Author Archives: John Kalmar

About John Kalmar

I have a large array of nicknames. I enjoy sipping chai tea and taking long showers (sometimes simultaneously).

Happiness is best when shared–#msuspain heads into the wild

Knowing that our final days in Spain are dwindling down has created an elephant in the room type of situation for #msuspain. We are all very aware that Saturday is quickly chasing us down, ready to pounce and send us back to reality, but nobody wants to acknowledge it. In this spirit, we are living in the moment and trying to squeeze as much fun and excitement out of every day. Today’s final “field trip” to Segovia, a town located 50 miles northwest of Madrid, has been a microcosm of our past three weeks in amazing city.

“On time is late” – A quote from my middle school band teacher

It’s not always easy getting 11 people to a specific location on time (especially since nine of them are girls, if you know what I mean), so we’ve all had our fair share experiences of being late. Sometimes it’s because an alarm doesn’t go off, or other times it’s when you accidentally take the metro the wrong way. In today’s case, you board the wrong train and end up having to wait around for two hours to catch the next one.

In Karl’s defense, he had us all up and rearing to go at 7:45 am, and we were at the train station by 8:20 for our 8:45 train. Unfortunately, he received some faulty intel from a train station employee and we ended up getting on at the wrong platform. Karl realized something was wrong when there weren’t any other passengers on train, which prompted us all to sprint to another platform, but it was all for naught. The train had already shut its doors and we were forced to set up camp in the train station for two and a half hours until the next train left the station at 11:30 am. However, the hours flew by as we played cards, worked on our flipbooks and got more than enough of our daily allotted sugar intake for the day with gummy worms and other assorted candies. When the eventually time came, we ventured onto the correct platform and headed off toward Segovia.

Oh, it’s just another amazing European church again. Yawn.

We have visited countless churches during our time in Europe, and it seems like each one just tops the next. Whether it’s been in Barcelona, Toledo or El Escorial, each cathedral finds a new way to impress. The cathedral in Segovia was breathtaking in its own right, but since we have already witnessed these other amazing houses of God, it just seemed like another church. We’ve been spoiled rotten with these religious spectacles since we’re at the point where they all appear to look the same.

After the tour of the church, we did a little window shopping and continued our journey through Segovia. More than once we had to press up flat against brick buildings to allow cars to pass through the narrow, cobble stone streets. It just made our adventure to the castle that much better.

The weird little beasts love to explore.

Our group does not shy away from adventure.  This troupe eats adventure for breakfast, well, after our usual cafe con leche to start the day, that is. If you need any more proof, just look to El Escorial. Karl has been building up our trip to Segovia the past couple of weeks with tales the last groups’ excursion to a picturesque location that was perfect for snapping shots of the town’s famous castle, Alcazar. With this mind, we were all excited for the amazing hike that would be in store for us today. Eight members of today’s group were brave enough, cunning enough, and more importantly on this scorching hot day, hydrated enough to take on the task of finding this unique viewing point. The rest of the group joined Karl and Nancy for succulent suckling pig and drinks in Plaza Mayor back in the city. Armed with our water bottles, cunning and vague memories of Karl’s instructions as to how to reach the location, we headed off. We wandered around streets and down a wooded path before eventually stumbling upon a road. We spotted a trail heading up a hill and decided to pursue it. The exploration party climbed a steep, dirt path slope and came across a plateau which offered a gorgeous view of the castle. Not satisfied, when then climbed even higher, this time ascending to the spot, the best view of the castle. It was essentially a 360 degree shot of the entire surrounding area, and those of us who made the hike couldn’t have been happier with what we had accomplished.

