Endless Surprises

Written by Valerie

I have postcards from Paris, metro stubs from Barcelona, and a museum ticket from Germany. I have gone to all of these locations yet, every destination I visit surprises me. I came to this continent with an idea of what every culture would be like and how I would feel about them. It was all the contrary. For example, when I got to Barcelona, Spain, I was so relieved because I thought, “Finally, a country where I can speak the language.” However, when I got there, I realized that Barcelona is a part of the Catalunya region of Spain, where they speak Catalan. Thankfully, the vast majority of the people spoke Castellano, which is what they call Spanish. As a native Spanish speaker, this was a matter of joy for me. However, a grand portion of the signage for storefronts, products, and restaurant menus was in Catalan, which I could definitely not understand no matter how related it is to Spanish and the other Romance languages.

This unexpected difference created a sense of intrigue. It made me want to get to know more about Barcelona and all her history. That is the interesting thing about a country, it is like the layers of the Earth. There is the surface with its beauty you can see with the naked eye, where the people lie and the music plays, but under that layer is the crust. This is where the recent history lies, where you can see the cracks and imperfections of the past the land has endured like natural disasters, wars, and discrimination. Even further down, you get to the mantle. Here is where you begin to understand why the culture has formed the way it has. Former colonizers and rulers can explain why the Spanish have the ceceo, which is the formal name for the lisp, or why in certain regions of Spain there is Mozarabic architecture. Cultural pillars like language, religion, and architecture are expressions of the past that tell the story of what that land has lived through. Lastly, you reach the core. This layer is the foundation. The geography of a nation ultimately is what sets the stage for what it will become in the future. Nearby bodies of water that stir up fights or mountain regions that create natural separations all influence the formation of a nation.

This being said, I encourage all future travelers to seek out the history of the area you are visiting so you can understand the differences you are seeing. This will create a bond between you and the culture of the country that will make it feel like it is welcoming you with open arms. It wants to be understood, just like you and I.

Seafood in Spain

Monday, February 21, 2022 | Written by Claire

For spring break, I had the opportunity to hit numerous cities in Spain and Portugal. Other than the welcoming warmth of the sun, the beautifully adorned architecture, and the serene natural beauty on the coast, the food was also worth the lengthy travel time. If you’re a seafood lover, then you’re in luck!

Paella in Barcelona

One of the dishes I was most excited to try when traveling to Spain was their famous Paella. Having never tried or even seen the dish before, I could feel my mouth watering when I smelled the sizzling scent of seafood and rice at the door of the restaurant. The most popular Paella style is the one topped with shrimp, prawns, mussels, clams, and various vegetables such as bell peppers and onions. After being baked at high temperatures, the drizzle of oil and seafood soup on a fine layer of rice makes the perfect afternoon lunch along the beach with the cooling ocean breeze. Most of the time, since Paella is made in larger batches in a large pan, the food is to be shared amongst a few people. While the pan might look huge, don’t be fooled, it’s just the right amount to fill you up! You can even save some room for some extra tapas or dessert. 

Pulpo and Boatellas Tapas in Valencia

Another famous Spanish delicacy is the Pulpo or octopus with potatoes. Usually, they are served in smaller portions sprinkled with red spices and then drizzled in olive oil. With such neutral and little flavoring on the octopus slices, the natural taste of fresh octopus is brought out, paired with the tender, bouncy texture of pure octopus meat. Depending on the place you go, the meat has a drier texture with which you could bite chunks off easily while others have a chewier texture that is gummy in your mouth. The potatoes are also another story… While they are slightly sweet to the taste, they have a springy feel. Instead of becoming mush like a normal baked potato, these special Spanish potatos break off into smaller, chewier pieces, with incredible tenderness at the surface. 


If you happen to visit many of the traditional street markets, you will often find them selling mountains of fresh cuttlefish, squid, and prawns, so fresh that they’re often still twitching on the ice. At this one tapas bar, I ordered a plate of small cuttlefish for about 14 euros. It was literally the best dish I have tasted on all my trips thus far. As a seafood fanatic, I couldn’t help but to sink my teeth into the delicious, tender cuttlefish flesh. While most of the time, if you order the traditional fried squid, or calamari, the meat is usually pre-cut into rings. This dish however came with the full head, filled with tentacles as well. The garnish on top with lemon zest and olive oil added an extra seafood zing. It was one of the most tender and juiciest squid dishes I have ever had. If you find yourself in Sevilla, definitely pay a visit to La Tradicionale for big portions with reasonable prices.

