Sunday, December 27, 2009

Home for a week, then Florida!

This month has been quite busy with term wrapping up. Both of my main classes had big term papers, and it was a big push at the end to get them both done. But they are done now, and I am off on break! I'm home now, which is very nice, and on Tuesday I will be going to Florida for 9 days to train with the crew team. I just checked the weather, and it's going to be warm! I packed a bathing suit, so I hope I get to use it!

Today I got new running shoes, which is very exciting. The store I go to has people who know a ton about running and shoes, and it seems like everyone there runs at least 50-70 miles a week, and there are some that run way more. The guy that was helping me also had the cutest little dog (except Pita!), it looked like a pug but it was something else. Anyway, she was 11 weeks old and so soft! I have to say I got a little distracted from the shoes. But I ended up with a purple pair of sneakers that are very comfortable and almost make me hope that we go running in Florida so I can test them out :) Almost.

It's been pretty warm while I've been home, at least for December. It's been in the 50s the last few days, and raining instead of snowing. When I got home, everything was covered in snow from the storm last weekend, but now it's almost all gone.

I've decided that I'm applying for a dual master's degree with a more policy-flavored program. The application is due in early January, so I've got to get it finished up soon. But before that, I've got to get it started :P The only real hard part is the statement of purpose, as I know from applying to grad school last year. But it's hard to get started, and it's hard to tell when you're done. I'm really excited about this program though, so I will just have to buckle down and start writing.

And now it's time for dinner. Here's a picture of our Hanukkah menorah, my Christmas tree, our Kwanzaa flowers, and our atheist plant. Also some cereal and sugar, and our new curtains in the background, made by my mom! Happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The semester's ending, and it's getting cold

I haven't been writing too much lately, but there have been a lot of things going on. This week is the last week of official crew practice until we go to Florida at the end of the month. We've been practicing inside since our last race, but inside sometimes means outside when we're running, so it can be kind of cold. I miss rowing on the water, so hopefully Florida will be a good way to get back into that. I'm not sure how this trip will compare to the swimming trips we've had to Puerto Rico, since the team dynamics are very different on the crew team and the swim team.

Other than crew, research is going all right. I've been working on a slightly different project, and I submitted a first cut at a piece of it to my advisor, so now I'm waiting for him to get back to me with his feedback. Things are going well in the lab, with our Lab Thanksgiving last week and a holiday party coming up in the next couple of weeks. We're also playing an online game called warfish, which is a pretty fun thing to play with 15 people. It provides a nice distraction from resesarch every once in a while.

I've been feeling a bit stressed with final papers/projects for my two classes, but a couple of weeks from now it will all be done and turned in, which I'm very excited for. I've enjoyed my classes this semester, and I'm hoping I can put together a schedule that I'll like as much for next semester. So far, I'm not sure how well that's going to work out. I'm going to be taking at least one more technical class, so hopefully that won't be too much of a shock after the slightly less technical term I've just had. Other than that, scheduling is turning out to be a bit of a problem. Grad school classes don't keep the 5-7 pm block open for sports the way undergrad classes do. I guess this makes sense, because most grad students aren't participating in varsity sports, but it works out to be a problem for me.

It was nice to go home for Thanksgiving and see my family and run in my high school cross country team's annual alumni race. My boyfriend and I drove this year, which didn't take as long as we expected and was much less stressful than taking the overcrowded bus or paying for the train or plane. We listened to some podcasts, which was fun.

There's always more to write about, but I'm going to stop for now. Here's a picture of our crew race, in which you can see how rainy it was:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Monday, November 2, 2009


My lab went as the periodic table, and we won most creative at the department's costume contest! The prize was a $5 gift certificate for ice cream, so I guess we'll each get a bite of ice cream :)

Here we are:

And my knitting square is more than halfway done, and I'm going to work on it this evening. It's looking good!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I'm knitting a square

My friend Rebecca inspired me to write this post because she is knitting a blanket to donate to a homeless shelter in Boston and wrote some on her blog about it. The blanket is made up of 35 squares, and our other friend Jenn and I are each knitting a square to contribute to her blanket. We are alternating little squares of knitting and purling. I'm a little more than halfway done with my square at this point, but it's slow going. I'll try to remember to take a picture of it when I'm finished.

In other news, I rowed port yesterday at practice (I'm usually a starboard), and I got some new blisters on my right hand as a result. I'm getting what's known as "crew hands", which means basically a lot of blisters and/or calluses. We are racing in the Foot of the Charles on November 14th, and I'm looking forward to it. My parents and maybe my brother are going to come watch, which is very exciting. They haven't seen my new apartment or my office (except my brother), so that should be fun.

Research is going ok, but I wish I knew Python (a programming language) better. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to do something using the pieces that I know, and then I ask someone for help on one little aspect of it, and they point out that there was a much easier way to do the exact same thing. Also, there is still a never-ending pile of background reading to do, which gets a bit tedious. On the other side, I'm thinking that I might apply for a dual degree in technology and policy, along with aero/astro. I have to run that by my advisor to make sure he's ok with that, which I'm nervous to do (on the chance that he'll say no).

