Saturday, December 14, 2019

Madrid, Part 1

And so another adventure began.

When I started my new career back in March, I knew that I'd be working with our international clients. From the start, there was a part of me that hoped the position would involve some sort of travel - anywhere, frankly - and I was so excited when I found out it would be a possibility within the first year. But I never thought that I'd actually be planning a trip just a few months later - to Spain, of all places. As a major aspect of my job is working closely with manufacturing facilities, part of the first year expectation is that new employees will do a "Shadow Audit" - a trip to accompany an auditor on a three-day audit of one of their clients.

After many meetings with my manager and several hours spent working out how I could stay on budget, it was decided that I would go to Barcelona for my shadow audit in November. The following months flew by, full of planning and excitement and high hopes that everything would work out. I decided to take PTO on the days surrounding the audit so that I could take full advantage of the trip to Spain (my first), visiting Madrid in addition to Barcelona. I'd wanted to visit Madrid since 2014, when I worked in the office in Dublin with other interns from all over the globe (one of which was a gal from Madrid). We'd gotten to be friends, and after having visited other interns in both Ohlstadt, Germany and Salzburg, Austria, Madrid was on my list. Things were going quite well until just two weeks before the audit, when I started seeing the news stories; Barcelona was facing political riots and everything from Molotov cocktails to rubber bullets were being exchanged between law enforcement and rioters. What had started as a peaceful protest by the Catalonian separatists had evolved into a political disaster. Surely the Shadow Audit is going to be cancelled with all that going on. It was nearing mid-October and my flight to Madrid was on the 30th. I would spend five days there, then take a train to Barcelona for the audit. I waited for the cancellation email from our auditing team, but it never came. 

With some luck, the riots subsided just days before the trip. Before I knew it, I was loading my bag into Uber Driver Sonny's car and on my way to the airport. The excitement of walking into an airport - something I'd already done three times over the summer - seriously never gets old! Security moved quickly, and at 4:35pm I was boarding the plane. I was on my way to Spain!

The flight was nearly eight hours long, and after a short layover in Amsterdam (note to self: come back and visit), the plane landed in Madrid. It was 10:00am by the time I'd navigated to ground transportation, soon climbing into another Uber on the way to my Airbnb. I asked the driver to drop me off at a little bookshop-cafe called La Fugitiva, which was right around the corner from where I'd be staying, then watched in awe as the buildings grew taller and streets grew narrower the closer we got. Madrid had a very Diagon Alley-like feel to it, with shop titles in gold lettering above faded awnings, bakeries left and right, and bookstores with titles stacked floor-to-ceiling against the dark windows. We pulled up to La Fugitiva, and I thanked the driver as I climbed out of the car. Inside the bookstore, I briefly looked around at the titles before buying a coffee and heading off to my Airbnb. The host met me at the heavy, iron front door and gave me a tour, a map, and a set of keys. As I looked around, I was so thankful I'd decided to stay there instead of a hotel. It was clean, but full of neat accents and knick-knacks. Car horns and street chatter could be heard from the street below, and plenty of natural light filled the space. I fell in love with the place instantly:
I didn't exactly have a plan for the first few hours in Madrid. As with most trips I've taken, I'd already picked out several places I wanted to visit (museums, cafes, restaurants, historical sights, cultural "hot spots", etc.) and would take a 'Hop On Hop Off" bus at some point to see if anything else sparked my interest. The only plan I had in mind for the first day was to meet with Javi, a friend of my German friend, Cleo's. When I first started planning the trip, Cleo thought she might be able to meet me in Madrid and told me she had a friend living there. They'd met during her year studying abroad in China, and she hadn't yet had the opportunity to visit him in Spain. Unfortunately, her university schedule didn't permit her to come, so I met with Javi instead. Why not?

