The Rain in Spain: David and Dan in Tarragona

* Cats everywhere… No cats in Barcelona. Conspiracy theories? *

Well that is certainly an interesting way to start to an account of my exploration of Cataluña. The above comment is a note I left myself some time ago – when I originally intended to write an entry on my visit to Tarragona – to ensure that I did not forget to mention the cats. The all-important cats, of all things! Take into account my previous tale of a mischievous dog and the mention of a cat absentee conspiracy, and this all starts to point toward one seriously misplaced set of priorities on my part. I do wish to make some assurances; I am not obsessed with cats. Promise. Why did I not just delete the original comment and save myself this protracted explanation? Well, I say, the people need to know the truth. They both want it and – I believe – can handle it. The very simple fact of the matter is that there were a lot of cats around in Tarragona on this particular occasion. Right, is that understood? I do hope so.

OK then, that is the cat situation covered. Consider yourselves updated. On to the real subject of today’s entry, then: my expedition to Tarragona. Prior to this trip, I had had ample opportunity to get to know the Autonomous Region of Cataluña a bit better and yet, up until that weekend with my Spanish compadre, David, I had just about fully neglected that option. However, that’s not to say that I hadn’t been enjoying myself here. I developed a fascination with kettles when I first arrived, lest we forget. So then, there we were late one Saturday afternoon, the intrepid adventurers, described as such regardless of David’s mum hailing herself from Tarragona and him having spent much time there for that very reason. Quite frankly, for David, this trip was about as much of a novelty as it would be for me if I were to pop over to Essex to visit my family in Southend. Nonetheless, he seemed excited and hopped on a train that ran along the seafront – a pleasant route – although not before I took my chance to mess something up. In a moment of pure absentmindedness and outright foolishness, I managed to first turn up at the wrong station, waiting there, shifting about anxiously as David somehow failed to appear before me outside, as we had agreed. Predictably, he had gone to the correct station and was, therefore, the one waiting for me. He can be so irresponsible like that sometimes…

With David reprimanded for his failure to remind me to go to the correct train station and then having the cheek to not even turn up at the wrong place, we were on our way to Tarragona. We sat and chatted, as friends tend to do, catching up and discussing David’s careless antics until I was served up with my first real sighting of one of Spain’s many wonders; the Spanish answer to the UK’s beloved ‘chav’: the cani. Canis, my dear friends, are quite simply incredible. Prior to my first experience of them sat on a train in Cataluña, David had on numerous occasions told me tales of their legend, showing me YouTube videos such as this:

The cani really is a sight to behold, and a social phenomenon that really lives up to the stereotype. During our journey and after pulling up at a station about halfway to our destination, our attention was quickly caught by a group of youths stepping onto the train, who – and I never normally use this expression – stank to high heaven of certain memorabilia. The carriage was instantaneously filled with thick fumes of a herbal variety and soon I could see the eyes of fellow passengers beginning to glaze over. Elderly onlookers were not best pleased, mind, visibly huffing and puffing at this outrage, crossing their chests in the fashion of a crucifix, evidently looking to have a word with the Lord Almighty to both pardon and prevent the misbehaviours of these rapscallions. As for myself, I sat in my seat in amazement as these kids of surely no more than 15, in some cases, periodically began to fulfil each and every one of the ‘Cani Criteria©’.

It was amazing. Firstly, each of them, without fail, was dressed in the appropriate attire, the sportswear so characteristic of the canis (please consult above video documentary). All of them spoke in a near incomprehensible, slang-ridden manner that had me struggling to understand a single word and had even my Spanish companion straining rather more than usual to grasp the meaning of the animated chatter. Yet another stereotype dedicatedly adhered to: their choice of listening material, projected from mobile phone speakers for added quality and enjoyment. The ‘music’ they played can quite accurately be described as some of the worst known to man. It was brilliantly awful, delightfully terrible. ‘ElectroPop EuroGarage’, you might call it, but you’d most likely be wrong. You simply had to sit back and smile at the thought of their musical taste. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they were all clearly high as kites!

