Thursday, December 27, 2012

Day 35- Television Abroad

Since we have been laying low so to speak the last couple weeks we have been watching a bit more television. We have satellite television but mainly watch British channels. Sure there is CNN which we watched a lot during the school shooting but after a while it was more and more depressing so I won't even turn it on now. There is a channel that airs a few shows on what us Americans know as CBS, I can tell you that The Big Bang Theory is on almost all the time. I do love the commercials, especially the ones about drunk driving or rape. They are so in your face, they really make an impact. Leave it to the Brits to figure that out. There are a couple movie channels as well but they show the most random films. One day The Untouchables is on and right after it's Final Destination 3, then Die Hard followed by Jennifer's Body. It's like a game of movie roulette. Tonight Ghost.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Day 34- A quiet day in the neighborhood

It is December 26 the day after Christmas and from what I read about Spain since they celebrate their big holiday January 5th I assumed it would be business as usual. Not so much, there is more closed today than there has been the last two days. It is crazy how quiet it is on the streets and all those who are out and about are tourists. We did our semi-traditional Christmas eve dinner of calcots and romesco sauce, spicy chickpeas, salad and a black sausage and rice dish similar to paella but not really (same, same but different). Dinner overall turned out pretty good but we opted out of joining the people at the bars or attending midnight mass. Yesterday (Christmas Day) we stayed in most of the day, then headed out for dinner early evening. Again mainly tourists at the restaurant but we were happy places were open. Today I looked forward to hitting the shops, in true American fashion I thought maybe there would be some sales but I was wrong. I guess consumerism is not as popular here, taking a break and spending time with the family is. Strange concept.....

Monday, December 24, 2012

Day 33- La Noche Buena

The Good Night as the Spanish call it or Christmas Eve to us. The main Christmas meal in Spain in on December 24. The meal on the eve of the 24th is the most important meal in the Spanish calendar and is always held in the evening, many people won't even start until after midnight (after midnight mass) as the old saying goes, " Esta noche es Noche Buena, y no es de dormir" this night is the Good Night, and is not meant for sleeping" You can expect to see people out in bars drinking with family and friends before and sometimes after the big dinner. Another must do for a true Spanish Christmas is midnight mass which people go to either before or after the meal, depending on the time they eat. Christmas midnight mass in Spain is known as"La Misa del Gallo" or "Rooster Mass" because the rooster was the first to announce the birth of Christ. Once the meal and mass is over, people return home to exchange gifts. Children will often only receive a small gift as 'Papa Noel' is less popular than the Three Kings who arrive on 5th January with presents for all the children. The evening, or morning, usually ends in a bar or disco where whole families gather to party and celebrate once the family festivities are over. This year my plan was to cook a semi-traditional Spanish "La Noche Buena" dinner, but without an oven and minimal cooking tools my choices were limited. Not to mention I waited until fairly late yesterday and by the time I made it to the market most of the stalls were closed. I guess that is where I think like an American, the day before the day before Christmas everything is open and open late in some cases. Not in Spain. I will let you know what my menu consisted of after dinner........

Day 32- A week not being a tourist

So one week has passed and I didn't write, well that's not entirely true I wrote but just not on the blog. After Paris we decided to slow down a bit, to save money but mainly just to live like a local. I wrote a post a while back about being a tourist and for days in all the places we visited we were definitely tourists but this is where that difference between vacation and traveling comes into play. We quite a few things on our list to do and see in Barcelona and the surrounding areas which could keep us busy everyday but that is how you burn out on a trip. You know when people start using the term "I need a vacation from my vacation". We decided to stay in more, eat at home and save the small trips outside the city for next time. This is the key when you are traveling for more than a couple weeks. I keep a journal for everyday of the trip that budgets what we spend, I have done this for all our trips. When you start seeing a spike in your daily spending (Paris) then you know it is time to make up the average for the week by not spending for a few days. Simple math! I also jot down notes about what we packed that is not needed, stuff we can pick up along the way and stuff we also need because you can't find it anywhere. Hitting the grocery store for the week saves a lot of money, not to mention, dare I say it..... Sometimes you just get sick of going out to eat.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Day 25- Love Locks

So I am backtracking a bit but this was something I really wanted to mention. While in Paris we noticed something neither of us had never seen before, a bridge covered with pad locks. Our shuttle driver pointed some out as we drove to our hotel but we really didn't get the full affect until saw the bridge for ourselves. For those of you who haven’t heard of them, here's the story (according to A couple writes their names on a padlock and locks it onto one of the bridges. They then throw the key into the Seine River as a symbol of their undying love. As BonjourParis reported last year, the locks on the Pont des Arts near the Louvre were cut off, reportedly by the government. But romance beats politics in Paris and the locks can now be seen on two Paris bridges: Pont des Arts and Pont de l'Archevêché. However, there is a difference on which bridge you pledge your love. Some say the only way to break the seal of love brought on by this love lock act is to find the key and unlock the padlock. Of course, that is nearly impossible, since the keys lie at the bottom of the river. This reality induces many brokenhearted individuals to return with bolt cutters to try to chop off the padlocks. So, on second thought, maybe it wasn’t the government after all. Eric and I thought it was pretty cool, ever though we did not partake in it we could appreciate the meaning behind it.

