Tag Archives: catalonia

May Surprises

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The past week has flown by, with the help of some nice surprises! The first and most important as it enhances all the others, was the change in weather. The week before had been a but cloudy and muggy, but the clouds decided to clear a bit and let the sun play centre stage! On Tuesday afternoon Julia, Raul, Hector and I had a good time making chocolate truffle together. They are my three ‘private kids’ with whom I spend an hour on Tuesday afternoons, playing or making something together while I speak to them in English and they join in or absorb! We have good days and bad days, and even better days like Tuesday! At Easter time we had made some Easter egg nests with cornflakes and imported (by myself) Cadbury’s dairy milk chocolate and Mini Eggs. They loved making them, making a mess, then of course eating them! They’ve been asking since then when we could cook again, so I did some last minute scrambling on realising we only have a few more weeks and we made some chocolate truffles. I managed to get a hold of everything I needed okay, and they turned out tasty, and interesting- some were real giants! I’ve also decided to make some Canadian roll with them on our next class. It’s something else easy to make, and I think they’ll like it, especially as they LOVE coconut and condensed milk-I had a hard job keeping their fingers and tongues away from the packet and tin. I asked their mum if she could find the glacé cherries for me as I couldn’t, she seemed to know exactly where, but that left the problem of marshmallows, which are not such a big thing over here. My friend Fiona helped me solve it. She also happened to be another surprise! A quick decision was made to come for a wee visit, Saturday evening until Tuesday evening, with thanks to Ryanair. So she took some marshmallows over for me. I’ve managed to find a solution to my visitor’s comfortable sleeping problem, and I can’t believe I didn’t think of it earlier. One of my flat mates has a spare bed in her room, so we moved the mattress only into my room where it fits perfectly into the space beside my bed. So no hard floors or couches necessary.

We had such a good time together, it was great to catch up and to be able to share a wee bit of the life of Peigi over the past few months. We had beautiful weather and managed to do a lot, think I tired her out (warning to all visitors!). We had a quiet Sunday with church, lots of talking and some wandering. The various Circus acts (another surprise!) kept us entertained over the weekend. The Trapezi Circus took over Reus from Thursday to Sunday. Unlike our kind of circus that normally has shows in one place, here there’s a whole timetable of a multitude of acts taking place in just about every square and venue, even the main theatres. They attracted a huge crowd to Reus, and there are a huge amount of people forming the circus so you saw them everywhere as well. I’ve never seen so many dreadlocks in one place! It was interesting.

Fiona and I spent Monday in Barcelona, catching an early and late train. We managed to do some main attractions, what can be done in one day in Barcelona just scrapes the surface of what it has to offer. But we also managed to visit and take a guided tour of the Palau de la Música de Catalunya. An amazing building and a purpose built concert hall designed and built by Lluís Domènech i Montaner (a contemporary of Gaudí) between 1905 and 1908. I’d never been before and we both really enjoyed it and appreciated it. Unfortunately, due to it being a private building and copyright laws, you aren’t able to take photos inside. But I recommend visiting http://www.palaumusica.org for info, although its been said that it is strangely lacking in pictures. Of course, it would be best to attend a concert there. It welcomes all kinds of musical and cultural events, from choir singing (the Palau was built for and remains the headquarters of the Orfeó Català, the Catalan Choir) to rock! There are around 300 organised events a year these days, which is nearly an event a day! And over 300 000 visitors a year! It was a really good tour as well, with lots of information. Definitely worth adding to your Barcelona list.

I also managed a evening out to dinner! I went with some of the teachers from school for a proper pizza on Thursday night. One of the teachers who had been covering somebody on sick-leave was leaving, so we got together for one last time. Lots of laughs from them, I only get some of the stories or jokes, but laughing is contagious so its okay! Of course, the camera has been going all week, although I didn’t get any of the precious truffles, and you can ‘see’ my year abroad on flickr!

