Month: January 2012

Porto, Portugal

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”

It’s officially been winter for a while, and in northern Spain you can feel it. (Un)fortunately, no real snow in Logrono, but in the distance you can see it on the mountains and that’s good enough for me.  I mentioned my need to get out and travel more in honor of my paycheck, however there weren’t any cheap or convenient flights to Lisbon… but I still ended up in Portugal.

My trip to Porto/ Oporto was fabulous. For me, the Port wine was an aside. The city exceeded my expectations.

I was given two full sunny days to walk around one of my new favorite cities (so far) in Europe.

Many buildings are covered in different colorful tiles with different unique designs on them.

Beautiful tiles, beautiful building.

They even have a little exposition space with a lot of tiles, and old street signs. It’s a fun game to imagine what kind of tile I would want my apartment covered in.

So many tiles!

I liked this one

I also have things for cities with Rivers…..

Chicago (Chicago River) Iowa City (Iowa River) Logrono (Ebro River) and…..

Porto has the Douro River. It’s important to their grape cultivation/ wine making. They used to transport the barrels across the river.  Now they offer touristy boat rides, and it’s not exactly an eye sore for the residents.

Porto’s proximity to the coast makes it well known for excellent seafood. For example, I ate a sardine and loved it…even all of it’s tiny bones… as well as octopus, and so many unknown things all down the hatch. nom nom nom. I don’t consider myself a daring eater- I’m no Anthony Bourdaine- but travel brings out a better side of me in terms of food. For the most part, I try everything.


If you ever find yourself in Porto, walk everywhere. For a big city, it’s very clean, feels very safe and there’s a lot to see.

You’ll probably also want to try the Port. I’m sure the most convenient Port cellars are the one’s that are right on the river, but those visits most likely come with a price. Two excellent and free tours can be had if you are willing to take a bit of a hike UP 🙂

Taylor's tasting area


Taylors, and Croft are the two places I visited for free. I personally find Port to be like drinking syrup or medicine….VERY sweet. I still recommend the visits, and trying it out though. My personal favorite wine from Porto was the vino verde. It’s not literally green but it’s like a wine cava mixture and very refreshing when paired with some good fish.

Here are a few final photos of the trip.

Along the river

All the hills were worth it for the views.


Google Lello bookshop, Porto to see the MAGICAL inside. No photos allowed.


Porto is a city that i’d like to go back to in the Spring or summer. There were gardens that bloom full of roses in the warmer weather and I would like to see that. For the time being though…..

“God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.”

un beso


There’s such a lot of world to see

“So, you must tell us, will you be back next year?”

(in my head YES)

Out loud: “I’m not sure….”

Why did this happen? Because I’m an enigma even to myself. It makes life more difficult, but ever more interesting.

I have to decide if I’m going to do this Auxiliares program for another year ASAP. Last week, or last month would have been a good time to decide. I’m not procrastinating on this. I’m just afraid. One of my wiser students told me if I think “what if?” I will go crazy. I told him, yes this is true, but I think it all the time anyways….

I have taken a lot of things into consideration and in the end, the things I considered had nothing to do with my real wants. I thought about turning 25 next year still acting like a college kid running around, not knowing how to cook, always choosing the wrong bus, and not going to the next level with my education.

Funny Graduation Ecard: A Bachelors degree is the new high school diploma.


Is it true that “age ain’t nothing but a number?” I know that’s what all the girls that date Hugh Hefner say. It applies to me too. I’ve always been a late bloomer. I decide slower. My thoughts are like honey.

When I said “I’m not sure” out loud even though I was certain of my answer, I merely didn’t want to offend the school I work at and say….”Yes, but maybe I don’t want to be here again.”

I LOVE Logrono, and La Rioja. So much. But, there is such a lot of world to see. Time, years, days, seconds, are passing so quickly recently that I would hate to look back and think “what if I had gotten to know another city and loved it even more?”

The rest of my life is for work. In true late bloomer style, I’ll probably have my first “real job” when I’m thirty, maybe get married even later, maybe maybe maybe.

Everyone is in a rush to do those things; so maybe that means it’s better to do them sooner. I’d like to think those people are wrong. (Just an opinion, don’t be offended. Do what works for you.)

Although I’m not enamored with the actual “work” that I do at my school’s daily, my private lessons and the life I have made for myself here are the true appeal. I have met some of the best people, and I wouldn’t mind doing a slow paseo with them forever and growing up only to sit in front of the Reina Sofia in Madrid in a fur coat with a small dog, smoking a few cigs.

