How am I supposed to say goodbye?

The entry I couldn’t bear the thought of writing is here…tomorrow I leave the beautiful city of Barcelona.

Yesterday was a sigh of relief because I finished my finals in the morning! I then wandered back to my favorite places, Bunquers (lookout point), Parque Guell, and the Gothic. Today I plan on doing the same thing although I wish the weather would be a little bit nicer.

So here I am, just wrapping up a life-altering experience trying to make sense of it all. The past couple of days have been a complete emotional roller coaster as I deal with the excitement of seeing friends & family, but the agony of leaving my host family, the culture of Barcelona, and the incredible friendships I’ve made here. I can’t help but think about the “lasts” – the last dinner with my family, the last hug I’ll give my mom before I shut the door for the last time, the streets that I will no longer walk through to get to school, the last coffee date with my roommate, and the last glimpse of the skyline.

Last night I began the arduous task of repacking all of my stuff (ugh) and – as the ridiculously sentimental person that I am – stopped to read the sheets we got when we first came to Barcelona, the train ticket I bought in Prague, the pamphlet I got at my family’s church in Germany, etc. I remember when I first got to the Barcelona airport, terrified out of my mind because I had no idea how to work public transportation. Or a taxi. Did I wave like in the movies? Do I have to chase them down? Well, lucky for me the taxis were all lined up at the airport and I vividly remember handing my driver the paper with my address highlighted in orange saying “Aqui?”

I found the flash drive with my pictures from paragliding in the Swiss Alps, my train ticket to Sitges for Carnival, and the wooden elephant I got as a secret santa gift (well, not santa I guess, but you get the picture) from my Spanish classmate.

Wow. What a ride it has been these past four months.

I’m so, so, SO incredibly thankful for my support system that helped me get on this journey. It’s not easy for athletes to take an entire semester off, but my coaches encouraged me to take this opportunity and reassured me that I’d get back in the swing of things this summer. My family who supported me throughout this process, the good and the bad days. Of course, my friends and teammates who kept me in the loop of things going back at home and let me know I was loved and missed (especially meaningful on the days of serious FOMO).

Throughout my semester abroad, I was able to look back on my life in the States and what it means to be an American. Pretty heavy stuff, right? The more places I’ve seen the more I realized how vital it is to get out of your comfort zone. It’s easy to get caught up in our little bubble, failing to recognize how big this world truly is and that our actions affect everyone else. For me that “everyone else” has a face and a name. They’re my host brothers and sisters who can’t find a job because of the recession that my home country sent spiraling out of control. They’re the refugees that are employed by my German family in hopes that they can get on their feet and jump start their lives in a foreign country. They’re doormen at the IES center who always greet me with a “Buenos días” and a smile.

Studying abroad has reaffirmed my desire to live outside of the United States – to explore and see the beautiful world full of vibrant cultures vastly different than my own. It’s given me outlets to assist with the Syrian refugee crisis, a cause I’ve felt passionate about and want to take action, not just sit on the sidelines. I’ve met people from all over the United States and created friendships that won’t be deterred by the amount of miles that separate us. A piece of my heart has found a new home in Barcelona where it’ll stay until I can return.

I’m going to cry approximately twenty times today when I remember I’m actually leaving, but I know I’ll be back. Every student I’ve talked to who has studied abroad says this, but I truly mean it. Deep down in my heart I’m sad, but I just can’t shake this feeling that one day I’ll walk the streets of Barcelona again.

For anyone that’s considering studying abroad, I can’t emphasize enough how doing so was one of the the best decisions of my life. Thank you for following my study abroad journey as I’ve navigated my way through being dropped off in an entirely new country! In T-24 hours I’ll be on my way to once again be on the same continent as you…

Categories: Uncategorized | Comments Off on How am I supposed to say goodbye?

Pascua Española

For the end of Semana Santa, I was back home in Barcelona. Although Spain is generally a religious country, Catalonia is the least religious region so Easter here isn’t like it is in Seville for example. They have grand processions during Semana Santa, churches are packed, and festivities last from Palm Sunday until Easter Monday.

Here in Catalonia, Easter was a bit different. My host family are practicing Catholics, so they went to Easter Mass on Sunday but we did not all celebrate the holiday until Monday. Easter Monday is also considered a holiday here, most of the shops, restaurants, and stores were closed. I asked my host sister and she said it just depends from family to family when they celebrate Easter, either Sunday or Monday. I’ve never come across Easter Monday being a big deal in the US, so that was something new to experience!

