Eggs on toast: a semester abroad

by Amanda Landwehr / Arts & Culture Editor

The author, posing outside of the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia.

Studying abroad sometimes feels like a series of bad decisions. On one hand, “studying” is in the name, and the fact that I have assignments due should hold me responsible to my academic commitments. On the other hand, “abroad” is in the name, which compels me to make the most of my time overseas as I attempt to see and do everything that I possibly can.

So, with two assignments due for my advanced reporting class in the coming weeks, I stayed in London and diligently worked on my projects, right?

Nope! Due to my weak resolve, I instead chose to travel to Barcelona with a friend from high school and a couple of her friends from college. She’s studying abroad for a term in Madrid, and this particular weekend happened to work out with both of our schedules. As I had missed out on visiting Barcelona on my previous trip to Spain, I was delighted when she suggested a weekend getaway to the seaside city, regardless of how many assignments I had due.

After spending an entire day traveling via city bus, airport express coach, airplane, shuttle bus and metro train, I dragged my suitcase along the rocky sidewalks of Barcelona to our Airbnb. We stayed in a quirky attic-level apartment in the Sagrada Familia district in what was clearly a former kid’s room. The beds were bunked and covered with Minnie Mouse stickers — but hey, anything to save us college students a few bucks.

Our first day included a lot of walking — something close to 10 miles according to my friend’s GPS tracker. We began the day with coffee con leche and croissants at a local cafe, as I tried to soak up the sun that I had been so deprived of ever since moving to rainy London. 

Next on our itinerary was the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, renowned Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi’s lifelong passion project. Construction of Gaudi’s Spanish Gothic/Art Nouveau style basilica began in 1882, and after 138 years of construction, a multitude of architects and its fair share of setbacks, the project is nearly finished. According to head architect Jordí Fauli, the basilica is set to finish construction in 2026 — 100 years since Gaudi’s death. 

Upon our arrival, we gawked at the intricate statues, carvings and towering spires of the front-facing facade of the basilica. After walking through the doorways and into the massive space, our jaws dropped.

Trying to describe the interior of the basilica is nearly impossible, as the masterful architecture is truly unmatched by any other structure in the world. Flooded with rays of sunlight that poured through colorful stained glass, the white walls reflected soft shades of yellow, pink, green and red. There was something about the nearly 80-foot-tall columns that had a way of making me feel so small as I stood beneath them, willingly minimized by the sheer beauty and grandiose of the towering structures.

I tried snapping photos throughout our entire visit, but no image could even begin to capture the raw magnificence of the basilica. Gaudi’s vision of bringing elements of nature, simplicity and color to a Catholic church instead of following the traditional dark, ornate design of early European monasteries and cathedrals was nothing short of breathtaking to see in person.

After the basilica tour, we walked uphill to Park Güell — yet another Barcelona landmark designed by Gaudi. Featuring an iconic view of the city and the Mediterranean sea, we climbed to the highest lookout point and simply admired the view.

We took the metro into the Gothic Quarter of the city around dusk, surrounded by cafe-lined streets and massive brick cathedrals. Like any good Spanish tourists, we sat down at a local tapas restaurant for sangria, calamari, bratas (Spanish-style potatoes), cod dumplings, grilled mushrooms and a few other tasty small dishes. We hiked all the way back to our Airbnb for some much-needed showers and called it an early night after a trip to a local bar.

The next morning, we began our day at the Picasso Museum, a small building tucked in an alleyway of the Gothic Quarter. After admiring the collection of famous surrealist paintings belonging to Pablo Picasso, a native Spaniard himself, we journeyed to the Mercado de La Boqueria. 

This marketplace unarguably had one of the most colorful arrays of fruit and other fresh produce that I had ever seen. For only one euro, I bought a freshly-blended coconut/blue spirulina juice. I even purchased a cone of mature cheese (if you know me, you know my passion for fancy cheeses) and a spinach empanada, all for an unbelievably cheap price. 

We threw our food into a bag and walked to the waterfront for a makeshift picnic around lunchtime. Watching the blue water of the Mediterranean Sea lap onto the sand was nothing short of refreshing. Sitting on the beach, we gazed up at the sky as it slowly faded into shades of pink and orange as the sun set.

Until a thief snuck up from behind us and stole my friend’s backpack, which held not only her wallet but also the keys to the Airbnb.

Apparently this brief moment of peace was too much to ask for, as my friend had to frantically cancel all of her credit cards and file a police report in broken Spanish. After all, travel is truly unpredictable.

Thanks to the state of modern technology, she was able to cancel her cards almost immediately, and the Airbnb owner only asked for a small additional fee in order to replace the keys. After somewhat of a rocky end to our day, we went out for tapas once more and set off to bed early as I had to catch a sickeningly early flight the next morning.

So, my adventure continues. I’m frankly shocked by the fact that I’ve only been living in London for a little over a month. I feel like I’ve seen and experienced everything the city has to offer, yet nothing at all. I’m exhausted but in the best way possible.

And now, after two weeks of juggling travel, schoolwork and trips to the pub, an ungodly amount of sleep is in order. 

Categories: Columns

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