Updated: Apr 22
A week or so ago, my ISC (Italian Student Companion), Silvio, had about ten of his friends over for dinner. I am happy to report that I was actually able to carry a conversation with them and understand the general ideas of what they were talking to each other about. We even played the Italian version of the game, Mafia. This was quite a challenge, but a great and fun experience!
Changing topics completely, last weekend I went to Barcelona. I arrived late on a Thursday night and took a train from the airport into the city center. By the time I got into the city center, the metro had stopped running (after midnight) so I had to take a taxi to my hostel. My hostel had a 91% review on HostelWorld.com, but, when I arrived, I realized that I never confirmed the hostel had bathrooms in each room! The common bathroom was fine, but it is a lot harder to carry all your clothes & key into a different room when you have to shower.
On Friday, I took a free walking tour to see the architecture of one of Barcelona’s most famous architects – Gaudi. His buildings made me feel like I was in Whoville and a world of Dr. Seuss – they were very unique compared with the “traditional” architecture I have grown to expect as I travel throughout Europe. The admissions of cost of 18 euros to go inside was excessive, so I decided that the views from the outside were good enough for me. We also saw a church that he designed around 85 years ago that is still being built. It is a very complex church and they say it will not be done for at least another 25-30 years!
One of the houses that Gaudi designed
Another house that Gaudi designed
The Sagrada Famiglia: Nativity Facade. This is one of the three facades of Gaudi’s church – only two are finished.
Sagrada Famiglia – Passion Facade. The “Glory Facade” just started construction.
After my walking tour, I took a hop on-hop off bus tour to see all of Barcelona. Barcelona is such a spread out city that the bus company had two different lines. It took me 6 hours to complete both lines, but I was happy I did it. The highlights were seeing the Olympic Stadium & Las Arenas, the bull fighting arena!
Las Arenas – Bull Fighting Arena
On Saturday, it poured the whole day. By this point, I had become a pro on navigating Barcelona’s metro and decided to go to the Picasso Museum. The Picasso Museum was a homage to Picasso’s older, less known works. All I knew about Picasso before this was that he painted “Scream,” but was very intrigued by his life story. He moved around a lot and changed his artistic style about once or twice a year.
After the Picasso Museum, I found a restaurant that specialized in typical Catalonian food – tapas. They are basically a bunch of small samples, so you order two or three dishes and try a bit of everything. I had ham & cheese croquets and something very similar to sesame chicken. It was really, really good.
Then, even though it was raining, I embarked on my voyage to find Barceloneta Beach. By this point my map was destroyed due to the rain, so I decided to follow the signs to the beach – big mistake. I wound up 3 kilometers out of my way and had to backtrack to see it. I was happy when I finally got there, though. It looked like a scene out of the movie “2012” – the waves were about four feet high (pretty high for the Mediterranean Sea. Despite the rain, I saw a surfboarder walking away from the sea with a big smile on his face.
Barceloneta Beach in the rain
After this, I decided to walk and catch a metro back to my hostel. After an hour rest, I went to the only bar in Barcelona that was showing the Penn State v. Michigan State game for the Big Ten Semifinals. I think I managed to find the only empty bar in Barcelona, but a combination of a Penn State win and some nostalgic food like quesadillas and chicken tenders was enough to make my day.
Sunday finally brought the weather I expected Barcelona to have! It didn’t rain, the sun was out & I was able to leave my sweatshirt at the hostel. I woke up early in the morning to walk the “La Rambla” from start to finish. “La Rambla” is a very famous tourist promenade where artists and cafes line the streets. I decided to grab a seat and order “Churros and Chocolate” and people watch. The churros were delicious & the chocolate was served warm and so thick that the churros could stand up in it!
Chocolate & Churros
Another view of La Rambla
After that, I took another walking tour of Barcelona. This one was a tour of Barcelona’s historical center. It was beautiful and reminded me a lot of Rome. I gained some insight into the history of Barcelona that was absolutely fascinating like the fact that Barcelona used to be occupied by the Romans when it was a walled city (hence why it reminded me of historical Rome). Also, I learned that the people of Barcelona actually consider themselves to be Catalonian, not Spanish. They speak Catalonian and Spanish and are constantly protesting the Spanish government for their independence. I also was able to see where the King of Catalonia greeted Christopher Columbus after discovering the New World. The final piece of trivia I learned was that Barcelona could have built the Eiffel Tower instead of Paris, but the government thought it was too weird looking and built an arch instead – big mistake!
Narrow street in the center of Barcelona
The steps that Christopher Columbus ascended when he brought the news of the New World to the King & Queen of Spain
After the walking tour, I took the metro to Park Gϋell – another one of Gaudi’s projects. It was declared a World Heritage Site a few years ago, so I figured a trip to Barcelona would not be complete without seeing it. Getting there was a difficult task. After taking the metro, it was a kilometer walk to a series of eight escalators to take you to the top of a mountain. At the top of this mountain, you had to walk down hill about a half of a kilometer to get to the park. By this point, I was exhausted, but it was worth it!. I saw the longest bench I have ever seen and a bunch of other cool looking houses, sculptures, and architecture!
View from Park Guell
Houses in Park Guell – I think Dr. Seuss would have loved it here!
Overhang at Park Guell
Main Entrance to Park Guell
On my way back to the hostel to grab my bag, I found a Dunkin Coffee (they don’t call them Dunkin Donuts over there) and splurged on the biggest ice coffee I have ever had. In Italy, I can only get an espresso – they really do not have American coffee. It was probably the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had (probably because I haven’t had one in so long). I topped it off with a ham & cheese panini and a chocolate frosted doughnut with sprinkles – the icing on the cake.
Every once in a while, it’s okay to have a nostalgic snack
Note: This post was originally published on March 13, 2011 in a blog entitled “Romeing Around Europe” which chronicled my study abroad experience.