Signing Off!

October 30, 2009

This post marks #227. And 227 blog posts later, I sit here reflecting on all I have captured via THB and all I have experienced. My heart is racing, I’m smiling, I’m crying, I’m nostalgic, I’m sad, I’m excited, etc. What can I say? Believe it or not, I feel a bit stumped for words.

Now, I don’t want to be a drama queen or anything, but I do always write from my heart and it’s a bit overwhelming to be putting the lights out on my “baby.” What started as one of my random ideas turned into something that helped me stay connected in a really fun way with those from home, as well as capture all the craziness of an American girl living a Spanish life.

Speaking of craziness, I compiled my own superlatives for the last post to really put a stamp on what the experience has meant to me. While I’m coming back for year two, forever and always, year one will be incredibly memorable.

Favorite restaurant: Kibuka (I’m sure no one is surprised that a Spanish restaurant is not my favorite!)

Favorite street: Calle Verdi (in my neighborhood, Gracia, and so full of charm)

Best friend: Jos

Favorite tapa: Patatas Bravas (potatoes with a Thousand Island-like dressing) or Pimientos de Padron (a variety of green peppers, steamed and salted)

Best day: My birthday celebration, June 5

Worst day: I can’t remember, good thing!

Most surprising: No matter how homesick or sad I felt at any given point, I never said, even in frustration, “I’m done. I’m coming home.”

Most rewarding: Not having a single student quit lessons based on my performance

Most disappointing: Losing touch with people from home and feeling like “out of sight, out of mind”

Best trip: As I wrote in “These are the Moments,” it’s too hard to pick just one, though Ibiza always pops up as top of mind.

Favorite Spanish holiday: Dia de St. Jordi. I don’t really know why I liked it so much, but I like the idea that everyone can enjoy it, young or old, married or not.

Best at keeping in touch: Dylan! It has been great chatting with Leah and Adam’s 2 year old son almost twice a week, watching him grow right before my eyes. Even the times when he says, “Mommy, stop talking to Hoolia” makes me laugh.

Favorite plaza: Again, staying local to my neighborhood, it’s the one I have spent the most time in, Plaza de Vila de Gracia, formerly known as Plaza Rius i Taulet and also known as, “The clocktower plaza.”

Favorite Spanish beer: Estrella (light, fresh and crisp)

Favorite bar: L’Ascensor in Barrio Gotico.

Favorite European sports team: Barca, duh!

Favorite language: Spanglish (I’ve perfected it!)

Favorite metro line: The green line (for no particular reason, I guess I just like the stops and the color)

Favorite student: Neus

So with that folks (and a few of my favorite pictures below), I am signing off, with a chill down my spine and goose bumps (or chicken skin as the Spaniards say). Thanks for following the first year’s journey. I can only hope my second year here will be just as full of adventure! Lots of love, hugs and kisses!



The most consistent friends (Joe, Lisa and Jos not pictured)


Wendz, Jos and I at my birthday party


The Ibiza team, minus Isaac and Camilo

George and I, Barca game

My brother and I at the Barca game


So Much and So Little Changes in a Year

October 28, 2009

Some people say not a whole lot changes in a year, but needless to say, for me, that has not been the case. In so many ways, I’m the same ol’ me and in other ways, I’m really a different person, with a changed outlook based on all the new world I have seen. So once again, to go along with the theme of the last posts, with Friday being the final, I thought I would recount how exactly I’ve changed!

1. Goodbye “luxuries:” When I say luxuries, I mean having a shower that stays hot for more than 3 minutes and doesn’t flood, a bedroom with a window, a quiet apartment, a dryer, access to shops/supermarkets on Sunday, unlimited use of a cell phone, a good salary, Tuttimelon, TV, etc. Well, while I once thought I couldn’t live without any of those, I have shown myself I most certainly can!

2. Drinking and I are no longer friends: I’ve never been an absolute crazy party girl, but I’ve had my moments through the years, even at the start of this adventure. However, I’ve parted ways with those types of nights and instead, I much prefer just one glass of wine or beer with dinner. Granny-style, maybe, but that’s how I roll!

