Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride through the French Countryside

A friend of mine from my program, Justin owns part of an old house in Southern France. Amy and I were headed to class one day when Justin told us he was getting a group of people together to road trip to his house for the weekend. We looked at each other and thought, ROAD TRIP, FRANCE, FREE place to stay… We’re in!!

And so began the crazy French weekend.

Friday October 1, 2010:

Amy and I piled into a tiny little Hertz rent-a-car in Barcelona. Our friend Luis was driving and Alé (Alejandro) and Mitch were also crammed in with us. Amy and I were not too happy about being passengers in Papi’s (Luis’s) car. You see, Papi is from Mexico and learned to drive in Mexico, which is where we first began to be worried. Then he tells us he hasn’t driven a stick shift in years…Not helping with the confidence. We caravanned with another car and our of the starting gates Luis looked promising, he got the car started, in reverse, out of the spot and headed out of the parking garage. Finkel (Aaron) on the other hand couldn’t figure out how to get his car out of neutral and into reverse. We headed towards the highway to get out of Barcelona and followed Finkel’s car because they had directions. It took about 2 hours to get through Barcelona because the traffic was horrendous. By the time we had gotten to the highway, Papi had stalled out about 75 times… Again, not a confidence booster. Once we got onto la autopista or the highway, Louis managed to drive without stalling out, so things were looked up! The drive was gorgeous for a good portion of the time, through the mountains and relaxing.

We blasted Alé’s Mexican Spanish techno/rap and surprisingly I knew a couple of the songs. The car we were following swerved to hit a connector that they hadn’t warned us we needed to be on so we got separated. That was the beginning of about 3 or 4 hours of separation and trying to find each other. (Let me remind you that they were the only car with directions…) We finally just headed north towards Montpelier, which we knew we needed to drive through before making our next turn.

Justin and his car headed up to the house the day before and

we finally got a hold of him to get better directions. We told us to head towards Anduze and then give him a call when we got close to Anduze. He let us know that the house doesn’t have an address and therefore, there is no way for us to get there without following him. After much to much McDonalds stops, trying to meet up with the other car, near death experiences and Amy and I yelling at Papi for driving like an idiot, both cars made it to Anduze.

Anduze is a tiny town nestled in the mountains in southern France. Amy and I were sold the second we saw the town square, with little cafés and the bell tower. Justin came and met us, then Papi and Finkel followed Justin’s car for about 15 minutes until we turned off the road down a dirt road. After about another 5 minutes and we were crossing an extremely narrow bridge and heading through a road lined with trees that looked like the entrance to a secret garden. It was also reminiscent of horror movies were you scream at the people on the TV screen, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? YOU IDIOT DON’T GO DOWN THAT ROAD! Luckily, we were convinced enough that Justin wasn’t going to kill us in the French mountains.

We arrived at the house that is a 370-year-old house that used to be a lumber mill. The house still doesn’t have electricity or hot water. The house had been lit by candles everywhere. It is great! We all grabbed our luggage and started figuring out where everyone was going to sleep. Amy and I grabbed a little bedroom that overlooked the backside of the house to the mountains. We got a camp fire going in the pit in front of the house and popped some wine and ate bread, crackers and nutella, LOTS of nutella. We turned in for the night and looked forward to actually being able to see the house in the daylight.

Saturday October 2, 2010:

Amy and I were awoken by the sounds of people talking, getting ready and saying “breakfast”. We were thinking, crazies go back to sleep its still dark… turns out there was a shutter that blocked all light from our room. We headed downstairs and outside. Justin had gotten up early, headed into town, bought juice, cheese, jam, bread, and croissants. It was the greatest breakfast ever! After that we decided to head into town to a winery and pick up some wine for the day. That ended up not working out as planned so Justin and the 4 people in his car found their way to a winery while the other 10 of us stayed in Anduze and waited for them, Amy and wandered around the town and came across a cute little creperie and café. It was DELICIOUS food and a great place to be.

We enjoyed a relaxed lunch and then headed back to the house with everyone else. Also on the property (which is some hundreds of acres) is a river with a waterfall that falls into a swimming area. We walked to the river and some of us decided to brave the cold and jump off the waterfall. When I say brave the cold, I really mean it, you hit the water and you are so cold that it is hard to breathe. We hung out by the river for a couple hours jumping in and out of the river and enjoying ourselves. We then headed back to take naps and planned on cooking dinner over the fire.

