We woke up before the sun and headed to the station since we had a long day of travel ahead of us. We went from Marseille to Nice, which passed quickly since we quickly passed out. From Nice, France we traveled to Ventimiglia, Italy where we had a couple hour layover. We were both hungry so we headed out into the city. It was an amazing sunny day, and we were walking around in short sleeves, soaking up the nice weather. We found a park and strolled around, finding a bridge with a view up into the mountains.
We then sat down for lunch and ordered typical Italian fare of pasta and bread before heading back to the station. From Ventimiglia we traveled to Genova. The Italian coastline was stunning as we traveled from one hidden cove to the next, bobbing in and out of the sunlight. The Italians and french blasted thousands of miles of tunnel through the countryside, in order to be able to run train lines. Every eight minutes or so you’d be plunged into darkness only to emerge in a new magical place. The train that we were riding had cabins rather than rows of seating, and it instantly reminded us of Harry Potter. Yes it’s nerdy, but it was the exact same! Right before we arrived a kid around age 16 ducked into our cabin and struck up conversation. Within a minute he was offering us weed and wondered if we wanted to party with him that night. We had absolutely no interest and when we got to the station tried to ditch him, but he stuck with us. After a couple failed attempts to get away from him, he took the hint and moved on.
From Genova we headed to Pisa and then onto Florence. While in Marseille we had booked our hostel, but forgot to get the directions from the train station to there. When we got to Florence we needed to get internet, and the only place that had it was McDonalds. We had a pact to not eat fast food, and wanted to avoid McDonalds at all costs, but we’ve found that they provide a service that we absolutely need. Not only are they everywhere, but they’re the only place that offers free wi-fi. [Side note: we say wi-fi (Why-Fye), but in Europe they call it (Wee-Fee) which is funny] We got our directions and walked about a half hour to our hostel. We got in, got our room, I did the whole portfolio/not sleep much thing, and called it a night.
Marseilles – Nice
Nice – Ventimiglia
Ventimiglia – Genova
Genova – Pisa
Pisa – Florence
At first we weren’t exactly sure of how the whole train system would work, especially with our pass. We had purchased the Eurail global pass, but we didn’t know exactly how it worked. With our passes we received a booklet of train times from each city. Next to certain routes there is a small [R] which means we had to pay for a reserved seat instead of just walking on. These reservations cost around 5-10 euros depending on the trip and was much less expensive than the normal ticket price.
The first big destination that we wanted to see was Florence, Italy, so that was where we were headed, but there is no direct route there. Not even close. The southern coast of France is a twisted mess of trains, small secluded towns and cliffs, so we faced our first navigational test of how to get to Italy as quickly as possible. Our first trip was from Barcelona to Figueres. The train was fairly nice and we got there quickly. We then boarded a train from Figueres to Montpellier which left 10 minutes after we arrived.
This ride was when we decided that train travel is infinitely better than air travel. Besides being slower there is no downside to trains. You get much more leg room and Taylor and I were usually able to get seats around a table. Trains also have outlets so we were able to charge things if needed and I was able to use my laptop (my battery is faulty, so I need to be plugged in to use it for more than 10 minutes). When we arrived in Montpellier we thought that we were going to spend the night there, but caught one more train to Marseilles. At the Montpellier train station we found wi-fi and reserved a hostel in Marseille for the night. We also got sandwiches called “Le American” from a vendor outside which were amazing and had French fries and everything delicious packed into it. We made a pact that we would not eat fast food or at chains during our whole trip, and have so far been successful.
We arrived in Marseille and found the hostel within minutes. It was run by a tired/crazy looking Frenchman, and we were shown to our room. We had a couple celebratory beers at the bar in the hostel, then went to bed since we had to get up for another long day of travel. I once again had to work on my portfolio and got around two hours of sleep.
