Friday, March 25, 2011

It's official (almost mostly entirely)!

I will be heading back to Budapest next year.  I have a contract to teach English, Spanish, and Geography (in English) at Krudy for the private organization that works there.  Details to follow, but I am very very excited!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Visiting Lyla in Canterbury

The last weekend in February I had a long weekend from work.  I bought a ticket to go visit Lyla at her university in Canterbury months ago, so I was very excited by this point.  On Thursday I flew up to London (saying Jo Napot to my Hungarian flight attendant, thus causing her to drop the sandwich she was holding out of shock) and caught the train to Canterbury.  After a change in London, I was soon in the quaint little town.  Lyla picked me up from the train station and we headed to her dorm, where she made me dinner and we caught up.

The next day it was out sightseeing in the city.

This is the town wall.  The double-decker buses entering the city go through that little door in the middle, passing inside the walls by only two or three inches on either side. 
Canterbury was just so English.  Little buildings crammed together, canals, and rolling green fields betrayed the hundreds and hundreds of years that England has been tamed.
The entrance to the Canterbury Cathedral, the seat of the Anglican church. 
me in front of the Cathedral
looking up the giant tower of the cathedral
awnings inside
The cathedral is quite large, and very open-planned.
the dome
There was a lot (a LOT) of very intricately patterned stained glass.
There were also a lot of tombs of famous people and royalty.
the wall of the cathedral gardens
me and Lyla
After visiting the Cathedral, Lyla and I got lunch at a pub.  She had a steak pie and I had a seafood pie.  We both had delicious, hoppy ale, poured from a hand-pumped tap.  Yum.

That night I went with Lyla and some of her friends to see the horribly depressing new Javier Bardem film, Biutiful, which is very good, though it has its weird moments for sure.  After that, we went to a party at one of her classmate's house.  It was fun and everyone was very nice.  Saturday we had thought about going out to the coast, but we awoke to a gray and rainy day, so we decided to do some more sightseeing downtown and just relax, shop a bit (I bought an awesome little dress and some jewelry, all on massive sale), and enjoy some time together.

First we made bangers and mash for lunch.  Again, yum.
Walking around the town, we looked at all the cute old buildings.  This bookstore was established centuries ago and really gets the most space out of its small parcel of land.  Do notice the crooked little door.
After a "tasting menu" dinner of Polish Zsurek, Scottish Haggis (sooo good!), and Koleves-inspired Roquefort pasta, Lyla, her friend Rebecca, and I headed out dancing.  I also had the most delicious cocktail I've ever had: gin, watermelon, and elderflower liquer.  Also, new dress!  Cheers!

Sunday we woke up, made a fantastic breakfast, and relaxed for a bit before I had to catch the train back to the airport.  It was great to see Lyla again and just relax and get to know her new home.  I love her.  And Canterbury is gorgeous, too!

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Module 3 of 4 is now finished!  I'm 3/4 of the way done with my master's classes now.

Also, this weekend I headed to the crazy Spanish festival of Las Fallas.  Sadly, I'm currently exhausted so details to follow...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Blog commitment

Well my lovely readers, you may be interested to know that I have totally used up my 1 G of free storage here on Google's Blogger in pictures.  So I have purchased 20G more to avoid having to change blog titles.

I guess this means I better blog more, eh?

February in Spain

I must admit that February was pretty uneventful for me.  I spent the first weekend in delightful Casablanca and the last weekend in Canterbury visiting Lyla, but the weeks in between were spent primarily on school work and school planning.  I was also sick and missed a few days of work with an ear infection and simultaneous sinus infection in the second week of February.  There were also some difficult moments at school, though I am mostly over them now.  The weather was bitter cold, with several freak snowstorms where I walked out of the house to discover several inches of snow had fallen overnight.  There were also a few beautiful clear days, where the snow sitting on rooftops made a gorgeous contrast to the icy-blue sky.

