super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


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Being good on Good Friday

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Look, ma, no meat!

In May, five years will have passed since I moved to New Zealand. A whole half a decade of my life spent in the last bus stop in the world, almost 20,000km from home. It’s a whole lot of time to spend in a place that isn’t your own.

Except, it kind of is my own. I came across this article today, via a friend and fellow expat, that completely translated into words my feelings about living abroad.

It turns out I’m not the only one who’s come to the painful realisation that an expat will never fully feel whole again, no matter what happens. I miss Portugal dearly while I’m in New Zealand and I think fondly of all things Kiwi when I’m back in Portugal. I say “I’m going home” if I’m flying to Lisbon and I tell people in Lisbon about things I have “back home” in New Zealand. “Home” has come to define more than one place. It sounds like – and, for the most part is – a great situation to be in, to have two special places in your heart. But it doesn’t come without a decent amount of heartache.

I’ve grown more than five years in the last five years. Timezone differences mean my mum is asleep when most of my questions arise, when I burn my food, when I’m not sure which clothes I shouldn’t mix up with which in the washing machine, or when I can’t find an important document. If I get good or bad news that I want to share, I usually have to contain my enthusiasm for a few hours (we’re usually about 12 hours apart, depending on daylight savings). For the most part, I think I’ve been doing alright. Every few months, saudade hits harder but I’m fortunate enough to be able to solve that problem with the purchase of a flight home.

Moving this far meant that I had the chance to completely break away but, mostly due to having the most awesome family in the world, I’ve chosen not to.

Today, on my fifth Good Friday at home away from home, I purposefully didn’t eat meat. I have never eaten meat on any of the Good Fridays of my life. I have no real clue as to why, if I’m honest. My mum taught me we don’t eat meat on Good Friday and my grandma taught me the same and I’m pretty sure my great grandmother and great great grandmother didn’t eat meat on Good Friday either. Something something Jesus something, of course. I never really questioned it, especially because there were always plenty of chocolate eggs to make up for not being able to make a ham sandwich for 24 hours.

So if I don’t even really know why we had to do it, why do I choose to keep doing it, right? Well, it might have religious roots but it’s most definitely not a religious thing for me (if there is a God, he/she wouldn’t want to deprive me from steak). It’s a family thing. By continuing a family tradition, even if I’m away from family and surrounded by people who don’t do it, I’m closer to that other home I’m actually away from.

I couldn’t plan my Good Friday as well as I wanted to because the supermarket near home decided to close earlier than expected last night and I couldn’t buy the stuff I had planned for my meatless meals today. This little setback made me realise that, without proper planning, I’d be the world’s worst vegetarian. Aside from a fairly healthy-ish omelette (which did contain enough cheese to feed a small army), my day has been a sugarfest. Hot cross buns, pancakes, breakfast cereal and fruit smoothies.

Days that are heavy with traditions like this one are particularly hard for people who wish they could split into two or who wish science would stop mucking around and hurried up making teleportation a reality. No amount of Creme Eggs (which, thanks to the supermarket closing too early, I also did not have today) can make up for not being able to celebrate Easter back home.

I’ll just celebrate it here at home instead. And as soon as the shops open tomorrow, I’m queueing up for Easter eggs.


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Lisbon Rock n Roll Half Marathon recap

Cropped out of the picture is the half eaten Magnum ice cream I was holding in that same hand. Because ice cream is just what you need after two Gu energy gels. Silly Vera.

Had it not been written in 1859, I’d say Dickens’ famous “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” quote from A Tale of Two Cities was about my half marathon in Lisbon a couple of weeks ago.

And now that we’re past the snobbiest introductory paragraph in the history of running recaps, we can move on to the reasons that made me say that and forget that I actually quoted 19th century British literature in a running post.