The weather here is getting colder and yuckier, which isn't fun for crew or biking everywhere or just being outside or wearing skirts and dresses. It's raining today and it rained yesterday, but hopefully tomorrow will be better.

Oh! I can't believe I almost forgot to mention this, but President Obama was here on Friday to give a speech about clean energy! You can watch the speech from the link here. There was only room for 200 students in the entire auditorium (I think the capacity is over 1000), so most of the community was watching the speech from other rooms with projectors set up, including me. It was very exciting!

Monday, October 12, 2009

My brother is visiting!

He's the first one in either of our families to see our new apartment, and it's very exciting! Yesterday we went to the Boston Public Library, which I'd never been to. It's beautiful, and now that I've been, I'm definitely adding it to the list of places people have to see when they visit Boston. Here's a picture of the courtyard:

It seems like I start these posts and then don't get around to finishing them, but I guess it's better than not posting at all, even though it's short. Life is busy!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sometimes we row by eights

And today we did! It's a lot harder to keep the boat balanced when there is no one to hold their oars flat on the water. But it's so much fun! We have two races this fall, both in November. I'm excited!

Here's an amusing picture to keep you entertained:

The new apartment is looking great, and it's finally starting to feel like we've moved in and unpacked. There's always a little more to do, but it's overall really coming together.

My classes are a swamp of reading, which is pretty different from previous semesters. I'm not taking any classes with problem sets, which is also unusual. I'm finding the material interesting, but I'm not used to doing this much reading and I'm sometimes finding it hard to get through it all.

This weekend we're going to Minneapolis to see my boyfriend's family. They don't subscribe to quite the same "busy-all-the-time-don't-stop-to-breathe" lifestyle that I do, so it's a nice place to go to relax. And maybe take a nap. And with that, I'm going to go to sleep tonight!

Sorry for not posting more!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Super quick post

Well, I have at least two readers still, so I'll keep going. I have a lot of homework due tomorrow (oh, if only I had started it earlier!), so it's going to be short, but hopefully sweet.

We had our housewarming party on Saturday night, and it was a ton of fun! A lot of our friends came, but we didn't get any noise complaints and no one spilled anything on the couch. I was too busy to take pictures, but I'll put some up soon of the apartment. It's getting more and more set up, and it's really fun!

On Sunday I went sailing with some people from my lab on a boat that belongs to one of the professors in the lab and her husband (are they married? not sure, but in any case they have a boat together). There were 14 of us altogether, and it was also a ton of fun! Here's a picture:

Oh yeah, and no big deal, but they let me drive the boat for a while. I only stopped when it became necessary to eat a brownie. Isn't my lab great? Lucky for me, it was a beautiful day. Otherwise, I would have been freezing!

There's also a fun place to sit up in the front of the boat (called the bow, I now know):

Crew has also been going well. We've gone out on the water a few more times, and it's a slow process of "improvement". Well, even though we're not that good, I'm having a great time. I'm not going to be rowing in the Head of the Charles, in case you were wondering (we can't even row all 8 at a time yet), but I will be there cheering!

And, as promised, this is a super quick post, so this is the end. But check back every once in a while, because I'll keep updating!

Friday, September 18, 2009

I haven't posted in a while

Hello anyone who's still reading this! I haven't posted in a while, but things have still been going on. My boyfriend and I moved into our new apartment, grad school started, I've visited with friends, and I took up crew, among other things. I'm having a great time so far this school year, but things are quite busy. I'm taking two classes and a seminar, and all of them require a fair amount of reading. (That might actually be an understatement.) Anyway, I'm enjoying them, and I'm really enjoying crew, the apartment, and having an office. I feel like a real person! Who still goes to classes.

Today at "work" (if you can call it that, I'm not sure how to refer to grad school), we cleaned out our office and put some new things in there. Some of the stuff we got rid of looked like it hadn't been touched, much less cleaned, in the last 15 years. It's a lot cleaner now, but it's also sort of bare. I need to bring some more pictures and posters to put up. We also had a teleoperations team meeting, where we discussed an article about sleep processes that we had read. Next week, we're going to Brigham and Women's Hospital to see the suite where they do sleep studies. The idea is that it will give us a better idea of what we're working with for our research, which addresses fatigue in space telerobotics.

Crew has been surprisingly fun, even though it's quite hard. In just a week and a half of practice, I've felt like I was going to throw up several times. It feels good to be finally getting back in shape, and learning to row makes me feel really cool. For some reason, I feel like those people in ancient times who were rowing those huge boats, even though our novice team is not even coordinated enough to have all 8 of us rowing at once. There are 12 people on the team so far, including the coxswain. I'm not sure how that's going to work out, since only 8 can be rowing in a boat at once. Luckily for me, I'm pretty sure I'm safe. I'm hoping that once I get coordinated, perhaps in the spring, I can be on the varsity team. I really like the people on the team so far, so that's good. They're mostly freshmen, but there are also a couple of sophomores and a junior, which makes me not feel as old. Ironically, they all thought I was a freshman. Is that ironic? I'm not sure. But the point is, I still look like I'm 18. Oh well. I'll try to put up some crew-related pictures soon, but I'm not sure I'll get around to it.

