4 Days in Granada

DSC00116Ah, Granada, the historic city nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. That’s right, anywhere Spanish is spoken, a Sierra Nevada mountain range is never too far away. Granada actually comes from the Spanish word for pomegranate, representations of which can be found throughout the cobbled streets, tiled signs and just about everywhere else you look. Granada is known for its Moorish past, the expansive Alhambra, and for putting the tapas of Madrid to shame. Forget about that whole potato chip, olive bowl incremental buildup I wrote about in Madrid. In Granada, olives are a natural element to your table, like oxygen in the air. We were getting bowls of stewed carracoles (snails), plates of avocado bread with sliced sausages, platters of prawns, a halved and caponata stuffed eggplant…the list goes on. We spent the majority of our time in the city drinking cañas (tiny beers) and waiting in joyous anticipation for our next tapa to reveal itself. See some of the tapa highlights for yourself!

Bar Aliatar Los Carracoles: Carracoles (aka snails!)

Bar Aliatar Los Carracoles: Carracoles (aka snails!)

Bar Aliatar Los Carracoles: Croquettas de verduras

Bar Aliatar Los Carracoles: Croquettas de verduras

A glass of Vine de Terreno and a cana along with a platter of prawns, olives and chips!

A glass of Vine de Terreno and a cana along with a platter of prawns, olives and chips!


Those are Ham legs dangling above the bar, yum!

Those are Ham legs dangling above the bar, yum!

Aside from sitting in the patios of various restaurants eating tapas and drinking, we managed to pepper in a few notable cultural activities into our Granada excursion. We visited the mighty Alhambra and spent 5 glorious hours strolling through its vast and well maintained grounds. You can buy tickets for either a morning session of an afternoon session, and since it was important for us to drink cañas and eat tapas in the afternoon everyday, we went for the AM. The most stunning archeological component of the Alhambra is the Nasrid palace. In an effort to control the flow of visitors there you must choose a designated time to enter the palace when you buy your ticket. We chose the 9am entrance and it wasn’t too crowded at that time which was nice. The intricate details of the tiles and carvings on the walls are mind blowing. We tried to capture a few of the glorious details but pictures just won’t do it justice.


Though we rarely pay for tours of any kind, we managed to get a discount on the night tour from the company Play. I think the 3 hour tour is usually 25 euros but we paid 15. I really enjoyed this experience because it provided a great history and overview of the neighborhoods of the city. We were taken to two different viewpoints where we got vast views of Granada at sunset and then later at night. We also got a much more in depth tour of the illegal caves that people from all over the world have been inhabiting on the fringe of the Granada’s city limit. Jordan and I agreed we would have never ventured into the web of caves ourselves and were glad to have seen it. Some of the caves were a bit sad looking, bare bones, classic cave style. Others though had been decorated, tapped into the city’s electric and landscaped beautifully creating a very interesting community to explore.


a view from the caves

a view from the caves

We ventured back up to a cave to see a Flamenco show one evening. I hadn’t realized how explosively percussive and improvised flamenco is. It is a passionate display in which the dancers test the strength of the wooden stage as they slam their heels down in rhythm with their snapping fingers. The women wear expressions of strength, focus, and borderline anger. I believe the best dancers are judged by the number of bobby pins that burst from their hair during their un-choreographed maelstrom of moves. All the while, a man wearing tight jeans with long curly hair belts out tragic riffs alongside the flamenco guitarists. They are guided by the dancer’s rhythm. From what we’ve heard so far, classic flamenco singing should sound like you have a mouthful of marbles and are about to start crying, if you want to be really authentic about it. We were sitting in the front row and more than I few times a found myself holding my breath, totally wrapped up in the passion of the performance.

DSC00356I took a video during the performance which you can watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WK8AYjQDag&feature=youtu.be

We will most definitely return to Granada one day, it was just too good to say goodbye to forever.

Tapas Bars we Loved:

Bar Aliatar Los Carracoles: Plaza Aliatar, 4

Get the snails! don’t be afraid! also, get at least 3 drinks here because their other tapas we fantastic. In lieu of a cheap beer, ask for a glass of Vino de terreno (local wine), it was delicious.

Taberna La Tana: Placeta del Agua, 3

The tapas here were hearty and the wine selection vast, though we ended up sticking with the cheap beers.

