People are everywhere in Madrid. On any given day you see a new fashion statement, new person in your apartment building, and an unfamiliar face in your class. However, even in the densely populated city of 3.3 million you run into the same people who you live by or take the bus with when you are out and about in a different area of the city. 

It is refreshing to wake up and head out the door knowing you are going to have another day of first sightings. I am definitely going to miss people watching and always meeting someone new. Being an extrovert really pays off in the third largest city in the European Union. Though, as much as I love meeting new people in Madrid I look forward to meeting new people at Marquette. I haven't had a semester yet where I haven't made another lifelong friend and I can't wait until I am back at my home base meeting and greeting the new people at my work, in my classes, and my apartment building. It will be strange not having to give two besitos on the cheeks though, I love that custom here. Maybe I can bring it back to the good old 414 and it will catch on... 
 
Picture
Five-day forecast: Madrid, Spain.
Picture
Five-day forecast: Minneapolis, Minn.
Picture
Five-day forecast: Milwaukee, Wisc.
I am sitting in the library at Universidad Complutense de Madrid, my university here in Madrid, Spain, and my fingers are like icicles. The weather is in the high forties but inside the concrete buildings it feels more like the low thirties. It's a far cry from the cold that is plaguing Minnesota with the recent snow storm, but it is still cold. At the University the heat is nonexistent. With the economic crisis facing Spain I don't blame the administrators for not wanting to turn the heat on, but my freezing hands do take offense at times. The weather this semester has been beautiful and we have lucked out. I am definitely going to have a hard time saying goodbye to the scarf and blazer weather, more commonly known as fall, and I am dreading the cold that I am going home to in Minneapolis, and then later to Milwaukee. However, I can't wait to see a pile of snow and feel snowflakes on my face. Winter is my favorite season and it has been hard to be here where snow is virtually nonexistent unless you travel to the mountains. On the bright side of living in the midwest, we have heat. I look forward to that luxury.
 
One of the best things about choosing Europe to study abroad is that there are countless cultures just a few hours or less away via plane. I have had the luxury to travel to multiple cities and countries in the last four months and I still have a hard time wrapping my head around how blessed I am. 

In the U.S. we have different cultures. The south is different than the midwest and the east coast and west coast are like day and night at times. The same is the case with Barcelona and Madrid, or Spain and France, but there is a difference in how the cultures are, well different. Just a short plane ride north and you are in France where there is a whole other language, lifestyle, culture and people. If you go just a few hours east of France to Hungary you encounter another language that is not even remotely related to any romance language. It is incredible and the U.S. has nothing like it. I'm going to miss the weekend adventures to new cultures and the constant exploration but I look forward to sitting still for a few months until graduation this spring. Who knows where I will end up come the end of May.  
 
This post is a bit materialistic, I am warning you. Also, it has the potential of being a bit disturbing. 

Today I was straightening my hair and a large chunk fell out. I knew my straightener wasn't the best, but I didn't think it would do that to my hair. I researched the manufacturer and now, after four months of being in Spain, I learned that you should not straighten your hair every day with this specific straightener. In the U.S. I straighten my hair once or twice a week, but here being blonde and having curly hair really makes me stand out so I usually opt for using a flat iron. So today, I guess I look forward to not having to straighten my hair and letting it be au naturel. 

I am going to miss getting all dressed up each day though. In the U.S. we dress much sloppier than Europeans and each day I struggle to not give in an put on my Sperry Top-Sider Boat Shoes, and have yet to give in. I think I am going to try and keep up my nice appearance once I get home. That means no sweatpants or yoga pants unless I am going to the gym. Let's see if that happens. I give it a week.
 
I love living with my señora, do not get me wrong. But I am not a fan of idle chit-chat and I find her and I partake in it a lot. There are pros and cons to this and it is something I am going to miss but also something I look forward to not doing. With anyone. This sounds rather harsh, especially being a journalist where smalltalk is very common and very necessary.

I can talk to a wall, I am much like my father in that aspect, but I also am someone who is always on the go and likes to keep going so I can accomplish everything on my list. 

For my career, I can do smalltalk, but in my every day, personal life I try to avoid it as little as possible. With my señora, it is nice to speak Spanish and I really enjoy conversing with her, even the idle chit-chat I find, as of late, I like and I am going to miss that. Except when all I really wanted to do was study. 
 
Let us get to the point today. 

I am not going to miss spending money. You know that study abroad is expensive, but you forget about the little things, like paying for lunch every day, or renewing your Abono once a month. You can budget all you want, and believe me I have, and things just creep up on you and bite you in the but. I look forward to the minimal spending I partake in back in Milwaukee. 

