UB Blog #3: Response to Political Structure of Spain (Feb 26)

It’s impossible to talk about Spain’s current or past political scene without mentioning the Spanish Civil War and Francisco Franco’s dictatorship that endured for almost 40 years after the war ended. The aftermath of the war and Franco’s rule permeate every aspect of political life in Spain.

The war started with a military coup. When battle ensued, it was the rebellious Nationalists versus the Republican government. The conflict stemmed from years of polarization between the two sides and lasted from 1936 to 1939. In total, 500,000 people died during the war, with 200,000 of those deaths related to combat, according to Spartacus Educational. When the war ended, the hardship was hardly over. With the Nationalist victory came Franco’s harsh dictatorship that lasted from 1939 until his death in 1975. Franco’s regime was one of cultural oppression, manipulative propaganda, mass executions and much more. Though these events ended more than 40 years ago, they have left lasting impacts on both the physical and cultural landscapes of Spain.

Air raid shelters are the main way I have seen the war influence Barcelona’s physical appearance. According to an article about air raid shelters in Barcelona by Femturisme, 1,400 air raid shelters were built in Barcelona alone during the war. It makes sense that there are so many of them because the Spanish Civil War was the first time bombs were used in battle. Ramon Perera was the engineer who headed the construction of these air raid shelters meters below the ground using the Catalan Vault construction, which made them incredible stable and able to withstand the force of bombs.

During class we had the privilege of visiting an air raid shelter that is below El Palau de les Heures on the University of Barcelona Mundet Campus. This was the president of Catalonia’s private air raid shelter. I was surprised by how big it was for just one person and his staff. It made me wonder what it would’ve been like to be a normal citizen sitting in a crowded public shelter as bombs fell overhead.

One way Franco’s regime still influences the cultural landscape of Spain is through the controversial debate of what to do with his grave and memorial, located in El Valle de Los Caidos. According to an article by Giles Tremlett for The Guardian, President Pedro Sanchez has declared that Franco must be dug up, but what should be done after that happens is unclear. Some people want the monument destroyed because they find it offensive. In his opinion piece, Tremlett says, “a massive 150-metre tall granite cross sits like a giant finger raised to the families of those assassinated by his regime, to the victims of his political courts and to the families refused permission to take their dead elsewhere.” Other people believe a museum that forces Spain to confront its past should be built in place of the monument. Still, there are a rare few who do not believe the monument should be changed at all. From this debate, one thing is clear: “Franco’s body may be removed, but his ghostly presence will dominate the Valley of the Fallen, just as it still casts a pale shadow over Spain, until a far more radical transformation is completed,” as Tremlett says.

A cross stands tall at El Valle de los Caidos, where Francisco Franco is buried. This is a Creative Commons image.


The Spanish Civil War – Spartacus Educational https://spartacus-educational.com/Spanish-Civil-War.htm

The Air Raid Shelters in Barcelona – Femturisme https://www.femturisme.cat/en/routes/anti-aircraft-shelters-barcelona

“Yes, Spain should dig Franco up. But it must not bury the horror of his regime” – Giles Tremlett, The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/24/spain-franco-regime-dictator-burial-civil-war-fascism


UB Blog #2: Response to Barcelona’s History, Heritage & Image in the Media (Feb 19)

Barcelona was founded in 15 BC by the Romans, and you can find evidence of this with just a little digging (Get it? Digging?). When I walk through this city I see ancient mixing with modern, and it reminds me that some streets I walk on have existed longer than the U.S. has been an established country.

The Patrimoni Cultural page from the Generalitat de Catalunya has a great overview of Barcelona’s (and Catalonia’s) best historic sites. The website has a timeline ranging from the Middle Palaeolithic Age (which started 300,000 years ago) to present day, with marks like Ancient Rome, the Renaissance and Modernism along the way. Under each section of the timeline is a list of sites in Catalonia that are relevant to that time period.

Some sites the website highlights that are located in Barcelona include the Centre Excursionista de Catalunya, which has three columns preserved from a Roman temple that used to be the center of the Forum, the Roman streets that are preserved in Plaça del Rei, the Porta de Mar and remnants of the Roman wall that once surrounded old Barcelona.

