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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Barcelona



As we made Spain a major target in planning the trip, I had forgotten that my arrival in Barcelona would be 20 years later than first planned.  The 1992 Summer Olympics were held in the capital of Catalunya, and the radio station I was working for at the time told me a few months ahead of the games that I would be going.  I’m not sure why I got the call, perhaps because I had proven myself as an international traveler in 1989 when I got to go to Paris for about five days.  That was my first time in Europe and just like the first time I had a tater tot, I was in love immediately. 

I’ll never forget how I found out I was going to Paris.  The program director at Magic 96 in Charlotte, Don Schaeffer, was also the morning man, and I was the morning news guy/side kick.  It was on my birthday, June 9th, that he told me live on the air.  American Airlines had just started up a non-stop flight to Paris from Raleigh-Durham and to help promote the flight, they sent radio shows from around the region to Paris for a few days, to broadcast back to the states the magic and allure of the City of Lights.  I would be going with another air personality,  Bill Young, (who had the on-air nickname Magic Man) and we each got to take our significant other.  I was just about speechless on the air, it took me completely by surprise, and I had been watching the French Open on TV and thinking about how wonderful Paris looked. 

Then came the hard part.  My first wife (we’ll call her Mulligan) and I needed passports within about two weeks. That meant going through the expediting process, which added to the cost and the stress of not knowing if we would get them in time.  We got them with about a day to spare, took the trip and had a great time in Paris.  The dates of the trip included Mulligan’s birthday, June 27th, so for the rest of our time together I could say, "hey I took you to Paris for your birthday, now leave me alone and let me watch the golf!"

I’m not exactly sure what happened three years later, but about a month ahead of the trip, all of the sudden I wasn’t going to Barcelona anymore.  I think someone complained/whined that Bangert already got a free trip to Paris, how come he gets to Barcelona?  So for me it was Paris oui, Barcelona no!  (That’s the Spanish “no” by the way in case you couldn’t tell.)

My next trip to Europe would be to Spain in 1997 with my keeper wife Annie.  To celebrate her graduating from the MBA program at Xavier, we decided to take a trip, using our newly-acquired time share.  It was May and all the resorts in the Carribean were booked up.  However, the time-share company offered us a deal—if we booked one week in the Canary Islands, we would get a second week for free.  Having no children at the time, we decided to jump at the chance for two weeks in the islands that belong to Spain but are close to the coast of Morocco.  We enjoyed our two weeks there and were on our way back to the States when we got our first taste of Spain. 

When we got to the airport in Madrid on the way back home, the flight to Cincinnati was over-booked.  The airline offered to put us up for the night, buy us dinner, and give us 400 Delta Dollars a piece if we would change our plans.  Again, not having children, we jumped at the chance.  We only spent about 18 hours there, but really enjoyed the city of Madrid, and pretending for some reason that we were Basque Separatists.  I think that helped plant the seed of attraction to Spain that took root in my head, and contributed to my desire to go to Spain with my wife and kids in 2012. 

The pain of leaving my favorite city so far on the trip was eased a bit by departing from the gorgeous Estacio De Nord in Valencia.  Three hours later, we were getting off the train at the main station in Barcelona, and taking a taxi to our apartment. 

After being in the periphery of the action in Bologna, we decided to stay right in the heart of things in both Valencia and Barcelona.  In Barcelona, that meant booking a surprisingly affordable place a half a block away from Sagrada Familia.  That’s the iconic church designed by Antoni Gaudi.  Seeing photos of the tall spires gave me the impression that we would see them from quite a distance away.  But due to the congested nature of the city, we didn’t see the amazing structure until our taxi turned the corner and there it was!
We had all seen plenty of photos of Sagrada Familia, but those didn’t come close to preparing us for how breathtaking it is in person.  Construction started in 1882 and is still going on and is scheduled to continue until 2026.  The tallest towers have the appearance of the kind of sand castle you make in wet sand on the beach when you let the soggy grains drip out of your hand at a slow pace. 

Up close, you can really see the details of the complex design which has been continued by other architects following the general plans of Gaudi, who knew he would not live long enough to see his masterpiece completed.  You could stand and look at it for days from every direction and see something new every minute. 

