SUNDAY, JULY 5, 2015
Sunday was another super lazy day for me. I got some more travel stuff done while listening to music. For some reason, I went to the website of one of my favorite Christian bands, Hillsong United, and I saw on their website that they have a congregation in Barcelona! After a little more research, I discovered that they meet 3 times every Sunday at a theater on Les Rambles. As soon as I found that, I got dressed and headed out to make it to the 5 o’clock service. I walked in just a minute late, but the entire congregation was already on their feet worshiping with the band. I recognized the tunes to a couple of the songs as Hillsong songs, but the words and general idea of the songs were a little bit different to keep the meter and rhyme going in the Spanish versions, if that makes sense. Even though “sea” and “we” rhyme in English, “mar” and “nosotros” don’t rhyme in Spanish, so the songs can’t be directly translated. I thought it was really great to learn the Spanish versions, though, and the whole church was so into it! They basically just set up chairs on the floor of the theater, which was where I sat, but the old round tables and couches of the theater were still installed, so there were families sitting around those, and there were also lots of people up in the balconies. I happened to come on the day of their first “Superdomingo,” which were 3 Sundays of guest ministry and well-planned worship leading up to the Hillsong European Conference. The guest minister on this Sunday was Itiel Arroyo, and he spoke about recognizing God’s plans for our lives and aligning our visions with Christ’s. I probably looked like the most focused person in the house because if I lost concentration for even a second, I got too far behind in mentally translating his words and had no idea what he was saying. I loved it so much and it was such great Spanish practice that I decided to stay for the 7 o’clock service, as well! (I’ve just really missed going to church, okay!?) Most of the songs and the introductions/scriptures were the same in the second service, but Itiel had a new, yet corresponding message for the later service. He talked about honoring your mother and father and his personal testimony of his broken relationship with his dad and his reluctance to fix it, even though he knew it was what God was calling him to do. Although it was a pretty personal message to his life, he had a good point: if I can’t even happily oblige to clean the kitchen or cut down on my spending when my mom asks, how am I priming myself to be a faithful servant to God, who will surely ask bigger things of me and my life? After the services were over, I headed back to the apartment for some dinner with my heart and soul feeling more filled than they have the whole trip!
MONDAY, JULY 6, 2015
On Monday, it really started to hit me that this was my last full week in Barcelona, and I am in no way ready to leave. After class, I joined two girls in my classes who are from Florida for lunch at a Thai place we had passed a couple days before. The food was amazing, but apparently the air conditioning was broken, so the air in the restaurant was hotter than our food. I had definitely missed Asian food, though, and we had fun chatting about all the things we still want to do before we have to leave Barcelona. After lunch, I went home and worked on planning my weekend trip to Madrid, which takes a while when I don’t trust Google to properly translate the fine print of bus and hotel reservations. My reading skills in Spanish are pretty good (at least I think so) but I just have to go very slowly. After a few hours, I had to stop staring at my computer and stretch my legs. I decided to walk down to the Parc de la Ciutadella, the large park near the sea in central Barcelona. There’s a huge fountain in the park that looks all old and cool, and there’s always a ton of locals hanging around in the evenings. I just enjoyed sitting outside and listening to a drum circle made up of some college-aged guys on one of the grassy areas. Once it started to get dark, I made my way back home to make some dinner and get some sleep.
TUESDAY, JULY 7, 2015
During my morning civilization class on Tuesday, one of my classmates asked Núria, a Barcelona native, what sights she thought we absolutely should not miss during our last week here. Her first answer was “Montserrat” without any hesitation. Montserrat is a mountain on which there is an ancient but still active monastery and basilica. Núria said that although she isn’t religious, there is an undeniable energy on that mountaintop that we should not miss. During the rest of her lecture, I realized that with my trip this weekend and finals coming up, I wasn’t going to have another day that I was going to be able get to the mountain. (Mom and Dad, please skip the next sentence.) Since I hadn’t missed any classes yet and I knew we were just watching a movie that I’ve already seen many times in my Spanish class, I decided that there was no time like the present to go. I hurried back to the apartment, researched how to get to the mountain, changed into athletic clothes, and I was at the train station before 12:30. The train trip to the base of the mountain took a little over an hour, and then I was given the choice between another train up to the mountain or an cable car that crossed the river valley and up the mountain in the air. I swallowed my fear of heights and chose the latter, and I’m so glad. The view was amazing, and I even go close enough to the edge to take some pictures. The car dropped us off right at the entrance to the monastery complex, but I walked down to one of the restaurants on the mountain to get a bite to eat before I started exploring. The restaurant had an amazing overlook of the valley and hills surrounding the mountain, so I went there to take some pictures.
