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.

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.


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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.


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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!

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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.

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

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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!


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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).
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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. 

 

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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.
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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).
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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.
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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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?)

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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.

 

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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?

 

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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.

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February 14, 2014 - Posted by Erin in Expat

This just in: babies are a lot of work. Yeah, like a lot. Apparently having a kid is a full-time job with virtually no break, and one which pays with the occasional, albeit priceless smile. But whoa, it’s exhausting.


If you haven’t guessed already, my adventures these days have a lot less to do with traveling to far-off places, and instead revolve entirely around keeping my little dude happy.


Right, and he just woke up….the tears should start flowing in 5, 4, 3, 2….


OK, and we’re back (several hours, diaper changes and deep sighs later).


My sweet little Nico was born Thanksgiving Day here in Madrid, Spain, weighing in at 6 pounds, 15 ounces. (I realize this surely was the first and last time that I will ever actually lose weight on Turkey Day!) He seems to have the same restless spirit that I do in that he positively hates being cooped up at home, and will usually only calm when outside of the house. Not so great news if I wish to rest, but it means my preference for being out and about hasn’t had to change nearly as much as I thought it would. That said, trying to plan just about anything concretely remains an almost entirely futile effort.


But enough of my motherhood revelations: instead I would like to share with you a handful of photos of my darling guy in his rare sleeping state. The first few were taken at one week old, meanwhile the others were done when he was one month.


Anddd he’s hungry now. Ciao for now, folks!

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One-month-old photos taken by Izzy Hudgins Photography.

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November 26, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

A year and half ago I spent eight nights sleeping in Camino hostels: these clearly weren’t my best hotel experiences in Spain. In fact, that was the first and probably last time that I will be roughin’ it backpacker-style (until my next Camino rendezvous, anyway).


Why? Well, although I consider myself a very low-maintenance traveler, I’m pretty much crazy high-maintenance when it comes to my lodging (cleanliness, vibe, location — I’m flipping neurotic about it). So, being the picky hotel-selector that I am, I’ve decided that I ought to put all of my madness to good use and share with you some of my favorite hotels across Spain.


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Casa Morisca Hotel, Granada
After staying at various questionable (and over-priced) establishments during my visits to Granada, I finally happened upon this one thanks to a recommendation from a friend. Indeed, in a city full of tourists, it can be hard to find lodging with charm that remains untainted by the masses — but then there’s Casa Morisca. The house-turned-hotel dates back to the 15th century and recalls those times when the Moors occupied a healthy chunk of Iberia (creating magical places like the Alhambra!). And while restored, all the rooms are different, each still maintaining old-world details such as intricate wood-carved ceilings and interior access via a riad-style patio. While I haven’t been back to Granada in a couple of years, you can bet this is where I’ll be staying whenever I return.
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Casa de San Martín, Huesca
This off-the-grid (seriously) piece of paradise is what motivated me to write this post. Previously an abbey, the hotel is located at the end of a five-kilometer gravel road that takes twenty minutes to carefully navigate. It may be remote, but the drive is worth it, as the hotel is a perfect mixture of antiquity and pure lodging luxury. The grounds are impeccably landscaped and the service as good as it gets. Even better: since you probably won’t be too keen to make that off-road excursion back to civilization for dinner, you can stick around at the hotel, where the multi-course meals are lavishly rustic, just like the setting itself.
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A Casa de Aldán, Galicia
Once a fishery, this hotel is situated along the quiet waters of the Rias Baixas fishing village of Aldán. The rural lodging is an understated mishmash of weather-worn granite and modern cedar-wood detailing. Marry that with bedrooms of humble white linens, miniature porthole-like views of the small bay, and a sprinkling of local restaurants that serve morning-caught seafood, and you’ve got yourself the perfect Galician getaway. In fact, I loved it so much during my first visit that I returned once again simply for the pleasure of staying in such a sweet hotel and in one of Spain’s sweetest little spots.
Marques de Riscal Hotel, Frank Gehry
Marqués de Riscal, La Rioja
Yeah, and then there’s Marqués de Riscal, which practically drips indulgence; the only “rustic” things about this place are the winery’s old bodegas, and the views of Elciego village. Ranked up there among the world’s most luxurious hotels, expect this lodging experience to come with an appropriately hefty price, though. But doggonit, the place is pure magic, so much so that I convinced my mother to return there with me last February; a trip that I’m fairly certain was her favorite of all her annual journeys to Spain. But really, between the wine, the luxury, the Michelin star-rated food, and the surrounding La Rioja region, how can you go wrong? You just can’t.


So now it’s your turn: What have your best hotel experiences been? And even better, what have been the best ones in Spain or even Madrid? I’m always looking for good recommendations!

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