March 23, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Trips to the US

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for me. I spent a good portion of my time in the Bay Area running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to get all the darn visa stuff taken care of. And yes, in case you weren’t certain, and because I know you were all wondering, I am officially not a drug addict, mentally insane, or a felon…these are all things I had to have verified in order to obtain my visa from the Spanish Consulate in San Francisco.

The trip home was wonderful though, as usual of course. I OD’ed on sushi and Vietnamese spring rolls, which was really the only smart and logical thing to do. On Friday, my colleague at work in Madrid suggested sushi, which basically horrified me – considering I was burnt out on yummy SF sushi, the thought of Madrid wannabe (fairly positive I haven’t used that word since the early 90s) sushi basically sounded like a crime. We went to my favorite California cuisine restaurant instead….ironic, I know.

Arriving back to Madrid is always bittersweet, and this last time was no different. It definitely helped though that the weather here has been just insanely wonderful. Better than in CA for sure. We spent last weekend roaming through Retiro Park (something we love to do rain, shine or snow), and even took a day trip about an hour out of Madrid yesterday with a group of people to a darling little pueblo nestled up against a lake. It was there that we had a traditional lunch in a rustic little cabin-like restaurant right on the lake. What a treat!

Now it’s back to work again, and back to trying to finish up all the visa stuff. I am about 95% of the way there, but there are still some last things that need to be done here. But, I am at least legal at this point! My days of rebellion are over. Shoot, I am even driving legally now (with my fancy AAA international driver’s permit) – this is no fun!

I have to end this blog on a somber note – while I was home I learned of the sudden passing of a dear friend named Katie Marsh. I worked with Katie at Perfect Petals (a family friend’s flower business where I learned pretty much everything I know about flowers), where Katie was the boutinierre/corsage guru. I simply can’t think of a memory of Katie in which she wasn’t smiling or laughing. She was just such a happy, joyful person to be around. She leaves behind two sons, one of which is exactly my age – Katie and I always used to chuckle about how I literally stole her son’s birthday because my mom took the hospital appointment for my delivery that Katie wanted for her delivery – thus her son was born the morning after me. Katie and her sunny spirit will be very missed.

Tags: ,
March 3, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travels in Spain

I can’t even really begin to explain what a wonderful weekend I had! Saturday morning Jacob and I left for Elciego – the “City of Wine” and home to the bodega Marques de Riscal and its famous hotel designed by Frank Gehry. Jacob and I had passed by the hotel back in November when we were visiting the La Rioja wine region and had vowed that we would come back and stay there.

Arriving at the hotel you encounter gates that allow only guests past – the exquisite up close view, while coveted by all visitors to Elciego, is only reserved for those residing in the exclusive 40 room hotel. Up close, the hotel is brilliant with its different shades of titanium reflecting the sun. The colors mimic those of wine and grapes such that the very modern architecture seems to blend in naturally with its surroundings. The design itself is meant to be an abstract version of a grape vine with its three base pillars and vertically flowing waves of titanium. It’s stunning and nothing short of eye candy. We arrived a bit early (actually stopping by the cathedral in Burgos on the way) and treated ourselves to a glass of wine at the bar while we waited for our room to be available. And the room – wow! The room and bathroom were basically bigger than our flat in Madrid! And the view was just remarkable – the windows filled the entire length of the one wall (and nearly the entire height as well) giving us a near 180 degree view of the hotel on the left and then the entire hillside of Elciego including its cathedral. It was breathtaking. Oh, and there was another bottle of wine waiting for us there too, so we continued the “tasting”.

One tasting lead to another – but this time it was an actual tasting, as well as a tour. We spent an hour and half on a tour of the bodega, seeing their modern cellars as well as the old ones which contain wines as old as the 1870s! The tour was capped off with a few more wine tastings before we headed back to the hotel for a five course lunch….and more wine. After our heavenly lunch we siesta-ed Spanish style while gazing at the view of the cathedral….all the way into the evening when the cathedral lit up along with the rest of the small village. The perfect afternoon!

That evening we drove to another local pueblo, Laguardia, where we walked around the tiny little Basque village. We were mesmerized by its charming small streets and sweet little terrazas. The entire city has no cars due to the fact that beneath are nothing but fragile wine bodegas….well, that and I am fairly positive that no car (eh hem, except maybe my Smart!) would fit on such small streets. We had dinner at a quaint restaurant owned by an old women who insisted on giving the philosophical background of Jacobo’s name and also that we try wine from her husband’s bodega. It was a perfect La Rioja dinner.

Following dinner we returned to the hotel to visit the library to have drinks (yes – the library, located on the top floor of the building with views all around). While there, we received a text message from one of Jacob’s friends telling us that another couple (friend’s of ours) were indeed at the hotel as well! So, we called them up, and sure enough they were downstairs just finishing dinner and were heading up to join us for a drink! It was such a nice surprise to spend our Saturday nightcap enjoying a drink, wine to be exact, with friends.

The next day we spent the day at the famed Caudelie spa at the hotel. I’ve been to spas before, but wow, this one was incredible. The views of the vineyards coupled with the grape/wine based spa products completely put me in the zone. After a hot bath, massage and facial, I couldn’t have been more relaxed!

To finish off our adventure we headed back to Laguardia – the city just seemed too precious by night to miss by day. The city was even more darling in daylight with breathtaking views of the surrounding valleys as well as the tremendous mountain ranges. And the air smelled of bodega! It was incredible! Both the hotel we stayed in and the city of Laguardia were built on bodegas, so we could truly smell the wine lingering in the air wherever we went!

Our trip concluded with the three-plus hour drive home. It was just the most incredibly relaxing weekend ever. I can promise it won’t be my last visit there either!

In other exciting news, I will be coming home to SF in less than a week! I need to go to the consulate and pick up my visa!! I hope that I can visit with everyone then.