October 31, 2008

The Last Drops of Girona.

A view outside at the Jewish museum

A close-up of a cool tiled piece at the musuem

One of the many alleyways in the Call

After making a good walk up and around the cathedral and wall, I walked down Carrer de la Forca which was the main road of the Call (Catalan for Jewish Quarter; Barcelona has one too) and the narrowest in town. Girona is known for many things but one major piece of history is that it was the home to a large Jewish population between the 9th and 15th century. The end of their time there was not a happy one as little by little they had been quarantined, then persecuted, then eventually expelled from the country by Ferdinand & Isabella in 1492 (unless they chose to convert). I learned a lot about what Jewish life was like not only in Girona specifically (where for a good amount of time the Jews and the Christians lived together in harmony and the king at the time had kept them safe), but also in the region of Catalunya at the Museu d’Historia dels Jueus (Jewish Museum) where I spent almost two hours and read everything top to bottom. It didn’t have much original artwork but more reproductions of art. It did have original artifacts and a whole room of pieces of gravestones that were found after the destruction of Montjuic (the Jewish graveyard…not the same as the one in Barcelona) in the late 15th century. I found it all so interesting since I didn’t know much about Jewish history in Catalunya, but at the same time really sad.

I left the museum and wandered around the small streets again, with their narrow staircases and arched entryways popping into a few shops (since it had started raining while I was in the museum) and through a small farmer’s market in one of the plazas over the river. Eventually it was time to head to the train station where I waited thirty minutes for the train and headed back to Barcelona. It had been a great second day of not only sightseeing but learning SO much about more of the history of Catalunya.

The City Walls of Girona.

Looking up at the entrance of the Cathedral

Walking around the city walls

These vines/leaves looked almost fake the way they were perfectly growing up the wall; like a child's drawing of grass!

My first walk when I arrived was to head to the Cathedral via some great little narrow streets and stairs (there were SO many little steps in this town!) though when I arrived to the Cathedral it started to rain (seriously, I could do without all of the rain we have had here in Spain for the past month, though I guess it’s like being in the northeast in April) to I opted to head to a small café for a coffee and attempted to read up on the news in the world via the Spanish newspaper El País. The rain subsided and I was thoroughly depressed from all that I had read; I headed around the Cathedral and found my way to the city wall where you can walk around and ON it which was a wonderful way to get a view out of the city and towards some mountains in the distance. The walls had some great leaves growing out and on them and I got my first and only glimpse of New England-like autumn leaves.

My Last Catalan City: Girona.

A small sampling of all of the stairs around Girona!

I loved the view down this little street with the greenery hanging out the windows.

Friday I took the train north about an hour and twenty minutes to the city of Girona (also about 2 hours from France, maybe less), which before I had only known as the airport that RyanAir flew out of. Well, this city has a lot more to offer than just a small airport a little ways out of town.

Girona is a town divided by a river where on one side lays the old city or the “Barri Vell” which is where I spent the majority of time. The Barri Vell is also an old walled city and that wall still exisits. The tourist information office had the nicest and most helpful woman working there who gave me a map and a suggested route for seeing the town. Luckily everything is accessible on foot, and even from the train station it was only about a 20 minute walk to get over the river. When you cross the river you are welcomed by rows of pastel-colored apartment buildings one after another which made for some great photos and since the river wasn’t moving I got some good reflections.

October 30, 2008

Jazz is Jazz; No Matter What Language You Speak.

I noticed last weekend when Kathy and I had come back to Barcelona that there were banner ads all over the city for the Barcelona Jazz Festival. I noticed it mostly because I liked their logo for the event and then noticed it more when I saw a few banners specifically advertising for certain musical acts. One that caught my eye was Herbie Hancock; who I don’t know much about but do know that I like his music very much. I found a pamphlet for the festival in the city and found not only was Herbie playing while I would still be here in Barcelona (the event runs through the end of November) but he was playing at the ONE theater I had been wanting to go to, Palau de la Música Catalana! This theater has been on my list of places to go and see since before I even left New York; after seeing a few pictures of it in my guidebook it was enough to draw me there. I had seen the outside of it and thought it was incredible as it is so over the top and was designed by modernist architect Lluís Domenach i Montaner. From everything I had read and heard, the best way to experience it was not to take the 10 Euro tour but to actually hear a concert; as it was meant to be enjoyed together – the design and the music.

