July 18, 2008

Greece and Goodbye

Hey Everyone
Sorry for the long delay of this entry, but summer has been making me alternately lazy and busy, leaving little time to write about my fabulous time in Greece!
But let me start with my last few days in Barcelona. After my exams were over, I had a few days of completely unstructured time in the city. It was in those few days that I realized how much I would miss the city and the people who I had become friends with during my stay. It’s a really cool feeling to realize that I knew how to get around the city, that I could go different places and not get lost in the process. I loved the little shops and restaurants that I had frequented regularly, and I knew that I would miss the excitement of doing new things all the time.
Getting on the plane to Greece was weird because it meant that I wouldn’t be returning to Barcelona again, but I wasn’t going home either. I went with three friends, who also go to the University of Minnesota with me. The four of us became friends over the semester, and it felt right to be spending my last days with people who not only understood my life in Barcelona, but also understood my life at home. We got on the plane at 11pm, and arrived in Greece at 1am. We took at taxi from the airport to the hostel. Our taxi driver was nice, he spoke English and told us a little about Greece. We tried to learn the words for please and thank you and yes and no, but they were so strange that we were pretty much hopeless. He also told us that it would be Easter in Greece in a few days. That was something that we didn’t expect, but the Greek people use a different calendar so even though we had already had Easter, they hadn’t yet.
Well we got to the hostel and picked up our keys, to the apartment that we were staying in. We were actually staying in another building that was associated with the same company only a few blocks down the street. Our little apartment was cute, and it was nice to have a place to hang out, relax and cook for ourselves instead of being in a hostel where you never quite feel comfortable. Well we managed to be asleep by 2am, but it was a long day.
The next morning we got up and headed out to explore. We skipped breakfast, but it was almost lunch time so we ate at an outdoor café in the Greek sun (which unfortunately was not all that warm, they were having unusually cool weather and the first two days were not as warm as we would have liked). I had some kind of pastry with cheese and meat in it, that was really good. Then we decided we should walk up to the Acropolis and check it out. The Acropolis is both an area, and one specific building within that area. The Acropolis the area is on top of a hill overlooking the entire city. It is walled in with giant stones and contains the ruins of about four old temples and buildings. For the ancient Greeks it was a place dedicated to the Gods and a meeting area for large events. The Acropolis the building is the largest building on the hill, it is a huge temple with a two layers of columns, one on the outside of the building and one that outlines the inner courtyard. It also has a bunch of great sculpture work around the top, telling stories of Greek myths.
When we were there it was under construction. They have to restore these buildings often, or they will fall down. It’s actually quite weird, because they replace chunks of marble that have fallen out with new marble, so they are distinctly different colors. It’s like patching a wall and then putting new paint over the hole, so that one spot is whiter than the rest of the room. Except imagine that nearly half of the structure needed to be patched up. The structures are ancient, older than the ones in Rome. And it’s amazing that any part of them still stands. There was also a temple of Poseidon, and a temple for Athena on the top of the hill.
I think I already mentioned the great view from the top, but I should mention it again because it was truly spectacular. The entire city of Athens was laid out below us, tucked around hills that jutted up in patches of green, and around the mountains that marked the outline of the city. About 5.5 million people live in the city, and you can tell. The buildings are so dense, and we could even see the sea. We could also see the temple of Zeus, or what is left of it (which isn’t much). The temple is at the bottom of the hill and right now consists mostly of a grass field that outlines where the edges of the building used to be (at least as big as a football field). At one end there are about seven gigantic columns that rise several stories into the sky. There are also a few that have fallen and been left to lie. It was impressive just imagining how big the building must have been in its prime.
After our touring around we began our search for food for the night. We wanted to cook in our room to save a little money on food, but since Easter was the next day nearly all of the stores were closed. We did manage to find a tiny shop with noodles and spaghetti sauce, so that’s what we ate for the night. The trend for our trip was relaxation. We were pretty much ready to chill out after our exams and the stress of packing up and leaving Barcelona. It was odd though, because I felt like we were just on a break and were going back to school soon. It’s weird that I was done with my semester on April 25th, and it seemed way too early to actually be going home!
After dinner we went out to explore some more, we walked to the parliament building and then around the shopping area of the town (although nothing was open because of Easter being the next day). One thing about Greece that really surprised me was the amount of stray dogs around. When we were at the Acropolis there were literally about ten dogs just laying in the sun sleeping on the ancient rocks. Every street had a dog, and the parks had tons. What was interesting is that they all had collars and were tagged, they seemed well fed, but were obviously stray and dirty. We decided that maybe the city keeps track of them, but for some reason doesn’t put them in an animal shelter. Well anyway on our walk we found a dog (who we names Zeus) who proceeded to follow us around for about an hour as we explored. At first we weren’t sure if he was following us, but it became pretty clear as he crossed streets with us, and waited at corners that we waited it. It was pretty funny, but nice to have some company on the unfamiliar streets.
Eventually we got on the subway to go back home, and left Zeus to find some other humans to follow around. The subway in Greece is amazing. It is only twelve years old and still looks brand new. All of the stations are floored with sparkling white tile and have mini museums in them. There are artifacts and statues, and other things that they dug up when they were making the tunnels. They had the same problem as the people in Rome did, every time they built a tunnel they ran into something old that needed to be excavated before the tunnel could continue. And someone smart decided to keep it all down there for people to look at.
At midnight that night we found out how the Greek people celebrate Easter. Exactly at twelve church bells started ringing from all over the city, and people started pouring out of their houses holding candles. They were walking to their nearest church for a midnight ceremony. The services were broadcast over speakers, and we could hear a priest preaching in Greek down our street. It was pretty cool to see, but also a little odd because something like that would never happen in our country. The next day we learned that the Greeks also celebrate by roasting whole lambs over a fire. And I’m talking legs, head, and eyeballs still attached. There were people on the streets just roasting their lambs and hanging out. We went to the hostel for a lunch celebration where they cooked a lamb, and also some sausages with pita bread. Pretty much nothing was open that day, but it was fun to hang out and just relax.
The next day we decided to spend shopping. There was a great shopping area right around the corner from our apartment called Plaka. It was full of shops. Some touristy, and some authentic. Nearly every other one was a jewelry shop, so we had lots of fun looking around and cool jewelry. There were also cool leather shops and pottery shops. We ate lunch and had some ice cream and basically spent the whole day wandering around.
The next day we found our way down to the beach. It was a little difficult because we decided to take the subway, only to find out that it doesn’t drop you off exactly at the beach, but that we had to walk to it. Only we didn’t even know which way to walk. But we ended up finding one and had a great time just laying around and looking at the very blue water. On the way we found tons of cool restaurants that were right on the water. One side of the street was lined with normal restaurants, and the kitchens. And the other side was lined with extensions of the dining rooms that were basically on a deck out over the sea. Apparently it was a good idea because there were about twenty of them all in a row. All decorated really cool with themes or colors that were fun. We saw a cruise ship out in the bay so we figured that they must be for the tourists who come ashore to eat lunch. The only thing we couldn’t figure out is how the waiters managed to cross the traffic constantly to bring out the food!
That night we went out to eat at a place called God’s restaurant. And yes, we picked it purely because of the name. We wanted to try authentic Greek food, so we had a mixture of kebobs, and this lasagna type thing that I can’t remember the name of right now. But it was really good.
The next day was our last in Greece, but it was a full one because our flight wasn’t until 2am! We decided to go to the hot springs. It took about an hour by bus to go slightly outside of the city, along the coast. But when we got there we were happy we had made the trip. The Springs weren’t exactly hot, but they were warmer than you would expect the water to be. It was basically a large pool of water that had been accessed by carving out a large chunk of a cliff. It was a relaxing place and we read, laid in the sun, and spent time in the water. One thing that surprised me was that it was salt water, so somehow the water from the sea must have found its way underground to come up in the springs. Although that may not have been difficult, because I could see the sea from the springs. After we left the springs we walked down to the sea and hung out on some rocks for a while. It was really cool to watch the waves roll up onto the rocks. There was a tiny beach there that would have been the perfect place for a family picnic and play day.
That night we ate at another Greek restaurant which had good food, but bad service. After we finished eating we went back to the hostel to pick up our luggage, and then headed to the airport. And that is where my 24hours of traveling started. It was quite the adventure trying to get to the airport. The subway seemed like it would take us all the way there, but what we didn’t realize is that it stopped at midnight wherever it was (in Barcelona the last train stopped running at 12, but they would finish the route). So we ended up at a random stop, and not at the airport. Well we headed up hoping to find a bus or taxi that we could take to the airport, but we realized that we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere. We were all worried for a while, we still had plenty of time before our plane left, but what if no one came? We didn’t have too many options. After waiting for about 15 minutes a taxi driver showed up. He was really nice and explained about the subway and how it stopped. He said we weren’t the first ones to have to get off at this stop, and he always came by after midnight to see who needed a ride to the airport.
Well we arrived at the airport and made it to our gate, where we all lay down and tried to nap a little. When we got to Barcelona it was 5am. Two of my friends were staying in Barcelona for a while after, so they left to go back to their homestays. But myself and another girl were both flying out later that morning, so we just stayed at the airport. My flight to Copenhagen was delayed an hour which completely freaked me out, because it meant that I only had about an hour in Copenhagen before my flight took off for Chicago. Well of course when I got to Copenhagen I was on the opposite side of the airport from my next plane. So I practically ran through the entire thing (and it was big). But I did manage to make it in time! It’s too bad I didn’t have time to look around though. Because there were a lot of really cool Scandinavian type stores lining the walkways. I saw so many cool kitchen accessories it was crazy.
On my flight to Chicago I slept a little, but I mostly watched three movies and read my book. My body was all confused and didn’t really know what time it was by then. But I was arriving in Chicago around 6pm, so I wanted to be able to go to sleep that night. Well I got off the plane and made it through customs with no problems, they didn’t even look in my bags. Mom and Dad met me right where I came out and we headed to the car. When we got home after our hour and a half drive I was done traveling, and I was so glad! We had Chipotle for dinner, which was one thing that I hadn’t expected to miss, but wow, did I! The thing about the Spanish people, is they don’t really like spicy food, and they don’t have Mexican food anywhere!

