A few pictures from Lille, France

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Here are a few pictures from Lille, France. I had them on my phone and I meant to post them on my blog, so that I do not forget the places and what I felt then. The first one are the two expressos in the morning. One after the other. And the city waking up.

There is Lille in the morning when I went jogging from 6 to 7am. The streets and plazas were empty. The cafes and boulangeries were closed at 6, and were putting their croissants and breads in the windows at 7. And staring at me when I made the pictures. In the mornings the streets were wet from night showers and the dumpsters smelled badly. But the streets were empty, so you could chose on what side to run.

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There is this smell from the childhood. The smell comes from the trees in the park. The little yellow flowers produce the smell. And I remember our summers at my grandma’s place in Lipetzk (Russia). And those trees are called Lipas. And the smell is very sweet and it makes me smile and want to fall asleep.

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And then there is a slightly everyday Lille. With people. Shoppers. Tourists. The buzz of the downtown.

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And the Lille at night, when the cafes are closing.

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The blue doors and shutters. I always had this thing with doors. I love doors. They tell a story. But they do not tell the full story. They leave the most important behind.

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And there is Lille that made me think of my two kids. The sweet Lille. My kids would have loved that.

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Lille from inside of the cafe when it is raining outside. In the morning.

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And the sky.

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Lille, July 2016

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Easter in Barcelona

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In Spain on Easter kids receive La Mona de Pascua, it is a chocolate figure decorated with feathers and chicks. Those chocolate works of art range from simple chocolate eggs to elaborated chocolate scenes from Disney movies and Barca football players. The price of such chocolate gift also varies a lot, from 10 Euros for a simple egg up to 100 Euros for a nice house with couple of chocolate figures around it.

Apart from La Mona de Pascua the Easter sweet bread and Bunyelos de viento (air bunyelos) are sold. The Easter bread reminds me of Russian sweet bread (сдобные булочки) and there is a boiled egg placed in the center of it. Sometimes the eggs are decorated with a sticker. And yes, lots of colored feathers and Easter chicks accompany the bread.

Today all the children in Spain commenced their Easter vacations, the vacations always start the week before Easter. We strolled with our children through the city and looked at the Easter decorations of the cafes and at Monas de Pascua. We got an Easter bread at Crusto and it was really good. Here are some images of Barcelona’s cafes decorated for Easter.

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Crusto, Carrer Muntaner 363, Barcelona
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Easter Bread at Crusto, Carrer Muntaner 363, Barcelona
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Easter bread with two chocolate eggs (instead of boiled eggs) at Crusto, Carrer Muntaner 363, Barcelona
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Easter chocolate eggs at La Criolla, Carrer Muntaner 423, Barcelona
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La Criolla, Carrer Muntaner 423, Barcelona
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Chocolate figures at La Criolla, Carrer Muntaner 423, Barcelona
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Monas de Pascua in a pastisseria at the cross of Carrer Muntaner and Ronda General Mitre, Barcelona
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Monas de Pascua in a pastisseria at the cross of Carrer Muntaner and Ronda General Mitre, Barcelona
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Monas de Pascua in BoPan, Carrer Muntaner 536, Barcelona
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BoPan, Carrer Muntaner 536, Barcelona
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Monas de Pascua at Canal, Carrer Muntaner 566, Barcelona
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Monas de Pascua at Canal, Carrer Muntaner 566, Barcelona
DSC_8599Monas de Pascua at pastisseria Serra 9, Plaza Joaquim Folguera, Barcelona

Today was just a day

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The waiter placed the coffee and the desert on the table and I smiled widely and said “Merci”. This is what you say in Catalonia as “Thank you”. Why did I smile so widely? I looked at myself in the mirror this afternoon and smiled, just to see my face smiling. Lots of wrinkles all over my face when I smile. Also the smile does not look natural on my face. I should not smile if I do not feel like it. Looking without smiling is ok too. At least there are no wrinkles and I like my face then.

