Friday, January 13, 2012

Barcelona 2011/2012

Journeying in Barcelona
Park Güell
Starbucks Menu in Catalán
Mom and I selected Barcelona for the fourth section of our trip.  Barcelona is a great destination for the winter months since it feels more like fall.  Barcelona is hugely different than all the other parts of Spain I have seen.  For one thing, people speak catalán instead of castellano (Castilian Spanish).  Catalán is different enough from castellano that I can't speak it, but it's similar enough that I can read most signs and menus, and understand much of what people are saying.  The catalán language shows some influence from the French language because of Barcelona's proximity to the French border.  The formation of Catalunya's language is not unusual.  Most parts of Spain have their own regional language in addition to Castilian Spanish.  Sometimes I get the sense in Barcelona that many people prefer to speak catalán or English, but not Castilian Spanish.  It has nothing to do with being unfriendly - the people I met were all very welcoming.  I guess using your own language can come with a sense of regional pride for Catalunya.

The Classic "Major Travel Destination" Photo
In addition to the language difference, I have noticed that Barcelona seems geared toward tourism much more than the other Spanish cities I visted.  The biggest difference is that many people speak decent English in Barcelona.  From my experience, I have found that there aren't a ton of people who speak English in many parts of Spain, compared with the other European countries to which I have traveled.  But, this statement falls apart when you get to Barcelona.  I'm guessing many people there know English because Barcelona is a major travel destination.

The architecture of Barcelona is quite different from what you might find in Madrid, Córdoba, Granada, Valencia, Toledo, Segovia, Salamanca, or any of the other places in Spain that I have visited.  (Excited for the upcoming BU trip to Sevilla!)  In fact, Barcelona's architectural gems define it from the rest of the world.  Architect, Antoní Gaudí, designed many houses and buildings for Barcelona.  His unique style displays mosaic tiles along with many intricate and effective portrayals of nature.  I'll explain this in more detail later - with photos, of course.

Near Plaça Catalunya
Almost exactly two years ago, I went to Barcelona with Sima and Rosella.  We went after our semester in Madrid ended and before we returned home.  Once I arrived home, I never completed the blog post about my (first) trip to Barcelona.  I feel like I need to make this post extra special to compensate.

Day 1 in Barcelona: December 29, 2011

La Boquería
After arriving and checking in to where we were staying, we realized we were pretty hungry.  Like, really hungry.  So, we walked to La Rambla, one of the main tourist streets, figuring we would find plenty of food.  Right away, we saw a place called "Pita Inn."  We have a restaurant by the same name at home, so we had to go in and try it.  Both restaurants sell falafel.  After lunch, we strolled around, saw the street performers, outdoor pet stores, and clothing stores like Custo Barcelona.  Later, we headed to La Boquería, a market off of La Rambla that sells dried fruit, meat, candy, juice, chocolate, and most other types of food.
Juice for Sale at La Boquería

Back in 2009, I bought dried mangoes at La Boquería, and they were they best dried mangoes I had ever eaten.  Of course, I had to buy a few more.  Fresh juices are a big item to purchase here.  You can buy many unusual combinations of fruit flavors.
Fresh Fish for Sale at La Boquería
Park Güell
After leaving La Boquería, we took the metro to Park Güell, and outdoor park designed by Gaudí.  Park Güell makes an impression on both a big and little scale.  Upon entering the park, your first view is of a central platform, supported by grand columns, and a rounded decoration on either side.  The famous lizard could be viewed from here if it weren't always surrounded by people.  Taking a closer look, we were amazed to find that everything was either covered in tiled patterns or constructed from natural rocks, which had been left unpolished.  Many of the walking paths are made with natural rocks.  These rough-looking rocks allow the park, despite its whimsical elegance, to slip comfortably into its natural setting.  One of my favorite parts about the park is the hidden, massive, mosaic discs on the ceiling under the central platform.  Everywhere you turn, Park Güell has another natural path to follow, another mosaic wave or tiled ruffle.
Mosaic Disk under the Main Ceiling at Park Güell
Later that evening, we squeezed in a visit to another famous Gaudí design: Casa Batlló, an apartment created for the Batlló family.  One of the main features of the apartment is the huge, stained glass, curved window, which is built into the front facade of the building and faces the street.
Casa Batlló
Casa Batlló
In that room, the ceiling twists into a spiral (left).  The audio guide informed us that there were no straight lines in Casa Batlló.  Throughout the entire construction, there are connections to nature.  The interior vertical hallway (not sure what it's called, but these are really common in Spain) is covered in blue tiles which gradually darken as you climb higher.  The window panes look like waves in water.  Each door knob is molded perfectly to fit into a hand.  Even the banisters perfectly fit the shape of a human hand.  The top room has white curved pillars and feels like you're standing in a rib cage.  On the roof of the apartment, built into the front facade, you can find what looks like a dragon that landed.  One side of the dragon has scales, and the other has tiles.
Casa Batlló
That evening, we dined at Pla, a small, gourmet restaurant in the old part of the city.  You have to go down all these shadowy, crooked alleys to get to the restaurant.  I'm not saying that it's unsafe, but just that that's what the old part of the city looks like.  Out of the shadows emerges fine dining.  Mom and I split a lamb dish and a chicken kabob dish, which were both so, so, so good.

