Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Patates Bravas and Pickpockets

My Spanish adventures started with the longest trip to our hostel in Barcelona [lesson learned: yes, although budget airlines rock, check which airports they arrive and land in with regards to the actual city center] i.) 1 hour from actual Paris to where our flight to Spain leaves ii.) 1 hour away from Barcelona city where our plane lands iii.) The bus only takes us to the train station, so a taxi to our hostel was needed iv.) Arrive at our hostel around 2am.

We woke up the next morning and since we were ‘beached-out’, we decided to do the sights within Barcelona itself, not Barcelonetta. Barcelona is famous for its Gaudi architecture. This architect looked to imitate the shapes he found in nature. Although this idea is really awesome—and not to mention it involves a lot of science and math—it just didn’t strike my fancy. Everything looked like melted mud. His Block of Discord came very close to a classical style that I really like. It made me crave a balcony for my future residence. We went to his Sagrada Familia church that had been started a long time ago but is still a work in progress. I felt awkward being there—there were construction workers and architects working while were went through it, it would be very cool to come back and see this finished—when I’m around 80 or 90 years old! After this we went to his Casa Mila. This had a pretty cool rooftop, but after Rome and Paris, it didn’t seem very special.

Now a bit about our hostel: (Ravi, Eric, Apu, Law, and Shashank, and maybe RP [I forget whether you watch this show])—yall will appreciate this) Our showers were like Veridian Dyanamic’s paper towel dispensers. We had to keep pressing a button every two minutes to continue showering. A girl from Canada that we met during breakfast bonded with us over Harry Potter and the fact that a.) my parents went to the midnight showing and b.) they for the 1st time ever beat me to read/see a Harry Potter book/movie! She was leaving that day for Paris (and to see HP6 there) and was incredibly nice and generous—she gave us her metro pass—8 trips FREE!

Ok back to our day. We went to Parc Guell, another Gaudi creation and although originally intended as a block of apartments, it functions much better as a park. We just admired the park, went to the Gaudi museum (eh) inside the park, and then napped there. I have developed a great predilection for napping in parks now. ALSO—the coolest part—this park is filled with parrots. Lively chirping, beautifully green, and free to fly parrots! [My mom could even hear them through the phone!]

Ok now onto the best part of Barcelona: the food. WOW. So Good. We had Tortialla Espanola [egg and potato casserole] and Patates Bravas [fried potatoes with spicy sauce] (tapas) for lunch and Paella (Spanish rice cooked with saffron and vegetables) for dinner. After dinner we took a stroll down the Rambls, a busy shopping and night-life street.

The next day was the Bari Gotic, Ribera (the Church of Santa Maria del Mar), and daytime stroll through the Ramblas. I saw a FNAC (RP I thought of you!) The streetsin Barcelona remind me of Florence, but overall the city was far too rural for me, haha. Lunch was at Biocenter—a vegetarian restaurant that has the freshest salads (self-serve) and a choice (out of 4) for a main dish. I had tofu! In Spain! It was amazingly delicious and definitely in the top 5 for best food I’ve eaten in Europe. It wasn’t too expensive either--they have a great lunch special.

Gaudi's Sagrada Familia
Again, Gaudi's Sagrada Famila
The stained glass inside the Sagrada Familia
The magic square and some decor of the doors to the church
On top of Casa Mila
Casa Mila!
The rooftop of Casa Mila
The Block of Discord
The balconies--I want one!
Parc Guell
The buildings inside Parc Guell
The view of Parc Guell from below
Santa Maria
Another church in Bari Gotic

On to Madrid: Madrid had a big city feel and definitely something I really loved. We found a movie theater that showed English movies and caught a showing of Harry Potter 6! (I can say the first time I’ve seen a Harry Potter Movie now is a count of 3 continents [I saw PoA in Malaysia]) We then walked around the city and went to the main cathedral across the Palacio Real. In the evening, we went to Retiro Park to stroll around and do the famous rowboat ride through the lake. However, I must say the food in Madrid wasa bit disappointing when compared to Barcelona. Laura then came and joined us at night (from her study abroad in Northern Spain).