I woke up at dusk and realized that no one else was awake and we were about to have absolutely no light left. I started lighting candles and putting them all over the house so that everyone could see when they woke up. Justin, Dillon and Hannah woke up and the 4 of us decide we were going into town for dinner since it had started raining and cooking on the fire wouldn’t work so well. No one else wanted to get up so we headed into town for a great dinner! The restaurant we went to is somewhere Justin had been going to for a while and they had been to the night before. The food was great and cheap and our waitress was a funny one! Hannah thought our waitress was hilarious and had Justin invite her back to the house to hang out with us. She said she had plans to go bowling with some friends but that we should come. Bowling in France with French kids, why not! We met up with 4 of her friends and had a crazy great time bowling with them, It was SO much fun. We finally headed back to Justin’s place around 3 am and just passed out.

Sunday October 3, 2010:

We all woke up in the morning and had some breakfast and started cleaning the house so that we could get ready to go. I went on my typically energizer cleaning mode and swept and mopped and through trash away and did dishes and fluffed pillows and everything until it was almost all clean. We needed to get back into Barcelona so we headed back onto the road. Louis was so pleased that he had remember how to drive stick that he got a little too confident and started passing other cars. One of these ended with us swerving too hard to the left, going off the side of the road into the gravel a bit, over correcting and sharply going back into our lane. I was not happy, told Luis he was an idiot and then he tried to pass another car and almost got hit head on. This time everyone else in the car started yelling at him. He didn’t try that again. We ended up lost (again) and stopped at McDonalds (again) and finally got into Barcelona after about 8 hours on the road. We returned the rental car and Amy and I made our way to the metro and I finally walked into the apartment at 10:30 pm. It was such a fun weekend but it was SO nice to be home with electricity and hot water. I can now cross Euro Road Trip off of my bucket list. In turn however, I added learn how to drive stick so if the problem ever rises again, I am capable of taking the wheel!

Photo Album:

Nikki Kelly Barcelona

One night Nikki and I watched Vicky Christina Barcelona, a movie by Woody Allen that is this random, that never happens in real life, movie starring Penelope Cruz and a couple other well-known actors. It was crazy to see “our” city and know all the places they went to in the movie. At one point they are up on a mountain overlooking Barcelona. This is from Tibidabo, an old-fashioned (and probably really old) amusement park on Mont Tibidabo. That was somewhere we still needed to go though.

Wednesday September 29, 2010:

LA HUEGLA GENERAL-The general strike in Spain. Maybe you heard about this, as the same was the case in many European countries in September, there were transportation strikes that affected many inner European flights and public transportation. Everything in Barcelona was shut down; the metro, the buses and even many taxis wouldn’t drive because of riots. Our señora forbade us from going down to Plaça Catalunya (the center of Barcelona) or Pasaig de Gracia (the fancy shopping street) because she thought it wouldn’t be safe and we might get in trouble/stranded. We figured that was a great day to sleep in and hike up to Tibidabo. We spent the day blazing trails up the mountain to the amusement park. It took us about 2 and half hours to get up to the top. It was a magnificent view of the entire city of Barcelona and other cities that surround the mountain.

We enjoyed looking around the old park (that still runs during the summer) and the church that is also up there (which looks like a castle from our apartment). We ate our lunch while overlooking the ocean and the city that had been home for exactly a month.

We enjoyed finding new trails for the hike back down that only took us about an hour or an hour and a half. We got back to the apartment, took showers and a great long nap. When we woke up we had dinner and then checked the Internet and via Facebook found out that all out riots had been going on in the city all day. Dumpsters lit on fire, rocks through store windows, spray paint everywhere, police cars jumped on, flipped and one lit on fire, and many, many people arrested and in trouble. Nikki and I had missed all the chaos during our great day.

The most bizarre thing was that the next day when we went to class, the only indication of chaos and striking were a few cracked windows here and there and a little bit of fresh tagging. No one acted any differently, there was no excess of police and everyone was just back to business as usual. It was very interesting to see but I am glad we took the hike out of the city for the day instead of into it.

