One great thing about how UCC does finals is that it includes a study break that’s at least a week long between the last day of classes and your first final. I got a break of almost two weeks– two weeks I know that I could not spend the entirety of studying. Making sure to block off two solid days before my first final to study, I planned my “study break” around Europe. Read More »
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According to Catalan tradition, every year dating back to the 18th century, the people of Barcelona are to build a human tower, and every year they aim for new heights. The towers of people are split into three sections: Pinya (the large, bottom ring), Manilles (one or two additional/middle rings), Tronc (the trunk, several levels of people on the top). The Pinya stabilizes the full structure, and is also organized to soften the fall of the castellers on top. The very top is a small, forth section called the pom de dalt, the tower dome. The pom de dalt is reserved for children due to their low weight.
The name resembles French, as well as Spanish, being that Barcelona is in the Catalan region. Catalan is a mixture of French and Spanish, and so most of the street signs are in three different languages, and occasionally they will mix in English, which actually does help. My brother and I travelled to Barcelona together, and although we both took Spanish throughout lower and secondary school, his grasp on the language is much better than mine. However, I am somewhat well versed in French, and we both know English, so together it kind of worked.
Anyway, being a castell is an honor in the Catalan culture, and many train to do so. The tower is carefully organized and reviewed to attempt for few injuries and/or casualties. The pinya, however, according to our tour guide, often looks disheveled and random in order, unless you know the plan exactly. After setting up the base, the next tier climbs up in their order. To build a strong tower, the lighter people are reserved for climbing, and the stronger, broader bodies stabilize the base. The symbol of a finished tower is raised by the anxenta, a small child who climbs to the top and raises an arm with a flag to salute the crowds. Although the tower buildup is complete, the tower has to be taken down first without falling apart to be crowned a winner and absolutely done. Recently, children have been permitted to wear foam – padded helmets; otherwise there is no protective wear.
Traditionally, during the construction of the tower, a flutist and drummer accompany the process with the melody Toc de Castells. The tune follows the supposable process and phases of construction and helps with the communal emotions of visitors. The towers are built during large festivals, and the usual season is summer – autumn, or June to November. A few years ago, to commemorate the tallest tower built yet, a sculpture was placed in a local square near Las Ramblas showing the incredible height (see picture below).
The rest of our time in Barcelona was spectacular! We used the same tour group that I used when in Brussels, the new Europe Sandeman tours. Like in Belgium, the tour was fantastic, and actually probably a better tour guide here. We went to the beach and walked the coastline for two miles or so, and grabbed supper near our hostel. Then, we went out to a local restaurant to try a local drink – although we were looking for sangria, they didn’t have so we each tried something different.
On our second day, we headed up to Costa Brava for some scuba diving fun! Stupidly, I forgot my underwater camera in London, and although we looked once in Barcelona, we couldn’t find one. So, I took a few photos before and after, of us in our wetsuits and swim gear. The diving aspect took some adjustment, but I actually got the hang of it rather fast, and my brother certainly took some more time. Once under, about 33 feet down, we explored for a little while and saw some cool sea urchins, a few anemones and several schools of fish.
The following day, my brother and I were driving each other plenty nuts, and so we separated – it was also our last day in Barcelona. We both walked with all our things (just a backpack, really) across the city to Segrada Familia. I was happy to walk around the outside and not go in, as I had had my fill of churches on my big Europe trip, but my brother wanted to go in. We separated; he went in and I headed to Montjuîc to see the castle and Joan Miró Foundation/Museum. Both places were fantastic, and together with the price of the lift up the mountain, cheaper than the entrance fee to Segrada Familia (with student discount). My brother and I were then supposed to meet at 2:30 at L’Placa de Espana, but he wasn’t there. After twenty minutes, I gave him a call and apparently he sent me an email that somehow I was supposed to know to look at. Anyway, he was still at Segrada Familia, so he wanted to meet at the train station, where we would catch our bus at 6 or 7pm – those were the last two. During my leftover time, I considered heading to Park Guëll, but instead I went into the L’Placa de Espana colosseum, which is a shopping mall with a lookout onto the city, at the top, and had a really good smoothie place! Then, I walked up to the National Museum of Catalán, and had my wonderful taste of sangria before heading back down the 300 or so steps, which they provided escalators too, but I persevered and walked all the way up and down. Then, I took the metro to our train station for the 7pm bus, which apparently doesn’t run on Fridays – something I certainly did not know before. I was stuck in a 60 minute downpour rain from walking to the metro, to searching for the bus, finding there was no bus and getting back to the train station for a train to Reus Barcelona airport, in order to catch the flight – clueless to where my brother was and soaked head to toe. Whilst on line for train tickets, my brother snuck up behind me and we caught a last minute train to Reus, and from there a taxi to the airport, and arrived five minutes before our flight was called and security closed – it was tight, but it’s a small airport and there were no other flights there, so we made it. Barely.
