Let’s go to the beach – beach

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Reading Week 2012 – Barcelona, Berlin, Rome, and Florence

Part 1. Barcelona

Sophia and I arrived in Barcelona Saturday afternoon and spent a good bit trying to find our hostel that happened to have no signs and be above a fruit store. After settling in, we went to the main area of town, where we immediately met up with Hana, Claire, Molly, and Danny, our traveling companions. We managed to find a restaurant that actual Spanish people were eating at, and Sophia and I got a large paella, two main dishes, two desserts, and a liter of sangria all for 13 euros each – ¡muy bueno! 

We then went to the apartment our friends had rented and chilled out, chatted, and got ready for the night. I had to pee like a racehorse on the train, almost to the point where I would have peed in these little passport photo booths they have everywhere. We found the Obama bar (which is quite nice) and got a few drinks there before wandering aimlessly trying to find a club. At the one place we did find, I had to save Hana from a 60 year old man trying to dance up on her.

That pretty much hits the nail on the head for club life in Barcelona – we couldn’t find it. We spent a couple of nights in the same bar with a nice staff and some alright drink specials, but other than that, we were pretty unsuccessful. We did end up seeing a peep show for 2 euros each – one of the weirdest experiences of my trip.

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The rest of the time in Barcelona, we spent trying to see a lot of the sights. We saw the Sagrada Familia by Gaudi, this incredible cathedral in the middle of the city. We went on the pier, which is basically a tourist trap with expensive stores and restaurants. We wanted to go to the beach (beach) but never ended up making it there, as the weather was too cold and rainy that day. While Hana and Danny took the train, Sophia and I trekked up Montjuic (not knowing it was a mountain…), where we all admired the amazing Castell and a fine view of the city.

The definite highlight of the trip was Park Guell, which is this park designed by Gaudi that looks a lot like a fairy tale land. We watched the sun set over Barcelona with the best view in the city. Overall, I think Barcelona is a city that is made by its beauty and by Gaudi. Our traveling companions made it what some may call a “swell time”. 

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Such a fortunate fool

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I’m on my reading week and have so far been to Barcelona, Berlin, just arrived in Rome and will be headed to Florence soon. I’ll do a full breakdown of my time here when I get home, but I’d like to talk about some of the marvelous discoveries I’ve made on my journey.

Sophia and I stumbled (as we often do – as is the best way to discover things while traveling) upon a Christmas market in Berlin. While I indulged in a man-made sledding hill, complete with snow and strobe lights, Sophia heard some girls speaking English and struck up a conversation with them. Sisi from Copenhagen and Chloe from Oxford – two girls au pairing in Berlin.

Four hours later, we’d had drinks together at two bars and talked the night away with politics, culture, and getting to know each other. This morning, we met up again for what was meant to be a quick lunch and ended up being a 3.5 hour conversation about economic and social problems in the world (minus Denmark) among other things, each learning more about each others’ countries and lives. This brilliant connection between strangers in a foreign country happened all because we share a common language and were open enough to talk to strangers in a strange land.

Our world has closed its doors to itself, in a way. Especially in America. Most of us, myself included, have almost no idea how other countries see us, how they work, or that there is no “greatest country in the world” (again except maybe Denmark). We often make assumptions about other people, cultures, and governments and blind ourselves with patriotism and arrogance. We are a nation in a struggle – and we know that. But do we recognize the economic struggles of the rest of the world? We are no better than many other countries, no worse than many more, and we are often too self centered to see that.

Then there are countries like, well, Denmark, which have almost no poverty, schools and universities that pay their students like its a job, free health care, and amazing welfare for those who need it – and no one minds paying extremely high taxes because they don’t need to live in excess like we do. And because of this, they live better off than most Americans. We don’t have the economy for that right now – sure – but one day we could. And yet I know we will throw a fit about helping others or paying high taxes when most of us were just lucky to be born in a position where we could be upwardly mobile.

Taxes help all of us, and don’t we want everyone to be able to thrive? Isn’t that true patriotism? And are there not people in a position to pay high taxes to make our country survive and thrive, taxes that can give all Americans the same opportunities they were lucky enough to have? Do we really want anyone living on the streets or dying of cancer and unable to fight it?

I’m lucky for the experiences I’ve gotten to have. The people I’ve been able to meet and the culture differences have made a vast impact on how I feel about the world and my place in it as an American. I feel somewhat hypocritical saying all of this because I’m only able to say it because I’m one of the lucky few born with enough money to be able to do something like this. I’m able to do this not because I’ve ever done anything incredible or worked extremely hard, but because I have a mom who supports me with whatever I want to do. I have a dad who spent years and years studying his ass off and working and saving lives and still works 50 or more hours a week at 72 years old. A dad who was born to poor, hard working immigrant laborers that encouraged him to work hard and make a life in the “land of opportunity”, America. A dad who pays a high tax bracket and believes in helping out the rest of the world.

