After the last two crazy months, packed full of trips, adventures, celebrations and time with friends, we are finally back home in Biarritz with no plans and nothing but the summer ahead of us. From March to May we went to Portugal, I flew home to California for my best friend Ashley’s bridal shower, then we went to Greece for a week to celebrate our 30th birthdays, then my other best friend Jade and her husband Josh came to visit for a week, we ran the Paris Marathon, and then I flew back to California for 5 weeks for Ashley’s bachelorette and wedding. It was all so much fun, but man are we exhausted and ready to spend some good quality time at home in beautiful Biarritz. (Posts about all those adventures coming soon!)
Since we’ve been back we have been relaxing, recovering from jet lag, and taking time to enjoy all the great things Biarritz has to offer : The gorgeous beaches, the streets lined with cute shops, eating at our favorite restaurants, surfing, watching the surf, running my favorite routes (time to get back at it after taking a month off after my marathon), watching the sunsets from our balcony, catching up with friends, eating croissants, tapas, drinking French rosé, and people watching. We love traveling and exploring as many cities and countries as we can, but sometimes it’s nice to sit back and appreciate the fact that we really do live in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
And of course garage sales (vide greniers), flea markets (puces) and antique markets (brocantes), my favorite weekend activity! Last Saturday, my first weekend home in over a month, I went to the flea market in Anglet (Les Puces de Quintaou) with my good friend Erin. We left the boys at home and did a girls-only trip, big coffees in hand (we’re such Americans!), and had the best day finding so many amazing treasures. On the drive there I was telling Erin that I had been wanting to find a vintage enamel mint kettle and a demijohn (those giant vintage glass bottles that used to be used for things like olive oil and wine). It was my lucky day because I ended up finding BOTH, and got both for less that 30€, along with many other amazing things like the cutest vintage leather shoes (sorry they didn’t fit you Erin! ), another basket for my growing collection, a set of embroidered napkins, the cutest brass bunny figurine, and some fresh succulents for summer. Erin scored some amazing dresses, a vintage French vase and some gold framed pictures for her gold wall she is starting (it’s amazing). I’m sure Brent and Jay were thrilled about all the stuff we brought home, but it was so much fun and I can’t wait for the next market!
The very next day was a huge vide grenier (garage sale) up at the stadium in Biarritz, within walking distance of both our house. I made Brent trek there with me in the rain (what a good sport), and I scored a few more goodies : a vintage straw hat, some gold-framed floral pictures and an small oil painting of Montmartre, all for just 15€. Treasure hunting in France is so much fun!
We’ve been going for lots of walks trying to burn off all the eating and drinking we’ve done on our last few trips and I’ve been trying to get back to a regular schedule at my gym. The classes are so intimidating because they are all taught in 100% French, but I’m finally getting the hang of it. I’m feeling very sore from Body Pump and Abdos & Fessiers (Abs & Glutes). It’s not DB’s bootcamp class, but there’s an ocean view, so it will do. Bonne journée!
After a long, cold, dark winter that seems to last most of the year (ugh), it’s FINALLY starting to feel like summer in Biarritz, and I’m SO HAPPY about it. As a sun-worshiping Californian, this last winter (our first winter in France!) wasn’t easy. There was one point in February where the sun didn’t make an appearance for three weeks straight. It took everything I had to not curl up into a ball and crawl into a big dark hole of depression. After returning to California for a month for my best friend Ashley’s wedding in April, I came back mid-May to chilly days and even more rain (Nooooo!). Apparently there were a few warm days while I was away, but sadly I missed them. I feel like this week has been the official start to what will be an amazing few warm months ahead. It was the breakthrough week, where the sun came out at least once every single day, sometimes even for the whole day (rare here). I had my first official beach day and actually laid out at La Grande Plage in a bikini, surrounded by t*tt*es (Brent is so jealous).
I had my french lesson outside this week in my teacher Marie’s beautiful back yard and got tan lines! We finally put our bistro table back out on our balcony to enjoy our morning coffee in the sun. I bought a fresh batch of succulents to re-plant all the ones that died in the cold of winter. Peonies are in season! We haven’t turned on our heater in a few weeks and can even prop the doors open when it’s not too windy. Every evening the locals are out, taking a drink with friends, watching the waves. Summer is coming to Biarritz and I couldn’t be happier about it!