Great minds think alike?

My new favorite thing has been my “art class.” I put it in quotes because it’s not officially a class. I just go to a studio and the owner/artist walks around and helps people, but really allows you to do whatever you want.

Imagine me sketching my childhood dog from memory and forgetting how to draw the mouth and adding lips instead while the man next to me is painting with oil on canvas a beautiful landscape….It entertains us both equally I’m sure.

I also started sketching the photo above to ultimately make into a small painting. I would love to leave Spain with a few great original works. I’ll start taking requests on paintings of any photos I have taken my dear family members reading.

un beso


If your ham isn’t wrapped in ham….

…you’re probably not in Spain.

If you’re a vegetarian, I’m sorry. Truly. But beware that it would be difficult to live in Spain. It is possible, but they believe that vegetarian means eating tuna instead of ham. Sort of like this scene….


While my parents were here and while it was the holiday break I had a lot more time to explore new restaurants and eat great food all over La Rioja and Madrid. The Menu del dia/ plat du jour is the best idea/ thing ever. Someone do this in Chicago. PLEASE.

Now here is my attempt at being Rick Steves in terms of food.

I´ll give you the low down on my favorites starting in Madrid.

For tapas….

Txakolina:  C/ Cava Baja 26 Madrid, Spain

This place took me back to the AMAZING world famous pintxos (peen-chos) of Donostia/ San Sebastian. They had Txakoli which of course is one of, if not my favorite, drinks. Sparkling white wine more or less- similar to “cider” or Sidra I suppose.

Vinoteca Barbechera: Plaza Santa Ana, and as you can see they have many other locations….

We got the croquetas de espinacas y de bacalao (spinach and cod) And the tortilla de la casa ( the traditional spanish tortilla or rather “omelet” their way.)


Plaza Santa Ana is a cute area right by La puerta del Sol.  Plus the area has the best street names, and one of my heroes used to live in the area….see below. I would say go there and walk around and you’re sure to find a lot of good tapas places.

One of my favorite men

Museo de Jamon: There are a few locations, and this one was between Plaza Santa Ana and Sol. It’s basically an awesome ham filled deli where you can eat sandwiches and grab a beer. DELIGHTFUL.

Ham Museum!

In Logrono, you can’t go wrong on Calle Laurel or San Juan. 

First of all, Logrono isn’t that big but this street has a website.

Some of my favorites are: Blanco y Negro for Matrimonio o queso de cabra con frambuesa, Gargonich for patatas bravas, Los Rotos, legit sized bocadillos, La Taberna de Baco because once there was a cute bartender? I could go on forever…just go.


La comida: Menu del dia! * 

* Menu del dia: The most awesome thing ever. At lunch time most restaurants will have a fixed menu usually around 10-12 euros, up to 18 if you want to get really fancy. This includes a 1st plate (primer plato) usually a pasta, salad, soup option. There might even be some vegetables sprinkled on your ham 🙂 . A second plate (segundo plato) is usually the meat and or fish option. You also get a bottle of wine, water and you can choose between coffee or dessert. GASP. It’s so much food and you barely need dinner. $ave that money.

Imagine that on New Years Eve in a big City you have no real plans, no reservations, and no amigos. How do you end up at a fabulous restuarant 50 meters from your hotel with private service at a reasonable dinner time (7 or 8 p.m i think)? Be the Campbell’s. Or, go here….

Caffe dei Poeti: C/Prado 4 Madrid, Spain

It’s more Italian style, but that doesn’t weird me out as much as eating Sushi in Spain. I had a delicious lasagna and the menu had cute quotes about poetry all over it.

“Yo se que la poesia es imprescindible, pero no se para que.”   Jean Cocteau.

On our day trip to Toledo we had a recommendation to go here…

La Abadia: Plaza de San Nicolas, 3

We arrived just before the rush around 1:30 so we could put our names in as a reservation. It’s right off the main plaza area and by what else but a church. sheesh.

helloooo fishy fishy, you were so yummy! thank you!

Then por fin, Logrono. What other restaurant could I take my parents to besides the King of Ham after almost everything we ate, including salad, had ham in it?

El Rey de Jamon: C/ Portales 45 Logrono, Spain

It has an amazing location by the Cathedral, and plaza del Mercado. Sometimes when a restaurant has such a good location you question whether the place is really good, or just lucky to be there. This place is GOOD. Of the 3 dessert options, we got them all. Just in case. Time to slip into the leggings….


just...hamming around. tee hee hee

I’ll leave you with this last restaurant in San Millan de la Cogolla which has a population of about 200-300 people and a total of 2-3 restaurants (from what I saw/ looked up).

