Sunday, August 31, 2008


Laurent's birthday was August 24th, and Stephanie's was August 26th, so we had a few days of birthday celebrations. Since Laurent's birthday was on Sunday and Stephanie's on Tuesday, they decided to start out the birthday week with a joint party on Saturday night.

Saturday during the day, we mostly worked on the executive summary. In fact, we Pol, Laurent, and I were an hour and a half late for dinner because of it. Anyway, the three of us eventually went to Tasca y Vins with Jaisha, Doha, James, and Jame's girlfriend and friend.
The specialty of this restaurant is long pieces of bread (like half a baguette) covered with a really wide variety of toppings - three cheese, botifarra (sausage), mushrooms, etc. Andrea and Pol ordered a bunch and we all shared everything. It was probably the most food I had eaten in one meal while in Spain - everything was really good.

Feeling completely stuffed from dinner, we walked over to Roxy Blue, the club where we the birthday dancing was planned. Thanks to Jaisha, we were all able to get in for free to this trendy club. Since it was our last Saturday in Barcelona, lots of people put away their work for one night and came out to celebrate. It was a great night of dancing with all our friends.The next birthday event was Laurent's birthday dinner on Sunday. Sunday was also when I decided I was ready for a break from work. I went with Pol to his house to pick up his laundry and cook lunch (and by cook lunch, I mean stand by and watch while he cooks lunch - I wasn't a very good assistant), and then we watched the closing of the olympic games. I had all my beach stuff with me, and every once in a while one of us would suggest the idea of going, but somehow the idea of just lounging around on the couch was more appealing after a month and a half of constant activity. We ended up watching Star Wars - A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back - until dinner time. Though we didn't make it to the beach, this activity did improve my Spanish - I now know important phrases like "Estrella de la Muerte" (Death Star) and "Luke, soy tu padre" (Luke, I am your father). (Thanks for the Spanish lesson, Pol!)

So, after a day of doing nothing, we headed to Con Cortada to celebrate Laurent's birthday. We met up with Laurent, Jaisha, Anna, Brice, Sonny, Michael, and Francois. Con Cortada is a pretty fancy restaurant, and the food is amazing. Add to that the fact that the French guys were in charge of ordering all the drinks and appetizers, and you get a pretty amazing meal. They ordered a pate' platter, with different kinds of pate', and I reallized that I really like it - who'd have guessed! My palette has definitely expanded this summer... I had veal for my main dish, and some of Laurent's birthday cake for dessert. It was a great end to my last Sunday in Barcelona.The last birthday event happened on Tuesday, when we went out for Stephanie's birthday. We had a team project dinner at Bombay Spicy - it was awesome to have Indian food for the first time all summer - I arrived late with Brice, Pol, and Laurent, and they let me order for all of us, so I was able to have a bit of all the things I like.

The real birthday event was afterwards, though, when we went to Chupitos. This is a bar that sells hundreds of different types of shots (mostly fun mixes, nothing too strong). Some fun ones included "The Boyscout" where they light the bar on fire, you roast a marshmellow, and then you eat the marshmellow and take a shot of a very sweet drink. There was also the Harry Potter, the Teletubbie, and one that incorporated pop rocks.In addition to a bunch of the people from our team project dinner, Victor, Alberto, and Andreu all came to celebrate, too. They serenaded Stephanie with "Feliz Cumpleanos" (Happy Birthday) when she arrived.

Ke Visiting

During my second to last week in Barcelona, my friend, Ke, came to visit. He has been spending the summer traveling around, and ended up passing through Barcelona while I was there. I think he had a really fun visit.

The first night he was there, we went to dinner at Tapas Taller with Pol, Anna, and Anna's friend, Albert. It's a great restaurant near Placa Catalonya. After dinner, we went for "gofres" (waffles) which are a dessert in Spain. (The idea that we eat them for breakfast seems completely crazy to them. Though I tried to explain that when we have the for breakfast we don't cover them with chocolate sauce and icecream.) In any case, the waffles were amazing.
Later that night we went to visit Victor, Alberto, Andreu, and Sergi at Dominique's going away party. (Dominique was the guy that moved into Jeff's room when Jeff left - we met him at Jeff's going away party.) We played a little pool and chatted at the bar. Then we headed back to Penyafort to catch the end of Hugo's birthday. Then Ke stayed up until 4am with Pol and I as we worked on the final report. Busy day for just arriving!