Barcelona – Figueres
Figueres – Montpellier
Montpellier – Marseille
Taylor arrived Christmas morning and I met him at the airport. My host-parents let me stay an extra day at their house and are holding my luggage during my travels. We went from the airport to the train station and sat down to plan the first stage of our journey. Since our trip was going to be a big circle, and our flights home were from Barcelona, we had two directions that we could head. We could start with Paris and head north, or head into Italy. I had looked at the weather for both sides and the forecast for Italy was 10 days of sunshine while the north end had 10 days of rain….our decision was pretty simple. We went to our hostel and dropped off our backpacks, then began to explore the city. Taylor had never been to Barcelona before, so I was able to show him what I had learned. Since it was Christmas day, we weren’t able to go into any of the main attractions since they were closed, but we took a good tour of all of the free sites. We made it up to Park Guell and got another great view of the city.
After covering three quarters of the city and flying across the world, Taylor was fairly tired, and we were both a little burned out from finals, so we headed back to the hostel for an easy night. I’m in the process of applying to graduate schools, so I had to stay up and try and finish my portfolio before the January 1st deadline. For the previous three weeks I had gotten less than five hours of sleep a night, and my portfolio was still keeping me up. It still hadn’t hit us that the trip that we had been planning for so long had finally begun. We were still in school mode, not vacation/travel mode.
The next day we woke up and headed to the train station thinking that we were going to reserve our tickets for the following day, but once we got to the station decided that we should leave the same day. We wanted to see the rest of Barcelona, but decided to have that day at the end of our trip instead, making sure we were back in time for our flights. We got on the train and our adventures began.
People in Spain don’t enjoy drinking water. I realize that’s a strong blanket statement, but from everything I’ve seen it seems to be true! People don’t carry around water bottles, even though they don’t drink from their tap water. Everyone who’s staying in a home-stay says that their families all buy bottled water, and only use their tap to do dishes and laundry. My family has a large wine rack filled with 1.5 liter bottles (about 45 stocked at a time). When I eat dinner, my host-mom sometimes forgets to give me a glass for water, since the rest of the family doesn’t drink anything. There is a huge disconnect between eating and drinking. If you’re eating a meal, you usually don’t drink anything. If you’re drinking, you usually make an event out of the drink and don’t order food. That was one of the hardest things to get used to. Collectively Americans seem to drink a lot more water than Spaniards (at least based off of the study abroad students).
Coming from Wisconsin, I enjoy most dairy products. At school I can go through a gallon of milk in under three days. When I first went grocery shopping I couldn’t find the milk. I walked up and down all of the isles, and was very confused. It turns out that they don’t refrigerate their milk here, and instead store it on the shelves. I guess it’s treated somehow, but I really don’t like the concept of unrefrigerated diary. I tried it the first day, and it tasted kind of funny, so I haven’t had a sip of milk since day 1.
Going along with the lack of public drinking water, if you have to go to the bathroom while out and about, you’re S.O.L. The only place with a bathroom seems to be McDonalds. Good old Micky-D’s, providing a public service.
Every day I take the metro to and from school. The public transportation system in Barcelona is awesome. It covers everywhere you need to go, and it is rarely late. The stations are kept quite clean, and there isn’t usually a large crowd waiting for the trains. I was getting onto the metro the other day and realized that there was not a single drop of color on the entire thing. Every single person was wearing some shade of black & white. It was such a stark contrast with the summer months, when everyone was decked out in color, and the city was vibrantly alive. As soon as the first cool breeze hit the city everybody seems to have stuffed their color into the back of their closets and pulled out their winter clothes. I find it funny because I’m still wearing a long sleeve shirt, and people around me are wearing winter jackets, hats, and scarves. I occasionally get strange looks.
Speaking of the metro, there aren’t very many seats and are usually full, making the majority of people stand. Many older people use the metro since it’s so efficient, and without exception somebody always offers their seat. It’s pretty remarkable. Now I’m not talking about a senile old geezer, but somebody who looks like they could even possibly, potentially, kind of maybe need a seat. I’ve seen that sometimes in the U.S, but here it’s the rule.
