December 1, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Madrid, Travel, Travels in Spain

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Last week I was lucky enough to have some family come visit me for the Thanksgiving holiday. My mom, aunt and cousin came for a week of seeing Spain, preparing for the wedding, and enjoying some turkey!


On Sunday they were all jet lagged, but determined to stay awake, so Jacob set out to show them Madrid. From Retiro Park, to Puerta del Sol, to Plaza de Santa Ana, Plaza Mayor, the Royal Palace, Plaza de Espana, Gran Via and more – we saw it all! We even went for a sleepy ride on the Teleferico, which departs near the Parque del Oeste and heads out west of the Casa de Campo.


The next day we journeyed out to the monastery that Jacob and I will be having the wedding reception at – I really wanted my family to see it and to get their stamp of approval. They loved it! I think my cousin Angie has already decided that any future wedding of hers will take place there.


Since we still had the rest of the day free, we decided to head to Segovia. Almost two hours later (much to my surprise and disappointment, considering I was tired of driving) we arrived in Segovia (my eighth time, good lord!). We had an unusually good lunch at the famous Candido restaurant – an assortment of cheese, a chicken salad (not the sick mayo kind!) and some stuffed pimientos de piquillo. Afterward we meandered up the main street through the city, noticing that all the shops were closed for siesta, including my very favorite art shop (FortunaEstefa) that I love to take all of my guests to. We carried on toward the Alcazar in hopes that when we returned that the shops would be open once again. But sure enough, when we returned, my favorite shop was still closed. Sooo, I took matters into my own hands and decided to call the number on the shop door to see when they would open. The fellow who picked up said they wouldn’t be open that day, but I told him who I was (the blond American with the tall Spanish boyfriend who always comes by with American guests) and sure enough he said he would come by and open the shop just for us! They came, we purchased, and we left happy :).


The next couple of days were filled with trying on wedding dresses, tasting the food for the wedding, and even another trip to Patones de Arriba and dinner in El Molar. We were keeping extra busy, and starting to get pretty tired too. We had our eye on the prize though – a Spanish Thanksgiving, just days away.

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September 5, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Travels in Spain

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Last week, I was lucky enough to have yet another friend visit Madrid. This time it was Iris – a friend whom I’ve know since I was in 5th grade. She and her fiance were traveling through Spain, leaving Madrid as their final stop.


She arrived on Thursday, so we decided to meet up in Plaza de Santa Ana where we would start our tour of tapas – always a crowd favorite. We began at Lateral where we started the evening summer-style with gazpacho and tinto de veranos (a summer drink made of red wine, flavored sparkling water and ice). From there we headed to several other spots where we knew they would be able to try yummy tapas. During these stops we learned that neither of them had been at all impressed with the cuisine in Spain, but that during this tapas tour they had completely changed their perspective. The thing about Spanish food is that it can be rather confusing if you don’t understand it – if you get a menu translated into English, the food sounds horrible, or if you try to translate it yourself, it will sound equally as horrible. It’s all about understanding the dishes and knowing what to order, and then you will rarely be disappointed, and in fact become obsessed (like me).


After several stops for tapas we decided to head to the top of the Urban hotel for drinks, where we actually met up with another group of Americans traveling through Madrid – friends of an old colleague of mine. We stayed there for a couple of hours just enjoying drinks, the amazing view, the fantastic night temperature, and just chatting it up about everything.


The next day, after a long day at work, we picked up Iris and Brian to take them to one of our favorite spots – the small town of El Molar. I’ve always taken my guests there because it is incredibly rural, hidden, has the most amazing meat, and is very charming with it’s cool caves where you can have dinner! We started with drinks at one of the restaurants at which time the camarero offered to let us walk in their caves that weave underneath the mountain and connect with other restaurants. This was really special because we hadn’t ever had the chance to walk deep into the caves. It was so super cool – they gave each of us a candle and we were able to just get lost in the caves that curved and split in various places…watching our heads as we ducked into tight spaces. Dinner was of course amazing as usual. I’m not a big meat eater, but this meat is just plain out of this world.


The next day, we had very big day planned – on the itinerary was Segovia (again, I know), La Granja and Avila. See, Iris and Brian were such enthusiastic and grateful guests that we were eager to make sure that they had the most amazing time possible. So, being the energetic group that we are, we pushed full speed ahead hitting the as many stops as possible.


