Wednesday, October 15, 2014

[musings] Wedding Flower Creative Options

Flowers are oh-so beautiful, but they can most certainly break the bank.  It's actually quite shocking how much people can spend on flowers.  I've been looking high and low for different companies I can use for my wedding.  Sure, they may not match my theme perfectly, but if you can say "I do" without having a $300 designer, Pinterest-board bouquet, then I think you'll find these options useful.  

This is so inspiring! Found on 100 Layer Cake
I'm hoping to spend $500 or less on a bridal bouquet, bridesmaids bouqets, boutonnieres, and adding on a few centerpieces (re-purposing the bridesmaids bouquets too).  You can absolutely save quite a bit of money if you move or re-use your flowers from the ceremony to the reception.  No need to toss perfectly good blooms!  Here are a few options to consider in lieu of going to a traditional flower shop/design company.

A relatively new start-up company based in San Francisco.  They'll deliver a beautiful arrangement within a few hours lead time.  The delivery fee is already included in the price and all of the flowers are sourced locally and wrapped in recycled burlap.  I could imagine this being the perfect solution for courthouse wedding or as a a bright/rustic table centerpiece.  There is no minimum purchase, and they deliver via bicycle in the Bay Area.  I'm sure they'll be expanding their service area as the company grows.  And if you just want to send a friend (bridal party?) some flowers, they are absolutely perfect for that too!  Have I mentioned they write handwritten messages and also have an app?  If you are considering eloping, this just makes it that much easier to live on the fly ;)

The Bouqs
A hip flower delivery company based in Los Angeles with vibrant bouqets.  They have a wonderful selection of bouquets all at $40 with shipping included.  Insane, right?  There is also a premium collection priced a bit higher, around $60 too.  I can definitely see these as table centerpieces, and perhaps even hacked as a bridesmaids bouquet (reshaping and wrapping ribbon to the stems).  Their service area is mostly in southern California, and they send out coupons all the time if you are on their email distribution.  They also have an app, so ordering flowers are as easy as pie.

A fun and fresh approach to DIY wedding flowers!  This company is based in Los Angeles, and they specialize in putting together kits to create a pre-designed piece (bouquets, centerpieces, corsages, boutonnieres, etc.) at a reasonable price.  You can order as many components as you need, and they'll ship the entire kit to you, including all of the supplies and instructions you'll need to finish the project.  Each piece has an estimated "build" time, and most of the bouquets can be built in 10-15 minutes.  This is so do-able, and could be a fun project for the bridal party, mothers, or relatives who may want to get involved.  They have floral themes designed by professionals, and you can get everything you may need in one spot.  I am leaning heavily on using Bloominous for my wedding next year...and yes, they do deliver to Maui!

Bloom By The Box
A flower wholesale site that sells by the stem, bunch, or box.  This is great if you want total autonomy of your flower design and have the capacity or resources (creatively gifted friends) to help you.  While there are definitely pluses to having a customized look, there is also the downside of the  of stressing yourself out the night before the wedding if your arrangements do not look right.  I would only recommend this if you are a maker, tinkerer, or just very familiar with flower arranging.  Having a team of helpers is also a realistic estimate if you plan on getting it done within a few hours.  They offer several video tutorials on their site and they do have an impressive assortment of flowers... maybe this could also be a good option if you plan on keeping your arrangements simple with just one or two flower varieties.  Other websites similar to this:

  • Fiskars Pruner -- Just in case you decided to order a flower box and you need to prune the leaves off the stems
  • Cut Flower Food Floralife -- Good to have any time!  Your flowers will last longer and look better with a little food in the water.
  • Crowning Glory Flower Spray -- Geez, read the reviews!  It is a magical sealing agent that make your flowers stay fresh throughout the entire event.
  • Green Floral Tape -- It may come in handy if you plan on ordering a flower arrangement and reshaping it as a bridal bouqet.
  • Vases (I would definitely buy at garage sales or through craigslist) -- Consider spicing up the vases or adding color by color dipping, spray painting, glitterizing, or even nail polish marbling it!  
  • Ribbon that matches your wedding theme to cover the green floral tape that wraps around the stems.
  • Flower pins to add a "finished look" and give just the right touch of sparkle.
With all of these options, it's hard not to get excited about all the different options that are out there!  As long as you are flexible, you can re-work a bouquet design to make it your own.  Flower power on, my friends.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

[diy] Halloween Card Poem

These days I drive home thinking "the leaves are turning, the leaves are turning!" in a (slightly) maniacal (but excited) voice.  Fall really is an amazing time, and the anticipation of Halloween makes it that much better.  This year I've fallen off the card-making bandwagon a bit, but I am still determined to set things straight for the two remaining months of 2014.  Taking a trip to Michael's craft store will always set my creative ambitions straight... just look at those glitter candy corns I found!

