Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Imma Nut

~January 9, 2014~

I am slowly getting used to the apartment quirks - minus the cold. I don’t remember the last time I was warm longer than a moment in a metro station or a hot shower. Luckily, Nicole lent me a sleeping bag she brought to lay on top of my thin comforter which helped a lot. I attended another school sponsored tour this morning, this time a walking tour of the Barri Gòtic. Nicole and I left the apartment early to try and find coffee near the meeting spot. We walked through some plazas and down some cobblestone streets and found a generic bakery with…food and coffee. We walked around a bit more and met up with the group.

The tour was amazing. I am not a history buff by any means. Actually, I’m usually not a fan at all but this was incredible. For those interested, here is a very brief history lesson from what I can remember.

The region of Spain I am in is called Catalonia. Throughout history this area has always been very desirable due to its natural port and distance from other European powers. The Iberians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, and Moors all occupied the area for varying amounts of time.
In the early 4th century, a 13 year old girl, Saint Eulalia, stood up to the Romans for her beliefs in Christianity and it took the Romans 13 gruesome attempts to kill her. There were many references to Saint Eulalia, including 13 torches on the alter in the cathedral, 13 geese in the outdoor part of the cathedral and numerous small shrines tucked into various alleyways where other attempts to kill her had occurred.

 Then the Frankish Empire took control and used the area as a buffer zone between the Moors and France. During the Middle Ages, the counts of Barcelona were established and maintained by the Frankish Empire. This is (I believe) where the story of the flag comes into play. There is some speculation but we were informed that after a very important battle where one of the counts had suffered life sustaining injuries, but had defeated the enemies, he asked his second in command to ensure his death would not have been for nothing. His number two stuck four fingers into his open wound and dragged his bloody fingers across the gold shield. This is why Spaniards do not consider their flag simply yellow and red, the colors of the flag represent the gold of the shield and the deep red of the counts blood.

After some time, there was a separation between Catalonia and France; however they remained on good terms. Because of this, there were a number of marriages between the different kingdoms which created unification and a larger kingdom. The best example of this is the marriage of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile which we have all learned about at some point in our lives. Ferdinand and Isabella were the ones who funded Christopher Columbus to sail to the Americas. We saw the very doorway he walked through when he returned from his expedition. During the Spanish Civil War, Francisco Franco along with the help of Hitler and Musulini, established a dictatorship. However, in the process, Spain witnessed firsthand the initial use of large scale bombings as well as civilian casualties. One of the greatest visible demonstrations of the destruction visible even to this day was at the small church tucked away in Plaça de Sant Felip Neri where they had been sheltering the children. They dropped a bomb in the center of the church and had tanks waiting outside to finish off any children who could and did indeed run out. The artillery marks on the stone are there as a testament to this tragic event.

There was also a tremendous amount of architectural history. The architecture in Barcelona is absolutely breathtaking but I don’t even know where to begin. I just hope if you are intrigued, you can find a way to visit the area yourself someday.

After the tour finished, Nicole and I strolled down a nearby street to get lunch and stopped in a little Irish Bar. With a full belly and new found energy, that afternoon I was able to finish unpacking my things. It was nice to have a little me time, organize my things and make my room feel a bit more like home.

We continue to learn things about the apartment. We have gotten a crash course on using the washing machine and location of the thermostat (CRITICAL). The thermostat had been set to 15°C (equivalent to approximately 50°F) – no wonder I was FREEZING! After we figured out the heat, I was glued to the radiators that were now cranking. I am not sure exactly what it was, maybe being cold, tired, and hungry, but I had not been feeling well. I went to the nearest market I could find to get some comforting food staples: salami, cheese, yogurt, oats, apples, soymilk, and PEANUT BUTTER!! I was the happiest person in the world when I saw that. However, it was a 300g jar for €6 which is about $8. Anybody who knows me really well understands my peanut butter addiction and sees the warning signs. It’s a good bet that I will be spending the majority of my ‘fun money’ on peanut butter unless some of you fine folks want to help a sister out ;).

