Sara Payne


I’m Sara Payne, a senior journalism and global cultural studies double major. During my time at Point Park, I’ve gained experience at the Point Park News Service, The Globe and as an intern at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. This trip has been much anticipated since I caught the travel bug my senior year of high school when I traveled to Spain and France. I’m excited to have the opportunity to visit Barcelona for the second time four years later with the knowledge I will have gained from this class.

Day 1

This morning I woke up on an airplane an hour away from Madrid. I staggered through customs, to the baggage claim and onto a tour bus. Despite being a zombie, I was greeted by smiling faces and sunny, blue skies. I put on my best face for this country because of the one it presented me.

We traveled to the city’s bullfighting ring. While it is a grand sport, the large stadium provides opportunities for people of any class to attend events, making it a cultural tradition that everyone is a part of. The fights are usually weekly, but we just so happen to be here during the month that holds a dance every night.

The group was treated to a traditional tapas dinner, which consists of many courses of small snacks. It was a great way to try many different flavors. From croquettes to Spanish omelettes, we had it all. In an effort to take advantage of every opportunity while I’m abroad, I tried the calamari rings. As a person who cares more about texture, it was hard to get down. The taste wasn’t all that bad.

While our wonderful guide took us on a walking tour, I think the delirium will have me trying to figure out navigation a bit more tomorrow.

Day 2

IMG_0435 When we greeted Mauricio this morning, he said he wasn’t sure who the group was. It’s amazing what eight hours of sleep at the correct time can do for people dealing with a six-hour time difference. We made our way using the metro to a lecture from professor Gustavo Garcia-Mansilla regarding the current landscape of Spanish media. From there, we grabbed some lunch and walked to Conde Nast Spain for a series of talks.

I enjoyed our first day of media visits, but the most interesting part of May 13 was attempting to find a new pair of contacts in a foreign country. In my delirious state last night, I dropped my contact case. One survived the drop, and the other disappeared into what appears to be the abyss hiding in our hotel room. After waiting until morning to find the now florescent blue piece of plastic and not discovering it, all hope was lost.

Mauricio calmly dealt with my frantic story and said we could find an optician after our media visits. We spotted one just down the street from our hotel and walked down. I soon realized just how little Spanish I know. With the optician looking at me while talking, I would give Mauricio a pitiful look every time the man ended his sentence. As soon as the man checked my prescription and learned I had astigmatism, it was déjà vu. Though I have no idea what it really means, astigmatism is not something anyone wants to have. The special contact lens are never kept in stock.

In a final attempt, Mauricio decided we should go to a larger store. Before we knew it, he hailed a cab and we hopped in. Riding a cab in a new city is always an experience. Pedestrians are everywhere in the center of Madrid, and I still haven’t quite figured out the traffic circles. After arriving to the department store, we found the optician, and I thought I was going to hear the same response. But the man working in the store took my glasses, and we were told to have a seat. After countless gracias, I had in my hand a pair of trial contacts. I don’t think I could ever say that word to Mauricio and the man at the glasses store enough.

Day 3

IMG_0465On the first day of the trip, we learned bullfighting happens every day during the month of May. We checked out the itinerary and found a day we had time to go. I’ve been spending most of the touring time walking close to Mauricio because he is a fountain of information. We asked about going to a bullfight, and he simply said we could. It turned into quite the adventure.

After our Ketchum media visit, we had some free time for lunch. Mauricio suggested we take some of the time to purchase tickets in case the event sold out. No longer being occupied by the crowd of all of us, Mauricio was pretty excited for us and decided to attend the event as well. A small group of us took a metro ride to the ring. The entire trip Mauricio explained the process of a bullfight, which made the event much easier to follow once we were there. An interesting part about the ticket buying process is the ring is divided by whether seats are in the sun or shade. Shade seats are more expensive because they are more comfortable for attendees.

