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Spain: Viva La Spain! (Week 5)

Updated: Jan 31, 2021

Kicked off fall break with a week in Barcelona and Madrid. Beaches, paella, tapas, fireworks, Gothic alleyways, palaces, cathedrals, parks, even revolution. What a revolutionary trip. 


September 21-23rd – Barcelona


  1. My first time staying in a hostel. It was actually very nice, but definitely not the norm since I was able to share a room with all my friends. The locker system for stowing things away with your own room key was quite clever.

  2. Loved the weather—definitely my last taste of summer for a while.

  3. Speaking of taste…tapas. All the tapas and empanadas and paellas. Oh my god.

  4. Got my ears pierced!! Jesse and I had been talking about getting piercings while we were abroad, so when we passed by a tattoo parlor while strolling through the Gothic Quarter, we both had a “what the heck, why not” moment and walked in. 15 minutes and a few staple guns later, we walked out with studs, feeling like studs.

  5. The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc reminded me of the Bellagio singing fountains in Las Vegas.

  6. Going to the beach both in the afternoon and at night reminded me of my senior high school spring break trip to Playa del Carmen. Had a peaceful, nostalgic moment to myself as I stared across the water, letting my heels sink into the sand as the cold water hugged my shins in loud, satisfying waves.

  7. Bless Antoni Gaudí for being the most creative architect I’ve ever heard of.

  8. La Boqueria. The best food market on Earth. Heaven on Earth. Went back two days in a row to eat up the food and atmosphere.

  9. Just so happened to be here for La Mercè, an annual Catalonian festival that celebrates the Roman Catholic feast day of Our Lady of Mercy and her deliverance of the city from a plague of locusts in 1687. Watched a parade with papier maché “giants” (gegants i capgrossos) and a fire run (correfoc), where people dressed as devils ran down the street, dancing to drummers’ rhythmic beating and lighting fireworks fixed on devil’s pitchforks.

  10. Had my wallet stolen on my last night here as I was watching the correfoc. My purse was in front of me the whole time, and my front pocket was zipped, but somehow it still got stolen in the crowds. I did my best not to freak out when I discovered it was missing later on in the night. Difficult because I had just taken out so much cash since I didn’t have euros coming here, and because I also had an undetermined amount of Czech crowns left in there as well. It killed me inside knowing that I had just lost so much of my parents’ money, but there was nothing I could do other than cancel my cards and call my parents to tell them what had happened. Bless my dad for his practical advice and my mom for trying to joke about the situation (“Amy, think of it as charity—at least you helped a poor person!”). Bless my friends for offering to “spot” me for the remainder of the trip, for calming me down, and for helping me see the brighter side of things (at least I was safe and had my passport, my phone, and amazingly supportive people around me). Two days later, a shoe store in Barcelona emailed me saying they had found my wallet under one of their shoe racks—empty, but still found. By the time I got the e-mail, I was already on a bus to Madrid, but one of my friends still in Barcelona took a taxi to the store to pick it up for me (thank you, Shinyi). Was happy that I finally did something right by putting my name, e-mail, and address on the inside of my wallet, but was still frustrated and embarrassed for a few days afterwards. Honestly, I wish it hadn’t bothered me as much because I could have been so much more unlucky. But it happened, it’s over, and I’m writing this with my wallet safely tucked away in the bag next to me. Thanking my lucky stars for everything that went right after that night. And thanking all of my friends for dealing with a distraught, cashless me for a solid week.


Antoni Gaudi – Casa Batlló, Park Güell, and La Sagrada Familia. 

Casa Batlló – practical, sea-inspired structure with a dragon’s spine on top

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Park Güell – beautiful outdoor park with sculptures, columns, gardens, and more

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La Sagrada Familia – A grand Roman Catholic church and Gaudi’s most iconic work. It remains unfinished; estimated completion date is around 2030.

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Catalonia Independence Protests near the Arc de Triomf. Found myself in the middle of Catalonians protesting for independence while in Barcelona. And now they’ve voted to break away from the Spanish government  I wonder how history will be written from here on out…

Gothic Quarter.

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La Boqueria. Tortilla de patatas and Spanish ham changed my life. As did everything else here.

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The Beach.

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Magic Fountain of Montjuïc.

Hemingway Gin & Cocktail Bar. A small bar run by two guys that’s tucked away from the normal touristy places and whose drinks are inspired by Hemingway’s travels and novels. When you enter, you’ll be greeted by Daniel (pictured below), whose huge grin and dazzling cocktail showmanship will make you feel in the mood for just about any drink. Not kidding when I say that Daniel is charming, charismatic, and the best cocktail mixer I’ve ever seen. All of the liquors here are infused in house, and each of their drinks has something funky in it, whether it’s fizzy pop rocks, lychee and grape juice, egg whites, or papaya chips. Yes, we were served in a camera lens, Hemingway’s face, a glass bubble, a camera lens, a glass canary, and a spiky fruit-looking thing. And yes, the drinks were even better than they looked.

