Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tasty Tuesday: Orio

Superwoman and I just got back from Barcelona, which has become one of my absolute favourite places in the world - it is so beautiful, so charming, so welcoming, so huge, so...so all kinds of good things!  Superwoman also mentioned that I was behaving as if I'd never been there before when in reality it was my third trip to the city - and it was true.

You see, my first time there, I was only 12 years old, on one of those super rushed tours where you see, like, 10 countries in two weeks.  The second time I was there I was 18, on a really quick class trip with the modern languages department of my high school, and that trip was a blur.

So this time, everything was really fresh and new to me, in a slightly familiar way, except this time I could communicate perfectly with the locals and I had my mum with me, which was awesome. :D

Superwoman and I have started a tradition of watching travel shows while we go on trips to get inspiration for what to see/do/try and then doing them right away.  It worked wonderfully when we were in Tokyo (we watched Helen To's Tokyo Walker, which was awesome!) so this time my mum brought TVB's Lost in Spain with us, hosted by Vincent Wong.

Apparently they filmed this show back in the summer, when I was already in Spain, and I so, so wish they had contacted me so I could have shown them around Madrid!!!

Anyway, most of the show so far has centered around Barcelona, which was perfect for us, and we kept a keen eye out for what we wanted to do.  One of the most attractive things we saw on the show was this Basque restaurant called Orio, in the Gothic District...

Monday, December 27, 2010

Best of 2010: Spain

So recently a very, very good friend asked me if coming to Spain was as amazing as I'd hoped.  She's one of the people in my life who gets all my firsthand observances first, one of the ones I totally don't censor myself with, one of the ones who just knows me really well.  And I've had my share of complaints about being here - my hellish first month, about my living environment, about feeling alienated sometimes, for example.

My conclusion is that it was...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Best of 2010: Teaching

From January to April of this year, I taught a Business French course to professionals at a real estate company in downtown Toronto, and teaching was one of the most wonderful, one of the happiest and most rewarding experiences I've had this year...

(click for more after the jump)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Best of 2010: Unconditional Support

Earlier this month when I was in the Netherlands visiting my girl B³, she asked me some really thought-provoking questions about the past year.  She's really introspective and reflexive, and she has a habit of going over her experiences in her head to see what she learned, to remind herself of things she should be grateful for, etc., and I find that it's a really good habit.

Thus, she inspired me to write a Best of 2010 series, which I will use to reflect on the happiest moments of this year, the best experiences I've had, things I'm thankful for, the coolest people I've met, and so on.

I have so much to be thankful for this year.  This year I experienced unconditional support.  Literally no questions asked, I'll help you right away, I trust you implicitly, I want to help you achieve whatever you set out to do, no I don't need more details or information or assurances - that kind of support.

I officially received my contract for coming to Spain back in back in end of February.  My job started at the last week of June, so I didn't have much time at all saving up enough money to come here, and at one point, I was working three jobs simultaneously to save enough money, because you need a certain amount in your bank account to apply for certain types of visas.

Although I knew that I'd manage to save just enough money right before to coming, I needed to apply for my visa well in advance.  So I needed to have that money in my bank account right away.

The person closest to me couldn't help me in this respect, so I asked someone who'd normally be my next of kin, who's always been listed as my next of kin, in case anything happened to Person #1.  But Person #2 gave me a hard time about it (after all, it's a lot of money), we went back and forth a lot, and they just kind of created a lot of hassle for this.  And the thing is, I've always HATED asking for things, especially money, so this was a really awful experience.  I wish I could forget those conversations.

So then luckily I smartened up and thought of the actual second person in the world who's always, always there for me, besides the aforementioned Person #1, regardless of anything  - my brother.  Actually, he's not biologically my brother.  He's the son of a family friend with whom I grew up.  His mother used to babysit me, so we saw each other every day for years and he's always been my big brother to me.  And he's one of two people in the world who always has time for me, who always has a second to help me sort out whatever mess I'm in or to give me sound advice.

Our relationship is pretty typically sibling-like, but money has never been implicated in it before.  We've never really talked much about money, and so I was a little nervous bringing the issue up to him - but I was desperate and I really, really needed help.

So there I was, in my living room one day, chatting with him over the Internet, giving him another unsolicited update on my life, when I finally gathered the guts to broach the subject with him.  I asked him if he trusted me, and he said he did.  I told him about my situation and I assured him that if he were to lend me the money, I'd give it back to him right away, after I got my visa.

And he just said yes, right after I asked, almost even before I could finish giving him the background story.  He just asked how much I needed, then he told me to drop by his place the next day to pick up the check.  "The money's just sitting in my savings account anyway," he said.  He didn't need any more explanations, any more information - he'd known that I  was working on getting myself to Spain and now that I needed help, he was perfectly happy to assist me.

Right away, I burst into tears because this conversation went so radically differently from the ones before that I had with Person #2.  And, after all, we're not even really biologically related - he's just my brother to me because I've decided that he is.  He was just supportive of me, he didn't need any details.  I asked, he agreed, end of story.

So he lent me the money.  I got my visa and, as promised, returned the money to him the instant my visa came through.  No hassle, no drama, no making me feel humiliated and awful, like the other person..

Without his help, I don't know how else I would have gotten the money in my account when I needed to, and I'm not sure I would have been able to get my visa in time.  Then I wouldn't have been able to have the incredible life experience that I'm enjoying right now. 

So, even though I always feel this way normally, I'm especially grateful for my brother and for his unconditional support. :)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Gifts for Girls

I've been seeing a lot of videos on YouTube about what to get the women in your life for Christmas.  It's entertaining to watch them, but I have to say that I disagree with a lot of the choices.  Thus, I was inspired to write my own list for what NOT to give a girl:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Holy Grail of Flirting?

What's your flirting style?  Do guys really have go-to lines?

I read this article today about "the Holy Grail of flirting" and the pillar of the art, of course, is giving compliments.  The article contains a summary of a study of what the most effective compliments are for women all over the world.  Apparently, Canadian and German sisters like to be complimented on their...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

My Dutch Getaway

What?  I have a blog???

So I do!

Sorry for being so slack, guys...

(more pictures and fun stuff after the jump!)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tasty Tuesday/Cupcake Chronicles: Happy Day

 (*Sorry this post is late - better late than never, right?  I thought I published this yesterday, but as it turns out, I only saved it. XP  Apparently I'm still recovering from the massive brain cell massacre I suffered in Sororityland.)

Oh, Happy Day!
(Oh, Happy Day...)
Oh, Happy Daaay!!!
(Oh Happy Day...)

As promised, I have lots to tell you about Spanish cupcakes!

Monday, November 22, 2010

F*ck You; I'm So Beautiful.

Hi friends!

As you can see, I've abandoned NaBloPoMo for a couple days.  After doing it for just over half a month, I've discovered that the mandatory daily format really isn't for me - when I have nothing to say, I really don't want to be writing just for the sake of writing.  It really brings down the quality of my posts - like when I start writing about tweezers, for cryin' out loud.

So I've decided to stick to a more realistic posting schedule - basically I will only post when I actually have something of substance to say, and I will try to post 3-4 times a week.  If you come here via Facebook, don't count on that to always alert you of my posts, because I don't always remember to post a note there!

