2016 Feria de Abril Plaza de Toros Poster; Official Program and Feria Daily Insert

2016 Feria de Abril Plaza de Toros Poster; Official Program and Feria Daily Insert


One of the highest accolades a bull fighter can receive for a valiant well fought fight is una oreja, an ear of the bull he killed. Sometimes, for a particularly well fought battle, dos orejas or two ears of the bull he killed are given. More rarely than that two ears and the tail is granted to the bull fighter. It is quite rare and a real honor to witness a bull fight in which the latter two awards are bestowed. However, the most rare and amazing event to witness at a bull fight is when both the bull and the matador have fought exceptionally bravely and the crowd petitions for an Indulto or pardon. When a bull is pardoned, he is lead from the bull ring and lives out the rest of his life on the farm of its owner as a stud.

Family Photo from our Seats

Family Photo from our Seats

I was excited to have the opportunity to see a bull fight with my family during the Feria de Abril in Seville, Spain. It is, to me, a must see. My son had been to his first bull fight the week before and was enthralled by it. But, April 13th in La Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla was special. We arrived early to take in the atmosphere. Everyone dresses very nicely for this event, and we did too. So, we took a lot of photographs before it had even begun. There are so many things to notice. Seat cushions are for sale or rent (which benefited the Spanish Red Cross), as the seating is on brick and cement. Many folks purchase snacks and drinks before they enter the Maestranza.

We also immediately noticed that there was no jumbotron. No announcers. Not much room to move once seated. But, there were two vendors walking through the seats yelling what they were selling, one had roasted almonds and one had drinks. There was a decent size band on the upper level across from the box where the dignitaries sit. We were seated in the Sombra section, which is the shade side. We were happily on the side where most of the action took place. The opposite side of the ring was in full sun and was the Sol or sunny section.

Bullfight Bullcropped

The music began and the action followed almost immediately.  The first bull was not a very good fighter and the matador did not appear as polished as I’ve seen. My husband and kids were glued to the action. The third bull was better and so was the matador. He received dos orejas. I kept saying, “This is a great honor. I’m so glad we got to see this. This is relatively rare to see.” And etc. The next bull came out and he was fierce from the start. He and his torero performed very well, each one matching the other with moves and counter-moves. Pretty soon, it became obvious (to those who have seen bull fights before) that this was a special bull. The crowd began to wave white handkerchiefs. Those of us without them used the programs we had about the night’s bull fight. The whole place was waving and the matador walked over to the judge and he granted the indulto or pardon. Immediately, eight large light brown and white bulls were ushered into the ring. They patiently corralled the bull and then all walked back out of the ring. The crowd was cheering wildly. THIS was the pinnacle of bull fighting. We witnessed history. It was so thrilling. The matador received dos orejas (from a previously killed that night bull) and he walked around the ring, proudly holding up the ears and waving at the exuberant crowd. The owner of the bull also joined him in taking the lap around the ring. It was so awesome.

Helping the Pardoned One Out of the Ring

Helping the Pardoned One Out of the Ring

There were two more bulls, but the evening belonged to the Matador Manuel Escribano and the indultado (the pardoned bull), “Cobradiezmos.”

Glossy Photo of the Matador Manuel Escribano

Glossy Photo of the Matador Manuel Escribano







There was so much history, culture, passion and art that we all came away exhilarated by the experience. John was taken by the music which served to connect the three stages of the bull fights. It was so old fashioned. I felt like we were non-speaking extras in a movie, sitting quietly expectant until we were cheering and yelling, “Olé” on cue. There was no evidence that it was 2016, except for the cell phones we held up to take pictures of the spectacle. We thought we might have feelings of, “Oh, my gosh! I feel sorry for the bull!” but did not.  It was too ceremonial to feel that way. The prevailing thought was, “This was so cool!” And, of course, it was nice to focus on knowing that one of the bulls would be spending his remaining years out to stud on a farm.

Bullfight ring



Thirty Years Later

La Sagrada Familia Barcelona, Spain

La Sagrada Familia
Barcelona, Spain

Rocky, exasperating, frustrating, overwhelming, and hard are a few of the words I would use to describe my first few weeks in Spain, where I was transplanted for my Junior year of college. However, those aren’t any of the words I actually use to describe my study abroad experience, mind you. I look back on my study abroad experience with happiness, excitement, pride, and a deep yearning to go back. In fact, I have a number of stories about things that I experienced when I first arrived that I laugh about now, but that I did not find funny at all at the time. So, having a child go overseas for his semester abroad program, has reminded me of the not often talked about parts of study abroad: the culture shock. We used the terms “culture shock” and “reverse culture shock” before and after my study abroad experience, back in the day. But, talking about it and learning what types of feelings are bundled under the umbrella of the term “culture shock,” does not prepare you for it happening to you. Funny thing about feelings. And, while I believe that everyone experiences some sort of culture shock, not everyone’s culture shock manifests in the same way. But, I guess, it was helpful to have the idea that what one is experiencing is normal. Although, I don’t once recall thinking, “Oh, yes. This is my culture shock talking,” when I was having a frustrated moment.And, communication has changed so much since I lived in Spain, it is mind-boggling to me. While I had pushed all of my entry into Spain and Spanish culture issues (READ: my culture shock) well to the back of my mind, I was brought back face to face with them through my son.

