Thoughts on Moving to Spain

 

Palau de la Musica Catalana

My favorite building interior ever

In six short days, I will be back in Spain, livin’ la vida loca. At least if you consider part-time unemployment in a foreign country and the headstrong following of dreams the crazy life. But I’m getting ahead of myself, what I really want to talk about is how I got here.

Right now I am feeling all kinds of emotions (as I am sure you can appreciate) as I pack 3 relatively small (albeit hefty) suitcases full of items I deem vital for a life abroad. I know I will be gone until Christmas and trying to pack for eight months isn’t actually the hard part – it’s organizing all the miscellaneous items I’m choosing to leave behind that’s proving difficult. How does one say goodbye to 24 years of things? I wish I could say I don’t need material positions, but this is the home I grew up in, the bedroom I carefully decorated, the items that comforted me with their presence and consistency.

Many of my favorite “things” don’t fit my 20 Questions game-like requirements for taking along with me. Is it smaller than a suitcase? Does it weigh less than a pound? Is it practical? If it’s not practical, would I risk it being taken by TSA? Questions of this nature. With these requirements in mind, a jar of moonshine, my friends new puppy, a stockpile of almond paste and various extracts and flours have all been eliminated.

Sure, deciding which clothes stay or go was tricky but this is my third time packing for Spain in the past year and a half, so I have a pretty good idea what I will and will not need. Shoes are a whole different story though, let me tell you. If I take my favorite heels, I’ll be taller than my boyfriend whenever we go out. Or, if I just wear them one night a month for girl’s night, they’re basically getting no usage time so isn’t it better to leave them here? My favorite boots are to die for, but if I come back at Christmas wouldn’t it be more practical to get them then – when I might actually conceive of wearing them in Barcelona’s climate?

Such are the questions that plague my mind every five minutes, along with the equally daunting but much more practical questions about how I will make enough money to cover my phone bill, health insurance, a gym membership (so necessary when you take into account all the jamón and potatoes I eat over there), an eventual apartment, groceries, Zara pocket money, etc., etc. I say that fairly flippantly but in all reality I have a budget drawn up for myself and know exactly how many euros I currently have in my bank account – and I mean down to the penny. I have students lined up and will talk to more friends and relatives of my boyfriend when I arrive about the English lessons they have all been asking me about. I am starting to find freelance writing jobs and all in all I think the money situation is as well in hand as it is for any 20-something-year-old in this day and age.

No, the only thing that is truly cramping my style (and delirious happiness at the prospect of moving to my favorite city in the world) is fear. The crippling, nightmare-ish, huge failure, shit-your-pants kind of fear.

To pinpoint exactly what is causing my sleepless nights would be almost impossible because I’ve been afraid of everything my whole life. Irrational and rational fears both come into play, but I have always been one to forecast the worst possible scenario. By age six I had worked myself up into such a state that I needed therapy to get over my fear of thunderstorms (side note: this did not completely work. I swear my stomach twisting itself into knots can predict the impending arrival of bad weather). I am also afraid of: tornadoes (rational), elevators (irrational?), drowning (even though I know how to swim), suffocation (…how?), bad grades in school, diseases, disappointing my parents, losing someone I love in a spontaneous and unpredictable accident (to be fair, this has happened multiple times in my family, so we will say it is a rational fear), ants, heart attacks (again…how? I am 24), that my friends don’t really like me, leaving home, that kids I am babysitting will choke, that I like being alone, that I am not living up to my potential, and so on and so forth.

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking that most of these are pretty common fear. But my problem isn’t just the fear, it’s the fact that I can’t control the anxiety that racks my body when these fears take hold (which is something else I am afraid of – fear, anxiety and losing control).

Fear is the number one reason I am moving to Spain. Because it is so terrifying to me. I made this big decision, this exciting and potentially disastrous decision, in part because it was so scary and anxiety-inducing to me. I wanted to prove to myself that I could strike out boldly on my own and live to tell the tale. I wanted to quell my own fears of failure and embrace a lifelong dream. I’ve always known the kind of person I wanted to be and that person lives (unrealistically) without fear of tomorrow – only with appreciation for the present. The person I want to be is full of stories, inspiration, and perhaps a glass of wine or two.

The only thing stronger than my fear of failure in a foreign country (which could potentially lead to other fears such as disappointing my parents and not living up to my potential) is my fear of staying in one place forever. It was too easy for me to imagine my life before me: job-searching and living at home, working in my hometown, eventually moving out, finding a better 9-5 desk job, falling in line… Those things are great, but they are not what I have spent my whole life dreaming of. I traveled the world from the comfort of my bed through books and literature, a giant atlas I had, the internet, my imagination – and it was incredible, but it wasn’t enough. Not for me.

I am and have always been a visual person so I know that I need to see places, landscapes, faces, and beauty for myself, to know they exist. I am too easily jealous to let others explore the world for me and accept their second-hand retellings. I am too hungry to not to go and taste every exotic thing I possibly can (fried guinea pig and scorpion skewers spring to mind). I am at once too afraid and too restless to stay, and too stubborn to fail.

So I am going. I am moving to Spain. Everyone I talk to about this (my best friends, acquaintances, the guy at the pharmacy asking why I needed a year’s supply of allergy medicine) thinks it’s incredibly brave that I am leaving because they don’t know the truth. I am not brave. I am many things but brave is not one of them. I am passionate, curious, determined. I am smart, organized, creative, and kind. I’m funny and loyal and occasionally bitchy… But never brave.

