The story of how I ended up in Spain is a rather serendipitous one – let’s just say that a 15 minute conversation in a bar in Spain changed my life. Over five years later, I no longer live in San Francisco, but in Madrid with that same Spaniard with whom I had that brief conversation. And I am living the adventure of a lifetime. We travel nearly every weekend, whether it be a short drive to somewhere near Madrid, or some place much farther.

My blogs, which started as somewhat of a diary for myself (my excuse for some ultra-poor writing in the early days), and an effort to keep my family up to speed on the latest, have become more of a chronicle of all the amazing adventures to be had in Spain and beyond. With so many friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends, visiting Spain, I’ve found myself delighting in the opportunity to share everything I know about Spain so that future visitors may have the same enchanting experience that I’ve been fortunate enough to have myself. So that’s why I started this site – to share my journey and also to gather the restaurant recommendations, the recipes, the secret spots, and so on, making them available for everyone who wants to know. I am very lucky to have such a wonderful, knowledgeable and proud host – my husband – who has eagerly introduced me to a million new places, traditions, foods, wines, and more – I thank him, and look forward to passing on these experiences to you.

And if you’re curious about the name “la tortuga viajera” – tortuga, or turtle, is a nick name I inherited from my husband.  Basically, because I have rods in my back from a corrective surgery, I can’t always get up easily when I’m on my back.  Yeah, ha ha.  Anyway, since turtles travel carrying their homes on their backs, “the traveling turtle” somehow seemed fitting.  So there you have it!

If you would like to read more about how my story came to be, below (and on the following pages) you will find a collection of my more personal blog posts.

September 23, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Uncategorized

Dear Readers,

I have a confession. And no, this time it doesn’t have to do with cheese, pueblos or even cute Spanish grandpas. No, nothing even close. This time I must come clean as to why I’ve been so completely missing from my blog in the last months.

Photo courtesy of Gabriel Saldana via Flickr

Photo courtesy of Gabriel Saldana via Flickr

If you haven’t guessed it already: Tortuga’s having a tortuguita. That’s right, I’m pregnant and expecting a little boy (I’m still thinking it could just be a giant tortilla española) toward the end of the year. Jacobo and I are positively elated!

As you can probably imagine, these last months have been a bit disorienting. Apart from the physical and mental intensity involved with the whole growing-another-person thing (I still can’t believe this is happening!), I spent five head-spinning weeks in the States, followed by a quick trip to Malta, and all while my freelance writing workload somehow managed to quadruple (never mind the size of my stomach – eek!).

I’ve been in such a pregnancy haze, actually, that I spilled olive oil all over (and incidentally in) my laptop last week, and it has since ceased to function. (I’ll have you know that the Mac service people here in Madrid didn’t even flinch or crack a smile at the olive-oil incident, as if it were totally normal. I’m going to pretend that olive-oil spillage on anything is entirely commonplace in Spain.) The good news: By some stroke of luck, I had gotten a backup laptop of sorts while home, and it was my old laptop that suffered the tragic – albeit quite tasty – accident. Consider this my PSA: Olive oil and laptop innards are not friends – take note.

Basically, it’s been a crazy, beautiful and largely blog-free time, and I’ve hated having to keep the big — and getting bigger! — secret from you all for so long. But, believe it or not, I still haven’t even shared the news with my Facebook friends (gasp!), so now you and the probably five other people who’ve hung around through my silence are still among the first to know. Surprise, Mom and Dad!!! I kid, I kid.

Times might be changing, but going forward I’ll do my best to keep you all up to date on my continued adventures – the ones that involve tasty travels, not diaper changes. I do hope you’ll still come along for the ride. And thank you for your continued support!

