Montserrat

Yesterday I made an excursion all by my lonesome up to Montserrat, a mountain monastery with nature trails and such. It was really easy to get to and I was there by about 1.45. First I hiked downwards on a trail with a bunch of what looked like posters on it, but they were painted ceramic. Lots of nice mountain views and the like. Then I wandered around the main area of the monastery for a while; I didn’t go inside because admission cost money, but the area was nice too. Then it was on to the top of the mountain which involved more climbing and I got really tired. The pictures speak for themselves… click either the links below or the “More…” link to see photos.
Montserrat (pt 1)

Montserrat (pt 2)

(more…)

Second weekend in Madrid

Last night we got home from our second (and last) weekend in Madrid. I really love the city. We stayed in a really nice hotel that had air conditioning and no cockroaches, so that was a major step up. We went on walking tours to see the new, modern Madrid, as opposed to the old palaces and churches of historical Madrid. Unfortunately, ‘new’ also means ‘ugly,’ so the pictures aren’t inherently aesthetically pleasing.

Also saw a jazz/flamenco concert. Now, normally I like jazz a lot, but it’s a different animal in Spain than it is in the US. It makes sense, because America is the homeland of jazz, and Chicago in particular, so what impressed everyone else didn’t impress me at all. The dancing was good, at least.

Also ate a TON of steak over the weekend. It was wonderful.

That’s about it — swamped in work this week because it’s our last week of class. Adios!

Photos of modern Madrid

Madrid

Well, last night I got back from a long weekend in Madrid, and I had a TON of fun. We took a five hour fast train from Barcelona to the center of the country, and the landscape was really interesting — I had no idea the interior of Spain was so desert-y. The ride over was pretty painless; I read The Devil Wears Prada from cover to cover and enjoyed it thoroughly.

Before long, we were in the Atocha train station, and we took the metro to the hotel. We stayed in the heart of Madrid, by the Prado Museum and many important and large plazas. The first night was pretty quiet because we were all pretty tired from the trip over.

The following day we took a long and intense walking tour of Madrid’s older sector, visiting the Palacio Royal and the Plaza Mayor before heading over to the Prado museum to look at art and the botanical gardens. Long day, but then I ate a steak, so I was pretty happy about that.

The following day we went to the more modern parts of Barcelona, and looked at Antonio Palacios’s Palacio de Communicaciones, which was a pretty impressive building. We also saw several other modern buildings on the way, many of which were highly decorated like the Metropolis building. For lunch, we ate at the Botin Restaurant, the oldest standing restaurant in the world. It was all really good food (no seafood for me, finally) and a good time.

Our last day, a few students and the professor headed over to the Rastro, a huge flea market in a poorer part of Madrid. Some people were selling such crap I couldn’t believe anyone would buy it — used makeup compacts, things like that. But there were a few good finds too; I just didn’t have the patience to look through things. It was all really interesting and a very different experience than what I’ve had previously!

After the Rastro, we returned to the hotel, had some food, and headed back to Barcelona. After a few train breakdowns, we made it back to Barcelona in time to watch the end of the World Cup final. All in all, an amazing weekend, and I can’t wait to go back in two weeks!

Photo albums:
Madrid (day one)

Madrid (day two)

Some examples…

(more…)

Our first full day

Today was our first full day in Barcelona. I awoke this morning at 9am after a great and long sleep with but a hint of grogginess. I walked downstairs to meet the rest of the class and Silvia for breakfast and a tour of the Universitat, and hoped my luggage had arrived, but no luck (the other flight came in at 7.45am, so I hoped they’d be quick and send it right over, but I guess not).

We went to eat breakfast in the Universitat’s cafeteria — it was pretty small compared to what we’re all used to. I had a chocolate croissant and we sat and chatted about the college and how foreign (ha) it was to us. One strange thing about the teenagers (and everyone) in Spain — the mullet and the femmullet seem to be fashionable. We have seen so many strange haircuts in that fashion. Some guys wear their hair long in the back and short up front, bordering on mullet but not long enough, but some go hardcore and grow it very long in back. One guy had dreads in the back for his mullet. We gave him points for originality but none for fashion sense.

Professor Cifuentes met us in the cafeteria after 20 minutes or so. We then got a tour of the Universitat from Antonio Luna, an administrator of some kind (I didn’t catch his title). It was pretty interesting but we definitely garnered a lot of stares. The worst was when he took us through the library where EVERYONE was studying and people would point us out to friends. I definitely felt like a tourist!

After the tour we went back to the residencia quickly (my luggage still wasn’t there) and then we walked to La Ramblas (a big street with lots of street performers and small tents with cheap crap to buy) to walk around and to buy some necessities at the Corte Ingles, a huge department store in the center of the city. I bought some clothes to tie me over, and some other folks got cell phones. They ran out, so I don’t have one yet, but hopefully soon. We were pretty tired from walking in the sun so we stopped to eat at about 3:30pm in La Ramblas. It was SO expensive — my roommate got charged 7,5 E for a Coke light. That’s almost 9 dollars for a glass of Coke. Beer would’ve been cheaper, we’re convinced.