I didn’t really have jet lag too bad, I think my body was so confused that it just decided to adjust to Milwaukee time because it was the easiest thing to do. I did sleep a lot over the next couple of days, but I didn’t really have anything else to do, so that wasn’t much of a problem. And that concludes my travel blog and my travels for the time being anyway…

P.S thanks to everyone who was reading, and special thanks to Grandma Susuan who kept requesting that I finish this!

May 20, 2008

Dublin

Hey Everyone,

Well I went to Dublin in the middle of April (sorry for the late posting!). We left on Friday night, and ended up getting to our hostel around 1am. The hostel wasn’t bad, we had a ten person room but it was clean and airy. When we got there our roommates weren’t home…We were a little worried that we would have to meet them in the middle of the night when they came in loud and drunk, but they were actually really quite so we didn’t have to talk to them until the next morning. Anyway in the morning we found out that we were living with seven British guys who had come to Dublin for a Bachelor party, which they called a “stag? party. It seemed much more embarrassing than any bachelor party that I had heard of in the U.S. They made the groom dress up in a Pocahontas costume, belly shirt, skirt, and wig included. Then he wasn’t allowed to buy drinks with his own money, instead he had to ask people on the street for money until he found enough to buy drinks. Then he had to keep asking until he had enough to get them all into a club for the night. Apparently he was quite good at this because he ended up with over 100 dollars that night. We suggested that he continue it as a part time job. They were actually good roommates because they slept in so we could get up early and have the bathroom to ourselves, and then when we came home they had usually left for the night already so we again had the room to ourselves. It was quite funny however.
Anyway about Dublin… The first day we got up and had breakfast at this place around the corner. I had a white chocolate mocha which tasted like Starbucks for the first time that I have been in Europe. They also had really good blueberry scones! Then we walked around the city and headed down to Trinity College. The grounds are very pretty. In addition to the old buildings there were really cool old and twisty trees, and everything was in bloom. We saw flower beds and blossoming trees everywhere! Then we came upon a cricket field and saw a bunch of guys in their white outfits and funny hats warming up for a game. The book of Kells is there, which is apparently an old scripture that was made by monks a long time ago, lost and found again. The interesting thing about it is that hidden in the elaborate drawings and letters are little faces of demons and devils. Apparently these monks didn’t like being forced to work on this book for years and years and decided to play their own little tricks.
Walking through a city is always a fun way to see it, and Dublin is very different from Barcelona. First of all it is much smaller, only 1.2 million to Barcelona’s 4.5. But the buildings are also shorter. That was one of the things that struck me the most, how short all of the buildings were compared to those in Barcelona (and even those are much shorter than the ones in Chicago). It is true that it rains in Dublin…it was on and off for most of the weekend, which wasn’t as bad as it seems because in between the rain was a lot of sun. It was definitely colder in Dublin than in Barcelona however, and it was nice to get back to the warmth on Monday.

We walked around and explored the city for the whole day and then at night we went to a pub to have some cider. One of the best parts of the night was that a guy just started playing his guitar and singing in the pub randomly (although apparently this isn’t so random for Dublin). He was singing American songs, so we knew most of them, but it also added to the atmosphere and made you want to sit there all night. Pubs however, close much earlier than the bars in Barcelona and we were back home before midnight ready to rest up for our tour around the Irish country side the next day.

Well the first day in Dublin we had looked around for a tour to take because we wanted to get out into the “rolling green hills? of Ireland and maybe see some old ruins. We ended up with a cool and funny tour guide that told us so much about the history of Ireland that we had to write it all down afterwards to make sure that we could remember it later. Throughout the day we stopped at five different places and learned the story behind each one.
The first was called Fourknocks and is an old old old (5,000 years to give a ball park figure) temple. If anyone was wondering 5,000 years ago happens to also be 1,000 years before the pyramids were built in Egypt. From the outside the temple looks like a small hill with grass growing over it. It is obviously man made because it is perfectly round, but the only exposed stone can be found in the doorway. Now 5,000 years ago in Ireland the Celtic farmers had many gods, all of them stemming from their connection with nature. So they had a god of the river, and one of the earth, and one of the trees, but the most powerful of all of these was the Sun god. These people believed that one day the sun might disappear if they did not make sure to tell it how much that they loved it. This is why they built the tombs for the sun god (tombs because they burned the ashes of important dead people inside as an offering). We actually got to go inside of it which was really cool. There are designs all over the stones that were made using a tattoo technique. Instead of carving out of the stone tiny holes were poked into the stone in order to make patterns. The other fascinating thing about the tomb was that the first known carving of a human face is inside of it. Carved on a rock are the rough outline of two eyes, a nose and a mouth. However the image has been damaged some because the locals believe that this stone was good luck. So whenever they have bad luck they come up to the tomb and take a rubbing of the face in chalk then they hang it on the wall of their house. When the chalk dries up and falls off the bad luck is gone!

