Final Weekend- Fish Pedicures, FC Barcelona & Labyrinth Park

As a reward to myself for finishing finals, I went with my friends Maria and Nick to get fish pedicures! It’s something I’ve wanted to do since being here, and the treatment is illegal in the United States so I jumped on the opportunity. (Also, I saw the Kardashians do it Greece and it looked fun). It was pretty weird at first and we were cracking up the entire time. It just felt like my feet were vibrating and little beads were pushing into it. I also got a fish manicure too and it felt pretty much the same. The fish are basically just eating all of your dead skin cells and making your feet really smooth and fresh.

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My friends and I also went ice skating in the rink right on top of Placa Cataluna- the main square close to my school and apartment. It was cool to see a place I go to so often transformed for the holiday season, and we had a good time hanging out with each other and enjoying our last week together.

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And what is living in Barcelona if you don’t experience an FC Barcelona Futbol game?! I’m so glad I got the chance to go to the last game that was taking place during my time in Spain, because the experience was something I can only get here. Interestingly, it was very different from American sports (although I’m basically just comparing it the American baseball crowds). The fans were very respectful and quiet during the game, and got crazy when a goal was scored or missed or some other important play occurred. But hardly anyone was talking during the game, and no one got out of there seats to use the bathroom or get something to eat. There were no TVs in the hallways of the stadium which were completely empty during the game, and not many bathrooms from what I saw. The game itself was extremely timely and the opposing team’s fans were in specific caged off sections. My friends and I were in the nosebleeds which turned out to be a plus because I got to really take in the huge Camp Nou Stadium and see everything that was going on.

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One of the last things I got to do before leaving this amazing city was take a quick metro ride over the Labyrinth Park, a beautiful area with flowers, grass lawns, trees, statues, ponds, and most notably, an amazing labyrinth made of shrubs and bushes. It was nice to take a break from the city and enjoy ourselves.

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Happy Holidays!

The Christmas lights are up all around the city, there’s an ice rink set up in one of the main plazas, Christmas markets are set up everywhere with good food, music, and decorations, and I’m stuck inside studying for finals! I did make it out of the apartment a few times though, and was able to walk around one of the main Christmas markets set up outside of the Cathedral. Vendors were selling everything from Christmas trees and mistletoe to nativity scenes and kids’ toys. Also a part of the Catalan tradition are “Caga Tios” or in English, literally a “shitting log”. Yes, you read that correctly. It is literally a piece of wood that “poops” out presents for children during the holiday season. A character with roots in Catalan mythology, “Caga Tio” is a log of wood propped up by two smaller sticks and covered with a red blanket of some sort. On Christmas day children sing songs and chants while beating the log with sticks. The harder you beat the log, the better. The log then “shits” out their presents under the red blanket (where the parents have placed presents before the beating of the log). As Christmas approaches, there are also festivals and parades in the streets, and there is a giant scale Caga Tio that makes an appearance as well. It’s definitely an interesting tradition, and even the Catalans I have met here laugh about their comical heritage.

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(Christmas markets)

Also along the lines of the Holidays, I attended a traditional Catholic mass at La Sagrada Familia. Religion is such a huge part of the culture here, so I wanted to go to church at least once in Barcelona before I left. And where better to go than one of the most famous Catholic churches on the planet? The service was held in one of the lower levels of the church- not the part that I had visited in my previous post, but it was just as stunning. The service was spoken all in Catalan, so it was difficult for me to follow along, but I did pick up a few words. I went with one of my roommates, Maggie, and we were by far the youngest people there from what I observed, but it was still a great experience overall.

IMG_4447 (Maggie and I walking through the markets)

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Sagrada Familia & Thanksgiving!

Yesterday I finally went to “La Sagrada Familia”, arguably the most visited tourist attraction in all of Spain, and it was absolutely incredible. Meaning “The Sacred Family” in English, this is Antoni Gaudi’s (the famous architect) most notable building, and by the end of its completion will be the largest/tallest Catholic church in the entire world. I visited with my Art and Architecture class group, so it was nice to have our professor there with us as a sort of tour guild. And the more complex understanding I got out of going with a class made this beautiful building even more incredible, as I had a more deeper appreciation for the geometric, mathematical, and scientific innovations that were implemented into the building’s layout that allowed for this church to be so much more unique and different than anything constructed prior.

