Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Kiwiland and I

Posting here is long overdue, and even though I owe this blog tales about Lisbon and San Francisco - two absolutely fantastic cities I've visited since logging something here last - right now I'm going to talk about New Zealand. This is where I've been for the last week, this is where I am now and where I intend to be in less than a year.

I'm typing this on the road to Wellington aboard our Stray bus, onto which Isaac and I hopped last Friday and which has been driving us all around the North Island for the last seven days. For the ill-informed here, New Zealand is comprised of two giant islands (each bigger than England, if I'm not mistaken), called, not surprisingly, the North Island and the South Island. Because my trip is so miserably short, I could only really choose one of them in hopes of seeing at least some of the treasures each has to offer, and I decided to start in the north. With Stray's help, I managed to see quite a lot, I feel, and our orange bus has taken me places I never would have gone otherwise.

Let me tell you a bit about Stray: it is a crossbreed between a bus network (i.e. transport) and a travel agency (i.e. sightseeing), so with Stray you can go to various places either all over NZ, or over your island of choice according to the pass you buy. The driver acts as a tour quide, telling stories on the way and booking accommodation and activities in every place you visit (or you can do it all yourself, no obligations to buy or book anything suggested). You can hop off any time and hop on any other Stray bus passing through (every two days usually).

This is what I understood about Stray before starting my tour. It is all true, if course, but what I failed to predict was how close I would grow with some of my busmates. Our group on Stray stayed pretty well put: we "lost" a few people in Rotorua and a couple in Raglan, and new people hopped on as well, but otherwise we have been pretty inseparable for a week, eating together, sleeping together (new hostel every night, new roommates - we shuffled around), doing crazy things together (like swimming in ice-cold underground river in Waitomo caves, or zorbing, or hiking way above the sea level or my personal comfort zone), drinking moderately (honestly,  Canada's got nothing on New Zealand's booze prices and policies) and bouncing up and down on our bus seats thanks to North Island's winding roads.

In the last week I tried surfing, swam in a hot stream appropriately called Kerosine River, ate the freshest fish and chips, took pictures of Mount Doom. I have also taken part in a formal Maori ceremony that turned me from "Sacred feet" (a stranger with unclear intentions) into a part of the tribe and this Maori family. I believe them when they say that I can show up at their Marae (village) and just hang out there forever, because it is my home away from home now. How can you not fall in love with an indigenous culture like that?

New Zealand is the lushest green country I am ever likely to see. It is a country of farmers, funny accents, expensive micro-brews, sheep ans cows, gently undulating hills and tall waves, the Middle-Earth and Maori culture. It is beautiful and  absolutely fantastic. I don't think I would be able to forgive myself if I never come back.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Catalunya, un nou estat d'Europa

I'm happy to be back in Barcelona. Barcelona is not happy to be a part of Spain still, and 1.5 million people attended the La Diada manifestation yesterday.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

On Barcelona

Oh, the magic of the words "Your flight to Barcelona is now confirmed."

As my arrival date draws nearer, I keep thinking about how a friend once said that I choose to leave Barcelona every time I go, no doubt in response to my usual hysteric sadness. I was hurt by this and tried explaining that no, I don't choose, the circumstances choose for me, but even if this is partially true, I realized later on that yes, yes, I do choose to leave, even if I really don't want to. The choice is mine, but my hand is forced.

I choose to leave to keep my extended stays legal (and they always are), to follow through with commitments I have in Canada and with promises I made to visit other places. New Zealand will be a good example of the latter, and I have no doubt I will hate to board my flight from Barcelona in November, even if it means going on a great adventure.

Barcelona is home. Why? I feel in place there. I feel like I both blend in and stand out in the most optimal way. Over the course of six visits (about five months spent in town in total) I made the same number of close friends as in six years in Canada. It counts for something, when I know for a fact that if I get in trouble, any kind of trouble, in Barcelona, I have a long list of people to call who could help, and a short yet very assuring list of people to call who would do everything to help me immediately. I have that in Canada too, but I live here, my family is here, we have a home here, I speak the language perfectly and I spent the last six years here. Toronto is home. So is Barcelona.

The only conclusion I can draw from all this is that I need to work harder to turn this "if I could stay" into "I don't have to go".

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Haven't posted in a while, but this one is long overdue, lest I forget to be indignant about Russia. I am back from my mini-trip to Barcelona, which was organized so as to fall within my trip to Moscow, but I honestly wish I didn't have to come back here at all after two short weeks in my beloved Catalan hideout.

