¡viva genevieve!

Embracing change through travel and culinary discovery

Archive for the tag “Travel”

New Year, New Me, New Home

Hello my blog.

I’m sorry I went away for so long but I have good reasons for leaving you so empty and out-dated, you see I was taking time out of my old life to start my new one. New lives are pretty complicated things you know; they require an awful lot of dedicated time and effort to birth them in to reality. There are cities to scour, homes to hunt for and jobs to snatch up. There are fresh friends to make, unique lingo to learn and strange foods to eat. There are also new rooms to fill, renewed routines to begin and unheard of recipes to try. With all of these new aspects to cultivate and pursue my days have felt short but my life has felt full and a full life is what’s most exciting about starting anew.

I finished my European travels in November and I have now found that my latest stop is the place I call home. Beautiful, vivid and adventurous Vancouver is where the new me begins. Although right now in January I must say it is more like grey, dreary and gloomy Vancouver. But even in the wet and wintry season I still feel at home, with the beach near by and the mountains in my view I know that this is where my new life is.

Since leaving the professional rowing world earlier in 2014 I have now found the gut feeling I have been looking for, that instinctive feeling where things just feel right, even when some days they’re wrong. Making the decision to finish up my rowing career and end my Olympic pursuit was a complicated and at the time painful decision, but it was the right one. Now I feel like I can prepare for my next long term pursuit in finding my path towards becoming a sport psychologist. This is a path that won’t be clear and won’t be easy but the timing is right to get the ball rolling, because when you’re passionate about something, the timing is always right.

So I find myself now in this wonderfully diverse Canadian city that has so much to offer. Not unlike the surrounds I’m used to back home in New Zealand, there is so much on offer here but on a much grander scale. Being around people of all ethnic backgrounds is a great bonus of being in a city such as Vancouver; there are so many opportunities to learn about not only Canada but also the rest of the world and what’s to complain about when Canadians are just so damn nice!

As the time passes on I am sure I will get used to the subtle differences in language and Canadian culture, although I am not sure I can learn to love a Caesar cocktail (is that a requirement for obtaining residency? I should look in to that) but for now I will stick to the cultural fusion. The fusion of Canada and New Zealand is an easy one as we tend to get along famously, apart from some strange cocktail preferences, so since I am now back in a beautiful, grand and functional kitchen I have started getting back in to my deeply missed passion of cooking. To kick-start my new life and my renewed blog I have made an ultimate “New Zanada” fusion recipe with these ….

Maple walnut ANZAC biscuits

Ingredients:

3/4 C Oats                                                          50g Butter

1/2 C Flour                                                          1/4 – 1/2 C Maple Syrup

1/2 C Desiccated Coconut                                  3/4 C walnuts or pecans (or a mix of both!)

1/2 t Baking soda mixed with 1 T hot water

How it’s done:

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius or in my Canadian kitchen 350 degrees fahrenheit.

2. Mix all of the dry ingredients and nuts together (minus the baking soda)

3. Melt the butter and maple syrup over a low heat, stir the baking soda into the hot water and then add to the  butter and syrup mixture.

4. Combine the dry and wet ingredients, mix and place spoonfuls on to a greased or baking paper lined tray *.

5. Bake until golden (approximately 15-20 mins) and enjoy the fusion of these great flavours in a simple yet  classic and tasty biscuit.

* Make sure there is enough space between biscuits on the tray as they expand during cooking.

Sevilla: Eats, Treats and Citrus Streets

It has come time for me to move on from sunny Sevilla and carry on with the journey. It’s time to stop taking midday siestas, partaking in tapa tasting and sipping on tinto veranos and start planning to head to lands of cooler and crisper air. Whilst basing myself here in Sevilla to teach, learn and explore I have managed to get to know the city pretty well and I have made some fantastic friends along the way, the great thing about the Andalusian people is that they are always arms open wide, boisterous and ready for a cerveza and a fiesta. The following list is just a small sample of my Sevillian favourites: the things that I highly recommend and that make up the best memories of this city that I will take away with me.


Tapas, Tapas and more and more Tapas

I’ll start with the food as it seems to be the centre of my universe still even though I am no longer an athlete. Andalucía is probably the most known region of Spain for tapas, tapas are everywhere but here they are particularly a core part of the lifestyle. The best tapas I had here were at Espacio Eslava a well-priced and beautifully presented tapas bar (you can see the food we had on “World Table”) Bodeguita Romero is also one to check out with very traditional options. The tapas dining experience really is my favourite way to enjoy food, you get to try so many different flavours, the meal ends up being cheap and you are full and satisfied by the end of it. My recommendations are:

Solomillo con whiskey – Pork tenderloin cooked in garlic and whisky sauce, so simple but so full of flavour and a great one to mop up with bread.

Morcilla – Ok this one sounds gross but it is actually so tasty and very rich, it’s the Sevillian style of black pudding and is usually served in a bocadillo.

Ibérico – Anything with Iberian pork is amazing and beautifully tasty! These acorn feed pigs really are a cut above the rest, you can taste this in many ways including jamón ibérico or ibérico secreto.

Cola de toro – Bulls tail, this is usually stewed and only available on some occasions. I was only able to try bulls tail croquettes which were delicious.

Chocos fritos – Similar to Calamari but a bit thicker, these are fried pieces of a sort of cuttlefish, served with a squeeze of lemon.

