Monthly Archives: September 2012

Hmmm…

So…. I’m figuring that you all have been anxious to hear from me. Figured as much. You’ve missed me. Well I don’t blame you. I’ve missed all of you twice as much, if not a little more. So, to get to the point, I should probably begin now. Right here, right now. Here goes…. here goes… ok I should start.
Where to begin… So where did I leave off last time? Ah. We went to Leon. That seems like ages ago. It really was. I’m ancient now, a whole year older than when you heard from me last. (actually, that’s not true since I posted the last post when we returned, so I was ancient even then). Anyhow, so we visited the towns of Leon, Asturgo, Burgos, Zaragoza in the period of five days. It was very guay, to say the least.
So, Leon is a cute little roman-founded town, in the middle of a ginormous mountain range. We spent oh, say seven, eight hours on the bus, minus an hour break for lunch. So we arrived and all, and were shown around the town a bit where there was a religious procession with a marching band all in uniform and several hefty men shouldering a model of Jesus on the cross. There were several more processions to come after that, all with Jesus at a different position.
A little later, we found ourselves at a tapas bar where the majority of our table got croquettas, which were breaded meats and cheeses. They were delicious. For the most part.
The next day, bright and early, we began our series of lectures. Now, here’s an interesting tidbit of information. Up until this point, most of us had thought our professor was kinda boring, and hard to understand. But that was until we found out that he was actual a pretty famous artist/novelist (I think he’s a novelist too, someone correct me if I’m wrong) in his hometown Leon. One of the graffiti on the wall read “Gustavo (our prof.) is the best.” Claro, because he even has a street named after him. Oh yeah, that’s right. I got a picture with him on my birthday. Be jealous.
Continuing on, tangent free, we spent the trip taking notes, and walking throughout Leon. One thing that was cool to learn, was that throughout Castilla y Leon, the tapas were endless. I mean, all you’d have to do was buy a drink, and the steaming tapas would come out directly after. Unfortunately, I only had this happen to me at one of the restaurants, because I’m just lucky like that. Even the tapas that we had there were very “Americanized”, simple ones that the waiter thought we could handle. All the other tables got these very elaborate, cheesy-looking-authentic-hot tapas. Not. Cool.
On the subject of being the stereotyped Americans, we were highly embarrassed one time at the restaurant named (you guessed it) “The Mafia”. It was my 21st birthday, (and no, I did not drink, though I know some of you wish that I had), and of course, I couldn’t decide where to eat. We finally met up with a few of our classmates who recommended it to us. It was a fancy, Italian restaurant, though they warned it would be a little pricy. We sat down outside, and remember, this was after we got those easy-does-it-American tapas, so it was a bit late, around 10 (which, you would think would be typical time for Spanish to eat, but we still weren’t used to this schedule quite yet. I’m still not used to it. Now that you mention it, I could go for a few tapas right now…). We sat next to a Spanish couple who were both smoking, and had a small perro on a leash which kept leaping onto their laps. We had to restrain ourselves from kidnapping it.
So we sat down there, right? And we were waiting for our waiter to come. At first, we were wondering if we had been seen, but finally, he arrived. Speaking in English of course. We got our menus, and ordered drinks, then spent a while looking over the abundant supply of food, written out in Spanish, on the atlas-sized menus. One of ours noticed a pretty good deal, but after much questioning, we learned it was the kids menu. Silly mistake, right? We then realized our advantage in this scheme, and decided to play dumb, and order it, even though it clearly said “must be 10 and younger”, though in Spanish. The waiter returned, and we all confidently ordered the exact same thing. When he collected our menus and left, we celebrated our stupendous victory. Or so we thought.
The waiter returned, again, and in faltering English said “Um,- I don’t- think you- can order- this” gesturing to the part in the menu where it said “must be 10 and younger”. We all did a “OOooo ok!” like we had noooo idea that we couldn’t do that and we don’t understand this language at all. Not until the waiter left did we realized that he had given us English menus. Que bueno.
I guess playing dumb was not as easy as we thought. Throughout the rest of the meal we weren’t sure whether we should still continue to address him in English, or practice our Spanish more. When we left, he somehow heard that it was my birthday and he said “Oh, felicidades!” Happy Birthday to me.
It was definitely a day like no other, I’ll give you that. Not only was I sick (like I have been every single birthday), but also we had the opportunity to visit a school and be lectured on how this school has nothing to do with our class, but how we must see it anyway because it is an example of a classical building which we hadn’t seen. Again, que bueno. But, hey how often will I get to celebrate my birthday in a foreign country? And my 21st at that? I guess a perk to the day was getting a picture with Gustavo. And the decently attractive bus driver the next day.
All in all, I think this whole semester abroad is a birthday present. So even though my birthday-day (hmm… is that correct? I can’t speak English anymore…) wasn’t the greatest, the whole year makes up for it. Viva la vida!

