Thursday, June 24, 2010

A day spent with an Angel

Today was an AMAZING day... we went on an adventure that will go down as one the most memorable culinary and spiritual experiences.  In the Ronda Mountains there are many quiet White Hills towns.  Today we found ourselves (via guide and as it turns out, with two other lovely couples) in the town of Gaucin as well as 'the other side' of Gaucin near the train station.  Here we were introduced to Angeles, the chef and owner of Caserio Ananda.  She is a self-taught chef from a family of 10 children following generations and generations of 'family chefs'.  Her idea is that food should be simple, you should know where your ingredients come from (and what they are), and that your food is made with love... and it was (and lots and lots of garlic and olive oil!).  The fact that she welcomed us into her kitchen and invited us to be a part of the preparation and presentation of the meals was touching (and I won't lie, at times this afternoon, I did get a bit choked up).  We don't have sheets of recipes to take home, but we have better than that- we have memories of this hands-on experience that we plan to share with those we love!  Amy- recipes to add to our summer bucket list.  Bruces and Beckerleys- a MUST DO when you come in the spring!! 

Fresh veggies- YUM!!

Angeles believes in the open flame and prepares most (if not all) meals this way (i.e. roasting vegetables rather than sauteeing them... at least doing the sautee after they have been roasted).  You
can imagine how wonderful it smells in the restaurant.

Let's eat!

Outside of Caserio Ananda

Following a memorable meal- pictured here with Chef Angeles

... oh and Dana, wait until you see the door I have for you... 17th century original.  That just happened.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Dia de San Juan

a.k.a. St. John the Baptiste Day- The Patron Saint of Spain.  The locals celebrate with bonfires on the beach (also to celebrate Midsummer's Day and the triumph of light over darkness) and midnight swim (or at least a dip of the toes... good thing because the Mediterranean Sea is not that warm!).  We joined in the fun (I had to wake up Leo as he had fallen asleep... he MUST love me :) with a dip of the toes and some photos to share.  Enjoy (and good night!) 

Another day in paradise

Here is the beautiful view of the resort gardens and the Mediterranean Sea from our balcony. I'm not going to lie, it just doesn't get old. We've eaten outside for almost every meal (see pic below) and spend time just relaxing, soaking up rays and playing our travel Scrabble card game (and that's my view while I kick Leo's ass with my high lexicon of four-letter words).Today, after a great morning workout (sadly remembered that I am doing the Danskin Tri and Oyster Race in August so thought it best to try some running and swimming... don't worry, it was a small fraction of my day!!,) I was able to spend some time meditating on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea... 'nough said. There is nothing quite like a quiet beach to quiet your mind... ooohhhmmmmm!!

I love being able to cook in our apartment. Even though we're "on holiday" (as the numerous Brits around us say), we were getting exhausted with eating out so much. We attended a paella and sangria demonstration this afternoon and I have every intention of trying to create this when I return home (let's be honest sangria will be made as soon as we buy some more fruit!). To the left, I created a "Langostino al Estepona" and to the right you'll see this morning,s breakfast of pan y mantiquilla (surprise surprise), queso, cerezas (surprise surprise), and mimosas con cava... like I said, it just doesn't get old.

Tomorrow, we actually have quite a busy day. We had origninally planned to head to Tarifa to take the morning ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to spend the day in Tangier, Morocco. We thought "we're coming all this way, let's do it"... but plans have changed (and let's be honest, we WILL be back!). Instead, we are going on a 7-hour cooking excurion (originally with two other resort couples, now it's just the two of us!... how romantical!!...) amidst the Ronda mountains near Gaucin Village (about an hour away) where a chef will prepare 5 different rustic dishes (heck yes accompanied by regional wines). We get to hand pick our ingredients from the nearby farms and orchards and prepare everything with the chef!! We. Can't. Wait. And yes, like mentioned above, I have every intention of returning and cooking at home.
Finally, the obligatory 'toes in the sun' (pool in the background as I didn't have my camera on the beach during my morning meditation... nor the beer) with a little shoutout to my big girl (can't wait to hear your stories from South Africa and to travel together when you get to Spain!!).

Monday, June 21, 2010

Slow News Day...

