Sunday, April 26, 2015

Girl's Day Out in Barrio Gotico: Barcelona's Best Eats, Santa Caterina Market, Kokua Shoes, Shopping and GELAAATI!

Sapna & Anna @ Kokua Shoes
This post has a bit of loaded title - I know! Saturday's afternoon and evening off was a beautiful girl's night out. Anna and I decided to spend late afternoon walking the Gothic neighbourhood and El Born, one of Barcelona's most beautiful areas. It seems almost mythical, as if you are walking down streets that came out of pages of an enchanted history book. 

You may have noticed that I didn't blog about my 30th birthday in January (strange?!) The truth is, Carly, Marina (friends from my PhD course) and I tried to go out for gelato. Simple enough, you'd think, but the place that was recommended to me (as well as every other one) was closed that night!!! It was also closed the day after!  

Yesterday, though, Anna and I found it open and waiting for us --- GELAAATI! -- the best gelato I have ever had. It tastes like Italy. You can feel every flavour in your mouth...creamy and delicious. Definitely check out this Italian gelato place in the Gothic quarter.

GELAATI - the best gelato in Barcelona!

Anna with veggie tapas
Fish tapas for Anna
We then stopped at a weekend long tapas festival at Santa Catarina Market, close to Anna's place. Mmm...tapas! We definitely didn't get wine though - they were charging almost 5 euros a glass, and everyone knows that a good bottle costs less than that here. 

 Here's Anna with my veggie tapas - tortilla de patatas and goat cheese and veggie spread!

Dessert and shoe shopping before dinner? Why not?! Anna introduced me to Kokua, a store that only sells ballerina flats!  They are all handmade in Barcelona - and beautiful. It really defines the Barcelona's style --- beautiful shoes, but only if they're comfortable! I have seen very few people wandering the streets in high heels. I bought two pairs (oops!!)

Kokua Summery Blue Ballerinas!

Kokua's Pretty in Pink Ballerinas!
Dinner was at NAP Italian pizza. Now, don't get me wrong, it wasn't BAD...but it definitely is not worth all the hype! There are two locations  - one in Urquinaona and one in Barceloneta, by the beach. I much prefer Eccola, the pizzeria by my house. 

We ended the night with wine (as always!) at Anna's place, since it's nearby. What a beautiful night in a beautiful city with a beautiful friend ... I really love my life here! (Now off to work on that PhD I came here for ;) 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Feliz dia de St. Jordi: A Beautiful Catalonian Celebration of Literature and Love!

St. Jordi's day is a perfect celebration of literature and love and already my favourite holiday in Barcelona. Every April 23rd, people celebrate Dia de St. Jordi, the day on which both Shakespeare and Cervantes died. Here, Valentine's Day is seen as a foolish, "American" commercialized holiday - but everyone loves St. Jordi's. It's the day on which men give the women in their lives they care about a rose --- and women give them books.

There is also a special bread for the day and lots of  baking  - as seems to be the case for every holiday here :) It's the one on the right with red and yellow stripes - the red is meat, and the yelllow is cheese. Of course, as a vegetarian, I got the dessert version - strawberries and pineapples with custard on bread...mmm

Las Ramblas, the main street in the centre of Barcelona,  fills with kiosks from booksellers, with everything from bookstore chains to local sellers selling books for just a few euros.  Luckily, I was able to walk down Las Ramblas from Universitat to Drassanes escaping most of the crowd in between going to Spanish class and going to work. Apparently it gets so busy in the evening you can barely move. 
A lot of people have started sending virtual books to people they care about that live a little further away, and virtual bouquets of flowers, too :) I cheated a bit and bought myself a rose at half price towards the end of the day, to make my virtual roses more real.  I also bought myself a book - a beautiful, antique looking book on Mozart's life, in Spanish. I can't wait to read it, which I will likely do on my next train and plane rides, not too far away.
Las Ramblas on St. Jordi's 2015

The Separatists!

My beautiful purchase- can't wait to read it!
So, why roses and books? The Legend with an Unexpected Twist:

The legend of St. Jordi's says that a dragon once attacked a kingdom and the king decided that one of his unlucky subjects, the townspeople, needed to be sacrificed each day so the dragon would not attack more people; he had made a deal with the dragon.

