little sarah Big World

Category: Spain

Feast Your Eyes


Spanish Food Isn’t Really That Great, But The Italian Restaurants Here Are Incredible

Last night was supposed to be my last night in Spain. But then there was morning chaos and a strike at the airport, and I did not wind up getting onto any plane today. Apparently tonight will be my last night in Spain.

But we didn’t know that last night, so we celebrated. Not only that it was my last night, but that things would be okay, that we would always be able to talk and figure things out and make decisions together. We celebrated the abundance of opportunities.

Mostly we celebrated as an excuse to go to one of my favorite restaurants in Madrid The World: Paper Moon

Do you see those curling, glistening protein ribbons on top of this salad? What do you suppose that is? IT’S BACON, FRIENDS. Correction: it is the most perfectly-cooked and -seasoned bacon I’ve ever put into my mouth, and that is saying something, especially in Madrid, where “beicon” is usually a flacid, palid, bland sheet just sort of hanging off of your sandwich or burger.

And the sauce? That is a a mustard cream sauce. There’s arugula in there, guys, as well canónigos, cheese, raisins, and corn. Corn, really? With raisins? YES. Do not question the salad. Trust the salad. It is The Best Salad in the World.

Laura first introduced me to Paper Moon, when we were both living in Madrid. It’s near to her super-pijo former apartment, in the north. We went there for her birthday, and again as my last dinner before I moved back to Salt Lake. It’s a good place for last dinners. See that above? That is Pasta al Funghi—pasta, olive oil, a bit of vinegar and herbs, and an amazing variety of savory, meaty mushrooms. Oh, I love mushrooms. The salad is a must, but this was a new taste for me, and worth it. However, it pales in comparison to…

Pasta al Curry. Curry cream sauce, Friends, with chicken and thinly sliced apples, and red pepper, and maybe a bit of crack cocaine, who knows? I wouldn’t be surprised.

There was also red wine, and afterwards coffee that Kevin deemed “the best coffee so far in Madrid.” Then a long, long walk home along deserted Sunday night streets, buzzing and chatting from the caffeine and holding hands and sharing everything and never wanting the night to end.

But the night did end, Friends. And this morning we went to the airport, but I didn’t get on the plane. But I probably will tomorrow. Because it can’t all be amazing restaurants and long walks and quiet, late nights.

What I’m trying to say, Friends, is that I’m hungry. Time for lunch. See you later.


~Friday, January 6th, 2012~

11:14 am – Drying laundry above the radiators all night has steamed up the windows while we sleep; flowers from Kevin still thriving

10:02 pm – Paul has a 6-hour layover in Madrid; we go out bar hopping in Sainz de Baranda: good beer and fried potatoes

A Night on the Town


One Thing Leads to Another

It begins with roscón

…roscón to celebrate Día de los Reyes Magos…

…to celebrate Día de los Reyes Magos as a way to say “thank you” to our new Swedish friends. Because they they lent us money on New Year’s Eve, and we want to pay them back. Because we want more than a one-night-friendship-stand. Because we’d been treated to a wonderful Christmas and then a wonderful New Years, courtesy of our international friends, and now it was our turn to treat, damnit.

But we were still nervous when we met up with Fredrik and Sigrid on Thursday to eat roscón and go see the cabalgata; it felt a little like meeting up for a first-second date after a one-night stand. Turns out they felt the same! We shared a good laugh and then got on with our friendship, starting with coffee and roscón.

In Spain, traditionally speaking, January 6th is the big gift-giving day. It’s when the Reyes Magos (the three wise men) come to town, bringing presents for all the good little children. They arrive by way of a big (brand-name-toy-sponsored) parade on Thursday night, and even though its a family-friendly (read: for kids) event, we happily marched our four grown selves over to see what the fuss was about.

Mostly it was about flashy colored lights and twinkles and sparkles and oohs and aahs.

And tons of people. People everywhere, climbing on ladders they’d brought or whatever else, to better see the parade.

I think we enjoyed the crowd-watching more than the actual parade. It was just nuts to see so many people come out, packed like sardines, toting ladders, to see the three kings arrive in town. I think it makes for a way more convincing scenario than the old “Santa will come tonight and sneak down the chimney while you’re sleeping” line. I’ve said it before, Spaniards take their Navidades seriously. I continue to be impressed.

