Barcelona, Spain

It has been over a year since I’ve written on this blog. I keep meaning to catch up on blogging my travels, but graduating and starting grad school and just doing life have been getting in the way. Now that I’ve survived grad school semester one, what better way to relax over winter break than a trip down Spanish memory lane? My grandma has been asking when I will get around to my Barcelona blog since, well, April 2015, so without further ado…

My travel mates—Abby, Alayna, and Courtney—and I began our weekend with a walk around the iconic La Rambla, a street filled with vendors, the gigantic market La Boquería, and the Gran Teatre del Liceu. Antoní Gaudí, who designed much of Barcelona’s major architecture, used a pattern of curved lines to make La Rambla appear wavy, though it is actually flat. A massive crowd made it difficult to move around inside la Boquería among stands selling macaroons, produce, and fish (including the octopus that I never decided to stomach).

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Historically, Barcelona served as a hub for major artists, who gathered at the Quatre Gats (Four Cats) café. The owners have preserved its old feel, and it was really neat to sip our tea and contemplate the conversations the great artists must have had in that very spot. We also perused the Museu Picasso, a museum dedicated entirely to the works of Pablo Picasso and an artist he inspired, Salvador Dalí. Rather than his more famous pieces, this museum focused on Picasso’s education and early years, including class sketches and his renditions of Velasquez’s Las Meninas (the most reproduced work of art in the world). What I loved about this museum was that it was small enough that you could examine every piece without feeling overwhelmed or pressed for time. And lesson learned from two of my roommates: I should have taken an art history class. So if you’re studying abroad any time soon, do that.

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Quatre Gats

Our next museum stop was totally different: the Museu de Xocolate. We opted out of the actual museum part of the chocolate museum and instead went straight for the chocolate in the café. The next day we got a second chocolate fix at Escritá, a packed café where I tasted thick hot chocolate with caramelized violets, which tasted much better than it sounds.

To work off our chocolate, we headed to the Parc de la Ciutadella for some row boating. I had never done this before, but we eventually found a rhythm and managed not to topple the boat, though we came pretty close when we tried to switch places so we could all row. Our final stop on day one was the Gran Teatre del Liceu, the largest opera house in Europe. The gorgeous mirror-lined walls of the intermission gathering room were decorated with gold quotes about the value of music, theatre, art, and language. We didn’t get to see much of the inside of the theatre, but we got something even better. They were rehearsing a show, so we got to sit in the back and listen! I’ve never been much of an opera person, but after listening to their beautiful French singing, I think I’m gaining a better appreciation for the art.

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Gran Teatre del Liceu
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Parc de la Ciutadella with Courtney, Alayna, and Abby

Day two in Barcelona began with perhaps what the city is best known for: la Basílica de la Sagrada Familia. All of the religious buildings that I visited in Europe were beautiful, but this one is in a class of its own. Another one of Gaudí’s designs, the Sagrada Familia has a whimsical feel with spiral staircases and columns, decorative statues depicting Biblical scenes outside, and rainbows of stained glass windows. Gaudí also left a clever algorithm in the church: a box of numbers whose rows and columns add up to 33 (age of Christ at death) or 48, the sum of the letters INRI (Iēsus Nazarēnus, Rēx lūdaeorūm, “Jesus, King of the Jews”). You can read much more about the architecture here. Whatever you believe in, just stepping inside the Sagrada Familia is a religious experience. The basilica is still under construction (damage during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s set back the work), and I cannot wait to come back when it is expected to be finished in 2026!

You can never get too much of Gaudí in Barcelona, so next we took a long, uphill walk to his Parc Güell, which feels like stepping into the world of Dr. Seuss. Hiking through the vine-covered trellaces and up a decent hill, we found an incredible view of the entire city all the way to the port. That was when we realized how far we had walked, and little did we know that this would be our record-setting day for the most miles in one day abroad (18).

After some amazing paella, we trekked to the opposite side of the city, with a little help from the metro, to the 1992 Olympic Village and the medieval Castell de Montjuïc. The Olympic Village was underwhelming because it had not been kept up, but there is a museum if you’re interested in summer Olympic sports. (I’ll refrain from a lengthy discussion of the detrimental economic effects of the Olympics on host countries). We didn’t have time to check out the inside of the castle, but the outside gardens and archery courtyard were cool, and it was worth spending the time to just walk through more residential neighborhoods outside the touristy areas. It was sort of fun to get temporarily lost on the way back towards the main city. We ended day two with an important lesson about travel and Spain: rosé and Chinese food do not go together. And really, just don’t eat Chinese food in Spain.

The morning before our flight home to Sevilla, we had time for one final Gaudí stop: la Casa Battló, a whimsical house with design inspiration from an interesting combination of a human skeleton and the ocean. There are hardly any straight lines inside, which mimicks ocean waves, and slits at the top of the house, modeled after fish gills, provide ventilation. Every detail of the house has aesthetic and functional purpose. Travel has gotten me into architecture more than ever, and Barcelona played a tremendous role in developing that interest.

Our school schedule only allowed us to stay for the weekend, but there is so much more to see in Barcelona. The city’s artsy vibe is already begging me to come back, and I can’t wait for my next adventure there. Since national identity is one of my research interests for my degree and career, I’m sure making it back to the capital of this unique Catalán nation won’t be too difficult!

-Steph

 

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