Road Trip: Figueres & Cadaqués, Spain

Posted by Karie on Dec 18th 2007 08:12 pm

With my parents visiting for the holidays, we wanted to give them a little taste of Europe, but without running them into the ground (which we nearly did anyway).  So we opted for spending a few days in Barcelona, taking a road trip up the coast of Spain into the French Riviera, back to Barcelona, off to Paris, then back to Barcelona again.  Simple enough, right?

So we pile into our rental car and start driving.  We had heard that Catalonia gets the short end of the stick in Spain, in that it’s the only region that has to pay for their own roads.  Hence, we were expecting some tolls along the way… but when we saw signs that the next toll station accepted credit cards only, we realized that we were in for more than pocket change.

The final tab in a 4 day road trip (with no driving on one of the days) was 100 Euro in tolls.  That’s about $145.  Not to mention the gas, which is equivalent to about $6.50/gallon.  Anyhow, we were committed.

First stop: Figueres, Spain, a charming little town whose only real claim to fame is the Dalí Theatre and Museum (Teatre-Museu Dalí in Catalan).  We only had 1 day to spend here, but we figured that would be enough time to visit the museum and explore the small town.  Well, contrary to our “Europe for Dummies” book, it turns out the museum is closed on Mondays.  (Personally, I’m pretty sure the outside of the museum was just as interesting as the inside anyway.)

So, we got back in the car and drove to Cadaqués, a tiny fishing village nearby.  We had originally nixed Cadaqués from our agenda, as time was limited and the weather wasn’t ideal for a beach city.  However, I’m glad it worked out to go there anyway.

Cadaqués was actually the home of Dalí, so they share his fame with Figueres.  It’s easy to see how an artist could be inspired here.  Picturesque white washed homes with bright Mediterranean-blue shutters, ivy climbing the narrow alleyways, people chatting with friends in tiny cafes overlooking the cove…

The vividness of the town between the sea and mountainous terrain was reminiscent of Cinque Terre, Italy, for those of you who have been there (or read my blog about it), but possibly even a little less touched.

After meandering through the shops and, of course, stopping for fresh pastries and café’ con leche, we headed back to Figueres to finish off the delightful day with the worst meal ever.  It was so bad it was funny!

We were in the mood for something “familiar”, so we stopped at this British restaurant with a varied menu, and 3 of us ordered the pizzas.  You might be asking yourself, “What could possibly go wrong with ordering Italian food in a British restaurant in Spain?”  We even sent it back to the kitchen, and when it came out the 2nd time it was worse.  Lesson learned.  We thought through our food choices a little better from there on out!

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Catalan Christmas Traditions

Posted by Karie on Dec 17th 2007 03:16 pm

Every culture holds dear its own traditions, and this year we have the opportunity to experience those of Barcelona. For example…

  • Christmas is celebrated for all 12 days that we sing about, although I have yet to see any partridges or pear trees.
  • Young & old anxiously await the arrival of the 3 Kings on January 6th, while Santa (or Father Christmas) takes a back seat on December 25th.
  • Children beat logs wearing funny hats until presents fall out (more on this later).
  • Health, luck and prosperity are represented by the addition of a questionable gnome-like character hidden somewhere in the nativity scene (more on this later).
  • 310 streets throughout town are decorated with lights.
  • It’s not politically incorrect to wish someone a “Merry Christmas”, “Feliz Navidad”, or “Bon Nadal.”

Being a metropolitan city, where the most common forms of transportation are feet or subways, Christmas brings the streets to life. While there are a couple malls, the most popular way to shop is roaming up and down the store-lined streets, or the infamous Christmas market outside the Barcelona Cathedral.

At the Christmas market you can buy gifts such as hand-made jewelry or scarves, as well as anything needed to decorate your home for the holidays, i.e. Christmas trees, nativity scenes, and of course, pooping shepherds and logs… What, your Macy’s doesn’t carry those??

I think the last two Catalan traditions, being two of my personal favorites, deserve further explanation…

Who is this Pooping Sheppard?
He is called a Caganer, which translates as “the pooper”… actually, it translates to something even a little more crude, but I’ll let you use whatever version of the word you choose!