The next morning, we did the Palacio Real, which I actually enjoyed more than Versailles. They had a lot more foreign influence in their décor—especially Oriental from Japan and China! After the Palace, we had a tortilla Espanola sandwich and corn empanada in Retiro Park, followed by a nap of course! Then we went to the Reina Sofia, the museum that holds Picasso’s famous Guernica. Other than that piece, I really couldn’t be in the museum for too long. It was suffocating, especially after seeing the effort and expertise put into the works that I saw in the Louvre and the Vatican. After the museum we went get a local treat: Churros and Chocolate! SO GOOD. They give you churros and a cup filled with melted chocolate and it’s mouthwateringly delicious. Plaza Mayor is the Spanish equivalent of Piazza Navona, so I felt very much at home just sitting in the Plaza and watching the entertainment and the people pass by. That night we checked out the famous 7-story dance club of Madrid—complete with rooftop patio on the top.

The next day was the famous Prado art museum! It was great to see the Spanish masters like Degas and Goya, but what made me LOVE this museum was a whole room for Claude Lorrain! They even had some Italian, Dutch, and Flemish masterworks as well. So all around, this museum was surprisingly fantastic. As we commenced our shopping, after the Prado, for souvenirs, we had our epic adventure!

After Ishanee had just bought a spoon for her sister, who collects them, a stranger on the road told Ishanee that she should watch her purse, because people were sticking their hands inside it. This was the first day Ishanee didn’t bring her backpack along and wanted to break in the new purse that she had just bought, too! Ishanee looked inside and just stopped in her tracks. At this point, Laura and I were across the street. And we looked behind and she just says, “Guys, I’ve just been pickpocketed.” I saw a man point down a street and I just took off running. I don’t know what came over me, other than adrenaline. I saw a suspicious looking girl and saw Ishanee’s money bag in her hand as she tried to hide it, but I ran after her and grabbed a hold of her arm. I did notice another girl with her, but I only focused on the girl with the evidence in her hand. As Laura, a kind stranger, and Ishanee came over. Ishanee was just relived that her passport was back in her hands. All this time I refused to let go of this criminal’s wrists. It took us a while to tell her to check to see whether anything else was missing. And yes, 100 was missing. The girl pretended to play dumb and the worst part—when we asked the local restaurant to call the police, they told us they didn’t know the number because they’ve never had to call the police. What a load of bull. I mean, I know they don’t want to look like they’re supporting the tourists and letting their own people get in trouble, but for one: 1) their business depends on tourism, 2) the girl was from Romania. We tried to ask her about her friend, but we could get nothing, and thankfully we had Laura to do all the translating. The kind stranger stayed with us until the police came (he actually flagged them down for us!) and helped us through the whole ordeal. The policeman asked the girl and again she played dumb, and really there was no point in filing a report, because the chances were that we’d never see the money again anyways. This lack of punishment and motive to pursue pickpockets are the reasons why pickpockets are still so predominant in Europe. But we were thankful that Ishanee had all her American money and her passport and that this happened towards the end of our trip, and it could have been a lot more money or the situation could have been a lot worse.

After our rather adrenaline filled encounter, we decided to go to our hotel near the airport and chill in our room—we’d had enough of Madrid at that point. But good news: I’d be back in Italia in just a few hours!

The church across from Palacio Real
Inside the church
Retiro Park
The famous monument inside Retiro Park
A Symbol of Madrid--anyone know the story behind this?
Palacio Real
Picnic in Retiro Park
Churros and Chocolate
At the movie theater! Harry Potter 6!!!
In front of the Prado

Mass at Notre Dame and Bastile Day in Paris

France was unexpected. I went to Paris with the preconception that everything would be overpriced and the people would be snobby. I was pleasantly surprised. Paris was amazing. The weather was better than anywhere (in the 70’s!), the food was so ethnic, and the place is just gorgeous. The building are unlike anything I’ve seen and the gardens seem to be the replacements for piazzas. I was not expecting to love this city as much as I did.