Adventures in Barcelona

Tuesday, October 5, 2021 | Written by Mira

To quote one of my favorite reality TV shows, Big Brother, “Always expect the unexpected.” This is a mindset that you must adopt during study abroad. My trip to Barcelona started off with one of the trains being canceled a few days in advance due to previous inclement weather. I’m not quite sure how inclement weather from the 14th of September causes a train scheduled for the 24th of September to be canceled on the 21st of September, but “always expect the unexpected”.  

Getting a reimbursement for that train was a lot easier than expected, with google translate already pulled up with a French translation of our situation, and what we were asking for. All we had to do was go to the train station, talk to an agent, and reimburse the ticket. We could have exchanged the ticket, but the best alternative itinerary we found didn’t require seat reservations. So I guess I should thank the inclement weather for saving me 10 euros.

 We left for Barcelona Thursday evening and had to take an overnight train; I highly recommend booking an overnight train a few weeks in advance so everyone in your travel group can get a room together. On the train we took, each room contained four beds, and unfortunately my ticket was the one that was separate from my two travel buddies. Overall, the experience was quite interesting, and taking this overnight train was what I imagined the Hogwarts Express to be like.

Barcelona’s beautiful lights

After five trains (and about 20 hours of travel), we finally made it to Barcelona! We had dinner at a tapas restaurant called Dora (Carrer de Provença, 275, 08037 Barcelona, Spain) before heading to a lookout spot. We climbed up the many steps to the Mirador de l’Alcalde, and the view was so worth it! I am a height-junkie, and the most amazing thing about views like this, is that just a mere hour before, we were in the view. From the observation deck, everything looked so small, but the view contained so much life and beautiful bright lights. There were so many things this view captured- too many things to do in just one day. Unfortunately, with the length of our trains, one day would have to suffice for now in this beautiful city.

On our way back to the AirBnB, we emerged from the metro station to a celebration in the streets with bright fireworks and lively dancing. The La Mercè Festival of Barcelona, an annual week-long celebration of the end of summer, was in full swing, and we just happened to be there for the official day of celebration.


Life imitates art or art imitates life?

Our only full day in Barcelona was jam-packed full of adventures! We started off the day with breakfast at a quaint café. The amateur coffee connoisseur in me was ecstatic to try a cortado, a traditional Spanish espresso drink. Next up, the Picasso Museum. Located in the middle of an old, medieval portion of the city (we almost completely passed it!), the museum is home to an extensive collection of Picasso pieces.

 Next stop: the aquarium! I think being from the Atlanta area and having the Georgia Aquarium be my touchstone for aquariums, unfortunately made this aquarium a little bit of a let-down. However, the reprieve from the 80-degree heat was much appreciated! I’ve always known my name is Spanish for “look,” but never before had I realized how often this word is used, especially at the aquarium. There were many parents telling their children to “mira, mira, mira” at the colorful fish. Every single time this happened, my friends and I would have to stifle a laugh, so the Barcelona Aquarium was probably the funniest aquarium I’ve been to.

I had a caprese empanada and it was incredible!

You can’t be in Barcelona without going to the beach! As we mapped out directions to the beach, we walked along the port and came across an art and food market! I found the most beautiful bee earrings, which I just had to buy (Go Jackets!), and these will definitely be what I wear at graduation – my “I got out” earrings. We made it to the beach (after stopping for some delicious empanadas), and it was so refreshing to just relax.


The colorful, bustling Mercado de La Boqueria.

Next stop: Mercado de La Boqueria (La Rambla, 91, 08001 Barcelona, Spain). I HIGHLY recommend this place. This market is a mixture of food vendors including street food but also meat, produce, fish, etc. where locals can come for their regular grocery shopping, and tourists can enjoy a real feel for the city. The market reminded me of the markets (shuks) in Israel, and it felt like a piece of home. 