Flamequines – These are a sort of pork schnitzel roll with goats cheese and ham. Can’t go wrong!


A Piece of Royalty in the Centre of the City

The Royal Alcázar is probably the best thing you can see whilst in Sevilla. It is one of the most beautiful palaces in Spain and arguably the world. With a strong Moorish influence, this huge palace and complex is like a secret garden amongst the city. The architecture is unbelievable and the tiles and gardens are like nothing else. There is usually always a line but it really is well worth the wait and the 9.50 euros. It’s a must do.


Maria Luisa Park

This large public park is a sanctuary of greenery, beautifully tiled and crafted spaces and pathways to explore. Again it’s one of those places that will surprise you being right in the middle of this big city. It’s a great place to wander for an afternoon and requires a decent amount of time to be truly appreciated.And it’s free, what’s not to love!


Plaza de España

Another free and beautiful part of the city is Seville’s Plaza de España, it seems most of the cities in Spain boast a plaza by this name but Seville’s is by far the most impressive. The tile work across the whole plaza is unfathomably amazing and one of those sights you just can’t quite capture on film. You can hire a boat to paddle around the small river that runs in front of the plaza for a peaceful afternoon.

Experience the Flamenco

A trip to Seville is not complete without at least hearing a little of that charming Spanish guitar. The flamenco is a strong part of the culture here and is evident with the countless number of shops selling flamenco dresses and fans. I never went to a paid show as I thought they may be a bit touristy and overpriced, however there are many bars that have free flamenco on show and as long as you are drinking you can sit and experience it. Some of the bars don’t play until midnight so if you aren’t much of a night owl you probably won’t get the best flamenco show (according to locals) but it’s still pretty amazing if you ask me. One of the most popular and easily accessible free shows is with La Carbonería a very cool whole in the wall type bar with flamenco most nights and at a reasonable hour. The guitar is a really core part of the show and the dancers perform with a whole heap of passion, it’s an impressive art form.


The Sweets that God Giveth

Although I am not religious in my bones I really love the tradition here to purchase sweets and pastries from the local nuns to support them and the convents. There are a few to visit in the centre and all have some of their own uniquely homemade treats. I went to the <emConvento de Santa Ines on calle Doña Maria Coronel and it was such a unique experience. Firstly you choose your holy sweets from a menu board and yell through your order via a lazy susan, the nun on the other side (whom you never see) spins your sweets over to you and you then part with your cash and spin it on back to the nun. We chose a specific Santa Clara biscuit which had a melt in your mouth texture and a distinct cinnamon and star anise flavour. Its great really, you leave with a full belly and a sugar high and surely some brownie points with the big guy up top.

The hot days, citrus streets and the enchanting music of Sevilla have left me with some beautifully etched memories to take with me, my love for Spanish food and language has been strengthened but I think now it is time to get back to my own lifestyle where naps are only for lazy Sundays and dinner isn’t consumed in the middle of the night (: What a wonderful way to extend the summer and enjoy a bit of Spanish living. ¡viva the Sevillian Civilian!

Shackled by Sugar

When I see that the purple packaging is empty except for the surviving crumbs hiding themselves and quivering away in the corners of the now vast and vacant wrapper, I think to myself “Whose been eating my deliciously creamy Milka chocolate??!” I swear there was some left. I deliberately bought the 300g block as it would be cheaper in the long run, I would eat it slowly over a week or two as I know I have exceptional chocolate will power. Alas it lasted barely a day. And no matter what I tell myself, deep down I know that if I look directly in to the mirror I will see the deviant chocolate thief staring straight back at me. I have become a slave to a master of denial, deception and the slogan “just one more won’t hurt”. I have become enslaved by sugar.

The thing is, before I started travelling I really wasn’t this bad (honest) I could buy a block of chocolate and nibble on it for two weeks, eating just enough to satisfy any sugary cravings, sometimes a little more if I was reaching the “I swear I’m going to strangle somebody if I don’t get a chocolate fix right this instant” level. When I was in the comfort of my own routine back in NZ I had the ability to keep regular eating habits. I could make my spirulina smoothie every morning, I had access to things like coconut oil and quinoa and time to make good lunch choices like salads and wraps. Travelling and being on the road means it’s hard to keep routine and structure which sometimes is the best part about travelling, being homeless and structureless. For me I have found that my whole routine has been turned upside down, thrown in the washing machine and set on spin cycle for far too long. Living in Spain I am eating lunch at 2 or 3 o’clock and dinner at 9 or 10. I believe that this alone has kept me running back to sugar like an old comforting childhood memory.

So I have decided that I will be a slave no more! I have started to slowly chip away at the sugary sweet shackles that bind me to this processed drug, I’ve tried my very best not to eat away at them (: Since I have settled here in Sevilla for a short time I have managed to get my hands on some coconut oil and I have started making some sweet healthy delights to carry me through the withdrawals and get my sugar intake back to normal. I have always loved coconut oil, mainly for taming my unruly and rebellious tresses or for trying to smell like what I imagine a beautiful Island princess to smell like, but mostly I love the versatility of this oil so I try to use it in small amounts in different ways in my diet as well. The main treats I have been whipping up for myself are coconut rough and cool coconut and banana bites both are extremely simple and don’t require much time, equipment or effort.

Coconut Rough

This is one of my favourite chocolate flavours so I absolutely love this version, coconut, coconut and more coconut! What’s not to love?!

