Friday, November 6, 2009

Day 36 and 37 - Barca!, Barca!, Barca!

Greetings from Spain (for real this time)!

This was my one full day in Barcelona, so I had a good bit of ground to cover to get everything I wanted in.  Happy to say I did but due to another early train, I had to bail early on the following day, so this is a combo of Day 36-37.  I got up bright and early and was on the move.  First stop, back to the main drag, Las Ramblas:

Barcelona is essentially in the extreme Northeast corner of Spain right on the Mediterranean Sea.  It has a very busy shipping industry and has always been heavily involved with sailing and boating going back well past the New World Explorations.  This is the Christopher Columbus Monument to the left which is within a couple of hundred yards of the sea.

Here's a shot of Montjuic, which in Catalan (more on that in a sec) translates as the "Hill of the Jews".  This is close to where the 1992 Summer Olympics were staged.

So a quick word about this Catalan thing.  This whole trip I've been in countries where I don't speak a word of the language except "Hi", "Please", "Excuse Me", and "Sorry, I don't speak (insert local dialect here)".  It has only been the fact that English is prevalent over here that I have not been some sad little thing sitting on the corner of a random street even more lost than I normally have been. So when I decided to side trip to Spain, I was muy (see) excited.  I'm definitely not saying I'm bilingual (not even close), but after 3 years in high school and 2 semesters in college, I'm fluent enough to have a simple conversation with a native.  So what do I find out?  Barcelona speaks Catalan and not Spanish.  Fortunately, their Spanish is fine, but once again, I was unable to "blend in" with the locals.  And to think, I had such a good chance with this country too, what with my dark Latin features and all.

Here's a shot of some of the art work that decorates the main square in Barcelona, Placa de Catalunya.  This is just a brief taste of some of the art and style you can see in Barcelona.

I am a bad tourist.  Yet another shot of something that I don't know what it is but thought looked cool.  Again, I just think the architecture is unique here, so I thought I'd give you another example.

Nothing says come live in our city more than palm trees outside a government building and 75 degree weather at the end of October.

Here's a shot of my favorite part of Barcelona:  La Ribera.  It's also the location of Classic Kenny Moment #6.  Ever have one of those times where you independently make some profound discovery only to find out that everyone else already knew it.  Previous to today, this had only happened to me once.  I was in 9th grade and taking geometry when I realized that "Side-Angle-Side" thing was true for triangles.  I was so impressed with myself.  Two days later I learned that Euclid or some other really ancient dead person figured this out a couple of thousand years ago.  You can imagine my dismay to learn that I was not going to be mentioned in the next edition of the textbook.  Well, I had the same experience today.  As I walked through this neighborhood, I thought, "This is the hidden gem of Barcelona.  I would totally live here. I bet no one realizes how awesome this place is." I don't really know how a 30 year old could possess the necessary amount of naivete to genuinely believe that he had independently discovered an unknown quantity in a thousand year old city, but be sure I made the impossible happen.  Oh and by the way, this neighborhood is the hottest real estate going in Barcelona.

Say hello to the Mediterranean Sea everyone.  Unfortunately, this was the best shot I got of it as the entire thing seems consumed with the shipping industry.  Such a pity. . . but fear not!!  Soon we will have nothing but picture after picture of pristine ocean views.

I went up to Montjuic to get some nice views of the city.  This is a shot of the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya.  In the foreground is the Olympic Stadium. Later on, I walked down to the other side of the building to get a better shot, but silly me, I forgot that all of the historical buildings on this continent signed some kind of document stating that no less than 50% of its edifice had to be covered by scaffolding or big huge sheets over the duration of my trip.

Here's an elevated view of the city.  The best way for me to describe this place is LA mixed with New York. As you can see, the city sprawls like LA not to mention has similar geography (water surrounded by mountains) and weather (wonderful coastal temperatures with a nice breeze), but the way the  people interact with the city and the neighborhoods around town remind me more of New York.  Feel free to disagree (You'll be wrong of course, but I don't want to suppress your right to give an opinion).

So after the trip up the mountain via a lift, I made the very wise decision to walk back down.  For only the 50th time on this trip (please note the number of days I've been traveling at this point) I somehow got a little "disoriented" and found myself amongst a lot of buildings like this.  As I said, this is the capital of Catalan and there's what seems like a full 5 city blocks of museums and halls dedicated to the culture.  My inclination is that some of these building were constructed for the Olympics and then converted after the fact, but as you can tell, they are just beautiful pieces of architecture.  And a good thing too, because I would spend the next hour looking at them as I tried to find my way back to town.

