18 December 2011

Teaching Christmas Songs

When I'm in a navel-gazing sort of mode, sometimes I like to fool myself into thinking I'm really independent and especially independent-minded, but It's interesting how sometimes I can be kind of made to do things I don't particularly want to do.  The good thing is that usually it turns out well and is a character-building, growth experience (with the exception of that Laurel Caverns trip, right mom?) and in the end, this followed the trend and that Laurel Caverns trip remains the exception that proves the rule -- and parents, consider not sending your children underground in dark caves on a tour alone.  Or going to wax museums before age 16.

In one of the schools where I teach, I occasionally am asked to prepare a lesson for a group of first year secondary students (around 11-12 years old) who are taught music in English.  The first time I did this, they were studying musicals, so we built vocabulary based on "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music -- but the lesson ended with this version by Pomplamoose.  For those of my dear readers who may think they are getting old, 11 year olds now have little to no idea who Julie Andrews is.

When the teacher asked me to do some Christmas carols, I of course agreed, but on the inside, I wasn't too enthused (among other things, I wanted to be sensitive to diversity of holiday traditions and religious backgrounds, even though it would seem that things are not so wildly PC here and the group is quite homogenous -- also, who wants to listen to Christmas music when so far away from home like this?  Not really me).

After unsuccessfully googling existing ESL/EFL solutions, and coming to the realization that large parts of Asia may have strange ideas about American cultural practices, I started poking around YouTube (maybe or maybe not on the morning I was supposed to be teaching the lesson) and thinking about what Christmas music I liked that was also cool, and thought about the Muppets with John Denver.  But a lot of those songs are a bit too advanced for my students, so to scale back, I settled on vocabulary building with "Jingle Bell Rock" -- first, a version with lyrics and then this one:

 The discussion before was something like this:
Maria: Do you guys know "Jingle Bells"?
The Kids: Yes!!!
Maria: Good!! So, we're not going to sing that, because you already know it!
[we learn "Jingle Bell Rock", occasionally dancing in our seats a bit]
For those of my dear readers who may think they are getting old, this was one of those times when the 11 year old kids were kind of shocked to learn that such a cool song was first popular in 1954.

Then, I had told them at the beginning we were going to learn two songs, one would be easy and one would be difficult, and if I was going to sing, we were all going to sing.  As often happens, the kids blew me over with their quickness and coolness.  They did sing (I don't know, when I was their age, I wasn't into singing in music class at. all.), and what I thought might be difficult wasn't at all for them.  I split the class up into three groups, and put these words up on the projector:

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please put a penny in the old man's hat
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do
If you haven't got a ha'penny, then God bless you!

It was at this point that I was going to have to bring it, and I sang it once for the class.  They immediately picked it up, amazing considering my not very good singing skills, and then we tried it as a round, in the three groups.  Excellent, I was in front of a group of enthusiastic musical geniuses!  Just to show them that I wasn't making this up, we ended the class with this:

It ended up being a really fun class, and I might be able to be convinced more easily to sing in a classroom setting in the future.  Maybe.

Tapas in Andorra

I wanted to post this earlier in the week, but life gets in the way of life sometimes, doesn't it.

December 6 and December 8 are national holidays in Spain, and so since the 8th was a Thursday and I don't go to school Fridays, with some friends I decided to make a puente/pont out of it!  The goal was skiing in Andorra, but skiing didn't happen, unfortunately -- not for lack of wanting to, certainly, but due to other variables.

The good news is that I got to go to a lovely microstate, I learned the medical history of a Moroccan taxi driver and his bowel troubles that were cured by the geothermal waters, and then got to relax in said waters.  With my friends I also went on the world's longest alpine roller coaster and on an 8km downhill walk on a gorgeous day.  Most importantly though, we discovered Bar Turistic, which became a daily goal for the 3 days we were there.

When we arrived Wednesday 7 December around 11:30PM, after getting checked in to dour hotel and everything, we really needed to eat, because I was the only one who had brought something for the 3 hour bus ride from Barcelona (I had stuffed pizza a taglio from Pizza Gege, yes!).  However, food at midnight in Andorra is harder to come by than one would expect, since it seems people don't sleep much in this part of the world, and if they do, it's got to be Chuck Norris style or something -- haven't figured that out yet.  Anyway, after asking the locals for suggestions, we were heading to another place when we happened upon Bar Turistic.

Sometimes you find somewhere to eat that's just so good that you can't help yourself.  This ended up being that place for us on this trip.  Homemade, straightforward food that 4 people could eat + drink generously for under €10 a head.  And because it's Andorra, also breathe in secondhand smoke and watch locals play darts.

So a first night surprise, and I don't even remember how this came up, except that I think the proprietor just brought them to our table and immediately, it was a throwback to childhood -- madeleines of sorts -- lupini beans (Catalan: tramussos)!
Lupini beans, one of the tastes of my childhood

Saturday night, the 10th, was the football match to watch, the Clásico, Barça v. Madrid.  So of course, above the bar, there was a betting pool:
This chart grew over the next few days, but Santi M. and Tomas were already to be winners.
Visca Barça!

The next day was spent in the mountains of south west Andorra, and after an 8km walk downhill, not only were we feeling it in our hips, we were also feeling it in our stomachs.  While not eaten at Bar Turistic, this botifarra was magnificent: fresh sausage, white beans with some rosemary:
Botifarra at a locally-recommended place underneath the Andorran Ministry of Justice.

But that was just a snack, because there were already more things we wanted to try at Bar Turistic!  First off, the home made croquettes, a specialty of the house:
Chicken croquettes, also involving potatoes and maybe some cheese.  
Often at tapas places, or at bars where there are also tapas, there's a tabletop refrigerated case on top of the bar, and you can see some of what's available to eat.  So from this, we chose some pintxos of pork with some curry seasoning:
Pintxo is a Basque word meaning "spike" and this meat was prepared and cooked on a skewer.

Then something funny happened.  One of the food staples here in Mallorca is pa amb oli, bread with oil, but also involving tomatoes, called pan amb tomàquet in Catalunya.  First off, saying it in Mallorquìn was apparently kind of funny to the Andorran Catalan ear, and then, I made the comment, when it was suggested that we have some, that "we eat that all the time."  This was interpreted as, "give us your best shot," at which point the proprietor was like, "well, how about tongue" and of course, we could not decline.

Pork tongue!

