Monthly Archives: April 2012

Finding your happy (and healthy) place: exercising abroad


Fitness. Working out… on a travel blog? Random. I know. But just follow me here for a bit.

Let me preface this whole thing by saying that I am not, nor am claiming to be a workout guru/serious marathoner/hardcore yoga-ite/other sort of uuber-workout individual. No offense to those people, as they are pretty fantastic and disciplined to do those things, but I think this is an important point to make. Yeah, I’m a moderately active person, but that’s mostly in the form of  some pretty casual running (and by casual I mean only in nice weather and not for crazy long distances) and going to the gym for classes or a bit of weight room time. A few times a week.  Nothing major.

Going abroad changes your workout scene. Oftentimes you can replicate the routine you had back home, but sometimes it’s a little more difficult.  I chose not to join a gym here solely for money/convenience reasons, but  luckily I’ve found other ways to stay active. To be honest, though, for the first few months, I didn’t do a darn bit of “intentional exercise” (by that I mean, the only activity I did, really, was walk to work—about 40 minutes to an hour each day). While that, perhaps, may have kept me from GAINING all kinds of weight from the tapa/wine/kebab heavy diet I started to have, it definitely didn’t get me “in shape.” After lots of trial and error and lots of slacking, little by little I’ve gotten back into a fitness routine. It’s taken a while, though.

Like I said in the title, you just have to find your “happy place.” For me, and I would think for lots of you out there, you have to be realistic and find something you at least enjoy doing a little bit, otherwise you just won’t stick to it. Finding a good exercise routine (or getting back into one) can be a great way to help yourself adjust to a new environment while living abroad (routine is SO important), help keep your stress levels down, and keep you healthy, which is always good. Looking good for the locals is a nice side effect. 😉 

Let me just cut to the chase and share what’s been working for me.

-Exercise bands. Cheap (maybe 10 euros for 3) easy and a relatively good way of getting some strength/resistance training into your workout, which I read again and again is so important. Also LIGHT. Major plus for Miss lack-of-adequate-suitcase-space-and-its-only-getting-worse, over here.

-Running outside. I specifically say outside, because for me, the outdoors element is what motivates me. I’m one of those people who crave sunshine and fresh air and nature, so going out and running is the perfect combo for me. Maybe you’re one of those who loves watching your favorite TV series while on the treadmill, but for me, the outdoors is where it’s at. It refreshes, energizes and revitalizes me. It’s therapy and a workout. My happy place. I love it. (I’m also lucky enough to be only few city blocks from a gorgeous park with a rushing river running through it. Man I’ve got it rough.)

-The occasional yoga/Pilates/cardio workout video. I’m going to be real with you all here. I have a helluva time sticking with workout videos. But after a while of guilting myself for skipping so much, I just went with the flow instead of fighting it. I get it—I’ve got commitment issues with workout videos. But these days I seem to be more receptive (read: actually do said videos) if I just sprinkle them in every now and then for variety. Lesson learned? Do what actually works for you, not what you THINK you should be doing.

-Sometimes just not “working out” at all. Admittedly I am not one of those people who on their weekend/holiday travels, finds a local gym or goes running at 5 a.m. I count those as my “vacations” from my regular workout schedule, but to be honest I’m usually walking an average of 6+ hours a day on those travel weekends. So I give myself some slack on those. Call me lazy, I call myself realistic. But also lazy.

And what about you? I’d love to hear from other expats/folks living abroad, but also to any of you who moved to a new place and had to re-figure out your workout routine. What’s worked? What’s failed? 

Annnnndddd I happened upon this fantastic video the other day, which sparked the idea for this blog post, which you NEED to watch. It will just make you smile, and then maybe want to go do push-ups on the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, jump rope in the middle of downtown Shanghai, or do jumping jacks on the edge of a canyon in South Africa. Much love to NerdFitness for this gem. 


Hake ladies unite! (Mom and sister visit)


Another backtrack post! I know. And I haven’t really caught you all up on things as I promised. However, in my defense, I did have a week-and-a-half traveling spree in there that I am in the process of posting about….but first things first! This post is documenting the visit of some of my family during mid-March. Then I assure you, more travel tales!

Talk about a sight for sore eyes…

It had been about 7 months since I’d seen my Mom and sister (the longest I’ve gone without seeing them in my life) and my, was it a good feeling when I (finally) saw them walk through the doors in the Arrivals gate of the Madrid airport.  And by finally, I mean after a two-hour flight delay and waiting about 45 minutes after their plane was supposed to land (their luggage had been lost and they were trying to sort it all out) all the while not even knowing if I was at the right gate, let alone TERMINAL (we had unfortunately forgotten to talk about that prior to me picking them), finally, I spotted the blonde and dark brown haired-combo of ladies I’d been so impatient to see for so long. Despite the ensuing travel delay/annoyances we ended up experiencing (missing our bus home, having to buy new tickets, having to kill time for 3 hours, waiting two more days for the bags to arrive, etc) the trip definitely improved from there.

