Sunday, September 30, 2012

La Merce

La Merce is the celebration of the patron saint of Barcelona. Festivities begin Thursday and end on Monday (Sept. 21-24). So I even got a day off of school. Let me tell you, this city sure knows how to celebrate. I had a bit of an unconventional Merce. I split my time between trying to see every semi famous festivity and playing frisbee. Here is a link to a description of La Merce.

Friday
One of my friends, Genesis, recommended that we go to Plaza Espanya to see a concert (there's lots of those during La Merce. The only band I recognized was The Kooks). The band was called Sie7e and it was the only band she recognized in the line up so she wanted to go. They are from Portugal and they were really good! I met up with Genesis, her boyfriend, and Kayla, after the concert we went to watch the "Magical" fountain. There is a water show centered around this fountain every weekend. It includes lights, music, and really cool water tricks. Genesis said they were going all out for La Merce because she had never seen the fountain get that tall before. My night ended with watching the fireworks on the beach from my balcony at my house.
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I just think this last one is funny.

Saturday
I met up with Elaine, Kayla, and Jenna, and we went to watch the parade of the giants. They are huge paper mache people. As you can see in the last picture, a person gets inside the giant and operates it. They're pretty heavy though, because every so often there would be a pause in the parade and people would quickly switch in and out of the giants. Each one has a significance to the city's history, I couldn't tell you what every single one means though. There was music, confetti, and candy everywhere. Sometimes the giants would stop and do a little dance to the music. But never for too long, the people overseeing the parade ran a tight ship. Once again I ended my night by watching fireworks from my balcony.
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Sunday
I went with the frisbee team I joined (Patatas Bravas) to Castelldefels. It's a small beach town about a half hour away from the city. The city center is packed with people during La Merce, so it was nice to get out of town for a little bit. I trained with the womens team first, then everyone else came and Bravas held a little "getting to know you" hat tournament because I'm not the only study abroad newcomer. We were split into four random teams. The winners got a case of cold beer. My team won! Woohoo! So after the tournament we all hung out, drank a little beer and got to know each other.

Monday
There was a strike. Again. I should do a post on those because they happen so often and they suck. It was just the metro this time, but it meant irritated, hot, La Merce goers. I stuck to the buses. I chose to opt out of the grand finale of La Merce to play some beach ultimate with the womens team. We are currently training for Spanish Nationals so it was strongly encouraged that we be there if we're planning on going. We met up with the other womens team in Barcelona (Piranyes) to run some drills and then we scrimmaged against each other. This was the first practice that was run completely in Spanish. I was confused at first, but I quickly got used to it and even got up the courage to talk with some of the girls in Spanish myself. Like I said, they're really patient, but sometimes I feel like a silly foreigner. 

So that was my Merce. It was super fun! Full of celebration and meeting new people. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Frisbee!

It's about time I did this post!
Before I left for Barcelona I did some research about frisbee in Barcelona. I've ranted and raved about how everyone all over the world should play frisbee because it makes it easy to make new, super awesome, friends. Believe me, this method is tried and true. It worked when I came to Knox, when I went to St. Andrews, and it worked here in Barcelona too. I'm even visiting a girl in Paris who I met while playing frisbee this summer. Frisbee makes the world smaller, and better.
Between orientation and getting lost trying to find the fields, it took me awhile to get my frisbee legs when I first got to Barcelona. But now it's all good. I play pick up once a week, train with a club team (Patatas Bravas), and I've joined a hat league. I'm even going to Santander for Women's Nationals. Everyone I've met has been so welcoming and they've been really patient with my lack of Spanish skills. Playing frisbee in Barcelona is one giant crash course in Spanish. When I first joined, a lot of players weren't back from their summer travels yet, so the group was small and everything was mostly explained in English. I was a little disappointed because I wanted to work on my language skills, but also a little relieved because I could follow along with everything just fine. But this week everyone is back and suddenly everything has been switched to Spanish. Frisbee is sometimes hard to follow in your native language, so imagine learning new drills and playing a full game in a language you're just starting to fully comprehend. It was daunting at first, but now I can understand pretty much everything. Communicating myself is the next problem I'm tackling.
Like I said, everyone is really nice and welcoming. Since I'm not the first study abroad student they've had join the team, they understand that I want to work on my Spanish. They are really patient when we have conversations and are always ready to help with vocab questions and sentence structure. They also take it as an opportunity to practice english. By the end of practice a mix of Spanish, English, French, German, and more, is flying around the field.
Another exciting thing about frisbee in Barcelona is beach ultimate. It's actually a thing here. Like regionals, nationals, and other tournaments are held on the beach. It's more popular than playing on a grass field. I was super excited when I first got here to play frisbee on the beach and work on my tan at the same time, I quickly realized though, that frisbee on the beach is hard work. It's harder to cut and run fast. It was frustrating at first, but now I've gotten used to it. I just keep telling myself how great my legs will look by the end of my time here.
An interesting thing about frisbee here is the age range. I'm one of the youngest players on my team. Frisbee at the college level isn't popular here at all. The majority of the people who play are young, recent college graduates (23-30) who have moved to Barcelona for work. Almost everyone speaks fluent spanish, but it's rare to find someone originally from Spain. Ultimate here is also pretty disorganized. There is a governing body like USA Ultimate but it's less organized. Frisbee is less popular here and less people are frisbee obsessed (you know what I'm talking about). The few people who are truly passionate about frisbee hold the three club teams together here and organize the practices and events. Unfortunately, work has to come first.
I could go on and on about how happy I am that I joined frisbee and how it's opened a whole new range of opportunities while studying abroad, but I feel like this post is long enough as it is. Suffice it to say, I'm so happy that I'm meeting people outside my program and am getting the opportunity to experience the culture outside of the classroom.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Fashion

