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OH MY GOSH ROWING!!! … oh and some other things too. July 16, 2013

Posted by sofiatuttle in Travel Log.
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I officially never want to leave Spain. It has delicious bread, rowing, and skiing nearby. What’s that? Rowing? Skiing? I’m so glad you asked! So I had been contacting the local rowing association and a German U23 rower who rows out of the club, and finally on Monday (last Monday.. I’m a little behind on the whole blogging deal.. oops) got the chance to go out to their boathouse and check it out. It. was. incredible. I met Felix, who was so nice and hospitable and within 20 minutes set me up with all the paperwork and insurance I needed, along with a boat to use for the next few days. I had been expecting the boat club to be far away, to have to fill out tons of paperwork and pay lots of money to MAYBE get on the water, and lots of other generally low expectations. Nope. Check out this sweet setup:

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That would be the Río Manzanares, aka a canal through the heart of Madrid with the most consistently flat water I’ve ever had the pleasure to row on. I got to row Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday – getting in about 34k total. I wish I had had more time to spend on the water, but alas such is the struggle of studying abroad. So much to do, so little time. But I have officially decided I am going to have to live in Spain for some period of time in the future, whether it’s another study abroad or a year or more of working. So, Remo Madrid – until next time.

Side note: the public transportation in Madrid was sooo convenient. The rowing club was all the way across the city, but using the metro I got there in 30 minutes (20 minutes metro, 10 walking to and from the metro stops). It’s pretty cool to be able to go to a metro stop and wait 2 or 3 minutes.. instead of the 15 or more with our very own MARTA. Not to mention that I never felt unsafe at any point while traversing the city – no matter the time of day. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the Spanish don’t have a concept of “night=sleeping” like us, so there are always people out and about. Even at 5:30am.. but we’ll get to that haha. I just love that city. Love love love.

Thursday we had our final exam, which was very fair given the material we covered and the studying we’d done. After that we had an hour-long flamenco lesson! I was a little hesitant at first, but it was such a neat experience and I definitely developed a taste for that kind of music. I actually have become more of a fan of Chambao – or “flamenco chill” as it’s called. It was a little awkward at first, but after a few minutes we all just went all out and looked silly together. The greatest was seeing all the guys get so into the moves. What we lacked in talent, we sure made up for in passion, or at least effort haha.

After flamenco I headed to the train station to buy tickets for the weekend in Morocco, then headed back to the residence for dinner and packing for Barcelona! After our 4th of July celebrations last weekend, I learned the hard way that it’s best to pack before going out. Since it was our last night in Madrid (the weekend was spent in Barcelona, and then Monday morning we had to leave for Granada) we all went out into the city as a group. The night started at around 11 at El Tigre – a tapas bar a few blocks away. For every drink you ordered, you got a huge tray of tapas.. with 10+ people we ended up with more food than you could imagine. After finishing our (quite generous) drinks and as many tapas as we could eat, some people called it a night and others headed to Teatro Kapital – one of the most famous night clubs in Madrid with 8 different, themed, stories. I was in the latter group, and we even got in free thanks to some coupons with free cover before 1:30am. That was definitely a great example of Madrid nightlife: at 1:30am the place was almost completely deserted. Things turned around though, and it was a pretty awesome night. Sparing the details, we ended up walking back to the residence around 4:30am.. getting back just in time to shower and walk allllll the way BACK across the city to catch our train to Barcelona.

After some much needed sleep during the 2 or 3 hour train ride, we made it to our hostel in Barcelona and chilled while our rooms were readied. After checking in and changing into bathing suits, we headed the main Barcelona beach around 1 or 2pm. I missed the beach so much and it was a perfect day to be out there. It was packed, but the hot weather and cool dips into the Mediterranean made it so worth it.

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During our few hours on the beach we enjoyed the sun, talked to a lot of club promoters (talk about an ego boost), and even partook in a particular Spanish beach tradition. It was a good day to say the least. It took us a while to figure out which bus to take back to the hostel, but once we got there and showered we were back out for dinner and some night life. It wasn’t a crazy night for me, but a fun one nonetheless.

