Stockholm- A Culture Capital

Stockholm- A Culture Capital
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Barcelona: Living the Dream on the Spanish Coast

I got my week of holidays off of working at camp (which seems like a big holiday) but it requires a lot of energy. I had hoped to go to Barcelona with some fellow workers from camp, but no one ended up getting their week off at the same time I did. I planned to go alone, but then my mom decided she would fly from Canada to travel with me, and I was surprised again when my day bought a ticket a few days before we left to join us. So I left Saturday morning on the train through the Pyrenees on a long trek to the lovely Spanish seaside city of Barcelona. I have had an ideal of what Spain would be like and how wonderful it would be, the food, the seaside, the language and romance of it all; because of this I was nervous and excited for my first time into Spain. I have to say however that it did not disappoint and if anything exceeded my expectations. I feel this way every time I leave a country of travel but I have to say Barcelona is one of the greatest cities I have ever been to.

Barcelona is a mash up of architecture and since our apartment bordered to Gothic quarter we saw it all from Roman ruins, to medieval castles, to renaissance beauty, and now modern buildings and the amazing art nouveau of Gaudi. Throughout the week we managed to see several of Gaudi’s works (not that there are a shortage in the city) the highlights being Casa Batllo, La Pedrera, the fountain at Parc de la Ciutadella and Sagrada Familia (Read More Here, or scroll down to previous entries)

Spain is known for their Flamenco dancing with fans waving, heels tapping, and dress trains spinning. We went to a show of Flamenco dancing presented along side Opera that apparently featured the most famous male Flamenco dancer in all of Catalonia. The show was great and the Spanish music and dance was full of spirit and emotion.

While in Spain I figured a trip to the Museu Picasso was a must and the exhibits show from Picasso’s earliest works at 13 and follow his life and artistic progression through his blue and rose periods into cubism. The museum has many sketches, notes, pottery, and obscure works as well as famous pieces. It was a great insight into his artistic development and ideas.

There is great shopping all over Barcelona. I thought I would hold back and try and budget but splurging happened with the urging of great clothes and a bit of my mother’s influence. (For which I am grateful) Boutiques and specialty shops are all around the old city with great Spanish and international design labels; there is also a big mall down in Port Vell along the water. Our first walk along the sea was supposed to be a route to Las Ramblas but we were sucked in to the shiny buildings and unique architecture and spent the whole day in the area down by the seaside.

To be honest, when we finally made it to Las Ramblas I was a little disappointed. Known as the streets main drag for entertainment, shops and restaurants, I found it to be more of a tourist trap. There were a few ‘don’t misses’ along the street however. It is worth the stroll the see the dozens of incredibly well dressed human statues, everything from aliens, to Native Americans, The Mask, to headless men. They are well costumed and deserve the attention. There are also a lot of flower shops and oddly a few bird pens where you can buy chickens and other birds, which I thought was more crazy than necessary, but awesome to see. The big fresh market right off Ramblas is a must see with fresh fruit, juices, meat, chocolate, everything you could want in a market place. The atmosphere is bustling and you will find a few unique items you have definitely not tried before.

This brings me to the food. (Read more here) If you know me well, this is the BEST PART!! Spain is the homeland of tapas, which is my latest food obsession and with good reason. Tapas have been going on forever is Spain and they have bar Tapas where you take small portions and pay at the end, or hot tapas that you share at a table. We ate tapas nearly everyday some of the most famous are the Chorizo sausage, Spanish hams, patatas bravas, and fried green peppers. We also had chocolate and churros, loads of Gelato (which the Italians invented but the Spanish pull off well), Crème Catalan, which is a Catalan version of the French Crème Brulee, and Horchata. Gazpacho, a chilled tomato soup, Paella, and Pan au Tomote (bread smeared with fresh tomato and olive oil) were other Spanish specialties in which we indulged. Our drink of choice was definitely Sangria that is available at nearly every restaurant in Barcelona.

Needless to say my week off was more than amazing and although I am not sure when I will be back to Barcelona I know that I will be back and will be hungry to see more of Spain (too bad I am missing the running of the bulls this July and coming home) It was great to see my Mom and Dad and again and not have to travel alone.

Never forget: “Life is Fantastic”

Monday, May 17, 2010

Barcelona: La Comida! (Food)

The Food in Spain was spectacular, and as always it is one of the most major points of my life and my vacations so I have covered some of the native Spanish foods I indulged upon in Barcelona.

