Barcelona

gothic-barcelonaBarcelona is awash with sunny beaches, breathtaking art, great food, and an electric nightlife make it the Spanish city beloved by many.
Touring the Gothic quarter of Barcelona, you’ll encounter the remains of Roman settlements and reminders of the Spanish civil war, rich with history of years long past.

Walking through the old town and nearby Le Born lets you stumble upon alcoves, alleyways, and plazas that feel like personal discoveries. Narrow, winding alleyways are plentiful in Barcelona and throughout many parts of Europe, adding an intimacy to even big cities that is lacking in most of the US.

space-invader-barcelonaLook sharp and you might even spot some of the famous  space invader mosaic street art!

There are a number of free walking tours in Barcelona travelers can take advantage of. I started off with Travel Bar’s walking tour of the Gothic quarter, in which you can learn some of Barcelona’s fascinating history and Roman influence, hear about the city’s patron saints, and be shown where Christopher Columbus went to meet with King and Queen Isabella about his voyage to India. Or America. Probably the best screw up ever.

Castling

castling-in-barcelonaWhile in Barcelona I also was able to witness the Catalan sport of ‘castling’ in which patriotic Catalans practice the old tradition of stacking themselves on one another’s shoulders  to create human towers.

The tops of these human towers are adorned with tiny children, usually around age 5, who shimmy up trembling bodies and legs. The young castaller is the only participant who wears a helmet-the rest rely on the pile of supporters at the bottom, who create a human safety net to catch and cushion the fall of castalers.

Castling is a very uniquely Catalan tradition, and it’s something you can’t pass up if you have the chance to witness it.

Barcelona’s Gaudi

The architecture of Antoni Gaudi is nearly synonyms with the city of Barcelona—Gaudi has contributed many well-known gems that have heightened the city’s fame. I learned about Gaudi’s works and life through Running Bean’s free Gaudi Walking, in which we toured some of the Catalan artist’s best known architectural pieces.

Each of Gaudi’s masterpieces throughout the city is impressive in its own right: Casa Batllo, the colorful and lively house which some say illustrates the story of Barcelona’s knight George battling against a dragon, with the monstrous lizard’s curved scales forming the roof, with the bones of the dragon’s victims holding up the bottom levels of the house.

Casa Mila is another Gaudi architectural masterpiece, albeit somewhat ominous and gloomy. Park Guell is another incredible Gaudi piece, with many comparing the park’s oddly shaped buildings and candy-colored creatures and mosaics to what you’d expect in an amusement park. In Park Guell you can truly sense Gaudi’s appreciation of nature and love of the organic, with pathways and overhangs integrated into the earth.

Sagrada Familia

I found Gaudi’s most impressive architectural piece to be the famous Sagrada Familia Church. The intricacy of the figures, carvings, and towers is truly spectacular. You could spend hours reading the story of Christ’s birth on the Nativity Facade, with detailed statues and images that make up just the East side of the church.

Each side of the church represents a different aspect of Christ’s life. There’s the Nativity façade to the East, the Passion façade to the West, and the Glory façade to the South (this side has yet to be completed).

Looking at it from below, it is a awe-inspiring yet strange looking church, done in true Gaudi style. Though the church is already an impressive height, it’s not even close to being finished- Gaudi’s beloved Sagrada Familia, which he devoted much of the second half of his life to, isn’t expected to be completed until at least 2030, probably much later.

Part of my fascination with Sagrada Familia lies in Gaudi’s complete devotion to it.  Single-minded and devoutly Catholic,  he never left the construction site of his church, except to go to mass across the street. Ironically enough, that is how he died; crossing the street to attend mass, he was hit by a trolley.

Never one for wealth or excess, Gaudi didn’t dress like a famous modern artist of his time. In fact, he was quiet unkempt and dirty, which is why the trolley driver, rather than call for an ambulance or help, simply dragged him to the side of the road, thinking him to be a drunk homeless man, whose life was of no importance.

When his friends finally discovered him days later in a run-down hospital for the poor and destitute, they tried to bring him to a better hospital, but he claimed that if this was how the poor and beloved of God died, he wanted to die here as well. And he did.

Gaudi was determined to make a masterpiece of a church to glorify God. It already is an impressive structure, and I hope one day I can see it finished in all its glory. Rarely in recent days does faith go hand in hand with artistry. As an artistically-inclined individual myself, it was inspiring to see Gaudi’s faith combined with his creative skills and ambition. Someday Gaudi might even become a saint, as some have already claimed to have had miracles performed by his spirit (one of the requirements for sainthood is proven, documented miracles).
Ultimately, Barcelona was a beautiful city —full of culture, sunshine, art, and wonder.

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Fourth of July in A Coruna: A Galician Celebration

Here is the long overdue coverage of my forth of July:

What an unusual forth of July! Truly this year’s celebration of my nation’s independence is not one I’ll soon forget.

American ex-pat and long time friend Jaclyn was eager to plan our fourth of July gathering. Jaclyn, her Spanish friend Ricard, and I, decided to visit Jaclyn’s friends Lorena and Maxi who live outside A Coruna and take advantage of their barbecue pit and pool.

