So it's a Saturday night, and since I'm still at home I'm feeling exceptionally motivated to sit and blog about some of the important events that have happened in the past month. [I also have an obscene amount of homework to do before my friends get here on Thursday (!!!) so what better way to procrastinate than by blogging?? ;]
But before I begin the description of my fall break in Barcelona, Spain (easily the best experience I've had abroad), I've two very important pieces of news:
Important piece #1: I have a boyfriend to come home to!!! The adorable Alex Michael Wolf and I became official last Sunday November 29, 2009 ;] (As he is currently in Rockford, my many thanks to the creators of Skype who actually allowed this to happen "face-to-face.")
Important piece #2. My main reason for staying in tonight was because I had an exhausting and emotional time of reflection earlier this evening over my whole time abroad. Not really sure what came over me, but it was about time I let some of it out; lots of time spent in prayer, writing in my journal, trying to think of every minute detail of my life for the past three and a half months.....impossible to do, of course, which was why I got kind of overwhelmed. But I feel that this type of reflection is entirely necessary for me psychologically right now. It helped to compromise my torn emotions about being ecstatic to see friends and family again while still totally disappointed to go. I love it here. But at the same time I can't wait to see how God is going to use this experience in my life. I don't think I can even begin to understand at this point what all He's done because it's hard to see change or improvement while you're still in the routine of a certain environment, but I know He'll make it clear in the coming months. The lyrics of this song helped put things in perspective, and I know God allowed it to come on my itunes at just the right time. He loves talking to me like that ;]
And with that off my chest, on to BarTHelona!! (We were told by our quirky Brit-friend Liam that everybody there talks with a lisp after schools decided to incorporate a Spanish king's speech impediment into their Catalonian language classes as a weird means of monarchal respect hah.) I left with close friends Mary Margaret, Katia, and Sahar for Barcelona on the afternoon of Wednesday November 11 for our program's fall break. We arrived in beautiful, sunny Barcelona late afternoon and leisurely waited at the airport (- coats + sunglasses) for the innercity bus to arrive. Once we'd checked into our hostel we wandered up and down the famous Las Ramblas avenue situated one street over. Funny market stands selling chickens, bunnies, various rodents, and chipmunks (??) peppered this famous ramble, along with bizarre (and slightly dubious) street performers dressed up in ridiculous costumes (i.e. invisible man, golden fairy-land tree, etc.).
Caged bird, free bird..
Very entertaining and passed the time well until we could head to a hole-in-the-wall pub at 8:30 called the Travel Bar in affiliation with our hostel. Here we were promised a free "meal" with the purchase of a drink (=a petite portion of what we coined "Spanish mac 'n cheese"). Sufficed well enough for poor college girls, I guess. It was here that we met our little leprechaun (only British) friend Liam as well as dry-witted Australian Midge who ended up being our honorary bike-tour guide the next day. They both work for Travel Bar and started their own touring company besides. Cunning salesmen that they are, they basically conned the four of us into agreeing to a combo-priced bike tour/flamenco show as our weekend's main activities, and let me tell you, best manipulation I've ever succumbed to. The allure of their funny accents actually pulled through and provided not only an excellent three days, but an overview of the entire city complete with history and fun facts. The bike tour was by far the best part. In one day we saw the entire pier built for the Olympics 10 years prior (complete with sand shipped in from Egypt and palm trees from Australia, trivia compliments of Midge), the famed Christopher Columbus statue that was built with the intention of him pointing toward the New World (though he isn't, apparently), the beach (sigh), giant fish sculpture on the water called "El Pez" by architect Frank O. Gehry, Antoni Gaudi-constructed cathedral "Sagrada Familia," Barcelona's version of L'arc de Triomf, Las Arenas bull-fighting arena, and famous Cascade fountain in Parc de la Cintadella where Midge stopped to share some of Barcelona's laws with us: the legal age of consent is 13 (ooook), and it's 100% legal to be nude in public as long as you're wearing shoes (??), ironic because earlier that day at lunch M.M. saw an old guy ride jolly and naked past the restaurant's front window on his bike (not exactly an appetiting image). But hey, at least now we know that a) she wasn't hallucinating and b) it really is legal, despite its burned image on her brain.
Chris Columbus pointing the wrong way.
Arc de Triomf.
Naked dude on the bike.
..hahaa, if only.
What made that day so amazing was that we were all so nervous about bike riding through a big city, but it turned out to be the best way possible to take everything in. Normally tour groups are a lot bigger, too, but since we went in the afternoon the four of us ended up having our own private Midge-tour. He took us on a longer back route since there were less of us and was patient whenever we lagged (his one piece of advice was, "ehh, jest don't geet heet boy ennie cahhs...." Now that's what I call a liability). It was a beautiful day though, there weren't many people or cars out since it's Barcelona's off season, we got to choose our bike's design (I picked Hello Kitty, naturally), AND no one got hit. We rode around feeling totally free, racing to catch up with Midge when necessary, and appropriately humming the tune from the scene in Wedding Crashers when Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams go on their own quaint bike tour. Example:
Some intense bikers.
Katia and M.M. gearin up..
"I wanna smile for this picture, but I might hit a pedestrian...."
Hello Kitty decal, bell, and tires!
That night we took it easy due to unsurprisingly sore limbs. We grabbed a cheap 1/4 of chicken and fries at Spanish restaurant Pollo Rico upon Midge's suggestion and then spent the rest of the night at the Travel Bar again, greeted by Leprechaun Liam with his Brit-brogue "how the DEVIL ahhh yaaa" upon entering its smoky interior. We laughed hysterically as he told us funny life stories about living in Barcelona and the crazy people he encounters for mere weekends, while also dryly commenting on the slew of silly 90s Euro-music videos looping on the bar's television. Not exactly an authentically Spanish evening, but we enjoyed the heck out of ourselves.
Authentic Barcelonian hub-grub.
The next day we basically did the walking version of our bike-tour in order to spend a little more time at each place. We took time to have a quaint lunch on the beach and stop for yummy Spanish gelato. We added the Gaudi park to our tour and spent at least two hours wandering up and down its many levels taking in all of the exotic scenery. It wasn't until we were atop the highest level complete with an expansive view of downtown that we realized just how tropical Barcelona feels.
Lunch on the beach, the waiter got artsy.
That night offered the second portion of our "package deal," a tapas and sangria dinner with an authentic flamenco show afterwards. The meal, again, didn't offer very big portions, but the show was awesome. The flamenco dancer was beautiful, and the audience was treated at the end by a mini-flamenco dancer-slash-singer who couldn'tve been more than 10 years old. I was happy to say, too, that I'd finally enjoyed an authentic Spanish experience.
I left that night to head to the airport because my parents got into Paris the next day, but I knew for certain that I wanted to come back to Barcelona some day. I absolutely fell in love with the culture, the people, and the weather. And oddly enough, it's worked out for me to plan on going back with my friends this weekend!! Obviously won't be the same without M.M., Katia, and Sahar ALL of which, by the way, absolutely made the first experience what it was, but maybe Liam and Midge will have more biking adventures in store for Rach, Ash, and Kari..... ;]