I'm back today, because I have something important to say, in case you haven't already deduced from my title. :P

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Good Friend

We've known each other forever, pretty much.  Okay, we've known each other since we were four.  Well, I suppose that's not entirely true, either, because my mom actually enrolled me in kindergarten late so I technically started school in April (which was hard, since everyone already knew each other at that point - thanks, mom!) so I was technically already five.  But she was four, because her birthday's in June.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Meaning of Wife

One of my new roommates - who looks about 17 but is actually 26 - is apparently married.  I'd had conversations with her before where she brought up her "pareja" (partner) - which led me to wonder if she was a lesbian or if she was just trying to be cool and not get married.

But married she is.  To a dude.  And her hubs is in Fontainebleau studying for an MBA or something.

"But that's impossible!" I exclaimed to my mother the other day over Skype, "She's such a slob!  How can someone so messy be a wife?!"

"Why can't slobs be wives?"

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tasty Tuesday/Cupcake Chronicles: Big City Cupcakes

Okay, let's take a break from Spain for a second, because this post is way overdue. Remember my mission to find the best cupcake in Toronto? Well, it wasn't going so well, so I decided to broaden my scope a little bit last summer, when I was in Vancouver for a few days...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010


I get approached for advice every so often by people who are going to study or work abroad, and there's one main piece of advice that I always pass on no matter where the person is going, no matter why they're going there ...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

What I'll Miss About Madrid

As per tradition, I'm doing my nails on a Saturday morning early afternoon after waking up and munching on chocolate-topped butter cookies, while David Tao is making love to my ears.  I can listen to Just Friends (普通朋友) on repeat for hours on end while I do other things - paint my nails, knit, fold laundry, read... Youtube it if you've never heard it before.  You don't even need to understand the lyrics (it's about a guy's sadness that the girl he loves only wants to be "just friends" with him) - the melody is so beautiful.

As I step into the second half of my second last month here, I'm starting to feel a little sentimental.  It was the same situation last time, when I went to live in Nice - I have a love-hate relationship with living in Europe.  On the one hand...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Working in Europe

This sign needs some Spanish on it!
So this is what working in a European office is like.

A couple days ago the head of HR brought around a new colleague to sort of orient him and introduce him to everyone quickly.  She does that from time to time so we're used to it.

My department also happens to be the most gregarious one in the company, so we were trying to talk to him a little bit.  One of the opening questions was, "¿Qué idiomas hablas?" ("What languages do you speak?")

Thursday, November 11, 2010

El Día conmemorativo

It's so strange to be living somewhere where no one is wearing poppies.  In Canada, poppies grace many, many coat lapels and breastpockets right after Halloween.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Are you single?"

When I first started my Youtube channel, I made a video with tips for visa applicants.  I had just applied for my second European visa in preparation to come here (Spain), and I thought the information I learned might be useful for anyone going on exchange or thinking of working abroad. 

I had no idea what I was getting myself into!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hi, guys!

Tasty Tuesday has to take a break today because I'm very, very excited about something that I absolutely must tell you all about:

Sephora's new flagship on Gran Via is now open!!!  Before this, there were a few small Sephora stores here and there in Madrid, and there were some Sephora sections in El Corte Ingles (the only department store here).  But now there's a huge flagship on one of the most important streets here, and it is huge and beeeautiful.  It's almost as impressive as the Sephora on the Champs-Elysees.

There are massive flat screens on either side of the wall at the entrance, the store is absolutely MASSIVE, it's now decorated for Christmas, all the samples are still pristine, the gay salesmen in there are gorgeous...

It's a must-see.  Go check out it!!!


Monday, November 8, 2010

My Dream Home

I've been a little stuck with finding a topic today, so I'm accepting the help from NaBloPoMo and I'm using the writing prompt du jour, which is:

What would your dream home/apartment/condo/yurt look like? Where would it be? Who'd live in it with you?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Language Hubris

One of the things I love most about Spain is how welcoming people are, and, most notably, how there is no language hubris among them, unlike in France. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Chocolate Rhythm

When most people say that they are addicted to chocolate, other people just think that they just must really, really like to eat it.  It's goes further than that with me...I think I might really have a problem.  I'm surprised that I haven't written about it more here, actually.  I'd inject Nutella if I could, although I suppose that would defeat the purpose of tasting it. 

Just like at home, Commercial Land is kind of hyperactive here.  Several days after Todos los Santos (November 1st, which is a holiday here), stores start getting stocked with Christmas things.  Now that December is getting closer and closer, all the supermarkets here are getting filled to bursting with chocolate sweets, most notably an absolute ton of turrón, which is basically nougat, and all kinds of chocolates.

All kinds!  And it's all the good stuff from Europe that I love to eat at home, but it's cheaper because Spain is closer to Belgium and Switzerland and Germany and Italy than Canada is.  I just bought a 16-piece box of Ferrero Rocher for 3.90 €, which would retail at home between $6-8.  ¡Olé!

But that was when I started missing the Chocolate Rhythm at home.  Did you know that chocolate has a rhythm in Canada?  Because there is.  And it's a beautiful one, with its graceful ebbs and flows of brown, creamy deliciousness.

Friday, November 5, 2010

If I Won the Lottery...

My family's favourite game to play is the If I Won the Lottery Game.  Every so often, when we're all together, one of us will initiate it randomly and tell everyone what they'd do if they won the lottery.  One of my aunts has always said that if one day, she calls us and says to meet at the airport, we'll know what's going on.  And no one even has to bring anything but their passport - we'll all decide where to go once we meet up.  I love this game!

For as long as I could remember, I knew exactly what I would do, and I have my decision down pat...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Facebook Literacy & Etiquette

"Stace! Stace!!! He Facebooked me back," I enthused excitedly to one of my best friends about some boy I was fascinated with circa 2008.

"Really? I don't see anything on your wall - did he send you a private message?" Stace asked.

"Ugh, no, he replied to me in a comment to my post on his wall," I replied disappointedly.

"Ah, that's because he's from Europe. They're really Facebook-illiterate that way," Stace told me sympathetically.

And that made me wonder - how did Facebook etiquette get established?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Happy Birthday, Superwoman!

On dating:
"Feel free to go out with a different boy every day of the week - but save Sunday, because Sunday is for the Lord! [big smile]"  

-->This precious piece of knowledge was bestowed upon her by Sister Xavier, one of the nuns that ran the Life Experience class for the non-religious kids in her school, while the religious kids had Bible study. :P

More after the jump...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tasty Tuesday: El Brillante

Calamari sandwich with World Cup special edition Spain-coloured peanut M&Ms :D

Cholesterolly foods are delicious. Don't lie, because I won't believe you.

And one of my favourite forms of it is seafood - clams, mussels, crabs, shrimps, lobsters - especially calamari!

Seafood plays a big role in Spanish cuisine because they have a lot of access to the sea, being a peninsula. There are all kinds of seafood tapas, appetizers and main dishes here, and I LOVE them.

So when I was doing my research before coming to Spain, I read up on (affordable) must-try foods in Madrid, and one of them happened to be calamari sandwiches (bocadillos de calamares) from El Brillante.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Person --> Alien

Hi guys!

First of all, thank you, thank you, thank you to all of you who participated in my mini-giveaway - the winners have been contacted by e-mail and the postcards were sent out on Friday, as promised!  It was awesome hearing from you guys and seeing who reads my blog.  :D  Thank you all so much for the support - you mean the world to me!

Next thing I want to address is - it's November, which means it's NaBloPoMo!  

In my...2?+ years of keeping this blog (and another 2, 3 years before that using LiveJournal) I've never participated in NaBloPoMo before, so I'm really excited to try my hand at it this year.   That means I'm going to be posting every day this month, and so I really hope you guys will keep up with me and come back here every day to see what I've been up to. :)

So last night was Halloween!  

