Madison Hajeb is a Senior in International Studies at the U. She participated in an ISA International Studies program at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in summer 2010.
Studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain was an experience of a lifetime. I spent my summer semester trying to discover as much of the city and surrounding area as I possibly could. I used my breaks between classes to wander the neighborhoods searching for hidden treasures like candy shops and public parks, which were often tucked away in some pretty secluded areas.What looked like another residential street occasionally turned into a famous monument or little neighborhood park; it felt like I’d stumbled into a completely different city than the bustling Barcelona I had grown accustomed to. After classes and on the weekends, I took the opportunity to spend my days visiting some of the famous Barcelona sights and taking day trips out of the city to experience the different sides of the Catalonia province. While living in the city was an unbelievable adventure, and I grew to love everything Barcelona had to offer, some of my best memories are from these day trips outside of the city proper.
I was lucky enough to be in Spain during the famed San Fermín festival, where the Running of the Bulls takes place every morning for seven days straight. The city of Pamplona is located five hours outside of Barcelona when traveling by bus, which I quickly learned is the best way to go. While the tiny city of Pamplona doesn’t have much more to offer than typical Spanish architecture and a healthy dose of personality, San Fermín was the biggest party I’ve ever seen: people were jumping off anything they could climb into throngs of revelers, red wine was sprayed on everyone wearing white in honor of the festival, and the entire city vibrated with life and music. Eight in the morning came quickly, but no one was tired – we were all too excited to see the Running of the Bulls in person, and a few of my group had decided to run, against all better sense and advice. It started and ended quickly, with no injuries but stories and memories to last forever.
Montserrat is little mountain monastery an hour train ride away from the Barcelona city center. I was completely unprepared for how gorgeous it would end up being – tall cliffs and a beautiful monastery tucked into the mountainside, only accessible by a cable car. The area offered trails for hiking and a chance to get out of the humid city and into some cool mountain air, similar to hiking back home in the Wasatch mountains. The trails were peppered with interesting religious artifacts ranging from old crosses built into the mountain to small cabins where the monks would go to pray and meditate. Some of my best memories are from Montserrat, because it was so unique and such a different experience than the Barcelona bustle, yet so close to the city.
This little collection of seaside towns on the coastline just thirty minutes drive outside of Barcelona draws both locals and tourists during the summer season. The beach towns are just quaint enough for Spaniards to settle year-round, but also big enough to draw a healthy crowd of boaters and kayakers and sunbathers from all areas of Spain. I stumbled into a little restaurant with some friends, and it ended up being quite a famous little place – frequented by the likes of Elton John and Frank Sinatra on their travels through Spain. The owner was a character, and essentially told each of us what we were going to eat, no questions asked. Luckily, all of the food was amazing, so we all left with a satisfied stomach and a fantastic story. It was fun to see a different side of Spain, spend some time relaxing on a boat in the sun, and swim in the Mediterranean Sea.
BarcelonaAll traveling aside, my time in Barcelona defined my summer. I lived in L’Eixample, the bar and restaurant district of the city, and I got to experience the unbelievable nightlife that Barcelona has to offer. Bars don’t really get populated until 11 PM, and close just in time for the discoteca clubs to open at 3 AM, rendering the city alive and full of energy until sunrise around 6 in the morning. During the daytime and evening, tapas bars were the place to be, sampling the Spanish cuisine and meeting locals and making friends to practice my Spanish skills with.
As the summer progressed, the World Cup started, which defined the rest of my time in the city. I not only got to experience the tournament in a European country that watches soccer intensely, but I also got the chance to be in the 75,000 person crowd when Spain won the World Cup for the first time in history – talk about a celebration!
The architecture and history in Barcelona is indescribable, and there are so many different barrios (neighborhoods) in the city, each with their own personality and style. There was the Barrio Gotíco (gothic quarter), full of ancient history and energy, which houses the famously gorgeous Catedral de Santa Eulalia. I enjoyed exploring this neighborhood in depth, but also found a little bit of every barrio to fall in love with in Barcelona.
My time in Barcelona gave me a chance to get to know myself, Barcelona, and Spanish culture a lot better. I look back at the summer with fond memories, and I know that I will always feel at home in Barcelona. Adventuring and traveling through Spain has left me with a lot of stories, and is an experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world.