Incredible. Amazing. Inspiring. Rewarding. Life changing. Unforgettable. Adventurous. Stupendous. The adjectives are endless to describe my time here in Madrid, Spain, my home for the last four and a half months. 

There are so many thoughts racing trough my head right now as I am packing to up my life and heading back to the States. You always hear about a study abroad experience and form an idea of what it would be like but for me everything was different than I expected, and I mean that in the best way possible.

As I look back at my blogs I am reminded of my travels, conversations with my Señora, the stress of school, new friends, and so much more. It's all so much to soak in and makes you feel a bit overwhelmed.  I am walking away with a mind full of memories, a heart full of adventure, and a hand full of lifelong friends.

When I first came to Madrid I was afraid. Who isn't. You're away from home, you don't know anyone, your Spanish stinks, and your wardrobe clearly does not match that of a Madrileña. But you know what? You just have to not care. That is the only thing I can say and the only advice that will make your time abroad that much more worthwhile. You have to step out of your shell and be uncomfortable - it is the only way you are going to learn. It's the only way you are going to live. 

While in Madrid I faced many challenges. There are the obvious ones such as language barriers, miscommunications, stress over school work, tough decisions on where to travel and if it is worth the dent in the bank account. Then there were the ones I never saw coming like my father having surgery, then his complications from the surgery and my mother simultaneously breaking her ribs while my father was in the hospital, missing Beat Bucky Week, and not seeing my nephew get so big! They were all hard to face but I am still standing and typing into cyber world. I bring up the challenges because they were the times that made me realize that I had made a few really great friends that will always be there for me.  

I think that is the true amazing thing about my experience. I have done amazing things but most rewardingly I have found friends that support me through thick and thin and truly showed me I had someone to lean on. I came to Madrid knowing absolutely no one. I knew Rachel from a distance. She and I went to Southwest High School in Minneapolis, Minn. together and were in the same Spanish class junior year (her senior year) but other than that no one. I am glad that I came without knowing anyone because it made the adventure that much more exhilarating (also stressful) and lead to only a broader experience of making more friends. Yes, while you study abroad you form closer relationships with some people than others and that has been the case within our small group of eleven, however the entire group is great. 

Besides forming new relationships and learning the Spanish language I traveled.  A common goal of any study abroad student is to travel everywhere all the time. Being the antsy, gung ho explorer I am I had the same mentality. Then I realized: 
a.) I don't have funds for that 
b.) I would get so tired, even at the ripe age of 20 (almost 21 thank you) 
c.) I love Madrid too much to neglect it. 

So, here I give a word of advice, and it is to stay grounded. You can get so caught up with previous conceptions and what other people are doing but you have to be true to you and do what is best for you. I enjoyed every weekend in Madrid because I would always explore and find something new. I wouldn't have been able to see all that I have and have all the conversations with locals if I had traveled every weekend or puente.

Today, for our final day in Madrid, Rachel and I went for a little walk around Madrid and we brought up the fact that everything we were doing was being done for the last time. That is such a strange concept to me right now. I am having difficulty realizing the fact that I am leaving on a plane in ten hours and that the next time I come back (and I will be coming back) will be as a working, real world adult. It's a little too much for me to comprehend. And a little too much for me to even express with words - that never happens. So, for now I am going to let this day pass and let tomorrow come and write a recollection post in the same spot where I wrote my expectations blog post for my semester abroad, at home in Minneapolis sitting in my bed with layers of covers to mask the frigid temperatures. 

Stay tuned. Unless the world is really ending tomorrow. Gulp.  
 
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. 
 
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A wonderful surprise from Dani, my intercambio, today. American staples I miss: Heinz Tomato Ketchup, peanut butter, and brownies.
Try explaining what a brownie is to a Spaniard and you will finish feeling exhausted. 

After that failed attempt try explaining what peanut butter is, and you will receive a weird look. 

Then, go to the next level and try explaining the importance of Heinz Tomato Ketchup to a Minnesotan and most likely they will not just give you a weird look but also tell you you're weird. 

This was my experience with my intercambio one of the first times we met. For those who don't know what an intercambio is, it is a concept created by our director where you exchange cultures and languages with someone from the country you are studying in. In my case I practice my Spanish with Dani, my intercambio, and Dani practices his English with me. We talk about cultural differences, stereotypes, ask questions regarding verbs and tenses, and yes gab about ketchup. Our conversations terribly deep and sophisticated. 