Our final stops of the day: The Arco de Triunfo de Barcelona and La Sagrada Familia Basilica. Two absolutely beautiful structures! If I do come back to Barcelona, which I hope I do, I will come back to La Sagrada Familia in the daylight. We were there after the sun had set, and the basilica wasn’t really lit up as we expected, but it was beautiful all the same.

 Barcelona definitely can’t be done in one day – I could probably spend a week there and still not feel like I fully experienced it. So, instead of a “goodbye” to Barcelona, the trip home was an “until-next-time.”

It’s Always Sunny in Madrid

Delicious restaurants, mystifying paintings, mosaic tiles, and canoes: the city of Madrid has all this and so, so much more. Join Kaitlyn on her latest adventure to Madrid over Easter weekend as she explores all the gorgeous city has to offer.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021 | Written by Kaitlyn

**Disclaimer: The following trip took place over Easter weekend, before the most recent series of COVID-19 related restrictions were put in place in France.**

Dear Madrid, thank you for being the perfect getaway for a long weekend. We love you and your sit-down restaurants, energetic nightlife, and never-ending shortage of things to do.

The city of Madrid fully alive at night.
The city of Madrid fully alive at night.

The night we arrived it quickly became apparent Madrid is a city that thrives at night; its streets were full of life and laughter, revelers were celebrating the long weekend in stride.

The next day was off to an early start; there was so much to do, to see, and most importantly, to eat (which is exactly what we did)! Due to COVID-19 restrictions we have been unable to sit down in restaurants until this weekend so you can bet we were going to eat out every chance we got. Our breakfast was one of champions. We were craving familiarity and jumped at the chance to have an American style breakfast, and dare I say the Spanish almost do American breakfast better than Americans? With our stomachs full and smiles on our faces we headed to our next stop: a shopping spree on the iconic Gran Via.

We wandered through a park, where we stumbled on a man with an extremely old-fashioned camera. He offered to take a photo of us, and showed us the process of developing it.

2021 or the 1880s?

We then headed toward the Prado Museum to admire some artwork. There were many memorable pieces, but one that particularly called out to us was Las Meninas, a Baroque-era painting depicting Margaret Theresa, the king’s daughter.

This piece of art has fascinated and mystified the public for hundreds of years.

After getting our fill of art history and seeing more than a lifetime’s worth of Spanish royalty paintings, we ventured into trying traditional Spanish dishes. I ordered their famous huevos rotos con jamón (broken eggs with ham). 


Our culinary tour then took us to El Chocolatería San Ginés, Madrid’s oldest and most famous chocolate shop. The churros were delicious! It was a thousand times better than the frozen and reheated churros I’m used to having at my state fair… although now that I think about it, that’s a pretty low bar. 

One of my favorite things about Madrid was seeing the architecture. They seem to slap Spanish tile on everything. Even their street signs are artfully painted tiles!

Painted Spanish tiles are everywhere in Madrid.

A beautiful Easter Sunday in an even more beautiful park.

The next day was absolutely beautiful weather-wise, so much so that we spent half the day relaxing in Buen Retiro Parque. It reminded me of New York City’s Central Park, but better. Flowers were blooming all around us as park musicians serenaded us with a variety of instruments, from the saxophone to a man creating notes from the rims of glasses.

One of the main attractions of Retiro Park is canoeing on the lake in the center of the park. My friends and I excitedly hopped into the boats and rowed around the lake. We raced in the water, laughing as we got close to bumping into each other and generally causing chaos in the small lake. 

An image of a boat in the middle of the lake.
The perfect place to spend a sunny day in Madrid.

The park was so photogenic that we couldn’t pass up any chances to hold impromptu photo shoots, especially with spring in full bloom.

Jumping photos always make the most fun shots.
Jumping photos always make the most fun shots.

Of course, we couldn’t vacation in Spain without fully embracing the culture. We were a little tired from our morning activities, so we returned to the Airbnb for a short siesta. Honestly, America could learn from Spain — siestas are always a good idea.

At night, we scouted out the best sunset spot in the city, the rooftop of the art gallery Bellas Artes. Though we didn’t exactly catch the actual sunset, the afterglow was magical with the lights from the city twinkling all around us. 

Madrid’s skyline at sunset
Madrid’s skyline at sunset

Fall Break: A Week of Travel Adventures

A little #TBT for you – take a trip back in time with us to revel in Quinnell’s fall break travels to Portugal and Spain!

