A Catalonian Frame of Reference: What People Worry About

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While being in Barcelona, I have done a lot of comparing with Beirut. It’s natural I guess, to compare your new relationship, flaws and all,  with the previous one that gripped your heart. Here I am, 8 weeks in, and the point that sticks out the most is how the typical Barcelona resident spends their energy and how it contrasts with a person living in Lebanon.

At first, I thought that residents here (and I say “residents” because not everyone who lives in Barcelona is Spanish) were blind to how good they had it. Oh, you poor thing, you’re not sure which bike rental service to sign up for. How hard life must be for you. It was resentment that was uncalled for. Their worries seemed so trivial and I thought that I was somehow better equipped for life’s curveballs because I came from a country that can’t get its act together. Sure, we are aces when it comes to back-up plans and sly maneuvering. The Lebanese know how to “bounce back and overcome adversity.” But then I realized something: you’re not supposed to spend so much of your own brainpower thinking about half the shit we think about back home and yet, we have to.

…or do we?

When I’m asked what I think about Barcelona so far, my automated response is, “It’s a lot like home except everything works.” I thought I was different from the Catalonian population because of what my daily life consists of in Beirut but, when having deeper conversations with people, I came to see that all of us have the same concerns, the same aspirations, and even the same confusion when it comes to romance and significant others. We may speak different languages but we’re not from different planets. It’s just that I come from a country that added a few rolls of parchment to my what to think about tonight while staring at my ceiling list. That does not mean that those who live here don’t have their own fair share of burdens, they just have the kind that is more of a DEFCON BEIGE than our constant VERMILLION.

This is why I left. I wanted to see how the other half lives, to see what’s missing at home as well as abroad, to see what would push me to emigrate elsewhere or make me stay. All I can say now is that being able to only think about things that are quintessentially important to my life, even something as basic as scheduling a tennis lesson before it rains, is refreshing. I wonder what it will be like to return to my scrolls of only-in-Lebanon problems.

Barcelona may not be my Beirut but, upon being away long enough to see it from a distance, I’m not sure what my Beirut has become either.

El-Tanein Diet Week #12, #13, and #14

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I think I need to come to accept that my workouts, while in Barcelona, are going to revolve around walking. I’m bunching the last THREE weeks in one post because I’m not sure how interesting things have been in terms of content for this series but I’m going to stick to the documentation. It took me so long to actually churn out weeks 12 and 13 that I might as well throw in 14 as a bonus. Hopefully, I’ll still try to get SOME form of conventional activity in before heading back to the gym…in Beirut.

Workout Tally

Walking everywhere for 21 days

Outdoor Activity

See above or below.

Fitbit Flex

Ironically enough, I’m paying attention to this wearable less and less even though it’s tracking the only activity I’m really sticking to. My steps have continued to drop though, probably due to my tourist drive starting to wane as I get more settled here as a “resident.” However, even with that, I’m still getting higher totals than I ever did in Lebanon. I keep forgetting to charge it and losing data of up to two days by the time I realize it’s dead. Why isn’t this charged via kinetic energy? Wouldn’t that make more sense?

Best Meals of the Weeks

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Week 12: Solo lunch at Tapas 24. I was done walking all over the city and very tempted to just head to McDonald’s but walked the extra 10 minutes to have a couple of tapas with a glass of cava. patatas bravas, bikini comerç, and a bomba de la Barceloneta.

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Week 13: Lemon tart from La Bascula in Born. Having the vegan in town meant discovering vegetarian Barcelona. La Bascula is a vegetarian co-op that’s housed in an old chocolate factory. It’s on Carrer de Flassaders, a little alley full of Spanish boutiques.

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Week 14: Tickets Bar. I’m not ashamed to admit that I booked a table at this place in AUGUST. I’d read about it during my Barcelona research and it was listed as a must. They open one day two months prior every day at midnight. I was so intrigued by this but I’m not one for fine dining. However, I decided that this would be my only expensive dinner out for my entire 3 months here and it turned out to be a very laid back environment. And OMG THE FOOD. I’ll let the pictures tell you. They’re vertical because Snapchat is more forgiving on my poor phone memory.
(Add me: ferroberro)

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Other Highlights

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Them body issues tho.

