The traveling turtle

La Tortuga Viajera


Welcome to La Tortuga Viajera (the traveling turtle). It’s a travel and Spanish food blog based on my experiences as an American living in Madrid with my Madrileño husband. Who would have thought a 15-minute bar conversation would change my life forever? Join me on my journey through Spain and its top spots, best-kept secrets, culture and cuisine.

June 10, 2015 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travel, Travel with kids, Travels in Europe

Allow me to take your nose on a journey. Close your eyes and imagine a waft of scents made up of melting chocolate, freshly made waffles, and the crispness of rain drops on spring flower petals. It’s a paradise of smells, wouldn’t you agree?

Tulips

Where have your nose and I taken you? If you haven’t guessed it already, you’ve been transported to Belgium, what I’ve decided is the world’s best smelling country.

Bruges

I recently visited Belgium with my toddler, husband, and mom in tow. It was my first introduction to this magically fragranced country — a country that also happens to be a feast for the eyes too.

Grand Platz

Our trip there took us first to Brussels, with its terrace-filled alleys and chocolate-dominated window displays. We marveled at the dazzling rainbow of lights that illuminated the Grand Place by night, and then marveled just the same at the rainbow of flowers that blanketed the cobbled square by morning.

Grand Place Brussels

Brussels alleyways

A quick train ride brought us to Bruges, a canal-lassoed town that is crossed by a web of waterways. It’s one of those walkable places that requires no map; just a desire to get lost as you fall in love with the scenery around you, and become hypnotized by the ever-present smell of deliciousness.

Bruges canals

Bruges Grand Place

Deliciousness that includes more than just sweets: we’re talking mussels, pomme frites, and, of course, beer, TONS of beer — all things (chocolate included) that I was too busy consuming to be preoccupied by taking pictures of them. Let’s be real: between kid wrangling, starvation, and an enthusiastic passion for food, the whole “wait, let me get a picture first” approach was pretty much thrown out the Belgian window.

Belgian waffle

But today (on this day when I’ve finally polished off my last Belgian truffle, sigh), I don’t need pictures to remind me of how lovely Belgium is or how divine it tastes. Just the thought of its mesmerizing smells takes me there — and I hope it does for you too.

0 comments
February 26, 2015 - Posted by Erin in Madrid, Spain, Travel, Travel with kids, Travels in Spain

After seven years of living in Madrid, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that Chinchón might be my very favorite day trip (despite the awkward memories). All the others — Toledo, Segovia, Ávila — they’re lovely, but they lack a certain intimacy, perhaps because of their larger size or maybe due to all the tourists. But Chinchón, it’s got chispa, a spark.

Chinchon

You see, it feels like a legitimate pueblo, the oval-shaped, sand-covered plaza home to bull fights and donkey rides. It’s got a castle (though in ruins and not open to the public) and a cute little tangle of hilly streets.

Chinchon

And this amazing thing happens during the winter on cloudless days: when the sun shines down, it hits the plaza’s eastern-facing terrazas just so, such that the pavement below the tables warms up. Suddenly, despite Madrid’s frigid temperatures, you feel as though you’ve been dropped right into the middle of spring. 

Chinchon

Nico approves of it too. Already a social butterfly, he toddles around, making friends with locals, which includes both people and donkeys.

Chinchon

Local products? Chinchón’s got it covered. The village is noted for its fragrant specialties including garlic and anís, an anise-flavored liqueur.

Chinchon

Adorable right? Served with a glass of red wine or a cold beer (or even some anís, I suppose), and a spread of tapas, Chinchón is, in my book, the perfect pueblo. It doesn’t have the flash of Segovia’s Alcázar or the jumble of tiny twisting streets found in Toledo, but it is the kind of place you’ll want to go back to again and again.

0 comments
November 26, 2014 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Madrid, Spain

If you’ve followed my blog at all, then you probably know that experiencing travel via food is kind of my religion. Sure there are museums and monuments and castles and bla, bla, bla. But then there’s food and wine!


