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Archive for October, 2009

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I found this jar of Skippy peanut butter, or in Spanish, crema de cacahuete, at the Asian supermarket near the dorm.  You know we’re living in a globalized world when an American brand of peanut butter from a multinational corporation is being produced in China and then exported from China to Barcelona, where the Asian community (who knew they had a penchant for peanut butter?) and American study-abroad students buy it.

 

The Spaniards don’t understand our obsession with the stuff.  They like their nutella alright, but to them, peanut butter is odd–and since it’s usually located with the nutella, they must consider it as much of an indulgence as the chocolate-hazelnut spread.  Until I found this Chinese Skippy, we’d been paying nearly $5 (3.50 euros) for a jar half the size by the Spanish brand Capitán and my father had graciously schlepped the real deal (reduced fat Skippy straight from New York) to London…ahh what lengths we go to to be reminded of home!

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Tonight I just got back from my first FC Barcelona game against Zaragoza (another team from a town in Spain) at the massive Camp Nou stadium (it seats 80,000 people and is one of the biggest, if not the biggest stadium in Europe).  

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It was a rout: Barça’s 6 to Zaragoza’s 1.  It was definitely a highlight of my time here thus far being at the game amongst 75,000 other screaming, delirious fans.  And I do enjoy watching professional soccer– you get sort of mesmerized by the way the players pass and handle the ball and then boom! Someone gets a breakaway and scores a goal and then you’re up off your feet screaming with everyone else.


Here were some highlights and funny observations from the game:

-Only non-alcoholic beer is sold at the games because of past problems with drunk, rowdy soccer hooligans

-Furthermore, you knew that this was pure 100% Catalan territory because all concession stand signs were bilingual in Catalan and English with no Castillian (regular old Spanish) to be found in sight

-The entire stadium did 3-4 rounds of the wave

-Though there were over 75,000 fans at the game, I happened to be sitting about 30 feet across the aisle from a friend I knew back in Chicago who is also studying abroad here

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Gracia

Today my roommate Tanja and I explored the neighborhood of Gracia, one of the most vibrant and young barrios of the city.  We ended up going at the perfect time, which was around 5:30 pm, after a luxurious day without classes and a long nap for both of us.

Having only been to Gracia a handful of times before (once on a formal walking tour our program had organized in the beginning of the semester, and another time at night when I could not fully appreciate it as it was 3 am and my high heel booties were causing my ankles to buckle under excruciating pain), I was not sure what to expect.  I had heard that Gracia was the. place. to. be.  And although it was still early evening when we walked around, I concluded that this statement was accurate.


Unlike most of the city, Gracia used to be its own pueblo before being incorporated into Barcelona, so it still retains quiet side streets that open up into picturesque plazas and that small-town/neighborhood-y vibe, which I quite enjoyed. Walking down the maze of streets, Tanja and I came across  café after café, mesmerized by the croissants con chocolate, pan mallorca, and other treats.  In an unparalleled feat of discipline, we passed them all by in an ultimately fruitless quest to find churros con chocolate (would you believe it that none of the panaderias in Gracia had them?)  Other more modern coffee shops were sprinkled amongst cute indie-designer boutiques and chic restaurants.

Though I did not take any pictures this go-round, what struck me about the neighborhood was not so much its architecture or the stores and restaurants (though they did have some lovely modernista buildings and good looking food on every corner), but rather the general ambience of a youthful, hip (but not with the “hipper than thou” attitude common in hipster ‘hoods) and modern neighborhood.  For although Barcelona, like many European cities, has amazing history and ancient buildings to be found on its charming, medieval streets, it is hard sometimes to connect with these beautiful parts of the old city…to feel like people really live and work there.  Then again, these are the ruminations of a girl who grew up in a city that was entirely destroyed and rebuilt not even 150 years ago.  In contrast, Gracia struck me as a modern neighborhood in the best sense of the word…though the architecture and layout of the neighborhood was very European (narrower streets and 3-4 story apartment buildings rather than any colossal skyscrapers), it was the people and their bustling energy that made the neighborhood interesting…the creative, young pioneers who shop at the gourmet deli with beverages from around the world or stay up all night having drinks with friends in one of the plazas.

I feel very lucky that I can have days like this every Friday where I can be a tourist again and explore the city, and I know I will definitely be coming back to Gracia very soon.

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The "hippie mullet" also known as the "rasta mullet"

The "hippie mullet" also known as the "rasta mullet"

Something tells me that if this guy were American, he’d be pretty annoyed with Minnesota’s new drug law.

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Rain Update:

No sooner had I walked out into the pelting torrent did I find a savior: one of the Pakistani guys who usually sells beer on the street (“cerveza beers?”)–yes given his country of origin, it is an incongruous profession–was standing outside the bus station a block from my residencia selling umbrellas!  What a savvy businessman.  Prepared for the rip-off of the century, I asked the gentleman “¿cuanto cuesta? and was surprised that he was selling them for only 4 euros.

My day thus significantly improved as I trudged to class 45 minutes outside of the city and then to yoga at the same university, all with my new umbrella in tow.

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It is seriously pouring right now.  The rain this afternoon can rival that of Providence [Insert similes/metaphors here…they all apply…buckets, cats and dogs…]

And I seem not to be prepared.  No rain boots.  No umbrella.  Oy.  So far we’ve been quite lucky with the weather (it was beach weather up until last week!) and now I think the clouds, who had been so patient before, just could not keep from bursting.