4 Tbsp Coconut oil
2 Tbsp Cocoa
¼ C shredded or desiccated coconut (use desired amount, I like more rough in my chocolate so I use a lot)
1 Tbsp Honey or Maple syrup (adjust to taste)

1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix together until smooth.
2. Pour the mixture in to a small tin lined with baking paper.
3. Set in the freezer and break in to pieces like chocolate bark.
4. Keep stored in the fridge and enjoy!

Cool Coconut and Banana Bites

These are so tasty and great for hot days as they are eaten straight from the freezer.

2 Tbsp Coconut oil
1 Tbsp Cocoa
1 Tbsp Honey or Maple Syrup
1 Banana
Desiccated coconut to cover

1. Mix the coconut oil, cocoa and honey until smooth.
2. Slice a banana in to 1cm thick slices and dip in the chocolate mixture.
3. Roll in coconut and put in a container to store in the freezer.
4. Eat straight from the freezer; try not to eat them all at once!

Of course there is always room for some real chocolate, which I refuse to give up completely, but these definitely keep the sugar cravings at bay and keep those shackles loose. And for the record next time I’m buying chocolate it won’t be the large block, you’re not in charge today sugar, not today!

Back Where I Belong

As I watch my deliciously golden mixture bubble away on the stove stop I hum to myself that tune by some rapper whose name I cant remember but whose song contains the words that express how I’m feeling at this moment, “ back where I belong, something about being strong, there’s nothing that I cant tryyyy, so put your hands in the skkkkyyy” (along those lines anyway) After being on the road for a good 3-4 months I have finally been able to get back in the kitchen. Where I belong (and no I’m not saying that just because I am a woman). One of the things that makes me happiest in this world apart from travelling, apart from working out to tunes by Beyonce and apart from eating (just eating in general) is cooking.

Since I have been staying in Sevilla in a real house I have been able to get a little creative again in the kitchen. There’s just one problem. This real house, it has no oven. What??! I know who doesn’t have an oven?! I was so shocked to discover this fact that I almost just turned right around, walked out the door and hopped on the next bus out of there. But what I realised is that it just means I have to be more creative. A challenge. So when I attended my first couch surfing cooking meeting I was racking my brains with what to make, I wanted to make the obvious and always moreish NZ (not Australian ☺) dessert, Pavlova, but I didn’t have an oven! So with a little help from my Grandad’s recipe and a little kiwi influence I came up with this velvety hokey pokey chocolate slice.

My Grandad uses ginger and apricots in his version and I always remember loving devouring this sweet delight whenever we visited him. His recipe uses sweetened condensed milk, something else I have fond memories about. I remember loving when my Mum would make her caramel slice because I would get to lick the spoon after she had used the sweetened condensed milk. I had a really bad realisaton making this slice as it dawned on me that I am in fact an adult now and if I want to eat sweetened condensed milk straight from the can then I can sure as hell do it and no one can stop me! Unfortunately I have now had to ban myself from buying sweetened condensed milk, add to that list Nutella as I had the same realisation the week before about this, my all time favourite flavor combination, and needless to stay the jar didn’t last long!

So with my slice I decided that I needed to incorporate a little kiwi in to it as it would be my dessert for the International couch surfing dinner, I thought hokey pokey would make a great addition to this slice because I’ve never met a person who doesn’t love hokey pokey! This recipe is great as you can add almost anything you like and it’s so simple. And the best thing, I didn’t need to use an oven! So the recipe…….

Velvety Chocolate and Almond Hokey Pokey Slice

Start with the Hokey Pokey

IMG_4041

50gms Sugar
2 Tablespoons Golden Syrup or Honey (I used honey as Golden Syrup doesn’t exist in Spain, it has a slightly different flavor but is still just as tasty)
1 Teaspoon Baking soda

1. Lightly mix the sugar and the honey together in a pot and boil over a medium heat on the stove. DO NOT stir once the mixture is on the stove top.
2. Let the mixture boil for about 5 minutes or so, the important thing is to watch it carefully and watch for a change in colour. You want the whole mixture to darken in colour to a nice golden brown.
3. When the mixture has darkened, the bubbles are bubbling and it looks as though it’s close to burning, remove from the heat and quickly whisk in the baking soda.
4. The mixture will foam and double in size and you can then pour the mixture quickly on to a piece of baking paper. Let sit until it has cooled.

*If the Hokey Pokey is chewy and sticky then it wasn’t hot enough when you added the baking soda, next time it needs to be left longer to bubble.
** This makes a small batch, double the quantities if you would like to have some left overs!

Chocolate Slice

200gms Best quality dark chocolate (This is important, I have tried it with cheap milk chocolate and the flavor just isn’t as good)
½ C sweetened condensed milk
50 gms Butter
1 portion of crushed Hokey Pokey
¾ C Chopped almonds
¾ C Dried cranberries

1. Melt the chocolate, sweetened condensed milk and butter over a low heat and let your mouth drool at the sight of this delightful mixture!
2. Crush your pre-prepared hokey pokey (which should have beautiful fluffy air bubbles throughout it) into small pieces with your hands or a blunt kitchen object.
3. Add hokey pokey, almonds and cranberries to the chocolate mixture and pour in to a small tin lined with baking paper. I used a loaf tin but you can use a cake tin if you prefer. Cover and put in the fridge to set. And there you have chocolate hokey pokey perfection!
4. Cut in to slices and enjoy straight from the fridge.