The next day, we all slept in until we had to leave for the Sagrada Familia. There’s no point in showing pictures because the enormity of this structure is just incomprehensible. It was so beautiful and so different from any other church I’ve ever been to before. It also allowed for some pretty great views of the city when we climbed up one of the many towers. After an hour or two there, I was a little tired of the big group scene. I absolutely love my LBAT group (I seriously could not imagine a more fun and perfectly compatible group) but sometimes I just need some time solo. So, I went out on my own (mom and dad you guys can ignore that) and ended up having a really great time. I found a delicious (and cheap) wok place for lunch, and used the wifi there to plan out my afternoon. I got directions to Parc Güell, which turned out to be several miles away, but I figured I had nothing but time. So after a very long, very uphill walk there I found myself in this massive, winding, beautiful “park” like none I’d ever experienced before. There were paths and courtyards and unique building-esque things everywhere.. really you have to see it to understand how unparklike it really is. I had picked up water and gummy bears at a supermarket on the way there for like 1 euro, so the first thing I did was find a shady spot to chill out and listen to some music for a while. Then I climbed to the top of the park to find the most excellent view of the city -

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The hour (plus) walk to get there was sooo worth it. Being at the top of the city, there was a cool breeze blowing and I decided it was a great time for a nap. So on a bench in the shade, amidst other tourists checking out the view, I had a nice little 30ish minute nap. It definitely broke into my top 5 naps ever, so that was bueno. I spent the next couple hours wandering the park, stopping to listen to other musicians (they were everywhere, and were all really good), and appreciating the various famous parts and monuments within the park. Gaudí – the dude responsible for the Sagrada Familia and this park – definitely had some crazy going on. But the good kind of crazy, evidenced by the thousands of people enjoying his creations across Barcelona.

The rest of the that day was very chill – I took the bus back to our hostel (again, very simple – Spain public transportation continuing their record of excellence) and relaxed for the rest of the night. A couple of us ordered pizza from a recommended local place and took it easy. The next day we slept in again (our rationale was that you enjoy the city more if you’re rested.. makes sense right?) and then headed to the Parc de Montjuic – it was only a few blocks from our hostel and I’d read it had some pretty great views of the city. Barcelona definitely corners the market on beautiful mountainside parks. However, on the way, we encountered a tiny parade with “gigantes” – giant puppet-esque people we actually had just finished learning about in our culture class in Madrid. The park was very nice – we climbed up to a nice shady spot with stairs and all chilled out with some music and conversation.. and maybe a little napping. We had to continue the tradition of spending the last day of each weekend excursion lounging in a local park, after all. And the view of Barcelona and its port, of course, was incredible.

ALRIGHT getting closer to the present day! Power through, I’m getting there. So, we arrived back in Madrid late that night, and woke up early the next day to make the bus leaving for 7:30am to Granada. I have to admit I was really sad to leave Madrid, and would have been content to spend the next 2.5 weeks there. Although, now having been in Granada for not even 2 full days, I am more than happy to be here. Anyways, our bus was pretty classy and we each got a pair of seats to ourselves – aka there was some serious nappage getting done over the 5 hour ride down to Granada. We arrived around 1pm and met our host moms – mine is AWESOME. She’s so nice and is more than happy to converse with me despite my still a little broken Spanish. We had our first meal of ham/cheese spaghetti, salad, and watermelon for desert. There’s also another student living here with us – Anna from Australia (originally Hong Kong but she’s studying down under for her “uni” as they call it). She’s learning Spanish from scratch, so it’s such a cool mix of cultures and language skills under one roof. One roof which happens to be an adorable little apartment – tasteful and spacious and airy and generally cute. Libby and I definitely lucked out with our host home.

After lunch with our host mom and Anna we headed to the Centro de Lenguas Modernas for our first afternoon of classes. Turns out “classes” included “massive city-wide scavenger hunt”. I can undoubtedly say that it was the most fun scavenger hunt I’ve ever been on. We explored almost the entire city, which helped me to decide that Granada is the the most beautiful city I’ve ever been to. Yeah, I know there’s lots of “most ___” and “best___ of my life”s in this post – but what can I say.. Spain is just incredible! And during said scavenger hunt, we stopped for some tasty smoothies… dare I say the tastiest smoothie of my life?

