Freedom Has Four Wheels

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The lighthouse of Cudillero

Cudillero – coastal, charming, and fifty shades of green. *sigh*

Settling back into a routine of balancing work, family, and fun has been difficult. Not only does the mercury in Madrid continue to dance above and around 30 degrees (celsius ya’ll!), but my mind is clouded with daydreams of barefoot toes and mojitos. The carefree days of summer may be a couple of weeks behind us, but they’re still visible in the rearview mirror. The temperatures are a reminder of that. But just when I’ve reached my limit of heat and stress, the sun begins to set on the Spanish capital, the temperatures fall, and I remember Cudillero.

Owning a car and living in a major metropolis seems, well, unncessary. It’s true that the public transit system can get you anywhere you need to go. But, where you need to go and where you want to go are quite different. Sure, I need to get to work, but do I want to go to work? *insert Spanish shoulder shrug* When Jeff and I are on our own time, our free time, what we want are wide open spaces – freedom of the open road. We’re willing to go anywhere four wheels and a tank of gas will take us, and Asturias was our first roadtrip destination.

Beautiful, mountainous, chilly, green Asturias; a contradiction of Madrid in every way. Even as I sit here comfortable in my living room, a cool early evening breeze blowing through the open doors, I’m distracted by thoughts of verdant mountains and crisp nights in the little fisherman’s village of Cudillero. We spent little more than forty-eight hours there, and much of that time was spent behind the wheel. Why? Because we wanted to. We zig-zagged up and around forested mountains, visited a bee and blackberry farm, explored a secluded beach, and stumbled upon a locals-only restaurant serving up the most unbelievable BBQ platter one has ever set out to devour in a single sitting. These little discoveries may seem ordinary, but having traded the suburban life for that of a concrete jungle I realize that I crave the connection with all things green and natural each time I assume the role of navigator in the passenger seat. We have to drive a bit further to find it in central Spain, but when we do my senses are once again awakened to what I want, and in this case what I also need.

Cudillero is calling me back…

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Dutch Graceland

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Thursday night we found ourselves in the small canal town of Leiden in the Netherlands, sampling some farm fresh cheese and catching up with our friend Walt. I had noticed that Jeff seemed preoccupied by a large canvas painting on the wall. There wasn’t much to ponder with this particular painting – a canvas rectangle divided in half between a royal blue sky and a flat green grass field, a silhouette of a windmill in the background and a curious milk cow gazing out from the foreground. Walt noticed Jeff’s upward stare and said, “Oh, that? Well that’s Holland. Cows, flat fields, and windmills.” We had been to the Netherlands before nearly four years ago but saw nothing beyond the canals and coffee shops of Amsterdam. This time we set out to discover the country beyond city limits, a “Tour de Holland” adventure that would take us along western coastal roads, past northern landscapes, through eastern woodlands, and south to charming canal villages. I had a hunch the painting was missing a few Dutch details.

If I were to make a few small revisions to Walt’s painting, I would first add two black circular swirls connected by a straight line – a bicycle. Like my first visit to Holland, I was amazed at the number of bicycles that were literally everywhere; propped against corner shops, parked in front of homes, decorating canal bridges, or riding along treelined paths in the countryside. Some are well taken care of, others will get you from point A to point B if you’re lucky. Some are brightly painted and others are equipped with baskets of varying sizes. But what stands out the most is that when a bicycle is not in use, it is simply parked – not chained – parked wherever the cyclist can find room. At any given time there could be upwards of fifty bikes resting on a street corner. I was obsessed and so was my camera.

Moving to the background of the painting, I would add a brushstroke of blue-gray at the base of the windmill to represent a canal. Driving around Holland I was surprised to find that canals are not just characteristic of cities but rather the entire country, and they seem to serve many purposes. Some are for navigating, some are for irrigating, and still others create a fencing system to keep livestock confined in the farmers’ fields. As practical as they may be, one thing is for certain; the canals grace the landscape with unexpected charm and beauty. Catch the light on them at just the right angle and they glisten under a beaming sun. It’s no wonder thousands of delicate blossoms call this place home.

 And speaking of flowers, my final revision will require a palette of every color of the rainbow. I would sweep my brush across the canvas, creating seemingly infinite rows of brilliant reds, yellows, purples, greens and everything in between. Soft and graceful or bold and standing proud, there are no distinct petals but rather a sweep of color reaching longingly towards the sun. This is just another one of Mother Nature’s masterpieces and the breath of life in this otherwise ordinary painting.