On Easter Sunday, Alyse & I woke up and went to Easter Sunday mass at Basílica Santa María del Mar, a huge church located in the Gothic Quarter. We’d been there once before and knew it’d be a beautiful place to spend Easter Sunday. We went to an international mass, so Spanish, Catalan, French and English were spoken at different points in the service. Luckily the message was in Spanish, so I could easily understand what was going on! Catalan (the regional language of Catalonia) is a mix of Spanish and French, but I think it’s more French. When I hear it I can recognize specific words, but that’s about it. Europeans always impress me with their ability to change languages immediately…within the conversation even. In the United States it’s impressive if you speak more two languages, here it’s average. I was mesmerized by the priest’s ability to speak all four languages so effortlessly.

After mass, we headed to a local bakery to pick up cinnamon rolls that happened to be fresh out of the oven…lucky us! For the rest of the day we wandered around Barcelona enjoying the perfect weather. We both talked about how weird it was to be away from our families and the traditions we usually participate in. For example, in Spain they don’t dye eggs (although fun fact, they do in Germany) or have egg hunts. The Easter bunny really isn’t a thing either, instead they buy sculptures of chocolate…which brings me to Monday.

We had school off on Monday too, thank goodness! I finally visited the inside of the Sagrada Familia, what perfect timing to do so. It was unreal, you could just stand there and look up for hours. I like to pride myself on my attention to detail, but Gaudí wins the prize hands down. Everything and I mean everything has a purpose: the shape of the columns, the order of the tower heights, even the way he sculpted the story of Jesus he did on purpose to create shadows on the faces of the characters. The pictures I took cannot do it justice, it’s something you have to see for yourself. I would love to come back in 2030 (estimated completion date) to see the finished product, it’ll be breathtaking. Also, for those of you who go, you have to go during the day so the sun streams through the stained glass windows. Trust me, it’s incredible.

IMG_3140 IMG_3145 IMG_3148 IMG_3167 IMG_3195

 

After the Sagrada Familia, I got lunch with a friend and we wandered around Barcelona. The weather is a sunny 70 consistently, so every time I can get outside I do. We headed back in the late afternoon for our host family’s Easter celebration. The extended family was all invited for a merienda (afternoon snack) of traditional desserts and of course, chocolate!

CHOCOLATE

CHOCOLATE

Instead of the Easter bunny or something like that, scenes or eggs made of chocolate are common. For example in the picture you can see a Star Wars scene where R2D2 and the other characters are made of chocolate. My host mom got us our own chocolate eggs too, how sweet! The little kids love when it’s time to break the statues/eggs. They hit them until they break and then everyone shares the chocolate, and man was it delicious. We had gotten to know some of the extended family and it all hit us when we had to say goodbye that it was more or less permanent. As the time is winding down, my roommates and I are definitely getting sentimental about all of the “lasts” we’re experiencing. We spent the evening (much to our host brother’s disgust) painting our nails with our host sister and talking 🙂 . Pretty stereotypical, yes, but it was so much fun because we’ve created our own little family. I just can’t believe I’ll have to say goodbye in just a few days…

Categories: Uncategorized | Comments Off on Pascua Española

SB2K17 Part 3: Berlin

I got to Berlin about an hour and a half before the sun went done and I knew I wanted to do a little exploring before it was too late! I had written down all of the places I wanted to visit in Google maps, so I headed to the Brandenberg Tor, the iconic gate of Berlin. I got off the metro and BAM all of a sudden I was looking at the gate and realized man, I’m really in Berlin aren’t I? It was a beautiful night…

IMG_2926

Brandenberg Tor

After the gate I headed to the parliament building just a few feet away. The building itself was massive and was right next to Tiergarten, a famous park in Berlin. As it was getting to be dark out I headed to dinner, at 8:00!! The one good part about traveling outside is I get to eat dinner “early,” no more 10:00 dinners for me 🙂

IMG_2950

Reichstag

I only had one full day in Berlin, the flights around Easter were just too expensive to stay another day. I woke up at 7:30am & got a coffee (I don’t even like coffee but the caffeine was necessary to push through such a long day), but then I started looking at the museums/sites that I wanted to see and saw that they opened at 10. Europe in general has a much later start time than the US, even the coffee shop opened at 8am. Usually Starbucks is up and running at like 6ish? Not in Europe. I don’t think anything opens before 8am, but hey, I’m not complaining.

I saw so many things so I won’t bore you with all of the historical information surrounding each place, just the highlights!

