There’s a healthy competition between Madrid and Barcelona as to which is the best city in Spain. Barcelona won. Hands down.
I’m happy to be studying abroad in Madrid, because there’s more Spanish spoken and it’s a great representation of Spanish culture. But Barcelona is perfect. I went with my friend Liza, her mom (who happened to be visiting), and two of their family friends. We took a high speed train to get to the coastal city. Let me tell you- it was fabulous. I showed up at 7:50 for the 8:00 train, security took all of 15 seconds, and I was able to just walk on to the train without even having to wait at the gate. Whoever perpetuated the notion that flying was a better alternative than trains is a dummy.
We started our time in Barcelona with a bike tour of the city. The weather was poor all weekend- it was chilly, rainy, gross. When you think of Barcelona you think of la playa and sol. But it’s a testament to the city that despite the weather, it was still such a beauty. Biking through the crowded streets and parks and archways, I realized that Barcelona is a collage. It is beautiful and random, sky scrapers sit along the beach and huge pieces of art are surrounded by nondescript shops. For example, there’s a big orange shiny goldfish along one of the beaches. It is one of the many pieces of art that was commissioned as a way of beautifying the city in preparation for the 1992 Summer Olympics. Like Gold Fish, these pieces of art pop up randomly. They surprise and delight, and I think that’s the perfect way to describe Barcelona’s charm. Whether it’s niche boutiques or Gaudi’s sprawling adult playground Park Guell, Barcelona makes you smile at every corner.
It is a city that proudly boasts it’s unique art and contemporary architecture including its crown jewel, La Sagrada Familia, the city’s famous Gaudi-designed basilica.
This is a project that has been worked on for about a hundred years now, and it is still not completed- construction will continue on until about 2046! It was pretty cool to see what will be a wonder of the world in progress. Liza made an interesting point- every time people have visited La Sagrada Familia, it has evolved. When I go back, it won’t look like it did this year! Although the church is known for it’s Gaudi-style dripping and super-detailed facade, what I really appreciated were the modern details.
We saw a comedy show called Tricycle Bits. A very small cast of 4 men performed “bits” in a tightly rehearsed and very hilarious comedy show. What was interesting was the whole show was done in Catalán, the native language to the Catalonia. It is not even close to Spanish… I’ll get more into that later. So, it was hard to watch a show done in a different language and some of the context of the jokes was completely lost on our group. Luckily, the bits relied heavily on mimicking and slapstick humor. So then even a young child could appreciate and laugh at the gags! It was truly timeless humor. One of my favorite bits they did were quick 15-second failed auditions for a “Spain’s Got Talent” type of show. And they even incorporated the stage crew in one of the bits!
La Boquería Market
This was everything- an open air market with goodies that range from candies to fresh fruit and veggies to really fresh seafood and meat. Any sort of cuisine, spices, specialty food- you can find here.
Before coming to Barcelona, I had heard the ludicrous idea that Catalonians are very passionate about seceding from Spain for a number of cultural, economic, and political reasons. They don’t identify as “Spanish.” They speak Catalán and they have a completely different culture. They also think that the country pulls the weight economically for Spain and if they were to secede, they would be able to pay off their debts relatively quickly and thrive. After the 1992 olympics, tourism helped to give a super boost to the already booming economy (relative to the other autonomous regions of Spain). In fact, Barcelona now hosts about 15 million tourists a year while Madrid only draws about 7 million a year.
In this scenario, I would equate Catalonia to Ohio University and Spain to Miami University. The rivalry only exists in the minds of the Catalonians. Most Spaniards from what I’ve encountered typically just roll their eyes when they hear about this secession nonsense. It will never happen and even if it did, the EU would certainly never recognize the new little country. Madrileños are simply apathetic to the “plight” Catalonians.
But after arriving in Barcelona, it was so apparent how strongly Catalonians feel about their situation.
Catalán really is spoken everywhere and it is very different from Spanish. It sounds like a mixture of French and Spanish. During the Tricycle Bits show, I had a really hard time understanding it. No, I actually couldn’t understand a word. While Catalonians learn Spanish in school and by watching television, they speak Catalán in their daily lives and with family and friends. It is interesting then that in restaurants and stores, menus and signs will often be written in Catalán, Spanish, and English.
There was one situation in particular that clearly displayed the tension between the Spanish and Catalonians.
