December 21, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Traditions, Travel, Travels in Europe, Video

In early November, I had the opportunity to get to know the city of Copenhagen, Denmark with a slew of other travel bloggers. As a part of the journey, another blogger and I hit the streets to make a video about the city. In doing so, we discovered that that very day happened to be the annual launch of the country’s famous Christmas beer. Filled with curiosity (wouldn’t you be?), we set out to learn more about the famous celebration. One by one, we grilled the Danish folk on the streets, and got to the bottom of the beer-filled day (burp). Here’s the final, albeit slightly rusty, product!

With that, I leave you all for the holidays. I’m spending mine in the rainy San Francisco Bay Area. I look forward to sharing more adventures with you in 2011. Happy holidays!

*A special thanks to Viktorija Prak for being my partner in crime on this project!

December 16, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain

Road trips, baseball games, lunches on the run – all events that might conjure up images of greasy burgers and large sodas (for us Americans anyway). A long drive through the US usually leaves me starved and perplexed since McDonald’s just isn’t on the list of stops that I’m willing to make. Spain, of course, is another story. Here, I save my appetite specifically for the road trips.

Unlike the US, the roadsides in Spain are not littered with burger joints and drive-thrus. Instead you will find that next to nearly all freeway gas stations there are cafeterías. Cafeterías, as you may remember, are a cross between a restaurant and a bar, and in many cases might surprise you with their trashy floors. This roadside version of this cafetería typically isn’t a franchise or chain, but just an establishment run by some local Spaniard who wants to serve up good roadside grub.

The magic in this is that each of these cafeterías will almost always serve you the most standard of delicious Spanish bocadillos (along with a variety of other dishes). These bocadillos (sandwiches) include items like jamón, manchego cheese or tortilla española served on a freshly baked baguette (yes, I said “freshly baked” – believe it or not, gas stations here customarily cook and sell freshly baked bread). It’s nothing fancy – no condiments, no tomatoes or onions, just pure Spanish goodness served between a soft, billowy roll of bread. Taken to-go, or eaten at the bar and followed by a café solo (espresso), the bocadillo IS Spanish fast food. Protein, carbs, fats – everything one could wish for when hunger starts calling mid-road-trip.

This beloved Spanish sandwich isn’t just a staple on roadsides, however. Like American fast food, it is an integral part of to-go food culture here in Spain. Last week I went to a Real Madrid game and was tickled to see every person in site whip out a wrapped up bocadillo at half time (pardon, “intermission.” This soccer lingo is way over my head). Everywhere I turned, I saw another fútbol fan happily chatting with their friends while inhaling their favorite Spanish hoagy. No fries, no hot dogs, no burgers (and don’t think it’s because the Spaniards don’t love themselves a burger, because they do, probably more than Americans actually).

So, when I’m hitting the roads of Spain, like I often do, what is my bocadillo of choice? Jamón Ibérico and manchego cheese. Pure bocadillo love my friends. Incidentally, I am off to the US for the holidays this Saturday, which means that jamón and manchego cheese withdrawals start in T minus 2 days!

December 8, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Madrid, Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain

I’m not going to lie, the idea of giving scuba diving another go while temperatures still remained under 90℉ sounded like a horrible, awful, terribly bad and dumb idea. Which was just lovely considering that my dear husband had booked a trip to Tenerife in the Canary Islands last weekend for us to go diving. I was certainly on board with warmer temperatures (70℉ is far better than 30℉), but might just have secretly been willing the whole scuba portion of the trip not to happen.

Oops. I willed too hard. Let me explain.

Last Friday we headed to the airport minus our boots and coats, and plus our bathing suits. We checked in, grabbed a bocadillo, and waited patiently at our gate. We boarded and buckled our seat belts. The child in front of me on the plane was crying like someone stole her candy, because, you know, I was in the vicinity. Then the captain got on the intercom to tell us to turn off our electronic devices…..

Wait, no, that’s not actually what he said. He just said that everyone needed to get off the plane because all flights in Spain were being cancelled indefinitely. Excuse me? Confused, we all disembarked the plane and entered the mass chaos that was the Madrid-Barajas airport when thousands of passengers are left without their bags, straight answers, or a vacation on FIVE-DAY holiday weekend! Everyone was of course in a stellar mood, talking calmly, and organizing themselves to figure everything out….in my imagination, but no, that’s not really what happened.

It was three long hours of people pushing each other to get through the crowds, and Spanish curse words being thrown around even more than usual. (You’ve got to love it when an old grandpa belts out “me cago en su puta madre.” Translate it, if you wish.) Once we had finally reclaimed our suitcases, we headed to downtown Madrid to have a very un-Spanish sushi dinner. This is required after just finding out that a tiff between the Spanish government and Spanish Air Traffic Control has resulted in a surprise strike during one of Spain’s biggest holiday weekends – bravo guys! During dinner, Jacobo sulked, and I pretended to sulk, insisting that we should come up with something else adventurous to do to cure our scuba-blues.

