The Top 5 Things I Did in Madrid

After returning from Granada, Eric joined Chris and I for five fabulous days in Madrid. Here are my favorite things that we did!

1. Eating ham & tortilla

Thumbs up for bocadillos! (Photo cred: Eric Fleddermann)

Because Eric has been studying in a Muslim country and has therefore been suffering from lack of pork-products (specifically bacon), I took him to the Museo del Jamón for his first meal. It seems to be some sort of chain restaurant in Madrid, but they have walls covered in ham legs and a euro menu of bocadillos (simple Spanish sandwiches consisting of one topping on a baguette) so we ended up frequenting it during our time in Madrid.

As much as I loved the Spanish ham and chorizo, my favorite was a bocadillo with Spanish tortilla on it. Unlike the flatbread Latin American tortilla, Spanish tortilla is a meal in itself. It’s an egg-based dish and is kind of like the birth-child of an omelet and a quiche with a lot of potatoes and onions thrown in. It’s hearty yet tender, and especially delicious when paired with some flakey bread. I’m getting hungry just writing about it…

2. The Almudena Cathedral

I’ve seen so many churches during my time in Europe that I probably wouldn’t have gone in this one if Eric hadn’t wanted to check it out, and boy am I glad he did. The Almudena Cathedral, located adjacent to the Royal Palace in Madrid, is the most eclectic cathedral I’ve ever been to. It was kind of like a contemporary art museum inside–traditional religious works were up next to very modern stained glass and sculptures, the ceiling was covered in the vibrant patchwork of geometric shapes, and the prayer room was decorated with floor to ceiling sparkling mosaic depictions of religious scenes. Rather than feeling religiously imposing and gaudy, it was more interesting and inviting. I highly recommend stopping by if you’re in Madrid.

3. Spending time in public places

The popular bubble man street performer in Plaza Mayor

Because people in Madrid socialize in the streets rather than in the home, the city is full of excellent public places to spend time in. Plenty of my time in Madrid was spent doing just that: sitting in a park or a plaza, catching up with my good friends from back home, and watching Spanish life pass by. There are also plenty of street performers around for added entertainment. One morning in Retiro park we were even lucky enough to get an hour-long sax performance from across the lake!

Another great space to check out if you’re going to Madrid is the Atocha train station. Not only is it pretty amazing architecturally, there’s a giant palm tree forest inside that’s pretty cool to walk around. When we were there, there was an exhibit of photographs related to the Russian railroad. Random, yes, but also interesting.

4. Hitting the museums

Madrid is also full of museums. We went to the two main attractions: the Prado and the Reina Sofia. The Prado is more traditional and renaissance art, which isn’t my favorite. The most interesting thing there was Goya’s black paintings, which were the pieces he originally did on the walls of his home while he was going crazy and nearing death. They’re pretty gruesome but very interesting.

The Reina Sofia is full of contemporary art and much more down my alley. This included several works by the crazy Dalí and Picasso’s Guernica. As part of the Guernica exhibit, the museum also has a bunch of his sketches and studies done in preparation for painting this major work. I love seeing the process of great artists almost as much as I like seeing the final product, so I thought this was a very well done exhibit.

A quick tip if you’re planning on visiting museums in Madrid: if you plan it right, you really shouldn’t have to pay admission. If you’re a student you can get in free to almost all of the museums with your ID, but for the rest of you most of the museums have free hours or days. Check the schedules before you go and plan accordingly to save a lot of euros!

5. Enjoying the nightlife

Madrid has an incredibly varied and lively nightlife that is known for starting late and ending later. We really enjoyed a spectrum–from our first crazy night at the seven story club El Kapital to dancing at a jazz/funk bar to a quiet night sipping wine at a cafe until they closed at 2–and I had a great time every night. Whatever your nightlife style, Madrid probably has it and it’s bound to be a good time.

Up next? Our spontaneous trip to Sevilla!

The Top 5 Things I Did in Granada

After a very brief stop-over in Madrid where I was lucky enough to have dinner (aka Spanish language bootcamp) with Chris’ spanish Señora, Chris and I hopped on an overnight bus to Granada. Here are my top five favorite things from our visit to the southern city!

1. Walking around

Our bus was supposed to get into Granada at 6:30 am, but because of an unexpected daylight savings time, we arrived at 5:30 am. Since our hostel wasn’t open yet, we had some time for some early morning exploring. Our hostel was situated in El Albayzín, the older Moorish part of the city that still has the narrow streets that wind and crawl every which way up the mountain. And although this escapade would be followed by much more walking around during the normal daytime hours, it was pretty cool to poke around while the city was waking up.

