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?


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!

How to Survive a Blog Conference as a Newbie

Bridging my current knowledge gap with those who know far more.

It seems that I can confide in my blog designer (let her know how great of a job she’s done!) about all of my blog-related qualms. When I told her my site needed some work done before attending Travel Bloggers Unite earlier this month, I also blurted out, OMGIHAVENOCLUEWHATIMDIONGTHEYREGOINGTOHATEME .

Staring down the list of all of the big names in the industry and all of the other delegates, I was immediately intimidated and glad I would be with my friends and fellow Spain bloggers Lauren of Spanish Sabores and Liz of Young Adventuress. We schmoozed, we had silent freak out moments (ok, mostly me) and we traded business cards with some big guns, all in the name of self-promotion.

Bring Business Cards

Not three days before leaving the US for the conference, I realized I hadn’t had business cards made. For many, seeing this little card will give them your first impression of your blog, so it’s important to have them on hand and ready to dole out. When meeting people, I often jotted down something that we’d connected on, like bikes or fundraising, and made sure to tweet them right after the conference.

Moo and Vistaprint can get you fast cards with a professional look for just a few dollars, plus shipping. Having made this mistake, I’d really take a look at your brand and what message you want to send to another blogger or PR rep. Black and white for a country as vibrant as Spain? Sure, it fits the picture I used, but it doesn’t really tell the story of just how colorful a place it is.

Research Who Will Be There and Reach Out to Them

Conferences of this calibre often have a list of delegates who will be attending, along with the keynote speakers, chat givers and organizers. I was shocked when Lauren checked in and the conference organizer said, “Right, you’re the American married to a Spaniard in Madrid!”

My designer told me to talk to a few people in particular, many whose blogs I’ve read, so I did a little research to find out something we had in common, or a particularly interesting anecdote to comment on. As Gary Arndt put it when we met last week in Seville for tapas, “Someone never makes themselves visible to me until they’ve got something to say.” My connection with Gary?

We’re both Green Bay Packers fans (and he even owns stock!).

Introduce Yourself By Way of an Interesting Anecdote

On a sunset cruise of the Duoro with Liz and Lauren

Speaking of which, use the “elevator pitch” technique when introducing yourself. Think about your blog as a product, and imagine you’re in an elevator with someone. You’ve got maybe 45 seconds to present yourself and your blog, the product, so how do you package it up?

Just like a speed dating event, blog conferences allow you to rub shoulders in buffet lines or cramped into a lecture hall. The first questions people tended to ask was, “So, what’s your blog?” and I had to think fast to tell them about me and Sunshine and Siestas. Nerve wracking, maybe, but I have sorority recruitment practice!

I had conversations ranging from how to swear in Spanish (with tutorials), to the bedbugs I caught at the hostal, to my missing laptop. I immediately hit it off with the duo from As We Saw It over my strange pareja de hecho marriage business, and we spent an hour talking about dozens of topics. Once I felt comfortable enough to do more than observe, I could let my voice shine through and connect with people – even if it was about bug infestations.

Have Any and All Gadgets on Hand (and their chargers!)

I had to laugh when we rolled up the magnificent Palacio do Freixo on the Duoro. I was ready for a glass of port, but the first thing handed out to us was a sheet of paper with Internet passwords. I realized I had left my iPod at the hotel charging, so the paper was no use to me. Many blog conferences have a special hashtag, so you’ll see people social media-ing away between chats, over coffee and when they’re up thinking at night (maybe that’s just me).

Roll out the ipods and smartphones!

I sent many tweets to people I was interested in meeting, and used instagram to show people what I was eating and seeing on the day of our city visits.

Be a Fly on the Wall Until you Have Your Bearings

My designer told me it was normal to feel overwhelmed and out of place. Thankfully, the first day’s pre-conference tour introduced me to a small group of people as we toured Porto’s artsy haunts. There were a mere six of us, but we all got on well enough to talk travel, products and marketing. Don’t feel the need to start doling out cards the second you arrive – ease into it, and speak out when you feel comfortable.

Ask All of your Questions

I went into TBU without a clear idea of what it was. Thanks to research and my training as a communicator, I soon found that the atmosphere was a bit more relaxed, and that most people were willing to help. Look at the conference site and map out what talks you’d like to attend. Note what you like on other blogs and write down questions on how to do it. Stay in contact afterwards.

I’m extremely happy that I made the decision to attend a conference, as I left feeling inspired and ready to tackle a new design and more ideas for content. With more preparation, I could have probably squeezed even more out of it, but we’re just taking baby steps for now!

should be applauding, but this crème burlee is so, so good!

Upcoming events:

TBEX: Girona, Spain. September 21-22   http://www.travelblogexchange.com/

World Travel Market: London, England. November 5 – 8   http://www.wtmlondon.com/

ITM: Berlin, Germany. TBA March   http://www.itm.org.uk/

Have you ever been to a conference of this nature? What was your experience?