Today, after I was having a bit of a rough day in regards to exams my intercambio appeared in our Marquette University office. Much to my surprise I asked what he was doing here and he handed me a bag. Still confused he said told me it was a bag filled of things I said I missed from the United States. I was so taken aback by his generosity I had no idea what to say except one thing: What is it? He laughed and told me to open it but only after he left. The anxiety was killing me. I had no idea what to expect. My friends told me it had to be peanut butter, we all know how much I love that crunchy and creamy food staple. I mean, what college student doesn't? 

Before he left he told me he wrote me a letter and to only read it after he had left the office as well. I was in a state of confusion and had not expected this at all. He said goodbye and quickly ran out of the office, and when I say ran I mean a pace between a speed walk and jog. I think he was nervous that he may have misunderstood my food obsessions months ago. 

After reading the letter I was filled with the longing to stay in Madrid forever. It reminded me of all the great connections I have made here and how much I am going to miss his and I's weekly conversations and excursions to different parts of the city. 
The letter was a great start to the entire gift and after reading it I could not wait to what else was inside. Immediately I saw ketchup. Not just any ketchup either, Heinz Tomato Ketchup. Here in Madrid we all have been having a hard time with the lack of ketchup. And the strange taste of it. Also, the color. It is just really not the same here. I was overwhelmed with joy when I saw the bottle and the label. The first thing that popped into my head was, Now I can actually enjoy my nuggets when I splurged on them for lunch! I kid you not. It's the little things back in the States that you take for advantage. 
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Heinz Tomato Ketchup Fiery Chilli.
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Jif Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter from Dani.
After the ketchup, which later upon further inspection has "fiery chilli peppers" in them, was peanut butter. Those who know me well know I love my peanut butter. Obviously Dani could not get my favorite,  Market Pantry Creamy Peanut Butter from Target, but he purchased the next best thing: Jif Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter. How the heck did he find this when I searched high and low for it over a month ago? Answer: Taste of America, the self-dubbed Original American Supermarket. I should have used Google
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A two-bite size brownies. Scrumdiddlyumptious.
Under the delightful peanut butter and ketchup were ... Wait for it ... Feel the suspense ... Do you really want to know? ... OK, I will tell you ... Brownies! Oh thank Bajesus. I had not seen a brownie in over four months. This summer I baked them all the time in the evenings when it was cool enough and in Madrid we don't eat a lot of junk food. Except for Príncipe cookies, those are deadly. When I saw those sixteen two-bite size brownies with chocolate frosting I about died. OK, that is a little strong, but I did become extremely overwhelmed with joy. Who knew a pastry could make you feel so such happiness. And the desire to eat them all, by myself. Luckily, in public you have to have self-control so instead I opened them and shared them with those who were in the office. However I will not release the details as to what happened to the ones no one helped me eat. Let us just say they did not go to waste. 

Dani made me realize something else today, that one person can really change the way you think about something, or someone. I never thought I would miss our conversations so much. Or the funny way when we both don't know what one another are trying to say and then hover over his dictionary to search for an appropriate word. At first I thought the intercambio would be awkward and was nervous, but we became friends within minutes once he tried to crack a Simpsons joke without success and I had to break the news to him that Bart Simpson is not the badass he once was on primetime T.V. He then broke the news that my chances of Pasapalabra were slim to none. A girl can dream though, can't she? 

Now, 16 two-bite size brownies later (don't worry there are some left), with two unopened containers of condiments I am going to wait to open until I get home, and four months of wonderful experiences here I am glad that I have stepped out of my comfort level and had an intercambio with Dani. Sure, he may not understand my love to peanut butter and jelly minus the jelly, but I also don't understand why going to Arizona to see the desert is on the top of his bucket list when he has been to Egypt. We all have our quirks and he and I laugh at them. Maybe I will make him a peanut butter sandwich to show him what he is missing out. Then we can talk about a rendezvous in Arizona. 

If you're in Spain and want to try a brownie, hit me up at my piso, I'll be nommin' on them. 

 
Yesterday on the bus I saw a girl with the same Christmas socks I just had to throw away in the garbage because I wore them too much. A hole had formed and despite my hopes that it could defy the rules of physics and wear and tear, the hole grew. They were bright red socks, with green, gold, and blue presents on them, atop each present was a different bow and white snowflakes covered the ankle joint area of the socks. The snowflakes made me think: BAM! Christmas time! Needless to say they were pretty cool. 