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This week was also Thanksgiving, which really made me miss home and spending time with family and friends. Our school’s program here was nice enough to take us all to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant here that serves American food. We had everything from turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie to collard greens, stuffing and cranberry sauce. Since our group has grown closer over the past two and a half months, it was nice to have dinner with our school “family” here. I was also able to Skype with both sides of my family back home, and am excited to see everyone for Christmas. Just two and a half more weeks until I’m on my flight home to California!

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London, England, UK

This past weekend, after a fun but hectic trip to London, I am so happy to be back in my apartment in Barcelona. Traveling this much and doing so many things really makes this apartment feel like home and I’m glad that this is where I’ll be until returning to the U.S. in late December.

So for the past five days or so, I went to visit my friend Moriah, who was here in Barcelona not too long ago. London was yet another first for me, and I was able to do and see a lot of touristy things that I’ve only seen in movies and magazines, so it was pretty cool to make those places a reality. I of course saw the clock tower Big Ben, as well as the House of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, the Treasury building, the London Eye ferris wheel, those typical red phone booths, the red double-decker buses, the British Museum (where I saw the Rosetta Stone) and Tower Bridge (the bridge that was commonly seen during the 2012 Olympics that had the five Olympic rings hanging from it). Moriah’s friend from college as well as her roommate and I also went to the famous Borough Market, where we walked around looking at tasting fresh foods, cheeses, produce, baked goods, fish, etc. and we tried some traditional English sausage with grilled onions and peppers as well as some hot mulled cider (which I was in desperate need of since it was about 35°F the entire weekend). After the market, we walked around some the city’s streets and across some bridges over the Thames River. We were lucky enough to have sunshine the whole weekend and were able to take some great pictures.

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On another day, we had a tradition British “high tea” including a variety of finger sandwiches, scones, jams, pastries, and sweets, along with the different teas we all ordered (I had Jasmine). And later at night, we walked down Oxford street, an area known for its lively atmosphere, shopping, and Christmas lights during the holiday season. And since the holiday decorations were just starting to appear, we were lucky enough to stumble upon a huge Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, filled with kids’ rides, holiday foods, cider and mulled wine (hot wine with spices), ice rinks, music, etc. Something that did surprise me though, was how much earlier the sun sets in London- by 4:00pm it was already dark out. But that didn’t slow us down at all: one night we went to see the new movie “Catching Fire” that just came out, and another night we went to some pubs in the city.

IMG_4141(British High Tea)

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And lastly, we made sure to visit Buckingham Palace. Surprisingly, the building itself wasn’t as grand and elaborate as I thought it would be, but the gates and gold trim, as well as the area surrounding the gates, were beautiful. I also saw the royal guards, although I couldn’t get close enough to position myself to try and make them laugh, but it was cool to just be there. It was also a great time of the year to walk through St. James Park (right in between Buckingham Palace and the area where Big Ben and Parliament are located). The sun was out, it was cold enough to feel like winter, and the leaves were falling off of trees. We walked through and saw a bunch of different animals, birds, and lots of people enjoying the day.

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Although I got to visit one of my oldest friends, meet new people, and see, taste, and enjoy the London experience, the weekend turned out to also be one of the scariest and and most stressful trips I’ve ever been on. Think of the absolute worst thing that could happen to you while abroad. To sum it up, that’s basically what happened to me. I accidentally left my purse in a cafe while waiting for someone to grab a quick coffee, and returned 15 minutes later only to find it had been stolen. Inside was my wallet, holding my driver’s license, credit cards, debit card, all of the cash I had brought, and my PASSPORT! I had absolutely no way to pay for anything (like a subway ride or a meal), identify myself, or get back to Spain. It was horrible, and I was in such shock at first that I didn’t really react. It wasn’t until I couldn’t make an appointment with the US consulate until after my flight date that I decided to go there myself and demand an emergency passport (which they reluctantly gave me). And with no way to pay for it, I literally started crying in front of the entire consulate when he gave me the bill. Like I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I’ve come across some extremely moving acts of kindness by strangers, and it happened again this time. The only other person in the building who wasn’t an employee (besides my friend who was with me) overheard and offered to front me the $135 needed to pay for the passport, telling me I could mail it to him later. He was literally pulling his checkbook out of his coat when my friend stepped in and paid, but I was just so blown away that a stranger would even think to offer that. In short, I made it back to Spain on time for my Monday classes, but had one hell of a week. There were lots of ups and downs, but overall, I’m so glad I was able to see some of London, a city I’ve wanted to visit for a while now. And even with the challenges, I suppose it makes for a great story when I talk about my travel adventures. Plus, I will now have a lovely post-breakdown, “just-wiped-the-masscara-off-my-cheeks” passport photo for the next ten years, and I’ll be able to think back and say “Oh yeah… from that one time I went to London!”