Not wanting the night to end so soon, and eager for a warming drink and a place to sit, we followed Fredrik and Sigrid back to their neighborhood, Chueca.

Chueca is the gay neighborhood of Madrid, but it’s adjoined to the Hipster-type neighborhood. So it’s got the best of both worlds, with lots of cutesy boutiques and modern-looking shops and fancy places to nibble or sip.

…like the San Antón market, which is similar to it’s more famous cousin–the San Miguel market in the center of town–but, you know, trendier. More chic.

…and with a roof-top lounge, where the drinks are nevertheless cheap and the fires are toasty and the conversation turns to books and travel, to favorite films and living abroad. And I was grateful, for new friends, and new old traditions, and a sense of adventure, and wherever the night may lead us. Which in this case was to pizza, in some teeny late-night joint. Then a long walk home for Kevin and I, happy and full and excited about all the possibilities.

And to think–it all started with a simple, sweet, pink parcel. A bit of roscón and three kings, come to town.

Museum Day


Just Another Young Couple in Madrid

Here’s what life would be like if you were a young couple in Madrid, on a Tuesday, during Christmas vacation:

You’d wake up late after staying up Monday night to watch The Truman Show. Then you’d eat Müesli with soy milk and do some laundry. After that you’d walk through the park on your way to get coffee.

Your favorite place to get coffee would be [h]arina, because it’s the only place besides Starbucks that has soy milk, and the aesthetic is pleasing, and the food is amazing. Also there are cookies. But today you’d avoid the cookies, after so much Navidad indulgence.

Then you’d head over to your favorite museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza, to check out the temporary impressionist exhibition, “Berthe Morisot: The Woman Impressionist.”

But you’d sneak a peek at the rest of the collection, while you’re at it.

After that, feeling peckish, you’d go to a nearby tapas bar for a bite to eat and a glass of vermouth, a Madrileño specialty!

You’d remember that you don’t really like vermouth. But the tapas would be pretty and satisfying.

You’d finish off your grand outing with a visit to the train station to see the turtles and buy tickets for tomorrow’s day-trip to Segovia.

Then I guess you’d go to the grocery store to pick up wine, cereal, and chocolate, go home, work on your blog while nibbling chocolate squares, make stir-fry for dinner, drink some wine, eat more chocolate, have a good talk, and then go to bed.

Just like any other couple, I suppose.

The Year in Travel


That’s the Way the Money Goes

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Ogden & Pleasantview, UT

Went to stay with Dad for a week. Read more here.

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Winnemucca, NV

Road trip with sister Natalie to visited sister Nikki on her 31st birthday. Read more here.

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New York City, NY

Flew with Dad to celebrate Cousin Judy’s (insert flattering number here)th birthday. Aunt Barbara and Cousin Emily joined us from LA and Boston, respectively. Read more here.

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Portland, OR

 Roadtrip with Kevin and Nicole, returning her to her temporary rainy homestead after a visit to the Land of Zion. Read more about it when I get around to finally posting on it, which should be soon.

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Children's Department, Main Library, Salt Lake City, UT

Moved from Level 2 down to Children’s. You know, a promotion. Read more about it here.

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Tours, France

Went on a month-long study abroad program to France. Also went to Paris a couple times, plus too many day trips to list here and now. Read more by going to the ARCHIVES section (up top) and clicking on June 2011. There are so many entries, Friends. It was my blogging pinnacle up to this point.

Florence, Italy

Also, whilst abroad, I spent a quick weekend with Cousin Misty in Florence. Read more here.

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Ogden, UT

July is the best month of all for Utah, Friends. It is non-stop fireworks, burgers, colas, parades, swimming, iced coffee and sunshine. Read more here here and here.

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Deckers, CO

Another roadtrip, this time to stay with Lindsey and Co. at her family’s cabin in Colorado. Read more about the cabin here, and the road trip here.

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Lake Powell, AZ

Last-minute getaway to Powellapalooza with the band and Eric. Read more here.

