Tag Archives: Cake

Last Minute Lyon

Procrastination is the road to perdition. The original plan was to spend a long weekend in Lisbon, but when it finally came down to booking the trip a mere five days before it was meant to happen, air fares had shot up to stupid levels. Pushed for time, my friend and I plonked for Lyon instead, courtesy of some very reasonably priced EasyJet flights. Neither of us had been to Lyon before, and I was kinda keen (and terrified at the same time) to practice my abysmal French.

I came to regret this snap decision the very next morning. That’s when I heard about the escalation of the strike situation in France. I had been  vaguely aware of some ongoing disputes to do with employees’ rights or something, but I’d not really been on the ball about the ramifications of this national crisis: oil refineries blocked off by burning barricades, a third of petrol stations out of fuel, public transport up the spout, air traffic controllers about to join the fray,  etc.

And into the disaster zone we go!

And off into the disaster zone we go!

**Spoiler alert: I fretted over nothing!**

In the end, we weren’t impacted by the strikes in any way whatsoever. Our trip turned out to have been very fortuitously timed, slotting in between two big bouts of industrial action.

Our only two complaints were the shitty hotel – our floor was stickier than a marshmallow factory – and the copious rain, but it was still a great weekend with lots of laughs and good food (except for a lunch involving gristly dry sausages – probably the only type of French food that a German can authoritatively criticise*).

Lyon is stunningly beautiful – I was agog whenever the curtain of rain parted, and everyone was really friendly and helpful. Even the staff of Marshmallow Towers.

The city stands at the confluence of two rivers and so there’s an infinite number of photogenic bridges:

Lyon Bridge

A shot of me taking the above shot

A shot of me taking the above shot

Lyon Bridge

 

Lyon view

Lyon views

Lyon Town Hall

Grafiti

Hinterhof

Penguins

Lyon has tons of cute cafés…

Lyon Café

Lyon Café

Lyon Café 1

 

Here's one where you can play any conceivable type of board game

No, it’s not a café with slot machines, but one where you can play any conceivable type of board game

Lyon Café

Flashy and with great ambience for sure, but a tad expensive. €23 for sausage and lentils? Forget it! In Spain, you can have that for a fiver. And the sausage will be up to scratch.

Lyon Café

Roses

It also seems to have been moving day in Lyon:

Got a shelf to move but no car? Just pop in on a skateboard!

Got a shelf to move but no car? Just pop in on a skateboard!

Kill two birds with one stone: Use mattress as rain shield

Kill two birds with one stone: Use mattress as a rain shield

Can you guess what's coming?!

Can anyone guess what’s coming up next?!

Yup. Cakes!!! What else?!?

Lyonese praline tart - fancy stuff!

Lyonese praline tart – fancy stuff!

...unfortunately, the one I tried wasn't all that great. Way too sweet and the pastry seemed to be made of bulletproof cardboard

Unfortunately, the one I tried wasn’t all that great. Way too sweet, and the pastry seemed to be made of bulletproof cardboard

Poached pear anyone? Now this one was absolutely delicious :)

Poached pear with gooey chocolate sauce anyone? Now this one was absolutely delicious 🙂

...but sometimes all you need is a crepe and a nice cup of tea :)

…and sometimes all you need is an apple sauce crêpe and a nice cup of tea 🙂

And some nice poppies to finish off :)

And some happy poppies to finish off.

So, did I get to practice my French? Well, yes, a little… with mixed success. I understood virtually all the written information I came across, which would have passed me by a year ago. Also, the mere attempt of communicating in French with wait staff etc was received very well. Some chose to switch to English or Spanish, but they did it in good cheer, since, I guess, we had at least tried to make an effort. I hope to do better next time 🙂

*Find my German sausage post here: Nothing separates a German from their sausage

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Language Matters: Gender Benders On The Rampage

If there’s one thing that really vexes native English speakers when embarking on learning a second language, then it’s the curious feature of grammatical gender. The concept that nouns can be feminine, masculine or neuter is most baffling to them. English is one of the few Indo-European languages which do not have gendered nouns. Or, rather, it no longer has them.

Since English is the haughty offspring of an ancient variant of German, it once boasted three genders, just like its parent. But sometime after the Norman conquest, the genders bit the dust. German and French genders were clearly no love match and battled it out until total annihilation.

