Monday, May 24, 2010

Barcelona, Spain: Hockey Night in Barcelona

I have just completed my second of three exams that seem to be a sign of the end of an incredible semester abroad. Personally, I still have a lot to explore and discover as I will be leaving August 20th, but for many this is the end of an era. During these exams I noticed a few obscure things that are certainly worth mentioning for comedy if nothing else. Firstly, while glancing upon the desks I noticed that Norwegian students are inclined to bring what seems like a buffet into the exam. I equate this to the fact that most Norwegian exams are about 4-6 hours in length, which is probably related to the focus on fair and equitable practices in Norway. However, it is a little bit absurd. On one students desk lay a loaf of bread, peanut butter, a canteen of coffee, and two bottles of water. Perhaps the cold war mentality of preparing for the long haul has seeped its way into the Norwegian exam system. However, I am more inclined to settle for a bottle of water and three pens on my desk. Also, all the Norwegian exam instruction before the exam is in Norwegian even for classes that were taught in English. This made for a rather peculiar five minutes as I gazed off into the exam room while others (assuming they were Norwegian) attentively listened to the instructions. Afterward I was quick to ask my teacher about how exactly this Norwegian exam worked in function. After explaining, he was quick to note that if the only information I sought was based on physical Exam structure and not the actual questions on the exam then I was going to do just great. Honestly though I absolutely adore Norway as a country especially after last weekend when I went on a rather intense hiking expedition in Stavanger. As I have noted many times for many other subjects, I will save that story for when it is heir apparent that I should write on Stavanger.

I have also found the quintessential ingredient to all travel: Music. Obviously, most people recognize the importance of music while doing some traveling as all tourists seem to have an i-pod fully locked and loaded at all times. However, for me it is all about the right music at the right time and sometimes Lady gaga just won't cut it...so here are my 5 recommended artists to sit back and enjoy the scenery to (in no particular order):1) Sufjan Stevens
2) Phoenix
3) Ratatat
4) The xx
5) Local Natives

Madrid had an incredible nightlife but lacked what I was looking for during the day, and Valencia had an incredible day to offer but seemed to lack something during the night. Well, I seem to have found a Spanish city by the name of Barcelona that had nightlife good enough to keep you going until morning, and a good enough morning to keep you going until night. To put it simply, Barcelona has it all and perhaps you could assert from the former sentence that sleep is far off the radar in this world icon. We arrived at the bus station in early afternoon and headed towards out hostel - Kabul Hostel. If you are ever thinking of traveling to Barcelona and you are looking for the absolute epicenter of activity then Kabul Hostel is your place. It is located in Placa Reial just off of the bustling tourist street known as "La Rambla". Not to mention most rooms have a balcony that looks over the placa itself as the picture to the left would suggest. However, I wouldn't recommend this hostel to anyone who enjoys quiet evenings with a book and a glass of wine, or quiet in general for that matter...but the wine is still fair game in this lively hostel.

Upon checking into out room we began to chat with the other occupants as per usual when arriving at a new hostel. We would quickly find out a few important pieces of information that would change the fate of our trip as we knew it. Firstly, we began talking to these two girls in our room and found out that they actually were from the University of Oslo. Not only that but they actually lived in the building beside us...what are the chances? One of them abruptly inquires, "Are you Chris the Canadian?" I replied that I was indeed, but was still undecided of whether it was good or bad that she knew of me without knowing me. She informed me that one of her Aussie friends had actually attended a party at our place and that was how she "knew" me. Grant and I got a good laugh out of that and we were all a little bit in awe of how we all ended up in the same city, hostel, and room from the same school...living about 30 seconds away from each other in Norway.

