My wife and I were engaged the weekend after the Fourth of July, 2009. We spent a good portion of that Fourth of July talking about a wedding ring that may or may not be part of our near or distant future. Well, at least this was an abstract thought to my wife, Nichole. I fended off questions and thoughts about weddings for hours with the knowledge that a ring would soon come. As a matter of fact, I had managed to figure out the exact size, shape, color and every other detail and was only waiting for the process to take its course.
One week later, I picked her seven-year old son up from summer camp to drive to the jewelry store with his soon-to-be dad and get the engagement ring for his mom. Including him in on any of this task would have surely foiled the surprise, so we just talked about the mystical cast of characters who worked in the back of the store and made the ring out of fire and stone.
We anxiously waited for hours for the soon-to-be bride to come home from work. Rose petals were laid out from the driveway to the front door, the champagne was on ice and we had enough gel in our hair to maintain our fancy hair-do’s for days. She finally arrived and much to her surprise, Nichole found her man on one knee asking her to marry him.
If you were to ask me, the next few months consisted of more planning than I’ll ever endure throughout this lifetime. The honeymoon planning was the one event that held my interest. I loved my wife’s flowers, her hair was beautiful, I had a good time hanging out with my groomsmen, seeing our son get the opportunity to see his mom get married, etc. I just don’t have a lot of patience for planning. Choosing our honeymoon destination included a unique variable. Our son loves traveling with us so we had two choices to make. First, do we take the boy with us? And second, where could we go that would not make him entirely jealous? The answer to question number one was fairly easy – the boy stays home. The second answer wasn’t as easy. We’d discussed destinations like Italy, Greece and Costa Rica, but these were all places that we knew Cameron would enjoy.
I had traveled through Spain for a couple weeks during my single life and described all that it had to offer many times to Nichole. This included wine, beautiful architecture, museums and wine. Cameron isn’t old enough for wine, he isn’t into architecture unless Lego’s are involved, museums aren’t at the top of his list and he’s not old enough to drink wine. This is how we narrowed down our honeymoon destination.
Spain is a big place. We received a week’s stay at Torrenueva Park located in Caja Mijas, Andalucia as a wedding gift. Rather than stay at one place for the entire trip, we made Torrenueva Park our home base and decided we’d fill in the blanks between arrival and departure.
We had a really hard time filling out wedding registries. As a couple in our mid-thirties, each of us had accumulated all of the furniture, cutlery, pots, pans, crock pots and other creature comforts that we could handle. Nichole is one of the world’s top research analysts alive and she discovered Traveler’s Joy. While it was perfect for us, we did receive negative feedback from those who may be a little traditionally minded and prefer spending their hard earned money on tangible items. My advice to you is let them spend the money if that’s how they choose to do so and let the rest ride on Traveler’s Joy!
We started with selecting activities that we thought we would partake in while on our honeymoon. Nichole used to ride horses, so why not go horseback riding? The port city near our home base offered bike tours, so why not see who’d like to hear stories about our bike ride adventures? As soon as we submitted these activities to the website, they were gobbled up by our wedding guests.
Our next focus transitioned into places to stay away from our home base. We picked Ronda as a one-night destination and found the nicest place to stay in town. Our honeymoon was scheduled to end in Madrid so we sought out a recommendation from a friend who spent time in the city and placed that hotel on our Travelers Joy registry. The website allows for creativity so let your mind take you places it wants to go. There are people out there that want to wine and dine you, so put the wine and cheese tour on your wish list.
Nichole and I were married on April 10, 2010. We woke up at our hotel in Long Beach the next morning, bags packed and plane tickets in hand, dropped our car off near LAX and boarded our flight to Madrid. It turns out plane tickets are another item you can submit to the Traveler’s Joy website. While our international tickets had already been purchased as another wedding gift, we needed to find a means of travel from Madrid to Spain’s southern coast. With the assistance of a handy-dandy international air travel website, our two one-way tickets from Madrid to Malaga were on the house. Six hours of cost-effective train travel turned into a one hour departure and arrival to our honeymoon destination.
Cala Mijas is located roughly 20 minutes west of Malaga. Our cab driver had no difficulty finding our honeymoon home and after checking in we found a friendly British pub within walking distance from our suite. The owner was a jolly fellow named Henry who allowed us to feel at home in his establishment. After a couple of drinks, we left Henry’s (which happened to be a good place to have a nightcap on the way home nightly), crossed the coastal highway (very similar to California’s Pacific Coast Highway) and checked out our Spanish beach town.
