10 Unexpected Things You’ll Learn as an Expat in Barcelona, Catalonia

I’m going on my second year living in beautiful Barcelona, obviously because I love it enough to stay. However, as any expatriate knows, there are certain cultural differences that you just have to get used to. Some are only slightly different than your own customs, and others catch you completely by surprise. There were some differences that I expected: obviously there would be different food (and I was super excited for it, the Mediterranean is world-renowned for it’s delicious and healthy food), the bars and clubs would be open later than in America (because the Spanish infamously party until sunrise), etc. But there were some things that most people just don’t associate with Catalan or Spanish people.

1. They are obsessed with pasta and pizza. 

Who isn’t though, right? But this is no joke. Sure, I had my fair share of pizza and pasta back in the states, but people LOVE it here. When I first arrived last year and moved in with my host family, they served a big plate of pasta for lunch. When I moved back to Catalonia last month and moved in with a different host family, what did they serve for the first meal? Pasta, of course.

Pasta Carbonara (Photo Cred: fotom.xyz)

Macaronis

And they really only have 2 varieties: “Macaronis” (normal rigatoni type noodles or the swirly kind) and Spaghetti Carbonara (white sauce with bacon). It isn’t common for families to use any other type of sauce, let alone order it in a restaurant. When they take their kids out for lunch and dinner, what do they order? Macaronis or Carbonara. Seriously. I don´t know about you, but when I thought of Spanish/Catalan culture, I did not expect that.

Cannellonis (Photo Cred: http://www.johnsonville.com)

They also have another variety of pasta that they call “Cannellonis.” It is basically lasagna noodles rolled enchilada style, stuffed with meat and cheese, and covered with a white sauce (bechamel) and more cheese.

Sounds super healthy, right? Like what you envisioned of a Mediterranean diet?

2. They eat sandwiches almost every day, but refuse to add more than one ingredient.

I know, I know… when you think of Spanish/Catalan culture, you automatically think of sandwiches. Oh, no? You never associated it with sandwiches? You’re not alone. I work in a school, and also live with a host family. I see what the kids and even parents eat every day. And honest to God, it is sandwiches all the time. For breakfast? Sure, why not. For their ‘second breakfast’? (see #3 below) Of course! For their afternoon snack? Well duh, what else could you possibly eat?

Bocata de Jamon aka Ham Sandwich (Photo Cred: http://www.20minutos.es)

But what gets me the most is what they put inside of their sandwiches. Back home in America, we eat sandwiches decently often as well. But for lunch. Or sometimes if we’re lazy, dinner. Or if you really want to get crazy, for breakfast. But we put meat, cheese, condiments, vegetables, etc… the only limit is your imagination. There is an art to sandwich making.

Bocata amb Formatge aka Cheese Sandwich

Here? Meat. Or cheese. Both? Oh, heavens no! What kind of a heathen are you?! And they don’t even add a lot of meat or cheese, either. They buy their bread fresh in the mornings, sometimes smother a little bit of oil and tomato on the insides of the bread in the typical “pa amb tomaquet” style, and then add a single layer of meat or cheese. And ya está. For a person like me who isn’t a big fan of bread, it is a tiny nightmare. The bread is often quite tough, so you really have to gnaw on the bread in an animal-like fashion to eat this thing. And your reward? A mouthful of bread with just the tiniest of hints of meat or cheese. Yum.

Pa Amb Tomaquet aka Bread with Tomato (Photo Cred: cadenaser.com)

On one of my first days with my current host family, I was making my sandwich for my second breakfast later (like a good Catalan girl) and they were showing me where the meat and cheese was. I decided to have sobresada (a red meat & spice spread, also a strange thing for expats), and then I went back to the fridge and asked where the cheese was. The host father looked at me in confusion.

Sobresada (Photo Cred: pequgourmet.com)

Him: “But, you have sobresada. Do you want another sandwich?”

Me: “Oh, no. I was just going to add cheese to this one.”

His face was priceless.

3. They eat more than you can imagine, yet somehow stay skinny.

As an American, you know that the world looks at you as if you eat hamburgers and fries every day. As an American moving to Barcelona, I was expecting to lose 20 pounds the first couple of months and eat fresh meats and vegetables every day. Boy, was I mistaken…

A typical day in the life of a Catalan:

  • 7am – 9am: Breakfast, most commonly cereal, bread, meat, cookies, etc (never eggs).

Their idea of cookies, suitable for breakfast, second breakfast, afternoon snack, or dessert. (Photo Cred: http://www.lauravivet.com)

  • 10am – 11am: ‘Second Breakfast,’ as if one isn’t enough. Most commonly a plain sandwich of some sort (see #2) or fruit. But usually a sandwich.