We took a short but well rewarded street art walk along Cuesta Del Caidero and Vistillas de los Angeles

We took a short but well rewarded street art walk along Cuesta Del Caidero and Vistillas de los Angeles


El Bolson: Hippies, Apple Orchards and Art in the Forest

March 2014


A refreshing hit of hippie-ness after the machismo ruggedness of southern Argentina. We spent about a week here in El Bolson, getting our fill of autumn weather and the changing leaves. We camped at a lovely place called La Chacra (Av. Belgrano 1128.  700 mts. from the ACA store), as in the body’s energy sources. Certainly there was some good energy flowing at this campsite as it was a fertile wonderland of apple, walnut, pear, plum, apricot, pear, cherry, peach etc trees. The campsite is clearly built to hold a ton of people, but we were nearly the only people there. The woman running the place was happy to give us a few extra blankets to ward off the cold nights. There are signs up asking guests not to pick the fruit, but since they were only harvesting the walnuts and letting the apples fall to the ground to rot, we helped ourselves to a few apples a day.

our little tent, god rest it's soul

our little tent, god rest it’s soul


as usual we cooked our own dinner over the grill (every campsite in Argentina offers grill, it's part of the country's bylaws)

as usual we cooked our own dinner over the grill (every campsite in Argentina offers grill, it’s part of the country’s bylaws)

El Bolson is known for its artisan crafts market in the center of town. We saw tons of beautiful wood crafts, culinary concoctions and other curiosities there, alongside some weirder creations like troll sculptures, pipes and unique, handmade ‘jewelry’.


As tradition would have it in southern South America, we ended up temporarily adopting a dog while in El Bolson. This beautiful black lab agreed to our terms of getting the bones from our steaks at night in exchange for following us around all day into town or on hikes and growling at any other dogs who dared to come near our tent. Leaving him at the bus station when we left town was a sad moment for sure.

we had to say goodbye in the wee hours of the morning. We'll never forget the sad moment when the bus doors closed and he just stared up at us wondering why he couldn't come too :(

we had to say goodbye in the wee hours of the morning. We’ll never forget the sad moment when the bus doors closed and he just stared up at us wondering why he couldn’t come too 😦

We went on a few great local hikes as adviser from the tourist office and also visited the innovative Bosque Tallado. After a fire and landslide wiped out many of the trees on one of the local mountainsides, the city decided to take advantage of the exposed wood to create an outdoor museum. They invited artists from all over the world to carve sculptures into the damaged trees to turn a disaster area into a beautiful art gallery, al fresco. It snowed while we were in the Bosque Tallado and we were happy to celebrate the experience with a few women from Uruguay who had never seen snow before.


Unfortunately I got some sort of bad cold while in El Bolson, so we moved from the tent into one of La Chakra’s little cabins and sort of did nothing for a couple of days. The fall weather and apple orchard gave me a nice taste of home in New England.

Esquel, Argentina: We Camped, We Grilled, We Watched the Sunset

March 2014


In our last hitch hiking journey, we traveled across Argentina from Puerto Madryn to Esquel. Jordan, always looking for a chance to use his ‘I don’t know, I’m not a gynecologist’ joke, was ecstatic that our driver actually was a gynecologist! Couldn’t quite get the joke to translate though…

Esquel reminded me of a Colorado town, which you should take with a grain of salt considering I’ve never been to Colorado. It was nestled in a valley with mountains in the distance and had a real alpine feel. We found a great city campsite during our 3 day stopover that provided us with our own parilla (BBQ grill – comes standard with any Argentinian campsite) and eerily neon sunsets. We had a leisurely ½ day hike up to Laguna Zeta, leaving directly from our campsite (La Colina). As it wasn’t quite high season, the campsite was virtually empty. We did have the pleasure of meeting a Belgian and an Aussie, a couple of over-landers (that’s travel speak for people traveling for long periods of time in camper vans) who met through their love of travel. Not just a Belgian and an Aussie, but the Belgian and the Aussie. We learned about their epic journeys while grilling together at dinner time. Having unsuccessfully tried to arrange a trip to the local national park within our budget, we experienced our first taste of camper van envy seeing how easily they could travel long distances on a whim.

The people in town were super friendly. The grocer even offered us some yerba mate which we all drank together while hanging out at the end of the checkout counter. Later on, we watched the departure of one of South America’s oldest steam engine trains called La Trochita. It reminded me of Thomas the Tank Engine chugging along, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…

We had a nice rest in Esquel, but were happy to keep heading north…next stop, El Bolson!

