A Travellerspoint blog

What Happens in Barcelona, Stays in Barcelona

Except for this blog entry

Barcelona, mi amor.
So this was my first flight flying Ryan Air. For all those readers out there who aren’t familiar with this airline, it is the cheapest and sneakiest European Airline out there, dangerously comparable to our very own Spirit Airlines in the good old United States. Following the small print, Michelle and I were fine and ran into no troubles at all! We were also surprised and excited to know that 3 other groups from our JFORCE clan were headed into Barcelona that same weekend! Seriously though, it blows my mind how small of a population us JFORCE kids are compared to the relatively large population in Europe, and how we seem to run into each other everywhere!
My favorite part of the flight had to be the ending, when they had this lovely trumpeter-tune, congratulating us to our timely arrival in Barcelona (end sarcasm.) No but for real, they had the music and everything.
Sitting in the taxi on our way to our hostel, I was pleased at the fact that I could still make small talk with Spanish. Looks like those 6 years of classes didn’t go to waste (I’m glad to say that because I still plan on minorning-yikes!)
Onto the actual trip, we literally walked all over Barcelona-end to end. Venturing off with a plan, we ended up running into the famous Arc, this beautiful park with a badass fountain with spitting dragons, and a ton of statues and monuments. After seeing all of that, we made our way down the famous La Rambla which was filled with street performers, souvenir shops, and visible tourists (glad we weren't alone.) This led us to Travel Bar (anyone going to Barcelona in the future-I highly recommend going on their free walking tour and then signing up for their cocktail class which gets you into one of Barcelona’s finest nightclubs!) Well that pretty much sums up what we did that day, moving on LOL.
Our final day in Barcelona was a relaxed day at the beach, which to our surprise was rather chilly even though weather.com said otherwise. What would have been my usual nap on a hot sunny day with me sweating profusely turned into me napping under a blanket of sand and my towel. Ah well, when life gives you lemons you make lemonade. I think that goes in context here, right?
Our trip wouldn’t be a trip to Barcelona without seeing the famous La Sagrada Famila. So, apparently La Sagrada Familia has been under construction for quite some time now (like 1900s lol) I was in for a surprise to see the cathedral surrounded by all those trucks and such!
Regardless, it was beautiful. It’s crazy to think I read about it in high school Spanish Class (probably should have paid a bit more attention) but now I actually saw it! Mind blown again.
Our last night in Barcelona, we met up with fellow J-FORCE’rs to see the Barcelona-Madrid futbol game back on La Rambla. Barcelona won!! But it did get a bit close.
And then…we went to the MAGIC FOUNTAIN!!! This fountain did it all, it sang, it changed colors, and we had a really really really good time. It was the coolest thing ever, oh and we had a solid photoshoot. Seeing as I really enjoy photo-bombing pictures, I literally did every possible pose I could think of while displaying the beauty of the fountain. It was kind of like modern art, in its own little way with all the experimentation.
Barcelona was amazing. It was by far one of the coolest cities I have been to and I hope to return sooner than later. But for now, Adios Barcelona and hello to the remainder of my trips in Europe! :)

Posted by kbali 15:01 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Fall Break in Poland and Denmark

