Category: Travel (page 1 of 3)

Blue Lake Trail

As I started this post, I thought how I would share about the Blue Lake trail itself; how steep it was, how exposed it was, how well a family could hike it, how many switchbacks there were, and how busy the trail was.  But as I sat to write, thought, started sentences and deleted them, I realized my story isn’t about the trail and the minutiae of it.

 

 

Yes, the Blue Lake trail was gorgeous.  Yes, it was dusty and rocky and rooty.  Yes, you too should go hike it.

 

We climbed through forests, small mountain meadows and looked upon sweeping vistas that made me smile.

 

As with any given family hike, someone or many someones found it challenging while others or many others found it refreshing and invigorating.  On our first hike of the trail, Amelia and I found Blue Lake to be difficult while on our second hike of the trail Clara found the trail to be difficult.  Both days though we made it to the lake in 2 hours (give or take).

 

But, we actually hiked this trail twice in one week and getting the children to return with the promise of fishing and not doughnuts should tell you …. it’s an excellent destination!

 

The signposts warning of habituated mountain goats had us excited at the possibility of spotting one and nervous about the possibility of stumbling upon mountain goats.  The girls found mountain goat hair and recreated scenes from the Lion King on the numerous rock outcroppings along the trail.

 

I marveled at the beauty of this state that I call home.  I fondly thought of friends and family in the Midwest who would also marvel at the beauty along the Blue Lake trail.  And I wasn’t even halfway to Blue Lake!

 

I smiled and appreciated the opportunity that my family could be here hiking together and adventuring together.  We roamed in nature beyond the reaches of cell phone coverage.  Beyond where I could take a few crappy photos with my phone to share with friends on FB and wait for comments and likes.   Into a place where I not only was forced to just put away technology, but I wanted to put it away.  I wanted to soak in the warmth and beauty of my family and my surroundings.

 

The sun and heat, the beauty of Blue Lake and the spirit of summer, all begged us to take a dip into the icy waters.  The girls giggling about disrobing to their underwear in public, while I insist it’s all good and strip down to my skives to prove my point.  The chilly waters drawing me in, my adrenaline rises as I stand knee-deep contemplating a hobbled retreat or hasty dive into the cold.  I always choose the hasty dive.  At least once. Usually twice.

 

We snack, we rest our bodies, we jump in the icy water, we warm our bodies on rocks, we explore the waters edges, we squeeze our dirty, wet feet back into our boots and we prepare to head back down the trail.

 

And those mountain goats?  Yup, ran across one on the trail during each of our hikes.

 


 

 

 

Granada, Spain

Granada was the last of the three cities we visited over Christmas break.

With the fact that we would be there be that we would be there for four nights during the holidays, I tried to find a place where I didn’t also have to pay for parking.  As parking added considerable cost to the hostels and hotels I was researching.  The place we pulled up to on New Years Eve was admittedly a little creepy. Imagine a cross between a motel 6 and a KOA RV campground with a small bar/restuarant, old metal playground and a random bird cage with birds laying eggs.

I, again, immediately questioned my hotel booking skills.  The reviews of the place, Motel Sierra Nevada, were mostly positive and read that we could take a quick and easy bus ride into the heart of Granada.

It wasn’t a quick bus trip…at least not for a family with small kids who spoke even less Spanish at the time.

While Granada ended up being an enjoyable time, it was also fraught with us being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We arrived on New Years eve with plans to play cards and watch the new year’s activities on tv. The girls thoroughly enjoyed us sharing stories of us doing stupid things as kids such as using scissors in a plastic pool or swinging in a full circle in a hammock.  I enjoyed us sitting still and playing cards.

I remembered to pick up grapes before we left Seville so we could participate in the tradition of eating 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight.  Supposedly, it is good luck to do so. My guess is that its good luck if you manage to eat 12 grapes in 12 seconds and you don’t choke to death.  Especially if you fail to buy the seedless grapes.

I did not enjoy the $8 hamburger from the onsite bar that was served raw.  I did gather up myself to go ask for my money back on that one.  It was the last straw in my feeling we were constantly being screwed over by not knowing the language. I even got my money back! But with our raw hamburgers returned we were left with peanut butter and jelly to ring in the new year.