Running to catch trains, being gross from long travels, eating some of the best food I have ever eaten in my entire life, seeing architecture my eyes only ever dreamed of, and experiencing moments of a lifetime is what my fall break consisted of. In comparison to Georgia Tech’s fall break, it is actually a break, a week to just relax without having to worry about school. I really appreciate how during fall break, I was not required to do a lot of schoolwork and had time to get it done beforehand so I could enjoy my travels fully. And so for fall break some GTL students and I decided to take a mini-tour of Portugal and Spain.

At the beach in Porto, Portugal

The first stop on my fall break was Porto, Portugal. I arrived in the city around 8 AM and did the one thing I knew how to do best: search for food like the hungry college student I am. I was able to find a café that was open around that time of the morning and was able to eat a nice, hearty breakfast and get my daily intake of coffee. Porto was a lot different from I expected it to be. I thought I would be overwhelmed by the amount of Portuguese being spoken, however, something very unique to Porto was that since it is so close to France and Spain, there are many languages spoken there even though Portuguese is the national language. Some of the things I enjoyed doing in Porto were seeing the beach and watching my friends surf for the first time in cold waters, visit the bookstore with the red staircase that inspired the Harry Potter books, and eat traditional pernil con queijo sandwich from Casa Guedes. Porto was a lot windier than I expected, but so beautiful at the same time with the yellow and pink tones cascading through the hills on houses with red rooftops.



The morning we arrived in Lisbon was the day I got the workout of the century, as we woke up late to catch our bus to Lisbon, and all the public transportation was not running at the time. We only had 30 minutes until our bus would leave, and too many hills to climb in Porto to reach the very top of our destination. With a “we can do this” and fitness instructor enthusiasm we made it to the bus station just in time! Once we arrived in Lisbon, the city was full of food and beautiful sites to see. I believe the highlight of my time in Lisbon was getting to try the local fish and traditional custard tart pastries. A sight I could not miss while in Lisbon was the one from Castelo de Saint Jorge, as I was able to see a panoramic view of the entire city of Lisbon from one of its highest points and learn more history about the city as well.

Lisbon, Portugal

7AM flight to Madrid, Spain from Lisbon, Portugal

The next stop on my fall break trip was Spain! The country is absolutely gorgeous and a place I dreamed of going to since I was younger. I have always had a deep admiration and appreciation of Hispanic culture. Spain was a dream: I was able to visit Valencia, Madrid, and Barcelona for a few days. On Halloween night, Valencia came to life with parties for college students and satisfied my paella dreams, as I ate two different styles of paella while I was in Valencia. By the time I reached Madrid, I was exhausted from traveling to so many places, and I was only halfway through fall break! In Madrid, since we arrived later in the day and it was raining, I did what most locals do during this type of gloomy day: I went to Primark! For those who may not know what Primark is, it is the store of your fashion dreams as everything has very low prices for pretty good quality. After shopping, I had some amazing tacos at Takos and the best churros and chocolate in the city. Lastly, I made it to Barcelona with the group I was traveling with. I would have to say that Barcelona was the highlight of my trip, as we spent the most time here, and I did not feel rushed to eat and see everything in one day. While in Barcelona, I was able to meet new people at the hostel we were staying at, take a walking tour in the city, see Gaudi’s architecture casually decorating the streets of Barcelona, and of course see the infamous Sagrada Familia!

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain

Overall, my fall break consisted of a lot of traveling, satisfying my hunger, seeing historical landmarks, and making new memories with fellow GTL students. From traveling to different cities in Spain and Portugal, I was able to see  how different each one was from the people, slight variations in culture, and food. I have gained a new perspective and appreciation of those countries from traveling there. When planning fall break, I would recommend making plans early to save money on travel, and to visit fewer places because traveling can be exhausting, and it minimizes all the things you can see and experience of each city.

Cadiz & Castles on the Ocean

The big cities are great and all, but sometime to really experience the daily life of the country, you need to go off the beaten path a bit. Maddy visited Cadiz, Spain over her fall break, and she experienced some great details of living in Spain. Check out her latest blog!

