Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween it is!

Here in Spain, Halloween is not a bank holiday, here they celebrate Día de todos los santos, and it’s tomorrow. So, tomorrow I don’t have school, and today has been a little busy, doing Halloween-things in the morning, and going to School in the afternoon (which was also themed Spanish-style Halloween, Día de todos los santos = The day of all the spirits) I will tell all about this day tomorrow, today it’s all about Halloweeeeeen!

So we did make a pumpkin pie! My first time to ever make one, or taste one. And it was really nice! It has almost all the same spices as our very traditional Norwegian ginger-bread-cookies (that we make & eat for Christmas), and it somehow reminded me a little of them.


Then the pumpkin cookies, basically the same as the pie, just in the form of cookies. Loved them too!


Actually there wasn’t time to do the pumpkin carvings as well, so some of us are going back now to do that. There are some Halloween-parties around town where you get a free drink if you dress up and stuff, but it's not a big deal here. I am happy just doing the pumpkin carvings anyway!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween is coming up


I’m still not feeling very good, but have used the weekend well indoors, and now my feet are itchy to get outside and see and do things again! Tomorrow is Halloween and Tuesday is the Día de todos los 
santos so I’m ready to find out what it’s all about.

In my ever-changing class there is now an American girl, and she has invited us along to do some Halloween-stuff at her house. I am beyond excited! In Norway there isn’t much Halloween-celebration going on, we have adopted the custom but just the last few years and it’s not big at all. Here in Spain I think it’s more or less the same, but all the fruit-shops have been selling pumpkins this last week and I am ready for my first Halloween’ish Halloween!

Apparently we will make a pumpkin pie, and pumpkin cookies! And we will all bring a pumpkin to carve. It’s a lot of firsts for me, and I think it’s awesome!

One of the things I love about this experience in Spain, is that not only do I learn a lot about Spanish customs and ways, but I also get to know people from so many different countries and cultures, and I feel truly blessed to take part of real American Halloween activities! 

My pumpkin! It's huge!! (Notice the coin next to it :)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A reason why I like Barcelona more

Last saturday I posted a reason I like Barcelona more, and I think it's time for another reason!

I love LOVE that they don’t have the siesta here! At least not in the centre and where I move around, and that is just great. The shops are open from 10 in the morning till 9:30 at night. I like to buy my stuff whenever I want to!  

I will refer to my post on the subject from Málaga. It was a bit of a shock actually, and quite annoying if I may say, that all the shops closed between 2 pm and 5 pm. Even supermarkets. 
For a local, this is probably as normal as brushing your teeth before going to bed, and not something to get worked up about at all, but to me it seemed like every time I remembered something I needed to buy, at what hour was it? Of COURSE, some time between 2 and 5.  

So, I love that in Barcelona I can do my shopping whenever I want!


Friday, October 28, 2011

The rain got to me!

In my very limited baggage allowance when moving here I turned down my rain jacket, or any rain gear at all really. After all, I was moving to sunny Spain. It wouldn’t be the thing I’d miss the most surely.

And it hasn’t. I’ve been in Spain now for almost 8 weeks, and in the first seven I didn’t see a drop of rain. Until this week, when it all came. With added interest.

I bought an umbrella on Monday, when thankfully there was a guy selling them at the metro station but an umbrella doesn’t protect you when it’s raining horizontal, nor does it protect your legs or feet. 
So by the time I reached the language school, I was pretty much soaked. And then I sat there for 5 hours with wet pants and shoes and socks. With air conditioning on full speed. Not a great combo.

My throat is sore, my head hurts and I feel sort of crappy.
Looks like my weekend will be a lot of:




Thursday, October 27, 2011

The roof terrace at Grand Hotel Central, Barcelona

It's a very grey and very rainy day here again today, so I thought I'd post some sunny pictures from a fantabulous day last week! 

I had not yet seen Beautiful Barcelona from a roof, so a friend of mine told me about this fabulous hotel she had read about, that was supposed to have the most amazing views from its fancy roof terrace bar. 

We went there, and asked as nicely as we could in reception if we were allowed to enter the roof for a drink.

Man at reception: “No, I am sorry but it is only for guests.”


