Gracias, por favor.

It has been almost 2 months since my crazy Spanish adventure ended and I’m not quite sure yet how I feel about the whole thing. A part of me keeps wondering if it ever happened at all. Back home in sunny South Africa (Cape Town to be more specific) I’m busy sending out my CV to loads of exciting job prospects (naturally full of boast about my international internship scholarship … ooh, fancy!) and the eclectic, ever-buzzing city of Barcelona seems a distant yet definite buzz in the background. Actually – it feels like I’ve awoken from one of the deepest, most amazing afternoon naps, having dreamt of a faraway place that is both magical and challenging. On occasion I find myself responding to someone in Spanish, or ordering a café con leche (coffee with milk), or even greeting someone in Portuguese… Then I just chuckle like a madman and make as if it’s the most normal thing on earth.

Amsterdam

In my four month journey in Europe I was lucky enough to visit four countries: Portugal, Spain, Andorra (yes, it’s a country…) and Holland. And that was the most amazing aspect of the Adelante scholarship: the fact that I could visit four countries in one go. I would literally hop from graffiti-filled crinkle-cut streets in Lisbon to a buzzing ants nest in Barcelona to a cheesy, snowy and very Dutch Amsterdam.

Apart from that, I now have a very extensive photographic and writing portfolio due to www.partyearth.com. I have literally seen the inside of almost every social hot spot in Barcelona – from quaint little coffee shops to crazy drag bars to sports loving beer gardens. Yep, I’ve seen it all…

Sara – I am ever grateful for your kindness and patience with me over the three months I interned at PartyEarth. You have pushed me, challenged me and ultimately helped me become a better writer, and, more importantly helped me face some of my fears. Thanks to you I have experienced some of my best nights in Barcelona and met some of the craziest, coolest people. Thank you.

Kimberly, Ellie and Alicia from Adelante – a thousand and more thank you’s for choosing my application for the Adelante internship scholarship. I don’t think you will ever realize the extent of how much this opportunity meant to me. Thanks to you I was able to see the world and go on a much needed journey of self-exploration. Thank you for your constant support and advice during the internship and especially your keen interest in my progress.

And lastly, thank you to my friends abroad for making my trip the epic adventure it was. Kerry Murray and Luis Piteira for their hospitality and general tourguidedness. Not to mention some of the MOST DELICIOUS meals I gorged on. And Luis, thanks for taking a punch in my honour – I will never forget that (ps. Don’t tell Kerry I brought it up… tsk tsk…). Fabio – for showing me the best night in Lisbon, for taking the time to make sure I get on the right bus to the airport and letting me wear your bicycle chain as a necklace to the club. And a whole lot of other things. Mayumi – my traveling buddy and shoulder to cry on when the longing for home got too much. I will drink lots of cervesa in your honour and cannot wait for the day you visit me in South Africa. Remember when things get tough: Que sela sela! Andrew and Charlie – thanks for the dangerous amounts of gin (otherwise known as Mother’s Ruin) you’ve poured down my throat, as well as all the card games, crazy dinners and dance moves you’ve shared with me. Thanks to you I saw a very different side to Barcelona! Gorka – even though we sometimes struggled to communicate, you always included me into your plans and made sure that I was OK. Thanks for showing me the most beautiful square in Barcelona: Placa de Sant Felip Neri. Carlos – for helping me with my Spanish and for walking with me through the big city and showing me things I would never have seen on my own. I’m sorry I didn’t get to see you before Amsterdam… You will have to come and visit me. Sarah – you crazy, crazy girl. That night out in Amsterdam will go down in (my) history as one of the best nights ever. I have no idea how you managed to go to work the next day… Big-ups. I can’t wait for the next time.

And lastly, thank you to everyone, all my friends and family and strangers who have shown me their support in voting for, and endlessly promoting my campaign to be awarded the scholarship. There are 2000 people out there who voted for me and that are the reason why I got to have this crazy, inspiring and life-changing experience. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

More Amsterdam pictures:

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Three Kings parade in Barcelona.