After a few hours of roaming Madrid, Javi and I planned to meet in Plaza de la Independencia (thank goodness for free wifi and WhatsApp). We met shortly after 7:00pm and he greeted me with a hug. It was an odd feeling to be meeting someone for the very first time when you'd been told so much about them. From everything Cleo had said, and how well I know her, it almost felt like I knew him already too, by extension. Javi and I walked through the streets of Madrid, talking about Cleo and how we knew her, what we both did for work, his recommendations for me to see in Madrid (and the places to avoid), and some of the architectural marvels of the city. (I should've known architecture was a major focus of his - that's what Cleo had studied in China, too.) He pointed out an architectural museum made from an old car factory with a vertical garden in front and an entire support structure balancing on 3 points instead of 4 (which is significant in most buildings...apparently). I learned so much!
We met up with his friend Miguel at the Museo de la Reina Sofia, and Javi pointed out more architectural aspects of buildings as we went. The three of us decided to go for tapas, and found a place serving something called "Alhambra" beer. It was a special Spanish beer from southern Spain, and the guys insisted I try it. There was a special tapas menu that only cost €1,00 with the purchase of a beer, so we bought three and chose our tapas: a sort of fried eggplant covered in sweet honey sauce, some kind of fried fish bites, and huevos rotos con papas fritas - fried potatoes with eggs on top. The beer was crisp and refreshing, and the food was phenomenal. For my first tapas, it was above and beyond my expectations!
The more we ate and drank, the more animated our stories became. Javi told stories of his travels to Boston and Korea. I shared stories of Greece and Germany. We laughed, we joked, and while I thought we were being loud, it was nothing to the noise around us. We decided to head out once the place because too crowded, and walked through the rain until we found the metro. Miguel had somewhere to be, so we said good-bye and made our way to the platform. From wherever we were to Arg├╝elles Station, I could feel my eyes growing heavier and heavier with each stop. It had been such a busy day, but Javi insisted there were still more friends to meet. When we got to their station, two tall, thin boys with dark, curly hair and skeleton makeup greeted us. I had to do a double-take: they were wearing white contacts, which looked incredibly creepy and popped out given the amount of black eye makeup they were wearing. The two were getting ready for a Halloween party ("...or a Todos los Santos party, or a Dia de los Muertos party," they told me - it didn't seem to matter which) and tried to convince Javi and me to accompany them. We stayed at their apartment for a short while, watching as they added makeup and smoked hand-rolled cigarettes, but were just too tired to go with them to the party. When they left, we headed with them to go back to the metro. 

The two Skeleton boys got off a few stations ahead of Javi, and when it was his turn to leave we hugged good-bye. The entire evening had been such a blur (and not just because of the Alhambra). I was so exhausted by the time I reached my station, I'd forgotten the directions Javi had given me to find the Airbnb. In fact, I had to stop into a Carrefour (a small grocery store) for wifi, and looked up directions on my phone. Just as I pulled up the map, my brother video called me from Michigan. He and his wife, their son, my sister and her family, and my parents were all together for Halloween, so I walked around the store talking to them as I picked up a few random groceries. Even though they were five hours behind and 3,943 miles away, I thought it was pretty neat that I could still wish them a Happy Halloween. Technology, how did we ever survive without you?

After we hung up, I took a screenshot of the map and easily found my way back to the Airbnb. As I walked, I saw several people with their faces painted like skeletons; some even dressed in black clothing with painted or sewn-on bones. They shouted to each other in Spanish, and I picked up a few "Vale!" and "Cerveza!"s from their slurs. It had been such a fun evening and the atmosphere in the streets as I walked home was just the cherry on top. I found the heavy, iron door in no time and made my way inside. Day one in Madrid: an absolute success. And I couldn't wait to see what the next several days would have in store!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

2019

There are no words to properly describe how strange it is to sit down and write a blog post after what has been this past year. The last time I sat down to publish a post was on January 20; 304 days ago. I was living in a different city, with a different job, a different car, different friends, a different hair color even, and was completely unaware of the whirlwind coming that would be my 2019. I suppose you never see it coming until you find your entire world has changed.
Between the time I sat down to write my last post, thinking that I would be filling blogs with cute anecdotes about my new bunny Toulouse, and sitting here now, in an apartment exactly 42.3 miles in a different direction, there have been more twists and turns than I could have ever imagined.