The next stop was to an old monastery with huge Celtic crosses. Well the Celtic cross is a normal cross with a circle around the top half of it. This is because when the Christians first tried to convert the Celts they had a few problems… The priests came in and said all of your gods are dead, here is my god he is peaceful and will love you all. Well the Celts who were warriors found this very lame, and didn’t want a God that wouldn’t fight. So they killed the Priests and solved the problem for a while. Eventually the Priests got a little smarter and created new stories. They told the people that their god had beat all of the other gods, so the other ones still existed, but the Christian one was the best. Apparently this worked (sort of) and this hybrid religion developed that involved God and a bunch of lesser gods. But anyway the circle in the cross represents the most important Celtic god, the sun. And it kind of just stuck even after they got rid of the hybrid religion. So we saw these huge crosses, 10 feet tall carved out of stone. And there were pictures all over them to teach the peasants the story of the bible. One of the funny things is that, to teach the stories of the bible the priests needed to talk about things that the Celts had never heard of, like Arabs, deserts, and camels. Well this wouldn’t make any sense to these people who lived in this cold rainy place, so they changed them up a bit. They had also never heard about Romans, because the Romans never made it to Ireland during their empire. So anyway the Romans who were the bad guys in these stories were pictured as Vikings on this cross because the people knew that Vikings were bad. And Jesus is in Celtic armor to show that he was a good guy. It was pretty interesting because it shows the ridiculousness of these Christians who tried to teach the whole world about their god. It was actually quite interesting because it makes you realize that at one point someone had to tell these people what to believe and because the Celts were such a storytelling culture they ate it all up. The Celts never had a written language, by the way, which really confused the priests.
So the next place we stopped at was the first real catholic monastery built in Ireland. Meaning that it was the first one commissioned by the pope that was supposed to follow strict Christian religion instead of the mash up between Christianity and the Celtic gods. It was a huge stone building, done in the style of those in France and Italy at the time. But it was ridiculous in Ireland, which had no roads at the time (a by-product of the Romans never invading) and was completely covered in trees. So this one building in the middle of this wildness was very odd. Apparently this was a good thing though, because the other monasteries which were mixed religion had become corrupt. The tribe leaders had made their family members the head of the monasteries, so these people who weren’t even religious were working there, and convincing the peasants that if they gave all their money to the church then they would go to heaven. But this monastery is barely there because when the English had control of Ireland one of the kings thought it would be a good idea to destroy all the catholic churches to prove the supremacy of the Church of England…it’s so sad how history destroys other history.

After seeing the monastery we went to lunch at a local pub. The food was really good, and we joked that it was like thanksgiving dinner in Ireland because of the turkey, gravy, stuffing and mashed potatoes. Then we continued on to the hill of Slane, where St. Patrick became famous… Now St. Patrick was not actually Irish, he was British. And at one point (before he was anything special) he was kidnapped from his costal home by a Celtic pirate ship and forced into slavery in Ireland. Well he was pretty smart, so what he did was learn the culture, the language, everything perfectly. After about seven years of slavery he finally found his chance to escape, he made a run for it and pretended that he was just a normal Irish guy, and not a British escaped slave at all. Apparently this worked and he made his way to a ship on the coast, and eventually back to England. Once he was back he started hearing the voice of God in his head (as the story goes) and God told him that he had to return to Ireland, because he had been chosen to bring Christianity to the Celts.

Well Patrick wasn’t too happy about this because he knew that if he returned and was caught he could be put back into slavery, but when God is talking in your head you don’t have too many choices. Upon arriving in Ireland Patrick knew that he needed a good plan to spread Christianity. He was by no means the first priest there trying to spread the religion, but no one had been really successful so far. This was partly due to the fact that there was no established communication or transportation system throughout the country. But Patrick was smart and he found the perfect opportunity during the midsummer’s night festival. During this festival each year the Celtic king re-asserts his authority. First during the day there are huge parties and bonfires on each hill, attended by the local people and people who have traveled from villages to listen and tell the story back to their tribes when they get home. After all the fires go out the king lights his fire on the top of the hill of Tara, which shows that he is the most important. Well Patrick decided that he would make his own fire on the top of the hill of Slane and that right before the king lit his fire Patrick would light his own. Well he did this, and the entire army came to see who would dare to offend the king this way. Patrick then made a big show running at the army with no weapons saying that he could defeat everyone because he had the power of his God behind him, and the Celts were apparently scared and believed him. So then all of the story tellers went back to every village in the country and told this story, this way when the priests got there the idea was not so unwelcome as it had been before.

Another interesting tid-bit about Patrick is that he first used the shamrock. He was visiting a village (after the hill incident) and they were not happy with him because he was trying to explain the idea about the holy trinity. And the Chief said how can three things also be one? This doesn’t make sense. So Patrick found a clover and showed him that there were three leaves that made one plant and then everyone understood. So for a while the shamrock was used as a sign of Christianity in Ireland, and now it is just a country symbol.

Well at the hill of Slane there is a graveyard, a statue of Patrick, and ruins of an old building that were pretty cool. It was also a hill (obviously) so I could see all around at the countryside and the sheep! After the Hill of Slane we went on to the Hill of Tara, which is the hill where the Celtic kings used to live.

Now there isn’t much on top of the hill, because the Celts built only in wood, and wood doesn’t last very long. However there are some more mounds. There is a long trench that used to hold a meeting house, where everyone who was anyone would go to at some time or another. There was also a mound that was once used as a prison by a prince who had 500 children. This is apparently not an exaggeration, because some scientists have traced his genes to 1/8 of the current population of Ireland! There are also “forts?, but not the kind you would think of because none of the wood was left. Instead there were only moats (basically) with flat spaces in the middle. However these moats were never filled with water, instead the enemy would run into them to attack the fort, and wouldn’t be able to get out on either side, so those inside the fort would be able to kill them all before they escaped. An interesting thing to note about the Celts is that they were not a race that deprived women of their rights. Women were allowed to divorce their husbands, and they were allowed to own property, and become priests.

Tara was our last stop for the day, but not our last story from our tour guide. He just happens to know a lot about a lot, so we asked if he knew why the British drove on the other side of the road. He didn’t know, but he did tell us an interesting thing about the English language. At one point England was under control of the French, so England had a king but he was under the French king as far as power goes. Well the English wanted to separate themselves from the French, and in order to do this they decided to create their own language. At the time the nobles all spoke French, and the commoners spoke different dialects based on old Anglo Saxon languages but “English? as we now know it didn’t exist. So they got a group of people together and created a language based upon an Anglo Saxon language, but infused with a lot of French words (which is obvious if anyone has ever tried to learn French or Spanish because a lot of the words are similar). Then the English leaders had all the playwrights of the time (including Shakespeare) write in this new language so that the commoners would learn it and begin to speak it. This is why Shakespeare made up so many words (some people think up to 1/3 of the language was his creation, but some people also think that he was more than one person) because the words just didn’t exist before he started writing. The people who went to the plays were given a glossary as they went in, so they could look up words that they didn’t know. And eventually it caught on!

That night we ate in again, and went to another neighborhood pub. The next morning we got up and walked through the city some more, making our way towards the Guinness Brewery. Which isn’t actually where they make the beer now, but it used to be for a century or so. Now it is this really cool building that is a museum for the company. It was pretty interesting, it walked you through how the beer is made and is really hi-tech and modern looking. One of the coolest rooms was full of all of their advertisements, which are funny so it was cool to see they all in one place. My favorite part though was this wall of bottles of all different colors and shapes, that the company has used over the years. The top floor of the building is about eight stories up, and is a bar with solid glass walls. It was great, because you can see the entire city from up there. The glass had labels for the famous buildings and landmarks that can be seen from the top, which was a great idea. Unfortunately all three of us decided that Guinness is not the type of beer that we like to drink… but it was a cool tour anyway.

