My Final Day (sort of)

The entrance to the building where I took my classes.

Post for July 26, 2012

I can’t believe tomorrow will be my last day with everyone whom I’ve met at BIC. I say tomorrow is “sort of” my last day here because I won’t actually be returning home yet since I’m going to Rome for four days then coming back to Barcelona for a day and finally returning home. Tonight was probably the last time I will see most of the people in my program because most of their flights are quite early in the morning but at least I’ll see a couple and we just had an amazing end to our trip together, but I’ll get to that soon. It’s been such a looong day! I finished my final exams without dying though. I think I did well on both of them too, so that’s a huge relief. After school I made plans to to go visit Barcelona’s 1992 Olympic park since today was the 20th anniversary of it’s inauguration. I am so glad I got the opportunity to finally visit it on such a special and relevant day, especially since the Summer Olympics in London begin tomorrow.

One last look towards Plaza España

On my way to the Olympic park I took the opportunity to take some last pictures of several of the places I had already visited. I felt comfortable doing this since I was by myself and taking the time wasn’t going to annoy anyone else.

My last visit to Palau de Montjuic

Barcelona’s 1992 Olympic Stadium from the side

The 1992 Olympic Track and Field

Being so close to this track and field was kind of special to me because I used to compete in track and field in middle school and high school and I had quite a competitive spirit. Seeing this track made me miss our competitions and my races but it also made me think of how this place must have been such a large contributor to sports history made during my lifetime 20 years ago. Even just six months ago I would have never guessed that I would find myself standing there soaking in the feeling of inspiration and realization at the same time.

The Stadium Entrance

As I walked around the park I had some quiet time to myself in which I could reflect on my experience here so far and I felt quite happy deep inside. I have this feeling of fulfillment and I think it’s because I finally realized one of my dreams since I was very young. I had always said that some day I would travel far far away and see new and exciting things and I finally have. And I think I’ve become addicted to it. I want to see more of the world. I want to go to Asia, Africa, Northern Europe, Latin America, Australia, India, I want to go everywhere!! I’m getting carried away but it’s true. I love this trip and now I’m going to visit ROME! It’s still hard for me to believe that this is actually happening. I feel like I’m going to wake up at home a week from now and think this was all just a wonderful dream.

Our group pictures

In the evening everyone from our program had one last dinner together at a restaurant in which we ate, talked, danced, laughed and took pictures together. We also got the chance to say our last goodbyes to our program directors who were great at what they did.

My program directors and I

I really enjoyed learning from our program directors because they were fun and kind guides during excursions or whenever we had questions at school.

Finally we get inside the W Hotel and get to see it’s luxuries at no cost!

After our last dinner together several of us went to visit the W hotel because we didn’t want to leave Barcelona without ever seeing the bar on it’s 26th floor. I  was told it had an excellent night view of the city and they were right. This place was very fancy, but the best part of it all was that we never had to spend a dime in it because we just walked in and around it. We had to be dressed nicely of course but it was worth the visit.

Night view of Barcelona’s docks.

Even the bathrooms had nice views of the city.

My last night in Barcelona

As our last bonding moment, several of us walked along the beach just goofing around and taking pictures. It made me wish we had a few more days here together without the worry of having to go to school because these last hours were among my favorite during my entire trip so far.

I will miss you!

Tomorrow I will be leaving to Rome, but I will return on August 1st and I will be staying at my homestay for one more night since my host mom has very generously offered to let me stay here instead of renting a room in a hostel. I’m so glad she’s letting do that too because I much rather come back to a familiar place for my last night here.

My days here are counted…

Feeding the pigeons.

Post for July 25th, 2012

This has been such a fun and stressful week! Tomorrow will be my last day of classes. It’s kind of a bitter sweet feeling because, although I’ve enjoyed them, I am exhausted (mostly from this week) because of my final essay in Spanish Culture and Civilization and the stress for tomorrow’s final exams. I turned in my essay today and I’m glad that’s done because I had trouble focusing on it. I wrote about the Spanish Conquistadors’ influence on what is now Mexico and how it contributed to it’s current culture. I thought it would an easy and interesting topic to cover but most of my better resources were so complex, in-depth, and boring I did not have the time to read through everything and then summarize what I learned. But alas that it is over, and I can focus on tomorrow’s exams. Even though I have been extremely tired from staying up late finishing my paper last night, I decided to make some adventurous stops on my way home after school today. I went to Plaza Catalunya with Shelby looking for the highest view from inside the “El Corte Ingles” mall. We went all the way to the top floor and took some pictures from there, but we didn’t buy anything from the fancy deli up there because everything was almost twice as expensive as anything I have seen so far. Before we almost decided to go back home, we stopped to feed the pigeons for the first time since we arrived to Barcelona. It was really fun because we learned how to get the pigeons to feed from our hands and the pigeons weren’t scared to stay on our arms as long as there was food there. No one showed us how to do it either. We just tried it without really knowing if it would work and it did! A few people even took pictures of us holding the pigeons as they passed by. It was quite amusing I guess.

