The One in Barcelona

We had a couple tourist places left to visit in Trujillo, so while it was raining, we took shelter in a large church that we’d walked past a few times. The woman inside recognized us and told us that folks who live in Trujillo get to visit the historical sites for free, which we had no idea about before. Not that we ever really mind paying the entrance fee since it’s about $1.50.

Anyway, it turns out that our last tourist stop in Trujillo was the visitor center! Ayyyyyyyy! The visitor center was dedicated mostly to telling (glorifying) the history of Trujillo. This tiny town is very, very proud of its history. This little doorway led off to a well that was in the back corner of the church along with a display talking about the history of all of the cisterns in town, including the ones I’ve already talked about in other posts. The majority of the area was dedicated to Pizarro, his family, his conquest, there’s one small section to remind visitors that the natives on the other side of the ocean might not have appreciated colonization but otherwise it’s quite the exhibition dedicated to celebrating Trujillo. It started pouring while we were inside, so Austin and I read all of the displays while we waited for the rain to let up enough to walk around again.

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Spain celebrates Halloween a little differently than we do in the US, but they do take a nice long break to celebrate both Halloween and All Saints Day on November 1st. I have a few friends studying abroad in England and they decided to go to Barcelona as they had time off of school, so Austin and I decided to meet them there.

We arrived a day ahead of them and spent the afternoon getting lost in the Gothic Quarter. The Gothic Quarter is full of winding alleyways, gothic style architecture, giant churches, a few palaces, and lots of tourist shops. This little bridge is one of the famous sights of the gothic quarter (google the Gothic Quarter and I promise it’ll show up) and was one of the first things we stumbled upon. On the advice of a friend, we headed into the Gothic Quarter without a map and enjoyed ourselves immensely. In some ways, it does remind me of Jerusalem, in the sense that the Old City of Jerusalem was also full of winding alleyways and shops, but the style and architecture of the two are completely different.

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We also wandered over to the waterfront and found a huge mirador/statue dedicated to Christopher Columbus and a really fun bridge that we crossed to find a large mall at the end of. It was a floating mall with an aquarium and these awesome, super reflective windows above the entrance.

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We didn’t stay too long at the mall, but it was funny to think that it was the first mall either of us had been in for at least a month. As we continued down the waterfront we found this huge statue that I still know nothing about. For a sense of scale, you can see Austin leaning against one of the beams in the bottom lefthand side of the photo if you squint. Our impression from that first day of wandering was that Barcelona is really really touristy.

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The next morning, we met up with my friends, who had brought a few of their friends along, and we all headed up to Montjuic; an old fortress at the top of the hill overlooking Barcelona. The hill has had a recorded structure at the top for hundreds of years, starting with just a lighthouse, and growing into this giant fortress that we wandered around. We took a funicular to get to base of the top of the hill, and from there we took a gondola up to the fortress. From the gondola, we had some amazing views of the city.

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Once up at the top of the fortress we could look out over the entire city and admire all of the pollution. I’d like to say it was fog, and give Barcelona the benefit of the doubt, but there was a pretty distinct line in the cloud where they turned from white over the water, to the brownish-grey seen in the photo below. The city spread out beneath us for miles in every direction, Austin and I were told that Madrid was bigger than Barcelona, but Barcelona was more densely populated, and that’s hard to believe from looking at these pictures!

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As I mentioned, the hill has been used for hundreds of years to signal ships arriving to port in Barcelona and the fortress was constructed with that goal in mind. This tower looks like it’s housing a ship because different masts were raised to signal to the incoming ships. At night they lit bonfires to signal to the ships. Because they had a tall tower in the center of the fortress, a traditional sundial couldn’t be used to tell time, so they put two sundials on each side of the tower. One was used in the morning, the other was used in the evening. You can sort of see the sundial to the left of the window.

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The fortress has its own grizzly history that it actually displays in its mini museum one floor below. For much of the 1900s the fortress was a jail where they executed people. Mostly used during the civil war, the only president incumbent to be executed in Europe was killed in the fortress along with hundreds of other prisoners.

Outside the fortress, there are lots of gardens and parks to walk through. We didn’t take the time to explore them fully, but we did hangout near a pond with a bridge made out of stone cylinders in the ground. My friends and I took this picture, which we decided would be the cover photo for our tv show, before heading back down the mountain in the gondola and then the funicular.