My dad says I am jumping off a cliff without so much as checking for a safety net, and I know he has a point. I know he is worried about my health, my diet, my finances, my future. Deep down though, I know he’s wrong, that my safety net is there: my values, my friends and family, my will to succeed, my lust for life. It seems impulsive and stupid but this is the most difficult and thoughtful decision I have ever made. I may be afraid of everything but I am so afraid of losing this opportunity, of letting myself down, of settling, that I am willing to fake brave long enough to jump.

I want to share this journey, share my triumphs and downfalls, my gluten-free meals, my pet peeves, joys and daily thoughts with you.

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Zaragoza Sin Gluten

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in front of Zaragoza’s Cathedral and Caesar Augustus Museum

View from the Basilica del Pilar’s tower; afternoon light inside

I knew when I decided to move to Spain that it wouldn’t all be sunshine and rainbows and jamón. I also knew due to my prior experience dealing with Spaniards (who are truly lovely but do not understand the meaning of “urgent” or “quickly”) that obtaining legal documentation to live here wouldn’t be a walk in the Parc [Guell]. But being mentally prepared for a sticky, not to mention infuriating, situation and actually living through it are two completely different things. I have started literally pulling my hairs out one by one and it’s gotten to the point that my boyfriend has to sit next to me and grab my hands when we’re watching tv or reading just so I won’t go bald.

I have absolutely nothing to complain about though because I am enduring this immigration-war-of-attrition (which is how I think of the situation between me and the Spanish Consulate in Washington DC at this point) from one of the most beautiful cities in the world – Barcelona.

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Pablo Serrano/Modern Art Museum

Even so, there comes a time when a girl just has to get out of town for the sake of her sanity, her boyfriend’s sanity, and her remaining hairs. This thinking led my boyfriend and I to plan two short weekend trips – one to Zaragoza, Spain and one to Rome, Italy. Our trip to Rome was scheduled for this weekend but given the current global situation – terrorist threats and worldwide travel warnings – we decided we didn’t want to travel to such a popular international city if we could go another time. Our trip to Zaragoza however was a few weeks ago and with all the stress, sadness, fear, and hatred in the world right now I figured this would be a good time to share some beautiful photos and peaceful thoughts from our one-night getaway to Zaragoza. (And also because I have lots of free time right now since I don’t have to pack for Rome and it’s the Spanish Consulate’s turn to make a move regarding my visa.)

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Details from inside Zaragoza’s Alfajeria Palace

We chose Zaragoza for a few simple reasons: Neither my boyfriend nor I had ever been there, the bus tickets were incredibly cheap, and the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar is there and it is one of Spain’s most beautiful churches, possibly even one of its most beautiful buildings.

Zaragoza is in the province of Aragón in the Northeastern part of Spain, and as my boyfriend was quick to point out, the people there have “weird accents” compared to Catalunya (honestly it’s all Spanish to me). Zaragoza is not considered a big tourist destination and apart from the attraction of the basilica I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a particularly beautiful, but it was absolutely worth the visit. Like all cities it has its pros and cons and as we discovered in a fascinating (for me) exhibit at the modern art museum, the local government, city planners, and architects have done an incredible amount of work in the past decade to give the city a face lift and improve quality of life for its citizens. The exhibit was about the changing city fabric over time, but focused heavily on improvements made for the International Expo of 2008 held there. Again, Zaragoza is no Granada or Bilbao (two cities in Spain I adore), but this exhibition gave me a new appreciation for the city as we walked the streets.

Architecture (and weather!) mash-up

We also got incredibly lucky with the food there – for a city that lives on tapas and everything breaded, fried, or simply placed on top of bread, I ate some great gluten-free dishes. One of Spain’s easiest and oldest dishes is huevos rotos, or broken eggs, most commonly seen in the Canary Islands, but also enjoyed in different regions around Spain (I have not seen this in Catalunya as of yet). Potatoes are pan fried with jamón or mushrooms and at the last minute two sunny-side up eggs are broken over the top and served. In tapas bars with delicious and cheap wines, this plate was a life/night saver for me, if you know what I mean.

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We were also drawn to a restaurant that displayed its meat/carcasses in glass freezers at the entrance of the restaurant. While it may sound unappetizing or even morbid to some, my boyfriend and I loved the industrial feel and cool factor this provided. The waiter was also incredibly knowledgeable about celiac disease and informed me that almost anything I wanted could be prepared on a separate grill. And then he offered me “celiac bread” (which is what they call gluten-free bread here because no Spaniards other than the celiacs want gluten-free bread).

*Side note: The bread most restaurants serve when they say “celiac bread” is from a company called Airos. It comes in individual, oven-safe packets that include a list of ingredients and are then heated up. On several occasions my boyfriend has told me this oven-warmed Airos bread is better than what he is given and I must say I agree. While in general fresh bread in Spain is amazing, Airos can give more than a few bakeries a run for their money. It can also be found in local supermarkets (not the tiny mercados or “quick&easy” grocery stores) around Spain – for me this means my favorite Carrefour.

So it was here at La Lobera de Martín that we enjoyed huevos rotos with jamón yet again, only this time the waiter breaking the yolks open right in front of us. Everyone took great care of me and I felt very safe eating at la Lobera. Maybe even a little too safe – as I tried to take a bite of my boyfriend’s Argentinian cut beef (from the grill, so I assumed “it’s safe! YAY!”) our waiter happened to be walking by and said “stop! We did not cook that special for you!” Having been duly chastened, I returned to my own plate and mopped up every bit with my celiac bread.