First on the list was the East Side Gallery since it was the only thing open in the morning. It’s the longest portion of the inner wall, I visited the longest standing portion of the outer wall later on in the day. The art on the remnants of the Berlin wall was incredible and politically charged. I wish I had way more time in Berlin because the culture was so interesting, the underground music scene, art, and self-expression. I can honestly say it’s the most hipster place I’ve ever been. If you’re under 30 you best be wearing skinny jeans, sweaters, and oval glasses. Berlin is also well known for it’s night life, it’s home to the most exclusive clubs in the world. Since I was a solo traveler and it was a Wednesday I decided not to go explore at night, but I’ll be back to try and get into the club in an abandoned power plant. How cool does that sound? To everyone over 25 probably ridiculous, but I think it’d be fun to just say I’ve gone…sorry parents.

IMG_2975

East Side Gallery

Next was Museum Island which is exactly what it sounds like, there are museums on an island. I didn’t go into any of them but the buildings themselves were beautiful. The Berlin Cathedral is also on the Island and that was another architecturally impressive structure to see.

Berlin Cathedral

Berlin Cathedral

I meandered my way around to Bebelplatz, a square in the neighborhood of Mitte. Humboldt College is located in this area which is why the Nazis chose this square as a book burning site. There is a memorial in the square, one that perfectly commemorates the occasion in my opinion. There’s a glass panel in the square and when you look into it you see white, empty bookshelves. The creator of the memorial used enough bookshelves to hold the amount of books the Nazis burned in that square.

Bebelplatz

Bebelplatz

This whole being an English major thing is really getting to me because I analyze everything in terms of metaphorical and symbolic content…especially when it came to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. I had learned about this specific memorial in class and had mentally put it on my bucket list to come visit. It has over 2000 cement blocks of varying sizes and the memorial itself is huge. As a member of the younger generation and a symbolism-loving English nerd I loved the interpretive aspect. It wasn’t just a boring plaque with names, it was physical and as you walked through it you thought about what this meant/how it symbolized those who had passed on. If you want my interpretation, I believe it looks like a cemetery, evoking ideas about death and an overall somber tone. You can’t tell in the picture, but it was hilly showing the ups and downs that the Jewish people went through during the Holocaust. At the height of the horrors you can’t see anything but cement blocks, but as you keep moving through you have hope that one day you’ll reach the end.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Next was the Topography of Terrors, the site of the old Gestapo & SS headquarters. Here was also the largest section of the outer Berlin Wall. I won’t give you another history lesson, but I highly recommend the *FREE* museum to anyone. In the basement they have conserved the torture chambers for prisoners and in the building they have a highly informational museum. Again, this was one of those things that was important to learn about, but a lot of emotions run through your mind when you realize you’re standing in the location where the Final Solution was put into place.

Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall

Other sites I saw included Checkpoint Charlie, the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, Otto Weidt Museum, and the New Synagogue. To an outsider, I spent a lot of time learning about depressing historical events for spring break. Yes, I love learning about history and I think it’s crucial to changing the future of our world for the better. Germany is a country with a past full of pain and atrocities, but it’s also a country of growth, advancement, and culture. It is ridiculously beautiful…I mean it’s next to the Alps for goodness sake! It’s where my family was from, how many people can say they’ve been to the country where their ancestors came from? I absolutely loved my spring break and I can’t wait to come back soon *fingers crossed*.

Categories: Uncategorized | Comments Off on SB2K17 Part 3: Berlin

SB2K17 Part 2: Augsburg

The first full day I had in Augsburg, I headed to Neuschwanstein Castle with Theresa & Marlena. Americans typically know it as the Disney Castle because Walt Disney based his logo for Disney off of this castle in Germany. Man oh man, it did not disappoint. The location first of all is breathtaking. Its situated in the Alps, by a large lake, and surrounded by the greenest grass I’ve ever seen. The actual castle itself was incredible and King Ludwig II died before it was even completed.

Neuschwanstein Catle

Neuschwanstein Catle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

View from Neuschwanstein Castle

View from Neuschwanstein Castle

The next day was Sunday so I headed to church with the fam and yes, it was all in German except for one English song we sang. Needless to say, I didn’t understand anything but Sabine was a saint and translated the main points for me. I loved the experience and everyone was so kind, even if they didn’t speak English fluently. It was a perfect start to a day that wasn’t as lighthearted as the previous day.

Patrick and Marlena took me to Dachau, the first concentration camp created by the Nazis. As difficult as this visit was going to be I knew I had to go. I’d learned so much about the Holocaust and concentration camps in school, but to actually be there was the most horrific thing. At Wofford I took a literature class with Dr. Rostan that discussed how we discuss and memorialize atrocities, one of the most impactful classes I’ve taken at Wofford. I chose not to take any pictures at Dachau because for me this wasn’t a place that I should post all over social media. I was disgusted at the people who took smiling selfies next to a gate that said Work Will Make You Free and in the roll call center where prisoners were killed. From that class I looked at the memorials with a different eye, I thought about the purpose, what emotions they evoked, and if there were any controversial aspects to it.