Drinking from the Fountains in Plaza Catalunya

On our way to the metro station Shelby and I managed to get a picture taken with the Catalan police whom I’ve heard tend to be quite merciless law enforcers. I was also told they weren’t allowed to have pictures taken of them while they were working or in uniform but I guess these guys didn’t know or follow that rule because they were not at all reluctant to take a picture with us. Shelby also dared me to drink water from the Fountains in the Plaza. It is said that who ever drinks from those fountains will be destined to return to Barcelona, that’s the only reason why I really drank some of its water because it didn’t seem all that clean.

The mysterious building that lights up at night (sometimes)

Just before sunset Shelby, Chrystal, and I met up to finally go see the building that lights up at night. It was nothing too special it was just something we had been wanting to see in person because we always heard people joking about it because of it’s phallic shape. People referred to it as the penis or tampon building because of how it looks. Since we missed dinner at our homestays to go see that building we stopped by a little buffet with Italian-like food. It was a calm way to end the night, even though we should have been home studying.

Now I’m about to go to sleep because I plan to wake up at 7:30 to do some last minute studying for my International Marketing class.

Sincerely,

Jose R. Garcia

The Exploration Continues…

Magic Fountain.. again!

Post for July 22, 2012

I can’t believe my program is over in less than a week! I have some final exams coming up and a 7 page paper to write that I’m not looking forward to at all. Even though I want to get that over with I also don’t want my time here to be done. I’m kind of sad actually just to think that it’s almost over. I was actually thinking today about the stuff we talked about at orientation about jet lag, culture, shock, and homesickness and I’ve realized that I really haven’t felt much for any of those. I also think it may be because I’m only here for a month so maybe it just hasn’t had time to take effect but I’m kind of glad that I’ve enjoyed almost everything about my study abroad so far. Last Thursday I went back to see the Magic Fountain again because it has become one of my favorite places to go at night. I have so many pictures of the fountain and they all look pretty cool. I went with Shelby and Christal and we just walked around and took a lot of pictures. The picture below is of me posing by some of the fountains in front of the Montjuic palace.

Posing in front of the Montjuic Palace

An epic basketball game.

The picture of the poster above is an announcement of the basketball game coming up soon of the US national Olympic team versus Spain’s national Olympic team. I can’t wait to watch this friendly game because, aside from the US, Spain is a world champion in basketball and during the Beijing Olympics the finals were between USA and Spain, in which the US received the gold medal and Spain received the silver medal. The game is going to be here in Barcelona! I looked up ticket prices and unfortunately I think they are too expensive because the cheapest tickets start at 70 euros and I think that’s too much for me. Instead I am planning on watching here with my host family.

The Luxurious W Hotel

This week has been pretty relaxed. On Saturday I didn’t do much. I slept in and spent some time with my host brothers for most of the day. In the evening I had plans with a few friends to try  to go up to the “discotheque” on the 23rd floor of the W Hotel but that was quite the failure. We dressed up really nice because we have been told the people there are very picky and it took us forever to get to the hotel but once we were there and ready to go into the elevator, a lady with a clip board asked if we were invited. We were so confused because apparently you have to be on the guest list on weekends to be allowed up. The lady said our attire was appropriate but that we should instead return on a Monday night or Thursday night because it was more likely that we’d be let in. After that we kind of just walked along the beach until we got tired and went back home.

Castellers! Finally I found one!

Today I was quite the busy guy. Even though I should be studying for my final exams I took the opportunity to go see Barcelona’s Castellers (human towers) performing on the outskirts of the city. I had heard a lot about them but this was the only time that I knew of them performing anywhere nearby. It was such a cool thing to watch because men, women, and children of all ages were present to be a part of this tradition. I’m not going to lie though, I was scared for the children that made their way to the very top of the towers because it looks so dangerous. In one of my classes I learned that the children our now required to wear helmets because there have been too many injuries and even deaths from falling. I was very scared when I saw two of the towers fall. One of them had a girl who hit heard mouth when she fell and was bleeding and crying and another one had an older girl who was taken away by the ambulance but I don’t know what happened to her when she fell.

