Thursday, June 12, 2014

Exams, Packing and Tips

Today I took my last exam!!! This week has been all about exams and final papers (and a day at the beach just to relax and take a break from all of the stress). I think my exams went alright, I'm actually more worried about the final papers, but they've been turned in and there's nothing I can do about it now; I'm sure everything will be fine and that I am just worrying too much.

Wednesday, since I didn't have an exam, I went to the beach for about an hour and a half. It was the first time I swam at the Playa del Postiguet, the beach right in Alicante. I have been to Playa del Postiguet numerous times, but Wednesday I finally swam there and it was amazing; the water was the perfect temperature and I was awestruck that while swimming one can see the Castillo de Santa Bárbara.

Not a great angle, but I didn't want to bring my camera into the sea

Lights set up for Hogueras, a fesitival in Alicante similar
to the Fallas in Valencia,  which happen the week after I leave

After taking my last exam and, feeling the weight of the world lift off of my shoulders, I came home an relaxed a little and then I decided to pack since I leave on Saturday! It seems so surreal that I am leaving; I feel like I've been here for only a couple months, not nearly five. I am excited though to be going back home, but I will miss my home away from home, Alicante, a lot.

And for future students coming to Alicante, or to any other European country, I recommend obtaining a European Youth Card. With the card, called Carnet Jove in the Comunidad Valenciana, you can get discounts from transportation and museums and such, and some museums, including the Prado in Madrid, you can get in for free. To get the card you only have to pay about 8 euros at the Generalitat de Valencia in Alicante, which is the tall building at the beginning of La Rambla Méndez Núñez.

And one last tip, just lose your inhibitions and go with the flow, and your study abroad experience will hopefully be as amazing as mine.

Saturday, June 7, 2014


So this week I went on my very last trip, and I decided to go out with a bang by going to Barcelona! Barcelona is located on the Mediterranean just like Alicante, but it's up north about 100 miles from the French border. Barcelona is in the autonomous community of Cataluña (Catalonia) which is also spelled Catalunya in Catalan, the regional language of Catalunya. The Valencian language spoken in the Comunidad Valenciana is more or less the same, Valencian is just basically a dialect of Catalan. Catalan is sort of a mix of Spanish and French and unlike in the Comunidad Valenciana, it is considered the main language in Catalunya and also unlike the Comunidad Valenciana which generally puts signs and such in both languages, Catalunya generally uses just Catalan; for example, the road signs are all in Catalan and in the Comunidad Valenciana they are generally in Valencian and/or Spanish.

Since I didn't have any exams this week (I think I previously mentioned that the Universidad de Alicante does 2 weeks of exams) I had some extra free time and decided to go to Barcelona in the middle of the week when the train tickets are cheaper. I left Tuesday at 7am because I got a good deal on the train ticket for leaving so early, plus since the train takes about five and a half hours I would get to Barcelona earlier and have more time to sight-see. Since the train station is basically a straight shot to the Plaça d'Espanya (Plaza of Spain) I decided to go there first. The Plaça d'Espanya was constructed for the 1929 World's Fair along with other buildings such as the Palau Nacional de Catalunya (National Palace of Catalunya) on Montjuïc, a mountain in Barcelona, which I went to next.

Plaça d'Espanya

Palau Nacional de Catalunya from the Plaça d'Espanya

Plaça d'Espanya from Montjuïc

The Palau Nacional houses the Museu d'Art de Catalunya (Museum of Art of Catalunya); it was mostly artwork from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and the main attraction in my opinion was being able to onto the museum's rooftop terrace to get a view of nearly the whole city. From the terrace I was able to see the Sagrada Familia sticking up among the other buildings, I guess I never realized it was that tall until then.

The Font Màgia and the Palau Nacional

Panoramic of the view from the museums's rooftop terrace

Plaça d'Espanya from the terrace

The Sagrada Familia from the terrace

Next, I walked from Montjuïc to the Christopher Columbus Monument (Monumento a Cristóbal Colón in Spanish, Monument a Cristòfor Colom in Catalan), which is at the end of Barcelona's famous street, Las Ramblas. Many people think that the statue is of Columbus pointing to the west toward the Americas, and that was the original intention, but he is actually pointing east towards Genoa, Italy, Columbus' home town. The statue was built in honor of Columbus' first journey to the New World because he met with King Fernando and Queen Isabel in Barcelona before he embarked.

Since I was at the end of Las Ramblas, I decided to walk along it for a while. Las Ramblas is a crazy street lined with trees and full of souvenir kiosks, street performers, restaurant terraces, and people selling odd things, for example some annoying noise maker and it was all I could here while walking along Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas is easily the most crowded place I came across in the city; that being said, I tried to avoid it as much as possible, but it works as a great point of reference so that was pretty difficult to do.

Next I found my hostel and checked in so I could drop my backpack off and go explore Barcelona some more without all of the extra weight. I made my way back to the center of the city and strolled through the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) where I found the Ajuntament de Barcelona (Barcelona City Hall) and the Palau de la Generalitat (Palace of the Generalitat), the Generalitat is the regional government of Catalunya. I also found the Catedral de Barcelona, which offers free tours, which was nice. The Catedral de Barcelona is very impressive, especially on the outside.

Palau de la Generalitat


Catedral de Barcelona

Barri Gòtic

Part of the old Roman walls

After touring the Catedral, I went back to Montjuïc to the Poble Espanyol (Spanish Town), which is another attraction built for the 1929 World's Fair. The Poble Espanyol is a kind of like a park but with buildings which are replicas of buildings from all over Spain, that way people who are visiting Spain, but only going to Barcelona, can see what the rest of Spain looks like. It was really cool since I was not able to see any of the northern part of Spain, but there I got to see what the buildings look like at least.

