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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

'Merica in My Heart

How's it going so far? Well, we are settled in Barcelona, but there's no place like home.

Family, friends, pets, attending NFL and NBA games, Cherry Pepsi, affordable/easy to find peanut butter (found, I'll tell you where soon!)...I miss you all.

Thankfully, I am able to stay busy enough to not dwell on what and whom I miss...most of the time. Being busy, however, means I don't get to update you as much as I would like.

What have I been up to? Well, here goes nothing:
  • Teaching:
I've been teaching English, and I love it. I'm teaching private classes for business English and English for medical professionals. I'd like to start a conversation group class as well. My schedule is somewhat chaotic (Iwo days a week I teach from 7-8am and have to be at my own Catalan class at 8:45 am. I teach two nights a week as well and will start uni classes soon.), but it works out well. Friday I felt particularly successful as one student told me his coworker was interested in classes, and one of my own classmates from Catalan class wants to work on his English. Since then it's like the floodgates have opened!
  • Learning Catalan:
I'm certainly learning a lot in this new place. I have Catalan classes 4 days a week, 2 hours and 45 mins each day. I am one of the only Americans in my class which is actually a good thing. I've really been able to meet a lot of people that I would have probably never gotten to know otherwise. The class is pretty cool. It's mainly taught in Catalan, but when we don't understand, sometimes the teacher speaks a little Spanish (and sometimes I am still lost). Molt bé (very good), I can review one language while learning a new one. You can learn more about options for starting your own Catalan language adventure in one of my previous posts.
  • Cooking:

My first adventure was Lucky Brownie Batter Choco-Loco Truffles, but I have also made Thin Mints and a version of buckeyes. Do I make more than desserts? Yes, but those meals aren't nearly as interesting. I was excited for corn the night before last. It's sold in vacuum packs of 2 cobs. As a Hoosier, it's preposterous to think that corn is a rare commodity. Then again, I've never seen so many olives in my life (there are five to six different types in jars at the produce shops. You get to choose your own and put them in little containers yourself).
    Do you want the recipe?
    I'll post it if I get at least five responses
    to my question below.
  • Cleaning:
Yeah, I do some of that. Stop laughing.
I'm really happy here. Sure, there's not a lot of corn. Corn's not really a prerequisite for being happy. There's plenty of popcorn, so at least William is content.

I miss 'Merica and my family and friends there so much, but I know I will learn so much from this experience. Where's the farthest from home that you have been? Tell me below, and if I get enough responses, I will post the recipe for the Thin Mints!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Bicing "Oh, crap!" Moments

Because life is full of them!

I just wanted to take a minute to share...Will and I have had our Bicing cards for a while now. The program is great. You pay about 45 euros a year for membership in a program that gives you nearly 24-hour public transportation, exercise, and "Oh, crap!" moments.

The first time I rode bicis with Will for any length of time, we were on our way home from the Correfoc at Festa Major de Gràcia. What is "Correfoc", you may ask? It's basically a parade of fireworks. Some people have dragons made of fireworks, and some people run to dance under the fireworks. Some people run after you with fireworks...

The ongoing onslaught of fireworks wasn't one the "Oh, crap!" moments though. It was actually pretty cool.

No, the "Oh, crap!" moment was when we decided to ride bicis from Gràcia to Poble Sec because the metro was closed for the night. Not only is it a little on the scary side to ride your bike at night through Raval, it's scary when you ever-so-slightly mini-bump into your fiancé because he is riding in front of you, and you think he is going to go straight ,and he stops suddenly...whew. Glad I got that off my chest. That was the first "Oh, crap!" moment brought to you courtesy of Bicing (well, by me really). And when I ever-so-slightly mini-bumped Will's calf (okay, let's be honest...I ran into him), it scared the crap out of me. He brushed it off like no big deal, and life went on.

Here's the new logo for the blog's Youtube channel. :)

The next "Oh, crap!" moment was when I realized riding a bici meant playing Barcelona's version of Frogger in real life. Some roads have bici lanes, some don't. Some roads have stop lights for bicis, some don't. Some people get really cranky when you ride on the sidewalk, some don't. Most people don't wait for the bici light to turn green, I generally do.

Here is the favicon I am working on right now.
It will go in the top corner of your browser.
This is a test for your enjoyment as it's currently not animating in the browser.

Really, I try very hard to obey the traffic laws. Sometimes when there are absolutely no cars around, well, I do go. But during these "Oh, crap!" moments, my lights have been green!!! The cars have a flashing yellow light most of the time when the bici light is green. Some of them like to try to go before pedestrians and bicis get through the intersection completely. I have successfully leveled up in Frogger-Barcelona Style many times now as a bicyclist and a pedestrian because of that. Admittedly, I lost control of one of my digits the other day as I leveled up. I'm not proud of it.

Look on the positive side...Life's not measured by the amount of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away. I wonder if that was inclusive of moments that take our breath away due to near loss of life?  

Fun in France: Part Deux

There was so much fun to be had in France, the adventures wouldn't fit in just one blog!

This post details our first full day in France (a Friday) and the last minute misadventures of the day we left (Saturday). If you missed the first part of this series, you can read it here, Fun in France: Part Un.

Vacation fail #1: We did not get up early enough to get to the Carcassonne castle before everyone else. It was super packed!

Vacation win #1: Since we were running so late, we had to eat breakfast at the castle (well, in the touristy village around the castle). That means...I ate my first crepe, and we got to watch the baker make them!