Handsome man and our meal at La Lobera 

Another hidden gem for the gluten-free among us was 3 Lunas Taberna, which we chose for our first meal in Zaragoza mainly because there were empty tables and we were dying to sit down. Despite the lack of clientele, this restaurant served great arroz negro (literally “black rice” colored with squid ink) and simple yet delicious Spanish dishes. The staff here also took great care in preparing for me and making sure it was “okay” if they did my potatoes different from my boyfriends because they didn’t want to chance any cross-contamination. Oh, and we got two mini oven-warmed “celiac” baguettes for free since I couldn’t eat the “normal” bread that came with the €11 menú del dia.

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Zaragoza from above in 2008

All in all, we had a really nice gluten-free (and cold!) weekend. I think we both agreed that the best part was paying €3 to go up in one of the basilica’s towers… The view from the top was absolutely breath-taking (both figuratively and literally because I was panting a little due to my fear of heights). Our tapas crawl sprawled through the old town but it was centered around Calle Libertad, which is packed with Zaragozanos any given weekend. ¡Buen provecho!

48h Open House Barcelona

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Parabolic arches inside Colegio Teresiano

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details inside Casa del Baro de Quadras by Puig i Cadafalch

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For the past five years, 48hour Open House Barcelona has organized a weekend long architecture festival in the fall. For just two days in October over 150 buildings that are normally closed to the public participate in this event of portes obertes (open doors) and grant free entry to visitors. These buildings include the 125 year old school designed by Gaudí himself, an old Estrella Damm factory, water towers, buildings by Gaudí’s contemporaries such as Puig i Cadafalch and Domènech i Montaner, modern and luxury apartment buildings and hotels, architect’s offices, the terraces of the Gothic churches, and more. Last year I was oblivious to the fact that this event even existed so you can imagine my glee when I realized I could actually visit – for free – some of the most famous buildings in all Barcelona, let alone Spain.

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Colegio Teresianos

I planned my two days very carefully with a chart that included highlighted “must-sees”, checkmarks next to buildings I was interested in seeing, crossed-out sections of neighborhoods that were too far away to possibly get to, and little hearts next to buildings I had already visited. Needless to say, nearly the entire 3-page list of buildings (a list organized by neighborhood that is provided by the organizers) was highlighted in bright yellow. I started cross-checking the locations and opening times of each building (because every building has a different schedule, and unlike the name LED ME TO BELIEVE, they are not open the entire weekend) and made a very good itinerary.

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Details from the inside courtyard and facade of Palau Macaya, also by Puig i Cadafalch

With lists in hand, blank notebook, camera, and map in hand I set out on my weekend long tour of architecture that included – after all that planning – a grand total of four buildings. Yes, four. Just four. It turns out half of Catalunya was just as excited about the even as I was and most buildings has lines winding down the streets, turning corners, etc.

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Photos from Monasterio de Pedralbes; also part of 48 hour Open House Barcelona

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The important thing to take away from this is that life never goes according to plan, even when you use post-it notes and colored-coded pens. I did prioritize however and I made it to my #1 must-see for the weekend, the Colegio Teresiano designed by Gaudí.

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Parabolic arches in Colegio Teresiano

Located in the well-to-do neighborhood of Sarrià, this school is still in use today and known as the Col-legi Santa Teresa Granduxer to the students and local community. The outside of stone and brick work was impressive to be sure, but the Christian inscriptions which in English translate to “Jesus Christ Our Savior”, and four-sided crosses that adorned the rooftop are what gave this building away as one of Gaudí’s projects.

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Me inside Colegio Teresiano, and the front entry

If the outside is inspiring, then the inside is absolutely mind-blowing. We had to walk in silence through the halls (just like naughty students!) because the sisters who live and teach in the Teresian school still live in the building, just as they did in 1890 (presumably not the same sisters as back then). Spiraling brick columns and high windows and skylights, as well as the dozens of parabolic arches found in the upper story, give the massive building an overall sensation of lightness. The columns in the attic start to hint at a tree-like structure, a feeling of being in the woods, which is also on of the features that make the interior of the Sagrada Familia so breath-taking.

My boyfriend (who braved the 2 hour wait with me) and I both walked away from our short (Spanish) tour of this building in awe of the genius of the eccentric and unpopular (in his time) architect. I can not wait to see what next years list holds.

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A trick of the light; Elevation of Colegio de les Teresianas (name in Catalan)

Stay tuned for more gluten-free travels and even more of my favorite buildings in Barcelona…!

Gluten Free in Prague? Czech.

Of all my mini-trips during this fall semester in Spain, going to Prague was the one that had me most worried food-wise. What do they eat there? And does anyone really understand that tricky language? Who knows. But I can tell you they eat like every day is a mid-winter holiday and it is amazing and dense and rich and gluten-filled.

Imagine my surprise then when an entire weekend went by without so much as a stomachache or dizzy spell from accidental gluten consumption. In fact, I would say I managed to eat better there than almost anywhere else and I owe a large part of that success to having printed out one of these bad boys to help with the language barrier. I’ve never used a gluten free dining card before and it truly saved my life. At restaurants I would simply present it to the waitress and when I went to order they would help me find something gluten free on the menu AND free from cross-contamination. I ate myself into a blissful, gluten-free, food coma.