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San Francisco, CA

Spent “Fall Break” (even though I’m oh-so graduated) in San Francisco, sandwiching a week of bffs/staying up late/wedding planning/motown dancing/”single” ladies visit with Whitney between weekends of quality time with Laura, Mel, and (still in utero) Lucía. Read more about this one soon, like with Portland–“when I get around to finally posting on it”–I know, I know. I’m behind.

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Moab, UT

A road trip with Dad to run the Moab 1/2 Trail Marathon! What? YES! I did that! Read more here.

New York City & Brooklyn, NY

Then back to NYC, at which point I do start to feel a little self-conscious about my gratuitous travel exploits. But who turns down New York? Especially when the elders (Dad and Aunt Barbara) have offered to split the ticket three ways. Read more about New York, Round 2, here.

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Madrid, España

Now here we are, in Spain. Madrid, to be specific, though there was that surprise trip to Tarazona with a bonus-surprise-extension trip to Valencia (read more here), and the adventure’s not over yet. I’ve still got a week until January 9th, the date of my return ticket. So there will be more pictures, more words, more travel, and many more everyday adventures.

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You know, May was the only month where I didn’t travel outside of Salt Lake, and I left the state for all but 3 months. Hell, I left the country twice! Yet somehow I didn’t fully comprehend just what a little globe-trotter I’ve become until November, when one of my Stephanie’s pointed out to me that I’m “traveling all the time.” And she’s right.

I’ve packed, flown, bused, trained, couch-surfed, and visited quite a lot in a quarter of a century, but 2011 certainly takes the cake. What can I say, Friends? I’m a restless gal. And I’m okay with that. In fact, if you’ve been following this here blog with any regularity, then you know that 2011 was also the year of acceptance, the year of being okay with all my mistakes, imperfections, and silly struggles. 2011 was the year of strength and confidence, and I feel so strong, Friends. I feel foolish, and uncertain, and confused, and cranky, and worried, and scared, and STRONG. I do not feel so little in the Big Bad World.

Maybe I should change the name of this blog to BigSarahlittleworld.

Or maybe I should just not tempt fate and be grateful for an amazing year, made possible only with the generosity and understanding of my friends, family, and of course all of you out there, reading and sharing this adventure with me. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much. Here’s to 2011, and now on to 2012!

A Very International New Year


Puerta del Sol again? YES!

We started the night out at home with a frozen pizza and some whiskey and cokes. Very American, but then Kevin’s roommate Elena invited us to join her, her husband, and their friend in a Romanian-style celebration: a big dinner, followed by little pastries and cookies from a Romanian bakery, and then an apple-caramel-chocolate-whipped cream cake, made by Elena, all while calling non-stop to as many relatives as they could get a hold of back home. Delicious!

“Happy New Year” in Romanian: An Nou Fericit!

Then we had a brief period of sitting in Kevin’s room and drinking while I played on the internet and he drew pictures of me playing on the internet. Weird. Then we headed towards Sol, metro-style.

And then…Sol! We made it! We even sneaked in a bottle of sidra huzzah!

In Spain what you do is you eat twelve grapes at midnight–one for each toll of the bell–and each grape represents a month for the year to come, and also you wish for things like “friendship” or “money.” There wasn’t an easily heard bell or clock or anything, though, so everyone just kind, you know, ate some grapes at midnight. And then we drank our bottle of sidra.

“Happy New Year” in Spanish: Feliz Año Nuevo!

Also in Sol we met some Swedes, and what started out as small talk turned into an invitation to join them for a night on the town! New friends excitement yesss! Pictured (L to R): Kevin, Sofia, Frederick, Sigrid, and Alex in a bar near plaza Santa Ana. We stopped there for drinks because we all wanted to keep hanging out and enjoying each others’ company, but Kevin and I couldn’t afford the entry fee for a nearby club, having foolishly left all but 20€ back at home. We thought that we’d just go to Sol by ourselves, get a drink by ourselves, and then catch the metro home. We were wrong!

And then guess what else?! Our new friends lent us money to get into the club, which is so kind. Like, embarrassingly kind. And we were so glad they did, because inside the club was like a party wonderland, and we got little gift bags with paper face masks and noise-makers and what-have-you, and then we danced to songs from Grease, and they knew all the words and we all laughed and drank and danced until 4 am and made plans to meet up to celebrate Reyes on Friday. Success.

