Archive for the ‘Anecdotes’ Category


Thanksgiving in Spain

November 26, 2011

As you most likely know, this past Thursday was what we Americans celebrate as Thanksgiving. For everyone else in the world it was just a normal day. I was bound and determined, however, to make it special, no matter what the cost. For me, Thanksgiving is a necessary part of the year, even if I have to be separated from my family. It’s about cooking together, eating together, and enjoying the company of others.

So here’s how it went down. I had been slowly accumulating ingredients for my favorite Thanksgiving dishes, hoping that I’d have the chance to make at least some of them. But the night before, I finally settled on a plan with one of my friends to cook a makeshift Thanksgiving at his friend’s apartment, starting at 7pm. So the next day, since my 1:00 class was miraculously canceled, I had from 11:30am to go out, buy ingredients, and cook. And I literally needed ALL of that time to do it.

First stop: La Boquería (remember it from this blog post from ages ago?) to buy pumpkin pie spices. Un poquito de gengibre molido y clavo molido, por favor! Luckily, I was able to buy them in small quantities there, because really, how much ground ginger and cloves am I going to use if not in pumpkin pie?

Next: A Taste of Home. A brilliant invention of a store, it had all the Thanksgiving necessities in stock, and lots of other typical food, namely from the UK, but also from the US, which you cannot get anywhere else in the city. From there I picked up some stuffing mix, gravy mix, pumpkin pie filling, evaporated milk, french fried onions (I nearly cried from joy when I saw them!), and cream of mushroom soup. This store is literally like walking into a different world: they greeted me in English, there’s a British radio station playing in the background, all of the food labels are in English, and they sell things I didn’t dream were possible to find here!

After that: Mercadona. My favorite Spanish supermarket chain. It even has a fun little jingle that I always get stuck in my head. From here I picked up all the necessities that they actually eat here in Spain. Like potatoes, green beans, and bread.

And then it was time to cook! I turned on a Christmas music station and got to work. It had been too long since I’d made a pie crust, so that definitely took me longer than it should have. Besides the fact that I had to work out conversion charts and try to navigate the ridiculous American system we have (16 tablespoons in a cup, 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon, so how many teaspoons in 3/4 a cup? And how many grams does a third a cup of butter weigh? umm…). Also, I haven’t taken a math class in about 4 years, so that didn’t help. But I eventually got it sorted out, and although I had to perform major surgery on my first pie crust because I rolled it out too thin and worked it too much, the Christmas music helped me from pulling my hair out and screaming bloody murder, and in the end, I had two (nearly) perfect pie crusts. Really, whoever invented the expression “as easy as pie” has obviously never cooked one before. But I was determined to have pumpkin pie, and in the end it turned out deliciously.

Mmmmmmm Just look at that!

After that, mixing the pie filling and green bean casserole was cake (yet another misnomer expression, unless you’re using a boxed cake). I made a list of the ingredients I couldn’t forget to bring with me, I checked it twice, and I carried it all in a bag to transport to the  apartment where we were going to cook it and eat it. On the way, we picked up rotisserie chicken. Some may say it’s blasphemy to eat chicken for your Thanksgiving dinner, but really, they taste nearly the same, and one is about 1 million times easier to cook (especially when it’s already cooked for you).

When we got there, we started cooking right away. I put the pumpkin pie in the oven, and we got to work peeling the potatoes. Everyone was asking for jobs to do, so I really didn’t have to do that much preparing once we got there, just delegating.

My friends Chelsea and Aaron, and the happy potato!

It reminded me of home, cooking together in a kitchen: something I hadn’t done in a long time. With the oven and the stove and the body heat from lots of people in a confined space it was pretty toasty and we were all sweating, but it was an atmosphere that is necessary for any sort of Thanksgiving celebration.

Cooking together--with my green bean casserole about to go in the oven!

We managed to get all of it cooked and ready in good timing. We set the table and marveled at its beauty, with hungry stomachs and watering mouths (it was nearly 9 pm by this time… which is about normal dinner time in Spain).

The feast! 🙂

But before we could start, we had to have a toast. We split a bottle of cava between the 10 of us, and I made everyone go around and say one thing they were thankful for. Then, we started to eat. And eat. And eat. And we all agreed it was quite delicious/delicioso/deliciós.

My (first) plate of food.

