Saturday, September 16, 2017

Summer Catchup & A Sailing Trip to Menorca

*Note: This post contains an affiliate link (for a product I love!)

So, you're probably wondering:

Greenwich Park, London



Where have you been?!

It's been months, I know!

Well, the truth is that I've been pretty busy over at The Teaching Cove, running my blog for English teachers and creating teaching resources. Since my ebook on 25 TED Talks for Your English Class seems to be a hit, I'm getting really excited about my growing community.

In fact, I'm developing a course for English teachers that's taking so much of my time, but is so much fun! Of course, I was also teaching English all summer, both in person and online (It turns out when you're one of very few teachers with an active ad in July on Tus Clases Particulares, you get a lot of students!)

Oh, and naturally, I'm about to dive back into the PhD. Actually, I'm hoping this is my last year! The goal is to submit by June and defend by next September, and have one article accepted for publication before then.

So, here's a summer catch-up:

A catch-up and catch-all post, I suppose! Other than the few points below, it's been a summer of intense workouts, trying to re-learn to swim (wow it's harder than I remember!), hanging out with Kiara,  teaching, and running my other blog!



May Trips


    Kiara in Cadaques (Before she ripped open her paws on the rocks and got heat exhaustion). No more hiking for us!)
  •  May is when I headed over to Lisbon, Portugal with Alex, for a much needed break before the end of the term. If you missed it, you can read all about my wonderful time in Lisbon.
  •  Summary: I didn't think there was a place more relaxed and more slow than Spain! 
  • Oh, and the markets are heavenly!
  • Of course, I can't forget my disastrous hiking trip to Cadaques with a meetup group, who told me it was perfectly fine to take Kiara along and that there were a "few rocks". Actually, it's more like a rock-ridden ridge - and the organizer was neither very organized nor helpful. Thank goodness for the family we met along the way who stopped to help us, carried a heat-exhausted, burned-pawed Kiara 10 minutes  up the mountain, and drove us home. So, long story short, we can add it to our list of adventures.



June Sailing to Menorca & A Quick Trip to London


Sailing with 6 other people from Barcelona to Menorca!
  •  So, I learned that photography on a sailboat is not the same as on land!
  • Plus, in addition to speaking Spanish the entire 5 days and picking up a few expressions, I learned that I'm kind of scared of the beautiful sea!  Yes, that's right. Being on a sailboat, in the middle of nowhere, especially at night, definitely inspired me to take swimming lessons the next month (Spoiler alert: I'm a terrible swimmer. Lots of work ahead!)
  • Did you know that you need to take turns being "night watchman" on a sailboat? That meant we slept in three to five hour shifts to make sure our boat didn't crash into another boat during the night
  • Cooking on a sailboat is HARD. The ocean is bumpy!  Also, Spanish islands aren't so vegetarian friendly. So, thank goodness we bought veggies and tofu, but I ate very little over the five days. (I refuse to pig out on bags of chips even if they are the only veggie snack aboard...)
  • We also saw the Festival of San Joan in Menorca, an overcrowded, disorganized mess of drunk people. The horses were beautiful, though! Also, I managed to get a great pair of shoes made in Menorca  (apparently the "Mallorquina" shoes everyone raves about are too narrow for my feet)

Trip to London


Holland Park Peacocks (yes, really!)
  • Then, I got to see Alex again in London! A beautiful weekend, hanging out, walking in Holland Park and visiting the London Design Museum
  • I LOVE that London museums are free and beautiful!
  • We also hung out in sunny Holland Park and saw some peacocks

  • Plus, I got to see Camille, who I hadn't seen in four years. Pure coincidence that we happened to be in London on the same day! I love the way old friends can pick off as if neither of them ever left home ;) 
  • Also, bonus! Camille introduced me to one of her favourite museums in London, The Natural History Museum and we learned a lot about animals.