Not too much to report today...unless you'd like me to share a detailed account of our buffet breakfast, or our afternoon spent poolside, or our beachside dinner. Very lazy day spent doing nothing but enjoying the sun & wonderful resort here in Estepona. Only appointment we had today was watching the Espana vs Honduras world cup match this evening (Spain won 2-0)....gotta love being on vacation. I'm told the weather in Seattle is grey and rainy, so i wont torture anyone any further.

Agenda for tomorrow looks very much the same. WAIT, almost forgot...we're going to the grocery store tomorrow. That may very well be too much for one day.

Hasta luego

Sunday, June 20, 2010

We just spent another couple of FABULOUS days in Seville… do wish we could visit here in the springtime as we are told that the scent of fresh spring naranjas should be a scent everyone experiences (a tip to you- mom, dad, & Beckerleys!)

You’ll recall from the previous post that our first event in Seville, though a tad annoying, was memorable and we did notice that this was the most touristy and “American-ny” of our Iberian Experience thus far (overheard as we paseo’d last night): “Are you from Seville? No?? You’re from Mexico?!?![shriek] We’re from America!!!!”… sigh… Congratulations sweetheart, you found someone from the same continent.

We did have a most enjoyable and memorable trip though as we started our Saturday with a 2-hour tour by Concepion Delgado whom you will recognize from Rick Steves’ Seville section of his Spain book and dvd. “Conthepthion” is a quirky and fun lil’ Sevilliana who tours small groups (we refused to do a larger cattle-call type of group or be with anyone younger than 25... when did we get so old??). There were about 5 other couples, including another young couple from Seattle, in our group. Following this walking tour of Barrio Santa Cruz ([where we were staying at the YH Giralda- once an 18th century abbots’ house] and doing the majority of our dining at Casa Tomate [because Leo quickly became BFFs with the bartenders]) and a quick tapas break, we joined her for another tour, this time specifically of the Alcazar. You are probably thinking, “didn’t you just do an Al-cathar tour?”… well yes… but this is a 10th century palace (rebuilt in the 14th century) that still functions as a royal palace and is the oldest in Europe- GORGEOUS- (let’s just hope I got those facts right!). The architecture, tiles, and art galore was amazing (that, and a little weird… there are many designs [15th century? Can’t recall exactly] that are hard to explain, such as the men whose bodies curl into some sort of tailed fruit bowl). This is also an extremely popular sight for wedding photos and we saw bride & groom after bride & groom posing for the shots of their wedding day (this began at around noon and we saw the last couple leave the Cathedral after midnight). After a quick tapas and café break, we toured the gardens and headed over to tour Seville’s Cathedral (yes, another Cathedral tour… but again, this is the largest Gothic church in the world!... I think. To see the alter alone was worth the entry fee) and walk up the Giralda tower- 330 feet up, about 36 flights of ramps (woo hoo, no stairs!) to see the best views of Seville. All of that walking warranted a much needed siesta.

Following our siesta, Leo had the great idea of renting bicycles and riding down to the Guadalquivir River (near the bullring and across from Triana neighborhood) to catch an Sevillian sunset behind the Bridge of Triana/ Isabell II Bridge. A memorable and amazing ending to our short stay in Seville!... a place to which we will one day return to capture the scent of orange trees in the springtime.

We've now arrived at our 'home away from home' for the next couple of weeks: Playa Andaluza in Costa Del Sol (THANKS mom & dad!!)... warning: radio silence approaching soon...

Friday, June 18, 2010

To be 19 again...

... quick update (even though I just posted the previous one that I wrote earlier)... as I type, I am sitting in an Irish bar watching the US vs. Slovenia game (I MUST love that man-o-mine). I feel like I should be [cough cough] years younger and in the 19-21 age bracket as that is who I am surrounded by. Can't even get a GD Spanish beer (I came all this way to drink Heinekin??) and I just ordered and ate and ordered fries (no- NOT patatas fritas!!!) and chicken strips. Overheard (and I'm trying not to throw up in my mouth):
*"How often do the goalies score?"
*"EEWWWEE Guinness is, like, the worst beer in the world. It's like sooooo gross!"
*"[SHRIEK/SCREAM/SQUEAL]" when US was no where close to the ball.
*"God Bless Ah merh ah kaaaaaa" when US did score it's second goal.