We had a lot of peanut butter and jelly on this trip!

Lots of places in town were closed on New Years day. Which I did expect but I thought Burger King would at least be open. More peanut butter and jellies for us.

We headed down to Alumencar on the Mediterranean sea for the day. I was pleasantly surprised by the warmth, the sunshine and the amount of restaurants open. The girls played in the sea, we did a quick hike to an overlook and had some great mussels. On an outdoor patio as well. We wrapped it up with ice cream and headed back to the creepy motel/Koa.

I shouldn’t really knock the Motel Sierra Nevada. It was out of town, it was affordable, it had hot water and a small fridge. The kids loved watching the birds in the cage and counting the bird eggs. And it was only a few miles from the city center.

We were also right next to a Chinese restaurant. Oh….it had been so long, so very long since we had Chinese food. Potatoes in the stir fry were even forgivable. It took us four tries to show up at the right time though to be able to eat. It was either closed or we were too early. Dinner wasn’t served until 9pm.

We also had no tickets to what is probably the most famous site in all of Spain, the Alhambra. I spent a lot of time online trying to figure out how exactly we were going to secure tickets. My Lonely Planet book warned that I would need to arrive hours early to even have a snowballs chance in hell of getting a day-of ticket.  Ok…don’t look for that quote. I’m paraphrasing.

Instead, we headed to the Granada science center. During winter break. I waited in line for an hour to purchase our tickets. And while all the exhibits were in Spanish it was a  fun trip.

Odd, in many regards. A lot of nudity. Sometimes unexplainable  to me. I didn’t want to appear the creepy tourist so I refrained from taking a video of the exhibit that explained range of motion with a video of completely nude adults raising their legs to show the hips’ range of motion or the full male frontal to show the shoulders’ range of motion. Really, I tried to find a YouTube video some other American tourist took of the exhibit but my search for a nude exhibit at the Granada science center started taking a turn for the worse so I stopped. You’ll just have to picture it.

There was also an interesting and definitely creepy exhibit on mummies. Amelia went with us for the first part but then closed her eyes and had us lead her around for the remainder of the time.  She was afraid of having nightmares.  Which who can blame her?  We are viewing dead human beings after all.

And truthfully, while we do find the mummies of various cultures fascinating in reality these were people that were carefully prepared after their deaths to remain in their final resting place but are now on exhibit for thousands of people to view. I hadn’t thought of it before but the sheer number of mummies there were cause for thought.

The butterfly house at the science was a disappointment in comparison to Pacific Science Centerr in Seattle. But the girls found the metal ball works and vintage typewriter fascinating.

After the streets of Seville and most other places we were hesitant to try to drive to the Alhambra but squeezing in a taxi together or figuring out the bus which included two transfers was even less diserable. I convinced that Jeff we should go try to drive to the Alhambra. We were pleasantly surprised to find large, ample parking that was simple to reach and get home from.

We had a plan. We were going to wake early (7:30am), grab McDonalds for breakfast while I would go stand in line for tickets and the girls with Jeff stayed in the car. Turns out McDonalds didnt open till 9am for breakfast. Peanut butter and jelly for breakfast it was.

It was also a very cold, crisp morning.  Jeff was sure we would get tickets. I was sure we would not.

I was happily wrong.

The Alhambra was grand (see the National Geographic YouTube Video). Both in size and history. We spent our entire allotted time there with few complaints from the girls; at least once the temperature rose above freezing and they could feel their feet again.  I’d like to read this book on the Alhambra.

We however did not rent the audio guide which probably would have been nice but it would have also slowed us down considerably. As it was we were pushing it to make it to the Generalife section of the Alhambra before the 2pm deadline on our ticket.

Because it is such a large attraction with so many visitors, (it’s limited to 6,600 per day) tickets are split into morning and afternoon sessions with the Palacios Nazaries admission at a specific time listed on your ticket. Make it then or miss it. In this palace are the iconic fountains and rooms that are associated with the Alhambra.  Here’s a postcard for you if you don’t think you’ll make it!  p.s. It’s my own personal photo.