This last week the weather has been turning from Summer to Fall and fashion has been changing too. People are starting to dress more like the fashion I was used to seeing in Scotland (i.e. leather boots, short shorts with tights, etc.). But I want to focus on what I saw during the warm weather because I was loving it.
Basically you want your outfit to say, "Oh this? Yeah, I woke up with five minutes to spare, threw this on and I didn't even mean to look this effortless. My hair? I didn't even have time to brush it. It does this cool tousled thing on its own". How is this look achieved?
Loose pants: Light, billowy pants were everywhere. I was so glad I brought the pair I owned. Basically it's like wearing fashionable pajama pants. That kind of comfort is something I'm more than okay with.
Everything sheer: It really doesn't matter how much your bra shows here. So people just throw on sheer tops and are good to go. I tend to dress a little more conservatively than that, but after a great sale at Zara and some encouragement from my friends, I jumped on the sheer top band wagon. I know my mother is cringing, but it's actually very practical in the heat. Especially in the hot, muggy metro stations.
Sillouette (the shape your clothes make. Project Runway talks about this all the time): America is all about structure right now. The more geometric and futuristic the shape, the better. In Barcelona, it's the exact opposite. The more loose and billowy the better. It's too hot to be wearing tight clothes anyway. If you want to create a shape with your clothes, don't used a belt. Just tuck that shirt in and go. Simple is better here. Maybe throw on a long necklace, maybe, but like I said, until this week, it's been too hot for big jewelry.
Shoes: I have seen these sandals EVERYWHERE.
About every other person that walks by me on the streets has been wearing these exact sandals. Sometimes (very rarely) there is a variation on the style or color, but for the most part, these exact sandals. Men, women, old, young, they all have these. I looked at a pair and there doesn't seem to be anything particularly special or super comfortable about them so I don't understand the hype. But these are all the rage over here.
Stores: Zara, Mango and H&M are the top three. Barcelona just a got a couple Primarks that I'm itching to take a look at. It's possible to find outlet stores for all of these, so shopping here doesn't have to destroy your bank account. Corte Ingles is the popular department store here. It's expensive, but I recommend just looking at the shoe department. It's like shoe heaven. When I went with my friend we were somewhere between a loss of words, crying tears of joy, and running around to touch everything.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Classes and Montjuic

After our first week of classes, some friends and I decided to take advantage of our three day weekend and spend the day exploring Montjuic. I've said it before, but Montjuic is huge. This was the second time I had gone and everything I saw was completely new to me.
But first, a note about classes. When I studied abroad the last time, classes were an integral part of my experience at St. Andrews. I learned a lot, became invested in what I was learning, and met friends through my classes. It is very different here in Barcelona. Although my classes are run through the University of Barcelona with UB professors, my classes only consist of the other people in the Knox BCN program. They are also the least intense classes I have ever taken through or with Knox. I'm not saying that I'm not learning anything, because I am. My spanish is improving, I'm reading some Spanish literature and I know a whole lot about my art history professor's personal life and opinions on everything. But, the homework load isn't a lot and there's nothing about these classes that is really making me passionate about what I'm learning. I feel like they're a necessary part of being able to study abroad. Like, if I go to class, I can do all the other fun stuff too. I'm happy I have the free time, but I'm also getting used to not being intellectually invested in what I'm learning. But don't worry mom, I'm ahead on my homework and am already working on a paper due at the end of October.
That being said, I have been putting my free time to good use. I went back to Monjuic with some friends and explored around for the day. Montjuic is the location of a lot of buildings from the 1992 Olympics, as well as gardens, a theater, and a whole lot more. On this excursion we went around the Olympic stadium and then wandered our way through a lovely garden. After that, we went into the mall across the plaza (it used to be a bull fighting arena, but that became illegal in Barcelona so they converted it into a mall) and window shopped and bought some treats.
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Also, these were taken on my Iphone. Not bad, right? Thank you dad for telling me to bring it.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Long Weekend

