Let’s Talk About Food: Costa Brava

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that one of my favorite parts of traveling is the FOOD. Even though eating out can prove to be tricky on a student slash backpacker budget, I always try to find a balance between preparing my own meals in hostels (like sandwiches, for instance), and trying the local cuisine. 

At the end of the day, I would rather spend my money on experiences rather than material things

To me, food is an experience. Some of my favorite experiences in my travels have involved food; eating gyros for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in Santorini, Greece; finishing a whole, traditional, thin-crust margharita pizza in Naples, Italy; delighting in fresh ceviche on the Ecuadorean coast; devouring lamb and fig tajines washed down with mint tea in Essaouira and Chefchaouen, Morocco; and living off of fresh baguettes, cheese, chocolate, and wine in Paris and Switzerland

So while I didn’t eat out in Madrid very much because I’d already had the chance to hit up their excellent tapas scene two summers ago, I knew when I came to Costa Brava I just had to try some of their platos típicos.  But let’s start with their gelato. 

One of the first things that attracted me to Costa Brava was, you guessed it, their food

My favorite travel blogger, Adventurous Kate, posted a mouthwatering account of what she tried when she first visited Costa Brava back in 2012. I came upon this post while I was trip planning back in 2013 for my two-month jaunt around Europe, and ever since, I’ve wanted so badly to visit this region of Spain, one I’d previously never explored outside of Barcelona.

So let’s talk about this gelato. Kate raved about it in another one of her Costa Brava posts, so I was determined to find it and experience the supposed wonder that is Rocambolesc gelato.  Opened by all-star Catalan chef Jordi Roca, Rocambolesc offers six flavors that change seasonally, with a wide array of unique toppings that you can order in a standard cup or cone deal. 

For my first Rocambolesc experience, I chose to go with their most original flavor, called Green Sorbet, a blend of green apples, cucumber, basil, and mint flavors. Sounds weird, right? WRONG. It was one of the most refreshing servings of gelato I’ve ever tried.  For my toppings, I went with their recommendations for this particular flavor:  green tea-powdered pistachios, mint sugar, and candied eucalyptus. It was absolutely incredible. 

Since then I’ve tried the following combinations from Rocambolesc: coconut and violet-flavored gelato with fresh grated coconut, candied coconut chunks, and a violet flavored and violet sugar-coated marshmallow; baked apple gelato with caramelized apples, baked apples, and chunks of a flaky pie crust-like cookie; and last but not least, vanilla bean gelato with brownie chunks, caramel flakes, and chocolate sauce.

To say that I’ve become obsessed with this place would be an understatement. I’ve still got two more flavors to try!  Now let’s move onto some of their savory dishes, like patatas bravas and botifarra, for example (pictured above). 

I went to the adorable little medieval hamlet of Besalú last week and decided to go for some late afternoon tapas in one of their main squares. 

I tried these at the Trip Advisor-recommended Curia Reial; I’d tried the potatoes before in Granada, but I thought it was time I tried them in the region that made them famous. It’s a pretty straightforward dish: potatoes (probably fried) with a spicy, aioli-like sauce. So simple, and so delicious. 

The botifarra was a new one for me, which I’d ordered at the waiter’s suggestion: a typical Catalan preparation of sausage stewed with mushrooms and a hearty sauce, not unlike a pot roast. Served with bread, I lapped up every last bit of that sauce. Another dining out experience that was well worth it. 

On my weekend trip to the beautiful beachside town of Tossa de Mar, I couldn’t resist going for patatas bravas again. 

I also tried, once again at the recommendation of my waitress, boquerones de bacalao: essentially deep-fried cod bites. AMAZING. I took one bite and couldn’t stop smiling. What better place to try fish than the beach in Costa Brava? 

The next day, I went for a late lunch of tapas at one of the fancier joints in Tossa, la Taverna de Tossa. Right down the street from our hostel, I went with a Finnish girl who was working reception and we shared a most delectable meal (of which I lament I forgot to take pictures!) that I will do my best to describe to you now:

Prawns grilled in red garlic sauce: easily the BEST shrimp I have ever had in my life. I was embarrassingly amateur at prying apart the meat from those little rascals (which were served whole, antennae, little legs and all), but my oh my were they scrumptious. 

