What’s your dream vacation destination?

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.

photo by Webber264 on flickr

photo by Webber264 on flickr

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.

The Mountain from TSO Photography on Vimeo.

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!

youngadventuress

picture from youngadventuress.com

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 takes risks, dreams big and is as obsessed with tortilla de patata as I am.

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?

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.

Istanbul

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

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.

posing

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

tracy and michael

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

view

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

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

Nightlife

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.

raki

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

Shelby

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.

Food

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.

baklava

8 different types of baklava? Yes, please.

street food

Street food – especially chestnuts – on nearly every corner

IST-LaTerne

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.

spices

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:

Cappadoccia

++++

* 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).

Link love: Things to do in Barcelona

fountain

Ready to soak up some culture in Barcelona? ;)

I’ve got a whole bunch of half-written blog posts on places I’d recommend to take visitors, but since those aren’t quite ready yet, I’ll share a few resources I’ve found helpful over the last few months:

+ Le Cool: A mix of art, culture & shopping.

+ BarcelonaYellow: All sorts of info, from nightlife to apartment rentals to transportation.

+ The Spain Scoop: Travel advice & tips, especially helpful for folks making a long-term move.

+ BCN Week: A weekly newsletter on events, culture & politics.

+ Barcelona Life: Even more info on nightlife, restaurants, entertainment & more.

What am I missing? Tell me your favorite Barcelona sites & ‘zines.

Living abroad: 8 things I miss about the U.S. – and 3 things I don’t

Don’t get me wrong, living in Barcelona hasn’t provided the kind of adjustment and culture shock that living in a remote village without plumbing would, but there are definite differences that cause me to celebrate or, at times, grumble. I’m kind of good at grumbling when things tick me off, so I tried not to write this post too early in my adventure, lest I blow everything out of proportion.

portland happy hour

Enjoying happy hour over the summer in Portland – and displaying my extraordinarily long shins. (photo by my friend, Jill)

I still have a lot to learn about life here, but I think I’ve gotten enough of a flavor of the city and its tempo to evaluate what I wouldn’t give up, what I could do without, and what I really miss about life in the states. Today I’ll focus on that last part, and in an upcoming post, I’ll speak to the things about Barcelona I’m falling madly in love with.

8 things I miss about the U.S.

1. Food carts. I’m speaking mostly about Portland here, but DAMN, I miss our food carts. We’re spoiled in PDX. Fresh, cheap, delicious, organic food from hundreds of carts, representing every kind of craving and cuisine. Yeah, sometimes too many choices are overwhelming, but what I’d give for a steaming $4 bowl of kale, quinoa, black beans and spicy sauce. Or a drippy delicious egg sandwich from The Big Egg. Or a plate of nachos covered in jalapeños. Or anything covered in jalapeños.

food cart pdx

Portland food carts, I love you so hard.

2. My grocery staples. Almond butter, almond milk, turkey breast, vanilla granola, whole wheat tortillas, hot salsa, protein bars. Before you go telling me that I can find substitutions and approximations for all those things, let me stop you. They’re just not the same! (And they’re damn expensive here.) I miss you, Trader Joe’s. I miss you, New Seasons.

3. IPA. You’ve heard me wax nostalgic about IPA, and it’s the truth: I love a hoppy beer. The wine in Barcelona is lovely, but the beer is abysmal. It’s all watered-down, Pilsner-style, flavorless ick. I’ve gotten in no less than three arguments with Europeans – and even an American here – that the beer in Barcelona is better than in the states. Every time, I’m like, But have you been to Portland? No? You haven’t? End of discussion. ;)

IPA

Remember that time I found an IPA in Barcelona and got all teary-eyed?

4. Meal times. My preferences are very slowly changing, and sometimes I like the long lunches and late dinners in Barcelona, but for the most part, I miss eating and going out at what felt like “civilized” hours. I know saying that is near blasphemy in these parts, but staying up until 2:00 am every day (or later on the weekends, when people don’t even start the night until after midnight) is catching up with me. There are days I really miss meeting for happy hour at 5:30, eating dinner at 7:00 and making it home in time to curl up on my couch and watch Bravo.

