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We pulled into Toledo after dark and somehow managed to find our hotel without getting lost. The city stood up on its hill, still having a striking resemblance to El Greco’s famous painting of its dramatic skyline. I was excited about visiting Toledo for many reasons, the most prominent of which is because it is the marzipan capital of the world and I absolutely love those overly sweet nuggets of almond paste; they remind me of a favorite Dutch dessert that my grandma used to make and give me a feeling of happiness and warmth that can only be evoked by super sweet almond confections.

Toledo 1

After checking into our hotel, we ventured down the street to make our second attempt of the day at eating tapas. Once again, we found ourselves in the hands of a barkeep who spoke very little English. Fortunately we know the word for cervesa and we were able to muddle through a few sentences asking him to serve us his favorite items from the menu. This time, the cervesa and tapas flowed. The three of us ate and ate until finally, when the barkeep asked ‘Mas?’ Chris and I both replied ‘No mas. Gracias!’

Toledo 2

The next morning we awoke to chilly temperatures and frosty windows. As we wound our way through the city, I was super bummed that I left my Uggs at home and crazy jealous of Kai getting carted around town in a sleeping bag.

Toledo 3

Pretty quickly, we found out that, in spite of what appeared to be booming tourism, many of the restaurant and shop owners in Toledo did not speak much English. Yet again we ended up ordering a tipico breakfast, which, strangely, was paella; clearly not a breakfast food. No worries, it was tasty and it got the job done. After breakfast, we strolled through the narrow, hilly streets of Toledo taking in the sights, and, of course, munching on marzipan along the way.

Toledo 4

By the time we had crossed town to see the last “must see” on our list, The Cathedral of Toledo, my fingers and toes were completely numb from the cold. I couldn’t wait to go inside and bask in the heat of the second largest church in Spain. Sadly, and I should have expected this, there was no heat. It was nearly as cold inside as out. I think this sealed the fate of the rest of our trip. It was time to bail on frigid Spain and head for more temperate coastal Portugal. A few hours later, after we declared Toledo “done”, we began our walk back across town, across Puente San Martin, and to our car.

Toledo 5

Our early evening was spent driving through Spanish, and then Portugese countryside on our way to Porto.

Next up: Porto, port wine, and tripe

Our time in Madrid, although well spent, was probably a bit too short. I, for one, was feeling a bit lazy while in Madrid, so I did not do a great job of pushing the agenda. It didn’t help matters that the agenda was pretty open; I accidentally left the Spain travel guide in our car at the airport when we flew to Morocco, so I wasn’t able to pre-read much before we got to Madrid. Yes, I realize that most people pre-read weeks, or even months in advance of their trips, but I was and always have been a huge failure at planning my vacations ahead of time.

The first thing we “did” in Madrid was sit down to an awesome breakfast on Gran Via where Chris and I ate Eggs Benedict, Kai ate fruit and yogurt, and the three of us plotted out our day. After wrapping up our breakfast, we set out for the Monasterio Las Descalzas Reales, which was just a few blocks away. We got there just in time to join an English speaking tour of the old monastery. Of the limited things that we saw in Madrid, this was probably my favorite. Chris and I got married in an old Italian monastery that had beautiful frescoes on the walls. Similar to Villa Grazioli, our wedding venue, this monastery also had some amazing frescoes.

Madrid 1

After spending the next part of the day visiting the Royal Palace, Plaza Mayor, and Plaza Espana to name a few places, we realized that lunch time had come and gone and that we were starving. We decided to get tapas for a late afternoon meal and took great care in selecting a bar that felt authentic, not too touristy, and appropriate to bring Kai into. After what felt like miles of walking, and much deliberation, we were finally seated in a bar with drinks in front of us and tapas on the way. In keeping with the stereotype of the fat American over consumer, we ordered entirely too much food and couldn’t wait for it to arrive so we could devour it all.

The first thing that came out was two breaded hunks of brie melted around some Serrano ham. It sounds kind of gross when I describe it that way, but the little nibble of it that I had was pretty tasty. I fed most of mine to Kai as she seemed hungry too and this was totally a food that she could get on board with. Another little plate with two bite-sized pieces of food came out. I can’t remember what this was anymore, but I remember snarfing it down quickly, eager to fill my hungry, rumbling tummy.

