Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cowboys and Carnaval

Helloooooooooo everyone. I have been such a horrible blogger, abandoning my updates for the more exciting world that Barcelona has to offer. Most of you will probably be surprised to hear that I´m actually leaving Barcelona in one week exactly. Don´t worry, it´s nothing personal between me and this wonderful place, more that I felt the need to go back to the more alternative and cheaper Berlin to be with all those I left behind in December.

I´m really not sure if I made the right decision, but to be honest, I don´t really think a right or wrong existed. I´ll probably be happy in either place, and at least I´m not sitting in Galesburg, Illinois, wishing the world around me weren´t so flat. Before heading off, I´ll be making a little journery around Spain and Portugal starting with Valencia, where they build huge straw dolls and burn them every year in the middle of the night. After that, off to Madrid to meet Robert, and then we´ll be driving to the south of Portugal and up to Lisbon and Porto (where they are supposed to have wonderfully cheap wineries. My first real wine tasting!). Then, back to Madrid and off to Berlin to start an internship that should last me into the summer.

Now that that´s all out on the table, I´ll do a little update on my time Catalonia. Last weekend was Carnaval, a CRAZY festival equivalent to New Orlean´s Mardi Gras. My friends and I hopped a train to the nearby beach town Sitges, also known as the gay capital of the area, where they have the third or fourth (it´s debatable, but I´ve heard both from many proud Spaniards) largest party in the world. It was like Halloween all over again, with people dressed as everything you could imagine, including post-it notes and giant babies. Everyone gathered around to watch the exravagent parade in which one float even sported sparkling eiffel tours on their heads and another sported practically nothing at all. Despite the fact that I lost my fake cowgirl gun and fell asleep on the train home, it was a definite success, and most definitely a cultural learning experience.

I went to a soccer game today, and surprisingly, I had an amazing time. We had incredible seats, right behind the goal, and the section next to us was filled with the most dedicated fans, all decked out in blue and white and singing songs in a mixture of Catalan and Spanish that I failed to understand but decided to sing along with anyway. And, of course, they won 2 to nothing, so that just made it all the more exciting.

BBBBBBBBBarcelona is getting warm! Despite one long day of rain during which there were train delays because the city is so used to perfect weather, today was gorgeous and showed me a hint of summer. If only I could stick around to spend hours on the beach catching some sol, but of course, I can´t really sit still for very long, can I?

Okay, time for fun facts:

1. Barcelona has a day of festival for no reason. Just because everyone deserved the day off I guess

2. It is totally acceptable here to yell every imaginable cuss word at the top of your lungs as long as you are at a soccer game.

3. It´s also totally acceptable to ask a stranger to marry you in the subway. That´s right folks, I´m apparently going to the Sagrada Familia

4. Never say yes to bread! They will charge you 7 extra euros for it.

5. Catalan phrase of the day: ets un entrepà molt maco!
(translation: you are a very handsome sandwich)

Toodle loooo!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Chocolate con Churros might have to outdo schokocroissants any day of the week...

So, despite the fact that I accidentally abandoned this endeavor for the past month and a half, I am still alive and breathing and I am still in love with Europe, but that's right, I've relocated to the easy, breezy, beautiful Barcelona, España. It's winding streets and beautiful beaches should be enough to keep me here forever, but somehow, I miss the grit and grime of Berlin.

Where to begin and end is a question I can't even begin to answer, but basically, my world has been turned inside out since I arrived in this sunny city in Cataluña. I had to change languages, mentalities, wardrobes, and lifestyles, but after a month and a half, I would say I'm feeling right at home.

I live with a host family, a woman and her son, and Isabel (my host mom) cooks me every meal and cleans everything from my room to my clothes to my toilet. The woman is some sort of angel to be able to do everything she does with a smile on her face. Somehow, the house can never be clean enough because she is always running around with some sort of cleaning utensil in hand, trying to get the darkest corner of the darkest room spotless and shiny. Who will even look there anyway? She makes a mean Spanish omelette with potatoes (tortilla de patatas) and she smokes like a chimney. The woman's a saint, but honestly, I'd never want to live her life.

