Well Barcelona, That’s a Wrap!

So my semester abroad has come to an end. It ended 10 days ago but I decided to postpone this post until Christmas, the Breaking Bad marathon, and my jet lag was over. Most importantly though, I needed to come to the realization that I was no longer in Barcelona and that my 12 hour flight to California wouldn’t be a weekend trip like my flights to The Netherlands, Portugal, France were.

Well, today marks my sixth day of being back home in California. It’s amazing how quickly everything has come back to me. The familiarity of being home almost makes my semester abroad feel like a dream.

I think the most important thing for me, when reflecting upon my experiences and changes abroad, is that I continue looking for ways to grow and don’t let the comfort of being home hold me back from exploring or challenging myself.

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This semester was the best four months of my life and I am incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to carry out my passions for business, travel and culture.

Besides sharing moments with new and old friends-moments I will never forget- I traveled all throughout Europe, where I gained a better understanding of culture and its differences, cross-cultural clarity and communication, appreciation for the arts, and confidence in public transportation, among other things.

If anything, I believe  I have matured, have increased my ability to balance enjoyment with work more efficiently through good time management,  learned how to trust myself in my travel abilities, and have gained courage to speak Spanish and other languages with people. Being abroad, especially those times spent traveling alone allowed for me to really observe, influencing my ideologies and ability to firmly control my mindsets.

I don’t think words can fully articulate the impact this experience has had on my life. I plan to articulate it in other ways, one being helping peers with their decisions to go abroad.
First day in Barcelona (left) and last night in Barcelona (right).
I don’t know the next time I’ll be in Europe, but I am looking forward to it, and looking forward to heading back to my second home, Barcelona.
Barcelona was surely a gift, so to the end of the semester I must say: “That’s a wrap!”
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Love Comes Slow…Goes so Fast

 

Spent a few hours in a cafe today preparing for the final projects due next week. I had read about this cafe, Cosmo, in a blog post and had actually walked by it a few days ago. Decided to come back and try their Chai Latte…I’m glad I did! Their pesto-veggie sandwich was great too.

I really wish I had found this place before…

 

So after working for 4 hours or so, and accomplishing a lot, I decided to  wander around El Raval before heading to my favorite spot, the MACBA. I came across this funny looking store that sold a lot of color miscellaneous things. From table mats, to ornaments, to paper masks of Frida Kahlo. There was a paper fish fortune teller like this one:

fish11 Naturally, I tested it out and the head and tail started to move, which, unbeknowst to me, meant I was in love. I mean it’s a paper fish haha, I’ll take it for what it’s worth. Then again…I have been watching a lot of chic flicks, so maybe it has to do with my new obsession over Jake Gyllenhaal. Que bonito. Let me just say…as bad as this sounds…Jake Gyllenhaal in “Love and Other Drugs” is enough to make a girl want Parkinson’s…yeaahhh..I probably shouldn’t have said it, but I know you’re all thinking the same thing. So I couldn’t help but contemplate this paper fish thing…maybe it was true, maybe I was in love. I realized that it all made sense though…I had fallen in love with…

…Barcelona.

I love the city. I love the people. I love the view. I love the night life. I love the culture.I love watching the people. I love the humor. I love getting lost in the streets.I love the fact that the experiences I’ve had and the things I have seen in Barcelona, have taught me more about myself that I could have imagined. What I love most though, is that Barcelona is now a part of me.

After having this silly revelation in that eccentric store, I headed to the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA). I had come here for the first time on Wednesday as part of a class field trip. The museum was cool and all, but the best part was the atmosphere around the museum. In front of the entrance, there were tons of skateboarders, shredding on the concrete benches and barriers. For a second, I felt like I was back in California. I liked it so much, so I went back today and really observed.

I’ve always had bad luck with bikes and skateboards, some traumatic experiences even, but watching these guys skate made me want to pick up a board and just go for it. You can tell they love it. I watched the same guy fall like 10 times and another kid nail a kickflip six times in a row. It’s awesome. No matter how many times they fall, getting that one trick down is worth the hours spent.

