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.

IMG_4115  IMG_4107  IMG_4118IMG_4124  IMG_4140  IMG_4146

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.

IMG_4155  IMG_4160  IMG_4162IMG_4166  IMG_4168  IMG_4169IMG_4177  IMG_4183  IMG_4180IMG_4187  IMG_4188  IMG_4190

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.

IMG_4194  IMG_4196  IMG_4200

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.

IMG_4201  IMG_4211  IMG_4207

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.

IMG_4214  IMG_4216  IMG_4229IMG_4220  IMG_4222  IMG_4225

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.

IMG_4235  IMG_4236  IMG_4237IMG_4241  IMG_4243  IMG_4245IMG_4246  IMG_4251  IMG_4252

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.

IMG_4202

Church on Sunday

Sunday was my last full day in Rome, and because I was a bit travel weary I decided to take it pretty slow. My initial plan was to spend the majority of the day across the Tiber River. I had yet to visit the Vatican or Castel Sant’Angelo so I was planning on visiting both sights that day. Plus, it seemed appropriate to be going to the Vatican on Sunday.

Unfortunately, I got a bit of a late start in the morning, so by the time I walked across the river, had lunch, and arrived at Castel Sant’Angelo it was early afternoon. I had read online that the castle closes at 2 pm on Sundays, and when I took a look at the line it was pretty clear that by the time I managed to get inside the castle would be closing. So instead of getting in line, I snapped a few pictures before heading off to the Vatican.

IMG_8305  IMG_8309  IMG_8312IMG_8322  IMG_8333  IMG_8332IMG_8330  IMG_8347  IMG_8318Iman was feeling better today so she met me at the Vatican. Now remember how I said I didn’t book any tours? This still holds true for the Vatican, though it’s the closest that I got to taking a tour in Rome. I’ve had a ton of friends give really good reviews of Rick Steves’s Walking Tours so I decided to test one out while I waited in line for Iman. I didn’t get far in the audioguide, but what I heard was pretty good. Here’s a bit of what I learned: St. Peter’s Basilica was built on the site where St. Peter was crucified and buried, and the current church was created in two stages. The old church was left intact while St. Peter’s was built around it. Once the newer building was complete, the old church was knocked down and moved out. The columns in front of the Basilica are built in a circular shape since they are supposed to represent the welcoming arms of the church. Basically it’s supposed to be a big hug. The statues that adorn the columns are ten feet tall and each represents a different saint. Originally it used to be quite difficult to see the dome since when you approach the church the facade hides the dome (see below). It wasn’t until Mussolini closed off the street leading up to the Vatican that people were able to get a good view of the entire structure.

IMG_8356  IMG_8368  IMG_8371IMG_8374  IMG_8375  IMG_8377IMG_8389  IMG_8410  IMG_8405Although the line to the Vatican was long, I have to give them credit and say that it did move pretty quickly. Without too much ado, Iman and I were let inside the church after about thirty minutes. It was well worth the wait. It was stunning.

IMG_8419  IMG_8416  IMG_8421IMG_8467  IMG_8438  IMG_8451IMG_8473  IMG_8431  IMG_8454After we walked around the church, we took stairs down to the catacombs and saw what we think was the grave of St. Peter. We’re still not entirely sure since talking was not encouraged in the catacombs and all of the signs were in Italian. The grave of Pope John Paul II was towards the exit and we paid our respects before leaving.

After that all that was really left for us to do was to climb to the top of the dome. Now there are two options for the ascent. You can either climb the whole way to the top (around 550 stairs) or take an elevator up about halfway and then take the remaining set of stairs (around 350 stairs). Considering that Stephansdom in Vienna was around 340 stairs and I found that to be plenty, I was happy to pay the extra two euros and pass the first 200 or so stairs on the elevator. After a bit of a wait, we caught the elevator and were whisked up to the base of the dome. From there you could get a really good view of the dome’s artwork before continuing up to the top.

IMG_8485  IMG_8482  IMG_8489IMG_8493  IMG_8500  IMG_8497There were two things that surprised me on our way to the top. First the complete lack of handrails. When I mentioned this to Iman she just laughed and said something along the lines of “Welcome to Italy.” The second thing that surprised me was that the stairwell actually curves to match the curve of the dome. This means that you couldn’t stand up straight as your approached the top of the dome, otherwise you would risk hitting your head on the curved ceiling. But soon enough we were at the top. The views were great and were enhanced due to the fading daylight. We had inadvertently timed our ascent with sunset.