That would normally be enough for me to say “Ok, thank you” and leave...


But my friend had read some great reviews about this place and really wanted to see it, so she asked “Isn’t there aaaany way we could get up there? See, we have read such great things about it and we would love to see it.”


Man at reception
: “The only way for you to access it is if you are guests or have lunch or dinner at the hotel’s restaurant. Then you can get up there after. I am very sorry.”

My friend
saw her opportunity: “Ah! Can we have lunch up there then maybe?” with her greatest smile.

Man at reception
: “No”, he responded patiently. “You’ll need to have the meal at the restaurant, and then you can get a snack or a drink up at the roof afterwards.”

My friend
: “Ah! Can we maybe have a snack up there then?” Haha, I admire her insistence!

Man at reception
(extremely patient! But always smiling) : “No, I am very sorry. You would either need to be a hotel guest, or eat at the restaurant to get up there. But you can ask my boss if you want, he’s the one with the black jacket over there.” Haha, he was getting nowhere with us.

My friend, never-giving-up, went over to the boss and started it all over again. In the end, he said to the receptionist, “You can take them up there if they want to see it so badly, and if there aren’t a lot of guests they can stay for a while.”


Hah!


So he took us up there, and let us stay. My gosh! The views were stunning! And the terrace itself was too. We stayed a couple hours and I felt like I could stay the whole day. I wish I could come back to this place for some serious relax & quality time with just a book for company. What a wonderful place to be! 


The hotel's website is http://www.grandhotelcentral.com/





 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Guapa!

Guapo/a is a word I learned quickly in Spanish... Guapo/a means beautiful/pretty/handsome/precious, and ends with an “o” if it’s intended for a male and “a” if it’s intended a female. But what’s so weird to me, is that is seems like it’s somehow mandatory for guys to shout it out to every female passing by.
This is a very clear cultural difference.

In Norway, there’s few compliments to fetch from the average Norwegian. At least if there’s not quite a lot of beer consumed beforehand. Most Norwegians would probably blush if they knew how much the men compliment the women here!

I must say that I notice that there's a lot less guapa-yelling going on here in Barcelona, compared to Málaga. There I experienced lots of men calling “Guapa!” after me in the streets, and it might as well be a man of age 70 as one aged 18. And it was almost every man you passed by. (Yes, seriously!) I never take it as a compliment though. (I almost wish I would enjoy it, being used to the Norwegians and everything!)
It feels more like it's something mandatory for guys to yell out to women?! And although I could pretend they were heartfelt compliments, to be honest it's more annoying and importunate than flattering. Maybe it’s because I am not used to it, but I just don’t know how to react to random guys yelling “Gaupaaaa” after me and winking!

Anyone with experiences and a little advice would be very welcome to share! 

And I am also curious to hear how this is in other cuntries, would anyone be so sweet to share?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

After the storm...


...the sun is back, and the clouds have withdrawn. Now my beautiful Barcelona is just as shiny as ever.
It wasn’t just me who thought the rain yesterday was extraordinary. Apparently it caused quite some problems.

The first storm of this fall caused up to 162 kilometers of queues in the highways accessing Barcelona due to accidents (I guess they’re not used to driving in heavy rain?...), delays on the trains, while big regions outside of Barcelona were left with no electricity four hours, and the firemen were busy with numerous inundations and some evacuations.

The automatic weather station in Barcelona centre informed that there had been an accumulation of 54 liters of water yesterday! And further up the coast, in Malgrat de Mar (about 1 hour from Barcelona) a total of 144 liters. That is crazy! I can’t quite get my head around it, but I guess I should be able to trust the big newspapers…

Although the warm sun dries everything up pretty fast, this morning there was still traces of all the water:

Monday, October 24, 2011

When it eventually rains in Spain.

This is the first day that it’s raining since I arrived Spain.

I am used to Norwegian weather, and although it doesn't necessarily rain all that much there, I am not sure I have ever experienced 7 weeks of happy sunny weather without a day of rain before. Today was the day I would be introduced to rainy Spain...

It makes me realize how much everything changes when the scenery is painted with heavy dark clouds and no sunlight! It's like it takes away the gloss of the city altogether and it gets kinda dark and cheerless.