Day 2 in Barcelona: December 30, 2011
Sagrada Familia
Stained Glass Windows
Sagrada Familia
First thing in the morning, we took the metro to the Sagrada Familia, Gaudí's cathedral.  According to a sign on the wall, they began to build the cathedral in 1909, and they're still not done.  I think they've estimated that it should be finished around 2026.  Just like last time, the cathedral had cranes surrounding it so the workers could continue building.  As we waited in line, I was amazed by how much progress the builders had made on the cathedral since I had visited in 2009.  The outside of the building had much more color and detail, and the inside had more stained glass filling the empty window holes than before.  Additionally, there was now an altar, and the ceiling had been partially ornamented with mosaic tiles.  In 2009, only the shape of the ceiling outlined and foreshadowed the soon-to-be, colorful finished product.  According the the museum gallery, Gaudí intended for the cathedral to feel like a forest, and between the twisting pillars, and covered ceiling, it really did.  He even studied the leaf patterns of different plants and incorporated them into his plans.  Gaudí also put shapes inside other shapes and distorted forms made of straight lines.  I'd like to return to Barcelona someday (yes, a third time) to see the finished cathedral.  The cool thing about seeing this work in progress is that it's really a snapshot in time.  Once the cathedral is finished, it will look however it does.  I will have seen it differently, and it will only live in its visitors' photos and memories that way.
Inside Gaudí's Cathedral

Sculpture on the Terrace
Fundació Joan Miró
After leaving one of the few cathedrals in Europe which stands out as different to me, we decided to go see the Joan Miró museum, Fundació Joan Miró in Monjuïc.  Not realizing that the metro connected to the funicular, which would have carried us up the mountain to the museum, we hiked the whole way up.  Half way up, our feet were killing us, and we saw this huge museum in front of us, and both looked at each other as if to say, "Omg, I cannot go through a museum that big.  Please, please, please don't let that be the Miró museum."  Luckily, it wasn't.  The Fundació Joan Miró is a small museum with two great gift shops and a café.  It shows the history of his work and training.
The Funicular
Miró's art appears simple at a first glance, but what I like about has nothing to do with complexity.  Miró's art interests me because it inspires me to try my hand at creativity.  Classical, realistic art is incredible, but it excites no emotional reaction within me.  I don't think, in any way, that I could paint a portrait of someone royal and have it turn out looking like them right down to a pearl necklace or a lace collar - not to mention those wigs.  In contrast, Miró's art is experimental; it's fascinating, and makes you wonder about it.  I think part of the reason I like modern art, and don't reject it, is because many of the modern artists still had classical training, and are perfectly capable of creating a realistic paintings, which require lots of technique.  They're just as good, in terms of training and technique, as more classical artists, yet they have chosen to go beyond their training and do something innovative.

Day 3 in Barcelona: December 31, 2011

Sculpture by Santiago Calatrava
Anella Olímpica
The next morning, we went back to Monjuïc, this time on the funicular.  We went back to see the Anella Olímpica and the Estadí Olímpic - the stadium from the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.  Of course, the big draw in the area is the fútbol stadium since soccer is a lifestyle in Spain.  I had never been to a soccer stadium before, and it was really cool to see.  Leaving, we decided to explore a bit, and happened onto a sculpture by Santiago Calatrava, the same architect who designed the Ciutat de les Artes i les Ciències in Valencia.  The bottom of the sculpture was covered in white tiles, and the top was a thin column that ascended into the air and knotted before coming to a crispy point at the top.  The only weird part of the Anella Olímpica area was that it didn't seem like the city took care of it or still used it for anything.  Aside from some tourists, the area was pretty desolate.

Estadí Olímpic - Anella Olímpica, Monjuïc
Our next stop for the day was the old part of the city, Ciutat Vella, where we had eaten dinner on the first night.  In the daytime, the Ciutat Vella is charming.  We explored tons of little shops, bakeries, cafés, more shops, and finally arrived at the Museu Picasso.  Back in 2009, to be honest, I wasn't crazy about the Museu Picasso, mainly because I went there expecting to see his really famous pieces, which are dispersed throughout other museums around the world.  This time, I enjoyed my visit much more because I knew it was about the history of his formation as an artist.  It was fascinating to see his transition from classical work to the blue period, the rose period, and finally into cubism.  After visiting "Las Meninas" by Diego Velasquez several times in the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, I found new appreciation for Picasso's many, many renditions of "Las Meninas."  The Museu Picasso called it an exhaustive study of light and form of that painting.  It was really neat to see that with as many changes as Picasso made, is was always obvious to the viewer that his versions were based on "Las Meninas."  No photos are allowed in the Museu Picasso.

When we left the museum and the Ciutat Vella, we walked up La Rambla to Port Vell, Barcelona's waterfront on the Mediterranean Sea.  The sun was setting, and the reflection of all the boats in the water was peaceful.  Mom and I each took a bunch of pictures and enjoyed the warm air as we strolled along the water.  Growing up, I was always told that my Grandpa Don liked to take pictures of boats at harbors and arrange them into paintings later.  I think he would have really liked Port Vell.  Actually, everytime I go to a harbor (especially the Boston Harbor), I wonder if he would have liked it.
Port Vell
The next day, we hopped on the AVE, the high speed train, and arrived back in Madrid two hours and forty-five minutes later.  Mom and I had a whirlwind, fantastic two week trip, and I'm so glad she came to visit me and check out my life abroad!


  1. What an awesome post. It makes me want to see Barcelona and Gaudi!

    1. I'm thinking of going back in 2026, or when ever the cathedral is finished. We should make it a family vacation!