An American Professor in Europe 
Summer, 2012 
 
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   The Adventure continues in Barcelona, Spain!                   26 July to 29 July

 
 
Big Time
in Barcelona

  
  Exploring the City

       
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Update - 27 July: Arrival Day and Day One
     Well, it took quite an adventure that I was not expecting to get here, but I am very much enjoying Barcelona, Spain.  Several aspects I did not expect, like the tensions here between the Catalonians and the rest of Spain in terms of the economy and laws.  I may get to that later or refer to it to make sense of other observations.  For now, allow me to start with a brief story for future world travelers.  There is a running photo album to the right for those who care not to read all the details.

The Lost Shuttle and the Chauffeur           Click here to pass story
     The story can get long winded, and I have edited twice.  My flight was on-time, my arrival was great, but I was left with little to find my transfer shuttle to my hotel, which was pre-paid through the airline with my tickets last March.  The Barcelona airport is modern and beautiful, great facilities and for the most part good signage.  Clearly it is a world city like London and they get travelers from all over the world who need good directions.  However, there were no clues on my transfer voucher or on signs about hotel shuttles or what service to use.  I anticipated this question, even asked my airline when I checked in at Heathrow London, but one lesson to remember is that you really have to know the details before you even leave for the airport.  When checking my bags, I inquired about the connection "on the other end," but agents
at the airport have no idea how such a service works!
     Please keep in mind, dear readers, that of all the languages other than English, I happen to know Spanish very well, so my problem was not due to the language barriers so many would have.  It was a connection problem, and problem with a little shuttle company that appears to be lacking in customer service standards.  And I had an emergency number with my airline to call, but when I did (my airline's office in Madrid) they had no idea what I was talking about.  Shortening the story, it first took me an hour to find the location where I was supposed to meet the shuttle driver--another terminal of the Barcelona airport at the "Black Horse Statue."  A driver came to collect a group for transfer about 30 minutes later, but he was not going to the city center where my hotel was.  He said, "Just wait here, another driver will come by soon."  Two hours later, still no second driver.  Others had gathered for their transfers, many English speakers for whom I translated things to assist them, some left with other companies using the same procedure.  When a second driver finally arrived, she said the same thing, just wait, but this time I said, "No me dejas, tienes que ayudarme."
     End of story is that I finally got some help after nearly 3 hours waiting.  After much discussion and another British traveler going to yet another part of the city who "lost it" and got irate with the second driver, she contacted her people and was informed that my name was not on any list--they did not have my booking.  The number on my vouchers did not even conform to their numbers.  About 10 minutes later, however, a free lance chauffeur (van service) arrived and held up a sign with my name.  Apparently the shuttle company had called another to save me, but he could not just do it--I had to call and request it! Also, he could not accept my voucher, so I paid again (still much cheaper than a taxi).  In fact, I used the phone of the driver of the first company to make the request and a minute he was dispatched to give me a ride to the city center while standing next to me.
     Lost the afternoon, but enjoyed the evening and got settled and oriented.  Clearly, I could have bailed and taken a cab, but told it was costly.  Also learned the trains are the way to go like in London or Amsterdam, so the traveler lives and learns.  I got locked into this because I had pre-paid and so one wants to use their voucher.  My chauffeur driver (see above) was the nicest guy, waited around to assist and worked it all out for the little he gets for the drive.  It was now well into the rush hour time, so the ride took 40 minutes and we spoke Spanish and chatted all the way, a very sweet man doing what he can for his young family and first son on the way. 

