Monday, March 28, 2016

Aire de Barcelona Roman Spa & Barcelona's Maritime Museum: A Relaxing Easter Weekend!

Easter weekend arrived at last! Four days off the hectic life I lead here - four days off teaching at the uni, tutoring, PhD work and stress (for the most part).The last two weeks have been inundated with senseless paperwork for conferences and overly complicated scheduling; instead, the last few days have involved gym time, playing the piano, organizing, running productive errands, spending time with K, French, and relaxing a little. There has been a bit of PhD work, a few random hours - but nothing compared to the craziness ahead. 

In fact, I plan to take the majority of the day off today before going back to reality.

Aire de Barcelona is the Roman Spa where I started my weekend on Friday evening. I wanted to super-splurge and get the baths, massage and exfoliation package - but it turns out I got the very last appointment this weekend (due to a cancellation) and they only had time for the baths and massage.  Photos are from their website.

Here's my opinion:
  • It's really, really beautiful to have different swimming pools and a steam room under original Roman arches. Wow.
  • I love the idea of having a swimming/lazing in the pool session followed by a massage
  • The "hot" bath is not at hot-tub temperatures! This is okay though, because the steamroom is wonderful and has incredible smelling aromatherapy oils
  • The "jets" bath is kinda fun and the "floating" salt pool is cool. I'm not sure how much salt is in there though; you definitely still had to try to float! Childhood memories of swimming class evoked ;)
  • False advertisement on the juices and tea and relaxation room. This could have been because they were super busy on the long weekend, but I didn't see anyone with tea or juice...
  • It is definitely expensive.  33 euros for just the baths, 70 euros for the baths + a 45 minute massage and 100 euros if you want the exfoliation package.
So, I used to HATE massages (this is back when I had way less patience and couldn't stay that still -  but moving from Canada, where everything is easy, to England's bureacracy to Spain's insane bureacracy and slowness has made me more patient).  This is why this was only my third massage in my whole life - I had one once when I was 15, and once in Banff when I was about 24 (a hot stone massage).  I must say that the masseuse here in Barcelona actually  managed to get all the knots out of my back and neck. It was amazing! 

Now all I need to do is find another baths/steamroom/massage combination that does not cost this much...suggestions?!

Sapna at Maritime Museum
On Saturday, Anna and I spent the afternoon together walking along the beach and visiting the Maritime Museum. I had no idea so many Spanish sailors lost their lives in the World Wars (which Spain did not partake in; however many of their merchant ships were sunk by the Axis). 

We then walked over to the El Born area, and had crepes for dinner at Crepes al Born, a cute place that is also a cocktail bar. It has a really fun vibe, with Hawaiian shirts hanging from the ceiling and swinging lamps that the bartenders push to move to the beat when the music gets louder. (We will be coming back at some point to check out their professional-looking cocktails!) 

It was great to catch up with Anna! What a fun weekend so far.  Happy Easter, everyone!!

Anna at the Maritime Museum
Sapna at Crepes Al Born

Crepes al Born
Mona de Pasqua, March 28, 2016
By the way, if you're curious about Spanish Easter traditions, click the link to check out my blog post from last year. Here's a pic of this year's "Mona de Pasqua"! I bought it while walking Kiara and the line was so long that K got impatient outside and started barking - so a very nice lady hung onto her for me while I was in line. So sweet! Happy Easter!!!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

9 French Films to Check Out! (& A French Novel & An Italian Film)

A couple months ago, I decided to begin with one of my goals on my bi-annual goals list (yes, I know - geek alert!)  that I had been putting off until my Spanish level was at about C1 (Advanced). Doing really well on the DELE B2 official exam last summer and 6 more months of practice, convinced me I had to start.  The goal? Returning to French!  
It had been three years since I had spoken a word of one of my favourite languages. The last time before that - excluding a very challenging few days in Bordeaux last summer- was during my Masters thesis data collection in Rouen (post here!) and Montpellier (post here!) in Spring of 2013.  Since my PhD in Applied Linguistics topic is related to inhibitory control (blocking one language while speaking the other) - and this is exactly what I was having trouble with -  I got super excited and decided to hire a French tutor once a week, even if that meant tutoring more English. 