Having Museum Days: Sundays in Barcelona are like Beirut in that they’re labeled “family days,” everything closes, and the only thing left to do is eat and be a tourist. I’ve been spending mine in museums or random art shows since most restaurants save their tables for parties of ANYTHING MORE THAN ONE.

Bought a Polaroid Cube: Instead of splurging on a GoPro before knowing whether or not I’d really use it, I opted for the more affordable yet lower quality Polaroid Cube. Let’s see if some Bambi vlogs get made with this new toy.

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Having a Roommate: My friend has moved in with me for the month. I officially have my first roommate.

Human+: This is a new exhibition at the CCCB that’s about humans, tech, and where we’re going as a species. Very interestingly creepy.

Workout Track(s) of the Weeks


Because I’m not running, running, running. I’ve really got to though.


Because Jonas. Don’t judge.

Cheese(s) of the Weeks

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Receiving a bunch of jars of labneh from dad. Mom and vegan visited during week 13 and brought 3 kinds of goat’s labneh, marouk bread, and a couple of bags of pita. This is how Arab parents show they love you. Can someone send me tabbouli?

Here’s a dose of inspirational queso for you as well:

Exit through the Gift Shop, Go Home Broke

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These museum and attraction gift shops are going to be the end of me, especially the ones at the MACBA and CaixaForum. Not only are their interiors very purchase-inducing, but they’ve got a lovely selection of books, gadgets, and postcards. You all know how much I love postcards.

When exploring Barcelona, try to put a limit on your museum gift shop receipts. Consider this a friendly warning. I mean, I got a Tim Burton deck of cards.

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And it doesn’t end there. Inspired Gallery is another wallet trap for me that I discovered while wandering through the Gothic Quarter a few weekends back. It’s on Carrer Regomir. Yes, they have postcards too.

Happy shopping!

Barcelona, You’re Not My Beirut

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Still from Vicky Cristina Barcelona

I was told that, upon visiting Barcelona, I won’t want to come back to Beirut. I was told that I would fall in love with the city and Lebanon, with its garbage and unending toddler tantrum of a system, would not even compare to Catalonia and evening walks by Santa Maria. I will say it’s been an adventure every weekend; I’ve been investigating alleyways and losing myself in museums full of posters and sculptures I studied a few years ago. To be able to use my legs for more than just walking to my car has shown me how much I despise being at a desk for too long. It’s been enriching to be in an environment where you learn something new everyday. That, for a nerd like me, is always good. But the difference between here and Beirut? This is not home.

All people want is to find the place where they feel embedded. Maybe this feeling develops with time once you’ve created roots, once you’ve let your feet sink into the sand. Or maybe it’s already there because it’s where your parents grew up, met, and formed the life that led to you.

While binge-watching Netflix’s latest hit, Narcos, I found that not only was I improving my Spanish but I was also relating to a coke king’s link to his Colombia.  While hiding out in Panama, even though he’s got so much money he could bathe in liquid gold, the prospect of returning home is more important than all of his wealth and possible incarceration. I am aware that that is a romanticized depiction of a drug-lord but I can appreciate the sentiment.

It may be too soon to make such a declaration but I don’t feel a connection in Barcelona. Besides the professional lessons, I am grateful that it has given me the distance needed to get some focused perspective without my thoughts being punctuated with worry or distress that comes from a typical day in Lebanon. But it’s also shown me what it’s like to live in a city that is not my own, that I have no national ties to. I look for my own culture within the one that already exists here so that I can feel a sense of belonging but, even when found, I am just a visitor here.

I’ve said this before but it seems, no matter where I go, I am always looking for you, Beirut.

El-Tanein Diet #10 and #11

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I’ve decided that bunching the ETD posts into 2-week bits is better while I’m in Barcelona. Main reason being that I don’t have a lot of activity to report other than walking all over the whole city. I do plan on changing that up but I don’t want to get too repetitive and only be discussing what I’m eating. Although they come hand in hand when focusing on fitness, this is supposed to be a series about movement rather than a tribute to food.

Workout Tally

Walking my ass off for 14 days

Still can’t get myself to give up my morning walks to the office and I don’t think the rain will stop me either. It’s a 15-20 minute warm-up before I sit behind a screen for 9 hours. I’m really happy that I have this to wake me up prior and then after the day is over as well. Sedentary life at a desk can be so damaging so it’s become the highlight of my weekdays. I try to change up the route every once in a while so I can discover a new neighborhood, find another farmacia, or fit in some extra steps.

