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Archive for the ‘Barcelona’ Category

Without photos this post will seem woefully incomplete but I promise to add them as soon as I have a funcional computer back in the states!

This past weekend I went with two friends to Marrakesh, Morocco–a trip unlike any other I´d experienced.  My travel companions were my friend Caroline, a girl in my program, and a friend of hers from class, Eirini, who is from Athens (Greece not Georgia) and is studying Spanish in Barca for the semester after having already completed her bachelor´s and master´s in England.  At first I (and my parents, I´m sure) was hesitant about not having a male traveling with us (after having some organizational mishaps in which the original guy who was going on our trip had to back out), but suprisingly the trip was smooth without any major problems pertaining to our sex.

We flew from Barcelona to Casablanca on Saturday (a short 2 hour flight) and upon immediately getting off the plane, my senses pricked up and I took note of my different surroundings.  For although Morocco is considered one of the most modern and westernized countries in the Muslim world, there were still no shortages of burqas, hijabs, and traditional dress.  We were so lucky to have Eirini with us for we learned she spoke French–a real necessity as it turned out.  She bargained beautifully with our cab driver at the airport to take us to the train station (where we would take a train from Casablanca to Marrakesh).  Starving, we tried to find food but the train station was literally in the middle of nowhere so we found a dilapidated corner store and bought Moroccan potato chips and butter cookies.  At this point I was still on my guard, unadjusted to my new surroundings and I was afraid that we really stood out with our fair skin, light hair, and Western dress.  But no one made any comments to us and we had an easy train ride, riding first class for the equivalent of only €14!  Once we arrived in Marrakesh, the owners of our hotel arranged for us to have a pick up and thank goodness we did because it was one less thing to worry about.  Arriving after dark, I marveled at the sights of Marrakesh, including the crazy drivers who seemed neither to obey traffic laws nor use traffic signals, with cars darting in front of one another, cutting each other off as motorbikes whizzed by, narrowly avoiding nicking another car.  We stayed in a lovely Riad, Riad Miski, owned by a French ex-pat couple, Francis and Christine.  Once the van arrived, we got off in a little square where people were milling about, men were pulling carts with donkeys, and children were running around.  The driver helped escort us to the Riad, which consisted of walking down a dark, narrow, and very spooky street in the Medina (or old walled city).  Thankfully I´d been tipped off by guidebooks not to get alarmed as most riads were just as hidden and hard to find as ours.  Once we arrived at the riad and met the owners, we noticed how beautiful and charming it was and how it opened up into a central courtyard with a terrace on top.  Our suite was lovely and had some traditionally Moroccan elements.  Tired, we were thankful that they had prepared a dinner for us.  After telling me that the chef had already left but “we´ll see what we can do” I was shocked at the wonderful meal we had before us: mint tea, eggplant spread, sweetly-seasoned tomato spread, salad, Moroccan pita-type bread, chicken tagine (a Moroccan stew), and a crispy bread dessert with a sweet dairy or cheese on top followed by dates and more tea!  Everyone was so welcoming and, true to form, the Middle Eastern hospitality was in full force.

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After breakfasting on the terrace, Christine escorted us to the main plaza, the Jemaa al Fna, which during the day is home to acrobats, henna artists, snake charmers (yes, real snake charmers), spice sellers, and juice vendors.  At night it becomes a crazy scene with loads of food stalls and other entertainment in addition to that during the day.  She also took us around the crazy labyrinth of the souk or bazaar, where you could find everything from scarves, lamps, hookahs, spices, jewelry, rugs, leatherware, and other decorations.  She took us to some vendors she knew who gave us a good price for spices and scarves.  She then left us to go meet some arriving guests and the three of us girls were on our own.  Though it was not high tourist season, there was a significant presence of tourists, which meant that we were not accosted too much.  The vendors were not too aggressive and a simple “no merci” usually did the trick.  As three unaccompanied girls, we surprisingly never felt too unsafe nor uncomfortable.  After leaving the souk, we visited an old (but no longer operational) madrassa, or Islamic school that instructed young boys in Islam and the Coran.  It was a beautiful old building with lots of small rooms where you could picture the boys hunched over reciting coranic verses.  Next we saw the Koutoubia Mosque, though non-muslims are not allowed to enter inside (I don´t know why…some mosques permit other faiths to go in).  Afterwards we visited the stunning and recently re-opened La Mamounia hotel for a cup of tea (that´s all we could afford), which I believe is owned by the Moroccan royal family.  This hotel was majorly luxurious and also very westernized as there were women lounging poolside in bikinis and couples drinking alcohol.  Next we indulged ourselves and took a horse-drawn carriage ride around the city, stopping at the Majorelle Gardens which have plants from 5 continents and are now financed by the Yves St. Laurent Estate (who knew?)

