Monday, June 30, 2014

Barcelona Culture

Although there are many countries in Europe we both want to see and explore, we decided that for our trip, less would be more. I know there are plenty of people who like to see as much as they can while they are over there, hitting 10 countries in 10 days! I can totally understand that, but personally, I like to have a little longer than a day or two in each city. Why? So you can do more than just sightseeing, so you can experience the culture!

We spent five days in Spain, five days in Italy, and five days in France. It was the perfect amount of time! We got to see all the sights and do all the touristy things, but we also had time to try all kinds of food, to people watch, to experience the metro, to attend church, to dine with natives. It's nice to not feel rushed when you are taking in a different culture.

Barcelona is full of color AND culture. I loved learning new things and experiencing something totally new to both of us! I'd like to share some of our more cultural experiences with you.

One of our funniest experiences happened the first night of our trip, on the beaches of Barcelona. We had seen a few topless people here and there on the beach, which was to be expected because we were in Europe, but as we walked along the boardwalk we were in for a special treat.

We were just strolling along when I looked over and noticed that there were two people laying on their stomachs on the beach that looked pretty darn naked. Yep, there were definitely two "beach bums." I pointed it out to Anj, and we chuckled and kept walking. Not sure why, but I looked again and realized that they were getting up! This really old, really tan, and realllllly naked couple started playing PADDLEBALL! Seriously. Completely naked people + paddleball = quite the sight. They were putting it all out there, if you know what I mean.

We couldn't stop laughing or staring. Ha. And then I made Anj take a selfie, and it's too good not to post. A memory for the ages! This moment truly said, "Welcome to Barcelona!"

On our walk from the metro to the beach, we passed about 30 restaurants, all touting their Paella. Paella is a rice dish that is basically rice + anything else you can think of, which in Barcelona, is all kinds of seafood. I avoid seafood at all costs, but Anj is a little more adventurous. 

He got some Paella to go so I could find something else to eat, and it turned out to be more than just dinner. He met some friends too! We spent the rest of the trip spying on other diners trying to see how you are actually supposed to eat those huge, shrimpy things. (gross) 
I would definitely consider riding the metro a cultural experience: it's one of the best places for people watching, and if you spend enough time on it, you are guaranteed to see some crazy things. 

It can take a minute to figure the system out, but once you have it down, it's also a great way to explore a large city!
One of my favorite things about living in Paris was going to all the markets! We have Farmer's Markets here in the states, but the market culture in Europe is just totally different.

We only had a chance to go to one market in Barcelona, la Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria or la Boqueria, but it did not disappoint! It's a produce and seafood market off La Rambla (which is also really neat) and it was awesome! They are famous for their fruit juices: there are so many stands selling hundreds of different flavors. Seriously, they had any fruit combination you can think of and a lot you've never even heard of!
The juice was so good we had to go back and get some more. I loved the fun colorful straws too. Andrew tried the hot pink pitaya (dragon fruit) the second time around. It was kinda crazy!
I love market colors.
 We had some empanadas from one of the stands for lunch. Delish!
 Okay, okay, there are some not-so-pretty market sights too...
 I loved strolling up and down La Rambla. 
(It's a long street with a tree-lined pathway down the center)
Our next cultural experience and a definite highlight of the trip was going to the FC Barcelona soccer game. Andrew dreamed of going to a soccer game in Europe and we did it! It's fun to cross dreams off the bucket list. We searched for tickets forever and never found any together, so we ended up getting seats on two different rows but right in front of each other. Awesome.

We got to the stadium a little early (Anj was pretty pumped) and so he got to be first in line! We couldn't resist buying a scarf (it's a soccer thing) and Anj got a shirt too. The stadium, Camp Nou, doesn't look like much from the outside, but seriously it is huge! It seats 98,787 thousand people. That's a LOT. The biggest stadium for a professional sport in the U.S. seats 85,000. These people care about their futbol.
Anj wanted to get there early because, if he remembered correctly, the seats spelled out FC Barcelona when no one was in them and he wanted to see it. He remembered correctly.
It was so fun to see this guy living his dream!
It was a perfect day for a game.
It's amazing how many different types of people were at the game, from this adorable little girl and her hippie dad to business men in suits wearing discrete red and blue ties with bluetooth in ear. All kinds of people come together over their love for soccer.
We happened to have pretty darn good seats!

