My American Crush on Memphis (Or, How I Realized Just How American I Am)

Our rented Kia Soul’s direction was mainly southwest down I-55 to Saint Louis before we dipped slightly further south and nudged a bit east into the Deep South. As a Yankee and expat overseas, my forays into American life had been limited to power points about Thanksgiving and begging sports bars to show American football.

It wasn’t until Memphis – 570 miles and eight hours southwest of my hometown – that the meaning of being an American abroad hit me by seeing my country from the outside in for once. And it took a Spaniard abroad to point that out.

downtown memphis streets

Lucía was cooking puchero in her olla exprés when we arrived to her condo on Mud Island. Out her kitchen window sat downtown Memphis and the ghastly pyramid. And out her living room window, the Mississippi thundered by, eventually dumping out into the Gulf of Mexico. Her 18-month-old daughter played nearby with a series of books in both Spanish and English.

“Just have to wait until this is done, and we can head out,” she said, handing the Novio and I a bottle of American beer. “Oh! And I took tomorrow off of work to be your guide.”

Lucía and I have known each other since I moved to Spain. Staunchly andaluza with a world view – she’s worked in half a dozen countries as a medic and EMT – she and I have always had a lot in common. And she and the Novio have been friends for well over a decade. As we planned a road trip down to New Orleans, a stop in Bluff City was a non-negotiable pit stop, even if it meant one night fewer in NOLA.

South Main District Memphis

Memphis has been a always been a thread weaved into my formative years, I’ve realized six months later. My father spent most of his working life at Federal Express, whose headquarters is in Memphis. I grew up on Elvis and rock n’ roll. My elementary school was called Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School. Ask me what foods I miss most from the US, and pulled pork with baked beans push into the top five.

While reluctant to spend two nights in Memphis, I welcomed the opportunity to see Lu, cross into a new state and stuff myself, post-wedding, on BBQ. Armed with a list of my dad’s list of musts – the Peabody Ducks, blues joints and ribs – we pulled up to the condo as dusk was falling behind us in Arkansas, snaking through a construction-riddled downtown 3rd Street.

Lucía and her husband may be doctors, but they’re also history buffs, rooted in Memphian and American life with one foot firmly planted in the Spanish camp. Sounds familiar. We five piled in the car for a quick trip around Mud Island, where the city’s elite (and my other Noviom Justin Timberlake) live relatively crime-free in what is considered one of America’s most dangerous cities.

Memphis TN and the Mississippi

Growing up in Rockford, Illinois, the Rock River – one of the Mississippi’s tributaries – seemed to separate upper middle class from the lower class as the Mississippi did in Memphis. Downtown gleamed in the twilight against a ruddy river. I brought up the Civil Rights Movement and my afternoon trip to the National Civil Rights Museum museum, housed in the motel where MLK was shot. As I stood in the very room where he died, my mind racing back to my formative years, learning about tolerance and equal rights. The museum was among the best I’ve seen.

It’s a touchy subject, but I wanted an outside perspective on the Black Lives Matter and the race riots. Memphis’s population is predominately black and the city is considered the poorest metropolitan area in the United States. Lucía and Isra looked at each other and she said to wait until the following day, when she’d be our private tour guide through not just downtown Memphis, but the last century or so of its history.

Memphis South Main

The following morning, I woke up to the smell of Spanish coffee. Lu sped us through our morning routine, promising a muggy, hazy August morning outside. We walked south on Mud Island, the toddler holding my hand as I struggled to wade through the heat. Mosquitos buzzed all around my head – here’s the wet, hot American summer I’d been missing.

Mud Island houses an outdoor museum featuring a small-scale Mississippi River at a 2112:1 scale. From the watershed walls that feature my home state to several of the places we stopped in as we traveled south along a portion of the Mighty Mississippi’s 954 miles, I explained how Old Man River (and rivers in general) had been a feature in my entire life – like reading the Adventures of Tom Sawyer hald a dozen times or using the crossing on the I-80 as a marker on my trips to and from Iowa City during college. What brought commerce to Tennessee made it the center of the world for package distribution decades later.

We were promptly chased out at 9:50am, told the River Walk didn’t open until 10.

Our next stop was St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, where both Lucía and Isra work. Having done fundraisers for the hospital as a child and volunteered with families experiencing pediatric cancer throughout college, I couldn’t believe I was finally standing in the temple that Danny Thomas built. I thought of my friend Kelsey, who died from complications with leukemia shortly before her 22nd birthday in 2011 and in whose memory I walked part of the Camino de Santiago. The whole place was magical – the entire staff smiled, despite the troubling nature of their work, and we quickly scratched our plans to donate money to Air Force Orphans. 

Choose 901 Memphis

Isra was in his office, studying for a procedure he’d perform that afternoon. As a highly skilled worker, he’d been invited as a pediatric resident to St. Jude’s – a testament to his brilliance and compassion. Lucía researches cures. And I teach prepositions. Consider me humbled.

Shortly after, we parked downtown on the former Cotton Row. Lucía spends most of her free time reading history books, and her running commentary of Memphis’s history against the backdrop of the brick buildings and blues joints gave the city more context than any museum could have.

Founded by Andrew Jackson for its strategic location on a high bluff, Memphis quickly grew into a commercial capital, thanks to its cotton crop and access to the Mississippi. This brought a large number of African American slaves with it, even post-war, to work as laborers. Changes in demographics would lead to decades of unrest between the affluent Whites – mainly Irish immigrants – and Blacks. We weaved throughout the downtown area, the historically Black neighborhood, and near Victorian Row to see just how different life was for the two.