Tortuga and her soon-to-arrive Tortuguita

August 3, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Spain, Traditions

The sun rose quickly on the morning of Saturday, July 24th, surely more quickly than it ever had before. There I was with my family and closest friends, dancing in the courtyard of a 700-year-old monastery as the sky seemed to fast forward from onyx black to a glowing navy blue and soon to dawn. Meanwhile the DJ mixed away as though the birds competing for musical attention were nonexistent. Between the alcohol, dancing for hours on end, and being surrounded by people from all chapters of my life, the moment did not seem real. I still ask myself if it really even happened.

The whirlwind really started the week before though when my father arrived, followed by a cousin, and then after that the floodgate of guests opened. In that week leading up to the wedding I played tour guide, perhaps partly out of obligation, but more because I just love Spain so darn much that to not share my bursting enthusiasm with each arriving guest would have left me heartbroken. So that week I packed my schedule with a full list of events and must-see spots: Pedraza, La Granja, Navacerrada, Cuenca, La Ciudad Encantada, Chinchón, a friend’s ranch in Fuentidueña, Patones de Arriba, Buitrago del Lozoya, tours of Madrid, dinner in the caves of El Molar, a tour of Santiago de Bernebéu Soccer Stadium, a rehearsal dinner at Jacobo’s parents house, a bus trip with 30 guests to Segovia, and finally a dinner and wine tasting for all of the Americans. Oh, and then the wedding.

The excessive laundry list of events and excursions during that week surely left me exhausted, but on the other hand, they kept me distracted from the impending wedding – something I was dreading only because I just really dislike being the center of attention (and there’s nothing like being overly dressed in a massive white gown to call attention to oneself). The idea of walking down the aisle with all eyes on me was just mortifying. But soon enough, the time came and I found myself out at a hotel in the city of Guadalajara spending the entire day with seven of my best friends painting nails, getting hair done, flipping through American magazines and developing hotel workout routines using wine bottles and luggage carts. All in all, a very productive day.

Arriving at the monastery, I was in a haze – people buzzing around everywhere, months of my planning coming to life before my very eyes. A part of me desperately wanted to stop and fuss over the flowers, or even jump in to offer a helping hand to make sure that everything was coming along, but these thoughts were quickly derailed as my lace train got caught on age old cobble stones at every turn.

Before I knew it I was being summoned to the church – the time had come and panic was setting in. I knew the whole thing could go south very quickly (translation – me breaking down from nerves and refusing to walk down the aisle) or that I could just suck it up, which was not at all something that I was certain was within my skill set. My music was cued, though, and before I could even decide which path I would take, I felt my parents pulling me from each side into the monastery. I guess there would be no turning back at that point.

I arrived at the altar clutching onto Jacobo’s hand the first moment that I could – palms sweating, I held it in a death grip. Given the perfectionist that I am, one might think that I had hoped this ceremony to go off without a hitch, when in reality I hoped that there would be flaws, humorous flaws, to lighten the mood and distract me from the intense gravity of what was about to happen.

As I analyzed the altar flowers (hmmm, some of them were wilting….ah, they used birds of paradise, never a favorite flower of mine, but they did look lovely in the arrangement) my cousin Nate, an ordained minister in the US, concluded his introduction and warily nodded to the Spanish Justice of the Peace who would manage the official part of the ceremony. This Justice was someone we could not choose, but rather the Justice from the miniature pueblo, Lupiana, below the monastery. He began his introduction by slowly and delicately removing his eyeglasses from their case, then gently pulling each paper from his manila folder and placing them thoughtfully one by one across the table as if they were tarot cards. To me this was beyond hilarious. He began his speech, which included multiple mentions of Jacobo’s and my name – well, something that should have been my name. It was incredible how he enthusiastically struggled with it, each time warping it further, and declaring his mispronunciations as though they were triumphs. “E-line! Bet! Ril! Bley!” This was fantastic.