The next morning brought another important occasion – they were lucky enough to be visiting during the fiestas for our town, San Sebastian de los Reyes, which, if you remember, includes a running of the bulls each morning of the week. What’s so cool about this running of the bulls is that it is the second largest in Spain behind Pamplona, but rather than being full of foreigners, it’s all Spaniards – the real deal. And in fact, it’s been happening in our town since 1525!


It was a crazy mess of people. Usually it hadn’t been quite so busy, but since we were going on the weekend, the crowds were much larger. We ended up watching the run and then entering the Plaza de Toros afterward to watch the usual taunting of the teen-aged bull by equally energetic teen-aged boys.


We drove Iris and Brian straight to the airport after that, at which point we returned home for an hour, packed our suitcases, showered, and headed back to the airport to catch our flight to Florence, Italy!!


Ahhh, the adventure never ends :).

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August 19, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Travels in Spain

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Last weekend we stayed in Spain, and I say “Spain” because it was hardly possible for us to stay in Madrid. We intended to have no plans on Saturday and to just take it easy, getting things done, running errands, but we ended up going out to Segovia with Garen and Heather. Heather had been there the first weekend she arrived to Spain, but back then it was snowing, and was hardly the way to enjoy the city. So, since Heather was in the mood to see it again, and Garen hadn’t been, we offered to take them.


The trip was full of the usual stops – the aqueduct, the cathedral, the alcazar. Although I’ve been many times now, I never seem to tire of such a charming city – there’s always something new to discover.


On Sunday, we went out to Valladolid to visit Jacob’s Aunt Ana Maria who stays there during the summer. She stays in a small city called Medina del Campo, which, as she told us, used to be the heart of Spain. Medina del Campo is where Queen Isabel spent a lot of time and also passed away. She is the Queen whom, with her husband the King, evangelized Catholicism in Spain – a time in history that the Spaniards consider true Spain to have begun.


Ana Isabel proudly showed us the city – the Plaza Mayor which is as large as Madrid’s, the Roman bridge near her house, the palace where Queen Isabel passed away and so on. Oh yes, and most important, the stop at the panaderia/pasteleria with the most heavenly breads and pastries!


After checking out the town, we headed to the castle for a tour. It was there that we were able to see Roman ruins of a village that was outside the castle some several hundred years BC. We learned about the castle walls, the durability of the brick of which the castle was made of (who would have thought that brick is far more durable than just good old rock – apparently it can handle more impact!). We were actually quite surprised to see such a massive castle made of brick, partly because we’d never seen such a thing before, but also because we didn’t realize that that was something used that far back (in the 1400s).


Inside the castle, Ana Maria pointed out the room to us which she stayed in as a young girl when she went to learn how to knit, sew and cook (I need one of those courses – in a castle please!). We were also able to go behind all of the canon windows/holes and learn how they would run such a defensive effort – high ceilings to withhold the smoke, holes in the roof for light and to let the smoke out, white ceilings to help make everything brighter, and so on. It was really quite fascinating.


After the tour of the castle, we headed out to another small pueblo, Olmedo, for a much needed lunch. We ate at a charming little restaurant where we enjoyed clams and jamon – everything was delicious as usual.


It was a lovely weekend, albeit busy. I must admit, I need a weekend to just recover and prepare for our next big trip to Florence the following weekend.


Check out a few pics at: http://gallery.me.com/erin.ridley#100546

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February 15, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travels in Spain

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It appears that I have neglected my blog a bit! Well, it’s been a busy month. Filled with more day trips, and busy with work. So I will give my best shot at catching you all up.


A few weeks ago I headed out to Bucharest again. Just another trip to Romania…I am stewing about a blog in tribute to the intriguing country. It’s coming people – get ready, you won’t want to miss it. Let’s just say that whoever writes the guidebook about Bucharest is none too fond of the city and I think it might be worthwhile to share some of the highlights with everyone!


A couple of weeks ago Jacob and I made a day trip out to a province that I had not yet visited – Guadalajara. No, not Mexico! It’s actually a region northwest of Madrid. We headed to a charming village there called Sigüenza. Much to our surprise though, on our drive there we started to encounter snow. When we got there, it wasn’t quite snowing, but it was darn cold. We did a quick jaunt around the town – very charming little city, but unfortunately, just too cold to be enjoyed properly. We grabbed a quick lunch and had to hit the round again. Little did we know, the drive home would be blizzard-filled (it is worth reiterating that my definition of a “blizzard” might not match with that of folks who live, say, in Canada). By the time we returned home to Madrid, the whole city was covered in white again. It didn’t last long though – rain the next day melted it all away.


