Back home and missing Barca like crazy

Okay, so I’ve been home for a month now. This is quite a delayed last blog post but I’ve been a little busy at home. I barely slept on the plane ride back, partly due to feeling sick and hungover and partly because I was so excited to get home and see my family! My friends Alexa, Carlos and Matt were all on my flight so it was nice to get up and talk to them a bit to pass the time. When we landed, I couldn’t believe I was home. I felt so relieved. It hadn’t hit me yet that I was leaving the place I learned to call my second home and I wasn’t sure when I would be returning.

Well, now, after a month, I miss it like crazy. More than the city itself, I miss the friends I met there and the experiences we shared in Barcelona and traveling around Europe. A lot of my international friends I met are studying there for a whole year and they just got back to the city a few days ago to start their spring semester. I’m so jealous! I say this now, but looking back my whole study abroad experience was a roller coaster of emotions. Exactly what my program told us it would be. Everyone has a different experience, and it seemed like some of my friends never had culture shock or got homesick, but I certainly did. I had really low times but then I had really great times. All in all, I am so happy I decided to go through with studying abroad and I couldn’t be more satisfied with the city I chose and all the friends I made.

Here is a list of things I will miss most and things I definitely won’t ever miss:

What I’ll miss: laughing at people sprinting to catch the metro

What I won’t miss: sprinting and missing the metro.

What I’ll miss: Blanca

What I won’t miss: my itty-bitty room

What I’ll miss: my friends!

What I won’t miss: pickpockets

What I’ll miss: Spanish champagne (cava)

What I won’t miss: Spanish food (sorry, wasn’t very impressed)

What I’ll miss: partying till 6am

What I won’t miss: Ryan Air flights departing at 6am

What I’ll miss: the slow, relaxed lifestyle

What I won’t miss: slow bartenders

What I’ll miss: learning and speaking Spanish

What I won’t miss: feeling clueless talking to a Spanish person

What I’ll miss: the weather

What I won’t miss: hang drying all my clothes

What I’ll miss: all the walking

What I won’t miss: all the walking

What I’ll miss: Euro beers

What I won’t miss: the Euro

Now that I’ve had the time to reflect on all my travels and experiences in Europe, I also have some awards.

Best kebab: Granada

yummy kebab in Granada

yummy kebab in Granada

Best sight: Eiffel Tower, Paris

La torre Eiffel

Best sunset: Ibiza

beautiful sunset

beautiful sunset

Best brewery: Heineken, Amsterdam

Alexa and I at the Heineken factory

Alexa and I at the Heineken factory

Best sangria: Barcelona and Granada

Meridan and Alexa with Sangria

Meridan and Alexa with Sangria

Nicest people: Dublin

some friends we met in Dublin

some friends we met in Dublin

Best view: Dublin and Barcelona

Howth cliffs in Ireland

Howth cliffs in Ireland

Best pizza: Venice

mmmm..

mmmm..

Best hostel: Paris

cutest and cleanest hostel

cutest and cleanest hostel

Most romantic: Paris and Venice

Pucker up in Paris!

Pucker up in Paris!

Best food: Prague

looks like slop but it was damn good!

looks like slop but it was damn good!

Best club: Razmatazz, Barcelona

always crazy razzzz

always crazy razzzz

I absolutely loved all of the cities I visited! But, I do have one suggestion for traveling Europe. GO IN THE SUMMER. The cold weather was brutal to tour cities in. It’s difficult to enjoy all of the sights when you walk around if you’re too busy focusing on how freakin cold your face is. I’m sure it would have been better if I was more prepared with a winter coat, hat and gloves, but I wasn’t. And I hate the cold anyways. So, unless you’re looking to ski, I suggest going to Europe in the warmer months. I know that’s what I’m planning to do for my next trip back! I’m hoping to go back this August or September and travel some new cities with some friends :)

I want to take a moment to thank my good friends that I met in Barcelona. You guys are what got me through my worst times. You are the reason why I didn’t go home. Thanks for listening to me complain and showing me the brighter side. I’ll never forget the times I had with you all because they were some of the best days and nights of my life!

399284_10151360908790730_1724212982_n

my awesome friends

Also, a HUGE shout out to my parents. Without you, studying abroad would not have been possible. You guys trusted me enough to fly overseas and have a life changing experience. Thank you so much for supporting me the whole way and coming to visit! Love you both so much :)

my mama

my mama

my daddy

my daddy

And to Barcelona…well, I’ll never forget you, you son of a bitch. You chewed me up and spit me out. Plus, you still have my iPhone somewhere. Don’t think I forgot that! Eh, I guess you’re alright. I mean, I drank from that fountain so I guess I have to come back some day… ;)

Week 14: Time is tickin

So I should be studying for finals right now but I can’t stop thinking about how this is almost over. Wow, I really can’t believe I only have a few days left. It’s so crazy to think about. It doesn’t really feel like reality here in Spain, it has kind of just felt like a big vacation! Especially with so many beach days in the beginning and then traveling around Europe multiple weekends in a row. My mind is definitely unaware that I have been studying abroad. I’m doing something that I’ve always known I wanted to do since high school. And it’s almost over. Holy crap.

