After more than 14 hours on a plane in order to fly thousands of miles across an ocean, I finally landed in Barcelona, ready to forget all about finals, classes and other miscellaneous Berkeley-related problems. As I made my way to the famous Ramblas — a long pedestrian street long populated by shops, restaurants and street performers — the number of police cars, officers and media trucks puzzled me. The cause became clear when I finally made my way to the harbor: thousands of miles from Berkeley, I had come face-to-face with a protest about cuts to education.
For some reason, Barcelona seems to be full of beautiful and fascinating people – maybe it’s a big-city-melting-pot thing, but there is something distinctly different about the bustle and diversity of this city. It’s huge, much like any big city, but in a more compact way. You have to be close to other people no matter what, which, coupled with the city’s incredibly rich history, creates a sense of intimacy.
As an American I’m always curious about what people in other countries think about the U.S., and which aspects of our culture manage to make it across the ocean. There are the obvious examples – dance music, fashion … but while riding the express train from the small town that is home to the Salvador Dali museum, the young guy sitting next to me was listening to “Getting Jiggy With It” and “Welcome to Miami.” Whoever said Europe doesn’t recycle?
Calling Barcelona a beautiful city is insufficient; it’s a combination of 19th century grandeur and Mediterranean vibrancy. Ancient monuments coexist effortlessly next to modern buildings of glass and steel. That said, it’s also a city in which the past and future are in progress, simultaneously. The Sagrada Familia, a cathedral located in the center of the city, has been under construction since 1882. Its design is somewhere between gothic and modern, and its scale and simple beauty is breathtaking.
Religious inclination is definitely not required in order to enjoy the gargantuan size of this cathedral and the vision its designers have been following for more than a century.
Aside from seeing the sights, traveling is, of course, the perfect opportunity for practicing your foreign language skills. After three years of high school Spanish, I can ask perfectly how to get to the nearest metro station, but – Horror of horrors! – I’m revealed as an impostor when I can’t understand the answer, smile sheepishly and stammer, after which the person repeats themselves in English. But don’t hesitate to visit a country just because you don’t know the language – a few key words and a friendly attitude will go a long way.
Even though I only spent two days in this glorious city, I’m already plotting my triumphant return.