There's more to say, but I'm not sure anyone is still reading this, so I'm going to call it a night. If you're still reading, leave me a comment or send me an email, and I'll keep writing!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A report from home

Day 4 of training was pretty good, but the real excitement was on Friday morning, when I got to operate the real robotic arm! Obviously it's not the one on the shuttle or the space station, but it's a real arm that is 14 meters long when it's all stretched out (over 45 feet!). Needless to say, I felt really cool while I was doing it. Here's a picture of me with the arm after I operated it (where's Waldo?):

Here's me operating it:

So as you can see, it was pretty awesome. This post has been in progress for a while, so I'm going to post it even though it's not finished. Check back for more in a few days!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A quick update

Day 3 of training went well, but things are getting a bit more challenging. It's really interesting and fun, but it's starting to be a little frustrating that we're not as good at the skills as we'd like to be. It makes sense, since we haven't been practicing as much as would be ideal since we're squeezing it all into a week, but still. Here's a picture of a special thing I got to try today that isn't really part of our training:

Notice the robotic arm. And in the theme of putting up pictures of things I've eaten, here are some things I've eaten:

The first one is a veggie quesadilla and the second one is a cookie with ice cream on it. It has a name, but I can't remember it.

Yesterday we went to the Houston Space Center (I think I mentioned that), and here's a picture of me with a spacesuit:

Today we went out for that ice cream cookie thing after "work", then relaxed for a while, then went running and did some pushups and abs. I hadn't exercised in way too long, so it was good to get some exercise in. I feel much better now, and I hope I'm not too sore tomorrow!

We also went to Rocket Park after work. Here's a couple of pictures:

I'm exhausted! And I finished my book last night (the second one in the Golden Compass series, if you're curious). I'll start the third one when I get back. The second one was really good!

P.S. It's hot in Texas!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Training is going well

I'm having a great time here in Houston, but things are very busy! We're doing a lot of robotics training, which is fun, but it's hard because we're doing what normally takes six weeks all squished into one week. It means we're not as good at the skills as we'd like to be, but at least we're seeing what there is to know. Maybe we can practice when we get back to school.

Today after our lessons we went to the Houston Space Center, which is extremely fun. It's aimed at kids, but that doesn't mean it's not fun for grad students :) We went on a ropes adventure thing and a bouncy obstacle course and dodged lasers and shot squishy balls at targets, among other things. I didn't hit the target even once.

Tonight I went into the city to see my friend from home. We went out to dinner at a Tex-Mex place, and then hung out for a while at her apartment, which I'd obviously never seen. It was really nice to see her.

Ok, I hope you can bear with me as I know this post is not up to my normal quality, but I'm still adjusting back to the time zones and I'm not getting much chance to rest! I'll write more later this week, which will hopefully be better.

P.S. There are Spanish radio stations here, and I am happy to say that I understand most of what they're saying!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hello from Houston!

Well, we made it! I'm in Houston, which I've realized is my first time ever in the South, not counting Florida because it doesn't really count. I've now had my first experience of Southern manners, when the bus driver between the airport and the rental car place helped every female with her suitcase, but not the males.

Anyway, I'm pretty tired now, believe it or not, so this is it for now. We've got training starting early tomorrow morning and we have to get badges before that. I'm excited! Good night!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Back in Cambridge, briefly

After dragging my body weight in luggage all over the world (ok, just Barcelona and Boston), plus two flights on British Air (Barcelona to London, London to Boston), it was fair to say I was pretty tired. Luckily, my bags both made it all the way to Boston, and with the help of some elevators I even managed to take them home on the T.

When I got back, I went to hang out for a while at my old house and pick up my cell phone charger and keys before going back to my boyfriend's apartment. He's home visiting his family, so he's not here, but I'm only here for about 24 hours before I go to Houston tomorrow. I'm not sure how the jet lag is going to work out. Theoretically, it should help me wake up early, which is not normally my strong suit. We'll see if that actually happens. I still need to unpack/repack for Houston, but I was too tired to do it today.

So tomorrow evening I leave for Houston. Monday morning bright and early we start training, and then we're there all week until Saturday morning when we fly back. "We" is the other girl starting the same program as I am, and me. Then sometime next week I'm going to go home to see my family. Did I mention I'm about ready to be done traveling? Whew!

Here's a picture of a pizza I ate on Wednesday night. Note how it's too big for the plate:

Friday, August 14, 2009

Last post from Barcelona :(

Well, this day is finally here. It's Friday night, and I'm finishing up packing my suitcases. I didn't post last night because I went out to a celebratory dinner with my friend and some coworkers and was too tired when I got back. So here's a quick summary of yesterday and today, and then some reflections on the summer.

