Saturday, May 13, 2017

Not a feel good piece ...

As I was writing this the song "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye was streaming through my sub-consciousness.  To get you in the mood, you as well can have this streaming in the background as you read my preach.'s+Going+On

This weekend while reading an article on a completely different topic, a startling statistic was cited that has been swirling in my brain;  I decided to do a little research.  I am a statistician at heart, geeked-out by looking up all these statistical research projects, though their projection is sombre.

What I initially read was this:  a group of statisticians took basic sociological metrics for 17 Western countries around the world - suicide, teen pregnancy, STD and abortion rates, the proportion of people in jail, income gaps between rich and poor, alcohol and drug consumption - and computed a weighted metric on a scale of 1-10.  The value was used to gauge the overall health of a country, with one being the most dysfunctional and 10 the least.  Sweden came out the highest at 7.1, Japan came in a with a respectable 6, and the surprising bit is that of all the countries evaluated, the U.S. came in the lowest at 2.7.

I knew things weren't great, and I expected the US to come in low ... but last?  Last.  Just reading the words above that compiled the metric make me uncomfortable, let alone the fact that we have scary-high prevalence of them all.  I think in part we beleive while living in the US, surrounded in our micro-cosm with little experience in other global societies that "that's just the way it is" ... young girls will get pregnant, boys will shoot each other and go to jail ... that's just life.  Well friends, no it isn't ... that is life in the US.

I began Googling for global "health metrics", which yielded results around people's general physical health, article after article on studies conducted to determine the "top 10" healthiest countries ... NONE of which have the U.S.A. listed.  An article on Reuters suggests "Americans spend twice as much as residents of other developed countries on healthcare, but get lower quality, less efficiency, and the least equitable system."  

And we have all seen studies on the happiest countries.  The US is always out-performed by the Scandinavian countries and the lands down under.  In a recent study from Forbes, the US is 12th (slipping out of the top 10 vs. the prior year).  Fortunately we are not last here.

There are statistical evaluations by Yale University and the World Economic Forum that rate a country's Environmental Performance Index ... or how sensitive your policies are to environmental conditions.  Of 132 world countries evaluated  the US came in at 49.  Ok, not last, but there are 48 other countries in the world that have more impressive stances on environmental policies ... countries like Slovakia, Albania, Columbia, Malaysia  Slovenia ... for comparison, the U.K. ranked 9th. Can you even name 48 countries?  Because that is how many beat us.

Now, these are all statistical research studies subject to individual biases, methodology concerns, self-reporting issues, etc. but most are legit scientific journals and the overall theme is strong.  On parameters of social trauma, physical health, happiness and environmental consciousness the U.S.A. ranks pretty darn bad.   And I suspect if I took the time to look up the economic outlook, debt, education, etc. I could find some more negativity to load up on this dismal pile.

So, it makes me question why the immigration rate to the US is still so high, with 4.6 people coming into the country for every one that leaves ... 1M people each year gain their legal residency status in the US, with the majority of immigration to the US continuing to be Mexico, China, and India.  None of which ranked higher than the US in any of the studies I reviewed.  Hmm.  Let's jut say the immigration rate from Norway to the U.S. is not something we will need to concern ourselves with.

I don't know what my conclusion is here ... it is not a black or white issue.  One could easily argue that lower social equality and happiness are simply the price you pay for being the land of the free, allowing those with less to enter in and be cared for.  Maybe we are happy with that.  But when standing from the outside looking in, that wonderful home that we fight for the right to keep has some pretty big bruises and scars that we as a society must pay attention to.  Let's pray the immigration rate doesn't go down as more proof we've awoken from America's dream.

Be conscious, look around you, don't simply witness, reality shows are becoming our reality.


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

So Observent

There are times, while sitting observantly in a corner of a crowded place, that I find the world just so weird.  I find that I can’t understand this social engagement model we have set up - we expunge so much effort yearning to find “the one” to spend our time with, yet likewise it seems as if we rarely feel as if we have finally arrived where (or with who?) we are supposed to be.
Is it simply human nature in the modern age?  Do we have the animal urge to procreate and nest all while travel blogs, fortune 500 news feeds, and mommy mags selling us £1,000 prams have given us an impossible image of perfection to achieve?  Do those native instincts - that partners provide a higher probability of survival and love helps heal some of life’s cruel realities - collide with the relentless options of capitalism and the pressure of keeping our social-media-selves competing with the Jones’?

For example, that couple over there … fit and hipster, a respectable number of tattoos, rail thin, reasonably attractive together … yet I am positively certain he is pissed off with that damn French bulldog she must constantly have on her lap, snorting in his face right now.  He is cursing the day he laid her down.  Silent, scanning the room, I am sure he has already starting planning his exit strategy.

Or how about them over there … they seem comfortably in domestic bliss (based on their slightly bulging waistlines and pasty skin), yet I see his baby blue eyes have been staring off up into the sky as if he is dreaming he is a big airline pilot soaring across the vast Pacific (“how did I get here?”).  Yet, he will stay for her, because that is what life is about - loyalty, sacrifice, compromise, mediocracy.

And that couple … nearly robotic in their obviously repetitive execution of the nightly meal.   Fork, mouth, smile lovingly, fork, mouth, fork, mouth, phone check, fork mouth, communicating “shall we go to bed?” without words (actually I mean can I just go home and look at my Facebook?). “#Loveyou.”
Even the two handsome gay boys look quite uncomfortable in the domestic sanctuary of the pub, poking intently at their smartphones, as if they are praying no one they know (and super hot) sees them there wearing their corporate blue work shirts.   

And in between these thoughts I of course think of myself … what is wroooong with me?  Am I so afraid of relationship failure that I can’t see how truly perfect it is to have someone to spend every minute with?  That I manifest these fantasies about how each of them truly wishes they were somewhere else?  That I fear the monotony of every day, nothing new to talk about?  Or that I have yet to have very many examples in my life of couples who truly have made this work?  How about the utter humiliation that failure would cast upon me?  Have I been brainwashed by love stories and song lyrics and foreign accents and pectorals and Conde Nast myself??
Enough.  As I pack up my laptop to go home, forget this nonsense, focus on the positive, convince myself I am fine, I catch a glimpse of those around me.  “Poor girl.”  “She looks so lonely.”  “ I can’t believe she comes out to eat alone.”  “Seems like a workaholic.”  “She’s probably psycho.”  “Aw, I hope she finds someone.”

