This post is my entry in Fly Thomas Cook’s Valentine’s competition. All travel ideas and declarations of love are my own!
I love dreaming up new getaways, and living in Barcelona means nearly all parts of the EU are accessible. In the last four months, I’ve been to Cadaques, Figueres, Sitges and Tossa de Mar in Spain, and I’ve hopped flights to Istanbul and Paris.
Weather-wise, Barcelona has been acting like a petulant teen lately: warm some days, cold (and windy) others, and fairly unpredictable. It’s got me longing for beach days, sundresses and fruity cocktails. And it’s got me plotting an island excursion.
I’ve always dreamed about visiting Tenerife in the Canary Islands. For one thing, there are miles and miles of coastline and beautiful beaches.
For another, there’s Canarian cuisine like pollo al salmorejo (chicken marinated in garlic, pepper, cumin, paprika and white wine) and papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes).
And there’s Loro Parque, where you can see the world’s biggest collection of parrots.
Above all, it’s home to Pico del Teide, Spain’s tallest peak, an ideal place to hike above the clouds and stargaze. When I saw this timelapse video of Teide by ISO Photography, I was completely sold on Tenerife – and even a little teary-eyed. The beauty is other worldly.
Fly Thomas Cook is running a Valentine’s-themed travel blogging contest, and I want them to make my beach-combing, cocktail-imbibing, parrot-visiting, star-gazing dreams come true and send me to Tenerife!
I’ve got a travel blogger/friend crush on Liz from Young Adventuress, and she’d be the perfect hypothetical companion for a Valentine’s weekend in Tenerife.
She also knows how to attract some questionable male attention, so I’m sure we’d be able to get ourselves in trouble and pick up local company for a sexy Valentine’s double date. Sunbathing and skinny dipping, anyone? What happens in Tenerife stays in Tenerife … Actually, that’s not entirely true because I’m sure we’d both blog about it!
Where would you go if you won a trip to the Canary Islands? What’s your dream destination?
By now you probably know that I talk a lot about food. A good meal is pretty much my love language, and I count eating well right up there with living well. Of course, when I travel, I want to discover local, authentic restaurants and try the dishes of the region.
I’ve lived in Barcelona for four months, and I’ve eaten my fair share of delicious food: tortilla de patatas, pimientos de Padrón, chorizo, patatas bravas and various seafood dishes.
Regrettably, I can’t eat out every meal, and I want to recreate healthier versions of these dishes for myself. I also want to cook up the kinds of foods I miss from the states that I can’t find in abundance here (burritos, fish tacos, huge salads, anything spicy).
Markets (like the Boqueria on Las Ramblas and the Mercat de l’Abaceria in Grácia) and fruterías are the best places for fresh fruits and veggies in Barcelona, but if you want to do all of your shopping in one place – or if you’re looking for international foods – you might prefer to shop in supermarkets.
Here are my picks for the best grocery stores in Barcelona, based on price & inventory …
- Consum: I think this is my favorite everyday grocery store. The prices are great, the selection is good, and it seems they restock with new items regularly.
- Sorli Discau: The selection is a bit more limited here, but prices are still good.
- Dia: For some reason, I’m not a huge fan of Dia, but it’s reliable if you need to stop in for something kind of normal (packaged foods, etc).
- Mercadona: There are lots of Mercadonas around the city, and the big ones have a good inventory of international brands, too.
- Lidl: Lidl and Mercadona are pretty equal in my eyes.
A bit more expensive, but also a little higher in quality
- Bon Preu: I especially like the bakery section of Bon Preu.
- Caprabou: Options are a bit limited in some cases, but they carry a good selection of things like yogurt (lots of Greek flavors), wine and pre-made meals.
For American products and other specialty items
- Carrefour (at Glories shopping center) and Carrefour Express (La Rambla, 113): The Carrefour in Glories reminds me a bit of a Costco. Lots of items in bulk, including a large bath/beauty section.
- A Taste of Home (c/ Floridablanca, 78): A good spot for British foods like crisps, chocolate and flapjacks (which aren’t pancakes, as we think of them in the USA, but are more like dense, sticky oat bars)
- Taste of America (c/ Balmes, 322): This little shop is wildly expensive, but it’s the only place I could find canned pumpkin when I wanted to make a pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. It also has Duncan Hines cake mix, Nerds candy, Goldfish crackers & more.