And, of course, Pumpkin Pie for dessert, with whipped cream, ice cream, and cinnamon sprinkled on top!

In the end, I was thankful for:

  • Beautiful weather. 20 degrees celsius and sunny on Thanksgiving day? Way to go Barcelona!
  • Great company.  In addition to 4 Americans, we also had 4 Catalans and 2 international students, which meant a good-sized group of 10. The 6 non-Americans enjoyed trying new cuisine, and us Americans loved having a dinner that was authentically our own. After dinner, we enjoyed getting to know each other, switching between 3 different languages (Spanish, English, and Catalan). It was a great group and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to meet them and share my cooking!
  • A great 3 months in Barcelona.
  • Friends with whom I share my experiences here.
  • Family and friends at home who are excited to receive me in a bit over a month and hear all about my time here.
  • and of course, the delicious, traditional American Thanksgiving food!!

El “Invierno” de Barcelona

November 13, 2011

Believe it or not, its almost halfway through November already, and here in Barcelona, they’re gearing up for winter. Sandals, shorts, tanktops all gone into storage and a wide array of scarves, hats, boots, and coats take their place. This is what happens in most places when winter starts to hit, right? So why am I blogging about it? Well, because it still gets up to 20 degrees Celsius here, or higher! And it never gets lower than 12 or so! For those of you, like me, not yet accustomed to celsius, I’ll translate: 20=68, 12=54.

Last week there was a rain storm that lasted about 5 days, and I’ll admit, I got a bit chilly. And when I went to Andorra, which is in the mountains, I was actually legitimately cold. But come on, Barcelona, how can you expect me to wear scarves and boots when its over 60 degrees out?

As I mentioned in my last post, one of my favorite things to do in Barcelona is walk around the city. It’s beautiful here, and I love walking, people watching, and learning the city… Hoping to know at least some parts of the city as well as a local before I leave. But the tough thing is that though I try to dress for winter, after all that walking, layers have to come off. So much for looking like a native.

Apart from that, however, the exciting thing about the winter season, whatever the temperature, is that Christmas is coming soon!! And Barcelona is getting ready. I can feel the rumblings of the start of my favorite part of the year! Every year they put up decorations all over the city, overhanging the streets, strewn on the lampposts and trees. They haven’t lit any of them yet–I hear that doesn’t happen until December 1–but they’re still there, full of potential energy and potential Christmas cheer!

I can't wait to see this lit up!

Diagonal/Passeig de Gracia. Look at all those lights lining the street!

And in mid-December they start putting stands up on Gran Via and Plaza Catedral that sell all kinds of Christmassy items, and… churros!! I hear the best time to eat them is in the winter… Maybe it’ll get cold enough here by december so I can dream of curling up under a warm blanket or eating freshly made churros with hot chocolate!



My new philosophy

November 7, 2011

It’s pretty easy to please me, but I do have some things that make me extraordinarily happy. Among these are (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Sorry. Couldn’t resist): taking walks, speaking Spanish, singing, parks, and coffee shops. I’ll have you know that on Saturday, I got to enjoy going all of those. And I got some homework done too.

It was during one of my many walks wandering around the city on Saturday that I formulated my new philosophy for life in Barcelona: keep your eyes open and wear comfy walking shoes. Deciding on a new philosophy, however, made me think of a song from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” (which you can watch here). It’s kind of like “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”: If you give a Kristen some time walking around Barcelona by herself…

  • She’s probably going to start talking to herself. She may actually say some pretty profound things, but eventually, she will say something that reminds her of a song she knows, which means…
  • She will start singing to herself. And since she only knows the lyrics to songs in English (apart from “La Camisa Negra” by Juanes and “Waka Waka” by Shakira), she will start to feel guilty for using English when she’s in Spain to practice her Spanish, after all. (Even though she had been talking to herself in English earlier, but she notices it more when people start staring at her singing an obscure American song out loud while walking) So…
  • She will start talking to herself in Spanish. But seeing as it’s quite difficult to express her deepest thoughts in a foreign language, she will probably subconsciously switch over to English, which brings this scenario full-circle.

Yep. That’s my life here. That cycle actually happens pretty much every time I walk alone. Which happens several times a day.