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Sweet Montjuïc and the Marvelous Mediterranean

Our first weekend in Barcelona. What did we do? Well, since we live about spitting distance from the Mediterranean, we decided to venture there, despite the fact that it was a bit cloudy. But, it didn’t matter since it was pretty hot anyway so it didn’t matter too much.

One thing you should know about this beach, is that it was an “optional bathing suit beach”, so a great number of very confident folk strutted their stuff, topless or bottomless, or both, which is a far cry from the city itself. It’s so ironic that such a city that still follows a somewhat conservative dress code because the influence of the catholic church, would also have a mandatory-cover-everything-beach dress code, but it’s quite the opposite. Perhaps the people get so antsy from having to cover up themselves throughout the city, and this is their time to shine and let loose- or something like that.

Other than the surprising discovery of the optional dress beach, it was for the majority, a good day. We all had our “bocadillos” at a good hour, trying to build up and maintain our stomach’s endurance. Some of them were a good length, like about a $5 foot long (minus the $5) and about ten times better. The bread is rubbed with oil and tomato, and contains some type of meat, like churrizo or cured ham, and cheese. One of my friends in the group after a mouthful admitted “I would pay for these” cause they’re just that good. And I would have to agree. I would say that we are kinda getting them for free, but then I remember we did pay for everything with the tuition. I’ll take it though.

We stayed there for most of the afternoon. Ok, let me correct that; for most of the day, til around 6:30. Other people in our group broke off to leave a little earlier, but the group I was with decided to stay later, since we don’t really eat until 9 pm anyway. A friend and I decided to walk back, seeing if it could take a little less than an hour. Well, it wasn’t, but it was a little more exciting than taking the bus over, which we had done earlier that day to get to the beach. Several vendors parked on the streets, so we had to take a glimpse of those. The vendors sold things from books and masks to old antiques and touristy things, so we had quite a variety to look at.

Later that night, we decided to go to Montjuïc to see the fountains, Placa España and the Arenas, now a shopping mall, in the night. See, earlier that morning, my friend and I went for a run, and I discovered that I lived only a three minutes run away from Placa España, and the Palacio, which is also a museum. The opportunities right outside my front door are endless!

Let’s just say, that the fountains were nothing short of amazing or beautiful (fill in a close synonym for pretty or inspired etc. as you please) with its multiple colors and opera music. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, the show was almost over. Though fortunately, they have shows every night running every twenty minutes. And fortunately, I actually found out a shortcut to get there in about two minutes. And even more fortunate, is that I will stop using that word… for now. Fortunately, it started to annoy you.

Up the stairs of the Palacio were several cardboard cutouts of basketball players, and there was a huge setup of a basketball court and life-sized pictures of some of the athletes. Don’t worry. I got to stand next to them and get pictures.

We raced up the stairs to the balcony where we were stopped in our tracks. Barcelona was just at our feet, and we could see the Placa España, the columnas of the palacio, the line of fountains on both sides of the street from the Placa to the palacio. Behind us, the several blue spotlights crowned the palacio and a pale yellow glow highlighted it.