My grandmother and I had a habit of giving one another holiday and destination themed socks and this happened to be a pair she had given me several years back. When I saw the girls socks peaking out from the cuff of her jeans I became a little excited. I know that is strange, really strange actually, but I couldn't help but think how wonderfully random and coincidental it was that when I just threw a pair of my favorite holiday socks away, another person was sporting them. My grandmother obviously had great taste if a female Spaniard had the same socks and decided to wear them when it was still light out. But then my excitement hit a roadblock and I found myself asking: Do they have Macy's here? That is where Grandma Fran always purchased them...

After mulling over where the girl purchased her socks my stream of consciousness brought me back to the dinner table Monday night with Irene. How are the two related? I'm not quite sure myself yet. 

I was not having the best evening and for the first time in my whole time here I just wanted to be home with my family but Irene had a uncharacteristically sad look on her face that made me snap out of my own stupor. Monday, December 10, 2012 marked the 20 year anniversary of Irene's husband's death. When she told us tears began to swell in her eyes and she tried to discretely wipe them away with her black sweater that had red roses on the sleeves. A peculiar choice for a day of such significance. My roommate and I had no idea what to say to her. My thoughts switched back and forth from English to Spanish and I became frazzled. I didn't want to see such a wonderful women be so sad. At this moment she reminded me of my grandmother when it was the anniversary of my grandfather's death. Grandma Fran never let it show, but inside I knew she was torn to pieces each St. Patrick's Day. Irene, unlike Grandma Fran, showed her emotions and wanted to talk about it. So, after my brain became less frantic I muttered out the most pathetic thing possible: Lo siento. I have been here four months and all I could muster up was an "I'm sorry" to my favorite señora in the world? It was a shame but she smiled and was glad we cared. 

Irene is a strong women and adores her children, even her unofficial children like myself. When she began to talk about the memories her and her husband shared I couldn't help but smile. She explained how he died, how the following months were hard for her, and how she just had to keep busy otherwise she would become overwhelmed with sadness. One reason why she began hosting foreign exchange students was because she didn't like how the house was so quiet after her husband died. She said he brought so much life to her life, and then she smiled that big smile and chuckled. Clearly she was having an internal dialogue or recollection of memories. After dinner she didn't do the dishes, nor did she hum a happy tune per ritual, instead she talked on the phone with her daughter for a few minutes and headed to bed. It was disheartening to see her in such sad spirits and not like herself. 

The next morning Irene was up bright and early gabbing away on the phone with, what I am assuming was her daughter who lives in Switzerland by the conversation. She had a smile on her face and sipped her coffee as she sat on the couch. As I left for school Tuesday morning I was relieved to see her in a happier mood. That night at dinner we then shared memories we had of Christmas and what traditions we had. Irene became very excited when she was talking about all the toys she had purchased for her two youngest grandchildren and how she has to go to Zara to look at for a nice piece of clothing or accessory for her niece and then a jewelry store for a necklace for her daughter. 

After telling me all of the things she had to do in preparation for the holidays I told her my sock story. She laughed. 
She asked how something so simple can make me think about such unrelated things. I didn't know the term for stream of consciousness, but I think she understood what I was trying to get at. At one point I honestly just told her I was weird, and she said everyone has their quirks. She continued to laugh for a bit and said she was feeling much better today. She said it is much better to talk about how she is feeling with someone than to let it bottle up inside. She is 100 percent right, something my grandmother and I could learn a lesson or two in. Suddenly the sad disposition I saw the night before came back and Irene quickly explained why - she didn't want us to leave. She looks forward to having the new girls in January and is thankful that the weeks between our departure and their arrival will be busy, but it still eerie to be alone in her apartment with no one there to talk to. 

Not long after reassuring her that the holidays will be fun Irene asked me if I was ready to go home. I couldn't lie to such a sweet woman so I said yes, but that I was going to come back and see her and while I was back at school I would write to her. She understood that I needed to go back home, she is a mother after all. So then, after I finished my clementine at the dinner table in the kitchen she bid me goodnight, but not after saying she liked the pair of Christmas socks I had on. I told her they were from my grandmother. She laughed. 

Man, I'm going to miss her. 
 
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.  
 
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. 
 
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.
 
