Saturday, May 21, 2011

5/21 Beautiful memories from Barcelona

Day 1: Wednesday, May 18th. This date is always free museum day all around the world. It was a great day to be a tourist in Barcelona. After storing my luggage in the lockers at the train station ($10, ugh), I walked to Museu Nacional d’art de Catalonia, passing on my way the Mies Van Der Rohe Pavillion and a monumental fountain. Once in the museum, I walked straight to the modern art wing to see pieces by Dali, Gaudi, Picasso and a special exhibit of Torres Garcia, a Uruguayan/Catalan artist. The view from the museum stretched out to the sea and back to the hills. A flamenco band pleased the passerbys out front. 

I made speedy passes through the ethnology and archeology museums, immediately feelings as if I had already seen them before. Then I arrived at the Joan Miro Foundation museum, where I slowed, captivated, by a temporary exhibit on music and a temporary exhibit drawn/created from cardboard. I enjoyed this wonderful museum and seeing the playful paintings and sculptures of Joan Miro.

From those four museums, all very close together, I walked 40 minutes to the contemporary art museum. I hardly found any art in that museum that inspired me. I don’t understand the popularity of those noisy, violent video exhibits that seem to be the contemporary theme and I never feel like taking a second glance at them. However, the museum was free that day! And the building itself was quite cool to explore, all white, glass and angles. The courtyard out front serves as a skate park where youth collect on the concrete on bikes, boards and butts.

A further 15 mintues of walking brought me to the wonderful Picasso museum! I especially loved the temporary exhibition featuring WWII war protest and related themed artwork, not only by Picasso, but also by graphic artists who have inspired my own work, such as John Heartfield. It was a treat to see so much of Heartfield’s photomontages up close. The path through the Picasso Museum is so well-layed out and it is easy to follow Picasso’s life and stages of paintings, much like in the Georgia O’Keefe museum, which follows her life/growth through her paintings. The museum showed Picasso’s art changing styles and influences, moving as O’Keefe’s did from perfectly realistic to expressively abstract. Both artists also picked up sculpture and pottery mediums along the way.

After this museum-saturated day, I walked an hour back to the train station, popping in the perfume museum en route (not good, boring, but hey, free on that day) and stumbled upon one of Gaudi’s houses right next door. Then I picked up my luggage and took the metro to my couchsurfing host, Carol’s, house in the city center – close to the Sagrada Familia Gaudi cathedral/building.

Carol and I formed an immediate connection. I love it when that happens, as it frequently does, with couchsurfers. Carol is warm and friendly, a year older than me, and a native Barcalonean born in the hospital Gaudi designed, Hospital de la Sta. Creu Sant Pau.

The following day, I visited this hospital first thing in the morning, along with the the Segrada Familia and the magnificent Park Guell. It was a Gaudi day. Park Guell, where Gaudi lived some of his life and where a number of his architectural manifestations and sculptures exist, was one of my favorite places in Barcelona. I spent the entire morning traversing the park. I found the Gaudi courtyard to be an excellent place to purchase affordable gifts and accessories: earrings and scarfs for only $2!

With plenty of energy still, I walked from the park, one hour down toward the sea to see the arc de triumph and the serene, mythological parc de la ciutaella. Here stands a magnificent greek fountain with a sculpture of gold horses and their chariot. I read and rested here before walking 40 minutes back to Carol’s and going to bed since she was out for the night. I walked everywhere in Barcelona, never taking the metro except from the train station and back to the airport.

Day 3: Ahh, my favorite day. A leisurely morning in the casa catching up on laundry, drinking tea, playing with Carol’s kitten, all before walking down the bustling high-end shopping streets of La Rambla and Pg. Gracia. I only looked and did not buy. I stopped in the maze of old streets at La Boqueria market to sample affordable and delicious food – a huge plate of mixed, tropical fruits for $2, aisan rice noodle/veggies and 2 potstickers for $4. I brought this food with me to the beach, only another 15-20 minutes walk away. I stayed at the beach for almost 2 hours, taking in sun and watching surf, sailboats, cream parasols, tan skin, sand, and blue blue sky.

