The End of the World

March 25, 2018

First you hear it, then you smell it, then you see it. The fireworks of Las Fallas.

People who follow the festival of Las Fallas know this post is late, the last day having been on the 19th of March.

For those who are less familiar with Las Fallas, it is a festival held annually in Valencia, Spain. It is usually in late March. The intent of the Fallas is to honor Saint Joseph.

I arrived in Valencia, Spain on the night before the last day of the Fallas. The first indicator of the festival was fireworks of green and red in the distance. It was a stark contrast to the black night. As I drove into the city, the sight of the fireworks was replaced with the noise of firecrackers going off in every alleyway and every street. These continued into the early hours of the morning.

The next day, I went to the mascletà at 14:00. This is where I got the inspiration for the title of this post. I managed to be simultaneously amazed and terrified. But that’s just me. Do you like loud sounds that make the ground under you shake (dare I say quake) and excessive amounts of smoke? If so, then you might be amazed and not terrified!

Nonetheless, it is a worthwhile event to attend, unless you have heart issues or get headaches easily. In truth, I went to Las Fallas to see the ninots, which are the enormous statues made by groups of local people for the festival. I was not disappointed. The ninots were breathtaking. They showcased the creativity and work that the artists put into them.

I spent most of my time during the day after the mascletà taking pictures of the ninots.

The main event for the Falles (and the reason it is called so) is La Cremà. This is when all the statues are burned. It takes place at night.

Even though I am usually in bed by 11:00, I was determined to see the burning of the main falla, which was scheduled to be at midnight. So, when the time on my phone changed to 00:10, I was a little annoyed. The people around me were too, whistling and gesturing with their hands. It finally began twenty minutes after midnight, with a slew of fireworks to begin. Immediately after the fireworks, I was able to see the flames beginning to burn the main falla. In a matter of minutes, the entire structure was incinerated. Below is a “before” picture followed by “after” pictures.

As I walked back to my hotel, I saw piles of ash, formerly the huge colorful ninots only an hour before. It was somewhat saddening to know that something so beautiful was destroyed.

I hope you enjoyed reading. I’ll be writing a reflection on my time in Spain in my next post. Thank you!

~ Auria


March 20, 2018

Each museum has a very distinct feel. I only realized this after I visited five museums in five days. The museums I visited include the Museu Picasso, the Dalí Theatre and Museum, the Museo Reina Sofia, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, and the Museo del Prado. Since this is a number of museums, I will only write about Dalí’s Theatre-Museum and the Museo del Prado in this post.

I took a day trip from Barcelona to Figueres to visit Salvador Dalí’s Theatre-Museum. It was overflowing with evidence of Dalí’s eccentricity, which was evident even from the exterior of the building. Its bright red walls adorned with little gold dots contrasted sharply with the yellow buildings surrounding the museum. To make the comparison even more drastic, a line of life-like eggs were perched at the top of the building. A statue of a woman with large breasts standing atop a black Cadillac greeted me as I walked into the open courtyard of the museum. Behind the statue is a stage with huge glass windows. Going into the inside, there is an abnormally large painting with deep red curtains around it, solidifying the impression of a theater. Even though I would not consider myself a Dalí fan, or even a fan of surrealism in general, I found myself increasingly drawn in by the peculiarities of the art shown. However, every so often, there would be some element that reminded me that, while I was in a museum, I was also in something resembling a theater. For example, there are windows behind the golden statues above the courtyard from which you can look out and view the stage. I moved through the galleries in a state of wonder. After visiting the Theatre-Museum, I can safely say that I am more appreciative of surrealism, contemporary art, and of Salvador Dalí’s genius than I had been before my visit.

After leaving Figueres, I went to Madrid. Due to poor planning, I only managed to spend about an hour and a half in the Museo del Prado before I had to leave for Valencia. However, I was extremely pleased. Unlike Dalí’s Theatre-Museum, the Prado Museum had a more classical structure and collection. There were, as expected, many depictions of Greek and Roman mythology, which, as many friends know, I absolutely love. While walking through the first floor of the Prado, I came across a painting by Paulo Veronese entitled Venus and Adonis. It was the same painting that adorned the cover of my text book for Latin IV last year. I can’t even begin to convey my excitement at seeing the painting. I think I stood there for a good ten minutes or so, the first two just gaping at the work and the rest analyzing minute details. It was remarkable to see a piece of art in person that was first introduced to me in school.

