Tuesday, November 2, 2010

High Tea, Transvestites in Australia and a Pleather Jacket

I just got back from London and it was so refreshing. It was nice, first off, to speak english, all the time, to everyone. I could ask for help from anyone at anytime...what a relief. It was also nice to be taken care of, to have Taylor (Lunsford, I'm not referring to myself in third person) lead me throughout the city. I was so happy to simply follow along behind her goggling at clock towers, theaters and store windows.

It was an accomplishment to simply get to London by myself on Easy Jet, a somewhat sketchy airline. After walking out on to the tarmac (something that I never do) and an easy ride on the aptly named easy jet, I arrived in London Luton airport. I killed the time during my 55 minute bus ride in to London by listening to The Beatles and Kate Nash (the two most British groups I had on my Ipod) and was truly enchanted by the empty and dark London streets. It was amazing to me that at 1am the streets were quiet, in Barcelona, people don't even begin going out until 2am.

Taylor met me at my bus and we slowly made our way to her flat on the inefficient night busses. A brief stop at Star Kebab, an indian restaurant, for chips with curry finished the night and I QUICKLY fell asleep on the couch.

In the morning, we ventured to Hampton Court, on of Henry VIII's palaces. My excitement for the trip grew once I found out that there were not only costumed actors at the palace, but that we were also able to wear robes and join in on activities like a courtly dance class and a meeting with the queen and her advisors. After getting lost in a perfectly manicured bush maze, we stopped for a quick lunch of tomato soup and crusty bread. Mmm, what could be better on a chilly day than tomato soup in a royal garden.

That night I was able to visit Alex at her apartment which was, unfortunately, on the opposite side of the city. After riding on the most tightly packed subway you can imagine for 11 stops, I finally arrived. It was so fun to just hang out at Alex's apartment, we cooked a long and simplified version of chicken parmesan for dinner before heading out to some pubs for cider. The cider was wonderful, but the BEST was strawberry beer. Who would ever want to drink beer when cider exists? It blows my mind.

Saturday was quintessentially British. After pad thai for lunch, we headed downtown to see the sights. We made quick stops at everything I needed to see, including Buckingham, Big Ben, the Globe...and finished the afternoon with my favorite part of the trip, high tea.

The tea was in an old and slightly stuffy hotel, we were seated in the drawing room where small groups of ladies chatted and snacked. Our tea came with complementary champagne and from the time the champagne arrived, the fanciness never ended. I chose a black currant and hibiscus tea which was served in an adorable individual tea pot. We were also given a selection of sandwiches, scones, candied apples and pumpkin tarts. The food was amazing. I've always loved scones, but I feel that I can say I had never had a truly great scone until this tea. We slowly ate and drank until our bellies were full and tastebuds were exhausted.

We had some time to kill before heading to our musical, so we pit stopped at Harrods. Something that I didn't think I would be that impressed by was simply amazing. We turned the corner to find Harrods sparkling with tiny lights, but the exterior opulence was minimal compared to the floors of decadence inside. We wandered aimlessly from floor to floor admiring the vogue clothes, home goods and food, as well as the people who were able to buy them.

Our musical, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, was more extravagant than any show I've ever seen. It focuses on 3 transvestites as they journey across the desert in a bus named Priscilla. As you can imagine, the costumes were over the top in the very best way. Every song that you would expect to be sung, was, including I Will Survive. I can't imagine a more fun musical to attend!

My last day in London was filled with markets. We first went west to Portabello Street, a collection of antique vendors selling everything from magazines to fur coats. We left empty handed and headed to Camden Market, a gigantic intertwined maze of vendors. You can buy anything at Camden Market, from craftsman jewelry, to antique luggage to pleather jackets (which I purchased). You can and should also buy the trashiest of trashy chinese food. The asian woman lure you in with a sample and then give you a "special" price, which, if you're like me, you won't be able to pass up. Three pounds for a overfilled bowl of, well, whatever the woman decides to give you which could include, chicken, veggies, noodles and, my favorite, a sort of tempura fried dough ball. I ended the night with my 20 pound pleather jacket in hand (I worked the guy down from 35 pounds) and in severe need of fruit or some other healthy snack.

I adore London and absolutely can't wait to go back! I was sad to be home in Barcelona, but the weather today is sunny, my SeƱora fixed a wonderful dinner last night and I feel very European in my pleather jacket. I guess Barcelona isn't so bad.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Where is Andorra?