*IMPORTANT: I gave you the address to my apartment on my first post in case you wanted to send me letters, pictures, or peanut butter if you really love me - However, you should send it to my program office instead otherwise I may never get it. And that's no bueno for anyone :)

So New Address (I think):
Nicole Bajka
ISA Barcelona
08010 Barcelona, Spain

White Girl Problems Edition I (Because I have a good feeling there will be more)

~January 8, 2014~

A few quirky things I quickly came to realize about the apartment/my room while trying to catch some shut eye during my first night. #1 My room is EXTREMELY cold #2 When the metro passes underneath the building the floor shakes and #3 Walls and paper thin here. I am sure there will be more surprises as my experience continues. Needless to say, I needed some caffeine and food pronto before the morning academic meeting. Luckily there was a Starbucks (don’t judge my inner white girl) right on the corner of the designated meeting spot so I got a Chai Tea Latte with a shot of espresso. Nice kick start and I finally started to warm my core temp up too. The meetings covered academics, housing, and the cultural excursions that were planned. In the afternoon, there was a city bus tour organized for us that lasted for a couple hours. We drove around Barcelona through several different areas and then up to the top of Montjuic. The views were incredible and the tour made me that much more interested and excited to go exploring on my own.

View of the city from Montjuic

View of the magnificent port from Montjuic
At the end of my ‘school day,’ I met Sam for dinner right up the street from my apartment. We got a few different things to try: a tapas sampler (patatas bravas, king prawns, croquettes, and prosciutto) as well as paella, and veal with parmesan. Patatas bravas are a very popular item here – they are lightly fried potatoes with a spicy cream sauce. Prawns are very common being on the sea, but they always come fully dressed aka eyeballs, legs, the whole shebang. Croquettes are little fried balls of shredded chicken more or less. Prosciutto is well prosciutto. Spain, particularly the coastal region is best known for paella. It originates from Valencia and consists of rice with saffron and meat or seafood and vegetables. The veal parmesan was delicious but not what we expected. The thinly sliced pieces of meat were raw or possibly cured (hard to tell and difficult to ask given the language barrier). Nonetheless, it was good and we tried something new. We were absolutely stuffed and stayed at the restaurant for several hours just relaxing. 

Peace, Love & Happiness,


And So It Begins

~January 7, 2014~

I woke up this morning after a rough night’s sleep because of my never-ending ‘Taken’ type dreams. I collected myself and packed up my belongings because it was finally the big day when I officially begin my study abroad experience and move into my apartment. With a backpack full of personal belongings I made the trek to the designated plaza where I was supposed to be meeting with my program coordinators and be escorted to my apartment. Somehow, in my overzealous state, I arrived to said plaza an hour before the scheduled meeting time. Dun Dun Dun. Commence daunting music to go with an overwhelming sense of panic as all the warnings people had given me before I departed danced through my head. Fortunately, the panic quickly faded when I sat on a bench and let the warm sun calm my nerves. The location of the bench was perfect because I could people watch like a champ. About 10 minutes prior to the designated meeting time, Nicole (my roommate and fellow ASU Sun Devil) along with her mom, Rose, walked up and we small talked. After stumbling around the plaza finding the correct group, we were placed on a bus and escorted to our new home!
Ah! Finally the wait is over :)
We saw the inside of our apartment for the first time and it was a dream come true; love at first sight; the whole enchilada; everything and more then I could have ever wished for. The narrow white marble staircase that I had seen from peeking in the day before circled all the way up with a small lift (elevator) going up the center. Our heavy wooden door with gold detailing opened up into a charming, bright, entryway. To the right there was a nice living room area with couches, two French doors opening out to the patio overlooking the busy street below, and a teeny-tiny typical European kitchen with a small table. To the left of the entryway, there was a long hallway with one bathroom and one washroom on one side, and three bedrooms (2 single, 1 double) as well as a good sized study room on the other. Nicole and I flipped a coin to pick between the single rooms. I ended up at the far end of the hall. The room has a little twin bed, a couple tables, a bookcase, a large armoire, and a large wooden desk with windows all behind it. Unfortunately the windows are heavily frosted because they look to the backs of other apartment buildings where everyone is drying their laundry but it provides natural light and I am very happy with my room.
We couldn't contain our excitement
I unpacked some of the things I had shoved in my backpack earlier that morning and then met up with Sam to get my other two monster bags from the hotel. We struggled with the heavy bags all the way to the metro, on the metro, and on the walk back to the apartment building. I’m so lucky Sam was willing to help me because I was already sore and sweaty! A short while after my room was thoroughly covered with my belongings as I unpacked, our remaining two roommates, Alex and Shanna arrived. They had come directly from the airport and are both from Pennsylvania and know each other from school. The four of us went through introductions and then we let them get some rest and prep their rooms (Shanna transformed the study into another single room).
The girls from apartemento 1a 
That evening all newly arrived students were required to go a meeting. While this may sound simple enough, the group consisted of approximately 180 students. We were instructed to meet at a specific intersection across from a specific metro stop. From there we were led to our final destination, our large group meandering through the streets and across intersections.  I think we resembled a line of ants marching to an ant hill. The meeting was informative but we were all tired and hungry so afterwards we found my roommate Nicole’s mom (Rose) and all hunted for dinner together. We found a lovely little place, ate a nice meal, and then Rose treated all four girls (roommates) to our first gelato. 
First of many 'family' dinners ( + 'Mom' of course)
Peace, Love & Happiness,