Saturday, January 10, 2015

La Crème de la Crème

Something as simple as the milk on the breakfast table has spun up many a deep thought on my travels. One morning on a recent trip to South America, a thin white plastic bag about the size you get rice in was laid in front of me on its side on the kitchen counter. "There's the coffee {powder in a jar} and here is the milk. Help yourself."  I stared, surely crunched my eyebrows, and contemplated the challenge, "Ok, this is easy. I can do this."

"So what do I do with the bag once I open it?", considering that a flimsy bag once cut open would clearly flop all of its contents on to the floor unless held in your hand.  Immediately I was presented with a bag-shaped plastic container, from a cupboard full of multiples of the same device, which held the bag up on end once the new corner was snipped.  Same scene occurred with the yoghurt.  Oh.  Obviously.

When I was in Brazil, I was dizzied by the sight that all their milk came in cardboard boxes and more so that it was all stored warm. Room temp.  Long aisles in the grocery stores (not the refrigerated ones) have liquid milk on them, just as in the U.S. you would see boxes of crackers. Why it doesn't spoil is a topic I will let you research for yourself (same with eggs).

Other countries drink powdered milk. You have to scoop up a bit of milk in a teaspoon and stir with water before you get the product we are used to seeing from the source.  And in yet other countries, goat milk, which even the mention of make most Americans gag, is most common.

When I was young, on a day-to-day basis my milk came from an oddly shaped plastic carton, most often in the gallon size and was icy cold and silky smooth under my sugary cereal or by the entire glass when that deep craving presented itself.

My grandparents had a dairy farm and on our visits we would sit around the kitchen table, often covered with a plastic table cloth. My grandmother would pour us a glass of cold milk from the "icebox", and it always had chunks of thick cream floating on top of it. At first sight of the thick glass container, not odd-shaped plastic, coming from the fridge I would immediately regret the request, forgetting how close to the cow I actually was sitting.  Chunks - they always spawn up thoughts of that random spoiled carton we could find in our fridge at home, but upon sampling it was so creamy sweet I would drink it down.

It's interesting how visceral the thought of milk is, and how strong your reaction is when it is served up in a format different from that you had day-in and day-out in your youth. In my contemplations on this topic on this day I thought about how what we grow up with is such a strong driver in our preferences and our vision for our best future.  It is one of the strongest influences on the decisions we make.  One one hand it is probably a safe survival instinct, but in the end if we are open to trying something outside that comfort zone, seeming foreign at first, we can be pleasantly surprised that there are a multitude of means that end in the joy of milk and by doing so we learn something about our fellow society and our pursuit of la crème de la crème.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Gastronomic Capital of Europe ... Lyon

And some would say the world.  I mean, when I read that for the first time, I knew I had to visit this place, and soon.  It's hard to envision what a place holding this title could possible be like, the treasures it must hold - the rare, the unexpected, the glutiny, the kitchen gadgets, pork, cheese, buttery croissants, buttery bread, butter  ... breeeeeeeathe, breathe.

OK, so coming back down to Earth, I did see a glimpse of why Lyon may get such accolades, but in a vote I probably wouldn't pick Lyon.  Gasp!  {What did she say?}  To be fair I didn't have a reservation for any of the top bouchons in town, and I am sure they would have been amazing, but eating every last bit of a pig or pressing bits of fish with gelatin into terrines is not so much my thing.

So here's how it goes ... I arrived a bit on the exhausted side at my hotel in town via taxi (after dropping off the car at the airport from the Burgundy trip).  The room was adorbs (because one should always pick charming, small boutique hotels) with a window over looking a large square in town.  Lyon is big, so there were long pedestrianized shopping "High Streets" with H&M, Zara, and even a Subway.  Bah.

I wandered a bit in disbelief that I wasn't being engulfed by adorable little comestible shops, with little old French men in berets offering me a taste of their bounty.  Not so much.  I did finally find, after peering down a slim alley, the type of wine bar I envisioned.  Had a glass of wine and started scanning the web for places to eat.

Lyonnaise Salad
There was a place near my hotel that came highly rated and served Bresse chicken.  A colleague of mine is from Burgundy, and he had mentioned to me this very specific breed of French chicken with blue feet that are esteemed, highly sought after, etc.  So, I had that, after a Lyonnaise salad (you know, the one with frisse lettuce, bacon lardon, Dijon dressing, and a poached egg).  All good.  Oh, and I was in Cote du Rhone territory now, so that was the beverage du jour.

The whole point of the trip was to see the famed Les Halles de Lyon, their modern indoor food market.   In fact more modern than I expected.  This is highly unlike the Borough Market in London or La Boqueria in Barcelona.  However, I was giddy as I ran up the steps, and nearly leapt in the air to click my heels as I walked in.  Hallelujah!  Amen!

This was the morning to top all mornings ... as I browsed slowly from side-to-side up and down each aisle, yes, arguably the best food products in the world were here.  To my surprise, I was literally stopped in my tracks as I saw a man cutting open fresh sea urchins one after another and arranging them on a serving platter.  I had just read an article about a man who flew to Japan regularly just to find these.  After about 15 minutes in awe, I decided what the heck and ordered just one (and a side of Champagne).  What can I say, it was delicious ... the little buttery wedges scraped from the shell were simple with just the hint of the sea.

So, feeling extra adventurous, I decided I would tackle the escargot.  In case you didn't know this about me, I have a sunken garden in damp England and in the Summer snails come in droves to devour my precious plants - I have gone militant on them and putting one in my mouth wasn't high on my list.  However, in the name of trying all things once and having an opinion on exemplary foods from the world, I decided to set in to a full dozen of Burgundy escargot.  They first brought out quite a set of complex utensils, and then a plate of sizzling butter, parsley, and garlic.  I dug them out one-by-one and ate the whole plate, more or less non-stop.  I may not need to do that often, but it was enjoyable.

After that feast, I grabbed a local praline tart and grabbed the trolley car up to the north side of the city, Croix-Russe.  It is a hill with sweeping views of the city, and well, not much going on, so I walked through the winding streets, back into town ... fortunately to find the old city centre.  This is the historic section of town, and had much more of the locales I was expecting to see.  Cute cafes, cobblestone streets, ancient passageways, etc.  Did some shopping and by the point of exhaustion started to hunt out the grand finale dinner location.

I was ready to splurge ... so I found some highly rated places ...  first one, fully booked.  Second one, fully booked.  Third one, fully booked ... Fourth one, you guessed it!  Boo!  OK, so I ended up at a spot that served only local ingredients and the chef's own creations, and it was splendid!  To be honest, I was so over meat by this point I ordered a crawfish ravioli!  Ha, ha ...