Next we met three fine young gentleman from Canada who were playing hockey in Paris for a professional team. During the conversation my eyes began to drift over to a colourful array of what seemed like balloons. I was fixated on them and I asked, "What is with all of the balloons over there?". He gave me a look that let me know that behind those balloons was an immense story and replied, "Those are Jesus' balloons...You'll meet him soon." A little confused I went downstairs and arrived back up later only to meet the one and only Jesus. This man was one of the most intense and unforgettable people that I was ever to meet. First, let me show you the array of balloons that Jesus was later to inform me were there because "Life was always a celebration". I also want to re-iterate before I tell you about this man that despite his wild imagination and seeming insanity he was a great person. That is one of the reasons I never actually took a picture of him because in the end no one deserves to be disrespected regardless of beliefs. As I noted before, I arrived back upstairs and there was Jesus. He introduced himself as Jesus and was a 50 year old black man with graying hair but a kind smile. I asked him where he was from to which he responded that he didn't believe in "one place as a home or place in general". I will note that he did truly think he was Jesus and told some of the most elaborate and creative stories I have ever heard. Some involved his own creation, others his adventures across the world, and even more about angels, life, and everything in between. Grant and I must have talked to this man for hours throughout our time in Barcelona. As much as he often spoke in somewhat tyrannical rants he was equally as helpful and gave us some invaluable information about the city. He has been at that hostel for about 2 and half months and apparently is a local legend with tourists. In the end he would make our trip considerably more intriguing. I could literally write an entire blog about this individual, but I think I will just state that he is arguably the most interesting person I have ever encountered in my life. It is also a little bit ironic that my memorable run in with Jesus would occur in a religious Spanish city on the Easter weekend. When we left the hostel we helped him move his belongings, including the balloons, to another room and he gave us a warm goodbye which is apparently not typical according to the hostel staff.

But, I will get back onto the chronological order of events after my momentary sidestep. We all headed down to the bar which was conveniently located on the first floor of our hostel. There Grant and I were convinced to embark on a "Tapas Night" with a variety of other people from the hostel. We tried a delicious array of traditional Spanish dishes all topped off with a famous Spanish liquor. The only catch was that before you took the shot you had to sing a song from your home nation. There was me as well as the three other Canadians previously mentioned at the table. We decided we would all sing the wonderful tune known as "Hockey Night in Canada" (Picture on the right). You will notice that my eyes are closed in the solemn singing of one of the greater Canadian songs that easily defined many a Canadian winter night for me. The Australians then were quick to respond with their beloved "Vegemite" song which apparently appeared in commercials for the product. Last, a lone Italian belted out an unbridled opera solo that shook the walls on the unsuspecting restaurant and won the hearts of everybody.

After dinner we all walked back to the hostel where we had a pre-party and sipped upon a refreshingly priced bottle of Rushkinoff (6 Euros), which seemed to be the Spanish attempt at triple distilled vodka. The pre-party somehow generally finds its way into our room regardless of destination, which I feel adds to the social climate. The bar downstairs seemed to be erupting with the hostel population, so we followed the noise downstairs only to be surprised with another run in with a student from the University of Oslo. I was literally peering over to the other side of the bar when I noticed a familiar face, Jess, which immediately became an opportunity for a lively hug. As I mentioned about a thousand times before there is no end to the impossible coincidences that occur on these excursions.

Each night Kabul Hostel posts a sign up sheet for a venue in Barcelona that has an event going on that evening. To put it into Spanish perspective the grouping left at 1:45am each night, which is a strong indication again to the way Barcelona confronts nightlife, and another indicator of why the daily siesta is so necessary. That evening we were all headed to "Catwalk Nightclub". Loud music, a young crowd, and reasonably priced drinks has made this club a necessary part of the Barcelona nightlife. However, these were not the only qualities that made this club "unique". This is because intermittently throughout the night they would barrage the club with a cloud of bubbles. At first this was amusing,but then things took a rather odd turn. Once the bubbles arrived on the dance floor someone in our party popped one only to realize that each bubble was more or less packed with a bizarre odour. These bubbles literally laid siege on our nostrils, and by the end when the bubbles appeared on the horizon someone would yell, "No!...more bubbles...get down!" Nevertheless, this really just added to the hilarity of our night which was already turning out to be fantastic. I headed back to the hostel and enjoyed a casual beer with some friendly Irish travelers, and then slept in anticipation of the great exploration of Barcelona which was to occur the following day.

