Trips to the US

September 15, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain, Trips to the US

What is your favorite place on the planet? When approached with this question for a Lonely Planet BlogSherpa Carnival, I couldn’t really imagine how to sift through the heap of awesome places that started flickering through my brain. My favorite place to live? To visit? To eat? So many locations flash into my mind, and surely yours too. Last month it would have been Halong Bay, Vietnam. Last week I would have probably said any Spanish terraza willing to serve me my beloved tinto de verano, a plate of manchego cheese and some gazpacho. And then growing up, my choice would have been Vashon Island, Washington – that weird little island where I built some solid clam digging skills. But of all time? I suppose a couple of places do stand out – two places that tickle all my senses and make me feel like I’m frozen in a dream.

Let me start by taking you on a journey to the first location. It’s a very precise spot in the best city ever (I’m only slightly partial) – San Francisco of course!!! This little spot can be found on the water side of Broderick Street, right before you reach the row of Broadway Street mansions. Sitting there, propped up on the steep incline of the carless block of Broderick, the Marina sits in front of you like a stage. The bustling neighborhood below gives way to the sailboat-speckled waters of the slate-blue Bay. In the distance to your right, Alcatraz pokes gloomily out of the water. Then to your far left, the ebb and flow of marine fog engulfs the Golden Gate Bridge. And just over the hill behind you, whether you can hear it or not, hide the noise and chaos of the big city. Here, in this little piece of heaven on earth, the crisp marine air kisses your skin, and everything around you seems to stand still. I’ve spent countless moments in this very spot reflecting on a stressful day, pondering life-changing decisions (to move to Spain or not to?), or simply reminding myself how grateful I am to have such a special city wrapped around me like a familiar hug.

I have to tell you friends, if I haven’t made it clear already, this is the best place on earth. The rolling hills lined with colorful buildings and filled with equally colorful people, the fusion of international cultures and cuisine, and the weather….no, NO, NOT the weather. This is the one thing I do not miss – except perhaps the mild overcast mornings with the fog horn humming in the distance, carefully soothing me out of my slumber, as opposed to the blinding Madrid sun that does everything short of scream “rise and shine amiga!”

This can’t be my only favorite place, though. There is another, that is perhaps less sentimental and more universally acknowledged as one of the most amazing places in the world – the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. I’ve tried to capture in words before the paradise that is the Alhambra. But honestly, until you are there, and even right now as I write this, it is hard to recall the sensation of walking through the Moorish wonderland. The thought of a palace, for me anyway, typically recalls fancy chandeliers, vast gardens filled with perfectly groomed shrubbery, and ornately tasseled rugs and curtains. While impressive, it certainly seems forced and perhaps a bit excessive, doesn’t it? But this palace, oh this palace, it’s like nothing that you have stored in the corners of your imagination. It’s equal parts elegance and austerity. The Arabic architecture, with its open rooms and intricately carved details, blends naturally with the dribbling fountains. You can’t escape the trickle of water traveling through the palace and gardens, which overflow with everything from roses to fruits and vegetables. When you walk through this palace, everything is in perfect harmony. Nothing is ridiculously lavish, but at the same time, it feels like the richest place on earth – rich with color, smells, sounds and life. It can only best be described as a drug that heightens all your senses – smell, touch, hearing, sight. It is truly euphoric. This would be my kind of palace indeed. Speaking of which, Jacobo, are you taking notes??

Lucky for me, I will be returning to the Alhambra for a third time in just a few short weeks, at which time I will be taking my own notes on what I’d like in my personal (imaginary) Moorish palace (an Andalucian patio and a balcony full of electrically colored petunias are musts!). Meanwhile, if you’re itching to know some other sweet locations around the planet, stop by the Lonely Planet BlogSherpa Carnival hosted by Sophie’s World, to find out what other expert travelers are saying about their top spots and favorite places.

June 18, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Traditions, Travel, Trips to the US

A few blogs back, I introduced you all to some of the very uniquely fantastic jobs that can be found in Spain. One of them was the mariscadora (best described as an awesome shellfish digger lady) – a job that I’ve had my eye on for awhile now because I believe I am particularly qualified. Why? Well, it just so happens that I’ve perfected my shellfish hunting skills after a lifetime of digging clams on my grandparents’ beach on the island of Vashon in Washingon’s Puget Sound. Yes my friends, I like to hunker down in the rocky island mud with my rake and bucket and hack away at the land to find those happy little shellfish – clams.

