February 2, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain, Video

Back in December, I wished so hard NOT to go scuba diving that all flights in Spain were cancelled. Yeah, it was kind of a bummer, but we turned our sour grapes into vino by taking a trip to Spanish wine country. Here’s a little look back at the exotic trip to the Canary Islands that got replaced by a chilly journey around Ribera del Duero.

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December 8, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Madrid, Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain

I’m not going to lie, the idea of giving scuba diving another go while temperatures still remained under 90℉ sounded like a horrible, awful, terribly bad and dumb idea. Which was just lovely considering that my dear husband had booked a trip to Tenerife in the Canary Islands last weekend for us to go diving. I was certainly on board with warmer temperatures (70℉ is far better than 30℉), but might just have secretly been willing the whole scuba portion of the trip not to happen.

Oops. I willed too hard. Let me explain.

Last Friday we headed to the airport minus our boots and coats, and plus our bathing suits. We checked in, grabbed a bocadillo, and waited patiently at our gate. We boarded and buckled our seat belts. The child in front of me on the plane was crying like someone stole her candy, because, you know, I was in the vicinity. Then the captain got on the intercom to tell us to turn off our electronic devices…..

Wait, no, that’s not actually what he said. He just said that everyone needed to get off the plane because all flights in Spain were being cancelled indefinitely. Excuse me? Confused, we all disembarked the plane and entered the mass chaos that was the Madrid-Barajas airport when thousands of passengers are left without their bags, straight answers, or a vacation on FIVE-DAY holiday weekend! Everyone was of course in a stellar mood, talking calmly, and organizing themselves to figure everything out….in my imagination, but no, that’s not really what happened.

It was three long hours of people pushing each other to get through the crowds, and Spanish curse words being thrown around even more than usual. (You’ve got to love it when an old grandpa belts out “me cago en su puta madre.” Translate it, if you wish.) Once we had finally reclaimed our suitcases, we headed to downtown Madrid to have a very un-Spanish sushi dinner. This is required after just finding out that a tiff between the Spanish government and Spanish Air Traffic Control has resulted in a surprise strike during one of Spain’s biggest holiday weekends – bravo guys! During dinner, Jacobo sulked, and I pretended to sulk, insisting that we should come up with something else adventurous to do to cure our scuba-blues.

To fill the island-sized hole in our hearts, we decided on a road trip to Peñafiel, a pueblo about and hour and a half north of Madrid, in Ribera del Duero wine country. We spent the weekend sleeping in a castle, romping around in the snow, and pretending like we loved gloomy weather and wine tasting more than we could ever possibly love a beachfront hotel.

The highlight of our little journey was most certainly our stop at Restaurante Maria Eugenia. After finishing our meal, the owner plopped himself down at our table, declared he was a “Latin Lover” (in English!) and proceeded to give us his cell phone number should we need anything while in town. Following this, he generously gave us a tour of the kitchen and its wood oven, even insisting on lighting it, then wedging himself inside in an attempt to get pictures. The food was amazing, but clearly the service was even more noteworthy!

All in all, it was a delightful weekend, particularly because it never involved me being immersed in frigid waters. I do, however, apologize to the rest of Spain, for having wished so hard not to go scuba diving that the country’s flight infrastructure collapsed. I’ll try to put my powers to more productive use next time around.

Caught up in the frenzy at the airport, I didn’t get any shots of the chaos. You can, however, see more pictures from our trip to Peñafiel on the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page.

March 1, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travels in Spain

This last weekend brought with it our first road trip in awhile. Our drive took us to the city of Valladolid (located in the community of Castilla y Leon) for a Criado del Rey family reunion. I spent the drive ooh-ing and ah-ing over each little pueblo we passed, begging to stop. For some reason I never tire of getting to know new little Spanish towns. I suppose after enough whining to stop at each place along the way, I finally made a breakthrough with Jacob. We stopped in the city of Simancas, a city famous for being the site of a bloody battle between the Moors and the Christians in 934. From the highway I could see it had a castle and an old church, so needless to say, I was already convinced of its charmworthiness (not a word, I know, but it should be).

We parked and were making our way through its narrow medieval streets when we came across a shop selling local goods. Now this is the very best part of traveling around Spain, much less stopping in little pueblos – buying local goodies. The little shop was packed full of fresh veggies, lentils, chorizos and cheeses, so we picked up a little of everything, naturally. Then, we didn’t get far before coming across a little panaderia – the only thing better than shops with local goods, are shops like this that make bread and pastries unique to the city. So of course we collected an assortment of everything in site, again – little pastas (no, we’re not talking about spaghetti, but instead Spain’s little cookies that you see below), muffins, and a big slab of bread.
Now that we had stocked up enough food to feed this small village, we headed to the far side of town to take in the view of the river. The expansive Pisuerga River, which also passes through the city of Valladolid, was gushing to the brim due to recent storms, so much so that its medieval bridge seem virtually submerged in water.
Pisuerga River
From there we headed down the road only a few minutes to Valladolid where we joined some 80 Criado del Reyes for lunch (translation: 7+ hours of eating and gabbing). Our first course was served at 3:00pm, by which time I was of course starving and therefore had been stealing croquetas off of the kids’ table (with the help of Jacob´s mom – LOVE her), and no, I´m totally not above that. The meal started with a salad of salmon and cheese, followed by pimientos rellenos (one of my favorite Spanish dishes, and not to be confused with the Latin American version), and then a third dish of seafood crepes. I was marveling at how our meal had not included any meat – how could this be, Spain with no meat? At that moment, though, I noticed the unused steak knives at each of our place settings. Before I knew it, we were all being served solomillo wrapped bacon – yes folks, that’s pig wrapped in pig. Mentally, I’d already finished my meal after dish #2, so I’m afraid the solomillo wasn’t in my future.

Below is a picture of Jacob’s great grandparents – the reason for all of us reuniting. This picture was actually taken on their wedding day – apparently the wedding dresses used to be black! I only wish I had a waste like hers…I think.
Criado del Reyes
After coffees and champagne toasts, the group moved to the bar to continue the 10 years of catching up. While many were staying in town for the night, we had the drive back to Madrid to make, so it was time for us to go. So, we said goodbye the French way (a saying in Spanish that means without actually saying goodbye – go figure) because really, if we had to kiss everyone goodbye, then there´s a good chance we´d still be there doing so. Before heading home though, we took a stroll through Valladolid. I was pleasantly surprised by its bustling historic quarter full of colorful buildings with intricate balconies that reminded me much more of Northern Spain than anything I’d seen in awhile. I would liked to have stayed longer as it definitely seemed like a city worth getting to know better (particularly because I just learned it is where arroz con leche is from – now that is something that needs to be discovered!). Next time….

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


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