Left: Chocolate Crepe                       Right: Strawberry Crepe
I remember watching Talladega Nights. There was a scene in which the racers discussed crepes. I had never had one, nor had I seen one. I, for one, am not too proud to admit, "I love crepes." Admittedly, they don't look super yummy. They look like sponges. They were d*** tasty sponges though. Pardon my French! (Obviously, "d***" is "deux", since we ordered two. For those of you who thought I meant something else....for shame!)

I digress. The castle is beautiful.

The story of the city involves siege. A woman (widow of the Saracen leader, Dame Carcas) was said to have made scarecrows of sorts out of straw and dead men's armor to make the army seem stronger. The attackers tried to starve the inhabitants, so she fed the last of the grains to the last pig and threw him (or her, I guess I should be PC) down to the attacking army (Franks, King Charlemagne). When the pig splattered on the ground, the grains spilled everywhere too. Seeing how well-fed the pig was, the Franks left. They thought the city had an abundance of food and that their chances of winning the city were null. The people cheered, the bells rang ("sona"). Put them together, and you get "Carcassonne".

Okay, so maybe that's not true. Who knows? The city definitely defends its story though!

Carcas, thanks for throwing your pig!
Inside the walls of the fortress, I was able to get a feeling of what it might have been like to live there. It has definitely been modernized. Shops sell plastic swords, and I had a panini, fries, and a Coke for lunch...but the romanticism and history is still there for those who will seek it.

Take a seat while you string your bow...
...all the modern comforts of a medieval fortress
Apparently he is not a fan of church music!
It was hard to choose just one picture from inside.
Will is on the Wall. Thankfully he didn't take the black!

Commercialism vs. Real History

There was a lot of commercialism, and I tend to prefer realistic historical sites; however, I must confess. Will and I went to see a tournament (jousting, swords, etc.). It could not have been more touristy, but it did rival the part of our visit when we saw the inner castle and walked the walls. I said rivaled, not superseded.

The entire show was, much to my chagrin, in French. Of course, it makes sense. I just wasn't thinking about it. I am so used to being in Spain and understanding Spanish. It really put me in my place to not understand a word that was being said. We joked when we saw a girl in business attire standing in the tourney grounds. She didn't fit in. Well, apparently she did somehow, but I can't particularly tell you in what way. Please, have a go at it.

I think the business lady was trying to tell them how to run the show, but the King was not having it. It may have been more fun to not know what they were saying and just imagine what they were talking about...

I think these guys must have been saying, "Sacrebleu! It's hot!!!"
This was the point where the lances shattered. I imaged them saying, "Prepare to be unhorsed!" The reply would have been, "Sacrebleu! My lance".

There was plenty of sword fighting. He said, "Sacrebleu, you are faster than you look." To which the man in yellow who slightly resembled Orlando Bloom said, "It's from my days on the Black Pearl and training with Aragorn and Gimlee.
There was plenty of unfair fighting, too. Axe to shield?! Sacrebleu, that's not fair!
Sacrebleu! "Funny Guy" kicks "Serious Guy's" butt.
Ah, yes. Sacrebleu, here is Randi's future husband. He's plenty hairy/beardy enough!
He's definitely looking for her.  
I don't actually know what to say about this except, Sacrebleu, that dude is going to joust on a cow!

Again, I digress. There was plenty of fun to be had at the tournament. However, the wall and its views were magnificent! Here is an actual model of the grounds. Some of the fortifications were made by Visigoths, some by Romans, and some by others. Sadly, the castle was left for ruin, badly damaged and in need of repair. None of that shows today...except for one small piece. In the model on the top right there is a circle on the outside of the fortifications. It was used by the city's army to defend the stronghold with a 360 degree vantage point. After all, some of the fighting was amongst this city and the part just below in the valley. It's crazy to see how much work went into restoring it, and I am thankful that we were able to see it!
From my lookout post on the wall, I had very diverse views....

 To the left were the fields and farmlands.
The city was directly in front of me and to the right. 


Inside the inner castle
Here's where the circle used to connect!
So, the day was drawing to a close. Unfortunately for Will, not before I found some cool medical displays in the pharmacy windows. Yes, I gawked. 
After I had my fill of antic medical supplies, we returned to our temporary French piso. 
Saturday morning we headed out and took the train back to Narbonne, but not before I snapped a picture of this car that I had been admiring during our stay. Actually, I snapped it as we were speed walking to the train station. 
I thought we were in a hurry once we got to Narbonne, so we didn't stop to check out the super fun market.

We went into the bus stop office, but the sign said it was part of a different company than the one we were using. We thought we might need to check in, but the girl in the office shut her door when we came in. I took that to mean she didn't want to speak with me. So, we tried to get some breakfast. Apparently, between 0900 and 1100, you cannot get food from restaurants in Narbonne. We were only able to get coffee. Le sigh.

We eventually returned to wait at the bus stop, but the bus didn't come. We waited, and waited, and finally I got the courage to try to talk to the attendant. She asked me why I didn't come sooner and said that I would "have to wait". I'm not sure why I needed to come sooner if she wanted me to wait, but that was her suggestion. She checked us in, and we proceeded to wait. I actually got a tan sitting there in the hot sun and waiting. We checked with her again, and she said that the bus was running late. I think it finally arrived an hour later. The driver asked us a question, which I presume was if we had checked in or not, argued with us about keeping our one bag with us on the bus, and we were off. 

Barcelona, sweet Barcelona. We missed you! 

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