May 24, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Travels in Spain

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This is the first time that I actually have a moment to recap the last of my recent adventures – this one included my quick trip down to the southern region of Spain, called Andalucia, with Kim. I’ve been there a few times before and it happens to be one of my favorite places in Spain, so when Kim said she was making her second trip out to Madrid to visit me, I knew I had to take her there!

What ended up being quite ironic about her trip is that after she planned it, I had learned that I needed to head to the US for a conference, which ultimately landed me on the same plane as Kim heading back to Madrid. Upon our arrival back to Madrid, we immediately repacked our bags and got ready for the next leg of our journey (squeezing in a little nap too). Then it was off to the train station where we caught a train down to Cordoba to pick up our rental car.

In Cordoba, the road trip began. We made the two hour drive to Granada with surprising alertness. The drive was absolutely gorgeous – between the olive tree covered rolling hills and the abundance of green and colored spring flowers, it was just stunning.

Arriving in Granada, we stopped at the hotel, and then set off to find our restaurant for dinner – the same one that Jacob and I had visited years before. The restaurant has a stunning panoramic view of the Alhambra and is the perfect place to watch the sun go down, and the lights go up on the “red fortress.”

The next day we entered the Alhambra – it was then that I really remembered why Granada is my favorite place in Spain. The Alhambra is literally paradise. It is different than so many other places because it engages more of your senses in such intense ways. The soft sounds of the running water (which is an important and constant theme at the palace), the smell of blossoming flowers and fresh air, and the many colors, whether from the palace, the landscape, or the millions of different plants in bloom. For me, it was like a drug, a type of euphoria that I can’t quite explain. All I can say is that there is just no place on this planet that has ever seemed to come closer to paradise.

After our trip to the Alhambra, we continued the road trip back to Cordoba, where Kim would be staying for the next day. I had to leave that night, but had enough time before catching my train in order to wander the streets of the town for a bit and discover some of the enchanting patios that I loved so much the last time I had visited. Unfortunately, a couple of hours later, it was time for me to head back to Madrid.

On Monday, it was back to work for me, but not before one last excursion with Kim before bidding her farewell. I took her and Heather to see the famous flamenco show that I’ve taken a few of my other guests to. It was totally impressive as usual.

Now it’s a rainy weekend here in Madrid, which is absolutely perfect. We’ve had nothing but sunny and amazing weather, so it’s nice that the gloomy weather is encouraging me to just stay inside and get some rest.

Up next for me will be another trip back to Bucharest, as well as a return to SF for a conference in late June. For now though, I hope to at least remain in Spain for a bit…and I guess I have to – my passport is at the embassy getting new pages :). Forced rest, thank goodness!

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

I am really, really lucky. I was able to spend the week before last in Seattle for a conference for work. But the really lucky part – I was able to go back home to SF, then go to Seattle – one of my favorite places on earth.

My trip started with a stop in SF in which I was able to spend Mother’s Day with my mom and my family…and even do a little shopping :). After my one-day-visit to the Bay, I arrived in Seattle, where my grandma picked me up. Having lunch one on one with my soon-to-be 90-year-old grandma (mother of six kids, 11 grandchildren, and now six great grandchildren – to be seven within a couple months), is special enough, but I was actually able to spend three days with her. A real blessing.

On Monday after lunch, we went to visit my cousins’ then six-day-old daughter (who is also their first child). My goodness what a treat that was. She’s absolutely miniature, but perfectly adorable. I feel so lucky to have seen her at such a fleeting stage of her young life. Later that night we had dinner back on the island, where my grandma lives, with my aunt and uncle (and newly anointed grandparents).

The days passed with me commuting to and from the island on the foot ferry, which dropped me off right in front of the hotel where my conference was being held. Each day I couldn’t help but look out the window of the ferry at the choppy water, just feeling so incredibly lucky to have somehow ended up with lifestyle that has allowed me to travel the world to such special places. Going for a run one night on the quiet little island full of lush green trees and views of the water at every turn, I just smiled the whole time, thanking my lucky stars for sending me on such a trip.

On top of it being my favorite place on earth, it is especially refreshing because it is so completely different from Spain. Being around the laid back, down-to-earth people there just made me want to throw on my Ugg boots, wear my fleece jacket, get my Northface backpack, and just get comfy – no more uncomfortable shoes, impractical purses, and skirts with tights. There’s something so relaxing about the lifestyle and mentality there. Between the people and the scenery, I found that despite my incredibly busy week, I was totally at peace.

Thursday evening after the conference, I made a quick jaunt back to SF before hopping back on the plane to Madrid to begin yet another adventure. The travel may get tiring, but it’s worth it!

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May 12, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Traditions

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Never has it been more apparent to me the lack of real purpose for Cinco de Mayo other than the simple joy of Mexican food, beverages and decor. It always seemed like reason enough – and yet, somehow comes across rather unconvincingly when trying explain to the Spaniards. Conversations go something like this:

Spaniard: So it’s Mexican Independence Day that you’re celebrating?
Me: Not exactly, I don’t think so. I mean, I think some people think it’s that, but it’s not.
Spaniard: So what is then?
Me: Umm, I think maybe it has some historical meaning, but I guess we don’t really care, we just use it as an excuse to drink and eat Mexican food. Andele andele, arriba arriba!?

Yeah, that whole ignorant American thing – why do they think that??? Given that Spain is a culture of food and drink though, I think we managed to convert folks to Cinco de Mayo celebrators after our night of fajitas and margaritas.

