Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday: Feeling better, my friend is here

So it seems like I'm back to posting regularly, and I'm sure everyone is relieved :)

Today was a good day for two reasons: 1) I'm feeling a lot better, and 2) my friend arrived from Italy.

I got into work much earlier than I have been all week, though still not as early as I'd like. I'm working on making some human factors recommendations with regard to displays, both for aircraft cockpits and for air traffic control towers. I got my thoughts organized in a good way today, so I felt good about that. For the next two weeks, I have to type up my research and recommendations into a comprehensive document and prepare a presentation based on the document that people from the company can reference. It sounds like it shouldn't take two weeks, but you should see how many pages of notes I have!

After work, I met up with my friend and we hung out for a while, including looking at pictures from Athens and going to the grocery store (fun, right?). Then we went to a restaurant I found on the internet for tapas. The food was fine, nothing special, hence no pictures, but the water was outrageously expensive and I will not go back to that place. That was the most expensive water I've had since I've been in Europe, I think! Grr.

We walked back from the tapas place to the apartment and decided to watch a movie since we were both tired. The movie was pretty good, but kind of depressing, and my friend fell asleep. It was just like a night at home at our house at school!

Now she's gone to her hostel and I'm pretty tired, so I'm going to read a little bit and go to sleep. Tomorrow is going to be another busy day full of touring Barcelona (or maybe going to the beach), so I'd do well to be rested. This Sunday will be the first Sunday of the month, so a lot of museums will be free. We're going to have to figure out which things to do to take advantage of that deal. If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sunday: Swimming and the Dali Museum

Sunday morning, I woke up feeling a bit more sick, but my dad and I decided to go swimming with the hope that the cool water might help lower my fever. Right. We swam a little, then went back to the apartment, ate a little, and decided to go to the Dalí museum despite my impending sickness.

After a small incident of taking the wrong train (you'd think I'd have learned after the last time!), we got on our way to Figueres, the hometown of Salvador Dalí and the location of the Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dalí. It's hard to describe the place, but if you're familiar with Dalí at all, you probably have a good idea of why it's hard to describe. Here's the (relatively normal-looking) entrance:

Apparently from a different side of the building it's pink with huge egg-like things on top, but we didn't see that side. There are a lot of strange things in the Dalí museum, and Dalí himself is buried in the basement in a crypt. The building was the town's theater before the Spanish Civil War, hence the name. Dalí revamped it and filled it with all different types of his art. Somewhere outside I think there's a Dalí's jewels exhibit, but we didn't have time to see that. Here are some more pictures from the museum:

And, for the scale of that painting, check out the people in this one:

In this one, if you squint, you can see Abraham Lincoln, and if you look closely, you can see Gala, Dalí's wife, from behind:

Here's one of the Mae West room:

The story with that is that Dalí really liked her attitude, so he made a room that looked like her when viewed from a special angle up some stairs. Her mouth is a couch, her nose is what appears to be sort of like a fireplace, her eyes are paintings or photographs of eyes, her hair is a big curtain, her earrings are drape-y things, her skin is the floor and the wall, and so on. It's pretty crazy, but what of his stuff isn't?

Here's one more picture, but I have tons more:

We left the museum, but I wasn't feeling so well, and we started walking back to the station but only made it part of the way before I threw up. We got some tylenol-like thing from a nearby pharmacy, and after a while I made it the rest of the way to the train. The train ride was 2 hours in each direction. Needless to say, we got back and I went straight to sleep.

All this week I've gone in to work late, some days because I felt too sick in the morning and some days because I wasn't sure yet and figured it was better to get a bit more rest before testing my body. Today I'm finally feeling better, but there's still a ways to go.

A quick recap of Monday through today:

Monday when I got home from work we went to the same restaurant again. Here is a picture of dessert:

Tuesday was pretty uneventful. My dad left in the morning, and my boyfriend and I were going to go to the beach after I finished at work, but I felt too sick to go to the beach. He came to meet me at work, then we went home and I took a nap while he cooked dinner. After dinner, we watched a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother on DVD, and he packed, and that was that.

Wednesday morning he left, I was sick, and I did almost nothing after getting home from work. I probably left an imprint on the couch.

