Guest Post by Former Graduate Intern Michele Friedmann
I knew this graduate internship placement was perfect for me ever since I fell in love with Barcelona 10 years ago when I first visited and vowed to go back! I was fortunate enough to get asked along on a group trip to Spain when I was 20 years old. I jumped at the chance to explore a new country and culture! While in Barcelona I was immediately impressed by the plethora of sights to see, food to taste, and culture to take in. Our hotel was situated near the heart of downtown, with a view of the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. I had never before seen such a thriving city with a laid back and blissful beach just blocks away. The energy was palpable, and I was in heaven!
Due to the anticipation and excitement of being in a brand new city I couldn’t sleep on the first night of arrival. I woke up early and took a stroll down well-known Las Ramblas street. I couldn’t control my eyes from darting back and forth at all the dazzling street performers entertaining crowds of tourists and locals alike with their juggling skills, mining abilities and fearlessness when it came to sword throwing. I could smell the aroma of locally made foods and it was difficult to walk briskly by all the handicrafts.
After exploring Las Ramblas I met up with my group to visit La Sagrada Familia. This gothic style church reminded me a lot of the drip castles I used to create on the beach when I was young. Unfortunately, it was under construction so we did not go inside but walked all around the outside. Gaudi’s eccentric and drastic personality definitely shows through on this masterpiece!
Due to Barcelona’s location, there is no lack of excellent and savory foods! The variety of influences, ranging from the New World to the Eastern Mediterranean, is evident in every dish. You really can’t go wrong with any choice of restaurant in Barcelona. We finally settled on a seafood restaurant. Maintaining my sense of adventure, I ordered what came recommended by our server; a popular seafood stew called suquet, and enjoyed every bite of fish, shellfish, mussels, clams and lobster cooked in olive oil, white wine and Spanish paprika!
We were heavily warned of the pick pocketers that might be lurking around waiting for a moment to pry. While eating outside, the weather tends to be beautiful all times of the year, I noticed a suspicious man holding an umbrella upside down spying on us nearby. Some of the ladies at the table had their purses on the ground aside of their chair. While we were ordering and not paying too much attention to our surroundings, the man came a little closer. Just as he dropped the umbrella handle down to snag a purse handle I shouted, “Watch your purse!” He turned and fled, empty-handed. This was a lesson learned to all of us! And a warning that despite the fact we were in an extremely safe city, theft is still common if you’re not careful.
The next day we decided to rent a car and visit nearby Montserrat. I’m so glad we did! The spectacular scenery was full of mountain peeks, greenery, trees and a unique natural park. Montserrat is the site of Benedictine Abbey, which hosts the Virgin Mary of Montserrat. The line we waited in to see this magnificent shrine was worth it. Due to time, the relic had turned black, and is now referred to as the “Black Virgin” to some. The symbolism and power of this statue was tangible, and the legend behind it a mystery. According to Catholic tradition this statue was carved by St. Luke in 50 A.D. and brought to Spain. It was later hidden from the moors in a cave where shepherds who claim that a bright light and heavenly music led them to the grotto and statute rediscovered it in 880 A.D.
Since I had great luck with all the recommendations of what to do thus far, I decided to get up early once again and check out Casa Batillo on my own. I’m the type of traveler that likes to do everything when I’m in a new place, even if that means missing out on sleep! This used to be the apartment of Antoni Gaudi and it definitely sticks out aside of more traditional apartments in the area. There is nothing normal or typical about his home! Skeletal windows and the oddly shaped façade can be seen from the outside, which is thought to depict the legend of St. George slaying a dragon. The roof looks exactly like a scaly dragon’s back! Walking through the house I couldn’t help but feel like I was walking through a scene in the Beetlejuice movie! It was very odd it was eerie. Even the staircase was from a different planet, winding in every which direction while showing off odd paintings on the walls to whoever dares steps up it.
Later that night we went to a Flamenco show. This passionate and powerful style of dance exudes an expression that says so much about Spain and its spirit. You can sense the strong emotion these dancers display through their elegant moves and passion. Singers whose vocals matched with the emotions of the dance accompanied the Spanish guitar player. We were provided with our own table, which is customary, and I eagerly watched as eating and chatter halted at times followed by eruptions of whooping and applause. The food was fantastic and consisted of four authentic Spanish meals!
Despite all the amazing activities we did, I’d have to say my favorite part of the trip was simply walking down Las Ramblas and exploring the many narrow side streets. Cute shops, restaurants and boutiques are boundless in downtown Barcelona. To me, the best part of traveling is when you don’t have any set plans and you can walk around, get a little lost and “just be.” See you in January Barcelona!