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12 posts from February 2013


In search of local cuisine

Name: Tyler
CIEE Barcelona Program: Business & Culture
Semester: Spring 2013
Home School: Carlson School of Management  

The very first night that I arrived in Barcelona I went out with a few other CIEE participants in search of some local cuisine.  We walked around aimlessly until finally deciding on a small, quaint restaurant that contained a few locals enjoying tapas.  We sat down and were given menus in Catalan which rendered my small comprehension of Spanish useless.  My eyes glanced over the menu for a while until I found the word Paella and decided that Spain’s national dish should be a good way to start my orientation to Barcelona. 

Then the server brought out the huge pan of paella there was one important detail I had overlooked, the seafood was still in-shell.  Now this didn’t bother me with regards to my appetite but as Americans we are used to everything being ready to eat with little work to be done.  So here I was in Spain and I didn’t even know how to eat the local food.  The paella tasted great but the shrimp just required too much work, not to mention a bit of embarrassment as the waiter watched me struggle through my meal. 
Paella. Source:

Needless to say Spanish cuisine is very different from what we are used to back in America.  Also, Spanish food is one of the few culinary types that has so far failed to be Americanized, rendering it even more foreign versus let’s say Italian, Chinese, or Mexican food.  Even the way the Spanish eat is vastly different than America.  Now I believe that this unfamiliarity with Spanish food has made my study abroad experience even more exciting because I was unable come here with any expectations whatsoever. 

Patatas Bravas. Source:

After living in Barcelona for nearly two months, I have to say that going out for Tapas has to be one of my favorite gastronomical experiences in Spain.  In America we have to choose just one dish and then we get a huge portion of it whereas in Spain I can sample as many dishes as my pocketful of euros can buy me. 

Pan con Tomate. Source:

I believe one of the best ways to get to know a culture is through food.  This is why I’ve spent much of my time here doing my best Anthony Bourdain impression by sampling the local cuisine whenever possible in order to get a better understanding of the Spanish way of life.  So far so good, but I still have barely scraped the surface of the local gastronomic history and tradition.  Next up, Anchovies?


**Check out this great guide to Catalan Foods!

*** Anthony Bourdain's Spain episode(s) are fantastic! Check out the Calçotada at 18mins:

The Mediterranean Diet

Branding & Cultural Icons Class

Brittany (University of Minnesota), David (University of Wisconsin), Alex (University of Wisconsin), John (Vilanova University), Ian (University of Colorado), Keith (Univesrity of Wisconsin), & Lindsey (University of Wisconsin)

The Mediterranean Diet

   One of the biggest differences I have noticed is how differently Spaniards manage their food- and by that I mean what they eat, what time of day, and the pace they eat it at. It seems to be fairly well known across the globe that Spain has a different schedule for meals compared to the rest of Western Europe and the US, but the rest of the characteristics of how Spaniards treat their meals may not be. 

    As I very well learned within the first week, you have to ask for your check at a restaurant- they don’t just bring it to you. Part of this is due to the fact that a meal is a time for socializing, and is not to be rushed. Each afternoon, in fact, there is typically a siesta amongst stores where many people decide to take their lunch and stores close down for a few hours (picture below). This coincides with the cultural norm to give yourself a few hours for each meal.

Blogpic1    Each meal usually has a typical type of food to it, as well. During breakfast, you start with some carbs and sugar- this might mean some bread and Nutella, a croissant, yogurt, etc. Lunch here is served around 1 or 2 pm, and is the biggest meal allowing for the most time throughout the day to digest it all. There is then usually a light snack that might be fruit of some sort before the late dinner of 9 or 10 pm.

    Coming from anywhere else in Western society, this diet can be tricky to adjust to, but Spain takes pride in its balanced, Mediterranean diet. They make an effort to have the freshest food products for their meals, and taking time to share it with the ones they love. Below is an image at one of the markets Spaniards so proudly shop at.


***The Mediterranean Diet is on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity!


Max es un casteller!

Name: Max
CIEE Barcelona Program: Liberal Arts
Semester: Spring 2013
Home School: Bates College         

      El 1 de Febrero, miembros del grupo de CIEE Liberal Arts fueron a Castellers de Barcelona y tuvieron la oportunidad de ver una actividad con fuertes raíces culturales en España. Castellers es el arte de construir torres humanas que pueden tener muchos pisos de altura. La gente en el fondo forma una base, y luego la gente que sube en los hombros de las personas al nivel de abajo de ellos crea cada nivel adicional.