Crumbling Memphis buildings

Many of Memphis’s storefronts are boarded up and out of business, just steps away from the landmark Peabody Hotel or Orpheum Theatre that once played host to Blues and Rock n’Roll greats. Riots after King’s assassination at the Lorraine Motel only marginalized the city’s black population, which resided mostly in the lower middle class district south of downtown, now known as the South Main Arts District.

Lucía recounted the last five decades’ history over beers at the Arcade Diner, an iconic Memphian restaurant that Elvis once frequented. The six blocks that comprised the district had once been home to the booming railway business but fell into disrepair in the 1950s. Iconic Hotel Chisca and its radio station closed. Now, it’s experiencing a revitalization and were filled with craft beer breweries, oyster bars, galleries and pop-up shops. Think exposed brick and old signs and general gentrification- this part of the city came to represent Memphis for me: a city that knows how to bounce back. A city that holds its head high. A city whose past is pushing it into the future.

Beale Street Memphis signs

Later that night, we gorged on ribs at Rendezvous before strolling down Beale Street. Blues tumbled out of bars and the neon lights lit up the night. Over whiskey, our anfitriones told us what we already knew: the Black population in Memphis were feeling the heat. Even in a city that is predominantly Black and that once tried to resist slavery, the Confederacy and even segregated schools, it’s still considered an unsafe city and one that locals decry for censoring the media. We were there just two weeks after Trey Bolton, a Memphis cop, was killed.

And Memphis didn’t riot. In Memphis, acceptance is now preached as the city moves past MLK, the Memphis Riots of 1866 and the slavery that propelled it into one of the South’s most prosperous cities. As Black Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong said shortly after the shooting, “All Lives Matter.” 

lorraine motel memphis

Like MLK’s iconic speech the night before his assassination, something is happening.

Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world. And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” […]

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.”

Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.

Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same: “We want to be free.”

“I have been to the Mountaintop” – Martin Luther King, Jr., April 1968

In a 21st Century frame, it’s still relevant – and call me crazy, but I think I saw the manifestation of that in Memphis. So, yeah. I had a big crush on gtirry Bluff City and what it stands for:

Memphis quality

And in many ways, Memphis was a representation of the values my parents tried teaching me when I was young: acceptance, humility, hard work and compassion for others. When we pulled back onto the I-55 for a long trips towards New Orleans, I grew quiet, thinking of how these lessons had shaped me.

The rest of our post-wedding road trip affirmed that: an eye-opening Civil War Museum in St. Louis and rafting on the Occee River near Chattanooga. Talking to locals over crayfish in New Orleans, nearly 10 years post-Katrina, about why they’d come to NOLA, or why they stayed. Witnessing how the sharing culture is helping millennials like me make ends meet and chase their goals down.

Memphis shook me out of my Spain haze and helped me look at my country for what it is, for better or for worse. Ticking through seven states in one summer road trip passed in a blur of county lines, of truck stop meals, of miles on the odometer. But Memphis was a real, gritty American city that reminded me where I came from, having grown up in “tough” cities like Flint and Rockford.

I am an American, firstly. Someone who knows what it means to work hard and what it means to be free to choose. Someone who trusts in the inherent aims of her country, but isn’t afraid to voice opposition (or cast a vote). Someone who is fiercely loyal to her first land but understands its context in a wider scope.  

And those values haven’t in any way been muted by my years in Spain. My American Dream is far different now than it was when I finished high school or college, but it’s rooted in the way I grew up.

Memphis 

Have you ever been to Memphis? What were your impressions?

13 Free (or ¡Casi!) Things to Do in Seville

Free  is not a word synonymous with Seville. But cheap is.

While the city won’t burn a hole in your pocket with its reasonable prices for accommodation, food and entertainment (not to mention low cost of living), Seville still has a load of free or low-cost activities while visiting the metropolis where flamenco echoes through alleyways and bullfighters are carried out of the rings on the shoulders of revelers.

Get lost in the city’s old quarters

city streets seville

It’s believed that Seville has the largest old city center in Europe, and its Roman, Visigoth and Moorish roots mean that everything in the district is cramped, chaotic and easy to get turned around in. Your map will do you no good, so it’s better to just toss it in your bag and wander.

Catch a free flamenco show

Even before UNESCO declared flamenco – a gypsy art said to have taken on its modern form in Seville – an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, flamenco has been infused into the lives of sevillanos and its visitors. Peñas flamencas, small bars dedicated to artists of years past, often put on free or discounted shows in small, dark locales, the guitar wailing as a dark­haired gypsy taps and claps her way across the stage.

Flamenco show in Seville

La Carbonería – Seville’s landmark flamenco joint makes it into every guidebook for good reason: shows are free and nightly at 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. Still, the popularity of La Carbonería and its location in the heart of downtown means that the place is packed, the drinks are expensive and the dancers just sub­par (C/Levies, 18).

T de Triana – This bar cum flamenco haven features free shows on Tuesday and Thursday nights around 10:30 p.m. It’s location on Calle Betis makes it ideal for the start to a night on one of the city’s best­known nightlife spots (C/Betis, 20).

La Anselma – Even though I’m no fan of the boisterous former cantaora whose famous flamenco house brings people to my barrio, her shows are free. Just be aware that she’ll hound you for a drink until you’ve had an entire bottle of wine…yourself…by the time the second dancer goes on (C/Pagés del Coro, 49).  

Not that I speak from experience.

Visit museums on their free days

Espacio Santa Clara Fountain Seville

Seville’s historical sites have been climbing in prices as the city fields more tourists. Stop by the tourism office in Plaza Virgen de los Reyes for a free guide to the reduced price or free days for both the big-ticket sites and offbeat museums. Your money should be going to tapas anyway.

