Spanish word(s) I love: michelín

Today’s word: michelín

Say the word a few times, and perhaps it’ll conjure images of this guy:

The Michelin Man

The Michelin Man

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?


2.5 days in Istanbul, Turkey

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.)

Later that night, I met up with Shelby and Tracy and Michael, and we spent the next 2 days trying to see and do as much as possible.

with Tracy

Reunited with Tracy after several months – and coping with the cold nights in Istanbul.

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

Istiklal Street

Walking down Istiklal Street toward Galata Bridge. (See that box on the left? It’s being carried on a man’s back.)


Fishermen along Galata Bridge with the Old Town in the background

Grand Bazaar

We wandered along the edge of the Grand Bazaar and quickly got overwhelmed by the masses of people. (The Bazaar takes up more than 61 streets and includes more than 3,000 shops. Damn.)

Blue Mosque

Pictures don’t do justice to the Blue Mosque. It’s enormous and majestic – and completely exceeded my expectations.

Blue Mosque

Side facade of the mosque

Blue Mosque

The inside of the Blue Mosque is also incredible, though I must admit it felt a little strange to be in a hoard of tourists wandering around the middle of the mosque – taking pictures – while locals prayed on their hands and knees at the front and back.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia, a former basilica and then a mosque (and now a museum), sits across from the Blue Mosque.

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.

on the ferry

The ferry ride itself is worth it, even if you don’t get off on the other side. With full views of both the European and Asian sides, you get a good sense of architectural differences.


We had a couple *crazy Americans* photo-taking sessions …

tracy and michael

… including making Tracy & Michael pose for this anniversary-esque photo.


The tower in the water is called Leander’s Tower and was built in 408 B.C. (B.C.!) to control ships moving through Borphorous Strait.


Kadikoy felt a little less busy than the European side, with far fewer tourists.


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 quite dislike the flavor of anise, but I couldn’t leave IST without trying the raki!


After drinks, we scoped out Sisli and had a memorable experience in nearby bakery, when the Turkish guy closing down shop gave us free chocolates and cookies in exchange for an impromptu English lesson.


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.


8 different types of baklava? Yes, please.

street food

Street food – especially chestnuts – on nearly every corner


One of our favorite meals was at LaTerne cafe. When we pointed at a dish they’d just delivered to a man at the table next to us, they literally took it away from him and gave it to us! We tried to protest, but apparently the man was a friend of theirs, and they wanted us – the guests – to eat first.


Spice attack! Be still, my spice-lovin’ heart.

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).

Where to go in Barcelona: Caelum Café

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:

caelum upstairs

Try to get a seat downstairs in the former bathhouse room:

caelum downstairs

They serve all sorts of desserts, from cakes to bonbons to anise-flavored cookies:

caelum sweets

And if you feel inclined to buy gifts, my address is they’ve got a good selection of packaged sweets too:

caelum packaged sweets

Details …

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

Spanish word(s) I love: montón


un montón de postre!

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.

5 signs I’m becoming Spanish

late-night meal

A fairly typical late-night meal of vino, tomate, queso y pesto.

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?

Dear Sugar, you know what’s up

From Tiny Beautiful Things:
(emphasis my own)

Don’t do what you know on a gut level to be the wrong thing to do. Don’t stay when you know you should go or go when you know you should stay. Don’t fight when you should hold steady or hold steady when you should fight … Don’t surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn’t true anymore … I know it’s hard to know what to do when you have a conflicting set of emotions and desires, but it’s not as hard as we pretend it is. Saying it’s hard is ultimately a justification to do whatever seems like the easiest thing to do – have the affair, stay at the horrible job, end a friendship over a slight, keep loving someone who treats you terribly. I don’t think there’s a single dumbass thing I’ve done in my adult life that I didn’t know was a dumbass thing to do while I was doing it. Even when I justified it to myself – as I did every damn time – the truest part of me knew I was doing the wrong thing. Always. As the years pass, I’m learning how to trust my gut and not do the wrong thing, but every so often I get a harsh reminder that I’ve still go work to do.

-Cheryl Strayed

Living abroad: 8 things I love about Barcelona – and 3 things I don’t

Last month, I shared 8 things I miss about the U.S. – and 3 things I don’t, and now I’m flipping the script to talk about my deep love (most of the time) for Barcelona.

8 things I love about Barcelona

1. The shopping experience. I mentioned that I miss grocery staples from the U.S., but I actually enjoy the experience of shopping more here. Everything is right out my front door. I can walk across the street to the grocery store, turn the corner and meet a fruit stand, walk two blocks to a pharmacy. I have to pop into more places than I would in the states, but it’s faster overall because I don’t have to drive anywhere, and I can make a quick trip right before dinner when I realize I’m out of avocados or whatever. Also, the open-air markets in each neighborhood are the shit. I’m just up the street from the Mercat de l’Abaceria Central on Calle Verdi, where I can find fresh fruit, veggies, ham, cheese, nuts, dried fruit and more.

2. The architecture, plazas & narrow streets. So. much. dreaminess. I have to pinch myself every day that it’s a totally normal experience for me to walk past a building from the Roman era and stop for café con leche in a plaza filled with orange trees. I have time in my days to get lost in the city’s winding, narrow streets and to drink wine in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday.

