How are you, friends? Any signs of spring yet where you are? We returned Sunday afternoon from our trip to Spain to find an unexpected burst of sunny, mid-sixties-degree weather. It truly felt like spring here in Cambridge! Among other joys, this means that I rode with Eliza to her cello lesson on Monday without my nose constantly dripping. Sometimes it's the little things in life, you know.
And sometimes it's the big things! I admit, this trip to Spain was absolutely a big thing. We were able to do it because Tim's parents converted some of their Hyatt timeshare points for us to use for staying at a resort in Marbella (thank you Nonnie and Opa!!).
There are lots of things to share with you about Spain, but in the interest of keeping this post manageable for both you and me, I thought I'd go through the excruciating process of choosing ten photos for you and trying to restrict my captions to one sentence each! I reserve the right to make generous use of semi-colons and run-on sentences. <grin>
A couple things. First, by way of background, I visited Spain every summer for several years of my late childhood, because my maternal grandparents had a house in Extremadura, about halfway between Madrid and Portugal. It was in a village where few, if any, tourists ever visited, so we were truly immersed in the language and culture -- and, ohmygoodness, THE FOOD. I have so many fond, interesting memories of my visits there, both the "ordinary" rhythm of a life so different from what I used to and the special experiences my grandparents provided for us. Anyway, on this trip, to a different region and in a different time, I found much to recognize and also much that was distinct, both of which made it really fun to experience with my own family. For one thing, there are far more tourists along the coast, which could be slightly disappointing at times (because I am selfish that way and want to be the ONLY tourist around :-). But when one stops to consider that Spain's economy is so poor and its unemployment numbers rather staggering, it feels like feeding whatever euros one can into the tourism business is a positive thing.
Second, I'd heard from a few folks here in England that "don't worry, everyone in that area of Spain speaks English." (This is the same thing I heard from Americans before we went to Mexico a few years back.) Okay, y'all? Not really. Can we agree not to assume that anyone and everyone we might encounter in a foreign country speaks English? Imagine if they assumed that they could waltz into a shop in England or in America and just start speaking Spanish! Yes, because of tourism, many there do speak English, but I was delighted to find that some did not, and even those who did gave a warm welcome to my grammatically-abysmal Spanish conversation skills. It's hard not to fall a bit in love with the people of Spain.
All right! Without further ado, a visual guide to a few delights of Spain. As always, I had you all in my head and heart the whole time, thinking, "Oh, So-and-So would love this or that," and wishing I could have had you So-and-So's along :-), so perhaps this is the next best thing?
1. This plaza in Málaga, where we spent our first day, is very characteristic of Spanish towns, and serves as a gathering place for people to come at all hours of the day and night, meet up with family and friends at an outdoor café, and enjoy the slow life.
2. Oranges and citrons flourish in this area, and you can hardly throw a stone without hitting a café that serves freshly squeezed zumo de naranja (not that we tried, mind you -- we're juice-drinkers, not stone-slingers!)
4. Hand-painted (and factory-produced) ceramics are a signature Spanish product, and they add vibrant color to many of those narrow passageways mentioned above.
5. One day we visited and hiked around Ronda, an extremely picturesque village in the mountains that was settled by the Moors (Arab Muslims) in the 700's and conquered by Ferdinand and Isabella's folks in the 1400's -- medieval Spanish history in a nutshell.
6. and 7. If you do nothing else in Spain, you must eat! Doing our part to keep the olive oil trade flourishing (including when we did our own cooking), we also enjoyed trying signature dishes such as paella, Spanish tortilla, local fish, olives, and sangría.
8. Our big excursion was to the Reservatauro outside Ronda, a ranch owned by a bullfighter where cows, bulls and horses are raised and where visitors can get a feel for the cultural history and importance of bullfighting in Spain without having to see any actual gore. :-)
9. When we first heard about the caverns of Nerja, I thought that while the kids might enjoy it, I could kind of take it or leave it, having seen many a cavern in the States; this one, however, which was truly enormous inside and included a Guinness-world-recording-breaking stalagtite/stalagmite column, wowed us all.
10. Although the temperatures were chillier than ideal, the children were happy to spend sunny hours digging and sculpting in the sand by the Mediterranean sea, while I, bundled up in my beach chair, read books, watched them with contentment and considered how amazing it was that the waters near our feet had touched the shores of Africa and Israel and all kinds of other places we've learned about in our ancient history studies.
And there we go. One final thought: I was considering travel in the context of a post I read by Donald Miller about a life of pleasure versus a life of meaning. When the God who so loves the whole world (John 3:16) lives inside of you, it's impossible to spend time in a different part of that world without your heart getting expanded for its people. To me, that's a huge reason to travel with your family, within whatever means you have. Touching His heart for all mankind moves out of the abstract and becomes tangible indeed.