23 September 2008

Los Pirineos

My computer still isn´t fixed so I haven´t been online much. So here are the highlights from my trip to the Pyrenees, the mountain range that borders France:

Fall asleep before the bus leaves Placa Universitat, wake up in the middle of a small town surrounded by mountains and blue sky. Beautiful. Eat a delicious lunch of pizza, my first since leaving the states, then wander a bit through sleepy cobblestone streets.

Back on the bus. Drive further into the mountains and pass through several more villages. Arrive in Taull to sunshine and blue skies, as well as four hours of free time ahead. The hotel is a perfect little mountain building on one end of town. Walk to the old church and climb up the bell tower. Scary stairs, beautiful views. Many students immediately head to cafes to drink. We wander through the rest of town and out into the mountains, and keep going for two hours. Every time we think we should head back we go just a little bit further.

Back in time for dinner, we board the bus to a restaurant in a nearby village. Three course meal; delicious. The mountain air causes all food to be tasty. Back to the hotel and off the bus and look up. Too many stars to count, all shining brightly away from hazy light pollution. Enough to stay outside in the cold for hours, silent and overwhelmed by the beauty.

Great night for sleeping; wake up early to watch the sun slowly rise over the mountain peaks. Eat a gigantic and tasty breakfast of bread, cheese, and fruit before heading to Aiguastortes National Park. El Parque fue...increíble. No puedo explicarlo, y no hay fotos suficientes que puedan recrear la belleza perfecto de la naturaleza. Al principio de nuestra escalera, sacaba muchos fotos. Pero fue un momento cuando la experiencia se hizo más, se hizo apasionado, y se puse la cámara en mi bolsa. El resto del día solo tenía las experiencias. No es posible que recree ni el escozor en sus pulmones durante el parte de la escalera más difícil, ni el sentimiento cuando llegue a la destiación y pueda ver un gran lago en la valle entre las montañas.

I learned that there are certain situations that don´t need to be, that can´t be, captured on film. Also that I would rather have the memories of the feeling of the grass beneath my toes or that last breath before my foot hits the top of a ridge than the photos of the climb. I took a lot of photos, yes, but I am more greatful for an hour long conversation sparked by the natural world around us rather than hundreds of images that pale in comparison to the real thing.

I left the Pyrenees with a wonderful feeling in me, a feeling of peace and content. I hope to do more hiking and exploring before I leave Europe, as well as to come back someday and do more. The people that I met this weekend weren´t many, mostly I think because we were such a big group, but the ones that I did were incredible, like the woman who has lived in Taull all her life and told me about the bell towers in all of the churches in the valley, and how they use them to communicate amongst themselves. And how although her world may be small in comparison to others, she has led a rich and wonderful life, takes pride in her hard work, and wouldn´t change it for anything. When I die, I want to be able to say the same thing.

18 September 2008

Laying out into the Mediterranean

This past week has gone by so quickly! I can´t believe it. One things that is a bummer is that my computer has a virus so I can´t really use it too much...which means I haven´t been able to put up any pictures! At least there is a computer lab in my dorm, but the computers only work half the time. Luckily, now is one of those times! I really need to do my laundry...I´ve worn the same clothes several times in a row now. Part of me wishes that I had brought more, but at the same time what do I care if people see me in the same shirt 6 times in a couple of weeks? It´s a good shirt! I sort of attempted to go shopping yesterday but it mostly failed. I guess laundry is inevitable.

I have had such a good week- it included burritos, ultimate, and flamenco dancing. On Saturday we went up to this village, Poble Espanyol, that is on Montjuic in Barcelona. It was built for a 1929 World´s Fair of sorts, though I don´t think that the event ever happened. Either way, it is this neat little village that has more than 100 different examples of Spanish architecture, as well as a lot of different little craft and antique shops. I loved it! There is also a contemporary art museum inside of it that I didn´t even know about, and Goya´s Disasters of War was currently being shown there. That was really cool, and very depressing. There was also a Mexican Festival going on in the village, and they had food so we got legit burritos and tacos and they were actually spicy! It was incredible! It is very difficult to find spicy food here. Also, isn´t it ironic that the Mexican Festival that was celebrating Mexican Independence was occurring in a place called ´´Spanish Village´´?

Saturday night a couple of us who play ultimate took the train to a beautiful beach, Castelldefels, right outside of Barcelona to play on the beach with the club team I was hoping to join up with. It was a great time- they are so welcoming and encouraging and I got to play quite a bit, even though I am definitely not used to running in sand! This beach is absolutely amazing- huge with soft sand and you are standing there with the Mediterranean on one side of you and little mountains on the other side, and it was the perfect combination of all of my favorite things- ocean, beach, mountains, ultimate, and later on beer at the bar on the beach. As the sun was setting clouds were coming in and the sky was more beautiful than any impressionist painting I have ever seen. And the moon was rising among the clouds and there was lightning in the distance...it was such a beautiful display of nature and to have all of this occur as I was playing ultimate...wow. Absolutely one of the best moments in my life.

