Tag Archives: barcelona

Subway Observations and the Hot Neon Wilderness

I’ve been riding subways in a few different cities this summer, and Hong Kong seems to have the nicest. Even the escalators seem considerably faster than others. To illustrate, a few points about other city transit systems I’ve noticed in the last few months:

The Washington D.C. metro has carpeted floors and crowded seats facing in the same direction. In NYC passengers face each other, but the aisle is very wide, no carpet, and the trains have easy-to-read digital signage. In Barcelona, the seats face each other like a booth without a table, with an aisle between two rows. And there are butt rests near the doors, no carpet, and digital signs. London is like NYC with everyone facing each other, but the seats are padded, each seat has an armrest, and the aisle is very narrow. Hong Kong is like New York, but there is a clear wall/panel between the platform and the tracks, which opens when a train arrives.

The sight of the Hong Kong skyline from the air excites the senses and cured my jet lag, and sent me out into the streets with my camera almost as soon as I arrived. From my hotel, I took the subway from Jordan station to Central station, where the HSBC building designed by I.M. Pei towers over the exit, and the Peak Tram is a short walk away. Taking the Peak Tram to Victoria Peak is touted by all tourist guides as the top attraction in the city, and for good reason. The view speaks for itself:
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In a city of so many fantastic buildings, there are also many great vantage points to see them from. The promenade along Tsim Sha Tsui, also the Hong Kong’s “walk of the stars” is one of these, and provides a great point for looking out across the water at the skyline, or fawning over the handprints of your favorite Hong Kong film star (doesn’t everyone have one?)

Seeing the names of Asian celebrities I’d never heard of made me wonder if the Chinese think Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp are just regular people like me. Flattering, but not true, because they are rich, and cash transcends language. On Hong Kong’s “Walk of the Stars,” however, it is okay to pretend.
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A quick note about the heat in Hong Kong: it is very hot. Hot enough that I am amazed anyone was able to get out of bed in the morning and build all these towers. The humidity is such that photographers are faced with foggy lenses when first emerging from the subway, and several dozen minutes thereafter. People carry umbrellas for sun protection, though the sun isn’t as bright as the air is wet. Possibly the umbrellas are used to shield the holders from sweat dripping off all the other pedestrians.
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Ramble On

On my last night in Barcelona, I find myself wondering what reason there is to leave. It is an exciting city that can be enjoyed in a few days, but would make a nice place for an extended visit. I saw much of the city, but there is plenty left to explore. I couldn’t say what has been the best experience, everything has been great.

I visited the Museu de’Historia de la Ciutat this evening. Buried underneath the Barri Gotic, 9 meters underground, lay the ruins of the Roman settlement Barcino, which were unearthed by archaeologists in the 1970’s. Wandering around the 2,000 year old ruins, and coming back up into the modern city, and then thinking about being in Hong Kong in just a few hours, was quite a head-trip. Photography inside was prohibited, or I would have some images to share. It is worth a Wikipedia search to learn more.

I would love to come back to Barcelona in the future, but in a little while I’ll be leaving behind this amazing place in search of China. I can only hope it will be half as wonderful as Spain has been.

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Literary Diversion

“Those who arrive at Thekla can see little of the city, beyond the plank fences, BH080794the sackcloth screens, the scaffoldings, the metal armatures, the wooden catwalks hanging from ropes or supported by sawhorses, the ladders, the trestles. If you ask, “Why is Thekla’s construction taking such a long time?” the inhabitants continue hosting sacks, lowering leaded strings, moving long brushes up and down, as they answer, “So that its destruction cannot begin.” And if asked whether they fear that, once the scaffoldings are removed, the city may begin to crumble and fall to pieces, they add hastily, in a whisper, “Not only the city.”

from “Invisible Cities” by Italo Calvino

Una Vista Alto

From the Torre de Sant Sebastian, a cable car line runs to Montjuic, the hill overlooking Barcelona.  At 90 meters high, views of the city are stunning. The ride lasts about 10 minutes and deposits passengers in the park near the Estadi Olympic. 

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The last ride departs at 8p.m., a good time for watching the sunset from the top of the hill. The park is open at night to enjoy views of the city lights, and returning down the hill to the metro is a short walk. 

