A Travellerspoint blog

Costa Brava Excursion

sunny 26 °C

Slowly checking off the list of places and things to see in Barcelona, as my time here winds to an end! I have officially booked a one-way ticket home, to arrive on the 24th of December, just in time for Christmas with the family! But I won't get ahead of myself now, lots of interesting adventures to be had here!

The Costa Brava in Spain is a portion of Mediterranean coastline which stretches between the France/Spain border and Barcelona. It is one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in the country, and one I knew that I wanted to get to visit before leaving. After talking with some people from work, we decided to do a weekend backpacking trip from Llança (pronounced 'Yansa') through Cadaques and finally to Rosas, through the Cap de Creus (Cape of the Cross). The gang was Claudia, Albert, and Cristina from the lab, along with another friend of Claudia's. We snagged an early train from Barcelona headed north toward Llança!

After disembarking the train, we threw on hiking shoes and sun glasses and began the schlep! The trail we had elected to follow keeps the the coast for a while after Llança before heading inland and cutting across the Cap de Creus toward the furthest point of land, before curving back around toward Cadaques. The northern coast was fairly flat, which gave us some gorgeous views for the firsts part of the hike, while the inland protion was a constant uphill or downhill climb, through dry land with low-lying greenery.

I won't do too much talking about this trip, instead opting to post a bunch of photos, since, after all, it was just two solid days of hiking. Here we go!

Picture of the group, still fresh and smiling:
Left to right, Cris, Claudia, Marc, Albert, and me!

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Just before heading inland, we lunched in a beautiful cove with beautiful (cold) water and a stonybeach, and then started up again with a vicious hill climb:

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About 4 pm, and 6 hours of hiking in, we approached a crossroad (complete with a signpost adorned with a cattle skull)

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For those of you who have hiked (or skiied, or really lived) around/with me before, I am quite stubborn when it comes to reaching a goal. I hate the idea of leaving any stone unturned. And although I respect and admire the saying about how it's all about the journey and not about the destination, I always feel that the successful completion of a goal gives that much more weight to the journey. Enough philosophy. You can imagine my consternation when, faced with the option of going to the furthest point of the cape, with its iconic lighthouse, or descend down into Cadaques and cut off maybe 3 miles, weather and sore feet forced our hand and the decision was made to take the short route down to the town. In hind sight, it was actually a really good move, since we had just sat down at a pub for tapas and drinks when the rain and thunder came. And it didn't fool around. We would have been quite wet and likely miserable. However, it did put our plans to sleep outside on the beach into question, and we had to scramble to find a hotel for the night (turns out we all crammed into a room with one double bed, and it stopped raining two hours later... but Cris was comfortable, Whew!)

Coincidentally, a friend from work is a swing-dance fanatic, who happened to have an open forum dance session in a main square of Cadaques that night! So after the rain stopped, we went to find the show and watched some impressive dance and even got a little private lession! Here is the best picture I could find of an exasperated Mireia trying to explain the steps to my tired brain and legs. Let's just say I'm not ready for the big leagues yet!

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We awoke early the next morning to beautifully clear skies over the picturesque town of Cadaques. I think of all the cities and towns I have seen in Spain, for towns on the coast, Cadaques is the most beautiful. Here are a sampling of images I took in the morning before we headed toward the final stop, Rosas.

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(Side note-- I never considered myself a pink sock [and pink underarmor, but that's harder to see] kinda guy, but then a new pair of dark red shorts got in with a wash of whites, and the rest is history, and evident in this photo.... But hey, when life gives you lemons!)

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If the first day was gorgeous, the second was even better. The path runs right along the coast, dipping down into tiny isolated coves and back up along steep cliffs overhanging crystal blue mediterranean waters. Cris and Albert decided to cut it short due to some soreness and knee problems, so they took a bus to Rosas, but the three of us pushed on. After a few hours of hiking, we again found another cove for lunch, this one even more isolated and beautiful than the one the day before.

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(We came down the trail which is barely visible just to the left of the rocky face in this photo)

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Finally, after frequent stops to cool off in the water and lots of snack breaks, we rounded a point and came face to face wiht the first real civilization we had seen in hours, Rosas, bringing to a close an unbelievable weekend! Needless to say I slept well that night! (Actually, the good sleep started on the train ride home!!)

