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Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

In third grade I dressed up as a black cat for Halloween, so as a third grade teacher, I thought it was only appropriate to dress up as a black cat again. (Also, cat ears and a black tail were the cheapest costume I could find. I'm on a teacher's budget, people.)

With my students at school, I'm a lot more open about being a crazy cat lady than I am here on this blog. Nevertheless, my students were less than surprised when I showed up to school channelling my inner Kitty Purry. Although Spain has only recently adopted a diluted version of Halloween, most Spaniards think that all Halloween costumes must be scary and overtly terrifying. Imagine their disappointment when I showed up to school as a precious little kitten while everyone else was dressed as vampires, witches, zombies and pirate ghosts. (It was just like in Mean Girls when Lindsay Lohan shows up to a Halloween party wearing a horrific zombie bride costume, but everyone else is wearing animal ears... except today was the exact opposite.)

That said, I had so much fun celebrating Halloween like a kid again. It made me want to go trick-or-treating and stuff my face with candy (specifically Reese's Peanut Butter Cups), but sadly nobody does that here. Maybe one day trick-or-treating (and peanut butter) will catch on in Spain, but for now I'm just glad I had the opportunity to celebrate Halloween abroad. 

Have a happy Halloween, everybody!


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Emanating charm and character, Segovia is the quintessential small Spanish town. Only a 30 minute train ride away from Madrid, this picturesque medieval town is the perfect escape from city life. While Segovia is most famous for its historic Roman aqueduct, it also boasts a breathtaking castle and cathedral. Visiting Segovia felt like stepping back into time and living in a fairytale.

While in Segovia, we wandered through the narrow streets and explored the regal Alcázar, where we climbed to the top of the tower and enjoyed majestic views of the city. We also indulged on Segovia's notorious dish of roast suckling pig, also known as cochinillo. (While it was undoubtedly savory, rich and worth the splurge, at times I had a hard time reconciling with the fact that I was literally eating a baby pig on a plate... snout, hooves and all. Poor Babe.) Afterwards we enjoyed several copas in Plaza Mayor, and then sipped on velvety hot chocolate near the emblematic aqueduct.

While Octobers in Spain are nothing quite like those back home, spending this past Sunday discovering a picture-perfect town in the mountains was the best way to spend an autumn day. The few trees sprinkled about town were vibrantly changing colors, a crisp fall breeze was in the air, and the hordes of tourists that usually pollute such towns in the summertime had long since disappeared. Although the sun was beating down on us all afternoon, it was the first time I could actually tell that it is autumn here in Spain. Naturally, I loved every minute of it.

Círculo de Bellas Artes

Monday, October 28, 2013

I think it's fair to say that I have a new favorite rooftop bar in Madrid... let alone in the entire world. Boasting breathtaking panoramas of the city skyline, La Azotea del Círculo de Bellas Artes undoubtedly offers the most spectacular views of Madrid. We arrived at dusk just in time for the golden hour, and proceeded to sip our suprisingly affordable white wine while admiring the sublime views of Banco de España, Plaza de Cibeles and Gran Vía. We marveled at the scenery as the sun lazily melted into the skyline, setting the sky ablaze with colors. The views were just as incredible after sunset as the city sparkled at night. Suffice it to say, it was the perfect autumn evening in Madrid.

La Azotea del Círculo de Bellas Artes
Calle Alcalá 42
Metro: Banco de España, Sevilla

Holy Toledo

Friday, October 25, 2013

Toledo exudes romantic Spanish history and old world charm. This medieval hilltop town is one of the most sublime and picturesque views into Spain's glory days. While Toledo can easily transport you back into a captivating past, it is also still brimming with the lively flavor of Spain's present.

While there are certain mandatory attractions to be seen in Toledo such as the Catedral de Toledo and the Museo de Santa Cruz, our favorite moments were spent simply just wandering about the charming streets and getting lost within the city.

