vamosavalencia

Living life in Valencia, Spain.

Arabian Nights June 24, 2013

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This post is a bit delayed…..as we have been super busy around here with Jesus’s birthday and other important future projects….to be shared soon ūüôā ¬†Anyways, you only turn 36 once, right? ¬†Clearly we had to celebrate in style.

We kicked off the celebration a week before the big day with a quick trip to our mysterious southern neighbor, Lady Africa.  I had never been there before and was so excited to experience something different.  And let me tell you, it was different.

Rose Garden

Rose Garden

We spent two days and two nights in Marrakech, Morocco.  This is a place that I could describe as magical, mystical, and best of all, mysterious.

The International Man of Mystery

The International Man of Mystery

I don’t know how to explain the energy going on in the main plaza, Jemaa El Fna. ¬†This main square is the busiest in all of Africa, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. ¬†It’s behind the main mosque, in the middle of the Medina, which is the old town full of windy streets, colors, markets, ¬†and mystery. ¬†Adding to it’s charm is a red sandstone wall built around the entire Medina, where many of the building are also red, lending the name “The Red City.”

The Red City

The Red City

By day, there are various merchants selling freshly squeezed juice, dried fruits and delicious snacks. It’s always bustling, full of locals and tourists alike, buying, selling, and wandering. ¬†When the sun sets, the mood changes, and you can find everything from snake charmers, henna tattoo artists, tribal drumming, Arabian story tellers, and every kind of food stand you could imagine. ¬†The food. ¬†Oh my goodness, the food. ¬†We ate amazing things: a few of my favorites included a crepe like thing called “msemmem” which we tried both with honey and butter and with cheese, and a lentil/chickpea soup. ¬†They drink everything down with Mint Tea, which is delicious, refreshing and just sweet enough. I liked it more than I thought I would. ¬†We also had lots of couscous, lamb tangines (cooked in a big clay pot), veggies, meats, ¬†and sandwiches. I loved the soup so much I went back for it the second night. ¬†Also, everything is incredibly cheap. ¬†I think we spent about 5 euros total on dinner each night.

Plaza by Morning

Plaza by Morning

Dried Fruits Please

Dried Fruits Please

Morrocan Crepes and Tea for breakfast

Morrocan Crepes and Tea for breakfast

The Plaza by Night

The Plaza by Night

YUM

Veggie Couscous and Chicken Tangine

The best soup ever.

The best soup ever.

There is also something to be said for the actual sunset on this Plaza.  At the advice of previous visitors, we grabbed a rooftop table and a couple of Fantas (remember, no alcohol sold in this Muslim nation), and watched the sun go down on The Red City.  From above, you can look down at Jemaa el Fna, the city center of trade, commerce, and everything else, and you can practically see the vibration of energy.  People passing through, buying and selling, cooking, motorcycles zipping along between donkeys, bikes, and the occasional car.  Enchanting music, food stands setting up.  Women in bright colors, kids running along, men with beards and caps.  You can watch the sun slowly lower into a red ball and disappear behind the mountains in the distance while the lights of the city come on one at a time.  This is definitely a special memory, a moment in time that I will never forget.

Getting Ready for the Sunset

Getting Ready for the Sunset

The Sun goes down

The Sun goes down

Magical Marrakech

Magical Marrakech

The market is called the Souk, and it is another enchanting spot. ¬†It can get exhausting, because you have to barter for everything, but the happy market sellers love it. ¬†Our taxi driver even told us that for Moroccans, it’s an insult if you don’t try to barter a bit as this is an important part of the culture. ¬†Jesus was clearly better at that part. ¬†I was better at admiring the beautiful rugs, leather jewelry, scarves, pottery, and of course the “Hand of Fatima” (the daughter of the prophet Mohammed). This is a symbol that predates Christianity and Islam and is sign of protection, bringing blessings, power, and strength. ¬†I definitely bought a few of those, because lets be real, we all need some blessings, power, and strength in our lives.

Souk

Souk

Olives

Olives

Markets

Markets

Although the Plaza, the sunset, the nearby markets, and the food there were our favorite spots to spend time in Marrakech, we also checked out the beautiful Majorelle Gardens. This is a 12 acre botanical garden designed by a the French Artist Majorelle when Morocco was a part of France.  It was calm and relaxing to wander around in the shaded gardens and brightly painted buildings.