The next night we had a Mediterranean Beach Party, organized by Ofer and co-hosted by all the students living in Mediterranean countries. As is tradition, everyone wore all-white (thanks to Stephanie for letting me borrow her white skirt!) and brought food and drink. We laid out huge blankets for all the food and drink, set up tiki-torches, and had a huge party on the beach.

On Thursday, Ke and I went with Pol, Stephanie, and Kris to Barcelonetta - an area by the sea, and had amazing mussels, paella, and fideu for lunch. We walked from there back to La Rambla, where we got icecream.
From there, we headed back to Penyafort, just long enough to change into swim suits, and then walked up to the pool. Pol couldn't come, so Ke was able to borrow his suit and entrance card and come along.

After our trip to the pool, Ke, Brice, and I met up with Victor, Alberto, Andreu, and Andreu's sister to see Batman. Before the movie, Ke, Brice and I had dinner at the mall. Anna joined us for dinner as well.

Ke also got a sense of the work going on at ISU. On the last night he was in town, as we came back from watching Batman at about 1am, we found out Laurent was still in the computer lab, and went there. Ke has a lot of experience working with InDesign, the imaging software they were using, and we stayed there until about 4am helping out. (Really, this was Ke's idea - I don't usually force my guests to help with my work on their last night in town. But it was really nice of him and very helpful!)

Final Report Writing

The schedule for ISU August 18-23 planned for team meetings all day everyday. Essentially, we had one week to write and finalize our 110 page final report.

Each day we'd have a meeting or two, figure out our assignments, review the schedule, and then work in small teams. I was on the business and commercial team and also the editing team. A lot of the work I volunteered to do was early in the week - writing and editing for Chapter 2 (out of 5). Most of the work could be done during the day, but occasionally we'd work outside normal hours. Pol had volunteered to lead chapter 3 integration, so we spent one night staying up trying to finish all our work - I decided to take a break from chapter 2 editing at 4am, but Pol continued on with chapter 3 until 6am.

My friend, Laurent, volunteered to lead the executive summary group. His workload stayed very high through the later part of the week, so I ended up joining that team as well, and editing and working with them. Because of all the aesthetic and lay-out issues, executive summary was much more of a challenge. Unlike edits to text-only, any changes to the executive summary were difficult and lengthy to make. However, Laurent and others who knew the image-editing program spent many hours working day and night to get a really great final version.

Our final report is going to be available online and when I figure out where, I'll definitely post about it!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

L'Auberge Espagnole

Yesterday I saw the movie L'Auberge Espanol (The Spanish Apartment). It's a French movie about a student that travels to Barcelona for a study abroad program and lives in an apartment with roommates from all different parts of the world. It was fun to watch, since now that I've been here six weeks, all the locations in the movie are familiar. Its a pretty funny movie and well-made - really interesting cinematography. I'd definitely recommend it!

France... take two

After the great success of the first day trip to France, we couldn't help but consider another one. Laurent first mentioned the idea of going back - this time to the mountains instead of the sea, a couple days after the first trip. We all started thinking about it, but didn't make a final decision. Some people started getting worried about the amount of work they had to do, but Laurent and I were still considering it. Things stayed like that until the morning we were thinking of going, when I woke up and asked Laurent, "So, should we go to France today?" We decided the answer was "Yes."

Since we had put off the decision to the last second, we didn't have a car, and we were having trouble finding on online. Instead we just went to Sans Estacio and started going to rental places. Hertz was completely out of cars. National was also out of cars. At this point, since there are only four car offices, I was really getting nervous we wouldn't be able to get a car. However, our next stop was at Avis, and they saved the day. Not only did they have a car, they had a bright yellow Mini Cooper Clubman. So we headed off to France in style.Our first stop was in Ceret - a really cute town in the French Pyrennes. Brice and his girlfriend, Dyani, were already in France, so we called them to meet up for lunch. While we were waiting we sat at Cafe de France, and I tried my first class of Kir. Kir is white wine with blueberry liqueur, and is apparently a very common drink in France. It was really good.Brice and his girlfriend arrived and also had a drink, and then we headed to a restaurant for lunch. Laurent and I shared a chef's salad and a goat cheese salad. I also learned a French phrase: "Vous avez un coca light s'il vous plait?" So now I can order diet coke in France.After lunch we left town and drove farther into the mountains. We chose a trail and went hiking for a while to get some exercise and enjoy the views.Next we headed to a town called Thuir. It was another cute mountain town. We went to the Bhyrr factory, where they brew various liqueurs. It's also home to the largest oak barrel in the world - used to brew a consistent product.We wandered around town, and at one point took a break for a short driving lesson. I really want to learn how to drive a manual car, so I practiced starting and stopping along the streets of Thuir. Laurent was pretty patient with the multiple tries it took to get the car moving after we stopped each time, and I think by the end I was doing much better.