After eating lunch it was time to head back to the airport. Our cab driver on the way had a few interesting things to say. We had noticed that there were girls wearing school uniforms everywhere (hideous pleated skirts past their knees) and we asked him if all the schools in Dublin had uniforms. He said that they used to, but then the people got to poor to pay for them, and now that the economic stability of the country is picking back up they are starting to do it again. He also mentioned that in school they are all taught the Irish language, but that it is dying out because no one actually uses it (except a few “cities? in the North and West of Ireland). An interesting thing about Gaelic, is that it uses a different alphabet, so the words look really odd. Some of the letters are the same, but they got rid of a lot of our letters, and only replaced a few. That is why Celt is pronounced like Kelt, because the Gaelic language doesn’t have the letter k.

I have a little bit left to tell… Last days of Barcelona and Greece on the way…

Kelsey

April 9, 2008

London!

Hey Everyone

Well I went on a last minute trip to London this weekend. We had a day off of class and I decided that I wanted to see the city and to visit a friend who is studying there for a semester. I flew in Thursday night and got to see Parliament light up for the night (which is really cool). There is also this huge Ferris wheel that they call the “London Eye? there that they built for the millennium that is right across the river from Parliament and it was light up cool too. As you all know they drive on the left side of the road over there, which from the bus wasn’t actually as weird as it would seem but I’m sure that was only because I was riding and not driving. It was weird though because the steps to get on the bus were on the other side, and at first I just though oh weird the drivers seat folds up to let us on…then I realized that no the driver is actually on the other side of the bus.

On Friday we walked around most of the major parts of the city. I saw the Parliament building in the daylight this time. We also saw big ben, which is attached to the building (which I never realized). Westminster Abbey is next door so we walked around the church and saw that as well. What I though was cool is that it is built in this style of architecture that no one else it the world has ever used. Apparently way back in the middle ages when the Gothic style of architecture was popular all the other European countries began to move on and change their styles. But England didn’t for a long time, and as a result the developed this really cool and intricate version of the Gothic style. I saw Buckingham Palace, which really isn’t an interesting looking building. I did like the gates in front of it though, because they were black, tipped with gold at the top. The Queen wasn’t there when we were, you can always tell because when she is they put up a flag to let everyone know.

Then we walked through a couple parks and there were daffodils everywhere! They had basically planted fields of daffodils. There had just started to bloom in the last week so I was there at the perfect time! We also saw some pretty blooming trees around a pond and a lot of ducks and swans, including one cute duck that followed us along the fence for a while. The weather was great (that day) and it was really sunny and warm. Then Elena (my friend from school and one of my roommates last semester) took me to the business district where she has an internship this semester. It was more like an American city than the other part. The business district has huge glass buildings and if you weren’t wearing a suit you felt underdressed. The older part of the city reminded me more of the other European cities I have seen with large sturdy stone or brick buildings. There was this one really cool building that housed the Lyods of London, and it was build so that all of the infrastructure was on the outside of the building. The stairs and the ventilation pipes are all on the outside in this stainless steel, so it makes the building look really futuristic, like something that would be in a movie (you should all look it up, apparently there is a similar one is Paris). Then we also went to see the Globe theatre where Shakespeare’s plays used to be performed (although the first one burnt down, so this is the second version), which is much smaller than I expected. It makes sense because that long ago they didn’t need huge theatres, but because it is so famous I expected it to also be large (kind of like the coliseum which is surprisingly smaller than expected from the inside). I really liked that London was split in two by the river. Looking down it is really cool because there are all of these buildings just built right up to the edge of it, and there are also about ten bridges crossing it at several points. We walked across one that is only a foot bridge that was pretty cool, but very high up!

That night we went to a classic English Pub which was cute and cozy and had quite a few middle aged drunk women dancing funny and getting cut off by the barmen. One of the popular drinks in England is apple cider (alcoholic but you can’t really tell) which was good but everything is so expensive there because of the exchange rate!

The next morning we went to see the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, which is supposed to be one of those classic English things that everyone should do while in London. But it really wasn’t that exciting, we saw the guys with the big fuzzy hats, and they actually played music and marched the normal guards in (who were the ones being switched). It probably would have been more interesting if we could see or hear, there were a ton of people there watching and we were pretty far back. Apparently there are Scottish guards and Irish guards, some from all over the UK to protect the Queen. Well we left about halfway through the ceremony and went to see something a bit more exciting…Harrods.

And wow is that something to see! We walked in through the perfume section and into a room filled with designer purses and decorated like ancient Egypt. Every room was decorated so elaborately with flashy ceilings and walls. We also found a sushi bar, and ice cream counter with the most amazing looking concoctions, a gourmet grocery store, a bakery, and an entire room filled with chocolates! We decided that we needed some chocolate, so we each bought two pieces (2.40 pounds for two!) but they were amazing and worth it! My favorite was this coffee creamy one that tasted like coffee maple fudge. Then we went upstairs to take a look around and there were gowns that looked red carpet ready on every mannequin. It was really fun because there were all kinds of designer clothes and weird fashions.

After the Harrods experience we went to Hyde Park and found this great little garden encircled by a hedge to sit in. It’s true that England has a lot of structured gardens, I saw all kinds of cool flower beds planted in circles or squares. It was pretty cold that day, and we had expected it to be like the day before so neither of us had dressed warm enough. Then I wanted to go visit the National Gallery which is a museum with paintings in it, and it is free (like all the museums in London). I got one of those audio things (also free) and walked around for about three hours being nerdy and listening to the explanation behind different paintings. I actually found it interesting, I have been taking an art history class here so that helped me to understand the political context and techniques of the paintings better. It was also very relaxing just wandering around looking at paintings and tuning out the rest of the world. There was one really cool painting by Henry Rousseau which was of a tiger that had been caught in a jungle storm that I really liked. There were only a couple paintings from Spanish artists, but they were some of my favorite to look at because I knew the artists and I could even tell who had painted what before looking at the name! There were also some cool Van Goughs, his sunflowers are there as well as a cool landscape. Monet was there too with some of his water lilies that really are just so pretty. It was kind of weird because it was the first time that I had seen them in person, even though the images are well known in prints. I was actually amazed with the skill that some of these paintings were created with. There were some really interesting seascapes with storms in them and lightning that looked like it was glowing off of the page. There was also a woman who painted a child holding an eel, which was practically transparent! What colors do you use to make something look transparent on paper? (if you want to know the answer you may consider asking Zack because he once did a painting of bubbles where he did the same thing, but it still blows my mind).

The museum is in Trafalgar Square, so I saw that too. It had some pretty cool fountains in it and this statue of lions that everyone likes to sit on and take pictures of. When I left the museum it was raining, so I feel like I got to see the city in its natural state. My friend and I spent a relaxing night in catching up.

London as a city is huge! Way bigger than Barcelona. I liked London because there are a ton of parks and grass, but in the areas with buildings it was a little large and imposing. One funny thing is that they were having a “boot sale? in the parking lot of a school. But this doesn’t mean boots as in shoes, it means boot as in trunk of a car. It was basically a flea market out of the back of people’s cars, but I was quite surprised when I figured that out. Another weird thing that I didn’t expect was not being able to communicate with people. In Barcelona it can be a little difficult because my Spanish isn’t the best, but I can usually get by. In London a lot of the shop keepers were foreign, and they didn’t speak English or Spanish, so I was at a complete loss of how to ask them questions!
Interestingly enough I didn’t miss all of the snow this year, there were huge flakes falling outside of our window Sunday morning! It didn’t really stick, but it went on for a couple of hours. It was actually kind of pretty, especially since I knew I was leaving it later that day. I also had a very cool view from the plane on the way back home. When we were landing in Girona I was looking at the sunset over a blanket of clouds. Only after a few minutes did I realize that some of the clouds were actually mountain tops sticking up above the solid layer of clouds. Then we flew down through the clouds and underneath is was nearly pitch black. It was almost disorienting to go from perfectly light to perfectly dark in only five minutes (the time we were flying through the cloud layer). But that’s how thick the clouds were, that no sunlight from above was seeping down into the earth below. It was very eerie cool.

