August 30, 2008

The Zapata Rosa.

The Gaudi in Gracia.

He even put tiles UNDER the balconies!

Imagine living next door to this?!

Life is funny sometimes. Today was a blissful day here in blue-skied Barcelona. On my walk to Virreina Bar (since it reopened!) I made a criss-cross of my path there and not the usual direct route and serendipitously found myself staring at an art supply store! This is funny because not only had I decided two days ago to seek out a store but I had put it on my list of to-dos for the day and thought I would have to trek to the Barri Gotic where the waiter in the café yesterday had told me I could possibly find an art store (or a store that sold paints, as I had asked him. I tried to do a google search and all that came up were stores that sold paint for houses and cars.). This store was exactly what I had been looking for and the owner was a very nice woman who worked there with her teenage daughter. We spoke in Spanish and taught each other the word for “eraser” in each of our languages and I purchased a notebook of watercolor paper, two drawing pencils and an eraser. This afternoon I put my new purchases to use and sat in Plaza Virreina for about 3 and a half hours drawing the church of Sant Joan that sits at one end. Towards the end, as I was finishing drawing in the steps and staring at them intently from a bench across the way, the slightly loco man who sits in the Plaza and yells things out loud in Spanish (though I learned today he also speaks English in what sounds like an Italian accent) and also knows everybody who comes through, sat on the steps I was attempting to draw and was waving at me. I don’t know if he knows but he was not part of the drawing.

Earlier in the day I went to my Spanish school to see what time class started on Monday as well as what form of payment they took. Just walking into the office and feeling the energy of learning made me so excited to start in just three days! Spanish classes are something I have been wanting to take since college (but couldn’t fit in my schedule with art studios) and even while living in NYC (but couldn’t find the time with work).

From the school I wandered through Gracia until I found the one Gaudi building (see above photos) that my Spain guidebook had told me about. It definitely looks like it was an earlier piece of work compared with the others I have seen so far. same in terms of the multitude of materials and processes but different in that it was less organically formed and there was no signature broken colored glass like Gaudi likes to use. However, it definitely stood out on the block!

I should also mention one odd thing I noticed today that should have been a sign of strange things possibly to come – the pink shoe was missing. What pink shoe? You might ask (this first photo above was taken a few days ago). Well, there has been a pink shoe on the windowsill of the third floor in my building where I am living. Everyday since the day I moved in when I walk up the stairs it is there. When I walk down the stairs it is there. In fact, I have joked with Sonja that if I was to write a book about Spain and our time here, it would be called “La casa con la zapata rosa” (The House with the Pink Shoe). I think it has a nice ring to it, don’t you? Anyhow, on my trip out to school earlier this afternoon I noticed the shoe was gone. Had I thought about it longer I might have thought to myself that perhaps the winds were changing or something would be occurring.

Everything happens for a reason; or so I believe. After a most blissful day of art, sun, coffee, writing, photographing, and Gaudi I came back to my flat to be told by my flatmate, Andrea, (an hour and a half after I returned) that she would like me to move out. I will not go into full detail but lets just say (and my friends and family will find this highly ironic) she doesn’t think I talk enough to her and try to make conversation. Again, I am not using this blog to complain or rant so what transpired in our kitchen will be kept private (or I can tell you over email if you really want to know) but I will just say that this might have been a blessing in disguise. I will keep you posted on Barcelona Flat-Hunting: Part Dos!

August 29, 2008

My second playa...

View to the south towards Barcelona

All that I really need for a day at the beach (plus some sun and clear ocean water)

The train whizzing by!

Yesterday was a beach day again as after sight-seeing all day on Wednesday and seeing as the weather was too perfect (and I had a recommend for a beach a little closer to Barcelona), I decided to do some laundry and then pack my bag of towel, suntan lotion, a peach, my book, my journal and a pen and head to the train station.

The travel to this beach, Masnou, was defintitely closer than Sitges (after I got on the correct train. A very nice gay Spanish couple showed me to a very nice older Spanish woman who told me which train to take. In fact, as we were waiting for the train to come, two others came in its tracks and each time one stopped, she looked at it and shook her head so I would know not to get on. People here are very kind!

