Globe-trotting: Adventures in expanding perspective

In our humble beginnings, familiar road-trips reigned supreme as vacation destinations. Flying was reserved for the wealthy. Gabe would travel south to Florida, myself north to Maine. That enduring mindset of vacations being earned through hard work of the family.

Frugality continued into our $500 wedding, held a mere six weeks after we met. A second-hand dress, altered by Gabe’s grandma. Officiated by his grandfather. Held at a small local church with reception in the basement. The isle…a lurid purple tablecloth. 30 guests, potluck lunch. Honeymoon a gifted two nights at an Altoona hotel. Food budget consisted of $50 spent on Five Guys and Little Caesars.

At 19 and 20, our honeymoon was cut short due to Gabe returning to college, and me to fast-food jobs. Then our lives a dizzying blur of Army, babies, moves, law enforcement, photography and videography, home remodels, and more work. 12 years without a moment to breathe.

Gabe’s world-perspective was changed by an 11 month deployment to Jordan eight years ago. His horizons drastically broadened and the meat-and-potatoes country boy gained culture and an appetite for diverse cuisine.

We had never truly had even a domestic vacation in all those years. We didn’t truly know how to prioritize rest or relationship. 2023 reached a workaholic pinnacle for us both. With that, it was a crucial turning point to analyze what we valued most. With the substantial growth of our business, it came with a videography opportunity for Gabe in Ireland. As I would have a newborn and be unable to join him, we started brainstorming trip ideas for prior to baby.

Our plans changed multiple times as we analyzed budget and dreams. When we finally decided to remain in the United Kingdom for the duration of the trip, something didn’t sit right. Gabe has always been passionate about soccer, specifically Spanish league. Our oldest is named after a Spanish soccer legend, our second son after the Santiago Bernabeu, our third will likely continue the trend with another big name. I had to make Gabe’s dream come true. So I took on extra work and booked the Madrid flight and hotel.

Boy was planning such a trip way more intensive than anticipated! My anxiety had a heyday  thinking of all  that could go wrong and prevent it from actually occurring. Yet the time came to drive the kids eight hours to North Carolina grandparent’s farm. All six of us (plus dogs) in good health, no issues with vehicle.

Fast-forward through a turbulent trip over the Atlantic, arriving late in London. Since the Madrid flight was booked separately, our missed connection somehow resulted in canceled tickets both to and from. (PSA, British Airways almost ruined our vacation with 15+ hours on the phone, and other errors as you shall see). Exhausted from a red-eye and hike through Heathrow dragging a massive Army duffle, we spent hours fighting for a new flight. A beautiful soul with Iberia finally got us a flight and another turbulent two hours later, we were finally in Spain!

That night we walked to a small local pizza shop where we enjoyed our favorite meal of the entire eight days. Fabulous brick oven with jamon, walnuts and pesto. Plus insanely delicious breaded chicken. With two glass bottles of water, we expected a large bill. Shockingly a mere $15 and the waiter surprised by our offer of a tip.

The next morning we enjoyed a hotel breakfast like none we had ever experienced. Local eggs, meats, breads, yogurts, pastries. An array of fresh fruit. Each cup of coffee freshly ground. Filling yet without the heavy feeling of American food.

As the weather forecast had been foreboding for our entire trip, we were ridiculously thankful for a clear morning. I suggested we walk the mile and a half to the Real Madrid stadium. Having undergone a recent billion-dollar makeover, it was quite a sight. Gabe stepped closer to his dream. We purchased jackets at the Real Madrid official store, undergoing much self-control to refrain from buying everything from toothbrushes to keyboards.

From there, we took our first metro ride. Thankfully I had printed maps for both the Madrid and London undergrounds, which provided my most valuable piece of planning. Madrid’s metro is both clean and extremely affordable. In fact, the whole city was so clean we observed residents sweeping leaves. Whenever seating was unavailable on a train, one was ALWAYS offered to my hugely pregnant self. Both young and old getting up with a smile. Quite the contrast to London, where all seats remained occupied.

Madrid Metro with street performers.

My impeccable planning unfortunately underestimated the Spanish devotion to Holy Week. The city was PACKED. Yet throughout the crowds there was the pleasant energy of community. Street performers, stunning architecture dating as far back as Roman times, exquisite shops, and endless dining options. For once, I stepped back from the camera and let Gabe have his moment as his landscapes are much superior to mine. 10 miles walked that day. Energized by a culture I didn’t know I needed in my life.

Friday brought the promised rain. So we enjoyed a soccer museum of legends. High moments and a million jerseys. Then we spent a large portion of the day on the phone trying to locate our tickets to Sunday’s game that were supposed to have been delivered, and to British Airways trying to attain our return flight. We also enjoyed a tour of Madrid’s Athletico stadium, treasuring the time on the field and in the locker room.

