Breath-taking | Meteora, Greece

I rarely get really smitten with places anymore, especially if they’re super well-known [and, in my mind, overrated] tourist sites, but… I found Meteora to be stunningly beautiful and breath-taking. A magic place, really.

The fact that we got there just as the sun was setting probably helped.

Here are just a few photos of our visit, though – in this case, they don’t really do justice to the magnificence of the place. But then again, neither did all the “standard” shots I saw before going. I cannot recommend enough, if you even get a chance, to see the place in person.

… and here’s a slightly psychedelic video, shot by Leo, in which I seem to be out of breath not just from the view, but also from all the step-climbing.

Folly on Foley Square | New York, USA

Foley Square in Lower Manhattan has quite a rich history, part of which is explained in this bronze medallion – one of five such pieces installed in the sidewalks on and around the square. But I won’t go into it all here, as this collage took me way too long to make and almost drove me mad with folly (har har har).

If you’re curious, though, you can click and zoom in on the imagine and read about the square’s history and architecture. If you’re too lazy, but still thirsting for knowledge, go here.

Morish pintxos | Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain

I love good food, and all different kinds of it. I can’t resist France’s fatty foie gras, the umami that is Japanese miso soup, the freshness of a Bulgarian shopska salad, the light deliciousness of a Greek octopus, or even the heaviness of a good medium-cooked American hamburger and home-made fries.

But my absolute favorite food of all are the bite-sized pieces of deliciousness that are the Basque pintxos. Basically little snacks, pintxos consist of a head-dizzying array of mouth-watering delicacies flavored to perfection – anything from tuna/bonito, anchovies, shrimps, crabs, jamon, beef, mushrooms, stuffed or roasted peppers, eggs, tortillas or croquettes, usually in a combination, served on top of a little slice of bread and pierced through by a toothpick. (This method also gives them their name – from the Spanish pincho, meaning ‘spike’. The toothpicks are used not just to hold them together but also – as the serving system usually involves taking whatever you want from the bar counter, where they are beckoningly arranged, and paying later, as a way to show and pay for the number of pintxos eaten.)

The first time I was exposed to the glory of pintxos was about eight years ago in a Basque pintxos bar in Madrid, where I was shocked not just by the deliciousness of the snacks, but also by the fact that the bar’s floor was barely visible from the countless napkins strewn across it. (My efforts to daintily leave my napkin on the bar were countered by the unfaltering wait staff who swiftly brushed them off the counter top and onto the floor. I suppose, just as a crowded restaurant in many places is seen as a sign for the quality of its food, the napkins on the floor signaled a numerous and happy clientele. ) The toothpicks were presented to the cashier in the end and not one could be seen among the napkins, as getting rid of them was a grave offense punishable by a fine.

Since then, I used every chance I got – during subsequent trips to Barcelona and Madrid, to stuff my face senseless with the little morsels of heaven.

So, you can imagine my rapture when I ended up in Bilbao and pintxos were available at literally every street and every corner. During the two days I was there, not one opportunity to put some in my mouth was wasted – whether it be a few with my morning coffee, several to pass the time after ducking inside a bar to hide from the rain or the head-spinning dozen devoured after a long day spent at the Guggenheim (I’m all for feeding my soul and spirit, but my body just couldn’t resist.)

The last place is where the above picture was taken and, if you look closely, you’ll see some discarded toothpicks lying alongside the napkins on the floor. When I voiced my concern about how they would be able to charge us in the end, the man on the other side of the bar calmly assured us that we would just simply tell him how much we’ve had. And yes, I was tempted to lie, not because I wanted to pay less, but because I was slightly embarrassed by the whooping number twelve that I polished off, compared to the modest four or five everyone else seemed to be paying for.

Point is, once you start eating pintxos, it is very difficult to stop – they are the epitome of the word morish, used in reference to addictive food that makes you want to continue to eat more and more of it, which I learned, not incidentally, while stuffing my face with pintxos in Barcelona (thanks, Slave, for the vocab lessons!).

But in addition to not being able to stop once I start eating them, I am also pretty sure that – if I had to chose a single type of food to eat for the rest of my life, it would be pintxos. I could really have them every single day, numerous times a day.

But, in a way, it might be a good thing that I don’t have constant access to pintxos. Among other gastric challenges it would present, I believe that eating them everyday would surely lead to the demise of this blog, as my protruding belly would quickly make it impossible for me to see my own feet. I’ll just keep telling myself that, anyway. It’s the silver lining, people, the silver lining!

A question of perspective | Nervión River, Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain

These two pictures were taken at Bilbao’s Arenal Bridge (in Spanish known as Puente del Arenal and in Basque as Areatzako zubia), within mere seconds of one another and while standing at exactly the same spot, without moving, not even by a centimeter, anything but the camera’s angle. Crazy, no?

Note: Next to me stands my endlessly entertaining friend and no less than perfect travel companion – Mariana, who was largely responsible for our spontaneous visit to Bilbao and heroically endured my constant lingering to take pictures of my feet not just throughout this trip, but during all of our many travels together – in Sarajevo, Serbia, Bratislava, Budapest, Balchik and most recently, Barcelona.