Torre del Oro Monday all day
Alcázar Palace and Gardens Monday afternoon
Contemporary Art Museum Tuesday to Friday afternoons; all day Saturday
Castillo San Jorge Free daily
Cathedral and Giralda Sunday afternoon
Archivo de Indias Free daily with appointment
Casa de Pilatos Free Wednesday afternoon with EU ID card
Fine At Museum Free daily

EU citizens have their entrance to Itálica, a Roman settlement outside the city, free every day.

And if you’re a student under 26 with a valid ID card or carnet joven, you can cash in on discounted rates or free entrance at the Alcázar, Cathedral, Archaeological Museum and Arts and Customs Museum.

This is an especially good tactic if you visit in the summer – free A/C!

Lounge in one of the city’s expansive parks

Jardines del Generalife Granada

From María Luisa to Alamillo to the banks of the Guadalquivir, Seville’s parks are a defense against the hot summers and a cheap way to relax. Bring a picnic lunch for a cheap dining option, or come prepared for an afternoon siesta.

Bonus points if you bring a litrona of beer for a botellón!

Shop at a local’s market

Fruit stands at the Mercado de Triana food market

Nowhere in Seville can you witness the way its people live than in its local markets. Old ladies jab you with their elbows to get through the fruit stand while your jaw drops with the weird cuts of animals, the array of fish and the mounds of spices sold at each. Most markets are open Monday – Saturday from 8a.m. until 2p.m. Likewise, there is a fine arts fair just in front of the Fine Arts Museum every Sunday morning, weather permitting.

Wander the Exposition fairgrounds

Seville, for two brief periods in its long history, had the world’s attention when it hosted the Iberoamerican Festival in 1929 and again in 1992. Large portions of the city were dedicated to these projects.

Plaza de España Sevilla

In 1929, Seville became home to the Iberoamerican Fair, and event that brought together Latin-and South American countries in order to strengthen ties, most of which were Spanish colonies. Sitting at the southern end of the historic quarter, each country designed its own pabellón, or exhibition hall, crowned by the Plaza de España. All sites are free to view, though some aren’t open to the public or are used as government buildings.

On the opposite side of the city in the Isla de la Cartuja, Spain again hosted an exposition to welcome the 21 st century with over 100 countries in attendance. Preparations for the siteincluded building several new bridges to span the Guadalquivir River and a monorail, and the site is reputed to be from where Columbus left for his journey to America. While it remains largely abandoned, the expansive area is worth a visit, and you can visit the stunning Pabellón de Marruecos.

Sunshine on the Pabellon de Marruecos

Visit San Fernando Cemetery

While the idea of visiting a cemetery is a bit disconcerting to everyone but me, visiting Seville’s city cemetery is worth the hike for its beauty and peaceful respite from a bustling city. Inaugurated in 1852, the city’s most illustrious names have been lain to rest here, including bullfighters like Paquirri and flamenco singers, war heroes and criminals. The cemetery is open during daylight hours and on holidays, so it’s common to see burials and mourning loved ones, so silence and no photography is enforced. Take bus 10 from Ponce de León until you see the cemetery (1,40€/trip).

Discover the city’s Roman roots

Seville is a city that has been conquered, reconquered and conquered again, creating a matrix of architectural and artistic legacy. Perhaps the Roman roots of the city are best preserved, as city decrees outlaws the destruction of ruins or artifacts. Such objects can be seen in the archaeological museum of María Luisa Park, but you can discover some of them on your own.

Where to see Roman ruins in Seville

The corner of Calle Mármoles and Calle Abades houses columns of a temple; in Plaza de la Pescadería, believed to be at the crux of the old Roman streets, giant marble blocks preserve the ruins of a fish monger’s; and in Plaza de la Encarnación, visit gorgeous mosaics and old city walls that lie underneath the square (1,50€ for non­-EU citizens). There are also ruins of a Roman aqueduct just outside the city center on Luis Montoto.

Get holy at church

Plaza del Salvador Sevilla

Seville is home to the most renowned Holy Week celebrations in Spain, a somber week that transforms the last days of Jesus Christ into life­sized floats that cramp the city center. While it’s free to watch, you can visit the floats the other 51 weeks of the year and relish in the city’s devotion at most churches and chapels.

Only the Cathedral, Santa Ana and San Salvador cost money, so even just popping in for the relief from the hot sun is worthwhile. Don’t miss the venerable Macarena, or the teeny chapels under the Postigo Arch or the end of the Puente de Triana. 

Enjoy views of the city center from Triana

view of Triana and the Guadalquivir from Puente de Triana

On the opposite side of the city center sits Triana, the gypsy barrio seeped in lore and full of great bars and eateries. Watching the lights of the city go on from the Triana bridge or along Calle Betis affords tremendous views of the city (and you can catch flamenco here!). Check out my guide to spending an afternoon on my side of the río.

Watch a Novillada

bullfighting in Seville Spain

If you’re brave enought to see a bullfight, Seville’s Maestranza ring is a superb place to do so. While this famed plaza de toros hosts some of the big names in bullfighting, the late May and early June novilladas bring in young bullfighters looking to make a name for themselves. Seats in the sun are typically under 15€. Schedule available on the ring’s official website.

Browse the El Jueves market for Spanish kitsch

bullfighter jackets El Jueves Market Sevilla

Believed to be one of the longest-running flea markets in Spain, Calle Feria in the Macarena district hosts a large mercadillo each Thursday morning. Vendors hock everything from recuerdos from the ’92 Expo to bullfighting suits. Haggling is OK, but browsing is the way to go.

…¡y a comer!

