Tuesday, December 2, 2014

We're moving to...

Did you ever play that game as a kid where you spun a globe around and stopped it with your finger to see where you were going to live or go on vacation? I know I'm a map nerd, but this can't just be me. It was fun to imagine ending up in those far-away places, while singing a little chorus of "round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows!" as the globe turned.

(Completely unrelated, but I traded my last office an old microwave for this globe, straight up. I'd say I got the better deal.)

When Graham and I discussed his transition to civilian life, we both agreed that our top priority would be to stay overseas, ideally in Europe. But applying for jobs is a bit like a grown-up version of spinning the globe and as various positions became available, we decided to get adventurous and widen our scope.

Which is how our metaphorical fingers came to land on our next home...

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Carvoeiro, Portugal

How do you go about deciding where to pick up with blogging again when you have a backlog of over a year of travel? You could create a detailed posting schedule or...you could just open up your photos folder and see what pops out at you. Let's go with that. 

And that haphazard approach is appropriate here, because this long-weekend trip to Portugal came about in the same under-planned way.

Labor Day for Graham was a four-day weekend (a "96" in milspeak) and as it was approaching, we casually decided we would go somewhere in the Algarve, the southern region of Portugal, along the coast. It's only a few hours by car, we'd been before, it's generally affordable, the beaches are pretty, the food is a nice change from Spanish cuisine, and we could take the dogs with us. We let that non-specific decision hang until two days before the weekend started when we realized that we'd probably need, you know, a place to stay. Cue furious searching on booking.com.

I set my sights on popular Lagos and came up short. Expanding the search to surrounding towns, a room in I-have-never-heard-of-this-place-before Carvoeiro popped up that seemed like a steal. Click, click, booked.

Off to Carvoeiro we went! And we were happy to find that our procrastination hadn't cost us a great weekend. Our hastily booked accommodation overlooked the beach as promised and we had a giant terrace that dwarfed our somewhat tiny, but typically-sized European room. The town was charming and to top it off was celebrating their patron saint that weekend. Bustling holiday atmosphere, concerts in the town square, religious processions, quirky traditions, and fireworks commence!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Where the hell have you been?!

And what the hell are you still doing in Spain?! Two questions you might be asking, if there's anyone out there to still ask questions after my heinously long hiatus. 

To answer the first question, I've been a lot of places - Scotland, Cordoba, Champagne, Normandy, Amsterdam, Asturias, Turkey, Portugal, and most recently the States. I actually had to scroll through my instagram to remember all of those, which I realize makes me sound like a complete privileged snob/asshole. But seriously, it's been a whirlwind spring and summer of travel, as we've tried to pack in as much as we can. And in my defense, I'm still slightly jet lagged. 

The second question is a little more complicated. Graham's 3-year orders to Spain were up in May, but we're still here. And that's because...HUGE NEWS...CAPS WORTHY NEWS...

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Cheeeeeese! Feria del Queso in Trujillo

I broke one of my own rules and planned a vacation during the Rota feria. But! I have two very good excuses. One, the feria dates have been thrown off this year by the lateness of Easter - Sevilla's Feria de Abril was at the beginning of May and Rota's was before Sevilla's, not to mention El Puerto's is sadly over the American Memorial Day long weekend, and I'll be traveling for most of that, as well. Both trips were planned well before the feria dates were released. 

Two, and possibly a far better reason, I missed the traditional Rota Feria de la Primavera for a feria dedicated to one of my very deepest loves - cheese! And this trip was a long time in the making. 

Flashback to two very jetlagged newlyweds, their small dog, multiple bags and a rental car full of giddy and groggy optimism as they drove from Madrid to El Puerto de Santa María nearly three years ago... 

On our very first day of living together in Spain, I sat shotgun as Graham navigated the long drive from the capital to our new town in the south. To pass the time, I followed along in our recently purchased Eyewitness Travel Spain guidebook. As we passed a medieval hilltop city, I read aloud about Trujillo - birthplace to conquistadors, site of a moorish fortress, and host to an annual cheese fair. Upon reading that last bit, I immediately proclaimed that we would one day return to Trujillo. 

And we did! Painfully aware that this year would probably be our last opportunity to go, we rallied some friends (some of the same people we went to Rome with over Thanksgiving) and rented a house in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, a pueblo just outside of Trujillo, for the long weekend of the Feria Nacional del Queso, the National Cheese Fair. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014


"Do you go to the processions?" asked my Spanish-American hair stylist. "Yes, of course!" I replied from my seat in front of the mirror. And then we proceeded to talk about how much we love to go out for Semana Santa - how lively the town is, how much fun it is to join the crowds, gathering to eat and drink with friends. 