Photo Album:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

La Mercè- Barcelona

La Mercè is the largest festival in Barcelona during the year. It honors one of the patron saints of Barcelona and is a 3-day long party Catalán style. Every plazain the city has its own schedule of events and the metros are completely packed as everyone is out and about enjoying the festivities.

Thursday September 23, 2010 (I know, I know, I'm reallybehind!):Today started La Mercè, the activities of the day started with the opening parade that featured giants, devils, eagles, a monster and traditional Catalán music. I had a meeting to get all the information for my upcoming Morocco trip and therefore missed that first parade. Nikki (my roommate) and I headed to the Gothic quarter(which is one of the main places for things during the weekend) to meet up with our friends Lauren and Amy. Everything was packed but we managed to meet them for some sangria and tapas before heading to the beach for fireworks. Every night of La Mercè a different firework company from different countries does their best to wow the Catalans. Again, the metro was packed and it took a while to get down to the beach. We caught the end of the fireworks which were cool butnot all that impressive, sorry France or Canada. After wards we walked along the port and enjoyed the carnival that had been set up. We jumped on a ride called "The Frog" that spun a bunch and went up and down and we felt like little kids again, it was quite fun! Then we decided we wanted some cotton candy and convinced the cotton candy to make us one that was 2 or 3 times bigger than my head! (Picture to come). We ended our night there and headed home to get a good night's sleep and gear up for the rest of the weekend!

Friday September 24, 2010:

So that early morning we had planned to get up for to see the most tradition part of the festival didn't happen. We slept in a bit and then got ready and headed back down to the Gothic Quarter for the Castells which are human towers. This tradition started in Tarragona, another city in Catalunya (the region of Spain where Barcelona is located).
Each neighborhood in Spain has a team or Castellas or the people who make up the towers and it is a great honor to be a part of this group. These towers can be any of a number of tiers and that is determined by the organizers (I think based on their previous performances). There are many ages represented in each tower and very young children are at the top. My neighborhood (Gracia) did really well and had one of the highest towers! It was a lot of fun to see some of the local traditions in Catalunya and some of the things that people of Barcelona pride themselves in. After the Castells finished, Nikki (my roommate), Amy (a friend in my program) and I headed out to walk around Barcelona. We came across a great Crepe place and had crepes for lunch. Afterwards Nikki and I did some sightseeing around the city and learned some of the easier ways to get from place to place avoiding the metro/busses/taxis and enjoyed a gorgeous day out in Barcelona.

Later that night we headed down the to beach and enjoyed fireworks once again. These were better than last night but still nothing all that special. It was also pretty windy and a little colder than desirable. We headed up to the forum to see GoldFrapp perform and that was a lot of fun also. Afterwards we headed back down to the beach to go to some of the discotecas and met some of the most obnoxious people on the metro. Luckily we went our separate ways and didn't see them again. We spent the night clubbing and getting soaked by the rain then made our way home.

Saturday September 25, 2010:

After the first two days of La Mercè, we were all pretty exhausted and needing to refuel so we decided to spend the day on the beach. It was a gorgeous day on the beach and then we headed home to enjoy a great dinner with our Señora Rafaela. After dinner we headed back into the city for what is truly the greatest thing I have ever seen and participated in, called Correfoc. It translates to "fire-run". Whatever that makes you think you are probably right but it's even crazier. The city sets up gates on a major street that become the opening to the gates of hell.
"Diablos" (people dressed as devils) walk the streets carrying chandeliers with roman candles on them. They proceed to light the roman candles and explode them into the crowd. There are also animals in the parade that that breathe fireworks. It was so much fun running through the fireworks and dancing in the streets with all the locals. American definitely needs to pick up on this tradition!

Afterwards we headed to the beach again to watch the fireworks from Valencia, another region in Spain that is known for their pyrotechnics. These were quite a show of fireworks, very very impressive. After the fireworks we headed to the Estrella (beer) factory and got cheap Barcelona beer and listened to the concerts that were going on near us. After that Nikki and I decided to call it a night and headed home to gear up for the last day of the festival.

