Thursday, November 23, 2006

10 Mile Run - ARR Thanksgiving Day Race - Thursday November 23, 2006

I've got two big races coming up ... I define "big" as those where I have already pre-paid and can't get my money back if I don't participate. The RnR Phoenix on January 14th, 2007 and the Phoenix Ironman on April 15th, 2007. It's been a little tough getting ready for those events as I've had one injury or another bothering me for the last six months but thankfully I can usually bike and/or run if my shoulder hurts and can swim if my knees, calves, heels, or hamstrings hurt.

Thursday the 23rd was one of those days where nothing hurt :-) Definitely, a good day for a run. After returning from our trip to SpainI did not feel like I would be able to run fast but I at least wanted to get a race under my belt so I could gauge my fitness level leading up to the January marathon. I ended up finding a nice pace that I was able to maintain the entire race and finished in 1:10:50 or about a 7:06 per mile pace. Not too bad and it gave me confidence for my next two checkpoints; the Runners Den Fiesta Bowl 1/2 Marathon on December 3rd and the ARR 30K Classic on December 17th.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Espana - and now back home

We had a great trip to Spain and a smooth return home late Monday the 20th. Awesome time starting off on Nov 9th with a day & night in London on the 10th, six days in a Marriott time share unit in Marbella, and then two days in Alicante before returning home through London.

It was great seeing Julie and her host family in Alicante. They are a wonderful family and have a beautiful home overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The parents, Luis and Ana have two beautiful children, Ana (12) and Bea (8).

Every city we visted; Malaga, Marbella, Granada, Ronda, Seville, Alicante, and Altea were pretty as a post card. It took us a while but we even learned how to drive in the cities. Seriously, the highway system was great but the city streets for a 500+ year old city have something to be desired. Every city was driveable .... except we never did figure out Granada. We drove there easily enough from Marbella ... but still ... after visiting the Alhambra ... the city streets were completely illogical to us. Anyway, a picture of Julie, Fran and I is attached showing us at the top of the Alicante fortress overlooking the harbor.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Espana - Altea - Sunday November 19th

On our final day in Spain we drove to the beaches of Alicante. They are sooo beautiful! We did not spend much time there but it was good to take a few pictures to remember what they look like if we return sometime. The night before I ended up running several miles along the shoreline of this beach.

After sighing over the beach we drove north from Alicante in our little Mercedes to a small coastal city called Altea (all-te-ya). It was about an hour drive to reach this picturesque location and it was so worth it! We walked for quite a ways on the board woalk before eating a light lunch at one of the many retaurants lining the beach. OK ... it was not really a full lunch as the prices shocked us at first and we ordered our standard cafe con leche and a small platter of cheese.

One area that really intrigued me is shown in both pictures but is enlarged in the right hand picture is the small city next to the large rock jutting into the ocean. I'm not sure what that small city is called but the map shows a town called "Calpe" in that direction. I would love to drive to the top of that rock!

After leaving Altea we returned to Alicante and dropped Julie off at her hosts home and then drove to the airport for our flight to London via Barcelona.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Espana - Alicante Dinner at Trada Family Home - November 18, 2006

What a nice way to end our vacation and 25th wedding anniversary trip in Spain by going to the home of the family hosting Julie for the semester. They have a beautiful home with a view of the Mediterranean out their back window.

Ana, Luis, Ana (12) and Bea (9) have been Julie's family away from home these last couple months and they have taken good care of her. Julie is not easy to take good care of in that she tends to be pretty independant but Fran I could tell instantly that this is such a good home away from home for her. Julie has not had a younger sibling so having two younger sisters had to be fun for her.
Dinner starts late in Spain so we arrived at 9PM and met with the family and then Ana's brother and his wife joined us. Fran and I bought the family some things for them to remember Arizona; a booklet showing typical Arizona scenes and two ceramic pieces. One of the pieces showed a mother owl sitting on a barrel cactus with her young babaies in a hole of the cactus and the other piece showed a mother coyote and her pups resting on a rock.

