Friday, May 25, 2018

Devinssi: A Beautiful, Boutique Winery in the Priorat Region, Catalunya

Fun Filled Winery Day at Devinssi!  From left:  Vita, Sapna, Robby, Rob, Marina

What's the smallest winery you've ever been to?

Well, I bet it's not as small as the one I took a mini-road trip to a couple weeks ago! Itching to travel and have a break from our PhD/work sagas, Marina, Robby, Rob, Vita and I decided to rent a car for the day.

On the metro to the car rental place!

Actually, I've only recently realized that I know someone who can legally drive here (Thank you, Robby!). The rest of us have foreign driver's licenses, which apparently can't be used after a year of living in Spain.  You have to take Driver's Ed again and pass the Spanish test. Seeing as my idea of parallel parking is driving an (automatic) car right into a North-American sized spot, I don't see that happening any time soon!

Now, I did a really stupid thing and forgot that I had taken 10 or so photos of our trip on my SLR when I formatted it before last weekend's Switzerland trip.  So, I'm sorry to say that a few good shots of the streets of Montblanc are gone.  (Thanks to Marina, Vita, Robby and Rob for the photos in this post!)  You'll have to imagine the somewhat rainy weather, cloudy skies with beautiful mountains and ancient streets. 

Don't worry, I have plenty of Swiss mountain and town photos coming up for you next week.

Devinssi: A Private Vineyard Tour

Remember way back in 2015 when Sean visited and we checked out two starkly different but wonderful wineries - Freixenet, a cava place, and Pares Balta, a tiny organic winery?

Well, Devinssi was even smaller! It had such a boutique atmosphere - and a tiny vat for processing wine. In fact, our tour guide was one of two employees and actually lived in a house attached to where they produce the wine.

Robby and the Wine
As a group of linguists and language teachers, we were all shocked when our tour guide told us he was from Russia and had only moved here when he was 28. His Catalan, Spanish and English were so good we thought he was from here, or at least a native speaker of one of those languages. Goes to show you can learn a language at any age, people!

We all came away from the vineyard with bottles of wine - including one white Mas de Las Valles for dinner, which we cooked at my house. We made a yummy vegan mushroom quinoa pilaf, and Ratko joined us for dinner with homemade chocolate cake!  Oh, and I also bought a bottle of Il-lia, an amazing deep red grenache, carignan and cabernet sauvingnon blend. I'll be saving that one for a special occasion, or our next mini road trip adventure.

Montblanc - The Cute Town in Catalunya

Well, until this trip I thought Montblanc was in Switzerland! (Of course, there's one there, too - a beautiful mountain in the Alps). It turns out there's one a lot closer to Barcelona.

We basically just walked around and had lunch in this town, since everything is closed on Sundays.  You know what, though? Lunch with a group of great friends is a stellar way to spend a Sunday afternoon. We had traditional Spanish food (which means I had zucchini, salad, and cheese ;) and tried their tiramisu for dessert, of course. The wine was lovely. It's hard to beat Priorat for wine, really. In fact, most of it is produced for export!  It's the "expensive wine" in the supermarket (if you can find it there).

I put "expensive" in quotes because here in Spain, that's about 10 euros. Yup. I love this!

From Left:  Marina, Sapna, Vita, Rob and Robby

Well, that's about it for this short post.  

If there's one thing I learned from my trip (other than upload your photos asap!), it's that mini-road trip adventures with friends make for the best Sundays. We laughed so much on this trip, it reminded me how important laughter is. (I even wrote the next day's Motivational Monday Post on Laughter!)

Even when we're swamped with work, PhD insanity, immigration hassles or life in general, we should all take the time to take a mini-road trip with friends. Let the work wait for 12 hours, take the pup for a long run before you leave - and hit the road!

What's your favourite day trip or mini road trip story? I'd love to hear it in the comments below!

Stay tuned for my next post about another magical road trip I've just taken - to the German part of Switzerland. 

Have a good week!


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Berlin: A Fun, Vegan Friendly Adventure!

About a month ago, I went on a mini-adventure to Berlin for the weekend, which was definitely a welcome break! Dayna was stopping over there on her way back to Canada after a trip to Russia, and invited me to stay with her in a beautiful vegetarian hotel called Almodovar. (Yes, named after the Spanish director!)   They even had a beautiful brunch buffet in the hotel's restaurant, which I would definitely recommend eating, even if you're not staying there! Thanks, Dayna for treating me to the hotel :) 

Berlin Almodovar Restaurant's Vegetarian Breakfast!

Berlin Almodovar Restaurant's Vegetarian Breakfast!

Berlin Almodovar Restaurant's Vegetarian Breakfast!

Berlin & My Minimalist Kick

We decided to take it easy, since I arrived Friday afternoon and we both flew back Monday morning, and Dayna was just recovering from a flu she'd picked up in Russia.  So, our "adventure" was basically seeing a few sites by buying a touristy Hop On, Hop Off, exploring delicious vegan restaurants and browsing eco-friendly clothing stores. I'd just read this book on Minimalism, so I was inspired to put together a "Capsule Wardrobe" following Project 333. 

This 5-minute video from the blog at My Green Closet shows what a capsule wardrobe is, in case you haven't heard of it. (In case you're curious, I did end up making one the week after)

Actually, I ended up using the video in a mock lesson interview for a private university a few days after I got back. It went super well, and I got the job for Fall semester this year, so I'm excited!  I'll probably use it as a lesson plan for a post on The Teaching Cove, too.

