31 December, 2007

Unexpected Snow In The Mountains: It Ain't Running...

This is something I wrote to the North Texas Trail Runners list. John Morelock is a member of NTTR who lives in the Pacific Northwest but stays connected to the Texas crowd. http://www.nttr.org/.......

Though I've been living with my family in Madrid since last May, I’ve continued to follow the invitations to meet for runs, race results, etc. I even made it back for the Cactus Rose 100, which was one of the most enjoyable ultras I have ever done. And I don’t think “enjoyable ultra” is an oxymoron :-)

But I've particularly enjoyed John Morelock’s postings. Though I've never met him, and may well never meet him, earlier this week I thought of his attitude about running and he saved the day.

First the background: Madrid has been an unexpected joy for daily running. We live half a block from El Parque del Retiro and a 15 minute run from Casa de Campo, which is then about 10+ miles around in trees and hills. I can easily put together a 20-miler with minimal traffic in the heart of a major European capital with 4 million people! An even bigger surprise is that a 90 minute train ride away and I'm in the mountains at 3700’ and an hour later up to almost 6000 feet. With a little work and more time, I can reach about 7000. and when I get to the train station in Cercedilla, the trail literally is right off the end of the platform. Sweet.

I went up this past Thursday for a long run. I was feeling a little christamased out and needed a break and a long run. I was out the door at 6am and was planning to be running when it started getting light at 8am. The train ride was mostly in the dark so it was a big surprise as I started hiking up the mountain and I realized the tops of the mountains were covered in snow. Just gorgeous with the sun coming up behind them, me in the pine trees and not a soul around. Sweeter.

When I got to the dirt road I was planning on running, I found it covered in six inches or so of snow over top of an icy, ankle twisting base. That’s when I realized that my plans for a long run were out the window. And then I got irked. I had made a big effort to make this day happen and now I wasn’t going to get much more than a hike. I stomped along for another 30 minutes or so, grumbling and self-righteous. At that point, I looked up at the snow covered peaks backed by a cobalt blue sky and I thought of John Morelock and his insight into the heart of running and being out on the trail. Here I was in a beautiful situation and I was complaining? Only because of my expectations (certain number of miles in a certain time) was this not a glorious experience to be relished. I thought of his posts about the weather and the internal conversations of an ultra runner. And then the day, at least the one inside my head, changed.

So I happily missed the 10:30 train home and took a little longer way back to enjoy the views from the other side of the valley. I got back down out of the snow, and on a long slow downhill, and ran my legs off. I made the 11:30 train with five minutes to spare and a great day behind me.

I got on the train, which was full of people clearly not in the same exalted frame of mind, saw the snowy mountains dwindle down into the lower altitudes of Madrid and once again counted my blessings.

24 November, 2007


Needless to say, Thanksgiving is not a Spanish holiday. Assumption Day, Ascension Day, dozens of saints days and the entire month of August are holidays but we were surrounded by about 4,000,000 people who had no idea why we took the girls out of school! (As an aside, you can buy a turkey here though it’s not something the Spanish eat. And the price matched…about US$4.50/pound!)

Taylor was totally freaked out about how the holidays were going to be so different and Thanksgiving without the cousins in Dallas and running the Turkey Trot just wasn’t going to be any Thanksgiving at all. But she totally underestimated her mother!

While I went out for a glorious long run in Casa de Campo, Taylor baked a pumpkin pie and Becca/Laura Macie chocolate mousse. After that, she and the girls spent the morning at the police station getting fingerprinted for their residency cards. We should have them about the time we head back to the US.

But when they returned, we dragged our bags full of US Thanksgiving goodies, we walked over to our friends Chris and Kathy Cooper for the full on deal with turkey, dressing, gravy mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and on and on. They did a terrific job at moving their apartment 3000 miles west for an afternoon. Two other Americans joined us and we had a day that would have been recognizable in just about any house in America. We missed our families and we managed to recreate a sense of belonging that will be a Thanksgiving we’ll remember.

Otono en Madrid

I have been traveling a lot for YPO work, and some with the family, since mid-October. There was even a three week period or so where Becca and I saw each other for less than 24 hours…that was nuts. But when I came back from the latest trip to Cartagena de Indies, Colombia it really hit me how much el otono had settled in. For a week or so earlier in NOvebmer, while I was gone and the girls didn’t have any heat, the temperature dropped down to the low 20sF!

