It’s Friday, I’m in love

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It’s been a long week.  I spent most of it in Dallas busy with a work trip, and I’ll talk a little about that next week.  Thanks for all your lovely comments on the posts about Spain.  Wouldn’t it be nice to be there right now?  Especially since there may be more snow in our future.  Oh well, I guess it means more time for snuggles and naps.

Here are a few last photos from Barcelona.  Hope you have a great weekend!

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Wanderings: Daytripping from the mountains to the seaside

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When traveling alone, I tend to pick a busy city with lots to do and easy public transportation.  For most of the trip, I’m energetically taking in the sights and exploring the local culture, but as the end of my travels near and my to do list grows shorter, I can’t help but wonder what there is to find just outside the city bounds.  Despite the curiosity, it can be hard to muster up the will to go out past the city.  So much of your energy and courage is already expended walking into restaurants alone, navigating unfamiliar streets, and struggling through conversations with strangers in another language, that the thought of venturing further can feel like too far of a stretch.

Though organized group travel isn’t usually my cup of tea, this is when I find myself scrambling for a guided tour.  Spending a day with a local foodie, for example, has changed my perspective on entire cities, taking me through neighborhoods and cuisines I’d have never found on my own.  In Spain, I booked a last minute spot with a small group taking a day trip out of the city, and quickly made friends with some of the other travelers.  We spent a morning exploring the vineyards at Torres Winery, then headed for Montserrat where we hiked around the mountains, visited a monastery, and sampled lots of the locally made chocolates and liqueurs.

Torres vineyard tour

Torres vineyard tour

Torres vineyards

Torres vineyards

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When the sun finally began to set, the group made our way to the tiny seaside city of Sitges, exploring all the glittering shops, and watching the town and the sea glow a rosy pink as the sun dipped down over the Mediterranean.

Montserrat

Montserrat

Santa Maria de Montserrat

Santa Maria de Montserrat

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Santa Maria abbey at Montserrat

Santa Maria abbey at Montserrat

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Sitges sunset

Sitges sunset

Wanderings: Making friends on the Gaudi Trail

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As comforting and reassuring as it is to have a travel companion, there is nothing quite like the experience of fast friend-making that goes on between solo wanderers.  I made several friends while in Barcelona, the most memorable of which was Tim, a sweet, energetic Englishman about 20 years my senior.  Tim and I chatted a few times in the common room of our hostel, and decided it would be fun to see how many of Antoni Gaudi’s architectural landmarks we could cram into one day of sightseeing.

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We set off early one cloudy morning, grabbing coffee’s and getting to know each other better while taking in La Pedrera and Casa Batllo.  I learned that Tim had been down on his luck and was leaving England for good.  He was a passionate mountain climber, and planned to spend the foreseeable future working small jobs and climbing the Pyrenees.  We wandered, awestruck, through the nave of the Sagrada Familia and took an elevator to the top of one of the spires and marveled over the views of the city, then made the long, vertigo inducing walk down the spiral staircase of the spire, taking turns leaning over the edge and laughing because of the way the drop turned our knees to jelly.

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After a few hours clambering all over Park Guell, we warmed our frozen fingers and toes over coffee in a tiny old fashioned cafe, then beers in a hip new bar.  Tim told me stories about finding wine for €1.00 in some shop, so we decided to go in search of this mythical cheap wine and assemble Barcelona’s greatest cheapest dinner.  Our quest lead us to at least a dozen tiny neighborhood mercados, and though the cheapest wine we found was €2.50, we managed to pick up tomatoes, pasta, and fresh bread for less than €5.00.  Back at the hostel, we cooked up a storm, and served ourselves a huge amazing meal back in the common room, and others lingering in the room joined us, sharing wine and chocolate and stories.  It was one of the best nights I spent in Barcelona.

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Wanderings: On my own in Barcelona

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There is a period in my mid-twenties that I think of as The Brave Years—a short span in which, over and over, I stared down my own fears and started to live life the way I wanted.  Traveling to Spain is one of the standout markers of those days.  For years I had wrestled with frustration and impatience trying to get others to travel with me.  Money and timing and nerves always seem to erode the best laid plans, and I was tired of waiting.  So at the end of my first year in DC, I bought a plane ticket, booked a cheap single in a hostel, and took a deep breath.

Barcelona was an easy choice.  My Spanish was good after a year of practicing with international roommates, and the mix of modern culture and gothic architecture appealed to me. The metro system was easy to figure out, and soon I was wandering the dark winding streets of the old city and feeling very brave.

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Still, the first two days I ate nothing but almonds and oranges I bought at a little store near my hostel, too intimidated to go into any restaurants and order alone in another language.  All the walking eventually had me starving, and that hunger wrangled my courage, first at the open air Boqueria, then a casual falafel place, little coffee shops, and eventually amazing tapas bars.

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Traveling alone is liberating and lonely.  It can be wonderful to set your own agenda, to linger in or bypass a museum, a street, a bar, a shop, with no consideration for anyone or anything other than your own mood.  There is also no one to lean on or commiserate with when you meet challenges, and nobody to celebrate with when you absolutely nail a conversation entirely in Spanish, or to turn to when something you see is breathtakingly beautiful.

