“The Misadventures of Las Mujeres Miserables” Thirty years after Maria lived a summer in Spain, and fifteen after Melinda completed her Masters in Madrid, we bring our 12-year-olds on a road trip. We have orthotics and enough NSAIDs to last a month.
  • Day0

    A long, long time ago...

    July 1, 1989 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

    Four score and about a million years ago, Maria flew to Barcelona for a monthlong exchange in Spain. She was armed with 5 years of book-learned Spanish, a fair accent (thanks to being raised in bilingual New Mexico plus a two week tour of Spain the year prior), and a total lack of knowledge of the vosotros conjugation. She returned home with a love of Spain and her people. Meanwhile, over in the Midwest, Melinda fell in love with Spanish and made it her vocation. She traveled to Spain multiple summers completing her Master’s degree in Spanish literature and returning home with part of her heart left behind.

    Years later, these young girls, unrelated and yet creepily similar, met and bonded over travel and language. Much older and more jaded, these two, armed with prescription eyeglasses, physical therapy bands, and fortified by recent dental work, will return together to España to introduce their now twelve-year-old children to the land that they love. Age and brokenness will not stop Maria and Melinda, the “Miserable Mujeres”, from a grand tour of Spain. We hope to give our kids a taste of independent travel, and a chance to learn the vosotros conjugation, while giving you all a good laugh as you follow our {mis}adventures!
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  • Day0

    A Tale of Two Travelers

    June 18, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    T minus 24 hours:
    Melinda’s luggage left
    Maria’s luggage right

    T minus 12 hours:
    Melinda needs her entire iPhone hardware replaced.

  • Day1

    It's the journey not the destination...

    June 19, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    that makes you lose your mind. We were 3 hours early to the airport. The airport was empty. Maria thought, “oh. This will be a breeze!” Unfortunately, She hadn’t flown American Airlines since 1987...Maria was so. Very. Wrong. We waited 45 minutes to check luggage. We were third in line. Apparently the woman in front was changing her citizenship or something. Then the nice guy in front of us was trying to move his 7 foot tall dog back from Trinidad. He had to haggle with the airline to take his kennel. We finally get to the counter (all Maria’s fault for forgetting Amelie’s birthdate). Maria’s luggage was overweight. As in all of life, Maria blames the scale. Doubly embarrassing that She had shamed a woman in front of us for the same issue. Thankfully, Melinda bore the burden of 5 more pounds, and Maria’s luggage was no longer too fat to fly...no comment on her person😂

    The agent didn’t move very fast. Even without giving us information, she did her job as slowly as possible. Until, that is, she scooped up Maria’s luggage as we were talking about batteries, and sent it on its merry, contorted, very non-linear way. There was a battery in there. Apparently to save the battery from the TSA agent’s collection of batteries, Maria would have to wait 45 minutes and then recheck. Maria chose to vacation without luggage. “This outfit is quite nice”, she thought, “I’ll stick with it, thanks.” She has no expectation of ever seeing that luggage again.

    In security Ian lamented, “I hate being tall! Nobody believes that I’m 12.” We feel ya, kid. However, the rules are ludicrous. Maria has to take off her womens sized 8, see-through shoes. Ian gets to keep on his mens size 10s. There could be a bazooka in those.

    So far, Maria is the most annoying member of The Miserable Mujeres because She refused to let Melinda get McDonald’s for breakfast. She feels she compromised well by only insisting on the casual dining bistro instead of Denver Chophouse😂

    The airlines are what have made us so antagonistic these days. It’s every man for himself. A lady offered to PAY us to cut in line so she wouldn’t miss her plane (Maria laughed saying that she would be begging for the same courtesy soon enough.) The plane overfills with enormous carry ons and massive “personal items” because people don’t want to pay 75 dollars to have extra underwear on their trip.

    And do stay tuned for Ian’s Yelp review in which he complains of being squished between two fat ladies on the flight.😂😂😂
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  • Day2

    ¡Ya llegamos en España!

    June 20, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 32 °C

    We have arrived! And so did Maria’s suitcase AND lithium battery! We are staying here, in the most amazing location ever!!! This is all according to Melinda. Maria spent one jet lagged day in Madrid back in the 80s and was barely conscious for the taxi ride today (night #2 of no sleep...that’s the bad news...the good news? Apparently no sleep and constant tossing and turning are excellent for back pain!)...so Maria doesn’t even really have confirmation that we are in Madrid.

    However, Maria has completed her “back to Europe” ritual, so it’s official that she is at least in Europe. This ritual consists of entering an apartment building, looking for the stairway light switches, and instead ringing Every Single Doorbell on the floor. She thinks people think it’s charming. AirBnB thinks it’s why vacation rentals are being banned from major cities😬

    Melinda chatted with the taxi driver the whole way to the apartment. Amelie said she only understood “un poquito” which was a bit of an understatement. Ian couldn’t remember if “derecha” or “izquierda” was “left” (as in a directional) 🤦‍♀️ But most shockingly, Maria forgot that Fanta Limon was now a required beverage at every chance. How could she forsake her beloved lemon beverage?!

