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

1 comment:

  1. El oso y el madroño--the symbol of Madrid!! Literally translates to, "The bear and the strawberry tree." Obviously strawberries don't grow on trees, but the "strawberry" tree doesn't actually produce strawberries, I believe, but some other similiar-looking berry. I think a long time ago there was a large native population of bears in the area. I'm assuming that the "strawberry" tree was also native to the area, but I really have no idea.