Travel

November 26, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

A year and half ago I spent eight nights sleeping in Camino hostels: these clearly weren’t my best hotel experiences in Spain. In fact, that was the first and probably last time that I will be roughin’ it backpacker-style (until my next Camino rendezvous, anyway).


Why? Well, although I consider myself a very low-maintenance traveler, I’m pretty much crazy high-maintenance when it comes to my lodging (cleanliness, vibe, location — I’m flipping neurotic about it). So, being the picky hotel-selector that I am, I’ve decided that I ought to put all of my madness to good use and share with you some of my favorite hotels across Spain.


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Casa Morisca Hotel, Granada
After staying at various questionable (and over-priced) establishments during my visits to Granada, I finally happened upon this one thanks to a recommendation from a friend. Indeed, in a city full of tourists, it can be hard to find lodging with charm that remains untainted by the masses — but then there’s Casa Morisca. The house-turned-hotel dates back to the 15th century and recalls those times when the Moors occupied a healthy chunk of Iberia (creating magical places like the Alhambra!). And while restored, all the rooms are different, each still maintaining old-world details such as intricate wood-carved ceilings and interior access via a riad-style patio. While I haven’t been back to Granada in a couple of years, you can bet this is where I’ll be staying whenever I return.
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Casa de San Martín, Huesca
This off-the-grid (seriously) piece of paradise is what motivated me to write this post. Previously an abbey, the hotel is located at the end of a five-kilometer gravel road that takes twenty minutes to carefully navigate. It may be remote, but the drive is worth it, as the hotel is a perfect mixture of antiquity and pure lodging luxury. The grounds are impeccably landscaped and the service as good as it gets. Even better: since you probably won’t be too keen to make that off-road excursion back to civilization for dinner, you can stick around at the hotel, where the multi-course meals are lavishly rustic, just like the setting itself.
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A Casa de Aldán, Galicia
Once a fishery, this hotel is situated along the quiet waters of the Rias Baixas fishing village of Aldán. The rural lodging is an understated mishmash of weather-worn granite and modern cedar-wood detailing. Marry that with bedrooms of humble white linens, miniature porthole-like views of the small bay, and a sprinkling of local restaurants that serve morning-caught seafood, and you’ve got yourself the perfect Galician getaway. In fact, I loved it so much during my first visit that I returned once again simply for the pleasure of staying in such a sweet hotel and in one of Spain’s sweetest little spots.
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Marqués de Riscal, La Rioja
Yeah, and then there’s Marqués de Riscal, which practically drips indulgence; the only “rustic” things about this place are the winery’s old bodegas, and the views of Elciego village. Ranked up there among the world’s most luxurious hotels, expect this lodging experience to come with an appropriately hefty price, though. But doggonit, the place is pure magic, so much so that I convinced my mother to return there with me last February; a trip that I’m fairly certain was her favorite of all her annual journeys to Spain. But really, between the wine, the luxury, the Michelin star-rated food, and the surrounding La Rioja region, how can you go wrong? You just can’t.


So now it’s your turn: What have your best hotel experiences been? And even better, what have been the best ones in Spain or even Madrid? I’m always looking for good recommendations!

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July 31, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Books, Expat, Travel

Allow me to interrupt our regularly scheduled (albeit sporadic) programming to bring you an especially pride-filled post about my “soul friend,” Candace.

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You remember her: We bonded on the chilly streets of Copenhagen, we ran in the rain through the hills on the Camino, and we walked the final precious steps to the foot of the Taj Mahal. She’s the kind of friend that I’ve not managed to spend that much physical time with, and yet feel like I’ve known for a lifetime.


But today I want to talk about her passion for sketching, which began long ago, slowly becoming a bigger part of her life, and somehow mine too. Indeed, as I recently immersed myself in a late spring-cleaning of my house, I realized that her sketches – and really adventures, even our adventures – stared back at me from my office bulletin board: an ethereal gaze at the Santiago Cathedral; a thank you note after we both played and worked in San Francisco; a welcome sign for my arrival to New Delhi. Like memories, her art captures these journeys like distant cozy dreams.
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Of course she hasn’t just been capturing our journeys (only a mere twinkle in her universe of travel stars), but also her other nonstop adventures, from the Valley of Roses in Morocco to the shores of Fewa Lake in Nepal. And she recently took her passion one step further, too, with a mission to sketch her way across Southeast Asia and Japan. In doing so, she recorded her experiences with a pen and paintbrush, bringing them to life in both words and drawings, and ultimately publishing them in her new book Beneath the Lantern’s Glow. I’ve read every word of it and day dreamed over each of the images, and hope you will too by grabbing your own copy here.
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As I write this, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by the funny ways the world works: At this moment, she sits across from me as we both work and watch the gentle tide roll in at my favorite place on earth, Vashon Island. Yep, our paths have magically crossed again. From around the world and back, we now celebrate another adventure, the ones to come, and surely the images that her paintbrush will conjure up along the way.


More to come on all of that soon, though. Until then, I return you to my unpredictable schedule of posts about Spain and beyond.

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July 11, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

I can’t stop staring at my cell phone with its wallpaper taunting me to go back. A lighthouse stretches out into the sea, waves crash into craggy rocks, and sunrays bathe a sloping cliff of green, with promise of warmth despite the chilly waters.

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Sigh, Cudillero. Even more “sigh” right now as the mercury in Madrid has danced around 100ºF for more days than I can remember, and will continue to for as long as my iPhone weather forecast wishes to reveal. I positively long for that chilly marine breeze and the sound of seagulls.


