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.

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.
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.
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!

May 1, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

Sure most of you may not be hitting the Camino trail any time soon, but you never know when you might want to grab your backpack and start hiking. With that in mind, I thought I’d share with you my Camino packing list and all its 7 kilos of glory.

1. Full sleeping bag – I heard horror stories about bed bugs in the albergues (hostels), so it was recommended to bring a sleeping bag that extended to the head. Also, most of the albergues are reasonably warm (if not hot), so don’t bother bringing anything too heavy-duty.
2. Expandable shopping bag to carry valuable items, such as your camera and wallet, should you want to leave the albergue during the evenings. Think of it as a collapsible purse (or murse, for you gentlemen).
3. Swiss Army knife for important Spanish tasks like chopping chorizo and uncorking a bottle of wine.
4. Ear plugs because you will inevitably be sleeping in the vicinity of one extremely loud snorer every single night of your journey.
5. Essential documents like your passport and Camino credential (which you can get at most larger albergues when you start the trek).

The pilgrim credential, which you get stamped along the way. Eventually, you present it in Santiago to demonstrate where your Camino began.

6. Plastic zip-lock bag to store your documents (including those mentioned above, but eventually also your certificate) so that they are protected, especially if it rains. You might even want one that can go around your neck, like Ana below, as you will want easy access to your Camino credential at all stops along the way (albergues, bars, churches, etc).
7. Three pairs of socks so that you always have at least one clean, DRY, pair. Even better, if you can find yourself some quick-dry socks that don’t take at least two days to dry like mine did (in which case, just hang them on your backpack and hope for the best).
8. Two sets of clothes – one for day and one for night. My advice is to ideally have interchangeable day and night outfits on the off chance that your day outfit is too wet or dirty to wear (as was the case for me in the picture below). For hiking, I brought a dry-fit t-shirt, hoody and pair of pants. Then, for the evenings I had a cotton tee and extra-light Zara pants, which were totally wearable on the trail as well.
9. An extra layer depending on the time of year. I brought an additional cotton hoody (with pockets!) and am so glad I did. It was small enough to pack away, but provided extra warmth both during the day and at night.

10. A scarf because it’s fashionable and functional. Enough said.
11. Trail shoes, but there is some debate about which kind. Given the uncertainty, I decided I was too cheap to invest in a possibly unnecessary pair of shoes, and instead opted to use my sneakers. The sneaker benefit: they’re light, dry quickly, and I didn’t need to break them in. The downside: they didn’t provide much support in the toe area, thus the blisters and other issues. I also heard that proper hiking boots aren’t appropriate as they are too stiff. It sounds like the ideal shoe is something in between, which provides support, but doesn’t go overboard.
12. Flip flops for showering, and because at the end of the day you’ll want to wear anything but your day shoes.
13. Quick-dry towel for the very necessary end-of-day shower.
14. Crummy-weather gear such as gloves, a rain poncho and pants, a backpack rain cover (very important!) and even a hat. I sported a dry-fit baseball cap, which was great at keeping the rain out of my face, and also drying quickly.

Me rocking my rain gear while West Coast representing. And yes, I randomly came across that garage tag in the middle of nowhere. California love, yo.


15. Thread, iodine and a sterile sewing needle – and this is where things get gnarly. If you get blisters, word on the Camino is that you should thread a needle, then puncture the blister, leaving the thread running through the blister and cut at both ends. Finish it by dousing it in a little iodine. Supposedly this keeps the blister from getting any larger. After attempts on a few of my seven blisters, I’m still uncertain whether it worked, but desperate times called for desperate measures, so why not?
16. Travel-sized clothing detergent – I might have been a touch neurotic about washing my clothes, but somehow knowing that I had clean gear waiting for me in the morning made waking up and hitting the trail a whole lot easier.
17. Other first aid items such as band aids, ibuprofen and even an ace bandage (that is, if you start with an already messed-up ankle like I did).
18. Other obvious items: toothbrush, shampoo, pijamas, camera, sunscreen, a few pairs of underwear, phone and chargers (assuming you want to stay connected like I did).

The certificate I received in Santiago de Compostela, verifying that I completed the Camino.

Finally, I’m including the trailer to the movie The Way. It’s not an especially stellar film, but it does an exceptionally good job at capturing the sentiment behind the experience. Anyone remotely interested (or not so remotely) will surely become more motivated to do so after seeing the flick.

*Check back next week as I will be posting a video from the trail, and hopefully some pictures on Facebook to go along with it.

March 16, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

Another day, another stop on my European tour – or so it seems. I arrived back in Madrid from Prague late last Thursday night, only to hit the road to Galicia the following day, where we were met with nothing but sunshine and blue skies. Below, a few more iPhone shots from my few days of play in Spain’s northwestern-most region.

This weekend, I’m off to Asturias…

Street in Santiago
Street in Santiago
Streets of Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral
Cabo de Home
Cabo de Home

February 16, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain

As I sat in the bus licking the open half of my oreo cookie, I thought about how I really wanted an hórreo. Yeah, this really happened during my trip to Galicia last week.

So, you’re thinking, “I know what an oreo is, Tortuga Viajera (and I could kind of go for one right now with a glass of milk), but what, pray tell, is an hórreo????” I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, bear with me as we take a trip down memory avenida.