And, while it was a bit uncomfortable to hear he was experiencing his culture shock, it was nice to be able to say, “Yeah, I remember that. I felt that way, too.” So, while the sum total of our parenting advice has been something along the lines of, “Hang in there!” and “You can do it!” I had more peace about the place my son found himself in those early weeks of his Junior year. I knew that he was so close to getting over the biggest hump and would be fine. It just takes time.

While I mentally wrestled with ways I could “help” him, I began thinking about thirty years ago. One thing that came to me was an analogy. Undertaking a study abroad program is like panning for gold in the late 1800s. The conditions are physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. You’re standing in unfamiliar waters, performing unfamiliar tasks, like bending down and scooping up rocks and dirt and water and shaking out the unwanted parts. It’s demanding all of your attention to find the gold nuggets. But, you find them. Some are small, some a little bigger, and every now and then, you find a sizeable chunk of gold. You put all the nuggets that you find in a pouch or off to the side and continue panning. When you stop at the end of the day, you may not find that you have many nuggets. But, at the end of the week or month or semester, you will have lots of gold nuggets. Those gold nuggets are what you will be proud of, thankful for, and will be what you remember about your study abroad experience. The lack of reliable 24/7 WiFi will fade into the deep recesses of your mind, crowded out by the awesome, shiny gold nuggets you are holding.

Another thing that came to me was a word of advice: Don’t compare your insides (READ: what you are feeling) to somebody else’s SnapChat stories, Instagram pictures, Facebook posts, or tweets on Twitter. Seeing people who are also studying abroad appearing to be having an amazing time without any of the culture shock piece does not mean they are not also struggling to come to terms with their new environment. They are. And, just a P.S. Everyone is thinking the same thing about your cool photos and posts on social media.

And finally, I thought, it’s important to find your inner warrior. Be fearless. Face the day resolving to do your best, make the best of every situation, and have fun. I used to picture a map of the world and then picture where I was compared to my family and friends. I used that image to propel me through days I didn’t want to get out bed, as well as days I was having so much fun, I didn’t want to go to sleep.

Monserrat Catalonia, Spain

Catalonia, Spain







A Winter Trip to Buffalo, Yes, Please!

Beautiful Canal and Bridge, Buffalo, NY December 2014

Beautiful Canal and Bridge, Buffalo, NY December 2014

Thinking of taking a trip to the Buffalo/Niagara area, why not do so over the winter?

Yes, I just suggested that you should plan a trip to one of the reputed snowiest places in the U.S. that is not known for its skiing. To the very city where, on November 18, 2014 , a heavy snowstorm left a 7 to 8 foot swath of snow, courtesy of Lake Erie, on neighborhoods and highways in Buffalo suburbs in surgical fashion. The places that were hit, were hit hard. Others just minutes away got a dusting. The snow has long since melted. We were trekking up to visit family just after Christmas. The weather was mild and perfect for travel.

Most of the folks I know that go to Buffalo, go to visit family or have planned a family vacation to Niagara Falls. That is all well and good. However, I want to give you an awesome tip on a fun, family vacation in which Buffalo is THE, if not A destination, as well. There are plenty of fun things to do there now, including skating, curling, or biking (yes, I wrote biking. Ice biking, to be specific) on the new and recently opened Canalside ice rink. It is, as they say,  “on fleek”; awesome and amazing and wonderful all at once. I was very eager to skate on the rink, as soon as I saw pictures of it. I found, tried on, and then packed my skates. I was so excited.

Canalside Ice Rink When Closed.

Canalside Ice Rink When Closed.

Unfortunately (and fortunately all at the same time), the weather was very mild. It was too mild to skate on Saturday. The rink was closed, but because we were going to the Buffalo Sabres hockey game that night, we went downtown early to check out the recently developed Canalside area and the new HarborCenter. We walked around the waterfront and then ambled over to where the ice rink is located. It looked really nice and was a good size. We walked around it and moved on to our next stop: the new (716) Food and Sport restaurant in the HarborCenter that John really wanted to try. (716 is the area code for Buffalo.)

