2013: The Forgotten Year

Ahhh New Years Eve. The day when we reflect on the year gone by and look to the next with hopes of losing ten pounds, getting that promotion, buying a new car, and spending more time with friends. Sure, you hoped for those same things last year but hey, this is a NEW year and this time you are serious. But I digress…

In all honesty, I haven’t the faintest idea of what I “resolved” to achieve in 2013. Clearly, it was not blogging. This might be the worst kept blog in history considering I have not written in over a year. As you can see from the above, I’ve been forced to deem 2013 “The Forgotten Year” based on the fact that it is anything but documented. So before it slips away at the stroke of midnight, let’s reflect, shall we?

I’m most happy about…

  • Holding not one but TWO jobs throughout the entire year that have opened great doors when it comes to traveling, eating, writing, leading and learning.
  • Achieving a new PR for a half marathon in March here in Miami (1:54:53)!
  • Becoming the mother of a hedgehog named Watson. While it’s nice having a pet around, please consult me if you are thinking of owning a hedgehog and don’t trust those pictures of hedgehogs dressed in cute outfits.
  • Ending a year of long distance (the worst) with the boyfriend when he decided to return last July to get his MBA at University of Miami.
  • Seeing some great concerts including Luke Bryan, Shaggy (yes, Mr. Boombastic himself), The Henningsens (on a private yacht), and finally The Book of Mormon on tour and Avenue Q Off-Broadway.
  • Being back again in Coral Gables, affording me the ability to cheer on my Hurricanes at Sunlife Stadium throughout the season, although the best game by far was against University of Florida when all my old college amigos returned for a reunion unlike any other.

I traveled to…

  • Nashville for a best friend’s birthday
  • Bogota, Colombia once again to celebrate Valentine’s Day with mi amor
  • Jamaica three times for a TV shoot, press trip AND much needed vacation
  • Saint Lucia for a culinary press trip
  • The Bahamas to work at the aforementioned Shaggy concert
  • Turks & Caicos for a TV shoot
  • New York for both my birthday and a work event
  • Orlando to go to Disneyworld with my grandma and extended family (no drinking around the world this time!)
  • Denver for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas (my family must really love me)
  • Key West for a couples retreat with the roomie and our boyfriends
  • Chicago for the first time to celebrate Independence Day with the fam

Of course, you can bet that I enjoyed some amazing meals around Miami and beyond. Special shout outs to My Ceviche, Eating House, Swine, Khong River House, Bread + Butter, Bulla, PB Steak, Bombay Darbar and Miami Culinary Tours (in Little Havana, South Beach AND Wynwood) for appeasing my appetite time and time again. I also tried new and exciting foods throughout the Caribbean and developed a liking for ackee and saltfish, fresh coconut water, conch fritters, and patties, all of which I plan to share more about in the coming year.

I hope you will eagerly join me in my pursuit to blog more as I share my  adventures around Miami and beyond (think Jamaica, Colombia, maybe even Cuba).

Cheers!

Let’s Tapa ‘Bout It

While I was home over winter break I found myself missing something. I could not have been more excited to be able to find affordable sushi, spicy salsa and chocolate chip cookies at a drop of a hat but I kept wanting to ask: How come my glass of wine at Pizza Republica or Blue Moon draft at Tavern DTC did not come with a free plate of food? Now you have probably heard me talk of tapas before but, turns out, it’s one of those “you don’t know what you got until it’s gone” kind of things.

I was only back in Madrid for two weeks when the travel bug crept under my door and set up permanent lodging in my ear until I made some sort of ticket purchase. I listed off viable quick trips from Madrid including places like Segovia, Toledo and Salamanca, but then I landed on Granada, home of the notorious Alhambra, and famous for, you guessed it, tapas. For only about thirty Euros, you can grab a five hour bus there and back. With the details in place, I enlisted my boyfriend to accompany me and we stepped into the city Saturday afternoon.

The owner of our hostel shooed us back out into the streets upon check-in, letting us know we had only a window of time left to walk through the cathedral. Not the warmest welcome, but I am happy she did it for the church was deceivingly huge and gorgeous. After a quick snack we journeyed to the Mirador de San Nicolás, a lookout providing beautiful views of the city and La Alhambra that is definitely best seen at night. Then it was time to see if, as my roommate said, “Granada’s tapas were all they were cracked up to be.” Babel World Fusion was a funky joint in town and we went there first. For less than seven Euros we ended up with four cañas and four plates showcasing “world fusion” like falafel, fajitas and shrimp skewers. Thus marks the start of our tapas crawl.