I could talk about many things related to the city where I lived for eighteen years and have been visiting regularly since moving. There are great things here, for sure: metro is cool and fast, churches are beautiful, art museums are top-class, there are a few truly good restaurants (and tons of mediocre ones). It's nice to visit, if you haven't been. It's nice to visit, if you have local friends. It's nice to visit, if you've got money to spare. It's nice to visit for a week and then get the heck out of here. I can't stand it anymore. I can't. I can't deal with crowds, with traffic, with rudeness and ignorance, with racism, with the attitude of entitlement with nothing to back it up, with corruption on the most basic of levels. It all feels stagnant at best and rotting at worst, and I rot right with it when I am here, mentally and physically.

I feel deeply ashamed to criticize the city I grew up in, by the way, because of the fucked up idea of patriotism that was forced into my head from an early age: you may complain all you want about Moscow, but only if you live here; if you manage to get out and move somewhere safer, more civilized, more suitable for citizens, not subjects, then nooo, who are you to say all these nasty things, you unpatriotic (son of a) bitch? This is so entrenched in people's minds that they honestly believe that they stick to this stuffy hell because they love it, love the energy of it, the constant movement, the restaurants that are open 24/7 and the people who are so interesting and so numerous - 18 million live here, after all, and they are not going anywhere, so it must be okay then, mustn't it?

I guess maybe some genuinely like Moscow, and may they live long and prosper in these dire circumstances. I am not one of them. I wish, I really wish things here changed for the better - I wish ambulances didn't get stuck in traffic, I wish people could stand and breathe normally during metro rush hour, I wish drivers stopped parking on sidewalks, I wish pavements were not crooked and collecting rainwater to turn into gigantic puddles every time it rains, I wish bribing disappeared, I wish embezzlement stopped and money was spent on things citizens here really need. I wish. I don't know how to make it happen. I can only smile and be polite, when other people are so rude, and put trash in trashcans, and patiently stand at the pedestrian crossing waiting for all the cars not to stop to let me pass.

Here's a little story about being a young woman in Moscow. A few weeks ago I was waiting for my friend to show up to go to a very late dinner in the centre of the city. At 1 am I was standing on the side of Tverskaya, which is sort of like Yonge Street in Toronto or Passeig de Gràcia (or maybe perhaps Via Laietana?) in Barcelona. I walked out of the metro one moment previously, and stopped at the intersection to wait for the friend, and it took next to nothing to get uncomfortable, because all few cars passing me would slow down and occasionally honk. You see, Tverskaya used to be (or maybe still is?) a notorious place for picking up prostitutes - the fact which I conveniently forgot, but very promptly remembered, when one car actually stopped, a driver rolled down his window and beckoned me in. All I could do was to raise my eyebrows and turn away angry, at him, at myself, and at this mentality that I mustn't be here alone at night, if I don't want to be harassed and treated like a whore. The car drove away, my friend got there about two minutes later. I was wearing knee-length shorts and a T-shirt, and had no make-up on.

Toronto, I am looking forward to being back. Barcelona, I am looking forward even more to be safe and topless on the beach (wallet optional, don't want it to get stolen). Bye-bye, Moscow.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I heard New Zealand was nice this time of year

Well, I've just memorized another airport code - AKL. The hard way, one may say, because it sure isn't easy to look at the price tags associated with the magic combinations of LAX→AKL, YVR→AKL or, god forbid, YYZ→AKL. The number next to the dollar sign with the last one is truly hair-raising. For this reason, I am not sure I will find companions for that trip, at least those who would join me outside of New Zealand. Who knows if this plan, which struck me as brilliantly stupid and therefore promptly planted itself in my mind, will come to fruition.

Still, I do believe that the world premiere of The Hobbit in Wellington on November 28th is an excellent excuse to travel there. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, both the films and the book, is important to me; probably not as important as it is to Kiwis and their tourism board, but important nonetheless. It is a very extravagant excuse, but this trip has a potential to be truly magical.

Just wanted to share. Now back I go to researching the destination and planning to buy a guidebook.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Pan con tomate recipe

Tomatoes make everything better. I have no idea how Catalans came up with the idea of their pan con tomate, but that's something I can't say no to ever, in any restaurant in Barcelona. My dad and I have a running joke that we are always hoping that nobody offers us bread with tomatoes, because the only possible answer to the question "¿Quiere pan con tomate?" is "Sí-sí".

I've been making pan con tomate for breakfast several days in a row now, and I can't get enough of it, so here is my very simple recipe that always turns out delicious.

You will need:

- white bread with nice thick crust,

- one fresh tomato,

- a garlic clove (optional, but so flavourful),

- olive oil,

- sea salt.

Cut the bread in pieces, with as much crust as you can. Stick the bread in a toaster for two minutes or in a hot oven for a 3-4 minutes. Cut open a garlic clove, rub it over the soft side of each piece of bread. Cut the tomato in half, rub the juicy side of it over the soft side of each piece of bread. Drip as much or as little olive oil over the tomato side of each piece. Add sea salt. Enjoy.