Gardens

Gardens

Burst of Color

Burst of Color

The culture is markedly different, as you can imagine. ¬†It really left me thinking, more than any other trip that I can remember, about culture, and differences and similarities you can find around the world. ¬†Marrakech is considered a progressive city in Morocco, but one thing that cannot go unnoticed is that almost all women wear covers over their heads, and some wear a full Burka. ¬†I don’t know exactly how to properly express what I think about that except that it left me feeling uncomfortable and extremely curious at the same time. ¬†It is impossible to understand the inside workings of another culture or belief, but as a woman, I think I noticed it, and¬†felt¬†it, the whole time I was there. ¬†Because of that feeling, I had to mention it here, but not as a judgement, only as a sensation that I imagine is felt by many Western visitors. ¬†Perhaps a Moroccan woman visiting Valencia, Spain might feel something similar due to the lack of those very head covers. ¬†It was extremely interesting experience nonetheless.

One last cup of tea

One last cup of tea

Overall, fun was had by all, and it was a weekend we’ll remember forever. ¬†I can hardly wait to explore more places around the world with my one and only, 36 year old, International Man of Mystery. ¬†//-_

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Cava in Catalu√Īa June 5, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — vamosavalencia @ 9:01 pm

I am so excited to tell you about a special trip we recently went on, that I poured myself a glass of cava (Spanish sparkling wine) to enjoy while I write. ¬†If my last post inspired you to “Live with Intention,” perhaps this one will have you making a beeline for a glass of bubbly and a delicious snack.

Cava Country

Cava Country

We headed north on a Saturday morning, excited to explore the area of Catalu√Īa called Penedes. ¬†We stayed specifically in Villafranca de Penedes, at the recommendation of a friend, and got to see a lot of beautiful Spanish countryside. ¬†After a quick picnic with the above view, we started off wine tasting at a winery called Bodegas Torres. ¬†After a flight of five wines and some friendly conversation with an American Honeymooning Couple, we headed out for a walk on a marked path around the vineyard with killer views.

Probando Vinos

Probando Vinos

Killer Views right?

Killer Views right?

After freshening up, we headed to town to wander around.  Lo and Behold (!) it happened to be their town festival that very same weekend.  We got to see lots of local dancing and music.  This was one of my favorite parts of the weekend.

Favorite Part #1: Local Dancing

Favorite Part #1: Local Dancing

Local Pride was on display, which is an extra interesting topic because as many of you know, some Catalans actually want to separate from Spain and be their own country.  They have their own culture and language, and it was cool to see it up close and personal.  I took a zillion pictures as we walked around and trust me, choosing just a few was difficult.

Even the pups are proud to be Catalan

Even the pups are proud to be Catalan

Catalan Flag in Candles

Catalan Flag in Candles

After a delicious dinner, we wandered back for more music and dancing under a full moon.

Dancing Round 2

Dancing Round 2

The next morning is when my other favorite part of the trip commenced.  We went to a family owned Cava Cellar, Agusti Torello.  We had an ABSOLUTE blast touring the site with the owners daughter, and we learned so much about how Cava is made.  Did you know that the bubbles in sparkling wine are produced by a second yeast fermentation?  We also learned about the types of grapes that grow here on The Mediterranean, and the whole entire process, from grape to glass.

Second Part #2

Favorite Part #2

Getting the inside scoop

Getting the inside scoop

Headed down to the cellar where the Cava is stored during fermentation.

Headed down to the cellar where the Cava is stored during fermentation.

Tasting with the owner and his daughter.

Tasting with the owner and his daughter.

We finally wrapped the whole weekend up with another picnic; this time on the beach in nearby Sitges. ¬†We really fell in love with this part of Catalu√Īa that we had never been to. ¬†I’d go back in a heartbeat.

JP

JP

Wandering in Sitges

Wandering in Sitges

 

Living with (International) Intention May 30, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — vamosavalencia @ 1:11 pm

Today I want to interrupt our regular programming for a bit of inspiration straight from Valencia, Spain. I’ll be back in a matter of days to tell you about an exciting road-trip adventure. In the meantime, I want to talk about living with intention. But first, I want to talk about living with stress. You have to live without intention before you realize you should live with it, right?