Max gears up with the traditional belt
                El entorno del edificio era increíble.  Los participantes eran de todas edades, tipos de cuerpo, y los dos géneros. Una parte importante de la estructura es que se entiende que la gente más grande y más fuerte participará de manera diferente que las personas que son más pequeñas y más ágiles. Cada torre humana comienza con una base de gente fuerte en el fondo que son responsables de mantener la base de la torre y de mantener constante la torre. Desde allí, las personas que componen cada nivel de la torre son cada vez y más pequeñas. El nivel más pequeño de la torre está encima y es formado por un niño pequeño que cuando está encima, levanta su mano para significar la finalización de la torre.
up up up!
            Mientras estábamos allí, tuve la oportunidad de participar en algunas de las actividades, una oportunidad que nunca olvidaré. Antes de participar en la torre, tuve 1, 2, y 3 personas subidas a mis hombros para asegurarse de que sería capaz de soportar el peso de una torre humana completa. Después de pasar esta prueba, llegó la hora de la verdad. Llegué a participar en la creación de una torre de 4 personas. Ayudé a formar la base de la torre (se puede ver en las imágenes), creada por muchas personas que se inclinan adelante en los hombros de la persona delante de ellos.

Max4            Para mí, esta fue una experiencia increíble; muy diferente a todo lo que he hecho hasta el momento. Fue increíble ver cómo los esfuerzos individuales de tanta gente pueden unirse para llevar a cabo una tarea muy difícil. Yo también estaba sorprendido por la ausencia del miedo de los niños pequeños que crearon los niveles más altos de la torre. Ellos están dispuestos y son capaces de subir a muchos metros del suelo y lo hacen tan aparentemente sin miedo. Aunque sólo participé en un papel pequeño, esta experiencia fue muy divertida y sin duda ha sido una de las principales experiencias de mi estancia en Barcelona.

Casteller from Mike Randolph on Vimeo.

And Cordoba (part 2)!

Name: Anna
CIEE Barcelona Program: Architecture and Design
Semester: Spring 2013
Home School: University of Colorado of Boulder

This is a continuation of a great post about a weekend in Sevilla and Cordoba... See the first here.

I would highly recommend walking through the Jewish neighborhood (Barrio de la Judería)! Narrow streets with cobblestone pathway wind their way around Cordoba. I was able to some of the most magnificent plazas. One of my favorite was Capilla Mudéjar Iglesia de San Bartolomè which had a tree with a sea shell base located in the center. Off to the right there was a synagogue that was a safe haven for the Christians, Jewish, and Muslim when Córdoba was being attack and all of the synagogues were being destroyed. The walls, floors and mosaics were well preserved. The zocalo tile stylings (the zig-zag patterns you’ll find on the walls) are an example of an advanced design technique preserved in the Capilla.

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Calleja de las Flores is a famous street that frames the Minerat from the Mezquita Catedral. It is a typical Andalusian street, with beautiful whitewashed houses full of flowers.

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Mezquita Catedral the must see place why you are in Cordoba! It is amazing seeing structure in person after studying is before in one of your classes in Great detail.


As you may know this building was formally a medieval Islamic mosque.  This party is made up of an arcade of hypostyle hall made up of 856 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite. The double arch mainly composed of brick and limestone alternating were originally designed to create higher ceilings. The mihrab is composed of geometric and flowing design of plants.

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Later on a Catholic Christian cathedral was built in the center of the mosque. It is one of the most accomplished monuments of Renaissance and Moorish architecture. The location ruined the traditional prayer that originally took place. By having the cathedral built inside the mosque it was saved when the war went on in Cordoba where the entire mosques were destroyed.

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Medina Azahara is a fortified Arab Muslim medieval palace-city that is located on the outskirts of Cordoba, at the foothills of Sierra Morena. There was a modern museum that was created to show the historical artifacts of the Medina Azahara. 

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The area is 10% restored: "two caliphal residences, with associated bath complexes, two aristocratic residences, and service quarters ... spaces associated with the palace guard; some large administrative buildings ... the extraordinary court complex presided over by the reception hall ... the great garden spaces, and just outside this area, the congregational mosque".

The topography helped shape the city, and created hierarchical construction program so the city and the plains beyond were physically and visually dominated by the buildings of the fortress. The structures that were visible were often composed of horseshoe arches and double arches.

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The architecture is amazing in both Seville and Cordoba! If you ever get an opportunity to visit here, take it! I would also recommend getting an audio guide or a tour because you’ll be able to learn the full story behind the structure, not what you just read about.