I turned 35. Today. I also turned to be a depressed person. Nope, not today, but over the past year or two. Depressed does not mean that I sit home and cry. On the contrary, I am always busy, doing something, taking care of something, talking, walking, meeting, drinking coffee and making plans. But when I am on my own I do not smile. And I do not like it. I used to smile to myself before all the time.  And the only line that comes to my mind right now is “Life is not a walk across a field”, which is from my favorite poem by Pasternak.

We went with my family to Velodromo. It is by far my favorite place in Barcelona. I come here two or three times a week. It is thirty minutes walking distance from my house and a lot of times I walk here in order to do some kind of exercise. Thirty minutes here and thirty minutes back home is already something. I walk to the place even when it rains. And it is raining now.

Today was just a day. For some reason everybody expects you to be super happy and excited on your birthday. And I felt it was just a day. It was as good as any other day and I wished people would leave me alone and stop asking me to smile all the time. If I felt like smiling, I would have smiled myself.  Thus, we went to Velodromo. Even if I feel sad, I come to this place and I start feeling better. There is something about the space and the food that makes me feel relaxed and be part of the people around. As always, the food was very good and the desert and coffee even better. They have one of my favorite Catalonian deserts El postre del musico (The musician desert). It is a selection of nuts and dried fruits and a glass of muscatel.

When the waiter left the desert and the coffee on the table I smiled widely and said “Merci”. And my family asked me what happy thoughts I was thinking to suddenly smile so nicely. And the truth is no thoughts. I just smiled back without thinking. It did feel really good to smile without any reason. I love this place.

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Velodromo Barcelona

Velodromo Restaurant

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Velodromo restaurant

El postre del musicoEl postre del musico (The musician desert) and an americano.

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Pear in chocolateA pear dipped in the hot chocolate and an espresso.

Menu en Velodromo The menu in Velodromo had birds on the back. Which was great as the kids and me are working on a bird project at home. Those are single-use menus and people are welcome to take them (we asked). Last time we were here they had girls in bikinis with Spanish football club logos! We took some copies for our football loving friends in US.

Velodromo MenuPart of the Velodromo menu.

Velodromo restaurant Velodromo. Tables on the second floor.

My Best Meeting Ever

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My best meeting ever is a meeting with myself at the cafe. This is where I get really productive. This is when I really enjoy my work, my thoughts, my time.

During the rest of the day I am surrounded by people that expect me to listen to them, to reply, to interact. At the cafe it is just me, my coffee and my laptop. Yes, there are people around me, but these people do not expect anything from me. They are just there living their lives. What an awesome feeling! Wondering if it would be ok to tell the old men on the table next to me that I love him just because he sits there and reads the newspaper? Nope, I probably should not do these things.

They also play music at the cafe. It is great, because otherwise I would never listen to any music at all. I am generally too busy even to think about music, let alone to spare one minute to decide what I feel like listening to, and to actually find that song and hit play. Too many actions and decisions for me, in reality it almost never happens. Apart from music, they bring me coffee. At this cafe, as I come here every day, I do not have even to ask for it. The waiters are my friends. I know their names, they know what I drink.

Here am I on my meeting with myself. Working. And taking ten minutes to type this. Those who think that creating and running their own company is fun… Well, they are right, it is fun. It is hard as hell too. You just do not stop to think how hard it is while you are doing it. It means that your family sees you mostly behind the laptop. And you do not see them. It means that you only play with your kids in between of the meetings, emails and skype calls. It means that your personal life is none existent. You lose your family, you barely keep up with your friends, and the only time you get to breath is when you are in the shower. You wake up and you think about this great idea, thought, feature, you eat breakfast and you think how to bring it to practice or something similar. Nope, you do not think about what you eat. This is why you eat the same breakfast for ten years in a row, you simplify your life to the maximum in anything that is not related to what you do.