Last weekend was extra eventful as my friend Heather arrived! You may remember Heather from an earlier blog – we met because she was interested in moving to Madrid. Well, she finally made the big move, so this last week we’ve been introducing her to her new home. On Sunday we took her out to Segovia where, sadly, we encountered snow yet again. With the heavy snow (again, “heavy” might be a debatable description here), we decided against climbing to the top of Segovia’s Disney-like castle – the Alcázar. We made up for it though by having an amazing lunch at the famous Candido restaurant (for those of you who’ve watched “Spain On The Road Again,” this is the restaurant they visited in Segovia). Jacob stepped up to the plate and enjoyed Segovia’s famous cochinillo (suckling pig), while Heather and I savored warm bowls of Castilian soup. All followed by a hypnotizing Tarta Ponche Segoviano – a dessert that Heather and I are bound and determined to reproduce. Good lord, the thought of it is actually driving me insane.


Last night brought even more amazing food! Jacob took me to one of the best restaurants in Madrid. The restaurant belongs to Chef Sergi Arola, a student of Ferrán Adriá (who literally has the title of best chef in the WORLD). The dinner was amazing – quite a treat. I think there were something like 13 different dishes, three of which were desserts….need I say more?


Well friends, here goes another week. I continue to live the rough life here ;). Tomorrow we’ll be having a little mini gazpacho fiesta with my colleague Miguel – he’s moving from Spain soon so we thought we’d teach him how to make gazpacho, his favorite Spanish dish, before he goes. Should be fun!


Until next time…

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August 26, 2008 - Posted by Erin in Traditions, Travels in Spain

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What a week Kim and I have had! I arrived here in Madrid last Tuesday, followed by Kim on Thursday. I couldn’t have asked for better timing – it’s not easy transitioning back to life here, and having a buddy with me while I get back into the swing of things cheered me up more than I ever could have imagined.


We had quite the itinerary laid out for Kim and she was up for the challenge. The first day Kim arrived she was a real champ – we pretty much headed right out to tour Madrid. We hit up Retiro Park, Puerta de Alcala, The Prado, and even shopping on Serrano – all before heading to drinks, dinner, then drinks again with Jacob. Kim powered through the night without a trace of jet lag.


The next day we returned to Madrid to finish up the site seeing, which included the Palace, Plaza Mayor, Sol, Gran Via and more shopping! We capped off the day with an evening at Jacob’s friend Manu’s house for homemade paella on the BBQ – best paella ever!!!


Saturday we hit the road and headed out to Segovia – Kim’s favorite spot on the trip. On the drive home we swung by La Granja (a palace with beautiful gardens) and made the trip home for a nice dinner in Madrid.


Sunday brought a new excursion for me – Salamanca. The city known for its university, was extra charming and like no other Spanish city I’d visited before. What we especially loved is that we were able to walk the perimeter of the inside and outside of the cathedral – a unique perspective that we’d never had the opportunity to see in the past. We discovered breathtaking views both inside and out (albeit a little frightening for me at times!).


Yesterday brought my favorite event of all – the running of the bulls here in San Sebastian de los Reyes. It happens all week this week (which is especially fortuitous since I have another friend coming on Thursday). We headed out early to reserve our spots to view the run. It didn’t disappoint! While short, it is exhilarating to watch nonetheless. Be sure to visit the movies page to see a clip of the race.


After the running of the bulls, Kim and I made the long trip to and from Toledo. Toledo is always a charming destination – although taking public transportation for virtually the entire expedition was exhausting for sure! In the future I think it should be best left to those with cars. We made up for the journey though by capping off the day, and her trip, with dinner in the caves of a local village – yes caves (they are natural caves used in old times for wine)! Each table had its own little cave, like a cubby hole. It was a unique and distinctly Spanish way to finish off her trip.


Now we have sent Kim off and fortunately I have another guest right around the corner. My friend Robin will be out on Thursday, at which time I will begin the tour of Spain again! Good thing I love this place! More to come next week…

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