Then we went back to the residencia and relaxed until we were to meet for dinner with the profesores. I got a call five minutes before we were supposed to meet from the front desk — my luggage arrived. I have never been so happy! I changed quickly and off we went to the restaurant.

We had a private room for the 15 of us, and immediately waiters brought out wine, pa amb tomaquet, a traditional Catalan bread rubbed with tomatoes and oil. It was okay — kind of like bruschetta but more subtle, since there wasn’t anything on it per se. They also brought out anchovies, peppers, eggplant + black olive paste, and a thinly sliced meat called lomo del cerdo, which was a sausage that comes from the pig’s back. It was very good. Then they brought out a bunch of fried seafood, none of which I ate because it was both fried and seafood, and then the main dish was paella. It was okay but I was already pretty full. The dessert was light, a square of gelato with dark chocolate sauce on top. It was 11:30 by the time we left — early by Spanish standards.

We went back to the room and studied up for class tomorrow. And, since it’s 2am, I should probably get to bed. We have to wake up at 8:30 for school. Adios!

The last week

Well, the program officially ended yesterday, but I’m staying in Barcelona until August 2 to enjoy it on my own and relax a bit… here’s a recap of things that have gone on:

This past Tuesday evening, I went to the craziest party I’ve ever attended in my life. It was the biggest festival of the year in Mataro, Spain (small city outside of Barcelona), called Les Santes, and it was CRAZY. I got home at about 430 am and I was on the early side. It consisted of live music, dancing in the street, firecrackers, flowing wine, cookies, towers of human people, yelling, singing, and was basically indescribably amazing. No pictures because of the riskiness of the venture, but they wouldn’t do it justice anyway. Needless to say, class the following day was cancelled…

On Friday we went to two museums, Fundacion Tapies and Fundacion Joan Miro. Both were modern art that I didn’t really get/like/enjoy. But it was sort of interesting, I guess, and it was our last walking tour (sort of sad!).

That evening was our final dinner, too, which was also very sad. I had a very amazing steak (duh) and the wine was plentiful and wonderful. Good dessert, too. It was much less awkward than the first dinner, but it was sad to say goodbye to the professors for a long time.

Finished the exams, said goodbye to most, and here I am now. Today I went to Parc Guell again, one of Gaudi’s creations, and sort of wandered around and observed things for a while. It was hard, though, because it was so hot and the sun was really blazing. Siesta’ed until later tonight, when the last three of us went to see the Font Magica at Montjuic. Really gorgeous stuff. Basically they make a light and water show with the big fountain in front of the palace from the 1929 exhibition near Montjuic/Placa de Espanya and set it to dramatic music (i.e. Carmina Burana, 1812 overture). It was REALLY awesome and I have way too many pictures of it…

We’ll see what the rest of the week brings — going home on Wednesday!

Magic Fountain (Font Magica)

(more…)

Modernist Barcelona and Sitges

Our first almost free day in two weeks! And there is a lot to tell.

On this past Wednesday, we went to a flamenco dancing performance by Joaquin Cortes. It was good, but no one felt that he danced enough, and all in all it was a little disappointing. Still fun, though.

Friday was a walking tour of Modernist Barcelona. We went to Park Guell, a really cool park with gingerbread-like houses and strange rock formations and architecture. We didn’t stay long but I think I might go back there after the program ends; who knows.

After that we went to a hospital designed by Domenech i Montaner (I think that’s spelled right). It was a really pretty complex of buildings, and reminded me of a college campus. I wouldn’t mind getting sick there.

Then it was off to Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, a grotesquely huge and ugly church that’s still in construction after all these years. It looks like a very large and strange sand castle. The religious statues on the outside are also definitely not typical…

Then we saw my favorite building — el Palau de la Musica Catalana. It was really amazing and the tour was very interesting. The website is here if you want to look at what it’s like — photographs weren’t allowed. The tourguide talked a lot about the organ and how it was very heavily damaged early on, but people would sponsor tubes and pay for their repair themselves. We also got to hear it played. There isn’t an actual person who can play it, but just a computer that blows air through particular tubes. We heard some Bach and it was pretty ridiculous.
We walked by a few modernist houses (Casa de los Punxes was one of them) before heading to Els Quatre Gats for lunch. Very good food and conversation. And wine.

After that we went to another Gaudi house and got to go inside it and on the roof. It was quite a house — very large, but no where I’d want to live.

We saw a few more houses from the outside, and called it a rather exhausting day.

The next day was a short trip to Sitges, a beach town about 30 minutes away. After sprinting through the train station we made it to our destination, and got to see some modernist and historical houses in Sitges (which were admittedly more modest than those in Barcelona, due to money concerns). We also had a tour of a small museum, which was very warm.

