barcelona%20006.JPG I apologize for taking so long to update! I have been extremely busy over the past month, and only now have I finally found time to catch up on my blog. Where to start?

barcelona%20030.JPG After the trip to Andalucia and another week of school, we departed to Barcelona the weekend of February 18. Those close to me know how badly I have wanted to make this trip. Sure, a lot of it has to do with the fact that my favorite soccer team plays for this city, but other than that I had heard about its beauty and all the things it has to offer, and thus I made it the one place I had to visit during my time in Spain.

We arrived early in the morning, and after checking into our hostel we set out immediately to trek across the city to the famous Sagrada Familia, the church planned by Catalan architect Gaudi. Since Gaudi died during the early phases of its construction and some of his plans were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, it has taken a long time for the church to be completed. Even when we went, the whole facade of the building was under major construction, and the rumor is that Sagrada Familia will not be finished for perhaps another 10 years (photos right and left).

Nonetheless, I do not exaggerate when I say that my jaw dropped when I walked inside the church – I have never experienced anything like this building, and pictures or words do not do it justice. Definitely one of the more beautiful places I have been in my life, and something that I feel everyone should see if they are even remotely close to the city.

After Sagrada Familia we continued our exploration of the city, which eventually led us down Las Ramblas, a collection of streets in the center of Barcelona that have many interesting things to do and places to see. In this area, we made a detour into La Boqueria, a very well-known food market. There we found all kinds of things, including a wide array of candy, fish, and animal organs (yum).

barcelona%20154.JPG We later walked on down to the port, and, enjoying one of the warmer days we had experienced in Spain so far, simply lay on the dock and soaked in some sun for awhile. Thus, we had an action-packed first day, and the second one was just as fun!

My friend Amy and I (we’re both soccer fanatics, I think we scare our host mom sometimes) spent most of the day at only the best place on earth, the Camp Nou (photo left), home of the greatest soccer team in the world (don’t deny it), FC Barcelona. We went through the museum, which detailed the history of the club, its finest moments, and its hardships. They even had on display every trophy the club has ever won (a lot), a painting dedicated to the team by Joan Miro, and signed jerseys by the likes of Maradona and Messi.

We later toured the stadium, lifted the Champions League trophy, and broke my camera. Definitely a good time! After all this Amy and I met back up with our other friends and we went and spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach, and interacting with a couple of drunk/half-naked Finnish middle-aged men who couldn’t seem to stand up straight (let alone in the ocean).

Allison%20game.jpg The next day (Sunday), after all of our other friends left Barcelona to return to Madrid and get ready for school the next day, my roommates and I stayed in order to attend the FC Barcelona game against Athletic Bilbao that night. This was easily one of the greatest nights of my life – I sacrificed joining my friends in order to sit in the front row to see a team that not only is currently the best in the world, but perhaps the best team in the history of soccer.

And this team definitely did not disappoint me – Barcelona did clench the win until near the end with a brilliant strike by Messi, the best player in the world, and then he came and celebrated almost right in front of me! (photo right) I almost had a mini heart attack, and I was elated when I returned to Madrid the next day to see pictures of me next to a triumphant Messi in newspapers and online.

cadiz2.jpg A couple weeks after Barcelona, we left for Cadiz for Carnaval, a Mardi Gras like celebration that takes place in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries. However, we picked Cadiz because, next to the Canary Islands, it is the best place to celebrate this festival in Spain.

We stayed in a hotel in Santi Petri, about an hour outside of Cadiz and very close to the beach. During the day there we walked along the beach and ate strawberries, collected seashells, and explored the coast. At night we got dressed up in our costumes (I was an FC Barcelona player, of course) and took the bus into the city to experience the party (photo left).

It ended up being a crazy night! There were tons and tons of people (it was almost impossible to move), and everyone was all dressed up in outrageous and varying costumes – I think I must’ve gotten stopped every few feet to receive a comment (not all pleasant) about my jersey. Overall it was a fun experience, although I was exhausted the next day when we returned to Madrid.

During the week in Madrid we visited the Sorolla Museum, which in fact used to be the home of the Spanish Impressionist painter but was given over to the Spanish state to be made into a museum after his death. It was very interesting, especially because you can still see how he lived and worked (they even still have his paintbrushes).

The next week we left on our second school trip to the Basque Country. Along the way, we stopped in the autonomous community of La Rioja, famous for their wines. Therefore, we naturally visited a vineyard and learned about the winemaking process, and even got to try a few of their wines.

Later on we arrived in San Sebastian, notoriously known as one of the prettiest places in Spain (although its beauty was somewhat obscured by the rain that pestered us our whole time there). We went out for pintxos (the Basque Country’s version of tapas) with our professors that night, and in the morning we explored the beach and the area around it until it was time to leave for Bilbao.

pais%20vasco%20106.JPG En route to Bilbao, we stopped at Guernica, a small town in the Basque Country that became famous during the Spanish Civil War when German and Italian planes bombed it and its inhabitants into dust. It was later immortalized in Picasso’s painting Guernica, which now hangs in the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. While in this town we visited a peace museum and the town hall, and also had a delicious lunch where I tried octopus, liver, and bacalao al pil pil (a special cod dish from the Basque region).

We then continued our trip to Bilbao, and after a night celebrating St. Patrick’s Day we visited the Guggenheim Museum, truly a sight to behold. (photo left) Sadly, our trip proved to be a little too short for everyone’s liking, but we had to return home as the next day we left for Valencia to experience Las Fallas, a celebration in praise of St. Joseph where the people of the town create fallas (float-like objects) and then burn them on the night of St. Joseph’s Day.

Valencia%20079.JPG We left early in the morning of St. Joseph’s Day, and arrived in Valencia around 2:30 in the afternoon. Immediately upon arriving in the city we heard the bursts of firecrackers indicating the festivities had already started, but we ended up spending much of the afternoon in Valencia’s famous aquarium within their City of the Arts and Sciences.

After the aquarium, we took part in the nighttime celebrations, observing the intricate and creative fallas (many are parodies of celebrities) and walking toward the town’s main square, where we observed them burn some of the best fallas every hour, along with witnessing the best fireworks show I’ve ever seen! It was definitely one of my finest nights in Spain so far.

paris.jpg Two weeks later (last weekend) we then went to Paris. I had been to Paris once before in 2006, and it was still as beautiful as I remembered. We walked all throughout the city, seeing Notre Dame, the river Seine, the Pompidou Museum, and even took a glorious nap in the shade of the Eiffel Tower. That night we enjoyed some classic French fondue and creme brulee, and explored the Louvre at night while watching the Eiffel Tower light up from afar. The next day we toured the Orsay Museum, went to the Fragonard perfume shop, walked down the Champs Elysees, and stood under the Arc de Triomphe.

Thus, I am now thoroughly exhausted from my month or so of traveling, and am now enjoying my first free weekend in Madrid for quite a while. Last night I went to see Federico Garcia Lorca’s play “La Casa de Bernarda Alba,” and on Tuesday I will go to the Champions League game of Real Madrid vs. Tottenham. Things are winding down here in Madrid (only one month left) but there is still so much to do. More coming soon!