Friday, December 23, 2011

On being blessed...

I am completely in love with the month of December. I try my hardest to start the Christmas season as quickly as I can, like right after Halloween. Sadly, people I live with won’t let me until around Thanksgiving.
So when the month of December rolled around the roommates and I made our way to the closest Chino store to get our Christmas decorations for our Spanish apartment. It was like Christmas threw up in that Chino store, we had to work to find the good stuff! After debating on tree sizes, we decided on the medium one. Clearly that was compromise for me…but I still love them none the less!

From the tree to ornaments, poinsettias to twinkle lights, the star for the tree top to the snowflakes for the terrace doors, and plenty of ribbon for my heart’s desire, we had a potluck dinner with our girls and a Christmas Decorating Party with my roommates and one of our Spanish friends, Pedro.
Potluck Dinner with Liz, Chessa, and my roommates!

O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree!

Haley, Pedro, and I after decorating the apt!
As many of you know, I will not be going home for Christmas. This is my first Christmas without my loved ones, but it’s one of the sacrifices I made when I left for this opportunity.  The second week of December here was a holiday week for Haley and me, so we planned a grand Christmas trip to London and Scotland (And it was a grand trip indeed)!
To begin our trip, we headed to Malaga Sunday afternoon for our flight on Monday morning. We took a 3 hour bus from our town to precious Malaga! We were exhausted from the past few nights with our crazy friends, so we slept for the majority of the ride. When we got to Malaga, we ate at our beloved McDonalds!! Guess what? McDonalds in Spain have “Pan sin gluten” (Gluten Free Bread), which is a perfect compliment to my hamburger!!! Of course after our meal, we shopped around the mall! Then we meet up with my friend, Lauren, who I took the road trip with during Halloween! It was so sweet to see her city at Christmas time with all the lights and decorations! Simply gorgeous as you can see…
We strolled around the city center in awe of the gorgeous lights, because sadly the only Christmas lights in our town are in our apartment. Ok, I take it back…there is a strand of hot chilies near the doctor’s office, and I think I have seen a gold star on one street. They are tryingJ
As we were walking around the city, we ran into Lauren’s roommate and his friends in the street. I love meeting new people, especially when they are from different countries as well! Lauren has a German, Polish, and Spanish roommate, which is super cool in my book!
To end our Sunday, we had some tapas in the city center with our fabulous host, Lauren. We stayed at Lauren’s place that evening so we could catch our plane the next morning. She lives super close to the train station, and the train is about a 15 minute ride to the Malaga airport.
On Monday morning, we had to make a quick stop at the bank before heading to the airport. After taking a taxi to the bank,  a taxi to the train station, and running around like headless chickens, we were waiting for the train. The only tiny detail missing is that we were waiting for the train at ohh 10:00am and our flight to London was at 11:15am!!
We had the “what are we going to do if..” talk, and I just kept saying “we are getting on that plane, oh sweet God!” haha. The train came and we hopped on, ready to get through the next craziest hour of our life!
Within 15 minutes, we were running into the airport. It took us what felt like forever to find the check-in counter for our bag. We asked a million people, and remember this is all in Spanish. Sometimes in the moment, it just comes and I am thankful it comes! After asking the security guard and her pointing us in the direction of our airlines, we came to the longest line known to man! I mean longessssssssstttttttttttttt line known to man. Haley and I saw that there was a shorter line, just for baggage check in. We didn’t have our boarding passes printed out for this flight, but we were checked in and they were visable via Haley’s ipad. So, I processed to cut the lines and walk right up to the counter. I asked if we could be in the short line just for the bag, even though we didn’t have a paper boarding ticket. She said yes! Some airlines in Europe are really picky about these things, and it’s just better to have it printed. We just forgot to print it prior to leaving our town. Then, right as I turned around to run back to Haley, Haley was with another airline worker coming to me!! The worker found Haley and we got first class treatment with our bag and they let us sit together! They were really so sweet, as we were super apologetic about our tardiness. At this point, we still needed to get through security and border control before boarding the plane, and the time was 10:45am! We bolted with our carry on bags through the airport to security!
One of my least favorite things about airports is taking off your shoes to go through security. I wore my boots, so it would not make the check in bag overweight. So it’s a workout to get them on and off quickly with a million people around you. Somehow we managed to get through that moment and me having to get “wanded” …just my luck on just my day, right?
I learned real quickly that when traveling with Haley and I, you better be ready for anything and everything. I did not think I could sprint the way I did through that Malaga airport, but I was getting on that plane and I was going to have a “very merry Christmas” trip. The line for the Border Control was long, but surprisingly went super fast. Check, STAMP! And guess which gate was the first one, our gate!! God was working for us for sure, and as always taking care of usJ
Thankful, tired, and laughing we sat together on our OWN row as we flew to London! Oh, clearly we were starving…I mean of course we didn’t eat yet, and if we did, we would have worked that food off in our marathon to catch the plane. So we had to order some breakfast, European flights do not include meals, always be prepared and have cash…it’s just easier (but they do except cards, I don’t really understand that, we are in the air?!)
After waking up a million times and not sleeping well on the plane, we finally arrived in London!!! The airlines we used to fly to London from Spain was Aegean, which is an Irish airline…wonderful airlines!! We strongly recommend it, from check-in to leaving the plane! Wonderful customer service and great plane music! Seriously, Michael Bublé is always precious!!

