I’m here in Philly visiting cousins and I have to admit I’m in love. Again. Those same cousins got married just a few years back when I had my first adventures through the City of Brotherly Love. Maybe I’m just homesick or maybe it’s really one of the most beautiful cities east of the Mississippi but Philadelphia is truly a brick-and-mortar darling. In downtown it’s impossible to miss the history and if you do its ideally because you are shoving a salty, doughy, soft pretzel in your face. First stop with Kristen (said cousin, who now has two amazingly behaved kids) was the Liberty Bell and the Constitution Center, where there were way too many other people and it was starting to get hot. I had forgotten how humid the Easy Coast gets, so did my hair. Next stop Benjamin Franklin’s grave and the Quaker Free House – for those of you that don’t know, Philadelphia was the U.S. Capital for a hot second and was, more importantly, a major strategic point during and after the War of Independence. It was hard for me not to feel just a little bit patriotic.
For lunch we went down to Harbor Park, an ultra cool urban waterfront compete with food trucks, hammocks and giant Legos. Dawson had a blast looking at the ships between bites of chicken and I watched in compete awe as my 6month old cousin learned to hold her own bottle up. I have, officially been in the land of over-babied babies for too long (that’s Spain btw). We scooted home for nap time and Kristen introduced me to new American trashy tv: Alaskan Bush People and Million Dollar Listing. Can’t. Stop. Watching. I meandered down the street to a coffee shop to get my fix of espresso, reminded that coffee shops in the states are now “stumptown cool” and everyone is plugged in at a table. My macchiato set me back $3.50, ouch. On a side note I am having a hard time not spending way too much money here, I am fortunate to make over 1k a month in Spain while my friends/cousins are raking in triple here for similar stuff. Miguel comes to visit in a few weeks (weeehooo!) and my mom has graciously offered house painting work so we can pay for Disneyland tickets. Thank you mom, I will accept your offer.
I’m on my way south to Virginia to celebrate 4th of July with my sister in barbecue territory and then fly west to home sweet home. I can’t wait. I’m so excited. Miguel was asking me yesterday if he would have any need for a button down shirt or tie…let me remind you, dear readers, that I am from the city of roses, the place where young people go to retire, socks and sandals casual, grungy, legal weed, the land of unicycles and brunch obsession. If you look like you’re ready to climb a mountain then you look like a Portlander. If Miguel can do that in a shirt and tie then more power to him but something tells me he has NO idea what he’s in for! Nirvana, that’s what.
Will post barbecue pictures, check back soon. If you can’t wait for more follow me on Instagram @eli_saurusRex 🇪🇸😍🇺🇸
I just got my bike card! Last spring these electric bikes were installed all over the center and I just couldn’t get my act together to get the membership card in time to ride them before I left for Portland. The fall was crazy, winter was cold and then my wallet was stolen by the metro. Between you and me I ink part of me was truly terrified to ride a bike here since Madrid doesn’t have a reputation for being the most cyclist friendly. First I bought a helmet and then por fin I got my membership card at the kiosk downstairs. Let’s say I’m a recreational biker, despite just about everyone I know owning a fixie and/or commuting everyday to work on a bike (shout out to my dad) in the States, I would really rather walk or bus most places than deal with the hassle of owning/locking/maintaining a bicycle. My memory is scarred by the slow disassembling of my college bike that someone undertook over the span of a week on campus; it was locked but that didn’t stop them from first taking the seat, then the wheels and finally the handlebars. A slow and public death, I saw new pieces taken everyday on my way to class. It was a garage sale find so replacing the parts would have been way more expensive than the thing itself. RIP blue Nishiki…you are missed…on weekends and sunny bank holidays. The truth is I rode it only when I was late to class and it was heavy as hell!
Okay fast forward two years and here I am with these electric bikes all over the city, a boyfriend who LOVES to rides bikes and a new helmet. Did I mention that it also never rains here? All things go: I got a discount with my metro card so the annual “abono” only runs me 25€ and the bikes are super easy to click in and out of the stations. I put 10€ of credit on my card and have been riding for a month almost everyday – since the price is fixed for the first two hours I never really spend that much, mostly I use them to go up and down hills between private lessons or dinner with friends so it’s cheap. Also since the stations are everywhere I need to be, it’s also awesomely convenient and I’m never searching for a kiosk. I’m crazy about them and love that the electricity kicks in right when you need it. Now we just need drivers to pay a little more attention, I’m actually signaling more than cars are out there but the little side streets are crazy fun and much less crowded. Madrid city center is small so hopping on a bike makes moving around easier and more enjoyable than the sweaty underground metro on pretty much any day! Miguel complained at first, these bikes aren’t real bikes, they’re hard to park, they’re expensive blah blah blah. Then one day I insisted that we ride them to the movies, my treat and he bit -the sheer joy of feeling that electric kick once you start pedaling had him convinced by the time we got there. We made it to the theater in half the time it would have taken in a car. Yeehooo!
