A look back on 2015

As soon as Jan. 1, 2015, hit, I KNEW I had an emotional year ahead of me. Spencer and I spent the day walking around Madrid, as we normally did on a beautiful day, talking about the new year and what it might look like. We had great travel plans, tons of friends and family coming to visit, so much to explore in the city, however it would be the year we had to say goodbye to our beloved Madrid and there was not one ounce of me that was even a little ready to do that. That thought lingered in the back of my mind every single day. I’d drink wine and eat tapas and realize, “wow, next year at this time, I’ll be paying five times this amount for a mediocre glass of wine and finding good tapas will be like finding a needle in a haystack.” What a Debbie Downer, I know, but thoughts like that always persisted, and as sad as it would make me at times, it was also a steady reminder to take advantage of every single second I had left in Spain and in Europe. 

The first seven months of 2015 were perfect. They were filled with all things Spain, travel, friends and family, and pure joy—every single thing I love. We most definitely took advantage. However, after moving back to DFW in July, I quickly sunk into a deep depression as I tried to figure out how I fit back into life in the States and with my family. I cried (in private or in public) almost daily as I felt Spain and that life I loved so much moving further and further away from me. There would be moments when I couldn’t remember the name of a metro stop, or I’d check my weather app and Madrid’s forecast would appear, or I’d see posts from other travelers in Madrid and my heart would sink as Spain distanced itself more with each passing day. STILL about once a week someone asks, “Do you miss Spain?” (a kind intention, I realize that) and I have to fight this ugly urge to slap them across the face. I don’t know why that question is so painful.  YES, I miss it with everything that I am. I miss it as if someone close to me has died.  It’s a sticky kind of grief that I’ve been sorting through. It’s hard to explain and hard to understand—but it’s my grief nonetheless and it’s played a large role in shaping the end of my year.

It wasn’t until the end of December (yes, like a week ago) that the ice has finally started to melt and I’ve felt a bit happier. And thank goodness, because who wants to end the year on a melancholy note? As tough as half of this year was, I love to look back. From Texas, to Turkey, to Spain, there were so many sweet memories, growth opportunities, and exciting reminders of all that has yet to come. 

A look back

We kicked off the year with our friend, Frankie, and her kitty, who visited us from the north of Spain. As soon as she left, we celebrated Dia de los Reyes, with a visit from dad! He made it to Madrid about 6 more times between January and May and each time was better than the last. Having him constantly present in Madrid, laughing and sharing endless beers, and meeting the following morning for Starbucks was definitely a highlight of my two years in Spain.


More visitors followed dad—our camp friends Barbara and Denis came for a visit! We took a day trip to Toledo (many more of those to come—I’m a Toledo tour guide extradoinare), enjoyed fresh market breakfasts every morning, played plenty of cards, and ran all around the city. 

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After this we rode the bus down to Granada and finally got the taste of Andalucia that we’d been craving for so long!


In February we ventured to Istanbul (shoutout Turkish Air!) and explored a bit of Eurasia!


In March more camp friends came to visit. We never stopped laughing (or shopping!) with Tonya and Carla at our side. 

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Right after our friends left, we jumped on a plane and met Spencer’s family in Edinburgh, Scotland! This dreary, mysterious, Harry Potter-esque city now sits at the top of my favorites list. 


For spring break, we found ourselves in Alsace, France, AKA a real-life fairy tale. 


From France, we flew to Copenhagen where we ate like royalty, spent all our money, and nearly froze.


Following Copenhagen, we ended spring break in Stockholm, Sweden, where just when we thought it couldn’t get any colder, we were proven wrong. Stockholm, I’ll be back to better explore your nooks and crannies in warmer temperatures. 


At the end of April, my high school friends who live in Germany came for a quick visit! Megan, Carson, Spencer and I enjoyed plenty of sangria and sunshine and planned one more getaway while we were all on the same continent. 


After this, I nervously found myself at my first travel blogging conference in Lloret del Mar, just north of Barcelona! When I realized the conference was in Spain that year, I couldn’t find an excuse to not attend, so Courtney from Adelente and I dove right in together. It was a blast making connections and meeting some of my photography and blogging idols in real life!


The next weekend, we met up with those aforementioned high school friends in Ibiza. This was such a fabulous weekend we never wanted to end. Ibiza completely blew me away (maybe because we were there right before the reckless summer season started), but wow! I’ve never seen beaches quite like that.


At the end of May, my whole family finally came out to visit and I was so excited to show off my city to them.