We had a delightful dinner of soup, roast beef, salmon, and pastry for desert. It worked out very well from a language perspective as Ana, Ana's brother and his wife each spoke English to some degree with Ana's brother being quite fluid in his speaking.

We were very proud of Julie and her ability to speak Spanish so effortlessly while we were in alicante with her as well as during the social time during dinner. Such an awesome thing for her to travel to Spain to live with aother family and to learn about another language and culture. And we are equally impressed with the host family and their willingness to open up their home to host a foreign student.

Espana - Alicante - November 18, 2006

The area of Alicante has been inhabited for about 7000 years, first by early tribes and later by Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths and Moors.

We had quite a nice day in Alicante today first going to an open air market in the downtown area, then going to the top of the fortress that looks over Alicante and at one time protected the bay area, then we went to an exposition on the faces of Jesus. Finally, that evening we went to Julie's host family's home for the evening dinner.

The open air market is quite an eye opener with 100+ booths selling anything from shoes to scarves to clothing in one long lane and then two parallel lanes selling foods, spices, chocolates, fruits and vegetables. Many of the locals use this market to stock up on fresh produce twice per week.

After the market it was a short walk to the base of the Castillo de Santa Barbara a centuries old castle built on the summit of mount Benacantil at 166m above sea level. It was quite a hike to get to the summit but we made it to the top and were treated with a beautiful panaramic view of the entire region and took several beautiful pictures.

The exposition on the faces of Jesus was actually in three locations but we chose to go to only one in the Concatedral de San Nicolas. The Cathedral was recently renovated and sits in the heart of downtown accessible only on foot as the streets are very narrow and appear to be shut off from normal car access. Inside the cathedral is a series of paintings, statues, and ornamental pieces all devoted to the Christian faith and mass. The exposition attempts to answer why so many cultures and peoples represent Jesus differently in appearance from blue haired blond to dark and swarthy in complexion. Pretty church and what must be priceless memorabilia but maybe because so much was in Spanish (there were a few English subtitles) I missed the point of the exposition.

Leaving the exposition we went to the seafront promenade (Paseo de la Explanada) an absolutely stunning walkway along the harbor frontage built in 1957 with more than six and a half million small tiles. After that we went back to the Hotel MIO CID to rest up until time for dinner and Julie went back to her room to rest as well. I ended up going for a run on the Alicante beach. Wow! Totally gorgeous and it just goes on for miles. True to form I did not try to return the way I came and ended up getting lost for a while and what should have been a 45 minute run turned into 90 minutes! But ... were those beaches nice or what!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Espana - Lunch in Puerto Banus - Thursday Nov 16th

Today was supposed to be a trip to Gibralter but we were diverted to a sales pitch and a nice lunch in Puerto Banus after being contacted by the Marriott sales rep Wednesday night. The weather for Thursday was going to be rainy anyway and she convinced us to stay in Marbella and enjoy the sights. She stopped by with a free bottle of wine and gave us the overview of how the Marriott Marbella resort worked and what were some of the nicer restaurants and attractions in the area. We told "Suzanne" about our owning a Starwood time share unit and that we had traded for the Marriott location where we were at but that we would be willing to go through a sales pitch at the new Marriott "Playa Andalucia" resort just south of Marbella.

The sales pitch at the Playa Andalucia was low key and we learned a lot more about how the time share industry works and how to get the best value for our unit or any future unit we may buy. In return for our time we recieved two $100 euro gift certificates to be redeemed when staying at a Marriott for a two day period.

After our visit to Playa Andalucia we travelled north returning towards Marbella and stopped in Puerto Banus, a small city that is playground to some of the world's richest people. It was raining quite heavily and we walked through the narrow streets to the water front that was lined with multi-million dollar yachts and expensive restaurants and shops. On a nice day it would have been quite pleasant to wander the streets. As it was we just wanted to get off our feet and out of the rain so we quick stepped into a little Italian restaurant. The staff were very friendly and the food was quite excellent and that helped take the sting out of the 16 Euro salad, 15 Euro pizza, and 4 Euro bottles of water that Fran and I split.

