Barcelona

I’ve wanted to go to Barcelona ever since I saw pictures of Gaudi’s convoluted buildings. So, I was pretty happy when I managed to find some reasonable flights there. The first thing that I noticed when I stepped off the plane was that Barcelona was HOT. I’ve taken to traveling with a wool scarf (that also serves as a pillow) and jacket on planes, and I was sweating even in the air conditioned airport (granted carrying my heavy duffel bag might have also contributed). Like Madrid, Barcelona also syncs with Google Maps, and it wasn’t too difficult for me to find my way into town and to the AirBnb that I was going to share with my friend Eric. Unfortunately, Eric’s plane out of Germany was delayed, and I spent most of my first day in Barcelona on my own. Luckily I’m not too put out by solo travel, so I was content to make do. My first destination was Palau Güell.

Palau Güell was Gaudi’s first major commission and was built for one of the leading industrialists at the time, Eusebi Güell. Güell wanted to have the palau, or palace, built as an extension to the family’s home on La Rambla, one of Barcelona’s major streets. The building is located in a prime location in the city and boasts a certain sense of majesty. When you enter you’re given an audioguide for the building, as there aren’t any information plaques, and you work your way from the basement up to the top.

While I personally wouldn’t have wanted to live in the building, it was still a great introduction to Gaudi. The interior of the building was generally dark in color due to the dark wood panelling, but it was still gorgeously designed. Gaudi was largely inspired by nature in his work, which tends to be revealed in his building’s curvaceous surfaces–apparently Gaudi refused to use straight lines since he claimed that they didn’t appear in nature. Another architectural feature that Gaudi is well known for using is parabolic, or catenary arches. You can get a sense of them in the picture of the palace’s dome.

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Gaudi is also well known for believing that the functional could also be beautiful. This is exemplified by the building’s twenty decorated chimneys, which also happened to be my favorite part of the building.

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After that, I went outside and took a few pictures of the building’s facade and the surrounding Gaudi themed graffiti. From there it was just a short walk down to La Rambla.

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La Rambla is a broad and crowded pedestrian boulevard and a decent walk, although one that is filled with tourists. Because La Rambla is a long street, there are quite a few things near it.

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Just off La Rambla was the Mercat de la Boqueria. The market is one of Europe’s biggest permanent produce fairs, although there are plenty of other products on sale there as well. While the market is generally overpriced, the farther in you walk the cheaper things tend to be.

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Another nearby spot was Barcelona’s Gothic quarter. Not much was open when I wandered by, but it was still a great area to walk around. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed into La Catedral because my shorts didn’t come down to my knees, but I made do by just taking pictures of the facade.

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After that it was time to finally meet up with Eric. After being delayed by more than five hours, he finally arrived at our AirBnb. By the time we met up it was just about time for us to go meet Alix for dinner. It turned out that my trip to Barcelona coincided perfectly with a talk that Alix was giving at the local university. This meant that Eric and I were able to meet up with Alix, Chris, and my favorite Viking, their son Wren. We were able to catch up and have a really nice dinner by the beach before walking along the beachfront. Our trip coincided with La Revetlla de Sant Joan/Verbenas de Sant Joan, or St. John’s Night. It’s the evening of the summer solstice and from what I could tell is a festival that’s celebrated by a lot of drinking, fireworks, and fire. It was certainly rowdy–to the extent that I was beginning to get a bit worried about my safety. In the United States there tend to be pretty strict laws regarding things like fireworks and firecrackers, but in Barcelona it was a free for all. Even children were setting things off in the middle of the street. While I personally found it a bit too crazy for my taste, it was still nice to reunite with friends on the beach.

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Winding Roads, Flat Lands, and Dreary Skies

The next day we decided to tackle the second national tourist route, Jæren. While Ryfylke had directed us North, with Jæren we were headed South into Norway’s agricultural area. Now I’m used to seeing soaring mountains and towering peaks in Norway, so it was pretty strange to drive through the Norwegian heartland and not see a single mountain (granted it was raining so poor visibility might have had something to do with that). The sheep that we had seen on our Northern drive were replaced with fields, and, in one case, small trees that marked the beginning of a Christmas tree farm. Both Abby and I suspect that planting and harvesting happen later in Norway than in other countries, since it didn’t look like there was anything even beginning to sprout.

