by Aidan Grambihler

😱 No, no, no, no, no! This isn’t happening! The program isn’t ending. I am not leaving in under a week. I will be in Barcelona for the rest of my life. I can have friends and family visit me here. I can take classes here until I graduate. I can eat patatas bravas and croquetas until the day I die. This isn’ttttt happeninggggg 😫! 

As you can tell, I’m in deep deep denial about leaving Barcelona. I have less than a week left here, and there are so many more things to see and do – I’m just getting started. But best believe I’m going to milk every last moment 🐄. 

For a sentimental look back on the first week of my study abroad experience, be sure to check out my Week 1 study abroad photo diary. In this Final Edition, I’m excited to show you more of what my study abroad experience looked like from Weeks 6 to 10 🗓️! Classes have been getting more and more real, so I’ve had to up my studying time significantly. That being said, I have still been able to balance academic life ✏️ with adventures 🤸. 

Without further ado, I’m excited to share the second half of my study abroad experience with all you current ALBA students, prospective ALBA students, and vicarious adventurers. I will, of course, spare some of the more personal details because, after all, it is my diary mwahaha 😜. Let’s dive in!

Rennes 🇫🇷

I left off my last photo diary talking about my plans to revisit my French host family for the first time in four years. And let me say, that ended up being such a special, wonderful, comfy-cozy weekend 🥰. Probably my favorite part of the entire ten weeks. I stayed at their place all the way from Thursday night to Monday night.

On Thursday night, I flew into the Nantes airport ✈️, and my French host dad drove me to their little town outside of Rennes. It was pretty late, so I expected the rest of the family to be in bed. But when I walked through the door my host mom and the dog 🐾 – the cutest, most precious cocker spaniel you’ve ever seen – greeted me. I jumped a little bit out of surprise, but my host mom and I hugged it out and chatted for a little while. My host brother was asleep because he had school the next day, but I got to reconnect with him on Friday evening.

Friday afternoon, I met my host mom in Rennes, where she works. We walked around and stopped by a pâtisserie 🥮 to buy my absolute favorite thing in this entire world… a mille-feuille. It’s the most scrumdiddlyumptious thing ever. And there was only one left at the pâtisserie, so it was meant to be if you ask me. We caught up with each other some more, and she discussed some of the big current events happening in France that I was only semi-familiar with, like the changing of the retirement age. After our mille-feuille chat 🗣️, she dropped me off at the gym my host brother goes to. It was fun catching up with him – he’s wrapping up high school and is gearing up to go to college next year, possibly one of the rigorous two-year programs in France where students cry 😢 every night because the school is designed to break them. It was also crazy catching up with him – both of us are taller and have deeper voices now and look more grown up.

The gym session 🏋️ made my arms sore for like a whole week afterwards because I hadn’t been to the gym since before the program. But it ended up being a fun exchange of skills – he taught me more about strength training 💪, and I taught him more about stretching and doing the splits 🖖. That night, we saw the new Super Mario Bros Movie, and like with any movie I’m genuinely excited to see in theaters, I fell asleep halfway through because of the dark lighting. But the first half was fun! And I’ve since gotten the SparkNotes version of the movie 🍿from my friend Max, so we’re good. 

Another fun thing we did on that trip was going on a really pretty, peaceful hike with the doggo. Peaceful until we had to de-escalate a fight between our cocker spaniel and an unleashed rival dog lolz. Which ultimately left me with muddy jeans ahead of our Michelin star dinner (the rival dog jumped on me lol). But the hike was worth it – some sweet locals let us inside of an artistic retreat cabin that served as a filming site for a famous French movie. After our yummy dinner that night where I yet again got a mille-feuille (this time a pistachio one 🤤), we had a mini recital back at their place where my host mom played the piano 🎹, I played the piano 🎹, and my host brother played the guitar 🎸. The next day, we visited the famous walled city of Saint-Malo, where we saw a traditional Breton bagpipe performance and got the absolute best almond croissants 🥐 from a bakery I had been to four years prior. Oh, and then my host mom and I spent a day walking around a town called Bécherel, which is a book-lover’s paradise 📖. There are over a dozen bookstores close to each other with lots of rare books and popular reads. My host mom got me hooked on an author named Philippe Besson, but we unfortunately couldn’t manage to find his autobiographical book at any of the stores because it got turned into a movie, so I think it’s in high demand. Later on, my host mom took me to the airport and we cried it out 💧. Four days was too short but at the same time I wouldn’t trade those four days for the world. Ultimately, my favorite part about visiting them was that it happened right in the middle of my study abroad experience, so it gave me a good taste of family since I hadn’t seen my own in a while ❤️.

