Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Bars in Barcelona

For those of you thinking about making a travel to the beautiful city of Barcelona, I want to tell you a bit more about the bar scene here.

Of course you have the huge nightclubs that charge you 15 euro to get in and 10 euro for a drink (which you could make yourself at home for less than 2) and this is of course where all the North American tourists flock to because they don't know any better and these are the places that have advertisers standing in the middle of La Rambla, handing out flyers, complimenting every woman that passes even if her skirt is a small and she belongs in a plus. These places are generic, for the most part, and could pass for any club in any city because there is nothing remarkably special about them and the music they play is main-stream, top-40 type music, that again, you could hear anywhere. I could probably list you five clubs here and five clubs in Toronto that are perfectly interchangable, but I won't bother. I don't want to encourage anyone to come here and go to these places. There are much better places to spend your money and your time.

And then you have the Cervaiserias, which seem to be on every corner that a BraCafe (coffee shop) is not on. These places have chairs and tables outside all year round for those willing to sit in the nippy cold just to smoke their cigarettes, and those who like to sun themselves all summer long. The beer in these places is generally cheaper and generally only from Spain (Estrella Damm, Moritz, San Migel, etc.) and they generally serve a variety of "bocadillos" (or sandwiches- which are actually just bread rubbed with tomato and some kind of meat and/or cheese: no lettuce, no tomato, no onion, no sauce, no... flavour?) I realize that I used the word "generally" alot in my description of the Cervaiserias, but that is only because until you find one that has something just right, they are all for the most part, interchangeable.

There are the bars and restaurants in the tourist areas, which are again, mostly interchangeable, with almost always terrible service and likely very overpriced. These are the places along La Rambla, Barcelonetta, near Sagrada Familia (though, not as much if you're about a block away in any direction) and near almost every other tourist attraction in Barcelona and Sitges. I tell you now that the service is terrible, only because almost every place seems to be understaffed, and because it is not customary (or necessary) to tip in Spain, no one "works for their tips". Your table may sit for 20 minutes with no one seeming to pay any attention. I've waited half an hour for a bill once... that I asked for! It was very tempting to leave (if they don't give me the bill, that must mean they don't want me to pay, right?) but I, of course, did not. I waited and paid, and left feeling somewhat like my time had been abused that day. I won't say that ALL places are like this, just a lot of the places I seem to go to. Other places, like Cafe Zurich, which sits right at the top of La Rambla, beside Placa Catalunya and at the exit of about 5 major metro lines that run through the area, are very prompt about getting their money. They literally set your beverages in front of you and hand you a bill. They might walk to the next table to take an order or deliver another drink, but you can bet that they will be back before you can even think about gulping your beverage and taking off! Cafe Zurich, though not my favorite place in Barcelona, is a place I frequent because of its location and the many tables it has outside, which are perfectly placed for people watching.

And then there are the Irish bars. I'd like to go to Ireland someday, and have a Guinness in a pub, but I am starting to wonder if there is anyone left on that little land mass. It seems that every city you go to, you can find at least three Irish bars, all staffed with Irish people and all with Irish musicians. They serve Irish beer to the Irish (and English) partons and create a haven for the Irish who have gone out into the world and just need to have a taste of home again. It seems that North Americans also flock to these Irish bars, and I haven't quite been able to figure out why. Is it their accents that draw us in, or their beer? Is it that we feel safe with other English speakers? Is it that they change the T.V.s to English for the sports they show? I'll never know. Either way, there are a lot of Irish bars in Barcelona!

One thing I have noticed in my travels as well, is that while there are tons of Irish bars, and quite a few English  bars, there are absolutely no Scottish bars.. Anywhere. I'm starting to want to go to Scotland, just to see what's so special about that place that nobody leaves!

Mexican. There are only a couple of Mexican bars here in Barcelona (that I know about anyway), but the one's I know about are good. I personally have only eaten at one of them, but the food was delicious, even though the beer wasn't much better than Spanish beer!