The street of our hostel was crowded with tiny hole-in-the-wall joints boasting cheap drinks and big plates. We sipped red wine whilst noshing on croquettes, sausages, fish, tortilla, and chips at five different places. Let’s just say I have never ate nor drank as much for as cheap in any city and don’t think I ever will again.

We had to be at La Alhambra by nine the next morning and ended up touring the stunning grounds until about one in the afternoon. I had visited the site back in middle school and remember loving it which I did yet again. The architecture is so intricate and really unlike anything else I have seen.

Ravenous and with time to kill before catching our bus home, we grabbed lunch which was perhaps the best meal of the trip. At a place called La Antigualla, two drinks came with two sandwiches and french fries that filled us right up. Then we just relaxed in plazas (I haven’t even mentioned the perfect weather) and maybe had a couple more snacks before it was time to catch our evening bus back to the city.

Great food? Check. Amazing sights? Check. Fun city? Check. Granada in just 24 hours turned out to be better than imagined. Even so, the travel bug seems to have gotten pretty comfy in my ear and I can already tell another adventure is just around the corner. But for now, I’ll be dreaming of tapas.

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Getting a Little Swiss

After one “rigorous” month of work devoid of the ample days off I experienced in October, December ushered in a new season not only of the holiday kind, but also with free days from work! If you haven’t noticed already, Spain likes celebrating at any time and I was blessed with a couple days without work allowing for me and Anna to take our first trip together since we went abroad. The story of how we ended up in Switzerland was anything but methodical. After realizing a ticket to London might be a little steep, we made a list of the cities we could fly to for the least amount of money, read a little blurb on each, and booked our trip to Geneva. Little did we know that affordable ticket would quickly be supplemented by plenty of expensive train rides, food, and lodging, but like I said, we were indulging our spontaneous side.

We arrived in Geneva late Thursday night, found our hostel, and cashed in for the night so we could wake up early to catch the English tour of the United Nations. We saw a lot of the different halls where meetings are held and even caught one in session. It only reinforced the international feeling the entire city emanated from the moment we stepped off the plane.

There sure are a lot of countries

Afterwards, we made our way into the city to see what Geneva was all about. We explored their big cathedral, Maison Tavel museum showcasing it’s history, park, and anywhere else that would let us in. Little did we know we were visiting Geneva on the weekend of it’s biggest holiday, the equivalent of our Independence Day called L’Escalade. This 400 year old celebration is marked by lots of mulled wine, vegetable soup and parades. We found ourselves in the midst of it all by nightfall.

Hanging with some new friends.

Saturday we awoke to catch a train to Montreux, a town about an hour outside of Geneva that is known for Chillon’s Castle. While the entire castle was beautiful, the views from above were absolutely breathtaking.

Since it’s Christmas, their was huge market scattered throughout the town. At the castle there was a medieval themed market, while in the city center there was a more traditional one where we ate a French dish called tartiflette.

Potatoes? Check. Cheese? Check. Cream? Check. Bacon? Check. Deliciousness? Quadruple Check.

Then we hopped on the scenic Golden Pass train for a three-hour journey into the heart of the Alps. We passed through charming towns, alongside lakes and green pastures, and snow-capped mountains until we arrived in Interlaken, our stop for the night. Apparently, the town residents haven’t been doing their snow dance because the area was devoid of the white stuff I had been hoping for. This made it impossible to snowshoe or sled like we were hoping. Instead, canyon jumping and paragliding were the activities available and being strapped for cash, we decided to cut our visit in this town short and instead, make our way to the country’s capital, Bern.

Interlaken and some paragliders

We spent the afternoon walking around Bern, taking in the cathedral, another Christmas market and an old house of Albert Einstein where I found out more about the scientist than I ever imagined. Since we hadn’t had Swiss cheese fondue yet, we knew what we wanted for lunch.

Sunday evening we made it back to Geneva in time for the Proclamation Parade, the culmination of the L’Escalade festivities, and it  felt right to end the trip just like we started it. We did have a little time to spare on Monday before catching or flight back to Madrid to visit CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. While I understood probably one percent of all our tour guide had to say, I felt smart just being there.

