Midterms and Fútbol!

This week is midterms week! YAYYYY… 😦 So I have been really busy studying and writing essays (aka. facebooking, watching a Barca game, and writing this blog…) It’s difficult to be in such an awesome city and stay in your apartment to do work, but I guess it’s one of the few complaints I have here. I would also rather be stuck inside somewhere in Spain than stuck inside somewhere back home. Although San Francisco is amazing as well- as you can see I have a very difficult life. But back to this week:

Three of my four housemates were gone this weekend- the two American guys went to Granada, Spain with their own program and the girl in my program took a weekend trip to Rome, Italy. So it was pretty quiet but a good opportunity to catch up on classes. Saturday night, there was a huge futbol game- Barcelona v. Real Madrid, so every bar, restaurant and cafe was packed. A few friends and I watched the game at a local bar, and I honestly got more of a kick out of watching the crowd’s reaction to plays and calls more than the actual game itself. After winning 2-1, we headed down to “La Rambla” and found another spot to have some sangria and celebrate. The streets were packed and groups were gathered around “Font de Canaletes” (Canaletes Fountain) to celebrate. Font de Canaletes is an “ornate fountain, crowned by a lamp post, in the upper part of La Rambla and nowadays is the city’s most popular meeting point, and a fixture of football fans and hooligans after Barça football matches since the 1930s”. Also, tradition has it that one who drinks from the Font de Canaletes will come back to Barcelona. As I am not too sure yet about the tap water here, I passed, but I’ll take my chances and hopefully get to visit this beautiful city again in my lifetime.

images-1 (Barcelona fans celebrating on the “Font de Canaletes”)

Some highlights from the game:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFHRZ2JpIlE

On an exciting note: after this week is over, one of my oldest friends who I’ve known since elementary school, Moriah, is coming to stay a few nights with me here. She’s studying abroad this semester as well in London and wants to see Barcelona. I’ve always wanted to see London too, and thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to do it, so I also booked a flight to visit her in late November! Can’t wait to see Big Ben, red phone booths, and all of those other “touristy” things.

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Mt. Montserrat, Codorniu Winery, and Barca

It’s been about three weeks since I’ve spent the entire weekend actually in Barcelona, so I took advantage and tried some new things in the city. I made it down to Barceloneta (a neighborhood down by the beach known for its clubs and younger crowd) and tried the ice bar, “Ice-Barcelona”, which was awesome, and I ended up bar tending for a portion of the night!

1380481_10202359913225286_967813007_n (Ice-Barcelona)

IMG_3423 (Helping out behind the bar)

On Friday, our university took us on a trip to visit Montserrat, a mountain range inland from Barcelona, where we hiked around the paths and learned about the area’s history. And coincidentally, myself and the other guy in my group from USF ran into someone from our school on the mountain who’s studying abroad in Madrid. It’s amazing how small the world is.

946028_10202359918545419_698689058_n (Our group at Mt. Montserrat)

IMG_3447 (View from the top)  IMG_3482

After touring Monserrat, we hoped on our bus and visited Codorniu, a winery founded in 1551 known mostly for their cava (sparkling wine/champagne). I felt like I was back in napa- the vineyard was beautiful and the property was surround by mountains. We were taken on a tour and tasting, and saw all of the underground cellars, and production areas. It was pretty amazing seeing some of the caves and tunnels that were dug out over a hundred years  ago, and how the rooms changed with the decades they were built in. On the tour, I also learned that the company has a vineyard in Napa as well, in addition to the few here in Spain.

1391895_10152014944963623_1134291016_n (In the tasting room at Codorniu)

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IMG_3497 (Underground cava tunnels)

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Nice, France & Monte-Carlo, Monaco

My first excursion outside of Spain was this past weekend to the city of Nice in Southern France (the French Riviera), along with four others from my program. Having never traveled between two European countries before, this was another first for me, and I was impressed with how accessible different modes of public transportation were. However, finding signs, translating multiple languages, and asking strangers who couldn’t understand you made the process to get from one point to the other a bit more challenging. But once we got past walking, taking a bus, hopping on an airplane, and searching for another bus, we finally made it to Nice and settled down in our hostel before walking the streets of “Old Town” to search for some dinner. Ironically, we decided on some Thai food, but I did make up for it by having lots of croissants the rest of the weekend.

