Tuesday, April 28, 2009

¡Olé España! Part 4 (Barcelona)

In an attempt to save money, Cassie and I decided that we would take the 8 hour bus ride from Madrid to Barcelona through the night so we didn't have to pay for a hotel. Well we ended up getting a very quick driver and were dropped off at the bus station in Barcelona at about 645am. That kind of ruined our plan ha! Half asleep and bitter that it was sprinkling, we figured out the subway line to get to our hotel. Of course we were not able to check in, seeing as that the people who were probably in our room were still sleeping (which we were very jealous of) we checked our bags at the hotel, freshened up in the bathroom and then headed to the nearest Starbucks with our tour books.

Taking turns, Cassie would sleep and I would pretend to read and then we would switch. Even with delicious, warm carmel macchiatos, we were so tired that we passed out in the comfy chairs of Starbucks (awww how I miss Starbucks!). Once we conserved enough energy we decided we still had 5 hours before we could check-in to the hotel so we might as well get out and see the city since it had stopped raining!

We made our way down Las Ramblas (The Promenades). There are 5 of these ramblas, all connecting which end up making a very long walkway through the center of the city and straight from our hotel to the Mediterrean Sea! From birdcages with singing birds and posing street performers to live music and small flower shops, las Ramblas was always bustling, even as we were walking down it at 10am. Wandering towards the end of Las Ramblas, we saw the popular Christopher Columbus statue. In the 19th century, Catalans (people from the state of Catalona - where Barcelona is located) convinced themselves that Columbus was Spanish not Italian, erected this statue in his honor. Some odd things about it: 1) it is constructed so that Columbus is pointing to the horizon...but Libya, not the Americas. Some people explain this by saying he is pointing to his nearest fueling station ha. 2) Catalans adore Columbus, but it is said that he is the one that destroyed the commerce of Barcelona because of his American discovery, regardless they really like him!

We continued to poke around the Ramblas and then headed to the Barri Gótic (Gothic Neighborhood). This area is the oldest in Barcelona so it holds parts of the old palace, old city walls and the original cathedral! Because it was constructed before Roman times (aka before the idea of a grid layout for a city) the windy streets lead you in all different directions! Also, there are many very narrow streets, all with clothes hanging out the windows and motos speeding through the curves. At one point we found a sidewalk that only had two stripes - thats how small the street was! A my size sidewalk!

After poking in the cathedrals, having a few coffees and getting lost multiple times in the Barri Gótic we decided that it was close enough to check-in time that we could head back to our hotel. We had splurged and got a 4-star hotel that had a roof deck with a pool on the roof, so when we got back we threw on our swimsuits and took naps on the roof! From the top of our hotel we could see the water, the hills, the whole city! We were most excited we were able to see Barcelona's most famous place - The Sagrada Familia (Holy Family). It was a project Antonio Gaudi started before his death and is still a work-in-progess! More on that later!

I don't know if you have picked up on it yet, but when I am translating things in this blog, I am not translating them from Spanish, but actually from Catalan - the language they speak in Barcelona! Like Basque Country, the autonomous community of Cataluña wants to be on thier own. For this, they have thier own special cultural dances, events and a different language! Although it is not as difficult as Euskera (the basque language) it is a bit different than Spanish - more like a French/Spanish mix. We were fine because everyone still speaks Spanish, but I was a little confused at times! At one point, we got Starbucks coupons as a nice gesture (because we ended up going to the same Starbucks every morning) but we had no idea what the coupons offer was for because it was in Catalan haha.

After our tanning nap, we could see on of the Gaudi's famous housing projects from our roof and decided to go check it out! Gaudi, known for his modernism and amazing design and architecture is fully recognized and appreciated in Barcelona. He has multiple housing buildings, parks and of course the Sagrada Familia! We started off with the Casa Milá - a building made to mimic the sea. The walls of the outside are smooth and curvy, made to represent waves, and the balconies have iron all twisted and turned to look like seaweed. The coolest part of the house however was the roof! Supposed to represent soldiers of the sea, multiple chimneys sprout from the ceiling towards the sky. Each different, they are placed all over the multiple-level roof. Some smooth stone, some mosaic, they are all very interesting and really show Gaudi's individual ideas! I have never seen something like it, and I doubt they had when he built it in 1912 either.

