Madeline Osman
Personal and professional blog of Madeline Osman
December 10, 2013 by admin

Inside Verizon’s new Ultra and Mini

I recently had an opportunity to test and review Verizon’s new Droid Ultra and Mini phones. Here are how they stacked up compared to my iPhone 5…

So many choices...

So many choices...

Typing
Really hard to do on the Mini.
Slightly less difficult on the Ultra,
but my bias in general may be due to my familiarity with the iPhone’s keyboard. The only downside of Apple’s typing experience lies in its Auto-correct feature, which frequently makes me sound like an idiot when I type and send too fast.
Winner – Apple

Camera
Mini – 10 megapixel
Ultra – 10 megapixels
iPhone – 8 megapixels, but has option for filters (but so does Instagram)
Winner – Android

Battery
Both the Ultra and the Mini lasted a lot longer with normal use than the iPhone 5… Although the iPhone’s battery has gotten better with each iteration. My only beef with the Android phone’s battery is that sometimes when I plugged it into my computer, it wouldn’t charge unless I jammed in the cord just right. Sometimes it was unclear whether or not it was charging.
Winner – Tie

Body
The Mini and the Ultra are made of Kevlar and Gorilla glass, but I managed to chip the Mini with normal wear and tear in a matter of days. The Mini is quite slippery so not a good match for anyone (like me) who is prone to clumsiness. (same with the Ultra, but the case I got prevented that). However, my iPhone without any sort of protection would have been cracked in a matter of days.
Winner – Android

Lock Screen
I definitely prefer the Android lock screen to the Apple counterpart. It has the ability to make patterns instead of using numbers. However, my personal favorite feature is that it alerts you to any new emails (the iPhone doesn’t do this) and even tells you who it’s from and the subject line of the email– all without having to open the actual application. It’s perfect for when you’re expecting something but don’t want to waste battery life.
Winner – Android

homescreen

The Android home screen is more customizable than Apple's... but is that a good thing?

Home Screen
The Android home screen is customizable and fun to play with. The iPhone’s doesn’t change much unless you jailbreak it. However, a Tumblr blog used to exist called Fugly Android that chronicled the dark side of this freedom, where people got too creative and it turned into a disaster.
Winner – Tie

Storage
Ultra – 16gb and SIM card slot for additional memory
Mini – 16gb and SIM card slot for additional memory
iPhone – 16gb standard
Winner – Android

Pricing
Mini – $49.99 with 2 year contract
Ultra – $99.99 with 2 year contract
iPhone 5s (can’t buy the 5 anymore) 16gb – $199.99 with 2 year contract
Winner – Android

Amazon Kindle app on Android

The Kindle app on Android detects your reading speed and tells you how much time until the next chapter

Apps
Some are more intuitive on the Android phones. For example, while reading a book on Kindle, it detects your reading speed and tells you how many minutes until you finish a chapter. How is it that Apple over-looked something so simple, but useful? At the same time, the Android store accepts any and all apps – the Apple App Store has a more rigorous admission process. As a result, all of the apps on the Apple App Store are of the highest quality.
Winner – Tie

Text and Calling experience
Android’s experience is similar to Apple… except Apple changed their experience to mirror Android’s.
Winner – Android

Can it fit in your pocket?
Mini – Definitely, without question, no matter how tight your skinny jeans are.
Ultra – If they were cargo pants
iPhone – Lay off the skinnies, and it’ll work
Winner – Depends on your preferences

Bottom line
Mini: Affordable smart phone… for your slow to upgrades parents
Ultra: Like finding a Samsung Galaxy S4 at a garage sale – affordable quality compared to its top Android competitors
iPhone 5 – A great phone that doesn’t try anything different between generations.

Spotify App on Android

Spotify app on Android... more intuitive playlist management

Basically, there’s no cut and dry way to pick the best phone out of this bunch. It’s all about preference. So pick what features are the most important to you and judge based on that!

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September 30, 2013 by admin

Promotional Emails – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Whenever I check my emails in the morning, I experience what we in the industry call email fatigue. Email fatigue is when you are overwhelmed by the same company sending you promotional emails at an excessive rate. The company I currently work for, Groupon, is infamous for it’s past actions of doing just that. Nowadays, they send between 1-2 each day, to people who have opted in, and encourage people to search the online Marketplace for other offers. 

At my old job at Student Life Marketing and Design in Iowa City, I helped design and construct multiple email templates. I did some analysis by checking the Mailchimp open rates and where people clicked, and discovered what was working and what wasn’t. Our emails were sent on a weekly or monthly basis, but no more than that.

I have a few suggestions for Email Marketers, based on my limited but relevant personal experience:

1. Don’t send emails more than once a week

Take Express for example. I love them and their clothing to death, but this is a little suffocating.

2. Have something to say – don’t just send an email for the sake of doing it

This is a better example of Ulta’s multiple weekly emails. It has a call to action to purchase and a decent coupon – but they do the same thing all the time, with different coupons and products. I don’t even open their emails anymore. If I wanted to buy something from them, I would just open the latest email, take the coupon code, and ignore the rest. Ulta could benefit from more limited, specific emails.

3. Alternate your message

On the flip side, Panera always has a fun and engaging email experience. They alternate between promotional coupons (my favorite, because Panera doesn’t send them often), recipes, new items, and charities they’re sponsoring. All good PR for the company.

In general, no email campaign should focus on just one thing, especially percentage off coupons. Sometimes I wait until the next sale or promotion email, because I know it’s going to happen, before buying something I probably would’ve paid full price for.

4. Lure them in with a discount

This is the best way to get a new customer on your email list. Just don’t fatigue them once you’ve got them!

5. Make it personal

When someone is signing up for your email list, find a way to capture their name and use it in your campaign. Nothing is sweeter to a person than their own name – use that to your advantage.

 

I would love to hear some arguments to the contrary, or other suggestions… Leave your thoughts or links to articles in the comments!

 

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July 23, 2013 by admin

Week Eighteen: The Last Hoorah

An impressive ceiling inside the Sagrada Familia

Monday marks one of my favorite days in Barcelona, and a significant one, because I finally got to see the inside of the Sagrada Familia! My dad and I literally spent two hours just taking it all in. I could probably write a book about the significance of his choice of designs, after going through the audio tour, museum, and special exhibits. At any rate, I bought a Gaudi architecture book to share with the family that maps out all his structures in Barcelona, and in other parts of the world. We got coffee afterwards, then headed back towards the hotel. My dad and I stopped back at CaixaForum to check out the last exhibit on our list, this one about George Melies, a film maker who plays a prominent role in the move Hugo (one of my dad’s favorites). It was one of the more interesting and interactive of the exhibits I’ve seen at CaixaForum, so I was happy we made it there. We ate at a local bar where I got cannolis and patatas bravas – an interesting combo.

