Gaudi-town (Barcelona)

My translation: I think in my manner of work, there are large similarities to Gaudi

That guy sure knows how to work a city. Never before have I been to a city and seen so many tourist sights dedicated to the works of one man. Perhaps there are a lot more, but Barcelona is definitely in the running for that competition. In the span of two weeks, I visited Barcelona twice and I don’t think I re-saw all that much. It’s quite a happening city with such a different flavor from Madrid. So right, as I mentioned before, I am starting to get into Miro. Did you know he was tight with Gaudi? I’m including this picture to the left, although you should know that I actually took this in the Miró museum in Mallorca, not the one in Barcelona. Yes, I visited both and yes, it was worth it.

Let’s break suspension of disbelief for a moment so I can tell you that currently, while I am writing this post, I have gone on all my trips. (So basically the next two posts to come have already happened as well.) Don’t judge me! Okay anyways, I’m happy to report that Barcelona was by far the best location for people watching. Both times that I went, the crowd was very diverse and everyone had Barcelona fever! …I just made the phrase up but I definitely think it’s a thing. See below.

OKAY NOW LET’S TALK ABOUT THE BEST THING IN THE WORLD I.E. LABYRINTHS!

Yeah. It happened. We are going to stop talking about Barcelona (it’s reputation proceeds itself) and start talking about labyrinths. Well my only experience with labyrinths until now consisted of watching Pan’s Labyrinth and reading the Goblet of Fire. In Barcelona, the Labyrinth of Horta is just north of the city center and easily accessible via metro. Though small, this labyrinth is so exciting to wander (or run at fast speeds) through. Sometimes you go in circles or end up at dead ends and at some point you’ll run into the center. Surrounded by a beautiful park, it’s a great place to let your imagination run wild and interact with tourists and fun-loving Spaniards.

So because I love labyrinths, I did a little research and this is what I learned. The earliest records of labyrinths were from the stories of the Minotaur in Greek mythology. Since then labyrinths have become popular symbols in different cultures and spirituality. Find a labyrinth near you and let me know how your labyrinth experience goes!

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Fish ate my feet!

It really happened! Have you heard of a fish spa? That’s definitely not a thing around Boston (that I know of) or San Diego. When I visited Mallorca though, it definitely was. I have very ticklish feet so the process was a bit difficult to get used to, but I still recommend trying it out. It feels extra weird but these little fishies sure know how to suck the dead skin off your epidermis.

Well, besides this, Mallorca helped me realize my life dream of living on my own island. Should be pretty easy to accomplish given that I want to make money as a journalist! …. :/ maybe I’ll just settle for visiting Mallorca every now and then. The few days that I spent in the serene city of Palma were some of my favorites! Just me, the beautiful beaches and some cool Arab baths. Now I’ll bet some tennis fans are wondering: Did I meet Nadal? Unfortunately, I did not. I think he’s somewhere in Florida currently. My father was pretty set about visiting his hometown, just a car ride away from Palma. Although we did not get to, I’m sure we’d probably have better luck finding him at some tennis match in the US anyways.

Before leaving, there’s one thing you must do. Visit Fundació Pilar i Juan Miró. So you should probably know that I care the LEAST for art. (Unless you’re counting performing arts.) But anyways, it’s not like I don’t like it, I am just quite apathetic to it. Museums are usually a pretty boring experience. That said, this place is so cool! Miró moved to Mallorca after Franco began his reign on a self-exile. (It might be the ties to a cool historically significant event that draws me to his art?) Well look around his exhibit if you’re interested and if not, no worries. His house is situated on top of a large hill (that I walked up and it was tiring) and the view of the ocean is incredible.

So bottom line, if you ever visit Mallorca, buy some pearls, swim in the ocean and find me Nadal.

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Frites Forever

Store of Tintin awesomeness.

Belgium is wonderful. A definite second to Amsterdam (this is under the assumption that Spain isn’t in this contest, otherwise Spain would win hands down.) My trip was filled with museum visits and fried foods. I am definitely a big fan of frites, although I failed and never took any pictures of them. Luckily, I visited the Frite museum in Bruges and got a few pics there.

Things I didn’t know about Belgium:

Hergé (creator of Tintin) was from Brussels and as a result, there entire store dedicated to Tintin as well as a large section in the Comic Strip museum.

Frites are actually really good and very different from normal potato fries. Who knew? I keep assuming that all these things people say about Europe (i.e. their obsession with coffee over here) is just a bunch of jibberjabber. I have been living a lie. Europe totally has better coffee and yummier frites.

Owners of chocolatiers in Bruges are very rude. My friend and I visited two and were treated poorly at both. Still though, we bought chocolate because who’m I kidding? No matter how rude someone acts, if they make chocolate as good as Dumon does, I will buy it.

