And here we go…
On Wednesday, July 3 LG and I hopped aboard a plane and headed to Washington, D.C. She was excited, I was excited, and by the time we settled down, our plane had landed and we were in D.C. – okay, technically Virginia since we flew into Reagan, but I digress…my cousin J (whose completion of medical residency this whole trip was celebrating) swooped in, picked us up and asked what we wanted to do. Drop us off at the National Mall and let us do our thing por favor! So that’s exactly what she did. LG and I soon found ourselves in the middle of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Alrightie then. We strolled around and checked out a few of the displays and then headed toward the Museum of African Art. Out of all the museums, I was totally shocked that LG chose that one, but whatever. We went and enjoyed strolling around looking and various and sundry African artifacts. Then…
We met One From Philly for lunch! For those that don’t know OFP is a frequent commenter around blogland though she does not actually blog. As has been the case with everyone I’ve met IRL after communicating on blogs/twitter/FB she was good people. We sat around eating and talking about some of everything under the sun and then she headed back to work while LG and I headed to the Space and Aviation museum. We then walked all the way down to the MLK Memorial. Have mercy it seemed like we walked back to Virginia – I’m not altogether convinced that we did not. The MLK Memorial was quite nice. I particularly enjoyed the quotes that encircle the memorial. I guess LG was feeling it too because at one point while I was reading quotes my girl stopped walking, threw her hand across her chest and started singing The Star Spangled Banner. Alrightie then. We wandered around a bit more then hopped into a pedi cab to take us to a metro station – it was hot, we were tired, and we got a bit of a tour on the way back – best $20 I’ve spent in a long time! We then caught the metro out to Greenbelt and met up with the rest of the family for dinner. We hung around for a day and a half and then caught our flight to Europe at 10:00 p.m. Friday, July 5. Oh, part of that hanging around included 4th of July fireworks at the University of Maryland. Really nice experience.
Let me stop here to do two things. One to note that there are a grip of Ethiopians in D.C.! I’ve been on several occasions but never noticed this until this past trip. Surely D.C. has the largest Ethiopian population outside of Ethiopia? Too lazy to check right now, someone feel free to confirm/deny. The other is to tell y’all who all went on this trip. You ready?
The Mississippi Contingency – LG and me. (LG and I? I’m never really sure when to use me, and when to use I. I digress…)
The California Contingency – My mom and dad
The Arkansas Contingency – My middle brother and his wife
The Texas Contingency – J’s mom, her aunt, her cousin, her niece (9), another cousin (12), my niece (11) and my nephew (8)
The DMV Contingency – J, and her husband C
All total there were 15 of us and we somehow adopted the handle “B-15.” Yes, the B stands for black. Moving on…
All of us – with the exception of my parents, brother and SIL, flew from D.C. to Brussels, Belgium. Those world travelers flew out of L.A. and had a 20 hour layover in Rome, so they got an extra bit of vacation that the rest of us did not. After a few hours in the airport, we were Malaga, Spain bound. Both flights were fabulous, we had plenty of room to stretch out – I had an entire row to myself and most of us went to sleep. I’ll let you guess who stayed awake from D.C. to Belgium – an overnight flight that took about 8 hours. That’s right, my kid. When I woke up the next morning and went to check on her, the child was staring at the monitor in front of her with tears flowing down her cheeks. Why? Because, and I quote, “I’m exhausted mama.” Well of course you are – you stayed up all night watching movies and playing video games…while I was dead to the world. Don’t judge my parenting skills mmkay? Thanks!
Oh! I watched a really good documentary on the life of Miriam Makeba while on the plane. If you get a chance, you should watch it. I hope you don’t think I actually remembered the title ’cause yeah…
Okay. Where were we? Ah yes, we land in Malaga, Spain and after standing in line for over an hour to file claims because we thought ALL of our luggage had been lost when in reality luggage flown in from outside Europe goes to a different area of the airport, we headed to the rental car counter to pick up our rides for the week. Did you know that to put a Citroen mini van in reverse you have to pull up on the shift stick? Yeah, neither did we. Feel free to imagine me trying to explain in broken Spanish that while we’d love to move out of the way, until somebody showed us how to put the daggone thing in reverse we were stuck. Finally someone understood what I was trying to convey and we were on our merry way.
We were headquartered at Laila Playa in Calahonda, about 25 kilometers down the road from the airport in Malaga. Absolutely gorgeous.
I’d like to pause here to say that the metric system not being used here in the U.S. definitely put us at a disadvantage when it came to figuring some stuff out. I have no idea how far a kilometer is or how much gas is actually contained in a litre.