  • Black textured felt
  • Orange Ribbon
  • Yellow jewel
  • Hot glue gun
  • Tape, Glue, Scissors
  • Candy corn sticker
  • Pumpkin paper punch
  • Embossing gun, powder, stamp pad
  • Rubber letter stamps

I kicked off the project by using a few scraps of textured black felt leftover from my brother's project (he's working on making a felt koala... hm, I'll post a picture when he finishes).  I used a silver Sharpie Pen to trace the outline for a crooked witches hat.  For the band, I took some orange ribbon and secured it with hot glue.  The hat was completed with the addition of a gold jewel right in the center.

I dug through my supplies and came across pumpkin stamp I had completely forgotten about... nice! I tore up pieces of scrapbooking paper as the background and secured everything with double sided tape and a glue stick.  Of course all of my embossing supplies came out (gold powder for the win) and I embossed the two letters I wanted to highlight on the card-- D & W.  For more information on embossing see this post.

I mounted the embossed letters on foam tape, making the letters stand out and pop up.  Adding 3-D elements adds easy "wow" factor to any homemade card.  I knew I wanted to go with a witch-related poem, so of course I had to go with this famous piece from Shakespeare's Macbeth

Double, double toil and trouble;     Fire burn, and caldron bubble.       Fillet of a fenny snake,     In the caldron boil and bake;     Eye of newt, and toe of frog,     Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,     Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,     Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,—     For a charm of powerful trouble,     Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

How's that to get you into the spirit? A spooky Halloween card is born.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

[musings] Pre Trick or Treat Halloween Party Ideas

My fiance mentioned he might need help planning a Halloween party for his work, and of course I said YES!  With Halloween 30 days away, it is time to get brew up some ideas.  To be honest, I don't even know if he really even needs help yet... but it never hurts to do some wishful planning!  This would be a small "pre-trick-or-treat party" for kids ranging from 2 to 16 years old.

Wise words to live by in October!

The party will most likely take place between 4:00 - 5:30 pm because sunset is estimated to be at 6:11 pm this year (yes, I checked).  Halloween parties are the best because you can come up with a ton of ways to creatively name your food and activities.  A jug of punch can suddenly become "Witches Brew-- drink if you dare!" The possibilities really are endless... planning a pre-trick-or-treat party does not have to break the bank either.  Halloween is a special day that's guaranteed fun no matter what!

Favors / Goodies - Since this is a pre trick or treat party, it may be best to supply your guests with something they can use right away!
  • Glow in the dark bracelets
  • Light Up Necklaces
  • Treat bags
  • Flashlights

Get some: Photo Booth Props Halloween Theme Mustache On A Stick - Witch, Ghost, Spider Web, Black Lips and Eye Glasses ... So stinkin' cute!

  Activities - Here's a mix of family friendly activities for all ages.  These are perfect for those who 'drop in' for half an hour, or people who choose to stay the full time!
  • Make Frankenstein Slime -- Cornstarch, water, green food coloring
  • Spooky Halloween coloring pages / scrapbook page
  • Photobooth or decorated photo backdrop
  • Decorate a tote or gift bag with Halloween stickers, stamps, and markers
  • Dracula's scavenger hunt (find items such as fangs, garlic, cape, someone who can make an evil laugh, etc.)  Once the scavenger list is completed, guests will be awarded with a small prize.
  • Simple carnival games with a pumpkin theme-- orange milk bottles, tossing black bats into a barrel, face painting
Wickedly delicous looing table from Diary of a Preppy Mom blog

Eats - Most of the party guests will begin trick-or-treating as soon as they leave so it's a good idea to provide food that is not wrapped in small shiny packaging (aka. candy).  This party is taking place in the courtyard of a housing complex, so I'm thinking of eats that are quick and easy!
  • Garlic bread to keep the vampires away!
  • Pasta bar -- 2 types of noodles and 2 types of sauce
  • Cheese and pepperoni pizza
  • Witches Brew Punch
  • "Halloweenie" Hot Dog Buffet (lay out toppings with themed labels)
  • Mummy dogs -- hot dogs wrapped in Pillsbury dough to look like mummies :)
  • Carrot sticks with a sign that says "To help you see in the dark tonight"
Loki's looking dapper in his Halloween costume...

