Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Postcard from Andalucía: Sevilla

La Giralda  |  Postcard from Andalucía: Sevilla  on afeathery*nest  |

(Still in New York, but catching up on overdue posts.)

After our time by the beach and jaunts into the hilltop specks of white, we were ready to head back into a city. Sevilla, built along the curve of the Guadalquivir River and fused into a welcoming, harmonic whole from its Roman, Moorish, and Castilian origins is a gorgeously mystic place where we spent 4 days this past September. On our way there after leaving Conil de la Frontera we stopped for a walk about Jerez (and a sherry, naturally), bringing us to Sevilla around 2PM.

We had booked a hotel in the oldest part of town, right around from the spectacular Giralda, the tower of the cathedral that serves as a beacon to prayer, a landmark for woefully lost tourists (which we of course became), and a reason to stop ten times a day to stare up in wonder at her brilliance.

While we could easily pick her out, and we knew we were in the general vicinity of our hotel, the only problem was that we couldn't actually find it. Try as R did to maneuver our teeny rental car through the seemingly even teenier streets, the higgledy-piggledyness of Sevilla's Old Town streets streets rendered our GPS useless and our map reading skills were apparently not up to par. Surprisingly, we didn’t turn on each other (I’m sure the snack and sherry helped), but finally we decided to pull over while R waited with the car in a clearly marked no-parking zone and I went on foot to find our hotel.

Of course it was on the one little streetside niche we had circled around at least 6 times previously, but hadn’t actually ventured into. Once I found it on foot, it was easy enough to direct R back by car.

Sevilla City Hall / Ayuntamiento de Sevilla  |  Postcard from Andalucía: Sevilla  on afeathery*nest  |
Seville Cathedral / Catedral de Sevilla  |  Postcard from Andalucía: Sevilla  on afeathery*nest  |
Plaza de Santa Maria / Royal Alcázar of Seville /  Real Alcázar de Sevilla  |  Postcard from Andalucía: Sevilla  on afeathery*nest  |

As soon as we settled in we headed right back out to have a proper wander. The mysteriousness of the unfollow-able streets, the breeze blowing through all the plazas and the ornateness of the architecture made it the perfect town for meandering about in.

For our initial poking about we focused on the historic area, not following a map, just following the interesting looking streets until we happened upon the Cathedral, the Giralda (whose presence stunned me into silence when we first found ourselves directly in front of it on foot), the National Archives, Bishop's Palace, etc.

When we were ready for something to nibble on we parked ourselves at a table straddling a restaurant and its sidewalk for a plate of mixed cured meats, olives, the Andalucían specialty of spinach and chickpeas, and some local wine. Of course R became pals with the bartender / waiter whose two brothers both live in Sicily. Leave it to him to find his countrymen…or at least a tenuous representation of them.

Satiated by our late afternoon snack and tired from our drive and walk, that evening we just had a drink on our hotel's rooftop terrace to enjoy the stunning view of the Giralda.

Plaza de Santa Maria / Royal Alcázar of Seville /  Real Alcázar de Sevilla  |  Postcard from Andalucía: Sevilla  on afeathery*nest  |
Plaza de Santa Maria / Cathedral of Seville /  Catedral de Sevilla  |  Postcard from Andalucía: Sevilla  on afeathery*nest  |
Fontecruz Sevilla Terrace View of the Giralda  |  Postcard from Andalucía: Sevilla  on afeathery*nest  |

One morning we took the Isabel II / Puente de Triana bridge across the river to see Triana, the neighborhood that used to be the workers' district. It wasn’t as enticing as I thought it would be, so we weren’t there long before crossing back over into Sevilla proper.

Bridge to Triana, Sevilla  |  Postcard from Andalucía: Sevilla  on afeathery*nest  |
Bridge to Triana, Sevilla  |  Postcard from Andalucía: Sevilla  on afeathery*nest  |
Triana, Sevilla  |  Postcard from Andalucía: Sevilla  on afeathery*nest  |

On another afternoon we took a 30-minute drive slightly north-east of Sevilla to Carmona. But of course my favorite day in Sevilla was my birthday, where R planned everything perfectly for me.

