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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Caitlyn Higgins: Independent travel through Spain, France and Italy

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    05 Dec
    Caitlyn Higgins

    Thanks to the generous funding awarded by the Gateway Challenges fund and the Rosemary Murray Travel Exhibitions fund, this summer I was able to undertake an Interrail trip across Spain, France and Italy.

    My aim was to visit areas of structural engineering interest – to find inspiration and put into context concepts and techniques learned at College as I approach making a decision on a specialisation for my degree. I also wanted to visit somewhere outside of the UK to experience other cultures and practice my languages skills; this was my first time travelling on my own, so I chose not to venture too far away.

    I spent the first four nights of my trip in Barcelona where I visited many examples of the works of Gaudi, a prominent and distinctive architect in the Catalan Modernism movement. He was particularly inspired by nature and mythology; these are evident in the style and imagery of Casa Batlló – a visual storytelling of St George and the Dragon – and Park Güell’s ‘gingerbread’ houses. Having studied his characteristic approach in art in secondary school, I was keen to look at his projects in person. I was fascinated by his design process, which involved many scale models, and the use of structures such as catenary arches. I was especially in awe of the Sagrada Familia, which is a magnificent and unique basilica. Visiting Colonia Güell gave me an overview of the history of industrialisation and revolution and presented me with the challenge of navigating the unfamiliar metro system.

    I then travelled to Madrid, where I tasted some classic Spanish tapas such as tortilla Espanola, and on to Seville where I enjoyed the older architecture and narrow streets of Barrio Santa Cruz. Many buildings and pavilions were developed for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 to celebrate Spain’s international relations; the style of each building reflects the country it represents. The last city I visited in Spain was Granada. The aesthetic of the city is clearly heavily influenced by its history of Muslim rule with the beautiful palaces of La Alhambra as the most striking example. Overall, it was illuminating to see such exquisite and varied designs across Spain and even across cities, often influenced by the location’s history.

    Travelling through France revealed excellent views of the coast, mountains and countryside, stopping in Marseille and Nice. Independent train travel proved to be more demanding than I had initially thought but, though my French was a little rusty, I managed to successfully handle each step of the journey. I would like to have spent more time in France and may do so in the future since this trip sparked my curiosity.

    In contrast, I was struck by the modern, fashionable atmosphere. Sleek skyscrapers are juxtaposed with gothic architecture. Walking around the rooftops of the cathedral gives unbeatable views of the city as well as close-up detail of the impressive marble building. Another intriguing building in Milan is Bosco Verticale: a pair of residential towers containing more than 900 trees. The result is an eye-catching combination of city and nature standing out against the skyline. To finish the trip, I spent a couple of nights in Florence. It was once one of the wealthiest cities of medieval Europe and is noted for its Renaissance architecture. I enjoyed sightseeing, particularly the intricate black and white marble of the cathedral; Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge, which unusually still has shops built onto it; Michelangelo’s statue; and learning about the rival families of the city’s history.

    While the trip was an unforgettable supplement to my studies, it has also allowed me to realise things about myself, such as the amount of activity and travel I am comfortable with and my core principles. I have further developed confidence in my ability to be independent and to stand up for myself, which will be useful going into my second year of university.

    I would not have been able to go on this incredible journey without the Gateway Programme so I would like to extend my thanks for the honour of being awarded these funds.

    Caitlyn Higgins