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Beginning of Week 2 London/Dublin 2015

Our accommodations here at the University College of Dublin are far superior to that of the Stay Club in London. Here at UCD we each live in single rooms in an apartment of four. Being one of two guys on the  trip, it is only two of us in an apartment for three people. Each apartment has two bathrooms, and a kitchen. The kitchen is stocked with a set of cutlery, dishes, and cooking wares for each individual. We have been provided with so much to make the remainder of our trip incredibly enjoyable.

We arrive to class the same way we did in London; by means of taking the public bus. It’s relaxing to take the double-decker bus rides through the city. It allows me the chance to prepare for class in the morning, and to decompress later on. The trip is approximately 30 minutes long, so I can’t really complain about that. Public transportation here is widespread. You’ll see several buses back to back all driving throughout the streets in any given area. The only issue is that there is a wide range of numbered buses that it makes it complicated to to initially understand how the system works. The downside to the buses here in Dublin is that the service shuts down promptly at 11:30pm, and there is no train system to allow us to get back to campus directly other than paying for a taxi. I’m not looking forward to paying for transportation, compared to London where not once did I need to pay for transportation. But at the very least the buses are clean and generally quiet, and I find them to be rather peaceful.

Food

Food in Spain is very different than in the US.  Not only are the meals compromised of vastly different tastes, but the meals themselves are on a completely different time zone.  There is more fish and meat, and less carbs and sugar.  There is way more coffee and way less water.  And ultimately, there is way more time between each meal.
Similar to the US, I often skip breakfast.  I know it’s not healthy to start your day on an empty stomach; I’ve just never been able to eat a real meal before 11am.  However, here I have unfortunately adapted the habit of picking up a pastry before class.  Here in Spain that is commonly a croissant, filled with some sort of treat: chocolate, cream and so on.  This is by far the most delicious food Spain has to offer, as it is offered in every store and in any flavor.
Lunch in Spain is interesting.  We have to make sure we get to the restaurants before siesta (citywide nap time), or else the stores and shops are closed.  However, when we are lucky enough to get out timing right, we are often met with a menu of the day.  This menu often offers 3 courses: a salad or appetizer, a main dish of either paella or meat, followed by a pastry of some kind.  Lucky for those of us on a cheap budget, menus of the day are often at a discounted price than a singular lunch meal.
Dinner is the hardest for me, while here in Spain.  I’m used to eating around seven, but here in Spain my host family doesn’t serve dinner until past nine.  The hardest part is, she serves an absurd amount of food.  When I go from three to nine without eating, I’m usually starving and eat more than I normally would.  However, I also am going to bed earlier than I normally would because I’m so exhausted.  This creates a bit of a stomach issue when you go to bed on an overly full stomach.
Regardless of the ups and downs of eating abroad, Spanish food is by far one of my favorites.  It feels healthier and fresher, not including the morning pastries of course.  The fish and meat far surpass their US equivalents.  Similarly, the coffee is stronger, and the pastries are sweeter.IMG_0135      IMG_0133

