Tag Archives: Travel

A Stroll Down Memory Lane: Barcelona 1954

13 Sep

Marie’s Europe Trip Photo Album

It’s a great day!  I found out today (3 months later- hello Spanish efficiency) that I passed the DELE Spanish certification exam I took right before moving home.  I have that excited, happy feeling in my chest I get when I think about Spain and how grateful I am for the six years of my life I spent there.  It’s the same feeling I get when I am blessed with having a dream in Spanish, which is happening much less often nowadays.  Or when I hear people having a conversation in Spanish and weirdly get a sense of being home.  I have to say that one of the best parts of moving back to Boston has been people’s excitement over sharing their European memories with me.  Many people have taken me for a stroll down their memory lanes as they reminisce about their own European travels.  Some people I’ve spoken to have visited recently and we’ve compared notes on different bars, restaurants or neighbourhoods we visited in different cities.  But some of the most interesting conversations have been with people telling me about their trips at a time when many of the places I’m familiar with were very different.  A college professor I randomly struck up a conversation with in a Dunkin Donuts (don’t judge me- I’m unemployed and a little lonely) was telling me about two seperate trips to Rome, one of his favourite European cities.  He first went in the early 1970s before the Sistine Chapel had been restored and then visited again in the early 2000s after the restoration.  He said it was incredible how much more vibrant all the colours were, but felt very lucky to have been able to have two distinct experiences with one of the world’s most breathtaking works of art.

Marie’s plane
notice the simple chain link fence for security

One of my mother’s coworkers, Marie Antoinette from Québec, was kind enough to share her photo album from her 1954 trip to Europe.  It had been sitting on a shelf for years and it was so exciting to be able to turn through the crisp, browning pages and look at the black and white photos.  Marie travelled around France, Belgium, Monaco, and Spain, but the photos of Barcelona were unsurprisingly the most captivating for me.  There were photos of many of the plazas and streets that I had walked through during the time that I called Barcelona home.

Barcelona is a city full of history and some of the changes that took place in modern times are incredibly intriguing.  Barcelona had what you could call a renaissance in 1992, when the city was revitalized for the summer Olympic games.  Catalans speak of 1992 as if it were the birth of Christ, with events happening either before or after one of the most important years in recent Barcelona history.  It’s always incredible to imagine that many of the beaches from Port Olympico on did not exist and that that part of the coast used to be inhabited by gypsies.  The photos from Marie’s album takes us back even further.  Enjoy!

 (click on photos to enlarge)

Marie walking the streets of Madrid in 1954


The center of the city and the top of the main tourist street La Rambla,  Plaça Catlunaya has been the spot for many a Barça football celebration, occupied by protesters months before anyone thought to occupy wall street (with protestors making themselves at home by making tree houses and vegetable gardens in the square), and always overrun by tourists, many of whom strangely put birdseed on their children’s outstretched arms so that they are covered in pigeons for one of the strangest photo opps I’ve ever seen.

Plaça Catalunya 1954

Plaça Catalunya today


Catalan Antoni Gaudí’s architectural masterpiece has been under construction since 1882, Gaudí coming onto the project a year later.  He combines Gothic and Art Nouveau styles to create this melting sandcastle rising up above the buildings of Barcelona.  My friends and I have made a pact to have a Barcelona reunion when the Sagrada Familia is finally finished, though it’s unclear if that will even happen during our lifetime.

La Sagrada Familia 1954

La Sagrada Familia today


At the foot of Montjuic, Plaça Espanya brings together some of Barcelona’s most major streets. It’s the spot of the Magic Fountains and finishes out one of my favourite festivals, La Mercé, with one of the most incredible firework shows I have ever seen.  This will be my first year missing the show so my Barcelona friends better put up lots of photos!

Plaça Espanya 1954

Plaça Espanya today


Parc Ciutadella is the biggest and most popular park in Barcelona.  Full of lots of green space, the zoo, musicians, circus performers (picture people walking on stilts, juggling, etc.), and people doing capoeira, Parc Ciutadella is the perfect place to welcome Spring and lie around on lazy summer evenings.

Fountain in Parc Ciutadella

Fountain in Parc Ciutadella today


My old neighbourhood!  I lived off of Plaça Universitat my second year in Barcelona with my two friends Annie and Angela for one of my best years in Spain.  Close to the center, it gets its name from the Universitat de Barcelona whose main campus is at the plaza.  The starting point for many a student protest and one of the most popular locations for skateboarders, Plaça Universitat is always lively.