Thursday (today) has been pretty similar to yesterday, but I'm feeling a bit better. I went to the fruit and vegetable store and bought, among other things, a couple of really expensive avocados. I haven't been as short of money lately as I thought I was going to be, so I figured an avocado splurge was probably ok. I've only got a little more than 2 weeks left here, so I think my budget is going to work out!

Tomorrow's Friday, and my friend is arriving from Italy. I think her being here will finally be the occasion I need to go inside Casa Milà, which so far I've only seen from the outside. Other than that, we might try to go to Palau Güell (different from Park Güell), or maybe the Picasso Museum, or whatever else she feels like doing. She's here until Sunday, but hopefully she won't make me wake up too early on the weekend!

Saturday: Sagrada Familia, Magic Fountain, and Barceloneta

As promised, I'm working on catching up. On Saturday, my dad and boyfriend and I decided to hit the highlights that I'd already determined, which included the Sagrada Familia and the Magic Fountain.

We started out with the Sagrada Familia, but this time we were a bit more daring than we'd been when I went with my friend. It's supposed to be the case that there is an option for paying to take the elevator up to the top or taking the stairs for free, but for some reason (hm, I wonder why?), the free stairs option wasn't available. Well, a little thing like that never stopped us. Some people came out the exit of the stairs (even though you pay to take the elevator up, you still take the stairs down), and we made the best of the situation. It was more than a little cramped trying to get up the very narrow spiral staircase while other people were trying to get down:

But we managed. And the views were even sweeter this way:

By this time, I was starting to feel hungry and a little cranky (I didn't know it at the time, but I was starting to get sick), so we went to a vegetarian chain restaurant called Maoz which serves delicious falafels to which you can add your own toppings from their self-serve topping bar. Then we made our way over to the Magic Fountain by way of Plaça Reial, the Barcelona Cultural Center (on Las Ramblas), and a dessert place that we got to just in time to order some delicious arroz con leche (basically rice pudding, with cinnamon and sugar, literally rice with milk).

There were tons more people at the Magic Fountain this time than there were the last time I went. I'm not sure why. We got seats on the steps behind the fountain, near some nuns:

The fountain was great, as expected. Here's a picture where it looks like molten lava:

After the fountain, we decided to take the metro to Barceloneta, which is the beach area in the city. The Barceloneta beach was man-made for the Olympics in 1992, and it's not as nice as the beaches outside the city, but it has a bit more nightlife. We walked along, got some ice cream, and then called it a night. I was very ready to go to sleep!

Sorry for the lag, I've been sick again

I haven't been feeling well the last few days, and combined with having my dad and boyfriend here, I just didn't get around to blogging. I promise there will be more to come soon, possibly even tonight if I feel up to it. So check back soon!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday

I've been so busy, I haven't had time to blog! On Wednesday I went to work a little earlier so that I could leave early to pick up my boyfriend from the airport. We came back to the apartment to drop off his stuff and relax for a little while before going to a dinner with other people from my company.

The dinner was at the Fabra Observatory and it was a very nice event with a speaker (I can't remember his name) who does research in astrobiology. His entire presentation was in Spanish, which was fun because I actually understood the majority of it, which I take as a good sign for my Spanish. The food was quite good, too, but it took a couple of tries to get vegetarian meals. It's funny in a frustrating sort of way that when you tell them you're a vegetarian, they bring you the fish option instead of the beef. Eventually, though, they brought us a tasty risotto with vegetables. Dessert was mango ice cream with a pudding sort of thing and fruit. Here's the observatory:

And here's the astrobiologist speaker:

After the presentation, we got to go into the observatory and look through the telescope:

It was pointed towards a pair of binary stars. The stars were cool to see, and we could also go out on the observation deck, which gave us a great view of the city. Afterwards, we got a ride home with one of my coworkers. The road down the mountain is very twisty and it made me a little nervous, but of course it was fine.

