Saturday, October 24, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
Last weekend, I made my way up north, way north. I spent the weekend in the land of the vikings, Norway. It was perfect weather for a nice fall weekend, upper 40s with blue skies spotted with a few clouds. The trees were just beginning to change, so I got to actually see fall in action, which was something I was worried I'd miss during my stay in Spain. Upon arriving, I made my way to my hotel and grabbed some food. I asked the front desk what I had to do while I was in the city, since I didn't have a ton of time. She gave me a few ideas and I went on my way. I made my way towards the city center, stopping at the Royal Palace, where I saw some sharply dressed guards. The inside was closed, because tourist season is over, and I decided to head towards the castle that was on the bay. On my way, I stopped in the city hall, which was amazing on the inside. The walls of the main room were covered in beautiful renditions of the founding of Oslo, and scenes of the citizens throughout the city's history. There was also an awesome room with interesting portraits of the royal family that I liked a lot. While I was there, I also learned that Oslo used to be call Christiana after one of their kings. After the city hall, I finally made my way to the castle, which had beautiful views of the bay, the ships coming in and out, and the islands that dot the coast of Norway. It was really well preserved, with most of the original buildings still standing. After spending some time there, I continued to walk around the area and went to the Museum of Modern Art, which wasn't that great, especially looking back on the other galleries that Oslo had to offer. The city built a beautiful new opera hall about a year ago, and that was next of my list of what to see. I was able to walk around and up the ramps leading to the roof and get a nice view of the city skyline. The inside was pretty awesome too, because all the walls are glass, giving it a classy look. Since it was hard to spend a lot of time at an opera house without seeing an opera, I headed over to the Viking Ship Museum, that I had heard a lot about. I was not expecting what I ended up seeing. When I arrived, I was greeted by two HUGE viking ships that were perfectly preserved and were about 1200 years old. Apparently, they were found in burial mounds for people who had died. Tents were set up on the decks of the ships, and that was where the viking royalty were burried. These were awesome pieces of history that I could not have a chance of seeing anywhere else in the world. After a full day of sightseeing, I retired to my room, and woke up early the next morning to see more of the city. In the morning, I grabbed some food and walked around, finally arriving at the Edvard Munch Museum, who is known for his painting The Scream which has two copies, both of which reside in Oslo. It was really cool to get to see a painting that I've seen and learned about since I was young in person. I guess that's kind of a theme of my time in Europe! I then went to the National Gallery, which had a ton of paintings that I really enjoyed. The Norwegian artist aren't the first that people talk about, but they're very talented, especially their landscape paintings. They looked like someone grabbed a square of nature and put a frame around it. They were simply amazing. Norway has such beautiful scenery and nature, and these artists were really able to capture that, whether they were painting spring, summer, autumn, or winter. After the gallery, I made some souvenir purchases and headed to take the bus back to the airport, where I flew back home to Madrid after a great weekend in Oslo.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
So, since I haven't updated recently, I'm going to do a quick run through of how awesome Lisbon was. Portugal was amazing, mostly because Lisbon felt like a small city, but had everything a big city has. I loved the history and the landmarks that I was able to see, and the city was very clean and the people were very kind. I have never seen a nicer hostel than what we stayed in. The people working there hung out with us, they offered a tapas night saving me loads of cash, they hosted people for the Portugal-Hungary game, and had amazing rooms and beds. They even helped us with planning our trips around the area and told us what we MUST see. We spent our second day in Cascais and Sintra, two neighboring towns on the coast. The areas were amazing, and I was able to see a lot of really cool castles, palaces, and lighthouses. The pace of life and beauty of the cities just made Portugal an amazing trip.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
This past weekend, I made my way to Barcelona for Festes de la Merce, the city's main celebration. Thursday night, I hopped on the night bus that arrived in Barcelona around 7:30 AM after a night of very little sleep. One arriving, we made our way to our hostel, stopping at the Arc de Triumfe to begin our sight seeing. After checking in, we headed for a relaxing day on the beach, and my first experience swimming in the Mediteranean. Since I'm not one who enjoys laying and tanning for the day, I decided to walk to entirety of the beach. It was a refreshing time where I just got to take pictures and see what the Barcelona coast had to offer; I even stumbled upon a beach volleyball tourmament.