Yesterday I went to work and finished up my revisions on my report. Everyone who was there (only 8 of us) went out to lunch together, because today was the last day of work for 3 of us, and more are finishing within the next month or so. For some reason (probably because it was 6 guys and only 2 girls), we ended up spending a lot of the meal talking about gross things that people have eaten or seen people eat on TV. Needless to say, I did not enjoy that conversation. But the food was good and we did manage to talk about some other things. After lunch, my supervisor pointed out that if I finished my work that afternoon, I didn't need to come in on Friday. That was awesome, because I knew I would be able to finish my work that afternoon and was looking forward to going to the beach today, but still it sort of freaked me out because I hadn't mentally prepared for yesterday to be my last day. Luckily for my peace of mind, I remembered that I had a few things that I had to drop off at work today that I had borrowed from coworkers, so I still had an excuse to go. That probably sounds weird, but I have really enjoyed this summer and the people I worked with, so it makes sense to me.

After lunch, I finished my revisions slowly and then went home before going out to the dinner I mentioned above. We went to a fancy restaurant on Passeig de Gràcia and I had a salad with truffles in it. It was not as excellent as I had hoped, but the bread there was delicious. Afterwards, we went to a bar called Dow Jones, where the prices of drinks go up and down like stocks according to how many people are buying them. At certain points, the market crashes and all the prices go down. We agreed that a bar like that would probably do well in Boston/Cambridge.

Today I got little presents for my boss and my supervisor, wrote thank you notes to them, as well as my other supervisor and the director of the company, gathered all of the things I had borrowed and my beach stuff, and went to work. I distributed everything and checked in for my flight tomorrow (sad), and they gave me a big card that everyone had signed like they give to everyone when they leave. It was really nice to read what everyone wrote, and almost everyone had written in Spanish, which was a nice challenge. Then I went to the beach for the last time before I leave. Since it's late summer at this point, the water is really warm and nice. There were a ton of kids there, and I was sitting near an especially adorable little boy who kept filling his bucket with sand and then dumping it out. I also finished my book (Life of Pi), so I could finally return it to the library, only 4 days overdue. Then I came home and worked on packing and eating and talking on the phone and showering. All hard work.

So here I am, at the end of my summer in Barcelona. It's been great overall, though I did spend a larger than usual amount of time being sick. I am really sad to go, which was something I was not sure would be true. As I've mentioned, there are a lot of things that are better about Boston and the US, such as way fewer people smoking, but there is something about Barcelona and Europe that is just really enjoyable. I know I can come back and visit, but I also know that it won't be the same when I'm visiting as it is when I'm living here. But who knows? Maybe I'll get to live here again sometime. I'm going to miss my coworkers a lot, and I'm hoping at least some of them will come visit in Boston. My supervisor told me I'd be welcome back if I ever wanted to come back and work here again, which was really nice to hear both from a not-wanting-to-part-with-Barcelona standpoint and a professional you-did-a-good-job-with-your-work standpoint. I'm going to try to keep in touch with people at work when I go back.

By popular (ok, one person) demand, I'm going to try to keep posting when I get back, at least for a little while. The plan is that I'm flying back to Boston through London tomorrow morning. I get into Boston on Saturday afternoon. Then on Sunday evening I'm flying to Houston to do some robotics training for a week. I fly back to Boston for good on Saturday morning, and I'm going to go home for a little while during that week. It's a lot of traveling, and I will be relieved when I can just stay in one place for a while. Still, though, it's nice to have all these opportunities. And on September 1 our lease starts for our new apartment! Very exciting!

Now I should go to sleep because it's very soon that I have to wake up for my flight, and I have to put the finishing touches on my packing. Buenas noches for the last time!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sunday in Seville: Torre del Oro and the bullring (plus catch-up)

I didn't have much time in Seville on Sunday because I had an early afternoon flight that I hadn't checked in for ahead of time, and I was a little worried about getting to the airport. Still, I managed to pack in a good amount before I left.

I woke up pretty early (for me) and packed up all my stuff. My time-saving plan was to take everything with me so that I wouldn't have to go back to the hostel. It worked out well enough, but it was annoying to carry my stuff around. Then I checked out of the hostel and headed for the Torre del Oro. I stopped by the statue of Don Juan, who, in case you don't know, is a fictional character. Here he is:

I stopped to get some breakfast on the way, and I was ignored by the (not particularly busy) servers for a while before I got my food. Oh, Spain. Then I passed the University of Seville:

With breakfast taken care of, I walked the rest of the way to the Torre del Oro. For those who don't understand Spanish, that means Tower of Gold, also translated as Golden Tower. Golden Tower is a bit misleading, though, because the tower is not and was never made of or covered with gold. There are a couple of possible explanations for the name, depending on who you ask. It definitely has something to do with the time when Seville was a major trading port. Some say that it was called the Tower of Gold because it collected a lot of money from traders wanting to use the port. Some even say that there was a chain across the river connecting to another tower to prevent non-payers from entering the city. Others say that the tower across the river was called the Tower of Silver, and if you wanted to get into the main part of Seville, you had to pay gold to the gold tower, and if you were willing to downgrade to the other side of the river, you could pay silver. Either way, here's the tower:

There's not really that much to see there. Apparently there's a naval museum inside, but it's closed for all of August, so I couldn't go inside. A little farther up the river is the bullring. I was running out of time and I had been ambivalent about it to begin with, so I just looked around from the outside and didn't go in. Here's the outside:

Then I went to go catch the bus to the airport. I got there with plenty of time to spare (uncharacteristically) because everything went right even though I had allowed cushion time in case something went wrong. On the flight I shared a row with two girls from Houston. They were really nice and we talked for a lot of the flight.