Onlookers sat back, passively inhaling the haze, looking disgruntled and yet, somehow coming eventually to feel decidedly more comfortable in the company of their younger peers. The heavily observed group of youngers was not aware of its majesty, of course, but these guys and girls were proving to not only provide me with my first experience of their legendary urban myth of a kind, but also an education. They were fascinating to observe. David Attenborough, as I have it according to my most reliable of sources, has recently spent considerable time in Spain pursuing footage for a new BBC documentary based unquestionably on the cani. They deserved all the screen time available to mankind ever. I really can’t recommend highly enough taking some time out in your busy lives to travel to Spain with the specific task in mind of observing this mysterious bunch. It is quite the experience.

Most disappointingly and altogether too quickly, our time with the canis did eventually draw to a close, with both David and I utterly enchanted. He seemed to have enjoyed the encounter nearly as much as I did. Not quite, though. Mere moments after bidding farewell to our social unicorns, with the both of us still reeling with delight at our recent sighting, we were in Tarragona. There, we were met by some blustery winds and the mission of finding our hostel for the evening. Leaving the station in our wake, we strolled off into the night. Now, I must highlight at this point that I regard myself as something of a rookie when it comes to staying in hostels. I have yet to dabble in a touch of inter-railing or something equally cool and so my experience with hostel stays is limited, at best. Thus, as David and I stood at a turning that led down a dark and narrow alley, along which he insisted our room for the night was to be found, I was sceptical and wary. The scene was quite frankly sinister. There was great potential for us, along this alleyway, to be assaulted, molested, robbed or killed, and probably even all of the above. We decided to tread with caution.

Now, I invite you to consider that I have watched and enjoyed many of the films of the Wrong Turn franchise. Typically in these ridiculously written ‘slasher’ films, the cast ensemble consists of a group of less than 10 and, by and large, there is only one lone survivor who remains at the end. The critical juncture in the case of each and every Wrong Turn film is, predictably, a crossroads or a fork in the road, one route leading to the guarantee of safety, and the other, to inbred cannibalistic hillbillies with a thirst for 20-something-year-old blood. Guess which route is always picked. So, with our party consisting of two on this dark and windy night in Tarragona, I ranked both David’s survival chances and mine as unfavourable, based on my viewings of Wrong Turns 1-5. Yet, as the naïve cast members always do, we ventured down this poorly lit path full of bad omens and suspense. The mood was not improved much as we reached what appeared to be an abandoned reception at the end of the alley. We opened the door and rang the bell. No response. We rang again. Nothing. I knew then that the time had come for my untimely demise via some poorly executed hacking of an axe from a bloodthirsty lunatic. I stepped outside to see if anyone was around – a rookie error by all accounts in such horror flicks. We had split up. As I waited in the courtyard, my eye was caught by what turned out to be a group of black kittens, the four of them huddled around something that seemed tasty as they all crouched together, gnawing away at an unknown object. It was probably David’s little finger by now, given that we had been apart for all of a minute and, if I was still alive, then surely the same could not be said of him at that point. Unnerved by the tiny felines, I stepped back inside.

Our prospects for the evening

Our prospects for the evening

As it turns out, we were not to be cast members of a gritty horror that night, as we did indeed survive without so much as an ordeal. David was alive and unharmed and a normal-looking man soon came and greeted us at the reception desk, handing us our room key and wishing us a pleasant stay. I did for a moment though, I must admit, make eye contact with the man in question to check for signs of depravity or murderous tendencies. Thankfully, there were none. Nothing doing. So with that, we dropped off our stuff and headed out for an evening of heavy drinking at, among others, a bar furnished inexplicably with furniture on the ceiling; a dinner of pinchos; and the company of a gay, naturalised Spanish Ukrainian man, his Argentine-Italian boyfriend and girlfriends of theirs who looked impossibly old in spite of their ages of 18 and 15(!) respectively. It was a fun night, indeed. We returned to the hostel, caring decidedly less about the sinister feel to the place, and agreed to set up with the sightseeing in the morning.

Early afternoon came. With our eyes bleary and heads aching somewhat, we stepped out into the light of day and slight drizzle of rain, found ourselves a restaurant and proceeded to enjoy a [candle-lit (lacking in candles, I just wanted to emphasise the ‘bromance’)] three-course lunch. I say enjoy, when really I mean endure. The fallen soldiers were suffering slightly from the night before. But that did not dampen our spirits. We were determined to the see the sights of Tarragona and nothing would stop us in our quest to do so. Nothing, that is, apart from the weather, which had taken something of a turn for the worst. It was bucketing it down with rain. Yet, dear readers, did this prompt us to call it a day before it had even begun? Did I lead us to thoughts of ‘oh well’ or ‘better luck next time’? No it did not. Bravely, we stepped out in to the falling water – the most dangerous of substances – and began our day of damp sightseeing.