The Rock n Roll Half Marathon in Lisbon was my absolute favourite race ever. I very much doubt anything will be able to top that any time soon. It’s not your fault, races in the rest of the world. This one had lots going for it. For starters, I got to run for a bit along the longest bridge in Europe, a bridge which is about 10 minutes from where my family lives. I remember that bridge being built and slowly reshaping the landscape. No one is ever allowed to walk or cycle there and, yet, it was the start line for this run. I was more excited about that than the eHarmony girl is excited about cats. I want that bridge in a basket with a bow tie (weirdest sentence ever I’ve ever written? Probably.)

So on top of the coolest start line ever, and being a really well organized event, what else did this run have going for it? Well, I was home. My BFF was running it with me and it was his very first half marathon. My mum got to drop my off at the bus to the start line. My family was watching on the street as I ran past. I got to run along the streets of the world’s most beautiful city. I got to finish that run and walk to my grandma’s house and eat one of my favourite summer meals ever, because I had asked her to make it and she never says no (one of the criteria that got her the title of world’s best grandmother). Do I need to give you any more reasons? I didn’t think so.

It was also the worst of times, though. Lisbon, in all its end of September glory, is one stinking hot mess. This was my sixth half marathon ever and fourth this year (on road, excluding offroad ones) and it was my slowest one so far. It started off great, I avoided the much dreaded stitch pain and the adrenaline and excitement got me along and off the bridge in pretty high spirits. Seeing the family in the first 4km really helped but, from then on, it all started going downhill (and, unfortunately, only in a metaphorical non-topographical sense). My body started to over heat and there was not enough water that I could drink or pour down my head to help me cool down. The air was much drier than I’m used to, living in mighty humid Auckland, and I felt like, no matter how much I tried, no oxygen was getting to my lungs. This feeling lasted for about 16km which is a really long time to feel like you can’t breathe.

I had never thought about quitting a race as much as I thought about quitting during this one. The thought just wouldn’t leave my mind. My brain and I fought a very tough battle not to quit. I didn’t want my first DNF to be in my hometown, with my family waiting. But I couldn’t breathe and my entire body felt weak. I can’t say I enjoyed the run.  I never expected a personal best in this one, seeing I didn’t train for it, but I didn’t think it would go quite so bad. I felt out of breath and in pain pretty much the entire time. Nothing could distract me from it. My sole focus was on trying to not give up.

This lasted until I saw the 19km marker. From then on, I knew I could do it.  We re-entered the Parque das Nações area (damn you traditional Portuguese cobblestone streets destroying my feet) and, with more and more people cheering on the runners, it got slightly easier. Then, with barely 1km to go, right in front of Gare do Oriente, I spotted the family. Mum, being the giant bag of cuteness she is, even joined me for a couple of hundred meters, wearing sandals. When I crossed the finish line, they were all there. The pain was gone for a while. It came back around about the time dad informed me we had to walk about 15 minutes to my grandma’s house, where he had parked, and then climb the stairs to the fourth floor where she lives. That kinda hurt, dad. I’ll remember that.  But all good, I had my medal so my sweat and my wobbly penguin walk were sort of justified.


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Lisbon Urban Trail recap

I had never heard of the concept of urban trail until I came across the information about this event. As soon as I read about it, though, I was sold. Urban trail is a style of running that combines a couple of my favourite things in the world (running and tourism/sightseeing). The whole idea is to enter a running event in a historical or cultural significant area mixing running with sightseeing. Perfect, right? I thought so too.

The inaugural Urban Trail in Lisbon took place last month, while I was in Lisbon, proving that somewhere, somehow, the running gods decided to sit around a table and conspire in my favor over a few glasses of Powerade.

It was one of the best running events I’ve ever entered (and, as my credit card statement insists on reminding me, I’ve entered a few).  Lisbon is my absolute favourite city in the world so running through its historic parts, even with all those awful hills and hundreds of steps, was the best experience this little running nerd could ask for. When you have a run that passes through some of the most beautiful monuments in Europe and includes a medieval Moorish castle as your halfway point, you know it’s worth waking up with a sore body the next day.