Gaudi's pillars draw inspiration from nature

Tuesday was dad’s last day in Europe and started off a little bit disappointing – the Modern Art museum wasn’t open. So we basically spent the day walking around. We went to my favorite sandwich shop, Conesa, and got the menu del dia – in my case, a delicious Chicken Panini (smothered in Brava sauce), croquettas, and a drink. I took him to the Parc de la Ciutadella, previously a royal residence, and showed him my school, which was close by. We ate our picnic, then walked down to the beach. After relaxing for a short time, we made our way to the Picasso Museum, but the line was too long to even consider. Seriously not a good day for museums… We got coffee, then went home to change for part two of the day – the classy part. We started with dinner at 4gats, a restaurant frequented by Picasso and other area intellectuals and creatives. I had the most delicious chicken thigh, garnished with plums. Then we went to the Palau de Musica Catalana for an opera experience with a Hungarian violinist. The night was made all the better since we were joined by Jess, a lover of the finer things in life.

The George Melies exhibit at CaixaForum (and my dad)

My dad left early Wednesday morning, and I woke up not long after. Jess and I met some of our friends at the beach where we played beach volleyball and snacked while playing Truth or Dare. One of my friends, Danny, joined us for awhile, then accompanied me with one of Jess’ friends, Xavi, at the bar to hang out one last time. I spent the night getting ready to leave and not much else.

Dinner at the 4gats... how luxurious!

Thursday was sad and annoying. I lugged my big and small suitcases, and messenger bag alone onto the airport bus at 6 in the morning. I switched planes and eventually made it home where my best friend Nikky was waiting for me at the airport with Chipotle. She seriously is the best.

How bittersweet, to be writing my last Barcelona blog post. I certainly hope that I have the chance to visit again. Look for an update in a week or two about where I’m at now – over 2 months later.

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July 22, 2013 by admin

Tech Toy Review: the UP by Jawbone

Me and my new toy

After spending a semester abroad in Barcelona, I put on over 10 pounds of croquettas, patatas bravas, and pastries. I wouldn’t trade the experience of enjoying the local cuisine for anything, but I recognized that once I got back, I would definitely have some work to do in order to return to my ideal weight.

The UP lets you know when you're killin' it

One of my good friends created a diet and exercise plan for me, and coincidentally, not long after, I was given the opportunity to test drive the UP by Jawbone. The UP is a fitness band that tracks your sleeping patterns, how many steps you take in a day, and also allows you to track nutrition information from what you consume. You can also log your mood and what kinds of physical activity you’re doing, in addition to steps. One of the most amazing features of the UP band is that it finds the perfect time for you to wake up without feeling tired, based on your sleeping patterns. Taking in all of this data, the UP finds patterns and provides helpful and interesting insights. It gives suggestions for how to improve, and encouragement when you are exceeding your goals.

Helpful tips on a daily basis

The band itself is intriguing. It is available in different sizes, depending on the size of your wrist (the medium fits me perfectly). The consumer also has a choice of relatively neutral colors. It is rubberized and all of the electronic components are contained so that the band itself can get wet and even be worn in the shower (I’ve also taken it swimming). The battery life is similarly incredible – a person can successfully use the UP for 10 days without having to charge it. When the UP is almost out of battery life, it is easily and quickly charged via USB.

Wearing the band is an awesome conversation starter. To check your sleep and step progress, you connect the band to your phone’s (iPhone AND Android supported) headphone jack. At this point, most people would ask me what the hell I was doing, which turned into some easy word of mouth advertising for Jawbone (free of charge, you’re welcome). 

Some health stats at a glance

Having the UP has helped me immensely in my quest to lose weight and become healthier. Just by tracking and checking my progress, I can see where I’m lacking and where I need to make changes. It has helped me to see the relationships between what I eat, how active I am, and how much sleep I’m getting, as they compare to how healthy I really am. The UP app connects to many popular health and fitness apps, including one of my personal favorites – My Fitness Pal. The UP’s capabilities, tied with the extensive database of food nutrition facts gives you the most complete picture, possible. 

For more tech specs and ordering information, check out Jawbone’s website. I can’t wait to try a new tech toy, but I’m going to have separation anxiety when I send this one back!

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June 26, 2013 by admin

Week Seventeen: Ciao Roma

The Cordoba Mezquita

Monday was another good tourist day in Sevilla. We started the day at the famous Sevillian bullfighting ring. It was a beautiful place and really demonstrated the different between traditional southern Spain and non-traditional separatist Catalunya. I learned some interesting facts, like how if a bull kills a matador, they kill him… and his mother. Not fair! I also learned that the name of the caseta we went to at La Feria referred to Pepito el Gallo, a famous matador who got started at age 14 (!!), and eventually was killed by his passion at 24. After the bull ring, we made our way to the Torre de Oro, which was in the past a tower that stored gold, but today is a maritime museum. We climbed to the top and got a beautiful view of Sevilla. For lunch, we went to a little bar off of the main drag where I got Patatas Bravas and, judge me, another San Jacobo… YUM. Again, we siesta’d before the night. We went to the Flamenco Museum, which was cool because it had 6 rooms of high-tech exhibits and saw the flamenco dress worn during the ’92 Barcelona Olympics. After exploring a little bit, we got some wine and sat down for a flamenco show. It consisted of two dancers: girl and boy, a guitarist, and a singer. It was the perfect way to end off the day… besides dinner of course, which consisted of Patatas Aiolis (a garlicy sauce), and Gazpacho (cold tomato puree). After dinner, my dad and I met with Cat Gaa, blogger for Sunshine and Siestas, and friend and fellow ESL teacher of my cousin, TJ! We sat down for drinks and talked about her life in Southern Spain and she gave us some excellent tips for what to do, eat, and see. She gave us a heads up to listen for the different way that the Andalucians’ talk – by dropping letters of the ends of words, which came in handy during the rest of the trip.

The Catholic Kings palace gardens

On Tuesday I woke up late, because I trusted my dad more than my alarm – not making that mistake again. We took a bus from Plaza de Armas (Sevilla’s main, if not only, bus station) to Cordoba, which wasn’t particularly comfortable with a bunch of noisy kids and other passengers. We quickly made our way off the bus and to the tourist information center where we got a map and planned out our must-sees of the day. After a short walk to the city center, we started in the Mezquita – a mosque converted into a Cathedral by the Catholic Church. It was so beautiful and the Moorish influence was obvious. They had all sorts of ruins dating back as early as the first century. In fact, the Mezquita used to be a Visigoth place of worship – everyone just kept converting it from its previous inhabitants. We stopped for lunch and tried flamenquin, basically a wrap made of ham and deep-fried, after a suggestion from Cat and they were so good! My dad also got frog’s legs… gross. Apparently the Cordoban specialty is caracoles (snails), but my dad had to take it to another level. We also got potato wedges with peppers and chorizo. After lunch, we checked out the Alcazar, which was once home to the Catholic kings, Isabella and Fernando. It was not quite as impressive as Sevilla’s, but has a lot of history. Our last big stop was a trip to the Medieval Torture Museum (Spain seems to like these, there was one we went to in Toledo many years ago). It was interesting and somewhat painful to imagine what people in the past had to deal with when they did something “wrong.” We bought my mom a pretty Andalusian wrap, and called it a day. We stopped for drinks, then took the bus back to Sevilla. We were quite hungry when we got back, but for some reason, kept striking out at restaurants – they either didn’t have a full menu, didn’t have anything recognizable on their menus, or didn’t look very good. Finally we hit the jackpot at a place not far down the street from where we were staying. I got something I will fantasize about for years to come, a platter with a San Jacobo, Tortilla Sevillana (jamon, cheese, and tomatos), and patatas bravas.