At 4:30, I had a date to meet two girls at the cathedral. One girl, Leona, I had met previously, a year ago exactly, when I was in Taiwan. (It had been my third or 4th day in Taiwan and I was traveling solo still at this point, walking through Taroko Gorge, the most amazing natural wonder of limestone cliffs and jungle. Taking the bus, I got to talking with Leona and her boyfriend who had come to Taiwan for a wedding and to travel and I ended up tagging a long with them for the next 5 hours, grateful for some company. Leona is from Ireland, but she lives in Barceonla. I had forgotten this fact and it was only because she saw my facebook posting this week that I was in her city, that we came to meet up). The other girl, Nuria, I was to meet for the first time. Nuria is a native Barcelonian. We found each other on the couchsurfing site last week when I sent her a couch request. She had guests lined up already, but while she could not host me, she did want to meet up. So, we all ended up being able to meet at the same time! I love the power of the internet to connect people. Now Nuria and Leona can be friends too in the city they share. Nuria guided us to a really cool, funky, and hidden non-touristic bar/café a block or two from the cathedral. We went up the 2nd story seating area and spoke in Spanish for a few hours! Then I spoke in Spanish (with English mixed in for words I lacked) for an hour more after Nuria left and Leona and I wondered around the narrow, old streets with cute shops. I enjoyed every minute of the meet-up!

At 8pm, I walked home and experienced a last wonderful night with Carol, talking mostly in Spanish/English. We cooked dinner together. I made miso soup and Carol made a vegan Spanish omelet, so delicious. Her recipe:

Sauté 1 large zucchini, 2 small onions, and 2 extra-large potatoes until soft and mash them all up. In a separate bowl whisk together about a cup of water with 1.5 cups of garbanzo bean powder/flour and some of that salt that comes with herbs mixed in already...then stir in the vegetable mixture. Pour everything back into frying pan and cook thoroughly on both sides.

We shared a chocolate ganache cake Carol’s friend made for desert. You never know what you will get with couchsurfing, but in my experience, it is nearly always sweet. Goodbye Barcelona, for now.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tuesday 5/17 recounting Madrid

I arrived in the capital city of Spain at 8:30am Monday. I met my couchsurfing host, Macarena – born and raised in Madrid - at her house in the city center just before she left for work. I dropped off my luggage and left to explore for the day. Some couchsurfers leave you the keys and others don’t. Macarena did not. I walked off my airplane and bus rides (first I had been on a night bus from Flores to Guatemala city to catch my plane out of that country, then I was on an overnight plane to Spain). That’s hard on your body, but at least with all the sitting down and dozing, I had no jetlag whatsoever.

Since most of the museums were closed on monday, I simply wandered from one district to another going to points of interest on the map. I think I must have walked 5 hours – about the length of a typical day hike in Santa Fe.

One of the most expensive streets in the world exists in Madrid, Gran Via. Expensive looking things in store fronts and perfect women on billboards. Imperial buildings imposing authoritative presence. Palaces and promendades. Water ways and fountains. Statues and sculptures. Clean and composed, this city.

When I tired of walking, I rested in El Retiro park, one of the city’s largest, complete with a small pond and paddle boats. Later, I would see this pond and other Madrid scenes in paintings in the Prado Museum. The park was extremely restful, that is, until the attempt of a Spanish man to converse with me for one sole purpose in mind. At first I was nice and interested in practicing my Spanish, until it became clear I was better off alone. I need to go meet my friend, I told him, and left my nap.

Back at Macarena’s place that first night, we talked and exchanged stories of Guatemala. My recent trip and hers a few years ago. She showed me how to make a Spanish omelette: 3 extra-large potatoes and 2 small onions cooked in a frying pan until soft. Then mash the potatoes/onions and pour the mixture into a bowl of two beaten eggs and wisk everything together. Then pour everything back into the frying pan and cook until firm on one side. Flip, using the pan top, and cook until firm on the other side. Let cool for 10 minutes and serve. Other spices or vegetables can be added as desired. Macarena left ours simple and we ate it with some of the most delicious green olives and cheese I have tasted, accompanied with white wine. The evening ended pleasantly indeed.