If you ever make it to Brussels, definitely take that day trip to Bruges. It’s very worth it. Only 14 euro roundtrip, Bruges is a different world. A vibrant city during the 1600s, Bruges was abandoned about 200 years later but at the beginning of the 1900s, it was revived by tourism. And no wonder! I’m sure people happened across this picturesque little city and then just kept coming back. It’s like stepping into an old fairy tale. Visit the lace shops where older women still work to make delicate lace doilies and table clothes or walk along the small canals and appreciate the architecture.

Back to Brussels: Visit the Natural History museum. The biggest dinosaur collection in Europe. Hm..let me repeat. The BIGGEST dinosaur collection in Europe. Enough said? I hope so and if not, I’ll judge you. It was educational, awesome and impressive all at the same time. Although I museum hopped all over the place, I’d suggest really thinking before museum-ing. There are just so many and it gets tiring walking from one to the next, hoping to see everything. If you have more time, by all means, visit away! Otherwise, think carefully about what museums you find most interesting and just spend the rest of the time exploring Brussels. It’s an interesting city with an interesting mix of architecture, language and cuisine. Almost overwhelming, in fact.

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The Eiffel Tower and then some

I suppose this entry has taken me the most time to write because I’ve been at a loss for words. What to say about Paris? Well, let’s start with some background. I’ve never been as taken aback with this city as others seem to be. For this reason among others, I hadn’t even planned to visit, until of course my best friend guilted me into it. Stupid friends. Anyways, I am definitely glad I went. I stand by my original statement: Paris is underwhelming and DEFINITELY not the city of romance or whatever other people seem to call it. Still, Parisians offer a great variety of foods to try, from baguettes to tasty crepes and the Eiffel tower is pretty darn cool! Really though, it’s quite a sight.

My favorite part of this entire trip was definitely my visit Montmarte. I know Paris has Versailles, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Notre Dame (shout out to those gargoyles!) among other important sites, but have you been to Montmarte?! Home to Moulin Rouge and beautiful winding streets, this neighborhood once saw the likes of influential men such as Vincent Van Gogh and Picasso. You hear Moulin Rouge and probably, if you’ve been an attentive reader, assume that I like this place for the same reason I was fascinated with Amsterdam’s red light district. Maybe you’re half correct. But there’s so much more to this little area than flashy outfits and a fun movie. Here you probably expect me to explain what exactly makes this part of Paris so special. Unfortunately, I was only there for a night so I cannot, although if I ever go back you know where my first stop will be! If you have Paris plans, I highly suggest you visit Montmarte, not to mention check out the beautiful Sacre Coer, which sits at the top of a large hill and stands as a landmark of Montemarte from all over the city.

Well, as far as weekends go, mine in Paris was pretty fun. I didn’t exactly experience the stuck up attitude that people tend to associate with Parisians and I was lucky to have two wonderful tour guides (thanks Sun Lee and Lauren!). One final word of warning: when ordering crepes, be aware that they always add an excessive amount of cheese. For those that like normal amounts on your food, order with discretion.

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Calle de Fuencarral

From the first week that I arrived, I have been exploring Madrid like it’s my job. Partway through my adventures, I started noticing a pattern. It always goes back to Fuencarral. This street winds through three happening neighborhoods and ends near the center of the city. So, I decided to walk down the entire street beginning to end and see what I see.

Ready?

Our walk starts here.

My first stop was at Llaollao. I was a bit hungry and nothing gets me going like some good ole frozen yogurt. Mmm. The inside is decorated with tons of fun colors and an eclectic mix of music always plays in the background. What I like most about Llaollao is their wide variety of yogurt options. Not feeling the usual tart with some toppings? Well, you can also try a smoothie or hot chocolate (yes, hot.) with froyo swirled into it. Note: Don’t expect your usual hot chocolate. They drink it thick over here.

Alright, well now for some more walking.

At this point, all you’re going to see are the basic shops such as Zara, Rodilla and some Chinos. Oh, although there’s also a Taco Bell right there, and if you are like me and miss your dose of spicy food, definitely stop in to order patatas bravas. They flavor them well and if that’s not enough, you can always just steal a bunch of hot packets. Disclaimer: I don’t condone stealing…That’s just something people can do…

Soon after, we hit Glorieta de Bilbao. We have now left my crazy barrio, Arguelles, and entered the outskirts of Malasaña. This part of town is known for its fun nightlife and cheap restaurants. Feel free to wander, but make sure you keep track of where Fuencarral is, we’re on a mission here.

Welcome to the coolest store ever, Tiger.

This picture isn’t very telling of the types of products that they have there, but I liked the flamingos. Tiger has everything for every need and I haven’t seen any item for more than 10 euros. I bought very warm mittens there for 4 euro. Enjoy [:

Other highlights:

CRAZY TEA! Yum.