Inside the torture museum

Wednesday was our last partial day in Sevilla. We checked out of our room and headed for an area known as La Macarena. We saw the Macarena Gate and looked into the basilica behind it. Next door was a museum about the brotherhood of Semana Santa, but we didn’t have enough time to do it justice. So we checked out the outside of the Andalucian Parliament, then got some coffee and pastries. Heading back to get our luggage, a protest blocked our way. Our bus got rerouted, but luckily we figured it out on time. We took the bus back to the airport from Plaza de Armas. My dad’s luggage has been overweight the entire trip while mine was always under… how is that possible? We switched things over to my bag and carry on and balanced it out. We took another RyanAir flight, this time to Rome, Italy, without issue (except the god awful landing). Unfortunately, we missed the first airport transfer bus and had to wait an extra 30 minutes for the next time. After getting to Termini, we got a little lost on the way to our B & B, which resulted in two very frustrated travellers. Finally, after calling our gracious host, we made it. He brought us to a delicious traditional Italian restaurant that helped reset the tone for the night. It was interesting – he didn’t speak much English, but he did speak Spanish, which is how we ended up communicating. Anyways, back to the dinner – four cheese gnocchi, local moscato, and artichoke bruschetta… with a free glass of cava. I was in heaven.

The Colloseum with my dad

On Thursday we tackled some of Rome’s most famous monuments. Before going all the way out, we stopped at a coffee shop down the street for breakfast. I ordered orange juice, but got red juice that tasted like orange juice… weird. After breakfast, we started with the Colosseum – a ticket inside also gets you inside the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. We spent at least an hour just taking everything in and imagining what it would be like to have to fight for your life as a gladiator. Afterwards, we took a brisk walk through Palatine Hill – described by one of my guide books as being the Hollywood Hills of Ancient Rome. There were a lot of interesting ruins, but the Roman Forum was even more impressive with better-preserved buildings and monuments. We met a cute Texas couple who was also taking in Rome for the first time and bonded over our shared experience before eventually parting ways. After lunch, we made our way to the Trevi Fountain. I only threw in one coin, because I’d prefer to end up with a Spanish boy than an Italian… but I’d love to come back to Italy (as the tradition goes). We also stopped by the Pantheon, but didn’t make it in because it was closed for a national holiday. We got drinks before dinner at a place near the Colosseum, where I met my future husband – a cute old man who latched on to my arm and tried to convince me to stay for “Just one more drink!” We ended up at a place that translates to “The Secret Garden” for dinner – a restaurant that came out of nowhere, with stairs that led down to a cute courtyard. I got focaccia with prosciutto… and a half liter of white wine to myself (my dad and I have opposing wine tastes). Some other important things that happened today – we finally did some laundry (our little suitcases could only hold so much), and we took the metro for the first time… much faster than Barcelona, but not as extensive.

Making a wish in the Trevi Fountain

Friday was dedicated to the Vatican City. You honestly need a day or two to make it through everything… the lines are ridiculously long, and it wasn’t even tourist season. To spare my father’s feet, I took advantage of a gap in the line and cut. Dishonest, sure, but with the right intentions? Definitely. I saved us at least an hour of waiting. Sometimes you’ve got to get dirty. Our first stop was St. Peter’s Basilica, which was incredible. So many beautiful things to look at, I found it hard to decide what to take pictures of. We also got into the crypt where many dead popes are buried. At the end of our visit, we stopped by a souvenir shop where a nun put together a silver cross necklace as requested by my mom. We stopped for lunch at a place that had a great deal – a pizza AND a pasta with a drink for 9.50 euro.  I got pasta e fagioli and ham and cheese pizza, which was ok. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it into the Vatican Museums, because the line was ridiculously long and we wouldn’t have time to do them justice before they closed. Instead, we went to the Castle of Saint Angelo, which has served as a mausoleum for emperor Hadrian. It had all sorts of interesting things to look at – art, artillery, furnished rooms with items from the past, and papal apartments. Before heading back to our B & B, I got my two Italy souvenirs – a Vatican City shot glass and some orecchiette pasta. We then printed off our boarding passes back to Barcelona and picked up our laundry. We relaxed, then headed out to eat at Il Vera Alfredo for dinner, the birthplace of Fettuccine Alfredo. It was expensive, but worth it, because the pasta was delicious and now we can say we tried the dish exactly as it was meant to be – among famous people such as Sylvester Stallone, George H. W. Bush, and Walt Disney.

Bocca della Verità - the Mouth of Truth

On Saturday, I got the Italian version of my favorite donut in Barcelona. In Barcelona, they’re called “Berlinas” and are squishy and covered in sugar crystals. In Italy, they are thicker, but composed of the same tastes and ingredients. Today, my father and I rented bikes and explored Rome in a fast and efficient way that let him keep the stress off his feet. We started our adventure at the Mouth of Truth (as it translates), which legend says will bite off your arm if you put it in the mouth and you are a liar. I still have mine, in case you were wondering ;) The line was crazy line for something as simple as a photo op, but we decided to wait because it was probably the only one we’d have to deal with that day. We also went inside the church, which had a crypt dedicated to Saint Valentine. Then we went to the this crazy Pyramid structure, which was under construction. We ate a sandwich lunch at a café nearby while it started raining. Luckily, by the time we were done, the rain had mostly cleared up, but continued off and on all day. Before going much further, my dad decided to stop for coffee and I had some truly delicious tea. We then biked to the Area Sacra, which is a series of four temples that were recently uncovered during road construction. I wonder how many other ruins are still left to be found in Rome? The Area Sacra is also home to some ruin-roaming cats, which were adorable and friendly. Someone comes and feeds them, but I’m sure there are plenty of little critters in their territory to snack on. We biked past the Synagoge (closed, but cool to look at), then went to Piazza Navona to eat gelato and see a famous Bernini fountain. Soon enough, it was time to return our bikes and take a break at home. We went out to a place not far away by the big church, where I got another Four Cheese Gnocchi dish (yum), and fried mozzarella. I also got the biggest cup of white wine in my life, and talked to a lovely British lady who just made it into Rome that night.

Ruin roaming kitties!