    We are now taking on Madrid by storm...and by that, I mean we are napping because we are old and sad and can’t sleep on a plane nor function without sleep anymore.

    Next up: It took us twice as long to reach the apartment because they are filming a movie and roads are blocked or congested (photo of taxi driver squeezing down street)...Melinda’s goal is to be “una extra.” 😂
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  • Day2

    Zombie Bar Hopping

    June 20, 2018 in Spain ⋅ 🌙 28 °C

    Eventually...we woke up. Well, at least Melinda and Maria did. Ian and Amelie only earned a C+ in awakeness. Yes, you can be graded on vacation...especially when you meet one’s Professor for drinks on the plaza.

    It was a treat for Maria to listen and speak Spanish once again (at this point much more listening than speaking.) The mind is an amazing thing. Maria hasn’t been in Spain since 1994, and then only for a few days. Yet the idioms, vocabulary, and lisp remain familiar in the back of her mind.

    We met Melinda’s professor from SLU Madrid for drinks. We discussed politics, touched on literature, and shared some memories. We talked a bit of our plans for the coming days. The kids barely remained awake. Maria and Melinda stood strong and hemos tapeado (a verb meaning to drink and eat appetizers, “tapas”...We heart España.

    So, Day 1 and we have completed:
    1) Drank Tinto de Verano (summer wine)
    2) Ate Tortilla Española (an egg and potato omelettey thing, yet better than any omelette out there and is often eaten by spreading onto bread)
    3) Found a Menina in the plaza
    4) Drank beer at one of the many bars in which Hemingway did drink.

    We think the movie filming near us *may* be the new Terminator movie. Stay tuned for Melinda’s possible entry into the Hollywood scene...just in case it happens, she’s wearing her sunglasses, even indoors, these days.
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  • Day3

    Madrid, day 2?

    June 21, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    Maria really feels like we’ve failed. Nothing hilarious has even happened yet...and we all even got into a BOAT...but...nothing. Peer pressure from the shortest among us who wanted to row a boat in Retiro Park. Maria thought for sure since Melinda fell on her face and got stuck in the corner of the pond last time that it might be epic. But nothing. I mean, yes, we discovered that Ian has a weak left arm, and we were pretty much on the teacup ride in Disneyland for much of the time he rowed...but nobody got wet, lost their phone, or had to call the Coast Guard from a park pond. We do apologize.

    There is still the chance for Maria and Melinda to get caught in the “4 person” elevator at the apartment...with no cell service...but don’t hold your breath.

    Mostly we ate, sweated, and showed the kids the big players at the Prado. We even spent some time trekking the museum in search of a portrait of Isabella of Portugal. Maria doubted Melinda’s old brain was remembering its location correctly, but the culprit wasn’t even her brain. It’s on loan to a museum in Japan. We know. We know. “Museum tragedies” aren’t what you are looking for here. We will try harder next time.
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  • Day5

    Maria Gair: Self-aware since 2018

    June 23, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    For over 20 years, when one travels with Maria, one packs an “opera outfit”. Maria was never the one to go to the clubs all night or party until dawn, but if there is a professional opera in town, expect to attend. Maria planned all along that her contribution to the Madrid trip would be the elevation of entertainment and cultural experience, so she checked the schedule for Teatro Real. It took a few days, but in the end Maria did decide that taking two 12 year olds to a 3+ hour opera in which, near the end, the heroine is assaulted, goes mad, kills, and then dies herself in torment might not be the best way to encourage a budding love of the arts. In a shocking display of self-awareness, Maria admitted that the opera wasn’t the answer to all life’s questions and needs. Maria turned to the symphony schedule. For a quarter of the price and far superior seats, we could see a violin concerto for Amelie, who, coincidentally, plays the violin.

    Not to pat herself on the back...but it was magical. Possibly one of the most enjoyable soloists to see perform. Isabelle Faust was technically amazing and mesmerizing as a person...and she signed autographs at intermission. (Oh...she also wore the most enchanting crepe dress that flowed with the music.) My work here is done.

    In the “morning” (12:30 pm), we again met up with Profe Alicia for “drinks and snacks”. Apparently that translated to a 2 hour walking tour in 90 degree heat. I thought we had lost Ian to heat stroke by the end, but he rallied when we then took him to “Museo de Jamon” (museum of ham.) Ham cures all...

    The city tour was also magical (magical realism with the heat😂.) To have a native “madrileña” show you her town...and then have that native be a Professor who, like, knows things. We started by eating the best fried cod ever in the place where Spanish socialism was founded and ended by the Royal Palace. In between we saw the oldest bookstore, the Plaza Mayor, the fish and food market, the caves, and the many more Meninas. Spanish was spoken. Facts were learned. Sweat was plentiful.