We waited and waited, no more tiny plates arrived.

Kai became restless.

We passed her back and forth, trying to entertain her with silly faces and nonsense chatter as we continued to wait for more tiny plates to arrive.

I decided that Kai’s restlessness might be because her diaper was a little wet, so we crammed into a shoebox sized bathroom to attempt a “standing” diaper change. There was no surface in the bathroom that could be used for baby changing, so I found myself holding a wriggling baby in one hand while changing her diaper with the other. If you have ever done this, you understand the enormous level of stress involved with doing it. I was sure that I would get an unwanted shower, or worse. Somehow, I emerged from the bathroom with a happy baby and clean clothes.

Kai sat on Chris’ lap as we made even more silly faces and even more nonsense chatter and continued to wait for more tiny plates carrying bite sized morsels of fried yumminess to arrive.

At some point, we realized that the rest of our food wasn’t coming. As Chris stood up to re-order our food, I saw that my mid-air diaper change didn’t work out so well. Kai’s pants were soaked. I must not have unfolded the leg gussets properly. Madrid 2Lucky for Chris, Kai’s pants seemed to have absorbed the bulk of the fluid. We decided that it was time to bail on our meal. Chris paid our tab as I got Kai cleaned up again. For the second time on this trip, Kai was going to go pantless, this time to The Prado. Fortunately we have one of those stroller sleeping bags, so I doubt that anyone except for us knew about her escapade. Surprisingly, we were able to see nearly all of The Prado before Kai determined that it was time to leave. I was quite impressed with her endurance.

After the museum, we made our way back towards Gran Via, stopping along the way for a few sandwiches and some free internet so we could find a hotel room for that night. Kai needed a nap, so we reserved a hotel room in Toledo, piled back into the car, and made the drive about an hour south to the famous city on the hill.

Next up: Toledo

After our detour to Andorra, we rolled into the Madrid airport a few hours before our flight to Morocco. The first thing that struck me was the amount of trash on the floor of the airport. It was unreal. The airport garbage collectors were on strike and the appeared to be supplementing the typical trash with confettied newspaper. We stood among massive piles of garbage for nearly two hours as we waited to be checked in for our Royal Air Maroc flight to Casablanca. It was a bit of a turn off, to say the least.

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20130110-143112.jpgA few hours later, we arrived in Casablanca where we would transfer to a flight to Marrakech. When we landed in Casablanca, we deplaned onto the tarmac and, as we stood there in the dark waiting for our gate checked stroller to come off of the plane, I thought about that dramatic scene from ‘Casablanca’ where Rick and Ilsa are standing on the tarmac. That daydream was quickly abandoned when I realized that the stroller was not coming. Chris and I both began to frantically ask anyone and everyone we could find what happened to our stroller and what the proper course of action was. Almost unanimously, the answer was to forget about it, if it wasn’t there, it wasn’t coming. Fortunately, we decided to pull a Ken and Christine in Italy circa 2007 and find the stroller ourselves. After hauling our luggage and nearly 30 lbs of baby through customs and all over that airport, I am delighted to report that we found our stroller. I briefly considered parading it past all of the naysayers to stick it to them, but by then I did not have the energy or the drive to carry the baby and the stroller up that many flights of stairs just to rub it in their faces. 

In retrospect, I was really lucky that I didn’t waste my layover parading my recovered stroller all over the airport because, as we sat in the gate area, we noticed something funny going on. There were two late night flights scheduled to Marrakech, but only one gate assigned and more people at the gate than could possibly fit on one plane. Feeling more than a little skeptical about the situation, we decided to use Kai to our advantage and board as early as possible. When we got onto the plane and settled, a couple came up to us “I think you may be in our seats”. We all had the same seat numbers on our tickets (because Royal Air Maroc had sold tickets for two flights and then elected to only fly one plane). This happened to the people in front of us, behind us, across the aisle from us. You get the idea. Ultimately, nearly 40 people were left behind when the plane reached capacity. I feel bad for them, but I’m sure glad that I wasn’t one of them.

Finally, nearly 24 hours after we left Barcelona that morning, we landed in Marrakech and could not be more excited to see our driver and, eventually, our hotel room.

