things i learned

While abroad in Paris, London, the Czech Republic, and Barcelona, I learned many things about cultures different from my own. Since I returned home to Texas, my family and friends have been asking me about my time in Europe. Is it true that Parisians walk around town with an armload of hot, fresh baguettes? (Yes, especially at lunchtime.) Was British beer the most delicious we had ever tasted? (Sadly, no. Washington State’s beer reigns supreme.) How did you get through the rural areas of the Czech Republic without knowing the language? (Luckily, we managed to find a couple of English speakers.) What color was the Barcelona beach water? (Mostly blue, with a tinge of green. And very, very clear.) Well, I have compiled a top-ten list of my most surprising discoveries:

  1. Certain Parisian stereotypes are absolutely true: Men and women, as a whole, are very skinny. However, I suspect it is due mostly to their chain-smoking and alcohol-imbibing habits, not their responsible diets. With all of those appetitite suppressants, how can they possibly eat dinner?
  2. To the French, the English phrase “I see you” translates to “I understand your innermost self.”
  3. French food can get boring. Shocking, but true. Any spice, especially anything hot, is used with extreme caution or not at all.
  4. Londoners are actually very nice people. (Apparently their reputation says otherwise?) Also, they are very tall people!
  5. In the Czech Republic, it is perfectly acceptable, even encouraged, to drink beer at as early as ten in the morning. Yes, even on a Sunday. (Before mass? After mass? Good question.)
  6. In Czech, there are about ten different meanings for the word prosím, including 1) Please, 2) Here you are, 3) You’re welcome, 4) What did you say?, 5) I’ll have… The list goes on (and on).
  7. Czech food mostly consists of meat and bread dumplings, not meat and potatoes. Maybe potatoes are more of a German thing?
  8. Catalan and Spanish are not at all the same language. Seth and I shared a hostel room in Barcelona with a couple of girls from Buenos Aires, and they admitted they could not understand a thing.
  9. Squid ink does not really taste like anything. It is jet black and kind of creepy looking, but it is actually very mild on the tongue.
  10. I want to live in Barcelona. I want to live there really, really badly.
Also! As an extra treat, I have finally uploaded photos from the rest of my trip. To see pictures from the Czech Republic, click here:
To see pictures from Barcelona, click here:

adiós, españa!

Seth and I had a wonderful last day in Barcelona. The sun was shining, so we booked it to the beach. Seth was still a bit sunburned from Saturday, so he sat on the sand and read while I tanned and splashed around in the water. Just as he finished snapping a photo of me in all of my giddy glory, I spotted an octopus right beside me! Seth walked into the water and grabbed the thing with his toes just so I could touch it. Too cool.

Tonight, we plan on dining at Xaloc, a tapas restaurant near our hostel. I think it will be the perfect ending to our week in Barcelona and our five months abroad. I will miss Europe very much (or at least the parts of it I managed to visit), but I think I am ready to be home.

beaches and buildings

Seth and I spent our fourth day in Barcelona lounging on the beach. We people-watched, caught some rays, and swam in the clear-blue Mediterranean. We both got a little sunburned, but it was totally worth it. In the evening, we stopped for dinner at a tiny tapas place that, upon sitting down, we realized was heavily frequented by French tourists. The food was mediocre (way too salty) but decently cheap.

Today, we visited Antonio Gaudi’s Parc Güell and Jean Nouvel’s Torre Agbar. The former was somewhat underwhelming, perhaps because it was raining (literally) and completely flooded (figuratively) with tourists. The tower, though, was too cool. I was surprised to see that it looked just as beautiful, if not more so, up close. (This is a very rare feat in architecture.)

barcelona food diary: day three

Rain, rain, go away.

Despite the early morning blue skies, today turned out to be an unfortunately cold, drizzly day. Seth, Antonia, and I walked to the beach only to be harshly greeted by clouds. We meandered along the boardwalk, hoping the sun would return. Three hours of meandering and whining later, we gave up. We sat down for a squid-ink paella lunch, followed by more aimless strolling and shopping. Antonia bought a beautiful handmade leather bag, while I found a glass and sand ring at a design shop. It might sound redundant, but I could walk up and down these Barcelona streets all day, many days in a row. (I guess I have done that.) The streets are just so wonderfully medieval. Super narrow and car-free, they are completely different from anything I have ever experienced. And there are just so many of them!

