Love Letter to Barcelona

This post is adapted from one of my writings on the course at Bournville College. The task was to write about the structure of an interesting building. I remembered my first visit to Casa Milà in Barcelona, in December 2003 ::

“Undulating” is the word most used to describe the roof of the Casa Milà, along with the staircase at Casa Batlló and the beautiful balcony at Parc Guëll. Use it too many times and it becomes boring, Gaudí wouldn’t like that. Standing on that roof, undulating it is not. The bones are on the outside, grey under the clouded sky, and Casa Milà towers over Passeig de Gràcia, not ready to give up his secret. Climbing the stairs, don’t stop to take in the mahogany doors and green-tiled floors on the headphones, it’s not important, it’s not a feeling, keep going, the roof is the prize.

Out in that crisp Barcelonín Winter, they look at first glance like luxurious swirls of ice cream, dancing in the sun, but the chimneys don’t welcome you, with menacing faces and soldier-like regiment softening with every step you take. Touch everything. Lose yourself in the maze of the patterns and the sunshine and the cold and the golden city. The yellow is misleading, it looks warm but the soldiers on the roof say otherwise, staring down at these invading tourists, like the guards of the Milà family tomb, tolerant until they are alone again.


This was the first piece that I actually got positive comments on, before this I was told I write angrily – but my love-letter to a building showed a sense of belonging there rather than here. How can a building make you feel?


How to Use the New York Subway

We had few days in New York earlier this year, and then a wedding in Connecticut (that in my head I can’t stop pronouncing the c, as in Connect-icut). Let me just start by saying in the nicest possible way, nothing in that country makes sense. We first realised this when it took us two wrong trains and about 10 dollars wasted trying to work out how on earth to use the Subway.


Manhattan Web

  1. The Precedent – Forget everything you know about European city metro systems. You’re used to London, Paris and Madrid where all the trains stop at all the stations, platforms are normally colour coded per line, so all you have to worry about is getting one in the right direction.
  2. The Map – You arrive, you want to get out there seeing stuff as soon as possible! So let’s find out how to get there. This one is a mish-mash of numbers and letters and on the map we had we didn’t even have the end stations of each line to help us out. The Manhattan Island main section works on a very simple Uptown / Downtown system. Go Uptown to go North, and Downtown to go South.
  3. The Route – The numbers and letters show which trains stop at which stations, ie., the 1 stops at all of them, so is the Local train, but the 3 stops only at a few, so is the Express train. So not only have you got to find a route where you can change trains to get to another line, most times you have to go out of your way to reach your hotel.
  4. The Entrance – There are sometimes separate entrances for Uptown and Downtown, and really they are not very well marked. We found them quite difficult to find because there isn’t anything big and glaring alerting you to the fact that there’s a station here. One that we found was basically a door next to a big office building with the Subway markings on the wall rather than stuck out so that you know it’s there. The older ones that go straight down off the street tend to have two yellow lights on the entrance, but still you can walk past two or three without realising that that’s it, because nothing actually says “Subway”.
  5. The Ticket Machine – If you’re in New York for a day or two, buy singles at $2.75 each. If you’re there for a few days like us, get a MetroCard from a booth, it was about $30.00 for seven days and well worth it!
  6. The Platform – Find your platform, which is a challenge because it’s a maze of pillars, not nice spacious tunnels like in Europe and the A stops on this platform except for weekends when it stops over there, and the 2 stops on this platform unless it’s after 9pm when it doesn’t stop at all… And crap like that.
  7. The Train – The newer trains are equipped with an electronic display to show where you are and what the next station is, great! If you’re lucky you’ll find a busker, or a beggar, it’s generally quite quiet too, we didn’t see any trains that were too busy – but we weren’t travelling at rush hour and we were going to the tourist areas so probably this didn’t give us a true picture of the trains themselves.

The Skyline – a beautiful disused Subway track converted into a park

And then you’re off the train. Going back to The Precedent – New York doesn’t seem very proud of its subway. The European metro seems to be more like a brand. You see no end of “Mind The Gap” tat in souvenir shops in London, and the art-nouveau Paris Metro design conjours up romantic images of the wide leafy streets leading up to the Louvre or the banks of the Seine.

It certainly looks like the Subway’s Golden Age has been and gone in New York. While many stations retain the old mosaic street number markers on the platform, and the pillars spaced evenly are evident of the might of the city above, it seems that the Subway system has been forgotten in recent regenerations, he needs a lick of paint, improved lighting, signage and passenger information, especially for tourists. But he’s so integral to this city, work it out and he’s your best friend.