Sunday was unfortunately our last day in beautiful Roma, but I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t completely excited to return to Barcelona for a few days. We engaged in random but close sightseeing, starting at Piazza de Vitorrio Emmanuel, which had more ruin-roaming cats. Then we made our way to the Piazza de Reppublica, where an animal rights protest was going on. We stopped in the Basilica created in the ruins of the Diocletian baths – designed by Michelangelo. We took a short break and I got pesto pasta for lunch… it was rich. Then we went to the Museum of Roman History and spent at least two hours taking in as much as we could about people and traditions from the past. We also went into the museum at the Diocletian Baths, since we got admission included from the other museum. We retrieved our luggage and made our way to the airport bus transfer, and thus commenced a very stressful three hours. There was a lot of confusion as to how things worked, and even though we figured it out right away, there were too many people and not enough busses. To make a long story short, we made our flight, but didn’t make very many friends. Except a lovely Catalan woman I talked to and offered to share cabs with if it came down to it. And a German woman who sat next to me on the plane that I chatted with in Spanish. We luckily made it back to our accommodations in Barcelona in good time where I reunited with Jessica from my program and we cooked up some kind of Chicken Alfredo and vegetables dish.

Interestingly dressed guards in Vatican City

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June 21, 2013 by admin

Week Sixteen: Adeu Barcelona, Hola Sevilla

This post commemorates my last week of classes in Barcelona, but really it was more like my last week of school. All we did was review for our finals… then take them.

Sevilla decorates their trash containers

Monday was our final in Spanish class. Our teachers had an interesting way of structuring the last week… We took our finals, then came in another day to review them and “relax.” Spanish went fine. As usual the grammar stumped me a little bit, but I made up for it with the written, listening, and vocabulary portions. We also had a make-up Catalan class to make up for not having it the week before. It got out early when none of us had any questions… Catalan class is pretty easy because 1) it’s an introductory class and 2) Catalan and Spanish are not that much different, so studying for one is almost like studying for the other. I holed myself up in my room to study for Catalan, but also to watch more of the Walkind Dead. Basically, I was trying to avoid the temptation of going out and risk showing up to my test with a huge resaca (hangover).

Tons of horse carriages readily available to get you around... this one is outside the Alcazar

Tuesday was my final and it went very smooth… even easier than I expected. Shortly after, I met up with Hunter, my Whirlpool work buddy, and we made our way over to say goodbye to our Spanish hosts. We passed through Diagonal Mar, the mall right next to our building, and Hunter said goodbye to his tio (bro) who works at the kebab stand. He ended up hooking us up with free food, which in my opinion, is the perfect way to say “I’ll miss you.” Hunter and he pledged to be Facebook friends and to meet up if he ever made it to Chicago. We made our way over to Whirlpool where we said goodbye to our supervisors… and my favorite coworker Paco. Afterwards, we went back to La Casa (CIEE) and Christina and I went to our favorite Chinese place. I went home for a little nap and dinner with Imma, then met up with my homies to go to Nevermind, a skateboarder-themed bar near Universitat. We met some cool Venezuelan expats and I practiced my Catalan skills to score our group some free popcorn. The bartender gave me a high five (alt cinc!).

Saw this pretty peacock on the inside of the Alcazar!

Wednesday marked our last day of classes. Dionisio, my Spanish teacher, took it half-seriously and decided we still had things to learn – like the proper way to swear in Spanish. Shouldn’t we have learned this our first day? After some applied practice situations, we went (along with the rest of CIEE Spanish classes) for coffee. Then we stopped by the park across the street to hang out until the end of class. It was a perfect and relaxing way to end my Spanish education. I also dropped by Catalan class to go over my test, but Aina, my teacher, let us out after only 5 minutes. I spent the rest of my time at CIEE hanging out with Jimena and Gabby, eventually leaving with Gabby and Christina to get lunch. Then Christina and I hustled over to the Residencia where Lena and John were waiting for us to go to the beach. It was a beautiful day to catch some rays. Imma left a tortilla espanola for Aly and I (her specialty) and it was quite delicious. She adds zucchini to make it more fluffy. I soon headed over to the residencia for what would be our last crazy night out. John made dinner (I know, I’m fat) – spaghetti carbonara, and Margaret made a delicious mozzarella/tomato/bread appetizer, then we all headed to Razz. Somehow it was past 1:30 when I got in (and the free list I got on ended around then…), but I negotiated with the bouncers and they let me by :) Literally everyone in our program was there that night, and it was amazing. The night ended way too soon, and I split a cab home with Jake, who lives down the block from me. Things started to get real when he told the cab driver to wait, because he needed a cab to get to the airport.

The inside of the famous Catedral of Sevilla

Thursday was the official last day of the program. CIEE too us to Les Quinze Nits for the lunch menu del dia (of the day). I got croquettas with calçotadas and romesco sauce… reminiscent of our first group trip to the calçotada restaurant. My main dish was a delicious baked chicken thigh. We filled out a Mad Lib about our time in Barcelona, shared stories, and enjoyed our remaining time together. When lunch was finished, we made our way to the top floor for a private party, cava toast, and guitar/rap performance from a student in our program… and our program director. We have the coolest people in charge. We also got back letters we wrote ourselves at the beginning of the program with our hopes and fears… and goals. Mine were to become fluent in Spanish and visit 3 countries. And you know what? I think I accomplished them. I’m a million times better at speaking, writing, reading, and understanding Spanish than I was in January and with my planned trip to Italy, that makes 3 countries (Hungary, Germany, Italy). It feels good to finish what I set out to do :) After lunch, we all headed out. We said our goodbyes to John, who was leaving for London in a matter of hours. Literally the first and last time I cried in Spain were today and the next day (though for different reasons). It was hard to say goodbye to people after getting to know them these past 4 months… Anyways, Jimena took me with her to Plaza Espana where I planned to meet my dad. Unfortunately, he made it very difficult. I waited around, went to an internet cafe, and exhausted my Spanish phone money trying to get ahold of him. Finally I got ahold of his AirBnb host who let me in… but my dad was nowhere to be found. Ready to kill him, I walked outside… and ran straight into him. Phew! It was great to see him again, but we didn’t dwell on hellos… we had work to do. I took my dad on a walking tour of sorts through the city center where we stopped at the Boqueria for my favorite fresh, natural fruit juice. When my dad proclaimed it was “Beer o’clock” we stopped at a bar off the Ramblas that claimed to have a variety of international beers. I tried some cider from Ireland and my dad tried “Satan” (from Belgium?) which I had to pronounce in a Spanish accent for the waitress to understand me. Not long after, we headed out for tapas in El Born, where I recommended chorizo, patatas bravas and croquettas… my dad was quite happy with my suggestions. I walked him to the metro and showed him how to get back to Plaza Espana. On the way to my line, some older man asked me if I wanted to get drinks. I pretended not to know how to speak Spanish. This was actually creeper situation number 2 of the day. The first was while waiting for my dad, some guy came up to me on the bench in front of his Airbnb hotel and asked if I wanted to go to the discotecas with him this weekend. My reply? No thanks, I have a boyfriend I love. Very much.

A beautiful paella shared with our caseta at La Feria!