It was one year ago in mid May when Becca and I decided to cruise down to one of the most famous wine regions in all of Spain known as Rioja. As always the drive in Spain was awesome! As Becca mentioned in a previous post, we stopped first in Pamplona then (unknown to us) continued following one of the many Camino de Santiago paths which led us to a city called Estella, Spain. We pulled over so Becca take some pictures and have a look at the little river that flowed through the town. This town has many little hostels for people who are traveling the Camino de Santiago and the usual immaculate church that you get so accustomed to here in Europe. (Side note: If people want to get an idea of this trail please watch the movie “The Way” which features Martin Sheen and the famous 90’s coach from the Mighty Ducks unknowingly called Emilio Estevez.)
I impatiently hassled Becca to get back in the car so we could make it to our final destination for the day known as Laguardia Spain located in the Rioja wine region. From Estella to Laguardia Spain we took the back roads and kinda got lost… alright we for sure did get lost… but it was cool, Becca didn’t really know how far out of the way I drove and most importantly everything we had seen was brand new and beautiful to us. We cruised through some little towns, gazed in awe of the hills and eventually made our way through the misty mountains to get to the peak and start our descent into Rioja. Now I am sure we did not take the proper route into Rioja but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat if I had to. The mist evaporated as the heat from the desert won the climate battle making way for an optimal temperatures for many Spanish vineyards. The HEAT!!!!!!!!! Becca and I were stoked. Surprisingly it’s warmer a lot earlier this year compared to 2014, but back then Becca and I were still experiencing the tail end of our first Winter and early Spring in France so the warmth was an unusual European experience for us. We pulled over again and snapped some photos of all the vineyards in Rioja midway down the mountain.
The Rioja region is made up of many small towns and Laguardia was the town I picked to be our home base. We stayed in a hotel called “Castillo El Collado” which was ran by an extremely tall and fragile old man. He was a modern day Dracula, in fact he could have been Dracula himself and Becca and I were just lucky that he wasn’t hungry and were able to survive. He was extremely kind but also creepy at the same time, always waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs making sure everything was okay so we couldn’t leave his “blood bank” castle. Now truth be told that description is spot on, but that doesn’t mean our stay was not awesome! I mean we just left Pamplona and now I am staying in a castle? I felt like Joffrey from Game of Thrones staying in my castle with the whole city at my feet, such a badass feeling… Dracula even snapped at his minions to prepare us food for our long awaited arrival. The minions brought us out fresh salad, chorizo and potato soup along with bread and fresh house wine. I am not trying to be harsh or mean but truth be told this is what it felt like, but as always I treated everyone with the utmost respect, this was in fact part of our “honeymoon” after all, so we did go all out. Side note: Did you know that honeymoon comes from the tradition of the of the Bride and Groom only drinking mead (honey) for a whole month (moon)? Booom! that was a mead fact!
Laguardia is a cool mini town surrounded by a large wall protecting homes and a couple restaurants and a bar or two. I was able to practice my Spanish, and I was even offered a place to stay whenever I return, by a local who works on a vineyard. The conversation was started by the fact he was puzzled that I ordered a pizza in Laguardia, he had no clue my nickname was Meatneck so I forgave him and we became best of drunken friends. Becca smiled and wondered what the hell we were talking about. I explained to her the man was shocked that a man with such pale complexion (me) had such a great Spanish accent and albeit I did a really poor job of speaking with my new friend, he was stoked! This really wasn’t what was said but it was the underlying truth of the conversation.