We enjoyed taking in the exterior view our first day and night there, and didn’t waste any time the following day by going inside. 
The interior of Sagrada Familia is stunning.  The outside appears somewhat dark and imposing, but the inside is filled with light that splash over very welcoming wide-open spaces.  Gaudi's primary design principle is to incorporate nature into his architecture, and as you can see, the main columns on the inside rise to the ceiling and branch out like trees.  

Some of the windows are filled with stained glass, while many others are not, evidence of the ongoing work inside and outside of the building. The work is being continued by architects who are trying to be truthful to Gaudi's vision while leaving their own design styles.  One of the most distinct examples of that is the exterior portion of the church depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
The sharp angles and edges and non-traditional image of Jesus have created a certain amount of controversy.  But I think that's what the best art does--it challenges conventional wisdom and ideas, and makes the viewer think, perhaps in ways they never imagined.  Sagrada Familia certainly had our complete attention for the three or four days we were around it.  I've put it at the top of the list of man-made things we have seen on the trip.  I just absolutely love it.
The work of Antoni Gaudi is prevalent throughout Barcelona.  A handful of buildings display his distinctive style.
Guell Park which provides a gorgeous view of the city is also home to several works of Gaudi.  It's actually a failed housing development from the early 20th Century that is now a park.  And yes, I borrowed this photo from the internet because for some reason the ones we took disappeared from our camera.

If the only personal items we lost in Barcelona were some digital photos, that's probably not a bad thing.  We had gotten more than one warning about pickpockets targeting tourists but never saw any in action and never felt threatened at all.  And we walked around plenty.

Like Valencia,  Barcelona has great architecture, with many buildings featuring beautiful iron work on balconies everywhere you look.  We saw a lot of the city on foot, as we had to visit the property management office on Monday and sign a contract and arrange payment since we arrived on Saturday when the office was closed. 

Barcelona is very pedestrian-friendly, with wide sidewalks leading to plazas and boulevards.  The city's bull-fighting ring is beautiful on the outside, giving no hint of the carnage that goes on inside.
While strolling the streets, we saw several posters advertising concerts coming in the coming weeks and months.  They must have the same booking agent as Riverbend, with exciting acts like the Beach Boys on the way!
We finished off our stay in Barcelona in style by taking a Segway tour.  We had seen them offered in other cities and did some research and found that in some places, like Rome, they were more than 100 Euros a piece.  That was a little steep for our tastes, so when we got to Barcelona and found the Segway tour there cost less than 60 Euro a piece, we took the plunge. 

We had originally planned to take the tour on Monday, but some miscommunication between us and the tour company resulted is going two nights later.  It worked out quite nicely that we did the Segway tour on our final night in Barcelona.  It happened to be July 4th, and we hadn’t made any plans to celebrate the 236th birthday of our homeland.  And in keeping with the true “melting pot” nature of the USA, we rode Segways in Barcelona with a German tour guide. 
Vincent was from Hanover, Germany and had lived in Barcelona for about two years.  He was patient with us as we spent about 20 minutes getting the feel for controlling the Segways.  They are a product of how you move your center of gravity.  Lean forward, and you go forward.  Lean backward, and you go in the other direction.  
The machines are very intuitive and after about 15 minutes it's really like walking.  You learn to lean in the direction you want to turn, you can speed up and most importantly slow down exactly the way you want to.   

The route that Vincent took us on was perfect, hitting areas of the city we hadn't seen yet.  We wound through some of the older parts of town, which meant navigating some crowded, narrow streets.  All four of us managed to do that without incident or injury to ourselves or anyone else.  

It was a bit of a relief to get to a less crowded area along the water front.  By this point, about a half an hour into the 90-minute tour, we all felt confident enough on our Segways to do a little manuevering, which was a blast.  
Docked on the waterfront was the largest yacht we had ever seen, on this trip or anywhere else.  Victor informed us that it was owned by Roman Abramovich, a Russian tycoon (who also owns the Chelsea football club) who made his billions like many of the other super-wealthy:  through illegal and shady business dealings.  We didn't get close enough to get a good photo of the boat, but it was impressive to see even as far away as we were.  

The Segway tour was a blast and a perfect ending to a great stay in a great city.  As much as we loved Barcelona, we had smiles on our faces as we boarded the train heading toward our next destination the next day and for five good reasons:  Puppies! 

1 comment:

  1. nice information keep it up best of luk! nice working i love your work stay happy:)
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