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That’s Life August 13, 2011

Posted by Mariel Hiemstra in Travel Log.
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“C’est la vie” is a commonly used French saying that translates to “That’s life” in English. For my last four day weekend in Europe I decided to travel to Spain to visit Barcelona. During those four days I learned to truly appreciate this short, simple phrase.  Getting to Barcelona by train is tricky, but after several trips to the Metz train station and trying many different combinations of train times online, my friends and I finally figured out a way to get there. We would first have to go through Paris before hopping on a train south to a small town near the French/Spanish border. In order to catch this train we would have to spend the day in Paris which worked out well for us because July 14 was La Fête Nationale, also known as Bastille Day. This French National Holiday commemorates the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution. The festivities to celebrate this holiday in Paris are very similar to the events for the Fourth of July in the United States. Fireworks at the Eiffel Tower, concerts, dance parties hosted by the city’s firefighters, and the largest military parade in Europe were just a few of the events. Since our train departed early in the evening we were going to have to miss out on the fireworks and concerts that evening so we decided to try and catch the parade in the morning. Trying to get to the Champs-Élysées that morning was difficult since most of the subway stops had been closed off by police thanks to the massive crowds lining up to watch the parade. Once we finally found a subway station that was open and emerged from the ground, I was overwhelmed by the amount of people surrounding me. I have never seen a city so crowded as it was that morning. There were people in trees, standing on ladders and benches, all so that they could catch a glimpse of the troops marching and riding by. The Champs was lined in French flags and with the cheering and music playing even I felt a sense of pride for the French nation. Since we were unable to get a spot close to the road where the parade would be passing by, I ended up watching most of it through the video camera of a man standing several feet in front of me. C’est la vie. As the parade was coming to a close there were at least 10 different aircraft fly-overs, which you don’t need a good spot for in order to see.

Planes flying overhead

The rest of our day in Paris was spent trying to hide from the massive crowds on the street by taking cover in restaurants and the shopping center under the Louvre.

The massive crowds

Later that day we caught our train south and ended up in our small French town late in the evening. When we arrived we began our search for our hostel which ended up being fairly far from the train station and in a sketchy part of the neighborhood. We got there just in time to check-in for the evening. But when the owner of the hostel went to check our group in there was no reservation under my friend’s name for that evening. This had to be a mistake. But it turned out that my friend had booked our room for the following evening instead. After getting the recommendation of another hostel in the area, we were on our way in search of this new place hoping that they would still have room for the night. C’est la vie. When we got to the other hostel they had one room left for four people (the number in my group) and the room even had its own bathroom! The next morning we hopped on the train that took us into Spain and eventually to Barcelona. I loved Barcelona! Before going I had this image of what I thought the city would look like. I imagined it to be a dirty, Spanish version of Paris. Boy was I wrong. Barcelona is an exceptionally clean city including its streets and even its public transportation system. The architecture is stunning; especially those buildings designed by architect Antoni Gaudí such as the Sagrada Familia, one of the first things I saw while in Barcelona.

Looking up at the Sagrada Familia

After exploring the city, we headed out to Camp Nou, home of the FC Barcelona football club. I’ve never been a big soccer enthusiast, but seeing the pride and fan dedication to the team while I was there was overwhelming. I definitely felt like I was part of the culture as I listened to the official Barça anthem, the “Cant del Barça” and imagined what it would be like on game days as I stood next to the field looking up at the stands surrounding me. That evening we met up with one of our friends from Tech who had been studying in Barcelona for the summer as well as some other GTL students. They took us to Park Güell, a park with architectural elements designed by Gaudí, which is situated on a hill overlooking the city. Since it sits so high above the city there are lots of steep streets you have to walk up in order to get there. Many of these streets had escalators built into the side of them! From the main terrace of the park we got beautiful panoramic views of the city below us. It was incredible to see the Sagrada Familia rising high above all the other buildings in the area. Being there reminded me so much of my time in Florence when I watched the sunset over the city. The next day we woke up early in order to get downtown to catch one of the local bike tours. With our directions in hand we navigated our way to the plaza listed as our final destination. But when we arrived there was no bike company in sight. It turns out that we had gotten lost and had ended up in the wrong plaza…there are so many in a Spanish city! C’est la vie. Since we had missed the tour we ended up spending the day exploring a new part of the city, walking down by the beach, and up La Rambla, a pedestrian street filled with local vendors and tourists. While we were walking around we came across a restaurant with a special on paella, a popular Spanish rice dish, and sangria. After this incredible meal we went back to Park Güell where we saw the arched walkways, ornate mosaic designs, and curved terraces that make the park so famous.

Standing under the arches

The buildings at the main entrance to park reminded me of something one would find in the Candyland game. One thing I really wanted to do in Spain was go to a tapas bar and that evening we met up with the other group from the night before and went to Ciudad Condal, a popular tapas bar in downtown Barcelona. Since there were so many of us in the group we were able to order lots of dishes and sample a little bit of everything. I was able to try things like roasted peppers and cheese, mussels, shrimp, fried anchovies, habanero peppers, baby squid, Spanish omelet, cuttlefish, goose liver, and so much more. We finished up the evening by walking around the city where we came across a guitarist who had been traveling the world. He wrote his own music and had a great outlook on life. At one point he said, “You can’t dream your life, you have to live your dream.” Later that night, after we had returned to our hostel, I got sick thanks to the Spanish heat and the rich variety of tapas I had consumed earlier. C’est la vie. The evening was still an incredible experience and well worth it. In the morning I woke up feeling pretty weak and was looking forward to spending most of the day on the train to get back to Metz. On the train back to Paris there were at least 20 other GTL students on board with us. My group and I slept throughout most of the trip until one of our friends woke us up saying that the train had been stopped at one of the stations for over a hour due to maintenance issues. Because of this we were going to be delayed getting into Paris, which meant that we were likely going to miss our train to Metz. The train never made up the time. In fact, we got into Paris even later than expected and knew that there was no way we would be getting out of the city that night. C’est la vie. When we got to Paris we immediately went to the customer service desk and explained our situation. They ended up putting all of us in really nice hotels right next to the train station and got us all tickets for a train to Metz the next morning. I was so excited because this meant that I would still be able to make it to my 9am class. Of course when we got into Metz the next morning it was pouring rain and cold (and I was still in shorts and a tank top from sunny Barcelona) and the bus that we needed to catch in order to get to the GTL building was 30 minutes late. I still managed to make it to class soaking wet and cold only to find that about 5 other people out of a class of over 30 had decided to come that day. So my professor ended up cancelling class. All that worrying for nothing. Oh well, c’est la vie.

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