The day I went to the Miró museum I ended up fortuitously walking by the concert hall and decided to see if there were any inexpensive tickets left, and low and behold there were! So Thursday night I headed to the Palau de la Música and might have to say it was the best musical/visual experience I have ever had. Though the exterior is amazing, the interior of the building from the foyer to the bar/restaurant to the stairs to of course the MAIN concert hall was not without detail. I sat up on the second (and highest) tier which still got me a view of the stage (sort of, as long as the guy in front of me didn’t move too much) though I didn’t see much of the guitarist without standing.

The entire hall had mosaic tiling in pinks and greens and yellows, the centerpiece was a huge stained-glass reverse bulb-looking piece covered in various-shaped circles, the windows were all stained glass flowers, the columns at the sides were white trencadis with green tiled vines sweeping up where they met the ceilings in sweeping arcs which looked like peacock feathers, the stage was flanked on one side by marble sculptured horses looking like they were flying into centerstage and the other side by enormous leaves, the back of the arched stage was done in reddish/pink tile with marble sculpture coming out of the wall in between green and yellow ribbon-like tiling, and the sides of the hall had metalworked chandeliers hanging sideways with three different shaped bulbs sprouting from it in between green diamond-shaped tiles. Ahhh, I could go on but you will be bored and want to just to see pictures which unfortunately I only have these two above. Not only are you really not allowed to take pictures inside but my camera batteries had died earlier and I had forgotten to buy new ones before going!

The Herbie Hancock Quintet (Herbie on the piano, a guitarist, a bassist, a drummer and…a harmonica-ist!) played for almost three hours and were incredible. I also loved that his talk in between songs was English peppered with some Spanish words so I understood everything. I can’t imagine having seen this crazy piece of architecture without hearing the music to go along with it so I will recommend to you if in Barcelona, go to a concert there and see and hear it for yourself.

More Mountain Views.

Loved this little snowman (he is really only 5" tall) that was built by these Brits a few minutes before I climbed up there

The curviest of the hike. You can see the people in the city of it to see how close your head was to the rock

The view UP the funicular on the way back down...it was built on a steep angle to accommodate for the incline.

I have never seen views like this and again, don’t really think these pictures do it justice. It was surreal and so relaxing as at a few points I heard no people, just birds, saw just mountains and inhaled perfect clean (but cold!) air! I even saw my first (and hopefully only) snow in Spain up on the mountain!

A Hike Around the Mountain.

The view through the back of the funicular going UP the mountain

That's snow!

I love these rock formations. They look like weird-shaped cartoon people!

After hearing the choir I decided to take my third mode of transport that day which was a steep, green cart-like train car which took 7 minutes and no more than 45 people up a 65 degree slope! Once at the top there were paths to hike around and get even higher and at different areas for better views.

A Choir & A Cathedral.

That's the view looking DOWN at the Monastery and Basilica and "town"
The entrance to the Basilica

Loved this detailing of the sculptures

Inside waiting for the boys' choir

Once in the town I walked around at took in the views but my main intent was to see the Basilica and especially to hear the world-famous boys’ choir sing at 1pm (which they do everyday except Saturday). I have never heard a boys choir before so I have nothing to compare it to but it was amazing. Their voices all together in perfect harmony combined with all of the people who were there to listen gave me goosebumps.

There Once Was a Mountain...

The Aeri station for getting ALMOST all of the way up Montserrat

The Aeri has arrived and we are about to board...

The Aeri! I was in that little yellow contraption!

The view out of the Aeri

Almost at the top!