The Room Sevilla tapas

Like Granada, Seville’s tapas scene is a must-do when visiting, and visiting the free sites means you’ll work up an appetite. Budget hunters tend to chow down at Taberna Los Coloniales (C/Cristo de Brugos, 19) for big plates at a low cost. Bodega Las Columnas (C/ de Rodrigo Caro, 1) is another cheap option with plenty of charm, just out of the shadow of the Giralda. With beer at 1,10€ and tapas as low as 2,20€, you can still fill up without a huge bill.

You’ll also find budget options around the Alameda, squeezed in between fancier fusion restaurants. If you’re going to spend your money anywhere, be it on food and drink!

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Do you have other ideas for cheap or free things to do in Seville?

Donde Hay Amor: Five Romantic Holiday Spots in Spain

Spain has its fair share of Mediterranean passion, spice and beauty — not to mention some of the most gorgeous sunsets, natural parks and villages on the planet. I should know: I met and fell in love with a Spaniard on the dimly lit streets of Seville, elbow-to-elbow as he ordered me new foods or we zigzagged the country in his car.

My love story has a heart-stopping backdrop between cervecerías and sidrerías, hidden coves and waterfalls, bustling cities and blips of towns. Can you tell we’re close to Valentine’s and our six-month wedding anniversary? 

SPAIN'S

Booking a romantic trip away is all about finding the destination that’s right for you and your pareja, and one of the best things about Spain is that it offers so much more than a destination for couples, from globe-trotting city slickers to couples seeking a bit of solace. Here are four of my favorite rinconces of Spain for a romantic trip:

Seville: For the passionate couple

It’s often said that Andalucía encapsulates the Spanish spirit more than any other region of the country, and nowhere is that more evident than in Seville. With its stunning Moorish architecture and wild flamenco rhythms, Seville is steeped in romance and passion. The proof is in the (blood) pudding: the Novio and I met and fell in love in Triana.

giralda sunset1

Start your trip by wandering hand-in-hand through Parque de Maria Luisa and the Moorish Alcázar, full of corners and oppulent gardens to sneak in a besito. For the best food, you can practically trip into one of the city’s many tapas restaurants, huddling together to share plates of pescaito frito and rabo de toro. And of course, no trip to this city would be complete without a flamenco experience at a local peña or a massage at the Arabic baths.

Menorca: For the tree-hugging couple

For the ultimate relaxing beach getaway, you can’t do better than Menorca. Quieter than neighboring Mallorca and protected as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Menorca is a chilled-out destination that combines natural beauty, art and culture and fine cuisine.

IMAG0377

For a taste of the old world, stroll through the narrow cobbled lanes of the Old Ciutadella, before heading to the harbor for sea views and a bite to eat at fish restaurant Jàgaro (a favourite with the British Royal Family). Finish up in one of the island’s seaside taverns, sipping the island’s renowned Xoriguer gin and admiring the ocean views at sunset.

Even better, rent a car and drive to the secluded calas, or coves, scattered around the coast. Menorca is one of Spain’s top destinations for walking holidays and outdoor sports, making it perfect for outdoors lovers.

Barcelona: For the cultural couple

There’s no place like Barcelona when it comes to romance and culture. You can cuddle up by the fountain in Montjuïc, or take a stroll by the Maremagnum. End the evening taking a seat on Badalona beach and watching the waves lap against the sand. If this sounds like your kind of destination, you can check it out with loveholidays.

parc guell palm tree barcelona

Barcelona is also a place for the avant garde between world class museums, posh dining concepts and a myriad of cool day trips. While perhaps not the most romantic city in Spain, it’s literally got something for everyone (well, maybe not me).

Mojácar: For the couple who wants no company

You might not have heard of Mojácar, but you’ll certainly recognize its distinctive skyline of jumbled white-fronted houses from the pages of a travel magazine. The town comprises two areas: the old town, dating back to Moorish times and arranged over a hilltop two kilometers inland from the coast, and the beach, a modern resort that stretches seven kilometers along the coast.

sunset over porto montenegro

The combination of the two makes Mojacar the ideal destination for a romantic break, offering the opportunity for secluded walks through the old town’s winding streets, sunbathing on the golden beaches and sightseeing.

Extremadura: for off-the-beaten-path couples

Thanks to a lack of tourism, Extremadura is a part of Spain that not many tourists get to. Think wide open plains, historic cities and long, hearty lunches in the shade of a stone cathedral.

Statue of Pizarro in Trujillo

My picks would be Trujillo, home to a stone city center where the New World’s riches often ended up, or Cáceres, a UNESCO World Heritage city bursting with secluded plazas, churches and small taverns. It may be one of Spain’s most authentic areas!

But don’t think you’ll need to do anything extra special: Much like we Americans have ‘Hallmark Holidays,’ Spaniards refer to Valentine’s Day as el día del Corte Inglés. Everything is fair game – baked goods, flowers, gushy love notes and expensive dinners!

What are Spain’s most romantic holidays, in your opinion? 

Five Realizations I’ve Made About Myself as a Traveler

Staring at my 2015 planner just one year ago, I circled just two dates: August 8th, my wedding day, and August 15th, my 30th birthday. I inhaled sharply, knowing that as a new homeowner, long-term travel was off the table unless I was living with my parents.  

Quotes about Travel

For someone whose mentality was clocked in airline miles and train tickets accumulated, I was crestfallen. In the span of 60 days in 2014, we closed on a house and I signed away the freedoms and money drains I’d previously had.

2015 was not a red-letter year for my passport, but with minimum means to jet off, I began to scrimp and save for different things in my life that mattered: furniture to make myself at home in Triana, better food products for my never-ending battle to learn how to cook, and my wedding. And somehow, I still managed to travel to four countries and drive through six new states, plus visit several new places in Spain in a year in travel that was very bottom-heavy.