Without going into every detail, we enjoyed a delightful mix of fun outings/experiences over the course of the week:

-A trip to the village of Nalda, of which I’m so fond, to see the old ruins of the convent, have a picnic, hike up to the mysterious caves and have the wonderful fortune to run into one of my dear sweet older friends, Maria Angelines (who, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, was one of the many wonderfully kind residents of the village who helped us in many ways when we had first arrived to the country and were temporarily living there). It’s not terribly exciting, just a pretty, quaint little pueblo, but they (my madre y hermana) loved it, I think. Loved showing them around a place where I spent so much time and that was so special to me!

Exploring the ruins of the convent in Nalda

-A wine tour! Later that day, we had the fabulous good luck to go on a wine tour with Alfredo, the boyfriend of my friend/coworker Aleksandra, whose family happens to be in the bodega-business (bodega is the Spanish word for winery, FYI). They gave us an entertaining, fascinating tour of the family-owned place, with tastings straight out of both giant holding vats and barrels…just delightful! FanTAStic wine. Check ’em out online  to see if their wines are sold near you: On Alfredo’s insistence, we headed to a darling little cafe/restaurant in the same village only to be treated to more wine from his bodega, a plate of Spanish jamón, various delicious sauteed veggies and other tasty finger-foods. It was simply the best welcome in the world for my mom and sister. I cannot express how amazing it was for him to give them such an experience and how grateful we are for it!

Alfredo, our fantastic tour guide/wine expert at Cuna de Reyes Bodega

-Next few days—shopping for them and working for me! As much as I wish I could have taken off the whole week to spend with them, I do have to hold down a job. Luckily I live in a great area of town with plenty of shoes/purses/dresses-shops/etc they could tempt themselves with!

-Their first experience going out for tapas/pinchos (both are used as names for the small, bite-sized ish portions of food served at bars usually with a small glass of wine or beer)! My mom fell in love with Bar Angel’s incredible stacked mushrooms and the pimientos rellenos (stuffed peppers) while my sis had more of a taste for the patatas bravas (small chunks of fried potato smothered in a creamy something-like-but-better-than-mayonnaise and the slightly-spicy-but-super-flavorful “brava” sauce). With my ultra-convenient flat location (Calle Laurel and the tapas bar streets are literally in my backyard) we definitely went out more than once that week.

Shrimp and pineapple skewered, then slathered in olive oil/salt/something that must be cocaine its so addictive. Just kidding. But they're really that good.

Enjoying some vino with our tapas!

-Friday/Saturday: a fun overnight trip to San Sebastian! Walking on the beach; “shuffling on the boardwalk” (don’t ask); walking through the lovely old quarter; enjoying the SUBLIME pinxtos (the same as tapas or pinchos, but in the Basque language– for example: a prawn skewered with a piece of bacon smothered in a scrumptious red pepper sauce); stopping for crepes for desert AND breakfast; hiking up stunningly green/lush/fascinating hillside path to get to the giant Jesus-statue-on-top-of-a-fortress; and just all around enjoying ourselves! Advice: San Sebastian may or may not be on your travel radar for Spain, but if it’s not….it’d better be. What a splendidly beautiful, beach-side city with fascinating everything, but among other things, food. You won’t regret making it a part of your trip!

Fancy cider-pouring and fabulous pinxtos. What more could you ask for?

The ladies on the beach!

Crazy waves crashing against the wall

One of my favorite pics I took.

-Saturday night: St. Patrick’s Day and a chance to show my mom and sis what Spanish nightlife is all about! Included but not limited to: healthy amounts of wine, obligatory Guinness-drinking, a great Irish band at Biribay Jazz Club and lots of dancing.

Our Irish entertainment...the Derty Gerties

-Sunday: a short but fun daytrip to Zaragoza to see the astoundingly large/beautiful Nuestro Señora de Pilar cathedral on the river (absolutely worth a trip to the city on its own) and La Aljaferia, the striking fortress on the outside/incredible work of Arabic architecture on the inside. Owing to my own woefully-under-preparedness, it was not open for visitors that day (ERRRRRGGH! I was a smidge frustrated and still am) but my lovely Hake ladies graciously assured me that “the outside is still really awesome!” Such dolls they are.

The amazing cathedral and my lovely mother and sister!

La Aljeferia!

