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Posts from the ‘Beyond the Neigborhood’ Category

Bali and the Philippines

Hey guys! Sorry for not posting anything in over a month. I was on vacation in SE Asia for 2 weeks, and when I got back I will admit I slacked off a little. Note to self: Must get my act together! It hasn’t helped that it’s been gorgeous outside for the past couple of days. Or that it’s been really busy at the office. And that the puppy has taken up most of what little free time I have. I can keep going but I know none of these is a legitimate excuse! I can’t help but wonder how other people can blog so consistently. My hat’s off to you.

To ease myself back into the blogosphere I am going to keep this post short and sweet. So rather than give you a play by play of our trip, I’ll share with you some photos instead. And stay tuned for more DIY stuff, I have a few little projects that I’ve taken on since I got back.

It’s good to be home.

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Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlo and Mila


We set off to see three of Gaudi’s buildings on a Monday not expecting so many people to be there because, well, it was Monday. As soon as we got to Casa Batlo however, there was already a line to get in. The same situation greeted us at Casa Mila. We decided not to linger very long here, only admiring the buildings from the outside. The buildings were definitely odd and whimsy and cool all at the same time. And it certainly makes you wonder, from a builder’s point of view, how in the world did they frame that?!

Seeing Casa Batlo and Mila took me right back to my history class in college. It was unfortunate that back then, our textbooks only had hand renderings of these buildings, and it never really was an accurate representation of the real thing. You almost have to see it in person to get a sense of the scale and the sinuous forms and the organic quality of it all. We tried to capture as much of that in our photos but as always, it never seems to do them any justice (and you can only convey so much with a point-and-shoot!). As amazing as these buildings were, and as much as I would have loved to see them from the inside, the hordes of people were simply a buzz killer. So we peeled out and headed for the bigger fish–the Sagrada Familia.

There were ten times as many people here. Eek! To think that it wasn’t even tourist season yet. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have cared so much. But ten years ago I still had a high tolerance for crowds.

Anyway, Sagrada Familia was amazing. Period. This church is one of Gaudi’s masterpieces and is still under construction. I believe it’s been under construction since 1882. The interior of the church is nowhere near finished, and there were scaffolding everywhere. What a massive project this is.

a sculpture of Gaudi's head

Despite our mutual aversion to crowds, B and I decided to suck it up and check out the interior. We went through the museum where Gaudi’s plaster models were on display as well as drawings and early renderings that his friend and partner did for the massive sculptures that went on the exterior facade. To me these sculptures were one of a kind. I loved the angular forms of the figures he created. Quite a stark contrast to Gaudi’s curvilinear forms.

After the museum we lined up to take the elevator up to the spires, took in the panoramic views of the city below, and made our way back down one of the towers via a spiral stair that looked like a nautilus shell. It was the coolest thing. A little scary and claustrophobic in there, but cool.

I wonder what Gaudi was like as a person and as an architect. Judging from his works, he must have been really eccentric! And I thought I was weird.

Casa Batlo.

Casa Mila.

Sagrada Familia.

massive 1:10 scale plaster models

the model workshop

one of the many drawings by Josep Subirachs on display at the museum.

the nautilus staircase

The Rest of Montjuic Hill

I am feeling a little lazy so I’m lumping all of these photos into one post. The following are some of the buildings and monuments we saw as we snaked our way up to the top of the Hill, starting from the National Palace up to Castell Montjuic.

Palau Nacional. The National Palace is practically the first building you see walking up the avenue from Plaza Espanya. This imposing neo-baroque structure was the flagship of the 1929 Exhibition, and presently houses the National Art Museum of Catalonia. Note all the stairs you have to take to get to it. There were escalators alongside of each staircase, but we opted for the stairs anyway! It’s not a workout unless you feel the burn…

See those two brown towers in the distance flanking the avenue? Yep. That's where we started!

A view of the city from one of the terraces with Sagrada Familia in the distance

Torre Calatrava. The communications tower designed by Santiago Calatrava was one of the landmarks of Barcelona in 1992. It was designed for the telecommunications company Telefonica, and sits just beyond the large plaza in front of the Palau Sant Jordi Stadium.

the plaza in front of the Sant Jordi Stadium

Jardin Botanic. The Botanical Garden of Barcelona is a municipal institution that showcases Mediterranean plant collections from around the world. It covers a surface area of about 35 acres, containing about 1,500 species, making it one of the city’s largest green spaces. Plants from Australia, Chile, California, South Africa and the Mediterranean Basin can be found here, grouped according to their geographic origin. We went through every section, not bothering to remember every genus or every scientific name, but to just take in all the pretty colors in the garden and the magnificent panoramic views of the city below. More importantly, this place allowed us an opportunity to explore the macro settings of our little point-and-shoot camera. Ah, someday I will have a fancy SLR too!

My favorite shade tree (and my favorite subject taking a break from the sun!)

Cantilever chairs. Those Spaniards are hip!

My favorite shade tree in the distance.

Torre Calatrava in the distance

This was by far the hardest photo to take. Bees are quick!

Castell Montjuic. Montjuic castle sits on top of a cliff, at a height of more than 170 meters (558 feet) above sea level, and is by far the best spot for sweeping views of the harbour and metropolitan Barcelona. It was an old military fortress with a long history closely linked to the city. The castle became a military prison in the 1890s, and was turned into a military museum sometime in the 1960s. In 2007, a motion was made to transfer the castle to the City Council and to be officially recognized as property of the people of Barcelona.

Taking the gondola lift back down the mountain.

The German Pavilion, Parc de Montjuic

Our visit to Parc de Montjuic literally took up an entire day. We had a little kid’s version of a tourist map with buildings that looked completely out of scale. This made it virtually impossible to tell just how big this site really is. Until you actually get there.

