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8 posts from November 2010


Architecture & Design visit to Granada

BlogjustinName: Justin
CIEE Barcelona Program: Architecture & Design
Semester: Fall 2010
Home School: University of California, Berkley
(enrolled through Spellman College)

 Located in the southern part of Spain, Granada is a unique Andalusian city filled with Moorish influence. Similar to Bilbao, the tourism of Granada is single handedly made possible with the existence of one architecture. 
Justin1 In this case, the Alhambra is a palace and fortress complex constructed during the mid 14th century by the Moorish rulers of the Emirate of Granada. While it is not all the city has to offer, it is a perfectly compelling reason to take the trip alone. We (the architecture program) were there for two very full days, the perfect length to soak up everything exciting about the city. Due to its proximity to northern Africa, Granada is a blend of both southern Spanish charm and Moorish exquisiteness.

Justing2 Occupying the top of the hill of the Assabica on the southeastern border of the city of Granada, the Alhambra offered a breathtaking panorama of the city. Word of advice: if you want to visit the Alhambra, you have to make an appointment ahead of time.

Justin3 Although the day started out hazy, white clouds and blue skies decided to make an appearance around noon. Our tour guide offered us in-depth historical background and significance of the palace. Walking through the gardens and courtyard, you get a pretty authentic feeling of the unique Moorish culture and their traditions. Having visited numerous palaces from different parts of the world, I am always fascinated at how various societies show off wealth and power. The Moorish rulers liked to keep everything on the inside as a surprise. The opulence and craftsmanship for the interior dramatically contrasts with the bland and fortress-like exterior.

Justin4 My favorites were all the decorative reliefs. All the stone carvings were intricate and geometric. As a fan of symmetry and detail, the Islamic carvings hit the spot. From hall to hall, I could almost feel the lavishness of the past when the rulers and their close subordinates occupied the palace. Each courtyard was perfectly kept, and each window framed a perfect view.




Blog darcy Name: Darcy
CIEE Program Assistant
Study Center Barcelona 

Before I came to Spain, I had no idea the extent of cultural differences between the regions. I prepared myself for the "th" lisp, bullfighting, tapas (correction: tapath with the lisp), flamenco dancing and people yelling "olé!" I was told that in Catalonia there was a regional language (Catalán) in addition to Spanish, but beyond that I knew embarrassingly little.

The Spain we typically imagine in the States is really Andalucia - the southernmost province. This was the area under Islamic rule for 700 years and the culture there really relfects it. Moorish palaces and architecture, bullfights, mediterranean food and tapas galore.

I'll save the independence debate and history lecture for another day, but Catalonia really is a world apart when it comes to culture and herritage. Although it wasn't exactly what I was expecting, I love it!! There are a million things to talk about how Catalonia is different from other places (the food, music, language, nightlife, architecture, FCB soccer...) but instead I wanted to talk about just one aspect of the culture that I absolutely love.

400px-3d10_fm_de_vilafranca The castellers.

Just this week the castellers were just declared by UNESCO to be an "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity."

A "castell" is a human tower. They are built during many of the local festivals (mostly during the summer and early fall) and nearly every town has its own team. Teams compete to see who can build the tallest tower.

The tower is completed when the enxaneta (usually a small child) climbs to the top and raises one hand in the air, and then begins to climb back down the other side. Points are given to the teams for the number of levels built and whether or not they are able to complete the tower and get back down without anyone falling. It is really scary to watch as the towers often shake and wobble, and falls can be very dangerous.

There are a large variety of types of towers and loads of rules, a lot of which is explained in the full wikipedia article.

Some teams are better than others, but after CIEE took a class with them last year I'm partial to Vilafranca. Here's a great video from the first time they ever completed a tower of 10 levels with 3 people per level (the first three levels have more people for support). By the way, in competition points are given for the completion of a tower (when the hand of the child at the top is raised) and additional points are given for getting down without falling, it doesn't eliminate all your points if you fall.

Here is a new link - the first time they ever completed a tower 8 levels high with only 2 people per level (just a few weeks ago). This is a good chance to hear some Catalán too! Some of the people in this tower can be seen in this photo (taken during a CIEE class last year).


Sevilla, Sevilla, Sevilla

 Students from the Liberal Arts program recently participated in a weekend excursion to Seville in Andalucia. The students are always amazed at how different it is - there is quite a contrast between the culture of Catalonia and its southern neighbors! Aldof, one of our Guardian Angels (local students who go to university with CIEE students and help in orientation and introducing them to the culture), went with them. Here he shares some of his thoughts on this beautiful city:

DSC02461-1 Liberal Arts students (with Guardian Angel Adolf)
on a recent weekend excursion to Seville.

