Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Semana Santa in España

A couple of weeks ago, I met a stranger at the bus station, got in his car and drove six hours to Barcelona. It would have been longer, if we had not been going 150km/h (sorry Mum). This was all thanks to Blabla Car, a car sharing website where you pay a fee to take up a free seat in someone's car. It's like the airbnb of driving somewhere, and a great alternative to spending hours on a bus going the measly pace of 120km/h.

We had a week and a day off university for Easter break/Semana Santa and I was off to a town north of Barcelona to spend with a family from Denmark. My family in NZ has hosted heaps of exchange students through AFS and one of our exchange students' families was staying there for the week and invited me to come along. Helena had lived with my family for a year. After six years of not seeing her, we were finally about to reunite in Spain. Quick plug for AFS: if you've ever thought about hosting an exchange student, going on an exchange, or know someone who would be a great candidate - do it! Living in Chile for a year and subsequently hosting and volunteering with AFS has been one of the best things I have ever done.

I couldn't have asked for a better spring break. I felt so welcomed into her family and we spent hours having interesting discussions, playing pool, sunbathing by the pool, exploring the surroundings on foot, bike and car, and eating delicious food. 

The Mediterranean was stunning. Palm trees, golden sand, beach walks. This was my first time there, and after reading about it for so long and seeing it on films, tv shows and friends' photos, I was finally there myself. It was strangely surreal, like being in a dream. Being Catalonia as well, it was interesting to see how the culture different from the metropolis of Madrid. It's very obvious that the region wants independence. The regional language isn't Spanish, but Catalán. Houses everywhere have the Catalonian flag hanging up - and in Madrid you rarely see the Spanish flag.

One of the highlights of being there was a day trip to Barcelona. First stop was Park Güell. Designed by Gaudi, it's an incredible example of wacky and creative landscape architecture. The hundreds of tourists there seemed to think so too. We were a bit taken aback at the fact that you had to pay now to see some parts of the park - and that paying also involved queueing up for ages to get in to the parts you paid to see, because there were limits on how many people could enter. We decided against paying, and still managed to spend plenty of time there discovering what the park had to offer.
Park Güell
Park Güell
One of my favourite parts from the park was the view of the city - to the right of the photo below you can see La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's cathedral that is in a perpetual state of renovation. Madrid has no hills, and I miss views like this!
View of Barcelona
La Sagrada Familia
Instead of going inside La Sagrada Familia, we drove around it a few times - exactly the same way my younger sister did when she visited Barcelona with Helena and Luise last year. I was leaning out of the car snapping photos, and avoiding waiting with all the tourists stacked outside.

We wandered around the alleys off the main street, La Rambla. We stumbled across many cute shops and interesting sites. A break dancing crew was doing a demonstration in one of the main streets, while a young girl chased after bubbles a street performer was creating.
Bubbles in Barcelona 
Another highlight was adventuring around the coastal towns of Palamós and Platja d'aro. The beaches and towns were ridiculously beautiful and family friendly. We literally saw children jumping out of their windows and running down to the nearby beach to play soccer.
Football on the beach
Like many exchange students, I have been taking advantage of weekends to travel. This time, I was in La Costa Brava for a week - not rushing around to different cities like in the past. Absolutely no regrets; it was the best decision to not travel too much. When you go to all the capital/main cities, you miss out on other incredible destinations a country has to offer. It's possible to get a different taste of the country too, and that was what it was like being in La Costa Brava. Not only that, but I really hadn't travelled much inside Spain - and I could spend months longer here.

A massive thank you to Helena and her incredible family for having me for that week, I absolutely loved it and cannot wait to see you all again!

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