However, I am going to miss the window shopping and the constant hunt for something my family and friends would like as a souvenir or gift. I found I really like shopping for postcards, a strange habit to take on, but a cheap one. It is fun to look for other people even though it may dip into your budget. It's money well spent. Until it is all gone that is....
 
In Europe people walk where ever. Their is no rhyme or reason as to what side of the sidewalk you should walk on and people don't step over to the side if they are going to stop, instead they just stop right in front of you and you have to dodge to avoid a collision. The only place where there is a protocol is in the Metro where on escalators if you are not in a rush you stand still and to the right in your ascent to the next level, the space to the left is reserved for those in a hurry who can walk up the escalator. I am not going to miss the lack of reason their is to which side of the street you walk on, I look forward to the rule of when you walk, you walk on the right. However, I am going to miss the incredibly efficient public transportation that is offered in Madrid and throughout Europe (see former blog regarding the ease of public transit). The transportation in Milwaukee, Minneapolis and heck the whole U.S. pales in comparison to that of Europe. We could learn a thing or two from the Europeans. 
 
When you go to a restaurant in Europe, especially in Spain, your wine will cost less than your water. That was definitely something to get used to. When you order a glass of water, it comes in a bottle with a glass on the side, but the glass does not have ice cubes or a straw. Wow, I know I'm blowing your mind right now. I am not going to miss paying for water or the lack of ice cubes and straws and I relish in the idea that will be able to receive a glass of water free of charge. With ice cubes and a straw. Holler! But I am going to miss the cheap cost of vino. That's is wine in Spanish, folks.
 
Never before in my life did I consume as much jamón (ham) as I have here in Spain in the last four months. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love it and find it to be a great topping for a bocadillo, but I think I will be OK with saying goodbye to the meat for a solid three months and switch it up for my go-to sandwich meat: Turkey.
I look forward to eating turkey. There, I said it.

To keep the food trend going I am really going to miss the coffee here in Europe. You only need a small cup in the morning and you are wired for the rest of the day. It may not look like it will pack a bunch, but it sure does! 
 
Picture
My favorite Gaudí masterpiece: Casa Batlló in Barcelona, Spain.
Who would have thought traveling eight hours north of Madrid, Spain to Barcelona would make me feel as if I entered a whole other world filled with beauty, national pride and well, a language that seems to be a mix of French and Spanish. Thursday night at midnight I embarked on my journey to Barcelona and on Friday morning we arrived to what seemed like a whole other world. The people seemed more genuine, the language was unlike any Spanish I have ever heard and the streets and boulevards were the canvas for street artists, Antonio Gaudí and many more.

For our trip to Barcelona we did not really have a plan of attack, we knew we wanted to see the major sites: Gaudí’s master pieces, the 1992 Summer Olympic Games stadium, the beach but soon after a conversation with a woman at the hostel we realized we had a lot more things to fit into our two full days than we thought. I liked it. 

After the eight hour, moderately comfortable bus ride we all were a little tired because the sleep we caught was less than ideal but we knew we couldn’t take a nap because we would end up wasting the day so instead we freshened up and headed out to explore Barcelona.

A common misconception I think about many European cities is that they are too large to cover on feet, that you need to take public transportation or a taxi, but that is not the case. We left the hostel which was located in the southwest part of Barcelona and walked north to many of the sites we would end up seeing for the day. First was the Cathedral of Barcelona which turned out to be stunning. Yes, I say turned out to be stunning because by the end of the first month in Spain we all were tired-out from seeing so many places of worship. But, this was different and not just in the sense that you could take photos of the inside but that it was a basilica with Gothic arquitecture, a rare site to be had. After the basilica we stumbled upon a Christmas market where we found the cutest elderly woman and her daughter who made crocheted, knitted, and beaded ornaments by hand. The two girls and I swooned over them and Tor was mildly impressed. 
Rachel, one of the four girls on the trip and self-declared guide, really wanted to see the lamppost Gaudí designed for the city of Barcelona in the 1870s.  We wandered the streets of Barcelona until we stumbled upon the lamp in Plaça Reial. It was ... interesting, for lack of a better word. I think all of us were expecting something very elaborate and profound and instead were a little disappointed in the simplicity of the street lamp. The red and black colors with the six shades were intriguing and the snakes that were wrapped around the head of the lights were symbolic, but it just didn’t have the oomf that we expected. Nonetheless, it was important to see and Rachel was impressed with her navigation skills, and I must say I was too. 
Picture
Amanda and Rachel in front of the lamppost.
Picture
Six shades of the lamp.
Picture
Snake around lamppost.
At this point it was going on noon and our lack of sleep hit us hard and we headed back to the hostel where we could eat our packed lunches of bocadillos, take a nap and relax.  Much to our surprise our hour and a half break turned into all four of us concking out in our bunkbeads and waking up three and a half hours later. It was deemed a successful nap when Rachel tried to kick me to wake me up and I didn’t even feel it and when we all noticed the drool on my pillow. A girl has got to sleep! 

