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Barcelona week 5

Time February 10th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I learned three major things this week:

One, is that Spanish people aren’t my size. At all. After January 7th, Spain has their equivalent to “after Christmas sales,” and they are still going on. Now, because it is a month later, many clothes, shoes, purses, etc. are so ridiculously cheap that you might as well souvenir shop now instead of at the end of the semester. So, I have bought some skirts and shirts and whatnot, but I have been trying to find shoes. So many places have 10 euro shoes. Do you know what so many places do not have? Shoes in size 42 (AKA 11). Everyone here is so tiny, that whenever I ask the store clerk “Tienes zapata cuarenta y dos?” they literally either laugh in my face or look shocked.

Another thing I learned more about is the Catalan independence movement. Almost every weekend, they have tents set up to lure citizens to sign an independence petition. Essentially, almost 300 years ago, the Catalan people were revolting, but overtaken by the Spanish. On the 300th anniversary, hundreds of thousands of Catalonians formed a human chain that stretched across the entire state to symbolize their unity. They are still bitter at the Spanish government for conquering them, and also not letting them be their own country. Currently, the wealthy state of Catalonia makes up something like 60% of tax revenue for the entirety of Spain, but they only get a portion of that back, because a lot of the money goes to poorer areas. In the space of a few years, public support of independence has shot up to 56 percent. Tensions continue to rise after the Catalan president Artur Mas announced that he will hold an independence referendum on November 9th. With this, Mr. Mas launched the biggest challenge to Spain’s internal structure in recent history. However, the opposing Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has the backing of Spain’s main opposition party and will suspend the referendum as soon as it is approved in Catalonia. 

I don’t think Catalonia will ever gain independence, and they may not want to; if they break away, so much of the economy would change, they wouldn’t be a part of the Eurozone, and wouldn’t have the financial backing of other countries. That was a really bad summary, but it is interesting and I encourage whoever is reading this (which, let’s face it, is probably just the Hennerberg family) to go research more about it.

Anyway, the third thing I learned this week is that sometimes, travelling to random, different places for cheap turns out to be the best experience of your life. This weekend, I travelled to Porto, Portugal, and words cannot describe how amazing that place was.

I had no idea that Portugal would be that beautiful and that fun. The hostel was so fantastic. It was only ten euros a night, and voted the third best hostel in the Western Europe, and the best party hostel in Western Europe (Porto Spot Hostel- look it up). It had a TV, bar, nice kitchen, beautiful facilities, great bathrooms, free breakfast, etc. We started walking around Porto, and found some beautiful areas such as a blue hand tiled church, the sixth best café in the world (Majestic Café), and some of the best franchesina’s possible (this is a Portuguese dish- full on 4 kinds of meat, bread, a fried egg, fries, cheese, and a special sauce. Invented by drunk friends but enjoyed by an entire culture). A group of 10 friends and I walked down to the port, which was too beautiful for words. The side we were on was pretty, but then we crossed a famous bridge to go to the side with the wineries and were in utter awe by how beautiful one place could be.

We went to a wine tasting at a place called Calem, and learned about how they make wine, where, and how different wines tasted. After, we took a hike up to another wine place called Taylors, which had a glorious view of the city (though it seemed like everywhere had a nice view!). Then, a trip to Majestic Café to have to best croissants of my life. This is actually where J.K. Rowling wrote some of her first Harry Potter book. She used to teach English in Porto, and got many ideas for Harry Potter from there. For example, she used the Portuguese school dress code (of cloaks and long black uniforms- which was actually an elite club of Portuguese students; if you wanted to enter you were hazed for a year. They take the uniforms very seriously- they even wear the cloaks to bars at night). Rowling also stemmed her ideas from a bookstore in Porto that reminds me of Flourish and Blotts.

That night, we went out on the bar crawl. For 10 euros we got entry to multiple places, multiple drinks, and great times! Just because, I convinced these Australians that I was from Perth and we talked for 20 minutes about Australia and how much we loved it but how expensive it was. We went to a bar and then two clubs, and it was awesome!

The next morning, I woke up bright and early so that I could go on both the ancient and the modern walking tour. The tours were through a company called Pancho tours- free tours (tips appreciated), but the guides were fantastic and really catered to students. We started in the main square, and learned cool stories about how a heart was under a church because “his heart would always be in Porto”, we learned about an old jail that you had to pay to be kept in a cell on the top story and the architect had a million mistresses, and we saw some of the best views (even though at times it was pouring rain). We went to a little market and I had hot wine and bought a blue scarf, and then we went to the second tour.

On that tour, our guide interrupted the tour to take us to a bakery that served the best chocolate cake in Porto, and we saw a beautiful church and more of the blue hand tiles, a street artist’s work, and so much more. After the tour, we just went shopping, and admired the beauty more. My Mexican friend Marianna and I bought the famous Porto wine and cheese and bread for a classy night.

Overall, the people were so nice, it was cheap, and it was beautiful. The only bad thing was the bipolar and rainy weather. So, moral of the story: sometimes not going to touristy European cities (such as Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Berlin, etc.) and instead going to other touristy cities, but off the beaten path, are the best decision- like finding a cheap hidden gem that is worth 5 times its weight in gold. 

The only other really fun thing this week was that I met a friend of a friend. Sammy met a 50 year old woman named Lisa at the airport when Sammy was in the middle of a snowstorm trying to come to Barcelona. They instantly bonded, and have talked every day since. We went to Lisa’s cute apartment, and walked around until we found a nice Italian restaurant in Barceloneta. The food was delicious- we had Catalan bread, hummus, a turkey and avocado sandwich, and then a delicious chocolate sausage roll thing for dessert. We had lovely conversation and it was nice to get out. After, Sammy and I went to Chupitos and then the Teatro Principal on La Rambla. 

Porto will forever have my heart, and it was such a great vacation <3