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tasty Tuesday: Casa Julio

a.k.a. I Eat Where U2 Eats
a.k.a. If It's Good Enough for Bono, It's Good Enough for Me

What happens when three girls are left with enough money to feed themselves for a week and are told to enjoy “a nice dinner”? They go out for drinks, of course!

Monday, October 25, 2010

November's Coming!

Hi guys!

As October slowly draws to an end, guess what I'm preparing for?  No, not Halloween - every time I come to live in a European country I'm told drily that Halloween, my favourite holiday, is "a stupid American thing."


Luckily, I had the opportunity to dress up this month anyway for a friend's farewell party.  She moved to Germany for love, to be with her long-term squeeze, since she was able to find a job in his city and is now ready to settle down, after five years. 

So to say goodbye to her, we had a Germany-themed party at a (sort of) German restaurant here in Madrid, and guess what I went as?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Madrid Mini-Giveaway!!!

*snap!* You don't  KNOOOW ME! 
(That's my favourite line from trashy reality shows as well as garbage talk shows.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tasty Tuesday: Mercado de San Miguel

This is a MUST GO in Madrid. Must! It’s the kind of place that I’ve been bringing all my visitors to, because it’s just that delightful. I’m talking about, of course, the Mercado de San Miguel.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Stinky McGermbody

The following is a work of fiction. Any similarities with real people is pure coincidence. And if you read this entire post you will probably think that I am very angry and/or a terribly mean-spirited person. You'd be right on both counts.

He is the annoying kid that repulsed and irritated everyone in the class - all grown up and pushing 30. A steady stench of dirty, wet towels and fish guts emanate from him...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Job Search Advice from A Gatekeeper

I receive a ton of résumés every day at work because I manage the general inquiries e-mail at my company, and you wouldn't believe the kind of tonterías I witness on a daily basis. And as you all know, contrary to only child stereotypes, I firmly believe that sharing is caring, so I thought I'd pass on some career advice to all of you, from the position of the first person you have to get past to even nudge a toe in the door of a coveted position.

Some of these may seem totally obvious, but from experience I can tell that they may not be, so here goes:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tasty Tuesday: Re-Vamped Amatriciana

*Author's note: So sorry this is late!  Was having trouble with the pic uploader yesterday, and a recipe post just isn't the same without pictures!

This and authentic carbonara are probably the biggest gifts my two Italian former-roommates have given me, living with them.

One night, after I came home from work, I saw that they were in the kitchen making something. I always want to know what people are eating - especially them, because I love Italian food. So I asked and the one cooking told me she was making arrabbiata, while the one assisting told me they were making amatriciana. They then engaged in a five minute debate in Italian, volume on full blast with arms waving and gestures flailing, to dispute what kind of sauce they were actually cooking...

Well, the assistant won, because after that she turned to me and told me decisively in her lovely, lilting English, "Thees eez pasta all'amatriciana."

I did a quick search on Google and saw why she won. Arrabbiata is spicy tomato sauce, and amatriciana is spicy tomato sauce with bacon, cheese and sometimes onions; sitting there on our counter were diced onions, matchstick jamón and their prized brick of Parmegiano-Reggiano, which they brought from home.

They offered me some, probably out of politeness, and I declined, also out of politeness. But they must have caught the enticed gleam in my eye because they insisted - "Please, Teena, have some of our food" - so I delightedly and gratefully accepted.

It was love at first bite, and I just had to learn how to make it. They gave me some general guidelines, then I tweaked it according to my Asian-North-American tastes, and the following dish was born. I kind of like it more than the original, actually, and I hope it works out well for you too! :D

Friday, October 8, 2010

My ass. It looks amazing.

And I never thought I'd ever say that because, actually, I have a bit of a complex about that part of my anatomy. I'm enormously insecure about it. Longtime readers might remember that I wrote a little jig about it a couple years ago, entitled "If I only had an ass"

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tasty Tuesday: Terra Mundi

I am that girl. I had a meltdown and threw a major hissy and just made a huge drama out of not having my needs met. But in my defense, it was a pretty basic need (in the developed world) - my internet wasn't working. My laptop just couldn't pick up the signal for my router, which is situated in my landlady/neighbour's apartment, while all of my roommates were blissfully connected.

I even cried (three times on the third day without connection). I was envisaging the rest of my stay here in Spain sans internet - how absolutely pathetic and sad I'd be - in between desperate gulps of air and sobs of "I don't expect to live in a mansion or any kind of luxurious setting! I just wanted my basic needs covered!!! But I had no hot water and no working toilet in France and now I have no internet in Spain! Why do things like this keep happening when I come live across the pond?!"

And so on.

So that was silly of me. But you're not here to judge me, are you? Of course you're not. Because it's Tuesday and that means I'm going to tell you about something yummy to eat!

Friday, October 1, 2010

I ♥ Fútbolistas

Sorry for disappearing yesterday, guys! I hope all three of you who actually read my blog weren't too traumatized. :P

Last night, my laptop was being a diva and just refused to receive the signal for our router, while all my other roommates were using the internet just fine. Let's hope it'll co-operate from now on, or else I might lose the will to live. I had no hot water in France and now in Spain I have a faulty internet connection, paired with a crappy computer. Yay.

But enough whining from me now - let's focus on happier thoughts. Like Christmas!

I've decided that for Christmas I want a harem full of fútbolistas.

Okay, okay, that's a little greedy...I guess I'll settle for just one. But which one?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tasty Tuesday: El Capricho Extremeño

This is what Spanish food is, guys - simple, unpretentious, (often) inexpensive and marvelously delicious.

My girl B³ and I were strolling around El Rastro fleamarket a few Sundays ago while she was visiting me, when suddenly, we walked into a street and noticed that everyone around us was holding little, white trays with food on it. I could vaguely see that they were slices of bread covered with all kinds of different toppings (called "tostas" here in Spain). Literally everyone up and down the street were eating these things, so we knew right away that we had to do the same because they must be good!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

IT Boys Are Universally Awkward

A Spanish man let a door slam in my face for the first time since I've been here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Happy Birthday, Stacey!!!

the most recent picture of us - us at home, springish 2010
I always joke that I should rename my blog "Dear Stacey" because then I wouldn't even have to make any effort to update - I write to my girl Stace all the time. And today it's her birthday! *points to the banner above*

We met in our second year of university when we were put into the same suite together in residence. I was really nervous because I lived in a traditional-style residence in first year, with the communal bathrooms and all that, so I had been hoping and hoping all summer long that I'd have nice suitemates, since we'd have to share a lot of living space.

Lo and behold, I met Stacey when I moved in and I was blessed for a lifetime!

You know a friend is one of a kind when you can stand to be in very close quarters with each other for an extended period of time. When I was on exchange in Nice, she was studying abroad in Paris, and we visited each other for nearly a week in each of the cities. Not only did we emerge from those trips still talking to each other, but we had the best time ever and we share a lot of great memories!

She's one of my favourite people in the world and I love her with all my heart and she's very far away from me right now (or perhaps it might be more accurate to say that I'm very far from her), so I miss her a ton. She's one of the most brilliant people I know and I'm super proud of her because she's rocking out in her first year of law school right now. She's such a good friend to me and she pretty much keeps me sane and she's just the best.

So I just wanted to say:


Don't stress about school - if anyone can own law school (or any other intellectual endeavour, for that matter), it's you, and I'm incredibly proud of you and you're doing just fine and you will not only survive but have a ton of success. Enjoy yourself! Enjoy law school! Enjoy the boys! I miss you like crazy and I can't wait to see you again when I come home!!!