Asador Serrano: C/Mayor 116 San Millan de la Cogolla, Spain

We all make assumptions for better or for worse. I assumed that this restaurant would be very cozy and village-y and offer some good hearty food with a fire blazing in a stone hearth. Are you with me on this image? Well from the outside it appeared that this would be true, while inside was sleek and modern. I mean, white, silver, fancy napkins, flowers, cool wine bottle holder……Really confused.  The food was great and we all got something good even though our waitress whispered the options.

The outside. Nice.

My fancy salad. oooh la la. Yes, that's ham on it...


I haven’t officially made any resolutions since I rarely do, but I think I should probably start eating more fruit again. I started off strong buying apples at the supermarket once I figured out how, but I think I need to unclog my arteries of ham and olive oil for a few days.

I also resolve to not give in to pretending i’m from the U.K. It’s just “Z” for me. You can say Zed all you want kiddos. I also haven’t got a rubber, but I do have an eraser. More later.

un beso



just got paid….

Speaking of Spanish speaking

My parents are heading back to Oak Park after their loco 9 days in Spain. I had a great time with them as their translator and guide. It made me realize that sometimes my Spanish was really good, and sometimes it was not helpful at all. How can I feel like I “know” Spanish, but have no idea what some of the things on the Menu del dia are?

Ok, I for sure know that most of those things come with French fries, so you can’t go wrong.

I started thinking about all the other things that I can’t do…

whistle, dive, run for more than 2 blocks (if I’m not being chased), fold a fitted sheet, wrap a present (big fan of the gift bag), shake only my butt, cross my eyes, and you get the idea that this list could go on for a while….

All those things that I can’t do don’t matter in my daily life. It would be nice to have good gift wrapping skills, but it’s not stopping me from waking up in the morning and buying wrapping paper anyways.

My language skills are similar. I know most of what I need to know to survive. If an ostrich ever burst through my window and built a nest in my closet though, i’m not sure what I would tell my landlord.

I also realized that there are certain people and types of people that I am more comfortable communicating with, and my Spanish is a bajillion (9078389798673227117…. or something like that) times better. Usually it’s in non pressure situations that I can suddenly sound like a real Spanish chica; like chatting with the taxi driver, or asking the tour guide a question (and then becoming BFF’s).

Usually my Spanish is bad when I’m talking with my teachers at school since I’m not even sure when i’m allowed to know anything but English. Although, the secret has to be out by now that I’m not a complete idiot and I know Spanish since I’m living in Spain. Right?

It also gets a little blehh when the person I’m talking to starts giving me this look like “oh god, what is this giant blonde about to say? I probably won’t understand her so I’m not going to try and i’ll just crinkle my nose and say Que?!”  (bus drivers, most stores).

One of the day trips that I took my parents on was to San Millan de la Cogolla: Birthplace of the Spanish language. Boom. I’m living in the cradle of it.

San Millan has two Monasteries, Yuso and Suso, and I believe two restaurants….Oh and one possible Mayor, or wannabe Mayor who told us to please be quiet since we were the only three people walking and talking. Treated.


Yuso Monastery

All speech, written or spoken, is a dead language, until it finds a willing and prepared hearer. 

I love that quote. I really believe it.

Read this.

Euskera/ Basque. Written by an anonymous monk. OOoooOOhhhh

huge books that the monks would "chant/ sing" from during services

The tour of the Yuso Monastery was only offered in Spanish. Fine, perfect, I know Spanish! The guide just happened to talk extremely fast. The kind of fast that you can only imitate by making a constant rrrrrr rolling sound.  At this point my parents had already seen at least 12 other churches and had been here for 7 days, so it was okay if we didn’t get every bit of information.

Suso Monastery. It's really "arriba" if you take the route where you climb over a guard rail....

We didn’t want another tour, but we did want to walk up to the other Monastery. It was a hike, but the view and the feeling were wonderful.

The end of a great day

Thinking about the first languages being written and giving meaning to words and things is a pretty abstract topic for me. I love languages and I think I’m good at them, but I’m glad that someone did all that figuring out for me.

Christmas vacation is almost over and now I have to start thinking about what I’ll teach my students when I get back. Reflecting on my learning style and speaking abilities can hopefully guide me. But then again, this quote is a good reminder of the difficulties that English, that oh so wonderful language presents…

If the English language made any sense, lackadaisical would have something to do with a shortage of flowers.

un beso