Well, since I haven’t traveled for the past few weekends, I’ve been able to do a lot of sight seeing around Barcelona. It’s actually been quite difficult to pack in everything I want to do in the last few weeks! But here are some of the highlights:

Sagrada Familia. Holyyyyyy Jesus. If you think it looks amazing from the outside, wait till you see the inside! I actually wasn’t planning on going inside while I was here (I know, stupid right?) because I’ve seen a bunch of historical churches and they all kinda look the same to me, no offense to religious folk. BUT I’m sooo happy I went inside Sagrada Familia, it’s unlike any other church I’ve seen before. The doors, the walls, the ceiling, the pilars, the towers, EVERYTHING is just so artistic and detailed. Man, Gaudi really was a mastermind!

Ceiling and walls of Sagrada Familia

Ceiling and pilars of Sagrada Familia

Sick walls of Sagrada Familia

Sick walls of Sagrada Familia

I went up into the one of the towers too, which is a MUST! Its only 3 euro more and totally worth the experience. You walk from tower to tower through narrow bridges and spiral staircases with a great view of the city through the windows. This is where you really get to appreciate the unique architecture.

Inside Sagrada Familia tower

Inside Sagrada Familia tower

I also checked out another Gaudi building, Casa Mila or La Pedrera. Barcelona really is Gaudi’s city. It’s one of the only cities where one architect had such a big influence. Anyways, Casa Mila is an apartment building that Gaudi designed over 100 years ago and people still live there! I love that they didn’t make the whole thing into a museum. The roof is the coolest part. Check it:

Roof of Casa Mila

Roof of Casa Mila

We also got to see the attic and one of the older apartments. It was a HUGE apartment, especially for Spain. The families who lived there must have had to be pretty wealthy.

I completed my club list by finally going to Razzmatazz. Not sure why I waited so long because it’s definitely my favorite one in Barcelona! It has 5 different rooms, each one with a different DJ and layout. Such an awesome place to dance and party with friends.

Razzmatazz main floor

Razzmatazz main floor

This past Saturday, I had one last brunch at Timeline. It really has amazing food. This time, I went with my good friends, Alexa, Carlos and Christopher.

Last Timeline brunch

Last Timeline brunch

Afterwards, we walked down to La Rambla. They finally got to drink out of the special drinking fountain. I found out it’s called Font de Canaletes and the scripture on the bottom of it is the part that sys if you drink from this fountain, you are bound to return to Barcelona in your life.

Sippin on Font de Canaletes

Sippin on Font de Canaletes

I finally got to stroll through the Mercat de la Boqueria. I know, I should have done these things long ago, but I didn’t. Anyways, it was really cool inside, so many vendors with fresh fruit, chocolate, meat, you name it. I didn’t buy anything because it was getting ready to close but I’m glad I got to go once at least.

The next day, Alexa and I went to the Chocolate Museum. We both love chocolate. It was cool seeing the history of how it was made and learning that it used to be a luxury, solely for royals. It was even cooler to see all the chocolate sculptures! I broke the roles and touched one and sure enough, it’s real chocolate.

Sagrada Familia in chocolate!

Sagrada Familia in chocolate!

Well, I still have a bunch of stuff to do on my list. I hope I have time to go inside Casa Batllo (ANOTHER amazing Gaudi building) and possibly a champagneria. But right now, I have to focus on studying. It’s weird I’m leaving Friday morning, the day after my last final. I kind of wish I had the rest of the weekend to stick around and enjoy the city with friends I may never see again… ugh ok I’m getting sad. Back to studying. Spanish is gonna be a killer.

Weeks 12 & 13: My 2 favorite guys came to visit!

I had the pleasure of spending the last two weeks with my two favorite men, my boyfriend and my dad! Since we did a lot of the same tourist stuff I’ve done with my mom and friends here in Barcelona, I will only write about the new things we did together.

Greg was here for a whole week, and his parents were super nice and got a hotel room for us. They are so sweet. It was nice to spend time with Greg alone since we hadn’t seen each other for 2 months! The hot shower was also appreciated (the water in Blanca’s apartment is semi-warm at best).

Anyways, we started off his first day with an amazing brunch at Timeline Bar. Soo yummy, it’s my favorite for breakfast. For 15 euro, you get to choose a first course (and they have egg breakfasts, quite rare for spain!), then a regular or chocolate chip pancake, then coffee, toast, OJ and the best part, unlimited mimosas! It’s DELICIOUS.

Timeline brunch

Timeline brunch

Later that night, we went to another one of my favorite spots, Rubi Bar. They have the best mojitos with fresh crushed mint leaves (and chunks of strawberries if you’d like!) They also have great little dishes of rice with marinated chicken or beef. Greg loved it there too.

