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 :)