2. Tapa hoppa

Granada is the city in Spain where the whole “get free tapas with your drinks” culture started, and therefore it is the only city where it still holds strong despite economic unfeasibility. In most other cities in Spain you might get some olives or chips with your drink, a small tapenade if you’re really lucky. In Granada, you get a small meal. In order to fully enjoy this dying cultural gem, most of our meals involved three to four hours of us going to a bar, getting a drink and seeing what food came with it, then “hopping” to the next bar for the next course.

3. The Alhambra

This palace/fortress on the mountain is the main destination in Granada and completely worth the visit. Chris and I devoted an entire day to exploring all of the nooks and crannies of this massive site and I’m so glad we did. The Islamic architecture was stunning, the extensive gardens were just beautiful, and the views out onto Granada through every window were almost unbeatable (keep reading for the caveat). It’s a little expensive, but if you make it to Granada make sure you include The Alhambra in your visit.

One of the many water-filled courtyards of the palace

The whole palace was covered with beautiful Arabic script and colorful geometric patterns

A beautiful view out some beautiful windows

4. Cave houses

Another one of the better known attributes of El Albayzín are the cave houses. These are houses that are actually built into the site of the mountain like caves. Closer to the base of the mountain these are pretty standard houses, complete with plumbing and electricity. But as you hike higher up you encounter a more hippie community of people living a more rugged lifestyle. These cave houses still have walls and doors, yards and fences, but they don’t have paved roads or modern utilities. Currently these houses are protected as a UNESCO world heritage site, but some developers are hoping to get that removed and turn the area into a resort. While I would hate to see such a unique community taken over by tourism, after seeing the view I understand why…

Nicer cave houses on the bottom of the image, the real cave houses scattered across the top of the mountain

A closer look at one of the cave houses

An unconventional front porch

5. Enjoying the view that never got old

Of all the amazing things we saw, the view over Granada that could be seen as you climbed up the mountain was by far my favorite. We spent a lot of time just chilling in a park or on a wall enjoying this vista.

Alhambra on the left, Granada on the right

Although I just as soon could have never leaved this spot, I’m glad I did because I had exciting adventures in Madrid and Sevilla ahead of me!

Spain: The Gist of It

Since I returned on Saturday from my two week vacation in Spain, I’ve been mulling over how I can possibly give justice to such a fabulous and extended trip on my blog. Part of me selfishly didn’t even want to blog about it–I just wanted to keep my relaxing vacation to myself.

Don’t worry, I’ve gotten over that and figured out how to tackle the challenge. Over the next three posts I’ll tell you all about my adventures in Granada, Madrid, and Sevilla. Maybe I’ll even get a post up later today (although I’m still struggling to get out of vacation mode).

Until then, and for those of  you who were rejoicing at the idea of not having to read long-ish posts about my travels, I present the reader’s digest version to what I did in España:

Eat

We ate a lot. And drank (hey, I was on vacation). Spanish food is delicious and the wine is cheap and not too shabby. Some of the culinary highlights were definitely the abudance of pork products (Chorizo, Iberian ham, bacon since I was with Eric), Spanish tortilla (different than the tex-mex tortilla you are probably thinking of), Paella (we even made some ourselves!), manchego cheese, espresso, and Sangria. And in Spain it’s so easy to drag a meal out over the course of several hours that a lot of my trip really was about devoted to the art of Spanish eating.

Walk

The best way to discover cities in Europe (or anywhere for that matter) is generally just to get up off your butts and walk around them. So that’s what we did. Outside of fabulous free walking tours through our hostels, we spent plenty of time just walking around on our own, stopping when we wanted to, picking places to return to later, getting lost, etc. I’ve spent so much time traveling Europe with big school groups who are dictating where I go when, that it was so nice to just be exploring a city with one or two close friends who are just as flexible about plans as me. Plus, as an added bonus, all the walking was a nice way to offset at least some of the eating.

Siesta

And to offset all the walking we got into total Spanish mode and siestaed on the regular. We siestaed in parks and plazas across Spain. We siestaed on the couches at the hostel. Sometimes, we even siestaed in actual beds (crazy, right?). Although it took me a few days to get into the groove, by the end of the trip even I–the perpetual insomniac who couldn’t nap to save her life–was mourning the end of my siesta days.

I was definitely sad to say goodbye to my fantastic travel partners and leave sunny Spain, returning to Denmark where the sun starts setting at 3:30 PM and loads of schoolwork loom in my near future. Luckily, I will have the great memories, the hilarious pictures, and the chorizo I smuggled back with me to help get me through these dreary winter weeks to come.

Erin and Eric post-Spain

More España to come soon… hasta luego!

On the Fly Brownies

This article was originally published in AmWord, a student magazine at American University. If you’re on campus, make sure to pick up a copy to read this in print and check out other great articles!

Hello hungry readers! I’m excited to be writing to you this semester from Copenhagen, Denmark! Throughout the semester I hope to be picking up some Scandinavian cooking techniques (and sharing them with you!), but this month I am writing a thoroughly American recipe: the brownie.