Lauren, a fellow blogger at Spanish Sabores, feels the same. A couple of years back, she founded Madrid Food Tour. A brilliant idea, really, because there is truly no better way to get to know this country – or probably most any country — than via its flavors.


Around that time, Lauren mentioned I should come along on one of their tours sometime. I said, yeah, maybe, let’s see. But the thing is, I figured I was an expert on Spanish food and plus I was busy having a kid and all, so ya know, the timing wasn’t right no matter how hungry I was and always am for Spanish food.


But a couple of weeks back I finally joined one of her (growing) company’s tours. With a nice chap named Luke (chap because he’s English) as our leader, we spent four generous hours exploring Madrid’s historic center, largely with our taste buds as our guides. Hope you’re not hungry, because here’s a little look at some (yes, just some!) of the foods we sampled.


IMG_5994

Our first stop was El Riojano, an over-century-year-old café, where I tried their speciality, the soletilla, a ladyfinger-like pastry that is meant to be dunked in hot chocolate. Though I knew the place, I did not know the soletilla, a treat I wisely plan to get to know better during many future visits.


IMG_0359

At Mercado de San Miguel, I savored an early-morning glass of fresh-from-the-tap vermouth as I snacked on my olives, called Campo Real. Somehow I failed to realize until this tour that these olives only come from Madrid — all the more reason to love them!

IMG_0362

This rabo de toro, or oxtail, came wrapped in crispy dough and topped by pimiento del piquillo, and served with a glass of wine. It was magical.

IMG_0368

Fresh-from-the-oven empanadillas filled with egg and tuna are never a bad idea.

IMG_0373

At Bar Cerveriz, I tried a new tortilla (!!), acclaimed as one of the city’s best. My top tortillas in Madrid still stand, but this particular one was pretty darn good too!


IMG_6016

No Spanish food tour would be complete without trying jamón. In this case, we contemplated the curious differences between jamón serrano, jamón ibérico de recebo, and jamón ibérico de bellota - a side-by-side comparison that I’ve never done before (and really think I should repeat more often, because jamón).
IMG_6020

Our last nibbles of the tour included a fat sandwich of fried calamari, a very typical Madrid treat, followed by a Spanish holiday favorite — and a personal year-round favorite — turrón (an almond-y, nougat-like sweet whose soft version can most closely be compared to peanut butter, and is therefore amazing). I savored every last bite.


So what was my tour take-away apart from a very full and satisfied stomach? Well, truth be told, I was wrong: there was so much more for me to taste in Madrid. Indeed, not only did I taste the city in a way that I didn’t know possible, but I learned new things about it — beyond just the food — and experienced it with new eyes. What I especially appreciated about the excursion was that it really focused on the Madrid specialities that tell the city and country’s culinary story. And my tummy was very happy to listen.



*Full disclosure: Madrid Food Tour generously invited me along as a guest. I was quite skeptical, so trust me when I say that I was completely won over by the experience and that my rave reviews are legit. 


7 comments
October 1, 2014 - Posted by Erin in Travel, Travel with kids, Travels in Europe

We pretty much picked our summer holiday destination out of a hat. Sure, we’d narrowed it down to Portugal, but that was about it. Jacobo thinks he saw Ericeira on some list of best villages around the world, and with that (and minimal internet research) we decided to go for it. Basically, the chances of this being a dicey, weeklong trip to a random Portuguese town were pretty high.
boats

We gambled and we won though. This sweet little fishing-town-cum-surf-hotspot won us over instantly with its sparkly white cobbled streets and ever-present blue and white buildings. Ericeira hovers on the edge cliffs that give way to a half-moon-shaped beach fringed by rocky tide pools. In fact, this fishing village is so legit that one morning we watched three old men wade through the cold Atlantic waters, using long sticks to skim the undersides of large boulders. One of them — wearing shorts, a tee and sneakers — swiftly caught an octopus and proceeded to lob it to death on the surrounding rocks (as one does).
Ericeira
It’s the kind of town where it was small enough that after a few days we felt like locals, but big enough that we could try a new restaurant each day. And try we did. We spent lunchtimes keeping the fishermen in business by eating all manner of seafood, from clams to shrimp and goose barnacles. Then we spent evenings on our apartment terrace snacking on local cheeses and indulging on plates of grilled sardines and cod baked to order from the restaurants just downstairs.
Shrimp