On Thursday, after sleeping in pretty late, we went to Sitges to go to the beach and walk around and explore the town. Here's a picture of the beach at Sitges:

When we got tired of the beach, we walked through the town for a while, specifically to get some ice cream (raspberry and lemon). Accidentally, we ended up in a shoe store, and we found some brown dress shoes that my boyfriend liked for only 12 euros. Obviously they're not very high-quality, but for 12 euros (at worst, $18, but actually less), it was hard to go wrong. We didn't have socks with us, and after I explained that to the shopkeeper, she brought us a plastic bag for him to use to try on the shoes. I thought this was hilarious:

He ended up liking the shoes, so we got them. For dinner we went back into the city, to the same restaurant I went to with my dad on Monday night. We got a couple of the same things, but we also got a hummus, babaganoush, and guacamole with pita thing (notice the goat cheese salad making a guest appearance at the top of this picture):

For dessert, we tried to get the red berry thing again, but they were out of it. Instead, on the waiter's recommendation, we got something called marscapone maki, which was delicious. The little chocolate-covered things on top are something like pop rocks, which was weird but fun:

By the time we finished dinner, the metro had closed, so we decided to walk back to the apartment. It was a nice walk through Las Ramblas, Plaça Catalunya, and Passeig de Gràcia (including the Block of Discord and Casa Milà), but it took over an hour to get back.

And now I'm up to today! I think I forgot to mention that I took yesterday and today off of work, but now you know. I'm going back on Monday. We woke up late again today, and went to La Boqueria to get some food for a picnic. Here's a picture of the entrance to La Boqueria:

We got fruit, two kinds of cheese, and chocolate, as well as kiwi coconut juice and pineapple mango juice, which I bargained down from one euro each to 1.50 for two. A proud moment for me. Then we took our picnic food to Park Güell, where we sat and listened to music and ate our food, which was only slightly melted and squished by the time we got there. After we ate, we wandered around and explored the park for a while. Then we found a bench under some nice shady trees and read our books for what felt like a short time but turned out to be rather long.

Eventually, we came back to the apartment for a very quick dinner before going to see Bruno (version original, which means it's in its original language). I have to say, I was pretty disappointed with the movie. I had high hopes after Borat, but it just wasn't nearly as funny. Oh well. Then we came back to the apartment to wait for my dad to arrive back from Italy, which he did. Now, it's about time for bed, because we've got big plans for tomorrow (Sagrada Familia, among other things).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Monday's highlight: dinner at Cuines Santa Caterina

On Monday I had to go to work, so my dad went to Girona to meet a friend for lunch. After work, I returned one of my library books and renewed the other 4, so hopefully I can finish them all by August 10, which is when they're now due. I've done a pretty good amount of reading this summer, which I like. I have hardly any time to read during the school year, so I always try to make up for lost time during the summer. I've lost track of how many I've read so far this summer, in fact.

There's a nice area with trees and benches between my apartment and the train station, so I went to sit there and read while I waited for my dad to get back from Girona. It was kind of windy, so my hair kept getting in my face and my pages were not cooperating, but it was still nice.

When my dad got back, we did a quick run to the grocery store and then took the metro to the El Born district. I hadn't been there yet, but I really liked the neighborhood. The Parc de la Ciutadella is there, so we took a quick look, but we were too hungry to spend much time there. Here's a picture of something that's not the ciutadella, but looks similar:

The first two vegetarian restaurants we tried didn't work out. One because it turned out not to exist, and the other because the food didn't look that good. The one that turned out not to exist was quite a mystery. We had written down the address and brought a map, and we found the street it was supposed to be on, and even the right number of the address. But it wasn't there, and the people who worked in the store across the street had never heard of it! Such a mystery.

Fortunately, the third restaurant we tried not only existed, but had AMAZING food. I really liked the atmosphere of the place, too. Here's a couple of pictures (it reminded me a little of a Pier 1 store):

For some reason, there were trees inside. I liked it, though. As for food, we got mushroom ravioli with delicious mushroom sauce, asparagus risotto, really delicious bread, goat cheese salad, and "red berry lasagna" and tiramisu for dessert. As usual, I forgot to take pictures until we had already started eating, but here they are anyway:

And the after picture of dessert:

After dinner, we just came back to the apartment and went to bed after wasting some time on the internet. This morning, my dad flew to Rome to visit some friends, and I went to work. He'll be there until Friday or Saturday (he doesn't have a return ticket yet, surprise surprise). And tomorrow afternoon, my boyfriend arrives! I'm going to pick him up from the airport after work. Woohoo!