Afterwards we bargained some more in the souk before having a dinner of tagine and cous-cous at a restaurant overlooking the Jemma al Fna.

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The next morning Christine had kindly arranged for us to take a day trip to the Marrakeshi desert and we met our guide, Frederic, in front of the KFC (ha).  Like Francis and Christine, Frederic was also a French ex-pat who decided to move his whole family from Paris to Marrakesh.  After buying a riad and some horses, he was horseback riding in the desert one evening when he discovered a real, nature-made oasis.  After tracking down the owner, he bought the property and has developed it (minimally), christening it Le Pause.  He has made rustic-chic villas (beautiful and traditional furniture with minimal electricity but modern plumbing)  and luxury tents for guests to both dine in and sleep in. After exploring the property, we got to ride some camels!  Funny creatures.  The most exciting part of the camel ride was when they stand up or sit down for you to mount on or off as their spindly legs cause a little jolt.  After our camel trek we had another great Moroccan meal of more eggplant, tomato, and carrot spreads with warm bread, lamb tagine, and a chocolate cake for dessert.

We left Le Pause as the sun set in the desert, to return to the bustling city.  We had to leave the great Riad Miski as they didn´t have rooms available that night and we went to another riad nearby, Riad Puchka, which was quite an adventure.  It was more traditional-looking than the other (which was cool, I suppose) but did not seem as nice.  The owners are actually Americans but seem to have minimal involvement.  We had some communication problems with the guy staffing the place but then decided (after Eirini desperately tried to communicate with him in her perfect French) that he was high on hash.  Luckily the place was fine and safe, so after our big lunch we just tuckered down and ´feasted´on peanut butter sandwiches (which I had schlepped from Barca via Chicago) and clementines.

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The next day we spent an onerous 12 hours traveling back to Barcelona, first taking another train from Marrakesh to Casablanca and then another from the train station to the airport before getting on our plane.  Finally home, I was exhausted but had to cram for my final in History of Islam (how appropriate!) which luckily is over and done with.

It´s incredible that I only have two weeks left in this great city.  I´m filled with such mixed emotions–both excited to be coming home and sad to leave…

At last!  Photos!

Our Riad, the lovely Riad Miski

The souk

Spices

Lanterns in the Souk

The courtyard of the old Madrassa

My friend in front of an arch in the Madrassa

A view from their reflecting pool

Outside the luxurious La Mamounia Hotel

The Koutoubia Mosque

The Berber-style tent we ate lunch in at Le Pause Oasis

Camel riding

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As an addendum to my last post, my beloved dinosaur of a computer has finally died and I will have to replace it in Chicago.  What that means for the future of urbanita is simply this: fewer posts and unfortunately no photos (in all likelihood).  That said, I want to fill you in on the last few weeks and promise to add photos once I´m back in the States.

