Monday, December 20, 2010

The End (for now)

Well this is it.  It’s hard to say goodbye.

I’m leaving Barcelona tomorrow to head back the States.  This trip has been a blast and a real eye-opener; I’ve meet a lot of great people and seen a lot of cool places.  I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything in the world and I am thankful to all the people who have helped make this possible (mainly my parents, Michelle and all my Spanish teachers who inspired me/gave me the travel bug).

The best adjective to describe my current state is bittersweet.

As I'm trying not to be sad I will instead chose to reminisce.  Here are some of my top favorite things from my 4-month adventure (in no particular order):
  1. Euskadi: What can I say, without the first two and a half weeks in the Basque Country I would have been very overwhealmed when I got to Barcelona.  Arantza and Maren are probably two of the coolest people I have ever meet in my entire life and I don’t know if they will ever realize how much they mean to me.
  2. La Mercè: After this festival in Barcelona I really started to feel like I was at home.  It was the best weekend of my life as I got to see what it truly means to be Catalan. 
  3. El Clásico: Seriously, this night was so much fun.  Got to watch a great game between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid (by great I mean we sent los madrileños home in disgrace) and then I got to celebrate the victory with the rest of Barcelona at Canalets.  Oh yeah, and getting to see three Barça games in Camp Nou was pretty swell too ;)
  4. Living in a host family: Whether it was fighting to get out of the apartment without that neurotic dog Terri knowing or talking with my host mom I absolutely loved living with a host family.  Rafeala cooked good food, helped us practice Spanish and she always got a kick out of it when I would sit down and watch her Catalan soap opera with her (don’t judge, I really wanted to learn Catalan!)  I also had the pleasure of meeting her mom as she stayed with us 2 out of the three months.  I couldn’t understand her half the time (Andalucian accents are really hard to understand) but she would always smile everytime I came in the room.  Her “he-he-he” laugh was absolutely adorable and she always affectionately referred to me as “chiquito.”
  5. Metro: I absolutely loved taking the metro everyday, there was never a dull moment.  I got to play my favorite mental game everyday (guess where that tourist is from!), people watch and one day I was treated to the spectacle of watching kids fall over like human dominos.  However, my favorite part of the metro is the tone that would announce what station we were approaching (hmm-hmm-hmm-hmm-hmm, pròxima estació: Badal).  I’m not going to lie, my roommate and I love the metro tone so much that for the last month we would record it on his iPhone.  I have quite a good collection of metro stops now, and I’m thinking about turning them into ringtones.  Don’t judge me, I know I’m a nerd :)
  6. Weekend trips: Seriously, I got to see so much while I was over here.  I was fortunate to visit Bilbao, Valencia, Paris, Rome, London, Edinburgh, Venice and Dublin in addition to going back to Madrid and Toledo.  I wish I could just drop everything and travel for the rest of my life but apparently I have “responsibilities” :(
  7. Kiss Hello: In Spain it's common for men-women and women-women to great each other with two light kisses on the cheeks.  I wish we would do that in the States, it's so much more friendlier than a handshake.  Everyone does it too, even if there's a big group of 8 you go around and kiss everyone on the cheek (I saw this standing outside of Camp Nou and it was quite comical).  If anyone back home wants to do this when we greet each other just let me know :p
  8. Barcelona: I got to live in the most beautiful city in the world and I will fight anyone who disagrees with me on that.  
  9. Catalan language and culture: Seriously if you haven’t noticed I've really come to identify with the Catalan culture.  I got to experience some of their traditions, I learned about their history and, most importantly, I got to learn their language.  Although I can only string a simple sentence together in the present tense I’m going to continue studying Catalan on my own so that when I come back I speak it.  This entire time I never really thought I was in Spain; I was in Catalunya and I’m completely fine with that (in fact I wouldn't have had it any other way).
I’m not really sad though because I know that I will return to Catalunya, it’s just a matter of when.  As soon as I get home I’m going to be plotting my return to the country I love and I have a couple of things in the works that will allow my swift return.  But until that time comes it’s going to be painful for me to be away from my adopted country.  I can already see it now: me sitting in my room, listening to either Obrint Pas or Lluís Llach while starting at a map of Barcelona repeating the phrase “la meva terra és Catalunya” over and over.

Some last minute housekeeping things:
  • By Thursday all of my photo albums will be completed and can be viewed in their entirety off on the sidebar 
  • My youtube page is also fully updated with videos of La Mercè, FC Barcelona and some other random stuff.  Here’s the link or you can watch some of the videos off to the side 
  • If you're looking to read about a specific topic (like advice for Spanish students, culture, Catalunya ect) you can take a look at the side bar to see the topics of this blog.
  • I am going to leave this page up for two reasons.  1) A resource for students who are thinking about studying abroad.  2) When I come back to Spain/Catalunya I will start to blog again using this very same channel.
I hope you guys liked my blog.  I started it with one objective in mind: to give you a window into a different culture and hopefully in the process you learned something interesting.  It was a pleasure writing for you guys and I hope you had as much fun reading it as I did retelling my adventures.

Finally, if any of you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact me at; I’ll be happy to answer any question about what it’s like to live abroad, what the Spanish/Catalan culture is like ect.  Fan mail is also appreciated ;)

I believe I covered everything so I will end with this: until we meet again Catalunya…adéu.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advice for Studying Abroad in Spain