Toledo was the perfect day trip and escape from the city. (That said, I know I must really love Madrid because I'm always excited to come back.) I can't wait to continue exploring this beautiful country. Hopefully Toledo is just a taste of what's to come!

Tasting Our Way Through Toledo

Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Café con leche
Pan tostado con tomate
Tortilla española: a classic
Marzipan, Toledo's famed traditional dessert
Tinto Time!
Honey mustard calamari.  I obviously took no part in this breaded seafood nonsense. 

On Sunday we took a day trip to Toledo, Spain's charming former capital outside of Madrid. While the cathedrals, museums and picturesque winding streets are abound with beauty, history and culture, one of the most enjoyable parts of our day was sightseeing though our tastebuds.

Toledo is such a quintessentially Spanish city, so it only made sense that we indulge on typical Spanish food. Café solo and café con leche, pan tostado con tomate, tortilla española, and tinto de verano & cañas that are served with free tapas (including jamón, obviously) were some of our top picks of the day. Not pictured are our mouthwatering dishes from La Abadia, a traditional Spanish restaurant without a tourist in sight. I devoured a savory, rich plate of grilled meat and vegetables, while my friends feasted upon huevos rotos and a delectable assortment of regional tapas.

I'm lucky I didn't gain 5 pounds in one day, because I could have easily just kept eating my way through the city without stopping. I've recently come to the conclusion that Spanish food is the ultimate comfort food, and what it sometimes may lack in spice and flavor it easily compensates with reassuring simplicity.

I can assure you that I did more than just eat and drink in Toledo... but I'd be lying if I told you that this wasn't one of our highlights.

Catacombs of Paris

Monday, October 21, 2013
It's almost Halloween, you guys! I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am to celebrate with my little niños at school. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays for many reasons, most of which include having an excuse to wear crazy costumes and eat as much candy as I want. (Naturally, this year I'll be dressing up as a cat.)

In the spirit of all things spooky, here are some of my favorite shots from when I went to the Catacombs of Paris this past September. I won't lie to you: this kind of stuff really terrifies me. I can't even walk past a graveyard or watch a scary movie without getting unbearably creeped out. On my past trips to Paris, I had always concocted some excuse not to visit the Catacombs. But this time around, my friend Mila convinced me to conquer my fears and finally explore the famous underground tombs of Paris.

I see dead people.

As creepy as these underground tombs were, I found them more fascinating than scary. Venturing through the Catacombs was much like riding a rollercoaster: as we were standing in line I was overcome with fear and anxiety, but afterwards I couldn't stop saying, "That was the coolest thing ever!"

Needless to say, I'm so glad I faced my fears and finally visited this enthralling part of the city. Even if you're a scardy-cat like me, I highly recommend visiting the Catacombs next time you're in Paris.

Top 10 Things I Miss the Most About America

Thursday, October 17, 2013
I can hardly believe that I've lived in Madrid for exactly one month now. How did that happen? Don't get me wrong, I adore living here. Truth be told, I'm falling more and more in love with this city as each day goes by. Yet, as magnificent as Spain may be, there are still some things that I really miss about home. Here are some of the things that I miss the most about the United States:

1. Brunch

Brunch is my favorite thing in the entire world. Brunch is my favorite meal, my favorite time of day, and my all-time favorite tradition with friends. Unfortunately, most Spaniards don't believe in breakfast. This puts me in a rather uncomfortable position. The lack of brunch here in Spain is heartbreaking, really. If I think about it too much I start feeling depressed, so I'm going to stop right now.

Delicious brunch from 230 Fifth in NYC: get in my belly.

2. Football

I die a little inside every time I miss a Huskies or a Niners game. "Fútbol" only means one thing here, and it's definitely not what we know as America's greatest sport. Sure, I love Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo as much as the next expat in Madrid, but following soccer in no way fills the hole in my heart caused by the inability to watch UW and 49ers games.

Husky Stadium, my happy place.

