ALBA Student Matthew Johnston gives his insight into his arrival and living experience during his first month in Barcelona.
Follow him as he gives us an in-depth view into life in the Gothic Quarter:
Nearly a month has passed since I stepped off of that early morning flight and found myself experiencing my first Barcelona sunrise from the Barcelona-El Prat Airport. The vibrant and welcoming Spanish sky that morning instilled a feeling of positivity and adventure that has still yet to subside nearly three weeks later. The reason for this being that around every corner and down every narrow corridor or wide open thoroughfare lies a unique new encounter here in Barcelona.
I would be lying if I did not admit the slightest feeling of nervousness as I set out on my 5,411 mile journey from Seattle, Washington to Barcelona, Spain. However, any qualms I had were easily dissipated during my first few days in the Catalan capital.
My roommates and I were greeted at the airport by an energetic and friendly ALBA employee who then took us to our very own apartment in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. When I strolled through St. James’s Square for the first time, suitcase in hand, I knew I would quickly learn to love my new neighborhood.
The Gothic Quarter, or Barri Gòtic, is amongst the oldest areas of Barcelona. Seeing as the place I now call home is so rich in history, I have learned a great deal by simply roaming the labyrinth style streets of the Gothic Quarter.
Beginning in St. James’s Square, one can see the city hall of Barcelona and the presidential palace of Catalonia. Both of these buildings are vital to the bustling city of Barcelona; interestingly enough, the square has been the center of leadership in the Old City since the Medieval Ages. A stone’s throw from the square is the Barcelona Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia. This structure is one my favorite sights in all of Barcelona. It was primarily constructed in the fourteenth century and was named to honor the Christian martyr Eulalia of Barcelona. The gothic architecture and intricacy of this cathedral make it a must see attraction for all those visiting Barcelona.
The narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter are lined with a multitudes of shops, restaurants, and bars of all kinds. I have found that wandering the quarter has led me to discovering goods, dishes, drinks, and experiences that are all wonderfully authentic representations of Barcelona. La Alcoba Azul has an ample selection of authentic tapas that surpassed my long-held expectations. As for affordability and quality, I have yet to find somewhere in Barri Gòtic that matches Bo de B. This hole in the wall sandwich shop offers a Mediterranean take on bocadillos (Spanish sandwiches) and is a must for any study abroad student.
Barcelona has long been referenced and praised for its inviting and unconventional urban planning strategies. The Gothic Quarter is a prime example of this. Those beautiful, narrow and historic streets that connect the quarter often give way to wide-open vibrant plazas. Outdoor gathering places like Placa Reial, Placa de Rei, and the aforementioned Placa Sant Jaume (Saint James’s Square) are all popular gathering places for people from all walks of life. At night, these areas are full of restaurant patrons, shoppers, and sightseers all gathering for a one of a kind experience.
The Gothic is also such a unique neighborhood because by in large, cars are forbidden. Most of the charming streets that intertwine throughout the neighborhood are open only to foot traffic with the exception of a few areas designated for taxis and service vehicles. This policy serves to create a peaceful and convenient bubble away from the noise and congestion that can be found beyond the reaches of the Gothic Quarter.
I have been able to call the Gothic Quarter home for three glorious yet quick weeks. In this time, I have felt truly immersed in Catalan culture every time I leave my apartment and step foot onto the cobblestone streets. I am not as well traveled as some, however I am confident when I say that exploring the Barri Gòtic will yield a one of a kind experience. I cannot wait to discover what other secrets this neighborhood is hiding around the next corner and down the next corridor.