The rest of the night, we spent or time exploring a little bit of Montjuïc and figuring out how disorienting cities can be at night. Still, the group helped me find my way back eventually, and all was well in the world.

I wish I could say that this was all that we have been doing; going to the beach, frolicking in Parque Guell, skipping to the fountains of Montjuïc and such. But, ¡Asi es la vida! We’ve had classes too, every day. I believe, we had our first class on Tuesday, the day after we arrived, so we haven’t had our heads completely in the clouds. And tomorrow, (more like today, whoops) we leave for Castilla y Leon, which will be our academic trip. It should be a good break away from the hustle and bustle of the city, even though it hasn’t been that bad. A 13 hour bus ride into the countryside has never sounded so great.

Well, that’s it for now! I won’t be keeping up over the next five days, so you guys will have to hold tight til then. Try not to get too upset. I will be taking pictures (of course) and continuing a journal, that I’ll probably upload to here so you guys can take a peek into my trip. ¡Hasta luego!

Guay Guell

I am thinking that maybe I should talk about Parque Guell, since that’s what we did after going to Sagrada Familia. We walked, all uphill (cause remember, Barcelona is one big hill, which you are usually climbing up) for several blocks, and finally arrived, after I related my pickpocket story to all of them, and strongly cautioned them to be on their guard at all times. I guess I’m a little paranoid now after that experience. You would be too.

So we finally arrived, and spent the next few hours in an actual park, not really finding too much of Gaudi. But, what we did find, after much climbing over the dirt trails, we came to several great views, which gave away how large Barcelona really is, and how ridiculously tall la Sagrada Familia is compared to everything. There are a few skyscrapers in Barcelona, but the Sagrada might possibly be the tallest. And it’s not even finished being built yet. Crazy.

Well, after climbing several levels, and watching Barcelona become more and more condensed into our small viewfinders, we decided to search for the guaranteed Gaudi architecture that we had all read about. We finally spotted the blue-checkered tower in the near distance between the trees, and made our descent. The curvy bench was our first stop into the world of Gaudi. Finding a spot was a challenge, but once we did, we sat on the curved marble back, and began our people watching. Again, it was a tourist spot, so some adults stood, taking pictures, some sat looking at the pictures they just took, most played with their phones, and a select few played with their kids. We watched, amused, as a young father played with his valiant two year old, who constantly picked himself up after toppling over several times. Hmm… I should learn from that kid.

Once we got to the Gaudi part, we were through it in about half an hour. We had spent most of the day getting to it, to find it was really only 15% (again, forgive my math, it could be a pretty inaccurate percentage. Just figure that it’s a really small percentage) of the park. Nevertheless, the parts that we did see were pretty amazing. To think that one man could’ve thought up all of this on his own is pretty incredible. It was almost as if we had stepped out of reality as we knew it, into a game of Candy Land, as my mom has commented. I can’t describe it in any other way than one word: regal.

Of course we took our pictures (in case you were worried) and slept like children dreaming of sugarplum fairies. But this time, we dreamt of sugarplum castles.

 

Swiper no swiping!

Ok, so you guys might think this is kinda a cheesy title, if you all know the reference, but I decided to use it anyway. It’s my blog and I do what I want. Anyways… so, not to spoil things or anything, that’s kinda what I’m going to be writing about today.

As I was saying before, I have navigated to and from school successfully for a few days without getting lost once! I even took a different route to a different part of the university, and I got there without a hitch, and just within a nick of time! I am figuring now, that you would all want to hear about my adventures in Sagrada Familia, Parque Guell, Montjuic, Placa Espana, and of course, venturing to the Mediterranean sea, which just happens to be within a 45 minute walk from my house. Well, here goes.