Sapna at the Design Museum
Alex at the Design Museum










Camille and Sapna at the Natural History Museum

July

  •  Well, to be honest, July was mostly about work, work, work!  Oh, and by that I mean teaching and blogging, of course.  
  •  It was also organization mania!  Like I do every year, I did a deep summer clean, organized the closets, got rid of anything I didn't need, and super cleaned everything. It feels so good to have a fresh start every summer!
  • Oh, and this year's highlights included an electric "barbeque" that is awesome, apart from the stand that nobody can figure out how to build properly. Also, I did some research on plants, bought a lemon tree (no lemons yet!), planted some herbs like basil and lemon thyme (who knew that was a thing?) and started to care for the plants that came with the apartment better. However, I managed to kill my orchid. *Sigh*.
  • I also bought a great suitcase by Eastpak (That's affiliate link, which means if you buy one, I get a tiny commission to help offset blogging costs). However, I would never promote anything I didn't love. (It is incredible! It has two zippers inside, so each half of the suitcase is like its own pocket. You can squeeze a jacket between the two zipped halves, too. I love the material and the fun designs they come in. It's as a light as a backpack! If you know me, you know I'm not that great at packing (getting better!), and this spacious bag definitely helps. Thanks to Kristin G for introducing me to this brand on our road trip last summer.

My Eastpak Suitcase!



Kiara on the terrace

August

  • So, August, again, was work, work, work and checking out a couple of the neighbourhood fiestas (where they decorate the streets, like the Fiesta de Gracia)
  • Mostly, I worked on my social media strategy and Facebook ads for The Teaching Cove









September

Life is incredible!
  • My parents were in London, so I headed over for a quick family visit. We mostly hung out at home, but we did take an afternoon walk in beautiful Greenwich Park
  • Before I left for the airport, I stopped at Victoria station and hung out with a couple people from the Oxford days (Alex and Dima!) Dima!!! So excited you moved to London. We'll be hanging out more often, I'm sure.  Actually, I'll be back in London (in transit) in a few weeks and I'm planning to meet up with the girls again :)




Alex, Dima, Sapna selfie, London 2017


Sailing Trip Slideshow: Menorca

So, here's that slideshow I promised of my sailing adventure! Enjoy!  (Unfortunately, this won't work on mobile - sigh, Blogger and Flickr, c'mon....)  If you're on mobile, please click here to see the pictures in the slideshow









Well, I hope you enjoyed the slideshow and quick summary of my summer! Stay tuned for an upcoming post on my wonderful Canadian visitors (Pam and Cody) this weekend, and our adventures touring around with the beautiful baby Isla!   Also, Dayna is coming to visit in a few weeks, so stay tuned for more Barcelona tourism and a week in Croatia :)

Know any English teachers? Please send them my way at The Teaching Cove, a place where they can find my latest blog posts, free printables, and a whole lot more on the way!

Have a lovely week!

Sapna

Thursday, June 08, 2017

3 Days in Lisbon: A Beautifully Slow City Escape

Lisbon by the water, May 2017
So, loyal readers, it appears that I've taken a 3 month hiatus from my blog! Really, it's not that nothing has been going on - LOTS has been going on. In fact, I can feel The Teaching Cove slowly starting to take off, as people are starting to buy my e-book, 25 TED Talk Lesson Plans for Your English Class (a mere 18 copies sold, but I say 18 and counting!). My PhD is slowly coming along, and I've been rushing all over the city finding new tutoring clients.


April & May Scramble


Well, April and May turned into whirlwind months over here in Barcelona. Usually tutoring students start to drop off in June - you know, for the summer. Actually, this year this started happening in April - leaving me scrambling for months! Amid learning more about online businesses for The Teaching Cove, stressing about my snail paced PhD, training like crazy with a brand new personal trainer /sports nutritionist who is working with my own personal trainer to help me "fix" my super slow metabolism, The Singaporelizard has been a little neglected.  So, a weekend away with one of my good friends from my course at Oxford (has it been 4 years already?!) was in order.


Lisbon: A Beautifully Slow City


So, Alexandra and I actually planned our trip to Lisbon way back in December 2016. Now, you know I normally simply hop on planes booked a few weeks in advance. (For example, I'm off to jet set to London to in a couple days).