Like many of the women of her generation in Spain, she is a permanent house wife, cooking, cleaning, and doing the grocery shopping, and not because she made that decision freely, but because it's the standard for the women of the generation of Franco. One of the first shocks I received when arriving here is how everything seems just a bit behind the times. Most apartments don't have internet, the women in their 50s don't work, and the apartments are decorated with a linoleum floor that is reminiscent of the 1970s. Don't get me wrong, the younger generation is more or less living in the same world as me, especially in a big city like Barcelona, but the the lifestyle of my own parents in the U.S. and my host mom here is worlds apart. More than that, it is pretty normal for the children to live at home until they are 30. Example 1: my host brother is 26 and his mom still makes him a bocadillo (sandwich) everyday and takes him to and from work. In a way, it sounds like a breeze, but in another way, I miss my independence.

Barcelona, really aren't the city of my dreams, but man, are you something else. Full to the brim with tourists and pickpockets, it might drive me crazy if the only part I ever saw was the downtown center strip of La Rambla, filled with older men trying to sell you "sexy beer" and hand you flyers to their clubs. But no, this chosen vacation spot for more than half of Europe and the U.S. is more than just the surface tourism. It is filled with mysterious artwork and architecture, like Gaudi's dripping Sagrada Familia and Miro's modern sculptures. And with both mountains and the sea, I never feel too far from nature. Nevertheless, I think I've had my share of city life for an entire lifetime. I think I'm meant for that little cabin in the middle of the woods with a field of wildflowers in the backyard.

And in conclusion, ten fun facts about Bbbbbbarcelona:

1. The official language here is Catalan, not Spanish (always say Castellano and not Español when referring to Spanish. It's more culturally sensitive because spanish is not the only language of Spain).

2. It is illegal here to go around without a shirt or shoes, but no pants? No problem!

3. Flamenco and bullfighting are NOT part of Cataluñan culture. The two things actually come from Andalucia, which is a region in southern Spain that is also beautiful and amazing, but different.

4. Both Antoni Gaudi and Picasso made their homes in this city at some point in their life

5. The young people here (according to some sources) don't really have boyfriends/girlfriends until their late 20s. (I have to disagree, but whatever, it's been said)

6. The beer is quite the disappointment, especially after Germany, but they do make AMAZING wine.

7. If you order seafood, watch out, the brains and eyeballs will be included

8. Once again, the obsession with slippers. Also, its strange to sit/put your things on the floor/put your feet on furniture. Absolutely no bare feet allowed....

9. There is an amusement park on top of a mountain that is totally old school and awesome but a disappointment for thrill seekers.

10. It rarely rains and never gets colder than freezing (usually in the 60s...heaven...)

Well, off to European Governments in Spanish. Keep an eye out for new posts because i'm planning on a post a week or so. We'll see how that goes...


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Nein Mann, ich will noch ein bisschen tanzen

Dear Berlin,

I woke up this morning, in that first moment before I truly processed my situation, and I felt a wave of confusion as to why you weren't here next to me. Where are the unshoveled sidewalks and the Currywurst stands? Why don't I have a massive headache from partying until 8am? And most of all, why the hell can't i speak German and have people understand? I'm not talking about the full-blown language, but little phrases like Danke or Prost or random Denglisch adaptations of verbs. I find myself saying "Also" or "Genau" without even meaning to. Berlin, why don't you just move your ugly self to De Soto, Missouri, and never ever leave? That would make the world a whole lot easier, wouldn't it? The area could use a little spice anyway.

Our last few weeks together were tumultuous and emotional, but what can I say, that means it meant something. Sometimes I never wanted to leave you and other times I couldn't wait to hop on that plane and be greeted on the other side by huge grins, warm friendliness, cheese fries and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. Nevertheless, alles in einem, I think we were a pretty good fit. Compatible enough that I might just have to give you another try someday. Maybe even sooner rather than later, especially if Barcelona just isn't my cup of tea. Just wait for me okay? Don't change, or maybe do change because that's what you are always up to. Forever progressing in some new direction and switching up the dynamics. That's why I love you because you are unpredictable. Just don't forget me, okay?

