Roadmap of my SPAIN Experience jiE-ling Ngo


Just hitting the books one fine autumn evening and a newsletter caught my eye - spring elective abroad - The City as Text: Barcelona and Madrid. 5 months later, I am boarding the plane headed for Madrid and Barcelona. Here is how it went. Hopefully, these pictures I took with my phone will suffice as a tool to bring you to the places I discovered and learnt about with my friends, classmates, professor and dean.


In Frankfurt Airport, on our way to Madrid. Weather's a little chiller in Frankfurt this morning... On route to even warmer weather in Madrid opposed to the snowy conditions in Boston.


We're in Madrid!!! Walking to the coach bus, it's so nice out!
First meal in Madrid - Octopussy (Octopus) pao with patatas gajo (wedges) at Baco Cata, a 5 minute walk from Roommate Oscar. Here's a not so secret secret, I love Octopus and this pao was amazing! Not pictured here was the language barrier between us and the waitresses. They were very patient and it was a great first encounter with communication difficulties. Many people in Madrid do not speak English fluently, and it became a language immersion when we spoke to the locals.
Witnessed an ongoing protest on our way to Puerta del Sol. I had never seen a protest before, and this was a cordial one. It was interesting to have this as one of my first experiences in Spain. It was the least to say, a remainder of what the current situation in the country is - high unemployment rate - and I believe that the protest had something to do with a company.
In the department store, Corte Ingles. For a Scavenger Hunt challenge, we had to wear Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid shirts. This was our attempt at a funny photo. Hard to see from this picture, but Amy was piggy backing me.
On our way to Chocolateria San Gines where they had delicious, warm and fresh churros with hot chocolate dip. First dessert in Spain - yum! Food culture shock? No. Food culture stunner? Yes!
In the Royal Gardens with the side of the Royal Palace of Madrid as the backdrop. In love with the architecture in Madrid. The old buildings and monuments created back hundreds of years ago, are incredibly detailed in construction and breathtaking in person. This horse statue above is the first horse statue with only 2 feet on the mount - it was the catalyst of future similar statues to come.
On our way to Plaza Mayor. Look at these streets, what a European feel. It was my first time in Europe, and I am a completely lover for this type of architecture - so simple, classy and beautiful.
Plaza Mayor - a beautiful area bustling with restaurants, shops and people. Another gorgeous statue in the middle of the plaza. Loved how Madrid incorporates their buildings with statues.
One of the 4 sides of Plaza Mayor. Delusion - these buildings are not as wide and big inside as they seem.
Mercado de San Miguel - my first tapas meal. Love the culture immersion here - Spaniards from outside of Madrid mixed with foreigners. We were told locals do not come here as the tapas are pricer than other places, but the prices were decent in our opinion and the food was good, so please point us to these other places the locals are referring to because we're all for cheaper and great tapas.
Our first dinner out - tapas, which was amazing. Probably the best tapas during the whole trip. Felt it was really European-like for a florist to walk around with stalks of roses to sell in a square filled with restaurants. He was not pushy, and instead was very friendly and light-hearted during conversation.
Catedral de Sta Maria la Real de la Almudena opposite Madrid's old Arab city walls/ruins. This magnificent cathedral is breathtaking and magnificent. There's also statues towards the top of the dome, which adds on the sophistication and holiness.
These streets are made to walk on. Beautiful streets accompanied by equally gorgeous buildings filled with apartments. Pictured on the right are 2 of my friends - Ari and Matt.
The street names in Madrid are adorned on the side of buildings with beautiful squares like the one above. Every street name has a painted picture that goes along with it - I loved it.
Calle de Serrano - crossing the street to go to Círculo de Bellas Artes' rooftop terrace. The old buildings here are incredibly well maintained and makes me feel like i'm walking back in the day.
On Círculo de Bellas Artes' rooftop terrace. First look at the city view - astonishing. The mix of historical and new developments are so well intertwined that it is difficult to tell that there was no organizational plan for the city. The city was built inside out with no structural plans, and yet it's a beautiful web of streets, buildings and monuments.
Streets in the Chueca neighbourhood. A quiet and homely street.
Streets in the Chueca neighbourhood. A mix of varying colours and types of material used, for example, the metal for the red door opposed to the wood for the older looking door on the right of the picture.
Lunch - pork and potatoes - in a mercado's restaurant in Chueca.
Streets in the Chueca neighbourhood. Small balconies big enough to fit only potted plants. Back in the day, people used to come out to these balconies to stand, see and participate in events happening in the streets below.
Streets in the Chueca neighbourhood. Love how artsy Madrid is with decorating their walls. Definitely adds to the cultural exposure and differences in my opinion. I have not seen such decorations throughout an area, in other countries.
The crew in Parque de Retiro near Salamanca.
Streets in the Chueca neighbourhood. Love the European and relaxed vibe from this street.
Estadio Vicente Calderón. I've only been to a handful of soccer games in my life, never in Europe, and this was by far the most amazing and thrilling soccer game. What made it so exciting was the atmosphere and enthusiasm of all the fans. Everyone played a part in this game, and it made it hard for us not to as well. Joining in the cheers and uproars, I felt as though I was a part of the Atlético Madrid fan base - welcomed with open arms.
What a stunning Congress building! I love the greek architecture and the details put into the ceiling and roof. Just when I thought i'd seen the building thoroughly, a fine detail at the top catches my eye.
In Lavapiés. How amazing is it that in the city centre, there are still old buildings like this. Gives a feel of what the olden days could have been like. Noticed that several Spanish buildings tend to have that swirly decor - whether painted on or crafted out of stone.
Singapore bans graffiti, I get it, it can be a mess. Madrid? No, it's more than a freedom of speech. It's an art. Walking through the streets of Lavapiés, every street is decorated with a different style of graffiti. Fashioned on walls or metal shutters, these works of art are a mix of detailed but messy and yet thoughtful and inquisitive in nature.
In Salamanca. This street of restaurants differ from the other streets in the neighbourhood or Madrid in the sense that the storefronts all have a unique structure to them. For example, the one of the left resembles a ship. These buildings are also pretty old and date back to dozens of years ago, which contrasted with buildings in its vicinity - new apartment complexes.
One of the cheaper restaurants/cafes we found in Salamanca - the well to do neighbourhood. One of my only times when I ate "American" style food. This was a Spanish diner except it had 2 floors and a lot of tables. Although this breakfast plate is "American" in nature, it is also unique as there were 3 pieces of bread, and the egg yolk was broken and exposed with a circular bread cut out at the top.
Still in Salamanca, walking towards Endeavor, it was interesting to see that in such a wealthy neighbourhood, there was this very small area that had very run down and abandoned buildings. For a second, it made it feel like I was no longer in Madrid, that I was in some third world country.
More pictures of this small area that was abandoned and rundown. From the growth (length and thickness) of the brunch in the middle, it seems that this area has been abandoned for a while, which comes as a surprise due to the high economic development in Salamanca.
Another look at this area.
And a few seconds down the road, we see fancy new developments - what a contrast. I wonder why that land in previous pictures is left abandoned and in a poor state. It seems that it could be prime and valuable land that is worth a good amount of money.
Puerta de Atocha railway station in Madrid. Love that there's almost a forest growing indoors. The plants played a huge role in the beauty of this station. Here to take the AVE high speed train to Barcelona.