Next weekend Dublin…Stay tuned.

Kelsey

April 2, 2008

Parent´s Visit

Hey Everyone

Well as most of you know Mom and Dad came to visit me last week. We had a very busy but definitely fun time. The first five nights we stayed in Barcelona. Our hotel was in a great little plaza right in the center of the city. There were a ton of shops and restaurants around, which was great because they could have fun exploring while I was in class. I showed them around the city, hitting all of the major sights and a lot of Gaudi architecture. One day we toured one of his most famous buildings called Casa Mila. The building itself is a large white wavy thing with these cool seaweed like balconies. And there are no straight lines in the entire building! It was originally built as an apartment building back in the early 1900’s. People still live there today actually but there are parts of the building that you can tour. We saw a model of what an apartment would have looked like, the attic (which was like a Gaudi Museum) and the roof. All of it was very cool.

We also had a lot of great meals, but what else would you expect? It was fun because we just picked restaurants that we had seen during the day that looked like fun places to eat. Dining in Spain is always a little bit of an adventure. It can be difficult to figure out if you should seat yourself or to wait to be seated. And it is always hard to figure out how to pay, especially in lunch places where sometimes you go up to the counter and sometimes you wait for a bill (which you have to ask for or they never bring it). Then there is always the mystery of whether or not the place will accept a credit card. Tipping is also different, because it isn’t required and 15% isn’t even expected. So trying to figure out how much to leave ends up being a five minute conversation about who has cash or change on them (they don’t leave a spot on the receipt to pay with a credit card).

There was a great market near our hotel where you can buy pretty much every type of fresh food imaginable. They have all kinds of sea food practically still alive laying on ice, with about fifteen different stands to choose from. Then there are the meat stands which have legs of meat hanging all over, sausages, hams, some even have the heads of animals with their creepy eyeballs still in them staring up at you. The fruit stands are absolutely amazing, they are so pretty because the fruits are so vibrant, but there are also so many options. Fruit that we couldn’t identify was all over the place. Then there are bakeries, nut stands, cheese shops, chocolates and more! Needless to say the parents spent at least an hour wandering around and taking picture of all of the weird stuff (thankfully I was in class at the time so I didn’t spend my entire day grocery shopping).

On Friday we headed to a beach town about a half hour out of the city called Sitges. Unfortunately the trek to the town was a bit difficult for Mom and Dad who chose to pack their entire wardrobes for their weeklong stay, and then had to haul their suitcases up and down stairs. Then, after arriving in the town I thought that the hotel was only about a 10 minute walk, but it was more like a 30 minute walk (at least the way we ended up going) so they had to drag their suitcases along cobblestone too! Good thing our room was nice, it cheered us all up after the struggle to the hotel. We had a great balcony and a view of the sea from our hotel room. The hotel itself was very modern and had lots of cool couches and chairs all over, and our room was really airy and big and had only one ugly picture of flowers in it, unlike most hotels that cover every square inch of the walls with them. There was a great boardwalk in the town that followed the sea and provided a great place to stroll and people watch. We had some good weather, they days were warm and sunny and we did a lot of walking around the town (which had lots of fun shopping) and along the beach. We found a lot of cool shells, beach glass, during our walks which we used to decorate our hotel room.

The days in Sitges were very relaxing, full of walks, card games (I made them play trump with me), and sangria on our balcony. It was nice to wind down a bit after our energetic time in the city. We also did a lot of “dog shopping.? There were tons of dogs in the town and it was fun to watch them all go by and pick out our favorites, we even saw a viszla! Again we had some great meals, two at this fun pizza restaurant with really good food and this appetizer thing with bread and a bunch of different dipping sauces. Of course Paella was almost always one of the dishes on our table as Mom and Dad wanted to compare the local specialty with their own home made concoction.

The last day there was a car rally that came through the city, so we got to see a bunch of cool old cars and people dressed up in costumes from the 1920s which was fun. Dad took about a million pictures even though we didn’t really know anything about the cars so if anyone is an expert on old automobiles maybe you could explain the cars in the pictures to us. Dad and I also decided to swim in the Mediterranean. It wasn’t bad as soon as you got in, and it definitely wasn’t as cold as the Pacific that I insist upon body surfing in every summer. The waves weren’t quite as powerful though, so there were only a couple that we could actually body surf on.

The next morning it was back to the train station (in a taxi this time), back to the airport for them, and back to school for me. I wish you could all come visit me, this city is great and I loved showing my family where I have been living!

Kelsey

March 13, 2008

Valencia

Hey Everyone,

Last weekend I went to a city called Valencia about three hours south of here by train. We actually went for only one day and spent about as much time traveling as we did in the city, but train rides with friends are always fun, so it didn’t seem as long as it actually was. My program is really good about arranging things for us to do, day trips and museums and stuff like that. And my trip to Valencia was all pre-planned and therefore stress free.

When we arrived we were taken for a tour of the city. It is really pretty with nice squares and fountains and clean streets. We went to a huge covered market and saw where they sold live eels, which were very gross. But we also saw the vice president of Spain, she just happened to be in the city campaigning that day and came to the market where we were. Then we went to see the building where the silk trade used to be held in. It was very cool because the columns inside of it twisted as they went up. There isn’t any silk in Valencia anymore because a while ago the silkworms all died ? but now the people who used to make silk grow oranges that are supposed to be amazing. We also saw a really interesting cathedral. It was built over a very long time and then added to over the years so its architecture is a mixture of different styles that we have been studying in art. It was kind of fun to be able to pick out the different styles and recognize them without our guide telling me. There was also an amazing fresco on the ceiling above the alter. It was a dark blue with little yellow stars all over it, there were also some really bright colored angels, and the colors were so intense. The funny thing about it is that it had been covered by a false ceiling there for over 100 years. It was only a few years ago that they decided to take the ceiling down (apparently they were aware of the fresco, but assumed that it had deteriorated over the years) but to their great surprise it was of great quality and so we got to see it. There was also this huge gold thing that was like a castle built to honor the church or something (?) but it was very cool. It was like a mini castle (when I say mini I mean the thing was 10 feet tall) and it was actually made of silver with a gold outside, but it was very intricate and had lots of cool details and precious stones on it. Apparently this is the third one that has been in the same spot. The first one was melted down during the Napoleanic war to fund it, and the second one was lost somewhere in the civil war in the 30’s. So this is the third one that they have made, and hopefully it manages to stay whole.

After the tour of the city we went to the aquarium which was fun. It had two beluga whales that were cute, and some walruses that put on quite a show fighting with each other. But the coolest part about the aquarium was the buildings it was housed in. It was all white and very modern, with curves and glass everywhere. There was also a science museum and an imax theatre that were in the same area and built in the same type of style. The weather was also great that day. It was so sunny and warm, I felt like I had been transported a few months into the future. Barcelona has been a little overcast recently, so it was nice to get some sun.

There is a very cool festival that the people of Valencia have every March. They build gigantic paper mache statues, of celebrities and politicians or whoever they want. Every night there are fireworks shows, and there are firecrackers that go off at 2 pm every day. It is pretty much one big week long party in the city. On the last day there are huge bonfires as the city lights all of the giant paper statues on fire. We unfortunately weren’t there during the right time, but it sounded really fun.

