Travel Memories – Barcelona

Most travelers have a trip that’s so full of travel memories, they recall it over and over, like fishermen obsessing about the one that got away. I’m one of them.

My three-month stay in Barcelona was the flowering of an idea that had become planted in my mind back when I was a student in high school in rural Jamaica. Out of the blue one day, our Spanish teacher spent an entire period regaling us with her stories of her time as a student in Spain. She had us captivated, hanging on to every word of every story she told us. For days after, I kept dreaming of the Spain that I had created from her stories. In reality, however, Spain was as far away and as foreign as the moon but I saw myself there.

At Ciutadella Park
Ciutadella Park, 1977

I don’t remember how or when I found out about the semester abroad program that my university was offering but in January 1977, I was among the group of 10 that left cold and snowy Ottawa behind to study Spanish in Barcelona. During our time there, we created many happy travel memories in Sitges, Madrid, Mallorca, the Costa Brava, Montserrat, Ullastret, Vich, Villanova, Ripoll, Tarragona, Tibidabo, Perpignon, Ampurias and Andorra. Here a few that I’d like to share with you.

Travel Memories – First Impressions

Coming out of nearly 40 years of the repressive dictatorship of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, I’d imagined that Spain would have been drab and militaristic. Instead, Barcelona was vibrant and colorful — everything pulsed with life. I was enthralled by the architecture, music, art, culture and food, and Barcelona made me feel alive and in love with life.

Although we arrived in winter, there was little snow and the temperatures were much warmer than in Ottawa. Most days, I wore sweaters and shirts, occasionally a light jacket. So I was surprised to see many of the women, all fashionably dressed and wrapped up in their furs. You see, we’d also heard that salaries in Spain were lower than in Canada so it baffled us to see women so well dressed. Young Barcelonians, however, rocked jeans that were so tight, I wondered how they took a breath.

Travel Memories – The Tuna

One night, a group of us went to a tuna at the University of Barcelona. A tuna is a centuries old tradition where student musicians dress in traditional garb and serenade their audience with singing and guitar playing. After the performance that night, a few of us followed the tunas to a restaurant where their singing was backed up by tub after tub of sangria. As soon as a tub was empty, another would appear as if by magic. No doubt fueled by the wine, we joined in and sang as lustily as a church choir. I’m not sure how much sangria we had but by the time we left, we were all stepping a little lightly. Somehow we made it home safely but I could hardly move the next day.

Travel Memories – There’s Always Someone Who Understands

On a packed metro, the notion of personal space goes out the door as soon as you enter the car. We all knew about the metro and had heard stories of women being groped. Because of that, my roommate and I always walked to school but on this particular day, I don’t remember why, we took the metro. As the door pulled shut, and the other riders pressed in on me, I commented in our dialect to my roommate, who was also Jamaican, that I was being squashed. I added, jokingly, what I thought could happen if we didn’t get off soon. Of course we thought we were clever. We were in our own little world sharing a joke only we got. We hadn’t stopped laughing when a male voice responded, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.” I was so embarrassed, I wanted to disappear. I don’t remember even looking back to see who it was. Luckily, ours was the next stop and as we exited, we burst into laughter. Every so often my roommate or I would do our best impressions of our potential savior and we’d laugh all over again.

Travel Memories – A Message I’ve Never Forgotten

When I joined the line at the airline office to change my return ticket (no penalty!) and buy a ticket to London, I noticed an agent whose face was as pockmarked as the surface of the moon. He must have felt me staring at him because he turned and looked directly at me. His face was expressionless, his eyes blank. I didn’t want him to assist me but as soon as the thought crossed my mind, I knew he would. As I explained what I wanted to do, he replied, You can get anything you want in the world. I’m sure he said it in response to my question, but for me, it was a message. That message, that anything I want can be mine, has never left me.

My stay in Barcelona provided many indelible travel memories. It also transformed me in ways I only understood and appreciated later.

Enjoyed this post? Be sure to check out Boomeresque for more travels down memory lane.

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27 comments on “Travel Memories – Barcelona

  1. A powerful message indeed. We often forget that. Some really interesting travel memories of Barcelona. I would be nice to see more photos from back then.

  2. Your story is the perfect example of how much travel can change a person and why it’s so important. Travel stretches us and shows us that all things are truly possible! Thanks for sharing!

  3. What a wonderful tale, Marcia. Your mention of the tuna made me smile remembering our joint ‘investigation’ into that wonderful phenomenon!

  4. Your words have painted a vivid picture of what it must have been like to have that wonderful experience. I can imagine the thrill. I think you were right to take the ticket agent’s words as a message.

  5. I also had the experience of studying abroad during college. In my case, it was in Bogata, Colombia in 1974. While you experienced Spain emerging from the dark years of the Franco dictatorship, I experienced Colombia as it was about to descend into the chaos of narco-terrorism. I visited places in that beautiful country that only recently have become safe enough again to visit. I thought my time studying abroad was so important that we pretty much insisted that our sons do it. One needed no arm twisting and like you, spent a semester in Barcelona. (He\’s now a location independent travel blogger 😉 ) The other one needed some convincing, but ultimately spent a semester in Sydney, Australia.

  6. That must have been an interesting time, Suzanne. Have you been back?
    Studying abroad was a wonderful experience for me too. I’m glad your sons did it.

  7. It was, thank you, Salika. Unfortunately, my photos of that time look more like the one I included – not very defined, not sharp and everyone’s standing 8 feet away at least.

  8. Hi Marcia,

    Thank you for this fun post.

    I too love Barcelona and enjoy reading other people’s impressions. It is surely a place that changes many lives with its warm families, inhabitants with music in their souls, and architecture to knock your socks off!


  9. Yes, travel can change us and broaden our horizons and it should be a requisite of schooling methinks! Loved being taken back to Barcelona. Sigh 🙂 Nice to see you over at Boomeresque by the way – I normally find you at Budget Travellers Sandbox.

  10. I stayed in Barcelona for 6 months some time ago, and it was a fantastic experience. I think all the students should do it, because living alone in another city, knowing new people and so on helps you a lot to come on! I was in a special acommodation for US people, and I also knew a lot of new people from my own country!

  11. Travel does change a person and broadens the mind; the best education in the world! I enjoyed reading of your wonderful experiences in Barcelona and hope to visit mainland Spain one day, (have been to the Canary islands).

  12. I hope you get to visit Spain one of these days, Debbie. It’s a beautiful, beautiful country with lots to see and do.
    Thanks for visiting. Hope you come back again soon.

  13. Sounds like a life changing experience, Jane. You’re right, all students should live abroad for a while – it really helps people grow.

  14. Hey Johanna, nice to see you at Boomers as well.
    Well said — travel broadens our horizons and a semester abroad definitely should be required.

  15. I came to this from the Trip Down Memory Lane post by Boomeresque. I’ve never been to Barcelona but I really enjoyed experiencing it through your eyes! I’ve traveled a lot within the U.S. and just like you shared my travels have also been a great vehicle (no pun intended) to my own inner evolution. Thank you for sharing 🙂

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