Our last activity in Thuir, and in France, for the day, was to get dinner. Once again, the French guys did a great job of finding a restaurant, and dinner was amazing. I had mussels with almonds, fish with pistachio, eggplant, zucchini and rice, and then finished the meal with an espresso.Though we'd gone to France for the day, we still had work to do, so we spent most of our drive home working on writing our sections of the report. By the time we were back in Barcelona, we were finished with our work and had a great (second) day trip to France!

My First European Football Match

On Saturday night, Barcelona had its opening game - they introduce all the players and then play a friendly match with another team. One of the Barcelona people organized a big group to go - I think there were about 30 of us.

We went to the game around 9pm, since it started at 10pm. The stadium is huge - it holds about 100,000 people. You're aloud to bring in food and (non-alcoholic) drinks, though they also have concessions there.Before the game started, they announced each of the players names, followed by fireworks and pyrotechnics for each. The game itself was really exciting - especially at the end. In the second part of the second half, the other team scored a goal. The score stayed 0-1 for the whole match, so everybody was feeling a bit disappointed. But then the injury time started (the couple of minutes after normal play time that is added to make up for time lost to injuries during the game). Barcelona scored twice in injury time! So that was it - they won! Feeling pretty happy about the home team's win, we headed back to our residence (which is only about a 10 minute walk away from the stadium), and got ready to go out for Emma's birthday. We went dancing at Otto Zutz - a disco in the Fontana area.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Daytrip to France

Barcelona is only a few hours from the border with France, so on Wednesday, one of my friends organized a day trip to visit. Five of us went – Laurent was the organizer – he’s French and lives in Toulouse, Francois is from Paris, Stephanie is my friend from DC with whom I had just been to Portugal, and Jaisha is also from DC.The trip was incredible. The whole day was full of picturesque little French towns on the Mediterranean and beautiful vistas, so that more than once I felt like I must be standing inside a painting. The area of southern France just across the boarder is where mountains go right up to the sea, so that sometimes you're driving along scenic mountain roads or you can choose the scenic road along the coast.
I wanted to maximize the time in France, so I started the day early – waking up at 6:30am (a feat for me, not being a morning person) to get ready and go with Laurent to pick up the car right when the rental place opened. While we were waiting for Hertz rental to open, Laurent and I started the day in French style, with espresso and croissants for breakfast.

By 8:30am, we were back at student housing to pick up the rest of the group. The drive to France was very nice – it’s always fun to watch the street signs with city names like Perpignan and Montpellier. We stopped for another espresso on the way, and arrived at our destination in the late morning.

Our first stop was in Collioure, (which I'm trying hard to pronounce correctly in my head as I type this - Laurent and Francois taught me how about a million times) which is a small sea-side town. We drove along the mountains next to town and then got out to do some hiking. Unfortunately, I had worn only sandles, but I decided that wasn't enough to stop me from hiking up the mountain to see the view. It was a bit of a challenge, but I made it (and now I call those shoes my hiking sandles).After our hike, we were ready for lunch. We drove to Banyuls, another sea-side town nearby, but we were a bit late for lunch - it was around 2:15pm, and we had a hard time finding a place still serving food. We ended up at an outdoor cafe near the beach, which was very cute, but in the ordering frenzy, I somehow ended up with pizza - not the most French of options. Luckily Francois let me try his mussels, and Laurent shared his goat cheese salad. Also, the pizza may have been a good thing, because I discovered my new favorite condiment - spicy olive oil. It's olive oil with chili peppers in it, so its very spicy. I love it! I'm hoping I can find it in the US or get Laurent to send me some. :) We also had Banyuls wine, which is kind of like port, and Laurent and Francois shared their desserts with all of us, so we finished the meal with creme Catalan (kind of like creme brulee, but as Francois explained "without the brulee") and espresso.