It makes every sandwich better as well. Yeah, I stole that idea from Catalans too!

Friday, May 11, 2012

My favourite kind of nerdy talk

I am well aware that chat logs are boring. I am well aware that posting chat logs is a sure-fire way to not get new readers. I am well aware that I am going to post this one anyway and have fun re-reading it from time to time.

Here are some bits and pieces of my Skype conversation with Isaac who will be soon travelling to New Zealand (the lucky bastard).

Isaac: Olya and I were looking at passport covers last night. NZ's is pretty hot, I've gotta admit.

Katya: New Zealand. AHOIUFHNC S FHOIJFCM. That's how it looks to me. Maori is amazing.

Isaac: Welcome to my world with Russian, circa 2005. lol

Katya: I can imagine. Also, I really love these fern leaves on the edge of the cover.

Isaac: Exactly. That's what does it for me. And it's black.

Katya: Black and silver.

Isaac: Exactly.

Katya: I have a photo handy. lol

Isaac: As do I.

I bet yours doesn't belong to anyone you know. :P

Isaac: Well, no. But now it belongs to Wikipedia, which is almost as good. I think the only black passport I've seen is a US diplomatic passport. Oh. And the Swedish diplomatic passport...that shit is HOT.

Katya: That I'd need to google. ...Not bad *Obama face*

Isaac: innit

Katya: I have to say, my temporary Canadian passport was very pretty too. Not hot, but pretty. Like a countryside maiden.

Isaac: All white and pure and virginal, &c.

Katya: Yup. Have I shown you the pictures?

Isaac: No, you haven't, and I'm saddened by it.

Katya: Never came up in conversation, I suppose.

<The temporary passport Canadian consulates across the globe issue to those unlucky Canadians who lost theirs. This replacement passport costs a small fortune.>


Katya: :D I don't know who decides on the colours. Most of them are ugly, in my opinion, in most countries.
Huh, Canadian diplomatic passport seems to be the colour of the Russian internal one. One word: ew.

Isaac: Kinda turns you off from becoming an ambassador, doesn't it?

Katya: Yup, but the colour is not the reason. I wouldn't want to represent Canada, if they charge 160€ for replacement passports. etc etc etc

Isaac: Hey, maybe you'd be in a position to change that.
Katya: Maybe. If it was up to me, I'd give the replacement passports for FREE and let the citizens return home, where they can decide to get a new passport right away for a normal fee or wait however long they want to wait.

Isaac: A single-use emergency travel document.

Katya: Exactly.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Eyes down, soldier

Back in Canada I am indeed. (Also, Yoda.) This clearly isn't Europe anymore, for many obvious reasons, and one of them bugs me the most: men don't look at women here. Stealing glances and immediately averting one's eyes happens, but ogling and gazing, admiringly or lasciviously or otherwise, doesn't.
I'll be the first to admit that I like when men look at me. I don't find it offensive or obscene, and as long as they don't do anything intrusive or aggressive, I for the most part enjoy the attention I get. And in Spain I get a lot of it. I like it not only because it strokes my ego, but also because, to me, people who are not afraid to openly admire a beautiful woman (me in that case) clearly allow themselves to enjoy little things more and are having more day-to-day fun, and I'm happy for them.
On the other hand, I'm not happy for human contact-deprived Canadians, who are poisoned by steady pressure to be PC and are constantly scared of sexual harassment. I actually don't know if these are the main reasons why men here don't look at women, but it's in the culture for sure. (The sociologist in me has just died a little.)
Point is, I never thought that I would physically feel the absence of others looking. Right after I landed at YYZ, I could tell something was off, but only understood what it was when we stopped by a store to get some groceries. The feeling of being looked over and gazed at was gone so completely that I felt it, and I didn't like it. Again, not because of my vanity, but because, well... Why wouldn't men look? Why do they look in Barcelona, but not in Toronto?
That's sort of a rhetorical question, unfortunately.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

What's up, Whatsapp?

I find it curious that WhatsApp hasn't seemed to find much traction in North America. In Barcelona people are all over it, no matter what they do or whom they text. In Toronto, and I know this for a fact, some people know about it, but they are too few and far in between. I have a WhatsApp contact list of 30 or so people, 5 of them Russian, 5 of them Canadian, and the rest is all Barcelona friends. My phone book, from which WhatsApp plucks users who installed the app, has some 275 contacts in it, and most of them are Toronto people.

