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Trip Report Spain 2005Author: Ben Shakman (More Trip Reviews by Ben Shakman)
Date of Trip: November 2005
I wanted to get there early enough to receive a short briefing about the ceremony. I learned that there were a total of five Spanish officers being decorated. The other four had all served as liaisons to various commands and were significantly senior to Willy. The others included a Spanish Admiral, two Colonels, and one Lieutenant Colonel. I received a copy of the agenda and the ceremony looked like it would be very special ceremony and that it was being held in the residence.
I fed the kids donuts in the cafeteria at the embassy and waited until the prescribed time to go meet with Willy and his family. He also brought his battalion commander with him and he seemed to be a bit surprised that I had traveled all the way from the US (with two kids in tow) to attend the ceremony. I told him that I considered it an honor to be there to see my lieutenant receive the proper recognition for the job that he did in Iraq.
We moved over towards the residence and went through a receiving line where we met the ambassador and his senior military attaché -- a Navy O-6. We were led into a big room where the ceremony was to be held and discovered a bunch of field-grade US and Spanish officers in addition to several Spanish generals. We circulated a little bit and the kids enjoyed themselves and all of the attention they received. At one point, I looked over and caught them exchanging salutes with the Spanish admiral who was receiving an award as well.
The ceremony began at the appointed time and was conducted almost entirely in Spanish. Actually, the only piece of the whole proceeding that was comprehensible to me was the reading of the award citations as each medal was pinned. The decorations were all presented and then the Spanish admiral and the US Ambassador both made speeches in Spanish. A couple of waiters circulate around the room and handed out champagne flutes. We all raised our glasses, toasted the award recipients, and then had a brief reception with some light tapas that my children gorged themselves on -- jamon and queso. I had the opportunity to talk with several more people and then the ceremony broke up and we headed for the vehicles and then went back to the piso to change.
Willy went back to his office for a short while and I used the break in the activities to take my two kids to the park near their home. I had been working on building my Spanish vocabulary over the previous days and actually managed to have a haltingly brief conversation with a lady while the children played. I was quite impressed with myself!
We returned to the apartment and then we all went to lunch at a local restaurant. I ordered two dishes with the intention of sharing them with the girls. They both liked the Cuban-style rice side dish and Allison ate a fair amount of the lamb. Neither kid cared for the rabbit dish that I ordered, although both of them tried it like little troopers. I thought that it was delicious and ate every bite. We had a nice local wine also and finished with flan. My plan was to get one dish and split it with the kids, but Willy's mother insisted that each kid should have her own serving. Fortunately, she took all four kids outside to play once the sugar started to take hold of the children and they all seemed to have a great time running around.
Willy's parents left shortly after lunch for their long drive back to Barcelona. Eva started working on dinner and Willy took the American kids and me to a "hiper-mart" which puts a Super Wal-Mart to shame. This seems to be the direction that retailing is going in Spain and it was amazing. The best way to describe this place is to say that it resembled Water Tower Place (Chicago) except that it was all one store. They had everything that anyone could possibly want as far as consumer goods and I bought a couple of small food items to take back to the US with me -- some fine local vinegar that makes a great salad and some authentic Iberian jamon. One note on the jamon -- it is damn expensive! The stuff is cured (not cooked) for up to three years and winds up costing about 50 Euro/kilogram or more. Seeing the price made it clear to me why the servings were always so small and why one can see right through most of the slices. I picked up two airtight packages at 200 grams each and plan to open one at Thanksgiving and one at Christmas.
We went back to Willy's place and discovered a well-laden table of authentic Catalonian dishes for us to sample for dinner. There were four different types of sausages, two varieties of jamon, three kinds of cheese, an olive dish, and some Catalonian bread -- toasted and then topped with olive oil, seasonings, and the juicy part of the tomato. It was still early for dinner so I worked on packing while Willy prepared the centerpiece himself -- a Spanish tortilla: a quiche-like omelet with eggs and potatoes (I think it also included cheese and milk). As usual, dinner was out of this world and we talked at the table for about two hours before going to bed.
Tuesday 8 NOV 05
Departure day. I prepared some index cards with some critical phrases to help with the trip to Moron Air Force Base. I had Eva translate the phrases on one side into Spanish and she wrote the translations on the other side of each card. Willy drove us back to the train station and helped me with the arrangements for our return trip south. We booked passage on an AVE bullet train (108 Euro for the three of us) down to Sevilla. I also asked him to take a picture of us with all of our bags. I had my large (5000 cubic inch) backpack that the kids nicknamed "el grande" on my back, a smaller backpack on my chest, and a suit bag slung across the front of it. I think that I looked like a pack mule. Still, our luggage configuration was such that I was able to carry everything and still hold on to each kid with a separate hand. This situation contributed to my overall comfort about walking around unfamiliar places with the kids in tow. Willy was unable to go through security because he was armed so we said our good-byes by the x-ray machine that they use to screen baggage.
