Leah Daire: Vuelta Espana, 2022

Leah Daire is a Biology undergraduate student at Florida International University (FIU). Once she graduates, she plans to attend medical school. She is involved in the Peer Led Team Learning (PLTL) program at FIU and the organization Panthers Uniting in Support of Health (P.U.S.H.). She has a large family who come from Cuba and Lebanon, however, she was raised primarily under the Cuban culture. She loves reading, jogging, bike riding, and pets.

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This last Thursday, a group of us from the study abroad met up to scrapbook. Going through the pictures, although we were at times tired, we simply laughed about it and remarked on the great experience we had. I’ve made some great friends that I will continue to be friends with, and besides that, I met great people who, although I may not keep in contact with, I had the pleasure of meeting and traveling with.

MADRID

Arriving in Madrid, the first thing I remember is the bathroom in the train station; it cost 1 euro to enter. However, once I entered, I was alright with paying. There were bird noises playing in the background, a wall with fake grass, and modern wood paneling accessorizing the room. This bathroom was such a juxtaposition in contrast to the Atocha train station. Sufficient to say, it was an interesting introduction to Spain. However, I feel as if it fit Madrid in a way. Sandwiched in-between graffiti filled walls and run-down stores were some very nice, modern-styled restaurants. It was surprising to see, as in Miami, this would not happen, where neighborhoods tend to be more uniform in their decor.

There were many little cafes to sit down and get food. In comparison to the US, the service took longer, which I believe is in part to the large number of small businesses and more relaxed atmosphere in general. The food in Madrid (as well as Sevilla) was primarily sandwiches and tortilla espanola. There were many middle eastern and Indian food places. There were also many affordable and delicious vegan options. All in all, the food in general was very inexpensive. 

As a Native Spanish speaker, the hardest part in terms of language was ordering food. In Miami, I typically order most food in English (aside from basic Hispanic foods). As such, I did not know the names of many foods in Spanish. Spain also has some different items, such as the gazpacho. The photo feature in the Google Translate app helped a lot in this regard. By the time we left Spain, I became proficient in ordering food and what all the items were. My Spanish also improved a lot. I also picked up a few new phrases that my family has commented on. It is nice to have learned so much about both Madrid and Spain as a whole.

One of the nicest aspects of Madrid was El Retiro. There were many classes, such as yoga, taking place. It is a pleasant place to go to relax with friends or alone after a long day. A few of us in the class had a picnic there one afternoon. If I were to choose on city in Spain to live, it would be Madrid; the park is not the only reason, but it majorly affects this decision.

However, after speaking to a few local taxi drivers, I have heard that it is very difficult to find work in Spain. Spain’s unemployment rate was 13.65% in March of 2022, which was higher than the previous year (Trading Economics). Since 2005, their employment rate has been rising. It is speculated this is due to a high number of temporary contracts and the ease in firing staff. The lack of regulations in both areas is leading to Spain having an unemployment rate about double that of the average in the European Union (Bentolila, Samuel, et al). In my opinion, when comparing to the United States, Spain has automated a lot of jobs, which in the United States, are performed by a person. For example, many check-out lines are self-check-out and have a box where you simply place all the items you are purchasing inside, and it automatically accounts for them. In the United States, self-check-out lines are increasing in their popularity but are being phased in slowly. There are many other jobs which could be automated, but it would result in a large unemployment spike. This, however, could be an opportunity to allow more people to go to college or a trade school, but this would have to be a large social reform that would take time. 

Letras

During the Golden Age of Spanish literature, many influential authors lived in Letras; most famous is Cervantes (Madrid Tourisme). It is a very classy looking neighborhood. As it is near the center of Madrid (Sol), it is a major tourist area. My group and I spoke to a local store-owner there who told us that the population of Letras is split between locals, who where born and raised here and turists who stay in the many hotels populating the area.

Coincidentally, the day we walked around our neighborhood, there was a protest taking place. The government had previously required a difficult exam to get their business in the plaza. However, new legislation was passed, removing the previous requirement. Thus, the people were protesting that they were now “gifting the square”. 

