The story of how I ended up in Spain is a rather serendipitous one – let’s just say that a 15 minute conversation in a bar in Spain changed my life. Over five years later, I no longer live in San Francisco, but in Madrid with that same Spaniard with whom I had that brief conversation. And I am living the adventure of a lifetime. We travel nearly every weekend, whether it be a short drive to somewhere near Madrid, or some place much farther.

My blogs, which started as somewhat of a diary for myself (my excuse for some ultra-poor writing in the early days), and an effort to keep my family up to speed on the latest, have become more of a chronicle of all the amazing adventures to be had in Spain and beyond. With so many friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends, visiting Spain, I’ve found myself delighting in the opportunity to share everything I know about Spain so that future visitors may have the same enchanting experience that I’ve been fortunate enough to have myself. So that’s why I started this site – to share my journey and also to gather the restaurant recommendations, the recipes, the secret spots, and so on, making them available for everyone who wants to know. I am very lucky to have such a wonderful, knowledgeable and proud host – my husband – who has eagerly introduced me to a million new places, traditions, foods, wines, and more – I thank him, and look forward to passing on these experiences to you.

And if you’re curious about the name “la tortuga viajera” – tortuga, or turtle, is a nick name I inherited from my husband.  Basically, because I have rods in my back from a corrective surgery, I can’t always get up easily when I’m on my back.  Yeah, ha ha.  Anyway, since turtles travel carrying their homes on their backs, “the traveling turtle” somehow seemed fitting.  So there you have it!

If you would like to read more about how my story came to be, below (and on the following pages) you will find a collection of my more personal blog posts.

July 16, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Traditions

In the spirit of keeping my blog updated, I thought I would add another to mark a couple of big events in the past week.

First, and most momentous, is the completion of all of my residency crap (sorry Dad, I know you don’t like that word). It’s been a long year of paperwork and running around to a ton of different places only to find out that you’ve probably just spent a bunch of money and time on the wrong thing and will have to go hunt it down elsewhere. It’s involved consulates, finger prints, background checks, transcript verifications, lawyers, medical verifications, notaries, employment verifications, a million photos, a trillion stamps on everything you can think of, and the list really does go on (and keep in mind, that for each of these steps, you need to probably multiply by five because that’s how many times we had to do each thing). What’s amazing, is that despite how complicated it’s been, for me it has probably been as smooth and quick as one could hope for. I know too many people here who are living here illegally only because being able to make it through this process has been too impossible for them. In fact, I’ve never met anyone here who has actually completed the process within just one year. I owe it largely to Jacob who was so persistent and would research everything to death so that we knew exactly what our marching orders were. That, and that we really were able to divide and conquer – me running around like crazy in the States during each of my trips, and him here meeting with lawyers and stalking various agencies.

Anyway, it’s been a long, ugly, messy year, but finally I am super legal, and will be until at least March of next year when I have to go through the process again (not the whole thing – thank goodness).

The next big occasion was a wedding which we attended on Saturday – the first actual wedding that I have been to here in Spain. Many things similar, many things different….and after spending so much time with weddings (doing flowers and planning), I was of course particularly “observant.” Let’s just say, the bride was beautiful, the food was AMAZING, and the party was like none we would ever have in the States.

April 5, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Traditions

Not living in the States makes me just that much more eager to celebrate our traditions and share them with people here. So when my mom gave me an Easter egg coloring kit before I left for Spain last time, I was very excited. It only seemed natural to share the experience my friend Heather, who is also from the States. Then I figured that it might be just a bit more fun with kids involved (well, and how would Heather and I hide and find the Easter eggs with just two of us!?).

So today we went over to Jacobo’s sister’s house where a slew of family and neighborhood children would join us. Before we could do so though, we went on a massive hunt trying to find white eggs – in fact when Jacobo called one of the biggest grocery store here asking if they had white versus brown eggs, they actually hung up on him thinking that he was playing a joke. So, two lessons learned – 1) apparently white eggs are not very common here and 2) brown eggs, while not ideal, suffice.

