March 10, 2012


"Olé olé !" says the girl who just got back from her incredible trip to Barcelona. The bus trip was amazing, fantastic, wonderful, mucho bueno, etc. I went to so many places, met so many people, discovered so many things... and hardly slept. It was a bit overwhelming! And fantastic. I have so much to say and not enough time right now in my school library to write it all! Bear with me folks... my memory is a little scattered.

So since this bus trip was called the "Paris-Barcelona" bus trip, we weren't in Barcelona the whole time even though it felt like that. We were in Paris for three days, on the bus for two days, and then in Barcelona for the last three days. We were a group of fifty exchange students, coming from all over this planet. There were people from Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Australia, Tazmania, Colombia, India, and of course America. One of the best parts about the trip was getting to meet all the incredible new friends of every nationality. I learned a lot about their cultures in the process and had the best time being with them. Rembering all of them as I write this makes me want to go back there so badly. Exchange students instantly click with other exchange students. It's impossible to be a loner if you're hanging around one of your kind. We all share similar experiences and hardships so it's natural that we all want to be together. Even on a bus for 18 hours...

Anyways, so I slept over at an exchange student's house the night before we left for Paris. We had to get up super early to catch our train and arrived at the Paris train station at six in the morning like walking zombies on Red Bull. We met up with everyone and helplessly tried to remember peoples' names. The general order of first meet-and-greet questions went like this: "Where are you from?" "What's your name?" "Where do you live in France?" "So, uh, how's life going for you?" That's how it started almost every single time. After we loaded onto the bus, we set off right away on a guided tour of Paris, checking off all the things on the tourist must-see list: The Eiffel Towel, Notre Dame, the Seine River, the Louvre, the bridge with all the locks of lovers, etc.

Looks like someone stole the show... I swear that this wasn't planned. (BIRD)
Group photo :)
Inside the Notre Dame
By the Seine
So the Bridge of Lovers is a bridge that goes over the Seine with a long fencing that's covered in locks. You are supposed to go there with your lover, put a lock on the bridge, and then throw the key into the river. Preeeetty romantic. So the big shocker was that I found a lock with my name on it! There were at least a million locks there and personally I don't know any other Aja's in this world so... one could say I was surprised.
The tour was kind of rushed so it was hard to really enjoy Paris, especially when the guide was blabbering on and on with no one listening and the Rotarians were always telling people to move faster. But the weather was really nice and the people were really nice and the city was really nice so.... the day was really nice.

Whoo! Taiwan!
And then we went to our lodgement: A youth hostel. When I heard the word "youth hostel", I definitely pictured concrete floors and straw beds. But the place was actually pretty spiffy! I bunked with Julia, my New York bud. I would have said that the place was a hotel if not for the absence of soap and a shower curtain in the bathroom. Everyone got to bed pretty late that night after a bit of dancing, talking, and silliness... but it was earlier than the nights that were yet to follow. ;)

Day 2: The second day in Paris was ten times better than the first. So the morning game plan was to climb up the Eiffel Tower. Everyone took patriotical pictures in front of the Tower with their country's flag. Ha. I hadn't brought an American flag so in all the pictures, I'm holding some other country's flag. International love?

Yep, I'm with the Canadian flag..
It was still cold and foggy at this time so when we got to the top, we really couldn't see that much. I had already been up the Eiffel Tower when I was in Paris with my parents when I was eight, but it was still very thrilling and fun to be up there again. That's where I started hanging around my Tazmanian buddy Evie. We were bus trip besties. For lunch, we had croque monsieurs on top of the Eiffel Tower. I thought food would be super expensive up there, but it was cheaper than a lot of cafés that we had eaten at. It was quite the location ;)

My Aussie :)

Afterwards we took the bus to Versailles. I had already been there once with my parents, but I had forgotten how beautiful it is. It's the essence of wealth, royalty, and refinity. Everything is painted in real gold. The place is enormous. We got pretty lost wandering about, checking out the elaborate bedrooms, ancient statues, and enormous wall paintings. It seemed to me that Louis must have been really into painted ceilings because almost every ceiling was a giant mural with angels and Jesus and all. I found them quite impressive. I, for one, could not paint something like that at that awkward angle. Evie and I took pictures of everything that seemed famous. We amused ourselves by trying to get into the background of as many tourist pictures as possible. Obviously, we make for great Rotray ambassadors.

After our tour, we went out into the famous gardens. It was more like a maze with really high walls and lots of turns. It reminded me a lot of Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland.

