Saturday, June 30, 2012

Barcelona - June -2012

Barcelona - June 2012

Fantastic architecture abounds in Barcelona and that is even discounting Gaudi from the conversation.  I believe I have found my favorite type of graphic art.  Architecture! And, at least from a distance, I even know the building that is the pinnacle of architecture...for me, anyway.  It's a water company building and no one ever even mentions it when they talk about Barcelona.  Zack and I were walking from the Columbus Monument (right)  to our hotel, which was several miles away and all uphill when we saw it from a distance.
We first saw the water company as we crossed a major road and it darn near got us run over by 34 taxis.  We couldn't help it.  We  were mesmerized.  We thought an alien space ship had landed.  We walked toward it as if drawn by a Martian magnetic beam.

We also went through the Spanish equivalent of the Arc d' Triumphe.  Not sure what victory it's celebrating, but it was a cool arch.  Upon seeing it, I got the feeling that someday I'd be walking through the arch in Paris.  The last time I was there I was on the back of a motorcycle doing 90 mph at about 2:00 in the morning.  No, it wasn't by choice... but it was memorable!  What's that saying, "Bad experiences make the best memories!"

Another building that caught our eye was the Barcelona bull ring.  After staring at it, it dawned on us what was different about the bullring.  There was no, nada, zero, graffiti on it. Made me think that the good ol' boys had let it be known that anyone who tags their wall would be used for horn sharpening.

Here's a bit of architecture that defies logic, unless the owner/builder inherited a very narrow strip of land and said, "Well, what can we do with this fifteen' wide by 200' strip of land?"  The answer, build a very slit of a building about 6 stories high.  Pretty cool the way it tapers to a space that can only be used as a stairwell... a narrow stairwell at that.

Barcelona street performers:
This one is easy - Jim Carrey.  Cute, but not worth very many Euros.  You gotta stand on one foot or something.

Not really sure who he is suppose to be.  Maybe a unicyclist that has a green paint fettish?  Sorry.  No Euros for green people wearing sunglasses on a unicycle.

Okay, you can have a Euro if for no other reason than you can play an accordion.  You would have had two, but the hat cost you.
Speaking of hats, what climbed on top of that lady's head that is red?

I have seen more accordion players in the last 45 days than I have seen in my entire life and I watched the Godfather 18 times!

Where are all the jugglers juggling cannon balls dipped in gasoline and set afire?
Where are the flaming sword eaters?

Wow!  Things sure have changed in thirty years.  It was about 30 years ago that I was in Europe and back then, artists were drawing beautiful pictures on the side walk.  In fact, the Mona Lisa was much better in sidewalk chalk than Leonardo's diminutive 10"x12" original.  I know.  I know. It was a masterpiece.  So was the sidewalk chalk drawing...until it rained!
Last street performer -

All of these street performers were seen enroute to the museum for the Holy Grail - alias the Chocolate Museum.  It was to be our first of three museums we visited that day.

 Zack's favorite museum was the Chocolate Museum. If a dog could be used to represent how the chocolate samples made us feel it would be this guy!

The Picasso museum which had a few good pictures and a lot more of his abstract paintings.  Seems that he and Dali both started off playing the game, drawing straight lines, coloring in between the lines, etc, and then at some point said, " I'm bored!" and went off.  Look at the similarity in this picture of Picasso and this little boy who claims to be his offspring??

I love this picture.  Not quite sure who the man is with Picasso, but just for fun, let's assume that he paid Picasso to paint a picture for him, I can imagine what he's thinking behind that little smile, which is really a wince of pain in the knowledge that he was duped.
.  After querying many museum goers, here was the winning answer:
"Holy Sh*%&!!!!  I paid you a gazillion dollars and you draw a picture like this???  What did you do... subcontract out to a 4th grader?!  Couldn't you have at least bought a box of crayons for the tyke?"