Day 24- Learning to Cook Spanish Style

Yes, I am a little behind but this week has been a little slow and I have been a bit under the weather, so I wanted to space it out a bit. So on Saturday I took a cooking class here in Barcelona, I have made it my goal now to take one whenever I travel. If we would have had more time in Paris I would have loved to take one there but I needed to save something for next time. My class consisted of 14 people, a couple from California, a couple from Wisconsin, a couple from New Zealand, a couple from Spain and Germany, a few other people who I am not totally sure where they are from except one of the women lived in Barcelona and knew all about paella (I think her cousin was visiting with a friend), a woman from England and a man from Australia who is a travel writer. Our teacher was named Ignacio, he was great! He took us to the market and showed us all the best people to buy from, he also taught us the 4 things to look for while buying fish, the smell, the scales, the eyes and the blood vessels (I assume) in the gills. That was something I never knew...... He also explained the prices of things and how local is more expensive, the different meats and what they are. The back leg of a black pig is the best; they eat acorns and grass only and "live outside for their entire lives, which is 5 months." Yes and for a mere $1149 you too can have your very own Jamon delivered right to your home from You think I'm joking, check out the website....
After the market we went back to the kitchen to begin our recipes. The menu consisted of Calcots (Sweet winter onions) and asparagus with Romesco Sauce (a nut & red pepper based sauce) followed by Trinxat de Cerdanya (potato and cabbage with smoked bacon)Ignacio made a variation of this which I liked but probably won't remember. Next was the main course, Paella de Marisco (seafood paella) the traditional paella although I prefer the meat paella. This was the tricky part, did you know they have a specific pan for the number of people you are making paella for? Basically it's even numbers only 2 and up, ours was 14 so you can imagine how big that pan is or Ben can demonstrate....
This is a very specific recipe, everything is about timing.... He also made sure we knew that we probably won't do it right the first time but keep practicing. I like realists. I also learned how to cut an onion properly which I am stoked about! Lastly was dessert, Minitarta de Moniato (Sweet potato minicake). Delicious! My recommendation if you ever visit Barcelona, Cook & Taste located at Paradis 3 or check out My Class
Did I mention we drank a lot if wine????

Monday, December 17, 2012

Day 23- A Moment of Silence

On Friday, December 14 around 4:30pm (Spain time 6 hours ahead of the east coast) we returned from Paris back to our tiny apartment in Barcelona. Like any other afternoon, we went to grab some food and came back to our place so Eric could go out and shoot and I would write my blog and maybe even work on my script, it was like any other day. Until we looked at our computers, an array of news websites were overloaded with horrifying news about a school shooting in Connecticut. The story was still unfolding so we did not know the extent of it until we turned on CNN. I should add Eric is from Connecticut and his family still lives there, his sister and brother-in-law live 2 towns over from there. For the next 6-8 hours we were glued to the TV, sick to our stomachs and filled with disbelief. Especially since we have been discussing starting a family or our own. How could be someone do something like this? What could those sweet and innocent children and adults possibly done to deserve this? That lingering question of if everything happens for a reason, what god forsaken reason could this be? Not only for those children we lost but those who now have to live with this for the rest of their lives. The innocence of these children is gone, I sat up that night trying to remember the first time I learned of the terrible things the happen in the world. The first thing that came to mind was when the Challenger blew up, it was 1986 and I was 8 years old. We watched it in our class (3rd grade I believe)and as soon as it blew up, the teacher immediately turned the television off and our Principal made an announcement over the PA system. It was a terrible accident but not at the hands of someone else. How do you explain to your children that there are people out there that are capable of such things? Simply teaching them not to talk to strangers is not enough anymore. My best handle of this is actually teaching our kids that monsters do exist, not the ones living under their beds or in their closets but the ones that walk among us. The monsters you don't see coming. Maybe this way they will see them coming, they will know they exist and they will know the evil they can bring is real and if at all possible fight back. I don't know if that is the right thing to do but knowledge is powerful unfortunately so is violence. For now let's just take moment of silence to remember those lives lost and try to come together as a nation, as human beings to do the best we can to prevent something of this magnitude from ever happening again.

