March 30, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Madrid, Spain

Yesterday, Spain’s workers went on strike for another huelga general (general strike) expressing their dissatisfaction with labor reforms. The impact of the protest did not go unnoticed – public transportation ran less frequently, many shops closed, and the city was basically blanketed in trash. Leftover bottles and cans from botellón the night before. Bright-red spray paint splashed across storefront windows. Piles of flyers strewn on the ground from strikers throwing them in the air like confetti. Sure, some of the trash build up was due to striking government workers not cleaning the streets, but, for the most part, it was a direct result of the event itself. Which makes me think: I’m all for freedom of expression, but does an otherwise valid message lose its credibility when it’s at the expense of trashing the city? Hmmm.

An unexpected pleasant (albeit, perhaps over-the-top) sight among the trash-covered streets.
March 27, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

Pueblos, rivers, art, bla bla bla. Let’s get to the really important stuff: the Catalán food. Am I right?

Remember that first day in Girona? We schlepped up, down and all around town. I adored that city, but wow it made me hungry. And thank goodness for that because, unbeknown to me, a nine-course meal awaited. Allow me to share with you the highlight of that lovely dinner: this little treasure on a plate below.

See, I’ve never liked artichokes. On several occasions I’ve re-tried them, convinced that I’ve been mistaken – after all, they seem like something I should like. But alas, every time I give them another chance, my taste buds say no. This time, however, a tender artichoke heart resting on a bed of sweet sobressada (a Catalonian sausage often served as a spread), finally seduced me into not just liking the once off-limits veggie, but falling passionately in love with it. I rode that artichoke-high through all nine plates – from the deconstructed tortilla española, to the jamón ravioli, and fusion patatas bravas.

I rose the following morning still dangerously full from the night before. But one overcomes such obstacles when faced with a giant brick of sugar-encrusted bread, called coca. Tell me who could possibly resist this? I wanted to nestle it under my arm and gnaw away at the squishy dough for the rest of the day (I didn’t, but I seriously thought about it).

Still digesting the coca (and plotting how to get my hands on another baguette), we arrived at a bodega-topped mountain blanketed with rows upon rows of dry vines. The sun blazed outside and a fire blazed inside, where we feasted on homemade butifarra (Catalonian sausage), anchovy pinchos, pan con tomate (bread with tomato), and a steaming stew of alubias blancas (white beans), all washed down with a range of wine from the Martín Faixó vineyards that surrounded us. Good thing we were up on a hill because really, after that meal, I just needed to be rolled back home.

At this point, I’d probably already done enough feasting to last me until early fall, but low and behold, another massive meal was in store – dinner by chef Lee Pennington at our hilltop villa in Cadaqués. Among the favorites: toothpick-pierced cubes of membrillo (similar to jam) and queso fresco (a light cheese), and a dessert of chocolate truffles made with olives (sounds weird, but it was all sorts of delicious).

A tortilla española here, a paella there, and a few days later the gastro madness came to a close. But not before snacking on these little pastries below – one of which was even filled – yes FILLED – with chocolate.

Oh yeah, and one more culinary adventure still remains – the famous calçotada and all its onion-burning glory….but you’ll still have to wait to hear more about that.

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.

March 22, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

After surviving the twists and turns departing Cadaqués, we arrived in Besalú – the next stop on our tour of Catalonia. Without knowing much about my new destination, I could tell it was already trying to lure me in with its arched bridge and the promise of another villa. Could my emotions handle being toyed with yet again? After all, I am a one-pueblo kind of girl.

Upon arrival, the get-to-know-you session was in full swing. Rather than rest, my new pal Marie-Eve and I meandered down the town alleyways with the river as our destination. Stepping out of the confines of the old city wall, the multi-arched bridge revealed itself with the wide riverbed at its feet. A trail of rectangular stepping-stones carefully laid across half the water like the start of an unfinished board game, and I was ready to play.

With the city behind me, and the bridge just ahead, I danced across the stones by myself, water slipping through the cracks and passing all around me. My first fling with the village was exhilarating, but would it last?

