Tuesday, July 5, 2011

¡Hola desde BARCELONA!

Tindall Sewell and Caroline Brown continue to explore Spain

Part 1
The past three days we have been in the beautiful and historical city of Barcelona. After arriving in the airport around 9 AM on Sunday morning, we settled in at the Colon Hotel in the plaza of central Barcelona, directly across from the cathedral and surrounded by little shops and restaurants. Although jet-lagged after an 8-hour flight out of Atlanta, we had the chance to explore the city on our own. After dodging several cars, Tindall and I quickly realized that the lights telling pedestrians when to walk and don’t walk across the street are actually the same as in America. We walked down many streets, including Las Ramblas, one of the most known streets in Barcelona. We weaved our way through a flood of people, while holding our purse close to our bodies, as Las Ramblas has the infamous reputation for having thieves and scam artists. Although dressed in gym shorts and a t-shirt, we tried our best not to look too much like American tourists, while observing the cafes, vendors, and musicians along the sides of la calle.

Monday morning! Trying to adjust to the time difference, we woke up at 7:15 a.m. for a nice run/sprints along the port with the soccer girls. After breakfast, the entire group went on a biking tour to explore the city. We had a very entertaining guide from Australia, who gave us a good idea of what Barcelona is all about. One of the things that surprised me the most was the cultural diversity. Even though Barcelona is part of Spain, the Catalonia roots are still very prominent. Not only was this seen through the language spoken in Barcelona, Catalan, but also through the presence of buildings and parks built by the Spanish to show their authority over and suppression of all Catalan culture. It is very interesting to me how so many of the places and sites we saw are influenced by the Spain/Catalan conflict. The Catalan identity is still present, and to this day, many people do not feel as if Catalonia is a part of Spain.

The bike tour was not on the hardest terrain, however, there were still several obstacles in our way. Whether we were going up narrow streets, riding in the bus lane, ringing the bells on our bikes, or being distracted by the beautiful views and unique architecture, we had to watch out for people because they were everywhere! We stopped by the cathedral, parks, a bullfight arena, and towards the end of the tour we ate lunch out by the beach. Later that day we visited one of Barcelona’s most famous attractions: La Sagrada Familia. This church is very unique, as it is the unfinished masterpiece of the famous artist and architect, Antoni Gaudí. It is a representation of Jesus’ life, as Gaudí shows the birth, crucifixion, and the 12 disciples in some form through his architecture. We were blown away. I have never seen any sort of church like this.

For dinner we had tapas - a new experience for both of us! At the countertop there were plates and plates of different tapas, similar to appetizers. Each was a piece of food on top of a piece of bread with a toothpick through the top.  Depending on how many toothpicks were on your plate at the end determined how much you had to pay. Half the time I didn’t even know what I was eating, but I guess that’s what makes the whole cultural experience worth it!

Part 2
Wednesday we traveled to Montserrat (meaning- serrated mountain), a side trip from Barcelona. Here we took a gondola up to a small town, where we saw the Catedral de la Virgin Negra. We also went on a beautiful hike up to a cross. The views at the top were incredible; looking out over the hills and mountains to the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees.  After this we took a metro back to the city of Barcelona. Tindall and I would agree that after a workout in the morning and a hike up a mountain, we were exhausted and ready for a nap. However, we still had not seen Park Güell, another one of Gaudi’s projects. While most of the group went back to the hotel, Tindall and I and a few others decided that we would just make a quick visit there to see what it’s all about. Well, little did we know that it would take over an hour to get there.  We think we took the wrong metro because we ended up having to walk a long ways and had to walk up a super steep street just to get to the entrance. This definitely challenged our navigational skills. Although it was like another hike, when we arrived, we were so glad we had decided to go. Park Güell is another representation of Gaudi’s incredible work and his influence on Spain. It was originally built to be a private garden neighborhood, but because it was so out of the ordinary, the government decided it would just be a park open to the public. There are houses (that kind of look like gingerbread houses) with colorful broken tiles, gardens, flowers, and structural design that looks like dripping sand castles. We took advantage of our time there, and on our way back, we stopped to get some ice cream and to buy a Spain soccer jersey. They knew we were Americans and tried to rip us off at first. Who knew that bargaining in Spanish could actually be kind of fun?

Now we are on our way to the great city of Madrid! We are stopping in Zaragoza on the way for lunch and to see the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar. El Pasoans reading this—this could be where we got the street name Zaragoza. We are excited for everything yet to come…We are in love with Spain.

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