I was somewhat weary about heading to the grocery store to try to find such Mexican fiesta classics as Jose Cuervo tequilla (much less the margarita mix), tortillas, salsa, or for my lazy American self, pre-shredded cheese for quesadillas. After years now (which amazes me) of trying to find various exotic ingredients (and often not so exotic) at the Spanish grocery store, I’ve pretty much resigned myself to never finding exactly what I need. But wow, was I in for a surprise – the grocery store was full of each ultra Mexican item I was looking for! I even found Jose Cuervo marg mix with the tequilla already in it! Salsa, chips, even mexican nuts and nacho cheese! Jacob and I went to town on the purchases. I also managed to score some awesome sombreros and Mexican style mustaches at a costume store. Although, I am afraid that piñatas and chili pepper xmas lights might be harder to come by….but next year, next year.

About 15 people participated in the festivities – our friend Tito even brought a playlist full of Mexican ranchero songs. It was perfectly awesome. Jacob made beans (he’s way more Mexican than I thought – they were bona fide frijoles) and rice, Heather did the guac and I managed the meat and quesadillas. Mix in all the burrito/fajita fixings that you can think of (oh yeah, and Coronas, or Coronitas as they are called in Spain) and you’ve got yourself as Cinco de Mayo-ish of a fiesta as we could have hoped for.

As Jacob said, he was all geared up (and had to be) for Seis de Mayo festivities as well, given the abundance of leftovers. I think we still have a bucket of frijoles in the fridge. I realize now that I’ve become ultra American since coming to Spain – introducing them to Thanksgiving, Easter and now our bizarrely Mexican yet somehow American holiday. Next, I think it’s pretty much required that we do some sort of Fourth of July BBQ or something. Given Spain’s fond affection for fireworks, I don’t think we’ll have any problem on that front.

I am now on Vashon Island – my favorite place on earth, hands down. I am listening to the waves crash in on the beach of my grandma’s house (usually, the waves wouldn’t crash here since she lives in a bay, but it’s crazy windy). I even got to see my cousins’ six day old daughter today. My life is too fulfilling for words!

More to come soon when I have a free moment to catch up and something to talk about ;).

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May 8, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travels in Spain

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Last weekend was a three day weekend here in Spain, so Jacob and I took the opportunity to visit one of the few remaining places in the country that I had yet to check off my list – Galicia. Galicia is the northwestern most region of Spain – nestled right above Portugal. It’s known for its amazing food (but then again, what place in Spain isn’t) and the abundance of rain (among many other things). It is also the final destination for the famous “Camino de Santiago,” – a historic pilgrimage route that has existed for literally thousands of years. To this day, many people still make the pilgrimage for either spiritual or physical challenge (hmm, as I read that I am having flashbacks to the TV show “Double Dare” – 80’s children, you know what I’m talking about!!).

Our first stop in Galicia was the city of Santiago de Compostela itself – the final destination of the pilgrimage. It is there that you will find the large cathedral, the final stopping point of the camino. Jacob and I stayed in the Parador right next to the cathedral, so we were right at the center of the bustling little city. Right after we arrived to Santiago, we set out to try some of the delicious Galician food by hopping from restaurant to restaurant. We tried berberechos (small clam-like shellfish), empanada, pulpo (octopus – my favorite!), clams, shrimp and the well known cake called “tarta de Santiago.” It was a filling afternoon, so much so that we headed back to the hotel for a several hour siesta, followed by a dinner in which I was far too full to even eat a thing.

The next day we got an early start and headed out to several of the coastal cities, including Cambados and O Grove. We walked the shoreline in each town and enjoyed some more tapas. We discovered a strange little custom there too – I noticed that many of the cars had somehow affixed to them this plant with yellow flowers (which is quite abundant, growing everywhere in Galicia). We asked a local old man (Spanish grandpa, hee hee) who told us that in the beginning of May it is customary for people to put them on their cars for good luck. Take note people!

After these two stops we headed to a bodega in the mountains where we enjoyed a delicious lunch of clams and wine while overlooking the vineyard and the ocean in the distance.

At this point the weather was getting quite toasty, which was completely unexpected (it’s like going to Seattle this time of year and having it suddenly be 80 degrees – it completely blindsided us), so we made a detour to the city of Pontevedra in order for me to buy some appropriate shoes and a dress. Thank goodness for Zara, which has come to my rescue on various excursions (Amsterdam, Rome, New York, you name it). It was there that I bought myself a new dress without trying it on – after trying it on, I realized it looked more like a potato sack with holes for my head and arms….but that’s fine, I consider it my tribute to the really fantastic potatoes they serve in Galicia – YUM-MY!

Finally we headed to our stop for the second night which was in a small fishermen’s village called Aldán. There we stayed in this phenomenal rural hotel built in an old building used for preserving fish. The whole building was made of stone, but the handful of hotel rooms were a combination of both cedar and stone. The smell of the wood mixed with the sea (right out the window) was so incredibly therapeutic and refreshing. It reminded me a lot of my favorite place on earth – my grandparents house on Vashon Island (on the beach, and also made of cedar)…and I’ll be there next week!!!

That evening we had an amazing dinner at a restaurant renowned for its amazingly fresh seafood – so fresh that they literally don’t serve anything that wasn’t caught that day! We had to try their lenguado (a white fish), the speciality of the house, which had those famously delicious potatoes on the side.

The following day we decided to get lost in the hilly village – what a charming place it was! Views of the port were abundant and small houses fit in quaint little vegetable gardens wherever they could. My kind of town. Another thing I discovered in Galicia were these strange little shed-like things perched up on four legs, usually with a crucifix at each end – and literally almost every old house had one. I couldn’t figure it out, but after a day I had come to the morbid conclusion that they were family crypts and was highly disturbed by it. It turns out, after asking a local fisherman, that they are pretty much just oversized pantries called hórreos. So not quite as disturbing as I thought, and thus the reason why I ended up taking a wildly large amount of pictures of them.

So that was our lovely trip to Galicia. Next stop for me now is SF and then Seattle.