When I was 17, I went on a school trip to Spain and France in the summer before my grade 12 year. This was an adventure I took largely because my friends were going, and I thought the idea of drinking legally with a group of my favourite people would be a cool way to spend the summer, without parents. I didn’t really understand the appeal of traveling to Europe itself. I was not, at the time, interested in history, or art, or culture, to be frank… though I did think the Eiffel Tower seemed pretty.
Still, I went… and this trip sort of changed my life. I just didn’t know it at the time.
Our first stop was in Barcelona, after an exhaustingly long flight. We arrived and were greeted by our boyishly goodlooking French tourguide, Mathias, who would reveal himself to be far too flirty with the underage girls on our tour by the month’s end. After a night spent in a hotel on the outskirts of the city, we took a bus in to begin seeing some of the beautiful sights of Spain.
Our first stop was at the top of the world… so it felt. We took in the beauty and sights of Park Güell, a public garden and architectural space designed by the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, whose influence is heavy in several aspects of Spain, particularly the Sagrada Familia church, where he is also buried. We would head there next.
This would be the first of many times that a piece of European architecture would blow me away. This church, which will not be finished, it is projected, until at least 2030, was under construction by what seemed to be thousands of workers in every corner you looked. We didn’t get to go inside, regrettably, but as we listened to the stories of the church, I couldn’t help but just stare at all the little intricacies of the building. It was amazing to me.
Our guide for the day took us to the Christopher Columbus statue. He asked us if we knew where he was pointing, way across the ocean. Out of habit, I guessed that he was pointing towards Europe, and was quickly corrected that no, we were in Europe, and he was pointing towards America. That’s when it really hit me – we were literally on the other side of the world. It was an exciting thought.
Next, we headed to La Rambla, a long, large street in the city center with all sorts of shops, stands and entertainment. Notably, the group’s favourite part were the street artists, dressed in ways I’d never seen anyone dressed before… like statues, and they sure froze the part!
At the bottom of La Rambla was the harbor, where we would go the next day and make our first purchases with illegal street vendors (Sunglasses). At the top of the street was the Gothic Quarter, full of cobblestoned streets, blocks of small alleyways with hidden bars, and a beautiful cathedral.
The next day, we would explore this area further, heading to the underground cities museum, which displayed all the remnants of the original Barcelona city. It was near here that we would find our first 1 Euro bottle of beer, and drink legally in a bar for the first time. After everything I’d seen, though, the thing I’d wanted to do most in Europe seemed somewhat of a letdown, in the best possible way.
Our final stop in Barcelona before we would catch an overnight train to Granada was at the Gaudi Dragon House, the Casa Battló, a building of beautiful architecture (of course). There was an old fashioned elevator, vibrant colours and strangely shaped windows, crooked archways and rounded hallways. It is a must-see.
Barcelona will remain in my heart forever, as my first European city visited. But over the next month, I would see so much more, all of which would rival the favouritism Barcelona held in my heart.