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Amsterdam, Holland, The Netherlands

This past weekend I took a short trip to Amsterdam with another guy in my program (who happens to be the only other person from USF here) and we explored the main attractions of the city.

The trip got off to a rough start, as I forgot to bring my wallet and passport with me to the shuttle bus that takes me to the airport. I was visibly upset at the bus stop with no time to go back to my apartment, and a kind stranger asked what was wrong and even bought me a shuttle ticket, telling me something similar happened to her and that I should just pay it forward when I get the chance. I was so happy, but then realized I didn’t have a passport to get on the plane and had to sprint back to my apartment and take a taxi to the bus stop. I made the bus with 2 minutes to spare, and in short, made my flight. I just thought it was so incredible that a stranger would help me out like that, and I can’t wait to return the favor to someone else.

Once we finally arrived in Amsterdam, the initial shock of how cold it was became the most prominent trait of the city, but once we began walking through the canals, old buildings, and cafes, it was a refreshingly quaint atmosphere to that of Barcelona or Nice. There were much less people crowded in the streets, and in general the population was a bit older than Nick and myself. The most stunning thing about the area to me were all of the beautiful stone arch bridges that go over the canals and the individual styles of the apartments that line these waterways. Our first stop was to drop our backpacks off at the place we were staying. We used a site called “Airbnb.com” where you stay in someone’s home and pay as if it were a hostel or hotel. Since Amsterdam is notorious for high priced housing, this option was the way to go, and we ended up being right in the center of the city with a canal view out of our window.

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Our next stop was the famous “I AMsterdam” letters, where we stopped to take some pictures and ran into some street performers. And in that same courtyard was the Vincent Van Gogh Museum, which we visited afterwards. Later in the evening, after a nice Italian dinner (Amsterdam isn’t really known for any specific dishes) we walked around the streets, ran into a courtyard with an ice rink and pubs, and later went back to the apartment.

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Nick and I began the next day with a tour of the city via canal. Since this is something that is uniquely Amsterdam, we opted for this instead of the regular “bus tours” that most cities offer. It was great seeing the sites from the viewpoint in the water, and we passed places such as Amsterdam’s narrowest house (worth over 750k euros), Anne Frank’s House (where she hid from the Nazis with her family and wrote the famous journal), and even the canal where part of the movie “Ocean’s Eleven” was filmed. We also came across a canal where many beer manufactures began, such as Heineken and Amstel. Amsterdam has over 8,000 monuments, 160 canals, and 2,500 house boats, many of which would have not been seen if not for this tour, so I highly recommend this to anyone who visits.

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And what is Amsterdam without a visit to the Heineken Experience tour? Heineken is a Dutch company founded in 1864 in Amsterdam by Adriaan Heineken when he was just 22 years old. It was an amazing tour that included a history of the company and family, a guild that walked visitors through the steps of brewing the famous beer, a walk through of the vats and other machines, a virtual floor-moving ride, a test taste of the beer, a video-making area, and finally, a tasting room where you can enjoy two more beers. While in the tasting room, Nick and I talked with a few people and even met two students that were traveling in Amsterdam, and ended up walking around the local outdoor market and had dinner with them. And strangely enough, the girl we met happened to be a Theta (my sorority- Kappa Alpha Theta) so it was awesome to connect with her over that, and how we are from opposite parts of the US and met randomly across the globe.

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IMG_3925 (Brewing some Heineken beer!)

To end our time in the city, we stopped by the red light district to check out the scene, and it was quite interesting. If you are unaware, prostitution and marijuana are legal in Amsterdam, so the red light district is where all of the girls are- dancing in windows, etc. And many “coffee shops” (or weed shops) are in this area too, but also spread throughout Amsterdam as well.

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Paella, Picasso, & a Bomb Shelter

After almost two months in Barcelona, I finally had my first ever paella this week! Paella is a traditional Spanish dish, but even more so in the region of Cataluna. It’s a rice dish with vegetables, seasoning, and some type of meat- here it’s usually seafood or chicken- served in a shallow dish/pan that it was cooked in. I had Paella con Mariscos (seafood) and it was delicious! Filled with shrimp, onions, garlic, lobster, and mussels it was probably the tastiest dish I’ve had yet. My friends and I went to a great restaurant in the “El Raval” neighborhood; a less touristy, slightly “gritty” part of Barcelona, known for its nightlife but also for its crime, and is the area bordering the other side of “La Rambla” (the other being the Gothic Quarter) as mentioned in my previous posts.