This passageway was built in the 2nd century AC and led to Barcino, the Roman city. Photo by Claire Hassler.

Ancient ruins are one element of Barcelona’s landscape that come from the distant past, but there have also been more recent forces that have influenced the landscape of Barcelona, one of the most impactful being Ildefons Cerdà’s Eixample expansion project. According to an article titled “Story of cities #13: Barcelona’s unloved planner invents science of ‘urbanisation’” by Marta Bausells for The Guardian, the plan destroyed the wall that was “suffocating” the city and created an area that was four times the old town’s size, with wider streets and a grid structure. The wall was destroyed in 1854 and the expansion began in 1859, but Cerdá didn’t receive the credit he deserved until the 1990s. Bausells says, “These days, Barcelona is consistently praised as an urban success story. And its fortunes are inextricably linked to Cerdà’s work, which propelled it, in the words of Permanyer, ‘from a provincial town where it was difficult to live, to a truly modern city’.”

This is a map of the Eixample extension plan. The old town of Barcelona is dark brown and the new part that was built is the surrounding grid. This is a Creative Commons image.

Barcelona has seen even more changes since Eixample. In fact, the Generalitat de Catalunya’s “Contempory Barcelona” webpage says that since the 1992 Olympics, a new Barcelona has been constructed, one that is more accessible, more branded and appeals to the masses. Examples of this increased accessibility include adding escalators to Plaza Espanya and creating an extensive network of metro routes underground.

It’s questionable whether or not this is a good thing, as it has bolstered the tourism industry in the city and led to problems for locals like gentrification. This has led to some anti-tourism sentiment, and it’s not uncommon to see graffiti that reads “Tourists Go Home” near major attractions in Barcelona.

“Tourist Go Home” is painted on a wall near Parc Güell, one of Barcelona’s main tourist attractions. Photo by Claire Hassler.


Patrimoni Cultural: Navigate through time – Generalitat de Catalunya http://patrimoni.gencat.cat/en

“Story of cities #13: Barcelona’s unloved planner invents science of ‘urbanisation’” – Marta Bausells https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/apr/01/story-cities-13-eixample-barcelona-ildefons-cerda-planner-urbanisation

Contemporary Barcelona – Generalitat de Catalunya http://patrimoni.gencat.cat/en/collection/contemporary-barcelona

UB Blog #1: Response to Catalonia: A Bird’s View (Feb 12)

When I first signed up to come to Barcelona, I thought I had a good foundational knowledge of the city, region, country and culture. After all, I’d visited Spain once before – for two weeks in 2015 I traveled with my high school Spanish program to six different cities in various regions of Spain. I thought I’d gotten a little taste of everything the country had to offer. I thought a semester in Barcelona would look like: lots of paella, Gaudí-style buildings, and the Castellano language everywhere. It has looked like that, but it’s also been comprised of so much more, and Catalonian culture influences daily life in Barcelona way more than I realized it would.

So, what does living in Catalonia look like? For one thing, the language Catalan is everywhere, and is usually listed first on signs in the city. Catalan is a mix of French and Castellano, so some words are pretty easy to figure out. Living in Catalonia also means seeing the Catalonian flag, which has nine red and yellow stripes, and the Catalonian independence flag, which has the same nine stripes and an additional blue triangle with a white star on the left side, hanging from balconies. I have seen such flags in big cities like Barcelona as well as small towns like Ribes de Freser, which is in the northern part of Catalonia. Behind each waving flag is pride in the Catalonian region and culture.

Street signs in Barcelona are in Catalan instead of Castellano. This is a Creative Commons image.

In his article “Tres Peculiaridades Catalanas,” Sergi explains some other things about Catalonian culture that set the region apart from the rest of Spain, such as the “seny” temperament of the people. Sergi says this temperament makes Catalans sensible and practical. Another aspect of Catalonian culture that Sergi describes is “Rauxa” which doesn’t have an equivalent word in Castellano, but refers to an upbeat energy and environment, often associated with planned risk taking and teamwork. This energy is best depicted in the casteller, or human tower, that is a Catalonian tradition.