We had heard from family members that the restaurant is a huge hit and there is usually a wait. So, we thought we had planned accordingly. We got to Canalside around 3:00 PM and wandered around. There were a lot of people everywhere. This is a complete change from before the downtown redevelopment started. It used to be more like a ghost town than a destination.

But, clearly, it has become a destination. We walked over to (716) to put our names on the list at about 3:30/3:45 PM. There was a line of people snaking around under a pop up tent outside the door. As we were getting our bearings and finding our way into the line, we heard the young lady with the clipboard saying, “There is a three to four hour wait for a table at this time.” Wut?

Yes, she said that. Our perfectly planned outing hit another snafu…the first being the ice rink was closed due to the mild weather. It was not going to work for us to get a table, eat and make it to the hockey game on time.

Waterfront, Buffalo, NY December 2014

Waterfront, Buffalo, NY December 2014


Happily, with the help of John’s sisters and a nephew, we were able to find another restaurant that could seat us almost right away. We ate at the Liberty Hound, a quaint restaurant situated in the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park, at the original terminus of the historic Erie Canal. Afterwards, we walked over to the First Niagara Center for the game. It was a great game, which ended in a Buffalo win in a shootout.


Canalside Ice Rink Open! Buffalo, NY December 2014

Canalside Ice Rink Open! Buffalo, NY December 2014

Fast forward to Sunday. We found out that the rink was going to be open that afternoon. Hurrah! I was very excited, although some in our party were less than thrilled with the idea of going ice skating–at first. As soon as we got there and saw the throngs of people, the excitement spread through our party.

All Smiles!

All Smiles!

The ice was filled with people skating. We saw the ice bikes and they looked fun and manageable. We also saw a group getting a curling lesson and really wanted in on that activity. It was almost too much to take in, but we focused and found our ticket line. It seemed really long, but it went really fast. There was such a steady turnover of skaters that we hardly noticed the wait. I had my skates, but everyone else needed to wait in a second line to get their skates. That line didn’t take long either, thankfully. John zipped over to (716) to put our name on the list again and was told there was a 2 hour wait, which was perfect for us to skate then head over.


We all had so much fun on the ice. It was a blast. Some of us hadn’t skated for several years, so we were lucky to stay on our feet the whole time.

Happy Skaters!

Happy Skaters!






The entry fee and rental fees were very reasonable. I wished we had more time to take the curling lesson and to try the ice bikes. But, just about the time when we were starting to get fatigued, John got the text from (716) that our table was ready. Alyssa was able to get her skates off and sprint over to the restaurant first, to ensure we didn’t lose the table. The rest of us moved as quickly as we could to get there too. And, we were not disappointed. The food was fantastic. I had a house salad with steak on it that was delicious. There is no doubt that we will get back to Canalside on our next visit, and we highly recommend it – even in the winter.


Me and John Skating Together, Canalside Buffalo, NY

Me and John Skating Together, Canalside Buffalo, NY











Canalside Ice Rink at Night Buffalo, NY December 2014

Canalside Ice Rink at Night
Buffalo, NY
December 2014


An Honor To Catch Memorial Day Festivities in DC

World War II Memorial

The weather was nice yesterday, but it was supposed to be even better today. John and I decided to go on a bike ride first thing this morning on the Capital Crescent Trail. It was a beautiful day. The trail was filled with fellow cyclists, walkers, and etc. As we eased our way down to the waters edge in Georgetown, I started to think about possibly riding further into DC to see some of the Memorial Day observances.


We stopped at the bottom of the trail (in Georgetown), and I mentioned my idea to John. He was interested in seeing what was happening at the war memorials also. So we set off through the city. It was so easy to get around on bicycles. There were several road closures due to the Memorial Day events involving Rolling Thunder. There were so many motorcycles everywhere. They were parked along nearly every street we rode by. Block after block of parked motorcycles, as well as tons of them on the roads. We made it over to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, our first stop of the day, to honor my uncle Steve, who was killed in Vietnam. We found his name on the wall. There were so many people who came downtown to honor our fallen veterans. So many were veterans themselves or had family members serving in the military. It was great to see and be a part of.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial

We next rode over to the World War II Memorial, which is beautiful and was also filled with folks milling about the awesome structures. After that we could hear the thunderous sounds of the motorcycles parading down Constitution Avenue, so we went back toward the street we came in on to watch the parade. It was impressive. Very impressive, really. You could see the pride and support for our troops from everyone who came to be a part of the festivities.

Watching Rolling Thunder Roll Down Constitution Ave.

