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Monday, December 24, 2012

Blogging from Barajas

I was beginning to think America didn't want me back.

It's been a wild ride just trying to get home for Christmas. We started by buying plane tickets, then train tickets, more plane tickets... To get from BCN to MAD to Chi-town to Indy (and then from Indy to Chi-town to Madrid to Ciudad Real and back to
BCN.)

There was supposed to be a strike for the airline to take us from Madrid to Chicago. Thankfully it was cancelled. There may or may not be bad storms in Chicago when we fly in. Let's hope not.

Sunday, I was settled in to work on my final paper for Phonology when we received a message about needing to be in Madrid three hours before our flight. This just was not possible with our connecting flight. I called the airline, and they said it was for security and couldn't really be sure how long it would take for us to get through lines.

So, instead of flying out Monday morning, we took a train Sunday night and arrived in Madrid bright and early this morning.

Then, the metro here was on strike with only minimal service. Super.

When we finally arrived at the airport, it looked like some wild ERASMUS students had a party there. Who knows...

Anyway, we are on a jet plane, but we'll be back again!

See you soon, Indy friends and family!





Sunday, December 2, 2012

Playing Catch Up...Again!

I know, I know...I am way behind on writing my posts!




Life has been a whirlwind here for the past...well, more than a month! We went to Italy, and I worked like a crazy person to do a study that required me to be awake at 3am Barcelona time in order to interview people in the States. Now, I have finals, papers, projects...

It's craziness.

Anyway, I haven't forgotten about the blog! There are tons of wonderful things heading your way if you have some patience with me, including: great finds for clothing stores in BCN that won't break your bank, finding the best burger in Barca, a photo review of the highly acclaimed restaurant Tickets (our neighbor), and adventures from Italy!

Yes, that's really it! The Leaning Tower of Pisa!
 
For those of you who live in the States, I'll be home on Christmas Eve (late) and will be taking a gastronomic tour of my old haunts such as Ichiban, Tomo, BDubs, Qdoba, Chipotle, Skyline, Dairy Queen...the sky is the limit. Well, actually...the kindness of friends and family with vehicles is the limit as I know longer have a car there. :-/

So, I will get the blog caught up very, very soon! In the meantime, I have to write a paper attacking a theoretical account of hybrid agreement in Serbo-Croatian.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Random

So I've been thinking...



...and we all know what a dangerous thing that is.


Ok, seriously. I used to really enjoy music. I still enjoy listening to music immensely, but I can't tell you the last time I picked up a guitar. Actually, I can. I last played one of my guitars (yes, I have five...slight addiction) when we moved them from Will and my house to his parents' place before leaving for BCN. I was sitting there, waiting for my fingers to get their memory of how to play back (not my memory...surely it's my fingers' fault that I couldn't play). The experience was surreal.

Let me take you back in time. I'll skip (most of) the history and get to the nitty gritty. I taught myself how to play when I was young, had a few lessons later (not really my thing), and finally in college took a guitar class to fulfill my performing arts credit requirement. Yes, even nurses have to do performing and theoretical arts credits at a liberal arts school. I wouldn't have it any other way. Anyway, I learned how to finger pick in that class. I don't mean using my fingers instead of a pick. I mean the crazy awesome way to pick, like from "Dust in the Wind" (among countless others). It was the last thing I learned, and, naturally, it was the first thing I forgot. The calluses, long gone, had been the last remaining souvenirs guistarist-ness, or so I thought.

2005
Randi and me at Logos, the place where I dared to first play guitar in front of strangers.
Poor strangers...

Sitting there, my life a whirlwind (considering an impending move to Barcelona), I started to play again. Memory was a flood, and I was gladly inundated. It all came back to me, except most of the finger picking part. It was intense. That ever-elusive finger memory came back. It's not a brain thing (well, it is, but still....not the point). My fingers knew what to do, and it was as easy as that.

As with most things in life, it wasn't meant to last. The guitars, the amps, they all got packed up. Pieces of a whole life, boxed up and set aside for "another time". What if there isn't "another time"? What if that time never comes?