These days I’m much more comfortable traveling alone.  So much so that, when we travel together, the Mister and I will separate for a day and go on our own little adventures.  And while I did eventually make friends in those days in Spain, something I’ll touch on a little more tomorrow, the most enduring experience of that trip was the aloneness.  Separation from television, news, media, internet, conversation and companionship.   Culturally we often think poorly of aloneness, but being left to nothing but my own thoughts and experiences was by turns exhilarating, frightening, focusing, and powerful.

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The cruel wind blew

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Every week that passes, I remind myself that we are just a little closer to spring.  Soon there will be buds on the trees and the cherry blossoms will come, and there will be crocuses and picnics and bike rides.  But not yet.

Work is sending me to Texas for a couple of days this week.  Sadly, not home—not Austin—but it will be warmer and sunny, and I hope to carve out a few hours to catch up with family in the area.  In the meantime, I’ve set up a few posts reflecting on travels in Spain—an exercise undertaken to remind myself that winter can be delightful.  Hope you enjoy and be back soon.

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It’s Friday, I’m in love

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Last weekend was long, quiet, and romantic, which was just perfect as we have a lot of traveling apart coming up in the next few weeks.  Friday night we stayed in, exchanged Valentines, and made pizza.  Saturday we went out to try a new, well-reviewed Italian restaurant, then had dinner and a movie on Sunday, and spent part of Monday reading in cafe.  It was nice to extend the romance of the season out all weekend, and it didn’t hurt to have these gorgeous tulips from the Mister, brightening up the apartment whenever we were home.

Have a great weekend!

Tulips and piano tickets

Tulips and piano tickets

Cold shoulder, colder skies

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When the weather is warmer and the days are longer, I pass through Rock Creek Park almost every day, usually on my bike.  Lately it’s been too cold and icy to ride, and I think the lack of exercise has contributed to my cabin fever.  Over the weekend, the Mister had a pile of homework to do, so to get out of his hair, I went for a little hike in the Park.

Normally, the route I took would be a short, brisk walk, dodging bikers and joggers all the way.  The recent storm, however, left the park silent and white, the trail still buried under several inches of snow and ice.  Picking my way along the frozen path took nearly four times as long as it normally would, and the entire time I only saw two other people.  It was a tiring and slippery walk, but I was happy for the chance to see the park quieted by snow.

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All aflush and aflutter

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Rainy and snowy weather can make for a lovely visit to the zoo.  With the crowds snug and warm at home, I have the place mostly to myself and can linger as long as I please.  We had a second light snow on Saturday, and I found myself at the bird house, watching the storks stretch their wings and blend into the snow, while the flamingos fluttered about in their steamy pond and struck a stark contrast.

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White as snow, nowhere to go

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We had another snow day after last week’s storm.  On days like this, I like to get out for a walk early and have a look around before the hustle and bustle of the city turns the pristine snow to gray slush.

It’s hard to go far on those mornings.  The buses aren’t running, the cabs are charging extra, and the sidewalks aren’t yet shoveled.  Still, we made it as far as Rock Creek Park, tromping around in snow up to our shins, watching children go zipping down hills on colorful sleds, and taking a few minutes to make a panda out of snow.

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The snow kissed the curb

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A snowy hike at 3:00 a.m.

It’s been four years since we’ve had anything like the snowstorm that rolled through last week.  Something like 8 inches of snow in one night.  I know I’ve whined a lot about winter lately, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement of a coming storm, especially since it’s been so long since we’ve had that much snow in a single day.

The heart of the storms always seem to come in the middle of the night when most of the city is sound asleep.  That is my favorite part.  When all the cars have given up for the night and the plows have yet to do their work.  The streets and sidewalks disappear under a white plain, and for a little while the city is silent.  Around 3 a.m., I spied this lonely walker making his way through the snow in the middle of the road, an eerie and otherworldly sight on what is normally a busy street.

Light December snow on the right; Heavy February snowstorm on the right

Light December snow on the left; Heavy February snowstorm on the right

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It’s Friday, I’m in love

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Happy Valentine’s day and Friday!  I may have to work late tonight, but I’m looking forward to spending the weekend with my Mister.  Lately, I’ve been really into having fresh flowers around the house, so I picked up these orangey-pink rose at my local flower shop and they’ve been brightening up my mood.

Hope you have a great weekend!

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Next stop… ?

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My new passport finally came in the mail!  I keep flipping through it and the crisp, empty pages feel like a dare.  “Where to now, eh?  Blank pages make for a dull girl.”

So, I’ve booked a ticket and an apartment.  Back to Paris at the end of March with my lovely, Mum.  It’s her birthday today, and though I’m sad I’m not with her tonight or at her boat party this weekend, I’m so excited for the two of us to wander around the City of Light.  An adventure for us ladies.  Where are you heading next?

Just to remind you, I love you so

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Lately, we’ve both been stressed with work and school, and gloomy from the weather.  I may have to work late on Friday, so who knows if we’ll even get to do something romantic on that day.  But that’s ok.  I’m happy even with a couple of quiet hours at home, as long as we’re together.