In February, I got a job offer for an incredible position at a new company. I'd had several interviews since December, including checks for foreign language competency (French and Spanish), and the position just seemed too good to be true. I'd be working with international clients in the public health field, and there would be potential to use these foreign languages in my day-to-day. I cried when I got the phone call. Like, actual tears and a frantically excited phone call to my mother from the bathroom of my old job. My start date was March 4, and I couldn't be happier.

In March, in addition to starting this new position, I met some of the best friends I've had in years. I knew it within my first few weeks of work. I had instant chemistry with another new hire, and she and I are now incredibly close (and did I mention we're roommates?). It's truly an office of close relationships and support, and while it's only been 9 months since I started I feel like I've known them all for years. I also had to say good-bye to my little Chevy Cobalt on March, my reliable steed for the past 10 years. If I could have had the exact same car but new, I would have. Instead, I bought my mother's car - a bright purple Spark that I liken to a gumdrop. Not my first choice, but it gets great gas mileage, is a stick shift, and you''re definitely easy to find in a parking lot.
Oktoberfest with the roomie
My Gumdrop
April brought Easter, and I took a long weekend to meet a friend from college in Chicago. I drove the little Gumdrop 4 hours to what was truly an eye-opening trip - frankly a bit rough trying to maintain a friendship when we'd clearly grown so different - but I still love the city and explored to my heart's content. It was the first time I'd been to Chicago since December, and it felt like a completely different city. I suppose that's the beauty of big cities though: you can always go back and have a completely new experience.

The next few months just melted together. My family from Germany came to visit, the first time they'd ever been to Michigan, and my mom had a wonderful, truly America Memorial Day cookout for them. I turned 26 (eeeeesh), met more friends both in and out of work, and started looking for an apartment closer to my wonderful new place of employment. The other new hire and I both found ourselves looking for roommates and decided to live together, and had a move-in date at the end of August. It was beginning to turn into a very exciting summer, what with all these new friends, reconnecting with a friend from high school, and planning a trip over the 4th of July to meet my best friend from Germany in New York City. And then, near the end of June, everything changed.
Urbanrest Brewing with my Germans
Our fam
I'll never forget my mom's phone call one night, telling me my 13-month-old nephew was in the hospital. He was lethargic, or dehydrated, or something - they weren't really sure - and my sister-in-law took him to the hospital immediately. Within two days he was on life support, and then he was gone. It was such a shock to our entire family. Hadn't he just been playing? Hadn't I just seen him giggling at his first birthday party? Apparently there had been a serious blood infection, multiple cardiac arrests, and a lack of oxygen to the brain and lungs causing irreversible damage. He was put on life support, but it wasn't enough. On June 13, 2019, Owen was gone. His organs were donated, there was a beautiful funeral, and my brother and sister-in-law somehow managed to carry on. Their strength continues to impress me. 

And they found out around that time that they're expecting...twins!

I disappeared into travelling over the following months - one week in New York City with my best friend Kristina (the one from Germany), the following weekend with a friend from high school in Washington D.C., a trip up to the U.P. with my roommate and best friend here in Michigan for adventuring and tattoos (a blue rose petal for Owen, of course), and planning a trip over Labor Day with another friend from work to Austin, Texas. Life just blurred. Not to mention at the same time, one of my coworkers and closest friends at work had published multiple books and was starting to help me work towards publishing my own. And then I got a new bunny and had to take Toulouse back to the Humane Society. I didn't even feel like I was in the driver's seat: life was just happening and I was experiencing it as it came. 
Central Park with Kristina
Petoskey with Roomie
New ink at Solomon's 
Austin, Texas with the lovely Jen
In October, my oldest brother and his wife welcomed their second child (and first son) into the world - Harold Maximilian (Max) - and my sister and her husband moved forward with the decision to adopt. I was planning a trip to Barcelona with work, and it turned into a 10-day plan including Madrid and friends from my internship in Dublin 5 years ago . You guys, I really don't know when or how all of this happened. Between everything from this past summer and the exciting news of twins, new nephew, potential new niece/nephew, and publishing my first book, I couldn't tell you up from down. At some point there was a Halloween party at work. And just like that, I was boarding an airplane. Another incredible experience abroad, and yes, blogs will follow.
Barcelona
Madrid with my loves
So what now?

