Trips to the US

January 11, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Travel, Trips to the US

“I expected more meth heads,” I told Laura as my trip to New Mexico came to a close. Perhaps I’d watched a touch too much Breaking Bad. After all, you know something’s wrong when you’re slightly disillusioned by the lack of druggies, crack houses and drug cartel violence.

Yep, I went to New Mexico while home for the holidays. When my best high-school friend, Laura, offered to fly me out there to visit her, I couldn’t resist. To prep for my journey, I overdosed on Breaking Bad episodes in hopes of acquainting myself with the region a bit. I got all sorts of amped to see the quirky city of Albuquerque and its, um, eclectic citizens. But, not surprisingly, while the TV show weaves in very real problems faced by New Mexico, there are of course other things that make the state noteworthy. Let’s discuss!

Nature-y goodness

Fans of wide open spaces will find just what they’re looking for in New Mexico – that is, a whole lot of nothing, punctuated by bushes, trees and even some peculiar rock formations.

Laura and I set off to Tent Rock to see some of New Mexico’s nothing, and it was something alright. We trekked between phallic rock formations in alleys carpeted with icy snow. Weaving through the slot canyons bordered by ribbons of rock, and up slippery mountainsides, we nearly tumbled to almost certain death more times than I care to remember. But despite the dicey hike, the journey was spectacular. My only suggestion: save it for less snowy months. And Laura says, during summer, avoid the afternoon, or risk getting swept away in flash floods. Basically, it’s a miracle we made it out alive.

If the Southwest were a company, their brand colors would be terracotta orange, turquoise and light purple, with secondary colors chile-pepper red and canary yellow (my ex-colleagues in branding will appreciate the nerdiness that just happened in that sentence). Shops, restaurants and even some houses all blanket themselves in the signature colors, making for a dazzling site distinct to the region.

I got pretty geeked-out on color (and mailboxes, but that’s another story) during our visit to Madrid. Yep, you read that right, but you probably didn’t say it right. Pronounced Mádrid (emphasis on the “a” as opposed to the “i”, as in the Spanish capital), the little city of just a couple hundred people attracts a hippy and artsy set. During a quick walk down the town’s main drag on Route 14, we got our fill of sculptures, wind chimes and fountains, mostly made from recycled materials. I hear that by night the city brightens with Christmas lights, ensuring a colorful visit no matter the time of day.

Awesome churches

I’ve done my fair share of church spectating. Stained-glass windows, Gothic stonework, Virgin Mary statues, repeat. They’re nice and often pretty breath-taking, but not necessarily awesome. New Mexico changed that for me. Its Catholic complexes marry Europe’s classic style, the Southwest’s vibrant colors, and the US’s love for a little Christmas decor. Overall, far more impressive than I expected them to be, and certainly the most intriguing churches I’ve come across in the US.

The grub
More important than anything else uniquely New Mexican is, of course, the food. But grub – in my world, anyway – is far too precious a subject matter to be squeezed into a blog post like a side of fries. Expect my usual rant on food in next week’s update.

It’s a shame that I didn’t get my fill of crazies in New Mexico – good thing San Francisco never disappoints. And now I’m back in Madrid (Ma-DRID, that is) where I’m dodging pickpockets and street-corner kleenex sellers. I guess I’ve got no shortage of “eclectic” in my life.

January 4, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Travel, Trips to the US

When I travel home, my world comes to a grinding halt. But somehow, time still accelerates and the SF Bay Area becomes the center of the universe. Days fill with jetting around San Francisco, shopping at Stanford, and visits to Whole Foods, where I ooh and ahh over the granola aisle (it really is impressive how many different types of granola exist). I also don’t like to waste my “meal capital” on just any plate of grub. Every meal serves as an opportunity to either eat my favorite Bay Area cuisine – like Vietnamese spring rolls or good sushi – or to try fun new restaurants in the city, which crop up like gourmet weeds in a driveway every time I’m away.

Whirling around in my time vacuum, I somehow manage to escape to make critical visits to see my grandmother in Folsom, or meet up with my dad, like this time, for a few holes of horribly played golf (by me) in California’s Gold Country. Time stops, but flashes forward, and the whole thing ends up feeling like a blurry dream.

Now I’m sitting on a plane headed to Albuquerque to visit my high school best friend. Yeah, Albuquerque, New Mexico – because that totally doesn’t confuse my brain, which is already struggling to adjust to my brief stint back in the US. In what will surely feel like just a few minutes, I’ll be back in Spain, sucking down a plate of jamón, half-wishing it were sushi. Then I will order my two-euro glass of amazing wine, and everything will be right in the world again.

Until then, and until I can mentally process what day it is and where I am, I thought I’d share a couple of pictures I’ve taken on the trip. I hope everyone’s new year is off to a good start!

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Legion of Honor

Street-art spotting in the Mission

Downtown Sutter Creek

Picture I took with my iPhone while having a coffee in my old SF neighborhood (corner of California and Divisadero)

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July 20, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travel, Trips to the US

Announcement: I’m heavily considering giving up my professional pursuits to just dig shellfish. Perhaps I’m not entirely serious, but what is the deal with me and mollusks? I’m kind of obsessed.

Initially, I didn’t have any intentions of shellfishing when heading north of San Francisco to Tomales Bay a couple of weeks ago. But when my friend mentioned sun, picnic, wine and shuck-em-yourself oysters, all decision-making abilities got washed out with the tide. Plus, given my lifetime of summers spent clam digging, and my obsession with the marsicadoras in Galicia, I suppose it was no surprise that I ended up playing with oysters at Hog Island Oyster Company.

