Travel

July 14, 2015 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

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Baklava. What could the syrupy, nut-ified, largely Middle Eastern treat (that I’ve confessed my undying love to) have to do with Barcelona? Oh something, alright.

 

And I’ll get to that, but first let’s back up to a couple of months ago, when I set off to Costa Brava for a conference. Wanting to maximize my kid-free visit to the region, I decided to spend some extra time in the big seaside city.

 

Barcelona and I have this weird relationship, though. I’ve been there countless times, at least three of which were on my own. Though I’m a big fan of solo travel — the way it empowers me and heightens my senses — it changes how I experience a place, particularly when it comes to food. Perhaps you can imagine how you might not bravely elbow your way up to a packed bar, or sit down for a long meal across from an empty chair. Sometimes you will, but sometimes you won’t, and, when you do, it will be different than if you were with someone else. Still great, but different.

 

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My first trip to Barcelona, in 2006, was a solo trip

Indeed, Barcelona and I have had a lot of solo meals together. So when I recently went back to the city – alone, again – I decided to work on our weird relationship. I’d join a food tour. Me, Barcelona, other people, and food. Perfect!

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It would be a Devour Barcelona Food Tour, to be exact — and for good reason. You might remember that I joined their Madrid tour a while back, a euphoric experience that had me high on Madrid life and local cuisine. Naturally, having the opportunity to do so in Barcelona was a no-brainer.

 

So come along with me (virtually) as I flash back to my foodie bonding session with Barcelona, which, believe it or not, has something to do with baklava.

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First we set off to sample this sausage-y sandwich. Don’t be fooled by its less-than-impressive appearance, though. That meat you see there is called butifarra, a specialty of the region of Catalonia, and which tastes like heaven when heated up and served atop a fresh baguette that has been rubbed all up and down with tomato.

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Then we went to the Mercat de l’Albaceria Central, the Gracia neighborhood’s central market, and a less-touristy alternative to Barcelona’s fan-favorite La Boqueria. This market epitomizes all things local, from the people, to the fresh-from-the-nearby-sea fish, and of course the ready-to-be-devoured eats (like this fatty platter of cheese and fruity membrillo).

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At our next stop, we sampled one of Barcelona’s most signature and storied tapas, the bomba. It’s probably not that hard to imagine why this could possibly be called a “bomb” — I mean, look at that thing! But there is more to its name than just the fact that it’s a spicy and flavor-packed fried ball of calories. The culinary creation was concocted in the 1920s to represent the anarchist attitude of the times, thus the tapa resembles a bomb both visually and in terms of its explosive flavor. BOOM.

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And behold: the moment you’ve been waiting for (or was that just me?): the BAKLAVA.

Baklava

No, you aren’t imagining things — baklava is not a Spanish or Catalan creation. But this is the part that I especially love about this tour: that it featured a food speciality created by one of the city’s esteemed immigrants, who forms an integral part of the community here.

 

(Also, it’s baklava, so I really don’t even need a beautiful backstory to justify why its inclusion is awesome.)

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At this point I was in a baklava stupor (which might have contributed to the fact that I bought a whole extra to-go tray of it, which I swear I could hear calling my name from the bag, just begging me to eat more). But there was more non-baklava food to be had, like this fuet-topped bread with a side of pickled anchovies, both meant to be washed down with that glass filled with dense, red vermouth.

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Then there were these meatballs swimming in some magical sauce along with perfectly tender garbanzos. But honestly, my mind was still on the baklava.

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Finally, we moved on to our last stop, a sweet little cafe-meets-bakery. And just when I thought I might have to excuse myself to go to the bathroom for a baklava binge, these little guys came along. Called cremats, the chilled slices of poundcake-like goodness came topped with a dollop of crema catalana (similar to creme brulee). Between the texture, temperature and hypnotizingly delicious flavor, I quickly tuned out the call of my beloved, stored-away baklava. I’d found a new love.

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Well, until I left and hopped on the bus to my conference, at which point I cracked open that box and — among new friends and no longer alone — nearly polished off the entire thing. Indeed, I’d finally forged that missing bond with Barcelona, and this time with good company, and, of course, baklava.