Do the clouds in Spain work differently? Do they hide away and collect and collect...and collect water during all those weeks they stay away to then pour it down for hours and hours as if they would never empty? I have never in my life experienced such a heavy rainfall! And it's been going on for most of the day, mixed with a mean thunder, louder than loud. Actually, the crashing thunder makes it feel like the walls are shaking and the lightening feels like a camera flash on a dark evening, just that it's bright daylight. (I also think I have never actually seen lightening in day-light before.)

In this kind of weather, the only thing I want to do is snuggle up inside with good music and a good book, it's perfect staying-in-weather. I have never liked the rain, probably because I have always just had a little too much of it, but maybe, just maybe I can learn to like it? As long as it comes in small doses!

Do you like the rain? And do you have a tip to make rainy days cosy and nice? I would love to hear it!

Good news for Spain: ETA declares permanent ceasefire

ETA, a terrorist group in the Basque Country (northern Spain and south-west France) have for four decades fought for an independent and free Basque Country. The Basque, just like the Catalans, don’t want to be part of Spain but they took it one step further there up north, choosing the violent way of stating their point.

ETA, Euskadi Ta Azkatasuna, stands for Basque Homeland and Freedom. It started as a student resistance movement opposed to Franco’s repressive dictatorship. (Under Franco, the Basque language was banned, and intellectuals was imprisoned and tortured for their political and cultural beliefs.)
Eta has killed more than 800 people, (many of them policemen), and more than 1000 have been injured by their attacks.

Last week there was a peace-conference in San Sebastian (one of the cities in Basque Country in northern Spain) where they encouraged ETA to put down their weapons for good.
ETA have several times declared ceasefire, only to later attack again but this time they have published a declaration with a definitive cease of its armed activity, and that has never happened before.

I think this is the best news for Spain in a long long time and I just hope that it's for real!

The declaration is translated to English by the newspaper GARA here

The photo from the press-release of the declaration (from www.elmundo.es)
There is something very creepy about them if you ask me...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

How to find a place to live in Barcelona

So what have I learnt about finding a place to live in Barcelona?
I wasn’t aware it would be such a hard task to find a place to live, bu here’s a little guide for anyone who might need it!


The one and most important page to use is http://www.loquo.com/en_us . (Yes, the page is in English too!) Choose Barcelona in the side-bar. (This page is working for many cities in Spain.) It’s a genius community-site where you can find mostly whatever. 


Although I would love to get a flat to myself …when in Rome… I am doing it the Spanish way, like I explained here , so a room in a shared flat was what I looked for. 

There are hundreds of ads for rooms added every day, so it’s important to check back a few times a day to see what’s new. Look under “Housing” and then “Rooms for rent/shared”.

A relatively centric room in a good area and a good flat should be priced between 300€ and 400€ depending on how many sharing the flat, the facilities of the flat etc.

There are many neighbourhoods in Barcelona, and some of those considered most centric are: EIXAMPLE, EL GOTICO, EL RAVAL, around PLAZA CATALUNYA and PLAZA UNIVERSITAT.

A basic rule (with a few exceptions) is that the further away from Plaza Catalunya you are, the cheaper it gets.


It’s important you read the ads with a critical eye
. Don’t be naïve. If you’re a girl and you find an ad from a guy renting only to girls, try to read between the lines. If he says things like “price can be discussed”, don’t be surprised if he is going to offer you a room for free in exchange of … “various services"! Ok, you're allowed to be surprised, but now I have warned you!

Go see the room
as soon as possible, and get a feeling about the people renting it. They want to meet you to decide if they want you there, but sharing a household is a two-way-street, it’s important that you also feel comfortable with those living there.

My experience is that it is like a full-time job. It takes time and energy. There are lots of rooms, but also lots of people wanting them, so prepare for competition and having to spend some time to find the best place for you. There are loads of ugly, horrible and dirty rooms and I think a good tip is to only contact the ads with photos, should help a little. Also decide what you are looking for; if you are a homey person, find out if the flatmates are party-animals and think about whether that would suit you or not... (I guess that applies to finding a place to live anywhere, I just mention it since I was without any experience in flat-sharing before coming to Spain and I made sure to be on the same page as the ones I would live with!)