I didn’t just eat there though. My friends and I found an underground cave/bunker bar, visited Terezin (one of the largest ghettos from WW2), walked to Prague Castle and Cathedral, crossed the Charles Bridge, visited the Lennon Wall, aaand ate some more. I snacked on chips as per usual but also found a nice gluten-free section at Tesco near the main square of Prague. For breakfast I packed and then bought certified gluten free oats because that is the best breakfast in frigid Prague. (Okay, it wasn’t that cold, but we were coming from Barcelona!!)

IMG_9131 (2)astronomical clock in Old Town Square

Our first night in Prague we went to a restaurant suggested by my friend who is studying there and its a good thing we showed up early (at 6:00pm) because by the time we left, and even the next evening when we walked by, the whole place was packed and there were lines out the door. U Medvidku is a hotel and restaurant with a brewery and outstanding food. I ordered and devoured grilled pork tails with garlic sauce, devil sauce (not spicy but maybe people in Prague think it is?), and a side of cabbage.

IMG_9116 (2)grilled pork tails with all the fixin’s

That gorgeous meal (horrible photo taken in a dark dining room) left me with a great first impression of Prague’s food that would last all throughout the weekend. The next morning, we were off on our walking tour guided by my old roommate and took in all the sights while huddling together for warmth. Our breakfast/brunch stop was at MLS Bistro on the hill up to Prague Castle. I had a deliciously gluten free goat cheese omelette with a salad and coffee for under $9. In fact, we loved it so much we back for brunch the next day to say goodbye to my friends before our plane left. On this occasion I inhaled a buckwheat crepe stuffed with basil pesto, mozzarella and sundried tomatoes followed by a glass of hot wine – my absolute favorite new drink. Its like sangria and Christmas got together and reproduced, giving birth to this heavenly drink.

IMG_9291 (2)even the bad lighting in this photo can’t keep me from swooning…. – MLS Bistro

Now I know being gluten-free is hard enough without having to hear about everyone elses delicious desserts, but I have to mention the trdlenik’s in Prague. What are they? Dough that’s been cooked into a large, hollow cylinder and then filled with chocolate, cinnamon, walnuts, or jam. They were all over Prague and even though none of the people I know can pronounce their name (Turtleneck? Tradelink?) they all agreed MLS Bistro makes a damn good dough shell thingy.

IMG_9290 (2)Trdlenik – NOT GLUTEN FREE – caution!!! (unless you’re normal, in which case enjoy)

IMG_9245 (2)$2 for happiness in a convenient takeaway cup

Last but not least but certainly not least was our smorgasbord dinner at Restaurant Mlejnice. There are two locations not to far from each other so while one was full, the nice waiters called ahead to the other to make sure we could be seated there. What they didn’t know is we would need to be rolled out of our seats after that meal.

For starters, my roommate from Spain and I split a warm brie wheel (small) with cranberry sauce. Although it came with a side of bread my roommate is super careful and separated all the cheese before touching her bread at all. It was so delicious I almost didn’t want my starter. But then…. my main course arrived and it was incredible. Pork tenderloin on a skewer with vegetables and red pepper sausage that the waitress helped me pick out due to its gluten-free-safe-ness. The pork was incredible, the vegetables fantastic and the sausage… yum! My side of potatoes was underwhelming and my friends side of grilled veg tasted way worse which was weird considering how good mine was but overall everyone was satisfied. We all had beers (my friends) and hot wine (me, duh) and enjoyed a leisurely, filling dinner together.

IMG_9264 (2)my very weirdly saturated photo of a phenomenal meal

After this feast we were hungry again somehow though and moved on the Cafe Louvre for a hot raspberry sundae dessert. Oh Prague, how I miss your food!

When You Can’t Eat Croissants in France…

Celiac disease is hard. Traveling with celiac disease is not only hard, it is at times traumatic, tearful, pathetic, embarrassing, and enraging. If you have a food intolerance then I am willing to bet you understand that it is absolutely possible and normal to experience all these emotions at once. And that also pretty much sums up my amazing trip to the South of France this weekend – completely breathtaking yet marred by frustration and extreme food envy.

Traveling with friends means you will also feel the added sense of guilt over not being able to eat with them everywhere they go. My friends in Spain are the best ever and want to find places I can eat too but every celiac knows this is not always a possibility. Cue the inner turmoil: Do I buy tons of snacks (aka rice cakes) and just eat those all day every day? What if they want my expensive gluten-free snacks? Maybe I can distract them with gum. What if they offer me their food? You’re too kind but no I don’t want to try your gluten-containing meal. QUICK does this restaurant they like have anything I can eat? Do these potatoes look like they were fried with other flour-battered things? Maybe I should just have gelato for dinner and chips later to make this easier.

I have at one point or another thought all of these things to myself. Usually all in one day and especially in France where I was constantly wondering what I could eat while friends were enjoying their warm chocolate croissants.

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Basilica of St. Sernin, Toulouse, South of France

Okay now we’re done with the brief pity party let’s get to my favorite topic – food. Breakfast at the hotel in Toulouse was provided for us and here I was able to employ my common sense and enjoy a drama-free meal. I bee-lined for the prepackaged yogurts and apple sauces, juices, meats and cheeses at the hotel buffet and was always pretty full after. I also grabbed mini servings of Nutella in case I found a gluten free snack to smother it with later on in the day. Fortunately the first day started off with a walking tour of Toulouse and a little wine and cheese tasting to fill me the rest of the way up!