The details aren’t easy to remember so I won’t be able to make any dining recommendations, but I remember the food. We splurged on a nice dinner our first night out; lamb with mint sauce, scallops sautéed in curry, caramelized goat cheese atop beet salad and good wine. With Travelers Joy, we had extra cash to feel comfortable treating ourselves to the fine cuisine Spain had to offer us. We’ll never forget that dinner. While Cala Mijas can be described as a tiny beach town with little to offer, it’s close enough to Malaga, Andalucia’s large port city. We were able to take a bus from Cala Mijas to Malaga where we had a bike tour planned. When we arrived, there wasn’t a tour available but there were bikes available for rent and the nice shop owner offered us a map and personal recommendations for places to see around the city. We hit Malaga’s boardwalk and found a seaside restaurant for lunch. We enjoyed a few glasses of sangria and seafood and then started our way back to the bike shop. On the way back, we created a new game that I recommend to anyone who finds themselves biking down the boardwalk. In Spain, beers are served in smaller glasses called canas. Our game is called canas. There are plenty of establishments where you can sit back and enjoy a cana on the way back from the boardwalk to the main square in Malaga. Stop at as many of these cafes and enjoy a cana, take in the sun, sea and culture. It’s a good way to soak in the town and have a hell of a bike ride.
The bike tour was one adventure that we submitted on Travelers Joy. Our second adventure was horseback riding along the hills of Mijas. Our horseback tour started at a restaurant in the coastal hills. Our guide took us up and down the scenic landscape, ocean views all around. Resorts and hotels are starting to intrude up into the hills but there’s still plenty of countryside to enjoy. At the end of our tour, we enjoyed a large plate of jamon serrano (cured ham), manchego cheese, artichokes and more fine wine. Our cab driver was a local and was more than willing to kick back and let us finish our wine and cheese plate. Unfortunately, that plate makes the tapas served in California’s Spanish restaurants look rather silly.
I like to think that my wife and I typically stay active while on vacation, but the two examples above were a lot easier to plan and take advantage of thanks to Travelers Joy.
We took advantage of travel arrangements submitting plane tickets as part of our registry. We also submitted three days of car rental as another gift. We were able to rent a car arranged with the assistance of Torrenueva Park (our home base). Our first destination from Cala Mijas was Gibraltar. The Rock is about an hour’s drive west. It rained quite a bit on the drive so we didn’t get a good view coming down from the hills but the rock is very formidable once you arrive there. We stayed one night in Gibraltar and woke up the next day to tour the Rock from top to bottom. Monkeys welcome you to their home as your walk to the gondola station that takes you to the top. The Rock is divided into three sections; Upper Rock, Mid Rock and Lower Rock. The monkeys are also divided into Upper Monkeys, Mid-Monkeys and Lower Monkeys. They are very territorial and will take your lunch money.
It drizzled most of the day as we hiked down from Upper Rock down to Lower Rock. We visited St. Michael’s Cave at Mid-Rock, which was extremely impressive. An amphitheater has been constructed within the cave for concert performances. The depth of the cave is astonishing. The tourist material that was provided to us explained that this cave may have been interpreted as Hades within Greek mythological tales.
From Gibraltar, we traveled to Ronda, a city that rests on both sides of a gorge connected by a bridge separating Old Town from New Town. Spain’s oldest bullring is located here. On the edge of the cliff’s of Old Town rests the Parador Hotel. If we ever get to stay at a more beautiful hotel in our lifetime, we will be a very fortunate couple. I found the Parador Hotel while searching for places to stay at work during our honeymoon planning stage. It seemed like the best thing I could submit to our Travelers Joy registry. Three very good friends pitched in for a one-night stay that we’ll forever cherish. Please enjoy the scenery taken from the photo that we’ve attached to our story.
Knowing that we had to hightail it from Ronda to Malaga in order to catch a train back up to Madrid, we had checked out of our honeymoon suite early. You may or may not remember a certain volcano that exploded in Iceland this year. Well, it turns out it made train travel in Spain slightly more difficult than usual. Regardless, we got first class tickets for a high-speed train that got us up to Madrid in time to check-in for our first night’s stay at the Gran Velazquez Hotel all courtesy of our wonderful friends and family that made it possible through our Travelers Joy website. Madrid is a big city with many different neighborhoods which each have their own distinct appeal. The subway is very easy way to travel to and from different parts of the city. Tickets to the Prado museum were another one of the gifts fulfilled by Traveler’s Joy. This was my second visit to the museum which has been shuffled around since my first visit and it was Nichole’s first experience there. She describes the museum as fascinating, it’s larger than life, and no book or utterance of words could ever do it justice. You’ve got to see it for yourself. You will appreciate art if you don’t already and if you do, you’re bound to have a deeper, rewarding appreciation of the painting and the artists on display.
Like many of Europe’s Old World hot spots, Madrid offers plenty of sightseeing, whether you’re into cathedrals, gardens, parks, it never seems like you have enough time to see it all.
I’m going to summarize our story like the classic MasterCard commercials we’ve come to enjoy; air travel from Madrid to Malaga – Travelers Joy, bike tour around the Andalucian port city Malaga – Travelers Joy, horseback riding along la Costa del Sol – Travelers Joy, car rental to the Rock of Gibraltar – Travelers Joy, luxury accommodations in Ronda of the Sierra Nevada – Travelers Joy, two tickets to the world famous Prado museum in Madrid – Travelers Joy, last honeymoon dinner in Madrid’s oldest square, Plaza de Santa Ana, with dozens of stranded travelers due to an eruptive Icelandic volcano – priceless.