February 29, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Travel

Could you easily narrow down just seven of your favorite photos? It’s not an easy task, but since my blogger pal, Erin from De La Pura Vida Costa Rica, nominated me to participate in Hostel Bookers 7 Super Shot meme, I decided I’d give it a try. So after loads of sifting through my photo archives, here are my seven shots. Which is your favorite?

A photo that takes my breath away

It’s impossible for me to look at this shot and not get swept away in my imagination. Taken by my husband, I didn’t even know it had been captured until returning to the US, and have often stared at it dreamily ever since. Halong Bay, Vietnam is without a doubt one of the most break-taking places on the planet.

A photo that makes me laugh or smile

A couple of years ago, I played shepherd for a day in Northern Spain – and this shot above, my friends, is the precise moment when I stopped eating lamb (OK, I had a little in Istanbul last summer, but other than that, no lamb). It is also the exact moment that I realized I couldn’t and shouldn’t ever make friends with pigs. Major conflict of interest.

A photo that makes me dream

See the end of that pier there? That’s my grandma and grandpa’s beach on Vashon Island, Washington, and where I’ve been going to dream since I knew what dreaming was.

A photo that makes me think

I searched through heaps of deep and thought-provoking shots, but I suppose I paused the longest on this one, which only made me ponder: “How can I get my hands on more of this heavenly Turkish baklava, STAT??” It’s not profound, but it did make me think. Plus, this post needed more food porn.

A photo that makes my mouth water

What – you thought the baklava was more mouth-watering? All the dirt and crust on these onion-looking things doesn’t get you worked up for a feast? Well it does for me! These are calçots – AKA one of my favorite foods on the planet right now. Week before last, on my trip to Catalonia, I participated in a traditional calçot-cooking fiesta – called a calçotada – and haven’t stopped yearning for the veggies since. Stay tuned for a future post covering all the yummy details.

A photo that tells a story

The photo tells the story, so I’m pretty sure an explanation isn’t needed here. But, if you need a clue, here it is: World Cup.

A photo that I am most proud of (aka my worthy of National Geographic shot)

Swimming in Batumi Georgia

I just love how this shot captures the scene in Batumi, Georgia one day last summer – a cement jetty, clothes strewn on the ground, faded Georgian graffiti, and the hills in the distance. And then of course the emotions of a lazy day in the sun – a few of the kids chatting, another just keeps to himself, and then one just seems to be rearranging his business. A simple day, a simple shot, but so much more than that – for me anyway.

So now that I’ve taken part in HostelBookers 7 Super Shots, I’m nominating some my fellow Spain-based bloggers to get in on action. And the nominees are….

The Spain Scoop
My Spanish Adventure
Pass the Ham
Christine in Spain

February 27, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

Last week I returned from a dreamy holiday in Catalonia filled with food, pueblos and villas (see pictures here). But before I indulge you in all of the details, I thought I’d introduce you to the little wonderland that is the northeast of Spain. Grab a glass of wine, and let the session begin.

So first, let’s get a few things straight: Is it Catalonia, Catalunya or Cataluña? A country, community or province? And what language are they speaking anyway?

About that name: In English it’s Catalonia, Spanish it’s Cataluña, and in Catalán it’s Catalunya. They more or less all sound the same when spoken, so just make like a foreigner and mumble whatever rolls off your tongue.

“But what’s this about Spanish and Catalán?” you ask.

If you haven’t heard the foreign word yet, Spanish isn’t the only language spoken in Catalonia (or in several regions in Spain, for that matter), but rather Catalán – a tongue of its own, with various influences (which are totally over my head) according to Wikipedia. At the end of the day, it’s quite similar to Castilian Spanish because I can basically understand every word of it (a very scientific assessment, I know). Even though Catalanes primarily speak Catalán amongst one another, almost all of them are also entirely fluent in Spanish. So rest assured that those five phrases you still remember from high school will still serve you just fine. And yes, you will indeed find the baño.

Not just a land of different languages, many of the Catalanes feel that it is also a different country (even though technically it is considered a part of Spain). To explain the deep roots behind the sentiments on either side, which go back hundreds of years, is far beyond my skills. Suffice it to say that it can be a controversial subject, and I’m totally not touching that hot patata!

Geographically speaking, the region sits up against the French border along the Mediterranean Sea. As one of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities (essentially the equivalent of a US state), it has four provinces (similar to counties): Barcelona, Tarragona, Lleida and Girona. For my recent trip, I traveled all around Girona – a trip I will tell you about very soon (oooh the anticipation!).

Apart from tourist hotspot Barcelona, and being home to a famous fútbol team, Catalonia also claims culinary fame. Until recently, one of the world’s best restaurants, El Bulli, resided in this northeastern part of Spain. And despite its closure (made by choice, and to the disappointment of foodies everywhere), the region still has some of the best cuisine around – right down to the basics.