The poor little Justice was on his own planet though. As we enjoyed his ramblings we realized that his dissertation had carried on far longer than we had anticipated and that he’d just gone and done the whole darn ceremony, meaning that we would need to move things around and do the rest on the fly – no problem. When we “thought” the ceremony had finally ended, the quartette began to play, signaling the end, meanwhile the judge started hollering into the microphone that the ceremony was not over, everyone must sit and that we were doing horribly, really horribly (the word is actually “fatal” in Spanish, which was especially touching) over and over again. I’m not going to lie, I kind of thought this was funny too, but I suppose after he said it a few times it just started to get a little awkward. I think at some point he managed to snap out of his stupor, though, and then declared in a soft, friendly grandpa-tone that if we needed anything from him in the future, he’d be happy to help. And that was that. It’s important to note (for me anyway) that my affection for Spanish grandpas may have diminished somewhat as a result of this experience. I was kind of disappointed too that he didn’t bring his cane and messenger hat. A real pity.

Tons of pictures and a cocktail hour later and it was time to enter the cloister where dinner would be held. The hallways of the three story courtyard were filled with 18 tables adorned with soft orange runners, Spanish cork oak trunk vases, bilingual menus and countless wineglasses. Seated in the corner at table 7, I gazed at the row of tables to each side and the illuminated garden in front of me, which changed each minute as the sun went down and the lights went up casting an ethereal glow on the stony walls. The fountain softly babbled and light music drifted hauntingly into the night air. It was the definition of breathtaking. I tried so hard to take in the moment and bottle it up inside of me somewhere so that I might never forget it.

After three courses, coffee and cigars, it was time for the first dance – the waltz (I should mention that we took classes for this in which I was taught actual “moves” – I quickly vetoed that idea though, and thankfully so considering that I could hardly remember how to do the basic waltz itself after a couple glasses of wine and days worth of built up nerves). So, we headed back out to the courtyard, which overlooked the tiny pueblo below (where the crazy Justice Jeronimo was probably sound asleep). Under the trees and bathed in the romantic monastery lights, we literally danced the night away. Hour after hour disappeared like sand through my fingers. At 3AM platters came out with a whole new assortment of snacks to ensure we remained at top dancing performance for the rest of the evening. When 7AM finally rolled around, there were probably 35 of us (my dad included) still celebrating the magical night and ready for more. Our wedding had pretty much been 12 hours of straight celebration and nothing short of epic.

Now I’m sitting here on a layover in the Bangkok airport before setting off to Vietnam, then Cambodia, Laos and Thailand (again) and still can’t help but wonder if maybe I’m still dreaming. How did I get here? Did I really meet some random Spaniard in a bar in Madrid nearly four years ago and did I just marry him? I suppose the ring on my finger says yes, but I’m still working on convincing myself that sometimes fairytales really do come true.

Photo credits go to Bibiana Fierro, and also my dear friend Holly Khushal who should clearly pursue a career in professional photograpy. A big thanks also to Ashley Smith, Founder of BuzzWorthy Events, who made the long journey to Spain to execute all of our crazy multicultural wedding plans.

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December 2, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Madrid, Traditions

This year I spent my second Thanksgiving here in Madrid. Last year it was particularly hard being away from home, but we made the best of it and cooked up a proper turkey (and by proper, I mean 22 lbs worth of Thanksgiving love) with all the fixings.

This year, however, would be different because I would have family here to celebrate with me – my mom, an aunt and a cousin. We decided that it would be the perfect opportunity to share the uniquely American holiday with my entire Spanish family. And considering that my family was here, Jacobo and his family thought it would also be a good time to introduce their very own tradition – the “pedida.” What’s the pedida? It’s basically the official asking by the groom’s family for the bride’s hand in marriage. But it’s accompanied by much, much more – all which was a very pleasant surprise for me, and the very reason why I would like to get engaged over and over again.

We arrived at the Jacobo’s family household around 3PM with pumpkin pie and a raw turkey in hand. First line of business was to get that turkey basted in butter and beer and roasting in the oven. When we arrived though, I was quickly pulled into the living room where I found a jungle, yes a JUNGLE, of flower arrangements. Six lush, gigantic, gorgeous flower arrangements, all from a florist in Madrid that I had discovered and given my stamp of approval (no fern, baby’s breath or carnations in site!!!!). I was in heaven – pure bliss. I’ve been surrounded by lots of flowers before, but never all for me, so this was pretty much the best thing ever.

