Finish: 150 Days!

January 23, 2014

Every single semester I don’t realize I stress over the exams until they’re over. My appetite, for example, suddenly makes a reappearance. Likewise, this year, all of the sudden I became conscious of the fact that… I hadn’t had patatas bravas for the last three weeks!

Moreover, I have some good news to share: the only exam I was really afraid I’d fail, I already heard I passed! YES! I’m talking about the Spanish-American Literature one. I think, all in all, I will be able to end this semester proudly. Although, frankly, I am not just happy – I am also relieved, relieved that I will probably get good grades and (as my grandpa has pointed out many times) I got to travel so much without these trips negatively affecting my school work. The point is I did my best and now I can look back at my trips as the perfect reward for my hard work.

Sitges

As I have pointed out past semester already, I don’t mind studying in an unconventional location. Seeing as I had a lot of time to study for my final exam, I decided to visit Sitges one last time. You might remember this, but this is the local gay beach town of the Costa Brava. The last two times I had literally not seen any guys that looked homosexual, but that was completely different last Friday. Guy couples were walking hand in hand, passing me by while I strolled through little shopping streets and over the promenade. I suddenly understood where Sitges’ reputation came from!

But this still is and remains a travel blog. So let’s talk fun things!

Sitges

Sitges

My goal was to take my two new roomies with me. However, they had gone out till late yesterday night (and had gotten lost for two hours, too), so the next morning they couldn’t get out of bed in time to join me. With my notes in my purse I left by myself. Believe it or not, I did study! On the train I dug up my notes and also later on a bench overlooking the sea and on a terrace (with some patatas bravas to keep me energized) in the sun. Linking business with pleasure. Boom. I love it.

Sitges

Sitges

I’ll tell you some more about my two new roomies, Molly 1 and Molly 2. When Cristina told me two new girls called Molly were coming from the same school in Chicago, I was utterly convinced some mistake must have been made or that Cristina had understood wrong. I mean, really, what are the chances?? Anyhow, it’s true. Brunette Molly 1 is a bit smaller than blonde Molly 2. Molly 1 seems a bit more reserved, but Molly 2 and I, we got along well together.

Last weekend, the three of us went to the brand new cinema two streets from the apartment to see The Wolf of Wall Street, a 3-hour-long movie with Leonardo DiCaprio. Wow, those three hours flew by! Before the movie, I’d wanted to take the girls to Belgious for a Belgian waffle, but I’d forgotten – again! – that it doesn’t open until 5pm… So instead, I introduced them to world of churros.

I also met up with some of my other friends. Last Saturday, I wanted to go to the famous chupitos bar called Chupitos in Calle Aribau – a street full of bars, pubs, cafés etc. – with Kerry, Anna and Johanna, but it was closed. We went to Espit instead, a sister to Chupitos. Afterwards, we kind of ‘ended up’ in one of their classmate’s flats where we celebrated Jake’s birthday.

Wisdom found in a Buddhist store in Sitges - my favorite quote ever!

Wisdom found in a Buddhist store in Sitges – my favorite quote ever!

On Tuesday, I said goodbye to my Spanish friends and classmates. After the exam Fran (also known by BatFran), Marta, Frederico and me went to Nostrum again for lunch, like we always did when we got lunch together after class. The farewell wasn’t a sad one. After our lunch, I returned the same way I came because I was meeting my other friends at the UB for coffee. We discussed our exam papers for the English courses we had together and wondered what it would be like when we went back to school at home. We also thought about coming back to Barcelona in the future.

Once back in my room, I could not resist the urge anymore and with great pleasure – no I am not kidding – I started packing my suitcase. Good thing I started this early! I didn’t have enough space to put all of my stuff! Oops… On Wednesday, I went out to buy a new suitcase. I found a really cheap, but sturdy one in a Chinese store that Cristina had recommended to me because it sells everything. This is one of the perks of not living in a student flat, but with a local.

Thursday morning, I officially unregistered from the UB. Suddenly, my departure felt more real than ever. I am never coming back here. Not to study, anyway. Whether I am happy about this, I haven’t worked out yet. At noon, Kerry and Anna had finished their last exam as well and we got lunch together at BuenAsmigas. For the last time, I walked down the Ramblas towards the sea. The three of us sat down on the pier by the Mare Magnum and chatted for a while. By the sea, we watched the setting of the sun and were just happily sitting and talking together. These moments are the best! I thought this was our goodbye as well, but nooo! Tonight we’re going out again. It’s kind of fun this way, continuing to say goodbye. Celebrating our departures. It will make the moment when it’s really the last time less hard, I suppose!

Barcelona

Barcelona

That same day, I had also received the message I had been waiting for several months; I had actually given up on receiving it several weeks ago. Esther had finally invited me to go have a café con leche somewhere! At 5pm, I met her at the Llibreria Laie, a giant bookstore complete with cosy café. My friends can compare it to De Zondvloed, a similar bookstore in Mechelen. It’s mostly locals that come here for group meetings, events or to have a good conversation over a decent cup of coffee. Or to start reading the new book they’ve bought. Let me refresh your memories for a sec: Esther was my host mom 2.5 years ago, when I was learning Spanish in Barcelona for a month before going to university. Back then, talking wasn’t so easy, because I was only just adding words to my yet-to-be-filled vocabulary. We chatted for a long time before we finally said our goodbyes. I can go home with an invitation that I was welcome any time. Not only for this, but also for setting me up with Cristina, I am incredibly grateful to her!

Now that the whole Erasmus adventure is coming to an end, I have started planning a city trip to Paris with my best friend in the first week of February. In the past, I have visited Paris a few times already for several reasons, alone and in company. But I have never actually realized how expensive Paris really is. It’s a good thing I already have a student job waiting for me when I go back home!

In the end, the purpose of this blog post is that I want to point out the following:

THE ERASMUS ADVENTURE IN BARCELONA HAS COME TO AN END!

It has gone so fast, as was expected, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want it to last a little longer… Of course, I am happy to go home in a couple of hours, which means I can sleep in my own bed again, but… I will miss living in Barcelona. I won’t miss the Spanish, though! Honestly, I’ll be happy to be conversing in Flemish again. On the other hand, I probably won’t be making as many travels in the near future as I have lately. I have enjoyed the benefits of living in Spain and now I am in for a travel detox, I’m afraid.

I had hoped to visit Valencia and Madrid – and even Valetta (the capital of Malta) was on my to-go list – but that didn’t happen. On the other hand, I have gone to places I didn’t expect to be going, like Andorra. I went to Portugal for the first time, when I visited Lisbon! Moreover, I had never expected to fall in love with Sitges the way I did. I had never hoped to make so many friends through something like Couchsurfing or to even participate in it! Obviously, I was hoping not to get robbed – which didn’t happen, thank god! I do have to admit that two of my little padlocks were lost on the road. I had them with me to prevent burglary… O, the irony! In the end, I still haven’t seen the Sagrada Familia nor Casa Milá nor Casa Battló on the inside. I haven’t gone back to Parque Guëll because they are charging an entrance fee now, which is ridiculous. Money-grubbers is what they are! Another big surprise was the fabulous Christmas decoration in all of Spain. The decorations are prettier than in Belgium, even though the lights are braided through palm trees. I succeeded in fulfilling many of my dreams and plans and sometimes I even outdid myself in a way I could never have hoped for. And all of this in 150 days!

See you soon!

Besos,

Claudia

Traveling home

January 8, 2013

First of all, I hope everybody had a Feliz Navidad and I wish everyone a happy/successful/healthy Año Nuevo and… O, wait, no. In Belgium children don’t receive gifts on Twelft Night (or Reyes Magos). So, I’ll end with wishing all my fellow students good luck with the exams!

Since yesterday, the Christmas holidays are over for me as well. What have I been doing for the last two weeks, you ask? Well, it all started with me going home for a week to Belgium, and acting like a tourist. I had planned some things, but half of them didn’t happen. Last year, it would have irritated me to bits, but I guess that changed in the last four-five months.

On the other hand, I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a Friday night on the couch watching TV as much as I did that night. Catching up with the fam and then… Belgian fries, hot chocolate (the good stuff!) and some Flemish TV-programs! Pebbles, our dog, didn’t let me out of his sight for a moment at first. As soon as I sat down, he jumped on my lap asking for attention. Alternately, he glared at me, with accusing eyes like Where the hell have you been all this time?

My favorite kind of beer!

On Saturday night, I went out with my friends. We were going to go to the café we always go to, but it was already full, so we ended up walking around town until we finally found a café that was open and not completely crowded. I was shocked to see so many places were closed on a Saturday night! Coming from Barcelona, this was a big adjustment. But, in the end, all that mattered was catching up with my friends.

On Sunday, I saw my best friend Aaron again. At last! We had lots to talk about, by my second hot chocolate of the week. At Sister Bean they know how to make a good hot chocolate! Next, I finally got to see the new Media Markt they built in our main shopping street. It’s so weird to finally see it finished after all this time. That evening, I had dinner at De Burgerij, with some B&J’s ice cream for dessert of course!

Me and my best friend at Sister Bean

On Monday, I had planned to go to the Christmas market in Ghent, but everyone canceled. Instead, I went to the cinema in Antwerp – not for one, but two movies! How I love the cinema-experience… There’s nothing like a room full of expectant people, comfy chairs, freshly made popcorn and the newest movies on the big screen. First, we saw a Belgian movie called Het Vonnis (director: Jan Verheyen) which I sincerely recommend. The second one was Last Vegas and listing the main characters, namely Robert de Niro and Morgan Freeman & co, should take you to the cinema straight away. Totally worth it!

On Tuesday evening, I celebrated Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ place. On Christmas Day, I had lunch at my mom’s. Wednesday I went back to the cinema, because I still had a free ticket to go and see Gravity with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. It was a… special movie. It made me passively participate, which caused me to be tired afterward. Really weird. I have never seen anything like it, either. I noticed that the 3D-technology has improved in the last few years.

I might have told you before about this skating rink they put up on Plaza Cataluña, but I wasn’t really planning on doing that particular activity. Who knows how many times the ice is smoothed out? And I can honestly say I am not the most elegant ice skater in the world. I would just embarrass myself. Nevertheless, I did say yes when one of my friends suggested we’d go ice skating in Leest. It is a lot more fun, because the ice is smoothed out regularly, it is not as crowded and there is music and disco lights to funk it up a bit.

