Seville Snapshots: Reflecting on 2012 at Parc Guell, Barcelona

As I sat having a beer at 11 a.m. a few days ago with my family, I slipped off my coat and let the sun shine right on my face. It was nearly 65 degrees in Barcelona and I was toasting to a family trip. As the year was coming to a close, I found myself in disbelief that 2012 was already over after such a whirlwind year of travel, big decisions and finally finding some equilibrium between America and Spain, work and play.

2012 is a year that neither sticks out as fantastic or awful – it was a good balance of both. I turned 27, got my first ticket, traveled a whole bunch to new destinations like New York City and Turkey, learned to cook. For once in my life, I’m looking back at a year that just was. And, honestly, I’m feeling alright about it.

I think my biggest accomplishment was sticking up for myself and quitting my job. After two years teaching, I decided it wasn’t for me. Without even trying to say goodbye to my students, I wished them a happy summer. I found a job that gave me just the thing I was looking for – balance – and enough time to keep up this writing project and get my master’s online. Life is slowing down to a comfortable pace as I’m finally finding time for being a better girlfriend, friend and teacher.

Here’s to you and yours and to all of the things 2013 holds. I’m looking forward to the things I love best – grabbing Camarón, having a beer outside with the sun on my face and exploring a new place. I’ll earn my master’s in Public Relations, hopefully start a new writing project and maybe finally take the plunge… in more ways than one.

For now, the cava and the 12 midnight grapes in Puerta del Sol!

Seville Snapshots: Merry Christmas from Sunshine and Siestas

Christmas used to mean bickering in my family. The chores, the frantic house cleaning and cooking, the rush of kisses from the in-laws after finally deciding who would be hosting. The constant car trips, the Christmas Mass standing up, the incessant carols blasting from every car radio – I could have done without it.

Then I moved to Spain.

I escape not only the bickering, but also the Christmas carols (I swear I know just the chorus of a handful of Spanish villancicos), the tree hunt looking for Nancy’s perfect Douglas Fir, the snow in Chicago. And somehow along the way, Christmas has become one of the best opportunities I have to see my family. Over the last six navidades that I’ve found myself in Spain, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel around Andalusia and Ireland, to Morocco, to The American Southwest. Gone are the holiday traditions we’ve had since forever, as my family and I create world travel as our Christmas treat to one another. I miss watching Morgan step gingerly into the snow when it’s higher than her head and treating Aunt Pat to lunch at the Walnut Room after seeing the windows at Field’s, but helping my family make travel as important to them as it is to me is what fuels the magic for me during the season.

To you and yours, Merry Christmas from me. I am forever grateful for my readers who seem like family more and more each day. Estés donde estés, enjoy this wonderful season, and don’t worry so much about your waistline (dude, Spain has lard cookies as its holiday indulgence, so you can’t be any worse off than me!). Wishing you all the very, very best for 2013 from Spain!

Besos, Cat

PressReader Newspaper Application: A Review

When I was seven, my favorite place in the world was my best friend Megan’s farm. Even though she needed to shove her cats into the basement and vacuum the entire house so my allergies could be kept at bay, the farm and her mother’s cooking made for many happy memories. Among these were having her mother carefully split the comics section down the middle, serve us pipping hot pancakes and mason jars of milk and digging into two things I have always loved – newspapers and breakfast food.

I graduated from college 15 years later with a journalism degree.

While I’m abroad, my desire for news seems to be more acute. Even Spanish news programs are on at 3pm, the time at which most families are sitting down to lunch. I devour newspapers each morning over breakfast – this time with a cup of coffee instead of a mason jar of milk.

I recently took a test run of PressReader, the largest online kiosk for reading newspapers from around the world on a mobile device, tablet or computer. Over 2,300 newspapers in 54 languages are available for browsing, and my subscription started just before the 2012 Presidential Elections. I opened the application to find loads of information about the impending polling and last minute pushes in swing states, quickly saved a few English and Spanish language newspapers into my favorites and dove right in, cup of tea in hand.

They say no news is good news, but no news makes for a deprived Cat with nothing to do to keep her entertained in the morning. Here’s what I thought of PressReader’s application.

What I liked

The benefits of PressReader stuck out right from the beginning. I could easily move through titles, sections and languages and get a good feel for the applications and its capabilities.

Easy Navigation and Stellar Graphics – When each new newspaper is opened, found through a keyword search or by choosing a language, the front cover pops up and the sections can be found on the right hand side. Here, one can browse the sections that interests them the most, using either the table of contents or the thumbnails of the paper’s actual content. There’s also the option to download the paper to a mobile reading device or to send the article to an email address. The newspaper appears just as it was if it were in your hand, with crisp graphics and the ability to open a separate window with larger text and related articles. If anything, I’d prefer the icons for zooming in, turning the page and closing the article to be floating, rather than on the bottom.

Radio Option –  An automated reading of the piece is available in all languages, perfect for multi-tasking or downloading for later listening. The Spanish readings actually sounded better than the English ones!