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We showed them around the Gothic Quarter for awhile before we all headed uptown to Park Guell. Antoni Gaudi is Barcelona’s person of interest when it comes to the tourism industry. He was an artist who designed a ton of buildings in the early nineteen hundreds, including the Sagrada Familia, which is famous for its architecture and the fact that it hasn’t yet been finished, over one hundred years later.

Park Guell was a patch of land that a friend of Gaudi’s owned and told him to design an estate on for wealthy people. What he’s done with it is amazing, if you google it you can get some “Antonia-free” photos that’ll show you more of the park. I’ve included a few of my favorite photos here. The estate Gaudi designed was never finished, but what was completed is really fun to see!

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This is a walking path, with another path on top of it. The columns are fun to run around and from afar the walkway looks really cool. This part of the Park is located outside of the monument zone, so no tickets are needed to see it.

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Once you enter the monument zone, which requires tickets bought online, there’s a huge dirt area where you could have concerts or theater. Around the outside edge are wavy benches covered in mosaic tiles. My UCI crew and I took a few photos here which is also famous because the Cheetah Girls apparently filmed a movie here.

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Beneath the plaza we sat on in the previous picture, are all of these columns. On the ceiling there’s more mosaic designs, and the columns are far more impressive from far away. Little kids were racing around the columns playing tag which was fun to watch and a few of my friends even joined in.

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This lizard is a good example of Gaudi’s mosaic style and in the background you can see the columns from the previous picture.

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When it comes to architecture, we all thought that Gaudi’s style was best characterized as “things melting” and “wavy.” He seems to have everything against sharp corners so his buildings are covered in tiles, and made of all sorts of interesting shapes. Both of these houses were the only two houses completed in the estate and really they just look like giant gingerbread houses. The inside looks just as funky.

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Finishing up at Park Guell we returned to Plaza Espanya to watch the Magic Fountain Show at the palace, which houses the national museum of Catalunyan art. Although it doesn’t look like it in the picture, the palace is at the top of about a million steps. The fountain show is Barcelona’s first attempt at World of Color. They’ve programmed their fountain to change colors and shape for half an hour. During this time, they play music; though none of it seems incredibly synced. It’s far from a World of Color show at Disneyland, but it’s fun to watch nonetheless and even more fun to try and take pictures of.

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The next day, Austin and I planned a visit to Mont Serrat; a monastery about an hour outside of Barcelona. We woke up early and headed by train to the base of the mountain where we rode in a gondola to the monastery. From there we dropped by the information booth to ask for a map. We figured we’d take the funicular up to save some time and then hike around at the top. When we got to the funicular station, however, we learned that they were striking so we began the long hike to the top.

The woman at the information booth told us that there were two paths to the top, one was a little longer, but easier, the other was shorter but harder. So we decided we’d do the easier one on the way up and be nice to ourselves. We started walking and realized almost immediately that we were on the harder path but decided to keep going anyway. It took about an hour for us to get to the top, where we stopped and ate lunch and then walked over to the hermitages of the monks (see the picture of me in the doorway below). The hermitages were literally caves in the rock walls and had been there since the early 1500s. While I took a million pictures from the hike, I only included a few here, I can’t actually describe how peaceful it was up in those mountains. On the walk down especially, we were on a dirt path with stone stairs that looked as if they were from the fifteen hundreds. Occasionally we would pause, and I can say that the silence was literally deafening. That might have been from the leftover effects of my ear infection but I don’t think so. It was an amazing walk, though Austin and I agreed that the walk back down was a million times harder than the walk up. When we arrived at the bottom, our legs were trembling and it was a relief to be able to sit inside the church for a few minutes and admire it.

For our last day in the city we hit the pollution filled streets of Barcelona again to tie up some last bits and pieces and find all the things we hadn’t yet found. In other words, we wandered.

La Sagrada Familia requires tickets bought online to go and because we were so tired after hiking Montserrat, we forget to get our tickets the night before. By the the time we had woken up in the morning, all the tickets were gone, much to our dismay. We’ll have to go back to Barcelona now. Nonetheless we went to see the outside of it.

