Cultural Experience | Spain

Making Wanderlust a Reality

How the pages of a book inspired a trip to Barcelona

Wanderlust is inspired in any potential traveler, whether it be by television shows, photography, music, films, or hearing the adventures of those who have been to fantastical places. For me, it was books. The role of any piece of art can be to transport you to another place, even if it’s only within the realm of a four minute of song, the universe of a half-hour TV show, or the world of a three hundred page novel. Sometimes, when you close the book, the adventure doesn’t necessarily have to be over.

For me, the book was The Shadow of the Wind by Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I read the book in high school, hidden inside my textbooks during math class, wondering if the way Zafon painted Barcelona, Spain could really be that beautiful in real life. The story is set in 1950s Barcelona, about a boy who reads a book by Julian Carax from a secret library, only to meet one of the characters in real life who is bent on burning all of Carax’s books. It’s a dark tale, set on the gloomy, musty streets of pre-1992 Olympics Barcelona, before it was transformed into the tourist destination today, but, like any good author, Zafon added  mystery, magic, and color to his Barcelona, and it became a beautifully romantic place in my imagination.

Barcelona image

When I went to study abroad in England during my junior year of college, Shadow of the Wind was still among my favorite books, and dreams of visiting Barcelona still lingered in my mind, so when I began to plan my European travels, Barcelona was on the top of the list. I remember looking out the window from my plane as it made its descent and seeing La Sagrada Familia, a cathedral in construction for over 130 years, rise above all the other buildings, and my heart rate picking up with anticipation. Not only that, but Spain was warm and sunny, and after so many months in England I was beyond ready to walk outside without having to put on a coat.

My hostel was right off  Placa de Catalunya, a plaza leading right into La Rambla, a well-known street lined with restaurants, shops, and little stalls selling gelato, flowers, and other touristy knickknacks. It’s a classic tourist trap, but it was also the street Zafon’s characters walked down, and I found it every bit as beautiful as he wrote it, if perhaps a little less haunting than post-World War II La Rambla. The Barcelona I experienced was bright, busy, and beautifully sunny.

La Rambla image

Barcelona is a huge city, but I was determined to see as much of it as I could, and luckily my friend Sadie was on the same page. Together the two of us traversed the city, mostly by foot and once by metro. Barcelona is a beautiful walking city during any time of the day. We were there for only three days, but each morning we should start off in a new direction. We walked along the pier, sat on the beautiful beach constructed during the 1992 Olympics, rested in Parque Zoologico and stood beneath the Arc de Triomf. Each afternoon we would go La Boqueria to get a lunch- a  magnificent market off of La Rambla – and sit in Placa de Catalunya and watch people run through the hundreds of pigeons that would gather there.

Of course, if one visits Barcelona, it’s almost a requirement to see the work of Gaudi. The architect and artist of  La Sagrada Familia, he lived from the mid-19th century until 1926, and to this day the cathedral is still in construction. Like from the pages of Shadow of the Wind, it was an enormous and breathtaking place, and a must-see if you go to Barcelona. Get there early and get in line fast, or else you could be stuck waiting in the hot sun like I was- but it was still worth it.


La Sagrada familia image

Parque Guelle was another favorite of mine. Located up a hill among trees and away from the bustle of the city, you can get a beautiful, quiet view of Barcelona. Gaudi’s architecture and artwork is throughout the park, from the house he once lived in to the steps so famously strutted down by the Cheetah Girls (because let’s face it, it’s hard to mention Barcelona to an American student and not have a mention of the Cheetah Girls come up). Parque Guelle was beautiful, especially in early April when flowers were blooming everywhere.

Parque Guell image

If there’s one dish you need to eat while you’re in Barcelona, or anywhere in Spain, it’s paella. I had it every day I was there, and it’s still one of my favorite dishes that I had while abroad. Spanish food is, without a doubt, some of the best food I’ve ever had. And don’t forget dessert! My friend Sadie was the ultimate chocolate connoisseur and it was hard to walk past a pastry shop without being lured inside by the selection of cakes in the window. Take my advice and don’t skimp on the food while you’re in Spain.

So was Barcelona everything I imagined it would be? While my Barcelona wasn’t steeped in gloom and suspense like Zafon’s, it was enchanting in a beautiful, warm, and colorful way that blew my expectations out of the water. Even though I was only there three days, Barcelona definitely took a piece of my heart.

barcelona image

If you have the opportunity to make your wanderlust a reality, to take a place inspired in your imagination and actually go there, do it! It was one of the most memorial experiences I had during my time abroad, and I would go back to Barcelona in a heartbeat.

Stephanie DiCarlo

University of Massachusetts Amherst | 9 stories

My name is Steph and I'm a recent grad of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I traveled to Leeds, England to study abroad during the spring semester of my junior year of college! I love to travel, love to photograph, love to eat, and love to write!

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