On Monday, we went to Park Guell. One of the most beautiful places in Barcelona. That’s where the picture at the top of this page is from. But I like this one better:

Top of Park Guell

Top of Park Guell

We went to the FC Barcelona soccer stadium after to grab some tickets for a game during my dad’s visit! Unfortunately, there were no home games scheduled during the week Greg was here, but at least he got to see the outside of the stadium and the gift shop…

Us with the Barca team

Us with the Barca team

On Tuesday, we wandered down La Rambla and through the Gothic area after my classes. Everyone always says the Gothic area is what they pictured Barcelona would be more like, with the cobblestone roads, narrow streets and tall cement walls. Barcelona is a big city guys, there’s more to it than that! Haha but I like the Gothic area during the day, but at night it can get a little sketchy so you always want to be with a group of people if you’re going to bars around there.

That night we had a really nice dinner at a restaurant called Gran Foc. They have a bunch of different types of food but they’re all good options! They even had some live mellow music that night which made it nice and romantic :) Afterwards, we went to chupitos, which means shots in Spanish. It’s a really popular bar in Barcelona but it was actually my first time going there! It’s more of a fun experience than a bar. We had our own personal bartender (or so it seemed) who lit shots on fire, caramelized oranges and topped em off with sugar and cinnamon. You get to choose if you want a medium or strong shot but the bottles are only labeled with numbers, no names, so every shot is an entertaining surprise!

chupitos!

chupitos!

Ok I’m sure it sounds like all we’ve done was a lot of drinking so far. But let me clarify, casual drinking in Spain is extremely common throughout the day and with every meal. It’s a part of their culture. So I was just introducing him to the culture, obviously! The next few days involved more touring.

We went to the Labyrinth Park on Wednesday, which has a maze made of tall bushes in the middle. It’s actually quite a challenge to get through it! It was a lot of fun weaving our way through it tho. When I’m in parks like that, I really don’t feel like I am in the middle of a big city. It takes you away from the hustle and bustle and gives you a chance to appreciate the beauty of the area.

Labyrinth Park

Labyrinth Park

After, we went to the Olympic Stadium and walked around Montjuic a bit. When it got dark, we went to the Magic Fountain light show at the base of the mountain. It’s pretty impressive, the water shoots up really high and is in sync with the music playing in Placa Espanya. With MNAC lit in the back and a whole row of smaller fountains down the streets, it made for a really romantic setting. I’m so glad I got to see it with Greg :)

Magic Fountain light show

Magic Fountain light show

Thursday, I showed Greg Sagrada Familia and Cuitadella Park. Oh, and one of my favorite “fast-food” restaurants here, Wok to Walk.

Greg devouring his Wok to Walk

Greg devouring his Wok to Walk

Thursday was a little hard for me since it was Thanksgiving and I was thousands of miles away from my family. I’m really happy Greg could be here but I had never missed a Thanksgiving with my family before. I skyped with my mom’s family for a little a night and it really made me miss home. They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Spain, but luckily an Irish pub called George Payne was serving a special turkey dinner that night. It was actually pretty good!

Our Thanksgiving Dinner

Our Thanksgiving Dinner

On Friday we went to Monserrat, a town about an hour outside of Barcelona. There are beautiful mountains and cliffs with a bunch of hiking trails and these funky shaped rocks. The funicular takes you way up in the clouds too!

Monserrat

Monserrat

I was sad to see Greg go, but I know I’ll be home really soon! Besides, my dad eased the pain by coming to visit the very next weekend!

My dad arrived early Friday morning, in time to go on a program tour of the FCB soccer stadium! He LOVED it. It’s such a huge stadium, it holds almost 100,000. It looked really cool and calm with nobody in it. Just wait till game time…

Camp Nou Stadium

Camp Nou Stadium

Afterwards, we went to the Olympic Stadium. Yes, he’s really into sports. I’ve seen the stadium a bunch of times, but we went into the Olympic museum attached to it, which is something I hadn’t done before. The museum wasn’t just for the ’92 Olympics in Barca, it had stuff from all of the Olympics and sports history in Catalunya. It was pretty sweet.

A torch from most of the Olympic Games

Torches from most of the Olympic Games

That night we had paella at a restaurant on the beach. Definitely the best paella I’ve had in Barcelona so far! I recommend the restaurant called Salamanca to anyone who visits Barcelona. Afterwards, we went to the top of the W Hotel for a late night drink. It’s such a great view of the beach up there!

On Saturday we also went to Park Guell and Timeline (yes, I like those places a lot!) Not sure if I already talked about the FCB Drinking Fountain, but it’s a specific water fountain on La Rambla that if you drink from it, supposedly you will come back to Barcelona at some point in your life. So we did that together too :)

Drink from this and you'll be sure to come back to BCN!

Drink from this and you’ll be sure to come back to BCN!

That night, we went to the Barca game. It was SICK cause we had such great seats. My dad loved it! Barca beat Bilboa 5-1 and Messi scored 2 goals. He really is a magician on the field. I even got a goal on video! Not Messi but still a sweet goal!

After we had an amazing steak dinner at a place I’d never been to called Padagonia. The steak was so juicy and delicious, it reminded me of a nice grilled steak from home. My dad is the best at that!

Sunday morning we took a stroll through the Gothic area and ran into a Christmas market in front of the Cathedral. It was really cute with a bunch of vendors selling their best holiday decorations. Two things that I noticed are really different is their Santa log (Tio de Nadal) and their Caganer.

Tio de Nadal

Tio de Nadal

The backside of the log is covered with a blanket and each day for a few weeks leading up to Christmas, parents put something new under the blanket. On Christmas day, children tap the log with sticks until all their goodies come out!

El Caganer

El Caganer

The Caganer is something parents hide in their nativity scene and the children have to find it before they can open presents. I think it is supposed to represent that Jesus was human and did natural things, like shit. But vendors take it to another level and create figurines of celebrities and athletes shitting. It’s pretty funny.

After, we rented bikes and rode all over the city. I showed him Cuitadella Park and Sagrada Familia and then we went really far down the shore. There are so many nice parks and restaurants along the beach that I never noticed before! It was a beautiful day too :)

Exploring the city by bike

Exploring the city by bike

We ended his last night here with another paella dinner. He really loves it!

I’m so grateful that Greg and my dad could come visit me. I can only describe the city in so many words over skype. Showing them the city I’ve been living in for the past 3 months in person does it much better justice. I’m no local, but I think I’m a pretty good tour guide by this point!

Week 11: New recipes, routes and amigos!

Our program had a Catalan cooking class this week. Let me just say this first, I am not a good cook. Well, I’m a lazy cook, so I just make easy things. What we were cooking was not so simple. We made gazpacho, tortilla de patatas, paella, and crema Catalana. These are all typical foods of this region and they all take a good amount of time and effort to make! The gazpacho we made was a cold tomato soup with garlic aoli, basil and cheese on top.

Gazpacho

Tortilla de patatas is one of Spain’s most popular foods. You can find it in almost any restaurant. It is made with eggs, potatoes and onions. It’s pretty much like a fat omelette that they cut into triangles.

Tortilla de patatas

Paella is a mixture of rice, vegetables, and seafood or chicken. The one we made was Valencian style so we used chicken.

Valencian paella

Crema Catalana is pretty much the same as creme brulee. Really creamy and yummy!

Crema Catalana

We all took turns rotating behind the countertop and stove to prepare each dish. I helped the most with the tortilla de patatas and the creme Catalana. Everything was delicious in the end!

Enjoying our meal

Something not so sweet was the general strike in Spain on Wednesday. All public transportation and many shops and restaurants were shut down for the entire day. Ugh. Strikes are really common here lately, but usually just the metro and buses will be reduced to 50% of service or something for the day. But Wednesday it’s like the whole city was shut down and everyone was out in the streets making noise. I had to walk to school, which was actually nice because I purposely went on streets that I had never been on before. I found a lot of cute restaurants and shops along the way!

On Friday, Alexa and I went up to Mount Tibidabo. The church at the top can be seen from almost everywhere in the city. We took a train all the way up and were surprised to see an amusement park at the top! Unfortunately, it was closed, but we still walked around and got some great pictures of the church and the city.

Top of Mt. Tibidabo

Friday night, I finally got to party with some of the international students in my classes! They are soo much fun. A bunch of them are from Belgium. They teach me words in Flemish, I teach them words in English and we struggle together to learn Spanish. They really know how to party though, I hope I can visit them again someday when I come back to Europe!

New friends!

Week 10: Dublin

November 9 – 11, 2012

So, I almost didn’t go to Dublin. Long story. But I’m so glad I decided to pay a little extra to change my flight and go!

I arrived on Friday night with Meril and her friend from home, Laney. We were all pretty tired, so we went out for dinner and a drinks and called it a night.

The next day, we took a train a half an hour outside the city to a town called Howth. The town is right on the Irish Sea and has the gorgeous green cliffs that Ireland is known for. We walked along the cliffs for about 2 hours, enjoying the views and fresh air. I think we could have spent a whole afternoon up there if we had the time! It was so refreshing.

Howth Cliffs

We saw the Irish Coast Guard practicing along the way, hanging off the cliffs and everything! Here’s a video:

On on way back to the train, we stopped to get some some lunch. We got fish n’ chips, which was soooooo good. We heard the fish was really fresh because Howth is right on the water. It was really yummy :)

Fish n chips

Next up on the list: the Old Jameson Distillery. I really like whisky, so this was obviously one of my favorite things that we did. They actually don’t make Jameson in that factory anymore, they moved to the South of Ireland, but the tour portrayed the factory how it was in the 1800s. Did you know that Jameson has a hint of wine in it? Me neither. At the end of the tour, I did a tasting with 4 different types of Jameson and got a Jameson Manhattan. Mmmmm yummy:)

4 types of Jameson and a Manhattan!

That night, we did a pub crawl with our hostel. We went to 4 different pubs in the Temple Bar area and ended at a nightclub. Each pub was different, but my 2 favorites were the first one, the Old Storehouse, where they had live Irish music

The Old Storehouse

and Whelans, where a scene from P.S. I Love You was shot! It’s a huge pub and we had a blast dancing like fools.

Whelans

I was pretty surprised at how lively the nightlife was. I was even more surprised at the attire of the Irish girls. I was dressed in jeans, flat boots and a coat. They were all dressed in mini dresses or skirts and stilettos. WHAT. they had to have been freezing and I have no idea how they stayed on their feet on those cobblestone streets.