Basically, we had wanted to see each other for awhile, since our Oxford days were already now 4 years ago. Wow!! instead of paying extortionate prices around Christmas time last year to or from  London, we Googled the cheapest flight and boom! Both of us booked 100€ tickets to meetup in Lisbon, Portugal instead. 





What To See & Do In Lisbon: 3 Days

So, I'll be honest here - we mostly wanted to catch up and relax, after not seeing each other for over two years!  While I'm usually a whirlwind traveller, this was definitely a perfect change. Actually, we spent most of our time eating amazing food, drinking wine and talking. 


Here are some ideas for your trip to Lisbon:

  • Be sure to visit the sea! Rooftop cafes on the way to the Castle  San Jorge are the most expensive, but "expensive" in Lisbon doesn't mean much!
  • You can climb to the top of the tower in the Monastery (Mostererio de Jeronimos), although we decided to simply walk through
  • The Archaelogical Museum looked amazing - but we ran out of time, unfortunately!
  • Check out Gelato Nannarella  for the best gelato!
  • Head to Cafe Nicola for a beautiful old cafe with a view
  • Spend some time wandering the shopping streets, and stop at the Belem Tower - again, we decided to skip the queue and not go up, but you could!
  • EAT.  Seriously, EAT.   Although the first meal we had at Casa Santa Rita was a bit unimpressive (at a local taberna, the cheap place in the touristy zone), we weren't too bothered, because we had a full meal each and half a bottle of wine for 13 euros, total.
  • Every other meal we had was AMAZING. 
  • Be sure to go to a market!  There was a giant one next to our metro stop, Alameda on the red line (near our Airbnb) - and we got a ton of fresh fruit, vegetables, olives and cheese for a ridiculously low price.  
  • Time Out Market is full of beautiful and delicious restaurants, too. Definitely worth heading there! In fact, we went TWICE!




Sapna in Lisbon
 Alex in Lisbon








Lisbon Travel Tips

The World Needs More Nata (Cream), Portugal


  • Expect everything to be SLOW.  Slower than Spain, and more disorganized.  We spent so long in the queue to book train tickets that by the time we finished I had planned my next trip and booked my plane ticket to visit Alex in London!
  • They do, however, unlike Spain, speak very good English! It may in part be due to the fact that they don't dub their films in movie theatres, like Spain does. 
  • It is HOT.  Really hot, even in May. Remember your sunscreen!
  • Plan to do the touristy sites as early in the morning as you can - this way you won't be as exhausted from the heat.
  • Take the metro, NOT the bus, especially if you are headed towards the beach
  • Try one of the traditional cream pie desserts. I didn't like it -  but everyone will ask you if you've tried one! They love them over there!  

Alex and Sapna, Train in Lisbon

Check out my slideshow below for a quick view of our adventures! Remember that you can hover over the photo in the top right corner to change the slideshow's speed. Be sure you have Flash enabled in your browser, too.

It seems that Flickr slideshows still don't work well if you're not on a desktop. After using Wordpress for the last seven and a half months for my other blog, I'm getting a bit frustrated with Blogger. So, maybe one day I'll make the arduous switch and move everything over to Wordpress.













Hope you enjoyed the slideshow! Stay tuned for my upcoming adventures in London over the next few days.

Have a lovely weekend!

Sapna

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Dear Stephanie: A Letter 6 Years Later


Original Memory Locket, 2011
Dear Steph, 

So, it's been 6 years now, since you left us. 6 years and 3 months almost to the day, that I had the saddest day in my life. Left is too gentle of a word for me- people say it so gracefully, even when people were stabbed earlier this week on London Bridge in England.  I've thought of you so much these past few weeks, Stephanie.  How is the world such a mess?

 Taken. Stolen. Snatched.  Ripped Away. Died. Robbed of a life.

Those are words I'd use instead.   One of the girls who died in the London Bridge attack was a  Canadian named Chrissy Archibald, and she made me think of you. Kind, generous, happy, laughing - apparently her spirit was so full of optimism that she dedicated her career to social work and worked in homeless shelters. In fact, people have started a Twitter account for her memory, and to donate to charities in her name. 

