Sunday, May 30, 2010


Although I had the option of taking the train to Barcelona's BCN airport, in the end I decided to cab it. It was either spend 6 hours at the airport or get 6 hours worth of sleep. I went with the sleep and hit the sack at 9pm. Got up at 3am, hailed a cab (lots of them around), paid the 26 euros, and checked-in. The airport was surprisingly busy for 5am—I pissed off some American ladies by cutting in front of them in the queue, but then jumped back out when I saw the "elite" line empty. Due to my frequent flyer miles I am privy to this service and so it took me 5 mins to check in vs. standing in line for what looked like it would take 30 mins–1 hr. Security was fairly smooth throughout the trip, including Amsterdam's Schiphol. The plane closest to the window in the pic at right is at the gate from where I departed and on a similar plane, the Airbus A330.

The AMS-DTW flight was its usual 7-8 hour duration, this time I watched the Academy winning Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, and it was about the only thing left in the selection that I hadn't seen that I was interested in. I'd already seen Sherlock Holmes (very good, btw, if you like Guy Ritchie movies, as I do) and The Book of Eli with Denzel (also pretty decent). Oh I forgot! I hadn't yet seen The Damned United about British football ca. 1967—1974 and about Brian Clough, a coach of that era. It starred the guy who played Frost in Nixon/Frost, and it was surprisingly very good. After that flight, I had sushi at DTW then hopped on to the flight to YOW where I am now. I decided to stay a few nights in the University of Ottawa student dorms to save a few bucks—46 a night is hard to beat, although I have to use the common washroom and I now miss having my own kitchen! Even though I thought that the little kitchen in the Barcelona apartment was pretty dinky, it's particularly good for breakfast items, something my stomach is now demanding :)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

(Temporary) Exit Strategy

Yesterday as I went to the grocery store (yet again—this time I only needed a few things, which seems more like the style of shopping done here: come in for a few things instead of the large, weekly shopping normally done in the US), I thought I'd go in to the Sants Estacio train station to check on trains to the airport. It turns out this station, directly on the route of the airport train, is right across the street from the grocery store I go to. The store happens to be just past the gym where I go work out every morning, which happens to be right in front of the Parc Industriel, a small little park with grass, trees, and water. To get to the water, you walk past this little grove of trees and playground where parents and kids show up in the afternoon. Once you ascend a tall flight of steps, you're then looking down on the water. I suntanned there last Monday where it was a bit quieter than the beech (no nagging masseuses or beer salesmen). Sorry for the poor picture quality, I just used my old cell phone to take them.

The Sants is a fairly large train station, and happens to be the first station I arrived at the first time I visited Barcelona. Back then I had wanted to get to Plaza Catalunya, which meant transferring at this station. Well, suffice it to say that although I succeeded, I was still somewhat confused as to how I managed it. Remember back then I hadn't really fully understood the three train systems that exist here. In fact, back then, I took the Renfe train to Catalunya, never managing to locate the metro lines that also go there (although now that I think about it, on my second visit, I think I did manage to switch to a metro line). Now, of course, on my third visit, this station looks mush less bewildering. And since it's walking distance to my apartment, and I already have a metro train ticket (which works on all three train systems), I think I'll just take the train to the airport Friday night instead of hailing a taxi. It'll save a few euros and kill some time. And it's a good thing I inquired at the station for the schedule, because it turns out there's some kind of strike going on, and so the train schedule's a bit messed up. No problem though, in fact, this Friday it seems to be in my favor as the last train is later than usual, leaving after midnight, which would suit me just fine. One minor issue is that the train station is at the older airport terminal, which means I'll need to catch a bus to Terminal 1 when I get there. Hopefully everything is still running at the airport as I basically intend to spend the night there...that's my "temporary" exit strategy, meaning my exit to Ottawa from where I come back to Barca for one last week (of vacation).