Sevilla, Sevilla, Sevilla.
Lo primero que aprecias al llegar a Sevilla es que el ritmo de vida de sus habitantes es diferente. Sus caras son más relajadas y en cada una de ellas se refleja la felicidad. Tengo la sensación de que todos los sevillanos son amigos y es que en un marco como el de la capital andaluza, debe ser fácil estar contento y disfrutar de la compañía de los que te rodean.

DSC02442-1En Sevilla es irremediable reparar en el olor a buena comida que se respira por las estrechas callejuelas del barrio de Santa Cruz. Por todos lados se puede ver la presencia de los árabes que habitaron el sur siglos atrás. Carros de caballos junto a la inmensa catedral, música, baldosas, gente guapa y carcajadas. ¡No quiero irme de aquí!

Students at a flamenco show

No quiero olvidar el flamenco. El flamenco se vive en Sevilla mejor que en ningún lado. Es el lugar, el olor a jazmín, el calor y la luz. Pero sobretodo es la pasión que se puede apreciar en cada uno de los gestos de los que componen el cuadro flamenco. Ellos lo viven de un modo que nadie en todo el país puede copiar. Gritan “Olé!” cuando lo sienten, tocan las palmas, llevan el ritmo con el pie y todo a una velocidad que parece sobrehumana. El bailaor se luce ante el público, el guitarra afina y vaya que si afina, el cantaor desgarra su voz y la bailaora es pura belleza sobre el escenario. ¡Qué gozada!

A visit to the Alcazar

Quiero que todos los días de mi vida sean así a partir de ahora. Viviendo entre flamenco, arquitectura arábiga y tapas. Me gustaría que todos vinierais porque Sevilla es para disfrutarla en compañía, con amigos. Yo vuelvo pronto, ¿os apuntáis?


Some lesser known Gaudí

ValentinaName: Valentina
CIEE Barcelona Program: Advanced Liberal Arts
Semester: Fall 2010
Home School: Hood College

Casa Vicens y Col·legi Santa Teresa

I just wanted to share pictures of two beautiful buildings by Gaudi. They are not really far apart from each other, actually, in walking distance.

Casa Vicens is situated right in the middle of the narrow little street in Barcelona, there are no tourists around compare to Casa Batlló o la Pedrera, it is not as known and popular. Nonetheless, I can’t say that it’s not remarkable. It definitely is. You can distinguish right away that this house is different from others, it just draws your attention right away and you can feel its “atmosphere.”

Here is Casa Vicens:



Gaudí got his inspiration from nature, thus, there is a
“natural” theme in his buildings, like tree leaves…Dsc09881
The sky looks beautiful in this picture:Dsc09914
The Santa Teresa College is surrounded by a big muro (=stone fence). I don’t think you can really get in there, but I am not sure. It looks big, beautiful and misterious. See for yourself:

Dsc09961This is the misterious part, opened window:)

Dsc09972 Just figured out that the fence on the front kinda looks like snow :D lol


Visiting my host family... 22 years later!

Quynh Name: Quynh Phan
Resident Director of the Business & Culture Program
CIEE Barcelona

It was a wonderful opportunity for me to visit Madrid this past month with students from our Business and Culture Program.  I had spent my junior year as an exchange student in this vibrant and lively city, and had not been back there for some time since.  So it was such a treat to see it again and to also meet up with Rafa and Mari, "mis padres españoles", with whom I am still in touch with after some 22 years. 

Rafa y Maria
I went to their piso for lunch one afternoon and they introduced me to their new faithful companions, Fredy y Kiko, two very friendly dogs.  Mari had remembered one of my favorite things to eat in Madrid, "calamares fritos" and had prepared some for us.  We finished off the meal with "pastelitos" in honor of their only daughter Sonia, who has since married (to a student who was in the same year abroad program as I) and is currently living in San Diego, California. 

Calamar y pescaditoFried fish and calamari

Pastelitos Pastelitos

When I had met Sonia at La Universidad de Complutense, email was yet to be invented.  And now, there we were, her parents and I, Skype-videoing with her to wish her a Happy Birthday.  How times have changed! 


"Libertad, Expresión, Policía NO!"

Manon Name: Manon
CIEE Barcelona Program: Advanced Liberal Arts
Semester: Fall 2010
Home School: Eckerd College

So the Pope made an appearance in Barcelona today- I did not go to see him. Not because I have a problem with his visit, but because I have a problem with giant crowds of people. I did however have the privilege of seeing a demonstration in Plaça Catalunya, with black star-trooper police squads and detained activists and everything. The police uniform fascinates me. It looks like they got geared up to go play baseball on the moon or something. They had knee pads that looked like a catcher's gear and cool helmets that looked exactly like those helmets for the lego-men I used to play with when I was little.Policia
  The demonstrators were holding signs that said things like "Jo no t'espero" (I'm not awaiting you)  -all against the visit of the Pope. One of the signs read, "Abortion, no, pedofilia, yes."