There was a 1920s themed party the next weekend which I attempted to attend but which, depressingly enough, resulted in my falling asleep in the spare room around midnight and waking up just in time to take over-partied people home.  The following weekend I had a house guest, a friend of a friend, and actually managed to get some cooking done.  That was exciting.  I do miss cooking a lot... I barely have time for more than a quick soup or pasta dish nowadays, and primarily exist off of the school lunch plus salads and sandwiches.  

jamon serrano and queso manchego
my home-made paella
a rare clear day in February

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Casablanca, finally. Or, a case of mistaken identity.

So, way back in the first weekend of February, I went to Casablanca.  I was soooo excited because this would be my first time in Africa, and because of the unrealistic expectations caused by the film.  I fully expected Humphrey Bogart to show up and sweep me off my feet.  And he didn't, of course, but it was still a fantastic trip.

I arrived on Friday evening after my rather lovely flight from Madrid.  I have discovered that, when flying Easy Jet, people refuse to take the emergency exit rows because they have to put their purses in the overhead bin.  So I happily sit there and enjoy the extra leg room.  My plane landed perfectly for me to leisurely walk through the airport to the train and hop on.  I got off the train through sheer luck at the right spot and argued with a few taxi drivers before I found one willing to take me to center of town for a fair price.  I agreed when the taxi driver asked me if I was Australian, and we chatted in an odd mixture of English, French, and Spanish.  The city is busy, dirty, full of cars swerving every which way and empty lots.

A side note: Casablanca is Morocco's largest city and its chief port.  It is not known to be the most lovely place in the country.  But I found a cheap ticket, so I decided to go.  And I found it to be, while a little unsettling at times, an exciting and fun place.

I met my friend's friend, Joel (American expat teachers, unite!), with whom I would be staying and left my bag at his workplace.  That left me with a few hours to spend before he got off work, so I headed down to the waterfront and the Hassan II Mosque, which is the third largest in the world and has the highest minaret.  It was beautiful, set against the sun setting over the sea.  I was taken for Irish this time, and after some chat with the guard, allowed into the foyer despite it now being prayer time.  Many, many pictures were taken.

approaching on a side street full of cars and street hustlers packing up their leftover wares
the community center near the mosque
the minaret and fountain area, where the faithful wash before entering the mosque
some of the arches of the entryway
minaret close-up
tile work
the tile work of one of the washing fountains
The arches and stalagtite-esque architecture so characteristic of the Muslim world... after so much time in Spain with their "mudejar" architecture, a mix of Spanish and Muslim, I always find the original interesting.  And beautiful, of course!
sunset, with lighthouses in the distance
One of only two self-portraits of the trip... I was trying to stick out as little as I could with being a foot taller than every other woman and also having puffy curly blonde hair.
After my visit to the mosque, as you can see, it was getting a bit dark and I was a bit nervous to be out and about on the streets by myself, what with all the marriage proposals and declarations of love I was receiving.  So I put on my best tough face and stalked as purposely as I could (thanks for that skill, Lyla!) to back near Joel's work.  I sat in a gorgeous cafe and drank a pot of sweet, sweet mint tea and read a book for awhile, then I took myself to dinner.  Both of these were an exercise in insanity, as, for the first time in quite awhile, I faced a sizeable language barrier.  Luckily I could fake-French "Poulet?  Avec... frites?  Si vous plais?" and I know "chai" so I got along alright.  These waiters took me for British and Spanish (that one probably due to my book).  Joel got out of work and we headed to his flat, where I made friends with his fat cat and we talked teaching for a good long while before bed.

The next day, Saturday, was amazing.  Joel was such a good host and showed me all around the many amazing spots in town.  It was, primarily, an eating tour... always the best kind.  We started with a light lunch of harira, a tangy, lemony lentil soup that is traditionally eaten to break the fast during Ramadan, and salade nicoise, with gorgeous fresh tuna and pungent olives.  From there, we just kept eating.

