Archive for the ‘Places in Spain’ Category

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I miss blogging!

October 9, 2011

Hello, blogging world. I have not forsaken you. I have just been up to a lot, and had little time with internet access. I don’t really like to sit in my room and use the computer, since the weather is always so nice, and there are cool places to see and interesting people to watch.

But I should blog more because I love it!

It feels like ages ago that I went to the Merced. Two weeks ago. (And so sad because now 6 weeks have passed in Barcelona, and that means I have 6 fewer weeks here!!) Since then, my classes have really started to kick in, and I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research for them, a little bit of homework, and some interacting with classmates. It’s hard to learn new things when the entire lecture is in Spanish–taking notes is so much harder when it’s not in English! But I think I’m getting the gist of what is going on. Or at least I hope so. I don’t think I will take enough tests to know how I am doing in the middle of my classes (only 1-3 tests per class!), so I’ll just have to hope that I do well on the tests, because that’s the only determiner of the grades!

So last weekend I went to Paris! I went with 5 friends, and we were only there 1 1/2 days, which was kind of a bummer, but a good thing for our wallets because I seriously spent SOO much money when I was there! We also went to Tarragona afterwards, which was beautiful and really cool! But we were so tired from walking around all of Paris that we didn’t see much. Luckily, I’m going back there in a couple days so I can see the rest of it.

And then, this past Friday, my parents arrived to visit me! We went to Montserrat together yesterday! They really enjoyed it, but they were VERY tired by the end. Afterwards, my host parents invited my real parents to dinner at their house. It was strange to see how they interacted–the intersection of my two worlds. I feel like I am made up of two different people: the person I am in Spain and the person I am in the US, and since my parents have arrived, I have a weird internal reunion of the two. It’s very strange.

But now my parents are in Paris, the city of love, being romantic and–hopefully–having fun, despite how tired they probably are, since they went right after climbing the mountains of Montserrat (perhaps that was bad planning on my part…). They come back in a couple days, and we’ll have to hit up all the touristy spots of the city. I get to be a pseudo tour guide, which is fun but somewhat humiliating because I realize that I’ve been here 6 weeks but still don’t know much of anything about the city, apart from how to get from one place that I frequently visit to another.

Today was the first Sunday that I didn’t have a big cultural event or a trip planned for the day, so I decided to go to church. It was a small CMA church close to my house, and I enjoyed it a lot. The people were very welcoming and friendly, and after church a bunch of us went to a Brazilian restaurant. It was insane. You paid one price for all-you-can-eat of Brazilian meat. The waiters came around with these giant metal sticks of meat towers that they shaved off onto your plate. It was delicious, but very filling. I was about to burst afterwards, and I was still full when I got to dinner tonight. I enjoyed getting to know some new people, and I hope I can go back a couple more Sundays before I leave Spain.

Well, that’s all I have time for right now. Maybe I will put up some pictures or make a more detailed blog entry, but I say that all the time and it usually doesn’t happen. So we’ll see.

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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.

 

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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!

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Where to start…

September 4, 2011

I tried so hard to update frequently, but sometimes it’s just not possible. And even though I’ve been really busy doing fun things and taking lots of pictures, I don’t have time to recount it all. So here’s a (hopefully) brief rundown.

In the last 3 days I have:

  • Been to Parc Güell (Gaudí’s famous park), which was a lot prettier than I had expected.
  • Walked around the city one heck of a lot.
  • Hung out with friends a lot, with and without alcoholic presence.
  • Seen the newest Pedro Almodóvar film–La Piel que Habito (mind-blowingly strange, in classic Almodóvar fashion).
  • Bought a semi-expensive but really fun dress from a famous Spanish clothing store (Desigual).
  • Been on a tour of Codorniu–one of the famous Spanish Cava factories.
  • Tasted delicious Cava (the Spanish version of Champagne) at said factory.
  • Walked around Sitges for a good hour and a half on an unproductive search for churros that ended in crepes instead (still delicious).
  • Been to the beach at Sitges–SO BEAUTIFUL.
  • Been to two museums: The Museum of Music (which was cool but less than impressive) and the National Museum of Catalan Art (which was definitely awesome).
  • Had a semi-insane “Ukrainian” waitress.
  • Skype-dated with my good friend Sarah.