Well...I returned from Spain last Monday and have so much to share. Next Thursday (yes, Thanksgiving), I take off for Iowa to visit friends from when I lived in St. Ignace. The twins will arrive at some point, likely in December. And my book releases December 3rd! From my last post, just 304 days ago, to today, my life has completely changed in every way possible. I couldn't be happier. I couldn't feel more blessed. And I couldn't be more excited to share it all with you!

Thanks for stopping by! And welcome back.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Nino Salvaggio

Over the last several months, I've spent quite a bit of time exploring. Every since I moved down to metro Detroit from Michigan's UP, I've thoroughly enjoyed checking out local spots: cafes, restaurants, pubs, produce markets, breweries...you get the idea. It seems there's always something new and exciting to find in town, or at the very least a short drive away. What's more, most places offer plenty of vegan/vegetarian options. It's been quite a change from life in the UP! So you can imagine my excitement when a brand new market came to town: Nino Salvaggio. A new location opened last week in Bloomfield Hills, MI - just minutes from my apartment. And despite the fact that we have a Meijer, Plum Market, Kroger, Target, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and Aldi right within a 10-mile radius, everyone was excited for its Grand Opening. So last Saturday, I grabbed my burlap shopping bags and headed off to check it out.
As you know, last July I made the decision to go fully vegan. It wasn't a terribly difficult decision to make, given that I've been vegetarian for several years. But I've found that this time around, I've been much more adventurous: not only with things I'm willing to try (seitan bacon, coconut milk ice cream, acai bowls, etc.) but also with how strict I've been. I actually had a great conversation with my sister over the holidays and we concluded that diet labels are ridiculous. "Keto, Paleo, Vegan, Pescatarian, Vegetarian," etc. have been blown out of proportion, and if you claim to be one or the other and dare to mess up, well....then you can't possibly be keto/paleo/vegan/etc. We've set ourselves up for failure here. And while yes, there are certain dietary restrictions that need to be followed for health reasons (dairy free for the lactose intolerant, gluten-free for the gluten intolerant, etc.), here's the truth: we're all human. We're going to slip. We're going to need exceptions to make it work for us. And when we've labeled ourselves as one thing or another, having something that doesn't fall under our "diet" feels like cheating. It feels like we've failed.

Well I'll be honest: I'm not 100% vegan. The holidays were difficult, and I had some breakfast bakes (which included eggs and likely cream) and a few homemade chocolate truffles. Of course I still care about humane practices in animal agriculture and the hormones they add to what animals are fed, etc. etc., but I also care about my family and not making every get-together awkward and uncomfortable. So...I "cheated". But you know what? I've found a pretty great balance. (After all, that's what life is all about, isn't it?) Rather than stick a hard label on it, I'd just say "plant-based", because while I'll never eat meat again (don't get me started), I will eat eggs or Greek yogurt on occasion. But I'd prefer not to have dairy like milk, cheese, etc., so I can't really call myself a vegetarian either. So....let's just stop with the labels, friends! Whatever you call yourself - whatever I call myself - its safe to say that you're going to love this new market. Nino Salvaggio caters to every diet; it's a market of the world, for the world.
I've only been to two other Nino Salvaggio's in my life and admittedly its been a few years, but I was truly impressed. Walking in for the very first time, I was overwhelmed. There was a flower shop, a cafe, and a catering service all just inside the door. Then there was the actual market itself: loads of fresh produce at a fraction of the cost of other major grocery stores. Zucchini: $0.99/lb. Avocado: 2/$1.00. I was blown away. And then I saw the olive bar (the photo above is maybe 1/4 of the total spread) and my heart melted. And then, dear friends, I turned around and saw the cave:
There were literally wines from every country - from every region of every country - both room temperature and chilled. I was absolutely delighted, and walked around browsing for a bit before someone shattered a bottle nearby and the clean-up crew flocked to soak up the mess. I thought I might head out to buy my produce and leave, but there was so much more to see. Down each of the aisles were your standard products - soup, pasta sauce, snacks, etc. - mingled in with products I've only ever seen at Whole Foods or online at Thrive Market. Nino Salvaggio actually carries TVP! And then I saw the tea and coffee aisle...
Oh the excitement! Naturally I had to buy a box of TeeKanne. When I visited Kristina and Theresa after my college graduation, I fell in love with TeeKanne and their very unique tea blends, particularly the Mixed Berry blend and the Apfeltee. I couldn't have been more delighted to see it on the shelves at Nino's and immediately put a box in my cart. I will be back for more!