This juice was a revelation.  I'm not much of a juice drinker, but this one... wow.  At a simple little storefront in one of the markets in Joel's residential area, I was served this beauty of avocado, strawberry, and orange juice.  Nothing was added to it but a bit of honey, because the strawberry cut the tartness of the orange and the avocado added a fantastic creaminess.
We took a taxi and then a walk to the coast, where dozens of young boys waited with ponies for the boys and girls of a different class to ride.
This is the "hexing island" where people go to put voodoo curses on their enemies.  There is a little man with an intertube waiting to pull you across, himself knee-deep in the surf, but it's not the sort of place foreigners can go.  There also appear to be a cafe or two up there.  Weird.  Also, all of those umbrellas you see in the picture are little food stands, primarily run by old women, serving tea and snacks.  We stopped at one and got the Moroccan equivalent of a funnelcake, a flat oily fritter covered in sugar and a bit of honey.  This time, because Joel can speak some French, we were taken for German.
At the same foodstand where we grabbed a bite, there was a little old lady in a black djellaba (kaftan-sort of thing that most of the women over forty wore, about half of them with a head scarf) and bright pink, bejeweled slippers.   She was smoking hand-rolled cigarettes through her toothless gums, commanding a pack of unruly grandchildren, and clapping her hands to some traditional musicians that came by.  I would have loved to have taken a picture of her, but it would have been very socially awkward.  So, instead, a fisherman...
... and a man with his cow on the side of the road.
That night we had two dinners, an early one of lemon-chicken tagine (sooo tasty) and pastilla (sort of like the Moroccan version of empanada) stuffed with chicken spiced with raisins, nuts, and cinnamon.  All washed down with mint tea, of course.  Later we also had some sushi!  So it was the very traditional and the totally nontraditional.  Joel got some beautiful ice-cream, but I was too stuffed to have more than a bite of it.

The tagine... we devoured the pastilla before I thought to take a picture of it!
The next day it was up early, a small battle with the plumbing (cold showers are refreshing in February, right?), and then a yummy potato omelette.  I then headed to the old market, where I wandered around and bought a few small things, mostly gifts, but also a pair of earrings for myself.  I also got four little wooden camels, one for me and each member or my family.  So now we have a camel family.  The market was the scene you would expect, full of small stands and storefronts spilling out onto the sidewalk, staffed by small men who called at you to come admire their wares.  And I really wished I had more money, because I would have bought a lot of things.  Especially pottery for my mother and jewelry for myself.

I decided to take advantage of the Moroccan people's apparent inability to correctly guess my nationality to escape the "American tax."
          "You are American? 70 drahams (about 7 Euros)."
          "No, Hungarische!" and here I babbled on a few words in Hungarian.
          "Oh.... 30 drahams for you!"
Who said Hungarian never got me anything?
archways in the marketplace
Then it was off to the train station and airport and back to Madrid.

Reflections: this is one of the only times I've felt uncomfortable traveling as a single woman.  I was certainly glad to be staying with a male, because it enabled me to be out after night.  I was never touched or anything, but I did get some uncomfortable stares and catcalls.  The whole situation with womanhood in general was rather interesting.  Very few women wore full habibs, though most older women wore the long caftan I linked to above.  I would venture about half wore head scarves.  Most younger women dressed in a western style, but conservatively.  I never saw a skirt above the knee, and virtually everyone had their collarbone covered.  At night, though, some women dressed more daringly... to go to the ice cream parlor.  Men dressed pretty much "normally," though a few also wore caftans.  Joel and I had some enlightening talks about the gender situation, as he has been living in Morocco off and on for a number of years.

Casablanca was certainly dirty and a bit rough, but my long-term readers now know that I find some dirtiness charming and authentic.  It is not equipped for tourists, as there is little public transit and few people speak any English or Spanish at all (though it seemed virtually everyone, excluding some old ladies, speak French).  It's definitely not a beginner traveler's destination.

I, however, loved it.  It was new, and a bit difficult, and therefore exciting.  I've traveled around a fair bit in recent years, and actually through my whole life, so to find a city so challenging and unique to my experience was very exciting.  I enjoyed clucking at the waiter to get chicken after he couldn't understand my slaughtering of the French.  I have no issue glaring at some obnoxious dude, or changing my style of dress to fit in (I wore long skirts and long-sleeve T-shirts during my visit, to be respectful, and tucked my hair up into my hat at night in order to blend in a bit better).  I liked haggling with taxi drivers and vendors.  I would definitely go to Morocco again.