Were it not for the rain, it would have been an excellent day. As it was, it was an amusingly different one. The streets emptied as the rain continued to pour, leaving David and I the town to ourselves. Onwards we walked, refusing to admit defeat at the hands of some precipitation. As it just so happens, Tarragona is a really nice little town; very picturesque and very Roman. David, being the well-read individual that he is, proved an excellent tour guide as we passed Tarragona’s port – which, according to David, often has moored one of the many yachts in the fleet of one Roman Abramovich – the amphitheatre and the cathedral basilica, all of which were simply charming. After all of this, we were absolutely soaked through. Dryness soon became a distant and abstract concept, illustrated as follows:

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Indeed, there would have been glasses of water dryer than us on this rainy Sunday afternoon! Yet, on we went, still refusing to give in to the conditions until finally, David asked me if I wanted to get a churro, to which I replied that I most certainly did. Sat dripping in a café, and by that I mean dripping, as small puddles formed around the arms of our coats, we ended up ordering chocolate waffles and generally loving life for being out of the rain. Thankfully, as we made our way back to the train station, it subsided slightly and we were able to begin the drying-off process that would prove to take some days to be completed. The funny thing is that I’m not even exaggerating slightly when I say that. Nevertheless, as we sat speeding towards Barcelona, cold, tired and oh so very wet, we sat and laughed at what had been a great trip in Cataluña. So now we know, readers, the rain in Spain does not fall mainly on the plane. Rather, it falls mainly in a small Catalan town named Tarragona.


Castelles – a statue of Catalan tradition


Freight ships sailing out from the Tarragona port. Still no sight of Abramovich – updates to come.




Abby, Dan and their Good Friend, Barcelona

The weekends have been kind to me thus far in Barcelona. I am so lucky to have people flocking out to see me from various parts of the world. The extent to which people are, in fact, ‘flocking’ to see me depends entirely on how liberally we are to define the term. For the purposes of my dear old bloggy wog, who I have so cruelly neglected recently, let’s go with this idea that the people, they be flockin’! Last Thursday proved to be a difficult day for me to concentrate at work, and not only due to some goldfish having better attention spans than me. Thursday was the day that I was to be visited by my girlfriend, my bbygirl, my boo (I have literally never used the latter, but hey, live a little!). Yes, the old ball ‘n’ chain was en route as I sat at my desk persistently checking Ryanair’s flight tracker.

Background: Dan is afraid of flying. He used to be averse to the idea of needles but they don’t tend to faze him these days – he has now moved on to a far more ridiculous and irrational fear! Regardless, he hates flying, becomes sad when within a 2-mile radius of an airport or any people-carrying flying vessel and now, evidently, actually becomes scared on others’ behalf when they are to catch a flight (a new discovery for the man himself). Of all the bad things we may wish upon him, putting him in a plane for any given number of hours would rank up there with one of the worst outcomes for dear old Danny boy. In sum, he does not much care for flying.

Sure enough, when Abby landed safe and sound, as is always the case for everyone, everywhere, I had just about had enough of waiting. I left work a few minutes early like the badass that I am and made my way home to await her arrival. Upon said arrival, I eagerly strode through the streets of Barcelona (fairly dramatic, granted) to meet her by my local tube station and we headed over to the flat. What does the typical tourist do when in Barcelona? What does the typical Year Abroad student do in Barcelona? What does just about everyone do when in Barcelona? They go to La Rambla. 3 guesses where we decided to go for Abby’s first night of her visit… I had the impression when I first arrived that La Rambla would become less and less important to me as time went by, since it is such a huge tourist attraction and the main objective for us Year Abroad students seems to be to strive to appear as local as we possibly can in our new homes. To the contrary, it remains a social hub for me and looks like it will continue as such.