The cafe I found today was my favorite cafe I’ve been to, and the area around MACBA is my favorite hangout spot. Wishing that I knew these places before reminds that I only have 2 more weeks left. 2 MORE WEEKS! I can hardly believe it. I am already very sad that it’s almost over…trying to avoid thinking about it until the actual minute comes when I am on the airplane to London. 

I tried to make a video but my computer kept failing. Here are some pictures!

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“First time he got on it he slipped, landed on his hip and bust his lip. For a week he had to talk with a lisp, like this-sss Now we can end the story right here, but shorty didn’t quit it was something in the air, yea. He said it was somethin’ so appealing.  He couldn’t fight the feelin’, somethin’ about it. He knew he couldn’t doubt it, couldn’t understand it, brand it, since his first kickflip he land it. Uh, Labeled a misfit, abandoned…And the way he roll just a rebel to the world with no place to go. So we Kick, Push Kick, Push Kick, Push Kick, Push Coast. So come and skate with me, just a rebel looking for a place to be. So let’s Kick, and Push, and Coast.”- Lupe Fiasco

Lisbon, Portugal…a story for the kids!

My my my…what a weekend!

Two weekends ago, I traveled to Lisbon, Portal with my friend Aaron.

Let me just say the trip was incredible from start to finish. Now before I get right into it, you should know that every part of this trip has an interesting story. The one I found most hilarious is highlighted below, so you can skip to that if you’re just looking for something funny.

Aaron and I arrived in Lisbon around 8pm on Thursday, November 21st and we took the train from the airport to where our hostel was. On the train, we immediately began observing. From the language, to the style, to the kinds of people we saw. Lisbon seemed like a part of Europe I had not experienced yet, and even though it borders Spain, the culture didn’t seem all that similar to Spain. A funny thing about languages and traveling is this: You can know all the languages in the world, but when you are traveling and encountering many different languages in a short time span, it is so easy to jumble your words. In my trip to Belgium, I was speaking Spanish, even though I know French. And when I arrived back in Spain from Belgium, I was speaking French instead of Spanish! And now that I’m learning Spanish, I find myself thinking and dreaming in Spanglish! It’s a funny, confusing thing. Also, I didn’t realize how high pitched the Portuguese language was. A tall, strong man sat down next Aaron and started speaking. Aaron and I were caught off guard as we expected a deep baritone voice to come out, but rather felt like we were listening to Tinkerbell or PeeWee Herman…one of the two.

After that interesting metro ride, Aaron and I hopped out of the metro and  were immediately greeted by the Lisbon center. Lights and cars in a round-about and a big statue in the center, which we used as our guide as the compass for our adventures. Our instructions told us the hostel was right around the corner, and in no time we arrived to the front gate.

Now the hostel itself is another story. The name of this hostel is the G-Spot Hostel, named after its owner and environmentally-“Green” practices, and it was recommended to me by a friend  who was hoping to go to Lisbon. I checked it on hostelworld.com and saw it had a high rating, with great safety, a fun environment, and great proximity to the city. I checked out its website and video and realized it was a party hostel. I wanted a different abroad experience…and was maybe, kind of missing traditional American college parties.  It’s their dead season now, but overall it lived up to expectations. I can only imagine what their high seasons are like…

So after arriving to the gate, we rang the door bell and were greeted by an employee who invited us in and offered us a drink as we walked the long walkway to get to the actual entrance. Upon entering to the living room/check-in area, I saw someone sitting on the coach who I recognized. I had to double take twice until I realized it was Jason Fudge, a classmate from high school. Needless to say, we couldn’t believe we just saw each other in the not only the same hostel, but in the same hostel in the same city, in the same country, and on the same continent 6,000 miles away from home. Too funny. From the time I arrived to the time I left, we still couldn’t believe it. Absolutely nuts! After checking in, we were brought to our room with queen size bunk beds. I haven’t slept on anything but a twin bed with a cushion as my mattress since September. It was great having a queen all to myself! Next, we met our 4 other roommates. Two of them knew people from my college and my high school.