-Last day: Madrid. Basically me just helping them find their hotel and spending a few hours seeing some sights…not enough time, (especially as the reality that they’d be leaving soon set in), but a fun afternoon seeing some big-city Spain. Also, an opportunity for them to get one last fix of Euro-shopping in. 🙂

Their last jaunt in Spain---Madrid!

All in all, a fabulous week with some of my favorite people in the world. It was odd and wonderful at the same time…odd in that I’ve never been in the position of showing them around somewhere they’ve never really been, nor been depended on so much for help with language, logistics, etc. Wonderful of course in that I got to spend hour after hour with these two incredible women: drinking wine, laughing, wedding planning, story-telling, tapa-tasting, drinking more wine, and just having a ball. Gah, I miss them. But here I’ve gone and wrote way too much again. You get the idea. Just a marvelous time all around. Next visitors: Jake’s mom and aunt!

Until next time…


El Castillo Real de Olite (The Royal Castle of Olite): A playground for big kids.


Next fun day trip we took? To a ridiculously cool castle. With great people (read: my fiance Jake, our friends Jason and Gabriel, and a new friend, Chiara). Where we could run around the open-air turrets/towers/etc like 5-year-olds in a McDonald’s play-place. In the beautiful sunshine. Basically just pure awesomeness.

Let me begin…

Castle-front picnic to start off our day!

Castle Playground. 🙂

Lovely day, but a bit gusty on those towers....

Notice the small triumphant figure on top? That would be Gabriel. "I'm king of the world!!!!"

We kind of scattered in all directions and started finding each other on separate towers...and of course taking pics the whole while. This shot, of course, was taken from the vantage point of yet another tower.

Had to do it.

One of a long series of many silly shots.

I don’t know. Maybe playing around a beautiful old castle is impressive to you, maybe it’s not.  (I don’t really care, actually…not to be rude, but impressing people isn’t really the point here). There was just something a bit, forgive me…magical about that day: with 5 friends, 3 languages spoken (English, Spanish and Italian….and a whole lot of  Englispanglitalian), a roadtrip to a castle, a day to do nothing more than enjoy ourselves in that beautiful place and finally— be completely silly(i.e. our true selves).  Just one of those times that carve themselves into your memory, I guess. Vale, enough musing/rambling/blubbering off into space. I’ve got more blogging to catch up on!

Until next time— besos!


A perfect weekend getaway (without “getting away” too far)


This is a backtrack post as usual, but I’ve been busy,….so cut me a little slack, eh? 🙂 gracias!

February 26- We had a three-day weekend off from work (imagine that) and though it’s usually our habit to get as far away as we can as soon as we have any time, we (Jake and I, and our friend, Jason) decided to keep it a little closer to home and save up money for when the weather gets better, not that it’s anything like the freezing, snowy weather my home state Nebraska is getting, pero bueno… winter cold of any sort always makes you long for spring.

So instead of taking a mondo bus ride (both distance & dinero-wise) to Galicia, a region in northwest Spain (we’ll make it there another time soon I hope) we decided to get to know La Rioja a little better. We are a little limited in our lack of car —aka basically only able to go to places available by bus, but this weekend we were lucky enough convince our Spanish friend, Gabriel (studying here, but originally from Girona, Cataluña) to take us along on a roadtrip to see a few places. So we packed up in his little car and headed first to Clavijo, a tiny village near Logroño that’s home to the ruins of an old castle. I better just let the pictures do the talking on this one.


Not a bad view. (Castillo de Clavijo)

Next we drove another hour or so to a little pueblo called Arnedillo….beautiful in its own right, we later found, but we initially were drawn by the allure of some natural hot springs we’d heard were nearby. We weren’t disappointed. 🙂

Hot springs in Arnedillo...hanging with the guys.

Ok, I can't take photo credit for this one....this is actually a photo of a previously-unknown location in La Rioja I had stumbled upon while researching the area...and then we found this same picture on a wall in Arnedillo. It was that very place!

This one I can take credit for....we didn't get to see the spectacular view by day, but nighttime was pretty ok I suppose. 🙂

After a fun roadtrip home, talking a fun mix of Spanish/English/Spanglish and later a fun night out with friends, we were feeling pretty “satisfecho.” Next day? Attempt at going to Pamplona, but foiled (what seems like the millionth time) by bus schedules. Plan B? A little mini-trip to the nearby pueblo of Nalda for a return-trip to our favorite caves.

Not a bad perch for a snack with a view.

Then we climbed to the top of the caves for even more picture-taking goodness.

The Fantastic Trio.

And last but not least, that Monday happened to be a holiday, remember, so more time for trips! This time we FINALLY made it to Pamplona. No bulls this time, obviously, but still a fascinating city for sure.

