If you're like most Americans, your image of Spain is the region of Andalucia, famous for windswept landscapes, whitewashed hill towns, flamenco and gazpacho. While visitors gravitate to the region's big cities of Granada, Sevilla and Cordoba, Andalucia's hill towns -- a charm bracelet of cute villages perched in the sierras -- offer a taste of wonderfully untouched Spanish culture.
When 30-something mom Myra Doyle jetted to this Florida hot spot for a reunion with three high school friends, they "wanted to do what South Beach people do." But they had a rule: "There are four of us here and we have 11 kids among us. We want to be in bed by midnight."
Salamanca's Plaza Mayor, Spain's grandest square, seems to celebrate life. Strolling across the square with Carlos, my guide, we passed a young man walking alone who suddenly burst into song. I asked Carlos why and he said, "Doesn't it happen where you live?"
These are trying times for talent scouts. Not long ago, a classic "bird-dog" like Jerry Krause could make a stealth trip to central Arkansas, find a versatile swingman and acquire him before other teams had ever seen the guy play. Imagine the equivalent of Scottie Pippen today: His first-triple would be posted on You Tube before sunrise. By which time, some scouting service would have posted his seventh-grade stats on a Web site.
We don't know where to look first. The massive pillars, looking like tree trunks, stone chameleons, tortoises and turtles, help support the columns. The sheer size of the place is amazing. Some of the towers soar more than 500 feet. Even jaded teens, like my 13-year-old niece, Erica Fieldman, can't help but be impressed.
Gather round the fire and nestle close, dear readers, for here in the great hall of Castle Limey, amidst faded portraits and moth-eaten antlers, wise Team Limey has salutary holiday messages for you to contemplate. And some banter, too.
UPDATE: British and Spanish reporters claim to have found the girl that some believed might have been Madeleine McCann. London's Evening Standard says the girl is actually a 5-year-old from the village of Zinat in Morocco, the BBC reports. More to come...
The official mascot of the University of Virginia is the musketeer-like Cavalier, but unofficially it's the wahoo, a fish that, according to student legend, can drink twice its weight in a day. That's probably not what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he designed U.Va.'s elegant neoclassical brick buildings and colonnades.
1. Gary Matthews Jr.: Following last year's breakout campaign, Matthews Jr.'s offseason didn't go quite the way he had planned ... It started off nice -- $50 mill nice. But the joy of a salary bump must have been soured by the ensuing response from the masses -- a disapproving (and deafening) cry of "one-year wonder." Public displeasure increased exponentially in February, when Matthews' name came up on an HGH customer list of an FBI-raided pharmacy. After two weeks of silence -- which only served to further enrage everyone, including Angels owner Arte Moreno -- Matthews Jr. denied ever taking steroids.
Every town chooses something to be proud of, and in Ojai, California, it's the sunsets. Pride is an understatement; sunsets are such a ceremony that locals have a name -- "The Pink Moment" -- to describe when the tips of the Topa Topa mountains take on the shade of cotton candy. There's even a preferred perch from which to watch: Meditation Mount, a new age center devoted to the power of meditation, on the eastern side of town.
Good food is not something generally associated with the beautiful game, but if gastronomy and football are two of your passions, and you are looking for the pinnacle of each, then few cities fare better than the Spanish capital, Madrid.