We landed and made our way to the hotel. At first we thought we bought a 7,60 ticket that only took us to a train station (a total of 8 minutes) but luckily it took us from the airport to the RER line. Also Paris has some great deals! We got a weekend metropass for a person under 25 that was less than half the cost of what it would have been if we had bought a standard adult all day pass. It was amazing and very nice of the ticket lady to tell us about this deal. We also got a 2 day museum pass (highly recommended!) for 32 which we used for 7 different museums/sites. That’s less than 5 per site. If I had not gotten this pass, I would have paid 71! Also this pass got us out of waiting in lines (except at Notre Dame)—such a perk. Sorry for that aside. The first thing on our list was a quick stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens. This place seemed to have all sorts of Paris-esque qualities to it. The people were just sitting and talking or reading or crosswording or sudokuing or iPoding or napping. They were so relaxed. But so many people were there and it reminded me of Seurat’sès-midi_à_l%27Île_de_la_Grande_Jatte_v2.jpeg

After this stroll we booked it to Notre Dame so we could buy our Museum passes to use for tomorrow. We were kind of worried that they would have run out or closed—but we were in luck. After getting our tickets and dinner in the Latin Quarter (French Onion Soup and Fondue) we made our way to Sacre Cour, a Gothic cathedral that is on higher ground that overlooks the city. Everyone was there; chilling on the steps and picnicking on the grass. But what was so cool was that amidst the ruckus outside, Sacre Cour was quiet and had some awesome spiritual vibrations. Its altar was the most creative and well-executed altar I’ve seen in a church. It was not all the way in the apse, but just in front of it, so that you were able to walk around the back of the altar. After this we decided to go see a sunset view of the Eiffel Tower from Trocadero Square and then a nighttime view of the Tower from the Champs de Mars. Trocadero square’s view was very climactic—there was a building in front of the Tower between the metro exit and the actual Tower so you could only see the Tower when you walked right to the middle of the square. But that’s when it hit me that I was in Paris. Sadly, the Champs de Mars was closed (for Bastile Day celebrations, which we found out about later…)

The Arc de Triomphe complete with French Flag in preparation of Bastile Day! (Sorry, this picture should be near the end!

The Luxembourg Gardens
Notre Dame!
Sacre Cour
The Eiffel Tower!
Yes, here it is again!
The next day started with the Palace @ Versailles. Our museum pass helped us cut the ridiculous line and we lingered a bit more in the palace so we could see the fountains in the garden turn on (because on that day we’d have to pay to go into the gardens because the fountains were turned on). The fountains weren’t even all that fancy and especially after Tivoli only two fountains even come close (Piazza Navona’s and the Trevi, of course!). One thing that surprised me about Paris was the number of ethnicities it had: it’s the most diverse place I’ve been to in Europe Also there are a ton of Tamils. A TON. There was Tamil writing in Sacre Cour, Tamil people on the metro, and Tamil speaking security people at Versailles. The palace itself was beautiful, but what really took the cake was Marie Antoinette’s estate. The quaint cottages within a hamlet were just wow; I-want-to-live-there-slash-reminds-me-of-Assisi-WOW. After Versailles we went back to Paris and did the Orsay. Oh how I love Impressionist and Post-Impressionism: Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Matisse, Cezanne, Seurat, Gaugain, etc. It was just awesome. For the record, Renoir is my favorite. It was definitely a bigger museum than I expected, but very enjoyable nonetheless. After this, we made a quick stop at St. Chappelle before heading out to the one recommendation we’ve gotten from everybody to eat at in Paris: Las Dus Falaffel. (Thanks Dane and Saloni!) Oh boy, it was good! J While enjoying our falafel at the side of the street, we met a couple from Salt Lake. The woman was a Longhorn alum and her best friend was Plan II-how cool?! I love running into Longhorns abroad. Also since the sun doesn’t set till forever (around 10ish pm) we decided to go see the outside of the famous Paris Opera House, Opera Garnier—we had seen some of its interior design in the Orsay earlier, the Moulin Rouge, and a bit of the red light district area. We went yet again to the grass near Trocadero Square to see the sunset followed by a midnight falafel run to Las Dus—just like kebabalicious or Ken’s back in Austin!
Inside the Palace's Hall of Mirrors
The Hamlet of Marie Antoinette
Marie's Chateau
Vegetable and Flower Gardens in Marie's Estate
Another View of Marie's Estate
Inside the Orsay!
Renior Love
St. Chappelle
Look at that ceiling
Opera Garnier
The famous Moulin Rouge
The Eiffel Tower from Trocadero Square
Midnight Falafel Run