5 unforgettable weeks

Since this appears to be my final blog of the trip, I suppose this is an appropriate time for me to be sentimental. I never imagined that I would have so much fun and make such lasting lifelong memories with eleven folks I had just met five weeks before. I have had a couple classes with a few group members (Catherine and I actually have had four classes together and actually never really spoke to one another before. Oops!) but we were nowhere near as close as we are now. As sad as the reality that our time in Spain is almost up, I will always cherish these memories and these people. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of 10 other little, weird beasts to spend five weeks with. On that note, Adam and I, the other wolf in my wolf pack as well as my fellow soul sister, have formed an unbreakable friendship that has spanned boarders, time zones, and multiple soccer jerseys. We have completely revolutionized the way people think about blogging, first with our infamous “Living on a dream” video back in Barcelona, and then with our innovative infographics on the Prado Museum. We’d like to end our time here in Spain on a high note with this moving piece (we’re currently experiencing technical difficulties with the video and should have it up soon. We apologize for the inconvenience). We hope you have all enjoyed experiencing our travels through the points of view of the only two guys on this trip as much as we have enjoyed being stuck with these nine fantastic chicas. Jersey boys forever!

Adios!

John

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Rain? In Spain? It can’t be!

Based on the last two and a half weeks, you’d think that everyday in Spain would be 75 degrees and sunny. By those standards, we’ve been spoiled with absolutely gorgeous weather every day. But today was a rare exception to Spain’s heavenly weather rule, as we were hit with cold, damp and rainy weather that reminded us all of Michigan’s notoriously temperate climate. It made our walk to the Prado, one of the world’s most impressive art museums, reminiscent of crummy walks to class through the rain back in good ‘ol East Lansing.

We love the rain! And the cold! But we actually did love the Prado.

Our fearless leader Karl greeted us at the Prado’s south entrance at 10 am, but our entry was delayed and we stood outside in the damp and dreary weather for another half and hour until we finally made it inside. Karl presented us with a scavenger hunt of paintings to find within the museum if we were up to the challenge. It wasn’t a mandatory assignment so some group members didn’t stress about finding all 15 paintings and simply enjoyed the amazing art work that resided inside the Prado’s halls. There were a select few however who took it upon themselves to go through every corridor and room and solve the riddles to find the paintings. That special group included Adam, Katie D. and myself. It was an exhausting search that lasted over four hours, but we ended up seeing almost every piece of art that the Prado had to offer. I put together this little info graphic that deals with the location of each painting as well as the riddles we were presented with to help us find them.

Click here to see the full view of the map of the Prado Hunt

As most of you know, Adam and I teamed up last week to put together a multidimensional, dual jersey boy blog. And this week is no exception. Adam has expanded on my brief overview of our trip to the Prado with highlights, stats and analysis of this fantastic Madrid spectacle, which you can check out here.

What kind of college students can’t even order pizza?

It’s always difficult buying food for a large group like ours, and today was no exception. We were alerted to a great Wednesday deal at Dominos by Nancy, our wonderful on-site coordinator. We were all excited to get pizza, but when the time came to order, none of us could remember what that deal was or find it on the coupon, which was written in Spanish. So we did the only logical thing; call Nancy and ask if she could order pizza for a bunch of college kids. Fortunately for us, we have the nicest on-site coordinator in the history of on-site coordinators, and we ended the night on a positive note with our stomachs full of delicious Dominos pizza.

Madrid observations thus far

It’s safe to say that we were all a little bit scared to move onto Madrid after spending our first two weeks of this trip in Barcelona. We had all fallen in love with the city, and we were unsure what to expect once we landed here on Saturday. But those fears have subsided after getting a taste of what Madrid has to offer. So far, we’ve taken trips to Retiro Park, Plaza de Sol, Plaza Mayor, the Segway tour of the city and as well as today’s expedition to the Prado. Madrid doesn’t have anything like the colorful, vibrant and tourist packed La Rambla, but it does offer a more relaxed, big city feel.  We have more supermarkets, stores and restaurants closer to us in our temporary home, the Trevinca Hostel, than the Melon District, our residence in Barcelona. Our journey out to Retiro Park gave us a much better idea of the what the city has the offer and allowed us the opportunity to take a pleasant stroll down Paseo de Recoletos. Another difference is the exorbitant number of playgrounds that are sprinkled across Madrid. Adam and I have taken advantage of these Spanish sandbox spectacles, which put all of America’s jungle gyms and monkey bars to shame. Here’s a Google map of our favorite playgrounds in Madrid. Barcelona and Madrid are both unique and exciting cities with their own distinct flavor and culture, so it doesn’t make sense to say that one’s better than the other. That being said, Madrid is winning ;). Just kidding, we still love you and Barcelona, Cheryl!