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After the scavenger hunt (which really only consisted of visiting various parts of the city and taking pictures there.. like you even need to ask a group of 5 college girls to remember to take pictures.. pshh) we had a scheduled dinner of drinks and tapas at a local tapas bar. I can’t even express how much of a fan I am of drinks and tapas being a scheduled, and paid for (thanks program fees!) event during my study abroad program. Notice to all students: Spain LBAT is the way to go!!!

Today started off with classes from 9-1, then we returned for lunch again with the host mom. Then we had an excursion to Alhambra – an originally Arabic ancient fort/castle/city/palace built in 889. That’s a three digit date in case you guys missed that. It overlooked the entire city and so we got to see an absolutely breathtaking vista. I know I’ve mentioned a lot of those, but this one, of the city of Granada, is undoubtedly the most entrancing and unique view I could imagine. You have the entire city, a monastery in the hills, and then the plains and mountains off in the distance. Mountains which, might I add, are completely SKI-ABLE in the winter and a mere 30 minute bus ride away. PLUS these ski slopes are unique because there aren’t trees – so it’s basically completely awesome. Anyways, here’s one of about 4 or 5 different view of the city/mountains we got:

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Yeah. Exactly. Gorgeous is probably the word you’re looking for. It was also incredibly hot, but that’s a smile price to pay for seeing one of the most visited sites in the world. After touring the whole area, which was chock full of beautiful and intricate architecture, carvings, and wall and ceiling designs (not to mention gardens), we headed back into town to get some homework done (we had to interview people about their thoughts regarding the current economic crisis in Spain) and then back home for dinner. After which Libby and I had an hour long discussion with our host mom regarding the current economic situation in Spain, complete with arguments regarding the causes and effects of the situation. Just had a casual intelligent conversation completely in Spanish – the usual. Oh how I love studying abroad. We’re now up to date, so I’ll leave you with one picture of Alhambra!

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Hasta luego!

Madrid, España! July 4, 2013

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Well my official study abroad experience is now a few days underway! After weeks of beach, family, and even some paddle boarding in Portugal, I am now through a week of classes here in Spain! On Friday the 28th my dad and I flew out of the Lisbon airport bright and early; we had a mere 1 hour flight to take us to Madrid. We had the whole day ahead of us, so we started off by dropping our things off at the hotel and wandered a few blocks until we found a cafe to stop at for an early lunch. The immersion into Spanish was immediate.. as our waiter didn’t speak English at all. I had obviously expected to be using Spanish all the time, but it was just a huge transition from Portugal where almost everyone at least can hold a basic conversation in English. The menu was completely gibberish, and I made a mental note to study lots of Spanish food terms. I had a sandwich and my dad got calamari, so even though ordering the first meal was a struggle, we were full and ready to take on the Museo Reina Sofía.

The main contemporary art museum of Madrid, it held hundreds of works including those of Dalí and Picasso. Honestly, it made me realize contemporary art just isn’t my thing.. seeing the paintings of such famous artists was really neat, but after a couple hours of seeing exhibits ranging from a piece of wood on the ground to a sink with toothbrushes (all surrounded by guards directing you to not touch the art, by the way) we headed back to the hotel for a little siesta. To me, the best part of that day was the evening; we walked into the city towards the Plaza Mayor and got tapas at the Mercado de San Miguel – a wonderful little indoor market downtown where we enjoyed “pimentos de padrón”, gazpacho, and some local cervezas.

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We ended up walking around for hours – seeing the Palacio Real, Puerta del Sol, and generally wandering around dozens of Madrid’s many side streets packed with people, bars, restaurants, and cafes.

The next day we woke up and got a workout in at a local crossfit box – only a 1k jog over and we were able to take advantage of all the equipment during their “open box” period for free! I got to use the erg and my dad even bought me a t-shirt! So a very successful morning.

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After quick showers, we headed back downtown (now only a 15-20 minute walk we knew well) and ran into a protest marching down the street! We were able to bypass it, though, and got some lunch before touring the Palacio Real – the largest palace in Europe! Since it was built, every Spanish monarch has resided in the residence except for the current ones. However, it is still used for important events or ceremonies even today. My dad and I were both tired from all the touring, so we relaxed at a cafe with drinks and tapas for over 3 hours! Really living like the spanish, we enjoyed our food and drinks while sitting in the shade – avoiding the heat of the day.

