I love watching Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmerman on the Travel Channel. They're always going somewhere exotic, shopping in the local markets and trying native delicacies. In Barcelona there's a large outdoor market called La Boqueria where they sell things like gourmet ham, candied fruit and fresh ground spices......
But they also sell exotic seafood.....
......and entrails of animals.
We enjoyed trying various foods there, but I couldn't help but feel like becoming vegetarian after seeing the rows of skinned bunnies (complete with eyes) or the piles of skinned lamb heads (complete with eyes and teeth). I know it's a delicacy in some cultures but I guess I don't like thinking about what my hamburger used to look like. Ick! I know, I know. I'm a hypocrite.
When I graduated from high school, my Spanish teacher Señora Romero gave me a book of the sights of Barcelona and inscribed it with a note that said she hoped that I would see the city someday and that I'd continue with my Spanish until I mastered it. I got her wishes 3/4 right. Let's just say that my Spanish is a bit rusty, but as long as I can speak in the present tense, I'm ok :-)
In Barcelona there's a wide street called Las Ramblas, which meanders its way down to the port and the waterfront area. It's a popular place for a stroll with lots to see, like these street performers - but the most interesting (and distressing) part for me to see is the pet shops.
They're in the open air and they sell pretty much every animal around, like:
Baby Chicks (scooped up by the handful)
And teeny tiny bunnies.
As an animal lover, I just wanted them to all have happy homes.
Brett and I spent the weekend in Barcelona. In addition to having fantastic 70 degree sun (as opposed to the typical 40 degree Amsterdam drizzle) - we also enjoyed eating tasty tapas and going to El Corte Ingles, which is a HUGE 7 story department store that sells everything from car tires to gourmet truffles. We spotted these chocolate breakfast Cheetos and decided to give them a try. They were kind of like Nutella meets a non-cheesy Cheeto triangle. Do they have these in the US?
In the mood for a more savory Cheeto? Try the ham version.
Well strolling the Champs-Élysées in Paris we noticed that most major European car companies had brand experience stores there. At the Peugot store they had a car that appeared as if it was driving up a wall. Now THAT is a technology I'd like to see in a car. Imagine all the spidey-like manuevers you could do with that. Traffic jam? Not on my watch!
While touring Versailles I dropped my camera on the marble floor. It seemed ok until I started taking pictures again and noticed a strange blue/purplish tint to the photos. I thought it might be the display screen, but after I moved the photos to my laptop I discovered that the same bluish tint followed.
I guess it's time for a new camera, but I think I'll play around with this one some more. The effects are kind of groovy!
One of the things I LOVE about living in Europe is proximity to the holy trinity of chocolate producing countries. Belgium, France, and Switzerland. I make it a point to seek out local chocolate shops whenever I'm in town. In Paris we stumbled upon this beauty. We had pastries like ganache filled macaroons and this dark chocolate mousse filled eclair. Mmmmmm. The perfect treat for an early Valentine's Day. Speaking of romance, if you want to read a story about how Brett asked me to marry him, it's on the Kodak Blog today at 1000words.kodak.com
I've had it happen to me many times while touring in a foreign country. I'm walking along minding my own business when someone says loudly "Do you speak English?" and when you turn to look they shove a piece of paper in your face with some sort of sad story asking for money. OR You encounter an overly aggressive shopkeeper or panhandler who won't leave you along and gets in your face. This happened to us when we were touring Sacre Coeur in Paris.
The secret to a clean getaway: Speak Dutch to them. They can't quite figure out where you're from and are so befuddled they'll leave you alone. We used a few key phrases like "No thank you (in Dutch)" while in Paris and it cut our delay times down to seconds. Thanks to my Dutch colleagues for the handy tip! That's one advantage to speaking a less mainstream language.
We noticed these decals at a department store in France. They're photographic stickers of a pile of towels. I guess you're supposed to stick them on the front of your cabinets for a cool effect. They also had dish towel stickers, plate stickers, and even canned vegetable stickers.
They were kind of fun - but they were so realistic I think I'd be slamming my hands into the cabinet door everytime I reached for a towel or a can of chickpeas!
In Paris we stopped into a local department store to see what kinds of unique things were for sale in France. One trend that I can't quite figure out is cardboard "look alike" products.
Brett's enjoying his cardboard baguette in this photo. It was even stranger to see life size "fireplaces" and "marble" mantles - especially for $30 and up! If anyone could make cardboard upscale, it's the French.
My friend Courtenay was in Antwerp a few weeks ago when her friend went to use the bathroom. She came back down and said "I'm not going to tell you what I saw, but you HAVE to go up and look in the bathroom." When Courtenay went up, she was surprised to see these side-by-side toilets. I guess since many girlfriends go to the bathroom at the same time, this restaurant figured they'd make the process more efficient.
Strange for sure, but I bet the lines are shorter :-)
My eyes are extremely sensitive to chopping onions - so one day I was in the store and noticed these onion goggles. They have a foam layer underneath the frame that seals your eyes from the onion fumes.
They work great, though I look extremely silly wearing them. Still, they were one of the few cooking items that made the cut for the trip from San Francisco to Amsterdam. They're that good.
We were at the Asian grocery store in Amsterdam this weekend and saw something called a Vegetarian Meat Dumpling. We were puzzled as the ingredient list revealed no meat.
After thinking for a minute we figured it was like "tofurky" in that the vegetables were made to resemble the texture and flavor of meat - but I think their translations could use a little refinement :-)
Bike theft is pretty rampant here in Amsterdam. You need a strong lock, and you need to remember to lock the back wheel, and then lock the frame AND front wheel to something solid.
If you don't, you could end up like this poor person. You get back from the train station and notice that your front wheel is still locked up...but the rest of the bike is missing!
Or you could be like our new friend Kevin, who came outside one morning to find a different bicycle locked up with his chain. Apparently someone liked his bike better than theirs, so they "upgraded," leaving him their cruddy bike. Kevin has since purchased a better lock.