We are both now talking about how we can ride to work, lucky for me my commute is in the city. His will require some dedication in the winter but it’s a challenge worth accepting. I’m just happy that I’ve rediscovered biking! If you see the girl with the I 💚 Oregon sticker on her helmet it’s probably me! Don’t run me over!
Good places to ride:
1. Madrid Rio: a waterfront route with lots of bikers and runners, stop to play at the oversized jungle gyms.
2. Retiro Park: avoid people/dogs but take lots of brakes for cold lemonade or ice cream
3. Casa de Campo: the city’s most expansive park on the outer edge of Latina/Moncloa, you could pack a lunch and spend all day there biking through the paved roads or on the cross-country style routes.
Everyday life here has become a little hectic, I’ve been traveling a lot and hosting tons of friends in my apartment. A little while back my good friends Florencia and Mansi from Argentina told me they were coming to Madrid to kick off a European vacation. They needed a place to stay and I was more than happy to open my doors (and foldable bed) since it had been years since I last saw them. I lived in Buenos Aires with Florencia when I was in college and seeing her again brought back all those study-abroad twilight memories, tons of dulce de leche and of course she stopped at nothing to tease me for my now super-Spanish accent (hah sorry che…). I was excited to introduce them to my life here though I must admit, its really bizarre to be a tour guide in a country I was only recently myself touring around. These are the kinds of friends that you can just pick up with right where you left off as if no time has passed at all – a welcome thing in the house of an expat. Florencia has not lost any of her wit and between her and Mansi its a hilarious combination of jokes and stories. On the first night in town we ordered pizza’s and caught up, played with the cats and went to bed so they could sleep off the jet lag.
Mansi has become a very fashionable and successful photo stylist and teacher in Argentina and he and Florencia asked if we could go to the Rastro Market, a once-a-week flee market that sets up right around the corner from my place every Sunday. Essentially you can find everything from vintage furniture to nic-nacs but more than anything the Rastro reads clothing. Mansi wanted vintage Levis and Florencia was looking for new shades. Hundreds of tourists and locals sift through piles of jackets, jeans and second hand wearables down a long hill and between usually empty side streets during midweek. I thought it would be a sweet opportunity to invite my talented photographer friend Kaitlin and see what she could snap while we navigated the twisty crowded streets. Maybe I’m under-selling this but the Rastro is actually a huge tourist attraction and an excellent excuse to explore the historic Latina neighborhood while sipping cañas and eating tapas.
We rolled out of bed that Sunday and met up with Kaitlin at a nearby café for some coffee before we began the hunt for Mansi’s bluejeans. First stop at the top of the hill, just past the Latina metro station is a sea of Levis and leather jackets. He immediately found some cool stuff and started bartering with the stall owner when not 30minutes later we lost him. Then we lost Florencia. Losing people at the Rastro is like living a Where’s Waldo nightmare so finding them soon was pretty much out of the question. They remember my address right?? I found some cool palazzo pants, Miguel found a Back to the Future replica Dolorian and Kaitlin found a grumpy old dog guarding a motorcycle who was decidedly more photogenic than any of us. Success. And eventually we did also find the Argentines back at my apartment nearby, phew! We ate lunch together at the Buha, famous for their goat cheese and onion tortilla española, planning the rest of the afternoon and soaking up the sun with sangria.
The next day Mansi and Florencia were off to Paris and the rest of their month-long backpacking trip through the continent while the rest of us were off to start the workweek rested and reconnected.
Follow stylist/professor Mansi on the twitter-sphere @JuanMansillaa and check out more of Kaitlin’s beautiful photos here.
