Parents: Part I

Being a tour guide was never something I imagined for myself.  But this week, that’ what I have been doing.  My parents are visiting from New Jersey, and I have (gladly) taken my free time to show them the ropes in Barcelona.

I had a teacher in the eighth grade who told her students that you only know the material when you can teach it to someone else.  Thanks, Mrs. Sorenson, that’s exactly how I feel about Barcelona.  Showing my parents around has showed me how well I have come to know this city in only two short months.

When they arrived, I took my parents down to Plaça Catalunya via Passeig de Gracia.  I was able to point out a good number of landmarks along the way – Casa Mila (La Pedrera), Casa Batllo, Casa Lleo Morera, Casa Amatller, among others.  I walk along this route very often, but I hadn’t realized how much of the scenery had actually materialized itself in my memory.

From Plaça Catalunya, I took them to La Rambla.

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Now, La Rambla is quite easy to navigate – it is only one long street, with directional signs pointing the route to other major sights.  But something about showing other people around La Rambla makes you feel like you really know it.  I mean, anyone can follow a sign, or walk straight down a street, but I was able to point out specific landmarks, and not only name them, but talk a little about them.  Like the Font de Canaletes at the top of the street, which will guarantee a person’s return to Barcelona if he or she drinks from it.  Or that Plaça Reial is not only a plaza, but one of the most popular in the area, featuring lamp posts designed by Antoni Gaudi.

Along La Rambla we made our way though the labyrinth that is La Boqueria, and visited Plaça Reial for lunch.

Boqueria

We stopped in for a tour of Palau Güell, the awesome house with its notable fantastical chimneys, designed by Gaudi for the Güell family.

Palau Guell

After Palau Guell, we walked down to the water (the Mediterranean) to check out the statue of Columbus pointing outward toward the sea.  Walking back up from the bottom of La Rambla, we went for a visit in Plaça del Pi, a small plaza with constant farmers’ markets in its center.  Attempting to navigate the route back to Plaça Catalunya we walked through Plaça de Josep Oriol, which houses a small art market.

That was it for Saturday sightseeing – but not it for Saturday in general.  After resting a bit at the hotel, we went for dinner at a nearby tapas restaurant – La Cerveseria Catalana.  Everything was a delicious.  It was a fantastic end to the day.

Sunday I walked the eight or so blocks to my parents’ hotel from my apartment early in the morning.  Once everyone was ready to go we walked down Rambla Catalunya – stopping for breakfast along the way – to Plaça Catalunya.  (Those of you who read this blog and have never been to Barcelona – I assume you are getting the sense the Plaça Catalunya is in the middle of everything.  It sort of is.).  From there, instead of taking La Rambla down into the Old City, we took Avinguda de Portal l’Angel, a pedestrian street that runs parallel to La Rambla.  The first stop was Plaça de Sant Jaume and the Ajuntament de Barcelona – that is, City Hall.  I have already described City Hall in a previous post, so I won’t go into the descriptions here.

Ajuntament

After the Ajuntament, we walked out to La Rambla to try and check out the Gran Teatre del Liceu.  Unfortunately, it was closed.  This turned out to be a theme of the day.  The next stop was to return to Plaça del Pi to check out the Esglesia de Santa Maria del Pi.  After the church, we walked to Avinguda de la Catedral.  I’m sure you all can guess what is there – the Cathedral.  We walked into la Catedral, but mass was going on so we could not visit the entire building.  (I informed the parents that they certainly had to return because this is a beautiful building, and the geese in the cloister are great.)

La Catedral geese

After La Catedral we walked to Plaça del Rei.  At Plaça del Rei I pointed out the Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat – an interesting museum about the history of Barcelona set on top of the ruins of Barcino, the Roman settlement on which Barcelona was built.  We walked into Palau del Lloctinent, the Viceroy’s Palace, which houses the Archives of the Crown of Aragon and the letter permitting Columbus’s voyage.

From there, we walked down into La Ribera.  In La Ribera, I took my parents to the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar.

