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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Sunshine and Culture

The next day started out with me apartment hopping. I moved from Sara’s apartment to the apartment of two other friends, Lauren and Darshali. Because Lauren happened to have the afternoon off, she decided to join me in my exploration of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, one of Madrid’s main art museums. However, almost as soon as we got there we issued a groan. The line snaked around the block. With plummeting hopes we decided to walk towards the main doors and assess how dire the situation was. To our great surprise, the door was locked. Turns out we had showed up right before opening hours and the line wasn’t hopeless after all. To make things even better, the museum was free that day. So without too much ado we waited for about 10 minutes in line before being ushered inside.

In order to stay relatively crowd free, we decided to work from top to bottom, something that happened to actually make sense chronologically. The museum’s oldest collections are housed at the top of the museum, while its more modern works are shown on the main floor. I will say that one of my favorite moments was running into a few El Greco paintings. I had always found El Greco a bit odd when I studied him in Art History and Spanish class, and while I still find his artwork strange, I left liking quite a few of them. Yay art! Overall, we spent well over two hours at the museum–and we didn’t even get to have a good look in all of the rooms! Unfortunately, our grumbling tummies told us that they would rather eat than spend another hour in the museum, so we set off for lunch.

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After a nice lunch, Lauren had other obligations, thus leaving me to my own devices. I’ve discovered through my various travels that while I am a huge fan of public transportation (probably a product of growing up with the practically non-existent public transport in Los Angeles), I am an even bigger fan of walking.

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Madrid is a fairly walkable city, so I walked through the Parque del Oeste and caught a glimpse of the Temple of Debod. The temple is an original 2nd century BC Egyptian temple that was given to Spain after Spain helped the Egyptian government in 1960. The construction of the Great Dam of Aswan posed a threat to several nearby historic monuments, and Spain responded to an UNESCO call asking for help to preserve Egypt’s monuments. The Temple of Debod was then given to Spain as a thank you by the Egyptian government. After taking in the temple, I turned around and began to walk back into the heart of the city.

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Not too far away from the park is Madrid’s Royal Palace. Unfortunately it was closed when I passed by, but I wasn’t too put out. While I do enjoy visiting palaces, I’ve seen so many this past year that missing this one wasn’t devastating. I did however enjoy taking a quick walk around part of the palace grounds.

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Right next door to the Royal Palace is the Catedral de la Almudena. The cathedral is named after Madrid’s patronness, the Almudena Virgin. According to legend, an image of the Virgin was found by the king on the city wall, thus creating the Almudena (derived from an Arabic word meaning city wall) Virgin.

Similar to palaces, I’ve seen quite a number of cathedrals this past year, and have started to pass them by. What made me want to go into this one was pictures that I’d seen of the ceilings. The multicolored panels were definitely worth a short stop.

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After saying hello to the installation of Pope John Paul II just outside the cathedral, I decided to call it a day and head back to the apartment. From there I reunited with all of my Spanish ETA friends for dinner. After a tasty selection of tapas we went to San Ginés, which is a cafe renowned for its hot chocolate and churros. I must admit that it’s definitely famous for a reason. The melted hot chocolate was fantastic, but it was so rich that my friends told me that it’s rare for anyone to ever finish all of it.

Off To Madrid

Having lived with gloomy and rainy skies for months, I decided to head to sunnier places–namely Spain. Lucky for me, I happen to know three Spanish ETAs (all of Spain’s ETAs are based in Madrid), and they agreed to let me stay with them and show me around the city when they weren’t teaching.

Having studied Spanish in high school, I was excited to see how well I would manage in Madrid. I rapidly realized that my comprehension and reading is still pretty good (especially considering that I haven’t used Spanish for about five years), but that my speaking ability has deteriorated considerably. Thankfully this wasn’t too much of a problem since I spent about half of my time with my near fluent ETA friends.

Once I arrived, I met my friend Sara and we were off. Our first stop was Puerta del Sol, one of Madrid’s most bustling plazas. Although it’s certainly a pretty plaza, there isn’t too much of note here. The big landmarks are a statue of King Carlos III, the zero kilometer marker, and El Oso y El Madroño (The Bear and the Strawberry Tree–the symbol of Madrid).

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From there it was just a short walk to another plaza, Plaza Mayor. Personally I preferred Plaza Mayor to Puerta del Sol. It’s a bit more closed off than Puerta del Sol and also tends to have fewer people wandering around. It also has a fairly colorful history that includes things like bullfights and executions. I would argue that the most notable thing in the square is not the statue of King Felipe III, but the frescos on the 17th-century Real Casa de la Panadería (Royal Bakery). While the building is quite old, the frescoes themselves are relatively young. They were painted in 1992 by Carlos Franco and helped boost Madrid’s 1992 title as the European Capital of Culture.

