Sunday, September 19, 2010

Barca Day 3: Coffee, Comics, and Wrinkle Tan Lines

Day 1
When we woke up and finally mobilized on our last day in Barcelona, we were famished (and also missing a valued team member, Mike, as he had to go back a day early to make it to class on Monday on time). But we soon came to realize that there could only be one thing to satiate our hunger: a good old-fashioned American-ish breakfast. To our credit, we didn't mean the Deluxe Ultra Mega Biscuit and sausage-egg-cheese-sausage sandwich at McEpic Burger, just some eggs and sausage, with a bit of toast. The most important meal of the day is never served at our school, and is in fact barely practiced in Rome.
So we set out on our noble fast-breaking endeavor, eager for the promise of a steaming hot plate of love and, after a decent amount of wandering time, happened upon a place who had a full breakfast menu posted on the outside, complete with the foreign/dumb American's best friend: corresponding numbers. We entered, excited to not only get our wish, but also to have to think as little as possible in our goal-fulfillment. We found it odd that they didn't have the menu inside as well, so we ran back outside to refresh our memories on what we wanted, but thought nothing of it.
As our first brave yet happy companion approached the counter, he said simply "seis" with a big smile. For perspective, this was Sean, our big, happy, Alabaman whose foreign language abilities are roughly on par with mine: near negligent. The lady at the counter looked a little confused for a moment, but then seemed to understand.
The five of us assumed she had asked whether he wanted coffee with his meal, which he most certainly did, so he nodded vigorously. We all looked around at each other, assured of our deliverance into sweet animal by-product heaven.
When we looked back at the counter, we realized that she was now pouring us six coffees. More specifically, she was pouring Sean six coffees.


Russel, our Spanish-fluent travel buddy, quickly talked her down to five, saying something about how he had misspoken and that there were only five people who wanted coffee. She nodded her understanding, almost certainly recognizing our American idiocy and yet taking it in stride.

And that, my friends, is the story of my first cup of coffee.

We didn't feel like going in and trying again afterwards, so we went to a cafe down the street where we could just point like cavemen to what we wanted.


After we ate, we began wandering a little. That is when I stumbled upon what may end up being my new travel tradition: purchasing a comic book in each country I visit.

Yup, cardboard cutouts sitting overtop a comic book store. Nearly brought a tear to my eye and a song to my nerdy heart*.

*That song, of course, being the Star Trek: Voyager opening theme.

As it was Sunday and mid-siesta, the store was closed, so I couldn't begin my tradition there (guess I'll just have to go back to Spain...), but I think I'm going to try to go out of my way from now on to make it happen. Everyone can collect postcards or shot glasses or what have you from different countries: this way I can still be bringing back memories while being unique and, let's face it, myself.


Then we headed over to the Sagrada Familia, a gigantic Catholic church that had been under construction for over 200 years with a huge amount of work to do before its completion. Pics (be sure to click for better detail - the intricacies are unbelievable):

And we were all like...


For our final grand plan in Spain (we needed our beauty sleep - we were told that we had to be up at 3am the next day to catch our flight, which wasn't exactly welcome news), we decided to head to the beach to relax and dine while getting one last scope of Spanish architecture on our way:

Interesting crosswalk:

Finally we made it to the beach, where we found this:

Unfortunately, it was also followed swiftly by the realization that most European beaches are topless, or at least have the option of being topless.

And not particularly in the good way.

In order to avoid scarring you all as I was scarred, I have a short list of mental images for you.

Octogenarians in speedos
400 pounds, yet still more tan than I will ever be
Man who was very evenly tanned - all over
Large woman, rubbing tanning lotion - also all over
Tan lines around wrinkles

But aside from all that, there was all this:

Caitlin, lookin' fab:

An honest to goodness workout facility on the beach:

...Which made us all want to go eat.



One last thing: on our way back, I saw a poster for this movie

Can anyone explain that to me? Are the Spanish spoofing themselves? Is some other country spoofing them? Are they spoofing us Americans who like to spoof stuff by spoofing themselves, making for a quadruple spoof*?