It’s an especially gratifying task on so many levels. You aggressively scrape at the pebbles, shells and crabs using your “where’s Waldo” eye to spot the ribbed texture of the clams. There’s something about the rhythmic raking of the land, the peaceful lapping of the tide, and the resulting pride of conquest, that make the experience a soothing one. Never mind the muddy hands, burning hamstrings and aching back – it’s a labor of love! When you see your bucket full of shellfish grinning back at you, you can’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment.

I’m reminded of this as I’ve spent the last couple days in the US taking in the expansive view of my grandparents’ harbor. I can hear the beach calling my name – to dig that is. It’s not a tropical beach by any stretch of the imagination – and not just because it’s in Washington where sunny days seem to be far and few between. These beaches are rocky and covered in a blanket of barnacles and muscles. Walking along the shores during low tide, the only sounds you hear are those of the shells and rocks crushing beneath your feet, the peaceful ebb and flow of the water, and the constant chatter of the seagulls. These are the sounds of tranquillity, but not of piña coladas (although I could go for one right about now).

Vashon proudly considers itself weird – no joke. Many cars brandish a bumper sticker declaring “keep Vashon weird.” It’s a flash back in time – virtually nothing has changed in my lifetime of making trips here. And there’s something about this that is so refreshing. Considering you have to take a ferry just to get to the island, you are truly isolated in a land unto itself. All the more reason to focus and hone your clam digging skills, don’t ya think?

So yes, as I sit here stranded on this weird little island, I find myself relishing in the opportunity to build my shellfish-digging resume in hopes that one day I can be a mighty fine mariscadora.

With that, I do believe it’s time to go check on my happy little clammies and change their water.

June 11, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Madrid, Trips to the US

I’ve been driving in Spain for a few years now and still marvel at the free for all that is the Spanish open road. There are many different rules of the road in this foreign home of mine, but I think the most consistently different one is that the rules very rarely apply.

Red lights, no parking zones, double parking, bumping into people’s cars, and cutting other drivers off are all reasonable methods of driving on a daily basis. Traffic signals in Spain are recommendations rather than rules – people regularly ignore them. Park where you want for the most part, especially on Sunday when the parking ticket people don’t work – that’s a particularly fantastic park-wherever-the-heck-you-want day. If you scrape up against someone’s car, no big deal – all the cars are full of dents and dings, so much so actually that regular car insurance usually covers you to have your car fixed once a year. Do you need to get into another lane? Skip the blinker and just start inching (centimeter-ing???) your way into the other person’s lane – it doesn’t matter how close you come to them, they’ll make room.

It’s actually kind of liberating. When I park my car, I don’t worry about tapping (eh hemm – banging into) the other car (these days, I typically use sound and feel to park rather than vision). Or if I park slightly over a driveway entrance, crosswalk, or otherwise I don’t have to live in fear that the DPT (the parking ticket people in SF) will come after me. If I cut someone off, I don’t feel bad (OK, maybe I do just a little). Or when I’m in the heart of Madrid and need to wait for someone or something, I love that I can just pull over in a massively busy rotunda and sit there in my car for hours while watching police drive by and not even give me a second look.

On the other hand, when you’re driving down a one-lane street and a car decides to just stop, throw on the blinkers and leave for awhile, you then don’t find it so amusing. For the most part though, I think the Spaniards are pretty good drivers. It’s disorganized, but people know more or less what they are doing and can zip around pretty well. Strangely enough, there is one rule that they do follow steadfastly – the rule of stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks. Even the craziest driver will slam on their brakes if a person is waiting to cross. I suppose since us Americans pretty much walk nowhere, we’re not so acquainted with the concept of people using their legs to navigate streets in order to get to places (in our defense though, we don’t have bakeries and cafes on every street corner like they do in Spain!).

I’m reminded especially of these peculiar differences in the ways of the road because I’ve actually just arrived back in the States for two weeks. First of all, I find myself speaking to everyone in Spanish because I’m incapable of flipping my English/Spanish switch. And then, I find it equally as difficult when driving to remember that yes, I can indeed turn right on a red light, and no, I can’t bang into other cars, and yes the speedometer in my car is in MPH not KPH therefore driving 120 is a really bad and very illegal idea.

So, for all our sake, here’s hoping that flipping my driving switch will be easier than flipping my language switch.