They started chanting from time to time- I couldn't make out everything they were saying, but one of the chants was "Libertad, expresión, policía NO!" (freedom, expression, not police). One of the demonstrators had a toddler on his shoulders, who was chanting along with his parents happily and wearing a shirt with an anarchist symbol on it. You just don't see this stuff very often in America. I feel like it's pretty normal here- not that everyone is radical, or wants to demonstrate, just that they CAN.

1288903066478 Photo from El Periodico: Source

It's the same idea in other contexts here. For example, in one of my english conversation groups, I made up role-play situations so they could act them out in english. One situation was "A naked man is fishing in one of the fountains at Plaça Catalunya. A police officer is trying to arrest him but having some difficulty." When the two students started acting it out, the one playing the police officer said immediately "well, it's legal to be naked, so that isn't a problem, but you can't fish in the fountain!" and the whole skit went on to be about how FISHING was the shocking act in such situation. I was very surprised. The nudity wasn't even an issue.

The other day at the beach, as I was showing my friend from Eckerd around, a man came running by completely naked, chasing after a soccer ball. I tried to explain that although this isn't completely normal behavior for Barcelona, it's not looked down upon/seen as vulgar the way it would be in the U.S. The man was clearly doing it to make a point, not because he was deranged or anything. What I've come to notice here is that people take freedoms very seriously. I don't know if it's a residual effect from post-Franco times... I would imagine so... but it's interesting how key of a role it plays in every day life. So the way people seem to view, for example-public nudity-is not necessarily that everyone SHOULD go naked all the time, but that no one should be able to say they CAN'T.

It's not that everyone wants to be politically radical and leftist and activist, but there's more of an understanding here than in the U.S that if people want to act that way, they should have the freedom to do so (as long as it isn't hurting others.) The police I have seen at the demonstrations here have never seemed aggressive or actively trying to stop demonstrators- they just stand there watching, or to indicate that people shouldn't pass a certain zone. I don't know, it's just what I've seen, but it feels like a different attitude towards government and liberties.

CastanetsOn a lighter note, I had a fun day studying neuropsych, eating castanyas, and having a beer with friends from Eckerd before they left this evening for Sevilla/Granada. Pictured is a photo of castanyas (roasted chestnuts) which were sold inside of cones of-not newspaper-but magazine. My friend and I paid for our coffee/tea at the bar we studied at in all small change-mostly 5, 2, and 1 cent coins. We had spent the past hour talking about complicated neuropsychology concepts and evaluations, and it took us 20 minutes of recounting small change and summing up numbers on paper before we felt certain enough to leave the bar. I'm pretty sure the barista was skeptical of our intelligence levels.


Staff Picks: Anna S.

Each week we post recomendations from CIEE staff on their favorite restaurants, activities, and places to travel on the activities board in La Casa. Its a good way to discover new places outside the guidebooks - where locals actually go. Here are some of Anna's picks:

Bloganna Name: Anna S.
Job at CIEE:
Registration & Grades Coordinator (Business & Culture, Architecture & Design and Language & Culture programs)

A restaurant you like: El Celler del Nou Priorat, C/Vallespir 19, detrás de la Estació de Sants. Para comer tapas catalanas de calidad (“gírgoles con jamón”, “croquetas de bacalao”…) acompañadas de un vino de la denominación del Priorat (zona de viñedos al sur de Catalunya). Es pequeñito y por eso hay que reservar. Precio de una cena por persona alrededor de los 20€, con vino y postres incluidos.

     El Celler del Nou Priorat, on Carrer Vallespir #19, behind Sants Station. For eating high quality Catalan tapas ("mushrooms with ham", "cod croquetas"...) accompanied with wine from the Priorat region (to the south of Catalunya). The restaurant is small so you need to make a reservation. A meal will come to about 20€ per person, with wine and dessert included.Restaurantanna
An activity you like to do in Barcelona:
MercatantoniannaIr al Mercado de Sant Antoni los domingos (de 9am a 3pm, metro “Sant Antoni”) a ver los “tenderetes” de libros viejos, sellos, monedas, fotos antiguas… es un ambiente muy chulo y tradicional del barrio. Después del Mercado, me gusta coger la bicicleta y “bajar” hacia la Barceloneta para tomar un aperitivo mientras leo el periódico en una terraza del paseo frente al mar. ¡Calidad de vida!

   Go to the Sant Antoni market on Sundays (9am-2pm metro stop "Sant Antoni") to browse the stalls selling old books, stamps, coins, old photos, etc. The atmosphere is very cool and very typical of a real neighborhood. After the market, I like to take my bike and go down to Barceloneta to have a drink while reading the newspaper on a patio along the boardwalk. What a life! 