So that’s why I haven’t posted in 3 days. Also, I have a lot of schoolwork coming up, since this coming week is the last week of our “curso intensivo” and so I have a paper, a presentation, and a final exam. So that’s why I can’t spend a lot of time elaborating what went down.

But, don’t worry (in case you were). I’m definitely alive and enjoying myself here in Barcelona.

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La Boquería y El Barrio Gótico

August 30, 2011

It’s late, and I’m tired, so just a quicky for tonight.

Here’s the rundown: Yesterday, I had a completely uneventful day, mostly because I had an awful stomach ache and I didn’t feel like doing anything. I stayed at the CIEE “casa” and talked with some fellow students after class for about 2 hours, and then I went home, ate leftover pizza, and slept. After that, I wrote some blog entries (the preceding ones), spent some time on facebook, and did homework. Then I had dinner, and tried to go to sleep afterwards, but, due to the 1 1/2 hour nap I’d taken, I found it impossible to sleep. So I stayed up until after 2 am, texting with my friends back home and trying to sleep.

So, today, I was pretty tired. But I decided I would NOT take a nap again. And my stomach was much better! So a couple of friends and I went to the Boquería, which is a really fun marketplace in Las Ramblas. I took about a million pictures, which you can see if you are facebook friends with me. Otherwise, you can see the couple I’ve put here, below.

The entrance to "La Boquería"

LOTS of raw fish

And raw meat, of course

Mmmm candy!

So much exotic fruit. I wish I could try it all!

Next, we went back to the CIEE “casa”, because some people in the group had to have their advising sessions for classes. Some of my friends wanted to use the internet there, so they did all their internetty things. After spending all day yesterday on the computer, I didn’t really feel like it, so I got bored, but it was okay. I tried to find info about the new Pedro Almodovar movie which is supposed to come out this friday, but that was a bust. Then I tried to decide which Barça game I want to go to this year, but it was too hard to decide. So then I just waited.

Finally, we left to go get some lunch (at 5 pm! So strange!). We walked to La Residencia (where people live if they don’t want to live in a homestay), passed the Arc de Triomf (pictured below), and ate at a yummy pizzeria on the way.

Arc de Triomf

Arc de Triomf

Then the three of us that don’t live in the residencia went back to our houses, but I was tired of taking public transport and I had over an hour and a half before I had to be back for dinner, so I decided to do some exploring on my own. Destination: Barrio Gotico (The Gothic Neighborhood). I took a ton of pictures of that too, although fewer than the boqueria because I hate looking like a tourist when I’m alone, because I can actually pull off not looking too touristy when I’m not with a group of Americans. Anyway, below are some pictures of that.

La Catedral

A guitar player in "El Barrio Gótico"

🙂 I think the narrow alleyways and the old stone buildings make this my favorite neighborhood of the city.

I got a little lost, but that’s the fun of exploring a big city! And I had a map so it was all good. I ended up arriving home about 5-10 minutes late for dinner, sweaty and tired, but definitely happy. Ah, I love this city.

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¡A Vilanova!

August 29, 2011

The group of us from CIEE that went to Vilanova

(I was about to start writing in Spanish…augh so strange!)

Vale. (Alright.) Yesterday, a group of us went to visit Silvia, one of the “Guardian Angels” from the University, in Vilanova, which is a small city to the South of Barcelona. (Guardian Angels are Spanish students that CIEE hired to sort of watch over a group of us Americans so we know what we’re getting ourselves into and so we can ask her anything and it’s more personal than talking to an adult staff member.) Anyway. A group of us met up at the train station at 2:30 PM and took Renfe (the Spanish train system) to Vilanova. It was a really nice ride, like 40 minutes long, and had a pretty view of the area south of Barcelona.

Silvia met us at the train station, and while we waited for the rest of the CIEE students that were taking the next train, the four of us in the early group waited at a bar. I wasn’t going to get anything, but peer pressure and the general fun-factor of getting a legal drink that would be otherwise illegal for me in the US, made me decide to get a Mojito. And I’m so glad I did… SO delicious!

Mojito riquísimo

Afterwards, the rest of the group came, and we chatted for a couple minutes while some people got drinks. Then, we walked around Vilanova a bit, and Sylvia explained to us a little about the city. According to legend (if I remember correctly), Vilanova (which means “new town”) was started because there used to be a king or some kind of very rich, very powerful man, who demanded that every woman who got married would have to sleep with him on her wedding night before she could go be with her new husband. The people accepted this for a long time, until one couple decided to run away and avoid this fate, and they started the new town. But don’t take my word for it… I tried to look it up online to check myself and couldn’t find it, so I may have heard her wrong. In any case, it’s a very pretty town, and there’s an old castle there that’s very rustic and nice.