3. “Ahek, ahek!:” Though I have chosen not to write about any sicknesses, I’ve been a lot sicker here than I was at home.  That’s a change for the worse! As of recent though, I’ve been a lot better, but it seems I’ve had one thing after another, from an upper respiratory infection to colds to stomach problems. Not so fun, but thankfully nothing grave, knock on wood!

4. Me, myself and I: I came here not really knowing anyone and as I built up a network, I had to learn to enjoy spending time on my own, something I really didn’t like back home. I always wanted to be around someone and when no one was around, I was bummed out. But I’m not like that anymore…I value time alone and I have developed enough hobbies and interests to not just pass the time, but rather, appreciate it.

5. Stressed? Me?!: I think city life can sometimes be stressful and when you add a full time job and other social pressures, it can be a bit overwhelming. And at times, like everyone, I did get quite overwhelmed in SF and little things continuously stressed me out. Well, those days are seemingly gone because not a whole lot has stressed me out this past year. Sure, I’ve had bad days, even bad weeks, but I’m better able to keep things in perspective and look at the big picture.

There ya have it, the new and improved me! When I go home, I imagine some things may have changed some, but in general, a lot of things will not have changed and it will feel second nature to integrate once again. I suppose a year, while you are living it, is a long time, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a blip on the radar. Who knows…but I do know that on Saturday at 10:00am, it will have been exactly one year since I arrived to Barcelona and I can vouch for the former part of this post’s title, so much has changed!

These are the Moments…

October 26, 2009

“I’ll remember all my life…” as Edwin McCain once sang in his hit song. And in sticking with the theme of the remaining THB posts, I have given some thought to what have indeed been my favorite moments this year abroad. So, without further adieu, the winning 5 moments are (in no particular order):

1. My birthday celebration. It was an incredibly special day and one of, if not the best, birthdays I have had. One of my best friends came from the US, I shared my celebration with 13 new friends and everyone from home and more remembered to send a special wish to me. I sure felt the amor!

2. Visitors. I can’t be more specific because I enjoyed all my visitors for their own reasons. However, it was especially nice to see my parents, not once, but twice (and the second time with the bonus of my brother and sister-in-law). They have been following my experience closer than anyone, so for them to be here, sharing it with me, was great.

3. New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Eve is always so hyped up. It’s like if you don’t start the year off with a bang, it won’t be a good year. This year seemed different. I had just gotten back from England, so made impromptu plans, had friends over for a “pre party,” then we raced through the metro to get to my Spanish friend Jose’s house before midnight. We got there with 5 minutes to spare, chomped down on the traditional 12 grapes as the bells rang to midnight, then all hugged each other and celebrated. Fun, fun, fun.

4. Trips: Again, I can’t pick just one because they were all nice in their own ways. I think the most memorable was Ibiza just because we were on a boat for 5 days, but skiing in the Pyrenees, Menorca, England, Scotland, France, etc. were also fantastic. Even though I generally didn’t go too far from “base,” I learned there is a lot to see in this area!

5. First Barca game: I went with two friends and though we didn’t have the best seats in the world, we could see everything perfectly. I literally got chills down my spine when Barca came out to play and I just soaked it all in, thinking how cool it was to be there.

Limiting it to only five was a toughie and while I know I put that restriction on the post myself, I didn’t want to keep rambling and rambling. I do have a tendency to do that! Anyway, good times this year, good times indeed.

The birthday crew

The birthday crew

The whole fam in Barcelona

The whole fam in Barcelona

Happy 2009!

Happy 2009!

1st Barca game with Sam and Val

1st Barca game with Sam and Val

Year in Review: Biggest Cultural Differences

October 23, 2009

As THB is winding down, sniff sniff, I have decided that the remaining posts will be dedicated to overall reviews from my year living in Barcelona, from my favorites to my biggest personal changes to this post, on the biggest differences between life in Spain vs. life in America. But they won’t be boring, or at least I hope!