Look familiar? Probably because it's a replica of the walls of Ávila

Replica of the Iglesia de las Carmelitas in Alcañiz

Tower of the church in Utebo, Spain

Replica of the Casa del Marqués de Peñaflor in Écija

Replica of the Casa de las Cadenas in Corella

Since I was already at Montjuïc, I went back to the Palau Nacional de Catalunya because in front of the palace is the Font Màgia (Magic Fountain) which every night puts on a light/water show. Unfortunately, I was not able to see the show because for some reason there wasn't one that night, I waited nearly an hour before heading back to my hostel for the night, but it never started.

This is what I should have seen if the show had actually happened

Plaça d'Espanya at twilight

Before leaving Alicante I bought my ticket to the Sagrada Familia for Wednesday morning, so that's where I headed as soon as I got up and ready. My hostel was only about four or five blocks from the Sagrada Familia so I was able to walk there in no time. The Sagrada Familia is so impressive inside and out, but the two façades are the main attractions, at least at the moment since the third is still being constructed. The Sagrada Familia is the epitome of modernist architecture, made famous by Antoni Gaudí who designed the majority of the Sagrada Familia. Gaudí died in 1926 and 2026 is the year that the Sagrada Familia is supposed to be finished by.

My first glimpse of the Sagrada Familia

Fachada de la Navidad (Nativity Façade)

Statues of the Fachada de la Pasión (Passion Façade)

Fachada de la Pasión

I splurged a little and also bought a ticket to go up into the Fachada de la Pasión (Passion Façade). From the towers I could see a large portion of the city including the center of the city, Montjuïc and the Mediterranean. It was so amazing, I probably spent a little over an hour at the Sagrada Familia.

The view from a tower of the Fachada de la Pasión

Luckily they didn't make us climb up the stairs
because that's a long way down 

Fachada de la Pasión

Fachada de la Navidad

After the Sagrada Familia I went to another Gaudí masterpiece, Park Güell. I'm sure many of you have seen this in pictures before, it's a main attraction of Barcelona. It's a park that an Englishman (that's why the official name of the park is in English) named Güell paid Gaudí to design and build a neighborhood just outside of the city for the well-to-do of Barcelona, but many did not want to leave the city. So Park Güell remained more or less unbuilt, until the city took it over, finished it, and made it into a park. It's famous for the use of mosaics throughout the park, especially the salamander fountain made of mosaic and the bench made out of mosaic as well.

Gaudí's house in Park Güell

I returned back to the center of the city and went to the Museu de la Ciutat (Museum of the City) which didn't have a who lot of artifacts because it's main exhibit was the old Roman city which is now underground. It was really cool to see all of the old parts of the city, especially since I love history.

The outside of the Museu de la Ciutat

Inside a Roman tower, made out of re-used materials.
If you look close enough you can see
the middle stone has writing on it

Then on Thursday, my last day in Barcelona, I went to the Museu de l'Història de Catalunya (Museum of the History of Catalunya), which is basically a museum to prove that Catalunya is different from Spain because Catalunya has pretty much always wanted independence from Spain since Spain was created officially created when King Carlos I (also known as the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) took the throne of the two Spanish kingdoms, Castilla and Aragón (which Catalunya was part of).

Museu de l'Història de Catalunya

The flag used in support of Catalunya's independence

Model of what the Sagrada Familia will look like once it's finished

In the early 1700s, when Carlos I's great-great grandson King Carlos II died without an heir, so he picked his sister's grandson, a prince of France and part of the Bourbon dynasty. This caused the Hapsburg dynasty of Austria, which Carlos II was part of, to become upset and when the French prince Philipee became King Filipe V a war between the French and the Austrians ensued and soon became the War of the Spanish Succession, which also involved Great Britain, the Netherlands and Portugal. Catalunya sided with the Austrians and they seceded from Spain, but in 1714 the war ended and Catalunya fell to Felipe V's forces on September 11th and was once again part of Spain.

September 11th became the Diada, or Catalunya Day, honoring the brave who fought and protected Catalunya. Under the majority of the Kings the Diada was not allowed, but under the Spanish Republics of the late 19th century and the 1930s it was, but was then again illegal after the Spanish Civil War under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, but after his death in 1975, in 1976 Catalunya had it's first Diada in nearly 40 years. From then on, the majority of the Catalans have wanted it's independence and have even voted on it in various referendums, the most recent in 2010, but the federal government has never accepted them stating that they are unconstitutional.

Pictures of the Diada in 1976

Poster by Joan Miró in favor of Catalunya's independence

After learning about the history of Catalunya, I went to the Museu Picasso (Picasso Museum), which does not host very many famous works by Picasso, but it does have a lot. It does however have a very famous one by him called Las Meninas, Picasso's version of the painting of the same name by Diego Velázquez. Picasso is probably my favorite artist of all time so I was totally geeking-out while walking through the museum, being able to gawk at all eras of his artwork.

Velázquez's Las Meninas (left), the original, and Picasso's Las Meninas (right)

After the Museu Picasso and grabbing a bite to eat, I went to the Parc de la Ciutadella which leads to the Arc de Triomf. Then it was about 4pm and my train left at 5 so I hopped on the metro to go back to the Estació de Barcelona-Sants. I really enjoyed my time in Barcelona and I'm glad I saved it for my last trip because it was so much fun.

Entrance of the Parc de la Ciutadella

Fountain in the Parc de la Ciutadella

Arc de Triomf

I can't believe that as of today I have exactly one week left here. I feel like I've only been here a couple of months, not five! I'm really excited to be going home to see my friends, my family, and, most importantly, my pets. At the same time though, I'm extremely sad that I'm leaving my dream country and my amazing host-mom, Dolo, but I already know that this will not be my last time in Spain.