The following morning, Grant and I went to the bike rental shop early as we had made the realization in Valencia that Spain was truly a bike friendly country, especially in its cities. It cost us next to nothing to rent the bikes, and it would have cost us next to nothing to rent scooters as well, but we chose to use our better instincts and not drive anything motorized in busy Barcelona. We did however jet through the streets on our bikes beside the motorized population, but in the end we were glad that we weren't hauling around scooters all day. We biked towards Placa de Catalunya on our way to the famous Sagrada Familia.The Sagrada Familia is the masterpiece of Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926). Apparently, he created it with the intent that it should be the "last great sanctuary of Christendom". It is arguably the most visited attraction by tourists within Barcelona. You will also notice the cranes that hang above the elegant spires. This was initially a little bit of a disappointment for me until I realized that it has been under construction since its original formation. Believe it or not this building has been under construction since 1882 and is not expected to be finished until 2026. I really think that the whole construction effort is to entice tourists who have previously seen this structure to head back to Barcelona in 2026 to see its ultimate completion. It seems to be a little bit of a marketing ploy because notice how it would magically land upon the 100th anniversary of the death of Antoni Gaudi. However, the building itself is absolutely stunning and nothing short of a something out of a fairytale. So, construction and marketing aside, this building is truly something to behold if you are to visit Barcelona. On November 7th of this year the pope will actually arrive in Barcelona to officially consecrate the privately funded Roman Catholic church. Maybe his blessing will speed up the painstaking construction process.

From Sagrada Familia we sped down to the Monumental metro stop to view the nearby Bull fighting monument/stadium. It was interesting to see how this phenomenon still exists in Spain despite the inherent danger. Only a few days ago I viewed a rather gruesome event involving a matador being pummeled by a bull on BBC, and could not see why anyone on the planet would want to hold red fabric in front of such a mammoth beast.However, I did look into potentially attending an event like this, so surely there is a strong entertainment value. Due to our exploratory biking we found a building known as "Torre Agbar". It is a 38 story beautiful office building holding more than 30,000 offices inside. I have posted a day and night picture to show the contrast:

This has to be one of the nicest office buildings on the planet. It seems quite typical of the European mentality that if they are going to build something it might as well be beautiful and surpass just function alone. The bottom line is the people actually work within this building and that seems a little peculiar to the North American mentality. From Torre Agbar we biked back up to Grand Via to regain our bearings. We traversed West across a large portion of the city to end up at the Espanya metro stop. This is where you can find the Mirador del Palua Nacional (National Palace) and Font Magica de Montjuic (Magic Fountain). The exexperiences I had here solidified why Barcelona is undoubtedly one of the world's greatest cities. Every corner that I turned I was impressed and even more so upon arriving here. The picture to the left I was able to snap approaching the steps of the impressive palace. The palace has now been converted into a Museum but it certainly retains its authority. The magic fountain was also really interesting but apparently had to be viewed in the evening when there would be a performance of the fountain involving music.

The Magic Fountain...Being Magical

The video I posted above is actually my first attempt at posting a video on my blog. It never really seemed pertinent before. Although, I really thought it was necessary to visually show the movement of the magic fountain because I think it solidifies Barcelona's drive towards giving its tourists the ultimate experience. I haven't been too persistent with my video posting because I will eventually turn all of these blog postings into a book, and I can't very well see how I am going to put a video into a book, but maybe technology will surprise me. I chose this section because it was the final section of the entire performance, thus highly intense as well as impressive. The performance goes on for quite some time, however, so I was lucky to start filming at the end because I didn't know that it would be finishing. The video is from the evening, but upon first arriving it was still afternoon, so we headed behind the palace to the congregation of Olympic buildings, including the stadium that hosted the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. Each building had its own Spanish touch on it despite the fact that it was an international competition, or maybe because of it. When we had reached La Rambla again I noticed there was a parade of sorts going on. It was a religious Easter demonstration by a religious grouping called SPOR. They had on these ominous black cloaks that showed the deep religious traditions of the Spanish. It was more or less a right place/right time scenario that I was happy to caught up in. At the end of the day we enjoyed a few beverages at the bar where I met some Americans that I spent the remainder of the evening with.