As I continued through the gallery, I found more paintings and statues that depicted scenes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the text I studied a year ago. I spent the rest of my time at the Museo del Prado looking at them. Below are some of my favorites.

~ Auria

Intersecting Paths and Gaudí’s Imagination

March 15, 2018

At the top of the Passion Towers of the Sagrada Família

I began my first day in Spain by simply wandering around the hotel where I was staying. In a span of only a few minutes, I stumbled across the Palau, its full name being the Palau de la Música Catalana. The pillars were decorated with tiles of contrasting colors. Above the entrance was an extremely impressive array of statues and busts of various composers. My curiosity peaked when I saw a baby grand piano in one of the large glass windows, so I walked around the hall to find a way in without having to pay for the guided tour. (I’m cheap, I know.) The side of the building was covered in glass windows and so had a decidedly more modern look than the front. The interior reverted back to the typical style of the bourgeoisie, complete with gilded stairs and high, elegant arches. In the center, however, was a charming little café area with yet another piano. An old man dressed in a rumpled black coat and a large striped scarf was seated at the piano and playing Mozart’s Sonata No. 16 in C Major. The music filled the area, lending a nice juxtaposition to the quiet chatter of people milling around. To my surprise, once he finished performing the composition, he simply collected his keys, which were lying on the stand, and left after acknowledging the scattered applause. After questioning a guard standing nearby, I learned that the piano was there for public use, for any person to come and play if they wanted to. After some seconds of internal debate, I decided to play a piece, despite weeks of avoiding practice.

Once I finished, I was reminded acutely of Westtown’s South Room. Anybody can go in and play, and the main purpose, as I see it, is to find some respite in the middle of a busy day. It is by no means a formal performance, which I tend to strongly dislike. As I walked out of the music hall, I was filled with a similar sense of glee I had felt when I first played in the South Room four years ago. I also felt something new. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow also once said, “Music is the universal language of all mankind.” This was the first time I understood this sentiment. When I had glanced up after performing, there was no sense of awkwardness when I addressed my audience. I felt connected to the people listening.

Recording of my playing in the Palau. Check it out, if you want!

In the afternoon, I began following my itinerary with visiting Casa Milà, or more commonly known as La Pedrera. It is currently in use as both a place of both residency and business. However, it dates back to 1912 when it was designed by Antoni Gaudí for the Milà family. The architecture was different from any other that I had seen before, in that I could not find a single right angle. This characteristic remained constant as I went through my tour of Casa Milà. The courtyard had an ovular shape, with the open sky overhead. Some surfaces were splattered with faint hues of blue and green. Even with this show of eccentricity and my knowledge of the pictures on Google Images, I was not prepared for what waited on the roof. Shapes that resembled bodies and faces lined up one after another in the middle of the curving tiled path. Some had white tiles stuck on them, others were left blank. As cliché as it sounds, if I could not see the city roofs around me, I would have believed I stepped into another world. Continue reading “Intersecting Paths and Gaudí’s Imagination”

Philly to Europe

March 9, 2018

Hello. My name is Auria. I will be leaving Philly in two days to go to Spain and Portugal for my Senior Project.

I’ll admit something right now. I have never taken a course in Spanish or Portuguese. I know the basic “hello” and “thank you” for Spanish, but that is the extent of my knowledge in the language. As for Portuguese, I don’t have a clue. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I want to go visit though. I love the warm, fuzzy feeling I get when I try to decipher what a word means. I’ll definitely have a dictionary on hand though.

I spent this past week researching various locations in Spain and Portugal and building a more thorough itinerary. It’s been pretty exacting. Selecting where and what I will visit was fairly easy. However, determining the kind of travel and taking into account the travel time was something else. Making sure everything fits within the budget I set for myself made everything even more difficult. Needless to say, the reviews on TripAdvisor and Google Maps have been my best friends for the past week. I honestly can’t imagine what I would do without them. Thanks, guys.

I’ll first be visiting Barcelona, then Madrid and Seville. After that, I’ll be heading over to Portugal. I plan visit a variety of museums and try new foods. I also wiggled in a few palaces and churches here and there. All in all, I am excited to observe the difference in atmosphere between more modern areas to those with a few hundred more years to them.

