Exploring Barcelona

Our travels could not have gone more smoothly. Although we were exhausted when we arrived to Barcelona, we had all of our luggage, had made our connecting flight, and were greeted by our guide–Jim of the tour company “Good Barcelona”–who happens to be Australian, not Spanish. Jim was easy to find due to his bright yellow “Good Barcelona” guide shirt, and a mustache that probably rivals Salvador Dali.

The bus dropped us off a few blocks from our hostel in downtown Barcelona, which meant that we had to pull all of our luggage behind us as we clattered noisily down the street. People stare at us everywhere we go because we are such a big group, but we felt especially conspicuous in the caravan to the hostel.

Our arrival at the hostel itself was disconcerting in its lack of structure but was improved somewhat by the exciting swirl of Spanish and Catalan (the language specific to Barcelona) that was peppering us from the walls, signs, and people. Inside we struggled with a snafu in the reservations for our rooms, which didn’t take away from the anxiety of the environment. After just an hour to get settled, we met Ben, who took us on our walking tour of Barcelona.

Ben is a tall, sarcastic San Franciscan with an extremely dry sense of humor. He was a very interesting and fun tour guide, but by the time we got around to leaving most of us hadn’t eaten anything significant in a solid eight hours. I think we were all pretty overwhelmed by the foreign sights and sounds of the city, and we felt very foreign and unwanted in our 24 person tourist group. Invasive vendors buzzed at us with kazoo-like mouth instruments, and the multiple warnings about pickpockets hovered in the back of our minds as the tide of the city swept past.

The tour went by in a haze of historical facts and beautiful, sun-drenched alleyways. Afterwards we finally got to eat in a Spanish cooking class, where we crammed into a tiny room and learned how to make one of Spain’s national foods, called “tapas”. The lady in the class showed us how to make Barcelona’s spin on this food, as well as paella, a fried rice dish. Spirits picked up noticeably as we got food in our systems. Once we got back to the hostel though, most people went to bed by 9:00 or 9:30, and proceeded to sleep for a good 12 hours.

The hostel provided the typical small Spanish breakfast of toast, coffee, cereal and a muffin, which although good, was not particularly filling, and certainly did not last until our 3:00 lunch. The space, timing and quantity of meals have definitely been something we are all struggling with, although I think we will adjust in a week or two.

After breakfast, our tour guide, Ben, met us in the hostel lobby to take us on a biking tour of Barcelona. The highlight of the day was probably a tour of the Sagrada Familia, a huge beautiful basilica that has been under construction since the turn of the century.

We spent the afternoon at one the beaches on the Mediterranean, and then made our way to a dinner of tapas. After dinner we went to a Flamenco show–a kind of dancing that is typical for southern Spain. There were two dancers, one male and one female. Both exhibited grace, speed and sensuality as they turned and stomped their feet to the music of two voices and an extremely talented guitar player. After dinner we split off into smaller groups and explored the city’s nightlife–although most Barcelonans don’t really go out until 1:00 or 2:00, by which time we were in bed.

Kara and Philip playing music in Montserrat
Kara and Philip playing music in Montserrat

On Saturday we loaded into a bus and drove out of the city center to Montserrat, a mountain that has been holy to the Catalane people for almost 1,000 years. Montserrat is an incredibly beautiful place that is home to a monastery that was shut down during the reign of the dictator Franco. The monastery is now preserved as a museum, and serves as a hub for those who come to Montserrat to pray, see the awe-inspiring views of the valley, bike, hike and rock climb. There are many hiking paths leading from the museum farther up the mountain, and Ben led us up one to better see the views. Although the temperature at Montserrat was much cooler than in the city, by the time we climbed up (mostly by stairs), we were all sweating profusely and were ready for lunch. We ate sandwiches overlooking the valley and then hiked back down to our bus waiting below.

Carol arranged for us to meet for an hour or so Saturday evening with one of the only Mennonite churches in Spain. Despite a congregation of just 43, the members who came to meet us were very welcoming and provided snacks and drinks for us after we toured their church. A quintet of us sang a couple hymns for everyone present, and then we all sang “We are Marching in the Light of God” in English, Spanish and finally Catalan before saying our goodbyes and taking the metro back to our hostel.

Now we are on the way to Granada. Our host families will meet us at the airport and take us to our homes for the next six weeks. Tomorrow morning we will go to the University of Granada and take a Spanish placement test before beginning our studies.

Until next time,

-Kara Lofton and Lucas Driediger

Quote of the week: “Is everyone alive? …because I almost got hit by a bus three times yesterday. -Philip Yoder