After lunch the professor took off and we students were left to fend for ourselves at the beach. Swimming in the sea was really wonderful — the salt content is very high so we just floated around for a while before getting out, lying down for a bit, and we left around 5 in the afternoon.

That’s about it for now — as always, here are pictures!

Modernist Barcelona

(more…)

Girona and Montjuic

Long week! Too busy to write it all down until now.

On Friday we took a day trip to Girona, Spain, a city north of Barcelona, to see the historical buildings and such. It was gorgeous and historic — my kind of trip.

First we went to a church, Sant Feliu (I think in English it’d be Felix). One of the interesting things about the saint is that he was supposed to have protected the city through a plague of flies, so the city mascot of sorts is now a fly. You can buy shirts and jewelry and things like that with flies on it. Kind of cool, but a weird mascot.

Then we went to the “Banys Arabs,” or the Arab Baths. The building was built in 1194, and it was modelled off the Muslim baths which were sort of hip at the time. In 1283 the building was damaged from a siege, so it was repaired a year later. It was closed in the 15th century and then privatized later on, until the government reopened it in the 1920s. It included five rooms (a dressing room, a cold water room, a warm water room, a hot room, and the oven/boiler).

Then we stopped by an old monastery on our way to the big cathedral. We couldn’t take pictures, but it was huge — and, more impressively, it’s the only medieval cathedral that still stands that had such a big chapel but without columns going down the middle to support the roof. Instead, the walls were made very well as to provide enough force to push the stones together. The garden in the cathedral complex is really pretty, and because a lot of people couldn’t read back then, they made columns with Bible stories on them.

Then we got lunch, which isn’t exciting enough to retell.

After lunch, we climbed a bunch of stairs to get on top of the fortification walls and towers that overlooked the city. The view was really something — except you could tell it was pretty smoggy. Lots of mountains and trees.

Then it was off to the Jewish part of the city, which was sort of unimpressive because it had all been destroyed. By that time, too, I was so tired that I couldn’t really pay attention to our tour guide, who was speaking in Spanish the whole time.

And today we went to Montjuic. We saw the old castle from the 1700s, the Olympic stadium and parks, and the old buildings from the 1929 Exhibitions. It was hot and much of the day was outside, so I’m pretty tired now. More pictures and stories to come, though!

Full photo albums here:

Girona (pt 1)

Girona (pt 2)

Montjuic

Click below for samples:

(more…)

First day of class

Today was our first day of our classes. We woke up at 8:30 (ugh) and walked over to the Universitat to be there for our first class at 9:30. It’s called “Visions of War in Modern Spanish Culture,” and is taught by Prof. Antonio Monegal from UPF. We talked about war and how we’re going to examine it, essentially. It went pretty quickly and seems interesting. After that we stopped for a quick bite in the cafeteria, which was a mistake, because an hour into the second class my digestion started and I started nodding off. It was less exciting, because we talked about the history of Barcelona’s city planning (snooze) and yeah. I think the rest of the class will be better.

After that we went back to the residencia to rest up a bit before heading out to Corte Ingles to buy some groceries and our books for Monegal’s course. It was a nice walk, albeit hot, and we did get some good food to eat in the residencia when we’re too lazy/cheap to spend 7,5 Euro on a Coke.

We chilled in the residencia a bit before getting started on our huge amount of reading for tomorrow’s class (not many pages in number, at least compared to tutorial, but they’re in Spanish! takes forever). Since the World Cup game between France and Spain happened tonight, we wanted to make sure not to be out when it ended, because it didn’t seem safe either way. So two of us went to the Supermercat to buy some bread and peanut butter to eat sandwiches in the residencia. Walking around at dusk is kind of sketchy around here…

Tomorrow will be a tough day. Lots of class and homework to do. Hopefully the rest of our time here won’t be so heavy on the work.

Thursday three of us are going out with some genuine Spanish college students from UPF for our first Intercambio social event. We’re eating near our residencia and will be meeting some of the student’s friends from the south of Spain, who apparently speak a different way than northerners. They’re going to a club afterwards, but we’re not sure if we want to — sketch factor. Who knows, though!

That’s all for now — tomorrow is a tour of the Barri Gotic, so maybe some pictures will be up tomorrow evening or the following morning, since we have so much work to do. Adios!

I made it!

I made it to Barcelona in one piece. Unfortunately, my luggage didn’t, and is still in Philadelphia (probably). So I am out of luck, but I have my essentials (save clothes and my toothbrush). I hope it comes tomorrow.

Our room is very nice — mini-fridge, desks, internet access (DSL), and a TV. And the area — we are living in Barceloneta, a small town working class sector of the city — is pretty cool too. We’re about 2 minutes from the beach, which was predictably packed today, and there are a bunch of cafes and restaurants around. Tomorrow will be a tour of the University and the surrounding areas.

This will be a less eventful entry as we haven’t started doing anything yet — today is a free day. More to report soon, I’m sure…

Carrie