This then brings me to the hole-in-the-wall places that are in every city, in places you wouldn't expect them, out of the way of tourists and likely frequented by locals and those brave enough to venture down dark, seemingly dead-end streets. In Barcelona, you will find many of these places in Raval, Gotic, Born, Gracia and other somewhat shadier seeming areas of Barcelona where the streets slimmer and trendier, hipper people hang out. These are the places that you'll find real character and real heart. Often these places are decorated in outlandish, bold, artistic, musical, thought-provoking ways. One place I used to frequent, had classic old wall-paper, a naked barbie, masked people and in the bathroom there were pictures of bondage and dominatrix situations plastering the walls like wall-paper. Last night, I was in a place that had sheet music covering the entire front of the bar because it is a place frequented by the staff and partons of a venue down the street. These are the places I like going to now. I prefer to sit and have a few drinks in an interesting place with interesting people, and listen to different music than I'd hear everyday.

Anyway, all of this was to tell those of you wanting to visit Barcelona what to expect in terms of the bar scene here. Oh, yes, and I should mention that public drinking is not nearly as looked-down-upon here as it is back home. Starting at about 8pm, there are people selling beer along La Rambla and all over the "downtown" areas, outside of bars, in different squares and placas all over the city. And I'm not sure what time this actually starts at, but when you come out of the club, you will often find someone selling some sort of food. In North America, specifically Toronto, this would be the hot-dog guy with the cart placed right outside the bar exit or about 5 feet up the street, making all his money from the drunken fools that leave the bar after having drank for the last 5 hours and just need food! That salty meat smell will get you every time (unless you've had too much to drink, in which case the smell makes you want to vomit). It could also be the chip trucks that you'll purposefully find a way to pass on your way home, outside of Nathan Philip Square to get poutine, because its some of the best in the city. Here in Barcelona, you will find people selling an array of foods out of a box they carry around. If you're lucky, its a fresh box, and the food is still warm. Sandwiches and spring rolls are among the items carried in such boxes, and my ever-favorite: samosas! They usually cost about a euro, so its a steal if you're just hungry enough to eat something sold to you out of a box at 5am. And that's another thing: bars here don't close until about 7am in the summer. The sun is up and you're heading home.

If anyone wants more info about bars in Barcelona, drop me a line and I'll do what I can to give you an answer!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rainy Day Coffee and Cookies

Today it is raining. It is damp and miserable out. It would be easy to let my mood reflect the dark grey clouds in the sky and let my spirits dampen like the ground.

But I'm not letting that happen today. It's Wednesday, which is generally my busiest day, and usually I dread them, so my joy today is something surprising and delightful. I went to the gym this morning (and for those of you on Facebook, you know that my experience this morning was less than pleasant because of the gym rats who think they own the space- I pay for a gym pass too, you know!) After the gym, I hit the grocery store for some fresh veggies and little extras, and then it was home to cook up some lunch!

This was my lunch today:
Rice noodles and sauce (tomato sauce with kidney beans, tomatoes, red peppers, green onion and spices) a fried egg (sunny side up and spiced) and a slice of Gouda cheese! 

I have to say that the rice noodles part was inspired by Joseph and Danielle who used to eat them constantly! I hope they're enjoying all the noodles of Thailand!  Love you guys :)

After lunch, and many facebook messages, I made a coffee and grabbed some cookies (three, they're packaged in three's, so you can't just have two) and sat down to watch an episode of Sex and The City. Halfway through, I got a Skype call from my sister, and who did appear on my screen but my favorite nephew, Jay! (He's my only nephew, so its not bad that he's my favorite!) He's learning to talk a lot more, and apparently yells my name when the Skype is ringing.. I love that! The girls came to say hi too, and showed me their pretty skirts. What lovely ladies they are! 

After Skyping, I finished my episode and my coffee. I'm now on coffee number two and cookies number 4 and 5...  I'm allowed to have a couple of cookies today- I had a bad day at the gym! 

And soon I'll be off to start my day. I'll write for a few hours, I'll have a drink interlude and some quick dinner with a friend and then go to the theatre for 9:30. 

All in all, I expect the rest of the day to be as pleasant as the beginning, as long as it doesn't rain too hard! I hope everyone else's "hump day" is going as well as mine! 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Six months ago, I sat in an airport, wondering what the next few hours would look like, let alone the next six months. I sat and contemplated. I breathed out Toronto, ready to breathe in Barcelona. I steadied myself and readied myself for the next phase of my life: a adventure never to be forgotten: the biggest leap.