Arroz a la Cubana, a popular dish for lunch. (Photo Cred: http://www.fiesta1037.fm)

  • 1pm – 3pm: Lunch, often consisting of 2-3 courses. And with giant portions that put Americans to shame. Common first courses: soup, pasta, boiled potatoes and peas, lentils with chorizo, garbanzo beans, rice, etc. Common second courses: salad, meat, french fries, rice, another type of pasta… And on top of all of this, a dessert. It is extremely common to have something for dessert after both lunch and dinner. Common desserts: yogurt (never for breakfast), fruit, cookies, ice cream.

Carne Rebozada aka Fried and Breaded Meat, another very popular item for lunch and dinner. Often accompanied by French Fries in a restaurant, like any other meat unless you specifically ask for salad. They’re not much for side dishes in Catalunya(Photo Cred: realworldmeetsgirl.wordpress.com)

  • 5pm – 7pm: Snack, usually more cookies, a mini sandwich, or in some cases, yogurt or fruit. Bakeries are also an extremely popular stop after school, to grab some croissants, ensaimadas, or anything with chocolate. So much sugar!

An ensaimada, basically a puff pastry with powdered sugar.

  • 9pm – 11pm: Dinner, also 2-3 courses. Very similar to lunch, but often just slightly lighter since they eat right before going to bed. They always have a dessert, and I noticed this happens even if the kids are “too full” to finish their dinner.

Photo Cred: http://www.800.cl

OH, and I forgot to mention that they eat bread with everything. So in addition to the sandwiches they always have, they eat sliced french bread with both lunch and dinner as if it’s candy. They can even eat it plain for a snack. Silly Americans, thinking that bread makes you fat…

4. They can NOT handle spicy food. Like, at all.

The Catalan and Spanish people don’t like to add a lot of spice to their food, and that includes pretty much everything except salt, pepper, and oregano. They pride themselves on buying their food fresh, sometimes every single day. Texture is also very important to them. In some ways, I like this a lot. But in others, some of the food is just incredibly bland. For instance, it is quite common, especially during the fall and winter months, to make a puree of fresh vegetables. I really enjoy this in fact, and it is super healthy. They make it from pumpkin, zucchini, carrots, etc. The pumpkin one especially is incredibly rich in flavor, I love it. However, last year one of my host families made a puree of spinach. Now, normally I adore spinach. But it was my first encounter with it in this form, and without salt. It made me gag.

From my Mexican fiesta, including fajitas, enchiladas, guacamole, salsa and rice.

Anyways, I happened to mention to my first two host families that mexican food is my absolute favorite food, and that I make a meannnnn guacamole. So they decided to put me to the test, and gathered a bunch of their friends together to try out my mexican cooking (see how it went here). I tried to make everything super mild, because I had noticed they never eat anything spicy. But even with this, the moment they put a bite of my enchiladas into their mouths they exclaimed in horror “Pica! Pica! Pica!” No joke.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. But very few. One of my friend’s husbands is obsessed with spicy food, and even grows a garden of various peppers. But good luck even trying to find a jalepeno in the grocery store.

5. Water is often more expensive than beer and wine.

In America, water is free at almost every restaurant you go to. I am pretty sure it is illegal not to serve someone water from the tap if you ask for it. However, here in Catalonia and Spain (along with most places in Europe, I think) they charge you extra for water. And often they expect you to buy their expensive, fancy glass bottles of water. Whereas, on the other hand, you can get a glass of wine or a beer for between 1-3 euros. But hey, that’s okay with me… wine it is! No wonder the Spanish have a reputation for drinking. I can’t find a beer at a restaurant in America for under $4!

6. They prefer darker colors for clothes, unless it is Desigual.

If you haven’t heard of it, Desigual is a brand of clothing that is very popular in Barcelona and translates to “unequal.” Their clothes often use black or grey as the base, and then emphasize with bright pops of color, sometimes with one sleeve a different color than the other. Super quirky.

I’ve noticed, and I’m not the only one, that most people in Barcelona tend to dress in darker colors, such as black, grey, and brown. Occasionally, of course, you’ll see someone wearing other colors, but I dare you to jump on the metro one day and tell me what you see. The exception to this, of course, is Desigual. Here and there I will see (mostly) women in a brightly colored dress that proudly has Desigual written across it, or someone sporting a quirky bag or jacket with the typical Desigual designs. But even they are a minority compared to the rest in black.

Another friend and I noticed a vast contrast between Barcelona and Valencia, which is a 3 hour drive to the south. If you get on the metro there, everyone will be dressed in bright, spring colors (and not usually from Desigual). The minority are the ones wearing darker clothes. What causes this change? Who knows!

7. They are obsessed with their digestion.

When you sit down to eat, you will always hear someone saying “Bon profit,” which translates roughly to “enjoy your meal” or “I hope you digest it well.” This, in and of itself, isn’t strange, but the emphasis Catalans put on their digestion is amazing. Normally when I eat, I won’t necessarily rush, but I will eat and then go on about my day. It is very common for a Catalan to sit there for awhile afterwards, chatting with their friends. Sure, they are very social people, and this gives them an excuse to talk and relax. But they have an ulterior motive.