Am I in Seville or Cancun??... I feel like I should be wearing beads as currency.

de Segovia a Seville

I write this post from the AVE as we travel from Segovia to Seville (about a 2.5 hour train ride). We are very excited to spend the next couple of days there as we continue our journey to the southern coast of Spain, the Costa del Sol (we’ll be staying in Estepona). But first, I wanted to share some of our events, stories, and pictures from our couple of days in historic Segovia.

You’ll see from Leo’s previous post that we left Madrid and arrived in Segovia on Wednesday evening. Excited for a ‘quick trip’ out of the city, we really had no idea the beauty and history we were in store for. The city (or at least the historic, now a bit touristy part) is centered around a Roman aquaduct- such an incredible sight, and again, just reminds you how small you really are. Thursday morning, we started con nuestro desayuno favorito- café solo, pan y mantequilla, y zumo (jugo) naranja before heading out for a day filled with sightseeing. Our hotel was near the aquaduct, at the bottom of a plaza (meaning the rest of the town and sights was all up hill and up many many steps… better to get that out of the way in the beginning of the day!). We explored back roads off the main path to view small alleys, gorgeous doors and windows (a photo op request from my girl Dana McG), and hidden restaurants. Before touring the Alcazar and the Cathedral, we came upon a flea (& farmer’s) market and decided to but some local fruit: naranjas, manzanas y cerezas… only two handfuls of cerezas (and for those of you who know me well, know that’s barely ANY in my book!).

Obviously, the tours of both the Alcazar and Cathedral were memorable (and although the photos don’t even capture half the experience, you can get the basic idea), I wanted to share some of our other memories and anecdotes from yesterday:
*While in a busier section of the town, I look down the street to see a white Great Pyrenees dog (for those that never knew our family’s dog in Oklahoma and New Mexico, Claire was this type- a large white sheep-herding dog) walking down the street… with mail in his mouth! A mail carrying dog! While we were unable to capture the exact moment (he was quite speedy as well) with his head turned to us, we later caught a shot of him at a local shop, ‘keeping guard’ (i.e., begging for us to pet him).

*There is nothing quite like taking a snack break, munching on local fruit, under the shadow of the Alcazar while listening to the birds and little boys play around a statuesque fountain.

*We had the most fantastic lunch yesterday. While the food es muy delicioso, it was more about the adventure of finding a new place, having a couple of beers and for Leo, the chichironas tapas (the boy loves his pig fat… almost as much as futbol). I was excited to order the local sopa, las judiones de La Granja: soup with giant, flat, white beans, chorizo, and jamon. So delicious that I bought a bag of the beans to bring home to try to make myself. Thanks to my friend Courtney’s suggestion, I’ve been keeping a mental list of recipes to share. I’ll have to find a suitable bean as a replacement and can only hope I can capture at least 50% of the flavor!

*More about food (but Vegetarians be ware)… you can’t come to Segovia without having a taste of cochinillo asado: roast suckling pig (21 days of mother’s milk, into the oven, and onto our plate!). Not my favorite of meals so far (a VERY rich pork, with a hint of gamey-ness… but damn, that skin is gooood). It’s all about the experiences, right?

*I am so thankful of how (carry-on rolling backpack and over the shoulder travel purse) and some of the things I have packed (given this is my first international experience). Here are what I feel are some must haves if you will be traveling: couple of pairs of Ex Officio (or Brook’s Moving Comfort) underware- wicking, easily washable, and wonderful; Go Lite’s (or purchased through Title 9) reversible travel dress- Beet? Black? Hard to beat!; Dr. Bronner’s bar soap- used as minty fresh laundry soap (in the sink), shaving cream, and shampoo so far; and last and far from least, a travel partner that you love (and it doesn’t hurt if he speaks the language of the country you are visiting, but it is not required). What is required is that you travel with someone with whom you can not only share the cultural and culinary experiences, but with someone with who you can easily verbally and nonverbally communicate with. I am truly blessed to have all of those things with me on this journey! How lucky am I??