Ruta de Dalí

A few weekends ago, CASB (my program) took another group trip up to the Costa Brava (home of beautiful beaches, El Bulli, and the Dalí museum).  We stayed in Roses for two nights, during which we took trips during the day to discover “the route of Dalí.”  On Saturday we made it to Dalí´s crazy hallucinatory house that he shared with his wife, Gala, in Port Lligat.  It was home to his studio and many assorted surrealist furniture pieces.  Then it was on to Cadaques, a beautiful beach town, for a great lunch with an even better pastry and cappuccino break before heading to the Dalí Museum in Figueres. I´m sorry I can´t post photos right now, but this place was truly head-spinningly cool.  The building itself had a huge courtyard with sculptures on the stone wall and massive paintings.  Inside, the museum held many a Dalí masterpiece filled with all sorts of crazy Dalí symbols, fetishes, dreams, nightmares, sexual references…

Our last stop on Sunday was the castle Dalí bought for Gala (during a period in which they were living apart) in Pubol. It was interesting, though with limited time, I´d definitely recommend skipping it in favor of the museum.  Other highlights from the weekend including going out in Roses as one massive CASB group (and getting to hang out with people you don´t normally see in the process) and seeing a bizarre hip-hop performance by a female Spanish dance team in one of the plazas in Figueres.

Thanksgiving in Barcelona?

After returning to Barcelona, I connected with my family who had flown in for the week to see me and have Thanksgiving.  It was great having them here and getting to show them my new city and rediscovering it for myself in the process.  We visited Parc Güell, walked around in the Barri Gotic (and saw the oldest synagogue in Spain, in the Call).  We gourged on rosé and tapas, including a fabulous set of tapas meals at Cervesaría Catalana and Taller de Tapas.  My dad and brother went to the FC Barca-Inter Milan game (Barca won 2-0!) while my mom and I had drinks at the chic Hotel Arts down by the beach.  Went to the Miró Foundation (one of the best museums in Barcelona) and saw the view from atop Mt. Tibidabo.  We tried some of Barcelona´s famed gastronomic cuisine at Comerç 24 (the chef, Carlos Abellan is a disciple of Ferran Adria´s, the chef/owner of El Bulli) and had argentine steak for Thanksgiving!  Finally, we rounded off their visit with a day trip to Girona, a charming city (around the size of Providence with a populaton of 120,000) with a beautiful medieval section including a huge Cathedral and pretty Call or Jewish quarter.

That´s what I´ve been up to in addition to studying this week (who knew that I´d have to study in Spain! haha)  I was mildly terrified for an oral interview  all in Spanish about a book with my History of Islam Professor (who I have trouble understanding his accent to boot) but it went better than expected and he turned out to be a nice guy (not nearly so intimidating as he is in class).  This Saturday I´m off on another adventure to Morocco with some friends!  It´s been a nightmare planning this trip (with drop-outs and new flights) but now that it´s finally coming together I can´t wait!  It´s somewhere I´ve always dreamed of traveling to, and I´m so excited to be taking advantage of my proximity to Morocco while I´m here.

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Yankees v. Red Sox.  Sharks v. Jets.  Bears v. Packers.  Latin v. Parker.  Like these other longstanding rivalries, Barcelona and Madrid have been vying to be top dog for quite some time.  Though Madrid has been the capital of Spain since Phillip II moved his court there in 1561 (thank you wikipedia), Barcelona has long been the unofficial economic capital as it is a port city and was one of the first areas in Spain to become industrialized.  Here is a very subjective (and somewhat biased) look comparing the two cities:

Art and Culture:

Madrid: You have one of the world’s foremost collections of classic art in the stunning Prado museum as well as a huge cubist collection in the Reina Sofía to contend with.

Barcelona: You can stumble upon Modernista architectural masterpieces by Gaudí or Domenench i Montaner such as the Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlló, or La Pedrera.

Winner: Tie.  While Madrid arguably has the better museums, Barcelona literally is a walking museum.

Shopping and Overall “bougie-ness”

Madrid: Salamanca District and Calle Serrano have all of the requisite designer labels and the “preppies” or pijos are everywhere.

Barcelona: Passeig de Gracia is Barcelona’s Fifth Avenue (or Michigan Ave to all my fellow Chicagoans) filled with tons of luxury brands.  And they have their own pijos too who will drop 100s on bottle service at the chic beach clubs or at Sutton.