One of the more amusing parts of our visit happened when Violet was taking a rest on a chair. While Jeff and I took our pictures of the Alhambra, a group of older Asian women gathered around Violet and had their pictures taken with her. Violet was so confused!

Between the crisp, cool but sunny weather, the good spirits of the children and the amazing history we were seeing it was a GREAT day!  I’ll admit the spirits of the children had a lot to do with that.

Because we had dragged our feet on getting into the city of Granada we had little time left for exploring the city itself.

Which really is a shame.  It was colorful, vibrant and full of energy.

After an already full day of visiting the Alhambra we treked on into Granada.

 

 

Iceland – Þingvellir National Park, Geysir, Gullfoss Waterfall & Laugardalslaug Geothermal Pool

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Reykjavik, Iceland

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Taken at 1:45am

Taken at 1:45am

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2:00 in the morning!

2:00 in the morning!

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It's 2:30 in the morning!

It’s 2:30 in the morning!

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Seville, Spain

We did more than drive the narrow streets while we were in Seville in December.  We stayed at an eclectic hostel, Hostal Sierpes, where the moment I walked in, I wondered if this was the place I’d regret bringing kids to. It wasn’t. In fact, I’d recommend staying there.  It was a pleasant surprise and change of pace from the more generic places we had stayed.

Entrance to Hostal Sierpes in Seville, Spain Inside our room at Hostal Sierpes in Seville, Spain Atrium on the second level of Hostal Sierpes in Seville Front lobby of the Hostal Sierpes at Christmas

Jeff and Violet toured the bull ring and museum in Seville; Plaza de Toros.  It looked amazing! Violet can tell you all about how the bull fight works, what flag they hold up if the bull is spared, how historically horses would help and often be killed, and she will happily tell you about the time a bull was spared (there aren’t many!)

Large Red Door to the Plaza de Toros in Seville Bull ring at the Plaza de Toros in Seville Spain Patron seating are in Plaza de Toros in Seville Spain Royal box at the Plaza de Toros Seville SpainTour of the Plaza de Toros in Seville SpainTour of the bull museum in Seville SpainTour of the bull musuem in Seville SpainFamily of three girls outside bull ring in Seville Spain

 

We visited the “Tower of Gold” – it’s proper name is the Torre del Oro.   A 13th century watch tower along the river that offloaded the riches from the conquistadors returning from Central & South America.  There was a small museum inside and then the rooftop viewing platform.

The Golden Tower in Seville Spain Torre del Oro at sunset in Seville SpainMy kids on the stairs inside the Torre del Oro in Seville SpainSmiling child at the Golden Tower in Seville SpainOn the viewing deck of the Golden Tower in Seville SpainLooking out at the city on the viewing platform of the Torre del OroClose up picture of the Torre del Oro in Seville Spain

We stumbled upon the modern architecture of Metropol Parasol (that honeycomb shaped building the background below) where the girls decided to treat each other to pony rides and Violet spent her Christmas money on a leather purse.  We didn’t set out to find the Metropol Parasol but it was a nice place to end up.  There were holiday craft booths to stroll through, small amusement rides for the kids and a generally festive atmosphere.

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I saw shops and shops full of flamenco dresses for sale. But unfortunately, I didn’t plan ahead and we did not make it to a flamenco show while in Seville.  Truthfully, I just wasn’t sure if it was a family atmosphere and by the time I found a flamenco performance (which was right around the corner from our hostel) they were all booked.  We were traveling during the Christmas holiday.

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It was this trip in Seville that I realized that while we dressed in functional warm outer wear most of those around us wore, warm but fashionable outerwear. We just aren’t accustomed to the plethora of plazas that are enjoyed year round in Spain.

We stood in line for an hour to get into the Seville Cathedral. It was massive and expanse and left me wondering what all this empty, yet beautiful space was ever used for. The cathedral also holds the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Not without it controversy though. The history channel  reports that it is Christopher Columbus’  sons bones that buriedare  in Seville and his lie in the Dominican Republic.  I’m going to continue to state that I visited the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Which I thought was really cool.