3. Its walkability. I should invest in a pedometer because I’d love to know just how much I walk here. The metro and train system are super easy too, but I prefer walking when I can – and it’s safe to be out at all hours. I’ve learned my way around the city by walking from end to end, and I’ve still got much more to explore.

4. The language. I’ve written about trying to immerse myself in Castellano more and about my frustrations when I fumble, but the ups and downs are all worth it. Learning a new language is a huge challenge for me, and I love it. I also love that I can’t understand every single conversation that’s happening around me, so I’m never stuck unintentionally eavesdropping on anything bothersome. (In the states I catch myself getting really ticked off when someone is talking too loudly on a cell phone or having an inane conversation in public; here you could be talking about something wildly inappropriate at the table next to me and I likely won’t even know it.)

5. Abuelitos. Oh my word, I’m smitten for the old men and women in Barcelona. They stay out nearly as late as the younger generations here, walking the streets arm-in-arm, drinking beers at outdoor tables. They dress to the nines, and seem just as in love as the day they met. I’m a hopeless romantic, so of course it makes my heart flutter. The day my Castellano is good enough to strike up a conversation with an older couple and learn their secret is the day I’ve arrived. ;)

6. The pace of life. This is wrapped up in nearly every other thing I love about Barcelona, and I’ve said it before, but the pace of life agrees with me. It’s such a treat to linger over lunch, have wine in the afternoon, wake to sunlight and not the blaring of an alarm. I sleep more deeply here, have wildly vivid dreams and feel like I weather stress better than I did in the states.


Watching the sunset & sailboats on the beach in Barcelona.

7. Cheap wine & montaditos. Speaking of wine, it’s good and cheap here. Almost too good and cheap. (It’s true that it’s the same price to buy a glass of wine as a bottle of water in many bars.) And montaditos – small open-faced sandwiches with cheese, veggies, chorizo or tortilla de patatas – are the perfect snack. Some of my favorite dinners here have been a shared spread of five or six montaditos with a couple glasses of wine – all for under $10 per person. I’m also a big fan of tapas, especially when served with a side of spicy sauce.


Pimientos de Padron y pulpo a la gallega with my new flatmate, Eliana.

8. Proximity to different countries & cultures. Since I’ve been here, I’ve made quick trips to Cadaques, Sitges, Tossa de Mar and Montserrat. While not quite as close (but still easily accessible), I’ve flown to Istanbul and Paris. When I studied abroad in Sevilla 10 years ago, it wasn’t so easy to get to other places in Europe, and I’m really enjoying Barcelona’s location in northern Spain. I’m not sure if my budget will allow for any more flights while I’m here, but I plan to explore La Rioja and the Basque country, and hopefully spend a weekend in Madrid.


Take me back to Cadaques any day.

3 things I don’t

1. The smoke & piss & spit. Ewww, right? I can’t go anywhere without seeing a frothy spitball or stream of pee in the street, and it seems that everyone smokes. (Lucky for me, Barcelona instituted a smoking ban in bars and restaurants in 2011 so I don’t return home from a night out smelling like an ashtray, but people still smoke in the streets all the damn day.) The Barcelona Reporter says that 35% of the general population over 16 years old in Spain smokes, and 24% of people in Barcelona smoke. From my experience in the streets, I say people are under-reporting their habits! In some ways I’ve become used to the smell of smoke, but the pee (and shit!) is another story. This certainly goes along with the lack of green space in Barcelona. We do have some beautiful parks, but not in the same abundance as Portland, and you can forget about grass-lined sidewalks. With no dirt or grass in sight, dogs (and dudes) pee on the cobblestones, and I’m forever dodging little rivulets of smelly liquid.

2. The economic crisis. This sort of goes without saying – and it’s not endemic to Catalonia only – but the economic crisis and job market woes are definitely putting a damper on the quality of life for locals and visitors to the city. I count myself lucky that I’ve found enough odd hours of work to get by, but I know that I’d be in a better situation if it weren’t for the scarcity of job openings here. And there would, I hope, be less conflict and consternation among locals. The mood here is still very much life-is-good, but I would like to see this city thriving even more!

3. Being “The American Girl.” Here’s a point I’d like to examine a bit further in a future post, but I do feel the mark of being a tourist/outsider. Service in restaurants is notoriously poor in BCN, but sometimes it’s downright abysmal when you can’t speak the language properly. (However, I don’t want to generalize too much because I’ve also had some holy-wow-fantastic service experiences here.) Sometimes I think people (read: men) approach me because I’m something of a novelty, someone to just practice English with or to test their knowledge of the United States.


Um, Miami is more than 3,000 miles from where I live … It’s sort of  like me asking you what Afghanistan is like.

Okay, that’s a stretch – and I’ve never actually answered someone that way. But, still, I’m a little tired of speaking for “all Americans” and giving token-ish answers on the state of affairs in American politics, culture, etc. Rather than being seen as a tourist here, I’d really like to integrate more. Of course I’ll never be accepted as a local, but I’d like to feel a bit more woven into the “real” fabric of life here.


To end on a positive note(!): I’m seriously enjoying this adventure and all Barcelona is offering me. It’s good for my mind & good for my soul! It’s shaking up how I conceive of my strengths and weaknesses & how I relate to others. And it’s (fingers crossed) leading to the ever elusive bilingualism.


Shout-out and besos to Shelby, who’s been my partner in crime these last few months. She left Barcelona today, and it simply won’t be the same without her.