Sunday September 26, 2010:

The marks the last day of La Mercè and another great one! I spent the day shopping in the tiny alleys of Barcelona and down at the port with Nikki. We got some great jewelry and great gifts for friends and family. We spend some more time at the beach and then went home to shower and get ready for the closing event of the weekend, The Magic Fountain Show. In one of the PLazas in Barcelona called Plaza Espanya, there is an old Royal Palace that has been turned into a museum for Catalan Art.
Outside there is a huge fountain that puts on a water and light show every Sunday night during most of the year. Because it was La Mercè it was basically a Magic Fountain Show on crack. There were tens of thousands of people there and not only did they have the water show with the light show, they also had music incorporated into it with fireworks accompanying it. It was by far and away the greatest show that I have ever seen. The Fireworks easily surpassed the Rosebowl fireworks on 4th of July and the music ensemble was fantastic, mixing American oldies with Spanish music. I have videos if anyone wants to see some of the show just email me! It was the perfect end to the greatest weekend in Barcelona.

In an attempt to ride out the crowds we headed to one of our favorite bars in Barcelona afterwards called the George Payne. It is an Irish Pub that shows sporting events from around the world and has cheap drinks and good snack food. We had a couple of beers and talked about the amazing-ness of what we had just seen and how crazy it was that this is where we live.

It truly was an amazing weekend with amazing people!

Offically the Worst Blogger Ever!

So it has been exactly one month since the last time I posted on my blog. I thought the blog route would be the easiest to keep up with once abroad. I didn't take into account that it would actually take time to write each post and that I had to stay on top of it. Once I got behind it was easier to just put it off a littler longer. I am now going to attempt to catch you up as best as possible.

Today marks not only the month mark from the last time I posted on here, but my first Thanksgiving away from my family, and a month until I will be home and it will be Christmas! I cannot believe how amazing this experience has been and how fast it has flown by. I am so excited for the last month and thinking that when the time comes to get on that plane to fly back to the US, it will be a bittersweet moment. There is a great chance that I will cry because this journey is over, but I think I will be happy to be home for Christmas and ready to spend some time at home. I do know that after a couple of weeks I will want nothing more than to be back in España. So with that, I plan to take advantage of every moment I have left and enjoy it all!

Carpe Diem! (Not Spanish but it sums up my time in Europe perfectly!)

Happy Thanksgiving from Berlin to all you Americans may you eat yourself into a coma today and be thankful for the fact that you can! As for me, I'm thankful for my time in Europe, making new friends from around the world and my family that has supported every second of my time here and I know they can't wait for me to be home to hear all about my adventures!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Backtracking to Sitges

In mid September, ISA took us on an excursion for the say to a small town on the coast called Sitges (seat-ges, as in gesture). We met outside the University of Barcelona and loaded the busses.

We made a stop along the way to a vineyard and winery called Codorníu. The winery has been a family owned operation since the 16th century and is located on an absolutely breathtaking property. In 1872, the first bottle of Cava (Spanish sparkling wine, like Champagne) was produced! The cellars are enormous and we took a tour through them on trains pulled by 4x4s. It is not a place I would want to be lost in that is for sure! At the end of the tour we headed to the tasting room and got to try a Rosé and a blanc cava.

We hopped back on the busses and headed for Sitges, where we had the whole afternoon free. The beach in Sitges had fine white sand and the water was wonderfully! We took a long swim and then laid out to enjoy the warmth and sun of Spain! After a while, Lauren (a friend of mine also in the homestays) and I headed into the quaint town to find some paella (very typical Spanish dish). We had lunch and then spent the rest of the time wandering the town and finished our adventure with a much needed ice cream. We then crammed back on the busses to head back to Barcelona.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Not enough hours in a day

So as I am writing this, I should be doing about 10 other things. My blog is WAY behind and so are my pictures! So here goes for a quick update with more details to come later, they are already late so what's another 4 days.

Between the beginning of school and right now I have been to one of Spain's oldest Winerys, named Codorniu. They invented Cava. It was absolutely HUGE and gorgeous! But like I said, more about that later. After the tour of the winery we had the customary cava tasting then heading to another beach town named Sitges. Again, beautiful! We spent some time at the beach and wandering around.