I wasn’t exactly prepared for this run. I didn’t run at all for the three weeks prior to the event, aside from a couple of really short runs that same week. Plus, I sat in a car for six whole days the week before and the only exercise I got during that time involved bursting open packs of road trip food like biscuits and gummy bears. On top of that, about five days before this event, I caught a virus that ensured food wouldn’t spend too long in my stomach for the next couple of days and, as a result, on the night of the urban trail, I was one real unfit mess.

But I was excited. Adrenaline was really the only thing I had going for me that night and it ended up being all I needed. I didn’t run fast and I even had to walk a couple of those hills but, with my reflective yellow shirt and nerdy head torch, I really felt in my element. Having entire streets that I am so familiar with closed off for all of us runners that night, running alongside hundreds of other people in the city I was born in, and seeing entire crowds cheering for us along the way gave me the energy of 100 Gu shots. Portuguese runners, it turns out, are also an amazing bunch of people. At one point, I stopped my iPod and just enjoyed hearing the random conversations going on in the little running groups that kept forming and dissolving along the way. They were all hilarious and cute and witty and I wish I could run with that bunch of people every week.  Also, I ran across Rossio and it was all closed off and I could run wherever I wanted and OMFG LISBON IS BEAUTIFUL.

I took the GoPro strapped onto my wrist but, as predicted, the excitement made me completely forget about it during the run. Luckily, other people are far smarter than me and so there are some neat photos of the run out there. You can check them out here.

So yeah, you get the message. I loved it. I want more night races. More reflective shirts and head torches. More historic streets. Hell, I even want some more of those super steep hills, especially if there’s a medieval castle at the top with a panoramic view of the city where I was born and someone is up there waiting to hand me a muffin (true story).


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snapshots from the past month

The last month came and went in what felt like approximately 2.4 seconds. In the last 28 days, I packed a journey that passed through 14 countries and included hundreds of photos and endless hours of footage that will surely take months to sort through.

It also included a huge lot of sightseeing, too many hours on planes, an enormous amount of time inside a car, pretty mountains, old monuments, snow, beaches, coffees in multiple countries in a day, running on the longest bridge in Europe (well, part of it), entering my first ever night running event (and loving every second of it), visiting the world’s highest glacier palace, and some of the world’s smallest countries (Liechtenstein is so cute I wanted to put it in my pocket – and almost could!).

It included the bitter cold of winter, the crunchy leaves of autumn and the warmth of summer. It had long overdue hugs from family and friends. It included my favourite people, my favourite places, my favourite food.

What will follow, once jet lag finally abandons my body, is a whole lot of blog recaps of all the cool stuff that happened last month, running events included (spoiler alert, I ran the coolest half marathon ever and didn’t die). For now, bed time. Unpacking can wait.


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Portuguese food in Nelson

Ever since I visited the top of the Sydney Tower a few years ago and the first voice I heard was one of a lady telling her elderly mother “olha ali! olha ali!” as she pointed at the view, I’ve become more and more convinced that it is true what people say about Portuguese people being just about everywhere. When I approached Senhor Jorge last Saturday morning at his stall at the Nelson markets, it was only around 10AM and I was already his second Portuguese customer of that day.

I had no idea I’d go all the way down to Nelson (at the top of the South Island) to find some Portuguese deliciousness but that was exactly what I found. My stomach is not normally ready for something as heavy as beef and mustard in a bun quite so early in the day but the excitement of seeing and smelling the food got the better of me and a few minutes later, after having a bit of a chat with Senhor Jorge, as he prepared the food, I was digging into this.

