Thursday, May 31, 2012

Catching Up

Sorry for my absence fitnessandfroyo followers! I am sure that after this delay you are expecting some grand post about all of the exciting things I have done this week. Sorry. That isn't what you are getting this time! Class officially began on Tuesday, and with class comes homework and studying (yes, I have already taken one quiz). While I have been trying to get back into a school routine, I have still managed to fit in some fun things too. Sarah and I went on another beachside run with the IES Running Club and we got to see more of God's beautiful creation. The beauty of this city continues to amaze me each and every day and I love discovering new places that remind me that He is with me every step of the way, even when things start to get hard. I am still loving Barcelona but this week I really started to get homesick for American things - American people, American food (I absolutely LOVE the food here, but I do miss my favorites from back home), and sometimes just the American culture. It is definitely different living here, but I have already grown so much in just 12 days!

Class is going well, it is just very, very long. I go from 10:45am-3:00pm with a 35 minute break for lunch. It is one intensive Spanish class and while I love my professor and my classmates, it is a lot of Spanish for me to handle at one time. I am already learning quite a bit and I feel much more comfortable speaking Spanish in everyday conversation. I still don't speak it very much, but I at least feel more confident in my Spanish-speaking abilities. Thankfully I have Sarah, who is practically fluent, so we get around just fine!

Sarah and I haven't done much this week in terms of "Barcelona-y" things because we are still easing our way into the school week as well as getting ready to travel this weekend. IES has scheduled a "study journey" to Girona and Costa Brava that includes visiting many museums as well as quite a bit of beach time. I am bummed that Sarah and I are on different buses and staying in different hotels, but I am excited to get myself a nice tan! Fingers crossed for good weather!

After a visit to La Boqueria, a huge Whole Foods-esque market on Las Ramblas, and a shopping trip at H&M (love that they have so many of these here!), Sarah and I decided to forgo our regular workout in favor of a 30-minute power walk. The weather outside is so perfect and neither of us felt up to doing burpees in the smelly, stuffy gym. We were glad that we went on this walk because we discovered a park that is absolutely GORGEOUS and it reminded me of the good ol' bayou back in Houston. This park had fountains and it was just so peaceful. I so wish I had my camera or phone with me so I could show you pictures of this wonderful place, but we will definitely be returning soon!

Don't worry - it is not just candy and chocolate that is sold at La Boqueria, there is quite a selection of meat and fresh fruit as well!
After our pleasant walk and a quick shower, Sarah and I headed down to dinner where I was greeted with the beautiful sight of steak -- how American can you get?! I was not complaining, I welcomed it with an open mouth and I ate every last bite. I have no regrets about that one, it was delicious and definitely helped curb any homesick feelings that I have had. I am off to finish packing and (try) to get a great nights sleep - we have a 6:00am wake-up call tomorrow morning! Adios!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Happy Birthday, Daniel!

Happy 17th birthday to one of the most special men in my life - my little (or not so little) brother, Daniel! You have seen him before, and if you see him today (in person, or on Facebook) - be sure to wish him a very happy birthday! This is the second year in a row in which I have not been present for his birthday, not that he probably cares, but I figure a blog post might make up for my lack of presence.

Enjoy your day today, Daniel, you deserve it! I miss you very much and I wish you were here with me to experience this wonderful city! I can't wait to see you, and you better come visit me in Austin when I get back to Texas! Maybe I can sway you to making the right choice when it comes to choosing a college!

Well, I am off to class - see you guys in a few hours!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Fat Tire Bike Tour

Y'all, today Sarah and I did the number one thing on our Spain bucket list: the Barcelona Fat Tire Bike Tour. If you are ever in Barcelona, London, Berlin, or Paris, I really suggest taking one if you are looking for a fun way to see and learn the history of the major sights around these cities. We decided to take the 11am bike tour so we left our dorm around 9:50 to ensure that we arrived to the meeting point, Plaza Sant Jaume, by 10:45, as we weren't entirely sure where to go. We quickly found where we were supposed to be and we were immediately greeted by three Australian tour guides with crazy hair and sarcastic comments. We knew right away that this was going to be an exciting tour. We hung around the meeting point for a few minutes before heading up to the shop to retrieve our bikes and set off on the tour. We were each handed a beach cruiser (by the way mom and dad, that might be making an appearance on my Christmas list) and waited for the entire group to gather before beginning our four hour journey around Barcelona. It was a perfectly sunny day and we saw so many cool sites - sites that Sarah and I have been meaning to visit, and we got them all in one day! The bikes were awesome because they made it possible to see so much of the city in four short hours - I wish I had a bike to get myself from place to place. That, or rollerblades! I have seen so many rollerbladers around here and I feel as though I would fit right in - most of you know that I am quite the blader!