After a nice lunch of a delicious beef stew that Jacobo had made, we began the egg decorating. The kids were of course in heaven, begging for “las inglesas,” or the English women (they were close enough right?), to show them how to decorate the eggs. We decorated 18 eggs….well, we thought it was 18. When we were finishing up with the egg decorating, one of the kids brought Heather and me a couple more eggs. We thought we’d just missed them, so we proceeded to decorate them as we did with the others. So, make that 20 eggs.

Later, we hid all the eggs outside and the kids eagerly went in search of them (unfortunately we didn’t have any baskets, so plastic bags had to suffice). All the kids were proudly showing off their bags of eggs when we noticed that one of the little girls seemed to have a bag full of liquid. Apparently she had a raw egg. We’re not sure exactly how or where she managed to find those two extra raw eggs, but it sure was funny. Smart kids.

We all had such a good time that we’ve already decided that we’ll be doing it again next year….but with more eggs, make that white eggs, and baskets.

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

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for me. I spent a good portion of my time in the Bay Area running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to get all the darn visa stuff taken care of. And yes, in case you weren’t certain, and because I know you were all wondering, I am officially not a drug addict, mentally insane, or a felon…these are all things I had to have verified in order to obtain my visa from the Spanish Consulate in San Francisco.

The trip home was wonderful though, as usual of course. I OD’ed on sushi and Vietnamese spring rolls, which was really the only smart and logical thing to do. On Friday, my colleague at work in Madrid suggested sushi, which basically horrified me – considering I was burnt out on yummy SF sushi, the thought of Madrid wannabe (fairly positive I haven’t used that word since the early 90s) sushi basically sounded like a crime. We went to my favorite California cuisine restaurant instead….ironic, I know.

Arriving back to Madrid is always bittersweet, and this last time was no different. It definitely helped though that the weather here has been just insanely wonderful. Better than in CA for sure. We spent last weekend roaming through Retiro Park (something we love to do rain, shine or snow), and even took a day trip about an hour out of Madrid yesterday with a group of people to a darling little pueblo nestled up against a lake. It was there that we had a traditional lunch in a rustic little cabin-like restaurant right on the lake. What a treat!

Now it’s back to work again, and back to trying to finish up all the visa stuff. I am about 95% of the way there, but there are still some last things that need to be done here. But, I am at least legal at this point! My days of rebellion are over. Shoot, I am even driving legally now (with my fancy AAA international driver’s permit) – this is no fun!

I have to end this blog on a somber note – while I was home I learned of the sudden passing of a dear friend named Katie Marsh. I worked with Katie at Perfect Petals (a family friend’s flower business where I learned pretty much everything I know about flowers), where Katie was the boutinierre/corsage guru. I simply can’t think of a memory of Katie in which she wasn’t smiling or laughing. She was just such a happy, joyful person to be around. She leaves behind two sons, one of which is exactly my age – Katie and I always used to chuckle about how I literally stole her son’s birthday because my mom took the hospital appointment for my delivery that Katie wanted for her delivery – thus her son was born the morning after me. Katie and her sunny spirit will be very missed.

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November 30, 2008 - Posted by Erin in Traditions

Thanksgiving Thursday came and went – it was so weird to spend the day just like any other day. I was a bit sad about it so Jacob met me for lunch and we decided to go to the local California cuisine restaurant – and sure enough they had a special Thanksgiving menu! It absolutely made my day!

While I was unable to properly celebrate Thanksgiving on the actual day, I had made plans to have people over on Saturday so that I could introduce the holiday to all of our friends here. We were expecting 10 people to come over and share in the special holiday.

And guess what, I did it! I can officially say that I’ve made Thanksgiving dinner. Jacob and I managed to pull off making a gigantic turkey (22 pounds/10 kilos!!), stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin pie and gingerbread cookies. I would have done cranberry sauce, but believe it or not, cranberries are yet another one of those things that are impossible to find here – cranberries and blueberries actually have the exact same name in Spanish, as if they taste remotely the same!!? And sage, apparently they don’t do sage here either. Someone remind me to buy some when I come home for the holidays.