This is now the second time in my life where tongue was presented as a challenge food.  The first time was over a decade ago in Poland, when our tour guide complained that we were being served too much sausage, and they were like, "hahaha we'll show you, here's some tongue in green aspic!"  I liked this dish, as the texture of the tongue was not completely offensive, and the sauce it was cooked in was delightful, along with some sauteed onions.  However, I would probably not order and eat a whole portion myself.

The next, and last night, we had more croquettes, because they really were quite good, and some of this cod salad -- I wasn't expecting it to be cold, or a salad -- but it was really very refreshing, perfectly acidic, and just the right amount of salty, the way good cod should be.

I'm not sure if all of this is particularly "typical" Andorran food -- most of the "Made in Andorra" food there seemed to be cow- and cheese-centered -- but this is typical tapas, and the elements that needed to be present for it to be successful were there: homemade and good company with whom to share it.

07 November 2011

Coming attraction:

Català, mallorquín, castellano: the politics of communication

Els castellers de Mallorca

[This took place on 15 October - I had problems uploading the video, so I'm finally posting now.]

Already four years ago, in Tarragona, we saw this incredible sculpture of the castellers, and at the time I never thought I'd see the castellers in real life.  As it turns out, the castells were declared as having UNESCO Intangible World Heritage protection status in 2010.

I got to the Plaça de Cort really early, which was good because I got a primo spot on some built-in benches of the Palma city hall, perfect for watching everything.  The building itself is really rather interesting, because of the aforementioned built-in benches and an exaggeratedly large cornice, making it clear in 16-18th century architectural vernacular that it is a publicly-minded building. 

The first to arrive, besides an old lady and me, was the ambulance crew.

Soon enough, people started to arrive wearing similarly-colored shirts, and then all of a sudden I started to hear shouting, chanting, then nasally-sounding instruments, and then gigants in motion!  The castellers were coming down the street, en masse!  The home team, Els Castellers de Mallorca, made a small castell, a pilar, and sent a kid up to the balcony of the city hall, the other two teams, els Al·lots de Llevant, and els Margeners de Guissona, also made pilars, and then the fun began with the castells.

In the video, you'll see the gigants leading the parade of castellers down the street.  Gigants are huge puppets used during festive occasions all over the island, and each town seems to keep theirs on view in the city hall when not in use.  The smaller demon gigant is especially used on Mallorca during the feast of Saint Anthony the Abbot on 17 January.

As they were parading up the streets, the castellers were also putting on their long black sashes, called faixa, which are like cumberbunds supporting their lower backs (important) and are also used as like stairs or footholds when people are climbing up the castell.

At the base of the castell is the pinya, the mass of people at the base.  At the center, they are holding hands in a circle, and then each person behind them supports the arms of the person in front of them, and so on and so on:
The pinya forming

I liked seeing this because I thought it was a lovely metaphor for the kind of world I want to live in, starting from the point that everyone is supporting each other, and people from the different teams join in to support the team who is actually making the tower.  Everyone's prepared to get stepped on a little, and the tower might collapse, but they're all there to stay supportive to the end -- and the metaphor can keep going on and on and on.  Maybe the video will inspire some continuations and/or variations of the metaphor.

In the meantime, there are instruments being played: a drum, and some grallas, which are double-reed instruments making the nasal-sounding accompanying music, called the toc - there are different songs for coming in, and the start of the music announces the start of the castell and seems to help create rhythm for the feat.

Playing the gralla

The each of the three teams took turns making a castell, and then finally the home team made one last attempt:

This is really worth watching, because [spoiler alert] the tower collapses towards the end of the video.  In real life, as on the video, it happened in slow motion, like it was expected but maybe it also would've been fine.  What's also awesome is the end of the end - it's all still a celebration of success and above all, teamwork!

The next Wednesday, I was in the teacher's room at one of the schools where I teach, and I realized that one of my colleagues is a casteller.  I was asking him about it, like why he did it (do you wake up one morning and decide you want to be a casteller?) and in addition to learning that the younger people in the middle sections of the tower are usually the ones who were at the top when they were smaller, meaning that everyone has years of practice doing this (they practice weekly) and there is a coordinating person. It's partly a cultural expression, and partly just a group of friends who hang out doing this every week.  When I commented on the collapse, he said, "oh, people don't usually get hurt just a few bruises maybe.  It's safer than playing football." I replied, "that's like saying it's safer to fly in a plane than it is to ride in a car." His response? "well, it is."  But how many people can say that their hobby has UNESCO World Heritage status?

02 November 2011

November is a month for writing!

Writer types of people are perhaps already familiar with November as NaNoWriMo, and of course it's Movember, but it's also the 30 Days of Independent Travel Project!  Hopefully it will help me to articulate some of the thoughts and feelings I've been having lately about travel.

The first prompt was about goals, and really, right now, I don't have any huge travel goals.  What I'd like to make some comments on is ch-ch-ch-change.

In the last year, I've become a lot less resistant to the idea of using a backpack as a way of carrying things while I travel.  This is directly attributable to the Hadrian's Wall Path trip, out of efficiency and necessity.  During my formative years in Rome, I would see people with outrageously huge packs wearing flipflops (can't be good for your feet) arguing in front of the ticket windows in Termini, and it just didn't seem like the kind of traveler I wanted to be.  So for years, I tried to project a more business-like, jet setter look with a black carry-on roller suitcase, which can be fine for intercity travel but is obviously impractical for tromping through sheep fields in Northern England.  When you stop and think about it, it's also impractical for the incredibly unevenness of urban streets, as well. 

Most of my distaste for backpacks comes from trips staying in youth hostels and sleeping in the back of a Volkswagen Eurovan with my parents in the early 1990s.  My reactionary travel style developed into a sort of middle ground, trying to seem as normal and cultured as possible while still keeping the budget low.  This usually ends up meaning means private rooms with shared bathrooms as accommodations and using a carry-on wheelie suitcase, and doesn't go much further.  Lately, I've also been thinking about how much the internet has changed the way we travel - comparison-shopping for flights and hotels, and I'm addicted to TripAdvisor reviews to give myself the sort of experience I want and expect to have.