After the long drive, hiking, and a great lunch, we were ready for napping on the beach. We crossed the street and laid down our towels. The beach was rocky, which was kind of nice because all of your things don't get sandy. I swam a bit while we were there - the water was nice. I also went on a short hike up a hill to see the views of the beach and more of the coastline. It's all rocky and dramatic looking, and very pretty to just sit and watch.As the sun started to get low in the sky, we decided to head back to Collioure, where Laurent had made a dinner reservation for us. We spent some time walking around town - Stephanie and Jaisha bough Banyuls wine to bring home, and all three of us bought sundresses.

Collioure has a small bay with an old castle on one side, and restaurants and shops around the other. Our restaurant was right on the water, and we got a table at the edge of the terrace overlooking the bay. Despite the whole day being great, I think dinner may have been the highlight.

I briefly explained the view, but then there were also the sounds - the waves hitting the rocks below us, the French conversations at the tables around us, and the faint wind-instrument music from a concert happening across the bay. And of course the tastes and smells - all of the food was incredible. We started with bread and wine, and as my starter I had goat cheese in a tomato based sauce. Then I had tuna - perfectly cooked and served with two different sauces. For dessert we had rice pudding with apricot, and finally ended with espresso.Despite the fact that it was almost midnight when we finished dinner, I really didn't feel ready to leave France. We decided to do one last walk along the bay and out on a walkway. All being space people, we looked for constellations and ended up seeing a shooting star. Great way to end the evening.

(Also, heading home from an awesome day trip doesn't seem as bad when you start realizing that by "home" you mean Barcelona. This is a great summer.)

Working, Swimming, Eating

I thought I'd put a bit about what I do day-to-day right now. It can mostly be summed up with working, swimming, and eating.

Working - I usually wake up and start my day by going with Francois, Laurent, and Brice to get espresso. Then it's off to team meetings and classes - the first session is 9:15am to 12:45pm and the second is 2:30pm to 5:15pm. I'm on the Spaceports team project, and in the business and commercial team. We discuss the direction of the team and the work that needs to be done. This week we started doing some research, and I'm looking into the business models of existing spaceports. Today, I was the moderator for the meeting, so I made the agenda and ran the meeting. This job cycles through a pretty long list of volunteers, so it's the last time I'll do it.

Swimming - I've continued to go to the pool pretty much everyday - I try to do 2-3km each day. Lots of other people go, too, and I've become the resident swim coach - teaching people drills and pushing them to complete sets. It's been a lot of fun. The other day I was the only one there and was able to do an uninterrupted one-hour swim - just jumped in and started swimming and didn't stop for an hour - it was very relaxing. It's been a while since I've had the time (or energy) to do that.

Eating - I stopped eating dinner at the student residence, partly because people have been finding bugs in their food (gross!), and partly because I want to get out and see the city anyway. A few nights this week I ended up going to restaurants with the French students - Laurent, Francois and Brice - which is amazing because they're really picky about food and tend to choose really good restaurants. On Monday we went to a Spanish tapas place near La Rambla, and had Pan con tomate, patatas bravas, mushrooms, chorizo sausage, mini-squid, calamari, and all sorts of things. I thought it was pretty good, though the French guys told me later that it wasn't (it was their first time there).

On Tuesday we went to a place they had been before and really liked. It's in a castle and is pretty fancy. We had some cava to start, and their pan con tomate comes with fresh tomatoes that you cut yourself. My main dish was duck with pear, which was very good, and served with red wine. We finished the evening with some creme catalan, port, and espresso.

On Thursday, we went to a tapas place near Placa Catalonia, which had excellent food - there was a dish with spinach I really enjoyed. Tapas is so perfect for being able to try lots of different food.


Last weekend, Stephanie and I went to Porto, a city in Portugal. We had decided to go very early in the summer, since neither of us had ever been there, and we had a 2-day weekend (usually we only have Sunday off).