Throughout the (coming) series of posts, I’ll sprinkle in a few photos. I hope you will enjoy reading about my travels in Spain and Portugal!







We had decided that on the last day we should enter the Praza de Obradoiro in Santiago and come to face the cathedral together. We designated a street where we would wait for all the peregrinos of our group to gather  as they entered the city. As members of the group rounded the corner to the named location, they were greeted with hugs and hurrahs by those who arrived before them. The street filled with the sounds of congratulatory shouts, laughter and sighs of relief. Once reunited we walked together down the final stretch of the ancient street and into the plaza that faces the cathedral. It was a powerful sight to behold – not just the monstrous gothic cathedral looming over us – but all of us together, some arm in arm, taking the last steps of the Camino as one.  We had arrived. Together.


We wobbled and hobbled up the steps of the cathedral to cross the threshold of the edifice that legend says contains the remains St. James the Apostle. The statue of St. James was there inside, waiting for us. Dare I say that most of us, in reality, paid the magnificent shrine to St. James little attention at all. Most did not care in that moment to observe the intricate marble sculptures, the elaborate triptychs, or even the crypt of St. James. We were focused on the fact that the end had finally come, that our weary feet would have to walk no more. We went to the offices of the cathedral to present our pilgrims’ passports and receive our Compostela, the document written in Latin and inscribed with a pilgrim’s name,  that certifies one has completed the Camino. The staffers looked upon us with kindly eyes and granted each of us a compostela. The students squealed as they surveyed their precious documents.


The Camino de Santiago from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela took 5 days, and we covered a distance of 70 miles. Did I mention the rain? The hail? The wind? The cold? It was a difficult journey.

There weren’t cozy restaurants and taverns to provide respite during the arduous days. Knees, ankles and feet staged revolts against us.  The albergues, public hostels, were primitive but clean, if lacking sufficient heat at night and hot water in the showers. A journey such as this – toward something spiritually significant – should contain elements of sacrifice, though. A pilgrimage is not meant to be a walk in the park. It wasn’t. But it was something better, in spite of – or because of – the hardship. Out of deprivation grow appreciation and thanks.

For me, and I think for all of us – if I dare speak on behalf of others – the Camino de Santiago was an extraordinary experience, one that will never be (can be) forgotten. In between moments of fear, strife and pain a sense of togetherness and connectedness blossomed. We held each other up, urged one another to go on, managed to laugh when laughter seemed impossible. And beneath all that rain, friendships grew. The blisters and swollen ankles will recede in our memories. What we will remember is connection, perseverance and laughter. I am incredibly proud of this resilient, spunky, funny group of students. We did this amazing thing together. 



We are currently waiting in the train station for our train to Toledo. The three days that we have just spent in Madrid have been so full that they seem to have blurred together into one. The past three days have been filled with lots of introductions: we have met so many beautiful and loving people. Before traveling to Spain I had begun exchanging emails with our church’s Madrid representative, Marina. Marina met us at the airport after our flight from Barcelona. She was wonderfully generous with her time, escorting us to our apartment and organizing a gathering on Saturday with other members of our church to welcome us to Madrid. Marina’s generosity and kindness was inspiring.

In Madrid we saw the Royal Palace and we also sat in on Sunday mass in La Cátedral de Almudena. Both structures were strikingly immense. As we toured the inside of the palace I was struck by the fact that human beings have an amazing ability to create beauty. I was also reminded, as we passed through a room dedicated to the conquest of the Americas, that human beings have a remarkable ability to destroy.

I have spoken a lot of Spanish in the past several days! I have learned, however, that the most important things can be communicated without words. Yesterday we ate lunch with Polina and Olga, both members of our church and both from Russia. Although Polina’s English was very good, that of her mother, Olga, was not. Despite a language barrier we were able to communicate and share with each other about our very different lives. One of the things which I came to appreciate about Polina and Olga was their ability to cope with their isolation. These women live in a city that is incredibly distinct and almost shockingly different from their home in St. Petersburg, Russia. Within Madrid they are surrounded by a different language and culture. While my mom and I are also surrounded by this different language and culture our stay is temporary. Mom and I are experiencing the sensation of being strangers in a strange land by choice. For two weeks we are out of our natural element and for two weeks the exciting sensation of being somewhere foreign is still fresh. Polina and Olga have been living in Spain not for two weeks but for two and a half years. For them the foreignness isn’t temporary: it’s their everyday reality.