Ok, time for dinner. Buenas noches!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sardana, the cathedral, and a guitar concert

First thing when we woke up on Sunday, we went to see the weekly Sardana gathering in the plaza outside the cathedral. Sardana is a traditional Catalan form of dance, where anyone who wants to shows up, puts their stuff in the middle of a circle, and dances to the music played by an 11-member band. Here's a picture to help explain:

And here's a picture of the band:

Then a random parade went by, including several people wearing costumes of really tall people. Here's one:

I have no idea what the parade was for. It also had this guy:

Then we went in to the cathedral:

It was Sunday afternoon, so there were services going on, but that doesn't stop tourists. There was a rule that you had to be modestly dressed (i.e. no tank tops), and a lot of tourists hadn't planned on that. Luckily for them, there was a street vendor right outside willing to sell them a tacky sparkly scarf! And luckily for me, I had chosen that day to wear a dress with short sleeves, so I was good to go.

The inside of the cathedral was pretty standard for a cathedral:

After the cathedral, we went swimming again. This time, we went to one of the Olympic pools on Montjuïc, called Piscines Bernat Picornell. There was an outdoor pool and and indoor pool, and of course we swam in the indoor pool ("of course" is if you know my dad at all). We hiked up the hill because we hadn't figured out which bus to take ahead of time. It was a long walk, but it was pretty and we got a nice view. We walked past the Poble Espanyol, which is an artificial village constructed as a bunch of houses in different styles of architecture from around Spain. The houses are not used as houses, but are used as gift shops, and yet you have to pay to get in! Needless to say, we skipped it.

The woman who works at the desk of the pool was running off to do something when we arrived, and the door to the pool was open. Long story short, we ended up with two swims for the price of one. Here's the indoor pool:

Then we had a very quick dinner at a mostly vegetarian buffet restaurant called Fresc Co off Las Ramblas before we hurried over to the Church of Santa Maria del Pi for a classical guitar concert by Manuel González. He is a very impressive guitar player. I couldn't believe how many different sounds he could make with his guitar! Here's a picture:

We were sitting in the upstairs area because we weren't as early as we would have liked, but we were far from the last to arrive. People kept getting there even as the concert was going. I guess that's Spanish time. After the concert, we got our picture taken with Manuel González! Then we headed back to go to sleep because it was a work day today! I'll try to catch up with these posts tomorrow. We've just been so busy that it's hard to keep up!

Swimming, Park Güell, and Port Vell (Part 2)

(This is a continuation of the last post.)

We sat at the top of Park Güell for a while looking at the view, and then we went to dinner at a vegetarian restaurant named Biocenter near Las Ramblas. Here's some of the food:

After dinner we walked along the waterfront near Port Vell. There's a Maritime Museum, and a huge shopping center, and a ton of guys trying to sell fake designer purses, belts, and so on. Here's a picture of my dad and some big arch thing:

Eventually, we got tired of walking around, and went back to the apartment and went to sleep. What a good day!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Swimming, Park Güell, and Port Vell (Part 1)

My dad and I had a full day yesterday, even though we got off to a late start. Sometimes it's nice to sleep in! We started off by going to swim at Piscina Sant Jordi, which was a very nice 50-meter indoor pool in which you're not allowed to take pictures. Here's a picture:

After the swim, we went back to the apartment to have breakfast, and then we set out for Park Güell. There isn't a metro stop at the top of the hill where it is, so we had to walk all the way up the hill. The hike was well worth it, though, because the park was awesome. The idea of the park was that it would be a gated community for rich people around the beginning of the 1900s. It didn't work out that well as such, but it's a great park, and tons of people go there every day. Here's the entrance:

The houses to the right and left of the entrance are supposed to look like gingerbread houses like in Hanzel and Gretel. Inside the structure with the columns in the center of that picture, the ceiling has mosaic sorts of things made out of random items, such as broken glass bottles. Note the broken bottle in the dark green part:

It also has prettier mosaics:

But the coolest part is a big open space above this area, with an amazing view of the city and a bench that goes all the way around the area. Here's a picture:

The bench is also made out of the mosaic style, and it's really pretty:

Here's the view from this area:

We're going swimming now, so I'll finish this post later. We're going to one of the Olympic pools this time!

Friday, July 17, 2009

My dad is here!