Part of the cathedral was the tower of Giralda. Unlike the other towers we’ve climbed this one had ramps that led to the bell tower.  The most fascinating part of the tower was the electronic people counter letting you know exactly how many people already occupied the ramps and the bell tower. We we headed up with 417 people, when we exited there were 633 in the tower. I was glad we were done.

We rented an audio guide to share with the family as we went through. And it would have been great except for the fighting that ensued over it and the subsequent waiting  for your turn that led to children misbehaving as they waited. Then add in your backpack, camera and couple of shots with the cell phone to post immediately to fb, and the guards asking us to hold our children’s hands…our hand were more than full.  And 6 months later there isn’t much I can remember from the audio guide.

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We had an enjoyable walk to Plaza Espana in Seville and a fun, quirky row boat ride through the canal on the plaza. The plaza was a pleasant surprise from the crowded, restaurant filled plazas I had come accustomed to. It was a nice, calm, relaxing plaza with beautiful tile work and a wonderful fountain set within a large park.  We didn’t make it to the plaza until near 8pm, it would have been nice to make it earlier but our days were full in Seville.

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We ran across a carnival on our way back towards the main street from Plaza Espana. It made me smile to see an ice skating rink set amid palm trees.

The girls watched street performs ranging from a puppet/marionette show, mimes, painted people to other performers hiding under tables trying to scare passing pedestrians. The girls were fascinated by the street performers and would have lingered until the wee hours.

At a restaurant, we had two very traditional meals. [look these up and explain what they are]. Both dishes were wonderfully moist and yummy.

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The hostel was located close to nearly everything. Which also meant it was located on small, winding streets. Driving was a crazy experience! And even on foot we would frequently loose our way. I have learned that I have no aptitude for reading maps; I’d have it backwards and end up walking in the opposite direction I intended.

We quite literally stumbled upon our hostel after our day of exploring the cathedral, main street, plaza espana and eating out.

It was an enjoyable and memorable trip!

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Our Beach Vacation

We had a great family beach vacation this weekend! It was nice to relax and have our vacation be about spending time together and not on what monuments, palaces, castles, cathedrals, cities or other places on Spain’s must see list.

We returned to a camping resort in Biarritz, France on the Atlantic ocean. I’ve been watching the weather for months and really wanted a sunny, warm weekend we could lounge poolside and hit the nearby beach.

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After having Jeff gone for three of the four weeks in May, I was excited to get away together.

Without having to spend hours planning where to stay and what to visit. Having been there before, we knew where the grocery store was, where the beach was and we knew what to expect.

The only part we didn’t expect was that we now know that Clara suffers from carsickness.  I could rephrase that and say we ALL suffer from her carsickness.

I had never heard of a camping resort, I assumed it would be something like a KOA.  Small cabins, a pool and some activities that few joined in.  But I was pleasantly surprised on our first visit with a nice little cabin, two pools (an indoor and outdoor), a free kids watch program, a bar with nightly themes and friendly staff that spoke English.

It’s a popular vacation destination so all the signs were in French, Spanish, Basque and English.

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The kids loved the pool, we enjoyed lounging poolside.  The pool was shallow in most places and had two water slides and two waterfalls.  We could grab a drink at the bar easily and have it there or to go.

Jeff and I tried our hand at archery while the kids got their faces painted in kids watch.

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The beach was 10 minutes away and had nice sand.  The girls played in the sand and surf for hours. I enjoyed playing in the surf with Amelia and Violet. We all got tossed in the waves more than once.

Realizing that we were at a shirt/bikini top optional beach was amusing.  I leaned over and whispered to Jeff that the woman two towels down was topless. He smiled and told me, “You’re funny.  She’s not the one.”  It was then that I realized that most of the ladies were topless….of all ages.

I lathered up the ladies and joined in. When in France!

Most of the women though only went topless while at their towels, they did not wander the beach topless. There were a few exceptions. Like the woman who came to body surf in the waves next to Amelia and I.

Amelia was a bit surprised when the wave subsided and she saw a topless woman jumping and playing in the same wave as us.