A bit sunburnt, too!
Though the Hadrian's Wall Path trip caused me to go and buy a backpack, spending so much time on trains in Slovakia is what softened me to the idea.  Students traveling to and from Bratislava on weekends use big backpacks like I'd see in Roma Termini, and they clearly were also not backpackers.  Yet, as I plan and do more and more independent travel, and I think back on various journeys, really, deep down, I'm more of a backpacker than I'm often willing to admit -- and I couldn't do what I do otherwise.  I've picked up skills, habits and tolerances (making choices as an adult, not as a 4 year old, though that certainly helped!) doing this style of travel in Europe that have been making me dream of Megabusing it all over America (really? yes.) and I think I can accept the greater self-awareness and especially self-acceptance: 
Hello, my name is Maria, and I am a backpacker.

01 November 2011

Table Wine Marketing and Customer Loyalty

Last week, I walked into the school office because I had some paperwork to complete, and the two guys in the office were discussing their sandwich choices for the mid-morning snack.  I think it was only about 9am.  After my first class, I had two hours break, so I went to the cafe down the street for a much-needed coffee.

The cafe was busy, it's a nice local place and I've gone there often enough that the waiter has begun to recognize me.  Apparently they also serve the best frito mallorquin in the port, which I've yet to sample, but I can vouch for their coffee and sandwiches.  Anyway, in a busy cafe, and not just this one, I'd noticed that there are half-full bottles everywhere, and then in the afternoon they live on a sideboard in the restaurant.  Same thing at the cafe on the other side of the port where I often go with colleagues from the other school where I teach. 

When I got back to school, I asked the guys in the office about this - because all over the cafe, there were open bottles of wine, and in a few cases, liquor, on the tables.  I've never seen anything like it, and how do they figure out how to pay?  As it turns out, this is a local custom that is meant to help build customer loyalty.  See, the bottle of wine, because it's just table wine (though obviously drinkable), costs maybe 2 or 3 Euro.  If they charge a Euro a glass, they'll make the cost of the bottle back fine, and it all evens out (though that attitude on a large scale may be what's causing the economic situation we're finding ourselves in here in the Mediterranean states).  The same goes for people who like to put a bit of liquor in their coffee; people like to put their own in because it makes them feel like they're trusted customers, and it all evens out and the cafe still makes a profit.

The guys in the school office compared it to the bottomless cup of coffee in American restaurants, with the interjection, "but how could you drink that stuff anyway? One cup of that and I'd be straight to the bathroom!"  Here in Mallorca, it's just snack time, a glass of table wine, and 'marketing'.

folding bicycles, an infatuation story

Here's my sweet little vintage folding bike, which I love and already know I will have trouble parting with.  It's a now-defunct Basque brand, GAC (Garate, Anitua y Cia).  When I took it into a workshop because the front tube needed replaced, the guy pointed at all of the other bikes he had available as rentals, and commented on how this one's like new and he has to replace the rentals annually.

I might add that the photo doesn't do it justice because it doesn't show the chain guard and glorious crank case as well as it could.  Doing some internet-based reconnaissance, I realize I acquired it for a steal, considering its condition, and if I was serious at all, I probably wouldn't be using it for daily use -- but then what fun would it be?  It has front and back lights which work with a little motor that engages onto the front wheel, carries my groceries well and it's becoming recognizable around town.

It reminds me of this Eska I spotted this summer in Nová Sedlica:

Because really, for all that we speak of mid-century modern design, which can be all sexy and jet-setty and Corbusian and all kinds of adjectives I love, this is it.  These bicycles are the epitome of European mid-century modern, because they embody the post-war European working class -- we've moved on from Ladri di biciclette, now this is something everyone can have and afford, and in a sense the only thing that makes these bicycles special now is that they still exist.  What I also like is that while these bikes are on the surface opposites: fascist/communist, Basque/Zemplín, red/blue, etc they're essentially the same folding bike (though the GAC has some lovely bourgeois curves) to be sold to the same people at the same time, just in different places. 

My soft spot for this style of bicycles comes from a delightful ride along the Barceloneta back in 2007 -- back home, I've got a steel Chinese-made model from my university years, and I'm looking forward to even more delightful rides with this one.

Cap de Formentor and Talaia d'Albercutx

The day we went to Cap de Formentor, it was overcast, wanting to rain, creating the drama of the Mediterranean in the autumn and winter.  This is one of the most famous areas of the island, and it certainly didn't disappoint.

This picture was taken from ~300m above sea level.
Farther up the windy road (built by an Italian) from the Mirador de Mal Pas is the Talaia d'Albercutx, which I can see from my window.  I've seen it described elsewhere by an English person as a "pepper pot" but this short article is really worth a read for the history of watch towers on Mallorca.

On the way up to the watchtower, there's ruins of an abandoned project of some kind, with the accompanying street art.  This one declares that we're on liberated land.
Going up to the top of the watch tower requires climbing a wire rung ladder to a middle level and then up another and some scrambling through a hole in the floor to get to the top level.  It's the sort of unregulated, slightly unsafe historic European thing that would never happen in the US for fear of lawsuits, which is of course what makes it so fun and also slightly terrifying.

And at the top of the tower, proof of Roma caput mundi.
The highlight were the wild goats everywhere, of whom sadly I was unable to catch a good photograph.

Tots Sants

Today is one of my favorite holidays (see here), perhaps because of how understatedly visceral it is.  Further, cemeteries are one of the most interesting places to visit in a new place -- they say so much about the customs and traditions of the locals, which is especially meaningful here, where sometimes the locals are hard to spot.  You can tell how special a day it is when even Lidl, which is open Sundays, is closed for the holiday today.

Little Spanish ladies dressed in black, in the way that you know they're in mourning clothes because it's not quite a chic look.  Others dressed in work clothes carrying buckets and brooms into the cemetery so that they can clear off the tombstones to get them ready for the new flowers.

I didn't expect the cemetery to be so paved.  There was no space in the cemetery for anything to be planted, everything is covered in stone.  There were some beautiful statues and even more beautiful typography on the stones.

The fall flowers were beautiful, lots of mums but also lots of gladiolas.  It makes me remember the defiantly red gladiolas on Antonio Gramsci's grave last time I was in the Protestant Foreigner's Cemetery in Rome, quite possibly my favorite cemetery I've yet been to.  Here, what was missing was the candles - which truly do add more visceral layers to the experience - but we had the sun, so no complaints.

This feast makes me wonder why we don't really celebrate it this way so much in America - quite possibly the commercialism of Halloween does truly eclipse it, and it's really too bad, because this is what it's about.

17 October 2011

El pueblo unido jamás será vencido

"The people, united, will never be defeated."