2017 Life Update for You, Stephanie


While I'm three months late in my post this year, Stephanie, it's not because I forgot. Not at all - in fact, I still wear that memory necklace around my neck every day.  Actually I never really intended to; it just kind of became a habit and stuck. Sometimes, I pause before I put it on, and remember your beautiful face and spirit. Of course, you know me.  I'm not the most elegant person out there - and so there is no way the photo and flower in the locket are in their original condition - but the memory will never fade.

It's not because I forgot - March 4th will always be an ominous day in my mind; it's because I waited until I could take a day to sit, to think, to breathe. Despite my insane workload at the moment (at the moment?!, you'd say, when isn't it insane?), I decided to dedicate a couple hours this afternoon to sit in silence, and think.

Motivational Posters - The Teaching CoveDo you know how many horrible things are going on in this world these days, Steph? (Or is it that we're just more informed now, and the world has always been this way)? Truly, I hope your soul is in a better place.  The extremist attacks, "terror attacks" as they call them, seem to be becoming more frequent.

So, Steph, while this year I don't have a special poem or graphic or tribute like years before, but I'm thinking of you as always.  

A New Blog


In fact, I have quite a life update, one you'd love I'm sure.  I have a new blog, The Teaching Cove! You were always a loyal reader of  my Singaporelizard blog, from the day I began it, so I can't even imagine what you'd think of my new one.  It's for English teachers, and I can't even believe it wasn't a part of my life a year ago. Actually, I only started planning it one year ago, and launched it 5 months later. I sell e-books, make free resources, and I'll soon create courses and novel study guides for teachers everywhere.



Kiara on the terrace, May 2017

Kiara and I are still hanging out in Barcelona, Spain and I'm still trying to finish my PhD. One more year!  As you may have noticed, I'd much prefer to teach, run my own business and blog than work on my PhD project. Well, I suppose that's because of the way it goes here in Spain - sloooowly.  Oh, K and I spent 3 months in Holland, Steph, last September to December. Efficient. Fast. Productive. Wow, did my PhD take off in those three months. Actually, I even took programming courses - yuck, do I hate those - and pre-processed a ton of data. Now, the PhD seems like a snail-paced endeavour once again.  I'll finish it, though!

Actually, I make motivational posters every week now, for the people who sign up for my emails on my blog.  (There are over 1300 people, Steph!) It's going so well. You know me - I'm researching like crazy - and learning a ton from my "Blogger Heroes", as I call them.  One day, it will be my full time career. It's so sad to me that you won't get to see that, Steph.  I wish I could share it with you. In fact, I wish you could visit me here in Barcelona and meet all my new friends. 


Remember the Paranormal Investigations?


Honestly, it seems a bit surreal writing to you, almost as if you were here reading it over my shoulder. Wouldn't that be insane? Do you know how much I would love that? I know how much you would have loved that, being here and experiencing "the other side". 

 Always a skeptic, you know that I never truly believed in the investigations, but I listened to your stories and was curious. Well, now I hope they're true. I hope they're real, and that your spirit can somehow, in some form, know something about our lives here on this planet.

Well, until next year, Steph.  Take care, wherever you are.

Lots of love xxx,

Sapna


P.S. If you'd like to see my other annual tributes to Steph, they are here:  20112012201320142015, 2016



Sunday, March 26, 2017

Andorra: Two Beautiful Trips & Skiing Adventures




So, since Barcelona is close to the beach and the mountains, it's kind of a perfect combination. If you remember my ski trip to La Molina in January, I wasn't overly impressed by the skiing in Spain, though. So, a couple weeks later, in February - Carly, Alejandro, Vita, Ratko and I headed to check out Andorra for the first time.

PhDs In Andorra: Mountainous Beauty 2 Hours From BCN

Carly & Alejandro


























Wow!  Well, I was the only one skiing both days, and I realized how much I loved it!  As you can see in the photos below, the others went for a long walk in the mountains one day, and snow-shoeing the other day. (Colourful snowshoes, huh?! I remember the ones we used to use in elementary school gym class in Canada being brown and boring...)



