Saturday, December 31, 2011

Day 212 – Back to the USA

I'm finally back in the US today, taking a flight from Madrid to New York City with a layover in Dublin. It feels good to be back somewhere familiar, and just in time to spend Christmas and New Years Eve with some good friends. It's been about 7 months, and I'm a little sad about having this adventure come to an end, but at the same time it's really exciting to be back home. The time had to come sooner or later.

The flights to Ireland and the USA were painless, as were the airport security procedures. It's funny how horrible it is to get out of LAX on any flight somewhere, but other airports can really get their act together and make the experience tolerable. There weren't any long lines and check-in was quick. My flights were with Aer Lingus, and none of the flights were filled to capacity even though it was nearing Christmas. It was rainy in Dublin when I arrived, but the weather wasn't violent or anything that would make for a scary flight.

Seeing the bright lights of New York out the airplane window made me feel really relaxed, and even though I've only visited the city 3 times, I felt at home. It's one of my favorite cities and I even think sometimes of possibly moving here if I find a career here. Maybe these two weeks will be a period for me to get a feel of living here, a trial period. I don't really have too many plans to do touristic things, but just relax after 7 months of non-stop travel. We'll see what happens...

Friday, December 30, 2011

Day 211 - Last Day in Madrid

Today was the very last full day out of the United States on this 7 month journey. I head for NYC tomorrow. I took it pretty easy today, doing some window shopping for the majority of the afternoon. The streets were filled with holiday shoppers shopping for Christmas gifts I assume, unless it's this chaotic every weekend? I steered clear of the city center and shopped on the outskirts, where you could easily find the same shops that are in the city center. In fact, I must have passed by the international stores numerous times – Zara, H&M, Pull&Bear, etc. We have tons of Starbucks and Subways at every intersection, but in Madrid, even clothing stores can be found easily and repeatedly. It was a little difficult trying to find boutiques with more unique merchandise.

In the evening, I headed to the Museo Nacional Del Prado (Prado Museum), probably the most famous museum in all of Spain, housing another extensive collection of more traditional European paintings and sculpture. Admission was free after 5:30 on Sundays. So far, Madrid has been much cheaper than Barcelona thanks to all these free museums. I definitely came at the right time of the week to see them all.

The museum, like the Reina Sofia, was huge, with numerous rooms of artwork throughout 3 floors. It took me a couple hours to skim through all the rooms on the ground floor, and by that time, the doors were ready to close. If you want to see all of the artwork and actually listen to the audioguides on selected pieces, I suggest you plan a half to whole day at the museum. Some of the more famous artists included Spain's most famed artist, Velazquez, Raphael, El Greco, Rubens, Goya, and Rubens. The most famous painting on display was Velazquez' Las Meninas, which I wrote about in my visit to the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. I was lucky to be able to see both the actual art piece, and the interpretations that Picasso painted these past two weeks.

At the end of the night after packing up and preparing for my departure in the early morning, I played a drinking game with my Belgian dormmates. It seemed everyone at the hostel was planning on leaving tomorrow, with flights to various places. We were a rowdy bunch by the end of the night, but it may have been due to the various last portions of alcohol that were in each bottle. I think we may have had whiskey, vodka, tequila, beer, red wine, and sangria. Definitely a good way to end my stop in Madrid!

Prado Museum

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Day 210 - Reina Sofia, Caixaforum, and the Jardin Botanical

Another major museum day... seems like all the major tourist cities in Europe include a heavy dose of museum time for visitors. But then I think about what I would show people in Los Angeles if they came to visit...and it'd be the Getty Museum and Griffith Observatory...and probably LACMA and MOCA...

I have a favorite spot for lunch already. I grabbed a bite yesterday as well as today, and I intend on going back tomorrow! The lunch wasn't spectacular, just a sandwich of some sort, but it's the desserts they make that are golden! I already have a favorite, called Rosquillas de Alcala, which is something like a hybrid between a mini glazed donut (coated with what i believe is marzipan) and turkish baklava. I don't need to gain any more weight, but I could eat a ton of these in one sitting.

Once my hunger pains subsided, I headed to the Caixaforum, a free museum that currently held a Eugene Delacroix exhibit and another called The Persistence of Geometry. The Delacroix exhibit contained artwork mostly borrowed from the Louvre and the Musee des beaux arts in France. I went to the Caixaforum in Barcelona as well, and both were free to enter. I didn't know too much about Delacroix, but I liked his style. It was very silky, the way he used his brushstrokes to create movement on his paintings, especially scenes depicting war battles or animal fights. The other exhibit was more modern art, with a lot of video and spatial exhibits. Some of the language on the walls were just too complex for me to really follow in explanation of the exhibit and its goals.

