Jul 26, 2006

Barcelona - Part 1

After flying out of the Luton airport, we arrived in Girona sometime after 10 pm and made our way to the bus that would take us to Barcelona. Girona is about 110 km north, but being a cheap airline, Ryanair doesn't fly into Barcelona itself. Fortunately, some brilliant company decided to set up service between Girona and Barcelona that coincides with Ryanair flight times. Needless to say, we caught this so called Barcelona bus and were there in a little over an hour.

We met a pretty cool English guy on the way who was going to spend a couple of days in Barcelona with a buddy of his. We talked about everything from football to Jessica Simpson... it was quite an interesting conversation. He's also been to quite a few countries in Europe which made for great stories.

Unfortunately our bus made it into Estacíon about 5 minutes after the metro closed, leaving us with very little options to get to our hostel. The scalpers outside the station wanted 40€ to get us there... we immediately turned them down flat because not only was it not that far, but we weren't that stupid. A few other groups were stuck as well, and we walked together to the end of the block where a few city taxis were parked. For some reason they refused our business and told us that we had to walk 5 blocks down to find an available cab.

After about 15 minutes of walking and no sign of a taxi that was willing to take us anywhere, we decided to walk. The map on the back of the bus stops was rather detailed, and since it included metro stops as well, we knew exactly where we needed to go. The problem was figuring out where we were since we had no idea which direction we'd walked from the station, and street signs in Europe are almost impossible to find sometimes.

Luckily we came across two girls who were more than happy to help. They told us where we were, as well as the easiest way to get to our hostel. At first they told us to take the metro, but when they realized that the metro was no longer running they felt so bad for us, and one of them put her hand over her mouth in this distressed, "Oh no!" gesture. I thought it was cute, and just a little funny.

We stopped every once in a while to make sure we were headed in the right direction. In middle school we learned that Spanish people give directions much differently than we're used to, and although I remember learning all the directions and knowing exactly what I was being told when looking at a little cartoon map, it's much different in real life. Their more general directions, filled with land marks, approximations, and "next to's" made getting places difficult sometimes, and that first night was no exception. But there were a lot of people who were willing to help, and we eventually made it to our hostel no worse for the wear. However, if we hadn't spoken any Spanish, it would have taken a lot longer.

I eventually got up the next morning, but while I was in the shower they made us change rooms. Unfortunately this resulted in my Jack's Mannequin track jacket being stolen which made me not too happy, but I've since ordered a replacement. Another note about showering in hostels... they're not too big on towels, meaning that you have to rent one if you don't bring one. Whoops. I missed the memo, so I stood in the shower stall and air dried for at least 10 minutes before getting dressed. Good times.

I don't really remember what time we left out hostel, but we wandered through Bari Gotic, the Gothic Quarter, which is where our hostel was located, before finding a bus stop for the Barcelona Bus Turístic.

This is the castle across the street from our hostel. I honestly don't even know the name of the castle, but if I remember correctly, part of it was turned into a museum. I backed up as far as I could for this shot, and I still couldn't get the entire tower.

Here is the top of the tower. The circular window here is the same as the shot above, which should give you some idea of the height.
Supporting my museum suspicion was this...
We didn't go in, but as I found out later, Sarah didn't even know who Andy Warhol was, so I have a feeling that the exhibit may have been lost on her.

This shot was through one of the gates opposite the tower. I don't know if it was a private residence, but I didn't see any signs. And if it weren't for the obnoxious blue car on the other side of the iron gate, I'd like this shot a lot more.
And this one is my favorite...The bus operates on the basic principle that most tourists have no idea how to get where they're going, and that they'll pay decent money for something that will drive them to the main tourist hot spots. I've since seen similar tour like set ups in London, Rome, and Paris. Given our limited time in Barcelona, we went with this option.
Our first stop was Plaça Catalunya, which as far as I can tell is a giant square surrounded by statues and fountains, and full of pigeons. Spain is big on statues and fountains, and I think every major city I've been to seems to have the same bird problem. And these birds, well... they scared me. Sarah flat out ran away from them, but I can't say I blame her.

The commentary is going to break down a little here, because I don't know the names of any of these, and about all I can say is...

