I’ve wanted to go to Barcelona ever since I saw pictures of Gaudi’s convoluted buildings. So, I was pretty happy when I managed to find some reasonable flights there. The first thing that I noticed when I stepped off the plane was that Barcelona was HOT. I’ve taken to traveling with a wool scarf (that also serves as a pillow) and jacket on planes, and I was sweating even in the air conditioned airport (granted carrying my heavy duffel bag might have also contributed). Like Madrid, Barcelona also syncs with Google Maps, and it wasn’t too difficult for me to find my way into town and to the AirBnb that I was going to share with my friend Eric. Unfortunately, Eric’s plane out of Germany was delayed, and I spent most of my first day in Barcelona on my own. Luckily I’m not too put out by solo travel, so I was content to make do. My first destination was Palau Güell.

Palau Güell was Gaudi’s first major commission and was built for one of the leading industrialists at the time, Eusebi Güell. Güell wanted to have the palau, or palace, built as an extension to the family’s home on La Rambla, one of Barcelona’s major streets. The building is located in a prime location in the city and boasts a certain sense of majesty. When you enter you’re given an audioguide for the building, as there aren’t any information plaques, and you work your way from the basement up to the top.

While I personally wouldn’t have wanted to live in the building, it was still a great introduction to Gaudi. The interior of the building was generally dark in color due to the dark wood panelling, but it was still gorgeously designed. Gaudi was largely inspired by nature in his work, which tends to be revealed in his building’s curvaceous surfaces–apparently Gaudi refused to use straight lines since he claimed that they didn’t appear in nature. Another architectural feature that Gaudi is well known for using is parabolic, or catenary arches. You can get a sense of them in the picture of the palace’s dome.

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Gaudi is also well known for believing that the functional could also be beautiful. This is exemplified by the building’s twenty decorated chimneys, which also happened to be my favorite part of the building.

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After that, I went outside and took a few pictures of the building’s facade and the surrounding Gaudi themed graffiti. From there it was just a short walk down to La Rambla.

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La Rambla is a broad and crowded pedestrian boulevard and a decent walk, although one that is filled with tourists. Because La Rambla is a long street, there are quite a few things near it.

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Just off La Rambla was the Mercat de la Boqueria. The market is one of Europe’s biggest permanent produce fairs, although there are plenty of other products on sale there as well. While the market is generally overpriced, the farther in you walk the cheaper things tend to be.

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Another nearby spot was Barcelona’s Gothic quarter. Not much was open when I wandered by, but it was still a great area to walk around. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed into La Catedral because my shorts didn’t come down to my knees, but I made do by just taking pictures of the facade.

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After that it was time to finally meet up with Eric. After being delayed by more than five hours, he finally arrived at our AirBnb. By the time we met up it was just about time for us to go meet Alix for dinner. It turned out that my trip to Barcelona coincided perfectly with a talk that Alix was giving at the local university. This meant that Eric and I were able to meet up with Alix, Chris, and my favorite Viking, their son Wren. We were able to catch up and have a really nice dinner by the beach before walking along the beachfront. Our trip coincided with La Revetlla de Sant Joan/Verbenas de Sant Joan, or St. John’s Night. It’s the evening of the summer solstice and from what I could tell is a festival that’s celebrated by a lot of drinking, fireworks, and fire. It was certainly rowdy–to the extent that I was beginning to get a bit worried about my safety. In the United States there tend to be pretty strict laws regarding things like fireworks and firecrackers, but in Barcelona it was a free for all. Even children were setting things off in the middle of the street. While I personally found it a bit too crazy for my taste, it was still nice to reunite with friends on the beach.


Madrid Wrap Up

I really loved Madrid. It wasn’t that touristy when I was there and it has a great relaxed atmosphere with a ton of culture. As always, here are my tips for Madrid:

  1. Most museums are free for students or have certain days and times when they are free to the public. Booking in advance can save you some time in museum lines.
  2. The public transportation is pretty new and functional. Google Maps works great with the transportation system, though keep in mind if you’re going to the airport with the subway there may be an extra cost. Walking is also a great option.
  3. Stay up late. The hours are shifted in Spain, with late lunches and late dinners (around 8 pm).
  4. The permanent must sees were: Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and Prado for a range of artwork, Sorolla Museum, and Guernica at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
  5. Nice outdoor spaces: pay a quick stop by Plaza Mayor, check out the park by Rio Manzanares and the art at MataderoParque del Oeste and the Temple of DebodReal Jardín Botánico, and Parque Retiro
  6. Places to eat: go to San Ginés for chocolate and churros. The Calles Cava Alta and Baja generally have good tapas, as do mercados, or markets. I also had good food at Taberna la Concha and La Rue
  7. Lots of restaurants will have a menu del dia, or daily menu, which often is three courses and wine for a very reasonable price.