Friday, May 21, 2010

More shopping (and more laundry)

The other day I took the metro to (what I'm guessing is) one of Barcelona's larger malls, the Diagonal Mar. I think it's one of the larger ones, although it wasn't quite as large as Greenville's own Haywood Mall. What's more, Haywood Mall has more "upscale" stores than Diagonal Mar, e.g., the latter lacks stores such as Williams-Sonoma. So I'm thinking there must be other more posh malls around here somewhere. With Barcelona's population of 1.6 M compared to the 1.2 M spread out between Greenville-Spartanburg-Anderson, surely there must be another ritzy "Galleria" type place here somewhere, no? Or maybe the stores are just smaller and more spread out throughout the city? There is, for example, a Henckels store devoted to that brand, specializing in cutlery (knives) and personal hygiene products (nail clippers, etc.). It's a pretty ritzy store, but not in any mall, just on a little side-street off Las Ramblas.

Maybe the mall is a North-American concept, I don't know. In contrast, Barcelona has many, many shops, each specializing in particular things. I'm not exactly sure where they're all located, however. There are various "village"-like communities throughout the city. Las Ramblas, for example, has a large number of specialty stores, and just off Las Ramblas there are various higher-end stores like the Henckels shop I mentioned. But Las Ramblas caters to tourists as well as locals, so I'm not sure whether the locals actually do their shopping there. Meanwhile, other "villages" such as where I am (Hostafrancs) has its own number of shops. I was told that each of these "villages" also has its own town hall, or ajuntament (which I think is Catalan) and so it stands to reason that each little area is also its own little shopping district. This is not uncommon, e.g., many large cities have their "little Italies", or "Chinatowns", I'm just not familiar with them all here in Barca. I did, however, find the official FCB store, and bought myself two jerseys. I have the traditional blue-maroon one, and I also bought this neon-yellow sleeveless one. In the pic (rather dark, sorry) I'm wearing the neon-yellow one, just before heading off to the gym in the morning (it's dark because I have the balcony doors closed).

My apartment building, all "fresh and clean"

When I first got to the apartment almost a month ago, I was dismayed to find its facade blocked by a scaffolding, covered up by a blue mesh. I suppose I should have taken a picture of it, but instead I took the time to complain to the landlord. Luckily he was both responsive and reasonable and knocked 20% off the rent due to the inconvenience. Well, I couldn't really open the balcony doors cause there were workers out there, I couldn't stand on the balcony without almost hitting my head on one of the scaffolding levels (one of the walkways was right at my eye-level), and I couldn't really see outside due to the blue mesh covering up the whole thing. The landlord had informed me that this would go on till about mid-June. Happily, they finished ahead of schedule, and as of yesterday the scaffolding's gone! Yesterday I enjoyed a couple of Leffe beers on the balcony (mine is the one at bottom-left, obscured by the tree), watching people milling about below in the afternoon sun. The good weather appears to have finally returned as well—I'm in shorts again today, as I was the first week I was here, all the time in between it's been rather chilly and one week it was raining fairly steadily all week long. Saturday there's a 30% chance of rain, but Sunday and Monday look good at 21 C and sunny, and it's a long weekend here, to boot! Should be a nice weekend and then next Saturday it's off to Ottawa!

Apartment cooking

Here's how I make use of my small apartment kitchen. In the pic I'm just getting ready to cook Penne with Calamari and Malvasia. At right is some bread I broke up and that I'm going to toast in the tiny oven just behind the little tray on which the bread sits. On the stove I have water boiling for the Penne, and my main pan for combining the rest: whole canned tomatoes that you see behind the small cutting board on which lies the sliced red onion. To the right of the tomatoes is a tiny little espresso cup that I use for small amounts of spices, in this case there's about a teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes in there. Just behind the pot with water and against the backsplash is the thin, tall bottle of sherry (jerez) that is subbing in for Malvasia wine. This wine was a good choice for this dish as it is sufficiently sweet and so I think a good sub for Malvasia (the bottle itself also makes a good rolling pin!). On the counter, in front of the cutting board is my block of Manchego cheese, the famous Spanish cheese (very good, btw), and behind that at the far corner is my plate of cut up squid (Calamari). All of these ingredients get combined into a very tasty dish that, in this particular instance, made 4 servings. To save some money, I basically at this dish all week :)