First, Sagrada. upon stepping up the metro stairs, I was expecting the large grotesque building with looming spires to jump out at me. I didn’t see it straight away, but once I turned around slowly, as one would do if starring in a horror movie, it was there. Looming, grotesque, and large are all great words to describe it, but none of them do it justice. I had to crane my head back to try to get a decent view of it. After learning about the gothic cathedrals, and looming spirals of the Romantic era in my English class last semester, this building topped them all off by a large margin. Do you remember making sandcastles as a kid? Well, you would plop on the wet sand close to the crashing waves, pour the buckets full of sand into piles upon piles and watch the sand drip and create layers. Am I right, or am I right? (or perhaps, this was just something I did… hmm.). Moving on… so do you guys remember that? Well, multiply that by, the largest number you can think of (I’m not good with numbers, so I might be completely wrong, depending on what number you’re thinking of). Let’s just say that it was huge then, like a monster about to eat you, minus the condiments and utensils.

So you can imagine this, right? Well, factor in the fact that this is one of the biggest pickpocket areas in Barcelona. You can guess why. Well I know I can. Every traveler who visits this spot for the first time gets so overwhelmed that their mouths hang open, their senses fly out the stain-glass windows, and they begin to root through their touristy bags, through the layers of touristy maps, touristy postcards, touristy souvenirs, and touristy free-bus-ride passes, to find their huge cameras. They back up several feet, but of course, they can’t fit the whole cathedral in the comparatively small viewfinders. Then, they spend several minutes squinting, adjusting their glasses, and angling the cameras just right, while a “churrizo”, “ladrón” or pickpocket master (whatever you want to call them), expertly fishes in the gaping purses and bulging pockets for the passports or visas.

I will have to admit, that for this day, I was one of those tourists. Not to the same degree of course, but I was to the degree that I was targeted as one of those “touristas”. I was taking my essential photos with one of my friends from our group when two Asian ladies with clipboards approached both of us, asking if we could donate a little money for a wheelchair ramp to the Sagrada Familia. I was feeling kinda doubtful about the whole thing, feeling it was a scam, but I looked over to see that my friend was filling out a paper that the lady was holding. I decided to give it a try, and filled in my name, my country, and then stopped at the donation box. I decided €1 (one Euro) was enough, and made sure my purse was closed after I pulled out my money. Once I pulled it out, two more ladies arrived, and they began to press up against me with their clipboards, speaking frantically, when I kept saying “un momento! un momento!” When I finally found two €.50 cents, I dropped it in one of their greedy hands, and backed away, snapping it shut. They then asked for my ID. Hesitatingly, I opened my wallet just enough to stay close to my body, but so that they could see it. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a hand reaching for my Forever 21 card that only had about $15 on it. I snapped the wallet shut, not minding her fingers and said “NO GRACIAS!” Then walked away.

Unfortunately, they swindled me out of €1, but I got the better end of the deal. I still have my Forever 21 card, which would have been of practically no value to them, and even if they would’ve snatched my wallet, I had only my driver’s license, my Forever 21 card, and about €10. Hence, they would’ve been sad to know that they wasted so much time to not earn much on such unfruitful pursuit, such as mine, not to brag on my newfound traveling skills.

However, though I was successful in that part, I still have no idea how to disguise myself as an exemplary Spaniard for the semester, or even a university student. Everywhere I go, I have been identified as American. Even when I was almost robbed of everything that is not valuable in my possession, the Asian asked me if I was a tourist, and I regret that I agree to that fact. I am, sometimes in fact a tourist, I will have to admit to that fact. But I am not a tourist when I am going to buy a pastry, a cell phone, or even when traveling on the metro to school. So why do I seem to be addressed in English when I clearly spoke in Español? Well then, there is no answer to this question, so I have decided to dye my hair orange.

Just kidding. But seriously, it has been a problem, which I have no solution. I guess for now, I will have to deal with it.

Wow. That was a lot, and for just one day. I will have to continue when I am in a fully conscious state. ¡Hasta luego!