It’s been a wild ride, I’ll tell ya that, and for those who have been avid readers, I think you can vouch for the adventure I have had. And though it’s not coming to an end and I’ll be in Barcelona for at least another year, the first year will always be special and unforgettable.

Food: Ah, food, probably the hottest topic on THB. Ya won’t find any frozen yogurt with fresh fruit and mochi, Trader Joe’s goodies, or Tootsie Rolls here. No siree. Just the good ol’ sandwich that I put to rest months ago. Ok, maybe all of Barcelona has more than just sandwiches, but I miss the variety and the options I find in America. Just wait, Safeway, just wait.

Work schedules: Work, smoke 15 minutes, work, go for a coffee, work, take a two hour lunch, work, smoke, go home and then enjoy holiday after holiday, on top of 4-6 weeks of vacation. Rough, huh?

Smoking: Smoking is permitted almost everywhere and people take advantage of that flexibility. Despite warnings on the packages that smoking kills and despite images of people with holes in their necks, Spaniards are smoking fiends. From the streets to restaurants and bars to parks to even inside the metro (though it IS banned there), Spaniards are addicted!

Drying clothes: I’ll toot my own horn for a second. I think one of my funniest posts is on my fiasco getting accustomed to drying clothes al natural. I have yet to see a single dryer in this city, which is something most Americans see on a daily basis and while I thought I would hate, hate, hate it, I’ve grown to like it. At least clothes don’t fade or shrink!

Style: From Fashion Police to Fashion Police Round 2, it’s not been so easy to adapt to the style here. It can be hideous at times, but to integrate myself, I have tried to wear my college shirts and baseball hats a little less often. When I leave the house the majority of times though and look in the mirror before, I think, “Could I BE any more American?”

Language: Duh, but I had to slip it in. The “hi’s,” “how are you’s,” and “what’s up’s” are a thing of the past. Barcelona is an English-challenged city, which is ultimately good for me as an English teacher, so I leave my English at the door.

Transportation: Americans couldn’t compete even if they tried with the amount of motos on the streets here. They come in all colors and all sizes,  with all types of people driving them, in and out of traffic, on the sidewalks and even on the highway. Just one word from the wise to them though, it’s NOT cool to rev your engine!

Of course ya have the different architecture, the slower pace of life, the manual cars, etc. but the above sums up the differences for me pretty well. Some are bigger than others, but it’s been very interesting trying to adapt to this culture. I do love it though!

Fashion Police Round 2

October 21, 2009

As promised during fashion police post #1, a second one would be coming and it didn’t take me long to build up the “ammunition” for this one. In fact, just one ride on the metro or just one long walk down to the center of town is good enough to find a whole new set of offenders. So get comfortable, the Hoolia fashion police is back!

Offense #1: “Dump” pants. While I personally gave this style of pants its name, they are absolutely ridiculous. They are pants that everyone seems to be wearing, styled looser in the front and back area, while tighter around the legs. Thus, it looks like people are carrying a load with them while walking. I have tried to capture offenders on camera, but without luck, so I don’t have a picture, but hopefully you can use your imagination.

Offense #2: Colored hair, really colored hair. You would be surprised at how many people in this city have purple and orange hair. Straight out of the dye package, from young to old, people proudly sport these colored locks. They deserve a ticket!

Offense #3: Cargo jeans. I have seen jeans of many styles here, from skinny jeans to jeans with holes to nice designer ones. Jeans are truly universal. Everyone wears them. But what everyone doesn’t wear, unless they are European, are jeans with pockets on the thighs. It’s not the biggest offense in the world, but it does deserve a fine!

Offense #4:  English t shirts that make no sense. English is the universal language, sure, but people who don’t speak English like to wear English t shirts. What they don’t realize is that the shirts they wear often times don’t make sense. “Something shy is going?” What does that mean? Or, “Perky” above a frog picture? My favorite was, “Still love me.” Did the person ever stop?! Ticket!