A Little Sunshine Goes A Long Way

~January 6, 2014~

After a good nights sleep in my new home, a warm shower, and some McCafe from the main train station, Sam and I began the daunting task of tackling the metro. After a little observation we got the hang of it! First stop was to my future apartment building. After getting off the metro, it was a long walk later before we found ourselves in front of a beautiful older apartment building and I felt as if I was standing in an old movie set. Sandwiched in between other apartment buildings with coffee shops and restaurants on the ground level; was my future home. It had beautiful wrought iron and as I stood in front of the glass entry, I found myself staring at a white marble entryway and white marble stairs. I got major butterflies. I had not even seen my apartment yet and I knew I was going to love where I lived. It seemed like the perfect place to live out my Spanish fairy tale.
We only got a little lost on the metro
From there, we proceeded to find a couple of the plazas where I would be meeting my program coordinators over the next couple of days. It was quite a bit of walking. We could have used the metro but we enjoyed being outside in the fresh air with the sun shining down on us. After getting oriented at the two plazas, we decided to go check Sam into his hostel and plan the rest of the afternoon. It was decided that we would walk down Las Ramblas, a very famous strip of markets and such that leads down to the Marina. Las Ramblas…flower vendors, souvenir tents, handmade arts and crafts, street performers, restaurants…a plethora of smell, taste and culture on one cobblestone street slanting downward gradually leading you to the water. The marina is the vast expanse of piers and with huge sailboat masts – just about as far as the eye could see. It was absolutely astounding how much hustle and bustle there was. The sun was shining and it was warm and bright and the sky was so so blue…
Where I fell in love with the city

The marina was mesmerizing to me. Staring out over the water I realized that this was going to be my home for the next few months, and I felt genuinely happy about it. Actually I couldn’t stop smiling – there was a new bounce in my step and butterflies (the good kind) in my stomach.

Sam and I decided to try and do an early dinner (about 5:00 – which is an absurd concept to Spaniards) so now we just had to find a suitable place. We settled on one that had ‘patio seating’ (meaning a tented area with heaters underneath – very very common in Spain) midway up Las Ramblas. I ordered a Sangria and Sole while Sam ordered a Grande Cerveza and Paella. It was the first real meal we had had in days and it was a wonderful way to end the day. 

Peace, Love & Happiness,


It’s All A Blur

~January 3-5, 2014~

Buenos from Barcelona! So I have just (rather successfully I might add) experienced my first two days in this magical city; but let’s rewind too many hours ago and recap beginning with January 3rd.

Friday, January 3rd…yes, it was my last full day in my home country. Reality hitting, overwhelming stress commencing, and emotions flowing – that pretty much sums up the day – and on top of that, everything that could go wrong, did indeed go wrong. Surprise, surprise; I know. Health insurance provider creating an overwhelming bureaucracy and ultimately denying your request for a 5 month supply of prescription meds. This result after calling ahead 2 weeks, asking for the specific procedure to accomplish this acquisition of medication, and then following their specific instructions. Add to that waiting on hold every time I make a call for assistance/information, getting the worlds slowest checkers at every check-out, and ultimately getting devastating news about your neighbors health (surrogate grandfather) etc. etc. I feel like that is always the way it goes. I know everyone has had one of these days and can relate to my level of pain and frustration.   

To top off the exhaustion from the hectic day, after Sam was dropped off (my trustee travel partner for the first several days I am in Spain), I proceeded to finish my last minute packing that ultimately required I pull an all-nighter (not all that difficult since the departure time was 7 am out of SFO).

At 1 am I proceed to enjoy my obligatory shower (wake-up call), threw my stuff in the car, and tried to let the nagging feeling of forgetting important things go as we drove down the driveway. I slept pretty much the whole way to the airport and looked all refreshed and rejuvenated upon arrival [NOT]! Bloodshot and baggy eyes, uncombed hair, and lovely pillow scars from sleeping against the car window was how I was going to start my journey. Oh and that extra $100 for checking a second bag was the final insult. What happened to the good ol’ days of checking two bags free with an international flight??

Ready or not - Here I come!