If you think you see boba, you’re correct. If you think you see something else, leave a comment. I’m curious.

So now, we hit the part of Fuencarral that is not disturbed by cars or motorcycles. Perhaps the occasional police vehicle, but at least it’s safe, right?

After a nice stroll through Malasaña, we’re going to enter the outskirts of Chueca, Madrid’s gay district. Many cool restaurants are in this area, but for most you’ll have to make a detour. Definitely veer off to visit El Tigre. Delicous tapas and a lively atmosphere. Also a great place to practice your Spanish!

Finally, while perusing the stores, make sure you check out Oomoumbo. It’s a candy store. An awesome candy store.

Annnd…..We’re at Gran Vía! (which is an adventure in its own right.)

Hope you enjoyed the tour. Future posts will delve into individual neighborhoods so stay tuned.

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Red lights and coffee shops?

Frozen canals (we walked on them).

Oh, the people of Amsterdam. Probably what I heard most, after talking to various locals, was their discontent with the reputation of Amsterdam. Something along the lines of, “Oh those college students leave here and all they have done is visited the Red Light District and smoked at the coffee shops.” Let me tell you, if I lived in a city as beautiful as Amsterdam with such amazing food and rich culture, I’d be a bit peeved too.

Let’s get one thing straight, it’s not like I didn’t visit the Red Light district. I mean, everyone talks about it and given my scholarly interest in prostitution, I figured I could see what the fuss was all about. Never have I seen so many women in teeny tiny outfits smiling and posing for passerbys. Hopefully the heating in there was good because I was chilled to the bone outside. Some of the locals that I stayed with told me about this phenomenon called ‘Loverboys’ that has recently made its way through Amsterdam in which a man will court a girl and then force her into sex trade. After doing some reasearch, I’ve learned that this issue is not that new, but apparently still a big problem. Word of warning: Don’t try to take pictures. Although we didn’t attempt this, the lady we stayed with warned me that the pimps will get you if you try.

And now onto the rest of Amsterdam.

Cheese tasting

It was quite the foodie adventure. A cheese tasting at Reypenauer, chocolate tasting and breaking of bank at Chocolatl and finally best Dutch apple pie that I have ever eaten at Winkel. I definitely don’t have a preference, so if you’re on some sort of a time contraint…I still suggest you visit all these places, but the cheese tasting was probably the most educational experience and the cheese instructor definitely boosted my confidence in my tasting abilities! Who knew that it was acceptable to associate the smell of a cheese with bread and the taste of a cheese to chocolate. (At one point, I think I smelled ham, but that was probably just conditioning to my weeks in Spain dealing with their jamón obsession.) Of course, there was also some browsing of a local open air market on Saturday. The bakery and olive sections of these markets were wonderful.

Finally, of the sites we visited, I’d have to say the library is a must-see. It’s huge (biggest in Europe) and beautiful. They have an entire floor dedicated to music including a room to listen to whatever tracks you desire and a section of sheet music that ranges from Rihanna to Bethoven. Most floors have Macs and the top floor not only has a beautiful view of the city, but also offers couches that are so large that I can spread out or sleep. (And I tried to.)

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I ran through Dublin

St. Patrick's Cathedral

After this trip I learned many things about myself and my travel habits. Most important – I need time. Jumping from site to site doesn’t work for me. Additionally, I need to research. Traveling with my abroad group was so informative. All the professors, especially Elena, knew so much about the various cathedrals and streets of Toledo, Cordoba, Seville and Granada. Going somewhere without doing the pre-work that it deserves just takes away from the experience.

That said, Dublin was a very interesting experience. Part of me felt like it traveled back to America. Similar brands in stores and mannerisms on the streets. The weather resembled Boston’s and I had the option of ordering Tazo tea in some of the cafés. My traveling companion found the interactions between children and their parents most different than what we see often in America. In the first pub we went to, two boys sat talking politics and sports while their fathers listened with an honest interest in what their kids were saying. (I’m talking like 10 or 11 years old.) Later during our trip we noticed a little girl who could barely peek her head over the table eating with a fork and knife. Granted, her mother was guiding her but it was still a slightly unnatural sight for me.

It's nature.

Probably what I would tell any traveler visiting Dublin is stay outside of the city. Almost anywhere near the shore is beautiful. Granted the ride into Dublin can be a bit pricey for a student, but I value nature a lot more than I initially thought and being near the beach surrounded by green hills was easily the most cathartic experience I’ve felt since arriving in Europe. Spain’s known for a lot of beautiful nature, but Madrid has only a few parks that are currently all barren, understandably. At least now I know what to look for when I need my fix of nature.

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Para llevar?