After the time on the beach, my housemate, Nick, and our friend, Laura, made our way to see some more of the historical parts of Barcelona. We decided to head to the Gothic District and see the Cathedral. I had seen some pictures of it, and it looked AMAZING, so I couldn't wait until it was standing right in front of me. We wound our way through sidestreets and turned the corner to look at the Cathedral, only to see it covered in scafolding. Despite being severely disappointed, we went inside, and that more than made up for it. It seems like every Cathderal I go to has something different to offer me, and this one had a choir singing inside. It was awesome to be in a place built for worship and actually experience a worship service there. After taking a few pictures, I just sat, closed my eyes, and listened to the group praising God. It was a truly unique experience to hear everything in Latin.
The rest of the night, we experienced the festival in the city. There were a bunch of free concerts going on with random Spanish bands that were pretty good, and some others bands that weren't so good.
Saturday morning, we woke up and went to the Mercat de la Boqueria, an open air market that sells fruit, vegetables, meats, fish, cheeses, and more. The fruit that they had was AMAZING, and they had a ton of smoothie-esqu juice drinks that were delicious as well. Another cool thing about the market was the fish area. You could tell all of it was fresh, as each one stared straight back at you; the lobster and the crabs were still moving too! After getting a peach and some pineapple, we made our way to La Sagrada Familia, a cathedral by Antoni Gaudi that has been in the process of being built since the end of the 19th Century. I can not express how amazing it was. I could barely take in the entirety of the building. There are two sides that are currently done, Naixement and Passio, that depict the birth and death of Christ. The side depicting the Nativity scene is done in more classical style that seems somewhat Romanesque, while the Passion side is far more modern, with sharper edges and more square bodies. The inside is still a work in progress, but is supposed to be done by the end of next year. They have a museum devoted to the history of the Cathedral where we learned a lot about who Gaudi was and the process that has been taken to build the structure. We also saw a sketch of the finished product, which words cannot do justice too. I have to reserve my spot when it is finally finished in 2030! They also had a elevator up to the towers of Sagrada, which gave an amazing view of the city. You were able to see so many buildings and how the city was laid out. Not having completely gotten our Gaudi fix, we decided to go to Parc Guell, a park that Gaudi was commisioned to design. It was a really peaceful place that was reminiscent of Candyland. There were a bunch of local artist selling their artwork, while some musicians played music that was a perfect soundtrack for the area. We made our way through the park and up to a hill, which had a platform with three crosses, where we sat and had a beautiful panoramic of the city. You could see the coast and the mountains and all of the famous buildings that we had seen in our few days there. We made our way down the hillside and headed to the fire parade that was taking place that night. It was wild! There were people holding poles with giant sparklers that sprayed all around them as people danced under them. There were also floats of dragons that did the same thing. How could I not join?!?! It was a once in a lifetime experience to get to be a part of the festival that only happens once a year!
The next day, I got to see another Barcelona tradition, Los Castellers, groups of people who make pyramids in competitions with others doing the same thing. The square was packed, and even the mayor of the city was there. The group, made up of people ranging from young children to old men, began with less dificult formations and then built up to the grand finale. The men formed a large circular base as three person circles stood on top of them. This continued in layers, until it was to the right height, about 30 feet, and then a single person tower built up in the middle of them. The ring then began to disassemble until all the was left was a single tower of about 5 people. The crowd went wild as the Castellers celebrated completing the tower. We then made our way to the aquarium, which had a ton of awesome fish, most of all, sharks. We spent about 3 hours there, one of which I napped, and then made our way to get food. On the way there, we found the best bocadillo place I have ever been to. They had really fresh toppings and had a bunch of meat options that most places don't. You could get a sandwich with grilled beef, chicken, smoked salmon, or hamburger. It was pretty awesome and really cheap. I wish we had found it earlier!
That night, before our busride home, we went to the Magic Fountain for a fireworks display. It was the end of the festival, so it was the best one of the weekend. The fireworks went really well with the music that they played and the fountain was timed to it as well. They had a bunch of types of fireworks I had never seen before, like ones that exploded in the shape of a flower. Sadly, my camera ran out of battery at this point, and I did get any pictures of it :( As we pushed through the huge crowd and rushed to the bus station to make our night bus, I couldn't help but think how great the weekend was. I felt like I saw so much, but Barcelona still has a whole lot to offer when I go back.