Whenever you make travel plans in advance, it’s impossible to know the situation of political issues and social unrest in the country you’ll be traveling to in advance. This was the case with Barcelona – my ten friends and I had chosen Barcelona as a fun spot to have a belated birthday celebration for our two friends who had September birthdays. However, when Catalonia (the region of Spain where Barcelona is located) decided to have an independence referendum that was met with violence from the Spanish government on the Sunday before our scheduled trip, we all started to get a little worried. Out of all the possible times this could’ve happened, why did Catalonia finally act on its desire for independence the weekend before our trip?!
We were all monitoring the news as the week went on: yesterday had seen the region go on general strike in response to the Spanish government’s use of violence in trying to stop citizens from voting in the illegal Catalonian independence referendum, and the strike meant that many tourist attractions (including the Sagrada Familia) were closed. Many streets were also blocked off from protests and public transportation was not running. Airports and taxis were apparently not being affected but… the prospect of being in Catalonia at a time of such political and social instability was not welcoming to any of us, nor to our parents, so the majority of us decided to get a refund on our Airbnb while we still could and just absorb the cost of our flights which were nonrefundable.
After a stressful and emotional morning coming to the decision to cancel our trip, I ventured out of my apartment to a place right around the corner that served authentic Italian arancini rice balls with a twist – instead of just rice, you could get them filled with squid ink black rice and pieces of squid in the middle, or with prosciutto. I ordered both of these and the prosciutto variety was a bit too much meat but the squid ink one was amazing and I definitely would get it again. The squid ink rice reminded me of the amazing squid ink risotto I’d had in Croatia.
Later in the evening, my friends and I went for a late night cannoli run – a place right around the corner of our street, near the Duomo served giant pistachio cream filled cannoli topped with chocolate chips on one side and crushed pistachio on the other side. At around $5, it’s the most expensive cannoli I’ve ever purchased but honestly it was so good that it was worth it.
Back from our cannoli run, I finalized my fall break plans: I decided that since we would not be going to Barcelona this upcoming weekend, it was a perfect opportunity for me to reschedule a Barcelona visit to fall break and subsequently visit my friend who lives in the northwest region of Spain, near Bilbao. I facetimed her tonight to tell her I’d finally be able to visit her and we were both so excited and ecstatic that we could finally reunite in her home country! Following my visit to Bilbao, I’ll be spending the rest of the first half of fall break also in Spain: a night in Madrid and a night on the island of Tenerife. Then, I’ll be flying to Copenhagen and spending a day in Stockholm before spending the weekend with my Danish exchange student who stayed with me in America three years ago! I feel so lucky to have friends across Europe who are willing and excited to welcome me into their homes and show me around their hometowns, and I’m happy that my fall break plans worked out well for me to be able to visit both my friends in Spain and Denmark.
It’s really interesting to see the different perspectives of Spaniards on the Catalonian independence referendum. My one friend who is a teenage girl who lives in Madrid explained the situation to me framing the Spanish government as the bad guys who are condemning the referendum that was intended to be conducted peacefully. Meanwhile, in my small tour group in Slovenia, one adult man was also from Madrid and he explained the situation to me in a different light: he said the Catalonians want freedom purely for selfish reasons, for money. They want to be their own country so they can keep their own wealth in the region. He explained to me that Catalonians have a lot of regional pride and distance themselves from Spain in general; it is generally unacceptable and sometimes met with physical violence if one walks the streets of Catalonia waving a Spanish flag or wearing a jersey of a national Spanish team rather than of the local Catalonian team. He described the Catalonians thinking of themselves as superior, not as Spanish but as a different race – he compared them to Nazis in Germany in terms of their selfishness, self-superiority and blaming their problems on the poor people of other regions. I think this divergence in perspective is so interesting and may have something to do with the difference in generation. Nevertheless, It’s always important to try to understand both sides of the story and it’s really interesting to be seeing the profession of Spain and Catalonia as the conflict develops during my lifetime, especially with my current close proximity to Spain.