It was almost time for dinner, so Aaron and I headed to the living room where there were massively long wooden tables, kind of like the ones you see in hairy potter, but like a quarter of that size. What’s great about the meals at the G-Spot is that for dinner it’s 1-Euro for all you can eat pasta. They also give you bread, wine, sangria, and water for free with your meal. For breakfast, you get freshly made pancakes for free! They also have the breakfast of champions (5 euros) choice  that includes pancakes, eggs, and bacon, and a beer…in case you’re really trying to get started early, haha. I really enjoyed the dinners though because every one in the hostel came together to eat with one another. It was also interesting how diverse the company was. There were British, Australians, Americans, Canadians, Indians, Swedes, and Dutch people, which certainly provided for a comical environment.

After dinner on the first night, we were invited for a pub crawl. Even after a long day travel, Aaron and I mustered enough energy to go. We had to start our trip off right!

The hostel staff like to play games while we walk to the pubs. One game we played was “Shark in the Water.” When the name of the game was called out, we had to jump, stand, or climb onto something other than the ground we were walking on. So basically, you had people hugging trees and light posts, or wrapping and holding themselves around hanging chains…a pretty funny sight if you had no idea what was going on. The area with the pub crawl that we walked to is famous for having nearly 200+ bars in a single concentrated area. We visited one bar that is popular among Erasmus students, or the Europeans Students studying abroad within different places in Europe. Next, we went to a Mojito bar. The mojitos were 6 euros each but famous for their freshness and large drink portion. I didn’t buy one, but I took a sip and it was as tasty as promised. It was my first time on a pub crawl and it was great. All the locals were out, we were all dancing , and I had a dance-off with a middle-aged woman who thanked me for teaching her a few moves. In such a short period of time (less than 6 hours), I was already falling in love with Lisbon.

So after the pub crawl, more or less 2o of us took taxis to a club. Upon entry to the club, you were given a card that you were to use to buy drinks. Instead of paying at the bar, you would hand the bartender this card and they would credit your drink on the card. When you left the club, the bouncer would scan it, and then you would pay for the drinks. If you lost the card, you had to pay 100-Euros…which is more than the card is worth, and more than you could spend on the card assuming each drink is less than 25-euros; each card has a limit of 4 drinks on it. If you wanted more than 4 drinks, you had to ask for another card. Having all of these credit cards along with alcohol in your system, is an accident waiting. You’re more likely to lose the cards and/or just spend way too much at the club. Smart but shady business model on the club’s part. This one girl on the pub crawl, we’ll call her Emily (for confidential reasons) could have had a smoother night. I met her at the hostel and we had been hanging out since she was one of the few girls at the hostel and had been studying in Madrid. When she entered the pub, her friend, Jack offered to hold onto her card for her. Later in the night though, Emily was getting ready to leave but couldn’t find Jack and realized that he had left the club. She didn’t have any money on her and her phone was dead. But most of all…she didn’t have her CARD! She tried leaving with her friend but the bouncer asked her where her card was. After explaining what had happened, the bouncer was adamant about   her staying in the club until the morning. I was watching what was happening and all of a sudden, the bouncer looked a way for one second and Emily bolted for the street. She was literally ran out of the club and was sprinting. The 5’7” 250 lb bouncer saw her run and yelled at her in Portuguese just before he started chasing after her. I went outside to get a better look and saw Emily see the bouncer. She looked like she could have run for miles. She was holding two jackets that she threw on the train tracks so she could run faster. It was raining, so her jackets were getting wet but she told me later that she didn’t care. She wanted to get out of there. So as I’m watching all of this go down, she all of a sudden stops running, turns around and starts crying, saying “I’m sorry, I don’t know what to do.” The bouncer grabbed her arm, half-twisted it and wouldn’t let her grab her jackets. He brought her back to the club and prevented her from leaving. Meanwhile she was calling out to us to grab her jackets. We were all telling her to come outside but she didn’t have a chance. Lucky for her, an employee from the hostel was inside and helped her find someone who worked at the club and spoke English. They told her the only way she could leave was if her friend came back with the card or if she gave them something to hold onto as collateral until she came back later and returned the card. She ended up giving them her bracelet that she got in Andalucia, Spain. She told them it was worth 200 euros and pure silver. She told me later that she really got it for 15 euros. They accepted the trade and let her leave. Very fortunate for her though! Two days after, she went back to the club, gave them her card, and got her bracelet back. She loved the bracelet so much, so she was willing to go back and get it. The next day, she had to leave Lisbon to go back to Madrid. She messaged me on Facebook the next day telling me the following: I was getting ready to go through security. I took off all of my jewelry and put it in my pocket. When I went to put everything back on after security, my bracelet was gone. So I went through all that and ended up losing my favorite bracelet.” Can you believe it? What a story…

So after that fiasco, we got back to the hostel to rest up for a day of adventure.