SEVILLA

Sevilla reminded me of Madrid in terms of many aspects, such as food, fashion, and lifestyle. However, Sevilla had a more small-town charm that was lacking in the city of Madrid. Horse drawn carriages could be seen parallel to cars on the street. One thing could be seen standing tall, the Catedral de Sevilla. The tour of the Catedral de Sevilla was my favorite cathedral tour. It was very interesting to see the outlines on the roofs that helped make the stained-glass windows as well as the other features that helped in the construction. 

A recent addition to the city is the Torre Sevilla. With 40 floors and standing at 592 feet, it rises above the cathedral. Finished in 2016, the tower was a point of controversy, as historically, the church was supposed to be the highest structure. This notion is already notwithstanding in many other cities, but Sevilla was viewed as different due to its’ old-fashioned allure. The tower is used as an office building and hotel and thus raises money for the city, but many citizens were not happy with the decision (Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat). It sets a precedent that will quite possibly mean the end of Sevilla as it is now (and the start of it turning into a larger city like Madrid or Barcelona). However, this is not necessarily a wholly bad thing, as Sevilla is moving towards establishing its place as a more global city.

BARCELONA

Before leaving, my grandpa told me this quote: “Sona o no sona, Barcelona siempre es Bona”. My grandpa told me that in Cuba, this was a well-known quote that was often thrown around when discussing Barcelona. It roughly translates to: “Sound or no sound, Barcelona is always beautiful”. I didn’t think much of this quote before leaving, but in all honesty, Barcelona is very pretty. Its’ architecture is what made it my favorite of the places we traveled to. The Modernist architecture is like no other. 

I will say I cried twice during this trip. The first, while seeing the Guernica and listening for all it stood for. The second was listening to the organ play in the Palau de Musica. This may have to do with being an amateur musician myself who used to perform in musicals in high school, but I felt completely surrounded by beauty and in awe sitting in the front row of that auditorium. It’s a completely indescribable experience. I thought that if I were to be affected by something on the trip, it would be related to Spain’s history, but being in Barcelona was something completely different. 

As we discussed in class, Barcelona has managed to create a style unique to themselves. This also has helped them gain more attraction and become the tourist beacon that it is. 

This fact helped Barcelona feel a bit more like home. I could see a few similarities between Miami and Barcelona. In Barcelona, I was very surprised at first hearing how the citizens were so adamant that they were separate from the rest of Spain, but then I realized the parallel between Miami, in which many people consider themselves separate from the US as a whole due to the large Hispanic presence. This proud sense of culture and identity is something that stands out. 

Sagrada Familia and Sant Marti

There are a few key landmarks in this very large area. The first is, of course, the Sagrada Familia. I wrote about this in the Barcelona as Text, so I will not comment much on it, however it is truly Gaudi’s masterpiece.  

Below is part of my Barcelona as Text: 

The Sagrada Familia itself is a vision, with all its different facets. Although I didn’t love every single part of it, I could admire the work put into the building as a whole. The inside was beautiful with the stained-glass colors and mimicry to look like a forest. So many things were thought out, to the detail, such as the passion side, with its columns made to look like bones and tendons. This church is a compilation of so many different artistic styles and visions of various people (following after Gaudi). It is amazing to see the masterpiece as it is still being built. In the future, I hope to come back and see the additions to the Sagrada Familia and how it has impacted the community.

The next few locations are in Sant Marti. Sant Marti is more of a residential area. El Clot and El Camp are two of the major neighborhoods in which people lived. They held more of an industrial feel with its’ brick walls. In the past, this was an area centered around manufacturing, but now it has transitioned to the tech field. Moving more towards the coast, this becomes more apparent as the area is more modern, filled with upscale office buildings and a large shopping center. This area is called Pobleaneu or new town. The Glories Tower stands tall and colorful, a major tourist attraction in Barcelona with its observation deck; however, the majority of the building is filed with office buildings (Museos). Then, walking towards the beach is a large strip with small restaurants lining the walkway. This walkway, as well as the beach, is filled with locals, enjoying their day with their family and friends. 

Sitges

As high school seniors, my classmates and I played a game called assassin in which we had to spray someone with water guns to “get them out” of the game. One of my targets lived in Coral Gables. His house was white, tan, and blue – one I’ve always remembered it because I thought it was beautiful. This house looked like Sitges. 

