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The Last Weeks and Coming Home!! July 29, 2013

Posted by mjmaurer7 in Travel Log.
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I am currently writing this thousands of feet above the Atlantic on my way back to Atlanta! During the last weeks, it became very difficult to travel anywhere due to the amount of group projects that were assigned. Still, this did not stop me from having a great time in Barcelona.

The first major event after Sant Juan was the 4th of July. Of course, this is not celebrated in Spain, but this did not stop us from having a good time. In order to celebrate, a large group decided to climb a mountain in Barcelona around midnight, stay up all night on the mountain, and watch the sun rise over the city. We all donned some red and white and started the climb.

It was one of the most memorable nights of my life. The hardest part was getting up the mountain considering the path was not well lit. Once up though, the view was amazing. The mountain was located near the center of the city near Parc Guell. From the top, we had a 360 panoramic view of the city at night. Everything was lit up, and it was beautiful. There is something different about a skyline when there are only one or two skyscrapers. Plus, from the top of the mountain, we were located at the end of one of the main streets in Barcelona, and so we could see directly to the beach.

The night consisted of Budweiser, stories, and a few occasional naps. All of the sudden, the sky started to  get brighter. Everyone looked to where the light is coming from, and eventually a bright red orb started to appear from behind another mountain. The sun perfectly illuminated  the fog that was gently spread around the city under us. Once we could see the sun, the rest of it appeared over the mountain incredibly quickly. It covered everything in a morning glow that was made even better from my lack of sleep. After enjoying the view, we had to soon head back down because some people in the group had class that morning.

Enjoying the View

After this, I still had one four day weekend remaining. I had a friend from Kentucky who was studying in Paris, which was also celebrating its independence day that weekend. However, at the same time, Pamplona was hosting the annual running of the bulls, which I know I did not want to miss. I decided to spend the first night of the break in Pamplona for the night and the afternoon. Then, I would head to Paris for three days.

Stepping out of the bus to Pamplona was one of the oddest experiences of my life. Because it is a small town, it has no hope of housing all of the visitors, so most people sleep outside somewhere. So, when I stepped out of the station, people were everywhere even though it was two in the morning in a non-central part of town. There was trash everywhere, the city smelled, and everyone was wearing the red and white bull running attire. We made it into the center of town, and it resembled a war zone. There were people passed out everywhere, and trash covered the streets along with police.

We stayed up experiencing the culture until it was time to run. Everyone packed into a small portion of the track until they let everyone spread out. You could really feel the tension. People were saying prayers and making the sign of the cross. Everyone seemed very anxious. Soon enough, we heard the first firework. The bulls were released. Some people started running, but most waited for them to get closer. I was getting pretty jumpy waiting. People started jumping up after the second blast to see the bulls. Soon after that I could hear them and even feel them. Then people started screaming “Vamos!!” and I knew it was time to go. I started a sprint down the path. It was hard to move anywhere because of all of the people. I felt people spread out, and then I saw a huge pack of bulls rush past. We moved into the middle to follow the bulls, only to see that there was one still behind us. People immediately went to the sides to let it pass.

In the Arena

In the arena itself, they let the bull roam with the racers. I eventually managed to get close enough to one to smack it. After a while, it ended, and we spent the rest of the day enjoying the city and sleeping until it was time to take a bus back.

The next morning I had a flight to Paris. I was flying by myself but my friend was meeting me soon after I got in. Despite neither of us having data or messaging, we managed to find each other. My friend was studying Paris during his time there, so he gave me a very thorough tour of the city. He took me by a lot of the main sites in the city and explained why they were important. My personal favorite was going to the Arc de Triomphe and climbing to the top.

Later, we got dinner by the river and had one of the funniest waiters ever. At first, he told me I had to order in French, and I thought he was going serious (it was a pretty touristy place, so it wouldn’t make much sense). It turns out he was just giving me a hard time. He kept joking that I was ruining the French language. I worked during the whole meal to deliver the perfect line of French when asking for the check. I delivered it well, and he followed up by more French. I just looked at him and continued to make fun. I left a tip for the first time in a while that night.

We spent the rest of the night relaxing with a guitar in the nearby Luxembourg park. We then roamed the city, meeting people along the way.

The next morning I woke up early to meet up with the group from the Barcelona program that was visiting. We went to a lot of the same sites, and I tried to pass on any knowledge I had. The best part of the day by far was loading up on wine, cheese, and baguettes and going to the Eiffel Tower. Once it got dark, a few of us went up to the second floor. We were shocked to see a huge light show and fireworks lighting up across the city. It was another great night.

The next day was Bastille Day! We went right to the parade because we had to leave at 6 in order to catch our flight. After seeing some of the parade, a few of us split off to go the Louvre, which was free that day. We thought that this would make the line huge, but we only had to wait for 40 minutes! The Louvre was my favorite site in Paris. Being in the presence of history like that is very humbling. I got to spend around 4 hours, and I used every minute. Unfortunately, eventually we had to leave to catch our plane.