Senhor Jorge’s Fernando’s business is not just a market stall and he sells his own homemade chouriços and other stuff online as well (I have a feeling I’ll be placing an order very, very soon). He let me have a slice of chouriço and asked me if it tasted like home. And it sure did. He also told me he’s working on some ideas for what other Portuguese traditional stuff he can start selling in New Zealand and there was a mention of pasteis de nata (real deal ones, not the fake portuguese custard tarts you find in other places) so I’m sure as hell going to keep checking his website for new stuff.


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Fado (and other weird expat behaviour)

What’s the weirdest thing about being an expat, other than the word expat? (I know you didn’t ask but just go along with it). Well, for me it’s finding myself feeling nostalgic for things I didn’t even realise I liked.

Growing up in Lisbon, it was sort of uncool to like fado. It was old people’s stuff, you know. In fact, you kind of had to go out of your way to find it, it seemed. And so I never did. Instead, I hummed along to whatever was fashionable back then (and okay, some less-than-fashionable stuff but lets not get into that).

As I was heading out of my teens, Mariza exploded and Fado slowly started making its way back (?) into the mainstream music circuit. Or maybe it was just that I went to the Faculty of Letters and started hanging out with intellectual folk and so higher culture became more common around me (whoa, that sounded snotty, didn’t it? Don’t worry, I was still licking my bowls after ice cream back then. Okay, I still do). It was the height of my hipster-like life and liking fado was kind of cool precisely because fado was uncool. Or something. But even then, I never made it past more than a couple of fado songs in a row.

Fast forward a few years and I’m inside JB Hi-Fi in New Zealand looking for a CD of Kiwi music to take to my auntie in Portugal for her birthday. Chris was happily browsing the CDs in another aisle when my eyes fell on The Rough Guide to Fado. And I had to have it. Because I loved the songs in it? Hell, I didn’t even recognise their names! But it was something from Portugal in New Zealand and I go all silly when I see Portuguese stuff in NZ (like the time I bought a disgusting tin of tuna because it said “Portuguese tuna” or the time I paid about $5 for a Portuguese tart in Sydney and it tasted like poop. But I love you, motherland!).

Fast forward again to about a month or so ago. A friend emailed me saying he was doing some research on Fado music and asked for some pointers. I put off writing him a reply because I knew it would be a long one (I tend to babble a lot when foreigners ask about my country because, well, my country rocks) and I was feeling particularly homesick at the time so I wasn’t looking forward to mess with those feelings like that.

Today, I finally replied to his email. Yes, I babbled. And I added a lot of YouTube links. And then I hit the ‘send’ button and spent pretty much the rest of the day at work with my earphones on listening to Fado. It took me coming to New Zealand to realise how much I love it.

And see, I’m babbling again. Don’t mind me. I just wanted you to listen to these and dare you not to be touched by them, whether you understand the lyrics or not.


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A small photo tour of Sintra’s many sintras

One of the many amazing things about Sintra is the number of “sintras” that there are in that one town, at any given time. Visit it on a sunny warm day and you have a happy town. Visit it when the weather’s not so nice and you have this sort of eerieness that is, at the same time, spooky and attractive. You have the old neighbourhoods with the stone houses and the majestic and ostentatious monuments, palaces and castles. The gorgeous wide gardens and the skinny cobblestone streets. The untouched Unesco patrimony (Sintra is a Unesco World Heritage Site and you can read why here) and the graffitied ruins.

It’s little wonder it has been the setting of so many novels. If you’re in Lisbon, Sintra is one of the best day-trips you can choose to do. Visit the castle, the palace, Quinta da Regaleira, eat Queijadas de Sintra… but don’t forget to also go off the beaten track and check out the stuff that exists beyond the monuments.


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postcards from ericeira

Heading to Ericeira for a seafood lunch has always kind of been a favourite activity for my parents and something we tend to do pretty much every year, without even planning or thinking about it. Even when I visited Portugal in Christmas in previous years and the weather outside was cold and uninviting, we always made the yearly pilgrimage and sat at the same waterfront restaurant.