Something that I’m going to miss when I head back home is the greetings. If you’re a woman you kiss everyone on the cheek, and as a man you shake men’s hands. It was strange at first, because I had never met these people and had to kiss them on the cheeks. The first group of people I was introduced to had just finished dancing and were sweaty, so it wasn’t ideal, but it sure broke the ice quickly. I don’t know you, but now I’ve got your sweat on my face….that’s just how it goes. Greetings are so much more personal. People’s personal space is much smaller and they like to touch each other as they talk. Hand gestures are flung left and right. I’ll miss the closeness of strangers. Unless they’re sick strangers….then they better watch themselves.
Looking back down my page, I realize that I haven’t actually written very much about my Spanish Adventures. Life has gotten in the way. I’ve had a few more trips, but I want to talk about some differences in Spanish culture. After being here for a couple of months I feel like I’ve become part of their society to some extent. Spanish culture is beautiful, and here are some of the differences that I’ve noticed.
To start, when you arrive to Spain you immediately notice the slightly slower pace of life. Very few things start when they’re supposed to, and everyone seems to move just a tiny bit slower. I think the majority of the time things don’t start on time is because when people are walking down the street and see someone they know, it’s culturally impossible to not stop and talk for a few minutes. The Spanish culture seems to value relationships over strict adherence to time schedules. I was talking with my host-dad the other week and I was mentioning how it was funny to be eating dinner and see the clock read 10:15 pm. That lead into how we read time. My-host dad really enjoys trying to speak in English, so he asked me how to say 7:15, 7:30, 7:45 etc. Yet he only asked about the 15 minute increments. We talked a little more, and I learned that even in Spanish people only like to think in 15 minute segments. There doesn’t seem to be any use of the time 5:12 for example. This means that if you want something to start at 7:00, you had better not expect anybody until 7:15 at the earliest, since everyone is always late, and usually think in 15 minute intervals.
The photos that I’m going to be putting in this post were taken for one of my classes. I took all of these photos with the camera at waist level and without looking through the viewfinder. It was really fun trying to frame the photo without knowing how it would turn out. I’m happy with the results.
The traffic lights in Barcelona are fairly strange. They’re not your typical red-yellow-green. In some places yes, but on many corners it’s merely a yellow light that flashes. This means that drivers can take turns on red, and only have to stop if there is a pedestrian. It’s fairly unnerving to be walking across the road, see a car coming at you, and not knowing if they’re going to stop. The pedestrian signs are also timed fairly quickly. In the U.S the green man lets you walk, the hand will flash for about 10 seconds, and the red man will stop you from walking. Here, if you see the warning sign to stop walking, you have about 2 seconds until the cars will be allowed to go. There’s very little time to finish crossing the street if you’re in the middle.
The eating schedule is quite different from what I’m used to. Most Spaniards have a tiny breakfast, if they eat anything at all. My host-family wakes up, showers, and goes to work/school. Breakfast isn’t important at all, but is made up for by their lunch. It is the largest meal of the day for most people, and consists of a three course meal. They usually eat around 2-4 pm, and will have a small snack sometime in the morning. Dinner is eaten around 9-11 pm, and is slightly smaller than what I’m used to. I’ve gotten used to this cycle, and I prefer it over the U.S system because it’s meant for a culture that stays up late, rather than wakes up early.
Spaniards enjoy their food, and take time to prepare, enjoy and consume it. The market is an important fixture here because it’s something you visit on a daily, not weekly basis. You buy what you need for the next day or two, instead of stocking up for the next month. Their grocery carts are usually very small, or are hand carts. Once people pay for their food, they load it into the cart that they brought with them. It seems that EVERY person in this city has one of these. They’re all exactly the same, except for a different color. It’s hard to walk down the street without seeing someone towing one of these.
Continued in part 2.
This past weekend two friends and I traveled to Portugal. When we were making plans for that weekend, it was a fairly spur of the moment decision, and we figured Portugal would simply be a smaller version of Spain. To all of our benefits, we were wrong.