So, my time in Spain is up.  Many students came before me in Spain and plenty more will come after me.  Those of you who are choosing to study abroad are very wise, so allow me to impart a few words upon the wise...
  1. Live with a host family and spend time with them: I know it may be tempting to spend every night out with your American friends getting your party on but remember, you can do this back in the States.  You’re in Spain, go emerge yourself in the local culture!  This includes, hanging out at home and talking with your host family.  Now I'm not saying that you should spend every living second with them but spend some time with them.  If you show them even just a little bit interest in them and their way of life they will open up a lot.  Seriously, I probably learned more talking to locals than I did in any of my classes.
  2. Try to meet some locals: I know that you all probably want to do this but I’ll put it in here as a friendly reminder.  I answered a flyer to help two Catalans improve their English and it was an incredibly rewarding experience.  Not only did I get to talk and hang out with them but I also figured out what I would like to do after graduation: come back and teach English in Spain.  Now, this may not happen, but I’m going to try my hardest to make it come true.  Again as with the host families, your new local friends will help you improve your Spanish, teach you about their culture/ideas and show you the cool spots in the city. 
  3. Learn some words in the local language (Català, Euskara or Gallego):  If you’re in Catalunya you don’t say “adiós” you say “adéu.” and in Euskadi (the Basque Country) it’s “agur.”  Little things like knowing how to say good morning/afternoon/night, thank you, please in the local language will go a long way.  Plus I enjoyed learning another language in addition to improving my Spanish and I’m sure you will too, after all that’s why you are continuing to study Spanish, right?
  4. Try to be politically correct: This goes a long with #3.  What I mean by this is recognize that people in your autonomous region (namely Catalunya and Euskadi) might not consider themselves to be Spaniards but rather Catalonian or Basque.  They have a different customs and languages from the rest of Spain and you need to respect that.  So when you’re talking make sure you differentiate whether you’re talking about Spain as a whole (that is away from where you are) or your autonomous region.  Furthermore, it’s CASTELLANO not español.  I can’t stress this enough; you’re teachers will be understand if you call it español but to other people it has a very negative connotation.  Note of caution though, this may not apply if you’re in Andalucía, the two Castillas or Madrid.  As I didn’t spend much time there I really don’t know their attitudes about a pluralistic Spain so it would be best to just observe before you open your mouth.  
  5. Don’t think about what you’re saying, just say it!:  Don’t worry about making errors with your verb tenses and don’t let it hold back your sentence fluidity.  9/10 they will know what you’re trying to say and it will make the conversation much more natural.  I found that if I tried to plan out what I was going to say it would always come out f-ed up but if I just spoke without giving it much thought it came out nearly perfect.  Furthermore it wasn’t until I stopped worrying about “oh am I becoming fluent?” that I actually started to improve.
  6. Study food vocabulary: Half the time when my host mom asked me if I liked something I would turn to my roommate so that he would type the word into his iPhone Spanish dictionary app.  It probably helps too if you know a little bit about the local cuisine before you come over.
  7. Travel Travel Travel!For God’s sake, you’re in Europe!  You may only be here once (though I certainty hope not) so enjoy yourself and travel around the continent.  However I would recommend that you also travel within Spain.  Remember, Spain is composed of very diverse regions; it would be worth your time exploring them.  Your program probably has some excursions within Spain planned for you guys (we went to some places in Catalunya, Valencia, Madrid and Toledo), but if you got a free weekend go somewhere else in Spain.  I am so happy I got to spend 2 and a half weeks in Euskadi and they are some of my favorite moments from my trip.  
  8. Save up a lot of money: Again, let’s be realistic.  Europe has a very high VAT everywhere (15-25%), you’re going to want to go to bars/clubs and you’re going to want to travel.  So put down that pair of designer jeans and instead put that money in the bank.  But even then the exchange rate will screw you, so just be prepared for how much this trip will cost.
  9. Expect to get homesick at some pointLet’s be realistic, even though you’re going to fall in love with Spain you will eventually miss the people that made up your life back home, namely friends, family and pets.  This is natural, don’t let it get to you too bad.  Even though I’m really sad to be leaving Catalunya I really am anxious to see my family and friends again (and my dog!)
  10. STUDY IN BARCELONA!Hahaha, I can’t do anything if you’ve already chosen and paid for your program but if you haven’t decided what city you want to go to may I suggest Barcelona?  The city has everything your heart desires: stunning architecture, great food, beach, good weather, fabulous nightlife and above all, the Catalan culture. 

    Lost in Translation....

Sometimes, things don’t translate perfectly and problems ensue.  Here’s a short list of some things to avoid if you don’t want to have problems (these are probably the top three errors). If you do want to have problems, do the opposite :p
  • Me gusta a ______: Since we were taught in high school that the construction “me gusta fill in the blank” means “I like _____” you would think that we can use this construction to describe how we like someone, you know as a friend/person/colleague/teacher/coach/ect.  No.  Do not use this.  It means that you like the person sexually.  The correct expression is “Me + forma de caer + bien/mal ____” (as in me caes bien (I like you) or Pablo me cae bien (I like Pablo)).  You can also use it to say how you don’t like someone, just swap out bien for mal.
  • ¡Estoy caliente!: An English speaker will say this and think it means, “I’m hot.”  No, it means you’re horny.  If you’re in a club do not say this even if it is very hot or you will have a mob of young teenagers coming after you.  Instead, say “Tengo calor
  • ¡Estoy excitado!: Again, an English speaker thinks that this means, “I’m excited” like “I’m excited to see you!”  It’s true, it does mean you’re excited…sexually excited.  Please use “estoy emociado/a” to avoid potentially awkward situations with your host family.
  • It’s not really going to cause problems but as a word of advice use “estoy cansado,” when talking about how you are physically tired (like after running 5 miles, ect.) and “tengo sueños” to say that you’re tired (as in you’re sleepy)
Whew, overwhelmed yet?  Don’t worry if you are, everything will be better once you get there and you’ll come to realize that you never want to go back home, that Spain has become your new home and where your heart will always stay.

If you have any questions about Spain, Catalunya, studying abroad feel free to e-mail me at as I will be happy to help you out :)

Friday, December 17, 2010

BCN Neighborhoods

So as I have found out from my time over here each city I’ve visited has a different feel/vibe to it.  For example, Barcelona is very cosmopolitan, Rome is historic, Paris is elegant, ect.  The same thing can be said about different neighborhoods in a city, and Barcelona is no exception.

To situate yourself, here’s a map of the different neighborhoods (barrios) of Barcelona.  The main ones I’m going to talk about are Sants-Montjuïc (where I live), El Raval, Barri Gòtic, El Born y la Ribera, Barceloneta, Gràcia and L’eixample (my favorite neighborhood):

Sants-Montjuïc: This neighborhood actually has 3 sub-neighborhoods within it: Sants, Montjuïc and Poble Sec.  I live in Sants with my host family and it’s mainly a residential neighborhood.  I joke with my roommate that the only thing we have here is a bunch of old people because that’s all I really see walking around.  The most famous part of this neighborhood is Sants-Estació, the most used train station in Barcelona.  Now, Montjuïc is the main hill of Barcelona and it’s home to the Olympic stadium, a castle (which was used to suppress the Catalan people in 18-19th centuries), Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya and of course the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc (in the summer there’s a fountain and lights show).  Poble Sec (Catalan for “dry village”) is the neighborhood above Montjuïc on the map.  Again, it’s a fairly residential area but there are some great bars and clubs there if you want to get away from tourists.

El Raval: This is an interesting neighborhood.  It’s to the left (going away from the sea) of La Rambla (the famous pedestrian street that’s filled with street performers, cafés and venders).  It’s famous for its nightclubs, prostitution and the immigrant population (it’s also known as Chinatown).  I’ve only wandered through the neighborhood a couple of times because it’s fairly dirty and I was always worried about getting pickpocketted.  In my opinion, the best part of the neighborhood is La Boquería, the most amazing open market ever which is right off La Rambla.  There, you can find the freshest fruit, meat, seafood and [insert another type of food here] in all of Barcelona.  I love just walking through it taking in all the sights and smells.

Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter): This is the old part of Barcelona, you know back when the Romans called the city “Barcino.”  It’s to the right of La Rambla and it ends with Via Laietana (the street where I saw the Correfoc back during La Mercè).  For many, many years (probably from Roman times to the 8th century) this was all there was of Barcelona.  So, the best way I describe the neighborhood is that it’s a maze of narrow streets and alleyways.  You can easily get lost your first time there but as long as you know where Plaça Sant Jaume (the plaza that’s the seat of power of the local government) and the two streets that lead up to it you can find your way around.  The highlights of the neighborhood are the Gothic cathedral, Plaça Sant Jaume and Plaça George Orwell (next to the plaza’s plaque that says “Surveillance Zone en a 500m radius; oh I love it how they appreciate the irony in that).

El Born/La Ribera: To the right of the Gothic Quarter, extending all the way to the Parc de la Ciudadella.  This neighborhood used to be the rich merchants neighborhood back when Catalunya was the commercial powerhouse of the Mediterranean.  This is also where all the locals go at night to drink as it’s away from the touristy areas.  The highlight is Santa María del Mar, a beautiful Gothic church.