I haven't told anybody other than William until now, but I received quite a scare about my grandmother recently. I was completely soaked from head to toe and through every layer of clothing, waiting for the train back to Barcelona. The Friday night adventure turned from the Zombie Walk to Zombie-Get-Drenched-and-Cold-and-Have-a-Real-Reason-to-Walk-Like-a-Zombie Walk. William checked Skype, and I had a message from my dad. My grandmother was in the hospital with heart blockage and not doing well. It would be scary for anyone. Given her recent history of a heart attack and subsequent hospitalizations, this was terrifying.

What if there isn't another time?

If it wasn't for the support Will and my ESADE friends unknowingly gave me out there, the world probably would have seen a zombie cry for the first time.

The next time you find yourself wishing you had done this or that, or talked to this person or that person, just do it. I was getting emotional about leaving some guitars behind, and they will still be there when I get back. Lives are not guitars, and even guitars don't last forever. Life is fleeting. Life is fragile, but don't pack it away, guarding it from what may come. Go out and live it!

Live, love, and play a little guitar while you still can.


My grandmother and me (during cardiac rehab)
On last report, she has three leaky heart valves but  is stable and should be going to rehabilitation soon to gain strength.




Thank you, Zombie Walk friends. Your humor and friendship means more than you know.
 

 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Things That Make You Say "Wow!"

Life in Barcelona is full of things that make you say "wow".



You know what the Sagrada Familia is, right? How about Casa Batlló? What about the City Hall building (Ajuntament) in Plaça Sant Jaume? You've seen them during the day. Perhaps you've even seen them at night. Only some very lucky people who happen to be in the right place at the right time have seen them like I have.

You are lucky, too. I'm going to share them with you.

What am I talking about? It's audiovisual mapping! It's amazing. But that's nothing that I need to convince you of, check it out for yourself. :)

Ajuntament

Since my camera battery was on death's doorstep, I can only bring you a few images of this awesome show. These images are from La Mercè, 2011.

Sorry there are so many people in the way.
Now you know what my view is like!

The video snippet: Unfortunately, I didn't catch the coolest part. They turned the building into a Mario Brothers scene! You can still see some really cool morphs, including Legos and Linkin' Logs.



La Sagrada Familia

These were taken during the 2012 Mercè. These images really don't do it justice.








The Awakening of Casa Batlló

To celebrate the 10th year of Casa Batlló being open to the public, this amazing AV mapping experience was created.











 
 
 










.....aaaaand, last but not least!




I hope you have enjoyed the show! It was wonderful to witness all of these amazing displays in person. Here's wishing you a life full of things that make you say "wow"!



Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Catalan: 2B or no 2B? That is the question!

Rather, the question is to take B2 level Catalan classes or not.

Last Wednesday, I finished Catalan B1 (the first of three sub-levels needed to complete an overall A level). You can read more about this class in a previous post.

I decided to "keep on keeping on" without a break and had my first B2 class Monday. It's pretty much necessary since one of my Master's courses will be taught in Catalan next trimester I don' lie though, I really do it because I enjoy it. Also, it's free (minus the cost of the text, 14€ I think).

Wow! The first class was something else. Gone are the days of the teacher speaking slowly to ensure everyone understands. I thought that I would welcome the increased pace, but this time around, maybe I am the one who needs the third repetition of whatever new phrase was spoken.

I am starting the language volunteering program with my university, which I hope will help to increase my processing speed of what is heard as well as my ability to speak more fluidly. Apparently, not many English speakers are taking advantage of the program, thus I have been given two partners instead of the customary single partner which is generally implied by the phrase "language pair". Might as well go all out!

So, here I sit in the metro heading towards my B2 Catalan class for the second installation of You Don' Know Jack, Catalan language edition. Wish me luck!

Monday, October 8, 2012

How the W.W.F. Will Get You Home for the Holidays!

Yes, it's true! We are coming home for Christmas!

 





Sadly, we didn't think we would be able to make it home for the holidays. Let's face it: it wasn't cheap to get here. We are both paying for grad school, and our only source of income is the private English lessons I teach. Returning to Indiana for Christmas seemed like a pipe dream with round trip flights for one person alone totaling around the $1k-2k mark.