Masnou is just north of Barcelona and it is positioned just so on the geography that is the Costa Brava that when you are on the beach you can look south and see the city! It was pretty spectacular and definitely going to be my go-to playa from now on and in fact Sonja and I will be heading there on Sunday! The water was crystal clear and the sand more plentiful than Sitges. There were mostly families there, which is fine by me, and the only noise was really from the train as it rumbled by once every ten to fifteen minutes in either direction (though sometimes they would cross paths simultaneously). As opposed to Sitges, one doesn’t have to sit directly towel to towel with their neighbors; though I am unsure if this is a beach difference or a day difference (beaches on Sundays tend to be more crowded than those on Thursdays).

Above are just a few pictures of the beach and view to the south of my new (temporary) home city!

August 28, 2008

Bananas & Laundry.

Two more firsts for me here this morning:

1. My first banana (in Spain). The reason I give this any mention at all is because the bananas here are eaten when it is still partially green on the skin outside. Strange, right? In the US a green banana would signify not nearly ripe but I just had a half-green and half-yellow banana and it is perfect! Who knew? Well, I didn’t so I had asked my roommate Andrea the other day.

2. My first load of laundry. It is pretty sweet that we have a washing machine in the kitchen, I must say. I always joke with NYCers that we will know we have “made it” one day when we have laundry INSIDE our apartment. Well, I don’t think I have made it by any means but I guess it makes up for not having internet, right? I am not sure if they make dryers in Barcelona because when I went to the store to get laundry tablets for the wash I did not see one dryer sheet; not that I would need any because there is no dryer here – just the natural Barcelona breeze coming through my flat and wafting over the drying rack! I did hang my sheet outside since it was too long to hang from the rack and I pray to god when I come back to the flat later that a) it is dry and ready for bed and b) no birds mistook it for toilet paper.

August 27, 2008

To market!

Ahhh, the most famous market in Barcelona that I am slightly embarrassed to say I first learned about from Rachael Ray (why couldn’t I have seen Anthony Bourdain there first?!) on her show “Tasty Travels” back in February. As a cook she of course loved it and since hearing about it from her, every guidebook I have read or person that I have spoken to that’s been to Barcelona has agreed ¬– it is a must-see! So, after some lunch post-museum going yesterday, I headed down Las Ramblas (that stretch of outdoor vendors going through the center of Barcelona via one long street from Plaza Catalunya to the waterfront that is lined on either side by trees that I mentioned a few posts ago. I haven’t walked the entire street yet but instead of done segments depending on where I am going) and found my way to the Mercat de la Boqueria.

Well, I have been to the two main markets here in Gracia and those are pretty impressive in their own right but la Boqueria? Well, that was in a WHOLE other league of markets! From the moment I stepped in and saw the hanging cured meats on my right (Matt, I thought instantly that will most likely be your first stop when you come here), the mounds of perfectly arranged fruit a little ahead on my right, and little squares one after another of dried fruits, nuts, and candy ahead to my right, I couldn’t help but feel my jaw drop over the sight of everything. As I walked around from stall to stall taking pictures of almost everything that was being showcased, it was a visual explosion of colors, an assault on my nostrils, and an infiltration of my ears. I didn’t even buy anything except for a fresh fruit drink of kiwi, banana and coconut (that’s the big seller at the fruit vendors, 10oz cups of all different fresh fruit blends). It was delicious and I definitely plan on going back to buy groceries because its by far the best shopping atmosphere and most things there were very inexpensive. I would also like to go back and sit at the famous bar there to get a meal that is supposed to be a favorite of locals and visitors alike (though I am not sure which one it is and have to consult some travel articles again. I thought it was Boqueria Bar at the time I took this photo yesterday but I’m not sure)

Since I can’t upload more than about 5 photos per posting (which is probably good so I don’t bore you all with endless pictures) I had to do some photo editing and designing for you to really see what I saw. As always, you can click on an image to see it bigger!

First museum day.

Today was a big sightseeing day and my first official day of museums here. Since I have the luxury of being here for awhile I don’t need to cram in all of the museums at once and can take advantage of their specials for entry. For example, I went to MACBA (Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona) today because on Wednesdays they have a reduced rate of entry for 3,50 Euros.