A few weekends ago for San Isidro I went to a bull fight, perhaps the last thing I thought I would ever do here in Spain. I was hesitant for obvious reasons I think, killing for entertainment is not high on my list of tolerance but then I got a really nice invitation and the little voice in my head kept saying “keep an open mind, Eli”. I said yes, grabbed my nice camera and met Miguel to head over to Las Ventas. Right in the heart of Madrid, this recently remodeled amphitheater hosts concerts, events and of course bull fights. Today it was dressed to the nines, Spanish flags everywhere and traditional music playing. I was under the impression that a bull fight would be very man v. animal, a 1:1 dual to the death but was shocked to learn that there are multiple matadors who help tire out the animal before the main man takes over and leads the bull through the famous passes. Then there’s another bull, and another – there were 6 “fights” in one afternoon. We had sangria and bought cushions (in referencing Las Ventas to almost every spanish person they all mentioned these cushions, I think they might be as old as the stadium itself!). When a matador does an outstanding job, marked by how close he can get to the bull or how difficult the passes are that he achieves (behind the back or one handed) the crowd goes wild and waves white flags to demand that he get to cut off the bulls ear and take it home as a trophy. Our host eagerly explained the ritualistic nature of the fight whenever I had questions. I can’t decide if that maybe helped justify the brutality a little for me. Then we ate ham sandwiches; it was impossible for me not to feel honorarily spanish with the overwhelming tradition of it all.
If I can sum up my feelings about the fight in one word it would be intense. Its really an emotionally draining exercise to watch two creatures fighting each other with everything they’ve got knowing one of them wont make it to the end alive (usually the bull). I used to work on a farm in college in Portland where I had the chance to see an organic pig get killed, dressed and then returned to us as bacon. This after toying with vegetarianism and then realizing how hard it was for me to live without cured meat. In moderation. obvs. When I think about the state of meat production in the USA I can’t say that bull fighting is any less humane. The bulls are immediately broken down and sent to market where they sell at for top price for consumption. The only real difference here is the entertainment part, its not normal to watch something die with a drink in your hand and people cheering all around you. I tried to be as appreciative as possible to our host, and after having been sincerely doubt I will do it again, adding yet another thing to the list of impossible-to-simplify cultural experiences.
It’s getting hot here in Madrid and the streets are full of people enjoying the sunshine over tapas and drinks. A very common tapa is boquerones en vinagre, marinated anchovies – they’re salty, vinegary and best of all so refreshing on a hot afternoon. Lucky me my boyfriends grandmother is from a small town in the south, a place where they have mastered the art of marinating anchovies. She happily agreed to share the secret to this Spanish classic and I re-tested it back at home in my kitchen. This is the recipe:
-boquerones en vinagre-
- 15-20 fresh anchovies
- a lemon
- 1c. vinegar
- 2 cloves of garlic
- salt and pepper to taste
- olive oil
first things first, you have to clean these suckers – its the most labor intensive part i promise. to do this you need to cut off their heads, slice them in half lengthwise and then peel out the backbone. each anchovy yields two halves, lay the sliced and washed halves on a plate. when you’ve cleaned them all give them a little rinse in water and make sure any large bones have been removed. next, pour the vinegar over them and let them sit tight for at least 2 hours (up to overnight in the fridge). they should turn white, in a ceviche-style pickling process that “cooks” the fish. once they’re white, pour off the excess vinegar and put them into a container. add the juice of one lemon, minced garlic, a good drizzle of olive oil, some torn parsley leaves and salt/pepper to taste. serve over potato chips or on hot toast with tomato sauce!
Here’s how mine turned out! Even the shyest towards seafood can really grow fond of boquerones, the lemony-garlic flavor pairs amazingly with a cold beer or wine. ¡Aproveche!
Miguel and I decided at the beginning of this month to take a trip to the south. I’ve been living in Spain off and on since I was almost 17 and in all that time have never been farther down than Toledo which for him was unthinkable. My first instinct is airbnb and guidebooks (I’m also a closet Rick Steves fan) while Miguel’s first instinct for just about anything in life is to call a family member! His aunt and uncle readily agreed to host is in Coronil, their village in the outskirts of Sevilla. Miguel was excited to introduce me to his extended family but I was nervous about being able to understand them. Impressing your boyfriends family when they speak a rural version of the notoriously incomprehensible Andalusian accent is a perfect example of the many hurdles I face in this country. In fact people often ask us how we understand each other (fyi, I speak Spanish and Miguel speaks great English) though we still have miscommunications: this would be the big leagues for me linguistically. I quickly surrendered the fact that it wouldn’t really be a “touristy” vacation either but a unique opportunity to see things with locals.