Walking alongside the beach was a highlight of the trip- it reminded me of a slight mix between Venice Beach and Santa Barbara, CA and had a stone shoreline, as opposed to sand, with crystal clear water. Unfortunately, it’s not really the season to be laying on the beach and swimming in the water, so we didn’t do much on the beach except take pictures.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA (On the French Riviera in Nice, France)

IMG_3235 (View of Nice from Mont Boron)

My friends and I also took a bus tour of the city and were able to hop on and off at different locations, so we got to see the “Musée d’art moderne et d’art Contemporain” (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art) as well as the “Musée Matisse” (Matisse Museum) dedicated to the French painter Henri Matisse. As far as content, I enjoyed the Modern Art Museum much more, but the Matisse Museum was surrounded by beautiful olive groves and Roman Architecture, so both were enjoyable. And to relax after the long day, gelato on the beach near the town square was a must.

IMG_3292 (Gelato on the beach)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA (Musée d’art moderne et d’art Contemporain)

IMG_3282 (In the olive groves outside of the Matisse Museum)

Our night ended semi-early because we wanted to travel to the nearby country of Monaco  the next day, but we did go out to Wayne’s Bar, a popular local bar with live music. This was thanks to the help of the guy who sat next to me on the flight to Nice, who taught me some phrases in French, gave me a layout of the area I was going to, and suggested I go to this specific bar. Its always a great idea to make friends with strangers you meet. You never know what may come from it, and it’s an awesome feeling to connect with people who live all around the world.

Our last day in Nice, we all took a train to the country of Monaco, the smallest country in the entire world apart from Vatican City. The place was tiny, but had such a feeling of wealth and luxury. Apparently it’s a huge celebrity hot spot, but there were no sightings during my time there. Not surprising, since it wasn’t really the tourist season, and the weather was slightly overcast while we were there, but still a beautiful place regardless. We visited to world famous Monte-Carlo Hotel & Casino, but decided again having lunch there when we saw a bowl of tomato soup on the menu for almost 18€ (~$25). So we had a nice lunch down near the boardwalk by all of the yachts, and then hiked up a huge hill to see the Royal Palace along with great views of the city.

IMG_3313 (At the Monte-Carlo Hotel & Casino)

IMG_3343 (Hiking up the hill to see the Royal Palace in Monaco)

IMG_3354 (View of Monaco from the Royal Palace)

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Madrid, Spain

This weekend our entire group took a weekend trip to Spain’s capital, Madrid. We took a 2 hour train straight into the center of the city, and stayed in a hotel right across the street from the train station and surrounded by all of Madrid’s attractions. My first impression of Madird in comparison to Barcelona was much less congested of a city (due to the larger area), and a more “laid back” lifestyle compared to the party hard and well-dressed vibe of Barca. Our first stop was to try a meal very specific to the region and eaten regularly by the locals- “bocadillo de calamares” or calamari sandwich. Although I was skeptical at first, I did give it a try and found it to be pretty good, although nothing compared to the calamari tapas, croquetas, and paninis found throughout Spain.

IMG_3133 (Biking through Parque del Retiro)

During our time there, we walked to streets of the city, saw many squares including the famous Plaza Mayor, and took a tour of the Royal Palace of Madrid. The palace was absolutely amazing, filled with extravagant rooms and centuries of history. Our group also took a bike tour through the main park in Madrid, Parque del Retiro. It had huge grass areas, trees, lakes, fountains, squares, etc. which was a pleasant change since Barcelona has very few “green” areas, and fountains are only found in squares encompassed by buildings, so Madrid definitely made up for being landlocked. And of course we ended one of the days we were there with churros con chocolate, a Spanish staple.

IMG_3152 (In front of The Royal Palace of Madrid)

IMG_3144 (Churros con chocolate)

And lastly, what’s touring a city if you don’t get a taste of the nightlife? Our group had no difficultly in decided to go to one of the most well-known discotecas (clubs) in Spain, and in Madrid for sure, Kapital. This is a 7-story club with different atmospheres on every floor. With balconies on other floors overlooking the main dance floor on the ground level, every room had a different style of music, or different bar theme, etc. It was packed with hundreds of people, and was absolutely crazy. I’m surprised I was even able to find people in my group considering there were 18 of us, but it was a great time for sure. The next night was a bit more low-key, and we explored the local bars in the older part of town which were great as well. It’s never hard to find a place to go because bar and club promoters literally line the streets offering free entry and drinks.

That same night our group also happened to be near the scene of a protest that looked as if it could have turned into a riot judging by the helicopters and armed policed officers. Everything was kept civil, but it was a reminder of how the region is still in a state of political and social disagreement, and how that is just as much apart of the culture here as the food, nightlife, and people.