CASTLE

I made five key realizations about myself in the process, and began my 30s looking ahead to a different means to travel.

I cannot stick to a budget

I have never claimed to be a budget traveler, and it’s been brought to my attention that I am unable to stick to one, anyway. Oftentimes, my plane or train tickets are far less than what I spend in my destination (much to the dismay of my travel companions).

Case in point: my four days in Copenhagen. I cashed in on a free one-way flight from Vueling, shelling out just 93€ to finally touch down in Scandanavia. Armed with a list of cheap places to eat and things to do, I was ready to make the most of my first visit when I did the conversion and realized my euros had nothing on the sleek Danish kröner, and that even beers at happy hour were three times the cost of one in Seville. 

Nyhavn Denmark views

For the record, I do not like making dinner in my hostel or AirBnB’s kitchen, I rarely use public transportation or buy city passes, and I bring home senseless souvenirs. I’ve tried Couchsurfing and can’t resist a cool food tour. My wallet is defenseless outside of the 954 area code.

I am a slave to thinking that this may be my one chance to experience a culture and its cuisine, and I end up twice as far in the hole as I expect to be on the majority of my trips. Did I need one more pastry or that quick trip to Sweden when in Scandanavia? Probably not, nor could I resist the hot dogs or gløgg.

European Euros money

In Turkey, this meant a massage at a bath house. In Greece, I carted back an extra suitcase of gifts. My wallet is often empty, but what difference does it make if I’m not a long-term traveler and have a salary?

I know what it means – no new shoes when another pair falls apart.

Long-term travel is not for me

In all of the years I have blogged, I’ve let the idea of saving up and cashing in on a year-long trip play bumperpool in my head. Back when I was an auxiliar de conversación, I figured I’d spend a few years in Spain, then make bank as an EFL teacher in Korea or Japan and backpack around SE Asia for six months before getting a “real” job.

cobblestone road Europe

But when you’ve dealt with bedbugs, missed connections and lonliness, suddenly hitting the road for an extended period of time doesn’t seem like the best option.

For me, having a home base and possessions and a partner has been more fulflling, and the rest of Europe isn’t that far off. Yes, this means limited vacation days at times when prices spike, but thanks to Spain’s low cost of living, I feel it’s more justified to splurge (see? Not a budget traveler). 

I’m not into long roadtrips

Unable to afford a traditional honeymoon to Japan as we’d always planned, the Novio and I rented a car and drove to New Orleans, stopping in St. Louis and Memphis on the way down, Chatanooga, Nashville and Louisville on the way up.

Here’s the thing – I like driving. I believe that cars can take you where tours can’t. I find getting lost a lot of fun, once I’ve let out the requisite swear words. But I’m not into long distances – blame my commute to university for that one.

best hamburger in arkansas

The Novio and I had loads of fun on our trip, visiting a friend in Memphis and drinking down Bourbon Street in the lovely bubble of post-wedding bliss. We rafted down the Occoe River near Chatanooga, visited the Jim Beam distillery and stuffed ourselves with barbequed ribs and pulled pork. And we spent so.much.time. in the car, most of which had me either searching for radio stations in the middle of nowhere or writing wedding Thank You cards. Knowing we had a flight to catch meant missing a lot of things that we would have liked to see for sake of time.

I’ve discovered I’m more of a pound-the-pavement type of person, and sitting in the passenger seat of a Kia for hundreds of miles of cornfields wasn’t my idea of fun.

Best road trip car

That said, my parents are planning a 2016 summer roadtrip to the National Parks. Yaay?

I love showing visitors MY Spain

As someone living in Europe, I am often given the burden of planning itineraries. For me, it’s (more than) half the fun to read up on a destination, devour a book set in a new country and search for things to do, but when the trip actually hits, there are snags. My own parents went six days without luggage over Christmas, and it meant skipping some of our plans to wait at home for missing suitcases. 

Mirador de Graça Lisboa

But my favorite part about living in Spain is that I have a leg up on guide books and travel forums. I live here and consider myself fairly immersed in Spanish culture, and it’s most pleasurable to see my visitors dive right in to Spanish life.

When my best male friend finally made good on his promise to come see us, I had little else on the itinerary but eat, drink and head to the beach for a day. He’d come from South Africa, where he’d done all of those magical travel things like swim with sharks and bike through wineries. I couldn’t promise him much more than a taste of la vida española and took him to my favorite rincones of the city.

Calle del Infierno Feria de Abril

He claims to be satisfied with the experience. Who else would tell jetlag to go to hell when it’s the last night of the Feria?

That’s another big reason why my blog is so Spain-based. It’s my safe zone, my muse and the reason why most of you read it!

I don’t need to go far to be happy

There were times when my version of getting high was scouring flight search engines for good deals. That’s how I ended up with round-trip tickets to Marrakesh for 30€, to Brussels for 26€ and 102€ to Croatia, how my geographic knowledge of Europe improved…and how I drained my meager savings. I lived to spend my long weekends traipsing around Europe. And this was before Instagram and pinterest, so I traveled for the story and not the perception (although, I admit, at warp speed).

Don’t get me wrong – I still use all of those tactics nowadays and love hearing the ping in my mailbox with my reservations, but a year of limited resources meant Spain was my go-to destination. In fact, from my trip to the US over the 2014 holidays until my trip home for summer the following year, the only flight I took was to Barcelona! 

Portuguese National Beer Super Bock

I’ve long adopted the, “have car, will adventure” outlook, and having my own set of wheels has allowed me to delve into Spain and Portugal more.