Transportation

The metro in Barcelona is extremely useful.  Not only is it reliable and relatively easy to learn, it takes you anywhere you want to go.  Living near Sagrada Familia, my roommate and I have a lot of options when it comes to getting to school.  We can take the purple, blue or yellow lines to get to school, all within less than a half an hour.  At first, we relied on the purple line because we heard it was the easiest.  However, my roommate and I weren’t too pleased with our long walk from the stop on the purple line once near school, and decided to look further into the metro options.  Once we saw there was a yellow stop near our house, we asked our host mom is it was reliable, and she said yes, in fact she takes it to work every morning.  The next morning, Merce walked us to the yellow line and helped us get to school.  We now take the yellow line every morning.
Although the metro is very easy to learn, as it is very simple and easily displayed on maps at each stop, I was nervous.  I panicked at the thought of being lost alone, with no wifi, unable to find my way home: so I downloaded the Barcelona metro map.  I’m not sure how international students survive here without it.  Not only does the app work without wifi, meaning I can use it even when I’m below ground without phone service, it has an interactive map and gives you explicit directions.  Now that I have the comfort of this app, I feel confident traveling on the metro by myself.
To that same token, the metro is also very safe.  We have been told countless times to beware pit pockets in Barcelona, especially on the metro.  However, I have yet to feel threatened or uncomfortable on the metro, feelings I experience daily while at home on the New York City metro.  The trains are very clean and comfortable, making it easy to hold on to my belongings, while keeping an eye out for thieves.  I’ve grown comfortable on the Barcelona metro, and consider it to be one of the best public transportation systems I’ve experienced.
However, there are some things I don’t like about the metro.  In attempts to be eco friendly, and to use less energy, the doors on the metro are all hand automated.  To open the door, from the inside or the outside, you need to open it yourself by pressing a button.  This is a phenomena that took me a while to catch on to, missing my stop one too many times just by simply standing in front of the door, waiting for it to open by itself.  Similarly, the escalators are eco friendly, and only move if there are enough people using them: leaving me to climb the stairs more often than I’d like, too.
Compared to the T back in Boston, I have no complaints.  The metro is easy, reliable and clean, which is much more than I can say for the T.  I’ve taken the metro many times by myself, and have grown to appreciate the alone time: pretending to be a local, even if only for a second.

Getting Around in Rome and Venice

In Rome, the primary means of transportation was expected to be by foot. However, there was a tram line right outside of the boarding house, which was incredibly convenient as it had a stop right outside of where school was, and also right in Piazza Venezia, which was a major plaza that connected us to other parts of the city depending on where we were expected to be for our culture classes. The buses in Rome were very helpful for getting to and from where we needed to be, or to and from the tram line, and were easy to figure out and use. And, everything in Rome is labeled because most places we went were also major tourist areas, so transportation was very easy to figure out. In Venice, the main mode of transportation is by foot. Since there are no cars in the city, the roads are designed for pedestrians. The major bridges are labeled, but it is a little tricky to navigate Venice. Fortunately, the TAs for the program bring us to the meeting places for our culture classes. Venice also has boats called vaporettos that serve as water buses. We have cards (like Charlie Cards) for the boats that sometimes need to be taken to get to locations for class. The boats are easy to figure out because the line and route is clearly labeled, and there are boards that tell you when each line will be at the stop location. However, I have found that walking around Venice has been the best way to get around- you can see the different parts that may not be walked during classes, and it truly is a beautifully unique city that is best experienced by immersing yourself in it. And, culturally, Venetians walk everywhere!

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( Piazza Venezia, one of the most important landmarks for getting around Rome. The tram that runs along the boarding house starts/ends at this piazza, and many of the places that we attend in our cultural classes use this as a main point of reference.)

Muévete: getting around Sevilla

While it is rare to see sevillanos wearing workout gear or running along the sidewalks, most of them appear to be in relatively good health. The American fitness culture is one of extremes, so this is an odd concept to us: How can someone be in shape without a gym membership? Most likely, this phenomenon can be attributed (at least in part) to the walkability of the city. Like Boston, Sevilla is easily traversed by foot. Unlike Boston, Sevilla enjoys around 300 days of sunshine each year, allowing its residents to continue this mode of transportation year-round.

Biking is another popular option. With special lanes on most major roads and walkways, it’s not surprising that so many people choose to bike. A rental service called Sevici makes this simple and convenient: There are 250 stations across the city where you can rent and return bikes with the swipe of a credit card, and if you use one for half an hour or less, it’s free.

Like many major U.S. cities, Sevilla has a public transportation network. Its buses and trains appear considerably more pristine than those operated by the MBTA (although the number of stops also seems more limited), and prices are comparable. However, I haven’t been tempted to investigate further – I live outside the city center, so none of the stations are particularly convenient, and the weather is typically so beautiful that I’d prefer to walk anyway.

Cabs are much more affordable here: I’ve never paid more than €6-7 for a ride within city limits, and drivers are usually highly professional. Nonetheless (and just like in the U.S.), they will sometimes take a roundabout route if they think their customers won’t notice. Foreign visitors are especially susceptible to this; I heard through the grapevine that some of my classmates were charged €24 for a ride home after a night out!