I love how simple this recipe is, it’s rich so you don’t need a lot. This recipe makes a small batch to enjoy as dessert or with coffee.

The Future Looks Bright


*A few photos from Sevilla

It never ceases to amaze me the interesting and unique people you meet whilst travelling. When I am at home I very rarely come across the strange, the interesting or the down right nutty. Maybe its because at home I’m too busy with the life bubble of friends, family and work that I have already created to notice or to chance across these kinds of people. Or maybe it’s because in my far off New Zealand, we are just a different breed from the rest.

I have been in Sevilla for three weeks now, living in small town Gines, about seven kilometres from Sevilla centre. When I say small town, I mean small town. I once saw an oxen and cart parked outside one of the local tapas bars, just pulled up and parked right in front with his oxen to have a beer and some tapas. Those sorts of things you only ever see in small towns! I have been teaching English here for a couple that runs a language school from their home. I was initially really excited to start using my CELTA qualification and get this teacher role started, although I am enjoying it for the most part, what I didn’t count on was teaching a group of rowdy, disinterested and rebellious pre-teens. Well all I can say is I have a lot of respect for school teachers who deal with classes of 30 of the little monsters, I only have eight and I am barely holding on to my sanity.

When I am not squishing myself in to the role of English Language Teacher I have my spare time to roam and discover Sevilla. I have been opting to do this by meeting up with different travellers from all over the world for language exchange so I can attempt to become somewhat proficient at speaking Spanish. Last week I was joined by an American friend to practice my not so good and her marginally better Spanish conversation, we agreed to meet at Café de la Prensa on the Triana side of Sevilla which over looks the elegant Guadalquivir river, well-used by rowers and kayakers alike. The café has a great tapas menu; I can recommend the pollo rellena, stuffed chicken breast in a tasty Andalucían sauce.

When we arrived we were disappointed to see that all of the tables were already taken and we were contemplating rethinking our dining choice. I scanned the tables and I noticed an old slightly eccentric looking man sitting by himself at a table for four. He wore a dusty white suit, what appeared to be a cowboy’s bolo tie and he had donned a purple hat for the still sunny Sevilllian late afternoon. He sat alone with his cane outstretched and as I caught his eye he got up and motioned us over to his table. He looked as though he was maybe in his late sixties and grumbled to us (in Spanish) something about there never being any tables for one anymore. He motioned for us to take the table and he proceeded to ask for his check. Well that was very nice of him I thought, we were both hungry and eager to get in to the tapas selection ahead of us.

What we didn’t count on was that the quirky man in the purple hat was keen to stay for a chat, well all the better for us I guess as it was a good opportunity to practise Spanish. I didn’t follow much of the conversation as I am still struggling to hear Spanish via the very unique Andalucían accent, my friend however is much better than I am and continued to contribute to the conversation. At one point he did turn to me to tell me that I was a very intelligent woman. Well, I wont argue with that one Spanish cowboy! I graciously laughed and said my “gracias”.

He then said to both of us, well we thought he said to both of us “soy psicólogo”
“I am a psychologist”. Oh perfect I thought and proceeded to tell him all about my psychology studies and that I want to study sport psychology in the future. From there the conversation didn’t really continue how I had expected. He began describing us both in detail, what kind of people we were, our ethnic ancestry, our personality characteristics. At first I thought maybe because he is a psychologist he’s interested in personality traits etc. and that’s where he was going but then he said to me (in strong Spanish and intensity in his eyes) “ you are going to be very rich one day”. Well, ok (I laughed nervously) I wondered if I had translated correctly, he also told me that I will work for the rest of my life. Well I should hope that after working for the rest of my life I would be very rich, I’d be a bit disappointed (and exhausted) if I wasn’t!

When he finally got up to leave so we could order something to eat he left with some final, and I’m sure very wise and life changing words. But unfortunately neither of us could really understand him. He continued to talk of our futures as we left, about my friend’s impulsive nature and my quiet nature and then he hobbled off with his Spanish cowboy image and his elegant walking stick. I mentioned to my friend that he had been an interesting psychologist; I couldn’t quite work out if he was psychoanalysing us or predicting our future. She turned to me and said “ Oh no that’s not what he meant, he must’ve said “soy psíquico!” the Spanish translation for “psychic”, easily confused with “psychologist”! Oh now I got it, we just had our futures read by a real purple hat wearing Spanish cowboy psychic and we didn’t even know it! Well I’m not sure if he was just one of the nutty strangers I spoke of earlier or maybe he was the real deal …… I will never know, and now I wish I could understand more Spanish! But hey the future looks bright apparently, lots of money and lots of work to come, vamos a ver. ¡viva the odd and curious!

Meeting the World one Couch at a Time

I have realised that my idea of travelling isn’t one that has me visit the most popular tourist sights in a whirlwind tour of a city or town where I leave with a surface deep knowledge, appreciation and memory of that city. What I have realised over the last few months is that I am happiest travelling when I am meeting people, local
people and learning about their city through their eyes. I am happiest when I am getting lost in a small, underrated part of a city that has bigger and more well-known attractions to offer.

So when I set off on my journey I went with the intention of using the couch surfing website in order to see a different side of the places I wanted visit. Upon telling others of my plan I was faced with a varied array of responses. Some were positive like “wow that’s such a great idea, I wish I could do that” some were non-committal like “hmm that’s kind of cool” and some were shocked and discouraging like the customs officer in San Francisco airport who interrogated me on whether I had in fact thought about what is going to happen when I wake up in the morning in a bath full of blood stained ice missing my vital organs and feeling pretty stupid.