We rode back to Georgetown and hopped back on the trail for our ride back to Bethesda. We were quite tired by the time we got to the car, but we were so thrilled we made the extra detour into Washington. It was wonderful to see the memorials and participate in the observances honoring those who died serving our country.


A Visit to Fenway Park

Inside the Park Before the Game


I'm not among those who seek to visit many or all of the baseball stadiums they can. I don't have a “bucket list” with the name of a particular stadium to go to on it. I know there are folks who have both a list and a desire. But, I like the stadium and the team in my area, and I think we have a pretty awesome team and a very awesome stadium. The Baltimore Orioles play at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Plenty of folks travel to Baltimore to catch a game at Oriole Park. It's got great atmosphere, and it's a fun place.

Outside the Park Before the Game

John has really wanted to see a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park. So, he was thrilled when we finally had the opportunity to do so. It's a great old stadium, filled with an enthusiastic crowd of Sox-loving people. I was really not excited about going to the game, but I'm glad we did. It was fun and, while hard (for me) to cheer for the home team, it was neat to have the opportunity to see this stadium in person. We also got to sing “Sweet Caroline” with the whole stadium, which was a treat. And, what could be better? It was a give away night. We got replica World Series Championship rings. This commemorative ring give away brought folks to the game from far and wide and then excitedly tearing into the little boxes to wear them. Not us though. We just smiled and said, “Thank you.” Oh well, we would much rather have an Orioles World Series keepsake, but maybe we can sell these on EBay.



Scrumptious Lobster Lunch in Newport, RI


Need another hot tip on what to do while in Newport, RI? Visit the Newport Lobster Shack for the freshest lobster you can get short of catching it yourself (and cooking it and eating it on the boat). The trick is that the Lobster Shack is only open Thursday – Sunday. So, you need to plan accordingly. We planned our weekend well, and we were able to buy three lobsters and steam them at our condo for lunch. Talk about a “This is the Life!” experience. We didn't even make any side dishes, we just melted some butter.


I was a little nervous about cooking them ourselves, but the option to have them cooked by the Lobster Shack was not available yet (it will be available sometime this Summer). And, I was a little sad to put the lobsters in the boiling pot of water. But, I quickly got over it when I saw the beautiful red color of the cooked lobster. They cooked in no time and didn't require any of the seasonings and prep work that steaming Maryland Blue Crabs does. We pulled the claws off, then pulled the tails off. We put all the meat in a huge pile on a plate with the claws and dug in.

It was so delicious. The kids loved it and were so thrilled with the fact we cooked them ourselves. It turned the notion of getting lunch into a culinary adventure and something we will remember for a long time to come.


Cooked Lobster


Setting Sail For Nautical Newport Family Fun


If you're looking for a fun, family activity that is a very Newport, RI/New England thing to do, I've got just the ticket. We did it and really enjoyed it. We took a sightseeing sailboat ride through Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay. John bought the tickets early in the day because it was an absolutely beautiful day, and the Bay was very calm. Such perfect weather, made it more likely the hour and forty five minute SightSailing trip we wanted might sell out. We opted for the 4:00 PM sail, so we could go straight to dinner afterwards. It was a delightful day with temperatures in the mid- to high 60s. It was a mix of sun and clouds. SightSailing of Newport is located on Bowen's Wharf, in downtown Newport, and the boat, Schooner Aquidneck, leaves from there.


Schooner Aquidneck is 80 feet long and is a beautiful and very impressive Tall-Ship. Our Captain, Jeff, and crew, Kevin (who was in charge of sailing the boat), Ben and Eric, (deckhands) were great. They told us lots of great stories about the area and answered all our questions. Kevin even allowed John, Alex, and a had to be over 75 year old former Navy man to steer the boat. They loved it. There were blankets out for us passengers to grab, as it got quite chilly when we ventured out into the open water.

Captain Jeff Giving Safety Briefing

All of our crew had their Captain licenses, and several of them lived on the water. Full time. As in, they have no house on land. Jeff told us about how he sails south for the winter to the Bahamas and finds work every year. Eric was planning to do that this coming Winter and was getting his certification as a scuba instructor. It was so interesting to hear these sailors talk about their lives. We could not imagine living on a boat full time. There would be no place to go to be alone. And I would be very concerned to be on the water during some of the terrible storms we've had this past year. But, we could tell these sailors loved the water and this way of life. We definitely recommend taking a SightSailing tour when you visit Newport. It was a very reasonable $29.50 per person. Passengers can bring their own snacks and drinks or can purchase a bottle of water for $1.00. It was a relaxing and interesting day on the water.

Back at the Dock