Monday, April 4, 2011

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”

Sometimes I feel like I'm living in a fantasy world. Being able to just drop everything and travel Europe is something that I will definitely miss when I come home in just 6 weeks! Crazy? I think so...

I know I haven't done this in a while (my laziness is really showing), so I have a lot to catch you all up on. Last weekend (March 24-27)I went to Barcelona, Spain with a few other girls from my program. Words can't even describe how amazing the weekend was. But, I shall try :-)

We took the 6:05 am bus to my second home; the Dublin airport...sometimes I feel like I live on the bus from UL to the airport. Thank goodness there is always a different bus driver. Maybe they'll give me a free ride by the end of the semester when they realize how much business I’ve given them. I can keep hoping, right? I was really disappointed because, for the first time EVER, I didn't sleep on the bus ride! We got to the airport at about 11 a.m. and found our gate. We had some time to kill (of course) so we went duty free shopping. Although, duty free shopping is extremely difficult when you are only bringing a backpack for 4 days. Gotta love RyanAir and their “you can bring one bag that fits absolutely nothing and weighs .000000001 pounds but we’ll still make you fit it into the stupid measuring compartment even though all you have is a backpack” philosophy. It was more like duty free ‘looking’ instead. We did try on funny hats while we were waiting though. Ireland pride forever :-)

Another miraculous thing happened when we went to line up for our flight. I heard my name called from the front of the boarding line, and it turns out a girl who graduated from Etown last year was about the board our plane to Barcelona! Such a small world considering the fact that I go to school with less than 2,500 people in the middle of farm country Pennsylvania. Oh Etown, how I miss you. Kind of...

Our flight went smoothly and we landed about two and half hours later in beautiful Barcelona. Everything went great as we found our way onto the airport bus to find our hostel. We got to the center square and pulled out probably the worst directions known to man that were, I assume, supposed to tell us how to get to our hostel. After what should have taken only 5 minutes, we arrived at our hostel 30 minutes later after asking for directions in Spanglish (and being laughed at). But after sitting all day traveling it was certainly nice to wander around in the fresh air. Our hostel was AMAZING. Absolutely the best one yet. The managers were wonderful and the rooms were beautiful. There was a gorgeous little sitting area for reading and a newly constructed kitchen and living room. We dropped our stuff off than ran to get some dinner a few blocks away. My friend Jill got this really neat meat dish with the largest pepper I have ever seen! Seriously, look at this thing...

After dinner we went back to the hostel to meet up with our tour group. We went with a program called WSA (Weekend Student Adventures) Check out the website, to catch the full scoop. Our tour guides name was Andy. He graduated from Notre Dame in '09 and studied abroad in Rome during his time in college. After graduation, he decided to start a travel business (his dad is a travel agent) and now he takes groups of study abroad students all over Europe. He has trips to Paris, London, Rome, Prague, Dublin, the Swiss Alps and of course, Barcelona. We had a little "meet and greet" and then when out to explore the streets. What we found was wonderful...tapas, beautiful architecture and a 0.95 cent bottle of wine. Does it get much better than that last one, you may ask? Why yes, it does. The saying 'you get what you pay for' definitely comes into affect here. It wasn't too horrible (considering the price) but I'm always reminded of what my dad tells me -- "Upgrade your booze." Sorry, dad...I'll do better next time, promise.

Friday morning began our real tour of the city and we saw some amazing sites. We began our walking tour through the Block of Discord with our awesome Spanish tour guide. She knew everything there was to know about the city and it was so neat to be shown the hot spots by a local.

That afternoon we went to the unbelievable Sagrada Familia, a gigantic Catholic Church built by Antoni Gaudí. It has been under construction since 1882 and is supposed to be completed in 2029, which is the 100th anniversary of Gaudí's death. It is an immaculate piece of architecture with four different facades. They each present a different characteristic which is what makes the building so intriguing.