Barceloneta: This neighborhood has somewhat of a sad past.  It was originally built to house all the displaced people from El Born during the 1700s.  They were displaced because after Catalunya found itself on the losing side of the Spanish War of Succession the centralized Spanish government decided to build a massive fortress (La Ciudadela) to control the local population right over part of El Born.  Now a days, the neighborhood is known for its excellent seafood restaurants as it turned out to be a little fishing village due its proximity to the sea.  And of course, you can find the beach there along with a modern shopping mall.

Vila Olímpica: This was developed when Barcelona hosted the 1992 summer Olympics, which greatly boosted the city’s profile (so much that it’s now the most visited city in Spain).  It has a nice shopping center, two of the most famous towers in Barcelona and it’s home to my university, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.

Gràcia: This used to be its own village before it was annex by Barcelona during the 1800s.  It’s know for its many plazas and the small town feel, like you don’t feel like you’re in a city when you’re here.

L’eixample: My favorite neighborhood in all of Barcelona because it is absolutely beautiful.  It was designed by Cerdà when the city realized that it needed to expand back in the 1800s.  At first it was meant to be a social utopia with lots of trees and open spaces for everyone to enjoy.  Of course that’s not how it turned out but nonetheless it’s still very beautiful.  This is where the Modernist architecture “competition” took place and as a result the two main avenues (Passeig de Gràcia and La Rambla Catalunya) have some of the best examples of Catalan modernist architecture. Here’s the typical design for the neighborhood, note the open space in the middle that allows for air circulation and lots of light:

L’eixample has many subsections, including Sagrada Família and Sant Antoni.  The main things to see are La Pedrera (designed by Gaudí), Illa de la Discordia (3 beautiful and famous modernist buildings right next to each other) and Gaudí’s unfinished church of Sagrada Família.  If I were to have an apartment in Barcelona, this is where it would be.

As this is my last weekend in Barcelona, I will be taking pictures of all these neighborhoods.  They can be found here in my “Out and About in Catalunya” facebook album and it will be completely by Tuesday.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Very Merry Catalonian Christmas

So even though I am looking forward back to Christmas in the States I have definitely enjoyed Christmas time over here in Catalunya.  There are lights up in the city over the streets and although there’s no snow here you can tell it’s Christmas time.

If you haven’t noticed, Catalunya has a lot of different customs and traditions (hence the political charged saying “Catalonia is not Spain”) and Nadal (Catalan for Christmas) is no exception.  There are two main Catalan traditions that I want to mention: Cagatió and the Caganers.

Cagatió is a very popular Christmas tradition for kids in Catalunya that centers around a little log (called Tió de Nadal) with a painted face, like so:

Beginning on December 8th and up through Christmas Eve the kids feed the Tió something small (like bread), give it some water and cover it with a blanket every night before they go to bed.  Then on either Christmas Eve or Christmas day the kids beat the log with a stick while singing songs in the hopes that it will poop out presents.  At first the kids softly beat the log while singing songs like “caga tió, caga torró, avellanes i mató, si no cagues bé, et daré un cop de bastó, caga tió!” (translation: poop log, poop turrón, hazelnuts and cottage cheese, if you don't poop well, I'll hit you with a stick, poop log!).  For good measure, the kids brutally hit the log with the stick while screaming “CAGA TIÓ!” (poop log!) before they lift up the blanket to find all the presents that tió pooped for them!  The presents are generally small though because in Spain los reyes magos (the Three Wise Men) bring the boys and girls their presents on January 6th (though Santa Clause is making inroads, just as with Halloween).

Here’s a very cute video of a Catalan kid making Tió de Nadal poop out his presents:

The other popular tradition in Catalunya is the giving of Caganers.  It’s a small statue that populates all the local nativity scenes, both the public and private ones.  This sounds innocent right?  Well the thing is, the caganer statue is a person with his/her buttocks exposed (colloquially called “mooning," I believe ;) ) with a neat little pile of poo on the floor.  Here’s what I’m talking about:

The exact origin of the tradition is unknown but it still remains very popular.  There’s a huge Christmas market, called Fira de Santa Llúcia, in the plaza of the main cathedral in the Gothic Quarter and I counted at least 8 stands selling caganers and many more selling tiós de Nadal of all sizes.  Oh yeah, and no one is sacred when it comes to caganers.  There are ones of Obama, Hillary, Bush, the Pope, Zapatero (the Spanish prime minister), Tiger Woods, the Statue of Liberty, Darth Vader, ect.  If you’re curious here’s the website where you can view and buy caganers.

Also, here’s a video announcing the new line-up of caganers for 2009!


I had no idea there was another culture out there that's as obsessed with poop as ours, haha.

Come back on Thursday if you want to see some pictures of Christmas in Catalunya, they will be here in my updated Catalonian nationalism facebook album.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Spanish a La Calle (Parte 2)

As promised, here’s a continuation of my Spanish slang post (part one can be viewed here)
  • Tío/Tía: Literally it means “uncle/aunt” but it’s used between young people as our “dude,” as in the common greeting “¿qué pasa tío?” (what’s up dude).
  • Ni fu o fa: Pretty much translates to “neither good nor bad.”  They also say pse pse (pronounced “ship, ship.”)
  • -azo: Add this suffix on the ending of body parts and it means you use that body part to hit someone.  For example, el puño is a fist but a puñetazo is a punch.  Furthermore if you nudge your friend with your elbow (el codo) it’s a codazo.
  • Tener ganas: Very very common.  It’s used to mean you want to do something.  Like for example, tengo ganas de ir de fiesta (I feel like partying)
  • Decir cuatro cosas: Literally means “to tell four things,” but you say it when you’re really mad; ¡Voy a decirte cuatro cosas, nunca me ha llamaste…..
  • Birra: slang for beer
  • ¡Qué guay!: Used like our “cool.”  -He comprado un Ferrari.  -Ah ¡qué guay tío!
  • Mogollón:  Kind of like “más que mucho” (more than a lot).  Voy a echar de menos de Catalunya un mogollón
  • Tristón: It means sad, but you don’t know why.
  • Chin-Chin: Used when you toast everyone with glasses of wine/champagne, like our “cheers.”
  • Canguro: Literally kangaroo, but it also means “nanny” (you know, the nanny carries the children around in her pouch all the time)
  • Pagafantas: Comes from two words: paga (he pays) and fanta (the delicious pop that comes in orange and lemon flavors).  It’s used to describe a guy who really likes a girl but the girl only sees him as a friend, hence why he always pays for the fantas.  This is probably my favorite slang word that I’ve learned.
Here’s a list of words/phrase I wish I knew before I went to Spain.  Hopefully it will help you in your travels.
  • ¿Baja(s)?: If need to get off the metro/bus at the next stop you can use this phrase to politely ask the person who’s blocking you to move out of the way.  Literally it means “are you getting off?,” and if they aren’t they will move out of the way.  Of course, use the usted form for your elders and tú for middle age and young people.
  • Perdone/a: Use this if you accidently bump into someone.  Again use perdone for your elders and perdona for everyone else.  Do not use "discúlpame" as you will stick out like a sore thumb because it's super formal.
  • No pasa nada: Use this if someone bumps into you, apologizes and you want to say "don't worry about it."  Generally this is used to say "don't worry about it/no problem" but if someone is worrying about something (like an exam, forget something ect.) that's when you use the literal translation of "no te preocupes"
  • Vale: The Spanish version of OK.  Use it the same way we would use OK back in the States, except not for “are you ok?” (use ¿estás bien?)
  • Pasa, Pasa, Pasa: It's used for letting someone go ahead of you, like through the door.  Now I know that when they say it it'll sound like they're angry/agitated but they're not.  
  • ¿Me pones ______?: If you’re in a bar/café and you want to order a drink, use this phrase.  They don’t really use “quiero/quisera” for ordering drinks.
  • Igualmente: Use it when someone says “buen fin de semana,” it means “you too.”
  • Entender: Use this verb if you want to say “I (don’t) understand” instead of the verb comprender.
  • One cultural thing:  They really don't use por favor and gracias that much like how we use it all the time for everything.  Like for example, they won't really say it when a store clerk hands them their purchases, but if it's a really big favor or when asking for directions they will say it; it's just a cultural thing to get use to.  Oh yeah, and it sounds really weird to them if you say muchas gracias all the time, as I found out, haha.
I’m sure there’s a lot more but I can’t think of anymore right now :p