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I love all of the cultural activities that Europe offers, but I have to say that a weekend getting to know the people here and enjoying landscapes absolutely unique to this part of the world is an unbelievable opportunity and has been my favorite part thus far of my travels in and around Barcelona! But speaking of culture, we'll get back on that train in the next post as a couple of weeks ago I finished my conquest of Spain, which took me on a route through Valladolid, Salamanca, Bilbao, San Sebastian and Pamplona (minus the bull-running!). See you soon!

Hasta luego!

Posted by dclift 05.10.2013 06:07 Archived in Spain Tagged hiking de cadaques cap rosas llança cr-11 crues Comments (2)

Festa Major: Llorenç del Penedes

sunny 28 °C

Back again, this time for an excursion out of the city of Barcelona, but not too far. I haven´t managed to collect too many close friends from the Barcelona area since I have been here, as foreigners tend to gravitate toward each other just like the locals do. But one exception to that trend is my friend Edu, who I met playing in a pickup soccer league last fall. He studies at the University of Barcelona, and is from a small town about an hour train ride south of Barcelona called Llorenç del Penedes. Every summer, his town of 2000 throws a massive party to celebrate their corresponding Saint´s Day (each day of the year has an associated Saint, and each person has a saint as well; it amounts to an extra birthday!). It lasts for three and a half full days (the half day would be from Sunday night to Monday morning, during which the party trundles on, thank you very much).

So I got there on Friday afternoon along with another Czech friend and his friend, making us four for the weekend. Soon after arriving at 3 (in fact, I barely had time to put my backpack down), Edu´s parents and sister were putting lunch on the table and ordered us to partake. Food, as you know, is the quickest way to my heart, so I had no colmplaints! In fact, each day that weekend we were treated to some of the food culture of Cataluña. Lunch is the big family meal, so that means two courses and a dessert, with cava (Spain´s version of champagne) and wine throughout. No pictures of the feasts, sorry! As usual I was too busy focusing on the food to take photos. But some of the select dishes included canelons, a large flat pasta rolled around meat and drenched in cheese sauce, and marisco, a stew of all things seafood: prawns, mussels, clams, and hake. I would have signed up just for the food, but the rest of the fiesta was spectacular as well.

As in the fiesta mayor in Barcelona last year,Friday night the town threw a ´Correfoc´ in which a troup of young people parade through the streets with fireworks stuck on the tops of pitchforks, dancing and showering the spectators, alto the hypnotic rhythm of drum corps. There are two 'fire parades', one that takes place in the evening for the younger children to participate, and includes dancing giants and rhythmic stick-thumping dancers, and then one later for the big kids.

Giants and Rhythmic Dancers:
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Prepping for the fun:
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Fire!
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This year I bought a cotton shirt that doesn´t acquire burn marks as easily, and, better prepared, I entered the fracas of the adult correfoc once or twice. At the end of the parade the dragons come through, with fireworks attached to tail and mouth and wings, lighting up the night with white hot light. The finale of the show lasted all of 17 minutes in the center, with the runners returning time and again to reload their pitchforks.

Edu plays the drums for the big boys:
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Dragons spray the night air with sparks:
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Me and a more appropriately-dressed friend:
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Each night, too, ended with a huge party in one part of the town or another. One interesting thing is that the buildings in the town are much more densely packed than those in a typical US small town. There were no freestanding houses within the center, so the parades and concerts can be seen or heard literally all over town! It would take a parade days to traverse all of the ´major´ roads of Jericho, Vermont!

The following day we woke up late and went to see the Castellers in the center of the town. If you remember from posts about La Mercé from last year, Castellers are the troups of human castle-makers that build human towers up to 10 stories high during the festivals of Catalunya. The ambulance parked auspiciously in the square was a quick reminder of the danger of these stunts, in which large men create a strong base and women, boys and girls form the upper structure, finishing as the tiniest ones, wearing helmets, climb up one side, salute at the top, and slide down the other. At this point, I really started to see the merit of having festivals like this in the small towns: the festival and especially things like castellers form a huge identity and sense of belonging and importance in the town. The age range of castellers must have been around 60 years, from the older men supporting the very outermost supports to the tiny girls charged with scaling to the top. They all take their own job extremely seriously, with the knowledge that one missed step or twitch can take the whole thing down. I really loved this sense of comraderie and town pride. The town even has its own flag!