In London, we did a million and one things in a few short days! We had a nice stroll in Hyde Park and saw the “Santa Winter Wonderland”, we did a Double Decker Bus tour, saw “Chicago” featuring America Ferrera, ate Thai Food every day, took a boat ride in the Thames River, saw Big Ben, Parliament, The Abbey, London Eye, Platform 9 ¾ at the Kings Cross station, walked the streets of Camden Town, visited Sherlock Holmes, spent a morning with the Royal Guards at Buckingham Palace, shopped on Oxford Street, and drank tea every day. I am completely smitten with London, and hope to go back with our dear friend, Liz and spend it with a true English native. After all, she is from SurreyJ

The Abbey..just a little late for the Royal Wedding:)

Big Ben and Little Fran!

Royal Marching Band

Double Decker Bus!

Camden Town!

English Breakfast!!

Garrick Theatre!

Chicago Feat. America Ferrera

Royal Carriage!!!

Best seat to watch the Changing of the Guards!

Royal Guards!!

Changing of the Guards

Going to Hogwarts!!

Strolling in Hyde Park

Oh hey, London Eye!

Look the other way! You are in London, darling!

Oxford St. at its finest!

Haley and I on the Westminister Bridge


Gorgeous, cold day in London!

Shopping on Oxford St.

Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park!

After falling head over heels with London, we checked out around 4am to catch our train to Glasgow, Scotland. Little did we know it would be the longest day of our life #2! Sadly we went to the wrong station first and had to take another taxi to the right station, then a few hours later and a few more ups and downs...we finally were on the train to Glasgow!! To be honest, we were so exhausted that it was hard to act excited about going to Scotland in that moment. As most people know, I am NOT a morning person!
After about an hour and a half, we were informed that there was extreme flooding on the way to Glasgow, and the train was called to stop at the next station. We stopped, and they processed to tell us that there was another train going to Edinburgh in 5 minutes at a different platform. Edinburgh is about 45-60 minutes away from Glasgow, but close enough in this situation! So we got on that train with everyone going to “Glasgow”.  
After about 40 minutes, we were informed that yet again that train was being terminated. There would be a direct to Glasgow Central in about 45 minutes. So, we freshened up in a train station bathroom, somewhere in Scotland!! Then eventually we were on the train for good, and the water has fallen from the tracks.
What we didn’t know, and learned on the train was that there was a severe high speed wind warning from 2-6pm in Glasgow that same day. It was said to be over 100 mph, and I do believe it was!! We thought we could walk to the hostel, yet we were very, very wrong! Haley was pulled into the street by the wind, and little ‘ol me went after her to save her…yes there was a car coming too! So, when I tell you severe high speed winds, I mean severe high speed winds! And Lubbock, Texas, had nothing on those winds!!! I was not prepared, nor was I ever in Lubbock…I became best friends with light poles on windy daysJ
So clearly our first day in Glasgow was not the best, but we decided to see the town the next day and prayed for better weather. And the next day, there was SUN, Starbucks, and gorgeous nature!!! Scotland is really breathtaking, and I am glad we got to see its true beauty while we were thereJ

gorgeous church near the park!

silly faces and starbucks!
On our second day in sweet Glasgow, we took tons of pictures around town, the park, the university, and so much more. We also made it in time for a Christmas play! If you are even in Glasgow, you must go to the Oran Mor Theatre for “a play, a pie and a pint.” Yes, its not great for people that are gluten and dairy free like me, but there is wine and the play is so funny!!! I would highly recommend it to everyone traveling through ScotlandJ The play showing for Christmas was “Snow White," how precious! We got some great laughs and we had so much fun with the theatre family we made!
A Play, a Pie, and a Pint

We saw Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs, so of course we took pictures!
After the show, we window shopped in the centre of town. Glasgow has some cool vintage shows, and there were some fabulous things in every store! In Glasgow, it gets darker earlier so that was new for us. We got to take more fun Christmas pictures, and enjoyed a nice dinner in a traditional Scottish restaurant in the centre of town. This precious restaurant included….waiters wearing kilts, Christmas crackers for every guest, and amazing food (gluten free pasta)!!!! We were even there when it was a 16 year old girl’s birthday, so the whole restaurant sang to herJ

Here is my very first Christmas cracker!

