Short one today because I am feeling overwhelmed with a difficult final in Advanced Grammar. 

I am going to miss being constantly surrounded by different cultures and languages. Madrid, Spain is a hub for all European cultures and it has been incredible to witness the ability of language and culture to transcend barriers. I find myself thinking about how diverse Europe is and how plain the U.S. can be. However, I look forward to going home and looking more closely at the different cultures there are. I think I will be looking at things with fresh eyes for a while and I'm excited for that. 
 
Today we hit the single digits. What. A. Scary. Thing. 

I have mixed feelings about going home. I want to see my family and friends and get back to my normal life where I have no time to rest, but I also want to stay here and keep practicing Spanish and experiencing the culture. Oh how a mind and soul can be torn. So, in the spirit of being indecisive and unable to make up my mind this countdown post is related to modes of communication. 

In the United States I don't like how I am never unreachable. Some times I just want to shut my phone off for a few days but know that would not be goof for a.) my mother's sanity and b.) my career. Here, I am reachable by email, social networking and my small Yoigo cell phone that has no data plan and currently does not work. I like it but I don't like it at the same time. When I really need to get a hold of someone my phone either does not work or I have no euros left on it. However, I like the fact that I can go about my day and have no distractions and walk along the streets and not be texting, but rather looking at the scenery around me. It's nice to have both hands free the majority of the time. I'm going to miss being unreachable because it means I won't have time all to myself where someone couldn't interrupt me. However, I am looking forward to having my data plan and GoogleMaps directions at the tip of my fingers. Being directionally challenged is hard. I also know that my mother will be at peace when she knows she can just call my normal phone number and hear my voice. It will be nice to hear hers too. 
 
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Five-day forecast: Madrid, Spain.
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Five-day forecast: Minneapolis, Minn.
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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.
 
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.
 
Nothing screams Christmas season for someone who isn’t living in a winter climate like 30-degree weather and hailing snow. My short journey to Brussels, Belgium was a nice wakeup call for what I will be facing in just thirteen days when I am back home in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

I was told Brussels was an ugly city by many people, including travelers I have met who live in Belgium and even some who live in Brussels and I can’t say that they were wrong. They were absolutely correct. In Brussels there is not a ton to see and the main reason I wanted to go was to go to their world famous Christmas Market, if that wasn’t there I don’t think I would have gone, and I don’t think I will ever return...

We arrived late Tuesday night and were greeted by a sharp wind and dropping temperatures. It was a flashback to a normal winter that we haven't faced in Madrid, Spain. Upon arriving at our hostel we decided to go grab a quick dinner and rest up for the fun-filled day we had planned for tomorrow.

On Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. sharp we began our search for Belgian waffles and we found a restaurant called Grandmother’s Waffles, also known as Mokata, online and on our map that was supposed to be cheap and authentic. So we set out in the freezing cold to find us some good eats. Much to our demise it began to hail, then snow, then rain and after an hour of searching for the restaurant we ducked into the nearest, most authentic looking restaurant that advertised breakfast food we could find. This was a bad decision on our part as everyone was going into the same restaurant and we ended up waiting an hour and a half for our waffles. They were OK, but not quite as warm as I was hoping they would be. The chocolate was to die for though. 
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Andrea with her first real Belgian waffle in Brussels, Belgium.
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The result of waiting an hour for your first Belgian waffle.
After our breakfast turned lunch we headed to the Musical Instruments Museum and learned about the evolution of each musical instrument through geographic region and era. The main reasons the majority of the group wanted to go were a.) the cost: free every first Wednesday  and b.) the temperature, everyone wanted to warm up. I wanted to go because I am an Orch Dork and former Band Geek who played the alto saxophone and bassoon. It was really interesting as we had a cassette tape with us and each instrument you stepped up to synched with what would play in your ears. One thing that was very different about this museum was the fact that there were no English translations or explanations. I absolutely loved this because it reminded me of my time in Budapest, Hungary where I literally had to communicate with hand gestures. Before this trip my experience with language barriers was minimal and it was hard to adjust to the fact that there have been several language barriers but, as I said before, it is actually fun not knowing the local language because it really stretches your brain and makes you step out of your comfort zone. 
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Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels, Belgium.
After about an hour in the museum we left and headed towards the main attraction: the Christmas Markets. The maps for Belgium are not the easiest to follow so we wandered for a bit towards the general direction and soon bumped into the delicious smell of vin chaud (hot wine), bratwurst, hot bread, and grilled onions. The smell was overwhelmingly mouth-watering. Everyone was filled with joy when we saw the Christmas decorations and the colorful lights. We don’t have the merriment in Madrid like they do in Brussels and all of us couldn’t help but become a little giddy – even the boys. 