All of the travel to Portugal went smooth, and we arrived in Lisbon on Friday at 9:00am, leaving a full day for adventuring. When we got to the airport, we realized that we were in a foreign country and couldn’t speak the language….you can see how strongly we assumed it was like Spain. We found the bus that would lead us to our hostel, and enjoyed the ride downtown. Lisbon is fairly similar to Barcelona except there is more poverty and there is way more green space and parks. We initially had a little trouble finding our hostel, but got checked in without a problem. We stayed at the “My Home” hostel which is right smack in the middle of everything we’d want to see, and it absolutely felt like home. The staff were great, everything was clean, and it was cheap! College student paradise. Within minutes of checking in, the sunny streets of Lisbon pulled us back outside, ready to be explored. Lisbon isn’t a very touristy city in the sense that they don’t market themselves and haven’t prepared to handle foreigners, which makes the city feel much more authentic and undisturbed. We didn’t have the typical tourist map and simply wandered where our hearts desired. Naturally our noses and stomachs led us to a tiny shop high on a hill where only old Portuguese men were eating (old native people eating at a restaurant is a guarantee that the food is good). We each chose a different local pastry which were all delicious, and the prices were very cheap.
After hours of wandering we headed back to the hostel. We moved into our room and all quickly fell asleep for a perfect siesta. The bed at the hostel was more comfortable than my bed at my homestay, and I passed out within seconds. That evening we decided to explore the castle which is perched up high on one of the seven hills overlooking the city. The walk up took us past many beautiful sites.
The castle was built over 1,000 years ago and was dedicated to St. George. The views from the walls are absolutely stunning (I recommend clicking on the image for full size):
We stared at the city for a good 20 minutes before we realized that we actually had come to see the castle. As we went to the entrance we found another surprise. There are free-roaming peacocks that live on the grounds! We walked up and down the castle walls and through all the nooks and crannies.
We got pulled back to the cliff by the sunset and watched the sun slowly fall into the Atlantic. It was one of those moments where you just stand in awe at what you’re experiencing, and thank God for the blessings He pours out.
On Saturday we woke up at a reasonable time and after talking to other travelers at breakfast were told that we needed to travel to a nearby town called Sintra. We had never heard of it, but decided that it was probably a cool place after seeing pictures online. We walked to the train station in Lisbon and after failing at the self serve ticket station (and missing the first train) went back in line and finally got our tickets. Armed with a map given to us by our new Belgian friends (which had circles, prices, and bus numbers written on it) we got off the train and walked the 15 minutes into town. From the first corner after the train station we knew we were in for something special because we saw two castles perched high on the top of the mountain, glistening in the sunlight. We saved those for the end of the day and started by visiting Quinta da Regaleira which was staggeringly beautiful. It is a mountainside terraced garden with an ornate Mansion and hidden surprises around every turn. We had no idea what to expect and started walking up the main path. Every 50 feet there was a little dirt side trail, and when we found a marble chapel after taking the first one, decided that the side paths held all of the secrets. We found waterfalls, carved underground passage ways, castles built into the mountain, rivers and statues all before the halfway mark!
The top held the ultimate experience. We walked into a rocky grotto and jumped across stones to behind a waterfall, which led into the mountainside. The caves were lit by ropelights and led us to a tiny doorway. Through the door was an old well that had a spiral staircase around the outside, which when seen after walking the sequence we did, took my breath away. It was so unexpected and intricate. The entire place was magical and I could have spent days wandering around. Here is a link to more pictures of my trip and the gardens: Here
For lunch we stopped at a little restaurant and had a surprisingly great meal. We walked back to town looking for the bus stop, realized that we overshot, and headed to the right place. The bus was packed with people as we headed towards the top of the mountain. Sintra is a very old town and the roads are cobbled and very narrow with little to no indication of lanes or traffic signals. I wouldn’t be surprised if the bus driver had to be triple certified in order to drive that particular route. There were many close calls with cliffs, cars, trees and pedestrians. Arriving slightly rattled we were unceremoniously kicked out to make room for the next batch of test dummies. There was little indication that we were near an ancient Moorish castle besides a little ticket both on the side of the cobbled road. We headed upwards and saw ancient ruins of some long lost civilization. Apparently the top of the mountain had been occupied since 5,000 BC, and the castle was built by the moors. It’s a recurring theme, but the views were again breathtaking.