Which leads us to the coolest looking church I saw on the whole trip:  La Sagrada Familia (The Holy Family).  If you have to associate one name with Barcelona it is Antoni Guadi, who was a turn of the 20th century architect.  He designed this place as well as a whole truck load of important landmarks in Barcelona.  A devout Catholic and Catalan, this was considered his masterpiece. Funny thing about this is that construction started on it around 1900, but it is projected to not be done for another 50 years or so.  Even half done though, the place is unlike any other building I've ever seen.  Wait'll you see the detail shots.

Gaudi was big on incorporating nature into his work.  This is an interior shot of the nave of the church.  If you'll notice, the pillars holding up the ceiling and the surrounding structures resemble the canopy of a rain forest.

Here's the back (or is it the front?) of the church.  Notice the difference between this side and the first picture.  This is nice and smooth while the other side is messy and discombobulated. Another thing, those big pillars going up are not the same as on the front side.  This place is huge.

Detail shot of some of the sculptures on the smooth backside of the church.

To me, this is the mark of an amazing artist.  This looks like somebody kind of threw up on the facade here (and I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way), but they have taken it and manipulated in such a way that it is beautiful.  I've done similar stuff with playdo before, but for some inexplicable reason, no one has declared my work a national monument. . .  Yet another example of The Man holding me down.

So after this fun filled day, I topped it off with one of the highlights of my trip, a soccer (excuse me. . . futbol) match between two 1st division professional teams.  While I never got to play, I have been a big fan of soccer ever since one of my best friends, Mike Foody, started making me watch it in high school (this coincided with the '94 World Cup btw).  This was the single most expensive event or purchase of the trip because I wanted to get good seats.  I didn't even scalp for tickets because I wanted to ensure I'd get great seats rather than run the risk of being the latest victim of "let's take advantage of the blondish haired foreign kid who doesn't speak the langauage" scam.  Here's what I got.  The only good thing I can say about these is that they were on the first level.

Undeterred, I decided to "adjust" my seat location.  This is a better shot of what I ended up seeing for the entire game with a little luck and the fact that the game didn't sell out.  And by sell out, I mean we only had around 75,000 show up instead of the capacity 100,000.  As you can see, I went to an FC Barcelona game which is one of the best teams in the Spanish 1st Division, La Liga, as well as the entire continent of Europe.  They were playing Real Zaragoza.

Just like football back home, the fans get into their futbol just as enthusiastically. Such a great environment to watch a game. Each team has their own chants and official songs. And they sing them at various parts of the match in it's entirety. The other thing I was impressed with, was that almost the entire crowd stayed the whole match even though this sucker was over by the half. I want to say it's because of their passion for the sport and Barca, but I'm afraid it's because they had to take out a second mortgage on their house in order to get tickets so they have no where else to go.

Somebody call Sports Illustrated, there's a new sheriff in town.  Turns out I'm even more of a superior photographer than I am international sex symbol to the European masses (and none of yall are over here to disprove it. . . it could be true).

It might be hard to tell, but this is a shot of Barca's first goal (it definitely would not be the last).  You can see the ball in net right after going off Keita's head (he had a hat trick on the night).

And here's our final score.  Regardless of the blowout, it was worth every penny.  This is why sports are so awesome.  I sat next to this older gentleman from Barcelona.  He spoke very little English but that didn't stop both of us from talking to each other throughout the game.  I didn't understand 90% of the words coming out of his mouth, but I guarantee you I understood every single thing he said to me.  Regardless of the sport, all you need to know to communicate with somebody is which side they are rooting for.  Just a great night.  Very few things in this world can bring people together like sports.

After my great night, I headed back to the hostel, and then started again the next morning.  It was a Monday, and I stumbled onto this market off Las Ramblas.  This is what all grocery stores aspire to be.  Every animal, fruit, vegetable, chocolate, or byproduct of all these things was here.  My blood sugar went up 100 points just hanging around this place.

So my last highlight of my time in Barcelona.  Aside from the squid, I hadn't really hit a tapas restaurant that wowed me.  As it turns out, I had talked the night before to the guy I mentioned earlier in the post, and he and his wife, Crystal, had gone to Barcelona for their honeymoon.  They told me to go to this place called Irati's.  The Foody's palate is a bit more refined than mine, so I was curious if it was going to be as amazing as they thought it was, but on this occasion, they were right on the money.  Look at this plate people.  Everyone of these is different.  There's salmon, cream cheese, shrimp, bacon, ham, cranberry sauce, cheese and basically pure sunshine on this plate. This, my friends, is a Tapas Bar.

I had a little bit of bad luck with a couple of the museums I wanted to hit, specifically the Picasso Museum (really long lines) and the Maritime Museum (closed for the winter starting the day I showed up of course), but my time in Barcelona was a huge success. To me the city was best experienced by walking around and experienced the atmosphere and not by wandering the halls of some exhibit. Great time and I highly recommend a stop there to everyone. At this point I hopped a train. The next stop: The French Riviera.

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