Now me being me, I did a ton of research for this trip. The ultimate conclusion I gave to Becca was that very similarly to Saint Emilion, (see Becca’s Post) Rioja would be difficult to book wine tastings. Its nothing like California where you can just show up, pound some wine and bail on the Bodega. Wine fact: In Spain they call wineries Bodegas! We learned our lesson in France and I did my best not to make the same mistake so I was able to arrange 3 bodega tours prior to our arrival and for us that was better than nothing. We started early and our first stop was the Vivanco winery which hosts the largest wine museum in the world. If you enjoy wine this museum is highly recommended, I learned a lot at this museum but of course I forgot 99% of it. Some of the highlighted facts…. for thousands of years people have been making wine but most importantly for just as long people have been opening wine with phallic devices. It wasn’t just the Mexicans in Tijuana who invented the penis corkscrew, the Egyptians already had that on lock down thousands of years ago. The 13 year old me took many blurry photos of the elaborate collection. Wine bottle shapes, they mean a lot…. too bad I forgot all about them. Here is a good one I came up with on my own conclusion, traditional wine barrels require a fire so the wood can be bent back inward to make its traditionally “belly” shape and be held together by the metal braces. So all traditional barrels are toasted, but some are toasted longer than others giving wine a toasted taste. Feel free to call me out on that one! The low points of the museum was that you had to watch a late and early 2000’s propaganda video of how awesome and extravagant the Bodega was. In the end I was proud that Becca and I did not even purchase a single bottle of wine from this Bodega because we didn’t really like any of them! Were we becoming wine snobs? This was hardly the case (more on that later) the wine really just was that bad!
We got back into the car and headed to Logroño. We didn’t realize prior to our arrival but Logroño is a big town. We parked and low and behold this Spanish city was celebrating some sort of holiday. A man with no hands could could count on his fingers the amount of times Becca and I have gone down to Spain for a long weekend and not run into some sort of holiday tradition. It always happens and we have learned to enjoy it. This holiday was about some sort of pied piper blower instrument thing (no really it was). It was cool, lots of locals out dressed up all funny and having a good time. We stumbled into a mushroom bar (more of the salad variety not the hallucinogenic) and Becca was stoked to have freshly grilled mushrooms and wine. I even tried some and it wasn’t too bad, my parents would have been so proud. We cruised the city for a bit but had little time because we had to get back to the other side of the region for our wine tour with a bodega near our hotel back in Laguardia.
Our second Bodega tour was of Heradad Ugarte. This still wasn’t the small family bodega we were hoping for but we took the tour and learned about the owner who in short decided to cut into a mountain and start a modern bodega… nothing too special other than the fact the wine was good a cheap. I when I say cheap Becca was able to put a spell on me where I happily agreed to walk out with 4 cases of wine. The reason, good wine, low costs and perhaps it was the end of the day and we have had plenty of tastings. Dont worry I was unwillingly the responsible driver and was able to catch up to Becca when I met my Spanish local later that night. We later dined at a restaurant called Amelibia just outside the walls of Laguardia. I had the steak which just so happened to be one of the top 5 steaks of my life and Becca had the special which was….. ehhh…ummmm…. Well it doesn’t matter what Becca had because it wasn’t nearly as good as my salty Spanish steak. Back to Draculas we went for our last nights stay!
I did forget to mention we had an epic breakfast every morning at our Castle Hotel. Dracula himself made Becca fresh hot chocolate every morning, maybe it was to sweeten her blood? Such a kind man. We packed up and headed to our last stop at the Bodega C.V.N.E. in the city of Haro. It was here we learned with great importance about the effect of the Phylloxera insect that destroyed all of France’s vineyards. It was this catastrophe that eventually lead to the rise of the Rioja wine region. Lots of the French winemakers headed south to find the vineyards untouched by Phylloxera and helped the Spanish improve their winemaking techniques. The C.V.N.E. founders knew the French could help establish them to become a big playmaker in the wine business and invested in the French along with a dude named Alexandre Gustave Eiffel to build them a cellar. Yep same dude who build that French tower and that bridge in Porto, Portugal…. he gets around a lot. So C.V.N.E. has this killer wine cellar along with great wines. We enjoyed the tour, I even met a lady from the San Diego Union Tribune.
A little wine talk…. Becca and I have both agreed that we enjoy Spanish Rioja more than Bordeaux region. Its kinda unique because we both have extremely different palettes. To probably overly simplify and inaccurately describe the wine it is an extremely earthy wine that Becca enjoys, but i feel the climate is a little warmer in Spain giving it a small hint of sweet flavor that I enjoy. I could be wrong… I know I am wrong…. But I am sticking to it! Last but not least I recommend Rioja for the food the people and of course the wine!