5. My gym membership. I don’t exercise here as much as I’d like, for a number of reasons, one being that I get really bored when I don’t have easy access to a variety of workout options. I miss taking classes like Zumba, Pilates & whatever fancy name they’re calling the weightlifting class these days. Here, monthly gym memberships are really pricy, unless you sign a long-term contract (even then, they’re more expensive than the states), and I can’t sign a contract without having a Spanish identification number.

6. Having a steady income. I guess this one isn’t U.S.-specific, but it’s specific to my experience at home. I took for granted the calm that comes with getting a regular paycheck, knowing how much to expect every two weeks and being able to budget accordingly. My finances are all over the place here, and though I’m learning to deal with the anxiety, it’s not my happy place.

7. Skiing. As winter approaches, I’m getting all bugged out over missing the ski season in Portland. My friends and I had a nice little routine of meeting at the parking lot on weekend mornings, carpooling up to the mountain, stopping for breakfast burritos, beating the crowds to the hill and stopping early in the afternoon for, yes, IPAs. (I have gear, equipment and a ski pass at home so it’s not a big expense the way taking a weekend trip to the Pyrenees – or wherever the closest skiing is – would be here.)

8. Friends & family & football. Of course, friends and family would be on my list no matter which country I’d relocated to. Not seeing friends from home is an adjustment enough, but it’s really the time difference that gets me riled up. It’s a challenge to find times to Skype, and sending texts and emails just isn’t the same. Oh, and have I mentioned how nearly no bars show NFL games here? (Those that do show them inconsistently at best.) I miss watching the Packers and checking my fantasy scores incessantly and acting a fool with my friends. (We can get into a discussion later about how being a football fan maybesortakinda goes against some of my beliefs – and how I could try to get into soccer here in Barcelona – but for now, let’s just leave it at #PACKERNATION and #GOPACKGO.)

football

Despite appearances, we didn’t even pose for this pic.

3 things I don’t

1. Working a 40-hour week. In my circle of acquaintances here, the 40-hour week is unheard of. And I don’t just mean because work is hard to come by, which it is, but that people choose to work less if given the option. The mentality is so much less work-work-work-move-up-move-up-move-up than it is in the states. I love the focus on balance and enjoyment. Life is tranquila, and that pace agrees with me.

2. Driving. The public transportation in Barcelona is legit. I can walk or take the metro everywhere I need to go. It’s fast, it’s cheap, it’s not stressful (except when there’s a transportation strike and trains are running 30% of the time and I’m late to work). ;) I love not worrying about paying for gas, paying for insurance, finding parking, etc. I sort of never want to own a car again.

3. Owning shit. I absolutely love being mobile. No mortgage, no car, no furniture, no accumulation of piles of crap. I love that when I moved from one apartment to another here, I packed up all of my stuff into three suitcases and got on the metro, and that was that. The need to be mobile has also changed the way I shop. I’m not tempted to buy clothes (other than a couple wool sweaters when I realized I didn’t pack anything remotely winter-appropriate) or trinkets or candles or cupcake platters or whatever other shit I used to put into my basket at Target. Maybe this’ll change one day, but I’m digging the simplicity of not having stuff.

Tell me: Have you lived abroad, or are you living abroad now? What sorts of things do you miss about home?

finding myself in awe of the details

Adjusting to a new home and culture abroad is challenging, mostly in a good way. It’s forced me to be more adaptable than I am at home – and to give up my desire for (warning: approaching buzzword!) control. There are just too many unknown factors here that I simply can’t be in control of my days and my conversations in ways that I’m used to. (Missed the bus? Oh well, there’s another one coming. Have no idea what that dude’s shouting at me? Just smile and wave. Got charged for something I didn’t order, but showed up at the table? Well, better savor that damn food.)

And while that makes me feel a little bristly at times, it also makes me more chill than usual. If I got worked up over every little thing that doesn’t go perfectly right here, I’d  be walking around with a cloud of ugly, dirty bitterness over me. Instead, I’d rather let it go, chalk it up to experience and spend my time focusing on the things that are going really well.

The magic, as always, is in the little details.

Things like spending my mornings writing stories (I’m actually writing fiction again! Holy shit.) and drinking cafe con leche.

Cafe con leche

Coooookies.

And running stair repeats near Park Guell.

Stairs

It’s funny how many people *don’t* take the stairs here. They’ll even take their dogs up the escalators.

And drinking IPAs with Shelby at our favorite bar, La Cerveteca.

Cerveteca

One word: Hops.