In June some of our best friends, X and Hil, came to visit and the fun never stopped. The weather was warm, the terraces were poppin’, and it most definitely made for one of my favorite times in Madrid.

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At the end of June, I tearfully wrapped up school (yes, somehow we did have time for jobs!), loved on all my favorite fourth graders, packed up our little piso, and quickly jumped on a plane for Croatia because why not. 


We spent several days in Zagreb, Plitvice National Park, and Istria and found amazing food and scenery around every single corner.

After this, I jumped on flight 37 MAD-DFW and cried the whole way home… but you already know that story. 

At the end of July, I spent a week at that camp I love so much. It always comes when I need it most!

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In September, I visited Spencer in Minneapolis and had a ball exploring everything that wasn’t the Mall of America this time.


Oh, I also started working as a photographer with Hilary Grace Photography and started working as a marketing/social media director for Dallas’ coolest, newest brewery, OHB! I love beer and I love photography, so if I can’t be in Spain, this is the next best thing!

In November, our Spanish friends came to Texas for Thanksgiving and it POURED rain the entire length of their visit. Mother nature didn’t even stop to take a breath. But that didn’t stop us from eating all the Mexican food, dancing all the country dances, and doing short city tours from inside the warm, dry car. 


In December, I was finally able to visit my brother, some family, and my friend Rachel in Malibu and LA!

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Aaaand we rang in the New Year in good old Keller, Texas, with some high school friends.

This year, I’m looking forward to a trip to Portland; possibly White Sands, New Mexico; Calgary, Canada; the Grand Canyon; and Christmas in Hawaii! Lots of North America travel, but maybe there will be time to jump back over to Europe for old time’s sake. I’m also in the process of adopting my own little sheepdog, Olive, and in February, Spencer and I will move to Dallas!

Bring. it. on. 2016. I’m ready for some happy! Cheers!

“If you’re feeling frightened about what comes next, don’t be. Embrace the uncertainty. Allow it to lead you places. Be brave as it challenges you to exercise both your heart and your mind as you create your own path toward happiness; don’t waste time with regret. Spin wildly into your next action. Enjoy the present, each moment, as it comes, because you’ll never get another one quite like it. And if you should ever look up and find yourself lost, simply take a breath and start over. Retrace your steps and go back to the purest place in your heart… where your hope lives. You’ll find your way again.” 

Why you should do a food tour in your own city

In June, I was invited to join in on one of Devour Spain’s food tours. I had less than a month left living in my beloved Madrid, and at that point thought I knew everything there was to know about my city.


However, I was excited to do a tour anyway because maybe… just maybe! I’d learn or try something new. After a few hours, my Spanish food baby and I left the tour in the midst of a panic attack because apparently just when I thought I had seen and tried all things Madrid, Madrid Food Tour’s (MFT) Huertas Neighborhood Food  & Market Tour proved me very, very wrong. I had approximately 20 days left to figure out what else I had missed throughout the past two years.


I don’t want to spoil anything about the places we visited or the foods we tried, because really, you have to experience it all for yourself. Half the fun is the mystery of it! But here’s why I think YOU should do a food tour in your own city…

MFT-41. You will receive a lesson in history


There is so much history that still lingers around those Spanish bars, cafes, restaurants, and markets. A handful of these places were more than a hundred years old–I even learned a trick to identify the Madrid establishments that have surpassed the century-old mark! (see above plaque.)

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On the MFT, you hear stories about the owners, their lineage, how their parents’, parents’, parents opened the bar during WWII. You enter what may look like an ordinary little place you probably wouldn’t ever decide to enter on your own, and leave wanting to bring back all of your friends so you can share the interesting stories and history of these not so ordinary places.


2.  You might try new foods & learn more about not-so-new foods


After two years in Madrid, I knew a thing or two about tapas and Spanish cuisine. However, if you asked me to differentiate between olives, my only response would be that maybe one is black and the other is green.


However, on this tour I learned all about the different olives and jams and hams. I also enjoyed learning why Spanish people eat some of the things they do.


I also found myself more prone to try the food on the tour, some of which I never would have ordered out on my own, but actually quite liked and would order again.


3. You may find new streets and neighborhoods to wander, in addition to new bars and restaurants to return to


The Huertas neighborhood (also known as Barrio de las Letras) was pretty foreign to me since I lived on the other side of Madrid.


After walking around the barrio  with the tour, I decided to spend the rest of my afternoon exploring the neighborhood on my own. Huertas is a very charming barrio. It was a popular hangout for many famous writers, therefore it’s just bursting with history and allure.