He has been around since the 17th or 18th century, and is a staple in Catalan nativity scenes. He is usually hidden somewhere amongst baby Jesus, the wise men and the animals. He “fertilizes” the earth, bringing good luck, health, renewal, and a bit of “rauxa” (a reminder to relax and have a little fun). Rumor has it that he was briefly outlawed in public nativity scenes, but the Catalan’s so fiercely fought for their tradition that the Caganer was reintroduced.

Yes, we now own one.

And the Pooping Log?
Caga Tió translates to “pooping log” (again, choose your own word). There is a bit of confusion on this one, as Tío (with the accent over the “i”) in Castilian Spanish, means Uncle. However, in Catalan (the native language of this region of Spain), Tió (with the accent over the “o”) means log.

You can either create your own Caga Tió with any log you choose, or purchase one at the Christmas market, complete with a cute face & hat. You cover the log with a cloth or blanket, and nurture it for the days approaching Christmas. On either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, children then beat the log with a stick until it “poops” presents. Seriously. There’s even a song they sing when they beat the log… I’ve heard a few versions of it, but they generally translate into something like…

Poop log!
Poop torrons, hazelnuts & cheese
Don’t poop sardines because their too salty
If you don’t poop well I’ll hit you with this stick
Poop log!

Then the children reach under the Caga Tió’s covering and pull out turróns (a traditional Christmas candy) and other treats. You know the Caga Tió is finished when it poops an onion or garlic.

Hey, anyone who has ever visited Graceland, trick-or-treated, or owned any type of inflatable Christmas decoration has no place to judge others’ cultural traditions! To quote Scott quoting someone from a small group video at CVCF, “it’s not wrong, it’s just different.” Ok, maybe a little weird, but it’s fun.

I think Christmas is a little slower here, in a good way. Maybe that’s because we’ve nixed the presents this year in lieu of traveling with friends & family who come to visit. My parents are here now, and we’re enjoying every minute!  We’re off to Paris tomorrow, but in the meantime we’re enjoying a lazy Christmas Day and lots of great food.

Merry Christmas!

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Back to the U.S.A. to get our Visas

Posted by Karie on Dec 15th 2007 10:19 pm

On our first morning back in the U.S. (after waking up at 3am thanks to the jet lag), we headed down to the Spanish Consulate in Los Angeles.  We are now the proud holders of Visados Residencias de Espana!  We still have one hoop to jump through to finalize it all, but it’s downhill from here.

Visas in hand, we headed for the second priority of the trip… Target!  Target is high on the list of things I’ve missed, among the ranks of Penny Lane, Mexican food and Cheez-Its.

We have been loving Barcelona and honestly try not to spend too much energy focusing on things we miss (ok, except maybe Penny), but when we found out we were coming back home, we realized how much we had to look forward to.

I thought we wouldn’t get to see any of Scott’s family for Christmas, I thought I wouldn’t see my niece again until she was two, and I thought I would have to live with the regret of leaving my red plaid heels in storage for a year.

I realize we’ve only been gone 3 months.  I mean, some people vacation longer than that, so it’s not like we experienced some huge culture shock upon returning to American soil.  Nonetheless, a lot has happened in the last 3 months…

  • We have accomplished a huge goal.  We’re not finished yet, but we’ve made the leap and we’re living it out.
  • Charlize (aka, Charlie, my niece) started walking & talking
  • My cousin (Carene) and friend (Nacia) had babies
  • I’ve reconnected with more friends through this blog than I did in years of living only a few minutes or a domestic phone call away
  • Friends in San Diego have lost their homes
  • The exchange rate continues to tank, which suddenly really matters to me
  • Matthew (Scott’s brother) lost part of his pinky (I thought that was worth mentioning!)
  • When we moved, my Grandpa was in the hospital and had nearly lost the will to live.  Last Sunday he came over after church, wearing a dapper suit and hat and ready to eat tacos.