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Futbol es vida

Started off the day by packing up our things in preparation for our eventual departure from Madrid to head to Segovia (NW of Madrid). After breakfast we took a short stroll thru Madrid's Plaza Mayor. A big central square lined with restaraunts, shops and of course the inevitable street vendor. While admiring the surrounding architecture and history of the square (bullfights, gatherings & executions used to be held there) one street "vendor" in particular caught our eye. Spiderman! But this was no ordinary Peter Parker, more like Pedro Porker! He took a liking to Erin and as you can tell she got a little creeped out...

After the morning stroll we dropped our bags at the train station, then went to visit one of the oldest and most successful futbol clubs in Europe if not the world...Real Madrid CF & thier Bernabeau Stadium. I cant begin to describe how much history the club and stadium have written into the books over the last century, but sufice to say that FIFA (soccers global governing body) named Real Madrid the Futbol Club of the Century in 2000. Anyhow, given that most of you are not big fans of the game i'll save the details for another time. But here are a few pics we photo not here (requires scanning) is one of Erin and her "dreamboat" Cristiano Ronaldo side by side...and here i thought i was the only soccer player in her life! I should also mention my "wardrobe change" as i broght my Sounders jersey along for a few of the photo opps...what can i say i come prepare for any and all situations!!

As if the tour wasnt enough, we had plans to stay in Madrid to watch Spain play their first world cup match. Before entering for the tour we noticed there was a "Madrid Fan Viewing Zone" being setup and decided to stick around and watch the game there. The fans of "La Furia Roja" came out in droves to support their country (i'm guessing @ 3000 fans), and it was unlike any sport viewing event i've ever been a part of...singing, cheering, drums, more singing & cheering. Though the Spanish were upset by the Swiss 1-0 (major upset...more on that in a bit), it was one of those once or twice in a lifetime events. And i'm so glad we were there to witness the worlds biggest sporting event (the world cup..not the NBA Finals) from such a unique and authentic perspective. Here are a few photos of Erin and I taking it all in.

After viewing the match we hopped back onto the subway and headed for the train station to catch our high speed train to Segovia. As you can see from the photos i wore a Spain jersey and after the match was talked up by many people about the game...never before have i seen a people so enamoured with their sport. General consensus in Madrid was that the end of the world was near. The shocking loss was quite literally the talk of the country today...the evening news didnt cover much else...The 30 minute high speed train ride into Segovia made me realize just how behind the times the infrastructure in the US really is. Efficient, clean, comfortable, reliable...i'm running out of adjectives to describe just how easy it is to get around.

After a short bus ride from the Segovia train station we arrived near our hotel, and with some directions from the local police and a few Segovians we arrived at our hotel "el hospedaje del gato". This place is a small "pension" above a bar of the same name. The place is a modest, clean, small town "mom & pop" with all the basic comforts, and pretty cheap. Thanks to Rick Steves for this one. After checking in I took an evening siesta while Erin read, then we grabbed a late night tapas meal a couple of beers...then called it a day.

As day 3 comes to a close, i'm reminded of just how lucky i am to not only be on such an amazing adventure, but lucky to be able to share that adventure with someone special. Not only does Erin put up with my constantly playing soccer back home, but she supports my interest (sometimes she calls it an obsession) with the game when we're half a world away. That support makes it possible to have days like today where i can be "like a kid in a candy store". Thank you for a great day together, babe.

Hasta luego...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Prado, Parque, y Paella

I credit Leo with the clever alliteration as I wanted to title today's post something to the affect (effect?? gawd I never know...) of "Spanish Cougars Love a Lion" or better yet, "Pumas Espanolas aman el Leon"... but more on that in a bit.
I write this at 1:30am (although posted today, i.e., "the next day" as Leo made me go to bed... to much late night cafe!), still with paella y sangria con cava (a white sangria with lemons, oranges, and cava... right?!?!) food baby. For the most part (with the exception of this late night as I had a 9pm Siesta), we are on the Spanish time schedule- got up early, were quite touristy all day, but included a couple of brief siestas and a late night meal.