There are so many nuances that a foreign visitor to the bullfighting ring might miss. The crowd is constantly judging the bull and the matador. Clapping is good; whistling is bad. A president is in control and decides when the fight moves along. He also decides if the matador wins an ear. If he does really well, the crowd will lobby for him by waving white papers. If the president waves his white handkerchief, the matador is rewarded with an ear cut from the bull. We were fortunate enough to see a matador achieve this trophy. Unfortunately, the same matador did not have the same fate with his second bull. The wind caught his cape, allowing the bull to see him. The horns caught the man’s legs, he was flipped up on top of the bull then fell off as the bull continued to trample him.

While it was a terrifying experience, this is the reality that matadors and attendees have to face. The sport is dangerous. The danger the men put themselves in creates a kind of mutual respect for the animals they are killing. After the bull is killed, it is immediately butchered within the ring. In another parallel manner, the ring also houses expert surgeons to deal with the wounds inflicted by the bulls.

Day 4

Each day I am shocked by the history found in Spain. The country has structures from before ours was even founded. Today I touched the oldest structure I have probably ever encountered. The Aqueduct of Segovia was built by the Romans in the first century AD, and it has stood the tests of time despite not having any mortar to hold the massive stones in places. Each rock was fitted perfectly to create pillars that are the same size despite using varying pieces of stones.

Not only am I amazed by the history Spain can show off, but the way in which the people have worked to preserve it. The Alcazar of Segovia is a castle overlooking the city. It was the home of the monarchy of Castille, including Queen Isabella I. While a fire destroyed the building in the 1800s, it has been carefully restored. A painter actually completed water colors of the castle before the fire, and these were used to make accurate recreations.

Following our trip to Segovia, we returned to Madrid for the night. Our visit happened to be during the Festival of San Isidro, the saint said to look over the city. A public concert was held in Plaza Mayor by a popular radio station. Despite not knowing any of the words, it was so fun to immerse myself in the crowd and dance along as everyone sang the words to the pop songs. Experiences like this make me forget how different home might’ve seemed at first.

Day 5

After visiting Toledo this morning, we rushed to the train station to make our trip to Barcelona. I fell asleep immediately and woke up with only 30 minutes left in the ride, so I can’t tell you much about the scenery. Traveling via train is always a fun experience though because it’s not a norm for me at home. It also just goes to show how much closer places are in Europe. Our train from Madrid was making its way to Marseille in France. Not being much of a plane lover, traveling here is making me think of what trips I can plan using trains back home.

I was fortunate enough to come to Barcelona as a senior in high school with our Foreign Language Club, so it’s been an interesting time trying to compare my memories from that trip to this time around. As soon as we got to the city, our local guide Patrick took us around by bus. We wound up the road to the top of Montjuic, which gave us our first impression of the city we’d be exploring for the next few days. When we made the voyage up the hill, it was much different than my first trip as it was during the day instead of at night. The aerial view gives you a glimpse of how much is going on below with only a couple of streets actually being visible.

After the quick tour, we had a group dinner. It was a typical meal for the seaside town of grilled hake. The meal ended with Spanish cream, which was pretty similar to creme brûlée. We had time after the meal to just talk and relax. There was no hurry to get anywhere else or back to the hotel. It feels like we’re working ourselves into the Spanish state of mind.

Day 6

IMG_0587When searching for a college, I wanted to find a campus in the heart of a city. I wanted the opportunities and experiences a metropolitan areas could give me compared to the rural areas where I grew up. Pittsburgh hasn’t let me down (I mean look where I am right now…), and Barcelona is no different. Madrid, as the capital, is often compared to Washington, DC while Barcelona is similar to New York City.

For our free day in Barcelona, Mauricio offered to have a walking tour to learn more about the city. Emily and I were the only students who decided to take him up on his offer. Along with Jan and Helen, the small group of us experienced so much more in two hours than we could have ever expected. Mauricio took us through the historical old town, which included cathedrals, a medieval wall and Roman ruins hidden in a courtyard. For such a modern city, Barcelona also has so much history to explore.

The tour also included a stop at the museum of Barcelona. Mauricio took us into the lobby, and before we knew it, we were exploring the rest of the building. The museum just so happened to be free that day. If the Roman columns we discovered in a courtyard weren’t shocking enough, Barcelona has ruin of a whole Roman town underneath its surface. When the building the museum is in was moved to its current location, digging down for its foundation unearthed the remains.

