Vatican Floors, Coffee Beans, and Penis Pasta

First published on the SVA blog on June 10th, 2016 under the title “Finding the Meanings of Rome”

It may come as a surprise to most but there is a part of visiting the Vatican that no one ever told me to pay attention to. While the crowds of multinationals were staring up at the works of Raphael and Michaelangelo, I was staring at my feet admiring the intricate tile work that runs throughout the museum halls. Strangely, after walking through room upon room, your mind stops processing the paintings. That, and I’m not very patient with slow-paced tourists who stop dead in their tracks at random. Perhaps this is why I had my head down with my eyes on the ground as I weaved to make my way to the Sistine Chapel. It seems, even when I got there, I was still fixated on the tiles rather than the gods above me. The ones in the Chapel particularly resemble Louise Fili’s Instagram posts of the Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin, a church I hope to see before my flight home on Sunday. Apparently, St. Valentine’s skull lies there too.

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Our time in Rome has suddenly evaporated with just hours to go before our presentation of our projects tomorrow. While working in a hip cafe of the Eternal City, it’s hard not to feel like we’ve taken up residence here; it’s the same routine I have in Beirut except I’m only here for another 48 hours. Barnum Cafe’s bartender waves goodbye as his shift ends because some of us have become regulars, sitting at the large table surrounded by pencil shavings and tracing paper. In my three consecutive days at this table, I’ve met an American food blogger, an Egyptian who inquired about my Arabic sketches, and, of course, the bartender who dedicated his early-2000 songs to us after we kept bobbing our heads to the lyrics that took us back to high school. Camping out there, the transition from espresso to Prosecco is easy as pie as the place morphs into a pub post 7:30 pm when computers are no longer allowed.

And in the midst of doing all this prep, many of us try to find souvenirs for our peeps back home – ones that aren’t tacky or typical. I’ve opted for chocolate covered coffee beans from Sant’Eustachio II Caffe, sugary fruit gummies from Moriondo e Gariglio, and some leather-bound notebooks. And yes, penis-shaped pasta for my more mature friends.

As Lita Talarico, SVA MFA co-chair, said, “in Paris, everything comes at you but, in Rome, you have to dig a little deeper” alluding to how the city is one of layers where there’s more to discover beyond the burnt orange facades, beyond centro storico. Fourteen days and I haven’t even scratched the surface. Besides the fact that I’ve been doing laundry in my hotel sink, I’m not quite ready to go just yet so that only means one thing: I need to come back.

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El-Tanein Diet Week #45 and #46

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Taken by Random Dude by this “fountain”

I bunched these two weeks so I could report on some diet progress. First 10 days or so on my new diet and I’m down 3.2kgs but forget the scale – the bigger win is that my visceral fat area has dropped 23% so that’s great motivation to stick to this…which will be a challenge because I’m now in Rome, Italy.

I’m going to do my best to stay within the lines without sacrificing the chance to have authentic Italian gelato and pizza. I’m not kidding. I brought packs of light tuna and mustard with me. No joke. #wesleys4life

Mark Jibran, my NRC coach, has told me to run 3x/week while away to keep up the momentum. Let’s hope I don’t go into travel mode and get lazy. I’ve made progress with NRC BEY – can’t go back now!

Workout Tally

– 3 NRC runs
– 45 min elliptical
– SixPax, 30 min elliptical
– 1 Upper Body Gym, 30 min elliptical
– 1 Lower Body Gym, 45 min elliptical

Outdoor Activity

Last Thursday’s NRC run was such an ass-kicking workout. Over 9km of twelve sprints in increasing then decreasing increments. It was so painful emotionally that I would’ve preferred a waxing session but it made me feel less guilty about heading to Sour for the whole weekend. It was like I worked for the time off.

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Best Meal(s) of the Week(s)

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Le Phenicien in Sour. Octopus provençale, grilled calamari, that fruity crab salad. Oh yes, this place is good and, oh yes, we ate there twice.

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The best gelato of my life from Giolitti on my first night in Rome. Black raspberry and dark chocolate. Akh. This diet thing is going to suck.