Well, although I was faced with that particular response a moment before I was to meet my first couch surfing host, I decided to go with my loud and confident gut instinct that said, “hey you never know until you try!” Of course I can understand the hesitation and the scepticism over a website that brings strangers together in the confines of their homes that are usually not privy to the safe and watchful eye of the public like when you arrange to meet someone at a café or bar, but I like to think that a project such as Couch Surfing tends to attract like minded people. I like to think that everyone uses the website for the same reasons that I do, to meet, to learn and to help others on their quest to see the world and expand their minds. Unfortunately, of course, like anything conducted via that seemingly limitless World Wide Web that we love to hate, there are going to be people who are not of like mind (or sound mind!) and who abuse the project.

It is unfortunate also that the consequence of travelling alone as a young woman is that I put myself in a targeted position of vulnerability no matter how much I feel that I’m channelling Beyonce on the inside. Of course men also face certain risks when travelling but for women it is just a whole different world. I feel I have to be extremely judgemental about who I talk to or agree to meet with on Couch Surfing. Do they show themselves half-naked in any of their profile pictures? Do they have any strange comments on their profile? Do they look like they think they are gods gift to women? Do they use xos and winky faces when commenting about women they have couch surfed with? Do they offer to share their bed with me? What age are they? And lastly, do they have a creepy “I’m going to knock you unconscious, tie you up and hide you in my secret basement” kind of face? These are all very important questions I ask myself when agreeing to surf someone’s couch.

Being a young woman on one of these sites I have had many propositions from various men asking me if I want to stay with them where they will take me here and there and buy me this and that and if I want I don’t even have to wear clothes. Most of these men are old enough to be my father. And in response, I politely decline, “No thank you kind sir, I don’t quite feel like being an unsolved murder mystery today”. I have even had one young man try to come on to me within five minutes of meeting (literally five minutes!) I was meant to couch surf with him and he agreed to meet me at the train station near his house, which to my surprise meant somehow to him that we were on a date. He couldn’t believe that I wasn’t there to sleep in his bed and he couldn’t get his head around the fact that I wasn’t interested in him! Needless to stay I checked myself in to a hostel that night.

Despite a few strange incidences, for the most part my Couch Surfing experiences have been above and beyond amazing. The people I have met have taught me so much and have shown me that there are many truly genuine people out there, no matter where you place yourself. It’s just a matter of being aware, being smart and trusting your instincts. The majority of people on the site are genuine couch surfers through and through and want nothing more than to learn and share their travel experiences. So I have compiled a list of tips for new comers to the site, I highly recommend using it on your travels even just to meet for a coffee with someone, it’s a project that opens up so many doors and brings new ideas, people and experiences in to your life.

1. Start off by just using the site to meet other travellers, sign up, create a profile and start meeting! I love using the site this way, as especially when you are traveling alone, it’s so nice to meet someone for a coffee or to see some of the sights together. I have made many great friends this way.

2. Don’t stay with someone unless they are a person you would stay with at home. For me I wouldn’t stay with an unknown 45 year old man who lives on his own in my own country so I wont do it half way across the world. I’m sure lots of these men are lovely, normal people but you have to look out for yourself!

3. If their profile pictures are all of them posing topless and doing a muscle man photo shoot, they are probably using Couch Surfing as a dating site. If that’s what you’re in to, go for it, if not, next profile!

4. If they write, “clothing optional” on their profile, probably not a good choice.

5. If they write, “shared sleeping surface” or “can sleep up to four people in my bed” again, probably not a good choice.

6. It’s best to look for families or couples; I find it feels a little safer; I also try to stay with women if possible.

7. If they offer a room to yourself and not just a couch they are probably true surfers! After all, if they have a spare room they have the option of renting it to you but they are offering it for free, I think these people tend to be genuinely interested in cultural exchange.

8. Go to a couch surfing meeting! They happen in cities and towns everywhere, usually once or twice a week at the same place and it’s a great place to meet new people, people who you may want to stay with later on. It feels a bit more comfortable if you have met the person already. And there are usually so many people there; you are bound to make new friends.

Overall I always recommend Couch Surfing to others as something they should look in to when travelling. I have had many unforgettable experiences and I have made so many new friends, I have also met some people I don’t wish to meet again but that is the beauty of Couch Surfing. You never know who you will meet or what you will learn. So go dip your toes in the water and start surfing! ¡viva new stories from the couch!

*Photos below of my Couch Surfing experiences

Captured by Cádiz

The first sight of Cádiz that came emerging out of the azul sky and sea that surrounded my peripheral was the grand and baroque style cathedral of Cádiz. The cathedral that took over 100 years to build greets the port and the shoreline of Cádiz with imposing style and grace. I took my first day trip from my new base in Gines, Sevilla to this popular weekend destination, I opted to take the ferry across from Puerto de Santa Maria instead of taking a direct train, to get the complete and full experience of my first meeting with this historic Spanish city.

I think it was love at first sight, Cádiz really turned up with an exceptional first impression. You can feel the Andalusian roots in this city from the refreshing stark white houses and buildings inlaid with unique and colourful tiles to the overwhelmingly long tapas menus and that feeling that there really is no reason to rush or worry. Being in the very south, you can see and feel a Moroccan influence amongst the city’s most prominent buildings and the fresh sea breeze is inhaled from every corner of the city due to its position on a narrow stretch of land embraced on all sides by the sea.