Porto was a very romantic city – full of old buildings, winding cobblestone streets, and cute cafés. The city is built on a steep hill sloping up from the river (Rio Douro), so there are many striking views, and there’s also some challenging walking. In addition to the many centuries-old stone buildings, there are lots of buildings with a blue-tile design on them – you see it all over the city. Despite its relaxed atmosphere during the day, Porto had plenty to do at night – there are lively restaurants and bars down by the river and dancing places all over town.Stephanie’s and my trip was definitely enhanced by our friend Hugo, who is from a town about 80 km from Porto. When we told him we were going, he made us a google map with a list of places to see, and made a document with information on how to get around. He even included pictures to show us where to buy a metro ticket and how to use the machines. This really made things go smoothly, and his suggestions on where to go were really helpful.

Our travel adventure started on Friday afternoon, when we left straight from our team meeting to go to the bus station. Since we were flying Ryanair, a low-cost airline, the flight was actually our of Girona, a smaller town about an hour away. We didn’t have any trouble finding the bus, and made it happily to the airport, where we even had time for a diet coke out on the terrace.

We got into Porto around 8pm, bought metro tickets, and found our way to our hotel (all simple tasks thanks to Hugo). We stayed at the Castelo Santa Caterina – which is actually a renovated castle. I read about it online, and despite being a centrally-located castle, it didn’t cost much more than a hostel. It was a great place to stay. The buildings inside were really pretty, and covered in the characteristic blue and white tile. There was a really nice courtyard, and since it was up on a hill, you could look out over the city.

After dropping our things off, Stephanie and I ventured into the city. We were walking distance from the city center, though the windy streets in the downtown area make it difficult to navigate. In Portugal, dinner is usually from about 8pm-9:30pm, so Stephanie and I were catching the tale end of dinner hour. Actually, when we finally made it to the river, the waiter at our restaurant said we had arrived exactly one minute before they stop taking customers. We shared a Bacalao de Casa – Cod prepared in the style of the house. This is a famous dish in Portugal – you can get cod everywhere cooked in a million different ways. Dinner was wonderful, and we complimented the main dish with some port wine, a fruit and chocolate cake for dessert, and an espresso to finish. This was when we discovered that the espresso in Porto was really good, and began a weekend of seriously over-consuming espresso. (I think we had 6 or 7 of them on Saturday.)
After dinner, we crossed the Rio Douro. We found a nice place with an outdoor patio and had a drink by the river. Continuing the theme, we went from there to a bar playing music on a terrace overlooking the river. At this bar we met some people from Portugal, who were now living in Brussels, but visiting home. They were really nice, told us about the city and what to see, and taught us a bit of Portugese. (By the time Stephanie and I left Portugal we knew how to say hello, thank you, yes, no, and how to order a drink.)

Andre, one of the Portugese people we met, suggested we head out to a disco. Stephanie and I had heard the discos in Porto were good, and were excited to find out first hand. We went to a place called La Movida Beach. It was filled with beach decorations and tiki bars. It played tons of Spanish pop. A really fun feature of the club was a stage in front where people that work there would show the dance that goes with a particular song, so that everyone in the club was doing the same dance. We had a great time dancing – a very good end to our first night in Portugal.

We got up around 9am on Saturday, had breakfast in our castle-hotel, and then started wandering down the road into town. We did a bit of shopping, and saw many of the sight-seeing highlights in the city – churches, castles, plazas, etc. We had lunch in a plaza overlooking the river (the view never gets old). Following lunch, we headed to the Port Cellars that line the coast of the river for some tours and tastings. The port in Porto was really great, as you’d imagine.
However, the port tasting made us a bit sleepy, so we followed that activity with a much-needed nap back at our hotel. Feeling refreshed, we headed out to Foz – the area where the Rio Douro meets the Atlantic Ocean. We got there just in time to watch the sun set over the Atlantic. This was beautiful, but having come from extremely-hot Barcelona, Stephanie and I were unprepared for the cool and breezy Porto – especially after the sun was gone.

We popped into a restaurant called Mascara (Masks). It was a fondue restaurant, so Stephanie and I ordered a tomato and cheese fondue with bread to dip. It was really tasty – kind of like cheesy spaghetti sauce. We also had some sangria, and finished our dinner with desserts – I had an amazing cup of chocolate mousse.