Fried squid: essentially calamari, but only very lightly fried in only a small amount of batter so that you could really taste the squid meat. Once again, like the calamari I’d had in Madrid, it was served without your standard North American aioli dipping sauce, but again like Madrid, this calamari didn’t need it. It was a standout dish all on its own. 

Croquetas con espinacas y queso: croquetas with spinach and cheese, round, bite-size, deep-fried morsels of heaven. 

I didn’t think my food ventures in Costa Brava could get any better. And then I went to Tapas el Portal for my last night in Tossa.  I’d passed by this cute little spot every morning on my way to the beach, and after reading rave reviews on Trip Advisor and checking out their menu, I decided to go for it.  I started with the chef’s tapa special for the day, a cool twist on gazpacho, the traditional chilled Spanish soup. 

This one was a purée of beets, strawberries, and herbs, with little chunks of cod, asparagus, and caviar. It was TO DIE for. I thanked the chef, Giuseppe, personally; I couldn’t even believe how flavorful and refreshing it was. I then moved onto their swordfish carpaccio, served with pickled vegetables and a special kind of green and yellow salt. The waitress had described it to me as a typical Mediterranean ceviche, and my goodness it was easily some of the smoothest, tastiest fish I’d ever had.  For my “third course” (that is, third generous tapa portion), I tried their pork cheeks with lemon, and potato and lemon purée. I’ve always been a fan of slow-cooked beef and pork cheeks, but my goodness, you guys, I couldn’t rave about this dish enough. 

Each time the waitress and manager came by to ask how I was doing, I couldn’t stop beaming; I was just so happy; and beyond thrilled with my decision to treat myself my last night in Tossa. 

Would you like to look at our dessert menu? my lovely Peruvian waitress Vero asked me. How could I not, after devouring each of her on point recommendations with more relish and excitement than I’ve experienced with a meal in a long time?  Vero’s recommendation? Portal’s peach tatin with raspberry sorbet and lychee foam. I mean, come on. Once again I was absolutely delighted, and thanked Vero and the manager, chef, and owner profusely for their service and for the stellar culinary experience they’d provided me with. 

Today is my last day in Costa Brava, and my goodness, has it been an unbelievable week. 

With the food, the people I’ve met, the hostels I’ve stayed in, and the beautiful and unique places I’ve been able to visit, I cannot wait to return. 

After my four-month study abroad in Granada, I never thought I could possibly fall in love with another region in Spain as I did with Andalucía. Girona and the rest of beautiful Costa Brava in Catalunya? You just may have proven me wrong.   

Madre mía, Madrid!

There’s something rather special about being the first person out and about in a city like Madrid on a Saturday morning. 

IMG_5789The sidestreets are virtually empty, other than workers getting ready to open shop, and the occasional madrileño out for a solitary stroll, sometimes in the company of a partner or a perro.


This was the first part of my walk to the Biblioteca Nacional this morning. What a difference from even just the morning before.


I couldn’t help myself; I smiled stupidly at a couple shop-owners, the leaf-blower guy just before the plaza that intersects with the tree-lined Paseo del Prado. I can’t even begin to express just how much I enjoy feeling like I have a city to myself, if only for a moment.


And then of course once I actually hit the Paseo del Prado, that sense of solitude slowly gave way to the increasingly tangible energy of Madrid’s museum hub.

Suffice it to say, I felt much more sophisticated entering the BNE this morning, seeing as I knew how the whole process of entry, desk assignment, and book request went. Technically you aren’t to take pictures inside, but if that didn’t stop me in the Sistine Chapel six years ago, it certainly wouldn’t stop me now.


IMG_5797Of course, a shot of one Spain’s many literary legends out front is most certainly acceptable.