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Emerald Isle

So I just got back to Barcelona from my very last European weekend trip.  I would like a moment of silence please, haha.

Any who, I spent the weekend in two cities in Ireland, Dublin and Cork.  It was a very busy weekend with flights every day (Barcelona-Dublin on Friday, Dublin-Cork on Saturday, Cork-Dublin on Sunday, Dublin-Barcelona on Monday), which was very hectic since we had to worry about the air traffic controller strike in Spain (which thank God ended Saturday/Sunday) and all the ice in Ireland.  This got me thinking, why the hell did I book a trip to Ireland in the first weekend of December, why didn’t I go sooner?

Regardless, it was still a good weekend, just a very cold one.  The one thing about Ireland that was different from all the other places I’ve been to is that there were really no major monuments/landmarks to visit; it was more about walking around and enjoying the company of the Irish.

The first thing we (John and I) did in Dublin was go get something to eat at an Irish pub near the hostel, called “The Hairy Lemon.”  Right away we came into contact with the Irish culture.  We ordered a pint of Guinness with our lunch (as did everyone else in the pub) and bantered with the waiter.  The Irish are incredibly friendly, just a step above the British, and I love their humor.  They frequently pull your leg, tease you and banter back and forth with you as a way to be friendly; this is my favorite type of humor/social interaction so I really felt at ease and comfortable talking to the Irish. 

After checking into the hostel, we went to the first Guinness brewery at St James’ Gate.  Now, I’m not that big of a fan of beer but I do have to say that I’ve grown to like the taste of Guinness.  The tour of the brewery was pretty cool but the part that everyone goes for is the chance to have a free pint at the Gravity Bar.  The bar has the best 360° view of Dublin, probably because it’s the tallest building in the city (guess that shows you the Irish’s priorities).

Rest of the day was just walking around Dublin, enjoying what little sunlight we had left (it did get dark at around 4:20ish).  We walked through Temple Bar, the well-preserved medieval section of the city that’s filled with pubs.  We didn’t stop and get a pint though because we already some earlier in the day and we had a very early flight in the morning to catch. 

For dinner, we dinned in Hell.  No not the real hell (it was about 20 degrees in Dublin mind ya), it’s a pizza franchise based in New Zealand.  We stopped to eat there because they had one hell of a deal (12 inch pizza, potato wedges and two glasses of wine for 20€!).  The pizza was soooo good, but I mainly wanted to go there because of the endless possibilities for puns.  Here’s the website if you’re curious.

The next morning we took a flight to Cork, mainly because of it’s proximity to the Blarney Castle.  This is of course the site of the world-famous Blarney Stone, the rock that will give the gift of gab to anyone who kisses it.  Now when I got there, there were two things that I was surprised about.
  1. The castle was actually pretty smaller but the grounds were huge.  I thought it was going to be this grand old castle that had a million rooms and dungeons but it was actually very smaller.  That being said, it was still incredible.  We got to walk through pretty much the entire thing and the place was definitely designed for midgets (or possibly leprechauns, as a friend pointed out), cause John and I had to duck our heads through every doorway.
  2. The actually stone was part of the castle wall.  Originally I thought it was big rock off to the side on the castle grounds that everyone would just leisurely walk up to and kiss it.  No, you actually had to be somewhat brave to make the effort to kiss the stone.  As it’s on the side of the castle wall and there’s a yard gap between the stone and the floor you have to sit down, hold onto two bars and lean backwards to kiss it, as you’re looking at the ground 70 feet away.  Luckily, there were two iron bars there so that if you feel you wouldn’t fall to your deal but it was still pretty unnerving. 
After touring castle we took a stroll on the castle grounds, which I was happy about because I finely got to see “green” Ireland (as all the snow in Dublin prevented me from doing).  After that, there wasn’t much to do in the town except to walk around and see a few local points of interest (like the English market and two churches).

We flew back to Dublin the next day and it was pretty much the same as the first day, walking around seeing the sites.  The best part of the day was sitting down at a pub and enjoying a nice pint.  While we were there, an Irish guy did strike up a conversation with us starting with the apparently popular phrase “what’s cracking?”  We talked about the States (apparently he spent some time in San Diego), what we were doing in Ireland (What the f-ck are you doing here?), and sports (he surprisingly knew a lot of NFL teams).  He was really friendly and it was cool to talk to a local.  In Spain it’s a little more intimidating trying to talk to a local in a bar because you’re not on the same language level as them, but when you travel to other English speaking countries of course it becomes much easier to do so. 

I liked Ireland, and if I were to go back I would go back in the summer (even though I’m from Ohio I’m not made out for cold weather) and I would definitely try to tour more of the countryside.  I guess we’ll save that for another time…

Pictures can be seen here :)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

El Clásico

Last night was the one of the most important days in the Catalonian calendar: the FC Barcelona v. Real Madrid game, nicknamed “El Clásico.”  Let me explain why it’s so important:

To better understand the situation in Catalunya let me describe the following hypothetical situation.  The United States has been a free and independent country for 200+ years right?  Well imagine Mexico invading and conquering the US and imposing Spanish as the official language. Furthermore, if you spoke English in the streets you would be arrested on the spot.  What if they also banned our national anthem, our flag and holidays like Thanksgiving and the 4th of July.  If this happened, would you start to feel Mexican or would you still call yourself an American?

Now change Mexico to Spain and the United States to Catalunya because that’s pretty much exactly what happened over here.  For centuries, Catalunya was an independent nation with its own language, culture and customs.  Even when Spain was “unified” under the crown of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel in 1479, Catalunya was still able to be separate from the rest of Spain.  Catalunya first came to be suppressed by Spain following the Spanish War of Succession in the early 18th century.  Spain took control of Catalunya and built two fortresses overlooking Barcelona to keep the city under control (and of course Catalan was banned).  Catalunya enjoyed a little bit of freedom when it became an industrial powerhouse in the 19th and 20th centuries but once Franco won the Spanish Civil War it was all over for Catalunya.

