Barcelona, Slowly

tibidabobodega del poblet mirrorThe first time I went to Barcelona I arrived with a long list of things to see and do. I had done a fair amount of research, and had just read “The Shadow of the Wind” so was itching to wander through the Gothic quarter to find the landmarks described in the eerie novel. I’m not even close to organized most of the time, but I like to travel with a skeleton of a plan. It was a wonderful trip, but jam packed.barcelona's zebrasbarcelonetaguelleveningThis second trip was more relaxed. I was joining friends from Huelva who had plans to visit the city, so I followed their schedule and left the guidebooks at home. We walked a lot — admired Gaudi’s handiwork, wandered without a destination, napped on the beach, and explored side streets. I went for an early morning run down Avinguda Diagonal while the streets were still being cleaned and before the rest of the city was caffeinated. We climbed for views, and cooked in our hostel with Beyoncé blaring. Found sunsets and drank in a bar where the only light came from twinkling Christmas lights when their power went out.beautifulbarcelona We ate the best tostadas in a quiet sunny plaza in the old Jewish quarter…tostada

Gorged on tapas at a little family owned restaurant, Bodega del Poblet. Which, miraculously, is only steps away from La Sagrada Familia and was still very “authentic” — picture our server yelling to the back of the restaurant, “Mama. Mamaaa!” to find out if food was coming, and the owner slicing meat just oustide the washrooms…it was great.bodegadelpobletAnd finally, after a several different impressive tapas at Bar del Pla, I had a dessert called simply “El chocolate” (THE chocolate) that lived up to its name and then some. bar del plaIt’s a city worth savouring.
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Diez días

20140416-143930.jpg 20140416-144831.jpg20140416-144838.jpgFrom Madrid, then south to Andalucía, and back up to Barcelona, it has been a sunny and wonderful whirlwind in España. After a bit of an unfortunate start to the trip, my ten days in Spain were like a dream.

It almost seemed surreal to be traveling through cities that became familiar during my time in Spain last year. Having been to all the cities before, the pace was more relaxed as I didn’t arrive with a checklist of things I wanted to see (but I did have a bucketlist of Spanish food that I needed back in my life!). More than anything, this trip was about the people. It was such a blast to travel with the friends I met last year in Huelva (and some cool new amigos), and to all be in one place again. (Muchísimas gracias to all my travel buddies and wonderful hostesses…you are all fantastic.)

As usual, I’m leaving Spain already fantasizing about my next visit, but for now it’s off to somewhere new…
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Hasta luego, Huelva [Muchas gracias]

20130605-172512.jpgAnd so, just like that, eight months flew by. 20130605-172831.jpgI’m having a hard time avoiding clichés to describe how much I loved this past year (“time flies/it was the experience of a lifetime/unforgettable!”); the little adventure I wanted abroad surpassed all my expectations.20130605-173127.jpgThe last week or so was filled with despedidas, farewells and parties with my students, colleagues and friends. Every time we went somewhere we were aware that it was our last time (at least for now!). (Sidenote! one of the great things about living in Huelva is that it is actually financially feasible to eat lovely tapas on lovely terraces with lovely drinks everyday for a week…) Days at the beach, cocktails at sunset, dancing til sunrise; it was crazy, sleep deprived, and a perfect series of fiestas to say goodbye (for now!).20130605-222909.jpg20130605-222600.jpgHuelva quickly became a second home, and it was sad to leave. My wonderful amigos woke up early with me to have one last café con leche together and see me off (I almost made it onto the bus without any tears!). Like anything, the people make all the difference, and I feel so incredibly lucky to have met the friends I did.20130605-223334.jpgSigh. So this year saw me grow up a whole lot (I think!), and I’m leaving Huelva a little wiser, a little more confident in my adventurer abilities, with so many great friends, memories, muchísimas ganas to come back to España, a perma-smile and a happy heart.
20130605-223845.jpg20130605-223824.jpgAnd so, eight months flew by, and I couldn’t have asked for a better time. Muchas gracias to all my guiri friends and la buena gente española in Huelva for the chulo-est time, to all my friends and family back home for the love and support I could always count on across the ocean, everyone I traveled with along the way, and to you for following along. Now, I’m taking a scenic route back to Canada…the European fun isn’t quite over!
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Melancholic Mung Bean Monday [mung bean salad with roasted hazelnuts]

20130527-205206.jpg20130527-204908.jpgOur water heater has been broken for much too long (and our landlady has been terrible), so that doesn’t help anyone’s mood in our apartment. But the melancholy Monday came because change kind of freaks me out (and I sometimes think in alliterations). The first time I realized this was when I was graduating from high school (which was my super cozy comfort zone at the time)– I was excited about graduating and the “next chapter” of our lives, but I woke up a few days after prom and just felt a little mopey and unsure about life. Since then, like many young twenty something’s I’m sure (I hope), there’s been a ton of little bouts of uncertainty. Sometimes this spirals into a mini-existential crisis party for one. “What am I doing?” “Did I pick the wrong university program?” “Why are boys silly?” “Where am I going?” “Why can’t I just get all the skin off these hazelnuts?!”– you know, life’s typical big questions at my age.20130527-205150.jpgI leave Huelva in a week. We had a great weekend, but I woke up this morning feeling slightly hungover from all the fun (not the alcohol, mum). It was that same melancholy feeling I had after high school. I’ll soon be leaving this little city in which I was once so homesick (and now love, of course). But more importantly, I’ll be leaving the people I have seen almost every day for nine months –so you know, kind of like high school, right?20130527-205143.jpgLuckily, I’m usually pretty easy to cheer up. A few dances around my room, a quick run in the Spanish sun, packing with some TED talks in the background and I was ready to have some friends over for dinner. Unfortunately, along with that broken water heater, we have no gas for the stove, so cooking has to become slightly more creative. Thank goodness mung beans sprout on their own!20130527-204920.jpg