Basílica de Santa María del Mar. A gothic church in the Barrio Gótico of Barcelona. What a stunner. Standing so majestically tall, this church was like a fortress.
The Jewish quarters in the Barrio Gótico. These streets and walls used to be part of the original Barcelona city area back many hundreds of years ago.
First dinner in Barcelona. Donut batter pressed into a waffle with bacon, a beef patty, spinach and wonderful sauce. This burger was amazing and sensational for my taste buds.
View from Alella Vineyard - outside Barcelona's city centre
View from the vineyard. Although the grapes are not in season, it was a nice experience walking along the grape vines.
Leaving Alella Vineyard
In El Born. Although the buildings are all decently old, this is a sign of gentrification even back in the day. There is a significant differences in building heights, widths and material used between the 4 buildings in this picture.
In El Born. Love the historical monuments around Barcelona. This looks like a fountain used back in the day for either drinking water or washing hands.
Lunch for tapas in El Born, Barcelona. This was incredibly tasty and the cheapest we got in Spain.
In El Born. From this picture, we can see more gentrification as the sides of the buildings are significantly taller than this building. I liked this building because it made me feel a sense of what it could have been like back in the day - the architecture, plants dangling from balconies, and shutters open with residents ready to come out to wave at neighbours.
Squid Ink Paella. No squid, but with mussels, clams, prawns and arroz. Made my teeth black for a second, but was worth it. Definitely a different taste as compared to the traditional tainted yellow paella.
Casa Batlló redesigned by Catalan Architect, Antoni Gaudí in 1904. Suggestions say that the decor draws inspriations from the ocean.
La Sagrada Familia designed by Antoni Gaudí in 1882, and projected completion is 2028. My favourite architecture building in Madrid and Barcelona. Crafted with immense detail and sophistication, every angel tells a different story. Everything on this building has so much history and meaning to it, it's hard to just only be caught up in the beauty of this Roman Catholic church.
The old port of Barcelona in Barceloneta.
A little of that Santa Monica LA vibe in Barceloneta - a mix of the beach, industrial and modern times.
In Barceloneta - a touristy area - and hence, prices are rising for residents and many are beginning to be displaced from their homes or have to move out because of increasing living costs - A consequence of tourism. Nonetheless, tourism has allowed for Barcelona's economic boom and development, and has helped decrease unemployment rate as new infrastructure and demand for service roles increase along side tourism.
In Barceloneta's beach, you will find men sculpting the best sandcastles, and all out of the pure fun of it. This particular sandcastle is a dragon breathing fire. Another one not pictured, is a gorilla urinating. These creative and innovative sandcastles shows us why Barcelona was awarded and is known as a creative and innovative city - City ranked as "European Capital of Innovation" by the EU in 2014.
Montjuïc Castle is an old military fortress where it also housed prisoners.
The current port of Barcelona. This city is the main economic engine of Spain, and accounts for more than 25% of all Spanish exports.
Montjuïc Castle's rooftop. Absolutely breathtaking view.
View of the city from Montjuïc Castle.
I know they say breakfast for dinner or lunch and call that brunch, but breakfast for tea? Also, WOW. I think the picture says it all. Nutella pancakes, what's more to say?
Definitely enjoyed the talented musicians and singers who played on the streets and in the metro. Thoroughly brilliant with what they do. Brightened up my day every time I heard them play - by far the best musicians and singers i've heard in public spaces, with not one person sounding average.