Cadiz is a small peninsular town on the coast of southern Spain, and it is also the capital of the Cadiz region. My mom urged me to go there while I was in Spain for fall break, and because I was doing so many big cities, I figured I’d take a break from the crowds and the beach it for a minute. I will say if you’re tired of swathes of tourists, go to Cadiz – there were very few tourists. I’m not sure if for a particular reason, but we barely saw any at all.

The town is very walk-able, and you’re never farther than a mile away from the coast at any point in the peninsula. It has the classic plaza-centralized landscape of many European cities, but they’re on a much smaller scale and are incredibly personalized with family-owned restaurants and bodegas literally everywhere. At any point in time you can look inside a bar and see old men slicing Iberian ham from the leg and drinking local sherry. What I’m trying to articulate is that it gives off a very homey feel.

One thing I absolutely loved was the market. It’s in the center of town and there’s what feels like miles of freshly caught fish and fruiterias, or fresh fruit and vegetable markets. I’ve never stared 50 lbs. of tuna in the face until that day. The thing about Spain – but particularly southern Spain – is that it is sooooo cheap. So, so incredibly inexpensive. We decided to make dinner that night from market finds with our three-person-can’t-finish-it-all meal totaling up to $4 per person, and this was including some very good fresh fish. I think our vegetables in total were about $1, I’ve never experienced getting a heavy bag of pretty much anything for that much. Once we realized how cheap everything was we just started buying things left and right: our lunch, random juices, and on.

The beach itself was nice, because the water was cold per usual, but the really neat part was the fortress at the very tip of the peninsula. It was a Moorish fortress, but probably Roman before that, and was used by Spaniards afterwards – a classic Mediterranean mix. There’s a long stone walkway that leads out to it, and while you’re not allowed to enter, the tide pulls away from the walkway to where you can climb underneath it and hang out around the natural “moat” that the ocean forms. We were there right at sunset, adding to the whole picturesque beauty of the place.

If you like cathedrals, the Cadiz cathedral is really something you should consider. It’s not all dark and gothic like most cathedrals across Europe: it’s so old that the paint has completely worn off to reveal a creamy white-colored stone, looking much older and more beautiful (in my opinion) than most gothic stuff you’ll see. Downstairs is the crypt in which the ceiling is curved so you can talk on one side and it’ll sound like you’re whispering to your friend across the room.

The cathedral is also home to one of the best views of Cadiz: the bell tower.

While we were up there we heard a group of children singing “Despacito” in the plaza. Very quaint, but lively town!

Madrid: Tapas and Parks

What do you think of when you travel? The history? The sights? How about the food – because Maddy took Madrid by the food! Check out her latest blog to read more about the bites and the sights.

I promise I’ll talk about other things as well, but I just have to comment on the food first and foremost. Skip ahead if you don’t care about cuisine (I don’t understand you, but I respect it). I love food! I love food. I love it so much, and it breaks my heart to see people not care about it as much as I do. Madrid is the capital of Spanish food (as well as the capital of other stuff, like the country or something), and I was sure not to squander my appetite before arriving. Like Barcelona, you can get any Spanish food as well as any Spanish-conquered food, so there’s half the globe of options. One thing I knew I had to have was arepas: they’re corn cakes  loaded with your favorite toppings like plantains, steamed pork, and mole sauce. We found a place near Plaza Mayor (which is a big, historic square with not much actually to it) and downed some nice arepas within seconds. Not sure what these candies were but they were super good and just fun to have.

Tapas were incredible, ranging from octopus and fried calamari (Madrid is pretty far from the coast, but they love seafood) to shredded cow tongue and mojo chicken. I thought the classic churros and chocolate I’d dreamed of included hot, drinkable chocolate, not literal melted chocolate: so when they were out of churros and they looked at me funny for just ordering the latter half, I was given a strange glance and soon realized why.

Do not be like me and try to drink melted chocolate by itself, your stomach and wallet will thank you later.

Now on to normal city highlights. Overall, the city was very vibrant and bustling. Most of the streets are narrow, and the buildings all around you are quite tall, so it feels a little claustrophobic, but also could be cozy. It’s a lot like many European cities in which many roads lead to a big plaza or square, but Madrid is special in that there is ALWAYS someone playing music or dancing in them. It felt like we just followed one music scene to the next, consisting of anything from steampunk jazzy-funk to African drumming circles. Right near Plaza Mayor was a guy playing the accordion to “Despacito,” and both Spaniards and a group of Asian tourists were getting down.

