Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Read the blog, and then come back and look at the photos...they will make more sense. And, you can click on the photos to see an enlarged version. Enjoy!

I finally arrived in Barcelona, after a long supposedly 4-hour train ride that somehow ended up being 5.5 hours. In the Barcelona Sants train station, I exited the long-distance train and navigated my way underground to the subway they call the 'Metro'. I hopped on the light green line to Catalunya and soon I was ascending the steps into the chaos of 'La Rambla". La Rambla is a part of town where there are about a million people wandering around (pickpockets included, so beware) looking at a bunch of crap for sale and watching street performers do their thing. I was prepared for the action because I'd already heard all about it so I just lowered my head and marched on through the sea of people until I finally found my hostel a few blocks away.

Hot, sweaty, dirty, and hungry, I checked into the Somnio hostel. In Latin, Somnio means 'to dream' and this hostel was, in fact, a dream! Honestly, in all of my travels around the world, I have never once stayed in a cleaner hostel. It was more like a sparkling, new hotel with dorm rooms than a dirty, old hostel. It was owned and run by a girl named Lee, who moved to Barcelona a couple of years ago with her sister (Lauren, whom I did not meet) to leave behind the world of investment banking and open up their own hostel chain. Lee was fabulous - not only was she there working the desk, but she was full of valuable information and was truly interested in helping her patrons enjoy their time in Barcelona. She also happened to be very tall and very beautiful....but I digress. Over the next 3 nights and 4 days, I used the Somnio as my home base for my exploration of Barcelona. I didn't really bond with anyone at that particular hostel, though there were a few nice folks staying there at the same time, so I ended up seeing the city by myself.

One day, I just cruised around without a plan, getting lost on foot, knowing that I had a few bucks in my pocket and a map I could use to get home just in case it came to that. I just wandered around the typically Spanish crazy maze of streets, browsing through stores now and then, eating or drinking something that sounded interesting now and then, seeing the more important touristy things, but most of all just getting a feel for the city by being in it. Barcelona was very expensive, but well worth it; it's a beautiful city, situated right on the Mediterranean Sea and with a very mild climate.

I saw the Picasso Museum which was quite interesting. I had no idea Pablo Picasso had been so prolific an artist. There were thousands of drawings and hundreds of paintings...and still there are many, many others in different museums throughout Spain and around the world. Note to any of you that plan to visit: don't try to take a picture when you're upstairs at the museum, even if you haven't yet entered the exhibits: security guards get really pissed, really quickly, and make you feel like a Spanish jail cell is in your very immediate future if you even THINK of snapping that precious photo you want to show everyone back keep it in your pocket! Yes, I know this from first-hand experience.

What else did I see in Barcelona? Well, I went to the beach, which was really great, though not as good as in Valencia. There were a ton of people...and why is it always the old, nasty, leather-skinned women that decide to be topless? Ick. Fortunately, I found an open spot to lay my towel beside a cute, 20-something girl (with a bikini, mom). We didn't talk, but just smiled and each enjoyed our own space. Good karma must have been raining down on me (perhaps for showing such gentlemanly restraint and not staring at this gorgeous girl) because after about a half hour she just up and removed her top and soaked up the sunshine without a care in the world. Why can't American girls be so free and uninhibited? If we saw it all the time, we wouldn't feel the NEED to stare. Ok, we probably still would. And yes, I'm still pissed off that before I left the beach, I decided to walk the length of it. I knew I should've just left, but no, I had to see the whole thing, and that was when I had the unfortunate experience of stumbling onto the nude, gay beach. I felt like a piece of meat because there wasn't any gentlemanly restraint being exhibited here such as I had shown, these boys stared hard at me (NO pun intended, truly!!). Whatever floats your boat, judgment...but, hey, I'm out of here. And now, I am deleting that part of my memory and ending it at the part where the young hottie removes her bikini top again. Yeah, that's better!