The rest of the time in Barcelona was spent either working on group projects, relaxing on the beach, or seeing any sites we happened to miss. Now that I’m on the plane, I still can’t believe I’m going back. I have a feeling it might even be strange to speak English again. I will miss so much about Spain, but I can’t wait to get back home. This has been one of the best summers of my life, and I can’t describe how thankful I am. I hope you enjoyed hearing about some of my adventures!! If you are reading this and have the opportunity to study abroad, please do it!


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

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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:


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.


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 –


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?


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:


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!


Hasta luego!

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!


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.

Barcelona! June 27, 2012

Posted by tsteindorf in Travel Log.
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Sagrada Familia

A very impressive example of Gaudi’s work

This was originally posted around June 7, 2012 at http://tinysteinygoestofrance.wordpress.com

Oh hey, I’m back from Barcelona!

So Spain in general, and Southern France, for that matter, was gorgeous. Absolutely beautiful. Please check my photos out on facebook- I didn’t load them all because I took so many but really it was awesome. We got to Barcelona around noon on Saturday, and met up with our friend Corrigan who is studying abroad there this summer. He took us to his apartment, and we proceeded to devour some Chinese food before heading off to the Sagrada Familia, as shown above.

The Sagrada Familia was started in 1882, but taken over by Gaudi in 1883. Now you can see his unique style in almost every aspect of the church. There are snails, lizards, a nativity scene, and fruit all over the place, and it is just huge. It’s actually not set to be done until around 2030, but already it is quite impressive, as you can see in the above photo.

After a long day of sightseeing we tried our luck at Corrigan’s favorite sangria place, only to find out they were out. So we wandered and found some tapas, which were tasty, but not at all filling. Then we went out and experienced the Barcelona night life. That evening was highlighted when I tried to jump over a shoulder-high pole. Lucky for me, my body cleared the pole, but the somewhat-baggy jeans did not. My jeans (and boxers!) were ripped completely through and we had to go back to change. The rest of the night was very fun, but was super late- I guess that explains why they have to take naps during the day!

Sunday we walked around Barcelona and went to several museums. The Picasso museum was completely packed because apparently that day it was free to get in, but we did go to another one of Gaudi’s works- La Pedrera. It was very cool- again, be sure to check out the pictures. We didn’t do much that day, but we had some awesome dinner at the place we tried yesterday.

The rooftop of La Pedrera

Monday we tried the Barcelona beach! Unfortunately, it was windy, overcast, and not very warm, so we only stayed for about thirty minutes. But we then tried some seafood paella before hopping on a bus tour to catch the rest of the city. We stopped at Parc Guell, another work of Gaudi’s, as well as the FC Barcelona stadium and several other stops along the way. Really there is only one way to describe Barcelona: beautiful.

View from Parc Guell

Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Coming up next: Paris! and then Munich, an Italy trip, and Interlaken 🙂

Keep in touch!

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,


Cruisin’ in the Mediterranean Sea June 18, 2011

Posted by Naomi Robert in Travel Log.
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One of the great things about the Barcelona program is that we get two whole weeks just to travel around Europe! I just returned from the first week break, which I spent on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean. It was a great way to relax and take a break from school work, as well as a great way to tour France and Italy!

First, the ship stopped at the quaint French town of Toulon. It was absolutely gorgeous (see photo below).

On the second day, we toured Monaco and the ritzy Monte Carlo. We saw the Grand Prix speedway and the famous casino. Next we visited the beautiful city of Florence, home of Pinocchio and fine leather. There I had my first real Italian pizza and gelato (yum!). However, my favorite city was definitely Rome. In Rome, we saw the Pantheon, the Trevi fountains, the Spanish steps, and the Colosseum. We even saw the Pope, from only ten feet away! It was amazing to be in a city so rich with history – and even more amazing that the ruins are still there today.

I also had the chance to meet crew members from all over the world. It was very interesting to hear the stories behind people from all over the world – and get to know a little bit about their cultures. The cruise was definitely a lot of fun and I’m a little sad it’s over!

The Champions League Game May 29, 2011

Posted by Naomi Robert in Travel Log.
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Last night was a great moment for the city of Barcelona. The Champions League finals was played (for those of you who aren’t that into soccer, this is basically the European Championship). The game was Barcelona versus Manchester United, but it wasn’t going to be played in Barcelona, so we couldn’t go watch it. However, the city put up several big screens to watch the game on. One was put up right next to our residence, at the Arc de Trimof. I went with several friends to go watch.

It was a great game. Barcelona scored first, and the crowds went wild. But then Manchester United scored, making the game a tie again! After a well fought for goal from Barcelona, things were again looking up. The crowd was cheering “Ser de Barca es, lo mejor que hay!” (Basic translation: Barcelona is the best!). After a third goal from Barcelona, we knew we were going to win. Nonetheless, when the game ended, everyone went crazy! Fireworks went off, and people screamed in celebration. Late into the night, I could hear people out in the streets chanting the fight song and honking their horns. The city was definitely proud.