Tapas, comes from the Spanish verb Tapar meaning ‘to cover’. Originally bread was used by bar tenders to cover the Sherry of their guests to keep out fruit flies from the sweet drink. Some began using salty sausage such as chorizo to cover the drinks to make the patrons thirstier and increase drink sales. From here bars got more and more creative with the snacks and soon became just as or more important that the Sherry itself. From this tradition Tapas were born. It is a style of eating meant to promote socializing.

People either get up and circulate eating straight from the bar, or a group at a table can order a variety of hot tapas and share them. The sharing is more communal and people are not concentrating on their own complete meal. In Spain this is very popular and I have to say delicious.

Some popular Tapas are Chorizo sausage, a variety of Spanish hams, a regional specialty called pan au tomate (bread smeared with fresh tomato and olive oil), fried green chili peppers, ham croquettes, patatas bravas (fried potatoes with garlic aioli and pepper sauce), mushroom veal, fried camembert with caramelized onions in red wine, and the list goes on and on. All I can say is I am INFATUATED <3

Fried Peppers, Aubergine, and Goat Cheese

Pan au Tomate, Quince Jelly and Goat Cheese Salad, Among Others


Fried Green Peppers and Patatas Bravas

Fried Camembert with Caramelized Onions in Red Wine

Other specialties I encountered were Paella, a stew with rice or noodles that are boiled down to the consistency of a saucy stir-fry. Depending on the region the paella has seafood, meat, vegetables, and different tomato, vegetable, or saffron based sauces.

Churros and chocolate, were also popular, and horchata. Horchata is a drink of boiled rice (sometime tiger nut) with vanilla, sugar and cinnamon and has a milky consistency although it does not contain milk. The rice is removed and the liquid is served cold.

Speaking of being hot and serving cold Gazpacho is a spicy tomato soup that is served cold in Spain, there are now some variations with fruits and peppers which are great. The original and still one of the best is the Tomato

And last I can’t forget our drink of choice! The Red wine based fruit punch that is SANGRIA! A Spanish staple especially at restaurants is a refreshing cocktail available by the jug, or other giant glasses is great to share and wash down all the tasty food.

Hope you are hungry!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Barcelona: Antoni Gaudi

I will be posting about my recent trip to Barcelona but hoped to highlight on some areas in more detail. Barcelona is a city full of vast architectural beauty and the most famous Barcelonan architect is Antoni Gaudi.

We toured Casa Batllo, the house that Gaudi designed for the Batllo family and is displayed on the prestigious Paseo de Gracia that becomes Las Ramblas. The home has a spirit of its own. The building hardly has a straight line in it and has more ergonomic and environmental considerations than buildings in our day and age. It is whimsical with it’s colorful glass windows in circles and waves, the scale like walls and ceilings that undulate and create wave and swirls around the viewer.

Gaudi’s home is like nothing else you will ever see, it is a famous landmark in Barcelona, however it is the tops of his buildings that are so neat. Gaudi crafts the chimneys into mosaic works of art and tops the house with a cross and colorful waves to cover the water collection area.

We also saw La Pedrera where a museum is dedicated to Gaudi and the roof is crowned with soldiers and other mosaic works. This apartment building is home to private residences
despite the busy draw of tourists it experiences.

Art works splashed throughout the Parc de la Ciutadella and around the city were also great views, however the unfinished work of Gaudi may be his most impressive.

The Sagrada Familia, designed by and worked on until his death in 1926 (Hopefully to be finished by 2026) The inside of the church is like a stone forest and I don’t speak figuratively. It features two opposing frescoes, one in a very lush celebratory style full of renaissance ornate ness depicting the nativity, the other a raw and angular depiction of the Passion of Christ is still under construction and has to be framed by the bones he planned to have build atop the roof. The church is enormous, but still has many towers and meters to rise. The architecture is unlike any church or cathedral you will ever see-- a work for all ages. I plan to return in the years to come to see it continue.

More to Come on Beautiful Barcelona!

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Glimpse of the Pyrenees

Well my first week down in the Pyrenees has been an interesting one. The weather has been the coldest I have experienced since I left Norway and it even snowed during our camp this week. However a lot of France and Spain have had a rough week full of cold weather and rain so I can’t give the new site a bad rap. Although it isn’t as modern as the last one it has a great cabin like charm to it and is set right beside a river called Nestle (said a little different than the chocolate) The new staff was so fun and welcoming and the night of my arrival they had made real hamburgers from scratch, not the piddly ones they feed us on the night the campers arrive.