[I wrote this right after the 15O protests, and am publishing it on 7 Nov 2011.  The last few weeks, with continued politics in Europe deriving from and influencing the credit crisis, and notable events in Oakland, CA, only confirm to myself what I've written and thought about this already.]

For the last few days, I've been thinking about how to discuss Saturday night in such a way so as to share what I did and why, and also to respect the possibly divergent views some of my loyal readers might have.  Then today, the NYT Architecture critic Michael Kimmelman gave me the answer:
It's something I've internalized for the last 10 or so years of my life, and the idea of "the European social compact" is something I've been thinking about intensely for the last few months (because a lot of my life is balancing between European and American social contracts) without knowing exactly how to verbalize it. 

I remember when we first moved to Rome, 11 years ago - back then people were angry about most of the same things, but it was a more anti-corporate vibe, whereas now it's a much more anti-banks, anti-financial institutions vibe, and one that seems to me to be more accurately placed.  Simply speaking, if I want a cell phone or computer or most other consumer goods without making things really difficult for myself, I've got to get them from some huge multinational corporation, so choices have to be made and usually the market supports that.  On the other hand, the sort of actions banks and other financial institutions have been making over the last 30+ (100+, 500+) years has helped us get to that point while they have stolen money from just about everyone possible - us, and the governments they bought that are supposed to also represent us.

Anyway, I remember when I saw my first march of ~20,000 communists walking down Via Barberini (strange place for a march, I know, but that's where they were that day) and I almost peed my pants, I was so scared because I thought, "Oh no! The communists! And there's so many of them!"  Meanwhile, other people around paid no attention and went about with their business - and in the last 11 years, communists have not taken over Italy or anywhere else, really - not a threat, and yet the fight continues.  Then September 11 happened and I remember standing in Piazza del Popolo around significantly fewer members of Italy's right wing parties in solidarity with the USA (a strange experience, mostly because of the creepster neo-Fascists present), and a few years after that, I demonstrated for peace in Oakland (before Schenley Plaza was built and gained notoriety during the G20) and Central Park, and then the great Rally to Restore Sanity on the Mall in DC, and Kimmelman's point is proved.  These spaces are integral to our public conversation.

Yesterday, in Palma, I had a cortado (read: espresso macchiato) while sitting on a bench the Passeig de Born.  A few hours later, it would be filled with 20,000+ people who were united for #globalchange, and then, just a few hours after that, back to normal again.  Nothing got broken, no one got harrassed - back to that old European social contract.  

The other important part of the social contract is an inherent respect for others -- the communists present did not beat up on the socialists over the differences they may have on the distribution of wealth.  Folks recognize what they have in common, and get together to help make a step in the direction of the world they want to live in, myself included.  These demonstrations are not monoliths, they're many different groups of people who get together to help each other make their voices even louder.

The atmosphere was pretty much a party, because of the Drums for Peace, which also set a rhythm for the march, there were songs and dancing and it was a warm, autumnal Saturday evening so we were all out for a nice walk!  But do not misunderstand a party-like atmosphere for this being taken lightly - except there's so much to celebrate: our humanity, being alive, being together, and our shared convictions.  Spain has gotten plenty of practice lately in this sort of thing, because of and from the 15M movement -- and in a lot of ways, this was an extension of that, because the problems have still yet to receive an adequate solution and so truth must continue to be spoken to power.  This demonstration had it all - the communists, socialists, anarcho-syndicalists, grandmothers, kids in strollers, middle-aged folks blowing whistles and some awesome Adbusters-inspired street theatre weaving through the crowds.  As public buses passed, drivers honked in solidarity, causing us all to make sure the driver could hear our thanks.  Now might also be a good time to add that there were posters for this demonstration at both of the schools where I teach, and I actually ran into a colleague there!  So, this is not a movement of a bunch of hippies - it's people who look like you and me, who work for an honest living, and who actively participate in the democratic process.

There were some great slogans and chants, again, many carried over from 15M, and responding to the huge amounts of money that is being siphoned away from taxpayers everywhere, as we're coming to find out.  For example: "No hay pan por tanto chorizo [there's not bread for so much chorizo, meaning thievery in addition to sausage]" and "Manos arriba, esta es un atraco [hands up, this is a robbery]!" And another: "Si no nos dejan soñar, no os dejaremos dormir [If you won't let us dream, we won't let you sleep]".  And another: "Protesta como un ciudidano o calla como un servo [Protest like a citizen or shut up like a servant]".

The police were pretty unobtrusive and mostly were there to serve as traffic cops, but as we were walking from Plaça Rei Joan Carle I up the Avinguda Jaume I, I realized real fast what a terrorizing tactic kettling could be.  I think my American experiences (seeing mounted police, riot police, plain clothes police - thankfully only using intimidation tactics when I've been present) made me way edgier than 99% of the people there, and I was jealous of that -- how wonderful that so many families were there with small children, so many older people walking with canes, and so obviously unworried about any potential violence -- there's our social contract again, that the police are there to protect the demonstrators, not others from the demonstrators.

"I too am indignant, like my mom and my dad."

Towards the end of the march, we, following one of the themes of the march to "toma el calle [take the streets]" we sat down on the pavement in the street for a while, then got up and ended with a rally of sorts in Plaça Espanya, where I got to see the street theatre up close:
Adbusters-inspired street theatre, with actors representing various negative aspects of capitalism (military spending, education cuts, etc) being pushed in shopping carts by zombie televisions

After getting some real, cut-with-scissors-and-weighed-by-an-Italian pizza a taglio, I was able to catch the end of the ball de bot across the street in the Parc de ses estacions.  There, the castellers were grilling meats on public grills, with public tongs chained to said grills.  A European socialist paradise, indeed!

16 October 2011

The Price of Water

I'm hard at work preparing two posts about Saturday, which will be finished as soon as my videos upload to YouTube.  In the meantime, a quick thought about price fluctuations and/or comparison shopping in real life, because I've never been anywhere where the differences were so obvious.

Here, it's recommended to use bottled water for drinking and cooking, because there is so much calcium in the tap water -- it's nothing bad, in fact it could be quite good, and I use the bottled water mostly for coffee.  One jug lasts me a week.

But since I live in tourist central, buying something as simple as 6L of water is a classic situation of supply, demand and convenience.  Between my house and work, there's a Lidl - a European discount grocery store very similar to Aldi - where I buy most of my groceries.  However, it's a bike ride away and I try to maximize what I can carry with me in my backpack and on the bike rack - water would take up too much space and weight.  In the basement of my building, there's a Spar - basically, a convenience store, and about a block down the street, a larger, independently-owned-but-catering-to British-tourists small grocery store.  Up and down my street, there are about 5 or 6 Spars.