Perhaps we are not so different after all.

*Math is hard.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Barca! Barca! Baaaaarca!

Day 1

We started off dia dos (see what I did there?) in Spain with some good old-fashioned wandering, wanting to take in as much Spanish architecture as we could while we were there before we returned to continue getting spoiled with Roman architecture.

Eventually, we stumbled upon a Spanish bluegrass band who, because the idea of a Spanish bluegrass band apparently wasn't awesome enough, was named "The New Orleans Ragamuffins." Plus, they sang in a weird Spanish creole. So, so cool.

Then, , we realized a pattern. We saw these flags:

All over the city. After some investigation, we realized that it was a yearly festival commemorating and complaining about Catalan (the province/former country Barcelona is located in) being absorbed into Spain at large. There's still a huge amount of passion about the subject...

...despite the fact that it happened almost 200 years ago. But people are still incensed enough to warrant the presence of the military police.

And yes, the Spanish version is just as intimidating as the Roman one. The event stretched for blocks, all the way to the Spanish Arc du Triumph.

They even had an apparently sweet catering service:

I could only assume they served white bread (toasted, dry, with nothin' on it) and whole fried chickens. With Coke.

After all our wandering, we moved on to the main event: the FC Barcelona soccer (calcio/futbol/football) match against Hercules.

We, of course, being hardcore spors fans, wouldn't dress anything less than to the nines for our first European soccer immersion.

(Not pictured: Caitlin and Mike. No Caitlin because she was taking the picture. No Mike because he's a loser who didn't dress or or go to the game. Hipsters...)

In order to get our shwag on, we decided to go to the Official Barca store to see how horribly overpriced the jerseys etc were (very). Before heading to a slew of knock-off stores to buy our wares through a series of barters, we noticed this small piece of merchandise:

Yes indeed, ladies and gentlemen (laaaaadies...). That would be an official FC Barcelona G-String.

And that's all I have to say about that.

The stadium, which seats 98,000 and is the biggest in Europe:

A shot of the Hercules crowd after they scored one of their two goals:

A small, but brave contingency to be sure.

Unfortunately, Barca lost (in a game they most certainly shouldn't have), so there were roughly 97,200 fans who left that stadium disappointed (myself included, fandom by proxy and all). The crowd was much more deflated than I had envisioned: the rioting was at a minimum, and when you're expecting something akin to what would happen in the event of a nuclear holocaust if 98,000 people were fighting over the final piece of bread, anything less than a dozen fights are a little meh.

But it gave us lots of time for pictures.

So, while we were disheartened, and didn't quite have the full experience that a gigantic soccer game should have brought us, it was still a great night. Because, at the end of the day, when a drunken soccer hooligan answers his show like a phone and tells your friend that its for him, you know everything's going to be alright.

Plus, as horribly tired we were by the end of the day, we absolutely lost our shit when we saw these:

Yes, we are mature college students. Which made it all the sweeter when an old, overweight, Spanish man came in and got the "extra pleasure" brand. And we wonder why no one likes America.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Barcelona Day 1

As much as I would have loved to go to an abroad program where I didn't know anyone going in and could truly immerse myself in the culture, my current experience does have a lot of advantages. Because most of the people here in my school also go to Loyola, it gives me a good chance to create friendships that will carry over for the next couple of years, and it lets me study subjects in history that I'm especially interested in. But most of all, we have three day weekends, meaning a quick stint in another country isn't just doable, its practically recommended. As someone who has been outside of the US roughly one and a half times, it's a major, major perk.

Like I said a few days ago, I took a semi-spur of the moment trip with some of my friends to Barcelona to kick off my travelling this semester*. We wanted to go somewhere, found cheap tickets to Barcelona, and just went.

Behold the magic of $40 plane tickets.

