axes for the ever so eco-friendly bicycle. And it’s more than apparent. Everywhere you walk in this wonderfully flat city with wide lanes (especially wide bike lanes), there are hundreds of cyclists commuting to work or just simply running errands. And although we did see some higher-end racing bikes, most were simple single gear cruisers. And considering we visited this country in winter, temperatures dipping well into the freezing, I believe Viking blood must still run deep as the bitter cold did not seem to hinder anyone. I guess to the Danish there must be no bad weather for riding a bike, and no matter where you walked in the city bicycles would line the streets and fill any open space as a commuter parking lot. I now understand where my professor got his love for cycling; it’s as much a part of their culture as anything else could be.

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On our first day we took a boat tour, which allowed us to experience the city in a new and more comfortable way. We thought about a bike tour but we hadn’t acclimated from our country of departure, and lets face it, I could not hang with these Viking descendents. And although the wind off the ocean bit at our faces we always had a warm cabin to retreat into anytime we were not cruising through the windless canals. We also discovered the Little Mermaid on this tour, which I will go into later.

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That night we went to the famous Tivoli Christmas Market. It’s a place of carnival rides, games, and everything that is, well, Christmas. And as we entered the sparkling gate into a world full of light and laughter – not Disneyland – the market unfolded in illustrious colors of the season as kids ran around the lanes eating candies that smeared their faces in different colors and parents laughing over some hot, spiced wine. I began to feel a little bit like the Grinch on that mountaintop looking down into Whoville as his heart grew five times in size. The holiday spirit pulsed through me with every heartbeat, and everywhere I turned I was hoping to see that jolly old’ fat man in red. I was a child again.

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The next day we decided to go first to a Viking museum, then to visit the statue of the famous fish-lady that somehow seduced a prince with her song – that siren.  I believe that you should not visit a country that produced warriors feared by most of Europe and not visit something historically connected to it. So we went to the Viking museum, which is currently on tour in London. And we pretty much saw everything I was hoping to see minus a live reenactment of some swordplay between warring tribes, but I guess I can’t get everything. Encased behind glass but beautifully lit up were battleaxes, booty that had been pillaged from other countries, as well as swords and other artifacts of the time. In fact, if you know anything about swords this exhibit actually had an Ulfberht on display. The Ulfberht sword was once renowned for its miraculous ability to break other swords during combat and bend at extreme angels without fracturing. Today we know the Ulfberht sword was capable of doing this because of its unusually high-quality steel that was not only unprecedented for its time but also unmatched until the Industrial Revolution. However, if you’re not really all that into swords then be happy to know that the museum also offered a pretty cool modern day replica of a Viking ship complete with holographic Vikings. How can anyone pass up holographic Vikings, not to mention an Ulfberht sword?

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We then headed up to the statue of the Little Mermaid, and unlike the Disney adaptation of her character and story – which took many liberties by the way – the true Little Mermaid did not have a fish tail for the lower half of her body, but she had two legs complete with feet. The only slight variation that kept her from being completely human and still technically in the mermaid category was that each of her legs and feet possessed fins. Also the Danish Aerial, I suppose, is a bit more free spirited than the FCC regulated version in Disney, as she did not don the whole under-the-sea style seashell bikini top but took on a more… natural approach. She remains now as you read this, frozen in time and forever longingly staring out to sea for her prince.

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“She cast one more lingering, half-fainting glance at the prince, and then threw herself from the ship into the sea, and thought her body was dissolving into foam”

–Hans Christian Andersen

Feliz Año Nuevo

I don’t know about the rest of you but I love New Year’s Eve. Out with the old and in with a fresh new year is like taking an extremely long, hot shower after a weekend of backpacking in the woods. For me it’s usually a time of reflection and anticipation, a time where I can look at my life and say “man, I did some cool things this past year, and next year I want to do this, that, and go there!” And usually I’m not a large crowd kind of person, but this one day of year I really enjoy them. The excitement in the air flows through a large crowd like electricity that perpetually grows until it finally explodes when the clock strikes twelve. And this year we felt that electricity in Madrid.

Madrid is massive. As the capital and largest city in Spain you would think getting around would be something of a hassle. But if you do your research beforehand you quickly realize that between the metro, Renfe trains, and the bus system you can easily navigate this behemoth metropolis. And luckily we booked a flat that was walking distance of Puerta del Sol, which is the central hub of the New Year’s celebrations. Every street was still hemmed in Christmas décor, and although good ole Saint Nick’s holiday had already come and gone, the magic still lingered in the air as many of the Spanish were excitedly shopping for El Día de los Reyes (Three Kings’ Day). In the center of the Puerta del Sol there was this massive cone shaped structure – a modern adaptation of the Christmas tree – a statue of a dude on a horse, and the entire square (actually it was more egged shape with one flat side) was lined with structures dating to different stylized eras in architecture. The most important of these, of course, was the one with the clock tower that would ring in the New Year – which also kind of reminded me of the clock tower from the movie “Back to the Future.”