Do you remember when you were a kid and your parents told you not to swim after eating because you could drown? Well, while there is some truth to the benefit of waiting, it is definitely an exaggerated wive’s tale. But Catalans take this seriously. They don’t like to walk around after eating, or do much of anything really if they can help it.

Last spring break, I went with a couple friends (one of which is Catalan) on a trip, where we toured through Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg). Because we only had a little over a week, we pretty much did a different city each day, which required a lot of walking (and definitely not relaxing). My Catalan friend wasn’t happy. She would walk as slow as possible without losing us in the crowd, and when we were together in a group, she’d mutter how “unhealthy” we were being by walking so fast after eating and basically implying that we’d die young. Harsh.

I brought this up in class recently to a group of 14 year olds. When I mentioned how I found it comical, they lashed back insisting how important it is to plan your meals each day, when you can eat one thing but not another, and to rest after eating. This came up after we were discussing the school schedule for a project, where I said that 2 hours for lunch was just ridiculously long. They said I was wrong, that any less time and we’d all have indigestion. I told them that in my high school, we had about 40 minutes to eat. They were in shock. Let me just say that I’ve never met 14 year olds who were so concerned about their digestion.

8. They try to wear their winter clothes as much as possible.

The people of Catalonia seem to constantly be cold. I showed up my first year in late September, and it was still incredibly hot outside. I was sweating walking around in a summer dress. Yet, I started to notice that pretty much everyone else was wearing jackets. What the…?

As soon as mid-September hits, people start breaking out their winter wardrobe. And they wear it for as long as humanly possible. Even in June of this year, when I was sweating bullets in my classes, I saw people walking around with heavy jackets and scarves. As a Californian, I was especially uncomfortable because I didn’t even have winter clothes when I came, so I would wear my summer clothes as much as possible. Since they hate the cold so much, they turn the heaters on high at the school during the winter, to the point where I could wear a short sleeved shirt and a skirt and still be sweating. Everyone thought I was crazy, cozy in their sweatshirts.

In fact, my second host family would get frustrated with me for not wearing scarves or heavy shoes during the winter, saying that I’d inevitably get sick. Has no one here heard the news that the cold itself will not make you sick?!

Another thing – slippers are huge here. Everyone has them, and they wear them all the time. I’m not a big fan of socks myself, so if it’s warm, I am happy to walk around barefoot. In fact, unless it is super cold and I can’t bear it, I walk around barefoot as much as possible. But even in the intense heat of summer, you will see people in Catalonia walking around their homes in socks and/or slippers.

One day, I was teasing my boyfriend for always wearing his slippers, even though it was in the 80’s outside. So he took off his slippers. Soon later, he got sick. He exclaimed “See?! I knew it! Because I didn’t wear my slippers that day, now I’m sick!!!” Silly boy.

9. They go out as much as possible.

The Spanish and Catalan people are infamous for being partiers. So, this shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise. But I was amazed at just how much and how often people are out of their homes here, and not just to party. Their schedules are insane! I understand now why they feel the need to party until 7am.

Photo Cred ip-hostel.com

For families with children, school goes from 9am – 5pm (sometimes it can go even earlier or later for older students). That in and of itself is crazy to me, because when I was in elementary, middle and high school, the latest we would ever get out of school is 3pm. After school, the majority of kids have after school activities, such as sports, language lessons, or dance. In all of the 4 families I have lived with, the children and parents don’t generally get home until between 7pm and 8pm. Where is there time for resting? For doing homework? For cooking? It is insane, no wonder they eat dinner so late at night!

Even young adults like to keep busy. Like in the States, most jobs go from 9am – 5pm, or sometimes the night shift, depending on the position. But it is incredibly common for even adults to have activities after, such as dance, volunteer work, band practice, etc. And if they’re not doing that, then they’re going out to a bakery or a cafe for some sweet treats, cafe con leche, or a cerveza. And if it’s the weekend, then they’re out trying to forget about the crazy week they’ve had.

10. They go grocery shopping every day.

Okay, so I can’t make a generalization about every family. But I think I can safely say that at least half of Catalans go to the grocery store or bakery every single day. Whether it be to buy fresh bread in the mornings, or go to the fish store for the freshest catch they can find, they spend an incredible amount of time running back and forth from the store.

And while many of the meals that they prepare on a daily basis are by no means complicated, the Catalans I have spoken to don’t seem to understand the idea of planning meals ahead or buying more things so you only have to go when you run out. I explained that in America, it is very common for us to go to the grocery store maybe only once a week and buy the staples, such as meat, fish, potatoes, rice, etc. If we happen to make a recipe and don’t have something, of course we’ll go to the store again. But it definitely isn’t common, at least where I’m from, to go to the store every single day.