 

 

*Full disclosure: Devour Barcelona Food Tours generously invited me along as a guest on this excursion. Tasty food is sacred to me, so rest assured that my rave reviews are legit.

**If you’re keen to join the tour, note that this post hasn’t even covered all of the amazing foods we tried and stops we visited! 

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June 10, 2015 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travel, Travel with kids, Travels in Europe

Allow me to take your nose on a journey. Close your eyes and imagine a waft of scents made up of melting chocolate, freshly made waffles, and the crispness of rain drops on spring flower petals. It’s a paradise of smells, wouldn’t you agree?

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Where have your nose and I taken you? If you haven’t guessed it already, you’ve been transported to Belgium, what I’ve decided is the world’s best smelling country.

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I recently visited Belgium with my toddler, husband, and mom in tow. It was my first introduction to this magically fragranced country — a country that also happens to be a feast for the eyes too.

Grand Platz

Our trip there took us first to Brussels, with its terrace-filled alleys and chocolate-dominated window displays. We marveled at the dazzling rainbow of lights that illuminated the Grand Place by night, and then marveled just the same at the rainbow of flowers that blanketed the cobbled square by morning.

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Brussels alleyways

A quick train ride brought us to Bruges, a canal-lassoed town that is crossed by a web of waterways. It’s one of those walkable places that requires no map; just a desire to get lost as you fall in love with the scenery around you, and become hypnotized by the ever-present smell of deliciousness.

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Bruges Grand Place

Deliciousness that includes more than just sweets: we’re talking mussels, pomme frites, and, of course, beer, TONS of beer — all things (chocolate included) that I was too busy consuming to be preoccupied by taking pictures of them. Let’s be real: between kid wrangling, starvation, and an enthusiastic passion for food, the whole “wait, let me get a picture first” approach was pretty much thrown out the Belgian window.

Belgian waffle

But today (on this day when I’ve finally polished off my last Belgian truffle, sigh), I don’t need pictures to remind me of how lovely Belgium is or how divine it tastes. Just the thought of its mesmerizing smells takes me there — and I hope it does for you too.

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February 26, 2015 - Posted by Erin in Madrid, Spain, Travel, Travel with kids, Travels in Spain

After seven years of living in Madrid, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that Chinchón might be my very favorite day trip (despite the awkward memories). All the others — Toledo, Segovia, Ávila — they’re lovely, but they lack a certain intimacy, perhaps because of their larger size or maybe due to all the tourists. But Chinchón, it’s got chispa, a spark.

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You see, it feels like a legitimate pueblo, the oval-shaped, sand-covered plaza home to bull fights and donkey rides. It’s got a castle (though in ruins and not open to the public) and a cute little tangle of hilly streets.

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And this amazing thing happens during the winter on cloudless days: when the sun shines down, it hits the plaza’s eastern-facing terrazas just so, such that the pavement below the tables warms up. Suddenly, despite Madrid’s frigid temperatures, you feel as though you’ve been dropped right into the middle of spring. 

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Nico approves of it too. Already a social butterfly, he toddles around, making friends with locals, which includes both people and donkeys.

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Local products? Chinchón’s got it covered. The village is noted for its fragrant specialties including garlic and anís, an anise-flavored liqueur.

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Adorable right? Served with a glass of red wine or a cold beer (or even some anís, I suppose), and a spread of tapas, Chinchón is, in my book, the perfect pueblo. It doesn’t have the flash of Segovia’s Alcázar or the jumble of tiny twisting streets found in Toledo, but it is the kind of place you’ll want to go back to again and again.

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October 1, 2014 - Posted by Erin in Travel, Travel with kids, Travels in Europe