There was a steady wind coming off of the Atlantic which kept us cool after the hike to the top. The surrounding countryside spilled downward to the ocean and the blue stretched all the way to America….if only we could see that far. We only had time to visit the Moorish castle before we had to head home, but in the picture you can see another fortress on the adjacent mountaintop. I would have hated to be the poor worker who had to lug those massive stones up the slopes to appease some king. Although I think the climb to the castle itself would have been motivation enough to stop an assault. Most of the soldiers wouldn’t have had enough energy to fight. We missed out on our siesta at the hostel, so took a quick 10 minute nap in the sun on the highest tower.
On Sunday, our final day in Portugal, we decided to visit Belém, which was a small city that has since been swallowed up by Lisbon and has become another neighborhood. We didn’t know exactly where Belém was, but we knew it was down the coast, so we started to wander. Turns out it was a lot further than we thought. After a couple hours of walking we saw more and more tourists, and knew we were almost there. Belém was the final point that Portuguese explorers would pass before heading to explore the new world. Most sailors would spend their final day in Portugal praying at the church for safe passage, which was a good idea because the majority of men died on their voyages. We walked through the church and saw the grave of Vasco de Gama, the great Portuguese explorer. Outside of the church right on the water is a beautiful sculpture to commemorate the age of seafaring exploration.
It’s a massive statue which is beautifully made. We went to the top and had a great view of the area. In this picture you can see one of the two bridges leading into Lisbon.
When I was in Lisbon, it’s surprising how much it reminded me of San Francisco. There are old Trams that run through the streets, the city was built on 7 hills and is quite steep, the bridge looks EXACTLY like the Golden Gate, the weather is almost the same, and it’s built on a natural harbor on the west coast of the country. Twins. Well except for the whole being in Portugal and having a completely language, history, and culture thing… After visiting the tower we went to a sprawling grassy area (grass is extremely uncommon in Spain + Portugal) and laid down. I found myself getting really tired, and the next thing I knew, I woke up an hour later. I love napping in awesome places.
For our final night in Portugal, through our hostel we signed up for dinner. The lady that owns the hostel cooks dinner every night, and for 8 euros you can enjoy “Mama’s Dinner.” We got back a little early from our adventure to Belém, so we walked to an area we had seen when we arrived. The entire walk was uphill so by the time we arrived we were fairly high above the city. Somehow after walking all day we were still a little energetic, so took some long exposure shots using our cellphones to draw with light.
We headed back to the hostel and helped decorate since it was Halloween. Normally Mama’s Dinner is just a good portuguese meal, but since it was Halloween it turned into a buffet and music with nearly everyone who was staying at the hostel joining in. The meal was really good, and “Mama” is such a cultured and great person to talk to. After the meal there was a band of about 8 guys who played acoustic instruments (guitar, bongos/cymbals, upright bass, saxophone, trumpets, etc) and did covers of songs. They were really talented, and had everyone singing along. There were a lot of people packed into the dining/living room of the hostel and it was surreal to have all of these people from all over the world singing songs together. Perfect way to top of an amazing weekend. I’m really surprised that I haven’t heard of any of the places that I visited in Portugal, because they are strikingly beautiful. If you’re in the area and don’t have plans, be sure to visit Lisbon and the surrounding towns. You won’t be disappointed.