The beaches here are relaxed and beautiful (not as beautiful as NZ beaches but pretty close!) I passed my day at La Playa de la Caleta in the old city between two castles that lie at either end of the beach like outstretched arms reaching out in to the sea. This particular beach was a set for the James Bond movie Die Another Day and really was quite striking with the colourful little local dinghies beached at low tide and the old stonewall running alongside the sand border behind me. Cádiz really makes you fell like you are on holiday, even if it’s just for a day. I recommend taking the ferry over as it only costs 4 euros one way and is a more scenic way to arrive. The Mercado Central is a must visit too; one of the great things about Spain is all of the open air markets where you can purchase all kinds of fresh produce from coconuts to calamari. Hopefully the beautiful beach weather will hold for a few more weeks here so I can explore more of the beautiful coast that Andalucía has to offer. ¡viva holding on to summer!

Fierce Festive and Independent

When I arrived in the small yet large city of Girona, what captured my attention on initial contact was the red and yellow stripes layering the sepia toned buildings rising high on either side of me. The bright red and yellow streaked up and down the apartment buildings, running from the edges of windowsills and flickering intensely a top the roofs. These stripes are worn by the Catalan flag that represents the Catalonian region of Spain. Spanning four provinces, Barcelona, Girona, Llieda and Tarragona, Catalonia (or Catalunya) is home to approximately 7.5 million people. The flags presence here is very strong. I had known about Catalonia’s wish for independence from Spain for a few years now after my first visit to Spain in 2007 but I have never really felt the intensity and importance of this independence until arriving in Girona this year.

The other notable eye catcher there was that a lot of the promotion of Catalan independence was actually in English. At my hostel there was an English flyer advertising free books detailing the history of Catalonia all in English. The English words “Catalans want to vote” are sprawled across an apartment block in bold and self-assured white letters. It seems there is an important ground swell of movement happening in Spain and Catalonia at the moment and the people of Catalonia want the rest of the world to know about it. They want the rest of the world to care and promoting their independence in English is a way to reach more people and gain their interest. As far as I know their struggle for independence is not something that is particularly well known at home in NZ.

I was lucky enough to stay with a wonderful Catalonian couple in Banyoles for a weekend via couch surfing and here I learnt a lot more about the issue of Independence and the meaning it has to the Catalan people. Banners on the lakeside street reading “Catalonia is not Spain” got the message through very clearly. The region itself has become a great giver to Spain economically speaking and many feel that what the region gives to Spain as a country it does not get back in improvements to the region to aid in a better life for the people. But it is not all about money or economy for the Catalan people here, they are very passionate about their own culture and way of life, they have their own language which time and time again has been threatened in its existence like after the Spanish Civil War when Francisco Franco came in to power and tried to drown its usage.

My friends here seem to think that some non-catalan speakers think that the Catalonians purposely oppose using Spanish or that they turn their nose up at the idea of using the Spanish language but in reality it’s just strange for them to speak Castilian (Spanish) to each other because it isn’t their native language. It’s like people wanting you to speak Chinese to all your friends in your home country that speaks English. From what I’ve learnt from my Catalonian friends I think I have a better understanding of where this persistence for independence comes from. They basically just want the option to vote. This option is a life force to preserving their culture; they want their cultural values, their language and their history to survive amongst a force of oppression that is trying to control or to stop that preservation. I think I understand more clearly now and hey if someone tried to change my way of speaking and my way of learning and my history then I would want my independence too.

From Banyoles and Girona I followed the under current of wishful independence to Barcelona where it is probably less apparent but during the last week or so of September during La Mercé festival the message here is again clear and proud. La Mercé festival happens every year near the end of September to honour the virgin of grace and the patron saint and co-patroness of Barcelona. The holiday was officially recognised in 1871 but its origins date back to 1687 when Barcelona needed the virgin’s assistance to rid the city of a plague of nasty locusts that befell it. Since then the city has celebrated with the kind of festive enthusiasm that only the Spanish and the Catalonians have. Fireworks and gunpowder are used like confetti, dances and parades that involve giant papier-maché people tower over the masses of spectators and the crazy castell competition shows us who can make the highest and strongest tower of people without falling. I am not sure of the origins of the human towers but it is really very impressive to watch the skill of these castellers as they work together to provide a solid foundation for the child that effortlessly ascends the staunch and shaky adults like they are mere stepping-stones.

La Mercé came to a close with a spectacular fireworks display near the foot of the Montjuïc Mountain where the Catalan history and pride was displayed artistically through projection displays that took centre stage in front of what was an explosive spectacle of colour and light that rivaled the patriotic fourth of July fireworks that I experienced in San Francisco this year. Once it is all over life returns to normal in the busy and touristic Barcelona but for that week the whole city is buzzing with crazed enthusiasm and fervour over a holiday that encompasses so many bizarre and wonderful traditions. I missed the first two days which are full of running firework action but I still had my fair share with the parades full of boisterous mock-soldiers firing heart stoppingly loud explosions and the drum bands marching to their own fluid and rhythmic beat throughout the city’s centre. The closing fireworks are not to be missed and it is definitely one to be a part of if you have the opportunity to be there in September.