The way the rock is formed on the mountain is almost impossible to describe. If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought it was an attraction at Disney World. It’s almost like a bunch of towers of rock that all happened to shoot out of the ground in the same place. Mireia told me later that the rock has fossils and shells in it that indicates that the very, very, VERY old stone from when the area was underwater was shoved up due to tectonic movements to form the mountain. No one is really sure why those movements happened in that one particular spot, though. While I was taking pictures, I saw that someone had set out a cut-off bottom piece of a water bottle that some stray cats were drinking from. Some Eastern European onlookers cheered and gave me thumbs-up when I refilled the makeshift dish with water from my water bottle. Hey, if I was a cat on that mountain when it’s been consistently 100 degrees for the past week, I’d need some water, too.
After that, I went to see the basilica, which is a pretty big attraction in Spain because it holds the statue of the Virgin Mary of Montserrat, a 12th century (although many believe it is much, much older) wood carving of Mary holding infant Jesus in her lap. Now blackened with age, she holds a metal ball in her hand, which many Catholics travel from all over to touch/kiss. Although I had learned about this statue in class, I didn’t make the connection that this was the monastery that housed it. Being me, I just saw a line of people, saw the word “gratis” (“free”) on the sign, and joined in the crowd to see what all the hubbub was about. They funneled us through the side of the sanctuary and up some stairs in the back until we reached the hallway that crosses the altar, where the statue sits. I still wasn’t 100% sure of what I was in line to see. I just though it was a super cool room with bright mosaics on the ceilings and fancy sculptures in the room until we rounded the corner, and there she was. I immediately remembered the video we had watched about the sculpture and realized I needed to be even more careful than usual to be respectful and not be that Protestant girl that doesn’t know how important this stuff is. I mimicked what the clearly devout Catholic family ahead of me did; I dropped some coins in the offering box, put my phone away, and spent a few seconds touching her metal orb before leaving the room. It was such a neat experience, but I probably need to spend more time reading the signs of what I’m in line for so I can at least be prepared!
I then spent some time meditating in the sanctuary before heading out to fins some trails to hike. I was super bummed to find out that all the main trails on the mountain were completely closed, armed police and all, because the heat wave in Europe has created a huge risk for forest fires. I did, however, find a “trail” (really just a gravel road) on the front side of the mountain that ended up being really great! I spent around 40 minutes walking it, and the whole path was line with beautiful tile artwork that was cemented into the stone of the mountain. It also had great views of the city for some pictures. Once I reached the end, I had to turn straight around and come back to the monastery, catch the cable car back down the mountain (just as cool the second time around), and jump on the train back to Barcelona. Once I made it back, I was beat, so I stayed in for the night with some frozen pizza and a good night’s sleep!