Day 3 : Last day in Paris. We visited the Louvre. I really liked the Louvre visit this time because I got to see way more of the museum than I had with my class back in December. Evie and I tagged along with some Asians who really wanted to see the Napolean exhibit. Since the place is absolutely immense, we ending up visiting tons of rooms in the process of getting lost. Someone told us that it would take three months to look at everything in the museum if you were to look at each masterpiece for one minute, eight hours a day. Wow. Yeah, we had about two hours to look at everything. That time frame didn't quite cut it. We felt kind of guilty bypassing hundreds of exquistic works that probably took years to complete. We just wanted to find the famous stuff. Of course we took some pictures with the Mona Lisa... it's sort of obligatory.

Yeah I don't know what I'm doing in this picture...
And then we found the famous painting that's on the Coldplay album cover « Viva la Vida ». But just like at Versailles, Evie and I just took pictures of what we thought was famous. Which meant a lot of stuff...
Viva la vida

The legit Venus statue
In Napolean's quarters


This time around for lunch, we ate at the Louvre's international food court. They had themed restaurants from all around the world : Chinese, Italien, Spanish, Moroccan, Japanese, American, etc. We went for Chinese.

There was one really super hilarious moment at the Louvre that made my day. As Evie and I were walking back from the food court, some old hairy guy came right up to Evie's ear and growled! He actually growled! Then he just walked away like nothing had happened. For a minutre we had just stood there, stunned. And then we broke out laughing. It was rather creepy, but rather wonderful at the same time. Oh gotta love those people that growl at you in world famous museums...

After the Louvre, we were on the bus for a good seven hours en route to Barcelona! Arrrrriba. The bus wasn't very comfortable and the movies that they played were really lame, but it actually wasn't that bad. I could have almost considered it to be fun. I never really realized the emphasis on the bus part of bus trip. We had a loooooot of hours on that bus. We passed the time by talking, singing, playing bus games, having a talent show, and of course sleeping. I learned how to rap. The funny thing about being around Australians is that I tend to pick up their accent! It's weird. So during the trip I started talking like Evie. I tried to stop, but I only went back to speaking like an American when I hung around other Americans.
Evie braided my hair... <3

For the night we stopped at a little town in the south of France. It was kind of in the middle of nowhere with cabins and a cafeteria. I roomed with Evie. Everyone stayed up late talking, dancing, and playing midnight beach volleyball (I'm not quite sure why there was a beach volleyball court there...) It was fun.

Day 4 : All day on the bus. All day sitting on those uncomfortable seats squished in between people speaking Chinese and Spanish. But it wasn't that difficult. Time passed fast enough, but it definitely felt longer than the first traveling day. For lunch, we stopped in an adorable little town that was within castle walls. That was super fun. The town was so cute with all the little stores, tiny alleys, and castle features. It was much better than stopping at Flunch.

We arrived in Spain that evening. I instantly fell in love with that country when we stepped out into the warm air in front of our 4 star hotel! They really lodged us in good places. This was a super nice hotel. I stayed in a room with the two Indians from my district. There was a dance floor, a really yummy buffet, a pool (that we couldn't swim in) and tons of people in that hotel. Each night there was quite fun ;) But as a result... we were all sleepless zombies the following day. 

Day 4: Mornings that start with a museum are rough after four hours of sleep. But it was an interesting museum all the same. Someone said that it was Barcelona's National Museum (I don't know, it was all in Spanish). Too bad we were too tired to register what we were looking at.


The museum's ceiling
One of the many sources of the constant music that floats around in the streets of Barcelona
Barcelona <3

Then we went over to every soccer fan's dream place: Barcelona's famous soccer stadium. I'm not a soccer player. I don't really care about soccer, honestly (but I better not say that in front of those crazy Barcelona fans.) But the stadium visit was pretty cool, even for the neutral passer-bys like myself. There was a historical section with tons of trophies and all. It was funny seeing the boys getting into it, taking pictures of themselves next to the trophies like girls in front of their favorite designer stores ;)

The stadium itself was enormous and colorful. One can imagine how crazy it must get when all those seats are full. I never understood how people can get so into sports, but it sure is fun to be around them even when you don't know what's happening on the field.

Famous trophies...

Translation: More Than A Club.
Have to agree with that one...

Sparsh, Jo, Evie, Me :)

Yeah it's kind of big...

And then finally for lunch, we had some time to explore the wonderful world of Barcelona shopping. There was a fantastic option of stores. We had loads of time. The only thing was... it was Sunday. Which meant that nothing was open! We were pretty bummed– extremely bummed. But it was still a great afternoon. We managed to find some open tourist booths to satisfy our shopping needs.
Olé! We know how to work those hats...
We also saw the famous Sagrada Familia cathderal. I swear that every single religious monument in Europe is under construction... The Sagrada Familia is never finished. It never will be finished. If you see a Sagrada Familia in a post card without some type of crane or building material in the background, it has been photo shopped. No matter what year it was taken in. It has an interesting architecture, one could say that the outside ressembles cottage cheese or mushy clay. Near the roof, there are vegetable statues, snakes, and slugs. There's probably a deep, religious, philosophical reason for those unique decorative appeals... but to the common eye, it doesn't make much sense.