I have been awful at updating this. But that's only because I've been so busy doing all sorts of cool things. I have lots of catchup to do but, let's start with my long weekend right before the start of classes.
After orientation classes were over (3 hours, sometimes twice a day on language, customs, etc.) we had Sept. 7-11 absolutely free. We managed to fill that time just fine.

Sept. 7
A wonderful, relaxing day on the beach. We had been moving since the moment we made it to Barcelona, so it was nice to read and work on my tan.
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Sept. 8
Museum day! We started at the Picasso Museum. This museum showcases his early work. I didn't know much about Picasso so it was an educational excursion. My one complaint would be about the amount of tourists. It's not like the Milwaukee Art Museum where I can wander around as I pleased. I had to dodge around huge tour groups, pushy art connoisseurs and more. Also, the layout of the museum was very confusing.
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Next we went to the chocolate museum. It's much smaller and less popular so we were able to take our time and be less stressed. The entire museum smelled amazing and our tickets were made of chocolate! By the way, the scene below is made entirely of chocolate.
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Sept. 9
Sitges! Sitges is a small town located on the coast about a half an hour away from Barcelona. It's known for it's beautiful beaches. We took a day trip there to do some more relaxing and tanning. When I got back, Carmen and Teti asked me if I had gone to any of the museums or the beautiful church there. I hadn't, but I had spent A LOT of time floating in the sea. It was a perfect day, and I got TAN.
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Sept. 10
For the first time since I got here I did absolutely nothing. I slept in, I read, I watched TV, I hung out with Carmen and Teti, and I loved every second of it.

Sept. 11
9/11 is an important day for Catalunya, although quite different from the United States. Here is a link to an explanation about what the National Day of Catalonia is. I had woken up to an e-mail warning tourists/non locals to stay away from popular areas because that's where the majority of people would be congregating. You see, this isn't a holiday full of celebration, this holiday is very political and all about how Catalunya wants to be its own country and not a part of Spain. It's a day of independence. Per the suggestion of Grace's host mom, we went to a park in Monjuic to get away from the manifestation. We spent a relaxing afternoon eating lunch and listening to Grace play her new ukulele. 
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After lunch we wandered around Montjuic for a little bit. Here's the thing, Monjuic is huge. I've been there multiple times and I still haven't seen all of it, and I don't think I ever will. You have to go there with a specific location in mind, otherwise you'll just end up wandering around uphill and occasionally stumbling on something interesting.
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After that I met up with Kayla, Elaine, and Jenna to celebrate Kayla's 21st birthday. What I didn't realize was my metro stop to get there (Arc de Triomf) was the place where the manifestation begins. It's kind of like a parade that goes through all the main streets of Barcelona. So even though I had been trying to avoid it, I ended up in the middle of the National holiday anyway. Don't worry, nothing bad happened. It's not an angry holiday or anything, just lots of passionate emotions. I'm really glad I did stumble on it, because it was really interesting to observe. Fun fact, over one million people were the the streets of Barcelona that day.
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After walking around for a bit, we went back to Kayla's apartment. Her host mom had cooked us the most delicious dinner complete with an amazing chocolate cake and champagne. We listened to Frank Sinatra and talked about how weird it is to watch Jersey Shore dubbed in Spanish. It was the perfect way to end the long weekend.
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And that was my long weekend. Full of education and relaxation.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