Winner: Barcelona. Though Madrid is supposedly the more conservatively upscale or “chic” of the two, while Barcelona has an edgier-artsy rep, Passeig de Gracia beats the Salamanca District if only because you can enjoy the beautiful Gaudí buildings in the Manzana de Discordia block while you shop at Zara or Valentino.

Soccer Stars (I won’t even go into the teams themselves):

Madrid: Two words: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid. He gets bonus points on the attractiveness and charisma scale but loses points for his supposed solicitation of prostitutes (wonder if they were the same ones we always pass outside of our university en route to the beach clubs).  That said, however, he is a very talented player.

Barcelona: Messi from FC Barcelona. The petite Argentine with amazing skills.  He doesn’t have the same PR as Ronaldo (maybe that’s a good thing?) but his talent speaks for itself.

Winner: Madrid. This one’s for the ladies (myself included).  Though the  prosties are yucky, Cristiano Ronaldo backs up his good looks with real talent and every team needs their model-esque frontman bad boy.

“Counter culture” with questionable fashion sense:

Madrid: The canis. This is one of those things that is hard to describe like a Williamsburg hipster (though canis are practically the exact opposite of a hipster)…difficult to pin down in words exactly, but you know it when you see one.  Basically, they are often young people with trashy fashion, lots of hair product and heavy make up who just like to get drunk (sounds like the Spanish variant of a certain type of people commonly found in New Jersey, Staten Island or Providence, RI).  They were seemingly all over Madrid, particularly at the 5 pm teen “night” outside of Kapital.

Barcelona: Ahh the mullet people. These strange creatures who are a cross between 90s new-wave hippies and punks with mullets, dread locks, and dread-mullets (see my mullet del día a few weeks back).  They are seemingly everywhere in Barca, especially at one of my two universities (more on “my two universities” later), Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona.

Winner: Tie. Both are cringe-worthy in their own way.

Food:

Madrid: Madrid has no strong culinary tradition of its own but has enough good tapas joints and international restaurants as would befit a Spanish capital.

Barcelona: Barcelona is known for its food and particularly for its mega-star chefs such as Ferran Adria, he of El Bulli “science as food” fame (the restaurant literally always has a two-year waiting list).

Winner: Hands-down Barcelona. “nuff said.

Public Transit Systems:

Madrid: Clean, well-ventilated, and well-lit metro with occasionally confusing route signs.  However, bonus points because everything is in Spanish.

Barcelona: Semi-clean, poorly-ventillated and dark metro with clear route directions on each train.  Loses points for the catalan though.

Winner: Madrid, obvi.

City Cleanliness:

Madrid: Super clean.

Barcelona: Semi clean (detect a pattern here?) but smelly owing to a lacking sewage system, I’m guessing.

Winner: Madrid. The air seemed fresher.

Nightlife:

Madrid: Known as one of the nightlife capitals of the world with mega-clubs (like Kapital) and endless botellóns.

Barcelona: Also arguably a nightlife capital in its own right with the swanky beach clubs and an abundance of clubs and bars for every taste.

Winner: This is biased because I didn’t spend enough time in Madrid but I’m going with Barcelona.  You have the beach on-the-one-hand, and cool hipster neighborhoods to grab drinks like Gracia, on-the-other.

So…results time.  It’s technically a tie 3-3 with 2 ties.  But as alluded to in my last post and at the top of the page, Barcelona (for all of its mullet folk and occasional smelliness) seems to exude more charm.  I realize this is highly biased as I’ve been in Barca for over 2 months and have grown to love the city while only having visited Madrid for three days, but you wouldn’t be reading this blog if you wanted an unbiased opinion, would you?

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Tonight I just got back from my first FC Barcelona game against Zaragoza (another team from a town in Spain) at the massive Camp Nou stadium (it seats 80,000 people and is one of the biggest, if not the biggest stadium in Europe).  

