September 29, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Trips to the US

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I arrived home just over a week ago with a full schedule on tap. The week was filled to the brim with doctor appointments, friends and family, all finished off with doing flowers for Ben’s sister’s wedding. This was the ultimate flower-arranging gig for me because all the flowers were to come from the Scribner garden – the garden in which I’ve spent many years picking flowers and learning how to just have fun with what I can find growing in the world around me. For this wedding I was able to use their garden as my palette. The main flower would be dahlias – they had erected several dahlia gardens just for the occasion. This meant hundreds upon hundreds of dahlias at my disposal for picking – pinks, reds, oranges, yellows, whites and purples, in all shapes and sizes from teacup to plate sized, daisy-like to pom pom. It was a virtual dahlia wonderland.

I spent all morning Saturday putting together six bouquets – one white with touches of pink for the bride, then five others, each focusing on a different color. I also made sweet little mom’s bouquets in addition to boutonnieres for all the men (little green mums with a touch of Japanese maple leaves – they were darling!).

The flowers were a success and so was the wedding – after a couple of days of pouring your heart and energy into flowers, nothing beats celebrating the reason for which you did it (not to mention getting to see the fruits of your labor in action!).

Sunday rolled around and I was just plain pooped (and perhaps slightly hungover) and every ounce of my being was telling me it didn’t want to get on a plane at 6AM Monday morning. So, I decided that I would stay for another week to just relax and enjoy my time at home without all the running around. So far, it’s been well worth it!

Now if someone in Spain could please just overnight me some jamón and manchego – I am starting to suffer from withdrawals :).

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September 6, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Travels in Europe

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When an email showed up in my inbox a few weeks ago from Robin asking if I’d be interested in meeting up in Italy, my answer was an emphatic “YES!” Jacob and I originally had plans to head to Northern Spain, but when the opportunity came up to go on an international double date with one of my best friends, that was just too good to pass up.

So we got online and pretty quickly settled on Florence. While I’d been before, I had told myself when I went years ago that I must return as I never had the chance to visit the famous Uffizi museum the first time around. Jacob had never been before, so he was of course on board.

We headed out to Florence almost immediately after Iris’s departure. We were exhausted, but eager to have three days of pasta, wine and relaxation. We arrived in Florence Sunday afternoon and met up with Robin and her boyfriend Karthik for dinner. Walking through the city, I found it to be even more charming than I had remembered. It’s like Rome but more quaint and less intimidating.

Dinner was of course amazing – each of us enjoying our different pasta dishes. What I continue to enjoy about Italy is how both the Italian and Spanish languages are doable – Jacob spent the dinner speaking to the waiter in Spanish, and the waiter in Italian, and as usual, all was understood (even by me….I’m thinking Italian might be my next language, especially with my extensive vocabulary of Italian food items, and now swear words – thanks Guido!).

The next day we met up with Robin and Karthik at their hotel at 10AM in order to be chauffeured through the Tuscan wine country. Little did we know the highlight of this journey would be our amazing driver Luigi – a charming, humorous man who made the most phenomenal tour guide.

Our first stop was the incredibly sweet little town of San Gimignano, followed by a stop in another little town for lunch (its name escapes me 🙁 ). After this we stopped in the city of Siena where we learned about the famous horse racing that happens in the main city plaza – the plaza was constructed such that the races could take place within the city walls. We also visited the cathedral in Siena as well.

And finally it was time for the wine tasting. We first stopped at small little tasting room along the side of a winding little road. There we tasted several different wines, from roses, to chiantis, to cabernet and sangiovese. All very good, but I have to admit, I prefer Spanish wines. I just don’t find the Italian wines to be quite as balanced. But hey, the world can keep on loving the Italian wines….I’m fine with prices of Spanish wines remaining nice and low.

This was followed by another stop at the Antinori winery, a wine that I’ve actually had in the States in Napa, ironically. We tasted three wines, all good of course, but still not quite Spanish :).

For dinner we went to a restaurant recommended to us by good ol’ Luigi, called Pandehohio, and oh my heaven! The pasta was stupidly, ridiculously, amazingly good, and all topped off by a darling “mama” who was constantly showering us with kisses and cute little comments like, “if you don’t like, you don’t eat it, I eat it!” If anyone heads to Florence, this place is a must.

The following day we made the long awaited trip to the Uffizi. It was a nice museum with lots and lots of Jesus paintings (which honestly, for me, grows quite old after a handful of them), but what I really wanted to see, what I always wanted to see since my high school Humanities class, were a couple of the paintings by Boticelli – The Primavera and The Birth of Venus. They totally didn’t disappoint. Both were so refreshing and beautiful. They were incredibly large, such that I could just stare at them forever, picking out all the details of each painting.