Whoa! Sorry guys, it has definitely been a while. I’ve been making my way around Europe, So my apologies for the delay in this post.
Let’s start with Fall Break. I went to three cities in Poland (Krakow, Torun, and Warsaw) and Copenhagen, Denmark.
The Poland trip has been hands down one of the most impacting weeks in my life. I went on what is called a Study Trip sponsored by the Rome Center at Loyola. This trip was, as you can imagine, an educational trip; we were accompanied by a two professors, the dean of faculty at the Rome Center, a SLA (Student Life Assistant), and a few alumni of the John Felice Rome Center who all played an incredible role in making this trip happen.
So why Poland? Why do this study trip? Why not back-pack around Europe for 10 days bar-hopping in Dublin or party hard in Amsterdam for a much cheaper fall break alternative?
Well back in September, we were introduced to these study trips that the Rome Center would be offering throughout the semester. While I could make my way to Dublin, London, Amsterdam, Paris, etc on my own at some point in my life, I realized that I probably wouldn’t do Poland as extensively as the study trip was laid out, on my own. So I went for it.
The trip consisted of a Jan Karski Symposium, several museums and walking tours, but seeing and getting a tour of Auschwitz –Birkenau was the heaviest and most emotional part of the trip. For those of you who know me personally, it takes a lot for me to get emotional. I think the reason why I felt so sensitive in the duration of this trip was because I placed myself and my family into that time period. Having a sister with special needs, it absolutely disgusted and infuriated me that medical experiments would have been done on her had she not been killed instantly upon arriving to Aushwitz. It made me sick to my stomach to think that I could have been used as an object of pleasure to Nazi soldiers. And lastly, it broke my heart thinking that I would be torn apart from the people I revolve my life around –my family.
It’s disturbing to read. It’s uncomfortable to say. It’s even more repulsive to think that this was reality.
It has been one thing to read of the Holocaust in books and seeing documentaries about it in middle school and high school, but experiencing polish history hands on and seeing the remnants of World War 2 took these historical events to a completely surreal level. Walking through and standing in a gas chamber where millions of Jews lost their lives and then walking back through the “Road to Death” where it was decided who was to live and who was to work to death is a vivid image that I will forever hold in my mind. Typing it out, I can’t even come close to describing the anxiety, the fear, the anger, and the shock that went through my mind as I was listening to the intense, unbelievable and horrid details of the step-by-step process of the mass murder of each group sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. I have never felt so immersed in history.
I felt as though I wasn’t just there in Poland to “drink beer and eat pierogi” there was a reason I went on this trip. It was a reminder-be nice to your neighbor, be aware of what is going on in the world, and come forward when someone is in need of help. It was a reminder of “breaking down my wall” from the presentation I have heard several times by Jamie Utt in the Hugh O’ Brian Youth Leadership Conference. It was a moment where something clicked and I realized what I valued most in my life was education because that is what gives me the power to lead, move forward, and ultimately make a difference.
Going forth with my studies in science, I came into Loyola Chicago being exempt from history courses because of AP credit. Needless to say, my ignorant self was content that I no longer had to read through endless facts about dead people and events that did not apply to me. Being abroad in Rome, and especially after having gone on the Poland Study Trip, has completely diverted my views on history. It is because of history that we are thus far in society and although much has yet to be done, we have made a tremendous amount of progress. It is because of the fact that I was lucky and courageous enough to have been given the opportunity to step into Auschwitz-Birkenau and read about the life of Jan Karski that I can go on and spread this knowledge to my peers, family, acquaintances or anyone else to whom I may cross paths with in the future. It is because of this trip that I can place an immense amount of importance to medical ethics whilst in the remainder of my studies. I am greatly thankful for this incredible opportunity that the Poland Study Trip has given me and I take with great pride and seriousness the responsibility of spreading what I have learned to others.

After the Poland trip, I had a few extra days left in my break so I decided to visit two of my high school friends-Julie and Olivia- in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Denmark has by far, been one of the best cities that I have been to. It was a small little town with very efficient transportation, and the crisp leaves that crunched below my feet as I walked through the scenic parks near ship harbors along the water.
Well we arrived in Denmark early Friday morning and, needless to say, we were exhausted! So like any human would, we napped. After, it just so happened that Copenhagen has this event called Cultural Night help annually and it just so happened to be that we were in town that night! For the first time, I had Moroccan food and it was the most delicious food I had ever tried ( I have to admit, I wasn’t expected much from it, but I gave it a shot and was more than satisfied)
We went to a bar and watched the Denmark-Rome soccer game. I have to say, this was absolutely exhausting. I consider Italy to be my home (at least for a little while) but I was in Denmark. I felt like (Rebecca Black during that game: “which team should I pick”) funny thing is, that it was actually a Friday. Okay, enough of my corniness)
Going on to a whole another level of things, we saw a drag show. I am a pretty awkward person to begin with, you can only imagine how I felt watching “girl” by “girl” walk across a red carpet with a very eccentric fashion sense. Whatever, I went by my life motto and took pictures just because you only live once, so why not experience everything?
To end off the night, I made some arts and crafts and called the work “Complexity” because I have no artistic ability whatsoever and thought my piece was rather, well you know, complex.
The next day we walked around the harbor which had a breathtaking view and walked downtown as well. How can I forget, I had a good old-fashioned meal of McDonalds and it was probably the most delicious thing (now I know the last two meals I described were delicious too, but what can I say? Europe has turned me into a foody) I saw the famous Little Mermaid statue!! To top off the day, we had a nice demark dinner, ate a deliciously rich chocolate icecream cone and hungout at a Denmark bar (which by the way, played all American music. I guess America’s doing something right because the place was hoppin’ and jammin’ to Macklemore!)
Overall, I was very impressed by this small but wonderful country. I wouldn’t mind going back and establishing a vacation home of my own (uh-oh that adds up to 3 if you include Bari, and Positano, Italy. A girl can dream right? I guess that’s just more of a motivation to be successful in school)
Fall break was incredibly successful, and it came in perfect timing after the mid-term craze that hit everyone. Eastern Europe holds a large place in my heart.