Vale vale vale

So… I hope I haven’t kept you guys waiting for too long to update you guys on my travels! As you can probably imagine, it’s been a veryyy busy few days. Arriving on Monday, it’s now Thursday, going into Friday, and between those four days, I have had four classes (well, it’s the same class, but it feels like a lot- I’m still on summer mode…), met my host mom, set up my classes for the semester, and gotten lost about four times. Surprised? Probably not, because most of you guys might already be informed of my poor sense of orientation. If not, well, it’s bad. You wouldn’t have to see it to believe it, cause it’s true. Ok, rabbit trail, complete.

I had so many ideas running through my head today, that I couldn’t wait to get them down, but as you can see, this seems to be going nowhere. It’s currently one in the morning for us, and my body is still jet-lagging it. Let’s see if I can pull this together, somewhat.

What I really want to talk about is our overall influence on people in Spain. You might expect that upon coming to Barcelona, you would hear several rounds of “la cucaracha”, tingling guitars, or flamenco music filling the streets. Well, I’m just about to tell you all, that’s not the case. Instead, I’ve heard more American music and watched more American shows than I have heard or listened to Spanish music or shows. But, I guess that’s basically the same for other Spanish speaking countries like Ecuador, Chile, etc. (from some good friends that have gone there of course). It’s not just Spanish speaking countries though; it’s also English speaking countries, and I’m guessing others too, maintain a huge American influence. Interesting, right? It makes you wonder if that’s how it is in just the cities, or if it’s nationwide too. I’ll find out and get back to you guys about that. You might have to remind me though;  I’ll probably forget.

I’ve also found that it’s almost impossible for me to blend in like I have trained myself. I don’t take out my life-sized map on the streets, I try not to look too lost (even though I am, for most of the time), I try to dress like the locals, and still, people sometimes ask if I speak English, or would throw in a few English words here and there with strong Castellano accents. Am I that obvious? Ahh… I’ve got to work on not getting lost too much. And looking American. Hmmm…

One possibility, is if I start speaking like a Spaniard. See, I have observed, and heard from a friend who travelled to Spain this summer, that people that live in Barcelona like to say “vale” after almost every single phrase. I would ask for directions, and it would sound something like this:

“Do you know where the closest Movistar is?” (for cell phones)

“Well, you want go to the right, ok? a la arriba, see? and cross the plaza central, and it’s right there in the mall, down the stairs. Ok?

“Ok, muchas gracias.” Then, cue in the exasperated gasps and blistered toes and ankles an hour later.

Sometimes, instead of saying “vale”, though, they’ll substitute with an “eh?” I have thus concluded that los Espanoles could be part Canadian, part American, all Spanish and mostly fantastic. Cool how our worlds come in full circle.

I have yet to remark about my homestay. Thus far, it’s been marvelous darling. But for real, it has been. I live with an older woman whose kids have moved out, and are living in other parts of Spain (I forget where, at the moment). The flat is really pequeñito, but it’s so adorable that I don’t really mind. I have a balcony view of the street from my room that gets pretty noisy at night when the Harleys vroom down the street.

My host mom is so adorable. Just like the house, but even more so, just because she is. She says the Canadian “eh?” which is where I picked it up from. When she arrived to pick me up, one of the girls from our group said, “Woah, someone’s a hot grandma,” or something along those lines. Although I’m still a little shaky on my vocab, and definitely so with my verbs, she can still understand what I’m saying for the most part, and I can understand her. Sometimes.

It’s crazy to think that, to extend on that point, I am making sense in what I’m saying to people here, and that not all of what I say is complete gibberish. The BCA director commented today, much to my surprise, that, my Spanish is actually pretty good. And, I can understand, for the most part, what people are saying to me, especially when I’m asking directions, even though I usually end up lost anyway.

Well, that’s all folks! Hopefully, I can spend more time having fun exploring than waste time getting lost. Pictures to come soon!