The next weekend was a pretty relaxed one. Getting to know more local places of Barcelona, falling in love with art by local artists and I went to a Spanish Guitarist concert, he too was amazing. My friend Amy's dad came into town and Sunday night we spent time at a bar called The George Payne, and Irish pub that shows American football and Rugby and has traditional American bar food! Sometimes you just need a little dose of familiarity.

The next weekend was the largest festival in Barcelona called La Mercè. I cannot do this festival justice with an overview, so know there is A LOT to come related to it.

Last weekend 15 of us rented 3 cars and drove to the south of France to stay in a friend's country house. It was quite a different experience but so much fun! More about the 370 year old house without electricity to come, I promise!

Back to the present, I should be charging my camera batteries, charging my phone, packing, making sure I have my passport, wallet, boarding pass and anything else that I will need to get to and enjoy a long weekend in PORTUGAL. Eight of us are heading to Lisbon tomorrow and cannot wait! That being said, I have to wake up in a little over 5 hours to start the many metro and train rides to get to the airport on time. I feel like a broken record, but more about Portugal when I get back on Monday!!

Hasta Luego!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Uhh...School and Public Transportation??

Thats right folks, after a great first weekend in Barcelona filled with sightseeing, going to the beach and talking to our friends about their homestays, it was time for school to start. I had almost forgotten that was part of the deal with my moving to Spain, darn. For the public transportation part, I thought the La Canada Shuttle was bad, then I took the Isla Vista bus when it rained in Santa Barbara, not my favorite but doable, except when you try and make the last bus before school starts and its hot and humid and stuffed full of freshman from FT (the dorm far away from campus). Welcome to REAL public transportation in Barcelona. The metro is the easiest (ha!) way to get around. Living up in Gracia like we do, there isn't actually a metro that runs up that high, so we take the FGC (an old subway train) to Plaza Catalunya, oneof the most central parts in Barcelona. To get to school we have to change from the FGC to themetro at Plaza Catalunya and then hop on another line to get closest to school, then its about a 3-4 block walk from there. So for those of you from LC, remember how we would complain about being stuck in traffic on Michigan hill for 10 minutes, PIECE OF CAKE! If I happen to miss the ideal train from my station, the next one doesn't come for another 15 minutes, then I have to sprint through the hot subway platforms and sprint to campus just to make it in time. If I am lucky it takes me 15 minutes to get to the stop I need then another 5 to campus, if I'm not lucky it could take about 30-40 minutes just to get to school. It is definitely a different lifestyle.
I am taking 3 class, Spanish Language, The Seven Wonders of Spain- Spanish Architecture, and New Tendencies in Contemporary Art. My Spanish class is just the right level for me, but I am hoping we do some review of verb tenses. The Seven Wonders of Spain class is built around UNESCO's World Heritage List and is pretty interesting. The New Tendencies in Spanish Contemporary Art is not one of my favorites yet but it could change. This is the first time since high school that I didn't feel like I needed to sell my liver on the black market to pay for textbooks though which is awesome. The only book I needed to buy was a Spanish workbook for 22 euros (about $25).

Monday of my second week of school marked the first time I was able to get from my house to campus without a hiccup, it felt great! My Spanish by then had slowly started coming back to me and I was more confident in talking in class and to the locals, which means, that when I do need help figuring out where to go, the directions they give me are more understood and therefore more helpful.

Life here is on a very different timetable than home, dinner is later (typically not until 9 or 10) and then my friends and I usually take a nap and then get ready to head out around midnight. Clubs here are only really getting started around 1:30am and the metro starts running again at 5am so most people just stay at the clubs until then (being completely honest right now-I have yet to stay out that late, its been close though!)

Those first two weeks were pretty much spent wandering around the city getting to know the different areas and finding places to get drinks or tapas or coffee. Going into week 3 I feel like I am starting to adjust to the lifestyle of Barcelona and that I live here and am not just visiting. If my time follows these last two weeks, this truly will be the greatest semester of my life!The pictures are: top- a view of Barcelona from the Parque Guell (Gaudi's park), center-part of the group at the Park (Dillon, Nikki, Elle, Brittania, Me and Rory), and bottom The Barcelona Cathedral