This is me after three museums.  The Chocolate Museum was okay, but the chocolate bar they gave us with the price of admission was great.  The Picasso Museum was okay as well, it's just so difficult to go gaga over... over... over, "What the Heck is THAT!" paintings.  (I can see art aficionados filing lawsuits right now:).  The third museum we went to was the Antoni Gaudi Museum and it was interesting to see his clay models.  Very cool!
BUT... enough friggin' museums for one day! (month)
We were museumed-out.  So what does a good moral upstanding father do for his son... he brings him to a WINE festival.  For $12 we got ten coupons and were able to buy a total of 5 very full glasses of wine.  I needed something to eat so we walked down the street to the morning market and buy cheeses from all over Spain.  Delicioso!   It was a great time.  Then, when we started to walk back to the hotel, we saw the aliens had landed.  I thought, "Either we are in big trouble... or the wine was better than I thought."

See the flag.  It's a pretty flag.  It is the Flag of Catalunya!  The people of the state of Catalunya, which is in NW Spain want to secede and be their own country.
Bad news, Catalunya.  It takes more than a language, more than a flag, more than desire, to make a country.  You will have to learn that you are more alike than you are different from people, especially those in Spain.
At the wine festival there were booths set up near by trying to rekindle, stoke, build support for the Catalunyan culture.  They are really big on independence from Spain...and they'll stay like that... until another war comes up... or an economic crisis occurs.  I had a great conversation with a Spaniard from San Sebastian in the Basque Country in northern Spain.  I have learned that no matter where you are, people have to feel special.  Most have to feel that they are "different".  Think:
Richmond Va.  - Daughters of the Confederacy
Boston - Daughters of the Revolution.
Plymouth -  If you can't trace your family back to the Mayflower, well, you aren't colonial now are you?  The things we do to set ourselves apart.  Maybe if the Martians attacked, we'd see how much we're really alike.  Very quickly, people would see that there isn't much difference in parenting around the world- we all want our kids to grow up healthy and be safe and have jobs etc.  But no, let's split from Spain... and then of course we have the fact that the Basque in Spanish Basque are sooooo different from the French Basque, so let's divide again.  And then you don't expect the Coastal Basque to agree with the Inland Basque sooooooo let's divide again.  Pretty soon, Mamma Basque and Daddy Basque and Sonny Basque are all having their own kingdoms.
Basque in this - Get along.  There is strength in numbers!  Santoos!!!

Okay, now I'm on a kick.  Speaking of getting along, tell me that you haven't noticed the number of people who are at dinner together and don't talk to one another.  Hmmm. Where are you, Martians???  Get here soon!

Here's something that would be fun to do.  Zip around a city in one of these.  We saw these too late to do them, (after the wine festival) but how fun.  Now I understand why the drivers around here drive like maniacs.  They've been trained in Formula One cars!

This is the balcony view from our "hotel"/youth hostel in Barcelona.  I really liked it, except I had a top bunk, there was no place to put our backpack, the shower was feeble, the toilet was unassembled, the sink wasn't big enough to drown a gnat, our roomies smoked, and it was four floors up.  But somehow, I had one of my best nights ever.  I sat up on the balcony until 2AM, enjoying a cool zephyr while emailing friends and listening to such good music (thank you I Tunes).
      One good thing about staying up late was that I was so tired when I hit the pillow, that I don't think about the top bunk, the shower, the toilet, the...  I do remember that my last thought was thanking God that I was so lucky to have such a beautiful night.  I wish everyone that kind of moment.  I was/am rich!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Barcelona - June 2012 - Gaudi

Barcelona - The city that wants to be its own country.  More on that later.  First, Barcelona needs to be broken into several posts because there is simply so much going on that the post would be way too long .  Tonight's post is about one of it's more famous citizens and his work - architect/artist Antoni Gaudi.

Gaudi was born in the 1850's to a family of iron workers.

This was his 3rd grade picture.  He was very mature for his age.  Iron work does that to a feller!

Two of Gaudi's most important works are the Sagrada Familia and the other is the Park Guell.  Neither were ever finished.

