Travel Highlights from the Last Six Months of 2012

When I reflected on just how much travelling I’d done during the first half of 2012 – from two new autonomous regions of Spain to fulfilling a nagging want to see Istanbul, I vowed to slow down a bit during the second half. Not because I don’t love the butterflies of savoring a new place, but because I wanted to use this year to focus on a bit more than moving – slowing down to complete a master’s, to work on this blog, and stop to enjoy actually living in Seville.

My roommate, Melissa, used to call me Macaco after his hit, Moving. All the people moving, she said, was me; indeed, my parents claim that I never walked, but went right to running.

Go, Cat, Go!

July

After leaving my job and watching my friends Lindsay and David give one another the “si quiero” in the other’s language, I cheered Spain onto victory in the Euro Cup finals, had to say goodbye to Kike, and then set up camp on my own in La Coruña.

My fourth summer in this little rinconcito of Spain was just as magical as always, full of sweeping views of the peninsula, afternoons spent snuggling in bed with my computer in front of me catching up on some work, and plenty of fresh seafood. Our plans to see Fisterrea were foiled by the rain, per usual, but I left camp feeling ok about it.

August

My birth month found me back in Chicago, which truly is the ciudad de mi corazón. My friend Phil was back from a 2-year sojourn in San Francisco, so we spent time catching up and playing tourist in a city we’d both known for decades. Sweet home, indeed.

After 27 years and 28 countries, I finally made it to New York City. Cue Alicia Keys song, and you’ll understand my fascination. Sadly, all of my pictures not on social media were lost, but we hit all of the big places on our girls’ trip – the Rock, Central Park, Fifth Ave, Magnolia Bakery, Le Tren Bleu, The Financial District, Ellis Island. My friends Kim, Pedro, Monica and Cait all came in from Long Island and Jersey to help me celebrate my 27th birthday doing the things I love most – drinking beer, laughing like a crazed person, boating and eating well.

On the actual day of my birthday, Margaret, Nancy and I took the Bolt Bus to Boston for a family wedding. My birthday cake was made of cannolis and toasted with Blue Moons, courtesy of my father, and I ate an enormous lobster. Boston was a gorgeous city and just the right size, and I had the added bonus of celebrating my second consecutive birthday with my friend Bri and attending my cousin Thomas’s beautiful wedding on the Boston College Campus.

From there, I caught up on reading on the Amtak to Stamford, Connecticut, where my friend Christine lives. There were barbecues and flippy cup tournaments, boat rides and water skiing, and lots of laughs as we caught up in Spanglish.

September

Coming back to Spain after Labor Day was tougher than it has been, as I feel a bit in limbo over my future in Spain. As I got off the airplane and into a cab to get to Lauren’s house, I left my laptop in the backseat, never to see it again. There went my pictures, some semi-important documents…but I found that parting with it wasn’t the end of the world (and the excuse I needed to upgrade to a Mac). Baby steps, people.

Lauren, Liz and I attended Travel Bloggers Unite in Porto Portugal, a wonderful and oft-overlooked city with a thriving art scene. I was jet lagged, bummed about the computer and not looking forward to networking or selling myself or anything more than a glass of port and a stroll around the city’s old quarter. I was pleased to find other, well-established bloggers willing to help out and informative talks that inspired me to keep pushing on this project, making me feel less like a clueless newbie.

Kike took me to Cádiz the weekend afterwards as a late birthday getaway for us both. We explored the beaches in Tarifa (pictured above), Zahara de los Atunes, Bolonia and Zahora before the summer slipped away.

October

The ruins of Aracena castle

I started working with my students and a master’s all at once while adjusting to a totally new lifestyle by working in the evenings. Even with Fridays off, I opted to save a little money so I could buy a new Mac and pay the second half of my program in Public Relations. Kike and I did get to Aracena, a gorgeous white village in the mountains, for their annual ham fair. I was even interviewed while stuffing my face full of pig products by Canal Sur!