The finished dish is shown at left, with the Manchego cheese sprinkled on top—it eventually melts and "gooeys" up the dish. The Calamari was excellent, although I wouldn't recommend extending this dish four days the way I did, I just did that to see how far I could stretch it, next time I'll likely cut the ingredients in half. To the right you see the finished product of the previous weekend's meal, one for which I used the sherry wine as a rolling pin (to roll out the puff pastry), and one of my personal favorites, Beef Wellington, partially because it calls for beef fillet and partially because I liked the way Gordon demonstrated making it on TV; his own excitement is almost inspiration enough to make you want to try making it. The beef makes it somewhat expensive (about 11 euros in this case, but it made two servings), but the result is very tasty, especially if you don't overcook it. I was a bit worried about that with this little oven, because I had trouble with the pizza I made the weekend before. I couldn't get the pizza dough to bake properly, which led me to think that the oven was on the cool side. That may have worked in favor of the Beef Wellington, because the beef turned out good (pink on the inside), but the puff pastry appeared to cook fully. I had more pastry dough than I needed, but I erred on the thin side which I think was wise—the thought of "double-wrapping" had crossed my mind, but fortunately I banished the thought. In retrospect I think double-wrapping could have ruined the dish by potentially undercooking both meat and dough. And, curiously enough, in this oven, the bottom of the dough was more burnt than raw, as it's turned out before back in the oven I've used in the US. All in all, although the kitchen is rather cramped (the stove top burners are too close together and too close to the controls), it's fairly serviceable.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Shopping (and laundry)

It seems like my two most frequent activities are shopping and doing laundry. Lacking a dryer, clothes take two days to dry, especially since I can't always hang them out outside (it's been raining quite a bit here lately, reminding me of Vancouver). So you have to plan carefully: am I going to need those jeans tomorrow or Tuesday? Thus far, my best strategy seems to be to do laundry in the morning while I'm at the gym, this way the washing machine is done when I get back and I can hang the clothes out while I'm at work. In the meantime, if I'm not doing laundry or working, I go shopping—lacking a car it's better to do make smaller shopping trips more frequently than doing the one large weekly shopping excursion at home. Above in the pic is the Mercat d'Hostafrancs, the large market that is just across the street from my apartment. The above pic is of the front, my apartment is across the street from the back of the market. One annoying aspect of this is that I get to hear all the delivery trucks when they arrive in the morning. Early in the morning...

Inside the market, you have a bunch of stands where each one offers some sort of specialization: vegetables, meats, fish, sausages, cheeses, etc. I think one stand offers figs and peanuts. I've bought fresh veggies here before, as well as a really good, fresh piece of cod. That was really tasty; I found on online recipe on how to prepare it in my little oven, with (if I remember correctly) bread crumbs and garlic. I also added some pepper flakes to give it a kick. But actually I don't shop at this market that often because I found (I was told about) a pretty decent grocery store just up the street (just past the gym where I workout every weekday morning).