The museum itself was this grand white structure with large windows on one side and slightly Apple store feeling on the inside (since I couldn’t take photos inside you will have to take my word for it). The exhibits that were there today were Francesc Torres and Nancy Spero. Torres is a Barcelona-born artist who also lived in NYC for about 20+ years and was a part of the SoHo art scene back in the 80s and 90s. His work was mostly in blacks, whites, and grays (with one final room of color photography) and mostly speaking about war, the caste system and consumerism. My first grouping of his were large oversize black and white photographs hung up simply with white pushpins of artifacts and bones that had been unearthed and were shot in the dirt in which they were found. More photos in this series were small groups of eldery women and then one final extremely large portrait of about 20 people standing over a dirt pile with skeletons. I learned this series was about the Spanish Civil War and the Franco years and it was really moving.

The second artist whose work was shown was Spero and she is an American artist based in New York as well. Her pieces took on the subject of subordination of women and the cruelty against women in some countries; a whole room was specifically about Chile, Uruguay and others in South and Central America. The most moving piece of hers was a poem she took from a German writer named Bertold Brecht about a woman named Marie Sanders who in Nazi Germany “slept with a man whose hair was too dark”. The end of the poem finds Marie killed while more and more German soldiers are coming. She uses a lot of handmade and hand-set typography, collage, and many printmaking techniques.

Overall, I enjoyed the MACBA and found it really helpful that both artists had influences from America so the majority of text to read in their work was in English. Not sure if this is usually the case at this museum, but I guess I lucked out today.

The smaller museo (which happened to be right next door) I went to afterwards and absolutely loved – Forment de les Arts Decoratives (this literally means Fostering Art & Design). I thought I was lucky that the MACBA had some English to read but here at this museum it felt like my birthday – there was an exhibit on Spanish book design!

This museum was pretty simple and funky with red-painted framework on everything and one long narrow room. I was also able to take photos inside which was great; I asked the guard and he told me I could but when I had gone down the fourth row of work I saw a sign with a diagonal line in a circle over a camera. Who knows? All I know is that there were some clever and beautiful books with lots of delicious letterpressed type and great illustration. Being a graphic designer, it was an extremely inspiring visit

After the museums I headed down Las Ramblas and went to the most famous market in Barcelona called Mercat de la Boqueria but I will save some writing for tomorrow as well as some picture-uploading!

To the sea!

I started my day yesterday thinking that I would just sit back, relax, and do some reading and writing. Well, I have found since arriving to this new city that you can do just that but must go see something new otherwise it seems a wasted day (which I know isn’t true and I know its something that by the end of this trip will be all I will want to do).

Yesterday afternoon I decided to hop on the Metro and go down to the water and see Port Vell (actually, I went down with only intentions of sitting outside and reading; though the weather was very overcast as you will see in my photos) and walk around Barceloneta. Port Vell is the area near the water which contains L’Aquarium and this large and long dock to walk out into to get a better view of the sea (of which I have decided to save for another day). It also is a huge marina used for docking mostly private boats and a few commercial sight-seeing ones. It was nice down there and after taking many pictures (of course!) I decided to sit and read my book along a concrete step and look out into the marina and watch the people pass.

After reading for some time I got up and continued my walk to find Barceloneta which I did. It’s the beach in Barcelona and it is man-made. There are a lot of surf shops and restaurants which are supposed to have some of the best seafood in the city served.

I have realized a few things about Barcelona in the past week but one is that it is very contained. Every neighborhood seems to border every other neighborhood and even for someone like me who can get lost in their own hometown, I have seemed to find my way around with no problem. The Metro is really easy to use and if you can see the ocean, you know which way you are going essentially. I guess I am used to Manhattan where you need to take a 30 minute subway ride from any area to another and even with so many neighborhoods in between. Its nice to come to a new city and not feel overwhelmed by its geography.

August 26, 2008

Dos discoveries for the morning.

This is actually not from this morning but from my first day. It just seemed to go with what I was talking about and felt I had artistic license to use it. The cafe and croissant here are much better than this one that is pictured.

I have had two wonderful discoveries here so far this morning. The first is that my overhead light in my bedroom actually DOES work. It is a large plastic half-dome thing that I had just thought had a broken bulb. Well, those who know me know I am klutzy and wouldn’t you know I knocked my arm into the lamp by mistake this morning while getting dressed...and LIGHT!