This amazing mechanical horse was part of the 3 Kings Parade in Barcelona. Better known as the Cabalgata de los Reyes by the locals, this day (6th of January) is celebrated by a big parade through the streets of Barcelona. The Mayor welcomes the arrival of the 3 Kings at the harbour, where they start their journey to the magic fountains of Montjuic, throwing sweets to big-eyes kiddies and overzealous grown-ups (read: myself and my Japanese friend).

Here are some more videos of the parade – let me know what you think!

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Christmas in Barcelona

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Every year for Christmas my whole family gets together for one big celebration. The day usually kicks off at 11 in the morning when everyone arrives with enough food to liquidate Weight Watchers. One or two of my aunties are probably already tipsy at this point due to a champagne breakfast or an incurable thirst (usually both). Things can only get better – and it does as about 45 of us swarm about making sure there’s enough ice, chip and dip and mince pies to go around whilst a team of avid ladies prep the kitchen for what looks like The Last Supper. Eventually lunch is ready at 3:30, but before we can gorge our starving selves into another life-expectancy bracket we have the pleasure of Santa Clause’s company (for the little kids, you see). The least tipsy person gets nominated to portray his or her version of the white-bearded, fat bellied Santa and instead of milk and cookies he gets mince pies and a stiff drink to wash it all down. After the gift giving formalities are done we all weave our way to the three or four tables buckling under approximately 438 kilograms of food. An afternoon nap settles whatever we ingested, followed by my favourite game called “Port, Anyone?”, a little tradition which involves consuming no less than 7 or 8 bottles of the sweet nectar. And that’s when the real fun starts – tongues get loose as we start telling stories, jokes and anecdotes at each other’s expense. And every year my aunt insists on re-telling us about the time when she was standing next to the rugby field and accidentally peed her pants and how she leopard-crawled to the bathroom and dried it with toilet paper only to find out later that day that half the toilet paper was still stuck on her backside…

Before we know it it is 11pm and a full 12 hours of feasting has gone by. And that is how I usually spend my Christmas. But this year was a different story. Being a broke student again for the second time in my life my friend Mayumi and I decided to keep things low-key. We packed a picnic and spent the day at Park Guell (Gaudi’s Park) where we found a quiet spot hidden from the tourists and soaked up the sun. Later that day we strolled lazily through the park and encountered a string of musicians. Check the videos for two in particular that stood out from the rest.

We ended off our day drinking sundowner beers at the beach and telling each other how we normally spend Christmas in our respective countries. I would have felt a pang of nostalgia had it not been for the beautiful setting that surrounded me. Sure, this was a completely different Christmas for me, but I kept thinking – you’ll always have Barcelona, kid.

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Spain is different.

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If I had a Euro for every time someone told me “Spain ees deeferent” I’d be a having a whole deeferent adventure in Spain, that’s for sure. I think it’s their unofficial slogan. That and “thees ees Spain, baby – why don’ you speak Spaneesh?”. It’s then when I go into the very apologetic “vale, vale – lo siento, hablo un poco espanol” (translated to “ok ok I’m sorry, I only speak a little bit of Spanish”) and then for good measure I throw in a “quanto questa, por favour?” (meaning “how much is this, please?”). Either way I’m slightly screwed for not being fluent in Spanish nor their traditional customs – no matter how many Spanish beers I’ve drunk, croquettas I’ve consumed or Flamenco shows I’ve been to I will never be Spanish. And that’s not at all a bad thing I can assure you. On a side note: never speak (broken) Spanish to the owner of a Catalan Nationalist stall… It won’t end well. I know. I’ve tried.

Every country has their idiosyncrasies; their little annoyances and “things” that make them different from other nations. Delicacies unique to South Africa include dried Mopani worms and a dish called “Walkie Talkies”, a stew of chicken heads and feet, the feet being the walkies and the heads being the talkies.

