Saturday, November 3, 2012

Un Corb Advenedizo visita a la ciutat de Gaudí.

“Barcelona- Such a beautiful horizon
Barcelona- Like a jewel in the sun.”
-Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé, “Barcelona”

Yeah, right. Sun.

First off, my sincerest apologies for the lateness of this post, but our flat here in London was sans wi-fi last weekend and the past week has been a bit insane in terms of course work. As a result, I am only just now able to post about my experiences in Barcelona two weekends ago.

Timing is Everything
I don’t think my experience was typical of the average person’s as, somehow, I managed to pick out the one weekend in October that Barcelona got absolutely no sunlight. It was as gray and gloomy as London. As a result, I was regrettably unable to partake in the cities famous clothing-optional beaches, which is a shame, as I don’t think that the Mediterranean has ever seen someone quite that pale.

At any rate, I arrived the first day at around noon and wasted much of my day sleeping because I had been up since about four in the morning to make sure I made it to the airport on time and, as we’ve previously discussed, I do not do well with sleeping on planes. I made a good will effort to explore La Rambla, the city’s famous street market, but either it was not in full swing that day, or I was just severely jet-lagged and thus unable to navigate effectively and thus never actually found it, or some combination of both, because I was not overly impressed.

This is something that people never tell you about visiting countries where you don’t speak the language fluently: you will never remember the names of things. Ever. Every time I took the subway, I had to repeatedly check the map to ensure that I wasn’t getting the stops confused. Couple that with the fact that Barcelona places its street-signs completely differently than either the UK or the US, and it makes travel a bit harrowing when you don’t entirely have your wits about you.

Dr. Stranger, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Hostel
So, after I had finally caught up on my sleep, I finally ran into some of the people I would share my room with. There was a young woman from Northern England, a pair of a pair of Australian girls a few years younger than me, two young Polish women, one of whom had a pretty wild night the night before and so spent most of the time I was there sleeping it off, a chiropractor from the Dominican Republic who was making his way to Belgium, and a pair of Canadians who spent most of their time at the clubs.

It was at this point that the trip started turning around for me and, I think, this is the major reason that, especially for young people, hostels are definitely the way to go. See, in a hostel, people want to talk. They want to meet people because, as you may have noticed from that little run-down, it’s not common to get groups of more than two or three, so there isn’t this big sense of a built-in social group. I had been planning to try and meet a few friends who had also traveled to the city, but who were staying in a different hostel, but since none of us had brought our laptops and our phones didn’t work in Spain, I ended up not doing that and instead going with the British woman to a bar nearby called the 4 Cats, which is semi-famous for being the watering hole of both Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso.

How insecure must you feel as the guy who painted the mural at a bar frequented by two of the greatest painters of all time?
While I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t have had a good time going to the club with my friends, I can say with absolute certainty that without the hostel, I wouldn’t have had this experience, which was way more unique and special, since there are nightclubs absolutely everywhere.

Gimme That Ol’ Time Religion
Unfortunately, most of the people in my hostel room checked out the next morning, meaning I was traveling alone for the rest of my trip. The next day, I got up just in time for breakfast and then set out for the landmark that I absolutely had to see, the thing that had made me want to go to Barcelona in the first place: La Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia.

Or as the locals call it, "Old Pointy."
Barcelona’s most iconic structure, construction began on Sagrada Familia in 1882 and began to pick up the next year when famed Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí assumed control over the project, imbuing it with his unique architecture style combining Neo Gothic and Art Noveau elements as well as forms derived from Gaudí’s personal studies of natural geometry.

The ambition of the project, however, has proved an issue. See, despite having broke ground over a century ago and having been under more or less continuous construction since then, the church is not expected to be completed until somewhere between 2026 and 2028, although in 2010 it was deemed complete enough for the Pope to officially consecrate it.

I can only imagine how amazing it will be when it is finally finished. Though the exterior is the more famous image, the interior is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

Why are you even reading this? Look at the picture!

This one too.
Gaudí wanted to evoke the feeling of being in a forest, and that is definitely felt when you're inside. The stained glass combined with the pillars, which are designed to taper in the same manner as tree trunks, really combine and aid in creating that effect. I’ve been in my fair share of churches and cathedrals, but it’s strange to say that this relatively young one is probably the first time I’ve truly been in awe of the architecture, just because it’s so radically different from anything else I’ve ever seen, at least on such a large scale. I’m not much of a photographer, but I was snapping pictures like a fiend, just trying to capture the experience.

I don’t feel like I can write any more eloquently about the building without just kind of devolving into jibber-jabber, so I’ll just say that if you ever get the opportunity to visit Barcelona, Sagrada Familia alone is worth the cost of the trip.

A Walk in the Park
On my last day, I decided to check out Gaudí’s second most famous creation, Park Güell. So, after checking out of the hostel and figuring out how to get there, I set off.

The first thing that struck me when I got off of the train is the sharp contrast between the park and the neighborhood around it. To explain, let me just show you a picture I took once I located and got into the park:

¡Anarchy en la España!
Not exactly what one associates with an architectural landmark, but I literally had to turn to the left and walk a few paces to see this:

¡Decently priced condos and good places to get a latte en la España!
It’s incredibly odd how these two starkly different neighborhoods seem to literally be separated only by the Park. It goes along with just how small Barcelona is compared to the other large cities I’m more familiar with (London, Chicago, and New York). It’s like everything has been sort of squeezed into a couple of square miles on the coast of Spain. It’s quite strange.

Once I got into the park proper, the other major thing I noticed was the sheer size of it. When I’d seen pictures before, it made the whole thing look rather quaint. But no, once you get there it’s a full on Central or Hyde-style park. There were even locals jogging through it.

As with Sagrada Familia I was very taken with the unusual designs which pictures can’t really do justice to since the structures just seem impossible when you look at them in reality. However, because my pack was much heavier than it was the day before since I had to carry everything with me, I decided to make my way to the Plaça Espanya, which one of the young Polish women had suggested to me, where I found a nice little place to sit, have some Sangria, and do some writing before heading to the airport and back home.

Final Thoughts
Barcelona was definitely a new experience for me. I think one the hardest bits is not having a full mastery of the native language. I know a decent amount of Spanish, which is what I used to get by most places, however the majority language in Barcelona is Catalan, which is related but not at all the same, so the point stands. I also feel like the aforementioned bad luck with the weather was a major hindrance. Between these two factors, I felt much less inclined to go out and explore than I do in London or Chicago. Indeed, both nights that I ate dinner in Spain, I ended up just going to the bar attached to my hostel. Though, in my defense, their food was probably some of the best I’ve had in Europe so far.

Speaking of which, the hostel scene was definitely the non-architectural highlight of my trip. In the future, that’s definitely the way to go, I think. You meet some incredibly interesting people that way. I’m going to see about taking at least one more trip out of the UK before I go back to the US, and I’m definitely going to stay in a hostel again. Between the price and the experience, there’s really no downside if you’re still young enough to bear the lack of luxuries.

In conclusion, despite the weather and the language-barrier, Barcelona was still a great experience. I’m not sure that I ever need to go back, but I definitely had a good time while I was there.

So to make up for the lapse in content, I'm gonna try to crank out another long post over the next few days, so be on the lookout for that.


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