4. The guides are an endless wealth of knowledge.

Debbie, our guide, knew so much about Spanish history and so much about Madrid, that there wasn’t a question she couldn’t knock out of the park. In my case, there were several things I always pondered about Madrid, but never really had a good source to ask… until I met Debbie. 

5. You get to interact with other English speakers

… Which is always refreshing when you live in a foreign place! As a local, I found it really fun to interact with the tourists and the guide.


Now and again, Debbie would state a fact about Spanish people or Madrid and she would shoot me a look or add “Erica knows what I mean…” for a sweet sense of validation.

It made me feel highly regarded in my Spanish status. We all really bonded over the time we spent on the tour, and by the end, I was dishing out my own recommendations for the city—hoping to help them fall in love with it even more.


If you’re interested in participating in a Devour Spain food tour, you can find them in Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Malaga!

A walk around Minneapolis’ Farmer’s Market

One of my favorite mornings in Minneapolis was spent wandering around the bustling Farmer’s Market downtown. Bursting with some of the freshest fruit and vegetables and flowers I’ve ever seen (and some I’ve definitely never seen), the market is open daily, but particularly popular on the weekend when customers munch on roasted corn, entertainers jam out in the shade, and vendors offer generous samples. The prices put supermarkets to shame–most stands offer two bountiful baskets of produce for just $5, or an extravagant bouquet of flowers for as little as $3. I had a blast snapping pictures of the vibrant crops, wishing I had something similar to frequent around DFW. 




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The market can be found downtown at 312 East Lyndale Ave N.
It’s open daily from 6 a.m.-1 p.m. It’s a definitely a Minneapolis must-do!

Six reasons to love Croatia


Croatia is something special. It’s one of those places that I enjoyed in the moment, but afterwards, looking back at the big picture, I realize how wonderful it truly was.  Now when people ask about my favorite places, Croatia kind of just slips off my tongue and sneaks into my answer. There are a million reasons to love this diverse country, but I narrowed it down to six small reasons I discovered while traveling through Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes National Park, and the Istrian Peninsula.

1. Truffle

Thank goodness my days of picky eating are over, because… TRUFFLE. Croatia is home to some of the best truffle in the world and it was in a small town called Motovun in the Istrian Peninsula where I devoured the best meal of my life. A three-course meal made entirely of, you guessed it, truffle.


As we wandered the streets of Motovun, it was nearly impossible to control the drool as the overwhelming smell of that divine little mushroom invaded my nostrils.


If we had one more day in the Istria area, I defintely would have participated in truffle hunting in the Motovun Forest, one of the best places in the world to find the fungus. Apparently well-trained truffle dogs and pigs are used to track the scent. Once the animal locates a mushroom, it digs it up and wah-lah! They’ve just unburried a little treasure worth quite a chunk of money.


They’re known to be so costly due to their unpredictable growth. No one has been able to domesticate these mushrooms, which grow near the roots of oak trees. If you want a major delicacy… ask for white truffle, which can sell for thousands of dollars per pound.

2. quirky museums

I’ve always loved little opportunities to have a glimpse into stranger’s lives. PostSecret, a platform for people to anonymously share their deepest, most intimate secrets, and Found Magazine, a platform for people to mail in lost letters and notes, both give a glimpse into people’s rawest, most personal stories, which in turn makes me feel more human and more connected to the world. When I heard about Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships, I knew I had to go. A downpour had just begun and we were desperately looking for a place to tuck into, when we turned the corner and found the perfect escape. It’s a small museum filled with spunk and stories. People ship the museum a memorable or significant component of a past relationship. It can be something as small as a paperclip or as big as a floor lamp and they attach a note that provides a small glimpse into his or her very personal story. Some are sad, some are funny, some are disgusting, some are simply tragic. However, I’m always thankful for humbling opportunities like these that provide a chance to connect to humans in a way I’d never though possible.                        IMG_4649

3. nature

The obvious reason here is Plitvice  Lakes National Park.


We were there just a few weeks before the heavy season started, so we didn’t experience the lines and traffic like most do during the heat of the summer.


We also chose to do the longest route (about 13 miles), which led us into the depths of the park, often providing some of the most stunning views completely void of any other humans.



In addition to some of the most stunning nature I’ve ever seen, it was also an impeccably clean park with the clearest, bluest waters. This place is definitely some kind of paradise.



4. lavender

My second favorite scent in the world (after truffle, duh) is lavender. And no, I didn’t have a favorite scent list until this trip. The Istrian Peninsula is also teeming with lavender and the aroma of the flower floods the moist air, battling the fragrance of the truffle for prime nostril real estate.