But what exactly makes Spain so deeferent? And more specifically, what makes Barcelona so different? Sometimes it feels like I am in the middle of a great big circus tent, surrounded by marvelous freaks and exotic animals performing all sorts of magic tricks. If Las Ramblas had a red carpet it would serve as the perfect entrance to the grand spectacle. With its millions of flashing lights, stalls selling everything from charcoal soap to Catalan trinkets to glow in the dark strap-on’s. It hosts people from all backgrounds, nationalities and sexual orientations coming together for a wild celebration. Beer in the left hand and a brazen hussy in the other, licking an array of things from overpriced ice cream to bruised egos. If a random clown in the streets of El Raval doesn’t do it for you then a homeless guy in Barri Gotic chilling with his dog and his duck might. Fairies covered in fairy lights, parakeets coexisting with pigeons, a pianist on the metro, you name it – Spain’s got it.

It makes no excuses for what it wants and when it wants it (sometimes even to others’ demise). But I think one of the main things that sets Spain (read: Barcelona) aside from everything I’m used to is that it is fierce and so, so unafraid. Unafraid to be bold, unafraid to be brave, and most of all unafraid to be deeferent.

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Touched by Tapas

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Tapas must be the Spanish equivalent of a South African ‘braai’ (or barbeque for those not familiar with the term). Even if you only spend a few hours in Barcelona you are bound to at some point stuff some tapas down your throat… A vast array of little tasty buffet treats; gourmet sarmies, pastries, pies – basically the type of snacks you will find at a cocktail party, but much much tastier.

All Adelante candidates in Barcelona (even scholarship winners) spend their first two weeks at Kingsbrook Language school before kicking off their 3 month internship. Apart from cramming as much Spanish into your brain in that short time, the school also endeavours to expose their students to as much of Barcelona’s culture as possible, organising as many outings as possible. What is REALLY awesome about this policy is that even if, like myself, you aren’t a student at Kingsbrook anymore you get to partake in the outings (or actividads as they call it). This is how I ended up at a Tapas bar with some old and new Kingsbrook faces.

We each paid €5.50 for a drink of our choice (coffee, wine, beer, water or a cold drink) and a selection of 5 tapas (a difficult task for someone who wants to try everything in front of him). But I restrained myself, said hello to my manners and duly chose 5 respective tapas: 4 gourmet sarmies stuffed with various meats and cheeses and one open toastie covered in a spinach slush that was far tastier than it looked. Other favourites among some of the other students were salmon and cheese, tuna and red pepper and pilchards (small fish) with the little heads still on (eeeeuuuuwww!)

After that the new students set off to see a Flamenco show Mayumi and I had already seen. So instead we opted to take ourselves for a little tour through the narrow little streets that flow out from the famous Las Ramblas. We got horribly lost and came across the craziest Italian ice cream shop where the owners stuffed flavours like blue cheese and pistachio, black forest and chilli and liquorice and bacon down our throats. We smiled politely and opted for the caramel crunch and set sail all content and licking furiously at the yummiest ice cream we’d ever had.

We managed to get ourselves un-lost by asking and receiving directions in broken Spanish (but we actually understood what they said and vice versa!) and met up with the reborn Flamenco enthusiasts. Further down the road we stumbled upon the last few songs of an open air concert in a square I can’t pronounce the name of. The dancing bug had bitten and we eagerly followed the yellow brick road that lead us to a CRAZY place called Cabaret Berlin; a circus full of the most exotic dancing creatures known to man. We danced through the night with madmen, wizards and eunuchs and at about 7am in the morning we started feeling peckish (ravenous more like). Then someone piped up with a little grin and said: hey I know of a nice little tapas place nearby… The rest, as they say, is history.