As for decoration, I will leave it up to the food and activity tables to show their Halloween spirit.  I'd rather put our resources towards things the guests can actually take home with them, put in their bellies, or to make memories that'll last! What are your Halloween plans this year?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

[celebrates] Baby Shower for Zoe - Floral and Golden Glam

In my world, a party always begins with a thoughtfully chosen invitation that hints at the theme.  In this case, I used TinyPrints to create baby Zoe's invitation.  I love the look of this floral wreath.  The design is timeless and elegant.

There are so many wonderful themes out there-- how can you settle on just one?  I made my list of options, but ultimately settled on a vibe that represented the calm nature of the mommy-to-be, with just the right touches of floral pinks.  After all, this was a baby shower for a little girl!

Color Theme:  Pink Floral, Lively greens, Burlap, and Gold

Music: Pandora stations-- C2C and "Run Around Sue" radio

Guests: 30 -35 

Mini Activity:  Love notes for Zoe (scrapbook paper squares in a decorative box) along with a polaroid camera to snap fun pictures.

Guests were greeted by an adorable entry way table right as they walked in.  A perky snapdragon arrangement sat on the side of two frames telling the guests a few fun facts about Zoe's parents, including favorite foods and their favorite childhood toys.  A DIY golden bird sign hung letting everyone know how excited we were about the baby's arrival.

  • Light gray table linens
  • Burlap table runners
  • Succulent and herb plant from Trader Joes
  • Natural woven chargers from Crate and Barrel
  • Gold wrapped chocolates all around
  • Pink, white, and beige tissue poms
  • DIY banner signs
  • Spray painted gold Z-O-E letters

Eats (a mix of self made and Costco) with a Parisian vibe:
  • Chocolate Tuxedo Cake 
  • Build your own Panini Bar with smoked ham, prosciutto, and salami (HUGE HIT!)
  • Assorted baguettes
  • Cheese platter
  • Organic Kettle Corn
  • Watermelon
  • Croissants and Nutella
  • Caprese Salad
  • French Madeleines and Biscuits
  • Mixed berries and grapes

Party Budget Breakdown

$54     35 TinyPrints Invitations 
$23     Disposable tableware from Target 
$40     Michael's Craft store for assorted decoration supplies
$63     3 table rentals and 18 chairs from Peninsula Party Rental
$24     Amazon tissue pom poms and napkins
$170   Costco food and drinks
$23     Safeway for extra meat and cheese
$25     Trader Joe's for floral centerpieces, succulents, herb plants, and juice

Total Party Cost: $422

We saved a lot of big bucks buying our snacks from Costco and setting up the Build-Your-Own Panini Bar.  The guests had a lot of fun stacking on different meats and cheeses to build their sandwich and we had plenty of bite sized options to choose from.  The chocolate tuxedo cake was also a big hit, and you can never, ever go wrong with a basket of croissants.  Everyone had a blast taking pictures on the polaroid camera and dropping it into Zoe's love note box so she can see who came to her baby shower... a sweet sentiment and a great way to remind her how much we care!

Looking for more baby shower ideas?  See Athena's Sip and See Baby Shower.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

[travels] La Tomatina 2014 Survival Guide

Prepare for day that'll kick your primal instincts into overdrive....  Imagine flurries of tomatoes mushy and firm being pelted at you, the overwhelming stench of the overripe vegetable intermingled with spilled sangria, sweaty chaos, and that unwavering Spanish Sun beating down on your head and shoulders.  Oh yeah, and you'll never forget the sound of  thousands of cheering ecstatic people packed shoulder-to-shoulder in a tiny street.  This is La Tomatina... and you are going to love it.

Before you plan your trip to La Tomatina, there are definitely a few things you should know in advance so you don't make any rookie mistakes.