Someone had told us that November is usually the worst weather month in Madrid but we had been extremely lucky. Instead of the usual wet and windy weather, we have been blessed with brilliant blue skies and cool evenings and moderately warm days. As I went out to meet the girls on their way home from school earlier this week, the walk through el Retiro’s beautiful trees, water and that sky just hit me. We are very fortunate to be here and be together.

With all the signs of continued good weather, today we decided to hie ourselves up to Cercedilla for a hike. It was probably 10 degrees cooler in the foothills and much windier but we had a delightful day walking through the trees, always looking for a sunny spot, till we stopped for a picnic lunch and then back to the station for the 90 minute train ride back to Madrid. I think we’ll all sleep well tonight.

Granada and La Alhambra

Well. I am making no apologies for being so far behind. Travel and work have taken over for the last six weeks and I may not be able to catch up. I do apologize, however, for those of you who have come to visit and found nothing but old news. Still, here’s to a fresh start!

One of the recent family trips was to Granada in October. We had the chance to visit with some new friends there, Cliff, Sara and Alex (four years old). Matt and Julianna introduced us last year in Dallas. They went to school with Cliff in Texas and Cliff married native Granadian Sara. They hosted us for breakfast, let us borrow one of their cars and gave us an overview of their city. I don't know how we could repay the debt but hope we have the chance sometime.

We stayed in a cortijo (old farmhouse converted to a hotel/inn) called Cortijo del Pino just outside the city that is owned by some of Cliff and Sara’s friends. An old tobacco farm, the rooms were simple and comfortable and we really had a sense that we were someplace, not a generic hotel that could be anywhere. The girls in particular fell in love with the passel of cats and kittens which found Taylor and Laura Macie a generous source of treats. And they got to ride horses without any of the usual "worried about liability" outfits they're used to! (I was off doing a long run getting ready for the Cactus Rose 100, which was a total blast for me. I ran about 35+ miles and saw Granada and environs in a different way than most visitors, I'm sure.)

The old Granada is a very walkable city with beautiful streets, plazas and buildings. Life seems to move at a very nice pace and, as a major university city, full of students from all over the world. The only odd note in this peaceful city was as I was waiting one afternoon, outside a church where a small crowd was filling up their water bottles, an older lady was cussing a blue streak (my Spanish is good enough to recognize a few of them) at a young woman who appeared impervious to the invective being screamed at her. The older lady must have been doing a good job as several people passing by on the street showed surprise and then laughter.

The real reason to visit Granada, however, is La Alhambra (please take a few minutes to read this article and look at the fantastic photos.) It is the most visited monument in Spain and we now understand why. Our first real experience of seeing the fort was the night before our scheduled visit. We wandered through the town looking for a place to eat. We wound up in El Albacin, which is the old Arab quarter. In a very tight area, there are hundreds of streets that were oddly quiet. It was about 8:30 when we sat down at a restaurant with a little outside patio. We sat down and, much to our surprise, as we looked up we saw the sheer side of La Alhambra with a ¾ moon rising behind it. Just fantastic and really got us excited about seeing the entire thing.

There is no way I can do justice to La Alhambra. Books by smart people and full of pictures by professionals are dedicated to trying. But this 13th century wonder was built by Muslims, taken over by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand when the Reconquest of Spain was complete in 1492. This is also the spot where Cristobal Colon and the Catholic Monarchs, as they were known, sealed the deal for his voyage to the New World. The palace fell into disrepair for hundreds of years. Vagrants and Gypsies lived in it, taking or destroying the furniture and paintings and generally trashing the place.

Strangely enough, it was an American who saved it. Washington Irving (author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow among others), was in Spain in the 1820s when he became enchanted by the legends of La Alhambra. He wrote Tales of the Alhambra and soon people were flocking there to bask in the romantic aura. The government got reengaged and now the palace and gardens are being restored and maintained and it’s pure magic.

