Travels in Europe

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?

Tulips

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.

Bruges

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.

Grand Place Brussels

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.

Bruges canals

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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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.
boats

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).
Ericeira
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.
Shrimp

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).

beach baby

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.

Mafra

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.

bookstore

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.

 

Gubbio

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?)

Pasta

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.

 

Spello

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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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.


granada
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.
heusca1
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.
aldan
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.
Marques de Riscal Hotel, Frank Gehry
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!

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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