Fresh catch of the day, head, eyes, tail and all. (Photo Cred: travelandtravails.com)

One of the first things that I noticed when I moved here is that they have a different store for everything, not like in the States where we have giant department stores where you can buy pretty much anything you can think of (I’m looking at you, Walmart SuperCenter). There’s a store for vegetables. And another store for fruit. And another store for meat. And yet another for fish. Of course, they do have small grocery stores with a mix of everything, and the occasional warehouse which is the equivalent of a normal grocery store in the States… but they pride themselves on buying things fresh, which is something that I really admire. But dang, it would take so much time!

In closing…

I absolutely love living here, and I’m so happy that I’ve returned for another year in this amazing place. When you travel, one of the most interesting things to see are the various habits of people from other cultures. None of this is intended in a negative way, and I have really enjoyed learning about the Catalan culture!

Are you an expat living in Barcelona? Any other strange things you’ve noticed? Please feel free to comment, I’d love to hear about it!

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Hunting for Mushrooms in Catalunya

Last Saturday, I moved in with my new host family – always a slightly dreaded yet exciting experience. I had been in contact with them prior to meeting via email, and they had asked me if the following day I’d be interested in going with them to the mountains for mushroom (aka bolets in Catalan) hunting. I had heard about this tradition last year, but never had the privilege to go. So of course I jumped on the opportunity!

My first concern, of course, was the fact that there exists many toxic and/or hallucinogenic mushroom varieties. When I asked my host family about this, they assured me that we’d be going with some “experts” (aka friends they know living in the mountains) who know the difference between the edible and inedible varieties. As a side note, they also mentioned that there are reports every year of people dying from eating the wrong types of mushrooms.

So proceed with caution.

When we got to Montseny, the mountain region, I was super ready to find some mushrooms. I stepped out of the car and I couldn’t believe how many I saw! White, yellow, brown, red… they were everywhere!

My host family and their friends quickly calmed my enthusiasm. The majority of the mushrooms I was seeing were inedible. I followed the “experts” around for 10 to 20 minutes, trying to decipher which types of mushrooms were the good ones. Like all good things, the ‘good’ mushrooms always seemed to be hidden quite well!

It took me at least 30 minutes to find my first edible mushroom all on my own. It seems so simple, but it felt like such a huge accomplishment! You either try to pull it up carefully by the stem, or if necessary, you can use a small blade to cut it at the base. It is common to carry a basket with you to collect them all.

We found 5 varieties of edible mushrooms:

Camagrocs, or “yellow legs.” We found a bunch of these in one specific area of the forest, and they were delicious in a Spanish Omelette!

“Trumpetas de Muerte,” or “Trumpets of Death.” They don’t look or sound edible, do they? But they are! I didn’t personally get to try any of these because this was all we found, but my host family’s friends said they were delicious.

Ou de Reig, or “Reig’s Egg.” Everyone got super excited to find this one, apparently it is rare. It is unique because it first starts out looking like an egg (see the white part at the bottom?) and then the inner mushroom bursts out and continues growing.

Pinetells. We found quite a lot of these and the following mushroom as well, but I still can’t tell the difference between them! Photo Cred: usuaris.tinet.cat

Rovelló. Photo Cred: http://www.ambientech.org

And I found a few others that were inedible, but cool nonetheless:

Some years are better than others, apparently. My host family told me that the year prior all of their baskets had been overflowing with mushrooms – they were absolutely everywhere! Although we did find a decent amount, they said it was nothing compared to the year before.

We hiked around the mountainside for a good 3 hours or so, the enthusiasm only dwindling when our hunger started rising. We headed back to their friend’s house and dropped off the mushrooms for an extra few sets of “expert” eyes to look over the mushrooms, just to doublecheck that we didn’t accidentally pick up a poisonous variety.

Once we were given the OK for our mushrooms, we drove back to the city and decided to enjoy the camagrocs in a Spanish omelette. It takes a surprising amount of work to cut and clean them all! And, of course, once you put them in a pan, they shrink considerably. So don’t expect a huge feast of mushrooms! But of course it is so rewarding to eat the things you scavenged yourself.

The following day, we cut up the rovellóns and pinetells, which I obviously couldn’t tell the difference between. We also added in 2 ous de Reig, which the family friends had kindly added to our basket without our knowing. The host dad sauteed them all in oil, and even though we started with what seemed like a big amount, we each only got a small spoonful of our bounty. But it was tasty 🙂 I highly recommend the experience! Even for people who don’t really like mushrooms.

One of the great things about living with a host family is being exposed to new traditions, such as this. And it’s just the beginning of an amazing year! To learn more about mushrooms in Catalunya, visit the official site here.