Our last day of being tourist, started off very rough. I was completely dead and it took me foreverrrr to get out of bed. The week before leaving for our trip, I went to the doctor and found out I had bronchitis. I guess the cold weather and being an intense tourist wasn’t the best way to recuperate..but I like to live my life in the momentJ I literally felt like I had a building on my back pushing me down haha! Poor Haley was sick with this horrible man cough, so she was a trooper to deal with my morning blues! Needless to say, I finally got ready and we headed to the train station for our day trip to precious Edinburgh!!!!
Guess what??? It was snowinggg!!! It was like we were in Harry Potter going to Hogwarts and it was breathtaking! (thank you Haley for not giving up on me on that morning!!) It was a fabulous day seeing the famous Edinburgh Castle, shopping, walking the cold streets with millions of people, and simply enjoying our sweet Merry Christmas in the snow!!!!

Haley and I in Edinburgh

In the streets of Edinburgh on a Cold day

Our Knight in Shining Armor:)

Kilt Making Machine!!
Oh yes, we definitely took advantage of the Scottish Whiskey Experience in the freezing cold weatherJ They say a picture is worth a thousand words….

Super Strong, but warms you right up! haha
Haley's turn!

After a fabulous day in Edinburgh, we returned to Glasgow just in time for the next showing of “New Years Eve”!!!!! If you haven’t seen it yet, GOOOOOO!!! So goodJ But then again, I’m a sucker for a holiday movie. On the walk home, we stopped in this Indian BBQ Chicken restaurant to eat. Surprisingly, fabulous food!! Loved their spicy sauce, and lots of locals were there so we knew we were in good handsJ
The long journey home was definitely something I don’t want to repeat, but so happy we are home. We had to take a 4am bus to the airport to catch our 9am flight, because there was not another option to be there before 9am. Then, we played the waiting game for our flight for a couple of hours, since the bus was only an hour ride with not the most sober people in the world…
After napping on the plane, we arrived in Malaga and headed to the train for a quick 15 minute ride to the bus station. The next bus going in the direction of our town was in about 40 minutes, so I grabbed us some McDonalds for the bus ride since we had not eaten yet. This bus was to Algeciras, which is an hour or so away from our town. There was not a direct bus in the middle of the afternoon, so we had to take what we got. After arriving in Algeciras, we discovered that the next bus to “La Barca” (the bus stop 15 minutes from our town) was not until 8 or 9pm, and it was around 5ish so we were going to have to play the waiting game yet again in the San Bernando Bus Station. Thankfully, we connected with our Spanish friend, Pedro, and he did not want us to wait and he drove an hour to pick us up and another hour to drive us all home to our town. We really did well on making great friends!! We got home sooner that if we waited for the bus!!!
To end our fabulous Merry Christmas trip, we got home just in time for our friend, Liz’s Thai Dinner PartyJ As if I didn’t get enough Asian food every day on our trip; I got to end it with MORE!!! Liz, if you ever want to cook more Thai food, I’m coming over!!!
Clearly, I had a wonderful time visiting London, Glasgow, and Edinburgh for my “Merry Christmas” trip to myselfJ I am still in awe that God placed me here this time in my life, so I can love on precious Spanish babies, make incredible new friends from all over the world, and really get to see the world. This girl is so blessed!
Although, I have missed a lot of things at home since I have been here in Spain. That was the sacrifice I made when I said YES! I have missed brother’s birthday, Thanksgiving, new babies being born (Congrats Girl Scouts and old neighbors!!!), weddings (Annie, Allison, Kasey, Rachel, and more to come!), Patrick’s 16th birthday, sweet Donovan (you are precious, and I love you), Kaitlin’s Graduation for Tech, and so much more. But please know that I am thinking of you always, and I dearly love you all!! Thank you for caring about my life and wanting to know how I am doing a million miles away, you have no idea how special it makes me feelJ
I am truly and completely blessed, and I feel it every day. I have received not 1, but 2 Christmas packages this week for friends!!  Thank you oodles and bunches, you are precious!!!
I love this quote from one of my favorite movies, so I will leave you with this...
It’s funny, the human race can really surprise you sometimes.  It slows down just enough for all the pieces to fall into place. Fate works it's magic. And you're connected.- The Switch
love love.

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