An ode to Spain

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Hey Spain, come have a seat. I made some coffee for you, just how you like it –con leche.
This might be kind of awkward, I mean, we haven’t seen each other in a while, but I have to tell you something.
I’m still in love with you.
I remember when we first met in 2005. Things were different then..for the both of us.
You had me at hello, er, I mean “hola“.
You didn’t take too long to convince me to fall for you. In fact, you didn’t utter a word. We moved in silence together.
Your long, hot days and windy nights fill me with wanderlust.
I miss the savory oranges from the market on a Sunday morning, and your succulent tapas on a weeknight.
You gave me art. Masterpieces that I didn’t even know existed, painted by an eccentric man with unforgettable flair.
You gave me futbol – nights full of passion and rollercoasters of emotions.
I miss your men.
Your women too.
Overflowing with colour and life.
Don’t look at me like that! You know I had to go.
We were temporary lovers that fell into one another’s arms, living our moments to the last drop, just before letting go.
We went through so much together. From first loves to break-ups, exams and shitty apartments. Even in my lowest moments you managed to embrace me in your goodness.
I hope to find myself in the middle of Plaza España again, waiting for you and your endless surprises.
I’d never known love before I met you, and I haven’t felt it since.
Don’t leave just yet! I’ll get you another cup.
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The 12 Adventures of Christmas

12) On the 12th adventure of Christmas, my true love gave to me – a delicious carbonara in the heart of Bologna, Italy.

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11) On the 11th adventure of Christmas my true love gave to me – an evening walk through the twinkling streets of Mantova, Italy.

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10) On the 10th adventure of Christmas, my true love gave to me – handmade gnocchi from a bustling Christmas market.

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9) On the 9th adventure of Christmas, my true love gave to me – crowds of Christmas shoppers in Madrid’s main square.

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8) On the 8th adventure of Christmas my true love gave to me, a sunset above the clouds.

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7) On the 7th adventure of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a Spanish dessert on an empty stomach.

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6) On the 6th adventure of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a late night conversation in an open cafe.

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5) On the 6th adventure of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a fuzzy kind of feeling.

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4) On the 4th adventure of Christmas, my true love gave to me – improv decorations.

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3) On the 3rd adventure of Christmas, my true love gave to me – a mouth-watering lunch in Valladolid, Spain.

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2) On the 2nd adventure of Christmas, my true love gave to me – flying Christmas presents.

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1) On the first adventure of Christmas my true love gave to me, an accidentally heart-shaped walnut.

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Working in Spain or Italy: Legally vs Illegally

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If you’ve decided to teach English and live la vita bella or la vida loca in Spain or Italy, you have to be ready for the onslaught of paperwork that will head your way (especially if you’re North American).
If you are planning on staying in either of these countries for more than three months, and you are not a European citizen, you must apply for a work or student visa in your country of origin.

Before I renewed my European passport, I was forced to go through this process which involved buying private health insurance, and printing out my bank statements in order to prove I had enough money to survive in case all hell broke loose.

The people you will deal with at the embassy or consulate in your country of origin will definitely be very mean to you. I’m pretty sure when they hire people, they ask them to sell their souls. I don’t know what it is about consulate workers, but they aren’t happy balls of sunshine.

-TIP: Photocopy- Make several copies of documentation. If the office misplaces something, you can immediately fax or send whatever may be missing ASAP.

When you receive your visa and head to your destination, you must go to the police station in order to receive a card either called permesso di soggiorno, or certificado de registro (see picture above).

-TIP: If you don’t speak the language, bring someone with you who does. The police officers probably don’t speak English, and the receptionists aren’t much better, so if you have someone next to you who can fully explain what’s going on, you’ll save yourself a headache.

Working illegally: Many Americans and Canadians choose to travel and stay in Spain or Italy without a visa. After the three months are up, they continue working and living at their destination. This is 100% possible and fairly easy to do. You arrive, you stay, and no one checks. It may save you the initial headache by avoiding paperwork and visa costs, but you run into several problems:

– You don’t have a real work contract. You have no rights as an employee, because you aren’t “really there”. They can “forget” to pay you, and you can’t do anything about it. Moreover, you don’t have access to free healthcare, which is automatic if the contract is real, and you pay taxes.