P.S. I did a wordle of my blog! Not sure how it works exactly, since I just typed in my URL and it popped this out, but that’s faster than my copy-pasting every blog entry, so I took the lazy route. Wordle is pretty fun. 🙂

Wordle: Barcelona



November 5, 2011

Ok. I’ll admit it. I’m addicted to café con leche (coffee with milk). It all started with the jetlag, over two months ago. The 6 hour time difference and 10+ hours travel time was enough to merit coffee in order to stay awake, and my host parents offered it at breakfast. But then they kept offering it. And I kept drinking it. And then classes started, and I started drinking it between classes as well. So now, I’m hooked, and there’s no going back.

For those of you who don’t know, the coffee in Spain is not like coffee in the US. They don’t use filters and medium-ground drip coffee. No, here, coffee is actually a shot of espresso. I used to think I liked drinking strong coffee black, but that was back when I thought Starbucks was strong. So, here, I drink it with milk. Which is all good because most people here drink it with milk too.

The cool thing about the coffee here is that there aren’t as many options. You can’t order a venti double shot soy caramel macchiato with two pumps of raspberry and extra whip. (Unless you go to Starbucks… they do have them here) Usually cafés offer plain coffee, coffee with condensed milk, coffee with milk, lattes, and cappuccinos. And that’s about it. And they don’t offer large sizes either. Believe me, this coffee is concentrated enough that you don’t want a venti of it. But even if you did, you wouldn’t be able to find it anywhere (besides Starbucks).

Another thing is that they don’t drink coffee on the go. Sure, you can get it to-go at most places, but you just don’t see people walking down the street sipping a coffee (unless they’re tourists…drinking Starbucks). It’s all about enjoying the coffee, savoring it. Some places even give you a free piece of chocolate or free small pastries to eat with it.

Here, it’s less about having a complicated favorite coffee drink with the perfect combination of flavors, and more about enjoying the simplicity of strong coffee coupled with the smooth texture of milk and the sweetness of a bit of sugar. And while I love Starbucks as much as the next guy when I’m in the US (actually probably a bit more than the next guy), it’s not the way they do it here.

P.S. The original point of this blog entry (before I got off on this long tangent about coffee consistencies and tastes) was to talk about my new favorite hangout spot. My friend recently showed me this really cool café close to the University, and I’ve fallen in love with it. It’s a cool atmosphere of college students, couches, art, and music. Kind of reminds me of a blend of two of my favorite coffee shops in the US, except better, because it’s in Spain. Everything’s better when it’s in Spain.



October 28, 2011

I know, by now you’re probably saying, “enough with those funny symbols, already!”. But this word (“lluvia”, the Spanish word for “rain”) is so fun to transcribe that I couldn’t help it!

So I said earlier that I wasn’t going to talk about the weather because it’s the “composition of lame conversation”… but hey, I’m a woman, and that was a couple days ago, so I’m allowed to change my mind.

When I was packing all of my things to come here, I read on the recommended packing list: rain boots and rain coat. And I thought… hey, I live most of the year on the North Shore, Massachusetts, I don’t need any of that. It doesn’t rain in Barcelona. And, for most of my first month or two here, my thoughts were correct. But, here, when it rains, it pours. Literally. The first time I encountered Barcelona rainfall was–unfortunately–during La Mercè. It rained off and on all day on Saturday, and then it poured Saturday night. That meant that they canceled a ton of stuff, and we got a bit wet. But it ended up working out okay… I borrowed a friend’s umbrella, the rain stopped after a couple of minutes, and we accidentally stumbled upon an awesome jazz concert!

The rain doesn’t always have such fortunate results, however. Take earlier this week for example.  My housemate Alain and I wanted to take a walk around the city, but it was POURING down rain. That didn’t stop us from taking a walk; we just got really wet. And then yesterday, after class, I thought, ‘Oh, it’s only a ten minute walk home, and I have an umbrella, so it’s unnecessary to take the metro two stops to avoid the rain.’ About a minute after that decision, I was soaking wet and regretting it.

But all unfortunate things can be positive if you put the right spin on them. I always like to look at negative situations as adventures. And yesterday, I enjoyed a delicious cup of tea after I dried off. I bought some Kusmi Tea when I was in Paris, and I needed a rainy day to try it out. So even unfortunate rainy events can be good things! 🙂

Mmmmm. 🙂

Although I hope there won’t be too many more rainy days here, I’ll take everything as it comes. I’m fortunate, however, that in general Barcelona has beautiful weather all year long.