Adios!

John

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The End of an Era

John and Adam visit the tobacco store in search of stamps.

Today marked a monumental day during our stay in Barcelona: it was the last time that Adam and I would be able to wear our FC Barcelona jerseys simultaneously in Spain and work together as “the jersey boys.” Because of the intense rivalry between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, and due partially to the fact that “the jersey boys” don’t feel like getting beat up or verbally accosted by crazed soccer fans, we’re hanging up our jerseys and packing them in the deep, dark depths of our suitcases for the next three weeks that we’ll be in Madrid.

This Thursday also marked another milestone: it was our second to last classroom session in Barcelona. Today’s class was highlighted by former Spartans Nick Mrozowski and Krissi Xenakis. Nick, a former editor of The State News during his days at MSU, is now the creative director for the Portuguese newspaper “i.” Krissi, a fellow former State Newser, is currently in grad school working on her MFA in graphic design. Both Nick and Krissi gave insightful and interesting presentations that covered newspaper and graphic design. I could sit here and blog about it all day, but I think I’ll toss it over to my partner in crime, Mr. Adam Rossi, who will take it from here. Here’s a little sampling of his take of one of Nick’s presentation:

His presentation was informative and fascinating – several students said that this was by far their favorite day in the classroom here – and seeing his work made me wish I spoke Portuguese well enough to get a job there as well.

Click here to read Adam’s account of Nick and Krissi’s presentations.

After class, most of the group headed over to La Boqueria to grab some quick lunch before departing for some fun in the sun at the beach. Adam, Laura F. and I weaved our way down La Rambla to partake in some people watching and window shopping at NikeBarcelona before heading back to the Marina District. When we arrived at the metro, we were surprised to see Alanna and Catherine directly behind us. They previously were at La Boqueria and caught up to us after we made a few stops on La Rambla. We all boarded the metro together and were then even more surprised to see that Laura E. was already on the same metro! It’s as if the stars aligned and we were destined to meet on that particular metro at that specific time. Or maybe it was just a very weird coincidence. I’d like to think it was a little bit of both.

What a pleasant stop in that little tobacco shop

We hopped off the metro, and Adam and I stopped at a local tobacco shop to purchase some stamps. We expected it to be a quick, in and out stamp purchasing experience, but it turned into a delightful conversation with a woman who worked there. She asked us where in America we were from and what we were studying in Madrid. She told us that her daughter had lived in New York and had also spent time studying in Miami. She was very patient with me as we had a nice conversation in Spanish at the front counter. It was also during this conversation that we discovered the reason why we shouldn’t wear our FC Barcelona jerseys in Madrid. We envisioned that the rivalry between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid was similar to that of Michigan-Michigan State, but oh how we were wrong! She and another worker told us of the soccer fanatics in Madrid who would undoubtedly give us more than a hard time for wearing FC Barcelona crimson and blue. Before we left we told her that we were spending the next three weeks in Madrid, which prompted her to scoff and reply with a wink and a smile that Barcelona was much better. These people were some of the nicest we have encountered during our short stay in this amazing city. If you make the attempt to speak in Spanish to anybody here, I’ve found that they are more apt to converse with you and will respond in English if you’re having a hard time finding the right words in Spanish. That stop in the tobacco store wasn’t just one of the highlights of the day; it was one of the highlights of this entire trip for me.