Cafe Iruña-- of Hemmingway fame. Definitely the classiest place I've ever had the pleasure of sipping a cafe con leche.

Pamplona's beautiful town hall, or ayuntamiento

The closest we got to actual bulls: the "encierro" scuplture in Pamplona.

Y está. Be posting more to catch up on the latest adventures, I promise….

Up next: 

-Castle play-day in Olite

-Wonderful week with my Mom and sister

-Reflections on friend departures

…Y más! 🙂 



Un momento español…muy típico.


Primero: Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve posted. Promise to fix that…tonight. Prepare for an onslaught of blog posts the likes of which you’ve never seen (well, actually you most likely have–but the dramatic phrasing seemed necessary).

Segundo: The post.

Ok, so let me preface this by saying I’m having preemptive separation anxiety from my adopted country and find myself wistfully saying “I’m going to miss this so much” once or more per day. I know. I haven’t even left yet and I’m already missing the place. In my defense, I am now doing my best to cherish and savor every one of these last moments I have here, which sometimes one tends not to do until they have a mere week or a few days left in a place. So for these last two and half months, I’m going to be doing a lot of enjoying of all this lovely country has to offer (more than usual, I think).  I know…rough life.

Step one of “Mission: Appreciate Spain” — re-develop that wonder-filled, starry-eyed awareness of a beautiful moment while you’re in it. Check. Moment in question? What I would call a “muy típico” (very typical) Spanish moment, from what I have seen of Spanish culture thus far: sitting outside a cafe, just drinking in the moment (and a cafe con leche) and enjoying a beautiful evening. Let me illuminate…and sadly this one moment I wanted to capture so badly in a photo, I didn’t have my camera on me, so words will just have to do.

The scene: sitting at a table outside a cafe in the Plaza Mercado, a very popular square  in old-town Logroño. It’s early evening, but with spring fully arrived and the time change just….a’changed, the sun is still shining enough to make the cathedral’s facade glow against the bluer-than-blue sky, as well as stretch the shadows of the people walking by (rhyme non-intended).  And yes,  it happens to be THAT cathedral, yes, that one where a certain someone got down on one knee in front of our friends and the whole plaza. And lucky for me, I have that someone sitting across from me, busily engaged booking hostels for our upcoming trip on his laptop and sipping on an espresso (cafe solo, as it’s ordered here). The air is a perfect cool-but-comfortable temp, just right for sipping a hot drink but that still makes you want to linger outside. The plaza is milling with people of all ages eager as I am to take in the last of the days lovely weather.

The soundtrack? A street performer strumming a tune out on his guitar at a nearby cafe mixed with the lively chatting of the paseo-takers. Paseo-ers. Paseo-adores. Pase-what, you might ask? Paseo. The evening walk taken by what seems like every man, woman, child and dog in our city, if not everywhere in Spain. The purpose? Any Spaniard would probably be offended at such a question. Why indeed would one need (or wonder about) the purpose of such a normal activity? But this is my favorite part about the moment I’m in. Watching this so authentically-Spanish tradition….the darling little older ladies walking arm in arm in their Sunday best (which until just recently was fur coats) or with their equally cute older man counter-part in his hat and cane (the latter purely for aesthetic/style purposes in many cases); the young-and-in-love ones holding hands and looking more at each other than their destination; the families with giggling/snoozing/cooing-child-filled strollers (these make up about 1 in 3 if not more); the occasional weather-worn, backpack-&-walking-stick-sporting pilgrim (a walk/bike/ride -er of the famous Camino del Santiago whose path runs through Logroño) and finally, the multitudes of dogs walking their masters (or the reverse? It’s hard to tell sometimes) from the tiniest of tea-cup types to the giant fluffy German shepherds…while often wearing the most surprising collection of dog clothing–from rain ponchos to sweaters to hoodies.  And the crescendo to this lovely reverie? The bells of the cathedral, swinging their little bell hearts out for what must be only the pleasure of the people in the plaza.

Needless to say, it is a lovely hour or so of sipping on my drink and simply relishing this moment of perfection. I once came across the phrase “il dolce far niente” or “the sweetness of doing nothing” in a book….supposedly a beloved Italian mantra, and I think the Spanish must surely subscribe to the same dogma. There is an art, of which many Americans (myself often included) cannot quite achieve and/or understand, of simply enjoying moments of sweet, perfect not-doing-anything-ness. It’s something I admire about Spanish culture and aspire to be able to do. Anyway. You get the picture, I hope.

I know I said I didn't get a picture, and I didn't....but I had to give you some sort of visual, at least of the cathedral in this sort of light... Photo source: