Monday, July 19, 2010

España and Deutschland: Churches

By the second day in Barcelona, we had the whole luggage escapade our of our system and we were ready to start checking off the boxes on our itinerary of amazing things to see in Barcelona. But where should we start? After doing some quick reading in our tour book, we decided to ponder it further over some variant of ham between two slices of bread at the Barceloneta mercado. Erika had had a coffee con leche with her breakfast the day prior and, although I am not a coffee guy, I decided that one was in order for the first day to really get me going. This was a sign of things to come and let to an incredible addiction that I am still fighting in my heart and mind to this day. Being a coffee culture, I got used to drinking some good stuff, which has set me up for disappointment whenever I indulge on the weekends in midtown.

But I digress. We decided that our first order of business was to check out the insatiable, incredible, one-of-a-kind Sagrada Familia, designed by Gaudi in the early 20th century. He died without seeing it completed, and I will also likely die before it's completed because it's still very much a work-in-progress. Now that I think about it, I find it ironic that we Americans use the term "goddie" (spelled phonetically) with a negative connotation to describe a material thing that is over the top, embellished with thick, ornate, outlandish decorations (much like my definition of the word itself :o). Perhaps this term came from "Gotti" (as in the head of our local mafia family), but more likely it came from Gaudi, who's designs were in fact ornate, outlandish, and over-the-top. Which is what makes this place so controversial, I suppose. Some guidebooks describe his designs as "cake in the rain", which I found pretty accurate.

According to the length of the line and our Rick Steves Snapshot guide of Barcelona (highly recommended, by the way), we arrived right at the worst time, with a line snaking around the corner for the entrance. But, not for the first time, we found the line to be quick moving and in a few minutes we were standing in front of this impressive building in all of its glory. It was almost overwhelming just standing there, so, armed with our audio guides, we took a seat at the base of one of the columns near the entrance (conveniently in the shade since it was toasty) and just took it all in for a few minutes.

It's basically impossible to describe this place. Where's a Graham when you need him? The columns inside the church were unsymmetrical trees of concrete (literally, trees) and the exterior was just breathtaking. I could say that he incorporated nature in his design with spires built like honeycombs and native plants and animals from the Holy-land throughout the exterior, and you would probably cross it off your list of things to see in your lifetime, but that would be a mistake! I literally cannot describe the place, you just have to see it to believe it.

Following a few hours of drinking from the cup of Gaudi at the Sagrada Familie, it was time to see the next church. Euros, they always complain about how Americans love churches and how boring they find them, which I can totally understand. But when we picked up Leif at the Plaça de Catalunya, he was actually excited to see the next church on the list. After mentally mapping out our plan for the rest of the afternoon, we decided that the best thing to do would be to purchase day-passes. Of course, we'd already used our $0.70 metro card ticket twice that day, but surely we would ride it at least six more times that day. I mean, how long can you really stay at a church (especially after just finishing up with the Sagrada Familia)?    

So, we headed off to the next place of worship, which was a bit on the outskirts of Barcelona and a further ten minute walk from there before it appeared before us. This is a place where legends are created and nurtured from a young age until they are released against inferior opposition as teenagers. One of the largest of its kind in all of Europe (nearly 100,000 people can praise the Hand of God on an afternoon), a place where nationality was celebrated and defiance against fascism was practiced on a weekly basis for nearly a half-century, the Camp Nou: The house of FC Barcelona, the best football team in the world. I feel lucky to have been able to visit this place now while they are nearly at the peak of their ability. Where a boy (Leo Messi) who will likely be called the best football player of all time is plying his trade at the tender age of 23.

I haven't been to many football stadiums in Europe, but if I was to pick one to visit (other than Liverpool's Anfield, of course), it would have to be the Nou Camp. While it would be much more exciting to actually go there while the season was in full swing and experience the noise of 97,000 patrons, this would have to do for the time being. FC Barcelona is actually an important cultural icon for the nation of Catalonia. When the fascist Franco plunged the country into civil war and struck down Barcelona and the Catalans, FC Barcelona was one of the last places of refuge for the citizens. Franco outlawed the flag of Catalonia, but the flag was incorporated in the club's emblem, so it really was, and is, a way for them to display some pride in their nationality. Little did I know that the club's slogan "FC Barcelona, More Than Just A Club" is not just some marketing moniker that Nike came up with after all.

We toured the stadium and locker room (as exciting as a locker room can be I guess), we got pictures holding a mock Champions League trophy, we held a press conference in their media room, I got my photo taken with Messi himself, which was amazing since he was actually in South Africa at the same time!), and generally payed homage to all of the greats that have graced the colors of FC Barcelona.

After a few hours at the church, it was basically time to meet up with Leif's girlfriend Melanie (who, conveniently, was in town for a girl's weekend) and head out to the Olympic Port for a seafood dinner. This area, which felt like it was at least a five mile walk from the subway) was basically built for the '92 Olympics and was at the end of the incredible Barcelona beach (which, by the way, we never got to enjoy thanks to the weather and the luggage incident).

So we wandered along the beach, along the snack shacks, clubs, and all sorts of interesting things going on until we got to the pier that held giant outdoor restaurants stacked full of fresh seafood and greasy, over-sunned menu hawkers. I have no doubt that these guys are definitely the Jersey Guidos of Europe (minus The Situation's abs) judging by the way they haggled and got a little too cozy to girls walking by.

We were pretty tired by this time and so we settled into a nice paella plate after dining on appetizers. The ironic thing about it was that we had just walked for over an hour to this place way out of the way based on one of the German's book's recommendation when we learned that none of the Germans, in fact, liked seafood :o). Suddenly, Erika and I become the "experts" on recommending which fish they should eat when they don't like any fish at all. Leif made things easy by ordering a steak, while I hastily described what a monkfish looks like when Melanie asked me what I thought about that for dinner. I recommended the cod, which they found relatively palatable. :o)

It was one of our longer, dryer days (and hot!), but we enjoyed the Germans company for the night. Next time, we'll take them for awesome tapas instead of seafood :o). We took the brisk subway home and crashed pretty hard after wandering around our little village neighborhood's narrow streets a little bit more.

J. Riley, we used our day passes exactly twice, which means we wasted about $15 on the day pass :o|

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