Uber is nonexistent in Spain, but the taxi industry is so well established here that there’s no market for a competing service. That being said, it’s certainly easier to hail a cab from a smartphone than it is to locate one on the street. I’ve heard that a similar app was recently released for Sevilla’s official taxi service, but the jury is still out on how well it works.

The trek between my homestay and the school is 35 minutes each way. Between this and our regular excursions, I find myself walking between 10-15 miles on any given day. No wonder Spaniards don’t need treadmills…

Italian Cuisine

Food.  Food in Italy is definitely different. The main difference about meals I feel is the variety. In Verona, most of the meals are pasta and pizza dishes. Also, pizza are full personal pies, and much lighter and fresher than in the USA. In Italy, I can eat a personal pie of pizza and not feel excessively full.  In Italy there is no tipping for anything, but sometimes a service charge of a dollar or two per person is charged, which makes splitting bills very easy. The one thing I miss the most about the USA is the free tap water. In Italy you often get a 1 liter bottle of water that costs 3 dollars. And often you need two bottles for every 3 people. Overall prices seem to be cheaper for pasta and pizza dinner, yet more expensive for things like salad or steak.  Pizza will only run 4-7 dollars, and pasta from 6-9 dollars. Also, in Verona it was extremely hard to find meats or chicken as entrees, which is tough because it’s one of my favorite meals.

The best meal I have had in Italy is lasagna. It is perfect and I haven’t had a bad plate of it at all here. Gelato is extremely cheap here, just about 2-3 euros. My go to desserts have been tiramisu and gelato. Also really cool is the gelato in the shape of a rose from Amorino. They have one in Boston on Newbury Street, but it only costs 3 euros here, and about 6 euros in Boston. Still a great experience if you get the chance!

All food is Italian and I haven’t seen any other type of cultural cuisines like Pad Thai or Quesadillas like they have in Boston.  Because of this, most of the group has gotten very tired of eating pizza and pasta all the time, because some restaurants don’t have much else. However, we are in Sicily for the last 2 weeks of the dialogue, and being here for only a day and a half, the food has much more variety.  I have been able to find grilled chicken dishes here so something tells me Sicilian food will be even better!

Transportation in Japan

My class here in Japan is taking place at Liberty Towers, the political science and economics building of Meiji University.  Luckily, our hotel is very close to Liberty Towers. It is only a 10 minute walk away. So every morning I walk to class. On the way to class, there are many food options. There is a McDonald’s, a Korean barbeque, Ramen, Gyoza and many other restaurants on the way there. The walk to class is definitely a great way to see Japanese society in the morning. Kids are wearing their respective schools uniforms and the salary men are in black suits and ties.

Public transportation is key here in Japan. The public transportation really takes you everywhere in Tokyo. The fare is based of distance and the trains are always on time. The train comes in uniform intervals and the wait is not that long. It is actually pretty fast and efficient. The use of a refillable card called a “Suica” card makes it very quick checking in to a train station because all you have to do is tap. The trains are also very clean with absolutely no litter. This is amazing considering the fact that there are vending machines at all the stations. The only cons that I see about public transportation here are situational. The fares can get kind of expensive, as it is based on distance. The trains can also get very crowd. It is so crowded that there is no need to grab onto the poles in the train. This only occurs during rush hour though.

Food in Japan

The best part of coming to Japan has to be the food. The food here is amazing. The meal times are the same as the times in most western nations. There are three meals a day and frequent snacks in between. The eating etiquettes are very formal in Japan. People do not eat or drink while walking on the streets. People always wipe their hands with a wet napkin provide with meals. They eat with their mouth close and try not to bother other people with their chewing or talking. The portion sizes are slightly smaller than the portion sizes in the States.

The variety of food here in Japan is amazing. There are all types of food here. Just to name a few, you can find McDonalds, Subway, and other American fast food chains. On top of these options, there are traditional Japanese food options like ramen, sushi, gyoza, and soba. If you are willing to spend a little bit more, there are amazing Italian and Korean restaurants here. There really is not a place that I have eaten most of my meals because I am just trying out the myriad of options available. I have not been able to visit any restaurant more than once. I can honestly say that there has not been a meal that I have not enjoyed. The quality of the ingredients are so much better. The prices are cheaper than meals in Boston.