Across the street from Caixaforum was the Jardin Botanical, which was a huge enclosed garden full of various species of fruits, vegetables, and other plants. Since it was nearing winter, most of the vegetation was dying or falling off, so I suggest you skip this place if you visit in the cold months. There was a cool photo exhibition though, which presented some of the participants and winners of the Prix Pictet competition, fusing photography with sustainability to sent messages about the environmental problems we face in our world.

The last stop was at the modern art museum called the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. This museum is HUGE. The building had 4 floors of artwork in addition to an adjacent building in the back with an additional 4 floors of artspace, and there was an overabundance of artwork on showcase when I visited. Being the last museum of the day, along with the fact that there was so much art to cover, I really ended up just skimming everything, walking quickly through each room, There was plenty of Picasso, including his famous Guernica, and plenty of Dali and Miro as well. Most of it was famous European art, and it showed the chronological development of modern art from the early 20th century to the present. I wish I got an audioguide, but I was one Euro short of securing one, and they didn't accept credit cards!

For some reason, when I headed back to my hostel, the streets were crowded with people. It seemed like everyone was coming out of a concert or something, but it may be because it was Saturday, or maybe it was because it was so close to Christmas. Either way, I was a little testy with the crowd. Too much claustrophobia!

 Rosquillas de Alcala


Somewhere in America

Reina Sofia Museum

Salvador Dali

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Day 209 - A Walk Around Madrid

Took the first full day in Madrid just walking around to get a bearing on the city layout. The hostel receptionist told me that most of the sights are walking distance around the city center, so I made my way around the western side of the city.

I first stopped at the arcaded Plaza Mayor, which was built in the 17th century. In the center was a statue of Felipe III (I have no idea who he is...) There was a Christmas crafts village in the middle of the plaza where vendors sold random festive ornaments. I can't even believe that Christmas is less than 10 days away. I have looked over so many holidays while traveling since dates are less important when I don't have specific things to do each day.

Afterwards, I headed to the Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Almudena (what a mouthful), which was one of the more modern churches I've visited. I particularly liked the stained art pieces, where sort of had an art nouveau style to them. My lonely planet guide says the city isn't too fond of this church compared to others in the city, but I think it's definitely worth a visit. Next to the church was the Palacio Real, which was Madrid's 18th century Royal Palace. I took pictures outside the gates, but you had to pay to get inside.

The weather was windy and chilly by the afternoon, definitely a lot colder than last night. It reminded me of the cold last days in Prague. I stopped by the Jardines de Sabatini, which are gardens close to the Royal Palace, before heading to the Templo de Debod, which was an Egyptian Temple that was transported to Spain. It was a gift from Egypt because of Spain's help in protecting the country's monuments from rising waters from the Aswan Dam. Each brick was transported from Egypt and made its way to Madrid!

The last stop for the day was the Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida, which was a little farther away from the city center than the other sites. In the chapel lies the grave of Francisco Goya and contains some of the art he painted on the walls and dome. Pictures weren't allowed, but I snapped a quick one when no one was in the room.

That's it for sightseeing for the day. I spent the rest of the night browsing the shops in Madrid. The prices were surprisingly cheap for Euro and European standards. I might just have to get a thing or two, maybe for NYE...

Catedral de la Almudena

Royal Palace

Francisco Goya's Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida

 Templo de Debod

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Day 208 - The Eight Hour Bus Ride from Barcelona to Madrid

It's been a while since I've had to ride on a bus for 8 hours...I think the last time was in Turkey, but it wasn't too bad, given the conditions of the bus and the fact that it wasn't packed full. It makes such a difference if you get the whole row to yourself! We headed out at 10:30am, and made three stops along the way to Madrid, twice for food breaks, and once to pick up new passengers. I was unlucky to have to sit in front of a baby (why do they always cry and kick the seat in front of them???), but I slept much of the way there anyways.

Upon arrival in Madrid, I headed to my hostel, which was right in the center of the city near the "Sol" Metro Stop. The weather was much colder here compared to Barcelona, since it is right in the middle of Spain, where Barcelona was near the Mediterranean. I noticed a lot more Christmas spirit in the city too. Everything was lit up all around the city center. There were Christmas trees in the plazas and lights hanging through all the major streets. The cold weather added to the festive atmosphere as well. For some reason, prior to my arrival, I assumed Madrid would be less cosmopolitan than Barcelona and maybe a lot older, but walking around, those feelings definitely changed. Tomorrow, I will actually do some sightseeing.

I've only left four nights in Madrid, and secretly, I think I've been too focused on the excitement of coming back home that I might not really appreciate the city than if it were a visit in the middle or beginning of my trip. I hope I give it as much attention as I can...A friend back home said that the high of coming home wears off pretty fast...we'll see...

Monday, December 26, 2011

Day 207 - CCCB and Gaudi's La Pedrera

My last full day in Barcelona, and I just had a couple more places I wanted to check out, so I went in search of them. First, I finished the 2nd volume of the Hunger Games series of books and really needed to get the final book, so I headed to a used English bookstore, but got lost on the way in the Gracia district of Barcelona...big fail, since I clearly saw a map on the internet and also had the address with me...

Afterwards, I headed to the CCCB (Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona), which held a couple exhibitions, one being the World Press 11 photojournalism exhibition, and the other being some sort of video exhibition where two filmmakers paired up to create video "letters" to each other. The World Press exhibition was fascinating, and sometimes a little hard to view given the explicit nature of some of the stories being told through the photos. I'd seen many of the photos already when I glanced at the book sometime earlier this year, but it was still a shock to see some of them. One of them showed various Kenyan abortion pictures, where it is illegal, yet people go to doctors who perform them for 60-80 Euros in unsafe and unsanitary conditions...Another one showed some of the dead bodies from the Haiti Earthquake, and another showed the murders of Mexicans near Juarez... Not all of them were dark, but I think the more dramatic and emotional, the more likely you will win a prize...sort of like how Drama films usually win Oscars over Comedies... There was one picture that showed Couchsurfers surfing at a NYC host's place! The conditions looked a little undesirable in that picture, but it was nice to see the organization getting some good awareness in the world.

The second exhibition, called the Complete Letters, showcased about 7 different films of correspondence between 2 famous directors each (none of which I had ever heard of) through their own styles of filming. I didn't stay to watch any of them since they were so long and just appeared too random for me to understand. Maybe I would have stayed if I knew a little bit more about each of these filmmakers...

The last place on my Barcelona itinerary was to visit Gaudi's La Pedrera (or more formally called Casa Mila), which was an apartment complex that Gaudi was commissioned to build in 1906. The tour started on the rooftop terrace, where there were plenty of artistic chimney heads, stairwells, and ventilation towers. The floor was sinuous throughout the rooftop, similar to the facade of the building itself. In fact, much of the building itself was curved where we would expect rough edges.

The next part of the tour was in the attic, where there was a lot of explanation of Gaudi's life, his works throughout Barcelona, and the methods he used to create the architecture. It was noted that he graduate from the Barcelona school of architecture when he was 26... Maybe now's a great time to really do something impressionable and lasting like Gaudi. You could walk through the attic and notice the ways he used catenary arches to easily hold up the floor. It almost looked like we were walking through the skeleton of a snake. It's amazing how he used a lot of geometry in his work to figure out how to create space while also supporting the structure itself. He also was influenced a great deal by nature, fusing it into his designs. He was said to be one of the first designers to create ergonomic furniture, something that should feel natural and comfortable for humans to use. It seemed he was so far ahead of his time!

The last stop on the tour was on one of the apartment floors, where we got a sense of the way the residents lived during those times. There was a lot of open space where light could easily come in, and much of the furniture in the homes were designed by Gaudi himself, since he didn't just want to design the structure itself, but even the living space inside. It makes me want to purchase one of his chair designs...except they go for around 1,200 Euro...

An excellent way to end my visit to Barcelona. Next stop...Madrid!

La Pedrera


World Press Photo Exhibit

La Pedrera

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Day 206 - Caixaforum, MNAB, and the Fundacio Joan Miro

Another exhaustive museum day, but very enlightening to be exposed to so many varieties of art in this city!

The first museum I visited was the Caixaforum which is a free museum at all times. I believe all the art showcased is usually from the permanent collection of the Caixa Bank. There are 5 salons at the museum, which used to be an old factory, each showcasing a different exhibition. Today, only 3 of them were open for viewing. The first I visited was a collection of Impressionist art on loan from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. There was art from Renoir, Monet, Sisley, and a bunch of other artists. The second salon I visited was an exhibition on the Ballets Russes, a movement of ballet that was popular in Europe in the early 20th century. There was archived footage of some of the performances, as well as some artwork and costumes that were worn by the dancers.

I headed onto the next museum, which was nearby - the MNAC (Museu Nacional D'art de Catalunya). This museum housed an extensive collection of art ranging from Romantic to Gothic to Baroque to Modern Art. The Romantic section had huge murals on display in built-in church apses throughout the floor, along with a bunch of other religious Christian art. The Gothic section also had a lot of religious art, but more on furniture and altar pieces and less as huge murals. We saw more paintings in the Baroque and Modern sections, all in various styles that were popular throughout the decades - ranging from impressionism to neoclassicism to noucentisme to surrealism. There was one last temporary exhibition of a collection of lost camera rolls that were found in a suitcase that documented much of the Spanish Civil War. I briefly walked through this section since I was again getting restless...

Last and final museum of the day was the Fundacio Joan Miro, a wonderful exhibition solely of his art, again showing the changes in his styles throughout the years (surrealism to abstract to expressionism...), due to the changes in the artistic world, the political climate, and his own personal life. His style of art is very unique, similar to the uniqueness of Picasso, if that makes any sense. He developed a certain style of creating art that was recurrent through many of his pieces, including the use of stars, moons, sexual organs, eyes, snakes, and birds. It was pretty difficult to see some of the pictures he was drawing in his strange and abstract way, but the audio/visual guides definitely helped.

Going to three museums in one day is overload...Writing this entry was difficult because it's already so hard to retain all the information that I thought I'd remember when going through all the exhibits. It's a little frustrating, but I want to see as much as I can in my last few days here!


Caixaforum - Impressionism Exhibition

MACBA - Romantic

Bartolome Bermejo -  Taules d'un retaule de Crist

Maria Fortuny - La Cicaria

Joaquim Sunyer - Les Germanes Ribas

Josep De Togores - Bust de Dona

Salvador Dali - Retrat del meu pare

Fundacio Joan Miro

Fundacio Joan Miro

Day 205 - MACBA and Art from the 1950s Onwards

I woke up late today, but I only planned on seeing a couple museums - the MACBA (Museu D'art Contemporani De Barcelona) and Gaudi's La Pedrera. In the end, I was only able to see the MACBA exhibition since I came too late to the La Pedrera. Oh well, I'll see it tomorrow...

The MACBA was really interesting though. Most of the artwork in the museum was from the 1950s to the present and the main exhibition sort of explained the paradigm shift in the style of art from seeing art as an audience through paintings, to the use of different media, textures, space, and sound to engage the audience in the art itself and to view art more as a process than the final product itself.

I think it was probably one of the very few times I went through an exhibition with a guide, but it made such a difference. Even just reading a guidebook or listening to an audio guide can be confusing and/or pretentious when explaining the meaning behind some artwork, but the guide today was great at really explaining things in laymans terms. Instead of just trying to look at abstract art blindly, I got a greater understanding about the situation going on in each other artists' lives during the time they created their artwork, and that makes a huge difference in trying to interpret some of the abstract art that is presented in front of you. A lot of the messages these artists convey have a lot to do with the political, economic, and cultural statuses of the times. And I sometimes devalued art that wasn't the traditional art I was used to seeing because it was so hard to decipher, but I've come to appreciate it more thanks to the insight I received today. A work of art doesn't have to look like it took forever to create through brush strokes, but maybe can be understood in the time it took to plan the creation itself, even if it doesn't look like much to the naked eye.

We went from seeing artwork by Lucio Fontana, whose paintings marked the beginning of this paradigm shift when he started using not only the paint, but the canvas itself as a tool of expression by slashing through it, to John Cage, who experimented with silence being considered art and music, to Oyvind Fahlstrom, who created exhibitions that forced the viewer to become a participant in the piece by having them move around the space to explore the messages conveyed. We saw artwork that was made for dogs (Dieter Roth/Richard Hamilton) to an art piece of decaying chocolate that is the antithesis of what people believe an art piece should be - something expensive, lasting forever, and unchanging. There was a section of pop art and another section of the renaissance of painting in the 1980s, where artists like Miguel Barcelo created "still-life" paintings that consisted of darker subjects and colors. Overall, it was a very informative introduction to modern art. I wished I could stay for the tour of the 1980s to the present, where a lot more of the art was about space and sound, but I was getting a bit restless...

Since it was too late to visit La Pedrera, I headed back to the hostel, where they had a "How to Make Sangria" class, which really was just us watching them make pots and pots of sangria for us to drink. Ten drinks later, I was tipsy...and they still wanted to go ou


Sangria Night