All three of these waters are bottled from two places here in Mallorca. 
On the left, purchased at the Spar in my building, 5L of water for €1.98.
In the middle, purchased down the street, 6L of water for €0.99.
On the right, purchased farther down the street on the main road, 1.5L of water for €1.50 - same water as the one on the left.

Sometimes, the stuff at the place down the street is less, or the same price as Lidl.  I buy my coffee and a few other things in Palma because I've had to be there for something else and it was convenient and less expensive to grocery shop there than ride my bike farther to other normal-priced grocery stores nearby. 

This isn't about bottled water being fancy, nor is it about how easy it could be to rip off tourists - it's mostly about how sometimes, bulk is cheaper and there are questions of convenience involved.  The same goes for the type of cream I use in my coffee, the baguettes I buy for bread, and the ready-made gazpacho that's so refreshing and healthy; it's just been a long time since I can remember being somewhere where the differences in price were so considerably obvious. 

04 October 2011

Fira d'Alcúdia

Wow, what a way to have a first experience of this town!

The annual fair of Alcúdia was this weekend, and when I saw 'ball de bot' on the schedule for tonight + determined what it was, I was sold.  The event overall is a fair with artisans, local products and food in a bucolic, perfectly Mediterranean-textured historic town with undulating tufa walls and majolica street signs.

I can't find my thingy to get the pics off of my camera, so I'm going to have to edit this post to add pictures...

After walking around a bit, I decided I was hungry enough to grab some tapas, and I got some frito mallorquín - a classic meat and potatoes dish, with fennel greens and roasted red peppers.  As I was eating it, I was having a hard time determining the meat, because there was a lot of liver texture happening, but not every piece was liver-y (and it was really well-cooked liver - it's a fine line).  Turns out, the recipe calls for both lamb and lamb liver, so I was half right.  I washed this goodness down with a beer and continued to enjoy walking around, also waiting for the dancing to start.

Reading up on this, I realized I missed els gegants - these massive puppets that I saw around the square - apparently they make them dance too!

But really the highlight of the evening was the dancing.  Though my girl Emma never actually said it, "If I can't dance I don't want to be part of your revolution."  Tonight reminded me of seeing the sardanes in Barcelona, except with better music, and also of many nights singing and dancing in the Carpathians, because there I'm able to participate more naturally.  Any planned spontaneous expression of folk culture is so authentic and vibrant -- I cried watching this tonight, it was so amazing.  Besides the good boleros and happy people, the greatest thing was that authentic folk culture was articulated through dance, in a popular and natural format.  Like doing the sardanes or čardaš, how better to assert identity and 'advertise' traditional cultures, especially as a minority, than with dance?

The ball de bot is like a flash mob every time a dance starts -- people mill around the square clicking their castanets and then the music starts up and immediately a graceful pool of movements begins.  It's a bit like kolo dancing maybe, as you don't have to have a partner, but you can, and it's circles of all ages, kids learning by watching and joining in, and lots of people absolutely grinning from ear to ear with obvious pleasure: 

Sometimes they line up in rows, sometimes they're in circles - either way, there's plenty of opportunity to witness authentic electricity firing around among the dancers.

Right as I was leaving they busted out the bagpipes, shame I didn't catch more of them.

01 October 2011

Some Pittsburgh food pr0n

Based on the feedback I get about my blog, it would seem that food-related posts are favorites among my loyal readers.  The other day I had a really cool baked thing with greens on top, but I didn't write down what it was called and at the time I was so hungry I just wanted to snarf it all up.  But before I left Pittsburgh, I had some notably good Pittsburgh meals that I'll share, because they were that good

My aunt Carmen's brother from Tijuana once told me that you know a taco stand is good based on how many dogs there are nearby - I assume he was only partly joking.  While there are no dogs circling Reyna's Taco Shack, for Pittsburgh it's about as authentic as it probably could be; at the very least, it's ridiculously fresh, cooked in front of you.
Here was my taco from 1 September 2011, a gorgeous day in Pittsburgh for eating al fresco on Penn Avenue:
I forget what meats I got, but what's important is the mountain of fresh cilantro, fresh squeezed lemon, and homemade tortilla.

The tacos were basically an appetizer, because then I walked down to Wholey's and decided I was still hungry, especially when I saw Luke Wholey's Grill.  I love grilled fish. This is a great deal: fish, rice, veggies, topped with sriracha!:

One of the best things about being born towards the end of September is that my birthday coincides with Oktoberfest.  Where better to acquire this seasonal nectar of the gods than Penn Brewery?  Recently on Facebook I saw they were making Reuben pierogies - while I'm not a huge Reuben fan, I heart my pirohy, so that was one of the foods on my birthday lunch menu, along with BBQ Pork fries and Fish and Chips pierogies.  Scotch eggs were a possibility, but you've got to be discerning so as not to keep the ratio of dead pigs per meal vs. cholesterol number as low as possible.

Fish and chips pierogies - the cole slaw was tasteless and thus disappointing.

Fries topped with pulled BBQ pork - it was my birthday!

Reuben pierogies - corned beef and cheese inside, rye seeds in the dough, and topped with sauerkraut and Thousand Island

I love the building and my birthday was another gorgeous Pittsburgh day.

A sign I might still have a bit of jetlag:

... I was wondering why that one flip flop felt unusual.

Minorities: Can't Get Away!

My head is still a little screwy and so sometimes when I intend to respond in Spanish, I end up answering in my bad Slovak/Rusyn mix with some Italian thrown in.  The local idiom is Mallorquín, a dialect of Catalan -- one notable difference is in gendered pronouns, but there are other differences as well.  Being here is similar to being in Prešov - you can walk into a café and hear people speaking among themselves in their own language, and then they unquestioningly accommodate when you (have to) speak to them in the National language.

Of course, because this is Europe, language is mega-tied-up with identity.  And, I live in a town that caters mostly to Brits.   One of the benefits of this is that it's possible to get a cider on tap, and so this week when I walked into a local establishment for a Strongbow, I got to meet Al the Welsh Barkeep -- whose grandkids in Wales don't even speak English yet and there is happiness that Wales is more autonomous than it once was.