So down La Rambla we went, in search of tapas at one one of my favourite restaurants in Barcelona. With our search successful and tapas on the way, we sat in ‘Egipte’ and chatted about this and that, I told her about the time that my Dad once came to the very same restaurant and “got absolutely plastered” (he often enjoys recounting the tale to me whenever we speak about this restaurant). Within a few moments of our food arriving, we were been serenaded by a group of gentleman performing their rendition of ‘Quizás, Quizás, Quizás’ (Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps), and entertaining one woman sufficiently well for her to decide to join the band and instantaneously become their lead vocalist.

The night's entertainment

The night’s entertainment

Twas an enjoyable night, strolling along La Rambla and spending time in another Spanish city together (the weekend before I moved to Barcelona, we went to Madrid – it was nice!). The next day, following some miscommunication (read as: Dan forgets to tell Abby that she needs a 2-zone ticket to get to his workplace, leaving her unequipped to successfully get there) Abby came to visit me at UIC. Meeting my workmates was predictably difficult given the language barrier, as we soon arrived at the go-to subject when foreigners meet for the first time: how different our languages are, and the difficulties which follow as a result. Having established that English and Spanish are indeed different languages, we had lunch together, during which I spent my time firstly trying to understand everything myself and then posing as an amateur interpreter. Regardless of my severely lacking skill set as a translator, Abby was glad to have met them and vice versa.

And so came the weekend of shopping, wining and dining, and cocktail bars. The customary trip to ‘La Cervecería Catalana’, was, as always, brilliant. For anyone, who knows or has ever been to Barcelona and has yet to venture to this restaurant, there are few things in this world which I could more emphatically recommend. The food is invariably delicious and given its popularity and reputation, it’s always a great place to be. After a fair wait and trip to a nearby bar, we strolled over to the restaurant. Good food, good company (lucky Abby!) and a great city. Contrast the Daniel about to step foot on to a harbinger of doom (read as: an aeroplane) to the Daniel sat at a Barcelona restaurant about to enjoy some high quality tapas. The latter looks a little something like this:


Happy Dan

Crema catalana

Crema catalana

Night topped off with Mojitos

Night topped off with Mojitos

The final day of Abby’s visit, which came all too soon, as she instructed me to write (in no way did she do anything of the sort), was characterised by much indecisiveness on both our parts. We eventually decided to head down to Barceloneta and stroll along the beach, which would have been great had we left ourselves enough time to do so. With her bus soon leaving for Girona airport, we realised that our initial plan would have to be abandoned. Instead we landed on the close-by Arc de Triomf (and no, I don’t mean that French one in Paris). Slightly hurriedly, we walked through the park to the Arc, which I had never seen before and provided Abby with the rare opportunity of being my tour guide in the city I’m meant to know so well. With beautiful weather, it gave the budding photographer ample opportunity to get snapping:


Bit of a pro

Bit of a pro


My attempts

















A stressful encounter with Chinese waiters who took the Spanish mañana culture to a new level, in which they took a good half hour to serve us a sandwich, caused Abby to experience early onset heart palpitations as she began to explore the possibility of missing her bus and subsequently her flight. Luckily she had got her timings wrong and we had a leisurely wait at the station and reflected on the relaxed lunch that we might have had, had we known the actual time the bus was due to leave.

Waving her off, as she was bound for Bristol, I cut a happy figure looking back on a great weekend, and looking forward, to the following week in which I was to turn 21. More on that to follow… Adeu!

Cataluña and Spain Just Do Not Get Along

A mosquito has just bitten me on the face. ¡Cabrón!

This mosquito has gone to town, as I count at least 4 separate bites from the recent attack. Here is an example of the balloon effect which takes place following a visit from one of my least favourite beings on Earth:


Take a moment to imagine such swelling (see left) located slap-bang in the middle of my face… Luckily for me though, they only swell temporarily and soon calm down, but still, a bite to the face! I wasn’t happy.

Anyway, enough whining about audacious insects, and onto the particularly salient issue of Catalan nationalism. I am still meant to be a politics student, after all…

I feel a change of name for my blog may be in order. Currently titled ‘Dan Makes a Friend Called Spain’, as readers may just be aware by now, it seems more appropriate that I describe my experience in Barcelona as making friends with Cataluña, since the clear majority of nationalists argue that Cataluña is not Spain. As time goes by I have to say that I am inclined to agree with them – insofar as Catalonian culture is vastly different to that of Spain – I stop short of becoming a separatist myself when it so very clearly has nothing to do with me.