Up early the next morning to catch the Sunday morning market along the Soane river.  So, so pleasant ... browsing morning food markets is my favourite thing to do.  Anyway, the produce was bountiful, the stinky cheeses sprawling, the chicken spinning on the rotisseries, and the little old ladies were scrutinizing their selections.  I picked up a couple few local items to snack on then and a few to bring home.  Home ... time to go, and time to fast for a while!

I'm afraid Flickr may have gotten more technologically advanced than I, so for now I am pasting in the link to the photo album!  Click Here.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Seduced via the Stomach: Burgundy!

Being the oenophile I am, I still get quite uncomfortable when presented with a wine list comprised mostly of French wines.  Arguably the best in the world (I would contest that Italy actually reigns supreme), if I am to truly dominate my hobby I needed to tackle this challenging region.  Thus, in 2014 I set out to visit a couple of the most infamous regions to improve my vocabulary.  First stop Burgundy!

Burgundy is a large region Southeast of Paris … it starts to the north in Chablis and continues south across draping slopes that create some of the most expensive wines in the world.  This is largely white wine territory, and the smoky Chardonnays are not my taste.  The reds are nearly all Pinot Noir, which tend to be quite light in colour and flavour … this place had its work cut out for it!

I picked up the car from the Orly airport outside Paris and hit the highway to Chablis.  From that point forward it was nothing but winding country roads through farmland and small stone villages.  March is still off season for this area that attracts tourists in droves from May through September, and so for the most part I had the road (and the towns!) all to myself.

Jambon à la Chablisienne
Burgundy is also known as a foodie paradise, and this trip was as much about gastronomy as wine.  So, first stop was lunch for the local ham in Chablis wine sauce “Jambon à la Chablisienne”.  Looking back it was the best meal of the trip.  That creamy sauce drenching the juicy ham, sided by perfectly cooked potatoes and a glass of the local Chablis, was divine.  Picked up one souvenir bottle of Chablis  – not as smoky as the white Burgundys and it’s my second fave just after Sauvignon Blanc.

From there I toured through the fields that yield the region’s Premier Crus … no leaves yet on the vines, so the views were sweeping dry land interwoven with the emerald green fields of rapeseed just starting to sprout.  I should have expected it, but was somewhat surprised how agricultural the region was … this is not your snooty, loafer-wearing wine crowd one would envision of the region, but down and dirty tracker driving locals and very rural.  There were numerous tractors in the field tending to their precious crops, just sprouting their Spring growth.

Boeuf de Charolais
After an amazing sunset closed the warm day, I spent my first night in Beaune - the capitol of Burgundy country and the first place with a little bit of activity.  Here for dinner, while planning the next day's route, I tried a steak of the local Charolais beef (In April 2010 Boeuf de Charolles was granted an Appellation Contrôlée) along with the most amazing creamy buttery cheese sauce ever experienced. The fuzzy peach-coloured cows are so cute along the road (though I think they are a bit shy for the camera, and the guy on the left was downright annoyed).  I splurged on a bottle of Pommard Premier Cru … and ate real slow.  Wow.  The wine was delicious and from that point forward I shall always look for a Pommard on those menus that scared me a bit.

Early to bed, and in the morning I browsed the Patisseries (desserts), Fromageries (cheese), Boulangeries (bread), and Boucheries (meat) in this foodie town.  I picked up a little from each place for a little picnic later in the day, as well as a exemplary bottle of Cote d’Nuits Premier Cru as a souvenir bottle for the collection.  Of course this wasn’t your average snack!  From the butcher I braved the language gap to order a slice of the Jambon Persillé, which is a terrine of ham and parsley (I hope) and some local Epoisses cheese (semi-stink) – both exemplary of foods only found in the region of Borgogne.

Jambon Persillé and Epoisses cheese
The roads south of Beaune proved quiet as well … Google Maps just happens to be amazing, so I found myself travelling on gravel paths through the fields of grapes, topping sweeping views of the region (I thought maybe I was trespassing at some points!).  I found myself at an old chateau hanging off cliffs to crack open that snack I got in town.  It didn’t disappoint!

To be honest, nearly all the “caves” were closed (where one would taste the local wine) and that was disappointing, but I tried to not let it get to me.  The drive was beautiful, the food yummy, and it felt as if I had gone back in time.  After a last stop in Pouilly-Fuissé just to say I had been there, I hit the highway to Lyon with a lot more wine knowledge in my head and a full tummy … 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Ski Trip Andorrrrrrra!

Map of Andorra
I had been yearning for one of those moments when you sit peacefully as the snow flakes fall, gazing over the mountains in the distance, with warmth and a loved one nearby.  As destiny would have it, my loved one has friends with a home near Andorra whom kindly invited us for a weekend to go skiing between Christmas and New Year's Eve.  Yeah!

In case you don't know (I didn't), Andorra is a small country between Spain and France high in the Pyrenees mountains (marking the 20th country I have visited).  It is about a two and a half hour drive from Barcelona, where we began and ended this getaway.  After the flight in, we grabbed our little van and some friends and began the trek North. 

I haven't skied much in my life.  I've gone on a couple trips in Wisconsin, but that is a bit like saying you have experience in Formula One racing by riding go karts once.  Nonetheless, I was game (especially since this got me the serene moments I longed for ... albeit in between bouts of life-threatening panic and aching body parts).

We rose early in the morning to drive to the resort high, high up in the mountains, crossing the border into Andorra.  The first day was bright with blue, blue skies and warm temperatures.  Glorious!  The first run I attempted was way out of my league and I spent more time on my bum or "snowplowing" as slowly as possible to get me to the bottom.  Ugh.  Considered giving up.

After examining the map and identifying some blue hills to try, I was back in action and built my confidence over the course of the two days on the mountain.  I slowly identified what I was doing wrong, made some attempts at slopes that had leg-breaking potential, and ultimately felt like I made great progress.  As I took my breaks on the long runs gradually down the hill, the sights were breath-taking, and thanks to a nice gift from Nielsen we had a video camera to capture some of the action.
Of course you are exhausted after skiing all day, so we spent quiet evenings in the nearby small communities.  Of particular excitement, we went for a late dinner at a nearby farmhouse that sourced most of their food from their property.  There was warm chicken soup, Spanish cured meats and chesses, the customary pan con tomate, and I had roasted chicken to die for.  So good ... now get me out of these ski clothes and to bed!
On day four, we had breakfast overlooking the mountains, drove back along the cliffs and rolling hills to Barcelona, and spent one more night outside the city in front of a warm fire in the fireplace after a wander around the small town of El Vendrell.  The ocean side drive to the airport was icing on the cake.  Sooo good.  What an end to 2013!