It's the back of one statue, with another statue in front of it. Added of course are some pigeons, and our bus in the background.
And then we have the same large statue from the previous shot, from the other side. Don't hate me, but I was trying to get a perspective of just how big the square was. From the same statue, it took me about 5 minutes to walk across to the fountains. But keep in mind, I was taking pictures. Oh look, someone feeding the scary pigeons, it seems to be a theme. But I've fed my share of wild animals, so I guess I can't say much. Sarah standing in front of one of the fountains across the square from the previous shots. To mix it up a little, and to hide the incredibly dirty camera lens that I didn't know about until later, I thought I'd play around in Photoshop a bit. Here is La Plaça in angular strokes. I have plenty more shots of statues, but none of them are particularly interesting, and I know I'm boring you already.

We hopped back on the bus, but changed lines in order to see a different set of landmarks. I'd done a little research before leaving, and was dying to see La Sagrada Familia. La Sagrada is a huge basilica designed by Antoni Gaudi, and it is probably the most unique thing I've ever seen.
To explain just how large this is, I took this shot from the roof of the bus. Even then, I don't think I have a single shot that conveys just how tall those towers are.

If you were to walk around the corner to your left from the first shot, you would come to the western entrance, where you see the Passion facade.

Obviously I didn't take this, but I will still apologize for the extreme over exposure. And besides proving I was there, it does show just how tall the entrance is. The main doors behind me are incredible, and you can find a half way close up on my deviantart page.

These don't show any of the eastern Nativity facade, but given the lighting due to the time to day, most of the shots I have are horrible. In fact almost all of the shots I have, including those shown above, are ridiculous. Note to self: Visit important places that you want to take pictures of at any time other than high noon, particularlly in Barcelona. Especially in Barcelona. I don't think I've ever been to a place where the sun was so bright.

Construction started in 1882, and according to the sign on the entrance, it is estimated that it will be another 30 years before the building is finally completed. After being inside, I can see why. The ceiling is... well, I'll let you see for yourself.

Originally, each piece was hand carved, and what information they gave us said that each piece is just slightly different from the next so even with advanced technology, it's difficult to mass produce anything. And some work is still done by hand, because I have pictures of one of the workers sanding the stones.

After walking through the basilica, we decided to go up one of the towers. We had two options, one being more expensive, and the other being more physically intensive. We elected to save the cash and take the stairs. It was either 272 or 350 steps up a very narrow staircase that I wouldn't recommend if you're claustrophobic, but if we had taken the elevator we would have missed some of the view. And you can't give me too much grief over this shot... it was incredibly dark, and I didn't use a flash. Low light, long shutter and no tripod. It's not too bad considering.

We kept taking pictures, thinking that we were close to the top. We were wrong. These are from closer to the bridge, mostly taken through windows or the occasional balcony. Yes... that is the shadow of two of the eighteen towers.

I really like this one, not sure why.

Again, I have several more, but the following are more impressive.

Before descending, we crossed over a bridge to another tower. The view from the bridge was astonishing, and I really liked being able to see the tops of the towers that are indistinguishable from the ground. Unfortunately, there was a lady standing on the bridge that wasn't too keen on me blocking traffic and taking pictures. I wanted to tell her that I hadn't made the hike just to be rushed, but I wasn't sure mouthing off in a foreign country was the best idea. And I did manage to snap a few quick shots.

As I stepped out on to the bridge, I took a shot that was nearly straight up... and this is what I got.
Like I said, it's still under construction. I can't wait to go back when it's all finished and there aren't giant cranes to ruin my pictures.

But then again, even if you almost avoid a crane, there's always an arm to stand in as well. I think that's Sarah's elbow, three of the smaller towers crowned with fruit of the faithful, and the city in the background.

Look familiar?

This is the view to my left, looking away from the basilica.

And the view to my right just before entering the stairwell to walk all the way back down.

Neither of us had caught breakfast back at the hostel, and the descent quickly reminded us of just how hungry and physically fatigued we were. I was glad to see the end of the stairwell, and once back on tera firma we left La Sagrada to get some lunch.

You know the joke about their being a McDonald's on every corner... it's pretty true. Sarah and I had McDonald's for lunch, across the street from La Sagrada. The contrast and irony was ridiculous.

