Thursday, 26 February 2015

Food in Barcelona

People travel for different reasons. Some travel for the adventure, some for the shopping, some for the scenery, and some for the food. For me, one of the main reasons is definitely FOOD. As seafood is expensive in the UK, Marcus and I fed mainly on chicken, pork and vegetables. The (comparatively) cheap seafood in Barcelona made our tummies very happy! We ate so much Paella that we got sick of it after a week! (The irony is that of all the different kinds of food, we didn't take any pictures of the Paella.) These are a few food places that we visited:

(1) Taller de Tapas

It's a crime to visit Spain and not try their Tapas! This was the first restaurant that we dined in on our first night in Barcelona. They have a handful of outlets around Barcelona and their food is pretty impressive. It is amazing how butter and garlic can do such magic as the main ingredients!

(2) 365 Cafe

The pastry stall that was conveniently located at the bottom of our apartment. Their pastry is heavenly and their coffee is perfect to kickstart the day! What's even better? Everything was around €1!!! Moreover, as their name suggests, they are truly opened for 365 days a year - we had our daily dose of pastry goodness even on Christmas Eve & Christmas Day!

(3) Food Market 

A food market that we chanced upon on our way back to our apartment! The variety of seafood on sale is spectacular.

(4) Gelato Stall

It's a pity that I can't recall the name of this particular stall. There were just too many gelato stalls along the streets of Barcelona! Variety of flavours, richness in taste, affordable prices, they've got them all in check! 

(5) Orio Gastronomia Vasca

The first thing we saw when we entered was the role of pastries lined up on the counter top of the bar. We helped ourselves to the huge selection of pastries that were on display and to our disappointment, it wasn't fantastic. However, we had a pleasant surprise when the food we ordered from the menu arrived! The oxtail and the prawns were my favourite!

(6) Santa Anna

Our favourite restaurant! It wasn't the classiest but it was the place that we enjoyed the most. The food was very decent and extremely value for money. The service was fantastic, especially with a particular Spanish waiter who, with his warm gestures, left us with all smiles. And yes, Sangria Sangria Sangria!

(7) HOME!! 

Marcus' dad whipped up a scrumptious meal for all of us on the final night in Barcelona! Pepper crab, teriyaki squid and prawns, stir-fried asparagus, sautéed mushrooms and marinated beef. Aah, nothing beats a home-cooked meal made with love!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

(Not so) low rope

The Low Rope. Cr: CyberPioneer

Everyone who has been through National Service (NS) – or has associated with someone who has been through NS – would have heard of the infamous Low Rope. The bottleneck of the Standard Obstacle Course (SOC). The make-it-or-break-it station that pretty much determines whether you pass or fail the combat fitness test. The thing that I was most apprehensive about prior to enlistment day. If I had to name one thing that I absolutely lacked, it would be arm power. I couldn’t even win my younger sister at arm wrestling. The thought of lugging my entire body up that rope with my bare hands was frightening. Impossible.

Just look at my non-existent arms

True enough, on my first attempt of mounting up the rope, I barely lasted for 10 (pathetic) seconds – in which I failed to go pass my first loop. (We were taught to make loops with our feet in order push our body further up.) It was disheartening. I had expected myself to fail on the first attempt, but I had no idea that it would be that difficult. Still, it was all right. Our motivating Physical Training Instructor (PTI) assured us that it comes with practice.

In the subsequent days, I religiously executed my daily push-up regime in bunk to increase my arm power while practising the looping technique with the ropes in Company line. With consistent practice, my confidence started to grow.

