Last Week

It is now my last weekend in Spain and finals are here. It is unreal how fast it has gone and the weather has come just at the right time. It has been beautiful here lately with mid 60s and not a cloud in the sky. I am really excited to be done with classes this semester since unfortunately none of them have really interested me. I am also really excited to get back to the States. But before that I am taking a quick week for a last hurrah in Europe. 5 nights in Nice, France and then 2 more in Madrid before finally catching my flight home (That is assuming no crazy Icelandic volcanoes decide to erupt more or whatever else mother nature decides to throw at us this year).

This past week I have been attempting to plan the rest of my undergraduate classes. For those who don’t already know, I was accepted into the Martin Scholar program through my department, which is a pre-grad school prep program. I will be taking a short class and then devoting the rest of the year to research and working on a presentation and paper about the topic: the informal economy. I am really happy to be able to be in this because it’s not only an interesting subject, but it is something that will set me up well to go on to graduate school…I also get $1000 🙂 Anyways, I have also decided to double major with International Studies and Spanish, so my plate is rather full for my last two semesters at Idaho. Bring it on!

18

Today is Sunday April 18, 2010. And there are currently 18 days left until I am back home in Kennewick, WA. At the end of each semester I say that it was the fastest one yet and this still holds true today. It is already the end of my 3 and a half month life in Barcelona. Recently I have been doing a lot of stuff around the town in order to make sure I go home knowing that I didn’t miss anything. I’m sure something will pop up, but at least I’ll know that I had a worthy effort. Yesterday 15 people in our group went to Sitges, organized with our program. Our first stop was at the Cordorníu Winery. We got a tour of the cellars and where they first made the famous Catalan drink: Cava. Interesting fact: Cava is Champagne which is sparkling wine. They are all the same. Spain tried to use the name champagne, however the French were quick to say they could not do that because that symbolized France, despite using the same means of production. So the Catalan people decided to use Cava (Cave) as the name because of storing the bottles in the cellars, which are rather similar to caves. So we got a tour of their MASSIVE cellars, 4 stories underneath the factory filled top to bottom with Cava and wine. It was impressive. Interesting fact #2: The reason for the bump in the bottom of the bottles is so that they don’t turn into bombs during the fermentation process. If they were flat bottoms, pressure would build up and they would explode. We ended the tour with some tasting of two different types of Cava that they make. Granted it was about noon when the tour ended and I was a lot more in the mood for a coffee than sparkling wine, I can now check off the earliest time I have ever had a drink, but it was a cultural experience so that validates it 🙂

We then took the bus 30 minutes to the coastal pueblo of Sitges. This is a really cool city that is very quaint, with little shops and a very nice beach. The sand quality is top notch haha! I was pleasantly surprised to find a car show going on when we got down to the beach. It was all high end sports cars and F1. So I gawked for a while and snapped a few low quality pictures. I will accept coming home gifts 😉

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t in our favor for the day and it was a bit cool and windy. Nevertheless we relaxed on the beach some and took in whatever rays that were being thrown at us. Eventually 5:30 came around and we made our way back to the bus for the quick trip home to realize that this is the last full week I will be having in this city. It’s amazing how this trip has come to an end. At times I felt that it would never happen, but now I’m seeing the end of the tunnel. It’s been a long journey, but I am happily ready to be back. The list of things that I miss has gotten substantially long and I’m ready to see the people I love again. The people I have met here have really made this experience great and I am happy to say that I’ve added a few more lifelong friends to my pocket. But here we go, finals and then a wind-down trip to Nice, France before heading back to Madrid for my flight. The 18th with 18 left. Quite the coincidence.

ps. There are two ways that I keep up on the news in America: Whatever is on the BBC headlines and The Daily Show. Jon Stewart being my preferred method. But is it true that people are just loosing their minds about every political move that is happening?

The 12 Days of Italy

I have been way overdue for an update and I apologize. I returned yesterday from a 12 day Italian spring break and I had zero minutes to take time to update everyone on what is going on. So here it goes. It started Wednesday the 24th when I went to my first Barça futbol game. The stadium was beyond impressive; it holds 120,000 people and is the biggest in Europe. They played Osasuna that night and won 2-0. It was great to be able to see that stadium erupt in cheers and chants after the goals were scored. The thundering of their noise made me miss the actual goal, but you can get the idea from this:

The next day began the extensive journey from Barcelona to Venice. It began after my first class. I rushed back to the apartment, threw 12 days worth of things into my little backpack and took the metro to the bus station. From there we went to Girona, which is an hour bus ride, and took our plane from there to Traviso, Italy. Then it was another hour bus ride until we finally arrived in Venice. Thanks to Ryanair for turning a simple flight into a full day’s trip, at least it was cheap. We found our B&B that we were staying at and then went and explored the city. It was a very quiet and peaceful place that is a romantic’s paradise. So being in the company of four other guys was humorous. We went and had our first authentic Italian pizza and I must say it was everything I dreamed of. I got a mushroom, artichoke and cheese pizza, downed it and couldn’t wait for the next one. After dinner we walked around the city some more, sampled the gelato and called it a night. Since the place was called a B&B, I would assume half of our money went to the “bed” and the other half to the “breakfast”. We waited until 11:30 for the breakfast part and then we decided that we wouldn’t stand for this. We went to the front desk and got 20€ from guy running it and we went out and got pizza with the girls from our program. This pizza was my favorite of the entire trip. It was cheese, prosciutto, and an egg in the middle. Essentially it’s a breakfast pizza and since no one believes in authentic breakfasts here, this is the best I am going to get.

