It is September 11  and I’ve ended up at Avinguda Diagonal, one of the main streets in Barcelona, half by accident and half out of curiosity.  A few minutes earlier, I was looking down from my apartment window three stories up, and I saw what seemed like the whole city heading in one direction. After following the crowds for about 10 minutes, I stood among the most unbelievable gathering of people I had ever witnessed.

I’m in the middle of a street with at least 1 million other people, chanting words of independence and waving red and gold flags above their heads. I learned afterwards this might be the largest peaceful rally Europe has ever seen, as the people of Catalonia formed a giant “V” on the two main roads in Barcelona as a symbol of independence. According to the Spanish government, it was just over half a million people, while some Catalonian independence groups claim around 2 million people turned out.

From every building hung a Catalan flag or a sign reading, “Catalans want to Vote”, and “Independence is Dignity.” People wore red and gold shirts, reading “Ara es la Hora” (now is the time) and  “Catalonia is not Spain”.  I felt slightly out of place, but at the same time so lucky to be a part of this. From balconies there were people chanting into microphones and playing drums and music. The celebrations were for Catalonia’s National day, or La Diada.

As the Scottish referendum for independence nears, that same hopeful feeling has been growing throughout Barcelona. La Diada and the demonstrations of the day went extremely well for the political tensions involved, and come November the people of Catalonia hope this will result in an opportunity to vote.

The next day I’m standing in the middle of a much quieter place, La Sagrada Família, which is the most famous piece of architecture in the city, and my neck hurts from gazing upwards. The columns seem to go infinitely into the sky, just like trees in a forest, as Gaudí had intended upon design. Colored light falls on the marble floors from the afternoon sun filtering through the massive stain glass windows. My favorite is the orange and red one, making me feel like I’m part of a sunset.

I’ve never been religious, but I still find it fascinating. There is something about a place so beautiful it seems sacred, and it brings a sense of peace over your mind. Looking at the other faces walking around, they seem to feel the same way, in awe at the grandeur. There was a woman sitting in the very first row of the pews, roped off for quiet prayers and thinking. I saw her cry as she prayed and gazed toward the altar. In front of her was a life sized statue of Jesus hanging from the ceiling, surrounded by an elaborate chandelier that resembles glowing candles.

There must have been thousands of people from all over the world inside and around the cathedral, but that is the beauty of it. As I learned in my self guided tour, when Gaudí was commissioned to build the church, he said it was built for all people- no matter age, sex, race or social standing. I think about that, as I look through the windows into the bottom level of the church, which holds his tomb. It is encircled with candles, and two fresh red roses lie on top of it.

Barcelona is of course known for its great nightlife, but many visitors don’t get to fully recognize the rich culture and history that makes this place so intriguing. So far, I’ve had a great taste of the culture here and I can’t wait for more. Luckily, starting on the nineteenth, celebrations will begin for Barcelona’s biggest festival, La Mercè. La Mercè festival is held in honor of Deu de la Mercè, the Patron Saint of Barcelona. And of course another celebration means another 4-day weekend full of adventure, which I can never complain about.