…just to name a few.  Needless to say, our trip home was wonderful!  I’m always intentional to reflect & be grateful for all the blessings in my life, but I think we now have an even deeper appreciation for the big and the small.

After nearly 2 days of travel (ugh!), we are now back in Barcelona.  We arrived only 4 hours before my parents, who are here to celebrate Christmas/New Years with us.

Now we have an entirely different list of things to look forward to…  I love playing tour guide for family/friends (hint, hint), learning the culture & the language, making new friends, walking to almost anything we need, sidewalk cafes that easily trump Starbucks… I even like hanging my clothes outside to dry.

It’s so much fun, and for now, it’s home.

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Some Really Really Good News

Posted by Karie and Scott on Nov 21st 2007 04:36 pm

Tomorrow all Americans will celebrate a day of Thanksgiving, so we just wanted to share with you one of the many things we are thankful for… Really, really thankful for!

YouTube Preview Image

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When There is Time to Gaze

Posted by Scott on Nov 18th 2007 09:45 pm

Right now I am sitting at my desk, looking out the window of our 3rd floor flat. Our street, Gran de Gràcia, passes below, with a set of Christmas lights strung across the street, which they beautifully do throughout the entire city. Directly across the street facing back at me stands a beautiful, six story, modernist style building, likely built in the late 1800’s. I’ve spent quite a lot of time gazing out my window at this building (my parents and school teachers wouldn’t be too surprised about that). Looking as familiar as the rest, it struck me that each story of the building was different.

The second story, or primero in Spanish for primary, has 3 beautifully arched windows spanning the length of the building. The floor above is much different. It has four sets of windowed doors across the front and a large terrace that spans the building. The next floor up has the same four doors but instead has 3 separate terraces. This complimenting difference continues on each floor all the way to the top.

While each floor is structurally different there is still a sense of familiarity throughout. The intricate façade begins at the intensely decorated ground level, and is unrivaled by the other floors until you reach the top, which sits appropriately like a crown on the head of its king. The floors in between are beautiful in their own, with adornments inherited from the bottom or top floor, having more similarities to whichever it is closest.

Each floor on its own, would not be nearly as beautiful as they are assembled together. This story can be told over and over, up and down Gran de Gràcia, and throughout Barcelona; each building as familiar as the rest, but with its own unique charm, as different as the rest. This is a beauty I have never experienced before in a city. It probably existed but I’ve never taken the time to see it.

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Estudio Todo el Dia!

Posted by Karie on Nov 12th 2007 09:23 pm

Neither of us have been studying Spanish as much as we should, but we have seen a lot of progress just from being so surrounded by it.  We are finding that we can both understand pretty well, as long as the person is speaking slowly.  We can usually at least get the gist of what they are trying to tell us, but the problem is that we don’t usually know how to respond.

So… I started a Spanish immersion class.  4 hours per day, Monday-Friday… and today, I studied an additional 3 hours outside of class.  This might be just the kick in the pants that I needed.

The morning started out with a class of 5 students, plus a teacher that will not speak English no matter how hard you try.  Within the first 30 minutes one poor German (who also spoke English), said to her, “I don’t think this is the place for me. I don’t understand anything that you’re saying.” To which she responded in Spanish.  Sin suerte.  They do speak slowly & find various ways to help you understand, and I was feeling quite proud of myself for figuring most of it out.

The second session only had 2 students (the German & I) and it was a little more conversational, intended to reinforce things that we learned in the first session.  Oddly, the 2nd session was easier for the German, and harder for me (so much for the pride).  The teacher briefly broke the “no English rule” to explain that it’s normal to spend most of the day in confusion.  It’s meant to push us, so just stick with it & study.

It was tough, but really fun & rewarding.  Right now I’m the only one doing it, as it’s a little pricey, and I’m one of those weird ones that kinda likes school anyway, so I’m the guinea pig.  If it proves to be a worthwhile investment I will probably extend my classes for another week or two, and Scott will join in.