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The Arc and Parc de Ciutadella

Centrally located to the Barri Gotic and the beaches is Barcelona’s Arc de Triumf and the verdant Parc de Ciutadella. The Arc was constructed in the 1880’s for a world exhibition, and the Park is home to the city’s Zoo. 

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Palm trees and fountains make up the park, with grassy areas and many benches. Barcelonins with dogs don’t bother with leashes and swimming in a fountain earns a harsh whistle from a park official.

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Figueres, the home of Dali

Figueres is a small city outside Barcelona, and home to the fantastic Salvador Dali. I took the train from Placa Espanya to see the Museu Dali, which included a separate museum housing his jewel collection, and his mausoleum.

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The museum consisted of several floors , hallways, and spiraling staircases, with paintings, sketches, furniture, and installations by the artist. The famous “Persistence of Memory” painting is housed at the MOMA in New York, and many other pieces hang in the Dali museum of St. Petersburg, Florida.  Melting clocks can be found all over the place, however, in other paintings and sculptures.

The jewelry designed by Dali is no less extravagant than his oil paintings, and like an Egyptian pharaoh, his mausoleum is surrounded by his priceless art and ornate jewels.

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Outside of the Dali museum, Figueres is much like Barcelona, with Catalan influence, but on a smaller scale. On Monday evening, people were rambling down the “Ramblas,” shopping, and filling cafe tables.

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La Sagrada Familia

I seem to wake up each morning wondering what I’m going to do, all alone, an American in Barcelona. Then a few minutes later I step out into the street and the city is moving all around, and the question becomes irrelevant. Being here is an experience itself, without any particular need for purpose.

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Yesterday was a fine day, I first went to La Sagrada Familia where I spent many hours wandering around, from the Parc de Gaudi outside and into the building, and up the towers to find a magnificent view of the city. The building has been under construction since the 1890’s, and doesn’t appear near completion any time soon. I waited for a religious experience, as I started to leave, but one did not present itself. Perhaps it did without my knowing. Missing epiphanies aside, the building is impressive enough on it’s own.

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I went to the Majic Font at Placa Espanya in the evening after walking along the Passeig de Colon taking photos as the sun dissapeared. All of Barcelona seemed to be out at the fountain, or what would be all the population of a lesser city, but in Barcelona it was only a fraction. The water bounced and swirled into the air shimmering in various colors, dancing to classical, R&B and pop music.

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There are vendors around the city shilling toys which one throws up into the air, where they soar about 40 feet above, and twirl downward, blinking neon lights as they drop. When I see these, I think of cell phones, signals bouncing, blinking lights our first human means of communication across distance. There aren’t the same number of people with glowing cell phones protruding from their face here in Barcelona as you would find elsewhere, people apparently remember how to speak to each other face to face.

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I started the morning with a jog down Port Vell to the beach, and may have learned what keeps Barcelonins up so late at night. It is quite possible the residents here stay up all night and sleep through the morning for the sole purpose of avoiding completely naked, fat, old men on the beach. Yes, I can now cross "see fat naked guys at the beach" off of my bucket list. Without any inhibition, on a stretch of beach west of Port Vell, there were dozens, (what seemed like millions) of them.

Afterwards I walked around the Ramblas for a bit, stopped at a bookstore and bought a novela collection of Cervantes. The bookstore was mostly selling Spanish, but had French, English and Catalan sections also. Cervantes is credited with inventing the novel, so the Spanish must have an affinity for literature.

I continued walking (today was a day of much walking) up to Placa de Catalunya, stopping on the way for a coffee and croissant. There was a TV in the café playing American rap music videos, so I asked the barista, "todo la musica esta Americana, por que?" to which she replied something I didn’t understand. At Placa de Catalunya people shuffle about buying balloons and ice cream. It is close to Passeig de Gracia, a main shopping and tourist area. Tired of hoofing it, I got on the metro and rode out to Zona Universitaria.

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Following up yesterday’s visit to Parc Guell, at Zona Universitaria I stopped into Parc de Cervantes. Appropriate choice, considering my book purchase. I wandered around the gardens for a while, and was surprised the large area was almost entirely deserted. I stopped on a bench and couldn’t hear the city, and fell asleep for a few minutes while trying to read my new book.

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From Parc de Cervantes, I passed by the Metro and walked for what seemed like a hundred miles down Ave. Diagonal, which was peppered with boutiques and cafes. I chuckled at one shop called "American Men," but didn’t stop in.

