Barcelona: Pinxtos and Mujeros

The last time I roamed the streets of Barcelona, it was 1994. Hot tub time machine coming on here… When I returned in June, I felt like it was still going to be all tapas and unicorns, but what I realized was that no matter how much you want John Cusack to feed you dollar pintxos while mingling with the locals in a Spanish hole-in-the-wall restaurante, you’re gunna have to get used to the fact that you are now an American, and you must now eat Americanized pintxos on a street with dozens of super-sized pintxerias, served to you by slick, English speaking waiters who come around with trays of obnoxious, overpriced monstrosities that barely have a gleam left of their long lost brothers. Amy tried to warn me, “Shelly, maybe try to keep in mind that you went to Barcelona over 20 years ago…things might be a little different than you remember…” I brushed it off, and was sure that at least the pinxtos would survive. Sadly, I responded to the waiter in English (after my many attempts to engage in Spanish became futile) and thanked him for presenting such beautiful specimens for our pleasure—then turned to Amy and pouted in my most pathetic and whiney face. She just laughed, said she liked the food!, and we both sipped on our (Americanized) sangrias while firecrackers burst from every street corner celebrating the patron saint of something.

I got over my pouting fairly quickly after the pinxtos episode, and knew that I had to see Barcelona in a new way. No more time machines—I was in it to discover the new and unique—let’s do this!

Vermút! THIS was not a thing twenty years ago—at least, it wasn’t an obvious thing—but I was sure as hell glad it was a thing now! The Spanish are insane over this homemade aperitif drink made from white wine, sherry, and spices. It’s a pre-lunch/afternoon drink that you don’t have to feel guilty about ordering. Kinda like a mimosa at breakfast—”It’s a miMOsa! It’s TOtally fine to be drinking at 9 am on a Tuesday.”—Yeah, it’s like that except a few hours later. Each establishment seems to have their own “hecha en casa” recipe to share—some come in huge wine goblets, others in simple peasant style glassware. You can expect a slice of orange inside, and perhaps some olives on a toothpick. Then of course, there’s the free munchies that are served as a side which may include anything from a bowl of pork rinds to a full-on jamón ibérico and manchego with toast. I. Was. In Heaven. I am now experimenting with making my own Spanish Vermút (stay tuned for details!) and feel like this lovely tradition evens out the pity I felt for myself at not being able to relive my 1994 Pinxto past.

During one of our afternoon Vermút strolls, Amy and I met up with some of her friends and shared a table with a local man named Xavier. He was Catalán, spoke perfect English, and was happy to engage us with Catalonian history, modern Barcelonian tips, and just good plain ol’ conversation. Amy continued on to go Gin/Tonic hunting with her friends, and Xavier invited me to join him at a thing called a Microteatre down the street. Intrigued as I was, obviously I said yes & ended up having one of the best experiences of my trip. Always say yes. …Well, unless you know, they’re a creeper or it’s a Dungeons & Dragons club meeting. Xavier explained that the government had stripped the funding for theater away from the city recently, and in protest and solidarity, the actors and actresses of Barcelona banded together and came up with these mini theater productions: Basically, there are 3 shows of 15 minutes each, rotating every 5 minutes, with 5 blocks of shows throughout the day, each containing a slightly different mix of plays. The actors, he told me, are really quite famous—coming from tv shows, movies, and large theater. They do this without pay so that the city can continue to enjoy, despite the budget cuts. What struck me is that these venues are a place for people to hang out before, after, and during the shows, mingling with fellow patrons of the arts, and all kinds really. They are spaces besides bars or restaurants or clubs (even though they do serve wine and beer) which offer a communal feel, and nobody cares if you see one show or twenty—you are welcome to stay in their space as long as you wish. One of the best things about the plays is that the room is a mere ~10X15 feet! The max capacity for the audience was 15 people on small chairs against the wall, so the actors were literally an arms length away from you. It was dynamic, intense, and so much fun! Of course, the plays were all in Catalán, but I managed to understand the gist of them & was proud of myself for laughing on cue, and getting some of the small inside jokes. Probably my favorite play was one called Mujeros. It is set in a time where the government has outlawed anything female, because all women mysteriously and suddenly vanished from the earth. Spanish, as most of us know, is a language that is heavily based grammatically on feminine and masculine, with words ending in either -0 or -a. So, speaking in Spanish without being able to use the -a, and instead having to use -o is extremely unnatural. It was awesome to be able and pick up on the nuances of their ‘new’ language and understand the intricacies of meaning, and just plain ol’ appreciate how hard this must have been for the two actors to speak like that for 15 minutes straight! The far reaching meaning was not lost either, as this comes in the time of the #MeToo movement and women’s rights being manipulated by our leaders. Xavier took me to a restaurant after, where the tables spilled out on the sidewalks, full and bustling at 10pm. We ordered a bottle of white wine, some tapas, and who knows what else. All I can really remember from our dinner is that all of the sudden he asks if he can sing for me. Xavier told me earlier that he had been an amateur opera singer at one time, and loved to sing. Always say yes… Before I knew it, he was standing in front of me, on the crowded sidewalk, ten tables turning our way, looking down at me and singing an operatic love song at the top of his lungs. THIS, my friends, is why I love to travel.