And the app was developed in California... Possibly Americans use it more often than Canadians; it would make sense considering the horrendous charges even for incoming texts in the U.S. Even so... Too bad Canada doesn't want to jump on board with Europe. I have unlimited global texting, but I still like WhatsApp better.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Airport codes

I am fascinated with airport codes, as the title of my blog would attest. They are such a handy way of identifying cities without having to type the full names up, and feeling like a boss at the same time. Who would write "Toronto" when you can just stomp on Y and Y and Z in the title of a document or a pictures folder? Not to mention that flight searches work out much faster this way. YYZ-BCN, boom! Instead of "Toronto" - "Please choose and airport" - Pearson... Ugh... Or take Moscow: DME is much shorter than Domodedovo, and SVO is easier to spell than Sheremetyevo, especially for foreigners. I will probably rant about Russian airports in a separate post, so here are a few memorable ones located elsewhere:

BCN - That's, of course, El Prat in Barcelona. I think by far the one with the most obvious connection between the city name and the code.

YYZ - My second favourite and my home base, Toronto Pearson Airport. Toronto has another cool airport right in the city centre (on the island right off downtown, to be precise), but I have never flown out of there. Billie Bishop City Airport is dominated by Porter and, consequently, is quite expensive.

MSY - That's the coolest place in the U.S. I've been to so far, New Orleans, Louisiana. The airport is newly renovated and hip, and very strangely quiet all the time.

EWR - Newark, New Jersey. Flown in and out of there a lot of times, mainly Europe-bound. The airport is decent, but its United Red Carpet lounge could use some serious work, like... Oh, I don't know, offering food, maybe?

JFK - Such a dull place.

LGW - London Gatwick. Such a long walk from the gate to passport control, up the stairs, down the stairs, moving walkway, left, right, welcome to London, now you have to take a train to the train station. Marvellous.

CDG  - Paris Charles de Gaulle. Since we are on the subject of marvellous... CDG is the airport I hate with a passion. I don't hate practically anything or anyone at all, but the airport in Paris I do. I literally go red in the face and white in the knuckles when I think about it. Its horrific domestic terminal is always crowded thanks to the idiot who designed it, there are no calm corners to be found because everything is laid out in the open, even if half-submerged to the lower level, and, well, I have yet to arrive or depart on time from there. CDG also happens to be located in the most optimal point between YYZ and BCN for me, so I can't avoid it. And it's especially pleasant to hate when I arrive to El Prat.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

London's calling

I liked London. It was noisy, endless, full of crowds, buses, narrow streets and charming buildings. It had Big Ben, the London Eye, the Gherkin and the Westminster Abbey. It had all these tourists, and hipsters, and people saying "wanker" and "gent" all the time. It had cups of tea for 70 pence (pences?). I have a feeling that you can't really not like London, not if you are here for one day.

But it was all very strange to me. Looking at these sights, that everybody knows, that I know and have seen countless times, I could never put them in context of everything else around them. Big Ben was simply a clock to me. I had zero sense of space it belongs to. I had no idea what Piccadilly Circus is really like (it's a circus alright). And the traffic is moving in all the wrong directions: I jaywalked more than I care to admit and jumped away from cars suddenly turning from unexpected angles even more often.

Good thing came out of this very short visit: I decided against wanting to live there. I suspect that it's a thing among young and maybe not-so-young ambitious folks; living in London is cool, it's like living in New York or Los Angeles, and everybody at some point could aspire to it. I'm done with it myself, though, London is much too... New York-ish for me.

Loved the cabs, though. And signs that claimed that "this door is alarmed".

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Renovations Catalan-style

Today two men came into my Barcelona apartment. Initially I didn't understand what they wanted at all, but I opened the door and let them in anyway because I was hoping they came to fix the air-conditioning that has been broken for weeks. While I was doing so, my North American paranoia started to kick in: what am I thinking? What if they just want to case the apartment? What if they break in to steal stuff later? What if something else? There are two of them and only one of me! Plus, I don't yet know how to say "I changed my mind, please come back later" in Spanish (something to consider learning, perhaps).

Actually, what they were doing in reality was fixing some rotten tiles on the balcony. After a few minutes of watching all the grey paint, cement, and chisels make appearance, I was quite sure they were in truth repairmen making rounds in every apartment in the building, as ordered by the finca administrador. I called my friend just to be sure, and she talked to them, but at that point I was already in my European mindset, relaxed. This is Spain, after all. The whole thing is just so Spanish: no note in the entrance hall for the residents, no warning, just show up, ring the bell, stomp all over the carpet, get the job done, then yell from the balcony to another person on another balcony and head over there to repeat.

Also, right at the door I informed these guys that my Spanish was very bad, which is apparently true when it comes to construction lingo, but in more social situations I fare alright. So I understood perfectly when they discussed me in hushed voices and rather flattering terms. Adorable.