We also went to the team practice last night, which is in a stadium on the side of Montjuic- it was pretty cool to play at night with the lights of the stadium. I am definitely going to be able to keep in good ultimate shape playing with them- hopefully I will learn a few things too!

12 September 2008

First week of classes and La Diada

I can't believe that I have already been here for almost two weeks. Time is going by so quickly! Though I am still unable to put into perspective that I will be here yet for 3 more months- and I probably won't appreciate that fact until it is over. I am absolutely loving the city so far. Of course there are things I miss at home, and it actually is hard to be in contact with people from home because a part of me wishes to be sharing in their experiences as well. But this is my adventure and so far it has been wonderful.

Our first week of classes was a short week, only Monday through Wednesday, and so far I love the one class I have started. It's weird because everyone else in the other programs within CEA has all of their classes already, but since we are actually studying at a university we go by their schedule, and Universitat Pompeu Fabra doesn't start until the 29th. So right now I just have language class, and after three days it is already helping me be more comfortable in my speaking because we absolutely have to speak Spanish always. Plus, we are reviewing a lot of grammar and situations in which we would use this grammar in order to obtain fluidity, which is one of my goals of this trip. That being said, I absolutely can't wait to start my other three classes- I get to learn all about the history of Barcelona, classic and contemporary artists of Spain, as well as Spanish media. The books are going to be so interesting!

There was a lot of beach time this week, and a little bit of ultimate, and I am really looking forward to this weekend because a club team here, Las Patatas Bravas (men) and Crema (women) have pick up on Saturday and practice on Sunday. I need a workout and some intensity! I'm so excited.

My roommate Brooke and I also met a girl who is staying in our Residencia for three weeks from Olviedo. She's studying biology at one of the hospitals here for a bit. On Tuesday night we cooked her Mexican food (or, as mexican as you can get without salsa, cheddar cheese, and sour cream) because we finally found pinto beans in the store! We had a lot of fun and I was happy by how much I understood her- between our Spanish and her English we are able to communicate really effectively. Then last night she made us tapas that are traditional in Olviedo- one was toasted bread with cheese spread on it and bits of turkey and mushroom on top (it is supposed to be ham but she knew I didn't like it and she couldn't find any quality ham). The other was this delicious salad with lentils and apples and a bunch of things in it. I love having the opportunity to talk with her, plus she is a lot of fun and is currently reading Kerouac's books on recommendation from her boyfriend. Very cool. No one has really heard of the beat generation outside of the United States.

I'm also pretty excited because I have been in contact with some couchsurfers in Barcelona and have plans to meet up with a few of them in order to talk about the city, practice Spanish and Catalan, and just get to know a lot people from the area. It will also be great when all of the Spanish kids move into the residencia!

On Wednesday Brooke and I went to La Sagrada Familia and went inside and up into the towers. It was absolutely incredible; I think I took about 150 photos! Gaudi was such an amazing man- this may sound silly but when looking at some of the things he has done and reading about how important the re-creation of nature was in his structures to him it gives me chills and I am overcome with some nameless, powerful feeling that I can't really describe. The church is so beautiful and I have already decided that when it is finished, whenever that may be, if it is in my lifetime I am coming back here to see it.

Yesterday was La Diada, Catalunya's National Day. It's comparable to the 4th of July, except that Catalunya isn't it's own country. There were a lot of celebrations and everyone had off of work. Near the Arc de Triomf, which is near my residencia, there was a big street festival going on, with games, performers, live music, and a lot of booths selling patriotic things. There was also a lot of literature about succeeding from Spain and creating the nation-state of Catalunya. There were books and pamphlets, as well as fliers for rallies and protests. Everybody was speaking in Catalan. Some of the pamphlets and such were kind of scary- extremely radical and sometimes violent. When we were more toward downtown later, we saw a lot of buildings defaced and tagged with revolutionary sayings, such as "estat Espana, estat terrorista" and "ni frances, ni espana, paiso soberana (sovereign)". It was kind of cool, but at the same time a little bit unsettling. We were able to go into el Palau de la Generalitat, which is located on the Placa de la Constitucion- all official buildings including el Palau del Parlament. It was open to the public because it is a big symbol of Catalunya, and it was a lot like going into the White House. In my opinion it was a lot cooler because the architecture and frescoes on the ceilings were much finer and more carefully created. Or maybe I just immediately like Europe better. Tough call :)

Today unfortunately it is really rainy, but we might go check out a museum or something. There are so many to go to! I'm also going to practice my Catalan- when I read it I can understand quite a bit of it because it is somewhat similar to Spanish, but it is mostly like French. I can't wait to be fluent in a bunch of languages!

