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Cristy’s Ultimate Barcelona Travel Guide! May 23, 2012

Posted by lifealgo in Barcelona!.
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Continuing on my series of guides, I also made one specifically for travel since it’s such a big part of the study abroad program. Hope you enjoy, and let me know if you have any feedback!

Cristy’s Ultimate Barcelona Travel Guide!

Main ideas are bolded for the tl;dr’ers.

General

  • BE KIND TO OTHERS.  Whether it’s the hostel owner, tour guide, locals, other tourists, vendors, or your travel partners, please treat them with kindness and respect.  Obviously, some of those are more likely than others to be rude, but please don’t be the first one to initiate the rudeness.  This may not apply to pushy vendors, but I discuss that further down this list
  • BRING YOUR BCN INSURANCE CARD AND SOME PHOTO ID WITH YOU FOR STUDENT DISCOUNTS.  A lot of museums/tour guides/exhibits offer student discounts if you’re a European student.  Since you’re taking classes at UPC this includes you, and your laminated insurance card is the only way to prove that if you don’t have an international student card.  Just make sure you have some photo ID to go with it.  I showed my insurance card and my driver’s license and it was always accepted
  • On the same vein as the first point, being nice pays off in a lot of places – usually in the form of discounts
  • Haggle.  Unless the store has a price tag on everything, you can almost always haggle – this is especially true if they’re about to close for the day.  Look up tips online
  • Use common sense.  Please don’t walk back to your hostel by yourself at 3AM while drunk
  • If you fall in love with a purse/souvenir/etc, just get it, since you may not always be able to pass by again later

Scammers/Thiefs/Safety Advice

  • At one point you will stick out as a tourist and pushy vendors will target you.  Unless you’re interested in haggling with them, tell them a firm no and ignore them
  • Be wary of vendors/people at touristy areas that seem too nice.  Examples below:
    • Two friends were in El Corte Ingles (department store) and some guy started talking to them in broken English for quite a while. It was only after that they noticed that the guy’s friend had been rummaging through their bags while they were distracted.
    • Some scammers will attempt to get ahold of your hand so they can tie a bracelet around your wrist that they’ll charge you for.  They might do this by offering a handshake after introducing themselves, or by asking other seemingly innocent requests
    • Girls: some guy may hand you a worn-down rose and start complimenting you.  He will eventually ask you to pay 10-20 euro for the rose
    • In front of the Coliseum some guys dressed as Roman Warriors were inviting others to take pictures with them.  Then they ask you to pay for the pic
  • Restaurants right next to tourist attractions will almost always be the most expensive/have the worst food quality

Transportation

  • Try to get to the train station at least half an hour before your train leaves.  Triple check the departure times.  Also, locate exactly what track your train leaves from – you don’t want to realize that you were facing the wrong side of the tracks 5 minutes after your train departs
  • Most train stations will announce your train’s track within half an hour before its departure time, but that may go up to 5 minutes before it leaves so don’t assume it’s cancelled and always ask around – info areas at stations are more likely to know English
  • When I went to big cities I bought multiple-day passes for tour buses.  That way I could go from attraction to attraction and still see the city.  Cities without tour buses are usually small enough for you to walk from place to place

Language Barriers

  • If you’re visiting a place where you don’t know the language, “hello” and “do you speak English” are the first two things you should learn
  • For the love of everything that is beautiful, don’t go up to locals and start asking them stuff in really fast English.  That’s rude.  Ask them first if they speak English, then talk to them clearly/slowly/pantomiming stuff depending on how much they know
  • That said, you should try asking locals about stuff!  Some might tell you the best times to visit certain attractions, best places to eat, etc
  • If you don’t know the language but you know a related language, try speaking it instead of English, i.e., Spanish in Italy

Hostels

  • I’ll just say this right away: you’ll be fine.  You won’t die/come back with a missing kidney.  Hostels are less fancy than a hotel, but pretty much the same otherwise
  • Some of them have lockers but do not come with locks, so bring some of your own just in case
  • You shouldn’t spend much time in your hostel aside from sleeping
  • Always ask the concierge for tour info, places to eat, about the tourist attractions, etc.  They might not always be the best deals/what you’re looking for, but a lot of them have partnerships with awesome tours
  • Some of them will not accept cards.  Bring lots of cash with you and keep it safe.  Also, some will split the bill evenly, which may be an issue if one of you paid the reservation fee online