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wine & cheese, cheese & wine

Lunch is usually the trickiest for me but in the south of France I think I got pretty lucky. Day ones lunch was provided by my host mom in the form of salami on gluten free bread (it is a testament to Spanish meats that I can tell you they make even gluten free bread completely palatable). The second day I had a picnic with my friends by the river with the food we found at local markets. Everyone I was with got excited when I found some fresh baked gluten free bread – in France of all places! I went for the buckwheat/corn option because the rice/corn option sounded like everything else I eat but if buckwheat is not your thing or if you haven’t tried it – steer clear!! It cost 3,75 euro but I still have some leftover because it is so dense. Again, if you like buckwheat it’s worth the investment.

IMG_8927 (2)me with my gluten-free bread in a market in Toulouse

Aside from this incredible glutey free find, I split a gorgeous little round of goat cheese with a friend so my bread would taste even better. We cut it in half and got our own knives to avoid any crumb cross-contamination. Annoying but necessary when sharing food with normals. If you’re as lucky as I am, your friends will be completely understanding and just so happy you can eat something that they eat.

IMG_8943 (2)the world’s most beautiful goat cheese

Picnics are a great way to fill yourself and I filled up on my gluten free bread, cheese, nutella, champagne and tons of fruit in our little riverside park location that day. Europe has fruit vendors and open air markets everywhere so when your need is dire you are never to far from delicious, fresh produce. Even when you’re not a starving allergen-ridden tourist the fruit here is amazing. I always find myself staring wistfully at the array of produce and wondering what the hell some of it is.

IMG_8936 (2)one of many colorful markets in Toulouse, France

Day threes lunch in Collioure (pictured below!) started off with chocolate coconut gelato because I did not think I would be able to translate another scary French menu. But as luck would have it my friends and I chose a crepe place not only with an English menu but with a meal option that included a huge omelette and generous “side” salad.  The lesson we learned here was that even in the tiny, picturesque town of Collioure there is hope, my celiac friends.

IMG_9032 (2)Collioure, France

Last but not least – dinner. The first night I downed half a rotisserie chicken and roasted potatoes with a friend. We also split a basic salad with dressing (olive oil and herbs) on the side just in case it wasn’t gluten free (the owner and only waiter did not speak any English). For dinner the second night in France my friends wanted to go out for a fairly nice, sit down meal which naturally filled me with anxiety (because obviously I can’t eat a damned thing on the menu). But I worried for nothing because we chose a charming place called La Reserve that does a wide variety of Italian food and has the added bonus of being near the river park in Toulouse where all our friends were gathering after dinner. The staff was extremely accommodating to our group of 8 rowdy American students and everyone’s meal was fantastic – including mine. Pretty much the only thing I could order on the menu was a salad and while it came in at around 16 euros total, it was worth its weight in jamon. Seriously, half the plate was dry cured meat, and the rest was tomatoes, grilled peppers, onion, Parmesan, fresh Mozzarella and a a hint of lettuce. I know it seems like I end up with a lot of salads (and I do!) but even when they cost upwards of $20.00 USD it is absolutely worth it to be able to enjoy a worry-free meal with amazing people in a spectacular French city. Just like I said in Porto, I’ll have the salad – and I’ll enjoy the heck out of it.

IMG_8985 (2)dark grainy picture of a HUGE cheese and jamon stacked salad in Toulouse, France at La Reserve

IreLAND of Celiacs

Ireland may put the grey in great but they sure do know how to show a Celiac a good time! A  few weeks ago I returned to the motherland (I’m actually so pale a drunk Irish man trying to flirt with my cute American friend just looked at me and went “You’re definitely Irish”… so that answers that I guess) and home to a BUNCH of fellow gluten intolerant Celiac disease-having pale people. Needless to say I was in heaven.

IMG_8244 (2)walking along the cliffs of Howth outside Dublin

The very first thing I did after a my short, uneventful flight was head straight for the Old Jameson Distillery. Now if you know anything about liquor or gluten free diets you may be thinking I shouldn’t be drinking whiskey at all. And while it’s true that there is still some debate and even a handful of myths surrounding which alcohols are and are not safe for Celiacs to consume (definitely NOT beer, of course) it is widely accepted that the gluten used to produce whiskeys, bourbons, etc., is removed during the distillation process – unlike beer and other malted beverages.

The tour for students was 10 euro and very much worth every cent. The Guinness Storehouse costs almost twice as much, it’s self-guided, and if you can’t drink beer anyway it’s not worth it. At the end of the Jameson tour you are given a free drink (a generous glass of the famous drink or a mixed drink with ginger ale, Jameson, and lime) and left to your own devices in the bar. Also well worth the extra money is the Jameson dark chocolate bars sold in the giftshop. Holy gluten free Irish whiskey mecca.

Next stop for anyone visiting Ireland is – of course – fish and chips. Normally gluten intolerance and a craving for this incredibly fresh and delicious meal would mean you’re up the creek without a paddle but there’s such a high demand for gluten free foods in Ireland that Beshoff’s Fish and Chips serves up tasty gluten free options. Tell them you want it gfree and it is prepared in a separate batter (rice flour, spices, etc.) and fried in different oil. Yay! No gluten and no cross-contamination – every girls dream, right? Just beware that the traditional condiment for this dish is MALT vinegar. No, you can’t eat it. Tell the waiter and they’ll grab a gluten-free white vinegar just for you… But if you’re anything like me by the time they make it back to your table you are neck deep in tartar sauce and happy as a clam.