Our tour group with ThisIsValencia in front of the Torres de Serranos

Buy your entry ticket or opt into a group tour for La Tomatina.  Doing a group tour makes a lot of sense since you have someone to bus you into the city of Bunol (where La Tomatina happens) in the early morning, and also to take you back to Valencia after the fight is over.  You could always try and do it yourself, but this means you'll need to figure out your own way to Bunol and how to get back after all the madness is over.

Depending on your group tour, the majority of tours I found will give you a festival shirt, goggles, food, transportation, and the entry ticket to get in.  My friends and I used ThisIsValencia, which was perfect for our group.  For about 85 euros (a 5 euro discount for early booking), we got sweet t-shirts, goggles, paella lunch, transportation to and from Bunol, a happy hour event the night before in Valencia, unlimited beer and soda during lunch time, La Tomatina official entry ticket, and a relaxing afternoon at the public pool. Honestly, it may be a good thing for you to take a dip in a pool before you get into your shower with all that tomato sludge...

Much needed Paella lunch at the park

Know the schedule of events.  Get to Bunol in the early AM (a lot of people arrive around 9 or 10 am) so you are able to make your way down through the city to the tomato fight area-- it's about a 20 minute walk or more, depending on how often you stop and buy sangria or beer along the way.  Once you get to the street, everyone will already be packed in like sardines, watching others attempt to climb the greasy ham pole.  At 11:00 am, a cannon will sound, which marks the start of the fight.  At 12:00 pm, another cannon will sound and this ends the fight.  Everyone will then make their way back up the hill through the city towards the buses.  Along the way, locals will hang hoses over their balconies or rig them up in the street to help you wash off your new tomato-filled outfit.

Record the Moment.  One of my biggest regrets, is that I didn't prepare any way of bringing a camera with me.  We got a waterproof disposable camera in Bunol on our way into the fight, and it broke after 12 pictures...all of the pictures BEFORE the fight started.  So buy one from home and bring it with you.  Or, get yourself one of those waterproof phone cases, go-pro case, or what have you.  You will have hilarious moments, and no one will believe how insane this event is without some photo documentation.

Climb the greasy ham pole.  I'm sorry, what?  Yes...there is a greasy pole with a GIANT ham affixed to the top.  The object is to climb the pole covered with lard and bring down the entire ham before La Tomatina begins.  This is a lot harder than it looks, and apparently no one has gotten the ham down before 11:00 am (the cannon signal) the past 4 years.  The base of the pole has a mish-mash of people climbing on top of each other to get up to the ham.  People are ripping off each other's shirts, shoes, and skin.  My fiance decided to try his luck at this and he ended the afternoon with welts, shoeprints on his body, sunburned, shoeless, and had the time of his life.  Watch this video of the event-- if you skip to 19:00, he's the guy without the shirt climbing the ham pole.  It seems the locals don't particularly want the tourists to get the ham, so people are also being pulled down left and right-- girls, boys, it doesn't matter.  Overall there is a spirit of chaotic camraderie.  Plan to get in there and try your luck!

Wear the right attire!  Many people are encouraged to wear white so you can see how tomato stained you get...  But it really is a free for all.  Some people wear elaborate costumes (Power Rangers crew, anyone?), matching group outfits, swim suits, old "throw away" clothes, athletic clothing, or in my case the standard cotton shorts and tour t-shirt.  Don't expect your clothes to ever be the same after this, unless you are able to get it into a laundry machine within a few hours.  The tomato stench takes a few washes to get out, and your clothes may be altered by the tomato acidity.  A lot of people wear clothes they don't care about then simply peel it off and dump it in the trash cans on their way back to the buses.  

Our awesome knock-off Crocs
Let's talk shoes.  This is probably the most important part-- because you will be up to mid-calves in La Tomatina splendor. You NEED to have footwear that'll stay put on your feet.  If you plan on climbing the greasy ham pole, you will definitely need real shoes.  For those that plan on staying out of the pole-climbing action, a pair of canvas shoes, crocs, or tennis shoes will work just fine.  Just remember that your shoes are going to get real nasty, so don't bring your favorite pair.  You also don't want to wear your ONLY pair of travel shoes too.  If you forget your shoes, swing by an H and M store or a gift shop in Valencia to buy a knock-off pair of crocs for a few euros.  I kept my shoes on for the event and then ditched them after I got back to the bus.

