Isabella Garcia is a sophomore receiving a Bachelors of Science in Biology on a Pre-PA track at Florida International University. She has a passion for being outdoors and exploring, mainly for the ocean and is a Cuban-American.
by Isabella Garcia of FIU at España, June 2022
Exploring Lavapies during the day versus the night felt like two completely different cities, which was actually the best part. During the day, it actually seemed like a run down Wynwood: full of graffiti and street art but lots of locals just hanging out in parks and drinking. At first, wandering into a run down local park amongst the towering buildings, we didn’t expect much, but it turned out to be one of our absolute favorite memories of the whole trip. One of my group members, Gabriel Marrero, and I being absolutely in love with anything sports related, we quite literally seized our opportunity. We heard basketballs bouncing in the south end of the park and that’s exactly what we were automatically drawn to. There, we found about 20 local neighborhood kids, some casually playing soccer on a small, concrete pitch and others playing basketball on small sided basketball courts that didn’t even have nets or a square painted on the back board. The kids saw us and swarmed us asking us if we could play with them and of course, we took the opportunity and played both sports for a couple of hours. They were so excited to see new faces and to be able to show us their skills.
The part that really shocked me the most was that this was exactly how I had grown up: outside playing sports and not afraid of scraping my knees. In the United States, I feel like this culture has completely been demolished with the obsession of electronics. Driving around Miami, you absolutely rarely find kids without their noses stuffed into their electronics, and much less kids in playgrounds or parks interacting with others and getting dirty. The culture shock of how the Europeans enjoy the outdoors way more than the Americans was even more intensified when every city that we visited had one or two major parks with smaller ones hidden in the towering buildings. In Madrid, it was El Parque de El Retiro, Sevilla has el Parque de Maria Luisa with the lively Plaza de España, and Barcelona had the world renowned Parc Güell.
The real anticipation for Lavapies lied in the night life that had been raged about. What we expected was an absolute party scene but there was so much more meaning to our night than just that. In true Spanish fashion, we had to go to an insanely rated tapas restaurant that, walking in, looked like a small living room in an uncle’s house, and it felt just as comforting and inviting. Here, the atmosphere was so nonchalant unlike many Miami restaurants. The waiters were messing around and cursing at each other and kept bringing us more and more rounds of shots. It felt so similar to the Hispanic Culture that we feel at family parties where everyone talks to one another, there are smiles all around the room, and the food is warm and comforting. When going into American restaurants, especially outside of Miami where Hispanics absolutely dominate the population, the vibes are so different. People are dry, restaurants aren’t so laid back with their decorations or music, and the overall ambiance in all of the Spanish restaurants feel exactly like Hispanic culture.
When first looking through the neighborhoods, it was so strange that it was named “Lavapies,” which directly translates to “wash your feet.” Looking into the history, it seems rockier and more of a word-of-mouth kind of history. The first story, that seems to circle around the most, says that it’s called such because of the hills in the neighborhood that lead down to the Manzanares River. Even though this story goes around the most, my favorite is the one that says that there was a fountain in the middle of their main plaza in the 1800s that would create streams running down the streets that locals would wash their feet in (Zaino, 1). This story seems to European in the way that there’s a fountain, which seems to be conveniently in every corner except when you’re dying of thirst. The second story also gives a sense of community which plays a huge role in Europeans everyday lives because of the fact that they all live in such close quarters and walk to the majority of their destinations.
Going to Barcelona with the agenda to explore El raval, this name was strange and caught our attention. When researching the neighborhood, we dug into the history of the name as well because it didn’t seem like spanish. Here, we found out that El raval was named after the Arabic word of “rabad,” which means the outskirts. Even though this may not make sense with how Barcelona is built now, this neighborhood used to be on the outside of the first Roman walls (Wikipedia, 3). One of the most eye-catching components of this neighborhood had to be El Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, also called La Boqueria, and the history is even more elaborate. Knowing how far back these European countries go, it shouldn’t be surprising that these little marketplaces are just as old, but it always takes me by surprise. The first mention of their neighborhood market goes back to the early 1200s. In the earlier years of the millenium, this marketplace was used to sell meat for centuries. Towards the end of the 1700s, it was then transformed into a marketplace that would sell straw, and then turned into a fish market towards the end of the millennium. Throughout most of the marketplaces life, there was no enclosure or concrete walls to the market, but rather it was just casual stands of civilians selling different kinds of foods. When visited now, you find all kinds of Spanish delights throughout the massive market that’s enclosed by gates and covered with a metal roof. Here, you can find things from native, fresh fruits to famous Turrons to fresh chorizos. To think that in that very spot, where me and my classmates bought the most massive turron to share later that night in our apartments, there had been people just like us over 800 years ago buying goods is insane. They stepped on those same rocks, they did even exchanges, and were so similar yet they spoke a completely different language and lived an immensely different lifestyle than we do. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Boqueria)
Wandering these streets, my group mates and I stumbled upon the impressive Museu Marítim de Barcelona. Being a massive city on the ocean, much like Miami and the lifestyle that we’re used to, this maritime history was bound to be grand. Starting at the actual building of the museum, it was originally known as the Barcelona Shipyard. This shipyard was built in the early 1200s and almost 800 years later, the building is still intact and being put to use. In the inside of the museum, the most grand display is the replica of the 60 meter long gally from the 1500s. To think that this boat is older than the United States and it is still grand and breathtaking is impressive. To put it into perspective, the boat used a total of 240 people to row the 59 oars.
Besides the emphasis on the evolution of boats and their improvement on engineering, this museum had a whole section dedicated to trade routes and what they traded. When introducing the concept of trading with the Americas, the museum explains how trading out of Sevilla with the Americas was first picking up pace in the 1500s. Out of this came the Royal Barcelona Trading Company, which was a massive step in the right direction when it came to trading with the Americas (Wikipedia, 2). Because of this trading company, Catalonians were not able to trade with the Americas because of the Cadiz Monopoly.
“Barcelona Trading Company.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 July 2022,
Blystone, Dan. “El Raval Neighborhood Guide.” Barcelona Navigator, 20 Aug. 2021,
“La Boqueria.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 June 2022,
Zaino, Lori. “Welcome to Lavapiés: Madrid’s Cool Anti-Glamour Neighborhood.” Culture Trip,
The Culture Trip, 27 Feb. 2017,