Even though it was pretty, we decided the beach area was too chilly for us (we’re really Barcelona girls now, I guess…), so we headed back into town to a new area – near the Casa de Musica. We went to a cute bar there, and then headed to a disco that had been suggested to us multiple times. The club was called Via Rapida – it was a pretty nice place, though Stephanie and I had come pretty early, so it took a while to get going. We danced into the night, and then grabbed a cab back home.

Sunday was our last day in Porto. Having seen most of the major landmarks in the city on Saturday, we took it slow on Sunday. We wandered the small streets, checking out little shops. We also decided to go on a boat cruise of the Douro – something Andre had suggested on Friday night. It was a great idea – only 10 Euros for an hour long cruise – it’s a great way to see the city from a different angle. After the cruise, we took the scenic route walking back to our hotel, bought some new skirts and matching shirts, and then jumped on the metro back to the airport. We saved enough time to get some Port to bring back for our friends – and having gone to tastings, we even knew what we liked. We each bought a Ruby and a Tawny, and I also bought a half-dry white port.
We had been a bit nervous about our trip back – we arrived in Girona around 11pm, and then needed to get the bus to Barcelona. Luckily for us, everything went smoothly, we got a bus right away, and were back in our student housing before too late. It was a great trip – even though we were in Portugal for only about 48 hours, Stephanie and I really were able to see a lot and to get a feel for the town.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


It occurred to me that I mostly write about things I take pictures of, and since I don't take pictures in class, I don't write about it often. So, I thought I'd say a few things...

The exam was last Monday, before we went to Madrid. Now that we're back, we got our scores. I got a 94/100, which I'm really happy about. There are lots of different areas covered in lecture, so I was happy I remembered enough about all of them.

Now the core lecture series and exam is over, so we are focusing on our departments (mine is Business and Management). We had a competition in our department to write a proposal for starting an Aerospace Interiors Industry in Catalonya - something the Catalonian government is actually interested in doing. We looked at the components of the industry and the existing design, textile, and aerospace companies in Catalonya, and then produced a roadmap and business plan. Our presentation was well-recieved, and our team ended up winning the competition.

Now our next big assignment (due tomorrow evening) is to write a proposal in response to an RFP (Request for Proposal). The RFP is for a earth-sensing satellite. We had to come up with a techincal design, make up a company, and then write all organization and management documents about our company to propose our technical and business plan. We turn in our document tomorrow and present on Friday. My team is pretty well organized, and everyone's very intelligent and reliable, so I think we're doing really well.

Other than that, we also have our team project to work on. I'm on the Spaceports team and on the business and commercial sub-team. We'll look at the market analysis for commercial spaceflight, and do some analysis of possible tourism tie-ins. We only have a few more weeks to complete a 100-pg report.

Space Masquerade

Following our very exciting Friday, we kept our energy up for Saturday. I slept until 11am, and then went for lunch with friends at Mango - a restaurant on Diagonal close to our residence. Post-lunch I headed to the pool with a bunch of people, and ended up staying for four hours. I really do love that place!

When we finally left the pool, we had to hurry to get ready for the Space Masquerade. This is an annual ISU event for which people get dressed up in space-related costumes and have a big party. A bunch of my friends and I dressed up as the cast of Battlestar Galactica (an awesome show if you haven't seen it). I was Kara Thrace (Starbuck). Other characters included (in the order of the picture of us below): The 12th Cylcon (unknown - so in a black mask), Col. Tye, Boomer, Caprica Six, Gaius Baltar, Apollo, Starbuck, Gaeta, and Chief Tyrol. We must have done well, because we won the costume contest! Checkout my facebook album to see other costumes - which included the sun, the moon, solar wind, the Doppler Effect, Star Wars, space debris, and tons more. The party was at Cafe Noir, near Fontana, which was a cool location. We stayed out dancing in our space costumes until about 4:30am - it was a great night!