At the market we did the best we could to buy proper 4th of July meats. Even our best was a bit off the mark though–we bought chorizo sausages, hamburgesas, and chicken wings that resembled their living counterparts a bit too much for my comfort. We also got potatoes and their sweet potato cousins, bananas, and chocolate. And beer of course–Estrella Galicia, the much improved Bud Light of Galicia.

Arriving at Lorena and Maxi’s house, I found much more than a barbecue bit–instead there was an impressive stove that Jaclyn told me was extra-Galician, even boasting a Camino-de-Santiago shell.
While the food cooked, we lounged by the pool. The always-changing Galician weather was sunny and warm one minute, cool and mild the next, but never quite hot enough for swimming.

I was lucky enough to be serenaded by my company, all accomplished musicians. Maxi strummed the guitar, Ricard played the flute, and Jaclyn her viola. The three played old Galician tunes and improvised fun pieces while I relaxed and re-discovered the benefits of musically inclined friends. Worthy of the Boston Pops!

When the food was ready, we dined on chorizo dogs with Tabasco sauce between baguette bread, hamburgers which tasted remarkably unlike the hamburgers of America, but good none the less, and chicken. When Ricard pulled out more than few feathers still attached to the chicken wings, I was a bit put off, but the meat was soft and tasty. For desert we had chocolate melted in banana–a new treat for me and a new favorite!

In the afternoon we played with the incredibly adorable Neno dog who I couldn’t stop petting due to his incredible cuteness. Small body and big headed, he was a strange looking but charming little mutt. Neno was especially fond of Jaclyn, and tried to “get intimate” with her numerous times. Not today Neno!

I won a game of croquet (how I haven’t played this more, I have no idea–it’s so fun!) and played a new card game with special Spanish cards. Finally at 11 we decided it was time to head back to the city…but the night wasn’t quite over!
Upon reaching A Coruna, we decided for one last drink and late night snack, so we stopped by a nearby bar. Outside at the table next to us, a group of men were playing music, one with a guitar, one with a box drum, and another with home-made maracas.

They noticed Jaclyn’s viola and Ricard’s flute and asked them to join in. Soon I was surrounded by a musical ensemble that well represented the Spanish mindset of enjoying food, drink, and fun. It wasn’t a day I could easily imagining happening in the US, and for that I was thankful. It was a truly special and unforgettable fourth of July!

Split, Croatia & Medjugorje Beginnings

Wow, talk about running behind schedule… half way through my trip and not a single blog post!

I’ve been busier than I expected, and short on writing time. I’ll give you a brief synopsis of my past few days, then we can backtrack later on.

Last week I took the ferry from Ancona, Italy to Split, Croatia. The ferry was a blast – they had cafes, a night club-esk area, a grocery store, and even a little chapel!

I paid for a bed in 4 person cabin, but it ended up just being me and one other girl. It was pretty cool – we even had our own bathroom and shower in the cabin.

Frolicking about the decks before the ferry left, I couldn’t help but feel like I was on the Titanic- maybe just because I’ve never been on a cruise ship before. This brings me to another realization I’ve had recently – I really romanticize the Titanic too much. I saw the movie at the age when themes of forbidden love and tragedy were still fascinating wonders for me. I think these feelings have had residual effects.  I sat with Jaclyn on the beach a few weeks back in Spain, and as we gazed out at the ships far off at sea, I sighed dreamily and said, “Gosh, I wish I had been on the Titanic.” NO MEGAN you do not wish you were on the Titanic. Come back to Earth.

Aaanywho, it was quite lovely sitting on the sunny ferry deck sipping a beer as we left port. Ended up getting into a conversation with a chatty girl from Colorado who was very into being vegan. We had a good long chat and she’s convinced me to begin a meatless Mondays routine.

After dozing off to the hum of engines beneath my stomach, I woke up to our arrival in Split, Croatia! Split is quite beautiful – distant mountains backdrop charming old world buildings and ancient Roman structures, made perfect by the clear, green waters surrounding it all.

Loved my stay at Hostel Split Wine Garden. Host Nola is an incredible human being who goes out of her way to help guests, whether it being in advising delicious restaurants, sites & plans, or activities. She was a huge help!

My first night I met a gang of aussies from Sydney and Melbourne- so nice to hear the accents again! We swapped drinking tales and then grabbed dinner together at Fefes, a nice food spot close to the hostel. I had a Croatian dish “Pasticada”, composed of the always loveable gnocchi with slices of soft, long-marinated beef with a goulash-like sauce. Fantastic!

The next day I was sad to see my new aussie pals  go, as they were all heading out on a party cruise arrangement that sounded like a blast. As much as I would love to do something like this, that’s one thing that’s a bit different about traveling alone- you have to be careful about drinking. Def. shouldn’t get drunk with strangers. It’s sad but it’s just not safe. Would love to do one of those cruises with a friend one day though.