-You can’t travel. Sure, weekend trips to neighbouring countries might not be a problem, but if you go to the U.K, or have an officer look through your passport during a domestic flight, you’re screwed. (I forgot my residence card at home, and had a lot of explaining to do at the London airport customs office)

-Deportation. In the unlikely event you get caught at an airport without a visa and an expired passport stamp (you have an entrance stamp over three months old), you can get a huge fine, face deportation, and be prohibited from entering the E.U for “x” amount of years.

I’ve met people who work both illegally and legally in Spain or Italy. In the end, I highly recommend you follow legal procedures and do things the right way. A bit of stress at the beginning will save you a lot of worry in the long run. If you have any questions about travel/preparation, don’t hesitate to contact me!

Why my iPhone is the only camera I need.

When I started traveling, I couldn’t afford a good camera. I still can’t. I felt like I was wasting so many opportunities to take the perfect shot. Yet, as I go through my photo albums, I realize that I did just fine after all. Maybe a good picture doesn’t always depend on award winning quality, or the right angle – but the memories behind the camera. Each of these photographs (although highly amateur) resonate with me. They take me back to those moments. The smell of strong coffee engulfing the narrow Italian streets, the sound of firecrackers after a football match, the sight of a church on the Spanish seaside. You don’t always have to go looking for beauty in order to find it. Sometimes it just creeps up on you, as you’re lost in the moment.

For complete posts from these cities, check out my photography section.

1. Mallorca, Spain

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2. Athens, Greece

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3. Leon, Spain

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4. Peñafiel, Spain

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5. Heidelburg, Germany

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6. The Vatican Museum, Vatican City

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7. Oporto, Portugal

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8. Bologna, Italy

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9. Granada, Spain

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10. Cremona, Italy

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11. Sevilla, Spain

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12. Valladolid, Spain

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13. London, England

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14. Cala Pi, Mallorca, Spain

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15. Sitges, Spain

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16. Ontario, Canada

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17. Rome, Italy

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18. Barcelona, Spain

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5 Things That Happen When You Date Someone From Another Country

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So you’ve met the love of your life! Or maybe, the love of the moment? Regardless of the situation, if they are from a different country or a background completely diverse from your own, you’re setting yourself up for a series of events that can be insanely enjoyable and full of unrestrained suffering at the exact same time!

1. I have no idea what she just said.
So it’s time to meet the parents of your significant other. The problem is, you don’t share a common language, not yet anyway. There are going to be a lot of smiles, and even more nodding. You are going to feel like a toddler at the dinner table because questions will not be asked to you, but about you.

You won’t be able to form an instant relationship with his or her loved ones. There will be a moment where you feel a bit inadequate in comparison to their ex – because you can’t even say “hey, thanks for this great food!” without a ridiculous thumbs-up gesture. When you’re out with their friends, the conversation gets even more complicated, so you just sit there, smiling. Everyone thinks you’re a psychopath because that’s all you do. You become extra grateful for the one friend that speaks English. Eventually, it gets better, believe me.

2. Jetlag is my middle name
Travel is automatically included when you’re dating someone from a different country. If the two of you aren’t living in the same country, and doing the long distance thing – you better like spending what is leftover of your paycheck on planes, buses, or trains. If you eventually find yourself in the same place as your significant other, there will always be family visits from one homeland to another. If you like traveling, this will be a pleasant surprise. (I think you almost HAVE to love traveling in order for this kind of relationship to work).

3. Pass the pasta, please.
If you love eating as much as I do, you’ll be thankful for the world of new cuisine presented before your eyes.There’s no better way to get to know people than to see how they eat. Meal times are often reflections of a specific culture, and eating with loved ones may be the most important part of the day. What people eat, how, and what time, say a lot about the specific country at hand. Unfortunately, I’m Canadian, so I can’t offer much in exchange to my Italian counterpart (other than poutine, but I’ll pretend that doesn’t exist).