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Sitges, Spain

For the first time since I’ve been here, I finally got to sleep in (sort of) and took the day to relax and catch up on a few things. This weekend some friends and I took a mini day trip to the city of Sitges, just south of Barcelona, and spent the day touring the streets, laying on the beach, checking out a castle-looking church right on the coast, and wrapping it up with my first gelato in Europe! We will definitely be retuning to this part of Spain again before leaving- it was basically a mini, less congested version of Barcelona. Every street was different and so beautiful in its own individual way. It’s also apparently the gay district of Catalonia, which we didn’t realize until we got there and saw all of the rainbow flags, so it felt like being in the Castro (I know…another SF comparison). And it’s amazing that there are gems like this all over the place, but people get so caught up in the big tourist cities that they never venture out and explore.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  IMG_3071 IMG_3073(my first gelado)

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Classes

So I’ve just finished my first week of classes- yes, I am actually here for my “education”. And although I don’t feel too overwhelmed with the course load, I do spend a lot of time in the classroom and wish the hours weren’t so long. It’s actually more hours per week than back in San Francisco. But the content of he classes are pretty interesting, and we do get to go on a good number of field trips around Barcelona, like museums, squares, historical monuments, a bomb shelter, art galleries, gothic cathedrals, etc. Even just walking around the streets and taking pictures is part of my photography class.

My classes include Catalan cultural seminar, Catalan language class, Spanish language class, Photography, Art & Architecture, and City Branding.

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(Font Magica de Montjuic, field trip destination)

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Orientation, Nightlife, and Site-seeing

I’ve only been in Spain for a little over a week, and have already done and seen so much (not to mention spent so much). The first two nights here were spent at Hotel Taber right in the center of this beautiful city, where I met and spent time with the rest of the students in my program and our advisors. My program has a total of 18 students, including myself, and only 3 of us are from California (the rest are from the east coast mostly). Everyone in our group is really chill and in the mindset to do and see as many things as possible, so I’m sure I will never get bored. Of course not more than an hour later, I found myself enjoying some sangria on a sidewalk seating café with two other students, watching locals and tourist stroll by as we let it sink in that we had finally made it to Spain. I absolutely love the slower pace of life here- how grabbing a café or tapas with a friend can be a 2 hour experience, or just the feeling that nobody here is constantly looking at their watch or their iPhone like people do in the United States.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA (sangria)

During our orientation week, I got to experience the true Barcelona night life. From starting the night with some drinks at a local bar or two, then moving on to a discotech (club), walking the streets of Barca and La Rambla (a street with lots of nightlife), and eventually ending up in bed around 5 or 6am, only to wake up a few hours later to start the next day. Apparently this is the usual for the young people here. I don’t know how I could do that multiple times a week. The first weekend here was also pretty exciting, as there was a huge festival going on, La Merce, that is special to the culture of Cataluña, one of the 17 regions of Spain. I went with some students from my university to see the traditional human towers, where performers of all ages are trained in forming impressive towers by climbing on top of one another. It was amazing to watch, and the crowd was huge. Beside from that, I loved how there were individuals preforming down every ally and in every courtyard, either singing, playing an instrument, etc. There are so many talented, amazing people here that most people will never see if they don’t go out and just wander around. It really made me appreciate all the individuals that make up any beautiful city like Barcelona. On that note, this city reminds me a lot of San Francisco, and I felt very at home in a way. There are neighborhoods similar to SF’s Financial District, the Marina or Ocean Beach (Barceloneta), the Richmond (where my apartment here is), Market Street (La Rambla), Union Square (Placa de Espana) etc. Not only that, but the free spirit of the people here, the weather, the shops, the tourism, the art, and the transportation systems.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA (human towers, La Merce Festival)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  (Parc Guell)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA (afternoon tapas)

Some things that I’m getting used to that differ from the US would include the smaller food portion sizes, yet higher prices, but that could be because we are in such a popular tourism area. Also, I’m not so sure about the no dryer machine thing. I have to wash my clothes then hang them to dry on wires, but I should be getting used to it soon. I’m also having a hard time finding conditioner, the milk and eggs aren’t refrigerated, and the elevators and showers here are tiny. Just little things though, and in general I’ve had no problem adjusting to the culture. So much of our preparation was emphasis on “culture shock” but I’ve had no problem at all.

As far as living situation, I am with another girl from my university, along with three other guys in our apartment- two from Colorado and one guy from Germany. They are also studying abroad, but with different universities in Barcelona. They are all awesome and I could not have asked for better housemates. I also like the apartment lifestyle. From living in the dorms for the past two years, this is definitely ten steps up. We also have a balcony with a nice view, and we are only 5 blocks away form campus, so we lucked out for sure. I am one of the only students who is able to walk to school.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA (Rambla del Mar)

We also went to the beach twice already, and I know for sure that it’s going to be on my top 3 places in Barca. It’s so peaceful there, everyone is chill, not running around and loud like in the US. The sand is very clean, the ocean is warmer, and the sun doesn’t burn me… which is appreciated when you’re as white as I am. So many positives! I’ve also already visited the Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell (the picture on the banner), which are both amazing places designed by the famous architect, Gaudi.

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