Two blocks down is what is called the Manzana de la Discordia (Block of Discord). It is so named because of the 3 modern houses on the block that clash wildley. One by Gaudi and two by other modern architects from the era, we were excited to see another Gaudi creation - Casa Batlló. This one is magnificent and very colorful! The translation for this building is supposed to be the Catalan Saint Jordi (St. George) slaying a dragon. For this the walls of the building are irradescent scales of the dragon. The roof shows the dragon's back as well as the chimney that sticks up from the back is made to represent the sword used to kill it. The balconies, which look like they are made of bones, are supposed to be the remains of the dragon's victims. Elaborate and striking, this house was my favorite in the Block of Discord.

On the walk home we found an Italian buffet for cheap, filled up and headed back to the hotel for a well-needed sleep. We slept about 11 hours and woke up refreshed, excited to see some more Gaudi excitingness! First on our list was Starbucks haha then we headed off to the Sagrada Familia! This over-the-top cathedral was Gaudi's last project and he died while in the middle of it. It is still in process and is slated to be finished 2026. Cassie and I have already decided we will come back for the finishing and reunite in Barcelona again! T minus 17 years ha. Here is a photo of what The Sagrada Familia is supposed to look like. The red part of the photo is what is completed now (work started in 1882) and th ewhite is what is still waiting to be finished. It is a grand project and it is very obvious that Gaudi threw himself into this last project. A very religious man, the church is full of symbolism from top to bottom.

We started at the entrance, which holds the Passion facade. The suffering really shines through as Gaudi intended it. There are no ornamental decorations like flowers or animals but only strong and harsh figures that symbolize the pain and suffering Jesus felt. If you look closely you can see that Jesus is hanging FROM the cross not on it, creating a visual letter I, and above him the word INRI (Latin acronym for Jesus Christ). Little things like that are all over the facade: Jesus' head is actually a book, reminding visitors of the Bible; on the facade next to the statue representing Judas' kiss, there is a grid of 4 rows and 4 columns always add up to 33 - Jesus' age at death; and on one sculpture there are eggs which symbolize holiness and resurrection (Easter eggs make so much more sense now).

From this entrance we entered the musem to understand more about Gaudi, this private-funded church and the contintued construction. Only 4 spires and one facade (the Nativity Facade) were completed in Gaudi's time. The rest has been lead by other architects who have worked with or studied Gaudi. For this, the result is not completely Gaudi, but rather his idea and plan executed by his admirers. The museum winds you under the church, in what will eventually be the crypt of the church and you exit the other side. This is where the Nativity facade is. This is the one that was finished while Gaudi was still alive because he said that it was the most religious and would garner the most donations, and since this church is all privatley-funded, Gaudi needed money to continue the elaborate project. The Nativity facade has many different scenes from the birth of Jesus - the Holy family, the angels proclaiming his birth with thier musical instruments, the 3 wise men, the star of Bethlehem and more. From this photo you can see the 3 wise men on bended knee and two of the many angels carved into the stone. Although there are many scenes going on and all look amazing, they are actually done by many artists who are all masters of the gothic style! This side of the church looks like it is actually dripping because of the undulations of the walls and the smooth curves of the figures.
After gazing up for so long we decided to enter the church. While there is actually no interior, you are able to see the construction that is in process. It was really cool to see the people working, fulfilling the dream of Gaudi from years before. If you were an artist, construction worker or architect, I think it would be a huge honor to say you had any part in finishing this project. It was really neat to learn all about how the chuch will be when it is finished - the Glory facade, the massive cross to top the church, the interior and all the workings! Cassie and I will definitley be there to check it out! A rather dumb language moment on my part came before I actually came to see the Sagrada Familia. I had never researched it or anything before I moved to Spain, and even when I was here I didn't read up on it much until I was coming to Barcelona. I couldn't for the life of me figure out who these Sagradas were that Gaudi would make a whole church for! Did I miss a whole chapter of history of a really important family?? I was so confused until I read my guide book, which kindly informed me that as you read earlier, sagrada means sacred in Catalan haha. I will never forget now!