One other note. Granada is also home to most of the Gitano (Roma or Gypsy) population of Spain and they have lived in and around the area since before the medieval times. With the Gypsies, you also have flamenco. We were walking through the streets, late in the afternoon, and heard this couple playing flamenco outside the burial place of Ferdinand and Isabella and their children. It was a cool combustion of Muslim streets, Gypsy music and the Spanish monarchy. Here’s a link to some of the music Song 1, Song 2, Song 3. I bought a CD from the musicians…one of whom, I'm sad to say, might have been one of the ugliest women I have ever seen. But she played the guitar incredibly and she helped create a lasting memory of Granada.

04 October, 2007

Old Post from August I just found

I wrote this back in August but I had some PDA problems and was just able to recover it today, 45 days later! Madrid is very different now in early October the beautiful chestnut trees (las castanas) in El Retiro dropping their frutos secos (nuts) and beginning to change colors...though I think they're just going to go through shades of brown, no fireworks of colors. This is not my photo but a pretty good shot of what El Retiro looks like now. In any case, here's the August note with some links.

Today was a very lazy day and we finally got out of the house about 1:30. We've been very lucky with the weather this summer as it usually blistering hot in August. There have been a few hot days but the low humidity, and relatively cool nights, make it bearable. We still have a month or so to go but we've only turned on the airconditioning once or twice.

But the Madrilenos plan to get out of the city and August is VERY quiet here. Hardly any rush hour and I'm guessing that 50% of the citizens have left or are on vacation. Enough that it's a big deal when small shops are open that it's a marketing opportunity because we've seen a few signs that say "No cerramos in Agosto" to let people know they are open!

The girls were great on the 2mi or so walk and we had a picnic lunch and some ice cream in the Plaza de Espana. There's a huge fountain dedicated to Cervantes here and it's lovely, shaded little spot.

It's then just a short walk to the Templo de Debod with the girls. A gift from Egypt, it's a little disconcerting to see a 2nd century BC building in downtown Madrid, but there you go!

There was nothing special about the day; no big plans, no big "culture" moment. Just another day living in this city. Delightful!

20 September, 2007

Bulls Run In More Cities Than Pamplona

Most everyone has heard of the running of the bulls in Pamplona, made famous by Hemingway, but it turns out lots of cities in Spain have their own bull running festivals! We didnt know that but some friends here in Madrid seem to have the secret code to what's going on in Madrid and told us about "el encierro" (running of the bulls but literally "the enclosure") about a 30 minutes from here in San Sebastian del Rey. So we got up at 6am and drove to SSdR.

The whole festival is a week long event and when we went on Saturday, most of the people looked like they had been up most of the night already.

Running in front of six bulls sounds like it shouldn't be that hard...that's wrong. The course has several turns, the bulls are FAST and not every one is sober! Take a look at this video (the whole thing is over in 2 minutes) and watch for when the bulls speed up in the first turn, slam into the fence and then see the fear in some of the runners faces.

Definitely something I plan to do before coming back to the US.

02 September, 2007

An Important (and impressive) Assignment for My Dad

This has nothing to do with Spain. But they're bringing him back from retirement and I think that's a great compliment and responsibility. If you're not familiar with this disaster, please click on Crandall Canyon accident to learn more.

News Release
U.S. Department of Labor For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs August 30, 2007
Washington, D.C. Contact: Dirk Fillpot/David James

Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao announces independent review of MSHA’s actions at Utah’s Crandall Canyon Mine

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao announced today that an independent team of mine safety experts will review the actions of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) relative to the Crandall Canyon Mine accident. The review will include actions taken before the August 6 accident and the ensuing rescue operations. “After discussions with Administrator for Mine Safety and Health Richard Stickler, I am taking the unprecedented step of appointing independent outside experts to evaluate MSHA’s actions regarding the tragedy at the Crandall Canyon Mine on August 6 and the subsequent rescue efforts,” said Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. “The Crandall Canyon miners, the rescuers who were injured and perished in trying to save others, and the loved ones who have suffered so much in this tragedy continue to be foremost in our thoughts.”