Every day in Sevilla started with a walk around the corner to break our fast at Gusto, our replacement for the lovely breakfast we found in Marbella, which we happened upon on our second day and proceeded to go to every morning after, including on my birthday.

After coffee and a walk we went to AIRE. That’s right—after trying out and becoming semi-regulars at the newest (and first American) outpost of the Spanish underground baths in Tribeca, we headed to one of the first locations in its home country. We did our usual routine: 30-minute massages and the bath rituals. While it was something special to be in one of the birthplaces of the Moorish water wonderment, I have to say that the Tribeca one a little more magical for me. More inviting and atmospheric. Of course we still enjoyed our afternoon because what's not to love about some pampering?

Once our time there had ended we went back to the hotel to freshen up and then set out for the evening's entertainment, but first: an ice cream snack at Bolas, a heladeria we had come across the day before. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was one of the best ice creams I’ve ever had (even in Sicily). The couple / family that owns it was so kind to us, going out of their way to explain the different ingredients in their pure, unadulterated flavors (like Queso de Cabra con Dulce de Membrillo, or Goat Cheese with Membrillo / Quince, and Sevilla Moro, a sweetened cream run through with walnuts, candied orange peel, raisins, cinnamon and cabell d'àngel a threaded jam made from pumpkin).

They went so far as to show us the sweet bread used in one flavor by bringing out a package of it from the kitchen (no artificial flavorings there!) and then they handed it to us to enjoy. Such a warm gesture—and a useful one at that, as when we were hungry on the flight home we remembered the snack in my bag!

Plaza de Santa Maria /  Arzobispado de Sevilla  |  Postcard from Andalucía: Sevilla  on afeathery*nest  |
Sevilla streets  |  Postcard from Andalucía: Sevilla  on afeathery*nest  |
AIRE Sevilla  |  Postcard from Andalucía: Sevilla  on afeathery*nest  |
Casa de la Memoria Flamenco Show  |  Postcard from Andalucía: Sevilla  on afeathery*nest  |

Armed with a delicious cone for R and a cup for me, we began walking towards Casa de la Memoria, a cultural center for flamenco with a theater for intimate shows where R had booked tickets for us. We were seated in a small auditorium, perhaps with 40 other people, while a singer, a drummer, and a male and female dancer performed. It was every bit as thrilling to me as you'd think an up-close flamenco performance would be. The music seeped in and the rhythm and frenzy of the foot stomping and skirt swirling and heel taping made my blood pound in such a way that when we emerged from the building I felt as if I had just finished doing something much more arduous than sitting before a stage.

Towards the end of our trip we were a bit tired of Spanish cuisine and in dire need of something more exotic so R found Al Medina, a Moroccan restaurant, to take me to for my birthday dinner which was one of the most loveliest dining experiences we had in Spain. I don’t remember what R ordered for himself, but I do remember the perfectly-made pastilla that I had. I’d first had the savory sweet dish when we were in Tunisia 7 years ago and anytime I have the chance to have it again, I do. Pastilla is basically a savory pie filled with chicken, almonds and cinnamon—and while it's a Moroccan dish, it's originally from Andalus, so it was a more than fitting meal.

On our last morning in Spain we finished our coffees at Gusto and headed back to the hotel lobby to pick up our waiting luggage and load it into the car. As we walked out of the piazza and away from La Giralda she began to toll the 9th hour of the day. I turned to face her for one more look, to see her serving her primary purpose of housing the tolling bells, as until then I had just been enjoying her for her Moorish beauty.

While my daily life has never been marked by the regular pealing of bells, that early morning moment, when the cobblestones were still damp and children skipped to school with their hands tucked into those of their parents, made me reminisce about Sundays in downtown Charlottesville, summers in Sicily, and one Christmas in Rome—the times I could remember when the call of a church bell was not just a pretty melody in the background, but instead directed the unfolding of my day.

There's a chance of course that the repetitive bells would eventually begin to grate on one's consciousness, but on the last morning of our Andalucìan road trip as we prepared to drive away from Sevilla, I chose to romanticize otherwise.

