Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Barcelona, Spain

January 15-18, 2016

Hello friends! It’s been a while since I last wrote something. I’m a little behind on telling you about my Europe trip. Wait no more! Here are some reflections about Barcelona.

The first stop on our Europe trip was Barcelona, Spain. Barcelona is famous for football (soccer), beaches, and Spanish tapas. We wanted to start off our trip in a warm spot and then trek our way upwards on the cold Europe mainland. However, we had a small hiccup getting there…

We caught an early morning 7:00 flight from Antalya to Istanbul, and then a 1020 flight from Istanbul to Barcelona. About 30 minutes before boarding time, I decided to check out a make-up and perfume shop to kill time. This was a bad idea because I lost track of time inside the store—the loud music, crowds of people, and tempting samples can make anyone forget they are at an airport. When I checked the time, it was almost boarding time, so I rushed back to the gate where I left Alex with my bag. She wasn’t there! I thought the passengers had already boarded, so I used my Turkish and begged the security guy to let me board. However, he told me that the gate number had changed. I ran as fast as I could to the information board, where I saw the changed gate number. At this point, I started pacing again, and ran in and around people—just like a movie scene where a hero is trying to catch a flight and stop his/her lover from flying off. From afar, I saw Alex waving at me, and I picked up my speed again; thank goodness for my high school track skills, they clearly came in handy. Apparently, they were making a final call for the boarding, and poor Alex was waiting at the security desk with her bag and my bag. And I had arrived just in time! Whew! After catching my breath, and drinking expensive water (10 lira for a small plastic bottle!), I found out from Alex that she tried to tell them to call my name in the speakers, but they wouldn’t do that. She was so afraid we would miss this flight. I was grateful that she waited for me, but lesson definitely learned: never let the luring stores inside an airport get to you. They’re trouble.

We arrived to Barcelona a little past 1300. With bags in hand, and bags under our eyes, we realized we had no local currency. Therefore our first task was to get Euros. We found an ATM machine and used our credit cards, despite the high fees. Ekk! But we had to do what we had to do. With some cash, we asked the information desk about the train system, and caught a tram close to our hostel. We stayed in a beautifully decorated house-turned-hostel called Coroleu House. It was in the northeast part of Catalonia, on the red line, close to St. Andreu. Our host gave us a comprehensive orientation; showing us how to use the city map, recommending places to eat, and suggesting routes for tourist attractions. Alex and I stayed in a bunk-bed style 6-person room. Our hostel mates included a young man from Korea who was touring all of Europe after completing his required military service and two Indian friends who were taking a break from work.

Anyhow, we spent four days in Barcelona. I practiced my Spanish, ate lots of tapas, and marveled at modern architecture. The highlights of the trip included seeing the following:

La Sagrada Familia – A magnificent church designed by Barcelona and Spain’s famous Catalan architect Antonio Gaudí, who was immensely inspired by nature. He incorporate as much of nature into his architectural designs. The interior of the Sagrada Familia, for example, has tall columns which look like trees in a jungle. Every shape that Gaudí uses comes from plants or animals. I really liked this place because it seemed to connect the heavens to earth; I felt closer to God because I felt surrounded by nature.
Park Güell – Also designed by Gaudí. This is both a natural park, and an architectural art piece. My favorite part was siting in the benches made up of mosaic art squares, and overseeing the entire city below. There were two gingerbread house-looking buildings at the entrance, which gave the park a ‘magical’ feel. The gem in this park, however, is the famous lizard, which is made up of colored tiles of various geometric shapes. With so many tourists, it was hard to take a picture in front of the lizard without photo bombers in the background.
Modernist Buildings – On La Rambla Street, Gaudí’s modernist buildings attract flocks of toursits. Casa Batlló and Casa Milà (also known as La Pedrera) are famous for their unusual design, both inside and especially outside. Alex and I bought a ticket to explore Casa Batlló. The audio tour explained how Gaudí used natural life—animal vertebrates, trees, sea creatures, flower patterns and more—in his architecture. It was really cool to see things come “alive” in this house. See videos in next blog post.
Barcelona Cathedral – Spain is a heavily Catholic country, therefore it’s not uncommon to find lots of churches around the city. The most famous, of course, is Barcelona’s Cathedral, which is constructed with intricate stone designs, just like the La Sagrada Familia.
Picasso’s Museum – While roaming the Gothic Square, we waited in anlong line for Picasso’s Museum. It was our lucky day, as tickets were free! Woohoo! Alex and I walked around the gallery and saw Picasso’s original collection. No doubt the artist had a talent for the paintbrush. In my AP Spanish class during senior year of high school, Señora Silverberg made us paint the styles of each of the Spanish artists we studied, including Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. At the end of each lesson, the class voted on the best painting of the day. I was voted as the “Picasso of the Class”—I am so still so proud of that achievement. I think I have that day’s painting saved somewhere in my files back home...

La Boqueria – The full name of this bustling public market is “The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria.” It’s a colorful market; there are stalls and tables that sell fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, nuts, candies, chocolates, and smoothies. Walking through La Boqueria reminded me of Pakistani bazaars at night time, where smells of fresh produce and cooking food lure you in every which direction. Check out the video in the next blog post.
Torre Agbar – Before leaving Barcelona on Monday the 18th, Alex and I made a pit stop at Torre Agbar, which is a bullet-looking blue building. It’s an oddly shaped work building, which looks like a spaceship ready for blastoff. We took silly photos in front of it and enjoyed the beauty from the outside.
Barcelona Beach – Barcelona wouldn’t be a complete trip if we left the beach out. Alex and I relaxed on the beach for an hour or so, enjoying the breeze and soaking up as much sunshine as we could. Beaches are such a reflective place to be at; whenever I stare out at the shoreline and see the waves gushing towards the sand, I think about how our dreams do the same with reality. The sea is full of unimaginable possibilities.

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