Sometimes I think, in our home, we most often we say I love you with gifts of food.  So I whipped up these pink, heart-shaped reminders that I love you so, not just on Valentines, but everyday.  ❤ ❤ ❤

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Endless winter

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Someday I’ll stop complaining about the cold and gray and snow.  Today is not that day.  I got brought down by another cold over the weekend, and the one time I ventured outdoors it snowed.  More—possibly a lot more—is forecast for tomorrow night.

Winter hasn’t gotten to me this badly since the first one I spent in Michigan, now, eight years ago.  Next year I’ll need to remember to schedule more travel during the cold months–preferably somewhere warm and green.  For now, I keep trying to snap myself out of my funk with fresh flowers, cooking lots of fresh vegetables, and eating entire boxes of strawberries if I feel like it.

Put some flowers ’round my room

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Sometimes all you really need to brighten up your gloomy winter days are $10 worth of flowers from the shop down the street.  It’s extra nice when they wrap up your bright yellow mimosas and cabbage flower with brown paper and string.  Looking at these beauties, I can almost imagine it’s spring.

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It’s Friday, I’m in love

Cute pups on the street

Cute pups on the street

Are you excited for the Olympics?  We’re attending an open ceremonies party on Friday night.  I usually prefer the summer Olympics–swimming is so much fun to watch–but the little girl in me always feels a little thrilled about the ice skating.  I remember always wanting to be one of the girls who skated around the rink and picked up the bouquets of flowers that were tossed out for the competitors.  Do they even still do that?  I guess we’ll see.

Here are a few photos from the week.  Hope you have a great weekend!

We kept it simple for the Super Bowl with baked chicken wings and a seven layer dip

We kept it simple for the Super Bowl with baked chicken wings and a seven layer dip

Pears for a salad!

Pears for a salad!

Time to catch up on Oscar movies.  First up: American Hustle

Time to catch up on Oscar movies. First up: American Hustle

Bright polishes are getting me in the mood for spring

Bright polishes are getting me in the mood for spring

Swan Lake at the Kennedy Center

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Did you grow up loving the ballet?  I did.  As a teenager, my idea of a dream date would have likely entailed meeting up with a handsome someone at a fancy place for drinks and dinner, and then going to a ballet.  Last week the Mister and I went on just such a date, and it was about as dreamy as could be.

We had reservations straight after work for cocktails and dinner in Foggy Bottom, then hopped over to the Kennedy Center to see the Mariinsky Ballet (formerly Kirov Ballet) perform Swan Lake.  The Kennedy Center is gorgeous with all its grand halls, glittering chandeliers, and views over the Potomac.  But the grandeur of the building was no match for the romance and beauty of the flock of ballerinas on stage, all lined up in their feathered headpieces and white tutus angled just so.  I must have sighed in happiness a dozen times during the performance and dozen more during the cab ride home.

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Hall of Nations

Hall of Nations

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Playbill and tickets

Playbill and tickets

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Hey, handsome

Hey, handsome

Wanderings: Public art in Philadelphia

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As I mentioned, it was pretty cold and gray while we were in Philadelphia, but one of the things that brightened our visit was all the public art.  Last week, I posted a few photos of us horsing around with the larger than life game piece art installation across from City Hall.  We also spent a chilly afternoon walking up and down South Street, enjoying the way the mid-winter sun shone and sparkled across the dozens of glass and ceramic mural installations by local artist Isaiah Zagar.  We were also pretty delighted with the monster painted trash compactors dotting the sidewalks, which I’ve since learned are called “Litter Critters” and were painted by local artists and students.

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Wanderings: Vintage charm in old Philadelphia

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Growing up in the wide-spread cities and suburbs of the south, I have a particular fascination with the dense old cities of the north.  I like the way the all the buildings are pushed up against one another, the way green spaces are purposefully carved out and preserved, the way the evidence of several centuries of living is all piled up on top of itself and crowded together on single blocks.

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We spent an afternoon meandering around the Old City district of Philadelphia, and though I enjoy the two- and three-hundred-year-old buildings, I couldn’t help but dwell on the sprinkles of 20th century architecture and advertising scattered throughout.  In any other context, these storefronts, signs, and details would seem retro and vintage but here, in old Philadelphia, they felt amazingly modern, despite their crumbling edges and peeling paint.

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Wanderings: A step back in time

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What is your favorite thing about old cities?  For me, it’s usually the houses and shops.  I love the old brickwork and wooden shutters, boot-scrapers and weird door knockers, and colorfully painted doors.

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Philly had a wealth of gorgeous old homes and buildings to swoon over.  As we walked around town, I couldn’t help but pause every few feet to admire an old building, and wonder how long it’s it been there, what did it look like on the inside, how many people have lived or worked there over the years, and what were their lives like.

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Elfreth's Alley is the oldest residential street in the country

Elfreth’s Alley is the oldest residential street in the country

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Hats trimmed free of charge!

Hats trimmed free of charge!

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