Regardless of my opinion on food in this country, it’s a source of pride of Spaniards. Walking down the street, I challenge anyone to find more than a handful of people with cups of coffee in their hands. After grabbing a quick lunch last week before class, a friend of mine even asked me if she was allowed to carry her coke outside. Weird as this sounds, it’s a pretty valid question. It just doesn’t happen. Although this might make eating and drinking a lengthier process (it’s not an easy feat to chug a hot beverage or scarf down a bag of chips) I enjoy the idea of appreciating food and giving it the time it deserves. As this blog progresses, and I promise my posts will eventually increase in frequency, you will start noticing a bias towards posts about food. Food is amazing. The satisfaction that one can feel after eating a good meal beats almost all other warm-fuzzy-happy moments. Except perhaps a hot shower. Well, anyways. Bottom line: This aspect of Spanish culture has started to grow on me. No longer do I anxiously sit in a cafe or restaurant trying my hardest to make eye contact with someone who can get me my bill. No, I eat my food at a relaxed pace and it’s lovely.

I could chalk this up to be just another aspect of the “relaxed atmosphere” idea that I brought up in my last post, but I don’t think that’s it. People in Madrid always look like they are on-the-go, but when you step into a cafe, all that changes. The norm is to dine-in and those that want to take their food out must specify. Perhaps if the Starbucks’ in America did this, we wouldn’t see so many paper cups go to waste? Maybe people would get spilled on less too. Clean clothes and saving the environment! I think this idea could be a winner.

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Take your time

I could get used to this, or I could get superbly frustrated very quickly. I suppose this all depends on how late I am running. The relaxed atmosphere in the metro definitely makes for a more positive riding experience. So far, I have only had one bad metro ride when I accidentally bumped into a man and he blew a fuse, yelled at me and then made a point to move to the other side of the car but still glare at me for the rest of my ride. On the other hand, I got the feeling that he might have been a little bit crazy so I am not getting too worked up about it.

This relaxed attitude that manifests itself on the metro also exists in daily life, as far as I have noticed. I just feel less stressed. Everyone is just screaming, ¨Take a deep breath, Aditi. No need to be so high-strung.” *Side note: It would be kind of cool if someone literally yelled that at me.* Whenever I walk down the street, people seem just as determined and just as focused to reach their locations, but somehow calmer.

As lovely as this has been, there’s another aspect of the relaxed atmosphere that doesn’t quite fly in my book. EPDA – extreme public displays of affection. It definitely brings a different flavor to parks and plazas throughout the city of Madrid. Some have said this EPDA exists because Spaniards wanted to take advantage of the freedom that they didn’t have during the times of Franco (their dictator) and the habits of that generation stuck. Others have explained that the Spanish custom of living at home makes it difficult for couples to be intimate in private, so they choose to do it on a big black thing in the park. –>

Regardless, I definitely feel like a grandma when I shake my head at these young’uns. It’s something I need to get used to, especially since for some reason, I am the only person who notices…or so it seems. People will be siting on park benches a mere 10 feet away from a cuddling couple and do not seem the least bit perturbed. If anything, that’s a good indication that this behavior is completely normal and I should just roll with it. I mean, if that’s the only downfall of living in a city where everyone acts like they’re in the Caribbean, then I’m down to make the adjustment.

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Tribute to my stomach

Aceite, sal, jamón…and that’s just the beginning. Maybe it’s just restaurants because so far my trip has solely been restaurant and hotel food, but the excess oil and unnecessary salt makes eating a larger predicament than it has been in my life thus far. Suffering from a mild stomach ache for the past two days has put into perspective the good foods that usually make up my diet.

Foods I miss include (yes, this list is for you Mal.)

  1. Spinach – Even in the steamed form with salt! I’ll take spinach any way I can.
  2. Apples, bananas, peaches, raspberries, guavas…you get the idea.
  3. Vegetarian options. I know I am pescatarian, but when my only option is tuna for a week straight, it gets old.
  4. Fresh entrées with MODERATE amounts of salt and oil.

Hopefully my aching stomach will find some salvation with home cooked food. (Eager to meet my host family.) Until then, I’ll give you all a couple tips to eating good food here without getting sick. Always ask if there is meat, especially vegans. I ordered a veggie salad and they brought it out with eggs and tuna. So also probably ask if there is fish or egg in your meal. If you don’t like mayo like me then that’s another thing you should watch out for when ordering. I’ve received ice cream scoops worth of mayo in sandwiches that overpower both the small pieces of tomato and the one leaf of lettuce that they pass for a sufficient amount of veggies. They love their mayo here. Finally, to avoid the oil/salt, try asking for simple foods with dressings on the side. Although, this method is not foolproof because I have not quite mastered it yet either.

If you’ve been here, please give me tips in the comments section! I would love to learn of how others dealt with this issue.

I leave you with this picture, I think it’s both fitting and a little odd.

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