Kelsey

March 10, 2008

Rome

Hey Everyone
Let me first apologize for neglecting to write for so long. Needless to say things here have been busy and weeks are slipping away without me noticing!

A few weekends ago I went to Rome with some friends from my program. We left on Thursday night and got to Rome around 11pm. Just walking from the bus stop to our hotel we passed an amazing fountain all lit up and these two buildings curved around a turn around. We had a large group of people going, eighteen, so they had us moved from the hostel we had originally booked to a “hotel? for the same price. I slept in a room with 5 other people, and the room was filled pretty much solid with beds. There was a tiny walkway (less than a foot wide) between the beds to get to our bathroom. It also had a weird smell…but it was only 50 euro for four nights per person, so we really didn’t mind all that much. Those are the kind of prices you can get when you are a college student who really doesn’t care what the room is like.

That night we went out to a little café and sat outside to eat ice cream (gelato in Italian) and drink wine. It was pretty cold at night, more severe than Barcelona, but all of the cafes had heaters, so even though we were sitting outside it wasn’t bad. That is one thing that I loved about Rome, pretty much every single restaurant in the city has a seating area outside. The streets are lined with little umbrellas and pretty tablecloths. Some of the streets even had lights hanging over them at night, like you see in the movies. The roads in Rome are much wider than those in Barcelona, and the whole city has an airy feeling, plus none of the buildings are very tall. But there are still those cute little areas where you walk on a cobblestone road and don’t even realize that cars are allowed to drive on it.

The next day we were up pretty early and went to see the coliseum. The building is so imposing; it is just gigantic—on the outside anyway. The inside seems surprisingly small because the center area where the gladiators used to fight is smaller than the area of a football field. The arena held less people as well, about 60,000. Obviously the building isn’t in perfect condition, some parts have been rebuilt or reinforced and some parts are just missing. But it is a ruin after all, and it was very cool to be inside of such an old and magnificent structure.
After the coliseum we went to an area called the Roman forum, which used to be a large city center back in the height of the Roman Empire. But now it is hard to tell where buildings used to stand. There are some foundations, and bases of walls, columns and a few stairs. It is a large area and it was essentially a large park because there was grass growing up around these old walls. At the top of the hill there was also a great view of the city and a pretty fountain. There are fountains pretty much everywhere in Rome, and I love it!

Next we walked up to Capitol Hill and saw some more cool buildings. It is a bit hard to describe how interesting it is without pictures and without you having been there. Every building is different, and any old building is just so interesting simply because it is old. The style of architecture is different in each one depending on the time period. Plus there are statues all over the city. Obelisks are really popular, which the Romans took from Egypt (literally hauled them across the Mediterranean) and then put crosses on top of them to make them Christian. One interesting thing about the Roman Empire is its stance towards Christianity. At one point in time it had all of its pagan gods, but around 300 AD Christianity started to catch on and the emperor at the time was afraid that it might be mighty enough of a force to take down the empire, so instead of fighting it he decided to do away with the old gods and make Catholicism the only religion allowed in the empire. So needless to say a lot of the art and statues have religious references, but they are usually split between old gods and the new god, with some of the emperors thrown in for good measure.

The thing about the gelato in Italy is that it is so good! There are shops on basically every corner, and each one has about 20 different flavors to choose from. My favorites were coffee and tiramisu (which I also tried as a desert later that day). After lunch we saw the Trevi fountain, which is this gigantic fountain/building with all of these cool sculptures coming out of it. You are supposed to throw a coin in it over your shoulder, and if you make a wish at the same time it is supposed to come true. The fountain was cool, but very crowded there were people pretty much everywhere. We went back later at night, and it was lit up and much more relaxing.

After the fountain we found this church with a religious alter kind of thing in it. Pretty much there were a series of rooms filled with bones of dead monks, people who had died of famine or war. But the bones were arranged into arches and patterns. The ceiling was decorated in these patterns that were so pretty, until you realized which bone in the body made up each shape, and then they became very morbid. There were even some full skeletons in there with some skin still on them. Apparently it is a weird kind of tribute from this order of monks to Christianity, but it was one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen. There were bones of 4,000 dead people in these rooms, and it was just a massive encounter with death at every turn. But defiantly something I would never miss, because where in the U. S. could anyone get away with that without getting arrested? But in Rome it is just a part of history that needs to be preserved.

It was definitely a high energy tripe we pretty much left our hotel in the morning and walked until we went back home to change for dinner at seven. It is certainly not a relaxing vacation; it is more of a history lesson and trying to pack in as many things as possible. Because you could be there for three weeks and still never see everything that there is to see in the city. The nice thing about the city was that it was compact. We never had to walk too far to get to the next thing, although maybe my views of this are skewed because I have become more used to walking in Barcelona.

Let me just mention the weather we had for a moment. Three out of our four days were absolutely gorgeous, 65 and sunny all day! We were walking around in jeans and T-shirts completely comfortable and I even got sun burned a little. It was just so pleasant to sit in the sun and soak it up, because it hasn’t been that warm in Barcelona yet.
We ate dinner at this little hole in the wall restaurant which had great Italian food, and a fun atmosphere, plus cheap wine. We spent about three hours at dinner and had such a great time there that we ended up eating there the next night as well. The guy who owned the place loved us so it was fun. One thing that I didn’t expect about Rome is that pretty much everyone speaks English. It’s not that difficult to get around simply because you can ask pretty much anyone for directions.

The next day we went to the Vatican. There was a big ceremony going on in Saint Peters Square (which is actually circular) and we got to see the Pope from very far away, but also on gigantic movie screens. The pope is pretty high tech actually, there were speakers everywhere so we could hear the music and speeches, even if we couldn’t understand them because they were in Italian. After getting bored of the people speaking to the Pope in another language we headed over to the Vatican museum, which is really cool. There was an Egyptian exhibit with all of their crazy statues that are part human and part animal. There were also all kinds of Roman statues of gods and important people. It was kind of fun to look at them, some were so detailed and looked so real that it just amazed me that it was possible to carve them out of marble.

The Sistine chapel is part of the Vatican Museum, but to get there we walked through room after room of paintings and tapestries and statues. My favorite room had gigantic maps of Europe painted on the wall. There was also a room with a ton of globes in it, which was pretty cool too. The Sistine chapel is pretty amazing. First of all the room is huge and the entire surface is painted. Obviously the ceiling is the most famous part, done by Michelangelo in five years. But he also painted the back wall of the church of three hundred angels and men fighting with this bright blue background. Just under the ceiling another artist painted scenes from the bible all around the room. And below that there are painted curtains that reach all the way to the ground. So pretty much everything but the floor is painted. One thing that surprised me are the intense colors that are in the room. It was restored about five years ago, which revealed colors more brilliant than anyone had guessed. Apparently it changed art historians perspectives on Michelangelo’s work as a whole. Prior to the restoration they had thought that he had valued the lines in a painting more than color, but after seeing this it is hard to deny that color didn’t play a huge role in his design. The Sistine chapel is where the conclaves are held when they elect a new pope, because it is tucked away inside of these other buildings so well that it is easy to secure.

Then we went to St Peters Basilica. The Basilica was huge and nearly the entire ceiling is covered in gold. It is hard to describe the size of these buildings, everyone is just huge, they don’t make them like this anymore. There are columns inside with a twenty foot diameter, and not just one or two columns, there have to be at least fifty, just to keep this thing up. The inside was a mixture of marble and paintings and windows. There was a huge alter that had some cool twisty columns, and of course the grave of St Peter.

