One of the most amazing parts of studying abroad in Montpellier is its relatively central location. Italy is to the East and Spain is to the South, and both countries are relatively easy to travel to. Italy is a bit farther away. The city of San Remo, Italy takes around 10 hours to reach. However, Barcelona, Spain is only about a four-hour bus ride from Montpellier. We took the bus after classes ended on Thursday and arrived in Barcelona by late afternoon.
One of the first things that we noticed were the signs and banners hung around the city that featured a person with red paint across his or her mouth and the word “democràcia”. At first we did not know what these signs meant. Later in the weekend, I passed a tour group walking around the city. I overheard the tour guide explaining that the signs were placed there out of protest and advocacy. Barcelona is in a region of Spain called Catalonia. The signs that were around the city were there to advocate for the Catalan independence movement. Catalonia wants to be independent from Spain for many reasons, one of which is that people in Catalonia speak Catalan, rather than Spanish. This independence movement began in 1922 and Catalonia has still not reached independence. However, most people living in this region do not identify with Spanish culture.
Going to Barcelona was the first time that I had experienced a European country other than France. There were some noticeable differences. For example, cities in France seemed to be much cleaner. In France, there are street cleaning machines that clean the city streets quite frequently. This is especially true in Montpellier, which is a relatively small city and kept very clean. Barcelona does have some street cleaning, of course, but it did not seem to be on the same level. The architecture in Barcelona was also much different than that of France. Some of the architectural monuments in Barcelona include Park Güell and La Sagrada Familia. Both of these were designed by the famous architect, Antoni Gaudí. They are both very nontraditional in comparison to much of the architecture in France and are stunning to view.
Another amazing aspect of Barcelona is the fact that it is a coastal city. This makes the city home to a plethora of beautiful beaches, only a short distance from the center of the city. On our second night in the city, we were able to go sailing along the coast on the Mediterranean Sea. This allowed us to see the entire city from afar, and from a different perspective. The beaches were much closer to the city than the beaches near Montpellier are, which was a different experience.