What I'm trying to say, without sounding completely irreverent, is that yes, I do love the processions. For different reasons than the deeply devout, but there is just such a palpable energy in the streets, bars, restaurants, and on the beaches that can be felt and enjoyed by everyone. Which is probably due to a combination of Catholic fervor and the majority of the population enjoying vacation days. In Andalucía, Semana Santa is like a sneak peek of what summer will bring interlaced with age old religious traditions. 

I went to downtown El Puerto several times during Semana Santa. Here are some pictures from the Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) and Viernes Santo (Good Friday) processions. 

Domingo de Ramos

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hello, hello, hello...

I fell off the blogging horse hard. I wondered if I should even bother to get back up, but here I am. So, this is me, dusting myself off and making an attempt to write again. And maybe there are still a few of you out there reading...? 

Part of what has been holding me back is that I have such a backlog of trips and experiences that I want to share and I didn't know where to begin. There's been a lot going on in the first three months of 2014.

Within the first week of the year, I made a day trip to Morocco. Nothing like a different continent to start the year off right! That was followed by a long weekend in Madrid, a roadtrip to Galicia, and just recently I returned from a last minute, 5-day getaway to France. I know, tough life.

Throw in some quick visits to the always stunning de la Fronteras (Vejer, Jerez, Arcos) and Cádiz...

Friday, March 7, 2014

3 random things that have me excited for spring

Who doesn't love warmer weather, sunshine, flowers in bloom, and more time spent outside enjoying those things? Yeah, those are all great parts of spring. But yesterday's higher temps (in the 70s - sorry to all of my friends and family freezing on the East Coast!) had me thinking about a few unique things that make me excited for Spanish spring.

1. Having hot water on demand. At our house, like many in the area, the hot water is produced by solar panels. How smart, green, and progressive! Except in the winter, when sun is harder to come by. We do have a back-up system that is electric, but it has to be turned on manually and takes an hour or two to make enough hot water for a shower. It's essential to plan for showers ahead of time and morning showers are pretty much impossible, unless one of us gets up in the middle of the night to flip the switch (never happens). All that glorious sunshine that spring brings equals hot water all the time, any time. 

2. Turning off the dehumidifier. Winters here are cool and damp, the perfect recipe for mold and mildew, so it's important to make sure the inside of our casa stays dry. Regularly opening up the house helps, but we also use a dehumidifier to remove moisture from the air, which is especially important in our master bathroom. It's amazing how much water it pulls from the air. Warm, dry spring means not having to constantly run or empty the dehumidifier! 

3. Laundry! I know, this one seems especially strange to be excited about. Most people dream about relaxing in the sun, perhaps with a cool beverage, once the temperature begins to rise. But doing laundry throughout the winter is even more tedious than the rest of the year, since dryers here tend to be small and ineffective and line-drying takes forever, thanks to how humid it is and the increase in rainfall. A sweater can take the better part of a week to dry. Crisp, freshly line-dried laundry beats a semi-damp sweater any day!

Sunshine on my laundry makes me happy...

So, there you go, a post about Spanish spring that has absolutely nothing to do with Carnaval, tintos de verano, or even feria. All of that is fabulous, but it's interesting the everyday details that have me excited for the change in season. Maybe I'm just getting old, but being able to hop in the shower without having to consider when I turned on the water heater is pretty amazing. Appreciate the small things in life and whatnot.

It's also no coincidence that all of these things involve using less electricity. The cost of electric in Spain is very high (and increasing steadily) and being able to ditch the hot water heater, dehumidifier, and dryer is a great way to lower our monthly costs. More money for tintos de verano! Ah, that's the true meaning of the season...

What random things about spring are you looking forward to? Does anyone else living in Spain relate to this list?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

40 days without...

After quite a hiatus, what has made me break my internet silence? Maybe a memorable trip or fantastic food or an interesting local tour? Even though I've experienced all those recently, no. I'm here to talk about what I'm giving up for Lent, because putting yourself on blast on the interwebs is a modern requirement for accountability, right?

(Important sidenote:  I'm not Catholic or even particularly religious, but I do like the idea of challenging yourself. Hence, Lenten sacrifice for this self-identifying spiritual-not-religious girl.)

In past years, I've given up meat and last year I gave up my beloved soda, which were health challenges that turned into permanent lifestyle changes. 40 days (technically 46) of living without something seems to be the perfect amount of time to for me to reduce its importance and presence. Now, a soda is a rare treat and I'll only make an exception to eat meat if it's something I truly want (jamón most often falls into this category, really can you blame me?). 