*My list so far:
Ostia Antica - Former major Roman seaport slash current archeological site with amazingly preserved buildings and catacombs
Oktoberfest/Munich - For embracing my German heritage. Really.
Greece - Weeklong school trip that goes around to seven locations in ten days, scratching my history itch so hard that I'll likely be scarred forever. In the best possible way.
Pompeii - Some of the best-preserved ruins of the empire thanks to a massive volcanic eruption. Small price to pay, right?
SUPER TRIP - Three countries. Three days. Berlin to Brussels to Stockholm. Not my ideal mode of travel, but I feel like everyone should have a jet-setting weekend.
London - Oh, no big here. Just going up the weekend of the Harry Potter premiere. And the 25th anniversary performance of Les Miserables. Whatever though.

Possibly more to come? Cairo perhaps?

So late Thursday night, we went to one of Rome's two airports, only to have our flight leave late. We weren't delayed per se, we just didn't get told to line up on the plane for a good hour and a half later than we were supposed to because, as I have learned, Europe simply denies that being on-time is a thing.

We ended up not landing in Barcelona until 12:30 or so, then not getting to our rooms until something like 2. Which brings me to my next point: hostels = creeptastic. Really, ours wasn't too terribly disgusting or sketch, as it was (relatively*) clean and populated more by college-age foreigners than creepy international serial killers. However, the concept of living with 13 other people in one room with the approximate dimensions of 10 meters by 10 meters** just isn't something that one naturally gravitates towards.

*On a scale of garbage dump and immaculate hospital whose head physician was Dr. Mr. Clean, it was roughly a messy dorm room.
**Look how worldly I am!

The next morning we were kicked out of our hostel at 10, as we got lucky enough to book our beds one of the two weekends out of the year that it gets fumigated, so we went out wandering, starving and looking for food. What we found simultaneously filled that urge and silenced it: an open market.

First delicious looking fruits and veggies:

Then awkward raw meat and fish...

For bonus points, identify each of the following: what animal the heads are, cow tongue, testicles, liver, and intestines, brains, and whatever the hell those pink hanging things are.

Giant creepy tuna head:

But then the market made up for itself by playing to my immaturity:


Sangria. Hehehe. In hats. Hehehehe.


Then we went to a restaurant, only to sit for 20 minutes unsure of how exactly to order. Eventually the Spanish-fluent member of our group, Russel, garnered the courage to more or less say "Excuse me, we are stupid Americans - how does this work?" Eventually we figured it out and ate what turned out to be the first of many sandwiches in Spain (seriously, of the 10 meals I ate there, I think at least one of us had a sandwich at least six of them due to lack of options).

We then meandered about for awhile up and down a street called "La Rambla," which had a bunch of street vendors and performers all over it. Some highlights:

One of my faves: crazy pet store including...



And bunnies and mouses...

....sold by the bundle.

Then we decided that we hadn't eaten poorly/spent enough, so we went to a famous bakery.

Had a conversation (IN SPANISH) with a lovely waitress (with Russel's help...)


Then we wandered to the coastline:

...And promptly fell asleep.

Damn fine nap though.

Then, our first tapas of the trip:

Then we went on a quick barhop, including this place:

Where smarties such as Hemingway, Dali, and Picasso once created (and quenched thirsts).

As you can see, I kept up the tradition of class and sophistication alive and well.

We ended the night at a bar that served over 500 different kinds of shots, which was rather daunting to someone who doesn't really drink. Though I didn't partake, some highlights included the Boy Scout (set fire to the counter, roast a marshmallow, then dunk it in a shot, eat the marshmallow and take the shot), the Harry Potter (basically more and more fine, extinguished by a simple wave of the bartender's hand), the Willy Wonka (shot with whipped cream and M&Ms in it), and one that involved the drinker leaning back, having alcohol poured in his/her mouth, then having their head violently shaken for a good 30 seconds. It was basically a European dance rave club with shots, so I didn't get any pictures of worth.

Even more to come tomorrow...*twitch*...