Santa Maria del Mar

We also walked down Carrer de Montcada, a popular street in the area.  After all that, we stopped for lunch.  Reenergized, we went to the El Born Centro Cultural, an old market-turned-historic site.  After the cultural center, I took the parents to Parc de la Ciutadella.  The parc is pretty, but the exciting part about it is the Parlament de Catalunya located near the back, as well as a waterfall fountain co-designed by Antoni Gaudi.  Right outside the park on one of the sides is the Arc de Triomf.  We visited that, and then took the metro back to Plaça de Catalunya.

Arc de Triomf

My Mom had read that the Sinagoga Major was open until 7:00pm, so from Plaça de Catalunya, we walked to the winding streets of El Call, the old Jewish Quarter.  Unfortunately the synagogue was closed.  We stopped for a snack and headed back to the hotel to rest a bit.

I wanted to take my parents to see la Font Magica, a fountain between Plaça d’Espanya and Montjuïc that puts on a show with lights and colors all choreographed to music.  We got to the fountain just in time for the show, however it turned out that I had read the times for the summer, not the winter season.  That was okay.  We walked up to the Palau Nacional, a beautiful building behind the fountain that houses the Museu Nacional d’Arte de Catalunya, and took in the the view of the city.  After that we went back to Rambla de Catalunya where we stopped for a late night snack and some Cava (Catalan sparkling wine) Sangria.

Palau Nacional

Monday I went to work.  The parents took in a day of Gaudi (with a few other places tossed in).  They started the day by going to la Sinagoga Major and Gran Teatre del Liceu.

La Sinagoga Mayor

I have never seen the theater, and I had planned to go some day, but according to my Mom, it’s not quite worth it.  But anyway, their next stops were Casa Batllo (Gaudi), la Pedrera/Casa Mila (also Gaudi), and La Sagrada Familia (definitely also Gaudi).  I met them outside La Sagrada Familia after work and we went for dinner.  I pointed out a couple major buildings after dinner on the walk back to the hotel.

Casa Batllo

Pedrera

Sagrada

Tuesday and Wednesday I went to work as usual, and the parents went to Girona (see previous posts to learn about Girona), and Figueres, a small city up the Costa Brava with a fantastic Dali museum.  Wednesday night they returned in the early evening.  I met up with them and helped pick out some things they should check out the next day.  We had a small Chanukkah celebration in their hotel room and lit candles in a space far enough from the room’s smoke detector.  After the Chanukkah candles burned down, it was time for dinner.  We went to La Barceloneta, the seafood, fish, and paella capital of Barcelona.  To get back to the metro station, we walked along the beach (Barceloneta is the beach section of the city) and saw some awesome sand castles.  We said goodnight and I left my parents at the Passieg de Gracia metro station.

SandCastle

In the weeks before my parents came I was feeling as if I only saw the same things in the city over and over, but knowing that I can show people around a decent amount of the city, I’m realizing how much I have really seen.

It’s Been A Slow Week

It has been a slow week here for me.  But I didn’t want to go too long without a post.  Since Sunday, I have just been going to my internship, then coming back to my apartment.  Sometimes you just need a sleepy week.

Yesterday, while researching some POIs for my map, I stumbled upon the region of Sant Andreu.  In my 9 weeks, I had yet to hear of this area.  It doesn’t have many tourist attractions, so the guidebooks don’t even mention it.  Or at least the guidebooks I have don’t mention it.  But I found out about these two churches out there that are supposed to be beautiful.  One of them, Esglesia de Sant Pacia has a mosaic inside created by Gaudi.  The other, Esglesia de Sant Andreu del Palomar, is just supposed to be a nice building.

I took the metro after work to the area, and walked to each of the churches.  Unfortunately both were closed, so I couldn’t go inside.  This was especially disappointing for the Esglesia de Sant Pacia, because I really wanted to see the mosaic.  But the outside of Esglesia de Sant Andreu del Palomar almost made up for not being able to see the inside.  I took a few pictures, and although the trip was shorter than planned I left for my apartment.

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Tomorrow my parents – check it out guys, you got a shout out – are flying in from New Jersey.  I am very excited to show them around the city I have been calling home for the past couple months.

