In God’s Cathedral – Around the World Day 18

I got to know a little more of Lisbon by exploring a different neighborhood than I did last time, the Bairro Alto. Even though I really enjoyed the Affama neighborhood, I thought that this one had more character and there was a lot more to see here. The most memorable one was the Carmo Convent. I was able to see it from my vantage point at the Sao Jorge Castle because it sticks out like a blemish on a teenagers face when you scan the city. It is the ruins of an old cathedral that sits in the middle of town begging for people to visit.

Basically, back in the day, this cathedral was the center of the Catholic Church in Lisbon, but on November 1st, 1755 a terrible earthquake hit the town, leveling many of the structures there, this one included. It also caught on fire, and all that is left is this husk of what once was a great cathedral. The city of Lisbon has turned the insides into a park, leaving the remains behind for anyone to tour if they find themselves in this corner of the world. All of the people who were buried there still remain, and the rectory has been turned into a museum with a collection of great art from all over the world. Viewing this art work made me contemplate the nature of art and how it holds up over time.

Being in Europe, I have seen a lot of art. It is kind of what you do while you are out here. Some of it has really stuck with me because of its magnificence, and I am always surprised at how it is collected in museums, palaces, and cathedrals. Every time I think I have seen it all, something else pops out to surprise me such as this mosaic of John the Baptists at the Church of Sao Roque. At first I passed it off as just another holy painting, but upon further inspection I realized that it was a bunch of tiny stones put together to create this masterpiece. Where else but Europe would I be able to see something like this.

But as I toured the neighborhood more I found that art did not need to be collected in only these places. It was all around me. I went into the Cervejaria Trindade because it was an old monastery that was turned into a bar, and had the only porter I have found since I have been out in Europe. Of course, I had to try it. But the bar also had a collection of old painted mosaics all over their walls that dated back to when the place was one of worship and reflection. It is a tribute to the people of this great city that they would keep this artwork for people to enjoy centuries later even if it wasn’t in a place where I would expect to find it.

I started to wonder if art was all around me no matter where I went. Of course there is a lot of graffiti on the walls of the city, and some of it is just a waste of spray paint, but there have been a few that I have been impressed with. There are the simple vendors with their collections of painted scenes that they are trying to sell to make a quick dollar. And then there are the people who get creative with their artwork. I would have never thought of knitting a colorful cozy for a children’s bike and then displaying it from my patio for the whole world to see, but if I really looked for it, these were the kind of things I could find on my stroll of this part of the city.

It is what I really love about being out in Europe. Everywhere I look there is someone expressing themselves through their art. Some of it will last through the centuries, and some will pass away with the times, but it is all around me. It is why I am always looking around me to see what other exciting thing I can see. It is all under the same roof that is left behind of the Carmo Convent, and it is the whole collection of this art that makes up the city of Lisbon.

Things to do in Lisbon – Around the World Day 17

The capital city of Portugal, Lisbon, is the last stop of my European part of the trip around the world, and the first twenty-four hour were spent hitting the tourist spots. Some of them I went there because that was the thing to do as a tourist. Some of them I went there because that was the thing to do.

As soon as I arrived in Lisbon, I had enough time to drop off my bags and take the ten minute walk from my apartment to the Comercio Square. This is not the big touristy square that everybody needs to see on their visits to Lisbon, but it is where everybody was on this night. Portugal was playing Uruguay in the World Cup, and this was a win or go home game. The Portuguese were a little upset that it was on Saturday night because they thought they would have been the winner of the round robin play. To celebrate the game though, the city of Lisbon had set up a massive three story television so the whole town could come together to watch the game. There were numerous beer booths, and venders selling all kind of food. And even though Portugal lost the game, it was the perfect way to watch the match, and the best introduction to the city.

The next day started off by wandering the windy streets of the Alfama neighborhood. This is the oldest section of the city that survived the 1755 earthquake, and walking through its skinny streets reminded me of what it would have felt like to live during that time. There were thousands of decorations, and many beer booths all along the streets out here as well, and at first, I thought it was because of the World Cup, but later I found out that St. Antonio’s Day was the weekend before. He is the patron saint of Lisbon, and they have a huge celebration from that event. The decorations were just the hangover just waiting to be cleaned up, and it was nice of them to leave them up for me, so I could see what fun I had missed by being a week late.

The walk through this part of the city took me to the top of the highest hill in the city where sat Sao Jorge Castle. This is a military structure that was first built during the 7th century B.C. by the Moors, and then added on to by Romans and Christians over the centuries. It is a great military fortress designed to withold a long siege. It was not created so a king could live in the ground even though it was later adapted for that purpose. It shows you what a military castle would have been like, and it had some amazing views of the city. Everywhere I turned there was another example of the perfect picture.

After a long day of hiking through the city, there was only one place left to go, Time Out Market, for dinner. This is a long hall that reminded me of a modern day mead hall. The sides of the hall were lined up with small kitchens where I could choose from various kinds of food. They also served wine and beer, and once I got my meal I found a place at one of the long tables to enjoy my food. It brought me back to the community of Lisbon which seems like one of the important things about this town, and the main reason I am enjoying it so far. I can’t wait to see what the next couple of days have in store for me when the first one was so exciting.

The Sagrada Familia – Around the World Day 4

I feel lucky that I have been able to come back to Barcelona after I visited it eleven years earlier, and not because it is an amazing city with wonderful and spectacular history, but because it means that I have been able to tour the Sagrada Familia twice. Now, I know that this is a cathedral, and anybody who has been to Europe knows that there are so many cathedrals that they start to blend into one another, but there is something special about this cathedral. It was originally supposed to be another gothic cathedral in the heart of Barcelona, but then Antonio Gaudi was given the privilege to design it, and what was created has turned into something that is unlike anything else that has been built. It is a tribute to architecture, and in my humble opinion, the most beautiful thing that man has ever created.