La Giralda  |  Postcard from Andalucía: Sevilla  on afeathery*nest  |
The beauty of this trip was that we picked a region with nice highways (a pleasant surprise!), and an abundance of gorgeous towns filled with magnificent historical sites, good food and breathtaking views. It was easy to point to a place on the map and just go. Every planned and spontaneous place was worth seeing and what I'll remember most was the freedom of that—of just going.

And yes, it was everything I had hoped it would be—helped ever so much by sharing it with the most genial of pilots and companionable of travel partners.

Sevilla NO8DO  |  Postcard from Andalucía: Sevilla  on afeathery*nest  |
*"NO8DO", Sevilla's motto, is imprinted throughout the city. It means "No me ha dejado" (Sevilla has not abandoned me). Beautiful sentiment for a much conquered land.

Other Andalucía posts:
After 9 years, 9 days in southern Spain
Postcard from Andalucía
Postcard from Andalucía: Málaga 
Postcard from Andalucía: Granada and La Alhambra
Postcard from Andalucía: Nerja + Marbella
Postcard from Andalucía: Gibraltar + Tarifa
Postcard from Andalucía: Conil de la Frontera
Postcard from Andalucía: Cadíz + Medina-Sidonia
Postcard from Andalucía: Vejer de la Frontera
Postcard from Andalucía: Jerez + Carmona

Monday, November 17, 2014

Across an ocean

Lower Manhattan + Freedom Tower  |  Across an ocean on afeathery*nest  |

My family (both by birth and by love) has a thing for showing up unexpectedly.

Like my parents and brother showing up at my university to help me celebrate my 21st birthday (at a surprise dinner party they organized with my roommates). Or those same roommates and I plotting with our other roommates’ parents to stage the most ridiculous reunion party with her friends and family from around the state (and neighboring ones!) for her birthday.

Or like me flying to LA from NYC (where I had a summer internship) to wait in a hotel lobby for my mom’s arrival from Virginia for a work trip, then sneak up behind her while she checked in to surprise (scare) her.

Or R traveling for 24 hours in a linen suit from Sicily to New York and walking into the restaurant where I was celebrating my birthday in the Meatpacking District with my parents, my brother, and my cousins with the hugest of smiles and not one single wrinkle (I’ll never know how Italians do it).

Then of course I reciprocated by flying to Sicily one cold week in February a few days after getting a ridiculous flight deal from Alitalia in my inbox and walking into his business while he was on the phone with his mom (who was in on it).

We like nothing more than pulling off crazy cross-country, cross-oceanic surprises and then bursting into blubbering heaves when we see each others’ faces.

But I just may have pulled off the best one yet—I flew, unbeknownst to anyone, from Stockholm to NYC this weekend so I could be there to celebrate my darling nephew / godson’s first birthday (and lucky me, Thanksgiving isn’t too far away, either).

My plan was not to tell anyone at all and just show up at the birthday party where essentially all of my American family (since most live in the Tri-state area around New York) would be gathered. My first homecoming, perfectly timed to celebrate the little boy who I was there to greet in the hospital on the day he came into this world and into our lives and who has not stopped making me smile and laugh with his adorable expressions, his mischievous personality, and his inquisitive, thoughtful stare, all of which I’ve been able to see develop and change week by week even after we left the US, thanks to his video and photo-adept taking grandparents and video-chatting parents.

Apparently my family knows me quite well, though, as my brother's non-teary response to seeing me walk unexpectedly into his apartment was, "I knew you'd come."

And he was right—there’s nothing that would have kept me from being here and holding my nephew in my arms and tickling his chubby little thighs to coax out one of his sweet gurgling laughs. Even if he won’t remember the day, and probably didn’t even really recognize me when I walked in, I’ll remember it and always know that not even an ocean could keep me away from being with him on his very first birthday.