We got back on the bus and after a few stops we found ourselves down the hill from Park Güell, another work by Gaudi. There's a bit of a Gaudi theme throughout Barcelona and I'm not complaining. Unfortunately we missed Casa Milá, but I consider it something to be saved for a return trip.

Park Güell is an interesting mix of stone, tiled statues, plants and trees, and stunning views.

This is the what greets you as soon as you enter the park. The curved wall sitting on top of the columns is the back of Serpentine Bench, which you will see shortly.
After walking to our right, upwards and back towards the center, this was the view out over Barcelona.

We decided to mix it up a little. And you laugh now, but you haven't seen the "Make like an Obelisk!" pictures yet. Even funnier... "Make like a Basilica!"

Those stone balls reminded me of Center Hall. Although I doubt whoever decided to put them there was copying Gaudi... I've since seen them outside the Louvre as well.

Gaudi's home is located near the center of the park, but we decided to simply admire it from the outside.

Unfortunately, most of it is surrounded by trees, and you can't actually see a significant portion of the outside of the building from ANYWHERE.

Not too far from his home is Serpentine Bench, complete with a view of most of Barcelona.
I needed to move like 6 inches to the left...
Sarah and I in front of the same cross, but sitting on a different part of the bench. Notice the color change? I wish I had a shot to show you just how big it is, but for some strange reason, I don't.

The last thing that we hadn't managed to find was the lizard that has become one of the most popular symbols of the park. I refused to leave without finding the lizard, but the statue wasn't on any map. We decided to ask someone before wasting too much time, and then realized that neither of us could remember lizard in Spanish. "¿Donde está el lizard?" became a running joke, but I guess you'd have to hear me say it to get the humor.

We eventually found the statue... it was by the entrance, behind the waterfall that we'd taken pictures of when we came in. Turns out it was completely surrounded by people and we couldn't see it. I told you it was popular.
I had to wait FOREVER to take this shot, and there are still people in it. I have more, but this is the clearest view. I also have shots of the portion of the statue behind it, and the tiling on the ceiling that crowns the columns and forms the base of the large open space surrounded by Serpentine Bench. I hope the lay out all makes sense now... probably not.

Back to the bus and the harsh realization that we don't have enough time to see all the things we wanted to see. By this point, I would have loved to have at least one more full day in the city, but our hostel was only booked for one more night.

And the story continues with Barcelona Part 2....

Jul 25, 2006

España - The Prologue

I'm trying to recapture just how excited I was before leaving for Spain. I was scared that every thing would go wrong, but at the same time I wanted so badly to be there and I was anxious to be on my way.

I've dreamed of going to Spain for years now, and La Fiesta de San Fermin has fascinated me since the first time I remember seeing footage of the running of the bulls.

I started planning the trip in May, not long after my plans to study here were definate. Originally I wanted to see Bilbao, Pamplona, and Barcelona, but as time wore on it became quite clear that any flight into or out of Bilbao was far too expensive and just not feasible. It didn't make any sense to take a train to Bilbao and then a train back to a different city, so unfortunately Bilbao and my beloved Guggenheim had to be scrapped. Consider it something saved for a return trip.
For practicality reasons, the trip itinerary became Barcelona, Pamplona, and Madrid. Bus availabilty determined how long we needed to stay in each city, and the break down was different than I would have liked, but I was happy with how it all worked out in the end.

I also didn't want to travel alone, so I had the EAP coordinator e-mail me the contact information for those participating in the Sussex summer program. I ended up e-mailing seven different people, and within about a week I'd found a traveling buddy from UCSD named Sarah.

There was some last minute scrambling and planning, but on July 6th Sara and I left Sussex for our 4 day, 3 city whirlwind tour of Spain... and I couldn't have been happier.

Jul 24, 2006

Jerry! Jerry!

I've been asked how an American celebrates the 4th of July in England or any foreign country for that matter... and although I can't speak for the Americans, I can tell you how this Canadian who is a legal resident alien of the United States spent her 4th of July in Brighton.

Yes, I know I'm a smart aleck.