Your Guide to Santander, Cantabria, Spain

For a list of things to see or places to eat, scroll to the bottom. Otherwise, enjoy the pictures and ramblings – I promise there are some great tips if you plan to travel here! 🙂

Admittedly, I didn’t spend nearly as much time in Santander as I should have. My original plan was to visit San Sebastian and Bilbao for the 4 day weekend, but my host family insisted that Santander was worth seeing. They told me it was only a short drive past Bilbao, but it ended up being about 1.5 hours past Bilbao. Plan accordingly!

When I researched Santander, not much came up online. That worried me a little, because this would actually be my first trip ever alone (besides moving to Spain in the first place, that is). There weren’t many hostels available in the area either, so if you’re planning to take that route as well, be sure to take that into account.

When I told people I would be going to Santander, most people asked “But… why? What’s there?” It’s true, it isn’t the biggest tourist destination, especially for Americans and Brits. But what I’ve discovered is that it is a pretty popular destination for Spaniards.

Getting There

Santander is about a 1.5 hour bus ride away from Bilbao. There are some lovely views along the way! There is also a train, I suppose it would take about the same time or perhaps a little less. However, be sure to plan ahead and buy your tickets in advance, especially on weekends. When I tried to leave on Sunday to return to Bilbao, I couldn’t leave in the morning like I had planned because both the train and bus were sold out! Luckily I wasn’t in a rush, but that could definitely ruin your trip.

Where to Stay

I stayed at a “hostel” in the Puerto Chico region of Santander, only because during that time it was the only (cheap) thing available. The hostel actually turned out to be a spare room in someone’s apartment, but my stay was nice nonetheless. Since it was my first time travelling alone, I was hoping to meet people at the hostel, so it was a bit disappointing. But I had a nice and pleasant stay with them, the family was very nice (but spoke no English, so be prepared with a little Spanish). If you’re interested, you can book it here on the hostelworld website.

There are also many hotels in the area if you’re not on a budget, and many of them are located more centrally near the peninsula. Airbnb is always good to check, too!

Puerto Chico (Port Area)

If you’re coming to Santander by bus or train, you’ll be dropped off in this area. However, this is not the central part of Santander. At least, not where most of the touristy things to see are located. There is the port, which is quite nice to walk along, and there are many delicious pinchos restaurants to choose from. And, since it isn’t a huge tourist city, you can find some amazing deals on food!

I had a lovely walk along the coast enjoying the view of the villages on the other side of the bay, the views are pretty spectacular (even though the weather wasn’t fantastic). There are also a few parks along this route, with some nice sculptures to admire. Nearby, there is also a sailing school, so you’ll probably see some amateur sailors taking advantage of the day.

The Arch of Banco Santander

In this area, there is also the original Santander Bank (if you don’t know why this should be important, don’t worry – it’s just a very popular bank in Spain). It is nice to check out, especially if you’re into architecture. It was built in the early 1920’s by architect Javier González de Riancho.

The Courtyard of Banco Santander

As you wander along the streets nearby, you’ll find lots of cool street art- if you’re into that kind of thing. I walked around this city alone at night, and while I don’t recommend doing the same, it is a safe and beautiful city to explore if you have the time.

If you wander back towards the coast, you’ll find some lovely parks and statues. Grab a gelato, take the hand of a loved one, observe the sailors… take advantage of the beautiful walk.

I noticed that there were many lovely buildings throughout the city of Santander. Just keep your eyes open, you never know what you’ll find 🙂

If you keep walking north along the coast, heading towards the peninsula, you will pass by the sailing school and also the strangest government building I’ve ever set my eyes upon:

It takes about 20 minutes to walk from the main downtown area of Puerto Chico to this region, and then perhaps 10-15 more minutes to reach the beach and peninsula region. There are buses that you could take, but as of May 2015, google maps did not have them listed in my phone. But I assure you, the walk is worth it!

Peninsula de la Magdelena

After walking along the coast, you’ll find yourself at a nice beach. There is a path that goes along the cliff, or you can slip off your shoes and enjoy walking across the sand. At the end of this beach, there will be another path that’ll lead you towards the main entrance of the park on the Peninsula.

Not a shabby place to live, eh?

The Peninsula is definitely worth a visit, and many tourist sites recommend at least three hours to fully explore it. There is a huge park, a small zoo, and even a palace! The views from this peninsula are breathtaking, even on a cloudy day. And the best part? It is completely free! I guess there are tours inside of the palace, which you can pay extra for. There’s also a little shuttle that you can pay for to take you around the peninsula, but I highly recommend just walking it.

If you follow the path to the left first, you’ll find yourself at their small zoo. They don’t have much, but it is still pretty cool! There are penguins (a funny sight to see with the beach in the background) and seals. If you continue following the path, you’ll come across a mermaid with 3 ships – a very typical photo moment in Santander!

