Monday, March 1, 2010
Me encanta esta ciudad...I love this city! Barcelona is very different from Salamanca and the other cities I have seen. It feels more modern and very artistic. The artsy feel is probably due to the presence of very famous artists and architects in years past, but aside from the buildings, the city just has a showy feeling. Walking down Las Ramblas (a main street, which our hostel was near) we saw all sorts of performers dressed in extravagant costumes; mimes, adults dressed as babies, princesses, a man pretending to have his head cut off...anything you can imagine, all hoping to receive money in their cups. At one point as we passed what looked like an empty table, someone jumped out at me-I screamed and jumped in the air, and everyone on the street laughed...I should have asked for money for providing such a show!
Friday I arrived and was met by my friend from high school, Olivia, who is studying in Barcelona this semester. She and her friend took me to my hostel and then showed me the city, pointing out good places to eat and making other suggestions for our visit. We finished by sharing some tapas, and after they left I went back to the hostel to wait for my friends from Milan (two friends from BU are studying there, and brought another American friend with them).
After we were all settled and refreshed, we went dinner and then to a small bar to try some sangria (and had free popcorn!). We sat with a group of people from Argentina, enjoyed our sangria, and turned into the hostel early.
The hostel was nice (though I know nothing of hostels-this was my first hostel experience). We had breakfast, pillows, blankets, sheets, and a locked cubby to store our things. Plus, free internet access on computers in the lobby. This hostel was located just a five minute walk from Las Ramblas, a busy, fun street.
I always attempted to speak Spanish, but people always responded to me in English, and I was frustrated and didn't understand why. Finally, when I asked someone for directions (in Spanish) and he responded in English, a stomped my foot and asked him how he knew I spoke English, if my Spanish was really that horrible. He looked at me and chuckled, pointed to the other girls and said: "I heard you speaking English as you walked down the street." I hadn't thought about that!
While using the computer to look up different things to do, an older man sat down on the sofa next to the computer desk. I asked if he wanted to use the computer (in Spanish) and he said yes, but not to worry, he was not in a hurry. After a few minutes I asked him where he was from, and about his travels (he is from French Quebec and has been traveling in Europe and Egypt for the past month). We talked for a few minutes more before I mentioned that I am from the U.S. He looked surprised and told me he thought I was from Spain! Yes, I realize he isn't a native Spanish speaker, but it was quite a boost to my Spanish self-esteem. We talked for over twenty minutes. And later that day I conversed well with a shop owner, in Spanish. I know these people are used to tourists and they all speak English, but at this point I will take what improvements I can get!
Saturday morning after breakfast we went on a bicycle tour of the city. We saw so much of the city in just four hours. At times it was a bit rushed (I'm the type that likes to wander), but because we were only there 2 full days it was the perfect way for us to feel like we toured the city well.
We saw an old palace, and the steps where Christopher Columbus was greeted by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella (who didn't expect him to return from his trip) after he discovered the New World. We went to the Cathedral which was built in honor of Santa Eulalia, a thirteen year old martyr (she was killed by the Romans less than ten years before Christianity was recognized as a religion, and her the story of her death is quite tragic). Inside the church there are thirteen white geese, representing each year of her life. We saw the bull fighting arena, Parc de la Ciutadella (which has a beautiful fountain designed by Gaudí), Palau de la Música Catalana, we ate lunch near the beach, Gaudí's long term project: La iglesia de Sagrada Familia, and much more. Our tour guide was from South Africa originally but left home 14 years ago to spend some time traveling and hasn't returned since! The tour was in English, and there were about ten other Americans on the tour. It was a bit unnerving riding through a busy city, trying to stay with the group, avoid an accident, pedestrians, and vehicles. But it was so much fun!
Gaudí was a devout Catholic, and worried that people were losing interest in the Church. When he was commissioned to finish the building of La Sagrada Familia in 1883, that the first architect abandoned, Gaudí wanted to create something very visually appealing, in hopes to draw people to the church and to God. It is still unfinished, and probably has another 20 years before completion (it is said they hope to complete it by 2026, the 100th anniversary of his death). It has never been funded by the government or the Vatican, and therefore work is slow. Gaudí lived in the basement of the church after he started construction, and was a bit of a recluse in his later years. He stayed inside most of the time, and didn't give much attention to his appearance. Though he was famous in Barcelona, people rarely saw him, and when he was in public, few people recognized him. In 1926, while walking on the street he was pushed into the street and run over by a tram; no one knew it was Gaudí and assumed he was just a homeless bum, and left him lying and injured. After a couple of days, the police took him to a hospital where the homeless and poor people were treated. Still, he was unrecognized, and waited patiently (for another couple of days!) for medical attention. When his identity was finally discovered, he was urged to seek care in another, better hospital. Gaudí refused, however, saying that if the poor people were treated in this hospital there was no reason he deserved anything better. He died a bit later. What a humble, saintly man! He was buried in Sagrada Familia. His work was continued after his death, but was compromised by poor economic conditions and the Spanish Civil War. In 1938 anarchists set fire to the church, destroying the blueprints, photographs, and models. His coworker was able to reconstruct some models and create plans which reflect Gaudí's intentions. Construction of the church has continued ever since, and will hopefully be finished within the next twenty years. I plan on returning to see it (hopefully) completed, some day!
After the bike tour we rested for a bit and planned out the rest of our day. We walked to the Cathedral and went inside (free admission after 5:00), then we wandered towards the beach. Watched an interesting balloon exhibition: there was some sort of community activity and over 100 white balloons were filled, with some sort of mechanism inside. They were tied connected somehow, raised up to create a blanket-looking shape, and then turned on-many different colors! Then, the crowd (hundreds of people) walked underneath and using personal TV remotes they brought from home, were able to change the color of the balloons. It was interesting, and a bit strange...but quite popular! There is a good chance I was on the evening news in Barcelona on Saturday (not that we followed the camera man around...).
We then went to a tapas restaurant our tour guide recommended and shared some yummy traditional Spanish tapas. Our guide also recommended a nearby pub, where we went and watched the Barcelona-Málaga futbol game. That was fun, to experience a big part of Spanish culture. We started talking to a group of people next to us from Columbia, and after the game they invited us to join them for some dancing. I (tried to) learn to salsa dance!
Sunday morning we ate breakfast at a nearby cafe and took the metro to Parc Guell, another Gaudí attraction. It is set up in the mountains (quite a hike!) and has amazing views of the city, Mont Juic, and the ocean. Also, there is an area designed by Gaudí-two of his houses (which were commissioned projects the owners then rejected), which look like life-size gingerbread houses! And also beautiful mosaic benches, intricate walkways...quite a sight.
We returned to the hostel so I could collect my things, stopped for lunch at another tapas bar, and then my friends walked with me to the bus stop so I could catch my flight. (I will blog later about my travel experiences; let's just say the Madrid airport brought back some memories!).
It was quite a whirlwind trip. I wouldn't recommend trying to see Barcelona in just two days, though my friends and I did quite a good job! I am planning to return with my sister, Ana, in June, so I was not too worried about seeing it all this time.
We had wonderful weather, compared to our respective cities. Friday and Sunday were warm and sunny. Saturday was a bit cooler and it rained off and on, but it was still lovely...
I will hopefully have pictures on Picasa soon!
Sorry for writing a book...