On Friday, I got a haircut, was annoyed by our Belgian bus system – that’s what happens when you always have the perfect subway system at your disposal in Barcelona, where the trains never arrive more than 2 minutes late – and just enjoyed being at home. During this week, I also worked on my two exam papers for my English courses and straightened out my notes of the Spanish courses. I thought I’d better mention this, because I have heard some whispering behind my back about that it must be really easy going to school in Barcelona if you can travel so much and have so much fun and still pass all of your tests and exams. So let’s get something straight here: I have never worked so hard for school in my life as I have this last semester. Before and after school, either in my room or at Starbucks in between classes, or on a bus to Andorra or at the beach in Sitges, I was always working, reading and studying whenever I had some free time. In my modest opinion, it’s all a matter of time management and discipline. Not that I have succeeded perfectly, but if I can read a book on the beach, why wouldn’t I? It sure is more pleasant than in my room. So there.

On Saturday night, I flew back to Barcelona for one night. Upon arrival, I packed my backpack again for my next three trips: Granada, San Pedro and Barcelona. Don’t ask questions yet! Everything will become clear.

Admittedly, when I returned to Belgium I really felt like a tourist. I wanted to capture everything in a photograph: the train station, the people, the Kriek I ordered etc. Things just seemed… different, although they were mostly teh same. And then, just when I had finally acclimatized again and didn’t want to take pictures of everything anymore, it was time to return to Barcelona. I was slightly less happy about this fact than I had been in the past, because this time I was returning just to take exams. Not exactly great prospects. That’s why I didn’t mind at all waking up early the next day to hop on a plane to Granada, where my dad was supposed to pick me up. He’d gone to Spain earlier than me to check on the house he’s building there.

As soon as we had checked in, we headed for the city center. It was very cold. Granada is situated more inland and lies at the base of the Sierra Nevada. Lots of walking again. This time was different, though. I didn’t have to keep attention to where I was the whole time, which gave me more time to notice my surroundings. Very soon, we ended up on a terrace and ordered a menú del día. Afterwards, are city tour started for real! Through the Plaza Campo del Principe, we walked towards La Alhambra – the one thing you simply have to see when you go to Granada. Wellll, I saw it. But we didn’t get in. Apparently, you’re supposed to make a reservation months beforehand. There is a day limit of visitors allowed inside. The next few days were completely sold out as well. But not to worry – we’ll have plenty opportunities in the future. San Pedro is not that far from Granada after all!

Instead of walking about in La Alhambra, we walked around it. We stumbled upon Paseo de los Tristes where nice bars are lined up next to each other, all of them enjoying the view of the castle on the hill. From there we walked up another hill that took us to some miradors, or viewpoints. In the meantime, the sun had started to set and it got even colder. The walk, however, was totally worth it again.

The view of La Alhambra from Mirador San Nicolas

These people know San Nicolas is the best viewpoint in Granada!

That evening, we went to a tapas bar – is there anything else, though?! Soon we got talking with a Dutch couple. It turned into an evening of wine tasting, devouring tapas and champagne and sherry to top it off. I had never had sherry before, and I don’t think I’ll order it again any time soon! The next day, dad and I discovered the rest of Granada. We started with tapas at Enrique and strolled casually through the city.

Tapas at Enrique

The next day, we drove into the Sierra Nevada. If I’d thought it couldn’t get any colder, it did. There was an icy wind on the top of the mountain range. The original plan had been that we’d go skiing in the Pradollano, but because the snow prospects weren’t fortunate, we left our skiing gear at home. Nevertheless, we decided to go up into the Sierra to see what it’s worth.

This evening, too, we got acquainted with a Dutch woman. We had been walking around the city, looking for a place to have dinner that was open and had a free table on New Year’s Eve – and, preferably, anything but durum or Libanese food. There was one tapas bar, not too far from the square where we’d be going to watch the fireworks. This is the way celebrating New Year’s works in Spain: with every chime that announces the new year, you eat 1 grape – if you can count, that’s 12 grapes total. The thing is… I don’t eat grapes. But I was going to try it anyhow, because this was a tradition I had actually been looking forward to. Here’s a hint: be prepared for the chimes. You have no idea how fast you’ll have to eat those grapes!

The square in front of the city hall and the streets that lead to it filling up with spectators

Everybody celebrates NYE, even seniors dancing on the bar

What is left behind on the streets after a bunch of New Year’s revelers has passed through

The next day, we left Granada for San Pedro del Pinatar, so I, too, could see the progress on the house. On this note, I’d like to digress on the three feelings I distinguish between when it comes to ‘coming home’: there’s coming home to my family in Belgium, the place where I have lived all of my life. It also feels like coming home, when I go back to my room at Cristina’s after my city trips, but I know it’s not for forever. And lastly, there’s the ‘coming home feeling’ in San Pedro. It is very strange to fall in love with a Spanish town that almost nobody has ever heard of. I think you must go there to understand, just like I had to when my dad told me about his plans for the first time.

After two days, it was time to go back to Barcelona – well, at least in my case it’s ‘going back’. We would spend some more days here together, dad and I. It was weird. I quickly passed by Cristina’s place to get some new clothes, just to leave so I could stay at a nearby hotel. Another weird thing was that I took the lead now.

The first night, the plan was to have dinner at Tickets, but they appeared to be closed and by coincidence, we ended up at Casa de Tapas Cañota, which is kind of a sister to Tickets. Reading the menu in itself was fun! Even more: their croquettes de jamón are the best I’ve ever tasted!

The next day, I took my dad to Poble Español and we ended our day visiting Mare Magnum, the shopping center in Port Vell, and, after a stroll by the Mediterranean,  Carpe Diem Lounge Club where I lived a decadent night – but that’s the point of CDLC, after all. A thought kept going through my head while we were there: would somebody actually order that €11.000 bottle of champagne on the menu?!

The main square in Poble Español

A graffiti artist in Mare Magnum

A corner in Carpe Diem Lounge Club

And then, finally, the big day arrived! The day I would attend my first ever footbal game in Camp Nou! (You know I actually mean soccer, right? It’s just not natural for me to say…) I had given up on the hope that I’d ever see the stadium on the inside, let alone during an actual Barça game, but it did happen! Lucky me! That Sunday, FC Barcelona won 4-0 from Elche. I am not really interested in watching football – I mean, soccer – I’d rather play it myself, but even I can’t ignore the magic of Camp Nou.

That night, something quite disturbing caught my attention… I had never seen this much restaurants and bars closed on a Sunday! And then I remembered: the night of January 5 is when the Spaniards celebrate Reyes Magos, big time. To them, it’s the same as Saint-Nicholas day to the Belgians. Only, Spanish style, they celebrate it even better. The kids get all the attention… and loads of presents. Fortunately, Ciudad Condal was still open. This tapas restaurant is an institution in Barcelona. Everybody ate here at least once and many people wait in line every day to grasp one of the coveted seats. It took us a long time before we finally got a table. Good thing I wasn’t hungry… But the food was delicious!

The next day, around noon, I showed my dad around El Born, where we – just like I always tend to do – had lunch by the church. I’ve told you about this church, it’s the one where everybody wants to get married (like my professor’s sister did). Afterwards, we picked up our stuff at the hotel and it was time for my dad to go home to Belgium and, in my case, to Cristina. I was pretty tired, again. Living the Erasmus life will do this to you. I was actually looking forward to curl up in my bed and watch a movie, but when I opened the front door to the apartment… a horse toppled over. HUH?! I opened the door a little bit further and saw I had hit a horse on a stick, which had fallen into a mountain of toys. I couldn’t hide my astonishment at first, but quickly I realized that it must be her little nephew who’d come over. And it seemed I was right: Cristina had invited over her friends and family to celebrate Reyes Magos. So much for curling up in bed…

I had barely taken off my backpack when I was invited for cava, fruit salad, chocolate and the typical cake they have on this festive day. In this cake, two little plastic objects are hidden which have their respective purposes: there’s a king, which means you get to wear the crown for the rest of the day and the other thing is a bean, which means you have to pay for the cake. After that, it is common for the adults to drink some carajillo together. This is black coffee with a splash of rum or brandy. Of course I had to try this (to the amusement of the spectators), but it was a little too strong for my taste…

The most eye-catching at the party was little Rai. He was the only child there and on a day that children are spoiled, he got all the attention. No surprise the little guy went crazy! He was literally shaking and screamed while running here and there, all round in his “Spider-Knight” costume (i.e. the suit of Spiderman combined with a knight’s helmet, sword and shield). In the end, Rai is a super fun, little boy of three years who has everyone wrapped around his little finger. I called him Rei Rai (King Rai). I have to admit, though, that I was happy was he had finally gone home and I could relax in my own room.

Rai was even allowed to play soccer inside Cristina’s little flat!

And yes… Yesterday, I started studying for my exams. It’s going smoothly. I have almost studied everything for the first test and I have time to repeat everything tomorrow. Friday is going to be the only day I have to get up early, because it’s my only exam taking place at 8.30am. So for now, no more traveling for this girl. The only flight I’m taking is the one that will take me home and I haven’t booked that one yet, because I still don’t know when that will be.

I know it’s weird, but yesterday I was actually kind of looking forward to start studying – maybe that’s why it’s going so well – but today, I’m already getting sick and tired of it. LOL! Friday’s exam is the only exam I actually have to pass to get my credits. For my other exams I only need a 3 or 4 out of 10, so no stress there. It also makes studying easier, because the pressure isn’t as high. I know I am doing it just for myself.

I wish you all good luck with the exams and your New Year’s resolutions!

 

When Christmas comes knocking

December 19, 2013

How fast time goes, right? I can perfectly remember the day I first set foot in Cristina’s apartment. While all the rest consists of fragmented moments in my memory, I remember every single detail of that day. So many things have happened since then. All the things I’ve seen and done… It’s too much to keep track of everything. In my Philosophy class, one of the returning concepts is that your memory is selective and the things you do remember say something more about who you are. When I look back on the last few months and reminisce about the moments I still remember loud and clear, it’s very interesting to look at these moments from this perspective. Why do I remember those things and why have I already almost forgotten some of the things I wrote about in my blog? I guess having what is actually almost an online diary is very useful to kind of archive the things you’re afraid to forget.