Eventually we left and headed to the Spanish steps. We never quite figured out why they are called that, someone mentioned that a Spanish architect designed them, so maybe that is why. These steps are mostly important for a functional purpose, they connect a high road to a low road, so that people can walk up and down without having to go far out of their way. But it is a popular place for Romans to just sit and hang out. There were a ton of people in the area so it was fun to people watch. There was one street that was so filled with people that you couldn’t see the ground, it was funny to watch these cars inch slowly through the crowd and emerge on the other side of the street after ten minutes of fighting through a sea of people.

After the steps we made our way to the Pantheon, which is a huge circular room with a great dome that has a hole in the center of the ceiling. Back in the day the early astronomers used to study the stars through the top. It also had some kind of significance in connection with the solstices. Again huge, marble, overwhelming size, but I liked it best because of its scientific relevance. It was built in 100 AD and is still standing—the architecture is so advanced for the time. When looking at these buildings that last for centuries it almost makes me feel like our culture has digressed since that point. Instead of huge buildings devoted to science we now have huge buildings devoted to football, just not quite the same thing (sorry to all you football fans). And there is no way those stadiums will be standing for as long as these things. It really is crazy how old some of these things are though, most of the architecture in Barcelona popped up around 1900, even the older stuff is only from the middle ages 1400’s at the oldest. But the Roman buildings date anywhere from BC to present day, the range is just gigantic.
The next day we just roamed around the city. We saw a few plazas and squares and ate pizza on the steps of this great Obelisk surrounded by fountains. We also made it to the river and walked along that for a while. We saw a circular castle, a mausoleum, a huge government building, among other things. We had coffee and canoles at a small café. I had never had a canole before, and it was good. Apparently they are more common in the south of Italy, but we managed to find them after searching for about a half hour for them.

The next day was also our last day in Rome ?. We decided to forgo more city scoping and headed out to the country side to check out some catacombs. We never really made it down to the catacombs because they were closed for lunch during our time there, but we still had a great day. There were four of us girls and we just wandered down these peaceful streets talking for a couple hours. There were still old ruins there, and old churches that were falling down. It was completely different than Rome, I almost felt that I was in Ireland because the fields were so green. There were the cutest little villas we just wanted to rent one and stay in Rome forever! But of course that couldn’t happen because we had to catch our plane back to Barcelona.

So that is pretty much what happened on my trip, it was jam packed with sight seeing, but at the same time we spent a few days leisurely walking around just trying to see where Rome would take us. And even on the busy days we took the time to sit down for a relaxing lunch and re-charge our batteries. So the moral of the story is that Rome is amazing, but you have to get used to a little walking, and knowing that you are a tourist.

I hope you all enjoy this massive entry about my amazing weekend in Rome!

Kelsey

February 12, 2008

Barcelona Harbor

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Royal Palace

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Montserrat

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Weekend in Madrid

I went to Madrid this past weekend with my program about 60 students, almost our entire program went. We left on Friday morning at 9am (meaning we didn’t have class that day!) and got on a high speed train to Madrid. The trip took about 5 hours and consisted mostly of sleeping and talking and eating the lunches that our Senoras made for us.

When we got to Madrid we took a smaller train to our hotel. The hotel was pretty nice, we had a huge bathroom and a real shower!! My shower here is the kind you hold, it has a place to put it in the wall, but you have to balance it just right to get it to stay. One of the funny things about hotel rooms here is that when they have twin beds the beds are often right next to each other in the room, only about five inches apart. So even though you are sleeping in a different bed with different blankets and sheets you almost feel like you are sleeping with someone else. Needless to say the boys all pushed their beds farther apart as soon as they got to their rooms.

Right away we went to walk around and found a cool park with some nice fountains and a ton of sun! It was absolutely gorgeous during the days probably around 60 in the sun and very comfortable for short sleeves. But at night the temperatures went down to around 30, which is much colder than it is in Barcelona. Then we took a walking tour of the city where we saw the town hall, a square that used to be a market place, a convent, and then we ended in down town Madrid in the business district. All of the buildings are so elegant and imposing. The majority (especially downtown) where made of white stone which was pretty and made the city look cohesive.

The next day we went to El Prado. Which is the biggest and most important museum in Madrid. Although it has a large collection of art from around the world, our guide focused on three Spanish painters who where well known in the middle ages. Velásquez who was the royal painter for most of his life was my favorite. He was unique because he lived in the place and walked past his paintings every day. So he was one of the few painters who has a chance to change his work as he improved over the years. Several of the paintings had been restored to the point where you could see a shadow of where the original painting had been. In some places he had changed the positioning of a leg, or a cape, it was really cool to see the alterations

We also saw a few pictures done by Goya, who was also a royal painter for a while. The pictures that I found the most interesting were painted for the “prime minister? at the time. He was an official appointed by the king to organize parts of the government and a pretty important guy at the time. Well this guy had Goya paint a picture of his mistress for him, she is laying naked on a chaise in a pretty provocative way. But anyway a few years later there was a conservative kick in the country and it was inappropriate for the minister to have this picture hanging on his wall. So he had Goya paint the exact same picture except with clothes on her this time. Now he was a pretty clever guy because he managed to rig up a pulley system, so that when strangers were in his room he had the clothed picture down, and when only his friends were in the room he would pull the other picture down instead. I found it quite funny.

The last painter was El Greco, which means the Greek. He was from Greece but painted all of his life in Spain, so most of his pieces are here. Most of his artwork was religious, but it had the most intense colors that I have ever seen in paintings. They were practically neon, and they were the main focus of many of these religious paintings, which I found much more entertaining that the usual dulled and modest colors.

The next day we went to see the royal palace. Which is about the coolest building that I have ever been inside of. We saw about 10 rooms, each of them amazingly decorated with the most luxurious fabrics and marble and paintings that I have ever seen. I will tell only about the more interesting ones. The throne room is very cool, the walls are covered in red velvet and there are huge mirrors all over the room with gold frames that are elaborately carved with scenes of the seasons. The ceiling has a Fresco that represents all of the different regions of Spain, and the floor is a carpet made exactly to the specifications of the room. Another room was covered in dark blue fabric, one in pink, one in light aqua, all with elaborate carpets and frescos and paintings. Most of them also have these amazing marble floors with great designs on them that are hidden under the carpets! One thing that is unusual is that all of the window frames and the molding is made of marble (there is literally no wood in the structure of the building). Another very cool room has embroidered walls that took 34 years to make, and a great ceiling that has a vine and flower design sculpted on it. There was a gigantic dining/ball room, a billiards room, and a smoking room. My other favorite was a room whose walls and ceiling were completely covered with porcelain figures. Apparently porcelain is pretty temperamental stuff and the Spanish only know how to make it well because it was the dowry of some princess that married into the family at some point.

It is weird to be inside of the palace, because I honestly never thought that decorations like that could exist. It is so over the top gaudy and luxurious that is it actually pleasing to the eye. Obviously not to live in every day, but every room was so intricate and fun. Another random fact about the palace is that it contains about 600 clocks. One of the kings used to love them, and he liked to take them apart and put them together as well as collect them. There is a very cool one that is a statue of Atlas holding the world on his shoulders, but the world opens up to reveal the 7 (at the time) planets revolving around the sun. We didn’t get to see it open, but it sounds very cool.

On Sunday we went to a very cool but very crowded market that sold all kinds of stuff. Some of it was complete junk—literally. Car parts and wires, electrical outlets, duct tape—we pretty much decided that they need a Target here really badly. But there were also some cool things like jewelry, scarves, purses, dresses, and pottery. I bought a scarf and a necklace for 4 euros total.