Getting a tomato thrown into your eye really hurts, and the juice will burn too.  I'd try and secure a pair of goggles that will survive through the fight. The "swimming" goggles the tour company gives you won't do anything.  They end up fogging up and cutting off the circulation around your head.  If you are really serious about wearing protective eyewear, then opt for the scuba gear style goggles. 

Position yourself for optimal tomato fighting.  Everyone is already packed shoulder to shoulder and when the fight starts it only gets more crowded.  Huge trucks filled with tomatoes and their throwers slowly forge through the alley way and people are shoving to get out of the way.  If you are in the epicenter of the alley (near the ham pole) you will not have much room to move, much less bend down to pick up and throw a tomato at anyone.  If you are up against or near a wall in the alley, chances are you will get smashed against it every time a truck comes.  My friends and I set up in one of the alley ways around the corner from the main street.  Even though it was still crowded, we had enough room to pick up and throw tomatoes... which is what you will want to be doing.

Ditch tomato shreds, seeds, and sticky clothing as you wind your way through the city back up to the buses.  Kind strangers will hang their hoses over the balcony, but you will find long lines of other festival go-ers trying to wash off too.  For the ladies, if you wear a bathing suit underneath it's easiest to simply take off your clothes and wash off your body and clothing separately.  Tomato seeds are tricky little buggers and are extremely difficult to get rid of.  It's even easier if you decide to throw away your tomato sodden garb all together, wear your bathing suit back to the bus, then change into a fresh outfit for the rest of the day. If you plan on bringing your clothes back, then bring a plastic bag to keep it in.

Alright now you know the secrets to a successful La Tomatina festival! Now get out there go adventuring!  

For the rest on Spain travel, see my Packing List, Malaga and Marbella, Madrid and Barcelona, and Valencia and Ibiza posts.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

[travels] Valencia and Ibiza, Spain

Man oh man, if you plan on going to Valencia or Ibiza, you are in for a real treat.  My travel comrades insisted on going to the beach in every city that was beach eligible... and the verdict is that Valencia wins the prize for the best beach! Really and truly, it wins over Ibiza.  We came from Barcelona to Valencia to attend La Tomatina (see my Survival Guide), and Ibiza has been on my bucket list for some time now.  

Day 10

A beard made out of worms... delightful!

We left our modern Barcelona apartment and took a rather untimely Renfe train to Valencia.  The same exact movie, Detective Dee (martial arts movie, very interesting to watch without sound or captions), was playing on the screens and it gave me a bit of deja vu from the Madrid to Barcelona train ride two days ago since the same movie was playing.  3 hours and some anxiety later, we arrived (late) in Valencia and headed to our apartment.  We were staying in old town and I couldn't have been happier with the location.  There were amazingly quirky art peices all over-- if my neck could rotate 360 degrees, that would have been helpful.

Lucky enough to have this piece below our apartment

We spent the rest of the afternoon in search of La Tomatina gear to wear the next day.    We scored some sweet knock off Croc shoes at bargain prices and made our merry way exploring through town.  I was intermittenly battling a bad case of the bubblies (my endearing term for indigestion) so I had to rest for a bit while my companions headed to the beach.  When I felt better, I decided to do some exploration and came across a slew of museums within a one mile walking radius.  So many choices! It was difficult to narrow them down....  I wanted to visit the army figure museum (Museo L'Iber), but decided to go with Casa Museo Benlliure-- the family home of an influential Valencian painter.  It was an antique appreciator's dream inside and I really had to refrain myself from touching things. 

A bat and a crown at the Torres de Serranos

Feeling elated after my visit to Casa Museo Benlliure (my yelp review), I made my way back towards the apartment.  A giant tower called Torres de Serranos called out to me, begging to be climbed.  I eyed the stairs leading up into the tower and promptly bought my ticket.  The city of Valencia does a great job branding their many cultural attractions, and you will find city maps all over the place.  What's more, everything is at a marginal price of several euros or less.  Torres de Serranos offers a great view of the city at an adrenaline pumping height due to the low clearance of the walls.  Yes, I probably stood too close and leaned a little too much over the edge... but what's life without a little nervous sweat?  I had such a blast imagining myself living in medieval times and fantasizing what it'd be like to shoot my flaming bow and arrows through the narrow slits in the tower.