It should be mentioned, however, that this is really not particularly safe. As is obvious, if one person crumbles, the entire structure falls, and although I have seen a good number of castellers in Barcelona, this weekend was the first time I had seen one fall. In a hemmorage of arms and legs, the structure fell, to the collective gasp of the crowd, and one by one they picked up the pieces. As I was told later, there is actually a technique to falling that is practiced, and people are rarely injured, but it didn't stop one woman in the crowd from confiding in me that she shakes with fear every time castles go up.

Castellers:
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The tiny one at the top salutes, signalling the succesful culmination of the structure, with the Catalán flag of independence (a constant theme in the festival) in the background:
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Finally a quick trip to the beach allowed for a siesta and a swim and some mental preparation for another night of fun around the town. It was a (slightly) more mellow night Saturday as we were promised that Sunday night would be the biggest of them all. We convened around 10 pm and for 6 € were given a necklace of sorts with a piece of construction paper with six tabs: three for drinks and three for tapas. I watched in amazement as the organizers loaded up a trailer and pickup truck with a generator, big speakers and a computer, and we followed the modern equivalent of the pied piper off into the sunset. Then, at three different houses around the town, we were greeted with tables laden with tapas like skewers of meat and vegetables, or bread with different toppings along with beer and wine aplenty. Again, I was too focused on the food, so I didn´t get any photos of the revelry and you´ll have to use your imagination! Finally at the end of the route, we were led to a clearing at the edge of the town, were a DJ had set up shop and we danced the night away... again!

One interesting thing happened to me with a couple of sisters actually-- two nights in a row I was accosted by one of them solo, who proceeded to tell me every little thing wrong with the United States, in no uncertain terms and without letting me defend myself. It was the first time in Spain that I have had someone openly challenge me about the US. I am sure I have been judged by some people, and maybe some refuse to interact based on that fact, but I can´t know that. Most have been very friendly. But these two were downright combative and I think that there are several reasons. The first is that they really had a hard time balancing the fact that US culture and politics have such overwhelming influence in the world, and yet the general American has such an overwhelming ignorance about that same world. For example, they explained, they spent some time in Ohio, and were stunned when someone asked them if they had electricity in their house in Spain. Their anger is understandable, but certainly not limited to foreigners. Our family once, on a ski trip in the Western US, was asked in which part of Canada Vermont was located. I will absolutely not debate the fact that ignorance is rampant in our country, but I can honestly tell you that every person I know (well, I sincerely hope) is aware that Spain is not a third world country.

Another thing that they could not come to grips with is the fact that many Americans are not ashamed to wear their country on their sleeve and proclaim it as the best country in the world. They were sure that this was the reason for the above mentioned ignorance, and it probably is, but I also argued that it is actually much the same here in Catalonia. You cannot go a day without seeing a Catalán flag, and Cataláns are extremely quick to give you a discourse about why they believe that they deserve the chance to become a country free from Spain. They have their own language, which they press on everyone here, and while they do have cultural differences from Spain I find many of their antics unnecessary. The difference, I argued, is that the world has adopted popular culture from the US, so our culture has much more exposure here, and as such feels threatening to the culture here. People saying how much they love the US makes that threat even more real.

Finally, I called their attention to one more thing. They started and held the entire conversation in English. At the end, I asked them why. I speak Spanish better than they speak English, but they started in English and I respected that. Was it because they would actually prefer to speak any other language besides Spanish, because of their pride in Catalán culture and language? Or was it because they recognize the importance of speaking English in our world and were taking the opportunity to practice? Either way, it speaks to my points above-- that Americans are not so much different from the rest of the world, we just get scrutinized and sometimes stereotyped in ways that are unfair. In the end, I hope, I made them think a bit about their views on the US. Fascinating discussion, though, and I am grateful that at least someone(s) had the energy to challenge me on things that I am sure many people here are thinking.