Franco ruled Spain from 1939-1975 and he completely suppressed anything that was “deviant” from a unified Spanish culture, that’s to say anything that related to historically significant regions like Catalunya, Euskadi (the Basque County) and Galicia.  As a result, each of these regions saw their native languages banned and their traditional customs and traditions suppressed. 

So you may ask, how the hell does all of this relate to a fútbol game?  Well, under Franco the Catalans still felt like they were Catalans (and not Spaniards) but they had no way to express this pride without being thrown into jail; they couldn’t fly la senyera (the Catalan flag) nor speak their native language openly in the streets.  However, they could become a supporter of the largest fútbol club in Catalunya, FC Barcelona.  Anyone who was a die-hard Catalan was a fan of FC Barcelona and would wave their club’s flag as a way to “stick it to the man”; "we're still Catalans even though you try to keep us down."  The club's motto “més que un club” (Catalan for “more than a club”) comes directly from this point in the history.  This is why the game versus Real Madrid has become what it is today, a great display of the two best teams in Spain mixed with some political overtones.  It’s like the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, but throw in regional nationalism and years of suppression into the mix.

So I went to a bar last night near Plaça de Catalunya to watch the game with the rest of Barcelona.  Even before the game, there was more people out on the street than normal and it just felt like the entire city was alive with excitement and anticipation.  The bar (Cafè Catalunya, perfect for the occasion) wasn’t too packed but there was this big table of Catalan students that made the game very interesting.  I’ve been looking forward to this game ever since I knew I was going to be studying in Barcelona and it didn’t disappoint my expectations.  Barcelona absolutely DESTROYED Real Madrid with a score of 5-0.  Barcelona looked like the better team throughout the entire match and they deserved to win.

There was one interesting scuffle in the match.  Ronaldo, the cocky Real Madrid player, pushed Pep Guardiola, the Barcelona coach after Guardiola was holding onto the ball before a Real Madrid throw-in.  As soon as Ronalado pushes him the Barcelona players come to the defense of their coach, including Barcelona’s goalie (who was yellow carded for leaving the goal area).  Here’s video of the scuffle (I don’t agree with the commentary but this was the only one I could find in English).

The best part of the game was my favorite player, David Villa (striker #7), scored two goals in the second half; he scored the first one with 54 minutes of play gone and the second one 3 minutes later.  The game ended with a stunning 5-0 score in favor of Barcelona, which was a shock to me (I thought the game would be really close, like 2-1) but of course I was ecstatic. 

As is tradition in Barcelona, whenever Barça beats Real Madrid everyone gathers at the top of La Rambla at the font de Canalets.  Here’s a picture of the fountain without the masses of Barcelona fans:

I was there for a good hour, celebrating the win with the rest of Barcelona.  Everyone was in a good mood, jumping up and down while chanting some of Barça's cheers.  I have few favorite ones that I would like to share:
  • Madrid, cabrón, saluda al campeón”: Spanish for “Madrid, carbón (a very vulgar Spanish swear word, close to our motherf-er), salute the champion.  
  • "Villa, Villa, Villa....Villa maravilla": This one refers to David Villa.  They repeat his last name and add the Spanish word for "a wonder" b/c it rhymes :)
  • Ese portugués, hijo de puta és”: This one deals with that cabrón Ronaldo.  It means “this Portuguese (Ronaldo is from Portugal), son of a bitch he is." 
  • "Visca Barça i visca Catalunya!": Catalan for "long live FC Barcelona and long live Catalonia." (a personal favorite)
Here’s my video from the celebrations:

My Youtube Video (it's probably better to just click this link):

Last night is something I will never forget (despite having a liter of beer, haha.  I asked for a cerveza and the waiter came back with huge chilled glass filled with beer).  My FC Barcelona pictures have been updated so you can see all of what happened last night.

Visca Barça i visca Catalunya!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

General Update

Just a general update for all you dedicated readers out there.

Classes are still going ok.  My Spanish language class has really been helping me with the finer points of Spanish that prevent me from advancing to a high level (mostly picky little grammar stuff and some vocab).  I did really well on my Spanish politics take home exam, especially considering I wrote the whole thing the night before I left for London.  I’ve learned a lot in that class and I probably know as much about the Spanish political system as I do about our system (I’ll hold off my judgment as to which one I think is better).  As for my Barcelona history class I’m learning a lot about the history of Catalunya.  In my Spanish 3 class in high school we did talk a lot about the history of Spain, but it mainly focused on the history of Castilian Spain and not the history of the crown of Argon-Catalunya.  So basically I’m getting a different perspective of Spain as a whole, from the eyes of Catalunya, which I find really interesting.  Again, it definitely reiterates that Catalunya is not Spain…

Speaking of which, Catalan has actually turned out to be my least favorite class.  I love the language and I hope to be fluent in it some day but this class has been somewhat of a disappointment.  The teacher isn’t the greatest and she really doesn’t conduct the best learning environment.  However, I think between learning it on my own and getting help from my host mom I’ll have a solid foundation to continue on with my studies when I get back to the States (there’s a good website for teach yourself Catalan, sponsored by the Generalitat, the Catalonian gov’t).

Now, although I absolutely love Barcelona I’ve been battling a spell of homesickness this past week.  This is of course normal and to be expected but I think there are two reasons for this sudden spell:
  1. 3 months: Thursday (the 18th) was my three-month anniversary of being in Spain.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Barcelona and I would love to live here for the rest of my life but you eventually come to miss the people that made up your life back in the States; this is the longest I’ve ever been away from them.  Although I talk to my family over skype and my friends over facebook it still isn’t the same as talking to them face to face.  I miss my dog, I miss my pow-wows with Kristen, I miss lunches with Aunt Jean, I miss all my friends from Maumee 18/Fallen Timbers 14/Band, I miss joking around with Erica in A-band and above all I miss bantering with my sister.  I knew I would eventually come to miss all these things but I didn’t know that it would hit me that hard.
  2. Holidays: This week starts the holiday season.  While you all have Thanksgiving this week it's just an ordinary week for me.  Although I despise turkey (cold turkey being the worst offender) I wouldn’t mind having a big Thanksgiving feast with my family right now.
Whew, I’m glad that I got that out of the way.  So what do I have planned for my last month in Barcelona so that I can go out with a bang? Well…
  •  El Clásico: The football game between FC Barcelona and their bitter rivals, Real Madrid.  The game is next Monday and let's just say that it's WAY more intense than the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry (and this is coming from an OSU student).
  •  Barça game: I tickets for the FCB v. Real Sociedad game on December 12th.  It’ll be my third and last Barça game so it should be a lot of fun.
  • Ireland: I’m taking my last weekend trip to the Emerald Isle during the first weekend of December.  I’m really excited because I’ve heard nothing but great things about Ireland although I am going when it’s probably going to be very cold.  I’m going to spend 2 days in Dublin and one day in Cork, which is near the Blarney Castle.
  • Cataloging the city: This week, I’m going to be going around the city and take a million pictures, like I was a tourist.  This is so that when I feel nostalgic I can open iPhoto and go through all my pictures and so that I can show you guys how beautiful Barcelona is.  This is why I’m holding off on posting my “Neighborhoods of Barcelona” post b/c I think it would be much better with pictures, right?
As far as blog posts here's what you have to look forward to for the next month
  • Another Spanish slang post
  • El Clásico
  • Ireland trip
  • Advice for students coming over to Spain (pay attention Brooke!)
  • Thoughts about what I'm going to miss about Catalunya/Spain/Europe
  • My favorite memories, stories from my trip
  • Probably one about Reverse Culture shock when I get back to the States (I already know I'm going to have it, there's no doubt in my mind)
Pretty ambitious eh?  


Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Well last week I traveled back to Italy with my roommate to Venice.  There’s not really much to say except that it was as beautiful as they present it in movies.  I’m not going to do a day-by-day account of what I did because it was literally just walking around the city (which was fine by me); instead, I’m just going to give you some bullet points on what Venice was like.
  • Canal galore:  The city is composed of about 117 different islands divided by canals; literally every block was its own island.  Each canal was uniquely different from the one you saw five minutes ago so I was pretty much obligated to take a million pictures, haha.
  • Gondolas: As to be expected, they were everywhere in the city and they looked a lot more luxurious than I expected (lush carpet and comfy armchairs); no wonder why they cost 80€ for a half hour ride (obviously I didn’t go).  They all wear the traditional striped shirt, but I didn’t hear a single one sing loudly in Italian :(
  • Maze: Getting lost in Venice is incredibly easy to do as it is a city of numerous canals and narrow streets.  Besides this, the street signs are painted on the buildings so if one is faded then you’re shit out of luck trying to find out where you are.  Because of these three things, John and I got lost on the way back to the hostel on Friday night, somehow ending up in a residential area with a basketball court.  It was completely deserted, very dark and all we kept of hearing were the meows of some street cat.  It was very creepy to say the least.
  • Food: I don’t know why, but the food in Venice sucked.  The portions were small and expensive.  The best meal I had there was a 4€ toasted wrap with a coke for lunch.  This is going to sound bad but the food at the Olive Garden was better the food in Italy…
  • Masks and Glass: I didn’t know this before hand, but Venice is well known for their Carnival masks.  During Carnival, the people of Venice would wear them to hide their social status so that they could do whatever they wanted to do.  These shops were all over the city, literally there was like 5 of them on one street.  Another famous product of Venice is their Murano glass.  I don’t know what separates it from regular glass, but it’s very colorful and let’s just say that they make for good gifts…
I really liked Venice, and unfortunately for you guys it's really hard for me to describe it.  It's unlike any other city in the world and there's no way that you could compare it to anything.  So instead of me describing every detail of the city you should be looking at my pictures!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Touring the UK

As some of you already know, the past weekend I headed up north to the United Kingdom to spend some time in London and Edinburgh, Scotland.  I chose the weekend of November the 5th because V for Vendetta is my favorite movie of all time and I wanted to be there to experience Guy Fawkes Day (you know, the holiday they celebrate in honor of the bloke who tried to blow up Parliament in 1605). 

I left Barcelona on Thursday night right after my last class and got into London at around midnight.  I took a train from the Gatwick airport to Central London, getting a chance to see the London Eye and Parliament all lit up from the train. 

I got up early on Friday to take a walk around the famed River Thames.  My hostel was literally 5 minutes from the River and the first thing I saw was Parliament and Big Ben.  They were exactly how they seem in the movies but so much cooler in real life.  Besides all of Gaudí’s buildings in Barcelona, Parliament is probably my favorite monument over here in Europe.  I don’t really know how to describe it, but it’s just stunning and stoic.  I also got to see other various monuments on my River Thames walk, including the London Eye, Tower Bridge, London Bridge and the Tower of London.  To my displeasure, it started to rain when I was taking my walking tour and it rained off and on throughout the entire day.  Why does it have to rain every time I take a weekend trip, is it a sign that I’m meant to stay in Spain? (espero que sí)

After that I took a walk over to Buckingham Palace to be a tourist and see the Queen’s Guards.  Unfortunately, I arrived too late to see the changing of the guards but I did get to see the guards walking around.  I was surprised though that they weren’t wearing the red overcoat like they’re always depicted; instead they wore a gray overcoat.  Idk, perhaps it was their version of fall fashion?  Also, the palace didn’t seem as majestic as it’s always made out to be, but maybe that’s because I didn’t get to see the inside of it.  The outside of el Palacio Real in Madrid was definitely a lot more impressive.

Next on my list was St. James’ Park, which is right next to Buckingham Palace.  The park was absolutely beautiful as the trees were all changing colors; I made the right decision to come in the fall.  One thing that shock me there was the size of the geese and ducks; they were like on steroids or something because they were massive.  Also, they were completely fearless as I was walking and none of them would get out of the way, I had to go around them. 

At the park I met up with my friend Carson, who’s studying in London for the semester.  He took me around to some of the other sites including Piccadilly Circus (the Time’s Square of London) and Trafalgar Square (the most famous plaza in London).  After getting some food, we headed off to meet up with some of his friends to go to a Guy Fawkes celebration in the London suburbs. 

Though I’ve been extremely spoiled in Spain with local festivals (Aste Nagusia in Bilbao and La Mercè in Barcelona) the event was still pretty cool.  They had this massive bonfire in the middle of the park greens and off to the side they had this guy on a wooden wheel…and the wheel began to spin round and round…and then came sparklers.  After the wheel was done spinning (and after the guy was freed from the wheel) the fireworks started.  I didn’t realize that Guy Fawkes Day was big over in the UK, but I guess it is a popular holiday. 

Here’s a video of the guy spinning, and spinning and spinning….

Then we took a stroll over to see Parliament because after all it was the 5th of November.  Afterwards, in true English fashion, we headed off to a crowded pub to talk and drink till midnight (when all the pubs close).

I decided early on, before I even came to Europe, that I wanted to see Scotland, the land of my ancestors.  For this reason, I opted out for 3 full days in London for a day to spend in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland.  I left the hostel fairly early to catch my flight and I touched down in Edinburgh at about 2pm.  I took a bus into the city center and was immediately struck by how beautiful Scotland is.  It’s truly just like they show it in the movies: everything is green, gentle rolling hills and beautiful stone buildings.  I was got off the bus around the Edinburgh Castle, the most famous castle in Scotland.  It’s perched up on a rocky hill, overlooking and protecting the entire city.  I walked around it on my way to the hostel in absolute awe of the castle.  As soon as I checked into the hostel I came back to the castle because I wanted to go inside but unfortunately I came to late.  I was extremely disappointed and to top it off it started to pour rain at that point (well I guess Scotland is green for a reason). 

Despite all the rain (it didn’t stop till morning) I still had a great time in Edinburgh.  The city was incredibly beautiful and it was just amazing to be in the land of my ancestors.  Besides BCN, Edinburgh is by far my favorite city I’ve visited in Europe, outranking London, Paris and Rome.  During my self-guided walk through of the city I saw Rose Street (a popular street populated by many pubs), Princes Street (the main shopping street) and the Elephant House (the café where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book on napkins).  The café has a great view of the Edinburgh Castle and I can imagine that it was a great source of inspiration for her.  I had the most delicious hot chocolate with a splash of Bailey’s Irish Cream, just enjoying being in the sight where part of my childhood was created. 

