Friday, December 18, 2009

Barcelona and Prague

I spent American Thanksgiving with my friend Charlotte having the closest thing we could find to turkey (a chicken burger) at a local pub. Charlotte recently spent a month in Ghana and is fully aware of the safety concerns I have about my upcoming move to Sub-Saharan Africa. Spontaneously, Charlotte suggested we go to Morocco. "Sure," I thought. We paid our tabs and went to the library to purchase tickets. Morocco wound up being a bit pricey so instead we booked tickets to Barcelona for about 6 USD round trip.

Barcelona was such a quirky and eccentric city. We flew into Girona and spent a few hours exploring the city. We walked along the river and enjoyed the architecture. In the evening, we took the train to Barcelona. Around eleven we started looking for dinner and were limited to a greasy Chinese restaurant where for 7.75 each we got an awful three course dinner. We went to a Spanish dance club that evening. The next morning we woke up quite early and rented bicycles to ride around the city. It has been a few months since I rode a bicycle and at first I was stumbling everywhere. I also have never ridden a bicycle on the road with cars and found it a bit scary to allow cars to pass me. We rode all the way down the main street stopping to pose in pictures with some of the craziest of the human statues. We rode our bikes along the pier and decided to go swimming in the freezing cold water. The beach in Barcelona is primarily designed as a surf beach and several surfers were out (in wet suits) and were definitely shocked to see Anglo girls in bikinis thinking it appropriate to swim in the water. After declaring that I would get only my legs wet I was sucked under by a wave and fully immersed in the icy water. After our swim we rode our bikes in our swimming costumes along the pier and then visited a few noteworthy places in Barcelona. In the afternoon we found ourselves in the middle of a Brazilian rally. We had lunch at a paella and tapas bar along the main street. That night we hung out with the people staying in our hostel.

It was nice to get to spend my last weekend in England with such a great friend just relaxing and having a good time in Spain. After returning from Barcelona I had two days of intense finals preparations, packing, moving out, a final kayaking session, and one last night with Cat, Laura, and Amy. Time moved so fast that I could barely realize how depressing it was to leave. I think that my finals went well and I believe I will receive a "first class" which means perfect grades. I can't believe how much stuff I have collected over the term: loads of other people's costumes that I nicked, random things I wore for fancy dress themed nights, and massive amounts of things to include in my scrapbook. When I get back to the United States I'll proudly display my Uncle Sam bow-tie, Amsterdam tulip, and other mementos as tangible elements of my European memories. I can't believe how much I already miss England.

On Wednesday I left to begin a month long journey through Eastern Europe and the Middle East with one of my best friends from the United States. I flew from Birmingham to Prague and am currently in Bratislava, Slovakia. Tomorrow night I will go to Vienna to meet my friend Sahara and then we will go to Egypt, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, and Switzerland together. Prague was very very cold but lovely. The first night in the hostel I met a girl from New York studying "Race, Class, and Revolutions" at Hampshire College. We realized we had a lot in common and spent most of our trip together. The buildings of Prague were a combination of many different structural styles and most of them were yellow. It was interesting to see the remains of Nazi control over Prague and the ruins of communism together in one geographic location. It was so shocking to me that Prague became democratized only twenty years ago, the same year that I was born. Most of the residents of Prague remember communist control and, I don't think I've ever met a more "anti-communist" group of people! Prague has made a remarkable turn around into capitalism. Just like any other city, Prague is lined with McDonalds, casinos, and designer clothing. Relative to the rest of Europe, Prague was a very inexpensive city. I think that I really like the "chill" and "eccentric" vibes of Eastern Europe. Prague has been open to tourism for only twenty years which has preserved much of its original culture.

I don't know a single word of Czech but quickly discovered that the younger generation of Prague speaks English and the older generations speak Polish. I was shocked that the Polish I know was enough to get me by in Prague! The Slavic languages are all so similar that even those who speak different languages are able to understand each other. I think if I became really fluent in Spanish and Polish and learned Chinese I would be able to talk to almost anyone in the world. This week so far has really showed me how valuable my study of Polish language can become if I continue.

Bratislava is just as cold as was Prague. I have yet to fully explore the city but am enjoying a chance to check in with friends and warm up for a bit before I traverse the six inches of collected snow. Just this year Slovakia adopted the euro which means that shop keepers and bankers are just as uncomfortable with the currency as are tourists. Near every till a sign is posted explaining the exchange rate with the euro and some shops still accept traditional Slovakian currency. For lunch I had an interesting sandwich of grilled onions and cabbage on bread. I tried to ask for tomatoes but apparently the Polish word for tomato "pomidory" does not translate into the tongue of Slovakia. I do need to learn how to say tomato; I have eaten three tomatoes everyday since September and don't feel quite as right without such a tomato-rich diet.

1 comment:

  1. I think it is fantastic that you are making so much of your time in europe & all your adventures sound so much fun! It seems silly that us lot who live in the uk dont take the opportunity to travel like you have done in such a short time here. I hope you have lots of fun on the rest of your travells & i will miss you! J xxx