Barcelona Day 3: sun, croissants, and sea

Our final day in Barcelona began with pastries and a stroll through the park. Spring was in the air and we were so happy to enjoy the sun and take off our coats.


We also enjoyed climbing on a giant elephant statue. While I could give Julia a boost up, it was quite a challenge for me to follow her. The Irish family who took our picture was doubled up laughing by the time I got myself situated.


At the end of the park lay the Mediterranean! It was Julia’s first time to touch the sea, and we both enjoyed the stunning beaches.



We walked along the beach for a while, and at one point saw a group of topless old ladies tanning themselves. Another reminder that we are certainly not in the US anymore… We also found a great climbing structure, and of course had to go up.



After our Mediterannean adventure, we headed back into the Gothic neighborhood. On one corner was some great street art and a group of people painting cardboard boxes.



Also, kids playing with parachutes. Camp all over the world!


And stuffed mammoths in the Archeological museum…


Finally, Julia and I ended up back in front of the Cathedral.  There was a huge crowd there all folk dancing, and we watched for a while. The dances were small and didn’t involve much movement, but the people clearly took pride in knowing the steps. We then followed a second crowd toward a second plaza, and got to see part of the Festival of Human Towers. There are four teams that all compete to form towers of people in competitions that take place throughout the Spring. The men crowd around the bottom to provide support, and up top climbs a four-year-old girl. Each team has a different colored shirt, and each team member winds a long black scarf around their waist to provide back support and give the climbers good foot-holds. The festival is evidentially a symbol of Catalan pride. We talked to two men on the street who helped us to figure out what we were watching, and they made it clear that they were strongly in favor of Catalonian independence. It was interesting to hear how they took so much pride in their city and spoke harshly against the rest of Spain. It’s fascinating to trace how the various political conflicts that are currently facing Spain manifest in each of the cities we’re visiting.



After watching the festival, it was time to head back to the airport and fly home. Of course we brought along croissants for an airport snack, a final taste of Barcelona!

Barcelona Day 2

Our second day in Barcelona was a hodgepodge of sightseeing and exploring. We started the day with pastries – the best chocolate croissant I’ve ever had! We fell so in love with the bakery around the corner from our hostel that we went three times in about 30 hours… not the healthiest choice, but certainly delicious! And yes, that croissant is approximately the size of my face.


After breakfast we headed to Montjuic, the large hill overlooking the city and the water. Our first visit was Castell Montjuic. This castle was nothing like the previous one’s I’ve seen this trip; it’s austere and unadorned, very cold and box-like. It was never used by the royal family, and for most of history, it housed military and state prisoners.


The climb to the top provided a view of the Barcelona shipyards, part of the city we hadn’t yet seen.



In another area, we stumbled on a group of locals practicing archery!


After our visit to the castle, we meandered down through the many gardens on Montjuic. At one point we found an amazing slide and had to try it out (yes, we are children).






We also spent some time wandering through the Olympic Park on Montjuic. The architecture was huge and grand, and the morning fog had burned off to provide us with a beautiful chance to soak in the sun.


Our afternoon was dedicated to Barcelona’s gothic section. We spent quite a while in the City Museum, which contains several large underground tunnels through the remains of a Roman town. We saw the ruins of a garum (fish sauce) factory, a cloth dying shop, and a wine shop, as well as several houses. We also visited  the cathedral and several smaller churches. My favorite was Santa Maria del Mar, a smaller church that is more intimate than the huge cathedrals and still felt alive and bustling.


We also stumbled into a street festival in which kids and adults were dressing up as giants and dancing around the stage and streets. All around were colorful balloons and light displays. We didn’t know much about what was going on, but it was fun to watch!




Julia and I enjoyed a decadent meal out after our ramen dinner the night before. We went to a tapas restaurant where everything is served on toothpicks. The cold tapa are kept in glass cases and the hot ones are passed around on plates, and customers just take what they want. When you’re ready to go, you count up your toothpicks and pay according to how many you’ve eaten! Julia and I tried quite a selection. One of our favorites was bread with thick, tangy cream cheese and nuts. We also really liked one with smoked salmon, and another delicious bite with cheese and mushroom. We even tried morcilla, Spanish blood sausage!



We ended the day with sore feet, and were thankfully treated to an empty hostel room and a good night’s sleep.

Casa Batllo

Our final Gaudi visit in Barcelona was to Casa Batllo. This incredible, six-story house looks out onto one of Barcelona’s main streets. The entire house has an ocean/sea creature motif, and there are almost no straight lines. Some people say the main facade looks like masks, while others see skulls. Some people see a huge bat in the main window of the first floor, while others see arched bones once again.


The whimsical curving lines continue inside the house, and the rich blues and greens made Julia and I feel as though we were under water.



Inside the house is a huge light well that runs from the roof down to the first floor and provides natural light to the rooms on all sides. The well is patterned with blue tiles that get darker as they move higher. From the bottom though, it looks like the tile is all the same color!


The small balcony on the top story provides an incredible view of the facade and of the city.


And even the roof is fully decorated!



Every detail contributed to the spiraling, aquatic feel of the house, including both this ceiling and this spiral staircase leading to the attic.



The outdoor terrace completed the colorful, bubbling atmosphere of the house.



And one other interesting note: this fireplace was crafted to seat three people: two on the loveseat that’s in view, and a chaperone on the seat across from them! Not much privacy in Casa Batllo even when you weren’t in view of the huge windows…


Julia and I loved our visit to Casa Batllo. It was fun to see how Gaudi implemented his futuristic, colorful style on a smaller scale than La Sagrada Familia, and we both felt like we understood more of what made his work unique.

After a long day of walking, Julia and I concluded the evening with a hostel-made dinner of ramen and eggs. True college travelers!