The Price – After frustratingly trying to open articles to just browse and get my news fill, having to click to read through Facebook ro other social media was irritating. PressReader offers a close to unlimited number of views for a flat fee of $0.99 cents per download, or a rate of $29.95 a month. Considering you’ve got access to well over 2,000 newspapers and all of its content (including the crosswords!), it’s a great deal for keeping informed.

What could be improved

Small Type – The small type led to problems with me clicking on the wrong articles or links. I couldn’t find a magnifying glass to help me sort it out, either.

Not personalized enough from the beginning – Largely due to the enormous number of newspapers availble, the front page is a big jumble of popular articles, my saved newspapers and a dashboard. Trying to find articles that interested me was tougher than I expected, so I would have liked the application to begin with a short questionnaire about my preferences, geographic location and preferred language, along with the look of my homepage.

Overall Value

While PressReader is great for the traveler and the digital minded, I miss the slight weight of a newspaper and the smell of ink on my hands. Regardless, PressReader offers travelers an easy way to stay in touch with no pesky “two clicks a day” limit and a reasonable price to have it all at their fingerprints, no matter where or when they’re having their coffee and paper break.

PressReader generously offered me a multiple-month trial of their application for my desktop. As always, all opinion are my own.

Trendy Christmas Party: Seville’s Young Fashion Designer Scene

When Seville’s Fine Arts College expanded its fashion design and merchandising department, young designers came to its catwalk and state-of-the-art new building to pursue fashion degrees that extend far beyond the flamenco dresses that have become synonymous with the city’s moda.

An explosion of boutiques, gastrobars and DIY fashion trends have made the Alfalfa neighborhood Seville’s In Place to create and sell, dubbed by the New York Times as Seville’s Sohos. Young entrepreneurs are peddling wares – from vintage to crochet – out of pop up shops around Calle Perez Galdos and Calle Regina. Sevilla tiene una moda especial.

When Kate of Kate Mariela invited me to attend the first annual Trendy Christmas at Grand Luxe Hostal, hosted in part with Sevilla Trendy, I jumped at the chance to browse for Christmas gifts and meet some of the young designers. Grand Luxe, just steps off Seville’s most famous sites, played host to the event, which ran on the 13th and 14th of December. As Kate requested, Camarón came along to document all of the cool stuff for sale and their fun, young designers.

In each of the hostel’s spacious rooms, designers set up everything from brooches to boots, headbands to hangars. No less than 15 young diseñadores were invited by Kate Mariela and Sevilla Trendy to show, and Kate herself ran two workshops on each day, allowing guests to create fun DIY gifts for Christmas. I got there early, able to introduce myself to some of the designers. I debated what to wear, got a manicure (a bad one, regardless) and still showed up looking a fright, but when it came down to it, the showers were gracious and more than willing to help me style everything from what I’m wearing to a civil wedding next weekend to new accessories for my flamenco dress.

Here’s a peek at what Seville’s young, fashion-forward minds have come up with for the season (not all designers are pictured because I wasn’t able to take photos in all of the rooms):

helena moral (winner of the 2012 award for up-and-coming fashion designer). @hemoral. moralhelena@gmail.com.

Giorgia Stramare. stramarefulvia@liberto.it

Motoreta. Children’s line (adorbs!) out this March. moreta@moreta.es

Tocados Victoria Eugenia. tocadosvictoriaeugenia@gmail.com

Maggie Plumcake. maggieplumcake@blogspot.com

Tocados Vanesa Aslan

What’s more, Kate offered four talleres for excellent Christmas gifts. From Christmas cookies to decorated napkins, I chose to make a simple bracelet with enough sheen and texture to dress up even jeans.

After checking out all of the rooms and chatting with designers, my mission was clear – to find a statement piece for my dress for Alvaro’s wedding. Thanks to Kate Mariela, I’ve had tons of inspiration lately. I spotted a snazzy black beaded necklace from Designs for M and tried it on. The gorgeous piece was the right price, and I was helping a local designer who looked to be younger than me do what it is she loves and get paid for it.

That’s what it’s all about isn’t it?

Looking for a place to stay in Seville? Grand Luxe Hostel offers premium accommodation with excellent services and Seville’s best terrace view. Just off the main tourist road, you can expect a pleasant stay with all of the amenities for a great price.

I was a gracious guest of Kate Mariela, Sevilla Trendy and Grande Luxe Hostel, but all opinions expressed are my own. You can check out photos from the event by following the hashtag #trendyXmas, or follow the sponsors of Trendy Xmas: @katemariela @grandluxehostal @sevillatrendy.

How a misguided GPS lead us to a good find, but bad luck

“BUT I CAN’T FIGURE OUT HOW TO GET OUT OF THE PARKING LOT!” I wailed, confused at how to even put the rental car into reverse.

“Dude, let’s ask PSY,” T suggested, and the site of a Gangnam-style doppleganger set me into a fit of giggles. Today was going to be a good day. After loads of back luck during 2012, I finally felt blessed, and that our trip would be as lucky as playing partypoker.es at the end of a bad streak.