Immediate Impressions of Barcelona
     The first thing I noted yesterday about the city were the swarms of people.  This time of year Barcelona is crawling with tourists and vacationers like myself.  Totally packed and full of shops and places to see and things to do...y malvados tambien.  The gothic styles, iron railings and narrow streets here in the city center rather remind me of Venice, as well as the many summer visitors.  Of course this city spreads out well beyond that island on which Venice sits and there are layers of architecture and areas where the modern and the
old-world are mixed.  I took an orientation City "Touristic" coach tour today and when it got out to the areas where the 1992 Olympics had been, one can see much development.  Clearly the Olympics improved the city from what it was before and added more beaches and modern living spaces father out from the city center.
     I am just off an area called La Rambla in the old city, a two-mile walk to the beach.  The tour bus took me all around the city for about two and one-half hours and I plan to go back to several places tomorrow and post more pictures.  Those familiar with art and Spanish architecture will know that there are many works of Antoni Gaudi here in his home city, including the most famous and recognizable church La Sagrada Familia (Holy Family).  You will find pictures of it and other architectural curiosities below when I have posted photos of my return there tomorrow.  I have tried to capture the different kinds of buildings
and to present a feeling of the city in its grand variety.  The triangular modern building is the Forum out past the Olympic Beach to the north.  Another marvel designed by Gaudi is the Parc Guell in the north part of the city.  I got off the tour bus to explore it today and pictures are to the right (look for mosaics).  There were just too many people visiting the park to get clear shot of objects, such as the famous lizard at the entrance steps.  Same lizard was used by M. C. Escher as I saw in the Hague last summer.
     Now, on the first night, once I was settled, I found a nice market right in the city which had a gourmet area for fine Spanish and Catalunyan wines and cheeses.  Later after dark I took a walk along la Rambla; there are hundreds of places to eat, so I picked one for a bite and a sangria as recommended by my daughter.  Before too long a couple took the table next to me and then two men took another diagonal to me, all open air along the walkway.  I am traveling alone, just minding my business but with ears open and so I start to listen to their conversation in English.  The couple was from Sweden but the woman had an American accent and they were speaking English with the two
men who were from Italy.  They then said Florence was their home.  Given things that were said, I eventually introduced myself and joined in the conversation.  Everyone all around is having a good time and so this was not a context where one is interrupting a private conversation--we all enjoyed the chat as we finished our meals.  It again shows that people are the same the world over.  The woman was from Mississippi and she met her Swedish husband while working in New York City, a southern girl who "got out" and went to the big city after school, now 30 years old with two young kids.  "Back home with the grandparents?" I asked.  Yep.  The men from Florence were drinking big beers and their first time in Barcelona.  We all talked about our many travels and experiences and our homes.  So very remarkable to meet people like this and how it doesn't matter as you will never see them again.
     As
you can see, I got out to the beach in the afternoon today too, and it was a perfect summer day for seeing all the people enjoying themselves.  No, I did not get in the water, didn't pack my swimming gear with just two full days here and wanting to just learn the place and take photos.  It is how I do things, visit once and then maybe I will return with the familiarity.  I finally ended the first full day with a bus to the Tower Agbar, the curious looking colorful tower in the pictures, full of office space and secure, near a large modern shopping mall.  I then walked back down the "Gran Via" full of Spanish life and architecture.  Other than those first few hours, the last 30 hours have been quite nice here in Barcelona, I have learned a great deal, and there's more to do tomorrow.--TW