Continue further and up the hill, stopping to admire the views off of the cliffs. After a few minutes, you will see the palace. It isn’t anything super impressive, but it is pretty. You can walk all along it, and then continue on the path back down the hill, on the other side of the peninsula. There are a couple of different paths that lead more inland or closer to the cliffs.

Just imagine having a picnic here. Either on the grassy knoll, or surrounded by beautiful trees with a distant view of the mountains or horizon. Think: jamon serrano, a tasty yet inexpensive wine, some olives, a handsome Spanish man by your side…

Playa de los Peligros

Peña Vieja and the Beaches

When you loop back around the peninsula toward the entrance, if you continue through the gate and to the right, you will find yourself at another lovely beach called Primera Playa (or First Beach). The first thing you’re sure to notice is Peña Vieja (or Old Rock), with lovely views of the other main area of Santander behind it. I’m sure this beach would be lovely during the summer! I went during the Spring, and what with the weather being wetter in the North, the weather varies quite a bit from day to day.

From there, walk further along the coast and you’ll find Parque de Piquío, a small break in between the two main beaches of Santander. They have some lovely gardens and benches and of course a magnificent view of the beach in both directions.

The City near the Main Beaches

After you’ve had enough of the beach (if you can ever have enough of the beach), you can head inland to explore the city area on this side of the peninsula. I noticed lots of unique buildings and enjoyed just strolling through the city. In fact, since my phone wasn’t allowing me to find a bus route home, I just walked straight through the city to the other side and back to Puerto Chico (see above). This was quite a long walk, however, and if you could find an alternative route, that’d probably be for the better.

Another popular tourist location on this side of Santander is the Gran Casino Sardinero. When I was there, there was a big formal event going on, so I couldn’t go inside. But other travel websites say it’s definitely worth a look, even if you don’t gamble!

Food and Drinks

So, you’re in Spain. Of course you’re going to expect the best of the best when it comes to food and drinks. You’re in luck, because Santander has some amazing restaurants, both for a midday “menu del dia” and for some lighter pinchos in the evening with delicious wine. Some of the places I went to I had researched beforehand, and others I just happened to be hungry and went to the first place I could find. All of them were delicious, I think it’s hard to go wrong.

My first night, after walking all through the city, I was exhausted. But I can never be too exhausted for a drink. I stopped in a themed bar named “Little Bobby Speakeasy.” It was still a little early in the evening, so when I entered, there weren’t too many other patrons. However, the place itself is quite lovely and well decorated in the 1920’s style. All of their drinks are inspired by old movies and TV shows. I highly recommend stopping by!

I realized I was a bit hungry, so I decided to go to a place that I had found recommended online: Dias Desur. I only planned on having one or two pinchos and some wine, but that turned into 4 pinchos and 2 glasses of wine. It was amazing, even after having such ridiculously decadent pinchos as I had in San Sebastian. This is a must stop for anyone visiting Santander! It can get quite busy, but it is worth the wait. Something even as simple looking as the teeny weeny mini burger they recommended just had the perfect flavor combination to make my eyes roll back in delight.

On my second day, I walked into a random restaurant along Calle Castelar near Puerto Chico. I ordered the menu del dia (if you’re unaware, it’s amazing – each restaurant puts together a couple of possibilities for a 2-3 course meal, generally with wine and dessert included, for a low, fixed price. I’m not talking about small dishes, either. I’m talking massive plates that’ll make you walk away wishing you had your big Thanksgiving pants) and was blown away by the food. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name now, but I am pretty confident that you wouldn’t be disappointed with any options here.

Don’t be afraid to be a stereotypical tourist… order the paella!

I forget what the name of this was, but it was an unusual name for pork… and it melted in my mouth.

Before catching my bus, I decided to stop at one last place in the Port area for some pinchos. This place was called Casa Lita, and it had a great variety of pinchos, although admittedly not as amazing as Dias Desur (it is hard to beat perfect)… but still quite good.

List of What to See

  • Peninsula of Magdalena – Beautiful views of the bay and nearby beaches, with free entrance to the park and zoo.You can go by foot (recommended) or pay extra for a little trolley to take you around. There is also a palace at the tip of the Peninsula, you can pay extra to go in.
  • Playa Primera de El Sardinero
  • Piquío Park – A lovely park separating two beaches, with great views on both sides.
  • Parque de Cabo Mayor – Panoramic views
  • Puerto Chico – Lots of restaurants and bars, a nice area to walk around near the port.
  • Edificio del Banco Santander – A nice archway and courtyard in honor of Santander banks in Puerto Chico.
  • Menéndez Pelayo Library: Calle de Rubio, 6 – Beautiful library inside and out, with lots of stained glass and old wooden shelves stuffed to the brim with books.
  • Gran Casino Sardinero: Plaza de Italia, s/n, 1 – Worth seeing, even if you don’t gamble.
  • Barrio Pesquero – A run down area, but worth it for the seafood restaurants.