I've really taken way too many pictures on this trip, it's ridiculous. I'm trying not to make this post too picture heavy, but all of them are up on facebook if you wish to check them out.

Friday afternoon we ventured to Parc Guell where we found the most amazing view of Barcelona possible! We walked all through the gardens and came to an opening where you could overlook the entire city. Pictures will commence now...

See what I mean? Amazing! After this little adventure, we went to our hostel to freshen up for dinner. We successfully navigated the metro (again!) and found our way back. We had traditional paella and sangria for dinner. Does it get much better?

We went out to two different bars/clubs on Friday night, which was a really, ummm, unique experience? Spanish culture is so much different than Irish culture. First, Spanish men are not shy, like Irish boys are. Second, they go to bars from 11pm - 2am and then clubs from 2am - 5am. Needless to say we didn't last (well, some did) until 5am after our long day. We began our Saturday morning with lots of coffee, Advil and some fresh baguettes and nutella. Nutella is basically like gold over here in Europe...everyone loves it.

Saturday was another great day in beautiful Barcelona. We explored Las Ramblas and slowly made our way through the packed and all too lively Boqueria Market. Basically their equivalent to a Saturday morning market I suppose. There was literally EVERYTHING here, it was so amazing.

We continued on our way to the Barri Gotic, which is a square that is filled with tons of little boutique shops and restaurants. We even found a homemade soap shop which was so neat. We got to go in the back room to see how they make this remarkable scented soap.

It was about 70 degrees and sunny all weekend so we hit the beach in the afternoon for a little relaxation and to work on our tans. Hah, what a joke.

After the beach we were starving so we got some traditional Churros! They were delicious and the guy who ran the shop just thought we were the funniest, cutest girls he had ever seen. He was too great.

While we were walking back towards the direction of our hostel, we passed a sign for a chocolate museum, so we of course had to stop and check that out :-)

We met our group at 7pm for a tapas crawl around the city, which was wonderful. We went to two different places and were able to sample a bunch of different flavors and varieties. Needless to say dinner was very tasty.

Then it was time for some amazing gelato at Amorino, a famous chain around Europe, obviously known for their delectable tasting "ice cream."

Saturday night was concluded with a traditional flamenco dance performance. I've never seen anyone dance like this before, it was really interesting. Definitely a good taste of Spanish culture. The crowd was great too, so lively and fun.

While half the group went to a nightclub with an extremely sketchy group of Spanish men, the rest of us hit the hay. An adventure was had getting back to our place of residence, as usual, but eventually we made it back with sore feet and tired legs. Like I said, this hostel was AMAZING. If you're ever in Barcelona and need somewhere to stay, I give it 4.9/5 stars (because no one can truly be perfect, can they?)

We woke up Sunday morning and went to the main square to try and watch some traditional Saradana dances, but it was raining and I assume they didn't want anyone to fall to slip outside. Alas, we said our goodbyes to this great but crazy group of study abroad students and began our journey back to UL, which was long by successful. The last one is a picture with the wonderful Andy Steves!

Our flight left Barcelona at around 4 and we made it back to UL at around 10:30 (keep in mind the time change before thinking that we actually make it back in good time haha) The bus ride back was another sleepless one, but I did have my new book to read. My absolute favorite thing about the hostel we stayed at was the book exchange. They had a small library and if you finished your book over your trip, you could leave your book and pick up one from the library to take with you. Just so happens I finished my book on the plane ride to Barcelona, so I got a new book! It is actually Jodi Picoult's new book (ek! she is my favorite author, I own every book by her and have read nearly all of them) called 'House Rules.' I'm already a good ways into it and it is amazing. I love her writing. I wish I could emulate the way she phrases and makes things flow so wonderfully. Anyways...I pretty much crashed Sunday night after getting back, and then went to both of my classes on Monday. I met my friend Anika in between at the library to exchange notes for our Econ final *shutter* Have I mentioned how much I am not looking forward to exam week? I wish I was a good test would be so much easier.