Once we became filled with the Christmas spirit we began to look for those unique gifts – the boys opted out from this for the most part. Along the first street were multiple vendors selling ornaments, winter clothes, and food. When we reached the end of the first street we were a little concerned that this was all there was going to be. We knew there was supposed to be an ice rink and Ferris wheel, but we couldn’t find it. After speaking with a vendor, who had the most gorgeous Indian ornaments, we walked a few blocks and came upon a winter wonderland. Four rows of shops lay before us and the Ferris wheel, lit up in the jolly green and red,  towered over the ice rink at the very end of the streets. We took our time in making our way to the end, wanting to look at all the vendors, weigh our options, take in the sight of Christmas, and embrace the sensation of the vin chaud on our cold hands. I am proud to say I found some wonderful gifts for my family and friends at the market. They were pricey but all handmade and one-of-a-kind. Cross your fingers they like them. 

After making a few purchases we splurged and went on a Ferris wheel ride. It was so incredibly cold and anyone who knows me I am fine with heights. Until I get up to the top. I was a little afraid and hand to hold on to my friends while we stopped at, wait for it, the top. The view was incredible though and we all were put into the Christmas spirit even more. After the chilly and fearful ride we ate dinner and Rachel and I, the true Minnesotans that we are, shared a ginormous bratwurst with fried onions, ketchup and another spicy sauce. It was gone within ten minutes. You could say we were a little hungry. 
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Rachel Arneson at the Christmas Markets in Brussels, Belgium.
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Amanda, Emily, Alissa, Tor and Rachel with their vin chaud.
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View of Market from Ferris wheel.
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Rachel and Andrea with their joint bratwurst for dinner.
By this time we were a tad bit chilly, the only time we had inside was at the museum and lunch so we decided to head to Café Delirium, a famous bar that is in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most choices of beers at a single establishment. The total number of beers they offer, you may ask? The answer is 2,004. The bar even has a syllabus that lists all of the options of beer. Emily, one of the girls who seems to have friends studying abroad everywhere, was told by a friend who studied in Brussels that the tradition is to close your eyes, open the book to a random page, point to a beer without looking, and when you open your eyes the beer your finger has landed on is the beer that you order.

Apparently this isn’t the wisest decision according to the bartender. When I went up asking for my beer he asked how I had chosen it. Little to my knowledge he said my beer was really old and had the chance of tasting bad. Instead he brought out his favorite beer, Gouden Carolus Classic, and gave it to me. I am a big beer fan so it was an enjoyable experience. 
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Café Delirium, Brussels, Belgium.
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Larger than life beer caps on the ceiling of Café Delirium.
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Signs in the upstairs of Café Delirium.
Information on Gouden Carolus Classic*:
This Mechelen Emperor’s brew is a traditional beer of the fox hunting of Charles Quint but named after his golden coins, is still being brewed with dark, very well-balanced malts according to the classical infusion method. The aromatic malts and high fermentation process combines the warm roundness of wine with the light freshness of beer. Because of its high density of 19° Plato, the Gouden Carolus Classic is classified under ‘special beers’. It’s also highly appropriate for culinary purposes like stew, game and even sabayon. De-li-cious!

Type of beer: Dark special beer
Colour: Ruby red
Alcohol: 8,5% VOL
Hops: Exclusively Belgian hops

* Information from Brouwerij Het Anker  
We relaxed for about an hour, sitting in the old basement of the bar with larger than life beer caps on the ceiling and gabbed about our remaining time in Europe. It is still hard to wrap our minds around the fact that we are leaving so soon. Some of us are ready, some of us aren’t. I fall within the former. I haven’t seen my family in four months and spend the whole summer away from them. It is time to be reunited. 

The day took its toll on us and we decided to call it an early night and headed back to take warm showers and bundle up under the covers. The next day we repeated Wednesday due to a lack of a game plan. We headed back to the Markets, the only difference in the day is that we actually found Grandmother’s Waffles and it was delicious and cheap and went on a scavenger hunt for chocolate.