It’s undeniable that the city is stunning, regardless of if the style of the building suits a person or not. It’s the charm of having everything have a similar, unique style. It is amazing how one of the Deering brothers we were learning about and established Miami, drew his inspiration from Sitges. 

CONCLUSION

In a way, I am Spanish. My mom is Cuban and my dad’s family is Lebanese. It is a part of my culture, one that has evolved and picked up different customs along the way. In the same way, many Miamians and Latinxs are Spanish. There’s no clear-cut answer, as with many things in life. 

There are many similarities I have drawn out so far, but there is also some differences in the culture. In the US, people do not stand for what they perceive are injustices; people push their rights to do what they believe is right personally. For example, the people who are pushing abortion restrictions (or vice versa) truly believe they are doing the right thing. This is the major reason why we are so politically divided. On the other hand, in Europe, people go along with what is happening, they don’t fight it collectively (for the most part); it is a more relaxed and united lifestyle. Not to say that there is not protests nor reforms (as the one I saw during my neighborhood exploration of Letras), but in general the United States is more radical in their division and strive towards “liberty” and “freedom”.

In the Cathedral de Cordoba, I didn’t think it was right that Muslims were not allowed to pray when the mihrab is still there (even though it is facing a different direction than that of prayer); however, this is the right of the conqueror (Cathedral Chapter of Cordoba). By turning it into a cathedral, it was saved. As Spain is very Catholic, there are not really enough Muslims to use the mosque if it were to be converted back to one. In my opinion, both religions could co-exist in one location, but that is mine as a Catholic who picks and choses what she wants to follow in the religion (which to some is categorized as agnostic). 

Throughout this trip we also saw many large and grandiose churches. I felt in awe of the power of the catholic church. I have begun to understand the unquestioning faith people have had for generations; what has led people to go to war in the name of Catholicism and God; this was especially true during the Middle Ages when people could not read. This was all they knew and saw as the truth (I, who tend to not pray often, found myself compelled to pray in these beautiful churches and think on religion more concretely as it was constantly surrounding us). 

We learned in the previous semester about all the injustices towards the indigenous and African American peoples who helped build Miami; yet, this information is not well-known by many. I believe the same is true (to a certain extent) in Spain in terms of the Reconquista, the Inquisition, and the Conquista. It is the sad truth about the way things are conducted, no matter where you are. I would like to thank Bailly, for above all things, he taught us that many things are hidden, and to question what is behind the wide-spread truth. 

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Works Cited

Bentolila, Samuel, et al. “Why Is Spain’s Unemployment so High?” VOX, CEPR Policy Portal, VOX, 22 Jan. 2011, https://voxeu.org/article/why-spain-s-unemployment-so-high. 

Cathedral Chapter of Cordoba. “Mihrab: Web Oficial – Mezquita-Catedral De Córdoba.” Mezquita – Catedral De Cordoba, Cathedral Chapter of Cordoba, https://mezquita-catedraldecordoba.es/en/descubre-el-monumento/el-edificio/mihrab/. 

Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat . “Torre Sevilla.” Torre Sevilla – the Skyscraper Center, Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, 2016, https://www.skyscrapercenter.com/building/torre-sevilla/8887. 

Madrid Tourisme. “Barrio De Las Letras.” Madrid Tourisme, MADRID DESTINO CULTURA TURISMO Y NEGOCIO S. A., https://www.esmadrid.com/en/madrid-neighbourhoods/barrio-letras. 

Museos. “The Torre Glories in Barcelona: Information & Tickets 2022.” Museos, Disqus, 14 July 2022, https://www.museos.com/en/barcelona/torre-glories/. 

Trading Economics. “Spain Unemployment RATE2022 Data – 2023 Forecast – 1976-2021 Historical – Calendar.” Spain Unemployment Rate – 2022 Data – 2023 Forecast – 1976-2021 Historical – Calendar, Trading Economics, Mar. 2022, https://tradingeconomics.com/spain/unemployment-rate. 

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For more pictures of my study abroad, check out my instagram: @leahdairee

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