In recent days and weeks, I have been presented with constant reminders of the Catalan independence debate, some subtle and others glaringly obvious. For an example of the latter, I need only cast my mind back a week to El Día Once de Septiembre (11/09), or the National Day of Cataluña, during which some 1 million Catalans took to the streets to join hands and form a human chain spanning over 250 miles, from the French border all the way to the southern border shared with Valencia:

Furthermore, this weekend is to be a long one (happy days!) as Monday and Tuesday are regional holidays of the Patron Saint of Barcelona, las fiestas de La Mercè. What more sign do I need to confirm that Barcelona, and indeed Cataluña, is a very different to the rest? You might think that it is these clear signs which have prompted me to write this blog today, and you would have fair reason to do so. However, I believe I have been subliminally urged to write of Catalan independence today! Firstly, Catalan is spoken all around me (a tenuous case for subliminal messaging, I know)! During my early days at UIC, in which I invariably meet un huevo of new faces (literally meaning ‘an egg’ of people, but implying ‘a lot’!), I am often greeted with an ‘Encantat’ (‘Nice to meet you’ in Catalan) before whichever Catalonian I happen to be meeting soon comes to the realisation that my Catalan is even more hopeless than my Spanish! It is an absolute bitch of a language to understand, with the principal issue being that it is sounds so similar to Spanish, but of course is a separate language! I am currently uneasily toying with the idea of learning some absolute basics with which I hope to be able to get by, more on that to come…

More subtle than the fact that Cataluña speaks a different language from the rest of Spain is that national flags are everywhere. These are not just the traditional red and yellow stripes, they often include l’estelada blava, or the ‘blue starred flag’ which is used to support independence. On any given day out, it would in fact be strange were I NOT to see at least a few Catalan flags as I walked through the city. Indeed, the norm for me on my commute every morning is to see flags emblazoned everywhere! Apartments, windows balconies, the most of which showing that starred flag denoting demands for independence. A typical view from the train every weekday morning:

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Catalan independence is currently also the talk of the nation, with separatists from all stretches of the region clamouring for its secession from the rest of Spain. The news is dominated by stories concerning Catalonia and its people’s persistent attempts to be granted a referendum on the issue of independence. The atmosphere in the city somehow feels different to Madrid, for instance (where I spent a long weekend at the beginning of the month), without even necessarily having to come across any indication of Catalan nationalism, be it a flag or an exchanging of a ‘Bon dia’.

Indeed, there are plenty of signs that I am, in fact, in Spain. Of course, everyone speaks Spanish for starters. Sat watching TV with my flatmate as the awful news of the Navy Yard shooting in the US capital broke, I made the comment that incidents such as this occur all too often in America. We proceeded to discuss the ease with which one can purchase a firearm in the US. I was unable at that point to express my dismay regarding the Senate Republicans’ rejection of wider background checks in context of gun controls proposed by the Obama administration dating back to April of this year. I am fully aware that full-scale constitutional reform with regard to the 2nd amendment would be nigh on impossible, but the proposed legislative compromise, blocked by mere bipartisanship, could only have made positive steps towards combating gun crime in the US… Republicans. NRA-backed Republicans.

I digress! Watching the story of the US shooting, my flatmate notes that if Spain had the same gun laws as America, then “we would all be dead!”. In other words, the Spanish are a passionate and occasionally hot-headed people (at least according to the stereotype); put guns in their hands and they are likely to get trigger-happy! I am immediately reminded that maybe the Spanish and the Catalans are not so different after all. Certain stereotypes of what it means to be quintessentially Spanish do apply to Catalans; they love football, partial to a bit of paella, as proud as they are passionate, and they do more often speak Castilian Spanish as means of common parlance. Yet, despite all this, it is difficult to group Catalan and Spanish culture as one (and unfathomable to do so for your average Catalan!). Bullfighting is banned since it is deemed cruel and barbaric, and they’re not much into flamenco dancing either. Catalan culture is best described as a defiant one, too, as it survived the oppressive Franco regime and his brutal attempts to suppress Catalan identity as much as the language.