Sunday promised more of the same: an excellent lunch, followed by a trip to the beach. Then, in the evening we went with some of Edu´s close friends to get pizza for dinner. This turned out to be no easy task, since every single store in his town was closed (I mean everything) so we were forced to make a trip out of it. We picked up the pizza and it was about 11 pm by the time we got to eating it, but I was ravenous and ate the whole pizza. The time and my hunger are important parts of the story, since an hour and a beer later I found out that there was a watermelon eating contest in the central square of the town at 1 am! After seeing how much of his parents´ food I could eat, Edu implored me to enter, and I, of course, couldn´t say no. The rules were: get weighed before the contest, eat like crazy for five minutes, and get weighed again afterward. Doing my best to convince my body that it was still hungry, I set to it. Edu´s Czech friend to my left was eating nonchalantly, as he had confided in my that he was just using the opportunity to try to get the attention of the girl he had his eye on. A petite (and smart) girl to my right was also eating nonchalantly, as she knew that she was the only one entered in the women´s category and therefore was in no rush. But just to her right, a large guy was housing melon almost as fast as they could cut it and I knew I had a serious competitor. Around three minutes I started to feel full and seeing that the juices were still spraying uncontrollably to my right, resigned myself to the slow and steady technique and although I never had to stop eating or felt sick, I know I could have eaten more. In the end, I came in second place, behind said melon-killing animal, having eaten a respectable 3 lbs of melon (he ate 3.75). Plus, the prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd were all the same, so I left the battletable with dignity, a drawstring backpack from the festival, and a dinner for two in the town all as prizes! It was an absolutely fun and zany experience and one that I will remember for a long time. Plus the irony was not lost on me that in the US, I know of hot-dog and twinkie eating contests and have been a part of a pie eating contest, while in spain they opt for the slightly more healthy watermelon. Although I will say I have never visited the bathroom so many times in one night!

Once more, the dancing continued til the morning, and when I started singing ´Here Comes the Sun´ to whoever would listen, I decided that time on this ridiculous weekend was about up. A few hours of sleep was all I could allow myself before dragging our weary selves to the train station for the trip back to real life in Barcelona.

Another highly exciting weekend, and thanks for reading! Until next time!

Hasta Luego!

Posted by dclift 21.08.2013 12:54 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Summer fun

sunny 30 °C

Back again after a long absence! One major reason for that is I haven't been taking as many trips recently, instead opting for getting to know friends in Barcelona better, and enjoying the fact that I live in a place where many people come for their summer vacations! But now I find myself again with potential blog posts piling up, so hopefully I will provide a couple in the next few days!

What exactly does summer in Barcelona mean? For many people that means posh dinners and nightclubs, other beach every day. For me, it means an absurd amount of beach volleyball. Shortly after arriving in Barcelona last year, right about the time I was getting fed up with finding a place to live, I went to the beach with the express interest in finding a group to play volleyball with. And I did-- every single weekend and many odd days during the evenings in the week someone in the group is at the beach playing.

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The group itself is made up almost entirely by people from outside barcelona: the woman who owns the net is Czech, and there are Italians, Peruvians, Brazilians, Polish... and one American. Luckily, though, everyone speaks Spanish, so interestingly enough much of the vocabulary I feel most comfortable with is the things I need to play volleyball: dentro (in), afuera (out), sacar (serve) and linea (line).

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Even after spending the vast majority of my weekend days on the beach, I remain easily the whitest person there, giving my friends endless amusement. Although, they do recognize that I am the easiest person to spot among all of the super- tan bodies lounging around!

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Usually, though, by the end of each day of playing, I have become quite brown, due to the fact that the sand on the beaches in Barcelona is somewhere between real sand and dirt. The reason for this is that originally, there were no beaches close to the center of the city, but with the Olympics coming in 1992, the goverment shipped in sand to make these beaches. The controversy (which only exists in my head, I think) regards exactly where this sand came from. A tour guide once explained that the sand was shipped in from Egypt, while a friend insists that's silly and thinks that it was dredged up from the Mediterranean just off the coast of Barcelona. Regardless where it came from, though, it is quite dirty, and I always have to fight in the shower to get it all off!

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A couple of weeks back, I had the opportunity to go scuba diving! Scuba diving has long been on my bucket list, and never at the absolute top but of course when a coworker and some friends of hers invited me one weekend to travel north of the city to a town called l'Escala to do a 'Suba diving baptism' course, I jumped on it! No experience was required, as I had an instructor right by my side the whole time, which reminded me of skydiving, without the super-intimate straps connecting student and instructor.

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After a short course on how the scuba equipment works, we hopped in the boat and traveled the ten minutes to the dive site, accompanied by the mascot of the boat: a big chocolate lab who eagerly looked on as people prepared and splashed into the water. When we finally arrived, the scenery in the small inlets and caves tucked into the shore were spectacular, hinting at even better things under the water!