Autumn Barcelona

Sunday, December 8. Kerry and  Anna and two of their Dutch friends and me went to the labyrinth in the Horta Park. After two minutes, we had lost half of our group, but in the end we all survived! The park in itself is beautiful. The only reason I hadn’t been here before was… well, there’s no real reason. It sure is worth a visit when you’re staying in BCN for a couple of days. On a short weekend trip, however, I’d skip it. Parque d’Horta is more than just a maze. There are several gardens, among which there is an amazing Ancient Roman part and a beautiful rose garden. On Sundays, the entrance to the park is free!

Parque d'Horta

Monday evening, December 9. We ‘celebrated’ the departure of Anjelica and Shannon with cava and an American-style dinner. They had their finals this week already, so the despedidas took place at the beginning of the week. On Friday morning, I, however, would be the first to leave. A couple of hours later, Anjelica would fly back to Virginia and the next day, Shannon was off back to Arkansas. They both got home safely, by the way, and seem to have more trouble getting over their jetlags there than they did when they arrived here.  

Wednesday, December 11. Like always, I went to the Starbucks across the street between classes. I’m on a first name basis with the staff there now. Before they ask me if I want the usual, they already give me the code of the Wi-Fi. This time was different, though. I was told that, as one of their most loyal customers, I was allowed to choose one of their Christmas drinks for free. Normally I don’t drink coffee with flavors – I really just like the taste of coffee with some milk – but I wasn’t turning this opportunity down! Plus, I felt kind of special… So I went with the toffee nut latte, but I’m never taking it again. Coffee is coffee and I don’t want any nuts, chocolate or whipped cream to take away the coffee flavor. Natural all the way!

“Thank you for sharing so many moments with us! We thank you for your loyalty by offering you your favorite Christmas beverage for free… Let’s keep celebrating the holidays together!”

Friday night/morning, December 13. I got out of bed at 2.45am, put some clothes on and ate a quick breakfast. I have no problem having breakfast this early. You can wake me up at any time of the night for some cereal. When I worked at Starbucks last summer, I had morning shifts all the time and I never left for work without my 4am breakfast. Once arrived at the job, I just had breakfast again. But I digress… The Aerobus in Barcelona starts driving at 5.30am, so I had to go to the airport by Nitbus, which I had never done before. Knowing me and my lack of the find-your-way-chromosome, I had searched for the right bus stop the day before. Bus N16 stops both at T1 and T2, so this was the one I needed. At 4.30am, I was inside a bus full of people. I know! At this hour! Taking the Nitbus to the airport takes 3 times as long as the Aerobus, because it makes this huge detour instead of taking the autopista.

A Christmas Tree on the water? Really?

A Christmas Tree on the water? Really?

Just to be sure, I had factored some extra time to get to the airport in case something went wrong while taking the bus. Busses and me are a bad combination. Because everything had gone well, I had to wait at a cold airport for an hour. My guess is they save on heating – at Brussel’s airport, they turn down the air-conditioning both for this reason and so that people would  buy more drinks. In the airplane it was cold as well, but once we were up in the air, they turned on the heat. We landed on time. I counted myself lucky, especially because it was Friday the thirteenth! The aeroport bus took me for €3 (single) to Malaga.

An old railroad in Malaga

An old railroad in Malaga

 

This time, I had rented a room with AirBnB again. I was staying in a room with a queen-size bed (yes!) in a young couple’s apartment, where they lived with not two, but five dogs! The female had recently given birth to three more puppies, of which two would get new owners the next day. Mo, the macho, was to be castrated tomorrow as well. No more puppies in the future… Granted, it was great to be surrounded by dogs again. It made me realize anew that I was missing my mom’s dog, Pebbles. You can skype your family, but talking to a dog is plain impossible. Fali, the host, cleaned the apartment three times a day though, so the amount of dog hair was kept to a minimum, which I appreciated. You may know by now that AirBnB is booming business. It’s a perfect solution if you want to travel on a budget without having to couchsurf or stay at a hostel.

Calle Marqués de Larios

Calle Marqués de Larios

IMG_3390

Plaza de la Concepción

It was very cold when I arrived in Malaga, but it didn’t take long before the temperature rose up to a pleasant 20°C. You know, from one minute to the next. I didn’t know this is – the way it always goes in Malaga, so I was walking already for 15 minutes with the temperature suddenly rising from 10 to 20. So I had no choice but to carry my jacket, scarf and sweater with me all day.

The Catedral with orange trees in front of the entrance

The Catedral with orange trees in front of the entrance

The next few hours I did all the touristy stuff that holds something interesting for me. This means I skipped the Picasso and Thyssen museum and visited the amfitheater, Alcazaba and cathedral instead. I also climbed the Gibralfaro mountain. On the internet I’d read that it was a terrible mountain to climb, but I didn’t know what was so terrible about it until I was halfway.  Indeed, the last part was very steep. Good thing that woman coming down on her stilettos had somebody with her to support her. As soon as I had reached the viewpoint on the way up, I was ready to give up. But I had already come all this way… Once I reached the top I found out I had to pay for the entrance. Umm… WHAT?! First they make me climb this mountain and then I have to pay for it? Nevertheless, there is a really great discount for students. We pay only €0,6. For adults it’s a full €6. What made my day instantly better, was my finding a €20-note! Who said Friday the thirteenth is a day for bad luck? There was nobody around that could have dropped the note, so I was the honest finder!

Teatro Romano

Teatro Romano

Panoramic over Malaga from Gibralfaro

Panoramic over Malaga from Gibralfaro

Alcazaba

Alcazaba

On the way down I found an easier route. You only see it when you go down, unless somebody tells you where it is. You skip a large part of the tough walk and it’s a beautiful walk, too.

The easy way down

The easy way down

A woman feeding the birds in Jardines Pedro Luis Alfonso

A woman feeding the birds in Jardines Pedro Luis Alfonso

The 'old' city hall

The ‘old’ city hall

In the afternoon I met up with Bart, a world traveler who was in Malaga for the week. He is a fellow Belgian and we agreed to go for a drink. I arrived perfectly on time at the port of Malaga, where we sat down on the terrace of Kaleido. Bart told me about traveling around in Peru, Chili and Argentina, staying with CS-hosts here and there. He’d seen a big part of the world, so we had lots to talk about. It was also really nice to talk face to face with a Belgian again after so long.

We walked for a little while through the center of Malaga and made a last stop at 100 montaditos. Remember how enthusiastic I was about this place when I went there in Sevilla? Well, I very much enjoyed another jarra de tinto de verano, I’ll tell you that!

Plaza de la Constitución by night

Plaza de la Constitución by night

After the long walk back to the apartment I was exhausted, so after a quick hot shower I climbed into bed to watch a movie. Not even an hour later I got out of bed to welcome Elizabeth home, who had just arrived after a long day at work and whom I hadn’t met yet. That’s when I realized I had a bad, bad cold. I was shivering and had lost my voice. Elizabeth immediately told me to make myself some peppermint tea and go back to bed. Which I did.

El Muello  Uno, the new boardwalk by the port

El Muello Uno, the new boardwalk by the port

The next day, I still had no voice. Just before noon I got the message I’d been waiting for. Bart gave me a reason to get out of bed. We walked by the coast for a long time until we reached the small town called El Palo. It was really warm and sunny that day.

Malaga

Malaga

Malaga

 

The way – all 5km of it – seemed really long, but I’d had a great time. Back in the center of Malaga, we bought ourselves some ice cream. I hadn’t had a lot of ice cream back in Barcelona because it’s outragingly expensive there. In Malaga you get a big portion for the price of one scoop in BCN. Bart and I agreed to go to 100 montaditos that evening with two other Belgians who had also just arrived in Malaga. Talking in Dutch, face to face, had been so long and it seems like my Dutch has not exactly improved in the last few months!

Gorgeous christmas decorations in Malaga!

Gorgeous christmas decorations in Malaga!

Sunday morning, I got up as stiff as a rake, at 6.30am. I wanted to go to the airport early so I’d have some time to buy a coffee at Starbucks. I had a nice chat with one of my ‘colleages’ there, but I didn’t get a free coffee, unfortunately. Eventually, I was almost late for my flight because the airport of Malaga is really complicated. I couldn’t find the security checkpoint. Following the arrows doesn’t help here, because at some point, they just stop giving you signs. Finally, I ended up bumping into Bart, who was late too. His flight departed at the same time, only he’d be going back to Belgium. The rest of the day I spent recuperating in bed. I could barely walk by the time I got home.

To give you an idea of how long I have been traveling and how much this has cost me financially, I can tell you this: by the end of my Erasmus semester, I will have travelled around for 42 or 43 days at an average of €12/day. In this price is included: transportation (bus, plane, taxi (when inevitable) and subway) and accommodation. Food, drink, entrance fees, souvenirs and the like are not included in this price because I consider it part of the budget of my regular daily expenses. Travelling shouldn’t be expensive, but enriching. I can certainly say I have learned a lot from my travels and they were worth every penny and every moment of exhaustion. I have learned more about the way the world works, a world I knew and a world I have still to discover further, but most of all, I got to know the real me.

To give you an example: I am the type of girl that wants to plan everything. I like to make lists and want to know everything before it even happens. This urge to control everything is something I have learned to control better. But it is a part of who I am, and sometimes, this part of me still gets the upper hand. What I have learned, though, is that that doesn’t always happen for negative reasons: for example, sometimes I get so excited about going on a new adventure, I start packing my backpack a week early. So it is actually my infinite enthusiasm that is to blame. Another thing I learned is that the word ‘adventure’ has more than one meaning. The stereotypical adventure travel is the kind where you, figuratively speaking, risk your life doing extreme sports, causing you to feel this addictive adrenaline rush.