So the next morning, Aaron and I grabbed some pancakes and were on our way.

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Pancakes with nutella and jam?! I’ll take it!

It was raining all day unfortunately, but you know what they say…if you love a place when it’s raining, you’ll really love it when it’s sunny. We had plans to walk along the mall lawn area that was behind the statue in the center, then make our way down the main street, then to the castle on the hill over looking all of Lisbon, before heading to Belem to see more monuments. While wandering, we couldn’t help but relate Lisbon to San Francisco (I thought) and Rome (Aaron thought), with its cobblestone roads and narrow, elevated streets combined with colorful buildings and ocean views. Also, the same architect for the Golden Gate Bridge designed a seemingly identical bridge in Lisbon, making it really seem like we were in San Francisco.

Here are some pictures from that day. We did most of our sightseeing this day. After this day, we headed back to the hostel. We were absolutely exhausted though, so we rested before dinner and then stayed in that night.

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The next morning, we headed off early to Sintra. Sintra is a quaint little town in the far west of Lisbon and it took us an hour to get there by train. The western most point of Europe is in Sintra, and we saw it while we were there. Sintra is known for its old castles and fairy-tale like environment, something I had desperately wanting to experience during my time in Europe. Once we arrived to the Sintra, we walked to the tourist office where were greeted by the guard who gave us instructions in Portuguese. Aaron and I do not speak Portuguese, but the language is not totally different from Spanish and French, so we were able to get by with no problem. We wanted to go to the Moorish Castle that was up on the hill. To get there, we walked through the forest and several gardens and even a zip-lining place. The walk took roughly 35 minutes and it was so worth it. By far one of my favorite places in Portugal.

After Sintra, we tried to make it back to Lisbon in time for  the Thieves Market. This market is where pickpockets come to sell the things they’ve stolen. We missed it by 15 minutes though and decided to get some lunch. I ordered seafood, which was delicious, but I was just exhausted so I went back to the hostel and slept for a few hours before having dinner, going out again, then getting ready for our last morning in Portugal.

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The comfortable couch ate me!

When my dad was 20, he stayed in the Ritz Carlton for a few days. When I was preparing for Spain and my other European travels, my dad suggested I go to Lisbon, since he also was there when he was 20. He specifically remembered drinking tea in the restaurant and suggested I do the same thing. So the last morning in Lisbon, Aaron and I headed to the Ritz Carlton for some tea. It was a 10-15 minute walk from our hostel and its facade, relative to the surrounding buildings, suggested it was identical to when my dad has visited. So Aaron and I were greeted to a comfortable area where the waitress brought us biscuits and our tea. I explained to the waitress why we were there. She thought it was so cool that she suggested we go up to the top floor, where the gym was, to get a great view of the city. She even took us up in the elevator and had a gym trainer give us a brief tour of the gym and outside deck. This was the best view of the entire trip. The trip could not have ended better.

From seeing a high school classmate, to spending time with people from all over, watching someone get chased by a bouncer, wandering through the forest to find a castle, to connecting with my dad through tea over 6,000 miles and 40 years later, my trip to Lisbon was incredible and unlike any other trip. I hope I can go back soon with friends and family to show them just how great of a place it is.

Je t’adore, Paris!

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I have final exams and projects due in the next two weeks, so I am busy preparing for that, but needed to post briefly about Paris.

Spent a weekend in Paris with my friend, Shruthi, who met me from England.  She is studying in London.

My friend Fantine, who was born and raised in France, kindly let me stay with her in her apartment.

Pastries were AMAZING and the snails were…interesting. I’d say they are more-so a gateway food for garlic and butter.

Christmas markets were charming!

I enjoyed practicing my French and teaching Shruthi some words.

