Barcelona was magical. It was everything I wanted it to be and so much more. Spain is the fifth country I have visited since I started my study abroad adventure, and it is the first one that brought tears to my eyes at the thought of leaving. It broke my heart to leave, but I know I’ll be back. Warning: This post is going to be extremely long. There is absolutely no way to avoid it. However, I did make things easier for you by labeling each section. Feel free to skip whatever you’re not interested in!
Barcelona has been a dream of mine since I was in high school. When I was unable to afford any of the trips abroad that my school offered, I promised myself I’d find a way to get over here one day. Five years later, it happened! Among several other things, I was ridiculously excited about finally being able to understand the native language in a different country. Language barriers have continuously been the most difficult challenges I’ve faced throughout my travels. For once, I would not have to ask people to speak English. However, I assumed most people would already speak English anyway. I figured my Spanish wouldn’t be all that valuable, but I was actually very wrong! Barcelona, along with Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona, is located within a region of Spain called Catalonia. During our excellent walking tour, we learned all about the struggles between Catalonia and Spain. For years (centuries, really), the Catalans have been pushing to secede from Spain.
While this was a very interesting and enlightening history lesson, it also explained why Spanish was actually not the primary language in Barcelona. The primary language is Catalan. The secondary language is Spanish. From the moment we got off the plane, we discovered that my Spanish was going to be far more useful than we’d expected. Very few people spoke English. In most other countries, we were used to seeing signs/billboards/etc. with the native language listed first, then English below it. Not in Barcelona. Most of the time It was just Catalan and Spanish.This realization made me nervous, because this wasn’t a Spanish class. There wasn’t a teacher to correct me and there wasn’t a textbook or cheat sheet of some kind in front of me for help. I was pretty scared that I’d offend someone by butchering something, but I actually ended up doing very well. I remembered words that I didn’t even realize were still in my brain somewhere. Being truly immersed in an environment where I had to use Spanish brought out the best Spanish I knew.
Maya at one point said to me, “Wow, you weren’t kidding. You really do speak Spanish.” She was having me order for her, she’d ask what certain words meant, how to say certain things, etc. I was pretty proud of myself. I’ve always known how valuable knowing another language would be, but it really hit me when I could effectively communicate with people in another country. I got through nearly every interaction without speaking English, and I know I have my lovely high school Spanish teachers to thank for that 🙂
Aside from the language, the culture in Barcelona was obviously extremely different from what I’ve been getting used to in Holland. The streets were always packed, no matter what time it was. The streets only varied between packed, really packed, and really really packed. It was sort of chaos, but it was awesome chaos. There were shops and markets everywhere, people selling their art and clothes, antique shops, and of course delicious food. I don’t think I saw a single restaurant that didn’t have outdoor seating. Even fast food places like McDonald’s and Burger King had outdoor seating with heated patios.
Maybe I could speak the language, but if anything made me stick out it was my pale skin. It was very clear that if there is a way to be outside, the people in Barcelona will be outside. I can’t blame them. It was absolutely gorgeous the whole time we were there. 60 degree weather all four days! It has been MONTHS since I have seen a sky as blue as the one I saw in Barcelona. It was absolutely breathtaking, and it was just what I needed. On Saturday the forecast called for rain. It was partly cloudy and it sprinkled maybe once. We Dutch folk had a good laugh at what a “rainy day” is like in Barcelona.
Every building was beautiful. Every window had a little balcony and there was wonderful art all over the place, whether it was part of a building or it was a statue or sculpture of some kind. Every time we walked out of a metro stop we’d have to stop and stare in awe at the seemingly new city we’d just walked into. Every part of the city was gorgeous in its own way, whether it was because of the buildings, the art, the people, or something else we’d stumbled upon.
Like London, there were street performers everywhere, but they were different. We walked past people who were dressed as robots or machines. They’d stay frozen until someone put a coin in their collection tin. Then, they would start moving in some way, sing, take a picture with whoever put the money in, etc. Some of them were really awesome! Others, not so much.
Also, we could barely walk anywhere without getting hassled. Some people would just ask for money, others would try to sell us roses or mojitos or blankets or just about anything really. The Barcelona metro was a great way to get around, but it’s definitely too small for the city. Depending on what time it was, I got to be reeeeally close to people I’d never met before.
