September 30, 2008

A little break for a little trip.

Matt is here and we are off to the south of Spain tomorrow morning for a 6 day trip around some of the old cities of Andaliucía so there will be no posting from me until at least next Tuesday (Mom & Dad, I didn’t want you to worry!). I promise some great photos from southern Spain when I return. And I did have some pictures taken from the past few days here Barcelona with Matt at Montjuic and Port Olimpic and even today at Parc Guell, but of course we came to this café and I forgot my camera cord for uploading.

Hasta semana proxima (until next week)…

September 26, 2008

The official class is the real test begins.

This is a close-up of from the garbage bin outside of the wine show; not my PERSONAL consumption of wine because the Spanish language had me a little stressed out.

Today marked the last day of my Spanish class and as I finished my exam (we had one every Friday) I realized a couple of things. One, I can’t believe that four weeks went by so quickly! I feel like it was just yesterday I was taking the placement test to my school and looking at the essay section and seeing the work “pais” and having no clue what it translated into in English but knowing that the entire essay had to be written about that “pais” we lived in. Don’t worry, I soon learned later that it meant “country” but of course I thought it meant “place” and ended up writing about New York City instead of the United States.

The second thing I realized is that I learned a lot in the past four weeks and can actually have conversations with people in Spanish (though I still need to stop and think about which of form of the past tense I need). I also understand when and where and how to use pronouns in Spanish; or at least I did well on that section of my test today.

It will be weird not to have the regularity that school provided for me in my days, and to have a distinct mark between Monday and Sunday, but I think its just the end of this part of my stay here. Though my formal education might be done, what will really come into play is the practice of the language in everyday situations. And for that, I am living with two great professors!

September 25, 2008

Wine & Music at the Mar.

Wednesday night was the last night of Mercé and although I could only breathe through my left nostril due to a cold I decided I couldn’t miss out on the last night’s festivities. I am sure there were more raucous things going on, but my two Brazilian friends, Beatriz & Cristiana) from school and I (along with some Finnish, Dutch, and Italians who were new friends of Cristiana’s) went down to Port Vell to take in some wine at the Penedes Wine and Cava show as well as listen to some great live music by the water. It was pretty surreal as we were sitting there after the sun had gone down and just listening to this English band do some great covers (including my Grandmother’s favorite, “You Are My Sunshine”) and sipping Rioja (a Spanish grape and therefore common varietal of wine here) while watching the boats in the marina in the background. It was picture perfect (too bad my pictures weren’t).

September 24, 2008

Almost halfway...

My classmates and I out at a bar in the ramblas near Sagrada Familia (the enormous Gaudi structure looked even more impressive at night as you can see in the first photo)

Today marks Week Five of my stay here (and also about midway through my trip). I can’t believe that it was exactly five weeks ago today that I walked off the airplane in Barcelona airport, collected my suitcase, and found my way to the bus to get into Barcelona center and to my hostal. I remember sitting on the bus thinking THIS is the start of a big trip, as I watched the buildings rush by outside the window.

There have been certain points in my stay here when I have felt “settled”, times when I have been in sheer bliss, times when I have shaken my head in awe that I am actually here. On the flipside, there have been times when I questioned what the heck I was doing here. Each day has definitely been different than the next and than the day before; some are quieter than others and some are much louder. I have been fortunate enough to have met a few great people through my class last week and spent three fun nights with them last week and I hope a few more in the weeks that follow while I am still here. We are of course an international crew and on one night had representation from Poland, Italy, Denmark, Austria, Brazil, Germany and the good ole’ US of A (that would be me although my new Brazilian friends have dubbed me an honorary Brazilian since they think I look and talk like one of their own).

I don’t know if I can make any solid predictions about the weeks to come, but I assume they will be very different from my first 5, as I will have two wonderful visitors (Matt and Kathy) and be doing some traveling around this country that I haven’t seen much of yet. I do know I will be seeing the Sagrada Familia a few more times (I have decided to keep a tally as to how many times I see it up close and I am up to 3 now, because Emily and I had to take Jo there), drinking more sangria, exploring some new sights, and overall trying to drink in every last drop that is the beauty of Barcelona.

September 23, 2008

More of Mercé.

Sunday was an example of how this festival that has taken over the city of Barcelona is one that you don’t need to decipher the Catalan-written program (though I highly doubt I could have come close to figuring it out in Catalan). Walking through my neighborhood of Gracia with my NYC friend Emily (who last spring moved to London BUT also studied in Barcelona during college so had some great places to show us) and her friend Jo (who were both in visiting for the weekend) we stumbled on an outdoor jazz concert in one of my most-frequented plazas. We found a spot on one of the benches and just sat, chatted for a bit, and took in the music.