Christkindlmarkt, Vienna

Unfortunately I wasn't able to get this posted in 2013, as I only had 12 blog posts throughout the entire year and hadn't posted anything since July, and this would have boosted my total.  I am back at blogging again and hope to keep up documenting my travels and thoughts in 2014.

Rathausplatz ... the main market
It is true that my personal travel slowed to a halt for the second half of last year, partially because business travel was constant and partially because a particular someone has made me want to be home in London more often.  I kept up with what wonderful food I cooked, shopped for, and ate in real time on Facebook and Instagram.

I had a gloriously long, calm year end break.  Christmas in the middle of the week actually works out quite well, giving you two weeks off for the holidays.  Having celebrated in the US a bit early this year, I had some time on my own to revel in the Christmas spirit in Europe.

One afternoon while searching for the best Christmas markets in England, I kept coming across sites ranking those in Europe - the pictures of Vienna are simply magical, often ranked as the #1 destination.  Since I've moved to this side of the pond Vienna has been my dream Christmas market trip, and well I ended up Googling tickets and booked impromptu for that weekend.  Why not!?

Have to have some mulled wine!
I flew in the Sunday afternoon before Christmas and left Monday evening - 24 hours to cover as much of Vienna as possible!  Cute little chalets all lined up inside the city's squares selling glittering bobbles, intricately decorated gingerbread cookies, jewelry, and beeswax candles.  Smiling, smiling, smiling in the crisp air.

And of course the fooooood ... Austria is known for their local versions of "speck" ham and tangy, melt-worthy cheeses.  The pretzels were bigger than your head and laced with any sweet or savoury one could desire.  I popped warm roasted chestnuts in my mouth as I cheerfully walked up and down the lanes.  After resting the feet and back with a chilled glass of local Riesling, I relaxed in one of the best wiener schnitzel houses in Vienna for dinner (it is the national dish!).  With a side of warm potato salad you can't go wrong!

Early to bed, and early to rise to spend a full day first visiting the glorious food market a few metro stops away (feeling proud conquering yet another city's public transport system!) followed by more Christmas-y goodness.  LOVED this market (currently ranked #3 after Barcelona and London on Sarah's list).  Frazzled shoppers queued for fresh fish, cheese, and produce in anticipation of making Christmas dinner.  It was the day before Christmas Eve and the energy was invigorating ... no matter where you live, the holidays bring a shopping frenzy!

Visiting some of the local wine shops it dawned on me that Riedel glass is Austrian (that is a link to some pics). They are some of the best wine glasses on the market, and have price tags to go along with the reputation.  However, being here in Austria (and with holiday sales!) they were less than half the price they are in London and I just couldn't contain myself!  Six large, beautiful, bulbous red wine vessels were in my shopping bags before I knew it!  Wait ... how am I going to get these on the plane?  Ahh, where there is a will there is a way.  Made it home.  What a splendid trip.  SLIDESHOW!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lessons in Love ... Trondheim, Norway

Us girls have come to form a pretty tight tribe. Strong, successful, independent ladies, our meetings have a bit of Sex in the City vibe about them ... a secret society of alpha females whom spend their time sipping wine, talking about boys and the challenges of being female in the board room.

Over the course of the last year or so one of our members fell in love with a Scandi, got engaged, quit her job, moved to Norway, and is now expecting.  Whoa - talk about grounds for numerous tribal conventions.  This weekend was their wedding!

So, we packed our bags and jetted off to Trondheim, Norway, a little fishing village about half way up the country of Norway, for the ceremony.  Not many people live there (or anywhere nearby), yet with 100K+ inhabitants it is the third largest city in Norway and the childhood home to the man of at least one girl's dreams. Glad we went when it was green, warm, and the sun never set, because I could envision the frozen tundra this land must be most of the year.  Brrrr.

I was really looking forward to this for many reasons ... a new adventure, fresh air, a country I had not been to yet, time away with a large group of friends, and of course sharing in the wedding of a great friend and witnessing the traditions of another culture.

After a late flight in, I woke up early Saturday morning to cover as much pavement as possible before the ceremony - stopping at the fish market on the docks to pick up some smoked salmon, salted cod and a fish cake snack;  cruising the streets to see the cathedral and the old bridge in front of one of the oldest rows of traditional wooden housing in Norway.

Quick stop to purty up and we were on our way to the church for the short, sweet ceremony followed by a ride in a vintage tram to the top of one of the hills overlooking the town below.  So fun!

The reception ceremony was a delightful surprise (to be fair, I had been warned many times that the monotonous talking in Norwegian would go on for torturous hours and was threatened booze may not be served).

Norwegian tradition dictates that throughout a several course dinner, guests of the wedding give speeches, deliver poems, sing songs, etc.  - appetizer, father-of-the bride, groom, meat course, bride, father-of-the-groom, sisters, cheese plate, best man, friends, wedding cake, two songs sung by first the aunts/uncles then the group of cousins, more sweets.  I loved it!  The five hours flew by.  Their love and support for each other was, in short, inspiring (and I don't think it was just the four course wine paring that had me all sentimental).

Could it be possible I forgot love like this exists?  There wasn't a dry eye in the house as the father of the bride confessed to wishing he spent more time with his daughter and the darling groom fought back tears as he told his bride why he would love her forever and thanked his parents for supporting his decisions.  As I witnessed the whole event, collectively, from the traditional wool dress of the women, the guitars they brought to play their handwritten music, their sensitivity to speaking English, the sheep grazing the peaceful hills outside, to the simple topics they expressed joy for (tractors, skiing, math) it all fell into place.

The complexity we sometimes bring into our lives can be over-rated and needs to be kept in perspective. That night in that room allowed me to witness and once again believe in love ... simple, real love.  It's out there.  You just need to set your expectations, be patient and open to all possibilities.  Having the support of some wonderful ladies to lift your spirits along the way doesn't hurt either!

Oh, and I will skip the details about doing the Electric Slide and the Macarena until the wee hours of the morning.  It didn't happen.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Brazil ... Morocco ... London to Ibiza ...

OK, well, maybe just the second half ... this blog we are going to start with a little music motivation to set the tone.

Let's just say that as I embarked on my trip from London to Ibiza, I had faint fantasies of being J-Lo in this video where at the age of 43, she owns the club, looking amazing in a glitter body suit, shaking her boo-tay.  Well, my trip wasn't quite like this, but not far off.

For those who don't know, Ibiza is known world wide as the clubbing capital and home to Electro House music.  There are numerous enormous warehouse size clubs that pack in youngsters from around the globe throughout July and August.  World class DJs like David Guetta (whom we missed), Calvin Harris (saw Thursday), and Avicii (Sunday) rock weekly shows.  The night doesn't get started until after midnight, and anyone seen on the street before 10AM clearly hasn't gone to bed yet.