Oh my goodness, the food. I did not have a bad meal the entire time I was there. I tried plenty of Tapas, which are basically small appetizers. They were amazing. I tried several different pinchos (different kinds of food served on a small cracker or piece of bread), albondigas (seasoned meatballs), croquetas (kind of a mixture of ham and cheese in the form of a mozzarella stick), tortilla de patatas (a potato omelet), and my favorite, patatas bravas (potatoes in sour cream and a spicy sauce). Almost every one of my meals in Barcelona started with a few tapas, and then we obviously tried various entrees. I tried paella de carne (a mixture of rice, different vegetables, meats, and sauces), broquetas (deliciously seasoned kebabs), and jamon y queso (ham and cheese, very popular and delicious in Spain!). We also had plenty of Sangria, which was soooo wonderful. The food and drinks seemed to taste even better because we got to be outside for just about all of our meals. It was heaven.
There were many times when I felt like I was about to cry in Barcelona (happy tears of course), but I don’t think I ever came as close as I did when I was at the Barcelona match. From the moment I planned a trip to Barcelona, I knew I had to make this happen. Not only has soccer (futbol) been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember, but this was a chance to see my favorite club team and my favorite player (who also happens to be the best player in the world) play in real life. The stadium, Camp Nou, was gigantic. Its capacity is 98,787. Compare that to Busch Stadium’s 46,861. The roar of a crowd in a soccer stadium is like nothing I have ever heard before. It gave me chills, and I felt like the luckiest girl in the world to be a part of it. I am a broke college student, so I obviously had a “nosebleed” seat. However, that ended up being perfect. My seat was located right at the center of the field, so I could see every play perfectly. Also, I was really happy about the people I was sitting around. Camp Nou reserves certain sections for the home team, and I was lucky enough to be in one of those sections. So, I was surrounded by Barcelona FC supporters, and they were all so much fun to listen to. It was a dream come true to be around people who were just as passionate about soccer as I am. I quickly picked up all of the Spanish soccer slang 🙂 Barcelona lost 1-0, but I didn’t care. It was an incredibly rough and exciting game. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, and those 90 minutes flew by way faster than I wanted them to. Part of me wished someone had come to the game with me, but by the end of it I was so happy I was by myself. That experience was all mine, and I will always remember every second of it. I’m smiling like a goofball right now just thinking about it.
As I’ve mentioned, art was everywhere in Barcelona. Antoni Gaudi’s work can be seen all over the city. Even the little tourist stands sold key chains, shot glasses, etc. that had the mosaic patterns made famous by Gaudi on them. We went to Park Guell, which featured TONS of art by Gaudi (it’s his park after all). And not just art…incredible, intricate, beautiful mosaics just EVERYWHERE. I tried to take as many pictures as I could, but I eventually got so mesmerized that I just put the camera away let myself enjoy it. Park Guell is not only beautiful, but it’s also on the highest point in Barcelona. After a long inclined trek, we made it to the top. I’m running out of words to use to describe this city. Every time I thought I was done being amazed, Barcelona swept me off my feet again. The view of Barcelona stretched in front of me was shocking, mesmerizing, and breathtaking. It was also very windy and I was in danger of blowing away, so that added some suspense, too.
La Playa Barceloneta (Barceloneta Beach) was unlike any beach I’ve ever been to. I don’t think I can really tell you why. I just know that when I saw those waves and stepped on that sand for the first time, I couldn’t speak. Maybe it seemed all the more beautiful because we’ve been stuck in gross winter for so long, or maybe I just wasn’t expecting it…I don’t know. I just know that it was absolutely gorgeous, and neither pictures nor words can do it justice. We visited the beach twice. We went first at the beginning of our trip, and again on the last day. Maya and I didn’t ever really say it out loud, but we both knew we wanted the beach to be our last real stop. It was perfect.
We did A LOT during the four days we spent in Barcelona. We walked a ton as usual (my knee is so happy), explored every corner we could possibly find, went to the beach, went to several different markets, explored the port, went to the Picasso Museum, went to Park Guell, saw La Sagrada de Familia, the Arc de Triomphe, La Catedral, and soooo much more. We felt very accomplished at the end of our trip. As I said, leaving Barcelona was absolutely heartbreaking. I was not looking forward to leaving the city that stole my heart to go back to dreary, rainy, cold days. Mother Nature went easy on me, though. I arrived in Leiden to see, can you believe it, sunshine! It was lovely. Even though I was sad about leaving Spain, when I walked out of the train station and saw the familiar bikes, homes, stores, cobblestone streets, and canals, I was happy to be home. This long blog post is only the bare minimum of what I could write about Barcelona. I did my very best to condense. If you’re curious about anything in particular, let me know and I’ll be sure to talk your ear off. I’m attaching a few photos to this post, but I took about 200. See Facebook for all of them 🙂