The grocery store is called Esclat and it doesn't look like much from the outside. Inside, the top floor has basic house stuff like kitchen towels, light bulbs (expensive for some reason), etc. (think Wal-Mart but not as huge). Downstairs is the grocery store, which pretty much has everything I need. I had trouble finding yeast, for example (for making pizza dough) but I found it here. They also have a good meat selection, good cheeses, and a good deli. I haven't yet ordered anything at the deli, but I probably should start buying my ham there as I'm not too thrilled with the packaged selection. Their seafood section is also quite decent, particularly for their squid selection. I bought 450 g today for making a calamari and pasta dish later this week—that's about two of those large squids that you see on ice in the pic (to the right of the large, white what I think are cuttle fish—I don't have a recipe for cuttle fish but if that's what they are I think they're really tasty as well; one of my favorite sushi choices). They're fresh and the lady cleaned them out for me right then and there. She spoke really fast so I didn't quite catch what she said but caught the word limpio which is to clean. Well, I didn't really get a chance to say "yes, please" before she went ahead and started. But having done this job myself (taking out the squid's spine and ink sack, and cutting off its eye and beak), I recognized what she was doing and smiled and said something like si, gracias because I was happy to see her doing this for me. Today I also bought some lamb chops and some beef fillet that I'm cooking up as Beef Wellington for dinner. It's resting as I write, hopefully the little dinky oven I have managed to cook it properly...buen provecho to me :)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Night at the Opera

Friday I was invited to the Liceu Opera: Richard Strauss' Cavaller de la Rosa. Richard? Yes, not Johann. It was interesting. With three acts with two 30 min intermissions, the opera didn't end till 9pm or so. And it started at 4:30pm. The story behind the opera was an older woman who realizes her affair with a 17 year old boy won't work and so she lets him go by setting up this mission for him to deliver a silver rose to a young lady as an engagement present on behalf of this other fellow. The idea is for the boy to fall in love with this girl, which he does, etc. It's somewhat complicated, one of those "you'd have to have been there" type explanations.

The interior of the opera house was very nice. I was told it is something of a "gift" from Madrid to the Catalans, and so the building's exterior and interior styles are not really indicative of Catalan taste. That's about the only way I can express it. After the opera we walked around town and my friends showed me the Catalan style of building exemplified by the Palau Musica, where they said I should go see a show there some evening. If I go I'll take pictures so you can get a comparison of the buildings. Here, at the Liceu, was my first operatic experience. What struck me about the stage was that it had HDTV-like dimesions: it seemed as though I was looking at a super high-res TV set, that had depth. Perhaps that's what TV is trying to emulate: the live stage? This "live TV" also had subtitles! Do all operas provide this service? I had no idea. The white bar above the stage is where they're displayed.

The subtitles are also available in a little electronic window in the back of the seat in front of your own. And the subtitles are the reason why I got tickets to the opera in the first place. The department that invited me here (Traduccio i Interpretacio) is the department of translation and interpretation, and subtitles is what they do (among other things—they also train interpreters, like the ones that work at the UN, e.g., as portrayed by Nicole Kidman in The Interpreter which I watched coincidentally just before coming here). The university has a kind of mini mock UN classroom that they use for training purposes. And subtitles is what I'm now doing as well—the code I'm writing is for eye tracking while watching video, where the video contains subtitles. I'll describe that in another post, once I get my code working...

23 Robadors

While at ETRA earlier this year I met a guy who was studying (or working?) in the UK but who was from Barcelona. When I told him I'd be here and that I'd like to play the drums somewhere, he suggested 23 Robadors. So I went. I found the place (23 Robadors is the address but I'm using it as the name of the place, which I think it may also be), it's in a dodgy sidestreet side of Las Ramblas, close to the Liceu metro stop (where the opera is, which I'll write about next). Robadors can also mean "thieves" and so the street is aptly named. 23 Robadors is right next to a gay bar and some sort of other establishment fronted by what appears to be a large "woman of the house" if you get my meaning. So when I asked the owner of the bar about playing there he seemed somewhat surprised that I'd found the place. Well, apparently jam night happens every Wednesday, except that some Wednesdays the jam is really a performance by what I think is the house jazz band. And of course the Wednesday I showed up was one of those nights. I brought my sticks but hid them the couple of hours I was there. There was no chance of jamming and the guys that played were actually very good and there was no way I was going to match the drummer playing that night. This guy was really quite imaginative in how he used the kit, various mallets, brushes, sticks, etc. He played the rims of the drums, he played with the metal ends of the brushes, he was all over the place, and made it look easy. I think he did the one-handed roll at one point, it was pretty impressive. However, the venue there is a little too "beatnik" for me, reminding me of that Happy Days episode when Richie almost runs away with this beret-wearing crowd. What happens in this bar is that you sit there watching the performance. You shouldn't move or make any noise while they play. I dunno, not really my scene; I rather like a bar where you can walk around, talk, maybe dance, etc. So I'm not sure if I'll come back here, I think I'll try the Harlem Jazz Club instead. That place, although it features jazz in its name, claims to have blues jam sessions on Tuesdays. We'll see...


