Archive for September, 2011


La Mercè in a nutshell

September 27, 2011

How to sum up an entire three day weekend full of incredible activities into a single, readable blog entry is out of my ability, so excuse my oversimplification of what I did this weekend at the Merced.

Basically, I can narrow it down into three categories:

  • Crazy Spanish/Catalan activities, including the gegants, un desfile (parade), castellers, and, of course, the correfoc.
  • Concerts.
  • Fun times with friends.

So, first off. Spanish/Catalan specific events.

I already mentioned a bit about the gegants in my previous post, but the cool thing is that we got to see them on display (without people inside them) later, and that was cool. My camera was dead at this point, so I’ll just steal a picture from facebook.

My friend, the angry turtle.

Also, in addition to the dance of the gegants which I saw Thursday night, we also got to see a parade of them, with drums and fire and confetti and other such amazing events.

If you think this fiery creature looks dangerous, just wait til I get to talking about the correfoc!

But I think my favorite part of the weekend was the castellers, the human towers. I can’t even express how incredible it was to see. Basically people climb on top of each other and stand on each others shoulders. Up to 9 layers high. It’s ridiculous. And I was really close to the action, after I fought my way through the crowd. We were packed into a plaza like sardines, but it was all worth it, because it was so amazing to see.

Really. Words cannot express how cool this is.

But coming in close second for my favorite cultural event of the Merced is the correfoc. Meaning “run of fire” in Catalan, this is essentially a band of crazy people dressed up as demons running down one of the main streets in Barcelona, spouting sparks from giant fireworks, aimed directly at the crowd of people watching. And also, some of the gegants–for the most part the creepy ones, but also some of the non-creepy ones–were part of the correfoc, each equiped (and constantly re-equiped) with plenty of fireworks to shoot at the crowd. Pictures don’t do this justice, so I’ll include a video that I took, including the screams for help that happened when I was showered with sparks. So. much. fun.

However, I must also include a few photos from the night, for your enjoyment. Remember you can click any of them to see a bigger size.

This monstrous beast was terrifying to behold.

The pig of doom.

I love this cow! 🙂

All of the above-mentioned things just made me happy beyond reason that I am in Spain, and, more specifically, that I am in Barcelona. I can’t imagine being anywhere else! I love it here!

I will hopefully write more on the other two parts of this weekend of festivities that is the Merced, but if not, to quickly sum it up, I saw: Merengue, Jazz, Swing, Rock, Man Man (the only American band at the Merced), electronic, and many other types of bands in concert, for free! I also spent a lot of time getting to know friends, listening to nineties music, going to a circus (that was kind of a disappointment), and walking around–sometimes getting lost in–the city. It was a lot of fun, and I wish I could do this every weekend!


¡Viva la merced!

September 23, 2011

This weekend is the festival of the Merced, here in Barcelona. Every city in Spain has it’s own patron saint, and they also each have their own official holiday in honor of their patron saint. In Barcelona, it is St. Merced. And this weekend is the festival.

La Mercè! (The Catalan name for it)

Last night was the beginning of the festivities. My friends and I got a bit lost and ended up in the wrong plaza, but in the process we saw some people dancing the Sardana, the traditional Catalan dance (but it’s mostly for old people). It was still pretty cool though, very typical of Cataluna.

Note the large quantity of old people.

Next, we went to the correct plaza, Plaza St. Jaume, where they had the dance of the “gegants” = giants. There were several giant people and also cows, dragons, turtles, and all manner of strange huge costumes that people would wear and dance around with, sometimes with fire spouting out from the animals’ mouths.

Two of the semi-normal human gegants.

Creepy/awesome dragon guy.

After that, we went back to my friend’s residencia to eat and drink, and we were planning on going to a concert afterwards, but we ended up stopping at a patch of grass and just talking and listening to/singing along with music from my friend’s portable speakers for a couple hours instead. Twas good.

Tonight is when the real party begins, though. Bring it on.


They Don’t Speak Catalan Here.

September 21, 2011

My dear blog-reading friends,

I have not forgotten you. I am still alive. I have just been quite busy and/or without internet access for the past several days.

So, without further ado, here’s a brief summary of what I did this weekend: I went to Madrid and Toledo!

One of the covered streets in Madrid

This is Toledo, the oldest city in Spain, and the capital city, before it changed to Madrid

My program, CIEE, took us all on a weekend excursion–Friday morning to Sunday evening–to see Madrid and Toledo. We met up at the ungodly hour of 8:15 to depart on a 3 hour train ride, on which some of my friends and I were in “first class” (We had seats facing each other with tables in the middle), and we played a game of hearts which I should have won, if I hadn’t taken the queen of Spades on the last round to stop someone from shooting the moon, even though I was more than 26 points ahead of that person, but less than 13 points ahead of someone else… (not that I’m bitter or anything).

Anyway. Steering away from my overly competitive nature when it comes to card games.

So we got to Madrid and on our way to the hotel, we ran into a creepy street performer who was dressed up like a baby and was super creepy.