Friday started off well enough. I showed my dad around the Montjuic area in Plaza Espana. We checked out the castle (now an art museum), the botanic gardens, and made our way up to the old Olympic Stadiums. We later moved on to Poble Espanol, or the Spanish Villiage, which is a collection of buildings, art, and food that model other regions and cities in Spain. We got paella for lunch, which is always delicious. After our tourism, we headed to Imma’s to celebrate the end of the semester, but here’s where things started going wrong… I told my dad to throw away his metro pass because it was out of rides, but there was security at the stop we got off at who wanted to fine us for 1) not having the pass on us and 2) for me not having my passport on me. What the hell? We ended up having to pony up 50 euro and they took my T-mes (worth another 50 euro…). Not in the best of moods, we got to Imma’s only to find out that she was in fact kicking me out that night, not later that weekend as I had previously though. Super stressed, I threw my stuff together and we got a cab. My dad managed to get me another room where he was staying and we worked it out, but not without issues. What a crappy side of Barcelona for my dad to experience… Once things calmed down, we treated ourselves to dinner at Thai Gracia which made up for most of the crap that happened that afternoon. I also took my dad to see the Magic Fountain, which was somewhat relaxing. I got my dad home, then met up with some of my friends in the gay neighborhood of Barcelona. My friend and I split a very potent pitcher of Sangria and tried not to lose it as we said our final (for now!) goodbyes.

The gate to Sevilla's famous Feria festival

Started Saturday at Granier, one of my favorite bakeries. My dad and I both got the oferta (deal) of the day – coffee + OJ + a mini sandwich and they hit the spot. After filling up, we made our way to the Joan Miro Foundation, created for a famous Barcelona artist that features his work as well as temporary exhibitions. His style reminds me of Picasso in that it’s very wacky and surrealist, and by looking at many different types of his work, I noticed patterns in the objects he continually reused. After the museum, we made a quick stop at Tapa Tapa for lunch where we shared some delicious tapacs including a tortilla espanola, cheesy risotto, and chicken skewers. After eating, it was time to get our stuff together and make our way to the airport for our flight to Sevilla. We got lucky in that our Airbnb host let us leave our big luggage with him. It was our first time flying with RyanAir and I was not stoked about it – I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about how crappy the service is. Overall, it wasn’t too bad for how cheap it was. I noticed a lot of ads, whether on the overhead bins or over the loudspeaker (marketing major probems), the landing was super rough, and we had to walk into the airport from the plane (not even a bus). But it was on time and cheap, so I can’t complain. We took a bus to the city center of Sevilla and were not far off from our destination, but decided to get a taxi for the last leg. We stayed in a mini-apartment owned by a lovely woman who only spoke Spanish, so it was good practice to talk to her and get restaurant suggestions for the evening. We ended up going to a place not far down the street called Meson Serranito where I got one of my favorite dishes – San Jacobo (breaded pork filled with cheese) and shared a tapa of spinach with garbanzo beans, a Southern Spanish specialty. Then we crashed – it was a long day.

Some casual horseback riding and flamenco outfits inside La Feria

On Sunday, we made our way to the city center to see the sights. We got breakfast at a coffee shop where I feasted on a strawberry tart, savory meat and cheese croissant, and some fresh-squeezed orange juice. After, my dad and I snuck into an in-progress mass at the Cathedral – the biggest in Spain and the third largest in the world. After mass, we explored a little bit, then headed across the Plaza to the famous Alcazar (castle/stronghold). It was so pretty inside, but the gardens were the highlight. There were peacocks strutting around, which only made it more magical. After doing some tourist things, we made our way to La Feria, across the river, which is what we really came to Sevilla for. La Feria is a weeklong festival spent with close friends and family on a fairgrounds of sorts with hundreds of casetas, which are like open-air tents with restaurants in them. Our Airbnb host hooked us up and got us into hers (its all about connections), so we spent a few hours with her drinking, eating, and relaxing. At one point, one of our comrades created a giant paella to share – caseta perks. We went home for a mini siesta before dinner, then went to a tapas bar offering a mix of 5 surprise tapas for a good price. Our tapas included poleos and tiburon – shark! After a long day, we went home to get some sleep.

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May 13, 2013 by admin

How to Tinder: for dummies.

What Exactly is Tinder?

I downloaded Tinder a few weekends into my time in Barcelona. What initially started as a game, because an area of intense fascination for me. This post is dedicating to figure out what makes Tinder tick.

I’ll let Tinder describe…

(Pictures from Tinder iTunes App Store page)

My Profile

My profile with images carefully crowd-sourced from my top likes and biggest ego boosts on Facebook

Automatic X’s

Tinder boys, this is my little piece of advice to you, based on field and personal research. Any of the following will most likely get an automatic X:

  • Baby in the picture. I don’t care who’s it is, don’t want to go down that road.
  • Under 21. Can’t bring ‘em to the bar? Not gonna happen.
  • Too hairy. I’m no Ke$ha in that don’t much like mustaches or beards (but am in other ways – world fame, sexy autotune voice, etc.).
  • Too bro. Hey bro, check out my tats, bro. Check out my abs, bro. Look, I’m drinking, BRO.
  • Every pictures is a group shot. Or there are only 2 pictures. I don’t know what you really look like! And I don’t want to have to figure it out.
  • Girl in the picture, OBVIOUSLY not his sister. Either a girlfriend or an ex-girlfriend: neither I would want to see in a boy seeking girl’s profile.

Automatic <3′s

On the other hand, there are some things a person can do with their profile to get an automatic <3.

  • Dog in at least one of your pictures. Aww, he’s so cute!
  • Muscles. I didn’t say they had to be honorable things. At the same time, leave something to the imagination.
  • Something funny. I love and appreciate a good sense of humor above most everything else.

Photo credit: http://www.dartbeat.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/photo-2.png

Unanswered Questions

Why dont they message me after they like me?

There are two sides to the story – On one hand, a girl likes to be treated traditionally and let the boy make the first move. But then there are the dudes that feel weird about doing it on Tinder. My advice? If you think someone’s hot – GROW A PAIR.

Why cant it ever be the hot one in the group shot?

Sometimes life just isn’t fair.

Is there a right way to use Tinder?

Some people use it because they’re bored, some people use it to make friends, some want to find a hookup buddy, and some even want to find a partner. What’s the right way to use Tinder, and is there even one? Is it weird to meet a person off the internet in person based on your mutual lust and not much more?

Tinder humor. Photo credti: http://kmcinterns.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/weird-social-media-apps-that-my-generation-is-obsessed-with/

Suggested Additional Features

  • Ability to sort by age. We all have our preferences.
  • Height display. Asking for weight is going too far, but height is hard to tell through a picture.
  • Stop being slow! Its no fun to give up on a person because their profile wont load.
  • Android users just wanna have fun. With so many people on Android powered devices, a huge chunk of people are underrepresented.

Tinder Gone Wrong

One of the people I’ve discussed Tinder with told me about a personal experience where he met up with a girl who was many pounds heavier than she claimed to be. He was a good sport and had a few drinks with her, but I would have left… If I can’t trust that you will show up at least physically as the person you have represented yourself as (albeit minus many Instagram filters), I can’t trust anything else you say.