Today I went to Andorra, the tiny country nestled in the Pyrenees directly between France and Spain. I had, really, one main goal in visiting Andorra: get a passport stamp. My roommate had read online that the stamp is Andorra's Coat of Arms (neat!) and I wanted one. Since I started with this anecdote, you're probably assuming that I didn't get a stamp. If so, you're correct. Did you know that when you're traveling within EU countries you don't get you passport stamped! But worse, the office in Andorra that gives stamps and all of the post offices were closed because it was Sunday. I know, our planning wasn't very well though out.

However, there were two things that made up for my lack of a passport stamp:

Yes, that is a copper teapot in my hand. I bought that amazing, antique copper teapot at the same store that was selling this shirt:

There was pretty much nothing else to do in the quirky country of Andorra, so we ate a nice lunch and headed back on a bus to Barcelona about 4 hours after arriving.

Fish Heads

This week I was able to take a cooking class through my Food and Culture class. I was excited all week because, number one, I love cooking, and, number two, my teacher told us that we would be cooking something exotic. I was picturing fruit combinations with unheard of spices. Little did I know, that exotic meant sardines.


Come to find out, not all sardines are pickled in salt and oil. They were actually just small fish.

The cooking instructor eased us in to the idea of cooking sardines with a wonderfully tasty Romesco sauce, made from peppers, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, hazelnuts and almonds. Just when the room was filled with the wonderful Romesco smells, the teacher pulled out the slimy little full, eyes-in, scales-on fish.

It doesn't bother me to look at these gross little fish, but soon to find out, we would be doing a lot more than looking at them.

The teacher first showed us how to push our fingers backwards under the fish's scales to remove each and every fingernail-like, metallic scale. By this time I was starting to freak...I don't even touch the fish to give them to the dolphins at Sea World, much less descale a fish with my own hands.

But then came the kicker, the teacher nonchalantly explained how to push your fingers right in to the little fish's gills and squeeze until it's tiny head just pops off and its innards pour out. I was starting to sweat just watching her pinch of the fish head, but it wasn't over. You had to slide your finger in to the headless fish cavity and raise your hand up, splitting the fish down the center. Once it's open, you not only have to finish cleaning out the intestines, but you also have to break the large bones and remove them piece by piece.

My knees were tingling as I looked at the vegetarian in my class, he returned my horrified look of panic.

Once the instructor had finished cleaning her fish, she immediately had us form a line to receive our 2-3 sardines. I hung back and was happily last in line, hoping that they would run out of fish, but, of course, they didn't.

When I was handed my fish to descale, I almost couldn't touch it. But I knew I couldn't be the only one in my class who didn't clean a fish, so reluctantly I began peeling off layers of slimy scales. I was doing okay, until I hit a snag and one of the fish's fins popped out in to swimming position. I almost lost it. I'm terrified of fish in the lake, I don't even want them near me, much less to pull out a fish's fin. Once I had finished descaling the slippery little sucker, it was time for the debauchery.

I carried my fish to the table, which was now covered in fish blood, innards and some sort of brown gunk (I'm assuming fish poop). Not only was I disgusted by the task at hand, but I felt like I was covered from head to toe in fish scales, I had scrubbed my hands many times, but they're sticky and clear. I stood, trying to muster enough courage to physically rip a creatures head off, but each time I looked down at the little guy all I could see was his half-winking eye, asking me to please leave his head and his body together. I couldn't do it.

I don't know what gave it away, but the instructor sensed my overwhelming repulsion to the idea of dismembering a fish, walked over to me, grabbed the fish and within a second, my fish was headless.

She made me (quite literally moved my hands) open up the body cavity, pull out the organs and break the large bones out of the fish, a job that was only slightly less miserable than actually beheading the fish.

We fried the fish, and honestly they tasted decent. But, I will never again butcher or clean my own meat. I understand there is a certain pride in cleaning your own meat, but for me, I am going to leave it to the professionals.

This simply reaffirmed my want to have meat so well butchered and cleaned by the time I see it that it is unidentifiable as an animal.

I guess I'm glad that I got to doing something a little "exotic," but I can say confidently that I would never repeat this class.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Men of Valencia

I took a short (less than 24 hours in the city) trip to Valencia this weekend and one thing stood out more than all others about Valencia, the men.

Everyone that we encountered was overly nice, talkative and friendly, even if it was sometimes creepy. This "friendliness" of sorts, was severely exaggerated when it came to the men of Valencia.

Firstly, there was an old man who came up to my roommate and I and talked to us in Spanish about how pretty we were and how we should forget about our boyfriends while in Valencia for a good 5 minutes. During the 5 minutes, an American family came up to us to ask for directions, we told them we were just visiting too and they left. On reevaluation of the situation, we think they might have been attempting to save us from the awkward situation, we were too naive.