La Vida en Bar-thay-lona, parte 2

October 26, 2011

Just because I’m a linguistic nerd and I’ve been doing lots of phonetic transcriptions recently, and since it makes a segway between last post and this one, here is the phonetic transcription of “Me encanta Barcelona” (I love Barcelona), in the peninsular dialect, of course: [meːŋˈkan̪t̪aβ̞aɾθeˈlona]. Don’t forget the “th” sound!

I’m sure you were dying to know how to phonetically transcribe “I love Barcelona”, and now your life is complete. You’ll thank me later. 😛

So apart from enjoying the fall weather, I’ve been spending a lot of time walking around the city with my housemate from Quebec, who is leaving in a little over a week! Therefore, I’ve gotten to know the city a little better (it used to be that I’d spend my time during the week after class doing homework in the library or in my room on facebook, so this is a much nicer alternative, although I have spent less time doing homework…). All that to say, my appreciation for this capital city of Catalonia, Spain is growing even fonder every day! 🙂 With that, here I will pick up where I left off on my Top 10 favorite aspects of Barcelonian life:

  1. Gaudí – Okay, so any list of great things about Barcelona has got to include its most famous resident, the innovative architect that is the face of the modernismemovement. Apart from the fact that his work is so innovative and important for students of art and architecture, even for the artistically-uninformed linguistics student that I am, I can appreciate that his works are really cool! I haven’t been to all of his famous houses yet (I still need to go to Casa Vicens and Calvet, and also the crypt of Colònia Güell before I can feel content with the amount of Gaudi that I’ve seen), but I’ve seen the main tourist attractions: Parc Güell, Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlló and Casa Milà/La Pedrera. His work is overwhelming to see, and I highly recommend that anyone who admires art or nature visit Barcelona to see his works in person. The cool thing is that you can see famous Gaudí works of art just walking around the city–they’re right there in the middle of downtown!

    The view from Parc Güell - including the Sagrada Familia: center/left on the horizon

  2. Nature. Speaking of parks and horizons… Barcelona has such an incredible mix of magnificent natural scenery. From the sands of the Villa Olympica or Barceloneta, the grassy, tree-covered terrain of the many municipal parks, to the mountain of Montjüic, Barcelona has much more than just man-made art and architecture to offer; it also has the beauty of nature!

    Palm trees in Parc Guell!

  3. Català. Em dic Kristen. Visc a Barcelona. Parlo una mica de català. (Tr. My name is Kristen. I live in Barcelona. I speak a little bit of Catalan.) Okay, so you thought I had moved on from linguistics for this blog entry. False! It all comes back to language. Part of the reason why I chose to go to Barcelona was because they speak Catalan. It’s fascinating to hear and see the interplay of the two languages here. Nearly all official postings or safety warnings are written in Catalan first, then Castellano, then English. But sometimes they leave off either Castellano or English (it’s always funny to see something written first in Catalan and then in English, as if all the Spanish-speakers who don’t know Catalan or English aren’t welcome here). It’s perfectly normal here to hold a conversation where one person speaks Catalan and the other understands, but responds in Castellano. A large part of the Catalonian identity is tied up in their ability to speak their own language, and they aren’t happy when the government tries to take this away from them (as did Franco). For me, this city is sociolinguistically, psycholinguistically, and phonologically provocative, so it’s pretty much a linguistics nerd fest every day.
  4. Sangría. It’s true. Sangria is delicious. I would drink it everyday if it weren’t so expensive. Picture this: real fruit juice, cut-up fruit soaked inside, wine, sugar, fanta, and a bit of liquor. Result=pure paradise for your tastebuds. 🙂 Now imagine trying to NOT drink this every chance you get. Every restaurant in Barcelona sells it, and no two sangrias ever taste exactly the same, so it’s necessary to try it as often as possible, right?

    mmmmm... 🙂

  5. Anti-Rush. The people take their time here. You literally never see a native Spaniard walking down the street, a cellphone in one hand and a coffee or half-eaten sandwich in the other. In contrast, that is the definition of the majority of people walking around in cities in the US. (perhaps a minor exaggeration, but you get my point.) Here, most businesses close for several hours in the middle of the day so people can enjoy a nice midday meal and a siesta. Going out to have coffee with someone usually means staying and talking for hours. It’s very important to really enjoy good food and good company. I like that. In America, it’s too easy to make hurriedness and busyness a priority, when that’s not really what matters. It’s better to just sit back and relax a bit, take time to enjoy yourself, and really invest in the place you are at the moment, not worrying about what’s next.
Well, there you have it. I could probably easily pick another ten, but these are some things that really stick out to me and warm my heart to this beautiful city.