One memorial stood out in particular, the Jewish memorial among all of the religious memorials that had been erected to remember the atrocities that had happened here. It had barbed wire along the bridge that led underground to a dark room. The only light came from a small hole in the ceiling, just big enough to see the Star of David that was on top of the memorial. Essentially I interpreted it as even in the darkest of times, they still clung to the hope that their faith gave them. How beautiful.

When the War was ending and the Nazis knew they were losing, they destroyed the barracks and many of the buildings of the camp so what we saw was a replicated barrack while the rest of the spaces remained empty. We walked in the large open area where prisoners stood for roll call, often for hours and even days at a time. The maintenance building was turned into a museum so we learned about the history of the camp and the horrific conditions the prisoners endured. A memorial marked the infirmary where prisoners were subject to human experiments. At the end we walked to the cremation buildings…this was the most difficult part of the entire tour. I stood in a room where bodies were stacked up to the ceiling at one point and walked past the ovens where the Nazis disposed of the dead. I can’t even put into words the emotions that I felt actually standing there and knowing what transpired within those walls.

On a lighter note, the next day I explored Augsburg after breakfast. We went to the Town Hall, the lookout tower, and just walked around the town. It was a big enough downtown to make you feel like you had a lot to do, but small enough where you didn’t have all of the noise of the big city. The town itself is incredibly historical and was one of the major hubs in Germany years ago. Martin Luther visited Augsburg and while he was supposed to recant his blasphemous beliefs against the Catholic Church, he refused and was smuggled to safety by his followers.

IMG_2887

Augsburg's Town Hall

Augsburg’s Town Hall

One of my favorite parts about Bavaria in general was that I was constantly surrounded by nature. One night we took the dogs for a walk and the next couple of days I went exploring around the woods as well. It was so peaceful, you could hear the wind rustling through the leaves and birds chirping. I love the big city life, but I definitely couldn’t do this forever. I realized how much I miss being outside and enjoying nature.

IMG_2891 IMG_2853 (Edited)

On Tuesday morning I took a 8ish hour train ride to Berlin where my adventure still continued…

Categories: Uncategorized | Comments Off on SB2K17 Part 2: Augsburg

SB2K17 Part 1: Munich

I decided against the traditional study abroad spring break of Italy or Greece and headed up north to Germany, aka the number one country on my bucket list. I’m mostly German, from both my Mom and Dad, and I also have family living in Augsburg that I hadn’t seen in about 7 years or so. I’ve always wanted to go visit them, so this was a perfect time to do so!

I flew into Munich early Friday morning (I have a serious love/hate relationship with 7am flights) and then Sabine and I headed into downtown for the day. I’ve decided I belong somewhere in a cooler climate because I was loving the 55 degree weather, however most others were not. She showed me around the main sites – the Glockenspiel, Dom (church), other churches, and a huge department store of goodies & chocolate. Since she had to go work in her store that afternoon, she helped me orient myself and I spent the next few hours exploring the city.

Essentially everything throughout the city was a WW2 connection and most buildings were badly bombed during the war. Munich was the hub of Nazi operation, a fact they don’t exactly publicize anymore. There are “Dark Tours” that go through the restaurants Hitler ate at, where he stayed, sites of Nazi rallies, and the attempted assassination of Hitler. For me, I’m a history nerd so to actually be in the sites I’ve learned about it an eerie feeling when it comes to events related to the Holocaust.

First stop on the list was St. Peter’s Church, a church that was heavily bombed but is now rebuilt to emulate what once was. They had a lookout tower that I climbed to…and man was it a climb. Fun fact, in the picture below you can see the Dom. Nothing in Munich (or at least downtown) can be built higher than those two church towers.

View from St. Peter's Church Tower (the Dom is the tallest building)

View from St. Peter’s Church Tower (the Dom is the tallest building)

I went to the local markets, walked into random historical looking buildings, and just enjoyed walking around the city (one of my favorite parts about exploring). So of course my tour of the city included the utmost touristy things like this giant, rowdy brewery where you walked into a room full of grown men dancing around to the traditional music being played by men dressed in typical Bavarian clothes. I gotta say, it was pretty funny and I’d definitely come back with a big group!

Famous Beer Hall

Famous Beer Hall

My tour also consisted of historical sites, such as Viscardigasse and the gates (can’t figure out the actual name) where Nazi rallies were held. Viscardigasse was a street of silent protest against Hitler. A Nazi soldier began requiring a salute accompanied by “Heil Hitler” if you walked down the main street in front of that one. If you didn’t, you were immediately shot dead. People began walking down the smaller street as a form of protesting against the Nazis and the gold cobblestone is a memorial to those brave people.