Five pieces of advice I wish I’d had…

Twenty years ago… To my eleven year-old self, I wish someone had advised me that physical health and fitness is as important as intellectual challenges and being sociable. Also, don’t worry about how popular you are, this is just one life stage, there’s much better to come!
Fifteen years ago… At sixteen I would throw that careers advisor’s words back in her face and advise myself to do Chemistry. I wish I’d received what I tell people now, study what you want, there are no limits at university and in life, you can do Psychology with English Language, you can do Mechanical Engineering with French. Stick to what you want to do, don’t listen to anyone else because you might just end up scraping a pass at Economics and regretting it for the rest of your life.
Ten years ago… At 21 I was in Spain, and already enjoying the best piece of advice I’d ever had, two years previous one of my Italian friends (Erasmus in Leicester) told me, “Katherine, Don’t study on your Erasmus year, just party – all the time!” Luckily my grades there didn’t count for anything on my Leicester course, so I did indeed do just that! Back to uni though for the final year, I wish I was advised that hard work pays off, you cannot rest on your laurels because you enjoyed the class, you have to deliver in the exam. Read the books on your course, don’t just skip through or find the plot on the internet.
Five years ago… I was 26, I was advised to start a pension which I still pay into. But I wish I had been advised to start saving for a deposit on a house, or at least start managing money better. At that point I didn’t care, I was going on holidays, moving out of my parents and having a taste of real freedom again, I was still planning to go to Spain in the long run, so it was the least of my worries.
One year ago… Start exercising, regularly. Physical health and fitness is just as important as having a job you love, a wonderful fiancée, and a loving family. You’ll regret it when you’re older. And I’m still telling myself this now.
Looking at this, is it really advice I wish I’d been given? Or advice I wish I’d listened to? The media, friends, family, every conversation results in a piece of advice, every question you ask, every doubt you have, every motivational picture you see on instagram imparts advice. From “Don’t wear red and green together…” to “This mortgage is better for you because…”. It’s easy to blur the lines between the conversations you have and the things you see on TV, for example, every advert suggests you need this thing, it advises that this thing is good for mood, lifestyle, social status, health etc. You talk about products between friends, skincreams, pension plans, new cooking sauces. Everywhere you look, advice, advice advice!

Eight Years Later

Do you remember when the internet first came out properly, about ten years ago? Before facebook and Twitter and even before MySpace, at 20 to 22 years-old we were obsessed with Bejewelled, and Celebdaq, and Quizilla quizzes. Which Evil My Little Pony are you?, Which Care Bear are you? Which City should you live in? etc… All seriously, defining issues.

There was a massive thing going round about surveys, you answered the kind of questions that are now freely shared without even realising it in all the social media. So I was going over some old blog-posts earlier today and found one that I did in 2006 – eight years is such a long time ago. I’ve taken the Name and Birthday and where you were born questions out, because they haven’t changed, but I thought it would interesting to see how my answers differ now from back then (new answers in green) ::

