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Top ten steps to a perfect vacation?

Bwahahaha! Like I’d know? When we decided to go to Spain for the summer, I made a list of the things I’d do on my perfect holiday. (You know the drill: beach, concerts, sailing, museums, great restaurants, shopping, fabulous local celebrations…) Then I threw it away because this trip was a NOT-vacation. It was a workation, a last-ditch effort to finish writing my very delayed book-in-process and make a start on the next one.

But as we got ready to come back to Scotland, I realized that somehow I’d had a holiday anyway.

IMG_2752Instead of lolling on the beach, we took dips in our landlords’ pool in the early evenings, or just sat next to it watching as the birds swooped down to scoop bugs from the water, or (if we sat there long enough), to see the bats do the same.

IMG_20150710_165149Instead of sailing, we took a ferry down to Spain. Once there, we took the dog to the river and threw her ball for her to swim out. If we didn’t throw it far enough, she would swim across the river before turning around to bring it back, carefully circling around the other swimmers floating lazily in the sun.

Instead of concerts, we listened to the water that had once powered the old mill, and bells on the cows as they wandered just outside the walls of our house. In town, we’d hear the bells from the church ringing the hour across the plaza.

IMG_2731Instead of designer shopping, I prowled the weekly local outdoor market, getting a dress for my daughter, and a beautiful wooden bowl for myself.

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Salamanca, Cathedral

Instead of museums, we were living in a part of local history, a mill that had been in our landlord’s family since the early 1800s, and which still contains the beautiful milling equipment. I visited the thirteenth century church, saw the medieval walls of Avila, and laughed with two hilarious Australian gentlemen outside the incredible twinned Cathedral of Salamanca.


Instead of michelin-starred restaurants, we ate food from the local artisans who sold bread, meat, fruits, and fish. We sat at outdoor tables drinking regional wine or cerveza (beer) in Piedrahita, in Avila, and in Salamanca as the sun went down and the plazas filled with grandparents pushing strollers, kids running and laughing, friends and families chatting about the events of the day.

Chef at La Hueveria del Ganso, Piedrahita, Spain

Chef at La Hueveria del Ganso, Piedrahita, Spain

At one local restaurant, La Hueveria Del Ganso (The Goose Egg), the chef stopped by our table to apologize that they couldn’t make their signature goose egg dishes because in the August heat, the birds weren’t laying. (Side note: at a later dinner with local friends, we were told that they had given some of their surplus geese to the restaurant with the promise that they would be treated as pets, and indeed on subsequent visits were happy to see that this was the case!)

La Hueveria del Ganso terrace [photo credit: TripAdvisor]

La Hueveria del Ganso terrace [photo credit: TripAdvisor]

La Hueveria del Ganso (goose egg)--Star performer and friend [photo credit: TripAdvisor]

La Hueveria del Ganso (goose egg)–Star performer and friend
[photo credit: TripAdvisor]

And it all worked. The book was finished and sent off to the publishers, the new book well underway. Thanks to our fabulous landlords, the dog and I brushed up on our Spanish. And thanks to the wonderful food stores, I developed a serious case of knife envy.

¿Te gustaría que los filetes?

Okay, I admit it. When Marissa in her beautiful carnicería (butcher shop) asked me if I wanted the chicken filleted, I hesitated. Surely that was something I could do myself? But I just nodded, and then watched in amazement as her sword (it was really way too big to be called a knife) danced along the chicken, while thin pieces fell into elegant slices. A moment later, the beef wafted into a layered stack ready for sandwich steaks. Could I have done it myself? Perhaps. And still ended up with the number of fingers I started with? Unlikely.

And she wasn’t alone. The pescadero (fishmonger) chatted while he hefted the huge fish (head still in the tray so that customers could verify the bright eyes and gills of the freshest possible offerings). Scales and fins disappeared, the tray was scraped, and then his knife skipped along the center, bones lifting away. Of course, I could have done it myself. About the time that fish head could fly…

At the panadería (bakery), I already knew the loaves would be fabulous because Luis tooted the horn of his van in the driveway every day around noon and I could get them straight out of the oven. They’d be still warm, and so good sometimes the dog and I had to eat bits as we carried them inside.

After about a day, I gave up any pretense of trying to do this stuff myself, and gratefully took the beautifully sliced, filleted, and cut up food they offered. I enjoyed the sun blazing down so hot and fierce that clothes were dry almost as soon as they were on the line, especially because I could write inside the two-foot thick coolness of the old mill’s stone walls. And I especially loved hearing our landlords tell me about the local history and people. For someone like me—American and writer—having stories start with “Three hundred years ago…” is like winning the vacation lottery.

I can’t wait for my next workation!

Iglesia de la Asuncion, 13th century, Piedrahita, Spain

Iglesia de la Asuncion, 13th century, Piedrahita, Spain

So how about you? What was the best thing you did NOT do on your last trip?