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Back at the pool, the adult women kept their tops on but toddler girls to preteen girls wore only bottoms.  And while I find toddlers in bikinis absolutely adorable; wearing only bottoms makes better sense. Kids play hard and they should have a swimsuit that is functional. An itty bitty bikini on a kid just doesn’t stay in place.

At the resort the girls danced at the bar the first evening and we did karaoke the last.

 

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We played cards together.

We taught Amelia how to play hearts and Clara is now old enough to play Uno on her own with us.

We ate Thai food together.

We tired the girls out everyday.

We slept in most days.

We choose spaghetti at the cabin over taking the kids to a nice, French restaurant.

We drank Sangria by the pool.

We played in the water with the kids. Clara even went down the water slide!

There was a bounce house at the playground for the kids.

We returned to the Caves of Sare to replace a  forgotten souvenir.

It was a great time had by all.

I was sad to leave. I really enjoyed the relaxation, the sand, the beach.

It was a great trip had by all. Now to find my discarded surf shirt before I return to the states.

 

We did squeeze in a quick return trip to San Sebastian so Amelia could get another pinxto in a seashell. We also returned to Pamplona. This time without the long, wandering, never ending car ride. We drank a beer at Cafe Iruna, one of Hemmingway’s haunts. Walked a portion of the streets where the running of the bulls takes place. Took pictures next to statues of Hemmingway. Tried again the find the Museo de Encierro but again without luck (side note: a quick look on google vs. my Lonely Planet guide says it is permanently closed.  And had ice cream cones in the blistering heat before heading home.

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Pamplona or Bust

We made it to Pamplona but the trip was a bust.   Pamplona is where the running of the bulls happens each year in July.  While I knew there wasn’t even a bull ring to tour, Lonely Planet talked about a new museum with a 3D interactive exhibit that made you feel like you were running with the bulls.

It may have been there but we never found it.  And no one we spoke to that worked at another museum nearby knew where it was either.

In fact, the entire out-of-the-way road we traveled to get to Pamplona consisted of nothing much.  The plan had been to make a stop in Pamplona on our way home from San Sebastian over Spring break.

We managed to snap a few pictures of the street where the bull run occurs.

And we managed to add 2, maybe 3 hours onto our trip home from the Spanish/France border.  I”m really not sure, I do know that it seemed the trip home lasted forever and we drove on isolated roads through the countryside.

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Eating in San Sebastian, Spain

I wasn’t looking forward to going to San Sebastian over our Easter break.  I’ll admit it.  We’ve been to lots of gorgeous, interesting and historical cities.  I’ve seen castles, monuments, tombs, cathedrals, roman ruins, mosques, palaces, and museums.

I’ve felt the heat of car engines as they pass along narrow, stone-cobbled streets while I press myself and the kids flat against the nearest wall.  I’ve driven the very same roads.

And I’ve enjoyed seeing all of it.

Except maybe now, I was feeling a little done with the constant on-the-go of our vacations and instead feeling the real need to relax, enjoy some nature and just be still.

If Jeff had not been so excited about San Sebastian, I would have chosen a beach along the Mediterranean.  We would have seen a town or two but another city would not have been on the itinerary.

Which would have been a real loss.  It was a culinary delight!

The food of San Sebastian was amazing!

San Sebastian Food Collage

I had been saving our food budget dollars since December in anticipation of this trip.  We watched Anthony Bourdain’s travels to San Sebastian and Spain on Netflix.  I mapped out great Pinxto Bars in Lonely Planet.

But truthfully, I didn’t expect the sheer mass of food at every Pinxto bar we entered.

I didn’t expect to have the same experience as I saw on Netflix or read in Lonely Planet.

I’ve been disappointed by the food in so many other places, I really wasn’t prepared to actually experience of the full bar line-up of food in San Sebastian.

Pinxtos

Bar Nagusia

By and far our favorite Pixto bar was Zeruko.  It had great tasting and innovative food.  We found this at the end of second day and it was hard to leave.  It also ruined us to other places.  THIS place was THAT good!

The tomato looking appetizers actually were stuffed with a tuna-type filling.