It's really super cool to be somewhere where everyone already understands and enjoys and benefits on a system-wide level from being a minority.  This doesn't mean that all Spaniards are all completely happy with this, though.  My landlady is from the mainland and speaks Català as a second language and is definitely of the opinion that while it is very important to know and speak Català here, it's also really important to speak Castellano well, too.  Fine with me -- more and, not either or.

Hopefully this is a topic that I can keep coming back to as this experience continues.

One result of fracking

I spotted this at the Sideling Hill rest stop on the PA Turnpike on our way to the airport:

Most likely safe?  How about we at least regulate fracking better?  And Pennsylvanians, be sure to carry matches to the bathroom with you!
Reasons to suspect contamination include the following symptoms: headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, itchy skin and kidney failure.


How to do what I'm doing

Folks who have been reading my blog for a while may remember what I had to do in Slovakia in order to be there legally, and this whole process hearkens back to the ordeal we had to go through (though me, not so much) in order to be in Italy legally.  I’m writing this because I found some blogs helpful when I was in the Auxiliares de conversación application processes, and maybe some people are just wondering how I get to do things like move to Mallorca, so I’ll start from the beginning. 

Disclaimer: This is not any sort of legal advice, this is just me sharing my experience, so your use of this information is entirely at your own risk.  Seriously.

Part First: The Application
I found out about this whole program (Auxiliares de conversación) rather serendipitously via a vague comment on a friend’s status update on Facebook.  There was enough information there for me to google it and find out exactly what the program was, and find the application and everything.  The application is really pretty extensive, but also standard job application stuff – most of it is online, and it’s multi-part and in Spanish.  Then you have to print that out and include other documentation, like your FBI record, university transcripts, doctor’s note and statement of purpose.  Getting all of that together was a bit discouraging and almost caused me to not apply, to be honest.  The good news is that some of it comes in handy later, sort of, so once things are gathered once, you’ve got them.  All of this gets mailed to a regional office depending on where you live.  Then you wait, being nervous about your application number according to when you submitted, etc.

Here's a message board that can be helpful, but you sort of have to sift through the info to get quality in the midst of hysteria. When everyone’s waiting and offers start being made, they start to fire up. 

Part Second: The Offer
On the Profex application site, you get a status called ajudicada, and this is how you accept the position.  Then you get a letter from your region, which is a critically important document for your visa and NIE card, so keep the original!  That letter also tells you where you’ll be teaching.

To follow up on the message boards, someone in my region also set up a Facebook group, which has been maybe more helpful because it’s more specific, and uses people’s names instead of just usernames on the boards.  I’ve been able to friend some people who will be in the same area as I will be.

Part Third: The Visa Application
I was in Europe for most of the summer, and in the long run, it would’ve probably been cheaper and nicer and easier to stay there until it was time to go to Mallorca.  But you have to apply for the visa from wherever you’re a resident/citizen, and then to a regional office based on where you live.  Interesting note here: I sent my application to Washington, DC, but had to go to the consulate in New York City for my visa appointment.  You should pretty much apply for a visa appointment the second you get your placement letter in the mail.  I frantically e-mailed the Ministry of Education representative at the consulate and he was a big help – pretty much this is someone you want to be in contact with, if for nothing other than reassurance.

The visa application is also where the costs start to add up, on top of the $140 visa fee (remember, often these fees are reciprocally priced).  The New York consulate accepted a State Police record (easier and quicker to get than the FBI record check – which also costs a nominal fee), and because of the appointment I had at the consulate I had to pay for overnight mailing both ways and a courier service, which is a bit expensive, because you must get the Hague Apostille and that is a big PITA. Then there are the little bits, like the passport-sized photos (which I always do myself with my own digital camera, Photoshop, and Target, also good to DIY so you can make the European passport-sized photos in the USA) and extra copies of various documents, doctor’s visit for more recent certification of health, the pre-paid UPS envelope, and in my case, bus tickets to New York City.  Mostly because I had to rush the Apostille thing for my background check, this whole part of the process, including travel, cost around $400 – not something I want to flaunt but to let people know for practical reasons, because I didn’t really know or think about this aspect of it as I was going through the process myself.

Then again, a wait, to get your passport with shiny visa back.  The nice woman at the consulate was able to tell me when my visa would be issued, which meant that I knew from when I could buy my plane ticket.  One way to Palma via Barcelona!

Part Fourth: The Arrival
I got to Palma alright, and since I had a large suitcase and backpack and have never been here before, I took a taxi across the island (about 40 minutes or so by car) from the airport to Port d'Alcudia.  I had made arrangements at the Hostal Vista Alegre for 4 nights.  I found it in the Lonely Planet Spain: Balearic Islands e-book, which said that the hostel was "pokey" but "tidy".  My room faced the marina, which was excellent, but the shared bathroom was clean but one of the most annoying I've ever had to use.  They also offered me a room with a private bath, but without the view -- I'd rather be inconvenienced with the bathroom but have the view, I guess.  I'd stay there again, just in one of the doubles they have that apparently have a view and private bath.  You just can't beat the price in this area.

Here's what my view was like there:

Jet lag really got me, and I had arrived exhausted anyway, so I slept the first day.  It was really difficult to find unlocked wireless networks anywhere, and I needed to get a SIM card for my phone, so I went to Palma to pick up one -- quite unnecessary but I wanted to see how the buses worked.  I went to Palma again Friday, thinking I'd be able to go for my appointment for my documentation, but I got a bit disoriented and wasn't able to find out where to go until it was already a bit late.  So I walked around Palma, found where I'll probably buy a used bicycle, and did some housewares shopping for a few things I needed for the apartment.

Part Fifth: House Hunters International
One of my colleagues had sent me a few phone numbers, and I had found one local agent online beforehand.  Getting an apartment was a huge priority, because not only did I want to get settled, but the hostel bathroom was starting to get to me.  Hot water here seems to be either cold or scalding and so unless there's a trick or it depends on the time of day, taking a shower isn't quite as pleasant as I'd prefer it to be.

After making 4 phone calls from the list my colleague sent, and talking to the agent, I made appointments to see 3 apartments -- just like House Hunters International!  

The first was with the agent, for a studio in a resort condo complex. 
It had a newly-renovated kitchenette (but rather shoddily done) and new paint job (also sloppy looking).  The building was all-condo and had a doorman only during the day.  It faced south and had a view of S'Estany Gran, a large estuary, and the sea.