One year ago: Craving a cozy cappuccino
Two years ago: Today's trio & Good things right now & Happy makers

Friday, November 7, 2014

An afternoon at Äppelfabriken on Faringsö

An afternoon at Äppelfabriken on Faringsö  on afeathery*nest  |

A few Sundays ago, ready for some fresh air and a view of rolling greenery unmarred by architecture of any sort (even though I'm enamored with it), we borrowed my in-laws' car, picked up some friends and headed out to the countryside, which we arrived in less than 10 minutes after leaving the city. I still can't believe how close near-uninhabited land is!

Our destination was Äppelfabriken in Svartsjö on Faringsö (an island) 45 minutes away from Stockholm. I'd read about it on another expat's blog and thought a visit there would make a perfect fall day trip.

An afternoon at Äppelfabriken on Faringsö  on afeathery*nest  |
An afternoon at Äppelfabriken on Faringsö  on afeathery*nest  |
An afternoon at Äppelfabriken on Faringsö  on afeathery*nest  |
An afternoon at Äppelfabriken on Faringsö  on afeathery*nest  |

But, there were hardly any apples left on the trees and those that were still dotting the branches weren't supposed to be picked, as the orchard was preparing to make a film. We had to snag one anyway, though, as a little girl had been promised an afternoon of apple picking and we couldn't disappoint her.

An afternoon at Äppelfabriken on Faringsö  on afeathery*nest  |
An afternoon at Äppelfabriken on Faringsö  on afeathery*nest  |

Besides the lack of apples to be had, it also wasn't exactly as I'd expected, given how used I am to the apple and pumpkin farms of the Hudson Valley which are a little more dense and abundant, with well-populated rows and rows of trees and creeping vines to choose from. But in any case, the gorgeous drive there (where we saw elks racing across the meadow!), the utterly delicious and cozy fika we took inside one of the cottages, and the company made it worthwhile.

An afternoon at Äppelfabriken on Faringsö  on afeathery*nest  |
An afternoon at Äppelfabriken on Faringsö  on afeathery*nest  |
An afternoon at Äppelfabriken on Faringsö  on afeathery*nest  |

* A version of this post appeared on View Stockholm. 

One year ago: The rosy glow of an autumn dusk
Two years ago: Foiled

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The first snowfall

Snowfall in Odenplan, Stockholm  |  The first snowfall on afeathery*nest  |

When I woke up this morning and drew up the blind in our cozy little room and saw a fresh (very thin) layer of snow covering the playground below I'm pretty sure my squeal of delight rivaled that of the children who were actually playing in said playground.

I'm not sure how long my delight in Swedish winter weather will last, so best to enjoy the thrill of it while I can, right?

Snowfall in Vasastan, Stockholm  |  The first snowfall on afeathery*nest  |
Snowfall in Vasastan, Stockholm  |  The first snowfall on afeathery*nest  |
Snowfall in Vasastan, Stockholm  |  The first snowfall on afeathery*nest  |
Snowfall in Odenplan, Stockholm  |  The first snowfall on afeathery*nest  |

Of course today just happened to be the day I had planned to meet a friend near Odenplan for lunch. A sushi lunch. Not exactly comfort food for the first "snow storm" of the season, but at least the miso soup to start and green tea to end were appropriate. Helpfully so, since I walked the 25 minutes there and back despite the snow melting as soon as it landed on the streets and sidewalks, turning me into a dripping mess within minutes of setting out.

But there's something to be said for being out in the midst of the first snowfall.

One year ago: Odds and ends
Two years ago: Not a first

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

"The glory of life"

Koffie in Vasastan, Stockholm  |  "The glory of life" on afeathery*nest  |
"The ability to walk from one point to the next point, that is half the battle won. Go out and walk. That is the glory of life."
From the whimsical, yet always stirring, Maira Kalman—one of the more lovelier quotations I've seen recently. And believe in mightily, as you know.

I've been spending the last few days walking, walking, and walking (and sometimes bicycling when it's not too damp out) some more all around my new neighborhood. Getting to know the good place for juice, for coffee, for morning strolls and evening promenades. Seeing a few early holiday decorations go up, but nothing too elaborate (thank goodness). The weather lately has been quite mild, making these late autumn strolls all the more enjoyable, so I'm trying to enjoy the weather while I can, especially as an antidote to the ever-shortening dark days of winter.

