Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Barcelona! (Not an exciting title, but this post is)

Right now I find myself hunched over a computer or a book for more hours than the sun the is up. I wish I could say I was composing the Great American Novel, but because I'm in Scotland composing my brain for the five week period of exam hell I'm in currently. It's a marathon, not a sprint so I thought I had time to update you on when things were much more exciting. Just a few weeks back I was in Barcelona, Spain for five days to visit my good friend Hilly!

[My lovely hostess, Hilly and I in the Labyrinth Gardens, Barcelona's best kept secret.]

Barcelona was my first big destination vacation since I've been abroad. As a study abroad student shouldn't I be on a cheap Ryan Air flight every weekend so I can tour Europe? Instead I've probably been at a different pub every weekend, but at least I've explored Edinburgh, right? Well, it was time to finally get my passport stamped again and because Hilly stopped by Edinburgh for a weekend, the least I could do was pay her a visit. Also, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that churros were an incentive to visit Spain.

[My churro-stache, can't you tell I'm mature enough to be turning 21 this June? haha They were delicious though and tasted like gourmet kitkat bars.]

After nearly a month of rain in Edinburgh, the constant sun in Spain was an invigorating change of scenery. Perhaps a bit too invigorating because the idea of packing sunscreen eluded me and therefore I got a bit burnt with a hardcore watch-tan to boot! When the sun wasn't illuminating just how pasty I've become since settling in Scotland, it was illuminating the crazy and colorful architecture of Barcelona.

The buildings have a life of their own and helped to promote the Catalan identity even when Franco tried to eradicate it turned his regime because it was too separatist. Even to this day, Catalan (a mixture of French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin meaning that despite the fact that I failed to speak Spanish, I could at least read the signs from my high school French knowledge. This was very important to order delicious "fromtiage" or cheese croissants) is the main language of Barcelona. Although Spanish is understood and spoken, it is disdained and some Catalans would prefer to speak to you in English rather than Spanish. The impressive Catalan pride was both exciting and a little overwhelming and who better to exhibit this than Antoni Gaudi.

Gaudi was Barcelona's most famous Catalan modernist architect. Although the city is currently on the contemporary grid system (even I, the directionally deranged, could navigate it!), his unique buildings punctuate the landscape and culture. Gaudi's designs are heavy in religious symbolism and Catalan culture. For example, the building above represents Spain's patron saint, St. George's victory over a dragon. What appears to be a carnival masque on the balcony actually represents human skulls discarded from the dragon that sits on the roof (note his scales). St. George's defeat of the beast is depicted down the walls of the building making it a truly stunning sight. Gaudi's style culminated in his famous Sagrada Familia church reminiscent of a drip sand castle and still under-construction. Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of it because I had camera troubles throughout the trip, but its an awe-inspiring sight.

Above is Gaudi's "quarry" building. Although he remains one of Barcelona's favorite artists and is a major pull for today's tourists, Gaudi himself died in obscurity. While he was alive he was relatively reclusive so although many knew his designs they did not know him. He died after being hit by a tram and mistaken for a beggar whereas today it would be a mistake to miss his work. Similarly, Barcelona is an under-appreciated tourist destination but it has so much offer: the sea, architecture, delicious food, friendly people, and more. Its a vivacious city, so radically different from Edinburgh that it gave me just the jump start I needed before exams.

Just like the winding streets of Barcelona's Barrio Gottico (the original city) leave a lot to be discovered, this is only my first post of a few on the city. Expect more soon!

[Yes, that is the Spanish Arc de Triumf, but more on it later.]

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Gals in Glasgow

Glagow may be the largest city in Scotland and the third most populous in all of the UK, but it is surprisingly underrated in Edinburgh. Yes, it may not conjure up the fantasy of Harry Potter when walking through its industrial architecture, but what it doesn't have to offer in visual aesthetic, it has in cultural aesthetic instead. Glasgow is one the burgeoning centers of music in the UK with bands like Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura, Franz Ferdinand, Frightened Rabbit, Glasvegas, and the Vaselines originating from it just to name a few. This is the predominant reason why I know Glasgow because every big band I've wanted to see has stopped by the city. I've taken the fifty minute train down to Glasgow many a time to see my favorite bands, but this meant I had never seen the city during the day. I decided to remedy that over my Easter break and met up with my friend Julia, a native Glaswegian, to finally see Glasgow.

Our first stop was the charmingly odd Kelvingrove Museum. Located in the West End, its part natural history museum and part art gallery. One minute you're looking at a Monet painting and the next there's a texidermied giraffe with a spitfire above its head. The museum boasts over 800 objects meaning you can see everything from a stuffed shark to an Egyptian mummy. Sometimes the exhibits seemed a little crowded with medieval armor and the Holocaust all in one room, but overall it was a fun few hours that led to some good discussion.

Even if you aren't that excited about seeing Sir Roger the Elephant, the old Kelvingrove mansion built for the Glasgow International Fair in 1901 is a stunning sight and there's even an organ player for some ambience.

My favorite display at the museum was this absurd testament to Scottish nationalism. Even with the occasional offbeat plaque, the museum is definitely worth a visit.

Next, we wandered around the University of Glasgow campus. Although I claimed Edinburgh's architecture seems more romantic at the beginning of this post, I have to admit that I was jealous of the university here. I expected to run into Professor Flitwick in the medieval courtyard instead of the hideous 1980s monstrosities we have on the University of Edinburgh campus.

After all of this sightseeing we were starving and found half a dozen adorable sandwich shops in the area that it made it hard to choose just where to catch up over coffee. Finally we settled on a little bistro that offered a wrap, a burger, or noodles for a fiver.
Although the weather was expectedly rainy (on average, Glasgow gets more rain than Edinburgh), spending the afternoon in the city was a great diversion from the monotony of exam revision. Glasgow has a lot to offer and I think the only reason those in Edinburgh rant about it is because they're a tad jealous. I would gladly visit it again.
Thanks to Julia for showing me around!