La vida en Bar-thay-lona, parte 1

October 22, 2011

So since I haven’t written in a while, there are a majority of topics I could cover. I could talk about the change of weather. But really, that’s the composition of lame, dry conversations, so I won’t go there. I could talk about what it was like to have a clash of two worlds when my parents came to visit me. But I’m not in the mood for that. I could actually cover some of my recent(ish) excursions, like when I went to Paris, Tarragona, Madrid (again), or my excursion today to Besalú and Figueras. But that just makes me sound like a tourist.

But today marks the two-month anniversary of my arrival here, and I think that deserves something more pertinent to my actual life here. Not that fun excursions or weather changes or parents coming aren’t part of my life, but they’re just fun blips. What I’m talking about here is my day-to-day, mundane (although I’d hardly call it that!), typical routine here. I love Barcelona in a way that I can’t fully explain, but I’m going to try to scratch the surface.

So, without further ado, I will commence with the rather cliche top 10 list: My top 10 favorite aspects of Barcelonian life (in no particular order).

  1. Pan con tomate. (Bread with tomato) Ok, those of you who haven’t been to Cataluña may think that it’s silly to include a simple food item like this in my top ten list, but really. It’s such a staple here. And so delicious. All you do is put spread some garlic (directly from the clove) on some baked bread, cut up a tomato and spread its juice around on the bread, drizzle some olive oil, and sprinkle some salt (and a lot of times they don’t use the garlic, but for me, that’s what makes or breaks it). Apart from this being a side dish to almost all meals, they also use the same recipe (without the garlic) to put on sandwiches made with baguettes. This moistens the bread and brings out the flavor of the meat or cheese! 🙂

    Pan con tomate. Mmmmm

  2. The independent mindset of the Catalan people. Okay, so I’m going to try to not make gross over-generalizations, but forgive me in advance if I approach this the wrong way. To state it briefly, Cataluña (an autonomous community of Spain, which used to be its own nation prior to September 11, 1714) has its own culture, its own language, its own unique gastronomy, and many other unique aspects, and a lot of people here have strong opinions about being separate from the overarching culture of Spain.  Although I myself don’t associate politically with any Catalan or Spanish party, I find it incredibly interesting to observe. There’s a strong cultural bond here.

    They write it in English so the tourists understand. And of course this is supposed to say "not".

  3. El Barrio Gótico. I said this from almost the beginning of my trip here, and it’s still true. I love the gothic area of the city. It feels like it’s the beating heart of the city. And it’s also just so beautiful and full of surprises around every corner. This weekend they’re having a food and wine festival, and there’s an open market in the plaza in front of the Cathedral. During the Mercè, there were a lot of great events there, and there is always some sort of cultural activity or at least a couple street performers hanging out in various places around the area. Apart from that, it’s a remnant of a former time–there are buildings and walls that are very old, much older than the US, and I like the atmosphere that it gives the area.

    Part of the Roman Wall from ancient Barcelona, in the Plaza de Ramon Berenguer.

  4. [θ]. Alright, so allow me to nerd out here for a minute. The dialect of Spanish here is very different from that spoken in Latin America. One of the most obvious differences, apart from the use of “vosotros” and words and phrases that are different, is the “th” sound (phonetically represented as [θ]) for the letters “z” and sometimes “c”. Since I’m taking phonetics and phonology of Spanish here, I am constantly reminded of this change of pronunciation. I know, I’m a linguistics nerd for allowing dialects of Spanish fascinate me so much, but that’s how it is.
  5. Balconies. When you walk down a street in Barcelona, if you take a minute to stop and look, you will see balconies and terraces and flower pots on all of the apartment buildings overlooking the street. That, mixed with the stone that is typical for almost all the buildings in the city, gives it a look that is very distinct from cities in the US, which are normally built with a lot less focus on aesthetic value. They have this in lots of European cities, and it always makes me happy. It feels like I’ve been transported to another world.

    See this? Isn't it pretty? Now imagine this on every street in the city. 😀

This is taking longer than expected (it always does, I suppose), so I’ll leave the list here for now. Stay tuned for the next five, hopefully coming soon!
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