Lodging: Airbnb apartment

Day 11

La Tomatina -- see the Guide...
Lodging: Airbnb apartment

Day 12

We boarded our early morning flight on RyanAir to Ibiza.  Here's my two cents on RyanAir in case you are thinking of using them...  read all of the fine print before you book.  Checking in a bag costs an arm and a leg (upward of 30 euros!!!) and you need to check in beforehand otherwise they'll charge you 70 euros to check in at the airport.  What...?!  There are other weird quirks so be sure to read it all through before you pay for anything.

Avoided the gnarly line at Amnesia because we got tickets online

I don't have too many pictures in or of Ibiza... honestly at this point I was a bit sleep deprived, still suffering from a bad case of the bubblies, and to top it off our "charming" apartment had no A.C.   The rest of the day pretty much went -- beach -- nap -- eat -- nap -- makeup -- Cream at Amnesia to see Deadmau5.  We decided to buy VIP tickets (clutch! no wait in line) at Amnesia after reading multiple reviews about how crowded the place gets.  The 20 extra euros bought us a lot of extra breathing room and a nice view of the stage below.  As for Deadmau5's set?  I've seen him a few times, and this was definitely on the mellow side.

Lodging: Airbnb apartment

Day 13

BassJackers at Space

More of the Ibiza life ensued-- eat--pool (snuck into a hotel pool, haha) -- eat -- nap -- eat -- makeup -- Space to see BassJackers and Ferry Corsten.  Clearly, there is a theme here in Ibiza.  If you like dancing, the beach, and disco napping, this is the place for you.  EDM dominates the music scene and I quickly developed a strong affinity for the number one hit this summer, "Prayer in C" by Robin Schulz.  I had such a great time at Space and was pleasantly suprised by how mind-blowing awesome Ferry Corsten's set was.  BassJackers also impressed, but I knew he was going to kill it just because his music is pure energy anyways.

Lodging: Airbnb apartment

Day 14

Outside our bedroom window at the Russafa Youth Hostel

It was supposed to be more relaxing, but then I double checked my plane tickets and realized my flight back to Valencia was 2 hours earlier than I had planned.  So we ate quickly in the downtown area, and packed up our things and headed back to Valencia.  This time, we stayed in the modern part of Valencia in a hostel operated by the sweetest person ever.  My fiance and I rode the bus over to the beach so I could experience the magnificent sand for myself.  This beach had the biggest, softest, whitest, stretch of sand that went on and on.  The water (even though it's all been the Mediterranean Sea) was so warm you could walk right in without the slightest shiver.  I die.

Valencia has an enormous amount of restaurants to choose from, and it was not an easy feat to find the "last dinner in Spain" restaurant.  Luckily, we found (fancy but affordable!) and rounded out the trip with the perfect meal.

Day 15

I soaked up the last few hours in Spain by walking around town in search of a mailbox that had a slot big enough to fit my mobile hotspot return package.  This was surprisingly difficult to find...  I visited two different mailboxes across town and made my fiance try and jam the package in to no avail.  We took the package with us to the airport and found the mail slots of the airports were huge.  Huh.  I gave Spain, and my favorite city Valencia one last look as the plane took off into the air.

Seven cities and fifteen days later, I was now headed back home.  I reveled at all the great meals, siestas, sights, and how much fun I had on this trip.  It's the perfect place to visit with friends because there really is something for everyone to do-- museums, cultural sites, dancing, eating, beaches, and that hot, hot Spanish Sun that gives you a beautiful glow.  Of course on the plane I'm already scheming my next travel adventure... which may be a little ways away.  For now, stay tuned for many more LIFE adventures up ahead.

My Ibiza Summer Reveries

1. Prayer in C - Lilly Wood & The Prick & Robin Schulz

2. Faded - Zhu

3. Rather Be - Clean Bandit ft. Jess Glynne

Monday, September 8, 2014

[travels] Madrid and Barcelona, Spain

Hopping to a new city every two nights is not for the faint of heart... it takes commitment, good planning, and a lot of caffeine.  Lady Luck was on my side this time, and I had all three.  Plus, my amazing (borrowed) Rimowa carry-on sized suitcase and backpack made the transit experience a lot more enjoyable.  How so?  Lighter = way...WAY better.  And the smooth rolling action of the suitcase on a tiled floor just made me want to melt.  Does anyone else ever feel that way? 