That night we lounged in the lobby. There was a Saturday game we wanted to attend but tickets were nowhere to be found online and we weren’t sure we wanted to travel an hour to be turned away. We chatted with the hotel’s night crew to see if they had a solution. They assured us we would be able to get tickets, but warned us that “Getafe is not so nice” as Madrid.

The next day we managed the metro to Getafe, arriving at the perfect time. As we walked to the stadium, we were swallowed by away team fans. That short walk was a high point in my life. American fans get rowdy. European fans are pure passion. I wish I could hold on to the stunning energy of their fight songs as they lifted them loud and proud.

Sevilla fans walking into Getafe for the game, escorted by police. Im Spain the away team fans meet blocks away from the stadium and march into the stadium with police escort due to fights that break out. All the way they chat and sing!

At the ticket booth, we were only in line moments before being approached by a man offering us free tickets. At first I was surprised by Gabe’s trust in walking with him. But the man’s broken English conveyed the tickets to be his in-laws who couldn’t attend, and that “babies are expensive” and having seen my bump he wanted to bless us. After the stress of the past days challenges, the kindness of a stranger across the ocean was even more poignant.

Sergio Ramos, the Spanish player we had come to see, did not disappoint. He scored the winning goal for Sevilla, and was mere feet from us while giving his press talk as Man-of-the-Match. Gabe has loved him since before he played in the 2010 World Cup, and I have also been a fan for years, so it was a seriously surreal moment.

Our HERO! Sergio Ramos Scores for Sevilla!

Sunday was the big day. Tickets in-hand for Real Madrid, we braved chilly rain for hours prior to the game. It’s an odd phenomenon being in another country where their passion for sports runs so deep, yet they do not wear anything hinting their team except on game day. We expected team pride to be as rampant as the Pittsburgh native’s ability to cover every square inch of clothing in Steeler, Penguin or Pirate gear. Yet even in London, Premier League gear was oddly missing from all but the odd tourist.

With our tickets scanned successfully, we stepped over the threshold and into the sacred place of dreams. I’m not even offended that Gabe’s look of joy rivaled our wedding day. It made all efforts to get there worth it. All stress forgotten. Only several rows up from the field, Gabe beamed as he took it all in. 80,000 capacity stadium, fully covered and heated. Every player’s name known as they came on field to warm-up. Team song sung with passion by a packed house. A 2-0 win. Hearts full.

This is what we traveled 3900 miles to see. I’ve waiting my entire life to hear this song sang live. Ive watched just about every Real Madrid game for the past 20 years. And every weekend hearing this song is so awesome. Words cant explain how awesome it was to hear live being sung by 80,000 fans! One of the greatest moments of my life. – Gabe


Late walk back to the hotel. Early flight. Of course British Airways tried one last time to prevent our boarding passes being issued. And of course they sent our baggage on the wrong flight so that our entire day was spent trying to get it in Heathrow. (Gabe had caved in Madrid and purchased luggage with wheels. Affordable, as everything else in the city.) The day was only salvaged in finding a fantastic local pub and getting our fix of fish & chips.

Having been a life-long lover of British acting, Harry Potter, BBC, and all things WWII history, London was more my dream than Gabe’s. As in Madrid, the morning after our flight dawned clear and perfect. We crammed as much city in as possible in the good weather. From Kensington to Buckingham Palace, Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abby, and a walk to the Imperial War Museum. Top item on my to-do list, the museum didn’t disappoint. It went far in-depth and had a stunning exhibit memorializing the Holocaust. From there we braved the crowds of Piccadilly Circus and Soho for Harry Potter shopping and getting my vintage fix. I’ve collected vintage clothes since I was a kid, so was in heaven, coming up with historical stories for each exquisite piece. In the basement of one shop I found kindred spirits in three women shopping together. We shared stories of our lives and collections, treasured connection.

The next day I had planned on going to the countryside. Growing up on All Creatures Great and Small, dreams of quaint villages and rolling hills filled my heart. Unfortunately all the travel had caught up with my 28 week pregnant self and I spent the day in bed. I had packed a custom Reclamation gown with the intention of a country maternity session. So we compromised and walked to Kensington Palace and parks. There, Gabe captured some of my favorite images ever!

Our return home was 32 hours. Metro, planes, airport layovers, picking up the kids in NC, long drive back to Pennsylvania. Both of us forever changed. Never will we return to a lack of prioritizing our relationship. Never returning to a time before being bitten by the travel bug. The world is worth seeing. We have never been ones to spend money on restaurants or entertainment. Our perspective and priorities have shifted, not in a hedonistic sense. But in that relationship is more important than anything else. The cares of the world need to fall away sometimes to fully see the value in connection. We can’t always dash off to travel the globe when things get heavy. But maybe that shift will help us set aside the eternal crush of business and life so we can enjoy 10 minutes uninterrupted with a coffee on the deck. Or shut out stress long enough for a makeout session in the kitchen. Or just hold each other a little tighter and remember.

Thanks for reading, Molly.


Better Late Then Never