Where to Eat (AKA The Most Important Part)

  • Café Pub La Rana: Calle de Daoíz y Velarde, 30 – lively joint that is popular with its young clientele who want to line their stomachs before a night out; famous for its patatas bravas, but also serves hamburgers and sandwiches.
  • **Little Bobby Speakeasy**: Calle Sol, 20 – A fun, well decorated 1920’s style bar with great cocktails.
  • La Conveniente: Calle de Gómez Oreña, 9
  • Asubio Gastrobar: Calle Daoiz y Velarde, 23
  • ***Días Desur***: Calle Hernán Cortés, 47 – Absolutely amazing pinchos and delicious wine
  • Casa Lita: Paseo de la Pereda, 37

I’m baaaaackkkk!

So, I have been extremely vaga (lazy) and haven’t updated my blog in 3 months. Shame on me. In my defense, after school ended in June, I no longer had access to a computer until late July… and then I went to Hawaii, went on a roadtrip, and then finally returned to Spain. Poor me, right?

But I’m back. And I’m ready to go. Are you?

I had an amazing summer, but it was so strange being back in the United States. Everything looked the same, the people were the same, it felt the same… it was trippy. I mean, what was I expecting? But somehow it felt like my entire experience in Catalonia had been just a dream. It was really difficult for me to re-adapt, especially the first couple weeks when I didn’t have much to do (sure, I like to complain about work, but at least it keeps me busy). I think it was during this time that I realized my decision to return to Spain was the right one. I couldn’t imagine just going back to my normal job, it depressed me. Sure, California is lovely, but when you’ve had the taste of Europe and are addicted to hopping on a plane to getaway somewhere for the weekend, you just can’t return to your normal life.

Photo Cred: leisure.onehowto.com

So here I am, back in Catalonia. I was so nervous during my flight, and even once I had landed in Barcelona, I was in disbelief. Was I really here? Had it really already been over 2 months since I had said goodbye? Was I ready for another year?

Yes, yes I am. And I look forward to making this the best year yet.

Over the next few weeks, I will update my blog with some of my fun experiences back in the States, including when my favorite Catalan came to visit for a good ol’ fashioned roadtrip around California ❤ Once finished, I will return to posting about my European adventures. Coming soon: Santander, Bilbao, Costa Brava, and Southern France.

Spanish Idioms, #13: Por Si Las Moscas

Por si las moscas.

Literally, this translates to “for if the flies.” This phrase came about at the dinner table, and my host family had a really difficult time trying to explain the meaning of it to me. I had to look it up to gain real clarity – it is the equivalent of the English expression “just in case,” which I personally use quite a lot. And it’s funny, because when they told me that phrase, I could have sworn I had never heard it before. But now that I know of it, I swear I hear it everywhere!

Some examples:

“Llevamos nuestros paraguas por si las moscas

“Let’s bring out umbrellas just in case.”

“Es importante preparar para un terremoto cuando vives en California, por si las moscas.

“It is important to prepare for an earthquake when you live in California, just in case.”

Porto: Birthplace of Port Wine and Beautiful Beyond Belief

Let me start by saying I had never heard of this place before. Sure, I had heard of Port wine (hello, wine is amazing), but I had no idea that it came from a little city in Portugal named Oporto (or Porto in English). Before going on the trip, I was lucky enough to get some great advice from my host family on where to go and what to see… and Porto was high up on their list. They advised us to take the train one night from Lisbon, stay the night, then spend all day the next day exploring and take a train back. They insisted i was such a small city that you didn’t need to spend more than a day.

Thank God we gave ourselves two days instead of one.

It’s about a 3 hour train ride from Lisbon, and as we approached this little city my jaw dropped… literally. The train passes over the bridge and gives amazing views of the city and the Douro River. It was one of those times when you see something just so beautiful you can’t believe it (which was nice after about 3 hours of seeing nothing out the window on the train).

From the train station, we took the short trek up the hill to our hotel (the entire city is located on various hills). Up at the top, there was this beautiful church called Igreja de Santo Ildefonso. I have seen many churches in my life, but this one was unique in that it had this beautiful blue and white tile work all across it.

Igreja de Santo Ildefonso

We walked down the hill in search of a good place to eat. Everywhere you looked, there was something beautiful to admire. There weren’t all too many people around, either, which I liked. It was like we had this beautiful city to ourselves.

Praça da Liberdade

We found a small, cheap restaurant just to the left of this statue. Food and drinks here were extremely cheap, especially compared to the other cities we had been to on this trip. When I was researching things to try in Portugal, a little delicacy called a Franceschina popped up. People insisted that it didn’t look all too appetizing and it was basically a heart attack on a plate, but that it was definitely worth trying. And I must agree! It was surprisingly delicious, I could taste the calories as I ate them. It is basically a sandwich filled with various meats and then covered in melted cheese and a sauce of tomato and beer… YUM! We got this franceschina for about €4, one hell of a deal! Washed it down with a €1 wine. I know it doesn’t look like much, but trust me… I ended up practically licking the bowl.

