Carnaval Part 1: Barcelona la Belleza

My satisfyingly tired legs dangling over the dock, I let the Barcelona sunshine spill through the swaying palms and onto my smiling face. The sea sparkled like my favorite Spanish wine, and the gulls continued in their happy chatter as they flitted overhead.

In that moment, my heart was content.

The merry-making season of Carnaval had arrived, and to celebrate the extended school-free weekend, travels plans were promptly made. For Becca and myself, that meant a two-part vacation to Barcelona and Lisbon. While we would be blazing the Portugal coasts solo, we shared the first half of our journey with another fellow classmate.

When the three of us congregated near the bus station on that evening of departure, none of us knew that the travels ahead would transpire in absolute perfection. Every last leg of the journey–from the moment we boarded the first bus to the point where we exhaustingly flopped down on our hostel mattresses—was as seamless as could be. I don’t think there could’ve been more of a blatant contrast between these travels and the disastrous experience we had getting to Spain. This time around, everything seemed to work in our favor. We didn’t get lost, all modes of transportations were on-schedule, and—best of all—we weren’t stranded for hours in a Philadelphia airport…

But even though our arrival to Barcelona went smoothly, we still had to pay attention to several specific directions in order to wind up at our final destination. Bus, plane, shuttle, train one, train two, hostel… I echoed the steps aloud so many times that I began to feel like Dora the Explorer and her annoyingly-repetitive Map.

But hey, it did the trick, right?

The three of us girls chose Barcelona in the first place because of a seminar that was offered to study abroad students involved in Intervarstiy, an on-campus ministry at our university back home. But since we booked extra time into our itinerary, we had the entire first day to enjoy as we pleased.

Strutting down the Catalan streets, Becca, Ari, and I were regular Cheetah Girls. We were stars, and nobody could touch us as we proudly pranced on our Spanish Cloud 9. Everything we laid our eyes upon was the embodiment of beauty and glamour—a distant cry from my single-stop-light, cornfield town back home. As we wound our way through the narrower alleys of the antique Borne District, we couldn’t help but explore a handful of the countless posh boutiques. Attempting to blend in with the other high-class customers, we made sure to fondle all of the expensive fabrics and merchandise to appear as if we were actually contemplating purchase. It was crucial that we spoke like snobby aristocrats too. Becca, I just don’t think this silk is quite silky enough…what do you say? Maybe the next store.

After navigating our way through the ritzy part of town, our trio continued on our journey through every sight and attraction in the city. We saw magnificent cathedrals, breathtaking landmarks, every Gaudí creation known to man, and even the sprawling Picasso Museum. By the time we reached the brilliant shoreline, our legs were weary at best, but there was still much to see and do. Fortunately, with a little encouragement from the sun and waves, we were able to pick ourselves up and head in the direction of the famed Ramblas. On this jumbo street teeming with shops, restaurants, and tourist traps of every kind, we encountered the most impressive market in existence. I think I would compare La Boqueria to an extensive farmer’s market on extreme steroids. It boasted of every form and variation of produce, meat, tapas, and bread, and there were more seafood and tentacle-bearing creatures on display than I even knew existed! Many, I might add, were still breathing and blinking on the long tables. Though probably most noteworthy of this grand market was the colorful exhibit of candy that flanked the main entrance. The stalls were lined with exotic and sugary treats that I’m sure Wonka himself couldn’t have even dreamed up.

It was nearing the time to check into our second, program-included hostel, and en route to retrieve our belongings from boarding number one, we happened to encounter—of all people—fellow students from Eau Claire. In a city of over 1.6 million, our two groups miraculously met, reinforcing once again the tried and true “small world” philosophy. And remember the student that rescued me and Becca from eternal disorientation on day one? He was there too.

Many hours and miles of walking since the day began, the Cheetah girls finally arrived at their Intervarstiy quarters of Casa Gracia. I won’t say I’m the most hostel-savvy person around, but I can guarantee that this place was leagues ahead of any that we would ever encounter again. The place hardly qualified as a hostel—it was more like a swanky, high-class hotel with bunk beds. From the polished staff to the elegant foyer to the oversized bathrooms, everything about Casa Gracia emitted an air of pure quality. That night we were even served a traditional Catalan meal by waiters in cuffed shirts bearing giant platters.

Fresh sangria completed the fancy cuisine.

Being in Barcelona in a glamorous hostel was enough to be thankful for already, but the trip only got better once the program began and we got to meet the other dozen study abroad student participants. Everyone there was fun, genuine, and easy to talk to, and I was amazed by just how quickly our small group connected in less than 48 hours. Together we dug into Scripture, together we prayed, and together we worshipped.

And that was refreshing.

Just singing familiar songs of praise quenched what my heart had been thirsting for since I arrived in Spain. Add that to the fellowship I was able to have with these likeminded Christians, and you can be certain I came away more spiritually fulfilled than I’ve been in months.

Apart from study and devotion, our group of study-abroaders took time to enjoy what the city of Barcelona had to offer as well. We experienced the Catalan nightlife and tapas scene first-hand, wandered through Gaudí’s charmingly eccentric Park Güell, and beheld one of the most remarkable pieces of architecture in our visit to La Sagrada Família.

Unfortunately our adventures in Barcelona were cut slightly short due to the fact that Becca and I had to depart in the wee hours to catch our plane to Lisbon. Backpacks in tow, the two of us said farewell to the glittering Catalan gem, allowing the city to fade with the stars above as the bus carried us away to our terminal.

These Cheetah Girls were Lisbon-bound.

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