WEDNESDAY, JULY 8, 2015
During class on Wednesday, a few of my friends told me that they were heading up to Montjuic Mountain that evening to see a movie at the castle there! I remembered that Mireia had sent us an email about this in one of her newsletters. It’s a summer movie festival called Sala Montjuic, and they show the movies on the lawn outside the old castle. There was a shuttle that took us up to the mountain from the city, so we all met at the Plaza de España with some snacks to get there. We figured there would be a few people there, but the line for the shuttle busses was massive. They filled 4 city busses full of people before we got on, and the line was still growing. Once we got there, we bought our tickets and picked a spot on the grassy area to sit. Thankfully, they were giving out straw mats for people to borrow to sit on, so we got a couple of those and enjoyed our food and the band that was playing before the movie started. There were so many people, and very few of them were tourists! Everyone was chatting and eating, and the group in front of us even threw a little birthday party for one of their friends (the “cake” was an Oreo with candles stuck in it – so cute!). The movie finally started around 10 when it got dark, and it was The Grand Budapest Hotel. Lucky for us, they showed the movie in its original English version with Spanish subtitles. I absolutely loved it! I had heard lots of good things about the movie, but I didn’t really know what it actually was about (In case you also don’t, it’s about the concierge of a hotel and his lobby boy who get tangled up in the estate of a dead old woman during a war). I was so funny, but just mildly. It didn’t bring me to tears laughing, but just made me giggle quite often, and I liked that. It wasn’t like I was constantly waiting for the next punchline like in full-on comedy movies. The jokes were subtle and often just based on an awkward situation, and the plotline was amazing even without the jokes. It did feel weird, however, to see Ralph Fiennes as the hero of the story when he (minus his nose) played one of the most hated villains of all time, Lord Voldemort of the Harry Potter films. After the movie was over, we all walked back down the mountain to the plaza to get cabs home. It was such a fun and relaxed evening, and it was definitely up there with my favorite nights in Barcelona!
THURSDAY, JULY 9, 2015
Thursday was a very hectic day because I was finally leaving for Madrid! Class was pretty normal, and afterwards, I went to the SAI office to print out my tickets and travel things (okay, and also to get a hug from Mireia), and then I went to walk around Grácia for a little bit to do some shopping. Once I got back to the apartment, it was time to get packed up and go! I traveled by overnight bus from Barcelona to Madrid, which was about an 8 hour ride. I was a little nervous since this was the first time I was traveling alone in Europe, plus I had never traveled by charter bus before. I’m a person who likes to at least look like I know what I’m doing, so the whole ordeal was a matter of a lot of stress for me. However, I had nothing to worry about! I easily found my platform and followed what everyone else was doing to put my big backpack in the stowage and hand my ticket (and for me, my passport) to the driver to check it before getting onboard. I have to say, although flying is faster, not having to arrive crazy early to deal with checking bags and security makes other modes of transportation pretty attractive. I also has splurged an extra 10 euros to get on the super-economy bus, which meant I got a snack, water, a single and bigger seat, a personal tv screen with movies and shows to watch onboard, and (hallelujah!) free wifi. For the overnight trip, it was so worth it. Thor was one of the only movies they had in the original English version, so I turned that on and took a ZzzQuil to help me get some sleep. 30 minutes into the movie, I was out. I woke up when we reached our first stop, Zaragona, which was about at the halfway point, but only long enough to stick in some earplugs and put on my eyemask before passing out again. The next time I awoke, we were in Madrid!
FRIDAY, JULY 10, 2015
We arrived in Madrid at around 7 am on Friday, and I was ready to go! I grabbed by backpack, changed out of my tshirt and into a sundress, ate a granola bar, and headed towards my hostel, which was about a half hour walk, and it was hot. Like 100 degrees by 10 am hot. My backpack suddenly felt so much heavier, but at least the heat in Madrid was dry heat instead of the high humidity like in Barcelona, where it’s just as hot in the shade as it is in the sun. I finally found the hostel, but check-in time wasn’t until noon, and I just was not mentally prepared to have to ring the buzzer and explain who I was (I couldn’t ever live in a city because door buzzers belong in hell) and ask to leave my backpack there, which I’m sure they would’ve been fine with, but again, socialization.
