Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Mediterranean

The Mediterranean (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mediterranean) is the only real common thread between my last two trips. The first weekend in April, I headed to Barcelona (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barcelona), which is my favorite city that I've been to yet. The next weekend I headed to Nice (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nice), Cannes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannes), and Monaco (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monaco), which was an entirely different experience.

First, though, Barcelona. I hardly had enough time to fully appreciate Barcelona, but I surely did my best. Soon after arriving, we headed to the Montjuïc area(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montjuic) to see the Font Mágica, which is an impressive fountain/light/music show. The next day we got up early to go on a Gaudí tour (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antoni_Gaud%C3%AD). I always have appreciated architecture, so this was the part of the trip I was most looking forward to. It didn't disappoint at all - I was able to have time to see his four most famous buildings: Casa Battló (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casa_Battlo), Casa Milà (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casa_Mila), Parc Güell (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parc_Guell) and La Sagrada Família (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagrada_Familia), the still-under-construction cathedral in the Eixample (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eixample) district. Sagrada Família is unlike any building I have ever been in before nor will ever be in again. The intricacy of the architecture is impossible to adequately describe, and I could have easily spent an entire day just in that church. Construction is currently projected to be complete in 2026, at which point, it will have several more towers added to its already imposing façade.

A couple other quick notes about Barcelona that don't fit easily into the paragraphs. My favorite part of the trip ended up stumbling across a graffiti-encrusted Spanish Civil War (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Civil_War) bunker at the top of a hill in one of the parks in Barcelona's hill district - I believe it was Parc Guinardó, but I'm not sure. It was amazing, a piece of history abandoned except for its location in the center of a park, but abandoned in such a place that it maintained complete panoramic views of the city. Completely unexpected, but completely wonderful. Unrelatedly, Hospital de Sant Pau (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hospital_de_Sant_Pau) fits in well with the capricious architecture of the city and is the most absurd hospital I've ever seen. Finally, we ended up staying in a quaint apartment right off Las Ramblas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Las_Ramblas), which proved to be the perfect base to be located.

One of the most interesting things about Barcelona is the amazing singularity of the city's districts. Each district has a completely different personality from one another. Eixample is perhaps the most obviously unique, being that you feel as though you are walking around a landscape from a Dr. Seuss (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dr_Seuss) book with its whimsical turn-of-the-century architecture. But it was apparent wherever we walked when we were entering a new area. It's a fascinating feeling. The feeling exists in other cities as well (Berlin, New York, for starters) but I have never felt it quite so singularly.

Font Mágica

Me, jumping between the broken parts of the Spanish Civil War bunker atop the hill.

The Barcelona harbor from Montjuïc.

Parc Güell, Gaudí's architectural park.

The Olympic Stadium (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estadi_Ol%C3%ADmpic_Llu%C3%ADs_Companys) and communications tower.

Sagrada Família.

The French Rivera (aka the Côte d'Azur) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Riviera) is a coastline of constant traffic and ostentatious wealth. One thing was apparent to me the entire trip: I did not have enough money to be there. And no one was afraid about letting me know that, either. It was the first place on my entire European journey - Paris included, mind you - where I was treated at all rudely by anyone in a service sector. I didn't belong, so they didn't care.

That said, the French Riveria is indeed beautiful, and it's quite apparent why the rich would want to flock there. The cities have plenty to do, but are not completely overdeveloped, and the natural terrain is incredibly picturesque. But it still felt with all of the beauty around completely devoid of any real humanity, or any personality. Monaco's character solely comes from its association with Monte Carlo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monte_Carlo_Casino), the most famous casino in the world. Gambling in it was an unparalleled experience to say the least. I broke even and would have been significantly ahead if I hadn't misinterpreted my divine sign. Monaco at least was classy. Cannes, devoid of its film festival (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannes_Film_Festival), felt like any generic beach front town, filled with all the expected American beach front tourist traps. Nice has a bit more substance and culture to it, but it still feels as though it is missing any real personality of its own. Rather than emphasizing many of the cultural attractions there, the city subordinates them to focus on - just as the rest of the Riveria - the beach and shopping. I'm very glad I went there, but unlike most places I went in Europe, I feel no compelling urge to ever go back.

Monte Carlo Casino

Nice, its beach, and its sea.

The harbor in Monaco, complete with yachts worth tens of millions.

The beach in Cannes.

I'm entering my last few weeks in the program now. From May 3 to May 6, I will be visiting Croatia, otherwise, I will be staying in Germany until my final departure from Freiburg on May 15, a bitter sweet day indeed. After the program ends, I'll be doing a little bit more traveling, which will take me to Pisa, Florence, and Venice in Italy, Madrid and San Sebastian in Spain, and Bordeaux and Paris in France. I'll be back in Minneapolis, presumably safe and sound, the evening of May 27. So if you're planning on greeting me in any form of an excited fashion, that should be the day you shoot for.

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