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April 17, 2014

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Unfinished Business in Madrid and Barcelona

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I’m writing this morning from a super fancy high-speed train rocketing across the French countryside from Barcelona to Paris. The legroom situation is ludicrously nice (especially compared to my ride from Madrid to Barcelona, during which the gentleman in front of me was exceptionally liberal about his use of his seat’s reclining feature).

I’m on this train because my semester at UEA ended about a week ago, and now I have a three-week Easter break. It’s peculiarly long, and so I figured that this was as good a time as any to backpack Europe and see some cities and eat some food and stumble my way through a half-dozen languages.

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I spent this first week in Spain, but took one day to visit David, my roommate from Clark, in London. I also met Jacob, who worked with me at summer camp a few years ago. We went to a Tottenham Hotspurs game, which was very loud and super fun. Soccer is one of those sports that’s a zillion times better in person.

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Footie! The Spurs won 5-1, which is apparently very exciting. They seem to lose a lot.

Madrid was the first stop in mainland Europe, where I met my friend Idan (one of my other camp friends, made famous in this post). At Tulane University, Idan is a double major in Art History and International Relations, so she’s a really useful person to have around when traveling. She knows all sorts of fun art things, and was my guide through Museo Del Prado, a big swanky art museum. I like art because I like looking at all the little brushstrokes in the paintings and seeing how they make one big picture, but Idan was able to walk me through all sorts of way fancier art-theory type things.

At our hostel, we befriended a group of Norweigan students on break from their own spring breaks, and had a really good time with them exploring Madrid and visiting some delightfully cheesy dance places. (Two of them were fluent in Spanish, which made the whole affair much easier.)

We also ate a lot. We got churros and tapas and paella and altogether had a really good time of the gastronomy (which is the word they use in Barcelona, which I found both a little yucky and a little hilarious).

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Speaking of Barcelona, we saw the BEST CATHEDRAL EVER.

Usually, Cathedrals are decently interesting to me, but at the end of the day, they’re a whole lot of really old buildings and stuff. Old buildings are cool, but once you see a few, you feel like you’ve seen ‘em all.

Not the Sagrada Familia.

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This cathedral is probably the most bonkers thing I’ve ever seen. First of all, it’s massive. Second, the two facades that are open to the public are so detailed and exceptional and stylistically different (something I noticed without Idan’s help, thank you very much) that it’s hard to believe it was all part of one building conceived (almost entirely) by one guy.

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But by far the most mind-blowing part of the Sagrada Familia (the amazingness of which I am not doing justice in neither words nor photographs) is that it still isn’t done. Work started in 1882 and it isn’t expected to be finished until 2026, one hundred years after Gaudi died. So I’m going to be 32 years old when it’s done, and I kind of want to go back and check it out.

The thing about traveling Europe and only spending three nights in every city you see is that three nights is insufficient time to discover a place. I have ideas of Barcelona and Madrid in my head, but, like the Sagrada Familia, they’re incomplete. It would of course take years of living somewhere to fully understand what it’s like, and even then, my portrait of a place would probably be wildly different from someone else’s.      

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When you go and tour colleges, you’re getting the same incomplete picture of them that I’m getting from my traveling. You’re getting a picture, sure, but you’re getting a picture from the few people you meet and the information you find. It’s going to take years of going to a school to figure out what it’s really like, and by then, it’ll probably be too late. That’s kind of a dreary notion, but it’s an important thing to remember for a college search. Your portraits are unfinished, but, like Gaudi’s cathedral and my visit to Spain, they were still worth seeing. 

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