I seriously couldn’t get enough as I sniffed and sniffed and sniffed, feeling almost certain that I could spend a completely fulfilled life, forever just inhaling the scents of lavender and truffle around Motovun.


5. hilltop villages

We rented a car on this trip, which gave us the freedom to stop whenever we spotted something pretty. Which was often. Croatia has so many little villages that are poised on hilltops, leading me to exclaim “CAN WE STOP?!” more than what was probably healthy.


Even if it wasn’t practical to stop at every single village, there’s nothing like driving through Croatia with your best friend, windows down, music playing while reflecting on the past two year’s adventures surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery this world has to offer.IMG_5085


6. street art

I’ve recently become very intrigued by street art and murals. Not trashy graffiti, but respectable, meant-to-be-there street art. Zagreb was full of it. 




There was a long stretch of wall near the capital’s train station that was covered with interesting artwork. We even found it in Opatija and Motovun, two places that seemed less likely to display such art.




Croatia is simply stunning and offers such a range of beauty. From tiny hill-top villages full of exquisite mushrooms, to lush green forests full of waterfalls, this Eastern European country isn’t to be missed.

When you leave a place you love

Oh, how my heart hurts. I have an actual throbbing pain in the left side of my chest that almost never goes away recently. It feels like pure sadness. What I imagine a literal broken heart to feel like. My stay in Madrid is over and I can’t exactly believe that it’s for real. I’ve been home nearly two weeks now and I haven’t felt like writing or unpacking or doing anything real-world worthy because it’s just too hard. If I write, it means I have to process the mixed bag of emotions I have going on inside. If I unpack, it means I’m actually staying. If I do anything real-world worthy, it makes things feel so permanent. When I graduated from college, it felt like the end of the world. I was miserable, but then I moved to Spain and life was so, so sweet. Now, two years later, the rug has been ripped out from underneath my feet again and the comfortable Spanish life I adored so much ended far before I was ready for it to. Once again I’ve been thrown into this new unsolicited season and I feel like I’m treading water, barely able to keep my head afloat. Queue the second coming of the end of the world.


Moving to Madrid was such a significant life choice for me. It was the best, albeit hardest, decision I’ve ever had to make. Living there taught me so much about myself, my values, and my world. It taught me that it’s okay to go against the grain and be untraditional. It proved to me that money isn’t everything because happiness is so much more. It showed me that taking risks and diving into the unknown isn’t really all that scary because it is what you make it. But the biggest lesson I learned was to believe in myself.

Two years ago when the plane’s rubber tires made contact with the tarmac in Madrid, I can remember sweating and feeling sick to my stomach in the very last row of the plane thinking to myself, “What the *#%& am I doing?!” I didn’t have an apartment. I didn’t have a phone that worked outside of wifi. I didn’t speak the language. I didn’t have any friends (except my Spence). I. was. terrified. because it seemed so impossible to establish any sort of life in that big city. I knew I liked Madrid, but I never expected to fall so deeply in love with living there, and that’s the problem. I never expected to feel so comfortable there after just two years. I never expected to adjust to the crazy meal timetables and Mediterranean diet and actually learn to prefer it. I never expected to prefer taking metros over driving cars. I never expected to become so enamored by architecture or wine or gastronomy. I never expected to enjoy playing tour guide and planning trips for friends and family so much. I never expected to travel through 18 countries in two years. I never expected to find an apartment that really felt like a home. I never expected to truly feel like a local and make life-long Spanish friends. Mostly, I never expected the hardest part of living there would be saying goodbye. Never did I expect to board that direct flight back to DFW without plans to return. And never did I expect to take off feeling sick to my stomach while watching Spain disappear into a sea of clouds and think, “What the &%*# am I doing?”


There’s this quote,

“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place, I told him, like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.”

and it rings so true with me. In fact, tears welled in my eyes as I just typed that out. I really loved the person I was during that season and I’m really afraid of losing her. I’m terrified that these memories will become distant and hazy and I’ll forget how small our shower was or how we had to avoid Valentina so we didn’t lose an afternoon watching telenovelas in her piso or how good tinto de verano tasted on a warm terrace in the afternoon sun. I’m afraid I’ll forget how all the kids called me “Air-e” or how I felt when I discovered a beautiful building I’d never noticed before. I’m afraid I’ll travel back to Madrid and everything will be different from how I remember it because I’m different

As emotional and dramatic and sad as I’ve been (if I’m being honest, I cried when my jet lag ceased to exist, you guys), there’s always a huge part of my soul that beams with gratitude and pride because that adventure was far better than I ever could have wished it to be. My goodness, how my heart smiles when I look back at how much I accomplished and how much I grew and how much I learned.  When I’m done feeling sorry for myself (I need just a little more time), I’ll be ready to take on this new life because if Spain taught me anything, it’s that there is something grand waiting on the other side of this end-of-the-world season. I just have to be stubborn and I have to be willing to chase it. 


