Friday, July 30, 2010

Tarragona: A Historic Haven

The second stop on David's and my authentic tour of Catalonia (as opposed to our "mini" tour) took us to Tarragona.

Like much of Spain, Tarragona meant nothing to me prior to this visit, My lacking recollection of the entire course I took in university dubbed "The History and Culture of Spain" left me unaware of the impressive amount of both historical and modern appeal this ancient city has to offer. David and I took our time exploring its wonder. Wondering through the old city center, you can't help but stumble upon what seem like beautiful secrets.

Everywhere you turn, the city's ravishing Roman roots present themselves.

There comes a time when two entranced explorers must rest. We headed to la rambla (the main boulevard) for a perfect meal of tapas and Sangría.

It was from here that I posted the series of Facebook updates some of you might recall about being in "paradise". It was one of those rare moments in life where everything kept getting better and better.

Bellies full and with a slight buzz from the Sangría, we set forth towards the distant parking garage. I silently said my goodbyes to the brief yet impactful memories I'd formed in this second segment of my first Spanish vacation, our first together. We passed by many of the sights we'd visited, all seemingly different from the moving car perspective. The sun warmed my smiling face as I happily looked forward to the next and perhaps most significant chapter of our holiday, a week with David's family.

Cambrils: Seaside Serenity

The day after our tour of Catalunya en Miniatura, David and I had a houseguest. Vanessa, a fellow BBVA new hiree whom David met in his ongoing training course had a meeting in Barcelona the following morning, and we offered to put her up for the night. After a hardy meal of Fajitas and Nachos (Mmmm), we sat on the terrace chatting.

Unlike me, Vanessa is extremely proficient in the Spanish language, and enjoys showcasing her skills by speaking as frequently and quickly as possible. Pair that with her rural, Southern Catalonian accent, it felt at times like I was taking a Spanish Conversation final exam on crack.

The next morning, since David and I were planning on heading south to spend some time with his family, we offered to take Vanessa to where she was currently living and working, a beachside town (like the majority in the costal autonomous communities of Spain) called Cambrils.

Let's just say I was a bit surprised on arrival. It could be because these settings are all too typical for lifelong residents of the region, or perhaps because David himself had never visited Cambrils before, but astoundingly, he never made a big deal out of this impromptu overnight trip. To me, it was a very big deal.

I suppose more than anything, I wasn't expecting so many tourists. I'd never heard of Cambrils before, you? But the streets, the beaches, and the beachside promenade were all flooded with them! It dawned on me that my time in Spain thus far, though showing many of the attributes of a vacation, hadn't quite been... yet. This was vacation. This was paradise.

Of course, as many of you know, no vacation is without its vexations. You see, I have this little problem when two very powerful forces combined. The forces of which I speak are, of course, hunger and fatigue. Normal, nourished Peter is ready for a new adventure at the drop of a hat! Bring on that cultural, educational goodness! Starving and sleepy Peter, on the other hand, is another story, and an ongoing source of exasperation for my good-spirited fiancé.

We found ourselves, upon our first and only evening in Cambrils, in an all-too-familiar situation. Vanessa's kitchen didn't contain anything too semi-vegetarian-friendly, and we were faced with the mission of seeking subsistence in a carnivorous culture. The Disney World-esque streets and plazas of Cambrils turned to a labyrinthine obstacle course, each turn resulting in a dead end. The grocery store just closed. Meat. Meat. Pizza. Pizza. (OK, I know, I love pizza, but when used as a last resort repeatedly, it loses its appeal. Also, I was cranky.)

At this point, I was on verge of screaming "Where is the Subway!" But as previous experiences have shown me, seeking refuge in familiar institutions can sometimes be more problematic than comforting, as the menu is remarkably distinct region to region. Finally, a beacon of hope. A small chicken kiosk, offering a wide array of chicken-based foodstuffs. I sought shelter behind a sign to avoid the grotesque imagery of several shiny, robust, whole chickens rotating over the rotisserie. The last thing David or I wanted was for me to suddenly lose my appetite for poultry. The mission was successfully accomplished, and a satisfactory meal we had. I give props to David for continuously enduring my psychosis with patience and sensitivity.

As seen above, David and I spent a good chunk of the following afternoon on the beach. Much of that time was also spent discuss the plans for the rest of the day. We could stay in Cambrils, wait for Vanessa to get out of work, and eat with her. Or we could head to Cubelles and take advantage of a free meal courtesy of David's parents. Or we could go discover another Catalonian gem and wine and dine there. Oh, the joys of vacation! The freedom! Each day open, a blank slate! It's a shame that something so amazing, so enriching to the soul, is something so temporary. (Ironic foreshadow.) Ultimately, we decided on adventure, in the form of visiting another Spanish city David had never really seen: Tarragona.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Exploring Cataluña

A little over a week ago, David and I took advantage of his vacation time to take a little tour of Cataluña, the autonomous community (think state or province) in which we live.

Alright, if you noticed something a little off about the above photos, congratulations, you caught me! All of the sights above, and many more not pictured, actually reside within meters of each other. Also, all of them are replicas of actual landmarks scaled down 25 times. Our "tour" was of Cataluña en Miniatura, a tourist park nestled in the mountains just outside of Barcelona. And it was well worth the visit!

Thanks to my tour guide, David, I expanded on my knowledge of the history and geography of this unique area of Spain, which had previously been limited to just Barcelona. It's a great starting point for tourists of the region, providing a broad insight into what it has to offer, and giving them a rough idea of what places they'd really like to visit. Plus, it's an interesting and unusual way to pass a day!