I get this rush already from setting foot in a new country or city where I have never been before, don’t know anyone, don’t speak the language and am completely dependent on myself. Everything is new, everything is beautiful, everything is yet unknown and it is up to me to discover it all, examine it, try it, taste, smell and feel it. And afterwards, when I get home, I feel the adrenaline leave my body. All those energetic days with lots of new experiences have left their mark. I fall back into my routine, everything goes as usual. It doesn’t take long before I want to feel that rush again, no matter how tired I was or still am, no matter which blunders I have committed – which, hopefully, nobody saw – and no matter that I don’t want to climb another hill or mountain. Adventure is calling me! I can honestly say I have never felt so alive as I have the last couple of months. And especially in the beginning, during my first month in Barcelona, and during all of my little excursions – whether I had to reach them by bus, train or plane. There are so many clichés that may sound cheesy, but actually have some kind of truth to them – like, ‘people who travel’ run away from things or ‘people who travel’ don’t want take responsibilities. I don’t want to pretend to be the all-knowing world traveler, but I have been allowed to glimpse at what it is like to be one of those ‘people who travel’ and I have to admit it tastes morish!

Of course, I also had some classes I still had to go to. That it was the last week of school, however, was pretty obvious. There was almost nobody in any of my classes! Today, I didn’t go either because I didn’t want to interrupt the students giving their presentations with my incessant coughing. I had to leave my last class on Wednesday early because of it.

Tuesday night. There was a small Christmas party at La Oveja Negra (which means ‘black sheep’). The other Erasmus girls where there too and they all brought some of their friends from back home. The Dutch girls where here as well. We had a great time saying goodbye before everyone went back to their home countries for the holidays. I had cava sangria for the first time, which I like a lot better than the regular wine sangria. We didn’t take one of those sangria towers that the place is known for. Want me to tell about another blonde moment that happened to me? Anna and Kerry, who are both British, told me to meet everyone at La Oveja Negra at “half nine”, which to me means the same thing as 8.30, but for them it’s the usual way of saying 9.30. In other words, I wasn’t late, but half an hour early!

On Monday and Wednesday, after our Philosophy class, Fran (the guy who tutors me) and two Italian Erasmus students and I went to Nostrum to grab some lunch. You can buy food here for 1, 2, 4 or 6 Euros only! And with Frederico’s loyalty card, we got amazing discounts on top of it! The best thing was that we could sit outside on the terrace. The heating poles weren’t working, but it was still just warm enough to eat outside – yes, in December! Bliss!

Wednesday night, I took my friends with me to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity event. I had received an invitation from Annalisa to attend the exclusive premiere of BCN- The Series, where we would be the first to see the pilot. It had been two months since I’d last seen Annalisa, but she had kept me updated about the progress she was making. When she invited me to the premiere, of course I’d said yes. It also turned out to be some kind of couchsurfing reunion. I saw so many people I recognized! There were about 150 people there, who were entertained by a live concert of the band Mood, which wasn’t that bad, actually. They made the soundtrack for the series as well.  All in all a great evening. And wine in a beer glass. Because, why not?

Today, Thursday December 19, I’m counting down the hours until I am allowed to get on an airplane again – the one that will take me home. I only went outside to print my boarding pass – I had to endure the rain because of it, hmpf – and for the rest I mostly worked on my bachelor thesis to make my deadline (which is tomorrow). Thirteen hours from now I’ll be on that plane back to Belgium. It’s about time! Of course, I wouldn’t mind if my home university allowed me to study in Barcelona until the end of the school year, just like the school of Anna did for her, but that’s not gonna happen for me… But no worries, Barcelona isn’t that far away from Belgium!

I’ll see you all very soon! Happy holidays!

 

 

100 Days Erasmus Barcelona!

December 5, 2013

Reached a milestone today: for 100 days I have been living in beautiful Barcelona now, away from home and everything and everyone. I really want to visit home now. My wish will come true in three weeks! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Last week nothing special happened. My presentation went well and a couple hours after, I was already heading to the airport. I stepped straight into the airplane and was on my way to Lisbon. I’ll tell you all about it in a minute. Let’s just take a moment to realize how fast time goes here. I mean, WOW, it seems like it was only yesterday when I arrived in Barcelona. Now that I have pointed this out, click on this link to hear some fado music to get in the mood. The artist of this song, Mariza, is supposedly one of the best fado-singers of Portugal. Do you like fado?

You can guess which type I am right?

You can guess which type I am right?

Thursday evening, arrival at the airport of Lisbon. During half our flight, the peace of the other passengers and me was disturbed by turbulence – not that I care about turbulence. I just kept on reading my book. Actually, I kind of like turbulence. I get this funny feeling in my stomach like when you’re in a rollercoaster. I’m well aware this is probably because I’ve never had anything bad happen to me in an airplane (yet). Also, I got to enjoy one of the nicest nighttime views I’ve ever seen from a plane. Lisbon is truly beautiful by night! Ah, those lights! Once arrived, I bought a Viva Viagem-ticket (€0.5 to be paid once for the card and then you add as much credit as you need) and hopped on a train to the city center, where Cilene my CS-host would be waiting for me. We went to her apartment so I could drop off my bag before we went to (my first ever) vegetarian restaurant. I’d never had toffu before, but it’s not as bad as I’d expected. When we returned to my host’s, we small talked for a long time until I finally admitted I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. Also, it is one hour earlier in Lisbon (which I didn’t know until I actually reached Lisbon… so much for research!). The next day, I was planning on going to Sintra.

Friday, AM. I woke up before Cilene, but we kind of agreed on it happening this way. After a cup of tea, I headed for Rossio Square. There’s a train station there, where I could catch a train to Sintra (€3.9 for a return ticket). The benefits of staying at a CS-host’s place, is that they can tell what’s worth seeing and how to get around for the best price. Cilene had been to Sintra the week before with one of her surfers, so all the information she could give me was up-to-date. How convenient, right!

Rossio Square

Rossio Square

Rossio Train Station

Rossio Train Station

Arrival at sunny Sintra. Just like Lisbon, this city is situated in the hills mostly. A day of hiking coming up! The main attractions here are mostly the castles and the views. The first castle I visited is called Quinta da Regaleira, which is not that spectacular in itself. The territory around it is, though! I saw a big part of it, all up-hill and on an empty stomach. Not smart… The hills are all wooded – the trees keep out a lot of the direct sunlight, which makes it pretty cold. Anyways, the things that impressed me most are the ‘shortcuts’ – (more or less) hidden stairwells that are so small I had to be very careful not to fall my way down (they are obviously made for smaller people) –, the many cats (in the hills!!).

Stairwell Sintra

I was also impressed by the drinking fountains (they are everywhere) and ‘the abuse’ of them, the views over Sintra and Lisbon, the caves and, most of all, the Initiation Well (which is also the must-see in Sintra, and that’s not just me saying that!). Furthermore, I succeeded in getting lost again, even though I had a map. Either it was a sucky map or I had one of my blonde moments again. I mean, most of the tour was in a circle. How hard can it be? Oh, by the way, there’s an entrance fee of €4 for students and €6 for adults.

Fountain of Abundance

Fountain of Abundance

Sorry, I just couldn't resist!

Sorry, I just couldn’t resist!

Leda's Cave

Leda’s Cave

The Initiation Well as seen from above. The first time I felt something like fear of heights.

The Initiation Well as seen from above. The first time I felt something like fear of heights.

After a walk through the dark caves, you have to walk on water

After a walk through the dark caves, you have to walk on water

Friday, PM. By now, I was almost fainting with hunger. On my way to the center, I grabbed a quick bite and continued. The centro historico was tiny, but there are a lot of artisanal shops with self-made stuff that’s worth taking a look at.

Sintra

Sintra

SIntra

Sintra

With renewed energy (and courage) I started walking to Castelo Dos Mouros, a recommendation of Cilene. She said it wasn’t too far on foot. Man… I saw the castle from Quinta Regaleira, but I guess I didn’t realize how far away it is… While I was making my way up the hill, I hardly ever ran in to anybody. Except for some experienced walkers all geared out with those walking sticks, warm coats and white lips from the lip balm (the skiing type, you know…). I wasn’t exactly prepared for this kind of hike. I had some tough moments here when all I wanted to do was go back down, because what the heck was I doing here? I don’t do this! I never willingly walk up hills! But I have evolved enough the past few months to convince myself that I could do this and why give up now when I had gotten so far already? Just like with the other castle, the view was totally worth it once I reached the top. The castle is in ruins – there’s not much left of it to see. In fact, it’s the castle’s walls you actually go up there to visit. Back in the day, the walls were occupied by guards who had a clear view over the land and could warn the people in the castle of imminent attacks. Now it’s a perfect viewpoint for the 21st century visitors.

Sintra

IMG_3053

Sintra

Sintra Blue Eyed Cats

Sintra

Sintra

Friday night, Cilene and I had some traditional Portuguese food in the neighborhood. If you know where to go, you can eat very cheap in Lisbon. After dinner, I was meeting up with someone else from Couchsurfing. Cilene was busy with a research project for her business course. She was currently in between jobs and being young and unemployed, she was offered the opportunity to follow these business classes for free. If she does well, she could basically start her own business if she wanted to. See, this is what I like about CS: people like Cilene helping other people out, just because they want to do something nice, even if they don’t have much to give. But what she could give me, was more than enough! A bed, a shower, company and a life lesson.

Belem

Belem

Saturday morning. It had been a long night and I was up early again to go and discover Lisbon. First, I took the tram to Belém – I’m still not sure whether this is part of Lisbon or not. It seems like everyone has a different opinion! Anyways, the tram was as full as it could be. Just imagine being in a tram so crammed full of people that you can’t even fall over because there is no space to fall (or to move in general). At some point even breathing became hard. When I reached Belém, alive and well, I strolled by the quay from the Monument of Discovery in the direction of the famous Torre de Belém. Back at my starting point, I quickly bought a pastei de nata at the place you have to get them: Pasteis de Belém. The concept reminds me a lot of La Durée and their macaroons, but different. Or like they say in Thailand: same same, but different.

Monument of Discoveries

Belem

Torre de Belem

Pasteis de Belem

Pastei de Nata

Saturday afternoon. I went back to Lisbon with the tram – this time, I had a little more room for breathing though. Thank God! Next, I hopped on the metro to Martin Moniz, where I switched for the famous tram 28 that would take me to Graça. There I walked through the Feira de Ladra (which means Market of Thieves, not because the goods they sell are stolen, but because the customers are robbed without them noticing, so beware of pickpockets!) towards the Alfama neighborhood and made my way back downhill. Completely exhausted, I didn’t think I was up for a walk around the Chiado neighborhood as well. That’s why I took the metro back to Cilene’s place, where she was preparing a late lunch. Expecting me to be hungry, she offered me my second traditional Portuguese dish in a row.

