Thursday, August 28, 2008

Barcelona Part 2 - Gaudi Day

We woke up early to make it to La Segrada Familia (pictured) - a cathedral Gaudi started in 1884. If you are not familiar with Gaudi's style the easiest way to put an image in your head is that his buildings often look like he was living in the 1970's and he was high on something.

His style was modern beyond even today's standards - often colorful and fairy tale like. La Segrada is no exception. It is a monumental church that will eventually hold 13,000 people and is planned for completion around 2026. From a distance it looks like a sand drip castle, but once you get closer you see the immense and surprising detail of amazing sculptures and colorful fruit bunches at the tops of the spires that make it looks almost like Candyland. And the inside is no different - intensely colorful stained glass windows and windows in shapes you have never seen on a building. Columns that defy normality and look like stone trees supporting the vast space.

Just as we were about to label Gaudi a true crazy, we came upon the part of the tour that showed how all of his unique and modern shapes were all derived from nature....tree trunks, honeycomb, leaves...and all the science that goes with it. He conjured up architectural masterpieces from natures' inspiration - and it is all truly magnificent. We vote this one of the most amazing structures we have ever seen in our life and plan to make a trip back in the 2020's to see it in it's completed glory.

After seeing Gaudi's masterpiece we moved on to go see Park Guell (designed by Gaudi) and two of his more popular apartment buildings La Pedrera and Casa Batllo. Park Guell was truly Candyland. It was originally meant to be an exclusive area for upscale homes but that plan never caught on - but Gaudi had already created a magnificent welcoming to the area in the form of two unique houses flanking the metal entrance gates, with dream-like stairs leading to a flat area with a wave shaped bench stretching the whole edge of the platform made from a beautiful mosaic of colorful tile. Only pictures can do it justice.

We took a break at the park and enjoyed a picnic of bread, jamon, cheese and fruit that we picked up from the market that morning.

After taking in Candyland, we moved on to see his famous apartment buildings including the house of bones....the strange thing is that they were built so long ago and they stick out like sore thumbs in the city blocks - but they are unique. Again, only pictures can do them justice. We only admired these buildings from the outside although we hear the insides are just as unique. After a long day of walking, we started heading back towards out hotel.

I mentioned yesterday that we would come back to the city being walkable...well, it is but it's easy to walk too much. Steph's left foot was really starting to hurt - she limped out of bed on Day 2 and by end of Day 2 was limping nearly every step. We are going to call it a muscle strain because by the end of Tomatina (in a couple days, her foot was good and swollen...and this blog was written by Steph flat on her back in bed with her foot propped up!)

Although we had an early bus the next morning to Valencia, we attempted to go out. There is an infamous bar called Kentucky that we went searching for. Unfortunately, we found it with a sign saying they were on holiday til mid September. We tried. On to Valencia......!

I posted a few of our Barcelona photos with more to come when we get back.

Barcelona Part 1

We had a bit of a confusing time figuring out Barcelona. When we scheduled the trip we intentionally took a late Saturday flight after reading about how the Barcelona evening doesn't start until late. Dinner not before 9pm with activities going well into the morning hours.

Our flight arrived at 9:30pm so after getting to the hotel to check in that put us out and about around 11:30pm looking for dinner. We walked and walked but couldn't find anybody eating dinner other than the tourists at the overpriced tapas restaurants. We DID find a whole bunch of restaurants but no one was eating! Now tired, hungry and frustrated, we finally stumbled on a great little Italian place (we're in Spain, we know) which made seriously good brick oven pizza. After having my share of pizzas in Italy I can say it was mighty good.

The next morning we decided to tour around the Gothic area and hit the Picasso museum. Barcelona is a rather large city but if you are only concentrating on pieces of it at a time, it is very walkable...or so we thought (more on that later). The Gothic area was very neat - old buildings, art markets, narrow cobbled streets where we found the museum. It was started during Picasso's lifetime by a good friend who donated his own private collection of Picasso's works; it was further enhanced when the artist himself donated thousands more pieces from his own collection. (Thousands includes many sketches, drawings and unfinished pieces as well). It was fascinating to watch the progression of his work - from very naturalistic to his ultimate cubism. His copy of Velázquez's Las Meninas was intriguing. Taking such a famous, naturalistic painting and turning it in to another fascinating, but completely different version of itself.

The museum had at least a half dozen versions of his "copy" and many of his sketches and practice paintings - you could see the progression of the different elements of the picture come together in what was the "final" picture - the largest one. Although that picture was amazing, we ended up leaving the gift shop with a copy of one of his Los Pichones paintings - pigeons! Yeah, we loathe pigeons - they are dirty, annoying little birds but they are every where we go in Europe so in a way they are a true travel mascot and his paintings made us realize we do have a bit of a soft spot for them.

The rest of the afternoon we ended up strolling the streets of Barcelona eventually winding our way down to the port and beach where we ran across the Barcelona Head in the picture above. Funny enough it was created by American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.

Finding dinner the second time around was much easier - we realized that although dinner doesn't start til 9:30ish, everyone does eat then and eats quickly - most food was out of site by 11pm. We found a great outdoor modern tapas bar - our food came out and it looked nothing like we thought we ordered (steak for Steph and fish for Josh). Steph's was paper thin slices of a tartar looking steak with a pile of rocket and cheese shavings in the center. Josh's fish came out in a cylinder shaped stack on his plate (not the fillet we were expecting). But the steak was tasty with a great balsamic drizzle and the fish was in the cylinder somewhere intermingled with pastry and a creamy sauce also accompanied by a balsamic drizzle. All that with a lightly chilled local Spanish Rioja - what a meal!

We called it a night after dinner as we were looking forward to an early start the next day to see La Sagrada Familia - Gaudi's greatest vision (I say vision as it was, and still is, a long way from being completed...more on that later).

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Redbull and Shakespeare

Things have been rockin' here in London this weekend.

Steph kicked things off Friday night at a Kyle Minogue concert at the O2 dome which she said was fun.

Saturday was the last of the Shakespeare summer performances at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park so at the last minute we hopped on the train and rushed over to try and get tickets. Luckily we were able to score two grass bank seats for Romeo and Juliet.

It was a nice evening weather wise and we enjoyed the performance. Sorry but I'm not a performing arts critique so I'm not going to rate the show. Who knew they both died at the end, that's no fun...

Ha ha, just kidding, I did learn a little Shakespeare in high school.

Anyway, we are going to have to explore Regent's Park a bit more because what little we saw made it look like a great space to hang out in.

Finally, to round out the weekend we had passes to the RedBull Air Race in London today. What a show! I don't know how the pilots do what they do, flying that fast, that low to the water with such G force. For those who haven't seen this Air Race here is a quick clip. Sorry for the lame music. Just mute the sound when it starts.

The weather wasn't good but the racing was very good! And to top if off an American pilot won the race, nice one!

Oh, if your curious about the title a popular night out drink is Redbull and Vodka.

I guess its back to work tomorrow...