Our second encounter was with a man in a jewelry and craft store. He insisted on fastening my bracelet and also fitting me with a scarf (although he was a creepy salesman, I mostly enjoyed the small talk).

A third man came up to my roommate and I, kissed our hands and tried to talk us in to coming to the beach...that was a definite "no." This encounter I enjoyed the least, actually I can say, I didn't enjoy this at all, I'm not really okay with anyone laying a dirty teeth kiss on my hand, much less a stranger in the street in Valencia.

Finally, the best, was our waiter at the restaurant we chose for dinner. We had picked this restaurant because they offered paella, an appetizer, dessert and sangria all for 11 euros, a pretty good deal. We sat down and the first thing the waiter did was take our drink order, my roommate ordered a glass of wine and the waiter replied "sure." She took this to mean "are you sure," and got almost a little sassy with the confused waiter until I explained that he was just affirming that she had ordered wine. Next, he brought us an extra basket of bread (which we were a little nervous he would charge us for, but we couldn't resist). Our three appetizers came out one by one, salad, patatas bravas, and calamari. When our waiter realized that we didn't eat the calamari, he brought us an extra plate of patatas bravas.

I realize you might be thinking this is normal service, but in Barcelona, the service is pretty much non-existent, we would never be offered a substitute appetizer or extra bread.

Finally, we received our paella, and dessert and ate them both happily. After we had finished all of this food, we began to notice that all of the tables around us had been cleared and new people were being seated, but we still hadn't received our check. We started to try to make eye contact with our waiter, but he was very clearly ignoring us. After multiple tries and about 30 minutes, we decided that we would start to stand up and wave so that he would know we were finished. Maybe he had simply forgot our check. When we did this, he just waved back, so my roommate, annoyed by the uncertainty, said "our check." Our waiter continued to smile and wave while shaking his head no and motioning for us to leave.

That's right, we received a meal for FREE! We were astonished because we hadn't even been overly nice, talkative, or honestly even that clean (we had taken a 5 hour train earlier that day).

It was a wonderful day full of attention (whether wanted or unwanted). Valencia, I'll be back!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

El Correfoc

Last night was the climax of the La Merce celebrations-Correfoc (fire run). My teachers have been talking about the Correfoc since I started class, so I had been looking forward to it, but I had no idea how absolutely insane it would be.

To start, a few days ago we all received an e-mail from IES warning us that if we were planning to attend Correfoc we needed to wear protective clothing (long sleeves, closed-toe shoes, hats...). I took this as a pretty extreme exaggeration, "how crazy can a parade really be," I thought.

The night rolls around and after much discussion, my roommates and i decided on long-sleeved shirts, tennis shoes and shorts (it's hot, we didn't want to be completely covered). I didn't even bring any head cover, again, I couldn't imagine needing a head cover for a parade.

We left early and made our way down the street toward the start of the Correfoc, as we approached, we were overcome by the sounds of various drum groups each jamming to their own specific beat. The street was filled, top to bottom, with people dressed in colors corresponding to their specific group. Each group had drummers, people dressed as devils who later would be the people with fire and, in most cases, some sort of huge beast that shot fire out of all orifices.

We made our way through the crowd, stopping at each beast to take pictures and walked toward the "Gates of Hell" where the parade began.

After about 20 minutes of anticipation, a man's voice came over a loud speaker. He spoke Catalan so I don't know what he was saying, but he sounded like an announcer for a haunted house radio commercial. It was kind of terrifying. Suddenly, ear-piercingly loud fireworks that were attached to the gates began to go off and a red cloud of smoke billowed out from around the looming gates.

By this time, we had realized that we were standing on the wrong side of the gates, so we slowly started to make our way through the crowd. The crowd was the most dense group of people I have ever been in, at times I felt like I couldn't breathe, not from claustrophobia, but from being squished so tightly between people that my lungs couldn't expand. Luckily, I made it through (with my purse and all of its contents) and found a prime location on the side walk right at the beginning of the parade.

Within minutes, we learned just how crazy Correfoc truly is. As the groups came through the gates, they lit firecracker-like torches that were attached to tall poles that individuals held and ran through the crowd with. These fire torches rain huge flaming sparks down on to the crowd. Not only did you need head covering (which luckily one of the girls I was with had an extra), but you also need to cover every part of exposed skin. I learned very quickly that the sparks hurt when the touch your legs, hands and neck.