The following day began at the Lourve. It was my first time there (definitely not my last!) and it was unbelievable. I saw all my favorites and there even was a room filled with paintings by my all time favorite artist: Claude Lorrain. I also discovered 2 more artists that I am now a fan of: Pierre Patel and Pannini. Pannini has the best paintings, especially for all you Rome lovers: see below. I really want prints or posters of these paintings for my room. We went through almost the entire museum in about 3 hours or so. I was very impressed. Oath of the Horatii, Liberty Leading Her People, and Raft of the Medusa left me awestruck. I was incredibly humbled to even be in the presence of such works. The Louvre courtyard with the Pyramids is also really spectacular. It’s always open and it’s a great spot to sit and relax. We went to the Orangerie afterwards to check out Monet’s elliptical rooms with his waterlillies. It was very different having a 360° all-around vantage. Also their Renior collection was more impressive than the Orsay’s—so at that point this museum became better than the Orsay for me. After lunch we made our way to climb Notre Dame. On the way I met Rob (from SECL) who was studying abroad there. It was totally random, but awesome running into him. Climbing Notre Dame was a blast to the past, ie Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The line was long, but it was the only line we ever had to stand in during our trip to Paris, so it was bearable. I got a few more postcards written during the wait. The gargoyles and the view were definitely worth the wait. After climbing down, we entered the actual cathedral and attended mass (at Notre Dame!). We also admired the beautiful stained glass. And the church is HUGE. For dinner we had couscous—see exotic again, and afterwards we headed to the Arc de Triomphe and after climbing that, we strolled down the famous Champs de Elysse (a famous street). We saw the futuristic cars and the Mercedes Benz dealerships and the LIDO cabaret, and the largest Louis Vutton I’ve ever seen. Yet again, we made our way back to the Eiffel Tower and took a Seine River cruise. It was pleasant but really chilly. The area around the Eiffel tower was really crowded because the next day was Bastile Day (the French equivalent of July 4th). The Champs was also covered with French Flags.

The pyramids at the Louvre
Nike of Samothrace!
In the Egyptian Hallway
Assyrian Lions!
Pannini's Ancient Rome Painting
Pannini's Renaissance/Baroque/Neoclassical Rome Painting
daVinci! I wrote an essay on this painting this past semester for my High Renaissance Art History Class!
Claude Lorrain:
Tulleries Gardens
The Orangerie-Nympaheum of Monet's Waterlillies
On top of Notre Dame!
There's the Tower again!
Mass at Notre Dame
Sacre Cour in the Distance (On top of the Arc de Triomphe)
Me+Eiffel=Happiness (On top of the Arc de Triomphe)
The tower from the boat of the River Cruise

The next morning we awoke to the parade passing near our hotel. Although we were planning on going either to Chatres (to see a famous Gothic cathedral) or to Giverny (to see Monet’s House) we decided against it because if we missed our train back, we’d be stranded in Paris. We spent the day in the Luxembourg Gardens, the Tulleries Gardens, and the pyramid courtyard of the Louvre. We started off the morning with breakfast from a bakery down the street. And let me tell you: best croissant I’ve EVER put into my mouth—buttery, flaky, but not too crispy; an amazing chocolate chip cake thing with a dollop of chocolate fudge in the middle. It was absolutely divine. The Luxembourg Gardens were especially nice today. Families were there to sail their toy sailboats in the large fountain; it was really adorable. Gardens are seriously the French equivalent of Italian piazzas. I wish there were more accessible gardens/piazzas with grass and benches back home. I’ve become so accustomed to picnicking and napping in them.

The French Equivalent of South Mall

Overall France was amazing. I am definitely coming back to tour the Gothic cathedrals throughout the country, go to Giverny, inside the Opera and the French Pantheon, as well as to relax on the Riviera. Also another plus about France is that people don’t smoke nearly as much as they do in Italy or Greece. The Paris metro was also a ton of fun to ride: It was always a puzzle trying to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B with the shortest amount of stops and least number of transfers! Up next: our adventure to our hostel in Barcelona.