In Flughafen München (Munich Airport), getting lunch while transiting through. Had to get the infamous German currywurst, which was really good considering i'm not the biggest fan of sausages.


View of the Boston skyline. To Boston via Munich from Barcelona.

What an unforgettable journey! If I could do it all over again, I would, and with the same crew.

What a trip! Full of culture, gorgeous architecture, mouth-wateringly delicious tapas, and lovely people, Spain is definitely all it says it is and more. Every restaurant we entered and every company we had the pleasure to visit, were wonderful and amazing. There is simply so much to discover in Madrid and Barcelona. Having walked and metro-ed everywhere we went, and visiting "barrios" that I would not have seen if I had travelled here on my own, this experience was sensational, enlightening and educational. I also made new friends along the way! There is so much to see when we walk, and there is the opportunity to simply take a deep breath and look at what is in front of us. In this case, the architecture and people caught my eye. I loved examining the different ways certain buildings were built and decorated, and the way the locals went about their day and interacted with one another. Everyone is very fun-loving, and yet they know when to be serious and when to crack a joke and laugh. Having met and interacted with locals at companies, and hearing about what they do, made it feel like I was way more than just a tourist - almost as though I was part of a bigger organization. We had the honour of visiting BBVA Headquarters with Anxo Lopez, DesignIt Madrid, Endeavor, Morillas Agency with Marc Morillas and Pau Dalmau, Team Labs, and meeting Juan Carlos Belloso. Every encounter brought something new to the table to learn about - whether from strategic designing in a bank, supporting entrepreneurs with social-impact startups, branding companies - think + feel = theel, or rebranding Barcelona. These opportunities allowed us to discuss topics with a different culture, and exposed me to varying ways people think, and a peek into the world of working and living in Spain.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into my Spain experience. I would 10/10 recommend going to Spain if you would love to immerse yourself in the culture, language, architecture, and food. And if you are given the opportunity, I would highly recommend going to Madrid and Barcelona for a class, because I learned so much more than I would have if I had gone by myself as simply a tourist, instead of a student.

Well for now, it is home sweet home, and back to school the next day.


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