Culture and language aren’t the only things that distinguish Catalonia from Spain. In their article “Catalonia vs. Spain: What’s the difference?”, Jem describes Catalonia as a kind of powerhouse of Spain. Catalonia is 1/16th of Spain’s land mass, but Catalans are 1/6 of Spain’s population. Additionally, Catalonia is the wealthiest region in Spain, and generates 1/5 of the country’s GDP. “Many Catalans believe that they are being unjustly treated as they get fewer returns for their taxes, as their Euros are shared out across Spain,” Jem says. This disproportionate distribution of wealth is part of the reason some Catalan’s are calling for independence from Spain, in addition to cultural differences.

Catalonia independence flags and protesting banners hang proudly from balconies in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. Photo by Claire Hassler.

When you walk through the streets of Barcelona and see balcony after balcony waving the independence flag, it’s easy to assume that the majority of Catalans advocate for separation from Spain, however I’ve learned that this isn’t necessarily the case. The Catalonia versus Spain conflict may be blown out of proportion by a small group of very outspoken people. In his Expatica article “What is a Catalan,” Jeremy Holland says, “In a media and political environment that feeds on conflict, these ties and similarities are often drowned out by the vocal few longing for an independence lost 700 years ago.” Holland also says that “Catalans are a people who have their own language and centuries-old traditions, but whose long common history with Spain gives them a shared culture.”

Yellow ribbons, symbolizing Catalonian pride and a call for independence, adorn the railing of a bridge in Ribes de Freser, Catalonia, Spain. Photo by Claire Hassler.


What is a Catalan – Jeremy Holland: https://www.expatica.com/es/about/culture-history/what-is-a-catalan-103436/

Tres Peculiaridades Catalanas – Sergi https://www.shbarcelona.es/blog/es/tres-peculiaridades-catalanas/

“Catalonia vs. Spain: What’s the difference?” – Jem https://jemingirona.wordpress.com/2017/11/23/catalonia-vs-spain-whats-the-difference/

I’m (almost) off! Here are my goals.

Well, this week marks the official end of my semester and only 3 ½ weeks until Costa Rica!

I’ve been running around like a wild woman trying to tie up loose ends, ace all my classes, and say goodbye to friends in Columbia. I’m leaving for Minnesota on Wednesday, where I’ll spend the holidays with family before departing from the MSP airport for my grand adventures.

Before I leave for MN and enter full on I’m-not-ready-there’s-so-much-to-do-I’ll-never-be-ready panic mode, I’d like to take a second to talk about some of the goals I have for this semester.

Now, Drew (the awesome study abroad advisor who gives students great advice and makes sure we don’t die while we’re overseas), told us to be smart about our expectations so we’re not disappointed and to make small goals to help us manage culture shock. So the goals I have outlined here will describe some of those small goals as well as some of my creative aspirations.

Some small goals I have:

  1. Figure out how to work the Barcelona metro (I was born and raised in the suburbs so this has got me stressin’)
  2. Learn where the best coffee place is on my commute to work
  3. Eat seafood on my first night in Barcelona!
  4. Visit someplace new everyday (shouldn’t be too hard…)
  5. Find some good running trails, and then run on them!
  6. Start journaling in Spanish (sometimes)

In addition to those goals, I’ve been brainstorming since September about some creative projects I want to do while I’m abroad. I’m obsessed with documenting moments through photography, so this stuff is super important to me and I want to get it right.