Finally, Sunday, we got another short workout in – this time at the Parque del Retiro. The massive city park was not only very beautiful and filled with people, but it was crisscrossed with tons of shaded pathways used by runners and bikers alike. The rest of the afternoon was filled with a bus tour, where we got to see all the sights in the city that would’ve been too far apart to walk to. Then we walked to my residence here at Calle San Lorenzo, and my dad flew back to the US Monday morning – leaving me here to experience Spain for another 4 weeks!

This week so far has been wonderful – we have about 4 hours of class a day, and then a guided afternoon excursion. My favorites were the Real Madrid Stadium (where the beautiful and, obviously, Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo plays) and the Prado Museum (the 2nd largest art museum in the world, only behind the Lourve), where I got to see paintings by Vazquez, Goya, and Rembrandt.

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Now, with classes done for the week (who doesn’t love Fridays off??), I’m packing and planning for our trip to Pamplona! It’s only a once in a lifetime chance to see the Running of the Bulls.. or maybe participate in it.. I guess I’ll find which out by Sunday!

Madrid and Barcelona! June 11, 2013

Posted by Parker Buntin in Travel Log.
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Hello everybody!

When I began writing this blog post, I was sitting on the last train back to Lorraine; the final stretch of railway travel that began in Barcelona, Spain that day. That weekend (Fri. May 31st – Tues. June 4th) was our second longest weekend in the GTL program: four whole days to travel anywhere we want. My destination: Spain!

Almost immediately after our classes ended last Friday (May 31st), my friends and I left  chilly, rainy Metz for  hot and sunny Madrid. The first few legs of the journey were standard railway travel that we had experienced the previous weekends. The difference in this journey, however, came with the overnight train we rode from Portbou to Madrid. The train ride was fun! Four of my friends were in a couchette, a sleeper train, so they had a little room with pull out beds for the night. The tiny little room reminded me of those on the Hogwarts Express in Harry Potter, but maybe that’s just me..

My friend Alan and I reserved our tickets later, so after playing cards in our friends’ room until midnight, we retired to first class. It was tough to sleep. We missed the conductor earlier when he passed our the blankets, blindfolds, and earplugs, because we were in the other room. I got some restless sleep until around 4:30. I woke up, read some of a book, then was lucky enough to find the conductor and ask for a blanket. Then I got some more solid sleep (as much as possible in a chair on a moving train) and woke up in the morning.

The landscapes our train passed were breathtaking. The Spanish country-sides are gorgeous, much like France, Germany, and other European countries, but unique nonetheless. Every country contains lush and flowing landscapes that contain a mix of nature and man’s influence.

We got to Madrid and didn’t get too far in our walk into town before hunger stopped us in our tracks. My friends and I found a small little supermarket that was reasonably priced and gobbled up some ham and egg sandwiches. After that pit stop, we made our way all the way to the hostel. That took a long time; it was a fairly long walk, but it was quite enjoyable to walk from the business district of Madrid all the way into the heart of the historic district. It was such a relief to take off our heavy backpacks when we got to the hostel to check in!

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After checking in, we all decided to go to the Royal Palace. We opted not to go inside, but that didn’t take away from the beauty of the building. My friends and I took a lot of pictures, having fun jumping off a bench to get some cool midair photos. Walking around the castle was also really neat, due to the exciting yet somewhat touristy atmosphere. There were musicians and flamenco dancers, bubble blowers and painted people. Everyone was trying to perform for a bit of extra cash. Then we made our way to Madrid’s giant park. En route, we all decided to stop for some gelato ice cream. While we sat and enjoyed our snack, a bird decided to relieve itself on one of my friend’s shirts. It was quite humorous to everybody but him. Haha be careful sitting in the shade, my friends.Image

That friend bought a new shirt, and then we made it to the park. It was so nice! The weather seemed perfect, and understandably, the park was packed with tourists and locals alike. There were two awesome parts of the park we saw: the rose garden and the crystal palace. The rose garden seemed to be overflowing with flowers, most beautifully in bloom. I took a lot of pictures, trying to be artsy. One of my friends was determined to smell all the different types of flowers. I couldn’t really distinguish between the different varieties, but they all smelled good to me!Image