It was finally the day of the official SOC test. I wasn’t absolutely sure that I could overcome the Low Rope but I was hopeful, with all the practice that I had. I uttered a prayer under my breath just before it was my turn, earnestly holding on to the faith that I would be able to hit the pole at the top of the rope and shout my Company’s name – just like everyone else who had made it to the top. I stepped pass the starting line, going at a slow and steady pace, strategizing to save every ounce of energy for the Low Rope. This is it. I garnered all my energy and leaped off the ground, grabbing the rope as high up as possible. I tucked in my knees; ready to make my first loop with the bottom of the rope. One, two, three, four, five... Five good seconds went pass and I somehow still couldn’t get hold of the rope. I was panic-stricken. In my practice, I had mastered completing a loop within a second. What was happening?! My mind went blank as I waved my legs around aimlessly while the energy in my arms started wearing off. “CALM DOWN!” The thundering voice of my Platoon Commander (PC) snapped me out of my panic attack. By the time I recomposed myself, I had lost the ability to hang on to the rope. My arms were shaking and blisters were starting to form on the inside of my palms. Against my will, I let go of the rope and landed with a thud – that echoed into my heart. We were given 2 chances at each station. I tried it once more but my arms failed me. I was among the few who failed the test even after weeks of practice.

Although I had mentality prepared myself for the worst, like I always do, the disappointment was inevitable. Even the inspirational words of our PTI failed to bring me comfort. There wasn’t much time left for me to pass the SOC before graduating from Basic Military Training (BMT). I, still, hadn’t even gone pass the first loop of the Low Rope. How on earth was Low Rope low?

Immediately after the test, the SOC failures were called out to train for the retest. There weren’t many of us and as much as I yearned to escape from the group of “failures”, I didn’t see how it was possible. There was just too little time left. We lined up for our turns to practise with the ropes. When it was my turn, I concededly grabbed the rope and started looping. I'll just do my best; it's okay that I don't succeed. To my surprise, I moved on from my first loop to my second loop, and my third loop. I was actually progressing up the rope! In that split second of realisation, the hope that seemed so distant came crashing over me like a sugar rush. All of a sudden, I knew, I knew, I knew that I could do it. Loop by loop, I climbed up the rope with determination. “PEGASUS!” The sense of accomplishment was astounding. I was on the brink of tears as my platoon mates cheered and applauded. I wasn’t going to fail the test after all!

As I got down the rope with satisfaction brimming from within, it dawned upon me that it was in the absence of pressure that I had succeeded. Sometimes, when failure is unrelenting despite you having given your all, all you need to do is to take a step back.

Ever since then, I have come to love the Low Rope. Even though it’s not an insurmountable obstacle, I take pride in the fact that I can do it. As my PC said, the key is to “CALM DOWN!”

POP LO!!!!

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Welcome to Barcelona

Barcelona is known for many things: the football, the architecture, the art, the beach, the food.... But what really fascinated me the moment I landed in this city was its streets. Walking on the streets of Barcelona felt surreal - as though I was walking through the streets of a 19th century film. It was probably the amalgamation of its breathtaking architecture, the romantic slurs of the Hispanics, the (slow) pace of life and the blazing sun that coexisted with the gentle breezes that made the streets so magical. Furthermore, as it was the Christmas season, the festive lights and the constant buzz of Christmas sales added a refreshing flavour to the atmosphere.

Barcelona was the perfect place for a reunion - not just any reunion, but a family reunion. After 4 months of not seeing his family, Marcus finally got to meet them! Even though I didn't get to meet my family during the Christmas break, the 9 days spent with his family took away my homesickness. Many people have asked me if it was awkward to travel with my boyfriend's family. Well, it was my first time and I must say - it wasn't awkward at all! Seeing them waiting at the arrival hall was truly comforting. Hearing their familiar voices day and night was satisfying. Having to say goodbye once again was awfully tear-jerking. It was as though I was their youngest daughter.

9 days was suficiente (the first word we learnt, when we had to ask the waiter if the food we ordered was enough). Of course, the time spent with our loved ones wasn't enough, but it was the perfect amount of time needed to explore every tourist-worthy aspect of Barcelona. This short trip marked the first of many Europe trips (to come) in the next 3 years. And boy, it sure did set a towering benchmark!

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