Here are a few ideas, straight from one of my messy notebooks that’s full of raw ideas I jot down before I forget them:

  • Make “profiles” of my favorite:
    • coffee shop
    • local restaurant
    • spot on the beach
    • reading spot
    • grocery store
    • friends I meet
    • book shop
    • Mediums: short, artsy video with good nat sound OR photo series. One blog post each, do interviews where relevant.
  • Posts on blog:
    • Weekly updates
    • Any weekend travels
    • Adventures within Barcelona
  • Daily captures:
    • Coffee
    • Mirror selfie
    • Feet?
  • Photo projects:
    • Week by week galleries
    • Portrait series (inspired by Humans of New York)
    • My feet
    • Architecture
    • Coffee/wine/food
  • Video projects:
    • Spinning video for every major city
    • Walking video (of my feet)
    • 1 second/day for each day I’m abroad?
  • Plan:
    • Carry notebook (reporter size) everywhere I go. Write down names! Take notes! Remember!
    • Bring Sony camera almost everywhere – but don’t let it bog me down! Other ways to capture: red Canon, GoPro, iPhone, flip phone (if I’m desperate)
    • Upload daily! Organize photos, videos, and notes AS I GO so I can enjoy and post all the stuff I create!

The ideas are vague because nothing is set in stone yet – everything will depend on how things go once I arrive in Costa Rica and Spain. Maybe the way I capture this experience will end up being completely different than what I planned here, who knows? One thing is for sure, I’ll be using this blog to share my projects, so stay tuned!

To give you a sense of where I was at in terms of travel journalism/digital documentation four years ago, here’s a video from my first trip to Spain:

I love so many things about this video. For one thing, this was the most incredible trip of my life, and watching it allows me to relive my joy. For another thing, it’s one of the first “travel” videos I ever made and it’s funny to see the kinds of things I thought were worth filming. But in terms of video and editing quality? Let’s just say I’m hoping we upgrade the next time around 😉

I’ll see you abroad!

Hoping Anyways

This isn’t a post about travel. It’s not a post about dreamy destinations or the top 5 coffee shops I’m going to visit when I get to Barcelona. This is a post about home; the home that is going to be so hard to leave in a few weeks.

And what is home without the people in it? In this case, I’m referring to my sister Liza. In fact, I wrote about how Liza is my home a few years ago on my first blog. If you don’t get around to reading that post, I’ll sum it up for you: Liza is, and always has been, at the center of my and my family’s existence. She’s the light, she’s the glue, she’s every metaphorical symbol of togetherness and hope.

And she’s also sick. Like, really sick. Liza was diagnosed with cancer in August 2016. She went through a year of treatment, was in remission for 18 months, and then relapsed. She just finished her second round of treatment and is now doing what the doctors call maintenance chemo. So far her scans have come back clean, fingers crossed they stay that way.

You can understand how this complicates my decision to study abroad, right?

It makes it a hell of a lot harder.

Would you believe me if I told you that a few months ago my mom was also diagnosed with cancer? I’m not a liar, I promise.

Mom’s isn’t the big-bad kind. In fact, it’s pretty curable. But it’s still cancer, and it’s scary to face your own cancer while also taking care of a sick kid. We’re still not really sure how all this will play out. All I know is this: my mom has always been the stable force in my family. She’s the lighthouse, she’s the rock, she’s every metaphorical symbol of strength and resilience. Finding out that the person who has always been unstoppable is sick… well it’s shaken us all up.


Now you’re probably wondering: Claire, why are you leaving?

The answer: I can’t handle living a life of what-ifs, a life on pause. I can’t handle resigning like that, giving in. Because in my mind, deciding to stay home is the same thing as saying ‘Liza is going to stay sick. She’s not going to get better.’ And I refuse to believe that. Deciding to go abroad is a sign of hope for me. It’s me looking the universe in the face and saying ‘You know what, forget (or another word that starts with F) you. Things are going to go our way soon, you just wait.’ Deciding to go abroad is me being able to look at my sister as we part ways in the airport and say ‘Hey sis, I’ll see you in a few months, and you’ll still be cancer free.’ Because I think sometimes you have to will good things to come your way, you have to take a leap of faith and just assume that things will work out in your favor, eventually, even if they haven’t been in recent history. You have to be defiant in your hope. You have to hope anyways.

So that’s why I decided to go abroad despite the uncertainty and fear my family is going through. It’s going to be so hard, but it’s also going to be wonderful. I’m going to go on a grand adventure, and then when I’m back my family will still be okay.

At times like these I can’t help but summon the words of a wise bear: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?” It’s cheesy, but it’s true. I’m forever grateful to have a family I love so much it hurts.