After doing some more walking through Gracia we decided to head back down towards the downtown and found only one shop to look in (everything here is pretty much closed on Sundays) which was fine by us. There was a small farmer’s market we strolled through (photos above) and then while trying to get down the narrow street to our next unknown destination we ran into a long group of marchers carrying crosses and singing hymns. After waiting for about ten minutes for the procession to end with no sign of the last person in sight, we opted for another narrow road and wound our way around and around the old streets of the Barri Gotic. Our feet were sore from all of the walking and so we thought a good idea would be to sit at Plaza Real and take in some red wine and olives.

We had been sitting there for not even twenty minutes when from one of the four entrances to the Plaza in marched a 7-piece band! The music was great and because we were sitting at a table on the edge of the restaurant/plaza we had a perfect view --- until about 300 hundred people came from nowhere and surrounded the band. I of course had to get up and take some pictures. This group played for about thirty minutes and then there was a lull in the plaza for just maybe five minutes, as people shuffled around unsure of what to do since the last band had marched out the same entrance they had come in through. Jo, Emily and I sat at our table and marveled at how the entertainment just finds you during this festival since there are so many things going on. As we were just taking in the beauty that is Plaza Real and looking at the detail of each of the apartments that surround the square in marched ANOTHER band! This one was a little different, a little funkier and with dancers! It was definitely my favorite of the day. There were about 5 or 6 instrumentals and 4 dancers; all wearing the most bizarrely awesome costumes with bright neon colors and patterns. They drew an even larger crown in less time and entertained for a bit longer. They ended up leaving the Plaza from a different entrance so we got a front row seat when they came marching by with their drums and dances. Of course, one MORE band came into the plaza mere minutes after this one left! Needless to say, between the jazz from Gracia and instrumentals from Plaza Real, it was a greatly musical Sunday. The night ended with Sonja coming to meet us and eating at Les Quinz Nits in the Plaza (which had been recommended to me from a couple of friends – thanks Marion! -– and guidebooks) which was a great meal in a lovely and large restaurant. A perfect way to end the festival-filled weekend with my London visitors!

September 20, 2008

The festival of Mercé!

Banners all around the city advertising for the festival

A crazy dragon that held firecrackers on its head while people walked under it

It rained but the concert was still incredible; outside in Plaza Real (my first taste of Spanish hip hop!)

No, this isn't dandruff. It's confetti that was thrown from various people in the parade at the spectators. Also, people would run OUT of the parade procession and sneak up behind parade-watchers and throw confetti on them by surprise.

A view of the stage during the rain; thought it was kind of crazy but had the feeling of the Plaza with all of the people and music!

Yes, the Spanish really do have a festival for everything, though this one, La Mercé, is the biggest of Barcelona. It is in recognition of their patron saint, Mercedes. It started Friday night and goes until tomorrow where there are the final festivities; including what are supposed to be some crazy fireworks let off from the mountain by the sea. One thing I can say I love about this festival from what I have seen so far is that you don't need to go by the schedule to find music or entertainment; either you just stumble upon it or it marches into you! There have been parades, marches, large live concerts, smaller impromptu musical acts, dancers, fireworks, a wine festival. You name it and Barcelona brought it!

Above are some pictures from Friday night's Mercé festivities.

September 18, 2008

The Lower East Side comes to La Ribera/El Born.

Loisaida (or Lower East Side) was one of my favorites for interior design today. Everything inside had been placed with intention, yet made to look slightly haphazard and antique-y. The clothing store (for both men and women) was in a space whose brick had been exposed and whose displays were great; sweaters were folded next to an old typewriter, a 1970s record player sat next to socks, business cards were placed in a long piece of carved wood with slots, the letters that made up the store’s name were laid on the floor at the foot of a coat rack showing off a great pair of pants and shirt. This last photo of the outdoor banner literally has a piece of denim fabric stitched to it; not just a design printed on!

Looks like...Mint Chip!

Xocoa was another shop that was a sensory overload. We have one here in Gracia but much, much smaller that I had stopped in my first week here. I didn’t buy any chocolate but was fascinated by the logo and the package design of the chocolate bars, so I of course took a business card and made a mental note to come back. Well, there is no reason to go back to the one in Gracia after getting to see this bigger sister store in La Ribera/Barri Gotic. Inside everything had the color combination that screamed: Mint Chocolate Chip! It looked like a graphic designer’s dream to work on, in my opinion. They had boxed cookies (which were reminiscent of my days at Eleni's), bags of chocolate shavings and bits, bars of solid chocolates and lots of other confections that when they came together in this mint green shop with high ceilings and wonderful graphics, smelled and looked equally delicious.

