Exotic food and Canadian eccentricities

Maybe exotic and eccentric are not words you can use when posting something in English on the Internet as somewhere a reader is bound to be familiar with whatever you describe. Well, humour me.

Let’s start with some food you can see on the supermarket shelves. On the left of the picture you can see polskie ogórki, that is, Polish pickles. This is not a fake caused by my Polish obsession; it’s a real picture. You can see French written on the jar because Canada includes all the languages in the country on their products, unlike, say, Spain [Yes, it’s personal; but it’s also true and against consumer rights]. Back to the picture, we can see pandeleche, which is a condensed version of the Spanish pan de leche, literally ‘milk bread’. There are also Maria biscuits, which are British, despite having written galleta Maria (also Spanish) on them.

The adjective exotic might be hyperbolic, but these come from far away for them

When you’re not in a rush, you take silly pictures

Food aside, on my way to work I saw more things than what I showed in my last post. Two of them deserve the spotlight. The stairs in the underground (which they forced me to call subway) were deadly to me. I firmly believe they are inverted —no hate speech here. I had always seen the tiles in the inner part and the anti-slip rough band at the edge of the steps. Not in Toronto. It took me a couple of weeks to master walking down the stairs safely.

On the other side, the smallest building is a skyscraper. See me taking the lift (which they forced me to call elevator) to go up to my flat (which they forced me to call apartment) on the 24th floor. The height of the buildings was not the issue (nor was being forced to use American words). What bothers me is that the last column has multiples of 4 (28, 24, 20, 16) and three prime numbers (11, 7, 3) without changing the number of buttons per line. Witchcraft? Close enough: superstition. For in Canada it’s highly unlikely to find a 13th floor. I bet your face right now resembles a Canadian socket:

Canadian sockets. Are they surprised or scared?

From the highest tower in Toronto

You might have noticed my absence for a few months. Or not. I was in Toronto performing a scientific study, which is hardly news. And you might be wondering… was it cold? You couldn’t care less about my research.

I asked myself the same question every morning. Luckily, the building in front of my apartment showed the temperature on a humongous light sign straight into my living room. So, before going out, I could decide whether to put on my extreme weather clothes or just a T-shirt with a thin jacket —when it was over 10 °C.

When I landed in Toronto on the 30th of January it wasn’t raining and snow was nowhere to be seen. But the following day everything went white. I started taking pictures, which is quite unusual. I decided to document the changes in the landscape during my three months there. See some of the results below.

My morning walk from February to April

The four first images alternated quite randomly for two months and only by the end of April could I take the last picture.

It was one kilometre from the bus to the laboratory. It never felt like a long walk, except for the day of the freezing rain. Freezing rain is rain that freezes when it touches any surface. Hence the whole floor of Toronto acquired a thin ice layer that was as beautiful as dangerous. See the blades of grass with an ice coating. Trees and urban furniture looked the same.

Subtle note on climate terminology

I guess you feel more like searching for pictures of freezing rain on Google now than reading my ramblings. So here is the link to make your task easier and next time I might explain the title of the post.

Catalonia inspires Poland

During my last trip to Poland and bearing in mind my nationality, I’ve noticed the Catalan presence in Marie Curie’s country.

There’s the old classic: people speaking Catalan in every city. We’re a few millions, but we travel a lot. Anyway, after running into a Catalan family in Reykjavik, a couple of Catalans in Polish capitals are not that surprising.

Moving to more interesting matters we find Catalan cuisine. First, they sell this bułka katalońska wieloziarnista, or ‘multigrain Catalan bun’; then, you can find a Romesco bar-restaurant. Don’t ask me about the bun. It’s probably just a fancy name. But romesco [pronounced ‘rumescu’] is the delicious traditional sauce for calçots—which deserve their own post.

The Catalan bun and Romesco restaurant through the dirty window of a bus

The Catalan bun and Romesco restaurant through the dirty window of a bus

Other cultural imports are these three books by Jaume Cabré: Głosy Pamano (English title: Voices of Pamano), Jaśnie pan (Honour) i Wyznaję (Confessions). Staying on the culture lines, Dalí stares at us from a guy’s bag.

Polish translations of books by Jaume Cabré

Polish translations of books by Jaume Cabré

Finally, it’s impossible to ignore the Barça T-shirts everywhere—not from other teams. A special one caught my eye, though. It was all yellow with the initials FCB below the four red stripes of the Catalan flag on the chest. However, one can’t manage to discretely take someone’s chest picture.

Dalí's characteristic mustache

Dalí’s characteristic mustache

Tour around Poland 2014: Traveller’s diary

Once again I leave the linguistic experience aside because we don’t talk about serious stuff on holidays. However, next time Poland shows up in the blog, its language will too.

Day 1: The plane lands in Warsaw, the capital, at midday. My first host shows me around the most touristic parts in the centre and I remember those three days I spent there four years before.

Days 2-4: As my host works a couple of days, other friends in the city tourist-sit me in parks and bars. Even so, I stay in one morning to put together a jigsaw puzzle of his flatmate. It’s a picture of the Pope John Paul II—what did you expect from a Pole?

Summer palace at Łazienki park [photo: Alexander Teglund]

Summer palace at Łazienki park [photo: Alexander Teglund]

Day 5: It’s Saturday and Polish night life awaits. It’s not that different from ours, except for prices and the moves. The international move—stepping to the sides ad eternum—is very popular there. With my waist all over the place and the colours of my body, I’m easily noticed and two sentences ensure me lots of conversations: Mówię po polsku (‘I speak Polish’) and Jestem z Barcelonii (‘I’m from Barcelona’).

Day 6: I use every single minute I can to sleep before taking the bus that takes me to Gdynia, at the seaside, in seven hours. My next friend welcomes me with a brief stroll in the neighbourhood to buy pizzas for dinner and we go to bed early.