Other Highlights

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Dar Alma & Weekending in Tyre (Sour): Cute boutique hotel with my gals. Lots of sunshine, sand, and vegetating. Feels like summer is here.

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Don Nino cappuccino and sfogliatella frolla, God help me

The start to my Summer Typography & Design Workshop in Rome: I’ll be in the Eternal City for the next 2 weeks with NYC’s School of Visual Arts. The workshop is lead by some kickass teachers from there and so far, my brain is quite happy.

Workout Track(s) of the Week(s)

Cheese of the Week(s)

I love double creme. My cheese section will be very G-rated now that I can’t go wild with the cheese platters & wine. Did I mention the burrata in Rome is INSANELY DELICIOUS?

 

El-Tanein Diet Week #30 and #31

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tuna baked in bell peppers

Last two weeks have been more about adjusting my diet and cooking thanks to my #TakeOutTakeout challenge attempt. Grocery shopping and home-cooked meals has me experimenting with spices and sauces. Truffle oil tastes good on anything.

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white truffle oil spinach and ricotta tortellini

Besides that, getting to the gym has been a bit more challenging since work hours have been on the heavy side and I’ve been giving my feet some resting time between runs so my arches can heal – runner’s blisters are a real thing. Lots of Epsom salt baths and moisturizing to be done to keep the I-can’t-run excuses away.

I want to try a few classes at my new gym to mix things up a bit. Machines can be so dull sometimes.

Workout Tally

– (3) 6-7 km runs
– (2) 30 min elliptical
– (1) 10 km run

Outdoor Activity

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The NRC organized a 10km run at 7 am in Jbeil on Valentine’s Day. I’ll be writing more about that in detail in a separate post. Being that love day is my birthday, it was my personal battle to prove I was not going to sleep in and get old. Mission accomplished!

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Best Meal of the Week(s)

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Birthday dinner at Meat the Fish with my people. Duck tacos, lobster mac & cheese, and pomegranate prosecco. And then a homemade cake from my second mommy and Magnolia cupcakes from my first. Happy 28th indeed!

Other Highlights

Improved Breathing: A few months of running combined with a ridiculous app called Plant Nanny has got me moving with steady breathing. The app reminds you to drink water by making you water a plant at the same time. No more gasping or pangs in my side which makes a huge difference when covering long distances. Last week was the first run I completed without stopping. Okay, I walked twice for 10 seconds each but still – it was 7km! Thanks to Arielle for sharing her story and the info about the app.

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Bananas are Your Friend: According to Shape Magazine, bananas are a great snack pre-workout. They’re packed with good sugars, potassium, vitamin C, and stimulate the production of dopamine. Read the article for more info.

Adidas Here to Create: The sportswear company has launched a new series that features athletes’ multifaceted life as creators. The spots feature athletes of all kinds from supermodel Karlie Kloss to DJ/model/entrepreneur Hannah Bronfman. It’s a smart way to show that fitness is a seamless part of your life rather than the reason for living. It also gives examples of how your fitness regime doesn’t have to be boring AF but it’s up to you to find what works for your lifestyle/personality.

Workout Track of the Week(s)

May not be a track for running sprints but Jagger works for a warm-up or getting mentally in the mood to tackle a workout. Or a Monday.

Cheese of the Week(s)

Because I don’t want to squeal over the baby brie packs I found and, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, here’s a little figurative cheese:

 

10 Money-Saving Tips for Visiting Barcelona

1. Atrapalo

Similar to Groupon, Atrapalo is an online discount service. Along with packages and special offers, it also sells discounted transportation tickets (trains, airlines, cruises). One downside is that it’s in Spanish but you can always have Google Chrome translate the entire page – it’s enough for you to make your discount purchases and save a good 30 Euros (or more) on a train ticket to Madrid.

2. Menu del Dia

Most restaurants around the city have a lunch menu during weekdays which is a 3-4 course meal for 8-15 Euros. Sometimes, tourists are given the regular menu and thus, ripped off by paying the full price a la carte.