**This is a continuation of a great post about a weekend in Sevilla and Cordoba... See the first here.
**See Anna's post about Granada here:


Weekend in Seville (part 1)

Name: Anna
CIEE Barcelona Program: Architecture and Design
Semester: Spring 2013
Home School: University of Colorado of Boulder

CIEE took the Architecture and Design student on a weekend trip to Seville and Cordoba. It was such an amazing experiences with have my whole program there and my great professors Suzanne Strum and Fernando Janeiro. After years of study all of the different buildings in school I was finally given a chance to see them in person! My dream came true. And plus if you stop by the best churro place, ‘Churros Chocolate’ (turn onto Santa Maria La Blanco from Recaredo Menendez Pelayo. Then turn left onto Doncellas to get to Plaza Refinadores).

The number one architectural sight to see in Seville is The Cathedral of Seville which is a Roman Catholic Cathedral in. It is the 3rd largest Cathedral in the world and the largest gothic cathedral. The Cathedral consists of four facades which contain fifteen doors.  This is the west façade, the Door of baptism. It is a Gothic style which has pointed archivolts decorated with tracery.

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It also contains the La Giralda which was an old minaret that was converted to a bell tower. This tower is made up of thirty-eight levels of ramps which where design for men to ride horses up five times a day. I would recommend seeing this seeing your first day here. You’re able to look down onto the whole town!

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Torre del Oro “Gold Tower” is an old military watchtower that has been transferred into a museum displaying the importance of the river to Seville. The rumor had it that the actual top was made of gold.

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Parasol Metropol is also known as the “mushroom plaza”. Its unique form was design to help encourage interaction inside the plaza. The whole structure is made out of wood!

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Plaza de España designed by Aníbal González is located in Parque de María Luisa. It is a landmark example of the Renaissance Revival style in Spanish architecture with Art Deco within Neo-Mudéjar styles. The layout is a huge half-circle with buildings continually running around the edge accessible over the moat by numerous bridges. In the main entrance there is a large fountain. Along the walls there are little tiled alcoves with each one representing the different provinces of Spain. It also was used for many films like the Star War movies.

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Image 10Reales Alcázar de Seville is a royal palace that was originally a Moorish fort. It is the best example of mudéjar architecture. The Gothic arch below is located in Los Baños de Doña María de Padilla, “Baths of Lady María de Padilla”. The wooden dome ceiling created from a Sevillian craftsman is located in the Almohades room, which is in one of the first buildings that were built there. There are intricately decorated archways with horseshoe arches that connect this room to the palace!

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The architecture is amazing in both Seville and Cordoba! If you ever get an opportunity to visit here, take it! I would also recommend getting an audio guide or a tour because you’ll be able to learn the full story behind the structure, not what you just read about.

See Anna's post on Cordoba later this week!

And her post about Granada here:

A Slice of Rome in Catalonia

Name: Jake
CIEE Barcelona Program: Language & Culture
Semester: Spring 2013
Home School: Northeastern University

Being a bit of a history lover, count me as someone who is completely fascinated by the Roman ties to Catalonia beginning in the 1stCentury. I hadn't studied Roman history too extensively and I certainly knew close to nothing about their conquests on the Iberian Peninsula. But a trip to the Museu d'Historia de la Ciutat in Barcelona coupled with a day trip to Tarragona has given me an amazing overview of what they meant to the region during their reign of more than 400 years.


Museu d'Historia de la Ciutat below plaça del rei

Americans are easily impressed by age. I remember going to Philadelphia in grade school and being blown away that Independence Hall was built in 1753. Walk down the most modern street in Europe and you are bound to trip over some ancient building or structure that dates back to the 16th century, at least! Head to the old part of town and you can add another millennium to that estimate. It really adds a layer of richness to the experience when you realize the sheer amount of history these cities, Barcelona included, have seen.


Back to the Romans. As  important as Barcelona is to the region of Catalonia today, it was just as unimportant to the Romans when they settled here in the year 12 BC. They picked it undoubtedly because geographically it was the perfect place for a secure city. Mountains on one side, water on the other. They named it Barcino and that was that. It had all the makings of a typical Roman city. Even if it wasn't a place of supreme importance in their empire, the Romans were still way ahead of their time: efficient laundry, effective sewage system and mass producing wine for distribution were all evident in the Barcino ruins.

Luckily for us, while digging under the Placa del Rei in the Gothic Quarter in the 1930s, excavators came across a host of Roman ruins and artifacts. The perfect place for a history museum.  It's laid out in such a way that you can literally walk among the ruins, while an audio guide sets the scene for you and describes what would have been happening in that exact spot 2,000 years ago. Amazing. Well worth the 5 euro entrance fee.