In my observation, the biggest hurdle for native English speakers is not the existence of grammatical gender per se, but all the mental energy they waste in their futile attempts to find logic in it. So, once and for all: THERE. IS. NO. LOGIC. It’s just like the weather. Or taxes. Or what happens to pairs of socks in the laundry.

It would probably be a bit harsh to imply that native English speakers are the only numpties in this regard. I have witnessed several curious reactions when speakers of a gendered language are confronted, for the first time, with another language whose genders don’t match theirs. I remember one instance, in a Portuguese class a few years ago, when my Spanish classmate, a builder in his early fifties about to start a job in Brazil, was dumbfounded by the discovery that a Portuguese ballpoint pen (caneta) was FEMININE, when, to his mind, pens (bolígrafo in Spanish) were MASCULINE.

“Look, Pablo,” I said, “if it ain’t got a dick or a cunt, how do you know what sex something is?!” (Note to aghast US readers: In Spain, such evocative vocab does not usually cause affront*)

But even this seemingly convincing line of argument has to be approached with extreme caution: In German, for instance, while man (Mann) and woman (Frau) are respectively masculine and feminine, the German word Weib, which is an outdated (and in modern usage a vulgar) term for “woman” closely related to the English “wife” is, in fact, neuter and NOT feminine.

The German word for “girl”, Mädchen, is also neuter, although there is at least some logic to that one, as it’s the diminutive of the (also outdated) feminine noun Maid (maiden), and all diminutives are neuter in German.

And, returning to our colourful vocab once more, it gets even more paradoxical: In Spanish, for example, the aforementioned naughty words for male and female genitalia are feminine and masculine, respectively, not the other way around, as you might expect.

In the native English speaker’s mind, this sort of thing causes mayhem. Let me illustrate: I respond to queries on language learning forums, and a few weeks ago, a Brit had a minor existential crisis over the fact that person (persona) is feminine in Spanish, and that, when referring to himself as a person, he would – shock horror! – turn into a GIRL! Oh, the indignity of it! Just imagine what will happen the day he finds out that the…erm… most masculine of his male parts is a feminine entity in Spanish. At least grammatically speaking.

Taking the genders of nouns in one’s native language to be universal brings some interesting problems. A Spanish friend of mine told me once that he had encountered some toilets in a German restaurant labelled not with the internationally recognised stick man and woman, but instead with a sun and a moon. In German, the sun (die Sonne) is feminine, while the moon (der Mond) is masculine. In Spanish (and all other Romance languages, I believe) it happens to be the other way around. I leave it to you to imagine the rest of the anecdote…

As a native German speaker, the concept of gendered nouns gives me no trouble, but I am nevertheless experiencing a maddening – and unexpected! – predicament.

I speak Spanish fairly well by now and know the genders of most nouns. I cannot, however, for the life of me, get my adjectives and pronouns to consistently agree with my nouns. This is not so much of an issue when the adjective either immediately precedes or follows the noun: una chica gorda, un buen hombre, etc. easy peasy.

But if the adjective or pronoun appear in a different part of the sentence at some distance from noun they refer to, or in another sentence altogether, I find that my brain will often revert to the GERMAN gender rather than the Spanish one, because that’s how genders were first installed on my hard drive.

On some primal level, a table will always be masculine to me rather than feminine as in Romance languages , and, hence, it takes an immense amount of concentration to maintain gender agreement in my Spanish/Portuguese/French sentences. When I’m tired or my attention slips for just a few seconds, my brain will go straight to its native-language default setting – how could it be any other way? Since I’m pedantic to the extreme conscientious in my linguistic exploits, I find this insanely frustrating.

Messing up difficult grammatical constructions and features, such as the subjunctive, is one thing, but coming to terms with the fact that I probably won’t ever be able to get something as basic as adjective-noun gender agreement down to a pat, is, quite frankly, a crippling blow. Just how am I going to get over it?!

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Ah yes… something like this sure dulls the pain 🙂

[*For those interested in colloquial language, you may enjoy reading about how the most worstest of bad words in the English language is part of everyday parlance in Spain: Language Matters: C-Words of Difference]

 

You may also be interested in my specialist language blog, see here: http://multilingualbychoice.blogspot.com

 

Toledo Tapas Competition 2015 – Drool Alert…

Today is a sad day in Toledo. Today concludes the annual tapas competition, which had us devouring a wonderful array of delicacies conjured up by the town’s bars and restaurants. Here is a small testimony to our greediness devotion over the past three weeks:

Mini curry burgers. Can't go wrong with that...