Now that we were all energized we decided to take a metro ride north to La Basílica de la Sagrada Família and work our way back to the hostel by walking since we had to meet another girl who was meeting us via train. The metro in Barcelona is cheap, ten rides was 9,50 euro and four of us shared one pass. Cost effective and efficient. 

When we excited the metro at Sagrada Família we immediately turned around and were in awe as to what we were looking at. The detail, ornateness, painstaking and never ending labor, and the sheer size of Gaudi’s cathedral was incredible and proved to be too much to soak in. It was amazing to see something so many of us just read about in our Spanish culture classes and never thought we would be able to see. We could not afford the 16 euro to see the inside so instead we walked around the church and soaked in all the beauty we could. I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that the basilica is undergoing restoration while it is simultaneously still being completed. The group of us consistently asked the question: How did Gaudi have such an intricate imagination? Some say it may have been chemically induced, others say he was just a mastermind. I am going to go with the latter.  
Picture
View of La Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain.
Picture
View of La Sagrada Família from the metro stop.
As we left the ever touristy and jaw dropping Sagrada Família we walked south towards La Pedrera. Along the way we ran into a former Marquette student who transferred my sophomore year. What a small world, we even would see her the next evening. 

When we hit the street La Pedrera was on we couldn’t believe how such a monumental building just fit in with the city. We almost missed the building because it fits perfectly within the city of Barcelona, the only give away was the crowd of tourists and ticket information sign. Again, we didn’t go in because we could not afford the 14 euros.

I had read and researched that if you had to choose between what to go in you should go into the houses of Gaudí rather than La Sagrada Família, but we still could not justify spending that much on a ticket. I think we are spoiled with the reasonable prices and numerous free hours and days for monuments and museums in Madrid. 

After we looked at La Pedrera from the outside and snuck a few peaks through the glass windows and doors we headed to Casa Batlló that was just a little ways down Passeig de Gracia. In my opinion Batlló was the most simplistic and gorgeous of the Gaudí sites we had seen at this point. With the pastel colors making up the facade, a brightly lit indoors made the inside appear to be spacious and illuminated the warped shape of the rooms, ceiling and windows. It reminded me of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and as soon as I realized that there was no denying that it would be my favorite out of the three. 

I would suggest that if you are traveling to Barcelona and want to see Gaudí’s architecture and most famous work that you go to the houses a bit before dusk, when they are turning the lights on inside and illuminating the outside. It makes for a gorgeous photo but also easier to sneak some peaks of the inside without paying the steep prices. 
Picture
La Pedrera, house of Gaudí in Barcelona, Spain.
Picture
Casa Batlló, house of Gaudí in Barcelona, Spain.
After spending a decent amount of time staring at Batlló we continued our walk back towards our hostel to meet the other girl who would be arriving shortly. We didn’t realize we were on La Rambla until we smelt the mixture of waffles, gelato and flowers and heard music from street performers. Barcelona was lively and was lit up not just from the light of storefronts but from the Christmas lights hanging in the streets and on the buildings. We hit Plaça de Catalunya and were overjoyed in the fact that there were snowflake Christmas lights hanging above the entrance to Corte Inglés and an ice rink open for skating. Suddenly, we were overwhelmed by the fact that we were heading home in less than three weeks and would be seeing snow, having to wear real winter coats, and celebrating the holiday season. When we arrived at our hostel for dinner and met up with the final member of the group we ate dinner with travelers from all over Europe, a man from Australia, and one man from the United States. We were the only students there who were studying abroad, the rest were backpacking. We heard some incredible stories and couldn’t believe how many places these people had been to. The man from the U.S. had been to 14 different countries in the matter of five months and plans on coming back and doing it all over but for an entire year. I think it would be an incredible experience to travel the world for a year and live simply, but I also can't help but think why they are avoiding the real world back home.