Blog 4: What I’m Packing

This week I’m taking on the ultimate challenge: What the heck am I going to pack on all these adventures?? This is a subject I’ve pushed back again and again, saying things like “I’ll have plenty of time to think about that later.” Even working on this blog post is something I’ve procrastinated doing.

I realize I’m being dramatic. You can google “packing advice for semester abroad in Europe” and you’ll get tons of great advice. There’s more than enough resources out there that make this a not-so-daunting task. But still, these lists need customizing based on your destination and individual needs. That’s what I’ve attempted to do here, with the hopes that making a list like this will help me in the long run, when it’s actually time to start filling the suitcase.

Two destinations means two lists. My professor provided a list for us for Costa Rica, so that is where I got that information. As for Spain, I compiled the list through my own brainstorming as well as looking at travel blogs and YouTube videos.



  • Travel backpack
  • School/hiking backpack


  • Passport, and at least one photocopy in a separate bag
  • State driver’s license
  • MU Student ID


  • 1 tube Neosporin or similar
  • 1 bottle Tylenol
  • 1 package baby wipes
  • 1 container baby powder
  • Insect repellant
  • 1 bar of soap in a plastic bag or plastic case
  • 1 bottle of shampoo & conditioner
  • Pepto Bismal
  • 1 bottle sunscreen
  • 1 large water bottle (1 liter)
  • 1 toothbrush & toothpaste
  • Hairbrush & pony tails
  • 1 bottle facewash
  • 1 bottle aloe vera


  • 1 pair shorts
  • 2-3 pair hiking pants (including 1 pair jeans)
  • 1 pair hiking boots
  • 1 pair Chacos
  • 1 day pack
  • 5 shirts (some long sleeve, some T-shirts)
  • 1 hat
  • Socks and underwear
  • 1 or more sweatbands, handkerchiefs or bandanas
  • Rain jacket, umbrella, fleece, sweatshirt


  • $100 in U.S. cash
  • 1 credit card, Visa preferred


  • 1 laptop
  • Laptop charger
  • 1 hard-drive for backup
  • Picture of family, other loved ones
  • Several re-sealable plastic bags of small and medium size (1 for each camera, laptop, etc.)
  • Camera
  • Camera charger
  • Go Pro
  • Go Pro gear
  • Reporter notebooks
  • Batteries
  • Pens and pencils
  • Good headlamp
  • Wristwatch
  • Sunglasses



  • Checked suitcase
  • Travel backpack


  • Passport
  • Student ID
  • State ID


  • 10 shirts
  • 3 pants
  • 2 shorts
  • 1 belt
  • 3 dresses
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Two sweatshirts/sweaters
  • Workout clothes (shorts, leggings, tank top, long sleeve, compressions, sports bra, running waistband)
  • Pajamas (sweatpants, running shorts)
  • Swimsuit
  • Coat
  • Raincoat
  • Running shoes
  • Birkenstocks
  • Chacos
  • Dr. Martens
  • Some jewelry
  • KAVU purse
  • School/hiking backpack
  • Brown purse
  • Sunglasses
  • Winter hat, gloves


  • 1 bottle Tylenol
  • 1 bar of soap in a plastic bag or plastic case
  • 1 travel size bottle of shampoo & conditioner
  • 1 travel size bottle sunscreen
  • 1 toothbrush & travel size toothpaste
  • Hairbrush & hairbands
  • 1 bottle travel size facewash
  • 1 bottle travel size aloe vera
  • Eyebrow tweezers
  • 2 Razors
  • 1 deodorant
  • Feminine products
  • Minimal makeup


  • Leftover euros from last trip
  • Visa card


  • Camera
  • Camera charger
  • Go Pro
  • Go Pro gear
  • Laptop
  • Laptop charger
  • Notebooks
  • Pens/pencils
  • Hard drive x2
  • Outlet adapter
  • 1 book (currently reading)
  • Headphones
  • Wireless headphones
  • Headphone charger
  • Combo lock


  • Neck pillow
  • 1 large water bottle (1 liter)
  • Frisbee
  • Hammock
  • Portable luggage scale

Here is one of the videos I watched as I was drafting these lists. Jillissa packs a lot more than I intend to, but I still found her advice helpful!