As it was raining all Saturday, I didn’t get a chance to take any pictures.  However, I was determined to show you guys how cool Edinburgh was so I got up at 7 in the morning to quickly go around the city snapping pictures before catching my 9am bus to the airport.  I think you’ll be happy with the results, and I’m sure you’ll agree that Edinburgh is a beautiful city.

When I arrived back in London, I did the same thing I did in Edinburgh; that is, go around taking pictures since I didn’t get a chance to do so in the rain.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to visit any museums, which really disappointed me because they are pretty much all free!  I did stop off at the British Library and got to lay my eyes upon the Magna Carta, Jane Austen’s writing desk, and selected writings from Da Vinci, Darwin and Freud.  The highlight of my day was seeing the Old Bailey, the central criminal court in London.  In V for Vendetta, it’s the first building that V destroys, the start of his master plan to overthrow the dictatorship.

Even though they speak English in the UK (what?!?!) I did notice a lot of cultural differences and here’s that list:
  1. Stereotypes: You know, stereotypes can sometimes be true. Point one, British food is bland (the national dish, fish and chips, was very bland).  Point two, a lot of their teeth are ewww (a guy smiled at a pub and all his teeth were black).  Point three, Scots swear like sailors (walking down the street all I here is f@cking, sh!t, ect: so that's where I get it from!)  Point four, Brits and Scots drink a lot (every pub is extremely crowded).  Point five, Brits are extremely polite (see below).
  2. Politeness:  The people I came into contact with in the UK were some of the most polite people I have met.  I had no trouble asking for directions in London, people would stop and even if they didn't know exactly where the place was they would try to help me anyway.  Everything is also written in a very polite, though wordy, manner.  For example, in the tube there's the famous phrase "mind the gap" when getting off the train.  It's not "watch out" or "caution: gap between the train and the platform" it's "mind the gap."  Add that with a a British accent and it was absolutely beautiful.  Also, I was walking in the park and I accidently cut off a runner.  She turned to me and said "sorry!" and continued on running like nothing happened and then there's me standing there completely dumbfounded (but I cut you off and you're apologizing?).
  3. Left side: Seeing people drive on the left side of the road is as weird as you think it would be.  I kept on wanting to look the other way as I was crossing the street only to find that I was yet again looking the wrong way.  The city must realize that this is very weird for tourists because at each cross there was a sign on the ground saying which way to look.
  4. Intelligence: The British seem extremely intelligent.  They all read on the tube, people hand out newspapers as you get on the tube and all the museums are free.  Brits don't have an excuse not to be educated and well informed, it's pretty much ingrained in their culture.
  5. Security: London is probably without a doubt one of the most watched cities in the entire world.  Literally everywhere I turned there was a CCTV camera with a sign saying that you were being watched (I wonder what Mr. George Orwell would think about that).  Also, airport security was very tight and there were posters everywhere in the city that said things like "report your neighbor's suspicious activities to the police.  If you speak up you can stop them."  Seriously, I thought we were paranoid in America about security but for me this took it to a whole new level.
  6. Pubs: There are literally hundreds of pubs in London and they all fill up at 6pm from people getting off of work.  As is tradition in London, most of them close at around midnight and everyone goes home (or to clubs if you're young and hip).  This was really surprising for me because in Spain things don't start happening till after midnight or even later and you'll still see people out at 4 or 5 in the morning.

Como siempre, here are the links to my pictures from London and Edinburgh.  Now I’m off to a Spanish/Catalan cooking class and then tomorrow I’m off to Venice for the weekend.  Come back next week to see more blog posts!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Host Families

As most of you know, I live with a host family here in Barcelona.  This was probably the best decision I’ve made so far regarding my study abroad experience, right behind choosing to go to Bilbao with Michelle and choosing to study in Barcelona.

I live with a 65-year old widow, Rafaela in her medium sized apartment (apartments are called “pisos” here in Spain).  She owns a clothes store in a near by market.  We have two pets here at home, a parrot (Dinu) and a Silky Terrier by the name of “Teri.”  The parrot can get quite obnoxious at times, expecially when it lets out 3 (or more) long screeches in succession. 

Now what can I say about Teri.  Well, Teri is a 12-year old dog, who would be every dog whisperer’s dream come true.  He has a problem with people leaving the house, because students come here for 3 months and then leave him forever. For this reason, he barks whenever someone leaves the house, but never when people come home.  One day I was leaving for school when he snuck out, plopping himself in front of the elevetor.  I tried my best to coax him to come back in the piso (“Teri, ¡tengo un palito!  Ven aquí”), but he wouldn’t have any of it.  I go over to try to pick him up and he growls at me bearing his teeth in the process.  As I was running late for school, I wanted to get this ordeal over with so I pick him up really quickly and (gently) toss him back in the piso.  He's a complete nervous wreck and when you add in some back problems you get one fragile dog.

The piso is a pretty good place to live.  It’s 3 bedrooms, one bathroom with a nice balcony.  However, the neighborhood we live in (Sants) isn’t the best for college age kids because it’s mostly a residential area with families and old people, plus it’s kind of far away from all the happening places.

That being said, I’m glad I live where I am because Rafaela is the best host mom anyone could ask for.  She’s a great cook and she’s very involved with our lives.  Everyday when she comes home from school she always asks how are day went and she loves it when we show her pictures when we come home from a weekend trip around Europe.  She also likes to talk a lot, which is really helpful for us because it helps us practice our Spanish.  She also helps me with my Catalan, by teaching me some words/phrases and helping me with my pronunciation (the double l’s are una puta!).

Rafaela also typically hosts exchange students all year round.  I didn't know this until I asked her about all the Paris decorations in her house (I was curious as to why she had them because she said that she's never been to Paris).  She's been hosting them for about 6 years now and she's told me plenty of stories about other students (two girls use to go out clubbing every night, another one got caught having her boyfriend spending the night).  Not to toot my horn or anything, but she did tell me that John and I are the best exchange students she's ever hosted because we're friendly, open/interested in learning about the culture and more family-like than the other students.

She lives alone, but her mom stayed with her for the first month I was there because she broke her leg falling down the stairs.  Since then, she's been spending a month at a time between her two daughter's piso; in fact, she just came back yesterday to spend November here.  Rafaela also has a friend, José, who comes over every evening.  Everyday, Rafaela, José and Teri go out for a walk near the little green space we have near our piso, then she always cooks our dinner so that John and I can eat around 9 (they hardly ever eat dinner) and we usually first watch a game show (Pasapalabra) followed by the news.  

Here’s some pictures from my home stay:
Oh Teri.  He spends most of his day in my room, either because he loves me or because he's worried about the next time I leave the apartment

My Room

The Living Room

The Kitchen

I’ve been very fortunate with my host families.  First, Arantza and Maren (the host family in the Basque Country) really made my transition to the Spanish way of life very easy (I don’t think I went through any culture shock what so ever) and now, I’m living with Rafaela; I couldn’t have asked for a better living situation over here in Spain.