Barcelona 🇪🇸

It was pretty hard coming off of that wonderful trip, but we made it work. I had a group project meeting bright and early the next morning, but after powering through that I had a really fun week. We had a field trip in my Smart Cities class where we got to see Barcelona “Superblocks.” There was the ALBA wine tasting where we learned about how to categorize wines 🍷 based on acidity, color, tannins, etc. And there was another cooking class with Mariela. For this cooking class, each group was challenged to come up with the best aesthetic presentation once all the food was prepared. The winning group receives a prize at the end of the trip 🏆.

Oh, and beyond ALBA program thingz, I made a new friend that week! Like me, he’s an American living in Barcelona until June 10th-ish. His name is Joe and he’s so kind and fun to be around and I always tell him “We did it, Joe!” because it makes me giggle. He’s staying at his friend’s place, and his friend’s place is an absolute mansion of an apartment and I’m jealous haha. Joe has been a wonderful person to hang out with, and we’ve gone out for food a bunch 🍴. He even got us the yummiest charcuterie board everrrr 🧀. We had to say a temporary goodbye though, because I was off to Madrid and he was off to Sitges.

Madrid 🇪🇸

Wanting to explore more of Spain, I spontaneously booked a flight and a hostel to Madrid a few days out from when I went. (Sometimes it makes more sense to take the train 🚂 there and back, but I managed to find a cheap round-trip flight.) That was once again such a fun weekend. I stayed at a hostel with a bunch of rainbow 🌈 decorations and drag queen posters. It was a pretty good hostel – much much better than the one I stayed at in Nice. But, like with all hostels, I prefer minimizing my time there and instead spending as much time as possible walking 🚶 around the city and exploring. I flew in early Friday morning and was soooo tired but had to wait until 3pm to take a snooze 💤 at my hostel because that’s the typical check-in time. Like with every first day in a new city, I just walk walk walk. No agenda or anything beyond just trying to catch vibes, get a feel for the city, and whatnot. I ended up grabbing a big €4 breakfast 🧃, shopping around, and walking through their big Parque de El Retiro 🌳. On Friday night I asked a local about suggestions for the city, and he gave me a nice list ✅ of places to check out and how to divvy it up across the Saturday and Sunday.

What ended up happening is that I completely slayed my Saturday and saw everything on his list in just one day (still giving everything adequate attention). Probs because I walk fast hehe. I saw the big Catedral ⛪️, the Palacio Real de Madrid, the Mercado de San Miguel (that’s the food market shown in the picture below), the modern art museum called the Reina Sofia that has Picasso’s famous painting la Guernica 🖼️, and I also fit in a couple of the filming sites from the show Money Heist. There’s one scene in the show where a blimp flies over the city and drops a bunch of money 💶, and that was shot in a Times Square-y looking city square in the heart of Madrid. Disappointingly, when I went to check out another one of the filming sites – the building they used as the Royal Mint of Spain – it was private-access-only 😢.

The timing of that weekend was so so fun… Saturday night was the Eurovision Song Contest finals 🎤! And I love Eurovision! I watched most of it at a mini viewing party, and then went to a club with a few other people to see the countries giving out points to each other. After the points went out and everything, we went to the basement of the club and danced the night away, until like 3 or 4am 🪩. Which was so much fun, no regrets at all. But it did spell disaster for my sleeping schedule 😴.

Toledo 🇪🇸

Let’s go back in time twelve hours ⏰. During the day on Saturday, I was feeling so on top of the sites the local had suggested to me on Friday night that I decided to book a round-trip shuttle to Toledo for Sunday. I had seen a sign in Madrid advertising a day-trip to Toledo, and I had also overheard a couple of people from my hostel talking about it. So I booked the shuttle ticket, which was really cheap 🤑. Only catch was that the station you have to pick the shuttle up from is located on the outskirts of town.

I was running on empty by the time I got to Toledo, but I was nevertheless blown away by how beautiful 😍 of a town it was. The architecture, the quietness, the weather ☀️. I walked walked walked and checked out one of their art museums that had quite a few Picassos. Mostly, that day was about wandering around and admiring the prettiness of the city without any sort of agenda. I once again blew myself away with my productiveness ☺️.