Liebe Grüße, Erin

Monday, December 6, 2010

All it takes is a little red dress to turn that frown upside down

Greetings from the land of snow and ice. I swear, my feet are permanent popsicles, and I've probably lost a couple pounds from the excessive amount of shivering I've been doing lately. The worst part--apparently Germany has no idea how to clean up snow. The sidewalks have turned into a dangerous slush of mud and ice that has almost left me clean on my butt quite a few times. I guess it would help if I any of my shoes actually had a miniscule bit of traction. Even worse are the roads. We were driving back from Göttingen last night on the Autobahn, and there was a time when I was sure we weren't going to make it back without slipping off into a ditch. It doesn't help that the Germans drive without a speed limit. Still, I would love to get my hands on the wheel here. Something about be able to put the peddle to the floor without consequences is extremely attractive.

Zwei Wochen mehr, and I still feel like I haven't fulfilled half of my shoulda, woulda, couldas, but honestly egal. I'm happy happy happy in more ways than one. I think I've turned on some sort of light bulb in my head and rid myself of a whole lot of worry. Life lessons, study abroad, life lessons.

So, about those Germans and how they continue to surprise jeden Tag. Probably the biggest thing, is that I've been getting a lot of crap lately for drinking the wrong beer/drinking it in the wrong way. And I'm not talking about older people who are interested in preserving the beer culture, but college students, that in the U.S. are happy enough to have a beer can in their hands, no matter what it tastes like. Apparently, you aren't allowed to drink Weissbier from a bottle because all of the flavor settles in the bottom, and if you buy beer in a plastic bottle or a can, people will call you a penner. Never realized there were so many rules for drinking...but hey, I don't discriminate. I think it is all pretty lecker.

So I'm going to see MGMT tonight. My first real concert since I've been here, sadly enough, but I'm pretty freakin' pumped. I'm totally ready to jam out to some Kids and Electric Feel and relic in a few memories from my Med-O-Lark days, when I was first introduced to their ingeniously catchy tunes.

More later. I'm got to go watch a german film--Deutschland '09. I hope it proves my ideas of German film wrong and is funny, exciting, with a generally light and bright outlook on life. But honestly, I highly doubt the wish will come true.

Tschüssie, Erin

P.S. Watch Naked Gun/Airplane in memory of Leslie Nielsen. R.I.P.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mal sehen, mal sehen

Guten morgan Berlin, du kannst so hässlich sein. Schwarz zu blau. Or maybe just grau.

I'm not sure, ever in my life, I've felt so conflicted with my loyalties. 3 weeks more. What does that even mean? Everything feels so temporary, so definitive. I leave my life that I've barely created and start a new one. I'm not sure I even have the energy to do so. I have to change my tongue, my comfort zone, my daily route through the hours. And then what? I find myself at another end and a new beginning.

I got my information for my host family in Spain the other day. Just one name, Isabella, and a mysterious address that I couldn't even find on Google Maps. I later learned it actually does exist, but only in Catalan, not Spanish. Someplace in an industrial district, with 1980s high rises and dirty streets and a somewhat long walk to the beach. I'm trying not to hold expectations because, seriously, where has that ever led me? Only empty hopes and unsatisfied eyes. Mal sehen.

I am somewhat in the Christmas Spirit. There are Christmas Markets everywhere and the air smells like roasting almonds and spices. I visited the most famous market in Germany this weekend, in Nuremberg which is in Bavaria. The accent was thick but the atmosphere was sweet, and the city itself was quiant and beautiful, in a way that only old European cities are. I even found Reeses Peanut Butter cups at the American stand, in my opinion the most important American import that Germany lacks. I had my fair share of traditional Southern German cuisine, with Käse Spätzle and Maultaschen. Yummy but starchy like most German food, and a little bland without the meat that traditional supplements it.

The snow there was probably the most beautiful part. The area is full of rolling hills and dense forest, a perfect setting for a sprinkling of white snow to enhance. In that sense, I found myself wanting to be home with my family, eating a delicious Christmas eve dinner and sharing gifts with my family. And, of course, playing with little Oliver.