One long weekend with rain on the horizon, I found my plans to go hiking in the Sierra de Grazalema foiled, so Kelly and I hopped in the car and drove north, away from the storm clouds. We stopped wherever we felt like it. “I hear there’s a castle in Real de la Jara.” We saw a castle. “Zafra has a parador.” Detour (complete with convent cookies!). “Oh look, a random monastery!” Nearly ran ourselves off the road trying to reach the top on a blustery day.

With itchy feet, anywhere but home will do, even if for a day.

View from the Hancock Tower

I have just one trip on the horizon – back to Chicago for my sister’s June wedding – and tons of ideas for quick trips, some to new cities and some to my favorite places. It’s almost just as liberating to know I am wide open to whatever adventure pops up as to having every long weekend in 2016 scribbled with travel plans in my agenda.

And after clicking out this post, I’ve realized that I don’t take nearly enough pictures of myself when traveling. Noted.

I didn’t do an annual travel round up, but went to Sicily, Denmark, Sweden and Portugal towards the end of the year. Where are you headed in 2016? What are your favorite destinations in and around Spain? I’m talking culinary travel, rowdy festivals and things to do in the great outdoors!

Tapa Thursday: 10 Winter Fruits and Vegetables You Should Be Eating in Spain

My stand-alone freezer is currently stocked with enough stews to get me through the long winter days. Even when the sun is shining midday, my cavernous house feels like a tundra, and I usually need a warm bowl of fabada or a crema de verduras to warm me up before ultimately peeling off layers of clothing to bike to work.

Fruit stands at the Mercado de Triana food market

Venturing to my local market once a week, I beeline right to Antonio’s fruit stand. My frutero will carve off a piece of fruit – often from his own orchard – and hand me a piece of his breakfast. Though seasons don’t change often in Seville, the fruit and vegetable products at Antonio’s stand (or in any market) do, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a carton of strawberries past June or watermelon in December.

While stews and legume-heavy dishes are king during the first few months of the year, your local supermarket will have incredible options that you shouldn’t pass up (they’ll be gone before you know it!)

Citrus Fruits like oranges, clementines and lemons

Winter fruits in Spain oranges and clementines

One of the first indications that winter is coming is visible right outside of your window: orange and lemons trees bend under the weight of branches full of fruit. Winter is high season for naranjas, no doubt.

Sweet Valencia oranges and clementines are even sold on the street by people who have orange trees, and for next to nothing. No excuse to not start the day with orange juice!

Persimmons

Like a try fruit and vegetable hybrid, persimmons – called kaki most commonly in Andalucía – weird me out a bit. It looks like a tomato or bell pepper, but has an extremely sweet taste. My frutero swears it adds years to your life, but I’ll stick to apples.

Quince

Winter fruit in Spain quince membillo and mangoes

Squash and Leeks

If you’re into soups and stews, leeks and squash, in addition to green onions, should be your go-to produce buy. 

Gold star for you if you make leek croquetas.

Green Onions

I grew up in a household full of green onions, and they laced and graced nearly everything my dad cooked. I’ve been buying puños from Antonio once a week and slipping them into my acelgas, on top of fried potatoes and even in to ramen! 

This is also the time of year when their catalán cousin, calçots, take center stage at onion grilling parties. Check out Barcelona Blonde’s post on the calçotada to learn more about an experience at the top of my footed bucket list! 

Avocados

Superfruit lovers can find avocados from late October until the springtime, and they’re used in several Spanish salads. Aguacates are still a bit too far out for Spanish cuisine and even my frutero couldn’t come up with any recipes, but at least there’s guacamole as a back up. 

Sweet Potatoes

Winter Fruit in Spain batatas asadas

Sweet potatoes, like chestnuts, are common street food offerings, cooked over charcoal. Though it’s not a common (or cheap!) staple for Spanish kitchens, many fruterías will sell them already cooked and thus softened.

Mushrooms

Winter food in Spain mushrooms and setas

A popular weekend pastime for Spaniards once the temperatures begin to dip is to forage for mushrooms. In the sierras, nearly two dozen types of shrooms, called setas, grow, and you can find them in sauces, tortillas and croquetas.

As someone who doesn’t love how they feel once I bite into them, I do love anything mushroom flavored! You can find nearly every variety in the produce section, the most popular being the boletus: look for a light brown bulb with a fleshy white stalk.

Artichokes

winter food in Spain artichokes

One of the very first Spanish dishes I ever tried was roasted artichokes christened with small pieces of Iberian ham and olive oil. But it wasn’t the large, leafy bulbs you see in winter time, and it turned me off to the vegetable.

Spain is one of the world’s top three producers of alcachofas, meaning prices are reasonable and artichokes pop up often on restaurant menus.

Nuts like chestnuts, almonds, walnuts

Winter fruit in Spain nuts

Spain literally gives another meaning to chestnuts roasting on an open fire when the castaños trucks hit the streets around November. You can also find a number of other nuts, most notably almonds and enormous, pungent walnuts.

Foreign fruits and veggies like papayas, mangoes and cherimoya

Strange winter fruits in Spain

Although it comes with a higher price tag, winter is prime time for a number of warm-weather fruits from south of the equator. If you’re in Seville, check the special produce stand, El Frutero de Nila, at the Mercado de Triana (stand 4, next to the restrooms).

On my last trip to the market, Antonio split open a clementine and handed it to me. “Toma, guapa. Una frutita tan dulce como tú.” The flesh was sweet, recalling memories of finding California oranges at the bottom of my stocking on Christmas morning. 