Viscardigasse

Viscardigasse

IMG_2771

Finally, I headed to the English Garden, a giant park just outside of the main downtown area. Sabine kept laughing at me because I got so excited to see real grass, trees, and nature. It’s been a long time since I’ve actually gotten to see green grass. I enjoyed a German pastry and sat on a bench among the streams, trees, families playing in the park, and monuments. It was the perfect afternoon.

REAL GRASS

REAL GRASS

That evening, Sabine and I headed to Augsburg, Germany which is about 45 minutes from Munich. This was my first time on the Autobahn (like a highway but there’s no speed limit) and the fact that going 90-100mph was “slow” was crazy. She told me they have pretty strict rules on lane changes and other streets so it’s actually not as dangerous as one would think.

Then my adventure continued…

Categories: Uncategorized | Comments Off on SB2K17 Part 1: Munich

Prague, please take me back

Well I’ve discovered where I’m going to live for the rest of my life, so I’m glad I’ve got that figured out. Sorry familia, it’s nowhere near Minnesota, but you can come visit!

During the long weekend (normally we have classes Monday-Thursday, but Thursday was off last week), Alyse & I traveled to Prague. We left Thursday afternoon, thank goodness for no 3am wake-up call to catch a flight. When we landed, we were greeted by a gray, drab sky, but I honestly think that makes the city much prettier. Our Air bnb was in a more local area of the city, but it was a 5 minute walk from the metro making it easy to travel all around the city. When we arrived, I was shocked at how quiet it was because living in Barcelona means noise, traffic, and commotion at all hours of the day. Also, it was in the 50s which to most people isn’t exactly a positive, but that’s my favorite type of weather. It was warm enough to not need anything but jeans and a light jacket, perfect weather for sightseeing.

Ironically the first meal we ate in Prague was sushi, but it was phenomenal. Something I never got used to was the conversion rate between the Euro and the Czech Koruna, 1 Euro = 27 Korunas. When we got the bill back our meal was 1500 Korunas, but that evened out to about 25 euros a piece. I thought about sending a picture of the bill to my parents to freak them out, but I refrained (probably a smart choice).

The next day was all about seeing as much of the city as possible since we knew we wouldn’t be able to on Saturday. Alyse & I walked everywhere, we started out the day in a local farmer’s market, eating delicious Czech pastries with some coffee. From there we walked into Old Town (quite literally the old part of Prague), across the bridges, to the castle, and to a beer garden on top of a hill all before dinner. I can’t do the city justice by just saying it was beautiful, but man, it was beauuuutiful. It’s like you’re walking in a fairy tale with cobblestone roads, old buildings, intricate architecture, and of course, the castle on the hill.

Fun fact, years ago I was looking through Instagram and came across a Trdelník in one of those travel food blogs and I vividly remember telling my roommate that I was going to go to Prague and eat one. Dreams do come true because I got not only one but three while I was there…

Heaven

Heaven

Holy cow, it was amazing and I’d buy another flight just to eat one.

The fun part about traveling is you can be like a tourist and not feel bad about it, I always try to do more “local” things in Barcelona as I’m trying to go past the touristic aspect of life here. For example, we climbed to the top of the Old Town Hall which allowed us to see the entire city. On the way up, we read about the history of the Old Town Hall, especially in regards to World War II and the Nazis. I’d never been in Eastern Europe before, so it was mind blowing to know that I was standing in a place that had once been covered with swastikas and was the center of rebellion against the Nazis, causing it to be destroyed and later rebuilt.

Top of the Old Town Hall

Top of the Old Town Hall

Prague - View from the Town Hall

Prague – View from the Town Hall

See what I mean? Prague is insanely beautiful, even with gray skies. One of my other favorite places in Prague was John Lennon’s Wall, I know, it’s not as historical as a symbol against Nazi occupation, but I think it’s pretty cool. There was a street performer playing and singing along to all of the different Beatles songs, it was relaxing. Definitely one of the more hipster things I’ve done while abroad…

Let it be

Let it be

Friday night we met up with friends and had a traditional Czech meal, which I had mixed feelings about. I had goulash and I’m not the type to try strange meat, but I did and it was good as long as I don’t think about where it came from 🙂 .

