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.
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.
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