And then he pulled out a carton of strawberries, the forbidden fruit that usually doesn’t show up until late February. A sign of global warming, surely, but shopping and eating seasonally makes me feel more fully immersed – and it’s cheap!

WINTER

What fruits and vegetables do you consume in wintertime Spain? Do you like eating seasonally?

How to Spend an Afternoon in Triana

Most people leave Triana off of their Seville itinerary – there isn’t much by way of museums or grandiose churches, and it’s across the Guadalquivir from the city’s major draws. But what the historic neighborhood lacks in monuments, it more than makes up for in feeling.

Triana is a barrio that’s equal parts sevillano, capillita and gitano.

Puente de Triana Seville

While most opt to stay in the city center, Triana is only a stone’s throw from the Giralda and Plaza de España, commanding the western bank of the river that slices the city in two. And you can feel it – Triana seems like a world away, despite being connected by bus and subway to every part of Seville.

Consder an aparthotel like the comfortable and spacious ones offered by Pierre&Vacances Sevilla, right in the heart of Triana on Pagés del Coro, on your next Seville holiday. You’ll wake up to the sound of church bells from the adjacent San Jacinto church and be able to pop down to El Pulido for a tostada as long as your forearm.

pierre et vacances

Historically speaking, Triana was a poor, working class neighborhood of fisherman, bullfighters and gypsies and one of the seats of the Holy Inquisition, headquartered at the Castillo San Jorge on the riverbank. Today, it’s a neighborhood known for its fiercely trianero residents, flamenco culture and tile production, and is home to several well-known bars and eateries.

I may be biased, but it’s my favorite part of the city, and one whose streets I walk every day as a resident of the 41010. Many days, there’s no need to even cross the Puente Isabel II into town. 

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 10.09.32 AM

If you have a free afternoon, don’t miss Triana’s charm, which I’ve loaded into an interactive map in Bobbypin:

12pm – Start off with food

Start by crossing the Puente Isabel II over the Guadalquivir river, the official entrance into the República Independiente de Triana. The bridge was the city’s first, replacing a pontoon bridge in 1854 and built by an Eiffel disciple.

Capilla del Carmen Triana Anibal Gonzalez

It’s easily my favorite monument and the nearly official symbol of the neighborhood. At the western end, you’ll find the minuscule Capilla de Carmen, which was built by famous sevillano architect Aníbal González (you’d recognize him from the Plaza de España) in the early 20th Century.

Your first stop in 41010 should be the newly renovated Mercado de Triana. Still very much a local’s market, fruit and vegetable vendors, fish mongers, butchers and specialty producers hock their wares just steps from the river. The market was built atop the ruins of the Castillo de San Jorge, visible in the adjacent museum and even in the walls of the mercado (C/San Jorge, 6). 

Mercado de Triana typical market

If you can’t stick around all night, there’s a small flamenco theatre flanking the western edge of the market with shows at noon on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

1pm – Work up an appetite

Triana has the privilege being where the sun chooses to sleep nightly, as the famous song goes, and it lingers over the district all afternoon long. Retreat back to the Puente Isabel II and to the yellow bar that sits opposite the Carmen chapel. Trianeros know that the food at El Faro de Triana isn’t anything special, but the views from the terrace or even the steps leading down to Calle Betis get the most sun midday. Order a cervecita and take it outside if it’s a nice day (Plaza del Altozano, 1C).

El Faro de Triana bar in Seville

Continue walking down Calle Betis, the Roman name for the river, away from the bridge and towards the Torre del Oro. The thoroughfare is packed with bars and restaurants, though you should steer clear of them for now and walk on the other side of the road so as to avoid hawkers while drinking in the view across the river to the bullring, opera house and the Torre del Oro itself.

2pm – Tapear your way through Triana’s tapas bars

2pm is still a little early for me, but bars seem to fill up at this time of the afternoon, no matter what day. At the southern end of the street, stop at La Primera del Puente, a nondescript tapas bar lined with tiles and grilling fish over a hot skillet, and order just one thing: patatas bravas and a glass of Cruzcampo. In eight years, I’ve tried countless dishes of fried potatoes with a spicy red sauce, and La Primera has some of the best (even if their barman makes fun of my accent constantly (C/ Betis, 66).

Tapa of salmorejo

Backtrack to Calle Troya and head away from the river, then take the first right onto Calle Pureza. I photographed a couple’s first look photos on this street because of its colorful houses and ornate doorways, and it’s home to both Triana’s first church, Santa Ana, as well as several watering holes (C/ Vázquez de Leca, s/n).

If Santa Ana is open, it’s worth a quick peek – commissioned in 1266 (yep, 750 years ago!), Santa Ana is known for its mudéjar hallmarks and Baroque facelift after the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, whose aftershocks were felt in Sevilla.

Just in front of the north facing door is Bar Santa Ana, a typical tavern featuring local dishes, like espinacas con garbanzos, bull tail and small grilled sandwiches. This is the bar I bring visitors to when I want to tell them about Holy Week, as paraphernalia of weeping Virgins and Bloody Christs adorn the walls. This is the sort of bar where locals have been locals since the 50s and where waiters still write your bill in chalk on the bar (C/ Pureza, 82).

Tapa of Tortilla Española

You can pop into the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza de Triana just down the road, a stark white chapel that stands out amid salmon, cornflower and albero shaded homes and palaces (C/ Pureza, 53).

A little bit further up the road in La Anigua Abacería, a cozy, dimly lit cold cuts bar whose menu is long and has quite a few surprises. There are plenty of good vegetarian options here, too, and gobs of wines to try (C/ Pureza, 12). 

Once you’ve had your fill, the serpentine calles and callejones of this part of Triana are good for walking off the calories – as well as staving off the siesta.