4. Are you yelling at me with your hands?
When it comes to arguments, people fight differently. You might mean one thing, and your significant other hears something else. Words and actions may be misunderstood due to cultural norms. Not many Canadians can express “you’re acting like an idiot and I can’t believe you would say that to me, are you crazy?!?!” with 3 hand gestures. I find this part more interesting than infuriating. Regularly, I come across a response to a situation that would be considered weird, offensive, or surprising in Canada, yet here, its completely normal. It’s fun to discover the ins and outs of a relationship based on the cultural differences that each person brings to the table.

5. The Future
Eventually, this topic will come up. It’s the elephant in the room. If you and your s.o are from different countries or continents, one of you will have to make the move in order for it to continue. This is probably the most difficult part of any long distance relationship, let alone, a relationship where you’ve got a body of water called the Atlantic Ocean between the two of you. Whether it’s job security or personal preference, making the decision change your home for another person is a big deal, and can bring both positive and negative issues into the relationship. I’m a believer in the concept of always being able to find a way, as long as both individuals are on the same boat.

I would love to hear about other experiences similar to mine, please comment or message me and tell me your story!

5 Strange Spanish Expressions

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Spanish is one of the most beautiful languages in existence. If you speak Spanish, you can agree that not only is it the language of love, it is the language of creative cursing and expression. If you want to sound more like a local on your next trip to Spain, try incorporating the following expressions into your conversation (the English equivalent is listed below).

These idiomatic expressions are in Castilian Spanish, meaning from Spain. They may or may not make sense in Latin American countries.

1) Tomar el pelo.

Literally: “Take someone’s hair.”
English equivalent: To make fun of, poke fun at, or pull someone’s leg.
Example: “Mis hermanos siempre me toman el pelo.”
Translation: “My brothers always take my hair.”

2) Poner los cuernos.

Literally: “Put the horns on.”
English equivalent: To cheat on, to be unfaithful.
Example: “El ex novio de mi hermana le puso los cuernos.”
Translation: “My sister’s ex put the horns on her.”

3) Tener mucha cara.

Literally: “Have a lot of face.”
English equivalent: To have nerve.
Example: “Hace falta tener mucha cara para hacer lo que hizo el ayer noche durante la fiesta!”
Translation: “You need a lot of face to be able to do what he did last night at the party!”

4) Ponerse las pilas.

Literally: “To put your batteries in.”
English equivalent: To get yourself together, get a move on, get your sh*t together. This expression was believed to be originally used in Colombia. The idea of having a “low battery,” and therefore being unable to complete a task, is used in various languages.
Example: Ponte las pilas! Vas a suspender el examen!
Translation: “Put your batteries in! You’re going to fail the exam!”

5) Tener mala leche.

Literally: “To have bad milk.”
English equivalent: To be mean, unkind, bitchy. The origin of this expression dates back to medieval times, where noble women often gave their newborns to women of lower classes so that they could be breastfed. Women of the upper classes didn’t want to be bothered with this task. The “host mothers” were usually of Jewish or Moorish origin and therefore thought to “have bad milk” that would be passed on to the child. The expression was generally used as an insult.
Example: La profesora de ingles tiene muy mala leche.
Translation: “The English teacher has really bad milk.”

The Tapas Phenomenon

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It’s 9pm in Spain, what does that mean? Dinner time of course! You’re off with your friends to go bar hopping (no, not for shots). You will try a series of “tapas” at various different bars, each having their own speciality. What is a tapa? It is best defined as an appetizer sized dish that varies from seafood to meat – mini sandwiches to a bite-sized dinner. You can wash it down with a caña (a small beer) or some wine. Almost every city in Spain offers a “ruta de tapas” meaning, a tapas route – a scavenger hunt for delicacies. Each bar usually has a speciality (some may have even won awards for their tapas).