Day 22- An American living in Barcelona in Paris Part Duex

Paris is a beautiful city, there is no other way to say it. Strolling down the Champs-Elysees, the street decorated for the holidays, Christmas music playing in the background (by the way Christmas music seems to be the same everywhere), sipping on some hot wine you get a very nostalgic feeling. Especially when you are sitting at a semi-outdoor restaurant looking up at the Eiffel Tower, it is so prefect I almost wish it would snow. But you seem to get that feeling everywhere you go, like one of my favorite places Shakespeare and Company bookstore. The original store was originally opened in 1919 and during the 1920's was a gathering place for writers like Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce, this store closed in 1940 when the Germans occupied Paris but in 1951 George Whitman opened a new store at a different location. Paris is known as "one of the world's most important hotbeds of experimentation in art and literature." Historical figures like Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and the "Lost Generation" of English-speaking writers like Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, James Baldwin, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound made Paris their home. Just to sit in a coffee shop and think any number of great pieces of Literature could have started here. It is a very inspirational place to be, especially as an artist or a writer. The French don't normally have to greatest reputation for their hospitality especially toward Americans, aside from the very obvious re-pronunciation of almost every word we say to them people were generally nice. The food was amazing, as I said in the last post we ate as much French food as possible. You always know when the restaurant is authentic by how close the tables are to one another. A side note.... a fun game to play with one another, especially by the Eiffel Tower is guess the Nationality. This marks the half-way point pin our trip!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Days 20-21 An American living in Barcelona in Paris

So maybe this is considered cheating but it has been a long couple days with not much internet and only an iPad to type on but enough complaining, I'm in Paris! We arrived In the afternoon after a short plane ride, our hotel was located in the Latin Quarter right down the street from Notre Dame. This is my second trip to Paris and I have to say I can keep coming back and still won't experience everything and will not get sick of looking at stuff. I mean every time you turn the corner there is a building or church that is at least 200 years old. We really acted like tourists here since we were only in Paris for a few days, a mini holiday if you will. That alone is why I would love to live in Europe, the closest courty I could venture to growing up was Canada, not the nice part either. Now I have Mexico...... No comment. To start we ate like tourists, I mean we had crepes, croque monsieur, onion soup (yes they just call it onion soup), although they do say french fries which we had as well and I must say not their speciality. We ate duck confit, boeuf bourguigon( thank you to Julia Child for me knowing what that was), filet with bearnaise sauce, oysters, creme brûlée and various other French desserts. Word of advice, order off a set menu here you get Moreau least 3 courses and it is cheaper. Not to forget the French wines..... Next we site saw like tourists, Norte Dame, the Louvre, Jardin des Tuileries, Arc de Triomphe, we walked along des Champs Élysées, visited Centre Pompidou and of course the Eiffel Tower despite the cold weather we did it all. Well not all but as much as possible in 2 days. The Eiffel Tower is one of those things that I don't care how many times you go there you are still utterly amazed but the sight of it. Especially at night! Every hour on the hour it sparkles, I don't care how old you are, you feel like a little kid seeing the Christmas tree light up for the first time. Eric went to the top, I punked out the last time I was here so this time I said to myself maybe I will give it a try maybe just to the middle...... Nope, it was still as high as I remembered and I am still afraid of heights. There's always next time.......

Monday, December 10, 2012

Day 19- Intra-European travel

Eric and I are going on a mini holiday to Paris for a few days. Everyone kept telling us how cheap it is to fly from country to country in Europe (as long as you book somewhat early) so we gave it a go. We have taken the train from place to place in Spain, our trip from San Sebastian to Barcelona was actually almost as much as our flight to Paris (about $90 roundtrip) and that was just oneway. So naturally we thought we made the right decision, guess again...... Easy Jet is the airline we are flying, while it was cheaper and you do get there quicker which is great for a mini break, the airline regulations here in Europe are much more complicated than in the States. It's a good thing we checked beforehand, we just spent the last 2 hours packing and re-packing our stuff (for only 3 nights). You only get 1 carry-on bag, not a personal item and a carry-on, no carry-on and laptop bag and definitely not a carry-on and a purse. The size regulations are also smaller (at least we think they are) 56x45x25cm and they count deodorant and lip balm as liquids. Basically I can't bring half my make-up. You need to be there 2 hours ahead of time, which makes sense I guess since it is technically International travel but the flight is only like 1 1/2 hours. The price to check a bag is about 25 euro, if you get stopped at the gate with your bag it is 50 euro to check. Wish us luck!