Saturday morning we walked around another neighborhood of Prague, eating brunch and heading to the train station in the afternoon. The experience of getting from Prague to Pardubice was one of the most alienating, stressful time periods of my life but pretty comical when we thought about our situation. We headed to Pardubice to watch a basketball game of one of Wofford’s men’s basketball graduates, he plays overseas in a town outside of Prague. He had given us elaborate, step-by-step directions on how we would go about buying the tickets, finding the train, and calling a taxi to get to the gym. Well, as it does in life, things didn’t go as planned. When we got down to the office to buy our tickets there was not one person who spoke English, none of the workers understood what we were saying. Unfortunately for us, Spanish isn’t widely spoken in the Czech Republic, or at all, so we were pretty much isolated. Somehow we ended up purchasing the right ticket through hand signals and pictures on our phones, but the next step was finding our train station. The only other times I’ve been on a train, I’ve been with a team or friends so I never had been in the position to figure it out for myself.

When we got up to the platform, a train came rolling into the station. We spotted a younger couple nearby and thought “wow, I can’t believe our luck!” In the Czech Republic, the young people are much more likely to speak English, but as luck would have it, they couldn’t understand a word we were saying. I alternated between showing him my phone and the ticket, hoping that maybe he’d understand what I was trying to ask him. Well, he kept pointing to the train so I’d mime walking to the train and he’d say no! So we guessed okay, maybe this isn’t our train..? After five minutes of talking Czech to his girlfriend and us awkwardly waiting for our train, he looked at us and mimed for us to go to the train. Apparently, this was indeed our train, but we had no idea. I’m sure they had a good laugh after we ran off to catch it.

Thankfully the rest of the way was easier, and we met up with the taxi who took us to the game. Pardubice was the number two ranked team in the league and hadn’t lost at home all season, but Lee’s team beat them! It was an awesome win and we were glad this was the game we came to watch. This made me laugh…you know how we eat pizza, nachos, candy, and popcorn at sporting events? Well in the Czech Republic they eat sausages and dumplings. Not exactly what we were used to, but it didn’t look too bad!

As if Prague wasn’t amazing enough, the cost of living is much lower there. Everything from food to tourist attractions were much cheaper than any other place I had visited before! Eastern Europe in general is more affordable, so I highly recommend visiting a destination in those countries.

It’s T-2 weeks until spring break, honestly, a break from school could not come sooner! It’s crazy that my next trip will be to Germany, the country I’ve wanted to visit for as long as I can remember…

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Comments Off on Prague, please take me back

Escape to the Mountains

After three months of being in a giant city, I was finally able to head to the mountains this past weekend. As much as I love the hustle and bustle of city life, I miss seeing grass, trees, hills, mountains, and anything not made of concrete. When I heard about the free trip for Advanced Spanish Studies students to Montserrat offered by IES, my friends and I quickly jumped at the chance to be outdoors! When it comes to vacations and trips, I’m definitely a mountain person rather than the beach. Don’t get me wrong, I love laying in the sun, relaxing, and hearing the sound of the waves crash into the shore, but there’s just something about sitting on top of a cliff looking miles (or kilometers in Europe) into the distance that makes it better than any place in the world

Montserrat is located about 40 minutes by train from Barcelona, making is incredibly easy to get to. We took a bus, so it ended up being about an hour for us but the ride up was beautiful. I fell asleep on the ride and all of a sudden I woke up and we were in the middle of a mountain range. Not only is Montserrat part of a beautiful mountain range, but it’s also home to a monastery. Pilgrims from all over the world come to Montserrat to see La Moreneta, a black madonna located in the cathedral. The story goes that the Benedictine monks that founded the monastery weren’t able to move the Virgin the found in the mountains, so instead they built their monastery around it. Another draw for visitors is the unique shape of the mountains. “Serrat” means “serrated” and pays homage to the strange jagged shape of the mountain tops that many attribute to a divine intervention.

We took a funnicular up to the top of the mountains, but from there we hiked for a couple of hours to reach the tallest point of the mountain as well as different peaks nearby. The professors took us to the top of the trail, but from there we headed up a “difficult, long and steep” path to the very top of the mountain peak. Whoever put up that sign of warning was not kidding, we basically had to rock climb our way to the top it was so steep. However, the view at the end was 150% worth it, it was just so peaceful and the air so fresh. I could’ve stayed up there for hours, but we wanted to make our way back down to the monastery to see a mass.

IMG_2368

Jagged edges of the mountain peaks

IMG_2356

Finally reached the top!

The other famous aspect of Montserrat is that it’s home to one of the most prestigious boys’ choirs in the world. We were stuffed like sardines in the sanctuary because everyone wanted to hear them sing and they definitely were ridiculously good. The cathedral itself was breathtaking as all of the European Catholic churches are. When I came back and told my host mom about it, she was so excited. Although she’s been to Montserrat a few times with her kids, there was never a mass or performance by the choir at the time they were able to go!