I wasn't scared or anxious. I wasn't nervous or reserved. I was ready. I had thought a lot about that moment, of sitting in the airport alone, ready to take off. I noticed the people in my terminal and noted their attitudes. Some of them were excited, some were nervous, some tired and some just ready to be gone. Men looked around at me, likely wondering why I was sitting by myself. And women sized me as they usually do in North America. I hadn't thought much about what would come after getting on the plane, so when finally, it was time to board, I got up, collected my carry on and calmly walked onto the plane. As my post states, I had the works on my flight, and it was the perfect way to start this adventure: champagne.

I can tell you that when I left Toronto, when the plane took off, I exhaled. I didn't cry or get emotional, I just exhaled. I looked at my city one last time, knowing it would be quite some time before I saw that place again, and wondering what might change by the time I get back. (Let's hope the Donald Trump Building is finished.. its been years already!) Bubbles of joy started bursting inside of me, and the newly-wed couple next to me seemed somewhat confused at my happiness of adventuring alone into an unknown place.

When we landed in Barcelona, I had to catch my breath. The pain of descent was nothing in comparison to the joy I felt at beginning this phase of life. Leaping and landing are two very different things, and I had landed in Barcelona.

It's hard to express exactly what I've been through in the last six months. Every emotion has been felt, and when it is, it is heightened. In Toronto, I felt clouded like the smoggy skies in summer. But here, everything is much more clear and my senses are acutely picking up on everything.

Six months has seemed like forever, as much as it has seemed like only a few weeks. It feels as if I met my friends from school just last month and they only left a few days ago. It feels like the summer heat has been gone forever, but my vivid memory of wearing shorts late into October is returning with the warmth of the sun.  I know its been cold and it has rained, and months have gone by since school ended, but I can clearly remember so many nights of walking around downtown that it doesn't seem right that my Aussi has been gone for months, and that my boys are gone to Thailand. Houston is like a distant memory that I wish would return to grace us with her bright laughter. It seem that I've apparently broken a heart already since being here which seems like... well, something I would do, but shocking in the short amount of time it took (its not as dramatic as it sounds, but I feel he thinks it is).

September seems like last week, at the same time as feeling like it was ages ago!

I cannot even begin to express how much I have learned and grown and have strengthened my own person since being here. Coming to a foreign country, knowing no one, and only having a basic grasp of the language, I walked around the streets of this unfamiliar city wide-eyed. I knew I wanted to be here, and I knew I would eventually get to know this place, but how long I would stay, that has been an unanswered question in my mind since before I left. I came here without a return ticket, and no thought of turning back. I would take this city by storm! I would succeed in Barcelona. Succeed at what? That is a question that is still being formed, let alone answered.

I know what I have accomplished since being here. I have completed a TEFL certificate and subsequent Teaching Young Learners and Teaching Business Professionals certificates, begun to learn a language in its entirety, kept myself safe and healthy, navigated my way around to the point of knowing the metro system and streets enough to get to certain areas of town with little thought as to how, gained friends I will have forever, stretched myself to every limit possible, let myself fall and let myself feel broken again. Barcelona for me is about putting things in the right place, for me.

Six months seems the perfect time to have life-altering questions, life-changing decisions, and mind-blowing realizations. I had one of those last weekend, and it couldn't have come at a more perfect time. Only myself and the entity which provided the realization can ever really know how much that one moment has changed me. Life is clearer still. You may be wondering what the realization was, and so I will tell you in the simplest form: "they are not the same age as you". For years I have been telling people that "age doesn't matter, life experience does". And while you may think that that's a load of ****, I believe it whole-heartily. I believe that as you age, and as you add the number of days that you have literally woken up, gotten out of bed and survived yet another day, your life experience increases. What is important to a fifteen year old is not always important to a twenty-one year old, and what is important to a twenty-one year old is likely not important to a thirty year old and so on. While I am keen to admit that I am 24 in groups of people I do not know very well, I cannot help but admit eventually that I am older than that. This is not because I LOOK like I am aging, quite the opposite. It is because I find that people assume that I have less life experience because I am "24". I cannot fault them in this, I do the same. I met a man a while back, and simply because of his young face and the fact that almost every other male I had met through my TEFL school seemed to be "22!!" I assumed he was of the same age range. It wasn't until someone asked him how old he is and he responded "I'm 29" that I paid any attention to him. It was in that moment that I said to myself "this is a person I should talk to." It so happens that that afternoon, he and I went for a drink and have been close ever since. It is so nice to talk to a person who understands what it is like to leave an actual career to go and do something else, instead of people who are fresh out of school looking for a new adventure before settling down. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but the rest of us need our own kind of support and alliance in these situations.

