Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Home Sweet Home

And then we were back in California for a month.
It was good. It was busy. It went fast. It was fun.

It included a trip to Tahoe with the Tragers.

Family holiday shinanigans.

(Immersion blender! Can you say, Hello soup season?!)

(This year's Christmas Creative Craft assignment was wreath making. Ted painted up an old board for Michael [my cousin's skateboard obsessed boyfriend] and I made an onion wreath with a bow of onion recipes for my onion loving cousin)

(I brought Christmas Crackers and brussel sprouts to Ted's family's Christmas Eve dinner. It's safe to say that England had its effect on me.)

A nature walk by the pacific

(Stick Stache)

(Tree Holder)

(the sun setting on 2009)

Ringing in the new year with games and vegan sweet treats.

(mmmmm, vegan caramel)

(fast hands, with overlord templeton studying technique)

(cheers! new years!)

(the crew)

(puttin a small dent in the temptster firework stockade)

after the intensities/niceties/and lovelies of our brief time home, we arranged a last hurrah trip to the museum of Jurassic technology. it wasnt everything i thought it was going to be, but it was definitely more. for sure. the less you know about this place before you go, the better. but, be sure and go, if you find yourself in culver city.

With the new year still brand new, our money run out, our time up, it was time to be off for another poster tour. . . of "we are never going to do THAT again" fame.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lucky Last London Looksees

We woke early on our second to last full day in London, so as to pack goodness into every moment possible. At the recommendation of our fast friends made our final day in Morocco, we went to Monmouth Coffee, close to the Seven Dials and Neal's Yard in Covent Gardens. We were dismayed to find that in spite of (and perhaps due to their purism in) their superior coffee, they do not serve soy milk, nor do they offer any non-coffee beverages. Ted with his distaste for coffee, and me with my hankering for a latte, Monmouth Coffee was not the place to be.

Instead we wandered Neal's Yard.

(monty python used to live in neal's yard, apparently)

We ended up getting reeled into a cafe there. Skeptical at first of the pushy staff, lack-luster menu descriptions, awful decor, and ear abusing music, we ordered and hoped for the best. In the time between ordering and being served we saw three couples enter the restaurant, sit down, peruse the menu and leave without ordering.

Things started looking up after a trip to the toilet, and the discovery of the magically decorated interior. What went wrong with the rest of the restaurant remains a mystery.

And then, the food arrived.

And completely blew us away. This! This was far more than mere tofu eggs, veggie sausage, beans and toast. This was an overload of taste sensation!! (this all, was taken a picture of, but alas ted erased them from his camera. bah!) Each piece of "toast" was a medallion of flavorful chewy goodness! Sun dried tomato, basil, and ginger, each was like a punch to the tastebuds. I freaked out, ate until I could not eat any longer, and then wrapped the rest of my medallions in my napkin and placed them in my pocket for a tasty snack later.

But enough about food.

We then happened upon Arthur Beale's, a yachting store that's well over one hundred years old. Hard wood floors, tiny drawers filled with everything from rope and compasses to brass fittings and golden anchor key chains, each with its own type written label. I purchased an amazing golden keychain that tells you the days corresponding to the dates of the year between now and forty years into the future. I purchased one for myself, one for Nathan (our generous host), one for Melina (who loves all things nautical) and one for my father (who loves gadgetry of all kinds and proclaimed that the keychain would probably work longer than the years he has remaining in his life, and then I threatened to take it back if he didn't stop being such a kill joy). I freaked out there too, and fell in love with the old man behind the counter.

Then we got lost, trying to find our way on foot from Covent Gardens to Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street. And so, we stopped to ask directions from the most adorable, pink shirt wearing, french accenting, cigarette smoking man.

And then, I lost it.

The day had been filled with too much goodness and I could not take it any longer. I walked around with my hand affixed to my forehead for a few minutes, pretending that my knees were buckling under the weight of amazement. And then, Ted and I laughed and he made me do it again so he could take a picture.

Daunt Books was well worth the trek. We swooned over books with lovely cover art, the beautiful edwardian oak shelves that held said books, the skylights, the atmosphere in general, another overwhelming episode of these last london looksees.

(heres the interior from the second storey. on the banister you will find the stack of books that grew to an even more out-of-budget but necessary group of tomes that we walked out of there with)

Then we wandered around Brick Lane and saw some new art,

This had been carved into the wall.

and some art in process. . .

(space invader seemed to be the harbinger of good fortune. he followed us about the city. heres just a few sightings)

Then we met up with a few friends for dinner at Cha Cha Moon (also per the recommendation of our fast final friends from Morocco). It did not disappoint...

(andrew and leo !)

(we strolled about carnaby street afterward and found bill, lurkin)


On our final final day, we got coffee with Lindsey and Emma.

Emma did us proud by finishing a latte larger than her head.

We (and by "we" I mean Ted, because I am worthless when it comes to spotting celebrities) saw Martin Freeman, of British Office fame, getting a beverage of his own. Lindsey was super sneaky and took a photo of Ted and I with Marty pants bombing the photo in the background, when we were really bombing a photo of him - double whammo!

(Photograph courtesy of Lindsey Stealth Strobel)

And then we said see you later to Emma, and then she headed to work.

And then Lindsey, Ted and I continued on to Brick Lane in pursuit of (the best) bagels (in the world). And then we wandered around. And then I found a fifty pound note on the ground.

Yep. That's right. It was almost too good to be true, but then it really was true, and more freaking out ensued.

Then Lindsey had to rush off to work, and Ted and I spent the day dreaming about how we would spend it.

Then the time flew swiftly by.

We met up with Andrew, and spent our fifty pound note, and then some, on an amazing dinner in a double decker bus. (Andrew's first experience with vegan food. He gave it a thumbs up, and wondered why he had waited so long to give animal free food a chance.)