Our first tapa consumed on 5 November, the day the contest kicked off: Mini curry burgers. Can’t go much wrong with these.

Smoked beef on toast, with sobrasada (a kind of smoked meat spread) and brie. Really strong flavours, but it worked surprisingly well.

Wafer-thin slices of smoked beef on toast, with sobrasada (a kind of smoked meat spread) and brie. A brave combo of some really strong flavours, but it worked surprisingly well.

Salmon with guacamole and lemon mousse. Looks great, but didn't work. The lemon flavour totally overpowered the whole thing.

Salmon with guacamole and lemon mousse. Looks tasty, but, sadly, it was a fail. The salmon was tender but insipid, and the lemon flavour totally overpowered the whole ensemble.

Tuna marinated in soy sauce with peach alioli. Totally delicious.

Tuna marinated in soy sauce with peach alioli. Totally delicious.

I cannot translate this one. Nor can I describe it. It contained the following: deer, shitake mushrooms, apricot, gnocchi, potato. And it tasted weird. But good-weird. Could have eaten it again. And again.

I cannot translate this one. Nor can I adequately describe it. It contained the following: venison, shitake mushrooms, apricot, gnocchi, potato, cream. And it tasted weird. But good-weird. Could have eaten it again. And again. Top marks for creativity and presentation.

Octopus and potato. Very Galician, and tasted just as expected. Perfectly acceptable, but nothing to write home about.

Octopus and potato “lasagne”. There was nothing lasagne about it, it was merely a fancy presentation of a Galician staple, pulpo gallego (which I love). Perfectly acceptable, but nothing to write home about.

A very traditional Manchego affair: Pork medallion with potato, onion and a dollop of creamy mushroom sauce. Totally delish.

A very traditional Manchego affair: Pork medallion with potato, crispy leek and a drizzle of creamy mushroom sauce. Simple, hearty and satisfying. A winner.

Taken on our walk between bars: The sun catching the Christmas lights, with Toledo cathedral in the background.

I managed to take this yesterday while swaying from one bar to the next: The sun catching the newly suspended Christmas lights, with Toledo cathedral in the background.

You know me - it had to end like this! Oh my, that red berry cake was to die for...

How predictable am I… it HAD TO end like this, didn’t it?! Oh my, that red berry cake was to die for. First visit to a new cafe, but definitely not the last 😉

So, although TapaMania may be over for this year, there’s one thought that consoles me greatly: Toledo was recently voted Spain’s Capital of Gastronomy 2016 – I just can’t wait for the New Year!!!

A Weekend of Hurricanes and Virgins

Joaquín is going to fuck up your weekend, my friend told me in a Facebook message. Who is this Joaquín and what has he got to do with my weekend, I wondered.

Joaquín turned out to be a hurricane set to tear through Andalusia last bank holiday weekend, when everyone had made travel plans. Including me. Sigh.

Well, a little wind and rain wasn’t going to deter us, and so my pal Noelia and I embarked on the five-hour drive down south on Friday evening to spend the weekend with some friends who had shamelessly abandoned us in Toledo and moved to Carmona, a small town about 30 minutes east of Seville.

In the end, Joaquín was very considerate, unleashing his unholy fury in the dead of Saturday night while we slept off our dinner.

However, despite being spared a torrential downpour in the daytime, it wasn’t the best weather for taking photos. But I shall post a few of them anyway. Coz my mum likes them…

A handful of shots of Seville:

Seville, River

Thanks for pointing this out, Noelia...

Noelia just making sure I didn’t miss anything.

Sevilla, houses along river

Sevilla Statue with bird

Torre de oro, Sevilla

Sevilla, gipsy church

Seville is obsessed with virgins...

Seville is obsessed with virgins…

A torero and some orange trees are an absolute must!

…and toreros

Seville is a stunner of a city, even on a gloomy day. Oh, and the food! But here’s the one thing I didn’t like: The town centre is thronging with hundreds of  horse drawn carriages, waiting to take tourists around. Nothing wrong with that per se, but at least one quarter of the horses I saw – though scrupulously clean and brushed up to the hilt –  were way too thin, too old and/or clearly unwell. Spain loves bureaucracy – so why is there no veterinary inspection service making sure that the only animals put to work were those that are fit and healthy??? I found this really quite distressing.