The game was such a great experience because it gave me a chance to be a part of Barcelona culture. It is truly amazing to see how soccer (or I should say, futbol) connects people together here. The city was brought to life – and brought closer together – as a result of the victory.

Barcelona! May 23, 2011

Posted by Naomi Robert in Travel Log.

I can hardly believe that I have already been in the beautiful, exciting city of Barcelona for over a week now! The program has gotten off to a great start. We arrived about ten days ago to Residencia Onix, a long term hotel that’s only a short ride away on the Metro to class each day, and a shorter ride away to the beach! My roommate and I lucked out with a spacious corner room that’s probably twice the size of  a room at Tech. The facilities have all kinds of study and entertainment rooms, and even a pool on the roof (it’s been quite nice to sit by the pool and read my textbooks after class). Here’s a picture of my room:

My room at Onix

I haven’t been here very long yet, but in this first week of getting adjusted to a new city and a new lifestyle, I’ve observed a few things about Barcelona. There are lots of little “quirks” about the city that really give it life and culture. Here’s what I’ve noticed:

  1. Every street corner is beautiful. I’m not really sure how this is done, but the architecture is very well done and elegant here, to the point where it’s noticeable. A little fun fact I’ve learned: all of the intersections here are not squares but octagons, each side approximately the same length.
  2. Love is all around. It seems like everywhere you look, there are people holding hands while walking down the beach or enjoying a picnic together at the park. There are constantly vendors walking around trying to sell roses.
  3. Donde esta?! doesn’t always work. The majority of the population here speaks Catalan, a dialect of Spanish. Even if you’re fluent in Spanish, it can be next to impossible to read or understand the Catalan on signs and in some neighborhoods around.
  4. This city never sleeps. People here have quite different schedules. It is normal for Spaniards of all ages to have dinner as late as 9 or 10 o’clock, and to have long, leisurely dinners that last late into the night.
  5. The markets are closed on Sunday! This is one of the more frustrating facts I’ve encountered, because Sunday is the day I’m used to running errands and buying things I need. And apparently Spaniards don’t eat peanut butter!

A typical city street:

Street view

Plaza Catalunya, home to a nine-story department store (!!!):

Plaza Catalunya

May 29-31: Spain August 10, 2010

Posted by Stefanie Olivier in Travel Log.
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Our second weekend in Europe included a trip to Barcelona, Spain. This trip was an adventure even from the very beginning, with our very first experience with the couchette, the train compartment designed for sleeping. Let me tell you, there is few things as comfortable as sleeping while listening to the periodic sounds train wheels make on train tracks, and thus, I was almost disappointed when our train reached its final destination at Portbou, Spain. Our temporary layover in this town couldn’t have been more pleasant, with the most extraordinary freshly squeezed orange juice I have ever tasted and a breathtaking view of the Mediterranean Sea. It was during this layover that most of the members in our travel group made their first contact with the body of water that separates Europe from Africa.

This contact was solidified during the rest of the day in Barcelona: our group decided to postpone sightseeing to the following day and to instead spend the rest of the day baking in the Spanish sun on a beach and splashing in the Mediterranean’s waters. (Believe me, it is true when they say the waters of the Mediterranean has a very pleasant temperature!) Afterwards, we bought Spanish paellas for dinner and walked past the numerous lighted cathedrals, one of which was the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, back to our hostel.

We saw the cathedral the next morning. This Sagrada Familia, designed by Antoni Gaudi in 1883, is difficult to describe in words even in its unfinished form (it is predicted to be finished in 2015) and is what made the whole trip worthwhile for me. Afterwards, we continued to peruse Gaudi’s architecture in Park Guell. We had to mount several escalators to get to the park, and so we were able to enjoy a remarkable view of the entire city as well as the interesting Gaudi benches, tunnel, and sculptures. Only our craving for more Spanish food was able to drag us away from Park Guell.

After satisfying that craving, we visited the Maremagnum, which is a huge mall that was built on the water of the Mediterranean Sea, and we were surprised to see that such ordinary and familiar stores are to be found in such an unusual mall. We spent a couple of hours there until finally deciding that the prices the mall offered were a little too steep for us and settled instead for the free live Spanish music presented in a park very close to the mall. Needless to say, we stayed there until very late into the night and then walked along the La Rambla back to our hostel.

We decided that the La Rambla, with its many souvenir shops and moving statues, is to be experienced in the daylight as well, so we spent the majority of the next morning there. Next, we jumped on a train that was headed to a small town in southern France, where we were planning on catching our couchette back to campus. The sights in this town are undoubtedly some of the prettiest I have ever seen: the stormy harbor, the colorful houses, the landscapes… A picnic (consisting of Brie and baguettes again) in the middle of a screaming group of French kids was the perfect end to our weekend in southwestern Europe.

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