Microteatre Barcelona!

Microteatre Barcelona!

Mmmmmmm….. Vermút!

Mmmmmmm….. Vermút!

My favorite kind o menus :)

My favorite kind o menus :)

OK!

OK!

When you get upgraded at the Alexandria to a balcony tub room!!

When you get upgraded at the Alexandria to a balcony tub room!!

Awesome wall art, with a bonus wooden frame!

Awesome wall art, with a bonus wooden frame!

Solar panels down by the shore at dawn.

Solar panels down by the shore at dawn.

Escaleras.

Escaleras.

View from my café.

View from my café.

Below: The posters from the three AMAZING plays I saw at the MicroTeatre with Xavier.

Mezcla de Sicilia

There are soooooo many memories from our two weeks in Sicily, it’s hard to put them all in the right ‘categories’ and posts. This is my mezcla (mixture) of one-offs that didn’t make it into the other sections, but which mean a lot to me.

The cactus is symbolic of everywhere…it is like the mascot of Sicily, catching your eye at every turn in every city in droves or in singular pots. Returning home to California, I now see cactus ev-er-ee-where—I guess it’s the new ‘it’ thing here now too! I bought a cactus keychain so that I am reminded each day of the joy of travel. I may wallpaper a bathroom in cactus one day too. And, when I do get under my own little roof in Bend, you can be sure that you’ll find cactus peeking out of the corners. The other image branded into my soul about Sicily is the water. It is intertwined with the people like a third sibling or a BFF. And it’s clear…crystal clear! And soft, and calm, and inviting, and just…ahhhhh. We would rent cute little chairs at each beach, but I would spend most of my time wading in the water—walking through it, waving my hands in it, dipping under it, appreciating each drop as it trickled down my skin. It is truly magical—so different from the oceans I grew up in, which were full of crashing waves, sand getting all in the pocket of your bikini bottoms and sagging down, diving through the playful yet scary walls of water rushing at you. This water was like a puppy licking your feet (Hmmm, that’s a little weird, but hey, let’s go with it)—your best friend and you just hanging out in the sun. As much as I loved being by and in the water, I also loved wandering through the streets. The architecture is old and intriguing, the window frames are all cool, the cobblestones and undulating cement show the age and wear of generations. And, they led you to my next favorite thing: The fish! Mmmmmm, the fish! The one pictured is my all time fav. I have no idea what it is, I can just pick it out by its shape and size. I’ll just call it Sicily-fish. Anyway, it’s the bomb. I also had to include a train station shot, as that’s how Ames and I got around the island. The trains are very user friendly there, and get you to most places you’d want to visit. This particular station was the closest one to Noto, and we weren’t sure if a train was coming at all, or if they’d let us buy tickets on board, but we just waited…and waited…and finally one showed up. The little girl here is the one, the only, Scarlett! She and her sister, Vivienne, were our sidekicks at Amy’s friend’s home—their giggles and playful antics kept our hearts young during our stay in Marsala. I miss those gals a lot. They have grown up in a place where their family and their environment keep them connected to nature, real playtime, and a sense of wonder that is dwindling in most societies. They know how to use technology, but they don’t depend on it, and would much rather engage in personal connection and exploration. I really hope I get to see those girls again—they are truly unique. And, to close out this mezcla, I leave you with the suuuuuunseeeeets! The airbrushed beauty below was our greeting in Cefalú as we arrived down at the seaside before heading into the maze of streets in search of dinner. We all sat outside at cafés, ordered bubbles and wine, and came to a soft silence as the sun returned to the horizon. We were always out during the sunsets—they were tangible—which is a stark contrast to my daily life when I tend to miss when day turns into night because of planes, plans, or other distractions. On vacation, sunset time is never missed. So… with that, Sicily comes to an end, and the rest of the images rest lovingly in my mind. I believe there area as many ways to do Sicily as are beaches on its shores. You make it into your own story, and hopefully one day, you can return to make more.

Pilgrimage to Noto

Ahhh Noto… When it comes down to it, Noto is the whole reason I ended up going to Sicily for this vacation—but not because I had ever heard of it before. Amy, my sister from another mother, is one of the biggest foodies I know. She’d seen a documentary a few months earlier on this little town in southern Sicily which is home to arguably the best gelato in Italy. She had to go see for herself. As luck would have it, Amy has a great friend (a roommate from her college years) who happens to live in Sicily, and who we would stay with for the first few days of our adventure. So, without a second thought, I booked my airline to join her. I do wish I had followed Amy around Noto like a Paparazzi, capturing every moment of her glory on this gelato-nous pilgrimage. But if I did, I think she would have ditched me down a side alley and left me to fend for myself. So, alas, I have just these few shots, but I think they capture a glimpse of her anticipation, deep thought (of what madness to order), and childlike glee. It was so much fun to be her sidekick in tracking down the place and the man (who happened to be there that day!), and partake in the sheer joy of checking a bucket list box!