I think I remained in shock for the rest of the day. My aunt was cooking up a storm in the kitchen with her sioux chefs – my cousin and my mom. Dinner came and who would have ever thought that the most delicious Thanksgiving ever would take place in Madrid? Between the turkey, the stuffing, the green beans and Jacobo’s mom’s mashed potatoes, I was in Thanksgiving heaven! The food felt like real soul food as a result of my aunt’s amazing cooking skills, the love put into everything, and probably me missing home.

Following dinner, it was pedida time! It started with Jacobo’s father giving a brief speech and presenting me with the ring (which Jacobo had previously given me). This is when the surprise came in though – Jacobo’s mom then said that since Jacob wanted to follow US tradition by getting me the ring, they wanted to follow Spanish tradition by getting me something as well. And at that point his parents gave me the most gorgeous sparkling diamond earrings!! They are absolutely stunning and I hope to wear them for the wedding (must figure out the dress first!).

After this, my mom gave a short speech and then presented Jacob with a fancy watch (as is Spanish tradition). Then we all drank the evening away, laughing, translating and blending traditions in the best of ways. It was a really special evening – and I still have the sweet scent of the flowers to prove it! It sure will be hard to top a Thanksgiving like this one.

P.S. – Yes, my eyes are closed in the picture above….I figured it could act as a tribute to the fact that I was incapable of keeping my eyes open during any photo taken by my mom’s camera (probably in subconscious rebellion of my family’s paparazzi-like tendencies).

November 8, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Travel, Travels in Spain

We’ve managed to secure the date and locations for the big day, which will indeed be going down here in Spain. The ceremony will be taking place at a church right next to Retiro Park, while the reception will be held about 40 minutes northwest of Madrid in a town called Lupiana in the province of Guadalajara.

Last weekend we headed out to the monastery, where the reception will be held, for the second time in order to check it out and start planning more details. It was as beautiful if not more beautiful than I had remembered it. Maybe it was something about the Fall weather – the leaves changing color, the howl of the wind through through the hollowed out church full of trees…it was all very romantic and peaceful.

We first checked out the cloisters where we will be holding dinner. It was rather brisk out, so it was hard to imagine the corridors full of people on a hot Spanish summer night. I did my best though to imagine the warmly lit hallways, the sound of live music and of course lush floral centerpieces that in no will way resemble anything done in Spain. Outside the cloisters is where we will be holding the dancing for the evening. There you will find flower filled gardens and an expansive view of the valley below, which cradles the sweet little Lupiana village. Also on the property of the monastery is an old church, which has long since been destroyed and now has an open roof and is filled with trees and ivy. If you look closely, you can see where old artwork and tapestries might have decorated the cold stone walls.

After wandering aimlessly on the monastery grounds wrapped up in our thoughts of the big day that is just over eight months away, we hopped in the car and headed down the mountainside to the valley below to see the little town of Lupiana. After a quick search online, I’ve discovered that only some 225 people call it home, which was surely no surprise as we clearly received many sideways looks as we walked through the small streets of the town (I’m sure that me being a blond American didn’t blow our cover at all…). I loved the little town though as it had an abundance of darling Spanish grandpas with their messenger caps and canes, sitting on benches just watching the world go by.

Given the miniature size of Lupiana, it was hardly the place to expect to find possible hotels for guests, so we stopped by the city of Guadalajara on the way back home to see what they had to offer. I was admittedly unimpressed by the city, although sure, they did have more hotels. My assumption is that most out-of-towners will stay in Madrid making the journey to and from by using our rented buses. Those from Spain, however, may choose to stay out in Guadalara (I am personally thinking that we will head back into Madrid).

Lots more planning to come! I am very excited to have the opportunity to have a wedding in such a romantic place, but it sure isn’t easy when my family is on the other side of the world. Eight+ months to go….