Your Heritage: Real life: Brummie … Spiritual: Spanish / Birmingham, UK, Europe, the World
The Shoes You Wore Today: Walking boots / Knee-high boots
Your Weakness: Not being assertive enough / Not being assertive enough, strangely still rings true now
Your Fears: Dogs, failure / Losing loved ones, losing my job, running someone over
Your Perfect Pizza: The Works with sweetcorn instead of black olives / Goats cheese and caramelised onions
Goal You Would Like To Achieve This Year: Lose weight / Keep running, decorate the house
Your Most Overused Phrase On an instant messenger: Hmm.. / I never use instant messenger anymore, not even on facebook
Thoughts First Waking Up: Why does my mom have to talk so loudly to my dad??! / Nooooooooo!!
Your Best Physical Feature: Eyes / Eyes, hair
Your Bedtime: Anywhere between 11pm and 1am / Between 22h00 and 23h00
Your Most Missed Memory: ERASMUS / My Dad
Pepsi or Coke: Fanta Naranja…? / Whatever it is it needs to be diet
MacDonalds or Burger King: MacDos! / McDonalds, although I rarely eat them anymore
Single or Group Dates: Single / Single, although I am now happily living with my Mexican now, but still enjoy dinner parties and pub nights with friends
Lipton Ice Tea or Nestea: Nestea..? / Lipton Ice Tea, peach flavour
Chocolate or Vanilla: Vanilla / Vanilla
Cappuccino or Coffee: Yuck neither!! Espresso at a push / Still neither!
Do you Smoke: Only when too drunk to stand.. / Nope, not even when drunk
Do you Swear: Yeah! F*ckin’ yeah! / Try to avoid it, only at very strong emotions, pain, fear, instinct.
Do you Sing: Haha! Only when very drunk! / In the car, in the house, at Guides, cooking, all the time!
Do you Shower Daily: Sometimes even twice! / Always
Have you Been in Love: Yes / Yes
Do you want to go to College: I went. I’d love to go back / I went, the only thing I would want to do again is Erasmus, and study harder for my final exams.
Do you want to get Married: Yes, to the right person.. / Yes, the right person is here and we’re getting married in a year!
Do you believe in yourself: Sometimes… / More than I used to but still suffer from severe lack of confidence at work sometimes
Do you get Motion Sickness: No, thankfully! / If I’ve been on a plane too long, or too many times in a short space of time
Do you think you are Attractive: Not so much at the moment.. / In the face yes, could stand to lose the belly. Keep running!
Are you a Health Freak: I’m hoping to diet and exercise now! / Not really, it’s always a phase, I lost a lot of weight and am managing to keep it off, but it’s hard. Keep running!
Do you get along with your Parents: Everyone gets annoyed by their parents! / There was a very difficult period but we’re all seeing the light now and I’m sure it will be lovely again
Do you like Thunderstorms: Yesssssss! / Yes! Looking forward to seeing them  from the new flat, the view over the city must be wonderful!
Do you play an Instrument: The triangle..? / No, not even the triangle, the easiest of all instruments!
In the past month have you Drank Alcohol: Yes, not much though.. / Yes, lots and lots of beer!
In the past month have you Smoked: Passively at the pub / No!
In the past month have you been on Drugs: Neurofen count? / Wouldn’t dare
In the past month have you gone on a Date: Haha! / With Daniel we went to Oxford, it was lovely!
In the past month have you gone to a Mall: The Bullring rocks! / The Bullring is still brilliant
In the past month have you eaten a box of Oreos: No.. Milk Chocolate Digestives maybe… / No, Oreos, no. Chocolate eclaires, yes.
In the past month have you eaten Sushi: No, fish doesn’t do it for me.. / No, still not a big fan of fish
In the past month have you been on Stage: Pff, not since the Guide’s 40th anniversary do and I had to lead campfire songs! / Err, I don’t think so…
In the past month have you been Dumped: Dumped, no. Shitted on, yes. / No!
In the past month have you gone Skinny Dipping: Me..??! / No!
In the past month have you Stolen Anything: Err.. Not that I can remember.. I think my record was the Loch Ness ashtrays..! / I don’t think so
Ever been Drunk: Y e s . . . / Yes, come on
Ever been called a Tease: In what context? / Still, what is the context? I tease the Guides and the Brownies all the time
Ever been Beaten up: All the time by my sister! / Again, even now in our late 20s early 30s, I still point you in the direction of my sister
Ever Shoplifted: Not to my recollection.. / By accident, once I put a KitKat in my pocket while juggling other bags and didn’t realise until I was halfway down the road!
How do you want to Die: Peacefully as an old lady.. / Peacefully as an old lady
What do you want to be when you Grow Up: The Me that I want to be.. / I’m now grown up, sometimes I’m the Me I wanted to be, other times I’m just an idiot
What country would you most like to Visit: Russia / Russia still, and now Guatemala
Best Clothing Style in a man/woman: Any really apart from townie and kev-like / Grown-up, and nothing beats a sharp suit to make any man look so dapper!
Number of Drugs I have taken: Number of types? 2 / Are we including alcohol and coffee and cigarettes? Then 5
Number of CDs I own: Millions! / Two, the advent of digital music means I got rid of them all when I came home from uni
Number of Piercings: 4 / 4 still
Number of Tattoos: 0 / Still 0
Number of things in my Past I Regret: A great many..! / If we dwelt on all our regrets, life would be very miserable

It’s strange actually to see how most of these questions are now answered on the pages of this blog, or on facebook, or on Twitter. First thought waking up is usually expressed on Twitter. Been on a stage, drank alcohol, sometimes down to the shoes worn today, are found in photos on facebook or Instagram. Goals to achieve, fears and weaknesses are discussed in blogs. Health freak, and believing in yourself comes in what motivational pictures you post on your facebook walls, or find on Pinterest. And again, you only post the pictures that put you at your most attractive, if it’s the eyes or the hair or your figure.

Things move on, and life changes in so many ways, I can see my innocence has been worn away over the last eight years, good for bad for good, it’s all learning how to be yourself!

Q & A – BritishBloggerSelection

During my Erasmus year, 2003/2004 I had another blog, on LiveJournal – Katty’s Little Adventure. I don’t even remember the username or password so I can’t link to it here. It told the story of my Erasmus year in Spain and then France, it was mainly full of snippets of nights out that I could remember the following day, or other little in-jokes we had between us. One of the things we did a lot, was quizzes! So #BritishBloggerSelection this week has taken me back to a nostalgic time of sitting in the Sala de Ordenadores at Residencia Pignatelli in Zaragoza…

Why do you like blogging? – I’m not a big social network user, so this is an outlet I can have that facebook just doesn’t provide. Facebook is for my photos or arranging nights out, the blog is more like an open e-mail to my friends that I don’t see very often, and a chance to explore things in a bit more detail.