One unfortunate day, the unlucky winner of the draw turned out to be his daughter, the princess. He begged the dragon to take all of his money instead, but the dragon refused. The king resigned to the fact that his daughter would be killed. At the moment the dragon opened his mouth to swallow her whole, a knight in shining armour stabbed the dragon and rescued the princess. It is said that roses grew around the dragon's dead body.

The king asked St. Jordi to marry the princess and take half his kingdom. The knight said nothing at all and rode off into the distance. This is why women receive roses from men. The fact that the festival combines itself with an important literary day makes it so special for me. The last line of the legend says:

 Legends do not need to make sense. They just need to be beautiful. 

 I love Barcelona :) Feliz St. Jordi's!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Relatos Salvajes: An Intense, Moving, Must-See Argentinian Film

Movie poster from
Relatos Salvajes  is an Argentinian, Oscar-nominated gem - I have never seen a film that depicts human emotions in such a vivid, poignant, intense way. At times, it is an exaggerated portrayal of human reactions to situations that we all encounter on a daily basis - a plane ride, a driver with road rage, bureaucratic parking officials, a cheating lover - and at times, it is a completely accurate portrayal of internal rage, panic, distress and vengeance. This film will keep you guessing the entire way through - it's 6 mini films in one - 6 separate, suspenseful tales.

If you've read my other movie reviews, you know that if a movie gets 6.5 or higher on IMDB, it normally gets my approval as well. This film has an 8.2 - phenomenal.  

To those of you who don't speak Spanish, and don't like 'reading movies', WATCH THIS ONE ANYWAY. It is that good - and as far as I know, not that hard to find with subtitles. We watched it in our Spanish class last week without subtitles - and learned some Argentinian Spanish words :) 

In fact, I'm going to watch this film again this afternoon - a lazy Sunday. Three years ago I would have been too busy to let myself relax for the entire day on a Sunday, but now that I live in Spain, and everything is closed on Sundays - even more so than England  - I'm starting to like it.  Happy Sunday - I hope you watch and enjoy this cinematic gem :)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Little Italy in El Born - Anna's Birthday Celebration

Anna's birthday dinner Friday night was a blast - and a great chance to catch up with a few people from my last Spanish class, like Cristina, Regina and Kirill.  Little Italy is a lovely little restaurant in the neighbourhood of El Born. I had the mushroom risotto , one of the few vegetarians items on the menu, and of course, we shared a tiramisu. Mmm, Italian...

One aspect I love about Barcelona is its "barrios". There are so many different neighbourhoods with very, very different atmospheres. It's like living in a big city full of beautiful small towns and architectural marvels. El Born is quite touristy,  but it has an old town feel that really is beautiful.

Happy 28th Birthday, Anna :)  I am so glad that we met in our Spanish class and I hope you have a lovely year ahead. Thank you for the invite  and all the best :)

Regina, Anna and Cristina

Anna, Sapna and Andres

Renato, Anna and Vanesa
Group shot at Little Italy Restaurant - From left-back  - Andres, Renato, Cristina, Kirill, Vanesa, Sapna Anna, Regina

Monday, April 06, 2015

Pasqua en Catalunya: Easter Traditions in Spain and Catalonia

When you think of the word "Easter", what comes to mind?  Easter bunnies, chocolate eggs, egg hunts, plastic baskets kids make from those empty green strawberry crates and ribbons? Well, here in Spain it means something a little different! In fact, in my Spanish class, someone asked how to wish someone a 'Happy Easter' and our prof said that there isn't really an expression --- and from what she remembered from her childhood, "There was nothing 'happy' about Easter"! (No kids crafts, no chocolate eggs, etc.)

It's traditionally a religious week called "Semana Santa", week of the Saints. It starts with Palm Sunday, the week before Easter. Traditionally, godparents give their godchildren a giant palm branch (I actually saw some kids walking around with these last Sunday). According to one of my Spanish profs, in her region, the palm tree leaves were strung with candies and given to kids --- the kids had to hold the leaves during the entire church service before being allowed to eat the candy!!!  These days, families go on holiday for Semana Santa, but apparently 20 years ago most people just went to see their families or stayed home to attend religious events.

Nowadays (and traditionally in some regions), kids get "Monas de Pasqua", which are cakes that are decorated with chocolate easter eggs, cartoon characters and come in a variety of flavours.  According to the news, the most popular "mona" figure this year is Elsa, the lead character of Disney's cartoon movie Frozen. The traditional monas are made of almonds, but of course, I bought myself a chocolate and cream one.  Mmmm!!  