The crystal palace was neat to visit. The majority of the palace is glass, and there is nothing inside except for some colored dots. As you might be thinking, it isn’t an actual functioning palace. Rather, it’s much smaller and is intended to be a work of art. The way the light came through the palace at every angle was really cool. I like natural light a lot: I seek out windows when I study and what not, so understandably, I thought this palace was very cool.  :-)Image

On the way back to the hostel that night, we happened across a demonstration. It was actually in our way, so we had to take a detour to avoid the protest. The police wouldn’t let us go our normal way back. That was fine. We made it back safely and collapsed in the hostel after walking for about 8 hours. The funny thing was that we took a nap for about an hour, woke up around 10PM, went down the street, and ate at an all you can eat buffet. Then we went back and fell asleep for the night. Hey, college kids have to eat..Image

 The next day, my group and I travelled to Barcelona. We slept in, then hung out at a McDonald’s for a bit before our train. After a few hours on the train, we walked for about an hour to the hostel. Barcelona is a city that is alive, more so than any other city I had visited so far this summer (Brussels coming in second). It took about an hour to walk to the hostel, where we met up with another group of friends from GTL. Then some of us went out to eat with a friend studying CS with the GT Barcelona study abroad program. Small world! We went to a little place and got tapas and paella. The Spanish cuisine was delicious. Stuffed, we met up with the same group of friends from the hostel, then explored everywhere from Old Town Barcelona down to the beach for the rest of the evening. Barcelona never seemed to tire. It felt like the number of people outside never fluctuated. Later, however, it seemed like more of the people outside were locals, rather than tourists. I just thought that was an interesting observation.Image

The next day, my friends and I did a lot of stereotypical touristy stuff. We walked to a park, walked to the Sagrada Família, and then walked up a giant hill to catch a view of the city. The park was nice. It was a lot smaller than Madrid’s, but it had this giant statue that was gold plated and sparkled in the sun. It was breathtaking. The park was also small because it was one of Barcelona’s many parks, not a centralized one like in Madrid. The zoo was also in the southern part of the park, but we decided not to go. Instead, we walked north to the Sagrada Família. The Sagrada Família Barcelona’s largest cathedral and is still being built. It is the longest construction project ever, I believe, because it is funded via donations from the church. As such, it might go several years without construction. That being said, it was definitely under construction when we visited it. There were men in hard hats hard at work from the façade to the peripheral awnings. The cathedral was massive, towering over everyone and everything. It was truly a sight to behold.Image

Then took the metro to a stop near Park Guell, an iconic park at the top of a hill that overlooks Barcelona. It was quite the hike up the hill, which reminded me of San Francisco back in the States. When we got to the top, however, it was clear that the effort was worth it. The view was breathtaking. We all took a lot of pictures, like normal, but it felt amazing just to sit back, relax, feel the breeze, and look out over the entire city of Barcelona.Image

Madrid and Barcelona were awesome. The rest of our adventures consisted of a lighthearted evening and then all day travel back to Metz. It was an amazing weekend, and definitely one I’ll remember. 

Barcelona!! (Pronounced Barthelona) May 26, 2013

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(Please forgive the lack of photos for now. It says I have to compress them down to 60 kb)

Two weeks have never flew by this fast! So much has happened since I arrived that it will be hard to pack into one post, but I’ll do my best to give the highlights.

Stepping out from the plane after a nine and a half hour flight was certainly disorienting. As I walked past the airport security agents, I noticed something incredibly odd. They were speaking a different language to each other. For some reason, it had never really sunk in that this would happen. I think half of me expected for there to be an English translation of what they were saying over the loud speaker. Still, I moved along to customs where I started to break out the Spanish. I delivered “Hola!” and “Gracias!” with the charm of an American tourist. The agents rolled their eyes, and I continued on my journey.

A short bus ride later, and I was at my dorm. One of the things that struck me immediately about Barcelona was all of the graffiti and art lining the streets. I had always pictured every city in Spain to be picturesque and quaint. The art gave the city a much more urban feel, and I liked it.