The second was with a private owner, for a studio in a different building in the same complex.
It had all new appliances, more sleeping space, and a building-wide wifi system already in place.  The owner had lived in this apartment for many years and it had many details that made it feel more homey and designed, somehow.  The building was part hotel, part condo and had a 24 hour doorman. It faced north and had a view of the Cap del Pinar and Cap de Formentor.

Both studios had a balcony, TV/DVD, washing machine and microwave, the same layout, and differently themed yet equally tacky main lobbies.  The first one was €25 less per month than the second, but also included a half month's rent for the agent's fee, and I'd have to have the internet installed myself, it seemed.

The third one I ended up not even looking at because while the location was in some ways much, much better than the first two, it was too big (= expensive) for one person.

Can you guess which one I picked?

... ... ...

I went with the slightly more expensive but much nicer second studio!

Here's a floorplan of it I made:

Because I just had one suitcase, moving in was kind of quick.  There are a lot of large-ish convenience stores nearby catering to the self-catering tourist crowd, but I haven't gotten to do a real grocery shopping yet because I don't have a bicycle yet.

Coming soon:
Part Sixth: Getting Legal

27 June 2011


I'm way behind and posting out of order, but I feel so bad about being a bit behind, so here are a bunch of pictures.  I didn't particularly enjoy Brussels and Leuven was small, but I'd really like to go back to Antwerp sometime.  It excited me to be in a country that hasn't had a standing government for so long -- there were still police and everything functioned, including the trains, so this is maybe a lesson for us to learn??

Because it's Belgium, some mention of Tin Tin is required.

 Before everyone gets their bees in a bonnet, this are not my tasting glasses from the Delirium Brewery, I swear they belonged to the guy next to me.  However, please note the unnaturally-colored green beer (pear flavored, apparently very sweet and sour) on the right - I enjoyed my Delirium straight from the source, but it was horribly touristy in there and I couldn't wait to get out.
Tasting beers at Delirium Pub in Brussels.
 Antwerp was really lovely.  Unfortunately I didn't get to the riverside, but I had an incredible visit to the house of Peter Paul Reubens -- his luxurious, Baroque home and studio.  Some of it is original (leather walls) and other parts are furniture and stuff from the time.
The interior courtyard of the Rubenshuis.

A really wild reliquary in the Jesuit church in Antwerp.
I did get to have some Stella in Antwerp, and the surroundings of these main squares are like lace or something, very delicate beautiful buildings that are at the same time obviously solid. 

Lamb guľáš at Salaš Krajinka

Last week, outside of Ružomberok, I ate in a delightful guľáš a member of a previous generation or two of these cute sheepies:

As the sun was setting over Liptov, the spirits come out of the trees:

23 June 2011

While my being here is of course very pleasant, this is not a vacation.

22 June 2011

A Review of the Last 12 Days of My Life

At the moment I'm exhausted and beyond crabby, but I've been feeling horrible about not blogging more, but after this it will become apparent why:

11 June: Rode train from Prague to Prešov, serendipitously meeting a couple who are studying at the summer language institute Studium Carpatho-Ruthenorum.  Transferred to penzion and translated.

12 June: Finished a translation job and went to the SNM-Museum of Rusyn Culture to work on the exhibit text and clean up the Slovak version so it could be translated into Rusyn.  Went to the opening of the Studium Carpatho-Ruthenorum for a few minutes and arrived to the apartment I'm living in.

13 June: More work on the text and headaches about the design of the panels and translation of the text into Rusyn.

14 June: More of the same.  Studium came to the museum, so I met people there, and finally met with the printer.

15 June: Got proofs from the printer and sent everything there.  Rode to Bratislava via Stará Ľubovňa and a great koliba outside of Ružomberok.  Arrived to Bratislava and wound down from the long drive.

16 June: Went to the signing of the cooperation agreement between the SNM-Museum of Rusyn Culture and the Carpatho-Rusyn Society, and thence to lunch overlooking the Danube.  Rode from Bratislava to the village of Piliszentkereszt/Mlynky, 32km outside of Budapest - learning Hungarian phrases and lots of laughing on the way.  Socialized with Rusyn colleagues in a very Rusyn way upon arrival.

17 June: Opening session of the World Council of Rusyns in the morning, World Forum of Rusyn Youth in the afternoon. Highlight of the day was the cultural program in the evening, videos coming soon.  More Rusyn-style socialization after until about 3am.

18 June: Up at 7:30 for the last day of the World Congress of Rusyns, which was colorful to say the least.  Taxi from Piliszentkereszt/Mlynky to Budapest, then taxi from Budapest to Prešov - enjoying picking apart everything we all experienced the last few days.  Arrived to Prešov around 11PM and wound down.

19 June: Got groceries early so that there was some breakfast. Prepared audio for Rusyn radio program. Walked around town with a friend and had lunch, then hung out doing my Sunday NYTimes reading ritual and organized calling in to the Rusyn radio program.  Postmortem afterwards.

20 June: Kept hitting the snooze button, causing a bit of a rush to get everyone organized and then to the museum to drop something off and see the kids visiting from the Rusyn schools in Radvan nad Laborcom and Čabiny - hopeful for the future.  Went to the discussion period of a lecture, then to lunch and back to the center to meet with some friends, then to the museum to await the arrival of the printer, my latest hero.  Then a quick run to the train station to meet a friend, and immediately back to the museum.  Then a walk over to the new university dorms and to meet some more friends.  Finally, dinner and more meetings with new and old friends.  The running around ran me ragged, but it was fun.

21 June: Morning meetings in the center, home to nap, then to the museum for the opening, which was a resounding success.  Came home and agitated amongst young Rusyns from villages.

22 June: slept in, finally.  Lunch with two young Rusyn activists.  Tonight, Rusyn theatre.

03 June 2011

Hadrian's Wall Path: Day 6, continued

It's been really hard to figure out distances along the way.  It was between 17 and 20 miles on bikes from Heddon-on-the-Wall to Tynemouth.  In full sun, unusual for England, of course, and 25°C/77°F hot -- had it been like that the whole time I don't think the trip would've been as pleasant as it was.  Mom's knees were bothering her, and to be honest I started to get really frustrated because I knew we weren't covering enough distance in enough time, so after grabbing a sandwich, she took a cab to Tynemouth.  Apparently it's a common occurrence -- and I just took the front wheel off the bike and we stuck it all in the cab.