We didn’t have much time on Sunday, so we got up early and hit the Guinness Storehouse. It was cool, but I’m not a huge fan of dark beer and it was a self-guided tour. Meril really enjoyed it though, and we did get to pour our own pints at the end:)

Perfect Pint Pourers

We had to get back to the hostel pretty quickly to grab our bus to the airport, but we had time to stop and take a few pictures of the Dublin Castle.

Dublin Castle

Unfortunately, we only spent a short time in Dublin, but I really enjoyed it. The city is so full of life, especially at night. Really nice people too. Loved the accents!

Back in Barca…

It’s taken me a little while to post because I have been traveling so much! Also, I wrote some of my blogs on my iPhone and well, that got stolen the other day. I’m so pissed. I had the typical thinking process of “Oh, it won’t happen to me. Those things only happen to other people.” My dad always jokes about that. Well, it happened to me. Damn you Barcelona pickpockets! AHH! Anyways, I had saved some posts about my travels on my phone and did not upload them to my computer before it was stolen. I also lost a bunch of pictures I took in Paris is Venice.The positive side is it’s just a phone and it is replaceable. But, I have to rewrite the posts and that will probably take a few days. I’m getting super busy with classwork and I am traveling to Dublin on Friday.

So, I decided to write a post about what’s been going on in Barcelona! Let’s see, where to start. Oh! I finally went to a Barca soccer game! That was awesome. My friend and I were working on a project and his roommates were going to the game that night. We decided last minute to put off our project till the next day and buy the 60 euro tickets. It was totally worth it! The stadium is HUGE, with a capacity of about 100,000. Barca played the Celtic team and a bunch of their fans traveled down for the game. They were pretty rowdy, especially when they scored the first goal. But Barca came back to win 2-1 with their second goal right before time was up! I can’t wait to go to another game when my dad is here :)

Barca soccer game!

 

As I said, my classes are getting pretty hectic. Although I only have 3 classes, I have presentations and final exams in all of them within the next month. Inequality, Poverty and Globalization is getting a little more interesting, because all the students are presenting on the different topics that will be on our final exam. It’s easier to listen to different people present new information every class, rather than listen to our teacher over and over. She’s a bit slow and repetitive, plus she has a heavy accent.

That’s been interesting over here. The teachers all have accents. Well, obviously, because they are teaching in English and they are from all different parts of the world. My Spanish teacher is from Spain, my Creative Economy teacher is from Belgium and I think my Inequality, Poverty and Globalization teacher is from Scotland or something? I have no idea about her. But, I have had 1 or 2 international teachers before this at Ithaca College and I thought THEY were difficult to understand. HA! Every class here, I have to try to focus on what they mean and process the new information at the same time. Every time. So it takes a lot more concentration than usual.

Anyways, the Creative Economy is going well. It is still my favorite class because we are learning that it is OKAY for our thoughts and learning processes to be different. Creativity is using your imagination in the production of a unique work. Currently, we are learning about what the world might will be like in 50 years if creativity continues to be suppressed by education systems. It was interesting hearing the Europeans students in my class say their education system is much more methodical than the US system. They say they have many more tests and papers than hands-on projects. I think it depends what type of school you go to. I have been very fortunate that Ithaca College and especially my Communications school promotes hands-on projects in almost every class. It allows students to show what they’ve learned in their own way. Don’t get me wrong, professors still usually have a format for how they want a presentation to go or how a project should be turned in. But projects such as advertising or PR campaigns can be expressed in multiple different ways. I’m really excited for my Advertising Lab coming up in the Spring! We get a real client and create an advertising campaign to present at a regional and possibly national competition!

Spanish is my most challenging class. It was really difficult coming to Barcelona knowing barely any Spanish. I started taking French in middle school because the Spanish classes were all full, and just continued with it through high school. Boy, do I regret that decision!

So, in class I learn a lot of grammar and vocabulary and some conversational sentences. Besides homework, I also get to practice outside of class. Since I’m usually walking to and from places alone, I have to speak Spanish stores, taxis and on the street if I need directions. I have the basic question and answers down for where is this, how much is this, etc. I can also practice in my homestay with Blanca. Oh yeah, on a side note, Blanca taught me how to make paella! It was sooo good.

Homemade paella!

But unfortunately, I think my frustration with learning Spanish takes over my motivation to practice sometimes. I know it’s bad, and I’m trying. I did an intercambio with some Spanish students. An intercambio is a meeting with another person who speaks the language you want to learn. So, I first started with the simple, “Hola, me llamo Courtney, y tu?” And then they started speaking SO FAST. I asked them to slow down but even then, I don’t think I know enough vocabulary yet to figure out what they were saying. I got really nervous and frustrated and we were on a timed schedule so we ended up speaking more English than Spanish. I kind of wanted to cry when I left. But I NEED to practice more. I think next time I will just plan to meet with 1 person instead of a whole group. It was pretty overwhelming.