So there you have it.  More updates soon (hopefully!)

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Londres

This past weekend I was lucky enough to hop up to London and see my Dad, who was there on business.  With no classes on Monday (it was a bank holiday in Barcelona), I arrived on Saturday and stayed ’til Tuesday morning.


Except for my 8-hour blitz at the start of this journey, I had never been to London or as the Spaniards call it, Londres, or as Kanye (he of the “Im’ma let you finish Taylor, but Beyonce had the best video of ALL TIME!) calls it, Londontown. Despite the nippy weather, I felt a sense of comfort being over there.  And, yes, that probably had something to do with the shared language and the fact that I was with my Dad, but I immediately took a liking to it.  Unfortunately after spending the interminable amount of time amongst the two airbuses-worth of people coming in from Lahore at Customs, I didn’t make it to the hotel until early evening, so I had to scrap my original plan to go to Harrod’s (yes, woe is me).  Dad and I had a great English dinner at a very pretty,  traditional-looking (re: oak-paneling, pianist in the corner, waiters in jackets and ties) restaurant, Simpsons-in-the-Strand.  We had some good English roast beef that came with Yorkshire Pudding, Savoy cabbage, and roast potatoes.  We had an amazing sampler of desserts later on, including “treacle pudding,” which is a sponge cake with a tasty carmelized sugar sauce on top.  

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The next day we went on one of those super-touristy hop-on/hop-off bus tours, but it was a good way to see the city.  Our tour guide was nice and had a penchant for cars (that’s actually an understatement…he was obsessed!  He’d point out all of the luxury car dealerships…”Look to the right, it’s the Bentley dealership!”).  We decided that we’d stay for the entire tour and then get back on later and actually get off and explore.  After the tour, we went to the Brown’s Hotel for a lovely English tea, replete with the requisite scones, clotted cream, and strawberry preserves, tea sandwiches (my favorite!) and pastries.  I left thoroughly stuffed…especially after they kept refilling our plates of scones and sandwiches after we’d finish with them.

Then we ambled our way along the Thames to try and see Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey.  Unfortunately as it was a Sunday, Westminster Abbey was closed to tourists (though they did have Sunday services) as was Parliament.  We did see several Green Peace-ers had managed to climb up to the Parliament roof protesting, I suppose, inaction by Parliament towards the environment.  Then Dad and I had the genius idea that we’d walk to the Tower of London (which we knew was open)…it took a long, long time.  Really long.  It actually was a pleasant walk except for the fact that Dad was exhausted from jetlag and we arrived at the Tower at 5:01 when the last admission was at 5:00.  We were one minute late.  And we could not buy a damn ticket.  So, I took a photo of a Beefeater (see below) and we called it a day.

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On my last day in London I was on my own as Dad had a business meeting. My original hope was that I’d have seen all of the touristy things the day before and then use my final day to wander around cool neighborhoods and try to explore more ‘local flavor’ as they say.  That didn’t happen seeing as I wasn’t able to go inside many of the Big Things the day before.  So, like a madwoman, I dashed around the city from 9 am until 8 pm, with only a 20 min stop for lunch.  Here’s what I managed:

-Went to Westminster Abbey when it opened and after trying in vain to find the plaque of a distant ancestor (or so we think) buried there, Lord Edward Bulwer Lytton (he who coined the phrase “’twas a dark and stormy night”) in Poet’s Corner, I stumbled upon it (fate!) just as I was about to leave

-Saw the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace

-Finally (!) made it to see the tower…saw the Crown Jewels but found the old archival video footage of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation more interesting

-Went to the Tate and saw an interesting (and at-times X-rated) pop art exhibit with works by Andy Warhol (including funny Andy Warhol TV videos from the ’80s as well as his guest appearances on Love Boat!), Damien Hirst, Keith Haring and Jeffrey Koons among others

-Walked around Notting Hill for a bit

-Made it to Harrod’s and had a coconut cupcake in their Food Emporium

After my blitz, Dad and I had a delicious Indian dinner at a restaurant called Gaylord India (there are so many Indian restaurants with that name!).  As much as I do love Spanish tapas, I had been craving some good ethnic food so Indian really hit the spot (and the Brits aren’t know for having a standout local gastronomy anyway)…

Then to cap my last night I had G&Ts with Jackie (my friend who lives in London and whom I saw at the start of all this craziness) and traded stories about living overseas.  

It was a great trip, and I felt like I didn’t nearly scratch the surface of all that London has to offer, so I hope to go back sometime soon!

Pictures below

 

Parliament, Big Ben and the Thames

Parliament, Big Ben and the Thames

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral

 

St. Jame's Palace and the Union Jack

St. Jame's Palace and the Union Jack

A Bobby! Checking his cellphone!

A Bobby! Checking his cellphone!

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The Tower Bridge

The Tower Bridge

The Tower of London...it's looks so pleasant to have been the sight of many a beheading!

The Tower of London...it's looks too pleasant to have been the sight of many a beheading!

A Beefeater (or "yeoman of the guard" as I learned they're actually known)

A Beefeater (or "yeoman of the guard" as I learned they're actually known)

The London Eye

The London Eye

Westminster Abbey...home to my ancestor, Lord Lytton :)

Westminster Abbey...home to my ancestor, Lord Lytton 🙂

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

The Changing of the Guard

The Changing of the Guard

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