Though I would have been perfectly content just eating my way through the week in this little piece of Portuguese paradise, we did do other things. One day was spent at the beach…well, that was the plan anyway. The idea of lounging in the sand all day ended up only lasting an hour when we discovered the water was frigid cold, and Nico discovered that he was over it (as he generally does after about 15-20 minutes of anything).

beach baby

But there were day-trips to be had too: Lisbon sits just south (about 40 minutes by car), as do other popular coastal destinations, Cascais and Sintra. We’d visited each of these places previously, so instead just paid a well-worth-it, quick visit to Lisbon.

LisbonWe also popped over to nearby Mafra, a delightful enough town that sits in the shadow of a giant – like GIANT – palace.

Mafra

But our favorite day-trip was easily Óbidos, a darling, walled-in village, covered in a tangle of fuchsia-colored bougainvillea vines, and also home to the raddest little bookshop-meets-local-produce-stand.

bookstore

I guess every once and awhile a total lack of research can pay off — it can land you in the perfect little Portuguese town, where you spend your days soaking up local culture, and your evenings sipping on local wine as you watch the sunset from your balcony. I don’t think we’ll probably be so impulsive the next time around, but I’m glad that in this case we had just followed our gut.

1 comments
August 18, 2014 - Posted by Erin in Travel, Travel with kids, Travels in Europe

I know, I know — I’ve totally fallen off the radar these last months. But, seriously, the baby.


As I mentioned in my last post, motherhood is, well, INTENSE. I mean, let’s be honest, I’m lucky if I remember deodorant on a daily basis, so making it around to blogging falls somewhere much farther down the totem pole — somewhere after personal hygiene, but apparently before picking up the pile of clothes in my closet that I can’t seem to find the time to hang up. Priorities, people.


Despite the chaos of motherhood, though, it seems the universe insists that I travel. And, of course, I’ve been happy to oblige.

 

Gubbio

Embarking on travel again took a bit of bravery…and so did riding this little cage thing up the mountainside of Gubbio, with Nico

You see, a few months back, when Nico was only a couple of months old, and I was at the height of my “WTF” phase (does that ever end? Seriously, does it?), a friend of a friend approached me for some marketing advice on her new startup. One thing led to another, and I ended up joining as a partner and co-founder of her already-budding venture called Our Whole Village, a travel company centered around cultural immersion for families.


And I’m fairly certain I couldn’t have dreamt up a more perfect opportunity to fall in my lap: travel, family, marketing, cultural immersion, and even a dash of writing. (Perhaps it wasn’t the best timing, but who am I to argue with the universe?)

Pasta

Part of our Italian cultural immersion involved us sinking our fingers and teeth into all things pasta

It’s because of this new endeavor that Nico and I recently set off for a week in Umbria, Italy, during which we stayed at a rural villa, and lived the farm-to-table lifestyle in between day trips to towns such as Perugia, Gubbio and Spello.

 

Spello

A flower-filled alley in Spello

Though tiring (very tiring given that I was traveling alone with my little guy), the weeklong journey through the Umbrian hills — making pasta, hunting truffles, and wine tasting (yes, wine tasting) — opened my eyes to the fact that transformational travel so isn’t over for me. In fact, I think it’s just beginning. And that’s not only because I’m discovering that all sorts of travel are possible with a little person tow, but that so much of travel is even better when you’re experiencing it through the eyes of a youngster. Who knew?

 

IMG_9319

Nico knows how to travel comfortably

So, as I set off for another trip (to Portugal!), I hope I’ll fall back onto your radar as I share my upcoming travels.


But hygiene first, readers, so let’s see how things play out.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
6 comments