But that brings me to another point. When I was trying to decide which city to study abroad in, I was attracted to Barcelona for a number of reasons. It is a metropolitan city AND on the coast, which meant quality beach time (HELL YEAH). The program also offered good courses for me to complete my liberal arts credits. It is a lively city with a great location in Europe, pretty good weather and awesome night life. And last but not least, I could learn Spanish. With the increasing amount of Spanish people in the US, knowing the language is very useful in the business and marketing world. But, I heard people say it’s hard to learn Spanish in Barcelona, since the city is in the Catalunya region of Spain, where the main language is Catalan. Catalan is kind of a mixture between Spanish, French and Italian. So it’s MUCH harder to learn than regular Spanish. I haven’t had too much of a problem, because if a person speaks Catalan, they definitely speak Spanish as well. It’s easy to see the differences in the languages on signs and menus too. Like in the metro, there are 3 words for attention: atenció (Catalan), atención (Spanish), and attention (English). Okay, that was probably a bad example because there’s only a one-letter difference between the Spanish and Catalan words. But usually, you can tell. There are a lot of X’s and italian endings, but the word is pronounced in a Spanish accent. It’s very interesting.

Another sign in Catalan, Spanish, English and French

Oh, it’s also starting to get a little chilly here. And by chilly, I mean in the 50s and still sunny. It’s so funny seeing locals bundle up in their winter jackets because this is cold to them! Ha, I’m used to an average of 30 degrees and cloudy in Ithaca around this time. That’s definitely something I DON’T miss.

Alright, well I’ll be sure to post about my trips to Amsterdam, Paris, Venice and Dublin soon. Hasta luego!

Week 9: Venice – Before it’s too late!

November 2-4, 2012

(Again, this post doesn’t have many pictures because they were on my iphone that got stolen. These are Meril’s pictures.)

Since we had a long holiday weekend, Ali, Meril and I decided to visit 2 cities. We flew from Paris to Venice on Friday night. As we got off the plane, Meril received a call telling her our hostel had been upgraded to a room right on the Grand Canal! On our walk to the hostel, I felt a wave of happiness come over me and couldn’t stop smiling. I only remembering feeling that way a few times in my life. Once was when Roxanne was born. Another was at midnight on my 21st birthday. I have been trying to focus on being present in the moment and not thinking about the future too much while I’m here. I mean, I’M STUDYING ABROAD IN BARCELONA AND GETTING TO TRAVEL ALL OVER EUROPE. I need to appreciate these special moments!! I don’t know what it was this time, but I couldn’t have been more excited as I walked along the Grand Canal.

View of Grand Canal from our room

We a nice Italian dinner that night: bread, ravioli, pizza and wine. yummy.

Saturday, we discovered Venice’s main public transportation: water taxis. Since the streets are very narrow and canals flow all throughout the city, traveling by boat is the easiest way to get around! You can see the yellow taxi stops on the righthand side of the picture.

Water taxis

We took the water taxi to St. Mark’s Square and walked around a bit. I heard the square floods at noon every day. I’m not sure why. But, even crazier, a few days ago, Venice was hit by some bad weather and this is what the square looked like:

Flooded St. Mark’s Square (11/12/12)

I’m not sure if I’m happy or upset that we missed the flooding…kinda looks fun!

Anyways, we continued to walk throughout the little streets around the area and ended up spending a lot more money than we wanted to. Every little store had something we just HAD to have! We spotted a handsome gondolier just in time to save our credit cards from being denied. Well, actually, we still had to bargain with him a bit! We got a decent price to split between the 3 of us and went on a relaxing gondola ride for 45 minutes. He brought us along the Grand Canal and through some of the smaller canals, telling us little facts and serenading us with his beautiful voice along the way. But really. He was a good singer! Such a picturesque gondola ride. Happy we did it!

Gondola ride

Afterwards, we had another great dinner and grabbed some drinks at a bar to end the night. The nightlife in Venice isn’t too big, bars close pretty early and I think there’s only one club. It’s a very small city. But the drinks we had at the bar were very tasty if I must say so myself! All about quality, not quantity.

It rained all day long on Sunday, but we still wanted to walk around and see as much of the city as we could before we had to leave. So I finally bought an umbrella for 5 euros. Wish I had that in Granada. Anyways, we walked around the Jewish Ghetto, San Polo and Dorsoduro. We obviously stopped in many shops along the way…it was raining so we needed shelter, duh!

We ended our time in Venice with more great pizza. I’m so glad I got to visit Venice before it is covered by water completely! Not sure if I’ll make it back before that happens, but if I do, I surely won’t mind :)

Week 9: Paris – The City for Lovers

October 31 – November 2, 2012

But I went with 2 girls. It’s ok, Ali and Meril were great travel buddies :)

(FYI, I don’t have many pictures in this post because they were on my iphone that recently got stolen :( The ones you see here are Meril’s.)

Getting to Paris was quite the adventure. We didn’t realize we booked our 7am flight at an airport 1.5 hours away from Barcelona. That’s a 200 euro cab ride. So we decided to take the bus. I left my apartment at 3am, caught a taxi and got on the bus at 3:30am, got to the airport at 5am, boarded the plane at 6:30am and landed at 8:30. We had to take another 1.5 bus ride into Paris, then hopped on the metro and got to our hostel around 10am. And we couldn’t check in till 2pm. I’m tired just writing about it!