- Corte Ingles (Plaza Catalunya): I don’t go to Corte Ingles because I don’t like fighting the crowds, and it’s pretty expensive, but if you’re looking for international brands and nearby, it’s worth a visit.
For organic/vegetarian/vegan items
- Veritas: A good range of healthy stuff like muesli, wheat bread and almond milk, but the prices reflect it.
- Deli Shop: These small shops carry good beer, pre-made meals and curry sauces.
- Various Bio shops (RecambBIO, etc): Most of these are local, not chain shops, and they sell quinoa, specialty oats, a wide variety of tea, etc.
For Asian/Indian sauces, noodles & snacks
- Nearly all of the Basar/Xines shops, but especially Barcelona Store Exotic Thai (c/ Compte D’Urgell, 24)
Where I won’t shop
- Open Cor: It’s open 24 hours, but it’s crazy expensive.
Love peanut butter as much as I do? This section’s for you …
I’ve been on a comparision-shopping hunt for the best/cheapest peanut butter in town since I arrived. I’m a complete PB snob and prefer the natural kind (two ingredients only: peanuts and salt), and I’ve had a hell of a time finding it here. Actually, I still haven’t found it, but more on that in a second.
The other kind of peanut butter – with sugar and hydrogenated oils – is relatively easy to find. Carrefour carries the Spanish brand, Capitán Mani, at the best price: 3.80€ for a 510g jar. Caprabou also carries it for around the same price. Carrefour carries the same brand for 4.10€, and the Deli Shop carries an American brand (Jiff? Skippy? I don’t remember) for 5.85€ (yikes). Taste of America carries an American brand too, for around the same price.
I’ve been eating this sickly-sweet PB for the last few months (because any peanut butter is better than no peanut butter!), and I about cried tears of joy when a friend from home sent me a Costco-sized jar of the natural stuff from home.
I am dying to find natural peanut butter in Barcelona. And recently, I got a few promising leads! (I am not being dramatic here. Finding PB is BIG STUFF.):
- A local friend said that the Suncoast brand (or Sun-something) is available here, and they make a natural option. I tracked the brand down, but only found a tiny jar that had hydrogenated oils in it. PB fail.
- I went to brunch with a friend at Juicy Jones, and they served crackers with natural peanut butter. Holy shit! I asked the waitress where they bought it, and she said she didn’t know because it was her first day, but you better believe I’ll return to Juicy Jones to ask again.
- Another local told me that some of the Bio shops have grinders, and you can buy a package of nuts and ask them to grind them for you. If this is true, I will be in heaven. Fresh peanut butter, almond butter and … cashew butter too?!? PINCH ME.
Clearly, my nut butter search is not over. I shall report back. :)
Today’s word: michelín
Say the word a few times, and perhaps it’ll conjure images of this guy:
And you’re well on your way to understanding this word’s meaning already.
Michelín means roll of fat or spare tire, and it’s used like, “Tengo un michelín por todo el pan que he comido!” (I have a spare tire because of all the bread I’ve eaten!)
I like to think it’s a little bit impossible not to acquire un michelín after living in Barcelona for four months and indulging in bread, wine, potatoes and lots and lots of olive oil.
Have you heard this word in other Spanish-speaking countries? Is it used in other ways?
I meant to write about my trip to Istanbul a long time ago. Life has been busy and full, and I kept putting if off. Also, I’m still having a hard time figuring out how to describe Istanbul. In a word: crammed. And another: bold. And another: delicious.
I flew into the Ataturk airport on a Friday afternoon, then spent over 2 hours on the bus to Taksim Square in traffic. Though the airport is only 24 kilometers from the city center, there’s a big construction project going on right now – and, apparently, lots of weekend traffic in general. I sat next to a Turkish man who struck up a conversation with me and was beyond shocked that I’d flown into Istanbul alone. He told me the city’s emergency phone number over and over (“1, 1, 2! 1, 1, 2! That’s two 1s and one 2. Repeat it back to me!”) and asked if he should stay on the bus past his stop to help me find mine. (I politely declined.)