Last weekend was warm and sunny so I went to the beach: Barceloneta. Above is a shot of the street that leads there, a fairly long walk from the closest metro stop. Today isn't as hot so I may go to the park instead. The whole week was rather cold in fact, with early on in the week the cold accompanied by rain. Not nice. Today is a bit better but still on the cool side. Of course (as it seemed was often the case in Vancouver), weather underground reports a sunny day tomorrow (Monday). Well, hopefully that will hold out until next week, as I'd like to return to the beach.

When you get to the beach and look right, you see that large building—looks like a W hotel. At left you see Frank Gehry's gold fish sculpture that he created under commission for the Olympic Games in Barcelona in the 1990s. Reminds me of the dancing buildings we saw in Prague, also his design. The Czechs were somewhat divided on that piece as it doesn't quite fit in with the architecture. Is that the case with the fish? What do you think? Art or eye sore? Personally I guess I don't mind it. It's something to look at, it glitters, it gives the beach something distinctive, maybe in the sense of Sydney's opera house, Vancouver's sails (of the Pan Pacific hotel I mean), but perhaps not quite on that scale. I plunked my towel behind the thing you see below; I'm still not quite sure what it's supposed to be. I didn't go up to it so I don't know if you can enter the thing, are there stairs? Is it a public toilet? Changing rooms perhaps? I suppose it can serve as a landmark that people can use to meet at (I heard a group behind me use it that way, e.g., "we're behind the blocks"—they were speaking English). The beach was somewhat crowded so don't expect a lot of privacy here. In fact, one major annoyance are the masseuses and beer salesmen walking around pestering everyone. One is constantly asked "Massage?" or "Beer, cerveza?" Some of the pushier masseuses will stand there and bug you if you ignore them. Irritating...I wonder if they're all over the beach or just in the section I was at (I was close to restaurants and the pedestrian mall, so right in the touristy area).

After the beach, I grabbed an Italian-style gelatto and went to Port Vell, it's at the end of the wooden walk with the wavy iron bars you see in the pic. I've been there before, there are a couple of nice restaurants there and a shopping mall. I was looking for kitchen towels and other things for the apartment, but that mall mainly has clothes and not really worth going into.

Port Vell is right at the bottom of Las Ramblas, the main touristy boulevard I've written about before. (Btw, is it "La Rambla" or "Las Ramblas"? It's both: "La Rambla" refers to the actual street, e.g., similar to how one would use "the boulevard" for example. In this case, the whole length of the boulevard is a series of sections, each called differently, e.g., "La Rambla de Florets" which then changes to "La Ramble de something-else", and on down the street. So it's really a set of "Las Ramblas". I suppose technically it would therefore be incorrect to simply say "La Rambla" as then one could come back with "which one"?) At the top of Las Ramblas you have Plaza Catalunya, and the metro of the same name. I catch the metro there when I'm either going back to the apartment or to work, as Catalunya has both the TMB metro and the FGC surface trains I wrote about earlier.