We awoke with the intention of heading to Parc Guell. It was another brainwave of Antoni Gaudi that was constructed during the early 20th century and enjoys the tag of UNESCO world heritage sight. One of these days I will sit down and make a list of all the UNESCO world heritage sights I have had the absolute privilege of seeing. Parc Guell was a combination of astounding views, architectural wonder, and a soothing garden complex. The picture is of me enjoying one of the more beautiful, but also busier parts of the park. Looking at the photo again it made me wonder what it would be like to experience such a sight without the sound of tourists all around. I literally could not grab a single photo in Parc Guell that didn't have about three million tourists in it.This made me consider that perhaps Barcelona's only downfall was over-interest, and a potentially unsustainable tourist industry in reference to the preservation and enjoyment of Barcelona attractions. In Stavanger last weekend we literally had the entire mountain to ourselves at the end of the day, which is why this thought popped into my head when giving a second glance to the photographs I had snapped in Barcelona. From Parc Guell, we took the metro to Camp Nou. Camp Nou is the home of FC Barcelona and is the largest football stadium in Europe. It has a capacity of over 98,000 and on the world scale comes in as the 11th biggest stadium. We went there to get a view of the stadium, but realized when we got there that there was a game that evening between FC Barcelona and Atletico Bilbao. So...We bought tickets! It was just one of those moments where we both decided that we would do what it takes to get into that stadium for that game. We ended up buying tickets that weren't beside each other because they were cheaper, yet by the end we had magically moved up to better seats beside each other...weird how these things happen. The week earlier we had also seen Madrid take the lead in La Liga, which is the division one league of the Spanish Premiera. If Barcelona was to win this match then they would again regain the lead in the league, so it was a great chance to watch two of the worlds greatest teams in Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. I adorned myself in Barcelona orange when I bought their alternate jersey for a wonderfully bargained price of 30 Euros and headed into the stadium. I was tempted to post every single picture from that game on my blog, but decided upon the these two pictures to give you an idea of the stadium itself, and also the view we had. It was truly remarkable to have seen this caliber of soccer. I was able to witness the finesse of Christiano Ronaldo in Madrid and the finish of Leonor Messi in Barcelona. It was an event that we didn't plan for, but that we both decided was crucial to our experience. The thrill of a goal being scored, the eruption of almost 100,000 fans, and the cheers of the Barcelona faithful are something I won't soon forget. Barcelona took a commanding lead and won the game by a landslide, thus placing them just ahead of Real Madrid. In fact, Barcelona won the league title recently by 3 points or the amount of points they received for winning this very match.

The day was far from over however. The most legendary club in Barcelona awaited our arrival. Razzmatazz is a massive club with a capacity of about 4,000 people and five separate and distinct rooms inside. Two large buildings were connected by the terrace on the roof. It was really something to behold. To put it in perspective this room (to the right) was just one of the rooms where there happened to be a full fledged concert rock/indie concert going on. The other rooms differed greatly in style, vibe, people and music. It was really a club that could offer you anything that you were looking for musically. I read an article on this place that said that it pretty much has a monopoly on the club and concert scene within Barcelona, even having appearances from Sufjan Stevens, (who I mentioned in my recommended travel artists) and other seriously famous bands.
I found myself continually using, or wanting to use the word, famous throughout this blog because that is truly what Barcelona has to offer - famous attractions. Everything about it feels world class, and it was a privilege to embark where many have embarked before, but I doubt few have enjoyed as much.

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