Anyway, back to the tour. We started off at Barcelona's Cathedral, and I heard many interesting facts about it, but I unfortunately could not even begin to remember right now. I do remember that each city has one major Cathedral, and this is Barcelona's! Sarah and I do want to go back and walk around the inside sometime, so I will let you know how that goes!

Spain may not be celebrating the same holiday that you guys in the States are celebrating, but on the way to our next stop, we got to experience people doing the dance of Catalonia, which basically looked like people doing the hokey pokey. It was so cute! Sarah and I got caught up taking pictures and had to bike fast to catch up with the group! Oops! The next site was our tour guide's favorite - it was some kind of music museum that I really was not paying that much attention to - I have to admit that I am not that into history, especially if it has to do with music because I am really not very musically inclined at all. It was very pretty though and what we could see of the inside looked beautiful. If we ever have some spare time, it just might be worth visiting!

After that, we left the old city and went to Barcelona's Arc del Triomf. Here is my  blonde moment of the week -- I thought that Paris had the only Arc del Triumph in the world, so I was confused when I saw a monument in Barcelona called the Arc del Triomf. I was quickly informed that there are about 300 Arc del Triumph's in the world and Paris is not the owner of the original -- Rome is. I learn something new everyday! Sarah and I had actually run through this area on our beachside fun run, but we had the opportunity to stop and take pictures today.

We then made our way over to the same park (Parque de Ciutadella) that we ran by on our run, the one that we found to be so beautiful. It was just as beautiful today and we got to see even more of the park today. There were tons of people running, relaxing, picnicing (is that a word?!), and even tanning. We also saw a pond (lake?) where people were doing something that looked like kayaking, and Sarah and I, being the outdoorsy people that we are, turned to each other immediately, knowing that we just HAD to give that a go. We find new things to do every day!

 This park is right next to the Barcelona Zoo (another place on our Barcelona bucket list), and our tour guide informed us that the Barcelona Zoo is home to the three wooly mammoths left in the world! The park had a giant wooly mammoth statue, so naturally Sarah and I had to take a picture with it.

We were holding up our group, so we ran back to them before heading over to our next destination: La Sagrada Familia. Now, I am not sure if you have heard of La Sagrada Familia, but it is Antonio Gaudi's legacy. It is a church that has been under construction for over 100 years, and is only about 60% complete. Word on the street is that it will be finished by the year 2026, though my tour guide seemed to doubt that statistic. If Sarah and I are still alive when it is finished, we are definitely coming back to see it! It was seriously breathtaking, the intricate detail was incredible, and the story behind it was the best. Gaudi had such wonderful intentions with La Sagrada Familia and I am so glad that it is going to continue to be built. It is a main tourist attraction in Barcelona and Sarah and I would love the opportunity to actually walk through it. Get this -- it is supposed to DOUBLE in height! It will stand 170 meters tall when it is complete. That is INSANE! It was definitely one of the highlights of our trip thus far!

After taking a couple pictures, we continued on to our final destination: the beach. Barceloneta to be more specific. It was just as beautiful as it was on our beachside run. We biked through the boardwalk to a restaurant called Ona which was absolutely fabulous. They are famous for their Sangria, and although Sarah and I didn't try any of it because we felt kind of dehydrated and opted for water and smoothies, we both agreed that we will have to try it. Sarah and I are not drinkers by any means, but we have both been told by multiple people that when in Spain, the Sangria is a must. Almost everyone in our party ordered a pitcher and drank down every last drop. Luckily, we didn't have far to go in order to get back to the shop, so no one felt too guilty about drinking all of it! Some people also ordered food and it all looked DELICIOUS! Sarah and I will most definitely be returning! We had a lovely afternoon biking through Barcelona and we both can't WAIT to hit the beach tomorrow after class. I have a really cute tank top tan that I really need to get rid of, so some time spent soaking up the sun will be much appreciated.

Speaking of, our first official day of class is tomorrow. As much as I am looking forward to getting into a routine, I have so enjoyed the past week of doing whatever I want without feeling guilty about it. I am hoping that my class won't be too demanding so that I can still do something Barcelona-y every day! The bike tour was both Sarah and my favorite part of the trip, and we hope to continue to do fun things each and every day! We are only here for six weeks and we want to make every minute count! Enjoy the rest of your Memorial Day!

