ALBA Student Matt recounts and reviews his time in Barcelona with ALBA Study Abroad
It is truly a blessing to be able to study abroad in a city such as Barcelona, Spain. The diversity in geography, the historical richness, and the ample opportunity for new experiences regardless of where you are in the city leave zero room for dull moments.
During my time inside the city limits of Barcelona, I have walked the balmy waterfront beaches; I have looked over the city from scenic viewpoints like Montjuic and the Columbus Monument; I have stood in awe of the entrancing stained glass within the Sagrada Familia; I have risen to my feet with 99,000 Barcelona FC fans, roaring in celebration.
All of these memories within the city of Barcelona are a testament to how many one of a kind experiences await any study abroad student in the Catalan capital. A short cab, bus, or metro ride in any direction will yield an authentic representation of one of the most popular cities in the world.
As you may perceive, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time within the city of Barcelona. However, I would like to highlight a few of the times I was fortunate enough to travel outside of the city with the ALBA Study Abroad program.
The ALBA program has provided me with the opportunity to attend four guided excursions to various destinations within Catalonia. These excursions exposed me to unique cities, landmarks, and historical sites that I otherwise would not have known about, let alone been able to witness firsthand during my time here in Spain.
These excursions led my fellow students and me to the Collserola Mountains and the hidden forests of Barcelona. We ventured to the Girona province and explored the city, as well as the coastal region of the Costa Brava. We hiked to the medieval town of Rupit and experienced breathtaking mountainous views. When we went to the town of Tarragona we were exposed to the Roman presence in Spain via ruins and historical museums.
All of these excursions were fascinating in that they provided a hands on and involved look into what Catalonia is like outside of the capital city, Barcelona. In walking away from my study abroad experience here in Barcelona, I believe that this has been crucial. This is due to the fact that Catalonia is vastly different from nearly any other province or territory within Spain. It has its own history, its own philosophy, and its own identity. To truly grasp how Barcelona became the city that I am studying in today, I felt that I needed to explore the region of Catalonia that molded it. Thankfully, ALBA gave me the chance to do so through these guided excursions.
The excursion that claims some of my most fond memories from my time thus far in Barcelona is the day trip to Montserrat. Montserrat is a mountain range near Barcelona that translates to “serrated mountain” in the Catalan language. It is home to a monastery and multiple religious relics that are vitally important to Catholicism.
As we maneuvered back and forth on the bus up the many switchbacks that lead to the base of the monastery and primary tourist destination on Montserrat, I began to take in the awe-inspiring views out of my window. We finally reached our destination and headed for the Santa Maria de Montserrat. The Benedictine abbey has been functional since the 10th century. As we began to explore the historical example of religious housing and worship, I came to realize that we were in fact guests there. The Santa Maria de Montserrat is home to roughly 150 monks to this day. Furthermore, it is home to the famous boys choir “L’Escolania”. This choir is known globally for their authentic and truly breathtaking sound. If you happen to visit Montserrat, watching a performance is highly recommended.
One of my favorite aspects of the Santa Maria de Montserrat is that it houses the legendary Virgin of Montserrat, or “Black Madonna.” This golden religious relic is tucked away in the back of the monastery and holds a special significance for Christians. This statue of the Virgin Mary and child is believed to have been produced in the 12th century. The truly unique and captivating statue was once honored by the Pope and is one of the patron saints of Catalonia. It is said to grant wishes to those that make the quest to see her and pray whilst laying a hand on the statue.
Seeing as I am a religious person, this experience was truly special and was one that I will likely hold dear for quite some time.
Regardless of religious motives, Montserrat is a must-see for all those visiting Barcelona. The architecture, historical significance, and spectacular views make the mountain a favorite for many ALBA students.