Attached to a camera most days, but back off man, I'm a scientist...or at least I used to be. I can speak German and Spanish, know a little bit of French, and one really bad word in Croatian...
  • Day0

    Seoul: November 2019

    November 1, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 0 °C

    (Written March 17, 2020)

    {Note: It's been a crazy week, and the Gairs are now homebound. Schools are canceled and Martin is working at home since we were in Summit/Eagle counties last weekend: The mountain communities are apparently the hotbed of Colorado COVID-19 cases in Colorado right now. I'm trying to concentrate on the things I SHOULD be doing. However, it is time to do things I have wanted to do too: Namely, a travel journal of my trip to South Korea in November of 2019}

    I arrived at UCLA in 1991 thinking I knew it all, as all 18 year-olds tend to think. I met new people and made friends, many of whom were fellow chemistry nerds. One of those friends, Alice, had immigrated from Korea just 5 years prior. To an 18 year old, 5 years is a long time ago. To me now, 5 years is nothing. I love to travel, but I have always been too timid to travel to Asia. I can't even read the signs! I always told Alice that I wanted her to show me Korea and that I would accompany her if she ever went back. In May, Alice planned her trip for early November. November? No way I could go...Kids are in school. November is just before the holidays. There was just no way. Fast forward to early October, and a genius thought came into my head, 'I should go. I know it's expensive, but I've never regretted taking a trip ... ever.' About that, I was right. 10 days in South Korea was probably the best trip I've ever taken. I was actively planning my return trip before I even ended my first. It has influenced the food I eat and the TV shows I watch. It's almost like I have #ConvertedToKorean. Now that we are in a worldwide pandemic that is limiting all travel? I am so glad that 'crazy Maria' didn't let 'reasonable Maria' make any decisions.
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  • Day31

    A Million Gracias

    July 19, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    From Maria: I’m super proud of my driving (I mean...minus the bonehead move of running into a castle🤦‍♀️), but this trip was AMAZING thanks to Melinda. Melinda spent months planning where we would go and where we would stay. Ian said, “I don’t know what was my favorite? I liked everything!” I am also so thankful to Melinda’s graduate advisor and friend, Profesora Alicia. Even as we drove the billions of kilometers (I will calculate soon!), Melinda would be texting Alicia to fine tune our itinerary. I can not thank Alicia enough for taking Ian and I under her wing and spending days and evenings with us...showing us around Madrid, correcting our Spanish, teaching us history, discussing current events, and sharing her daughter, Paloma, with us too. This trip has prompted many discussions with Ian of “where should I go to University?” and discussions of history and literature as well. Thank you! Muchas gracias! And Alicia...Encantada.Read more

  • Day31

    Lessons learned

    July 19, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    It was a fabulous time, and there are always some tidbits you learn along the way...These included, but were not limited to the following:

    1) “Mr Corn”, a fried, dehydrated corn snack, may just be the best gas station snack...ever.
    2) You can not ever have too much Tinto de verano (soda and wine), Caña con limon (beer with lemon), Fanta (both lemon and orange), or Pimientos de Padrón (grilled Shishito-like peppers).
    3) Before Spain: Airplane toilets are so tiny.
    After Spain: Airplane bathrooms are so roomy! And they have toilet seats!
    4) Maybe buy the car insurance😂 and/or don’t set the Euro GPS to “shortest distance”.
    5) Always get the second will regret it when you realize it was only 2.50€!
    6) You CAN sweat when you are not hot.
    7) In the same vein as the “canary in the coal mine”, always designate a “pigeon for the parking garage” in which the navigator gets OUT of the car and CHECKS the path before you drive it.
    8) Check the Wi-Fi and the potty before deciding on a dining establishment.
    9) There will always be stairs...even if there is an elevator, there will be stairs to the elevator.
    10) Pack the Pepto Bismol. Pack ALL the Pepto. Apparently alcohol can’t kill everything😂
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  • Day29