Martin Munoz Lisbon

Feira de Ladra Lisbon

San Vincente Church Lisbon

Saturday afternoon – or should I say early evening? – I had some time left to head over to Chiado after all. It is where you’ll find the shopping streets, trendy bars, coffee bars etc. I had just reached the end of the first shopping street, where it was pleasantly crowded, when I bumped into an excited crowd on the Praça de Comercio. My eyes fell upon a guy surrounded by paparazzi – a guy that looked a lot like Bruce Willis! But just to be sure, I asked one of the bystanders who that man was – I mean, what would Bruce Willis come to Lisbon for? – and they told me that the man I saw up close was the Mayor of Lisbon who was about to turn on the Christmas lights. Two minutes later, that was exactly what happened… along with fireworks! How lucky am I?! Colored lights and fireworks – all at the same time? And totally by coincidence! My exhaustion was completely forgotten when I walked on the Rua Garret, a slightly more expensive shopping street, and back to the metro. I also passed A Brasileira, a famous old café/restaurant.

Does he look like Bruce Willis or what?

Does he look like Bruce Willis or what?

Christmas Lights and Fireworks!

Christmas Lights and Fireworks!

I hadn't even seen the tree until they'd lighted it up!

I hadn’t even seen the tree until they’d lighted it up!

Artsy fartsy christmas lights in Lisbon

Artsy fartsy christmas lights in Lisbon

A Brasileira

A Brasileira

Saturday night. I freshned up before Cilene took me to the performance of her dance teacher. When we got there, we heard it wouldn’t start until a bit later so we went to a place across the street instead. There was this artists café – one of those where everyone knows everyone – where a concert was just about to start. The musicians – a cellist, two saxophonists, a flutist and a hand drummer – played songs they felt like playing at the moment, spontaneously. During the break, Cilene, a friend of hers and I went back to the other side of the street where the perfomance was now in full swing. It was not at all what I’d expected! Cilene’s teacher, a crazy African (there are a lot of them in Portugal!) was playing a weird instrument – at least, he was when he wasn’t dancing like a maniac on stage. I was told the music was typical Portuguese music, but not fado. More like folk. The locals danced like pro’s, too. Eventually, the people from the other concert were also drawn here. And then, after a long day and night, it was finally time to go to sleep.

Lisbon

Lisbon

Lisbon

Sunday morning. Cilene had trouble getting up in the morning. More than I did. She had, however, suggested to join me on a visit to Lisbon’s own castle, Castelo de San Jorge, before I had to catch my plane back home. The castle offers a view that’s just as gorgeous as the ones in Sintra: the red roofs, the river Taag… The climb up the hill was tough once again, especially while carrying my backpack with me. Is it me or am I just not used to anything? After having visited the castle and the complementary museum – where you can go watch potsherds if you’re interested, which I’m not, honestly – I bought Cilene some coffee and pasteis de nata to say thank you for her generousness, kindness and so much more. After this short break, we walked from Alto to Baixo and again to Chiado. Yes, Cilene was all about showing me Lisbon her way in the short time we had! This is how I realized I will have to return to Lisbon sometime, because, frankly, I had not seen all of Lisbon yet. And who could in only a day and a half?? By the time I had to head for the airport, I was worn out, but I had to hurry anyway because I was running kinda late. Nothing new here, right? In the end, I was on time – without having to run, but I have long legs – and talked to a Finnish girl who has been working in Barcelona for a year now. You can learn quite a lot from talking to strangers on a plane!

Lisbon

Lisbon

Once I was back in my room in BCN, I felt like I was hit by a truck. I was dead-beat, exhausted, stiff… all the frills! Fortunately, I didn’t have to go to school on Monday and I had an extra day to recover. On the other hand, I regretted not knowing about this before. I could have stayed one day longer in Lisbon, which would have meant I wouldn’t have had to rush everything. O well, since I am still not recovered by now, it’s probably a good thing I have an extra day off!

Lisbon

Lisbon

Lisbon

Lisbon

You can see this convent from pretty much everywhere in Lisbon. Many people have died here during the earthquake of 1755.

You can see this convent from pretty much everywhere in Lisbon. Many people have died here during the earthquake of 1755.

On Monday, I wrote down some pointers for my presentation for Modernism and finished up the essay for US Lit. In the afternoon, I worked on the deadlines for my Bachelor thesis.  

The other days I went to school like on every school day. Today, I suddenly got this idea of watching the Belgian news on live stream and that’s exactly what I ended up doing. Why didn’t I think of this before?! This is how I found out the sad news about Nelson Mandela. Last month, I had mentioned the fact that I hadn’t heard about his health in a while and I wondered if he’d died without me noticing. I mean, knowing me, that could totally happen. The news, however, is sad and I can only imagine what the South-Africans must be feeling… At least he has had an exciting 95 years of life. He has achieved a lot and deserves some well-earned rest.

On that note, I hope everybody has a great weekend!

It is better to travel well than to arrive

November 25, 2013

Monday, November 18. Today was the big day: my final partial exam. I did my best and expected to pass but my grade to be lower than on the partial exam. I hadn’t read all of the texts for the Philosophy course and I didn’t understand all of the concepts. On top of that, the question was about the philosopher I had understood the least of and it was a question about this text of which a lot was still unclear. By now, I can, however, proudly tell you that I passed both partials! Yay!

Tuesday, November 19. I had a meeting for the presentation for Modernism. I’m not doing this alone. In my group are 7 Spaniards whom I only know by face. The meeting in itself went smoothly, except that most of my teammates were late or didn’t show up at all. Typical Spanish, right? After the last class my friends and I went to grab a slice of pizza. Just a slice. Which is not enough for me! So, I took this chance to go and try these churros amb xocolate I’d heard so much about. The other members of my presentationgroup had recommended some places to me where I could eat some nice churros with chocolate sauce. I went to this little bakery in the Barri Gotic, which I found without problem, surprisingly! Granted, I like churros better without the chocolate. The sauce is the same stuff they use for hot chocolate, the drink. That says it all, doesn’t it?

On Thursday, Shannon and I went to the Catching Fire premiere! I was over the moon when I found the original version – not the dubbed one – in a Barcelonan theater. I have a thing with premieres: I always want to see and know things first. Going to the premiere is something I would normally have done in Belgium. The movie came out in Spain one day later than in Belgium, but that’s okay. Shannon thought this was great, because the movie came out earlier here than in America. After the movie we went straight home. Shannon and Anjelica were going to Rome the next day and had to leave at 3am.

On Friday I was invited to the goodbye party of two of Anna’s roommates. I had been studying for the most part of the day – like I’d been doing the last one and a half months – and really needed to do something else for a while. Going to the cinema doesn’t count.  When ‘everyone’ had arrived – ‘everyone’ were people from all around the world – our group decided to go to BeCool, a club in a side street of the Avenida Diagonal. In truth, I thought we were going to a chupitos bar to do shots – Johanna had also said she wasn’t feeling like going to a club and I would never suggest going to a club myself. It was an… interesting night. I spent two hours in the ladies room because one of my friends had a little too much to drink. Everyone had brought something to the house party. Who declines free drinks?

Meanwhile, they also lighted the 85km of Christmas lighting in Barcelona. It’s a sight to see! You wouldn’t say the city suffers from the economical crisis at all, especially if you know that they easily spent 2 million Euros on it!

Saturday, November 23. I went to see Catching Fire again. I know, I’m obsessed. I go to movies two times in Belgium sometimes, but this time it was a miscommunication that allowed me to go a second time. First I asked the Erasmus girls to come and when they didn’t answer right away, I asked my roomies. I really, really wanted to go the premiere for reasons explained prior to this paragraph. So I went with Shannon first and with the other girls on Saturday, when I found out they did want to go. The movie is good enough that going twice was no burden at all!

On Sunday, I read all day long, so I’d finish my last book for US Lit. The Monday after next, I’d have to hand in my final essay and that weekend I’m off to Lisbon. Better pull the thing together beforehand. I only went out a short while for coffee at Starbucks because we were out of milk in the apartment. And without milk you can’t make a café con leche!

On Thursday morning I’m giving my presentation on Virginia Woolf and in the afternoon I’ll be celebrating my 100th day in Barcelona in Lisbon. Hurray!

“It is better to travel well than to arrive” is a quote from, the one and only, Buddha. It doesn’t refer to traveling literally, but to my stay in Barcelona as a journey, a journey on the road to getting to know me. I will probably never discover all of the angles and corners of myself, but I can try to reach my goal – by experiencing, by having good intentions, by trial and error and reaching parts of my goal in the meantime – and these moments on the journey are probably more important than reaching my goal, my destination, in itself. Virginia Woolf is the one who said “Desires lose their value when one achieves them. A life without desiring things is death.” What I want most right now, besides learning things about myself, is to go to Lisbon, visit Belgium and pass all of my exams. And secondly, the discover more of the world. Desires galore!

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!

 

 

Gone for 60 days

October 25, 2013

Sorry for the long wait, but here’s another looong blog post to make up for the last month, a month full of adventures and new experiences! Here’s a recap from last time: La Merced had just ended (which already seems soooo long ago now). A lot of things have happened since then – maybe there was even a little too much excitement – but boredom has been kept effectively at bay the last 30 days.

Barri Gotic

 

Saturday, September 28. The Flemish psychology student (I told you about her last time) and I went to discover the historical center of Barcelona some more. I guess I thought was kind of leading the way, but, in truth, I was lost half the time myself. Anyways, I bumped into one of the most beautiful hidden squares in Barri Gotic again. My mom and I found them 2.5 years ago and even with my mom’s orientation skills it was hard to find. Besides this, I also discovered a whole new part of the Ciutat Vella with even more lovely streets and squares. The point was that I’d take my friend to El Born so she could have her first tapas ever. I got us a table in front of the cathedral. I just find it to be the best spot in the neighborhood. Funny moment: apparently one of my professor’s sister was having her marriage at this particular cathedral. My professor had waved at me, but I had looked right past her. Typical me! She told the whole class about this in detail, so that’s how I found out.