07 September 2008

Cut Copy at Razzmatazz

Friday was the first day that I haven't taken a four hour nap in the middle of the afternoon. Progress! We had our school orientation, which wasn't very helpful and I'm still pretty confused about how everything works. But I did find out that I am at the advanced level for Spanish, which is pretty great, and I start language class on Monday.

In the afternoon we went to the beach, which is GORGEOUS and I got so many freckles. I also ate a ham and cheese sandwich at a stand selling them, which, for anyone who knows me, is extremely out of the ordinary. Rabbit, snails, ham...I don't know what's come over me. It's truly unfortunate though how obsessed Spain is with ham...it's even on their 'cheese pizza'! Anyway, Brooke (my roommate) and I went grocery shopping, and it's amazing how much better and more awake I feel after eating some cereal for breakfast and a sandwich with vegetables in it for lunch. Crazy Spain, even at the grocery store their sliced turkey was actually ham.

We cooked our first meal in our dorm kitchen that night with our friend Chris, and it was super delicious- I missed cooking much more than I realized. Then we went to his apartment, which was really cool and made me almost wish I had chosen apartamento on my housing application rather than residencia. Either way, each has its advantages and disadvantages but I miss my apartment a lot.

The best part of Friday, though was when we went out late at night- we had already decided to go to this club, Razzmatazz, which I guess is THE hip club in Barcelona right now. I don't know, whatever! Well we checked the website before we went and there was a big photo of Cut Copy and Friday's date. I couldn't believe it, especially because we missed them at Pitchfork. The club was wild- a HUGE main room with smaller rooms upstairs and downstairs and throughout, with everyone dancing and having a great time. Then around 2:30 am a huge projector screen that was on one of the walls rolls up and behind it was a stage, and Cut Copy came out and proceeded to play for the next hour and a half. It was wild! I had SUCH a blast and so did the people I was with. I'll post pictures as soon as I get the chance.

There is no way I'll be able to go out like that very often, staying up so late kills me. Though I have noticed how differently time works here. It is just after 4 pm and I ate lunch less than an hour ago. I'm going to the beach soon to play some ultimate again, and I'm jazzed because I already spent most of today outside.

I went for a great run through the streets around my neighborhood, and it was beautiful because everyone was outside walking around and enjoying the glorious weather as well as the company of who they were with. There is a park right near where I live, Parc Ciutadella, which is incredible, as well as the Spanish Arc de Triomf. After my run I went back there with my camera and sketchbook and watched people for hours.

Tomorrow I start class and I'm a little bit nervous. I still have no idea where it is, but my university is about a 7 minute walk from where I am living so I should be okay. And now, to the beach!

06 September 2008

"The true sign of a traditional Catalan meal is that you will smell like garlic and onions for a week after eating it"

That is pretty true, by the way. Wanting to experience something authentic, a couple of us went to this restaurant that Luke recommended to me, Can Margarit, which was actually pretty close to the other residencia that students are staying in. It was absolutely incredible- just as Luke promised.

This restaurant is located down a narrow, twisty, cobblestone street and was the only thing open for several blocks in any direction. We walked in and it was like being transported to a different century. There were wooden wine barrels on either side of the entrance area, as well as hand painted porcelain and farming tools hung up on the walls. We were clearly the only Americans there; everyone else was speaking Spanish or Catalan. The man who helped us out was incredibly friendly, and I think he may have also been a cook. While waiting for a table we were given glasses and encouraged to sample the wine in the front barrels, free of charge. When Luke told me about this I thought it was great, and it was even better when I was really there! As some of our group didn't really speak any language other than English he gave us both English and Spanish menus. I was very pleased with myself in that I only spoke to him in Spanish, and he directed all questions for the table through me.

The food there was incredible. Going on Luke's recommendation, as well as the house specialty (rabbit), we ordered a lot of different things, including some salads, cheese, and olives. The olives here, by the way, are incredible, and I have never liked olives before. We also ordered some snails, which tasted sort of like marinated vegetables, and three main courses of rabbit for the five of us. The best part is, we all had been, currently were, or are at least semi-vegetarians, and yet we still ordered the rabbit because it was clearly the prized dish of the restaurant. (The locals all ordered it too). When it came out each rabbit came in a dish filled with cooked onions and roasted garlic cloves, and they really cook the whole rabbit- the skull was cooked along with everything else, teeth still in tact. As gross as it was, we had fun with it, and the rabbit tasted delicious! The wine, which I think they make themselves, was also incredible and we had a wonderful 2 and a half hour meal.