Catania: Hustle and ash.

Nausica, our incredible AirBnB host, picked us up from the train station a) because she’s rad, b) because she said we’d get totally lost otherwise and wanted to make sure we got there ok. Instantly, we loved her—her short purple-tainted hair, her trendy style, her infectious smile and friendly chatter as we drove across town to our home for the next three days. As we passed, she pointed out markers in town which we would find during our walkabouts in the following days; the market, the bus station, the main square, the shopping streets. As we pulled up to her home, she mentioned that she would be heading out to meet some friends for a drink, and we were welcome to join them if we wanted. Um, did you say, “Join for drinks?” We were so in. Before leaving, she couldn’t help herself and pulled out a map of her beloved Catania and proceeded to point out and mark all of the spectacular places that we had to visit during our stay. My mind started exploding, “How the heck are we gunna fit all this in! I want to do it aaaaaaaaaaaaall!” Our eyes were spinning, but we had a night to attend to, so we did a Superwoman change and ran out the door with our new friend to see what Catania’s night had in store for us. The next day we went to every single place (and added a few more) that Nausica circled on our map. I learned that Catania is a city that has been destroyed several times by Mt. Etna, which is one of the world’s most active volcanos and lies a mere eighteen miles to the north. In certain parts of the city (see photos below of the ancient colosseums), you can see the old peering out into the new. It gave an eery feel to know that we were walking on top of multiple layers of civilizations below, each one preserved within a molten lava grave. The last photo is of a rose that our waiter made for us out of tin foil when we left his barbecue stand full bellied and tipsy from a platter full of meat and glasses brimming with Grillo. The people in Sicily, and especially in Catania, are some of the most genuine, friendly, and down to earth people in all of Italy. This I say from my small burst of time there, but it is very much a sentiment shared by every Sicilian you meet—they are very proud of who they are and where they come from. Catania has gotten its share of international press this year, with hundreds of refugees landing on its soil daily—the citizens struggling to figure out how to assimilate the masses into their tiny, yet thick cultural soup. As far as I could see—and feel, the love for Catania and its hustle and ash was stronger than any other city we had been. It’s as though thousands of years of Etna’s soot was flowing in the blood of every person you passed. No matter what trials and tribulations they have to go through, the blood and ash flow as one.

Bella Cefalú

Cefalú was our first real beach stop, and I have to say, it left me kinda speechless (and with a foot full of poo, but that’s a whole ‘nuther story…) We checked into our hotel, threw our bags down, our suits on, and double-timed it down to the water. I’d never been on a beach quite like it. It was like the quintessential Italian Riviera beach—chairs lined up perfectly on white sand with colorful umbrellas—nestled in against homes & restaurants that were practically carved into the cliffside. We rented chairs and umbrellas the first day for a mere 20Euro (abeit they were in the back row, but who the heck cares at a place like that!), snagged two ice cold white wines (Grillo had become our fan favorite), and breathed in the salty air while breathing our sighs of contentment. This was Sicily.

Sicily—Agrigento

Agrigento was awesome. Ruins from over—I forget, something like 4000 years ago? The oldest Roman ruins outside of Rome! Amy and I walked around for hours and we still didn’t see everything. Major lesson learned—besides Never go in against a Sicilian when DEATH is on the line—was, never wear sandals on a walking tour of ancient Sicilian ruins.

Without further adieu, Agrigento!

Sicilia: The Streets, Part I.

There are so many captures from Sicily that it’s hard to know where to begin… As my eyes are turning into one big blur as I curate and edit, I’m deciding to post in sections and just throw up what I’ve chosen for today.

This section of photos was taken in a town called Agrigento. I still don’t know if I spelled it right, or am saying it right, as Amy would roll her eyes and correct me every millionth time I pronounced it wrong! It’s a town that is visited mostly due to its proximity to the ancient ruins which lie just down the hill. The ruins were beautiful and impressive for sure, but my favorite part of visiting this part of Sicily was definitely the twisty-turny streets where the people lived and breathed. Walking along the cobblestones, you soak up the culture and the people by just looking around. The walls, the doorways, the alleyways—they are the jesters who speak to the passers-by and tell them what goes on in the hearts of those who live there. I have so many memories from just our short overnight—from trying to find our AirBnb in a downpour with no directions, to the way Amy sneared (lovingly, I’m sure) at me when she saw the mountain of stairs we had to climb with our massive backpacks, to the mouth-watering meal and divine wine we found down a random alleyway, and of course sipping wine on the patio watching the afternoon birds circle above. The photos that follow were mostly taken during a morning walk before the town awoke. Afterwards, I walked into a local bakery and bought two almond croissants and brought them back to Amy where we sipped espresso and wondered where our next adventure would lead us.

agrigento_1.jpg