After the church we headed to Park Guell - another Gaudi project! This was originally set up to be a housing project with luxury homes sprinkled around a lovely modern park, but only one house was built. Only one house was built and was made to be the show-house for the selling of the property but no one bought it...so Gaudi moved in himself. Back then housing developments weren't as popular as they are today in the USA so it was a bust of a project, but thankfully the city bought the rest of the land and made it a public park. Now everyone can come and appreciate the art that would have been great to live with if they had bought a house in Gaudi's complex! When you enter you see two buildings that look a lot like gingerbread houses with gumdrop windows. They are whimsical walls, mosaic window frames and the roofs look like a baker took a frosting bag and made decorative pillows of white sugary goodness! In front of the buildings is a staircase with many mosaic squares on the wall that lead up to an undercover area full of columns and a ceiling of more mosiacs that holds up the best part of the park. Past the columns and up another flight of stairs you make it to the top of the park and see the famous terrace. The focal point of it is the long, winding bench that is made to look like a sea serpant. It curves around the whole edge of the terrace, always offering a gorgeous view of Barcelona from its mosaic and one-of-a-kind seat. The benches were actually designed by Gaudi ergonomically - Gaudi had his construction workers sit naked on the clay as it was molding- which I thought was rather interesting. Also, we wandered on what were going to be the roads of the park and the underneath of them which were set up like colonades with slanted columns. Overall, it might have been my favorite place in Barcelona - great views, mosaic art, peaceful and colorful!

After that we headed back to the waterfront to rent some bikes and check out the Mediterranean Sea on a nice ride. When we arrived at the bike rental place there was a tandem bike and let me tell you something - I have ALWAYS wanted to ride one. I see them all the time at Long Beach in WA and am super jealous but have never found anyone to ride one with. I saw it and immediatley asked Cassie if she would be up for it. She said she has always wanted to ride one too and could never find anyone who wanted to. Match made in heaven. The man sort of chuckled and asked us if we were sure, saying it was kind of a challenge. We definitley wanted it! We made our way onto the street - Cassie in front and me in back - and that's when the problems started. Turns out the bike was in 1st gear so when we coordinated how to get on at the same time we were just pedaling and not moving. Falling off we laughed and probably gave the restaurant we fell in front of a nice laugh as well. Cassie said she would hop on and ride it for a second and change the gear so we could do it together but seeing Cassie ride a tandem bike alone was so hilarious I was dying laughing by time she came back. After a little more struggle and a LOT of laughs we got the hang of it and rode along the boardwalk in style. I ended up riding with no hands, waving to people who gawked at our amazing biking skills, taking photos and basically dancing on the back of a tandem bike. We rode as far as we could, turned around and did it all over it. It was possibly the best 15 € I have ever spent in my life and we were SO estatic!

After our bike ride we were sore and headed back to the buffet to feel better ha. We got our complimentary glass of champagne from the hotel and then wandered around the old part, just shopping and talking. Another early night for us and the next morning we headed to Starbucks yet again and then off to the bus station to head back to San Sebastian. I loved Barcelona but was happy about being home (well, my Spain home). Our bus ride, although our last in our travels was fantastic - they even gave us goody bags with juice, nuts and cookies! We had a fun 7 hour bus ride and were home in time for some tasty Spanish wine and a nice night of sleep.

Sorry this was kind of a long one but we managed to fit so much into Barcelona and we weren't even trying. It was probably the most relaxing part of our trip and we accomplished the most! It was really really fun and I hope you liked hearing about it!

Bes (kiss in Catalan)

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