Before I dive into the reviews, I must say I find it incredible how "input" can drastically kickstart language skills.  For three years I had zero French input, even though I had taken B2+/C1 (Advanced) level classes on and off before that.  Over the past 8 weeks, this is all I've done per week to get my level back up:
  • 2 hours with Sarah, my French tutor. One grammar topic per week, one vocabulary theme per month, mostly speaking
  • 1 hour (average over month) of French-Spanish language exchange group
  • 3 hours of studying  (grammar and vocab using Grammaire en Dialogues , writing one page assignments, reading novels (Read Si C'etait Vrai by Marc Levy - it's an incredible story of a man who can interact with the "spirit"of a woman in a coma, falls in love and must help stop the hospital from euthanizing her)
  • 2 hours - watching a movie in French, either with no subtitles or French subtitles and taking notes on vocabulary

I truly feel that I can speak French again!!!  Here are the movies you should check out. All photos are from Use to check which country you should use on your proxy server. Remember to check using both the French and English movie titles!

Heartwarming Dramas

1. La Faute à Fidel (2006)

One of my favourites - I've seen and blogged about this before-  this film tell the story of political activism in 1970s Paris from the perspective of a 9 year old girl who goes from being rich - to suddenly "poor" as her parents turn to a more socialist approach to their lives. It's beautiful.

2. Intouchables (2011)

A must-see film about a man from a lower socioeconomic class who is hired to be a personal assistant to a rich quadraplegic in Paris. He treats him like a true friend, rather than just a patient  It's funny, entertaining and heartwarming - and based on a true story!  I had seen this one a couple times before - but there were a couple lines I had never understood. Language is amazing - I understood the entire film without subtitles - except for a few sentences of one conversation - so I had Sarah explain it to me!  

3. Crime D'Amour (2010)

 I must warn you that this one starts off SUPER have to have patience to watch it. Once it picks up, though, it's a great story about a boss and her new protege that will leave you guessing. If I tell you more, I'll ruin it -so just watch it! Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludavigne Sanier are incredible actresses in this film.

4. Pies Nus Sur Les Limaces (2010)  

I have to admit that I didn't really like this one too much - it was super weird.  It did get great reviews though, so it's probably a personal preference. It tells the story of a young girl who has a mental disability; her mother dies and her older sister (a successful lawyer) quits her job to care for her sister and put up with her strange love/hate relationship with the animals she cares for and others she murders.  I will say that the acting was superb - they played their roles well - but wow, it's a hard one to watch.

5. Samba (2014)

A beautiful drama about an immigrant from Senegal who tries to survive on jobs that don't require legal papers and is constantly fleeing the police. He falls in love with a businesswoman who is trying to piece her life back together after experience a burnout in the corporate world. It's a beautiful love story with a twist.

***Update:  11.  À la folie, pas du tout  
I had completely forgotten about this film - the first one that Sarah recommended to me, so I'm adding it in as #11.  It stars Audrey Tatou - who is amazing in her role as a shy woman trying to convince the love of her life to leave his wife.  This movie has a killer twist though - I will say no more...definitely watch it!

Comedies (& Romantic Comedies)

6. Populaire (2012)

Populaire is a very cute romantic-comedy film set in the 1950s about a boss and his new secretary - who is the "worst" secretary by popular standards. That is to say, she doesn't fit the image required for the profile - she's not your average 1950s chauvinist's definition of the  "sexy secretary" type. However, she is one hell of a typist - which leads her boss to train her to enter into the World Typing Championships - and to fall in love with her.

7. L'Arnacoeur (2010)

I wouldn't say L'Arnacoeur is anywhere close to my favourite , but it's definitely easy to understand and one of those movies where you don't have to think at all. Basically, it's a predictable romantic comedy about a guy who is hired by exes or family members to break up marriages weeks before the wedding - and falls in love with one of the brides.

8. Un Air de Famille (1996)

Quirky and funny, Un Air de Famille  takes place in a restaurant owned by one of the brothers in the family and basically takes you through an evening of family drama and secrets. The plot itself is not too enthralling, but for me, it was laugh-out-loud funny because I'm pretty sure every family is somewhat like this one! 

9. Le Prénom (2012)

Le Prénom is by far the best French movie I've ever seen. It is HILARIOUS. Again, it's simply about an evening where a family is together - and the drama that follows as ideas, opinions and secrets are revealed; the evening starts off with one family member announcing what they plan to call their son when he is born. If you watch one from this list, make it this one!! (The English title is "What's in A Name?" and can be found on Netflix USA)

Italian Drama

10. Il Capitale Umano (2013)

Il Capitale Umano is a drama that tells short stories which are all connected by the relationships between one character in each story. It starts with a car accident and follows on to the involved parties to truly look at themes human emotions, family and tragedy. Beautiful, and again - with a twist!

I haven't taken Italian for years  (and even that was only for a couple years), but I thought I'd throw this one in.  With my Spanish now though, I could understand quite a bit of this film without reading the subtitles!  