Get it sorted, Seville!

Get it sorted, Seville!

And a few shots of Carmona:

Carmona centre

A bar in Carmona, just about to open...

Carmona bar, just about to open…

And more virgins!

More virgins!

...and convent windows like these are designed to keep them that way

Forget chastity belts… how about chastity windows?! This one belongs to a convent, of course.

But it's not just virgins. There's also maids!

There’s also maids! There’s cakes in the back of that car, I could smell them…

Talking of which:

Some Middle-Eastern-inspired treats. Except for that big bulbous chocolate thing on the left, filled with marshmallow and Nutella(!) and scoffed by me.

Some Middle-Eastern-inspired treats. That big bulbous chocolate thing on the left, filled with marshmallow and Nutella(!), was scoffed by me. And no, I didn’t share.

A traditional Spanish dessert called

A traditional Spanish dessert called “leche frita” (fried milk), which is a bit like a semi-solid chunk of custard. Looks better than it tastes, though the sugar/cinnamon coating makes it somewhat enjoyable.

Asking for Cock in a Portuguese Supermarket

There are some linguistic faux pas that are mildly amusing, and then there are those that you’ll be reliving for the rest of your life with your innards squirming like a bucket of maggots under a floodlight. And, oh boy, this one will stay right up there in #1 position until the day I draw my last breath.

But let’s first set the scene. In June 2015, my friend Noelia and I embarked on a drive across the searingly hot Spanish Peninsula, from our homes in central Spain all the way down to the Algarve, Portugal. My Portuguese teacher kindly let us use her sea view apartment in the little town of Alvor for a week – an offer two gals obsessed with Portuguese food could not possibly refuse.

All was perfect with the abode, except for the minor matter of flat remote control battery, which meant that we could not access our allocated parking space. The next morning, we made our way to the local supermarket to buy a replacement battery (as well as loading up on delicious Portuguese cheese).

Now, the Portuguese language is rather tricky to pronounce, and, as in all languages, small deviations can make a huge difference to the meaning of words. Even though Noelia and I both speak fairly passable tourist-level Portuguese and we thought we knew the word for “battery” (pilha), our attempts at locating one in the store was but met by several pairs of quizzically raised eyebrows.

Our remote control required an N-size battery, which is even tinier than AAA, and so “We need a really small one, like this” were among the words that accompanied our hand gestures involving tumb and index finger indicating the size of the desired object.

Eventually, it dawned on the beleaguered members of staff what it was we were looking for, and they ushered us to the appropriate shelf, but, in the end, the store did not sell this particular kind.

While waiting in line to pay for our mountains of cheese, we were discussing, with obvious frustration, how hard it could possibly be to get hold of a silly little battery.

At this point, the guy behind us in the queue, a man in his sixties who could not help earwigging our (Spanish) conversation, cracked up laughing. Once he had managed to recover sufficient breath (but not a straight face), he told us what we had, in fact, been asking for.

Suddenly the staff’s perturbed facial expressions made sense… The helpful bystander to our phonetic phallacy also reliably informed us that, in Portugal, they did not, in fact, have small ones.

It subsequently transpired that Noelia, despite being blessed with a rather forgiving Mediterranean complexion, does not carry off the shade of beetroot very well. As for myself, I can’t say, as I had cringed into a tiny little ball ready to be swallowed by the Earth that was surely about to open up its merciful maws.

Salt cod (bacalhau) on offer at the supermarket we can never ever go back to

Salt cod (bacalhau) on offer at the supermarket that we can never ever ever go back to

Alvor beach, which we DID return to. Frequently.

Alvor beach, which we DID return to. Frequently.

Alvor Beach - rocks

Alvor Harbour

Me trying to choose a cake in a blur...

Me, in a blur, engaged in the task of choosing a cake

...and the result: An enormous marshmallow-inspired slab of a cake!

…and the happy end result: A crockery-busting squishy slab of a cake!

This wasn't the only cake occasion. Here is a delicious three-layered composition with figs and almonds

Needless to say, there were plenty more cake occasions. Here is a delicious three-layered composition of figs and almonds

Portuguese custard tart. Absolutely mandatory.

Portuguese custard tart. Absolutely mandatory.