We pretty much picked our summer holiday destination out of a hat. Sure, we’d narrowed it down to Portugal, but that was about it. Jacobo thinks he saw Ericeira on some list of best villages around the world, and with that (and minimal internet research) we decided to go for it. Basically, the chances of this being a dicey, weeklong trip to a random Portuguese town were pretty high.
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We gambled and we won though. This sweet little fishing-town-cum-surf-hotspot won us over instantly with its sparkly white cobbled streets and ever-present blue and white buildings. Ericeira hovers on the edge cliffs that give way to a half-moon-shaped beach fringed by rocky tide pools. In fact, this fishing village is so legit that one morning we watched three old men wade through the cold Atlantic waters, using long sticks to skim the undersides of large boulders. One of them — wearing shorts, a tee and sneakers — swiftly caught an octopus and proceeded to lob it to death on the surrounding rocks (as one does).
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It’s the kind of town where it was small enough that after a few days we felt like locals, but big enough that we could try a new restaurant each day. And try we did. We spent lunchtimes keeping the fishermen in business by eating all manner of seafood, from clams to shrimp and goose barnacles. Then we spent evenings on our apartment terrace snacking on local cheeses and indulging on plates of grilled sardines and cod baked to order from the restaurants just downstairs.
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Though I would have been perfectly content just eating my way through the week in this little piece of Portuguese paradise, we did do other things. One day was spent at the beach…well, that was the plan anyway. The idea of lounging in the sand all day ended up only lasting an hour when we discovered the water was frigid cold, and Nico discovered that he was over it (as he generally does after about 15-20 minutes of anything).

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But there were day-trips to be had too: Lisbon sits just south (about 40 minutes by car), as do other popular coastal destinations, Cascais and Sintra. We’d visited each of these places previously, so instead just paid a well-worth-it, quick visit to Lisbon.

LisbonWe also popped over to nearby Mafra, a delightful enough town that sits in the shadow of a giant – like GIANT – palace.

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But our favorite day-trip was easily Óbidos, a darling, walled-in village, covered in a tangle of fuchsia-colored bougainvillea vines, and also home to the raddest little bookshop-meets-local-produce-stand.

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I guess every once and awhile a total lack of research can pay off — it can land you in the perfect little Portuguese town, where you spend your days soaking up local culture, and your evenings sipping on local wine as you watch the sunset from your balcony. I don’t think we’ll probably be so impulsive the next time around, but I’m glad that in this case we had just followed our gut.

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August 18, 2014 - Posted by Erin in Travel, Travel with kids, Travels in Europe

I know, I know — I’ve totally fallen off the radar these last months. But, seriously, the baby.


As I mentioned in my last post, motherhood is, well, INTENSE. I mean, let’s be honest, I’m lucky if I remember deodorant on a daily basis, so making it around to blogging falls somewhere much farther down the totem pole — somewhere after personal hygiene, but apparently before picking up the pile of clothes in my closet that I can’t seem to find the time to hang up. Priorities, people.


Despite the chaos of motherhood, though, it seems the universe insists that I travel. And, of course, I’ve been happy to oblige.

 

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Embarking on travel again took a bit of bravery…and so did riding this little cage thing up the mountainside of Gubbio, with Nico

You see, a few months back, when Nico was only a couple of months old, and I was at the height of my “WTF” phase (does that ever end? Seriously, does it?), a friend of a friend approached me for some marketing advice on her new startup. One thing led to another, and I ended up joining as a partner and co-founder of her already-budding venture called Our Whole Village, a travel company centered around cultural immersion for families.


And I’m fairly certain I couldn’t have dreamt up a more perfect opportunity to fall in my lap: travel, family, marketing, cultural immersion, and even a dash of writing. (Perhaps it wasn’t the best timing, but who am I to argue with the universe?)

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Part of our Italian cultural immersion involved us sinking our fingers and teeth into all things pasta

It’s because of this new endeavor that Nico and I recently set off for a week in Umbria, Italy, during which we stayed at a rural villa, and lived the farm-to-table lifestyle in between day trips to towns such as Perugia, Gubbio and Spello.

 

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A flower-filled alley in Spello

Though tiring (very tiring given that I was traveling alone with my little guy), the weeklong journey through the Umbrian hills — making pasta, hunting truffles, and wine tasting (yes, wine tasting) — opened my eyes to the fact that transformational travel so isn’t over for me. In fact, I think it’s just beginning. And that’s not only because I’m discovering that all sorts of travel are possible with a little person tow, but that so much of travel is even better when you’re experiencing it through the eyes of a youngster. Who knew?

 

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Nico knows how to travel comfortably

So, as I set off for another trip (to Portugal!), I hope I’ll fall back onto your radar as I share my upcoming travels.


But hygiene first, readers, so let’s see how things play out.

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