Me doing my best J-Lo
By day, people pack the beautiful beach clubs, sipping on expensive cocktails and washing it all down with even more expensive bottles of water.  The food is decadent ... lavish seafood paellas and large portions of lobster and sushi ... I'll say, you pay for the food, but the quality and portions are there to make it feel worth while.

Friday we chartered a private sailboat for our group of six ... though the motoring was a bit slow and rolly-polly, we did finally make it to our destination - the beautiful sister island of Formentera.  Certainly the highlight of the trip for me was the gorgeous outdoor restaurant tucked away off the beach, with flowing white curtains and mussels and shellfish to die for.  Yum!  This, my friends, is how to live.

Saturday we spent the day at Blue Marlin Beach Club and then made our way to the most well known club Pacha for another splendid dinner and dancing.  Scantily clad performers kept the eyes entertained in this stunning club.  What a great way to celebrate Angela's birthday!  And, the magnum of French Rose on the beach will never be forgotten.

Sunday, was a repeat ... relaxing on a sun bed like the rich and famous at Ushuaia, then packing in around the giant outdoor stage and pool to sweat it out to Avicii.  Definitely the best musical set for me ... this guy is only 23, coming from Sweden.  If you haven't heard him before, here is one of his most popular, and perhaps a video more exemplary of how our trip really went!

 And a slide show as well!!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Three Years ...

Ride from London Heathrow, July 2010
Three years ago yesterday I boarded a plane with a one-way ticket to a land I had never been to, thousands of miles away.  Three years ago today, I got off that plane with more excitement, fear, and anticipation than one heart should handle - eyes darting about as my black taxi (with the driver notably sitting on the wrong side) whisked me across London past one major site after another, dropping me off at my little corporate housing flat near Chancery Lane.  As I envision that day, I do seem younger then.

Today I reflected on myself, who I am now, and questioned whether I was "changed" from this experience.  Yes, I have grown immensely in my career and this global experience has sling shot me ahead in that arena.  My travels are irreplaceable experiences that have shown me culture, diversity, history, decadence, and of course culinary delights ... but has that changed ... me ... ?

First weekend in London, July 2010
I'm not so sure ... I still prefer solitude, control of a situation, avoid conflict, and voice my honest, direct feedback.  I find peace in simple pleasures each day, such as blooming flowers and setting suns.  I get so jazzed up by a gourmet food store and find few greater pastimes than browsing an outdoor market.  I am neurotic and love puzzles, knitting, counting my footsteps as I run 5K.  The sun on my skin and sea near my toes is where I long to be ... same as in 2010 before I made this journey.

As opposed to changing me, I think this experience so far has enhanced me ... made me more aware and is helping me to truly see those things in myself that make me who I am and bring me the greatest joy ... those situations that no matter my location and experience where I am happiest ... speaking of which, time to pop off to the pub around the corner to catch up on the local neighbourhood gossip over a glass of wine and a delicious meal (indeed, some things never change).

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Those who run with bulls ...

This weekend I had an impromptu invite for a road trip to Pamplona, Spain to run with the bulls.  Running with the infamous bulls was certainly a fantasy I had imagined, like many, many others, but I hadn't thought I would actually be there one day.  Humbly, it was such a kind, unconditional offer ...  sooo, yes!  I accept!

The festival of San Fermin as it is known, is a social celebration marking the old transition of passing the bulls from the farm to the arena for slaughter and respecting the "Saint" Fermin.  To me the gesture carries a sense of romance.  It is the largest, most known Spanish festival in the world.

A 4+ hour road trip from Barcelona  - first through the green foot hills of Cataluna into the dry white hot desert and then back into the land of flowers - Navarro.  Every quiet moment was worth more than face-value - the scenery was cornflower blue skies and yellow-gold grain dotted with fields of olive and fruit trees.

We rented a flat from airbnb - which for me was a first, but in this situation it just fit.  Our new mates were a joy - bringing us red scarves and delighting us with their little kitty (whom had her own little attitude and scarf for the day).  Couldn't have been more kind.

Day one at San Fermin starts at12 Noon with rockets and ringing bells signifying the beginning of the nine day festival.  You are not allowed to wear your scarf before this time, so all raise their red scarves in the air and promptly at 12N tie them around their necks.  (Mind you, gallons of cheap sangria and watered down red wine is being chucked into the air at the same time, resulting in quite the scene and those pink shirts you see everywhere).

Anyway, after that massive experience the like-dressed people flood the narrow streets of the historic town, popping into the bars / dancing / eating sandwiches of jamon y queso / peeing / tossing wine / passing out in the parks ... makes very interesting people watching.   And the fact that everyone is in the same outfit does provide for a peaceful, unifying experience.  I had a wonderful time ... and I learned that in some parts of the world Coca Cola mixed with red wine is the #1 drink I want to order.  Don't knock it 'til 'ya try it.

Though a lot of this trip was about fun and adventure, I should mention the bull fight itself, which we made a good decision to attend Friday night.  I am a carnivorous snout-to-tail person, but it is still quite unnerving to witness the torture and death caused in the ring.  {Frankly I had naively questioned whether bullfighting was still legal - yes, it is in Spain apparently}.

From my point of view I can still see a glimmer of the past.  Back in the day the men of the farms did need to lure the bulls close enough so they could be slaughtered by the sword - but in modern times this is a gruesome sport where old women and children alike scream for the matador to cut off the giant fuzzy ear of the bull he just stabbed in the brain.  Gross.  And I suppose I personally identify with the bull, not the matador, so this feels like adding insult to injury.

Back to the fiesta ... Saturday after delightful naps in the park, wondering delis to buy local cheese and wine, doing wine squirt contests from our hip "bota" to our own mouths and those of passers-by, we found a local spot to have a sit down meal and a wonder back to the bus pass the popping fireworks overhead the singing masses stained in pink.

Although we did wake up at 6AM that morning to get to the race (which starts at 8AM each morning of the fiesta) we did not actually run with the bulls ... I know, disappointing, but I am telling you, that is not a tourist activity.  Bulls run very fast, they are humongous, the streets are narrow with tight turns and those horns are reeeeally pointy - not to mention, many have stayed up the entire 20+ hours from the 12 Noon kickoff and don't exactly have their wits about them.  Of all the 1,000s of people I saw run into the stadium, I only saw two girls.