So, we thought we would take it easy and go see the Eiffel Tower first. Well, that took all day. But it was AMAZING. Best sight I’ve seen so far. When we got off the metro and saw it as we turned the corner, I think I stopped breathing for a second. It is literally breathtaking. It’s also a lot bigger than I thought (that’s what she said).

messin around at the Eiffel Tower

We took a bunch of pictures in front of it, then decided to go up to the very top. We heard it was a must. And it was! Besides the hour-long wait in line, the Eiffel Tower and the views of Paris from up top were amazing. Afterwards, we got some crepes nearby. By that time it was dark and as we were leaving the restaurant, the Eiffel Tower lit up with sparkles! It was so pretty and romantic :)

At night, it sparkles every hour on the hour

The next day, we started our sightseeing with the Louvre. It’s such a huge museum, we could’ve spent a whole week in there if we took our time to look at every piece of art. But we only had a few hours, so we checked out the Mona Lisa, other Italian paintings, French paintings and Egyptian artifacts.

Afterwards, we stopped at a street vendor for the best crepe I’ve ever had. Filled with Nutella and bananas of course. And yes, I had a crepe 2 days in a row. They’re way too good to resist, especially when you’re in their home country and they are on every corner!

yummmm

On our way to the Arc de Triomphe, we ran into a pleasant surprise: the Lock Bridge! The sides of the Pont des Arts bridge are filled with padlocks, mostly engraved with couples’ initials. We even got to witness a couple put their lock on, throw the key in the water and share a big smooch. Too cute! I would love to go back someday when I am married. I wonder how many locks will be on there by that point!

Thousands of locks on the bridge!

Ali and I attempting to be romantic haha

It was dark by the time we got to the Arc de Triomphe and it was pretty impressive in the flood lights. It’s much bigger than the Arc in Barcelona. We snapped a few pictures and made our way down the famous and expensive avenue of Champs Elysees. Ali and Meril both bought some clothes, while I struggled to resist temptation and successfully kept my money in my wallet.

Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower

We went out to a few bars that night. My favorite was the salsa bar. Ali is a really good dancer, so we watched her salsa for a little bit. I would really love to learn salsa some day, it’s so sexy and intimate. The music soon changed to hip hop, modern hits and a little bit of Michael Jackson. We danced for hours! It was a great atmosphere.

On Friday, we went to the Luxembourg Garden. It was raining at the time, so it wasn’t as beautiful as it could have been. After we went to Notre Dame. Such impressive piece of architecture! Inside, the stained glass windows were exquisite. Ali is Christian, so she sat down and prayed for a little bit. It was really cool for her to pray in such a historical church.

Notre Dame

Beautiful stained glass window

We talked about how we don’t think people build as beautiful of buildings anymore. Not in the US at least. All of our big cities are so modernized, and although modern architecture is impressive, I don’t think it’s as artistic or detailed as the older buildings in Europe. But then again, who knows what tourists will be marveling at in a few decades.

Well, that concluded our short trip to Paris. I need to go back and spend more time there with a fiance/husband/hubby. It’s way too romantic to not kiss someone at the Eiffel Tower and the Lock Bridge. Definitely on my bucket list.

Week 8: I Amsterdam…not quite

October 26-28, 2012

Off on another 6am flight. Ugh, getting sick of those! I went with my good friend Alexa, and when we got to Amsterdam, it was soo much colder than we thought it would be! We hopped on the tram and rushed to our hostel. What a shocker THAT was. It was the smallest hostel room I’ve ever seen. Alexa and I were in a bunk bed with 8 other people squished into a room the size of a closet. I can’t even imagine what a 30-person room would be like. We dropped our bags and got out of there right away.

We hit up the I Amsterdam sign to start. I guess it’s pretty cool but there was soo many tourists taking pictures of it or with it, that someone was bound to be in your picture. I just wanted to shout, “OK, EVERYONE TAKE A STEP BACK AND WAIT TAKE TURNS.” I feel like a kindergarden teacher. But it was pretty damn crowded and took the excitement out of it. We were able to get a few decent pictures though.

I Amsterdam sign

We headed to the Heineken brewery next. The tour through the brewery is called the Heineken Experience and it was AWESOME. There is a good mix of history, beer facts and fun activities to do. We got 3 free beers along the way and I even got to pour my own draft at the end!

Poured myself a Heineken draft!

Next, we took a canal ride. Thankfully, all of the tour boats were covered so it was nice and cozy inside. It was soo pretty with all of the changing leaves on the trees. We passed the Anne Frank House, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to go in it during our trip. My favorite part of the canal ride was seeing all of the canal houses. These were tiny little houses posted up on the sides of the canal. I’m not sure if they were floating or if they were built on some kind of cement jetty. They were so cute! Each one was different than the next. They seemed like they would be a nice vacation house, but I’m pretty sure a lot of people live in them year-round!