The nature around the area is amazing, so green, full of hills and nearby mountains. The hills look like they have been piled with thick carpets of moss like the pelts of animals, they are so lush and thick with vegetation. The stream is lovely, yet cold, and the air is fresh as anything. We live a few minutes from a very small town but the quaintness and the welcoming attitude of the people is great. The owner of our camp Guy, and his family are so very nice and on weekends he goes out of his way to cook us a great French meal paired with the right wines, cheeses, and all the fixins.

The campers this past week were great. They were hard to keep from talking long enough o do anything, but they were also so full of spirit and life. They loved doing everything we had planned for them no matter how silly or crazy. There are always a few you want to steal. The highlight of my week was definitely the 30 or so person snowball fight we had with the kids. I have not had a snowball fight in years and one of such size was SO MUCH FUN. I also managed to have the kids speak like Borat all week, chiming around the camp saying “How Much”

This week our camp has been closed and so many of the staff I have just met are getting split up again, so next week working will be another bag of craziness. I am currently in Barcelona on my week off and will have more to write about soon!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Month in a Castle's Court

It has been 3 weeks or so since I have updated the blog, I have been so busy with working and ventures on the weekends. I have officially been at the castle in the center of France for a whole month and it has been a wonderful month indeed!

The KIDS are crazy and always so full of energy. We keep up and manage just fine but some days you wonder how they still want to run around after hours of intense activity. It reminds me of my friend’s chocolate lab that would still force me to play with her even though her heart was beating out of her chest and her lungs puffing for air. I have never been one to like children or get attached in any way, but I have found myself warming up to them. A bizarre combination of being a kid’s parent, teacher, and best friend for an intensive week of 14 hour-a-day contact causes you to really love the kids like they were your own child or little brother or sister. We have definitely had some campers who have driven us to insanity, some antagonize you and boo you whenever you enter the room, some tell you about diarrhea, and some don’t listen for the life of them. However there are some that dress up in drag and prance around, some buy you candy, many cry when they have to say goodbye and every week there are a handful that you just want to adopt.

The STAFF have become like family to me. I have made contacts and friends from all over the world and each of them have become very dear to me. I have been blessed to have such a great group of co-workers because it is like working with your best friends everyday from when you wake up till when you go to bed. A lot of crazy jokes have been made and times have been had. We share music, media, stories, and sometimes bedrooms. This job would not be nearly as good without the staff and friends I work with.

On the WEEKENDS we have made our way in the close city of Montlucon, which has provided us with eating, shopping, and bowling at a very popular laser tag and bowling bar. In France it is a very popular Friday night activity for young people. That way they don’t just drink; they have something more to do. Of course Discothèques and bars are still a past time and we have managed to sample a few clubs and pubs on the weekends as well.

Our first time in Montlucon we decided to go for Chinese food because we were all dying for a break from the French food at the camp, however it was not all we hoped for. We ended up taking forever translating the French menu to a Chinese woman who spoke French with an extremely thick Chinese accent. It was very funny as she slapped at our hands and lectured us in bad French about how to properly eat the food (food that was not that good, and did not fill us up). The entire restaurant was watching us and it was quite a show.

There is also a lake very close to our camp that we have both driven to and hiked to on the weekends. We pack a picnic and spend the day sunning by the beach and playing in the lawns with random dogs that like to visit everyone at the Lake. The summer sun has definitely began shining in France and it is keeping me in high spirits.

The FOOD from the camp is free but could definitely be better. As a foodie, and culinary adventurer it has been hard to eat mass made institutional meals, eat at scheduled times, and eat exactly what is given to you each day. However some of the food is pretty good, we usually get spaghetti carbonara, chili con carne, and some decent Mexican and Thai salads. However a lot of the food (especially veggies) gets doused in a nasty dressing they seem to use on everything that is a mix of mayo, mustard, and oil or cream. I firmly believe they change the ratio to make it thick or thin depending on the application. However on the weekends there are private parties and rentals at the Chateau and we often get great food as a result, like braised rabbit in grainy mustard sauce and roast pork legs. We also get a wack of cheese and bread at all times with full wheels of Brie, goat, and blue cheeses. We go into the markets in town and try interesting things and have become regulars at an amazing little bakery where the lady and her husband routinely give us boxes full of pastries for free. (A direct result of eight people going to the same bakery several times a week) I miss spicy food, smoothies, and salmon but I will just adjust my tastes for the time being and enjoy what France has to offer. Bon Appetit!

As I write this entry I am on the train to a new camp however and I now have to say good-bye to my castle and good-bye to my new family I have been working with this past month. I am being sent to the south of France in the Pyrenees about half an hour from the Spanish border where I will be doing the teaching I love with a new set of great young people (or so I assume).