Tag Archives: food

the last hurrah; el último olé

In an attempt to do something productive with my Sunday, I decided to get back on the blogging horse.  At least to make one more hurrah, to go out with a bang, to tie up the loose ends of this blogging/study abroad experience.  So today is brought to you by the letter F: Formentera, finalidad, fear, etc.

After school ended, K. and I were lucky enough to receive a personal invite to Formentera, the smallest and most rustic of the Balearic Islands.  Armed with R.’s dungarees and various degrees of SPF, we boarded the flight (followed by the ferry) to destination: Dirección Sur.  Just as we did in Barcelona, we immediately set out for an adventure (“you have to say you did something amazing your first night on the Island!”–R.).  We drove the to the southern-most tip of the island, marked by a beautiful lighthouse beneath which is a system of caves, one of which we descended into.  Placing candles in its crevices as we walked through it, we came upon the opening on the other side where we found ourselves feet from the high tide lapping relentlessly against the side of the cliff.  Shooting stars welcomed us to the island from above.

"baño en Illetes..."

The next day, after 12 hours of sleep (a fact R. would not let me live down) we headed to Illetes, a narrow strip of beach at the northern-most point of the island.  There we braved the freezing water of the early season with the help of wetsuits, breaking for a picnic and a walk afterward.  On the walk we met Johannsen, an older German gentleman who has been coming to Illetes for twenty years to embellish and expand his “castle”: a collection of rock sculptures he’s made from all items he’s found in the area (driftwood, rocks, old ship parts washed up on shore).  From there we went to meet more old guiri-hipis (foreign hippies), arriving at Diki’s house in time for tea and cookies.  Diki is a fixture in Formentera, squatting for more than thirty years on his patch of land, making amazing wooden sculptures and keeping a low profile.  When he’s not outdoors on his land or in his workshop, he’s sitting by the fire in his one-room hut.  He’s the prickly type that I end up grating on with my intensity, so when we broke for another walk I was relieved to have a chance to exhale.  Down to the cliffs we went, to further admire the aqua-blue water and incredible geology of the island.


The next day was spiced up with the arrival of X., everyone’s favorite singer/songwriter who spends half the year physically living in Barcelona, while mentally living all twelve months in Formentera.  Another day at the beach was therefore planned, this time in a new location that required all swimmers to dive into the frigid waters from the side of a cliff.  Then it was back to R.’s incredible homestead (called l’Ermita, the hermitage, due to its resemblance to the architectural similarities it shares with Formentera’s churches) to clean ourselves up for the soccer game we were going to watch in town.  Barça won, and all was right with the world.

From this point on you can imagine the daily activities: beach, try not to burn, try not to get stung by the jellyfish that had invaded the island, amazing seaside lunches, further cave exploration, aiding in the construction of an addition the l’Ermita (okay bet you weren’t expecting that one.  But I’m positive I moved [read: pilfered] scaffolding material from the lot next door at least three times, while wearing a jersey dress), Spanish food workshops led by X., guitar strumming, etc.  It was truly an amazing vacation, the perfect ending to the perfect year abroad. [Suspend your disbelief].

So now we’ve covered the first of the aforementioned Fs (Formentera).  Now onto finalidad with a touch of fear.  I’m going to gloss over the hellish travel stories I have in my attempts to get home, all of which revolve around the f***ing (another F) volcano in Iceland that decided to disrupt all of my well-crafted (and expensive) plans.  But I made it home safe and sound, sana y salva, and that’s what counts.  Being home, however, is weird.  There’s no other way to describe it.  I feel as though I have been teleported into another world, and Spain could not feel farther away now.  All of the people, relationships, and events that used to be the center of my world are now 4000+ miles east, 6 hours ahead and complicated by a language barrier  which for nine months I attempted to overcome.  And things that I yearned for and missed while over there (driving the PT, Bodo’s, my queen-sized bed) are already losing some of their novelty, and life without Radio 3, paella and a metro system seems unmanageable and totally undesirable.  I know I’m suffering hard from the “grass-is-greener” syndrome, and that it’s all a process that I’ve hardly begun, but as M. says “es lo que hay” (“it’s all there is”; “it is what it is”).  And with that statement and the sentiment it conveys I will face the upcoming months, filled with summer jobs, a publishing internship at a local magazine, old friends and hopefully some productive soul-searching and maybe a few steps closer to entering the real world.

Y ya está.  Con eso, mi público, ¡me piro!

Besos from a broad abroad at home.



Filed under schmoozing, travel

Spring Break ’10: your wish is my command

As I sit here staring at the empty white wordpress box, I’m sighing a breath of relief that this post, unlike all the other things I’ve written this weekend, is going to be in English.  But at this point that’s almost a disadvantage, since my English is now a rare breed of translated Spanglish, or so says my Mom.  Constructions and sentences come out in passive forms with subjects following verbs, etc.  So pardon the jarbled English as I attempt to recount to y’all the Spring Break experience.

We started in Istanbul, one of the greatest cities I’ve ever been to.  I had zero expectations, zero previous knowledge (except that it was vaguely important in the history of the Western world and that it was once called Constantinople) and therefore it never stopped surprising me.  We arrived at night and embarked on my favorite traveling activity: taking a taxi into the city to our hostel.  As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, there is nothing more exciting than being in a city you don’t know, with the promise of discovering it over the next however many days, speeding along in the backseat of a cramped taxi, essentially putting your life in the driver’s hands.  After said taxi ride we were plopped in front of our hostel, on a very touristy but vibrant street that consisted only of cafes whose top floors were occupied by hostels and their terrace bars.  We checked in with Turkey’s version of Joey Fatone (his interpretation of his looks, not ours) who worked at our hostel and headed out in search of an appropriate first-night-in-Istanbul activity.

One of my favorite things about the city (and I imagine the custom is similar in all parts of Turkey) is the hospitality (I’m sure it helped that we were three young American girls); after the first round of drinks or hookah, the rest seem to show up without even asking, and never show up on a bill.  This was the case, for example, with our new friend H., who would hear us mention baklava and run to the bakery next door to get us some, napkins included.  Or when coming up short on change for your turkish coffee, the man behind the counter would simply smile and say “my gift to you!”.  The catch phrase of the trip, therefore, quickly became “your wish is my command”.

courtyard of the Blue Mosque

Other than bopping around from cafe to cafe, hookah bar to hookah bar, baklava bakery to baklava bakery, we did see some of the city.  Our first full day was spent touring the famous mosques that were conveniently located right behind our hostel: the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii) and the Hagia Sofia (Ayasofya).  The first has a much more authentic and sacred feel, requiring visitors to remove their shoes and for women to cover their heads before entering.  It is beautifully decorated with mosaics and painted ceilings, and as you walk under the low, sinuous lighting, red floral carpet crushes beneath your toes and you really do feel you’re in some distant land.  We did not spend more than a few minutes ambling about the place, attempting to catch snippets of other tour guides’ explanations of the mosque’s importance, before making our way across the street to the Hagia Sofia.  We decided it was time, after not fully understanding what the Blue Mosque was all about (except being exceptionally pretty), to hire ourselves a tour guide.  That’s when we met Dede (Turkish for grandfather, the name he requested we give him), whose dentures were so loose and whose spit was so abundant that we didn’t fully absorb what he was saying about the mosque originally being a church, hence the iconic mosaics and Greek Orthodox floor plan.  We escaped his clutches and, considering I don’t remember what happened next, I’m assuming we broke for lunch.  The second theme of Istanbul, if not hospitality, was food.  We were never short of stuffed peppers, dolmas, hummus and a wonderful cross between a flour tortilla, Indian naan and pita, the likes of which will never be found outside of Turkey.

lazy, hazy afternoon at Topkapi Palace

Turkish tulips!

That afternoon we spent mostly tooling around the city and searching for Topkapi Palace, the home of the Ottoman sultans for their 400+ year reign (thank you, Wikipedia).  It was also lovely, with great landscaping (with famous Turkish tulips dotting it’s many flower beds) and lots of incredible treasures (jewels, thrones, etc.), but it was sadly another one of those sites that we were too in need of a siesta to really appreciate.  I think at one point we proposed stretching out on the sultan’s lawn to take a power nap to give us some pep for the rest of the tour that awaited us.  (Siestas have become that crucial in our lives).  After many pictures with mosaics and flowers were taken, we went back to the center of our Turkish universe, Akbıyık Caddesi (Abiyik Street) where we went for supper down the street from the hostel, drinks a few buildings down, and hookah at the hostel.

The next day was spent on a full-day Bosphorous boat tour (the Bosphorous being the strait that divides Istanbul, causing it to reside in both Europe and Asia).

cruisin' down the Bosphorous

We cruised along the river seeing both the European and Asian side of the city, had lunch, went to a mosaic museum housed in an old Greek Orthodox church, visited the Spice Market  (a more local-friendly version of the Grand Bazaar, where all the Istanbul-ers get their teas, spices and tacky silk scarves) and ended the day relaxing on a sunny terrace in Asia, sipping diet cokes with our new Italian friend L.  Copy and paste the evening activity from above and that’s what we did that night.

the hustle and bustle of the Grand Bazaar.

Our final day was great for food, bad for wallets.  We set out to conquer the entire Grand Bazaar, the most intense shopping experience since Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem.  Everything is bought after a ten minute haggling session, with each member of the group having her own style: I said nothing, as my wallet had been stretched to the limit, while E. speculated, consulted with us, and then purchased (only to later find her adorable Turkish glazed bowls were made with lead paint, a troubling issue she tried to explain to the salesman which he could not understand.  “EATING FROM THESE COULD KILL ME” also fell flat), and P. got angry, an emotion I have never before seen her express.  Our final night in Istanbul was spent, to no surprise, in the hostel bar, making and saying goodbye to new friends, with little sleep gained before our 7am shuttle to the airport.

Then onto Santorini, Greece. 

Probably a complete 360° from Istanbul.  The island is tiny, with a few adorable towns dotted here and there along the main road, all of which we passed on our way from the airport (even smaller than C’ville’s, if you can imagine that) to the “villa” we were to stay in in the northern town of Oía.  But to keep us in check, the Universe, after having sent us such luck during our time in the near-Far East, had us dropped off at Villa Abyssanto, a name which it does not bother me to slander.  We had no idea we were headed not to a cliff-side Grecian hideaway but to a grassy plain at the northern tip of the island, on a road more deserted than my own in the U.S. on which lived local yokels and their adorable dogs, without any street lights or sidewalk, on which we were expected to walk for 1km to reach the quaint but pequeñito pueblo of Oía.  These three princesses were not going to have that.

Lena's house. but seriously.

As soon as we could, we booked a room in the nearby town and capital of the island, Fira, and after having argued and asked for a ride from the not-so-kind man at Villa Abyssanto, settled into our new Greek getaway location.  Although the island is just as lovely as all those stock photos seen online and really was the site of the filming of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, it was a bit too touristy for me. I missed the cultural stimulation of a big city, standing in line for museums and the prime peoplewatching.

highlight #4: donkey ride

Some of the highlights from Greece, however, included moussaka, climbing a volcano, baked feta, riding a donkey up the stairs from the Old Port of Fira, and tanning on a black sand beach.  Even if I was Spring Break-ed/tourist-ed out by the end of it (the climax of trip being a 12-hour plane, train and automobile ride home to Valencia), I know those highlights might never be completed again in this lifetime.

The sunsets were also pretty bitchin’.

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Filed under schmoozing, spring semester, travel

how do you like your leche?

This morning over my coffee I decided I could no longer put off documenting the café con leche experience that has now become so integrated into my life here.  Not only do I ponder it as I make it, it is the first thing I think about in the morning, as I trudge to the bathroom and wash my face (the only activity that gets done before the coffee gets made; everything else can wait), and it’s safe to say that for at least 10 minutes of my 90 minute classes my thoughts are on whether I need another cup, from which cafetería it’s going to come from (I have conducted my own taste test in the barrio as to who serves the best cup ‘o joe) and how much I’m looking forward to the extra energy.

If you had forgotten: caffeine is a drug.

So what follows are my personal notes/thoughts/observations on the coffee culture here, to give you a sense of how integral it is not just to this cracked-out caffeine fiend, but to the Spanish people in general:

-the drink: café con leche (literally: coffee with milk).

  • This should actually read: leche con azucar, con una gotita de café (sugary milk with a drop of coffee).  When I came to this country I was downing daily a triple-shot, iced americano with a dash of skim milk and sweet’n’low. Pretty much as high octane as you can get, as far as coffee orders go.  But the Spaniards serve their coffee (which is actually all espresso) with more milk than anything else, not only brining the temperature of the drink down to what can be best described as “tepid” but lending it a taupe tint that indicates that the coffee is really playing a secondary role.  I even have friends who go as far as calling it their morning leche, which only further proves my point: the Spanish like their coffee weak.

– the acoutrements: magdalenas [SEE POST: huerto-day, gone tomorrow], pan todada, ensamaidas (in short: carbs).

  • This is not an inherently Spanish practice, I’ll admit, but I have a feeling (or maybe I’m the only one analytical enough to care) that your choice of bread product to accompany the morning café does indicate something about your character.  M., for example, likes his leche with 3+ magdalenas straight from their plastic wrap, claiming that this is one of his favorite moments of the day.  I will give him this, the burnt sugar on top is not only surprising for store-bought muffins, but also super yummy. P. prefers her morning cup with pan tostada, drizzling it expertly with fresh olive oil, nixing the optional dash of salt.  In a rare showing of patriotism, I have taken to a bowl of oatmeal with my coffee, though I must say I do this only so as not to be starving in all of my morning classes. It doesn’t actually do the trick.

-the locale: cafeterías, bares, hornos, en casa.

  • I think by now I have frequented every type of establishment that offers the stuff.  Except for the last one (en casa = at home, which for me has included the seat in front of my computer, M.’s balcony looking out onto his building’s courtyard, in front of the fire at R.’s country house, on S.’s couch in Barcelona), every one of these places is sure to be filled with smoke, and is sure to not open until after 9:30/10 in the morning.  What I love though is how ubiquitous the espresso machine is in Spain, allowing for the wide variety of places to get your daily dose.  It could be that smoky bar around the corner, where old men chuckle and grunt from the bar, pulling on their twelfth cigarette of the day, drinking a beer and munching a big sandwich; or that female-run horno (oven, aka: bakery) right by school, where standing up facing the window, you can take in the panorama of Avinguda Blasco Ibañez as the professors and students hustle past on the way to the university; and let’s not forget Luna Luna, where students bask in the all-white decor, gossiping and glaring, talking about last night’s party or this weekend’s soccer game.

And although I wax sentimental, the point remains the same: coffee is not something to be taken lightly, here.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  And seeing as how it is now pushing 2:30 on a rainy afternoon, it seems like the perfect time for cup number 2.

[shout out to Tyler for the awesome photo!]

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Filed under spring semester, travel

huerto-day, gone tomorrow.

As I write this, the February sun is streaming through my little window, promising a warmer day than it really is, showcasing this beautiful city as it bathes the streets in pure, white light.

but I still don’t want to go outside.

Now, I realize that many of my readers (if there are any others besides my parents) will be perusing this from somewhere along the east coast, USA, and will already be shaking their fists at the screen, or at least shaking their heads, in disapproval; current temperature in Charlottesville, VA: 19° F.

Anyway, now for the explanation of why it is so hard to get up and do ANYTHING: I left my heart in the huerto.  This weekend we (me, P., and our newly found friends) whisked ourselves away to the Valencian countryside, where we stayed with our Spanish friends (and strangers) in R.’s “country home”, a villa set smack dab in the middle of the family orange orchard (huerto).  We arrived by train in time for supper, a gourmet meal (prepared for us by someone who was already staying at the house) of sausage, tortilla española, salad, tofu and tomato sauce.  We spent the rest of the evening touring the house (a beautiful, nineteenth century home with three stories, what felt like a bajillion beds, and eclectic decor acquired in Morocco, India, Japan) and warming ourselves by the fire, talking and singing and unwinding from the stress of the week.

The next morning we were kicked out of bed at the ungodly hour of 12:30pm, given the daily ration of cafe con leche and magdalenas (the most dinky excuse for a muffin I’ve ever seen) and plopped into the cars that would take us to the mountain we were scheduled to climb that day.  When I heard that the weekend included a hike I was of course elated, having missed so much the Blue Ridge mountains I’ve grown up with.


