Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World

June 16, 2009

Cause that is what I have started to do and let me tell ya, I can’t be stopped! A month ago, I wrote about my interest in taking guitar lessons and the first lesson is officially under my belt.

When I heard the doorbell ring and could see my instructor, Kieran, via the video, I couldn’t help but giggle a little. When he got off the elevator with his fancy guitar, it took all the energy in the world not to completely lose it. Remember, music and I don’t go together, so seeing him live and in action, ready to teach ME, was quite funny. Little does he know what he got himself into…

Wasting no time, we immediately got into scales. In other words, the basics of the basic, though I didn’t even know what scales were! Apparently, they are like the “do re me ra fa so la….” of the guitar, if that makes any sense. Bit by bit, we worked on scales and believe it or not, I got a “good job” at least a few times! And, if I can play the scales I learned with a rhythm, which is actually asking a lot considering the person, it will sound like the beginning of the song “My Girl.” I also learned there is a number that belongs to each finger, “frets,” string numbers, etc.

The hour lesson flew by (part due to my silly commments throughout) and with destroyed fingertip nerves already, I think guitar could possibly be my thing.  Note, I put possibly in italics on purpose! While I won’t ever reach a great level or anything (I’m just being realistic), I hope to just reach a level where I can play songs that sound decent and don’t hurt people’s ears. Just give me 6 months and I’ll be taking requests! Ultimately though, the most important part  of a hobby is to enjoy it and so far, so good.  

My friend's guitar and the scales I have to practice

My friend's guitar and the scales I have to practice

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33 Hours and 1 year older

June 6, 2009

It’s official, I am one year older and subsequently, that much wiser. Hey, I don’t make the rules, I just live by them 🙂

Normally one to enjoy birthday celebrations for at least a week, as my brother graciously pointed out, I had no problem claiming a 33 hour celebration by the mere fact that San Francisco is 9 hours behind Barcelona. I don’t think anyone held it against me though and in fact, I can say I probably had one of the best birthdays yet. They say the best is always yet to come and that expression took on new meaning yesterday.

It was my first time celebrating my birthday internationally, but it was so great for Wendz to be by my side, meeting my new international friends in my new international city. In fact, 13 friends came to dinner, representing Scotland, Ireland, England, the US and of course, Spain!

Now is the part where you may want to get out your tissues…I couldn’t help but take a step back in the middle of dinner, if only figuratively, to smile and marvel at a group of friends who, after only 7 months, have really proved to be quite special.  While being away on my bday did make me miss home, having a touch from home, Wendz, together with a crew who I feel really close with really helped make the day incredibly memorable. And so, though hardly any of my friends here actually read my blog (I know, I know, they are missing out on some fine reading), I would like to give a huge shout out to everyone who helped celebrate and at the same time, thank everyone from home who were thoughtful enough to send me really sweet wishes on big ol’ numero….

The CELTA crew at Hoolia's new piso

The CELTA crew at Hoolia's new piso

Dinner crew: Rohan, Wendz, Hoolia, Jos, Jessie, Natalie, David, Sandra, Adam, Joe, Lisa, Enric and Matt

Dinner crew: Rohan, Wendz, Hoolia, Jos, Jessie, Natalie, David, Sandra, Adam, Joe, Lisa, Enric and Matt

Wendz, Hoolia and Jos at dinner

Wendz, Hoolia and Jos at dinner


4 Days in Provence!

June 1, 2009

After a cumulative 19 hours on the bus, I have made it safe and sound back to Barcelona and I am preparing for the big move.  And usually one to procrastinate, especially anything that involves a lot of effort, I decided to re-emerge with a rundown of my time in France. Que suerte!

On Thursday, the fail proof plan that Julie and I created to meet, that was in fact not fail proof in the least, actually worked out. I was late and they were late, and though the spot we picked to meet seemed to be in the French ghetto, the pick up went well. After checking into the hotel, we went to eat in Aix en Provence, where we were headquartered, and despite looking up every single word on the menu and only finding half of them in the dictionary, we had a “proper” catch up.  I figured “tomate” would be safe and I was right, though it was, needless to say, a bit of a crap shoot.

