Sunday 23 March 2008

Last day in Spain

We haven't been doing much sleeping here, not nearly as much as I'd like to. After our big dinner in Girona, we woke up early to drive back along the toll roads to Barcelona, traffic was moving a little faster but I wasn't in the mood to hurry.

We arrived at noon and had a delicious lunch at a falaffel place with Sellmo and Lori, after which Tori and I departed to walk to Gaudi's Segrada Familia big church. It was €8 and a little wait to get in, but since it had been under construction since 1882 I wasn't to worried about hurrying. There's a 2 hour wait to go up one of the cathedral towers which we skipped, but seeing the 45m tall main part of the church was cool. There's displays on the different stones used and how many kg/cm2 they can support, where the stone is from, etc. The shapes of the building mimic nature, trees, leaves, animals and such. The main pillars are hard to understand by looking at them, they smoothly transition from round to octagon to square to rectangle and back.

The museum underneath was more instructive than just seeing the impressive structure itself as it explained how/why/when and the importance of all the things an architectural layman like myself has no clue about when looking at a giant church. What I do know is that building a nature inspired 45m tall cathedral doesn't look easy, nor does the 120m tall towers, or the final one that's supposed to be 170m tall. All the stone masonry is amazing in it's precision. The "mural" of stone on one side is so busy it looks like a lifetime of work, the other side has cleaner lines and is supported by stone pillars, or "giant sequoias like those found in America".

We browsed through the gift shop, and although the 2 foot long rubber pencils had some appeal, we didn't buy anything. One of the dozens of giant coffee table books on Barcelona and/or Gaudi archtecture would be a good bet, there's so much unique construction in the city that it gives Barcelona such a novel flavour.

We met Sellmo and Lori at their place again and planned the rest of the day. It was either fit in some riding, or tour the city on their motos. We compromised and did both. Nick's is 125cc 2 stroke, so it has enough power to double. Lori's is a 50cc 4 stroke and would be hard pressed to double. Nick took Tori, Lori drive herself, and I rode my bike.

Our first stop was a famous park, designed by Gaudi of course, that was 6 or 8 blocks straight uphill from the apartment. The motos were fired up and with zero warmup we blasted up the hill, a super high intensity 6 minutes.

The park is cool, built on a piece of donated land from when this was out in the middle of nowhere. There's smashed tile everwhere, marble columns mimicing nature, and odd little buildings built in nature's form. Hundreds of people are milling about, I wonder if Gaudi ever pictured such use and lifespan of his works.

From there we rode down to the beach, we caught too many red lights to have much flow, but did a few 50kph stretches which were fun on my legs. Our stay at the beach was brief, a crazy purple cloud front and wind storm was approaching. I noticed how dark it was, and Lori saw that it was whipping up sand into the air from a beach a mile away. Of course we go about our business for a couple of minutes, then as I've ridden a ways down a dock, I hear a fierce whistling - it's the wind making noise on all the sailboat masts. Everyone is running back to the shops, and we follow suit. I'm nearly blown off my bike, and the cafe we duck into has it's signs blown away and the doors that are perpendicular to the force of the wind are being ripped open, so they barricade them with giant flower pots.

Seems like an opportune time to get a cafe con leche and some afternoon snacks (it's 5pm and our dinner reservation is at 9 - right when restaurants open). The place has more fresh vegetables than I've seen during our entire trip, so we partake. I don't eat much as I've still got to pedal home, but we buy stuff we can transport in the moto's hemet carrier for after the ride.

Once things calm down we aim for home. It's cold out so I start riding right away and the rest will catch up. I can basically keep up to traffic in the city which is neat, there aren't many fast roads. I end up getting home before the gang, totalling 48 minutes of high intensity riding to cap off the last few days of more endurance style riding.

We put away our bikes, download pictures, shower up and get rady for the evening. Somewhere in all that we learn the parkade won't let us out tomorrow morning because it's a holiday, so we move the car to find street parking, which involves parallel parking on the driver's side.

Next on the list is to open Tori's bottle of Wrongo Dongo wine. We settle into the living room, which is above a pharmacia, and looks up a perpendicular street. The furniture is all salvaged by the prior renter (whom Nick is sub renting from) who collected it on the streets on the special day once a week when you're allowed to put out big garbage items. I never would have guessed, it's all apartment chic type stuff. Overall the place is nice, fairly newly renovated inside, and I'm surprised at how big it is. Couple bike hangars on the wall and it'd feel pretty comfortable.

