90 Days Abroad

November 16, 2013

Starting tomorrow, I will be living abroad for 3 whole months. I have loved it, enjoyed it, cherished it… But seasons come and go, and winter is knocking on Barcelona’s door as well, unfortunately. Somehow, I had hoped summer would last forever here. Guess not! Here, too, it has been raining off and on and the temperatures are quickly diving below the twenties. I have already packed my summer clothes away and replaced them with thicker sweaters, long jeans and an extra blanket.

To be honest, that is one of the only things worth mentioning that have happened lately. The wardrobe change, I mean. Besides that, I was continuously trying to find a balance between catching up on one month and a half of missed subject material of my Feminism course in only 3 weeks. On top of that, I had my regular work to do: keeping up with my Spanish-American literature and the reading material for the English courses. Remember, I have 19 books to read and all. I don’t think it will come as a surprise when I say my head was about to explode, several times during the past few days. I had to decline many fun activities such as playing table tennis with Steffen, celebrating Halloween with my American roommates, cooking with the other Erasmus girls, go and eat tapas, visiting Poble Español with my Flemish friend, playing a little role in a web series (yeah, that’s true too)… Why did I give all of that up? Well, I wouldn’t want to return to Barcelona just to retake some exams in June/July! I don’t want to associate Barcelona with exams. Who would?!

Monday, November 4. I had my first exam of the week today: Critique on Feminist Literature. I don’t have results yet and I have no idea how bad/well it went. I did everything I could and if I didn’t pass… Well, I can honestly say I couldn’t have done it better. Besides, the professor isn’t… I’ll say ‘kind’ for lack of a better word. A week after I started this course, another Erasmus student walked into the classroom and you know what she said? She told him to leave, because his registration wasn’t fully completed yet. It wasn’t her problem that he wouldn’t be able to take the partial exam. Wow! Anyways, before I went to the exam I also had to hand in a second essay for US Lit, but I had finished that one two weeks ahead so I’d have the whole weekend for this exam and the next one.

Tuesday, November 5. I had my second exam at 8.30am: Spanish-American Lit. By now, I was exhausted. I had been studying for a month now, from the moment I woke up until I went to sleep – 100% focused, 100% concentration, 11 hours a day during my long weekend. Moreover, I had been told that if I passed the exam with this particular teacher, I could be quite proud of myself. She’s another tough one. In other words, I wasn’t feeling too good about this. My exam consisted of two questions: one of which I could answer perfectly, but which, due my exhaustion, I interpreted wrong and messed up. The second question was a fragment from a 900 page-book that I wasn’t able to read due to a severe lack of time. I knew what the book was about because we had learned about this collection last year, superficially. So, I just answered what I could remember. Again, no mercy for Erasmus students! You can probably imagine my result for this exam wasn’t to be called ‘good’, but I can still make it up in the final exam in January. I’ll just have to find comfort in that. It really is a disappointment after a month of such hard work… I never have that much trouble with my exams back in Belgium.

The rest of the week, I took it slow and slept a lot.

Friday, November 8. I left for Andorra. The bus ride lasted 3.5 hours and the bus itself was half empty. I could read my book for Modernism in whatever position I wanted, because I had two seats for myself! Now that my partial exams were over, I had to catch up on my English courses. Might as well do that while on my way to a yet to be discovered destination. Good thing I had a thick sweater and a coat with me. In the Pyrenees it was remarkably colder than at the Costa Brava! And I do mean a lot colder. Upon arrival I dumped my backpack at the hotel (which I’m never going to again!) to head over to the shopping streets to do some window shopping and to visit Caldea, one of the biggest health centers and spas in Europe. I was taken on a small tour by one of the friendly receptionists. My budget, however, didn’t allow for a soak in the hot springs. Too bad, huh? When the sun dropped behind the mountain tops, the temperature went along with it.

Caldea, an impressive architectural piece of art

I took a stroll along the more expensive shopping streets of Andorra la Vella, the capital city of the Princedom. Did you know that this is the 10th European capital city I’ve visited so far? O yeah, I’m keeping a list! And yes, that is mostly the reason I went to Andorra in the first place. Because, really, there’s not much else to do here besides tax-free shopping, go to wellness centers, go skiing or hiking. That evening I went to the mall to get a pizza – before you say anything, it’s only my second pizza since I came to Barcelona – and to study for an hour (there was free Wi-Fi) with some hot chocolate by my side (which was disgusting, by the way). Really, I thought that now I was closer to France the hot chocolate would improve, but nooooo!

