The Surreal Surroundings of a Life in Barcelona

Dylan Chase is a student at University of California, Santa Barbara and an ISA Featured Blogger. Dylan is currently studying abroad in Barcelona on a Fall 1 program.

For me, my decision to study abroad never really hinged upon the city in question. Even before I had decided that I would make Barcelona my home, I knew that making this lifestyle choice would be an imperative for my college years, a necessity determined as much by my desire to test my own limits and challenge my cultural assumptions as by any specific desire to see any specific city. The journey would be the destination, and wherever my travels brought me along the way would be more or less the stuff of circumstance. Barcelona came to me, more than for any other reason, as an attractive home base because of it’s seeming uniqueness; a place of radical architecture, distinct historical identity, and cultural exoticism. Compared to monolithic Parisian landscapes and too-close-to-home options of England or Australia, I felt Barcelona would be the perfect city to get the most out of such a journey, and the smiles with which people greeted me when I told them of my plans to live here seemed to support that. “Beautiful”, “amazing”, and “wow” were some of the more tame adjectives friends used to front-load this city. In truth, they didn’t do the slightest bit of justice to the kind of surprise I’ve experienced in just my first few weeks in this city to how rich and alive this place really is.

It can be difficult sometimes, having grown up plugged into the internet, to not feel a little desensitized to seeing a famous landmark up-close for the first time. Having seen a million images of the city of Barcelona before I arrived, I feared I might not get that sense of wonder I was searching for when encountering Gaudi’s structures or Gehry’s gold fish in-person. Like in many of my expectations in life, I was wrong. The first afternoon I spent in Barca was at Parque Guell, a park Gaudi originally designed for patron Euseppie Guell as a private park for rich families.

Parque Guell on a September day

Resplendent with the mosaic tile work, curved lines, and fantastical qualities typical of Gaudi’s work, the park was as rich of a rich sensory experience as I could’ve asked for. The vantage point is incredible, the atmosphere on such a summer day is crisp and ideally Mediterranean, and the colors of the city are just stupidly vivid from up there.
My biggest cultural surprises though, have come in the kind of random daily discoveries that you can’t find in any tourist book. Just walking around the city, I’ve found buildings of elegant and modern design hiding around every inauspicious corner. Take this building, a structurally stupefying beauty disguised as an office building for a gas company.

Gas Natural Building is an architectural wonder just meters from the sand.

Seriously, it seems like a joke at times how wealthy this city is in terms of architectural riches- just coming across this building on an afternoon walk left me looking up for about ten minutes, lower jaw hanging down.

Better yet, take this park, Parque de la Ciutadella, established in 1877 and modified as the sight of the 1888 World’s Fair in Barca.

Friends and I bask in some Parque splendor.

I mean, seriously. There’s a brilliant gold statue of a man on horseback situated atop an arc, descending into a series of terraced waterfalls cascading into a surreal pool of emerald green water. Oh, and it’s coupled in a marvelous park along with a boat lake and a zoo. It seems like a grand joke that one city would be spoiled with such a treasure.

And I had no idea it even existed.
Although I’ve frittered away untold Euros to this point on unnecessary tapas and overpriced souvenirs, I think the most valuable things I’ll take away from Barcelona are the free afternoons spent wandering through these disarmingly lucid urban landscapes. This city demands your attention; there is far too much detail and life in every street to fall into any mode of morning-commute-routine boredom.
And as such, there’s been far too much detail and life in my travels so far to wrap them up neatly in just one post. Until later, hasta luego!

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