With that said, I’m still hoping to get some weekend jogs in. Since weekends are the days I get to really be Bambi the Explorer, I can’t help but deplete my energy wandering the streets looking for hidden gems. I’m trying to use the resistance tube regularly but that’s been as effective as my Duolingo Spanish lessons – meaning I’m doing it twice a week max. Catalan bread is still stalking me and now I’m crushing on its friend: bizcocho de limon (lemon cake) from Dia supermarket.

Outdoor Activity

See above or below.

Fitbit Flex

Taken from the Apple Health app because I forgot to charge my Fitbit again

Best Day. Taken from the Apple Health app because I forgot to charge my Fitbit again.

I’m doing an average of 10.5km/day when not in the office so week 10 was ~78K and week 11 was ~75K steps. Even though this is higher than my Beirut weekly stats, the totals have gone down since weeks 8 & 9 so I should get back to my old weekend numbers.

Best Meals of the Weeks

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Week 10: Bresaola with cava from El Jardi in Raval. It’s a charming tapas bar located in the gardens of old Hospital Santa Creu, around the corner from the famous La Boqueria. It was one of my first solo lunches and I didn’t mind one bit.

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Week 11: Media Pinta BrewBurger with a 1/2 pint of 5am Red Ale beer at Brewdog on Carrer de Casanova. After nachos, a burger, and brownies, my new colleagues and I played two rounds of Jenga. We defied the laws of physics and digestion.

Other Highlights

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Found Peanut Butter: I found the much smaller equivalent to Wesley’s in Barcelona: Taste of America. Got myself a jar of Jif. I prefer Skippy but it’ll do. The cashier began to explain, in Spanish, that I was buying the extra chunky variation. I blurted out a “…sorry?” even though I figured out what he was saying and he laughed,“You’re American! Never mind!” It seems I blend right in here.

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Trip up to Mount Tibidabo: We didn’t get to ride the old Tramvia Blau (blue tram) since it was a Friday. It’s only operational on weekends. That’s what I get for going to Tibidabo on my day off. BUT Tibidabo has a spectacular view of the city and you get to ride a funicular after having some gin & tonic at Mirablau bar halfway up the mountain. There’s a church and some rides at the top but the view is enough for the trip. Avoid the churros – not worth it.

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Attended my first Barca game at Camp Nou:
I’m more of a World-Cup-only football fan but it seemed wrong to not attend a game while staying in the home of FC Barcelona. With great seats thanks to friends at Fly-Foot, we got to see Barca’s win against Las Palmas with Messi’s injury in the first 10 minutes, Suarez’s two goals, and Neymar’s bad haircut. The energy in a stadium is so much better than watching behind a screen.

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Faborit for Light Lunches: So far, this is my favorite lunch spot away from the office. They’ve got a healthy salad bar, fresh juices, pastries, loyalty cards, and a green-walled terrace. I got the swing chair last time I was there! I am a child. The interior is just as warm and inviting. Did I mention it’s at the ground level of Cadafalch’s Casa Amatller? #designerd

Went Flexitarian Two Sundays in a Row: Read more about this here.

Workout Track(s) of the Weeks

Fun, hip track to trot to. Not hardcore workout material but it’s a cheerful, summery tune. And the video was shot in Barcelona.

Cheese(s) of the Weeks

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I’m in love with burrata anything. I’ve had burrata back home but I don’t know what it is about this español cheesperience. Maybe it’s the arugula or the sun-dried/seared tomatoes but I can’t get enough.

CaixaForum: From Cotton to Culture

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Like all major touristic cities, Barcelona’s got plenty of main attractions. The musts being Sagrada Familia, Guell, and a handful of cathedrals. I’m trying to get through the list while still attempting to discover the less commonly visited beauties.