IMG_5798I had originally planned to go back to the Museo del Prado that afternoon, but by the time I got there after the BNE closed, it was looking mighty busy. I chose instead to go for a paseo in el Parque de Retiro, one of my favorite public parks in the world.
It’s such a great escape from the noise and sensory overload of the city. I just love how green it is.

On this particular visit to the Retiro I decided to make my way to the Palacio de Cristal, inspired by a recent post by one of my favorite travel bloggers.

There was a free, seasonal exhibition going on inside as well, so I’m glad I was able to check it out.



Much like yesterday afternoon, I continued in a haphazard loop through the busy centro of Madrid, this time making my way down Gran Vía, whose architecture after multiple visits I just can’t get enough of.



To round out another full day in Spain’s capital, I’m going out to watch the Champions League final (viva Barça!).

And tomorrow, I’m setting off to Alcalá de Henares for the day, which will be a major nerding-out moment…after all, it is the author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s birthplace.

As I’m here first and foremost to work on my thesis (which is on his magnum opus, El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de La Mancha), I’m considering this a most-worthy field trip. 

And So We Meet Again, Madrid

Just over two years ago, I visited Madrid for the first time and was quick to declare it one of my favorite cities in Europe.

Not only did I thereafter see myself one day living in Spain’s lively capital city, I also came to find I liked it even better than Barcelona, much to my surprise. To be fair, I can’t say I spent enough time in either city to the point where I could navigate on my own and feel consistently safe and confident (like I managed to do in Granada and Sevilla, for example). But needless to say, I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to stay in Madrid for a longer period of time.


Meet la Biblioteca Nacional de España (the National Library of Spain, or BNE), my home for the next week. It is here, in these hallowed halls, that I’ll be undertaking the preliminary stages of research for my Master’s thesis in Hispanic Studies through the University of British Columbia.

I’ll admit, I was fairly anxious approaching these majestic steps this morning. Although my thesis supervisor had given me all the instructions I needed to get into the building, get myself a temporary ID, and access the various wings I’d need, I still found myself a little apprehensive. After all, this is what I based my entire trip on: getting a leg up on my thesis research, and doing it in the city where there would be so many resources available to me under one roof.

After all, as I’ve told myself again and again, if I couldn’t find the motivation to research in Madrid, how could I possibly hope to do so back in BC?


Thankfully, everything went as smoothly as it possibly could have. After checking my passport, driver’s license, and the letter my thesis supervisor had written me back in Vancouver requesting that the BNE grant me access to all wings of the library (especially the Sala Cervantina, or the Cervantes wing, home to a huge archive of resources on the author of Spain’s first modern novel, which coincidentally is the focus of my thesis), they issued me a rather official-looking ID, which will provide me access to the BNE and its resources for the entirety of my time here in Madrid.

And maybe it’s just me, but there was something so motivating about studying silently in a GIANT hall with dozens of other students and researchers of all ages, with names like Garcilaso and Lope and Fernando de Rojas plastered in gold on the high walls; it was as if the greats of Spanish literature were cheering me on, just like I’d so naïvely hoped they might😉

FullSizeRenderAfter a decent number of hours in the BNE, getting myself oriented with the help of a colleague of my thesis supervisor, and starting up a list of all the sources I hope to consult in the upcoming days, it seemed only fair to appease my growling stomach with one of Spain’s most iconic plates: churros con chocolate.

It was just as good (if not better) than I remembered, even on a sweltering 32 C/90 F afternoon in Madrid’s bustling centro.



A stroll through Puerta del SolPlaza Mayor, and probably one of my top favorite spots in Madrid, the Mercado de San Miguel, rounded out my first full day here in Spain. It’s crazy how much you can do in just one day in a city like this; a great deal of the major sites are within walking distance (the Museo del Prado and the Parque del Retiro for example, are only fifteen minutes away from the room I’m renting through Airbnb).

And I’m stoked to report that I feel just as comfortable here in Madrid as I felt last time, if not more so, and full of unbridled excitement for what this next week has in store!


Once Upon A Dream: Highlights of 2013


Photo cred Sarah Capdeville

What a crazy year this has been.