Spring has Sprung

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Last weekend I experienced another typical Catalan tradition. In Spring families and friends gather in country homes or restaurants for ‘Calcotades” Calcotades are spring onions (giant sized compared to the ones that we get in Scotland!) and they are cooked, barbequed really, on a wood barbeque. When it comes to eating time, you pull down and off the outer burnt layers and dip the sweet white calcotades into Romesco sauce. Romesco sauce is made with almonds, garlic, sweet paprika, and a few other things that have left my memory. Delicious! But very messy! I was invited to join one of the teachers in my school, with whom I also have English classes, to Calcotades with friends and family. I had met most of them on other occasions, so it was a nice day. The spring onions are treated as a first course (an enormous first course!) and followed by barbequed meat, such as lamb chops, sausages, baked potatoes and artichokes. A feast. A pudding of some kind follows, and then coffee or tea. And then you’re unable to move for fifteen minutes! I really enjoyed the food and company, and it was a beautiful day. Lots of fresh air and some running about playing some basketball and hilarious Catalan games! Even managed to fit in some dancing! A very relaxing day, but tiring for me, with lots of food and fresh air, but especially from thinking and speaking in Spanish- the wheels start getting slow in there!Plenty of photos were taken! Then we went to Cambrils on the coast for a a walk along the port and a coffee to warm-up. A wonderful day with wonderful company.

My busy next two weeks have begun. Mum and Dad arrived on Thursday, staying for a week. I left in the morning on the bus to Barcelona airport to meet them off their flight. It was when I was standing at arrivals that I received their message saying that due to a plan hitting a flock of birds at Glasgow airport, their flight to London had been delayed, causing them to miss the next one! So they wouldn’t be arriving until after 5! I went for a wee visit into the city to help pass the hours! But we made it back to Reus in the end. We wandered around Reus the next morning and then went through for a little explore of Tarragona. I’ve yet to properly visit Tarragona. It was a beautiful day and we caught some sun sitting on the beach. We met up with Joan and family: Deidre his wife; and Maria, Alex and Danny, for some lunch on Saturday. We went to a lovely restaurant in a neighbouring village for some Calcotades. It was thoroughly enjoyed by all! Dad especially enjoyed his rabbit! They took us for a little trip further into the mountains to a hermitage precariously perched on a mound of rock. The weather wasn’t so great, our first damp and windy day in a couple of weeks, but it was amazing nonetheless. Beautiful scenery, with views right to the coast. The boys especially enjoyed exploring all the nooks and crannies in the rocks and running up and down the steps cut into the rock!

No plans are set for the rest of the week, but I’m sure we won’t be lost for something to do. Lots of walking is tiring certain visitors out! We’ll make the most of it anyway. And next weekend, I’m hoping to have more visitors! Two from home staying in the same hotel that Mum and Dad are in. And one of my friends from my Spanish class at University who is also working in Spain this year is stopping over with me for a couple of nights. That’ll bring me up to the Easter holidays. We only have a week, but enough time to do something. I haven’t made any plans yet. I don’t think I’ll be going home, Glasgow maybe, but I’m not sure its worth it for such a short time. I’d like to do some more exploring here, but my fellow students abroad are planning on going home so I’m on my lonesome, and exploring doesn’t seem quite as appealing without company. So, if anyone wants to go somewhere….! Even just here, I have time! Otherwise I might just be forced to go and sit on the beach all day and work on the tan!

February and March

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Things have been rather busy since my last attempt at blogging, when I tried to write about my visit to a town called Montblanc. Technology decided that it wasn’t good enough to share with you however and sucked it into a black hole somewhere! Well, one Tuesday, in the typical you-never-know-what-a-day-will-bring routine of my say here in Spain, I was given the opportunity to visit Montblanc. Montblanc is the main town of the La Conca de Barberà region, about half an hour away from Reus. Montblanc used to be a Medieval stronghold an its old walls remain around the old part of the town. It was a very cold day, but I enjoyed my hour or so of roaming around a wee bit. I would like to go back sometime and explore in less of a hurry. The old part is a maze of really narrow streets, at one point I actually had to breathe in to avoid a car wing mirror as it slowly tried to squeeze past some pedestrians! At every turn you came across something exciting, be it an old church, a stately building, quaint pebbled paving or an enticing cake shop! I have a  Montblanc photo set on flickr that will give you a better idea than my words can.