Cute canal house

That night we stayed out as long as we could, eating dinner and having a few drinks at a bar, but it was inevitable, we eventually had to go back to our creepy hostel.

The next day we did a bunch of shopping. We strolled through a street market near our hostel; Alexa got shoes and I got some leggings. We tried some macaroons and some type of spicy chicken. We also checked out a few different coffeeshops, which were really chill. One thing I noticed was that everyone we talked to was super nice, helpful with directions, and willing to have a conversation. That was probably one of my favorite parts about Amsterdam. The lifestyle is nice and relaxed and so are the people.

At night, it was time to visit the Red Light District. It took us a little while to find it, but once we were there, we knew it. The main street was lined with buildings lit up with red lights, and in each window there was a girl shakin what her mama gave her. Some of the girls would even tap on the windows to get more attention. If a guy was interested in a girl, he would go up to her window and I assume they would talk about prices. If they agreed, she would take him away behind a curtain. Alexa and I saw this one girl bring in 4 different guys within a half an hour! Part of me feels bad for these girls, like how desperate do they have to be for money to sell their bodies? On the other hand, it could be a great paying job if a girl is pretty enough. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, but I snapped one from afar.

Red Light chicas. oopsies.

On Sunday, we checked out Leiden Square and Dam Square, two popular areas with a ton of shops, restaurants and bars. The most exhilarating thing we did all weekend was go on a sky-high swing ride in Dam Square. Hard to explain but it’s the ride on the right in the picture below. It was AWESOME! It must have brought us up at least 20 stories and we could see the whole city! It was actually pretty scary as we tried to take pictures while laughing, shivering and crying, all the while holding on for dear life. So worth the 6 euros though.

Sweet rides in Dam Square

Amsterdam

Well, Amsterdam, love your style but not your weather. I hope to visit you again someday in the summertime! If you’d like to see more pictures, there’s an album on my Facebook. If you’re not Facebook friends with me, too bad.

Week 7: Granada with SAE

We arrived in Granada on Friday morning to a beautiful view of the mountains from the runway. Then it started raining. And it didn’t stop for 2 straight days. We didn’t let it stop us from exploring the city though! We took a tour of the Royal Chapel and Cathedral of Granada when we first got there. The chapel was the most impressive, with white walls, a super high ceiling and many beautiful churches inside.

The Royal Chapel of Granada

After lunch and a long siesta, we went to have some Arabic tea. The place provided a relaxed atmosphere with curtains and dimmed lights. The tea was minty and steaming hot! Perfect for my sore throat.

Arabic tea and baklava

At night, we went tapas bar hopping! This was one of my favorite things we did because the places were so cute and it was extremely cheap compared to Barcelona! At each place, I bought a glass of sangria for about 2 euro and a tapa was included in the price! Sometimes we got to choose the tapa, but most of the time the chef made whatever his heart desired. Everything was delicious!

Friends and tapas!

Later that night, Alexa and I met 2 local girls around our age. They took us from bar to bar for the best deals in town. We got to practice our Spanish and they got to practice their English, it was great! Our last stop of the night was the oldest bar in Granada. It was so small, and they only had beer and hard liquor to drink. No more sangria for me!

Oldest bar in Granada

The next day, we took a few tours through different parts of the city. It was nice to see what the town looked like higher up in the mountains and we got some great pictures of the city. The only damper on our day was the pouring rain. I got soaked! Probably should have bought a cheap umbrella…

Later, we did the Arab baths. Mmmmmmm. They were so nice and relaxing. There were 7 baths, all of different temperatures. They kind of looked liked big hot tubs…or small pools…Anyways, the point was to go back and forth between hot and cold temperatures. I hated the cold one. It was freezing! But after suffering through a few seconds in there, getting in one of the warmer baths felt amazing. After relaxing in the baths for about an hour, I had one of the best massages of my life. It was only 15 minutes long, but it was worth it. I usually like hard deep tissue massages, but this woman knew how to work the gentle style. She used techniques that I’ve never felt before and I didn’t want it to end! It was wonderful.

As good as the baths and message were, my absolute favorite part of the trip was the Flamenco show! We went to a restaurant called El Templo del Flamenco for dinner and the show. I didn’t realize it when I sat down, but I got the pleasure of sitting front row! The show consisted of dancers, musicians and singers, all performing something I have never seen before. It was a mixture of clapping, guitar, percussion, tap dancing, stomping, singing, dancing and all the while cheering each other on. It was so wild and different, I loved it! I got so excited at one point, I even knocked over and broke a glass on the table. Oops! Here is a video of a “relaxed” point in the show:

And a picture from one of the more upbeat points in the show!

Flamenco dancers

It finally stopped raining on Sunday, which ended being the perfect day for the tour of the Alhambra and Generalife. These were the prettiest parts of the city. The Alhambra was a Muslim palace and the Generalife was a large beautiful garden next to it. We got great views of the city from here!

Granada

I’m so glad we got to visit Granada. It’s such a different atmosphere than Barcelona. Which one do I like better? Tough to say, but Barcelona holds a special place in my heart that is tough to beat!