Realizing that this is another good opportunity for me to make a similar health change for the better, I'm giving up (most) store-bought, processed foods. This isn't a restrictive diet, but rather a requirement that if I eat something processed, it has to be homemade. If I want a cookie, I have to make it. Same goes for pasta, bread, sauces, dressings, soups, pizza, desserts, etc. 

Homemade pasta - yes. 

Wine - yes.

What stays? Obviously, cheese, wine, and chocolate, since there is no practical way to make those at home and they are near and dear to my heart. Another exception - going out to eat, which is an important part of my social life here in Spain. Absolutely no meat though, and no desserts that I didn't make. 

Cheese - you'll have to pry it from my cold, dead fingers. 

Principe cookies - no. 

This isn't Whole30 or Primal or Paleo (never going to happen...see above regarding cheese, wine, and chocolate) just a conscious decision to learn how to be more proficient in the kitchen and to be mindful about what I'm eating. If anything, I guess it could be called the 40 Days of Homemade Challenge.

Cronut - sadly, no. 

So how am I doing after a day and a half? Breakfast is a bit difficult, since I normally just snag a granola bar on my way out the door to the gym, but I've survived with eggs and yogurt instead. I think the biggest key will be planning and cooking ahead, when I would normally opt for something easy and pre-packaged. Which means the first homemade challenge to be tackled will be granola bars. 

Yesterday's breakfast - garlic sautéed spinach with a hard-boiled egg and balsmic vinegar. Great, when I have enough time. 

And yes, I'm pretty sure Graham is convinced I've gone full-hippie after buying coconut oil and a giant bag of rolled oats. What's he giving up? A classic deadly sin - sloth, meaning he plans to workout every day, no exceptions.

Wish us luck! What, if anything, are you giving up or taking on? 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Perfect Roman Respite: Frascati

You might have assumed that this would be a holiday recap post, since Monday was the final day of the epically long Spanish holiday season, but no! Because Graham and I aren't even finished celebrating Christmas. Although it may seem like we're trying to out-Spanish the Spanish by waiting to open gifts until after Three Kings Day, really it's because it's taken until now for all of our packages to be delivered (with one still unaccounted for, ahh, the mysteries of the military postal system). So, our Christmas will be happening Friday night. Take that, tradition!

In the meantime, let's get back to Rome!
Our first two days in Rome were spent taking in the city to the fullest, since it was Graham's first time there. In exchange for being an enthusiastic second-time tourist, I wanted a day to do something outside of the city and hoped it would involve sipping wine in the countryside. The rest of our group was interested too, so the day also needed to be kid-friendly, which is not something I normally have to take into account, but it turned out there was a perfect solution.

After a bit of internetting, I came across the wine tour at the Old Minardi Farmhouse, which seemed to be just what we were looking for, but unfortunately wasn't open on Saturdays, the day that we had set aside for our excursion out of the city. I figured it was worth a quick email inquiry...and it most definitely was! I received a reply from Dominique, an American who had married into the Minardi family, and she was more than just accommodating, she was enthusiastic! 

On our last full day in Italy, our big group, littles included, headed for the Alban Hills southeast of Rome. Our destination was the small town of Frascati, one of the Castelli Romani, the historic refuge and playground of well to-do Romans for centuries. And now ours for a day!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Hola 2014

And adios 2013. I won't say good riddance, but honestly, I'm not sad to see you go.

 The past year is probably best summed up with these famous words...It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

Truly a year with the highest of highs and lowest of lows. I lived and loved another year of Spain, falling more deeply for its charms, enjoying its lifestyle more than ever before. We indulged in all things la buena vida - food, drink, travel, experiences, quality time with friends, lazy days of leisure. 

But it was also a year of challenges and heartache. We lost two dear family members. Our car was totaled in an accident. Graham was not chosen for an opportunity that we had both pinned our hearts to. And that is just the worst of the bad. Like most people, for every happy snap on instagram or excited update on facebook, there was always more to the story, life behind the scenes. 

So, this year, I'm hoping for a more even keel. It's our last year in Spain and I want to make it count, to focus on life here in El Puerto and to plan for trips throughout the country and Europe. I have no idea what my world will look like this time next year. But for now, I have my lovely life in Spain, a great husband (and two little dogs) to share it with, wonderful friends and family flung far and wide, and a long list of travel dreams. I am grateful and I am optimistic.

I spent New Year's Eve with Graham and several close friends. At midnight, I ate 12 grapes, chased them with cava and kisses. On New Year's Day, we had black-eyed peas and greens. I'm hedging my bets with both Spanish and American traditions for a happy 2014!

And I'm wishing you the same. Besitos and best wishes!