What did I do? For a while, I gave up. I was trying to figure out how to break it to our families that we would not be able to spend Christmas with them (man, was that hard!). One night, I looked again, decidedly determined to find something. I found nothing. Will, however, struck gold. This brings us to W.W.F.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia
What is W.W.F.?

Sadly, my intended desire to make you think the World Wrestling Federation will get you home for Christmas has been ruined by the World Wildlife Fund (for Nature). The W.W.F. of my childhood (oh, yes, I watched it!) is now the W.W.E. (World Wrestling Entertainment). How anticlimactic and disappointing.

Anyway, the organization formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation is not helping us get home. Fortunately, the acronym will.

The following simple principles helped Will and I find a very economic (comparatively) option for returning home for Christmas. Part of this information will only apply to those of us in Spain/Europe, but part of it will apply on a larger scale. I decided to share it because my friend, Silvia, also looked into it and will be traveling home to Venezuela for 300 euros. Crazy!

W. (When), W. (Where), F. (Flexibility)

You have to know....

When to Fly
&
Where to Look
And you have to be...
Flexible
When to Fly:
Regardless of which carrier you use, flights tend to be cheaper around certain dates. When your carrier allows you to see their calendar (the one that shows you what flights will cost on any given day that month), you can start to see patterns, especially around Christmas.
Of course, flying during the holidays is generally more expensive than flying at other times. I have personally searched numerous airline sites and sites that try to give you the flight information of several airlines at once. To get the cheapest dates, you have two main options.

1. Long Christmas Vacation:    
 
Two of my nieces
       - If your studies/job allow, try to leave around the beginning of December. The cost of the flights won't have been increased as significantly during that time frame, so your departure flight should be comparatively cheaper than, say, trying to leave the week of (with a few exceptions, see below) Christmas.
 
       - For the cheapest return flight, you should aim to fly out on New Year's Day. Yes, I know you will have partied the night before, but what better time to sleep on the way back?

2. Short Christmas Vacation: (This is the option we had to choose because of school)

      - For those of you who don't know when your final exams are (.i.e. ESADE students who could have exams up to the 21st of December) or who can't take that much time off work, you can still go home! The option isn't ideal, but if you fly home on the 24th of December (yes, Christmas Eve) you will get the best deal on departure flights during the week of Christmas and even the outlying days around that week. If  you are flying back to America, the time zones are in your favor!
 
       - The same option as above applies for your return flight. If you can bear to leave on New Year's Day, you will get the best deal on your return flight. Why not give it a try? It will get you home before your classes start again, so you will have time to acclimate and not still be jet-lagged when you go to school. And, as stated above, if you partied on New Year's Eve, what better way to sleep it off?

Photo Credit: Iberia's Website (link below)
Where to look:
This is not so complicated as the first "W". I fell into the habit of using the same airline for their mileage points despite frequent issues with said company. It paid off in a way, because Will's flight to Barcelona for the school year ended up costing $30. However, that was only after spending 24 hours on the phone with them as the transaction of miles had to be completed over the phone. They were merging, and nobody was answering. 17 of those 24 hours spent on the phone were consecutive. So, I was ready to try something different.
 
The great deal that William found had a lot to do with the dates we are traveling, but it couldn't have come to fruition without the right airline. The magically low-priced flights were from Iberia. They have a "cheap flights" area. I flew with them in 2004 when I studied with the IU Honors Program in Ciudad Real, and I had a positive experience with them. I am hoping for a similar experience this holiday season.
 
As an added benefit, you can sign up for their loyalty card for free, and many flights are offering double miles/points at this time.

 
Flexibility:
So, if you combine the right dates with the right airline, you will get the best deal, right? That's partially true. Certainly, at this point you have already seen the flexibility required to get the best prices...fly on inconvenient dates with an airline you don't traditionally do business with...that's part of it.
 
The third and most difficult thing to be flexible about is where you fly from and to. We are going to Indy for Christmas, but we aren't flying out of Barcelona, and we aren't flying into the Indianapolis International Airport. Confused? Don't be.
 
We are flying out of Madrid, and we will be arriving in Chicago. The deals on Iberia's site are superb, but they may not include the most convenient option for your travel needs. Just go with the flow! We are taking the train to Madrid (if you buy your tickets early enough, they can be quite cheap). We will be taking the Megabus from Chi-town to Indy (tickets between $10-20 dollars round trip),and we should be celebrating Christmas with family by early to late evening on Christmas Eve. When we come back, we will spend some time with my host family from 2004 in Ciudad Real and take the train back to BCN.
 