Day 5: A beautiful day in Barcelona. The sun was shining and it was warm. It's been so long since I've had the sun on my face. The North of France is great... but not for suntans. That day we went on a thorough tour of the Sagrada Familia. I personally prefer the inside of Cambrai's cathedral.

Cottage cheese...
But this one had a little outside courtyard which was pretty with a little healing "magical water" foutain and some wandering ducks in the corridor. I drank the magical water. So far, I have found no new superpowers or unnatural side effects. I was disappointed.

Holy ducks

Following our saintly morning, we went out to have an amazing lunch. By the beach! I felt like I was in California again. There were palm trees everywhere, the sun was shining, we could hear seagulls, and we could see the ocean.

We found a great lunch place with a view of the water. Between the six of us, we got an incredible large special/family style meal to share: Three ginormous pans of classic Spanish food (Paella, black rice, Spanish noodles), plus salads, plus mini appetizers, plus drinks... all for 10€ a person. Score! But there was no way that we could have finished all that. We spent all our time eating so unfortunately we couldn't go down to the beach... I could have stayed there for so long. Long live Barcelona. I will go back to you one day.


That afternoon, we visited a typical tourist attraction in Barcelona. It was a series of white caves and tunnels with pretty decorated ceilings, but the most famous part was the mosaic lizard statue that dominates all the classic Barcelona postcards. But there were just too many tourists there for the visit to be super enjoyable, but I agree that our 50 person group didn't make the crowd control get any better.

Since everyone (well mostly the chicas) really really wanted to go shopping since we didn't get the chance to go the other day, the supervisors let us go shop in the town where our hotel was located. It wasn't that great... but I still found some clothes and a purse. Shopping in those little rustic alleyways is quite amusing because you can bargain. I've never really bargained before so when I simply told the man that I didn't want to pay for a shirt, he instantly lowered the price. I got it for 75 percent off. :)

Day 6: Our last day in paradise :( The last thing we did before leaving that incredible country was visit a musuem. Everyone was bummed... but the museum turned out to be incredibly interesting. Well, I was captivated. It was the official Salvador Dali museum. I am a huge fan of his work so I really enjoyed it. The whole museum is dedicated to him. Even his corpse was buried there in a wall...

 Here were some of my favorite works:

An enormous 3D masterpiece. This was taken from the stairs through a magnifying glass that puts the face into perspective. I have the lips on a necklace :)

The famous bread painting...

Based off of this 3D bread...

So close, so far

I LOVE THIS PAINTING. There are so many different abstract elements, you really have to search. For example, did you notice that the green thing is a man's tie?? Whoaaa

Abraham Lincoln illusion/ mosaic painting.

The original is in New York, but still...

The outside of the building was covered in fake bread rolls to represent his famous bread masterpiece. The Dali symbols that I've noticed: Bread, lips, clocks, mustache. How interesting it is to be remembered by those four ordinary things that have created such incredible art. I know he wasn't all that normal in the head, but sometimes our world's crazy folks turn out to be our world's geniuses.

For lunch afterwards, we discovered the extent of our Spanish speaking capacity. It was pathetic. I managed to order a Kebob with hand gestures. Most of us had never taken a lesson in Spanish before. But people there speak pretty good English. Except this one man in a hat store that we managed to have a whole conversation with using a whole lot of hand signals, grunting, "Si si", "gracias", smiles, and not a word of Spanish. My Asian friends even took a picture with him, they were so enchanted. So cute. I love how excited Asian people can get over little things.

Aaaaaaaand then.... the bus. 18 hours straight. We slept through the night on that bus. So uncomfortable but we were all too tired to not fall asleep, except for poor Evie who had an energy boost in the middle of the night and couldn't get to sleep. I can't count how many gas stations and rest stops they made us get off at. Usually those breaks were refreshing... just not the one at two in the morning. :P

Everyone got dropped off at their right train station for the return home. I took the train from Paris to Lille. It was so sad to say goodbye to everyone. It was like we had formed a family over the last week. But the good news was that we're all going to see each other again in a couple weeks at Annecy!... which is a huge event where all the exchange students (more than 400) are going to get together in a town called Annecy for a long weekend. It's going to be one fun meet and greet, I can sense it. So my adventures with my exchange student besties isn't over. After Annecy we still have the bus trip around Europe. Bref. Thank youuuuu Rotary!

Sorry AGAIN for the huge delay and shortage of blog posts. My reasons: having too much to talk about, procrastination, and a very busy life. Mix those three together and you get an instant reduction in lengthy blogs. Sorry. I'll try harder. A bientôt, bisous.

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