    Alcalá de Henares

    July 17, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 31 °C

    We are back in Madrid before flying out on Thursday. Maria needs to update some stops along the way, but to update we: 1) returned to the south and thought we would die from heat...luckily the local at our rural B&B complained of the heat as well and told us to go rest in the air conditioning before checking in. 2) picked up happy, exhausted kids from camp and met their new friends, saw what they did for the week, and joined them for mass, a final performance, and a meal. 3) Visited Guadalupe and bowed to the Virgin (so, the scoreboard here: 1 point for hugging a Saint, 1 point for kissing a cross, 1 point for seeing the Holy Grail (would be 2 points but we didn’t realize it was the grail😂), and now 1 point for bowing to the virgin of Guadalupe...4 points Melinda and Maria🤗)

    Fifteen points for Melinda and Maria because we turned in the car with only one small scratch! The Europcar guy seemed to think he was doing us a favor by ignoring the scratch and told us to “be careful next time. I laughed. Puh-leeze...we were rock stars driving that car. Next time I buy the insurance and return the car totalled😂

    We are back in Madrid for a few days before we fly home. Today, a day trip to Alcalà de Hernares to visit Cervantes’ birthplace and one of the oldest Spanish Universities.

    Next up: Lessons learned
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  • Day27

    She's no hugger

    July 15, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    On the way back to Madrid, we stopped in Guadalupe...the original Guadalupe.
    *Hold on to your hats here.*

    Back in 712, as Moorish invaders were taking over Spain, a group of priests fled north with a statue of the Virgin Mary carved by *none other than* Luke the know him...The Gospel According to Luke. Now I’m not sure why Luke the evangelist carved a statue of the Virgin or why Spain seems to have all the original Christian relics, but *Stop asking Questions!!!*

    The priests fled to a river in the Extremadura and buried the statue. At the beginning of the 14th century, the Virgin (like, the real deal) appeared to a cowboy named Gil Cordero who was searching for a missing animal in the mountains. Cordero told a group of priests to dig at the site of his apparition (as ordered by la Virgen) and Voila!, there was the Virgin Mary!

    A small shrine was built for the statue and later expanded it into what it is today. In the Middle Ages, Guadalupe was one of the largest pilgrimage sites in Europe.

    Melinda found lovely accommodations inside one of the cloisters of Guadalupe. She also found the air conditioning switch, so *Hero!* (we enjoy history with a touch of modernity.) We all spent a relaxing, quiet evening cloistered with a wonderful dinner inside the monastery.

    On Sunday we toured the monastery. At the end of the guided tour, a monk meets you in a gilded room and tells you about the room, the miracle, and takes you in to view la Virgen of Guadalupe. She’s beautiful and one of the famous “Black Madonnas” with rich, dark skin draped in gold and jewels...But, unlike St. James, Guadalupe is no hugger. We were instructed to bow. With that bow, our tour of the grand relics of Spain came to an end.

    We continued eastward to drop the car and spend the final few days in Madrid. The Spanish parents we met at camp talked of the “windy road” that leads to Guadalupe. Maria laughed at was no worse than northern New Mexico. She stopped laughing when she realized the curves continued for 65 kilometers, and it got really serious when Melinda snapped, “pull over!” Melinda lost her lunch, took the wheel, and we continued on. That’s the kind of flexibility you need when traveling.😂

    We made it to the airport with the car intact and containing no car sickness...Maria expected to be awarded a medal. Instead, we were met with, “see the scratch here? [Please refer to running into a castle in Trujillo] Next time, be more careful.” Maria didn’t know whether to laugh or punch the Europcar guy. He. Had. No. Idea. What that car went through.

    Next up: Alcalá de Henares
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  • Day26

    The End of the Extreme Science Adventure

    July 14, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    From León, Melinda and Maria hopped in the trusty Audi and drove back to Badajoz. We ended up staying in an American hotel, so the parking garage is barely even a, at this point, we are practically experts.

    What we aren’t experts on anymore is heat. Mind you, we have sweat the entire trip, but we were not really hot in the North. In fact, one night in León, Melinda was freezing...a first for Spain.

    We arrived in Don Àlvaro, and as we exited the car, a blast of hot smacked us in the face. Melinda went to check into our house and was greeted with, “It’s so hot...Go up to your room and rest in the air conditioning. Turn it on. It cools down quickly.” Bless the locals for recognizing the misery.