When I got back, I went to the beach for a little while and then went out to dinner with my friend.

Monday was a really long day at work trying to finish up the draft version of my report so that my supervisors could review it. After work, I went to the library to try to renew my book, but they were closing and wouldn't let me explain my situation. Thus I made the irresponsible decision to keep my library book out past its due date so that I can finish it. It's going to be 4 days overdue. I guess I'm a moral failure.

Tuesday was another long day at work because I had to add figures to my report and prepare my final presentation and go over it with my supervisor. It was kind of frustrating because they had told me I would have 15 minutes to present, but my supervisor kept asking why I hadn't put this piece or that piece of information in the presentation. I wanted to tell him that I would love to put that information in the presentation, but if I did, there was no way it was going to be anywhere close to 15 minutes. In the end, I guessed that it wouldn't be a problem if my presentation was closer to an hour, so I just put in all the information he (and I) wanted. And it turned out fine. I gave the presentation this morning (Wednesday), and unsurprisingly for me, it did take an hour, including people stopping me to ask questions. Everyone said I did a good job, so I hope that means they weren't bored during my presentation. There were only 8 people there, which was all but one person in the office today. August is a slow month in Europe because everyone goes on vacation, and this company is no exception. Even my boss is on vacation!

Anyway, yesterday my roommate left to go on vacation, so now it's just me and her boyfriend and his friend who is staying here for a few days. My roommate is going to come to the US in September (she's American), so we're going to try to see each other then.

Today was a more reasonable day at work. I gave my presentation in the morning and in the afternoon worked on making revisions to my report based on feedback from my supervisor. I'm hoping to wrap that up tomorrow so that I can just go in on Friday to tie up any loose ends. Then I can leave early to go to the beach for the last time!

Tonight I went out to dinner with my friend and some other people from school and a few of their friends. We went to a pizzeria and then I went with a couple of them to get some ice cream. It was a fun night!

I'm mostly packed at this point, except the stuff I'm using this week. I'm going to be sad to leave Barcelona, but I'm also looking forward to going home and seeing my friends and boyfriend and family (hopefully) and being able to drink the tap water. I'm sure I'll be back here sometime in the near future, though probably not for such an extended period of time. It will probably feel really different to be here as a tourist than as a (temporary) resident.

It's been a great summer. I'm definitely going to post over the next few days, and I haven't yet decided if I'll keep this up once I get back and school starts. If I do, it will probably be less frequent, and the URL carolineinbarcelona won't make sense. We'll see.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Saturday in Seville: Cathedral, Alcazar, and more!

Saturday morning I got off to an early start because the two girls I met the night before had a bus to catch at 1 pm and wanted to do the Cathedral and the Alcazar before they left, and I wanted to go with them. We tried to go to the Cathedral first, but the tourist part wasn't open until 11 am because there were services going on. Here's a picture of the front of the Cathedral:

It's hard to tell from this picture, but it's the third-largest cathedral in Europe, after two other large cathedrals that I can't remember anymore. I think one of them is the Vatican. (Is that right?)

So we decided to go to the Alcazar while we were waiting. It was easy, because they're across the street from each other. And luckily for us, it turned out that the Alcazar admission was free for students with ID! The Alcazar is an old Moorish fort with a palace and gardens inside. I sprung for the audioguide by Rick Steves' recommendation, and because the admission had been free, but it turned out that it wasn't as interesting as I had hoped. Here's a picture of my new friends outside the entrance:

Here's the palace inside:

As you can see, the style of architecture is a lot simpler than palaces that I'm used to. The gardens were really pretty, too. Here's a bird coming to land on a lily pad in a pool sort of thing:

We tried to figure out how deep this thing was by sticking some sticks down into it, but it turned out to be deeper than our sticks, which were about a foot long. Also, it had fish in it.

I took a lot of garden pictures, but I won't make you look at all of them. Just one more:

Since the other two girls were in a rush, we didn't spend too much time inside the palace. Just before 11 am, we headed back over to the Cathedral so that they could make sure they had time to go up the tower before they had to leave. An interesting thing about the tower is that it was built so that people could ride up it on horseback. That means that it has ramps to get up instead of stairs, and the ramps are wide enough for a horse. They're also pretty tiring to go up. Once you get to the top of the tower, you get some pretty good views of the city:

That big circular thing in the middle might be the bullring, I'm not sure. After we looked around the tower for a little while, the other two girls had to leave, but I stuck around and looked out a little more, then went down to explore the rest of the Cathedral. There's something that they call a treasury, but looks to me more like a musuem. It has this crown, which is apparently made out of 11,000 precious stones, and the angel in the front is made out of the largest pearl ever:

Also, they have the alleged tomb of Christopher Columbus, carried by four guys that represent Castille and León and two other things. There's also a room with an oval-shaped dome and a courtyard with an orange tree grove.