In the end, I am living in a quite nice flat, sharing with only one person, in a nice and centric area, and right now I wouldn't want to change a thing about it!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A reason why I like Barcelona more


The simple reason that more people speak English here!
Which is nice when your Spanish is not worth a thing… In Málaga, obviously having just arrived I wasn’t able to communicate at all in Spanish, and it can be quite frustrating actually. Just going to the super market, a bar or a café can be quite the challenge. What I experienced most of the time was that they didn’t speak a word of English and with my 5 words of Spanish it would get difficult at times.
It doesn't matter how good it sounds in theory to not use English when learning Spanish, in practice it sucks!

Barcelona is more international and I have met English speaking personnel where I have needed it. Very refreshing when the words don't come out right in Spanish.

Just to be clear- I ALWAYS try in Spanish first.
I am sure people will say it’s wrong to switch to English; I am in Spain, and I’d better just learn the hard way, but I have never understood that. How can you learn when you don’t understand a word or don't know the word you need? An explanation would be lovely, anyone? 

Until my Spanish is better, I will – without feeling guilty - speak English if I have to!!

Statue of Columbus looking to sea

Friday, October 21, 2011

A fairytale world in the big city

So, as I have told before, in my Spanish course every day I have one hour of culture studies. This week it’s been all about Antoni Gaudí. The genius with the fabulous imagination who dared create stuff that the world had never yet seen.

He is partly to blame for my ongoing fascination for Barcelona, I had seen so many pictures from the city where his work was displayed and I always thought it looked so amazingly playful and beautiful. I am finally here and little by little I am discovering his work- and today I want to tell you about this fantastic park where he really got to play!


It’s one of his bigger projects, where he has succeeded in adapting architecture to nature.


It really is a fairytale in the name of Gaudí. It was commissioned for Gaudi’s friend Eusebi Guell and was originally thought to be a garden city with big villas. He worked on it from 1900 till 1914 but in the end, only two villas were built due to lack of funding. Since 1923 the park has been open to the public, and in 1948, the park was added to Unesco’s list of world heritage sites. Let me take you for a walk in the park!


Mosaics, arcades, viaducts, and on the top of the hall of the hundred columns...


... the big “roof terrace” with its beautiful mosaic benches...

 
... looking over the south end entrance, where the two ginger-bread-like houses are located...


...and the characteristic lizard fountain. 


Everything is “alive” with curving forms. A key word to his work was preferably no sharp edges or corners. Flow and movement. So distinguished and cool.The park also houses a museum, a funny pink fairytale house that was once Gaudí’s home. I will enter it some day and tell all about it.

It's all truly beautiful and I would say a must when visiting Barcelona. It's a nice break from the crazy busy noisy city centre, it's got great views, and is a very different and beautiful park. It’s located up towards the mountain of Tibidabo, and if you climb to the top you get amazing panoramic views over the city. 


How to get there: There are two easy ways to get there:
  1. You take the metro, green line (L3) to LESSEPS, then change to bus number 24 with direction CARMEL. It will stop just outside the park entrance. 
  2. Or you take the same metro, green line to VALLCARCA, and from there get the escalators up to the park. It’s quite steep up towards the park and I think it’s brilliant that they have put up lots of escalators that take you all the way up to the park!

 Enjoy!
                                                                                                               ~ Storby~

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"The return", by Victoria Hislop. A beautiful story based in Spain during the civil war.

As a good bye-gift from one of my friends when I was moving to Spain, I got a book; “The return” by Victoria Hislop. I didn’t know the book, but my friend thought it was only right to give me a book based in the region of the country I was about to move to. I am so glad she did! 
 