My mom, dad, nieces, & nephew  
Why?:
If you find yourself asking "Why in the world would they fly on those crazy dates to and from places where they don't live with an airline they aren't incredibly familiar with?", here's the best part.
 
The cost is affordable. Because family is priceless.
 
This round-trip flight home for Christmas is around 500 euros per person (it comes out to around $1,300 total for both of us round trip). Sure, the cost of the train and the Megabus will increase that cost, but buying tickets early enough should help to get good deals. Also, the trip to Madrid is not without purpose; we will get to visit with people who are very dear to me on the way back home.

 


If you still aren't certain about the price, keep in mind two things:

- All of the prices I found for other options were around that cost for a round-trip flight for one person. Many of those included one or two stops and double the flight time.
 
- We visited Barcelona last year in September and paid slightly more for that trip (which was still cheap by the flight cost standards of the time). Yes, the train and Megabus add slightly to that cost, but keep in mind this is holiday travel time!
Grandma Freeman and Grandma Cravens


Note:

 
If you are in Madrid or near it (like some of you in the Auxiliares program), you are already starting out in a city that, for some reason, seems cheaper to depart from anyway.
 
If you can't afford to go home for Christmas or want to travel during your Christmas break, you can get great deals on flights throughout Europe by following the same guidelines.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

'Merica in My Heart

How's it going so far? Well, we are settled in Barcelona, but there's no place like home.


Family, friends, pets, attending NFL and NBA games, Cherry Pepsi, affordable/easy to find peanut butter (found, I'll tell you where soon!)...I miss you all.

Thankfully, I am able to stay busy enough to not dwell on what and whom I miss...most of the time. Being busy, however, means I don't get to update you as much as I would like.

What have I been up to? Well, here goes nothing:
  • Teaching:
I've been teaching English, and I love it. I'm teaching private classes for business English and English for medical professionals. I'd like to start a conversation group class as well. My schedule is somewhat chaotic (Iwo days a week I teach from 7-8am and have to be at my own Catalan class at 8:45 am. I teach two nights a week as well and will start uni classes soon.), but it works out well. Friday I felt particularly successful as one student told me his coworker was interested in classes, and one of my own classmates from Catalan class wants to work on his English. Since then it's like the floodgates have opened!
  • Learning Catalan:
I'm certainly learning a lot in this new place. I have Catalan classes 4 days a week, 2 hours and 45 mins each day. I am one of the only Americans in my class which is actually a good thing. I've really been able to meet a lot of people that I would have probably never gotten to know otherwise. The class is pretty cool. It's mainly taught in Catalan, but when we don't understand, sometimes the teacher speaks a little Spanish (and sometimes I am still lost). Molt bé (very good), I can review one language while learning a new one. You can learn more about options for starting your own Catalan language adventure in one of my previous posts.
  • Cooking:

My first adventure was Lucky Brownie Batter Choco-Loco Truffles, but I have also made Thin Mints and a version of buckeyes. Do I make more than desserts? Yes, but those meals aren't nearly as interesting. I was excited for corn the night before last. It's sold in vacuum packs of 2 cobs. As a Hoosier, it's preposterous to think that corn is a rare commodity. Then again, I've never seen so many olives in my life (there are five to six different types in jars at the produce shops. You get to choose your own and put them in little containers yourself).
    Do you want the recipe?
    I'll post it if I get at least five responses
    to my question below.
  • Cleaning:
Yeah, I do some of that. Stop laughing.
I'm really happy here. Sure, there's not a lot of corn. Corn's not really a prerequisite for being happy. There's plenty of popcorn, so at least William is content.

I miss 'Merica and my family and friends there so much, but I know I will learn so much from this experience. Where's the farthest from home that you have been? Tell me below, and if I get enough responses, I will post the recipe for the Thin Mints!



Friday, September 7, 2012

Bicing "Oh, crap!" Moments

Because life is full of them!


