On Happy Coincidences

22 Mar

Disclaimer: Today was a beautiful day in Sevilla, and so I did what all Sevillanos do on a nice day and drank wine by the river in the sun. Ergo, am writing this post while I am un poquito borracha.

Anyway, due to this fact, this is going to be a short and unedited post, so apologies for any potential embarrassing mistakes.

Today, my friend Sylvia and I enjoyed the Sevilla sun by going to get a cappuccino on a terrace near Plaza Espana in the city centre.

Eventually, our conversation turned toward strange coincidences, and we mulled over the following story, which happened to me upon my traveling to Sevilla:

As you might discern from my post, Londoners Can’t Handle their Snow, I had a bit of trouble getting from London to Sevilla. My flight from London to Madrid was delayed, and so I missed my flight from Madrid to Sevilla.

Now, you are probably reading this and thinking: yes, many airlines often seem borrachos themselves (para example: last week when my mom and I tried to board our flight to Barcelona… but that’s a story for another day), and these incidences are quite common.

But, listen closely, amigos, because this is where things get interesting.

I was supposed to fly from London to Sevilla on that Saturday, January 18, but the girl that I happened to be sitting next to on the plane, Alex, was supposed to fly to Sevilla the day before.

After an hour of waiting in Heathrow on that Saturday, we all finally boarded the airplane headed to Madrid. The plane was on the small side – two columns of three seats each. I had the window seat, and my plane partner had the aisle; no one sat in the middle. The girl turned to me.

“Are you from Canada?” She asked.

“Yeah, are you? How can you tell?” I answered.

She shrugged. “You were giving off a vibe. I’m from Oakville but live in Calgary. Where are you headed?” She continued.

“Sevilla,” I answered. “I’m studying abroad for a few months.”

“Me too!” She said. I was surprised – what were the chances that two Canadians would end up sitting next to each other on a flight out of Heathrow? “Pablo Olavide University?”

This is when things really started to feel odd. Not only were we going to the same city – that was not the final destination of that airplane – but we were going to the same school that was not even the main university in Sevilla. Universidad de Sevilla is the centrally located (and absolutely beautiful) university – it takes me about 45 minutes to get to UPO every day.

The girl’s name is Alex, and what had happened was that she and two other exchange students from Calgary had arrived in London the day before, and were supposed to fly out that day, but couldn’t because of the “snow.” She got put on my plane, a flight that I was meant to be on, but originally, she was not. We both missed the connection to Sevilla – and, lo and behold, were once again seated next to each other. Two Canadians, flying through London, en route to Sevilla.

At the time, I was too exhausted to fully appreciate the situation – after a few days of traveling I was exhausted and ready to finally get to my homestay. But today, when talking with Sylvia, her roommate, I realized how crazy the whole thing really was – and realized that I might not have met the only other seven Canadians at UPO (who are all from Calgary) if it hadn’t been for that happy accident.

So today, in addition to appreciating this week that I get off from school to celebrate Semana Santa, Holy Week, I appreciate the little happy accidents that make our life wonderful.

Así, salud, for friends, for accidents, and for an impending trip to Paris!

An Ode to Ham: Part Chew

21 Mar

Picture yourself:

On a weekend in Madrid with your


and it’s








We are hungry but do

not know where to


And there it stands

Freedom from


Pizzas, pastas, ensaladas,

An Italian oasis.

Relief from surprise


We are sharing


pizza and a


The menu reads like a poem.

“Valerio: Tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, goat cheese,, arugula, cherry tomatoes and walnuts.”

Imagine our shock when this

garden of delights arrives with

what we thought was a rogue piece of


Surprise Ham

Rogue it was not.

Too much surprise hamAnd that was the day we learned our lesson:

No matter what part of the menu it’s on,

Always ask for

“Sin Jamon.”


Lola the Unicorn

6 Mar

Lola the Unicorn

If I get homesick, it’s really just for Lola. This is Lola turned into a Unicorn. Lola is not my cat, she belongs to Zoe. I got to look after Lola for two weeks in June and it was the best birthday present ever.

Up to the Mountain

5 Mar

First off, because I stole the title of this blog post from a song, listen to it.

I find that, as a Canadian living in Spain, interacting with lots of Americans, I have a few sources of pride, even though I don’t always voice all of them*:

1) Socialized healthcare

2) Not having to pay an absurd amount for an equally excellent post secondary education

3) That time we got the gold medal in both Men’s and Women’s Hockey at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 – a cold February evening that truly warmed our hearts

4) A sense robustness in the face of harsh weather

And here, in the south of Spain, where the weather is easily comparable to, say, Florida or California (and certainly NOT Southwestern Ontario, nor  Nova Scotia), I thought I could get by with being smug about my impressive ability to face the elements without actually having to prove it to anyone. I could wax poetic about the great storm of ’98, where there was so much snow that the mayor called in the army and I spent the day tunneling through my backyard in a puffy purple snowsuit. I could reminisce about the great duvet I call a coat that I wear in Halifax to protect myself from the wind tunnels disguised as streets. But to actually endure those elements while I’m here? Forget about it, I came to enjoy the sun and skip out on this year’s bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Effective cure for SAD

Effective cure for SAD

So why would I sign up to go skiing in Sierra Nevada, in the south of Spain of all places? I’m not entirely sure, but I’m glad I did. It’s been about seven years since I last went skiing, and never have I ever gone skiing on a real mountain – until last weekend.

