21 November, 2014

Barcelona

Once again, this post is a continuation of my two previous posts, the first of which is about Amsterdam (click HERE) and the second of which is about Paris (click HERE).

Our journey carried on from Paris to Barcelona. After waking up at 4am to get a train into the city center, catching a bus from the city to the airport (which was more than an hour away), and flying for a little less than two hours, I touched down in Barcelona... and proceeded to wait several more hours for Lindsay. A slight thorn in our sides during this trip was the fact that Lindsay has a Eurail pass, which let's her ride almost any train in Europe at either no extra charge or for a small fee, and I do not. It made things complicated when traveling between cities and also led to some not-so-convenient wait times for one or both of us, but ultimately I wasn't too bothered because it gave me time to sit in Starbucks, drink an espresso (it's no coincidence that this is the cheapest thing on the menu) and write some notes for my blog.

Since we arrived in Barcelona in the early afternoon, we went first to our host's house (Lindsay and I couchsurfed during most of this trip), dropped off our stuff and immediately headed back out to explore the city. We decided to go straight for one of Barcelona's main attractions: La Sagrada Familia, a famous cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudí that is still unfinished. I've been to la Sagrada Familia before but I was still blown away by the beauty of the interior. The exterior is a bit too chaotic and asymmetrical for my taste, but the inside is just stunning. (Photo credit goes to Lindsay for these.)

It looks like a forest!


The cool ceiling
Beautiful stained glass
The next day we continued our Gaudí tour and went to Park Guell, another famous Gaudí site. As the name suggests, this one is a park rather than a building, and since it's a work of Gaudí's it is of course also stunning.


We also took a walking tour that brought us around the old parts of the city (known as the Gothic Quarter), went to the Museum of Chocolate for real, delicious hot chocolate (NOT hot cocoa, chocolate here really means chocolate), saw the Arc de Triomf (not as stunning as the one in Paris) and the surrounding park, visited the Barcelona cathedral and the old Olympic stadium, and walked down La Rambla and along the water. Between and among all of these attractions we also did a lot of aimless wandering, like we had done in the other cities we visited. Pictures do this part much more justice that I can:

Bank in the city center
The Ayuntament, or town hall
Artwork in the Gothic Quarter. I forget what it symbolizes.

Museum of Catalan Art
Olympic Stadium
Olympic Stadium
Mammoth in a park!
Cool fountain in the same park
Arc de Triomf
Barcelona Cathedral

This brings me to some general observations about Barcelona, starting with...

Pickpockets 

These assholes are everywhere in Barcelona, a fact we found out the hard way when Lindsay's iPhone was stolen while we were riding the metro. (Mine was almost stolen as well, but the thief dropped it and someone next to me on the train picked it up and gave it back to me, THANK GOODNESS!!) And this was even after I had seen TWO PEOPLE earlier in the day trying to unzip Lindsay's backpack as we were walking down the stairs to the metro area. This apparently didn't make us paranoid enough to remember to put our cell phones out of easy reach. Even though we were holding onto the backpack with a death grip the next time we rode the metro, we both forgot to take our iPhones out of our front pockets. Lesson learned, paranoia and mistrust at 100 percent. 

Apparently, pickpocketing is rampant in Barcelona because the laws against it are so lax. Pickpockets can be caught, arrested and fined, but they are then released several hours later to steal from someone else. Evidently the fines are not high enough to discourage a pickpocket who can simply wait out his arrest in the police station and then steal a few more iPhones before his workday is over. Luckily Lindsay's travel insurance covers her iPhone, so she will get reimbursed for its current value, but she won't be able to get the pictures back that she hadn't backed up yet, including all her pictures from Park Guell. (That is why I only included one picture from Park Guell. We were planning to share pictures so I only took the one.)

Languages

I've written about languages for each of the places we visited, but Barcelona is by far the most interesting in that regard. Barcelona is in Catalonia (or Catalunya as it is known there), a region in northeastern Spain with its own language distinct from Spanish and the one with arguably the strongest desire to separate from Spain. (It could also be argued that the Basque region, to the west of Catalunya, has a comparable desire to secede.) The language of Catalunya, known as Catalan, has had to put up with a lot in order to survive to this day. Before the unification of Spain, each region, including Catalunya, spoke its own language. Once the separate kingdoms across the Iberian peninsula were unified, a process that was completed in 1492, Castilian Spanish (what we know today simply as "Spanish") was established as the official language of the new kingdom. However, some regions maintained their regional languages and dialects, and few so vigorously as Catalunya. Then, during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, which lasted from 1939 until Franco's death in 1975, Catalan (along with other regional languages) was outlawed, and anyone caught speaking, reading, writing or publishing materials in Catalan could be punished. After Franco's death and Spain's transition to democracy, Catalan experienced a strong revival and once again became an official language of Catalunya. It's no surprise that Catalan has survived through all this: the language is kept alive by the same Catalonian spirit that yearns for independence from Spain. Today Catalan is a source of pride for Catalunya and is synonymous with Catalan nationalism. To give you an idea of what Catalan people think of the rest of Spain: in the Barcelona airport, the signs are written first in Catalan, then in English and finally in Spanish.

The current situation in Catalunya is one of reluctant bilingualism, which can be complicated and confusing for tourists and those unfamiliar with the area. Both Catalan and Spanish are official languages of Catalunya, so half of all signs, pamphlets and other materials are written in Spanish and the other half are written in Catalan. Since Catalan is the official language of the local government in Catalunya, government offices in Barcelona may have different names than in most places in Spain. Sometimes there seems to be no logic to what is written in which language. For example, the Starbucks I went to gave out coupons written only in Catalan, but the cashier spoke to me in Spanish. Some advertisements were in Spanish and some were in Catalan. And even though I think children learn both Spanish and Catalan in school, some people speak Spanish in public and some speak Catalan. For this reason, Barcelona is not the best place to go if you want to learn or improve your Spanish. As a Spanish speaker, it was very confusing for me to hear so much Catalan mixed in with the Spanish, because Catalan sounds so similar to Spanish but at the same time I can't understand it. Hearing Catalan always caused me a moment of concern when I heard a familiar-sounding language that I couldn't understand and I thought I had completely lost the ability to understand Spanish.

As with the precious two cities we visited, I can definitely recommend Barcelona. I had already visited during my time as a student in Spain in 2010/2011, and I enjoyed it just as much the second time. Going there this time allowed me to see more that I hadn't seen the first time and gave me a bit more insight into the tense but barely-cordial relationship between Catalunya and the rest of Spain. In fact, while we were there Catalunya was gearing up for a vote to determine whether the Catalan public wanted Catalunya to become its own country. The vote was simply symbolic, since the Spanish government had not agreed to recognize the vote and had actually forbidden it from happening at all, but we found out afterwards that 80 percent of those who voted had voted in favor of greater separation from Spain in some form. These numbers are no doubt skewed in favor of separation because those wanting to secede were more likely to brave the potential wrath of the Spanish government in order to vote, but it's still a strong statement to the Spanish government that the will for independence exists in Catalunya.

In any case, if you have the opportunity to visit Barcelona I would recommend it. I would certainly not say no to visiting again sometime. And who knows, maybe the next time I go there I won't be going to Spain but rather to the Republic of Catalunya!
Click HERE for the last stop on our trip: Sevilla!

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