Years ago, when I first visited the Spanish autonomous community of Galicia, I marveled at these odd structures that were perched up on stilts in the gardens of so many homes. They were stony, unfriendly and somewhat peculiar with their reliably placed cross at the head of each roof. Driving through the lush countryside of Northwestern Spain I discovered that these bizarre buildings were truly a staple in the Galician landscape. Like cerveza on a hot Spanish afternoon, they were everywhere.

I searched all corners of my brain – what could these creepy structures be for? Then, I branched out and searched all corners of Jacobo’s brain (which I do about pretty much everything I come across in Spain, much to his irritation). As usual, when he couldn’t give me a solid answer, I crossed my arms, pouted, and then turned to my trusty BlackBerry where I looked it up. Sure enough, a quick search later and I had the answer I needed. They were, you guessed it, hórreos!

Truthfully, in the days (minutes, hours, I don’t remember) that I spent agonizing in curiosity, I genuinely thought they were tombs, raised up to be protected from the tumultuous (nonexistent) flood waters that threaten the rolling hills of Galicia. Not a logical hypothesis, and clearly not the answer.

It turns out that they are like old school Spanish pantries that people used (and perhaps still do) to store goods like flour and other grains. The non-tombs are elevated on stilts to protect from rodents, and have slits on the sides to provide ventilation. Brilliant! And because I know you’re craving some nerdy facts, you should know that they can be found in countries across Europe, and that their existence in Spain traces back to the first century. (Feel free to “wow” your amigos with those impressive facts!)

Obviously, these fancy pantries are exceptionally rad, so I kind of want one. Don’t you? I’m pretty sure I know just what I’d store in mine too. Why, oreos of course!

May 8, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travels in Spain

Last weekend was a three day weekend here in Spain, so Jacob and I took the opportunity to visit one of the few remaining places in the country that I had yet to check off my list – Galicia. Galicia is the northwestern most region of Spain – nestled right above Portugal. It’s known for its amazing food (but then again, what place in Spain isn’t) and the abundance of rain (among many other things). It is also the final destination for the famous “Camino de Santiago,” – a historic pilgrimage route that has existed for literally thousands of years. To this day, many people still make the pilgrimage for either spiritual or physical challenge (hmm, as I read that I am having flashbacks to the TV show “Double Dare” – 80’s children, you know what I’m talking about!!).

Our first stop in Galicia was the city of Santiago de Compostela itself – the final destination of the pilgrimage. It is there that you will find the large cathedral, the final stopping point of the camino. Jacob and I stayed in the Parador right next to the cathedral, so we were right at the center of the bustling little city. Right after we arrived to Santiago, we set out to try some of the delicious Galician food by hopping from restaurant to restaurant. We tried berberechos (small clam-like shellfish), empanada, pulpo (octopus – my favorite!), clams, shrimp and the well known cake called “tarta de Santiago.” It was a filling afternoon, so much so that we headed back to the hotel for a several hour siesta, followed by a dinner in which I was far too full to even eat a thing.

The next day we got an early start and headed out to several of the coastal cities, including Cambados and O Grove. We walked the shoreline in each town and enjoyed some more tapas. We discovered a strange little custom there too – I noticed that many of the cars had somehow affixed to them this plant with yellow flowers (which is quite abundant, growing everywhere in Galicia). We asked a local old man (Spanish grandpa, hee hee) who told us that in the beginning of May it is customary for people to put them on their cars for good luck. Take note people!

After these two stops we headed to a bodega in the mountains where we enjoyed a delicious lunch of clams and wine while overlooking the vineyard and the ocean in the distance.

At this point the weather was getting quite toasty, which was completely unexpected (it’s like going to Seattle this time of year and having it suddenly be 80 degrees – it completely blindsided us), so we made a detour to the city of Pontevedra in order for me to buy some appropriate shoes and a dress. Thank goodness for Zara, which has come to my rescue on various excursions (Amsterdam, Rome, New York, you name it). It was there that I bought myself a new dress without trying it on – after trying it on, I realized it looked more like a potato sack with holes for my head and arms….but that’s fine, I consider it my tribute to the really fantastic potatoes they serve in Galicia – YUM-MY!

Finally we headed to our stop for the second night which was in a small fishermen’s village called Aldán. There we stayed in this phenomenal rural hotel built in an old building used for preserving fish. The whole building was made of stone, but the handful of hotel rooms were a combination of both cedar and stone. The smell of the wood mixed with the sea (right out the window) was so incredibly therapeutic and refreshing. It reminded me a lot of my favorite place on earth – my grandparents house on Vashon Island (on the beach, and also made of cedar)…and I’ll be there next week!!!

That evening we had an amazing dinner at a restaurant renowned for its amazingly fresh seafood – so fresh that they literally don’t serve anything that wasn’t caught that day! We had to try their lenguado (a white fish), the speciality of the house, which had those famously delicious potatoes on the side.

The following day we decided to get lost in the hilly village – what a charming place it was! Views of the port were abundant and small houses fit in quaint little vegetable gardens wherever they could. My kind of town. Another thing I discovered in Galicia were these strange little shed-like things perched up on four legs, usually with a crucifix at each end – and literally almost every old house had one. I couldn’t figure it out, but after a day I had come to the morbid conclusion that they were family crypts and was highly disturbed by it. It turns out, after asking a local fisherman, that they are pretty much just oversized pantries called hórreos. So not quite as disturbing as I thought, and thus the reason why I ended up taking a wildly large amount of pictures of them.

So that was our lovely trip to Galicia. Next stop for me now is SF and then Seattle.