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The first day we set out to explore Madrid’s little treasures, including: the famous market place Mercado de San Miguel (where there is more tapas and booze served than cut meats or produce), Madrid’s gastronomic delights, several magnificent structures with more bronzed individuals on horses, as well as street vendors and entertainers. Getting lost in a new city is the best way to stumble onto these unique, wonderful little treasures, and probably the best way to get mugged but hopefully that will never happen. I figure in any case as long as you have a map you cannot ever really get that lost, and if you do just ask for directions to the nearest metro line.

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There is a massive park in the heart of Madrid called El Parque de el Retiro. We saw a postcard at a local tourist shop limning a small lake with paddleboats leisurely coasting on top of a glass surface. It seemed picturesque enough so we decided to venture over and see if we could rent ourselves a boat. What we forgot was that it’s the middle of winter and upon reaching the park we instantly realized what is probably quite breathtaking in the spring and summer when all vegetation is in full bloom, stood numerous trees and bushes as barren as a forest after a massive fire. Nonetheless, we sought out the lake and its paddleboats, but again upon reaching the small lake all the paddleboats were secured under lock and key. I guess boating is not a big thing in the wintertime when you are in inland Spain. However, we luckily found a wonderful little café where we ate churros chocolate overlooking the small lake with no boats, but teaming with hundreds of coy fish. So that was something at least.

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That night, New Year’s Eve, we decided that we needed the essential garb to bring in the New Year correctly – which can only be purchased from local street vendors – as well as our grapes. The Spanish tradition every year is that as the clock strikes twelve one must eat a grape for every chime that follows: 12 chimes equals 12 grapes and thus means 12 months of good luck. This being our first New Year’s Eve in Spain we knew that we wanted to follow the local traditions, except we screwed up somewhere. Standing among the crowd of thousands in excited anticipation as the clock counted closer to 2014, and all the while rocking our newly purchased 2014 sunglasses colored in the flags of Spain and the U.S., Kelly’s sparkling hat, and a green/white Albert Einstein wig that I was coaxed into after several drinks, we readied our bag of grapes, 24 in total: 12 for Kelly and 12 for me. And when the clock struck twelve this is where things got messy. When the first chime struck I threw a grape in my mouth and instantly noticed it had exceedingly large seeds. Kelly began taking pictures. Then she passed the camera to me to take pictures as well, but the chimes started coming faster, or at least seemed that way, and I couldn’t keep up with taking pictures and eating seeded grapes and I just wanted to make sure I would get my 12 months of good luck so I started eating grapes by the handful while swallowing the seeds whole. So in the end with my mouth full of grapes and juice running down my face, I’m sure I ate around 14 to 16 grapes securing my luck for the year, while my wife looked at me as though I stole something from her.

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The next day we took a bullet train to Segovia, and I nursed a fermented grape hangover for the better part of the morning. Segovia is a small yet beautiful town that only takes about four hours to visit. It’s really known for the massive Roman Aqueduct cutting the town in half, the older town essentially on one side and the newer constructions on the other. The amazing thing about this aqueduct is that the Romans didn’t use any mortar or binding materials to keep the stones together. The entire structure is just a remarkable feat of engineering, where each stone was carved to an exact measurement then stacked one on top of the other, thus holding everything in place to this day. And even though it was built in the first century it still appears pristine – besides some slight weathering on the stones rounding their features. From there we walked up a cobblestone staircase and down various streets until we reached Alcazar castle, which was slightly reminiscent of Cinderella’s castle at Disneyland. Supposedly the story is this castle was the inspiration for Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany and that Neuschwanstein was the source of inspiration for Walt Disney. However, some claim it was Alcazar that inspired Walt Disney. It seems to go back and forth who’s castle initially inspired the cartoon’s princess’ home, but in the end they both do make lovely locations to take pictures at.

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2013 was an amazing year of travel and experiences. 2014 looks like it will be a pretty great year as well. Of course, I typically think that about every year. What can I say? I’m an optimist. This year I will probably make new lofty goals where in a year’s time I will only have achieved one or two of them. I know this because I do this every year. I always have big ideas, big goals, and only a couple ever come to something. But that’s ok. This year, 2014, we are making big plans to travel to new destinations and experience new cultures in countries we have never visited. We may not reach them all, but we will reach a few. And I hope of my small readership that is out there that your lives will be full with everything you hold dear. Have big ideas and make big plans in 2014, if only a few come to fruition by the year’s end, you will be thankful you did.

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