Plaça de la Universitat 1954

Plaça de la Universitat today


Mount Tibidabo has some great hiking, the oldest amusement park in Barcelona, and a church topped with a grandiose statue of Jesus overlooking the city with outstretched arms.

view from Mount Tibidabo 1954

view from Mount Tibidabo today


The triumphal arch of Barcelona, Arc de Triomf was built in 1888 for the Exposición Universal de Barcelona.  It’s interesting to see a tram driving past in the older photo, since there aren’t any tram tracks there today.

Arc de Triomf 1954

Arc de Triomf today


The Christopher Columbus statue (Catalan: Colom, Spanish: Colón) is located at the end of La Rambla and the site where Columbus returned to Spain after his first voyage to the Americas.  It is supposed to depict Columbus pointing toward the new world, but he’s actually pointing South-Southeast toward Algeria.  Oops.  There is a small elevator that takes tourists to the top, but be careful- right before I left Barcelona a group of tourists got stuck at the top and had to be rescued by a crane.  Fun times.

Monument a Colom 1954
(Columbus Monument)

Monument a Colom today
(Columbus Monument)


With starkly different opinions from Spaniards of many other areas of Spain, many Catalans are morally opposed to bullfighting.  It was recently banned in Catalunya.  I have to say, I never made it to a bullfight, based mainly on many people’s reports that seeing the way the bulls were treated made them sick to their stomachs.  I do understand the history and cultural significance of the tradition, however, and the beauty of these postcards from 1954 is undeniable.

A ticket to the bullfights in Toledo

postcards from the bullfight

more postcards with Marie’s notes in French


Marie in costume in Madrid

Thank you Marie for sharing your photo memories.

Bonus Check out this video of Barcelona taken from a tram in 1908.

YouTube: Barcelona Tram Ride 1908


Lessons on Happiness (part 1)

25 Jul

I wrote the other day that I’m grateful to be walking away from Spain with the knowledge of how to live simply.  Though, as I thought more about it, I realized more so than that, they were lessons on what I need for happiness.  I learned that happiness is something you have to constantly work to maintain.  I think Hollywood has really messed us up.  I think it’s similar to the way formulaic romantic comedies have made young girls expect to find their one true soul mate and that once they find him- cue the music- it’s heaven from here on out.  As a girl it never even occurred to me to think about what happened once it faded to black.  I remember having the same epiphany about happiness in my early twenties.  (Is that embarrassingly late to realize something like that?)  I always kind of thought that happiness was something you worked towards and that once you achieved it, it was like ascending to this special club of happy people that you could never be ejected from.  “Good job on attaining the perfect job, the gorgeous and caring husband, and the suburban house with the big yard.  Here’s your lifetime membership card.”  I had never quite realized how cyclical things are and that sometimes it really takes an effort to own your life and make it what you want.  A huge part of it is what you make of your life day to day.  But, obviously, a lot of it is the bigger things, as well.

So these are the big lessons that I learned during my time in Spain about what I need personally.  You may relate to some of them and some of them no.  But that’s okay.  We all need to create our own worlds.  I should mention, though, that while some of these lessons I found in the Spanish culture, many had to do more with my specific situation.  For example, one of the biggest lessons I learned was about materialism, which is certainly not something that doesn’t exist in Spain; especially in Barcelona which prides itself on being one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the country.  (Though, it’s something that has been visibly reined in with Spain’s economic future uncertain in these days of 24.6% unemployment, bank bailouts, taxes on the rise, and more than half of Spaniards under the age of 25 without jobs.)  I guess you could say these ideas evolved during the starving, idealistic phase of my life (I’d always wanted one of those).  They changed my viewpoint quite a bit, though I’m not naïve enough to think these ideas won’t continue to evolve and change.


I went to college at Fairfield University in Connecticut.  It is preppy central- or full of pijos for my Spanish readers.  It

Fairfiled University 2004
Fish Fest on the Point

was my first taste of Keepin’ Up with the Joneses; or I guess, Keepin’ Up with the Jessicas, in this case.  My love of designer brands really blossomed there (and has since almost completely died away, thank God).  I spent all my free time that wasn’t occupied by a full time class schedule, school work, and partying- of course- babysitting so that I could make enough money to fund the buying of things like $300 Dior sunglasses (which I broke six months later).  I just cannot imagine willfully spending that amount of money on something like that nowadays.  I would be mentally calculating how much more I would need to buy a plane ticket to somewhere I’ve really wanted to visit.