Here’s a video of some of the adventures: Youtube
Have you seen the movie Inception? If not, it’s basically about dreams within dreams, and that’s almost exactly what the weekend was like (ok, well minus all of the explosions). We were on a trip within a trip within a trip. Our flight left at 9:00am, so I woke up at 5:00. I took the metro line from my stop at Vallcarca on the green line, to the Sants stop also on the green:
Sants station is one of the largest train stations in the city and has a direct line to the airport. Considering I’m going to be doing a lot of train travel in the not too distant future, I decided I wanted to take the train rather than a taxi. There were two trains that left in time for my flight and left a half hour apart. I had about 10 minutes once I got to the station to buy a ticket and figure out where it was, before it left. Well I ended up standing in the wrong line, and only figured that out after asking the lady behind me. That burned through about 7 of my 10 minutes. I rushed to the right counter and got a ticket, 30 seconds before my train arrived. Perfect timing. If I hadn’t caught that train, I would have been cutting it seriously close with my flight and would have had to pay for my own ticket.
We flew to Seville which took about an hour and fifteen minutes, which coincidentally is also how long it takes to fly to Switzerland. It seems weird, but Europe is fairly small. We took a spanish discount airline, and I had the least amount of leg room I’ve ever had on a flight. While sitting, my knees were constantly touching the seat in front of me. If you’re taller than 6’2″ I doubt you could even sit.
When we arrived in Seville we went straight to our hotel and had about 15 minutes in the lobby before we left on a walking tour. We saw the local bull fighting ring and then went to the Alcazar. The Alcazar was built during the 800 years of Muslim occupation in Spain, and was used for their sultans and royalty. Once the Christians reconquered the city, it was used by the Spanish throne. It’s the oldest consistently used palace in Europe. Every inch of the building is packed with decoration, and it must have taken forever to build. Stunning:
We had seen a little shop that had two for one tapas, so we checked it out. We had some good food, but the pork cheek was especially delicious. I could have probably eaten four servings by myself. The ham in Sevilla wasn’t as good as the kind we have in Barcelona, but it was still better than anything I’ve had in the U.S:
After lunch we tackled the Cathedral. It’s a stunning building and the third largest cathedral in the world. It has a large tower that was built during the muslim period and was used for their five daily calls to worship. Instead of having stairs, it’s a massive ramped system, so that they could ride their horses to the top rather than walking.
The interior was massive, and we also found out that Christopher Columbus was buried here! When Columbus left to accidentally find America, he left from Seville, so he asked to be buried here when he died. His grave is rather unassuming, and he was cremated so there’s not much to see. Still, very cool to visit.
That night we went to an international fair. Many countries had stands representing their culture and cuisine. There was a local artist who was singing music which I think he though was typical American country-western, but he just used a rather western accent to sing in spanish. We all thought it was hilarious. The U.S stand was absolutely awful, and had food that wasn’t even american. Everything about it was terrible, so we tried a lot of the other countries. I had some very good food and tried some local Russian beers which were pretty good. The Cuban stand gave away free hats, which were worn for all of about 5 minutes:
The next day we got on a bus and drove to Córdoba which is about an hour and a half north east of Seville. The first thing we noticed was the smell. It was terrible. We actually saw a little girl casually pooping in a bush on the side of the street while her mother waited. Yum. Anyway, the city was much smaller than Seville and we first went to the Mosque/Cathedral. I had learned about this place in some of my Architecture classes, so it was fantastic to see it in person.
There are rows upon rows of double arches. If you stand at a certain point it almost seems to go on forever. The building is officially a cathedral now, but back in the day it was both a cathedral and a mosque at the same time. On certain days of the week the muslims would use it, and others the christians. It’s one of the very few places where the two religions coexisted. In the very center of the mosque is a huge alter and christian church. The contrast is jarring, but beautiful.
After the mosque we went to the local palace where we ate lunch in the massive gardens. We had couple of hours of freetime, so five of us decided to play a little soccer. We were playing on gravel and using a green orange, so conditions were definitely not ideal. One of the guys actually dislocated two of his toes mid-game, so he decided to sit out for a while….pshh….sissy. Haha.
We headed back to Seville and some of us went out and had a very nice dinner right outside of one of the main plazas.