P.S. Something about you makes me write a lot of run-on sentences - if that's not a sign of love I don't know what is. :P
Us at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2009!

Tasty Tuesday: Chocolatería San Ginés

It would be remiss of me to write about the culinary offerings of Madrid without mentioning the famous Chocolatería San Ginés...

Chocolate y churros are a popular breakfast and snack here in Spain. Churros are a kind of...thin pastry, I'd say, that's basically a crispy stick of fried dough that is slightly chewy in the middle (on the left side of the plate, pictured above). They are made to be dipped into hot chocolate (see picture below). They are pretty much nothing like the kind that can be found in Costcos all over North America because the real thing is just incomparable in its texture. :P

The Spanish version of hot chocolate is not for the faint of heart - it is super rich and extra thick, almost like a thin chocolate sauce. The idea is that it's supposed to be thick enough to cling to churros and create a nice coating for them once they're dipped.

Typically, people (well, mainly those who don't have to work) go to their local taberna to enjoy chocolate y churros in the morning while engaging in leisurely conversation and/or catching up on the latest gossip. Because many chocolaterías close very late or open very early in the day, chocolate y churros are also a very popular post-clubbing snack.

However, what's less well-known but just as popular with locals are porras. Porras are just thicker versions of churros (on the right side of the plate in the picture above). They're quite similar to Chinese fried breadsticks, 油炸鬼, except the Chinese variety is salty, more delicate, less doughy, with more holes in them - when made well, anyway.

And the most famous chocolatería in Madrid is the Chocolatería San Ginés, right in the heart of the city just west of the Puerta del Sol. It's been around since 1894 and this restaurant even has its own Wikipedia page! It's been featured in almost every Spain/Madrid travel guide and travel site I've seen, and I did my fair share of research before coming.

The humble entrance with its forest green door frame isn't very eye-catching, but the interior is quite ornate, with nostalgic décor, marble table-tops and a bar that winds around the side and part of the back of the restaurant. In the summertime, tables and chairs are set up outdoors all around the side of the building so that people can eat and people-watch at the same time.

Having said all this, I must say that I don't love their chocolate. (By the way, this will be one of the very rare times that I'll recommend something I don't absolutely adore.) Their churros are out of this world, but the chocolate has this...almost sort of spicy, nutmeggy taste that I'm not fond of. I like my chocolate pure and refined. Additionally, I prefer the churros over the porras because the porras are too dense and bread-like for me; they remind me of poorly-made 油炸鬼, and the fact that they're sweet throws me.

But since chocolate y churros are Spain must-trys and the Chocolatería San Ginés is the most famous place that serves them, I'd recommend that you give this place a try when you're in town...then perhaps compare the experience with that of a local taberna!

Chocolatería San Ginés
Pasadizo de San Ginés, 5
28013 Madrid

913 656 546

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tasty Tuesday: El Museo del Jamón

Jamón is my new religion. I've been eating it (as well as salchichón and lomo) like it's my job.

The Spanish take their ham very seriously. It's revered; it's almost sacred. And who can blame them? It's so, so delicious. You just can't miss it, because there are tons and tons of legs of ham, hanging from the ceilings of lots of restaurants, shops, bars, supermarkets, and other establishments here.

Where I live in Canada, only the lowest-grade Spanish ham (jamón serrano) is available near me, and it's super expensive - the equivalent of 1 € per slice. The last time I had some at home was from Michaelangelo's supermarket, $6 for five slices. Yikes!

Apart from going to the supermarket, the cheapest place to enjoy Spanish ham in Spain is at the popular tourist haunt, El Muséo del Jamón ("The Ham Museum").

I have to add that I'm a fan of Spanish tourist places. You see, in pretty much everywhere else in the world, tourist places are traps. They hawk poor-quality products for ridiculously inflated prices. However, I've noticed that here in Spain, shops and restaurants geared towards tourists are also frequented by locals, which means that the prices and quality are pretty decent.

El Muséo del Jamón is a chain of restaurants that can be found pretty much all over Spain. Here in Madrid they are absolutely everywhere. There's usually a standing bar and a sit-down area (where prices are higher!), where you can sample a huge variety of Spanish cured meats, sausages, sandwiches, as well as other typically Spanish foods (paella, calamari, garlic shrimp, etc.).

Jamón, of course, is a must-try. The good museum features three types: serrano (lowest grade, about 2,50 € per plate at the time of publication - pictured below), Salamanca (mid-grade, 4,20 €) and ibérico (the good stuff, which costs about 14,00 € a plate!). The difference is in the breed of pig and what they're fed - the best and most expensive kind of ham is jamón ibérico de bellota, which is a breed of black-hoofed pigs unique to Spain that are fed only acorn.

Other great things to try here include salchichón, which is a kind of cured, Spanish sausage. Don't mistake this for chorizo, which has paprika in it and is smoky and spicy - personally, I prefer salchichón, with the yummy peppercorns esconced inside. Lomo, cured meat made with pork tenderloin, is also worth trying. The queso de Manchego (Spanish cured cheese) is tasty as well, although it's a bit overpriced, in my opinion.

I'd stay away from the paella, because you should probably go to a specialty restaurant for that, and I also wouldn't have their platos combinados (platters with meat, potatoes and salad) because you could find cheaper and probably better versions at local restaurants.

In this economy, they've also released a value menu where certain sandwiches and drinks (pop, beer and water) only cost 1 €, so it's entirely possible to have a decent, filling meal for 2 €. Amazing.

So if you want to grab a quick bite to eat in Spain and experience a vital part of Spanish culinary culture at the same time, I'd suggest that you visit El Museo del Jamón.

Photos were taken at the following location:
Calle Mayor, 7
28013 Madrid

***P.S. I have a new posting schedule! I'll be posting on my blog on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and there will be new videos up on my Youtube channel every Wednesday - I hope you keep up with me! :D XOXOXO

Thursday, September 9, 2010

How Could I Be So Stupid???

a.k.a. I am so smart! S-M-R-T!
a.k.a. MASSIVE Culinary Fail

I've been noticing that ever since I moved into my new apartment, nothing I've been cooking has been working out; everything's been tasting very bland, even when I saturate it with as much salt as I dare.

I didn't realize it at first because, actually, I like mild flavours and I don't normally need to add salt to my food. And I think I kind of imagined that things were tasting a bit better after I added salt to them, even though they weren't.

But last night, after making some onion scrambled eggs (a family favourite) and not tasting a difference even after adding a generous sprinkle of salt, I started to wonder if there was something wrong with my salt. Maybe I bought a defective bottle. Maybe I bought "mild" salt, if there was such a thing...

So I poured some of my salt on my hand to taste it and noticed that, indeed, it wasn't salty. I took a closer look at the bottle and saw...

...the words "SODIO BICARBONATO."

Which ≠ sodium chloride (NaCl). I've been cooking with baking soda for the past month thinking that it's salt!!! HOW STUPID COULD I BE?!?!?!

My only excuse is that, apparently a few years later, I'm still recovering from the brain cells that died when I temporarily lost my mind and joined a sorority.

I guess I just saw "sodium" on the bottle and immediately thought 'salt!'

No wonder nothing's been tasting right. No wonder I've been feeling bloated after eating my own cooking. My goodness, I knew I was silly but I didn't think I was STUPID.