Here’s some ground rules for a fun and safe Tinder meet up:

  • Meet in public. My number one rule. Don’t trust anyone from the Internet enough to meet for the first time at someone’s house.
  • Bring an amused friend. Be honest about who you’re meeting up with (and how you came to be in their acquaintance), and ask them to come along for the ride. Have some other people meet you if you want the option to ditch everyone with your new pal.
  • Check their Facebook. Add the person on Facebook before you meet them for the first time. Look at recent pictures. Do they have friends? Good. Probably not an axe murderer, and likely who they say they’ll be!
  • Be on the same page for what you want. Self-explanatory. You will likely discuss it before you make the effort to go out, but if not, make your wants known so that nobody is wasting each other’s time.

Photo Credit: http://universe.byu.edu/beta/tag/tinder/&docid=nGDRpQLAimLEZM

What other Tinder observations do you have?
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April 25, 2013 by admin

Week Fifteen: Ernest Hemingway, Botanic Gardens and Goodbyes

By the Olympic Stadium

I feel like I say this for every post, but it is absolutely unreal how little time I have left in Spain. Week 15 officially ended my last week of learning, because next week we just have finals. Things are getting real.

John in the Botanic Gardens

On Monday, I went with Christina and her friend Emily on a mission to eat at Bacoa, which is basically the best (foreign) burger place, ever. After a fruitless attempt, we discovered that Bacoa is closed Mondays and with defeat, walked to the next best alternative – Rosa Negra. Christina suggested that I get the Menu del Dia which was totally worth the money. Most places in Barcelona (and I’m guessing in other Spanish cities) have a pre-selected menu with options for each plate you get. In this case, Rosa Negra offered a starter, main plate with sides, drink, and dessert for 9 euro. Believe me when I say this is the ultimate deal. Its quite rare that I eat such a complete meal (especially for lunch), so allow me to recount how delicious it was… I got a salad with blocks of feta cheese and tortilla strips, chicken fajitas with rice and beans, a sizeable glass of white wine and some cheesecake. We hung out a little bit more, then Christina went to class and Emily to her hostel. Later that night, we went to Bar Marsella, a Absinthe bar frequented by Ernest Hemingway when he was still kicking. The bar tenders gave us a sizeable glass of absinthe, a small fork, a sugar cube, and a water bottle with a hole in the top. Basically, you set the sugar cube on the fork over the absinthe. You get the sugar cube wet with alcohol and light it on fire. After letting the sugar caramelize a bit, you put out the fire with the water and it drips into the drink. Mix it up and viola!… it still tastes gross. But that’s the proper way to do it. Hass and Tamir joined us and I ended up going back with them to Melon District (the student residencia/the hotel they were staying at) for a couple more drinks. I tried to sneak into Jessica’s room, but security is ever-vigilant. Melon District are quite overbearing with their overnight guest policies… going as far as coming up to our friends rooms to kick the non-residents out at 12am on the dot while pregaming before going out. Anyways, Jessica saved me and signed me in and we stayed up way too late watching a Millionaire Matchmaker marathon. God I love my trash TV.

The MNAC from behind

I took the metro back in the morning and joined my Catalan class for a walking tour in Gracia, my ‘hood. From the Fontana metro stop, I led the class to Casa Vicens, the Gaudi work I had discovered with my cousin and his girlfriend. After taking some Instagram worthy shots (as always), we headed to Carrer Verdi, where I showed everyone the many different international restaurants and shops Gracia has to offer. After the brief tour, Aina (our teacher) gave us a list of questions in Catalan that we had to find the answer to. We set out to find the different sites she listed and got some good Catalan speaking practice in. I’m starting to get confident about conjugating verbs and using vocabulary. We ended our scavenger hunt in Plaza del Sol and finally found Be My Bagel, which I had been absolutely dying to get to. You really don’t realize how much you miss typical American food until it becomes this hard to find. Just like brunch the week before, I hadn’t had this type of typically American breakfast food in literally months. So I got a breakfast bagel complete with scrambled eggs, sausage, cheese, and tomato and all I can say is… YUM. We met up with Aina and presented our answers, then called it a day. I went briefly home to change, then met Hass and Tamir at Barceloneta for a beach day. I got us a good deal on mojitos and opted for a henna tattoo. After that, we attracted all the people looking to sell their services and products… whoops. After relaxing for a bit, we went to the city center in search of tapas. Obviously that wasn’t difficult, but we held out for Taller de Tapas, an Argentinian joint, which Jessica commends as being “the best.” I got Patatas Bravas and shared their chorizo and they were every bit as good as Jessica said they would be. We went our separate ways so I could get a nap in (I have to do this every day that I go out) and eat dinner with Imma and Aly. Later on in the night, I met up with a large group because Berthold invited us to a house party. Before entering, we went to Ryan’s Pub to take a shot. I got a chance to use the new reasoning skills I’ve picked up from reading How to Win Friends and Influence People and convinced the bouncer to let us bring in our alcohol (because we had nowhere to put it)… score. I highly recommend that book for people who want to settle arguments in reasonable ways. Anyways, we went to the house party and it was a blast… until the police showed up. What happened was absolutely insane. They basically extorted us. They kept telling us that we were breaking some noise violation law (there is none) and that someone complained (they hosts had talked to the neighbors before and they were ok with it), and that we couldn’t leave without paying a 75 euro fine (its illegal to detain people for a house party…). They refused to show us a written ticket and we all had to bite the bullet and pay up. It was total crap. At that point, none of us really wanted to go out because we were so put off by the situation. We saw the cops split up our money as we were leaving…

¨The Thinkers¨ aka photo booth time at CaixaForum

Wednesday I wasn’t feeling super good, partially due to drinking the night before and also because my allergies had acted up overnight and I didn’t get a wink of sleep. So I didn’t make it to my Spanish class, and with some luck, Catalan class got cancelled and rescheduled. I spent some of the day making up for my lost sleep, but got up in time to get some cultural activities done with John. We walked through the Park in Montjuic and through the Botanic Gardens. Then we walked up towards the old Olympic Stadium and the crazy-looking Telefonica tower that looms in the distance no matter where you are in Barcelona. After some sightseeing, we went to Caixa Forum for the second time, but with more luck this time around. We saw two exhibits – one was a contemporary art exhibit and my favorite part was a wall of ribbons that had phrases on them expressing people’s wishes. We choose some that aligned with our own, in my case “I wish to speak and understand Spanish and Catalan” and tied them around our wrists in accordance with the sign. My understanding is that once it falls off my wrist, I will be completely fluent? The other exhibit was of photography representing famous works of art. My favorite part was a picture that showed the 3rd of March based on a painting by Goya after the events in the painting. John and I also went to the kid’s section and took photo booth pictures that actually turned out really cool. After Caixa Forum, we went to the mall and then to Burger King (sue me), and I went home to eat my real dinner with Imma and get ready. I got pressured into going to Razzmatazz for my favorite Spanish classmate Gabby’s birthday and we had a blast… maybe too much because I got approximately 2 hours of sleep that night.