Ibiza’s Colorful Old Town

Oh, the ways in which Ibiza surprised me! I had pretty low expectations for this party place. To be honest, all I really knew about it was that Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian seem to frequent the island.  I was ready for some sun, but I thought the beaches would be average beaches with some nudity sprinkled here and there. I expected the old town to be dirty, rundown, and taken over by Jersey Shore-like storefronts and restaurants. But… WRONG AND WRONGER. The beaches were the best my toes have ever had the pleasure of being stuck in and the Old Town was cute and colorful and totally worth exploring. I’m not big into the wild party and clubbing scene (okay, not at all), which I naturally associated with the island, but it’s totally possible to enjoy this paradise in the absence of that business. We arrived the week before the crowds did in early May and in my opinion, the timing couldn’t have been better. We found the best of Ibiza–ideal weather, cheap prices, few crowds, and plenty of beer and wine.

Ibiza’s Old Town sits up on a hill overlooking the rest of the island. Its ancient streets are lined with worn cobblestones and whitewashed casas that wear splashes of color or floral arrangements. It has a cool, chic aura and I really could have stayed for quite a while admiring just about everything. It may be one of the most photogenic little towns I’ve ever had the opportunity to shoot around!





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If my adoration for the Old Town hasn’t convinced you to visit Ibiza… stay tuned for a follow up post about the dreamy beaches. I promise you’ll be sold.

Tea Time 05.26.2015

Just in Time

Spending an afternoon locked in a room with your family might sound like your worst nightmare, right? But when the occasion isn’t something from a horror movie, but rather for entertainment, being locked in a room with your family for an hour is actually quite fun. I did my first escape room in Budapest, and it was unlike anything I’ve ever done before.  So when my family came to visit last week (!!!), I thought trying out Madrid’s The X-Door escape room would be a nice break from wandering the city and make for some good family bonding. We had 60 minutes to find clues, keys, and codes to unlock our way through several doors. In these games, anything can mean something, so you really have you to be aware of every little detail. It was a bit challenging with six people, but we beat the clock with eight minutes to spare! This is an awesome team building experience and something I highly recommend if you want to get off the beaten path a bit! The best part is, the price here is 50 euros flat for your team no matter the size!


Rooftop Vibes

Oh, how I love Madrid’s abundance of rooftop bars! Last week we checked out El Jardín Secreto, which is a beautiful garden on the roof of a three-story luggage store off Gran Via. I loved this place because there were so many little details to adore. We sat on vintage-inspired furniture among fragrant flowers sipping on passionfruit kiwi mojitos that were served with an electric, neon-light ice cube and an endearing straw tag! Although we went for cocktails, it would be the perfect spot for an afternoon merienda because their pastries looked divine and their tea list was extensive. Just one more thing to love: this place was rather affordable for a rooftop. Only six euros for a mojito! I’ve definitely paid more for a mojito in a smelly, grungy, sticky bar.



Amongst the standard Mahou and San Miguel that reign in Madrid, it’s really hard to come across a tasty craft brew. So when dad was here two weeks ago and we heard about Madriz brewery’s recent opening, well… we knew where we would be spending the evening. Not only do they make their own craft brews named after neighborhoods in Madrid, they also sell artisan beer from all around the world, including  Mikkeller with which I fell in love in Stockholm and Copenhagen!



When I think about @alexstrohl’s photos, I think about outdoorsy adventures and lake reflections and A-frame cabins in the Pacific North West. He has a style that’s easily recognizable and as soon as his photos appear in my feed, I know they’re his without even seeing the name. Follow him for some serious outdoorsy inspiration.


On my radar

Speaking of the PCN… Spencer recently introduced me to the Hoh Rainforest located in Washington’s Olympic National Park. It looks like something straight from a story book where fairies and gnomes and bunnies roam. I think it’s a great reminder of the diversity that is so often overlooked in the United States–the diversity that makes me feel excited to move back home and explore my own country. This mossy goodness will be high on my list this year.

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What’s going on this week? I am looking forward to a visit this weekend from some of my very best friends!

Sending positive vibes and possibly rafts to all of my Texas folk that are trying to stay afloat right now.