It was incredible actually visiting the different monuments I had grown up learning about.

It was more magical than I could have imagined and I am so happy I got to spend it with my good friend.

I fell in love with this city and have wanted to go back ever since!

But like my father says, if you love a place so much, you can always go back.

A bientot, Paris!

Winter weather and P-I-Z-Z-A

The weather here is starting to get colder! I’m happy I’ve acclimated to cold weather habits, living in Boston and all. The transition to European Winter hasn’t been all that bad. I’ve noticed something funny about European fashion in cold weather. When it is 65 degrees, people are out in light jackets, but as soon as it drops to 55 (and sunny) people have broken out their bomber jackets, gloves, hats, and scarves. 55 degrees and sunny during Winter in Boston is like a field day. You will see people out in shorts and maybe even bro tanks.

One thing I miss about winter time at college, especially when it is too cold to go outside, is ordering take out and watching movies indoors with friend. A few weeks ago, the weather was pretty bad and I was feeling a little homesick…craving that  California sun. I took advantage of it though. There’s this artisan pizza place called Pizza Market right by apartment (up near El Putxet,  Sant-Gervasi, Tibidabo, La Bonanova) and I had been meaning to try it out. It took me 2 minutes to walk there and as soon as I arrived the guys inside greeted me with smiles. I explained to them that it was my first time at their restaurant and wanted the best pizza they had.

Kind of like this… Gimme Pizza-Olsen Twins

They certainly did not disappoint. The crust was warm, thin, and crispy and the ingredients were very fresh. I’d actually relate it to being like Z-Pizza, my fave pizza place in California. While waiting for my pizza to cook, I explained why I’m in Barcelona and how I’m enjoying my time here and yada yada yada. The guys there showed a genuine interest in what I had to say,  so besides being a place for delicious pizza, the staff there is very friendly. I took my pizza back home and enjoyed every bite while watching “In Her Shoes” for the first time…a movie I recommend for sisters or any Cameron Diaz fan.

So whether you’re in the area or not, check out their Facebook page, website or go see them in person.

 

Aggressive Cats, Locked Labyrinths, Opera and 90’s Grunge

Here is a slide show  of all of the miscellaneous adventures I have been up to within Barcelona in the past two weeks.

You will see:

-Aggressive cats

-Our Spanish Feast at a restaurant near Tibidabo

-The Liceu Opera House

-Austin and I exploring the  labyrinth just outside Barcelona

-Visit to the Picasso Museum (La Vida- on of Picasso’s paintings from the “Blue Series”)

-Bar Hopping and food from restaurants I have on my bucketlist before I go.

Sitges: California-like Beach Town

Two weeks ago, I moved into a new apartment. My friend Juliana, from my home University in the states, lives a ten minute walk away from me. On that Friday she called me up, and next thing I knew, we were on a train headed out to Sitges, a beach town 30 minutes away from Barcelona. I took my first step off of the train and wasn’t sure whether I was in California or some secret paradise.

Prior to actually going to Sitges, I had heard stories from my friends who had paid a visit. They only had great things to say. I’m really happy that Juliana gave me that call, because the day we went was perfect.

Since Sitges is right by the water, I can imagine the seafood paella must be delicious. I wouldn’t know though because the restaurant we tried eating at said the paella was 13.90 euros/person and it had to be eaten by two people. Juliana wasn’t hungry, so I opted for a cheap version of a Mexican restaurant,El Panchita. Then again I have a fairly high taste for Mexican food, being from California and all. Oh…and I am in Spain, not Mexico so what did I expect.

Ok, time for pictures!

-We visited the rock walls and caught a beautiful sunset there.

-Checked out the Sitges church

-Found an AMAZING Paneria where we enjoyed pastries and a nice, relaxing cup of  “cafe con leche”

-Wandered around the streets and simply enjoyed each other’s company!

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Now for the ultimate lesson, and if you’re my friend on facebook, you’ve probably seen this.

If there is one thing I've learned in this whole experience, it is: Explore.You don't need to travel to the other part of the world. Things are waiting for you right outside your door. Stop setting limitations for yourself. Go and see what is out there. Take a walk, go for a hike, take a train and get off at a random stop. There are millions of things waiting to be found by you. Take advantage of it. Go get lost!