Okay, we check in, divide ourselves up into 4 apartments and we (immediate family, no cousins) head to…McDonald’s to eat as nothing else is open due to the late hour. While I’m no McDonald’s lover, I do find it interesting to see what’s on the menu in different locations around the world. In China there was a little egg custard pie. In Spain? Cerveza! That’s right, they serve beer at McDonald’s. The small beer is even on the dollar menu. They also serve chicken wings which everyone said were delicious.
After dinner, we walked on the beach. Until my brother decided we should race down the beach. Which was all fun and games until I face planted in the sand. I’m still spitting out little bits of gravel. Not really. Okay, yes, really.
The next day we learned that the beach – like most (all?) in Europe was top-optional. My nephew spent about 45 seconds gawking at a set of boobs and then went about his business playing in the ocean. I must say, I’m really impressed by the Europeans lack of hang ups about their bodies. Very refreshing.
On our 1st full day (Sunday), we just lazed around the resort. There was a kitchenette, so we went to the store and secured provisions, but other than that, we chilled. That’s right, we chilled. The pool was right outside our door and the ocean was about 50 steps away. So we spent our time watching the short people frolic in whichever body of water they chose at any particular time.
We ended up chilling for three of the six full days we were there. So, Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday were spent at the resort, walking across the street to the grocery store, and eating out – Chinese one night, Indian one night, breakfast at a Spanish cafe one day. All other meals in Spain were tasty delicious treats (not!) that we whipped up in our rooms.
I lied. One of the days in Spain was spent about 35 minutes away from the resort at a bullfight. The same damn bullfight I swore up and down I was not going to? Yeah, I went. And it was…okay. Everyone was all excited talking about pageantry, artistry, athleticism, but really all I saw was a poor bull lead into a ring, stabbed a few times in the back and then killed and drug out of the ring by two horses. It wasn’t as gross as I thought it might be, I just didn’t get anything out of it. I definitely could’ve stayed posted up by the pool. Let me just go ahead and confess – I fell asleep at the bullfight. LG had gotten overheated, so we climbed all the way to the top of the arena where there was a bit of shade. A breeze blew through there and the next thing I know, I’d fallen asleep and LG was waking me up to ask if we could go back down to where the rest of the crew was. My bad. One of the bullfighters really was more of a showman – all dramatical and things – and I enjoyed his two turns in the ring most of all. Did I mention he cut a bull’s ear off and threw it into the crowd? Well, he did. Or so I heard – I missed it ’cause I was sleep. Oops.
On another of our days in Spain – I really should’ve written this down while on vacation – we went way, way, way, way up into the mountains to some fancy dan resort to take a cooking class. Except it wasn’t really a cooking class, more like a cooking demonstration where you could chop a few vegetables or shake the paella pan if you so desired. First up – salad. Can’t remember the proper name, but apparently it’s big in Spain. Parboiled potatoes on the bottom, next layer was frisee, then there were olives, tuna and orange slices. Weird combination in my American opinion, but relatively tasty. Then the chef stood up there and talked about infusion, flavor, etc., etc., and proceeded to hand us some of the blandest prawn I’ve ever tasted. How could you do that much to a small crustacean and still have it taste like nada? Moving on. Paella! Except that wasn’t good either. Y’all. I was so disappointed. Not only did we pay good money for this experience (remind me to never let two practicing doctors be in charge of any other vacations I may take. They can go, but they can’t plan. Our budgets are far, far different), but this was paella – a famous Spanish dish. And it was bad. Whomp, whomp. Next up was dessert. Tiramisu. Outside of the delicious rolls (they really were tasty) the tiramisu was my favorite part of the meal. And I don’t even like tiramisu. The kids had a ball putting it together though I think the chef wanted to pull out the little hair he had left, and it was good. The setting was absolutely gorgeous and we really did have a good time just being together and chillaxing. But the food was bad. Real bad. Michael Jackson.
Here is where I tell you that Spain, or at least the portion we were in, looks a lot like Southern California. At one point we were on the freeway and I would’ve sworn we were on the 210 freeway. Some greenery, a whole lot of oleander bushes, kind of dry. So, nerd that I am I pulled up a world map and it looks as though California and Spain are indeed on the same imaginary line on the map.