3. Nostrum Food Chain

Unless you’re using the Buzzfeed Food newsletter for easy recipes to cook packed lunches at your Airbnb flat (which is also very helpful), Nostrum is an affordable alternative for the office break. All dishes are easily microwavable, healthy, and light. The 10 Euro/month fan club card gives you discounted prices on the various plates too so you can walk out with a bag of sustenance for under 7 Euros.

4. Barcelona Metro Card

A T-10 (10 trips) card at 9.95 Euros for 1 zone was enough to last me 2 weeks at a time because I used my feet to get around the most. The card is multi-person and you can use it on the metro and buses. It may even count as one trip if you use both modes of transport within a certain timeframe. There’s other combinations of this card (more trips, individual user, etc) as well that you can check out here. If you’re only in the city for a few days and need unlimited metro access, one of the Hola cards might be a better option.

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5. Pinxtos on Carrer Blai

Pinxtos are bar food tapas that are priced based on the different toothpicks poking through them. In bars in Born and Passeig de Gracia, each pinxto can be anywhere between 3-6 Euros. However, Carrer Blai is street packed with bars that sell pinxtos for 1-2 Euros each so you can load your plate a few times, have a few cups of cava, and continue bar hopping in the Poblesec area.

6. Free Museum Days or Articket BCN Passport

Like most cities, Barcelona has free museum days (usually the first Sunday of the month or every Sunday afternoon, it varies depending on the museum) and the Articket museum passport option that gives you entrance to 6 main museums for 30 Euros.

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7. Fly-Foot

Fly-Foot is a MENA-centric tour agency that puts together travel packages for attending football games and, for a city that is home of FC Barcelona, they are the kind of service you want to know about. The money they save you on tickets can be used to buy a Neymar Jr jersey to wear to the game. Okay fine, you can wear Suarez too.

Call their Barcelona number [+34 (625) 46-45-32] or email them at barcelona@fly-foot.com

8. Barcelona Expats Facebook Group

This is a pretty active group of expats living in Barcelona. They help share insider tips, contacts for language courses, answer questions if you’re looking for a particular shop or product – it’s a good advice column. If you’re planning on sticking around in BCN for more than a month, join the little community.

9. Barcelona Metropolitan

Subscribe to their newsletter for a weekly email on what’s going on around the city. Besides the typical TimeOut website, they’re a decent resource for events and openings all over town.

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10. Casa Lolea Sangria as Barcelona Souvenirs

And finally, when you’re ready to pack up and head back home, stop by Casa Lolea first for dinner and a couple of bottles of sangria. It’s their specialty, the packaging is beautiful, and the bottles are a steal at 8-10 Euros a piece. Who wouldn’t love a gift like that?

Bonus: If you have to choose between Park Guell and Palau Guell, go for the Palau. Very underrated and less crowded.

Bambi Recommends: Jardins de Laribal

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Forget Park Guell and Parc de la Cuitadella. And while you’re at it, forget Fundacio Joan Miro, which is located at the tip of this green haven in Montjuic. Jardins de Laribal was designed for the 1929 World Fair and was once a part of the private estate of lawyer Josep Laribal. Barcelona’s city council bought the lands upon his death and Jean Claude Nicolas Forestier & Nicolau M. Rubió Tudurí were assigned the task of transforming the gardens into a public domain.

While Park Guell is flooded with tourists, Parc de la Cuitadella full of loud kids and fiesty parrots, and Retiro a 3-hour train ride away, Jardins de Laribal was where I could picture myself wasting a Saturday afternoon reading Cathedral of the Sea with a jamon & brie sandwich packed in my bag. Worst case, you can grab some food from La Font del Gat, a cafe named after the famous cat fountain and located in a building designed by my man, Josep Puig i Cadafalch.

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The green space spans between the Miro museum and the Jardins del Teatre Grec. Forestier linked the gardens with the Greek Theater via staircases and waterfalls, two elements that run throughout the entire area. Small fountains, sculptures, and canopies are scattered along most of the stepped paths. I personally found this to be one of my favorite spots in Barcelona because of its tranquility: you could be alone with your book under the sun while still within walking distance of the central district.