It seems like an age away already, but my 21st birthday will always be one to remember. I was surprised by some gifts from the teachers I world with and a lovely dinner in the evening with them both and two other teachers who we often eat lunch with. And then on the Friday, Colin, Seoras, Mairianne and my friend Alison came to spend the weekend with me in Barcelona. We stayed in a really nice hostel (the beds were amazingly comfy-so much better than mine in Reus!) and spent a busy five days marching about Barcelona, Reus, Montserrat etc and eating and laughing an awful lot! They also transported some of my presents from friends and family back home. Thank you very much to you all! And thank you to my visitors-don’t be shy in coming back, you’ve only seen a tiny bit of the wonders of Barcelona and Catalunya. And feel free to join me in visiting the rest of Spain too!

Yes, I have begun to venture outside of Catalonia. It has suddenly dawned on me how little time is left, and although I feel I would quite gladly pack up and go home right now, I’m going to force myself to make the most of it. The weekend after my ‘birthday weekend’ I went to the city of Valencia with two girls who are in my University class and working as Language Assistants in Barcelona. We spent Friday and Saturday there, it only takes a couple of hours by train. Valencia is a beautiful city, and very unique. There is dry river bed through the city which has been adapted into a park with numerous walkways, playing fields etc. There is so much to see, with old buildings, churches, the Towers that are all that remain of the old walls, the beach, the modern buildings of the Science centre and Aquarium. There really is something for everybody, and its not quite so huge as Barcelona so easier to visit. Sadly our plans were thrown out the window when Saturday dawned with grey skies and lots of rain! But we had a nice time nonetheless, and I will definitely be going back, sometime!  We are planning a trip to Madrid after Easter for a long weekend, to visit another friend from University, so that should be good.

The Thursday after Valencia saw me boarding another flight to Glasgow. This visit was a surprise for Colin for his 30th Birthday. Mairianne came down from Lewis as well, and he had NO idea! He was absolutely shocked and speechless when we turned up at his flat that evening! And not too impressed with the announcement that this was just the beginning of a weekend of surprises craftily organised by our friend Nma and Seoras! We left with the sunrise on Friday morning for a day trip to the Lake District! We spent a lovely day by Lake Windermere, England’s largest lake, with the ducks and geese, and the snow on the mountains around us. Colin made good use of his birthday present, a new camera he’d been drooling for, and we all made good use of our fresh air appetites in a restaurant called ‘Lucy’s on a plate’, amazing food. And to top the day, we had a supper of fried duff when we got back to Glasgow! Mairianne brought half a duff down with her from home for a birthday cake for Colin and I! This is a sad story- they had brought me a slice when they came to Barcelona, but as it wasn’t ‘fresh’ I was going to fry it. So I left it in the flat in Reus when we went to visit. As I sat on the train after seeing my visitors off, the thought of fried duff cheered me up, but what hey, my duff was all mouldy. I told you, very sad! So I made the most of it in Glasgow! Thanks mum!

Colin’s weekend continued with surprise lunches and get-togethers with friends. I also caught up with friends on the Saturday and Sunday. My friend Flora who studies in Aberdeen was wonderful (the only word to explain her!) and came down on the bus Saturday morning until Sunday afternoon. We had a lovely spontaneous and relaxed catch-up day on Saturday with no major plans, just going with the wind! I really miss friends when in Spain. Its strange seeing Glasgow life carry on as ‘normal’ without you in it. And I really enjoyed a ‘normal’ Sunday, with church in Dowanvale and lunch at my auntie Flora’s. So good to see everybody. But I had to leave on Monday afternoon. Thankfully I had a rare glitch-free Ryanair return trip.

So, things have been quite busy! And for the next couple of weeks they’ll be busy with visitors. Looking forward to my parents coming on Thursday, and then the following weekend I have two friends from home, and a friend from University who is also in Spain. I’ll try to keep up a bit better with the blog, keep you up to date with excitement in Spain! I seem to have really busy spells and then spells that are so quiet I don’t know what to do with myself. But I’m looking forward to see what the Spring will bring (yes, it has definitely arrived in all its glory!) and to visitors, and hopefully keeping my renewed resolve for learning more Spanish.

