Exploring new places and experiencing new languages

Last weekend, I went to my first unplanned trip to one of the main cities of Spain. It was an unplanned trip because I had no idea of what to do when I arrived to Barcelona at 7:20 am on a Saturday morning. The moment that made me realize that I was in a true adventure was when I saw every store closed in a place that I though was going to be full of people. Also, the main reason I went to Barcelona was my friend Izzy who convinced me to go with her and I am very thankful with her for inviting me to this unique travel experience. On this trip, I did things for the first time in my life: I took a night bus to travel to a city, I was a backpacker (not a fun situation, please avoid it if you can!), learned what was an Airbnb and used it, and walked on a stone beach.


Personally, I just went to Barcelona because I wanted to be in a different city of Spain and obviously to tell everyone that I traveled to Barcelona with my friends. Since I had no list of places to visit while we were there over the weekend, I trusted my friends Izzy and Trevor with their preferences to places to go which turned out to be awesome. Oh, I almost forgot to tell you that we walked almost all day on Saturday to go to our destinations, so I did exercise while holding my heavy backpack. After this backpacker experience, I admire people that travel with their belongings all the time because I do not think my body can handle this situation a second time. So, let’s get back to the story! The first place we visited was the most famous park in Barcelona called “Park Güell” by our famous Spanish architect and artist Antoni Gaudí. Most of his work is based on modernism, naturalism and realism and you can perfectly observe these in this beautiful park. I was amazed by the colors and structures that he put in this place. The tall columns made me feel that I was in Greece and not Spain, that I was in a complete different place from our modern and technological world. What I liked the most was that I saw the city plus the ocean from this park and made me realize that I was so close to seeing historical places and the Mediterranean Sea. Also, I saw later on the streets and some buildings the ceramics, styles, colors and shapes of Gaudí’s work of them. Locals are very proud of his work and his creations that they still keep them on the city and part of their cultural identity.


After the park, we walked around the city trying to figure out what to do next and I saw two things that impacted me a lot. First, a lot of houses, apartments, clothing and places have the flag of “Cataluña.” First, I kept insisting that the flag was from Puerto Rico and I thought that Barcelona was a famous place for them to live. That was very embarrassing because I lived 5 years in Puerto Rico and its flag does not have yellow and red stripes. It made so much sense when my friends told me that the flag is from the Barcelona’s region. What I want to point out with the flag is the strong presence of love and nationalism that locals have for their city and region. Spain is divided by regions and impressively each region is very different from each other. Each region has its own cultural traditions, history, food, customs and even language. Basically, going to Barcelona felt like going to a different country. By seeing so many flags around the city, I understood that locals are so proud of their region and the put it first in their lives. For them, their region gives them their identity and that is their nation, not Spain. I saw no flag of Spain while we were there, just from Cataluña. Back in the US, I don’t see Pittsburgh’s flag on houses but I do see flags from the US. I am from Colombia and my country is also divided by regions but I have been to different cities in Colombia and just seen flags from Colombia and not from each city. It’s interesting how in Spain you can see a clear division between the regions. Second, I saw that every sign of a restaurant, market, service place and street names were written in words that I couldn’t understand. I asked myself: why are the words not in Spanish? Am I still in Spain?


I knew that each region in Spain has its own traditions, and that Barcelona has a language besides Spanish, but I never thought it was a “serious” aspect of their culture. I had the idea that Catalán -Barcelona’s first language- was only spoken by older generations or locals that wanted to study it. However, I was wrong. My host family told me that the language in each region is something that helps them identify themselves. Parents talk to their children in Catalán, at school they learn Catalán and Spanish, and in daily life Catalán is only used. I would say that they have to learn Spanish not only because they are part of Spain, but also to communicate with people from other regions and countries since Spanish is the second language spoken in the world. I was intrigued by reading words in Catalán (probably read them wrong) and looking at the differences and similarities with Spanish. Since my first language is Spanish, I was just comparing it to my language and not English because that comes natural to me. I would say that Catalán is a mix of Spanish, Italian, French and other Roman/Latin languages. It was easy to identify a word to its meaning if it was a place like the supermarket or bank. I went to Starbucks to buy something different from coffee and when I went there I could not understand the menu. I tried to look for a beverage but I was frustrated to see the menu in Catalán and not Spanish that I ended up buying a regular coffee Frappuccino. I like to learn new languages a lot because it helps me to connect to locals and a new culture, but I did not have that feeling with Catalán the first hours. While I was in Barcelona, tired of being a backpacker and the heat, I thought that it was absurd for them to keep using Catalán since no one else does it in the rest of Spain and the world. After relaxing a little bit and watching a kid´s performance and locals laughing, smiling and hugging their friends and families, I saw a connection with Catalán and their culture. Thanks to their language they can show to us, foreigners, their culture and who they are. If they stop using their language, their culture would be damaged and that is not fair for them and for us. The flags and Catalán enriched my experience in Barcelona, a place where being fluent in Spanish doesn’t help you see it all. I know that every time I see a flag with a star and stripes, it will remind me of Barcelona and the two days I spent there.


That same day, we bought our tickets to see on Sunday the impressive cathedral of “La Sagrada Familia,” designed by our well known and previously mentioned Gaudí. We went to “El Arco del Triunfo” and saw a lot of palm trees in that rode. Also, thanks to our Pitt student id we entered for free Pablo Picasso museum and saw his most important artworks. We went to “Font Màgica” which is a spectacle of water, music and lights. Some of the songs were popular English songs mainly because a lot of tourists go there. Later that night, we went to see the ocean and a restaurant close to the beach to have a famous spanish dish: Paella. Next day, we went to the beach and walked close to the water. Then, we visited “La Sagrada Familia” Cathedral. I have no words to describe the phenomenal work of Gaudí by building a sacred place based on gothic and modernism art techniques. It is not finished yet (construction began in 1882), so if anyone wants to come with me to see it in 2026-2028, let me know!


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