I grew up learning how to ski at a little club in Collingwood, Ontario, called Devil’s Glen. There I could avoid the long lines and wait times of Blue Mountain, and the hills were not overwhelming. They were manageable. Standing at the chairlift, I could see the top of the hill: the summit I must conquer and subsequently fly down. The club itself was miniscule in comparison to Sierra Nevada – while I could see practically the whole club from the rental shop at Devil’s Glen, navigating around Sierra Nevada was an adventure in itself. A gondola down to the village, a gondola up to the chairlift, and of course, a chairlift up the mountain.

And the snow – oh, the snow. Snow that put my pride of robustness in the face of harsh weather to shame. Sideways ice rain was the weather we woke up to that Saturday morning, and to be completely honest, I wasn’t thrilled to make my grand return to skiing while splitting my focus on making sure my face was still there (numbness kills!). It took only three runs on the bunny hill to convince me to say “hasta luego, montana,” for the day. I inhaled my soup to warm up. Don’t think that the day wasn’t fun, though – I was pretty sure I still knew how to ski, and the trip organizers did a great job of making up for the bad weather. They bought us a buffet dinner at a cozy hotel, then brought us to a bar that reminded me of Trapper’s (old faithful in the middle of nowhere, Ontario), if Trapper’s had a disco ball.

However, all was redeemed on Sunday – a bright, sunny day, gorgeous fresh powder, threats of avalanches…



I ventured back up the slopes, and, with great success, skied!

My one mishap…

I was skiing very quickly down a very long run, lost control and wiped out. The powder was fresh, and, well… powdery, and I fell on a weird upward slant. Once upon a time, I knew how to get up from a fall. This was a clean fall, too – legs together, didn’t hit my head (hooray!). Because I just couldn’t remember how to get up, I flopped down and took the opportunity to rest.

Credit Jillian Tiburzi

Credit Jillian Tiburzi – I acknowledge that this is poor form, but I have not skied in 7 years, so pity me, fools!

One selfless skier tried to come to my rescue, but of course, he just fell in the process. It wasn’t until his other friend came and helped us both up – with lots of effort and impressive strength on her part – that I managed to continue on down the run.

Credit Jillian Tiburzi

Credit Jillian Tiburzi

Because really, if you don’t fall at least once a day, is it even skiing?

*This is a boldfaced lie, I mention the first two at least twice a day, every day, and people are getting tired of it. Whatever, they’re just jealous.

Breakfast with Pedro

25 Feb

Monday morning after a long weekend of skiing in Sierra Nevada, a mountain in the south of Spain. My inflamed muscles wake me up at around 9:30, protesting the stress that they haven’t felt in about seven years. A stress that can only be felt by wearing twenty pound boots while flying down a mountain.

In the next room, I hear older voices speaking in Spanish. One I can immediately identify as belonging to Eloisa, my host mother. The other is significantly deeper. A raspy rumble. I cannot discern whether it is the voice of a sixty-five year old woman (smoker), or a man of the same age.

Eventually, I fall out of bed and hobble to the bathroom, eyes puffed, nose sunburned. On my way back to my bedroom, I turn to my left to say buenos dias to my host mother, Eloisa. Without my glasses, I believe I see a man sitting in the distance. Eloisa smiles at me. Desayunar? she asks. I nod, si. It is time for breakfast.

I dress hastily and go to take my seat on the couch, tostada, mermelada and cafe already set out for me. The man sitting in the armchair to my right is maybe in his late sixties, salt and pepper hair combed into a swirl atop his head. His bulbous nose stands out on his round red face.

“Buenos Dias,” I say.

“Buenos Dias,” he responds. “Que estudias?” He speaks quickly. I can’t understand him. I haven’t spoken Spanish since Friday.

“?” I look at him, puzzled.

“Estudias aqui, si?” He rephrases, this time more slowly.

“Ah, si.”

“Y que estudias?”

“Ingles y historia,” I answer.


I nod, smile, and fix my coffee. Poquito de milk and poquito de sugar. I prepare my toast, one with apricot marmalade, and the other with Nutella. I eat my breakfast and we sit in silence. Eloisa is our background music, yapping on the phone to Pepe.

She brings the phone to the man on my left, and he, too, begins yapping to Pepe. Eloisa explains that this man is Pedro, her friend from work. Eloisa’s work is a mystery to me – she works in negocios, business, but which business, I’ve never quite understood. Every few days she wakes up early and flies out of the apartment, hair blow dried, usually wearing a chic black blazer, as my roommate and I sit down to breakfast. A stark contrast to her usual pink zip-ups and grey sweatpants. We usually smile and return to our tostada.

