“I didn’t really feel like I was in Spain, until just now”
Not sure if I agree with this statement, said by one of my friends our first night in Barcelona, as we wandered the streets full of the excitement that comes from being in a place for the first time. But I will say this: if you can only visit one city in Spain, Barcelona should be it, hands down, no question. (Ok, maybe Sevilla too). It represents the whole country so well: it’s such a vibrant city, just like the Spanish people, with streets overflowing with art, music, tapas and vino, all the things I’ve come to love about the country. But it has its own distinct character too, being the capital of Cataluña, a very unique region with lots of its own history, tradition, and even its own language (Catalan, of which Valenciano, spoken in Valencia, is a derivative).
We got the idea for this trip from a few other people in the program, who were headed to Barcelona for Halloween after hearing that this city really knew how to celebrate the holiday (which gave it a certain appeal because as a rule Spaniards don’t recognize it). The plan was only made sweeter by the fact that one of our Spanish friends, Sabata, has an apartment there since he teaches part time in Barcelona. We agreed that us Americans (specifically: Emily Anne, Angela, Preetal, Shannon, Julia and I, all girls I’m really fond of) would come for the weekend and crash with Sabata and our mutual friend Rafa, who also lives here in Valencia and would join us for the visit. The whole trip didn’t really cement until a week before, with us scrambling around buying train tickets and costumes. But it was totally worth any hassle it caused.
After classes on Thursday, we hopped on a four hour train north to the city. When we arrived, Sabata and his roommates were waiting for us with open arms, ready to show us around the city despite the arrival time (actually, midnight in this country means suppertime has just ended, a fact I still can’t get used to). The apartment could not have been in a better location: right by the port, just a few blocks from the Cathedral of Barcelona (which of course we all mistook for Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia upon seeing it at night) and a 10 minute walk to Les Rambles, the city’s “main drag”. So after a personalized tour of the area near our apartment that included lessons in sculpture (did you know when someone is sculpted riding horseback on a horse with one leg raised, it means he died in battle?), architecture and Catalan, we came home and crashed, excited for the day of sightseeing ahead of us…
…but we got a little distracted. The plan was to nail down our costumes (we had planned to go as Post-It notes, which only requires a colorful shirt and a marker for people to write on it) before checking out all of Gaudí’s incredible architecture and maybe some Miró. No such luck; after dragging Paco, (one of Sabata’s roommates, and probably the nicest and most patient guy in the world) around for the whole morning in search of said costumes, we called it quits in favor of tapas and sangria, returning back to the apartment ready for our siesta. There we found our friend Rafa (a freelance translator/writer/publisher), finally awake at 2:30 in the afternoon, perched in front of his laptop doing some work. When we sat down and he picked up the guitar to play for us, we knew it was over; we weren’t going anywhere that afternoon. We lazed about for a few more hours, enjoying the opportunity to be as fully immersed in a culture as it gets, and then headed out to the beach (5 minutes away!!) to watch the sunset. There more lazing about ensued, as the night grew bluer and bluer while the lights of the city grew warmer and brighter. We decided to thank the boys for their hospitality by preparing a supper for them of pasta and pizza, and for after-dinner drinks we girls made Agua de Valencia, the typical cocktail of our town. Then it was off to a concert that one of Rafa’s friends was putting on in the city that night. We managed to almost lose one from our group, Emily Anne, in the subway; the doors in Barcelona’s underground close QUICKLY and DO NOT REOPEN for anyone or anything. The concert was good but we had far too much energy to sit still and listen, so we headed out in search of somewhere to dance. This failed, however, and we abandoned the plan in favor of, you guessed it!, lazing about at home playing guitar and telling stories. Definitely can’t complain about that.
Saturday we finally managed to do a bit of tourism. The whole gang (Spaniards and Americans alike) hopped the metro to the Park Güell, one of the many legacies Gaudí left to the city; the park is carved out of the side of a hill, making it a great place to take in views of the city. Right as you walk in, you’re greeted by two small “houses” (one now serving as a gift shop) that look like they’ve come straight from the pages of Hansel and Gretel. But instead of candy they’re adorned with mosaics, glistening with color in the afternoon sun. We found a spot to picnic towards the top of the hill, feasting on freshly purchased bocadillos, fruit and chocolate, talking both in English and Spanish of cuss words, UVA traditions and other cultural oddities. I truly felt like a kid again, skipping around the park (keep in mind I don’t get much time in the great outdoors in the metropolis that is Valencia) with my friends, snapping goofy photos and taking in the spectacular views of the city below. The day ended with some last minute Halloween shopping, at which point it became clear I was not destined to be a Post-It Note but a leopard (the amount of leopard print clothing in the dollar store we stumbled upon was staggering). After a quick siesta we geared up, made sure the boys had an acceptable amount of costume on (they all took a liking to my eyeliner and their costumes therefore were decided on how the makeup was employed: black-lined lips? “Mom” tattoos?, and so on).
Our friends were right: Barcelona knows how to throw a good Halloween party; everyone in the streets was dressed up, ready to share with us what they were, curious to know what we were, etc. It’s amazing how many foreigners were out and about (ourselves included); we probably heard more English that night than Spanish. And I’m not often a proponent for nights out that end at 6am, but I made an exception this time. Overall, a successful American holiday celebration in Spain.
With only a few hours in the city left on Sunday, we high-tailed it to the remaining Gaudí grandeurs (I’m already planning my next trip back, since we didn’t have the chance to go into any of the buildings! They’re so impressive from the outside that I can’t imagine what beautiful things are inside). What an incredible feeling to get off at the “Sagrada Familia” metro stop and literally step out, look up, and there it is. Dripping with ornate stonework, built to represent the wild beauty of nature, this cathedral is truly awe-inspiring. Exactly 100 years old this year, it is still being built; can you imagine how Gaudí must have felt, not ever having seen his own work completed? Despite the distraction of cranes and scaffolding that surround the building, it’s interesting to see parts of the structure that are completed, while other identical parts are still being built. We then strolled down to La Pedrera (wish I could tell you what this was originally, maybe just an apartment building that now serves as a Gaudí museum) and Casa Batelló (again, another apartment designed by Gaudí). With only minutes to spare, we hopped on our train home, weary travelers ready to return.
This week has provided no similarly spectacular stories, since it has mostly consisted of getting back exams (I could rant for hours about the disadvantages of the Spanish grading system in which, all my teacher’s assured me, an 85 is “muy muy muy bien!”) and straightening out credits and classes with UVA from overseas, since I have pretty much determined that I’ll be graduating by the end of this summer. Which is an exciting prospect, despite all the bureaucracy, because of what next year may hold for me: an internship here in Spain? In D.C.? a semester of living at home and working so I can travel/live somewhere new and different? (but like they say: you can take the girl out of Charlottesville but you can’t take Charlottesville out of the girl). I feel like the world really is at my fingertips, and I’m just glad to be overwhelmed by possibilities rather than dead ends.
Other than that, next weekend I head to Paris to visit one of my closest friends from high school who is also on a year abroad program. So more travel news to follow.