Tag Archives: tapas

Things I love about where I live (Part 1)


Hola! So I know I’ve promised to tell you about all my recent travels, but I think I’ll save those for when I’m back (which is in a mere 3 weeks!?!) What I’d like to do is just give you random travel/culture/Spain/whatever posts until I leave, although I”ll certainly have some retrospective posts as well. Enjoy!

Things I love about Spain/La Rioja/Logroño (where I live)…part 1 of I don’t know how many.

(In no particular order)

1. Everyone is outside and social. I live in a flat above a bustling cafe/street of cafes, and whether it is monsoon-ing, freezing, boiling or what have you, there are people under the umbrellas outside on the “terazza.” There is never a time (outside of the wee hours of the night, and even then, sometimes) that I don’t see people out for a “paseo” or walk, sitting at a café, or just chatting on a park bench. It’s wonderful, it’s healthy and it’s just plain better than sitting inside alone in front of the TV or computer. (Hint hint, America). From babies in strollers to dogs to cute little older ladies linked arm in arm–it’s simply the norm to go out, get fresh air and say hello to your neighbors/friends/strangers. I go a little deeper into my observations of this lovely cultural norm here.

2. Ridiculously amazing Rioja wine (arguably, well, most commonly/famously referred to as the best in all of Spain). From the young ones to Crianza to Reserva and Gran Reserva, I’ve been able to sample them all. Que SUERTE yo tengo! (How lucky I am!) Most conveniently, they are also ridiculously cheap. Oh dear.

Bodegas bodegas everywhere!

3. Tapas/Pinchos/Pinxtos. All of them. Mouthwatering. Scrumptious. We’ve discussed this before.


4. How people say “hasta luego” (see you later) instead of goodbye. And not just to friends–to pretty much everyone, at least here in Logroño. It’s just better that way, somehow.

Lovely cliff/butte things near Nalda

5.The gorgeous rocky/craggy/jutting-into-the-sky geography of La Rioja. Add that to the rolling, terraced plots of vineyards, the lush forests and the winding Iregua River and you’ve got yourself some pretty fantastic landscape-eye-candy.

6. Café con leche. You may say it’s just coffee with milk or a fancy name for a latte, but I maintain that it is a sublime creation unmatched by anything in the U. S. And I’m not the only one. (See what I did there?)    🙂

7. Kids speaking Spanish. Kids are universally cute, but gosh darnit they are stinkin’ adorable when they’re babbling in español, especially the tiny ones.

8. People making an effort to look nice, even if they are only taking a walk, or going to the market. High heels for the grocery store might be a bit much, but I can appreciate the good intentions/motivation.

9. The two air-kisses (besos) instead of a handshake. Seriously. Say what you want about personal space, but I consider this custom to be 1000% warmer and more welcoming. See more of my thoughts on this here.

Flamenco in Sevilla=heaven.

10. Spanish guitar. Call me cheesy, but wow those artists are mad-talented. I could listen to it all day. And don’t even get me started on flamenco guitar/singing/dancing? Madre mía….I’m in love.

The famous bulls! The fact that they began from an advertising effort for Osborne sherry makes me like them even more (what can I say, I was an ad major!?)

11. The giant silhouettes of bulls on random hillsides throughout Spain. So dramatic and theatrical and….Spanish.


12. Helado (Ice cream) from this one shop in off the main square in Valencia. I know that helps you very little, but if you go there, just get ice cream a lot. I had mandarin and papaya and it might have been one of the most incredible ice cream moments of my life.

13. Trilling of the r’s. Don’t really know why. It also is unimaginably cute when little 4 year olds learning English trill out the r’s in green and red when practicing colors in my class. GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRREEEEN! RRRRRRRRRRRRREDDD!! Just picture it.

14. The laid-back “mañana” philosophy. (Which if you don’t know, means “tomorrow.” Which I bet you can guess what that philosophy means).

15. REBAJAS (Late winter sales). While it’s true that the weather is quite cold and not the most pleasant (at least in the north) from Jan-early March in Spain, at the same time there are also the most spectacular bargains you might have ever seen in the stores nation-wide. I definitely did my part to relieve the “crisis” during those months. And fill my suitcases.

15. The fascinating cultural diversity of Spain’s many distinct autonomous communities—1) the different languages other than Spanish spoken (Gallego (from Galicia); Catalan (from Cataluña); Euskera/Basque (from Basque Country/Euskadi); and other dialects. 2) the fantastically different geographic features…from forests to mountains to beaches to to plains to rich, green, lush Ireland-esque hills. 3) the vastly different cultures and traditions of every region and even some unique to each town.

16. Festivals. Fiestas. There is always a reason (usually a saint, pero bueno…) to celebrate, and I do not hold that against them. Also, the fact that any time is a good time to parade through the street with a marching band (even a few random dudes who just want an excuse to play their instruments), drumline, group of dancers, or giant statues. Or all four, as is usually the case.

San Mateo. Enough said.

17. Also on the note of fiesta-ing, the fantastic social life/night life in this country. As in you’re having dinner at 10, drinks at 11 or 12, out to the actual bars at 1, then to the discos at 4 or later. They go big or go home around here. One can even spot older men and ladies (I’m talking like 70s age here) out with a vino or a beer at 11 or 12!

Viva la vida Española.


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: http://www.cunadereyes.es/ 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…


Top 5 Reasons to Visit La Rioja


Calle Laurel--aka Pinchos (tapas) Paradise

Never heard of Logroño or the Spanish region of La Rioja before? It’s true, while the area doesn’t boast the fame of  tourist hotspots like Barcelona, Madrid, Granada or Toledo, it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the North, if only for the world famous Rioja wine and/or a trip to a bodega (winery), the incredibly tasty tapas on Calle Laurel, the beautiful landscape, warm and friendly people and the un-touristy, “authentic” Spanish experience you’ll find there.

In fact, those are precisely the reasons to visit here, live here even. While I know one can’t make it to every city when traveling abroad on a tight time schedule, I understand why La Rioja doesn’t make it on everyone’s list. However, I would have to say it’s probably an even more incredible place to LIVE, rather than visit…just fantastic quality of life (in Logroño, at least) for a city that’s big enough to have a fun/lively night life and amenities but small enough to feel very safe and to be able to get to know lots of people.

But don’t take my word for it: read what mi amiga and fellow Auxiliar, Liz,  has to say about our lovely home in her article for the Spain Scoop. (A note on Liz—she’s rather a veteran at this Spanish living abroad stuff, as she’s called 5 different cities home all over the country, so I daresay she can speak with some authority).  Top 5 Reasons to Visit La Rioja