Arrival in Barcelona

Hello again!

After a long seven hour flight, we arrived in Barcelona, Spain yesterday around 9:00 AM. Upon our arrival, we met up with T. Jenny who teaches English in AULA. We then had a short breakfast and set off for our first day in AULA. Needless to say, we were all quite tired due to the jet lag and we passed the majority of our bus ride in silence. Despite the fact that I was so tired, I was inevitably captured by the beauty of Barcelona. Along with the beautiful architecture, Barcelona is situated right next to the Mediterranean Sea and thus the view of the city is mesmerizing.

We arrived at AULA around 11 AM and were given a tour of the school by a few students. Immediately, we were immersed in Castilian Spanish. In Barcelona, most people actually speak a mix of French and Spanish which is known as Catalán. Because we have only been taught Castilian at Westtown, the AULA students speak Castilian with us so that we may better practice the language. At first, I had trouble communicating with the students because I was intimidated by the speed at which they talked. Today, however, it was much easier to understand the teachers and the students. I’m still a bit scared to talk, but the more time I spend in AULA the more my mindset shifts from English to Spanish.

In terms of the school, it was a bit strange arriving at AULA. As we stood in the patio waiting to meet our tour guides, all the students stared at us and I could see them whispering with each other. Our tour guides later clarified that these kids were staring because the majority of classes in AULA don’t change very often. Indeed, most students have been attending AULA since they were only three years old. Given our experience in Westtown where classes change almost every year, this idea was certainly surprising.

After the tour and classes, each one of us went home with our host families for the night. Right now, I am a staying with a student whose name is Juan. Juan’s family lives in an apartment more towards the center of the city. Although I am far away from home, I feel quite comfortable with Juan’s family. They are all incredibly generous and in many ways I almost feel embarrassed by how much they do for me. For example, when I arrived here, I realized that I had forgot to buy an adapter so that I could use my electrical devices overseas. When I told this to Juan’s father, he immediately went and bought me an adapter. I couldn’t be more grateful!

After a long day, I went to bed yesterday around 8 PM and I got a full eleven hours of sleep. I’m pretty sure I’m over the jet lag, but I guess I will truly know later tonight. Tomorrow, our group is going to take a break from classes at AULA and we are going to visit a museum and a few historical sites in Barcelona.

I will be writing again soon!


First Day in Barcelona

We arrived in Barcelona early this morning, just as the sun was rising. After a cab ride to our apartment we met Miguel, the owner of the apartment. Miguel shared with us some of his favorite restaurants and a nap we decided to explore the Born, the neighborhood in which we are staying. The Born is home to Santa Maria del Mar, one of Barcelona’s most famous churches. After sitting in on some of Sunday mass we wandered around some more, walking by the Picasso museum. We eventually stumbled upon one of the restaurants that Miguel had mentioned. It was truly serendipitous–we thought we were lost and were just about to go back to the apartment to re-orient ourselves when we saw the restaurant, known for its Tapas style Peruvian Japanese food. Later in the afternoon we hiked around seeing the Arc Triomf and Parc de la Ciutadella. In the park we saw the Cascada Fountain, designed by Josep Fontsere and his apprentice Antoni Gaudi.

Spain 2012

Hi everyone!

It’s hard to believe that I am leaving for Spain this Saturday. My mom and I will travel around Barcelona, Madrid, Toledo and Salamanca over the course of our two weeks abroad. We will be visiting spiritual heritage sites as well as some museums. In Salamanca, I’ll be checking out the university as it is where I hope to study abroad in college.

My senior project has started a little early as I have been away from school with a stomach bug, but I am hoping to be fully recovered by Saturday.



Too Many Live Oysters…

Good thing I wrapped up the city in two days…

My last was spent either in bed or running for trash cans!

NOTE: don’t trust raw/live food in foreign countries 😀


But other than that, I just got home, safe and sound!

Healthy and looking forward to my first day of work tomorrow with Donald Baechler.

I’ll let you know how it goes!