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La Feria de abril

20130425-003704.jpgRainbows of skirts, flowers, and snapping fans. Horses. Fiery flamenco and fried fish. Blazing sun, frosty rebujitos. Tradición. Welcome to la Feria de Abril de Sevilla! 20130425-010212.jpg20130425-010148.jpg20130425-010219.jpg With a week of singing, dancing, drinking and showing off your finest Sevillana moves (and outfits), la Feria de abril is just one giant party. The atmosphere was contagious and for me, seeing all the amazing flouncy skirts was reason enough to go! With horses and carriages taking over the streets, and everyone dressed in their traditional finery it felt like another era. To be honest, it all seemed a little bourgeois, but the feria de Abril in Sevilla certainly dresses to impress, and I loved it. Spain does it again!20130425-082111.jpg20130425-082118.jpg20130425-082128.jpg

Las Fallas de Valencia

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Despite a bout of conjunctivitis that was a real aguafiesta (party pooper), Las Fallas was an amazing thing to see. I already knew it to be true, but after experiencing Carnaval and then Las Fallas, it’s clear that Spain just really knows how to party. I’m impressed. (And, after seeing everyone from babies to grandparents partying it up late into the night it makes me wonder why this cant happen in city X, Y, or Z in North Amercia?!)

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20130328-013719.jpgEvery barrio makes their own mezcleta, larger than life figures traditionally made of papier mâché that are today made of some kind of plastic(?). The festival revolves around the judging of these amazing creations and their subsequent burning at “La Crema” (“The Cream”, which I wasn’t able to stay for), along with the amazing displays of fuegos artificiales — night and day. I’m still not too sure what the point of day time fireworks are; the noise is incredibly impressive on its own, and it certainly is something to see people put up umbrellas to shield themselves from the falling fireworks’ cinders, but it doesn’t really compare to the beautiful colours that fill the sky at night.
At night, everyone who is in Valencia during Las Fallas gathers in the streets to see the amazing display that seems to make the whole sky sparkle.

20130328-013832.jpgThen there are processions of “falleras” through the streets; men, women and children in traditional dress followed by marching bands. They bring flowers to the huge statue of La Virgen in one of the main plazas, La ofrenda. Over the course of Las Fallas, the statue is ‘flowered’, what seems like a time consuming process, but with gorgeous results. I was in awe.

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20130328-014044.jpgI was feeling pretty rotten, so I was really lucky to be traveling with a good friend (thank you, Matt!!) and staying with such considerate hosts (muchas gracias y obrigada Daniela y Marcelo!!). Marcelo made us breakfast every morning and Daniela showed me around the beautiful Ciudad de las ciencias y artes (the city of arts and sciences) and the old barrio Carmen. So, despite struggling through the celebrations at times, I am so grateful I was with such friendly people and am so glad I got to see this amazing festival. Spain knows how to party (por supuesto).

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Donde fueres, haz lo que vieres [Tarta de Santiago]

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Trying to keep up my amateur food blogging in my piso has its little difficulties: lack of equipment (building muscle and making me better at eyeballing!), unfamiliar grocery stores (you’ve gotta work with what you’ve got!), and lack of natural light in the apartment for my semi-decent photos/lack of time spent in said piso during daylight hours (you’ve got to make hay while the sun shines!)…but I think my quest to be more like an española in the kitchen got off to a good start.

Tarta de Santiago, “Cake of Saint-James”, has been eaten since the middle ages in Galicia and is traditionally decorated with the cross of Saint-James. I opted to dust mine with icing sugar and top it with sweet Andalucian strawberries that are just starting to be seen at the market.

This cake was much like the Andalucian Orange Almond Torte that I made last fall, minus the orange– only three main ingredients in this one, so it doesn’t get much easier! To practice my Spanish, I followed this recipe, but have copied it below in English for you.

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Tarta de Santiago
250 grams of ground almonds
250 grams of granulated sugar
5 large eggs
Zest of half a lemon (I used the zest of a whole lemon!)!’
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 tablespoon of icing sugar (for dusting)
butter for greasing the pan (I used sunflower oil)
one 22-cm diameter springform pan

Mix together the almonds, sugar, lemon zest and cinnamon. Mix in the eggs until well combined but don’t beat the eggs. Once the batter is smooth, pour into the greased pan and bake at 350F for 50 minutes or until the top is golden (if it starts to brown too much just cover the top with tin foil). To decorate the cake traditionally, you can print off the cross template from the Spanish re pie website; place your cross on the cake and top with icing sugar around it. Or, top with icing sugar and fruit; easy and delicious! Buen provecho!