He was a founding father of Modernism in architecture.  My understanding of Modernism was that it seemed to reject lines and the norm.  For instance, Gaudi used wavy walls instead of straight walls.  He use broken tile in mosaics instead of bricks.  The colors he used colors remind me of someone on heroin or someone infatuated with Alice in Candy Land who is on heroin.

Around 1900, he tried to built a "new community" high in the hills overlooking Barcelona, but unfortunately, only one of the 60 plots sold and his city flopped, eventually becoming a park (part).

Gaudi lived in the Parc Guell for many years with his Dad and his sister.  "The Candy man can..." yeah! sing a along with me now!  "Yeah, the Candy Man can cause he makes the world go round!"

Park Guell was intended to be a residential estate in the style of an English garden city...  unfortunately, it was built in SPAIN!!  Helloooo! Anton, if Spaniards wanted to live in England they would have moved to England and changed their name from Juan to Ian.   (I wonder if Gaudi knew that it was England who  SANK the big Spanish armada in 1588 and basically made Spain a second world country for the next 300 years)  Great artist - weak businessman.
Word to the's okay to be different... just don't expect everyone to agree with what you are doing.

Frankly, I think Gaudi would have sold more houses if he'd pushed the, "view is astounding!"  Instead of the, "Hey I'm building some oversized gingerbread houses way the heck up a hill that makes walking to work an impossibility!"

He died in 1926, after being hit by a tram.   Ow!!   After his death, Gaudi's works suffered a period of neglect and were very unpopular because people considered them too excessively imaginative.... which is a polite way of saying that it looked like a child designed them.
Really??  I kinda like the lizard!

 Gaudi rarely drew detailed plans of his works, instead, he created clay models of them.
When Gaudi graduated from college, his Director handed him his diploma and said, "Either we've graduated a fool or a genius.  Only time will tell."  I do like the idea of a person who looks at something that has always been done a certain way and says, "Maybe there's a better way... or how about something different.  The curved walls can stay... the melted lava looking balconies - gotta go!  
"Honey come see this...Looks like a gargoyle heaved a giant loogee on our balcony!"

Barcelona has many Gaudi buildings, some were destroyed before people said, "Oh, he's a genius!".  This is a building designed by a Gaudi follower who also probably graduated from Candyland University.    " ...and here's your architectural degree.  We wrote it on a gumdrop for you!  And yes, you get a free can of play-dough!"

His first project as an architect were to design lampposts.  Kinda like being a student teacher and being allowed to grade the spelling tests.  I really liked Gaudi.  It seems natural that when you break from the norm, you might go a little overboard.  I think Zack liked Gaudi too, though it left him scratching his head!

In 1884, he was given the task of building a new cathedral for Barcelona called the Sagrada Familia.  He also started an wrought iron company... Hmmm.. can you say, "conflict of interest"?

It was kind of neat to see a cathedral actually being built.  However, not everyone felt that way.  Spain had a terrible civil war (the one Humphrey Bogart fought in) in 1936, and the Sagrada Familia was ransacked and most of the plans and models were destroyed.  But like all terrible civil wars (are there wonderful civil wars??), it ended, and work on the cathedral continued.  How cool to think that in 300 years from now, people will be walking by the cathedral and it will seem as though it's always been there.  And if I'm still around, I can say, "Yeah, I remember when they were building it and had giant cranes and..."

It wasn't until the 1950's, that fellow weirdo, Salvador Dali began to push Gaudi as a genius.  This is known as the One Enemy at a Time Effect.  The theory is that a bully can only pick on one person at a time, so Dali must have figured that as long as the press is blasting Gaudi... they'd lay off him!  Do I think it's weird to put fruit on top of your cathedral's spires, YES.  But it is different.  How many times have I heard people say, "I've seen one too many cathedrals... They are all starting to look alike."  Well, not this one.

Gaudi was extremely religious and due to his ascetic lifestyle, he received beatification in 2000.  Beatification for my non Catholic friends is the third step (of four) in being declared a saint.  To put that in perspective, I'm on step -48.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Montanegros, Spain June 2012

For such a Garden of Eden, there are very few people in Valencia that have ever heard of the place.  It reminds me of Payson with pine trees, and has that rural feel.  Probably because it is rural - only 450 people live in the town.