September 29, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Trips to the US

I arrived home just over a week ago with a full schedule on tap. The week was filled to the brim with doctor appointments, friends and family, all finished off with doing flowers for Ben’s sister’s wedding. This was the ultimate flower-arranging gig for me because all the flowers were to come from the Scribner garden – the garden in which I’ve spent many years picking flowers and learning how to just have fun with what I can find growing in the world around me. For this wedding I was able to use their garden as my palette. The main flower would be dahlias – they had erected several dahlia gardens just for the occasion. This meant hundreds upon hundreds of dahlias at my disposal for picking – pinks, reds, oranges, yellows, whites and purples, in all shapes and sizes from teacup to plate sized, daisy-like to pom pom. It was a virtual dahlia wonderland.

I spent all morning Saturday putting together six bouquets – one white with touches of pink for the bride, then five others, each focusing on a different color. I also made sweet little mom’s bouquets in addition to boutonnieres for all the men (little green mums with a touch of Japanese maple leaves – they were darling!).

The flowers were a success and so was the wedding – after a couple of days of pouring your heart and energy into flowers, nothing beats celebrating the reason for which you did it (not to mention getting to see the fruits of your labor in action!).

Sunday rolled around and I was just plain pooped (and perhaps slightly hungover) and every ounce of my being was telling me it didn’t want to get on a plane at 6AM Monday morning. So, I decided that I would stay for another week to just relax and enjoy my time at home without all the running around. So far, it’s been well worth it!

Now if someone in Spain could please just overnight me some jamón and manchego – I am starting to suffer from withdrawals :).

July 11, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Travels in Spain, Trips to the US

I can’t believe my last blog was in May! I think with all of my travels I have just been so burnt out, that the thought of spending any extra minute blogging has been unbearable.

It’s been an incredibly busy month and a half though. With a day trip to El Olivar, a business (etc) trip to SF, and then another road trip to the Costa Brava. I will reserve this blog for the former two though :).

Not too much to say about El Olivar – Jacob and I headed out there the weekend before I left for SF. It was our usual weekend mini road trip. It’s so nice to have an endless amount of really cool pueblos to check out – all within an hour’s drive. It was a sweet little town where we had a yummy lunch followed by walk to see the large reservoir in the distance. Pictures speak for themselves.

My much bigger trip was of course my trip to SF. I had to head out there for a conference and brought my colleague, Guido with me. The trip was a strange combination of visiting home, working and showing Guido around (who had never been to SF, much less the US). It was great though.

What did we do – we watched a little golf (friend from college playing in a tournament), a Giants game, we drove around the entire city, dinner in the Mission, the Marina, Russian Hill and so on. In and Out, Mexican food, legitimate sandwiches, a couple trips for sushi and a couple more for Vietnamese (got to have my spring rolls), frozen yogurt, and several stops at Stanford shopping mall to get my fill of goodies. Oh yeah, and a drive from SF down highway 1. And Guido insisted on a quick drive by Google (and a photo op).

Especially fun was our stop at Starbucks – one which we had anticipated for quite some time. The elephant in the room – yes, his name is Guido and I have informed him as to why that might make many Americans chuckle (see urban dictionary definition if you are from a generation (eh hemmm, Mom) that has no idea what I am talking about). In Spain, they can’t even pronounce his name, much less spell it. One thing was certain for me though – in the US, his name could be spelled and pronounced (no problem), but a little smile, maybe a laugh, would be involved. Sure enough, when we went to Starbucks, the fellow behind the counter broke into an embarrassed smile when having to write Guido’s name on a cup….oh yes, and he spelled it right. I am fairly certain that Jacob’s sister Macarena might have a similar fate…..

It really was a very good, full trip….despite the fact that I was suffering from a death cold which kept me from having the energy to be active the way I would have wished (particularly the first day of our conference when I came down with the virus – it absolutely wiped me out!).

The trip was capped off by an incredibly long journey back to Spain, involving a stop at Heathrow (the biggest clusterf&#! of airports ever), in which Guido and I managed to get separated from each other for a period of time. But that wasn’t enough, apparently our suitcases got separated as well – from our flight. This was the beginning of a very long stressful week of waiting and wondering whether I would see my bag (and particularly all of my cherished items from SF) again. I’ve said it before, and will say it again – never, NEVER, have a layover at Heathrow. I think there’s probably a 90% you will lose your bag – so if you layover there, you are asking for it!

Before my bag ever made it home, it was time to head of to Northeastern Spain for another road trip…to be covered in my next blog.