I hope this list is helpful! Definitely a great way to spend a couple hours a week :)

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Mirabé: Beautiful Restaurant on Mount Tibidabo, Vegan Paella, La Flauta and Montjuic Magic!

My dad and I at Montjuic

My parents were in town for a couple days on their way back to Canada from London , and had already seen the touristy attractions  in Barcelona, except the Montjuic fountains, so we headed there last Friday night. It is much less crowded in the winter! 

Mom and Dad
Canadian sidenote: They brought me a Canadiana package of items that I asked for, and was thrilled about. You'd think, with globalization, that it'd be easy to find absolutely everything in Europe. Well, here are the few items I miss: Mountain Equipment Coop backpacks (high quality, environmentally conscious company with a low price!), Nalgene water bottles, Second Cup Irish Cream coffee (flavoured coffee is SO not a European trend), good quality workout clothes that don't cost a fortune,  and Vega Protein Powder (non-GMO, low cal, high protein, no sugar, no fake stuff).

The best part of the weekend was definitely going to Mirabe,  an elegant restaurant at the top of Mount Tibidabo. It's in the neighbourhood of Sarria-Sant Gervasi, where I will live one day when I'm rich and famous (assuming this happens in Barcelona). I picked the restaurant because it seemed to have the nicest atmosphere of the three that are at the top of that end of the mountain. Careful where you're booking your reservation, as all three have very similar names (Mirabé, Mirablau and Mirabley (the last one I'm not sure how to spell). 

 The wine was incredible (we had a bottle of Tocat de l'ala), the food was delicious (would you believe they have a bunch of vegetarian options?)  We started with fried artichokes with Romesco sauce. The waiter told me they made vegan paella especially for tourists - I tried that though, since I hadn't yet found a paella  without seafood in the city!). It was delectable. Mmmm.  We also shared two desserts-  Crema Catalana, which had a hint of lemon flavour and Tiramisu. Not to mention the incredible view of the entire city - it's spectacular! All that - for 35 euros a person. 

Kiara - with a Canadian bone
The next day, we basically hung out with Kiara since it was raining (my parents got her the giant bone above). It's sooo hard to find giant ones like this in pet stores here. I miss Petsmart!  We also went to La Flauta on Carrer Aribau for lunch.  This is totally worth the 45 minute wait at lunch hour! It's all traditional Spanish food, and they have a ton of veggie options. We had tortilla de patatas, pimientos de padron, grilled artichokes (that looked like flowers!), calçots
(special grilled leek/onions) and  Catalan tomato bread. Mmm - healthy and delicious!

We tried to go to Ornina for dinner, but since it was Saturday night, they were fully booked! I've never been, but it seems like a beautiful place to check out next time I have a visitor. 

*Hint *hint - I haven't had that many visitors from home yet and I've been here almost two years!!! Friends, come on over and check out my IKEA sofabed hahaha ;) Stay tuned for more adventures!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Dear Stephanie: A Poem for You, Five Years Later

Stevie - your niece and a photo of Stephanie Wertz at my birthday party, years ago!
Dear Stephanie:

I remembered you so often this year, Stephanie - your smile, your voice, your kindness, your patient, listening ear, your advice, your laugh, your eternal optimism. It's been five years, Steph, and my memory locket still dangles around my neck every single day - it's broken, it barely closes, the picture is a blur, but I can't even write this without tears streaming down my cheeks. 

I know you would have been there for me for every amazing moment between last March and this March  (I have a full scholarship now and I'm going to Holland for a short research stay with a great professor in the fall!!!) and especially for every moment of treacherous heartbreak. The latter is the only event in my life that came close to the pain of losing you; that's the truth. You would have been there for me though, muddling through the mess, the lack of closure, the complete irrationality of it all, making me smile and finally, injecting that infamous optimism of yours into my spirit. 

I think the biggest news is that you have a niece!! (I've borrowed the picture from Shanyn's facebook account). Can you imagine her?! I'll imagine you can see her, I'll play the fool and pretend, for a few minutes, that you can read this, just because it makes me smile. I haven't met Stevie yet - I'm still all the way in Barcelona, enjoying the beautiful beaches and the food, and working through the bureacracies and cultural shocks of living here - but I hope to meet her one day when I visit Edmonton again, possibly in a year or two. 

This year I've decided to write a poem in your memory, on the theme of love, friendship and memories. It's my attempt to write in terza rima  -aba,bcb,cdc - the structure Dante used for his Divine Comedy, more or less in iambic pentameter.  I'll imagine you are reading it, over the transparent, floating wall that I like to pretend separates the living from the dead:

I will always miss you, Steph. xxx.

If you'd like to see my other annual tributes to Steph, they are here2011201220132014, 2015