We were a couple sections away from the craziest fans who were waving these huge flags and cheering and singing the entire game. At one point, these guys started chanting at another fan rocking a Real Madrid (the rival) jersey. They were getting pretty angry, to the point that a police escort came and got the Real Madrid guy out of there before someone killed him or something. Like I said, they take this stuff pretty seriously. 
 And, nbd, but we saw Messi score a goal. Yeah. 
 After the game, the people stormed the streets! They just took over and didn't care about all the cars and mopeds trying to drive. It was awesome. We joined the throng and got a kick out of owning the Barcelona streets for several blocks.
We learned an important lesson at the game. When futbol fans think the ref has botched a call or when the other team fouls or flops, they don't "boo," they don't even yell. They whistle. It was strange at first, but if you can imagine 100,000 people whistling a very high-pitched whistle, it definitely makes a point. Obnoxious.

What does this have to do with anything? Well the day before when cheering for an awesome performer we saw in Park Guell, Andrew whistled! We were confused when the other park-goers kept shooting us seriously dirty looks. At the game, we realized why... Whoops!
It really was a treat to experience a dream with my best friend. 
(Even if our seats weren't right next to each other!)
 That night we got a taste of the Magic Fountain (oooh, ahhh) and we had some more traditional spanish cuisine: tapas.
Tapas are basically tons of different appetizers, cold and hot, that you can combine to create a meal. Lots of restaurants have all their tapas selections just sitting out for you to see as you walk by, and a lot of them are kind of scary, but we decided we could handle some of them.

We tried some patatas bravas, a fried potato dish with an aoili like sauce, and a tomato and feta salad. They also serve bread with this strange tomato jam/paste which looks weird but tastes fine. The patatas bravas was actually delicious, and we ended up having it a few times on the trip. We also made a friend at the table next door who was on a study abroad.
Another funny story is the tale of the cottage cheese cake. We decided we might as well try some dessert, and I ordered the Catalonian cream, expecting a sort of crème brulée sort of thing. I love crème brulée, so I was pretty excited to try it.

When it came out… I realized I had made a mistake. It turns out I ordered a big hunk of cheese for dessert. And it wasn't even good cheese. It was like… cottage cheese that had been drained and then mashed up and molded into a wedge. I only managed a few bites, but we had a lot of laughs.
More food: we had these delicious filled churros from a stand by our hotel for breakfast. 
Go home big right?
After going to the Picasso Museum (it's free on the first Sunday of the month!) we headed to church! Going to church in other countries is always a new cultural experience. I'm glad we spotted some Mormon-looking people (think white shirts and ties) on the metro because I'm not sure we would have found the church if we hadn't. It looked like a large office building.
Though it looked very different and I hardly understood anything that was going on, the feeling was the same, and everyone was so nice! The missionaries were so excited to talk to us.
Andrew was just chatting away (in Spanish of course, everyone kept telling me his Spanish was great!) with a kind sister in the ward after Sacrament Meeting, and she ended up inviting us over for dinner. We drove with the family to their little apartment and they shared a delicious meal with us. 

We had chicken, potatoes, and then burritos too. They went all out and loved telling Andrew all kinds of stories in super fast Spanish. There was no hope for me to understand, but I loved seeing Anj in his Spanish element!! Sharing a meal with a Spanish family gave us a little taste of how a Spaniard lives.
 The Family Herraiz
 Part of experiencing the culture of a city involves wandering around with no agenda, even getting lost in the many streets. This were some of the pretty views we just happened upon as we wandered around Barcelona.
One church had a beautiful garden-like pavilion in the middle. Andrew got a drink from this fountain… kinda sketchy but we were thirsty! Another cultural note: water is not readily available in Europe. Drinking fountains are rare and you often have to pay for water in restaurants. By the end of our trip we were so grateful for free water in the states!
 More views from our explorations… can you guess which one is Gaudi?
 If you guessed this colorful, undulating one, you were right!
 More street performers
¡Hola, Columbus!
 I couldn't resist this rainbow kettle corn. 
 Just chillin'
 While wandering back out to the coast and harbor, we ended up on a street lined with these crazy performers. These guys all have licenses to do this, and they were all pretty legit.
We liked the friendly artist most of all. Of course Andrew happened to run into someone he knew from Utah on this random street, so we had him take a quick pic for us!
We ended the night with a few more pretty views while the sun set. 