From Barcelona to Berlin, Cesky Krumlov to Chester, Lisbon to Ljubljana, Marrakech to Mount Rainier, San Francisco to Sintra, and Venice to Vancouver, I’ve quite literally been all over the place these past twelve months.

My second-to-last semester of my undergraduate has come and gone, and now I find myself precipice of a new year, full with possibilities and uncertainties, and the prospects of many other exciting opportunities on the horizon. But, as it stands, there is nothing decisive yet about my future. And I’m not quite sure if I’m thrilled or scared out of my mind.


Photo cred Brenda Seymour

But, seeing as it’s New Year’s Eve, the time of year when I tend to get overly intro- and retro-spective, I figured it’d be appropriate to enumerate (in no particular order) some of my favorite experiences of 2013, both abroad and otherwise. Some are singular moments, some are more all-encompassing experiences, but they all are experiences I shall never forget, ones I shall carry with me forever.

1) Sensory overload in Marrakech


I have never before in my life seen or experienced anything like the Jemaa-el-Fnaa square at night in Marrakech, Morocco.

I couldn’t help raving about this experience in a blog post soon after my trip in late March. The energy of the square is electrifying, once the sun goes down, the food stands open, and street performers begin their various entertainments.

Just recollecting this sole evening we spent in Marrakech’s spectacular square excites me and quickens my heartbeat. I can hardly believe I had the opportunity to have an experience so extraordinary, especially one in the company of family.

2) Frolicking in the Swiss Alps


The hills were truly alive, and I had the amazing opportunity to frolick and adventure about through them with a dear friend back in June.

Switzerland had been at the top of my list of countries to visit during my trip around Europe, and it still baffles me to say that it exceeded my expectations in every way.

We spent just two days in those “hills,” one on a ridge along a UNESCO-certified glacier, the other, in constant view of one of the world’s most iconic peaks, and it was easily one of the coolest adventures of my life, one I also detailed with great deserved enthusiasm in another blog post.

3) Standing on the Slopes of Teide


We cable-car’ed up a volcano and stood and walked around at 11,000+ feet for an hour.

It may sound not that impressive, but this short, last-minute venture of ours was perhaps the highlight of our weekend trip to Tenerife in the Canary Islands. It was so surreal to stand on the rocky slopes and see nothing but a vastness of blue skies and dense cloud engulfing the tiny island below.

Even more than that, it was an incredible experience to share with two of my dearest friends from my study abroad experience in Granada. It was an unforgettable weekend, and hanging out at 11,000 feet nearly at the summit of the beloved Teide volcano was simply unreal.

4) Living with a host family


I did it twice in Ecuador, and I knew from the moment I started contacting my Granada host family that I’d made the right choice to choose living in a homestay again.

I have never met more caring and loving people than my Argentinean host family in Granada. Those three were so good to me during my four and a half month stay, and from the minute I entered their home I felt welcome, loved, and safe.

Without them, my experience studying abroad in Granada would not have been the same. They treated me as their own daughter, as their true family, and I could not be more grateful.

Muchísimas gracias, Vero, Fer, y Alejo; les deseo un buenísimo año nuevo🙂

5) Falling in love in Venice

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Venice is one of the most romantic cities I’ve ever been to, and I feel like I literally fell in love with that city. There was nothing I didn’t absolutely love about the tight, maze-like cobblestone roads running between crumbling buildings and alongside thin, scenic canals, the bustle of people in the patio restaurants and in flocks scattered about the Piazza San Marco and along the Grand Canal, and the beautiful colors of the fading old houses, especially those on the island of Burano.

And near the end of my very first evening in Venice, as I was trying to capture the picturesque sunset descending over the triumphant Grand Canal, I saw a little Italian girl who was strolling by with her grandparents, and asked her (in a jumble of rudimentary Italian and some English) to take my picture. She nodded, and like a pro, took several shots of me with a childish grin with the sunset behind me, including the one above.

I don’t believe I have ever felt such unbridled joy and infatuation for a city, as I did for Venice in those brief two and a half days. I cannot wait to go back.