“Happy New Year” in Swedish: Gott Nytt År!

In the end, Kevin and I walked home together, turning in somewhere around 5 am? Then today we slept in, hung around, ate crap at McDonald’s (best hangover cure), went to a movie, had chocolate and churros, walked around the center, and then came home. A very Happy New Year.

Ya Regreso

That means “be right back” in Spanish. Because sometimes you get invited to spend a family-style Christmas in a small town with friends that you came to know through a string of random events and connections, and it happens so fast that you don’t even have time to post a goodbye to your (dwindling, but) beloved internet Friends.

And then you take an even more surprise, last-minute mini-vacation to Valencia, because Kevin has a spur-of-the-moment desire after realizing how close Valencia is to Tarazona, and Kevin NEVER has spur-of-the-moment…anything. So you go to Valencia for two three days (as easy as changing the bus tickets), and take more pictures than you think you will ever have time to blog, but you promise yourself that you WILL blog them, damnit, because your Friends need you. And you need a sense of purpose.

Because…even though all this makes it sound like and oh-so romantic and whimsical and spontaneous time, what it feels like is a series of snapshots, disconnected moments, good and bad and foolish and simple and new and memories and tired and drinking, confused as ever, all of it thrown together, one piece passing by at a time, and you are trying to live in the moment, but the moment keeps changing to something else, and it is not surreal, it is as real and natural as everyday life, except that you are supposed to go back to your everyday life in Salt Lake City, and you really, really don’t want to, but it makes even less sense to stay, and you have your doubts, and no matter what somebody is going to get hurt, and you still haven’t learned your lessons and you are coping by reading Memoirs of a Geisha all the time, for hours and hours at a time, but you are still not done because it is 499 pages and you are a slow reader.

So…yeah, I need to figure out that next step, is what I’m saying.

More posts to come, naturally.



The Spanish Christmas Spirit

I’ve never felt the Christmas spirit more than I do here in Spain. I don’t mean the spirit of giving and good will–although those are completely excellent pursuits–I mean that inexplicable magic, that sort of sparkle in the air. That warmth and cheer and light in a season that might otherwise be dark and harsh and cold.

I was first struck by this two years ago, while living her in Madrid. Here’s the post about that, and it’s one of my all-time favorite posts, when I feel like I first started to develop my style of casual photos and prose on this here blog. So please check it out.

Now, the second time around, I think I get it, that I can explain what makes the holiday season in Spain so special. First, it’s about how everywhere gets decorated. Not people’s houses, so much (although you do see quite a few deep red “Christ Was Born – Merry Christmas” flags with the baby Jesus in his nest hanging from apartment windows, as well as those dangly ladders with a stuffed santa–or the three wise men!–trying to climb up and through the window), but pretty much everywhere else.

I am talking about public spaces–bars, restaurants, cafés, intersections, plazas, etc. Los españoles are, after all, muy de la calle. They live the bulk of their lives outside the house, and with Christmas being a huge social event, it’s only natural that all of these communal gathering places should be strung with tinsel and garland. Of course, we do this in the US, too, but not in the same way, and not to the same extent. I mean, when was the last time you went into a dusty dive bar at Christmastime to find that it was not only be-decorated, but decorated thoroughly and tastefully? Exactly.

The second secret ingredient in the Spanish Holiday Cheer recipe is longevity. So, yes, they’ve got Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but it doesn’t stop there! After New Year’s, Spaniards celebrate Three Kings Day (Día de los Reyes Magos–the three wise men) on January 6th. If Christmas is more about family and big meals and staying up late drinking and talking, then Reyes is the day more similar to our American Christmas, the day where little kids wake up early and tear through presents. In the end, we’re talking two full weeks of non-stop Christmas-y action, and it’s all considered Christmastime (Navidades). Not to mention the build-up to all this–lights, carols, shopping–which starts in earnest around late November/early December (as opposed to, say, October 31st, and I’m looking and YOU, USA).