Antoni Gaudi's amazing architecture was a focal point of the city...or should I say focal POINTS?! In addition to a handful of odd Gaudi-designed Modernist houses/buildings polka-dotting the city, the main two sights are his Parc Guell and La Sagrada Familia. La Sagrada Familia is a church that was started in 1882 but is not yet completed. Gaudi died in 1926 after he got run over by a tram and, in 1938, anarchists destroyed the only copy of the blueprints being used to finish construction. So, over the years, more and more parts have been finished, but it's still not scheduled to be finished until (optimistically, I hear) the year 2026. I did not go inside La Sagrada Familia, choosing instead to just photograph it from the outside, because I heard it was not much to see due to the construction. The outside, however, was just covered in crazy, Catholic sculptures depicting various religious scenes and historical figures. The new construction looks similar, yet quite different from the original, and apparently there are a lot of critics voicing their opinions on how Gaudi would turn over in his grave if he saw the church's evolution...yet I understand an equal number of people think it's just exactly what Gaudi would have had in mind. See the photos above - one is of the older side of the church and one is of the modern side being constructed. Click on them and look more closely at the detail in the sculptures.

Parc Guell was actually not planned to be a public park. In fact, Gaudi was commissioned by some rich dude named Guell to build a huge, hillside housing playpen for the rich and famous. When the project ran out of money after only two houses were built, Gaudi moved into one of them and at some point it was converted into a municipal park. Gaudi's style incorporated a lot of magical mosaics and curved lines and at first glance, it appears that his buildings and sculptures would easily crumble. The site of the park on the hillside is stellar, affording sweeping vistas of the entire city of Barcelona and the distant Mediterranean.

While I was there, I was wandering around in a section of the park with cavernous ceilings supported by pillars that appear to be composed of loose rock (somehow I trusted they were actually solidly constructed) when I happened upon a pretty girl playing guitar and singing. As I was the only person around, I dropped a Euro coin into her guitar case and sat down to listen to the music and reflect on my journey. When she stopped, we started talking and after discovering that I play the guitar too, she offered me her instrument and sat there smiling while I played and sang for HER. We traded back and forth, each playing a couple of songs at a time, for probably 30-40 minutes. At that point, she had to get going to work so she walked with me through the park and pointed out various things along the way of interest. We had someone snap a picture of us at a place which overlooked the city (though the guy who took the photo didn't really capture any of the gorgeous view!!) and traded emails and went our separate ways. And yes, her name was María too. :)

(See the three Parc Guell pics above: one is María playing guitar, one is a mosaic dragon at the park entrance, and one is a view of one of the crazy Gaudi buildings and the city and sea lurking in the distance.)

Oh yeah...Gema and I were going to meet up in Barcelona, remember? Well, we arranged a meeting at the Arc de Triomphe (yes, the French one isn't the only one) one evening at 800 pm. I got there....waited....waited...waited....and she never showed up. At 900, I decided that maybe she'd meant to meet her at the METRO STOP for the Arc de Triomphe instead of at the Arc itself (see photo) so I walked the one block over there hoping to find her. I didn't. The next day, we were able to connect via email and actually did meet up at a different place. As it turns out, she had arrived at the Arc Metro stop at 800 and had waited until 900, at which time she thought that maybe she needed to go look for me at the Arc itself. Somehow we didn't pass each other on the way. But, as I said, I did get to sit with her over dinner the next night for about an hour and a half before I boarded the 10pm overnight train to Pamplona. She was so sweet too, insisting on walking with me to the metro and going down into the tunnel to wait with me for my train instead of running off to meet her work friends. I took the opportunity to try to convince her to come visit Portland someday...she seemed interested and perhaps she'll come out for a Western U.S. National Park trip next year.

Oh, and check out the picture above of the rental bike rack...there are racks like this all over Barcelona (and Seville and Madrid) and you see ALL the locals using these bikes. They pay a monthly rental, and they can take a bike anytime they want from any rack they want...and return it to a rack near where they are going. So convenient and an inexpensive way to travel quickly around town. It's a little amazing that the bikes don't get stolen or vandalized like they probably would here in the U.S. Anyway, as a tourist, I was not their target customer so I got to use my own two feet on the ground instead of on their pedals....oh well.

Next....the Running of the Bulls, in Pamplona, Spain. Oh my God. Just wait for this...