This bit of graffiti caught our eye

This bit of graffiti caught our eye


My typical campsite tortilla making set up

My typical campsite tortilla making set up


Cocido Madrileño in Madrid: A Comedy of Horrors (and deliciousness)

Always willing to spend our money on food above all else, Jordan and I made a reservation for a traditional Cocido Madrileño at Malacatin, a place recommended by a friend. The food was flavorful, rich, and resulted in one of our three experiences in unexpected extreme gluttony, also referred to by me as an incident in food terror. This occurs when you are faced with exquisitely prepared food which you are excited to eat and due to circumstances beyond your control, that food accumulates in terrifying quantities which you feel pressured to consume. The first incident occurred at Craigie on Main when a 3 course meal snowballed out of our control due to the generous addition of several free courses from to Jordan’s Boston chef connections. Second, at Bergamot in Cambridge in a similar chef to chef quid pro quo tale. Finally, Madrid. We showed up ready to try some traditional food, knowing little else. They had our name, knew we were coming, they were so prepared…we let them swaddle us in warm, vermouth lined ignorance while we teetered on the edge of a culinary eruption. The image of a blueberry Violet from Willy Wonka comes to mind except with a cloudy pork fat color. What we didn’t know was that we should have ordered only one meal for the two of us to share. We also didn’t know there was more than one course. Act 1, excitement! Olives, pickles, a pot of hot, rich pork broth served with pasta, a platter of silky chickpeas, potatoes and stewed cabbage and two loaves of thick crusty bread. Delicious, we dig in, happily. Act 2, we curiously cut into cubes of pork fat. I distribute one of these caloric cubes into my chickpea broth. Act 3, we nervously eye a platter of pigs trotters tiptoeing towards our table. Not far behind, a half chicken and a cured, boiled, pig part elbow each other for room on the remaining white patches of table cloth. We ask, ‘if we cannot eat all of this, can we bring it home?’ they say ‘no’. Act 4, afraid to twist or generally move my stuffed self I am horrified at the unexpected arrival of a platter of steamingly delicious chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage) and beef. The walls seem to be enclosing as our stomachs expand. Surrounded by pleased, prepared patrons, we piled the food on our plates, not wanting to waste, wishing for a life saver to-go container. Act 5, the homeward waddle, hilarity, confusion, defeat, a five hour nap, hoping to feel hungry again one day.


4 Days in Madrid

February 2015

Isidro Park

Isidro Park

We arrived in Spain via Madrid and had rented a room in an apartment in a funky neighborhood called Malasaña. Our place was right in Plaza San Idelfonso and we could walk everywhere in the city from there. Madrid felt lively and open, as if joining the pulse of the city was possible for an outsider. The tapas culture meant there were little bars every few feet and each one caught our eye. In Madrid, people drink cañas, which are super cheap, small glasses of beer. You always get a bit of food when you order a drink, which feels so special and exciting even if it is just potato chips. Central Spain lore is that the free tapa with drink tradition began ages ago when the field working peasants, forced with frugally choosing between a drink and food during their midday break, always chose to buy drinks. As a result, they were sluggish and famished during their afternoon work, inspiring local magistrates to require food to be served whenever a drink is ordered. In addition to beer and of course wine, we enjoyed drinking vermouth (vermut grifa) via taps that most bars had. They serve it on ice with a lemon or an orange slice. Word of advice, when you get to a bar and order a drink, wait before you order any food so that you can see what sort of free snack will come your way. Usually the first drink gets your something like potato chips, the second perhaps a plate of olives, and it just keeps building! The further off the beaten track we went (and the more old men hanging out in the bar as if it was their living room), the more substantial food we received as our tapa.


gambas al ajillo

gambas al ajillo

street in Malasana

street in Malasana

We walked through the beautiful Isidro Park and browsed the Prado museum where we saw approximately 1 million portrayals of Jesus from all the great artists, including one classic by Velasquez in which it appeared that saint what’s-his-name the hermit received a cheeseburger from a raven in the middle of nowhere. I dragged our jet-lagged behinds out of bed to catch an 11am walking tour, which thankfully was a great experience with an animated, funny guide. We started off one night sampling probably over-priced but enjoyable tapas at the San Miguel market. The highlight of the market was our first taste of goose mussels, which are dangerous to fish, expensive to buy and mind-blowingly flavorful. Often we just walked to get lost around the city, finding little tapas bars to freshen ourselves along the way. The food in Madrid came through every time: croquetas, salt cod creations, jamón, more jamón, moist Spanish tortilla glistening with olive oil, fragrant olive oil drizzled on garlic rubbed toast with grated tomato, olives olives and more olives….yum.


goose mussels

goose mussels


We ended our nights with a few more glasses of wine and vermouth at a little café down the street from our apartment called Café de la Luz. Well done, Madrid, well done.


A few recs for where to eat:

Casa Labra – Calle de Tetuán, 12: Croquetas, deep fried cod, mmmm

Mercado de San Miguel: tons to sample, try the goose mussels from Morris mariscos

San Gines for churros con chocolate – touristy but i’ll be damned if that wasn’t the chocolatey-est chocolate we found to dip our churros in!