The second discovery I am at right now; a coffee shop that I have walked by every day since I have been here, at least twice a day as it’s only 4 blocks from my flat. They play American music (Katie, you would be happy to know that Michael Jackson is on as I type this) as do most establishments around here which just boggles my mind. Other reasons I love it is that it has Wi-Fi, great café and croissant, and a nice staff. My only issue here is that there is smoking allowed. And people do. In fact, here in Spain, I have noticed that they smoke everywhere and anywhere; even if there are signs saying “NO FUMAR” (NO SMOKING). Oh well, what can I do but deal with it and put it on my short list (so far) of things I miss about the United States.

August 25, 2008

Sagrada Familia.

Obligatory shot of the whole Sagrada Familia though it doesn’t even do it justice (and I think I should have walked around to the other side to get a fuller photo sans the trees which I realized once I uploaded these pictures).

The entrance had many sculptures of biblical references; this was one of about 5 that I took photos of.

One of the two gorgeous stained glass windows that I had access to (much of the interior is taken over by construction).

My far one of my favorites of the day – there were two doors FULL of what seemed like old-fashioned typeset letters. Not many full sentences; just words juxtaposed next to each other with some higher than others to stand out. Who knew Gaudi was a graphic designer too?

One of the views out of the round spires (those are the stone pieces to the left and right framing the photo) I was up inside; the sea and Montjuic in the distance (and as you can see it wasn’t very sunny today).

The Sagrada Familia is where I spent my afternoon today! For my parents and others who haven’t heard of this grand structure, it is Antonio Gaudi’s most well-known piece as a working architect. His work can be seen all around Barcelona but this one piece was his most grand. Not only is it famous because he worked on it, but more so because the project started in 1882 and is STILL being worked on today. Literally, when I was there construction was taking place. Gaudi had the opportunity to work on this masterpiece for 40 years until his unexpected death when he was hit by a car on the street. From what I have read, Barcelona mourned and then as their devotion to the man, dedicated their time and money to finishing the Sagrada Familia in his honor. I can only imagine that when it is completed there will be festivals for weeks all over the city.

I have only shown you a handful of photos but it was seriously incredible though in my opinion the exterior is far more beautiful than the interior. Each piece of this huge temple’s façade has been carefully designed, which includes many different materials and processes.

Being inside was pretty amazing but the best part was getting to take a lift up to the top of one of the spires and seeing the view of Barcelona below. I had a view of everything between Sagrada Familia and the sea. The hour-long wait behind a German family and in front of a French couple was definitely worth it. As I was pondering getting into a line that had markers (a la Disney World) saying “90 minutes” or “60 minutes” I realized that this was a prime example of why this trip I am on is so great; because I have an hour to kill to stand in line to get up to the top of the Sagrada Familia. It was definitely worth the time and I also got to do some writing when I reached the benches (benches = close to the front). When you are done at the top you can decide to talk the lift back down or walk down; I chose the walk which was nice because there are a few stopping points where you can go outside for views you didn’t see at the top. The downside was that spiral staircase was really narrow and quite dizzying!

Sagrada Familia means "Church of the Holy Family" (Matt, you will be happy to know I looked up the meaning)

*I took about 90 pictures here today and am only sharing about 5 of my favorites. There was SO many things to photograph on, in, and around one building!

August 24, 2008

The best lesson in Spanish I have had...

A great street to stroll down in the Gothic Quarter

Plaza de Jaume

Some serious detail.

*No pictures from this dinner but just a few more from yesterday’s trip to the Barri Gotic.

I hope that when I come back to the US that I don’t take talking for granted ever again. Anyone who knows me knows that I love to chat. In fact, when I was growing up if there was one issue any teachers had with me it was that I liked to talk during class (at least my parents have told me this). Well I have never listened so much as I did during dinner this evening with Sonja (yes, that’s the same “Sonia” I have been writing about but just realized I had been spelling her name wrong) and two Spaniards named Javiar and Joseph (that’s right; do not pronounce the j’s which of course became an issue when it came time to pronounce my name upon learning it).

