Oh Espania, how wonderful you have been to me. Your cobblestone streets, your beautiful views of mountains in the distance, your siestas and laid back culture have all contributed to a wonderful vacation away from school. Every city I visited at one point felt like my favorite. The first city, Girona, was so lovely and had the BEST gelatto. I loved all the views from Monserratt, and I loved the Dali Museum. Dali is such a super-duper wonky guy and his museum truly represents that. There were random things all over the walls , and the building was designed in a circular form, and was incredibly difficult to navigate. That should have made me really angry, and it did to an extent, but when put into perspective, all of Dali’s work is super confusing to navigate. You really felt as if you were stuck inside one of Dali’s pieces – because you technically were, he invented the museum – and it really messed with your brain (in a good way!) as you wandered the halls full of art involving everything from thumbtacks and rocks to World War II.
Our next stop on our two week adventure to Spain was Barcelona. We began our first day there with a Fat Tire Bike Tour. Our guide was a British man named Nick who gave us great insight into the city and the region of Catalunya. Catalunya was acquired by Spain relatively recently in their history (so like a few hundred years ago), and as such doesn’t really want to fit in with Spain, and is therefore currently trying to fight the Spanish government and gain independence. There were Catalonian independence flags hanging from many buildings. They look like the Catalan flag, but with a big star on the top. The people who hold these flags completely support independence, so much to the point that they won’t even speak Spanish to you – only Catalan! Fun fact about the Catalan flag, they believe it is the oldest flag in existence, and that it was invented when St. George, their patron Saint (and England’s), was slaying a dragon, and in the midst of the battle took his four blood soaked fingers, and ran them down a yellow piece of cloth. Kind of gruesome, but I think it’s pretty cool.
After learning about all of this, our bike tour took us to the castle that used to belong to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. We gazed upon the very steps that Christopher Columbus walked up after “discovering” America. It was incredibly exciting to see such a historical sight that is so greatly featured in American history, but it was also interesting to learn that Ferdinand and Isabella are generally not well liked in Spanish history. Apparently they began the Spanish Inquisition when they killed thousands of people who refused to convert to Christianity. Maybe this is common knowledge to the rest of the world, but I don’t remember hearing it in my American high school.
The last part of the tour was spent seeing some of the modernist architecture that Barcelona is known for. By far the most popular modernist architect was Antoni Gaudi who designed La Sagrada Familia. Gaudi dedicated his whole life to building this giant cathedral. It was his masterpiece, funded by all the money he saved up from his other projects, and towards the end of his life, he even moved into the cathedral whilst it was being built to help the process. Sadly, the cathedral was not finished during his lifetime, it’s actually still being built today. They have a goal to finish it by the centennial of Gaudi’s death. The only problem is, that’s in 2026 – 12 years from now. They’ve been working on it for over a hundred years and have about 45% still to go. Well, I wish them luck , because I fell in love with it the next day when I went back to see the inside. The whole thing is made of white stone, and the stained glass goes in rainbow order around the whole interior, so depending on where the sun is shining, the whole inside feels like it is glowing with the various colors. Not to mention all the symbols Gaudi put around the cathedral. For example, the front of the temple depicts the birth of Jesus in a very intricate and beautiful way, and it faces the East so the sun rises with it. The back however, faces the west with the sun set, and depicts the death of Jesus. That whole side of the building has a very depressing feel to it, and really makes you feel the sadness of the death of Jesus.
To round out our last day in Barcelona we went to the beach! Fun face about Barcelona beaches, they’re all man made! The took sand from the Sahara, and trees from Hawaii, and made the shore look all pretty so tourists would come. It’s a weird feeling, being on such a multicultural beach. The sand feels very dry and coarse, as you would expect desert sand to feel, but it does not at all take away from the experience of swimming in the cool, smooth Mediterranean. I spent a good part of my time there just swimming around pretending I was one of Poseidon’s mermaids. (Yes, I’m a twenty year old who still wants to be a mermaid.)
The next day we boarded a bus and headed to Valencia. While we were there we went to another beach, because what else do you do in Spain?? We were having a grand old time at the beach- that is until our dear friend Annie went and got stung by a jellyfish. Poor girl, she came out of the water half hysterical, crying, her hand throbbing in pain. Lucky for us, we have grown up hearing that if you get stung by a jellyfish, the best thing to do is get someone to pee on you. So that’s what we did. Way to go Holly and Annie – your friendship will probably last forever.
Other than that, Valencia had really really great gellato, and horchatta WAY better than Mary’s in Abilene (sorry Texas). Our final stop on the trip was a city called Avila, which was in the midst of a celebration of St. Theresa. The city was absolutely beautiful and surrounded by ancient-looking walls, which gave a wonderful effect. I loved being there, but our first day, we actually took a day trip to Madrid! We weren’t there for very long, and didn’t get to see as much as I would have liked, but we did get to go to the Prado and the Reina Sofia, two famous art museums. The Reina Sofia has a famous Picasso in it called Guernica, which is the most heart-wrenching art piece I had ever seen. Picasso painted in reaction to Franco’s (Spain’s former dictator) bombing of an innocent city to test out weapons for WWII. The painting is in black and white, and depicts a horrifying scene, which is too much for words. I could only stay in the room for a minute before I had to leave because of the effect the painting had on me. Actually, all of Picasso’s paintings there were very depressing. I felt like it was I side of Picasso I hadn’t really seen before and, while it made my stomach churn, it was really interesting.
Back to Avila, the weather was cool and perfect, and there were lots of neat little shops to go into. I bought some VERY comfy slippers that I have literally worn everyday since I bought them – best purchase ever. It was also really cool to be there for the celebration of St. Theresa. There was a firework show which they kept changing the time for, so we ended up sitting on a cold wall from 10-10:30, only to have the show actually happen when we were back at our monastery at midnight. But it was still beautiful!! And we also got to go to a proper mass for St. Theresa which was held in the city square. It was completely in Spanish, but I had HannaKate to translate for me, and now I can say I’ve gone.
Overall, Spain was a really great time to get to know all the girls on my trip and to see a new side of Europe. I really loved getting to go, and I hope I can go back one day soon!