IMG_2375

Performance of the boys’ choir

Montserrat Monastery

Montserrat Monastery

IMG_2376

Outside of the church

I wish I had time to go back, it’s such a nice escape from the craziness of the center of Barcelona. However, I’m pretty much booked up until I head back to the States. This week is a short week, so my friend and I are heading to Prague on Thursday! All of my professors, past study abroad friends, and people I’ve come across in general have told me that Prague is a must see, so I’m looking forward to it.

Categories: Uncategorized | Comments Off on Escape to the Mountains

Bienvenido a mi casa

For those of you who are curious, here’s a sneak peak inside what my homestay looks like in the center of Barcelona. There are a total of six people living in the apartment, it’s pretty spacious. It’s interesting to see how there is no space wasted throughout the entire living area, they have just enough to make it comfortable, but not an excessive amount just because they can. Even when I went to a cooking class at the chef’s house outside of the city, the house wasn’t obscenely grandiose – it was homey, comfortable, and inviting.

The house consists of the dining room, living room, kitchen, 1.5 bathrooms, and 3 bedrooms. I share a room with Alyse while my other roommate lives alone in the room next door. Here are some pictures:

My side of the room ft Pongo

My side of the room ft Pongo

My roommate's side of the room

My roommate’s side of the room

Desk (My roommate has the same on her side)

Desk (My roommate has the same on her side)

Closet

Closet

Pongito

Pongito

Yes, we have a dog and I absolutely love Pongito.

My homestay experience has been in incredibly, I highly encourage anyone thinking about studying abroad to stay with a family. It’s a great opportunity to practice the native language, I knew plenty of people who don’t even speak Spanish but are thriving in a homestay. The food is delicious, I get excited to go home and all sit around the table for a family meal. We have breakfast and dinner provided for which definitely saves a chunk of change!

Additionally, one of the best parts about being in a homestay is that our host mom does our laundry and the entire house is scrubbed clean by a service once a week. So yes, I don’t have to cook, clean (except for picking up my room), or do laundry. I’m living the life over here 🙂

Some of the concerns I had coming into my homestay dealt with being unsure of having the freedom to come and go as I please. My family is really chill, and I’ve never felt limited by the fact that I live in a homestay. The only thing I have to really abide by is being home in time for dinner, but if you have plans with friends you can let your family know beforehand. Otherwise I can come and go at all hours of the day/night as long as I’m quiet and courteous. We do have a rule against guests in the house (IES program), so when friends come to visit they stay in hostels or hotels nearby. Luckily my apartment is in the middle of the city, so it’s not inconvenient to meet up with them because hostels are everywhere on our street.

I really do feel like I’m a part of their family, we talk about all of the things I would at my own home. The two siblings bicker and my host mom gets after them for fighting at the table, we share stories about our day (the good & bad), talk about our weekend plans, and we enjoy discussing our two cultures and the differences we’ve experienced in both. Also, they’re extremely helpful regarding fixing errors in our Spanish and then explain why it’s incorrect. It makes it much easier to pick up the language and increase my knowledge of the grammar as well. Although I’m halfway across the world from my true home, my family has made the transition to Spain a breeze and I feel like I can call it my second home.

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Comments Off on Bienvenido a mi casa

No Trouble in this Paradise

So as the spontaneous, restless person that I am, I decided it would be a fantastic idea to travel to an island off the coast of Spain three days before actually doing so. The destination? Mallorca. Lucky for me, it’s about a forty minute flight and ridiculously cheap, it can get down to 20 euro round trip!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Mallorca (also spelled Majorca), it’s the largest island in the Balearic Islands archipelago. It’s a part of Spain and its capital is Palma, which is conveniently located 13km away from the airport. The island itself is full of some of the best beaches in Europe as well as a beautiful mountain range, making each day a new experience if you so desire to explore the area.

Since I’m trying to be thrifty (@parents), my friend and I just decided to go for a day trip. This is actually how the conversation transpired:

Me: Hey, are you free on Saturday?

Friend: Yep, what’s up?

Me: Wanna go to Mallorca for the day?

Friend: Is that even a question?

So, this is how we thoughtfully planned out our day vacation. Lucky for me, I’ve met a friend here who is down to do anything at the drop of a hat, so I knew I had someone to go with. One of my other friends had gone to Mallorca the week prior and told me it was a must-see, plus I’d never been to an island before! When in Spain right??