 

Capture the Color

In having no car and no friends not working, I’ve decided to enter the Capture the Colour Contest,which is being hosted by Travel Supermarket. The premise is to write a post with 5 photos, each best representing or embodying a specific color. The winner of each color will get a new third generation iPad, and the grand prize winner gets £2,000 to jump-start plans for a dream trip.

Here’s what you have to do:

  • Publish a post with your submissions. You’ll only be eligible for the grand prize if you use all of the colors.
  • Either share the link to your post on Facebook while mentioning Capture the Colour and tagging the TravelSupermarket.com Facebook page, OR tweet the post while tagging #capturethecolour and @travelsupermkt, OR email your entry to capturethecolour@travelsupermarket.com with your name, address, and phone number.
  • Submit your post before August 27, 2012.

BLUE

Seville, Spain. Late March, 2012.

As I walked into school on the Friday before Palm Sunday, I was greeted by 45 hooded figures shouting my name. “Miss Cat, Miss Cat! Guess who I am?”

In Andalusia, the Holy Week activities are highly anticipated, and my elementary school was no different. The first graders I taught last term were given the role of nazareno, meaning they’d wear tunics and hoods echoing the KKK while leading a parade of 400 students, aged 3 to 15, around the neighborhood ahead of a small status of the Virgin Mother.

My students took their jobs about as serious as a first-grader who had been deprived their juice boxes and cookies for the sake of a Virgin Mary parade, and we had fun guessing just who was who. The blue-eyed girl was easy, a stark contrast from the Andalusian hallmarks: dark hair, skin and eyes.

RED

Scottsdale, Arizona. Christmas 2012.

On the day my partner got his Christmas gift from his family, I got mine from myself. Kike’s cowboy hat made even the most blue-blooded Spaniard look a little bit gringo, so I used my brand-new Canon Rebel to snap a photo of him under Old Glory in downtown Scottsdale. If only I’d gotten his rendition of Yankee Doodle on camera, too.

YELLOW

Seville, Spain. May 2012.

Bullfighting has never been a big draw to me, though I am a complete romantic when it comes to the pageantry of the costumes and capotes, or capes. As we had a pre-fight beer during the 2012 Novilleros season, I caught two of the picadores, men on horseback whose long spear pierce the bull’s main artery to weaken it, pass by on their way to Seville’s stately ring.

WHITE

Arcos de la Frontera, Spain. March 2009.

Spain’s southernmost region is famous for its pueblos blancos, or whitewashed villages. Tucked in the mountains that border the Seville, Cádiz and Málaga regions, these towns are home to quaint views and, quite often, good food.

My friend Cece lives in one of the largest villages, Arcos de la Frontera. Once a Moorish stronghold, Arcos is reputed to be one of the most lovely. What I liked most was the stark contrast between the white houses and the cloudless Andalusian sky that snuck into every frame that morning. We enjoyed our cafes con leche that turned into cervezas between the breezy alleyways that morning, and I fell in love with Arcos.

GREEN

Istanbul, Turkey. April 2012.

Not one to sign up for touristy gimmicks, I let myself be tricked into attending a dinner show that included whirling dervishes while in Turkey. Ever since seeing them on an amazing Amazing Race episode in college, I’d longed to see them in person, but research proved futile – since it’s a religious ceremony, many places were closed to non-believers.

So I settled for a place with mediocre food and an overpriced show in the middle of the Golden Horn of Istanbul. Ambiance was nil, but the moment the dervishes came out in their black robe and brown, trunk like hats, I was mesmerized. I set my camera on a low ISO to get the floating effect as I watched their feet move in slow routine. The lights cast an eerie green on their white robes as they floated and abruptly stopped, letting their robes twist around them, hands on their shoulders.

Now, to pass on the color baton:

A Moment in the Sun

Detalles

A Painter of Modern Life

92 Reasons to visit Seville

In working on an article for The Spain Scoop, I paid a visit to the Seville Tourism Board’s website. On the main page, to coincide with the World’s Fair in Seville’s 20th anniversary, the board proposes 92 reasons to visit Seville.

Among my favorites are things I enjoy about living here, like 88 (eat a montaíto de pringá), 74 (buy a flamenco dress),  55 (eat el jamón bueno bueno) and 58 (sleep a siesta). Then I remember the insane amount that I still have before me to do, like visit Doñana National Park, spot the Duquesa de Alba, see the Derbi between Mi Betí and Sevilla FC, walk el Rocío to Almonte.

I do think they gave up towards the end, as the last reason is, because you feel like it. So, so sevillano of you, VisitaSevilla. But who really needs to list 92 things to do in and around this glorious city whose history stretches back over 2000 years, whose sunsets are breathtaking and whose cuisine is tó lo bueno. Seville is more about feeling it and living it than seeing it.

Take a look, and tell me what’s on your Seville itinerary, or the reasons you’ve been here before. The Tourism Office hooked me up with this year’s Fiestas de la Primavera poster, and it can be yours if you’re chosen!

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