    Today we rented a car and drove to Toledo...more on that to come...but know that it’s been a tough two days for Martin. First, I ate an entire plateful of fried sardines and told him about it. Two, we saw Dvorak and Strauss’ Alpine Symphony with a famous soloist for 20 euro. Three, the Peugeot we rented was not available, so we are in...an Audi A4. 😃
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  • Day6

    This blog may begin to write itself...

    June 24, 2018 in Spain ⋅ 🌙 23 °C

    We needed to rent a car at the airport, and just like that, we entered the “what could wrong???” Portion of the trip.

    In the great game of rental car lottery, we went from a Peugeot (which of course Europcar never had) to a bigger (but let’s face it...still not big) Audi A4. ‘Twas the third slap in the face for Martin at home...first Maria ate fried sardines without him (which has happened again since then😬), then we went to a perfect, and cheap symphony performance without him, and then...we get an Audi. Our luggage barely fits (thank goodness for the Tetris training from college). And it’s a manual transmission. All this bragging from Melinda about her ability to drive tractors and yet she’s “nervous” to get back behind the wheel of a stick shift. So Maria drove. Used to an underpowered Subaru, Maria almost gave the group whiplash entering the autopista. A small prayer for no speeding tickets and nobody to steal the Audi as we didn’t buy the extra insurance. Really, a small prayer for Melinda...Maria is driving and it’s on Melinda’s credit card😂😂😂

    Another small bruise to Martin’s ego...Ian says Maria drives more smoothly than he remembers Martin driving. Poor Martin has to drive a Kia and then get Russian judged for it😂

    We drove to Toledo and its a-million-degree weather, so after checking in to the apartment, we headed out for a drive...to the molinas (windmills) of Don Quixote fame. They are in a small town south of Toledo called Consuegra. We drove up the hill, visited the windmills and then began to talk about, what Maria now calls, “Things I half know.” Because it’s been years since either Melinda or Maria were at the site, it’s changed a bit...so we were convinced there were another three windmills. There are another two in a small town called Tembleque. Armed with a cursory internet search and unlimited miles, we drove on...There are two things to note: 1) Every small town around here seems to have an “Exit here!” Sign. We now think that is directed at us. And 2) If something tourist-like is hard to find on the internet...it likely is a figment of your imagination.

    Here’s how it went:

    We drove into town and see two windmills on the right, but town is left, so we go there. Mass is just out, so there are many stares as we drive into town. (Now obvious as to why. The church is the only attraction in town and it just closed😂.) We circle around. Take nice pictures. Decide to drive to the windmills (which, by the way, are NOTHING like Maria remembers them, but who would give up now???) On the way out, Ian sees storks nesting on the spire of an abandoned palace. We stop to take pictures.

    And then:

    Melinda: “Hey. Look over there. I’ll tell you what. I bet you can get a good, cheap meal there. And those old ladies...they could tell you everything about this town.”
    Me: “Wanna go?”
    Melinda: “Yeah, but I’m not hungry.”
    Melinda again: “Oh let’s go check it out...we can at least get a cheese plate.”
    We drive up and on the right are a group of elderly women and men sitting under a sign that read: “Residencia Municipal de Mayores Tembleque” (Municipal Nursing Home Tembleque)

    I. Couldn’t. Breathe. Or see. I was cry laughing so hard that I couldn’t drive. Very few know of Cervantes’ follow up novel about the crazy American ladies looking for non existent windmills and finding where they really belong😂😂 Twenty Four hours later and I’m cry laughing and gasping trying to write this. Amelie doesn’t know if she should resuscitate me or commit me right now.

    And, by the way, we STILL didn’t give up! Laughing and crying and doing a few U-turns, we tried for those dang windmills...clearly located on private land and clearly not named “Quixote” or “Sancho”.

    It was now 10 pm, and we returned to the real windmills to see them lit at night. (We finally reached the wrong ones as the sun disappeared (as did they.) Melinda spent 20 minutes losing the light trying to attach the zoom to her iPhone while we were parked in an industrial yard and while Ian was holding my digital Olympus with zoom attached. I can only hope this place has security cameras and we make the guards’ day a little brighter as they review the weekend footage.)

    On the way home, at 11 pm, we tried to find some food for dinner a la Spanish time. Consuegra seemed like a ghost town. No life in any street. Nothing near the main plaza or cathedral...and then, we turned one corner next to the river and there they were. THE ENTIRE town in pop up cafes by the river. We took the last table in the last cafe and ate bocadillos (baguette sandwiches) and papas (potatoes) until we were stuffed.

    Next up: Bed by 3 am. Sightseeing by 9 am. Taking Spain by Siesta.
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