3. All Pumpkin Everything

Europe hasn't exactly gotten on board with the pumpkin trend that has seduced America and all of our gourd-loving citizens. What is up with that? Where are my pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks? Why is there no pumpkin bread at my favorite gluten free bakery? Why can't I find pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cream cheese, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin curry, or even regular pumpkins to decorate for Halloween? I'm devastated.

¿Dónde están las calabazas aquí en España?

4. Baking

The lack of baking products here in Spain is not conducive to my compulsive baking habits. I have a serious case of separation anxiety from my KitchenAid. I even dream of baking cupcakes at night. The things I would do to teleport myself back to the Celiac-friendly baking aisle in Whole Foods!

Gluten free red velvet cupcakes for Valentine's Day - by far my prettiest creation yet.

5. Friendliness

Although Seattle is notorious for the "Seattle Freeze", it's also a city where you can make friends with your barista every morning, strangers hold doors open for you, neighbors wave to one another, and passerby's will most likely say "I'm sorry!" even if you're the one who accidentally bumped into them. The principle of customer service is alive and well in America; waiters actually wait on you, sales associates are eager to help you, and saying "Good morning", "How are you today?" and "Thank you" to strangers isn't considered weird.

6. 24-Hour Grocery Stores

Because sometimes you just need a bottle of wine and a bar of chocolate past 11 pm. This also includes grocery stores that are actually open on Sundays. Grocery shopping on a weekend... what a concept!
You can't just do this kind of stuff in Spanish grocery stores.

7. Quality Toiletries

When I first arrived in Madrid in the sweltering month of August, I thought everyone on the Metro smelled so bad because they didn't wear deodorant. My mistake - they do wear deodorant, it just doesn't work. Same goes for finding quality whitening toothpaste. Where the Crest be at, ya'll?!? (Thankfully I'm a chronic over-packer and stocked up before my trip, hauling a plethora of American toiletries with me through England, France and Madrid. The extra ten few pounds were worth it.)

8. Cats

Okay, I know people in Spain have cats too. But - just like we do in the States - they keep their cats indoors (because they're still normal people and they don't walk their cats on the street like I tried to do when I was a kid. I'm really sorry about that, Scoobie Doo). Therefore, I never ever see cats. All I see are dogs who do their business in the middle of the sidewalk... and their owners never bother to pick it up. (Unfortunately, picking up after your pet is a duty thoroughly neglected by most Spaniards. I constantly feel as if I'm dodging land mines whenever I walk down the street.) Needless to say, I really miss Kitty Purry and Chairman Meow, and I just wish I could just cuddle and play with other cats in the meantime. Yeah, I'm a crazy cat lady. So sue me.

9. Fresh Fruits & Veggies

Fresh, quality produce is surprisingly hard to find here. It's nearly impossible to find a healthy vegetable dish on any given restaurant's menu. (And forget about affordable organic produce.) People tend to think that Spain embraces an extremely healthy diet because they are considered a Mediterranean culture, but that's not entirely true. Almost everything is fried, potatoes, bread and ham are practically considered their own food groups, and every time I go to a restaurant I feel as if I'm drowning in a sea of sodium. My Whole Foods loving, former Paleo, vegetable-obsessed soul cries a little every time I go grocery shopping. And don't even get me started on the lack of kale.

Dreaming of Larchmont Village Farmers' Market in Los Angeles.

10. Fresh Air

Maybe it's because the air quality here is just plain terrible, maybe it's due to the fact that everyone chain smokes, or maybe I just miss the good ol' Pacific Northwest and their glorious abundance of trees. But without fail, I constantly feel as if I'm on the verge of an asthma attack here in Madrid. I miss Seattle in all of its tree-hugging, non-smoking goodness.

Trees! Fresh air! Best friends! The Pacific Northwest trifecta right here.

I promise I'm not trying to be a Debbie Downer, because there are a myriad of things I truly love about Madrid. (Stay tuned for my Top 10 Things I Love the Most About Spain!) But for all you folks back home, try not to take all of these wonderful things for granted. Sometimes America is cooler than we give it credit for.