If there is one thing I’ve learned in this whole experience, it is: Explore.You don’t need to travel to the other part of the world. Things are waiting for you right outside your door. Stop setting limitations for yourself. Go and see what is out there. Take a walk, go for a hike, take a train and get off at a random stop. There are millions of things waiting to be found by you. Take advantage of it. Go get lost!

BUSYlona, Spain.

My last blog post was on October 16th! I can’t believe it…It makes sense though because there is always something to do here in Barcelona.

Since  I have a lot to cover, I’ll start off with an somewhat extensive overview (oxymoron?) followed by my biggest, most reoccurring lesson thus far…which is actually in my post about Sitges. Look forward to that one in the next few days!

Things I have been up to (no particular order):

  • Volunteering every Monday as an assistant English teacher at a spanish high school.**
  • Exploring El Born and Gothic area every day after class (Impossible not to find something new)
  • I moved to a different apartment..which is closer to my college friend Juliana.
  • Went of the roof of Santa Maria del Mar Church
  • Celebrated Halloween and made Catalan  Halloween candy with my homestay sister and her friends.
  • Spent two different weekends with my friends Aaron and Kirti in Barcelona.
  • Had midterms (have been MIA…yes we actually do study while abroad…)**
  • Went to the Dali Museum in Figueres and grabbed lunch in Girona
  • Went to Sitges with Juliana.**
  • Finally went to Antoni Gaudi’s Parc Guell and La Sagrada Familia
  • Spanish has gotten better!
  • Found my favorite Paneria!
  • Tried a Doner Kebab, which was amazing. They are pretty standard in Europe.
  • Gained an even bigger appreciation and curiosity for the arts. My art classes here are definitely helping with that.
  • Watched Barcelona vs. Madrid in the El Classico Futbol Match! Bars were packed. Aaron and I went to Bar Snooker
  • Had an intercambio…met local spanish students and practiced my Spanish with them
  • Grabbed some lunch at the top of El Corte Ingles. Amazing view of the city.
  • Ate at an authentic Catalan restaurant…3 course menu and vino for 10 euros.
  • Tried yoga for the first time on top of a rooftop. My friend Monique found out about it via Meetup.com
  • Witnessed the Teacher’s protest that shut our classes down. It was nothing real serious.

**Expect more detailed posts on these specific experiences**

So as you can see, I have been up to a lot!! It’s funny looking back on my list because some days I think I am not doing enough but now I see how much I have done and how much left I have to look forward to. 2 more months left…I think I could cry. I’m loving everything about Barcelona and I think I could stay here for several years, there is so much to see.

My dad has traveled his whole life and has passed on that passion to me. I grew up knowing that if you love a place and you have to leave it, you can always go back. There is no doubt in my mind that I will come back to Barcelona when I am done with this semester. Then again, I have 2 more months left so I should spend more time taking advantage of those days as opposed to worrying about what I have left!

Here is a slideshow of the highlights from the past three weeks. Enjoy and check out more pictures in my post about Sitges with Juliana!

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So do we actually study? Secret spilled.

Since I am abroad and travelling to new places nearly every weekend, it is inevitable that I get asked “Do you even study?”

Heads up…spoiler alert…here comes the secret…last chance to look away….ok here it is….YES, we do study!

Anticlimactic maybe? Sorry not sorry.

It is fairly common that students studying abroad are looked upon as slackers. People claim that students studying abroad do a lot more partying than studying, which is true in some cases but false in others. Every experience is relative to that particular person.

My friend Camille is studying abroad next semester in Madrid. Last night she asked if I would write a post about balancing my school work while traveling and having fun in Barcelona and Europe.  So Camille, Mom, Dad, and future employers (since you probably want to know), this is for you.

As mentioned before, experiences differ from people to people. The tips I am offering are based off of what I have experienced thus far in my study abroad experience in terms of managing classes with travelling and having fun.