At the Malaga train station
We woke up in the early morning in our 'home base' Marbella, took a taxi to the Marbella bus station and rode a bus over to the Malaga train station.  From there, we took beautiful bullet train to Madrid that we had booked through Rail Europe (Renfe).  As a side note, Renfe generates ticket prices variably... so its pricing is based on demand.  Buy early and save more.

Day 6 (Marbella / Madrid)

The dining room in the Palacio Real

I bought tickets to visit the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) in advance because I wanted to avoid waiting in queues.  Time is precious when you are travelling!  If you know you want to go somewhere, then you should definitely buy tickets beforehand.  I've noticed that major Spanish attraction ticket websites require you to specify a window of time you will be arriving, so plan accordingly.  This palace is definitely drool-worthy, complete with decoration themes in every room, a throne room, and a chapel to top it all off.
Lodging: Airbnb apartment

Day 7 (Madrid)

Real Jardin Botanico
If you have an interest in art, but only plan on visiting a museum or two in Madrid, then you should probably head over to the Prado Museum.  It houses a mind-boggling amount of European art that dates back centuries.  If you were to look at each piece between 15-45 seconds, you could easily spend 6 hours here... maybe more than that.  Luckily, there is a great cafeteria inside where you can have a meal and rejuvenate over coffee and jamon. After the museum, we basked in the sun at the Real Jardin Botanico (Royal Botanical Garden).  Spotted two cats and saw wonderful vegetation.
Lodging: Airbnb apartment

Day 8 (Madrid / Barcelona)

Ciutadella Park

I woke up early the morning we needed to leave for Barcelona, thinking that I could poke around Madrid, catch some breakfast, and maybe even see the Telefonica museum at it's headquarters.  It wasn't long before I realized that 9 am was just way too early on Spanish time.  It was actually exceedingly difficult to find anywhere to eat that wasn't a franchise (I try to avoid franchises that are prevelant in the U.S. when traveling).  I finally found a nice spot that doubled as an art gallery, and ate my muffin as I waited for Madrid to wake up.  We hopped back on the train and headed to Barcelona.

Our airbnb in Barcelona was situated within 15 minutes walk of La Sagrada Familia, and quite close to the Torre Agbar (Agbar Tower)-- an odd futuristic structure resembling a shiny fountain pen. We took a leisurely stroll towards the beach, stopping for a few moments at the Ciutadella Park to soak up Spanish Sunday Funday in all it's glory.  There are tons of things you can do there, ranging from paddle boating to zoos.  Impressive.

Sala Razzmatazz
That night upon my sister's recommendation, we headed to the nightclub Sala Razzmatazz.  I validated it's quality by checking yelp, and was satisfied to find it ranked at a solid 4 stars with 50 reviews or so.  The only thing I can say is, we must have come on the wrong night. The go-go dancer was smirking maniacally in a striped overall outfit with a chainsaw...

Lodging: Airbnb apartment

Day 9 (Barcelona)

La Sagrada Familia

A few hours of sleep later, I woke up to head out to La Sagrada Familia.  It is an amazing structure designed by the visionary Antoni Gaudi.  In fact, it is still being built and aims for completion within the next 20 years.  If you only went to one attraction in Barcelona, this is it.  An astounding cathedral with intricate details and design precision.  Every sight, sound, and sense has been optimized for beauty, and Gaudi's vision has been painstakingly executed down to the monochromatic glass panes.  Buy tickets in advance online, and it'll save you an hour or more wait in the queue.  Also, opt in to buy tower tickets and wind your way up the La Sagrada towers for an extra special view.  

Casa Batllo

We gave ourselves an hour and a half from La Sagrada to get over to Parc Guell, the site of Casa Museu Gaudi (Gaudi's residence in his later years) and also a public park filled with his designs.  Take a taxi unless you really need to burn off the bread and cheese you've been eating.  Prepare for an uphill battle.  I spent the rest of the day on a Gaudi scavenger hunt around Barcelona to check out his other works, including Casa Batllo.  We rounded out the evening at a steak house, and went to bed completely wiped out.

Lodging: Airbnb apartment

---Next Destination: Valencia for La Tomatina Festival---