Call me sentimental, or a young aunt, but ever since I have left the United States I have missed one little guy more than I ever thought possible, my nephew Nolan. He has been growing up so fast and I have been reading all about my brother and sister-in-laws daily adventures in parenting on their blog, but it is not the same. Seeing the pictures of him on Halloween dressed up as the cutest monkey I have ever seen (I could be a little biased) made me a little sad because I was missing out, and the photos of him trying to eat peas but just not liking them made me miss him and also made me wonder how many other stories I have missed out on hearing. I can't wait to see Nolan and see firsthand how much he has grown! I only hope he remembers who I am since it has been a little over six months since I have seen him! 

On the other hand, I will miss the three girls I tutor in English once a week. They have progressed so much and The youngest and shyest of the three has finally opened up and starting practicing her shapes. Her favorite is a heart and every Wednesday she wears a pink long sleeve shirt with a bejeweled pink heart on the front and points at it saying "heart."  The girls, ages five, six, and seven, are a joy to work with and I can't help but wonder if they will remember me, their first English tutor, and how much their next tutor will have as much fun with them as I did. 
 
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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? 
 
Thanksgiving was hard to celebrate away from our families, but it was also difficult to celebrate this year with the Madrid family because we were missing one key member, Dr. Eufemia Sanchez de la Calle. 

After Femy's death in September we all grieved in different ways. Some liked to talk about it, others kept their feelings quiet and some were upfront and said they didn't accept the fact that she was gone. I think I had a mixture of all three. For the past two months we all have been going about our daily routines and remembering Femy for the wonderful person she was when the topic came up, but none of us dwelled on her death and I think we all have moved on from it as best as we have been able to, however after receiving a comment on a blog entry I wrote on the death of Femy, the emotions could not help but come flooding back. 

Her name is Jackie Curbishley and she met Femy when she was an au pair in London, England. Curbishley shared a story that none of the students knew and after conversations with faculty here I don't think they did either. 

Excerpt: 
I first met her through one of my Spanish teachers when I was studying the language as a mature student in London. I was married with two children and a working mum. My teacher, Teresa Rubio told me she had met a young Spanish girl in Bourne & Hollingsworth (a famous old London store, now long gone,) one lunchtime. She said this girl had come to London via an agency in Spain as an au pair, for the purpose of learning English. The family she had been placed with were Indian, they spoke no English at home and wouldn't allow the girl to attend any classes. They had taken away her passport and she was allowed only one day a week off. 
This to me seemed like modern slavery, and ever the campaigner for liberty, I decided to free her.
I was in the music business in those days, managing bands like The Who, so I had access to some pretty heavy security men. That night I sent one of them to the address Teresa had given me with the express orders not to leave without the girl and her passport and if necessary, to call the police.
To cut a long story short, he had to call the police, but Femy arrived at my house that night, aged 23, nervous and bemused as she had no idea how this miracle had come about. 
So began a lifelong friendship. 

Not a single soul in our group knew this about Femy and I never would have expected it. When I first received the email with the blog comment I planned on reading it back at my piso, but decided to read it while I was around friends. As I read it aloud to Emily we both couldn't help up and think about how strong of a woman Femy was. No matter how difficult the situation was she never complained, she never let anyone know how she truly felt if she did not like something and she always turned a horrible situation into a positive one. 

As I continued to read the letter aloud to Emily we kept learning things about our dear Femy that we never knew. She lived with Curbishley and her family in England for three years, becoming fluent in English while she taught them Spanish; Femy was forced to withdraw from her education in Salamanca, Spain because her college grant was taken away due to austerity reasons; she thought the best way to learn English was to be a stewardess but she decided to be an au pair instead; when her college grant was reinstated she went back to her university in Salamanca and never mentioned how she was doing until she told her family and Jackie that she was getting her doctorate and heading to teach in Michigan as a professor. 

Emily asked a good question, how could we have known Femy so well but not have known all of this? Our minds were racing with questions but then we came to a conclusion: we were meant to receive this comment on Thanksgiving, when we all would be together later that evening and be able to process it together, just like we had two months earlier. 

I am not one for fate and I will be honest, I don't know if there is a higher power or not, but you can't help but think we were meant to receive this on a day where we would be missing our families and be leaning on one another already to help us forget about missing a family orientated holiday. 

When I posted the comment in our group Facebook page the responses were positive, one student even said they had chills. We all knew we lost an incredible women but we never knew she could continue to amaze us without even being present in our lives. Curbishley said it best in her closing statement:
 I will never forget her and we have all been touched by her to greater and lesser degrees. That was Femy. Always loving, always giving of herself, and always a shining example of the best of humanity. She will be sorely missed.
- Jackie Curbishley.