Relaxing Weekend of Touring Around Berlin

Berlin is big, so I'd say the Hop On, Hop Off is quite a good idea. (I know, I know, I'm 
usually opposed to such touristy organized endeavours).  To have some extra fun, listen to the audio in different languages as you ride the bus. I listened in English, Spanish, French and Italian. Unfortunately, I don't remember enough German ;)

The Western side of Berlin is where all the modern, high-street type shops are, and the East has the more trendy, off-the-beaten-path stuff.  We stayed in Friedrichshain, which is a hip little neighbourhood where every menu has vegetarian and vegan options marked in different colours.

Of course, the Berlin Wall Memorial is definitely worth visiting. Not only can you see the bits of the wall they've left in the ground, but you can see an exhibition that explains the history. Actually, you can see parts of wall in many parts of the city. They've even commissioned artists to make beautiful murals on parts of it. While we didn't have time to go in the castles or other museums, we did get a beautiful overview of the city. I especially loved how every neighbourhood has a different vibe, just like Barcelona!

Here is a slideshow of the few photos I did take. (To be honest, most of the time was about Dayna and I catching up).  I also got to see Izabela, who recently moved there!  (Remember our trip to Copenhagen in June 2016 for the New Sounds Conference? So many good memories :) )

Click to play the slideshow. Please remember that if you're on mobile, since Flickr doesn't show up, please go here and flip through the photos instead

Enjoy the slideshow!

Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurants In Berlin

Well, I have to say - Berlin is a paradise for vegetarians and vegans. We had absolutely no trouble finding delicious, fairly priced meals. I'd say the prices are about the same as Barcelona, but compared to Canada, they're cheap!

La Stella Nera Pizzeria was probably my favourite. That's likely because (although the pizza was good), I finally had vegan tiramisu that tasted great! Really, I swear. You know how picky I am with my tiramisu, the ultimate dessert in my view. Other than that, seriously - head to Friedrichshain, and walk the main streets there - every second place is a vegan restaurant!

Dayna and Vegan Pasta

Well, that's basically it for my post on Berlin. If you're visiting soon (that's for you, Robby!) be sure to grab the names of a few hip neighbourhoods and take long walks through them, eat at a vegan place, and enjoy the beautiful buildings and parks and efficient transport. Oh, and be sure to check out some of the Soviet-designed places and compare them to the rest - they are quite a contrast of style!

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on last weekend's trip to the Priorat Wine Region and our beautiful day trip (road trip!) to a boutique winery. 

Have a great one!


Sunday, May 06, 2018

Dear Stephanie: Another Letter, 7 Years Later

Dear Stephanie,

It's been 7 years since we had coffee at that beautiful "Bogani Cafe" that changes its name, owner and theme every few years (Remember when it was "Cappuccino Affair" in high school?).  Seven years since that last day we saw you, at that mock British pub in a shopping mall with eclectic stained glass windows. Since the funeral, and our dark visit to a restaurant afterwards, somehow managing to swallow your favourite cocktail - the Paralyzer.

Lucky number 7.  This is the year the necklace broke. The memory locket Meghan and I bought identicals of a few weeks after you left us. I wore it almost every day, and now I only have a silver chain dangling, missing the heart, a collapsed clasp neatly put away in a drawer in my jewellery box. I suppose I'll fix or replace it, but it's not the same. The photo is almost gone from fading, the clasp cracked, the chain replaced half a dozen times.

I know I'm a few months late with this memory post, that I secretly and childishly wish your spirit somehow reads every year. I've been thinking about you a lot lately, and thinking about your family, too. Mother's Day in England is in March, but here in Spain is May 6th,  and in Canada is May 13th. So, over the past week I've been thinking about families, and about you.

I'm hoping you're reading this, like the ghosts you used to be so fascinated with, or some kind of reincarnate, or something. Morgan continued with your and her Paranormal Investigators group, Entity Seeker, and published a book this year, did you know?
Buy Book Here:


This year, my post in your memory is simple - no poem like 2016, or fancy life update like last year.

Just a letter.

My Life In 2018

 I've been so stressed with the PhD, teaching, finding a way to stay in Barcelona, and finding time for The Teaching Cove, the new blog I launched at the end of 2016.  Oh, and I'm continuing my intense personal training and have added swimming lessons. Although it seems like a never-ending battle, I'm on a quest to figure out why the fitness training is not working, and the weight loss is going so slowly, despite being completely healthy and eating so well. How I'm so, so strong now, and can run and lift weights and am fitter than ever, but the fat won't budge.

I know you'd tell me that I'll get there. That visualization is the key - and I believe it. You know more than anyone how impatient I am, though!

So, there's not a whole lot to report, to be honest. I'm powering through the PhD so that it can be over.  When that's done, I can finally focus my energy on building a business and career I love through my blog. Visualizing the future I want.

Stephanie Wertz, I am always missing you. I know that's a strange tense to use, but it's true. Whether I'm wearing that half-broken necklace around my neck or not, you are in my thoughts, in my dreams, reminding me to keep going, to take breaks, to keep visualizing the future I want, to never stop imagining. 

I'll be home this summer for my sister's wedding, and I haven't been in Edmonton in almost 4 years. I'll have a coffee with whipped cream for you at Bogani Cafe, your favourite.

I'm sad you never made it to Europe. You would love it here. I love it here, and am excited to live the rest of my life in this city, as much as I love to travel and move around. I would love to take you to wineries and vineyards and castles and the Mediterranean Sea, and so, so much more. Sometimes, I walk along the beach or in the park and imagine you are here, too. 

Wherever your spirit or your energy is, I hope you are happy and safe, and that someday we will meet again.

Lots of love xxx


P.S. Dear readers, if you'd like to see my other annual tributes to Steph they are here:  201120122013201420152016, 2017