Each time (every few seconds) that a fire runner ran in to the crowd everyone huddled and ducked to find relief from the relentless flames. There were, of course, the young locals who, instead of ducking, ran in to the street to dance and frolic in the sparks, but I was not brave enough to expose my bare legs to the sparks.

The parade went on for nearly 2 hours. Two hours of fire, drumming and constant firework sounds...I wouldn't have missed it for anything. I have to come back at some point in my life to experience Correfoc again. Everyone needs a Correfoc experience.

At the end of the night my roommates and I were talking about how a fire festival like this would NEVER be allowed in the U.S., thank goodness for study abroad or I would never get to experience such a wild festival!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Since I've been in Barcelona for a few weeks now, I am beginning to notice which foods are served more frequently than others. We have chicken a lot, and pan con tomate, but there's one thing that we eat more of than I can even fully explain, Potatoes!

We have potatoes with pretty much every meal, which I am happy about because I love potatoes, even if I'm going to have to buy an extra seat on my ride home. Normally we have the potatoes with something else like chicken and fruit to at least slightly balance out the carbs, but this weekend my lunch was the most carb-filled experience I think I'll ever have in my life.

I sat down at a beach cafe in Cadeques and decided to order tortilla de patatas, a traditional spanish dish made from eggs and potatoes. It's one of my favorite things that I've had so far in Spain so I was really looking forward to a nice hearty meal.

I didn't know just how hearty it would be.

Turns out that the tortilla de patatas was under the bocadillo (sandwich) section, which I didn't realize, so my 4 euros bought me a sandwich made from two thick (half loaf sized) pieces of bread, FILLED with cooked potatoes.

That's right, a potato sandwich!!! Potatoes and bread, nothing else!!

Needless to say, although it tasted good, I simply couldn't eat it as a sandwich, so I ate the potatoes by themselves.

As absurd as this seemed to me, carb on carb, I asked my Food as an Expression of Culture teacher about it and she said it's very common. If these beautiful, skinny Spanish girls really do eat potato sandwiches, I'm ticked out of pure jealousy.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Desserts, a grave and Dali

I just got back from my adventure up and down Coasta Brava (the "wild coast," just north of Barcelona that reaches up in to southern France). It was beautiful, even with rainy skies. We were able to see Roman and Greek ruins, EAT (the all-caps to let you all know just how much eating I did) in beautiful costal towns, visit the Dali museum, watch TV in English, sleep in pillow-top beds with black-out curtains covering the windows and see a grave of one of the most famous Spanish poets that no one (at least on my trip) had ever heard of. All in all it was a wonderful, fast-paced trip.

Quite possibly my favorite part of the weekend was traveling to Collioure, a tiny french seaside town. We actually only made the trip to see the grave of Antonio Machado. Who is Machado, you may ask (as I did and am still wondering)? Machado was, apparently, a famous Spanish poet who was forced in to Exile during the Spanish Civil War. However, this is still the only information that I know about him. As the time approached when we were suppose to view his grave, there was a noticeable whisper throughout my 80 or so peers, wondering who the heck Machado was. We were all perplexed. But, because we were making a special stop just to view the grave we all assumed that it would be at least slightly spectacular, interesting, weird, cool, neat, pretty...

We got of the bus, made our routine bathroom stop (this time with no toilet paper, yay public bathrooms) and headed toward the gravesite. About three blocks up the road, we turned on to a side street and in to a grave yard. A regular graveyard. However, when I walked in most of the students who were simply walking in front of me in the group were already leaving. I assumed that we were at the wrong place, until a friend came up to me and said "there it is," pointing to an older-looking, but very unsuspecting grave.

We travelled to FRANCE to look at a normal grave!!!

Good thing the city was absolutely beautiful, and since we were in France I took the liberty to have two desserts with lunch:
1. A crepe (of course, nutella and bananas...nothing is better)
2. A semi-fired, semi-baked lemony pastry covered in sugar

Also, it turns out that in France, they speak French. This seems very simple, but when you've spent the past three weeks stumbling through Spanish when all you really know how to speak is English and you sit on a bus for 30 minutes, get off and are expected to speak ANOTHER language; it's a shock! I don't even know how to say water in french. So we spoke broken Spanish and everyone else spoke French and I got my desserts.

A wonderful weekend on the coast!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hace Calor!