Facing Mies van de Rohe’s German Pavilion in Montjuic is a medieval brick castle with two towers. This is CaixaForum, the cultural center of Barcelona. Although it houses exhibitions and an excellent bookshop, it used to be a textile factory in the early 1900s. Built in two years thanks to repetitive architectural patterns, the factory was dedicated to cotton production. The large windows, high ceilings, and separated pavilions helped with ventilation and created a large open workspace so workers didn’t feel trapped underground. Because it’s only made of brick and iron, there was also very little risk of fire. The flower bed skylights enabled fire brigades to reach any part of the factory but also doubled as a source of air and natural light. Besides light and space, it was the first factory to use electricity so there were no chimneys and, thus, no risk of respiratory diseases from coal and steam that previously powered looms.

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Casimir Casaramona, owner of the factory, commissioned Josep Puig i Cadafalch (pooji cadafalk), the same architect behind Casa Batllo’s overlooked neighbor, Casa-Museu Amatller. Batllo is by Gaudi who is to Catalan modernism what Beyonce was to Destiny’s Child. Imagine being in that kind of shadow posthumously.

Casa Amatller & Casa Batllo

Casa Amatller & Casa Batllo

Anyway, Cadafalch incorporated multiple elements of Catalan craftsmanship: glass-making, brick-laying, metalwork. The overall goal was to strengthen Catalan institutions and identity while adding a medieval twist and Gaudi’s trencadis technique (using broken glass). And one of Cadafalch’s signatures is the use of dragons, an emblem of the Kingdom of Aragon. You can find one over the door at the base of the Casaramona tower. Take that, Dany.

The factory closed in 1919 and was a police station for about half a century after that. As of today, it is an amalgam of Art Nouveau and industrial architecture because of the expansion on the existing structure. La Caixa Foundation, the charitable leg of La Caixa bank, stepped in to refurbish and create CaixaForum in 1997. Due to UNESCO Heritage Site rules, they were forced to expand the only way possible: by going underneath the building.

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Arata Isozaki, a Japanese architect, designed the white limestone entrance and the tree glass sculpture over the escalators that take you to the front door. The limestone allows for light to be reflected into the underbelly of the space. There’s also an abstract “garden” which is an empty rectangular room with water running under it so there’s a trickling water sound effect in a white box. It’s supposed to give the illusion that you’re in a garden. I’m not a fan of this kind of rationale when it comes to art – it makes me think Isozaki smoked all the grass that should’ve been in that garden.

Repurposing old buildings of architectural significance seems to be a theme in this city. They’ve managed to give a meaningful second life to many structures that are survivors of their historic past. There are some case where the same is happening back home but let’s hope for more past in the future.

BONUS FUN FACT: CaixaForum is located at the base of Montjuic between the trade fair precinct and the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. Both of which were designed by Cadafalch too. BOOM. Mic drop.

El-Tanein Diet Week #8 and #9

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Botero’s Gato, Rambla del Raval

It’s too late to apologize for having to bunch the past two weeks into one post but getting settled, working full-time, and having some visitors has been keeping me quite busy. I’m still finding my rhythm here and I’ve got a few posts lined up about what I’ve been doing in Barcelona – I just have to sit and write them out in a comprehensive manner. It’s all on its way, promise!

Workout Tally

Walking my ass off for 14 days

I’ve been on my feet a lot. I walk pretty much everywhere and my Fitbit now loves me. I’m afraid of the size of my calves but I guess it’s good that this is happening since I refuse to forfeit my morning stroll for rushed gym classes. Hopefully, I will still appreciate them when the winter season takes over.

As for fitness plans and resistance training: I want to do weekend jogs in the park by the National Museum in Montjuic. I decided against getting a set of free weights and got a resistance tube from Decathlon since I need something temporary that’ll do the job. Along with some daily pushups and some Nike Training Club downloadable workouts, I should be able to stay on the track to getting toned if I avoid all the Catalan bread that keeps following me everywhere.

Outdoor Activity

See above or below.

Fitbit Flex

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I haven’t seen numbers like this on a consistent streak since I got the device. Walking to and from the office is making a big difference when it comes to my movement during working hours and my exploration of the city during the weekend makes up for the rest. I’m doing an average of 15km/day when not in the office so week 8 was ~85K and week 9 was ~103K steps!

Best Meal of the Week(s)

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Tapas and sangria at Numero Nueve in Born. This place can win the title for both weeks since I’ve been back twice since my first visit. I don’t even like red wine sangria. Yes, it’s that good.