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Update - 29 July  
    I didn’t mention in the last update what was my first distinct experience related to visiting Barcelona for the first time. I had intended to report it with a mental note, alas.  When flying or taking the train to any country in Europe, announcements are made in the language of the nation to which you are traveling.  When I got into my seat on the plane and all were aboard and strapped in, the usual announcements began. 
I suddenly had this remarkable experience of understanding what was being said!  It is not so important that I happen to speak Spanish; however, being so used to not understanding a word, of French, German or Dutch, and now add to that the incomprehensible Finnish from last month, this sensation of comprehension was a delightful feeling that rushed over me.  I did not anticipate that I understood every word.  Of course, I understand Spanish much better than I speak it.  Anyone who speaks a second language from adult learning knows it takes practice.  It has helped a great deal while in Spain, compared to the experience of visiting other world spaces.
    Yesterday I returned to
some places that I had only passed by on the tour bus, such as historical buildings, side streets, squares and fountains. I spent the evening Saturday night along La Rambla again, as I did on arrival night, and enjoyed some paella at one of the hundreds of restaurants that serve it, along with tapas, and took photos of the Mercat de la Boqueria which is a large and historic “farmer’s market” here in the city center, open every day. I also tried to capture the numbers of people on the streets and everywhere. It is a labyrinth of streets off La Rambla with thousands of shops eateries, and courtyards. In one huge open-air square hidden from the main boulevard I encountered traditional Catalonian music and mostly older non-professional couples dancing to it while surrounded by on-lookers enjoying the entertainment. It seems one can turn down any street and never experience every event taking place or site to see. I walked in the evening down the entire Ramblas and encountered all manner of trinket seller, street performers, and caricature artist. Very busy.
    In the last update,
when I mentioned walking down the Gran Via from the Agbar Tower on my first full day, I had learned from the tourism bus that the Plaza de Toro Monumental was along that city transverse (see below). I purposefully took that route in getting back to La Rambla to return to this great old arena, all brick and tile, where the bull fights used to take place, as well as musical concerts of times past, like Sinatra and The Beatles, before the modern arenas were built. I say bull fights "used to" take place because just this past January—that recently—all bull fighting was banned in Barcelona, owing to either political issues between the Spanish and Catalonians or to a new generation of sensibilities regarding the killing of animals. Apparently, according to my hotel clerk, the bull fights were too Spanish in tradition for the Catalans. It is true that Catalonians are making efforts to reject specific Spanish ideals toward their own separate national identity. Yet in speaking with a young woman on the bus yesterday, her opinion was one of creature consciousness. As one can see, the building is remarkable and I can imagination the events that took place in this grand old stadium, the cheers roaring from inside over many by-gone decades, with the crowd sitting on either the Sol side (sun) or Sombra side (shade).

        Photo Album




















    
    
     While retracing some of the path of the tourist bus yesterday I got photos of Antoni Gaudi’s architecture. Below you can see La Sagrada Familia church, his unfinished masterpiece work, and pictures of La Pedrera (the corner building) and Casa Batlio (windows) along the Passage of Garcia.  Note the distinctive style of Gaudi, the curved windows and fluid look to the sides of the buildings.  It adds even more to the variety of architecture down every street.  I also returned yesterday by public bus to the location of the Parc Guell to purchase souvenirs I had seen before.   There I encountered the gold-painted street performer pictured (above right), who holds in a frozen position for photos like a statue, then the shock of the audience when he moves.  I also enjoyed a brunch of eggs, salchichas (sausage), beicon, patatas (fries), and salad. After eating cheeses and breads for two days, it was nice to have some protein!

    
    

     This morning before departure, I awoke with energy and thought to explore the morning to see if this city ever sleeps.  It was a Sunday morning, about 6 or 7 am and there were many less people as the sunrise came.  I walked to the beach and an area of town called "Barceloneta" and took these photos of the sun rising and the quiet marina with city buidlings alighting in the background.  Also see the photo of the famous Cathedral built along a Roman wall.  Some people were still returning from the night out, a few were drunk and there were joggers as well.

    

In closing the Spain page and this Update, I must say that it was almost “too much” in Barcelona. Now that I reflect on these last three days in Spain as a whole, there was perhaps too much to approach, too many choices of things to see and do. Clearly it depends on the person and how much stimulation one can handle—I nearly could not emotionally take it all in. In comparing my experience with other highly populated cities, like New York City, my young adulthood in Los Angeles, and my recent visits to London, none seem to compare to this experience, and it seems rightly attributable to this time of summer and the tourism. Or could Barcelona be filled to the brim with human activity all year round? Do not mistake, it is not a negative feeling or deterrent—far from it. I think one must

    

spend a week and be prepared for total excitement, take everything slowly and somehow relax in the face of the constant stimulation. Barcelona is not for the introvert or one looking for a retreat from the world. It seems this city IS the world, all within the 300+ square miles, an old city that is at the same time new and full of the people of the future enjoying themselves. I’m glad I sampled this place and hope to return, when I’m ready for the stimulation of humanity! --TW

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