    Rest we did and then ate and relaxed on the lovely patio. Early the next morning we were off again to pick up the kids from camp in Villafranca de Los Barros.

    We were not missed. Both kids were surrounded by a gaggle of friends. We met new friends, roommates, and instructors. The kids showed us what they created during the week. There was a final Mass (Jesuit school camp), final performance, final lunch.

    We said our goodbyes, shoved the kids and luggage in the car, and we traveled to Mérida where we saw the Roman coliseum, forum, museum, and aqueduct.

    Next up: The Black Virgin of Guadalupe...she’s not a hugger.
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  • Day24

    That time we saw the Holy Grail...

    July 12, 2018 in Spain ⋅ 🌙 18 °C

    and didn’t really realize it...😂

    We started our day in the food court of El Corte Inglés with a cafe con leche and a and a donut a la España. Headed out for the tourist office and on the way, found the tourist train/trolley and hopped on.

    After the train, it was siesta time, so we grabbed some lunch and then headed over to the Basilica of San Isidoro. The lady said that the tour was at 4, so we arrived then and took a tour.

    (Luckily we did...because the basilica closed early today. They never mentioned that when we asked about the hours after siesta. There are a few truths about Spain: 1) The stores, etc, will open later than expected and close earlier than expected. 2) Sometimes stores won’t open after siesta at all. 3) Dinners, drinks, and tapas will last longer than expected as the wait staff is trained to ignore you for hours. 4) If there is a potty available, it will lack paper, a toilet seat, or maybe a light. This ain’t Germany, people.)

    Our tour guide at the basilica was a marvel. She had the most monotone voice we’ve ever heard. Melinda said, “I missed some because her voice would drop off.” Maria laughed, “it was YOU dropping off...that was a great meditation class!”

    We toured the basilica starting with THE chalice. It turns out that a Spanish historian determined it to be the cup used by Jesus in the last supper...the Holy Grail! Our tour guide had absolutely no affect in her voice or manner, so although Melinda understood all of her words, she didn’t realize that this was THE chalice...THE Holy Grail.

    Zip it, non believers. According to us we have 1) hugged a Saint, 2) kissed the True Cross and 3) seen the Holy Grail. We are kind of big deals now.

    The rest of the basilica contains some of my the best preserved frescos from the 11th century and a 7th century Arabic weather vane. It was also the seat of the earliest parliamentary the 12th century.

    We left the basilica and started tapas hopping. You buy a drink, you get a snack for free. We varied between sangria, martinis, and red wine. Now to bed😜. We threw some gelato in for good measure. This is the thing about being adults. We can do whatever we want. Ice cream and martinis for dinner it is!😂
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  • Day24

    A 2.5 hour drive in just under 6...

    July 12, 2018 in Spain ⋅ 🌙 14 °C

    We said goodbye to Casa de mi Abuela and headed for Leon. It’s a 2 hour drive...2 hours after we left, we had made about 5 minutes progress. We didn’t even stop for food, or gas...we just were in awe of the beautiful drive to Leon.

    First, we took a side road to Cucayo. Eleven very windy kilometers...but the most beautiful windy kilometers you have ever seen. We needed coffee, so we found a pension and got a cup. The mother of the proprietor talked to us about the town. She’s known it for all her years. Probably rarely leaves that mountain top.

    Then we went straight to Leon...another three plus hours because every five minutes we would stop for some photos.😂

    Leon is lovely. We’ve already seen the cathedral and it’s marvelous stained glass. It was repaired in the 19th century and all the glass was cleaned. Truly a marvelous sight!

    Then...we braved the cold ( was actually cold!) to watch England in the World Cup semis at an outdoor cafe. We nervously drank hoping for the best...but it was not to be. Maria *might* have had enough sangria to steal uneaten tapas off the next table over😂 Anyway, very excited for Croatia now. The Croatians were waving their flag through the square and singing. It was, after all, very sweet. Go, Croatia!

    Maria’s biggest excitement is that our hotel is directly across from El Corte Ingles. It’s a department store and Maria’s own magnetic north, holy land, etc etc. She’s kind of in heaven.

    Tomorrow: El Corte Ingles all day?😂
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