Quick travel note

I took these shots while in transit to BCN, but I didn't have a chance to upload them until now. This is a reminder of how to get through security at Schiphol with a very short layover, e.g., like the one we'll have next month: only 50 minutes, assuming on-time arrival. What you see above is the security checkpoint heading through to the D gates (where the plane to BCN will likely be, probably D67 or something like that). The crowd of people is fairly large, even at 06:00, as above. The image at right is a few steps further in—notice the vertical monitor at left. This monitor has a list of flights with a short connection and is there so that if your flight is listed you can get in to the fast lane (at left). The 06:55 flight to Barcelona was listed and if I were on that flight I would have gone through the fast lane. As it was, I was on the noon flight, so I went through the "elite" line that was a little shorter than normal. The whole thing moves fairly quickly even though beyond the passport control one has to go through x-ray screening. I think I was through there in about 25-30 minutes, so I think I actually could have made the 06:55 flight even through the normal lanes. But later in June we'll go through the fast lane at left. Below are some shots of BCN's new international terminal.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The morning commute

The first leg of my commute to work starts at the Hostafrancs metro station. I get on the train heading to Fondo on line L1 and get off at Catalunya, possibly the largest station in the system (a large hub of several train lines). There are I think three train systems in Barcelona, the metro is one of them, then the Renfe trains are another, and there's a third, the FGC. I have to get on FGC train S2 or S55 to get up to the university.

To get to the FGC trains, I have to walk through a couple of connecting tunnels and the L3 line metro stop (it's strange to me why a metro stop platform should act as a thoroughfare as it tends to cause human traffic congestion, but that's how it seems to be organized). One could surface from the metro station instead and get to the FGC trains via the sidewalk, but may as well stay underground.

At one point in the series of tunnels I come to this central round connecting hub. You can then choose to surface (see the light at left?), head into one of the L1 or L3 metro lines (where I'm coming out of), or head into the Renfe train platforms, as you see at right. It's difficult to make out in the pic, but above the entrance to the tunnel you see the train numbers that are there—S2 and S55 should be there. Why the distinction in train services? I think it's because of differing management companies: Renfe is one, the TMB is the other (managing the metro), and the FGC, or Ferrocarrils Generalitat de Catalunya. For me, the distinction between the S lines and the L lines is patterned after the German organization I found in Munich: I think of the S lines as "surface trains", whereas the L lines are metro lines.

After turning into the FGC doorway, it's one more short tunnel and then through the ticket machines onto the train platforms. Here I just need to glance at the train departure times to figure which of the S2 or S55 trains is departing next and from which platform. In the pic at right I think it's the S2 that's coming in. Once I get on this train, it's a somewhat lengthy ride up to campus. There, once I get off the train, it's just a quick jaunt up a hill to the Traduccio i Interpretaccio building, and into the office my hosts have let me use.

Last week although I was busy settling in, doing reimbursement paperwork, skype'ing with a student back in Clemson, filling out my faculty activity system (FAS) info, I actually got some good coding done. I'm working with ffmpeg and am in the middle of ripping apart a one-file playback example, splitting it up into its logical components—the one file was 2600+ lines of code. The code is difficult enough to figure out without having to scroll back and forth up a 2600 line vi window. Video playback is complicated by the use of numerous codecs and synchronization between video, audio, and subtitle streams. However, these components make it fairly logical to break up the one large file into. After I've finished doing this, the idea is to marry this code with my eye tracking code so that I can capture eye movements over video, which is why I'm here in Barcelona in the first place. I'll write more on this stuff later, as the programming effort progresses.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Typical work morning

I'll try to give you a visual diary of my typical work day. First part is the morning. I get up—yup, it's dark in here with no windows. I've set up my iPhone on the night stand to act as my alarm clock. It's usually what I do when I travel, the iPhone charges and then wakes me up. After I get up, I put on my workout clothes and head out the door to the gym. I found out about this place during my advance web research. Google and google maps are really helpful tools for this sort of thing. I usually try to do this when I travel so that I get a sense for where a place is situated and what is in its proximity. So with the gym, I was happily surprised to find that it's just up the block from the apartment.