There will definitely be a blog post about the coming week’s parental adventures.

An Afternoon Away

Yesterday was the perfect day to do an afternoon trip to Girona.  It was pouring and windy and dark and all around gross in Barcelona when I walked to the metro station this morning – but 100km away in Girona, the weather was much better. (Not great, just better). I got to Girona around 1:00pm.  I walked to the old town, across a bridge from which you could see awesome colorful buildings along the river.

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From there, I stopped quickly in the tourism office for a map that I didn’t end up using. I walked to what I thought was the Cathedral. It was pretty, church-like, and had a big bell tower – description of a cathedral, right?  Wrong. The church was actually the Basilica de Sant Feliu.  This was a very interesting church. There was a beautiful altar of the side of the central nave. It was not so much in the gothic style like the rest of the basilica. A nice change of pace, I think, from  all the gothic churches. It was beautiful.

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After the basilica,  I rounded the corner to find the Cathedral. I don’t know if it was the weather – or the incredible amount of churches I have visited – or that I wasn’t feeling great, but the main Cathedral was not supremely impressive. Maybe it’s a post-Sagrada Familia thing, where nothing can measure up to that, or maybe it just wasn’t a great cathedral. We will never know. And you all, my readers, will not know from this post because I am not including pictures of the inside (I don’t have any – photography was not allowed). 

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Anyway, after the Cathedral, I walked down to El Call.  Call is a word used exclusively in Catalunya to describe old Jewish quarters, commonly referred to in English as ghettos, but with a slightly less depressing connotation.  I ate lunch on El Call, and got a much needed cafe con leche. The weather was not helping my energy levels.  After eating mad regaining some strength, I went to the Jewish Museum.  If you, readers, are ever in Barcelona and like Jewish history, take the day trip to Girona for this museum.  It is a fantastic history of the Jews of Barcelona, Girona, and all of Spain. 

Now for you Jewish history buffs who are thinking, ‘What? A fantastic Jewish museum in Girona? But I’ve never heard of that place!’ Think again! Rabbi Nachmonides, otherwise known as the Ramban was born, and spent most of his life in Girona.

Anyway, after the museum I walked the winding streets of El Call for a bit and then made my way over to the Girona Museu d’Arqueologia de Catalunya.

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The museum was pretty cool, but what makes it better is that it is housed inside an old Roman monastery, Monestir de Sant Pere de Galligants.

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My plan was to go to the museum, and then keep with the theme, and do the walk along Passeig Arqueologic. The problem was, it had gotten very dark out. Passeig Arqueologic is a walk through winding stone corridors from very ancient buildings. Doing this walk would have violated my personal rule about being in dark alleys alone at night, so I skipped it.  I walked back along la Rambla to Plaça de Catalunya (yes, Girona has that too!) to the bridge out of old town.  As I was walking, it started to rain.  I picked the perfect time to leave.

So that was it. An afternoon in Girona, a city I highly recommend for art lovers, history lovers, food lovers and everyone else.

You Just Have to Look Like You Know What You’re Doing

Just Yesterday, at my internship, I was doing some research to plot any major POIs in the barrios surrounding Gracia. Most of the points I plotted in Eixample – the area in which I live – I had already visited. To the east of Gracia is Horta-Guinardo – the barrio in which I used to live. That area isn’t well known for its attractions, other than the Parc del Laberint (see previous posts). But there was one point here I had heard about but I had yet to visit: Hospital de la Santa Creu I Sant Pau.  The nearest metro stop was just up the street from the hospital and it was on the metro line that I take to and from my internship. Could it be easier to get there?  So I went.

The hospital (no longer functioning – but next to a modern, functioning one), was designed by Domenech i Muntaner.  Presently, the whole area is under renovation, so you can’t see much other than the façades of a few buildings. You can however, go inside the church, la Esglesia de l’Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau. The church has a sign on the door detailing when it is open for visits. The sign noted that it was open at the time I was there, so I went inside. Well, it sure didn’t seem open once I was inside. It was very beautiful, but very empty.  I have never been alone in  a church before, and let me tell you, it was super creepy. It kind of feels like all of the figures watch you as you walk around. I admired, took photos, and promptly left.

