This story is part of Travel Tales, a series of life-changing adventures on afar.com. Read more stories of transformative trips on the Travel Tales home page. And, though COVID-19 has stalled many travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.
Quick: What was the last trip you took that inspired you? Really inspired you? And when did that inspiration happen? Was it over the course of the entire trip, or was it just one moment?
The stories behind these moments can be incredibly inspirational, which is exactly why we launched the Travel Tales program here at AFAR. As part of it, we asked our readers for their stories of transformation—and picked four of them to run on AFAR.com, including this one.
The Tale of Transformation
While studying for exams, three friends and I planned a trip to Spain on a whim. Our last day in Barcelona, we shopped on Las Ramblas, stopped by a market celebrating its 150th anniversary, picnicked in Park Güell, took the tram to El Tibidabo, explored the church on top of the mountain, and attended a performance of Beethoven’s 9th.
When we stepped out of the symphony, the crowds of the Gothic Quarter felt denser than usual. Suddenly, we found ourselves surrounded by giant demons standing 15 feet tall and people dressed in elaborate costumes. Above the chaos, fireworks burst and ash fell, dusting our hair.
We had happened upon Barcelona’s largest festival, La Mercè. We were exhausted and hungry but stayed in the center of La Mercè until our eardrums hurt and we felt ready to fall out of our shoes. And we loved every minute of it.
It was a chance encounter that immersed us in the local culture in a way that we hadn’t experienced up until then. And it helped me realize the value in seeking out local traditions and becoming a part of them.
—Submitted by Lark Breen
Do This Yourself
La Mercè, the main annual festival in Barcelona, has a long history—it’s been an official city holiday since 1871, but its roots go back to the Middle Ages. It’s a celebration of the feast day of Our Lady of Mercy on September 24, though the fun starts a few days before that (the 2019 festival dates are September 20–24).
Late September is great time to be in Barcelona, as the temperatures have come down a bit from the hot summertime highs. The festival is also very popular, so book early and prepare for crowds. What you’ll find is pretty spectacular, including the papier-mâché “giants” the writer mentions, which have been a part of the festival since the early 20th century. You’ll also find hundreds of events, including cultural and artistic performances taking place throughout the city, with opportunities to dance, listen to music, and enjoy things like the Catalan Wine Fair, a foot race, and fireworks.
Now that you know about the festival, of course, you won’t be stumbling upon it—but if you go, you’ll undoubtedly find many surprise-and-delight moments that will give you a reason to interact with locals and learn some of the local cultural traditions for yourself.
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