1. You do not need to travel [far] to have fun.

I take classes every weekday with my earliest class starting at 9 and my latest class ending at 3. Some days before class, I will go for a run. It helps me learn the area, gives me some exercise, wakes me up for class, makes me happy, etc. After class is done for the day,  I will walk around the city, going to new neighborhoods and districts I’ve never seen before. If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you may have noticed a reoccurring theme: Getting lost/Exploring. Getting lost helps you learn about the area that you specifically selected. You selected your specific country/city/town because it you probably thought it “seemed fun” and you wanted to learn more about it. You do not need to fly to another country to have fun. Fun is literally right in front of you, staring at your face…abroad or not abroad. Make use of those few hours after class and go to different neighborhoods before heading back to your house to do homework or whatever. Another benefit to staying local is that doing your school work is convenient and easier to manage than trying to do it while traveling.

It’s only half way through my semester abroad and I have been to Sevilla, Cordoba, Tibidabo, Costa Brava, Figueres, Gerona, Tarragona, Vic, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Antwerp, and Brussels. I have Paris, Lisbon, and Madrid planned. I must say that while I have loved and thoroughly enjoyed travelling to all of these places, I feel like Barcelona is yet to be fully discovered. In other words, make use of your location, don’t worry about your next destination.

2. Make use of the weekends.

Weekends are your best friends when traveling, especially if you do not want to miss those Friday classes. Take your homework with you while you travel and do it on the plane, train, bus, car, hanglider, teleportation device, whatever. Coming back from a trip on Sunday night, you will be exhausted. Homework is the last thing you will want to do, so get it done during the week prior to the due date, or while traveling (waiting and transportation).

3. You’re abroad. Chill out.

Study and do well but do not let classes overwhelm you as much as they would at your home university/college. This goes for you whether your classes are pass fail or not. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the work load you have abroad and feel as though you are not getting the most out of your experience, talk to your advisor. You are abroad not just for classes, but to experience this new life. Save the stress for your home university.

4. Time management (in general).

If you find it hard to balance your to do list with “me time,” set up an agenda for yourself. You can get an agenda book, google calendar, anything really. Write down your assignments and set aside time for them. Do the same for your personal time. When you are abroad though, you will find that things are pretty whimsical and life is pretty much go with the flow. Let that happen, and do not cancel them out because they are getting into your study time.

Remember, this is a life experience as well.  You’re in a different country! That means new people, new places, new culture. Live it up and take it easy!

Journey in the Green, Chocolate, and Waffle Lands

It has been a week or so since my last post, but I certainly have a lot to cover… and all from this weekend! Most weeks in Barcelona include attending museums or various monuments with my classes, and the weekends are where most of the fun happens…especially this weekend where I reunited with 5 students from my college, visited 2 new countries (The Netherlands: Amsterdam & Rotterdam and Belgium). It was nice being out of Spain. I did most of the travelling by myself and all international travel all alone.

In total, I used 27 different methods of transportation including trains, taxis, airplanes, metros, hop on/ hop off buses, and cars. I can now confidently say I am able to travel alone and can master the European Railway. None of that would have been possible though without the help of my friend Evan, and my family in Belgium, who eagerly took me into their apartment last minute and gave me a nice home cooked meal. The weather there was 20 degrees lower than in Barcelona…around 9 degrees Celsius…so within the 40s and 50s Fahrenheit.  It was as though I was back at school in Boston! Apparently though, it was also raining in Barcelona while I was away so if I had to pick a place with bad weather, why not go to another country?

On Friday night I arrived in Amsterdam and my friend Evan greeted me at the airport. We went into town to a coffee shop for a brewsky and to catch up.  We also strolled around the canals and Red Light District. Afterwards we grabbed a quick dinner and headed to his place in Rotterdam (a train ride away) where I saw my 3 other friends from college, Joe, Jeff, and Alexandra.  It was a mini college reunion! I walked into their place and saw Evan, Jeff, and Joe’s Warhol-esc style faces on canvases plastered up on the wall of their 5-level apartment. From the second I walked in, I knew this was a man cave. Something I discovered throughout the weekend. These guys are living the posh life!

