Saturday, April 18, 2015

Barcelona: Getting Lost on Purpose

Today's goal was to get lost (on purpose), to learn about my neighborhood and how to get around. I took a look at the maps Cristina had given me, and google maps and figured out a general direction that I'd like to go. I decided NOT to ask for directions from Reception because the purpose was to GET LOST.

Fun little side note about me. It doesn't take much for me to get lost. I'm like Marcus Brody in Indiana Jones - who got lost in his OWN museum.

So, I walked out of the hotel, turned right and right again thinking that I was going in the general direction as planned. NOPE. Immediately wrong. Getting easy for me.

I decided to go with it. I knew early on that I was going in the opposite direction I meant to, but I didn't care. After 7 blocks, I happened upon a Metro Station and proceeded to buy a ticket.

The ticket machine had an option for English (awesome) but you had to pay by Zone. I will save you the detailed description of looking confused for 10 minutes - just picture me looking at all kinds of different train maps with a furrowed brow. I chose a ticket that would allow me to go 10 trips of a distance of 2 zones (having found a map that showed me I would only ever need to be in Zone 1 or Zone 2). I then proceeded through the turnstile, down some stairs and stared at a map again. There were two platforms. One going to Plaça Catalonya (the side I was on) and one going everywhere else (or so it seemed). I was ALONE on my side and thought I should maybe follow the crowd a little and go to the other side. So, I did. I picked a train and rode it for 20 minutes, all the while having NO idea where I was going. Eventually, figured out that I was going north. I felt like I'd gotten on the Dublin/Pleasanton line train and was heading away from everything, into the suburbs. It was a nice train ride actually but completely the opposite of where I wanted to be. I got off, turned around and went back...eventually getting off at (you guessed it) Plaça Catalonya. A 40 minute train ride to go 1 stop. Totally worth it though. The view was beautiful. Green trees and hills. Suburbia.

I had lunch at Woki Organic Market and then head out to wander. Basically, I ended up on a popular street with shops (fancy expensive shops). It was a nice street with restaurants and benches and lots of people. I turned right and right again. I stopped on the corner, not sure of where to go next. I saw a hop-on/hop-off bus had stopped and everyone sitting on the top in the open air section was staring at the building right next to me. I looked at the street and saw that they were all staring and taking pictures too. I looked up and found that I was at Casa Batlló, which (after "discover the city by foot") is the top "thing to see/do" in Barcelona (aka "Discover Gaudi and Modernism").

The Catalan architect, Gaudi, created this home (yes, it's A HOME!) with no plans for the design. He gave direct instruction to the masons based on drawings he had done and a plaster model.

Every design inside the house, every touch point is intentional, artistic, functional. The door handles or window handles form to the hand. The banisters are soft to the touch, they are the right shape for a hand. The house is also known as the house of bones. Dali said it is a house of sea shapes.

I have not studied architecture, nor design, and though I have studied poetry and prose, there is nothing I can write to explain to you the magnificence of this property. I suggest you read up on it here. And I highly recommend you take the tour if you ever get the chance.

This is what happens when an artist is unrestricted.

From the window handles, to the wrought iron fencing on the patio, to the stairwells and stairways, Modernism spills throughout.

Skylights inspired by tortoise shells?

A fireplace set into a mushroom-shaped room, two seats (one for a chaperon, one larger one for the couple being chaperoned)

A model of the facade

A narrow hallway given the illusion of space by steep archways
The rooftop: Chimneys
Beautiful and Functional
Those are glass pieces

Gaudi built an indoor...I don't even know what you'd call it. It's a stairwell around an elevator. It's a 6 story shaft of light. He created the roof in such a way and the walls in such a way and the choice of colors and materials in such a way that the sun bounces and shines from the top to the bottom magically allowing for light throughout. The glass gives the impression that you are underwater.

I loved this place so much that I might go back again. It felt like Disneyland, where no detail was left unfinished (and it spat you out into a store, where I wanted to buy everything).

Terrace art, that's a pool of water to the right reflecting the fence
An interior window
What are we even looking at here? Amazing.

La Roche Sur Yon France to Barcelona Spain: Riding the Rails

Yesterday, I woke up in France and was driven to the La Roche Sur Yon train station. As always, I wanted to be there early, but this was a little pointless due to the punctuality of the train system. I took a TGV train (fast train, not a local). It was due to arrive at 9:47am from it's previous stop, and due to depart at 9:49am. TWO MINUTES to disembark and board. These trains don't mess around.

I had requested forward facing seats for the three trains I would be taking. Unfortunately, two of the seats were backwards facing. Ultimately, this was fine. The TGV trains have a maximum service speed of 300kph (186mph) and watching the countryside zip by at this speed is not something my brain can process backwards. I get disoriented and a little dizzy. I took a 1/2 a Travelcalm pill, which took all the nervousness/confusion out of what was happening out the windows. I ate a sandhog on my way to Bordeaux (special thanks here to Christelle and her dad for hooking me up with goodies for the trip). I switched trains in Bordeaux, and again in Narbonne. Each ride was about 3 and 1/2 hours long. My final train from Norbonne to Barcelona was only 2 hours. For the most part, the trains are all the same. They're clean, spacious, with plenty of room for luggage, etc. I believe they have food carriages, but because I was all stocked up, I didn't look for one. On the last train, there were headphone jacks at the seats so you could watch whatever movie was playing on the two TV screens hanging from the ceiling. It was a French Movie with Spanish subtitles. I passed. There are also power jacks to charge your phone, or whatever.

I traveled from 9:49am to 7:30pm by train. About ten minutes before getting to Barcelona, I had the thought, "Maybe I should've looked at where my hotel is on the map." I had printed out the reservation paperwork, ready to hand the address to a taxi driver in case he didn't speak English. I hadn't thought of giving myself an idea of distance. I left the train station and ended up in a taxi rank. The taxi driver did not speak English and when I showed him the address he said (in Spanish), "too short". The hotel was too close to the train station for him to drive me. I asked him "where" and he pointed in a specific direction. I walked back through the train station, out the other side and onto a road which turned out to be the road my hotel was on. It was about 7 blocks, or a 15 minute walk but I didn't mind because it was light out, it was a nice temperature and it was free. 

Arriving at my hotel, the receptionist (Cristina) was wonderful. She spoke English, gave me two street maps, a subway map and offered to give me directions if ever I should need them. I had heard good reviews about her on Trip Advisor and could see why. She was great. 

My hotel is the Ámister Art Hotel. I suggest you look it up/click the link, because it's cool - as seen in the bathroom mirror.

I ordered room service off of a limited menu. And then I found that the power cord was missing from my TV. Both of which were delivered in reasonable time. After I scarfed down my delicious burger and chips, I took a shower (powerful!!) and sacked out for the night. 

Next blog: Casa Batlló. If you ever have the chance, you MUST go to this. I don't even know how I'm going to blog about it because it was indescribably magnificent.