Ciutat Vella

Ciutat Vella

Sunday was supposed to be a rainy, cloudy day in Barcelona, while in Sitges it was going to be sunny and warm. Consequently, I took my required school reading to the beach. In Sitges, the temperature was up to a pleasant 30°C. I was really happy I made the decision to come here. I was even more happy when I found out later it had been raining in Barcelona all day!

Sitges

Sitges

From October 7 till 14 my week was crammed full with homework. On Thursday afternoon I took off on a plane towards San Pedro del Pinatar. It was basically a business trip to choose stuff for the house my dad’s building there and make some important decisions. Our next-door neighbor had tagged along as well. She has a great eye for interior design and she was the perfect person to help us out! We had a great time, the three of us. I perked up a lot by having the opportunity to wear my shorts another time. The weather hadn’t exactly been appropriate for that anymore in Barcelona. But, basically, our days consisted of meetings, with great food as a reward and walks in the sun to pass the remaining time. I can definitely say I returned from this trip exhausted, but satisfied.

Sunrise on the first morning

Sunrise on the first morning

On the beach at the Mar Menor

On the beach at the Mar Menor

Flamingos also live here! In the salinas to be exact.

Flamingos also live here! In the salinas to be exact.

Catching the sun in my hands while it sets into the sea

Catching the sun in my hands while it sets into the sea

The day I had to return home – I like referring to Barcelona as “home”! – I had to go to the airport of Alicante in the morning even though my flight was 6 to 7 hours later. I wasn’t going to just sit at the airport, so instead I took a bus that drove to the city center – a much nicer way to spend the time. I walked up and down the boulevard – Alicante has a really nice beach – and went up the mountain to see the Santa Barbara Castle. I finished my visit with lunch on the Esplanada Espanyola. On the bus back to the airport, I met a Flemish woman who’s a pilot for Ryanair, based in Alicante. To avoid any confusion: she didn’t end up being my pilot.

View over Alicante from the Castle

View over Alicante from the Castle

Not much is left standing after the attacks on the Santa Barbara Castle throughout the ages

Not much is left standing after the attacks on the Santa Barbara Castle throughout the ages

Esplanada Espanyola

Esplanada Espanyola

The next Monday everything turned upside down. The UA had decided to refuse two of my classes that I had been following for over a month. Of one course I was happy to get rid of. It’s a little too much like Philosophy if you ask me. I’ve never been particularly good at that and I would have a partial exam of it the next week, more specifically on the same Monday I would be returning from Seville. Oops… The tension of whether or not I was to keep following this course remained up until the Thursday I left to Seville. The other course I had liked a lot: US History and Culture. And what did I have to replace it for? Freaking Russian Formalism and Structuralism (or something like that). WTF?! I went to one of these classes and could just not catch on. It didn’t make any sense to me. Not long after, I realized that I had to keep my Spanish Philosophy-ish course which was on the exact same hours on the same days as my new classes, even the exams were on the same days and hours (both the partials and finals). In the end, I didn’t mind the Philosophy course so much anymore as long as I could change the Structuralism one. Not surprisingly, I mentioned this fact to my Belgian correspondents – I mean, even they know I couldn’t possibly be in two places at the same time, right? – and they gave me three alternatives. I picked Theory of the Critique on Feminist Literature and Gender Studies. A mouth full. The course, however, is super-interesting, apart from the fact that I have to catch up on 1.5 months of subject material (and did remember that they don’t have schoolbooks here?). In short, I had to find a way to deal with this problem. Thank you very much, UA! Thanks a lot! The heaps of work I had been trying to work my way through was now as high as ever…

The Tibidabo train

The Tibidabo train

Tuesday, October 15. Thanks to my time-management skills – kidding… or am I? – I scheduled in some time to go to Tibidabo with Steffen. I had been up the mountain once during a city trip, but that day two people had died in one of the attractions and the only people we’d seen were journalists and cameramen. Seeing as the attraction park had been closed because of it, there was not much to see or do, except enjoying the beautiful view over the city of Barcelona. It was superhot when I went up the mountain last time, but now it was rather chilly. Good thing I came prepared. The reason I went back to Tibidabo – even though I have tons of homework waiting for me – was that Steffen would be moving back to Denmark by the end of the month.  It wasn’t exactly a punishment to climb back to the top of this famous mountain. Moreover, it is the 100th birthday of the attraction park, which makes it kind of special.

Basílica Del Sagrat Cor De Jesús Del Tibidabo

Basílica Del Sagrat Cor De Jesús Del Tibidabo

100-year-old fair – in all this time, it has only been renovated twice!

100-year-old fair – in all this time, it has only been renovated twice!

The view from Tibidabo mountain

The view from Tibidabo mountain

Thursday, October 17. I packed my backpack and saved some space for my school stuff so I could study on the plane for the Philosophy exam that I would undoubtedly fail. I didn’t have faith in it… After class, I quickly grabbed a bite to eat with the girls, packed my backpack and made my way to the airport. I was running slightly late, but wasn’t stressing… yet – not until the airport bus acted out and, finally, broke down. So, just like that, we were stranded on the side of the road. And I had a plane to catch within 45 minutes! That’s when I started to stress out a little. Nevertheless, I did try to stay calm and went to the front of the bus to ask the driver what was wrong. “We broke down, but in 5 minutes the problem will be solved, so everyone has to stay on the bus.” That was what he said. But I know what 5 minutes means in Spain. So I told him I would rather take a cab then, to which he replied “No, stay in the bus!” I guess he didn’t know who he was talking to. As soon as the dude turned his back to me, I jumped out of that bus and hailed a taxi. I had paid for the bus and a taxi, but at least I arrived at the airport just in time to catch my flight. People were already getting on the plane when I arrived at the gate. In the end, the departure was delayed with 10 minutes, because – typical Ryanair – the overhead compartments were full before everyone had gotten onto the plane and the passengers who weren’t in their seats yet didn’t want to store their carry-on bags away. Long discussions followed. I was like, what the heck, the flight lasts only about an hour! Who cares? Although I am pretty sure I didn’t say that out loud. When I finally got inside the plane I found a seat by a window and enjoyed the view of the Spanish east-coastline, colored by the setting sun. We arrived 15 minutes early at our destination.

Ryanair

It wasn’t until I first set foot in Sevilla that I realized this was my first actual solo-trip. I was alone in a foreign country, in a city I had never been to before. I was completely dependent on myself, I knew nothing and nobody here. I hadn’t prepared anything, because all my time had gone to my loads of schoolwork that had to be done before I left. The only thing I had prepared was the place where I would be staying, a shared apartment I found on AirBnB. It was situated in the small streets of the La Macarena neighborhood. The woman who rented a bedroom to me told me how to reach her place from the airport. It was half past nine when I rang her doorbell. I just took some time to tell my family I had arrived safely before I went to sleep.

"The Mushroom" on Plaza de la Encarnacion

“The Mushroom” on Plaza de la Encarnacion

Day one in Sevilla. Even though I had come here by myself, I made sure I wouldn’t really be alone. Through the Couchsurfing website I contacted Maikel, who’s 100% Sevillean and knew the city like the inside of his pocket. He showed me the most important sights of the city, like La Catedral, La Giralda and Los Reales Alcazares. Maikel explained to me that he does this tour often with exchange students that come to the university where he also studies. This is also the day I was introduced to my new favorite chain of Spanish food: 100 montaditos, where they not only serve 100 kinds of montaditos (tapas in or on bread) but also serve the best tinto de verano, which is now my favorite drink for the summer! As if this isn’t enough, every montadito costs only €1 and on Mondays only €0.5! Awesome! I love the flavors and I love the concept. The tinto de verano, too, costs only €1. It tastes like sangria, only better.

Sevilla's Cathedral

Sevilla’s Cathedral

A patio in the cathedral

A patio in the cathedral

The famous bell tower

The famous bell tower

Me, testing out the fountain in the courtyard of the cathedral

Los Reales Alcazares from the inside

Los Reales Alcazares from the inside

Typical Moorish wall design

Typical Moorish wall design

Me and Maikel in the Princely Gardens of Los Reales Alcazares

Me and Maikel in the Princely Gardens of Los Reales Alcazares

In the afternoon I studied for my exam and in the evening I attended the Prado de San Sebastian festival with Karen, a girl I found through CS, and her roommates Giulia (Sicily) and Antonia (Germany). The festival was almost over… after a month. It was actually a bunch of stalls, grouped by country and continent. Each stall sold food, drinks or objects typical of their country. On the other side of the entrance was a stage where performances were held all day long. I had a fun time, but I was also really tired. Travelling along – and studying on top of that – had asked a lot of me. At 1.30am I returned to my room and as soon as my head hit the pillow, I fell asleep on my wobbly bed.

at the Padro San Sebastian festival

At the Padro San Sebastian festival

Day 2 in Sevilla. In the morning, Maikel showed me around again. It seems like he genuinely likes to show off his home town. Today, he took me to Plaza de Espanya, Toro de Oro, Teatro de la Maestranza and Plaza de Toros, right by the Rio Guadalquivir. Seville, I realized, is tiny. You can do everything on foot here. I got back to the Catedral in time to meet Giulia and Antonia for tapas at Giulia’s favorite bar. They were good, but I was just totally blown away by the 100 montaditos place!

The recognizable Plaza España

The recognizable Plaza España

Me, in a fountain again!

Me, in a fountain again!

The beautiful river the seperates Sevilla in two parts

The beautiful river the seperates Sevilla in two parts

Sevilla's famous bullfighting arena

Sevilla’s famous bullfighting arena

Toro de Oro

Toro de Oro

In the afternoon I studied some more and in the evening Giulia and I attended a free flamenco show that’s very popular with the locals.  Not only locals were there, though. It’s like Italians have this radar which tells them when other Italian people are nearby. Anyways, a group of Italian men sniffed Giulia out and we didn’t get rid of them until it was time to go home. By that time, we had watched the whole show with them, walked around town and had dinner with them (even though Giulia and I already ate). They mostly spoke Italian, so I didn’t understand one bit. It did make me feel quite uncomfortable, because I had no control and didn’t know what was going on. I did know that I couldn’t leave Giulia there all by herself, so I stayed until it was “appropriate” for us to leave. Again, when I laid down in my bed, I fell right asleep.