Hitch-Hiking Confessions, A Puppy and the Beautiful Valdes Peninsula

Ok, so it’s been a little while since I have posted here but I do plan to get all our photos up and this blog up to date! I will be posting stories of our journey from last year along with posting our current adventures! I’ll be sure to note the date of when we were in each place in South America so no one gets confused.

The next stop on our South American journey took us to Puerto Madryn, on the east coast of Argentina. Puerto Madryn is considered the upper limit of Patagonia, more or less. We were there at the end of Feb/early March of 2014.

Before we get to the epic patagonian nature pics, I have a confession to make. Since we’ve made it through Patagonia safe and sound and I don’t have guilt about my parents worrying anymore, I feel I can finally admit that Jordan and I hitch hiked through most of Argentinian Patagonia. We hadn’t planned on traveling that way but were inspired by several other successfully hitching travelers and given confidence when a few local Argentinian retired couples explained that ‘everybody does it.’ In all honesty, hitch hiking was one of the best parts of our Patagonian adventure. We met the most amazing people, mostly older couples who had children our age. We heard stories from retired heli-ski instructors who fought border protection battles in the wilds of patagonia, we discovered some great new music (Generis anyone?), got to cuddle with several puppies (not even kidding), and ended up in some strange and unexpected places. There was the couple who picked us up in El Chalten who drove 3 hours out of their way on an unfinished dirt (mostly rocks) road to bring us to Luis Piedra Buena, a place they thought was safe and would ensure us further passage to our final goal of getting north. Sure, we ended up going in the opposite direction of where we had wanted to go (turns out our Spanish wasn’t quite as air tight as we thought), but how nice was that! It’s all part of the adventure anyway. See the end of the blog post for a few things we learned about hitch-hiking.

One incredibly generous gentleman picked us up on the outskirts of Puerto Madryn. What had originally been arranged as a ride into the center of town turned into us picking up his wife and daughter at kindergarten and staying in his spare cabaña near the beach for free for the next 4 days. I know…no such thing as a free lunch, right? Well it’s true, the nice man did ask a favor of us. He asked us to puppy sit a 4-week old Black Lab/German Shepard mix for a day and a half before he surprised his daughter with it. The traveling life can be quite hard sometimes….


After a few days in Puerto Madryn, soaking up some sun on the beach and watching the crowds of wind surfers cut through the surf, we headed on towards the Valdes Peninsula. Valdes is a large nature reserve containing one small town, Puerto Pirámides. The main sights we were hoping to see on the peninsula were elephant seals and an adult Orca skimming the surf to snatch baby sea lions. You can either hire a car for the day from Puerto Madryn or hire a car for the day from Pirámides, which is about the same price once all in. There is no public transportation on the peninsula. We decided to get to the Peninsula and then make arrangements there.

Logistically things worked out well for us. We met two independent Italian travelers (an art restorationist from Rome who worked on the Sistine chapel and a poet/painter who was also an internationally ranked, competitive para-glider) and decided to all go in on hiring a driver for the day to take us to see the wildlife. We saw elephant seals, but sadly did not see any Orca. There is a camp ground in Pirámides, but it was closed when we arrived for some inexplicable reason. We decided to just wander off into the sand dunes on the outskirts of town and guerilla camp. The sunsets and views were incredible and we fell asleep to the alternating howls of the whipping wind and a pack of wild dogs in the distance.


DSC05032 DSC05041 DSC05049 DSC05061 DSC05097 DSC05174 DSC05194 DSC05214  DSC05232

What we learned about Hitch-hiking:

  • Acknowledge that this can be dangerous so always trust your gut and never take a ride if it doesn’t feel right.
  • Don’t go by yourself! Although it is harder to get a ride as your group gets larger, I would not have done it if I wasn’t with Jordan.
  • Buy a road map so you always know where you are, where you are dropped off and which road you should start hitching on to get out of town.
  • Don’t start hitching from the center of town because most of the traffic will be staying local. Try heading out towards the city limit preferably on the road that leads out of town.
  • Start early in the day, its not fun arriving somewhere at night.
  • In patagonia, and most of Argentina, everyone drinks mate. It is nice to travel with a hot thermos and a bag of mate to offer your driver. We found we had a lot of luck while waving our bag of mate and a giant chocolate bar to the cars as they passed us.
  • You don’t need a sign. They can be hard for the driver to read and a thumb or a waving chocolate bar works just as well.
  • to hitch-hike in spanish is ‘hacer dedo’