We took the train back that night, and I pretty much fell asleep the minute my head hit the pillow, but it was a great weekend.

February 4, 2008

My Birthday

Hey Everyone,

Sorry to have ignored my blog for so long…I don’t have internet access in my homestay, so I have been forced to cut back on my computer use drastically. The family that I am living with is great. It consists of a woman, her 13 year old daughter, and their cat! The mother runs her own massage therapy/nutritional advice shop. At least that is what I have gathered with my Spanish. She is originally from Argentina, but came to Spain thirty years ago to get away from the political unrest that was going on in Argentina at the time. The daughter is funny because she sings American songs all the time, but she doesn’t speak English well, so I wonder how much of them she actually comprehends. Most of the students in my program live with families also. It is a little hard because we all live in different parts of the city, but it is great because the families cook for us two meals a day. I have been trying all kinds of different food, and some really weird vegetables. They eat a ton of fruit here, which I love!

This weekend (and my birthday) was great. Two of my friends came to visit me, one who is studying in London, and one who is studying in Lyon. It was great to get to show them around Barcelona, and I realized how much of the city that I have learned to navigate. We went to see La Sagrada Familia, which is a gigantic cathedral that was designed in the beginning of the 20th century but still isn’t finished. It is the most unique looking building I have ever seen, there are four spires that stick up into the sky, and the entire surface of the building is covered in sculptures. It is so incredibly detailed, there are religious figures and scenes all over the walls, intermixed with carved plants, vines, and animals.

We also went to this little beach town about 20 minutes outside of Barcelona by train called Sitges on Saturday night. The town hosts a four day festival for carnival (basically Mardi Gras) and it seemed like everyone was there! It’s funny because instead of masks and beads that we would wear for Mardi Gras, everyone wears costumes—Halloween style. We met a bunch of smurfs and a group of cows… It was really fun to people watch and explore the town. And it was nice to have friends from home with me on my birthday, it made it feel more like it actually was my birthday, rather than just another day.

I am taking five classes while I’m here. Spanish, which is fun because my class only has 12 people in it. So instead of lectures, most days the class is more based on conversation. Art History of Spain, which so far has been more history than art but is pretty fascinating. People have been in Spain for a very long time, and it is interesting to see how their customs have transferred through the years. Then I am taking and international marketing class, and international management class, and an international strategy class. They are all pretty interesting so far, it is nice to see a different perspective of business, and to realize that companies other than General Mills and Target actually exist. lol. It is fun because my three business classes are all with the other people in my program, it is like being back in high school where you know everyone in your classes.

I will make sure to write again soon!

Kelsey

January 15, 2008

This City is Amazing!

Hey everyone,
Sorry It took me so long to write another entry (I know that for most of you this is the one thing that you have been waiting for all day, haha). Everything here is so busy. There are about 60 Americans in my Business and Culture program, so someone always has a new activity. On Saturday we went to Montserrat, which is an old monestary that has been up there since 1025 (the building was rebuilt in 1800´s after Napoleon burnt it down). The monestary was amazing, no surface was without adornment in gold or mosaic or murals, all of it so detailed that I can´t imagine how long it took to create. But the coolest part was a hike that we took up the mountain. Now this is no ordinary mountain, not only is it pretty much straight up but it also has unique open faces that have worn away over the years and are now smooth. I don´t have the pictures with me now, but I will upload them later. But anyway the hike was awesome because around every corner there was another great veiw of the countryside, or of a hidden part of the mountain. By the time we turned back down we could see all of Barcelona and the Mediteranian (an hour away by train).
We went to Parc Guell yesterday afternoon, which is a public park in Barcelona (one of the only ones) that was designed by Gaudi. If you don´t know who he is google it, because his stuff is very cool and extremly unusual. From the top of the park we could see Barcelona, it is not as far away as Mountserrat so we could even see some of the larger streets and the landmarks that we were familar with.
Classes are interesting so far. I love my spanish class because we only have about 10 people in it, so it is more of a conversation than a lecture. I am also taking an International Strategy class in English but with a bunch of spanish and international students. So far the content it is intersting, and it is also cool to be exposed to the different perspectives that the international students (and the american students from other schools) have about the topics we are discussing.
Love to All
Kelsey

January 7, 2008

Classes

My first classes started today. I had spanish in the morning, which is pretty much like the other spanish classes I have taken, except there are only 10 people in it. I have another class tonight from 8 to 9.15, which seems late to me, but I guess it is pretty normal for them. Although I will be late for dinner on monday nights because of it. My family eats between 9 and 9.30 every night. And you absolutely cannot find food here for lunch before 1pm. It is kind of weird, and I feel like I am hungry all the time, but I suppose I will get used to it after a while.
I also get very tired here. Some of it I am sure is jet lag, but I think it is because I am walking so much more. Plus there are so many new things to take in that every day feels like two days combined, I feel like the things that I did this morning I actually did two days ago. I guess I should be glad, I´m sure by the end of the trip my days will be going way to quickly.
In Barcelona people celebrate christmas until january 6th, which is supposedly the day that the three kings arrived in bethlehem to give jesus his gifts. So most kids only get a few presents from santa, but get most of their presents from the three kings on the morning of the 7th. We went to see the parade throught the center of the city, which was very cool. There are huge lit up floats, one that blew glitter into the sky every couple of minutes. There were also giant dragonflies and a huge shooting star made out of lights. Because of the holiday, all of the stores have huge sales this week (like our week after christmas sales) but they are even better, with most clothing marked down by 50%. I went shopping today with some of my friends and bought a light jacket (the coat I brought is waaaay to warm for here).
My friends and I are begining to plan our first weekend trip out of spain. We are thinking the weekend after this coming one, but we aren´t sure where to go yet. Airfare isn´t too bad as long as you find the cheap companies, and we plan on learning to travel without spending much money.
Kelsey

January 5, 2008

Orientation

So I have been in orientation for the past couple of days. It has been pretty crazy. I have met a ton of U.S. students from all over the country. There are a bunch from private schools in the New England, and they were amazed that this program costs less than their normal tution...lol.

The city is amazing, it is different than anything else I have ever seen. I feel like all I am doing is looking up all day because the buildings are so pretty. They are all similar to each other in stlye, but none are similar to any building I have ever seen in a city. There is no grass, no parks, and barely any open space, but there are tons of trees.

I live with a single mother and her 13 yr old daughter in an apartment that is 125yrs old! My room is pretty big, the ceilings are very very high, and all of the floors have this amazing mosaic tile designs. I haven´t had much time to talk to them yet, orientation has taken up so much of my time, but tomorrow I will hopefully get a chance to talk to them more. The senora speaks some english, so we can somewhat communicate, but it is definatly weird to live with people who you cannot have a whole converstaion with.

Well out for tapas (appetizers) with friends!

Love Kelsey

January 3, 2008

I'm Here!

Last night I finally arrived in Barcelona around 7pm, but it was about an hour and half until I finally arrived at my very posh hotel room. A bell hop brought up all of my bags and basically explained where everything was in the hotel. My room is very nice, smaller than the average American hotel room, but infinitely more classy. The entire bathroom is made of marble and glass, and the bedroom has a flat screen TV and a stereo system. However, by the time I got here I was way too tired to enjoy much else than the shower and the bed!
I will spending another night here, but not in the same room. This morning I join the rest of the students in my program for orientation which lasts the next few days.
And for anyone who is wondering the Stockholm airport is amazingly cool, no grey carpet or walls like our airports. It is made of solid glass and nice wood floors, I defiantly recommend it if anyone is every planning on touring the coolest airports ever.
Love Kelsey