City-Specific Advice

  • In Paris, you can buy tickets for the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay at an info kiosk in one of the main train stations.  They cost the same, and you don’t have to make either line
  • Also in Paris, entrance to Notre Dame is free.  The line you see outside is to go up to the towers and costs a couple of euro
  • In Venice, there’s a tour called Alilaguna (or something like that) which covers the boat ride to 3 specific islands and entrance to a glass-blowing factory for 20 euro.  The trip to the island where the glass-blowing factory is (Murano) alone costs 14 euro, so this is a really, really good deal
  • In Rome, the tickets for the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill are exactly the same.  You can imagine how ridiculous the line for the Coliseum has to be.  Just go over to the Roman Forum (it’s right next to the Coliseum), and get your Coliseum ticket in 5 minutes
  • At the Vatican City, try to go in with a tour group.  You won’t have as much freedom, but your admission will be included (which is nice ‘cause the estimated time for the line was about 2 hours).  As a bonus, when you go into the Sistine Chapel with your group there’ll probably be too many people for the guards to prevent you from taking pics.  That said, you can buy your tickets at least a week in advance online
  • In Florence, the line for the museum where the statue of David is has line of approximately an hour and a half throughout most of the day.  Instead, go there about an hour and a half to one hour before the museum closes.  The museum is not that big, so you can still see the whole thing and it’ll be less crowded.  If you go early enough there might still be tour groups passing through, so you can sneak a picture of David [there are guards walking around in case you try to]
  • Also in Florence, try to stay at Hostel Gallo d’Or – it’s owned by a lovely young married couple.  They’re extremely nice and offer free internet, breakfast, postcards…
  • In Madrid, the Prado museum offers free entrance to students after a certain time

Have fun and be safe! 😀

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Cristy’s Ultimate Barcelona Study Abroad Guide! May 23, 2012

Posted by lifealgo in Barcelona!.
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Last year some friends of mine were going to study abroad in Barcelona in the summer, so they made a group to coordinate activities. Seeing as it was the same program I’d done a year before, I thought I’d maybe write a couple of tips and share it with the group. Long story short, I ended up writing over a thousand words! I only shared it with the group, but recently I thought: why not just put it online for future Georgia Tech Barcelona students? So without further ado, I present…

Cristy’s Ultimate Barcelona Study Abroad Guide!

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. What to bring
  2. Onix
  3. Barcelona Living
  4. Weather
  5. Around the City
  6. Food
  7. Must-Sees
  8. Other Good Places
  9. Classes
  10. Miscellaneous (and other important details)

What to bring:

  • Although you have internet at Onix (residences) IT IS NOT WIRELESS!!  So bring an ethernet cord (or get one from the front desk for 5 euro)
  • Outlet converters!  These are the ones used in Spain and most of Europe: http://www.beautywests.com/ProductImages/new4/11142.jpg
  • You may need a voltage converter.  To see if you do, check your electronics/chargers to see if they say “input range: 100-240V” or something like that.  If they do, you don’t need the converter; otherwise, they are designed to handle only American voltage levels and will short-circuit when you plug them in!
  • I brought a big bag (24-in in height), a carry-on (21in in height), and a big bookbag, and I was fine with the amount of stuff that I brought (~20-30 shirts, ~4 pants, ~4 shorts, ~6 pairs of shoes…)
  • Bring your laptop and charger and battery (someone didn’t bring theirs to save up on weight… DON’T DO THAT!!)
  • CAMERA!!!  I brought two 2GB memory cards and ran out of space – granted, I took ~6000 pics during the whole trip.  If you take a lot of pictures, bring enough memory! 🙂

Onix (Residences):

  • All rooms have AC, windows, and blinds that literally block out all light
  • You will also have a fridge, microwave, and two stoves that heat up very quickly – also, they don’t match up with their knobs (you’ll know what I mean)
  • If you’re living in a double, you will share a room, kitchen, and bathroom with your roommate
  • If you’re living in a single, you will have your own room and bathroom.  You will share your kitchen with the adjacent room.  Your kitchenmate may or may not be from the Barcelona program
  • All rooms come with a chest of drawers in which the top drawer locks with a key; however, not all rooms will have the key for it.  If you’re lucky/live in a double, you might be able to lock up your stuff (extra cash, passport, etc) in a shared drawer (your roommate’s)
  • There is a pool on the roof
  • Your beds in Barcelona will have blankets, bedcovers, pillowcases, etc
  • Onix has maids who will take out your trash and wash & change your sheets once a week
  • Speaking of which, you can trust the maids – I never heard anyone complain about “missing something”
  • The rooms won’t have toilet paper when you get there so you’ll get to see the supermarket on the first day! (It’s right around the corner)
  • The bottom floor has a computer room, a gym, a TV room, and vending machines for coffee and junk food.  It also has some nice open study areas
  • Official list of stuff the rooms have: desktop lamps, 2 chairs for each person, twin bed, closet with shelves and hangers, minifridge, microwave, stove, kitchen sink, tiny lunch table,3 pots and 2 pans, forks, knives, spoons, glasses, cups, corkboard, trashcans