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For the love of Jazz

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For a second there it felt like a dodgy deal in the back alley of downtown New York or something, but then I jolted back to reality and realised I was in Barcelona, standing in front of a guy called Roberto (who looked like he could kill me with a single thought). A soft, low hum of jazz filtered from the stage, followed by a cloud of smoke, past the overcrowded bar, through the noisy entrance hall and onto the pavement where I was standing at the front of the VIP line talking in code, trying to explain who I was and what my business at Harlem was. If anyone could give Steven Seagull a run for his money in the ‘blank expression’ department it would be Roberto. Either he was deaf or that killer thought was well on its way… Luckily something registered when I mentioned that I’m from Party Earth and Roberto allowed me in with a conspiratorial nod.

It felt a little unreal – not having to pay to get into a place, especially one that was host to one of the biggest festivals in Barcelona. Not that I got any free drinks or anything, but still, I felt kind of posh. It was something I could casually drop into conversation when I needed to seem cool and important. “Oh, what did I do last night? Well I took some pictures at Harlem Jazz Club last night. I got in for free… And I was on the VIP list you know. In other words I didn’t need to pay. As in: free entry and free drinks and I could chill with the musos back stage and stuff (obviously I’m tweaking the truth a little but I won’t tell if you won’t…)

Needless to say this was no Elton John concert. We got down to some serious old school jazz with a saxophone and a guy on a bass guitar that could melt hearts through metal doors. I parked myself next to a middle aged couple on some sort of romantic trip down memory lane and gave in to the syncopated rhythm that kind of serves as a metaphor for my time in Barcelona. I remember thinking to myself: this is cool, I could get used to this…

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I heart Andorra.

When my new Japanese friend Mayumi asked me if I wanted to join her and another Japanese girl, Mika, on a hiking adventure in Andorra I had no idea where it was, so of course I said yes. It was only a day before we set sail that I learnt that Andorra is a tiny little country literally squashed in between France and Spain, clogging the Pyrenees mountain range (that serves as a natural border between the two countries).

It took us two hours by bus (one that left at 6am in the morning!) to literally go from humid sunny Barcelona to cold and frosty Andorra. We caught the lull-season between the sunny hiking time and the winter skiing frenzy, so luckily for us the place wasn’t be too crowded.

Well, that’s what we thought… See, Andorra is a place where you don’t pay any taxes. On anything. Which means that everything you see in the shops are way cheaper than in Barcelona. And on top of that they were having sales. Huge sales, everywhere! Needless to say the shops were filled with people shopping their guts out. But we were there for an adventure, not shopping! So Mika, Mayumi and myself threw our backpacks over our shoulders and commenced a little town called Conillo.

They have the most amazing tourist information office and the people behind the desk fell over their feet and over each other to help us get the best trekking course. With smiles in our hearts and vacuum packed toasted sarmies in our backpacks we set-off on our adventure: a 3 to 4 hour hike up a major hill to the biggest lake in Andorra where we will find a refugee camp site. We were told that not many people use it during the winter, which is why the toilets and showers will be closed, as well as all the rooms, but we are welcome to camp in the main room. At least it won’t be outside. Only then did it dawn on us that temperatures dropped to between 0 and -3 in the mornings and that we were somewhat under-equipped, except for the bottle of Port which ended up being our saving grace for the evening.

Needless to say we survived the night (only just) and with stiff, achy legs made our way down to Conillo. When we got there we quenched our thirsts with ice cold beers and grunted in agreement to skip the next trekking course and book ourselves into a comfortable hotel for the evening. The soft pillows and warm duvets adorned our sore muscles and at five minutes past eight we were all passed out.

The next day we got our fill of duty-free shopping (I’m boasting a brand new pair of Camper shoes…) and then made our way to the bus station. All good things must come to an end and it was with sad faces that we said goodbye to one of the most beautiful countries all of us had seen: as Kansas was to Dorothy, so will Canillo be to the three us… A home away from home.

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Just a quackie… Err, *quickie.

A homeless guy in Barri Gotic (Barcelona) chilling with his dog and his duck.

