By Natalie Yee

Earlier this year, my mom told me that she wanted to go somewhere for a memorable mother-daughter bonding adventure. The trip would be my last long vacation, like a “last hurrah”, before high school started. After much thought, we decided to go to Spain. With its breathtaking scenery, tons of history, and fashionable shopping districts, it offered many things to do while we visited.

During our visit, we stayed in Madrid and Barcelona for four days each. Even though the cities are not far from each other, they are quite a bit different. Madrid, being the capital of Spain, was filled with monuments and palaces. As soon as we entered the city, the business-like ways of the residents were apparent. Barcelona was more of a fun city with streets and streets of trendy, high class shops and buildings designed by Gaudi, who was an extremely talented designer and architect from Barcelona. In Madrid, it felt like the government was the most important thing in the city. Everywhere you look, you could see the coat of arms of Madrid or something related to the government. Barcelona is part of Catalonia whose people are a little different from the rest of Spain. It covers the Northeast part of Spain and is one of Spain’s richest and most highly industrialized regions. The Catalonians even have a different dialect from Spaniards. For years, separatists have been protesting for Catalonia to be independent from Spain. All Spain’s taxes, including Catalonians’, go to the Madrid government. They then split up the money they believe each city’s needs and allocates accordingly. Barcelonians believe that they should get a bigger piece of the “pie” than what they receive. This unfair budget is one reason for their want for independence; however, there are many other reasons as well. What surprised me the most is that I had never known about this conflict until I went to Spain and I am grateful for the local tour guide who told me about this. This is a much bigger conflict than anyone would expect and it may be getting more attention in the near future.

One of my favorite places was Toledo. We took the train there and back from Madrid. Defying our expectations, the train station was extremely organized and, contrary to other experiences, there were no gypsies in sight. A gypsy is someone who walks on the streets and around cities in Europe including Madrid. It was about an hour train ride through empty, brown countryside to Toledo. Once we got there, we got a view of the city from outside the city walls, across the moat that circled around it. The view was picture perfect, showcasing Gothic buildings and a lush, green background. Inside the city, there was so much history. In my opinion, Toledo is a one of the most diverse and interesting cities in the world. It once hosted Jews, Christians, and Muslims. There are many old mosques, cathedrals, churches, and synagogues still standing in the historical city.

While in Madrid, we visited the well-known Prado Museum. There were so many amazing paintings by so many talented artists. I could have spent days in there if I had enough time. My favorite painting is called “Las Meninas" which translates to “The Family of Felipe IV” in English. It is a portrait of the daughter of Felipe IV, Margarita, with her servants and family members surrounding her in the Alcazar Palace in Madrid. It  was painted by Velazquez. In the mirror in the back, you can make out the two faces of Felipe IV and his wife. Since the mirror is facing the people looking at the painting, it seems like the King and his wife are looking at this scene from the viewer’s perspective. To the right of the mirror, the Queen’s Chamberlain is pausing at the stairs. The painting shows Margarita’s two sisters at her sides along with a dog and two dwarves. Just behind them, Velazquez portrays himself working at a very large canvas. I love this painting because Velazquez must have put a tremendous amount of thought into it and, while its focus is on Margarita, there is still a lot happening in the background. One of the great painters of Barcelona, Picasso, was inspired by Velazquez. Barcelona is an artistic city that is home to the Picasso Museum and several buildings designed by Gaudi. We visited the Casa Batillo, La Pedrera, Park Guell, and the Sagrada Familia. My favorite Gaudi building was the Sagrada Familia. It is still a work in progress, but it is an absolutely beautiful cathedral. It is very different from a traditional cathedral, which is why so many people fall in love with it. The colorful stained glass windows create magnificent light shows across all the walls. The facade in the back of the cathedral represents passion and death. The facade in front of the entrance is filled with thousands of stories from the Bible intertwined with nature. It represents life. Thousands of animals and insects and plants were carved into the front doors by Gaudi himself. There are also many stories carved into it. This facade was the last project he worked on before his death. Since Gaudi died, the construction of the cathedral came to a halt. At first, there was not enough money to complete the project. Therefore, they opened it to the public and used the money raised from ticket sales to finish the Sagrada Familia which is planned to be completed by 2026.

Overall, I liked Barcelona more than Madrid. It felt more relaxed and less uptight. Toledo was also an extremely interesting city that I would definitely recommend visiting while in Spain. My favorite part of the trip was the Gaudi buildings, especially the Sagrada Familia. I think it should be named the eighth wonder of the world once it is finished in 2026. I learned a great deal on my trip to Spain and I would love to go back someday!