Rastro Flea Market


So one of the things that I love to do when traveling is to get a dose of REAL LIVING in a city and that usually entails going to a local market or to a flea market. I fiddled through my Rick Steves travel book and read something about the Rastro Flea Market. I know that in the past, I have seen lots of awesome antiques that you only hear about. Being that I was in Spain and knowing that the Spaniards dominated history along with the Portuguese during the Age of Exploration, I was bound to find some cool history stuff floating around, or so I thought.

I got up super early in the morning and walked all the way to Rastro Flea Market from La Latina neighborhood. It took me a good 20 minutes to get there because I got turned around a little. On the way there, I passed a local corner bar. I had to laugh hard to myself because I saw a couple guys heeled over at the bar looking like they passed out or were literally just waking up. One of the guys was dressed up in a flamenco costume with a slit that exposed his really hairy legs. His buddies were wearing fedora hats and keeping their bachelor friend afloat. Also, he had a beard that would put a pirate to shame. These guys must have been at a bachelor party and they “fiesta’d” ALL NIGHT LONG! I remember on my walk around the streets, I saw lots of empty beer cans. On top of that, I saw a drugged out couple that were getting hot and heavy at around 7:00 AM. They were completely out of it. You had to be there! Every morning in Madrid, it is not strange to see street cleaners cleaning up tons of bottles and cans. There is also a smell of urine and stale beer, the usual. I still don’t let that bother me. I LOVE MADRID!

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I finally came up to a long street where I saw tent stands. The locals were definitely out and I was one of the few tourists with camera in hand. As I strolled along, I got the realization that there was a lot of cheesy items. If anyone could capture the disappointment on my face, it would have been priceless. I would compare it to a small kid eating a delicious ice cream cone, only for it to completely plop off the sugar cone and onto the pavement. I really felt like I was going to waste my time, but I was still optimistic. I saw scarves, a few cheap looking antiques and felt like I had seen all of this kind of tchotchke stuff in other countries. I even recall picking something up and seeing that it was made in China. There were the touristy Spanish fans, T-shirts and leather goods. I’ve seen the same spread in Argentina at the San Telmo market. I was able to snap a few cool shots though.

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I felt like I was in a B rated film when I was watching all kinds of locals buying super cheap things. But then again, I had to also remind myself that Spain is going through a lot of economic hardship. I saw people buying spoons, plastic containers, cheap pots and pans and all kinds of little things for their apartments or flats.

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Honestly, I would skip the flea market, or literally do a walk through and then just go check out something more interesting like a church tour, a museum tour. Just don’t plan on buying anything. Maybe you can score cheap postcards or flags, but I wouldn’t count on anything super interesting. I don’t want to be cynical, but I felt like my time could have been spent somewhere else. Just remember not to make this a main event for your day.

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So, I don’t like to pick up “touristy” things, but I do regret that I did not get one of these posters, specifically a Flamenco one with my name. I would have loved to have put this in my classroom! Oh well….gives me another time to come visit Spain to buy one!

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This stand had  every little kitsch thing you could imagine that you would find at the airport or at a gift shop. If I was ambitious enough, I would have bartered and found out how much certain little things were to gauge other prices at gift shops just to get a real idea of how much price gouging takes place at the local gift shops. I didn’t bother.

A Couple Days in Sevilla Spain


June 5th sevilla: woke up at 8 am. Almost had breakfast at a fish place, believe it or not! Was so excited to try the place because there were a ton of locals, but when I arrived, it was a fish restaurant! Thank goodness for my basic Spanish. Instead I looked for a place that would serve bakery goods. Went to Historico Horno (bakery). I had a pan de tomato y queso (bread with tomato and cheese) and a cafe con leche. The lady behind the counter was all business and not really friendly, but I understand her work ethic. People are not at this bakery in the morning for a worker that is yapping too much. People want to sit down, eat and get to work. Besides, the Spanish have siesta. This means later on that customer can come back and actually have a conversation, sip coffee, eat something, go home and take a nap and then get back to business. I admire this practice and tradition!  I loved sitting at the bar and watching all the different pastries being called out in Spanish. It was a great Spanish lesson for me. I started recognizing all the different pastries and sandwiches and were calling them out in my head. Yes, I’m silly like that. A lot of bread with just olive oil was ordered, which surprised me. I guess when you live in a country that has phenomenal olive oil, then simple and fantastic ingredients make sense like fresh bread and olive oil. I even saw a guy sprinkle a little pinch of salt on his bread.