We we are, getting ready to live with intention.  Compliments of Letlove Photography,  http://www.letlovephotography.com/

Here we are, getting ready to live with intention. Compliments of Letlove Photography, http://www.letlovephotography.com/

I am sure all of you are living with your own stressful things. For us, our current situation includes navigating immigration processes in TWO countries, planning wedding celebrations on the other side of the world, examining our career paths and searching opportunities, and wondering where in the heck we will be living in a matter of a few months. What does The Universe have in store for us? Every single day we have a to-do item to check off, which could mean waiting in an office somewhere only to find out you didn’t bring the correct documents, waiting in line at the post office only to get to the counter and find out you didn’t bring your wallet (this only happens to me, not Jesus), searching stationary stores throughout the land for invitation envelopes, or calling the printer because oops, we counted wrong and we need more of those invitations! I wont bore you with more examples, but trust me, its enough to make anyone toss and turn at night.

However, the other morning, when we got up early before work to fold and stuff those very same invitations, something changed. I opened my sleepy eyes and looked at my incredibly cute international man of mystery over my coffee cup and announced that I had an idea. “Someday we are going to look back at this crazy time and smile,” I told him. I decided right then and there to enjoy each and every one of these loco moments. Jesus, of course, was immediately on board. We decided to live with intention, laugh and really remember all of these insane things that happen to us. To me, this is living with intention. Intending to get the most out of every moment that we’ve got. I won’t dread these mundane bureaucratic tasks; instead I’ll feel lucky we get the chance to do them, and intend to do them well. Jesus wisely pointed out when I read him the draft of this post, “All of those things that seemed so difficult before now seem funny.” LIfe is never boring around here, and ain’t we all grateful for that?

 

Cervezas de Valencia May 19, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — vamosavalencia @ 5:50 pm

This week I thought I’d share with you a special night out on the town in Valencia, Spain. ¬†I had planned a surprise date for my international man of mystery, at a new place we had never been before. ¬†//-_ ¬†(mysterious look)

We arranged to meet after work, and when I arrived fresh off the bike from the Academy, here he was, looking handsome and ready to be surprised.

My date

My date

We went out in Benimaclet, another neighborhood in Valencia.  Although as I shared last week, Ruzafa is our home and favorite Barrio, we have been exploring Benimaclet a bit lately and really loving it.  It actually used be a separate village, and sort of merged with Valencia as it grew.  However, it still maintains its village charm, with little streets and colorful buildings.  This mixed with a lively population of working class Valencianos and plenty of students gives it sort of a left-ish charm.  The last time we went out there we shared crepes for dinner and danced to a Cuban band, the FIRST time I have heard live Salsa music since leaving SF.

Benimiclet

On this night’s agenda was a special “Cata” (tasting) of local handcrafted beers, served accompanied with tapas, all for the incredible price of 10 euros each. ¬†The location: ¬†Cafeteria Libreria Chico Ostra¬†a super cute cafe/bar/bookstore (I know best combo ever). ¬†Check it out for yourself: ¬†http://www.chicoostra.com/.

Chico Ostra

Our friendly waitress explained to us that the Galana beers are made locally in a town called La Yena within the Communidad Valenciana (here the states/provinces are called Communidades).  They use fresh spring water, and specially selected hops and yeast.  Made with love one by one!

The First Pour

First we tried a beer made with Red Tea, accompanied by a toast topped with Cecina, which is a cured beef.  This was a new flavor to us, but it was actually really tasty.

Red Tea

Next up was the wheat beer (my favorite), served with little zucchini logs stuffed with couscous, leeks, and nuts.  Delicious!

Wheat

Finally, we wrapped up the tasting with an Apricot Beer, served with these little pies that we simply couldn’t get a good photo of due to the romantic mood lighting. ¬†They were stuffed with turkey, pineapple, and corn.

Apricot

Then we had a leisurely late night stroll.  A perfect date night in Valencia.