Following the museum visit, there was a rally for the Communist party candidates running for local offices. It was interesting to see so many people in attendance and actively participating. Right outside the rally, there was a procession of religious follower from southern Spain. The parade included horses, oxen and people dressed in ornate costumes. Culture is everywhere in Barcelona, you just have to keep your eye out.

Day 7

IMG_0616Our time in Barcelona is quickly coming to an end. We have one more day left to explore before heading to the airport for Lisbon tomorrow evening. I realize that I’ve been focusing on cultural visits while blogging, but the title of this course is International Media.

This morning we traveled to TV3, which is a regional television channel for Catalunya. As a print journalism major, I have never really learned much about the technical aspects of broadcast. The tour got us literally behind the scenes. We toured the campus and explored the different sets and control rooms. At one point, we were allowed to go into a set that was live broadcasting. The show was a daily magazine that is on air for six hours. The broadcast only has two presenters for two blocks of three hours, which is unimaginable to me. It was eye opening to see how much work goes into preparing for the sets. The scenery for an election show to air next week was being looked over and adjusted during our tour. There was an entire floor devoted to housing the items that could be displayed on sets.

Following the TV station, we had another behind-the-scenes tour at Camp Nou, the home of the FC Barcelona club. An interesting part about this tour is that the club hosts more than soccer. Trophies have been won by its handball, basketball and other teams. On the stands of the soccer stadium, it reads, “Mes que un club,” which means more than a club. TV3 and Camp Nou have done their part to preserve the Catalan culture. TV3 is the only station that broadcasts in the regional language, including cartoons, so children are actively listening to it. FC Barcelona acts as a source of pride for natives, which adds one more thing for people of this region to be proud of.

Day 8

The plane is currently cruising above the Iberian Peninsula, and I am finally over my takeoff jitters. (I swore I’d be a much better air traveler by the end of this, but no promises.) Our last day in Barcelona included my favorite media visit so far. We spent the morning at La Vanguardia, a regional Catalonian newspaper. It is published in Spanish and Catalan, so it is one more agent keeping the culture of the region alive.

The newspaper is privately owned by the Godo family. As an intern at the Post-Gazette, I saw firsthand what it is like to work in a similar environment. The publisher of the the Post-Gazette often suggested content whether or not the editors and writers agreed. Deputy Editor Miguel Molina and Digital Innovation Director Ishmael Nafria were very open to questions at today’s visit. Molina admitted that as a student, he believed it was better to have little oversight from the publisher, but he has grown to like the role the Vanguardia higher-ups plan in the newsroom. They often weigh in on discussions, and he mentioned that the upcoming local elections will be no different.

Compared to other Spanish newspapers, La Vanguardia is not in debt and benefits from the family-owned operation. With other publications facing sales and mergers, this newspaper is offered stability and consistency. When Gustavo gave our first lecture, he discussed the effects of economic crisis in the media. The unstable situation led to budget cuts and other measures to get through it all. Reliance on advertising changed the content heavily, and the audience was not considered. The visit today tied this concept together. Not being a public company, La Vanguardia is not worried about stocks and stakeholders; the publication is able to continue focusing on its audience. Larger media conglomerates and public corporations that are struggling financially might want to take note.

Day 9

IMG_0654Today was our first full day in Lisbon. It was an interesting feeling waking up in a city we knew nothing about, but we went on a panoramic tour first thing when we woke up to get oriented. The bus tour included two stops to monuments among other sights. Portugal proudly celebrates its history of navigation. One of the monuments included a world map that showed all of the stops Portuguese travelers made. The Portuguese were some of the first to start globalizing, and the concept is easily spotted in the city. A bridge crossing the Tejos River was designed by the same architect that created the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

In each of our media visits, we have learned about the effects of the financial crisis in Spain and Portugal. Until tonight, it was hard to picture what this really meant for the people living here because the companies we’ve visited have obviously survived. After finishing dinner in a neighborhood away from our hotel, we caught a cab back. Our driver spoke great English, so we asked him about his life and how he learned the language so well. While he did learn other languages in school, knowing English helped him in his previous career in computers. His past experiences were rich, including living two years in Italy. But the company he worked for went bankrupt, and he needed to earn money. His father owned the taxi service, so that’s how our paths crossed.