Oh, me. :P

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tasty Tuesday: La Mallorquina

What I'm about to say may seem blasphemous to some people, but I really wasn't that impressed by the bakeries when I was living in France. Maybe the bakeries in Nice are especially subpar, but apart from baguettes, a croissant and a ridiculously expensive cookie, I didn't love what Niçois bakeries had to offer. Most of them sold stale pizzas, bread and petit fours that were obviously not house-made.

When I went to Japan and came across their "French-style" bakeries, I thought they were generally way better than the real thing, but even so, I didn't love the chocolate croissants.

So imagine my surprise when I came across the BEST chocolate croissant I've ever tasted right here in Madrid!

You see, traditional pains au chocolat are made of buttery, flaky pastry wrapped around a paltry, skinny line of chocolate running down one side. Spanish napolitanas de chocolate are made of fluffy pastry filled to bursting with rich, smooth, creamy chocolate paste that spans the entire interior of the confection.

My very favourite napolitana de chocolate can be found at the legendary bakery La Mallorquina, which is located at the very heart of the city, right at (one of) the doorsteps of Sol metro station.

There are rows of pastries, cakes and cookies in glass cabinets to choose from, a standing café on the ground floor and a sit-down area on the second floor. But be forewarned that prices upstairs are higher than downstairs!

After some experimenting, I can say that their napolitana de chocolate is their very best product - even better than their cakes (see picture) - so feel free to cut to the chase and head straight for the napolitana de chocolate if you make a trip here. Don't even bother with the regular napolitana, which is filled with custard - the chocolate is a million times better!

I discovered La Mallorquina during my first days in Madrid, back in late June, and I became an instant, avid fan. I was absolutely devastated when they closed for August, like many businesses here do, and I actually had their re-opening date (August 31st) written in my agenda.

Fortunately, the napolitana de chocolate is as good as I remember. Unfortunately, it's smaller than it used to be and the price was raised from 1€ to 1.20€. It'st still totally worth it, though, and I will continue to frequent this establishment - just maybe a little less often than I used to, which is probably better for my waistline, anyway. :P

La Mallorquina
Calle Mayor, 2
28013 Madrid

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tasty Tuesday: El Tigre

"The FOOD, Tina!!! What about THE FOOD?!?!?!"

I've been receiving a lot of requests from people asking me to cover the yumminess going on here, and I must confess that I've been enjoying myself so much in that respect that I've been neglecting my blog; I almost always take care to take a camera with me, but my attitude of late has been Eat Now, Write Later.

So the good news is that you all don't have to worry because I have a ton of material to write about - so sorry for taking so long to do it, though!

Let me tell you about one of my absolute favourite joints here - the only other place I've been to more than twice besides La Mallorquina, my favourite bakery (which, yes, I'll get around to writing about and which has devastated me by taking a break for August, like many businesses here) - El Tigre.

El Tigre is something of a local legend, a place I've read all about before coming here, not in guidebooks but in forums and blogs - i.e. where Real People actually voice their opinions. This little establishment has legions of fans from all over the world, and deservedly so, because of two, simple words: FREE TAPAS.

Down in Andalucía, especially in Granada, free tapas with drinks are pretty standard, but in Madrid, they're not a given at every bar, which is what makes this place so awesome.

With every drink you purchase, you get a heaping plate of various tapas - I've had cured ham on bread, fried calamari, cured cheese, paella (not just rice but with bits of calamari in it), croquettes (which I don't love but many people do), smoked pork loin, patatas bravas (fried potatoes with hot sauce)... YUM!!!

I've found that smiling sweetly at the bartenders with pretty friends produces even better results (or getting pretty friends to order for you - Spaniards love blondes). My friends and I are often stuffed to the brim every time we walk out of there.

The drinks are generally pretty affordable, and considering you're basically getting a whole meal out of it, it's a great deal. Cañas (small glasses of beer) cost only 1 € and enormous cups of mojito or sangría cost 5 € (or 6 € during events, like Pride - see picture below).

At El Tigre, like many restaurants here, people can throw their garbage directly on the floor. That's why one of my co-workers told me that the messier the floor of an eatery, the better the place is. Using that as a benchmark, El Tigre is pretty wonderful.

Now, it's not The Best Quality Tapas You'll Ever Eat, but it's super affordable, which is why it attracts a lot of young people - that's a huge plus for me because I work instead of go to school here, so I'm not around people my age all the time, and most students are home for the summer right now.

On the same street there's another bar well-known for giving out huge plates of free food, called El Respiro, but unfortunately, it was closed for the summer by the time I discovered it. I'm definitely going to try them out in September though, andI'll let you know how that goes. Meanwhile, I'll still be going to El Tigre every time I'm craving tapas*! :D

And check back every Tuesday for Tasty Tuesday, where I'll be showing you all the gastronomic delights I've had the pleasure to sample!

*Editor's note: I wrote this article a week in advance and I've since changed my mind. I recently made a charming friend who suggested a couple places that I MUST visit, so I'm going to hit those up, compare and contrast, and then pledge my loyalty to the best place(s). And of course, I'll be carefully documenting every experience so that I can tell you all about it. ;P

Friday, July 30, 2010

Being A Bicultural Baby

Is it true that people can only have one child in China?

I think so, yes.

What happens if your family has more than one child?

I've heard that you have to pay a fine.

How much is the fine?

Er...I don't know. It can't be cheap, I'd imagine, if it's supposed to be effective.

So how much is that?

I really have no idea...I grew up in Canada, you know.

Oh...okay. But really, how much is the fine?

I've had many conversations like this, living in Europe, first as an exchange student and now as an intern. Being a bicultural kid is a big job, because not only do you have to represent the country you came from and grew up in when you're abroad, but you also have to represent your "original" culture.

Whenever people ask me where I'm from, "Canada" doesn't seem to be a satisfactory answer because I'm not Caucasian - but really, if they're going to assume anything, shouldn't they assume that all Canadians should look like Natives, who were here before any of us?

"No, REALLY, where are you from?" they press on. Many people have trouble wrapping their minds around the fact that Canadians (and Americans, as well as many Australians, for example) come in many colours.

I never know what to do or say when I get asked about Chinese government policies and foreign policies. I can go on about culture and food and even maybe a bit on history, but I'm totally clueless about how it's like to live there.

So now that I have Chinese-from-China classmates in my Spanish course, I decided to do some investigating and to find out the answers to those questions myself.

My classmate Gu told me today that apparently the tax for having a second child in China is a one-time lump sum equivalent to about 100,000€. A third sets a family back about 150,000€, and prices escalate for each subsequent child, so usually only very rich businesspeople have multiple children. If a civil servant has more than one child, their employment is automatically terminated. But being a civil servant is a sweet deal in China because you make a really good living, you have tons (as in TOOONS) of benefits and privileges the plebs don't...so people deal with it.

Someone else told me that the rule only applies to Han Chinese people who live in urban areas - so many people will hide their kids with relatives who live in rural regions. And then maybe emigrate.

Speaking of which, Chinese-from-China/Hong Kong/Macau/Taiwan people see us bicultural babies as totally different and separate entities from themselves as well, so I kind of feel like we're in a category of our own.

I have another classmate from China who was utterly fascinated to learn that I grew up in Canada.

"You speak English?" he asked me in his most American accent and I explained to him that, yes, because I grew up in Toronto.

He seemed absolutely delighted at the sound of me speaking my strongest language, told me he loved my accent, and from then on has since spoken to me in as much English as he could in order to get me to answer in kind. It seemed to rock his world that a Chinese person could speak another language more intuitively than they speak Chinese.