The first day consisted of experiencing the fresh markets in Spain, pointing to pictures on menus, and taking naps on public benches (which is totally acceptable here). Despite the lack of sleep, many people decided to go out for a taste of the Barcelona nightlife. We headed to a club, and I soon discovered something hilarious. One of the rooms in this club had an “American” theme. The DJs were donning jean overalls, American flags lined the walls, and a completely random video of Dolly Parton was being looped in the background. I spent most of my time in that room. However, the best part of the club was the people. Over that night, I met a group of three Italians, five Germans, a guy from France, and a girl from Barcelona. Most of them were on “holiday”, and they all spoke some English with the exception of the Italians (communicating with them was like playing charades). They all had different stories to tell and differing opinions of Barcelona and America. (The most interesting fact: the girl from Barcelona learned English almost exclusively from American movies)

Barcelona Beach

Barcelona Beach

After a long night, we woke up the next morning to explore more of Barcelona. We headed down to the beach during the day, witnessed a spontaneous parade over lunch, and hiked up to Monjuic in the afternoon. For reference, Monjuic is a old military base overlooking the town. It was great to get a sense of Barcelona so early. I never would have been able to grasp the layout otherwise. Monjuic also provided an interesting mix of old and new. The base was built in the 1600s, and includes cannons that are now covered in graffiti. I thought that I would be opposed, but it actually provides a very interesting contrast. On the way down, we passed through parks and other landmarks while being informed by the group’s leader Sabir Kahn. He was incredibly knowledgeable about Barcelona and filled us in on a lot of Catalonia history.

Soon, it was time to go to class. Unfortunately, the campus we are commuting to is 40 minutes away by Metro :(. Still, it is nice to see college life outside of the states. For most of the week, I was able to explore Barcelona during the night. Sometimes, I would wander to a new part of town to see if I could discover anything new. Because the program is split between CS and Architecture majors, the programmers are getting much more exposure to architecture. One place I traveled to was the German Pavilion, which is extremely prevalent in Architecture. I went with a couple architects, and they explained to me why the building was so important. Their excitement was very interesting. However, the weekend soon rolled around, and I had the opportunity to go to two extremely exciting events: the X-games and the FC Barcelona game.

While at the X-Games, we got to see Moto-X and skateboarding big air. It was a lot more exciting than what you see on TV, but the announcers spoke Catalan (different from Spanish) so it was hard to understand. Another amazing thing was the age of the competitors.   The kids probably averaged 16. On Sunday, we traveled to Camp Nou for the Barcelona game. We fought freezing rain, but there was still a surprising amount of people out. One thing about Barcelona sports: people watch the game. Unlike America, when I went to go to the bathroom, there was almost no one in the halls. I was even the only person in the bathroom (something you would never see at a football game).

This weekend, Barcelona was blessed with great weather, and I went with a group of others to hike up to Tipidado, a mountain that contains the odd mixture of a cathedral and an amusement park. The hike was beautiful, and the top of the cathedral is the highest point in Barcelona. That night, I had the opportunity to meet up with friends from Madrid who were studying abroad as a part of the University of Kentucky program.

These experiences were just the high points of the first two weeks. As the program progresses and we start to travel, many more incredible times will be had.

La Adventura de Andalucia! July 30, 2011

Posted by annasulimirski in Travel Log.
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The third weekend I was in Spain we took a trip as a class all over the southern region of Spain, Andalucia. We visited the cities of Granada, Sevilla, and Cordoba which were all extremely beautiful! I loved how the entire region has so much Arabic influence. We left as a class on Thursday to travel around southern Spain. We started out in Granada, which was the last Spanish city to fall from the Arabs to the Christians. It’s architecture is to die for, and mountains with snow on them are in sight even though it’s boiling hot! We visited the Cathedral and the Alhambra there. The Alhambra is incredible. It was considered to be one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world at one point. It is like a palace/fortress building of the Arabs on the huge hill. It’s gardens and geometric designs were marvelous!

Next we went to Sevilla where we saw the 2nd largest Cathedral in the world and an old palace modeled after the Arab style. They were both incredible. I loved the feel of Sevilla on the riverside.