Days 7 and 8: The most beautiful and important city of the Trójmiasto (‘tricity’) is Gdańsk, but I keep it as a reason to go back and spend my morning on the beach and my evenings walking around Gdynia.

Day 9: After a last morning in the sun, the train delivers me to Poznań in less than five hours. This time I’m adopted by a couple who take me to a stand of delicious hamburgers and show me the city under the moonlight—and specially the lamp posts.

Days 10 and 11: My step-fathers [no mistake here] keep me really busy. We visit shopping centres (they build one every other year), cycle to the lake (and spot a deer!), I ride a one-person roller coaster where I control the speed and… we go to a water park… in Poland!… from 9 to 11 p.m.! Surreal. All that and more in a day and a half, for on the second day I go back to Warsaw and last week’s club; it’s Friday.

Days 12-14: My last host want to share my custody with a friend, therefore on Saturday in the morning a bus takes us to Wroclaw for further walking and party. On the bad side, we miss the musical fountain on Sunday in the evening because some rookies try to have a nap and just wake up next morning.

Market square in Wroclaw [photo: Maciek Lulko]

Market square in Wroclaw [photo: Maciek Lulko]

Days 15-17: Back in Warsaw, I spend an evening by the river, cycle around the city at night and go up to the floors 40 of a hotel and the Pałac Kultury, which offer great views on the capital. I even delight my host with a Spanish omelette and Iberian ham one night and the next we have a barbecue. On the following day I arrive to Barcelona at midnight; and I thought it was hot in Poland…

Tour around Poland 2014: About the country

Last year I toured around Europe just visiting friends; this summer I’ve visited friends around Poland to learn their language.

Allow me to keep the linguistic experience for another occasion and to focus on the most remarkable details about the country, which might be of your interest if you’re considering visiting it.

Staying with my first host I discovered the warm Polish hospitality, recurring phenomenon on the following visits. The Poles give their guests all the honours; they make everything in their power to ensure your comfort and entertainment. I was even cooked breakfast every morning—and breakfast doesn’t need to be cooked!

It’s a very green country, with parks everywhere and trees and grass in most of its streets. Maybe that’s what saves Warsaw, which is not especially nice—its centre, with no urban planning, is even ugly. The other cities are far more beautiful.

The Old Town in Warsaw is not that old; it was completely rebuilt after WWII [photo: Dennis Jarvis]

The Old Town in Warsaw is not that old; it was completely rebuilt after WWII [photo: Dennis Jarvis]

When it comes to money, Poland is a cheap destination. For instance, a meal at any place can cost about 16 zlotys (3 £) and a bottle of 0.5 litres of beer in a club, about 10 (2 £). Bear in mind, however, that it’s not so cheap for them, since their minimum wage is about 1,200 zlotys (230 £) and the average wage is close to 2,500 (477 £). Therefore it’s a cheap destination, but not a cheap country.

The information I’d have liked to know before my trip, nevertheless, was how the sex signs in toilets work. In Poland there’s a circle and a triangle pointing downward. The triangle doesn’t represent knickers or bikini waxing. Some say it’s a hanging penis, but Polish penises are not triangular—I have spoken. It’s also argued that the circle is the vulva (in labour, maybe) or a breast. Be it as it may, triangle is for men and circle is for women.

Regarding law and order, always cross the street at a zebra crossing when the light is green to avoid fines. Polish police is amazing; they’re everywhere, they work—fine—constantly and they seem to be taken from deodorant advertisements (quite a contrast with the Spanish lazy fat Manolos with moustache).

Should you want to use the public transport, you’ll find proper bus and tram networks and a bicycles service available even for sporadic use without a subscription (take note, Barcelona). Moreover, it just takes 5 or 6 hours and less than 12 £ to cross half the country by train or coach (take note, rest of Europe).

But let’s take a break now and look at the more specific aspects of the places I visited next time. There might even be some personal experiences for the gossipers.

TE13: Sightseeing in The Hague and farewell in Amsterdam

Being physically tired and not having enough sleep, but still joyful, I left the country I’m linked to by my second surname to visit the Netherlands. I had been there when I was eighteen—when I meet the Slovene girl—although that time I visited other places, except for Amsterdam.

The flight, or rather the boarding, to the Netherlands was the most interesting of them all. When almost everybody was on the plane, some uniformed people came looking for a man. There happened to be two passengers with the same exact name, but just one ticket. After a long discussion, one of them left the cabin and off we went, twenty minutes late.

Isn't Delft beautiful? [photo: Edwin van Buuringen]

Isn’t Delft beautiful? [photo: Edwin van Buuringen]

I spent some days in The Hague with the Scottish guy who held international barbecue parties when he lived in Barcelona. Of course, our first night in The Hague was also international. He also prepared a route around Delft, Vermeer’s birthplace and de facto capital of the country, and Rotterdam—where I was tortured in an all-you-can-eat sushi place in which you can order unlimited food, except there’s a 2 € surcharge per piece remaining on the table, and you always order too much food.

The tour around Europe ended in Amsterdam with my Cork corker friends for a festive farewell. The city is crowded with Argentinean and Italian restaurants, sex-shops and canals and there’s the well known Red Light District and a not-so-well-known sort of Chinatown. No wonder we spent a whole morning looking for Dutch pancakes because of a carving of my friend.

The weirdest moment, however, was when she sent me to some German guys with a mission: ‘Excuse me, I’ve got a sort of weird request for you. My friend there smokes—I don’t—but she can’t roll her joints and was wondering if you could roll it for her with this. You can keep what you don’t use for the joint [which was a lot] because we’re leaving tomorrow.’ And my tour around Europe ended the following day indeed.