I really loved having the chance to learn more about a new culture and really getting to experience tons of new things. We got lost, we laughed, we loved! I'm so glad we made a stop in Spain and managed to cross some dreams off the list along the way. Thanks for all the memories, Barcelona!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Barcelona color

I am drawn to color. 

The first stop on our European adventure was Barcelona, and it was full of color. Andrew had always dreamed of going to Spain, and I'm always up for something new. Barcelona was perfect for us. We had no plans and no clue what to do there, but winging it and rolling with it was a great way to start our trip. 

We spent four days in Barca, and each brought something new. After leaving around 8 AM Utah time and arriving at 10 AM Spain time the next day, we were exhausted, but we didn't let that stop us from exploring. Once we found our hotel, which was surprisingly nice, we freshened up then headed out to see what the city had in store.  

Our first stop was at the Sagrada Familia, crazy and beautiful. We discovered the colors a few days later when we went inside!
After wandering around the city trying to find something worth eating, (I'm not much of a seafood eater, so the options were limited) we got ready to head to the beach.

On our way down to the coast, we passed a beach-side market and, if you know Andrew, you know he couldn't resist these colorful gummies. They just so happened to be delicious too.
And if you know me, you know I couldn't resist these fresh olives right next door. Yum.
The beach was sunshiney and bright, and there were only a few topless people. Success.
Gotta love that blue ocean. I always love the beach and the sound of the waves lapping on on the shore. It's simply calming (despite the men wandering around shouting "Cold water beer cerveza very cheap!" every few minutes.) 
We wrote out our hashtag with all the awesome rocks and pebbles that lined the sand. It looked great in real life, but getting a picture wasn't quite as easy.

The next day we got another dose of color at Park Güell.

Apparently, Gaudi, the architect behind a lot of the buildings and landscaping in Barcelona, was a man after my own heart: he clearly had a thing for color too. His style involves lots of undulating lines and curved surfaces, which he covered with mosaics, or trencadis. Mosaics were convenient because they could easily cover the rounded surfaces, and they add a distinctive and unique touch that was unlike anything else I had ever seen. 

We explored Park Güell all afternoon, starting with the rambling paths and gardens and then venturing into the monumental part of the park later in the day. 

I think we were both surprised at how green Barcelona was, especially as we explored the park.
We ventured into Gaudi's house and saw some of the little rooms where he spent several years of his life. I loved the corally color of his abode. 
His view of the city was pretty sweet too.
As we wandered the paths, we came across several different musicians. These guys were a real hit. 
Another great view from our ramblings

In the monumental section of the park, things got a little crazy. It's kind of a wonder Gaudi's designs still stand.
 It's amazing how his leaning rock pillars and his functional, traditional pillars transition so seamlessly. You wouldn't think you'd find them in the same park. 
Here's where the mosaics come in:
These were originally meant as guard houses, but now house a history museum and a gift shop. The roofs are entirely covered in mosaics.
Seriously, though. These mosaics. Can't. Get. Enough.
More green.
More me.
More Anj.
A great view of the entrance to the park:
Barcelona feet.
Gaudi actually used discarded pieces of ceramic to create the mosaics. There are so many intricate pieces and designs and even though it is a bit chaotic and random, everything still fits together so perfectly. 

The word for butterfly in french is papillon, and it happens to be one of my favorites. I think that is why this tile stood out to me. I took several pictures of it, and then when I walked into the gift shop, it was everywhere: on coasters, keychains, postcards, stickers... It was fun to see that the tiny tiles that stood out to me, among the hundreds of thousands I could have noticed, were a standout to others as well.
Park Güell was clearly a squinty success.

Going inside the Sagrada Familia, also designed by Gaudi, was both colorful and spiritual. We entered "El Templo" early in the morning when the sun hitting the windows just so. The colors coming through the glass were breathtaking, and they filled the entire building. Though the building is unfinished and the religion not my own, I knew it was a holy place. How can something that magnificent and beautiful, and yet so quiet and peaceful, not be?

I think it's safe to say that these pictures speak for themselves. I hope you can get a taste of the magnificence, grandeur, and holiness of the Sagrada Familia.