The design starts with the pillars inside of the cathedral. Gaudi was inspired by nature, and wanted the inside of the cathedral to reflect this connection. Instead of having the pillars reach to the ceiling and connect in four spots to hold up the mighty structure, he designed them so they would continually branch out like trees. It give the space inside the cathedral a more airy and open feeling as if you were walking through a forest. He added to this motif by designing stain glass windows to let in light that reflects the time of day, cooler colors on the east side for the morning, and warmer colors on the west for the sunset. The stone that is used for each pillar is different and the carving on the side is specific to different trees to give his forest an eclectic variety of tress. With all of this, the brilliance comes with the fact that structurally this is more sound than the designs of gothic cathedrals, and more pleasing to look at.

He also removed a lot of the clutter that can be found inside gothic cathedrals and instead placed the statues outside so everybody can enjoy the impact that these points of Bible stories might have on the general public. So far two of the sides reflect two of the more important points in Jesus’s life, the nativity and the passion. The nativity side faces east towards the rising sun, and the intricate carving were designed to give the feeling of the explosion of nature as if life is just beginning for the first time. The whole side of the cathedral has moments from Jesus’s earlier part of life such as the arrival of the the shepherds, and the three wise men, the exile from Bethlehem, and Jesus working on a project with his father, Joseph. I spent some time on this side marveling at the intricacies put into the design, making walking through its doors a spiritual moment.

But this is in stark contrast to the opposite side of the building with its angular statues, and harsh motifs. This side depict many moments of Jesus’s death, and Gaudi wanted to remind people that this was a brutal moment in history. Even the pillars that hold up this side of the building remind me of taut muscles and stiff bones. But this side captivates me more than the nativity side. Gaudi dies before its completion, so he was never able to see it as he intended, but the artist that took over the construction made sure to give enough hints to its creator to make it even more interesting to look at. There is a magic square in which the numbers always add up to 33, how old Jesus was when he dies. There are also Roman soldiers wearing helmets that are actually chimney rooftops from another Gaudi structure in town, and the face of the architect is on one of the disciples of the left side of the relief.

It is a great building that is filled with surprises at every turn that highlights Gaudi’s love of nature, God, and the city that he lived in. It is still being built and they hope to finish its construction by 2026, one hundred years after the death of its designer. And I am lucky to have seen it at two different points during its construction, and I hope to come back again some day to see it again when it is complete.

Taking Pictures of People Taking Pictures – Around the World Day 1

It is summertime and for a teacher that means taking a much needed break. For an international teacher that means reconnecting with loved ones, and taking in a little bit of the world in the process. This year, we have gotten really ambitious by taking a trip around the world. It is more exotic than it sounds because in reality I am only stopping at a couple of places, namely Spain, Portugal, Colorado, Oregon, and then back to Seoul for another school year. And even though there are not a lot of stops along the way, it is still literally a trip around the world. We will constantly be traveling west until we reach our original destination.

Of course these means starting some place, and experiencing the wonders of air travel. It is always a weird experience, and there is always something that makes these trips unusual for us. Every day presents us with new stories that we will tell over the years, and those stories came quick this time.

It all started with trying to leave. There is always the fun of making sure that we have cleared out the fridge for the six week trip and that all the appliances are turned off as well as making sure that everything is locked up. This year that job was left up to me because my wife had one more day left before we left. I was to take the car to campus so we could leave it there until school started up again, and then we would grab a cab to the airport bus to our new adventure. Right before I was supposed to leave a moving company came in and parked right in front of our car. It seemed as if fate did not want us to leave, but I had worked hard and I earned this vacation. I went out to the movers and after a strange conversation in broken English/Korean, I was able to get my car out and make my way to the airport.

I thought that this would have been the most exciting part of my day, but little did I know that the airport had another mini-adventure in store for us. We got to the airport in a reasonable time, and we had some time to kill, so we went to America’s favorite place, Starbucks, for some coffee. We got in line waiting for our turn to order when things started to get weird.

It started off with one camera, then two, and soon everybody in the airport had stopped to take our picture for some reason. I thought of being nice by waving to people. Christine told me to put my hand down because they weren’t taking pictures of me. We ordered our coffee, and more people gathered around to take pictures. I didn’t know what they were taking pictures of, so while I took pictures of them taking pictures, Christine asked the person at the counter what was making people so excited. The lady got really flustered because the person who they were taking pictures of was actually standing right behind us.

We were in the presence of somebody famous, but I found the crowd more interesting. Some of them thought I was absolutely crazy for missing the opportunity that was right there next to me. But honestly I do not know enough about Kpop stars to care, and I started to realize the truth about celebrity status. It is only important if the people who are around care. If this celebrity showed up in the States she would be anonymous and she would be able to carry on with her life as any of us. But because of her location, she was hounded by the masses. It would have been like if Dave Matthews showed up in Seoul. Nobody would know who he was because Koreans do not listen to Dave Matthews. Celebrity status is the product of the society, not the other way around.

We eventually got our coffee and moved on, asking people if they knew who it was that was getting her picture taken. The foreigners in the back of the crowd had no idea but they stood by to make sure that they got a picture of the event. As we were making our way to our gate, a nice lady stopped by to tell us that we were in the presence of the Kpop group called Twice. I still do not know who that is, but it was fun to experience what it is like to be a celebrity if only it was second hand, and it was an exciting start to our adventure around the world. I hope that the rest of the trip is as much fun and I can’t wait to see what other stories will come out of it.

If you are interested to follow these stories make sure you to return to this blog over the next six weeks to see what will happen next.