Wall of wishes at CaixaForum

Thursday I begrudgingly woke up for an important presentation in my Internship class. The presentation was based off the big paper I wrote, which was critical of the different markets for home appliances in the United States and in Europe. The class seemed to drag on forever, but finally it was my turn and I did a good job. After taking Business Spanish last semester, presentations are no big deal. I went home after class to nap (hey, only 2 hours of sleep), then spent the rest of the day focused on getting things done. I completely rewrote my resume after getting advice from a career counselor at my school and of course my grammar-crazy mom (in this case, that turned out to be a good thing). We made plans to go to the bars in Plaza del Sol, but it didn’t work out because everyone was on a different wavelength. In retrospect, I needed a day off, so it turned out to be a good thing. 

Absinthe and judgement at Bar Marsella

Friday was my last Spanish class before our test. We played a review game and my team ended up winning, since most of our questions were vocabulary related, which is my one strength in Spanish. The other members on our team had a great proficiency for grammar, so we had that covered too. The material prize was some gummies, but the real prize was in being the supreme ganadores (winners)… no one else got close. Since I didn’t eat breakfast, I got some patatas fritas with a side of brava sauce (that’s my cheater method of getting patatas bravas), and brought them into class. My teacher didn’t say anything (you’re really not supposed to eat in class in Spain), so I happily munched away. Needless to say, the day started out quite well. After class, I headed to my internship for a few hours. Soon enough, it was time to head to the beach to meet up with Christina. We got a little bit of sun, but not too much, as many other kids in our program had (people say that you look “como una gamba” (like a shrimp) when you get too much sun). Hunger soon set in and we found our way to a ramen place frequented by our friends. Can´t beat cheap and filling ramen. At night, we went to Enfants, which we haven´t been to since the beginning of our program. It was surprisingly dead, but we had a good time just being together as our time is drawing to an end.

A cool fountain in Gracia

I let myself sleep in Saturday, but got up with enough time to do tourist things with Berthold and Christina. We all met at Plaza Catalunya and headed down, first for pintxos, then to the Erotic Museum! Pintxos are like mini tapas, served with a toothpick, but full of flavor. So we all got a few of those, and patatas bravas and chorizo to share. Yummmmm. We headed to the Erotic Museum next door which could have been awkward, but not with the people I came with. We checked out the history of sex throughout the ages in different mediums. It was cool. Plus we got a free drink included with our tickets! After the museum, Berthold had to drive home… to Germany. It was his last day in Barcelona, so it was hard to see him go. I know our paths will cross again in the future… he´s offered to host me and friends if we´re ever in Germany! At night, we all went to Razzmatazz and met up with some CIEE kids and had an awesome time. It was bittersweet to think that it would be the last Saturday we spend together in Barcelona…

Erotic Museum wall motif

Sunday was spent catching up on sleep, watching The Walking Dead (now I´m hooked), and studying for my Spanish test on Monday. And with that, I have one week left of school. My dad is coming next Thursday, we’re doing some travelling, and then I’m back in the United States. Time flies…

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April 14, 2013 by admin

Week Fourteen: Back to the old grind and friends in BCN

It was hard to start school after a week of relaxing, but I’m almost done and I might as well get as much knowledge out of Barcelona as I can.

CIEE's unofficial mascot

Luckily, we had Monday off to ease back into our lives. Apparently, instead of getting Good Friday off for Easter, Spain gives Monday off, and at some companies, Tuesday as well. I took that as a sign that I should relax… but not too much. I worked some more on my Internship class paper and just about finished it before hanging out with John for a little bit. He’d been mostly absent the past week (except for when I went to church with him), and I wanted to catch up with his Spanish travels.

Delicious cake at Pudding

Tuesday was a nice way to start classes again. I didn’t have anything but Catalan class and it was mostly review after a week off. After class, I went with Jessica to my favorite (aka cheap) Chinese place down the street from CIEE and ate rich for 3.50 euro. To assuage Jessica’s sweet tooth, we headed to Pudding, an adorably decorated cafe a little further down the street. My host mom had told me about it earlier, and Jessica and Christina tried it out and really enjoyed it. Jessica got tea and toast and I tried a tarta with fruit and cream. After hanging out with Jessica, I edited a video for Christina (we’re both applying for the CIEE Alumni Internship), then met up with some new friends to show them around Barcelona. We went to a bar to chat and met up with some other friends. Shortly after, we got hungry and tried a new burger place called Bacoa. Bacoa has specialty burgers that are as big as your head for as low as 5 euro… yum. Christina and I split one and fries. After eating, we hit up some more bars. First, Dow Jones, which I’d never been to before. The concept is like a stock market – drinks are priced according to how many people buy how many, and sometimes the stock market “crashes” and you can get an excellent deal… if you’re fast enough. After Dow Jones, we went to Chupitos where they have 100 different kinds of shots for 2 euro a piece. I tried one called the Green Goblin and another one called Apocalypse. They were both on fire and one had hot sauce in it… After trying out the bars, we headed to Apolo for Crappy Tuesdays. It wasn’t super full, but then we were there kind of early. Overall, a crazy and fun night.

The plaza by the Verdaguer metro stop

Wednesday was spent recovering from the night before (except going to Spanish and Catalan class) and also used to put the finishing touches on my paper.

A pretty park at the end of the red line of the metro

Thursday was the first day back at my internship after a long break. I had a nice chat with Paco, my favorite coworker, about our favorite subject – food. We are definitely kindred spirits. He gave me some excellent recommendations of where to go with my dad when he’s in town including some good seafood places in Barceloneta. Later in the day, I met up with Hass, a friend my best friend Nikky met in London who has become a friend of my own. I showed him around Barcelona a little bit and we made plans to go out the next day.

The Magic Fountain!

Friday was quite the interesting day, indeed. After Spanish class, my group decided to make plans to go to brunch because it is quite rare to get the “American standard” of breakfast in Spain. At my homestay, we have yogurt, cereal, toast… things like that, but we aren’t allowed to use the stove and my host mom doesn’t purchase anything too exotic (or flavorful) to eat in terms of breakfast food. Needless to say, I needed a change. We went to a place called Milk, ordered up some mimosas, and one of the greatest omlette/potato wedge combos I’ve ever had… but maybe the brunch lust has gotten to me. After brunch we were walking around and saw a spa with fish in tanks. Jessica and I had seen a place like this before at the mall, and she decided to take the plunge and get a fish pedicure. Basically, there are these little fishies that suck off the dead skin on your feet and make it smooth. They have no teeth and it honestly feels like dozens of mini-massages on your feet. It was weird at first but eventually we all got into it. Not a bad way to spend the morning. Afterwards, I went back to the residencia with Jessica to hang out for a bit, then headed home to get in a nap before the night. We all went out to Opium for one of the first times since being in Barcelona. We ended up seeing my German friend Berthold, which is crazy because neither of us ever go there. Overall, a great night.