It gets even better. Attached to the park is another fun activity. El Bosc Animat contains obstacle courses of varying levels that lead you, tree top to tree top, up the mountain. After a brief lesson on how to safely use are harnesses to complete each "activity", we hiked up a steep hill, climbed a rope ladder into the first station, and began an hour long maze of tight ropes, zip lines and more.

This definitely isn't for those leery of heights. The miniature park below you makes you seem much, much higher than you actually are.

The best part (made even better by the fact that we had no idea it was coming!) was the ridiculously long zip line that takes you to the end of the course. It seriously felt like I was flying! I've wanted to try one of these things since the first time I saw one on TV, and it definitely lived up to the hype! I'm still giddy with that immense sense of satisfaction you get after crossing another "thing to do before I die" off your list!

Adrenaline still pumping through our veins, David was ready to set off on another adventure when we left the park. Exhausted and with the day growing late, we opted to go home and rest up for the next phase of our vacay.

I'll never forget the experience. And if you're interested and ever come to visit Barcelona, I'd be happy to go again!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Agist Assholes

It baffles me that a country progressive enough to legalize same-sex marriage can be so discriminatory and behind on the times in aspects that are in my opinion, more important than gay equality.

Three things you'll find on a Spanish résumé:
  1. A headshot
  2. Marital status
  3. Age
Now let's forget about the first two, as preposterous as they are, and focus on age. This is perhaps the most important fact on the Spanish CV, for without it how would the potential employer ever judge your competence?

David encountered age discrimination throughout his entire pursuit of employment. Hearing about it made me furious. My tolerance of foreign cultures may extend to the seemingly illogical, but not to the unfair and inhumane.

In December, he was hired by the greediest, most crooked bank in the country (if you ask me). Along with several other young hopefuls, he was given the first of a series of temporary contracts, a process derived to weed out the ones who can't hack it. His contract is up in August.

David called me a little while ago and told me about a little, impromptu meeting he had with an advisor at his training course for work. In anticipation of the coming renewals and cuts, the agent was making his rounds with each of the newly hired over the course of today and tomorrow. David's did not go well.

As David explained to me over the phone how the man kept interjecting phrases like "it's just, you're only 22" and "maturity, blah blah blah", I grew irate. "It's 2010 now!" I told him, "How can Spain not realize how wrong this is!"

I get the feeling that although the issue probably concerns many Spaniards, that there are too few that actually realize their rights are in jeopardy here. Not the rights granted to them by law, I suppose, but the ones that certainly ought to be! Am I being closed-minded here in any way? Am I blowing this out of proportion?

Money is obviously a huge concern right now. It always is, which is why I stuck with A&F for so long. But I have to admit I wouldn't be devastated if the bank didn't renew his contract. David even interviewed for another job yesterday, although it is one that would work him much harder and longer, and impose on him a lifestyle he's just not sure he's ready for. There's no guarantee he'll get that position, but surely another would come along.

It just really makes me crazy how a sunken economy can make everyone turn their back on their standards. We are the gears that will eventually make it run smoothly again, so why should we let a select group of money-hungry mongrels force us to surrender our convictions?

Oh Peter, what a truly naive idealist you are!

Well anyway, there you have it: my first real beef with Spain.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Summer Festivities

The Fourth of July, otherwise known as Independence Day (and apparently also known to some as "Fuck England Day" as I've seen mentioned on Facebook?), has come and gone. Did I miss it? Not really. Spain has a holiday that is so similar in its protocol, that I don't think I ever will.

St. John's day (San Juan in Spanish, Sant Joan in Catalán), celebrated on the summer solstice, is one of the more popular "Saints days". Anyone who has a name of biblical origin is recognized in Spain on a dedicated day, and is given congratulations and gifts by loved ones, much like on their birthday. St. Peter's (or San Pedro) has also passed since my arrival. It's odd accepting acknowledgement for a holiday you've never even considered, let me tell you.

Three years ago, when I was in Spain for my internship, San Juan was one of the highlights of my stay. By that time David and I had grown pretty close. He invited me and my roommate, Danielle, to join him and his friends for a dinner at his parents place (at the time, they had already migrated to Cubelles).

We began the evening by sharing the largest cocktail I'd ever seen in my life.

Later on, David serenaded us. This might have been the moment I fell in love.

And then we consumed a "coca", the traditional San Juan dessert.

If this were America, the night might have concluded there. But this was Spain. So the party must go on. We met up with some more of David's friends on the way to the beach, for a party that would last longer than I could have ever imagined. (Think: after sunrise)

Now, I should mention that I was a little skeptical about this evening. At the time, very few people were in on David's "secret". He had asked me politely to remain "discreet". As predicted, as the night grew with excitement, and my body swelled with alcohol, it became trickier and trickier to refrain from physical affection. I took to conversations with his friends to distract me, and ended up hitting it off pretty well with María, who I've mentioned before.

Little did I know at the time, but María had developed a little crush on me on arrival. This was obviously eradicated as soon as I broke the one rule David had given me. Between sighs and large gulps of vodka and Fanta, I spilled out the whole devastating story that was David's and my time-sensitive romance. She didn't respond with too much surprise. We spent the last couple hours of the festivities conversing, giving my Spanish quite the exercise, and my troubled mind quite the sigh of relief. David didn't learn of this exchange of info until years later.

Flash forward three years. There was much debate over how we would spend this night of all nights. In the end, we were much too tired (or perhaps just too old) to commemorate that night, long ago. So we decided to invite a few friends over to our apartment. It was our first get together in this, our new home, and though low-key, will be remembered fondly and forever.

And what do you know, María was present!

Mmm... the fajitas were awesome.

The guac wasn't so bad either.

Can't forget the coca!

Instead of a crazy beach party, this San Juan ended with a fierce Wii tournament, but hey, that's growing up! I hope everyone had a happy Fourth!