Whether it could or should achieve its independence which its inhabitants so crave is a hugely complex issue, highlighted now by the fact that it would not be an EU member-state. Catalan grievances are mainly financial insofar as Cataluña is one of the most prosperous regions of a struggling nation and is charged with propping up the rest to the tune of some €17 billion, all of which going to the government of Madrid. Catalans are pissed, and perhaps justifiably so, but their situation resembles that of Germany and their burden of supporting the rest of the Union. They are in debt, which is the source of much anger from a Catalan perspective, but also perhaps a good reason for them not to become independent and need a bail-out further down the line. What is certain is that my entry to my otherwise ridiculous blog is not going to unilaterally solve the issue. Regardless, I am proud of my first pseudo-intellectual post, but am wary of losing readers’ interests if I carry on as such. I promise to get back to being hungover and finding myself in amusing situations soon!

For now, I am off to see what all the fuss is about with La Mercè fiestas. We are having a house party tomorrow to commemorate the departure of our comrade, off to pastures new by way of Köln, Germany. The prefix of the party, in his words will be for guests to ‘leave their livers at the door’… Interesting choice of words. Until the next update, I bid you all buenas noches and bona nit!

Spain Hates Kettles!

Who knew? Most of us know enough about Spain to ascertain that, at this moment in time, the country is not without its problems. Namely, its unemployment rate straddles the 25% mark (on a good day(!)). Economically, my dear friend is in deep trouble which pains me greatly. Throw in a political scandal involving allegations of government corruption and it is fair to say that the nation has seen better days. Prior to reconvening my friendship with Spain, I was well aware of its turmoil; youth unemployment figures are dismal (56% as of a few days ago) and a new generation of Ni-Ni (ni estudian, ni trabajan) is coming to the fore, in which the nation’s youth do not study and do not work due simply to a lack of opportunities once they were to complete their education, leaving qualifications as close to redundant as they are ever likely to be. Generally speaking, the proverbial shit is hitting the fan.

Yet, away from such sobering issues as these, there exists yet another problem in the nation of Spain; it hates kettles!


The culprit

Innocent enough to look at. What harm could a kettle possibly do? You may all think I’m crazy, but come my attempt to use said appliance this evening to make myself some dinner, I plug it in, push a button and immediately all around me descends into darkness! This kettle has singlehandedly caused a power cut in my flat… what a bastard! Much embarrassment ensues when I have to bashfully explain to my flatmate, who was understandably baffled by proceedings, that I had robbed us all of electricity simply by trying to turn a kettle on… All for a bit of boiled water. Never again.

After considerable investigation we did eventually manage to restore normality and recover the electricity from the kettle’s clutches. I hear sighs aplenty from my readers…

However, today’s post shall not be confined to more yet more drivel about tubes, or department stores, or solely a kettle! No. Today, I actually did something fairly cool. Upon the invitation of my flatmate, this evening I accompanied her and her German companion who was seemingly fluent in Spanish (of which I was very jealous; see lesson 1 from my previous post), to a bar which was tonight hosting an ‘interchange of languages’. The principal idea behind this exchange of languages was for people from countries all over to socialise, chat in whichever language they so pleased, and presumably to share their experiences of Barcelona thus far.

At first, I must confess I was apprehensive. Standing next to two tall and attractive blonde girls, I surveyed the tiny stretch of bar available to punters and assessed the likelihood of people choosing to talk to me over them. Average to low, I decided. But so pleasantly surprised was I, not only to find how forthcoming everyone was to chat, but also that the bar did indeed extend past the Suez Canal of all entrances, to reveal a seating area! Taking a seat facilitated far more chatting and from there the night was bound to improve. Admittedly, many at this social gathering were themselves Spanish and hailing originally from Barcelona, but so too were there Italians, French, Germans, a few English and even one Uruguayan guy… it turned out to be a very enjoyable evening. I gained the perspective of some independentistas, those who believe that Cataluña should be an independent nation, which is always going to be interesting, and everyone was just so friendly. We shared some laughs, some beers and had ourselves a gay old time!

So the story of the evening: once I had averted the ‘Krisis of the Kettle’ (I’m sorry, I had to), I had myself a highly enjoyable night. I will definitely be looking to do something like that again, if not the same thing given that it is supposedly a weekly gathering.

This has been the latest update from my friendship with Spain; she doesn’t like kettles but she does enjoy a good bit of socialising! Buenas noches.