The town itself reminded me of Basingnana, where my family comes from in Italy. 
a. Everyone seemed to know each other.  
b. cobblestone streets
c. buildings that seemed to becrumbling on the outside but were beautiful on the inside
d.  I didn't understand much of what was being said as they speak a different dialect than that of Spain, and Spain speaks a bit different than that of Mexico, and Mexico speaks a bit different than Spanish being taught in Memphis.
Other than that... everything was crystal clear!

We went on a hike that Zack had seen the day before and it led to a dam and a nice size pond behind the dam.  The water was colder by the dam and more difficult to get to, so we decided to just swim where we had been earlier.

To get to the dam, we had to go through a tunnel which was just long enough to be dark inside.  I don't think we would have entered if we had not had a flashlight.  Okay... I know we would not have entered if we didn't have a light.
Once in South America, I entered a train tunnel only to get 1/2 way through and hear a train coming.  Just barely made it out before the train came through!

Sometimes, it seemed that 1/4 of our budget went to food, 1/4 to transportation, 1/4 to hotels, and the 1/4 went to water!!
Looks like Zack is saying, "Is it safe to enter the cave?"
"Of course it is!" I'd reply, "You go ahead Zack, and I'll stay on the ridge 2 miles away and film what happens!"

The best place to swim was just at the edge of town.  The water got as deep as about 7-8 feet but most of the time it was about 3.5 feet.  The temperature was just cool enough to cool down in the hot sun, but not so cold that it took five hours to acclimatize.

Huge trout were in the river and could be seen from far away because of the water clarity.  We never saw anyone fishing but we did see some wildlife.  Mountain goats were way up on the canyon walls and Zack was approached by a weasel/otter/rat creature.  Scared the bajesus out of the both of us!  It ran at Zack and then darted back into some weeds.

Okay, I'm all for this international sign thing, but really, what does this mean?
a. no fishing for jellyfish?
b. jellyfish towzone
c. if you fish here, you may catch a jellyfish
d. I'm hooked on sunshine

Whatever.  We bought some jellyfish bait and tried our luck but there didn't seem to be any jellyfish in the freshwater stream 90 miles from the ocean. Imagine that.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Valencia, Spain - June 2012

Valencia - The Unexpected Treat

    We were checking out of the Sevilla Youth Hostel and Zack noticed a poster with the caption, "Go Valencia!" on it.  It had a picture of people swimming in the most beautiful water this side of Havasupai Falls.  He said, "I want to go there!"  and so we set our coordinates for Valencia, Spain.  With the help of the internet, I found that the name of the place was Montanegros and that it was up in the mountains about an 60 miles from Valencia.  I also found a company that for $100 would take us there and back all in the same day.  Unfortunately, they were booked out so we did some more homework, the old fashion way, via foot to the bus station.  There we found that there were busses to Montanegros, but we would have to change busses and then stay overnight.  We decided to stay two nights and it turned out to be marvelous... but first about Valencia.

      We left Granada for the nine hour bus ride and it could not have been a much better ride for several reasons:
   1. It's tough to spend money when you're on a bus, so our budgets were strengthened.  The bus stopped two or three times for 40 minutes so we were able to eat a decent snack along the way and not arrive famished or stiff kneed.
  2. The scenery was nothing short of spectacular. We saw two cities along the coast that were huge, maybe over 1,000,000 people.  One, Alicante had old forts on top of hills overlooking the ocean and the other, Benidorm, had beautiful looking skyscrapers, like a mini-Dubai.  Both had gorgeous beaches yet neither were in the guide book.  Like they don't exist.  Well...they do! I'm going to have to get a new guide book!
3. The bus was air-conditioned, not crowded, and clean.  I'd do it again.
4. It seems that all of Spain is being cultivated.  Olive trees, almond groves, just beautiful.