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Along with the wonderful cuisine of the region, Barcelona also has many great museums and art exhibits. One such notable museum is within the Gothic Quarter, or the old Roman city area, and is the Museu Picasso (Picasso Museum) that houses more than 3,500 works by the 20th century Spanish painter, and is the most extensive collection of his works in the world. It has been open to the public since 1963 and was the only museum dedicated to Pablo Picasso that opened during his lifetime. A passerby on a regular day would not even realize they had just passed the museum, walking through the narrow, stone-lined alleyways, surrounded by cafes, shops, and five story apartment buildings on either side. In a way that added to the charm of the museum and I felt that I was experiencing the Barcelona that Picasso lived in while he was here. The works were beautiful and there was a tremendous variety, with works from his blue period, cubism, surrealism, realism, and even some of his sculptures. There was also  gallery of photographs and portraits of Picasso, his wife, and others which were particularly interesting to me. In high school, I wrote an extensive English paper accompanied by a project that showcased much of Picasso’s life and art, and some of these photographs were familiar to me which was exciting. One of his most famous works that depicts the German bombing during The Spanish Civil War, Guernica (1937), is in a museum in Madrid, and unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to see it while I was there, but this museum is definitely a must-see in Barcelona. His life and art are amazing and he has always been one of my favorite artists.

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museo-picaso-barcelona (Outside of the museum in the Gothic Quarter)

During the week, I also visited a bomb shelter with others in my program to solidify some concepts we’re learning in one of our classes. It was a bomb shelter build for and used during The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and is one of the estimated thousands throughout just the city of Barcelona. We were able to walk through the underground tunnels and learn about what life was like in the city during that period of time. Most of these shelters were dug only with shovels and pickets and mostly by the elderly, women, and children since the able-bodied men were at war. There were rooms specifically designed for bathrooms, children areas, smoke escapes, “fountains” from the underground water resources, community rules written on plaques on the walls, and even a room for the sick with special floor ventilation to keep moisture away. Over 75 years ago, hundreds of people relied on these tunnels for there lives and spent their most uncertain and fearful hours here, and just yesterday I was standing on the very ground they were while being attacked by French and German bombs- amazing.

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Tarragona, Spain & Visitors

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA (View from the top of the shopping center in Plaza Espana)

This past weekend, one of my oldest friends from middle school and high school visited Barcelona! (She’s studying abroad in London this semester) I took her and her friend to Montjuic to see the views of the city, the Olympic stadium behind Montjuic from the 1992 Olympics, the Gothic quarter where the old Roman city used to be, and of course La Rambla. We also went out for tapas, churros con chocolate (I’m becoming addicted), and on her last night, we tried a kosher restaurant called Maccabi on La Rambla because a friend in her group eats kosher. The food and sangria were amazing.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA (View from the top)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA (Area where the 1992 Olympics were held- behind Monjuic)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA (The communications tower in the Olympic park originally used to broadcast coverage of the 1992 Olympics)

Our group also went on another day trip in Southern Cataluna, and visited the province of Tarragona to see Las Ruinas Romans de Tarragona (The Roman ruins), as well as El Monasterio de Pollet (The Monastery of Pollet). The Roman ruins were amazing not only because of their advance architectural techniques and structural beauty, but the fact that these buildings are over 2000 year old. We saw an amphitheater that was constructed in the 2nd century that was right on the edge of the Mediterranean coast, along with a circus where chariot races were held and remains of the Roman Forum. The city’s Cathedral was also nearby, so we walked the streets of Tarragona and took a look at the exterior.

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IMG_3754 (The Roman Amphitheater build in 2nd century AD)

After visiting the Roman ruins, we went to the Monastery of Poblet, founded in 1150 AD and is home to 31 monks today. The massive building is mostly gothic architecture, but has some other influences as well. And the monastery is wedged in the middle of what looked like the country side- we passed some vineyards and farmland on the way. I also had a sense of being in Ireland when we were in this area (it was a little bit colder than Barcelona, and had a lot of green land and stone walls).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA (The halls surrounding the inner courtyard of the monestery)

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA (The bell tower as seen from the upper deck of the courtyard)

Lastly, it’s becoming real that I won’t be here in Spain for much longer. I register for my classes at USF on Monday have started looking at apartments for when I return to San Francisco in January. I still have about five weeks left, but with two upcoming trips I expect the time to fly!

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