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Taking a Break in Santiago, Spain

By Haley Seger
On March 21, 2012

LONDON - I was excited about my spring break trip this week not only because I would get to go to Spain (number two in my goal to reach five European countries),
but also because I was going to get to hang out with someone from home. One of my friends from elementary school is spending
the semester in Spain, and although
we aren't really close, any connection to home is appreciated after two months. She is studying in my first destination, Santiago de Compostela.
Santiago became famous as the end destination of the pilgrimage
El Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James. Supposedly, the city was founded in order to protect
the remains of St. James the Apostle, which can still be seen under the Cathedral of Santiago. The city, like most European cities,
is divided between the old medieval town and the newer, more modern town. Think of the difference between Hinkle Hall and Alter Hall and multiply it by 10, and you will have a good idea of the difference between the old town and the new.
However, being the end point of a pilgrimage does not lend Santiago to becoming a high profile
tourist destination. The difference
between noise levels in Santiago and the noise levels in London was bewildering, but the smaller size meant that one could walk just about anywhere. A very appealing idea to the college traveler.
The smaller size, however, certainly does not mean that it is harder to get lost. I spent most of my time in the city wondering how anyone could possibly know their way around, particularly in the narrow and winding streets of the old town.
My next destination was Barcelona. My friend and I traveled
with her friend from Spain, who unfortunately spoke no English. Somehow we managed to communicate between her limited
English, my limited Spanish and crazy hand gestures that my friend could translate if all else failed. In fact, she spent most of the weekend translating for me because, while most people in the tourist areas of Barcelona speak English, most people in Santiago don't. Most of the time it was just easier for her to translate than to figure out if someone spoke English or not.
We saw a lot of the city in a very short amount of time. We spent Friday night wandering
La Rambla, the main street of Barcelona. Even at night, there were plenty of street vendors
around to catch the tourist unaware. Saturday morning, we looked around in the gothic area of town to learn about the impacts of Picasso, the 1992 Olympics and the Spanish Civil War on the city. We detoured to the beach to put our feet in the Mediterranean. On Saturday afternoon, we wandered around the newer part of the city looking at buildings designed by Antoni Gaudi, a famous architect in Barcelona.
One of Gaudi's most famous works is the Sagrada Familia, a basilica that has been in the process
of being built for the last 120 years and still isn't complete. Once you look at the inside, you can understand why it has taken so long. The architecture is so detailed
and amazing that it really is mind-blowing.
Barcelona felt a lot more like London than Santiago did. Since it is the fourth largest tourist city in Europe, that makes sense. My friend freaked out a little over silly things like McDonald's and KFC because she hadn't seen them in two months. Most surprisingly (to me, at least), Barcelona's metro
system is actually better than London's, which was definitely nice when we needed to get from one end of Barcelona to the other. Although touristy, Barcelona really is a great city. Despite its small size, Santiago is great too. Between the two of them, I had a great experience
in Spain this week.

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