Facing the aisles of groceries was a massive baked goods section, including (but not limited to) cupcakes, cakes, pastries, donuts, bagels, artisan loaves of bread, baguettes, pita, breadsticks, and to my surprise, free samples. I mulled around munching on a slice of baguette before choosing a giant loaf of sourdough to take home with me (it reminded me entirely of Marks & Spencer in Dublin). They had bread for everyone: regular, vegan, gluten-free, egg-free...did I mention this place felt like heaven?

Oh, and for those who need something other than wine to accompany their bread...there was cheese:

 (Feta...the very hardest thing about being mostly vegan!)
Now. This particular Nino Salvaggio is in the same plaza as my Trader Joe's. I'll be honest: I was worried when I learned they were opening that it would be bad for business for TJ's. They're both great stores with great prices. They both cater to diets of all kinds. But I will say: they complement each other nicely. Nino Salvaggio wins when it comes to prices for "by-the-lb" produce and overall variety. But I still had to run in to Trader Joe's for a few "by-the-item" pieces of produce and unique items like Jackfruit and beet hummus. It's a win-win-win. 

For dairy-lovers, they have a wide variety cheeses (obviously), milks (both regular and non-dairy), cream cheese and sour cream, eggs, and yogurt. For those who prefer to eat Kosher, they have an entire aisle. For those who love frozen goods from hamburgers or fruit for smoothies, they have you covered. And for meat eaters, Nino Salvaggio is a great place to go. They had everything from London broil to stuffed sole, a sushi station, and a great "by-the-lb" deli. And while I don't eat fish or support mass fishing in the oceans, I'll give them a nod for their impressive fish display. Because who isn't entertained by a shark with a lobster in its mouth?
I made it out of Nino's with two avocados, a box of tea, a bag of TVP, a loaf of sourdough, and some dehydrated apples (because they're amazing, am I right?). I spent far less than I was expecting to, given Nino Salvaggio is known for being a high-end market. Overall it was a great experience: excellent quality, excellent prices, and yummy samples. And if you're like me and enjoy spending an afternoon lulling about in a supermarket, I would highly recommend paying them a visit. 

Between Meijer, Plum Market, Kroger, Target, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Aldi, and now Ninos Salvaggio, I'll likely never have to venture far for groceries. I'll also likely never have adequate room in my wallet again given the amount of membership cards I've amassed. (I would narrow them down, but I know the deals: produce is cheapest at Nino's, Kombucha is cheapest at TJ's, Target and Meijer have coupon apps, etc.) What can I say, I like my grocery stores! So no matter what your diet - no matter what your food or moral preferences  or food intolerances are - Nino Salvaggio can undoubtedly cater to your needs. 

If you decide to check it out, let me know! I'd love to hear what you think of their new Bloomfield Hills location and any products you'd recommend. Simply leave a comment down below!

***This post is not sponsored in any way and does not contain any affiliate links. Any opinions expressed are entirely mine and mine alone. Just sharing because I truly enjoyed my first experience at a great new market!***

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