Barcelona Living:

  • There’s a pool on the roof of Onix
  • The beach is about 20 minutes away (walking)
  • The BCN metro system is pretty awesome
  • You will walk pretty much everywhere, so bring comfy shoes!
  • You will live less than a block away from a supermarket, Mercadona.  They have fresh food, toiletries, frozen goods, etc… if you want fresher food, the area on top of the supermarket has a bunch of local vendors
  • You will spend most of your time moving along the grid – this is known as the Ensanche.  This means that blocks are shaped as octagons instead of squares, and every block has a recreational area in the middle.  If you’re taking any of the ARCH/COA classes get ready to hear a *lot* more about this 🙂

Weather:

  • It rained a total of 3-4 times in the 10 weeks I was there
  • The first couple of weeks it was around 70 degrees in the morning
  • By the end of the summer, however, it will be really warm (high 80s-90s)

Around the City:

  • Catalan and Spanish are the official languages.  Almost all signs will be in Catalan, Spanish, and sometimes English.  Most other things will be in Catalan.
  • Everybody in Barcelona will know Spanish
  • Barcelona has a lot of museums and art.  If you’re really into them you can get a pass that allows you to ge into like ~7 museums for ~22 euro
  • The beach is 20 minutes away if you walk to the right from the Onix exit and it’s pretty much a straight shot
  • La Sagrada Familia is about 25 minutes away (7 blocks) if you want to the left from Onix, and it’s a straight shot so don’t miss it! 🙂
  • The Barcelona Zoo is pretty good
  • Shopaholics beware: Barcelona partakes in a country-wide, month-long period of sales that begins in July.  If I recall correctly, it applies to all products

Food:

  • Spain is known for its pork products – if you can’t eat pork, make sure you always ask if your dish contains any of it! This also applies to meat in general, so make sure what you’re eating suits your diet
  • If you can eat ham, please, please, please make sure you have jamon serrano before you leave and, if you can, try to have jamon de bellota – it’s a really expensive but extremely delicious kind of ham
  • TAPAS.  Tapas, more than a type of food, is the concept of going to eat with a group of friends and sharing your order with everyone else.  Please have them, and have them a lot!
  • FANTA LIMON AND FANTA NARANJA.  DO IT
  • Manchego cheese is a Spanish staple
  • While Paella is associated with the Mediterranean coast of Spain, it is originally from Valencia.  If you’re not planning on going there, you can still have it in Barcelona but beware: it is mostly available in extremely touristy places
  • Lastly, Nutella.  They’ll have jars for 2-3 Euro.  The record for my year was 12 jars.  Just sayin’
  • Tipping: so while generally in Europe people don’t tip, from what I’ve heard it has become a custom among Barcelona’s most touristy areas. At these places, tipping some change up to a euro is customary.

Must Sees:

  • Parc Guell: Park designed by Gaudi (Barcelona’s pride, famous architect)
  • Montjuic and Tibidabo (there’s a castle and amusement park at the top)
  • La Sagrada Familia (one of Barcelona’s biggest tourist attractions!)
  • Casa Milla/La Pedrera, Casa Batllo, and the rest of the houses in Passeig de Gracia/Illa de la Discordia (Block of Discord) – you don’t necessarily have to go inside, but you definitely should see them from outside!
  • If you’re into music, there are two festivals that take place during the summer: Primavera Sound and Sonar – google them for more info
  • Montjuic the Nit is a free music festival that takes place during the first week of July – it’s a lot of fun if you don’t have anything else to do that night!

Other good places:

  • Montserrat: mountain, a one-hour train ride away
  • Barcelona Cathedral: this is different from La Sagrada Familia!!
  • Mercat Santa Caterina: fresh food market that has a crazy awesome roof
  • Las Ramblas (watch your pockets/purse!)

Classes:

  • All your classes will be in the same room
  • The right-hand side of the room has lefty desks
  • There are 3 different cafeterias on campus that you can go to during lunch – the food is good, pletiful and pretty cheap
  • If you’re hungry or want to have a full meal I highly recommend the Platos Combinados: they have several combinations but all of them bring some mix of meat, carbs, and salad
  • UPC (host university) is pretty much the Tech equivalent of Barcelona – the prestige and the ratio are preserved

Miscellaneous:

  • Barcelona is a safe city as far as violent crimes are concerned
  • That said, it is known for being a thriving city for thiefs and pickpocketers
  • GUYS: DON’T PUT STUFF IN YOUR BACKPOCKETS, EVER!!!!
  • GIRLS: ALWAYS KEEP YOUR PURSE BY YOUR SIDE!!! Put it in front of you if you have to!
  • For everybody: on the metro and other crowded/touristy places (i.e. Las Ramblas), put your bookbags/bags to the side or in front of you (NOT LIKE THIS: http://swapsliners.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/woman_use.jpg) – swing them to the front
  • There is no need to be paranoid; as long as you’re mindful and aware, you have little else to worry about
  • That said, please use common sense and try to be safe whenever possible: avoid walking alone late at night by yourself (especially in touristy areas) and be mindful of the people in your group and the people around you (read: possible thieves)
  • Figure out if your bank has any partners in Europe, since the ATM fees won’t be as great when you draw money from the partner banks

Hopefully you found this helpful! If anything else needs to be added or fixed, let me know in a comment 🙂

And thus was week 1 May 22, 2012

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Monday started up early in time for New Employee Orientation (NEO)!

My roommates and I walked together with Paul and his roommates, Jeff and Curtis. The interns were let in to do logistics in batches, which left us with plenty of time to chat the rest of the interns starting that week.

One of many Microsoft signs around the main campus!

First mingling area at NEO

After the initial paperwork all interns were led to a big room in which we were gonna spend the rest of the day. We were seated in tables based on our divisions, it was fairly interesting to see the composition of our intern group.

I don’t know about the others, but I can definitely vouch for the easternmost STB table and its fascination with silly putty.

During lunch a decent group of around 11-12 of us sat in the commons and listened to Tom W. tell us a tale of transcendental cheese and sandwiches. After a couple of hours more of orientation we opted to not waste time and keep on socializing as we bought bikes!  Surprisingly, I was able to find an adult bike that is not only my favorite color, but is also my size (I have a 24.75 inch inseam, so riding a 26″ bike is more or less out of the question).

I actually managed to bike 1.5 miles home after not getting on a bicycle in about 4-5 years. Afterwards we decided to get happy hour sushi with some of the lunch crew and the bicycle shop group, it was quite excellent!

On Tuesday I got to meet my manager, my mentor, and part of my team. I’ll be working with the Visual Studio division this summer, and while I can’t say what my project is about I can say this: I’ve definitely hit the ground running! After four years at Tech, however, this is nothing out of the ordinary – definitely makes it fun 😉

The end of the week was marked by a Burrito Fiesta hosted by fellow Microsoft interns who live in our complex. The day after a group of us ventured to downtown Seattle for a cheese festival, Sushi, a visit to a thrift store in Capitol Hill where I found a leather jacket for $7(!!!), and a Hawaiian party put together by the same guys who had the potluck the week before.

Cheese festival – favorite cheese I tried was coconut milk cheese

Blue trees in downtown Seattle!

Old and new, all friends

In front of Molly Moon’s ice cream shop

My roommates and I in Hawaiian gear!

Sunday was spent mostly watching part of the first season of Game of Thrones and realizing that, if the first week was any indication, this is going to be a truly wonderful and lovely summer.

First weekend in Seattle May 16, 2012

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The first weekend has passed. My flight to Seattle on Saturday was shared with 4 other Georgia Tech students: my 2 roommates, a fellow 2011 CoC mentor, and an old friend I was not aware was interning at Microsoft as well. After the 5-hour flight we tried to find a car big enough for 11 bags and 4 people (the fellow mentor left with someone else).

Interns at the car rental place! (from left to right: Paul D., Jasmine L., Naomi R., and I)

The first challenge of the summer: car tetris!

We eventually got to our apartment complex, which is lovely and beautiful and has bunnies (what more could you want??). Our apartment was just as lovely and beautiful despite not having bunnies, but I’m actually okay with that last part.

Our dining room all set up

Our living room – we have a fireplace!

Since it was still early evening we decided to get some groceries with Paul and his roommate Jeff G. before calling it a night.

Achievement unlocked: successfully bought groceries

We had the car until Tuesday, so on Sunday we explored around the downtown Seattle area for a bit.

First time seeing the Space Needle in daylight 🙂

Public Market Center – reminded me of Las Ramblas in Barcelona!

We walked around Pike Market Place, saw the first Starbucks, and had sandwiches on a soft patch of grass near the waterfront.

The first Starbucks ever!

Seattle sandwiches are pretty good, but we would hear more about them the following day…

Waterfront grass.

Later on we headed home to change before going to a potluck organized by a fellow intern. I got to meet other interns from Georgia Tech and all over the US, and some from Canada, too!  We went home early because we had intern orientation to go to the next day.  Overall, it was a lovely first day of summer in Seattle!

Hello, Seattle! May 13, 2012

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I’m safe and sound and settled in Seattle.

Whew, what a day!