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In the most northern part of the Mediterranean in the early summer, the water is actually not so warm, so we were issued full wetsuits, including hoods and booties for our dive. Goggles, lead weights, and flippers went on the top, middle and bottom respectively, and then the backpack goes over all of that. One thing that surprised me greatly was the weight of the backpack, and my first thought is wait, if I wear this in the water I'll sink like a rock! But I realized that indeed that is the idea with scuba diving: controlled sinking.

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For those who have never come in contact with a dive pack, it's a pretty cool gadget: it has the tank attached to the back, connected via tubing to the regulator, through which one breathes. There is another tube, which leads to two air pouches in the backpack. At the beginning, I didn't use them to my advantage and in what must have been quite amusing to my instructor, was battling with fins and hands to not just sink directly to the bottom. When I was reminded of the air pouches, things got much easier as I could manually adjust my buoyancy. After swimming a bit around the bottom, we embarked on an adventure around the vicinity that was one of the coolest experiences of my life! Diving is absolutely like weightlessness. As you get deeper, the surface, although always present, seems too far in the distance to be relevant, and new realms of movement are possible. I had an absolute blast exploring the nooks and crannies around the caves, and got to hold a sea urchin, bugged a big octopus, and scared a rock lobster almost as bad as it scared me!

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A really incredible experience, made even better by the fact on the way back our guides quelled our hunger with a small tortilla and a refreshments! It was a great adventure and not something I am likely to run across again soon, so it was the perfect way to spend a Saturday! Cheers to Summer! Hope yours is going well too, and I look forward to talking to you again soon!

Hasta Luego!

Posted by dclift 19.08.2013 10:16 Archived in Spain Tagged sea nature scuba dive Comments (0)

New home sweet home

Plus: Food!

sunny 18 °C

Back again, but this time we won't leave Barcelona!

I have been waiting for a while for a free moment to write a little blog about news in Barcelona! Actually, back when my family was visiting in February, I found out from my roommate Matteo that he was going to be moving out of the flat. That left Thiago and I with two choices. We could either stay and accept a small bump in the price, and take on the responsibility of the bills and things, and find a new roommate, or we could move out too. So Thiago and I started looking briefly for flats for just two people, but they are hard to find since most people want either one free bedroom or lots. In the end, we decided that we would just look separately.

Thiago found a single studio in a neighborhood near where he is working now, so he is a happy camper, and I have found myself in a flat in the district of the city called 'La Nova Esquerra de L'Eixample'. Roughly translated, it means 'The new left part of L'Eixample', and comes from the name of a French gentleman who designed the neighborhood. It is about the same distance from work for me, and about the same distance from the beach. But the neighborhood is much different. Whereas before I felt like I was living in a small neighborhood within the big city, but now I am in the city: big, wide roads delineate square blocks of taller buildings. It is fun to explore a new part of the city, but I do miss my fruit man from Poble Sec! Here's the view looking west from my balcony and a photo of the common room:

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In terms of the flat itself, it has a bigger kitchen, and the common room is much bigger, we have a big balcony, and I have three roommates! I also have my own bathroom, but honestly all that means to me is that I have to Unfortunately, my room is smaller with less light and storage space, but I hardly spend any time there anyway!

My roommates, Pedro, Miriam and Marcia range in age from 27-31 and are from Portugal, Madrid, and Angola, respectively. The first language in Angola is actually Portuguese, so Marcia and Pedro speak that together, when we are all together and when I'm alone with Miriam we speak Spanish, and when I'm alone with Pedro and Marcia we switch between English and Spanish. Quite the multicultural flat! We get along great, though, and eat dinner or go out together quite frequently. More about that in a second!

Let's talk a bit about food! I have been badgering Miriam to show me how to make a Spanish tortilla since I moved into the flat, so one Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago we set to it. If you remember from one of the first blogs, tortillas are like thick omelets with potatoes, and they also usually have sauteed onions. If you get creative, you can add other veggies like peppers and mushrooms too. We decided to keep it classic for the first try though!

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Seeing as how they are slightly more elaborate omelets, I was sure it couldn't be too difficult, but I was glad I asked for help, as there were a few tricks to watch out for! One thing is that the potatoes must be deep fried to soften them at the beginning. This unfortunately decreases the healthiness of the meal significantly, but as the spanish say-- 'it's olive oil, it's good for you!' Also, the flipping of the tortilla is difficult, since you have to flip the thing before the egg is cooked through. But both the small tortillas we made that day looked pretty good, and tasted even better!!