Since I have been here for the past five days I have had to clearly think about my sentences before saying them; there is no casual conversation on the fly. Everything is very concentrated; sometimes I find myself planning a sentence or question in my head while walking to a store or just down the street.

This evening was the best Spanish lesson I have had since I arrived on Wednesday. Following conversation was at times difficult and sometimes I would feel completely lost and then I would hear just one verb and adjective that I knew (combined with a great use of hand motions) and I would be back on track. I must say, my brain hurt by the end of the meal but it was SUCH good practice. I did my best to keep up with conversation, though I am sure my grammar was atrocious (ironic as it something I pride myself on in the English language), and my dinner companions were sympathetic and understood what I was saying the majority of the time; though sometimes I had to lean on the crutch that is my English/Spanish speaking German roommate, Sonja, to translate for me.

This dinner was a reminder that one of the reasons I came on this trip was to learn the language (not that I had forgotten) and now I am really looking forward to my daily Spanish class which begins next week!

La Playa (beach)!

The trifecta of beautiful church, the mountains AND the sea

Some great blue and white umbrellas on the beach. Not sure if you can tell how CROWDED it was!

Just another example of the attention to detail in Spain – street signs were done in beautiful ceramic tiles.

One of the streets we took to walk to the beach (only about 10 mins) from the train station

A beautiful clock tower in the center of the town

A perfect day at the beach in Spain today! Sonja, myself, and Anna (Sonja’s coworker who is also a student in Germany) took the train from Barcelona 25 minutes south to a resort-y beach town called Sitges (pronounced Seet-jase) known for it’s international gay community that visits the area. It was small and quaint with a beautiful chapel in between the mar (the sea) and the mountains (first picture shown here). When we first arrived, in fact, next to the church fireworks started going off to celebrate what we think was a wedding (to be honest, I think fireworks at 12:30 in the afternoon are slightly pointless as all you can do is see white smoke and hear POP!).

The water was perfectly warm and the air was hot. I am happy to say that I did not get any sunburns for my first Mediterranean beach-ing experience (Dad, yes of course, I used sunscreen. Aren’t you proud?).

This beach was like none other I had ever been to and maybe because I have never been to a beach outside of the US (other than the Bahamas and Israel) so I have no other European beaches to compare it to. These were things that I observed that I thought were quite different from the states:

1. There was only room for three towels length-wise from the sea wall and the ocean
2. There were some topless women
3. There were many men in Speedos
4. There were only a couple of people that were overweight
5. There were Brits who brought a thermos of hot water and loose tea and promptly at 4pm began brewing

August 23, 2008

The Barri Gotic.

Plaza Real

Catedral de la Seu

Some funny looking faces next to faucets.

A beautiful lampost.

Fun typography - it took me awhile to have NO people in this shot.

Today was the first day that I felt REALLY here. It was the first day I wasn’t doing “housekeeping” kinds of things like buying a pillow, finding an apartment, moving into an apartment, calling the bank, etc. I think it’s because it started off with the normalcy of grocery shopping and making breakfast and then into my first sightseeing trip to the Barrî Gotic area of the city.

Barrî Gotic has the oldest gothic architecture in Barcelona and was really quite incredible. My roommate Sonia and I walked around and around the narrow streets taking in everything with our eyes and camera lenses. Some wonderful photos I captured were of the Catedral de la Seu, Plaza Jaume, Plaza Real (those who I work with will note that this is the same Plaza that I have had as my desktop image for the past few months – I must also say that it was much better in person), some great store signage, and beautiful lampposts (I have recently found out that I am a little obsessed with them and you will for sure be seeing a lot).

The afternoon ended with a discovery of a delicious Catalan restaurant called Bell Amic (Catalan is what over half of Barcelona speaks. Catalonia used to be its own entity separate from Spain. When Franco took control of Spain he made Catalonians speak only Spanish and since his fall from power they have done all they can to bring it back to life…that was my quick Barcelona history lesson for you. As for the food and language; it’s a little French, a little Spanish, and a little something else.). We learned from the chef that the structure the restaurant was in actually used to be connected to all of the buildings on the block. You could see the discoloration in the walls where it looked as if there was an arched ceiling of some sort and it turns out the place used to export wine to the United States.