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I scooted over for a couple guys on my left. The locals were getting ready to go to work and I was making sure that I wasn’t the “stupid” and “annoying” tourist. It was a sunny day and based on the conversations that I heard, it was going to be a sweltering hot day. Went upstairs to use the restroom before I was off and enjoyed seeing some displays of jamon serrano legs and olive oils etc.

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By the way, the word “Alimentation” means market. I figured this out through observation in Madrid, Toledo and now Sevilla. After I left Historico Horno, I sat at Plaza Nueva. I walked around the plaza and even ventured through some random streets. I had scheduled a tour of Sevilla with a lovely lady named Concepcion at 10:00 AM. She never showed. Then I looked again at my email and noticed that she was meeting us at 10:30 AM. Concepcion was recommended by my Rick Steves book and her tour was well worth it! While I was waiting, I saw some guys roller skate by that were dressed up as fawns. Wish I got a picture of that!

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Went on tour with Concepcion. She discussed the history of the 3 kings of Sevilla. When you walk around you will see a symbol everywhere. I think I recall seeing this symbol on a bench, a man hole cover and on several buildings. The symbol that you will see is a word “No8d0”. I listened intensively to the tour, but I was caught up with looking at so much detail I forgot what the real meaning behind the symbol was. I did catch something along the lines that it translates to “no medegar do” and means something like “you didn’t abandon me”.  As you look at the architecture around Sevilla, you’ll notice 1920’s style buildings with a mixture of Renaissance influence, Moorish buildings and even Baroque accents throughout. It’s an architecture & art  lesson waiting to be told and explained in depth. So if you are a sucker for detail, Sevilla has a lot of stories to be told.
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While we were strolling around listening to Concepcion’s stories, she mentioned habits of the people of Sevilla and Spain. Spanish people save up their money and buy clothing around December and July. July is the “Rebajas” month or “Sale” month to shop. You can see clothing being reduced to almost 70% off! While we were passing by the windows of shops, we saw a person making tassles for curtains, the old school way. As a form of measurement, these guys were walking back and forth with the tassle string for a concise measurement. Hard to explain, you just had to watch them.
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La Juderia” is a must see area of Sevilla. The Jewish Quarters are defined by a large standing wall. It’s like Venice, Italy in the sense that you just see crowds of people wandering around together, getting lost. If you stick close to the walls that enclose this area, you’ll be able to figure how to get out. When the Catholic Kings took over during the course of Reconquista, they allowed for Jewish people to convert. They gave them 4 months to convert or their fate ended up in torture or death. You can figure out what most of the Jewish families did. Most of them practiced Judaism secretly, but were even scared to do that. If you follow the large walls, you will eventually run right smack into the Alcazar (summer palace of the Sultan) that is built in mudajer style. I can’t tell you how much of a surprise this place was me. I have to say that I might have enjoyed the Alcazar more than the famous Sevilla Cathedral. I’ll write more about these lovely places in a different post. Too much to comment on.
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If there a color to associate to Sevilla, the color orange comes is their official color. Still today, when I think of Sevilla, orange or “naranja” will forever stay in my mind. I saw women wearing beautiful tangerine color clothing, especially skirts. I saw a pair of orange espadrilles for sale in a fashion display. I saw lots of orange paint in the Alcazar, in the detailed tile work and in many paintings in the Catholic Cathedral. Also, the streets are lined with orange trees EVERYWHERE! And even though the oranges and large and look refreshing, you cannot eat them. They are according to the Sevillans, “sour as hell”. Concepcion also mentioned that in the month of December, tourists get orange bombed in large numbers. The orange trees produce really heavy oranges and they just snap right off the tree and onto tourists heads. Of course if you are an avid and professional “people watcher”, this would be the event of a lifetime to watch!
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Even the gazpacho, the tablecloth and even my beer had hues of orange
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I met a lot of cool people on the tour and ended up swapping emails and contact info. I ended up meeting with a few of the people on the tour later that day. But, I felt like I needed to sit and take in all the information that I learned and saw quietly somewhere. I wandered around the streets and found a cute cafe that had an alleyway. I sat in the alleyway and ordered a cafe con leche and some jamon iberico and pan con tomate y aceite de olivos (bread with tomato and olive oil). I sat and observed people’s eating and socializing habits. Occasionally, I received a sad stare from a few people and I could tell that they were thinking…”Oh, how sad…she is by herself” What was I thinking? THIS IS AWESOME!!!!!!! I have absolute and complete freedom and I was on my own time and my own dime! I enjoyed every second, minute and hour of my leisurely time. For those of you that have a hard time enjoying quiet time to yourself, challenge yourself to sit, watch and think. You’d be surprised what you pick up on in regards to human nature and habits! ENJOY!
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Cordoba, A Real Local Feel of Spain