Barcelona, Here we come!

Well, technically this day began on Sunday, but I’ll call the whole day one day, because it really was, one, long, 27 hour day (Yes, I just sat down to try to figure that one out now for you all). I slept about a wink and a half, because one, I can’t sleep on planes, and two, I can’t sleep on planes when sitting in front of Japanese families who like to read entire novels in one sitting and talk to each other rambunctiously because they’re just not tired. Third is because I was going to Spain. Spain, of all places! I had dreamt about this for years, never imagining that it would ever happen for me. When I was sitting in a Spanish class during my Freshman year of high school, I remember doing all the exercises, and staring at the pictures around the classroom instead of paying attention like I should have…(well, look where that’s gotten me!) and I had never imagined that I would actually be here one day. It felt like it was in a different world, something completely opposite from what I was used to, and I was fascinated by the culture. So, here I am! Watching Modern Family in Spanish while keeping you all up to date on my adventures!

I should probably write what my first impression was. Well, it didn’t look as I had imagined, surprisingly enough. Upon getting a quick walk around before we landed, I glanced over to the windows, and got my “primera vista de Espana”. There was a lot of brown, but green too, kinda like my first view of Ireland, but not, because it wasn’t. Obviously. Barcelona, at first glance, is bordered by mountains and the sea, which, are the identifying landmarks of Barce. If you need to ask for directions, you will probably be told that it’s either “arriba” or “abajo”, referring to the mountains and sea, respectively.

The first day… kinda a blur, so sorry if I leave out details. We walked around town, which is funny because the area that we’re at is more of a town, than an actual part of Barcelona, the large city that I had pictured when coming. We had lunch at the hotel at around 1, when our stomachs were about to start eating us, which consisted of two sandwiches. Ham, and cheese. Interesting right? Our dinner later was pasta, salad and a torta espanola or something like that, which was a potato and egg wedge. Yum.

The people in Barcelona seem pretty friendly so far. There have been quite a few chicos guapos, which I was kinda surprised about, because when I went to Ireland, I was expecting hot Irish men, but they were all kinda fat and drunk. Ok that was a generalization, but I’m just sayin’. But, for reals, I did. And there weren’t as many readheads either. Hmmm… I digress. As I was saying, the people seem pretty friendly, and even though we are in Spain, I keep expecting them to speak English. You would think that, obviously they wouldn’t, but you’d be surprised. They all look pretty much like us, well, those that I’ve see. As I’ve discovered, Barce is pretty much either a melting pot, or just a huge tourist attraction. It’s probably both though.

Strangely enough, I’m already finding it unnatural to be speak in English, let alone to write in English, as I am now. Obviously. I’ve had a hard time, even writing this, not to insert more Spanish here and there, even though I have already done that a little. If you don’t understand, I completely understand. You can stop reading now if you dislike Spanish. If not, you may continue scrolling down at your heart’s content. What was I saying?… oh yeah, speaking just Spanish. See, I have made a deal with some kids with the BCA program to speak only in Spanish (of course, we have all broken that rule already!) But now I’m finding it difficult to speak either, because I want to speak Spanish, but I can’t always dictate what I want to say. Sooo, currently I’m in this awkward middle ground where it’s kinda awkward to say anything. It’s gonna be a long semester.

One semester. That seems like such a long time, but I know it’s gonna fly. Like a jet. In the sky. Ok, I’m a poet, and I know it. But do my feet show it? Good question… we have been walking a lot, which is another thing that I should talk about. But I’ll talk about the semester first. It’s hard to picture that I will be here for a little over three months, and I keep thinking that I’ll be home soon. Funny, cause I just got here, and I’m already thinking of home, school, friends and family. You know, the works.

Well, that is all for now folks. ¡Espero que tendáis una buena semana! (I hope you all have a good week! –I had to have at least a sentence in there!)

 

And sorry this thing doesn’t have pictures yet! I still haven’t figured that part out yet… :/