The Museu Olimpic was everything I had hoped for and more

After grabbing a bite to eat at the Marina District, Adam, Alanna, Catherine, Laura F. and I headed out to el Museu Olimpic i de l’Esport de Barcelona, also known as the Olympic Sport Museum. It was located next to the Olympic Stadium and literally down the road from the Joan Miro Museum we visited the day before. I heard about this little gem from my book on Spain by the renowned travel author Rick Steves. He listed attractions such as the “play-by-play rehash of the ’92 Barcelona Olympiad” and “a schmaltzy movie collage” as the highlights of the museum that we should check out. But the real selling points were the poor Spanish to English translations that resulted in hilarious picture captions and the fact that we could touch the objects in just about all of the exhibits. It was an interesting experience. From there we walked to the Olympic Stadium and wandered back through a beautiful park to reach the funicular train and then head back home. To check out pictures from our trip to the Olympic Stadium as well as our impromptu Messi photo shoot, click here.

Since Friday is our last day of class, it’s been crunch time for all 11 of us. Our evenings are filled with group meals and homework in A4 kitchen and more recently B3 kitchen, which is affectionately known as “the cottage.” Everyone has been working hard to finish up their visual profiles, picture book and museum projects before tomorrow’s deadline. It’s been a whirlwind two weeks in Barcelona, but we’ve all loved every minute of it and cannot wait to see what Madrid has in store for the coming weeks.

On one final note, in commemoration of our final day as “the jersey boys,” here’s a little video presentation Adam and I created and perfected with all of our abundant free time.

Adios!

John

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“Excitement Is on the Other Side of Fear” – The Theme for Our Weekend

When we came to the realization that this would be our last (but really first) weekend in Spain, the group was on a mission to pack in as many activities as possible into the past three days. In class this week Cheryl told us, “excitement is on the other side of fear,” a sentiment that we all took to heart this weekend.

Friday’s class took place in an actual classroom, as opposed to our previous “class” sessions where we perused museums and explored the city of Barcelona from the roof of a tour bus. Cheryl had some big shoes to fill in order to keep us from being distracted by our weekend plans and the beautiful weather, and  she was able to successfully grab our attention with her lecture on typography. She emphasized the ability to look at type in all shapes and forms as they appear in everyday life, and to  hone in on what distinguishes good from bad type.

After class, the gang headed off to La Boqueria, the expansive food and fruit market off of Las Ramblas, for some midday snacks and to conduct interviews for our visual profile assignment. It was a good thing we refueled at the market because we were in store for a full day of our favorite group activity–yes, you guessed correctly–shopping! We navigated the bustling streets of Barcelona to Konema, a swank office supply store endorsed by Cheryl with her highest stamp of approval. Adam and I, the lone pack of boys in the group, were pretty exhausted by all of the shopping, and decided to call it a day and head back to the Melon District with Nichelle and Laura F. while the rest of the gals pushed on for more shopping. The group enjoyed a great meal together in A4 kitchen, or as it’s been labeled, “the boys’ kitchen,” since it’s conveniently located on the floor on which Adam and I are living.

Saturday-La Playa! (The Beach!)

Saturday was designated to be the beach day by the group. We met up around noon, moseyed our way over to the metro and made a quick stop at La Boqueria for a quick bite. The group took a round about way to the beach, walking only what seemed like a few miles out of our way to reach the sandy shores of Barcelona. With el mar (the ocean) in our sights, we set up shop with our beach towels, sunglasses and books and enjoyed a day full of rays, relaxation and people watching. Lauryn and Laura F. were able to snatch a brief interview with Muhammad the coconut vendor, who weaves in and out of beach dwellers attempting to sell his juicy coconut slabs by yelling something that sounds more or less like “COLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL!” It’s essentially incoherent babble, but he sure does grab your attention and seriously makes you consider buying one of his coconuts.