We go via the metro to our dinner place, which involved having a train arrive immediately once we were underground, and immediately after our transfer. Obviously it doesn't always work this way, but man it sure gives the impression of a super efficient system when it does. Of note here, there's municipal issues around plans to tunnel right next to that Gaudi church, apparently within 75cm of the foundation at some points. Naturally the church and architectural crowd thinks the risk of weakening the foundation and setting back the work by decades isn't worth the risk, and they point to a tunnel collapse up in the northwest suburbs 5 years ago as an example - apparently a road and a few houses went for a wild ride one night. I'm sure they don't want the trains running every which way under ground, and I'm no expert here, but considering this church is world famous, in Spain's most architecturally focused city, by their most famous architect, that's on schedule to finish contruction in 25 years or so (from 1882), you might want to dig a few meters of chicane into the tunnel and give more than 75cm of leeway.

We ate at a place that occupied an old hallway between buildings and was now covered, it was punk-ish. Good food, I've never had so many shrimp in a shrimp dish before.

Went to a few bars to sample some drinks and the ambiance, each place wanted to be paid right away. One place we experienced bitter beer face like those old Keystone Light commercials with a Catalan syrah, never had a wine taste that odd.

We finished off at Lobo Bar, which featured black and white murals mixing photorealistic, charicature, and futuristic cartoon collages of juxtaposed political commentary drawing on about 100 years of political history. It was a lot of food for thought, I could have stared at the wall for a long, long time. Only a couple of things were colored, one being an asian kid (Vietnam reference? Nakasaki or Hiroshima? Tianamen? Tibet? Khymer Rouge around the corner? North Korea? All of the above?) with a surprised face that looked real enough you'd keep double taking.

We taxi'd it home in a Seat deisel hatchback taxi that the driver loved to lug the engine in. By 40kph we'd already be in 4th gear. Despite a normal 5,000-6,000 redline this guy was determined to never rev the car over 750rpm, probably because he wanted to blow the engine into a black smoke billowing piece of shit before the car was 4 years old.

We got home and had some snacks, and played Jenga, which I'm told is quite popular in general on this side of the pond. Unfortunately this wasn't "giant Jenga" which I've heard great things about, where some genious decided to lever the game's sales by making a larger version.

By 2am it was time for bed, as the plan was for us to get up at 6:15 to load up, find an open petrol station, and navidage to the airport. It was fortuitous that we allowed ourselves enough time as simple things aren't easy for the anglophone tourists. Buying deisel means you have to go in and give them cash first. But of course this wasn't enough, as my pump didn't work still. After a lengthly explanation that laid it all out for us clearly in Catalan, we still had no idea. Somewhere he mentioned he wanted a passport to turn on the pump - fine. As it turns out, trust appears to be missing, or at least applied on a different level here. I'm guessing part of it with foreigners is that they've had enough puking drunk Londoners wreaking havoc to earn the whities a priority of distrust, but locals have to pay first too (they just skip the I'd thing). I wish I could talk to someone to ask them why on earth they think I'd try to rip off €10 of free deisel (above the €20 prepayment) when my car's license plate is in open view. They should get pay at the pump things here. Bars were the same, they'd want money after every round (see above note on Brits, I think I get this, or at least I don't let the inherent assumed dishonesty eat at my value set and ideals).

I hadn't realized ahead how Catalonian and how un-Spanish this are is, or wants to be. They're seperatist like Quebec was/is. They speak Catalan ahead of Spanish mostly, and you ask for Spanish menus if you can't function with a Catalan one (it's pretty different language). We didn't really mix with the Portugese much at Christmas, it was a geography, weather and sites tour more than anything else, but I got the impression that there was one strong national identity.

Apparently the Catalans are cheap too. I don't have much evidence of this other than people telling me, and a distinct unpopularity of paid parking.

Anyway, we found our way via the scenic route to the airport. We're tired, and our late night/early departure reminds us in the morning concourse sun that we're here in recognition of our thirtieth birthdays upcoming, and we can see a preview of ages a few years away in each other's tired faces.

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