The craziness began Friday night when I decided I would first conquer the desserts – pie and cookies. I had brought ingredients from the States for both, so they were super easy. Desserts – done.

Saturday morning we began with the stuffing (no, I wasn’t adventurous enough to actually stuff the turkey). I had to do without the sage, but made do with other herbs. With the stuffing done, we moved onto the mashed potatoes. We peeled and diced them and then made a quick run to Starbucks and the gym to take a break.

We returned from the gym to get the turkey started and finish off the potatoes. The turkey was just plain huge, any bigger and it wouldn’t have fit in the oven. Covered in oil, herbs and spices, we managed to squeeze it into the oven. At which time we finished up the garlic mashed potatoes, and then just waited for guests to arrive. And by the way – shame on me for not buying a turkey baster in the States – the only one I could find here cost 17.50 Euros!!! I swear I saw a package of two for $1.99 at Safeway before I left…I’m kicking myself now.

So the turkey took like 4+ hours – good thing Spaniards don’t mind eating late. I don’t think we were eating until probably 11:00. Before everything was ready though, I had to make the gravy, which ended up being the most difficult thing of all. Our kitchen is a bit small (I think it’s about the size of my closet in SF…OK, maybe a little bigger, but not by much!) so between Jacob trying to acquaint himself with the turkey, and me trying to figure out how the heck to make gravy, it just got messy (literally and figuratively). I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say that all’s well that ends well! Every last thing turned out perfectly – even the gravy! And while last night the kitchen was a disaster zone of turkey juice and flower, this morning it is finally clean and completely sanitized (I hope!).

And now my friends I have to go to Bucharest, so I can’t even enjoy the massive amount of turkey leftovers :(. It was as good as a Thanksgiving could get though given that I am so far from home. Everyone here loved the food so much and is anxious to do it all again. I am glad that I could share such a special holiday with such great people in such an amazing place.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving as well. Just a couple more weeks and I’ll be home again for the holidays – can’t wait!

October 27, 2008 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine

Another week gone by here in Madrid – this week was all about recovery from the last couple of weeks which were jam packed with stuff. It was still quite busy though. Each night during the week I had to head off somewhere, which meant a lot of time with my new car and a lot of time getting more used to the crazy driving in Madrid. Thank goodness I have GPS on my BlackBerry, otherwise I would never make it anywhere (and would have quite possibly hit a few things and/or a few people – knock on wood).

Saturday was a busy day full of running errands. I actually managed to find an American hairdresser here that is from San Francisco. I trekked to her salon and managed to get yelled at by some crazy drug addict because my car door was open for about five seconds and apparently in the way of her needed 20 feet of sidewalk space to meander back and forth – good news is that my trusty boyfriend has taught me my fighting words, so I didn’t take the crazy woman’s words without giving her a piece of my mind too. Don’t mess with me!

That aside, the trip to the hairdresser was a nice break as I had a chance to reminisce about home and commiserate about the trials of living in this new city (apparently finding brown sugar has been an obstacle for her too). Oh – and she referred me to American dentist…it’s these little things that get me excited!

Sunday was a beautiful day – probably about 75 degrees, with a San Francisco-like chill in the air. We started our day by going to a cata de quesos – a cheese tasting! Yep, we tasted a whole bunch of cheeses (with wine too!). It was delicious, although I think I may still be full.

After the cheese tasting we decided to head to Retiro Park to enjoy the beautiful weather. There is a lake in the middle of the park with boats for rent – a must-do in Madrid that I’ve somehow never done! So we got ourselves a boat and rowed around on the lake for a bit just enjoying the sun. It was a perfect way to enjoy the day.

Ah yes, and apparently Saturday night was day light savings time here in Spain, but Jacob and I had zero clue until today…thankfully our BlackBerries had updated for us and we were right on schedule all day yesterday and today. I must admit though that I am rather disappointed that I didn’t get to savor that extra hour. Too late now!

I have a busy couple of weeks ahead of me, but more to come on that later. Happy Halloween to everyone!