Of course this will be in addition to our current proven methods of infrequent Rosetta Stone sessions, hand gestures, and one-word responses using only infinitive verbs.  Perhaps these people have something more to teach me.

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Posted by Karie on Nov 1st 2007 10:57 pm

At the risk of sounding like total geeks, this is pretty fun. In case you’ve never heard of Geoocaching (and I wouldn’t expect you to), it’s like a GPS-powered worldwide treasure hunt. Basically, someone gets some type of sealed container, puts stuff inside it, and hides it anywhere in the world. They then go online and log the GPS coordinates of where they hid it, so other people can go find it. They are usually very difficult to find, and even those “in the know” have to be discrete, so as not to risk being discovered by “Mugglers” (someone who doesn’t know what it is and takes it).

There are several around Barcelona, many of which are in parks or areas that we often pass while exploring the city. At first I just followed along to indulge Scott, but I admit, I heard the Mission Impossible theme song in my head the whole time.

Contents of the containers will sometimes just include a log book that you can sign & write a message. Other times people will leave little trinkets that you can take out & replace with one of your own.

So far we have found 2, and pursued unsuccessful searches for 2 others. From one, we took a coin called Team Chroms’ Tick that had a story attached saying that the coin wants to be back in Nurenberg, Germany by Christmas Eve in 2010, but it wants to see how many places it can visit before then. So far the coin has been to 3 different countries in 6 months, and we’re going to take it with us to the next country we visit… although we have yet to determine where that will be. Spain is a pretty tough place to beat in the winter months!

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hogar dulce hogar (home sweet home)

Posted by Karie on Oct 23rd 2007 09:55 pm

We’ve been back in Barcelona for almost two weeks.  Sometimes I think we’re starting to get the hang of things, and other times I think it could take a lifetime to really adapt.

We are currently sharing a flat through the end of the year.  Hopefully this will give us enough time to learn a little more about the city and figure out where we want to go next.  Our flat-mate is Christine, an English teacher from Germany that lives in Spain.  Go figure.  She actually went to college in England, then moved to Barcelona, where she has been for the last 15 years.  She is a wealth of information!

Even though she’s not Spanish, she has really helped us adapt to the local culture.  Plus, as a fellow “extranjero”, she has been in our shoes so she is more than willing to help.  She helped us open a bank account, gives great recommendations for food/entertainment, and best of all, she let us to go the market with her.  We literally followed her around taking notes on what to get, how to order, how to ask them to remove the fish guts & head before selling it to us, etc.  I think we’d be surviving on crackers if it wasn’t for her.

Our flat is quite large, so we really haven’t been in each other’s way at all (plus she works strange hours).  You enter into the center of the flat, and if you go right there is a long hallway down to our area, and to the left is her area.  We have our own bedroom, large closet & living area in our end of the flat, we share the kitchen and one bathroom with Christine, then she has another ½-bathroom & the washing machine in her end of the flat.

The building we are in is over 100 years old.  It has a lot of the original modernist tiles & doors, but the kitchen & bathroom have been recently updated with new appliances, fixtures, etc.  It’s a great mix with the charm of the old but the convenience of the new.

We occupy the third floor, as there is only one flat per floor.  The first floor is a storefront (a shoe store to be exact – I live over a shoe store!!!), the second floor belongs to the owner of the building, then there’s us.  Above us is Matilda, an 80-something-young lady that climbs 4 flights of stairs every single day, and on the very top is another couple.

The neighborhood we live in is called Gràcia (pronounced Gra’ thea).  It’s known as a hip, artsy, political center of town.  In the old days, when Barcelona proper was much smaller, this was considered “up town”, and it’s where all the wealthy Barcelonans came on holiday.  Now that the city has expanded, it is very central – about a mile from downtown.  However, you don’t need to go further than a few blocks to find anything you need.  Gràcia is full of café-lined squares, tapas bars, markets, shopping, and entertainment.

To sum it up, we love it here.  Although I have to admit I never saw us as having a roommate at this point in our lives, it has all worked out beautifully.  We are also keeping busy here and starting to make lots of friends.  More updates on those things to come soon.

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