Though I really would have loved to have been straddling the fence as the adrenaline of bulls and young men raced by, my San Fermin experience was a perfect seat right up close in the Plaza de Toros where the bulls and crowd race to the finish.  Exhilarating!  And after the wide-eyed runners get into the stadium there is quite a bit of comedy as they actually release some smaller, less risky bulls back into the stadium.  Oh how the people run!  Ha ha ha.

Anyway, I am glad I had the opportunity to travel across Eastern Spain to breath the air in that round stadium and be one of those that runs with bulls (well, close enough).

Friday, June 21, 2013

Survival of the Fittest

Each day I am in London I work from my kitchen table, which has a beautiful view into my back garden area. Not only does it have the perfect little round tree and dozens of pots of herbs and flowers, it is also a constant streaming video of residential National Geographic.

Varietals of song birds are the backdrop to my day; playful squirrels dig up last season's buried nuts, the neighbour's cats do their lazy yoga poses, and our local pack of foxes patrol back and forth along the back stretch.

The past few weeks there has been a new series ... a Mama blackbird built her nest in the giant Hydrangea bush and her young-ins are now looking fluffy and strong.  She has whizzed my head all too close a few times to let me know this space was clearly not mine for the time being.

Today I spied some fluffy movement in the Geranium plant, and lo and behold one of the little guys had  made his first flight attempt.  He has been bouncing around the stone pavement, pecking at bits, a little disorientated and possibly a bit regretful.  Mama has been diligent however, bringing him snacks.

As I watched the little guy I was proud of him for being the strong one of the group ... leaping bravely into the unknown, driven only by nature's forces.  I thought about how in any pack there is the headstrong, the leader, the bull ... and then ... I thought about the foxes.  Gulp.

This dumbass is going to be lunch (and I get to witness the swift snapping up, feathers flying while on my 3P conference call).  It makes you ponder ... is it really the strong and brave that make the first leap, or are they the pre-designed sacrificial lambs for the rest of the herd to be taught the valuable lesson first hand of careful consideration / the cruel world / look before you leap?

We as a society tend to envy the adventurous, high risk takers.  Personally, I think I will take this little lesson as a sign that being cautious and observant, witnessing and learning from others is the best approach to not ending up as someone else's lunch.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Reverse Culture Shock

After living in London for some time now, social behaviours that at first seemed quite strange have become my daily norm (I myself and the proud owner of 5 pairs of skinny pants).  So much so, that on visits back to the US some of my observations suggest I may be undergoing some social conditioning in London.  When this happens I think "whoa", pause to take notice, and reflect on the intricacies of what is the "social Norm".

Let's call this reverse culture shock.  Here are some examples I kept track of on this most recent trip to Chicago (all of which, when considering their opposite point out some of the initial shocks undergone when I moved to the UK)

People drive - I literally stopped in the street after jumping the El and lugging my bag 6 blocks to remember what that was like, and everyone I knew had a car.

• The accent - oh yeah, they're American here.

• Belligerently standing on the left side of the escalator - a stunt known to result in homicidal thoughts to most Brits, and interestingly ex-pats as well after some time.

•  The size of the robins - holy cow they are huge!

•  Hispanics ... Awww yeah ... Salsa music howling from open car windows

•  On a related note ... Guys check you out ... and talk to you ... and honk ... and whistle ...

•  No skinny pants - I was looking.

•  Tube tops - searches in London were fruitless. Must have been 20 kinds in the PayHalf on Milwaukee.  Yessss.

•  Hipsters. The real ones. Everywhere, and invented in Logan Square.

•  Bottomless coffee. Bot-Tom-Less.  Now if we could only get England to adopt the bottomless Monmouth Latte.

•  What do you call that place where you go to the bathroom?  It's not the loo, as I have called it twice much to the confusion of others

•  Pretty people.  Not quite as easy to find in England.

•  Hearing this: "I'm sorry ma'am, the kitchen closes at 9". Huh?  I've been ridiculed for setting bookings earlier than that.

Social studies have always been a keen interest of mine, and this life experience not only has provided me with a window to observe many European cultures, but also a valuable chance to reflect back on where I come from and the things we do that make us unique as well. Fun!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Como no??

The title - a play on words meaning "Why not?".  Precisely my attitude as I booked this trip to Lake Como in Northern Italy.  If I have to be in Milan every few weeks, why not take advantage of it and stay the weekend for a train trip out of the city?  Stunning Lake Como is just an hour ride, but feels as if you were transported to another planet.

This was a solo trip ... envisioned as a weekend alone with fresh, cool mountain air, wondering, relaxing, wining and dining.  Mental leg kick!  It was all that ... I returned refreshed, with my lethargic winter heaviness shed.

Truth be told, it rained the entire weekend.  Non-stop.  It was dry enough for me to walk from the train station to the hotel, but the instant I arrived a strong thunderstorm passed over the lake.  It was awesome.  Really.  London gets persistent rain, but no thunder and lightening and I miss those strong storms that blow through the Midwest, especially as an unseasonally warm day is pushed out by a cold front.

Nonetheless, my adventure was not derailed.  After the worst of it passed, I grabbed the brelly to stroll into the evening along the coastal path into the old town of Varenna - a sleepy old fishing village with just a few {closed} store fronts on the water and about half a dozen alley ways of infinite staircases leading up the mountain to the square of town.  There wasn't a soul to be found on the streets ... later I learned from a local the storm was quite bad, causing a landslide outside of town that closed off the main road.

The wind proved too strong, so I found refuge in a little restaurant with a view for a glass of wine and a starter of what only can be described as chic fish spread ... of course, while being on the lake my goal was to taste as many of the its culinary treats.  I was joined by the cuddly house Kitty, as I sat and read my book before braving the elements to shift camp to another restaurant of choice for a proper lake fish ravioli dinner and glass of local red wine.  Annnddddd good night!

Up bright and early to assure I didn't miss anything in Varenna the night before (I didn't) and catch the ferry across the lake to the town of Bellagio.  This is the belle of the lake, a darling small Italian town known for attracting an affluent crowd to enjoy a day of manoeuvring the slim stairways lined with shops (the best silk in the world is said to come from Como) and ending with a glass of wine in the enoteca before and after a delicious local meal.  And so I did!

Sunday morning, again I was early to rise to tackle a three hour hike through the "suburbs of Bellagio".  Ha ha ... suburb.  Still raining, but having adopted the attitude that it is easier to get wet and get the full view then struggle with the brelly, I wondered the roads, through grasslands of former mansions, past groves of olive trees, witnessed locals pushing a historic fishing boat to the waters ... I was so in awe of the power and beauty of the clouded mountains I took dozens of pictures ... often of the exact same scene in attempt to bring it all back with me.  Breathtaking (and not just from the stairs).