Next up: Marrakech

As I alluded to in my last post, Chris, Kai, and I took a little trip at the end of December. We set off to Spain with a very loose itinerary in mind and filled in the gaps with our standard “winging it” mode of travel.

Our trip started off with a bit more excitement than we hoped for as I checked the flight status on our way to the airport. Our flight from Indy to Newark was delayed and it was almost guaranteed that we would miss our connection to Barcelona. Within seconds we had called up the United 1K line asking about our options. They were able to get us onto another flight to Newark, which, fortunately, was also delayed. It is ironic how a delay that probably caused problems for many people’s travel schedules was just what was needed to save our trip.

A few hours later we rolled up to the gate of our Barcelona-bound flight just in time for the boarding announcement. Perfect timing.

Barcelona 1Within minutes after take-off, Kai was comfortably asleep on the floor under Chris’ legs. It was quite possibly her most awesome flight ever. We flew overnight, and when the breakfast cart came around and I asked for a carton of milk for the baby on the floor, the flight attendant looked stunned. “You have a baby?” Kai had slept nearly the whole way from Newark to Barcelona.

Upon landing, we quickly made it out of the airport, through the rental car line, and off into the city to begin sight seeing. In Barcelona, we saw sights such as the Gothic Quarter, La Sagrada Familia, and Las Ramblas, but my very favorite thing was La Boqueria market which was situated ajacent to Las Ramblas. I am a sucker for markets, especially food markets, and this was among my favorites of all time. It was alive with the sound of merchants and their customers completing their transactions, full of brightly colored fruit, sickeningly anatomical meat stalls, and a new aroma around each corner.

Barcelona 2Our hotel in Barcelona was actually a two bedroom apartment. When I booked it, I thought that we would want two rooms, plus a living space so that we would have enough room to get over our jeg lag without disturbing each other. Naturally, Kai had other plans. Her jet lag did not even approximate a US or a Spanish schedule. Early on the morning that we planned to drive to Madrid, Kai woke up just after midnight, ready to go for the day. Chris headed out into the street to get us a midnight snack at a Turkish food stall outside of our hotel while I tried to get Kai back to sleep. By the time Chris came back, I was quite sure that Kai would be awake for the remainder of the morning and suggested that we make the most of it and go have breakfast in Andorra.

“In where?”

A side trip to Andorra would add about three hours to our drive to Madrid, but when else would we have the opportunity to go? Plus, having a midnight wakeup call is almost equivalent to gaining an extra six hours of “day”, right? Before I knew it, we were cramming suitcases back into our tiny A3 hatchback and making our best effort to head northwest out of the city.

Barcelona 3Within hours, we were winding through the Pyrenees to the Andorra border crossing, which, as far as I can tell, is entrusted to the EU Border Control in France and Spain. The border guard did not so much as slide his window open before waving us through to Andorra. Since it was still pretty early, we elected to drive completely through the tiny municipality and on into France before turning around, proceeding through another uninterested border crossing, and backtracking to Andorra la Vella for breakfast. After a “tipico” breakfast, our standard order when we can’t speak the local language, we needed to jam to Madrid to catch a flight to Morocco.

As we wound our way towards the border, we heard a wretching noise coming from the back seat. When we pulled over to see what was going on, Kai was covered in milk and yogurt vomit, which looked essentially like she dumped a huge tub of yogurt all over herself, her car seat, and the whole backseat and smelled like it was curdled, months old yogurt that might have been aging in my college-era refrigerator. I was not convinced that our 90-pack of baby wipes would be nearly enough to tackle this mess, but, without another choice, Chris got to work stripping and cleaning Kai while I began scooping giant handfuls of vomit onto the side of the road.

In a bold maneuver, we decided not to dress Kai again until we got to the airport. We did not have a ton of extra changes of clothes for her and we were not sure if the wretching would continue. After strapping her back into the car seat naked and cranking up the heat, we were once again enroute to the Andorra/Spain border. This time, the border agents did care about the crossing, but their interest quickly waned after we opened the hatch back for them to poke around and they got a whiff of our car; they quickly sent us on our way again.

Minutes later, the wretching resumed. Once more, everything was covered in a foul yogurt-esque slime. This time we were patting ourselves on the back for the genius decision not to get Kai dressed again. Finally, we were on the road to Madrid again.

Next up: A trip to Marrakech