One month into 2009

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Well, January has passed and we’ve taken our first steps into 2009. The past month has battered poor Spain weather-wise. They haven’t had weather as bad as this in many a decade! The wind was so strong, it even woke me up a number of nights, an islander who normally sleeps even deeper with a good gale blowing! (I’m thinking it’s the Scottish influence, there’s an awful lot of Scottish students about, in Catalonia anyway!) It’s no worse than the weather we see at home in Scotland and the Western Isles, but the Spanish aren’t prepared for such weather. This has caused many problems for people, and has resulted in some terrible accidents as well. In two weeks, at least 14 people died just in the area around us and Barcelona in Catalonia.  A group of youngsters were playing sport in some kind of hall, when the wind lifted the roof off the building and the walls and the roof collapsed down on them. Four died and a number were injured and taken into hospital. Trees have been falling, damaging electricity, gas and water lines amongst everything else. The snow in the north and centre of Spain has also been causing a multitude of problems, especially on the roads. The footage on the news showing how people trying to go about their routines often brings a smile, especially when you see folk battling along the pavement against the wind and the snow, with, an umbrella! They don’t work when its windy folks! It was nearly as amusing seeing footage online of the snow in London, but more exasperating! Everything was at a standstill, unable to function with the appearance of snow! Anyway, we’re hoping its going to get a bit better from now on, (but it was 4 C last night when I went for a walk, so…who knows!) especially with the Reus Carnival weekend fast approaching in two weeks. . The weekend promises me something even more exciting however, with the visit of some siblings and friends for a long weekend! Barcelona and Reus watch out!

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, as I find I never remember them in order to keep them! But I guess, with being on my year abroad, this year held the possibility of being a bit more adventurous and trying new things. One exciting new-thing has come in the from of Salsa dancing! I was invited by one of the teachers in the school, with whom I also have a private class, invited me to join her and some friends on Friday nights. We go to a ‘dance hall’ called New York here in Reus, where they have a free open night on Fridays. It’s full of people, young and old, dancing Salsa, practicing and learning. You can see some videos on flickr, although they may be a bit difficult. So I’ve been learning a few steps, I might even be able to teach Mairianne (the dancing-crazy one in our family) some steps!…uno, dos, tres……cuatro,cinco,seis! I really want to teach some Scottish Country dancing!

However, one rather unadventurous new beginning has been starting a dairy-free diet, to see if it will help my skin problem any. The Doctor said that what you eat shouldn’t affect your skin, but how can that be? So much is affected by what you eat and drink. From many insightful conversations with friends who have experienced similar problems, Mairianne (who has also been experiencing problems) and I both decided to begin a dairy-free test. I think it’s been a lot easier for me to start it now, when I’m away from home and more in control of what’s in the fridge and the cupboard, and what appears on my plate! Being in Spain where the dairy milk isn’t up to much anyway has also helped! I hoping being back into stronger sunshine will also help, my skin didn’t appreciate being back under the Scottish cloud cover during my holidays, and I’m sure the increased intake of ‘real’ milk in numerous cups of tea, puddings, sauces, not to mention the tub of Philadelphia, didn’t help either! So, I moved onto soya, or soja as it is here. It took me a while to find my sources and to get into the habit of considering, I am allowed this? They have a small section in the Mercadona where I do my usually food-shop, which is good, but their soya milk was horrid! Fortunately, I found some Alpro soya in Carrefour, another supermarket a bit further away, so I’m sorted! And I’ve also shocked myself-I’ve actually begun liking hot water and black tea! Never thought I could! But I guess, its amazing what you’re taste buds will decide when they’re faced with a choice between black tea or no tea at all! (You can imagine it didn’t take long for this tea jenny to decide!) It actually makes it easier for me to have tea now when I’m out here in Spain, as they don’t serve tea with milk! But I really want to have a café con leche and a croissant! Wonder how long before I cave! Mairianne sent me a link to a really interesting online book about dairy and how it affects your body, with lots of helpful advice on going dairy free. I’d invite you to read it, you might be surprised! Of course, there are many sections that aren’t relevant to everybody so you have to sift through it a bit. Visit www.godairyfree.org

I also found a new church. I was investigating around Reus for some good hotels, and walked past this building just two minutes away from the Baptist church I go to, with the words ‘Iglesia Evangelica’ over the front. I mentioned it to my Bolivian friend in the church, she knew of it and actually used to go in the evenings. We decided to go (the Baptist church only has a service in the mornings) the following Sunday. It is about the same size as the Baptist, but they have a Pastor. Their service is more like what I’m used to, and all the folk are really nice. I even met a man from Manchester! He’s married to one of the Pastor’s daughters and they live here with their young family. We’re going to go on Sunday evenings, and on Saturday night, we went to the Youth service. They only have a few young people, but more than the Baptist does. They young people organise it together, and just spend an hour-hour and a half together. So, something else new in my routine!