The day started off a bit skewed- I went to go meet for a free walking tour, but got very lost and missed it. Then I thought I’d at least go to a museum I had heard was good. It was tricky to find, and after wandering around in the hot sun for an hour or two, I found it- CLOSED!

I wasn’t so bothered though – wandering in a new city is half the fun. I checked out some of the Roman ruins (they leave their old junk EVERYWHERE! How rude!) and practiced my new favorite past time of Kindle & Coffee breaks.

For the afternoon I took off to check out a park I heard was cool. Turns out this park is made entirely out of stairs. God honest truth – I have never seen so many stairs. Some evil person decided to make a park on a mountainside. What a terrible place to make a park! I’ll admit though, it provided some spectacular vistas from the top. But after 10 minutes I was covered in sweat. By the time I got back to my hostel, I was soaked.That’s when I decided it was beach time!

I headed out for the beach, opting to head to the less crowded but more pebbly peaches rather than the packed sandy ones. I got a gelato on the way (I’ve had one everyday since leaving Italy. Twice today actually). Lots of stuff is super cheap in Croatia – gelato is about one euro. You can see the danger here.

It ended up being quite a hike down to the beach, but it was cool. Lots of big stones and old walls. I watched some young dare-devilish young boys leap off of a banister, past a sidewalk, and down into the waters several feet below.

Though these beaches were said to be the less crowded ones, they were still pretty packed with bodies – I can only imagine the other beach. The pebbly beaches reminded me of my times as a kid at Keuka lake.

I was especially excited to take a dip because someone at the hostel had left behind a snorkeling set that I took for my own (yes, I cleaned it first!) As a kid I use to stay in the water for hours. Like with many things, water play lost most of its magic as I transitioned into adulthood. But when I jumped into that warm, blue-green water with my snorkeling gear on, it felt like I was a kid again, exploring the mysteries of the deep.

Let me be clear, at least around this area of Split, there isn’t much to look at in the way of underwater majesty – just some basic silvery fish and mounds of sea-plants. But seeing it all with goggles – it really adds a whole new world. I now remember how when I was little, I NEVER went swimming without my goggles – those pink-rimmed plastic eye-nose goggles were my 2nd face. It makes sense now – goggles add such an awesome dimensions to swimming! I was once again searching for lost treasure, encountering sea monsters thought extinct long ago. It was great!

After my swim, I went back and met my new hostel roommates – a young 18 year old girl from Cali, two guys from Britain, and two other young girls from Belgium. I ended up going with them to Fefes again (I do regret going here twice. It was good but I wish i had tried something else), this time getting these tasty little sausage things.

We grabbed some beers and played 21 and a weird version of Kings I wasn’t too thrilled about. Then we went out on the town.

On the streets was an AWESOME street band, with these three very chill looking guys just rocking out in the best way possible. One had a harmonica, another had that drum box you sit on. The singer played guitar and had one of those old kinda wonky Elvis-like microphones. Anyway, they were just SO GREAT and really engaging, making everyone sing along and dance. I lost it when they made us all sing “The Bird’s The Word”- SO FUN!

Eventually we moved on to some dance clubs. You know how those aren’t my thing- pretty eh. I got roped into a tequila shot, but stopped the night there. Like I said, you DO have to be cautious traveling alone – really shouldn’t get drunk. It’s important to stay in control of a situation like that when you are in a foreign country with no one you know for sure you can count on. Somehow though we didn’t end up getting back till 5am. It was rough this morning when I woke up at 8am to make sure I got a ticket for my 11am bus to Medjugorje.

Oh yes, Medjugorje. It’s an apparition site where Mary appeared to some young kids on a mountain and now appears to them every day (they are grown now). There’s more to it than that but that’s the jist of it. Anyway, Mom was adamant about me going, and considering I’ve already hit up a few of these sites, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to boost my standings. Ended up being a MUCH longer bus ride than I anticipated though – 4 hours in a poorly air conditioned bus with sleep deprivation and curvy roads is not a fun time.

Finally wound up in Medjugorje this afternoon. It’s nice to now have a quiet little room to myself (with AC!) that Mom was kind enough to buy for me. It’s cheap anyway though – only 15 euro a night for a private which is unheard of in most areas. The family is super nice. My host Vinko dropped me off in town. I kind of prayed along to some rosary and then attended mass. Well, it was mass in Croatian. And I tried, I really did, but you know, it’s not easy when you have NO CLUE what anyone is saying, and the priest seems happy to have an extra long homily.

It was nice enough for awhile because it was outside- the sun was setting and there was a lovely breeze, and I was quite content, even not understanding anything. But then I realized everyone else had headphone/radio things to listen in their own language, leaving me to feel foolish and silly. I also felt like at this point I was doing more harm than good, so I left and grabbed some dinner for my hungry belly. Super cheap – just 4 euro for a whole personal pizza and drink. The restaurant was also close enough to the church that I could still hear it all, so I think it counts.

Now I’m back at my place, getting ready to watch some much needed streaming TV and hit the hay.

Peace!

 

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