Madrid 🇪🇸

I took the shuttle back to Madrid, and then decided to check out el Parque de San Isidro because that weekend was a holiday in Madrid called San Isidro, thus making it logical that one would celebrate the holiday at el Parque de San Isidro hehe. When I got to the park, I was in absolute awe. There were thousands of people walking the streets and picnicking in the grass 🧺. There were vendors everywhere, most of them either selling flowers 🌺, cotton candy, meats, mini donuts 🍩 (I got a pistachio one that was delicious!), or mojitos. That was without a doubt the busiest, liveliest, and most impressive street fair I’ve ever been to 👏.

Sunday evening, I called my mom for Mother’s Day in the lounge of my hostel and toward the end of the call one of my friends from ALBA, Emily, walks into the room 😲! And we both stare at each other without speaking for a few seconds because it’s crazy that we’re both in Madrid on the same weekend and both staying in the same hostel! And, as it turns out, we are in adjacent rooms! Not only that, but Emily is also there with two other friends from the program, Aakanksha and Abby. What are the odds?! So after locking eyes for a bit, I dramatically tell my mom, “I have to go.”  And then I chatted with Emily, Aakanksha, and Abby. I was originally planning on doing homework that night, but it sounded like more fun to go out clubbing with them 🎉. So we went to a bar, I tried my first piña colada🍹 which was mmm so good, and then we headed to a club that Aakanksha found because she is an expert at finding free spots. Minus the guys aggressively jumping up and down and backing into people, the club was fun and played great music. There was even a whole staff of people managing the lighting and effects. And every ten minutes or so, they blasted cold air on everybody which felt so nice and needed.

Barcelona 🇪🇸

That next week, we had our final cooking class, which featured sausage and white beans 🫘. Then, as per ALBA student Leen’s suggestion, I checked out a cafe ☕️ just three minutes away from the ALBA center called Els 4 Gats. The cafe is fascinating because it dates back to 1897 and, according to the brochure, served as a “meeting point for the artistic, ideological, and cultural vanguard of the city.” Participants included Gaudí as well as a 17-year-old Pablo Picasso‼️

Girona 🇪🇸

That week also marked the last mini-group excursion. But even if the mini-group excursions have come to an end, Group B shall live on. Group B is a state of mind 🧘‍♂️. We went on the Girona Medieval City tour, which was such a pretty excursion. We went at the best time because the city was celebrating its annual Temps de Flors, an exhibition full of floral artwork 🌸. The picture of our group with flowers in the background was actually one of the filming sites for Game of Thrones. We also found the site where the famous Distracted Boyfriend meme was taken and reenacted it teehee!!! Shout out to Max for the suggestion! The city was beautiful and full of fascinating history, and the food at the end of the tour was really yummy 🥖. I just wanted to keep eating and eating.

Valencia 🇪🇸

To continue my mission of exploring Spain, my next weekend trip was the beautiful Valencia. I went easy on myself with timing by scheduling my train ticket 🎟️ for the afternoon instead of super super early. When I arrived at the train station, I was ten minutes out from my departure time and got really confused about where to go. So I was running around and panicking. And all the running ruined my feet 👣 because I was in my rubber Birkenstocks, which was the only pair of shoes I brought for the trip in an effort to pack as light as possible. Hindsight’s 20-20, and I would’ve totally taken another pair of shoes, because it hurt to walk for the rest of the trip. Other than that part, though, Valencia ended up being a wonderful time. I stumbled upon the stunningly beautiful Palacio de Dos Aguas and admired its interior. Then I got Moroccan food for my first of three times that trip, checked into my hostel, reserved dinner at one of the top-rated paella restaurants, napped for a bit, and woke up in time for dinner 🕘.

During the Girona excursion, our tour guide Inés gave me suggestions for Valencia, one of them being paella 🥘. Valencia is known for their paella valenciana, a dish that traditionally includes chicken, rabbit, and green beans. I tried it at the restaurant, and it was delicious. I ate with another tourist who was about to get turned away from the restaurant for not having a reservation. He and I got sangrias, too, and they were really sweet and amazing.

The next day, I attended a free walking tour of Valencia. We saw the cathedral as well as other historical buildings. Once I left, I got a sangria with a brilliant, friendly Austrian guy and made my way to the City of Arts and Sciences, an incredible complex of museums. I went to the popular Oceanogràfic museum, where I saw penguins 🐧, dolphins 🐬, belugas 🐋, and so much more.