Offense #5 (borderline): I “heart” shirts. I see them all over the place, with the two most common being “I heart New York” and “I heart Barcelona.” I love the city pride and I may one day be wearing one as well, but to me, they are a bit tacky and lame. They just scream out tourist to me, so while it’s borderline, I’ll be keeping watch!

Offense #6: Jean on Jean. That was so 80’s! I have seen more jean jackets with jeans or some other form of an all jean outfit to make me think maybe an epidemic is starting. I hope not, because I will call in reinforcements on this one!

Believe it or not, I could keep going on and on with more offenses, but I think I have captured the main ones. Since the blog is winding down, fashion police won’t be back, but believe me, she will always be keeping a watchful eye!

A common hair color here...

A common hair color here...

One variation of the cargo jeans

One variation of the cargo jeans

And of course, the I heart shirt

And of course, the I heart shirt

Oh Susana, I Wish You a Happy Birthday

October 19, 2009

A little bit of the oldies country song mixed with a birthday wish and wa-la (remember, as the Frenchies say), I’ve got the title to my next post. But of course, as always, it has meaning and today, my mom will be celebrating #…., well, I won’t say, but it is her birthday.

I know I ask this question about all the special people I write about in THB, but really, what can anyone ever write about his or her mom that does justice? I consider myself a writer, if only self-proclaimed, but it’s definitely hard to capture some people with words. And my mom does not fall under the “people” category anyway. There needs to be a separate category for people as special as her!

When I think of my mom, I think how she always, always puts other’s needs in front of her own and how she supports me unconditionally. She is a master knitter, Hunter’s best friend, a great artist, a reader, a recreational photographer (as she showed me in Barcelona when she took WAY better pics than Esteve), a supportive friend, a loving mom/daughter/wife/sister, an exercise lover, etc. And, she has always been the one to follow the ins and outs of my daily life, including the big events and the small, which has been incredibly comforting. So, while her hobbies and interests may be shared by others, how she does them, how she looks at life and her positive attitude makes her truly one of a kind.

I won’t be with her on her big day, obviously, but I will be with her in Spanish spirit, hoping not only the day is fantastic, but her year is as well! Feliz cumpleanos, madre mia!

My mom and I saying goodbye to the deck

My mom and I saying goodbye to the deck

Remembering Poppy

October 15, 2009

6 years ago, my grandpa, who all his grandchildren called “poppy,” lost his battle with lung cancer. At the time, life didn’t seem very fair. First, he won his fight against bladder cancer and within just weeks of being diagnosed with lung cancer, totally unrelated, he left us. As more time has passed, I still don’t think life was very fair, but at the same time, we were sure lucky to have him for a young 82 years. And his memory still lives strong.

We can all probably say something nice about everyone in our lives or about people who are no longer with us, but with complete sincerity, I can say there was/is no one like poppy. With white curly hair slicked back with vaseline, old Levi’s he wore up to his belly button and always a doggie treat in his pocket, he was everyone’s friend (as well as the slowest driver in the world). He was the guy in line to buy fish’s friend, he was the dog owner at the park’s friend, he was the golf pro’s friend, etc. He was never short of words, needless to say, and never short of antics, whether insisting I pose for pictures in a certain way, I touch the fish’s eye in the market or walking into a room with a clown mask, not saying anything. He made the best mustaches from burned wine corks, he was a master shirley temple drink maker and his smile was priceless. And of course, he was the best dog trainer in the world.

I still think of him a lot, especially since he always, always said to me, “Speak in Spanish. I want to hear something in Spanish.” He didn’t know Spanish, but he liked to hear me speak it. What would he think of me now? I can imagine calling him, speaking to him in only Spanish, then hearing giggles on the other side of the phone. His laugh is as fresh as the day is young!

He was a special, special grandpa and today and always he will have a special place in my heart. I hope he is resting in peace.

Back in the day

Back in the day

Poppy and his classic pants :)

Poppy and his classic pants 🙂