Amazing

After the Castellers performance was over I made my way to a park that my host mom recommended that I visit today. It was a very tranquil park with some sounds of small green parrots that are not originally from here. My host mom says they escaped some zoo and started to procreate and nest in the parks around the city.

I found a squirrel!

During my exploration of this park I spotted Barcelona’s only squirrel!! I’m kidding. But still. My host mom was surprised when I showed her the picture of this squirrel because she said they are very rare in Barcelona and she is surprised that I saw one. Honestly I don’t think I ever saw any other squirrel since I’ve been here.

My first ever Labyrinth

After the park I went to visit a labyrinth on the northern part of the city which was supposedly paid for by some rich old guy back in the day to entertain his guests when he threw parties. Now it’s a park you pay to go into but it’s still pretty awesome. There are is so much romantic scenery  there. I saw couples everywhere and even a bride and groom taking wedding pictures throughout the park. Regardless to say that I had quite the nice weekend and now I’m supposed to study for torture I will be receiving in class this week.

Sincerely,

Jose R. Garcia

Home Away From Home

My lovely host family in Barcelona.

Now I would like to take a moment to talk a little bit about my host family and my (day to day) experience/observations while living here.

(Rather than just write about what I’ve done or have seen.)

My host family has been super kind and generous. I will now be talking a little bit about them but for their privacy I will not be mentioning their names. I want to start off by mentioning how wonderfully welcoming they are. My host mom always has good things to say and she treats me as a friend. I like her because she is so accommodating and considerate of my needs. Just the other day I was feeling sick and she gave me some suggestions on what I should do to feel better and she was not offended when I could not keep down my dinner. Instead, she thoughtfully made me some tea that I think really helped to settle my stomach and after a good night’s rest I felt much better the next day. My host mom also gives me lots of suggestions on what to do around the city and it’s evident that she wants me to enjoy myself and truly puts effort in helping me figure out my explorations of the city. My host dad is a great cook and even though I don’t see him often I enjoy talking with him when he is home. He seems like a very nice person and a great father to his two boys. Both my host mom and dad are super encouraging and in no way have they put any unreasonable or strict limitations on me.

My two host brothers are really fun to spend time with. I think they are funny. The older one is very smart and talented. He loves to read and play music and he pays lots of attention to detail. The younger one is super creative and quite the character. He is always super curious about stuff and has his own way of doing almost everything, including the way he reads the Harry Potter book series. Both of my host brothers are a bit obsessed with Harry Potter so I introduced them to Pottermore online and I think they liked it. I have also enjoyed having small conversations with them and playing small games of soccer on the terrace.

My roommate has been fun to spend time with and talk to, although I don’t think we have much in common. He is still a very outgoing guy though. And the two girls from India were only here for a short amount of time and I only got to spend time with them during dinner some times. Unfortunately they are leaving today.

One of the things I have noticed about Catalonia is that people here are super friendly and easy going. I don’t think I have met any locals who I thought of as rude or anything but nice. The other thing I really like is that people don’t seem to be very stressed about anything, and time is not such a big deal. I kind of like that because it’s liberating in a way. I also love seeing so many old couples out on the streets walking together or just sitting on the benches. I think it’s nice to see that relationships here are still so long lasting and that it’s a norm. Even old friends sitting by a deli just having some juice or coffee. I see it so often and it warms my heart. I don’t know what it is about the way of life here, but it creates a peaceful ambiance and I really like it. It also seems to me like people here have a different approach to life but I still can’t quite tell what the difference is. I’m trying to figure it out.

Long story short, I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to come this far and get to experience life in this wonderful city and to be with in the company of such great people.

A Taste of Spanish Culture

Cooking up some gazpacho.

Post for July 18, 2012

On Monday after school I got to take a cooking class where we learned how to make some typical Spanish dishes. We made gazpacho which is like a cold tomato soup, chicken paella, tortilla de patata which is like a potato and egg “pie”, and crema catalana which is kind of like cold pudding with hardened melted sugar on the surface. It was pretty fun getting to cook up such yummy food. The best part though, was definitely getting to eat the food we made.