We enjoyed driving all through Provence the rest of the visit and a little into the Riviera (Cassis). We stopped in many scenic towns, tasted wine, took photos, ate and even went to the Haribo museum for a quick sugar fix. The 4 pound bags of marshmallows were pretty tempting, NOT! On the flip side of all these fun adventures, yet again, I found myself in the ER, this time because of Julie. She woke up one morning with a swollen eye, so off to the Provence ER we went, only to find out it was allergies and she got medicine. It was only a small hiccup though, so no pasa nada. I do think I must be wearing invisible magnets to hospitals in Europe though!

All in all, we had a fantastic time together and though we learned the hard way what some of the food was (Julie accidentally ordered some sandwich with anchovies, eggs and other stuff), it was all part of being in France. So now they are on to Bordeaux to continue their honeymoon and though I had a blast with them, I’m finding myself happier and happier to be back in Spain after I visit France 🙂

Tres Amigos at Dinner

Tres Amigos at Dinner

A stop in Les Baux

A stop in Les Baux

Wine tasting at Chateau Establoun

Wine tasting at Chateau Establoun

 


A Whirlwind in Barcelona

March 26, 2009
A promise is a promise* – so here is the cliffhanging part deux of my guest post!
We all know Hoolia has a palate for adventure and new experiences, and while sightseeing is on her list of fun activities – exploring in depth isn’t a strong suit. So it was a good thing we only had 3.5 days and I got a great taste of the gorgeous city Hoolia calls home!
 
So this is how to do Barcelona in 3.5 days with Hoolia – tie your sneakers on tight, here we go:
As I mentioned, Hoolia met me at the airport and after a bus and metro ride we settled into her apartment for a quick lunch (nothing like a jet-fueled scented PB&J sandwich to get you going). Then we were off by foot down Travessera de Gracia to get a good feel for Hoolia’s neighborhood. Turned off onto Gran de Gracia where we saw two of Gaudi’s famously constructed homes – Casa Milan and Casa Batllo. His distinct style reminds me of the drip sandcastles my dad would make at the beach…minus the brightly colored mosaics!
From there, we walked to the Plaza Catalunya via Passieg de Gracia, stopping to window shop in the high caliber shops. In the plaza I introduced Hoolia to the fun of photography – mainly posing with statues…as statutes, as seen in Hoolia’s post yesterday.
 
We crossed over and continued our walk along Las Ramblas and enjoyed seeing the numerous pet rabbits, birds, fish, hamsters, mice and yes, a chicken for sale along the way. Additionally, the street performers kept us engaged for quiet a while. My favorite stop of the day was next – Mercat St. Josep la Boqueria. I’m a sucker for markets – the bright colors of fruit and vegetable stands pop next to the warm and rich colors of the chocolate stands. And of course no market is complete without a smelly fish stand (or a half dozen)! 
To rinse the smell of tuna from our nostrils, we walked down to the pier and breathed the fresh Mediterranean Sea air. Took a leisurely stroll down the pier and ended up at a few small beaches just as the sun was setting – a very romantic first day with Hoolia!
 
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After a short siesta we went to dinner at Amelie near her neighborhood, aptly named Gracia!

Luckily we got to sleep early on Friday, because Saturday was just as eventful and the night didn’t arrive until early Sunday morning! Waking early we walked down Passeig de San Joan towards the Picasso Museum and passed the Arc de Triunf and many other beautiful architectural delights. The Picasso Museum was really well done (even though we started the exhibit backwards…probably because we were still reeling from the confusion about tickets and age…) and it was impressive to see Pablo’s early works (when he was 15) beside his more distinct, later works. His regard for form, color and light is astonishing. Definitely a must see. We wandered over towards Barri Gotico, and Hoolia was a real trooper by going into the Santa Maria del Mar with me. The structure is magnificent considering it used to back up to the sea. The weather has barely affected the strong church.