By the way, I have been told multiple times that Fat Tire Bike Tour was started by a group of Aggies. I have one thing to say to that: Hook'em.

Madrid: Day Two

We woke up pretty early considering how late we actually went to sleep, mainly because we wanted to get out of that hostel. We got ready in the bathroom and headed to the bar for a complimentary breakfast that turned out to be toast and coffee. No thanks. We knew that we wanted some wi-fi and a better breakfast, so naturally we went to McDonald's. I know what you are thinking - McDonald's? In Spain? Come on! But really, it was a two-story Mickey D's with free wi-fi, a bakery, and a darn good smoothie. After starting my day with a strawberry and banana smoothie, an apple, and a little bit of email and Twitter, I was ready to go. We got on the subway at Puerta del Sol, the very center of the city, and headed in the opposite direction that we did yesterday. We wanted to see some of the gardens, and being the English nerd that I am, the National Library. We were also on the hunt for a place that we found on Pinterest, Burgundy Street, but we found no information about said street, nor did any of the locals that we asked seem to know what or where that was. We headed off in the direction of the gardens anyway, and though we never found Burgundy Street, we did find a plethora of beautiful sights. 

We came across Parque del Retiro, which is huge, and just enjoyed the peacefulness of it all. Spain is definitely a country of sleeping in, which means Sarah and I get the mornings all to ourselves because we wake up so early. We did see quite a few runners and I was itching to go running. We do walk a lot though, so I guess I can count that as a workout! We found swings at this park, we saw people on bikes and people on rollerblades, we found a body of water (not sure if I can classify it as a lake?), and we saw so many different types of trees. It was a gorgeous day, perfect weather, and we loved having the park basically to ourselves. Madrid is a great city, but it is also very, very crowded, making it a prime place to become victim to pickpocketing. We held tight to our purses and made sure to put luggage locks on our backpacks, as we had to be out of our hostel by 11:00am, but our train wasn't scheduled to leave until 5:30pm. We probably looked like the ultimate tourists carrying around purses and backpacks. Hey, we are still in possession of all of our belongings, so I will gladly accept my label as a typical tourist!
Channeling my inner child

This reminded us of Town Lake - an Austin favorite!

Senior pictures in Madrid 

So artsy, right?!
After exploring the park, we decided that we really wanted to see the National Library (duh, that is an English major's dream), so after somehow walking the wrong way for a bit, we managed to find it, and though we did not go inside because we did not want to go through the trouble of putting all of our bags through security nor did we really want to have to pay to go inside, we had fun taking pictures with some of that statues out front!

Relaxing in the park
After our library adventures, we still had about an hour and a half until our lunch reservations at Botin, so we (again) headed over to a sunny park area, put our feet up on the benches, and read until some police officers informed us of a festival that was about to take place. We decided that we should probably head back over to Puerta del Sol to make our lunch reservations, as we weren't quite sure where the restaurant was. Luckily, we found the restaurant pretty quickly and we were immediately led downstairs to be seated in the basement area. Botin is known for its pig and lamb, and though Sarah and I opted against those options, we both agreed that our meals were just fantastic. I opted for the vegetables with ham, and sarah went with chicken and rice - both were delicious and very filling.

We thought the bread was complimentary, and then we had to pay three euro for it! At least it tasted good! 
My delicious meal!
Sarah and I
Oldest restaurant in the world!
Before we left the restaurant, we talked to the people at the table next to us and discovered that they are also studying abroad in Barcelona and that they attend Georgia Tech, but one of them is originally from Dallas and we found out that we had a few mutual friends! Small world! We talked to them for a bit, and overall just really enjoyed our experience at Botin. After asking for the check, we decided to just head over to the train station so that we would be sure to make our 5:30 train back to Barcelona. We loved our time in Madrid, but we were ready to get back home! We had an absolutely wonderful weekend, well worth the trouble we went through in getting the tickets to actually get to Madrid (more on that soon!) and we decided that a trip back just might be in our future. After a great night's sleep, we are off on a bike tour of the city, and then we are making our first official trip to the beach! 

We also have a holiday today here in Spain, but I will be thinking of America today on Memorial Day and remembering all of the soldiers who have died fighting for our freedom. Have fun today, ride the jet ski for me, and eat an extra burger! Hasta luego!