I’m realising now how little time I actually have left! Time flies so quickly, sometimes! It took its time a couple of months ago!

Bolivian Experience

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The past couple of months have been of the typical whirlwind nearing Christmas and the end of the year type. So much has happened, events become a muddle. But I’ll try to pick out some of the most interesting!

Here’s one for starters. About two weeks before I left Spain for my Christmas holidays at home, I was invited by friends at church to join them for some lunch that Sunday. I accepted the invitation, tentatively, not sure of what I was letting myself in for! Of course, in Scotland, we have a great Sunday lunch tradition, and  I knew better than to expect a similar experience. I was in for a treat! We, about seven of us from church, walked for a bout five minutes to a flat, and gradually I pieced together an understanding of the situation. We were at the home of a Christian family who Erika, the friend who had invited me, knew well. They are from Bolivia, as is Erika, and as the father is having trouble finding work at the moment, he and his wife cook typical Bolivian meals to serve to friends who pay them a small amount of money in exchange. They were of course very friendly, everyone I come across here is very friendly. We all sat down at a large table together and were served our three courses. I was given some honour in being served first, and was determined to try whatever was put in front of me.

The first dish held some Scottish similarities in that it was a bowl of soup. It had an unusual taste, not horrible, and I managed most of it. The whole meal was spent in them trying to explain to me what I was eating! And between their explanations and my visits to the dictionary afterwards, I can tell you about most of what I ate! The soup was peanut soup, I would never have guessed the flavour! It was interesting, and could even grow on you I’m sure. The second course had two meat options, red meat (not sure if it was lamb or beef or something else, they only said ‘carne’ which means meat) or chicken. I opted for chicken and was not disappointed! It was a slowly roasted leg of chicken, absolutely delicious, especially as I don’t have an oven in my flat and can’t roast anything. It was accompanied with rice. They said that a Bolivian wouldn’t consider a meal a meal unless it included some rice! And a sweetcorn, potato, apple and mayonnaise salad. It was so good!

They didn’t think I would enjoy the pudding at all, especially once I figured out what it was! It came in plastic cups and was white with the consistency of robust jelly. It didn’t wobbly a lot, but had the same look and feel of jelly. They wanted me to try it before explaining what it was, and even then it took a while for me to figure out what it was. It had a great flavour, comforting. And they were surprised I continued to eat what I knew to be made with animal joint cartilages. They boil the cartilages in milk with some cinnamon and then the liquid sets once cooled due to the gelatin. It didn’t horrify me as they expected, one who’s grown up with marags and haggis! It is very popular in Bolivia and very nourishing. They give it to their children as breakfast to eat on the way to school, or have it as a snack. It is quite rich though and after such a lunch, I couldn’t quite finish it all. With the meal we had had a special drink called ‘Chicha’ which I thought tasted like Christmas. It was quite nice as well, but strong when not used to it.

So that was my experience of Bolivian food. It didn’t turn out to be as surprising as I thought it might, and I enjoyed it. Below is a menu written by Erika of what was served.

Plato Boliviano – Bolivian Meal

Primera Plato – First course
Sopa de mani/cacahuete – Peanut Soup (Peanut is ‘mani’ to some folk & ‘cacahuete’ to others)

Plato Principal – Second course

Polo al hornoRoast chicken
Arroz tostadoBrown rice
Enslada de manzana con maiz dulce y mahonesaApple, sweetcorn & mayonnaise salad(I think there was some potato in there too)

Postre – Pudding/sweet/dessert (whichever you prefer to use!)
Gelatina de colapi con leche y canelaGelatin from animal cartilages, with milk and cinnamon

Refresca– Refreshment/Drink
ChichaPlunge toasted flour into cold water.
-Put into a pan of boiling water
with nutmeg and ground coconut and boil for 30 minutes.