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!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Two Day Roman Holiday

Just returned from a fantastic trip to Vienna and Budapest a few days ago, so now I'm going to share some pictures from our Thanksgiving trip to Rome. Makes no sense, but it's been kind of a whirlwind here between travel and general holiday chaos (including a mad dash to get everything wrapped and shipped to the States before the postal service deadline), so it is what it is. 

Our trip to Rome, like many great ideas, was born out of some boozy, wine-induced conversations with friends about renting a villa over the Thanksgiving holiday. We decided on Rome since some of us had never been, not been in a while, or really...why not go to Rome? There's history, culture, art, architecture, and if you're not into any of that, there's always the great food and wine. Somehow we managed to actually coordinate 4 families (8 adults and 5 littles) for a 4 day trip. It was a Friendsgiving/Thanksgiving/Thanksgivukkah miracle. 

Graham fell into the never-been-to-Rome category, while I had been years before during my semester abroad. I can be a little fussy about revisiting locations, but for Rome, I was happy to make an exception. Our compromise was that he got to plan two days in the city seeing all the typical sights and I got one day to do something outside of the city, preferably dedicated to food and/or wine (more on that later).

Our two days in Rome were essentially a greatest hits tour. Rome has so much to see, but also so many things you can't miss, that it's impossible to do it all. But as far as the top "must see" places, we felt like we came close. We were up early every day (each family decided to do their own thing during the first couple days, then get together for dinner at the villa) and were able to see a lot of the city. Here are the places that made the 2-day list:

Borghese Gallery

Our first stop was my suggestion. The Borghese Gallery is a relatively small, but impressive, collection of ancient Roman, Renaissance, and Baroque art housed inside the Villa Borghese.

I love this small museum (seriously, it's the perfect dose of art - in fact, tickets are only sold in 2 hour blocks) and it was a highlight of my first trip to Rome. It contains several absolutely stunning Bernini sculptures, which I consider to be some of the most beautiful in the world (sorry, Michelangelo). Apollo and Daphne is a heart-stopper for me and I'm not normally that moved by marble sculpture. It will impress even the most disinterested of viewers, I guarantee. 

To top off the experience, the villa is surrounded by a park, which is the perfect sanctuary from the surrounding bustle of Rome. It's fun to imagine being a Roman and taking strolls with Cora and Chloe through such a pretty green space.


The Borghese Gallery was my top choice and this was Graham's. We opted for the tour that includes access to the underground and top levels. 

The tour was completely worth it, as we were able to see the Colosseum from areas that other general entry tickets couldn't, which also meant getting away from the crowds, and had great views over the Palatine Hill and Forum. Not to mention, our tour guide was interesting and informative.

Roman Forum

We continued the ancient Rome theme with a stroll through the forum.

The Pantheon

In keeping with the theme, the 2000-year old Pantheon was our next stop. 

Piazza Navona

This was our last stop of the first day before heading back to the villa. Vendors were just setting up for a Christmas market and it was interesting to see one of Rome's most iconic piazzas sharing its space with a carousel. 

St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museums

No trip to Rome is complete without these two stops. We had pre-purchased tickets to the Museums, so getting in to see the Sistine Chapel was relatively easy, but we were stunned by how many people were lined up to enter the basilica. Luckily, it moved quickly (I had started to get a little flustered that we were going to have to give up) and we were inside the massive interior of St. Peter's.

There's really no way to describe how cavernous, yet perfectly proportioned and balanced, this space is. You are completely dwarfed;  it is truly awe-inspiring (and this is coming from a decidedly non-Catholic).

Graham with Michelangelo's Pieta. It is gorgeous, but I always think it's an interesting experience when you see a piece of famous art in person. When you see its image in pictures, you aren't aware of all the security measures, like bullet-proof glass and railings, or the fact that there is constantly a giant crowd of people jostling to get a look. The Mona Lisa is another perfect example of this.

Who doesn't love a man in a (funky) uniform?

Trevi Fountain

We had to ensure our next trip to Rome, of course. It worked for me last time, although it took the coin 11 years...

Piazza di Spagna

A quick pass by the Spanish Steps as the sun was setting was the end to our 2nd day.

So, there you have it. Our two day Rome itinerary. It's pretty standard and straightforward, but that didn't take away from the experience at all. These places are visited over and over (and the same ubiquitous images captured in photographs) with good reason. From ancient Rome to the Renaissance and beyond, this city contains some of the world's most iconic sights. 

Sometimes you have to embrace being a tourist. I loved every second of it!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Post-Thanksgiving Post

*I've realized that as much as I love sharing my travels and experiences through this blog, real life will always trump writing and posting, as long those things remain one hobby amongst many priorities, interests, and loves. Whether times are good or bad, and I've had large shares of both recently, it's more important for me to be present in the current moment, rather than sacrificing precious time to write about (and review, edit, and tweak) my past experiences. So, there you go, my somewhat vague justification for disappearing from the internet at random. I'll try my best to catch up and you can usually check in with me on Instagram (meghannbg).*

A couple things in the (very!) good times category:

We hosted a Friendsgiving potluck at our casa for 25 amigos. There weren't any elaborate tablescapes and barely enough chairs, but there was plenty of food (everything from gazpacho to cole slaw to pumpkin pie to jello with bananas), a fully stocked bar, and excellent company. Combining the best of both worlds, we deep-fried a fresh turkey from the carnicería.

Friendsgiving was followed by a trip to Rome for the Thanksgiving holiday. We rented a villa just outside the city with a group of friends and their peques. Instead of turkey, we had gnocchi and in general, a fabulous holiday getaway, filled with equal parts sightseeing and indulging.

One small snag (well, along with a stomach flu that took out half our group for a day, yuck) was that there was no wifi at the villa, so here are just a few phone snaps that I was unable to share in real time.

I'd say that if your biggest problem during the holiday is a lack of internet at your Roman villa, you have much to be thankful for, and I certainly am grateful for so much, despite some very difficult times this year. It's a wonderful thing when friends can get together wherever they are to celebrate a holiday and feel like family.

I'll have more Rome pics to share (and more Baltic roadtrip recaps) soon!

Hope you all had wonderful Friendsgivings, Thanksgivings, and Thanksgivukkahs!