After spending nearly two weeks in Catalonia I feel I got a great sense of who the people are and what their way of living is about by talking to the real people of the region and letting them educate me on their beliefs and reasoning’s behind their want for independence. I guess for me it doesn’t affect my life in any way whether the people gain independence from Spain or not but I always admire an underdog and you cannot deny the passion they feel to hold on to a culture that is uniquely theirs so for that I high five the people of Catalonia. My personal journey here in Spain is to experience a new way of living and to immerse myself in a language that I have been practicing over the last couple of years, so for me Catalonia was not the place to stay, maybe if I decide to learn the Catalan language I will return for a longer stay but for right now I am surrounding myself by the rapid speaking Andalucían’s in Sevilla and preparing for 3 months of hilariously confusing misunderstandings, frustrating and confusing misunderstandings, siestas in the heat of the day and the experience of the southern way of life. Wish me luck!

¡viva the road to independence!

Life Lessons on the Solo Traveller’s road

Since leaving my comfortable and fairly sheltered existence in New Zealand as an athlete living in the quaint and friendly town of Cambridge, I have realised that there are many life lessons that I have only now discovered by throwing myself in to the interesting and at times turbulent life of a solo traveller. At home I had many comforts. The comfort of my training schedule at the lake I knew so well with the comfort of the same people I had surrounded myself with who I knew could be counted on to make me feel comfortable. The comfort of knowing a place, knowing the people in it and knowing that my day to day routine would more or less be the same no matter the day, no matter the season. It’s only now that I have left that comfort that I have discovered “the uncomfortable”. In the last week I alone I have experienced “the uncomfortable” more than once, the kind that I never had in my 7 years of living in my comfortable flat in Cambridge.

The first of these experiences happened at the exciting and highly anticipated Europa Park theme park. My friend and I entered the park with hopes high in adrenaline producing excitement and childlike enthusiasm and these hopes were fulfilled in the form of multiple rollercoaster rides of all descriptions in miniature replica countries such as Norway, Spain, Russia and Portugal. Giddy with anticipation we rode ride after ride not knowing what to expect and we were thoroughly satisfied with each and every one. “The uncomfortable” came when we approached a calm and lonely looking Husky dog tethered to a post near the entrance to one of our final rides. It was very normal here to bring your dog to the theme park, tie it up whilst you line up for a ride and then retrieve it again to move on to the next ride. What a beautiful looking dog he was with a silky grey and white coat and haunting glassy blue and snow-white eyes. In New Zealand I wouldn’t think twice about patting a pet dog just to say a friendly hello so as we walked by we gave him a little scratch on the head and marvelled at his beauty. Unfortunately for me in one sudden instant, a moment of uncertainty or fear, maybe an instinct surfacing from the overwhelming sensory input at the theme park, he silently reacted and latched on to my smallest and most helpless little finger, slicing the length of it with his blade like teeth. Not a growl or a remorseful whimper, just a silent act of aggression to teach me an important lesson that in 26 years I have not yet learnt – do not ever pat a dog at an amusement park. Needless to say the aftermath was uncomfortable, my first time in hospital and my first time getting stitches, although only 5 was not a great way to end my day.

I have now moved on to Girona in Spain where I have a few days here before I need to find someone to remove the stitches from my poor battered little pinky, luckily I can already say stitches in Spanish, “puntos de sutura”. But of course after being here two days “the uncomfortable” has already reappeared with it’s smug little grin. I was on my way to meet with a group of expats here to get some advice on living and working here when I was stopped by a portly looking man who asked if I was here on Erasmus (European study exchange program) and I told him I wasn’t and explained my reasons for being here in my best Spanish possible. He was an Italian on exchange here and had just lost his phone and needed to call his parents to get it replaced. He seemed normal enough and appeared to be going in the same direction as me. We talked a little more about Girona and Italy and then he not so subtly looked down at my feet. Staring at someone’s feet is not particularly normal at the best of times so when he remarked on the beautiful likeness of my feet to the Greek statue of Venus in Florence I started to feel a little …. uncomfortable. Thinking it may be some sort of cultural difference I continued on walking as he spoke about the beauty of feet and even guessed my shoe size. When it got really uncomfortable was when he pulled out a bag of paints (children’s face paint to be exact) and explained that he was a painter and if I would be so kind could I sit for a bit so he could paint my beautiful Greek goddess feet.

Now I really felt like I had to get rid of this guy but unfortunately he just wouldn’t budge, he followed me down several streets until I found my group of English saviours. After asking again if he could paint my feet (so weird!!) and me saying I really don’t have time, he then relented to just getting my email address so he could contact me to paint them at a later date. Now there is one thing that I have learnt in my 26 years and that is that when a strange man asks for your details, always give them a fake! After giving him on old un-used email address I got to my safe haven with my like-minded expats and started to feel comfortable again. All of this got me thinking about the lessons that travelling has taught me so far, things that I have only learnt by travelling and having these new experiences, some have been good, some have been bad and some have been down right weird. Here is a list of what I have learnt so far:

1. Don’t Pat dogs at amusement parks (ever!)
2. Search “all solutions” when buying Italian rail tickets (otherwise you
pay through the roof).
3. A “biscuit” is not a “biscuit” in America.
4. You can’t help all of the homeless people.
5. Don’t sign petitions from gypsies.
6. Always carry snacks in your bag.
7. Do couch surfing!
8. Don’t do couch surfing if your host tells you that clothing is
optional.
9. Talk to people, they might be nice.
10. Don’t talk to everyone, some of them are crazy.
11. Breakfast included means breakfast, lunch and dinner for the day.
12. Try weird foods whenever possible, you might like them (crispy pigs
ears are delicious!)
13. Talk to as many locals as possible, they know so many things about
their town that you just can’t learn from a tourist office.
14. Sometimes Italian men don’t seem to understand “no, I’m not
interested”.
15. Bring your student ID! You can do touristy things so much cheaper.
16. Google is actually a traveller’s best friend.
17. Don’t fall in love with America. It’s so dam hard to get a work visa!
18. If a stranger starts talking about your feet, take those beautiful feet
and get the hell out of there!

