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 a misguided GPS lead us to a good find, but bad luck

“BUT I CAN’T FIGURE OUT HOW TO GET OUT OF THE PARKING LOT!” I wailed, confused at how to even put the rental car into reverse.

“Dude, let’s ask PSY,” T suggested, and the site of a Gangnam-style doppleganger set me into a fit of giggles. Today was going to be a good day. After loads of back luck during 2012, I finally felt blessed, and that our trip would be  luck at the end of a bad streak.

I asked the car rental guy the easiest way to get out of Madrid, and he asked our destination.

Burgos, I said, as H responded with Logroño, our final destination.

The GPS navigated us out of Madrid and out towards Burgos. Being together outside of camp felt almost strange, but we chattered away to make the kilometres pass by as quickly as they got racked up on the dashboard.

Just past the border of Madrid and Segovia, the GPS spoke again to tell us to turn off the main road and onto a secondary highway.

“It’s probably just avoiding the toll roads or something,” H suggested when I told her that the Internet had suggested driving up past Burgos and veering off on the highway that stretches across the North, following the Ebro river that feeds the grapevines of La Rioja.

The mountain range that separates the two comunidades rolled out on the right side of the window as the vegas turned into golden-leafed forests. As we snaked into Soria – the most sparsely populated region of Spain – my eyes and brain begged for a coffee.

The GPS sounded, as if it read my brain. It directed us into a town on the banks of the Duero, San Esteban de Gormáz. I saw the town’s castle spires on our way in, and we drove as high as the rental car would take us into the town’s midget bodegas with cracked, wooden doors. The place felt a bit like Guadix with the homes carved into the walls, the creaky stairs and catwalks leading across the sides of the mountain. The ancient stones of the small town had lead the namesake to write El Cid Campeador, the famous novel of Spain’s chivalrous knights of the middle ages.

After a quick stop for coffee, we set out towards Soria, passing small towns not big enough for even a church. Coming around a bend in a small aldea, we came across a truck and a guardia civil car. The young office signaled us over to the shoulder and I gulped hard, stone silent in my fear.

Here’s the thing: I knew that the crime for driving without a license could be a 500€ fine and up to six months in prison. 

“Play STUPID!” T hissed as I rolled down the window and uttered hola with my best guiri accent. The cop asked for the car’s registration and my driver’s license. Kike had warned me something like this could happen not two days before, and to be extremely careful. I wasn’t breaking the law, but had been pulled over by a routine check on small country roads.

Using his iPhone as a translator, the cop told me I needed an international driver’s license to be able to rent a car and that we would be fined 100€ on the spot and get a “get out of jail” card until we made it to Logroño. I felt waves of nausea as I forked over two fifties and tried hard not to let onto the fact that I understood, even stifling a small shudder when his partner said, “Wasn’t it 500€ for driving without a license?”

As we drove away after a hurried buenos dias at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, I felt my heart stop racing as we laughed nervously. Luckily, wine country was our destination, and it wasn’t long before I was taking the edge off with a glass of Rioja and cheap tapas. My friends were glad I was driving and that my guiri-speaking-Spanish impression was spot-on.

The rest of our weekend included me losing a cell phone, breaking a few wine glasses and having the worst wine hangovers of our lives, but there are few things I appreciate more than a good glass of tinto, my friends and new places.

Seville Snapshot: Bodega Marqués de Riscal in Eltziego (País Vasco)

As a traveler, I should take pride in really getting to know a city, to meeting and talking with its people and to finding its heart.

Travel Confession: I love kitschy sites, kitschy souvenirs and don’t always stay off the beaten path.

When it  came down to deciding what to do while in Spain’s Wine Country, La Rioja, we all agreed that wine was at the top of the list, while a sub category to wine was visiting a bodega. I called around, sent emails and was delighted when we got a last-minute booking for Marqués de Riscal, one of Spain’s most famous exports.

Elciego, or Eltziego in Basque, is a beautiful city in its own right. Nestled amongst vineyards, its burnt fall colors provide a dramatic backdrop to a stone medieval city whose claim to fame is the wine and the hotel commissioned by Marqués de Riscal, which was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.

The colors chosen – metallic silver, pink and bordeaux – are representative of the wine bottle, whereas the wavy steel plates and pale stone pillars are meant to represent a vine before harvest. Built as a millennial addition to the winery founded during the mid 19th century, it seems to blend in with the history while looking forward to the future.