You live under a constant pressure. You get used to it. It is the pressure that *you* always have to do something. If you do not do it, nobody will. Thus, you just do it. You get used to the fact that your free time is when you let yourself “relax” and read a chapter of that business book that you wanted to read. And not be productive for two hours. Just be passive and read. All those great books about how to relax and take one day at a time really do not work. Your passion is what creates the pressure. Your passion and the urge to make it real. It is not about money. Hell no! Hard to explain. Most of all it is about gaining back a piece of your own heart.

The cafe is closing. The meeting is over. Out on the street and what a night!

Note: After I hit publish on this post the WordPress suggested I should add “mental health” to the tags. Hmmm…. made me smile more than think.

Spring, Shadows, Barcelona

Seeing the world in black & white today. When you do not have colors, you see the details. Made me think about business. In any given company absolutely everything valuable should be in black and white: the structure, the information, functioning, navigation. Color should not contain any information within the text, on the website, in the ad, in the store. All information should be in black and white, and color should be added as an emotional layer later on.

I like the world in black and white. Do we dream in color? I think not. I can’t remember colors from my past night’s dream. Maybe we dream in concepts.

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On Spring

The spring began today. For me, that is. Today was the first day I saw the sharp shadows on the plaza. Yesterday I spent six hours working inside a cafe, because it was cold and raining, and I did not have an umbrella with me to walk home.

Today I noticed it was spring. This afternoon the sky was blue, the houses looked bright, and I sat with my laptop outside, getting tanned for the first time this year. Sunshine! I know it is spring when the shadows become sharp. I first see the shadow and then realize what object it belongs to. Living in terms of the spring shadows. Living outside.

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Barcelona, March 25th 2013

Ten Things About Turkey

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In October we spent a week in Istanbul, Turkey. It is a very crowded and restless city. You can get a lot out of your visit if you are not afraid to explore the city on your own. Here are some things that I did not expect (and loved):

1. Pomegranate juice. Almost everywhere in the city there are pomegranate juice vendors. They carry with them their carts full of pomegranates, and squeeze the juice right when you purchase your drink.

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2. Cats. Istanbul is full of cats. We saw cats at mosques, restaurants, shops, museums. Everywhere you go, you see cats. Cats are sleeping, walking, eating among the people. Those tourists who did not like cats had hard time in Istanbul. However, if you are fine with the felines, you will enjoy it.

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3. People and kids. Turks are very friendly to children. If my son was crying on the street Turks would stop and ask what was wrong and if they could help. Some offered him a cookie or a candy. The waiters at the restaurants would kiss the kids on both cheeks when they delivered the food. I do not think that my children had so much attention on any other of our trips.

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4. Mosques. Mosques are very beautiful. Being raised in a Christian family I never thought that I would experience the same feeling of peace and quietness at a mosque that I do at a church. But I did. Since my very first visit to a mosque I was enchanted by the light and cleanness that invaded my mind and spirit. I think that the passion, art and purpose that people put into the construction of a mosque were the same ones that were put into the building of a church or a cathedral. Thus, the feelings it provokes in one are the same.  We are much closer to one another than we imagine.

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5. Taxis. If you are in Istanbul use taxi. The experience of driving in a taxi through Istanbul is unforgettable. The drivers do not follow any signs, only their intuition and drive at 60 mph through the one way narrow streets. One way, does not mean one direction, it means one direction at a time, as two cars would not fit next to each other there. During one week the kids and me took taxis every day to move through the city and you end up feeling a little bit like in a James Bond movies driving with those crazy cab drivers.

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6. Food. Food is superb in Istanbul. I have not eaten so well anywhere else except Spain. Turks really know how to cook meet and fish. It tastes good, it looks good and you feel good after you have finished your dinner. Ok, sometimes we overate. However, there are very few places in the world where you can eat like this.

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7. Coffee. Ok, I had to write something about coffee. I am generally not into Turkish coffee.  Nevertheless in Istanbul I drunk it for the whole week from 10am till midnight. Yes, every night we took the kids for coffee and Turkish sweets at Mado. It was one of the best experiences during our stay there. They have really good coffee, the chairs are comfortable and the stuff is friendly. What else can you ask from life?