Perfect Postcards.

These need no explanation really; they stopped me in my tracks as they were the best postcards I have seen among the numerous stands at all of the souvenir shops. Not your typical photo of something Gaudi. No sir. Here was a postcard that just said “GAUDI WAS HERE”. I love it!


Sabater Hnos (yes, that’s the name of this soap shop) was great for not only my eyes but my nose, too! I loved the bright colors in the nonchalant cardboard boxes, the simple signs above each scent of soap, knowing what it said in Spanish (though it would only take me to bend over and take a whiff to figure it out), and the fact they sold bars and “chips” (the middle photo).

Picasso Museum. Revisited.

...but not for viewing the art, just for photos of the building.

Shots from the inside of Picasso Museum’s courtyard, including original and new signage. I didn’t want to take too many because I could feel the neurotic guards eyes on me ready to shoo me out at any minute (though there was no flash photography coming from my camera).

...and a Church!

I love the way everyone is perfectly arranged in front of the church; especially the couple who just came out of each door!

Surprise, surprise...a great lampost with the church behind

Some detail at the side entrance

Interior details (click to enlarge)

You could say I started off my afternoon on the religious trail, because the next stop on my walk after the temple, was coincidentally a church; though this was not just ANY church. This was the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar, considered the most beautiful church in Barcelona (and I think I might have to agree). It is also said (or at least Fodor’s says) to be the most complete example of Catalan Gothic architecture. It is also said that over the 54 years it took to build the church, almost everyone who was well enough in Barcelona to help, at some point or another in that history of construction, aided in the building. The front entrance of this 15th Century basilica is beautiful, but unlike the Sagrada Familia whose details lie on the outside, this church’s details are interior. Incredible stained glass on both sides, sculptures hanging off the walls, extremely high and wide naves (the highest in Europe), beautiful wooden pews. It was breathtaking. I wish that I had some better pictures of the entire place from front to back but with the lighting and my camera’s capabilities, they didn’t come out too good. So what I have to share are more detailing; which to me is the little stuff that made this church so incredible.

A Temple...

This is considered to be the oldest temple in all of Europe and it has a very interesting story which I learned upon arriving and getting the 7 minute abridged version from the man who runs the place. It is in the Assocacio Call de Barcelona area of the Barrí Gotic (if I remember correctly, "call" just means really narrow because that's what the streets around there were like). The temple was said to have been built in the third century and then closed down when the Black Plague struck Barcelona. At the time, about 25% of the population was Jewish and after the Plague almost all had been killed because those in the city had believed that the Jews had caused this. Much later in history one of the families who had survived after the Plague reclaimed ownership of the structure and then, yet again later on, were exterminated and the building became nothing for years and years and years. It wasn’t until 2002 that it was rediscovered, cleaned up, figured out that it was indeed a temple, and reopened to the public as more of a museum than a place of worship (though the man giving the “tour” said that they just had a wedding there a couple of weeks ago). What I found most interesting was that the reason they figured out that it was a temple and not just a normal shop or apartment was that the wall that lines the street was built out at an angle so it faced southeast; to Jerusalem.

A Thursday Field Trip.

This first set of pictures above are just a random selection from the afternoon that I really liked; the view to a Catalan flag beyond a beautiful flowering tree, Barcelona police (how great are their beréts?!) walking along, more tomatoes than I have ever seen in one place, interesting design on the side of a building, a man sitting in an empty fountain to use a laptop (I told YOU WiFi was hard to come by here!).

This afternoon was a full field trip for myself around the Barri Gotic and La Ribera. I walked some streets I had been before but mostly new ones. It seems to me that the way the streets wind and wrap and warp around this city that you really can never walk the same path twice if you tried. One thing I did try to do was retrace my steps back to the church of the Santa Maria del Mar and the Picasso Museum (I had been to both a few weeks ago but didn’t have my camera so I wanted to go back and shoot some pictures) and of course got a little lost along the way, though I don’t know if “lost” is a good term to use here in Barcelona. It seems that lost is a state of mind when you are trying very hard to get to another place because you don’t want to be where you are at that moment. Here in this fantastic Spanish city I am never really in place I don’t want to be; each wrong turn leads me to a better street than the last (usually) and a discovery of a beautiful something that I want to capture with my camera. I’ll get lost ANYTIME here!

