I am a creature of habit. And that hasn’t changed since I’ve been in Barcelona. Everyday I walk the same route from my house and I now know the streets of Eixample like the back of my hand. I know how long it takes to get around my own block, past the scent of warm croissants from the various cafeterias which have already been open an hour before me, and the morning cigarette smoke that spins around me as I pass one corner to the next. I know how long the crosswalks blink green, how fast I can walk the catwalk across Gran Via as each car seems to be impatiently waiting for me to finish my strut, and how long it takes me to get to class each morning if I choose an extra 10 minutes to make coffee at home or not.
I walk briskly, like the other cool and collected urbanites, and I have come to know the ins and outs of the metro. I also have the advantage of having a stop directly on my corner, which has come in handy many times.
But this city of a million can be overwhelming at times, especially when coming from rural college of 1700 students. I realize how much there is to explore here and how little of it I have seen. I get anxious, thinking I’m wasting time as I attempt to find a balance between work and play. I worry that my daily routine has become too much a routine, and that I’m not seeing enough of the city. I’ve often found myself without time during the week to aimlessly stroll through the metropolis, as I had planned, with my walks instead being more deliberate, pushing towards a deadline, event, or of course, to get home to Cena on time.
It’s harder to be spontaneous when I simply feel encumbered by the work in front of me. I wanted a challenge, and I am grateful for my Spanish classes and long talks with my host family, yet I feel as if I am missing out on what is outside of the classroom. Then there’s the inevitable wanderlust , which struck me when I arrived, luring me on weekend trips to other parts of Europe, leaving Barcelona with its feelings hurt until I got home on Sunday.
When my Latin American Literary Boom professor dropped an assignment in front of us, I sighed as I thought how much time it would take. The list comprised a variety of restaurants, hostels, and book stores where the authors in our studies frequented during their time here . Although I didn’t realize it at the time, this assignment was just what I needed.
I began my journey down La Rambla and into the various side streets in search of the literary landmarks on my list. I strategically planned which stops to go to first before realizing the close proximity between each one. As the shops began to open and people headed to work, I peered up at the multiple pale yellow facades which seemed much older than those I had seen.
On these modest streets were the restaurants where Garcia Marquez would order Jamón Ibérico, hostels where Vargas Llosa had slept. As I went from each stop to the next I imagined the inspiration the authors must have also felt in these quiet enclaves away from the rushing city.
To top the day off, I climbed to the 11th floor of Hotel Barceló Raval where I was met with a 360 view of the sprawling city, the mountains and the beach.
I stood there in awe of these places which I could have easily passed by any other day. This assignment gave me a more literal feeling of how small I was in comparison to this city, yet proved everything was right at my fingertips. Not to mention, these hidden gems were less than a 20 minute walk from IES Abroad.
This weekend I will be in Barca. While traveling to other places is easy and great, I had almost forgotten why I chose this city, not to mention Spain. I wouldn’t want my four months to pass by without truly knowing this city. Part of my immersion experience should include going to dive coffeeshops, searching for the best plaza, new hang out, or croquettas. Balancing homework and free time can be hard anywhere, but this assignment taught me that while studying abroad, free time and homework can end up being the same thing.