To fill the island-sized hole in our hearts, we decided on a road trip to Peñafiel, a pueblo about and hour and a half north of Madrid, in Ribera del Duero wine country. We spent the weekend sleeping in a castle, romping around in the snow, and pretending like we loved gloomy weather and wine tasting more than we could ever possibly love a beachfront hotel.

The highlight of our little journey was most certainly our stop at Restaurante Maria Eugenia. After finishing our meal, the owner plopped himself down at our table, declared he was a “Latin Lover” (in English!) and proceeded to give us his cell phone number should we need anything while in town. Following this, he generously gave us a tour of the kitchen and its wood oven, even insisting on lighting it, then wedging himself inside in an attempt to get pictures. The food was amazing, but clearly the service was even more noteworthy!

All in all, it was a delightful weekend, particularly because it never involved me being immersed in frigid waters. I do, however, apologize to the rest of Spain, for having wished so hard not to go scuba diving that the country’s flight infrastructure collapsed. I’ll try to put my powers to more productive use next time around.

Caught up in the frenzy at the airport, I didn’t get any shots of the chaos. You can, however, see more pictures from our trip to Peñafiel on the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page.

December 2, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain

After my shepherd-for-a-day experience last Spring, I suppose I thought I’d somehow acquired a magic sheep touch – that I was an urban sheep whisperer of sorts. So, when we came across a massive herd of the critters crossing the road in the mountains of Granada last week, I enthusiastically leapt from the car. I was eager to impress everyone (both my friends and the sheep) with my expert shepherding skills. I placed myself in the middle of the pack, anticipating a friendly encounter with my furry friends. But I don’t know what happened – every time I sachayed my way over to pet or hug them, they all bolted as though I wanted to eat them for Thanksgiving or something! (The turkeys that I saw earlier that day were the ones I actually wanted to eat. Don’t you love how gracefully I’ve made the turn from a vegetarian blog post, to this?)

While the sheep despised me, the experience was impressive nonetheless. I was, after all, weaving through the ethereal white mountain towns of La Alpujarra with two of my very best guy friends. La Alpujarra, a region in the province of Granada, boasts spectacular white villages nestled impossibly into the crevices of Andalucia’s mountains. Walking the steep pueblo streets, I couldn’t help but imagine how the darling Spanish grandpas managed to traverse such inclines. I myself struggled not to tumble to the valley floor.

My return to the province of Granada also brought me back to its namesake city and one of my favorite places on earth – the Alhambra. Having now visited the Alhambra four times, I feel as though I’ve really gotten to know its many personalities as it evolves through the seasons (kind of like my husband, but that’s another story). The Alhambra of the hot toasty summer is vibrant, fragrant and refreshing like a cold drink of water. During the winter, it seems more pensive, humble and, well, vacant. In fact, arriving there at 4:00pm in the afternoon, we nearly had the place to ourselves! The usually crowded Palace seemed to be our own personal playground, finally allowing for photos without a million zombie-like tourists cluttering up the background.

I know what you’re thinking – the Alhambra is fascinating and all, but let’s return to the subject of the food in Granada! I agree – a visit to any given region in Spain requires excessive sampling and analysis of its cuisine (even if one has been there a million times already). And good thing Granada meets this challenge with its famed, massively portioned tapas.

You’re already familiar with the concept of going out for tapas – you hop from one bar to the next, grabbing a drink and downing a small free (or sometimes not free) appetizer. Granada, however, seems to take a Texas-approach to tapas – everything is bigger, A LOT bigger. For 12 euros total, we each had two beverages and two mammoth-sized plates of free food. After two rounds of drinks (and meals, really), hopping into bed seemed a lot more realistic than hopping to another tapas bar.

Between the Alhambra, La Alpujarra and the awkwardly large and satisfying tapas, a trip to Granada is never a disappointment – you know, unless you consider it sort of disappointing to have your hopes for becoming a brilliant shepherd crushed. It’s OK. I guess I’m coming to terms with the fact that I have a certain affect on other living things: I can’t keep a plant alive, I make babies cry, and sheep are horrified of me. I think I can live with this, as long as I have yummy regional cuisine and delicious Spanish wine to console me.

On that note, I leave you now with a video of the sheep running away from me as fast as they can.

I should mention that I did take some really oscar-worthy video footage on this road-trip, but sadly my computer is too ancient to handle it. So, for now, I only have this unedited, albeit rad, video of the sheep. I will keep you waiting on pins and needles until after the holidays when I can fully reveal my awesome video skills. You can also see pictures by visiting the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page.