Today I saw the oldest temple in Europe, the most beautiful church in Barcelona, shops that sold handmade soaps and handmade clothes, a wonderfully designed chocolate shop, postcards that were perfect, and a whole handful of other captures you will see in the posts that follow. Each unique place I saw has their own set of photos; I was on visual overload but in a good way. So much old beauty next to new design that I couldn’t stop smiling each time I found a great new shop to step inside or an old building whose structure was weathered with time, but still retained the perfect characteristics that the architect had intended.

September 16, 2008

Treats for my eyes, but not for my feet.

The front door to Nagore

Looking into the store from the entrance (yes, it oddly slopes down)

A close-up detail of one of the cubby illustrations

Nagore (in my neighborhood of Gracia) is a store that would have been a dream to work on for both the environmental design and illustration. The entire narrow store is filled with cubbies of different sizes along both main walls as the floor slopes down (not sure if that was a artistic direction or the nature of the original architecture). Most of the cubbies are open to view the shoes and a few are closed and painted with bright blocks of color. The cubbies that are open have been illustrated on the interior of the cubby door to show different happy outdoor scenes; biking, eating, watering flowers, etc. Each illustration has been hand-cut in gray vinyl (of course when I was in the store I had to look as close as possible at the drawings). The illustration on the front door in royal blue on the clear glass was fantastic too as you can see.

It was the first time I have gone into a shoe store NOT to look at the shoes!

September 15, 2008

New York, New York (to be sung like Frank Sinatra, of course)

The view from the back of the Dalí Musuem (yes, this blog entry was a shameless excuse to show another photo of the greatness of Mr. Dalí)

Yes, I knew it was only a matter of time but I met my first New Yorkers here in Spain on Sunday, and to be honest, I enjoyed it a lot more than I would have thought!

Upon getting to the tracks at Sants Estación to wait for the train to take me north to Figueres for the Dalí Museum, I sat next to a family of four that I had seen two other times in the past 40 minutes (one on the Metro getting TO Sants and then in the line next to me to buy the train ticket). I thought they might have been tourists when I saw them on the Metro but didn't really think where they might be from. I noticed on the monitor on the tracks that Track 14 showed a different city than Figueres and I wanted to make sure I wasn't hopping on the incorrect train so I started to ask the mother of the family next to me if she knew if this was the track going to Figueres. Of course, I asked her in Spanish as my English only comes out here when I already KNOW a person speaks English or by mistakes (ie. in a shop I ask something in Spanish but then say "thank you" in English...of course I immediately follow up with "gracias" hoping the shop owner won't notice which of course, they do).

Anyhow, the woman proceeded to stop me, tap one of her daughters on the shoulder and asked her to get the attention of her sister because she knew Spanish. Well, I heard the daughters speak and...alas! They were American! Ah, Americans! And now that I think of it, I don't think I have met any others from the good ole' US of A since I arrived on Spanish soil. Of course the second I found this out the English came pouring out of my mouth as fast as I could get it. Upon talking with the family for a bit before the train arrived and then while on the train (I took a seat near them) I learned they were from none other than New York City and the parents had lived just one block from my old apartment in midtown and the two daughters lived together on the Upper East Side. They were here on a family vacation for a week and were curious as to what I was doing here. I told them the purpose of my trip, how long I had been here so far, how long I was staying, and a recommendation for the BEST gelato in the city.

I love that in my class every week there are new people from different countries and yet I am still the only non-European.
I have enjoyed learning a little bit about the geography, the customs, the governments, the educational systems, and the people in general from all different Europeans nations, but I didn't realize how much I had been yearning to talk to Americans.

Jolt of the Week...

My favorite building in the Plaza del Sol in Gracia.

“Sacudida” in Spanish means “jolt” or "shock". I have decided that my life here in Barcelona has had every week since I have arrived, "una sacudida de la semana” or “a jolt of the week”. I have also decided that I should stop being surprised when crazy things happen and just hope that they are things that will work themselves out and that nothing is ever too strong to overtake my love for life here.

The sacudida of this week was learning this morning that my flatmates, the couple Mariluz & Fer, broke up yesterday. I am not sure when it happened as I was away all day, and then when I came home went to meet up with Sonja and her boyfriend who was in visiting from Germany for some tapas and wine. When I was getting ready to leave for school this morning Mariluz told me and also told me that it was a break-up on her part but that there was no fighting at all and I don’t have to worry about any anger being thrown around the flat. In fact, they both plan to continue living here and Mariluz will be staying in the smaller room across from mine that Fer JUST finished building shelving for on Saturday. I just hope that I won’t end up living the movie “The Ref” (though I'm a renter not a burgler).

Dios mio…