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The great Grandmother's Waffles Belgian waffle.
After devouring the waffles we went on a search for inexpensive chocolate for our family and friends. Some of us chose to purchase the expensive chocolates that are more like delicacies for locals and others, such as myself, stuck to the more affordable but still good quality chocolate. It will just have to be a surprise as to whom they are for! After the hunt for the perfect chocolates ended we made our final stop at the Christmas Market and called it quits to relax at a small café where it was warm for the remaining few hours until our flight later that night. 

All in all, Brussels was a great place to go for five things: waffles, chocolate, beer, the Christmas Market and a wake up call for the weather back home. I wouldn’t say it was good for anything else. I wouldn’t say it was a waste of money, that would be rather harsh, but part of me thinks that at times it kind of was. However, after talking to my father and listening to his wise words of wisdom, I realized that not every place I am going to travel to is going to tickle my fancy. Case in point: Brussels, Belgium.
 
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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. 
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Amanda and Rachel in front of the lamppost.
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Six shades of the lamp.
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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.  
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View of La Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain.
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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. 
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La Pedrera, house of Gaudí in Barcelona, Spain.
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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.  
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Banana statue, aka Barcelona Face.
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Rachel on a lion at Mirador de Colón.
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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. 
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A look out from the top of El Park Güell.
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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? 
 
Today is my dear friend Elise Angelopulos’ birthday. Some say she was born to be a New Yorker, but I say she could quite possibly have a pretty happy life as, dare I say it, a Minnesotan.

Elise and I have a rather strange friendship story.

We both are journalisms majors at Marquette University, we both were in the same freshman journalism practicum as well as news media writing class, we have the same advisor, we have the same love for travel and Spanish and we both studied abroad for a month the summer of our freshman year in Italy for journalism. There it just so happened that we were assigned to be one another's roommates, not knowing anything about each other except the fact that we were two different folks who practiced quite the different strokes. 

Elise and I are quite the opposites at times: I am a Birkenstock wearing, nature lover who is from Minnesota and apparently says “jeepers” too much and she is a high heel wearing, fashion forward New Yorker who says “orange” really strangely. I guess you could say we are a match made in Heaven. After Italy we became very close, mainly due to our love for food, wine and ability to stress over minute things, and ever since we parted ways at the airport in Rome at the end of June we have been in constant communication or in each other’s company. When we returned to the United States from Italy we texted and chatted on the phone like we had been friends for ages. When we returned to Marquette for sophomore year we both lived in one another’s rooms in Schroeder and found a mutual hated for Economics and love for Chipotle and shopping after a test in Economics – journalists don’t do math, especially these two journalists. 
  
Being away from each other this summer was hard and now that I am abroad and she is studying abroad in Madrid this coming semester, we won’t have our daily bonding time and weekly life chats about how we will both be single women, starving journalists and living together with a bunch of cats. Like I said, two peas in a pod.

Now today is her 20th birthday and I am not there to ring in the big day with her. Once again I am missing out on celebrating a birthday of someone I really care about. I won’t miss that, and I look forward to being able to say happy birthday to someone in person and give them a big bear hug. It is hard to be away when something big is happening at home, especially when it involves people you really care about and miss.

I will miss, however, waking up to emails and messages from my friends and family that say, “Thinking of you” and “Miss you!” because it always made my day that much better. You feel special when someone sends you an email, and even more special when someone sends you snail mail.
 
Oofta-weefta, I am exhausted. These past two weeks have been nothing but studying, reviewing, creating power points, writing essays and more for my mid-terms in all five of my classes. 

Whoever said there was no studying while you study abroad had it wrong. 

Last Friday was a day filled with two exams, one covered Hispanoamericana literature and the other was on old Castilian and mid-evil literature. If your mind just exploded trying to figure out what constitutes being either of those that, try studying it for five days straight.  

The weekend provided a little break but consisted of more studying in order to  prepare for my midterm in Spanish culture on Monday, and theology on Tuesday, but nothing prepared me for advanced grammar Tuesday afternoon. That was just brutal and worth 40 percent of my grade. Can't wait to see that...

Wednesday was a recooperacion for last weeks Theology classes where we presented a power point presentation on a book in the Bible. It  was a grand three and a half hours straight of Theology. Judith, my assigned book and biblical figure, and I are now best buds after all the time we have doesn't together this past week. 

I will admit it is a little aggravating seeing all the photos and hearing all the stories of people studying abroad via other programs through Marquette that do not have as heavy of a course load it would seem. The students here in the Marquette en Madrid program and I have all expressed the desire to be able to travel for a week and not have to worry about the repercussions of missing classes, or being severely behind on assignments and material but unfortunately we can't so we take it with a grain of salt and use the three day weekends to our advantage. After these mid-terms I could use a vacay and look forward to Barcelona and Brussels in the coming two weeks. For now, I will just live vicariously via students studying in the King's College program in London, England or the John Cabot University program in Rome, Italy.  
 