I asked the car rental guy the easiest way to get out of Madrid, and he asked our destination.

Burgos, I said, as H responded with Logroño, our final destination.

The GPS navigated us out of Madrid and out towards Burgos. Being together outside of camp felt almost strange, but we chattered away to make the kilometres pass by as quickly as they got racked up on the dashboard.

Just past the border of Madrid and Segovia, the GPS spoke again to tell us to turn off the main road and onto a secondary highway.

“It’s probably just avoiding the toll roads or something,” H suggested when I told her that the Internet had suggested driving up past Burgos and veering off on the highway that stretches across the North, following the Ebro river that feeds the grapevines of La Rioja.

The mountain range that separates the two comunidades rolled out on the right side of the window as the vegas turned into golden-leafed forests. As we snaked into Soria – the most sparsely populated region of Spain – my eyes and brain begged for a coffee.

The GPS sounded, as if it read my brain. It directed us into a town on the banks of the Duero, San Esteban de Gormáz. I saw the town’s castle spires on our way in, and we drove as high as the rental car would take us into the town’s midget bodegas with cracked, wooden doors. The place felt a bit like Guadix with the homes carved into the walls, the creaky stairs and catwalks leading acriss the sides of the mountain. The ancient stones of the small town had lead the namesake to write El Cid Campeador, the famous novel of Spain’s chivalrous knights of the middle ages.

After a quick stop for coffee, we set out towards Soria, passing small towns not big enough for even a church. Coming around a bend in a small aldea, we came across a truck and a guardia civil car. The young office signaled us over to the shoulder and I gulped hard, stone silent in my fear.

Here’s the thing: I knew that the crime for driving without a license could be a 500€ fine and up to six months in prison. 

“Play STUPID!” T hissed as I rolled down the window and uttered hola with my best guiri accent. The cop asked for the car’s registration and my driver’s license. Kike had warned me something like this could happen not two days before, and to be extremely careful. I wasn’t breaking the law, but had been pulled over by a routine check on small country roads.

Using his iPhone as a translator, the cop told me I needed an international driver’s license to be able to rent a car and that we would be fined 100€ on the spot and get a “get out of jail” card until we made it to Logroño. I felt waves of nausea as I forked over two fifties and tried hard not to let onto the fact that I understood, even stifling a small shudder when his partner said, “Wasn’t it 500€ for driving without a license?”

As we drove away after a hurried buenos dias at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, I felt my heart stop racing as we laughed nervously. Luckily, wine country was our destination, and it wasn’t long before I was taking the edge off with a glass of Rioja and cheap tapas. My friends were glad I was driving and that my guiri-speaking-Spanish impression was spot-on.

The rest of our weekend included me losing a cell phone, breaking a few wine glasses and having the worst wine hangovers of our lives, but there are few things I appreciate more than a good glass of tinto, my friends and new places.

Seville Snapshot: Bodega Marqués de Riscal in Eltziego (País Vasco)

As a traveler, I should take pride in really getting to know a city, to meeting and talking with its people and to finding its heart.

Travel Confession: I love kitschy sites, kitschy souvenirs and don’t always stay off the beaten path.

When it  came down to deciding what to do while in Spain’s Wine Country, La Rioja, we all agreed that wine was at the top of the list, while a sub category to wine was visiting a bodega. I called around, sent emails and was delighted when we got a last-minute booking for Marqués de Riscal, one of Spain’s most famous exports.

Elciego, or Eltziego in Basque, is a beautiful city in its own right. Nestled amongst vineyards, its burnt fall colors provide a dramatic backdrop to a stone medieval city whose claim to fame is the wine and the hotel commissioned by Marqués de Riscal, which was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.

The colors chosen – metallic silver, pink and bordeaux – are representative of the wine bottle, whereas the wavy steel plates and pale stone pillars are meant to represent a vine before harvest. Built as a millennial addition to the winery founded during the mid 19th century, it seems to blend in with the history while looking forward to the future.

We signed up for a 90-minute tour of the bodega, which took us first to the newest installations, then past their ancient fountain – outfitted with a digital clock and weather reader – and into their oldest cellar. The damp, musty smell and little light protects their oldest editions, which mustn’t be uncorked. A small butane stove is used to heat a metal ring, then cold water is applied, breaking the glass and allowing the wine to be poured. As someone who loves the craft of writing and is a geek about it, I think I could geek out about wine if I got to learn more about it. Sadly, we were tired after the previous night’s antics and in search of a bed. After our two glass of wine, we dipped out and back to Logroño.

If you go: Marques de Riscal bodegas are located in Eltziego, just 15 kilometres from Logroño. It’s actually in the Basque region, and not La Rioja! To take a tour, which are available every day of the year, making a reservation through email or over the phone is a must. the tour included a tasting of two young wines and runs 10,25. More information and contacts can be found on Marques de Riscal’s webpage. Tours can be done in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and even Russian.

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