6) Blueberry picking in Michelsneukirchen

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Of the three days I spent staying with a German friend of mine I’d met in Granada, perhaps my favorite experience was picking blueberries at sunset near her home in Bavaria.

I’d always enjoyed blackberry picking with my family as a child, so when her kind parents suggested we went blueberry picking my last night there, I jumped at the opportunity. It was such a relaxing evening, and made me realize even more just how lucky I was to have been able to stay and spend time with my friend and her family in their wonderful home.

It was a simple evening, but a fun and most memorable one, and I will forever be grateful for the hospitality and warmth of her family. And, of course, how yummy those blueberries tasted warmed over ice cream🙂

7) High tea with family in London


I loved everything about London. I would absolutely, 100%, live there one day. But, perhaps surprisingly, my favorite London moment was going for tea and lunch with my adorable British great aunts at the Goring Hotel right near Buckingham Palace.

In the two and a half days I spent exploring London, I felt like I saw everything; I walked by Westminster Abbey and Whitehall, saw Buckingham Palace, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, the Tower and the Tower Bridge, and I spent ample time gawking at artwork and other things at several of London’s prestigious museums. But the memory that I hold most dear to my heart was spending those few hours catching up with relatives I hadn’t seen in over ten years.

There was nothing quite so precious on my entire trip abroad than chatting and dining with those two, and I am beyond grateful and honored that they made the time to see their grand niece.

8) Seeing Firenze the right way

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My friends mean the world to me, and to have one of my dearest show me around her Florence for several days was such an incredible gesture.

I wasn’t even supposed to spend five whole days in Florence, but due to some necessary changes to my itinerary, I found myself on minute one in Florence, completely out of sorts, and in a hostel that ended up being the only poor one I would stay at in the entirety of my trip to Europe. But luckily my friend then got back to me that she would still be in Florence for another week or so at the tail end of her own study abroad venture there, and offered to show me around as much as she could during the time I was there!

I can’t imagine having a better experience in that city. It was the first city on my trip that I had arrived at feeling unmotivated and perhaps a little lonely and homesick for the first time, but thankfully my friend was there for me and we enjoyed an amazing few days together as she showed me around the best sites and the best local food joints, as well as a surprise trip to the beach on the coast at Cecina that I never would have been able to experience had it not been for her.

Grazie mille, bella🙂

9) Hiking in the Mount Rainier wilderness


Never forget the beauty and wonder you can find within your own home. Well, Mount Rainier isn’t exactly in Seattle, the place where I was raised, but it is the iconic and beloved peak of Washington state, and I had the opportunity to go on a brief hiking trip there with one of my best friends at the end of August.

The weather conditions weren’t exactly in our favor, and we were both struggling with the impeding stress of transitions from the summer back to real life at our respective universities, but in the end we persevered and were able to explore some of the gorgeous wilderness that the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier has to offer.

It was a wonderful bonding experience for the both of us, and it both challenged and excited us throughout its ups and downs.

10) Running the Color Run in Vancouver


While my commitment to running has fluctuated between all-out obsessed and barely there at all, partaking in this event with some of my closest friends at the beginning of the school year was a great experience.

It was just one of those innocent, random, but exceedingly fun experiences realized in truly wonderful company that was a great way to kick off my fourth and final year of undergrad. It was simply a real good time (a rollicking good one, if you ask me), during which I had absolutely no inhibition nor qualms about being absolutely ridiculous and getting totally dirty (that is, covered in dyed powder).

In my 2013, there were plenty of ups and downs, unbelievable adventures, and difficult personal and family struggles, but in the end, when it came down to it, there was always somebody I could lean on, always somebody I could count on, always somebody I could share or celebrate my experiences with.

While I very much valued traveling for two months basically on my own, and while I’m very much a fan of alone time, there’s nothing quite like the company and comfort of loved ones, in any capacity. My favorite moments of 2013, many of which are not on this list but I still hold near and dear to my heart, were those which I spent and shared with others. 