Posted by kbali 11:30 Archived in Poland Tagged fall poland denmark break Comments (0)

Living and Learning the Jesuit Dream

Weeks two and three in Italy: thoughts on my travels to Spoleto, Deruta, Perugia, Spello, Bevagna and Bari

sunny

Spirituality and Religion
Spirituality and Religion are two things that I’ve been in a constant battle with over the past few years. Born into a Brahmin family, I was raised with the Hindu faith. I blindly accepted my faith until junior year of high school. Since then, I’ve been quite skeptical; questioning the belief systems, the Gods and Goddesses, as well as the credibility of the religion in itself with professors, family members, and priests of temples and ashrams. It hasn't been just Hinduism that I’ve been questioning but other religions in comparison to it; primarily Christianity. After practicing Hinduism my whole life, I am in the process of receiving a Jesuit education at a Catholic Institution and currently spending my semester abroad in Italy; the world’s center of Catholicism. I’m having a lot of fun comparing it to Hinduism, while progressing to re-instill that full faith.
This past Wednesday, I attended my very first traditional Catholic Mass. It took place in hands down the most beautiful place of worship that I’ve ever step foot in. Although the Mass itself was completely different from the traditional pujas, kirtans, or shabads that I am used to, I enjoyed it very much. Now I may be contradicting my belief system as a whole, but while taking part in Catholic Mass, I found an inner peace with my Hindu faith—a connection with the Gods. To me, that is spirituality; essentially connecting with a higher being despite what denomination I was in. Hopefully being here in Italy can revive that sense of spirituality and bring me closer to my established faith.
As one of my high school teachers advised “Question. You should always question, but question to an extent. Once you find the answer, you have your faith. Endlessly questioning leaves you with nothing.”

Philosophy
Never in my years of schooling have I been so perplexed in a classroom-until this point. The truth of the matter is that I was expecting to breeze through my semester in Rome academically with a 4.0 –no questions asked. Yet, week three of taking an introductory level philosophy class is blowing my mind. In the midst of highly in-depth, dense discussions about the philosophical works of Socrates and Plato, I can literally feel my mind having an internal battle during class. (I understood Organic Chemistry better compared to this Philosophy course.) Alright, now I’m going to stop complaining and contradict myself by saying that I like it. I like this mental challenge that I’m getting, taking my brain to thought processes I’ve never been to before. On a polar opposite from the math and science that I’m used to; I can’t just read the Apology or Phaedo and understand it with one sitting. Rather, I’m finding myself stopping and applying critical thinking like never before.
How do we obtain our knowledge? Since everything we've learned in school is through a teacher/professor or books, do we not have our own concept of knowledge? Is admitting that we know nothing mean that we have knowledge? According to Socrates it is.
Well, my first exam is this Wednesday; wish me luck!

It’s the small places.
Over these past two weeks, I have traveled to smaller towns within Italy: Spoleto, Deruta, Perugia, Spello, Bevagna and Bari. When you hear “Italy,” places like Rome, Milan, Florence, Venice, Verona, or Naples instantaneously come to mind. While I am staying in Rome and have indubitably fallen in love with “The Eternal City,” these smaller towns are what I have enjoyed most. Aside from my touristy purchase of an Italia hat, I felt like I was blending in as an Italian. These small towns let you experience true Italian culture and lifestyle; cobblestones, narrow pathways, bars with screaming calcio (soccer) fanatics, motorcycles, and fundamentally happy people on every corner. The way of life is so stress-free and leisurely that it is blatantly evident that people enjoy every day and truly live it to the fullest.
Back in that Chicago lifestyle, everyone is so obsessed with time and strict scheduling. The stress of work is expected and from the start we, as students, have the bar of expectation set so high because of the driving force of competition. But here? In places like Bari or Peruggia, the concept of school and work seems to be taken so lightly. Placing an emphasis on family and social ties, a typical meal lasts two hours, the bus system has no set schedule to follow, and shops open midday. As cliché as it sounds, I would say that Italians have “a problem free-philosophy. Hakuna Matata.”