I think we as Americans should look back at this, at the work we and our ancestors put into our country. At the fact that we are almost all born to immigrants of our land. That we are all part of a bigger picture, a bigger world that is watching and hearing what we are doing and sees our arrogance and selfishness. It’s something I have been very privileged to be able to see, something hard to understand and honestly unfair and hypocritical for me to mention, but something worth thinking about and improving upon.

Even though it is by no means perfect, and even though I live there not having the same rights as everyone else, I do love America. I always have and always will have, and it’s because of the opportunities there that allow my family and I to live as we do. But in these fragile economic and socially tense times, I think it’s also important to take a step back and realize the world is changing. The world is struggling along with us, and there are solutions to be found by seeing that and looking to some of them as models and partners in this struggle – by working with them and not acting like we are better off than everyone else in the world. We are all in this together.

Hold your own, know your name, and go your own way

Quite a bit has happened since I last updated, so I’ll give a quick rundown:

Saw Wicked with Mollie from Northwestern – always nice to have a familiar face to hang out with, and Wicked was amazing. It was really interesting to hear the whole show in British accents. Sexy.

Liz came to visit from Copenhagen for a few days, which was quite lovely. We started our time off at Borough Market, each getting some vegetarian Indian street food. As an avid foodie, I think Borough Market is my favorite place in London. The free samples of chocolate and vinegars and sausages, the goat’s milk ice cream (which sadly wasn’t there when we visited), and the variety of street food just make my heart, soul, and stomach collide in a joyous celebration of taste.

Liz and I hung around New Cross a bit that night (Sunday). The next morning, we woke up and got Dim Sum in Chinatown (making my daddy proud). We did the touristy free stuff – Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, London Eye, etc. – and then took a wifi pit stop in the Tate Modern, where we were approached by chanting strangers and told interesting life stories. We ate dinner at an Indian restaurant in Soho called Masala Zone that was very nice and then made our way down the street to see Les Miserables. Even though I sat in the furthest corner of the highest balcony, it was a wonderful experience seeing one of my favorite shows on the West End. Sierra Burgess as Fantine, the Javert, and Danielle Hope as Eponine were highlights, as well as their extremely hot Marius (okay I just had to put that out there – I had to have something to make me smile in the nearly three hours of misery).

Liz and I then went to a club called Pacha by ourselves, stone sober and about an hour too early. We realized that we weren’t going to have any fun without drinking massively and acting stupid – ten double vodka red bulls and 25 pictures with random strangers later, we were having the time of our lives. I guarantee no one in that club had as much fun as we did. We even got the DJ to put on “Gangnam Style” for us before we peaced out.

The next day, we went to Camden Market, where I had two of the most delicious macaroons I have ever eaten in my life. We stumbled upon the lock and walked along the water to Regent’s Park, which I swear has been in some movie or at least my dreams. The golden trees lining the long path were something special. From there, we headed back to New Cross so I could go to boring class. We ate Mexican food in Greenwich, which is a place I’d like to explore further.

The following weekend I went to Scotland, which is the most beautiful place in the world. I swear I want to have my honeymoon there. The highlands are incredible, especially in autumn, and even though most of the trip was just driving around in a coach, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Tanya and I met some cool girls, and I got lectured on substance abuse by this girl who went on to tell me that I “don’t dress like a gay person” and that she “didn’t realize that there were different kinds.” Hilarious characters you meet around the world. I’m going to have to upload all my pictures so you can understand how gorgeous Scotland is.

 

Tanya and me at Stirling Castle.

 

 

Tanya and me in the Highlands!

 

Me and Hamish, the Highland cow!!!

I skyped home a lot this week, which was nice. Talked to Jonny, Addi, Harriett, Christa, Laura Ann, and dear old mommy through the course of a few days. Studying abroad isn’t always easy – the hard, shitty, lonely times are just as much a wonderful part of the growing experience as all the drinking, partying, adventuring, and fun. It’s been surprisingly a roller coaster of a time here, but I’m starting to figure out who I am, who I want to be, and who I don’t want to be. Having such good friends at home to be with me, in a sense, on this journey has been really lovely.

Three of my American friends and I went to Shoreditch for Thai food this week as well. I’m absolutely in love with the area and will certainly be eating there again. There were some hip restaurants (yo).

Tomorrow, I head to Barcelona, Berlin, Rome and Florence for the week with my British friend Sophia and some other friends. It’s going to be a crazy good time, if we can manage to catch all of our flights and not end up in Asia or something.

I know it was a wordy post with a lot of information, but I’m sure I’ll have plenty of emotional, life-changing words to say when I get back from holiday. I was pretty homesick this week, but I’m feeling good now. Ready to take on Europe.