Culture Night 5

Last Friday was a busy day. After classes, Stephanie and I headed up to Esports UB - a gym about 2 km down the road from us - to join and take advantage of the deal our program had worked out for us. The gym has a huge outdoor pool with lap-swimming, so I've decided to make that my new work out plan. I've been everyday since we joined on Friday.As the title shows, Friday was the fifth culture night. This week featured France, Italy, Norway, and the Netherlands. Jeff's old roommates - Victor and Alberto, came to join us and watch the presentations, which was really nice. The French presentation was funny, described aspects of France for all five senses, and included singing and dancing. The Italian presentation was also pretty good, and they had a funny Family Guy clip where Peter speaks Italian. Hilarious.Unfortunately, the room the event was in was not well ventilated, and it got extremely hot, so Victor, Alberto, Stephanie, and I took a break from culture night and grabbed a drink at one of the nearby bars with outdoor seating. We ran into some of the French guys outside, and had a very nice multi-cultural (Spain, France, USA) discussion, so we had some cultural learning anyway.

After the cultural night presentations were over, everyone moved to another room for French wine and Italian Limoncello. The Limoncello turned out to be the Achilles heal of the ISU group - deceptively sweet and candy-like, it definitely played a part in the rising noise and craziness level in the room.

Around 1am, a group of us headed out for dancing downtown at Les Enfants, near La Rambla. We had another very Spanish evening of dancing all night. We headed home around 5:30am (while the club was still busy), but ended up staying up chatting and eating cookies in Stephanie's room until 7:30am. I think we're starting to get used to the Spanish timeline.

Friday, August 1, 2008


We just moved into a new residence for the month of August. There are some clear ways in which it is less nice than our previous accommodation - for example, there is no air conditioning. Also, it has communal bathrooms - so all the showers, toilets, and sinks are in one big room for the whole hallway. However, it is much closer to town, which is great - the view out my window is of actual Barcelona buildings Also, there are lots more shelves and drawers, and as an organization-lover, this is a big plus for me. It lets me put all my stuff away in its correct place and feel like I’m actually moved in. Overall, I actually prefer Penyafort (our new place) to Agora (our old place), though I may be the only one. I can get over inconvenient bathrooms, and I set up a fan - but I love being walking distance to cool parts of the city.

Madrid Trip

After finishing our exam, our entire Space Studies Program (SSP08) took a trip to Madrid. The trip was a lot of fun, but a bit hectic. We were staying pretty far outside the city, and there wasn’t any site-seeing time built into the trip, so I really had to work hard to find ways to see things.

We arrived in Madrid around 8pm on Monday and got to our housing and checked in by around 10pm or so. We were staying at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, about 22 km from Madrid. There weren’t any bars, restaurants, or stores of any kind open on or near campus, so we decided to take a train somewhere for a drink. We thought it’d take too long to get into Madrid, since the last train left at midnight, so instead we went two stops farther from the city, to a little suburb that had some cute little cerveserias (bars) with outdoor seating. We relaxed outside in the warm, dry, central Spain evening until about midnight, and then headed home.On Tuesday, we didn’t need to catch the bus to our event until 1pm, so Jaisha, Nadine, and I decided to meet up at 8:45am and head to Madrid. The program had discouraged people from doing this, because they didn’t want people to miss the bus, but since this was our only chance for sight-seeing, we decided we’d better go.

The difficulty in getting to the city wasn’t as bad as we’d heard. We had to travel 10 minutes on the train (2 stops) before getting to the Madrid metro system. Then it took about 15 minutes to get into the central part of the city. (Though actually, we got some bad directions and had to back-track a bit, so it took us longer.)

We got off the metro in Plaza Espanya, which is a pretty square in the city with fountains, trees, and little walkways. There are statues of Don Quixote and Pancho. We walked around there a bit, and then started walking up Gran Via, a major road through Madrid. Gran Via has lots of shops and restaurants, and also big theaters, playing things like “La Bella y La Bestia” (Beauty and the Beast). We stopped at a restaurant there to get some café con leche (coffee with milk) and churros. This helped us perk up and continue our speed-site-seeing.
We continued our wandering down Gran Via and saw shop after shop with clothing on sale that was very inexpensive. Finally we gave in, and went into a shop, where we each bought a shirt for 3 Euros ($5). We took a detour and arrived in Puerto del Sol. It is a square in the middle of Madrid, also with shops and restaurants.
Then it was on to Plaza Mayor - one of the most famous plazas in Madrid. It’s surrounded on all sides by similar looking buildings with pretty balconies. The main building is covered with murals.
After that, it was about time to head back to catch the bus, so we grabbed bocadillas (sandwiches on baguettes - I had bocadilla de queso manchego) for lunch, and hopped on the metro. We got back early - around 12:20, and were able to stop by brunch and grab some fruit.