Thankfully my last day in Madrid was pretty calm. A late afternoon flight meant that I was able to take my time before heading to the airport (which is accessible by metro). The one thing that I was really determined to see before I left was Picasso’s Guernica. It’s housed in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, and because I didn’t have a ton of time to spend in the museum, I made a beeline for the floor that it’s located on. Because it’s such a notable piece, Guernica is housed in its own room. The room is located in an inner room, so I took my time exploring the surrounding outer rooms. Much of what I saw wasn’t really to my taste, but I still found the odd work of art that I really liked.

I did however really love seeing Guernica. To give the museum due credit, they really did a great job of presenting the painting. It’s huge. Thus the room is huge. This is all just emphasized by the fact that the painting is pretty much the only thing in the room. The other things displayed there are some pictures of Picasso working on Guernica. His mistress Dora Maar did an excellent job of photographing the various stages of the work, and it’s fascinating to actually see how Picasso went about painting Guernica. It was also interesting to see some of the works that Picasso did to compliment Guernica, called his Postscripts to Guernica, located in a neighboring room. While it seems a bit of a shame to go to a museum just to see one particular painting, I would have to say that it was absolutely worth it.

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Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take many pictures inside the museum, hence the limited pictures above. Once I had finished checking out Guernica and a few of the museum’s other rooms, I was off to the airport.

Parks and Art

Another day, another adventure. This time I set my sights on the Prado. The Prado’s big temporary exhibit was on Goya in Madrid, and I decided to check that out first. Goya happens to be another artist whom I have mixed feelings about, but I decided to give him a shot. While I wasn’t overly wowed by the Goya exhibit, I did have a wonderful time walking around the rest of museum and identifying pictures from my old Art History class. The piece of art that surprised me most was one by Hieronymus Bosch, or El Bosco. I remember hating learning about his piece The Garden of Earthly Delights, but once I saw it in person I found it mesmerizing. It was one of the few pieces that I kept coming back to.

Another thing that I really liked about the Prado was that they had artists working in the museum. The artists seemed to be tasked with recreating various paintings live, and it was fascinating to see the amount of effort that the original pictures must have taken and to see their duplicates worked on in front of you.

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After I had finished with the Prado, I attempted to go to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, or the museum that houses Picasso’s Guernica. Unfortunately was it closed, so I decided to go to the nearby botanical gardens, the Real Jardín Botánico. I have a huge soft spot for parks and gardens, and the botanical gardens didn’t disappoint. They were beautiful as well as shady.

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Once I had finished there, I walked through another park, the Parque Retiro. It was both larger and much more well sculpted than the botanical gardens, and I especially enjoyed the man-made lake towards the Northern end of the park where you could rent boats and paddle your way across. Because I was on my own, I resisted the temptation to rent a boat since it looked like it would be more effort that I particularly wanted to undertake by myself.

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From there I continued to head North. One of the last museums on my Madrid bucket list was the Sorolla Museum, or a museum dedicated almost exclusively to the work of the artist Sorolla. The museum is actually in the artist’s old home, and it provides visitors with a good mix of culture and art. While several of the rooms have been converted into display rooms, a good number of them are preserved and are as they would have been during Sorolla’s lifetime. My personal favorite was his old studio.

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After that it was pretty much time to call it a day, grab some grub, and then hit the sack.

Sunshine and Culture

The next day started out with me apartment hopping. I moved from Sara’s apartment to the apartment of two other friends, Lauren and Darshali. Because Lauren happened to have the afternoon off, she decided to join me in my exploration of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, one of Madrid’s main art museums. However, almost as soon as we got there we issued a groan. The line snaked around the block. With plummeting hopes we decided to walk towards the main doors and assess how dire the situation was. To our great surprise, the door was locked. Turns out we had showed up right before opening hours and the line wasn’t hopeless after all. To make things even better, the museum was free that day. So without too much ado we waited for about 10 minutes in line before being ushered inside.

