Walk with Cathy in Burgo de OsmaIt is a blessing to speak the language of the country you are in. Such was my relief when we stepped off our Easy Jet flight in the Barcelona airport one week ago. When we began to head in the wrong direction for the baggage claim, I could without thinking or gesturing too wildly or sheepishly speaking English, ask for directions. True, I may have offended a Catalan, but speaking a common second language is still an improvement – and probably the best I can hope for in coming months.

Plaza George OrwellPlaza George OrwellBarcelona was also blessedly balmy after Berlin, and Dave and I happily shed our coats (and backpacks) at the hostel before heading out in the Barri Gotic. It wasn’t quite sunny or quite Plaza George Orwellwarm, but it felt like spring to us and we practically skipped through the streets, snapping pictures of laundry hanging out to dry, and plants drooping off of balconies, until we came to Port Vella, the old port.  There, we devoted our first afternoon to the Museum of Catalonian History, which like the Museum of German History the afternoon before, was thorough from prehistory to recent times, overwhelming, and at times, a touch one-sided in favor of the nation writing its own history.

For example, any visitor to the Catalonian History Museum could leave believing that Catalonia has been mostly independent for most of its history, with a few tragic breaks, such as the centuries following the War of Spanish Succession, and again after the Spanish Civil War. Ask a Spaniard from another region and they will most likely explain that Catalonia has never been independent, but has rather been under the rule of some empire, kingdom, or nation-state since forever. The same outsider perspective will explain that Catalan has only been a written language for about the last century.

Nevertheless, what impresses me is the region’s ability to forge an independent identity and a certain perspective on Spanish history, aided by bilingual signs and monuments to Catalan heroes all around the city. But it seems simultaneously to me that the mobility of people (whether tourists such as me or young Spaniards from other regions) will always give favor to a lingua franca – such as the ubiquitous English in Germany and northern Europe.

Aside from our required and rewarding tour of Gaudi’s architecture, which occupied the better part of a day, the highlight of Barcelona for me was a two hour tour we were given by Ana, the Spanish friend of our friend Ian from Seattle, and her boyfriend Urial, who showed us some sights off the beaten path. We wandered past the smallest shop in Barcelona (literally, a medieval window front measuring about 3 by 6 feet, sadly no longer in use) and down into a small square with a church on one side and a three-on-three futbol game in the center. Ana and Urial showed us the wall of the church, pitted from gunfire of nearly 70 years ago, when Franco’s army executed defeated Catalan republicanos. Both Ana and Urial also had stories to share of their own grandfathers’ experiences during the civil war.

From Barcelona, we took a train to Zaragoza, cutting up through the Aragon region that I know mostly as a Civil War battlefield from having read the first chapters of Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. There were few signs from a distance of such violence on the misty hillsides. From Zaragoza, we took a bus up into Soria, arriving in the small town of Burgo de Osma just in time for Spanish lunch at nearly 4 PM (those who know me and my eating habits will know that I am well-suited for the Spanish meal schedule).

We were given a warm welcome indeed in Burgo de Osma, where the aunt of Dave’s best friend from childhood has lived with her Spanish husband and children for the last several decades. One of her sons, an architect named Sevi, who we were fortunate to meet, had designed a home for his parents in the hills outside the town. The home acts as a picture frame, so that on all sides windows look out to frame the hills and farmland. It was snowing as we arrived, drove up the long dirt road, and while we looked out the windows over lunch. But, by the time that we cleared up from lunch and went out for a 4km walk with the 5 dogs, the snow had stopped, the sky had cleared and chilled, and we watched a beautiful dusk fall over the landscape.

Time flies by in Spain, most likely because of the language, making conversations easy, the hospitality and good company of so many. From Burgo de Osma, we continued on to Madrid, where we met Cindy (our German host), who could not bear to say goodbye in Berlin. The three of us stayed with our friend and former Spanish teacher, Juan, and his family near to the Casa del Campo, southwest of central Madrid. Four days in good company flew by, until suddenly, we were bidding adios, packing our bags, and boarding the flight to Casablanca.

I feel in many ways ill-prepared for Morocco, a land where I can at best stumble through the most basic of conversations in a mutual third language (French), but we have arrived. The rest of the journey spreads out before us, with many a challenge and beaucoup de opportunities – yesterday Casablanca, today Rabat, tomorrow Fez, then who knows?