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I have also been meaning for a long time to adventure into La Boqueria (the large central marketplace) to get some fresh fish for dinner. Finally I psyched myself up and went with Claudia, my friend from work, to see what damage we could do. After scoping out some of the fish stands, I chose one with a wide variety and asked the woman working to give me a recommendation. I was unprepared to answer all of her questions, but I understood most of 'em and made up answers to the rest and ended up ordering three small fish, called 'caballa'. She grabbed the whole fish, slapped it on the cutting board, deheaded and deboned it and threw it into a plastic baggie. Then, I asked how to go about cooking a (or three) caballa. She explained to bake it with olive oil (whoda thunk it?) and lemon juice and the spice 'pimentón suave'. Alright, first stop the supermarket to pick up pimentón and maybe figure out what it was! After finally arriving at home, I threw everything together and stuck it in the oven, and was mostly pleased with the result!

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Finally, I got around to looking up the translations for the things I had eaten, and it turns out that I do, in fact, like mackerel with sweet cayenne pepper! It was a great adventure, and I'm already planning on doing something like it again!

Hungry yet, or do you have room for one more? When my parents and brother were visiting, they found a brochure for a bar that holds paella cooking class. Thinking (rightfully so) that I should know how to cook the quintessential Spanish meal, my brother generously bought me a ticket for my birthday! So last week I invited two visiting friends to go with me to learn a bit about making paella! The tour took us first to La Boqueria to grab the ingredients of our feast, and then to the restaurant to learn a thing or two. After being introduced to our 'local' guide... Wait, he said he's from Argentina! So he's not even Spanish! He speaks Spanish, sure... Ahh but he lives here so that makes him a local, I see. Hey then I'm a local too! Hmm something strange, but the paella was great so I suppose I'll let it slide... Oops sorry for the sidetrack, I'll get to the event itself: first they brought out a large platter of tapas-makings and did a quick demonstration on how to make things like 'pan con tomate', in which garlic cloves and tomato pulp are spread over toast before a drizzle of olive oil tops it off. Then, goodies like Iberian ham, sausage, tortilla, cheese and olives go on top to create a light and tasty open-faced appetizer. When we polished off the plate of tapas (not long seeing as how we were 15 people at the table), our chef began the Paella making!

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I quickly learned that paella is quite more difficult to make than tortilla (especially when cooking for 25 like our chef)! Each of the seafood ingredients, which included clams, mussels and prawns, take different amount of times to cook, and since it is a one-dish meal, things are heated and cooled by moving them around the pan or adding cold liquid, like water or wine. There are also lots of ingredients, including the spice saffron, which is grown in Spain, so it isn't half as expensive as in the US. This spice is what gives the paella its yellowish color, although rumor on the street is that the restaurants on Las Ramblas are just liberal with the food coloring. Don't think I'll be trying that theory soon! Finally dinner was ready, and the paella was incredible! You'll have to take my word that I was taking diligent notes, and promise to practice a time or twice before I come home, and then come hang out when I get back so we can have a real spanish feast!

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The new flat and lots of food-cultural experiences recently have made for an exciting couple of months! Talk to you next time!

Hasta luego!

Posted by dclift 21.06.2013 12:06 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Mallorca weekend

and Ross' despedida

sunny 24 °C

Hello June! How fast has this year flown by, as we are already through 5/12 of 2013! As you know from reading my other posts, I have had the good fortune to travel over a really good portion of Spain with my friend Ross, who was doing the same program as myself in Madrid. However, he starts medical school at Baylor in July, so his time in Spain was winding down and we decided to make our trip to the island of Mallorca the big finale. Mallorca is one of the Balaeric Islands located in the Mediterranean just off the coast of Barcelona. The other two major islands include Menorca and the infamous Ibiza. I flew in on a Friday morning to take advantage of a full weekend in and around the major city on the island, called Palma de Mallorca.

First order of business was to drop our bags off at our hotel, and we did so to find a small room with two double beds and a fabulous view into the interior light shaft and directly onto the wall on the other side of the building. Luckily, we spent a total of an hour awake and in the room, so the view wasn't the worst thing in the world. Plus, the hotel had a balcony on the roof, from which there was a panoramic view of the city, the Cathedral, the Palace, the port and the mountains in the distance. This view made up for the lack of one from the room.

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That day, we decided to take care of the touristy things in the city, which amounted to the port, a castle on the hill, the cathedral, and the palace. Since the Balearic islands are very small, water transportation is stil vitally important, and the ports of these cities are huge. Rows and rows of sailboats, small motor craft and superyachts sit motionlessly on the aquamarine water-- Ross and I agree that someday it'd kinda cool to travel the islands in a boat like the blue one in the front as opposed to hoppin on the government buses to travel around the island.

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Maybe for my next birthday, Ma and Pa? A ten minute trek uphill led us to the base of the Bellver Castle, a gorgeous stone building built in the 14th century for King James II of Mallorca. It is a fascinating place, built on a circular floor plan with spires and towers around the outside. Google it for a cool aerial photo of the shape of the castle that I couldn't effectively capture from the ground! Ross and I wandered around the castle for a while checking out a small exhibit on the history of Palma and of course the obligatory views of the city and the sea.

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After the castle, we moved toward the center of the city to check out the the most imposing structure on the island: The Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma. In a country where you can find magnificent cathedrals in every moderate-sized town, it is astounding how each and every one can be stunnning in its own way. This one is incredibly large when viewed from the outside, and completely dominates the skyline of the city.

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Although it is not the largest church we have been in, upon entering it seems to reach right up to the sky. It also has some of the coolest, most interesting stained glass work that I have seen in my travels. In a small chapel to the side of the main altar, the stained glass has been stained black!

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There are also two huge stained glass windows at either end of the sanctuary, and twice a year the sun shines projects the light from one of the circular windows to the wall directly below the other stained glass window, creating a magnificent 8 pattern by the window and the projection. We weren't lucky enough to be there for that event, but the windows were still extremely impressive.

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Also interesting and immediately apparent to us as soon as we entered the cathedral was that Gaudí himself had stamped his mark on the church after being asked to aid in reformations in the early 1900s. As a result, the main altar has some uniquely Gaudí themes that, as tends to be the case, lighten the mood of the Gothic style considerably.

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After conquering the palace as well, which was honestly not particularly notable, we retired for a nap to the hotel (there is an infamous photo of me online getting a minute of shut-eye with a side of open-mouth). Naps are better with your mouth open-- and when your friends don't have immediate access to a camera and the internet. But actually, funnily enough, it was the second time that day that I got caught on camera napping and catching flies. On the flight in to Mallorca I was napping on the plane and I caught a group of guys passing around and chuckling at a photo of me in full mouth-open glory. Such is life. Here's the offending photo:

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After said super-power nap, we adventured around the city for dinner and a drink before hitting the hay early in preparation for a full Saturday.

We had decided to fall into the nearest tourist trap and take the 'historical train to the magical Mallorquin town of the Port of Soller.' Cue the puke. But after being recommended this by several people we gave in and hopped onto the train the next morning which whisked us away toward the mountains in the distance.

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After a beautiful ride through the foothills and small towns, we entered a tunnel and came out the other side into Soller, which is actually a small town nestled in the hills and another port town about a 10 minute tram ride. Unfortunately, the weather was a little funky, with thick cloud cover and a brisk breeze so Ross and I stopped into a coffee shop in the town+ in the hopes we could let the coulds burn off a bit before venturing outward. The town of Soller itself was not particularly noteworthy, with the exception of a local market happening in the center of the city. We wandered around the stalls, containing mostly artisan rings and bracelets and huge arrays of fake leatherery, but I was of course drawn to a stall with a huge variety of olives laid out before us. After talking with the worker for a minute, he made us up a small bucket of olives (maybe 2 pints?) with olives filled with each of the following (separately): garlic, cheese and sobrasada (shredded sausage). They were awesome and lasted all afternoon, which is good because I almost handed 'em back after he charged us almost 9 Euros for the bucket, yeehaw!

In about 20 minutes we felt like we had conquered Soller, so we hopped on the tram for the Port of Soller, unfortunately still under gray skies. We jumped off the tram and immediately both regretted the decision to wear shorts: the breeze was stiff and without the sun to warm us, it was a bit uncomfortable.