Posted by kbali 12:57 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

BENVENUTI A ROMA!

Hi guys, I’m a bit rusty at this whole writing thing so bear with me as this is learning experience; hope you enjoy a summary of my first five days in Rome!

sunny

Drinking culture. Yes I’m going to talk about alcohol. Starting as soon as I boarded Lufthansa Airlines, I was given the opportunity to consume an alcoholic beverage. No, I did not purchase any, but I was amazed at the fact that I could have bought a glass of wine on the airplane. I’ll have to admit, I did feel pretty cool. However, I'm slowly starting to realize that drinking isn’t as big of a deal in Europe as America makes it out to be. I’ve learned that Europeans don’t abuse alcohol because it is built into their family lifestyle. European, specifically Italian families are very close knit so kids don’t feel the need to hide their first drink from their parents; in fact, they probably have their first drink with their parents.

Getting less awkward. Let me start off my giving my sincerest apologies to anyone whom I’ve made an awkward first impression to. To those who thought I was normal—well let’s just say you’re one of the few lucky ones. If standing with a group of people who I haven’t met I’ve usually abruptly jumped in midst of conversation and said the infamous “By the way, my name is Karishma” or “Ugh, hi. I’m Karishma” and then gone back to standing in an awkward stature. Although I’ve been at the John Felice Rome Center for only 5 days, I’m slowly starting to change that. I’ve realized it’s okay to finish a conversation and then go on with introducing myself. What’s the hurry anyway? Why interrupt brain flow or what could possibly be the most intriguing conversation of my life? Surrounded by a group of 179 intelligent individuals, I intend to learn their story and not basing it off of an awkward conversation.

Gratitude for my parents. Words do not come close to describing how thankful I am to my parents for letting me go on this trip. Within the short few days I have been here, I have been living the pictures you see in postcards and vacation pamphlets. This experience has been and will continue to be so surreal and I owe it all to my selfless mother, Kanchan, warm-hearted father, Rakesh, and of course my well-wishing sister Rachel to “make sure I take every opportunity I can in college and get the best education possible.” Granted I’m not always the easiest child to deal with, I am truly blessed to have been given the honor of being in this family. Thank you for this incredible once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity; I will not let you down.

Appreciating history. Upon graduating high school, I was ecstatic of the fact that I was exempt from history courses at Loyola. I just saw it as memorizing facts and It is unbelievable how well the “Colosseo” and the Roman Forum have been standing for thousands of years. It’s even more amazing to go back in time and imagine how the Romans fought dangerous animals in the arena and how Constantine watched over and led his country so nobly. It gives me goose-bumps just thinking about it in the Information Commons as I write this blog; you can only imagine how I felt standing in the center of the arena itself. History is incredibly important because it teaches us the lessons of the past to prepare for the future. It has molded us to where we are today and we should never forget that. More or less, “how can you know where you are going if you don’t know where you came from?”

Trying new things. Today JFRC took us to the Rambla Beach (I sure felt Rambler proud.) With the temperature being well over 80 degrees, I decided I wanted to purchase a cold drink. Of course the signs are in Italian, so being my exploratory self I decided I would give it a try by ordering a Frulatto Acai. Thinking it was a mere fruit smoothie, I was handed a bowl of brown goo with two straws and a spoon. Yikes! After drinking almost half and having several people taste-try, I concluded that it was just a refreshing fruity drink. After coming back to the dorm, I googled Frulatto Acai and it turns out that I drank an Acai Fruit Smoothie; the Acai berry is a deep purple fruit (similar in appearance to a grape) that comes from a species of Palm Tree. Whether I liked it or not, I still tried something new!

They say college is a time to find yourself, JFRC is taking that to a whole new level; I look forward to spending my semester with 179 adventurous individuals in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Hopefully my writing isn’t as bad as my Italian, (Yikes!) Nevertheless, feel free to message me as I am very open to feedback!

Posted by kbali 05:43 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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