Simplest thing I saw all day.

Now I am back in Madrid and anxiously awaiting my return home for the holidays. Until then, I am planning on some holiday gatherings, including the classic ugly sweater party, present shopping, and I guess some teaching along the way!

Tapas+Lavapiés= Tapapiés

Every morning before getting on my bus to Estremera I first take the metro to a neighborhood called Lavapiés. At eight o’clock, it resembles a ghost town so I was surprised to hear it was the sight of a ten-day food expo called Tapapiés. From October 20 to 30, over thirty restaurants are participating in the “Primer Ruta Multiculutral de La Tapa.” Basically, the area of Lavapiés is quite multicultural so this is a chance for each restaurant to showcase their home country’s specific cuisine through a one Euro tapa available on the route. With a quick look at the map featuring a picture of each dish, I knew that I had to go so me and a few friends headed out last night as a mid-week pick me up!

For the rundown: We started off at a Mediterranean-esque bar called Olivar 54 for a tapa featuring carne asada, roasted red peppers and a sweet onion marmalade. We then proceeded to a place called Eucalipto because I was swayed by one word: goat cheese. Unfortunately, the service there sucked and only Anna made it away with a tapa before the rest of us were annoyed. No worries because what came at our next stop was perhaps my favorite of the evening. We headed to Maisha, an Indian restaurant, for an empanadilla of chicken and vegetables. It was piping hot and bursting with curry flavor that I have not experienced in quite some time. If anything, this made me want a full Indian meal very soon.

We then rounded the corner for a kabob, followed by tabbouleh at another haunt and finally, savory potatoes from Fatas Morgana. They were like scalloped potatoes with onions doused in gooey mozzarella cheese and sprinkled with sesame seeds. It was the perfect ending to a delicious night out.

Since I do not work Friday and the kids do not have school Monday, my school decided to celebrate Halloween today. The funny thing about Halloween here is that there is one theme to it all: scary.  You won’t find the girls wanting to be princesses or animals, instead, everyone is either a witch, vampire, or skeleton. I went with a witch.

I was also in charge of organizing one “workshop” which consisted of me putting peeled grapes, spaghetti, dried apricots, hot dogs and chiclets into bowls for the kids to touch and guess what it was. The intention was for them to feel like body parts- eyes, brains, ears, fingers and teeth, but when you’re dealing with three to six-year olds, it’s a bit complicated.

Needless to say, I’m happy it’s over and now I can enjoy a five day weekend. Who knows what’s in store for my actual Halloween celebration but I’ll be sure to keep you updated. In the meantime, check out the pics of our tapa adventure:

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Spaniards Don’t Mess Around

Happy Fiesta Nacional de España! Essentially, today is the celebration of the day Columbus arrived in the Americas long ago. It is a national holiday always celebrated on October 12 and most everyone gets the day off. I woke up this morning and headed to la Plaza de Colón (named after the big man himself) to find a spot to watch the grand military parade held every year. I was not sure what to expect but thought it would be worth checking out.

I followed hoards of people waving and wearing the Spanish flag to the plaza and squeezed my way into a prime viewing spot. The sun was beating down but I stuck it out and watched on the big screen all the processions involving the Royal Family and every other important Spanish figure who were at another plaza down the way. It took awhile for the parade to reach us but once it started picking up pace, I was amazed by all that I saw.

Now I may have grown up on an Air Force base but, as a disclaimer, I recall very little military terminology so pardon my naive descriptions. It basically began with parachuters donning the Spanish flag jumping out of airplanes followed by multiple flybys (one group of planes even had red and yellow smoke streaming behind it), some of the largest tanks I have ever seen, every single member of the Spanish Armed Forces (and there are a lot), horses and horse drawn carriages, military bands, and even goats (still need to figure out the significance of that one).

I’m not going to lie, navigating my way through the throngs of people and closed off streets after the parade was a huge test of patience. One that I might have failed. To calm my nerves, I headed to El Brillante which serves up one of my favorite fried calamari sandwiches. It made me feel a little bit better but, one things for sure, it’ll take me a little bit more time living here to truly party like a Spaniard.