Saturday morning, Joe, Evan, and I headed to the street market right outside their house. This market was somewhat similar to the Boqueria we have here in Barcelona, except that it was outside and spread out, whereas the Boqueria is in a roofed area. The market featured fresh cheese (the best I have ever tried), fresh vegetables, and fish. We bought some frites (French fries with Dutch spread/mayonnaise), some fried dough, melons, and herring for our herring sandwich, a Dutch style sandwich. After the market, we brought out food back to the apartment and Joe made the sandwich, which was incredibly delicious. After lunch, Evan and I walked in the area around his apartment. We walked along the world famous canals went inside a Windmill/Bakery, and stopped by to try handcrafted raspberry beer. Following this, we went to the Euromast, which is comparable to say the Stratosphere of Vegas or Seattle Space Needle.  Here, Evan and I got a  360 degree view of all of Rotterdam. We could see the Harbor/ Port, which is the largest port in the world, as well as a view of the parks and buildings spanning the 319.4km of Rotterdam. It was absolutely beautiful, even if the weather was not perfect. Evan and I headed back to the apartment where we met up with Joe. We went to dim sum for a large dinner before we headed out to the Bar Tender bar to meet some of their friends. It was great meeting other locals. At the end of the night, I talked with the 24 year old owner of the bar and he told me how he studied hospitality management then 2 years later went on to creating this bar. I must say that at a young age, he is seemingly very successful. It’s always very inspiring to see someone  so close to my age doing so well. It reminds me that I DO go to an entrepreneurial school and that I DO have an entrepreneurial spirit. I obviously know that, but reminders are always welcome. Following this bar, we went to another bar where the Dutch culture was more prominent.  I danced to Dutch music with Dutch people. I’d say it was a good night! From the music, to the people, to the style, I knew I was not in Spain, or California, or Boston for that matter. And that is the beauty of travelling…getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.

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Sunday morning I was supposed to leave to go back to Barcelona around 3pm, but I switched the time/day for my ticket to 9pm Monday so that I could visit some family in Belgium. I mean…I was only 1.5 hours away from another country so why not?! So with that I was off. I took a high speed train from Rotterdam to Antwerp, Belgium where I tried the famous Belgian waffles with Belgian chocolate. Yum! I quickly got onto my train from Antwerp to Brussels where Pascal, my mom’s cousin, and his daughter Lili, picked me up and took me to their apartment. They prepared a nice dinner and I even got to watch my favorite show with them- Breaking Bad.

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Monday morning, I explored Brussels on my own. I visited La Grand Place (the center of Brussels) and Mannekin PIs ( a small sculpture of a boy peeing into a fountain). The Mannekin Pis/ the peeing boy was said to be the mascot of Brussels. He is shown urinating because it was as though he was putting out the bombs placed by enemy attackers. Gotta love the little quirks.

After visiting the central area of Brussels, I wandered around and came across the local univeristy, the cathedral, and a mall of boutique chocolate shops. I of course bought some Belgian chocolate. After walking around, I hopped onto the Hop On/Hop Off bus. I paid 20 euros to get a whole tour of the city. The bus took me to the Atomium.
The Atomium was the main pavilion and icon of the World Fair of Brussels (1958), commonly called Expo 58. It symbolised the democratic will to maintain peace among all the nations, faith in progress, both technical and scientific and, finally, an optimistic vision of the future of a modern, new, super-technological world for a better life for mankind. Each orb in the Atomium represents a Belgian scientist. My goal was to see La Grand Place, Mannekin Pis, and Atomium in the short amount of time I had, but I managed to see it all!

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After visiting Brussels, I was on my way back to Barcelona. I thoroughly enjoyed being out of the country and being exposed to these diverse cultures in such a short span of time.

Over the course of this 3-day trip, I realized the following:

I was surprised at how many people value the United States and how many have dreams of going there. I am so fortunate to not only live in and be a citizen of the United States , but also to have the tools necessary for traveling comfortably around the world.

I also realized that 3 days can be spent wisely.

Learning Spanish, and trying to switch to English and French is hard and confusing. This french woman in Brussels asked if I wanted a bag with my chocolates and I replied saying “Si” instead of “Oui”.

Money is a tangible asset, and having it does not compare to the amount of intangible return one gets from spending money on travel.

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This weekend I am going to Girona on Saturday to see the Dali Museum and Park Guell on Sunday to see Gaudi’s works. Stay tuned! Adios! Au’revoir! Vaarwel!