The return is told in three parts. It starts in year 2001 with two friends going to Granada, Spain for a dance holiday, where the main character Sonia one day starts talking to Miguel, the owner of an old, authentic Spanish bar on the main square. She keeps coming back to this same bar for her coffee, and one day she asks him about all the photos filling the walls, and he starts telling her the story of the Ramirez family who used to own the bar.
We are taken back to 1931, when the civil war began in Granada and how it affected the Ramirez-family. The viewpoint changes between the different members of the family as they are separated and we follow mainly the daughter Mercedes and son Antonio while they experience how the civil war tears apart their family, their city and their country.
The story is brutal, touching and a beautiful depiction of what the Spanish people had to live through while their country was in war against itself, the uncertainty of never knowing who was on what side, when the next arrest or bombing would take place and if they would live tomorrow.

In the end we’re back in year 2001 as Miguel finishes telling the story.

The story is captivating and well written, especially the main part around the civil war. I fell in love with these characters and didn’t want the book to end. Few times has a novel stirred my emotions like this one. Maybe it's because I was in the start of my new life in Spain and I felt closer to it all, but it certainly triggered my interest in the history of this country. 

I recommend it warmly! 
Link to the book in www.amazon.co.uk users here  and www.amazon.com users here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Magical moments

I had another magical moment this Sunday. I was walking around in the gothic quarter, when some beautiful musical tones captivated me. Like I have said before, music is a big source of energy and inspiration for me and I forget time and place when I come across something truly good. Like this one, a Spanish guitar playing the most enchanting melodies.

The guitar player was sitting just behind the cathedral. In those narrow alleys in between all the historical buildings, the acoustics are amazing. It is a place where masses of people go by constantly, but I stopped and stayed for a good twenty minutes just listening to this wonderful music, not sensing anything else. After some time, I felt it was too rude or something to stay on, so I reluctantly dragged myself away from it as s-l-o-w-l-y as I could so to keep hearing it as long as possible.



Lucky for me, he sold CD’s, and although it’s the first time I have ever bought a CD from a street performer I am so so happy I did! This music has some kind of hypnotic effect on me, truly relaxing!


...so I have learned that I absolutely adore Spanish guitar! I had my first amazing experience in Málaga, and now I had my second one here with Costel, as he calls himself.
I will definitely look out for shows and concerts with this kind of music, I am hooked!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Housing in Barcelona

First of all, the prices for housing here are quite high. And the salaries are quite low. To put this into perspective, a normal size apartment, let’s say a 2-3 bedroom apartment of about 50-70 square meters, normally cost, (or close to) a whole month’s salary.

That’s a bad start if you ask me.

They seem to blame the euro. From 1869(!) till 2002, the currency in Spain was the PESETA. The exchange rate when the euro was implemented was 1€= 166.386 pesetas. (I can imagine the mental calculations in the beginning, every time they needed to spend money in Euros!)
Anyway, with this new golden currency everything got more expensive. The prices for food, clothes, housing; everything increased. But the salaries didn’t.

That’s a bad continuation…

So, what do people do? Well, either live with the parents until well into their adult life (completely normal to live at home until after 35), maybe even until they get married.
Or they share flats. And the more, the merrier! I have seen many rooms in my hunt for a home, and I must say that some of them should never have been categorized as bedrooms, more like closets. Rooms so tiny you can barely move around the small bed, not even with a wardrobe, let alone a table or a desk. And it seems it’s just normal that 7 or more people share a flat with just one bathroom. I don’t even want to know how they manage that.

Another thing is that it is usual to rent internal rooms. Meaning rooms with no window at all, or a window leading to an inside shaft. I think it is the typical beginner’s error, to choose one of these rooms. I did it, and I have heard of more like myself. In my country I don’t think this exists, so of course I didn’t know what it meant until I was already living there.
My room is leading to a shaft and it’s got little light, and since all kitchens in the building normally lead into the shaft, there are always some food smells going on there, making it basically not very pleasant to keep the window open. Which again is not too nice when the temperature outside if past 30 and inside even more. (Not to self: next room will  not be interior!) On the bright side, there are just two floors above our flat, so it could’ve been worse. I guess the poor people down at first floor must have it way worse than me.

Before moving to Spain, I had never lived in a shared flat, so it’s all new experiences lined up for me. But I think that with an open mind, mostly everything is doable! And although it's not the prettiest room in the world, I have pretty beautiful surroundings as soon as I step out into the city. That'll have to do for now!

I wouldn't mind living in this house!