Steep prices aside, Puerto Banus is a must stop on a future trip.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Espana - Seville - Wednesday November 15, 2006

The Marbella to Seville trip was our longest yet taking about three hours to complete each way. As we did the prior day in Ronda we made our way to a parking garage in the part of the city we wanted to be in and then walked. It was a lot of walking but we managed to see the two primary sites on our list; the Plaza de Espana and the Seville Cathedral & La Giralda. Along the way we managed to get next to the "Rio Guadalquivir" that cuts through Seville and is lined with parks and homes, had lunch next to the bull fighting ring and went on a tour bus ride (top deck) around a good portion of the downtown area.

The Plaza de Espana is a spectacular semi-circular plaza built as the center piece of a 1929 exposition. There are numerous sections embedded into the semi-circle depicting historic moments and heraldic symbols from the 40 regions of Spain. Most surfaces are completely covered with beautiful glzed tiles. It has a spectactular fountain in the center and a boating canal that follows the arc of the structure.

The Seville Cathedral is the largest church by volume (they have a Guiness Boook of Records certificate handy to attest :-) in all of Christiandom. It was built to replace the Almohad mosque over 500 years ago, starting in 1401 and completed 100 years later. It measures 415 feet by 270 feet and is 140 feet high. La Giralda is the grand tower adjacent to the church. It was built between 1172 and 1195 and is the symbol of Seville. La Giralda has 35 ramps, instead of stairs, that make the climb easier as well as allowing a man on horse back to make the climb. The top of La Giralda allows for good roof top views of the Cathedral and surrounding areas.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Espana - Ronda - Tuesday November 14, 2006

Ronda is located in the mountains near Marbella and half the fun getting there is taking the winding roads. The sky was somewhat overcast as we travelled to and from Ronda but with the Mediterranean in the background the view from the mountain roads was spectacular.

The Puente Nuevo "New Bridge" (built in late 1700s) over the river Guadalevin is the symbol of Ronda. It bridges two parts of the city over a 300 foot deep gorge. Ronda is one of the oldest towns in spain with caves and relics dating back to the stone age. Located near Ronda is the archeological site of the Roman town Acripa. Also, Ronda is the home to bullfighting. Starting approximately 500 years ago the tradition of men challenging bulls in battle originated in Ronda.

We learned from our trip to Granada to not try to navigate the entire city by car ... it's just too frustrating unless you are a local, so we parked and walked into town and came across an old hotel called "El Tajo" that looked like it would be a wonderful place to stay but we asked for suggestions for tourists and the hotel manager gave us a small map that proved to be excellent in guiding us. We used the map to take us down the main shopping streets (closed to autos) and plazas, as well as, the Puerto Nuevo, and the various churches and other sites. Standing at the edge of the city and looking into the fields below provided a perspective that I would imagine has not changed in a thousand years.

Ronda turned out to be my favorite city to visit. True it was not next to the Mediterranean but the history, architecture, and relaxed lifestyle was beautiful.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Espana - Granada - Monday November 13, 2006

Granada was our first trip away from Marbella and after a couple uncertain moments where we were trying to figure our the Spanish roadsigns we had a very pleasant two hour trip up through Malaga and on into Granada. Fortunately, there were a number of signs pointing the way to our primary destination the "Alhambra" a huge fortress built on a mountain side by the Moors over 1,000 years ago. The photos don't do it justice as there are so many magnificent views but one of the photos above shows Fran at the top of city facing side of the fortress with the Sierra Nevada mountains in the background. The Sierra Nevadas are the highest mountain range in Spain and already hold a significant amount of snow. Another photo shows the view from atop Alhambra looking down on the interior walls and showing the outlines of living accomodations.

We learned in history class about the "Crusades" and the conflicts that raged through the Middle Ages, but it is here that these lessons come to life. The Alhambra is on a site that once was Christian, then Moorish when the Jewish inhabitants helped the Moors drive the Christians out, then reverted back to Christian in the 15th century as the Jews and Moors were either driven from Spain or converted to Christians. The Alhambra structure reflects Moorish as well as Christian styles although clearly the elegance and style of this huge structure is from the Moorsih tradition.