This is pretty much the only photo I took on the east side of Newcastle while on the cycleway

We had agreed to meet at Segedunum, but once I got there, I called the B&B in Tynemouth to tell them to ask her not to come, because by that point I realized how far I still had to go, but the room was locked and she wasn't answering the door but they didn't think she'd left.  Turns out, she did get to Segedunum, Wallsend and I wasn't hearing my phone, because after refilling my water bottle and snarfing down some ice cream, I continued on to Tynemouth, which was another 5+ miles away.  Finally we straightened everything out and she got back to Tynemouth and we had some divine fish and chips.

As I was biking along near the former shipyards along the River Tyne, almost every signpost said Tynemouth, 5 miles.  So some of them were wrong, and it was getting nutty.  Once I got up the last hill in Tynemouth, I should've been overwhelmed with English Heritage and the Tynemouth Priory, but I just wanted to take a shower.  By that point, I was questioning the English ability to accurately measure distances, and I couldn't get the shower on -- turns out, I had to flip a switch outside the bathroom in order to get the water heater to even release the water in the shower.  Who knew.  If I didn't know better, I'd think they were slightly backward with all of the switches everywhere here.

So mom and I were happily reunited, had fish and chips, and walked around Tynemouth.

This was seriously great fish and chips

Hadrian's Wall Path: Day 5

While we were staying at Greencarts Farm, we shared the bunkhouse with a mother and her two daughters from Cornwall (originally from Birmingham) who were walking the Hadrian's Wall Path for charity, the Birmingham Children's Hospital, specifically. Because they had trouble finding accommodation along the way, they had to squeeze it in to 5 days, and they were doing it for charity so they felt really motivated to finish it.  These were seriously three of the sweetest people I've met in a long time, and while I would've probably been horribly whiny after doing 20 mile days, and getting in at 9PM or after dark, and eating toast for dinner, these girls were smiling and sweet and good and lovely.  I passed them on Quayside in Newcastle on Day 6, and had snacks in my pannier for them, and then mom saw them again at Segedunum.  Seriously excellent people.

Leaving Greencarts Farm
We left Greencarts farm, and walked down the hill to Chesters Fort - Cilurnum - apparently the best preserved calvary fort in Britain.  There's lots of superlatives involved in the Hadrian's Wall Path - the longest, largest UNESCO World Heritage site, best preserved this and that, etc...  While we originally went just to stamp our passports, it was well worth it for the baths preserved there.  Absolutely amazing that you can walk through the baths more or less as the Roman soldiers did, and see the heating structures and sophisticated drainage systems under the floors.  Then, they rebuilt it at Segedunum, so it's easy to overlay the excavation in your head with the actual building you can walk through at Wallsend.
Latrines in the baths with flowing water system from the nearby River North Tyne

While we were visiting Chesters Fort, parts of the excavations were actually closed off because there were nesting oystercatchers in the ruins, and they're a protected species:
Oystercatcher in the ruins at Chesters Fort

From there, we took the AD122 bus to Hexham, poked around there a bit, and then took the train to Wylam, where we would walk to our B&B, Houghton North Farm in Heddon-on-the-Wall.  Near Wylam, we passed George Stephenson's Cottage on the footpath, which is critically important and notable to English history and Industrial Revolution history because George Stephenson invented the steam engine.  The path from Wylam to Heddon, and the shortcut we took, was a bit disorienting.

That night, we ordered in delivery carryout, and had so many french fries left over I traded them with some Aussies for a beer - and it was really cool to talk to them.  They'd been camping along the way as we'd been B&Bing.

02 June 2011

Hadrian's Wall Path: Day 6

Today totally kicked my ass. More later.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

31 May 2011

Hadrian's Wall Path: Day 4

Vindolanda is a short walk from the Once Brewed Youth Hostel, so right after breakfast we walked there.  WOW.  First off, they have 150-200 years of excavating left to do, and for example they've already found over 5000 pieces of ancient Roman footwear.  There is over 24 feet of layers (the area was occupied for well over 200 years) and 9 historical periods to excavate.

Slipper/Sandal that belonged to Sulpicia Lepidina, who also wrote the birthday invitation also found at Vindolanda -- this is the oldest piece of female handwriting found in Europe

One thing they recently found was the body of a murdered girl buried in a shallow grave in the barracks, with her hands bound.  The archeologist said it was really tough to work on.

The top thing about it is that they do a fantastic job of contextualizing everything and telling as much as possible about everyday ancient Roman life.  For this area of northern England, they didn't enjoy the same standard of living as the ancient Roman period until the 18th-19th century, and some people didn't have running water until after the second World War.  So to see the complexity and efficiency of the ancient Roman settlements is really impressive.

While some products were made locally, like beer, they have found evidence at Vindolanda of olive oil from the region around Seville, Spain and northern Africa, glass from around Cologne, Germany, and amber from the Baltic region, and many products from Gaul.  Many objects are exceptionally well-preserved because the wet conditions and soil conditions made the conditions anaerobic, which of course slows decay.  They've also found paper fragments there, giving an incredible insight into everyday communication among the inhabitants, including an invitation from the CO's wife to the CO's wife at the next fort, inviting her to her birthday party.

The excavations are taking place in full view of the visitors, and they invite volunteers to help, so I was able to speak to a lady who has been coming up every summer for the last five years, and she had recently found a dagger and part of a bow.

The nice volunteer archaeologist lady pointed out to me the round wall that is the foundation of a round building built by North African (Severan) soldiers stationed there

After Vindolanda, we took the AD122 bus to Housesteads Fort, to stamp our passport and walk the only section of the Wall where you are actually walking on the wall itself.  Because you're nearly hanging over a cliff, it's the only place where I got a bit nervous and unsteady.  I might add here that the AD122 bus was great because we had reservations and therefore places we had to arrive at every evening, and Vindolanda merits a whole morning (or afternoon), so you kind of need to use it to make up distance in places.  The distances we needed to cover were doable if all we were doing was walking, but we also wanted to see things along the way.

From Housesteads, we took the bus just a few more miles to the Mithraeum at Brocolitia, which is right on the Hadrian's Wall Path.  Mithraeum are often hard to find, because they were buried into the hills as it was, and then now they're even less visible.  But this is the best-preserved Mithraeum in Britain, and it was really cool.

Mithraeum at Brocolitia

From Brocolitia, we walked to Greencarts Farm, along the way passing Limestone Corner, which would've been the northernmost-point of occupied Roman Britain, and therefore of the Roman empire, which was totally amazing to consider -- I still can't really believe it.