San Sebastian Zeruko

Zeruko

Here are the places we ate or drank at:

  • Zeruko – See the collage above.  AMAZING food!
  •  Bar Borda Berri – We had Veal cheek and pig’s ear.
  • Astelena – A fried, pistachio encrusted Vegemite pintxo was our favorite.
  • Bar Nagusia – Amelia loved her a fried ham pintxo.
  • Bar Goiz-Argi – The stuffed pepper was great!
  • Sirimiri Atari Akademy – Wonderful, fresh pintxo’s.
  • Casa Alcalde – I had octopus here.
  • Jatetxea – Amelia had to have a pinxto in an especially large shell.
  • Museo del Whisky – Jeff had a wonderful (two wonderful) Old Fashions’

Bar Borda Berri

Bar Nagusia

Bar Goiz-Argi

Casa Alcalde

Whiskey Bar

Sirimiri Akademy

Jatetxea Amelia

 

 

The Streets of Seville

On our trips here in Spain, I have walked many narrow and winding streets in the cities we’ve visited.  Always surprised when a car would come zipping through while we stood with the kids plastered to the nearest wall to allow the car room to pass.  The streets really seem like sidewalks and in the absence of sidewalks you are prone to walk right down the center of them (usually with a crowd around you) or walk right out into them without a second thought.  Clara nearly got hit by a car when we visited Toledo.  She was trying to balance on a thick-chain link fence as her sisters were doing but she lost her balance and tripped into the road at the same time a small car came zipping though then swerved, slammed on its brakes and the driver began yelling in Spanish at us.  We were all upset, rightfully so.  The streets in the old parts of many cities are small.  Many American cars simply wouldn’t fit.

Buitrago has some smaller streets that when I first started renting cars here, I planned where I parked to that I could strategically avoid the narrowest streets.  HA!  I booked our hostel in Seville which the knowledge that there was parking on site (for a reasonable fee compared to others) and that it was within close walking distance to many places of interest.  That’s all I knew.  Had I known more, I would not have booked this hostel.  But had I known more, I would have missed out on a great adventure and some excellent bragging rights.

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We had to be admitted to drive in old town by the traffic cop.

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Then the street got a little smaller while the GPS tried to keep up.

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The GPS then told me to turn here. Hmmm….really??

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And make this turn. At this point I’m picturing us getting stuck, literally.

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I’m pretty sure this lady stopped to watch me. And while I made it out of here fine, I did go down the one-way street right after this. The one that the red circle is telling me not to.

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This is the hostel there on the left. The door to the place opened inward.

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This is the parking garage. Back where Amelia is where the hostel staff move the cars to. I never could have made it back there.

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Another shot of the garage. We parked right in the door and then the hostel staff ask for your car keys (my rental car keys!!) so they can move the cars around in the garage. We did end up with some small scratches and green paint. We buffed it out and us a cover-up pen before returning the car.

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Here’s the street we just drove down! The one with the lady watching! Craziness!

 

 

Alcazar of Segovia

We have our Lonely Planet guide, we’ve listened to podcasts and residents of Spain often tell us what we MUST see.  It can be pretty overwhelming and daunting to figure out what we want to see and what we’re okay missing.  While in total we will be here in Spain for 8 months it’s not a vacation every day or every weekend but we’re trying to see as much as we can before we have to leave Spain and the Schegen area on June 30th when our visa’s expire.

The Alcazar of Segovia is rumored to be the inspiration behind Cinderella’s Castle in Walt’s Disney World.  I kept telling the girls that we were going to see Sleeping Beauty’s castle.  Which I’ll admit was a little misleading.  They probably would have preferred Walt Disney World but the castle was pretty cool none-the-less.  We paid an extra 2 euro’s to climb 152 steps up the Tower of Juan II.  It was pretty cool; but I had an image of a circular room with a few small windows.  Like Rapunzel.  Instead it was a rooftop with the circular columns we see from the bottom cut in half.

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The interior of the Alcazar was pretty amazing as well! IMG_1897 IMG_1906 IMG_1952 IMG_1905 IMG_1927 IMG_1955 IMG_1956 IMG_1962

After touring around we decided to try to find the view from the bottom of the Alcazar.  And it was quite a nice little impromptu hike.  It was great!

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