At the end of the night we were walking back to our hotel and saw a little churros place. We ordered a serving and split it among six of us. Now when I say split, I mean we scratched and stole as much as possible from each other. It was purely animalistic. There was no thought involved other than getting as much of that sugary chocolatey goodness into our faces as quickly as possible. After we realized that we had polished off the first round we quickly ordered two more. We actually ate all of the churros the stand had, and it only took about 10 minutes to wipe them out.
The next morning we went to the metropol parasol, which is a museum for roman ruins in the city, that has a ridiculous shape. The structure is fairly light wooden timber, lashed together by an intricate mechanical system. While being built the wooden structure was untreated, and had a beautiful grain, but due to the massive summer temperatures, the whole thing was sprayed with a special paint for weather and heat protection.
Seville was a trip within my Barcelona semester, and Córdoba was a trip within Seville. The soccer game during our freetime was like a trip within Córdoba within Seville….it’s almost as crazy as Inception. It was a whirlwind of a weekend, but worth every moment of lost sleep.
This is a video of the Correfoc that I took. I would recommend reading the post prior to this which describes the festival, before watching the video.
Check it out: Here
The weekend of September 23rd goes down as one of my favorite weekends of all time. This is the weekend that the city of Barcelona celebrates La Mercè, which is dedicated to the patron saint of the city. People look forward to this celebration all year long, and the city is alive with the buzz of anticipation. There is a huge list of events including free concerts in the Parc de la Ciutadella, political rallies, proud cries of Catalan, fireworks, parades, castellers and my favorite, the Correfoc.
Before I get to the Correfoc I should quick explain what was involved with some of those other activities. The Castellers is a famous tradition, where people build human towers as high as possible. Each neighborhood (barrio) of the city has their own group of castellers that is composed of volunteers. They practice irregularly and compete during certain festivals or on spontaneous occasions. If their tower is the tallest, most complex or in some other form of judgement, considered the best, then they brought pride to their barrio. Here’s a quick video of castellers: Blam. Until around 2005 the small children that climb to the top didn’t wear helmets, and only do so now after someone died. Mothers all over are proud to have their children be at the top, and rather an being afraid for their kid’s lives, smile proudly at their accomplishments. Pretty awesome. More of this disregard for personal safety can be seen in….
CORREFOC! Hands down my favorite festival. I had absolutely no idea that this festival existed or even after I heard the name, what it was about. The name in Catalan means “fire run.” Ok…well I like the sound of this already…but what does that actually mean? We were talking in Spanish class, and our teacher told us that if we were going to Correfoc, that we would need to have absolutely all of our skin covered, a bandana to cover your mouth, and a hat + gloves, since it can be so dangerous. Well that definitely peeked my interest….but I still had no idea what it was! I finally learned that Correfoc is a giant parade down one of the main avenues, in which dragons and devils dance through the streets shooting fireworks into the crowd and causing as much mayhem as possible….ooo baby, sign me up!
The festival starts with a drum-core pounding deep notes through the city. Considering that this festival is to celebrate the patron saint of the city, I have absolutely no idea how devils got involved. I think it has something to do with letting out their anger once a year, so that for the other 364 days, the city is left alone. Regardless, there is a giant gate (the gates of hell) from which all of the mayhem issues. Dragons, demons, and donkeys…Oh my!
When the ceremony started, people were packed into the street, with absolutely no room to move [Pic 1] Everybody wanted to see the opening of the gates. Well it didn’t disappoint (these pics are in no particular order, and yes I took all of them).
Once the gates had been opened and the demons started pouring out, people quickly decided that they wanted to get far away from the street…naturally that’s right where we headed. There were three of us: TC, Katie and I. Initially we thought we wanted about 70% safety and 30% danger. Trust me, we had it all figured out. The ratio of danger to safety increased the closer you got to the street, so we had a zone picked out, that in the words of Goldilocks was, “Juuust right.”