There has been a change in plans, no longer will Elise, my friend studying in Copenhagen, Denmark, and I be going to Geneva, Switzerland liked we planned earlier, instead we are going to Brussels, Belgium. We will shop at the Christmas Market, share a bed in our hostel, go ice skating and sledding (both offered near the Christmas Market) eat waffles on waffles on waffles with a side of chocolate and sample some delicious beer. That doesn't sound to shabby to me. 

I made a point in coming to Spain with a less rigid schedule and the vow to not plan out every last detail, to be more of a go with the flow type of person. So far it is going rather well. (Insert audible gasp by my mother here.)

As a more detailed explanation as to how my flexibility has changed I have created two before and after scenario. 

"Andrea, Switzerland is not going to work and we have to find another option:"
Three months ago: My jaw drops and I say, "You have got to be kidding me."  I then would have become extremely frazzled, distraught and frustrated. I would have entered an extreme planning mode, whipped out my planner, calculated which weekends work best with upcoming exams, trips, cost, hostel arrangements etc. 

Now, three months later: "No problem, lets see what we can find." (Insert an audible gasp by my friends who have thought this day would never come.)

Since I've adopted the more carefree, less pressure mentality it's been quite easy and pain free to change plans, make spontaneous decisions and at times just follow the crowd. 

In three weeks time I am heading to Barcelona to recoup after our midterm exams and the weekend before I believe another student in the program and I are taking a day trip to El  Escorial, The Valley of the Fallen and or Avila, a beautiful town Northwest of Madrid and coincidentally where my señora grew up. We haven't made any concrete decisions yet, but we have plenty of time.  

Day trip and we haven't made any concrete decisions:
Three months ago: This is not enough time to plan, what are we going to do? How are we going to get there? What time of the day should we leave? Get back? Oh my gosh this is all happening so fast! Are we sure we want to go to El Escorial and The Valley of the Fallen all in one day? Jeepers, this is stressful. 

Now: Okie doke, lets worry about it after exams and look it up a few days before we go. 

I personally laugh at this personal growth. All my life people have told me to take a chill pill and calm down. I thought that was absurd because who else was going to get things done? Well, the answer is still me but in a calmer, more convenient manner that benefits everyone involved. Who knew all it would take was half a contingent, the Atlantic Ocean and four months abroad to calm my worrywart side of me down. 

In summary, studying abroad gives you more experiences than you could ever imagine and it simultaneously allows you to develop as a person as long as you let it. At first I didn't want to let the experience change me because I was afraid of what it would change, but now I'm glad I did. And so is my warnout planner. 
 
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Left to right: Kevin, Andrea, and Rachel.
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Left to right: Kevin, Alissa, Andrea, and Rachel.
A spoof on Toddlers & TiarasHoney Boo Boo, the National Hockey League lockout and the usual aerobic instructor were all the rage this year in the United States for Halloween, but here in Madrid, the night of October 31 is more for scaring you rather than to have a few laughs. 

Halloween and trick-or-treating are becoming increasingly popular in Spain, however the holiday, if you will, is more of an American custom. Children here are just beginning to go trick-or-treating at stores, schools and their neighborhoods dressed in superhero or princess customs while teenagers and young adults dress in devil costumes or frighteningly scary dead people. Face paint is all the rage and making yourself look deathly scary is the point of Halloween here. The innocent outfits like cats and Where's Waldo? are accepted, but not common. A group of us went to a discoteca and celebrated with other students we are studying abroad with and we clearly did not get the message that Halloween is more about fun and fear than fun and humorous. 

Rachel and I went as cats, Alissa went as Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, and Kevin should have won best costume with his assemble as an Olympic gold medal - complete with gold body spray I may add. 

Unfortunately, we were too terrified to take photos of the people dressed in scary costumes and this journalist forgot her camera, on the bright side the venue will be putting photos up shortly from the costume contest. 

One thing we did notice last night was how openly people look at you in Madrid. Kevin received many comments and shocked expressions, even a few pointed fingers and gasps. I'm sure we did the same thing when we saw exceptionally detailed and realistic Joker face painted masks last night, though I never realized how openly people stare here.  I guess it takes a gold medal to realize that.