Thursday, April 29, 2010

Barcelona, Spain

Oh, first world luxuries, you have no idea how much I have missed you!  Things that I would have thought  trivial months ago are now so wonderfully appreciated after four months of travel….bathroom stall hooks to hang my purse on.  Not having to supply my own toilet paper.  Restaurant waiters who know to bring your drink out before your meal.  The Fray and Snow Patrol on the stereo at a tapas bar.  Aged hard goat’s milk cheese and delicious dark red wine served in a properly broad-rimmed glass.  Guinness on tap.  And gasp!- are drivers actually driving in the painted lanes and stopping for pedestrians?

We’re both surprised by how much we like Barcelona.  It’s such a beautiful city, full of old world European charm and new-world hipness.  It’s an architectural and city planning marvel.  I’m walking around with my head cocked up to stare at the rooflines and facades of all the beautifully preserved historic architecture (another first-world luxury- I don’t need to worry about stepping in something when I’m not looking at my feet).

So many welcoming public spaces, carefully designed by architects who knew how to do it (Boston- please take note!!).  Tree lined streets.  Bike lanes galore.  Fountains and street markets and public art.  Street intersections are octagonal instead of square; the corner of the four buildings at the intersection are each clipped to open up the space, creating more storefronts, more parking space, bringing in more light.  Thousand year old fortress walls and cathedrals are effortlessly woven together with curvy 1930s Art Deco buildings and glassy modern additions.

We’re here for four days, and we’ve rented a studio apartment in the Barri Gotic neighborhood, an area of mostly pedestrian lanes, old churches, funky student cafes, and adorable neighborhood restaurants.  We’ve been enjoying late lunches and light tapas dinners, sangria, and paper-thin slices of cured ham.  We’ve wandered through all kinds of street markets- antiques, original paintings, organic produce, artisinal cheeses.  The graffiti here is artsy and only adds to the cool vibe.

We’ve enjoyed exploring (and sometimes accidentally stumbling upon) all of Gaudi’s amazing architecture: funky outdoor sculptural spaces in Park Guell, the slightly creepy Casa Batllo (with balconies that look like skulls), and of course the incredible, intimidating, towering Sagrada Familia.  It’s the most massive building I’ve seen in a long time, and it’s hard to imagine how much more awe-inspiring it’ll be when the tallest central tower is constructed.  It’s been perpetually under construction since the late 1800s and there‘s no telling when it will be finished, since the construction continues only as the funds become available from donations and ticket fees.

The piles of cut granite waiting to be put into place, the interior coating of plaster dust, and the tower cranes remind me of what I enjoy about my job back home.  The complexity of erecting such a complicated structure, the multi-disciplinary challenge of merging Gaudi’s hundred-year artistic vision with structural science.  There’s scaffolding everywhere, it’s a Saturday so the hand tools have been abandoned for the weekend.  It must be so cool to be one of the 300 laborers or craftsmen working here every day.  I envy the architects and construction managers  who get to orchestrate all of this.  It actually made me think- it’ll be sort of cool to get back to work when we get home…

We were looking forward to meeting up with Adam and Ryan from Boston.  Unfortunately, their hopes for a leisurely Spanish vacation were dashed by travel nightmares created by Europe’s volcanic ash fisaco.  They ended up stranded in Dublin halfway from Boston, and finally made it to Barcelona three days late after a taxi ride through Ireland, an 18-hour ferry to France, and two days of driving south into Spain in a ridiculously price-inflated rental car- their very own John Candy and Steve Martin adventure.   Meanwhile, they *begged* Mohit and I to take advantage of the Barcelona- Espana tickets they weren’t going to be able to use.  Ah well, if we have to, I guess we can make room in our busy travel schedule to enjoy some ninth-row action and the crazy European soccer fans.  We had a blast (thanks Adam and Ryan!).

We also really enjoyed our decadent night out on the town once Adam and Ryan finally made it- here we are early in the evening, before the real fun started…

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