Blog 3: Let’s Do Morocco!

One of the most exciting things about spending the semester in Barcelona is that I’ll have access to an entirely different part of the world than I’m used to. I’m definitely going to take advantage of this! I want to go everywhere and anywhere nearby, from France to Italy to Germany to Morocco.

I’ve spent the past week with my nose in guide books about Morocco. I’m getting ahead of the game by planning a weekend trip to Tangier. I’ve never planned a trip abroad before, so I’m not sure how helpful this plan will end up being or if I’ll actually be able to follow it, but you’ve got to start somewhere and I’ll learn along the way!

The following steps outline my thought process as I’ve been investigating this trip. Keep in mind, none of this is finalized yet, this is just the information gathering stage for things I think I’ll do. One thing is set in stone: I’m going at some point, and I can’t wait!

And now, Let’s do Morocco!

Pick a destination

You already know from the title of this post that I chose Morocco for this trip. Why Morocco? It’s relatively close to Barcelona, it’ll land me on a different continent (one I’ve never been too, I might add ;)), and it seems absolutely beautiful.

Pick a weekend

I have no idea what my weekends will look like or when will be best… but I’ve settled on February 15-17, because at that point I’ll have been abroad for a few weeks, and for some reason airfare was $50 cheaper than the following weekend.

Find airfare…. As cheaply as possible.

I looked at a few different sites to find plane tickets… goeuro.com, cheapoair.com, kayak.com. They all yielded similar results, so I settled with vueling.com. The site is in Spanish, but I was able to understand most of it.

My flight leaves from Barcelona at 6:45am on Friday, February 15. I’ll get to Tangier around 8:30am. To return to Barcelona, my flight leaves at 9:20 on Sunday morning. The round trip airfare cost $94.

Find a place to stay

The Melting Pot Hostel http://www.meltingpothostels.com/tanger/index.htm is exactly the type of vibe I’m going for – cheap, communal and authentic. Staying in a room with 8 beds costs just over $10/night and includes breakfast.

The close second: This room in an Airbnb for $18/night. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/19447356

Make a schedule

I’ll be in Morocco for about two days. Obviously, that’s not enough time, but it’s better than nothing! When planning, I divided each day into three parts: morning, afternoon, evening. This gives each day some structure while also leaving time for spontaneity. I’m also a huge believer in learning from the locals when you get there, asking for advice and following their recommendations. Only so much knowledge of a place can be gained from a guidebook.

  • Friday morning – Commute to Tangier from Barcelona
  • Friday afternoon – From the Tangier airport, I’ll visit Cap Spartel and the Cave of Hercules to do some exploring and see where the Atlantic and the Mediterranean meet. From there I’ll take a bus into the city.
  • Friday evening –I’ll check in at the hostel and do some exploring around the area – find restaurants that look cool, get a taste for what nightlife is like, etc.
  • Saturday morning – I’m not much of a morning person, so starting off the day easy with a trip to the beach sounds appealing.
  • Saturday afternoon – Get lost in the medina, eat in a café like Café Hafa, wash in one of the traditional hammams (upon advice from the locals).
  • Saturday evening – I’m intentionally leaving this open, and I’ll fill it either with advice from the locals or with something I observed during previous observations that I never had time to explore.
  • Sunday morning – Drink one last cup of mint tea before leaving for Barcelona
  • If I had one more day…
    • I’d drive to the blue town of Chefchaouen, which is two hours away from Tangier by car and looks absolutely stunning. I’ll have to come back for this one!
  • If I had one more week…
    • I’d visit Fez – it’s one of the largest still-existing medieval cities in the world, and it’s in the middle of the Middle Atlas mountain range, so the hiking sounds like it would be amazing.

Please enjoy this photo gallery – I hope you get as excited as I am when you look at these pictures!

That concludes this blog post. I had a lot of fun learning about Morocco, and I cannot wait to go there! We’ll see if this blog post helps me in future adventures.