We walked to Saint Mark’s square and did the touristy things around there. Saw some large cathedrals and just took it all in. It was foggy and cold unfortunately so we didn’t get to see the “real” Venice that day. The following day it was sunnier and it ended up being beautiful. We went to the train station to buy our tickets to Ravenna and then enjoyed the beautiful weather until our departure time. We only had one little scare with the police when they came up to us sitting on the train station steps, basking in the sun and asked for our passports. They were clearly looking for someone and luckily it wasn’t us! We boarded our train and we were off to Ravenna. The train ride was beautiful. Trains are so much better than airplanes. I realized that this is how you see what the true country is all about. Jumping city to city via airplane only allows you to see what the cities have to offer, but trains really give you the whole experience of travelling. Being able to see the countryside and what life is like outside the city is something that was necessary in my opinion.

Ravenna was my favorite city for several reasons. It wasn’t tourist infested like every other city, I heard and saw locals walking around, and I didn’t hear English everywhere I went. We lucked out on the weather there; it was in the mid 60s and sunny. We walked to the center of the city and checked out the tourist office to see what they had to offer and we discovered that we could rent bikes for the day FOR FREE! Of course we weren’t going to pass that up, so we filled out the papers and we were off to explore the city with our bright yellow bikes. We made our way to the first and most impressive basilica in Ravenna: Saint Vitale Basilica. Here we got a ticket to visit 5 different places for one small price. Ravenna is best known for its mosaics. It was unbelievable how intricate and beautiful these pieces of art were. I can’t describe in word how impressive it was, it is really something that needs to be seen first hand. We biked from sight to sight, enjoying the beautiful Palm Sunday. We stopped for lunch in a nice plaza that was surrounded with restaurants. I ordered a delicious tortellini with prosciutto and cream sauce. As the day came to an end, we returned the bikes and walked back to the hostel where we played some foosball and pool.

The next stop for us was Florence. We took a train to Bologna and then from Bologna to Florence. Somehow we got a ticket for a high-speed train on the second leg, which was quite the experience. We got there in 30 minutes, but it was tunnels most of the way, so the sights were limited to the few seconds of a gap between the tunnels. I was really surprised at just how many tourists were in Florence. I heard English everywhere I went. It was packed with students and tourists from the UK and the USA. I took the philosophy of, “If you can’t beat them, join them!” So we went off and saw the sights. We climbed the steps of the tower by Duomo, we toured several museums and we even waited in the Disneyland-esque line to see Michelangelo’s David sculpture.

My favorite part of Florence was getting out of the city and seeing the real Tuscany. Brian and I split off from the group and headed for the hills. We just started walking. Eventually we ended up on this narrow road heading out of the city. The sun was out and it was absolutely beautiful. We made our way around the hills and headed back in the direction of a castle and the lookout where a copy of David stands. All of a sudden there was a torrential downpour with lightning right over our heads. At one point I saw the lightning above me and instantaneously I heard/felt the cracking sound it made. We took shelter at the overpriced gelato/café and waited it out to be pleasantly rewarded with an amazing sunset overlooking the city. This made my trip to Florence complete. And with that, I was ready to move on to Mecca (aka Rome).

Rome was impressive to say the least. There is so much history and so many things to see, it is overwhelming. We did all the main attractions and I kept my eye out for its hidden treasures. So we come walking out of the Vatican and I ask, “Alright, so is there anything else anyone would like to see while we’re over here?” Brian replies, “The Pope.” So we are walking out and decide to go explore to the right of the Vatican, which we found out was the backstage side. We see a gated area with about 40 people patiently waiting for something. The sheep in us told us to join, so we did. We turn around to look where we came from only to find that the gate we entered had been closed and we are trapped like sheep. In front of us are a parade of police motorcycles, secret service men with earpieces, dark glasses and suits, and lots of security. So my first assumption is that the choir must be leaving or the Swiss guards need escorting out because they might get attacked due to how silly they look in their non-threatening outfits. And then came the black Mercedes. It quickly pulled up to us, rolled down the back window and there was the Pope, dressed the part, smiling and waving at me while I stand maybe 15 feet away. He must have needed to get some groceries (I like to think of all people as humans, despite their position in the hierarchy of society, therefore groceries are a necessity and he must shop every once in awhile). That was a very cool moment of the trip. Everything we sought out for, we accomplished. We ended the trip with a relaxing day in an amazing park. It was a sunny day and a nice change from the tourist traps of the city.

