Thursday, February 26, 2015

Barcelona, Spain

View from the top of Arena De Barcelona
Ever since high school Spanish class, Rex has wanted to visit Spain. It’s taken almost 40 years, but he finally got there with me tagging along. And even though it was February, the weather was gorgeous.
With plenty of sunshine, lavender blooming and green parrots chattering in the trees, I’m glad we didn’t have to wait another 40 years. Barcelona is the only real city Cervantes mentions in his classic Don Quixote because the weather was so pleasant and the people even more so. For our 4-day visit, this still held true.

We arrived Wednesday evening with enough time to walk a few blocks near our hotel and get dinner at an excellent tapas restaurant. Tapas are small dishes of food for sharing with your table mates. Our first go-round we ordered picante avocado bowl, chorizo slices, cannellini, and pickled quail thighs.
Me on the steps leading up to the National Gallery of Catalonyan Art

The next day we walked up to the National Gallery of Catalunya Art and the Fountain of Montjuïc (184 steps, thank you very much).  After wandering around the gardens, we walked a couple miles to the town center to take in a 10th century cathedral, a chocolate museum, and the renowned Gothic Quarter with great examples of Visigoth art and architecture.

Barcelona Harbor
After a quick lunch and still more walking down near the harbor, we bought metro tickets and headed to the Arena de Barcelona near our hotel. The Moorish Revival arena was built in 1900 for bull fighting but the sport fell out of favor by the 1970s and the arena has since been converted into a savvy shopping mall. After dinner on the top floor we went back to our hotel for a much needed soak.  

Inside La Sagrada Familia

Friday morning we hopped the metro north to tour Antoni Gaudi’s catholic cathedral, La Sagrada Familia. Gaudi’s architectural style is described as organic as he drew inspiration from the natural world around him. (The philosophy is similar to Frank Lloyd Wright’s but with completely different results.)

The cathedral’s unbelievably vaulted ceiling creates reverence but Gaudi’s organic touches add a whimsy not often seen in 20th century churches. Sagrada Familia was begun in 1883; work continues to this day with no anticipated end.
Tapas for dinner included: warm brie on toast with truffles, nachos and guacamole, roasted vegetables, and fried artichokes.

Rex at the top of Park Güell
Saturday we checked the map and decided to visit the Park Güell which features more Gaudi architecture. Funny thing about non-topographical maps: they don't indicate the steepness of a climb. And it was some haul.
Daily tapas included: chicken skewers, goat cheese salad, tomato and bread, mini chorizos, grilled scallops, Russian salad, ham croquettes, and a potted tiramisu. All washed down with icy Estrella Damm beers and a couple shots of mango-guava liqueur. Small portions, but lots of flavors.

After dinner we spotted fireworks going off in a side street. Then came the drums. Before we knew it we were smack in the middle of a small parade going around the block, for what we may never know. Clearly there was religious significance because some folks were dressed as demons others as priests and cardinals. It looked like something out of 16th century Europe, rollicking, festive, and loud.

For more pictures of our trip click here, por favor.

An observation
I don’t speak Spanish though I heard it all the time growing up in California. But hearing the Spanish in Barcelona was different (and not just because it was mixed with local Catalonian). I think it was an issue of race. In the states, where Spanish is usually synonymous with Mexican, there is a stigma associated with it. To wit: illegal aliens, second-class citizenry, and migrant workers.  

But in Spain I got the impression its people are fully aware their ancestry includes a once-global empire, that their explorers opened new worlds, reached the far shores of North and South America, that they’re responsible for - among other things - introducing chocolate to Europe. There was a nice relaxed pride vibe going on and it was a pleasure to be there, even for just the few days.



Friday, February 13, 2015

The Signs are Everywhere - and They're Adorable

There's a lot that's quaint in the United Kingdom. The accents are quaint, the gardens are quaint, the thatched roof houses on country roads are quaint.
But the things that really catch my eye are the signs and notices. Their verbiage is a throw-back to a different era yet I'll be dipped if I know which exact time-frame. For example:  whereas a traffic sign in the states would say "Yield" the British equivalent is  delightfully polite "Give Way."

It's not just the phrasing, it's also the length. This street sign below makes no mistake telling the driver what's expected. Its message has more meat on it than I'm used to so when I first saw it I mentally rewrote it to eliminate 40% of the words (that's a real savings, folks!). But then I wondered what difference it really made. Why was it important to pare down the length?
The argument could be made that less is better because in fast traffic you don't want to be distracted reading a literary gazette. True, but the average speed limit here is 35 mph and in town centre traffic (where this was) it rarely gets even that high. So  maybe it's okay to be a little wordy. In fact the wordiness, actually demands you take a second and get educated. As my Aunt Claire said, "Would it kill you to read something once in a while?" 
And it's not just limited to traffic signs. Here's a page from our National Trust Guide that included a built-in bookmark. Again, my American mind automatically rewrote the directions to read: "Bookmark. Tear here." (I come from the land of square deals and straight shootin' where brevity isn't just the soul of wit, it IS wit.) Yet the country of Shakespeare,  Brontë and Keats offered up something more elegant: "This page has been perforated so that it can be removed and used as a bookmark." I can't argue with it.  
Here's another gem:
And this one:
I spotted this beauty walking home from town:
This is my favorite not only for the words, but because someone actually went to the bother of having the message hammered into metal: