Tag Archives: Spaniards

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

post Post-Its: Halloween ’09

“I didn’t really feel like I was in Spain, until just now”

Not sure if I agree with this statement, said by one of my friends our first night in Barcelona, as we wandered the streets full of the excitement that comes from being in a place for the first time.  But I will say this: if you can only visit one city in Spain, Barcelona should be it, hands down, no question.  (Ok, maybe Sevilla too).  It represents the whole country so well: it’s such a vibrant city, just like the Spanish people, with streets overflowing with art, music, tapas and vino, all the things I’ve come to love about the country.  But it has its own distinct character too, being the capital of Cataluña, a very unique region with lots of its own history, tradition, and even its own language (Catalan, of which Valenciano, spoken in Valencia, is a derivative).

We got the idea for this trip from a few other people in the program, who were headed to Barcelona for Halloween after hearing that this city really knew how to celebrate the holiday (which gave it a certain appeal because as a rule Spaniards don’t recognize it).  The plan was only made sweeter by the fact that one of our Spanish friends, Sabata, has an apartment there since he teaches part time in Barcelona.  We agreed that us Americans (specifically: Emily Anne, Angela, Preetal, Shannon, Julia and I, all girls I’m really fond of) would come for the weekend and crash with Sabata and our mutual friend Rafa, who also lives here in Valencia and would join us for the visit.  The whole trip didn’t really cement until a week before, with us scrambling around buying train tickets and costumes.  But it was totally worth any hassle it caused.

After classes on Thursday, we hopped on a four hour train north to the city.  When we arrived, Sabata and his roommates were waiting for us with open arms, ready to show us around the city despite the arrival time (actually, midnight in this country means suppertime has just ended, a fact I still can’t get used to).  The apartment could not have been in a better location: right by the port, just a few blocks from the Cathedral of Barcelona (which of course we all mistook for Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia upon seeing it at night) and a 10 minute walk to Les Rambles, the city’s “main drag”.  So after a personalized tour of the area near our apartment that included lessons in sculpture (did you know when someone is sculpted riding horseback on a horse with one leg raised, it means he died in battle?), architecture and Catalan, we came home and crashed, excited for the day of sightseeing ahead of us…

me 'n' Paco (who is quite possibly in the running for love of my life.)

…but we got a little distracted.  The plan was to nail down our costumes (we had planned to go as Post-It notes, which only requires a colorful shirt and a marker for people to write on it) before checking out all of Gaudí’s incredible architecture and maybe some Miró.  No such luck; after dragging Paco, (one of Sabata’s roommates, and probably the nicest and most patient guy in the world) around for the whole morning in search of said costumes, we called it quits in favor of tapas and sangria, returning back to the apartment ready for our siesta.  There we found our friend Rafa (a freelance translator/writer/publisher), finally awake at 2:30 in the afternoon, perched in front of his laptop doing some work.  When we sat down and he picked up the guitar to play for us, we knew it was over; we weren’t going anywhere that afternoon.  We lazed about for a few more hours, enjoying the opportunity to be as fully immersed in a culture as it gets, and then headed out to the beach (5 minutes away!!) to watch the sunset.  There more lazing about ensued, as the night grew bluer and bluer while the lights of the city grew warmer and brighter.  We decided to thank the boys for their hospitality by preparing a supper for them of pasta and pizza, and for after-dinner drinks we girls made Agua de Valencia, the typical cocktail of our town.  Then it was off to a concert that one of Rafa’s friends was putting on in the city that night.  We managed to almost lose one from our group, Emily Anne, in the subway; the doors in Barcelona’s underground close QUICKLY and DO NOT REOPEN for anyone or anything.  The concert was good but we had far too much energy to sit still and listen, so we headed out in search of somewhere to dance.  This failed, however, and we abandoned the plan in favor of, you guessed it!, lazing about at home playing guitar and telling stories.  Definitely can’t complain about that.

family portrait.

Saturday we finally managed to do a bit of tourism.  The whole gang (Spaniards and Americans alike) hopped the metro to the Park Güell, one of the many legacies Gaudí left to the city; the park is carved out of the side of a hill, making it a great place to take in views of the city.  Right as you walk in, you’re greeted by two small “houses” (one now serving as a gift shop) that look like they’ve come straight from the pages of Hansel and Gretel.  But instead of candy they’re adorned with mosaics, glistening with color in the afternoon sun.  We found a spot to picnic towards the top of the hill, feasting on freshly purchased bocadillos, fruit and chocolate, talking both in English and Spanish of cuss words, UVA traditions and other cultural oddities.  I truly felt like a kid again, skipping around the park (keep in mind I don’t get much time in the great outdoors in the metropolis that is Valencia) with my friends, snapping goofy photos and taking in the spectacular views of the city below.  The day ended with some last minute Halloween shopping, at which point it became clear I was not destined to be a Post-It Note but a leopard (the amount of leopard print clothing in the dollar store we stumbled upon was staggering).  After a quick siesta we geared up, made sure the boys had an acceptable amount of costume on (they all took a liking to my eyeliner and their costumes therefore were decided on how the makeup was employed: black-lined lips? “Mom” tattoos?, and so on).

Our friends were right: Barcelona knows how to throw a good Halloween party; everyone in the streets was dressed up, ready to share with us what they were, curious to know what we were, etc.  It’s amazing how many foreigners were out and about (ourselves included); we probably heard more English that night than Spanish.  And I’m not often a proponent for nights out that end at 6am, but I made an exception this time.  Overall, a successful American holiday celebration in Spain.

With only a few hours in the city left on Sunday, we high-tailed it to the remaining Gaudí grandeurs (I’m already planning my next trip back, since we didn’t have the chance to go into any of the buildings! They’re so impressive from the outside that I can’t imagine what beautiful things are inside).  What an incredible feeling to get off at the “Sagrada Familia” metro stop and literally step out, look up, and there it is.  Dripping with ornate stonework, built to represent the wild beauty of nature, this cathedral is truly awe-inspiring.  Exactly 100 years old this year, it is still being built; can you imagine how Gaudí must have felt, not ever having seen his own work completed?  Despite the distraction of cranes and scaffolding that surround the building, it’s interesting to see parts of the structure that are completed, while other identical parts are still being built.  We then strolled down to La Pedrera (wish I could tell you what this was originally, maybe just an apartment building that now serves as a Gaudí museum) and Casa Batelló (again, another apartment designed by Gaudí).  With only minutes to spare, we hopped on our train home, weary travelers ready to return.

This week has provided no similarly spectacular stories, since it has mostly consisted of getting back exams (I could rant for hours about the disadvantages of the Spanish grading system in which, all my teacher’s assured me, an 85 is “muy muy muy bien!”) and straightening out credits and classes with UVA from overseas, since I have pretty much determined that I’ll be graduating by the end of this summer.  Which is an exciting prospect, despite all the bureaucracy, because of what next year may hold for me: an internship here in Spain? In D.C.? a semester of living at home and working so I can travel/live somewhere new and different? (but like they say: you can take the girl out of Charlottesville but you can’t take Charlottesville out of the girl).  I feel like the world really is at my fingertips, and I’m just glad to be overwhelmed by possibilities rather than dead ends.

Other than that, next weekend I head to Paris to visit one of my closest friends from high school who is also on a year abroad program.  So more travel news to follow.

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Filed under fall semester, travel