The rain here finally ended on Thursday morning so I decided to enact my original Wednesday plan and to head to Montserrat (literally translated “serrated mountain”), about an hour northwest from Barcelona. This has been on my list of “day trips” to take since I arrived here and especially with it being so close AND hearing such great reviews from everyone I have spoken to here that has been, I figured I couldn’t leave this country without going.

The history behind Montserrat goes a little like this. Millions of years ago the sea that covered the area drained due to lifts in the earth’s crust which accounts for the craggy rock formations. Legend says that 50 years after Christ was born that St. Peter brought an image of the Virgin carved by St. Luke into one of the mountain caves, it was then lost during a Muslim invasion in the early 8th C, and then rediscovered in 880 with such joy that a chapel was built to house it. The Virgin of Montserrat then became a symbol of Catalunya as well as a place to go to for “clandestine nationalism” during times when Catalonians were repressed especially during the Franco years.

In order to get to Montserrat you have to take three modes of transportation from Barcelona to get to the top of the mountain; first is the regular train, then an Aeri, and then a funicular. The Aeri is a little yellow octangular box attached on the top by a cable wire, holding no more than 35 people, with windows all around and which takes 5 minutes to get up the steep mountain at a 45 degree angle. The views on the way up AND down were incredible though I swear at one point I thought the bottom was going to hit the rocks below! This yellow cart zips you up ALMOST to the top of the mountain, leaving you in the “town” of Montserrat, and I use the word “town” loosely as there really is only a museum, a basilica, a monastery which houses 300 monks, a few restaurants and a hotel. Though I shouldn’t say “only” because the mountain was breathtaking with its crazy crooked peaks and odd formations.

October 28, 2008

Mies (van der Rohe) In the Rain.

Now YOU have seen pretty much the whole pavilion too

The Barcelona Chair...not for sitting though!

Let me give you some advice if you are ever in Barcelona on a rainy day and are looking for a museum to see. Do not go to the Mies Van Der Rohe Pavillion. I repeat, do not go. If you are looking for a big building to walk around in and absorb some artwork and forget the rainy world around you outside do not go to the Mies van der Rohe Pavillion.

During college I took an industrial design class and learned about Mies van der Rohe and thought his work was interesting at the time so upon reading my Barcelona guidebook (thanks Mom & Dad!) which has every museum and sight possible to see here in this city I noticed there was (what I thought) a Mies Van Der Rohe museum. Well, it is not a museum. It is not a place to go when it is raining. It does not take more than 2 minutes to walk through. The chairs right upon entering the pavillion are NOT to be sat in even if it looks like a lobby; van der Rohe designed the “Barcelona Chair”,see photo above. It does have a good, but small, bookstore but with only one chair. And not a Barcelona Chair at that.

I don’t want to sound bitter because the idea of the Pavillion I think is a good one. It was a recreation/rebuild of the pavilion Mies van der Rohe designed for the International Expo here in Barcelona in 1929 and in the 80s was put back in it’s original location. Also, from what I have read, it is considered a great development in architectural style at the time and was also his last work before he moved to the US.

The Pavillion literally consists of a few straight marble walls sort of making one room, a sculpture (see above), a little pool of pebbles, and that’s it. I started laughing when I walked out of what I thought was just the entrance and realized that no, this was it. And that I was outside yet again. And could have really saved my 2Euros and really seen most of it from the entrance.

I am all for great architecture and maybe if I had known it would be pretty much ONE room then I would have had lower expectations but I went there in the rain thinking I could spend a couple of hours checking out some great pieces of three-dimensional work. Alas, I just spent 15 minutes in the bookstore reading a fantastic Barcelona-based design magazine I had never heard of and now can't remember the name.

Miró In the Rain.

I woke up this morning and what did I spy outside the living room window but some rain. However, I figured it would still be the perfect day to go to the Miró Museum like I had scheduled for myself (yes, I have a schedule made for my remaining 10 days here). Getting there was another thing as I realized Miró is up on Montjuic but I didn’t remember how far up. I ended up taking the metro to Plaza Espanya (yes, they spell it like that without the squiggly thing over the “n”) and walking up and up and up and then down and around and then up. In the rain. At least I had my umbrella, I thought to myself, and at least once I get to the museum I will be in shelter and out of the rain. Well, not only did I think that rain in Barcelona seemed a good idea to head to the Miró Musuem because the rest of the tourists in this beachfront city also thought the same. I ended up having to wait in line for an hour! I am not going to say it was worth every minute of the rain, considering I kept getting jostled by the umbrella behind me, which belonged to a three-person French family, but I am glad I went.