Not only does Jæren pass through one of the flatest parts of the country, it also passes by some of Norway’s most dangerous coast. The area is highly treacherous for ships, so while there are a number of beaches along the coast, there are also quite a few lighthouses. Although Abby and I did try and visit one of the lighthouses, it, as well as most of the sights along Jæren, was closed. Additionally, the weather was simply too miserable and rainy to really warrant getting out of the car and going for a quick adventure.

But we still managed to have a good time. We even managed to see one of the sights, Hitler’s teeth, largely from the warmth of our car. The “teeth” are cement blocks that were made during World War II to prevent the Allied forces from making landfall (see the second row of pictures).

IMG_3232  IMG_3231  IMG_3221IMG_3208  IMG_3210  IMG_3212Another stop at MingarWalker Glassblowing studio was actually a huge success. Abby was able to buy a wedding gift, and the local glassblower was incredibly helpful. We had originally planned to stop our drive at Ogna, the end of the tourist road; however, the glassblower advised us to continue past Ogna and on towards Tengs and Egersund. This ended up being great advice. The terrain slowly started to change and became more rocky and hilly, and of course was beautiful. To top things off, we even passed one old place that was modeled after an old American saloon.

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Our last notable stop was at Varhaug old cemetery. Our glassblower had told us that it was worth a stop since it has an incredibly quaint church on the premises. To give you a better idea of how small it is, it’s about 15 m² (161 ft²) and fits only 14 chairs. Lucky for us, we were the only visitors, so it wasn’t too cramped when we went. We even got to have some fun ringing the church bells.

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Once we arrived, our first task was to find the parking garage. We got directions from the hotel and then parked the car in what is by far one of the strangest car parks I’ve ever been to. The parking lot was solidly underground, and it also came with handy things like sinks. We speculated that it used to be a bunker, and sure enough after inquiring at the front desk we had our suspicions confirmed. Compared to most European countries, Norway doesn’t have many visible reminders of World War II, so it’s always a bit shocking to stumble upon something that shows the impact that it had on the country.
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The weather continued to be a bit dreary, and because it was a Sunday most things were closed when we walked around town. That being said, we still really enjoyed looking around. Compared to most Norwegian towns, Stavanger is filled with vibrant colors and quirky parks. Abby and I had a lot of fun playing in a playground next to the Norwegian Petroleum Museum. The park is made out of repurposed shipping tools, so we had fun bouncing along on buoys and crawling along old shipping pipes. One of the things we also enjoyed seeing was a memorial “DEDICATED TO THE MEN AND WOMEN OF NORWEGIAN BLOOD WHO HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO THE BUILDING OF AMERICA.” Stavanger even has a Norwegian Emigration Center that has an exhibit on Norwegian emigration to the United States.

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After that, we gratefully returned to our hotel and put our feet up. We felt like we were living the life of luxury by being in a hotel and having access to a TV. Neither Abby nor I has a TV in our student housing, so we had a lot of fun channel surfing and trying to decipher some of the Norwegian ads between our combined (and limited) Norwegian vocabularies. If you’d like to try it out, I’ve included the link to the one commercial that we did manage to figure out.

What we deduced is that this is an advertisement for Jarlsberg, one of the two big cheese brands in Norway (the other being Gulost). Things come to a head when the guy asks for Jarlsberg and is told that Gulost is fine since cheese is cheese. For the rest of the advertisement, the woman essentially says that “x is x” (even though it’s clearly not the case) and that her significant other should be satisfied. So for example, she says “hjem er hjem” or “home is home” when he’s being admitted to a mental institution. Basically the point of the advertisement is that cheese is not in fact cheese and that only Jarlsberg is Jarlsberg. Screw Gulost! Basically Abby and I spent a significant amount of mental energy deducing a Norwegian commercial for a cheese that neither of us particularly likes, but hey we felt somewhat accomplished by the end of it.