It's been a little while, so I'm not sure that most of you remember that the 4th was a Tuesday, which is only relevant because for the first session I had class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That day in class we studied, ironically, the British constitution. I'm still wondering if my tutor chose to cover that subject on that particular day, or if it happened purely by accident. Regardless, I learned about the British constitution on the day that I was supposed to be celebrating American independence from the very same country. Funny stuff.

A little while after class I went into Brighton to see Jerry Springer: The Opera. Before you get a puzzled look on your face let me explain... I'd heard it was good a good show, as well as controversial, and it's won quite a few awards including Best Musical, Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Sound. It thought it might be something worth checking out, and call it morbid curiosity, but I wanted to see how they managed to turn Jerry Springer into opera.

I hop the bus and get off near the Royal Pavillion... but unfortunately my map isn't that great so I decide to follow the signs. Bad plan. The first one I see is a bit off, and I end up in the Laines instead of anywhere near a theatre. Don't get me wrong, the Laines are nice, but shopping was not on the menu. I wander for a good half hour, and then decide to give up on the signs. The map eventually gets me there about 30 minutes before the box office opens, so I ran up the street for some cheap subway before heading back.

Here's where it gets interesting.

I walk into the foyer and up to the ticket window. I hand the woman my confirmation number and name and wait. She asks for photo ID and I dig out my license, expecting to be given it back, ticket in tow. Then she asks for the credit card I use to purchase the ticket, but it doesn't seem like that strange of a request. Next she wants to know what seat I'm supposed to be in which is a little odd because I would have thought it would come up on her computer. I tell her that I booked the center stalls, row K and although I equate stalls with a public bathroom, she doesn't look at me like this sounds strange. Unfortunately, none of this information helps her to find my ticket, and she sends me to another window.

The first question the guy at the next window asks is which show I'm planning to see. I thought it was pretty obvious but apparently not. When I tell him Jerry Springer he just chuckles to himself and tells me that I'm in the wrong threatre. I'm about to be incredibly embarassed when he tells me that it happens all the time. Theatre advertising in Brighton seems to overlap quite a bit, and to be fair, there were flyers for the show I was going to see in the foyer of the theatre where I was standing. However, I was at the Brighton Theatre Royal, and needed to get to the Brighton Dome.

Yeah, there's the Theatre Royal...

I still felt like an idiot, but it was pretty funny I suppose. And there have been more embarassing moments since, so in perspective this one was pretty minor. I guess it's just one of those instances when you're reminded that you're a tourist.

For those of you that are curious, this is the back side of the Dome, which is literally across the street from the Royal. But back to the story...

So I head out from the theatre and round the corner to the ticket office for the Brighton Dome.

I'd show you the whole thing, but the street in front is torn up for construction and the giant red gates just aren't attractive.

I wasn't sure I was in the right spot, and then I saw the protestors. Yep, protestors. They weren't loud or rowdy, they just held signs and passed out pamphlets. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures for you... I was a little short on time.

The theatre was much smaller than the Lyceum Theatre where I saw The Lion King, but it was a good size for this show. It was also very ornate, but what theatre isn't I suppose.

The ceiling... well, a quarter of it, with a sepia tone. Looks a little unreal doesn't it?

And a quick shot of the inside just to show you the tile work that was pretty much every where.

I didn't notice until much later, but the tickets caution the use of strong language and within about a minute it's rather obvious why. The opera is much like the actual show, but with much more humor and rhyming. It's also interactive, they try to get you to cheer and chant and throw your hands in the air.

It was an interesting musical. Sometimes I wasn't quite sure what they were saying because it's opera, and because British slang is different than anything I've ever heard. There were certainly a few strong voices even if they weren't showcased as best as possible all the time.

Ultimately I can see why it's controversial, and why many would find it offensive. I was expecting it and took most of it as ridiculous exageration for the sake of humor. I also thought it raised some important issues about the representation of minorities and fringe culture, but no one really wants to hear that stuff so I'll skip it. I also found it interesting that this wasn't originally Jerry Springer's idea, and that he isn't making royalties off the show.

I guess I thought it was worth going to, but it's not my favorite. I'm not telling people that they have to go see it, but if it interests you I do think it was done well enough to entertain.

But The Lion King... now that's a musical.