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On my way out, I passed by a building once part of the hospital, now used for part of a university. I thought, maybe instead of walking around the building, I would walk through it. I got up to the door and there was a sign that said the building was open to university people only. Oh well, I am a university student… Just not there. So I went in anyway. When there was no one around I admired the building and its spectacular tiled walls.  And when there were people around, I walked quickly, with purpose, like I totally knew where I was and what I was doing. Except I didn’t.

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I left the hospital and got back on the metro. Instead of taking it straight to Passeig de Gracia (my stop), I got off at Verdaguer – or as I think of it in my head, Verdura (that’s so much easier to say, and a real word!).  Right outside the metro station is a building called Casa Macaya.  I have no knowledge of its purpose or history; I just saw it on TripAdvisor, and thought I’d check it out. It’s a very pretty building. You can’t go the the upper floors, only the courtyard, but that’s alright. The whole ceiling in the courtyard is a skylight, so it’s all extremely bright. In the center is a small tree.  But the stairs were my favorite.  Well, not the stairs themselves, but the cover for them.  The stairs were made into a sort of inclined passageway by a stone covering.  From the side or bottom, only the shape was interesting, but from certain vantage points, you could see the top, and that was spectacular. After Casa Macaya, I went back to my apartment, I really needed to get some rest.

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If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium: My Weekend in Brussels

Friday, I ran from my internship to the metro station, and subsequently to the stop for the aerobus.  The aerobus, as its name implies, took me to the airport where I boarded a plane for the most terrifying plane ride ever.  But we landed safely, and I was ready to leave the trip behind and start my weekend in Brussels.  I started by going to my hostel, which was more of a guesthouse, and had, most importantly, a dog.  At the hostel I met up with some other people visiting for the weekend, and we all went out together.  This weekend was very food-oriented, and this was my first chance to start trying the Belgian specialties – for the night, that was beer.  We hung out for a few hours, and then went back to the hostel for a halfway decent night’s sleep.  

In the morning I got up early, ate breakfast, pet the dog, and started my touristic journey.  I began by walking down to Palais de Justice.  You cannot go inside on the weekends, but I think the outside is probably equally as interesting.  It is this huge, dark, and imposing, but has this beautiful brown and gold dome on the top.  
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I walked down to the Porte de Hal – the only remaining medieval gate to the city.  Inside was the Center for Urban Culture, a museum about part of Brussels’ history.  The top of Porte de Hal is a round room circling the staircase.  From here you can see a nice panorama of the city.  
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Leaving Porte de Hal, I walked up to Place du Jeu de Balle Vossen.  The entire plaza was occupied by a flea market that opens there daily.  I walked around for a while inspecting antiques and old records before continuing my walk up the road.  The rest of the road to Place de la Chapelle was lined with antique stores, second-hand shops, and galleries.  I investigated a few of the shops, but there were so many, I never could have seen them all.  At the plaza, I visited a cathedral.  The ceiling was by far the most interesting part.  For the majority of the building, you see a white and stone ceiling, but as you reach the main alter area it changes to a sudden matte turquoise color, with gold trimmings.  
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After the cathedral I stopped for a coffee in a small plaza.  With a renewed energy, I continued walking to possibly to most famous attraction in Brussels, the Manneken-Pis.  The Manneken-Pis is a statue of a boy who is peeing.  His “urine” is a fountain that has become a famous landmark.  My favorite part about this fountain is that the boy is dressed up in a little outfit that is periodically changed.  
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After the Manneken-Pis, I walked up a crowded street to the Grand Place.  The street was filled with waffle shops.  I bought a waffle from one of the vendors and took a bite.  They are delicious.  The hype is real, and it isn’t just hype: Belgium has the best waffles.  
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I walked to the Grand Place and stood in the center of the square for a bit.  This plaza is one of the most interesting I have seen.  It is surrounded on all four sides by incredible architecture.  

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The first building I checked out was the Town Hall.  You can only go into the courtyard without having booked a tour, but that was okay.  the courtyard was quite beautiful and had matching statues on either side.  