5pm – Explore Triana’s ceramic production

Around the corner of Calle Callao is Cerámica Santa Ana and the Centro Cerámica de Triana. The neighborhood has a long tradition of ceramics production and boasts several small shops that still make azulejos in the ancient way, though the clay no longer comes from the riverbanks. Hand-painted ceramic bowls, pitchers and magnets are my go-to souvenirs and even made them a prominent part of my wedding decoration, and Plaza de España’s elaborate tile depictions of Spain’s 50 provinces were made in factories here (C/ San Jorge, 31).

Where to buy Ceramics in Triana, Seville

If you’re not looking for souvenirs, poke around the Centro Cerámica de Triana‘s small museum, one of the city’s newest. Though the kilns are no longer operable, they can be found in the museum, which also explains traditional techniques in English and Spanish. Plan around three-quarters of an hour (C/ Antillano Campos, 14).

6pm – Grab merienda and an afternoon drink

Head back to Calle Pureza and straight to Manu Jara Dulcería, a pastry shop owned by a French chef of the same name (and did I mention his Michellin stars?). While his brand of desserts, MasQuePostres, aren’t made on-site, they’re fresh, delectable and the shop itself a treat (C/ Pureza, 5).

Manu Jara Dulceria Sevilla

Sevillanos usually take their sweet afternoon snack, called a merienda, with a coffee or tea, then follow it up with an adult beverage. Around the corner, back on Calle Betis, sits La Tertulia, a watering hole that plays off of the famous political and social discussion groups of the turn of the century. Avoid heading inside for anything more than ordering if you can – the bar smells like dirty pipes and mold – and grab a seat along the bench with your mojito. You’ll be rewarded with the same views you had before lunch, just this time as night falls and the Triana bridge lights up (C/ Betis, 13).

9:00pm – Dinnertime again!

Triana is known as one of the liveliest neighborhoods in the city, and as night falls, bars and restaurants again fill with patrons. If you’re not hungry just yet, have a beer at Cervecería La Grande back on San Jacinto (C/ San Jacinto, 39).

Back when the Novio and I started dating, we’d have a routine called the ruta trianera, in which we’d have a few beers at La Grande before popping around to different bars in the area for dinner. Begin at Bar Casa Diego on Alferería (5). Don’t expect an English menu here; order a heaping media ración of pollo frito, friend chicken, and one of croquetas de puerros, or leek croquettes. Local lore states that Diego’s wife grew so tired of making béchamel and rolling croquetas for hungry clientele that she up and quit in the middle of a shift!

Yes, they’re that good.

champiñones mushrooms at Las Golondrinas

Walk around the corner on Antillano Campos to Las Golondrinas I, a Triana institution and at the top of my list. The micro kitchen produces just a few dishes, and tapas are only available at the crowded bar. Ask Pepe for a glass of house wine and a tapa of punta de solomillo, a piping hot pork loin sandwiches, and champiñones, sautéed mushrooms crowned with mint sauce (C/ Antillano Campos, 26). 

If you’re still hungry, Paco España has big plates of food to split, most notably their open-faced sandwiches, called panes (C/ Alfarería, 18).

11pm – Take in a flamenco show

Flamenco show in Seville

Though I’m not a huge fan of the boisterous woman whose name and large presence give Casa Anselma her name, the flamenco bar is hugely popular with locals and tourists. Passing down Pagés del Coro, you’d never expect to find a bar behind the aluminum gates at the corner of Antillano Campos (49), but between 11 and midnight, Anselma opens her bar to patrons for impromptu flamenco shows.

Just be sure to count your change – though there’s no cover charge, drinks are twice as pricey here. 

Bonus: looking for different food and drink options?

There is no shortage of good restaurants in this part of town, from bars that resemble a closet to restaurants that have garnered top foodie prizes.

Pura Tasca – One of Triana’s first gastrobars was built into what was once a butane tank distributor. The decoration evokes a storage space, but the rotating menu and top-notch wine list are always on (C/ Numancia, 5).

Bar Juan Carlos – Cheese and craft beer, and little else, the small bar is usually packed in the evenings. You can order samplers, cheese skewers and fondue, and there’s a beer of the month selection on offer (C/ Febo, 6).

Plaza del Altozano Seville

La Fábula – People spoke so often of La Fábula that even the Novio, a creature of habit, wanted to try it. Spanish favorites with a twist are the hallmark of the pub, which bills itself as a gastrobar and has a few local craft beers on offer (Ronda de Triana, 31).

Casa Ruperto – known to locals as Los Pajaritos for its signature dish, this typical cervecería roasts quails on a spit. They’re also famous for their snails in tomato sauce (cabrillas) (Avda. Santa Cecilia, 2).

Jaylu – I’ve never eaten at this renowned seafood restaurant, but it’s purportedly one of the city’s best (López de Gomara, 19).

La Masacre – DO NOT eat at La Masacre, a Mexican join right on Calle Betis. I was beyond disappointed with the (cold) tamales I ate, though the cocktail and beer menu is loaded, and there’s live music on the weekends (C/ Betis, 29).

Sala El Cachorro – Started as a playhouse, the eclectic space soon morphed into a cafetería and bar. Grab a slice of carrot cake and a coffee and sit in the outdoor patio, full of plants and sculptures (C/ Procurador, 19).

Hot to Spend an Afternoon in

As always, be sure to check opening times and dates. You can reach Triana by metro (M: Plaza de Cuba and Parque de los Príncipes) or bus (5, 6, 40, 43, C1, C2), or simply walk from the city center.

Have you ever spent time in Triana? What are your favorite places to eat, drink and visit?

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