After living with them for a week, my host family had already heard me talk a lot about how much I love to cook and bake. However, they had yet to actually taste anything, so I decided it was time to show them what I could do. After scrounging around their kitchen for ingredients, I found almost everything I needed to make brownies–at least enough that I could wing it. Little did I know exactly how much winging I would be doing…

Almost immediately, I realized that their butter was in a tub, not in sticks like I was used to. I pulled from my baking knowledge, guessed about a stick of butter and put it in the pot to start melting. I had to guess on the amount of chocolate, too, since I was substituting the little chocolate wafers that they eat on toast in the morning. I figured as long as it looked chocolaty enough, it would turn out okay.

While the butter and chocolate were melting, I went to measure the flour. That’s when it hit me; they don’t use cup measures in Europe! I was too embarrassed to ask my host mom if she had anything equivalent or a kitchen scale or something, so I grabbed a teacup out of the cabinet and just guessed. I added a little of this and a little of that until the batter looked about right, then popped it in the oven and prayed to the kitchen gods that brownies would emerge.

Thankfully, it worked and the brownies were a hit! I’ve since discovered sticks of butter, a kitchen scale and even a measuring cup in my host family’s kitchen, but it’s nice to know I can whip something up on the fly.

On the Fly Brownies

(Adapted from Desserts by the Yard)

If I can make these with hardly any of the necessary tools, you can ditch the boxed brownies and go homemade! I promise, you’ll never go back. This is also a great base recipe to get creative with variations: go crazy adding mix-ins, spices, or whatever your heart desires!

  • ¾ cup plus 2 Tablespoons flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, chopped
  • 1 oz unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
  • 7 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350°. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil and spray with Pam.

Melt the butter, unsweetened chocolate, and bittersweet chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl at 50% power for about 2 minutes or in a pot on the stove over medium heat. Stir until mixture is smooth. Allow to cool until tepid.

Add the eggs and sugar to the cooled butter mixture and whisk (it is important that the butter has cooled so that the eggs don’t cook!). Then add the flour and salt and mix until combined. (Alternatively, you can blend the eggs and sugar using an electric mixture until they are light and fluffy before combining them with the butter mixture. Doing this will make the brownies a little better, but may not always be worth the extra effort or cleanup.)

Scrape the batter into the pan, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until they are slightly firm when touched and a crust has formed on top.

Allow to cool in the pan (or don’t) and enjoy!

Photo credit: Cristiano Betta

Walk This Way: From Street to Gallery

Shepard Fairey on the streets

Shepard Fairey is an American graphic designer turned street artist who is perhaps most well known for the iconic “HOPE” posters used in Obama’s 2008 campaign. I’ve been familiar with his work for a while, so I was excited to see that he had made an appearance in Copenhagen!

I later discovered that his work in the city was sort of commissioned by a gallery called V1 in the old meatpacking district, which has been revitalized into a hip area with galleries and restaurants. Some of the work was greeted with much controversy.

Shepard Fairey in the gallery

I was fortunate enough to get to see the gallery exhibit before it closed. It was interesting to see Fairey playing with some of his usual images and themes in a more traditional setting and with different materials.

While I really enjoyed the gallery and think it shows Fairey’s growth as an artist, it does raise an interesting question about street artists who step off the street: are they selling out, or just being smart and trying to make a living off their work?

Some people weren't too happy about Shepard Fairey's controversial commissioned work on a former youth center.

Check out all the posts in the street art series Walk This Way!

Flødeboller Revolution

Okay, imagine this: a treat kind of like a bite-sized smore but a little cleaner. kind of like a marshmallow dipped in chocolate but a little less dense, kind of like eating meringue before it hardens up but more complex. Sound good?

Well the good news is, you don’t have to imagine anymore because this thing exists. The bad news–it currently only exists in Denmark (at least, that’s the only place I’ve ever seen it).

I’m talking about flødeboller, my favorite Danish treat. Pronounced fluh-bolluh, this incredibly sweet dessert is composed of a mound meringue placed on top of a marzipan or cookie wafer and then dipped in chocolate. That’s the basic recipe, but there’s a world of variation out there. It’s common to see coconut sprinkled on top. Sometimes they are dipped in white or different colored chocolate. My host mom says she’s had some really fancy flavored ones before. The standard size is about two-bites big, but I’ve seen jumbo flødeboller floating around.

There's a flødeboller on my ice cream!

Normally I’m not into super-sweet marshmallow-like desserts, but this stuff is seriously good. The thin, crunchy chocolate outside gives way to a gooey inside and the wafer adds a nice foundation. You can eat these on their own or, my favorite, put them on top of ice cream!

I see a world of possibility for flødeboller, and I’m thinking it’s about time I bring them to the States. Maybe flødeboller will be the next cupcake…