After a couple of hours of napping, reading and relaxing, we packed up our things and made our way over to restaurant called Toc de Mar for an early dinner. Alanna, Katy W., Lauryn, Laura F., Nichelle and I tried the seafood paella, while Adam stuck to his go to food, the patatas bravas. They’re very similar to french fries, except they taste about 100x better. Minor detail. So, from there we eventually made it back to the Melon District and collectively collapsed after being in the sun all day. A few group members went out to un mercado (grocery store) around the corner, where we’re becoming regulars, to grab some groceries. Later on in the night, most of the group took advantage of the 24-hour service offered by the Metro and went to Placa Reial for some late night tapas.

Sunday-Assorted fishes, Gaudi and a gondola ride

Even though it was final day of our weekend, we saved the biggest and best plans for last. Laura E., Laura F. and Lauryn headed off toward L’Aquarium Barcelona, one of the city’s most interesting spectacles. The aquarium, founded in 1995, boasts 35 tanks, more than 450 different species of animals, an underwater tunnel that spans 80 meters and Europe’s only Oceanarium. While Abbey and Katy W. stayed back at our apartments to conserve their energy for the gondola ride, Alanna, Catherine, Adam, Nichelle, Katie D. and I made our return trip to Park Guell, the massive park designed by the renowned artist Antoni Gaudi.

While laboring up the steep and arduous hill that leads to Park Guell, Adam and I made a stop in a tourist shop to scope out FC Barcelona soccer Jerseys. We had been shopping around the city for the best price, and we didn’t intend to actually buy the jerseys today. However, by unintentionally bartered with the owner, he lowered the price by 15 euro. In all actuality, we weren’t even trying to barter with him, but since we seemed very unsure about the price and were trying to leave, the owner must have felt like we really wanted to haggle with him.  He just kept lowering the price and we didn’t even do anything to sway him. How could we argue with that? So we ended up matching Lionel Messi jerseys, the star striker for FC Barcelona, which we plan on showing off during the rest of our travels.

The six us were able to build off of our one hour trip to Park Guell earlier in the week and explore the winding turns and hidden paths of the park. We climbed our way to the top of a monument with three crosses and enjoyed the breathtaking view of the city offered by our birds eye vantage point. We wandered our way back down through the park and enjoyed watching the vendors and street performers. There was performer in particular who really caught our attention. He had puppets of various rock and roll icons like Jimi Hendrix, John Lenon and Mick Jaeger, and he made the puppets dance while blasting music by the respective artist. Katie D. also showed off her impressive hand stand abilities at the park, something that may help her when she settles down and lives in Park Guell. When someone mentioned that she could live in Gaudi’s house located in the park, she emphatically replied, “I don’t need a house, I just want to live in a tent!” She plans on making and selling small crafts, performing handstands, hanging out with the Beatles puppet man and living in a tent in the middle of Park Guell for the rest of her days. I don’t blame her. I may even join her.

The original proposal was for both groups to meet at the Catalunya station at 4 pm, where we would then all head over to the gondola. We took a little longer than expected in Park Guell, and made it back to the metro stations hoping the other group hadn’t left without us. In a strange coincidence, as we were about to get off of the metro, we spotted the rest of our group waiting to get on. Adam and I were too excited about trying on our new FC Barcelona jerseys and decided to pass on the gondola ride. Alanna, Katie D., Catherine and Nichelle just stayed on the metro while the rest of the group piled on and headed off toward the gondola. From the looks of it, they had a fantastic view and had a blast exploring Barcelona from way, way up in the gondola.

We have officially been in Spain for one week. Wow. It doesn’t seem like it’s been nearly that long at all. The days are full of so many events and activities that they all seem to blend together. We knew that this was our last weekend in Barcelona, so we had to go out with a bang. Sometimes you can only achieve this by living on the edge–the edge of excitement.

Click here to see a photo slide show of our trip to the beach and Park Guell.

Adios!

John

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