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Next I went across the plaza to Maison du Roi, which housed the City Museum.  Museums are difficult when you don’t speak French or Flemish.  But this one did have one fantastic exhibit that I did not need language for:  The outfits of Manneken-Pis.  They are so fantastically adorable.  There were different ones for different countries.  The one for the USA was a cowboy.  Among the collection, there was also a clown outfit, a doctor, an astronaut, and a mountain climber, just to name a few. 

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After the museum, I walked to Les Galeries Royales Saint Hubert, a kind of enclosed shopping space, as if a mall were converted into an above ground tunnel, filled with chocolate shops and antique stores.  After the Galleries, I walked to the main cathedral, Cathedrale des Saints Michel et Gudule.  It was at the top of a hill, and the view from there of the Town Hall spire was very cool.  The cathedral was nice, but I don’t think it measures up to most of the other main cathedrals that I have seen. 

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I left the cathedral and walked back to the Grand Place for another Belgian specialty: chocolate.  I went into one of the chocolate stores and bought a paper cone filled with milk and dark chocolate covered strawberries.  They were fantastic.  After the strawberries I went into the Brewery museum.  The museum wasn’t much, just a comparison of old brewing techniques to modern ones.  But admission came with a beer, and the special that day was something strawberry or raspberry.  It was pretty good.  

The next stop was the Chocolate Museum.  I liked this museum – it had free samples.  After the two museums I wandered around the city for a bit.  I made it to Place Sainte Catherine.  I had read that this plaza had nice bars and restaurants, so I went into one to try another Belgian beer.  I tried something called Blanche de Bruges, a white beer from Bruges.  If I can’t be “In Bruges,” I may as well try their beer.  (See what I did there?  One post, two movie references.)  From Place Sainte Catherine, I walked to Place Saint Gery.  There was a photography exhibit in the main building on the plaza.  Again, I don’t speak French or Flemish, so understanding the content of the exhibit was difficult, but the photos were cool.  From this plaza, I walked back toward the Grand Place.  On my way I got a hot chocolate.  The drink had been calling to me all day from the windows of every chocolate shop.  What could be more perfect on a cold day in Brussels?  Hot chocolate in hand, I walked through the Grand Plaza back to the Palais de Justice.  There is a glass elevator that takes you up from the lower streets to the plaza with the palace.  I took the elevator and took in the spectacular view of Brussels at night.  After all that, I went back to my hostel.  I pet the dog, and went to sleep.

In the morning, I made my way for the Jewish Museum.  I walked by it the night before, but it was closed, so I made it my second stop on Sunday.  First I went to the Place du Grand Sablon, a beautiful plaza with an even more beautiful church.  I couldn’t go inside the church, as it was Sunday, and therefore closed to visitors.  So I admired it from the outside, took my photos, and continued to the museum. 

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The museum was very interesting, although again, it would have been better if I knew French.  But the curator was very nice and put one of the films in English for me.  After the museum, I had originally planned to go to the Coudenberg Palace, but I felt pressed for time and skipped that agenda item.  If there are things I didn’t see this time around, it just means I have to go back someday.  The next stop then was the Atomium.  The Atomium is a structure remaining from the 1958 World’s Fair in the form of a unit cell of iron.  It is a little bit outside of the center city, so I hopped on the metro and made my way out there.  It was cold and a little rainy, so naturally, it was good weather for another waffle.  The Atomium was pretty cool.  You go inside and an elevator takes you to the top sphere for a panoramic view of the city.  After that, you go back down to the base to take a series of escalators and stairs to the other spheres, where there was an exhibit on innovation. 

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After the Atomium, I took the metro back to a station near the Grand Place.  I had read about a restaurant with a famous beer by the same name, La Mort Subite, (which translates to Sudden Death).  I ate lunch, and of course tried the house beer.  It was interesting.  It was one of those lambic beers, which means it is fermented using wild fermentation techniques, and has quite a defined, albeit indescribable, flavor.  After my lunch, I went back to my hostel to pack up, and of course pet the dog.  I left for the airport, got on the plane, and landed back in Barcelona late that night.