(thumbs up! to red lentil kofta)

(th' bus)

(panissa (chick pea puree rolled in polenta, then fried) and served with olives/sundried tomatoes and salad)

(melissa's oven braised tofu and carmelized onion tart with rosemary cream sauce served with oven roasted garlic and herb new potatoes with brussel sprouts)

(ted's nut cutlett (hmmm) served with soft polenta, drizzled with a red wine/mushroom gravy with mixed greens)

(whoa....chocolate fondant. fresh from the oven with ice cream and berries along with an ice cream platter.)

(andrew, satisfied)

(us, overwhelmed, mystified, overjoyed. money well found/spent)

(th' finished product, seen on the way back to the tube)

(high above greenland. parting with somewhere we've spent the most time in a long time was difficult, but the send off couldnt have been any better)


With unprecedented wisdom, we decided to spend our last night in Spain in Girona (the airport we were flying out of) rather than getting to Barcelona late in the evening, and trying to get to Girona early enough the next morning to catch our flight.

We stayed with a couchsurfing couple whose abundant generosity amazed us. Pitu picked us up at the bus station, and took us to his home where he kept putting piles of food in front of us and telling us to Eat! Eat! Eat! He was extremely apologetic for offering me tuna salad after Ted spilled the vegan beans. Instead I partook in some pasta salad, several tangerines, and a genuine "Catalan traditional food", pan amb tomaquet. This is when they take a piece of bread or toast, smear the pulp of a tomato all over it (sometimes they use garlic in addition to tomato), drizzle it with some olive oil and sprinkle it with salt. A tasty tread indeed. I asked Pitu if I was supposed to eat the rest of the tomato and he looked at me like I was crazy and said that he guessed I could, but if I wanted a tomato to eat he has better ones for eating that he would gladly give me.

Pitu and Laia, along with their friends visiting from Barcelona, took us out for a tour of the town. We started off sipping tea and chocolate (which Pitu insisted on paying for, because we were his guests) at a cute little cafe and then we wandered around the city, up and down cobbled roads, asking and answering questions and learning all sorts of things about Catalan culture and tradition.

(we stumbled upon a movie screening of one of laia and pitu's friends films about the homeless of girona. looked so beautiful and heartbreaking. too bad we dont speak catalan. we asked the film maker, in very poor spanish, if the film would ever see wider release and he looked at us like we were crazy and said no)

(crossing a bridge over the river onyar. it was constructed by the same people that brought us the eiffel tower)

(the catalonians are intensely separatist. there was separatist graffiti everywhere in girona. the picture at the beginning of this blog is a perfect example of this. below is as well. so many catalonian flags about. catalan is a lot different from its castillian counter part (the castillians were the most interested in imperialism and thus it is the most wide spread version). the signage in girona is in castillian spanish and many signs were spraypainted out and spelled in the catalonian way)

(girona cathedral)

(legend has it that if you touch this statues butt, you will return to girona. pitu got really excited and was soon hoisting me up to touch it)

Another gem brought to our attention by our generous/excitable host. It remains a mystery of how it got there to both us and our host.

A highlight was certainly learning about Tio. Tio de Nadal is the Catalan answer to Santa Clause. We discovered this after Ted took a picture of what looked like a log wearing a Santa hat.

(a store well stocked with tio)

As it turns out, Tio is, in fact, a log whom is often depicted wearing a Santa hat. But discovering this was perhaps the best part. The following conversation, or something like it (it has been quite a while) ensued after Ted shot his photo:

Pitu: Do you know Tio?
Us: Uncle?
Pitu: No. Tio, Catalan tradition. Him (pointing to image in photo above)
Us: Please explain!
Pitu: He is a section of a tree (lots of hand motions)
Us: A log?
Pitu: Yes! A log with a blanket on his back and then the children beat him with parts of a tree. . .
Us: Sticks?
Pitu: Yes! And they beat him saying "Tio! Tio! Tio!" Until he, how do you say, going to the bathroom? (More motions)
Us: Going to the bathroom?
Pitu: Yes. . . (obviously not satisfied with our answer) And the parents put presents under the blanket to make it look like he goes to the bathroom presents!
Us: Do you mean poop?
Pitu: Yes!!!

We were amazed at this tradition, and still are. You can read more about it here, and we recommend that you do.

Pitu and Laia had to run a marathon in a forest early the next morning, so they could not stay out too late. They went home, leaving us to wander Girona with a spare key in hand. At Pitu's recommendation, we ate at this amazing crepery, full of repurposed buses and bus station parts, with walls adorned with classic advertising. The food was delicious, and the service top notch.

(eggs! sausage! crepe! [Ted, you turd, don't forget the salad!])

Full bellied we found our way back to Pitu and Laia's classy apartment (Did I mention how cute it is? They have impeccable taste and their home has plenty in it to Oooo and Aaaaah about. Including a genuine Calder mobile). Pitu left three bottles of Ratafia, two little glasses and hand written descriptions for us to read when we sample them. (Ted had asked Pitu about a lovely decorated bottle we saw on our Pitu lead walking tour of Girona. Pitu was really excited and explained that Ratafia was the Catalan national drink and that he even brews some himself.) I could only try two, seeing as the third contained cream, but they were certainly tasty. An anise infused sweet nectar with a kick of something else I can't put my finger on.

The next morning we set out for some more exploring before our flight, but to our disappointment, we discovered that nothing in Girona is open on Sunday morning. So we peeped through windows and revisited some of the places we had seen in the darkness to see what they looked like in the light.
(mmmm xocolate)

All in all we were pleasantly surprised by Girona, having previously thought of it as a mere airport town, a pit stop to Barcelona. We discovered that Girona has heart and character all its own and well worth a visit or an extended stay.