And so there I sat, shucking shellfish like it was my job (and I wasn’t half bad at, I must say), washing them down with white wine, hummus and organic cherries. Several oysters and a wicked sunburn later, we headed down the road to the famously quaint restaurant Nick’s Cove. Alone at the bar, the bartender entertained us with magic tricks while we sipped on more wine (making the tricks seem that much more magical, of course). In typical Bay Area fashion, the sun blazed at our picnic location, but just five minutes away at Nick’s, we found ourselves in the middle of a chilly fog bank.

With that, I leave you with some Tomales Bay eye candy. And now, after nearly four weeks in the US, I will return to my regularly scheduled euro blogging (you know – subject matter that includes musings on mullets and Spanish country western fiestas). I do hope I didn’t bore you all these last weeks with too many shots of shellfish and beaches – but really, isn’t the West Coast spectacular???!!!

July 14, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Expat, Spain, Travel, Trips to the US

Who would have thought that a three-week trip back to the States would have me dreading my departure from Spain? I suppose sometime in the last year I crossed a threshold – one in which I became less American and more Spanish.

Whatever the reason, I officially can’t handle being away from my adopted home country for more than a few days. So, in order to buffer the reverse culture shock, I like to sprinkle as much Spanish-ness on my American life as possible. Perhaps you’d like to join?

In order to embrace my inner Spaniard, I employ the following easy-to-implement tactics:

    1. Excessive consumption of Spanish food is essential to my survival. Fortunately, fine-foods grocers seem to have gotten the memo: Spanish cuisine rocks. From olives, to almendras fritas (fried almonds), picos (bread sticks), membrillo (a jam-like substance that, when combined with manchego cheese and bread, is perfection!), tortas de aceite (salty-sweet crackers), olive oil, wine (duh), and MORE cheese – you can find a pretty impressive spread of Spanish grub here in the USA.
    2. I take naps as often as possible. OK, so taking a siesta is by and large unheard of among modern urban-dwelling Spaniards. That said, I consider it my duty to perpetuate the concept on this side of the pond.
    3. Occasionally, I like to linger around all five smokers that still exist in California – just long enough to catch a whiff of cigarette smoke, think of Spain, and then return for fresh air. It’s the simple things that keep me feeling at home.
    4. I frequent Spanish restaurants as much as possible because, let’s face it, socializing is always more fun tapas-style. While I’ve yet to find a legit Spanish restaurant in SF – you know, one that doesn’t serve spicy dishes, hawk tacos, or San Francisco-fy their food – just a slice of dry and bland tortilla española will hold me over.
    5. I order espresso, but not just any espresso – I like to throw in a request for a cup of ice as well. Nothing makes me feel more Euro than a café solo con hielo.
    6. I like to guard my purse and belongings with extreme and unwarranted caution – after all, you never know when a sneaky Spanish pickpocket might come along.

While it’s all fine and well to express my now ultra-Spanish self when in the States, I must remember not to go overboard. Here, the list of things that I must constantly fight the urge to do:

    1. Bumping into cars while blindly parallel parking – so easy, so effective, so fun, but also apparently so not acceptable in the US. That, along with cutting people off, not using my blinker, and avoiding basic traffic laws.
    2. I’m constantly tempted to throw trash on the ground at bars and restaurants as a part of my continued commitment to Spanish tradition. I guess that’s frowned upon here, however. Darn.
    3. I do my very best not to pronounce WiFi “”wee-fee” – as the Spaniards do. It just rolls off the tongue better, though, don’t you think? Weeeeee-feeeeeeee.
    5. 20% tipping? That’s outrageous! Particularly when I’m used to giving only my spare change. But because I don’t like being blacklisted by waiters and bartenders, I try to leave my small tipping habits in Europe.
    6. More than once I’ve tried to pay people in euros. If they were smart, they would take the money and run – after all it’s worth more – but so far everyone seems pretty adamant about sticking with dollars.
    7. And the number one thing I need to stop doing: greeting people by kissing them on the cheek. Every time I come home, I accidentally try to kiss at least a few folks, always resulting in me awkwardly justifying why I almost planted one on them.

Inevitably, just when I get used to all of these silly adjustments, it will be time for me to return to Spain and adapt to the reverse, reverse culture shock. For weeks to come, I’ll be paying people in dollars, dodging kisses, and picking up trash on restaurant floors. Ahh, the life of an expat.

July 5, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Travel, Trips to the US

Vashon Island, just a ferry’s ride away from Seattle, is and always will be my ultimate sanctuary. Frozen in time, nothing ever really changes there – not the landscape, not the picture-perfect sunsets, not the row of stationary bikes taking in the view of the water, not even my 92-year-old grandma. Vashon somehow seems like a parallel universe where everything slows down and moves with the tide. In fact, I often spend my days there measuring the hours based on the shifting sea. Relaxation is inevitable.

I’m thinking pictures might get the point across a tad better than words, so without further ado, here’s handful of shots from my recent trip.

Never a dull sunset.

Clams I dug from my grandparents’ beach. I’m pretty much a professional clam-digger.

Peonies in the garden.

I moved the crab’s rock. He wasn’t happy about this.

Ukulele lessons – the strum-in is tempting, but I think I’ll pass.

Life ring or peace sign?