Yours truly

Strolling the streets of VLC

Church in the Benimiclet Plaza

 

Won’t you be my neighbor? May 8, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — vamosavalencia @ 9:05 pm

The thing I love the most about cities, whether it’s where I’m visiting, or where I’m living, is the concept of a neighborhood. ¬†Maybe its because where I grew up, on Prairieview Drive, the neighborhood kids were like my extra siblings, their parents my extra parents. ¬†I didn’t imagine then that such a community can exist in a city, full of so many people. ¬†But now I know that you create your own corner of the city, by seeing the same people every day going about their business. ¬†On our corner alone, we have the lazy eyed pharmacist where we get Jesus’s eye drops, the Pakistani internet shop where I buy phone cards, and of course El Bouet Wine and Tapas Bar. ¬†With a name like that, I dont need to tell you why we are frequent customers. ¬†Even though these guys may not be like my second siblings, seeing them and greeting them every day is exactly what makes this corner a home. ¬†You walk by and greet each other. ¬†You sip wine when you are locked out. ¬†You try new international phone cards and you talk about the weather.

Neighborhoods in cities are marked by the cafes, restaurants, businesses, shops, or even zip codes.  However, I think the most important factor is the residents.  The people, the characters that live and work there and create its culture. These kind of people mark a neighborhood, make it distinct, and give it a feeling.  When I visit a city, I love to see the neighborhoods where the people live even more than the tourist sites.  Try asking the people at the hotel where they would go to dinner with their friends, instead of where they are paid to recommend. This little tip has lead Jesus and I to some of our favorite travel memories, especially when it leads you a dark little romantic French restaurant where no one speaks English and the waitress resorts to charades to explain the menu.

Our neighborhood is called Ruzafa, and it seriously rocks. ¬†It is definitely one of my favorite things about my life in Valencia. ¬†Rumor has it that it was traditionally a working class neighborhood post Spanish Civil War, and then more recently home to many Arabic Immigrants, followed by Chinese Immigrants. ¬†Now its simply a mix of everyone, all hanging out together. The fact that its chock-full of fun galleries, restaurants, cafes, and shops and events doesn’t hurt either.

I thought maybe I should provide you with some more reliable history than “rumor has it,” so I ¬†(of course), googled it, and found some MAJOR history, dating back to the 1200’s. ¬†The name “Ruzafa” comes from the Arabic word for garden, and was an Arabic neighborhood before being conquered by King James in 1238. ¬†How amazing is that? ¬†(source:¬†http://www.holavalencia.net/2009/05/31/ruzafa-information-and-history/)

Im going to show you a few of my favorite things in Ruzafa. ¬†However, I’ll leave an exploration of restaurants and bars for another post, because believe me I have a lot to say on that topic. ¬†Here are just a few really cool things about our neighborhood, so you can imagine the feel of this very special place.

Pilar Fruites i Verdures

Pilar Fruites i Verdures

The center of our ‘hood is definately the Mercat de Ruzafa. ¬†We are so lucky to have this great market a few blocks away, open 6 mornings a week. ¬†This is Pilar, the woman who owns the stand we buy most of our fruits and veggies at. ¬†Her stand is called Pilar Fruites I Verdures (Valenciano for Fruits and Vegetables) and her family is always friend and helpful, offering great quality, mostly organic products with excellent service and even cooking suggestions.

My Favorite Plaza

My Favorite Plaza

This has been my favorite Plaza, since I discovered it after moving to Valencia…even before I lived in Ruzafa! ¬†It has great places to have a drink, coffee, or snack, and a good atmosphere. ¬†(some of which are not open on this Sunday afternoon shot). ¬†Its also next to the market.

Sol en Ruzafa

Sol en Ruzafa

My Ruzafa Research Assistant reads up on neighborhood events

My Ruzafa Research Assistant reads up on neighborhood events

A mix of cultures

A mix of cultures

Bikes and bike lanes..Yes!

Bikes and bike lanes..Yes!

Hangin in the hood.

Hangin in the hood.

Here are a few more good shots of Ruzafans doing what they do best; enjoying the sun, having drinks, playing soccer in the street.  You can also see above where we check out our Valenbisis, and some lovely neighborhood architecture.  I hope you enjoyed my neighborhood, what is the best thing about YOUR neighborhood?

 

“Bloom Where You Are Planted” April 28, 2013

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Greetings from a cold and rainy Valencia day, where we are huddled inside having a relaxing Sunday. Strawberry scones enjoyed with delicious coffee beans hand delivered from our special guest from America’s Heartland…YES! This morning we sent said special guest Janette off on the fast speed train to Madrid, where she will return to Chicago. ¬†Sending a friend back to America always leaves me thinking about things on the other side of the pond.