I decided to try to go back to the hostel a different way than I came, and I ended up walking past the Archivo de los Indias, which I subsequently wandered into, and where I was informed that the exhibit inside was free. It seemed like one of those exhibits that was free because no one would pay to see it, and even so it was short on customers. Still, the price was right, so I went in for a look. It was an exhibit that hinged on a word that I didn't understand. I think it was the name of a group or a place, but when I asked the guard what it meant, his description wasn't illuminating.

I discovered a room with a video going on about the building itself, and it turned out to be pretty interesting (I know because it had English subtitles). It explained that the building had been constructed originally when Seville was a big deal trading port for ships (it's on a river, not the sea). Traders needed a place to conduct their transactions, and thus this building was constructed. Then Seville got surpassed as the important trading port of the area and the traders moved away and the building wasn't used for anything for a while. In fact, people were secretly living in it! But then some guy was looking for the perfect building to store a bunch of paper archives of historical significance, such as letters from Queen Isabel to Columbus. And there it was, ready to be used. So that's what it is now, in addition to having some exhibits.

My next mission after this random musuem was to find a fabric store. I went back to the hostel and the guy at reception called one of his fabric-inclined friends to see if they knew anything that might be open. He gave me one recommendation and suggested I walk along the two main shopping streets if that place was closed. Well, it turned out to be closed, and so was pretty much everything along those two streets. I guess Saturday is a slow day for Sevillanos. Here's one of the streets:

So no fabric. I wandered back towards the Alcazar and bought a few postcards on the way there. I had a plan of sitting in the gardens somewhere and writing my postcards. I also bought some chips. When I got back to the Alcazar for my second free admission of the day, I found a nice place to sit in the garden, started writing my postcards, and dropped a piece of chip. Then this happened:

After a while, approximately a million ants were swarming over that little piece of chip. They had the goal of carrying it over to the wall and then carrying it UP THE WALL. And they were doing it, too! I took a video of the process, and some of you lucky people will get to watch it.

After all that, I was exhausted, so I went back to the hostel to take a much-needed nap. After the nap, I went to another flamenco place I had heard of. It was too early for anything to be going on, but the guy outside told me to come back in about an hour for the show. I was hungry, so that meant it was dinner time. I went to a much less awkward dinner than the night before, consisting of gazpacho and spinach croquetas that I felt too embarrassed to take a picture of. Then I went back to the flamenco place, which is called La Carbonería. Unlike the expensive place the night before, admission to this place was free, and the drinks, including sangria, were cheap. There were fewer performers, only one each of dancer, guitarrist, and singer, but the place was packed and the audience was enthusiastic and the performers were as well. Here's a picture:

I stayed for an hour and a quarter and then went back to the hostel to sleep so that I could get an early start on Sunday before catching my early afternoon flight. That night was the fateful snorer-poking chin-bumping-on-the-ladder night. I still have a little bruise and a scratch. And she barely stopped snoring when I poked her! That strategy works better on my dad.

The Seville chronicles will conclude tomorrow, and then I'll catch up on this week. It's been busy with work and avoiding returning a library book by its due date. I know, I'm a bad person. I just need a couple extra days!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Friday in Seville: Flamenco galore!

Friday started off with a very short time at work before I had to leave for the airport. This was the first time I've ever traveled anywhere by myself, where I didn't know anyone in the city. I'm used to flying by myself, so it wasn't weird yet.

When I got to Seville, I took the bus from the airport into the city. Even though Seville is much smaller than Barcelona, the bus still took 25 minutes. I got off the bus and walked in the wrong direction trying to find my hostel. I stopped and asked directions from a French family who was leaving, and in addition to pointing me in the right direction, they also gave me a ticket for one of those tourist buses that you can hop on and hop off that was valid for Friday and Saturday. I didn't end up using it, but it was very nice of them. I found my hostel without much trouble after that.

The hostel was pretty nice. I was staying in a room of 8 people, unfortunately one of whom snored. The hostel was really nice overall, though, and they gave me a free map. There was also free internet, which was a plus. Here's a picture of my room:

That's my bed on the bottom right. On the second night, I was trying to get up to poke the snoring girl above me to make her stop snoring and I whacked my chin against that ladder. Not the best feeling.

Anyway, once I checked in and dropped my stuff off, I decided to head to the flamenco museum, called the Museo del Baile Flamenco. Seville, especially the center, is very hard to navigate. The streets are very twisty and small and disorganized and even worse about being labeled than the streets in Boston. Eventually I found it, though. The museum was really cool, and it used a lot of different multimedia. There were photo exhibits, video exhibits, computers with options to learn about the different types of flamenco, costumes from history through today, and more. Here are some historical flamenco costumes:

They're not all neon, though. After the museum, I figured it was time to see about getting tickets for a show for that evening. I took the long way, as it were, to Plaza Santa Cruz, where the tablao called Los Gallos is located. I bought my ticket and asked the guy there what I should do for the hour or so while I waited for the show to start. He recommended that I go to the Plaza de España and pointed me in the right direction. On the way there, I walked through some gardens called the Jardines de Murillo. Murillo was a famous painter from Seville. The gardens were really pretty:

And so was Plaza de España:

After wandering around there a little, I started back towards Los Gallos. The show was good, but probably not worth as much as I paid for it. There were 10 performers, of which 4 were dancers, 2 were guitarrists, and the rest were singers. Here's a picture of the show:

After the show, I was pretty hungry, so I decided to get some dinner. On Rick Steves' recommendation, I went to Pizzeria San Marco. It turns out that going to dinner by yourself, especially at the sort of restaurant that has tablecloths, is pretty weird. And it's made even more so when the waiter asks you out for a drink after he's done with his shift. Probably best not to go on that date, since his shift doesn't end till 1 am. Instead, I went to check out the cathedral, and then back to the hostel. Here's the cathedral at night:

Oh, and one other thing about dinner: I got a three cheese pizza, and I decided I had to finish it before I could leave. Here's the before:

It was a good pizza, but it was quite a challenge. At this point, it was between me and the pizza. One of us was going to come out on top:

And it was me. I conquered the pizza. And then I went back to the hostel by way of looking at the cathedral. Back at the hostel, I met two girls from another school in Boston who are going to be living very close to me this fall! We ended up going to the cathedral and the Alcazar together the next day, but I'll write about that tomorrow. I also met a couple of guys from Australia and South Africa. The moral of this story is that staying in hostels is fun.

And now I'm exhausted, so I'm going to go to sleep. I'll write about Saturday (and maybe even Sunday) tomorrow so stay tuned.

Friday, August 7, 2009

In far, so good

Hola from Seville! I have only a minute more on the computer, but I am here safe and sound and having fun so far! More later!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

UP in 3D...and in Spanish!

After a relatively productive day at work, my friend and two coworkers and I went to see the movie Up in Spanish and in 3D! I saw Up in English just before I came to Spain, and it had been one of my goals to see it in Spanish before the end of the summer, as a measure of how far my Spanish has come. Well, I have to admit it hasn't come as far as I'd like, but I am still very proud of how much I've improved. I can't say for sure how much of the movie I would have understood if I were seeing it for the first time, because I already knew what was going on and even two months later I remember the story and even some of the dialogue pretty well. Still, it was a lot of fun and my coworkers and friend really enjoyed the movie. I forgot to take my camera, so I don't have pictures of us in the 3D glasses, but you can imagine we looked pretty cool. If you haven't seen the movie, I'd recommend it, in either language.

Tomorrow after a short day at work I leave for Seville! I've made a list of the things I want to see based on recommendations from friends, coworkers, and Rick Steves. I've heard it's really hot there, but after checking the weather for this weekend, it doesn't look like it will be too bad. As with Athens, I'm not taking my computer, so unless there's free internet at the hostel, I probably won't post until Sunday or Monday when I get back. Don't worry, though, I'll do a big post when I get back to make up for it.

Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Dinner with friends

Another fun evening tonight! My friend and I and one of my new friends from last night met up at the Plaça Catalunya and went to an Indian restaurant for dinner. The food was good and we had a great time talking and hanging out.

Afterwards, we wandered around the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) for a while having nerdy conversations, mostly about airplanes. We discovered a guy playing guitar behind the cathedral and joined the crowd that was listening to him for a while. He was pretty good, especially for someone who was randomly playing on the stairs behind a cathedral.

Then we continued wandering, and decided to get some ice cream. I got coconut, and it was delicious:

Then we had to leave so that we could get the metro before it closed, so that was that. I guess I don't have much to say today, sorry! I'm excited for Seville!

Update: I just noticed that this was my 50th post, so woohoo!

Also, here is a link about the tower-building tradition: Here's an especially impressive picture.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A fantastic jazz concert!

After work and a quick stop home, I went to Sitges to meet up with my supervisor to go to a jazz concert. We had seen some signs for cultural events in Sitges when he showed me around a few weeks ago, and we'd been talking about going to one of these concerts since then. And tonight we finally went!

And the concert was fantastic! There were three guys playing piano, double bass, and drums. They were all really good, and they made awesome faces while they were playing, especially the double bassist. I also liked that they explained their songs before they played them, with even an abbreviated explanation in English! Thanks to that, I know that they played a song that goes with the human-tower-building tradition, one that goes with a holiday that's coming up this weekend, one that's adapted from a Sardana (see my post about the Sardana dance), one that a guy wrote as a funerary march for himself when he thought he was going to die during the Spanish Civil War (he didn't die, at least not then), a love song, a Christmas song, and more. And they were all great! Here's a picture:

The concert was in the Cau Ferrat, which is a cool old building inside here:

After the concert, we wandered around the town for a while until I had to catch my train back. We encountered another musical event going on, which my supervisor said was a group that plays at the city hall. They were practicing, all on drums:

It was fun to listen to them. After that, we had enough time left to stop into a bar to try some tapas from the Basque Country (El País Vasco). Then he walked me to the train.