Having tapas at Giulia's favorite place

Having tapas at Giulia’s favorite place

The famous red door of La Carboneria

The famous red door of La Carboneria

Watching a free flamenco show - and it was great!

Watching a free flamenco show – and it was great!

Day 3 in Sevilla. By now, I had seen almost everything in Seville. Only the barrio Triana, on the other side of the river, was still undiscovered terrain for me. Seville is just as much divided by this river as they are socially. Whether you live on one bank or the other, you are not supposed to – and thus do not – like the people from the opposite bank. I wonder if this has something to do with each bank having its own football team… Anyways, Maikel didn’t really like it there, so it was up to me to find my way around. I had hoped to have my lunch there – it’s famous for its tapa bars and restaurants, but I barely saw any of those, especially in my price range. Most of them just looked worthless, really. I guess I like the other side of the river better! It was a blessing in disguise: I got to go to 100 montaditos again!

Triana

After that I went back to my room to study. I admit my trip to Seville wasn’t at all what I’d expected, but mostly just because I was feeling guilty when I wasn’t studying for my exam, and when I was studying I saw it as losing the opportunity to discover a place I might never return to. Anyways, that exam was always present at the back of my head. I really didn’t feel like I was going to do well. And then, out of the blue, a hero came to my rescue: his name is Fran, but I call him BatFran. He explained everything to me, answered every single question I had in a way that I could understand. If I didn’t have him, I don’t know what I would’ve done. He had also given me his notes and summaries, because he could empathize and would like someone to do the same for him if he were a foreign student in a foreign country. Since he started tutoring me, I felt a first glimp of hope that I might actually pass this partial exam. Of course, I had been doing a lot of research myself, but he was feeling so sorry for me, he decided to help me, so I could enjoy my time in Seville as well. It wasn’t like it was a burden on him; he actually likes philosophy. Even though I thought I was well enough prepared now to pass the exam, I couldn’t sleep right away. Maybe because I was unconsciously afraid that I’d miss my plane?

Rio Guadalquivir

I was relieved when everything went according to plan the next day. I woke up on time, didn’t get lost on my way to the Santa Justa train station, but had to run to catch the bus and hurt my ankle in the process. The next day it didn’t trouble me anymore, though, but that day I was limping around everywhere. The plane departed late again, but because there wasn’t enough space for everyone’s carry-on bags again I was asked to sit on the second row in the front, on one condition: that I keep my bag between my legs. That sounded like music to my ears: I always keep my bag on the floor between my legs, but now I’d have more leg space! These seats are, in fact, Ryanair’s equivalent to “business seats”, so I was quite pleased with this turn of events! We arrived perfectly on time. I had time to take a quick shower, to clean out my bag and to head to my exam. I didn’t do much else that evening, because, again, I was super tired.

The next few days I attended my classes, did my homework and tried to catch up on the missed classes of Feminism. There was a strike on Thursday, about which I didn’t complain. I worked productively. Believe it or not, I was already missing my little trips, especially thinking ahead to my weekend filled with nothing but school work. What did I do about it? I booked a flight to Lisbon at the end of November and bought a bus ticket to Andorra for November 8 and 9. Something to look forward to, you know. It is doubtful, however, that I’ll have enough time and money left to go to Valencia as well. But Christmas is still a long time away (and I’ll be going home for a week then). It doesn’t seem all that far off now, though!

Strikers on Plaza de la Universidad in front of the UB

If you’ve read this whole thing, congratulations! And thank you! If not, don’t say I didn’t warn you, hehe. I tried to stick to the most important events. You can probably imagine that I got lost several times. I didn’t need to mention that again, right? Nevertheless, I am glad to stay home for once after having been out and about the last three weekends. Even if the main reason is homework! But at least I can sleep in my own bed, watch a movie, work for school on my own pace, sleep late, write a new blog post… Still, I am certainly looking forward to my next trips after the exams are over!

I’ll keep my promise: you won’t miss any of my adventures!

Hasta luego!

 

On month in Barcelona

September 27, 2013

The party week is over by now. La Merced turned out to be another great success this year and this time, I got to enjoy it as well!

Last Sunday, I was meeting up with Steffen and Dani – two friends from CS-meetings – to go and play table tennis in Parque de Joan Miro, near Plaza España. Steffen and I walked around the park a long time before we found the tables, but in the meantime Steffen could tell me about the new words he learned with the Duolingo app (which I have installed on my own iPhone by now by the way, and jeez, it’s addicting!). You actually learn a language against your friends. It works with a score system: the more you play, the higher you rank; in other words, it’s totally motivating!

Playing table tennis with Steffen en Dani

In the afternoon, I went to see the Correfoc. This is a phenomenon where the Catalans run through the streets with these umbrella thingies that spit fire sparks around (correr means ‘running’ in Spanish and foc is Catalan for ‘fire’). Everyone knows you have to protect yourself from burns. To do this is very simple: just wear long-sleeved clothes, a hood and, like some did (the ones who were actually running through the sparks), goggles. The only way I succeeded in surviving this moment, is by photographing everything. Seeing everything through a lens takes my fear of fire away somehow.

Looks like a war-zone!

The ‘fire-umbrellas’ are called ‘bengalas’

On Monday, I had to go back to school. It was the first time I noticed this elevator, right by the entrance, which is really old and authentic and I just love it! Yeah, I know, it’s just an elevator… Anyways, this elevator is only to be used by the staff and teachers, who have a special key to open the elevator door. Well, last Thursday, I had to join one of my professors to her office because she had to fill in one of the forms I had to return to the UA and she allowed me to go into the elevator with her! She told me it dates back to somewhere before the 90s (I think that’s what she said, but it looks older to me). For some reason, I think this elevator is truly fascinating!

Tuesday was a holiday. But nooooo, of course my department at the uni wasn’t granting us a long weekend. Recently, I got to know a Flemish girl who’s studying Psychology at the UB and she said she did have a long weekend. Not fair! On Tuesday there were a lot of activities, it being festival week and all. I went to see the Parada de Gigantes, but after 15 minutes, I just had to leave! During the parade, some history was told – I don’t know exactly which history as everything was in Catalan – by the use of some giant dolls while a huge crowd, squeezed together cheek by jowl by 26°C in the shade, sang along with the Catalan folk music. You see, this particular kind of music is fun for a while, but when that while is over, it becomes very irritating. I guess I am more of an Irish folk music girl!

The Parade took place in front of the city hall

The Giants

That evening the big finale took place at the Magic Fountain at Montjuic: the Piromusical. This would be the most amazing fireworks of the whole festival week. Big and amazing it was! In the paper the next day I read that more than 1.5 million people had showed up at the piromusical, which is about 200.000 people more than last year! Something that caught my attention was that half of the Barcelonan population – the senior part to be precise – didn’t endure the crowd. I went to see the fireworks with Steffen and a Brazilian friend of his, Augusto, who was a really nice and interesting guy. We shared some interests – like translating and traveling – and he told me some useful things that I will keep in mind.

The Magic Fountain and Montjuic in the background

Naturally, I had expected it to be quite impossible to easily use public transport – and by that I mean the subway of course – which turned out to be true. Instead, I suggested we walk towards the next subway station so that we could hop onto a train a station early, when they would (hopefully) still be vacant. That’s what we did. Only in the wrong direction. We waited three times for a train, hoping the next one would be empty – it wasn’t of course. In the end, we had to walk towards the next station where there was another line crossing. I am not a believer, but I thanked God when the train was completely empty. When I finally got to the last line that would go straight to El Putxet, Shannon and Anjelica got on the same train, into the same wagon! They’d patiently waited until they got on a train at Plaza España. It had taken them as long as me to get to the same point, only with a lot less effort! But in the end all that matters is my love for fireworks!

1 out of more than 50 pictures and videos LOL

The next two days were regular schooldays.  Nothing special happened.

The halls of the UB

Today was a day full of homework, with the only break being a stroll on the Ramblas to get some fresh air and enjoying the fact that it has calmed down now that the festival is over. It had been incredibly busy in the city for the last few days. Finally… peace again!

 

Like the first day of school all over again

September 21, 2013

I know, I know. You already know what this blog post will be about. Yes, indeed, I’m gonna tell you about my first school week at the UB. I’m really happy I got 20 days to acclimatize before the real thing started and I’m also really happy I took the most I could out of it. Ever since I survived my first class, my desire to walk around and discover yet unvisited parts of Barcelona has almost died away. I’ve got too many things on my mind at the moment.

Courtyard in de Facultat de Filologia of the UB

Courtyard in de Facultat de Filologia of the UB

On Monday, I left for school quite early – at noon, because I start at 1pm on Mondays and I still had to find my way around campus and all that. Fortunately, I’m good at thinking ahead this way, because apparently room 203 is not the same as 2.03. Each has its respective building. How should I know?! Eventually, I still had 10 minutes left when I found the right place.

The library of the UB isn’t quite as modern (or spacious) as the one at the UA, as you can see!

The library of the UB isn’t quite as modern (or spacious) as the one at the UA, as you can see!

Nevertheless, I was afraid that I was waiting at the wrong door after all, because I hadn’t seen anyone yet (save two other students). I have learned by now, though, that it’s not worth coming to class in time, because the professors here are always at least ten minutes late themselves. But I am not one to be late on purpose, so every day I am among of the first to arrive at the class room. Anyhow, I have three classes on Monday and I was definitely late for the next two. For my second class because I had to run home to get some paperwork I forgot to bring (papers all of my professors had to sign) and for the third because I went to buy some school books already, but I couldn’t find the shop right away. But as I said, it didn’t really matter. Class had never started when I arrived late.

After my first school day, I was mentally exhausted. All of the running around, adjusting, paying attention, tension… It had been an exciting day. And I was still totally looking forward to the next!

On Tuesday, I always start early, at 8.30am. In Spanish terms, that is very early indeed. Knowing that, last semester at the UA, I only had 1 class that started before 10am, this was a very early class for me as well. Granted, I had to wake up at 3.30am when I was working at the airport, then start working at 5am, but I didn’t particularly like that neither! This class was especially hard, because it was in Spanish and my brain has just not woken up at this hour.  At least, not enough to understand what my professor was speaking about. Honestly, the classes in Spanish are not easy at all. The teachers don’t take the level of the Erasmus students into account that much. They talk relatively fast, use expressions and words that we are not familiar with and we don’t get any kind of handbook that could be some kind of guide through the course. So no, not simple at all. The English courses, on the other hand, are much easier than at home, but it should come as no surprise that I don’t really mind, hehe. This way, I have more time to focus on my Spanish courses.