It’s Like I Never Left

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When I had friends visiting from their stints abroad during the summer or Christmas season, I couldn’t help feeling like they were in a state of growth & discovery while Lebanon, and I along with it, was frozen in an endless loop. Now that I’m the one coming back, I see that it wasn’t just an illusion.

I’ve been back for less than a week and it feels like I never left. Granted I’ve only been gone for 3 months and that’s not even long enough to digest a Thanksgiving dinner but not much has shifted. My cats are fatter (and thus, cuter) yet still unfriendly. Even my car’s side mirror is still faulty because it sat in my parking space collecting dust for 87 days. The most that’s changed is that my parents have become Beliebers because my sisters subjected them to so much One Direction in my absence. However, I’m not talking about my personal circle. Lebanon hasn’t moved a millimeter.

Perhaps that’s why those abroad love to come home: there are no surprises. You can lose a job in the middle of a divorce, pay a mortgage, get a 4th degree in Switzerland. But with all of that, when you come back home, you’ll still have unreliable utilities, corrupt politicians, and the best manoushe hot off the forn around the corner. Lebanon, in all her stunted glory, is the constant in their life of uncertainties and responsibilities. It’s comfort in the form of a country.

And what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong is that I’m not visiting. The level of comfort wears off when you’re not just passing through. I would’ve loved to come back to a solved garbage crisis, a president in office, and maybe even a feline who wants to cuddle.

Lebanon is the perfect home base in that you can go live another life elsewhere, return, and still find everything as you left it. There is no FOMO because you can always be there for the next cycle. It’s bittersweet but, isn’t that the case for all things Lebanese?

El-Tanein Diet Week #19

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Ah, my last week in Barcelona. I did my best to fit in as many leftover discoveries before I boarded my crack-of-dawn flight back to Beirut. Let’s see week #20 be filled with more fitness than food, inshallah.

Workout Tally

Walking everywhere for 7 days.

Outdoor Activity

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The entire weekend would suffice as my outdoor activity because I spent most of it hiking around the outskirts of Barcelona. Between Montjuic Cemetery, the Parc del Laberint d’Horta, and the Carmel Bunkers, I tried to take advantage of the sunny outdoors as much as possible.

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Fitbit Flex

I didn’t even wear it this week although now that I’m back in Beirut, I will have to since my activity will not be one that is iPhone friendly. Back to the gym!

Best Meal of the Week

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Lascar 74 is a “cevicheria” in Poblesec. It was my farewell dinner with the office and my first time having ceviche. I’m now a fan of Peruvian cuisine thanks to this dining experience. I recommend the guacamole (uchucuta) and the cheesecake de Lima. Not together, of course.

Other Highlights

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Xurreria Trebol: I had seen this spot’s churros behind the glass and made a mental note to go back at some point. All other churros tried in Barcelona were of the “tourist” flavor – too oily and stale. Trebol knows what they’re doing though. A little digging revealed that it’s one of the oldest xurrerias in the city and the only one that opens for 24 hours over the weekend. If you’re not a sweet-toothed person, they also make their own potato crisps. Otherwise, if you want beautiful churros served by a beautiful man, go here. Their churros are stuffed with dulce de leche, chocolate, or vanilla cream.

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Treated myself to a solo dinner at El Nacional on my last night: The plan was to just take a walk through the venue to see the setup because I’d heard good things about its interior design. But when I remembered I had tuna and brie left at the apartment, I figured I’d go all out on my last evening with some steak, cava, and lemon pie.

Workout Track of the Week

He needs to stop doing this. And by “this” I mean making this catchy music that you can’t help but sing along to. It’s too late to say sorry though because I’m hooked.

Cheese of the Week

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Cava, olives, and patacones with my book at La Xalada. What are patacones you ask? Homemade plantain chips with avocado, manchego cheese, and olive cream. That sums up what I’ll miss most about BCN.