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It was a rout: Barça’s 6 to Zaragoza’s 1.  It was definitely a highlight of my time here thus far being at the game amongst 75,000 other screaming, delirious fans.  And I do enjoy watching professional soccer– you get sort of mesmerized by the way the players pass and handle the ball and then boom! Someone gets a breakaway and scores a goal and then you’re up off your feet screaming with everyone else.


Here were some highlights and funny observations from the game:

-Only non-alcoholic beer is sold at the games because of past problems with drunk, rowdy soccer hooligans

-Furthermore, you knew that this was pure 100% Catalan territory because all concession stand signs were bilingual in Catalan and English with no Castillian (regular old Spanish) to be found in sight

-The entire stadium did 3-4 rounds of the wave

-Though there were over 75,000 fans at the game, I happened to be sitting about 30 feet across the aisle from a friend I knew back in Chicago who is also studying abroad here

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Gracia

Today my roommate Tanja and I explored the neighborhood of Gracia, one of the most vibrant and young barrios of the city.  We ended up going at the perfect time, which was around 5:30 pm, after a luxurious day without classes and a long nap for both of us.

Having only been to Gracia a handful of times before (once on a formal walking tour our program had organized in the beginning of the semester, and another time at night when I could not fully appreciate it as it was 3 am and my high heel booties were causing my ankles to buckle under excruciating pain), I was not sure what to expect.  I had heard that Gracia was the. place. to. be.  And although it was still early evening when we walked around, I concluded that this statement was accurate.


Unlike most of the city, Gracia used to be its own pueblo before being incorporated into Barcelona, so it still retains quiet side streets that open up into picturesque plazas and that small-town/neighborhood-y vibe, which I quite enjoyed. Walking down the maze of streets, Tanja and I came across  café after café, mesmerized by the croissants con chocolate, pan mallorca, and other treats.  In an unparalleled feat of discipline, we passed them all by in an ultimately fruitless quest to find churros con chocolate (would you believe it that none of the panaderias in Gracia had them?)  Other more modern coffee shops were sprinkled amongst cute indie-designer boutiques and chic restaurants.

Though I did not take any pictures this go-round, what struck me about the neighborhood was not so much its architecture or the stores and restaurants (though they did have some lovely modernista buildings and good looking food on every corner), but rather the general ambience of a youthful, hip (but not with the “hipper than thou” attitude common in hipster ‘hoods) and modern neighborhood.  For although Barcelona, like many European cities, has amazing history and ancient buildings to be found on its charming, medieval streets, it is hard sometimes to connect with these beautiful parts of the old city…to feel like people really live and work there.  Then again, these are the ruminations of a girl who grew up in a city that was entirely destroyed and rebuilt not even 150 years ago.  In contrast, Gracia struck me as a modern neighborhood in the best sense of the word…though the architecture and layout of the neighborhood was very European (narrower streets and 3-4 story apartment buildings rather than any colossal skyscrapers), it was the people and their bustling energy that made the neighborhood interesting…the creative, young pioneers who shop at the gourmet deli with beverages from around the world or stay up all night having drinks with friends in one of the plazas.

I feel very lucky that I can have days like this every Friday where I can be a tourist again and explore the city, and I know I will definitely be coming back to Gracia very soon.

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The "hippie mullet" also known as the "rasta mullet"

The "hippie mullet" also known as the "rasta mullet"

Something tells me that if this guy were American, he’d be pretty annoyed with Minnesota’s new drug law.

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Rain Update:

No sooner had I walked out into the pelting torrent did I find a savior: one of the Pakistani guys who usually sells beer on the street (“cerveza beers?”)–yes given his country of origin, it is an incongruous profession–was standing outside the bus station a block from my residencia selling umbrellas!  What a savvy businessman.  Prepared for the rip-off of the century, I asked the gentleman “¿cuanto cuesta? and was surprised that he was selling them for only 4 euros.

My day thus significantly improved as I trudged to class 45 minutes outside of the city and then to yoga at the same university, all with my new umbrella in tow.

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