Because Valencia was not in our guidebook, we arrived pretty ignorant of what to do and where to stay. We were shocked.  The architecture is stunning.   They have the old city, with its walls and torrents.  So cool to enter a city today through gates that are 1,000 years old.  Made me want to make horse noises, "clip clop, clip clop,  neigh,  neigh" and move my head like I'm annoyed by the bit in my mouth.  In fact...I did, and Zack decided that he'd enter on his own... 20 feet from me.
Apparently, he doesn't like horses!

Valencia, or Valenthia as they say is a feast for the eyes of an architect!
Nothing is plain-jane.  This is the train station on the right. Across the street is one of 1,000's  of regular offices that are tricked-out.

It's like the city planners say, "Look, here's a plan that someone has submitted but it's just plain. Reject it!"  The city, which is over a 1,000,000 people, has a river running through it, or actually a dry river bed, not unlike the Salt River.  However, they've turned it into a green belt that goes forever.  Besides the shapes of the buildings in the background, the bridges have decorations.  This is a gargoyle/man/lizard statue.

The bullring is old school architecture.  Bricks and mortar.  As much as I don't like how they kill the bull, it would have been fairly educational to see the people and their reactions to the bull.  Most of Spain seems to be rejecting bullfighting or "bull killing" as it is.
The statue is either a famous Matador or Ricardo Montelban.

This is Señor Zack.  He is the matador of the the next millineum.  Rather than stab his bull to death with shish kebabs, Señor Zack prefers to drown his foe using only one bottle of water (without gas).  This is a new technique that has never been tested before.  It is for this reason that his father, El Esteban del Muddo, has taken out a 1 meellion dollar life insurance policy on Señor Zack.

Can you say, WTH!!  (What the Heck?) It's the Hemisferic complex which houses several different attractions such as an IMAX, a science museum, and restaurants.  Talk about slick architecture.  It gives the appearance that it is sinking in the water.  You half expect Captain Nemo to pop his head out.

Another building that is architecturally stunning is the old market.  It's no different inside than the other markets in other towns, but this one at least has something to look at to take your mind off the smell of fish or the water you're stepping in that was once the ice that kept chickens and fish fresh.  (Remind me to remove my shoes when I enter your house!)

The market is divided into sections.  One sells fish, one sells chickens, one sells nuts and berry, one get the idea.        

Someone had the foresight to put the bakeries on the other side of the market from the fish stalls and to put the bathrooms next to the fish market.                      

I do like the idea of being able to buy fresh/dried mushrooms and herbs.  Makes a world of difference when you're cooking and an even bigger difference when you are eating!

This was a great treat - buy a fresh cup of coffee con leche, a couple of pastries, a couple of cookies, a slice of cake...and viola, that's a wonderful breakfast for about $4.00.

Okay, I WILL have another round. Places like this have been known to have me stay around for an extra day or two!  Especially with my sugar mama.  I love those biceps!  Woof!

Not sure if I mentioned that Spain is famous for their hams.  Wonderful!  Iberian ham is excellent and salty.
Funny what a country can be known for.  Wonder what foreigners think of as American food.  I'm going to start asking and take a poll.

My guess will be:
1. hotdogs
2. hamburgers
3. french fries

One tasty treat are the fruit stands  selling fresh squeezed oj, mango, pineapple, etc for about $1.30 a glass.  Muy sambrosa!  I bought my own cup, but I don't now how much cleaner it is.  I'm hoping that juice nutrients counteract the glass germs.  Heck, I just ate a basically raw pig! Can it be worse??

I am starting to worry about Zack, however.  He walks around staring into space.  Either that or he is really into Stevie Wonder.

Here's a man that shares my sentiment about grafitti as an "urban art phenomena".  He is having to repaint a canvas with his own money.  What a Cretin!!  What would Picasso say???

As mentioned before, Valencia has a huge park that winds through the city in the Turia River bed.  It's great for biking, walking or taking a nap.

They built a play park to emulate Gulliver's Travels.

Not all of the bus stands in Valencia were this colorful, but this one was beautiful.  Completely enclosed in bouganvillas!  Made waiting on a bus a thing of art!

Valencia is special.  We had a great time learning on our own without a guidebook.