The following two individuals will lead the independent review:

Joseph W. Pavlovich of Gray, Ky., is a highly respected former MSHA district manager and expert on mine rescue, with 30 years of hands-on experience in underground and surface coal mine safety and health at MSHA. While working at MSHA, he headed three post-accident internal reviews of MSHA’s performance and was a team member on another internal review. After retirement from MSHA, he continued to be active in mine safety activities and served as an associate to former MSHA Administrator Davitt McAteer during his review of the Sago Mine disaster.

Earnest C. Teaster Jr. of King George, Va., is a highly respected former MSHA administrator for Metal and Nonmetal Mine Safety and Health and a Coal Mine Safety and Health district manager, with 32 years of experience in mine safety and health issues in a variety of positions at MSHA, ranging from mine inspector to managerial and supervisory roles. Before retiring from MSHA, he also headed three post-accident internal reviews.

The independent review will consist of a thorough examination of written mine plans, inspection records, and other documents relevant to the Crandall Canyon Mine and interviews of MSHA employees with personal knowledge of MSHA’s inspection responsibilities and enforcement procedures at the mine. This review will provide a comparison of MSHA’s actions at the Crandall Canyon Mine with the requirements of the federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, the “Mine Act,” (as amended by the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006), its standards and regulations, and MSHA policies and procedures. The findings of the independent review will result in the development of recommendations to improve MSHA’s enforcement program and the agency’s oversight of rescue and recovery programs in the aftermath of mine accidents. Copies of this review will be made available to the families of the miners involved in the Crandall Canyon mine accident, Congress and the public.

30 August, 2007

Canyoning and Ponying in France

Taylor and I had a great experience doing this thing called canyoning. Basically, we hiked up to the top of a canyon on the Swiss/French border (our guide said “swiss mountain, french water) and slid, hiked, rappelled (abseiling) and jumped our way back to the bottom. Of course, the water is right from a glacier so wetsuits, with booties and hoods, are required!

Two cool things to mention, other than the fact that we had a total blast:
We clipped on to a cable that snaked around the side of cliff. There was a small flat rock to stand on and then our guide, Robert, “invited” us to jump about 10 feet into the pool under a waterfall. (If you didn’t jump, he pushed). Taylor and I were about 6 people apart and she did it like a pro. We then climbed back up a very tricky little path to get to the same spot and she leapt again like she was born to it. He asked if I wanted to go about another few feet, to maybe 15 feet, and jump. My mouth said yes before my brain had time to evaluate and it was too late not to do it. So I swallowed hard and jumped. There’s way more peer pressure from my 10 year old daughter than a big group of guys.

Then we went back up and took a running jump into the water. Taylor wasn’t so sure about the run part but after a quick squeeze of my hand, and a loud yell, she did it marvelously.

Taylor and I again were separated when we got to the edge of 30 foot waterfall. Here she clipped into the harness and rappelled down through the waterfall. She got to the bottom, popped out of the water and sat on a log next to the little river and chatted away with another girl like she hadn’t just done the most amazing thing.

I love my kid!

While we’re pretending to be otters, Becca and Laura Macie went off for a pony ride. Because they got there early, Laura Macie had the totally cool experience of going up the mountain to get her pony “Pikacho” and walk him back down. She led him like she grew up on a farm and was so happy she almost burst while riding him on her own. It was quite a day!

06 August, 2007

Visit to Innsbruck Austria

Things are going to be out of chronological order for a while as I try to catch up. But I'll start with the most recent trip and then fill in later.

I had planned to participate in a 50-mile run this past weekend in Austria, the Karwendel Challenge, but the race had some permit issues that weren't able to be resolved in time. We had planned to meet some friends from Dallas (Shelby and Benjamin Vincent) in Innsbruck, where Shelby has a very close friend and her husband (Melissa and Claude). Rather than have the cancellation of the race cause us to change our plans, we decided to go ahead. GREAT DECISION!

We flew to Munich and rented a car for the two-hour drive to Innsbruck. We ended up with big BMW 750td, which was a blast to drive through the mountains :-) and on the autobahn.

Innsbruck is a beautiful town of about 130,000, so a very easy city to explore and like. We forgot our camera so I'll have more photos later of some of the things we did (hiking, visiting castles like Schloss Tratzberg and beautiful parks) but here's a great photo Ben took of the girls in the Hofgarten.