Afterwards, I bussed 🚌 over to a beach with a backpack 🎒 full of snacks I quickly bought at the convenience store. The beach was so calm and relaxing. I wanted to check out the gay nude beach section, so I followed the internet directions that said to walk 100 meters north of an abandoned factory 🤷‍♂️. Surely enough, I found it. There weren’t a ton of people out, so I just relaxed by myself and took a little nappy nap. That rounded out my Sunday so nicely.

Then on Monday, I took it pretty easy. I tried Valencian horchata and oranges 🍊 because I found online that those are both popular staples. The horchata was to die for!! I would’ve had twenty more glasses, but I had to catch my train.

Barcelona 🇪🇸

The day after Valencia, my feet were in recovery mode hehe. Except I had to do a good amount of walking that evening to make it to the Palau Sant Jordi sports arena for a concert I had booked a few days prior. Ahhh I saw Elton John 🥳!! It was so exciting because I couldn’t make it to his concert in Seattle that happened a while ago, so I am so happy I got to see him at some point in my life, especially given that it’s his Farewell Tour. He was a really impressive live performer, both vocally and on the piano. I also loved my seats because they were the cheapest ones, yet they had probably my favorite view. I wasn’t facing Elton head-on, and I couldn’t see the big screens, BUT I had a lateral view of the stage so I got to witness the behind-the-scenes of Elton going backstage. So cool!

Another highlight of that week was trying the Catalan product Cacaolat for the first time. For our final International Business group project, we pick a local product and develop a plan for expanding it to another country. We chose the chocolate 🍫 milkshake brand Cacaolat, so we met up to work on our group project and tasted it together.

During the weekend, Max and I checked out the Mercat dels Encants for our first time. It’s a huge flea market, the largest in Barcelona. We spent a while checking everything out, from clothing to antiques to cosmetics to accessories to food. I took this pretty sick picture of Max, and you can see how the flea market has a mirrored 🪞 roof, which was cool. That evening, I saw the orchestra 🎻 perform at the Palau de la Música Catalana concert hall. That night, the theme was John Williams, so they played all songs from Star Wars, Jaws, Indiana Jones, etc etc. The orchestra did a wonderful job, and the concert hall was so pretty.

The next day, I checked out what someone told me was the first-ever Barcelona Queer Market 🏳️‍🌈 of its kind. The trade show had live music, shows, food trucks, and shops. It was a really fun, not overly-crowded event, and I liked how the event featured local creators. There were some great handmade goods. I got a rainbow belt, rainbow bracelet, and two t-shirts 👕 as souvenirs – I’m hoping hoping hoping that I can fit everything in my suitcase 🤞.

During the week, I had my final exam for International Business, which required a lot of studying 📚 the day before. But the fun payoff came from the field trip in my Smart Cities class later that day, where we got to check out the cool, cutting-edge digital technology exhibition at the Museu del Disseny for free. We learned more about digital art, artificial intelligence, and environmental science.

That evening, I checked off a big item on my checklist: going to Paradiso, the supposed best bar 🥃 in the world according to the internet. I went with some ALBA friends, who were lovely enough to figure out the whole reservation situation because to get a table you have to first join a queue 📱 that can sometimes take a while. When they got the alert that our table was ready, we dashed over to the bar. They have really fun drinks; I got the “Tesla,” which was a fruity drink that would glow any time you touched the glass. Some other people got the “Voyage” drink, the moon 🌖 landing-inspired one.

Montserrat 🇪🇸

The end of an era 😢. Our last ALBA excursion was a whole-group day trip to the Montserrat mountain range. We got to explore the amazing 1000-year-old monastery with its beautiful panoramic views, followed by a Catalan country lunch. The codfish 🐟 I got for my second course was really delicious. And then I ate some other people’s food afterwards because they were full and offered it to me and as a growing boy I don’t pass up on free food 🤠.

Dear Reader,

From the bottom of my heart, thank you thank you thank you so much for reading up on my study abroad experience over the past ten weeks 🫶. It has been so fun sharing my stories with you all, and I hope it gives you some fun ideas for how to spend your time abroad.

It’s sad to say goodbye to Barcelona, but I can always come back later. Right now, Seattle is calling my name, and I should pick up. 

Keep thriving and living your best life ❤️.

Until next time,