I swear I know what I'm doing

My two greatest role models and teachers
Soon after checking in, we headed for the dreaded security check. Security was a hoot since my parents were going back and forth along the barricade with us waving, taking pictures, and blowing kisses at every turn or when there was a gap between people’s heads. Of course I did it back! 

Slept pretty much the whole long, cold flight from SFO to JFK with little intermissions to take part in the beverage service or relieve my bladder. Flying into New York was breathtaking! I had really been stressing that we would be stuck there with all the recent severe weather on the news. Instead, it was a beautiful blue sky with scattered wispy clouds and bright sun beaming down on a blanket of fresh white snow everywhere. I don’t know how to describe it, but it almost made me want to just stay there instead of getting on another plane.

Next flight from JFK to BCN included more poor quality sleep and restless legs intermixed with the movie ‘Wolverine’ and 2 Gluten Free ‘meals.’  When we landed in Barcelona, it was 6:30 am local time and still pitch black outside. We probably looked like zombies trudging to the baggage claim area but Hallelujah. We. Had. Arrived.  Surprisingly, so had our luggage.

We regrouped in the airport until the sun came up, then grabbed a taxi and headed for the hotel. The goal was to see if the hotel would hold our luggage for us until we could check in; instead they let us check in at 8:00 am! Wow, must be karma. I don’t know what I did to deserve that but I promise I will try each and every day to be a better person!

I took a much needed shower, a little catnap, and then ventured out (mind you, it’s still only 10 am). There was a beautiful park right next door so we headed that direction and continued with the intention of braving the city. I really had no idea where I was going, my sense of direction was seriously lacking given my level of sleep deprivation, so we just walked and walked and walked for several hours trying to get a feel for this beautiful city. I feared if I sat down I would fall asleep where I sat until the next day.
Little gem we stumbled upon right outside the hotel.
Who would'a thought I was in the heart of a big city?

As many of you may know, I am known for having a much delayed reaction to big events. So walking along the streets, getting a lot of weird looks, realizing this was going to be my home for the next 5 months and I wasn’t going to see my family for the same amount of time really started to hit me. It was an overcast day and my mood matched it perfectly. While taking another little nap in the hotel that afternoon, we realized the commotion we could hear out on the street was from a Christmas parade street directly below us. So we layered up and ran down to check it out. There was also a carnival right by the park next to the hotel with so many lights and sounds – for a moment I thought my little tired head might explode! We wandered around the same streets again, this time all the Holiday lights along the street were lit and there was a small market nearby. I finally messaged home for a bit (realizing how homesick I was) then allowed myself some real sleep. First real sleep in 36 hours! 

Peace, Love & Happiness,


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude

~January 2, 2014~

Well Happy New Year I guess! I rang in the New Year in Squaw Valley senior style this year. After the traditional dinner of honey baked ham with potatoes and sour cherry soup, I plopped myself down on the couch with my parents and watched the oh so appropriate pre-travel-departure-movie-of-all-time ‘Taken’. Moral of the story – don’t talk to cute foreign boys, don’t share a cab, don’t have friends that are overly friendly and stupid at the same time, and have a really bad ass dad; check, check, check, check. I celebrated New Years on New York time and was in bed and asleep before 11:00.

Honestly, I am glad 2013 is behind me. Not that there was anything particularly bad about it – it was just one of those long years that ended in an odd number and I am not a huge fan of odd numbers. I have high hopes for 2014 though. I am 20 years young, and starting the New Year in Barcelona, Spain – a place I have been enchanted with my whole life.  I plan to strengthen my sense of ‘independence’ and do a little ‘soul searching’ along the way during my five month adventure. For some reason I thought it would be best to accomplish this in a foreign country.

The last few weeks have been incredibly hectic and overwhelming with finishing school, visiting with friends and family, the HOLIDAYS, and trying to pack while never being home. I guess it’s about time reality hit; I will be on a plane to Barcelona in less than 48 hours to spend the next five months studying and traveling around Europe. Woah.

Partway through the take-over of our house while
unpacking my AZ things and repacking for Spain. 
Well I am happy I got this blog thing up and running, but I best be getting back to figuring out phones, transportation, making sure I have all the paperwork I need, working on my basic Spanish, and the list goes on and on.

Happy New Year! Cross your fingers I make my 7:00 am flight out of SFO Saturday. The next time you will hear from me I will be in Barcelona!

Peace, Love & Happiness,


P.S. To all my family and friends, my apartment address is:
Nicole Bajka
Avda. Paral.lel 186, Entlo. 1ª
08015 Barcelona, Spain
(hint, hint, please feel free to write me letters from the homeland, send pictures, and there would be no opposition to the occasional treats from home)