Later that day, Jacob and I headed to the Academia, to see the famous “David.” I had seen him the first time I came to Florence and remembered clearly that I had been blown away that first time I saw him. This time was no different – he was still breathtaking. To better explain, let’s take the Mona Lisa for example – you see it in books your whole life, to the point that she is actually larger than life….then you go to the Louvre, and the painting is like the size of a dictionary (I’m exaggerating), in a dark room, with people swarming around it. The David on the other hand, while you see him your whole life, I think we naturally assume he’s human-sized. But he’s not – nothing even close to the size of a human. He’s massive, and perfect, housed under spotlights at the end of a dimly lit, airy hallway, such that when you turn the corner, you see him at the end like some sort of god. You might think that I’m overstating it, but I’m not. Long story short, it was worth 10 euros to see the first time and the second as well, and I really hope I’ll have the opportunity again.

That night we headed out for our final dinner at a “steakhouse” recommended by a friend of Robin. This wasn’t any Outback though, but rather a small, kitchen-like restaurant, with casual communal tables. We ended up a table where English, Italian, French and Spanish were all be spoken. We ordered a mixture of pasta, veggies and steak. All delicious of course.

And so was our trip to Florence. Somehow those last minute trips are always the best. We truly had a spectacular time. It was a nice little preview for our trip to Venice coming up in October for my birthday :).

Next stop for me will be SF at the end of September. Can’t wait!

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September 5, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Travels in Spain

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Last week, I was lucky enough to have yet another friend visit Madrid. This time it was Iris – a friend whom I’ve know since I was in 5th grade. She and her fiance were traveling through Spain, leaving Madrid as their final stop.

She arrived on Thursday, so we decided to meet up in Plaza de Santa Ana where we would start our tour of tapas – always a crowd favorite. We began at Lateral where we started the evening summer-style with gazpacho and tinto de veranos (a summer drink made of red wine, flavored sparkling water and ice). From there we headed to several other spots where we knew they would be able to try yummy tapas. During these stops we learned that neither of them had been at all impressed with the cuisine in Spain, but that during this tapas tour they had completely changed their perspective. The thing about Spanish food is that it can be rather confusing if you don’t understand it – if you get a menu translated into English, the food sounds horrible, or if you try to translate it yourself, it will sound equally as horrible. It’s all about understanding the dishes and knowing what to order, and then you will rarely be disappointed, and in fact become obsessed (like me).

After several stops for tapas we decided to head to the top of the Urban hotel for drinks, where we actually met up with another group of Americans traveling through Madrid – friends of an old colleague of mine. We stayed there for a couple of hours just enjoying drinks, the amazing view, the fantastic night temperature, and just chatting it up about everything.

The next day, after a long day at work, we picked up Iris and Brian to take them to one of our favorite spots – the small town of El Molar. I’ve always taken my guests there because it is incredibly rural, hidden, has the most amazing meat, and is very charming with it’s cool caves where you can have dinner! We started with drinks at one of the restaurants at which time the camarero offered to let us walk in their caves that weave underneath the mountain and connect with other restaurants. This was really special because we hadn’t ever had the chance to walk deep into the caves. It was so super cool – they gave each of us a candle and we were able to just get lost in the caves that curved and split in various places…watching our heads as we ducked into tight spaces. Dinner was of course amazing as usual. I’m not a big meat eater, but this meat is just plain out of this world.

The next day, we had very big day planned – on the itinerary was Segovia (again, I know), La Granja and Avila. See, Iris and Brian were such enthusiastic and grateful guests that we were eager to make sure that they had the most amazing time possible. So, being the energetic group that we are, we pushed full speed ahead hitting the as many stops as possible.

The next morning brought another important occasion – they were lucky enough to be visiting during the fiestas for our town, San Sebastian de los Reyes, which, if you remember, includes a running of the bulls each morning of the week. What’s so cool about this running of the bulls is that it is the second largest in Spain behind Pamplona, but rather than being full of foreigners, it’s all Spaniards – the real deal. And in fact, it’s been happening in our town since 1525!

It was a crazy mess of people. Usually it hadn’t been quite so busy, but since we were going on the weekend, the crowds were much larger. We ended up watching the run and then entering the Plaza de Toros afterward to watch the usual taunting of the teen-aged bull by equally energetic teen-aged boys.

We drove Iris and Brian straight to the airport after that, at which point we returned home for an hour, packed our suitcases, showered, and headed back to the airport to catch our flight to Florence, Italy!!

Ahhh, the adventure never ends :).