Even after having an incredibly fatty meal, my mother and I were attracted to a little pastry shop on the corner. There were so many things to choose from! I had heard of pastel de nata as I was researching, so I decided o give it a try. It was fantastic! Perfectly sweet and creamy. I could have easily eaten 3-4. I also bought another random pastry, just to give it a try. It was good, but I definitely would stick to the pastel de nata.

A while later, high on the sugar rush, I decided to try yet another pastry I had seen in all of the store windows… I’m not sure what it’s called, bu it looked interesting. It was gross. I had to throw it away. I was basically a partially cooked egg inside a flavorless crust (or a least that is what it tasted like).

As we were walking around, we noticed a group of singers in old, traditional clothing. That day, we saw at least 2 or 3 of these groups going around singing. I have no idea what was happening, but it was interesting to see!

We wandered over to the other side of the city to see the Lello Bookshop, famous for being one of the inspirations of Harry Potter. Unfortunately, it was a big disappointment. The store was very full, for one, and they didn’t allow pictures at all. And for a place so famous and well-known, you’d think they keep the place in shape… the famous stairs were all scuffed up and the whole place looked a bit dreary. And the shopkeepers were extremely rude. Here are some pictures regardless that you can find on google images, and I promise you it looks better in the pictures. 

From there, we wandered down the hill towards the famous Douro River. It is such a beautiful city with so much to explore! Like this strange park with floating disco balls.

Many of the buildings seem very run-down, unfortunately. In fact, a few of them had signs up saying that it was unsafe to occupy the building. However, once you get closer to the river things brighten up with vendors selling their wares and lovely, brightly-colored buildings. Oh, and more restaurants than you can count!We ended up arriving right on time to take a river cruise at sunset, the last of the day. It was €10 and well worth every cent! The views there are just unbelievable. Seeing all of the lovely European buildings spread out carefully over the hills and the handful of bridges connecting both sides… it was just magical. I’ve also never seen so many giant bridges in my life. I’ll shutup for a bit… the pictures speak for themselves.

My first west coast sunset in months! West coast, best coast.

After seeing so much beauty that we didn’t know what to do with ourselves, we decided to grab dinner at a small restaurant right along the Douro River. We got their famous assa chouriço, a sausage that cooks right in front of you on fire. It is such a fun thing to order! (read more about it here). And the view at night couldn’t be beat.

Right along the river they also had many vendors selling cheap items like table cloths, little bottles of Port wine, and various souveniers with the famous lucky Portuguese chicken on it. We ended up buying a few little bottles of Port to try them out and keep us warm 🙂 When in Porto… drink Port! And Ginja, a strong cherry liqueur.

Weekend Getaway to Lyon, France, Part III: Les Halles Paul Bocuse Market, the Zoo, and a Sad Goodbye!

It was our last day in Lyon, and there was still so much I wanted to see. Unfortunately our flight was at 4pm, so we didn’t have all that much time. The plan was originally to have brunch, go to the Paul Bocuse market, and then the famous park. We only got 2 of them done (it’s hard to wake girls up in the morning), but it was a nice last day regardless.

We started at Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, a large market selling everything from vegetables to seafood and sweets. The name Paul Bocuse holds a lot of weight in Lyon, the man has famous restaurants spread throughout the city. It was nice to see all of the different foods on display, and it probably would’ve been really nice to join many of the other French locals in having some white wine and oysters (I guess it’s a thing there?). However, I would recommend doing this on a rainy or relaxed day… it was nice to see, but there were so many other things to see in Lyon that I couldn’t relax!

There was one pastry I had never seen before: a pink pecan pie / tart. I still don’t understand how it became pink! But they were everywhere, and obviously very popular (see below). I tried a little mini tart and it was pretty tasty, but a little strange.

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Pink Pecan Pie? Say that 3 times fast.

After we saw our fill of decadence, we walked over to the Parc de la Tête d’Or (about a 20 minute walk from the market). It is a huge and very popular park on the east bank of Lyon. There were lots of people out jogging on that sunny day. The best part about the park? There was a free zoo! It made the little kid come out in all of us.15812_10153120657498162_8630147041139882711_n 19308_10153120656758162_5799640758340145148_n 10348466_10153120658878162_4053829277779108486_n 10405476_10153120657938162_1620970285394514965_n 10407314_10153120663193162_2623381908335052734_n 10616010_10153120659698162_4547364937209668876_n

Also, there was a great photo op there… and we all know how important photos are!

After wandering around for awhile, we had to rush back to the hostel to pick up our things and then head for the airport. It was a little stressful because we cut it very close, but alas! Luck was on our side. We made it back home to sweet, sunny Barcelona… but I am still dying to go on my next trip!