Growing up quite a few latitudes lower than Stockholm, I wasn't at all prepared to see the sun set at 4:30PM (and it's going to get earlier!). We changed our clocks back over a week ago and I still feel like I'm suffering from some sort of spacey-brained jet-lag.

Walks are the cure, I believe.

And candles, of course.

Both of which are how and what I found at Koffie, a fresh, cozy little café in our new neighborhood. When R left for his first "commute" from my in-laws' apartment to work I walked out with him to the subway stop, with the idea of grabbing a juice and taking a long walk after. Pre-move, as we cleaned up and vacated our sublet, good food was low on the list of things to prepare as we tried to finish everything in our fridge and cupboards (leading to very odd dishes) and since then we've been indulging in comforting autumnal dishes with the family post-move (like, pannbiff and falukorv, both delicious Swedish classics), so, I felt my tummy craving loads of greens.

Which lead me to find this adorable little cafè with the most charming of storefronts (seen above). I walked in just after 9AM on a Sunday—the first customer to enjoy the cozy atmosphere, complete with baskets of fruit and candles lit on every surface. I snuggled onto the sheepskins and drank down my juice, then headed out for a good long stroll before settling in for long study session.

One year ago: Neighborly 
Two years ago: Hurricane Sandy

Monday, November 3, 2014

Leaving Hammarby Sjöstad

Leaving Hammarby Sjöstad on afeathery*nest  |

Much as we loved our home along the waterfront south of the city in Hammarby Sjöstad, we had to leave it this weekend when our six-month sublet was up. Extending it wasn't possible, unfortunately, and as we found out right before our trip to Spain, there wasn't enough time to find something else (although even if there had been time, we probably wouldn't have been able to find anything worthwhile in the current market). So, we would have effectively been homeless come November 1st if not for my in-laws welcoming us into their home, where we've now moved, for the next however-long period.

But first we had to deal with the boxes that arrived from NYC this summer and have since been stacked in their guest room—our future bedroom. So we rented a storage unit last week and moved them all out so we could prepare to move in. Before loading them up, though, I opened a few and finally swapped out the clothes we brought over on the plane with us seven months ago (all of which I was already sick of this summer). Snipping off that packing tape felt as good as untying a prettily-wrapped bow on a present. I never knew I'd be so happy to see a well-worn cardigan!

(I also took advantage of the scissors sitting ever-so-conveniently close to the piles of boxes to dig into my shipped-over stash of yarn as I'm unbelievably, seriously, without-a-doubt so very tired of knitting with cream!)

Leaving Hammarby Sjöstad on afeathery*nest  |

It already feels different to be living here in the heart of the city (Vasastan, to be precise), after the last six months among the industrial glass and concrete beauty of the low-rise buildings along Stockholm's southern canals. Now instead of the cool elegance of the south we're surrounded by the stately splendor of the north. Pastel buildings with cream trim and scrolled details, onion-domed rooftops flanked by regal towers, and wrought-iron fences beyond which sit grand front entrances are what make up our new surroundings.

As the year winds down I'm so looking forward to seeing this part of the city, Stockholm proper, decked out for Christmas. And now that the skies are already darkening by 4PM I've begun to yearn for the Scandinavian tradition of windows lit up with candles and glowing red-paper Christmas stars that light the walk home—the charm (and benefit!) of which I remember so well from end-of-year vacations here in years past. Unlike in the U.S., though, where Halloween decorations come out in August and Christmas ones in October, I doubt I'll see any of that until December 1st.

But most of all, I think it will be cozy as can be to spend the last weeks of the year with family (including R's brother, who will be coming up from Sicily next month for a few weeks)—sharing all those in-between moments, lighting candles before breakfast, sitting around the living room each doing our own thing but doing it together, lingering with full bellies at the table after dinner without having to rush out to catch a bus, and so on.

Leaving Hammarby Sjöstad on afeathery*nest  |

No doubt my Swedish will improve living amongst two born-and-bred Swedes and two Swedish-mother-language-speaking Italians, too!

(I hope!)

One year ago: Easing into winter