Day 18- Being a Tourist

Whenever you visit a place there are a certain number of touristy things you need to do. So we spent the next two days "being a tourist", we started with visiting the Christopher Columbus monument, then it was off to Museu Maritim (or what I refer to as more boat history). Clearly this was not my choice but once you learn the history of the building and it's surroundings it is pretty cool, what wasn't cool was the fact that they are currently restoring the museum so most of it was closed. We did get to see part of what was the Royal Shipyard that was built in the 13th century. Note to self check museum websites before visiting, also this is free on Sunday after 3pm which we missed as well. The next day we visited Museu Picasso (who I have to admit I thought was Italian), this is the most visited museum in Barcelona. This is also free on Sunday after 3pm which apparently everyone knew, luckily we were not in any rush and the wait was not bad. Either way it was worth it, just to see that big of a collection of Picasso's under one roof. I mean I stood in a room that was all paintings of his blue period. Tomorrow we plan to keep this tourist thing going when we head to Paris for a few days, let's just hope we don't keep the "stupid American" thing going.

Day 17- Finding my way

No matter how much you prepare yourself there are still certain times when you just look like a "stupid American". I couldn't get into my Catalan cooking class until next Saturday which includes a trip to the market to teach you what to buy and how to order it, but I couldn't wait to start cooking. I have been looking for the perfect cookbook and researching certain recipes, while it may not necessarily be all Spanish I came up with a great menu. Rosemary Lamb Chops, Spicy Chickpeas, Salad with homemade Lemon Vinaigrette and Herb Ricotta Bruschetta. Some of this is from the Barefoot Contessa, The Cooking Channel is one of few English speaking channels we get thanks to British television. This menu mainly consisted of ingredients I could pick up from the market, so naturally I studied up on what I needed including all the spices. What I forgot to check is how to say lamb in Spanish. Did you know most meat looks the same in it's raw form? The first place I got up the courage to ask she literally showed me a full lamb, yes just like the one Mary had. I was about to give up, I finally found a butcher that had pictures next to the meat but that just made it worse. The best part of the market is there are a ton of options, so right before I was about to throw in the towel I found a butcher that had what I recognized to be lamb chops. He also spoke English so that helped..... After that we went to the chickpea lady, the olive lady (my personal favorite), the spice lady and the produce man. On our way home we stopped at the bakery and picked up a loaf of freshly made bread. All for under 20 Euro.....

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Day 16- To take the lift or to not take the lift....

One of the things that has baffled me since I have been in this country is how the people stay so thin. I mean all this fabulous food, that is extremely fattening I might add, with very little or no vegetables and the unlimited amounts of expresso and wine of course.... Still even with all the walking around people do here, how is it possible to not be at least an American averaged size person (woman at least) which from the last survey done was an American size 14? Well today I answered the question, we are staying at the top level of what New Yorkers would call a fifth floor walk up. All the buildings here are old, even if they are somewhat modernized they still seem to stick to the same architectural make-up; dark mahogany wood with marble floors, all the lights are on timers and there seem to be antique handles on most doors which have antique keys to match. The most important thing to note here are the elevators or lifts as they are called in Europe. Every lift we have been in is the size of a very small closet, the max capacity is 4 (which I do not see possible nor would I stay inside if a third person entered) or 300 Kilos which is roughly 600 pounds for those who are not privy to the metric system. That would mean no more than four 150lb. people or three 200lb. people can ride the lift together at any given time. My point with all this is that this lift is not only small and made of wood and glass being held by a cable you can see but today it got stuck. Thankfully we were not inside but this made us realize that taking the stairs is probably the best idea from here on out, this also made me realize that locals probably do this everyday.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Day 15- Alone Day

Today Eric and I decided to have an alone day. Not that we are getting sick of each other but I wanted to shop and he wanted to venture off to check out the docks and take some day time pictures. Every couple needs their alone time, especially when you are traveling together for days on end. After a few days of getting to know the neighborhood we were ready. Our specific neighborhood is called L'Eixample it is known to have the city's most expensive shops, hotels and eateries. So naturally I need to look else where for my kind of shops. Mission accomplished, I discovered "Muy Mucho" which is the Spanish equivalent to if Pier One merged with the 99 cent store. Tiger, which has various gadgets and body products and Mango, which is very similar to H&M. There is also a place called Sabone, apparently it is a company out of Isreal that makes amazing bath products known for their body scrubs. The sales lady there spoke pretty good English and had me try a sample in their large tub located in the back of the store. I have to say it felt as if I just had a manicure, so even though it is a little pricey I am taking some home. She did say that it is quite potent so you only need to use it every other week, sold! So what did I end up with you ask? For a mere 20 euro total for the day I got eucalyptus body scrub, what I thought was aloe shower gel but ended up being just aloe vera gel and 2 fancy bars of soap, yes I have missed my bath products. I also stopped at an amazing candy store for a mixed bag of chocolates, some containers for the spices I plan to buy at the farmers market on my next trip and the best purchase of all our Barcelona Christmas tree.