I went to Morgan and Vanessa's house (surprised?) for dinner Monday night. Veggie stir fry, which was delicious, as usual. Our wonderful shenanigans occurred as well, of course. Tuesday I went to my folklore classes where a real Irish native storyteller came to do exactly that...tell folk legends. He was really neat to listen too and it was a more than welcomed break from being lectured at for 2 hours straight. I have a 15 page paper due by the end of the month for my folklore class, and I think I am going to write about traditional death customs, such as the banshee and the wake, because I find it really interesting. I'll let you know how that one progresses. After class, Vanessa and I went into town for some much needed grocery shopping. It killed me spending so much on groceries when I saw how cheap everything in Spain was! Why didn't I study there, instead?! Just kidding, of course.

Tuesday night I went with my friend Jill to the Scholars Club on campus (which I love and need to go to more often!) and we grabbed a pint and talked about how much fun we had in Barcelona. There was live music and we sat outside because it was such a beautiful night out. I need to venture around campus more often. So many fun people to meet and delicious pints to taste.

Wednesday was a nice, relaxing day. I only had one class, so I hung out and made lunch with my roommates and did some reading at the library. The weather here has really just been absolutely fabulous. I don't know how I am getting so freaking lucky, but I'll sure take it! I hope it's this nice when my family comes in just TWO WEEKS!!!!!!!!!!!! (I'm not excited at all haha)

Wednesday night the journalism department had a party a little ways off campus which Vanessa and I ventured too. Of course the minute I stepped outside it started down-pouring and we had about a 30 minute walk ahead of us. Alas, we made it, soaking wet (because I forgot an umbrella, go me) and were welcomed by a very intoxicated group of Irish lads. We played this absolutely horrific card game that went on for way too long. I can't wait to teach my friends this terrible game when I get home so we can all laugh at how stupid it is haha. In return, I taught the Irish fellows a different card game which they absolutely loved. I guarantee it will be played at EVERY gathering they have from now on. I left at about 11 to run to my friend's house because it was her roommates birthday. But, they were having a little too much fun and security came and broke up the madness about 15 minutes after I arrived. Oh well, I was ready for bed anyways.

Thursday I had my journalism class, where the only people to show up were the 3 Americans, 2 Canadians and 1 Irish guy who hadn't gone to the party the night before. I thought the Irish could hold their liquor? haha :-) In class, we decided on our feature story topics (to be discussed in my next post) and we had our radio tutorial. I can't wait to go back to Etown and have my radio show again! I always have so much fun and I miss it so much. I went to geoscience later that afternoon, which was oh so riveting. I'm sorry, but wind and rocks just doesn't quite do it for me. It's neat and everything, but it's gets very old after 11 weeks of hearing the same things over and over. That final should be an interesting one as well...
Thursday night I went into town with some friends to a pub called Molly's. It was my first time there and it was definitely an interesting experience. It was fun for the night but I wouldn't jump at the chance to go back again. It's more of a freshman hangout place I gathered...not many upperclassman were there. We got buy 1 get 1 free drink tickets, so we had some delicious "sex on the beach" and called it a night.

Friday morning I had my econ class where maybe 100 people out of over 550 showed up. The professor was really upset and decided to take it out on us, the people who actually showed up (because that makes sense, right?) He went on about how irresponsible students get towards the end of the semester and told us "good luck" on the exam. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I HATE big classes and big schools. I love Etown for the small, close-knit community we have. I really hate being a number instead of a name. I don't think one of my 5 professors here actually knows my name. I love UL to death, but that's definitely one aspect I will not miss.

This past weekend I took a trip to the Ring of Kerry, which was absolutely incredible. The scenery I saw was some of the most beautiful I have seen in my life. However, I'm going to hold you in suspense for a little bit because it is super late here and I need to get some sleep. I'm only 4 days behind now on posting (yay!) so I'll definitely update you again soon.

Time for bed! Goodnight everyone!
Huntley :-)

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