Weekend in Barcelona: Day 1

Last Thursday night, Julia and I jetted off to Barcelona to enjoy our first weekend of traveling! The flight out of Madrid was shockingly easy; we sped through security and they didn’t even check our passports until we got to the gate. We got there hours early expecting the American system of lines and long waits, and instead ended up pacing through the airport shops and testing AngryBirds perfume (it does NOT smell good!)

Our first day in Barcelona was dedicated to all sights Gaudi. Our first stop was the spectacular church La Sagrada Familia.


The church lived up to expectations in every way. It feels more like an art piece than a building, yet everything is fully functional and crafted with purpose.


The inside of the church is filled with light and color from the intricate stained glass windows. It looks like colored lights are being projected on the walls, but its the many panes of chromatic glass that create the waves of color thorugh the church.


The church’s many columns also contribute to its striking appearance. The twisting shapes make the interior feel like a forest with branches swaying high overhead. While Gothic churches have iconic pointed arches with straight sides, Gaudi crafted his as a hyperbola, creating a unique, airy space. The difference was actually very noticeable!


While I knew the church was under construction, I wasn’t prepared for how much was still left to be built. There are still multiple towers to be erected, and what will someday be the main facade has barely been started. Someday maybe I’ll get back to see this spectacular place finished!



Next Julia and I headed to Park Guell, a huge park built into the side of a hill that’s full of buildings and structures made by Gaudi. The main part of the park looks like Wonderland, full of whimsical colors and twisting paths and towers.




We got to go inside a few of the houses. It’s hard to believe they were intended to be lived in!


From the park we also found spectacular city views and huge reptilian loves.



Then it was off to our last Gaudi site: Casa Batllo. Stay tuned for pictures coming soon!

Sunday in Madrid

Today seemed like the quintessential winter Sunday in Madrid. Julia and I slept in late after enjoying churros and hot chocolate at San Gines, a bustling shop that’s been dishing out sweets 24 hours a day since 1894.

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Around noon we set out to explore El Rastro, Madrid’s street market. Sadly I don’t have any pictures; the market is so crowded and pickpockets so frequent that I didn’t want to risk pulling out expensive gadgets. El Rastro looks like an oversize Berkeley flea market. There are stalls with everything imaginable – incense burners next to rows of blue jeans next to handbags made from old records.

We also stumbled on Madrid’s chain store Taste of America, where those missing the US can buy Skippy peanut butter for $8.90. It funny how many of the products there we’d never heard of! IMG_5981

After the flea market, my friends and I wandered around El Retiro park. There were lots of roller bladers and runners out, as well as families out with kids in strollers.


We found one bizarre exhibit in one of the park’s buildings. First came these feet, which were motorized and walking on a loop.


Next came a parked trailer with a sleeping woman inside. Crickets chirping and the sounds of twigs breaking added to the room’s ambiance.


We never found out what the exhibit was, but we weren’t at all sure we’d make it out alive… Luckily, we escaped the building and enjoyed another few hours of sunlight in the park before heading home to catch up on our minimal, yet still neglected, homework.


Granada Part 1: Flamenco

One of our nights in Granada was dedicated to a flamenco show!


The show was in a huge cave in one of the Granada hills and was put on by a group of three gypsy families.


The costumes, lights, and dancing made the scene sultry and vibrant.


It was interesting to see how the dancers interacted with each other. It was clear at some moments that they were related; in one dance, it looked like there was a mother and two daughters all dancing together! The dances were passionate and emotional, and most seemed to be playing out scenes of competitions, fights, and even a marriage. Each swirl of their huge skirts was calculated for optimal dramatic effect, and the whole group clapped together as the dancers gained momentum until the end of the song.


In the final dance, they brought out a number of people from the audience. One of our professors could actually dance pretty well! A number of the students tried to mimic the moves, but none looked particularly graceful next to the gypsies. Watching the students flail made us all realize how talented the dancers really were. It was an impressive show!

Arriving in Madrid

Last Thursday night I finally arrived in Madrid! After an eight-hour bus ride from Lisbon, my seminar finally made it to the city we’ve all been waiting for. My host mother’s name is Mercedes. She’s a retired lawyer with two adult kids, and knows enough English that we can communicate with a combination of hand motions and garbled speech (if only I knew Spanish better…). Julia, the girl from Amherst who I’m living with, knows more Spanish than I do and can communicate more. We live in a small, beautifully arranged apartment in the neighborhood of the Retiro, Madrid’s big central park.

IMG_5853Friday morning was dedicated to a long, tedious school orientation. Luckily, Mercedes went with us on the Metro to school; otherwise we would have been late! Julia and I ate lunch with a few friends in a beautiful outdoor plaza. It’s chilly here but very sunny, and sitting outside provided ample opportunity for people (and bird, and cat) watching. The rest of the day was spent sorting out some logistics, then walking around Retiro park. The park is huge and Julia and I had no idea where we ended up. We did find a cute pond with plenty of ducks. There were lots of people out running, roller-blading, or strolling through the long paths. I imagine the park will be even prettier come spring!


Yesterday, Julia and I continued to explore the city on foot, both on our own and with a school-led walking tour. The tour wasn’t very good (our guide didn’t know too much about the city), but we got to see many of the major sites – the Plaza Mayor, Sol, the opera house, and more.


Julia and I spent the remainder of the afternoon in the National Archeological Museum.

IMG_5866 It’s a good thing I’m traveling with someone who’s as much of a museum nerd as I am! After the museum we stopped in a cafe for mugs of thick, steaming hot chocolate, then headed home for dinner.


It’s overwhelming to see how much this city has to offer. I barely know how to begin getting to know it’s many twisting alleyways, dim coffee shops, and sprawling plazas. I’m not sure how the next few months will unfold here, but I’m excited to find out!