Barri Gotico was filled with twist and turns and we had a bit of difficulty navigating, especially since we were looking for one street that wasn’t on our map. Right when we were going to give up, Hoolia saw it – Calle Marlet! This street (about two blocks long) was all that was left of the Jewish Quarter of Barcelona. We found a small synagogue that was built/excavated by a private owner and showed some remnants of Jewish life. But overall it was slightly depressing to hear about the small Jewish population left in Barcelona and how there isn’t much of a future for them here. To make matters worse, we found a plaque in Hebrew commemorating Jewish life in Barcelona – and over it was faded graffiti.
We then headed to the Plaza Real for lunch and meet up with Hoolia’s friend Jessie before walking home and grocery shopping after our siesta. To add a personal touch to my trip, Hoolia and I cooked dinner. She put together the yummy salad while I dazzled her with my chicken parm skills.
 
Perfect meal before heading to a party hosted by another of Hoolia’s friends. The libations, conversations and new friends got the best of us and we stayed out quiet late, but it didn’t interfere with our plans the next day…
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Set the alarm for the second day and headed to Montjuic to take a look at the Miro Musuem. Again, surprised by many of Miro’s early works, but wasn’t impressed by the overall collection (except for the giant tapestry) and to add more disappointment was Kiki Smith’s exhibit in half of the museum. I had enough of her in SF! But the views were breathtaking – the entire city lay at our feet. We headed down the slope by way of the Olympic Stadium and stopped to grab a quick bite at one of the bars along the deck…too bad a game wasn’t taking place!
 
We made our way along the Museo de National de Arte de Cataluyna and into the Plaza Espana. We took the metro from there to the fairytale Park Guell. We spent lots of time wandering around, enjoying the labors of Gaudi’s mosaic palace while listening to a talented violinist and ending on a grassy patch to lay out for an hour! It was easy to forget about the cold weather that was plaguing Boston!
Reality quickly caught up to us as we rushed to meet friends at the Republic House to catch Messi and the Barca team clean house.  For those who know me, I’m not much of a sports fan, so it was nice to have some new friends to distract me with fun conversations. After the game, the crew headed over (by bike, moto and car!) to the Born for some good ol’ fashioned Spanish style pizza!
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Why wouldn’t my last day be less busy than the rest – because there was still plenty to see! We strolled down Hoolia’s street all the way to Gaudi’s incomplete masterpiece the Sagrada Familia cathedral. The line was expectedly immense, so we decided to enjoy the outside of the structure and then hit the train station to Tibidabo. The short ride on the funicular to the top was impressive, too bad there was a thin layer of smog blanketing the city below.  Before we could figure out what do to first, we met an eager, outgoing American traveler who asked us “what’s worth checking out.” Hoolia, being the local, piped up and explained that the church before us had some great views, especially if you go all they way up to that ‘guy, Jesus on top.’ Clearly this time, Hoolia’s English was escaping her! But luckily we let Marc tag along because he was definitely into checking out the inside of the church with me and climbing to the very top to take in the amazing views.
 
The three of us returned to Gracia and I had my final (and first authentic) Spanish meal at Hoolia’s favorite place that serves menu del dia for 9.70 euro – SMS Grille. It was packing time and a final metro ride before saying goodbye!
 
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So that’s the abridged version of one of the best girl’s weekends I’ve had in years. Hoolia and I laughed and talked practically every waking minute, sharing stories as if we never missed a beat or had thousands of miles between us only 5 days earlier. She and her friends welcomed me quickly and warmly. I made fast friends and received lots of little life lessons (citizen’s of the world wear tight jeans, bidets are a scarcity in Europe and it seems that The Wire is an international sensation), as well as an endless list of movies to add to my unruly Netflix queue.

I am grateful for friends like Hoolia in my life, so happy to see her thriving in her new surroundings and of course that I was able to enjoy a truly wonderful weekend. Gracias Hoolia! 

 *and yes, I kept my promise too – 2 boxes of S’more granola bars were delivered safely to Hoolia