La Mercè. Parades, fireworks, and fire runs.

More Food. El Xampanyet tapas. Churrería Laietana churros with milk chocolate. L’Agosarada de Sabadell food truck. La Pastisseria pastries. El Dique paellas.

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September 24-27th – Madrid


  1. Traveling with the same people in a large group can get tiring, slow, frustrating—you name it. We all felt it by the time we got to Madrid, so we decided to split up into pods of 2-4 for most of our excursions. And what do you know? Taking a break from our group relationship ended up smoothing it out. There’s that saying that spending time away from someone makes you miss them more. That was definitely the case for us. Paradoxically, we felt much happier spending time as a group when the majority of it was spent separated. Lesson #1 for traveling with friends.

  2. NYU Madrid meet-up! So nice to see old friends again—Mike, Aidan, Ryan, Tom…Gram fam forever.

  3. Again, tapas on tapas on pastries on tapas. Can’t stop won’t stop eating.

  4. Our Airbnb was right in the heart of the city, 30 seconds away from Gran Via, literally “Grand Way.” Known as the Spanish Broadway, Gran Via is an ornate and upscale shopping area and is one of the streets with the most nightlife in Europe. Apparently, it’s known as the street that never sleeps. Sounds like a U.S. city we all know…

Photo Sep 25, 8 54 54 AM

Rooftop View of Gran Via

  1. My first tasting menu experience at a Michelin star restaurant: Álbora. I actually cried in the middle of it because one of the bites I took reminded me of home and cooking with my family.

  2. Flamenco performance in a cozy restaurant setting was amazing. Reminded me of flamenco classes back at my dance studio in Houston.

  3. Bull-fighting. at Las Ventas De Madrid Didn’t know the bulls were killed at the end when we bought the tickets. Still very glad I went, but had to leave early because one of my friends couldn’t stand to watch past dead bull #2. Had a very long philosophical discussion with her about feeling moral qualms about supporting such a tradition. Also discussed the incredibly hypocrisy behind feeling moral qualms when we purposely ignore the things that happen to animals we eat, hailing “ignorance is bliss.”

  4. Buen Retiro Park was my favorite place in Madrid. One of the largest parks of the city, it belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century, when it was finally opened to the public. Spent hours rowing on the lake with Matt, walking through the rose garden, visiting the famous glass building, and strolling down the leaf- and chestnut-strewn paths. Competed with Victor and Kelly to see who could stuff the most chestnuts into John’s bag without his noticing. Funny thing is, he never did. Not even after we hit chestnut #35. Just imagine the look on his face when he poured them all out back at the Airbnb.


Buen Retiro Park. Retiro Pond. Monument to Alfonso XII. Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace). La Rosaleda (Rose Garden). On the lake, Matt and I rowed together, while Kelly, John, and Victor rowed together. People kept staring because Kelly and I were the ones doing the actual rowing (and racing). Gender bias? On another note, each row in the rose garden has roses from a different country. Oh, and the Crystal Palace is home to incredibly cute ducks and turtles.

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City and Walking Tour. In front of the Madrid City Hall hangs a large banner that reads: “REFUGEES WELCOME.”

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Bellas Artes: Rooftop Bar and Café. The view was worth the 4 euro entrance fee.

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The food (as always). Taberna El Sur. La Mallorquina. Cacao Restobar. Ojalá. Tinto Y Tapas. San Miguel Market. There are 39 pictures. You know you want to see all of it.

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Álbora – A Michelin Star Restaurant and My First Tasting Menu Experience. 7-course tasting menu, 2.5+ hours. Yes I cried (during course four).

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Bull Fighting at Las Ventas De Madrid. Glad I went, but still unsure about how I feel about the tradition and my own hypocrisy.

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Tablao Flamenco at La Quimera.


I can’t really express in words how much I loved visiting Spain. It was the perfect fall break excursion with extreme highs and lows. I definitely learned a lot more about myself and my friends—good and bad.

For me, Spain really materialized the idea that this whole study abroad experience is truly once-in-a-lifetime. At no other point in my life do I think I’ll again have the chance, time, or energy to travel every weekend with a group of close friends and go through the actions and emotions I’m going through now. And that’s what makes it the experience all the more valuable.

While I was rowing in the lake with Matt, he stopped our conversation at one point to say, “Amy, I wish you lived in the moment more, you know?” Yes, I know. Honestly, I wish that every day. Kudos to Matt for summing up my life dilemma in one, straightforward, innocent request, because enjoying the present as a present is something I’ve been struggling with since the beginning of time. But Spain made it easy. Easier, at least. The warm weather, the beach breeze and crashing waves, the dazzling city lights at night, the endless plates of food shared family-style, the local traditions and celebrations, the peaceful walks through nature, the group I travelled with, and the self-discovery and lessons learned and periodic tears and boundless laughter all made Spain a trip to remember. Then, now, and forever.

Viva la Spain.

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