And I’m embarrassed, because I realize that I haven’t really even told you about this northern paradise, this pueblo of perfection, this new favorite Spanish place of mine (and that’s not hyperbole; I mean it, I really do).

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Imagine a fishermen’s village, idyllic, with a jagged colorful skyline of buildings that brushes up against the sea just as the waves do against the shore. The whole village funnels and weaves toward the water like a giant luge, as if everything that matters must lead to the sea.
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It probably used to, and still very much does, but in this northern Asturian town of some 6,000 people the industry these days has become more about tourism and agriculture than it is about the sea. That said, during my visit, I saw few tourists – just a pilgrim here and there, slogging the ups and downs of the Camino de la Costa.
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But what really makes little Cudillero so special is that, apart from its obvious charm, there’s just something magnetic about the way the town cradles and almost cuddles the sea, like an auditorium to eternity. It’s the kind of place that begs for you to stop and dream, and mostly to come back.
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Fortunately, while Cudillero might not be in my future again any time soon, that doesn’t mean that an ocean escape isn’t. Next week I head to San Francisco then north to Seattle and Vashon Island, where I’ll be free of these Spanish temperatures and get a healthy dose of home — marine air, seagulls and all.

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June 4, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

Oh dear. Do you still remember me? The deep passion for tortilla española? The adventures with sheep? The cheese, ohhh, the manchego cheese!?! Yes, it’s me Tortuga Viajera, and I know, it’s been a little while.


After a couple of weeks of silence, though, I’m back, and (sort of) have an excuse: my father recently came to visit me in Spain. During his nearly two-week trip, we traveled up north, weaving in and out of the regions of Asturias and Cantabria, and covered ground here in Madrid, heading to places like El Escorial and the Valley of the Fallen. We ate, we saw, we ate some more, and then my dad finally got food poisoning (because apparently this runs in the family). Overall, though, it was a magical a trip. And here are some of the photos to prove it.

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The seaside town of Cudillero, where I will live one day. Promise.
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The Cudillero lighthouse.
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The world’s best arroz con leche – EVER!!! – from Restaurante Isabel in Cudillero. See that mess drizzled on top? That, my foodie friend, was sugary syrup burnt to form a crusty layer of magic atop the tapioca-textured concoction. It was a miracle in my mouth.
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I present you with extreme fishing at Cabo Vidio. Shortly after this, the guy left his two poles propped up on the ledge and left. We still can’t figure out his strategy. Seriously, can someone tell me how the fish he’s apparently catching don’t yank the pole straight out into the ocean? Really, I want to know.
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The view of the Picos de Europa from just above the mountain village of Cahecho, and after an uber-Cantabrian lunch of cocido montañes at Casa Lamadrid (well worth the car sickness-inducing drive, should you be in these parts).
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A backroad in the Cantabrian village of Potes. Not a bad place to get lost during a countryside stroll.
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On our final night, we slept in the 30-person village of Bárcena Mayor. We stayed at the only open hotel (if you can even call it that) in town and were their only guests.
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Blooming flowers in the gardens behind the El Escorial Monastery. Spring and summer have been trying to make an appearance here in Spain, but it’s been slow going.

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May 9, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travel

How to get food poisoning? Be me. Truly, that’s practically all. But let me back up a little bit.

 

I get food poisoning like every five minutes. OK, obviously not that often, but at least once every few months (not exaggerating, unfortunately). I also happen to be a professional at getting it when absolutely no one else does. I’ve got a weak stomach, what can I say.

 

This became ever so evident to me again on my trip last week to Chipiona in Cádiz, Spain, where, among seven people, Jacobo (also Mr. Sensitive Tummy) and I were the only two to fall victim to some bizarre food bug.

 

Rookie mistake in Morocco: After eating this dish with fresh veggies I spent a day in bed instead of a day on the beach in Essaouira.

So, you ask, why then, Tortuga, are you in any position to give advice? Because, when I play it smart, I don’t get sick. Like, for example, when I went to a place where almost everyone — everyone — get’s sick, and yet I didn’t: India! And that’s because I employed the following tummy-bug-avoiding tricks (disclaimer: while my extensive knowledge may fool you ;), I am by no means a doctor!):

 

      1.During the month before travel, take probiotics. Those are the fancy little pills that carry tons of different healthy bacterias that help make your tummy stronger at fighting off dicey food.
      2.During the month before traveling, eat yogurt. Prior to going to India, I ate Greek yogurt every morning to, again, build up healthy bacteria in my tummy.
      3.In developing countries, avoid consuming fresh water at all costs. That means no ice cubes, no tap water for brushing your teeth, and beware of fresh-water-based food items (like, for example, in India, I stayed away from chutney).
      4.In developing countries, avoid eating fresh vegetables (potentially poorly washed and/or washed with fresh water) unless you really trust the source.
      5.In developing countries, or if eating questionably intense cuisine, consider taking a medicine (only while traveling) that helps coat your tummy, giving it an extra layer of defense. Consult your doctor or pharmacist to see if and what they recommend.

     

    Unfortunately, these tricks mostly only work for occasional travel — I’ll be darned if I’m going to consume (expensive) probiotics on a daily basis, or regularly avoid fresh water or vegetables (which, to clarify, is not a concern here at all in Spain). So, of course, I still get sick. But to avoid ruining a big trip, especially in developing countries, these should be your weapons against spending more time in the bathroom than you do sight seeing. And of course, try to avoid being me.

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