How did you come up with your blog name? A chilango is a person from Mexico City, chilanga is the feminine form. I’m marrying my Mexican, so I’m becoming more and more chilanga every day. And Exported, that refers to both my job in freight forwarding, and the fact that I am a chilanga in the UK.

Where from the UK do you come from? Originally, and still living in Birmingham. In order : Birmingham UK, Leicester UK, Zaragoza Spain, Pau France, Leicester UK, Sheffield UK, Birmingham UK. In my city I’ve lived in Hall Green, Moseley, Ladywood, and now hoping to move to a new housing development in Edgbaston. On the property ladder at last!

Favourite colour? This is Yellow, without doubt. And Silver, and Turquoise and Purple. I just love bright colours.

Do you like Lana Del Rey? I loved her Summertime Sadness song, and I listen to her to cool down at the gym. Lumping her in with Florence and the Machine, Lorde, Goldfrapp’s A&E etc., I like slow songs that sound like a fairy-tale that you can just lose yourself in, they are good day-dream walking songs.

Hidden Talents That You Have? I can catch, netball team and I’m still good at catching things as they fall out the kitchen cupboard before hitting the floor. And jump, at school I was one of the last three or four left in the high-jump but lost the competition in my teenage modesty because would not take my skirt off to get a higher measurement.

Celebrity Crush? None that I care to say here, I don’t bother much with celebrity. I don’t see the point in taking an interest in the lives of people we will never meet, who will continually make is feel inadequate and who have no idea who we are. Ok, fine! Gael Garcia Bernal and Romain Duris!

Favourite Blog Of All Time? I like Lady of the Cakes, she’s living my dream of living and working in Spain. That was my original plan but life took a turn and I couldn’t follow it through. The plan was to move to Zaragoza and surround myself with Spanish. I’m secretly quite glad it didn’t turn out that way, I love my life here in Birmingham with my Danielote and wouldn’t change it for the world. And Brummed Out, I get to hear about other things that are going on in Birmingham here.

What made you want to join #BritishBloggerSelection? I’ve been in the blogosphere for about a year, but haven’t really got much involved until now.

Reading back, this actually sounds really daggy like I’m back at uni! We spent hours coming up with the “coolest” answers to the endless quizzes.

Hot Chocolate Season

Cola Cao, what can be better?

Cola Cao, what can be better?

Yes it’s Hot Chocolate Season, the weather is turning colder and as I don’t drink tea or coffee I can finally enjoy a hot chocolate with a clear conscience. My absolute favourite is the one at The Green Room, the deluxe is a tall glass with whipped cream, marshmallows and chocolate powder. Just Yum! It’s about half an hour from the house though, so I save it for Spanish Meetups once a month on a Sunday afternoon.

Not San Gil, but not far off!

Then it’s the one in Mexico at the Misión San Gil, Quéretaro in Mexico, it’s so creamy, and chocolatey and comes in a beautiful painted mug. And the grounds of the restaurant are magical, set in a colonial hacienda-type building, the hotel forms part of a bigger estate with a golf course and country houses. We go to the hotel just once when we go to Quéretaro, always for breakfast where you can have as much fruit as you want, eggs exactly how you want them, catcus smoothie and this divine hot chocolate. Then we take a little walk in the grounds, with peacocks and butterflies all around.

And there’s Cola Cao. My Spanish treat. Discovered in my first year at uni in the Spanish girls’ kitchen. It was also our erasmus staple drink. We’d sit waiting for (or skipping) lectures in the Cafeteria Interfacultades, with our cup of milk and sachet of Cola Cao, chatting about what happened at the weekend, who had snogged who and who was sick in a wheelie bin and where we were going to go after lectures were over for the day. For me Cola Cao is erasmus in Spain. And I still have it every time I go back, the one above was in Córdoba in a late night café next to the Cathedral in the main square.

Written for Ailsa’s Travel Theme : Brown

Fiesta del Faro with NWT Languages

Another night at The Light House Media Centre in Wolverhampton for NWT Languages Spanish Speakers. Put on by the Spanish Speaking Meet Up, I really like The Light House. It’s a lovely café-bar with a small cinema and gallery attached, with a lovely big terrace completely covered from the elements, so nobody cared about last night’s rain when there was tapas and dancing and Spanish chatting available all night long. Well – for us – until the last train back to Birmingham. It was a bit Spain-orientated, but our friends had taken some photos of Mexico from my facebook pages, and a piñata painted the colours of the Spanish flag, but let’s not dwell on that – we had a lot of fun trying to persuade Dani, the Mexican expert to show them how it’s done.

There was a flamenco dancer, and her little helpers, then the songs-with-actions came out. I don’t know why in Hispanic cultures a lot of the songs have actions, but it’s just brilliant! We had the Macarena, La Bomba and El Matador. A really really lovely night.

Some photos from Lisa Rowley – member of the Meet Up.