Other Highlights

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New Instagram Series: For some reason, I kept on noticing the various storefronts of the pharmacies in and around town on my treks. I’ve turned it into a series on my Instagram account. Follow me or the series via #Farrahfindsfarmacias

Look Ma, tourists!

Look Ma, tourists!

Being a BCN tour guide after 2 weeks: I’ve had a few visitors and it’s been challenging to show them around while still being a tourist myself. However, it’s a blessing to have good company when you’re in a new place learning about Gaudi and tasting tapas. Going to museums, Pedrera, Güell, and Sagrada. It’s been an intense couple of weekends.

Workout Track of the Week

The track I’ve been walking all over Barcelona with. How Spanish, I know. Also, the Straight Outta Compton OST but I can’t seem to find a link for that anywhere.

Cheese of the Week

I’m going to go with sentimental cheese for my first two weeks away from home. I was warned about feeling homesick and lonely. Thankfully, I haven’t had much of a chance to dwell on the solo part of my solo expedition since my visitors list keeps growing. Who would’ve thought you’d get to have a little bit of home along for the ride. Now, where in Barcelona can I find some peanut butter?

Adulting at 27 in Barcelona

Living solo, in a foreign country, with a foreign language. I haven’t been doing this very long but I’ve also never done this before so the adulting process is in full swing.

Here are a few tips for other late bloomers:

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Get to know the neighborhood
After wandering around in circles enough times around your place, take a mental note of places you’ll need on a regular basis. Draw up a quick map of nearby pharmacies, supermarkets, and bakeries that are within 2-3 blocks of you. Keep the map on your fridge and take a photo so you have it as a reference. 

Never start doing laundry at 11:30 pm
Because then you’ll have to wait for the load to finish so you can hang the wet clothes to dry or transfer them to the dryer. Lesson learned. #rinsehold

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Don’t overbuy or overbaguette
It’s weird when you’re only buying groceries for one. Keep that in mind when purchasing perishables like fresh baguettes that taste stale after a day. Store brand items are fine for all the basics of the kitchen. Do not go cheap on the olive oil though. As someone from the Mediterranean, let me just say that this would be sacrilege. Extra virgin, light in color, and use it for everything. None of that aceite de girasol stuff. And feed the stale baguettes to the birdies in the park, they don’t care.

Invest in coconut oil and an aloe vera plant
Coconut oil is a natural SPF and moisturizer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-fungal agent. It’s like Windex for skin. It’s a good staple to have at hand when you need it. It’s also used in cooking and is a tasty alternative for butter when making popcorn. The aloe vera plant is a source of pure gel which alleviates burns and blisters.

For BCN, Veritas is an organic supermarket chain that carries lots of specialty products. It’s got gluten free, organic, and all other dietary sensitivity stuffs. I got coconut oil and aloe vera gel from there for 10 Euros.

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Try not to get hit by a bus or a biker
And by “biker,” I mean people on bicycles. Like most of Europe, this city is very bike-friendly and the public transport system is actually reliable. Although Beirut is home to crazy drivers, it’s not the place for pedestrians. Here, I’ve been walking everywhere using the metro only once this week. The thing I did not account for is that the bike lanes cut through the streets and sidewalks. When walking, be aware of the riders that are zooming by. And when waiting for the green man to light at the crosswalk, stay about a foot away from the curb because those busses get tooclose.

And, when in doubt, just google everything. The struggle is real.

El-Tanein Diet Week #7

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This is going to be a short one because I’ve got to get to bed. I’m joining the workforce again tomorrow and I need to get my sleeping patterns back on track. Also, I hardly moved during week 7 so there isn’t much to report.

I can feel the momentum slipping away from meeeeeee. Week 8’s mission is to create a fitness plan for Barcelona. I don’t want to spend my evenings working out so I’ll have to see if mornings are something I will finally stick to…or come up with a better solution. I can always resort to DVD programs if gyms aren’t in the cards? Ew.

Workout Tally

Walking around Barcelona for 6 hours

I’m not kidding. That was it. I spent the 6 days prior seeing people, hanging out, and – as lame as it sounds – saying goodbye to Beirut. It also felt like it took me 4 years to pack. Even with that, it took a while for my brain to catch up with what was happening while I walked around Plaça Catalunya. I still can’t believe I’m here.