IMG_8219 (2)drooling over Beshoff’s gluten-free battered cod with chips

Another treat I enjoyed immensely was the buckwheat crepes (prepared on a separate crepe making plate thingy) at Lemon Crepe and Coffee Co. in Dublin. First time we went I got a chicken tikka masala and tomato stuffed buckwheat crepe – omg it was increeedible. A little pricier than your average European crepe stand at 6 euro a pop (at least) but well worth the visit for any Celiac – or anyone period. Visited again the next night for dessert with my friend and she got a sweet buckwheat crepe too so we could share our treats. Banana and chocolate? Heavenly. Strawberries and liquor? Perfect. Just what the doctor (gastroenterologist, to be exact) ordered.

IMG_8337 (2)my cutie cute roommate enjoying our dessert spread

IMG_8279 (2)me, attempting to eat my entire chicken tikka crepe in one bite….

Be sure to stop by Antoinette’s Bakery filled with ONLY gluten-free goodies. It’s a little out of the way but if you’re headed towards St. Patrick’s Cathedral or up to Dublin Castle it can’t be missed. I got the chocolate peanut butter brownie and it was so good I thought I was eating gluten. Don’t you love when that happens?!

IMG_8281 (2)outside Antoinette’s Bakery…. Gotta love a good cookie joke

Last but certainly not least – my favorite place in all of Dublin. Little Ass Burritos. In four short days we ate there a total of three times and each time was just as delicious as the one before it. I would get a box with beans, grilled seasoned chicken, roasted sweet potatoes, rice, cheese, salsa, crema, and a hint of chipotle for less than six euro with my Spanish student ID card. At first it didn’t look like enough food but I was so full I practically had to be rolled to the bar after. In fact, we usually opted for coffee after at Bean Hive just up the street. Order the London Fog and prepare to be amazed by what they can do with Earl Gray tea.

IMG_8334 (2)My favorite meal – the Cinco de Fryo box at Little Ass Burritos with extra pico de gallo & chipotle salsa!

No matter what your dietary needs, I highly recommend traveling in Ireland. Sure it’s cold and kinda dismal sometimes but the people are friendly, the alcohol is flowing, the food is comforting, the landscape stunning, and you might even be lucky enough to spot a leprechaun (which we did by the way. Tourist stunt? Definitely. Hilarious? YES.) Happy gluten free trails!

 

I’ll Have the Salad

A few weeks ago I went to Porto, Portugal with some friends and had an absolutely amazing time. If you’ve never heard of it, I’ve included a stunning photo below to make you jealous and immediately grab a pen and scribble it down on your bucket list. In the north of Portugal and situated on the Douro River, Porto (or Oporto if we’re using the correct Portuguese word) is a gorgeous, walkable city full of friendly people and close to some amazing hiking. Also home to the best Port wines in the world – which are totally gluten free.

Sunset over the Douro

Sunset over the Douro

As far as eating gluten free in Portugal goes though, I struggled a bit. For breakfast most mornings we ventured to local Cafe Java for omelettes “sense gluten” for me. Otherwise the damn thing would show up on a baguette – rendering it inedible for us poor Celiacs. Eggs are a great start to the day when you’re walking as much as we did though so this little place did perfectly for us.

Lunch I honestly don’t remember. I know I gorged on snacks and desserts one day and had a salad the next because a nice sit down, breadless, affordable lunch was difficult for me to find. There’s always the sandwiches and fried foods and french fries (boy do Europeans love their fries!) to make your mouth water but otherwise…. you might have a hard time. If you’re not as addicted to sugar as I am though and want real food cooked potatoes and grilled or baked fish shouldn’t be too hard to find. The Portuguese (like the rest of the world, really) love their gluten so while it will be tricky, just be smart.

Molotov Flan - worlds least photogenic cake

Molotov Flan – worlds least photogenic cake

If it is sweets you’re after however they make a Molotov Flan that is essentially a soft, caramelized meringue that loses its form as soon as it is cooked. These aren’t hard to find in bakeries – and when your friends are swallowing croissants whole you will need something to make you feel better – but one slice is full of enough sugar to keep you wide eyed all weekend.

Another thing I found in Portugal that I loved is this weird dessert that I can’t for the life of me figure out on the internet. Sold with macaroons it’s basically a little flavored sticky ball of heaven. I got maracuja (passion fruit) and a port wine flavored macaroon, pictured below. Let’s just say this might have been my breakfast one morning and it might have been the best breakfast ever.

Mystery confection & a macaroon

Mystery confection & a macaroon

When I was in Porto I stayed in an airbnb rental with some really nice Portuguese  guys and one of my friends. One of my favorite parts about using airbnb is that staying with locals means you get the best recommendations on where to go, what to eat and drink, and the best day trips. Our hosts did not fail to deliver and pointed us in the direction of some amazing and unique finds – including my favorite restaurant A Sandeira. This tiny restaurant is owned and run by the most incredibly sweet lady ever who helped my friend (who had a nasty cold) learn how to ask for medicine in Portuguese. Aside from that the ingredients are so ridiculously fresh that they run out and go buy more depending on what you order.

Needless to say, my friends and I were obsessed. Starters for just 2,5 euro and salads and sandwiches (NOT gluten free) for 5,00 euro. I ordered the salad with jamon, the freshest mozzarella I’ve ever had and tomato. I couldn’t have the house dressing so I asked for it with oil and vinegar. I don’t know how but this simple salad is the one of the best things I’ve ever had and weeks later I’m still craving it. Throw in some 6,00 euro wine, mango mousse for dessert and great friends and you have got yourself the best meal in Porto for less than 15,00 euro. On top of that, my gluten eating friends absolutely loved their sandwiches and everything else A Sandeira had to offer. The quality of this photo may be bad, but the food and people were the best.

