I wasn’t expecting to travel very far this summer until my boyfriend came home from work one day in mid-June and asked if I wanted to watch a movie.
It seemed like a bit of a random suggestion—we usually just watch TV on weekday evenings rather than take the extra few minutes to get Netflix loaded—but I shrugged and nodded towards my laptop. “Sure. You pick.”
While he was presumably browsing Netflix, I continued scrolling through recipes on my phone, trying to think of what we could make for dinner that night. Suddenly he plopped the laptop in front of me, open to the Notes app.
I couldn’t believe what I was reading at first, but what he told me just then confirmed that it was true. He finally had gotten his long-overdue vacation time from work: two weeks of it, during which we would finally take our first trip to the US together.
Needless to say, we didn’t watch a movie that night. Instead, we spent the whole evening scouring Momondo and Skyscanner for not-terrible prices on a flight that was set to leave in 3 weeks (and that didn’t include a 24-hour layover). And sure enough, on July 9, we were off.
Summer travels, part 1: Ohio
I don’t exactly live in a tourist hotspot. When I tell people in Spain where I’m from, the most common reaction I get is them nodding and going “Ah, Ohio” while politely pretending to have heard of it. However, I definitely have a newfound appreciation for where I come from after so much time away. I was happy that I was able to give my boyfriend an “authentic” American experience for his first time in the US. We might not have seen Times Square or the Golden Gate Bridge, but we experienced life just as normal, everyday Americans do.
Westerville & Columbus
Most of our time was spent in central Ohio, where I grew up. First order of business: finding the perfect all-American hamburger. This was something that my boyfriend really wanted to do during the week and a half we spent in the US, and after trying three or four, he declared that his favorite was from none other than the Cheesecake Factory. (Which surprised me, because you normally think of them as being good for, y’know, cheesecake, but even my burger-loving brother said “Oh yeah, they have really good ones there” so what do I know).
Another noteworthy burger came in the form of this monstrosity at Thurman’s Cafe in German Village. Most Columbus-area folks have heard of their legendary Thurmanator—this was not that, but rather a scaled-down version of it with just one burger patty instead of two.
I’d had this whole plan to walk through Schiller Park and go get dessert at Pistacia Vera after eating lunch at Thurman’s but needless to say that did not happen due to the fact that we simply had no room left. (We did stop by and pick up some macarons to take home, though!)
As far as non-food-related things (I swear we did more than just eat burgers), we spent a good amount of time walking around Easton and Polaris, shopping in Uptown Westerville, and playing mini golf. (I lost all 3 times, in case you were wondering.) Our time spent at home made me more appreciative of where I come from, and I’m thankful that I had the chance to spend some time there after so long, revisiting my favorite places and discovering new spots I had never visited before.
A trip to Ohio wouldn’t have been complete without heading down to show off my authentic American college campus (home to “the houses with the letters on them,” as my boyfriend asked me about shortly after we started dating). After spending a fun morning with my group of college friends and mourning the loss of our old dorm building, which was torn down within the past year, we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening exploring the rest of campus and the idyllic college town of Athens, Ohio.
We also spent a day up in Cleveland visiting some of my relatives and spending some time downtown. I spent the summer before I moved to Spain interning in the city’s beautiful landmark building, Terminal Tower, and as I walked back inside for the first time in three years, it felt as if I’d never left. Plus, it was nice to finally see Public Square not under construction (as it was the whole summer I worked next to it).
By the time we flew back to Spain on July 20, I was feeling bittersweet about the whole experience. I did miss Spain, but I had been having a much better time than I ever expected. (Seriously, if you’d told me three years ago that one day I’d be going back to Ohio on vacation from living in Europe, I would have laughed at you.) And one of the best parts? We had no problems speaking Spanish out in public.
Summer travels, part 2: Iberia
Living overseas means not getting to see my family nearly as often as I would like. It’s a fact of life. However, my mom and brother had been planning on a summer visit to Spain since late February, when my mom snagged an unbelievable airfare deal. Our semi-last minute trip to the US in July together with their trip out here in August meant that I’d be spending more time with my family in the span of a month than I had in the three years total I’ve lived in Spain.
I’ve been to Madrid probably over a dozen times now, and it’s a city I always love taking the opportunity to visit. It’s also home to the airport my family members always fly into when they come visit. (Cordoba, meanwhile, does have an airport, but it’s just…not open. At least not currently, for commercial flights, though there’s talk of that changing.)
My mom and brother had also been to Madrid before when they came to visit two years ago. This time, we spent one day in the city after they arrived and had some fun getting off the beaten path a little bit. We went to La Gatoteca (because c’mon, cats) and the formerly abandoned Chamberí metro station, which has been restored to look as it did back in the 1920s.
When it was time for them to head home, the three of us went back to Madrid a day before their flight. As someone who works for a food tour company, my goal was to take them along on one of our experiences while they were here. I was so happy to give them the opportunity to tag along on the Tapas Like a Local Tour by Devour Madrid. What I love about Devour is that our experiences take you into places you never would have found on your own, but that locals rave about (and in many cases, have been frequenting for generations). What could be better than supporting local family businesses while eating your weight in tapas? (Nothing!)
My boyfriend met us in Madrid the day my family arrived. The next day, we headed off to a city none of the four us had been to before. The ancient town of Toledo is just half an hour away from Madrid on the high speed train. Like Cordoba, it’s famous for being a “city of three cultures,” meaning that Muslims, Jews and Christians all played an important role in its history.
What nobody told us about Toledo is that the entire town is basically built on a series of hills, which would have been nice to know before we found ourselves rolling four suitcases of varying sizes along the steep cobblestone streets in 90-degree weather.
Our first stop was the cathedral, one of the most impressive in the world, before we hiked up yet another hill to get to the Alcázar. Originally built as a Roman palace and restored during the Renaissance, the foreboding structure is easily the most recognizable symbol of Toledo. Today, it houses an interesting military museum.
Later in the evening, we walked across the bridge and continued along the river to Mirador del Valle. This beautiful lookout spot provides one of the best views of the entire city. It took us about 45 minutes to get there from our hotel in the Jewish quarter, but wasn’t a bad walk (mostly flat, with the exception of one hill shortly after crossing the bridge) and made for a nice evening stroll.
I know, I live here, so technically it shouldn’t count as a place I “traveled” to. However, I do want to mention the beautiful Viana Palace, which I visited for the first time while my mom and brother were here. The gorgeous palace is home to a dozen of Cordoba’s iconic floral patios, making it a must-visit if you can’t make it to town during the city’s famous patio festival in the spring. The palace itself, once home to a noble family, is also quite fascinating.
Like Madrid, Seville is a city I will never get tired of visiting. Ever since I went for the first time back in 2016, I always look forward to returning. My mom and brother had never been, so this time we did the typical tourist itinerary: cathedral, Plaza de España, top of the Setas, and so on. And of course, since one of my favorite things about Seville is the food, I took them to two of my favorite modern tapas places in the city for lunch and dinner: La Chunga and Azotea, respectively, with a well-deserved ice cream break at Fiorentina.
After spending a sunny Friday in Seville, we hopped on a bus and made our way to the beachside town of Faro, Portugal. Faro is the capital of Portugal’s famous Algarve region, with gorgeous beaches dotting the entire southern coast of the country.
Despite having lived in next-door neighbor Spain for nearly three years, it was my first foray into Portuguese territory. No, we didn’t immerse ourselves deeply into the local culture (although I would love to return to Portugal someday and do just that). We just spent a nice, relaxing day at the beach, which is sometimes all you need.