Parc de Montjuic or simply Montjuic Hill was the site that hosted the International Exposition back in 1929. Some of the important buildings that are still there to this day are the Palau Nacional, the Olympic Stadium, the Spanish Village, the Font Magica fountains, and a grand staircase leading up to the Palau Nacional. Also on this site are botanical gardens, and a huge castle that sits on top of the hill offering the best panoramic views of the city.

The German Pavilion designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is located at the foot of Montjuic Hill.  It was designed particularly for the German section of the exhibition. This is where B and I got held up for quite a while, snapping photos of every angle and sketching alongside a bunch of students (nerds!). The pavilion was intended to be a temporary structure, and was torn down after the Exposition in the early 1930s. Sometime in the 1980s a group of Spanish architects decided to reconstruct the pavilion based from the original plans and photos, and now it sits proud and permanent on the site with a route leading up to the Spanish Village. This building is quite a significant piece of early modern architecture (I’m sure all you architecture nerds already know that!).



cruciform steel columns


because the marble is so shiny, you can barely tell where it ends


travertine walls, bench and plinth

The roof plates supported by the chrome-clad, cruciform columns gives the impression of a hovering roof.

sculpture by Georg Kolbe

the juxtaposition of materials acting as spatial dividers: glass, stone, marble and gold onyx


transparent glass brings the outside in.

white barcelona chairs

golden onyx

verde antico marble

the pavilion serenely resting on its travertine plinth blends well with the site

me acting silly.

Sardanistas at the Barcelona Cathedral

We wandered into the square in front of the Barcelona Cathedral on a Sunday and were lucky enough to have witnessed this impromptu street dance. The Sardana is a circle dance typical of Catalonia where small circles of dancers can be seen to form and grow in streets and town squares. The cobla (a music ensemble consisting of 11 musicians playing wind instruments and a drum) had already started playing and by the time we got there the dancing had already taken place. Passers-by were continually joining in, throwing their bags in a pile at the center of the circle. What fun! I would have joined in if I knew how to do it. I would say it is similar to the rain dance, except that the footwork didn’t look as complicated!

Via Gran Via!

walking along the Gran Via.

Going on Foot. Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, or simply Gran Via as the locals call it,  is one of Barcelona’s major thoroughfares. This avenue ran perpendicular to our street and went all the way up to the Old Town.  On our first day, we decided to make our way to the Ramblas on foot, via the Gran Via.

Typical of all avenues in the city, I noticed, consisted of a main 2-way drag, flanked by elevated tree-lined pedestrian walkways, and then 1-way single vehicular lanes at the shoulders. What’s great about this is that pedestrians and bikers don’t have to share lanes with cars! How genius is that! No need to wear a helmet around here folks. If the roads in Seattle were more like this, I would probably be more inclined to give up my car!

bike stations

Another great thing about this city is that they have set up bike rental stations open for use by all residents (other parts of Europe have this too). This allows residents to commute in an environmentally friendly way. Bicing is the name of Barcelona’s community bicycle program currently consisting of more that 400 stations and 3000 bicycles. It employs an RFID reader, and to rent a bike one simply has to swipe their membership card, which automatically unlocks a bike, ride it off to their destination, and then drop it off at another bike station in that area. Tell me that is not brilliant.

Buildings and Monuments. Some of the buildings we saw en route to the old town were the Plaza d’Espanya, the Parc de Joan Miro and the Les Arenas bullring. Plaza d’Espanya is one of the major squares in Barcelona that sits at the foot of Parc de Monjuic and is the junction of several major thoroughfares. The square was built to host the Universal Exposition in 1929. Les Arenas was formerly a bullring and is now being turned into an entertainment complex with cinemas, restaurants, and a rock and roll museum (much like the EMP perhaps?). Parc de Joan Miro which is located right next to it used to be the slaughter house for the bullring.

Plaza d' Espanya

Les Arenas

the Dona I Ocell sculpture at Parc de Joan Miro


And so begins the daunting task of going through 6 CDs full of pictures that we took on our trip to Barcelona last month. I have been putting it off for so long but I feel like I just have to sit down and do it, otherwise I’ll forget! Most of my friends have already been to Barcelona, Spain’s most cosmopolitan city, and know what I mean when I say that it is such an amazing pedestrian-oriented city. Getting around is cake and public transport is cheap and easy to use. But for us, going on foot was still the best way to explore every sight and sound, and get up close and personal with it the way every beautiful city should be seen.

Even when my feet were constantly hurting.

Breezy and I booked a self-serve studio apartment on Calle Riego right by the Estacio Sants, away but not too far from the touristy areas. It had a nice kitchen which was fully-equipped with everything we needed for cooking and eating. We even had our own washer and dryer! The best amenity for me (hands down) was our little balcony that hung directly above the narrow street below. Perfect for hanging out after a long day, watching people come in and out of bars and shops that lined up the street.

Brian enjoying a glass of wine.

Calle Riego at night.

And so we were there for a week and a half, and in that limited amount of time we tried to cover as much ground as we possibly could, amped and excited like kids in a candy store, snapping pictures along the way, stopping at taperias to sample the coffee (best coffee I’ve ever had), the tapas, the wine (oh the wine!), the sangria, on some days blowing out our daily budget in the quest for the best paella (we weren’t so lucky in this department), and then arguing over what to do and where to go next. At the end of the day, almost everyday, we’d stop by the little mercat on the way home to get a bottle of vino tinto and a jar of pickled peppers. And then plot out our next adventure for the following day!

In the posts that will follow (soon), I will share with you the highlights of our trip to Barcelona, one blog at a time. So stay tuned!

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