This year, I finally got to return there on a summer day (and what a glorious summer day it was!). With me still uber jet lagged, only a couple of days after getting off the plane (well, planes) from the opposite side of the world, we sat at the usual restaurant and then spent the afternoon wandering around the streets and admiring the surfers out in the water.

There isn’t one particular reason as to why we end up going to this place and not somewhere else but rather a mix of little things that add to Ericeira’s coolness factor. It’s a relatively short drive from Lisbon, it gives us the chance to stop in Sobreiro (Mafra) for some amazing pão com chouriço (which we didn’t this time, since we’d just gotten churros and farturas!) and it is one of those nice little fishing villages that has everything going for it: it’s got that small town character, the amazing sea views and amazing food.

And here’s some bonus trivia, which I’ve just learnt, courtesy of the always trustworthy wikipedia: “In 2011 Ericeira was chosen by the WSR to one of the four World Surfing Reserves together with Malibu and Santa Cruz in California and Manly Beach in Australia”.


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Note to self and to others: a list of things to eat in Portugal (WIP)

I’m going to be home in more or less 50 days. By the time I land it will have been 20 months since my last visit which is just ridiculously stupid. I would describe to you how excited I am about going home but then this would turn into a really long blog post full of crazy-happy yays and squees, capital letters and multiple exclamation marks so I’ll save you from that.

Besides all the obvious things that I’m looking forward to (ie, squeezing all my family and friends real hard until they start wishing I’d just bugger off back to NZ so they can breathe normally again), I’m really excited about the food. Yes, the food. After the people, the food is the best thing about my country, hands down. I mean, it’s beyond awesome and no other country can replicate the level of culinary awesomeness that goes on in that little country, I tell you.

So the other day I started writing down all the things I cannot wait to eat when I’m there. Last time I visited, I thought I wouldn’t need a list and ended up forgetting to eat a bunch of delicious stuff that I can’t get here in Kiwiland so this time I decided a list was in order. Then I thought I should put the list on here so that it can serve two purposes: reminding myself of all those things and, just in case someone happens to be planning a trip to Portugal, they don’t act all crazy like I did last time and leave without trying some of this stuff.

Note that this list is a work in progress and I’m sure there are at least 456,550 other things that I’ll think of before I make my way back to the northern hemisphere. Also, apologies in advance for the lack of accents.

  • pao alentejano (without a doubt, the best bread in the world. Even my kiwi agrees that life without that bread is a tough one)
  • cafe delta (best coffee in the world and lalalalalala I can’t hear you if you disagree lalalalalala)
  • gomas vidal (a particular brand of lollies that are super soft and full of flavour. to die for!)
  • tuli creme (sort of like nutella but about a bazillion and a half times better)
  • chocapic (best. cereal. ever.)
  • grilled sardines (one of the advantages of visiting in summer)
  • snails (again, amen to a summer trip for allowing me to enjoy these, after 3 years of visiting in winter and missing out on them)
  • acorda alentejana (with lots of pao alentejano!)
  • morcela de arroz (again, on pao alentejano)
  • pasteis de nata (the tarts that I keep telling everyone I can’t live without)
  • ovos moles (egg overdose. nothing not to like)
  • bolas de berlim (it’s like what in NZ you’d call a donut but giant sized and with heaps of egg cream inside. to consume on the beach, preferably)
  • farturas (a type of fritters… with sugar and cinnamon – deliciousness!)
  • churros com doce de ovo (churros are pretty well known here… except these ones are super-sized and have an egg mix inside that makes them divine!)
  • sumol de ananas (a pineapple fizzy drink that I haven’t found anywhere else)
  • queijo fresco (on pao alentejano!)
  • rol (is it still available? I read it made a comeback but not sure if it was for a limited time only! One of the ice creams made by Ola – the same brand that in NZ is called Streets)
  • tomatada (a dish made of basically tomatos and egg that you eat with, yeah, you guessed it… pao alentejano!)

(to be continued)

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