After my two week stint in Barcelona, I was starting to realize that I was turning, well, grouchy. I wasn't my same smily self, I actually noticed myself frowning and aggressively pushing my way through the crowded metro. As I stepped back to really think about it, I was becoming a stereotypical big city girl and honestly I didn't like how that looked. But, what can you do when you smile at little old men and women (knowing that all of all the people who will smile back at you, they're sure things) and they give you dirty looks.

This cold facade has finally ended and I'm back to my same old self thanks to one lady on the Metro, Tuesday morning.

Tuesday morning the Metro went on strike (little to my knowledge) so my train was 30 minutes late and I ended up being late to my first class (which killed my Type A tendencies). Once my train finally arrived and quickly after I rushed on, I was forced to move over a seat because a woman chose to sit directly next to me. I moved over, ticked off that the woman chose to sit directly next to me instead of at the more comfortable diagonal across from me.

Within seconds the woman pulled out a large paper fan and began fanning herself furiously (it's really hot in the metro). After a minute or so, she slowed to a nice calm pace and lucky for me, I was able to reap the benefits of her fan as she pushed air back and forth toward me. It really felt refreshing. Without thinking, I leaned in to her and said "gracias." She turned to me with a disgusted look on her face, so I repeated myself this time using my hand as a fan with an "I'm hot too, I feel your pain," look on my face. Instantly, it clicked and the woman bursted out in to straight up laughter. I was so happy to finally have someone respond pleasantly to me that I laughed too!

To my delight, she fanned us both for a good 3 minutes, I was able to ask her in my best broken Spanish what she knew about the Metro strike (which helped me get home that night in a timely manner) and she even offered me her fan if I was still hot.

When we reached our stop, the woman said "adios," with a big smile on her face. Even though I was terribly late to class, it was my favorite metro ride to date.

I've decided that I will not become a rushed, frustrated city dweller. I am going to retain my constant smile even when old women give me the stink eye in the grocery store.

On a side note, I found peanut butter today. There were approximately 8 jars of Peter Pan peanut butter for 4 euros each, I bought 2!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

An entire loaf of bread

Since we didn't have Spanish class this Saturday (we did last week..it was sooo lame!) I, with my roommates and a new friend, venture to Tossa de Mar, a small beach town north of Barcelona.

It was absolutely picturesque (besides all of the naked boobs, nearly everyone is constantly topless...not my favorite part of the beach). A 14th century castle sits literally on the beach and is open for you to walk around in. Although I did make it to the top of the castle, I quickly came back down for the laziest weekend of my life.

On Saturday morning, when we arrived at 9:00am, we stopped at a small tienda to buy fruit and water, however there was also 1.5 liters of Sangria for 1.97 euros which we of course couldn't pass up and an entire loaf of bread for 90 cents (my favorite buy since I came to Spain).

I spent 100% of the day (from about 10:00am until 6:00pm) laying on the beach, dozing in and out of sleep, people watching, starting and finishing my bread and listening to songs in English.

You're probably wondering, is she burnt to a crisp? The answer, surprisingly is "no." I did get burned on the right side of my calf, my right hand and my right ear (the sun was clearly on my right), but my numerous sunscreen applications, for the most part, were successful.

At night we took a bus to Lloret de Mar, a town that was supposedly 15 minutes away but turned out to be about 30 (luckily the bus ride was pretty) to stay in one of the few hostels that wasn't full in the area. I had pizza for dinner and we returned to our room to take LONG showers and watch TV (yes we had a TV and our hostel only cost 11 euros per night...a real deal!) however to our dismay all of the channels were in Spanish (we weren't shocked, we were just hoping for CNN or BBC, anything to veg out to). However, we did find High School Musical on the Disney channel (which in any other circumstance I would be opposed to) with English singing, they dubbed over everything but the signing, so we all sat around and waited for the characters to sing in English.

My favorite songs for a lazy beach day:
1. Simon and Garfunkel--The Only Living Boy in New York
2. Jack Johnson--Staple it Together (mostly all of Jack Johnson really, I mean he lives in Hawaii)
3. Kate Nash--Birds
4. The Temper Trap--Sweet Disposition
5. She and Him--EVERY SONG!!!!

It was a beautiful, restful weekend.

I can't wait to start classes tomorrow!! Finally, a routine!

P.S. My new school is Hogwarts...more to come!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

There's Nothing Better than Tasters

Enjoying a new addition to Grapevine Main Street, Grapevine Olive Oil Company. Not only is the store absolutely adorable and the manager sweet as can be, but you can taste all of the olive oil and balsamic before you buy it!!

If you stop by, you have to try the Vanilla Balsamic, Peach Balsamic and the Coconut Balsamic, they will blow your mind!
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