October 17, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Travel, Travels in Europe

Alright everyone, brace yourselves for a sappy, romantic recount of our trip to Venice….

I’d been hinting to Jacob for a long time about my desire to finally visit Venice as neither of us I had ever been. So, months ago, he managed to let it slip that we would be making the long awaited trip for my birthday. I knew nothing about what he had planned other than that we would be in Venice.

We arrived there Saturday morning lugging our carry-on suitcases and somewhat disillusioned by the rain pouring down outside. Fortunately, we had anticipated the gloomy weather and came prepared with the right clothes and the right attitude – we would discover the city despite the weather.

A car taxi ride and a water taxi ride later, and we finally arrived at the hotel Ca’ Sagredo which was situated on the river-like bustling grand canal. The hotel blended in with the other buildings along side it, nondescript in comparison. We attempted to check in, but apparently our room was not yet available, so we journeyed off for lunch. And a journey it was – the first of many efforts to find something and then get lost in Venice. We had checked our bags with the front desk at the hotel, but Jacob decided to carry his backpack which he guarded carefully throughout lunch. Hmmm.
We arrived back at the hotel to check into our room. What appeared as a standard European hotel lobby with peculiar little flower arrangements and Euro decor, quickly turned into something that more closely resembled a tour of the Royal Palace in Madrid. We ascended the sprawling staircase and looked up to see murals on the ceiling that seemed miles above. Arriving at the door of our room – a normal, un-special door – my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I discovered what hid behind it. It was basically our own private palace. The ceiling, fully covered with a colorful several-hundred-year-old mural, towered above us nearly two stories above. The room was furnished with sparkling rococo furniture – gold-trimmed chairs with floral upholstery, twinkling murano glass chandeliers, plush velvet benches and so on. A large flat screen TV sat across from the bed, but honestly, you would most certainly need binoculars to see it from such a distance. The massive windows cast light across the room, and behind them awaited an expansive view of the grand canal. In such a large room, I hardly noticed the tree of long stem roses beside the couch.

The first words out of my mouth, as Jacob likes to quote, were “are all the rooms like this?” followed by, “I just don’t think this is big enough.” I instinctively began to tend to the wrapped up flowers. Meanwhile, Jacob scurried off to another room (yes, there were multiple areas to scurry to in the place). Before I knew it, he was back, and down on his knee proposing to me. You must keep in mind that this is NOT the Spanish tradition, which made it all the more perfect and special because he really had to do his homework. In front of me was this amazing man, with a stunning ring, in our own personal palace, along the canal in one of the most romantic cities in the world. So yeah, I said “yes!”

The next day the sun shined down on Venice, as if to say that it was ok for us to come out and enjoy the city now. This was especially fortunate because Jacob has a friend who lives in Venice and has a gondola! So during the afternoon, we headed to their rooftop apartment. In a city full of aging and shifting buildings that tend to show their age more than most cities, their apartment was completely unexpected. Fresh modern wood floors, a second level with a kitchen that has strip of glass floor that peers down to the floor below, and then a fantastic rooftop terrace overlooking the buildings and canals that surround their building. After a quick drink on the terrace, we plodded our way to their boathouse where we moved their gondola out onto the water. Teresa was in front with one paddle, and Didier in back with the other. We then glided through the canals of the city, silently enjoying the perfect weather and the gentle breeze from the canals. We finished the day with dinner at their favorite restaurant in Venice, a place called Enoteca de la Columbina.

We spent the rest of the trip just exploring the city and marveling at our palace on the water. Finally, when it was time to go, we took a water taxi directly from our hotel to the airport, weaving our way first through the quiet, calm canals of the city, and then out to what seemed like a water freeway. It was a cordoned off area in the water where the water taxis and boats speed freely to and from the airport. We felt like we were in a James Bond movie as we glanced back at Venice, fading into the distance with the sun setting behind it. Not a bad way to start the next chapter of our lives together.