This post is going to quickly turn into a novel if I don’t change tack now, so let me present … Istanbul in lists! And pictures!
A whirlwind tour of Sultanahmet and Taksim
We packed our first day with mosques and bazaars and sites in Istanbul’s old city, Sultanahmet. Since we stayed on Istanbul’s modern side (in a neighborhood one metro stop away from Taksim Square), we had a good walk from Taksim Square, down Istiklal Street and across Galata Bridge to the Old City.
What we saw: Taksim Square, Galata Tower and Galata Bridge, Spice Market, Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace
Getting lost in Kadikoy
On day two, we took a ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul. (How cool is it that Istanbul straddles two continents?*) We didn’t have much of plan and got thoroughly lost in Kadikoy.
With just 3 nights in the city, we definitely didn’t have enough time to thoroughly explore Istanbul’s neighborhoods, but we did our best to get out and enjoy the nightlife. On the first and second nights, we found bars in the Beyoglu neighborhood – so many of them have live music – and on our last night, Shelby and I drank raki (Turkey’s version of ouzo) in a smoky piano bar in the Sisli neighborhood.
I’m a sucker for all things sweet, so of course I loved trying different versions of baklava every day. And, holy hell, does Istanbul know what to do with spices! After three months in a region that doesn’t seem to give a damn about spicy food (sorry, Catalonia), I was thoroughly bowled over to be met with flavor and spice at every meal in Istanbul.
Now I’m simply plotting when I can return to Istanbul for a second trip – and also make my way to other parts of Turkey. First on the list? Cappadocia. I mean, look at this insanity:
* Did you know there are actually 4 transcontinental cities? Istanbul is the largest and most well-known, of course, but the others are: Atyrau, Kazakhstan (Europe/Asia), Orenburg, Russia (Europe/Asia) and Suez, Egypt (Africa/Asia).
I first read about Caelum Café at New Life in Spain, and knew I had to go. It’s a Spanish bakery with a twist: all of the sweets are made by nuns and monks from around Spain, and its location is a former Jewish bathhouse (in Barcelona’s Gothic neighborhood).
Its first floor looks fairly standard:
Try to get a seat downstairs in the former bathhouse room:
They serve all sorts of desserts, from cakes to bonbons to anise-flavored cookies:
And if you feel inclined to buy gifts,
my address is they’ve got a good selection of packaged sweets too:
Location: Calle Palla, 8, 08002
Hours: 7 days a week, from 10:30 am to at least 8:30 pm (later on weekends)
Closest metro: Liceu
Today’s word: montón
Montón means lots & lots, similar to mucho, but used to express extremity. I’ve heard it used in the following ways:
- un montón de gente = tons of people
- un montón de cosas que hacer = tons of things to do
- un montón de tráfico = lots of traffic
- un montón de tiempo = tons of time
- un montón de ruido = lots of noise
My online dictionary tells me montón can also be used to mean the following:
- ordinary, average … as in, un hombre del montón (“just an average guy”)
- to stand out from the crowed … as in, salirse de montón
- there were lots of potholes … as in, tenía baches a montones
Another fun fact: I don’t think it has any relation (can someone correct me if it does?), but there’s also a pueblo in Zaragoza, Spain called Montón. The best part? It only has around 150 inhabitants, not tons & tons.
Appearances may be deceiving, but I’m starting to believe that I’m becoming just a little bit Spanish day by day. The evidence:
1. These days my normal bedtime is around 2:30 am, and I wake up at 10:00 am. Dinnertime is 9:30 pm or later.
2. I’m peppering my sentences with words (and sounds) like vale and joder and buuuffff and oyyy.
3. I now prefer cafe cortado and cafe con leche to the large (watered-down) coffees in the states. Also, I have a special affinity for pimientos de Padrón and pan con tomate.
4. My students have discovered that I understand more Spanish than I’ve let on, and they’re talking to me (in Spanish) outside of class. (Though Antoni is quick to note that he will still consider me a guiri until I’ve lived here for a year.)
And the biggest indication of all …
5. I had a dream in Spanish last night! Holy. hell. That has never happened before.
Are you living abroad? When did you know you’d become part of your community and no longer an outsider?