My 2nd and last day in Madrid, I left the casa at 9am with Macarena and returned at 7pm, before departing again for the train station at 9pm. I walked around two neighborhoods Macarena recommended, one where well-known writers used to live and one where young people collect today. I read Isabelle Allende in the park. I took a free ride to the top of a bank/historic building that Macarena told me about. Panoramic views of Madrid in all directions. I visited only one museum in Madrid, The national Museo del Prado art museum because I will be in  Barcelona on free museum day tomorrow. I am sitting on the night train headed to that city as I recount the time in Madrid. Museo del Prado called me to see it with its title and acclaim, so I did, even though the work displayed within: royal portraiture,  religious scenes, baroque, is not really my taste. I did enjoy the building and the history recounted in the works of art. I enjoyed Goya’s comic/illustration paintings most.

When I returned home, Macarena and I had just enough time to exchange music. She posseses good taste in addition to a lot of music from her film director, music-savey brother who lives in Norway/Amsterdam. Now I have new music including Spanish lyric music I am currently listening to on my i-pod as I move away from Madrid and towards the city everyone tells me I will love more: Barcelona.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Saturday 5/14, my last day in Flores


My last day in Flores. It’s a little sad. This is my favorite place that I have lived out of 4 places in Guatemala. Actually, I live in San Miguel, which is right across the water from Flores. Today, I really enjoyed San Miguel. I walked to El Mirador, a lookout point/tower on a high hill. Beautiful view. On my way there, I met a local San Miguelan chopping palm fronds (for houses, his job). I told him I was on my way to the playita, small beach, and he said he was going that way to let his horse have a drink of water so I could follow him and practice my Spanish if I wanted to. It was the best Spanish conversation I’ve had so far. I could understand most of what he was saying, which was exciting! And we talked about horses and what it was like for him living and growing up in San Miguel, about the wildlife here, about how San Miguel is still such a safe place, but is changing fast. How the town on the other side of Flores is very dangerous already. And we talked about the crazy storm the night before with all the lightening and thunder (two of the above pics are from the lightening storm, one during a strike). He said that was nothing compared to what would follow during june and july. Then I said bye to him and spent an hour at the playita, where no one else had come yet so early in the day. Hopefully I will be able to return here sometime!

Friday 5/13 - trip to Tikal Mayan Ruins

Tikal: Well, I'm glad I was able to see the Mayan site of Yaxha at sunset because the plan to see Tikal at sunrise didn't exactly pan out as planned. But, seeing Tikal at anytime of day is an incredibly impressive experience.

I got up at 4:15 am to catch the boat across the lake from San Miguel (where I live with a host family) to flores and then the shuttle to Tikal at 5am. At 5:20, the shuttle still hadn't arrived and a taxi driver had stopped to ask me if I needed a ride somewhere. I told him what had happened and as we were talking, we saw the shuttle I was supposed to be on crossing over the bridge and leaving Flores! So, I hopped in the taxi and we followed the shuttle until it stopped at a redlight and we could flag it down. Then I got on and things seemed to be fine. There were a group of nice people from around the world on the bus. Then, about 15 minutes later, the bus got a flat tire! So we pulled over and waited for a new bus, which came in half an hour. We all reboarded, hoping to catch the tail-end of the sunrise still. Literally, 5 seconds later, this second bus got a flat tire! So we waited another 15 minutes for a third bus and eventually we made it to Tikal at 8am instead of 6:30am. It turned out to be a hilarious situation and we were all in it together and making new friends in the process. I still had 5 hours to explore and walk around Tikal and that was more than enough time to see everything.

I was able to see spider monkeys up close and some funny orange, racoon-like creatures with snouts, who had no fear of humans whatsoever. The views were spectacular from the tops of the temples. I also took an hour long walk down a jungle trail where I encountered absolutely nobody else except monkeys! That was one of my favorite parts of the day.