Tuesday, February 17, 2009

In which she FINALLY bakes, celebrates Carnival, and learns about politics

Let me begin by saying I really wanted to dedicate this post to my sister Tamar. In what has become a facebook craze for posting 25 Things About Me, my sister mentioned an obsession with public transportation. I really have not devoted nearly enough of my blog to praising Barcelona's amazing transportation system. And so, I had intended to spend this post detailing both how it works and why I am in love with it. But then I had an amazing week which I really couldn't gloss over. So you've been spared for a little while at least...

Last week I finally got my hands dirty in a kitchen after over a month of being baked-goods-free. Then I did it again the next night. Words can't explain how wonderful it was. Linda and I bought the necessary ingredients for chocolate chip cookies and then headed over to our friend's apartment to make use of his kitchen. As he lives with five other boys they were fairly amazed by the prospect of cookies made from scratch and promptly ate half the dough and most of the cookies. Though they didn't actually have any measuring utensils we did a lot of eyeballing-it and ended up with a massive quantity of delicious cookies. Also pretty big stomach aches from eating so much raw dough. The following night Linda and I headed over to the chabad rebetzin's house to help her bake for Shabbat and I got to make MORE cookies (I know, God is finally looking out for me, right?). We also made challah. Ironically, Genya uses almost the same recipe as I do at home except without the spices. I think there's some kind of magic rebetzin's use when making challah because it always tastes a little like heaven for no apparent reason.

Of course we were invited for dinner on Friday night where we met the usual crowd of visiting Jews who spoke a variety of languages and came from every imaginable country. At dinner I made the mistake of asking a Canadian who had recently made aaliyah (meaning moved to Israel) about the Israeli elections. Though it certainly lead to an interesting conversation, it did get a bit too heated for my taste. We also had some Venezuelans at the table who talked about the Chavez 'elections' and that was followed by a discussion of the political scandals here in Spain. Needless to say I am now very well informed about world politics. Or at least I am informed. I guess how well is subjective.

On Saturday Linda's Spanish roommate invited us to come to her small town (3,000 people total!) for celebrate Carnival. Carnival is the Spanish equivalent of Mardi Gras and it lasts approximately a week with parades and festivals all over the country. Ana lives in a town that is straight out of a fairy tale. About an hour outside of Barcelona, and then another 15 minute drive from the train station, her village is situated in the middle of the mountains with views that take your breath away. Her father owns and works a cow farm, so obviously I was in heaven. When your parents tell you they took the dog to go live on a farm with lots of open air where he can chase rabbits and roam free, they're referring to Ana's village.

After dropping our stuff at the farm, we went to the community center and painted little kids' faces for a few hours. I learned my new favorite word: Purpurina. It means glitter, and we used A LOT of it. I think Mitch Hedberg was right in referring to it as the Herpes of craft supplies. I think i still have some in my hair. The school organizes the costumes and each family is given specific instructions, because all of the costumes are homemade. Seriously. Who are these people? All the age groups have different costumes and they march together with their floats singing and dancing through the town's winding streets. The whole procession takes about two hours and is followed by an award ceremony at the town hockey rink. They're very proud of their hockey. Linda and I marched with Ana's friends dressing up as harlequinns and I have never had so much fun in my life.

There was such a warm comforting atmosphere, everyone knowing (and often being related to) everyone else. After dinner at a local restaurant we went to the town's one and only bar and danced until about 3 in the morning. As no one in the town knows English (Catalán is technically their first language) we spoke entirely in Spanish. All of Ana's friends kept complimenting us on our Spanish and were some of the nicest friendliest people I've ever had the luck to meet.

Around 3 we went to Ana's boyfriend's apartment which is equipped with a jacuzzi. Seriously. Heaven. When we woke up on Sunday morning (okay, afternoon) we went to the market to find some vegetarian food to take back to Ana's house where her mom whipped up a delicious lunch. We met part of Ana's extended family, talked politics (what else) and had lots of great coffee.

While I'm sure we were the only Jews around for miles, we discussed how the community was really a clear embodiment of hachnasat orchim (welcoming of guests in Jewish tradition). Friendly, welcoming, kind, giving, and open, I could not have dreamed up better company. Eventually we got a train back to Barcelona, stopping at a chabad event where there was even more homemade baked goods. Like I said. Heaven.

This coming weekend I'm heading off to Seville and on Monday my dad is coming to visit so it might be a while before I post again. But if you've managed to read all this you probably need the break anyway. And I'm sure I'll have lots to talk about when I post again.
Besos, abrazos, y vacas,

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hola from Lisboa

Let me just start by saying that Europe is expensive. Very very expensive. Which can be frustrating when you're trying to do pretty much anything on a budget. That being said, I feel incredibly lucky to be able to call it my home for a few short months and travel around.

Since your lovely authoress last wrote I have been to yet another beautiful country: Portugal. I had been told that Lisbon was beautiful but I'm really kind of a lazy traveler so I didn't take too much time to research before I went and consequently was utterly surprised at how much it had to offer.

I think I can best describe Lisbon as a combination of Rome, San Francisco, and Barcelona mushed together and shrunken down in size a bit. Though I was only there for three days I managed to try every possible form of transportation: trolly, tram, bus, metro, and ferry. They were all pretty easy to figure out, though I think my favorite was the trolly. I tried to get my friends to sing the Trolly Song from "Meet me in St. Louis" but apparently not everyone in the world has seen that great movie. If you're one of them please fix it. Immediately. Seriously, stop reading this blog this very second and go watch. Ok. See? Wasn't it worth it?

So to continue...we stayed at an adorable hostel called the Lisbon Poet's Hostel which was a great location, cheap, friendly, and offered (for the most part) great advice. Though I don't know too much about Lisbon's history, I did find out that it had been founded at least 1000 years before 52 BC which is ridiculous and incredibly cool.