After breakfast, a morning stroll, and an hour-long wait at the train station (buying tickets for tomorrow's trip to Segovia and Friday's trip to Sevilla) we headed through Parque del Buen Retiro, passing by an annual outdoor book fair, on our way to lunch at Taberna del Dolores (recommended by Sr. Ricardo el Steveso). Seriously, the food is so amazing and we started with almendras y aceitunas (salted madrona almonds and green olives). I wanted something as close to a sandwich and was pleased to see about ten different canapes (as close as one can get) for about 2.50 euros and ordered (yes, ordered MYSELF in Spanish :) the salmon y queso y jamon bellota. Leo ordered torta casar... thinking he'd ordered either a spanish omelet or a sandwhich... turns out "torta casar" is Spanish for "$13 euros worth of stinky cheese" that we felt would require a minimum of 8 people to finish but the four top next to us proved us wrong!! Not able to even polish off a quarter of this, we shared it with the table of 6-8 Spanish cougars (i.e., pumas) who Leo had been charming... boy didn't get awarded his high school's Biggest Flirt for no good reason!

Following lunch we then headed to Museo Nacional del Prado, one of Europe's most famous art museums. Clouds had been flirting with us yesterday and today (very Northwesty of them) so we had no ill feelings about spending time indoors. Taking advice from Sr. Ricardo del Steveso, we picked the time following the lunch hour (siesta-ish) but before the over crowded 'free' time. Thanks to Samantha Brown's Passport to Europe: Madrid episode, I at least knew of two paintings that I wanted to see (so what that one of them was a nekked lady... don't judge). If you've seen that episode, you may also remember her tapas tour guide, Federico- CELEBRITY SPOTTING as I also saw Federico guiding tourists at the Prado! Anyhoo... we were able to see some of the most amazing (words can not even describe how small they make you feel) masterpieces of Goya, Velazquez, El Greco, and Tiepolo (may or may not have missed the Rembrandts... one of the hardest thing about museums is seeing it all, even in four long hours!!).
The clouds knew we needed some sol so they let it shine through as we strolled back through the Parque to siesta lakeside. The sun glittered off the water as numerous people paddled around in rented rowboats. We spread out a blanket (thanks BA!) and lay like broccoli, soaking up the sun and ambiance.
When the clouds came back, it was time to head back to the hotel (that AND it was 7pm- time flies when you have no place to be!), first grabbing some sweet treats (and maybe another jamon canape) at El Museo del Jamon. Another siesta in the room and then we were off with the intention of having paella y sangria at El Caldero, a restaurant right around the corner from our Hotel Miau... mission accomplished! Another amazing day on vacation! Tomorrow we will tour Real Madrid's futbol stadium and watch the Spain match in Madrid (guess who will be posting about tomorrow's adventures??) before catching the train to Segovia.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Day 0: Getting to Spain...

Well today was the day that's been almost a year in the making. Our good friend Amy dropped us off at SeaTac airport and our journey began. As with most trips there were a few snags along the way, but as of the drafting of this post (en route from Heathrow to Madrid) things have gone relatively smooth. Here are the lowlights and highlights.

The plan all along was to pack very minimally and carry our baggage on to the plane. We didnt want to have to be slowed down by checking luggage, plus limiting the amount of things we packed kept it adventurous. Well thanks to "insert name" that plan went out the window right at the S gates of SeaTac. After having a light meal, Erin and I were in line at the gate to check our documentation and ensure the online boarding process had gone smoothly. When for no apparent reason, a BA gate rep...lets call her "Jaquline", pulled us aside and asked to check the sizing of our bags. Now I had been trying to avoid this scenario as i knew my bag was techincally a few cm over the length limit, but my efforts to go unnoticed went in vain. Upon learning that my bag would need to be gate checked, "lady" instructed me to go see "Michelle". Needless to say I had no idea who Michelle was and thus started my first fit of anger. Those who know me, know that patience is a virtue I rarely if ever posses. But I was able to keep my cool by repeating the "i'm on vacation" mantra. I transfered a few key items into my backpack and prayed my bag would meet me on the other side as i watched "lady" carry it off.