Oh Deutschland, I think we've become friends, and I think we'll have a lasting relationship. Your bubbly water and rude waiters, your direct citizens and harsh language, your crisp winter air and grey skies, are all slowly gaining a place in my heart. And as I've discovered more and more, it only takes time and you open your doors to outsiders, but it takes a bit of warming up. Nevertheless, I'll always be an American.

I think I'll take a little trip across the border this weekend and see what Poland is all about. Probably buy myself some cheap goods and smuggle them back in. Then, Berghein, finally? Or the Christmas slide in Potsdammer Platz that I've been drooling over since I first laid eyes on it? Who knows, that's what I always think. And really no one does.

Zu vielen Fragen, zu wenig Zeit. But no worries, these next three weeks will be pure fun. I'm going to live them up more than the whole time I've been here combined.

Love, Erin

Sunday, November 14, 2010

And the Danes live in Dänemark, with their blonde hair and bad drinking habits

It's 10:00 pm on a Sunday, and I should feel and be more accomplished than I am. I hopped off of the train from Flensburg via Hamburg at about 4:30 today, and I have somehow managed to squander away 6 hours with nothing more to show for myself than a slightly cleaner room. No big advances on my presentation or 6-8 page paper due on Wednesday. No, no, no. Apparently as soon as I crossed the German border, I became the laziest, lackluster student known to man. Well maybe that's an exaggeration. But seriously, where did all my Lust go? I'm supposed to love school and homework and tests and papers and all that jazz, but somehow, in the past 2 months or so, I flushed it down a toilet and decided on different priorities.

Don't get me wrong--I'm learning things, just not the kind of things you learn in a classroom. Language skills, cultural differences, personal discoveries--those kinds of things. I didn't even realized how much my mentality has changed since I got here, until last week, when I sat down to have a normal conversation with my host mother and the words and the tears just started flowing out of god knows where. Not in a bad way though. I actually think it's good. I'm growing up a bit and figuring out what's really important, and from what I can tell, it isn't a little letter on a page.

I went to Flensburg to visit Jules this weekend and talk about culture shock :-) It's been a while since I've been anywhere but a big city, and the simple idea that things actually close at a certain hour has totally gone out the window for me. We met up with Anke, our former T.A., for drinks, and we got kicked out of two bars because they were closing before we finally decided to hit the sack at around midnight. Still, the town itself is endearing and quaint, and I could definitely see myself living there. The harbor is also really nice and there is a beach nearby that would have been fabulous if it hadn't been ridiculously windy, cold, and rainy. Instead, the water was more tantalizing than enticing, only heightening my thirst for a warm summer day.

We also visited the Flensburg Brewery, which was probably one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. Katarina, a former exchange student at Knox, was our tour guide, and she led us around the factory with a bunch of older German couples. It was extremely interesting to see how the whole process works, from bottling to recycling to shipping to brewing. It also made me want to drink lots of beer, which was probably the point. They were nice enough to provide us with as much as we wanted, as well as food, at the end of the tour. I think I'm finally acquiring a taste for what is good and what isn't A.K.A I am never drinking Keystone or Natty light again.

We went to Denmark on Saturday, which was more or less a random but memorable and educational experience. We wanted to make it all the way to Copenhagen, but seeing as we are both poor and have trouble planning ahead with all the freaking distractions, we only made as far as some random Danish town that I still don't know the name of. We used Mitfahrgelegenheit, also known as carpooling, and only had to pay about 6 euros total, which was nice considering the kroner was not in our favor while we were there.

Despite the fact that Saturday is not normally a holiday for stores and restaurants, the place looked like a ghost town when we arrived, and we finally settled on going to the movies to get out of the weather. After we found our way to a local bar, pointed out by some friendly Italians (why are southern Europeans always so friendly?) at the local pizza restaurant. We drank some black bird, which is apparently the local brew and got bombarded by a bunch of 40 to 50-year-old drunkin' Danes who really could not speak English. They were all coming from some festival called Bierfest, like a mini-Oktoberfest with Lederhosen and all, that I wish we would have known about while we were wandering aimlessly through the town. No wonder everything was closed.