So Cordoba is a really small town, or at least I felt that way when I was there for two days. It’s a local experience and if you want to feel like you live in Spain, I would imagine that this place fits the bill. The charm of the town is in the people, the local shops, the local foods, and the old buildings that have so much history. I stayed in Old Town, so I really don’t know what it is like to travel outside in the other parts of Cordoba, so my view is very biased. I imagine that there are beautiful villas in the countryside with olive & pomegranate trees and even vineyards. I hope to go back to Cordoba with a rental car in the future.

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I stopped at a local  bakery really close to La Mezquita and close to my hotel. As soon as I entered and sat down at the bar stool, everyone stared at me. I purchased a bocadillo with ham for 5 euros. The ham was a little tough, but I was happy to feel like a local for at least 20 minutes. I saw the owners talk to each person as they came in. I just wish I could pick up on some of the conversations. I picked up a few words about the weather, but that was about it. Although I love traveling alone, there are those moments, when you feel alone and Cordoba made me feel that way. Because everyone seemed to know each other in town and especially around the shops close to La Mezquita, I started to wish I had friends or family with me.

I think my loneliness started to set in when I realized that siesta does occur in Cordoba and things don’t open up till 12:30 pm. From what I gathered, shops opened up around 5:00 PM as well. I still till this very day, don’t know the actual times when stores opened up when I was in Cordoba for two days. The siesta made me lazy and I didn’t feel like doing much at all. I was however interested in taking photos wherever I could. I packed my camera bag and wandered and literally got lost in the side alleyways and corridors and cobblestone roads in the mystic old town areas.  I had heard that Cordoba had beautiful patios, so I thought I would go and see what I could find. I found a lot of cool things to photograph in the La Juderia (Jewish Quarters). The buildings were close together practically hugging each other and on each corner there was something mysterious or fun to photograph.

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As I got more into the siesta mode, I just liked the quiet and calm of staying in Old Town. Once La Mezquita closes down, the area that surrounds La Mezquita gets REALLY QUIET. So for some of you that like more night life, I would recommend that you stay around Plaza Del Colon. For those of you that love to shop and people watch, you can do that around Plaza Del Colon as well. I sat down at a cafe and had a cup of coffee, a pastry and then even a tinto de verano. I sat at that cafe for at least 3 hours. I watched people smoke cigarettes, feed little scraps of food to their dogs. I watched little kids kick a soccer ball back and forth. I just sat and journaled and enjoyed EVERY MOMENT OF IT!

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It’s so refreshing to see the relaxed nature of everyone in this town. The easy going flow of this town allowed for me to decompress, to think about my present and my future.