In order to stay relatively crowd free, we decided to work from top to bottom, something that happened to actually make sense chronologically. The museum’s oldest collections are housed at the top of the museum, while its more modern works are shown on the main floor. I will say that one of my favorite moments was running into a few El Greco paintings. I had always found El Greco a bit odd when I studied him in Art History and Spanish class, and while I still find his artwork strange, I left liking quite a few of them. Yay art! Overall, we spent well over two hours at the museum–and we didn’t even get to have a good look in all of the rooms! Unfortunately, our grumbling tummies told us that they would rather eat than spend another hour in the museum, so we set off for lunch.

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After a nice lunch, Lauren had other obligations, thus leaving me to my own devices. I’ve discovered through my various travels that while I am a huge fan of public transportation (probably a product of growing up with the practically non-existent public transport in Los Angeles), I am an even bigger fan of walking.

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Madrid is a fairly walkable city, so I walked through the Parque del Oeste and caught a glimpse of the Temple of Debod. The temple is an original 2nd century BC Egyptian temple that was given to Spain after Spain helped the Egyptian government in 1960. The construction of the Great Dam of Aswan posed a threat to several nearby historic monuments, and Spain responded to an UNESCO call asking for help to preserve Egypt’s monuments. The Temple of Debod was then given to Spain as a thank you by the Egyptian government. After taking in the temple, I turned around and began to walk back into the heart of the city.

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Not too far away from the park is Madrid’s Royal Palace. Unfortunately it was closed when I passed by, but I wasn’t too put out. While I do enjoy visiting palaces, I’ve seen so many this past year that missing this one wasn’t devastating. I did however enjoy taking a quick walk around part of the palace grounds.

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Right next door to the Royal Palace is the Catedral de la Almudena. The cathedral is named after Madrid’s patronness, the Almudena Virgin. According to legend, an image of the Virgin was found by the king on the city wall, thus creating the Almudena (derived from an Arabic word meaning city wall) Virgin.

Similar to palaces, I’ve seen quite a number of cathedrals this past year, and have started to pass them by. What made me want to go into this one was pictures that I’d seen of the ceilings. The multicolored panels were definitely worth a short stop.

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After saying hello to the installation of Pope John Paul II just outside the cathedral, I decided to call it a day and head back to the apartment. From there I reunited with all of my Spanish ETA friends for dinner. After a tasty selection of tapas we went to San Ginés, which is a cafe renowned for its hot chocolate and churros. I must admit that it’s definitely famous for a reason. The melted hot chocolate was fantastic, but it was so rich that my friends told me that it’s rare for anyone to ever finish all of it.

Off To Madrid

Having lived with gloomy and rainy skies for months, I decided to head to sunnier places–namely Spain. Lucky for me, I happen to know three Spanish ETAs (all of Spain’s ETAs are based in Madrid), and they agreed to let me stay with them and show me around the city when they weren’t teaching.

Having studied Spanish in high school, I was excited to see how well I would manage in Madrid. I rapidly realized that my comprehension and reading is still pretty good (especially considering that I haven’t used Spanish for about five years), but that my speaking ability has deteriorated considerably. Thankfully this wasn’t too much of a problem since I spent about half of my time with my near fluent ETA friends.

Once I arrived, I met my friend Sara and we were off. Our first stop was Puerta del Sol, one of Madrid’s most bustling plazas. Although it’s certainly a pretty plaza, there isn’t too much of note here. The big landmarks are a statue of King Carlos III, the zero kilometer marker, and El Oso y El Madroño (The Bear and the Strawberry Tree–the symbol of Madrid).

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From there it was just a short walk to another plaza, Plaza Mayor. Personally I preferred Plaza Mayor to Puerta del Sol. It’s a bit more closed off than Puerta del Sol and also tends to have fewer people wandering around. It also has a fairly colorful history that includes things like bullfights and executions. I would argue that the most notable thing in the square is not the statue of King Felipe III, but the frescos on the 17th-century Real Casa de la Panadería (Royal Bakery). While the building is quite old, the frescoes themselves are relatively young. They were painted in 1992 by Carlos Franco and helped boost Madrid’s 1992 title as the European Capital of Culture.

