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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New Year’s Eve

So I didn’t bother writing about the 30th since we spent the day going back home to the UK from Salzburg. How did we do that you might ask. By train. I’m currently very happy not to be taking a train anytime in the near future. Though to be somewhat fair this time it took less than 26 hours.

Anyways, on to New Year’s Eve. As much as I enjoy traveling with my Dad and spending time with him, I decided that I would rather spend NYE with friends. It just so happens that I know a few Italian Fulbrighters and we all agreed to meet up in Rome.

So I dutifully packed up my things on NYE and took an afternoon flight out to Rome. When I landed I encountered my first surprise: people in Italy eat late. After I landed I managed to send a message to my friends letting them know that I was 1) alive 2) awaiting transport from the airport into the city. It was then that I was told that we would be eating at 9pm. Now I’m the sort of person who normally starts eating any time between 5 to 6 pm. Even 7 pm on an adventurous day, though I make notable exceptions when visiting the Taylor family (love you guys). So to me a 9 pm dinner seemed like madness. Then again I wasn’t actually due to get into the city until around 8 pm so I figured I’d just roll with it.

As for getting into Rome, I had initially planned on taking the train; however, the man at the ticket office convinced me to take a shuttle since he claimed it would be faster. So I paid the extra euro and hopped onto the shuttle with around seven other people.

Now having heard terrible things about the taxis in Rome, my attitude towards cars in Rome was more or less the same as my attitude towards New York City taxis, which is: pay, buckle up, and pray. Turns out my logic wasn’t totally off. After about 15 minutes of driving, we heard a loud bang and a continuous grinding sound. Our driver appeared completely unconcerned with the state of things. My fellow passengers and I were not in the same mind frame. Once it became clear that our driver had no intention of pulling over, one of the other passengers finally pointed out that we had probably blown a tire. I’m not sure if this speculation  just didn’t phase our driver or if he simply didn’t understand what we were trying to say, but he continued to drive until a few more concerned murmurs got him to pull over at a rest stop. To give him credit, we had not blown a tire, and from the quick way our driver hopped back into the car he didn’t see anything that troubled him. But as soon as the car got going the grinding sound continued. Eventually whatever was causing the noise fell off the car, and I suppose it will simply remain an unsolved mystery. Anyways we made it to Termini Station without any more problems and I made it to my hostel safe and sound.

So I got settled in and then headed out to meet friends for our now 9:30 pm dinner. I’m not going to lie I was pretty hungry at this point. Luckily food was forthcoming and I tried Rome’s specialty, carbonara. So it was over pasta and a bottle of wine that I got to catch up with friends, Gargi, Matt, and Naji, and meet new ones, Dan and Iman. With the exception of Matt, all of them are Italian Fulbrighters, so I had fun learning more about what it’s like to be living in different parts of Italy.

I particularly enjoyed talking to Gargi since she has my same ETA job in Sicily. I found out that our students are pretty different and, from I could tell, this largely seems to be a product of the different cultures that we work in. Here are some of the biggest differences that we talked about:

  1. Italian students apparently chatter all the time. From my very brief experience in Rome, Italians seem to be both social and loud people. In Norway, I often face very silent classrooms and Norwegians (at least from an American perspective) are practically antisocial. I have never had a real problem with my students interrupting me or talking when I’m lecturing, a fact that I am now more grateful for.
  2. Gargi also mentioned that her students don’t always do the best job when it comes to paying attention (see point 1). Most of the time my students at least appear like they are paying attention. Plus I occasionally have them play games based on my lectures, which of course requires them to listen to what I’m saying. Now like most teachers, I am fully aware that my students spend a good portion of their time on Facebook (and don’t think I know), but I prefer this to them talking when I’m lecturing.
  3. Language abilities also seem different. From what Gargi told me it looks like Italian students have a lower level of English than my Norwegian students, or at least the ones that I teach in the college track. Turns out starting a language in preschool and kindergarten really pays off.
  4. Lastly our students also have different vocational tracks. I had a good time talking to Gargi about a tourism track that she works with (obviously reflecting the fact that tourism is one of Italy’s biggest industries). In contrast to this, I’ve worked much more with engineers, people going into alternative energy, and the shipping industry. To be fair, being based at the science and technology university significantly skews my viewpoint.

But back to NYE. In classic European style it took us about two hours before we managed to leave our restaurant. So it wasn’t until around 11:3o pm that we finally managed to extricate ourselves and walk towards the Roman Forum. It was here that I learned my second major Italian lesson: in Italy rules are really just suggestions. Both low and high grade fireworks were being set off sporadically, and many them were clearly being set off by amateurs in the middle of the street. There were even a few times that we were concerned for the surrounding trees since they were being peppered by fireworks. Despite the madness around us, we managed to buy a bottle of champagne and get a good fireworks watching position by the Colosseum. This means we managed to ring in the New Year in some sort of style, though unfortunately we did not manage to find glasses for our bottle of champagne. Oh and of course the fireworks went off late. But hey, as one of my new friends succinctly said “It’s Italy…what did you expect?”

From there we wandered to one of Rome’s many piazzas where we bar hopped into the wee hours of the morning.

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