Friends, it's been a busy last few months. I've always been interested in travel, leaving home behind, seeing the world, but George and I crammed so many trips into this year, I think we may have hit a serious max. We started the year in Greece (seriously, I just went back through my blog to add all this up and I went "wow, Greece was this year?". That's kind of what I'm trying to say.) After that, I spent some time in New Orleans, then a few days in Grand Cayman. After that, San Antonio, Houston and Austin. And that is just taking us up to June, where this post starts! I don't know that I've ever been so excited not to have travel on the agenda. From here, it's just a trip through Amish country tacked onto an upstate New York wedding and back to New Orleans for Halloween. Probably by then I'll be itching to leave home again anyway. And most of you know I've just returned from The Netherlands and England. But before I can even go through those photos, I need to talk about The Bahamas and Madrid! Phew. It's been crazy. Waaaaaaaay on back in March, I went to Grand Cayman. About a month before the trip (which was about two weeks after I bought tickets), I realized that I really should get scuba certified to take advantage of the location. So I did my online courses and my confined dives (in a swimming pool) the weekend before the trip. A few days after that, my ear clogged right up and stayed that way for two weeks - I had injured myself in the pool not equalizing properly. So, scuba in Grand Cayman was out. That necessitated a new round of Open Water dives to complete my certification. This time, I successfully cajoled George into joining me, and we set off to The Bahamas. I didn't take many photos there. I was busy getting my dive on. And I don't have any pictures from underwater because I was attempting not to drown. Scuba was both fun and terrifying. The longer I go since I dove, the more terrifying it seems. During one of the drills, 60 feet below the surface, I took off my mask as part of the exercise. For some reason, this is one of the most uncomfortable things to do underwater. Something about not having your nose in a dry environment feels very, very wrong. I started to freak out. Like, a lot. But I knew I couldn't just shoot up to the top like I could in the pool. I just had to calm myself down. I did. And the dive went on. But it was the last dive we did and I spent the rest of it trying to chill out. And now the farther we get away from it, the more scared I am to make another dive. Plus, we both injured our ears! It may turn out that our sinuses just won't play this game. Also, The Bahamas was super-overrated. It was mostly beaches, and not great ones, resorts and supremely mediocre food. The only thing that saved us was the World Cup. Otherwise we would have spent literally every evening at Senior Frog's (admittedly fun the first night). Grand Cayman was a thousand times better for scenery, beaches and scuba. So that's just the Bahamas! A week later, we were on a plane to Madrid. George does a lot of academic conference-type things each year, and Madrid is a site for a recurring one. I joined him for 10 days and while he was conferencing, I was out exploring the city. Madrid was cool. It's a huge city and, at least in July, it was rockin' with cultural events, festivals, museum things and lots of other stuff to do. And World Cup games all the time (Brazil - Germany WTF???) One of my favorite things about the city is that all the museums are open super-late - many until 9pm and all the big ones have free entry for the last two hours of admission. So I saw the Prado and Reina Sofia. I've seen a lot of world-class art museums. Not gonna lie, it's a little draining. Here's a quirky thing: many of the buildings say "Asegurada de incendios". Secured against fire. Seems like a pretty strong and impossible-to-assure claim. This is a vibrator in a vending machine. We were there for Pride and it was a rockin' street party of a good time. This was set up for the parade the next day. That night we went to Casa Patas to grab some flamenco. Pricey, but you gotta do this kind of thing sometimes. One of my favorite bits about European capitals is the way stores specialize. You get this in New York some, and not anywhere else in the country. A shop just for clocks, or pens, or plastic kitchenware. This is a shop for mirrors. That's it. Just mirrors. For some reason the parade was molasses slow. We watched one or two groups move over the course of more than an hour. So we quit to go watch some more futbol. I convinced George to steal away from physics long enough to go to Toledo, where he spent the entire time working on physics, womp womp. Toledo has all the medieval old-city charm Madrid lacks. Way on back in the 1700s, some important Spanish dude whose name I forget decided to move the capital from Toledo to Madrid. They needed to build all kinds of awesome new capital buildings and such and of course they weren't going to build them in the lame-ass medieval style but instead in the relatively no-nonsense 1700s style. That's why Madrid isn't so great to look at, old-building-wise: its medieval center is actually in Toledo. This is the only photo we have together in Spain. It's focused on the background. What can you do? I think this was even take two. Alas. Toledo was pretty great, as you can tell by the relatively large number of photos I took, compared with Madrid. I spent one of my last days on a guided tour of Avila and Segovia. It was pricey and super-rushed but turns out 10 days in Madrid really isn't that many! These two towns were pretty seriously great. This is an honest-to-god Roman aqueduct from the 1st century. And then we went home, tried to get work done and not spaz out and almost immediately hopped another plane back to Europe. But we'll get there. I've been back for a week now and I'm just enjoying catching up with friends, cooking and eating healthy food and generally not pushing it every. single. day. I make travel into work and I love it, but it's also really nice to be home.