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Wednesday, October 24, 2012


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.

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. :)


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...
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.

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 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  
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


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.

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