After a short break, we headed to CometaCinc for dinner. We all ordered the seafood tapa menu, which included a shrimp dish, scallop ravioli, bluefin tuna (We are terrible people, we know.), and an octopus dish. Along with our meal, we were served a traditional appetizer of toasted bread soaked in grated tomatoes, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. I know I have not mentioned this complementary starter before, but it is just delightfully appetizing. Light and refreshing, it pairs well with a class of chilled, crisp white wine.

Antonia leaves for Madrid tomorrow morning, so this will mark the end of my Barcelona food diary. Seth and I will be carefully monitoring our funds from now on, so my future reports will cover free sights and adventures more than not.

[CometaCinc: 9 C/ Cometa, Barcelona 08002]

[photos courtesy of CometaCinc]

barcelona food diary: day two

Yesterday morning, we started our day by visiting Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavlion, the National Museum of Catalan Art, and the Caixa Forum. The latter was one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen in my life. It was part old cloister, part new exhibition space. Basically, any renovation architect’s dream.

For lunch, we ate at Embat, another of Antonia’s internet finds. We started off with a glass of wine each—Antonia, a white; Seth, a light red; and me, a heavy red. For a starter, I ordered a hearty tube pasta in a broth of caramelized onions, stewed mushrooms, carrots, and tomatoes, topped with a gently poached egg. For my second course, I chose the cod, which was served with snails out of their shells, Iberian ham, and what I think was a sundried tomato sauce. (It might have had eggplant in it, too.) I was way too full for dessert, but Seth and Antonia decided to forge ahead. Seth ordered an amazing, complex dish of goat-milk yogurt, poached pear, pear sorbet, pear reduction, and a spicy crumble. Who knew pear could taste so delicious cooked so many ways? As he said, this is what going out to eat is all about: ordering and enjoying something that would be near-impossible to make at home. My taste buds were so tickled by the meal, and my wallet was even happier. I could not believe such a gourmet meal could set me back only twenty-three Euro, including tip.

After lunch, we visited Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia and took a short walk. We took a quick rest back at the hostel, and then Antonia and I explored a neighborhood north of the Gothic Quarter. I found a jewelry shop I would like to go back to but not much else.

A couple of hours later, we met Seth at La Ria for some wine and tapas. We shared a couple of bombas (potato and meat “balls” with yogurt and tomato sauces), grilled octopus with spices, and pig’s ear. (The cartilage was a little much for me.) The food and wine were super cheap (Two glasses each plus the tapas equaled less than ten euro a person), but more importantly, I just loved sipping my Rioja and people-watching. At one point, a French man approached me and said I looked just like his ex-girlfriend. Awkward.

Today, we are looking forward to some fun in the sun. Hooray!

[Embat: 304 C/ Mallorca, Barcelona 08037]

[La Ria: 4 Carrer de Milans, Barcelona 08002]

barcelona food diary: day one

Because let’s be honest, the food and wine are half the reason I am here. (The beach is the other half.)

Our trip to Spain went very smoothly. Seth, Antonia, and I took the night train from Paris, and eleven hours later we awoke in Barcelona. Antonia and I shared our car with a girl from Colombia (It must have been fate!), while Seth bunked with a couple of French guys. When we arrived at our hostel, we were all in desperate need of a shower. Unfortunately, it was too early to check in, so we dropped off some of our things and roamed around the Gothic Quarter for a few hours. Once we were able to get cleaned up, we walked to Barceloneta for a long seaside lunch.

Antonia conducted some online research, and we ended up at Can Majó. Just off the beach, the bustling seafood restaurant gleamed with rows of white tablecloths and glasses of sparkling wine. We sat at a table in the sun, and we shared a bottle of the house white wine and a Cava. For our meal, we ordered lightly fried squid rings and peeled shellfish paella. (Seth now wholeheartedly admits that he was wrong when he once, very mistakenly, said he did not like paella.) Everything was extremely delicious and fresh, not to mention completely reasonable in price. As a matter of fact, food here seems to be much cheaper here than Paris and London, or even Prague. Ah, and it is so flavorful, too. We started our lunch at a quarter to three, and we finished up around five-thirty. Typical. Most restaurants in Barcelona do not open for lunch before two, and they stay open for quite a while. Their schedule is quite nice, actually.

After dinner, we strolled around Barceloneta to window-shop and pop our heads into a few churches. Despite the evening rain, it was an amazing day.

[Can Majó: 23 C/ Almirall Aixada, Barcelona 08003]