I just wanted to take a minute to share...Will and I have had our Bicing cards for a while now. The program is great. You pay about 45 euros a year for membership in a program that gives you nearly 24-hour public transportation, exercise, and "Oh, crap!" moments.

The first time I rode bicis with Will for any length of time, we were on our way home from the Correfoc at Festa Major de Gràcia. What is "Correfoc", you may ask? It's basically a parade of fireworks. Some people have dragons made of fireworks, and some people run to dance under the fireworks. Some people run after you with fireworks...


The ongoing onslaught of fireworks wasn't one the "Oh, crap!" moments though. It was actually pretty cool.

No, the "Oh, crap!" moment was when we decided to ride bicis from Gràcia to Poble Sec because the metro was closed for the night. Not only is it a little on the scary side to ride your bike at night through Raval, it's scary when you ever-so-slightly mini-bump into your fiancé because he is riding in front of you, and you think he is going to go straight ,and he stops suddenly...whew. Glad I got that off my chest. That was the first "Oh, crap!" moment brought to you courtesy of Bicing (well, by me really). And when I ever-so-slightly mini-bumped Will's calf (okay, let's be honest...I ran into him), it scared the crap out of me. He brushed it off like no big deal, and life went on.

Here's the new logo for the blog's Youtube channel. :)

The next "Oh, crap!" moment was when I realized riding a bici meant playing Barcelona's version of Frogger in real life. Some roads have bici lanes, some don't. Some roads have stop lights for bicis, some don't. Some people get really cranky when you ride on the sidewalk, some don't. Most people don't wait for the bici light to turn green, I generally do.


Here is the favicon I am working on right now.
It will go in the top corner of your browser.
This is a test for your enjoyment as it's currently not animating in the browser.


Really, I try very hard to obey the traffic laws. Sometimes when there are absolutely no cars around, well, I do go. But during these "Oh, crap!" moments, my lights have been green!!! The cars have a flashing yellow light most of the time when the bici light is green. Some of them like to try to go before pedestrians and bicis get through the intersection completely. I have successfully leveled up in Frogger-Barcelona Style many times now as a bicyclist and a pedestrian because of that. Admittedly, I lost control of one of my digits the other day as I leveled up. I'm not proud of it.

Look on the positive side...Life's not measured by the amount of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away. I wonder if that was inclusive of moments that take our breath away due to near loss of life?  








Fun in France: Part Deux

There was so much fun to be had in France, the adventures wouldn't fit in just one blog!


This post details our first full day in France (a Friday) and the last minute misadventures of the day we left (Saturday). If you missed the first part of this series, you can read it here, Fun in France: Part Un.



Vacation fail #1: We did not get up early enough to get to the Carcassonne castle before everyone else. It was super packed!

Vacation win #1: Since we were running so late, we had to eat breakfast at the castle (well, in the touristy village around the castle). That means...I ate my first crepe, and we got to watch the baker make them!

Left: Chocolate Crepe                       Right: Strawberry Crepe
I remember watching Talladega Nights. There was a scene in which the racers discussed crepes. I had never had one, nor had I seen one. I, for one, am not too proud to admit, "I love crepes." Admittedly, they don't look super yummy. They look like sponges. They were d*** tasty sponges though. Pardon my French! (Obviously, "d***" is "deux", since we ordered two. For those of you who thought I meant something else....for shame!)

I digress. The castle is beautiful.

The story of the city involves siege. A woman (widow of the Saracen leader, Dame Carcas) was said to have made scarecrows of sorts out of straw and dead men's armor to make the army seem stronger. The attackers tried to starve the inhabitants, so she fed the last of the grains to the last pig and threw him (or her, I guess I should be PC) down to the attacking army (Franks, King Charlemagne). When the pig splattered on the ground, the grains spilled everywhere too. Seeing how well-fed the pig was, the Franks left. They thought the city had an abundance of food and that their chances of winning the city were null. The people cheered, the bells rang ("sona"). Put them together, and you get "Carcassonne".

Okay, so maybe that's not true. Who knows? The city definitely defends its story though!

Carcas, thanks for throwing your pig!
Inside the walls of the fortress, I was able to get a feeling of what it might have been like to live there. It has definitely been modernized. Shops sell plastic swords, and I had a panini, fries, and a Coke for lunch...but the romanticism and history is still there for those who will seek it.