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Walk…..just walk and be. You’ll find all kinds of cool things to experience. I loved walking into small shops that specialized in breads, meats and candies. I remember walking into a cute little candy shop that made marzipan and chocolate. A mom was letting her little child pick out the cute little fruit shaped marzipan candies. The smile on this kid’s face was priceless.

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There are so many other things to say about this town, but go and experience it for yourself!

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Visiting La Mezquita in Cordoba Spain


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July 7th: woke up early for free admission to La Mezquita . If you wake up early, then you can go to the church and get in for free (Gratis!) Make sure you are dressed to be respectful. Ladies, this means, wearing a shawl or something that covers up your shoulders. Also, make sure if you are wearing a dress or skirt that is longer than the knee or just above it. Always be a good ambassador. They are strict here, which I appreciate. Guys, you should wear pants or slacks and a t-shirt, no tanks.

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Waking up early and touring La Mezquita was awesome!!! It was everything I expected and more. The left side of cathedral had better lighting for openings in the ceiling that the Christian Kings put in later during the time of the Reconquista. You could see older arches and newer arches stacked upon each other. Just to give a quick history lesson, the visigoths (a Germanic tribe) were in Cordoba first, then the Muslims (Moors) came and lastly the Christian Kings kicked the Moors out. So, as you can see this building has been through A LOT! It was bewildering to see the beautiful Islamic style arches and then walk around and see Catholic carvings and pictures of Jesus. The Mihrab was stunningly beautiful painted with shiny golds and hunter green shades. I could see moon shapes and flower shapes in many of the panels. You have to note that these panels and spaces were hand painted by many individuals and are painstakingly lovely. A Mihrab is an opening in the wall or a niche that is pointing towards Mecca, so it is a very important part of the building. If you were to make comparisons, it would be like walking into a Catholic Cathedral and walking towards the altar. When standing in front of a Mihrab, you will see more etches and intricate designs that go into the wall. You may even see beautiful tile work or Arabic writings if you look really closely into the designs in the ceiling part of the Mihrab.

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Barely anyone was inside which made my experience better. Daily routines for maintenance were taking place early in the morning before flocks of tourists came in. There was a man cleaning the floor with a zamboni machine. I had to step aside so that he could clean the floors to shine. I was in the building for more than an hour. A early morning Catholic mass was taking place. There were speaker phones that were attached to several columns and I decided to go and stand right next to one. I didn’t feel brave enough to go and sit at mass. I feel like if I knew my Spanish a bit more, I could listen along and know when to be respectful. What a trip to listen to a Catholic mass that used to be a mosque. Talk about cultural diffusion! It is a surreal and mystical experience. For just a minute, I felt as if all the religions of the world had no hostilities and that every religion in the world was on the same page. This mosque has its religious differences set aside, because they kept the beautiful parts of the Catholic Church and they kept the exquisite parts of the mosque.

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Walking around, there is just so much detail to absorb and to feel. I had to touch some of the columns to try and feel what this building had gone through in history. It amazed me that this building had gone through several hands in history, yet maintained a quiet and serene and pristine beauty. Before I left, an Australian lady was so kind enough to take a photo of me inside the cathedral with the beautiful pink and creme arches. We exchanged a quick conversation and we both agreed that it was a spiritual and reflective experience to walk around with only less than 10 people inside. I finally decided to go outside and sit in the sun. I felt a sense of completion and purpose. I was exposed to these beautiful arches of Cordoba when teaching my AP World history students about the Ummayad and Abbasid dynasty almost 7 or 8 years ago. Something about the arches, haunted me and drew me in to its enticing story. The arches were so perfect, so geometric and so simple, yet they inspired me to travel to Spain. Kids that I have taught still taunt and tease me about the arches. I was able to tell them that I actually went and saw them!