My dad arrived this morning, a little earlier than expected. Annoyingly, US Air flies into Terminal 1, which involves an extra bus ride once you get to the airport. I met him at the arrivals area and took him back to our apartment to take a nap while I went to work. I got to work a bit late as a result, but it wasn't a problem.

After work, I went back home to meet my dad, who had just woken up from his nap. We walked over to Casa Milà and the Block of Discord as I had done last weekend, and then we continued along to Plaza Catalunya and then to Las Ramblas. We wandered into a farmer's market sort of thing, where they had all sorts of fruit that I'd never seen before. I wimped out of getting any new sorts of fruit, but at some point I want to try a papaya. And maybe a passion fruit. Also, there were a large number of street shops selling birds and other pets in cages along Las Ramblas, which I thought was really strange. One of them seemed to be trying to sell a ferret. It's a really touristy area, so I'm not sure why they were selling them there. Who would buy a pet on vacation? Especially a bird! I don't understand.

We took the metro back and met up with my boss and his wife and another coworker to have dinner at an Indian restaurant called Namaste. The food was good, and not too spicy (good for my dad), but the dessert left something to be desired and the service was intermittent at best. I guess when waiters aren't working for tips, which they don't in Spain, they don't feel the pressure to be as attentive. Go capitalism, I guess.

Tomorrow we'll probably go swimming when we get up, then go to Park Güell, and then I'm not sure. The weather looks like it will be a bit nicer, luckily.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I'm going to Seville!

There was a really great deal on Vueling (an airline), so I am going to Seville the weekend of August 7-9! I had been wanting to go there since I got here, and I was worried I wasn't going to have the time or money to make it. But with the price being so cheap, I couldn't resist! If you know me at all, you know I won't go to a bullfight, but I'm really excited to see some flamenco! And I've been reading in Rick Steves about Seville, and it seems like it's going to be really fun. Yay!

Today was pretty good at work. I'm feeling like my project is going in a good direction now and I'm going to have something I'm proud of at the end of the summer. For now, I'm making a document of all the research I've done so far, and it's pretty cool. I'm going to be looking at things from a more human factors-ish angle for the rest of the summer, so I'm excited about that.

After work, my roommate and I went running and did abs, and I did some general preparation stuff for when my dad arrives tomorrow. I've got a little bit of a plan, which includes dinner with my coworkers tomorrow night and Park Güell on Saturday. This plan needs more details, obviously, but planning ahead is not our family's strong suit. We'll also go swimming, maybe on Sunday. I'm picking him up at the airport first thing in the morning!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A jazz concert!

I'm continuing to feel better, so that's good! Tonight my friend and I went to a jazz concert at a place called Jamboree, which is in the Plaça Reial off the famous Las Ramblas. Here is a picture of Las Ramblas, which is really just a long street with a lot of people on it:

At the concert, there were two bands. The first was called Rafa Madagascar Trio, and was (unsurprisingly) made up of three members: a drummer, a bassist, and a piano player. The bass had 6 strings, which seemed like a lot to me. Here are pictures of the first band:

The first band was pretty good, but the second band was even better. I especially liked that they had a saxophonist. They were called Clics, and there were four of them, including a double bassist! Here's a picture of the second band (the piano player is off to the left, unfortunately out of the picture):

Interestingly, the guy who introduced the bands and the performers made all of their announcements in Catalan. I like to think that it was because we were such a comfortable, intimate audience that they just asssumed everyone was a native, and we blended right in. We were able to get the gist of what they were saying, anyway.

We had to leave half an hour into the second show in order to take the metro home before it closed at midnight. We were sad to go, but we haven't really figured out the night buses yet, and we figured this would be easier. Plus, it's a work day tomorrow!

I can't believe it, but I'm over halfway through my time in Barcelona. It's been five and a half weeks since I arrived. I'm definitely feeling more comfortable knowing my way around and knowing what to expect in different situations, but I don't feel like my Spanish has progressed as far as I would have hoped by this point. I think I was expecting a lot more of an immersion feeling by being in Spain, but it turned out that almost everyone I deal with on any sort of regular basis speaks English. Also, now that we're not going to lunch every day, I am missing that opportunity to practice as well. I'm going to try to make these last 4.5 weeks as Spanish-filled as possible, and hopefully that will help.

I also haven't been exercising as much as I should be...