Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Getting in the Christmas Spirit

It's December 19th and I'm having a really difficult time getting into the whole Christmas spirit if you will, because it just doesn't feel like it. Be warned that I am writing this while laying in bed because I caught a bad cold right now of all times. Last year on this day I was likely stressing out about having to write an exam or likely already writing an exam stressing about all of the things I still had left to do after I finish writing this exam. There was snow outside, my house was nicely decorated, my sister was playing her favorite Christmas music as she likes to drive us crazy, my mom was cooking up a storm and I had an endless list of presents that still needed to be purchased. Oh and lets not forget about all of the fancy schmancy Christmas parties I was supposed to attend.

This year there is a big change of scenery and an unlikely amount of free time on my hands. First of all Europe is going through some weird weather patterns and everything is brown and muddy outside, not to mention the cloudy skies that have been around since I can remember. While I'm not complaining that it is not freezing cold, I would like to see some of the white stuff for Christmas (come January I may regret saying this). My living space consists of a dorm room with three beds, three desks, three girls and all their belongings. This leaves little room for Christmas decorations even if one of us was in the mood to actually go out and purchase any. Part of it lies in that none of us will actually be here for Christmas. The only Christmas music I've heard is coming from a big tree in the main square of the city which I have to admit creeps me out a little the few times that I have walked by. As for presents, well I had to consider that over a month ago so that I can send it half way across the world and have it arrive in time for the big day. My list was also significantly shortened as well. So that was taken care of a while ago, except for a few things I am bringing to my family in Bosnia.

This brings me to the revival of my Christmas spirit for this year. On Saturday Alex and I are boarding a plane and heading to Sarajevo to spend Christmas with my family in Bosnia. It has been 14 years since I spent Christmas there and I honestly don't remember what it was like. My hope is that I will be reminded of what Christmas was like in my childhood. More importantly I am looking forward to all of the food and good times we will have. Having some family around will be good for my soul. Then we are heading to London for New Years, and afterward to Winborne to visit Alex's grandparents. A two week break to disconnect from everything and be around close family and friends is just what I need right now.

So wherever you are spending Christmas this year, I hope that it everything you wished for and that you are surrounded by lots of food and good people.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Is it that obvious??

There seems to be this reaccuring theme that happens every time I introduce myself as Blanka from Canada. It happened again today. The converstation goes as followes;

Me: Hi my name is Blanka
Stranger: Where are you from?
Me: Canada
Stranger: Blanka? That doesn't sound like a Canadian name, and you don't look very Canadian...

Interject Miriam: What are Canadian people supposed to look like? (This always perplexes them)

Finally I reveal that I have Croatian roots and that I was born in Bosnia. This is followed by a self assuring "Ahhhh, I knew it, I knew there was something else going on there." Mystery solved.

But this has brought me to question what people outside of North America think Canadians look like. Do they have this mold inside their mind or is it just that they associate certain characteristics such as my dark hair and Slavic features (I guess) to some other country, ergo removing me from the Canadian look alike contest. But thats the beauty of Canada, we don't have any one certain defining physical characteristic that classifies us as Canadian. If we really want to get technical then the First Nations people would be the only ones considered to look like a Canadian. I've spoken about this to some of my "white" friends (oh god how impolitically incorrect of me) living abroad who never come across this. Maybe that's the label of a Canadian.

In any case, while I am utterly proud of my Croatian roots, I also consider myself to be Canadian, look alike or not.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Its not Turkish after all

Yesterday I wrote about how I discovered my newest favorite sweet, Turkish Honey. I was really interested in what it was and how its made but every time that I looked up the term Turkish honey, it didn't lead me to any answers. This morning while talking to my friend Jason in Calgary I learned that it in not called Turkish honey, in fact it is not even Turkish. I think that Slovak and Czech Repulics just call it that.

The true name of it is Gaz nougat or honey toffee and it is a traditional Iranian sweet. The honey, Gaz, comes from the juices of a desert plant called Angebin and then it is combined with a bunch of other ingredients including pistachios to become the nougat form. If you go here you can watch a video of how the sweets are traditionally made. Its yummy!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Brno and the discovery of Turkish Honey

Miriam and I took advantage of our last unofficial weekend together before she goes back to Barcelona by heading to Brno, Czech Republic. I painfully realized that I have not taken full advantage of her by using her for Spanish lessons becuase after two months of living together my vocabulary consists of common words I've heard her use in conversation over the phone. Oh and so long as I know "Donde esta" (pardon the spelling) then I should be able to navigate my way around Spain without a problem.

I digress. So we were greeted in Brno by Miriam's friend , Alba, from Spain as well, who was so kind to let us stay at her place for the weekend. And by her place, we mean her mansion of a flat, compared to our living conditions (Alba we are so jealous!). Friday night we headed out for some beers and then met other trainees at a couple of clubs and danced the night away. I was quite impressed that we were able to stay up as late as we did but when we finally went to bed, we were out like a light. I am proud to say that I gave Miriam her first beer hangover, an accomplishment I will hold high for some time to come.

Our hostess Alba!

The sightseeing tour of Brno was not as extensive as most cities that I go to. Usually I fee like I need to see everything there is in the guidebook, but it was really cold and windy that I welcomed a nice warm coffee shop instead. Alba, Miriam and I had some really good heart to hearts over warm tea and coffee. Then as it appears is Central European tradition, we headed to another Christmas market. This is where the good part comes in because we all discovered Turkish Honey. I wish I could explain it better but basically it is more like a nougat, white very hard with nuts inside, I will try to update a picture later. You need a knife and another utensil to break off pieces as I painfully learned trying to bite off a piece with my bare teeth. We bought some, tried it, realized we wanted more, went back and bought some more. Then we thought, this would make great Christmas presents, especially at $1 per 100gr, so we went back again. I can imagine what the shop owner was thinking. It will be my guilty pleasure for the next month and my dentists future paycheck as I'm sure eating all this sweet stuff is great for my teeth.

Here is an interesting sightseeing story; apparently the architect who created this church and statues in front, got pissed off because he was not paid enough for his work. So in a last dire effort to prove a point, her curved the tip of the structure. Clever guy! I got such a kick out of this.
Oh and I almost forgot about the Bulgarian Party. Saturday night, Alba took us to a Bulgarian party at a community hall in Brno. All Canadians who have roots in some other country will know what I am talking about as I was suddenly reminded of Croatian parties back in Calgary that were exactly like this. They had a performance with traditional folk dress and dances. I got the sudden earge to call my dad and let him hear the music becuase he is the John Travolta of Croatian Folk dance (holy roaming charges though!)

All in all I hope to go back to Brno in the spring sometime when it is a lot nicer outside and the city doesn't look so gloomy to explore more of the sights. It was so easy to meet and become friends with some of the interns even though our time together was short so I hope to visit or see them sometime in the future. Thats the thing about meeting people who are in the same position as you, an instant bond is created.