We signed up for a 90-minute tour of the bodega, which took us first to the newest installations, then past their ancient fountain – outfitted with a digital clock and weather reader – and into their oldest cellar. The damp, musty smell and little light protects their oldest editions, which mustn’t be uncorked. A small butane stove is used to heat a metal ring, then cold water is applied, breaking the glass and allowing the wine to be poured. As someone who loves the craft of writing and is a geek about it, I think I could geek out about wine if I got to learn more about it. Sadly, we were tired after the previous night’s antics and in search of a bed. After our two glass of wine, we dipped out and back to Logroño.

If you go: Marques de Riscal bodegas are located in Eltziego, just 15 kilometres from Logroño. It’s actually in the Basque region, and not La Rioja! To take a tour, which are available every day of the year, making a reservation through email or over the phone is a must. the tour included a tasting of two young wines and runs 10,25. More information and contacts can be found on Marques de Riscal’s webpage. Tours can be done in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and even Russian.

Tapa Thursdays: Where’s Cat?

Studying abroad in Valladolid changed many things about me, from the way I spoke Spanish to the direction my life way to take. It also made me appreciated wine. Sitting just south of the Ribera del Duero region, Pucela, as it’s called locally, had vineyards producing some of Spain’s most famous brands. Dinner was often paired with a robust vino tinto, turning me into a wine aficionado at the tender age of 19. Hey, when in Rome…

Today is not about tapas, it’s about wine because I’m visiting Spain’s foremost wine region today for the first time. Tucked into the smallest autonomous community is acre upon acre of vineyards producing tempranillo and garnacha grape, home to Marques de Riscal and Campo Viejo brands, crumbling castle and monasteries, and a pintxos culture second to none.

Last weekend, my girlfriends and I did a cata de vino at a small wine shop in the center of Seville, Flor de Sal. With each of us busy with our lives, partners and jobs, our monthly dates are often full of chatter and wine, so having Andre explain his handpicked choices from lesser-known bodegas brought out the best in us wine-loving guiris. If it was any indication as to what lies ahead this weekend for me and my friends, we’re in trouble!

Have you been to La Rioja? Have any recommendations for me, particularly food and wine? What’s your favorite DO in Spain?

Seville Snapshots: Paseo de Espolón, Burgos

 Nostalgia is a funny thing for anyone who’s resided abroad. Just one whiff of cous cous sends you back to the souks of Marrakesh, the notes of a strained tango to Buenos Aires. A crush of happy memories and the angst of longing for that moment. At the same time, thinking of your favorite place can be an end-all cure for homesickness of a place that may have just been your home for a brief wink of time.

This picture is of the Paseo de Espolón, a tree-lined path that winds along the bank of the Rio Arlanzón in Burgos, Spain.  Despite frigid winters and blistering summers, Burgaleses can be found strolling the Espolón year round.  This photo was taken in the dead of winter and, if you look closely, you can see how the knotted branches have grown together over time.  When I’m feeling homesick for Spain I just look at this picture and am taken back to a cold winter day, outside of my favorite cafe in a little town in Northern Spain.

Kayla is an avid traveler with a love for photography, adventure and all things Spanish.  She has spent time living in Spain, Costa Rica and Argentina and currently resides in Chicago, IL.  You can see more of her photos at

Love taking shots? Been to Seville or Spain? I’m looking for travelers with a good eye to capture beautiful Spain and contribute to my weekly Snapshots section. Send your photos to sunshineandsiestas @ with your name and a short description of the photo and look to be featured on Monday.

Spain Snapshots: Plaza María Pita, A Coruña

Right now, I’m boarding a flight to my second Spanish home, A Coruña. The northwest corner in Spain is a breath of fresh air in Seville’s stifling, 40º heat, and I’ve got all the things I love about Spain in one place – great food, a breathtaking city and the warm nature characteristic of the people there. It’s like putting on my favorite pair of Mango jeans after a few months of skirts and dresses – I could see myself living here.

Plaza María Pita, crowned by the charming town hall, is the throbbing heart of the mushroom-shaped peninsula. Buried within the vast, colonnaded square is the first place I ever tried pulpo a la gallega, and crunched up between a light post and hundreds of others, I watched Spain win the World Cup in 2010. Just recently, the Novio and I walked arm-in-arm as I showed him my favorite rincones of the Crystal City.

My heart is completely andalú, but I leave a small piece of it at the Riazor beach or in the coves next to the Torre de Hércules every time I’m in Galicia.

Have you been to Galicia? What are your favorite parts?

If you’re new here, check out my first few entries in a series on photogenic Seville and other parts of Spain, which will be posted every Monday. If you’d like to participate with your photos from Spain and Seville, please send me an email at sunshineandsiestas @ with your name, short description of the photo, and any bio or links directing you back to your own blog, Facebook page or twitter. There’s plenty more pictures of the recital on Sunshine and Siesta’s new Facebook page!

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