It’s an absolutely huge church being built downtown based on Gadui’s plans for the building. While we walked around the whole thing, I’m showing you this side because if you look closely you an see that it’s a slightly different color than the other parts be hind it. If you look really closely you can see some of the scorch marks on the bricks from where people tried to burn it down during the civil war. They failed to burn the building, but they did destroy Gaudi’s notes, sketches and models on what it’s supposed to look like. Apparently that’s what’s holding up the majority of the construction though now they say they’ll finish it within the next ten years. They’re building it as they are able to piece together what Gaudi had planned for the building. It’s hard to see Gaudi’s influence in this picture but if you google it you’ll see, in much higher quality, what it looks like.

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Austin and I decided to make our wanderings purposeful by going to visit a few more Gaudi building’s since we really liked his style. That was our attempt when we wandered over to the old, disused bullfighting ring because of the round, tiled columns circling the edge that we assumed were Gaudi but weren’t. Barcelona has banned bullfighting so we went inside to see it and I think it was actually very smart. Both Austin and i really only learned about bullfighting from our Spanish classes and while his classes hid the worst bits of bull fighting, mine hid all the bits of bullfighting. The museum inside the bullfighting ring hid none of the worst bits and I came away with a new understanding, and a much deeper dislike, of bullfighting. Those working there may have misunderstood why Austin and I were there, as they thought that we would be super interested to see the matador, which they had opened to park a van inside; instead I felt vaguely sick.

However, exploring the ring, I have realized that all these unused bullfighting rings in Barcelona represent a HUGE opportunity! Look at that perfect circle! And having stood in the middle of it I can assure you that the acoustics are excellent. Yes, folks, this is the ideal situation for theater in the round. Can’t you imagine it? I mean look at the view from the top of the stadium–

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Build a nice stage in the center, keep the museum so that it’s past is preserved and understood (maybe let the stuffed bull heads rest in peace though?), find some thespians, and voila! So props to Barcelona for banning bull fighting, let’s see if the rest of Spain can follow.

After our little detour, we headed back to this Gaudi house which we didn’t go inside because of the ridiculous line to buy tickets. Casa Batllo is a pretty amazing house even just from the outside. Here’s an excellent example of a very Gaudi-esque building. The entire outside of the house is covered in mosaic tiles, so none of what you’re seeing is painted on there.

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We also returned to the museum of Catalunyan art, though not to go inside. We were more interested in walking around the grounds and gardens outside. The gardens had terrible visiting hours and were closed when we arrived, however we did find a lovely piece of graffiti at the top of the stairs to the right of the palace.

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“Think yourself free and fly”

Thus ended our Barcelona adventure, apologies for the lack of pictures compared to how many I actually took. We had a day to spend in Madrid on the way back home, and tired as we were, Austin and I managed to spend it in a new part of el Retiro exploring the park. We explored some areas slightly north to the city center and found the Puerta de Alcala before entering back into the park.

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Next to this pond, which was full of tourists in rowboats, is the gigantic monument to Alberto XII. We skipped out on the rowboats for today, but thought maybe someday we’d come back when there were fewer tourists.

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We also realized that this park is full of paths named after countries in Latin America. It’s such a nice park that I was thinking that maybe it was possible it was like a peace park, or an apology park. Like wouldn’t that be nice? Sort of showing Latin America and admitting how much Spain screwed it up? But I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up because most of the monuments in there celebrate famous Spaniards, or generals who fought in wars in Latin America. Missing Argentina like we do, however, Austin and I immediately walked an extra circle around the pond to go back to Paseo de la Argentina, figuring we’d hang out there and read for a bit before catching our blablacar home.

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The Paseo de la Argentina is actually the best path in the park, and not just because it’s called Paseo de Argentina. It’s lined with statues of queens and kings dating back to the visigoths, so as we sat in the shade behind the statues, we googled the nearest ones to us and learned a little bit about exactly how old Spain is. Plus, check out Dona Berenguela, isn’t this an amazing statue?

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We wandered back through Puerta del Sol to check out the Oso y la Madrona which is quite emblematic of Madrid and the center of the country. This statue is supposed to show the bears who used to roam through Madrid and can apparently be found in the foothills, though that’s rare. This image is all over the city and the madrona tree is where Madrid gets its name. Our guide last time told us that a madrona tree was a strawberry tree and the bears could be seen eating the fruit off of them.

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This point is also in Puerta del Sol and marks the exact center of the country, supposedly.

