Ashley in Madrid

Ashley is a junior majoring in Spanish and psychology in Dedman College and an SMU Distinguished Scholar. During 2011-12 she is participating in SMU-in-Spain. She is eager to improve her Spanish, to get to know other students in the program and to explore Madrid and the rest of Europe.

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Great weekend in Barcelona

With Hayley at La Sagrada Familia

This past weekend two friends and I went to Barcelona and had an absolutely amazing time. Barcelona is on the east coast of Spain, a little bit farther north than Madrid. It took us about an hour to get there by plane.

The first accomplishment of the weekend was our mastery of a new city’s public transportation system. We got from the airport into the heart of Barcelona for basically nothing by taking a bus and the Metro, and successfully zipped around the city for the rest of the weekend on the Metro.

This was the first trip I’ve ever been on without parents or other adults to plan everything and navigate the city for me, so that was exciting, and I think we did a good job at seeing everything that needed to be seen!

Our first stop was La Sagrada Familia, a giant church designed by Antoni Gaudí. Gaudí started construction on it in 1883 and died in 1926 when the church was less than 25 percent completed. It’s still under construction today and won’t be finished until 2026, 100 years after Gaudí’s death.

I’ve seen lots of pictures of Sagrada Familia before and learned about it in school, so seeing it in person was that much more amazing. It is huge and has so many intricate details. There were a ton of people outside and around it, and I took a ton of pictures.

On the terrace at Parc Güell

“Gaudí” and “Barcelona” are practically synonymous, and we saw two more beautiful Gaudí creations during our trip.

One of them was Parc Güell, which is up on a hill in Barcelona, walking distance from our hostel.

We also checked out Casa Batlló, which looks sort of like a dragon and had some really impressive tiles, mosaic-style, on the front.

Another highlight of the trip was the afternoon we spent at the beach! Barcelona is on the Mediterranean Ocean and we enjoyed a lovely afternoon laying out and swimming. The weather was perfect. The water was pretty chilly but refreshing, and it was perfectly clear.

There were tons of people selling stuff at the beach, which was moderately annoying. They walked in between all the people laying out, calling out the name of whatever they were selling: everything from massages to henna tattoos, clothes to sodas.

One night that we were there, FC Barcelona was playing a game in their home stadium, so we headed that way to walk around the stadium and take pictures. It was really cool to hear everyone inside cheering, and when the game ended, the streets were full of people decked out in FCB gear. The three of us bought matching FCB socks, but don’t tell anyone here in Madrid or I’ll be in trouble.

We also meandered through Las Ramblas, which was basically a large street packed full of tourists and souvenir shops. We didn’t realize it when we planned our trip, but last weekend was the weekend of Barcelona’s biggest annual festival, Festes de la Mercè, so during our time on Las Ramblas we got to see a dance performance and a parade, which was great.

The last main sight we saw was the Font Màgica in Parc Montjuïc. At night there’s a light and sound show at this fountain. The light show part was very pretty, and the sound show part was very funny. The songs that they were playing in the background of the light/water show were just so random. It was American music: Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” followed by Mika’s “Grace Kelly” followed Irene Cara’s “Flashdance … What a Feeling.” Basically, awesome.

We also enjoyed some great meals in Barcelona – specifically our dinner one night at a restaurant called “Taverna El Glop.” Glop. Appetizing right? My personal favorite was butifarra, a Catalonian sausage that was so good.

This trip was my first ever hostel experience. Quite an adventure! Since this weekend was La Mercè our hostel pickings were slim and we ended up with one that didn’t have the best online reviews. I was terrified that it was going to be beyond filthy, so we brought our own sheets and towels just in case, but my expectations were pleasantly exceeded! It was definitely a hostel, and it wasn’t particularly nice, but it was pretty clean and we had a bathroom in our room — no shower though. And that’s where the adventure part comes in.

One night the three of us headed to the shower room to discover that the shower stalls were miniscule and only freezing cold water came out of the shower head. And as soon as I had jumped into mine and doused myself with ice water, I discovered that my stall didn’t lock, so one of my friends had to hold the door closed while I showered. Needless to say it was a very quick shower.

Barcelona is the capital of an autonomous community (Spain has 17 of them) called Cataluña, which has its own language, Catalan. Spanish is the official language all over Spain, but there are quite a few other co-official languages, including Catalan. This means that all of the signs and place names are in Catalan (usually, hopefully, in Spanish too) and the people speak Catalan. I really enjoyed being exposed to Catalan, and I was really fascinated by it. It’s similar to French and I liked how crisp it was — instead of “supermercado,” they have “supermercat”; “gato” is “gat.” And some words were just interesting, like “platja” for “playa.” A lot of the words are similar to Spanish (aka Castillian, since Catalan is Spanish too) so I could figure them out, but not all. And hearing people speak in Catalan on the Metro was really interesting! I couldn’t understand a thing they were saying … Not that I can understand the Spanish conversations that I overhear either.

National pride isn’t really a big thing here in Spain, at least not as much as regional pride, and yesterday one of my professors was telling me that it’s been her experience that if you don’t speak Catalan, people in Barcelona would rather speak English with you than be forced to practice their Castillian. Interesting! I was really fascinated by Catalan, but it was nice to be back in the Madrid airport where all the signs are in a language that I can understand.

This weekend I learned that Barcelona and Madrid have completely different feels to them. While Madrid feels cosmopolitan and classy, Barcelona feels laid-back and chill, just like beach towns in the States do! People also dress differently. People in Madrid are dressed to the nines, always, but in Barcelona I saw a lot more people wearing jeans and T-shirts, even some sweatpants. I think this difference can also be attributed to the higher level of tourism in Barcelona. I wasn’t expecting the two to be so different, but they are definitely distinct.

Overall, it was a really great weekend. I had a blast and saw so much cool stuff. We got home at 10:30 on Sunday morning, exhausted, so I lay down to take a nap and my roommate woke me up nine hours later for dinner. Wow. Even I was impressed with my sleeping skills. It’s awesome to be able to have the time to sleep for a whole day. With my life in Dallas, that would just be unimaginable. I always have so much to do and never enough time. I am love, love, loving the absolutely non-stressful life that I am living here! Amazing.

I had a thought one night in Barcelona, as I was contemplating the struggle of learning Spanish … How did I get to know so many words in English??!? Really, it’s remarkable. I know probably 6 different words for everything that I want to say, and I fully understand the connotations of each one. How did that happen? And how on earth does anyone ever become fluent in a foreign language? Such a struggle.

But on that note… I feel like I’m slowly losing my grasp on that extensive knowledge of English, just a little bit. This week I’ve been noticing that I can’t always think of exactly the write way to express myself correctly, and a few times while writing this post I’ve been stumped about the correct phrasing or grammar of something. At this pace, I’m not going to be able to speak Spanish or English eloquently. Oh brother.
Day after tomorrow I’m heading to Portugal with a few friends! How awesome is this life that I’m living?? I am so lucky and so grateful for the opportunity to be here, and I am loving every second. ¡Hasta luego!

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    One Response to Great weekend in Barcelona

    1. Elizabeth says:

      I am enjoying reading your blog. I am going to Barcelona in 3 weeks. Do you remember what bus and metro you took to get into the city from the airport?

      Thanks!

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