So as these fireworks start to die out, as 2013 fades away and 2014 begins with a surge, let me just say: Happy New Year’s to all, and to all a good night.

Dreams, Thanks, and Other Things


Photo cred Meghan Nolt

Six and a half months. Fourteen countries. Fifty cities. Countless memories.

It’s time to come home, Raya. 

At least that’s what I keep telling myself.


As I sit here typing on my computer for the first time since I set off on my two-month European tour in June, I can’t help but wonder if all of this has been real. After all, several dreams came true for me this year.


I studied abroad in Granada, Spain, and four-and-a-half months and a dozens of crazy adventures and fun times later, I came out fluent in Spanish, in love with the beauty and culture of that Andalusian gem of a city and the rest of Spain as a whole, and with a number of strong friendships I know will last for a while.


I backpacked around Europe for two months, during which I saw, did, and experienced so many amazing things, and met, visited, and traveled with so many truly wonderful people.

And while the days were long, fun, exciting, and full, the time has gone by unnervingly fast. This dream I’ve been living is now coming to an end.

But that’s just how it goes, isn’t it? Life goes on, and so must we. And while at the moment I’m sad to leave and apprehensive and unsure of what to expect from my homecoming, I take so much comfort in the fact that I’m returning to an incredibly loving and positive home in Seattle and Vancouver.

It’s been a comfort that has stayed with me during my travels, especially during the past two months. As much as I was thrilled beyond belief to be living my dream of traveling around Europe, it was so nice to be reminded every once and a while of the fact that I had such a superb place and family and friends to come home to when the time came.

The following quote painted on the wall of this Madrid hostel, the last I’ll be staying in in Europe, says it all, and I couldn’t have found it at a better time:

There is much to explore, experience and discover on this planet, that you need to grasp the chance when it comes along as your true friends and family will still be here when you feel ready to return.

With these thoughts in mind, and gratitude in my heart for the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve shared them with, I will at long last undertake my return journey home.

As they say, don’t cry because it’s over, be happy because it happened. For when one adventure ends, another begins. And now that these dreams of mine have been realized, I get to go find a new dream.

It’s time to come home, Raya.



There are so many people without whom the past six months would not have been possible, nor as amazing and as fulfilling as they were. Words cannot possible express how grateful I am for the following people, but nevertheless they are all most deserving of thanks, so here goes:

Mom, Dad, Madie, and the rest of my dear family, thank you for your unending support, love, and encouragement as I took on Europe and went through the ups and downs of living abroad and traveling solo.

Verónica, Fernando, y Alejo, muchísimas gracias por todo lo que me habéis dado y hecho para mí, siempre os guardaré en mi corazón como otra familia mía; sin vosotros, mi experiencia de intercambio en Granada no habría sido la misma.

The people I met and friends I made in Granada, especially Meg, Sarah, Lisa, Andrea, Maddy, and Ida Marie, thank you for all of the fun times, the memories, and for being there and helping me through some rough patches. I cannot wait until the next time our paths cross.

My friends back home and in Vancouver, thank you for making the effort to stay in touch with me during my long absence. Your support meant so much to me and all those texts, messages, Snap Chats, and Skype calls were such a delight to receive and I absolutely cannot wait to see you all so very soon.

Everyone I met up with, traveled with, and visited (Lauren, Gabo, Lena, Britta, Mika, Maddy, Andrea, and Chris), thank you for spending time with me and in some cases showing me around places you’d lived or were living in at the time, you have no idea how much your company meant to me and I am forever grateful for those times we spent and the memories we made.

And all those other lovely folks I met while on the road, especially you gals at the Stay Inn Lisbon Hostel and you Aussies, Canadians, and Americans at Olga’s Place in San Sebastián, thank you for saying hello, for having a chat with me, partying with me, going exploring with me, whatever it was, it was such a pleasure to meet you, if only for a night or a few days. Hope to see you again somewhere in the world!

Europe, thanks for everything. No es un adiós, sino un hasta luego. I know I’ll be seeing you again soon.


Photo cred Britta Antonsen