November

November blustered in with cooler temps, and I began to buckle down on blogging, teaching and masters-ing, taking the time to take care of my friendships and enjoy the lovely destinations in the province. We ventured north to San Nicolás del Puerto, the village where Kike’s family has property, to celebrate their patron saint’s feast day. Unfortunately, Camarón’s auto focus broke, leaving me with little else that weekend but instagram (follow me @sunshinesiestas).

A few weekends later, I was a guest in Estepa with Heart of Andalusia. This pueblo blanco in the eastern reaches of the province is famous for its mantecados and other Christmas treats, and we were treated to a lovely day out in a place I’d always wanted to visit.

December

Spain’s commemoration of their Constitution and the Immaculate Conception means back-to-back days off, so my friends and I rented a car, got pulled over by the cops, and barely made it to one piece to La Rioja, Spain’s Wine Country. While there, we feasted like kings on the famous Calle Laurel and took a trip to Marques de Riscal’s gorgeous bodega in nearby Eltziego.

I also made it to Madrid for my cuñado (brother-in-law)’s wedding, a food tour with Lauren of Madrid Food Tour and a quick trip to visit my host family in Valladolid. The following day, my family descended upon Madrizzz and we spent six days exploring Catalonia and Andorra (country 29 and already with Christmas sales!).

2013

2013′s travel plans haven’t been fully set yet, but my family and I are celebrating New Year’s Eve in the Plaza del Sol. In the works are an anniversary trip to Bologna, heading to Toulouse to visit friends and attending TBU wherever it may be this time around! And, without a doubt, walking the Camino de Santiago this summer!

Where are you heading or hope to visit in 2013?


Fisherman’s Feast of Boston

My 27th birthday cake was not actually a cake. Instead, six ricotta-filled canolis lined an old-school wooden box. A package all tied up with string. Yes, sweets are perhaps my favorite thing.

“Yeah, the guy took them in the back and squirted the filling in, so it’s fresh!” my dad quipped, excited to have brought Boston’s North End, a traditionally Italian neighborhood, into my celebration. My big day, celebrated August 15th (thanks for the birthday wishes, jerks!) marks the start of the 100+ year-old Fisherman’s Feast to celebrate the Madonna del Socorrso.

Our suites were located on the corner of North and Fleet Streets, the virtual apex of the celebration. On either end, vendors selling everything from oysters to orchiette, Italian sausage to limoncello stretched along the 17th Century streets once home to Paul Revere and other revolutionaries. The scent of the food was toxic (for my waist, that is) and shouts of Mangia! Mangia! could be heard over the Baaaahstan drawl.

The festival begins on the Thursday after August 15th with a Semana Santa-esque procession of the Madonna from her tiny blue chapel to the waters of the Boston Harbor, where she blesses it for good yield. The next four days are full of raffles, street performers and dancing, capping off with a parish girl flying from a third story window to the blue-draped Madonna to bless her and pray to her.

My family did little else but eat and drink, but I noticed wide white ribbons around the neighborhood in bars, pizzerias and family-run delis. The ribbon framed an image of the Madonnas and saints, and patrons had pinned dollar bills as a donation. I reached into my purse for a buck and pinned it to the picture of Saint Lucy, my Confirmation Saint,  whose stature (eyes in bowl included!) can be found in a small chapel in the neighborhood. Gotta have my eyesight to be able to feast my eyes on Feasts like this one.

The Freedom Trail, marking the hallmarks of American Independence, were just steps away, snaking past Paul Rever’s House long before the North End was home to Little Italy. Even the tell-tale red brick sidewalks seemed to seep up the smell of Italian sausage, which we could smell over our breakfast each morning!

Mangia and music was the theme of the night. Right below our inn, a rickety stage was set up and the over-the-hill band members, dressed in the azue blue and buttercream of the Madonna’s veil, belted out “Notte en Roma.” We settled in for a beer, unsure if our already pasta-heavy bellies would hold any more oysters or pizelles. Stand after stand boasted Northeastern and Italian fare, tempting even the youngest entrepreneurs.

I’m privy to any summer festival – the food, the characters, the carnival rides. While Feria de Sevilla is hands-down my favorite (not to mention most extravagent!), I can’t turn down a good fling. People in the North End seemed to be there for the same reasons: a momentary escape for good food and good company.

What’s your favorite summer festival?

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