In Barcelona, and when traveling abroad in general, the most important thing to do is to pay attention to everything.
Watch out for pickpockets, keep an eye on speeding cars and scooters when watching the street and watch out for people when walking the crowded streets.
While it’s important to watch out for all these things it is equally as important to watch out for things such as differences in architecture from in the United States. It’s good to notice differences in how locals interact socially with one another, what kind of clothes and fashion trends they sport, what music they listen to, what movies they enjoy and their favorite bars or restaurants to go to. The reason I came to Europe for the GALA trip was not just to get out of the Butler Bubble, but to experience cultures other than the Mid-Western American culture I’ve known my entire life. It’s also nice to fulfill both GHS classes in one semester!
Here in Barcelona I’ve really noticed these differences, and many more! The largest contrast is the architecture and how the city is set up. Cities in America are, from what I’ve seen, very planned out and well organized, but Barcelona is very scattered with roads crisscrossing. Alleyways can be only six or seven feet across but have hundreds of people strolling up and down the cobbled stone streets and there will be countless little shops, bars and restaurants crammed into every space possible.
In the Mid-West there are some good works of architecture, but nothing comes close to some of the works I’ve seen here. One of Barcelona’s most celebrated historical celebrities was the architect Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi designed over a dozen building around the city but his largest project was never finished in his lifetime, and remains incomplete to this day.
Gaudi’s church, Sagrada Familia, left me completely speechless, it looked like a work of nature instead of a creation of man. The towers seemed to be melting sand from a distance but up close they were looked powerful and yet scary, like skeletal arms reaching into the sky. Other works of Gaudi we saw included the park he designed, Park Güell. Park Güell, which was originally intended to be a neighborhood for the super rich, was donated to the city by the owners widow. Gaudi designed beautiful stone walkways, benches overlooking the whole city and an area beneath the benches which was dominated by Roman pillars that was meant to be an open-air market.
Park Güell served as a break from the non-stop hustle and bustle of the city. It was very nice to be able to just relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery and not have to hear the constant sounds of traffic.
The social differences between the Barcelona residents and Americans is also very stark and interesting. One of the first things I noticed here is that very few people say “excuse me,” or “pardon,” when they bump into me on the street. Aside from that, most of the locals that I’ve met or interacted with are very friendly and helpful. They don’t seem to mind that I speak very little Spanish and no Catalonian, a variant of Spanish only spoken in Barcelona’s province of Catalonia.
There are other trends that I’ve noticed here that are very similar to what Americans do. There are still those people on the sidewalks that are buried in smartphones and there are still speed demons that like to show off their cars or, in Barcelona’s case, scooters and motorcycles.
Food in Barcelona is very different from what most American restaurants serve. Tapas is the main attraction in Barcelona’s restaurants, which is really just different kinds of food served in small portions. Since Barcelona is on the Mediterranean Sea there is plenty of sea food served in the city. However, it’s not hard to find a McDonald’s or a Burger King around the city, but it’s a waste to eat American food when there are so many new things to try.
I’ve learned all these things in just the few days that I’ve been in the capital of Catalonia, and my experiences have definitely taught me the importance of staying very aware of what’s going on around me. This is a once in a lifetime trip, so I don’t want to miss a thing.