While I was waiting for the train, I heard two guys speaking in English with American accents, so my ears perked up and I talked to them. We ended up talking on the train all the way back to Barcelona Sants, and now I have two new friends! They might join me and the other people from school tomorrow night for dinner, which has been determined to be Indian food. Fun!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cooking! (Believe it or not)

Today was another normal day at work, working on documenting my research so far. After work, I went to the library to return 3 of my books and go to the fruit and vegetable store that I like that's nearby.

At the fruit and vegetable store, instead of just getting fruit and salad vegetables, I got vegetables for cooking! My roommate had offered to help me cook something to use up the leftover potatoes and tomatoes from when my boyfriend cooked dinner. In case it wasn't already obvious, I'm not much of a cook. I can make pasta and other easy stuff, but once words like saute get in there, I'm out.

Anyway, so my roommate made me a shopping list and I went to get the vegetables after work. She told me to start chopping them and I chopped and chopped. Except I didn't really know what to do with the onion or - get this - the eggplant. I've never cooked with them before because I don't really like them. But it turned out to be ok. I chopped all the vegetables (peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, onion, zucchini, and eggplant), and my roommate sauteed the onion and then we dumped the rest of my chopped vegetables into the pot (the mushrooms came sliced, I didn't have to chop them):

Then she added water, oil, and spices, and we cooked it for a while, stirring occasionally. This is what it looked like when it was done:

Mmmm, looks good, huh? The potatoes got all mushy-delicious. If you know me in real life, don't get too excited, though, because these skills are not coming back to the US with me.

And that was that! My cooking adventure. I've got enough food for the whole week, it looks like.

Tomorrow, my supervisor and I are probably going to a jazz concert in Sitges as part of their Sitges Cultura festival. Wednesday might be a night out to dinner with some people from school, and Thursday my roommate and I are going to a movie. The Friday I fly to Sevilla! It should be another fun and busy week!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

CosmoCaixa (Science Museum) and the Picasso Museum

Whew! Another good, but busy and tiring day. Today my friend and I went to the science museum, which is called CosmoCaixa after the bank that sponsors it (La Caixa). It was a little tricky to get there, but not so tricky as to explain why no one I've talked to had been there. Some people, as I mentioned, hadn't even heard of it. Anyway, it exists:

It's more targeted at kids than some science museums, but we still had a great time, even though we were the only ones our age who were there. It was free to get in, thanks to the free first Sunday of the month deal. Not that paying would have been that big of a deal, since even the full adult rate is 3 euros. Look who we ran into when we walked in:

He's made of wax. It's actually kind of creepy, because you can't tell at first.

Anyway, it's a pretty good museum! For the most part, they had everything in Catalan, Spanish, and English. Allow me to get a little nerdy. There was a really cool numbers exhibit that sort of started at 1 and went up (and occasionally down, or other directions), showing many important numbers and why they're important. The golden ratio, pi, e, a googol, 9 to the 9th to the 9th, i, and more. Also, it had some interesting visual aids, but unfortunately my camera eats batteries and it was only working very sporadically, so no number exhibit pictures. My favorite thing at the musuem was an interactive exhibit that played music and sound depending on where you positioned a bunch of blocks:

It's a lot like that (online?) game called Auditorium, but it's got more functions. I liked it a lot, and so did all the kids swarming over it. There were also cool exhibits on ancient versus modern technology, waves, a random block of ice, robotics, the history of the Earth, oh yeah, and a rainforest! With an aquarium part! Here are some pictures:

That fish is way bigger than I am, even though it's hard to tell. I could have spent a lot more time at the science museum, but my friend wanted to make sure to see the Picasso Museum as well (understandably), so we headed back into town. We got falafels at Maoz on La Rambla for lunch, and a yummy kiwi smoothie between there and the Picasso Museum.

There was a huge line at the Picasso Museum, which I had not expected, but mostly because I hadn't thought about it. Luckily, the line moved pretty quickly and we got inside without much hassle. They don't allow photos in the museum, but here's the front:

And here's a picture of Picasso's version of Velázquez's Las Meninas, taken very surreptitiously:

The original Las Meninas is in the Prado Museum in Madrid, and I saw it last year when my dad and I were there. It was cool to have seen both the original and Picasso's version of it, because, while they're obviously nothing alike, I can still see how Picasso modeled his version off of the original.

Interestingly, there were also some photographs of Picasso in the museum, which is something I'm not used to. Often artists will do a self portrait, but it's very different if it's a painting, even if it's very lifelike or realistic. Real photographs were cool to see, but Picasso didn't look like what I expected. I'm not sure what I expected, though.

After we finished at the museum, we had a little more time before we had to head back so my friend could go to the airport. We decided to check out the Parc de la Cuitadella, which was nearby. It's a nice, big park, and it has some museums on its edges, including a natural history/zoological museum in a building called Castell dels Tres Dragons (Castle of the Three Dragons):

Then we took the metro back, I walked my friend to the train station, came back and hung out with my roommate for a little while, did laundry, and wrote all this. Now I think I will eat some dinner and get to bed!

Also, I'm planning for Sevilla for next weekend, so if you have any suggestions, please tell me!