After an invigorating boat trip back to Varenna staring into the snow-capped mountain peaks and a lunch of warm bean and pasta soup, it was time to jump back on the train to hustle and bustle of Milan and onward to London (just as the blue sky started to peak through the clouds).  Fortunately, the Spring weather in London welcomed me back to continue the momentum and I am good as new!


Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Female tribe hits Fiorenza!

I tend to not speak much about my gang here on the blog, as I typically "respect other people's right to not be written about on the internet", but this past weekend was a major event in the Alpha-Alpha-Alpha-Alpha-Alpha (you get the picture) sorority and is worth note in this journal of goings-on in my life.

I am so, so, so fortunate to have found myself surrounded by a collection of brilliant, beautiful, funny, smart, brave, honest, susceptible, humble, up-for-anything, loving ladies.  Friends with diverse backgrounds, interests, characteristics ... and all bring unique value and growth to my life.

We've come about as friends of friends or co-workers and I'm just so dang lucky we did!  This weekend seven of us decided on a road trip to commemorate the escape of one of the Alphs.  One of our ladies has fallen in love with a Scandalous Scandinavian and is off to move to Oslo in just two weeks now!

Ponte Vecchio
And celebrate we did ... three days in Florence, Italy -  the home of food, Chianti, love, and from my experience tons of naked people cast in stone. We took an hour train from Pisa, stayed in a couple amazing apartments on the river overlooking the "Ponte Vecchio" and spent our time between shopping, resting, wining and dining.

Tuscany ... in my American-movie fed dreams, this is the land of promised green rolling hills, olive oil, and love affairs with some sort of bicycle / teacher / dark hair intertwined (perhaps I need to return some day).  We remained in the city of Florence, perusing the markets for leather goods, stopping for frequent gelato breaks, staring up at the unexpected giantness of what is "David", and eating meals that included every last bit of an anti, primi, and a secondi ... woot!

As I wrote the second paragraph above and used the word "susceptible" I paused to Google it.  It is one of those words that in some sense connotates weakness and I wanted to assure I wasn't describing the girls with a word that may be mis-construed in a negative way (let's be real, I tend to throw a solid jab here and there, so wanted to check myself!).

But as I ponder its definition { Adjective:  1) Likely or liable to be influenced or harmed by a particular thing.  2) (of a person) Easily influenced by feelings or emotions; sensitive.  } I truly think there is no more fitting term as I reflect on this weekend, its significance, and the attendees.  As often as we ladies have to put on our head-strong, lead-the-world, take-no-prisoners hats, it is nice to see a lovely woman throw it all to the wind, strip down and say there is nothing I would rather do than be with this person, the man I love, trust, want to have babies with ... so much so that I will stay for months in frigid hours of darkness, learn a new language that sounds no more understandable than tak-a-tak-tak-a-tak, meet strangers and call them family, smoke salmon and reindeer meat at home, and endlessly "train" for cross-country skiing events.

Best of luck to you sweetheart ... though scary, at a minimum you have inspired me and made me proud.  I'm sure the other Alphs would agree.  Hugs.


Friday, March 8, 2013

International Women's Day

I've noticed my inner feminist is starting to stir.  Amongst certain company that suggestion will provoke negative connotations and definitely raise an eyebrow or two regarding the fact that I am 37 and still a single lady (?!!??!!??), but I am not talking about being a man-hater, I am talking about being a female-promoter.  Since moving to Europe certain situations have caught my attention, causing me to be aware of my womanhood ... instances where the fact that I was a woman was brought to the forward of my consciousness (and I'm not talking about those welcomed encounters).

For example, while boarding an airplane at London's City Airport for Milan, the jet bridge is jammed with men in their 30-50s, wearing sharp black suits, fashionable ties, poking away at their smartphones.  Aside from a fashionista or two, it seemed as if I was the only woman flying to Milan to conduct business (at least one senior enough to justify the expense of the city airport).  Needless to say, I was the only woman sitting at the table of that Board meeting. Hm.

Or, while walking through the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week, the crowd was at least 4:1 male, and much to my disgust the majority of females at the show were scantly clad, their only purpose being to tout the latest shiny device to previously mentioned male-dominated crowd. My skin crawled.

I've also felt the same in the UK, where Board rooms are majority male and it is quite acceptable to tell a woman leader she "sounds like a naggy wife" when she raises concerns about business decisions.  Stories from friends revealing male leaders in their offices touching and embarrassing young ladies enrage me.

I just don't recall many situations like this in the US.  Upon reflecting my own personal history, I never really considered the fact that I was a female when it came to my own education and career path.  Perhaps the U.S. is more progressive than Europe in this sense (go us!), but I also realize now that I am fortunate to have role models in my life that helped me navigate around the oppression many women face along the way.

For starters, I remember quite vividly watching my Mom get ready to go to work when I was young.  I would lay in her bed, and she would put on her power suit, pumps, and jewellery to go hit the streets to tackle business in her sporty little car.  I always thought how smart, fearless, and beautiful she was, and I know this subtle ritual was very impressionable on me.  I wanted to be just like her.

She taught me to get good grades, have expectations for myself and others, and beyond all, to be self-reliant with a good job.  If I did those things, everything else would work out.  I never remember, ever, a conversation about how I was a girl and expected to do less, or that boys could do some things and girls should do others.  Bull-mallarky.  If anything, I was shown that as a girl you should simply work harder.

And I have to give credit to the company I work for.  From the very first position I held, I was encouraged to grow, learn and take on more.  My first boss was a woman, our CEO at the time was a woman, my second boss was a woman, I was hired by a woman to move to Europe, my mentors are mostly women, and as I look at the executive leadership team today easily half are women, if not more.  Never has sexuality been a topic at work, aside from the encouragement to continue to be present and to celebrate our diversity. Today, our company issued a series of twenty short videos of our leadership around the world expressing their support of International Woman's Day.  I am quite proud to be part of this.

So, on this International Woman's Day, I hope everyone takes the time to acknowledge that our private bits are not an acceptable source of discrimination, to call out those cases in which you see that discrimination taking place, to encourage young woman in your lives that anything is possible, and to thank those who've encouraged you along the way.  You should never feel uncomfortable or less than anyone else because you are female and societies that do not encourage their women are not realizing their full potential.  And, I have to say, I'm quite looking forward to getting a copy of Cheryl Sandburg's book Lean In, coming out Monday (Facebook's COO and female activist).