Well after getting used to the deafening bangs and singing sparks, we decided to push closer to the street, and ended up firmly in the 100% danger 0% safety zone. We were dead in the middle of the road. The devils had metal poles with a firework attached to it that spun rapidly in a circle. So they would have a mushroom of sparks flying above their head, and the only place of safety was directly next to the devil :
The devils weren’t so bad because they held the sticks above their heads, and if you moved with them you were generally safe. The worst/best were the dragons….they would load up multiple fireworks onto the face and as soon as they were lit, the cart would be steered spastically into the crowd. They were much much harder to avoid. Even with no skin being exposed a few dragons dumped hot sparks down my shirt:
The festival lasted for around 45 minutes of breathtaking, heart pounding, dangerous fun. I laugh now when I think about the precautions we take during our Fourth of July celebrations. Next year I’m strapping all of the launch tubes to my body and running around inside of our house! I’m convinced there is no city in the U.S in which the Correfoc could take place. Nobody would be willing to deal with the mayhem and mess that this celebration causes. Everyone would be too worried about the danger and potential fire hazard, not to mention the insurance companies! It’s this disregard for personal safety, and the fact that the whole city comes together and embraces the tradition that help make this such an amazing event.
I took quite a bit of video, and am in the process of editing it together. I should have it for you in the near future.
We haven’t fully started all of our classes yet, so there is quite a bit of down time randomly throughout the days. I love to wander down random side streets and try and find the hidden Barcelona. This is definitely a pedestrian city, and everybody walks everywhere. Coincidentally I haven’t seen a single overweight person. Hmmm, I wonder if those two are connected in any way…. On average I probably walk around the city at least 2 hours every day, if not more (some days it’s around 5). There are neat shops and stores on every street, and it’s a ton of fun to pop in and take a look around. Wandering down whichever street seems appealing is fantastic and I usually have no idea where I am, which makes for the best exploration. I’ve got a pretty good mental map of the city made, but there’s always new territory to discover. I haven’t had a chance to simply wander with my camera, but I will soon.
During my wanderings I’ve managed to find some pretty awesome places. For instance today three of us were walking and saw palm trees and a lush garden spilling over this long high wall. We were really intrigued, and saw there was an iron gate that someone had left open, which we promptly “wandered” through. We found ponds filled with goldfish, palmtrees, wild parrots (yeah, wild parrots!) and other botanical wonders. It was like stumbling upon Narnia. It turns out it’s the garden of a University campus, and since we had our bags, we blended right in with the students. I was really tempted to wander into a lecture hall and see what was being taught, but all of the entrances were through the front of the classroom. What a shame.
There are many street performers, but mostly crowded around touristy areas. This man had an improvised didgeridoo:
We’re taking a class called City in Visual Culture, where we learn about the visual identity of Barcelona and it’s history. This means through all terms of visual media: Art, Architecture, Film, Photography and so on. What’s particularly awesome is that we get to visit many interesting locations, since we have to experience the place. This was on one of those fieldtrips. The Romans had founded Barcelona, and thus quite a few ruins still remain. You can’t see very many of them, since they were built over, but this one was preserved in an odd way. Rather than creating a monument and clearing space around the ruins, they decided to simply build, but keep the columns visible. Notice how in the middle they built a wall half way around one of the columns:
Massive pan of Paella for the September 11th celebrations:
One day a group of us that live north of the city decided to visit Park Guell, designed by Gaudi. If I walk down my street and look left down the first intersection, I can see the escalators leading up to the park. Considering I’ve wandered so much in the Gothic quarter and downtown, I figured I should give my own neighborhood the same treatment.
Now Barcelonians love their exercise, but these hills are too steep even for them, so they decided to install a group of escalators to help with the ascent. Thank God. My legs have gotten used to all the walking, but these hills are probably at a 40 degree angle, and quite tall.
It was amazing to experience something that I’ve only looked at in pictures. That’s probably how all of the fieldtrips that we’re going to take will feel. The park was designed by Antonio Gaudi, who was quite the eccentric man, and his park reflects the inner workings of his mind. Crazy forms and supports were everywhere, although when blended into a park, the crazy shapes seem very organic and natural. Quite an amazing place. The panoramic views were also stunning.
Oh yeah, and the weather is still nice, so more beach!