Your favorite place in Catalunya: Parque Natural del Delta del Ebro, a 170 kilómetros al sur de Barcelona (comarcas del “Montsià” y el “Baix Ebre”), donde el río Ebro desemboca en el Mar Mediterráneo. Es un paisaje muy bello y relajante, con gran riqueza biológica, dado que es una zona “humedales” (“wetlands”), cultivos de arroz y con una enorme variedad de especies de aves que hacen nidos y se alimentan durante las migraciones. Para los valientes, podéis probar el plato típico del Delta: “Ancas de rana”!

     The natural park at Delta del Ebro, 100 miles south of Barcelona (in the "Montsià" and "Baix Ebre" regions), where the Ebro river runs into the Mediterranean Sea. It is a very beautiful and relaxing landscape, with great biological wealth. Since it is a wetlands area there is rice and a huge variety of bird species (even flamingos) that nest and feed during migration. For the brave, you can try a typical dish of the Delta, "Frog Legs"!Deltaanna

Salamanca anna Your favorite destination in Spain: Salamanca, una ciudad de la región de Castilla y León cerca de la frontera con Portugal. Es básicamente peatonal y, aunque no es demasiado turística, a mí me gusta, por su núcleo histórico y su plaza Mayor típica de la meseta castellana. Tiene una gran vida nocturna, con cientos de bares para “tapear” y “copear” a los que acuden los miles de estudiantes universitarios que viven y estudian en Salamanca (su universidad, del siglo XIII, es ¡la más antigua de Europa!)

     Salamanca, a city in the Castilla y León region near the border with Portugal. It is very pedestrian, and not too touristy, I like its historic center and the Plaza Mayor, which is typical of those on the Castilian plateau. It has a great nightlife, with hundreds of bars for "tapas" that are filled with the thousands of college students living and studying in Salamanca (the university, built in the thirteenth century, is the oldest in Europe!).


Dinner, Spanish-style.

Lw photo Name: Laurin
CIEE Barcelona Program: Liberal Arts
Semester: Fall 2010
Home School: Johns Hopkins University

Hi! I’m Laurin and I’m a part of the CIEE Liberal Arts program. I’ve been in Barcelona for about seven weeks now and can hardly believe how quickly that time has gone. I’m currently playing “tour guide” and showing my parents around my new city! It been so much fun and made me realize how much I’ve learned so far.

One of the best things about having parents visit is the opportunity to try new restaurants. As a student, I’m usually watching my budget pretty closely, but I’m getting the chance to try some new spots with them. Barcelona does food differently than any other place I’ve been, which I realized pretty quickly when I arrived here. I love trying new foods and learning about food culture, so I was surprised when I found myself answering the question, “What’s been the hardest part about living in Spain so far?” by saying, “The food.” Looking back on it, I guess that wasn’t the most articulate answer, because it wasn’t exactly the food, per say. While I occasionally craved oatmeal, peanut butter, or a good ol’ turkey sandwich, I had found plenty to love in the bocadillos with their delicious crusty bread, the variety of tapas, and sangria that was to die for. What I struggled to get used to was the eating style—tiny cups of coffee? Lunch at 2 o’clock? Dinner at 9 p.m.? That seemed very strange to a Midwestern girl who usually eats dinner between 5:30 and 6 p.m. I also didn’t understand why people looked at me to strangely when I munched a sandwich on the street as I walked to class. Then I realized, “Oh, people actually sit down with their food here.”

Paella Chicken Paella

Now, just as with other aspects of Barcelona life, I’ve adjusted to the eating style and am learning to embrace it. Earlier this week, I took part in a Cook and Taste class with other students in my program. It was a blast! I tasted my first paella since arriving in Spain, and I got to flip the tortilla española! Tortilla is like a hard-to-make omelet and also one of my favorite dishes in Spain. We also made and ate a gazpacho-like soup, pan con tomate (a common tapa here and also one of my favorite Barcelona food finds), and crema catalunya, a dessert that is best described as crème brulé and flan’s lovechild. Mmm. As we ate our completed meal and sipped some vino, I was in food heaven. We were proud of our efforts and fully savored the experience. That, I’ve realized, is the essence of Barcelona food culture to me.

Tortilla pic 
Flipping the tortilla

Like I said, exploring even more aspects of Barcelona cuisine with my family has been a great treat. But when they suggested at we go to a restaurant before 7:00, I had to suppress a gasp of horror and gently remind them that we would be better off going a little later and lingering over our meal. Now that’s dinner, Spanish-style.

Crema catalunya 
Crema Catalana - like Crème brûlée, but bigger and made with milk instead of cream.