We got back to London around midnight, and caught a bus back to central London, and then walked the rest of the way to Ramsay. Overall, we had a really lovely time in Barcelona, and I really appreciate that my brother came to visit – although we did kind of drive each other insane.
I had another amazing week.
First, and the most lame, is that I finished watching Game of Thrones with my Dutch friend Martine.
More importantly though, this was one of my favorite weeks and weekends in Barcelona.
On Monday, my boss informed me that I could take home a 24 pack of Estrella Damn. They recently got paid in beer, and had so much that they had no idea what to do with it all, so I lugged that home. I got the weirdest looks on the metro, and people were laughing at me, and I could barely feel my arms, but it was so worth it! Here is also a picture of my (tiny) office.
On Thursday, I went to an adventure to the beach… again. But I got off at a different stop, and found a port near yachts. I had this amazing view of the beach, the pier, the W, Montjuic, and more. I climbed a fence and found some things from the 1992 Olympics while I enjoyed the view of the stunning sunset.
On Valentine’s Day, I had dinner with Martine, Josefina, and Silvana. We celebrated being single with Italian food and Nutella crepes. We were dressed up nicely and even had two groups of desperate single men cat call us.
On Saturday, Martine, Stephanie, Silvana, Josephina, and I all went to the Bunkers Del Carmel! This is an old Spanish fort built during the Spanish Civil War, and it is on top of a mountain in the middle of the city. It has the best view of the entire place, and is even free. It was so awesome and beautiful. We bought stuff to make sandwiches, and then we went there at sunset and had a picnic. Who knew that it would be one of my favorite experiences here? It took 50 minutes to get there, but it was worth it.
This weekend, I hung out with my residencia friends constantly, and it was so awesome to get to know them even better. We had so much fun! We went out to the clubs Bling Bling once and Opium twice. At Bling Bling, they had a free chocolate fountain, sushi, and a magician. What a good, free night with good friends and good music! At Opium, we met so many random people, danced until 6 am, and got VIP entrance.
On Sunday, the best thing that happened was that I got a free dinner at CDLC! Ines, Jimena, and I went to CDLC at 10:30 and had a delicious dinner and drinks. We had like 4 courses of sushi, some pita bread and hummus, a noodle bowl, chicken, and then fruit and chocolate for dessert. Then we danced and went and hung out on the beach. We met some really interesting people, too. We were sitting next to this 27 year old Argentinian promoter, and 33 year old Polish woman. The Polish woman had 2 children in Poland, and worked in Poland, but spent every other week in Barcelona just hanging out because she loved it so much. Further, she and the man from Argentina met a year ago after finding out they were half brother and sister! How you can go that many years in your life and not know that information baffles me. But now they live together in Barcelona and are good friends!
Overall, one of the best weeks here, and I can’t wait to see what more will come <3
I learned three major things this week:
One, is that Spanish people aren’t my size. At all. After January 7th, Spain has their equivalent to “after Christmas sales,” and they are still going on. Now, because it is a month later, many clothes, shoes, purses, etc. are so ridiculously cheap that you might as well souvenir shop now instead of at the end of the semester. So, I have bought some skirts and shirts and whatnot, but I have been trying to find shoes. So many places have 10 euro shoes. Do you know what so many places do not have? Shoes in size 42 (AKA 11). Everyone here is so tiny, that whenever I ask the store clerk “Tienes zapata cuarenta y dos?” they literally either laugh in my face or look shocked.
Another thing I learned more about is the Catalan independence movement. Almost every weekend, they have tents set up to lure citizens to sign an independence petition. Essentially, almost 300 years ago, the Catalan people were revolting, but overtaken by the Spanish. On the 300th anniversary, hundreds of thousands of Catalonians formed a human chain that stretched across the entire state to symbolize their unity. They are still bitter at the Spanish government for conquering them, and also not letting them be their own country. Currently, the wealthy state of Catalonia makes up something like 60% of tax revenue for the entirety of Spain, but they only get a portion of that back, because a lot of the money goes to poorer areas. In the space of a few years, public support of independence has shot up to 56 percent. Tensions continue to rise after the Catalan president Artur Mas announced that he will hold an independence referendum on November 9th. With this, Mr. Mas launched the biggest challenge to Spain’s internal structure in recent history. However, the opposing Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has the backing of Spain’s main opposition party and will suspend the referendum as soon as it is approved in Catalonia.