We then drove to Cordoba, which felt like we were in a desert. There we visited the Mezquita. It was my favorite building of the whole trip. The site originally had a cathedral that was then ruined for a mosque, and then the mosque was converted into a cathedral again. It’s mixtures of two cultures is fascinating!

I then traveled back to Cadiz for a week before leaving for Madrid. I finished up my finals in Cadiz and had to say good-bye to my home and Spanish mom, which was really hard!

Madrid was slightly overwhelming because of it’s huge size compared to the cities we had visited before then. I grew to love it, though, especially the huge parks that all the locals spent so much time at, especially at night. I visited the Royal Palace, the train station that practically has a rainforest inside, many monuments, and took a day trip to the little town of Segovia. Segovia had roman aqueducts from the first century A.D. and the castle that Walt Disney based the Sleeping Beauty castle on.

It was an incredible 2 weeks :)

Barcelona, tapas, and free hotels!!! July 19, 2011

Posted by Andy Barrenechea in Travel Log.
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Buenos dias, amigos!

It’s been a few weeks since we last talked, but just yesterday I came back from Barcelona for my last 4-day weekend and I have a few things I’d like to share, because to tell you the truth it was a fantastic trip! :)

So, the journey began with an early departure on Thursday morning via a TGV to Paris for Bastille Day, otherwise known as the French Independence Day. All GTL students had been informed that there would be much celebration in the nation’s capital, so we figured it would be a great experience to see how the French celebrated their “4th of July” on the 14th of July. We arrived in the morning and immediately started searching for a good spot to watch the parade down the Champs Elysees, and it was surprisingly difficult to find a good viewing spot, but thank goodness we didn’t need one to watch a magnificent display of French planes that flew over the crowd – check out some pictures:

A few of the many planes that flew over us.

Horses at the parade!

We were not able to stay for the concert and the fireworks because we left early to Perpignon, where we would spend the night and depart to Barcelona early Friday morning. We arrived to Barcelona shortly after noon and went straight for the hostel, which turned out to be a very nice place (Sant Jordi Sagrada Familia) and then walked “5 manzanas”, which actually means 5 blocks, to Sagrada Familia, the famous Gaudi-designed church in Barcelona. Take a look:

That's Sagrada Familia, still under construction after 100 years, in the background.

From there we went to visit Camp Nou, FC Barcelona’s giant soccer stadium (the best team in the world, in my humble opinion) and participated in the Camp Nou Experience where we got to see the FC Barcelona museum, the stands, the locker rooms, and even a chapel located in the players’ tunnel. Check it out:

It's known as "La Orejona".

That means "More than a club".

This chapel is actually located in the players' tunnel.

On Friday night we went to a hilltop where we saw the sun set over all of Barcelona and it was beautiful – unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me! On Saturday we had planned on going on a bike tour, but were late to the meeting point, so we walked around the city instead and were able to explore the beach, the main port, Las Ramblas, and enjoy a fine Spanish lunch consisting of “paella” and “sangria”, a classic Barcelona combo! Here’s a picture:

On the Barca coast.

In the afternoon we visited Gaudi’s park, where we saw some of his masterpieces, and then had dinner at an excellent “tapas” restaurant, and ended the night by listening to a street performer play his guitar who ended up being an American citizen himself! Here are some Gaudi pictures for ya:

Those are Gaudi's famous arches.

Gaudi's house...very Disney-esque!

Finally, on Sunday we went as a group to mass at Sagrada Familia, which was quite a moving experience, and took one last group picture in front of the Spanish “Arc de Triomphe” with our excellent tour guide, Mo Khosravanipour:

The group on the last day!