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After that we stopped by the popular Mercado de San Miguel and grabbed some frozen yogurt before continuing down Calle de Toledo to the Rio Manzanares, the river that runs through Madrid. The area by the river has been made into a beautiful park, and there were plenty of people there walking, exercising, playing, and picnicking. Something that surprised me were the number of couples canoodling around the grounds–I suppose in Norway it’s generally too cold for people to really want to show signs of affection outdoors.

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We continued walking until we hit Matadero, a slaughterhouse that has been converted into a contemporary arts center. There were two big art exhibitions that we managed to see there. The first was one by the Guerrilla Girls, a feminist art collective started in the 1980’s that is well known for wearing gorilla masks and for using statistics to push back against women’s position in the art world. I was actually pretty shocked to read some of the statistics and to realize how few female artists are shown in the world’s major museums.

The second display was by Eugenio Ampudia. He had a great display where a shallow pool of water was built beneath a burned out construction, giving you the illusion of vast depth. When I first saw it I was convinced that there was a gaping hole in the floor. Unfortunately my picture doesn’t quite do the art justice, but it was pretty incredible to see at first glance. Another interesting thing about the piece was that you were able to call a telephone number that would trigger one of several small fountains, causing the reflection to ripple and destroy the illusion.

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After that we went for some lovely tapas near Sara’s place and called it a night.

Final Presentations

I’ve been told that my last few posts make it seem like everything is all play and no work, but don’t worry! I’ve still been teaching–I’ve just assumed that you’d rather hear more about the fun parts of my week. So, for this post I decided that I should reassure you that I do in fact have a job here in Norway.

Things at NTNU have slowly been coming to a close. November 21 is the last day of classes at the university and many of my students’ weekly writing samples tend to detail their various panic levels as they approach the end of the semester. In my smaller NTNU class, Academic Writing, Nancy has established a tradition of inviting all of our students over to her house for dinner and presentations. Many of the students in the class are international, in fact we only have one Norwegian student, so the presentations are meant to help us understand their experiences in Norway and learn more about about how Norway compares to their home countries. But, first things first, we dined.

Nancy happens to be a fabulous cook and made a mixture of Norwegian and American dishes for the class. My meager contribution to this part of the evening was setting the table, chopping lettuce, and generally trying to be a good sous chef. Basically my role at family gatherings since the dawn of time (though for any family members reading this rest be assured I am not complaining).

After we feasted and managed to roll ourselves away from the table we started up the projector and after a few technical difficulties began the presentations. I learned a good deal from these presentations, but the thing that actually surprised me the most was how funny my students are. This particular class is notable for how quiet they are so I was surprised to see so many of them crack jokes. So, here are some of the highlights from these presentations:

  • Our first German student decided to present on Turkish street food in Germany, particularly doner kebab. The student gave us some of the history of the industry as well as some stats (just about everyone was prepared to move to Berlin when he said that doner costs about 1 euro). My favorite part of his presentation though was his concluding slide, which had the picture below and the caption:Angie knows…doner makes beautiful
  • We then had three French students do a fairly comprehensive comparison between France and Norway. I think that their biggest complaint centered around the food. Their biggest concern was Norwegian cheese. In Norway, cheese is made by boiling whey and the most highly prized Norwegian cheese is brown cheese. Needless to say, my French students do not think that this qualifies as cheese. All three students practically waxed poetic when talking about the sheer amount of hard cheese available in France (one girl said that the number was over 350 cheeses).
  • I think the thing that made everyone laugh the most was a presentation by our Spanish student. She said that she was shocked by thermometers in Norway since it was the first time she’d seen a thermometer that measured temperatures below 0 Celsius.
  • One of the stranger things I learned about that night was about sports in Finland. Finland apparently hosts world championships in wife carrying, boot throwing, air guitar playing, swamp soccer, and sitting on ant’s nests. I kid you not these are real things. There are even stamps depicting these sports in Finland.

After the presentations, we all dug into dessert and continued to talk. Some interesting moments from this conversation include:

  • Talking about Christmas foods and having our Chinese student explain that Christmas is not celebrated in China. Many of my students struggled to wrap their heads around the idea of no Christmas.
  • Having our German students explain that they pay state taxes to the church, though apparently you can go to court and get yourself banished from the church, thus avoiding those taxes.
  • Germans still pay taxes that support East Germany, a hangover from World War II.
  • Apparently Germans used to build a lot of churches because they could use them as an excuse to celebrate and drink. They would celebrate the day each church was started, the day it was opened, etc. In essence, Germans tried to created a year round party centered around church building; at least until the kaiser put his foot down and declared that there would only be one celebratory day.
  • I also had fun realizing how small some of my student’s hometowns are. One student in particular described his birthplace as containing “approximately two hundred souls. About a hundred human and a hundred cow.”

All in all, it was a fun and educational night and I like to think that everyone walked home with a little bit more knowledge and a full tummy.