So my realization that these people are "not the same age" as me has little to do with the number of years old they are, but rather it was a reminder that they have had significantly less days, weeks and months of getting up and facing the day. Less days to wonder if it will rain, or if it will shine. Less days to wonder if they'll be fired from their job, or if their sibling will have a baby that day and change your roles from simply "sister" and "daughter" and add "aunt" which caries with it responsibilities all of their own. Less days get their hearts broken or to fall in love. By their age, I was falling for a man who has since broken my heart twice and introduced me to someone else who has forever changed me (for the better, I am stronger because of it). I have moved out of "home", had a career, volunteered, been on more bad dates than I care to remember and experienced the business world. All of these things have shaped who I am, and I believe it takes time to acquire these experiences, and they simply haven't had the time yet. I can't fault them in that. There is no point in being angry because someone doesn't understand you. Simply explain (if you have the heart to do so) and carry on.

These six months have added so much to my wakings up and goings about the day. It is a strange feeling to wake up for the first time in a place and realize that you're not on vacation; you're not "going home soon". I've been walking around, having tiny moments of "I live here. I live HERE." I know my way around, I have a gym, and friends and things that I do on a daily and weekly basis. I've made friends with the guy in the copy place down the street, simply because I see him on a somewhat daily basis. I don't have a coffee shop that I frequent yet, but I have a feeling the one that just opened up down the street is going to quickly become that place.

It is a good feeling to know that I have been here for six months. :)

Okay, enough babbling.. I'm going to celebrate the day and have ice cream on the beach!

Bon Dia mis amigos! Hasta luego!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Traditional Valencian Paella!

I actually started this blog two weeks ago and the pictures wouldn't load fast enough and this is the first I'm getting back to it, but I'm being VERY productive today (2 blog posts in one day!) and its only 8:42 am! Go me!!

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know its been WEEKS! That's what happens when I start working and start actually having a life again. Oh yes, and the weather has been so lovely that sitting inside typing is NOT an option! (In fact, later today, I am going to sit on the beach with some friends!)

A few weeks ago, my good friend Seattle invited me to learn how to make traditional Valencian Paella. (pronounced: /balenthian pie-aya/). Paella is a rice and seafood or meat dish, created in Valencia, made in a large, flat pan (one dish meal!) for two or more people. Once cooked, it is served entirely onto however many plates as there are people, and usually its a HUGE helping, and everyone digs in!

This is how it all went down:

Our wonderful instructor in the afternoon's cheffery. He is holding a plate of chicken and rabbit, which will be the meat of today's paella. We'll call him Valencia, since he's actually from there!

Assistant Seattle, cooking the meat in the large paella pan.

I was cutting up peas and Valencia decided that if pictures were going to be taken, I'd have to be in some! (Notice the turquoise pants- findin' my style continued!) 

Mataro measuring beans and Seattle, still making sure we're not going to get sick from under-cooked meat!

Once the meat is browned, add in the beans and the peas! (make sure the wash the peas first though, lets be sanitary.)

Tomate Frito. Just a couple of spoonfulls.

Spice it up!
Hot pepper, colourant, more colourant, rosemary.

Before the sauce and spices...

Valencia posing with the tomate frite.

After the spices, add some water... 

Starting to look really good... 

The boys of the day

The girls of the day (everyone lives together except me- I'm an honourary roommate)

Once its boiled a bit, add in the rice. This is a process. You can't just dump it in, you have to carefully spread it around. 
Let it simmer, and put some tin-foil over top to let it cook up a while. 

The finished product! Traditional Valencian Paella!

Massive heapings on every plate, and we all finished every bite! 

Thanks Valencia for teaching us how to make yummy paella! When are we doing this again?