Because of Becca's usual great planning, seeing friends and Claude and Melissa's incredible hospitality, Innsbruck was a special five days and we would love to go back.
I'll write a separate report about the run/hike I did with three other guys over part of the Karwendel Challenge course. But if you like stories that begin, "So a Romanian, an American and two Germans meet at a train station," then you might enjoy it.

11 July, 2007

Where We're Living Now

We've been in our new apartment for about three weeks now and it's starting to feel like our own. We rented it furnished and that has been mostly a blessing but has sometimes proved to be a limitation as well. For example, we can't put any holes in the wall, so no nails and no pictures, etc. Fortunately, the woman who owns the apartment has great taste so it's been very livable.

The neighborhood we're in is terrific. We're half a block away from El Parque del Retiro, a tremendously cool place to have so close. The girls roller-blade, I run, Becca walks and there's endless people and dog-watching.

Mostly, I'll just post some pictures that show the street and the apartment. You'll notice how small the washer is. Maybe three pairs of jeans at a time, for example. And the dryer is a joke so we hang stuff on the drying rack...not very convenient and it means lots of ironing and groaning from Becca :-)

For more pictures of our apartment and neighborhood, please click on this album. It's only about half a dozen photos but does give you a sense of where we're living. http://picasaweb.google.com/bteaster/JuanDeMenaPhotos?authkey=37ZWBaF_0Dw

06 July, 2007

One more lesson learned

If you're going to get a haircut you should meet at least one of two conditions:
  • Speak the language the of the person who is actually wielding the scissors
  • You are comfortable with the fact that it's only hair and will grow back
The first haircut wasn't expensive, of course it wasn't that good of a haircut. The second one was but it made looking in the mirror not scary.

Fortunately, I meet the second criteria!

04 July, 2007

Things we're learning the hard/slow/expensive way

I've got a lot of catching up to do but thought I would just put some miscellaneous thoughts down to let you know that my silence hasn't been because we've not been busy:

  • You have to put a euro in most all carts (grocery, etc) and then you get it back when you bring the cart back and lock it up. Most carts are impossible to steer. And it's not uncommon for a homeless person to be hanging around the parking lot and offer to take back your cart and keep the euro.
  • You can't leave a key on the inside of the door and then unlock it from the outside. Thank god the porter in the building, Manuel, could explain what we needed to do and called a locksmith. That was an €80 education.
  • The fruteria across the street is a cool thing to have. The husband and wife have been running it for decades.
  • Only certain stores sell certain things. You cant buy a light bulb at all the El Corte Ingles (an amazing department store that's a cross between, Macy's/Target/Tom Thumb). Some sell chain saws...others only sporting goods. And it's a big deal that they're open the first Sunday of each month. They also deliver for only €6, which is one of Madrid's best bargains. Life would be impossible without them.
  • Everything takes longer. That's not all bad but it just does. Part of that is because we don't have a car. So we wait on the metro, or the bus, or we walk. Obviously, our lack of language skills adds another layer of complexity. We just had some friends from the US visit (more on that later) and they are impressed at how much we know. And I still feel mostly like a moron...all relative.
  • You have to pay an extra euro if you take the metro to the airport. You have to add it to your ticket in a separate machine and you need the ticket to open the turnstile. Lots of policia to make sure no one skates on the extra euro. OK if you're by yourself, harder with suitcases and kids in tow.
  • You have to have your ticket to exit the train station. No one told us that.
  • Walking through El Retiro to get to the metro stop to take the girls to their school is a delight. So far, and it is July, the mornings are cool and the sky is blue. a great way to start the day.
  • Some things seem arbitrary. I was able to take our wheeled grocery cart (empty) on the bus up to the store. When I tried to get back on the bus with it full, I got the finger wagging NO and had to walk the 20 blocks home. Again, no big deal but it just took longer.
  • Ordering pizza has been our most perilous task so far. There's a swanky neighborhood near our house called Salamanca. There's also the city of Salamanca about 200 km west of Madrid. When Becca tried to order pizza the first time, she called the pizza place 3 hours away...needless to say they don't deliver. We then tried Pizza Hut...what we ordered arrived on time but wasn't at all what we were expecting. Next time, she got what she ordered but it took 90 minutes (Pizza Hut is probably less than 3k away from our apartment) and was stone cold. This week, we wanted it delivered at 8pm...no deliveries till 8:30. Fortunately, we run little risk of starving to death :-)

20 June, 2007

Not Like In The Movies

The last 10 days have been about as frustrating as anything I have experienced on the personal front. It has practically nothing to do with being in Spain and everything to do with the so-called "global financial network." Ha. More like the "global marketing blah blah but it's really a country by country system and it would be faster if you wrote a check and sent it by freighter and donkey network"!!! It's sure not like James Bond or Oceans 11 or The Bourne Identity where you push a button and watch it fill your Swiss bank account.