Outdoor Activity

I’d say my stroll to and through Parc de la Cuitadella would have to be the outdoor activity (and only activity) for this week. Yes, one day in Barcelona has taken over every category.

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Fitbit Flex

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That one afternoon in Barcelona came to a total of 17K steps. I see that this pedestrian-friendly city will be keeping my totals high. Even with the internship about to start, I think my numbers will be higher than in Beirut since I won’t be relying on a car to get around. I at least hope that is the case because I have yet to find out if I can afford the gym nearby.

Best Meal of the Week

A friend of mine had been raving about the double cheeseburger at Urbanista for about 6 months now. We finally decided to make a plan out of it since we’re both trying to make healthier meal choices.

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Much like the Souks’ The Met, Urbanista is not a restaurant you’d go to when you’re craving a meaty burger but they both have pretty good ones. Urba’s double is a mean burger but I recommend you share it with someone. It’s heavy and very filling; it’s a cheese overdose. You’ll want to finish it but it’s probably best if you don’t. Don’t ruin a good thing. Also, have it when you’re ravenous. If you’re in a “meh, I could eat” mood, you’ll be wasting the meal.

Other Highlights

Lost 4kgs: I know I said I wouldn’t focus on what the scale says but I couldn’t help checking while weighing my suitcase before the flight. Considering I was a sloth up until Sunday, I found this to be very perplexing. My doctor friends say it’s because my basal metabolism has changed after the sustained activity. Keyword here is sustained. The challenge now is figuring out how to do that in a new city.

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Another lunch at Jammal: I had to say adios to Batroun. We grew so close this summer. Ixsir rosé, octopus, and shrimp rolls with a gorgeous view and company. It was the right way to remember my country.

Workout Track of the Week

 

I don’t know what it means but it’s provocative and it gets the people going.

Cheese of the Week

Lufthansa Business Class: I don’t know if I got upgraded or my original ticket was Business Class to begin with (highly doubtful because cha-ching) but there I was. And then I fell asleep during the meal distribution. You win some, you lose some. I got the breakfast on the next flight though! A cheesy vegan nightmare.

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Not photographed: croissant and fresh bread. They were good, I swear. I’ve come to see that these El-Tanein posts are looking more about food than about fitness. I have no interest in becoming a food blogger but fitness has A LOT to do with what you put in your body. And food is more photogenic than my sweaty self at the gym.

From Beirut to Barcelona

Courtesy of Gratisography

Courtesy of Gratisography

The last time I ate McDonald’s was when I was at the Frankfurt Airport on my way to NYC. Had you told me that I was going to be back here 4 months later while on my way to Barcelona, I would’ve given you a high-five, done a victory dance, and also been in awe that I managed to steer clear of Big Macs for that long. I was going to use the “I’m traveling” excuse to be reunited with the classic but it turns out there’s no McDo in this terminal. Instead, I’m stuck with a pathetic 10-Euro Thai chicken sandwich. Boo.

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As you can see above, Barcelona’s been on the travel list for a while. I’ve heard good things about the Spanish coastal town and its art, architecture, and ham. All summer, friends who’ve been have told me that I will fall in love with the place. I’m hoping that they haven’t set my expectations too high; there’s a lot of pressure to make the most of this temporary move.

And that’s another thing – it feels strange leaving Beirut when there is a chance for change back home (too optimistic?). There is so much uncertainty in the months ahead but I can’t tell if that’s me or a symptom of the lost millennial generation of global opportunity, information overload, and goldfish attention spans. How the heck do you navigate through all the possibility? Maybe no one’s got it figured out and it’s actually about learning to be at peace with the idea that we’re all just winging it as we go.

I came across this video about the “origin of x” and its relation to Arabic and Spanish. It was comforting to see that I’d be learning more about the Arabic script in a non-Arab country that still had linguistic ties to it in some way. Maybe Spain will be the intersection of foreign and familiar. Only time will tell.

Follow my adventure via #BambigoestoBarca on Instagram.
I’ll be blogging as much as I can too.

P.S. – Maktoub 3 Loubnan has NOT been put on hold. My sister will be checking the mail periodically in my absence so please find a cool postcard for your memory. Check out the ones that have made it over so far here.