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Everything is in SPANISH?!

The following entry is a ‘reblog’ from my blog on http://www.goabroad.net called Gullible’s Travels. Feel free to share it with as many people as you like!!

I have no idea what I expected when I first embarked on this journey, but for some (obscure) reason it slipped my mind that everything in Spain will be SPANISH. I am in day three of my language course and the Adelante staff weren’t joking when they said it would be intense. None of my teachers speak any English, so it’s a case of sink or swim. And boy am I swimming! Before I came to Barcelona I could order beer and wine in Spanish, now I can order something to eat as well… And a whole bunch of other stuff. It is amazing how much I’ve absorbed in the last three days. Throwing me in in the deep end really forced me to embrace the language and the culture.

I’ve also had to figure out other things I’ve never been exposed to before. Johannesburg, South Africa – where I am from – only recently got an underground train (subway as it is called here) and it only goes from point A to B. In Spain the subway resembles a spider’s web spun by a drunk bee! Also, today I ended up at a place called Paige de Gracia (or something like that), thinking that it’s the same as Gracia (Where I needed to be). But no, it’s two completely different places and couldn’t be further apart. So I got back on the Trojan horse and managed to find my way to Gracia. I felt so proud of my achievement, if I had a flag I’d have planted it at the station.

Having very little knowledge of computers or how the damn things work should disadvantage enough, but being connected to a Spanish wifi port (is that what it’s called?) means that your internet is Spanish too. So is your phone when you buy a Spanish sim card, as well as the bus tickets, the super market posters – everything is in SPANISH. If leave with anything after my 3 month adventure in Spain it will be with the skill of speaking Spanish like a pro.

Adios, amigos. Hasta luego.

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Where exactly is “there”?

The following entry is a ‘reblog’ from my blog on http://www.goabroad.net called Gullible’s Travels. Feel free to share it with as many people as you like!!

Perhaps this blog entry is more for my own geographical education than yours, but I decided that it might be worthwhile showing you exactly where in the world I am. If you look through the pictures you will see a world map that clearly marks Spain (which is the country I am currently in.

The next picture marks the city – Barcelona, which is pretty close to France and Andorra (where some of my new friends and I went camping and hiking last weekend… But more about that later) In fact – when I was on top of the mountain in Andorra I could see the tip of the Eiffel tower!!

And on the last map you will see exactly where in the city my apartment block is. It’s extremely close to Antoni Gaudi’s famous La Sagrada Familia. So close that I have seen it about a dozen times and still every time I see it it moves me so I get all tingly and mesmerized by his genius. I’ve also marked the well-known party street La Rambla, which is home to a gazillion bars and pubs and clubs and restaurants and basically anything and everything you can think of. It’s the craziest, busiest street I have ever seen and the first time I went there I was completely overwhelmed.

I live with Enrique and Luisa in a four bedroom apartment. Enrique is another Adelante intern from the United States and Luisa is our somewhat eccentric but extremely sweet and caring host mother. She often invites us to have lunch and supper with her and then we have the most interesting conversations because she only speaks Spanish and I only speak English.

The apartment is huge with big airy rooms and large windows, letting in heaps and heaps of sunlight. We’re on the fifth floor (which actually means the sixth because they started counting at zero – I know this because I took the stairs one day and couldn’t get into the apartment… After struggling for what felt like hours a disgruntled old man opened the door and pointed out my error).

Kitchen.

My bedroom.

Living Room.

Entrance hall.

The bathroom.

All around me are shops and supermarkets that stay open till about 9 or 10 pm in the evening. Propped in between the supermarkets is an array of hair salons, pastry shops and bars – lots and lots of bars. The closest Metro station to me is the Sant Pau/ Dos de Maig station and takes about 10 to 15 minutes to get to by foot. The subway system is SO easy and can literally take you anywhere you want to go in Barcelona, so there is no excuse for not seeing as much of the city as possible.

Hasta luego, amigos!

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