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In the end, Austin and I agreed that while Madrid is far more romantic, Barcelona is all about tourists. Our host there was from Argentina, everyone we met were tourists. I’m not sure we met anyone who was from Barcelona while we were there. So you feel like a tourist, and it’s  a very fun city, but it’s all about tourists. Madrid is a lot more relaxed and it has less pollution which is always a plus.

Our driver back from Madrid was super chatty, and an english teacher, but Austin and I were incredibly tired. Luckily, he didn’t require too much talking from us so with a few well placed questions, I was able to get him to recount the majority of Spain’s contemporary history starting in about 1935 with the civil wars. Austin knew a bit about it already but I knew nothing so the car ride back for me was fabulous. Our driver was also able to enlighten us a bit more on the independence movement in Catalunya. He was very ambivalent toward Catalunya leaving, he thought that if they wanted to go they should just go, but he didn’t think they actually wanted to go. He felt like it was a lot of political posturing.


In an attempt to get fully integrated into the community, Austin and I started doing extracurriculars; him, archery; me, soccer. Twice a week he goes and shoots arrows at targets in Huertas de Animas with some folks and three times a week I run around soccer field trying to remember how to play my favorite sport; and have patience with myself because of how out of shape I am.

Our adopted host family set us up with our respective extra curriculars and they provided me with some spanish shorts to play in, long socks and some hand-me-down cleats until I can get mine from home. The cleats are a little big and incredibly worn in. They’re very obviously old cleats and when they gave them to me, they had torn through the uppermost lace holes. Feeling very spanish, I pulled out my mending kit and sewed the holes back together. So far they’ve held up pretty well so I feel like I did a good job. This definitely goes along with the culture of saving things and reusing them until you can’t. In our town alone there are three tailors, and maybe only three or four clothing stores. Everything is put to good use and once I’m finished with these cleats I’ll be surprised if they go straight into a trash can.

The girls play at about my level so I fit well with the team. For the most part I understand them, but the first few practices were me frantically trying to learn all of the vocabulary needed for soccer. Now I’ve come to a pretty good understanding with the girls, most of them know what I do and don’t understand, and generally they have figured out when I need them to translate whatever the coach is saying to us. It’s not that I don’t understand him, it’s just that he’s often saying things from across the field, and it’s hard to hear when people yell. I’ve been trying to get back in shape quickly, so I usually get to practice about half an hour early and run through a full warm up routine with stretching and running, the whole deal. Some of the other girls get there equally early but they never join me so….I guess it’s a cultural difference?

Despite the fact that Trujillo has a women’s soccer team, however, I seem to run up against a lot of resistance when it comes to people believing I play soccer. To begin with, one of my teachers was teaching Austin and I a grammar point so that we could better teach our students the difference between can, could, might, maybe and should, which are all pretty different. To add to the complexity, in Spanish, they have two different ways of saying “can.” They have a difference between I can play soccer (as in I can play soccer and I’m good at it) and “I can play soccer” (it’s physically possible for me to play soccer). The example that he used to explain the difference to us was one that he said all little kids in Spain would understand. Niños saben como jugar al futbol (boys can (as in know how) to play soccer) vs. niñas pueden jugar al futbol (girls can (as in it’s physically possible) play soccer). To say the least, I was insulted. Ironically, when he tried to use that example with us in english, it was the opposite. I can play soccer very well, whereas Austin could play soccer if he had to, but he admitted that he’s terrible at it.

In my classes I often have to introduce myself, and for one of my activities I drew myself on the blackboard playing soccer (we were practicing the present continuous). One of my students immediately asked me if I really play soccer (because, you know, girls don’t play soccer). When I told him I did, he asked me if I was serious. Very serious, kiddo, very serious.

Austin and I were casually strolling Trujillo the other day when we stumbled upon a sports store, but let’s be real, it was a soccer store.I’d been looking for one because I sort of want to buy myself a soccer ball and I’ll need shin guards for games, even playing without shin guards in practice seems like a bad idea to me. So we wandered inside so I could look around, I even gave the cleats a glance since my hand-me-downs don’t fit so well. I didn’t see shin guards anywhere so I went to ask the woman behind the counter if they had any. She looked at me, and then pointed to some along the wall and said to me, “Well yes, they’re right here, but those are for soccer.” Why else would I be asking for them? I had no words.

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