IMG_8503  IMG_8505  IMG_8507IMG_8508  IMG_8511  IMG_8510IMG_8518  IMG_8519  IMG_8521Once we were done we began the descent back to street level.

I did have to laugh at the public toilets at the Vatican. Based on their signs it’s clear that the male dominated church has only recently had to include female restrooms.

IMG_8535  IMG_8541  IMG_8538IMG_2294  IMG_8556  IMG_2296Now one of the great things about Sundays in Rome is that apparently sights that are run by the city (usually things like museums) are free. My original plan was to go to the Capitoline Museums, but cold symptoms made me decide to cut my day short. Overall I had a great day though. I don’t happen to be religious, and going to a Lutheran school from a young age means that I am definitely not Catholic, but it was it was really nice to go to such a holy place. Even though I don’t share the beliefs of many of the visitors, it was still very touching to see how much St. Peter’s meant to them.

Snowy Bergen and Pepperkakebyen

First a quick PSA. In case you’re wondering why I’ve been traveling more this past month, it’s because things have drastically slowed down at my schools. Classes ended at NTNU on November 21, and December at Byåsen has mostly centered around exams and final projects. The Christmas holiday also helps in terms of giving me more free time. Additionally, I’m prone to separate more jam packed travel days into multiple posts to make things easier to read.

I was excited to travel back to Bergen for a short trip this week. Having talked with Kyle in Oslo, I managed to confirm that not only is Bergen a very rainy city–apparently it’s the rainiest city in Europe! In a fit of irony, the Fulbright Commission happened to give grants to a lot of Portlanders this year, and to the best of my knowledge they all ended up in Bergen with the exception of one person. I suppose that they all feel right at home. So, it was with Kyle’s warnings ringing in my ears that the first thing I packed in my carry-on was an umbrella. To my great surprise however, it wasn’t raining when I arrived in Bergen with Alix and her husband, Chris, it was snowing!

After we got settled into our Airbnb, Alix, Chris, and I headed out into the city. The thing that I desperately wanted to see on this trip was Pepperkakebyen, a gingerbread replica of Bergen. Residents of Bergen are allowed to bring in gingerbread houses and they are arranged to mimic the city of Bergen. Of course the gingerbread town doesn’t replicate Bergen exactly. There are plenty of world landmarks that make an appearance, such as the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and St. Basil’s Cathedral, yet happen to be nowhere near Bergen.

Now, my family has been making gingerbread houses for years since it’s our traditional post-Thanksgiving activity. It’s taken a few years, but now our houses no longer look like they’ve been hit by tornadoes. I would even venture to say that now that I have an attention span longer than that of my five year old self, some of our houses even look pretty good. So for me Pepperkakebyen was a must see it Bergen.

I wasn’t disappointed. Getting there was initially a bit confusing. Google Maps had no problem leading us to the building, but the three of us hesitated upon arrival. It looked like the building contained an odd assortment of businesses such as a gym. Alix then skeptically pointed out that there was a sign for a public pool. This renewed my hopes because Pepperkakebyen is actually held at the local pool (the pool is obviously covered and drained). So, after about a minute of searching we found the appropriate entrance.

IMG_6154  IMG_6169  IMG_6184IMG_6182  IMG_6189  IMG_6191IMG_6190  IMG_6208  IMG_6196I was enchanted. My love of gingerbread houses felt very justified as soon as I walked in. There was a real range in how well constructed the gingerbread houses were. Some of them were on the simpler side, while others had windows that looked like they were made out of sugar. We probably spent a solid hour walking around and admiring Pepperkakebyen. To top things off, Pepperkakebyen also had slides! Alix patiently waited for Chris and I to run around and test out the slides. There was both a short slide and a long slide. The long slide was a solid 30-foot drop into the empty pool. I’m personally not the greatest fan of heights, but Chris decided to try out the long slide and seemed to enjoy it.

Once we finished playing around, the three of us headed off to grab some dinner and a good night’s sleep.