Castle of Vilanova

Next, we went and got some gelato that was DELICIOUS! I got dark chocolate gelato, and oh my goodness. Best thing ever. The Split Banana (a small gelato shop from where I’m from in Virginia), although delicious in its own right, really doesn’t hold a candle to this place. From the gelato shop, we went to the beach!!

La Playa en Vilanova

The beach was, in a word, perfect. It was warm outside and cool in the water–not freezing, but not too hot either. The waves were large enough to enjoy, but not too big to pull you under or anything. The wind was refreshing for a warm day, but not so strong as to blow everything away. I know, I’m probably making all of you hate me out of jealousy right now–if I haven’t already from earlier posts–but, ah, it was good.

There’s a famous bull sculpture at the beach in Vilanova. I didn’t really hear Sylvia well when she was talking about it, and I won’t BS a story like I may have done about the origin of the town, but I know its something about fertility. Other than that, I’m not sure.

The Bull Statue in Vilanova

After the beach, we went to Sitges, which is the town next to Vilanova, famous for its beaches and its gay community (but, surprisingly, I didn’t see a single gay couple while I was there). In short, we walked around the city a bit, got really hungry, and then left. I don’t remember much and I didn’t feel like taking pictures there because I know we’re going back next weekend as an official CIEE trip, and I wasn’t really feeling well by the time we got there. There were some really cool sand sculptures there, which I hope I can take pictures of next week, and there is also a really pretty church that overlooks the water.

Then, we took the train back to Barcelona. I ate at a touristy/slightly overpriced restaurant with two friends because we had missed dinner with our families, but it ended up working out for the better, because I had a large portion that I saved for lunch today. I got back at 11 PM, and I went to sleep. So ended my first weekend in Cataluña. ¡Que guay!

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I’m here!

August 23, 2011

… but my checked bag isn’t. Thank goodness I had the foresight to pack a couple outfits in my carry-on, although it would have been convenient if I had also packed some toiletries. Luckily, between the hotel in Newark (now that I’m gone I can say where I was, I guess) and my host family’s willing accommodations, I will be fine getting by until they find my suitcase (hopefully tomorrow).

So here’s the story. It’s a long one, so buckle up and hold on tight.

I arrived at the airport, and as soon as I got there they told me that my flight was delayed two hours, so in order to get to all my connections on time (or so they thought), they bumped me up to the previous flight to Newark, one that had been already delayed 3 hours and could be leaving any minute. Yeah right. So I waited in line  to make sure I was at the right flight, and they said I was and they’d be hearing an update from Newark any minute. The update ended up just being that there would be another update in half an hour. That update was that there’d be another update in an hour and a half. That update called for… guess what? Another update, in half an hour. By this time I had already waited in the line once and was told that b/c I had a connecting flight through a different airline, I couldn’t be re-booked until the same flight left the next evening. Then, I waited in line again to see if I could re-book a different flight. The woman said no.

So I called my parents and as I hung up I started crying. I HATE crying in public places surrounded by strangers. And then the fact that I hate it so much makes me want to stop but only ends up making me cry harder. So I was sitting there, staring at the floor, trying to appear invisible, bawling my eyes out. And that moved the compassion of the woman sitting next to me, bless her. She had been already traveling for 20 hours and she was just trying to get home. But she was still nice enough to talk to me and treat me to a delicious mint chocolate coffee cooler at Caribou, and she told me I should talk with the other airline lady who was more competent. I talked with her, and she hooked me up with a flight that would get me to Barcelona by the following evening, rather than leaving the US the following evening. So that was encouraging. Until we got the next update. Which was that there’d be another update an hour later.

So there I was, already having waited in so many lines, and I’d been stuck for 4 hours, and they were telling me I might be able to make my connection if the flight did leave at the next update and I ran my patootie off. So, that’s what happened. I arrived in Newark at around 9:35, and I booked it to the AirTran to get to terminal C, but then I noticed that I was leaving the secure area which means I would have to go through security again, and I didn’t even have a gate number for the flight I was supposed to take, much less a boarding pass. Oh, and I forgot to mention that flight was leaving at 10:05. So by the time I got to security, my flight was scheduled to take off in 5 minutes. And they wouldn’t let me through without a boarding pass. So, needless to say, I missed that flight.