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After that we stopped by the popular Mercado de San Miguel and grabbed some frozen yogurt before continuing down Calle de Toledo to the Rio Manzanares, the river that runs through Madrid. The area by the river has been made into a beautiful park, and there were plenty of people there walking, exercising, playing, and picnicking. Something that surprised me were the number of couples canoodling around the grounds–I suppose in Norway it’s generally too cold for people to really want to show signs of affection outdoors.

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We continued walking until we hit Matadero, a slaughterhouse that has been converted into a contemporary arts center. There were two big art exhibitions that we managed to see there. The first was one by the Guerrilla Girls, a feminist art collective started in the 1980’s that is well known for wearing gorilla masks and for using statistics to push back against women’s position in the art world. I was actually pretty shocked to read some of the statistics and to realize how few female artists are shown in the world’s major museums.

The second display was by Eugenio Ampudia. He had a great display where a shallow pool of water was built beneath a burned out construction, giving you the illusion of vast depth. When I first saw it I was convinced that there was a gaping hole in the floor. Unfortunately my picture doesn’t quite do the art justice, but it was pretty incredible to see at first glance. Another interesting thing about the piece was that you were able to call a telephone number that would trigger one of several small fountains, causing the reflection to ripple and destroy the illusion.

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After that we went for some lovely tapas near Sara’s place and called it a night.

Reverse Culture Shock

Culture shock is one big things people talk about when it comes to moving abroad, but the less talked about, and just as relevant, shock is reverse culture shock. In other words, the shock that you feel when assimilating back to your home country. I’m not exactly home yet. I’m currently bumming around my dad’s house in the UK before my final move back to California, and while I don’t necessarily consider the UK home, I have enough ties to the country to make it feel somewhat like a second home. All of this is to say that while I’ve experienced some reverse culture shock in the UK, I’m sure that I’ll experience more when I return home to Los Angeles, and still more once I start my new job in September.

To give you a slightly better idea of what reverse culture shock can look like, I’ve included a picture that I stole from the U.S.-Norway Fulbright Commission. I’ve been told that it’s generally called the W curve of cultural adjustment, and have definitely felt a number of the feelings on the chart at various points before, during, and after my Fulbright.

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As of right now I’ll say that my reverse culture shock breaks down into four big categories:

Everything Looks Weird

One of my first reactions when being driven home from the airport was “Why is there so much brick everywhere?” In the little village where my Dad is based, most homes are made of brick and brick is a common building material. It just looks wrong. Although I myself lived in brick housing for my Fulbright, I would say that the majority of Trondheim is made up of wood. Wood is the dominant building material, especially in smaller towns in Norway. In the UK it’s pretty rare to see a house made completely of wood, and its absence something that I’m adjusting to.

Why Are There So Many People?

When I tell people that I lived in Trondheim for a year, they tend to think that’s code for living in a mountain cave and having a troll for a neighbor. Trondheim is far from being in the middle of nowhere, and it is Norway’s third biggest city. That being said, the population is tiny. A 2012 survey registered the population as being 178,021 people. While I find my Dad’s village manageable (it’s so small that there isn’t even a proper grocery store), I do find larger cities, such as London, to be almost completely overwhelming, specifically when it comes to the number of people that live there.

Friends! (& Family)

One great benefit of being home is being more immersed in an establish social network. I don’t have a particularly strong network of friends in the UK, but the relationships that I do have have been established for much longer, and in many cases are much stronger, than the ones that I had in Norway. It’s also been great to see my family again, and to catch up with them since I last saw them.


The biggest shock by far is the fact that I can now understand everything. I didn’t realize exactly how much I’d tuned out of my daily surroundings until I started to feel a bit overwhelmed by simply walking around. I can read advertisements, newspapers, and can even understand my Spotify ads! Out of all of this, I have to say that the thing that startles me most is the ability to inadvertently eavesdrop on people. Because everyone would generally switch to English when talking to me, it’s a bit of a shock to hear English constantly and to realize that it’s not always aimed at me.