A Lesson in Not Judging a Book by its Cover

Oct. 4

A Lesson in Not Judging a Book by its Cover

On my first day here in Barcelona, I went on a long walk to get oriented with the city. I had been here once before back in 2005 with my buddy Alex when we were backpacking around the continent. In an effort to save money, we booked the cheapest accommodations we could find. We only found out once we showed up at the door that we had booked our week at a convent. Location was good, but it was a convent, complete with all the house rules that one would suspect of such a place including 11pm curfew. In other words, you could say we didn’t really experience the city.

But back to the walk—I ended up at the Familia Sagrada, Gaudi’s famous cathedral just moments before closing time. I had seen the exterior on my last visit, and left unimpressed. To me the towers just looked like a bigger version of the mud castles I used to make at the beach growing up. But this time, I tried to go with an open mind, and a guidebook urged me to look closer at the structure itself. When I took that closer look the details came to life and I was amazed at the sheer scale and volume of detail all around the building.

My resentment towards the eclectic style faded away as I learned more. Previously I thought that each different style was evidence of one egotistical architect after another trying to leave his overenthusiastic mark. Instead, I found out that they are deliberately differentiating themselves and their style so as to be clearly not done at the hand of Gaudi

This cathedral has been under construction for over 120 years, a refreshing difference from the speed at which gigantic skyscrapers are built these days. I caught one of the last entries and wandered through the tree-trunk-like colossal pillars that hold up the brilliant canopy. I don’t remember being impressed by architecture in this way in my entire life. Notre Dame in Paris had generations after generations working on it, and there’s something similar happening here. Local stone smiths and carpenters cap their career here, and spend years making ever so little progress. But the pride in the eyes of the men who work with their hands hundreds of feet above the ground is clear in the pictures along a wall in the museum below.

For years I tried to put my finger on what made Gaudi’s style characteristically different, and it wasn’t until I ventured downstairs into the museum that I realized exactly what it was. There’s a model down there made up of strings and lead weights that represent the load-bearing columns throughout this colossal structure. The strings are plugged into a base and hang down, with the lead weights pulling down on this intricate wireframe model. There I realized that with Gaudi’s work it’s as if gravity has been inverted and is pulling up rather than pushing down on his cathedral. That’s why it is such a spiritual experience—subconsciously it’s as if God is pulling you towards him as you walk through this half-completed building. Every other stone church I’ve been in pushes you down rather than pulls you up. That’s why I’m a new lover of Gaudi’s work. 


Lauren Wallender, Elon University

Happy Backpackers

I definitely have WSA to thank for my exceptional experience in Amsterdam. One would think 4 days isn't enough to tour a city but WSA facilitated an optimum weekend full of sightseeing and fun. Amsterdam may have a notorious reputation for its lax drug and sex culture but there‚Äôs so much more to the city. Luckily, our tour guide, Arthur, native to the Netherlands, steered us away from the tourist traps and showed us around his beloved city, highlighting all of its gems. I'd definitely like to try other WSA trips in the future. It's hassle free traveling with an awesome itinerary - nice that the tour guides are flexible with the schedule and willing to cater the itinerary to the group's interest! Highly recommend WSA to any student with only a weekend to see a city.

Lauren Wallender, Elon University ~ Fall 2014

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