While waiting for the train, we went into a bar and I managed to order lunch to go without using any English. Allison had a bacon and cheese sandwich (hot); Lizzy got a small baguette with jamon and queso (cold); my lunch was a jamon and camembert sandwich (hot). We also had some fries and a couple of bottles of coke light. We found our assigned seats on the train and settled in to each lunch. The train was so comfortable and quiet that we barely noticed it when we left the station.
The trip was simply amazing! The train was just as fast as on the way north only this time I broke out my GPS. I was able to lean it on the window ledge without even holding it while we moved along at 170 MPH -- the train was that smooth. Also, the seats that we had featured a neat little fold-out table with games pre-printed on its' face. There was a small device on the side that had two buttons and a small display. It took a few minutes to figure out, but we quickly discovered that it was an electronic die. You pushed the button and a second later a number of lights would illuminate showing you what you "rolled." What a great idea! I gave the kids a couple of small coins and they amused themselves playing the different games for an hour and a half. I bought them a couple of small notebooks before we reached Sevilla.
We exited the train station and jumped into a waiting cab for the short ride over to the bus station. Unfortunately, we arrived 30 minutes too late to catch the bus that would let us off at the main gate to the base and wound up in town instead. I paid about 12 Euro for the trip and enjoyed watching the countryside rolling past at a slightly slower speed than on the train. I had a half English/half Spanish conversation with a gentleman on the bus and he offered to call us a taxi to take us out to the base. He went into the bar across the street from the bus stop in Moron and came back a few minutes later with an American. He introduced himself as Woody and offered to call us a cab. We walked over to the bar and I bought the kids a couple of sodas while we waited for Paco the cab driver to arrive. Woody worked on base for one of the contractors and he called another friend to confirm our flight was still good to go. He told me that the flight was originating in Kuwait and it looked like it would probably leave ahead of schedule. It was a brief 25 Euro trip out to the base and Paco dropped us off right at the front door to the PAX terminal. I guess that you can charge extra for that sort of service and I did not really mind as it had been a full day already and I knew that it would be a long night.
We went into the terminal and they could not find our signup that I had sent them via email on the November 1st. I used one of their passenger waiting area computers and pulled up the email to show to the young Spanish employee. She left for a while and came back with a copy of the email and my leave form and told me that she would honor the signup. It turned out to be a non-issue as there were only six passengers on the flight anyway. We headed to dinner at the mess hall as it was approaching closing time and I wanted to be sure to get in-flight meals as well. We wound up with dinner and two in-flight meals (quite good) for a total of 13 Euro and then headed back to the terminal to wait for showtime.
The PAX terminal staff at Moron was very friendly and accommodating. We checked our baggage and they made copies of our passports. We struck out on getting the souvenir passport stamps on the way in to Spain and there was no way to get an exit stamp as it was after business hours. The staff offered to stamp the kids passports with their Space-A terminal stamp and I agreed that it would make a unique souvenir. The flight was headed to Dover (our truck was in Norfolk) and they tried looking up all sorts of possible connections for me to no avail. I finally resigned myself to doing a one-way car rental from Dover to Norfolk and looked up all of the rates that I could on the Internet while the kids played and drew pictures. I finally settled on Avis as they gave me $50 in "we're sorry that we screwed you over" vouchers on an earlier trip where they put me and the kids on the road in a car with alignment problems and bald tires during a rainstorm.
We boarded the C-5 at 0200 (an hour early) and went up the internal stairs. The big kid is part monkey and had no problem climbing up the ladder to the passenger deck. My little one is not quite so lithe and needed me to carry her backpack so that she could ascend the steps.
We selected our seats, ate our meals, and took off. The cabin was very comfortable and had a different style of seats than the ones on the way over. These seats allowed one to lie down without having anything poking you in the back. The kids and I slept most of the way across the Atlantic.
Wednesday 9 NOV 05
We got off the plane at about 0400 and were through customs about 20 minutes later. We hung around in the terminal for a while and cleaned ourselves up in the bathroom while watching the clock inch towards opening time at Avis. I used the phones and Internet connection to make a rental car reservation and we wound up with the guy at the PAX desk calling someone to give us a ride out to the main gate to meet up with our ride to Avis at 0830. We picked up the rental car and wound up with a Buick LeSabre instead of the cheap thing that I had initially reserved because they needed to send it back south.
We drove back down the peninsula and stopped for lunch before hitting the bridge-tunnel. It was much nicer going across the bridges in the daylight and the kids really enjoyed the view. We pulled in to the airport at Norfolk and dropped off the rental car. I asked in an off-handed manner if it would be possible for someone to drop us off at the base and was told that it would not be a problem. My total out-of-pocket cost to move the three of us from the PAX terminal at Dover to our vehicle in Norfolk wound up being less than $50. We were on the way home at about 1500 -- another great vacation behind us.
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