Above you see the main street that I cross on my way to the gym. It's Carrer de la Creu Coberta in the Hostafrancs district, with a metro stop of the same name. Pretty much right underneath my apartment is the Mercat d'Hostafrancs, one of a handful of these types of markets with fresh produce and meats. I pass by this market, then cross the main street then head up the narrow alley up to the gym.

That's the gym, pretty decent place actually. Where you see that domed roof is where the weights and aerobic machines are. There's a pool in there but I don't have my speedos here and I would also need a cap (I know not why, but those are the rules). I run in with my weight gloves and sweat towel. I do my "CBL" workout that I actually got from some weightlifting guy I met on a plane once. He said to spread out the body parts so that each gets rested, so C is for chest, B is for back, L for legs, and that's three days' worth. I finish off with shoulders and biceps/triceps and that's five days' worth and a full week. Each day I do "burpies" and aerobics, either jog on the treadmill or recumbent bike, each of these for 30 mins. The whole thing takes about an hour and by the end I'm awake :)

Once I get back from the gym, I make breakfast. Right now, that's ham on toast, OJ, coffee, and plain yogurt with honey. I catch up on the news (Drudgereport), down my coffe, and it's off to work. I'll write up the one-hour commute in my next post. But right now (Saturday night), it's time to head out to Plaza Catalunya and La Rambla to get some tapas and cervezas.

My digs in Barca

Here's my apartment in Barcelona, taken the day of arrival. It's a fairly roomy place with a somewhat cramped kitchen, which you can see to the right in the pic. In the pic you see the dining table (where I've since set up the laptop), with a "two-story" closet directly behind the table. It's somewhat strange: when you open the sliding doors, there are two levels, with the top level too high up to reach from the floor. Presumably, one is meant to use this from the loft above the table. There's a bed up there, but it only has about two feet of headroom which makes it a touch cloisterphobic. So I sleep on the "ground floor" where there was a kind of couch that could be opened up into a two-mattress (side-by-side) bed. There's a fan above, which is another reason why I chose that sleeping location. Overall the place isn't bad, it's location is excellent, but it's a bit dark with only one window. And currently, I can't really open the window up in the morning cause there are guys out there working on the scaffolding. I hadn't expected this scaffolding there, and hope that they finish up before I leave...there's a nice porch out there that I'd actually like to use.

My impression of the kitchen was initially somewhat low as it lacks a full-sized oven (although I knew about this when I rented the place, I just didn't think it would make such an impact in person). It does, however, have a small "desktop" oven (like a toaster oven) that actually works fairly well...I baked fresh cod in it a couple of days ago and it turned quite well. There's also a small baking pan that fits inside so I think I'll be able to make simple casseroles in there without too much trouble—so long as I can find all the ingredients. One major redeeming quality about the kitchen is that it came equipped with Bialetti coffee makers (there's three of them here—two small and one tiny). It's also equipped with other basic things that hopefully I won't need to add to. So far so good. The fridge is small, but also seems to suffice.

Here is the bathroom and laundry. The shower has pretty low pressure and is supplied by a small water tank shared with the washing machine. To the right of the washing machine you'll see "the dryer"—two clothes lines outside the sliding glass doors. The world's slowest dryer: it takes two days for stuff to dry. This poses a bit of a washing schedule challenge. It's best to string wet stuff up in the morning to maximize what little sun filters in back there. I think I have this figured out though: run the machine when I go off to lift weights at the gym. This takes me about 90 mins within which time the machine finished, especially when on the "Quick" setting. My first try I started the machine after my workout while I hopped in the shower. Not only did I get the hot/cold water fluctuations but I ended up waiting two hours for the washer to finish. I must have used the wrong setting, but still, I've never seen a washing machine pull so many cycles. I think the best approach with this machine is "early and often". Do laundry early in the day and don't let the clothes pile up.