Famous Catalonian contributions to, well, my diet (and I suppose those of many others) include pa amb tomàquet (bread with tomato) and crema catalana (essentially creme brûlée). Also, a lesser known fact: the timelessly fashionable espadrille (or, as it is called in Spanish, alpargata) made its appearance in the Pyrenees somewhere back in the 1300s. Just a few of the fun facts I’m going to tease you with before we get into to the good stuff in my next blog post.

So yeah, you could say Catalonia is a pretty rad place. And now that you’ve got your mind wrapped around it, prepare yourself to come on the journey with me through all the pueblos, food and villas. Should be fun!

Update: I foolishly forgot one more amazing thing to come out of Catalonia – a beastly awesome fellow named Puyol. I will let Pass the Ham explain that one, though.

February 21, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

Someone pinch me, I think I’m in a dream. Actually, I hope I’m in a dream – after the mass quantities of food and wine I’ve been consuming, I’m kind of hoping this isn’t real. I’ve spent the last four days hopping from pueblo to pueblo and fancy villa to fancier villa (courtesy of Charming Villas Catolonia), all while wine tasting and eating myself to oblivion. It’s obnoxious, really.

Since I’m up to my ears in catching up, I thought I’d give you just a taste of my trip via a few photos I took with my iPhone. Which picture is your favorite?

Girona river
Girona villa
View from our villa in Girona
Besalú, Catalunya
Cap de Creus, Cadequés view
View from Cap de Creus in Cadaqués
Cadaqués shoreline
Cadaqués sunrise
Cadaqués sunrise in front of Salvador Dalí’s house

Disclosure: I traveled through Catalonia as a guest of Charming Villas Catalonia. Rest assured that I’m keeping it real – all opinions are entirely my own.

February 14, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Travel, Trips to the US

I’ve become uber-fascinated by street art lately. Nerd-level fascinated. So when I plugged in my old point-and-shoot camera the other day and discovered a jackpot of San Francisco street art photos that I had forgotten I’d taken, it felt like a colorful care package from home (minus the candy and other awesome things my mom usually sends).

I claim “nerd-level” status because I actually wrote an article on the subject for Off Track Planet about the Valencia scene (if you haven’t read my writing on OTP, well, brace yourselves for a slightly more uncensored Erin). In doing so, I headed out to Spain’s third largest city to hunt down work by top grafiteros. Accompanied by my partner in crime (AKA Sox, my best girlfriend, who lives in Valencia), we traversed sketchy neighborhoods, and angered prostitutes with my paparazzi-like graffiti photography tactics.

Escif, Valencia, street art

So, when I visited California over the holidays, I couldn’t avoid feeding my obsession. With a new set of eyes, I scoped out the urban artwork that SF had to offer. While most of the pictures below were taken in Clarion Alley in the Mission – San Francisco’s edgy, diverse and borderline hipster neighborhood – my favorite snuck up on me while cruising around Alamo Square.

Driving down Oak Street with my best buddy at the wheel (I apparently like to drag friends along on these excursions of mine), I saw the ladder-and-trunk mural. Doing a double-take, I demanded we stop, certain that it was painted by my favorite Spanish street artist. And sure enough, while inspecting the image, there it was – his signature, ESCIF, in bold capital letters. His murals grace walls in his hometown of Valencia, but also around the world, including this particular street in the City by the Bay.

If you don’t already get geeky over urban art, I hope these colorful images might inspire you to scope out street masterpieces in your hood. Full of messages, heart, and passion, they’re worth more than just a passing glance.

Jet Martinez

Escif, San Francisco

February 7, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Expat, Madrid, Spain

When talented photographer Izzy Hudgins asks to take pictures of you in your wedding dress for fun, you say YES.

So that’s what I did. And since you’ve all joined me on my wild journey these last couple of years, I thought I’d share the finished product with you, even though it’s not so travel-related.

The offer was admittedly bittersweet. Even though my wedding was amazing in a million ways, my photographers were generally lost and confused, and my hair chica, while talented, did her own Spanish thing. Certainly not the details that matter most, but having another shot at some decent pictures was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up!

So my friend (and fellow Madrid resident) Izzy and I headed out to Madrid’s Casa de Campo – a massive park reserve, scattered with trees and, during this particular time of year, amber-colored leaves. With big hair and an even bigger white dress, I suited up in the middle of a field, while bike riders and cars zipped by on the nearby road.

For this round of wedding dress shots, I stepped up to the plate as my own hairstylist and makeup artist (with curler assistance from a friend). Getting all dolled up minus the stress made me feel like a kid again, but with the added bonus of whistling passersby. Surprisingly fun, really.

Not more than an hour later and we were done. I wriggled back into my street clothes and back to reality. And the result? A handful of shots that I personally think give the originals a run for their dinero. Bittersweet indeed!

No matter where you are, if you’re looking for a well-traveled, talented and sweet photographer, Izzy’s your girl. Now based in Savannah, she continues to make trips to places both near and far – so no wedding locale is off limits. I only wish that we’d met before my big day!

*For those of you following wedding dress fashion trends, I just want to point out that my lace sleeves predate a certain royal wedding ;).