We literally had tens of thousands of dollars that was really our money and we couldn't get access to it because it was being wired somewhere at some point by somebody and we would get it some time. Which, for those of you who read my early post about the fear landlords have here of letting someone rent their property and never being able to get them out, didn't make our first time landlord any more comfortable with the Americanos.

We did move into a new apartment, more about that later with some pictures, and life is getting much better. But if I had written all this last week, it would have been too bitter. With a little distance, it's not funny but it's not as stressful as it was either.

Two great things did happen out of it. First, we were again reminded how many good friends we have who were willing to do a variety of things to try to help. Genuine offers that came right from the heart and did indeed help...sometimes just listening and empathizing was what we needed.

Secondly, while Becca and I were very worked up, the girls continued be the girls (though they did tell us to relax a few times.) One afternoon Becca took them into a church she had been wanting to see. Taylor and Laura Macie were very NOT excited about that little trip. However, once they got in, past the ordinary facade, their jaws dropped. That night, when they usually take a few minutes to say what they're thankful for, Taylor said something that was worth all the hassle and frustration, "Thank you for opening my eyes to knowing that sometimes what is plain on the outside is beautiful on the inside."

It's so good that our kids are smarter than we are.

10 June, 2007

Flamenco Dancing - Way better than I expected!

Becca was committed to doing something this past Friday night with the girls that was more than just dinner and walking around, as lovely as those two things are. Her idea was, to me, the dreaded flamenco dancing show. A necessary stop on the Madrid culture tour but one to be endured more than enjoyed.

The evening started out quite nicely and set the tone for the entire night. The girls dressed up and were excited about such a mysterious word.

We had (mediocre) paella in the Plaza Mayor. Sure, it's a tourist magnet but the outside seating allows for fantastic people watching and there are a lot of people in the Plaza on a Friday night! The girls were totally entranced by a spray paint artist who was simply incredible. Once we move, this week hopefully, the girls want to go back and ask him to create some custom work for their rooms :-)

We finally made our way to the flamenco bar and right away my antennae went up. It was small and dark and seemed ripe for the American in Spain nightmare...audience participation! But I couldn't have been more wrong. Right at show time, the small stage filled with four dancers (three female and one male ), two guitarists and two singers. And from the first note, the stage just exploded with noise and passion and movement. What a fantastic hour we spent.

The photos aren't great (part of what makes flamenco exciting is the exact opposite of good photo conditions) but the evening was another terrific taste of Spain and more fun than any of us expected!

07 June, 2007

Cheese and Honey Tour in Avila

While Laura Macie and I toughed it out at home yesterday, Becca and Taylor took a tour of (relatively) nearby Avila. This trip, led by a fantastically Madrid/Spain-savvy woman named Ann Pinder, was to three artesinal cheese and honey makers. They learned fascinating things about bees, goats and rural life in Spain. The cheese makers live in a village of about 300 people, maybe 100 families, 20% make earn their livelihood in some way connected with the goats!

We are enjoying the great queso fresca de cabra and two different kinds of honey (one from flowers and one from a tree).

Here are a few other terrific pictures from their

04 June, 2007

Expat Community is a Different World

Through some connections Becca has made, we have had the chance the last two weekends to meet several people who are corporate expats here in Madrid. What a different world! We met one lovely Australian woman who has been married 29 years and moved 23 times!!! She considers Connecticut home and kids have gone to university all over the world.

As a group, the expats all speak multiple languages with ease and have interesting perspectives on the world because they've seen so much of it. At the same time, there's a certain fatalism as they often have little control over when and where the next assignment is or for how long.