Instead I decided to continue on to see the Parque del Retiro, which is the central park of the city. When I entered the park, one of the street performers suddenly struck up a conversation with me. Surprisingly, I didn’t have a whole lot of trouble communicating with him, other than the fact that he didn’t understand that “los Estados Unidos” meant America, but that was more my bad. I had to laugh because he basically asked me what was wrong with my face and pointed to where my birthmark is. It’s been a long time since I’ve been asked that. In hindsight, as my dad pointed out later, he may have been making sure that I hadn’t been assaulted or something. With how hot it was outside, I’m sure my birthmark was looking pretty red and obvious. Anyways, we parted ways, and I continued on to see the lake in the park, where there were people floating in rented rowboats. I had to take a picture because my family has an old joke about a time that, according to him, my dad almost lost his legs when we rented a paddleboat outside the Jefferson Memorial in DC. We still hear his knees creak whenever the story is brought up. I thought maybe the rowboats could take his arms next. After that, I rested for a while near the Glass Palace in the park, which is a really pretty greenhouse overlooking another pond with a fountain. I just sat and people-watched for a while before it was time for me to go check in.
I know that God was with me that day because just as I walked up to the door, someone else was leaving so I didn’t have to buzz in. Once I was inside, José, the manager, greeted me and got me all checked in. Again, I was surprised at how easily I understood his Spanish even if I’m still not very good at responding. I had my own room and bathroom, and while I won’t go raving on TripAdvisor about it, it was clean and air conditioned. I basically just dropped my bag off, cooled off for a minute, and then had to get going to meet Allison, a friend from my sorority back at school, who is working and studying in Madrid for the year. We met at the Plaza del Sol near a stature of a bear and a strawberry tree. I thought it was a little odd, but didn’t think much of it until I realized that about 40 tourists took a picture of it, so I felt obliged to take a picture, too. Dad said that bears used to inhabit in the Madrid area a long time ago, so they kind of have a thing for them. After I met up with Allison, we went and got some pinchos to share, which are various types of little bite-sized food that originated in the Basque Country. We had bread topped with foie, apple jam, and Iberian ham; a Spanish omelet (with potatoes baked inside); and huevos rotos (basically eggs over-easy) over French fries and Iberian ham. They were all super delicious, and my stomach was happy to have some real food. We sat and talked for a while, mostly about each of our experiences abroad so far, since she’s already been in Madrid for 5 months with 6 to go, but we just chatted about little things like the upcoming sorority recruitment back in Auburn and the pros/cons of glitter. I know it sounds so stupid, but it was nice to just gab about a few brainless things since we’ve both been so ~cultured~ lately.
After eating, Allison showed me to some of her favorite places in the city, like Plaza Mayor and the nearby San Miguel Market (one of my favorite stops in the city), La Latina neighborhood, the main cathedral, and the royal palace. We had so much fun just wandering around and to see what we found, which is my favorite way to tourist! Sadly, Allison was heading out of town with her host family for the weekend that night, so we said our goodbyes in the late afternoon. It was so wonderful to see her and get to catch up with a familiar face!
In the evening, I walked down towards the river to see the sunset over the city. When I was approaching the riverside, a tiny little Asian girl ran up to me and said (I’m not kidding), “Hi. You’re going to the river? Okay, we will go together. Come on.” She said her name was Frieda, and she was super upset to find out that we couldn’t see the sunset from where we were on the river. I walked with her onto the bridge, where she informed me that we were going to take a selfie together, which we did (she had one of those fancy selfie sticks). She asked me where I was going next, and when I said that I was going to walk along the river for a while, she said, “Oh. I’m going back now. Bye.” And she was gone. So basically, there’s a girl named Frieda somewhere in the world with a picture of her and me on a bridge in Madrid. Weird. Anywho, I walked around for a while but headed back to my hostel with a pit stop to grab a Stromboli for dinner once it started to get dark.