This is Where I Live

As I said before, I'm the only person from my group that lives in a house. It's beautiful, older, and full of love and memories. I took a minute the other day to snap some pictures of my room and the rest of the house. Below is my room. It's full of eclectic pictures and furniture, but it's also homie and just right.
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Next is the entrance hall. By the door is Chatti the dog. He's ADORABLE. Carmen and Teti call him the man of the house because usually he's the only male in a house full of women.
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This is the TV room. It's a big no no to put your feet on the furniture here, so instead Carmen and Teti use stools for their feet.
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This is the sitting room. I'll read here with Teti and Carmen sometimes.
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Teti and Carmen can host up to four students at a time. Right now we eat in the kitchen because there are only two students here, but when more come we'll start eating in the dining room.
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And finally, the kitchen. The food I eat here deserves a post of it's own, but suffice it to say, I enjoy some yummy meals here.
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I started classes this week. Big bummer. But before that we had a long weekend in between orientation and the start of classes. We were pretty much left to our own devices so we enjoyed our time exploring and getting to know the city better. I'll have a post up about that next.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Teti y Carmen

I could go on forever and ever about how much I love my host family. But I will try to stay on point so this doesn't get too boring.

I was greeted at the hotel by Teti (María José). When she saw me, she hugged me, kissed me on both cheeks, grabbed my chin, and said "guapa" (attractive). I knew we'd be fine. I live in a house near Parque Guell. It's built right into the hill. It's one of two houses. I'm the only person in my group to live in an actual house, everyone else lives in apartments. I'll have pictures of where I live up soon. Suffice it to say, there's a pool, balcony, a beautiful view, and I basically have my own bathroom. Not what  I was expecting at all. When I got to the house I was greeted by Carmen, Teti's sister. Teti is definitely the more talkative of the two. And she talks FAST. Keeping up with her was difficult at first, but now I can understand pretty much everything that she says. Carmen is much quieter. I often find her sitting on the balcony reading a book. She can finish a whole book in about two days. She also knows Barcelona's public transportation by heart. They are so easy to talk to. It's only been been five days and I already feel very comfortable in their home. They're so welcoming and kind. But hosting a nervous American isn't new to them.
Teti and Carmen have been hosting study abroad students for about forty years. They know how to make anyone from any culture feel at home. The first day I was there they pulled out a photo album filled with pictures of students that they hosted in previous years. It was beautiful to see how much they care about every student, and in return, how much their students care about them. Next to some of the pictures from the past are more current pictures that their students sent them in order to update them on their lives. There are even pictures of some of my Knox friends who studied abroad last year and years before that. Their house is an eclectic mish mosh of gifts that students have given to them over the years.
I love talking with Carmen and Teti every day when I get home. I tell them about how my day is and we love to gossip together. They love to talk about boys, fashion, or shopping. One of the first questions they asked me was if I had a boyfriend. Then they wanted to know what kind of guy I prefer. Teti loves keeping up with fashion. Every morning she'll tell me how wonderful I look and how the boys don't stand a chance. One time when I got home she said that she had seen my magazine while she was straightening my room and had sat down to read it. She said she hoped I didn't mind. Of course I didn't! I was just sorry it featured Miley Cyrus.
It is really important to Carmen and Teti that I am as comfortable as possible. They keep telling me, when I'm home it's like I'm on vacation. At school is where I should work hard as a student. They don't let me help clean or with food or anything. They've got everything down to a science.
The last thing I'll talk about is the food. In Barcelona, it's rude not to finish your food, so every time I go to dinner I have to psyche myself up because the portions are huge. As the days have gone by Carmen has started to understand the kind of portions I eat and I've been very communicative about my likes and dislikes. Carmen is also a big fan of dessert. So far, I'v had ice cream every night. I can't say no! Carmen's face just falls when I do. But I figure it's okay because it's the only dessert I eat all day.
So that's the short version of how much I love Carmen and Teti. I'll have pictures up of where I live soon.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Orientation!

After a whirlwind week of orientation, I can finally settle down and write a post. With the help of the schedule we were given and my pictures, I can write everything out in the right order with the proper names.