All in all, I had a wonderful little escape to the small towns up North and a great weekend with one of my nearest and dearest. So much to come as well! Harry Potter on Wednesday, which is so exciting that I feel like a kid on Christmas morning, then probably Poland, and Berghein (the best club in Berlin)...Oh what a time I am having! Thankfully I survived mid-terms without so much as a scratch!

Kisses and hugs and love love love


P.S. I think I need a more German-sounding name. Maybe Helga?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

essen Essen in Essen

Once again, back in Berlin, and it feels like home. If I could talk to myself about two months ago, when I arrived in this then foreign place, I never would have believed it, but I actually feel at ease when I find myself stepping off the train into the hustle and bustle of Germany's capital. Maybe I'm not a city girl, but I can say that I have found one city that will never feel lonely again.

I spent the weekend in Duisburg with Aila and Marieke, two of my family's former exchange students. They both live in the region of Germany known as Nordrhein-Westfallen, a pretty industrial and tightly packed area of Germany, but beautiful nonetheless. Aila took me to the Landschaft Park the first night I arrived, which is basically an old factory that they used to produce weapons in WWII and later used to rebuild Germany after the war. It sounds bland in the initial description, but I actually think it is one of the best things I have visited in Germany so far. The factory is lit up with green, blue, and red lights and has a slightly eery feeling--think Gotham City in Batman. You can climb all the way to the top and get a beautiful view of the city, which we did but not without a slight fear that someone might pop out from behind some of the old machinery at any given moment. We ran into a woman who was policing the area, making sure no one was out graffitiing the place, and she said she works every night 6 days a week, just policing the area. I can't imagine such a job, especially in such a spooky, lonely place.

On Friday, I went to Gymnasium with Aila, which was quite an interesting experience. Her first class was English, and her teacher kept asking me to explain different words when no one else in the class would. She spoke with an attempted proper British accent and had a very interesting way of explaining and using certain words. But hey, who am I to judge, my German is still a long way from being fluent. In fact, I still feel like I can't open my mouth without sounding like some sort of idiot.

After that, she had Religion class, which was an interesting and surprising concept for me. I guess the idea of separation of church and state is not so distinct here. Still, I learned a few interesting things about Martin Luther and was happy to discover that I could pretty much follow every that was said.

Following a long day of school (which in the middle of, I copped out and walked to the local mall to buy the next book in the Millennium Series--SO GOOD!-- and sit in Starbucks), we went out to club with Aila's friends. To my surprise, it was decorated with all of the tacky Halloween decorations imaginable and they played a multitude of American songs that I had never heard before, but every German around me seemed to know by heart. The one disappointing part was that no one dressed up. I guess I have to make an exception for Germany and let one, and only one, Halloween pass without dressing up and eating lots of candy.

On Saturday, I met some of Aila's extended family and ate these funny potato things called Knödeln, which are kind of like dumplings but in some way totally different. To be frank, I'm not really down with the traditional German cuisine. It's not like it isn't good, but a diet of potatoes and meat just really isn't my thing. Thankfully, they have more ethnic restaurants in Berlin than traditional German restaurants, so I'll never go hungry. We picked up Marieke in the afternoon and then explored Düsseldorf for a bit, walking along the river and having a round of Altbiers, which are particularly famous in the region.

And, on Sunday, the most exciting part of the whole weekend...We ate Essen in Essen! It was quite lecker too. I had this yummmmmmy poppyseed, chocolate, cream, deliciousness cake, that was tasty of course, as all German cake normally is. We also visited the Vila Hügel, which is a bit out of the city up on a hill. It belonged to the big industrial family of the area and is quite beautiful in its own right. I actually liked it a lot better than a lot of the palaces and castles I have seen here because the decor wasn't over the top gaudy, just enough to be beautiful and give an indication of the family wealth.

Now, sadly enough but in a way nice, I am back in Berlin where I belong, gearing up for another week of school. Hopefully, I can get myself a little more organized this week, instead of feeling like I'm going in five different directions at once like normal. That's the trouble with such a big, vibrant city. It never sleeps, and neither do you.

Peace for now! I love and miss you all!