Amphitheater in Tarragona

Corridor underneath the Circus in Tarragona

 But the real gems were located an hour south of the city, in Tarragona. This was a major Roman city (Tarraco) during the empire and it was complete with an amphitheater, circus, forum and fortified walls. I was shocked at the amount of ruins remaining, with many in unbelievable condition! Some historians have remarked that they are some of the best ruins outside of Rome, and I believe it. The old city of Tarragona is beautiful to begin with, situated on a hill overlooked the water and the ruins just made it that much better. 


Overlooking the Old City in Tarragona
I was also surprised that on a sunny Friday afternoon, I was literally the only person at some of these sites. It was such a surreal experience standing by myself in an ancient Roman amphitheater. Although it did make me a bit sad that these historical artifacts were not being seen by more people. I just hope the city of Tarragona continues to put in the resources to maintain these fantastic pieces of history.

I really recommend getting out to see both of these amazing places located in Catalonia’s backyard. Hey, if you can’t make it to Rome, here’s the next best (perhaps even better) thing. 


**Want to visit Tarragona? The train from Sants station in Barcelona to Tarragona takes 1h15 and costs under 7€. Check Spanish Train Times & Prices. There is a bus from Barcelona to Tarragona, but the train is quicker.

***Check out this great article from the New York Times on Tarragona:


There's nowhere I'd rather be...

Name: Hannah
CIEE Barcelona Program: Language & Culture
Semester: Spring 2013
Home School: Northeastern University

You know those moments in your life where you are sure that there is nowhere else in the world that you would rather be? This weekend was full of those moments. Saturday morning we woke up earlier that we have in quite some time to meet the rest of our CIEE group to board the bus to head to a Cava tasting at a local vineyard. The winery itself was beautiful with picturesque views of mountains as far as the eye could see, interrupted only by grape trees and rolling hills. The tour guide showed us around the oldest wine cellars in Barcelona and explained the technique that they use to make the Cava. I was amazed by the history associated with the winery and the intricate process of making the perfect cava.

After learning about the winery, the family who owned the vineyard and the process of making the cava, we were given the opportunity to taste it. Now I’ve had cava before and to be honest, never really liked it. After spending the morning learning about it though, I had a new appreciation for it and I swear it made it taste better.

Dum1 On a normal weekend, the tour and tasting would have been, in itself, enough to make this a memorable weekend--and it was-- but really it was only the beginning. After the wine tasting, we hopped back on the bus and made our way to Montserrat. When I say we made our way on the bus, what I really mean is we put our lives in the hands of the bus driver for a solid hour as we winded our way up the mountain via a road that quite clearly not made for buses. Despite the breathtaking view along the way, I kept my eye closed, clenching the hand of the person next to me—thanks again Jake. After what seemed like days, we made it to the top and were welcomed by a view that will forever be imprinted in my memory. It felt like the top of the world. Now it might have been that I was just so thankful to be alive and not hanging from the side of the mountain in a bus, but I swear, for as far as you could see--which was quite far on the perfectly clear day—there was blue sky, mountains and a view of the towns below us like no other. My description really doesn’t do it justice, so here is a photo.

  Dum3 Dum5After we gawked at the view for some time, we started on the way to the monastery to find the Black Virgin that we had heard so much about. Per usual though, we were interrupted by the sight of food, cheese in particular. The market along the way was filled with all different kinds of cheeses made by local farmers, roasted nuts, pastries and our favorite; cheesecake. Naturally, Emily, Becca and I decided that cheesecake would be the perfect lunch. We were right. It was. We are the cheesecake right out of the tin and made short work of it.

  Dumont1The cheesecake was creamy but dense, a completely different texture than cheesecake in the United States, not nearly as sweet, but equally as decedent.

After we had all of the cheese samples and cheesecake we could take, we rolled ourselves to the monastery.   We were amazed by the intricacy of the glass windows, the glow of the prayer candles and the sense of peace and serenity in the monastery despite being filled with so many people. People were lined up, most close to tears, waiting to touch the Black Virgin. So we followed suit and did the same.


After a few of us took a hike—really more of a walk--  to another peak that had a statue of a cross mounted on it.  After spending the past month in the mist of the hustle and bustle of the city, the hour or so of peace and quiet was incredible and much needed.

 Personally, I took the time to reflect on the past month or so. I’ve found it really hard here to appreciate every moment because I’m constantly looking forward to the next because everything is always so new and exciting.  It was the first time I’ve really stopped to breathe and soak up the moment. Everyone I was with seemed to share the same sentiment so we vowed that, going forward, we will do our best to enjoy every single moment and not take for granted the little moments here. We also vowed to do more hiking because we were so enlightened and humbled by our experience at Montserrat.