And happening upon a team of castellers building a “five-story” castell (human tower) in a plaza in my neighborhood.

castellers

There was a live band, too, and lots of chanting from the crowd.

Sappy as it may be, I’m lucky as hell to be going through my days here. Barcelona is a pretty good place to dust out the mental cobwebs and get a new perspective on what I want in life – and how to roll when things don’t exactly go my way.

Tell me: What small things are you finding comfort in these days?

this is a running blog, right?

After a couple days of catharsis, I’m back to blogging about running. Crazy, right?

It’s a wonder I actually got off my butt and laced up my running shoes yesterday. (For the first time since Monday.)

To be fair, I came down with a bad case of food poisoning on Monday night and spent the better part of the early morning hours hovering over the toilet. And then, all shaky and dehydrated on Tuesday, I forced myself to go to work. (It was a stark reminder of how easy I had it in Portland, when calling in sick was no biggie and meant I’d still get paid.) I really need the money (ya think? just how many times have I mentioned that here?), and I didn’t want to risk getting fired.

I still felt less than stellar on Wednesday, and though I was back to normal on Thursday, I didn’t make it out for a run.

So, yes, Friday. I ran. Slowly. As is the current state of affairs in Barcelona.

And not that far. (Again, typical.)

But at least I was out there. And I got to explore a new neighborhood! (After spending 5 weeks in L’Eixample, I’ve just moved to Gracía – pictures to come soon). It felt good and needed and just as cathartic as those over-dramatic blog posts.

I’m contemplating signing up for a race here because I need the motivation. Seems like my running sweet spot right now is 40 minutes, and I’d like to increase that to an hour or so, but I don’t see that happening unless I put some pressure on myself.

Also: strength training. Damn. That’s a foreign concept in my life right now. I miss it. I can tell I have less stamina, and my metabolism is slower. (And it’s not just because I’m eating chocolate croissants!) I need to find my way to an affordable weights class, or just start doing wall squats. Anything. (If you have a good, at-home strength training routine, please send it my way.)

Hopefully I’ll have some more exciting running-related posts to write soon. In the meantime, enjoy this picture from Costa Brava, where I’ve just spent the day in Tossa de Mar:

Costa Brava

to clarify yesterday’s post

I wrote a post yesterday that may have been more aptly titled, This should have been a journal entry. I was pretty candid about the emotional, er, baggage that’s been nipping at my ass, and I’m so grateful for the vote of confidence and support from friends. (Thank you. It really means the world to me.)

But, after I posted it, I started to feel like maybe I should clarify one important point.

That is …

I’m here in Spain by choice. I can leave anytime I’d like.

My friends in Portland will proffer up their couches and welcome me back. (And I absolutely plan to take them up on these offers when I do decide to come home.) My parents will give me a room rent-free and let me stay as long as I need, while I look for  new job.

To put it another way:

My problems are the problems of the privileged.

While I don’t want to diminish the emotional experience I’m having, I don’t want to exaggerate it either.

I can make my rent payments, though not as easily as before. This is a problem of privileged.

I’m well-fed, even if not eating the quinoa and sweet potato and spinach that I’d like to. This is a problem of the privileged.

I fell in love with a man. He couldn’t be faithful (though I didn’t know it at the time), and I couldn’t walk away (he used that fact to the best of his advantage). There with other incompatibilites and issues, of which I caused a fair share. But, there was no physical abuse. No children involved. No economic dependency. This is a problem of the privileged.

I’m living in a beautiful neighborhood in a beautiful city that boasts a beautiful climate, and I’m homesick. This is most definitely a problem of the privileged.

I’m educated, white, debt-free (at the moment) and have a strong safety net.

Whatever I’m going through, no matter how it rattles my confidence, no matter how it makes me question what the fuck I’m doing, it doesn’t jeopardize my health or my safety. I’m not a victim, and I certainly don’t have it bad compared to what some folks are bearing.

So, yes. Perspective might be the operative word. As well as ownership.

I’m throwing around some more clichés today!

But, really, I know I need to take ownership for where I sit right now. I have a choice in all of this, including the patterns I replicated over the last six months (or, maybe, six years? Oy.), including how I choose to deal with the challenges that Barcelona is throwing me right now.

So, thank you, thank you, for your support and love, but don’t go too easy on me, okay? :)