So they're kind of like a variation of Yellow Fever Creepers, except for some reason I find them less offensive...I wonder why?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

My Dose of Culture

Finding things to do on a Sunday in Spain (and in France, too, for that matter) is a bit of a challenge because the world pretty much shuts down on Sundays - except for really, really touristy places. Originally I'd wanted to have a picnic in the Retiro (Central Park if Madrid were Manhattan) but it's just too unbearably hot now - what's a girl to do?

Go the El Rastro outdoor fleamarket, of course! From about 9-10am to 3pm-ish, the La Latina area of Madrid is bustling with hundreds(?) of street vendors and shoppers. The fleamarket just goes on and on, and you can find almost everything there, except food - clothes, shoes, accessories, fans, knick-knacks, used books, even electronics and small appliances! I went a little late because I was too busy packing, but I was able to stroll around for a good 40 minutes, which was nice.

The sun was beating down on me mercilessly and I could feel the tops of my feet burning to a crisp, but a lot of the vendors had fabrics draped across their booths to provide some shade. I saw a lot of affordable, colourful, boho-chic clothes that I´d love to buy, but apparently, you need to know how to bargain or you´ll get ripped off. I can´t bargain to save my life because haggling just makes me super uncomfortable, so I didn´t end up buying anything.

Also, you have to be wary of pickpockets! El Rastro is one of their favourite hunting grounds, so I kept my purse tucked tightly under my arm at all times.

The Rastro kind of reminded me of the outdoor market I went to in Holland - the very large, touristy one that I can´t remember the name of now - except the one in Holland had a lot of food in, so I like it a bit better. :P The atmosphere was somehow lively but tranquil at the same time. Families were just out, walking around, enjoying each other and keeping an eye out for possible things to bring home. After strolling through the market, many of them ended up in the cafés and bars nearby for a tapas break.

After that, I did the only other available Sunday activity in Madrid - I went to the Prado museum for free. Entrance to the Prado and Reina Sofía museums are free after about 5pm on Sundays, so my friend Charlotte and I decided to go ahead and cross the cultural thing off our lists of things to do.

The line wound around one side of the huge building, but most of it was under shade, fortunately. And when the line finally started moving, it moved pretty quickly, so we didn´t have to wait very long at all.

And being inside the museum itself was heaven, because it was so cool. I kind of wanted to just forget about the art and curl up on one of the benches on the lower level. So the two of us (who are clueless about art) sauntered around with the little brochure in our hands and looked at all the masterpieces. ("Ooh, that´s pretty. Let´s go see that one." "Wow, there are so many paintings of Jesus and people dying in here." "Using breast milk to put out fire? What the what???") I saw Las Meninas, The Garden of Earthly Delights, both the clothed and naked Majas, and Satan Devouring His Child again.

After about two hours, itis hit us really bad because we´d just had a big Galician lunch, so we went outside and did what the locals did - we laid down on the grass under the shade of a tree and just relaxed.

When we felt refreshed (and when the worst of the day´s heat subsided), we walked over to Atocha station to admire the indoor palm garden and turtle pond. The garden was gorgeous, but it was very hot and humid in there, so we didn´t stay very long. The turtles, however, were adroable and there were many of them. It brought back memories of my second trip to Spain when I was 18 years old and travelling with my school!

And that, friends, is how you enjoy a Sunday in Madrid. ;)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I Have A Boo-Boo :(

During the first week of work, one of my co-workers, with whom I´d already engaged in a few sessions of juicy girltalk, took me on a tour of the office to introduce me to everyone. When I was upstairs in a department I can´t remember the name of anymore, she introduced me to an affable fellow with kind eyes:

"Cristina, this is J*****."

"Encantado, Cristi," J***** said as he leaned in to give me dos besos, "If you have trouble understanding me, it´s because I´m from Granada."

My co-worker jumped right in and told him I´d have no problems understanding him at all, because I had a...friend...who was from Andalucía, too.

"Well then, she knows how we speak!" J***** said good-naturedly.

Of course I´m familiar with that accent. J***** was dropping and swallowing letters in practically every word, just like I remember, albeit from a different voice.

Today, I was bringing a heavy stack of mailing from the third floor to the second, like I always do. The stairwell is very dimly lit, so while I waited for my foot to meet the landing of the second floor, I suddenly found myself falling on my left foot, leg and thigh, with a huge thud, while the envelopes all landed neatly in my lap.

J*****, who was on the landing above, quickly ran down to see if I was okay, supporting my elbow even though I was already up and walking steadily again, hovering over the right side of me, asking if I was alright, asking if I needed help with the envelopes, asking if I was hurt, and on and on and on in that southern accent of his.

I tried as graciously as I could to decline his help because I just couldn´t handle hearing a male voice with that accent fawning over me, trying to rescue me. It hurt too much, and I´m pissed off that it still hurts so much later.

Monday, July 19, 2010

My First Real Meal in Spain

Hi, guys!

A lot of you have been after me to update you on my situation - thank you SO much for all the love and concern! :) Sorry about being so slack - I work pretty long hours (for an intern) and I'm tempted pretty much every day to explore the city after work, so I don't get home until late, at which time I just feel too lazy to write.

But I'm back. And I'm doing great! I´ve found myself a new apartment that´s within budget, within walking distance of my office, right by a gorgeous supermarket, cleaned weekly, and literally steps away from the nearest subway entrance.

My landlady was livid, because apparently, I'm the second or third girl to be driven out by my current roommates and here I am, giving my notice just after a week. But because my landlady was so kind to let me stay 8 nights for free in June, I decided to try to be a good person and do her the courtesy of staying for July. It's not easy, but it's only two weeks until freedom! I only get half my deposit back but I'm just cutting my losses.

But enough of that - can we talk about how well I'm eating instead? Because Spanish food is just phenomenally delicious, and the best part is that it's actually affordable, even to people on budgets as tight as mine - unlike when I was living in Nice, when all I could afford were croissants and McDonalds!

So my very first morning here, I decided that I needed to treat myself to ease the trauma of the previous night. I went to the heart of the city in a fairly touristy area and just walked around, looking for menú del días.

A menú del día is a set menu that restaurants provide - they're required by law to do so - that contains usually about two courses and a drink/bread/dessert at a reasonable price. In Madrid, you can find these set menus at prices as low as 6.75 €, but the ones I've had were about 10 € or just under.

I came across this restaurant called Lizarran, which was on my list of restaurants to try in Madrid. It had a 9.90 € menú del día and one of the choices for the first course was pinchos (which took the form of a slice of bread with yummy stuff on top of it at this restaurant), so I decided to go for it!

I was kind of nervous about speaking Spanish, but I steeled myself and walked up to the gentleman behind the bar. He was a very kind, dapper, diminutive man who spoke English beautifully (he could tell I´m a foreigner) - well, except he kept "ma'aming" me, but then again, it'd be unreasonable to demand that someone understand all the nuances of a language I've been speaking much longer!

I went to have lunch at a very unSpanish 1pm, so I was absolutely doted on by the server. I chose the 4 assorted pinchos for my first course and the baked cod (bacalao) for my second choice.

The server told me to go up to the bar to help myself, where there were trays and trays of picture-perfect pinchos sitting in a long, glass case waiting for me. I promptly chose the ones that had a bunch of cured meats and smoked fish beautifully arranged on them and brought them back to my table with relish. Meanwhile, the server already brought my Fanta (my vice in Spain!), thin, crusty bread and olive oil/balsamic vinegar.

