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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Monday, April 09, 2007

A visit to Barcelona

After completing a gruelling course of final exams here at the University of St. Andrews in January, I got a two week break before the next semester started. I, like most of my fellow students, chose to go travelling. By throwing darts at a map, err, consulting with maps, Lonely Planet, and friends, I selected Barcelona as my destination! With a couple clicks of the mouse, I was all set!

I was in Barcelona for just over five days, and I could have stayed longer. I had heard nothing but good things about Barcelona, so much so that I was thinking that I was in for a bit of a let-down. Once arriving, though, I saw that Barcelona really was as nice as I had heard.

This was my first time travelling alone, and it was fun and exciting to try and muddle through in a language I’m only marginally familiar with in a country I hadn’t been to in six or seven years. I did have, however, a very long itinerary created from the recommendations of the numerous friends who were anxious to share their enthusiasm for Barcelona.

Perhaps the most prominent items on this itinerary were those designed by a Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi. Gaudi worked in the 1880s through around 1910. His work, though, looks later, as is the case with many great innovators. His style is reminiscent of art nouveau, but is less complicated and “fiddly.” His emphasis is on curving shapes reminiscent of those found in nature. While he doesn’t cram his works with loads of detailed ornamentation, every detail is considered. Everything I’m saying here, though, is just my opinion and what I learned from the many exhibitions I went to about him. I’ve never taken an art class, or anything, so I guess if you want reality, you’ll just have to go yourself! Be sure to take LOTS of film, though, because his buildings make great pictures!

As I said, Gaudi got a lot of his inspiration from nature, and natural shapes. Perhaps my favourite of Gaudi’s creations was Park Guell, a park on what used to be the outskirts of Barcelona that Gaudi salted with goodies such as winding paths, serpentine benches, columned marketplaces, and colourful, tiled sculptures. Around every turn in the path, there was an interesting feature. Really, it was quite a nice place to spend a couple hours.

Outside of Barcelona there were also some lovely things to do. I walked along the beach and spent some time by the harbour eyeing the sailing ships, but the main tourist attraction outside of Barcelona’s city limits is Montserrat, a monastery on a mountain about an hour from Barcelona. The monastery is located high on a steep mountain, and the only way up is by cable car. The views were stunning! Not only were there wonderful views out over the surrounding (fairly flat) countryside, glimpses of a shady river winding around the foot of the mountain, and a view out to the sea in the far distance, but the mountain itself was lovely as well! From the foot of the mountain, the buildings of the monastery and the more recent museums seem to be perched on the very top of the mountain. Once reaching these buildings, though, it’s surprising to learn that there’s still another half of the mountain above you! I satisfied a bit of my desire to hike by walking around the mountain for several hours which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Despite the lovely scenery and the interesting architecture, perhaps the most interesting thing about Barcelona was the people I met. The last time I had travelled in Europe was this summer when I had come straight off the plane from the states and had spent two weeks in Italy. While there, I met lots of people who seemed to me veterans of travel, young people who had spent weeks, even months in foreign countries learning about different cultures and languages. I respected these long-term travellers, and wondered what experiences they had had that differentiated them from other travellers, because they were noticeably different from newer travellers. In Barcelona, however, I was suddenly the veteran traveller, having been in Europe for nearly five months. This difference was really made clear to me one night when I went out to dinner with a group of three American law students just starting a semester abroad in Ireland. Although I was three or more years younger than they were, I was able to teach them things about travelling. It was interesting!

I must say that although January probably isn’t an ideal time for a visit (brrrr) it’s still a very nice city! The tapas are great, and the Spanish seem to take their hot chocolate very seriously, and there’s nothing better to warm you up!

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