When I moved to Barcelona, I could no longer go shopping three times a week or buy a new outfit for every night out.  At the beginning, before I had established myself professionally, I could barely buy things that I really needed.  I remember rocking an embarrassingly shabby winter jacket for a really long time.  But after a few bumps in the road and a few calls home to Mom (what would we all do without our Moms?), I finally started to figure it all out.  I learned to budget and prioritize.  I learned to cook instead of ordering take-out.  I have to give a shout out to my friend Annie for teaching me the correct way to cut different vegetables.  I was really starting from square-one with the cooking.  And as time went by, that little gnawing urge to go on shopping sprees or eat out like I used to finally went away.  And when that initial feeling of disappointment over having my life change so much disappeared, I realized that I was not left with depression or longing like I had expected.  I was left with happiness, because so many other positive changes had happened at the same time.

The idea that stuff- clothes, gadgets, cars, houses- equals success and happiness does not solely exist in the States, but I think Americans have especially embraced it.    We are a culture of excess, accumulation, and clutter.  There’s a New York Times article from 2009 that has always stuck with me called The Self-Storage SelfStorage units began appearing in the ‘60s and really took off beginning in the ‘90s.  By the early ‘90s, Americans had twice the amount of possessions as they did 25 years earlier.  Today, 1 in 10 US households rent a storage unit.  They were originally created to be transitional spaces; for short term storage due to moving, marriage, divorce, or death.  But by 2007, 50% of Americans renting storage spaces were using them as extra storage in addition to their houses, despite the fact that the average US household had doubled to 2,300 square feet in the previous 50 years.  Since the recession, statistics have changed slightly as many people are renting space due to the loss of their homes.  But that 50% of Americans renting for extra space has not changed that drastically.  Why do we feel we need so much stuff?  And it is stuff, as the majority of things kept in these units are furniture, old appliances, toys, and books.

One of the most enthralling, can’t-look-away-even-though-I’m-disgusted reality programs I’ve discovered recently (though I think it’s been around for awhile now) is Hoarders.  Now, I understand that the situations for many of the people featured on Hoarders are much more complicated and that hoarding is a psychological condition.  But I’ve watched it with a few people who have commented, “I can kind of relate to not wanting to throw some of those things away- on a much smaller scale, of course.  I have a lot of trouble parting with things.”

How did this happen?  I’ve always heard from my grandparents’ generation that anyone who grew up in the Great Depression had a learned propensity to hoarding since they were afraid of once again being left with nothing.  It’s undeniably something different with my parents’ generation on, however.  America has admittedly been self-aware, with commentaries on the excess and greed of the ‘80s personified in such characters as Gordon Gekko, Sherman McCoy, and Frank Cross (from the films Wall Street, The Bonfire of the Vanities, and Scrooged respectively).  Some would argue that America’s attitude is changing during the current recession.  The image of success so many struggled to maintain has crumbled to reveal a falseness, as we realize the astonishing amount of debt that has been shoved behind closed doors for many families.  My generation is realizing that the American promise of upward mobility we’ve had instilled in us since we were children will likely not be fulfilled for many of us.  I would like to think that the recent recession has taught us all a lesson and I do feel like it has made the people of my generation realize some important truths early enough for us to make different choices in our lives.  But I can’t help feeling skeptical and pessimistic that when, or if, things start to pick up again, everyone will breathe a sigh of relief, be lulled into another false sense of invincibility, and push all these lessons to the back of their minds.

I read an interesting blog article the other day, which you should all check out if you have the time, called 10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About AmericaWhile I don’t necessarily agree with all that author’s viewpoints, much of it did ring true for me.  I especially loved number 10- “We Mistake Comfort for Happiness.”  Mr. Manson comments,

The United States is a country built on the exaltation of economic growth and personal ingenuity. Small businesses and constant growth are celebrated and supported above all else — above affordable health care, above respectable education, above everything. Americans believe it’s your responsibility to take care of yourself and make something of yourself, not the state’s, not your community’s, not even your friend’s or family’s in some instances.

It saddens me that individualism has been placed above community in the States.  I experienced a true sense of community with my group of expat friends in Spain, though it was on a small scale.  Our shared priorities were very clear.  We were a community of people who placed learning and experiences above all else.  We were choosing a life where we were trading in certain comforts we may have been used to in our own countries in exchange for a life of constantly meeting new people from different cultures, learning new languages, exchanging ideas with people who had had very different experiences from us, travelling, and living off the high of being outside of your comfort zone.