SATURDAY, JULY 11, 2015
I tried to get up and going at a decent hour on Saturday because my first stop was to the Prado Museum, and I wanted to have as much time to walk around as possible before it got super busy in the afternoon. I got in free for being a student (having a university ID card is like a golden ticket in Europe), which was super nice. The museum was absolutely amazing. I spent about four hours there just so I could say that I have at least glanced at every piece in the museum. I got to see Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez, which I have learned about several times now, even with my limited art education. It was just as amazing as I’ve always heard. I also saw Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Pink Dress, which may have also been painted by Velázquez (although it also could’ve been his student, Mazo). I immediately recognized this painting because it’s on the cover of a book that Dad brought home from the Prado after one of his later trips to Madrid for work. I spent hours flipping the pages of that book and thinking about the majestic and far-off land of Spain. Although it’s by no means the most famous painting in the museum, it certainly meant the most to me because five-year-old Rachel never even dreamed that I would someday be standing right in front of that painting after a month and a half of actually living in that far-off land of Spain. Existential crises aside, my favorite part of the museum was the “Dauphin’s Treasure,” a whole room filled with various trinkets and jewels that belonged to the son of Louis XIV of France. The room was tucked away in the basement, so it was very quiet, and all the pieces were absolutely beautiful!
After I finished up in the Prado, I honestly thought I was going to pass out from hunger, so I set out to find some lunch ASAP. I came across a taco place called El Estribito. Maybe it was because cardboard would have made a good meal for me by this point, but they were the best tacos I’ve ever had. I had the chicken tacos with roasted vegetables and fresh pico de gallo. I could’ve eaten 10. The owner/cook was also super nice and didn’t laugh at me stumbling over my words, so I stayed for dessert, which was an amazing (and huge) slice of carrot cake with walnuts. If you ever find yourself in Madrid, I highly recommend El Estribito if you’re looking for some authentic Mexican/South American cuisine!
After lunch, I walked past the National Library of Spain and of course had to take some pictures, and I noticed that around the backside of the building was the National Archaeological Museum. From my classes, I knew that Spain has a rich archaeological history dating back to prehistoric times. Plus, it was free on Saturday afternoons, so I decided to pop in. It was one of the coolest museums I’ve ever been in. I started on the ground floor in the prehistoric times, and each ascending floor was a more recent time period with tons of amazing things from the era that had been found in Spain. The exception was a room with Ancient Egyptian artifacts that Egypt gifted to Spain, and you know what that means. I got to see a room full of mummies. I also got to see La Dama de Elche, a sculpture of a woman’s bust from around the 4th century that we had learned about in class. It was so, so interesting, and I ended up spending another 3 hours in that museum.
After the Archaeological Museum, I made my way to the other side of the city to tour the royal palace. Again, with my student papers, I got in for only 5 euros, and I’m glad I did. The palace was super cool and fancy, as you could imagine, and it was neat to hear about previous kings that lived there that I have learned about, but to me, it wouldn’t have been worth paying the full price unless you just really like to see people who live in excess or if you’re Spanish and a fan of the royal family. For the reduced price, it was totally worth it because the art and architecture was amazing.
Once I was finished at the palace, I realized that my decision to wear my new sandals during a 10 hour walking day was a horrible decision, so I slowly and gingerly walked back towards my hostel. On the way, however, I walked past La Chocolateria San Gines, which I had read was a must-visit. Even though I was the only person in the restaurant who was by myself, I decided that I couldn’t miss out on chocolate just because I felt sort of awkward. I ordered a hot chocolate and a plate of churros, which was their most famous dish and grabbed a seat and some water. It turns out the “hot chocolate” is more like a melted dark chocolate Hershey’s bar with just a dash of extra milk. There’s no way you could drink it, but it was perfect for dipping the churros into it (and just eating a couple spoonfulls of it). It was sooo good, and I wish I could’ve packaged some up and sent it to my mom for her to try! After my sweet tooth was satisfied, I grabbed some pasta salad from a market along the way to my hostel for a real dinner and called it a night!
This was by far the best week I’ve had so far on my trip, and it’s fitting that it was my last full week in Spain. It was crazy and hectic, but at the same time, so relaxing. Trying to fit in all my last-minute touristing is really physically exhausting, but I’ve never been so happy to be so tired in my life. Thinking back on all the memories I’ve made have made me even more sure that I’m not ready to leave at all. There’s so many more things to do and see, and I really hope that someday I’ll return with my family so we can do things together like eating chocolate and going to the open-air cinema.