A Sandeira's heavenly salads

A Sandeira’s heavenly salads

Snacking around Barcelona

Welcome to Europe – where walking, gorgeous cathedrals and perfectly crusty bread seem to have been invented. Barcelona in particular has its share of all three of these things and is deemed one of the most walkable cities in the world with supermercats (that’s Catalan, that’s not a spanish word!) and tapas bars at every corner alongside historic buildings, apartments, Gaudi’s architecture, work places, metro stops, shopping districts, beaches, clubs, and much, much more. And all the walking, sightseeing, dancing, sunbathing and schooling I do is enough to make any girl hungry. And while my host mother always has a sandwich prepared for me on pan sin gluten to take with me for lunch every day, I get HUNGRY.

So what’s a celiac to do in a country known just as much for it’s history and beauty as its cuisine and love of all things gluten-y? Croissants and bread topped with olive and crushed tomatoes await around every bend, every street and the temptation to gobble one measly piece of pastry down is always present. If I didn’t know that certain doom awaited my intestines I would dive right in without a second thought. After all, what could be better than a baguette panini eaten in the shadows of La Sagrada Familia? Or a beer and tapas with friends late  at night? That’s right – nothing.

But as the Rolling Stones taught us, in this life you can’t always get what you want. And I swore I wouldn’t let this no-eating-gluten-because-I-have-a-disease-thing bring me down while I am in one of the best cities in the world. So I make do and find other alternatives. For now, let’s focus on the snacking dilemma when you’re so sick/tired/jetlagged/desperately hungry that you would give anything for some KFC located on that historic placa.

First off, I packed a BUNCH of snacks in my carry on suitcase. Kind bars, luna protein bars (not to be confused with regular luna bars – which usually contain gluten), Larabars (proceed with caution! Some of these flavors just totally suck), Emergen-C, gluten-free oatmeal, and granola were all stuffed into zip locked bags and stowed in overhead bins as I flew towards my new home for four months. That supply almost depleted, I’ve had to find new options. And I haven’t been entirely disappointed.

First of all, fruit. Fruit everywhere. I’m not going to lie- I’m not a big fan of just eating raw plums and watermelon as a snack but here everything seems more fresh and delicious and accesible. Markets like La Boqueria have fresh fruit juices as wel for anywhere from one to two euro. Want something incredible? Try a mora y coco (blackberry and coconut) juice from any stall you can find it at.

IMG_7670

That’s the healthiest option I can offer but with all this walking I don’t feel at all guilty when eating my new favorite snack – Lays jamon flavored potato chips with the words SIN GLUTEN printed right on the front. Maybe they’re an acquired taste but when all my friends are cramming bocadillos y papas fritas in their mouths (sandwiches and french fries) they are the perfect snack.

IMG_7753

And don’t worry – when you get really sad drooling over the dessert displays and the smell of freshly baked cakes and danishes makes you want to weep, there’s always an amazing gelato waiting for you just next door. I’ve eaten gelato and/or a Magnum ice cream bar here almost every single day and been extremely happy. After all, calcium and chocolate are good for you, right? If you want a real treat then visit Gelatomania on Avignuda de Mistral, 64, for un cono sin gluten. I got pistachio and white chocolate my first time and wasn’t disappointed.

IMG_7681I hope my next post will be less sporadic and focus more on one area – like all the options in grocery stores here! – but I never know what each day in Barcelona will bring me!

Barcelona Prep: Where and What Celiacs Eat (part 2)

I told you in my last post that the internet is my best friend, and while googling “Barcelona gluten free” throughout the past month or so I have come upon some real gems. Nothing is official in the sense that it came from Spain or Barcelona’s tourism department (unless you count a few yelp reviews… which I don’t) but the blogs I have found with just one or multiple posts related to eating gluten free while traveling or living in Barcelona have prepared me enough for my arrival that I no longer fear starving to death in the first week or imploding from gluten exposure. 

First I’d like to share a few of my favorite resources with you that I found extremely helpful, then below I will include a list of restaurants and grocery stores I plan on visiting as soon as the plane wheels hit that Spanish ground. 

1. Spain Gluten Free: I really like this blog even though it is focused on Spain rather than just Barcelona. In fact, there is little to no information about Barcelona aside from a very helpful list of gluten-free bakeries all over Spain (yay!) and a few other helpful lists. But the travel guide/travel research help and list of resources is very useful for those traveling to Spain on a gluten-free diet. You can search this site by city to find gluten-free meals wherever you are visiting! Here I come Madrid!

2. Guiri Girl in Barca: This one post is loaded with great information – namely the best gluten-free brunch, sandwiches, tapas, pizza, and grocery stores in Barcelona. Perfect!

3. Gluten Free Boston Girl: This link takes you directly to the archives and entire “Barcelona” category. At first, I saw only one post and it was so thorough that I was excited to go all the places mentioned. Then I discovered even MORE posts about what seems like a very gluten-free Barcelona. Tons of great recommendations and even a few trips further outside the city are covered. 

4. Gluten Free BCN: I haven’t even arrived in Barca and this site has already saved my life. This blog is dedicated to everything gluten free in Barcelona and will just rock you celiac socks right off. Post after post reviews places to eat, shop and more around the city.  I will be keeping up with this blog religiously and sampling many of the places mentioned!

5. Yelp: Okay so it’s not the most comprehensive or detailed, but at a glance yelp can help you find a safe place to eat that’s already been reviewed by others and provide all the necessary information to get you there. Phew!