Seemingly unrelated and housed in the second story of the round coloseum like structure was a display about the life and times of Christopher Columbus. Pretty interesting as it covered not only the successes of Columbus but his failures and wanderings before he died.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Espana - Marbella - Sunday November 12, 2006

Fran and I arrived at the Marriott Marbella Beach Resort on Saturday November 11th and we kept pretty close to the resort to get used to the accomodations and to recover a little bit more from the jet lag. The resort is really quite lovely with a beach on the Mediterranean, pool, restaurants, store and a workout center. There are also numerous restaurants all around the area.

On Sunday we drove from the resort to the city of Marbella and walked on the boardwalk for a while before eating a wonderful pizza lunch at a little Italian restaurant called "Da Fabio". The beaches that we could see in Marbella range from pretty nice to "OK". The Mediterranean is the background so you can't go wrong but if you don't go to a fee for service part of the beach make sure you bring a chair because it can get pretty rocky in the free parts of the beach.

Friday, November 10, 2006

London - Covent Garden - Friday November 10, 2006

Fran and I travelled from Phoenix through Chicago on Thursday evening and landed in London late morning on Friday the 10th. after checking in at the Sheraton we made our way downtown via the public bus back to the airport and then down to Covent Garden via the "Tube". There are many many places we could have chosen but since we were very limited by time we had to select one spot and since Covent Garden is so poular with restaurants and theater it seemed like a good bet. We walked around for a little bit but it was quite cold and windy ... curiously the locals looked at us like we did not recognize balmy weather :-) We went into a renovated buliding filled with shops and came across a very delightful little restaurant called "Punch and Judy" where we had dinner.

I say delightful because I really enjoyed the place and the food. Perhaps because it was so new and different for me because when I looked up the restaurant on a local London restaurant review ... it did not fair so well:

I made sure to write a nice review just to list them up a little :-)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Rolling Stones in Phoenix November 8th 2006

Well THAT was a concert! Fran and I went to see the Rolling Stones tonight at the new Cardinal Stadium. Beautiful place and the concert was awesome!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Grip It, Rip It, Stick It

What a name for a golf tournament but ... I leave that to our golfing legend / security guard Don. As brainchild and host for the infamous annual tournament where golfers of all abilities are brought together for a morning of fun, sun and golf.

The interpid IT team of Alan, David, Anders and Dave managed a respectable -4 to par total score on the par 63 using a scramble format. David and Anders were the mainstays contributing the majority of the drives, chips and putts while yours truly managed to contribute a putt or two ... putting before the others could prepare themselves. Alan contributed well, including a magnificent final hole, final tee shot to within three feet of the pin to allow us to birdie the final hole.

Another member of our IT department, Al, managed to get himself associated with the winning team at -16 to par. Quiet guy ... but he knows how to pick his team mates !

MS150 ... a.k.a. MS172

October 28th and 29th were beautiful days for a long bike ride. Even better to support the Multiple Scerosis Society and their MS150 ... a 150 mile bike ride from Lake Pleasant to Parker on the border of Arizona and California. Actually, there is an opportunity to finish in Parker after traveling 150 miles ... OR add on another 22 miles and travel into California follow the Colorado River north for a ways then cross over the Parker Dam. After traveling that far it's just too tempting to make the full distance ... but that last 22 miles is Bumpy & Hilly!

I went with a friend from work, his wife and several of their friends. Being the older member of the group I thought they would defer to my seniority and we could travel at a leasurely pace. Little did I realize they would push me faster ... for a longer period of time than I had ever ridden! Out of a total of approximately 14 legs (10-15 miles each) over the two days we traveled quite fast for each of the legs while resting at each of the break areas. More than half of the legs saw us traveling in excess of 22 mph and a few averaging 24 miles per hour peaking in the high 20s for flat roads with no wind. Even the hill climbing legs saw us traveling at a brisk pace.

So ... great time and I look forward to doing it again next time. Who's interested in signing up?

some photos of Alan & Jen, Julian, Lars & Jen and Dave?

First Day:




Lars & Jen:

Second Day: