Let’s Talk About Food – Around the World Day 5

People love to travel the world for many different reasons, but the one reason that is included in what everybody says when they talk about the places they will be visiting is they are excited to try the food there. The dishes that places make are the things that make one culture distinct from another one, and there is nothing more enjoyable than experiencing what these cultures have to offers. Plus it something that we have to do on a daily basis. If we do not eat we can not live, so why not enjoy it while you have the opportunity.

But it is not only restaurants where this experience can be enjoyed. Many places around the world have markets where you can try many different types of food, or get the fresh ingredients that you need to make an amazing meal. There is a great one right off the Ramblas in Barcelona call the Boqueria. Even if you do not buy any food there, it is still a fun place to visit to see all the city has to offer in fine ingredients. There have been many times on my travels where I have had more fun going to these markets without a clue as to what I was going to make, but finding great ingredients and putting together one of my favorite meals I would have on that trip. It is one of the advantages of staying at a hostel because they usually have a kitchen that you can use. With the inception of Air B+B, this perk has been made available to more people without having to cram into a room with a bunch of strangers.

Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to make a meal yet, but it has not bothered me much because I am in Spain, the land of the tapas. A tapas bar will serve small portions of food, allowing you to have many different bites along the way. There are some traditional dishes that all bars will include, but it is fun to see the different creative ways a chef can piece together a meal out here. One of the best ones that we were able to experience was called Tapeo. It is a small place next to the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. They have many traditional items, but they also blend in some Japanese flavors into their dishes such as this salmon potato dish that included a wasabi sauce that you could sprinkle on the top of the dish.

The dish was really amazing, but it was the bombastas they were so good that we kept ordering them right after we had finished eating them. They are a meat a potato ball that is fried so when you bite into them you get an explosion of flavor. It is dishes like this that make me know that I am in Spain and I will only be able to find these flavors in this corner of the world.

And of course, if small dishes are not your thing, you can still wander the streets of whatever place you are in until you find the perfect dish that you would want to try. If you are near the coast, try a plate full of fresh seafood. If in the center of a country, enjoy the hearty dishes they have to offer. The point is that wherever you go, make sure you eat, and eat well. It is part of the experience of travel and it makes each voyage even more memorable.

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.

A Day in the Park – Around the World Day 3

Sundays in Europe are different than anywhere else that I know of it the world. Things shut down, forcing people to take it a little slower. It is a time to spend with family and friends and enjoy the outdoors. It is not about work or shopping. In fact, most big stores shut down for the day, and a lot of the smaller tourist places will not peddle their wares. In fact it is the perfect day to spend at a park, and Barcelona has one of the greatest parks to spend the day at, Park Guell, designed by the architect of this great city, Antonio Gaudi.

This park has so many interesting things to look at around every corner. There are strange pillars that force you to stare at them making you wonder how they can withstand the weight of the structures they are designed to hold up. But like everything Gaudi designed, they have a touch of a natural element to them, yet they are still structurally sound. They make the architecture out in Barcelona different than any other place in the world. And if you do make it out here, make sure you take the time to look at them closely because things are carved into them that you would not expect to be there, and the surprise of finding them is part of the fun.

There is also a long park bench that winds itself around a plaza overlooking the city. It is a great place to sit back and relax for a bit and watch the throng of tourists trying to get their pictures at the perfect spot. I could easily spend an hour or two sitting there watching the people and trying to guess from which part of the world they come from. It would also be a nice place to picnic, but they will not allow you to bring in food in this part of the park. I suspect it is to keep the pigeons out of the area so they do not stain the mosaic design that you can find on the bench.

But there are a bunch of benches and tables out in the free part of the park. Christine and I bought a couple of jimon sandwiches with us to enjoy. We were lucky to find a small store open that was selling them before we left and we had many jealous looks from people when they saw our foresight as to make sure we had something to snack on. These sandwiches are really good too. Jimon is a thinly sliced ham that is unique to Spain. They put it on a crispy baguette with a fresh tomato sauce to add just the right amount of flavor. It was the perfect way to spend lunch on this relaxing Sunday.

There is also the views of the city from atop the hill. We were able to watch the ships pulling into the bay and the major city sites scattered among the concrete jungle. If you look closely in the middle of the picture you can see the Sagrada Familia, another Gaudi wonder, and one we will be visiting tomorrow.

The best views are from the Spanish mission on the south end of the park, but it does get packed with people and there are no rails so there were times where I felt like I might fall from this great height.

It was still the best thing to do on this lazy Sunday in Barcelona. It made me feel as if I was getting some culture, yet at the same time I was able to relax a little bit so I didn’t feel like I was trying to suck too much out of my vacation. It also gave me some more insight into one of my favorite architects, Gaudi, and made me excited about going back to the Sagrada Familia tomorrow. It had been almost eleven years since I have been there, and I am interested to see how it has changed during that time.

Fighting Jetlag – Around the World Day 2

Yes, it took a long plane ride through the night, but we finally arrived in Barcelona, Spain, and were able to go and look at the statue of Columbus pointing east over the Mediterranean Sea. (Yeah, I’m just as confused as you are.) I was excited about getting to explore this great city, but I had one big problem, my head still floated in a different time zone. So like so many other travelers who hop from continent to continent, I tried to figure out how to get over my jetlag so I could enjoy my trip with a clear head. I had an even harder time with this time because we arrived at 8 o’clock in the morning and we had the whole day to deal with this feeling before we could go to sleep and try to adjust to the time zone that we were in. So I thought I would share with you how I attacked this problem, and hopefully they will help you if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

First off, never lie down. That will kill you every time. Even if you think that you are just doing it to rest for a little bit so you can recover from the way your eyelids feel super heavy, it will not help you. You will eventually close your eyes and you will never recover from the mistake. You will find yourself waking up at two o’clock in the morning ready to take on the day. Which if you find yourself in Barcelona, it might not be a big problem because the bars stay open until 4 o’clock in the morning, but what will you do after that?

Because you shouldn’t lie down, the obvious thing to do is to walk around the neighborhood and check out the sights. It will keep your mind active and it will also allow you to know where the things you really want to see are. I suggest that you do not go into the museums and the cathedrals yet because you will not be able to enjoy them the way that you are hoping to, but there will enough going on around you that will allow you to keep you awake. It is also when your freak radar is on high alert, and you will see some of the greatest moments on your trip, things that will make you laugh, like people dancing to jazz music across Spanish plazas, or strange advertisements pasted on stores to attract you interest.

If though I recommend that you do not go into anything significant, that does not mean that you can’t still get a cultural experience. Hey, that is part of the reason we travel in the first place. The best way to do this is to enjoy the architecture of the city that you find yourself in. Europe has a lot to offer in this department, and I had found a new corner of Barcelona that I did not know existed. I always assumed that it was a more modern city ruled by the art work on Antonio Gaudi,  but I discovered the medieval part of the city that was built on the ruins of Roman buildings. It has amazing gothic buildings and give you the feeling that you are in Europe. Find this part of the city you are in because there is a treasure around every corner that you turn.

Lastly, find the crowds and enjoy the local cuisine. Your mind not be in the right place to have deep conversations with these people, and if you don’t speak the language really well, you are not going to be able to do it anyways. But it is fun to people watch. There are so many stories in a city like Barcelona, and you can exercise your mind by trying to tell them. You will also be able to start to pick out the difference between the locals, and the ones who are out there for vacation. (Don’t worry, they are doing the same thing with you.) It is a great way to exercise your brain without making a big fool out of yourself, and as a writer, it is a great way to collect stories for later use.

The food is really important too. Don’t go big on your first day. You will have an opportunity later to have that relaxing meal that you are looking for. Try to sample the local flavors. If you find yourself in Spain, you can do this by eating tapas. They are small bites that allow you to taste a little here and little there. It also allows you the pleasure of hopping from place to place. You can have a small tapas at one place than you can skip across the street to try a different one over there. It will engage you enough to keep you awake and willing to stay up even though your eyes my burn and your head might float around the stratosphere.

There are many other things that you can do to try to get over jetlag, and people are always willing to offer their advice on the subject, but these are the things that help me. You might still want to go to bed early and that is okay. I went to sleep last night at 8 o’clock which is ridiculous, but I was able to sleep throughout the whole evening and woke up at 6 o’clock to take on the second day in this city. Each night I will stay up later and later and within a couple of days I will be on this time zone, and I won’t be up at weird times wondering what I will do while others are sleeping.