The most delicious food that I have ate so far was buckwheat soba noodles. Soba noodles are cold noodles served in a sweet soy sauce base. The cold noodles are dipped in the sauce and slurped. The slurping is supposed to help with the overall satisfaction of the meal, as it helps you smell what you are eating. Since smell is a huge part of taste it makes sense. Soba is usually served with tempura, which are food battered and fried. The tempura given with our soba were amazing. They were crisp on the outside and the vegetables on the inside were cooked to perfection. The restaurant was very traditional Japanese, so it made the experience so much better.

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Getting around town :)

Today I will talk about transportation. Lucky for me our formal lectures are held in our hotel so I don’t need transportation to get there. My professor holds lectures in one of the hotel conference rooms. For our site visits to family businesses sites we always go by private bus. Usually the bus picks us up in front of the hotel and drives us to and from our exact destination.

In regards to general transportation, the center of Verona is accessed by bus only. In order to make longer commutes to other cities, like my day trips to Milan and Venice, one can take the public transit bus to the train station. Other than that, we can either walk 20-30 minutes or use the bus to get to the heart of Verona. The pros of the bus is that there is a stop right outside of our hotel and many different stops in the city as well. The con about the bus is that it comes every 15 min, and after 8 pm it comes every half hour. It is hard to adjust to this when I am used to the MBTA in Boston coming every 5 min. Also, I had to find out the hard way, that the bus to the residence doesn’t run on Sundays at all and the stop that does have service is a 5-10 minute walk from the hotel. It isn’t a bad walk at all, but I am not particularly good with directions, so this is somewhat of an issue for me. Taxis are also an option as well, but they are quite expensive unless you split it with others.

Home: more than a geographic location

The Sevillan barrio that I’ve come to call home is known as Triana, and it’s exactly the kind of Old World European neighborhood that you would picture to be almost the same a century ago as it is today: People mill around the boutique-lined streets; freshly laundered lingerie flutters in the breeze; children chase pigeons down cobbled sidewalks as their parents clink glasses of Cruzcampo nearby.

Our language lessons take place at a school called Centro de Lenguas y Intercambio Cultural, or “CLIC.” The classes are small, conversation-based, and taught by smiling, winking professors that embody the vivacious spirit of Sevilla. Because neither of my two professors speaks English, there is never a danger of lapsing into explanation in our native tongue. Interestingly, after a few days of immersion in Sevilla, I essentially forgot that my teachers and I do not share a first language – and when I finally did remember, I was also pleasantly surprised to realize that this has not affected the quality of our interactions.

Northeastern students are not the only demographic represented at CLIC: People from various cultural and linguistic backgrounds flock to the school to study not only Spanish, but also English, German, and French, to name just a few of the other languages offered here. Some of my classmates at CLIC attend college in Utah and Georgia, while friends of mine learn alongside German exchange students and middle-aged Spaniards. The school makes an obvious effort to introduce students to Spanish culture and each other. There is a café in the main lobby where people can purchase refreshments and mingle, and students can sign up for a number of excursions. For example, many of us plan to attend a CLIC-led trip to Huelva this coming Sunday.

Socially, a Dialogue of Civilizations is a strange experience that I can only compare to freshman orientation. In both situations, you find yourself in a strange and beautiful place that invokes profound feelings of both homesickness and wanderlust. Suddenly, somebody who was previously an acquaintance (or even a stranger) starts to look like a close friend – someone to help you devour a dish of paella or explore a cathedral – and these unfamiliar people become a comfort, the closest thing you have to home. Since these feelings are mutually recognized, group members gravitate toward each other and bond quickly. A week ago, I didn’t know most of my traveling companions; now, we meet up to walk to school, dance the Sevillana, and go out to tapas.

A week ago, I wouldn’t have thought it possible to feel a sense of belonging in this country. Now, I reflect on how easy it would have been to not sign up for this trip, and I can’t believe that I ever considered such an option. As I settle into my new neighborhood, my new friendships, and the rhythm of life in Sevilla, I feel increasingly happy that I sought out this experience.