It wasn't all cake, of course. We stuffed ourselves with seafood :)

We also stuffed ourselves with seafood 🙂 This cataplana (a traditional seafood stew) was meant to serve two, but would probably have fed six strapping sailors.

Not so sure about the entertainment...

Some questionable local entertainment… would a visitor from northern Europe really take their kid to watch a terrified animal having spears rammed into its back?

At least the dogs know to take it easy in this town!

…but the dogs sure know to take it easy in this town!

 

You may also be interested in my specialist language blog, see here: http://multilingualbychoice.blogspot.com

 

 

Three Countries in Five Days

After nearly three months of nothing but Toledo (except for the delightful little day trip to Cuenca) I was starting to go a bit stir crazy. The only thing that kept sane was an upcoming trip, which my friend Noelia had organised: Three nights at her friend’s place in Badajoz, Extremadura, just a handful of miles from the Portuguese border. From there, we would invade the neighbouring country and stuff ourselves silly with all the glorious Portuguese food we could cram down our gullets. Then, it was onwards, across the entire country and down to Andalucía for a couple of days, following a kind invitation from one of Noelia’s workmates, who had bequeathed us a lovely flat overlooking the beach.

All you all ready and comfortable? Let’s get started 🙂

Badajoz has some lovely public gardens

Badajoz has some picturesque public gardens…

...and glorious views.

…and glorious views. The town itself has a very southern Spanish flair, although it’s not much more south than Toledo. The Portuguese influence is keenly felt in the architecture, the colours and on restaurant menus. Salt cod and custard tarts galore!

Moving on to Portugal…

Évora's party piece: A Roman temple from the 1st century

Évora’s party piece: A Roman temple from the 1st century

Roman Temple and moi

Hidden gems

Lots of crumbling gems to discover…

...as well as some modern art. Noelia (left), and our hosts Gracia (right) and Lua (centre).

…as well as some modern art.
Noelia (left), and our hosts Gracia (right) and Lua (centre).

One of Évora's stunning residents turning his back on me

One of Évora’s most glamorous residents turning his back on me

The Almendres Cromlech, a few miles from Évora. A megalithic complex erected 8,000 years ago, and pretty well preserved. We just made it in time for sundown.

The Almendres Cromlech, a few miles from Évora city. A megalithic complex erected 8,000 years ago, and pretty well preserved. We just made it in time for sundown.

We're in Elvas now, another historic town settled since the year dot. Just don't ask me what that thing in the middle is...

We’re in Elvas now, another historic town settled since the year dot.
Just don’t ask me what that thing in the middle is supposed to signify…

Like any Portuguese town worth its salt, Elvas has a castle...

Like any Portuguese town worth its salt, Elvas has a castle…

...impossibly steep, cobbled streets...

…impossibly steep, cobbled streets…

...and plenty of tiles. Everywhere.

…and plenty of tiles. Everywhere.

 

And, of course, FOOD! Here we are, waiting for ours. The desserts at that place were to die for.

And, of course, FOOD! Here we are, waiting for ours. The desserts at that place were to die for.

For one last look at Portugal, how about this cork oak? The souvenir shops are full of cork products. You can even send postcards made of cork.

For one last look at Portugal, how about this majestic cork oak? The souvenir shops are full of cork products. You can even send postcards made of cork.

Cádiz Province, Andalucía, here we come!

Andalucía billboard

BEACH BEACH BEACH

BEACH BEACH BEACH!!!

I was very taken with that umbrella ;.)

I was rather taken with that cheery parasol 🙂

Andalucia Castellar

Did I mention the beach...?

Did I mention the beach…?

Noelia and our generous host and indefatigable tour guide, Paco

Noelia with our generous host and indefatigable tour guide, Paco

A cute frog fountain in Tarifa

A cute frog fountain in Tarifa

Soto Grande Boat

 

Gibraltar... that was the third "country" on our trip. We spent the morning there, I made a beeline to M&S, bought as many packs of hot cross buns as I could carry and several boxes of walnut whip. None of which survives.

Gibraltar, the third “country” visited on our trip. We spent a morning there, during which I made a beeline to M&S, heaping as many packs of hot cross buns as I could carry into my basket, as well as several boxes of walnut whip. None of which survives.

Now there’s just one thing missing, one VERY IMPORTANT thing:

Badajoz Cake