The group classes of ski lessons the first day were kind of horrible (apparently "intermediate" includes people who still use snow-plough as a technique).  So, I forked over the dough and paid for a private lesson. Wow, was it ever worth it!  


As luck would have it, my friend Angelica was also in Andorra for her birthday weekend. (She's also a PhD student and is just about to defend her thesis! - remember when we went on our study trip by the beach last April in Salou?)

Angelica's friend Manu ended up being my ski instructor - that was totally not planned! He is an amazing instructor originally from Argentina, who has a Phys Ed degree and tons of experience. He was such a good instructor that I became more confident again - it had been 6 years since I'd skied, remember?

So, I booked him for another set of 2 hour ski lessons two weeks later. However, nobody I knew wanted to come skiing with me.  No problem!  I love Meetup.com, and I just found a bunch of skiing groups, picked the most organized one, forked over more dough, and headed back!






Meetup: When You Travel With Strangers


So, I got really lucky, actually.  I met a group of very awesome local people (some of whom were originally from Venezuela!). I got to speak Spanish the whole weekend, which I miss!  The group pic below was after our first night skiing. Well, Friday night was simply going out to dinner at - unfortunately -a total meat house. There is not a whole lot of vegetarian food in Andorra, so it was lucky that I brought a lot of apples, protein powder and rice cakes!  

(Yes, I'm still training and on a high protein, low carb diet  and super strength training with my personal trainer. Unfortunately, it's not working too well (or, working incredibly slowly, I should say). In fact it's stumping a whole lot of professionals as to why, but that's a story for another time...)

It turns out "After-Ski" bars are a whole lot of fun!  The party starts around 5:00pm once the ski trails are closed for the day. There were some middle aged women in sunglasses and ski gear that started dancing on tables around 5:30pm, and it got crazier from there on. We left around 8:30pm so we could find a place to have dinner, but the party went on without us. Below are a few pics of the awesome time we had!

Abarset After-Ski Bar, Andorra (From back left: Pedro, Mariel, Javi, Xavi, Bea, Quique, Sapna, Zory & Pedro)



Barcelona: The Ideal Life





So, I really can't complain about living in Barcelona. The only hiccup is the economic situation, which I'm trying to solve for myself through my blog venture, The Teaching Cove. It only started a few months ago, but I'm working on a few products that I'll be selling soon! Ebooks and courses for English teachers, of course! So, if you happen to know anyone who may be interested, please send them my way. I can't believe I have 846 people signed up for my free resources already!

Oh, and I loved this "Go Skiing & Adventure BCN" Meetup group so much that I'm going with them on an overnight boat trip for San Juan weekend (June 24th). We'll be spending 2 days on the boat and 3 days in Menorca.  Apparently you can see dolphins come right up to your boat.  I can't wait!!

Stay tuned for my upcoming posts -  my annual tribute to my beautiful friend, Stephanie Wertz (I still miss you every day, Steph), and this week's upcoming visit from Kim and reminiscence back to my Oxford days.  (Actually, I should say, a visit from Dr. Kim, who recently finished her DPhil in English Literature!)

Have a great Sunday!

Sapna


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Geneva & Annecy for New Years & A Failed Ski Trip to La Molina


Well, this post is about 6 weeks late, as I've been focusing on my English teaching blog,  The Teaching Covebut better late than never, right? By the way, if you know any English teachers, please send them my way so they can sign up for free teaching, motivational and organizational printables - a whole library of them, updated monthly  :) 
Annecy, France, January 2nd, 2017
 Since this is a bit of a catch-all post covering most of the last six weeks of my adventures, I thought I'd make it a brief summary with a handful of photos covering my short visits to  Geneva, Switzerland, Annecy, France and La Molina, Spain.   

Ringing in the New Year in Geneva


Poster I made for The Teaching Cove, Annecy, France
So, since I was hanging out by myself watching movies all Christmas week (check out those movie reviews here if you missed them), I decided to hop on a plane (the low prices of a BCN-GVA flight continue to amaze me) and visit Kristin for New Year's Eve. She came to Barcelona last year for New Year's, so it was great to  celebrate together again.