6 hours in the car later, I realized that small-town southern life basically revolves around locals: if nobody recognizes you, good luck getting service! We had lunch at a Peña: a bar/restaurant that serves only members, nothing fancy just a place for people who know each other and have something in common (for example, supporting a football team or being from Madrid) to eat and get great service. They are ubiquitous and line the streets in Coronil! Miguel’s Tío Pepe and Tía Titi introduced me to a southern staple food: snails. I was apprehensive at first but I’m an adventurous eater so went right for it – the caracoles were chewy and have pretty much no flavor but the broth and rice were fabulous. Luckily in all of this Miguel was helping me comprehend what people were saying to me and Spanish people generally use enough hand gestures and facial expressions to get any point across! We drove that afternoon to some castle ruins in the middle of the sunflower fields and took tons of photos.
The next day we woke up late and I drove us (for the first time in Spain – buckle up!!!!) to Sevilla city center. Miguel knows I’ve been driving since I was 15 but helped me figure out road signs and rules. It was blazing hot and I had to put on tons of sunscreen before we took the oh-so-touristy on a horse and carriage ride through Parque Maria Luisa. See? You can have the best of both worlds! This was a super short trip but worth every minute: my new favorite drink is tinto de verano (wine and sweet fizzy water) and by the end of the stay I could understand incrementally more of what Tío Pepe said than the first day (win!).
My mom and dad are visiting me in Madrid – they arrived just long enough to drop off my allergy medication, see my new apartment and meet Miguel before we set off to visit Portugal! We were all really excited, for as many trips to Europe my parents have made we had never been West, to the country that shares the Iberian Peninsula with Spain. Rental car and tickets booked we set off with great expectations to surf, listen to Fado and discover the central regions of the country.
We landed in Lisbon only to find that my bag had been lost or more accurately, left in Madrid. The woman at the help desk told me not to worry they would have it sent directly to the hotel on the next flight into Lisbon – great news! Most people in Portugal speak enough English to get by and everyone understands Spanish which makes things easier traveling with my parents, who speak exactly nothing but “vino” and “baño”. We opted out of gps for the rental car – bad idea. My data roaming stopped working two minutes out of the airport parking lot and a classic family argument over directions ensued (the first of many…my phone never started working while in Portugal!). By some stroke of luck and a lot of maneuvering through narrow streets we found the hotel, right next to the Barrio Alto: the oldest and quirkiest part of Lisbon.
Maybe this was mistake #2 but we didn’t think to read at all about what to do in Portugal until we got there. Out the window of our hotel room I could see this statue and thought it might be a cool trip to cross the river and see it up close so the next day we did exactly that. We’re not the most religious crew but this was certainly impressive to see up close and the views of Lisbon on the other side were stunning, not to mention remarkably similar to San Francisco in California. We had a few cold beers next to Cristo Rei and caught the ferry back for the evening.
The next morning we got the most detailed map the hotel could offer and hit the road for Sintra, a small city near the coast that came highly recommended. We found the BnB old school style and just barely missed killing each other yet again navigating narrow one-way streets and corridors with no names. I am so reliant on my phone. The place was tucked away and super spacious, in a cool old building owned by an American-Portugese couple (with really cute toddlers!). They were fun to talk to and it was refreshing to meet an American chick in Europe with a job she loves and a young family. Sintra is a lush little village in the mountains and as night fell we walked to a restaurant our hosts recommended, taking in the fresh night air and catching up a little on family news. We had a delicious meal and walked back all along the famous Portuguese cobblestone, which is unsurprisingly tricky to walk on after a few glasses of vinho verde! We went right to bed and woke up early for Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle, both perched high above the town accessible by a switch-back bus ride not for the faint of heart.
That afternoon there was still no sight of my bag and we called the airline. They said I should just get everything I need to last the trip and save the receipts; the bag never left Madrid and it was now too late to send it but they would reimburse everything. On the way out of town we made the most local visit of them all – the shopping mall! I needed some socks and underwear for the rest of the trip which turned into shoes and a skirt and a jacket too 🙂
The last two days in Portugal we spent in Ericeira a small coastal surf-town with incredible seafood and amazing views. Initially we planned to surf but without my suitcase it was impossible to replace my swim gear. We watched the sunset on the Atlantic one evening while catching up, a really once in a lifetime event and toasted to being together. No wifi, and none of my personal belongings but I was so incredibly happy to have my parents with me. Overall an incredible vacation, grounding and revitalizing.