Photo courtesy of Aaron, since I didn't get a chance to take a photo myself.

After that, we checked into the hotel, had some free time, and then went on a very long walking tour of Madrid, and afterwords a guided tour of the Museo de Prado, which was really cool, but also very tiring. It was a long day.

The next day, we had to get up early again, this time to get on a bus, which took us to Toledo. Everyone just wanted to sleep, but we had a guide for the day who kept talking. But eventually he let us sleep, so that was good. We arrived in Toledo, and followed our guide for a walking tour of the city. Let me tell you, this city is absolutely gorgeous. Some of the buildings are thousands of years old, and it’s all just like a remnant from a former time. I loved it. But at the same time, it didn’t have a whole lot of interesting things to do other than admire the architecture, so by the end of our free time after the walking tour, we were all ready to go. Besides the fact that we were tired.

When we got back to Madrid, we had some time to sleep/freshen up/eat before heading out to the theater. We saw a play called “El Nacional”, by Albert Boadella, performed by the Joglars theater group–which are a Catalan group, but they perform all around Spain. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on, but what I do know is that it was VERY weird. But it was interesting for sure, and entertaining for the most part.

The next day, we could sleep in a bit longer (yay!). We headed out to go see the Museo Reina Sofia, which was beautiful, and it had a lot of really famous art pieces from Picasso and Dalí (such as “Guernica” and “Muchacha en la ventana“). My friend and I were going to go to El Parque del Retiro, but we didn’t have time because we stayed at the museum too long. So we returned, ate pizza, had some girl talk, and then got back on the train, where everyone slept for almost the entire journey. And then, we were back in Barcelona!

You’ll notice I mentioned nothing about what the nightlife in Madrid. I’m leaving that to your imagination.

Even though I enjoyed Madrid, I am definitely glad that I chose to study in Barcelona. Barcelona has an irresistible charm to it, with its forests and trees, its mountains, the Mediterranean, and, of course, the Catalan culture! You just can’t get that anywhere else in Spain.



First Impressions

September 14, 2011

I’ve had all my classes by now, and, so far, I’m really excited! I know, leave it to the nerd that I am to be excited for classes, but it’s how it is.

1. Semántica de Español (Spanish Semantics) – This was my first class, and it scared me a little bit, honestly. The professor talked really quickly, apart from the fact that he just sat there reading his notes almost the whole time. But the topic was sufficiently interesting that I was able to overlook that. We talked a lot about diachronic and synchronic studies in a lexicon and the open nature of the lexicon of any language, which I’ve definitely gone over in Linguistics classes already. But it was good!

2. Teatro Contemporáneo Español (Contemporary Spanish Theater) – After the fast-talking semantics professor, this was a welcome change. This professor talks at a snail’s pace. And it sounds like it will also be very interesting. He talked some about the differences between a written play and any other form of literature. But, like the semantics class, he didn’t give us a syllabus or anything, so I hope that tomorrow I will get more information so that I can plan travel stuff accordingly.

3. Introducción a la lengua Catalán y su contexto social (Introduction to the Catalan language and it’s social context) – The title itself should be enough to indicate that I’m gonna love this class. But, apart from the topic itself, the professor is really nice, and it’s a CIEE class so it’s a lot less intimidating than the other classes I’m taking.

4. Fonética y Fonología de Español (Phonetics and Phonology of Spanish) – The professor of this class is definitely a lot more friendly than the other two UB professors, and she talks at a good pace. Besides the fact that I’m super interested in this kind of stuff. So it’s gonna be good.

So, yes, I am a nerd, and I am very excited for my classes. I’m kind of sad, actually, that I don’t have any homework to work on. Isn’t that just sickening? But it’s true. I kind of miss learning interesting academically-related things, albeit in a form that turns hellish after a few weeks.

Apart from classes, in the last couple days I’ve been spending a lot of time chilling out, resting, and getting to know people and places. For example, yesterday, I ran into my housemate, who’s from Canada, and his classmate from Germany, and the three of us hung out with one of my friends, just walking around the city. It was pretty fun. And today, I finally went to a supermarket to buy some bulk food, which is WAY cheaper than buying lunch from a restaurant or something. I got snacks and sandwich stuff to last almost two weeks for only €7.70, which is such a good deal! And I still have plenty of peanut butter and crackers to last for snacks for a while. Food here is actually pretty darn cheap if you know where to go and how to do it right.


A Montserrat

September 12, 2011

Today (September 10) a group of friends and i decided to go to Montserrat, which is a mountain range about an hour north of Barcelona. It was literally ineffably beautiful. There’s a basillica and monastery built into the mountain, and it offers a brilliant view in every direction. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of it all.

Just look at that view!

We took a renfe train to the mountain and then another pair of short trains to get us to the top: one that wound around the mountain allowing for a view of both the beautiful mountains but also of the countryside below, and another train that literally went directly up and down an enormous hill like a roller coaster (or, montaña rusa, russian mountain, as they say in español). The view from the top was breathtaking. Unbelievably inspiring. Really, like I said before, words cannot describe the beauty.