My Easter "Mona" 
Mine was only about 4 euros, but you wouldn't believe how much the huge ones with chocolate carved figures were ---some were about 50 euros!!!

Processions of saints like the one below (photo from apparently occur all week, especially during Easter weekend. If we had had more time to hang around Huesca after we went hiking in Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park on Friday, we would have stopped by to see their town's procession; apparently it is one of the best. I caught the highlights of one of them on the news, though!


HAPPY EASTER, everyone!

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Hiking Ordesa & Monte Perdido National Park - A Beautiful 2 Days in the Pyrenees

Since we happened to have a couple free days over Easter, Andrés and I decided to drop K off at doggie daycare and  head to the Pyrenees (Ordesa & Monte Perdido National Park) for some beautiful mountain views and a four hour hike.  Well, it was supposed to be a much longer (and more difficult) hike, but here is what happened when we arrived:

  • Due to the crowds of people for the long weekend, the road to drive from the bottom of the mountain to the parking lot in the meadow where we would have normally parked (pradera),  was closed and they were shuttling people in coaches.
  • The queue for the bus was 1.5 hours long --- so, we decided to walk 2 hours instead! 
  • When we reached the pradera, we were planning to take the Cola de Caballo  (Horse's Tail) trail, which is a medium difficulty path to a beautiful waterfall. 
  • That, too, was closed!!! (due to climbing conditions, not Easter, I think)
  • So, we took the easy path, among hoards of tourists and managed to finish it in less than 2 hours and took the bus down to save a bit of time
  • We even had a mini snowball fight on the way (yup, there is snow!)
  • Plus side:  This left us with enough time to check out two cute little towns in the area
Below is a short slideshow of the scenery. We were so focused on the scenery (and on rushing ahead of the annoying groups of VERY slow families with strollers) that we didn't take pictures of people, just of Spain's picturesque beauty.  Apparently, there are a ton of trails in these mountains, so we'll be back on a regular weekend to check out the more adventurous trails (ie: I will be boosting up the gym/workout schedule! Free weights and hot yoga, here I come! I might actually have to give pilates a try...)

(Note: if the slideshow doesn't work in your mobile browser, please click here to access my slideshow via my FlickR page)

Dinner in Huesca

This blog post would not be complete without a description of our dinner on Thursday night. We stopped in a town called Huesca at "the best restaurant in town", called something like The Oyster (I think).  We were greeted by the friendly, but very red-neck owner.  There, I had a lot of fun explaining that I would like a vegetarian meal. 
 - Owner:  So, you don't eat meat? 
 - Me:   No meat, thanks
 - Owner: Fish? Seafood?
 - Me: No meat, fish, or seafood, please. I'll have the tortilla de patatas and a salad, with no meat or fish. 
- Owner: Ok.
- A: So, did you ask for your meal to be vegetarian?
- Me: Yes, he understood
- A: So, did you ask him not to put tuna in your salad?
- Me: Of course, I told him no meat, fish or seafood.

Guess what came in my salad?  A BIG hunk of tuna. I was about to complain, but the guy was so shocked and worried that something was wrong, that I just chucked my tuna onto Andrés' plate. 

Oh, by the way --- worst house wine EVER. That's saying something in Spain.

What an adventure! Lol!

The other towns we visited were:
 -   Biescas (where we had a sugary breakfast of pastry and torreja, the Spanish version of French toast)
- Sabinanigo, where we took a picture of a beautiful church (it was closed, unfortunately)

Casa/Bar Estevan in  Jaca

Andrés wanted to check out a burger bar called Casa Estevan in the small town of Jaca (which we thought would be totally empty, as it is a TINY little town). There were so many tourists that it took us over 20 minutes to find an ILLEGAL place to park. Thankfully we didn't get a ticket! (And there was a queue of cars waiting to illegally park where we had when we left!). Excuse the horrible mobile phone quality of my food pics!

Although they lack veggie burgers on their GIGANTIC beef burger menu, they do have amazing salads. We had beer mixed with lemon drink (a normal thing here).

Check out the image below of my newly gained Spanish vocabulary from this trip (I'm going to try to add one of these on every trip I do):

Happy Easter everyone!