The irony of this weekend was that as serene and peaceful as those 24 hours were, the next 24 hours were that wild and crazy. Especially juxtaposed, they could not have been more different but equally as incredible. Saturday night and Sunday were spent in Sitges for Carnival.  I wouldn’t be doing it justice to just skim over the highlights. So I’ll leave that to the next person and give you a little preview with the below photo:

**Going to Montserrat? Click here for more info:



Name: Anna
CIEE Barcelona Program: Architecture and Design
Semester: Spring 2013
Home School: University of Colorado of Boulder

The place to see is Granada!!! I had such an amazing experience there. The houses were covered in white stucco. Cobble stone streets connected the old city, which is also a technique for cooling the town in the summer.

If you have any interest in architecture and relaxing the Hammam al Ándalus baths are the perfect place to go. Each entrance into the connecting room uses the horseshoe arch (we weren’t allowed to take picture inside the baths).


Palacio de los Cordova

Palacio de los Cordova was a hidden courtyard close to the Sacromonte. The layout was composed of multiple axis that all connected this unique garden together.



The Alhambra

The Alhambra is a palace and fortress built in the 9th century. It is a great example of Muslim art in the final European stages. Also you get to see the lion courtyard (what most of us have studied before)!


Palacios Nazaries is the one building that has taken care of all of the original decorations. The designs were developed in the Nasrid Dynasty where they would take a little of the Byzantine influence of contemporary Abassid architecture. They would reproduce the same forms and trends creating the new style.

Graffiti covered the buildings along Calle Molinos.

**There is lots to see and do in Granada! Just strolling the streets, eating tapas, taking in a flamenco show... but you can't miss the Alhambra. If you are going, don't forget to book your alhambra entrance in advance through their website. Check out more tips:

Traveling the world

Name: Emily
CIEE Barcelona Program: Language & Culture
Semester: Spring 2013
Home School: Northeastern University

Traveling the world was something I knew I always wanted to do, and studying abroad is truly the perfect way to do it as a college student. When preparing to come live in Barcelona I spoke with many friends who had been abroad, and continued hearing similar positive reflections on their experience. I kept hearing about how valuable traveling is, and how the experience of immersing yourself in another culture makes one realize so much more about themselves, and where they are from. Yet, I still felt nervous anticipating it all, and wanted to have an image in my head of exactly what to expect.

Retiro Park in Madrid

After living in Barcelona for a little over a month, flying over to Prague, and visiting other Spanish cities such as Girona, Madrid, Sitges, and Montserrat, I have experienced it myself, and could not agree more with what my friends had to say. I realized how true those cliché statements about study abroad really are, why people get “addicted to traveling”, or even why reverse culture shock happens.

Being in Barcelona, and just observing how different these cities are from the US, and from one another has made me realize how badly I want to see the rest of the world, and those differences. I cant even imagine how or why I was ever hesitant, or nervous about going through with studying abroad, and having this amazing experience.

Perfect snowflakes in Prague

I feel so lucky to have been given this opportunity, and meet so many interesting, and kind people. Every day the experiences I have, and the things I see teach me so much. I cannot wait to continue to see the world, and bring all the knowledge, and experience back home with me!


castellers enero 2013

Name: Sara
CIEE Barcelona Program: Liberal Arts
Semester: Spring 2013
Home School: University of Iowa

Un grupo de estudiantes en mi programa y yo fuimos a un ensayo castellers el último viernes. Antes del ensayo, solamente he visto videos de la gente que participa. Pensaba que es una actividad extraña y peculiar, se parece como cheerleading en los estados, pero más extrema. Te recomiendo que miras las videos de los castellers en YouTube porque son divertido.


Después de mirar los castellers, tengo un aprecio nuevo para ellos. Es increíble la cantidad de práctica que es necesario para desempeñar las formaciones. Muchas requieren un año y las formaciones más complicadas pueden necesitar tres años para estar listo. Es difícil porque necesita mucha gente para las formaciones y este requiere la gente para ir a todos los ensayos. 

 Fre2En mi grupo muchas personas participan con los castellers. Ellos escalan a la espalda de un hombre. No traté porque la practica requiere mucha fuerza para se levanta. Es increíble para mirar las personas de muchas edades participan en este actividad, hay mayores y niños, hombres y mujeres también.  Los niños llevan cascos porque ellos están en la cofa de la formación y si se caen necesitan protección.

 Fre1Me gusta esta práctica porque la se unen la gente de muchas edades y de muchas familias. También es muy importante a la gente para participar y es una tradición que esta continuando y es importante para mantener las tradiciones.


Casteller from Mike Randolph on Vimeo.