On our first day we checked out the Cathedral (this seems to be a theme of traveling in Europe, but they're always quite beautiful and impressive), followed by Belém Tower and the Christopher Columbus Monument. I had completely forgotten (or perhaps just never knew to begin with) that Columbus set sail from Portugal. The monument was pretty shnazzy and we spent a good hour just taking pictures there.

The next day we headed over to the "Thieves Market" (aka flea market) which was possibly the biggest garage sale I have ever seen in my life. It went on for blocks and blocks. It takes place every Tuesday and Saturday and hundreds of vendors come out with every imaginable product from old scuba diving suits to porn to saaris to phone chargers. I had a great time just browsing and Linda's friend John found a toy that chirps like a bird when you blow into it. Unfortunately, he lost it when we went to the castle right afterwards. Really quite upsetting for all of us.

The castle is pretty close to the flea market and it is both huge and incredibly intricate in its design. We had unbelievable views of the entire city and treated the castle grounds as an adult size playground. Serious fun to be had there.

Saturday night was the downfall of the trip: Fado. Apparently Fado is a must see in Portugal and our Hostel recommended what I certainly hope is the WORST representation of this music. It was bad to the point of amusement, and way overpriced, but we learned a valuable lesson from that experience. I'm not sure what lesson we learned, but I'm sure there's one buried somewhere in there.

Sunday we headed out to the Christo Rey statue which is a replica of the one in Brazil but it was a bit too foggy to be worth the 4 euro ride to the top so we just let Jesus shelter us from the rain. Classic. Then we headed back across the bay (on the ferry) to a great (free!) art museum, some quick lunch followed by ice cream and return to the airport. They may not get the idea of vegetarian food in Lisbon (uniformly awful) but they certainly know their ice cream.

I just have to mention the tiles in Lisbon. Linda did more research than the rest of us on the trip so she new to expect this artwork but I did not. Almost all the buildings are covered in these hand painted tiles. Mostly they're white with blue paint but you can really find them in all colors and designs and they're stunning. Just one more reason you should go to Lisbon.

So to review:
Fado= really really bad and expensive
Trolly= super fun
Views of Atlantic= fantastic and beautiful
Tiles= impressive and surprising
me= broke and tired

Sorry this got so long, words really can't describe how great my last two trips have been. But I want to make this more interactive, so if you have any suggestions about places I should go while on my next trips (Seville and Rome) then please do send them my way. If I take up your offer you could be the lucky winner of my love and devotion. What better prize is there really?

Besos y abrazos

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Lyon, Je t'aime

In which our heroine travels to another foreign land and meets a Jew

Yes, it's true, I have left and returned to this lovely city of Barcelona quite successfully. If you dislike coincidences, good food, and great museums I suggest you just skip this entry. Actually, I suggest you get yourself checked out, because who doesn't like those things?

On Friday morning I boarded a plane to Lyon, France with Linda Levin and her roommate Catherine. Did you know:
Lyon is the second largest city in France?
It boarders the French Alps?
It has a fairly sizable Jewish population?
It has a miniature Eiffle Tower and a HUGE ferris wheel right in the center of the city?
You can buy condoms on the street in vending machines?

I did not know these things. I also did not know that when people talk about French loving their bread and cheese, they're not kidding. Seriously guys, best cheese and bread I have EVER tasted. I wanted to leave my tongue in France to soak up some rays and savour good food for the next dozen or so years, but that didn't work out. Ah well, I guess I'll just have to go back.

Now onto the most ridiculous coincidence of my life. Seriously, hold yourself together for this one. When we had been in France for maybe 3 hours, and on the street for less than 45 minutes, we saw a guy walking in front of us wearing a backpack with a Canadian flag on it. He had stopped some French couple to ask them to take his picture. They complied, handed him back his camera, and went on. He looked at his camera, sighed, and stopped us to ask, in French, if we could take the picture for him. I looked at him, smiled, and said, "English?"

We all laughed, he talked about Toronto for a minute, which is when Linda asked if he knew her friend Ilana. Now let me remind you it's crazy we ran into an English speaking Canadian to begin with, but when he DID IN FACT KNOW ILANA I nearly passed out. Guess what? Mark is Jewish. And apparently there are a total of 100 of us in the world and we all know each other. He also knew one of my friends from EIE (the study abroad program I did in High School). He is studying in Lyon and spent the rest of the day giving us a tour of the city.

We went to the Roman ruins, the Viex Lyon (a great view of the city), checked out the Cathedral, wandered around the old city (I guess Jerusalem isn't the only 'old city' out there), tried some great chocolate croissants, rode the ferris wheel, and ate at a tiny restaurant for dinner. Possibly the best food I've ever eaten. Plus, Mark acted as a translator for us the whole day which made navigating about a million times easier. Also made getting vegetarian food much easier. It'll take me a while to get over the fact that we just ran into the one person in the city who might have connections to us. AMAZING!!

Saturday we slept in, then went to two great museums. The Resistance and Deportation Museum which was all about the resistance groups in Lyon during WWII and was both educational and depressing. We followed that with a trip to the Museum of Textiles and Cloth. Everything we saw in their boggled the mind with its detailed beauty. No wonder they didn't invent the TV for so long, who needs TV when you can just look at your wall and be entertained for weeks at a time?

We also came across a street protest/strike. I don't know what it was about, but apparently strikes are a regular part of the culture in France. They just don't feel the week has been complete without one or two strikes. I'm glad we got to witness at least one. I feel I was officially inducted into French culture through my strike experience.

Today we headed home where I have yet to start on my homework...story of my life I guess.
Well if you want postcards from the next stop (Lisbon) just let me know and I'll do my best. For now though, hugs to all from my lovely city of Barcelona.