So the day started in high spirits, the sun shining, fresh oranges in our bellies and hands (the amount of citrus I consumed is a staggering figure) as we walked to the start of the trail.  I probably should have known something was up when the equivalent of a park ranger came out and asked us all for names and cell phone numbers, “si acaso os perdáis o algo…” (“in case y’all get lost or something”, followed inevitably by the phrase “¡no te precupes!”).  Before the excursion really took off even, we stopped for a photoshoot at the monastery in ruins, the deciding it was the perfect moment to do some impromptu yoga, led by V., a multi-national, multi-lingual, multi-talented friend we met at the house.  With a fresh set of endorphins flowing through us, we started the trail.  It was a simple gravel path winding up the mountain, like any other unsuspecting hike, but the incline was for sure a challenge for this out-of-“practice” (read: out-of-shape), self-proclaimed mountain woman. I don’t remember the moment when I knew there was much suffering ahead, but at some point this fact became very clear to me.  We were suddenly on the side of the mountain, with no lovely gravel path in sight, just a mountainside covered with thorn bushes and an occasional fern.  Shortly after starting this portion of the hike, the lovely boulders painted with trail markings disappeared as well.  With the Spanish boys up ahead shouting to the American girls puffing behind (“c’mon pilates! let’s stop whining and start hiking!), you can imagine the tension that was slowly crystallizing.  To make a long story short (I think we spent an hour and a half traipsing through the non-trail, hacking at gnarly branches and trying not to trip on rocks), we finally reached the summit of the mountain (called Creu del Cardenal, located at 1700ft, a distance of 3km from the starting point) to take in the view: a panorama of the gorgeous Valencian countryside; the valley down below us to the left, and the Mediterranean ocean lapping gently against the coast to our right.  Legs “temblando como un flan” (literally: “shaking like a flan”, the Spanish equivalent to “shaking like a leaf”), we refueled with more muffins and ensamaidas (the point of this description is to remind you that we had eaten nothing but coffee and carbs some 4 hours before), and I tried to hold back tears caused by the beauty of the place, the love I felt for these people I was with, and the fears that were gnawing at this happiness, asking me what I would be doing with my life in 4 months.  I also just wanted to know how the hell we were going to get down from up there.

The slide down the mountain (I call it a “slide” and not a descent because I think I did more falling, tripping and slipping than actual walking) was relatively uneventful, since we managed to follow the trail the whole time.  But here is where you get an explanation for the lack of images in this post: I dropped my camera.  My beautiful, month-old, “sexy” black camera was eaten by the Creu del Cardenal trail.  And after being wildly upset with myself and with everyone in the world, I started giggling with the thought that when I received it in August, I had no idea it would end up abandoned on the side of a mountain in eastern Spain, after a five hour day in the mountains.  But please, rest assured, I’m still horribly upset.


That evening was spent with more (new) friends (like C., the guy they kept referring to as “the surgeon”, with a tone of wonder and gravity that suggested he performed all his operations on the moon) cooking and creating (we ate in the in-house art studio, where after dinner we painted a massive collage) and most importantly: RELAXING. I haven’t felt so at ease in months.

Which is why the return home was so brutal; the past few days I’ve wandered around my barrio half-asleep, seeing but not processing, looking but not appreciating, wishing myself back in the huerto.  But with the sun finally back to stay, and the knowledge of what I’d be doing at home right now, it’s safe to say I’m finding contentment, even in the now old-hat routine of classes, meetings, clubs, etc. Because before I know it, I’m huerto-day, gone tomorrow.


Filed under schmoozing, spring semester, travel, Valencia

head cheese

I’m taking a break in posting old newsletters home (the main element of this blog) to share with you all where my mild case of insomnia has led me. here is the email my parents received from me this morning:


just thought I’d let you 2 know (for no reason other than to say hi and freak y’all out) that I just discovered what I was eating all week for lunch and dinner in Belgium at Peg’s house:

head cheese is not a cheese but a meat jelly made with pieces from the head of a calf or pig (sometimes a sheep or cow) in aspic. It may contain onion, black pepper, allspice, bay leaf, salt, and vinegar. It may also include meat from the feet, tongue, and heart. It is usually eaten cold or at room temperature as a luncheon meat.”



Filed under travel