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8. Ceramics at Rustem Pasa mosque. I am not going to describe it, but here are some pictures from that mosque. It takes your breath away for couple of seconds when you enter the space. Well, blue and white are two of my favorite colors. However, it is not only the colors, but the absence of vulgarity and gentleness of the art, that touches ones spirit in that squared space.

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9. People. People are very friendly in Istanbul. They are respectful, generous, open and kind. And their hospitality is unique. I have never had so much attention as in Istanbul. Vendors do not just sell you the product, they pass you a part of their knowledge, they share something more then a mere physical object. We spent an hour drinking tea and trying sweets at the spice booth. We were not shopping for tea or sweets. I was buying spices. The vendor invited us for tea, offered lokum to the kids and engaged into an hour conversation. I enjoyed it. Well, not so much the part when he offered the marriage. Yeap, he did not believe that I was married, because I was without my husband at that moment. The rings and the kids were not enough proof for him. But if you can stay firm about your marital status you will enjoy your Istanbul experience greatly. The people and their stories are definitely the best part of the city.

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10. The last and the best thing about Turkey is my friend who lives there. Without her my experience in Istanbul would have been very different. It means a lot to have a friend in a place you visit as a tourist. It makes you a little bit local.

World is a funny place after all. You meet people, you like them, you never talk too much, but you still like them and trust them. The life goes on. You take the next step, then another one and one more. You move to a new country, have a new job, speak another language and, finally, make new friends.  However, when I met my friend in Istanbul this fall, I realized that I have been sharing with her something invaluable all this time. The silence was not indifference. It was patience. Thank you for being there Ozlem.

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Barcelona, January 13th 2013

Walking Against the Light

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Living in Barcelona and loving good coffee you end up discovering the best places to enjoy it. Xavier, the owner of the Doctor Coffee, my regular stop for morning coffee and newspaper, recommended me to try El Magnifico. And I did.

Cafe El Magnifico

I went to El Magnifico for the first time couple of weeks ago. It turned out to be one of the few coffee-roasters in Barcelona, as most places that sell coffee are distributors and do not roast the beans themselves. El Magnifico does. The coffee at El Magnifico smells magically and it tastes even better. It is comparable to the coffee at Verve in Santa Cruz, CA.

The roaster at El Magnifico

The place is very small, and it does not have tables, which is unusual for Spain. However it offers couple of benches to those who prefer to enjoy their drink in the real ceramic coffee cup. I tried it both ways, in ceramic and in paper versions. This morning it was paper and the coffee tasted as good as ever. Walking through the narrow streets of Barcelona with the morning coffee in your right hand is empowering. It means that you will accomplish what you have proposed for that day. It also makes you smile.

Santa Maria del Mar

The cafe is located in the Born neighbor, very close to the church of Santa Maria del Mar. First time I visited the cafe I was surprised to discover that my favorite church was only thirty feet away from where I paid for my coffee. For me, Santa Maria del Mar is the most beautiful church in Barcelona, and it played an interesting role in my life during my student years. Not being of any religion at all, and in my desire to change and to be a better person, I decided to become a Catholic. Crazy, I know. However, the priest of Santa Maria del Mar was able to talk me out of it. He gently told me that he believed, that I would be fine and would follow my path independently of the religion I undertook. I am thankful to him even now for his wiseness. Then I was young, and this was many years ago. Time have passed. Living in USA and in Norway, and being always fairly busy, I got to forget about that church. I have not been there in the past ten years. Thus, three weeks ago, holding in my hand the cup with the best coffee in Barcelona, I felt certain enchantment walking against the light towards Santa Maria del Mar. When I entered the church the bell rung five times. Five o’clock. And the lights were turned on.

At the cafe next to the church I was meeting an old college friend. When the coffee is good the conversation is good too. Both require art, passion and involvement. Life in these simple terms.