One French expat talked about living in Seoul, South Korea, a sprawling city of more than 20mm. At the same time there were only 100 French families there so it was like living in a small village (with all the good and bad that comes with that experience) and, in retrospect, a fantastic few years for their family...though living there was very difficult because of the dramatically different language and culture.

This weekend was a little more intimate; dinner with just two other couples but a similar sense of cultural mishmash. The hosts were a French man (different than the one above) married to a Brazilian woman. He works for a French bank, grew up in Africa, the language at home is Portuguese and their English is first rate. And, of course, they live and work and raise a son in Madrid, who uses Spanish on the playground of his French school. Head spinning.

We had a very Spanish day yesterday...late start to the day for most of the family and we didn't go to lunch till 2:30. There are a number of restaurants near our piso (a word we learned this week for apartment), and has we sat outside eating tapas, this was our view. (well, not Laura Macie's as you can see from the top of her head looking at me taking the picture. The phonecam ain't the best)

On Friday, Becca was out meeting a friend at a nearby restaurant when motorcade came screaming by. Turned out to be the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, for an eight-hour visit with Spanish President Zapatero. Not much could have happened in such a short time but this is a "welcome" banner outside of where the meeting happened. Becca also learned that one of the services the US Embassy here (and I think all places) provides is an email alert for when anti-American rallies are expected....hadn't thought about that as a necessary service before.

31 May, 2007

Self realizations

This morning on my run, I wanted to go the track at Estadio Vallerhmosa, which is about 4km from our apartment. I found it but it was closed; which was strange as there were a lot of people out running around the stadium as well! So I decided to take a different way back, based on my cursory glance at the map the night before. For those of you in Dallas, I basically wound up trying to figure out how to get across the equivalent of the High 5! Not quite as bad but adding being somewhat lost certainly increased the anxiety of running through rush hour traffic!
I eventually found my way back to familiar territory and finished up my run along the Palacio Real. I decided to stop and look at the Palacio in the courtyard between it and the Catedral de la Almudena. And that's when it hit me...I'm a peasant!

Here's the second biggest palace in western Europe, after the Louvre, with a direct link to the Church...how could you not believe in divine right of kings and that they were the chosen? It must have been as plain as the noses on all those faces as it was to me this morning! For all the education and travel and exposure, it was a very impressive sight/thought and, for the first time, I understood how that must have felt.

It's also been interesting how we've had some role-flipping in our family. Because I'm basically at my desk for big chunks of the day and night here to stay in sync with the US, Becca and the girls are the ones out exploring the city, meeting people, and getting engaged. She and I were talking how we both feel sort of isolated from the world in some ways...no newspapers, TV, etc. So we're pulling together as a family but there are tradeoffs, of course.

All part of the learning process about Spain, Madrid, our family and ourselves.

28 May, 2007

Cercedilla and the Sierra Guadarrama

What a great day! After a little stress getting out the door we made it uneventfully to the Atocha train station and were quickly on our way to the mountains we can see from Madrid and the little town of Cercedilla.

The ride is about 1.5 hours; the train was clean and ran right on time so that was a breeze. When we got to the station in Cercedilla, we knew right away this was different. The air was crisp and we really were in the mountains! (trivia point: after Switzerland, Spain is the most mountainous European country).

Just shy of 4000 feet, we started walking up and up toward the information center. We had no map or plan today; we were totally winging it.

We passed a little spot where we could fill our water bottles straight out of the mountainside and the girls couldn't wait to get their hands wet!

Very sleepy town on a Monday so lunch was hard to find, much to our surprise. We found a supermercardo, bought some bread, cheese, turkey and mustard and had a feast right on the plaza, looking at the mountains. Best, and cheapest, lunch since we arrived. See Taylor's smiling face afterward and Laura Macie's siesta plans for all you need to know!

Our only goal was to scout out the trails and decide if it would 1) work for my running and 2) a good place to come back and spend some time. A home run on both fronts, no question. I even found a marathon here 3 weeks from now. So we know we'll be back at least on the 17 June!

27 May, 2007

Getting to know you

Friday started off a little rough as Becca fried some of her personal care appliances and blew all the fuses in the apartment, not the best way to begin her day. She's replaced them but lesson learned: for some things, it probably makes sense to buy local so that compatability is not an issue.