On Wednesday and Thursday I had the same courses as I had on Monday and Tuesday. The only difference was that now I really had classes, because the first two days were mere introductory classes. At some point, during those two days, I realized I bit off more than I could chew. This is why I have decided to drop 1 course that is very similar to one I’ve done twice at the UA already (in Dutch) and the thing is: I just don’t understand any of it (in Spanish). Even though I drop this course, I still have plenty of credits left to reach 180 at the end of the school year. Actually, I will be taking up 68 credits, even though the maximum allowed is 64. Here, in Barcelona, I am now taking 5 literature/culture courses.

On Thursday afternoon I was excited that I could go home. I had a Disney Movie Marathon date with my best friend. We watched the movies at the same time and talked on Skype in the meantime. Lovely quality time!

On Friday, I had a tough moment. I couldn’t see it working, with the Spanish and all. By next Thursday, I had all these articles and texts I had to read about philosophical subjects and I just did not understand anything about it. Of one of the articles, I found an English summary, which was useful to understand the main points, but the rest… I racked my brain over the rest for hours, but in the end, I was just sitting in a puddle of self-pity – I should have just stayed in Belgium… why did I ever think I could pull this off? – so I decided to try again later. I hadn’t been outside all day, even though the weather was really nice (and will continue to be until next week!), so that evening, I went to yet another CS-meeting. It had been a week already since I last went and Miriam and Annalisa had been asking for me. There weren’t that many people this time, because on Friday the Fiesta de la Merced had started, the celebration of the patron saint of Barcelona. During five days, there are concerts, parties, workshops, market fairs, performances and so on all over the city. After the CS-meeting – where I got a free salsa lesson (oh my god…) – I went to a concert on Plaza Cataluña for a little while. Steffen, a Danish guy I met at another CS-meeting, invited me to hang out with his friends there, but when I arrived they’d already gone off to somewhere else. I wasn’t going to stay just for the music – which I didn’t particularly like – so instead I just went home.

Concert on Plaza Cataluña

Concert on Plaza Cataluña

Saturday, which is today, I realized I’m getting really good at this sleeping out late kind of thing. It was already 11am when I finally appeared at the breakfast table. The plan for today was to organize my notes for my English courses – who wants to get up early for that, right? – and start reading this book I have to read by next week. The last thing, I’d do on the beach. Obviously. Also, I wanted to go the Colles de falcons, the human towers, a performance that would start at 5pm. In the end, I only got to lay on the beach for about half an hour.

'Studying' on the beach

‘Studying’ on the beach

After my schoolwork, I saw some groups parading through the streets of Barcelona, stopping now and then to form human towers or pyramids. They do this several times this week and there’s also a competition for making the highest, best, most spectacular tower.

Colles de falcons or Human Towers

Colles de falcons or Human Towers

Tonight, I’d wanted to go to the Parade of Fire-Breathing Dragons and Beastsbut, as it starts at 9pm already, I can’t go. It’s dinner time at Cristina’s. I had wanted to ask her to have dinner early, like yesterday, but she wasn’t home and my roommates were out as well. Eventually, I found out that they had decided not to eat at home, so it was just me. I knew they’d wanted to go to the parade as well, so I’d been hoping I could go with them. O well… Cristina ended up making dinner slightly early anyway, but just for me. She didn’t mind, because she’s volunteering at an old peoples home during La Merced. Apparently there’s a lack of staff during those days. Finally, I ended up missing the parade because the metro was overloaded. Normally, all of the locals take the bus, but the city had advised to take the subway instead. Consequently, the subway was full and the busses half empty. On, then, to the fireworks! I walked over there, so I could pass by the fair. I felt like having cotton candy – but they looked disgusting – and spent some time at the camel race – which is my all time favorite game at the fair. If I see that game, I have to play it! Usually I play 3 times and win at least once. I didn’t win a single time though (stupid Spaniards!) and I missed most of the fireworks because of it. Fortunately, I have two more opportunities to go and watch the fireworks. There’s another show tomorrow and especially on Tuesday I definitely want to go! There will be a spectacular show at the Font Magica to close the festival week.

Bingo is very popular here – every seat was taken!

My favorite game at a fair: horse racing!

The next few days I’m gonna enjoy the festival a bit more, in between all of my work. After all, I still have 18 out of 19 books to read! Stay tuned!

iHasta luego!

Those last few days before school starts…

September 15, 2013

Wednesday was a special day in Barcelona. Not for being Wednesday, but because of the date: 9/11. Two years ago, when I was taking a one-month language course in Barcelona, I was here on the 11th as well. This date, however, has a different meaning to the Catalonians than it does for most of the world population: it marks the Catalonian Independence Day. That doesn’t mean what you probably think it does, though. When talking about the American Independence Day, it means the day when the United Stated became independent. For Catalonia, September 11 is the day that Catalonia lost its independence to the Borbones and fell under the power of Felipe V. If you’d like to read more about this, you can find everything on Wikipedia. I won’t bore you any further. I am not writing an encyclopedia here!

“In  Barcelona, things seem so different. For example, I know that it’s traditionally the least Spanish city, but you’d never know they had a monarchy, coming here as  a tourist – as opposed to the U.K., where the Queen is probably the best-known  animal, vegetable and/or mineral going when it comes to overseas  visitors.”
– Julie Burchill

Something that made this date extra special, was the fact that I had to find a way to combine these two completely different historical events in my head. The fact that I had two American roommates now, made the collision even more interesting.

At dinner, the stories came to the surface. Anjelica’s father actually had the opportunity to start working at the World Trade Center, but instead they moved to Washington. Shannon’s aunt overslept and missed her plane, one of which was kidnapped by Bin Laden’s minions. For a couple of days her family thought she was dead, because Shannon’s aunt couldn’t let anyone know she was alright on account of the phone and internet networks being overloaded. I have watched a lot of documentaries about this fatal day, but it is completely different hearing testimonies from people who were actually personally involved. It was quite an emotional dinner that night.

That evening, I decided to go to a couchsurfing meeting again. It was really weird walking around Barcelona on this particular evening. Compared to other evenings, you could definitely say there was no one in the streets. No pedestrians, bikers, cyclists, cars… Nevertheless, the place I went to was even busier than last week! I had a lovely evening, but didn’t stay out too long. I’m not really a party girl, you know…

Thursday I went to Figueres. I had found a ride to go there and would come back by train. Patrick, my driver, was driving to Paris with his mother for a week. I had found him through BlaBlaCar, a carpooling website. Patrick is a Frenchman who works and lives in Barcelona. His mother is Argentinean and lived in Antwerp for a few years as a kid. The whole way – all 2.5 hours of it – I spoke French and I learned more than working for a month at the airport. Patrick took a little detour. We didn’t take the usual highway towards the French border, but the other route which is less known by tourists. We passed some beautiful landscapes with mountains, meadows, authentic towns, volcanoes… Patrick could tell me some interesting facts about everything we passed. He also offered me a ride to Andorra next month, where he’ll be going there with his friends, because there was a spare seat in the car. I said I’d keep it in mind. I had wanted to go to Andorra sometime anyway.

La Rambla de Figueres

Once arrived in Figueres, the hometown of Salvador Dalí, one of the world’s most famous surrealist painters, I was starving.  It was almost 3pm by then. I found a bakery that was open during the siesta and bought some pains au chocolat that I devoured on La Rambla. In the meantime, I took in the first views of Figueres and I decided it was a perfect mix between Southern France and Tuscany.

The birthplace of Salvador Dalí

One of my favorites!

The one and only Dali-esque drink dispenser at the exit of the museum

Like I said, Figueres kind of reminds me of the towns I’ve seen in the Provence and in Tuscany. What I also noticed while driving up here, was how pro-independence the Catalonians are in the range of 70km from Olot (the a well-known town near Barcelona). You could see the flags everywhere, hanging from the windows.

The square in front of the city hall

The train ride home was – to put it mildly – unpleasant. I was dressed for a warm day, but the train was a freaking fridge! When I arrived back in Barcelona 2 hours later, I had never been so happy to walk around on the smelly, steamy heat of the subway platforms. It was another half hour on the metro, until I actually got to my front door, and by then I still hadn’t defrosted. That night, I slept under an extra blanket for the first time. The next two nights as well. The last few days, the temperature suddenly dropped by ten whole degrees! Just like that. From one day to the other. Everyone who went outside that day has a cold now. Which is kind of funny, right?

On Friday, I went to print some more documents for school. Not having your own printer and having to pay to print a few pages is really annoying if you’re not used to that, let me tell you. On the way there, I passed by this surprisingly pretty church. In the afternoon I had the beach of the Port Olimpic almost completely to myself. Bliss! That evening I couldn’t go to another CS-meeting because there was a strike of the busses. I didn’t want to take the risk that the Nitbus wouldn’t be driving out neither and that I would have to pay for a cab (which would be scarce, obviously). So that night, I stayed home alone. The American girls were away on their excursions and Cristina was out as well.

Yesterday, once again, I enjoyed the weather and strolled around in Barri Gotic, where I looked for these cute plazas I had found with my mom two years ago. I kinda just hoped I would stumble upon them at some point, but I didn’t rediscover them, unfortunately. Somehow, I did end up at Port Vell, where I treated myself to a pizza and a glass of wine to celebrate the beginning of the new school year. While digesting my lunch, I sat down on the edge of the pier that leads to the Mare Magnum shopping center. There was a lot of wind, and of course I was wearing the perfect outfit for it, too – you know, one of those outfits where you have to keep your clothes into the right place the whole time or else everybody will see which color of underwear you’re wearing?

Today, Sunday, drizzling day. The perfect weather for a run, my dad would say – which is true, as long as it’s not actually raining. And besides, these hills are kind of demotivating. I might go to Barri Gottic again later to try and find those squares again, but we’ll see… It’s the last day before school starts and I’d like to spend it – surprise! – as relaxed as possible.

 “Barcelona  is a very old city in which you can feel the weight of history; it is haunted by  history. You cannot walk around it without perceiving it.”
– Carlos  Ruiz Zafon