Flying Solo in Barcelona

So when I first arrived in Switzerland, I decided that my goal was to spend one weekend a month traveling to visit a different nearby country in Europe that I’d never been to before (which is most of them…) I wanted to take advantage of this incredible opportunity to see the world and to learn more about different cultures. So I visited Paris, France in October, Amsterdam, the Netherlands in November, London, UK in December, and in January I made my final weekend trip – to Barcelona, Spain!

Barcelona was also my first solo travel trip! I had my travel buddy Brianna with me for Paris and Amsterdam and got to explore London with my boyfriend, but I made the trip to Spain by myself. Very quickly I realized that I definitely prefer traveling with someone, it’s just more fun to get to share the experience with someone else and have someone there to keep you company!

Another thing I realized very quickly is that Spanish is NOT the predominant language in Barcelona, it’s Catalan! Who knew?! I showed up ready to use all the Spanish I could still remember from high school (which is not much anymore :/ ), only to find out I couldn’t understand or communicate very much at all with the locals. Of course, as has been the case everywhere else we visited, in touristy areas most people speak English so I was just fine (an ever-present reminder of the convenience and privilege that comes with being a native English speaker).

Because it was my main reason for wanting to go to Barcelona, my very first stop was to the Sagrada Familia, the stunning cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudi. It’s been under construction for over 100 years and they’re still not finished with it yet! When it’s completed, it will be large enough for 13,000 worshipers to attend. There are just no words to describe this place, either the inside OR the outside. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen before… because there’s nothing else like it in the world! In particular, as a lover of stained glass windows, I was just obsessed with the windows inside the church. One side had all green and blue glass to make you feel like you’re inside a forest, while others had the beautiful spectrum of the rainbow. The sheer size of the space is just incredible, it was so beautiful.

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Afterwards, I walked over to the Block of Discord, a grouping of unique buildings designed by Gaudi – Casa Mila, Casa Batllo, and Casa Amatller. Some of the designs are just plain strange, to be honest. But the coolest part is just seeing how modern Spanish architecture has grown up all around these historic buildings, living together side by side.

Stopping in the Placa de Catalunya, I took a walk down La Rambla – the long boulevard of shops, entertainment, and restaurants. It was fun just wandering down the street, especially popping into the La Boqueria market. At the end of La Rambla is the Port of Barcelona, so I visited the Columbus Monument there at the water’s edge and then just sat at the port to watch the sunset. I finished out the day by stopping for a dinner of paella and sangria before heading home.

On my second day I wandered over to the Paca de Sant Josep Oriol for breakfast and to wander through the streets before visiting the Palace of Catalan Music. The building dates from 1908 and is the home of the Orfeo Catalan. Music and dance concerts are performed in the stunning auditorium, which melds together Catalan and a variety of artistic expressions from different cultures, both traditional and modern (Spanish dancer Angel Corella, former ABT principal has performed there). The only source of light comes from a beautiful stained glass dome in the ceiling…

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That afternoon I visited the Barcelona Cathedral and Barcelona’s Arc de Triomph, which was built for the 1888 World Trade Fair. It was a gorgeous sunny day and 62 degrees Farenheit, a welcome change from 25 and snowing in Geneva! So I enjoyed just sitting in the plaza and soaking up the sunshine!

Then I spent a couple of hours (and could have spent a couple more!) at the Picasso museum. They house over 4,000 Picasso works, mostly donated by his widow after his death. The rooms were organized chronologically, so it was interesting to see the development of his style over time, although at 14 he was already a better artist than I will EVER be! I was also interested to discover that the Cubist style that we normally associate with Picasso only appears MUCH later in his work — there are decades of beautiful paintings I would never have thought to be Picasso’s!

I was excited to end my final night in Barcelona by visiting the Magic Fountain, a giant fountain with a music and lights display. But unfortunately it was shut down for yearly repairs and renovations 😦 So instead I had a YUMMY prix fixe dinner, sampling some of the best of Spanish wine, cheese and meats! If you haven’t noticed, trying the different local cuisines has been one of the best parts of my European adventures…

Overall, Barcelona was an interesting city to visit. The things I enjoyed I enjoyed much MORE than I expected, and things I expected to enjoy were underwhelming. But as always, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have this time in my life to get to travel Europe and explore new countries and new cultures!

Unfortunately, it was time to get back to Geneva and prepare for our final, comprehensive oral exams (similar to what PhD students go through…ahhh!) and our final study visit of the program to Rome!

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