To be honest, I didn´t really know what was in my pinchos but they looked so beautiful I decided to just eat first and think later. They were DELICIOUS! The bread was soft and crusty, the toppings were super savoury - it was a massive flavour party in my mouth. I think there was morcilla (blood sausage) on one of my pinchos, and it´s quite delicious if you manage to not think of the fact that you´re eating blood.

After a while, my baked cod came. There were all these eraser-crumb-like squiggles on top of them, which were also on one of my pinchos, and I had no idea what they were. They tasted kind of like Chinese fish balls to me - there was definitely some kind of fish in it. So I asked my server what it was and he looked worried, like he thought I´d freak out.

He carefully told me, "They're baby eels..." But of course, I wasn't fazed, because I'm Chinese and we eat pretty much everything. The only things I won't eat are rabbit (I was born in the year of the rabbit so it feels like cannibalism to me), lamb (can't stand the flavour), genitals (which they serve here in Spain as well as in Chinese cuisine!) and baluts (EWWW and so cruel!!!).

After my meal I was so full I couldn´t even spare any room for dessert or coffee, which apparently was included; I wasn´t sure if the server was being nice to me by giving me all these things, because unless I understood the menu wrong, I was supposed to choose between bread, dessert and coffee, not get all three.

For 9.90 € it was a great deal AND it was absolutely scrumptious. The service was lovely and there were lots of locals eating there despite the fact that it was in a touristy part of town, so I felt like I had a really nice little slice of Spanish culture that day.

I´d highly recommend this restaurant - I went to the location at:
Calle de Preciados, 33
28013 Madrid, España
917 010 812

¡Que les aproveche!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Proud in Madrid!

Everytime I hear the Vengaboys' Boom Boom, I'm going to think of dancing my legs off at Madrid Orgullo 2010 in Plaza de España!

Orgullo (Pride) isn't just a weekend here in Madrid, but a week and a half of nightly events and parties that culiminate in a multi-multi-MULTI-block party and concert with guests from all over the world.

I arrived in Madrid amidst all the festivities but didn't begin to attend until the second last night, unfortunately, because I was still settling down. But what I did get to participate in was incredible!

Last Friday night, I happened to be in Chueca, Madrid's trendy gay district, at about 9pm. There was a Lady Gaga talent show type of event, and the Plaza Chueca (the square in which the Chueca Metro Station is nestled) was full of people. The atmosphere was positively exuberant and boisterous, and there were people from all walks of life there - gay, straight, bi, pan, every age and race you can think of - all having a good time together.

When the talent show ended, the DJ started spinning the best music ever and all of a sudden, the entire square began to dance. People had one hand on a giant sangria/mojito and another on a cigarette (only downer), and strangers were just all busting moves, singing along to the lyrics to each other, and dancing like there'd be no tomorrow. I didn't want to leave!

Then the next day, I met up with some co-workers to go see the famous parade. I was hoping all week that the weather reports were wrong, that there wouldn't be a storm, and very fortunately, the heavens rained themselves out on Friday so that we had gorgeous (albeit sweltering hot) weather on Saturday.

At first our spots weren't very good so we couldn't see much, but then we managed to insinuate ourselves closer and closer to the parade until we got fairly good views. I'd never been squished against so many muscles before. :P

There were bears, leatherboys, queens wearing shoes I’d kill myself in, fairies, angels, demons, gladiators, Renaissance ladies, construction workers, naughty nuns - even Avatars!

The parade was very political - there were a lot of signs with political messages (mostly about anti-religion, pro-protection, pro-equality) being waved around. And for a country that is so Catholic, well, this kind of event was really progressive. I realized that I was watching a revolution before my very eyes, something that many people had been fighting for for a very a long time, towards goals that will take a while to achieve - but things are indeed moving along, bit by bit.

The parade consisted of people from various GLBT rights groups and organizations. Many of them had their own double-decker bus, all decked out in gay magic and beautiful people. Condoms were thrown out to the audience in addition to promotional leaflets and fan-shaped papers to help people beat the heat. There were also a lot of people walking around trying to sell souvenirs and cold drinks at a fraction of the cost of the nearby stands.

The music was pumping, and so were many pelvises, and people would dance to the music that buses were playing as they drove by.

After a while, when the parade began to slow down, my hungry/thirsty friends and I decided to go to Chueca to grab a bite and to see what else was going on. On our way there, one of the girls suggested going to El Tigre, a very popular watering hole famous for their free tapas. It was on my list of places to try, so I was very excited!

And indeed, the food was amazing – will write about that in more detail later. 6 € each later, we were all stuffed and very satisfied. It was also at El Tigre that I overheard two boys speaking English, deciding on what to order. I asked them where they were from, and just like that, we found new party buddies to hang out with for the rest of the night.

We all talked and ate, and we decided to go back to the parade, which was headed for the Plaza de España, where the Kylie Minogue concert was to be. We navigated the crazy crowds with our new friends, and all of a sudden, somehow, we found ourselves in the middle of the parade! We danced all the way down the Gran Via behind a bus with two naked ladies on it. No doubt the onlookers must have been wondering who the hell we were, these normally-dressed people between the buses.

The parade itself was a great vantage point to see the festivities and to see the city in all its glory – I was utterly charmed when, at one point, my Madrileña friend gestured at the enormous crowds everywhere and said, “Welcome to Spain!”

All this was happening at the same time as the big Spain vs. Paraguay FIFA World Cup quarter finals match; when Spain scored a goal and eventually won the match, the whole city went crazy!!! People jumped around, hugged each other, screamed, blew out their vuvuzelas...and drank and danced some more!

Finally, we got shooed out by the police, and we found ourselves back in the audience. There were beautifully tempting smells of roast meat in the air, because there were street vendors selling roast meat sandwiches! I was very tempted to get one, but didn’t have room after our tapa feast.

After a very, very long pee-break, we headed towards the stage and got as close as we could. It was so packed I had to tilt my head back and go on tiptoe for fresh air – and even that was hit-or-miss, because there were a ton of smokers.

We waited a good 40 minutes before Kylie showed up (lots of artists opened for her, including the Vengaboys), and the crowd went crazy! I kept looking around to see that there were people as far as they eye could see, in every direction. Tokyo’s like that on regular days, but the streets in Madrid are about four to five times wider.

Right before the last metro was to take off, my co-worker/friend and I dodged some sketchy boys and left. I'd never seen anything like it before, and the whole thing was just enormous, amazing, unforgettable, crazy, hyper... I had the experience of a lifetime!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Spanish Family

A smart-looking couple and their three sons on the subway, on their way to a family outing. The boys, visibly spread out in age, were dressed similarly, in powder blue polos and crisp, khaki shorts.

The youngest was sandwiched between the eldest and the middle. There was a constant struggle between them - the youngest wanted freedom, finding his brothers' embraces too restricting, but the other two each kept an arm draped around him. They also kept pressing kisses to the top of his head, but he evidently did not want to be kissed, because he howled furiously every time he was subjected to such indignity.

The mother only replied to every five cries of ¡Mamá, Mamá! - wise of her, since the "Are we there yet?" bug is apparently universal. Nonetheless, she obligingly counted the number of stops left at every station.

At long last (at least to the boys), they finally reached their destination. The family gets off the subway, amidst the youngest's impassioned screeches at his brothers that HE CAN WALK BY HIMSELF!!! HE DOESN'T NEED TO HAVE HIS HAND HELD!!!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Going Got Rough & The Expat Manifesto

I arrived safe and sound in Madrid - yaaay!