Catalan Reapers

During my Spanish Culture and Civilization class today we took a field trip to a museum where we learned a little bit more about the Catalan people and their history. The image above shows a depiction of the Catalan men who fought against invading Spanish troops during the revolution before Franco took power. These men are known as the “reapers” because they were men who worked in the fields and used their tools as weapons during their revolt. I also learned that the Catalan people have a very strong sense of identity separate from Spain and that a lot of Catalan’s wish for independence from the rest of Spain.

Barcelona’s Soccer Stadium (The one I live right next to but won’t get to watch any games at)

After school we took a field trip to the oh-so famous Barcelona soccer stadium. I was super excited to go to this because I had not had the chance to go inside yet. I’m extremely upset that I won’t get to watch any games here because Barcelona won’t be having a home game until August 23rd. Either way I am happy that I got to get a tour of the stadium for free. Now I’m kind of exhausted so I’m going to take a nap and then probably wake up for dinner.

Valencia!! Who knew?

The surprisingly artistic streets of Valencia.

Post for July 16, 2012

WOAH!! This past weekend was the BEST OF THE BEST!! I don’t think I have ever had so much fun in that short amount of time.

Magic Fountain

It all started with the end of last Thursday night when I went out to go see the Magic Fountain. Which, by the way, was in itself one of the coolest things I have seen. (I feel like I say that about everything here.) But it was mesmerizing to sit there and watch the fountain show. I was supposed to meet a friend, David, there but I never saw him and instead ran into Yianni and Lauren there. After the fountain shows were over we were on our way to meet other friends from our program near some bar when a pick-pocketer tried taking something from Lauren. When I looked back the guy looked super nervous and he tried to play it off by asking if we spoke Italian, but he quickly turned around and walked away. Luckily he did not manage to take anything from Lauren’s bag. Eventually we found our friends outside a bar called “The Dow Jones”. One of the girls convinced us to go to a club she heard about called Razzmatazz.

Razzmatazz: Crazy Night of Dubstep (Interesting Experience)

At Razzmatazz we waited a while because none of us wanted to pay fifteen euros to go in but eventually one of the club promoters came out and let us in for six euros and one free drink for everyone with us. The whole hype for Razzmatazz was because it supposedly has 5 different floors where they play different music, but when we were there they never opened up any of the other rooms so we were stuck listening to dubstep the whole time. I swear about half the people there must have been on acid or ecstasy or something because they were so crazy! But it was also kind of fun and wild just to jump around and act like them, or even just watch how strange some of the people in there were.

The Huge IMAX Movie theater where we watched a documentary about the Nile River in Africa.

The next morning we had to be at our school ready to leave for Valencia which was difficult since we spent most of the night out and about. I think I only got like two and a half hours of sleep. Valencia was SO FUN!! When we first arrived we went to a small restaurant for lunch and the food was delicious. Unfortunately, I sat next to the most annoying, spoiled, ungrateful girls I have ever met (which kind of ruined my lunch) but I tried not to think about it. It’s clear how overly privileged they are, because they were so picky and rude to our waiter and all they did was complain to each other about everything. Anyways, the ice cream we had for dessert was very good and I made a great effort to stay away from those girls during our trip from then on. After lunch we went to a really modern-looking museum of arts and sciences and my favorite exhibition was the one of Marvel Comics. We also got to watch a documentary about the Nile River in an IMAX theater. During our free time Shelby, Christal, and I went to see how much the aquarium cost but it was close to thirty euros and none of us wanted to pay that much so we went back to the museum and on our way we got free Sunny Delight t-shirts at a children’s recreational event.

Valencian Paella with chicken instead of seafood.

After the museum we all went back to our hotel and had free time for the rest of the night. Some of us just went out for a walk to find a place to get dinner and we found a really nice gellato shop and a cheap pizza place that had very interesting types of pizza. I tried a slice of pizza with french fries and egg as the toppings. After that, we spent a little bit more time in a bar near our hotel and then went back to sleep. The next morning we went to the beach and had another delicious lunch of Valencian paella (made with chicken) and then went swimming in the ocean and played on the beach. It was quite a blast, but it was only the beginning to my favorite day so far. When we got back to our hotel, some of us were hungry again so we searched for a restaurant and we found one where we tried deer meat and strange sausages. After that we were running to make it back for a parade of drummers called the “Parade of the Monsters and the Big-headed”. No one ever explained the significance of the monsters or the reason for the tradition to us but it was quite the spectacle to watch. After that we waited for a firework juggling show that started around 10:30pm.