Many of you know the expression “The grass is always greener on the other side.” ¬†This is something well known around here among people, like us and many of you, that live in some way or form, between two worlds. This has been a hot topic of conversation with some of our other friends here that are also in some form of movement between two worlds. ¬†Maybe you live between two cultures, two cities, two homes, two professions. ¬†For Jesus and I it’s all of the above. ¬†Being the more sensitive and emotional explorer of us, I am always the one pondering this situation, and wondering what I can possibly do to stop missing the essence of San Francisco, or some small specific American/Californian/Wisconsinite obscure thing. ¬†Will I ever stop wondering why I cannot have cottage cheese (I would list more cheese types here but I’m embarrassed), bagels, coffee to go,? ¬†Will I ever stop complaining about this? Perhaps.

Amazing blooms on our patio

Amazing blooms on our patio

Perhaps the key is replacing “The grass is always greener” with another mentality, that my oh-so-wise cousin Layla M. posted on Facebook the other day: “Bloom where you are planted.” ¬†She went on to further explain; “There is also something to be said for the adaptability of a species. I always think this when I see a strong and powerful tree growing out of a rocky embankment. Not ideal. The wrong angle, the wrong soil, and not a lot of support around it. But yet, it manages to thrive.” ¬†DUH, what an interesting point of view. ¬†Instead of thinking about that darn green grass on the other side, be a strong and powerful tree growing out of a rocky, perhaps not so perfect place. ¬†Especially because that not so perfect place has some pretty amazing features that one day you might find yourself missing terribly.

Stopping to smell the roses in Valencia

Stopping to smell the roses in Valencia

I googled the expression to see what else I could find out about this fascinating idea. ¬†I couldn’t find the original wise mind that it comes from (Layla suggests its an old proverb), but I did see one cool thing. ¬†A group of American women living in Paris started a group at an American church in Paris called just that: “Bloom where you are planted, how to live in Paris.” ¬†They have seminars, for new-comers to Paris, about adapting to all aspects of life in their new city, everything from French wine appreciation to navigating the French Healthcare system. (http://www.acparis.org/community-activities/bloom-where-youre-planted) This group helps you create connections and build roots in order that you can bloom right there, just where you are planted.¬† What a brilliant idea!

Valencia Oranges

Valencia Oranges

So begins my own version, to remember more to enjoy everything that Valencia, Spain, and our little corner of the world have to offer.  To remember these things every day, be grateful, and share it with you.  Maybe I can also give you a little idea, plant a seed, to help you do the same, wherever it may be that you are currently planted.

 

From MADison to MADrid! April 23, 2013

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This weekend, two old friends reunited on the other side of the world in a different Mad-city than the one where they first met over 12 (gulp) years ago. HOW do we do it?

Here we are, in all of our off-centered glory!

Here we are, in all of our off-centered glory!

Jesus, Janette, and I spent the weekend hoofing it all over Madrid, with our amazing hosts, Giovanni, Sandra, Alfonso and Mario. We saw all the important monuments: El Puerto de Alcala, El Palacio Real y sus jardines, La Plaza Mayor, La Puerta del Sol, El Museo del Prado…. Alfonso was able to fill us in on so much history; we all agreed he could be a tourist guide. Great fun was had with incorrect translations leading to incorrect historical references.

Madrid Walking Tour

Madrid Walking Tour

Perhaps of even greater interest to all involved was our gastronomical tour of Madrid, starting at the Mercado de San Miguel. Alfonso took me there on my first trip to Madrid a few years ago, and it NEVER FAILS. We realized we needed to immediately stuff Janette full of delicious Jamon and Spanish Cheeses, washed down with incredible wine from the Rioja, so we did just that. I didn’t get any other pictures there, but this one says a lot about a special place:

"Madrid Hugs Boston," what we saw walking into the Market.

“Madrid Hugs Boston,”
what we saw walking into the Market.

We continued on with various other stops throughout the day for cerveza, cafe, vino, and tapas. A few other highlights of course included our delicious dinner and a sunny stroll in Parque Retiro the next day. All in all, a special weekend to remember for these “mad” friends, new and old.