We then stayed a night outside of Rome, by the coast, at a “country club”, which felt more like a summer camp. It was cheap and very relaxing. The night consisted of a calzone the size of a baby, lots of cards and meeting a young guy from Cambridge and another from Brazil. We talked and enjoyed each other’s company. The next day we caught a train to another coastal town where we then took an extremely long cruise to Barcelona. It was very relaxing and a pleasant way to end the long adventure. El Fin.

Full Album: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=197734&id=613481966&l=4bd83210f5

Pizza, Vino, e Plumbers

I will be taking a break from the Spanish life this Thursday and trading it for an Italian one. I have always loved Italian food, but I got a really nice sneak peek this past weekend when a few of us made an impromptu visit to La Bella Napoli for pizza. After a worthwhile hour and a half wait(making it abour 11:30pm, which is about normal time to start dinner), we were seated in a small eating area that was packed with pizza craving Spaniards. I ordered the Pizza BCN 2000, which consisted of pizza sauce, cheese, jam and an egg in the middle. It was absolutely delicious. It is so hard to describe the amount of awesome that was packed into that pizza, but take a look at where it was made and there is no question how they do it.

We will be taking a flight from Girona(an hour outside of Barcelona) to Treviso (an hour outside of Venice) courtesy of the wonderful and gracious Ryanair. After all that traveling is done, we will have two nights to explore the city before we take a train to Ravenna for two nights. After that we will head to Florence for another two nights and then end the trip in Rome for five (including Easter Sunday). I am really excited for this break, it has come at a good time. I’ve had about enough of the classes here and this break will give me time to wind down before the final push towards the end. I am not bringing my computer, since I am taking one backpack for a week and a half of traveling, so hopefully I will be able to update once or twice via internet café.

I have also decided that as soon as my foot touches Italian ground, my Italian alias will be Mario and I will be looking for my brother throughout the entire trip.

The Gothic Quarter

Today I walked down to one of my favorite cafés down by the Universitat de Barcelona. It’s a really chill and relaxing place with a pleasant ambiance that really helps get work done. So I enjoyed a café con leche and finished reading a paper for one of my projects. Afterwards I went and explored one of my favorite parts of the city: Barri Gótic. It’s the old part of the city which has some amazing buildings built by the Romans and it’s just a really cool area to walk around. It’s always nice to go on a walk with no purpose at all and stumble upon really cool things that you never expect to find such as this, right outside the Catedral de Barcelona:

I then noticed that the Catedral was open and Saturday Mass was going on. So I walked inside to take a peek. I was in awe of how immense this building is. And the acoustics are very impressive. I caught the tail end of the service, so there was some singing and then a prayer. It was really cool. It was funny to notice how they’ve modernized such an old building to accommodate the modern age. Take a look:

Here’s a better view of the whole church:

I then walked home and now it’s dinner time!!! FOOOOOD!

Flavor Explosion

TV shows about food are one of my favorite types of shows to watch. Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain are the two on the top of my list. There was one episode of Bourdain’s No Reservations, where he visited Barcelona and was taken by a world famous chef to the “top” tapas place in Barcelona: Quimet & Quimet. So I ask myself, how can I live here for 4 months and NOT visit this place? After finalizing plans for spring break with Josiah and Brian, we walked over to this famous tapas bar and had the chef/tapas artist make us what he suggested and thought we would like. This was gourmet to say the least. They are all made on top of a piece of toasted bread. The first one was tomato spread, mussels and caviar… surprisingly delicious! My favorite out of all of them was one that had cream cheese, salmon and honey. And another one that had slices of tuna and several other things that brought a plethora of flavors together. It was sooooooo delicious and the experience was well worth the price. If anyone ever visits Barcelona, this is a must-visit place to grab a classy snack. Thank you Anthony Bourdain. You know your stuff.

Caffeine Induced Ramblings

After class today I stopped by one of my favorite cafés for a coffee and chocolate croissant. Sans-computer, I decided to just start writing and this is what came out:

This whole experience has taught me many things. One of the greatest things I’ve gained is the shear amount of appreciation I have for everything I left behind in the States. I might have made some good friends here, but nothing compares to what I have waiting for me at home. The people that are around truly make the environment. I could be in the absolute coolest city in the universe and it wouldn’t be great unless the people I love were around me. With that, I am really thankful for Barcelona. For how hard it has been, the knowledge I’ve gained has been tremendous and like most things, it’s not from the classroom. Classes are simply something to keep people busy. The amount of real world knowledge gained in the classroom is minimal. For the most part, it’s cram info and then dump it after the exam or project. The real learning takes place outside. The classes where I have learned the most are always the ones which applies concepts to real world situations. Such as the model UN class, working for Vandal Entertainment and living in another country. Generally, other classes were all about the facts and concepts and then an exam. The classroom has always been the “traditional” learning environment and is great for teaching the rudimentary things, but we should take an extra step and pursue alternate forms of learning; a more hands-on approach that makes an imprint in us rather than a distant memory.

And THIS is what two shots of espresso does to me haha.