Parade of the Monsters and the Big-headed

Surprise Concert

After the jugglers show was over I was supposed to lead a group of people to a street with several clubs in Valencia because I knew the way, but by pure chance we stumbled into a small concert out on the streets. It was a free concert full of people and cheap drinks and the music was great! The band played Portuguese, English, and Spanish music and I was surprised that I recognized a lot of it (including one Portuguese song). We danced and cheered the night away with several other strangers who were also there just to enjoy the music and have a good time. I will never forget that night. I had such a blast.

Firework Jugglers

Valencia’s Falla Tradition Gallery

Yesterday, before coming back home, we stopped by a museum/gallery of “Fallas”. Fallas are basically giant statues made for one of Valencia’s annual festivals in which they depict significant events from the past year with satire and humor. The Fallas are made of paper and are displayed at the center of the city for the entire festival and the last day they are set to flames for everyone to celebrate around. The museum/gallery we visited had some salvaged parts of the 30 foot high Fallas on display from every year since the tradition started. All of the fallas were very well made and quite realistic at times.

We made it back “home” to Barcelona!

This last picture is from when we finally made it back home. The shirts Christal, Shelby, and I are wearing are the Sunny D shirts we got near the science and arts museum we first went to.

(Pardon all the pictures but there was so much to show from this weekend.)

Living the Dream

Ruins of the Underground Roman Market in Barcelona

Post for Thursday July 12th

I am definitely enjoying myself more than I could have imagined. I love it so much here! My host family has been amazing. And Barcelona is just winning my heart more and more each day that I’m here. This week I have done so much during school and outside of school that I wish I could live like this always. On Sunday, I went out to see the ancient underground ruins of a Roman market. There are parts where it is said people traded salts/spices, wine, and fish. It was pretty cool to see such tangible historical artifacts.

Barcelona’s Harley Davidson Festival

Then on Monday after school I accidentally got off at the Plaza España metro stop and decided to get out of the station to look around. I am so glad I made that random choice and that I had gotten off at that station because the Harley Davidson festival was going on in front of the Palau de Montjuic. There were so many bikes! And bikers! There were fair rides, food, music, and people just seemed to be in such a great and friendly mood. I enjoyed just walking around and taking pictures of stuff. Eventually I went home though because I was still tired from the long day at school.

Everyone settling before the movie starts.

On Tuesday night we were invited to a movie by our program directors. It was such a cool experience because the movie took place on top of Montjuic beside the castle. I guess they only show movies there in the summers. We got to watch True Grit which at first I thought was going to be in Catalan because that’s what most people speak here but it was actually shown in English with Catalan subtitles so that made it easy for us to enjoy at least. The ambiance was so delightful. Before the music there was a small band playing music. People were laying in the grass or settling in with their lawn chairs and getting their snacks out. It felt so stress free and informal. I LOVED IT! Afterwards, the walk back to the shuttle buses was nice because it was dark and you could see the cities lights shining in the night.

One of the buildings at the entrance of the park.

Yesterday I finally got to go visit Parc Guell! It was the most intricate and amazing park I have seen so far. The only downside was that it was such a hot day and there were so many people there that it was hard to get good pictures of some of the things I wanted to photograph. The park had so much to see. It was so artistically designed that it made walking through its long routes bearable, especially the uphill parts. The top peak of Parc Guell also has a great view of most of Barcelona. I also got to take a picture of the iconic lizard/iguana at the entrance of the park that is featured in so many Barcelona tourist pamphlets.

Our little “business meeting.”

Today has been an exhausting day but it too was full of wonderful new sights. During my International Marketing class we took a field trip to the Creu Coberta Commerce Association office where we got to listen to a member talk about how the association works and the benefits it provides to the community. We were treated like business men and women. At one point they almost gave us champagne but our professor discouraged them to do so because we are not supposed to drink alcoholic beverages during program activities. After our visit to Creu Coberta, our professor gave us an optional tour to “Arenas de Barcelona”. Arenas is Barcelona’s newest shopping mall which is less than a year old and was built from the old bull fighting ring that used to be there before Barcelona’s ban on bull fighting. It is round 5 story shopping center with very cool and trendy shops. But it’s also quite pricey.

Later I’m finally going to get to see the famous Barcelona Magic Fountain at the Palau de Montjuic. I’ve been anticipating this, but the fountains are only on for the music and color shows on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, and I missed them last week so I’m making sure I get to see them at least once this weekend.