Barcelona Roller Derby

Saturday was another interesting day. I woke up late and met Christina and her friend Emily, and we all went to the end of the red metro line to see our new friends participate in a Roller Derby. Apparently, the girls who were involved on Saturday were the “B” team – the younger, less experienced roller derbiers (I don’t know the proper conjugation of that word so I’m just going to make stuff up). It was a cool experience and it was fun to see how engaged people were… or drunk in some cases. After the Derby, we stopped for some snacks at a kebab stand and then I left to meet up with Hass and his friend at the Magic Fountain. It was a cool experience, and I would recommend it to anyone visiting Barcelona. Basically, there’s this huge fountain in Plaza Espana that has a water, light, and music show on the weekends (and maybe other days… not sure). I went home to eat with my host mom and then right back out again to Razzmatazz with my friends. We had a big group going because a lot of people’s friends were in town and also met up with some CIEE students when we got there.

Getting a fish pedicure

Sunday was a slow, recovery day after my crazy week. I went to the residencia to meet up with Jessica, Christina, and Emily and we got some homework done. I wrote up a cover letter for Spanish class and called it a day. I went back home to dine with Aly and Imma (its rare that we are all there at the same time), and we caught up on each other’s weeks. I’m so sad that my time here is drawing to a close and pretty soon I’m not going to see my new friends everyday. I don’t want to come back home just yet!

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April 8, 2013 by admin

Week Thirteen: Semana Santa!

Independencia graffiti

Week Thirteen for me was Semana Santa (Holy Week) and meant I finally got a break from school and my internship. I stayed in Barcelona due to some haphazard planning with a friend, which kind of bummed me out (so much of the world left to explore). However, during Semana Santa, I finalized plans to travel with my dad after the program and we decided to go to Sevilla for Feria (huge after-Easter festival in Southern Spain), Cordoba for a day trip, and then Rome for a couple of days. Needless to say, I’m significantly less bummed out.

Primos! (cousins)

My cousin T.J. came to Barcelona after a wedding in Paris, with his lovely girlfriend Amy. They took the train in and made their way to Imma’s flat, and we set out to do some Gracia tourist stuff. One thing I saved to do with them was to visit Casa Vicens, which is one of Gaudi’s earlier buildings, which is in Gracia close to the Fontana metro stop. You can’t go into the building (that I know of), but it was cool to see another Gaudi work and I’m glad I finally made it out there. After checking it out, we went shopping on Carrer Verdi, which is a street known for being very international both with food and boutiques. We went to a thrift store run by a fine Englisman named Jimmy. Jimmy cut me a deal on some scarves I found since I brought him some paying customers and told me that if I ever need any hashish, he’s got me covered. Thanks Jimmy. After shopping, on Verdi, we walked to one of the plazas in Gracia for tapas, stopping first at a Chinese store. It was funny to see Amy’s reaction – T.J. had similar stores when he studied abroad in Madrid, but they were a new concept to her. For those not in the know, the Chinese stores (the nationality of the people running them changes depending on the city) have everything you could ever want from every product category and everything is cheap. After the Chinese store, we had tapas and I tried fuet, a type of chorizo typical of Catalunya. After lunch, I took Amy and T.J. to Park Guell, all the way up to the top, so they could get one of the best views of Barcelona. They had to leave shortly after that for Zaragoza, but it was nice to see them if even for a day! Later that night, I went to see Spring Breakers with Berthold, Andy, and Christina at Cine Verdi (original language theater). It was among the top weirdest movies I’ve ever seen.

Casa Vicens - Gaudi building by the Fontana metro stop

I spent Tuesday with Jessica, spending what little remains of my money (don’t kill me, Mom). We started by looking for Rambla de Raval and Jessica mis-understood me, so we went in the wrong direction. It ended up being a good thing, because we got some snacks at El Bosque de las Fades, a fairytale bar and Barcelona tourist must-do. Afterwards, we found what I was looking for in Raval, souvineers for my friends and sister. After Raval, Jessica and I travelled to L’illa mall at the end of the green line because Jessica wanted to check out Primark. The mall is where most of my money got spent, but I got a lot of things I needed (and some I definitely didn’t). Earlier in the day, I had seen a bracelet I really wanted, but the price was not right. Later on, I found a jewelry making store and recreated it and made it my own. I also finally got shorts, which will come in handy as the weather gets better.

Crazy statue near Drassanes metro stop

I spent Wednesday with Jessica as well, this time going to the Gypsy market to shop. It was a bust of a day for clothes, but Jess and I got matching rings, I got another gift for my sister, and I got a Paella pan! After the market, we went to Carrefour (my favorite hypermarket) for some grocery shopping. I got the necessary supplies for egg-less sugar cookies (Jess is allergic) and Jess got the necessary supplies for homemade Macaroni and Cheese. We went to the Residencia to create our masterpieces and they turned out great. Ok, the Macaroni and Cheese was a little weird, but that’s because we accidentally chose a weird type of cheese to make the sauce with. Later in the night, I went to Razzmatazz with Lena and Margaret and we got in for free thanks to some good connections.

El Bosque de Las Fades fairytale bar

Thursday started as a lazy day, but ended as one of the craziest. I went to Razzmatazz again with Christina and her girlfriend, this time for a concert. Pendulum was doing a DJ set, and they are one of my favorite dubstep/electronica bands, so I had to go. At Razzmatazz, we met up with some kids who were in the Amsterdam study abroad program with Christina’s girlfriend. So random, but things like this happen all of the time. We ended up hanging out with them for the rest of the night, and I stayed with them once Christina and her girlfriend left. I later met some native Spaniards and spent the rest of the night with them and had a great time. Pendulum was amazing, by the way.

One of the coolest buildings I've ever seen

Friday was mostly spent recovering from Thursday night, and ended with me back out again (hey, its Semana Santa). I met up with Christina and her girlfriend again, this time trying to see the Magic Fountain. Of course, we messed up the times and were too late and will have to return, but the view from MNAC at night was spectacular, so not a total waste of time. We met up with one of their friends afterwards for drinks and I got an awesome deal – a glass of wine and burrito for 5 euro. Not bad.

MNAC at night

Saturday was another slow day (are you sensing a pattern, yet?), and was spent with yet more friends of Christina (we were pretty inseparable during break). This time, we went to Ryan’s Bar, which is known for having some cheap drinks and is a great pregame spot. We decided to check out the discotecas in Plaza Reial and ended up at Jamboree. We’ve been doing pretty well lately, getting in to places for free and not wasting our money on the cover. We met some cool girls outside at the fountain who are from America and teaching English in the area, some chatty native Spaniards, and then called it a night.

What is up with these trees?

Sunday I decided to be a good kid. I woke up early for Easter mass and met up with John who was finally back in town after travellijng around Spain, as well as his lovely family. We sat through mass in Catalan (and figured it out as best as we could), then went to Sandwich and Friends afterwards. After a little nap, I went back out again to Plaza Reial with Christina, John, Lena and Margaret and we had an interesting night with all the tourists in Plaza Reial.

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