We were on a bus that was meant to go straight to Plaza Catalunya, the city center. At a stop a few stops ahead of the Plaza, the bus driver stood up and made an announcement in Catalán and then in Spanish that the bus would not be going to Plaza Catalunya because of road blocks and instead would be taking a detour to the right and that would be the last stop for the evening. I was near the front of the bus and caught the warning and was able to notify our group. The bus makes a turn and keeps going straight, further and further away from the city center. A group of Spanish travelers at the back of the bus who must not have heard the announcement start getting antsy, finally realizing that the bus was not going to the original intended destination. They start talking louder and louder and finally the matriarch of the family stands up and yells at the bus driver, where are you taking us?! He replies back, I told you, we have to take a detour and we won’t be going to Plaza Catalunya. The woman was enraged. What do you mean we’re taking a detour?! You didn’t tell us! We would have gotten off at the last stop! The bus driver says, yes I did! You must not have heard me. She says we are Spanish! You didn’t make the announcement in Spanish! She essentially goes on to rant about the unprofessionalism of the Catalonians who are inconsiderate of Spanish tourists. She says, we are in Spain. The only language that should be spoken is Spanish.
My two cents? I think it’s pretty cool that the Catalonians are fiercely proud of their heritage. They are productive citizens in the world because it’s not like they are only speaking Catalán, they are essentially are brought up trilingual. I like how they have been able to preserve a culture and tradition that is unique to their region. However, the same can be said for almost every other autonomous region in Spain and no one else is making a fuss about secession… If every region had the same sentiments as Catalonia, Spain would no longer be a country, it would be a series of little nugget-sized countries.
The Gothic Neighborhood is delightfully Barcelona. Narrow cobblestone streets, unique stores, and plenty of tapas bars and restaurants made this my favorite spot in the city. Most people are drawn to Las Ramblas, the big main street that goes from the city center down to the Mediterranean Sea. But for me, Las Ramblas is overhyped, expensive, and filled with tourists. And just a stone’s throw away is El Barrio Gótico, where one can get lost for hours in it’s twisty streets and whimsical stores.
Park Guell is a residential area that was designed by Gaudi. Even though no one ended up living here, this sprawling park has become a major tourist attraction and is quintessential Barcelona.
“As a child he was forced to paint as an adult. As an adult he chose to paint as a child.”
On Sunday, it rained all day long. We got a delicious brunch at the famous Brunch and Cake where my opinions about brie and goat cheese were forever changed. Long story short- fried goat cheese and a brie/strawberry/honey sandwich were enough to make me forget about the cheese I had been missing and craving all semester- a nice sharp cheddar. There is always room in my heart for new favorite cheeses.
All right, enough about that. After brunch, we went to the Picasso museum. Mr. Picasso was born in Spain and studied in both Barcelona and Madrid. Now usually, I’m not one to make a big fuss out of art. But what made this museum incredibly fascinating is it showed his early works and how he transitioned into becoming the innovative modern painter that we all know him as today.
His father was a painter, so Picasso was painting realistic and beautiful paintings at a very young age. Like this one, he painted at the young age of 15.
Unfortunately, after this snap I got yelled at for taking pictures. No photos allowed. So I’ll have to describe how inspiring the rest of this museum was.
Picasso pursued his passion of art whole-heartedly and slowly began to reject conventional standards of what is beauty and impeccable technique in art. As you pass through the museum, you can see how he began to experiment with shape, color, and subject. He didn’t just start painting block heads. He grew up learning the right technique and art “rules” so seeing how he broke them made his work seem more intentional and brave.
The big collection the museum boasts is the Las Meninas collection. Las Meninas is actually a very famous Velazquez painting housed in Madrid’s Prado Museum. Picasso, while studying in Madrid, would go to the Prado and do copies of the famous paintings, much like students still do today.
All in all, Picasso did 57 different interpretations of this painting, each one unique. He looked at this painting and re-imagined it 57 different ways. While most students were trying to copy Velazquez’s technique, Picasso was using his mind and imagination to recreate this painting in his own style.
I may not be much of an artist, but this exhibit gave me the chills and taught me that we should never settle on what is told to us as what is right and wrong, good and bad, beautiful and ugly. We should strive to innovate, change, and create something new to leave our footprint in this world. Being human means having the ability to use our power of thought to not only change what is conventional, but also to change the hearts and minds of others. Picasso did more than just paint like a child- he in turn inspired artists to break rules, push themselves creatively, and ignore society’s limitations, which only led to more empowered modern art. It’s a lesson that transcends art and can be applied to anything in life.