One thing we loved was the amount of parks, and these aren’t some dinky half-dog park half-playground parks. One of the main parks is five times the size of Central Park, and the one we spent the most of our time in (El Retiro) was also incredibly massive and absolutely beautiful. The fall leaves were right at their peak turning colors – lucky for us – and we bicycled all over the place.

On a side note, I would kind of recommend renting bikes in Madrid, but also not- some parts are super hilly and don’t have bike lanes, so if you’re wimpy like us, your day may require a lot of bike-walking. We went to the top of the hill of El Retiro to see the skyline and the Temple de Debod for sunset. For some reason or another the president of Egypt gifted an entire temple to the city of Madrid, so it was deconstructed and rebuilt on the highest point in this beautiful park. I had a weird feeling about it (not a fan of displacing ancient religious structures/objects/most things), but I have to say it was an incredible sight, especially at sunset.

Madrid is a great place that I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time in: definitely on my list to go back to though!

Sweet, Sweet Barthelona

Food, feats, fun… what more could you ask for? Maddy soaked in the sights and tastes of Barcelona, and she’s determined to go back. Check out why in her latest blog!

My experience of Barcelona is split up between two short and sweet weekends, one in the spring and one in the fall. I’m definitely going to come back to Barcelona to truly steep in the culture, but the time that I had with it was pretty meaningful. I packed a ridiculous amount of activities in for a total of 72 hours.

The overall feeling of the city is very young and vibrant. Everyone is either a chic, well-dressed woman, a punkish-looking skateboarder, one half of an adorable and small old couple, or a man with an incredible beard reading a philosophy book. Or a tourist, which comes with being anywhere, but especially Barcelona, being the capital of Catalonia. The boardwalk on the beach is always so full of life, with people walking their dogs and rollerblading and playing volleyball. Barcelona is also the skateboarding capital of the world, so you can always spot some young guys and girls doing tricks on any available surface. I’d highly recommend finding a famous skating spot and just watching some professionals take on feats of stairs and inclines that make me cringe just thinking about them.

If there’s anything I want to impress upon you about this particular city, it’s (surprise) to not just go see the Sagrada Familia, but to go IN the church itself. You will never see anything like it in your life, and the beauty of it is literally breathtaking. I gasped out loud. It’s a similar response to seeing the Grand Canyon or the Alps for the first time, except this is man-made which makes it all the more incredible of an experience. The church was designed primarily by Antoni Gaudi, the famous Catalonian architect that has done many crazy architectural feats across the city. They started construction in the 1870’s and it has yet to be finished, projected to be done in 2026 (as of now). The church is designed to mirror the unparalleled beauty of nature, and man does it do the trick: I don’t want to show too many photos because I want you, dear reader, to have my experience, but I’ll give you a little taste. (Photos don’t do it justice anyway.)

LOOK AT THAT. Look at how beautiful that light is. There are so many gothic, dark, and musty cathedrals all over Europe, whose stained glass are full of cluttered depictions from the Bible, but this church completely rejects these norms and uses light for the sole purpose of beauty in color and gradient. I absolutely love it and I will try my hardest to come back when it’s totally finished.

The other highlight that I will mention is food. I love Hispanic food of every kind, so I’m a little biased towards Spain in general, but I will say there are some places in Barcelona that totally blew my mind. There is one restaurant that isn’t necessarily Catalonian, but is too good: Brunch and Cake. Yes, it’s a bit “white girl overpays for Instagram-able plate,” but good God, is that plate incredible. If you want a dark green matcha pancake with strawberry compote while overlooking the harbor, I suggest you try out this restaurant. A great thing about Spain in general is that there’s a ton of immigrants from all the places they imperialized (a little disturbing, yes), so you can find every kind of Hispanic-infused meal in Barcelona/major cities. One of my travel buddies is Colombian so he took us to a few Colombian restaurants and I was schooled in the ways of the Colombian meal.

I ate so much I was on the verge of puking for a few hours in fact. If you like fun at all, go to Barcelona! Maybe not in fall 2017 because of the independence marches, but you should definitely go at some point.