Day 14- The Gaudi' Experience #1

Today we saw our first of many architectural masterpieces designed by Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi' was a Spanish Catalan architect and figurehead of Catalan Modernism. His designs and very distinctive style were very cutting edge for his time. That is about the extent of my knowledge on Catalan Modernism, for now at least..... The mansion is called "Palau Guell" it was built in the 1880's, one of his early designs, for Eusebi Guell(that is a whole other history lesson). It combines art nouveau, Gothic and Islamic materials. Even the stables were designed with very specific detail and no expense was spared throughout the entire house, including the chimneys. It even has it's very own chapel. In a word, it was gorgeous! A dream house, not even, I am pretty sure no person could even dream up a place like this. I look forward to the rest of my upcoming Gaudi' experiences. Side note, after the civil war, police took it over and tortured political prisoners in the basement.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Day 13- World's Best Market

The farmers market here in Barcelona, Mercat de la Boqueria is ranked on of the best farmers markets in the world (according to CNN at least). It is located off the very popular La Rambla which is basically the tourist/ party street. It is slightly hidden so if you are on La Rambla look for the Dunkin Donuts then go down that street. It is a bit overwhelming, you walk in and it is made up of vendors selling fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, cheeses and my favorite olives and olive oil. I think the people back home know what kind of souvie they are getting from Spain. We bought ginger flavored olive oil, so good! The market also has cafe's and bars mixed in of course..... We didn't even make it through the entire thing but something tells me I will be back.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Day 12- Hello Barcelona

We embarked on another early morning train ride from San Sebastian to Barcelona. We arrived at the city right at the metro station, just a hint of advice Spain if you have escalators going up you should have them going down, just saying.... We arose from the street to see one of the more famous architectural aspects of the city Casa Batllo', it looks as if Tim Burton modeled his claymations from Nightmare Before Christmas from this building. We will visit it another time but it was cool to know we were right in the heart of things. Our place was only about 2 blocks away. We arrived at the building and met Philippe, who I think is French but Eric thinks he is Belgian, he previously worked in the film industry (not sure doing what) and went to NYU in the early eighties. He said things like "bada bi bada bo" and used other sound effects while describing things, he told us where the "how you say kinky" part of the city was, "where the whores are". The place was great, nicely decorated and located on the top of the building, the penthouse complete with our own balcony over looking the city. A couple observations I have noticed in this country, people never have elevators that go all the way up and all the doors lock from the inside. We really need to make sure our keys are by the door in case of a fire since this will be home for the next month.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Day 11- Pilgrimage to Christ

If you have ever had the dying urge to walk up the side of a mountain to see a massive statue of Jesus then Mont Urgull is the answer to that long awaited yearning. But christ is not all you will find, along the way you will see the best panoramic views of San Sebastian and the Bay of Biscay, I felt like any minute Russell Crow was going to sail around the bend and a partial castle surrounding our lord and savior. Inside the castle after the breath-taking hike you will find a museum with no bathroom inside. I still am not totally sure what the purpose of the museum is but they have what I like to call the headless Masters and Commanders.
And of course Jesus.....

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Day 10- Marine Life & More

The aquarium in San Sebastian is not like any aquarium experience I have ever had. Having said that, this was awesome! You walk in and the first thing you see is a film playing on a loop showing how a certain fish is prepared, yes you read that correct it shows you how best the marine life you are about to visit will taste later that day. The first level is the maritime section, there are various models of the ships that sailed through the Bay of Biscay a mini-history lesson if you will, although I couldn't help but giggle to myself every time I read something about the "prominent seaman". Next you embark on the history of crew in the area followed by a section dedicated to whales and whale hunting. The next level is the art of fishing and just art that is dedicated solely to the sea. We wrap this section up with my personal favorites a display of fish in formaldehyde. We finally make it to actual marine life in the aquarium of the Bay of Biscay. You walk through a tunnel that is full of fish including sharks, rays and turtles swimming together as if they were in the sea. What is amazing to me is how they keep a tank that big clean and all the fish well fed so they don't eat each other..... It is pretty cool, you really do feel like you are part of the sea. The final level is made up of tropical fish and reefs. With a special room dedicated to mollusks. The best part of this adventure was the calamari we had at the restaurant next to the aquarium. The definition of Irony......