Northbound | Barcelona, Spain

In just four days, I passed through Barcelona’s Estacio Nord bus station no less than three times. The usually boring lingering and waiting around that automatically comes with being at such places of transit, where you are either waiting to get somewhere or are just passing through upon arrival was unexpectedly pleasant, as the station’s grounds are filled with ornamentation – from the mosaic with the giant sun, surrounded by tiny moon phases, in the central lobby, the sole brass letter N (no S, E or W) – both indicating the direction of North and the name of the station, to the hilariously (and perplexedly) labelled trash can in the loo (featured in this week’s Wordless Wednesday post).

For me, the Nord station also had the additional charm of being located within easy walking distance (or a cheap cab ride, as the case may be) from the flat of my dear, endlessly hospitable and gracious friends Slavka and Mina, which has lately become my home away from my home away from home.

Finding my feet | Montpellier, France

When I stumbled upon these yellow cobblestones in the center of Montpellier, I was instantly – and predictably, reminded of their larger, brighter and more full-of-history distant cousins, which grace the center of Sofia.

I may not be brilliant at a lot of things, but this is one thing I know I am pretty good at (that, and being humble!): I can travel to and live in different places freely, light-heartedly, without being bogged down by homesickness, nostalgia and the longing for home, without the cumbersome impulse to find and latch on to familiar things, to seek out fellow compatriots or to regularly consume luytenitsa or lukanka. Don’t get me wrong, of course I miss friends and family and places that I love, but that’s a constant that happens all the time and everywhere, regardless of whether I am “at home” or traveling or living abroad.

And still, this time, the spontaneous association with Sofia’s cobblestones snuck up on me in an instant, before I could rationalize and wave it away as some sort of unwarranted signal of a sentimental attachment to my hometown.

I am pretty sure that a term must have been coined for this syndrome – the tendency among travelers and ex-pats to spot and latch onto familiar things when they find themselves in a foreign environment with no recognizable points of reference. When searching for what it might be called, among all the coping-with-life-abroad websites aimed at helping people who face culture shock when living and traveling outside of their home country, strangely, one of the search results was a link to a dictionary definition of the idiom ‘to find one’s feet’. Apparently, it means ‘to become familiar with a new place, situation or experience’.

A crazily fitting coincidence, no?

And, as for the term that describes the tendency to look for the familiar when placed in an unfamiliar environment, I wasn’t able to find it. Any ideas?

Here’s to (at least) 100 more!

I wasn’t sure what to do for the 100th post (which this is!) on this blog, but just stumbled upon this* and LOVED it:

So, here’s to moving, discovering new places and at least a hundred more posts and many more grounds beneath my feet! Woo hoo!

Thanks to all (the dozens) of you out there who read me.

*For those of you who have been stranded in a cave over the last 10 days (or, more likely and happily, lying around on a beach with no Internet access) and are seeing this video for the first time, it is one of three. The other two are pretty amazing too.

All roads lead to… | Madrid, Spain

This is the figurative center of Spain – the precise point from which all of the country’s main roads radiate and are measured. Located in front of the former post office building at the Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, the design of the marking echoes the semi-circular shape of the square itself, which is meant to look like the rising sun, with the streets radiating from it as its rays. Historically, the square has been a place for madrileños to gather, meet, welcome in the New Year, protest and even carry out assassinations.

So, it is just as well that, to get onto the Kilometer Zero marking, I had to literally jump over some police barricades, which were set up in order to keep out the protesters camping out on the square amid the demonstrations taking place at the time.

There was a less permanent, and slightly more ambiguous, marking on the ground nearby:

La belleza de las letr¡ah!s | Madrid, Spain

As somebody who is obsessed fascinated with writing and words, on the one hand, and interesting ground surfaces, on the other, I know too well how rarely the two actually overlap. So, I was enthralled when I realized that we are staying in Madrid’s Barrio de Las Letras (Neighborhood of the Writers). The area used to house some of the great authors of Madrid’s 16th-century Golden Age of letters — Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Quevedo, and its pedestrian streets are now covered in brass-lettered poems, quotations and literary passages written by them and other Spanish writers.

¡Ah!, indeed.

I vaguely remembered walking in the area and being very charmed by the literature-paved streets the first time I was in the city over six years ago and, although I had no idea which part of Madrid they were in, I intended to find them again this time around. So, you can imagine my rapture when, on my first night out, while running around the city, I gazed down to find myself standing atop one such a brass-lettered passage. Adding to the glee was the charmingly obliging Spaniard who surprised me by throwing himself onto the ground and into the frame as I took a picture.

As I walked around the neighborhood the next day, I realized the poems and passages were everywhere, they were too numerous to read carefully, even if a better grasp of Spanish on my part could make that possible.

Some of the writing and writers were easily recognizable nonetheless.

But mostly, I enjoyed spotting interesting words (whose meaning I had to look up later). I especially loved ¡the inverted exclamation marks!

Here, la belleza = the beauty, made more beautiful when squeezed between ¡ and !.

Others, even without much punctuation, just looked beautiful, even though I had no idea what they meant:

(Turns out this is the first stanza from the poem “The dark swallows will return” by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer.)

For a while, I could not get enough! But eventually, I stopped snapping photos every few meters, put my camera away and just enjoyed walking on top of literature, literary.