After a homemade paella at our villa (said with an ultra-posh accent), we convened in front of the Museum of Miniatures – a destination that, by all accounts, I’d scoff at with a giggle had I traveled to Besalú alone (you know, because these days I hang out at villas and all 😉 ).

miniature ant on a high wire

But what at first seemed like just a series of shoebox-sized dioramas with dolls, turned into laughter and gasping as we stared through magnifying glasses at unexpectedly bizarre images – an umbrella-wielding ant tip-toeing across a high wire, a choo-choo train chugging inside the eye of a needle, an Eiffel Tower smaller than a microscopic insect. Sounds silly, but it was probably the unexpected highlight of the day.

chair in besalu

Besalú still had more quirk up its medieval sleeves, though. Following the museum, we approached a building with peep-hole windows emanating a warm glow, and a peculiar multi-legged chair affixed up high to its side . This was the art gallery and workshop of Kel Domènech – the eccentric furniture creator and self-proclaimed sculptor, cabinet-maker, historian, collector, antique dealer, designer and philosopher (unlike myself – the eater, wanderer, drinker, day-dreamer, generally confused foreigner, and expert on all things chocolate. That’s my official title, actually).

I should mention that there is a bit of a “chair” movement in Besalú. Yeah, a chair movement – or at least that’s what I’m calling it. Allow me to elaborate. Basically, the idea is that in such a beautiful place, one needs time to sit and reflect, thus all these symbolic chairs throughout the city. Between the chairs, Dalí and the Museum of Miniatures, it clear that artistic eccentricity runs in the Catalonian blood.

chair in besalu

Exhausted from the roller coaster of emotions (Girona, Cadaqués, and now Besalú!), we finished our day back at the villa for wine tasting and tortilla, before falling asleep to the sound of the church bells. Sigh, I was in love. But while this was our last pueblo, it wouldn’t be our last villa. The next day, we would head to the countryside for a calçotada – a feast involving onion-like veggies, lots of fire, and wine, of course. Warning: I advise you read my next Catalonia post on a full stomach.

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.

[travelist location=”Besalu, Spain” type=”img” url=””]

March 16, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

Another day, another stop on my European tour – or so it seems. I arrived back in Madrid from Prague late last Thursday night, only to hit the road to Galicia the following day, where we were met with nothing but sunshine and blue skies. Below, a few more iPhone shots from my few days of play in Spain’s northwestern-most region.

This weekend, I’m off to Asturias…

Street in Santiago
Street in Santiago
Streets of Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral
Cabo de Home
Cabo de Home

March 13, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

Before we hit the road and head to Besalú, I want to introduce you to a peculiar little place we stopped by near Girona – Banyoles. It’s got all the pueblo essentials: a Plaza Mayor, sunny terrazas for tapas and café, cute old folks taking paseos. Check, check and check.

I suppose it’s most noteworthy for its lake, which was the rowing location for the ’92 Olympics and also for the World Rowing Championships in 2004. That’s cool.

But there’s one other thing that I think it’s famous for – rather, that I’VE decided it’s famous for: These river thingies (oh my brilliant and vast vocabulary!) lining the streets. They’re like modern-art canals that kiss the city walls and slither around its corners. I became obsessed.

Sure they might just seem like silly water canals running through the city, but they caused my imagination to run wild. Like, how often do kids fall in them? What about the elderly? And do staggering drunks ever take a tumble?

Being the curious question-asker that I am, I fired off an email to my friends (let’s pretend we’re friends) at the tourism office, and sure enough, they satisfied my curiosity.

The “river thingies” are actually called recs, and come from a medieval infrastructure (measuring 33 kilometers in length – oh snap!) originally created to water cultivated land, and eventually to generate factory mills. The artificial versions – that I suppose more or less form the basis for what we see now – were actually created by brilliant Benedictine monks from nearby Monasterio de Sant Esteve sometime after the 9th century. Neato, right?

And as hazardous as they might seem, the recs apparently don’t cause much of a problem. Locals are used to them – in fact, if anything they serve as entertainment for little kiddies who like to splash in them, or simply let their paper boats set sail.

So there you have it. A cute little story about a cute little town and the river (ish) that runs through it.

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.