Afterward we wandered around the streets and found a local bar and went in for a drink, then headed home. It was the first night that I really felt like I was IN Barcelona, and I loved it! I also smelled like garlic when I woke up.

04 September 2008


My sense of time is so confused. I just took a 4.5 hour nap again this afternoon. So much for my grand plans to go exploring! I have had some trouble finding a place to exchange money...tomorrow I really need to get on that.

We had our language placement exam today. I think I did alright...though I really have no idea. We have school orientation tomorrow and I am looking forward to finding out about classes and such. The sooner I have a schedule the less disoriented I am going to feel!

So far I haven't really met any Spanish people, but tonight we are going to a restaurant recommended by someone who lived here, so that will definitely be a different experience from what we have had so far.

03 September 2008

This feels like summer camp

It's just like starting freshman year of college all over again. You meet a lot of people in a really short time, hang out with whoever you had dinner with the first night, and the whole thing is really surreal, as if I'm not really living here yet.

Today we moved into our dorms and this place is BEAUTIFUL. The walls are bright blue and the bed sheets are bright orange! We have a kitchen and a bathroom in our room and a swimming pool on the roof. My roommate, Brooke, is really awesome. We actually have a lot in common which is great.

On our flight over from Chicago, Steph and I sat next to a man named Andy who is from Brighton, England. He was so entertaining and a really nice guy- we had a great talk about architecture and ruins and about how wars destroy physical evidence of history while simultaneously creating history. He also thought it was great that it was our first transatlantic flight, and made sure that we got everything we needed, including, according to him, two mini bottles of wine and a bloody mary with dinner each. I never want to fly Northwest again! And I am happy that we ended up next to Andy- I love talking with people on airplanes.

Unfortunately I didn't sleep too much on the plane- each seat had its own tv screen and there were so many movies and tv shows to watch...I only watched one movie but I feel like I should have slept instead. Waiting in Heathrow was uneventful for our flight, and both Steph and I slept the entire way to Barcelona. That feeling of landing in Spain was incredible.

For the past two days I have been living in a hotel with the rest of the CEA study abroad kids. It was so difficult to stay awake- I have never experienced jet lag before and it was intense- I am still recovering a little bit. Our first night they had a big welcome dinner for us, and then let us loose. It wasn't a very eventful night but we had a good time. Yesterday was full of orientation sessions and napping, then a brief bus tour of the city. I can't wait to go exploring on my own without a tour guide and 150 other people. Last night a group of us went down to Las Ramblas, the main drag if you will, the touristy section of Barcelona. We had dinner outside and halfway through our meal a man from Norway sat down with us and wanted to talk about politics and psychiatry. He was pretty cool and ended up buying our meal for us, and wouldn't say no no matter how much we protested. What a great first meal to have in the city!

Of course, after that we went out to a club and stayed out til 6:30 am and it was wild! I got to practice my Spanish a lot. And today we moved in and I am about to head down to the beach to play some ultimate!

From the airport


6:35 pm

So I’m at the airport. Bags are checked, I have eaten entirely too much popcorn (thanks Eve!), and I am about 45 minutes from boarding the plane. It still hasn’t entirely hit me that I’m leaving yet. Saying goodbye to people was weird, I only cried twice, and one of them was because I have no idea when I will be seeing Lauren again. That’s the only downside of having friends who love to travel- you never know when or where you will run into them. Though at the same time, I wouldn’t consider that a bad thing either. I love all of you so much and I’m glad I got to see so many people before I left!

This is so wild. I only started to get a little bit nervous on the drive here. I WILL BE IN BARCELONA IN 14 HOURS. At this time tomorrow I will most likely be in some club dancing and going crazy. It will be perfect- it’s 7 hours ahead in Barcelona, so it’s 1:40 am there. I haven’t really stopped to think about this- it isn’t real yet. I didn’t even look back, but I can’t really look forward either, or at least not in anything but abstract terms. I can’t believe I’m really doing this! I have been waiting 11 years to go to Spain, ever since the first time I went to Spanish camp. And now I am half a day away from realizing that dream. Whenever I think about it I get that tight, nervous feeling right in the middle of my left ribs that I get whenever I’m terrified, excited, nervous, or really passionate about something. I can’t breathe! I am way too excited. I’m happy I have Steph here with me. I was definitely prepared to do this on my own; I mean, that’s how I signed up for the trip. But it was really nice having her family drive me to the airport; they were so sweet and all hugged me goodbye. And about half an hour ago, when we both realized we had no way of telling what time it was, where I probably would have been a bit freaked out by myself we just laughed instead. It’s so crazy not to have a phone. I love it- turning it off and hiding it in my apartment was such a great feeling.

Eeeee they are boarding!!!! Gotta go! More from Spain!!!!!!