Day One
My travels started simply enough. I flew from Milwaukee to Philadelphia. Then I boarded a plane to Frankfurt, Germany. I slept most of that flight and the flight from Germany to Barcelona. Then I found Kevin (our assistant director) and he took me to the hotel we were staying at for orientation. The bus ride, taxi, and walk there is a blur. I had traveled for eighteen hours, I was ready for a shower and then a bed. That evening (and by evening, I mean 9pm) the entire group went to dinner. We were presented with a very complicated and overwhelming menu. Upon seeing our jet lagged and confused faces, Claudia quickly told the waiter we would just get all of the tapas (appetizers). Let me give you a list of all of the things I tried that night. I would also like to brag and say that I didn't even get a stomach ache from it. Shrimp (like I cracked open the shell with my bare hands and sucked out the guts), Octopus, Squid, Clams and some sort of fish that still had all its scales. Below is a picture of our feast.
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Day Two
The next day we woke up and walked over to La Universitat de Barcelona. It is the place where we will be having our classes. We took pictures for IDs and then had some boring orientation stuff. Claudia took us through our orientation packet. There were things like Wifi, club sports we could join, living with host families, etc. After that we took a tour of the University. It's pretty old, so one of the historians at the University showed us around some of the historical parts. It was an interesting tour, the problem was, we were jet lagged. We got into a room full of wonderful paintings and were told to sit in comfy benches. Then she started to tell us about the paintings and the history of the room. The room was the perfect kind of stuffy and warm and we all started drifting away. We knew it was rude, but we couldn't help it. Below are pictures around the University.
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Next we grabbed a delicious lunch and set out on our bus tour. Claudia said we were getting all of our touristy stuff out of the way now so that we could become complete citizens once orientation was over. I think most of us made it about a quarter of the way through the tour before jet lag came at us with a vengeance. I was the first to fall asleep and Claudia and Tony won't let me forget it. I took a couple pictures during the tour, but mostly I caught up on sleep.
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This is a house created by the architect Gaudi. I get to pass it everyday on my way to class. This isn't my favorite one though. My favorite one will get of its own post. After the bust tour we got to rest a little, then we went to dinner. It was a tapas restaurant. I've never had a more overwhelming meal in my life. Here's what you do, all of the food is placed on the counter and you have to push your way through all of the people in order to get it, and the place was crowded. There's a whole strategy to it. All that work for a tiny tapa. So you have to do this whole pushing and weaving thing 4 or 5 times, depending on how much food you want. It was very stressful. But the food was delicious. It was definitely worth the hard work.

Day Three
This was also a big touristy day for us. Lots of walking. We started from our hotel and went to the Plaza del Rei and the Cathedral. Here's a picture.
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Then we walked on Las Ramblas. It is the most touristy street of the city. I am going to avoid it as much as possible. It has all sorts of shopping and attractions. Lots of pick pocketing there. Then we went to Mercado de la Boquería. This is also a complete tourist trap. Claudia said it's the most crowded market in the city, but locals rarely go there. It's for the tourists. I was really overwhelmed by the amount of people, and I was preoccupied with not getting robbed, but I managed to get photos of the beautiful colors and food.
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After the market we got some lunch. Then, Claudia posed us a challenge. Before we had left that morning Claudia had given us a map of the city and a map of the metro. Now, in two different groups, she wanted us to guide everyone from the restaurant to La Sagrada Familia, then from La Sagrada Familia to Parc Guell. The first group took us to La Sagrada Familia without a hitch. I have never seen a more magnificent building in my life. Words cannot describe how beautiful the inside and outside of the building are. Closer to the end of this post are pictures of the view of the entire city, in those you can see how large this piece of architectural art is. 
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After that, my group led the way to Parq Guell. We made it fine. The walk up the hill was no fun though. Parq Guell is a huge park full of historical and artistic statues and sculptures. I had no idea that it housed one of Gaudi's homes. Fun fact, the season finale of America's Next Top Model: Cycle 7 was filmed here. I got way more excited about this than I'm willing to admit.
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To finish off our walking tour of the city we went to one of the sculptures in Parq Guell called the Three Crosses and watched the sun set. There were some beautiful views from there. That was one of the many moments throughout the past couple of days that I stopped and realized, "hey, I'm in Barcelona, cool". 
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Day Four
It was the day we were to meet our families. We were all looking forward to this because we had all been talking about the fact that we really wanted a place where we could unpack and be at home. I wasn't nervous about meeting mine at all until about a half hour before they arrived at the hotel to pick us up. Suddenly I started thinking, "What if they don't like me or I don't like them", "What if they're weird", "What if they don't have internet". Our group must have looked kind of comical. All of us sitting there with wide nervous eyes asking, "Are you my new family?". Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Teti y Carmen are some of the most wonderful human beings I have met in my entire life. I could go on and on about how wonderful they are, but that is for another post. Suffice it to say, a kind looking woman in her sixties hugged me, kissed me on both cheeks, grabbed my chin and said, "guapa". That means attractive or pretty. We've been getting along swimmingly ever since. 

And that was orientation. It looks short now that it's all typed out here. But I promise it felt like weeks.