Check out some of the pics I snapped on my iPhone below. I threw in one from my picnic in Retiro on Friday because I think it’s so classically European and three of my favorite things: bread, brie and grapes. Perfection.

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A House Slowly Becomes a Home…

While I wouldn’t trade these past six days off for the world, one thing is certain- going to work on Thursday is going to be tough. I know (and appreciate) the fact I’m a bit spoiled seeing as I will get a three day weekend immediately following that, but even so, these days without my commute and being around hyper kids has been a bit of a relief.

My time off has allowed me to get to know a lot of new and great people, watch the UM football game so I do not feel too disconnected from my Hurricane cohorts, and really settle into my life here. Perhaps the biggest perk of the whole weekend was finding time to make the voyage to Ikea with Carl. I call it a “voyage” because it takes about an hour to get there so I’ve been anxiously awaiting the right time to go.

Last time I was in Madrid I went to Ikea for the very first time with my British friend after he was appalled to hear I had never been to one before. This past summer, Denver got their very own Ikea about ten minutes from my house so the store (and their great food) is anything but foreign. Instead, it’s now one of my favorite places to visit and I knew that it would be the best place to go to pick up the odds and ends I needed for my room. Although I’m sure in the future months our place will become even more settled in, I finally feel like I can show everyone where we will be living for the next nine months! So without further ado, here’s a mini-tour of our place. I apologize for the shaky shots (and awkward commentary) beforehand:

http://vimeo.com/30395058

And so it begins…

I figure that I should write one more time before I begin teaching tomorrow since I’m sure I will have lots of preliminary observations to share with you about my school. This weekend has been relatively relaxing which was nice after running around like a chicken with my head cut off when I first got here. While I planned on potentially doing a “test run” to the town where I’ll be teaching, I decided to put that on hold and just blindly attempt it tomorrow. I’m hoping for the best.

Last night, Sarah had a craving for paella that I wasn’t opposed to appeasing. While restaurants serving paella are a dime a dozen, there’s definitely something that distinguishes good paella from great paella. With stomachs grumbling, we headed to Costa Blanca Arrocería not too far from where we live after a little online research tipped me off. We got there around 8 pm but, of course, they weren’t opening up for dinner until at least 8:30. Silly Americans… We sat down at a cocktail bar next door for a drink while anxiously awaiting our feast.

When it was time for dinner, we ordered paella mixta– the kind of paella adorned with chicken, calamari, clams, and shrimp, along with a pitcher of sangria. We were immediately brought a basket with three huge pieces of bread in it which after the meal we remembered you’re charged extra for. That’s something which we’ll definitely not forget next time (ya live and ya learn, right?). While we waited for the paella to be made, we also got a huge plate of olives and free calamari thanks to the waiters. We’ve found ourselves privy to such treats quite frequently since we’ve been here, whether it’s an extra glass of wine on the house or free (and delicious) calamari. I’m not complaining and partially credit my roommate’s blond hair as a big draw.

Eventually, our pan of paella arrived piping hot: It was absolutely delicious and a place I’d definitely go back to.

Then we ventured into Sol where we returned to one of my favorite places and foodie mecca, El Mercado de San Miguel. We retired home on the “earlier” side to wake up this morning to head to El Rastro which I can say hasn’t gotten any less popular since the last time I was here. In fact, I think it’s even bigger. While we were wandering the streets scoping out bargains, a line of people caught my eye. They were all waiting to get inside the same little restaurant to grab a tosta, it’s basically an open-faced sandwich. While the line seemed long, my curiosity got the better of me and we hopped in with the rest of them to see what all the fuss was about. Turns out, they know how to work a crowd so within minutes we were right back outside with a styrofoam tray in our hands. I went with pulpo (or octopus), while my friends got the chorizo and jamón. All in all, not a bad way to spend 2.50. Now we’re back in the apartment for the afternoon. I’m going to go run around the park and later on we have plans to watch the Real Madrid game at a local place. While I wish I could be watching the Hurricanes and Steelers play, when in Spain, my loyalty is going to have to switch over to their kind of football. Tonight, I’m hoping I’ll be able to suppress those first day of school jitters and get a good night of sleep before I begin work tomorrow.

If you’re reading this (and I know there are some of you out there!), take a sec to leave a comment. I’d love to know what you’re up to too!

Hasta luego!