That evening, while she was out with girls shopping to replace the electronics, I met them for dinner in Sol, which is a happening place at any time. We found a Madridleno-recommended Thai place and had a great dinner. On the way back home at about 11pm, we've suprisingly/ quickly adapted the Spanish schedule, we walked through the Plaza Mayor (pictured here). There's always something going on here as well and it was simply delightful to be out, together, experiencing Madrid.

24 May, 2007

Looking for a new place to live

We're only living for the first month here on Plaza de la Paja with the goal of finding the place to live for the rest of our stay in Madrid. Becca and the girls spent Wednesday looking at nine different places, some of which were apparently just nightmares, but they found two that we looked at again this morning.

One point to note is that Madrid gets 300+ days of sunshine a year. But today was not one of them! Parking and slogging to the Metro in the pouring rain was certainly not the charming picture of house-hunting that we had in our minds.

We have learned a few lessons about renting an apartment here. In addition to one month's deposit, most furninshed apartments require an additional month deposit. OK, we can work w/ that. But wait, in Spain the renter pays the real estate fee so there's another month's rent. That's it, right. Pero no! Because the laws are so lopsided in the tenant's favor here, the stories are shocking. It takes at least a year to evict someone who's not paid rent, for example, and they can stay in the apartment during that process and not pay anything! So most landlords require a 3-12 months bank guarantee, which is effectively an additional deposit. Incredible!

Still, it seems like we have two good choices and should be making a decision in the next few days and we'll have some pictures to post.

Trip to Barcelona

I left early Tuesday morning for a meeting with Maria Sipka in Barcelona to work on YPO Networks. Definitely found out that flying in Spain is a lot like flying anywhere else: grumpy people in long lines being herded like cows...we are the world :-) It was a good experience to be mostly clueless as to why everyone was so grouchy (turned out to be a cancelled 7am flight) as all I could really do was smile, remain calm, try to figure out the rapid-fire Spanish PA announcements and trust. It worked, no surprise really, and I was in Barcelona only 10min late.

Traffic was crazy and I was a little stressed but quickly realized Barcelona is not a place to stay stressed. After checking in at a very, very cool little hotel (suprisingly affordable) called Chic and Basic we walked through the Zoological Park and saw the beautiful fountain (above). Overall a gorgeous city full of cultures and culture (though so much I didn't even see!).
I had a great run along the sea, past the Hotel Artes, the Olympic Village...ocean on the right and mountains on the left, running toward the sun. Not a bad a start to the day!
One interesting note about the place where we actually met, CAN (Caja Navarro) that was started by and for entrepreneurs, no bankers allowed in the start up phase! They do an incredible job of supporting their entrepreneurial customers and was a different approach. Barcelona is working hard to the business capital of Spain and seem to be doing some things right.
Can't wait to go back and spend more time.

21 May, 2007

Running in Casa de Campo

I was worried about where I would run in Madrid but I needn't have been. From where we're staying now, it's about a 10 min warmup to El Parque del Retiro and then about about a 4k loop around the outside with many lovely interior paths. I see many runners and walkers at every time of the day.

On Saturday, I did my first real run in Casa de Campo. When Becca and I visited in October, I ran here, in the dark, and had a less than good time: I didnt know where I was going and the transvestite who popped out of the bushes was not good for the heart rate! But I was much better prepared this time and once I got past the dozen or so prostitutes at the entrance (very agressive in that they were not afraid to step in front of cars!) I was stunned at the size (more than 15k around with untold paths crisscrossing the park) and how isolated it felt. What a treat it was to be out there.

This coming weekend we're planning an excursion to the nearby mountains, a combination of running and exploring for all four of us, which I'm hoping will help me train for the Karwendal Challenge I'm planning to run at the beginning of August.

20 May, 2007

First week in Madrid...and having a great time

We arrived on Monday 14 May and we have already started falling in love with this city. We decided not to fight the time difference and have allowed Taylor and Laura Macie to go to bed late and sleep late as well. It's the Spanish way and, because they're not in school, has made the first week that much more fun and different for them.

We are living in La Latina and loving the little plaza outside our 2nd story apartment.