The day finished with Sonia and I at my favorite plaza bar doing some emailing and chatting. I have just finished uploading the photos from the day to my computer and typing this in hopes my eyes get tired so I can fall asleep before 1am…

On a Saturday stroll for some café...

This is what I see when I look out my window (straight ahead) and when I look left. Hope the people across the way don’t think I am a peeping Tom.

I woke up at my (now) usual 10:30am after not falling asleep until after 2 last night. We stayed in last evening as it was raining and lightning which was fine; just talking with my flatmate Sonia talking about life in the States, Germany, and Spain. It is so interesting hearing about the differences in the countries.

This morning we ran out of toilet paper so I asked Sonia where to buy some and that is when I found out about the supermercado (supermarket) that is only a few blocks away (THAT was an experience. I will write about it later and need to show pictures from some of the packaging, but I didn’t bring my camera. Lets just say I bought a brand of milk that has a picture of a woman kissing a cow on the front). I decided that I also wanted some café so I walked there first and then turned back around and hit up the supermarket. On my way to get some café I found myself doing my usual NYC speedwalk down the Gran de Gracia; that is when I looked around at the buildings that I was rushing by and the fresh clean Barcelona breeze and cut my pace. There was no need to hurry. I am here for a total of 78 days (yes, I counted it) and I plan to take in all that I can while I am here but I do not want to rush by anything. Full advantage will be taken of the pace of life here; it is not like that in New York City and that is one of the reasons I decided to embark on this journey – to take a break from that quick pace of life I have been used to for the past five and a half years.

Upon changing my speed to a stroll, I got some coffee and noticed all of the small shops and the buildings they were housed in. I am only assuming that the detail that the architects paid to their buildings was for the many future passerbys that may be lucky enough to take in their creations. I know I feel lucky.


My happy English-speaking phone

My bedroom (yes, that is a single bed)

The bathroom. Funny seeing that extra piece of porcelain. And the toilet pulls to flush. Not pushes.

The living room/kitchen with a little balcony

The kitchen is SO nice and bright.

A happy phone is a phone in English (at least for me). Since buying my cell phone here on Tuesday it has been in Spanish and I have only been able to figure out what a few things mean; not that I am making that many phone calls but I would like to know how to change settings, etc. I thought that having a phone with Spanish prompts and buttons would be good learning but I have decided that I will learn Spanish other ways and I want my phone in MY language (of which I have not heard at ALL since I have been here; with the exception of speaking to my German roommates inside our flat).

A big muchas gracias goes out to the guy that works in the tech department at The Phone House (yes, that is really the name of it) across the street.

*I thought that not only would I show you a picture of my happy English-speaking phone, but also some photos from my flat.

August 22, 2008

My first problema.

This will forever be the place in Barcelona that reminds me that Bank of America has the best customer service ever In case anyone was planning to go on vacation, double-check that you tell your bank that you are going (and not just your credit card company…even if it is the same) otherwise they will be awesome police and notice “irregular activity” and put a stop on that “thief” (aka YOU) who has been trying to withdraw Euros from the ATM so they can pay their rent and eat.

I won’t go through the whole story but let’s just say that after I posted earlier about being all calm and comfortable at Verreina Bar and drinking my café, I had the first obstacle in my trip (of which I am sure there will be a few more) which involved using up my minutes left on my phone card while talking to the bank customer service (the first call), not being able to BUY a card because my ATM card was inaccessible and some places don’t take credit cards, having to use my last Euros to call the bank (my second call) from the tourist information office in Plaza Catalunya only to have the machine eat my money and my call to not go through, eventually getting my card up and running via a third call (and where the picture above was taken in honor of), THEN having Duetche Bank not allow me to take any money out (resulting in a fourth call to the bank).

This story ends well as I was able to withdraw some funds from a bank in my neighborhood around 5:30 and rewarded myself with a bocadillo de espinache (sandwich with spinach among other vegetables and raisins) and a lovely glass of sangria; ending the fast that had been my day since I had no euros for anything but café and an apple.

*Photos above are from Plaza Catalunya (the first was where I was standing when the wonderful man who works in the security department at the bank told me they would take the hold off my account); the main Plaza in Barcelona that is tourist central!