The monastery and basilica are built into the mountain.

And then, we walked down the mountain to the monastery/basillca, once again passing marvelous views. The basilica was, in a word, powerful. Maybe it was a mixture of the glorious scenery from the mountains and the elaborate art that adorned the inside, but it just nearly knocked me to the floor with its power.

And then, we took the train back home. We left Barcelona 2 hours later than planned (due to the lateness of the hour by the time we finished our end-of-our-intensive-course celebration which included 3 sangria towers…), so we didn’t have that much time to spend there, but just seeing the views from the top of the mountain was definitely worth the €23 for the trains. But I hope to go back to hear a performance of the monastery’s boy choir and see the museum. Maybe we’ll go when my parents come to visit.

It’s still so weird to me that I’m in Europe, living here. Even though it has almost been three weeks, I still feel like it’s just some crazy vacation to a theme park that I’m temporarily visiting, but I’m only a couple hours from home, and this is all just an act from millions of very well-trained actors. But  of course it isn’t. It’s really across the atlantic ocean from home. And these people around me are just living out their lives. It’s just a crazy sensation that happens every once in a while.

Anyway, yet another weekend success here in España!


Street Performers

September 12, 2011

(Note: I started writing two different blog entries, but never had the time to actually post them both. Therefore, I’m posting both of them today.)

I think one of the coolest things about any city is the street performers. Maybe it’s just the music nerd in me, but I think it’s a great way for some free entertainment, and it makes a boring street turn into a musical adventure (wow… how old am I again?).

Today (September 9) was the first time I ever paid any of the street performers in Barcelona. I was on my way between the yellow and red line in the Urquinaona metro station, and I heard a radiant, pure female voice accompanied by an acoustic guitar. It was a beautiful girl, probably around my age, sitting on her guitar case, playing and singing. Someday, I want to be that girl. Just to try it. But anyway, I stopped to fish my wallet out of my backpack, ended up dropping several different coins and euro notes, but I eventually managed to get my hands on a pair of 50 cent coins to give her. Not much, but enough to show that I really appreciated her music.

Also, today, just outside of the Plaça Catalunya, there was this fun band playing with trombones and trumpets and lots of energy. I got a sweet pic of their finale, with the guitarist in mid-air! 🙂

Microguagua... aparently they're semi-famous, or at least according to google

I’ve also witness street performers playing strange indian, asian, and various other types of instruments, as well as a clarinetist who was very adamant about trying to get some dinero from us. I’ve heard saxophones, peruvian flutes, lots of guitars, and instruments I’ve never heard of before.

Even though I can hear street performers in pretty much any city, I’m definitely enjoying the street performers here in Barcelona! 🙂


Barcelonian buys

September 8, 2011

Although I’m sure to spend lots more money here on clothes and other possessions (especially since I keep walking past really great stores that I know I’ll go back to later), here’s a short description of some of my favorite things I’ve bought so far.

1. The Rey Beris. Best €5 ever spent. Especially because originally the sales guy at the beach in Sitges said they were €12. I said, “No, that’s okay, I don’t want them.” And he said, “How much would you pay for them?” And I said “€5”. He kept insisting and lowering his price, and I kept saying that I really wasn’t all that interested until finally he said, “Okay, €5.” And so I bought them. Price negotiating win, for once in my life. Also, the r and the i make it really look like “Rey Ben”, so it looks like the real deal from far away. Not that I care that much about names; I just needed sunglasses.

Rey Beris!

Convincing, eh?

2. Menorquinas. These type of sandals are SUPER popular here. It makes me feel like a local whenever I wear them! However, I have really bad blisters on my feet from the first time I wore them, because I think the size I got is a bit too small, so I have to wait to wear them unless I want my feet to start bleeding again. But anyway. They’re really cute!

Look--its a fish! 🙂

3. Tortuga from Parc Güell.  I know. So touristy to buy something from one of the street vendors in Parc Güell, but I couldn’t help it! It’s Gaudí style, and it’s a turtle. Impossible to resist. (Also, only €4, which isn’t too guilt-inducing).

So cute! And it even came in this convenient box!

4. Dress from Desigual. This was kind of an impulse buy, thanks to my friend Elizabeth, but totally worth it, I think. Desigual is pretty famous here in Spain, so I can totally justify it. It’s still too hot to wear it since it’s long sleeve, but it’s a fun dress, and I look forward to wearing it soon. Quite possibly one of the most expensive articles of clothing I’ve ever bought, but that’s just because I’m super cheapo, not because it was ridiculously overpriced.

I love the colors!

5. Phone from “Happy Móvil”. My host mom took me out to buy a phone, of which I am incredibly greatful, because I’m pretty sure I got the cheapest plan out of everyone in my program. We went to “The Phone House”, which is really fun to say in a Spanish accent, because native Spanish speakers have problems pronouncing the English “h”. Anyway, this phone ended up being essentially free, and I still have lots of money left on my phone even though I’ve used it a fair amount.

My trustee Happy Móvil phone.

Who knows what I’ll buy next?! 😛

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