With the knowledge that another coffee might well put us over the edge of sanity, Ross and I put our engineering heads together and decided that the next best way to warm ourselves up was to walk around the beautiful port a little bit. Perhaps walking to the end of the windy docks wasn't the most intelligent part of said plan, but we found ourselves out there and talking to a man who was eating a sandwich in the back of his 30-some foot sailboat. One of the most fascinating things about traveling so much is the chance to meet people pursuing all types of lives. This gentlemen had sailed all over Europe and the Caribbean, making the transatlantic voyage 6 times. I neglected to ask how he earned the shekels to follow that kind of lifestyle, but when he talked about his boat and how it had come through his family years ago, the pride on his face was obvious.

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Meanwhile, Ross and I were shivering on the dock, so we took our leave and walked upward through the buildings around the cove toward a lighthouse we had seen when we were arriving in the town. We couldn't get to the lighthouse, as it was actually part of a military installation there, but instead we found a lookout over the sea that looked almost straight down on the waves battering the coast in an endless series of waves and swells. It was spectacular, and made even more so when the sun started to win its battle with the clouds, and in short order I was having to put on sunscreen!

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We had also seen another lighthouse on the opposite spit of land, so we decided to adventure up to it, and were not disappointed by the views as reward!

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Having felt that we conquered the Port of Sollers, we decided to head back into Palma and gear up for the European club championship soccer game, which would pit two German teams against each other. However, instead of taking the train back, we elected the cheaper option of taking a public bus through a couple of coastal towns on the way back to Palma. Not terribly surprising given that we were still in Spain was the tardiness of the bus, but the ride would prove quite exciting! The vehicle of choice was a regular city bus, which was good because everyone was able to sit. Turns out that was terribly important, because there were numerous hairpin turns to be navigated, and the driver, though clearly experienced, was not a particularly patient or friendly man. Several times he came whipping around a corner before having to slow down considerably to allow a car to sneak past our flank with seemingly inches to spare. I wish I'd been able to take some photos of the road, but unfortunately I was quite busy giving my armrest the white-knucke treatment. We did survive the drive back to Palma, with many unbelievable views, but it may have taken years off my life.

The island of Mallorca is known as a hot and cheap destination for many European countries, but the majority of Europeans come from Germany and England. As such, the Champion's League final that night was fun, as Ross and I found a bar with some Germans to watch the game (honestly it would've been tougher to find a bar without Germans). It was a great game that looked destined for overtime, but a late goal from Munich sent Dortmund home disappointed. Having grabbed some greasy fish and chips for dinner from a little English diner, we were full and happy upon retiring for the night.

After considering another excursion for Sunday, Ross and I just decided to cool our jets around Palma for the day. In the morning, we went to a recommended cafe to try a few of the specialties of the island. The main one is called Ensaimilla, which is a flaky pastry with powdered sugar on top. The come plain or with other ingredients in the middle, and in ever size from small breakfast, tea-saucer sized to bring friends, double extra large pizza sized. We mostly stuck to the small ones, although I did get to try one with candied squash and spanish pulled sausage. Nothing I probably would have ordered if I'd known the translation of candied squash, but actually the sweet and salty actually made a nice combo! Sorry there aren't any photos, if you know me, you know that when food hits the table, I am not thinking about taking pictures of it!!

We spent the rest morning adventuring about a hour outside the city to another recommended attraction; this time a beach. Illeares is in a tiny cove that has been developed into a gorgeous resort around the public beach. We spent a while sunbathing, and then I got hungry and bored with just sitting, so we decided to investigate a little town up the hill from the beach. It was here that I had one of the more interesting interactions of my time in Spain. We went into a restaurant and I asked for two sandwiches to go, in Spanish, and the lady looked at me like I had six heads. So I repeated myself, thinking automatically that she didnt understand my accent. Two which she responded, 'pardon me, honey?' At this point it took me a second to fully comprehend that here was someone (English) living in Spain and working in the food service industry who can't even understand an order for a sandwich to go. Yikes! Later in conversation, we learned that she'd lived in Spain for 13 years... Pretty incredible!

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A little longer on the beach near the city of Palma was all the sunning we had time for, and both of us had flights on Sunday night, so we stopped back at the hotel briefly for shower before heading to the airport to wrap up the great weekend.

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So unfortunately that concludes (for now) the adventures of John Wayne and Harry Potter (nicknames given to us from the Moroccan vendors) as John Wayne heads to med school. John Wayne in Med School, whoda thunk it!! But seriously, I wish Ross the best of luck and look forward to more travels in the future!

Luckily, though, I have a few more months of adventuring, so stay tuned!!

Hasta luego!

Posted by dclift 20.06.2013 20:03 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

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