Take a seat while you string your bow...
...all the modern comforts of a medieval fortress
Breathtaking...
Apparently he is not a fan of church music!
It was hard to choose just one picture from inside.
Will is on the Wall. Thankfully he didn't take the black!

Commercialism vs. Real History

There was a lot of commercialism, and I tend to prefer realistic historical sites; however, I must confess. Will and I went to see a tournament (jousting, swords, etc.). It could not have been more touristy, but it did rival the part of our visit when we saw the inner castle and walked the walls. I said rivaled, not superseded.

The entire show was, much to my chagrin, in French. Of course, it makes sense. I just wasn't thinking about it. I am so used to being in Spain and understanding Spanish. It really put me in my place to not understand a word that was being said. We joked when we saw a girl in business attire standing in the tourney grounds. She didn't fit in. Well, apparently she did somehow, but I can't particularly tell you in what way. Please, have a go at it.



I think the business lady was trying to tell them how to run the show, but the King was not having it. It may have been more fun to not know what they were saying and just imagine what they were talking about...

I think these guys must have been saying, "Sacrebleu! It's hot!!!"
This was the point where the lances shattered. I imaged them saying, "Prepare to be unhorsed!" The reply would have been, "Sacrebleu! My lance".

There was plenty of sword fighting. He said, "Sacrebleu, you are faster than you look." To which the man in yellow who slightly resembled Orlando Bloom said, "It's from my days on the Black Pearl and training with Aragorn and Gimlee.
There was plenty of unfair fighting, too. Axe to shield?! Sacrebleu, that's not fair!
Sacrebleu! "Funny Guy" kicks "Serious Guy's" butt.
 
Ah, yes. Sacrebleu, here is Randi's future husband. He's plenty hairy/beardy enough!
 
He's definitely looking for her.  
I don't actually know what to say about this except, Sacrebleu, that dude is going to joust on a cow!


Again, I digress. There was plenty of fun to be had at the tournament. However, the wall and its views were magnificent! Here is an actual model of the grounds. Some of the fortifications were made by Visigoths, some by Romans, and some by others. Sadly, the castle was left for ruin, badly damaged and in need of repair. None of that shows today...except for one small piece. In the model on the top right there is a circle on the outside of the fortifications. It was used by the city's army to defend the stronghold with a 360 degree vantage point. After all, some of the fighting was amongst this city and the part just below in the valley. It's crazy to see how much work went into restoring it, and I am thankful that we were able to see it!
 
From my lookout post on the wall, I had very diverse views....

 
 To the left were the fields and farmlands.
The city was directly in front of me and to the right. 










 
Speechless

Inside the inner castle
Here's where the circle used to connect!
So, the day was drawing to a close. Unfortunately for Will, not before I found some cool medical displays in the pharmacy windows. Yes, I gawked. 
After I had my fill of antic medical supplies, we returned to our temporary French piso. 
Saturday morning we headed out and took the train back to Narbonne, but not before I snapped a picture of this car that I had been admiring during our stay. Actually, I snapped it as we were speed walking to the train station. 
I thought we were in a hurry once we got to Narbonne, so we didn't stop to check out the super fun market.


We went into the bus stop office, but the sign said it was part of a different company than the one we were using. We thought we might need to check in, but the girl in the office shut her door when we came in. I took that to mean she didn't want to speak with me. So, we tried to get some breakfast. Apparently, between 0900 and 1100, you cannot get food from restaurants in Narbonne. We were only able to get coffee. Le sigh.

We eventually returned to wait at the bus stop, but the bus didn't come. We waited, and waited, and finally I got the courage to try to talk to the attendant. She asked me why I didn't come sooner and said that I would "have to wait". I'm not sure why I needed to come sooner if she wanted me to wait, but that was her suggestion. She checked us in, and we proceeded to wait. I actually got a tan sitting there in the hot sun and waiting. We checked with her again, and she said that the bus was running late. I think it finally arrived an hour later. The driver asked us a question, which I presume was if we had checked in or not, argued with us about keeping our one bag with us on the bus, and we were off. 


Barcelona, sweet Barcelona. We missed you! 




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