I love living with host families for three main reasons:
  1. Food: Spanish food is soooo good.  Everything is cooked with olive oil, it's fresh and very healthy.  I have a salad for dinner everyday (with olive oil and vinegar for dressing, which is typical in Spain), some bread and either pasta, fish or meat.  She makes a mean tortilla española and in typical Spanish fashion, she always asks us if we want anymore of anything to eat (¿Algo más?  ¿Helado? ¿Fruta?).
  2. Culture: You get to experience the culture first hand when you live with a host family; you really submerge yourself in what it's actually like to live in Spain (as opposed to living in dorms with your fellow American students).  It's interesting because Arantza and Maren (the host family I stayed with in Bilbao) are Basque, Rafaela is Catalan, her mom is from Andalucía (Southern Spain) and José is from Galicia (Northwest corner of Spain), so I've kind gotten to know some of the major cultures that make up Spain as a whole.
  3. Spanish: You have to speak Spanish in your home stay.  My Spanish has improved so much in the last 2 and a half months partly because of my Spanish language class, but my host families have definitely made a bigger impact on my Spanish than any class ever could.  I'd say that I can speak Spanish on a conversational level, which is to say that even though I make mistakes from time to time with words choice/verb tenses I still can get my point across and continue the conversation.  Spanish kind of just flows out now and I don’t really think too much about it.
My advice to students who want to study abroad: choose to live with a host family.  Trust me, I know it’s going to be very tempting to live with your fellow study abroad compadres, but you will learn so much more if you step outside of your comfort zone and submerge yourself into the local culture.  You will learn more than you can ever hope to learn in your classes.

Monday, November 1, 2010

La Castanyada

Even though I wasn’t back in the States for Halloween, I did celebrate the Catalan equivalent with my host family.

Here in Catalunya, they celebrate “La Castanyada” on or near All Saint’s Day (Tots Sants in Catalan).  Like in the rest of Spain and other Hispanic countries people go to the cemetery to clean off the graves of their loved ones and place flowers on their final resting place.  However, unlike the rest of Spain there is a traditional meal that everyone in Catalunya eats around this time.

They feast on a meal of roasted chestnuts, sweet potatoes and panellets (the most delicious pastries made from a paste of sugar and almonds).  So, last night my host mom’s family (her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter) and her friend José came over to celebrate the holiday.  Rafaela made the chestnuts and sweet potatoes while José and her daughter each brought over two dozen panellets.  After first eating tortilla española (potato omelet) she then brought out the castanyas i moniatos and to drink we had cava (Catalunya’s champagne).  I liked everything even though it was some work trying to get the shell off of the chestnut (they literally just came out of the oven).

When we were finished with that Rafaela brought out the pièce de résistance: els panellets!  They were soooo good.  The traditional one is covered with pine nuts but there’s panellets of every shape, size, color, and taste.  I tried some chocolate, coffee and coconut ones in addition to the pine nuts.  They were all so delicious, I need to learn how to make them (maybe for Christmas back in the States?)

Here’s a picture of our Castanyada feast:

And here's another one of a bakery selling panellets:

After the feast, the granddaughter got into the Halloween spirit and painted the faces of Rafaela, José and her mom.  It was pretty funny because she would disappear with them for 15 minutes and then come back in the living, announcing in a loud voice: “os presento (presenting) _____.” She turned José into Frankenstein and the two women into brujas (witches).

This brought up an interesting point of conversation.  They were all telling me that 10 years ago there was no such thing as Halloween in Spain but ever since then it’s becoming more and more popular each year.  In fact, I had three girls dressed as princesses ring the apartment’s doorbell and say, “trick-or-treat!”  I was speechless and had to say, “sorry, I don’t have any candy” (en castellano, of course) and as I closed the door I could see the smiles being wiped off their faces.  I told Rafaela about it and she just laughed (“I don’t have candy!”).  She said it was probably just the family next door and to not worry about it.

I enjoyed the holiday, as it was another cool aspect of the Catalan culture.  I already know that next year I’m going to miss panellets :(

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Força Barça!

My weekend turned out better than expected as my roommate found some good tickets to the FC Barcelona v. Sevilla game!  We bought tickets to go in December but as that is really a long ways away we were really anxious to go to a game sooner.  So he got online and then bam, two tickets!

I was really excited to go.  My favorite fútbol player, David Villa, plays for Barcelona, as does (perhaps) the best player in the world, Lionel Messi.  It was also going to be my first live fútbol match so I was super pumped to go.

As we only live about a half-mile from the stadium (Camp Nou) we left our apartment and took a nice walk up to the stadium.  We get there and of course there’s a lot of people, and not surprisingly we ran into a lot of English-speakers; this is because FC Barcelona is a very international team, they have over 5 million fans of facebook and their website is also in English.

Once we got in the stadium and to our seats I almost had a heart attack; it was much more beautiful than I could have possibly imagined!  However, what made the stadium complete was the atmosphere created by the fans.  Behind us we had a father and his kid who were definietely engaging in some father/son bonding.  Each time a FCB player touch the ball the father would yell the player’s name (“MESSSSI!  Bien juega Villa!”) while the son would boo the other team (for the record, “booo” is one of those words that crosses the language barrier).  And then in front of us we had a group of 20-year olds that were acting like they were in high school.  Throughout the entire game they would rip pages out of the program, build paper airplanes out of them and then throw them; most of them actually went pretty far and I laughed every time they threw one.

They also had some pretty cool chants and cheers.  Before the start of the game they played FC Barcelona’s anthem to which everybody in the stadium sang along.  Here’s the song from youtube:

When you combine the fans with all the cheers/chants (Da-da-dadada-dadada-Barça!) you get a perfect atmosphere for a fútbol game. 

Also, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned since being in Barcelona it’s that everybody loves Lionel Messi.  He’s from Argentina but you would think he was a local by the way people talk about how they love him.  He scored two goals during the game to which the people would chant his name a move their arms in a bowing motion. 

In the end, the score was 5-0 with Barça winning of course.  David Villa and Messi had two goals apiece which I was really excited about.  I can’t wait to go to more games!

Here’s my video clip from the match, right after David Villa scored his second goal:

You can also check out my facebook album here (which of course I will update as I got to more games)

Barça, Barça, Baaarça!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Welcome to Spain?

Ok, so I read this article on The Huffington Post today and I thought I would share it with you because it made me laugh. 

The Article: “Spanish Prostitutes Ordered to Wear Safety Vests”

"Spanish prostitutes have been ordered to wear reflective safety vests for their own safety, according to reports. Women working on rural roadsides in Catalonia must don the vests to avoid a €40 ($56) fine.

Prostitution is not banned in Spain, but it has been outlawed in some cities. However, lack of the safety vests is the only reason to fine the women working outside of the Spanish city of Lleida, where the vest program is now in effect, as prostitution is not illegal outside of the city limits.

However, some see the move as an attempt by Mayor Josep Maria Bea of Lleida to drive the women out of town. There are an estimated 300,000 female sex workers in Spain, according to the Telegraph

Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodrígue Zapatero promised to ban prostitution ads in newspapers, but has failed to do so. Meanwhile, a recent survey showed that one in four Spanish men admitted to paying for sex."

Wow.  ¿Bienvenidos a España? 

I guess the Spanish government really does take care of everyone...

You can read the original article here