This morning, I finish my coffee and bid them adieu, mostly so I can write this blog post. A post about breakfast. A post about nothing, and yet a post about everything.

Adieu, adieu, adieu.

Morocking Out

19 Feb

When I booked my trip to Morocco, I have to admit, I was a little anxious. Although this was not my first trip to Africa, this was my first time going to a Muslim country. My host mother, Eloisa (as well as others), kept telling me that I had to “ten cuidado!” (be careful) because I was blonde. I had two qualms with this warning: the first, my blondness. This has been a lifelong battle for me; a hair identity crisis if you will. I’ve never been quite sure what colour to call my hair. Dirty blonde? Light brown? Of course, the lovely Nathaniel at Civello in Toronto has been helping me through this crisis for the last few years, but I still do a little double take when someone refers to me as “blonde.”

My second (less self important) qualm had more to do with the perception of people of Morocco. Was I really going to be leered at to such a discomforting extent because of the way that I looked? I found it hard to believe that in Northern Morocco, a place that (I assumed) was rather touristy, people would find light hair such a novel thing. These warnings gave me an unfortunate and, as I would learn over the weekend, incorrect impression of Moroccan people.

Despite my mild anxiety, on Friday afternoon I boarded a bus with a hundred or so other exchange students and headed for Tarifa to take the ferry across. We first saw Morocco on the drive to Tarifa, and that first glimpse could never be contained in a photograph. As the bus laboured its way around a mountain, we looked to our left to see mountains rising out of the mist covered Atlantic ocean. If I could get a little Classical for a moment, I’d say it looked like what I imagine Mount Olympus would have looked like, ascending regally above the clouds. A place fit for Zeus himself to call nostos.


The first thing we did on Saturday was ride camels on a beach. I wasn’t super keen to participate – I’d ridden a camel on my trip to Israel four years ago, and it felt like one of those things that really, you only had to do once. Add my soft spot for animals to the equation and I did not feel great about making them carry all of us around for 45 seconds each. There were 5 bored looking camels waiting around for us to ride them, as well as a few eye candy camels. There was one camel though, whose beauty shone above the rest. His name: I’ll never know. His demeanor, no words can express:

261358_565970926747549_2050584859_n (thanks to Nate Carpenter for the photo)

Sadly, he was not my camel. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and to flatter my handsome camel friend, I made this face when dismounting my camel:


After we were through with our shenanigans (including my roommate Shahdi doing an impressive, but undocumented, back flip off her camel), we went to the Cave of Hercules, a cave carved by the Romans. The most unique aspect of the cave?


The viewpoint to the sea in the shape of Africa.


After exploring the cave, we headed to Asilah. We walked to a lookout onto the ocean,


And then had time to wander the streets on our own. Asilah is a small town with a sense of art at its core – shops displaying crafts, murals covering walls. This was where I had my first interaction with Moroccans, and where my impression of Moroccan people was proven wrong. Walking through the streets, I was on high alert – didn’t want anyone to get too close, wasn’t even making eye contact with anyone. After about five minutes of that, I realized that no one was leering or trying to take advantage of me, the dumb tourist – they were being friendlier than I’m used to, in that they smiled and waved as I walked by. I realized that it was okay for me to let my guard down a little bit, and smiled and waved back.





The next day, we went to the town of Chefchaouen. This was a remarkable little town built into the side of a mountain. Walking through the blue streets into the shops was especially exciting here: the looms were on display right next to the rugs they weaved. I started my day with a saying they taught us in scuba diving: take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but bubbles. My intent was to visit only as an observer to a different culture – I didn’t think I needed another chatchke from a market cluttering up my house. I spent the beginning of the day doing just that: taking pictures of what I saw…



But wanting no other souvenirs. It was only once we wandered down this alleyway…


That enticed me to explore this little space…


DSC_0167And, seduced by the magic of the coloured rugs and the secrecy of a man unfurling a cloth filled with silver jewelry, I finally got my souvenirs.


I embarked on this trip with the mindset of going for just a taste of Morocco – if I liked it, perhaps I could go back one day to see more. One weekend and two cities was not nearly enough to understand the country as a whole. It was, however, enough to whet my appetite for one big plate of couscous and a bigger trip of the rest of the country.


An Ode to Ham

10 Feb

An Ode to Ham

I’ve never eaten you on purpose before. Truly, I never thought I would, but

Spain is testing me.

Oh, how I feel a fool when

Spinach and garbanzo beans are accompanied by


Jamon, you tease me when I don’t


You. You

see, often when I bite,

Unsuspectingly, into my

Montadito, I detect your


I announce that I am a


But here, jamon is not just

The other white meat.

Nay; it is a staple akin to

bread or

cheese or

tomatoes or:


Yes, I am living in Liz Lemon Paradise;

But if you please,

I’ll just have the fish.




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