I didn’t know that Miró is a true Catalan artist and I learned there is more to his childlike paintings of birds and women (two common themes in his works) with their bright elementary colors; a lot of work had to do with speaking out against the Spanish Civil War as he had a lot of pride in his Catalan heritage. Another part of the museum that I really enjoyed (which my aunt and uncle had told me about when I saw them as they had just been to the museum) was that there was a whole section of artwork which was a collection from various artists of the 20th century who donated their work to the museum after Miró passed away. Joan Miró himself was the one who had the idea to start the museum and it was designed by his friend, Josep Lluis Sert, a Catalan architect. The building itself is fun to look at from the outside but figuring your way around the inside was not so much fun. And I am not just saying that because I have zero sense of direction; the ordering made no sense in terms of seeing the collections and getting a better insight of his chronological working as I prefer to see a museum dedicated to one artist (a la the Picasso Museum which was curated PERFECTLY in my opinion). All in all, it was a good trip and I am glad I stood in the rain for it; just not glad my umbrella and the one behind me were at war for space in the air.

There is no photography allowed in the museum so here is a sampling of the outside for you. This sculpture (the last photo) was loved by this boisterous 7-year old in line near me who kept running over and holding it’s arm or crawling through it’s legs. I of course realized there was no way I would be getting a photo of the sculpture without the boy so took my photo of it afterwards.

October 27, 2008

The Last of the Visitors...

The pictures above are not of my visitors, of course, but eating seafood last night reminded me of these hysterical mini lobsters that Matt and I saw one day at the Boqueria and whose photos I had never posted. Above is a documentation of the “escape” of this little guy out of his crate (first photo). His logical choice was to head down towards the edge of the table and to do so he had to crawl over lots of clams (second photo). Well, clearly this idea seemed like a great one to another little lobster, because you can see in the top right of the second photo another guy making his escape. Yes, that’s right, we witnessed the equivalent of a prison outbreak in the market as one by one (very slowly) little lobsters tried to break free from their selling crate (only to almost reach the edge and then be picked up by the woman who worked the market stall). The last one is what I imagine would be used on a WANTED poster if he really did escape.

The visitors I mention in the headline of this entry were my last in my string of familiar faces that I had been fortunate to see while being over here in Europe. Alas, visiting season for me is officially over as I met up with my last familiar faces last night for dinner here in Barcelona – my Aunt Arleen and Uncle Ed were passing through Barcelona on a week-long group trip through Spain and we were lucky enough to have cleared schedules for a great Sunday night tapas dinner. The two of them, as well as their friends Art and Loretta who were also on their trip, and I shared an entertaining evening which reminded me that I am ready to be among English-speakers again. That time will be soon enough as I imagine my last eleven days here will go by pretty quick. I am trying to schedule each of my last days here (now only 11) with sights I haven’t seen as well as a couple of day trips to nearby cities (Girona and Montserrat) possibly and one 2 night/3 day trip to Madrid. I decided that after seeing so much of the south of Spain and once I see some more of Catalunya, that I really couldn’t go back across the Atlantic without seeing the capital of Spain.

October 23, 2008

Alcazaba (last stop on the Alhambra walk).

Last stop was Alcazaba which wasn’t so visually appealing BUT it did have the greatest views to the mountains and over Granada. They were pretty surreal and now looking at my photos think that the mountains look fake but I swear, they are real!

Palacios Nazaries (THE Palace of the Alhambra).

Next stop was Palacio Nazaries; some of its detailing in the ceiling and in the wall tiling reminded me of the Alcázar and I believe that it is possible some of the same artisans may have worked on both (I have already added it to my list “to Google”).