We arrived in Mallorca at 9:30am, perfect timing because that’s when all the stores & restaurants were about to open. Armed with Google maps and a keen sense of direction, we found a bus that took us to the city center and basically wandered around all day. The first thing on our mind was food (duh) so much to our delight we found a shop that sells cruffins (croissant and a muffin). We got to talking with the lady who worked there, and she essentially told us her life story. Her and her boyfriend lived in Madrid, but she said it wasn’t really living. Everybody was always caught up with work and they decided to ditch the fast lane for following their dream of opening up a bakery on an island. So they actually did it! Honestly it was inspiring because they were just genuinely so happy and truly loved what they were doing.

Cruffins in hand, we began to window shop around the city center. It definitely felt like we were still in Spain with the cobblestone streets and familiar architecture, but then we’d catch a glimpse of the palm trees and remember where we were. On our adventure around the city we came across beautiful, historic churches and the old royal palace of Mallorca. We even saw a wedding party taking pictures in the palace garden (cue *awwww). The weather was incredible, 75 and sunny, making it a perfect day for being outdoors.

Palma Cathedral

Palma Cathedral

Walkway to the beach

Walkway to the beach

Moments before the sunset

Moments before the sunset

Here's me being happy

Here’s me being happy

After lunch, we spent about four hours at the beach. It was amazing, besides the fact that we didn’t realize it was a topless beach before we got to the middle of it. So, that was definitely a cultural experience that I’m not thinking I want to experience again. Europeans are much more…open with everything shall we say. Regardless, we had a great time relaxing on the beach. When you’re traveling around different cities you feel so much pressure to go go go. You’re only there for a short amount of time, so you have to see everything! This trip was solely for relaxation and man did we need it going into the next couple of weeks…

The next two weeks are when everybody scheduled projects, essays, and presentations. I’ve been locked in the library, classrooms, and the occasional café for a while now. My teacher reminded us today that finals are rapidly approaching which made me want to cry. Finals suck but what sucks even more is the fact that after finals I won’t be in Barcelona anymore. Crazy how time flies!

Categories: Uncategorized | Comments Off on No Trouble in this Paradise

GOLLLLLLL

For all of those sports fans out there, yesterday was a historic night for FC Barcelona – the ultimate underdog story! FC Barca is a part of the Champions League, an elite group of the top European fútbol teams. Before last night, there was really no hope that Barca would continue to move on in the tournament, but you couldn’t tell by the sold-out stadium bursting with Catalan pride. They faced PSG and although I don’t fully understand what had to happen, essentially it was dependent on the number of goals in their series. Not only did Barca have to win, but they had to win big. Against all odds, Barca scored 3 goals within the last 3 or so minutes to win the entire series (the game ended with a ridiculous 6-1 score).

I wasn’t willing to shell out hundreds, even thousands of dollars to physically be at the game so I watched at home with my host mom and sister. My host mom and brother are HUGE Barca fans; however, my sister doesn’t like fútbol. As I have been learning in my Sports & Society class, fútbol and politics go hand in hand in Spain, creating a negative sentiment for some against the sport. She always says “It’s a business, not a game.” For others, fútbol is a way to represent independence and the fight for Catalyuna to become its own nation. When FC Barca plays Real Madrid, it’s really a fight between separatists and the King/government of Spain.

To give you a picture of how insanely important this game was, my host mom turned on both the TV and the radio during dinner. This never happens. Dinner is a time for family and conversation, there is no technology allowed which is pretty refreshing. However, yesterday was an exception and we dined on paella to the analysis of the announcers at Camp Nou. My host brother went to a bar with his friends to watch the game and when they won he called my family and all we could here was screaming and celebrations. People were at the bars hours beforehand to get a spot to watch the game! Fireworks went off throughout the celebrations (scaring our poor little dog) and when we went out that night people were driving around with Catalan and Barca flags screaming at the top of their lungs. The camera zoomed up on Barca fans in the stadium who were crying tears of happiness, elderly men were jumping up and down, and little children were waving their scarves everywhere. It was insane! I may not be a huge fútbol fan in general, but it was incredible to be a part of all of this.

I did have the opportunity to go to a game last week at Camp Nou! Ironically, they beat Sporting 6-1, however the stakes weren’t that high. My friends and I took advantage of a not-so-good opponent to get cheap front row seats. The atmosphere was unreal and we were so close to Messi, arguably one of the best fútbol players of all time.

*Disclaimer, do not try and argue this point in Barcelona. Just accept that he is and never, ever utter the name of Cristiano Ronaldo*

It may not be the volleyball court, but it was pretty sweet  🙂

048 023

Messi's the player on the right

Messi’s the player on the right

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Comments Off on GOLLLLLLL