So, off I went to ticketing. They said they could give me a direct flight from Newark to Barcelona that would leave at 7:20 PM the next day. So that would be 22 hours to kill. Oh joy. What I ended up doing was finding another girl who I had met at the other airport, and she missed the same flight, so we just split the cost of a hotel room. She was awesome so it worked out. The next day, we both had a ton of time to kill, so we went into New York. Which was fun! Until we mistakenly boarded the bus to take us to the airport at the wrong place and didn’t realize until we’d already spent about an hour there waiting on the bus.

We spent the entire bus trip from New York to Newark Airport deciding what to do to make sure I would make my flight on time, with my carry-on luggage, which I had left at the hotel (they had a shuttle service where they could bring you your bags to the airport, which was awesome). We finally devised a foolproof plan, and we ran to the place the hotel would meet us with our carry-ons, only to have to wait there 10 minutes for the shuttle to arrive. It did arrive, though, and I ran to get through security. I seriously got through security in 10 minutes, even with them re-running my backpack through their magical scanning machine. So by the time I got to my gate, it was like 6:30. Plenty of time! And then my flight ended up being delayed anyway, so I waited in the terminal for about an hour. I checked with the airline people to be sure my checked baggage from the earlier flight I’d missed would be re-routed to this flight and they said I was all set.

I was so happy to board the plane–finally on my way and all was going to be ok. Or so I thought.

Well, apparently either those airline people were lying or Barcelona is just really bad at re-routing luggage, because when I arrived, I waited for my luggage for about an hour until they made an announcement that there was no more luggage and if we didn’t have ours, we would have to fill out paperwork for lost luggage. So, I waited in line at the lost luggage place, and that took at least half an hour to 45 minutes. Finally, I set out for Barcelona, the actual non-airport city. It was super easy to get out of the terminal–I followed signs and took the aerobus to Plaza Catalunya. And then I walked about 4 or 5 blocks to get to the hotel where my orientation was. Keep in mind I had been awake since 7 am (I couldn’t sleep on the plane), and though it was about 11:30 in Barcelona, it felt like 5:30 AM to me. I was proud of myself. I navigated the largely unmarked streets without stopping to ask for directions or look at a map once. I was determined to not be a stupid tourist. (I have google maps street view to thank for that)

So I arrived at my hotel orientation, sweaty, exhausted, hungry, and thirsty. I was ushered into a room where they were having a meeting. I was barely acknowledged and was told to take a seat somewhere and listen to the presentation which was, of course, completely in Spanish. Then, we walked about 6 blocks over to the University to take a tour there. Where the air conditioning is either not present or not working. So we had like a two hour tour around the inside of one of the branches of the UB in suffocating heat. I was dehydrated and exhausted and on the border of tears the entire tour. So that was awful.

Then, we returned to the hotel to have lunch, which was delicious and wonderful. Best part of the day so far I’d say. And then those of us who didn’t make the earlier visit of the CIEE study center all walked a couple of blocks down to there and back. And then we had a super long, drawn out, and semi-boring meeting in a really hot and stuffy room without air conditioning, and I had to constantly be fighting with myself to not fall asleep. I still dozed off a couple times, but I jerked myself awake after only a few seconds or so.

Then, finally, we prepared to leave with our host families. We all got our luggage together and waited for our families to pick us up. My fellow students compared us to: orphans waiting for our foster parents and puppies waiting at the SPCA. It really did feel a bit like that, since we didn’t know anything about the people coming for us. But then my host mom, Montse, smiled at me and did the cool spanish double cheek kiss thing which I did wrong but will get the hang of soon, and all was well.

So now, here I am. I’ve mostly unpacked my carry-ons, and I’m sitting here on my bed in my room that I will be in for the next 4 months, writing this blog, talking to my dad on skype for a couple minutes, and waiting for dinner. After dinner (which, in Spain, is typically between 8-9:30 PM), I will probably head straight to bed and sleep. And it will be awesome.

I’ve been to tired to take any pictures, but I will send some your way soon! Thanks for reading–this was a long and complicated and exhausting journey, but it’ll make for a good story some day when I’m not incredibly jet-lagged.

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