Whats the best part about a taste-testing night on the town? Socializing. There is no better way to end a long day at work than having a meal with some friends. The Spanish have a word for this that doesn’t exist in English – sobremesa.

“Sobremesa”refers to the time period after eating where you stay out with your friends having great conversations. The joy of staying at the table once your food has been cleared to have a chat and catch up on what you’ve missed in one another’s lives.

Sometimes I feel like the Spanish solved a mystery that North Americans haven’t. We often get caught up in work, school, kids etc, and forget how important it is to unwind, have some regular downtime with your friends, meaning real human interaction. No texts, no phone calls, just a really good meal, and a little too much wine (but thats not always a bad thing, is it?).


Recommended Tapas Bars:

Los Zagales, Valladolid, Spain

Las Tres Bellotas, Valladolid, Spain

Txirimiri, Madrid, Spain

Bar La Eslava, Sevilla, Spain

Bar Dos de Mayo, Sevilla, Spain

Please comment or add your favourite bars to the list, I’m heading off to Spain for a visit again soon, and need some new suggestions!

5 foods you must try in Spain

Ok so before we start, it’s important to clarify that in terms of cuisine and fine cooking, I am about as inexperienced as they come. My cooking skills are to limited toast, and maybe cereal. However, I love to eat! Whenever I find myself in a new country, it’s the first thing I want to do! So here are some of my favorites in Spain, bearing in mind that I haven’t travelled to Galicia yet, which is in the north of Spain, and famous for its fantastic seafood. Here are my winners so far:

1) Jamón Ibérico de Bellota – In English, this is called “acorn Iberian ham” and it’s the higher quality of cured ham that you can order. It’s usually served with small breadsticks, on a platter with different cheeses, or with some bread. A tapa (appetizer sized) will cost an average of €5-10 euros. If you wanted to buy a larger portion you would pay around 20-30€, the entire pork leg would be a pricey souvenir ranging from 150-300€ depending on quality. You can find it in restaurants around the country, and it’s not specific to a certain region.  The pigs are raised eating only fine grains and acorns, and it’s how it gets it’s name.

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2) Patatas Alioli – Potatoes with Alioli – These may look like regular fried potatoes with some dressing on them, but you have to realize that alioli is the Holy Grail. It is used on seafood, like calamari and sepia (see below) or with potatoes. When you try alioli for the first time, it will change your life. If it were socially acceptable, I would eat alioli on top of more alioli. So what is this fantastic gift to humanity? It’s a sauce made if garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and egg yolks. It has many variations with other ingredients. They sell a version of it in supermarkets, but if you can get it freshly made at a restaurant you will definitely enjoy it.  Oh and you will have nasty garlic breath afterward that goes away only after you brush your teeth six times in a row, but it’s totally worth it.

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3) Carrillada – Pig’s Cheeks- The carrillada ibérica is usually served with potatoes in its own tender juicy sauce. The meat is very soft as it is slow cooked on very low heat for several hours. A traditional dish from Sevilla, and the best usually comes from acorn fed pigs. Try it at Bodeguita Romero, a restaurant found in the heart of Sevilla, in the south of Spain.image

4) Sepia – I didn’t even know the name for this in English until I googled it, and it’s cuttlefish. It’s usually fried, served in small marinated pieces with alioli on the side (yay!). In the south of Spain, it can also be served breaded before it’s fried. My favorite restaurant was Las Tres Bellotas, in Valladolid, Spain. I’m not a huge fan of seafood, but I thought this was great.

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5) Lechazo – This is the meat of an unweaned lamb and is a famous dish from the region of Castilla y León. Unlike the other “tapas” above, which are served in smaller portions, this is a full course meal, served with potatoes, salads, and wine. The price range is about 30-50€, but once again, definitely worth it. It’s roasted in a wooden stove, and the meat is soft and juicy (I know the baby lamb thing is sad, just don’t think about it). This is a dish served on special occasions, especially Christmas.

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