Last week marked our last full weekend spent in Spain. Many students in the program took advantage of the final weekend to do some traveling. While a handful of students stayed in Oviedo, the majority traveled to other countries, such as Portugal, as well as a number of Spanish cities, such as Leon, Sevilla, and Barcelona. I ended up spending an amazing weekend in Barcelona, a city known for its picturesque beaches, unparalleled food, and stunning collection of art and architecture. If you are planning to study abroad abroad, it’s important to become spend time in the area where you are staying in order to get the most out of your experience. Nevertheless, when you want to explore surrounding cities or countries, or want an exciting weekend adventure, I hope you find these tips helpful:
1. Book early
As the old English proverb states: The early bird catches the worm, and the early booker catches the best domestic flight (or something like that). When traveling it’s definitely important to stay open-minded and be spontaneous, but planning your travel arrangements ahead of time will save you lots of time and money, as many trains, flights, and buses fill up quickly, especially when you are trying to visit major tourist spots, such as Barcelona. In Oviedo, the bus station was only a 15-minute walk from my apartment. This made it so easy (and cheap) to hop on a bus and head to any one of the nearby towns around Oviedo. In addition, there is no metro system in Oviedo, and you can get around the entire city by walking, or local buses. I had grown accustomed to the ease of getting around in Oviedo, and quickly realized that planning a full-fledged weekend excursion requires a lot more consideration and money. Unfortunately, this is a lesson my bank account learned the hard way.
2. Plan a Balanced Schedule
When traveling it is easy to get stressed about planning the perfect itinerary and rushing around in order to see all the major sights of a city. Beforehand, plan out a few “must see” sites and research the easiest ways to get to them from wherever you’re staying. Even if you don’t have time to visit them all, don’t stress about it, and take time to appreciate the attractions you do visit. While I definitely had a few bucket-list sites I wanted to check off my list in Barcelona, I didn’t feel an urgency to experience every aspect of Spanish culture in just 3 days, as I had a full month in Oviedo to fully embrace the culture of Spain. Living the life of a tourist is a great way to get a sample of what a city or country has to offer, but in order to truly understand cultural norms, you need to spend a longer period of time in one area. I feel really fortunate that my time in Oviedo has left me feeling more like a local student, and less like a tourist or passerby.
Major tourist sites in Barcelona:
Similar to my time in Oviedo, I found that wandering around the cobblestone streets, stopping in shops and cafes, and chatting with locals definitely allowed me to get a better sense of the city and ended up being really memorable experiences.
Street scenes taken while wandering Barcelona:
3. Try the local food
Whether you are super adventurous taste-tester or are picky about your meals, a big part of exploring a city involves exploring the local cuisine. In Barcelona, there were dozens of food tents lined along the beach, offering fresh food ranging from fruit, to meat, to pastries. Walking along the open market, the scents of the local dishes filled the air and the scene appeared straight out of a postcard. In addition, Barcelona is known for its amazing Paella, a Spanish dish that has origins in the Valencia region and consists of rice, vegetables, meat, or seafood served in a steaming hot pan. Although my host mom has made me really amazing food throughout my stay in Oviedo, it was a nice change to buy some of my own food and branch out from the cuisine of Oviedo, which is characterized by lots of fresh fish, and the region’s specialty, Asturian cheese.
4. Be Prepared for Differences
Even if you are traveling to different cities within the same country of region, there may be be huge differences in attitudes, cuisine, or language. Barcelona, located in the autonomous province of Catalonia, that has its own rich culture and traditions, separating the region from the rest of the nation. Catalonia has its own flag, its own anthem, and most notably, its own language. The official language of the province is “Catalan,” a language that is often mistaken as a unique Spanish dialect, but it is, in fact, a Romance language derived from Vulgar Latin dating back to the 9th century. In the airport, the metro signs, and menus, words are written first in Catalan, and sometimes translated into Spanish and English. Catalonian flags can be seen waving across the balconies of houses all over the city. The city felt very different from Oviedo and although I could hear many more people around me speaking American, I could also hear them speaking Catalan, a language that sounds completely foreign from the Spanish I had grown accustomed to hearing. In order to be aware of differences, it is definitely helpful to do a bit of reading ahead of time on the area you are visiting. Fortunately, I had been working on a research paper about Catalonia for my Marketing class, which allowed me to understand the issues the region is facing, but without this assignment I may have had no clue the significance of the region’s unique culture.
5. Solo Travel
While a large group of us traveled to Barcelona, it’s okay to stray from what others are doing and make your own travel plans. Traveling with a group allows you to split costs, feel more comfortable with the security of a group, and have others to share in your experiences; solo travel has its own advantages. You can plan your schedule based solely on your interests and preferences. Some people like to spend their time relaxing on a beach, while others prefer till fill every moment of their day with activities. When traveling alone, the choice is yours. In addition, you are forced to do things for yourself, whether this means navigating a metro system or communicating with strangers in another language, without relying on the assistance others, which can be both challenging and rewarding.
After 3 amazing days in the city of Barcelona, I boarded my evening night flight back to Oviedo. I was relieved to be headed home to a good night’s rest. It was only then that it hit me- in only a matter of weeks Oviedo had begun to feel like home. Barcelona was without a doubt, an unforgettable trip, yet I have come to realize that gaining a sense of cultural immersion that can only be achieved when spending a prolonged amount of time in a foreign city. Until next time, Barca!