At 1pm, we caught the bus to the European Space Astronomy Center (ESAC). It was really hot out, so we didn’t do a tour of the facilities. They gave a talk about the organization and activities of the center, and then another talk about the European Space Agency (ESA) missions. The talks were interesting, but weren’t very specific to Madrid or to our location at that center, which made me wish we had more sightseeing time instead. After those talks, we had some snacks and then a panel.
The panel was about Lunar exploration. The U.S. representative spoke first and gave a very good presentation about EVA (Extra-vehicular activity) planning for the moon. He was leading the team designing the new spacesuits and transportation vehicles we’ll use on the moon. The European representative went next and gave a short presentation on Europe’s plans related to the moon - mostly focusing on science missions. The Indian representative gave a presentation that includes more technical information about current Indian Lunar science missions. Finally, a representative from Japan talked about the two Lunar orbiters from Japan.

After the panel, the bus took us to Madrid. We were dropped off in Plaza Espana, which was familiar territory from my morning expedition. We walked to Palacia Real - the former royal palace, and then onto Plaza Mayor again. We had dinner at a cute restaurant in the corner of Plaza Mayor - enjoying the outdoor seating and all the evening activities. I had a good Spanish meal, consisting of sausage, fried green pepper, and croquettes - along with patatas bravas, a tapa I shared with a friend.
Following dinner, I went with Stephanie, Eric, Jaisha, David, and Kris to a bar in the old city area of Madrid - it was a really cute bar. We had some Sangria to really get into the Spanish spirit. After leaving there, we walked to Puerto del Sol to meet up with other people from our program. Some of the group had taken the bus home at 11pm, but this group decided to stay out exploring. (In Spain, dinner is around 9 or 10, so 11pm is still fairly early.) We found a disco and ended up dancing until 4:30am. When we got there at midnight, we were almost the only people there, but despite all logic (this was a Tuesday night!) It got progressively more busy until 3am and was packed by the time we left.

We left for our second professional visit at 9am on Wednesday. My group went to Hispasat. Hispasat is a satellite operator that specializes in Spanish and Portugese-language TV and radio broadcast. They gave a very interesting presentation about how operations are run. They talked about what happens if there is interference, and how experience helps you figure out who might be doing it (it’s usually an accident by one of your stations). They can also de-modulate the signal and listen to it to figure out who/what is causing the interference. They took us on a tour of the facilities, to see giant satellite dishes and their operating rooms, as well as a room with tons of TVs for monitoring the quality of the satellite TV feeds. Unfortunately they didn’t allow pictures.

After the talks and tours, we had lunch there. I think it may have been the best lunch I’ve had in Spain so far. All of the food was in small portions - little round appetizers, mini pieces of bread with the fancy iberian ham, tiny salmon sandwiches, etc. There were little plates with chopped up asparagus, a cherry tomato, a lemon slice, and shrimp - I think I had 3 of those. Another plate had chicken and rice that was both sweet and a little tangy. Everything tasted so great, I even dared to try my first anchovy - which was on top of a tasty looking appetizer with bread and tomatoes - salty, but good. There were little cones filled with soft cheeses - I also had more than one of those. And then there were the deserts - chocolate mousse topped with apricot, fruit tarts, strawberries, pineapple, kiwi, and lots of other little mini-desserts that were amazing. Despite the miniture size of everything, I got to the point that I had to refuse the new things the waiter would bring around, since I was so full. On top of this, there was wine and cava - very nice. Not surprisingly, we ended up staying later than planned, and had to rush a bit to checkout and be ready for the bus to the airport.

As it turned out, we had to hurry up and wait, since we got to the airport around 5pm and our flight didn’t leave until 8:30pm. I filled my time sitting in the airport hanging out with people in the program, like my GWU friends and some potential astronauts from Canada - who all happen to be medical doctors, so there was lots of interesting conversation. Gregor, another ISU student, showed us his bands’ music video - Quantum Physics Girl, which was pretty funny. The band, Zen Finger Painting, already released two albums.

By the time we got to Barcelona, took the bus to our new residence, found our stuff, and got into our rooms, we were all exhausted, so it was straight to bed.