I’ve said it before, but within this community we honestly only had each other.  So, if someone was struggling financially or needed a place to crash for a few weeks (or even a few months) or was looking for work, the people within that community were immediately there to help you out.  And there was no sense of embarrassment asking for help, because you knew that when another person within that community needed something you would pay it forward.  I’m not saying I don’t have that in the States, because I am so incredibly grateful to all my friends and family here.  Everyone is helping me to get on my feet and the love I’ve felt has been so overwhelming.  But, there is a certain amount of urgency I feel so that I can keep my pride intact that I never really felt in Spain.  This sense of urgency is certainly not coming from any of my friends or family; it comes from the culture here and my fear that if my situation is told to someone who doesn’t know me, there will be that little bit of judgment- the uninformed judgment that I spent the last six years in Spain partying it up only to return home as an unemployed 28 year old lazily living with my Mom. (Well, and obviously the urgency also comes from seeing my savings slowly diminish).  That American need to maintain a certain image has obviously not left me, though it seems to only return when I’m in the States.

Hopefully I will find a job soon.  Hopefully that sense of urgency will be gone and I’ll be able to settle in and establish a new identity and a new community here.  And hopefully I will still be able to hold onto all the lessons I learned about materialism, even in this environment.  I am grateful, however, that even if I do decide to get the house and the car and some of the expensive gadgets, if I one day lose them all I will be okay.  I know that I don’t need possessions to define me or make me happy and that some of my happiest years so far were defined by other things.  Of course, it’s easier to think this way as a young, single woman with no children to care for.  But, I will always have the knowledge that it is possible to start a new life and I will always remember just how quickly you can adjust.  I’ve learned, for me, the things that are truly important.

Tomorrow I’ll post part 2- lessons on Education, Health, Balance, & Family

Going Home

8 Jul

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Welcome to my reverse travel blog!  Six years ago, after I graduated college, I moved to Barcelona for what was supposed to be one year abroad.  I jotted down my experiences in a long chain of quickly-filled journals and kept my friends and family in the loop with shamelessly long e-mails.  I never got around to making a travel blog and after a few “one more year’s” Barcelona started to feel less like a new experience that needed to be captured and more like a home.

Now, after I’ve packed up everything I own into three suitcases and said my tearful goodbyes, it’s time to go home- to the good  ol’ US of A, Amurica, Land of Opportunity.  Or, to be more specific, I’m returning to Boston, Massachusetts- Beantown, the Bay State, or as the car license plates always grandiosely remind us, the Spirit of America.

As I embark on this journey back whence I came, I can’t help but feel more scared than I did six years ago as I stepped off the plane into Spain.  I’m nervous I won’t fit in.  Living in Spain, teaching British English (with an American accent) all day, and having a mix of international friends has made me, I think… kind of weird.  During my visits home over the years, I found people looking at me strangely on many occasions; like when I over-enunciated the word “salmon” while ordering at a T.G.I. Friday’s.  Or there was the time I asked a saleswoman at Lord & Taylor where the curtains were and then proceeded to describe their function in case she didn’t fully understand me (“I mean, the fabric you put on the window to stop the sun?  Where would those be?”)  And I remember many instances when a Britishism would pop out of my mouth and I would freeze as my mind raced through a dozen thoughts (“Waaait.  God, I must have picked that up from Beth.  I must sound so pretentious!  Do they even know what that expression means?  Of course they know what that expression means- who do I think I am?  Have I stopped talking?  This has been a really long pause.  Has it reached the point of being awkward?) until I snapped back and would see the person I had been talking to standing with a polite, strained smile on their face and worry in their eyes.  And of course, there were all the times when people would approach me with friendly smiles and cheery voices.  My hand would jump to pull my bag closer to my body as I glared at them suspiciously, only to realize they were asking if there was anything they could help me with or telling me they had read the book in my hand and “absolutely loved it!”

This blog is my nod to Bill Bryson.  I love all his travel writing, but his weekly columns published in the book I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away has a different sort of charm.  After living in England for 20 years, marrying an Englishwoman, and having two English kids, Bryson moved his family to New Hampshire.  His observations were especially interesting because he wasn’t a foreigner discovering a new culture; he was becoming reacquainted with his childhood land now that he had another culture to measure it against.  While Bryson mused over cup holders, tech support and the post office, I find myself most intrigued with the cultural trends that have taken over since I’ve been gone.  My image of America now is of a land where people are treated to flash mobs on their way to work, the Kardashians are multiplying and taking over, hipsters and guidos fight it out for the spotlight, MTV features the everyday lives of pregnant teenagers in lieu of music, bromances are all the rage, it’s not unusual to get in a car accident with Lindsay Lohan, Wall Street is being occupied, and American politics will either make you laugh or cry.  It should be interesting to see how much I’ve got right and just how much more will surprise me.  Pues, adiós España.  Hasta la próxima.  Hello again, USA.  Let’s do this.

Keep an eye out for my next post about Things I Will Miss and Things I Most Certainly Will Not Miss about Spain.