And I like it. I mean, I think that in the US we build up SO MUCH for just one day, and then it’s over, and there’s always this huge let-down. When I found out that my friend Eric’s birthday is December 26th, I apologized to him, because that’s pretty much the shittiest day of the year (whereas February is the shittiest month, happy birthday to me). I appreciate that in Spain the Christmas Season is truly a season, a span of time, and although it’s certainly immersed in consumer culture, at least it’s not that awful shopping/decorating/propaganda landslide of Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas one right after the other boom boom boom.

But of course I could never leave all of my American Christmas traditions behind.

Because our gingerbread cookies are pretty kick-ass. And our carols are way better.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

This post is dedicated to my father, who loves Christmas more than any other Jew I know.

It’s a Small, Small World



There’s more to the US than New York and LA, and there’s more to Spain than Madrid and Barcelona

All this “world traveling” has created in me a sweet appreciation for the peculiar localisms and particular uniqueness of any place, no matter how big or small. It’s certainly changed my perspective on Utah’s cities and towns. Traveling brings everything alive, all the details you might otherwise have overlooked. It shows us a new place in its best light, makes things seem exciting and prescient. But you can have that at home, too. And you can have it in a small town just as well as a big city.

In my last few days before I moved back to Salt Lake from Madrid, I extended an invitation to my roommates to come visit me any time, stay in my house and let me show them around Utah. Little María told me that, no offense, but if she were going to go to the US, she’d rather go some place like New York or maybe Los Angeles.

And I see what she’s saying–that she’d rather go somewhere “bright lights big city,” some place she’s heard so much about–but I disagree.

Don’t get me wrong, I love New York. In fact, I’m taking steps right now to be legitimately living and working there within the next few years. But is New York the best representation of the United States as a whole? How could a place so vast and so diverse as our 50 states ever be exemplified by one single city, even a city as amazing and eclectic as New York or LA? And how can staying in a cheap hotel (or even a fancy one) in a foreign place and sight-seeing and eating at restaurants compare to sleeping in somebody’s home, eating at their table, meeting their friends and having them show you around the way only a local can? It can’t, is what I’m saying.

I’m really grateful that my first experience with Spain was in Oviedo, which is no small town but a city in it’s own right, the capitol of Asturias, and with a population greater than Salt Lake. But it’s certainly not the place most people think of when they think of Spain, while planning a vacation or shopping around for study abroad options. Most people think Barcelona or Madrid, and then maybe some place like Seville or even Valencia. But Oviedo is unique, it’s unexpected, and I stayed in somebody’s home, and nobody spoke to me in English. And I think there’s a lot of value in approaching any new place with the same level of interest and enthusiasm that you might normally reserve only for big-name capitals.

Yesterday I went with Kevin to work, in Rivas-Vaciamadrid, an urban development and municipality within the community of Madrid, situated to the south-east of Madrid City Center and boasting 70,000 inhabitants. We taught a Facebook/Christmas-themed lesson to his middle- and high school-aged students, ate lunch in the cafeteria, took a long walk up to the hillside, and strolled through the main part of town, where the town hall and library are, stopping to have a drink and a snack, and of course to snap photos.

On the metro ride back into the city, we bumped into one of Kevin’s students–an American girl named Kaley from Colorado, on a year-long study abroad in Rivas. I think a lot of people might wonder “Rivas? Why Rivas? Why not Granada or Cordoba or something?” But all I could think was “How lucky.”

Wait, Sarah, What Are You Doing in Spain?

– Eating about a tin of olives per day

– Drinking claras and picando things in little bars and cafés

– Forcing Kevin to reorganize his room/buy basic home furnishings

– Suffering tremendous, sharp, stabbing stomach pains (unrelated to olive consumption)

– Getting my sleep cycle all messed up up so that my most awake/alert time is right now, bedtime

– Making facebook pages for Santa, Rudolph, and the rest of the gang with my chicos in Illescas

– Watching YouTube videos

– Getting tear-inducing, almost painful giggles with Kevin every night when we’re supposed to be going to bed

– (Bedtime is not our forte)

– Eating tortilla and hanging out with my compis, just like the old days

– Baking Cookies and drinking wine, just like the old days

– Missing Laura

– Searching for a way to stay