Coffee at El Magnifico

Barcelona, January 11th, 2013

Dubrovnik, Croatia: Café on the Rocks

Dubrovnik, Croatia is a very beautiful place to spend a few days. In October the weather is just perfect for almost everything: walking, swimming, sunbathing, sightseeing. The old city center is very clean and well maintained. On our first day we walked around the city walls and enjoyed the view from the every point of the wall.

On our second day my daughter got sick and we had to take a more relaxed approach to sightseeing. Thus, the only thing we did was to sit and have coffee and sandwiches at a small café on the rocks. We saw this café the day before from the city walls and decided that it was one of the most relaxing (and beautiful) places in the world.

I got a thin book about Dubrovnik’s history, art and culture and read it while having coffees and looking at the Adriatic sea with my daughter.  To my surprise, I think, I learned more about the city from reading this book in that remote café on the rocks, than if I would have devoted the day to regular tourism.

We did not visit any church, any museum or any gallery. We did not stop and admire beautiful plazas. As a matter of fact we only stopped on them when we got lost, and needed to figure out what plaza we were on, mainly by it’s shape and presence of some church on one of the sides, but that was about it.

All we did was to sit at the café, read the book about the city’s history, watch people jump off the rocks and swim, salute to the small tourist boats and try to see what fishermen in the skiffs fished from the sea.

There were mainly locals; bathing, smoking, playing cards and reading. Two women with a small dog, four old men playing cards, young people jumping off the rocks, couple of men sleeping in the cafe chairs, two grey cats and some more men smoking and discussing something in Croatian.

The history of Dubrovnik is all about the city fortress, towers and how many other nations tried to attack it from the sea dating back to the 7th century. And from where we sat it was obvious why others attacked the city.

Once you’ve enjoyed the warm sea breeze and the sunshine you also want to conquer this place and live here. I do not think we would have gotten this conqueror spirit by just doing the touristy walk through the city and its history.

If you ever visit Dubrovnik, skip all the touristy places, guided tours and museums. Just find this small café on the rocks by the city walls and spend all your time there reading, swimming and listening to the beautiful Croatian language.  By the time the water becomes golden from the sunlight, you will know where the history of this place takes its roots.

Dubrovnik, October 19th, 2012

With 6 Others

“The usual?” The question is done mostly with the eyes and a slight informal moving of the lips. I nod. I smile and instead of saying “yes”, I ask “Como va todo?”. “Todo bien” says the café owner.  He looks at the counter. He is busy pouring a cappuccino. I move on.

9:10am. I have dropped the kids at school. Now working from the café. I open my laptop.  Emails. I read the important ones,  check the news, and start with my agenda for the day. Xavier brings my coffee.  I thank him. I take a new breath and look around. The music is playing. And I smile.

The same people are around the café. The same people I see every morning at 9:10am. Men in suits, men in polos and women.

Back to my plan. Writing. Writing and humming the song that is playing. Sounds familiar. I probably have been humming it for a while now. Another sip of coffee. Somebody else is humming too.  The dark blue barn jacket is folded on the chair next to me. The man is reading the newspaper and humming the same song. He is here every morning.

Two men in suits discuss something over their iphones. They laugh and joke with the café owner. He jokes back. His joke is not directed towards anybody in particular, it is for all of us. To share.  And some people look up and smile lightly.

The girl with a bluish nail polish is reading a book. She is done with her breakfast; the croissant crust crumbs look messy on her plate. She is wearing a beige cardigan.  Skinny girl with long hair.

All our feet are reflected in the mirror in front. From left to right: a pair of white snickers, moccasins, wedges, ballerina shoes, two black business pairs and one brown.

Seven of us at the café. Every day the same people spend with me the first thirty minutes of the day.  If I ever decide to tweet about my 9:10am experience, I will say “at Doctor Coffee with 6 others”.

I get out of the door. The music is left behind. The morning air is fresh. The touch of sunlight is weightless.  And the next 15 busy hours of the day do not seem hard.

Barcelona, October 8th, 2012