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As I sat outside, girls were getting denied at door for not having shawls. This was the first place that enforced this rule and I appreciated this. I witnessed some small birds, possibly swallows flying around like a swarm of bats. At one point, I thought that maybe the birds were bats and still I have yet to answer that. I sat close to a water fountain and watched the local people and tourists hang out by it to be purposely splashed with water because of the escalating heat. It gets REALLY hot in Cordoba. There was some kind of bell device attached to the water fountain that made chiming noises and many people were videotaping it, including myself. Cordoba, is definitely a place that feels local. You can tell who is a tourist, who is a student and who lives there. I wasn’t used to the change in pace since I had come from bustling Madrid and Sevilla, but now when I think back and reflect on my experience, I would go back and enjoy it all over again. One more thing to note, is to go and check out the outside facade of the building as the day progresses with the sun placement. The light and dark of the day bring about a feeling as if the building is still alive and breathing. I can’t explain it, you just have to go and see it throughout the day. Oh…and if you get hungry, go eat a slice of Spanish tortilla (egg, potato & onion) at Bar Santos, you will thank me later.

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Itadakimasu!


In case you were wondering, the word “itadakimasu” is an expression that you yell out before you eat. The expression is along the lines of “let’s eat” or being thankful for everyone who was involved in the process of making the food or producing the food. It’s a cute, sweet and personal formality that takes place in Japanese households. To me it symbolizes appreciation for the food that you are about to eat. It also really brings thanks to the person who cooked your meal, most likely, a Japanese mom. In Japanese culture, the little things count and so the mom that cooked this meal and hears the “itadakimasu” sees this as a generous gesture.

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The picture shown here is a humble spread of a special evening meal we had in Hokkaido, close to a tourist Ainu village. If you look carefully, you can see beautiful colors of salmon sushi. In the “nabe” pots (brown cast iron pots) venison meat is boiling with udon noodles. It’s hard to see, but there is a secret hiding spot under the “nabe” that has a portable flame powered by mini rockets (not kidding) that keeps the pot boiling. It is custom to open it mid way, and to add a few more veggies or extra fixins. Scallions and daikon (Japanese radish) are pretty standard. There were golden crispy pieces of mountain mushroom tempura and shrimp tempura gently lying on peach colored ceramic plates. I can assure you that almost any food that you eat from Hokkaido is super organic and tastes extremely fresh. The quality of food in Hokkaido, especially in the mountains is close to……as Remy from Ratatouille would say “close to godliness”.

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When you eat Japanese meals in Japan, you learn to appreciate the little things. This is more of a moderate spread, but some spreads of Japanese food take a moment of appreciation. You take the time to look at the ceramic plates. One would even lift up the ceramic plate and look under the plate to see where it was handcrafted. A conversation would pick up between you and your guests and the ceramic plates. You also discuss where the tea that you are drinking is from, down to the water sometimes. The seasonal vegetables and meat are a hot topic to discuss and of course…the taste. Japanese people are definitely GOURMET!

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In this picture, take a look at the “daikon” (Japanese radish) that is dyed yellow and shaped like a flower. The beautiful orange & shininess of the salmon looks luscious and tantalizing. Meanwhile, if you look closely in the right hand corner, another “daikon” is shaped into a cherry blossom that is dyed pink & is accompanied by a raw piece of shrimp (it’s that fresh & safe to eat) adorned with a shrimp tail.

I have many wonderful memories of our week long trip to Hokkaido with my grandmother and mom. Most of our enjoyment came from sitting down on the “tatami” with a “zabuton” (floor pillow) while sipping beer or tea and eating food as pictured above. It was also empowering not to have our men around and to be served by other people with no responsibilities. There were people daily coming to our room to take out  our “futons” (floor beds) and then they would come in the morning and fold up our “futons” and put them away. Our hotel workers would also deliver us our colorful meals and would genuinely talk about Hokkaido and their culture to us with all sincerity and pride. Definitely a girls night out and we enjoyed every minute of it. Oh….and when you are finished with a meal you say “gochisosama deshita” (Thanks for the meal) Another cute thing about Japanese culture. Matta ne!