Unfortunately, (or fortunately), my craptastic phone finally died (the one I got for super cheap after robbers stole my Samsung S3 2.5 years ago, less than a month after moving to Barcelona - remember this post?!). So, I lost the photos that others took that night, but just imagine a lot of wine, champagne at the apartment, two 20 euro drinks at a bar, and an amazing "pizza"soup that Kristin made for dinner.

I arrived early on New Year's Eve and had a blast at the party Kristin threw - although the hangover on Sunday was possibly the worst I've had. Ever.

Of course, whenever I visit Switzerland, I bring back herb and garlic cream cheese, spatzle, and a loaf of amazing bread. Now, it's against the trainer's diet plan for sure, but that started January 10th, so I had a few days ;) 

Daytrip to Annecy, France

Since Kristin had Monday off work, we headed across the border to Annecy, France.  I love that France is across the border! So exciting! Annecy is a touristy, beautiful and picturesque town. While it was way colder than Spain, it was still delightful to walk around. Actually, even though we missed the market by a day, it really felt like Christmas. (Barcelona doesn't really have the Christmas-y feel, except at El Corte Ingles and in the Christmas markets in Sarria).


Swan at Annecy

Mountains in the distance, Annecy

Kristin at Annecy lake


La Molina - Failed Ski Trip

Three weeks ago, I decided to go to La Molina by train  (spoiler alert - do not do this), book expensive private skiing lessons for a couple hours, and practice for my then upcoming trip (a week ago) to Andorra. 

While I'm pretty much used to Spain's inefficiencies and quirks after 2.5 years of living here, that Saturday a few weeks ago was not bearable. Here is a brief summary:



The Ridiculousness of Spanish Process at the Ski Hill

  • I left my house at 6:30 in the morning to be able to catch the only train that would get me to my 11:00 lesson  (arrival time should have been just before 10:00)
  •  Train stopped 2 stops early for no reason. For half an hour. No announcements.
  •  Arrived at La Molina station at 10:15, still barely enough time to make the lesson
  •  The bus, whose only purpose is to coordinate with trains, did not arrive until 10:50
  •  I called the ski school, who confirmed they could wait a bit for my lesson
  •  The bus arrived at 11:15, because that's how slow they are
  • I skipped the lift pass line, as I had already paid for lift pass, lessons, etc, online and had my tickets in hand. No signs anywhere, but I finally found the ski school.
  •  I rushed to get equipment - a huge queue. Would they go faster because I was late for my lesson? No way.
  • Get to the end of the line. Attendant informs me that ski rentals are not included in my pass (first attendant had said I was all paid up), sends me to back of line to pay
  • I pay, get my skis fitted, and ask the guy where I'm supposed to show my forfait (the lift ticket)

"Oh, that's not a lift ticket", he says.
"But I already paid!"
"Yes, but you need to change it for a lift ticket at the front of the ski resort"
  • It's 12:00.  I trudge over the slushy snow to the front of the resort with all my equipment and stand in a massive queue. The same one for people who haven't paid already. There is also only one of the 4 windows open on a Saturday afternoon. Because that makes sense.
  • 12:30 - I finally have the real forfait and try to find the ski school meeting place. No signs, of course
  • 12:40  I meet my instructor, who has another lesson at 13:00

  • Result: I paid 88 euros for a 20 minute lesson on slushy snow, and no one will refund or exchange any part of it.
  • Positive side:  Apparently the ski instructor thought I was good enough to do a couple blue runs and then head straight to red.
  • I RUSHED to catch the bus and the 14:15 train home, because there was no way I was hanging around until the 17:00 train, skiing on slushy snow, and getting back to Barcelona at 21:00 if I were lucky.  I made the train by about 30 seconds, by (literally), jumping off the bus, and running as fast as humanly possible up four flights of stairs to the train platform.


Anyway, let me tell assure you that Andorra is a much better place to ski.  Last weekend, Vita, Ratko,  Carly, Alejandro and I headed over to Andorra for a really great weekend of skiing (in a car).  Stay tuned for a post on our adventures coming up soon!