The unemployment rate in Portugal is 30 percent, which is unimaginable. In our Portuguese media visits, the people who spoke talked about the creativity of the people and their ability to work through the situation before them. I told the man that I was amazed how happy people were despite the current environment. He was quiet for a second, deciding what to answer. His response was that the Portuguese people see no sense in crying because it doesn’t change anything. They do their best with taking each day as it comes to them.

Day 10

IMG_0663Today was my day to lead discussion during our media visit. We had the pleasure of visiting RTP, the public broadcaster in Portugal. Like many other companies, RTP faced hardships following the financial crisis. The government funding was drastically reduced, meaning that the company now heavily relies on the monthly fee the Portuguese people pay on their electric bills, which is 2.65 euros a month. RTP was also faced with cutting a third of its workforce. Despite the hardships, the company is still doing its best to make programming for its people to be proud of.

Public broadcasting is something I have taken for granted as an American citizen, so it really struck me how excited and proud of RTP the Portuguese are. Odet was so happy to take a picture of herself in the studio, so she could show her sons where she was later that day. The news broadcast is done in a multifunctional studio, which includes the newsroom. If there is breaking news, it drastically decreases the time it takes for a journalist to get to the presenter. We were able to see a live broadcast of the news in this studio as well as the daily morning show RTP presents. The discussion for the day was a woman who was divorced speaking about the financial options for her children to attend school. Each day I was reminded of the pervasiveness of the crisis in this small country.

As a young adult not paying enough attention to my own country’s public radio and television, I asked the international relations director what the company was doing to attract a younger audience. One of their solutions was to create a late night talk show program. It was interesting to learn how much the young audience matters. It’s blatantly obvious, but if a new audience isn’t attracted, then there won’t be a future for RTP. Our hosts were overwhelmingly welcoming during our visit, showing just how excited they are to speak to young people. Our lecturer had open arms for a hug before I even finished my sentence thanking him for his time.

Day 11

IMG_0689Our final day in Lisbon was exactly what I needed: a quaint old town filled with palaces, an adventure to the westernmost point of continental Europe, a nap on the beach and an entertaining dinner. I’m sad to say goodbye to the small, but resilient country. Three days was nowhere near enough time to explore all the nooks and crannies of the city, or country for that matter.

The trip ended with a group dinner that included a Fado show. Odet told us that the venue was filled with history as some great singers in the genre got their starts there. Fado is filled with emotion and is often about nostalgic feelings for a loved one or the country. Before each song, the crowd is silenced. The Portuguese think it is important to focus all of their attention on the music to really feel it. Fado is a popular choice for the Portuguese, but it’s definitely no rock concert. I welcomed the sentiment of appreciating the music rather than trying to sing or talk over it.

Along with the Fado singers, the night also included traditional folk music, which sounded more like a polka. Dancers wore costumes, and one number included them carrying signs that spelled out the name of the venue and one that had Lisboa on it. They were carried around to the audience, and some members of our group went up on the stage and danced with a sign.

One thing I’ve noticed about Portuguese food is how the specialties are obviously dictated by what the country has. Our first course was a meat and cheese plate. The dish also featured olives. Portugal has many olive trees growing, which we saw on our way to Sintra and the beaches earlier that day. The Portuguese use what they have on hand and really highlight the great features of those foods.

2 thoughts on “Sara Payne

  1. Sara, what a wonderful adventure. I hope this is just the beginning of many more trips to come. What a beautiful writer you are. I felt like I was there with you. When you describe touching the Aqueduct of Segovia I got chills. Keep enjoying and loving life. I am so happy for you. Great job! I love you.

  2. Sarah.Amy,my ami. has allowed me to read this amazing account. What a great adventure for OUR DEAR LITTLE girl. You are amazing !!! You still playing the clarnet. You MUST get in touch with us when you’re home xoxo Marge

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