The flight from Seattle to London was relatively uneventful. Except for the elderly man who reached into the overhead bin, let a coat fall out of said overhead bin...spilling my Ginger Ale (an in flight favorite) and water all over my pants. Once again my patience was tested and I failed the test. Got upset, but counted to 392 and began getting over it as my pants began to dry 2 hours later. Having semi-successfully navigated obstacle #2 of the trip, I setteld in with my magazines, our Rick Steve's guide book, and some good headphones for the personal seatback TV. I was able to watch 2 movies, "Invictus" (starring Matt Damon & Morgan Freedman) and Sherlock Holmes both of which i'd recommend. I also got to hear the self titled release by "Broken Bells". Been meaning to hear more of that CD as i'm a fan of both The Shins? & Gnarls Barkley and members of each are represented.

After about 9 hours, we landed at London's Heathrow airport. Here are a couple of anecdotes from my whopping 3 hours at Heathrow. First off, if you can ever avoid connecting or from anywhere other than Heathrow's Terminal it. I cant begin to explain the bass-ackwards process we had to endure today. We landed at T5 and had to connect to our Madrid flight in T3. You’d think going from one terminal to another would be easy right? Well, not exactly. After navigating a dozen or so escalators, we got to take a bus through the back roads of Heathrow. This is where i learned that the Brits like to be wordy & proper...for instance a “Yield” sign in the States is a “Give Way” sing in the UK. Why use 2 words when 1 will do?? Anyhow, after about a 25 min ride, we arrived at T3, a terminal straight out of 1974. To make things more difficult, we got to stand in line for another 20 min in order to go through security again...easily outdoing any of the inefficient airports back home. I will say this, the TSA equivalent in London were much more polite. No yelling about liquids in bags, shoes needing to be taken off or laptops out, just polite reminders and prompts moving people through the process. (Someday i’ll post a rant about the ineptitude of TSA in the US). Once through security, we arrived at a terminal that looked and felt more like a shopping mall than an airport. The basic process is that you roam the shops or food court area and keep an eye on the monitors. About an hour prior to boarding, you gate gets posted to your flight, and off you go. Very different... the duty free shops are obviously benefiting from the setup. Cartier, Tiffany, Harrods, toys stores you name it, it was packed with tourists buying stuff.

Flight from London to Madrid was delayed by about 45 minutes as we “waited to find 5 peices of baggage” tell me when you’ve ever heard of such a thing?! In the States, you’re bags don’t make it, too f’in bad...that flight is going! Nice customer service for those anonymous few whose bags benefitted from the delay, but a bit annoying after having been in transit for over 12 hours.

Arrival in Madrid was perfect, great new & modern airport terminal. We decided to take the 2€ metro (aka subway) in lieu of a 35€ cab ride. Great decision...the system here is easy to use and very efficient. We did have to make 2 transfers, but the ride from the airport to our destination station was about 45 min...sure beats sitting in traffic on 5 or 405. Our hotel in Madrid is situated near the Plaza Santa Ana near many bars, tapas, and sites. After taking a nap we walked the streets, known as “Paseo” and had our first authentic tapas meal. We had Jamon, Croquettas & some bread with evoo & tomatoes. I had beers while Erin had red wine. Afterwards, we roamed the area a bit, found an ice cream stand and split the dulce de leche.

Were beat so we’re going to turn in and do some sight seeing and such tomorrow. I promise my future posts will not be this long...and if they are i promise to make them funnier, or try.

Hasta luego...


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

3 more work days...

... and only 5 more sleeps (6 if you count the red-eye, but we don't) until Erin and Leo go to Spain!! We are SO very excited for our first international trip!

We decided to start a blog and our first postings will be about our upcoming trip to Spain- woo hoo!! We hope to keep in touch via 'pictures, posts, and anecdotes' and pretty much rub it in everyone's face that we are in Spain- woo hoo!! You'll see our buddies (pictured here) in some of our upcoming travel photos when we are bored of photos of ourselves (for those that know Erin well, you know this may be a while).

We head to Spain (via London) on Sunday. We'll spend a couple of days each in Madrid, Segovia, and Seville, before 'camping out' (HA!!) in Estepona on the Costa del Sol. We have several day trips planned for those two weeks but also have many more beach, pool, and all day siestas planned too. After Leo heads home on July 5, Erin will meet Jessica in Barcelona where they will get in trouble... er, behave... for another week and a half together.

The fasten seatbelt sign has been lit for your safety... enjoy the ride with us!
Erin & Leo