Thanks Mom, and to all of you strong ladies in my life, "You've come a long way baby"!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Barcelona - a Foodie Heaven

I just downloaded 355 pictures from my trip to Barcelona - a tell tale sign that there was a LOT of eye candy in that city!  Last week there was a global convention for those that supply the mobile industry (think phones, tablets, wireless technology, app venders ... eight football arena sized halls of it), and I got to attend on behalf of Nielsen (we're trying to measure what you do on your device!).

Being that I had yet to visit this favourite city of many, I made a long weekend of it to see what the city had to offer.  Work has been quite busy, so I did not have much time to do the research I typically do before visiting a new place in order to assure nothing is missed.  Fortunately I made do.

I did get in a quick Google search of "food markets Barcelona" and found the grand-mack-daddy of them all. And, I did scan TripAdvisor for the best tapas restaurants.  Armed with that knowledge, I made my way Friday evening to "Bar Celta".  A quick and easy fried tapas kind of joint near the sea that is also a pulperia (or restaurant that specializes in octopus).  Gross to some, a special delight to others ... I ate an entire plateful sprinkled with parprika, along with large plate of pimentos de padron (flash-fried, loads of salt).  And, they put a bottle of chilled, local white wine in front of you and you just pay for how much you drink out of it.  Bliss.

Saturday was designed to wander the Bari Gotic and Las Ramblas - the old heart of the city and main drag which runs down the middle.  The hotel was a metro ride form the centre, so I am now an expert on one more city's public transport system.  The Bari is exactly what you want to find when you travel to a European city ... little winding alley ways, lined with shuttered balconies holding laundry, ferns, and local flags.  Main stream shops are interspersed with local speciality shops, and fortunately many old businesses are still in tact.

By mid-day we made our way to the Mercat Lo Boqueria, aka Heaven on Earth.  This foodie haven provides a solid challenge to my beloved Borough market in London for best in the world.  It seems every kind of anything edible the great Earth provides is under this roof - every possible type of fruit, veg, spice, cheese, fish, and meat ... ohhh, the jamon! Catalunya is the home to Iberica ham ... its not cheap, but oh is it delicious.  Jamon in a cone!  After strolling each and every lane, eating along the way, we stopped to take a load off at a little tapas bar in the market.  I had some delicious anchovies with the local Estrella beer.  The only reason I could walk out of there was because I knew I would be back before the end of the trip.

From there we continued on our wondering way, seeing the Arc di Triomf (its not only Paris that has one!) with a flock of parrots feeding in front, a darling little shoe shop with every colour imaginable, antique shops with old food tins, and a stop off for a devilish hot chocolate (which was more akin to molten chocolate sauce you'd pour on a sundae, eaten with a little spoon).

For dinner we went to La Paradeta on a recommendation from a friend.  This counter-service restaurant sure was popular, indicated by the line of locals winding down the street waiting to get in.  It works like this ... counter is overflowing with ice and the freshest of seafood.  You get to the counter and order (in Catalan) which items you want, the number of grams, and either grilled or fried.  You grab a number and when you hear it called out (also in Catalan) you go to the window and pick it up.  No fluff, just grilled squid, tuna, prawns, and I did have to try the razor clams (first time, and they are good). After a stop off for an after dinner glass of local red, and perhaps a couple tapas it was off to bed.

Sunday was planned to be the more cultural day focused on seeing Gaudi's architectual masterpieces sprinkled throughout Barcelona.  First, to Sagrada Familia, which left me with one headline - this guy is certifiable. Nuts.  Pure genius.  The mathematical design concepts he had to discover to build a structure like this, combined with his awesome abiilty to integrate design from nature and inability to say "when" made for some simply unbelievable results.  I do have to say, I loved the primary coloured stained glass windows, but the church itself is simply just too "Gaudi".

On our way over to some of his houses, we passed by a xurreria, or as it should be known, the place that makes best dang churro anywhere, ever.  Thick, hot, filled with nutella, served in a paper cone from a guy whose been in business for more than 60 years ... fried dough will never go out of style.

Hmmm ... what else was notable ... lunch!  Another highly recommended tapas spot Cerveceria Catalana, which served endless varieties of montaditos, or little slices of bread with a topper, usually tomatoes, fish, cheese, and also two key plates - a mountain of french-fried potatoes topped with tomato sauce and a fried egg (everyone was getting it, so of course we had to try it!) and also a plate of grilled green onions.  Now, these onions, known as calcots, are not your every day onion (at least that is what this article says).  We had to watch others around us to figure out how to eat them ... which is to peel off the outer grilled skins and dredge the soft gooey center into tomato sauce.  Combined with a pitcher of sweet sangria, this was classic Catalonia lunch.  After a stroll along the coast and through the little Barceloneta neighborhood, it was back to the hotel to just take it easy ... no need to eat dinner that night!

After spending two days and nights at the conference, I had some time on the final day before heading off to the airport to knock out a few more places.  As if the weekend weren't enough, I was astounded to find many more foodie delights.  First stop was Casa Gispert.  This little dried food shop was been roasting nuts since the mid-19th century.  They had the old roaster in back going when I was there ... the lighting from the flames, the aroma of almonds, and the historic shelves lined with dreamy delights was surreal.  This is where I picked up my paella rice.

Making my way to another food market, Mercat Santa Catarina, I came across an old pastry shop with these crunchy, chocolate and peanut covered thingies (and its making me crazy because I didn't get the name of them) and of course had to stop for a couple since they were so unique.  This market was quite nice as well, with meat/cheese stalls dreams are made of.  I wandered a bit and found a little shop selling paella pans, so that souvenier was a reality.

Winding my way across town, stopping at La Boqueria market for one last mental hug and a toast with a glass of local Cava (I learned that Cava, Spain's answer to France's Champagne and Italy's Proseco, is from quite close to Barcelona), I made it over to the Parallel area of town for the grand finale meal at Quimet i Quimet.  As chance would have it in a town like Barcelona, I walked past this amazing old bakery, serving bunyols, small little donut-hole like creations served in Barcelona only during the season of lent.  Picked up a few of those babies and tucked them into my bag for a snack on the plane.

Anyway, in a less touristy part of town, this small little tapas counter (no seats) was epic.  I did read about it online, and after seeing it in a gastronomy book I bought while in town, I had to make it there.  Not much bigger than my kitchen, every bit of wall space from floor to ceiling is covered with wine and food products.  They had some wicked montaditos, like salmon with truffled honey, shrimp dotted with caviar and creme freche, and the closer ... foie gras speckled with black volcanic salt.  Ta dah!!!

I have been on a veg and fruit diet for three days now!  Barcelona ... one of the few cities I would make a repeat visit to.  Next time, in the warm weather ... throw in visits to the beach and I may never leave!