I feel like there are so many more lessons to learn and so much more “uncomfortable” to come, and that is why I love this solo travelling life. ¡viva the school of life!

Berlin the Broken and the Beautiful

I can hear the echoed laughter of children close by so I quicken my step to reach the next ray of light streaming through the grey and imposing columns. I look left and then right directly down the rows on either side of me but there’s no one there. The laughter fades. I continue on straight ahead and as I pass each parallel I catch a figure in the corner of my eye the same way you think you see something as you walk down a dark hallway at night time. You look around as a slight panic catches in your throat but there’s nothing there, it’s just your mind playing tricks on you. I feel this same eerie feeling as I walk through the hundreds of raised concrete slabs of the controversial Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, but instead of sharp shards of panic I feel a sense of calm.

The artist, Peter Eisenman, was given the heavy task of producing a memorial to honour the 6 million Jews murdered in WWII. It is controversial because some think that all of these concrete slabs don’t accurately represent the individual lives of so many people and that it should also honour all of those affected by the war, not solely the Jewish. For the artist he apparently wanted to make something that was uneasy and confusing, leaving the interpretation up to each individual, allowing you to take with you your own experience. The rows of concrete are ordered from small to tall to small again and appear to go on forever. Once you are in the thick of it, it’s like a maze of varied tricks of the light; it almost looks like there are 6 million gravestones surrounding you. For me I thought this was a mesmerising and wonderful memorial, I would hear voices and look to find people around me who then suddenly disappeared behind another row of columns, creating the feeling of being surrounded by ghosts and emphasising the reality that life is as easy as being there one second and being lost forever the next. This is one of several places in Berlin that physically gave me chills. I visited this memorial on my first full day in Berlin and my eyes were opened wide to a history that I realised I had only scratched the surface of.

I had always heard great things about the city of Berlin but most of these comments revolved around the exciting and edgy nightlife. I hadn’t heard anybody talk about all of the fascinating historical facets of each part of the city. It wasn’t until doing a Fat-Tire bike tour that I realised how much there was to learn about this city. Our guide, cheerful and humorously British Sophie, had been doing these tours for three years now and knew absolutely everything about Berlin’s broken and devastating history and it’s now modern alternative uprising. I never realised that Germany really was a country on it’s knees after WWI. I never realised that the Berlin Wall was secretly erected in the middle of the night unbeknownst to many thousands of Berlin citizens until they were met with a border of barbed wire as they tried to go to work in the morning. I never realised that Einstein was a professor at Humboldt University and he watched his own students burn his books in the middle of the square. I never realised that the Soviets had a corrupt prison in East Berlin for anti-communists and other political prisoners up until the year 1990. I never realised that Hitler’s bunker is now under a very plain, very ordinary car park with a Chinese restaurant at one end, a gay friendly men’s only sauna at the other and a Jewish memorial directly across the street. I never realised how broken this city really was.

This prompted the need for a schedule (very unusual for me) as there is just so much to do, see and learn in this city and I get the feeling that no matter how much time you spend here it will never be enough. My friend and I made a plan to factor in as many historical and cultural things as possible in the three short days that we had here. The amazing thing about Berlin is that a lot of the historical sites are either free or very cheap so you can afford to do it all. We needed to see the German History Museum, the DDR (communist) Museum, the STASI prison, the Topography of Terror (about the destruction of Warsaw), the Eastside Gallery (longest piece of the wall still standing), the preserved no mans land in Bernauer Strasse, the Jewish memorial museum and many more we couldn’t fit in the schedule. We also needed to see the Turkish markets, the food hall markets, and the second hand shops and to try the famous Berlin currywurst! These really were three intensive days of education, fascination and cultural cultivation. We didn’t even get to try the famous night life as we were too immersed in our need to learn it all.

I think I have to go as far as saying that Berlin has been my favourite city of all time. Coming from isolated New Zealand I had always learnt the basic history of WWII through school and I was always interested in movies and books that were based on this time period but I don’t think that I ever truly understood the extent of the devastation and I could never really empathise with those whose lives were affected by this heart breaking misuse of power. It wasn’t until actually being in a city like Berlin and seeing and more importantly feeling the history that I feel I can have some sort of understanding of what went on and how and why. I am now more hungry than ever to explore this face of history further, I think especially my generation cannot fathom or begin to comprehend the devastations of war or true hardships such as those faced by the human beings who lived and died through both world wars. Because of this privilege that we have of living in a free society I think it is necessary for me to broaden my mind by delving in to the history books and educating myself on this broken history. So far I have only gently blown the cover free of dust, now I need to turn the first tattered page. ¡viva my awakening in Berlin!

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