Okay! Now on to the list I have been cultivating for myself with help from the resources listed above as well as a few others. As I visit them (I’ll be there in just eleven days – ah!) I will try to write regular posts and talk about what I’ve been doing (aka, eating) out and about in the city and beyond. 

  • Copasetic I’ve read about on multiple sites and it has been described as the best gluten-free brunch around. And what’s more, it’s a mere ten minute walk from where I’ll be staying. First stop in Barcelona? Probably.
  • Conesa is sounding kinda like gluten free sandwich and panini heaven to me for a tiny fraction of the cost of what one would pay in the states. The bread tastes real according to reviewers too…. which is something less widely available in the US, as much as it pains me to say it. With two locations in Barcelona and one located near my campus, I can’t wait to get my hands on those gluten free buns (haha).
  • Syngluten is a bakery also located conveniently near my future residence and just the website alone is making me drool from across the pond. When every bread and sweet my heart could dream of is followed by “sin gluten” I’m sure I will become a fixture here.
  • Gelatomania I may not be able to have my cake but you better your bottom dollar I will eat my gelato. Also located so near my residence it makes me swoon just to think of, this popular gelato shop will get lots of euros from my grubby little foreign hands. I can’t wait.
  • El Corte Ingles I’ve been told by multiple people that this is the department store/superstore/grocery store to frequent for amazing and edible gluten-free deals while in Barcelona. You don’t have to tell me twice!
  • La Boqueria is Barcelona world famous market full of fresh foods like fruit, meat, veg, etc. I will be wandering through it as much as possible and buying up all kinds of fresh produce to snack on when my granola bar supply runs out. Or maybe just instead of granola bars. Good thinking. 

That’s all for now! I’ve got to get there and do some of my own exploring before I get a longer, more detailed list going. Stick with me and I’ll include actual pictures of the deliciousness I’ll be feasting on in Barca. You’re welcome in advance!

Barcelona Prep: Where and What Celiacs Eat (part 1)

I have been pleasantly surprised while preparing to go abroad about all the resources that are available for someone with celiac disease/gluten intolerance. At first I was almost overwhelmed by all the information but I have been slowly sifting through it and collecting information on what I believe to be the most important places and foods to eat or avoid in Spain. But first, let me quickly share how I’ve gone about doing my research.

Google. The ubiquitous search engine that can also be used as a verb (as in, “just google it, Mom!” or “I’m googling ‘how to jump start a car’ right now – don’t worry.”) has been infinitely helpful to me in my research. Simply typing in the name of the city/region/country you are traveling to followed by “gluten free” yields an amazing amount of results. I’m sure that Barcelona, being a large European city (where there is a much higher percentage of celiac disease) and known for its incredible cuisine at that, has more restaurants and groceries that cater to gluten-free diets than say small cities in China or Chile, but the same tactic applies. Just familiarizing yourself with the food culture of the location you are visiting will help you prepare because you are undoubtedly already aware of what you can and cannot eat on a gluten-free diet. Fried foods? Likely not safe anywhere (because remember if they’re not coated in flour something else in the oil may very well be!). Lightly grilled fish in a sauce? Maybe! Ask!

How do you ask about these things? Get a pocket dictionary. You’re gonna need it and your underpants and travel companion are gonna thank you. In Spain, saying “Soy celica” (celico, if male) is usually enough to let any waiter know “I am [a] celiac” and that you cannot consume gluten. Trying to tell them you can’t eat bread (“No puedo comer pan”) is simply not enough. Learn the words for gluten, wheat, flour, etc., and protect your gut! “No como gluten” and “No puedo comer gluten” make more sense than saying it’s just bread you can’t eat.

Some other helpful words in Spanish for the gluten impaired:

Sin gluten – without gluten/gluten free

trigo – wheat

harina/harina de trigo – flour/wheat flour

centeno – rye

cebada – barley

cerveza – beer

sin pan/no pan – without bread, no bread

frito – fried (**look for this word on menus!)

por favor – please (because duh, manners)

gracias – thank you

Learn these words, commit them to memory, use then often. If you are staying a hotel or hostel while traveling, be sure to pack your own snacks and not count on there not always being a gluten free option for breakfast or snack. I recommend power bars and granola bars such as Larabars, Kind bars, and Luna protein bars (**most regular Luna bars are NOT gluten free). Of course you can always find a place to stay that caters to your needs but that is not always an option or a luxury one can afford. Idea, yes, but not always realistic. This is why contingency plans (and snacks) are needed for your travels.

If you, like me, are fortunate enough to be living with someone, staying with friends (or strangers!), or moving in with someone in a foreign city let them know about your dietary needs ahead of time. I know this part totally sucks and you’re probably just as sick of this formality as I am, but its a necessity for your health and respectful to your gracious host. I will be doing a homestay in Barcelona and to kill two birds with one stone my mother suggested bringing a gorgeous new cutting board made from all North Carolina hardwood as my homestay arrival “gift”. This way I have something practical, beautiful and representative of my home to present to my new family as well as a safe gluten free surface for meals to be prepared on in my new home! I like traveling with gifts in general so it makes sense for me to bring something so useful. If you however cannot afford something like this after blowing all your money on airfare, offer to help out your host or roommate with food prep or dishes – or even cook them meals! This way you can clean surfaces and utensils thoroughly, prevent cross-contamination and even change some of the ingredients to suit your needs. The more hands on you are in the kitchen the safer your digestive tract will be and the happier your host. Really, could you ask for anything more?

Part 2 of this installment will feature further research I’ve done on the celiac community of Spain and more importantly – where I can eat out in Barcelona!