I don’t think Catalonia will ever gain independence, and they may not want to; if they break away, so much of the economy would change, they wouldn’t be a part of the Eurozone, and wouldn’t have the financial backing of other countries. That was a really bad summary, but it is interesting and I encourage whoever is reading this (which, let’s face it, is probably just the Hennerberg family) to go research more about it.
Anyway, the third thing I learned this week is that sometimes, travelling to random, different places for cheap turns out to be the best experience of your life. This weekend, I travelled to Porto, Portugal, and words cannot describe how amazing that place was.
I had no idea that Portugal would be that beautiful and that fun. The hostel was so fantastic. It was only ten euros a night, and voted the third best hostel in the Western Europe, and the best party hostel in Western Europe (Porto Spot Hostel- look it up). It had a TV, bar, nice kitchen, beautiful facilities, great bathrooms, free breakfast, etc. We started walking around Porto, and found some beautiful areas such as a blue hand tiled church, the sixth best café in the world (Majestic Café), and some of the best franchesina’s possible (this is a Portuguese dish- full on 4 kinds of meat, bread, a fried egg, fries, cheese, and a special sauce. Invented by drunk friends but enjoyed by an entire culture). A group of 10 friends and I walked down to the port, which was too beautiful for words. The side we were on was pretty, but then we crossed a famous bridge to go to the side with the wineries and were in utter awe by how beautiful one place could be.
We went to a wine tasting at a place called Calem, and learned about how they make wine, where, and how different wines tasted. After, we took a hike up to another wine place called Taylors, which had a glorious view of the city (though it seemed like everywhere had a nice view!). Then, a trip to Majestic Café to have to best croissants of my life. This is actually where J.K. Rowling wrote some of her first Harry Potter book. She used to teach English in Porto, and got many ideas for Harry Potter from there. For example, she used the Portuguese school dress code (of cloaks and long black uniforms- which was actually an elite club of Portuguese students; if you wanted to enter you were hazed for a year. They take the uniforms very seriously- they even wear the cloaks to bars at night). Rowling also stemmed her ideas from a bookstore in Porto that reminds me of Flourish and Blotts.
That night, we went out on the bar crawl. For 10 euros we got entry to multiple places, multiple drinks, and great times! Just because, I convinced these Australians that I was from Perth and we talked for 20 minutes about Australia and how much we loved it but how expensive it was. We went to a bar and then two clubs, and it was awesome!
The next morning, I woke up bright and early so that I could go on both the ancient and the modern walking tour. The tours were through a company called Pancho tours- free tours (tips appreciated), but the guides were fantastic and really catered to students. We started in the main square, and learned cool stories about how a heart was under a church because “his heart would always be in Porto”, we learned about an old jail that you had to pay to be kept in a cell on the top story and the architect had a million mistresses, and we saw some of the best views (even though at times it was pouring rain). We went to a little market and I had hot wine and bought a blue scarf, and then we went to the second tour.
On that tour, our guide interrupted the tour to take us to a bakery that served the best chocolate cake in Porto, and we saw a beautiful church and more of the blue hand tiles, a street artist’s work, and so much more. After the tour, we just went shopping, and admired the beauty more. My Mexican friend Marianna and I bought the famous Porto wine and cheese and bread for a classy night.
Overall, the people were so nice, it was cheap, and it was beautiful. The only bad thing was the bipolar and rainy weather. So, moral of the story: sometimes not going to touristy European cities (such as Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Berlin, etc.) and instead going to other touristy cities, but off the beaten path, are the best decision- like finding a cheap hidden gem that is worth 5 times its weight in gold.
The only other really fun thing this week was that I met a friend of a friend. Sammy met a 50 year old woman named Lisa at the airport when Sammy was in the middle of a snowstorm trying to come to Barcelona. They instantly bonded, and have talked every day since. We went to Lisa’s cute apartment, and walked around until we found a nice Italian restaurant in Barceloneta. The food was delicious- we had Catalan bread, hummus, a turkey and avocado sandwich, and then a delicious chocolate sausage roll thing for dessert. We had lovely conversation and it was nice to get out. After, Sammy and I went to Chupitos and then the Teatro Principal on La Rambla.
Porto will forever have my heart, and it was such a great vacation <3