Fabulous Fish Display in Madrid


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Found this lovely monkfish with a pepper in its mouth while doing my daily walk on Calle Cava Baja in Madrid! I appreciate oddities wherever I travel and this goes in my book as one of the most RAW & RED statements EVER! Take This!

I was so lucky to stay next to Calle Cava Baja. You really feel the energy of people when walking on this street around the evening time. People are clinking their glasses of tinto de verano and red wine while conversing in exciting conversations. Spaniards love to travel in groups of 4 or 5, or at least that is what I picked up. Age was not a factor at all! I saw people in their 20’s to 30’s socializing with 50 and 60 year olds. How beautiful is that? Go check this street out and life will course through your veins.

Sapporo Beer Museum: Hokkaido


If you ever visit Hokkaido, go to Sapporo! It’s a super modern town with great beer and lots of great food. You must absolutely have their famous Sapporo Ramen! The town definitely has a more European influence. I didn’t get to really explore Sapporo as much as I would have liked, but I did see how the city had a lot of Christian & European influence. I had the feeling that Sapporo felt like what Vancouver or Seattle feels like.

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We took the local bus to the Sapporo Beer Museum. Everything in the city pushes the tourist and visitor to go and check it out. I was enticed by the beautiful brick building that reminded me of some of the German Beer Houses in Munich. For a second, I thought I was going to a communist factory when I saw the Sapporo Red Star.

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Make sure you walk around the property before going in. I was very interested in actually seeing real “hops”. “Hops” are a key ingredient in brewing beer and apparently there are many varieties of “hops”.

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I can’t remember how much the entrance fee for the museum was, but I highly recommend that you go in for an English speaking tour. This was definitely a low point of the museum. Luckily, I had my mother, who is a fluent Japanese speaker and reader, but I like to take my time at museums and actually read the panels. EVERYTHING WAS IN JAPANESE! I was pretty upset, because the city of Sapporo is pretty modern & international, yet they don’t even try to put the panel readings in English. I saw several foreigners trying to figure out what the panels said. The museum definitely needs to take some customer comments from tourist crowds. Well….I guess one thing you could do is chug at least 3 beers before you go in, then maybe things will make more sense.

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A model like this is pretty explanatory, even if you cannot read the Japanese panels.

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Here is a close up of what hops look like. They are a distant relative to cannabis, but they do not have the “drug effects” of what natural cannabis have.

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I enjoyed seeing all the beautiful vintage advertisements and retired products. Sapporo made other beverages such as soft drinks and other various alcoholic beverages. I would love to have the amber beer bottle pictured in the top left as a house decoration.

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Here is that great vat of beautiful beer fermenting and getting ready for the thirsty beer drinker. I’m smiling because I am thinking about all the summer nights that I spent on top of a roof at a “nomihodai” (All you can drink) beer garden with my friends drinking Sapporo beer, eating edamame (soy beans) and “kara-age” (fried chicken pieces).

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KOMPAI (Cheers) I was so ecstatic to see such rare and unique advertisement posters. Even better, there was a beer bar right across the way. I chose the trio beer sample and tried the original draft Sapporo beer and then moved on to a dark lager.

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This poster by far has to be the BEST MANLY beer poster of Japan. Toshiro Mifune is my Japanese hero for acting. He was one of Akira Kurosawa’s premier actors and has starred in several classics ranging from Yojimbo, Rashomon, & the Seven Samurai. On a more modern note, he was also in Shogun.

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The outside facade was stunning with green shrubbery hugging the brick exterior. They have a great setup outside with lots of tables and benches and hanging lights for a festive and fun evening of beer drinking.

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If I was to do my trip to Sapporo again, I would definitely have come in the evening with lots of friends. Couldn’t come at night when I was visiting because my grandmother and mother were with me and they were exhausted from traveling. I also highly recommend eating “kakipi” (Japanese rice crackers with peanuts) which happens to be a lovely snack. The “kakipi” has little crescent shaped persimmon colored rice crackers with peanuts and gives just the right amount of savory and crunch that pairs well with the crisp and refreshing beer.