That's the good news. The bad news is I had one hell of a first night.

You see, the whole process of getting this internship was a huge struggle - every step of it, including finding the internship, getting a contract, getting my contract signed by all the people who need to sign it, getting my visa, etc. The only part that wasn't a massive and trying struggle was finding a place to live - I should have taken that as a sign.

I taught a French course in Toronto earlier this year, and when it ended, I wrote an e-mail thanking my boss for the opportunity, telling her it was a wonderful experience (I had the best students ever!) and when she asked, I told her that my Next Big Thing was to go to Madrid for an internship.

"Why do I keep losing all my best teachers to Madrid?!" she exclaimed. Apparently last year, another girl she hired also went to Madrid to do an internship after teaching a course at her company. So my boss very kindly introduced us over e-mail to each other so that there'd be someone who could answer any questions I had.

My sort of co-worker (SOCW) and I discovered that I was to arrive in the city a few days after she leaves, so she offered me the room she lived in to save me the stress of finding a place to live. It was within my budget and reasonably close to where I'm going to work, so I happily and gratefully accepted - last time I went apartment-hunting in Europe was a total nightmare, so I was very glad to be spared from that process this time.

SOCW had told me that she'd notified everyone of my arrival - the roommates, the landlady (who lives next door) and the doorman, who has a copy of the keys, so all I'll have to do is show up at the apartment when I arrive and I'll be let in.

The day I arrived, SOCW's former co-worker, who's still interning here in Madrid, offered to pick me up, so I waited at the airport for her to get off work to come get me. She took me to my new digs, but no one was home. The doorman told us that the landlady asked him not to let me in because she wanted to show me in herself (or something like that), so I had to wait for her to come home. He informed us that she normally gets home at about 7pm, and as it was 6:30pm at that time, I told SOCW's former co-worker not to wait with me, that I could manage.

So I waited. And waited and waited.

It was two hours before anyone showed up. At that point I was starving, because the last time I ate was seven hours ago, and even then, it was just an airplane muffin. I was also exhausted because I just went through 11 hours of transatlantic travel, during which I didn't manage to sleep much or well. The person who showed up, however, was not the landlady, but my roommate U. My other roommate V was out of town.

Roommate U promptly told me that the room is not mine, that I can't live there because the landlady never consented to have me rent the room. She told me that I'll have to get a hotel room and find a place to live on my own. She also asked patronizingly if it was my first time away from home, how I could possibly trust people so easily, how I could possibly expect to get to live somewhere without having met the landlord before. Well, I lived in Nice, France for a year and arranged a whole rental agreement with an out-of-country landlady, so I know it's possible - and I also doubt that my roommate's ever lived outside of Spain before.

"But I just arrived from Canada! I waited on your doorstep for two hours! I was told that everything was ready and everyone knew I was coming! I don't know anyone here; where am I going to stay tonight?" I practically wailed in my limited Spanish.

Roommate U was pretty unsympathetic. She told me that apparently, they (both roomies and the landlady) had a ton of problems with SOCW, so they didn't want me living there because they think I'll be like her since we're friends.

"But we've never even met before! We were introduced over e-mail less than two months ago!"

Roommate U didn't care. She did, however, generously agree to let me put my luggage in the apartment while I went to a phone booth to make some calls and arrangements.

When I walked to the apartment, I remembered walking past a grocery store owned by Chinese immigrants, so on my way to make a call, I walked in, explained my situation and asked them if they knew of any cheap hotels, if worse comes to worst. They advised me to go to a district where apparently there were a lot of cheap room rentals from Chinese landlords, and a single room is only 15 euro a night.

I then managed to make a call home and I called my mother, distraught, and told her what happened. My poor mom had been worried enough - she must have been super distressed because she couldn't do anything for me. But she's a tough cookie and she told me to toughen up as well. She told me not to go to those hotels because any establishment that cheap could be disgusting and/or dangerous. Rather, she told me to go back to the apartment, plead with the landlady to let me stay, if not the full time I'm in Madrid then at least just for the night, so that I can be in a safe environment before concentrating on looking for a place the next day.

I was half prepared to have to take all my stuff and sleep on the doorstep of the Canadian embassy to wait for them to open the next morning. My God, I was so scared.

So then after some more walking around to calm myself down, I made my way back to the apartment. The landlady turned out to be a kindly oldish lady, and she made the decision to let me stay after speaking with me. Apparently, according to her daughter, they asked SOCW to give me their number so I could call them so that they could decide whether to let me live there. I was only told that everything was ready so I could just go.

She let me stay, but not after many, many, MANY interjections from Roommate U about how terrible SOCW was. As they showed me around the apartment, Roommate U had a ton to say, and every sentence out of her mouth was "This is the (room). Don't ____________ like SOCW because she did that and we hated it."

She also laid down all the ground rules. If I'm spending more than half an hour in the washroom (like SOCW used to do all the time), that's too long. I'm not to have men over because she lives here too and she'd feel unsafe. If I were to bring female friends here, keep it short and make sure we don't make too much noise (like SOCW did). The house should be as close to silent as possible because they sometimes have to wake up at 5:30am to work. If I listen to music, it should be super, super soft - or I should use earphones (which SOCW didn't have the decency to do). I should always do my dishes, dry them and reshelf them immediately after eating (SOCW always left them on the counter to dry apparently, which I don't see a problem with). When I come home I shouldn't make any noise (like SOCW did) because they often work from home....and so on, and so forth.

I felt so unwelcome. I was being warned against all these transgressions that I'd never committed. But I held out hope that perhaps Roommate V would be nicer.

This morning she returned from her trip and I met her. She's Asian but she obviously grew up here, and she was really standoffish.

"Nice to meet you, but I'm working right now so I'll talk to you maybe on the weekend or something."

When I came home, all the negative feelings from my roommates were roiling in my stomach, so I took a quick shower and pretty much barricaded myself in my room. The previous night, hot water ran out on me, and I lived in an apartment with no hot water when I was in France and I'm not eager to renew the experience. So when I showered, I did what I used to do in France: I turned off the water when I was lathering up, I used water that was just lukewarm, and I made the shower super short - 8 minutes. The water still seemed to run out on me, but I was done by the time it did.

Two hours after I arrived home, I heard that one of them came home and had a shower. I meant to stay in my room all night, but I had to go to the bathroom at one point and I came out. When I did, Roommate V summoned me and asked rather abruptly if I used the hot water. Sensing there must be a problem, I lied and said no. Well, she said, there's no more of it.

What am I supposed to do?! I feel like I've done all I could to ensure there's enough hot water for all of us - I took a super short shower, used almost cold water, and my shower was VERY quick. What's with all these European apartments I keep living in that don't have enough hot water for three people?! How do people survive in the deep of winter???

So I feel pretty unwelcome in my own apartment now. I'm constantly on edge because I feel like I'll inadvertently do something to piss them off and they'll give me a really hard time about it. I'm too terrified to use my own kitchen for fear that I won't match their expectations of cleanliness (even though I saw some gross, unidentified shit on the kitchen counter when I first got here).

But despite all this, at least I have a place to live, instead of having to camp out on the embassy's steps.

I'm also trying to take everything in stride because I read Ben Curtis' Expat Manifesto - don't complain, have an inordinate amount of patience and soak it all in because you CHOSE to be here, to be outside your comfort zone. So let's hope the home situation gets a little easier! And if it doesn't, well, it's not forever!