That being said, I guess we all are living in a fantasy world here in Spain, and the fact that we slept in until 12:30 p.m. the next day didn’t help our case either. However, in our defense once we were up we were on the go and out the door. First on the agenda was checking out the waterfront. I didn’t think Barcelona would have such a large quantity of green space, but we ran into several parks next to the bay area where there were several boats at the docks waiting to be taken out on the water. It was a perfect day for sailing but none could be spotted out on the water. As we walked we found statues and monuments that were simply just plopped in the middle of the streets and roads. First we saw a sculpture that had, in my opinion, a half-eatten banana on top (no one agreed with me on that one), it is called the Barcelona Face and built for the Olympic Games then we saw a lobster statue where we obvisouly had to stop and take a picture and make lobster claws with our hands. Then we found the Mirador de Colón where people were mounting the lion statues for photo ops. We obviously partook in that as well. 

This still amazes me though, the fact that you can climb or go very close to national monuments in Europe. In Budapest when we stumbled upon Heroe’s Square and then were able to climb the main statue, I thought we were going to find ourselves in a snag, but we all realized that it is acceptable to be up close and personal with monuments and sculptures here. A relaxed approach on the government’s side that I think the U.S. could use at times.  
Picture
Banana statue, aka Barcelona Face.
Picture
Rachel on a lion at Mirador de Colón.
Picture
Andrea (top), Amanda (bottom) with lobster statue.
After relaxing by the water for some time we headed back to the northern part of Barcelona and spent a solid chunk of time at El Park Güell, a public park designed by Gaudí and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here I realized why a close friend of mine who studied abroad in London, England last semester fell in love with Barcelona. She told me that was her favorite city she visited and I can see why. With the mosaic benches, lizards and walls, the columns where you can peak out from and reinact childhood games, the view of the city and all the languages you hear walking along the dirt paths make for a surreal experience. Never did I think I would be at Park Güell with some of my favorite people but I was and we looked out at Barcelona with smiles on our faces, happy that we were able to share this trip together. 

After relaxing at Parque Guell and agonizing over what gifts to get for people and how much money we were willing to spend on a miniature lizard figurine, we stopped for some delicious and cheap paella on our way back south to the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc. As we walked, Amanda, Rachel and I chatted about the things we are going to miss in Spain and the things we aren’t. We talked about how much we are going to miss our señoras and their hilarity but how we also cannot wait to be home with our families and friends who we miss so much. It is a tradeoff, of course, but we all realized on this trip to Barcelona that we are ready to go home. 
Picture
A look out from the top of El Park Güell.
Picture
Sign of El Park Güell in Barcelona, Spain
As we walked to Montjuïc we stopped at Escribá to try a pastry, it wasn’t easy to split but it was worth every bit of sticky chocolate that ended up on our fingers. Once we arrived at the entrance to the fountain we realized it was more than just a fountain, it was a procession of fountains on each side leading to one incredibly large, elaborate and well lit masterpiece that had the most beautiful backdrop of another fountain and Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. The view was nothing short of stunning and romance was obviously in the air as Amanda and I hugged one another during the magic fountain show. If you visit Barcelona and miss this, your trip was not complete. It occurs every night from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. At Montjuïc I realized I was in love with Barcelona. As we watched the fountain show, that now has given me high expectations for Las Vegas, we listened to the music playing and observed as people around us smiled, hugged one another, and even danced as they sat on the stone steps watching the breathtaking show. As I sat soaking in the culture I had to pinch myself to make sure that I was in reality, I couldn’t believe the beauty of this city. I can safely say I think it is prettier than Madrid in many ways, but is much more touristy than Madrid. 
We left after about twenty minutes and walked back to our hostel, I said I wanted to leave before it ended so I could just pretend it lasted forever. I think that is a decent philosophy. That evening for dinner you wouldn't guess what we had. Paella, of course. Complete with eyes and all. After dinner we headed out and had a glass of wine and Rachel, Amanda and I headed to the infamous Espit Chupito and partook in taking the best tasting shot of my life. I know this blog is supposed to be PG-13 so all I will say is that Rachel and I took the Boy Scout shot, where you roast a marshmallow on the bar, dip it in the shot, eat the marshello, drink the shot and are done, and Amanda took the Harry Potter shot, where the whole glass and slice of orange covering the top of the shot is lit on fire and carmelized, then you drink the shot and suck on the orange. Best 2.5 seconds of my night. 

Now, as I sit on the bus heading back to Madrid I stare out at the scenery of Spain and can’t help but have one regret; exploring the country more. With the mountains in the background, open fields with windmills poking up here and there, and the sun setting I can’t help feel I have neglected the country of Spain a bit and took it for granted. Barcelona turned out to be a wonderful trip, quite possibly my favorite (or a close tie to Lisbon, Portugal), and I know that other cities such as Sevilla and Cordoba would have been in my top five as well had I gone to them. I guess it is just another reason to come back to visit and explore a culture and country that has been so kind to me. Five year reunion, anyone?