Earlier in the day someone passed me a flyer for a classical guitar performance, which I had intentions of attending. My afternoon siesta ran a few minutes too late however, so I will attend the performance en Domingo. I had an all you-can eat buffet, which featured tasty spiced potatoes and fresh fish. I walked up and down Las Ramblas, to Placa Catalunya, through the Placa Reial, and El Raval. At one point someone dropped a plastic bag filled with water from a balcony above, and it splashed down a few feet ahead of me. To my dismay, I couldn’t remember how to say “May you be startled by water-from-above yourself, balloon-monger!” in Spanish. 

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The streets are so old in this neighborhood, its hard to imagine the men who laid the first stones had any idea who or what would be passing through them now. Of course, that’s an obvious observation. I think I would actually like to see the suburbs of this city, so I can make a better comparison of American and Spanish life. We don’t really have any thousand-year-old neighborhoods in Washington D.C. that I know of. Walking through the Placa Reial, where hundreds of people sat at outdoor cafes lining the square, dining and drinking and chatting, I thought how rare places like this are in America.

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I woke this morning and walked down the Ramblas, stopped for a coffee, snapped a photo of George Orwell’s plaza, and ended at Port Vell. The port is filled with boats, dog walkers, and joggers, mostly sleepy around 8 a.m. There is a large, colorful sculpture of a head-shaped thing, and a long promenade with bike lanes. I snapped my first photos of the city around here. From Port Vell you can see the cable cars which run up to Montjuic, the hill top on the west side of the city.

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I walked along the beach at Barceloneta and along to Port Olimpic, which at that hour of morning were filled with older folks doing stretches and yawning. The sun is hot in the morning. I walked up through La Ribera afterwards in the direction of Torre Agbar, which I could see, but never reached. My new sandals started rubbing my feet the wrong way. One should never begin travels in new sandals, if one expects to do much walking.

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I headed back through the streets until reaching Las Ramblas, where I bought a newspaper, "El Correo" and then walked past my hotel on Carrer Sant Pau, and through El Raval for a few blocks. Arab merchants have shops along the narrow streets, greedily eying all the tourists who squeeze through.

After ignorantly walking into some important looking library, then turning around and leaving, I found my way to La Mercat de Boqueria. The market was outdoors, but covered in a large awning. Vendors in dozens of stalls were selling all kinds of fruits, vegetables, fish and meats. Locals were shopping for fresh cuts and tourists grabbing salads-to-go. Walking back down the Ramblas, I went back in the room for a bit, slept for a few minutes, and ventured back outside.

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I took the Metro to Vallacarca, grabbed a Queso y Jamon Croissant, and entered Parc Guell. The famous park, designed by Gaudi, actually sits atop a hill from which there are views of the city below. Tourists throbbed, speaking French, English, Spanish, German, and eastern European languages. The park is filled with whimsical benches, some covered in colorful bits of ceramic, others in drippy stone that look like permanent sand castles. I took photos of musicians, playing the guitar, playing some Asian stringed thing, and a band called "Made in Barcelona" who played a Bob Marley cover, and sold me a CD.

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Before leaving I asked an information helper person where the fountain with the lizards were, in Spanish, and was answered in English, which seems to be the normal reaction to my attempts at bilingualism. I also had a helpful Samaritan (or Croation?) snap my photo con la vista.  

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After leaving Parc Guell, I headed for the Picasso museum in the Barrio Gotic, inside what was once a giant mansion, centuries ago. Picasso’s work was represented from his earliest, most traditional renaissance-style portraits, through his Parisian dabbles in Lautrec-like pornographic sketches, onto his modernist Cubism staples. Picasso’s progression from realism into the cubed-faces, backwards noses and bold color he became famous for was fascinating. Another artist was featured, Deek Van something, who reminded me of Matisse. (Or what I know of Matisse. I can’t pretend to be literate of the fine arts.)

For dinner, I returned to Port Olimpic where I had 1/4 Pollo con “chips.” the service was slow, but I couldn’t tell if it was beneficially slow, allowing me to soak up the evening beach view, or carelessly slow, in order to resent the American tourist. Afterwards I walked back to the Hostal Opera, snapping a few photos of the street-lit Carrer de Jaume on the way.

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