Monday we drove to Tarifa, Spain to catch the ferry over to Tangier, Morocco. I was so psyched about this – I mean, it’s Africa. Okay, maybe not the portion of Africa where I’d see anyone who looked like me, but still – Africa! So after our 45 minute ferry ride and getting about a zillion stamps in our passports, we met our guides. Whose names I’ve forgotten. Wait. I think two of the three were named Sayed. Anyhoo, we drove around, had some of the history of Tangier and Morocco told to us, and one small, nerdy child asked if Morocco was a Francophile. Please…feel free to blame Jameil! Moving on – we rode camels, had a snake hastily thrown around our necks (whack ass snake charmer), had lunch at a Moroccan restaurant – the olives were delicious as were the chicken pie (chicken b’stilla) and couscous. Then they told us we were going to the souk (marketplace) to shop. I was all kinds of excited – the only thing I planned to buy on this trip was a pair of earrings, and I figured Morocco would be the best place to buy a pair. Sayed the First took us to a large shop that had everything from jewelry to leather goods to antique chests and told us to shop away. I found a pair of earrings – not nearly as exotic as I was hoping for, but still cute. And then we were told it was time to catch the ferry back to Spain. Say what now? I felt a little gypped in that we didn’t really get into the souk to haggle with and purchase from the vendors in their stalls – instead we were given a slick, touristy experience. Ah well. Still enjoyed it, but I do think my biggest regret of the trip was not having more time to wander around in the souk. I’d definitely like to spend more time in that part of Morocco if ever given the opportunity.
Some other day – I’m thinking it was Friday – we all piled into our various rides and headed over to Gibraltar. Gibraltar is a British territory – a peninsula which shares it’s one land border with Spain. We toured St. Michael’s Caves – an underground maze full of stalactites, went to some sort of military museum, and the highlight – interacted with the famous Barbary macaques. Yep, apes. There are approximately 240 apes on the peninsula, divided into 6 family groups. They are used to humans – tourists – and being so close to them was a trip. I fully confess – I’d prayed long and hard that none of them saw fit to jump on me. My prayers were answered. My cousin and brother must not have said the same prayer – both of them ended up with apes on their shoulders. My cousin screamed. My brother was thoroughly amused and he and his ape bonded I believe. The apes were walking around snatching bags of potato chips from unsuspecting tourists, nursing their babies, going through women’s purses, and snatching caps off of men’s heads. I was so tickled to observe it all. Gibraltar really is a bit of England right across the Spanish border. The accent changes, the language changes, the money changes. Just a really cool little spot in the world. We lunched on fish and chips. I’ve had fish and chips in England. They were good. These were not. I don’t know why our food experience on this trip was less than, but it was. Ah well.
I think that’s it? We flew back to the U.S. on Saturday and arrived in D.C. on Saturday. (Parents, brother, SIL left later that day, flew into New York City, spent a day, then back to Cali…and Arkansas). The Houston crew flew out early Sunday morning and LG and I flew out early Monday. Finally arriving in Jackson at around 1:30 or so.
The trip was great – I really enjoyed traveling with extended family and getting to hang with my niece and nephew for a good amount of time. We don’t see them nearly as much as we should and I’m going to work on that. They’re great kids and seeing them and LG play, fight, and make up just made me happy. I’d love to go back to Spain and experience it more than we did. Get into some of the smaller towns and experience life away from the resort.
Things I wish I’d done differently in preparation for this trip: exchanged at least some money before I got to Spain. The hotel could exchange money, but they were forever running out. One of the three banks across the street exchanged money, but we didn’t find that out until well into the trip. I was forever running out of Euros. No bueno. I am also setting up a dedicated travel fund and making sure that the ATM card for this fund can be used internationally. In Europe, there’s a chip in cards which we don’t have here. So…some cards work in some places and others don’t. I also need to find some sort of sunscreen that my skin can tolerate. I wore a maxidress on the beach…and still ended up with a heat rash that has only now begun to go away. I cannot imagine what I’d be dealing with had I put on a bathing suit and exposed more of my skin.
Things I’m glad I did: packed light! LG and I each had one rolling carry on bag and a backpack. That was more than enough. I washed clothes twice while we were there and that was a relatively hassle free process. I cannot lie – had we flown directly to Spain I probably would’ve packed more as each passenger is allowed one free checked bag on most international flights. But, the thought of paying for a bag helped me cull down our packing list and we weren’t constantly wrestling with a bunch of bags. So glad we traveled light. Also glad that we took our tablets. I was a little concerned about dragging them all over the place, but keeping up with them wasn’t an issue, and having the entire 2nd season of Suits downloaded helped me catch up on the series and gave me something to do when my internal clock was thrown off and I was wide awake at 2 in the morning. And when LG wanted alone time away from the other kids, her tablet kept her occupied.
I think that’s it!
I will post a “pictures with captions only” post a little later on. Cool? Cool.
Until then, here’s the one pic I have on my cell phone – if we’re friends on FB, you’ve already seen it. This is me – on a camel – in Morocco. The baby camels were adorable! I think a pic of LG petting them is forthcoming ;)