Finally, no story is worth telling unless it ends on a happy/funny note, so it turns out that we took a train back to Paris to then take a TGV back to Metz, but the train to Paris got delayed 50 minutes and made us miss the last train back to Metz. However, and thankfully, there is a man whose name is Andres Borda who negotiated with the conductor and amazingly managed to get the SNCF (French train company) to pay for a night at a free hotel and breakfast so that we could leave the next day on the earliest TGV back to Metz! Thus, although at first it seemed that 21 GTL students would be hopelessly stranded in Paris, the story turned out just fine and yet again we completed another week in Europe, all members accounted for. I will be writing my final post in about 2 weeks, so stay tuned to see how this crazy Euro trip ends…I promise it’s going to be an exciting finish to the “Tour de Europe” ;)

Hasta la proxima,

Andy

The Women of Spain: Jills of all Trades? August 19, 2010

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The book that we are reading for class talks a great deal about machismo and the effects of it. I was thinking about this when some of the girls and I were sitting in the Plaza de la Reina in Valencia waiting for the Corpus Christi parade to begin. I was looking for signs of men being very macho, but I never really noticed it. The men seemed normal to me. It started to rain at one point and some of the older men were holding umbrellas over their wives, but that was more of chivalrous act than anything else. So this got me thinking about how “machismo” the men in Spain really are. I was wondering this when I saw a women dressed in business clothes with apron on, hanging clothes outside of her apartment. This  almost made me laugh because it seemed to be something out of a t.v show like Leave It to Beaver. This lady looked very Mrs. Cleaveresque.

But then I realized that this woman is not just dressing up nicely to work at home. She must have come from work (this was during siesta time) donned an apron to get some housework done, and then she will probably be off to work again. The women here in Spain seem to have taken on many roles. This is good in a way because they are able to experience all aspects of life. They choose to work and I’m sure mWomen in traditional dressany of them enjoy the freedom that work entails. But then on the other hand, working during the day leaves less time to do the chores that they would usually do during the day. So how do these women cope with this? Well, it appears that they are simply doing everything.  It then occurred to me that there was still “machismo” in Sapin; it’s just not as blatantly obvious as I expected.  I did not see any men coming home during siesta and working around the house. Instead they are off eating(or most likely drinking) with coworkers. So, indirectly, the women are still being held back by the men.

 

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GOOOOOAAAAALLLL!!!!! August 19, 2010

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I have grown up with sports. Ever since I was little, there has never been a time when I was not playing some sort of sport. Needless to say, my dad was constantly playing sports with me and my mom was constantly taking me to all sorts of practices. However, no matter how long I have been playing, no sport affects me as much as soccer affects the people of Spain.

Sure, they are really into their soccer, you may think. It’s for them like baseball was for America at one point, the national pastime. But, no. Not quite.  Soccer in Spain is in a whole different ballpark (excuse the pun).

In Spain, soccer defines who you are. Soccer has history. No, not the history of “team x” beating “team y” so many times since the 1900′s. Rather, the history that I am referring to is the history of the people. Spain has not always been a unified nation ( and many agree that today it still is not a unified nation). And one factor that still keeps many parts of Spain separate is soccer. It divides the nation because each region has its own team and cheers whole heartedly for just that team. Ok, so you say this is just like different conferences in the United States. For example people in the ACC don’t like people in the SEC. Maybe, but not really. The reason that the different regions in Spain each has their own team is rooted more in history than in location.   So what is the history of Spain?

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Spanish Family Dynamics August 19, 2010

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Horses at the Parade

June 8:

On Sunday I attended the Corpus Christi Parade. Not only was this an interesting procession to see, but it was also a spectacular people watching opportunity. These are some of my observations…

From what I have seen (and read) so far about Spanish families, it seems as if they are a very cohesive bunch.

For example, the children are not afraid at all to hold hands with their parents in public. And I mean children ranging in ages from young to even teenage and twenty something years. This to me is not so strange, because in South Africa it is very common to ho

ld hands, but in comparison to the U.S. it is quite out of the ordinary for teenagers to still be holding their parents’ hands.

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More Spain, and a taste of Morocco  August 16, 2010

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For breakfast, my host family would offer Paul and me two slices of white bread, two crackers, a small cup of OJ, and a bit of tea for breakfast. It was more or less balanced, but it wasn’t much compared to the huge breakfasts I was accustomed to in Mexico (or in the States for that matter). I think the breakfasts and dinners were not as big in Spain because lunch was supposed to be the biggest meal. In the beginning of the trip, I would get hungry b/c all I was eating for lunch was a boccadillo. Midtrip, however, I discovered that eating a balanced, heavier lunch was worth the extra euro or two.

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