Andorra La Vella by nightfall

Back to the hotel to read a bit, while trying not to let ‘certain sounds’ distract me. Yeah, umm, so, the walls? Not soundproof. At all. Still, I slept for almost 12 hours. What really woke me up was the 5°C outside. Brrrr! Because I had already seen all I had to see of Andorra La Vella, and adding the freezing temperature, I was ready to leave this country early. As soon as I had to check out, I walked over to the bus station and asked them if I could take an earlier bus than the one I’d already paid for. Well, there were only 3 other people on the bus (including the driver) that was just about to leave, so they couldn’t exactly say that there wasn’t enough room. So they let me join them.

Near the border was a line of at least 4km to enter Andorra. That particular Saturday was filled with activities, like a fashion show and several performances. Even if I had wanted to go, I wouldn’t have been able to. According to my original bus ticket, I left at 3pm. Two hours and forty five minutes later, I was back in a 10 degrees warmer Barcelona. Immediately after I got home – I still love calling Barcelona “home”! –  I started studying again. Despite my little travels, you can’t exactly blame me about not being a devoted student, right?

Sunday, November 10. I finally succeeded in doing something together with my roomies! They wanted to go see the football game in a bar (FC Barcelona vs. Seville) and they invited me to tag along with them and their friends. We hopped from Irish pub to Irish pub until we found one that showed the game (or had a TV that worked). In between bars, we were harassed with offers: free glass of champagne for the ladies, one free shot with each drink,…We went with the free shots – chupitos in Spanish. Don’t worry, even though it’s a Sunday, my classes on Mondays don’t start until 1pm. Enough time to catch up on sleep!

Thursday, November 14. I had only 1 class today – from 8.30 till 10.30 – so I made the snap decision to go to Tarragona during the rest of this beautiful day. Tarragona used to be the one of the capital cities of the Roman provinces on the Iberian Peninsula back in the day. Another one of those is called Cartagena. I’ve been there last summer and loved it. I love cities that breathe (Greek and/or Roman) history. They were expecting a nice 20°C in Tarragona and by now you probably know that wherever the sun appears, I’m there! There was a cold breeze though, so I couldn’t walk around in just a T-shirt.

It felt really good being submerged in Roman culture again. It had been a while. Some of you may know already that I had 5 years of Ancient Greek and 6 years of Latin in secondary school. Ancient history used to be daily news for me. Tarragona brought everything back. It’s a really nice city, not too many tourists. Even the tourism center was closed! Apparently, it’s only open on Saturdays and Sundays for one hour! I still don’t get that… I had to find my way around without a map. After a long detour, of course, I made my way towards the historical center with its Catedral, Amfitheater, Circus Maximus and Forum Romanum. At this last place I had some yummy croquetes de jamon with patatas bravas and a beer. What better way to spend a (mostly) free day?

Courtyard of the Catedral, which was hard to find, the cathedral being a freaking maze!

What is left of the Forum Romanum

Circus Maximus – there’s more left of this one, than the one in Rome!

I kind of risked my life to take this picture of the Amfitheater

Friday, November 15. Good news and bad news. Let’s start with the good news: I studied for my last (!) partial exam that is taking place on Monday. Bad news: it’s another Philosophy one. Ugh. In the early evening I went with Shannon and Anjelica to Belgious. This is the waffle and ice cream shop by Belgian owners that I’d already visited a first time in August when my mom was still here. The waffles here are de-li-cious! I saw this as a perfect time to educate my American friends in the Belgian art of waffle-making. They agreed these were some pretty damn good waffles. After that, we walked down the Ramblas – I just can’t grasp how empty it is here lately! Where are all the people?

My roomies told me that one of their friend’s host mom had invited her and her friends – including Shannon and Anjelica – to go horseback riding in the countryside, so, I’ll admit, I was a bit envious. Cristina rubbed it in a bit more by telling me that the particular place they’d be going to was very beautiful and the perfect place to go riding. Is it really bad of me that I was feeling slightly better when, the next day, a storm was moving over Barcelona, making it impossible for them to go out? Well, I did feel bad about feeling slightly better. I’m not totally inhuman, I also felt bad for them, because it was a really great opportunity for them. It’s just one of these confusing things.

Saturday and Sunday consisted mostly of more studying for the exam on Monday. By the end of the month, I have another presentation due for Modernism and a last essay for US Literature. After that, all the homework will be ovah! Expect of course some of the last readings I have to finish. That pile of books and articles never seems to go slink!

In 13 days I leave for Lisbon. Yes, indeed, for those who are keeping track: this will be my 11th capital city of Europe! I look forward to my first time in Portugal, a country I’ve never been to before and don’t speak the language of. I heard a lot of positive things about Lisboa, so I’m eager to go and check these rumors out for myself. If you guys have more tips to share, please let me know!

Some last news I got to share with you: I booked a final flight to Malaga. I will be going there the weekend before I return to Belgium for the holidays. I’m planning that week already as well: what I wanna eat, who I want to see, what I want to do…

That was it for now. I hope you’re as curious as I am about what’s next for me! Hasta pronto!




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