First post in a month; it’s nice and juicy! I wrote half of it while I was still in Spain and everything was fresh; I think it’s pretty obvious where that cuts off and my meagre attempts to remember what happened kick in. Sorry Madrid. As usual, I haven’t proofread. I gave you lots of photos though, so I’m sure you can forgive me.

Barcelona Saturday

I arrived at my hostel in Barcelona at around 2:30pm, and decided to spend the afternoon participating in ‘tourist 101’ and taking the hop on-hop off bus around the city. Although it was sunny it was getting pretty cold up on the top deck, especially as I had deliberately taken the hood off my jacket as it was bulky and annoying. I regretted that one pretty quickly. I’m surprised I didn’t end up sick! The bus was a really good way to see the city and I got off at a couple of places. First of all was the mountain of Montjuic, which had a great view over the city and the sea as well. Specifically, the bus stopped at the ‘Jardíns de Miramar‘ (=seaview), but as Miramar is a suburb in Wellington I naturally had to take a lot of photos. Then we passed the stadium and other complexes which were used for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Apparently these are free to visit any time they’re not booked. Unfortunately it was getting a bit late so I didn’t really want to get off again, as the wait between buses was 10-20 minutes with no specific timetable so you could end up waiting for 20 minutes if you had just missed it. Throughout the tour it was interesting to see just how much of the current Barcelona is a result of the Olympic games.

I next got off at the stop out to visit the Pavilon Mies van der Rohe, a designer I’d learnt about at uni, and then visited the Caixa Forum which was a really interesting museum/exhibition space type thing which is funded by one of the main banks so was free to visit. Unfortunately I had the same bus dilemma so couldn’t stay too long. Photos weren’t allowed inside which was a shame. I snapped this illegal one; there was an entire wall of these ribbons with wishes printed on them and you had to take one, wrap it twice round your wrist and then knot it three times. I have just taken mine off as it got a bit manky. No progress unfortunately! There was also a photography exhibition and I saw lots of photos by Julia Margaret Cameron who I learnt a lot about last year as well.

I then hopped back on the bus and followed the route past Camp Nou and back into the centre of town where it started. I then went in search of food – for my first night in Spain there was no question about it; I had to get tapas! I found a nice restaurant near the hostel and got patatas bravas, sausages and chicken wings. They plonked me right in the middle of the room which was quite unfortunate (as I was by myself) but I made up for it by eavesdropping on the group of Poms who were heading off to the game at Camp Nou. They were very entertaining! After that I went back to the hostel and after trying out some of my rusty Spanish on some Valencians I met the other people in my room; two Russian girls who were doing teaching assistantships in La Rochelle. They didn’t speak English so naturally we spoke in French!

Barcelona Sunday

Natalia, Katya and I headed off to the Museu Picasso as my little Lonely Planet said it was free on Sundays. Well, as we discovered, it is only free after 3pm. Thanks for that, Lonely Planet. We went in anyway and judging by how crowded it was it would have been horrible in the afternoon once it was free! Although none of Picasso’s most famous works are there the collection was huge and it was really interesting the development of his oeuvre (I’m not trying to sound pretentious, that’s just the easiest way to refer to an artist’s ‘body of work’). The earliest works were from when he was 14 and they were absolutely incredible! Once again no photos; I tried to take some outside the building itself but they did’t turn out too well.

After we found some lunch we split up and I took the second bus tour route to explore the other side of the city. This route went past all the beaches, the Olympic village, and a bit out into the wops. I got off at Park Guell which, as far as I’m concerned, is tied with the Sagrada Familia as THE symbol of Barcelona. I hadn’t really thought it through and, given it was a Sunday it was absolutely packed with people. It was still cool to see it and I had to do the old ‘ask a random to take a photo of me cos I’m travelling alone’. One turned out better than the other. I’ll stick to asking French people from now on! The Park is best known for its mosaics and sculptures designed by Gaudí. I think there is more of a park to it but I didn’t have time to explore properly. It had a great view over the city too, kind of 90 degrees round from where I had been at Montjuic the day before.

I then finished up the bus tour and met up with Natalia and Katya for dinner. We eventually decided to get pizzas (I know, very Spanish) and eat them and the hostel. This did involve my Spanish fending for the three of us so was not a wasted experience! Then we met two Algerians, Mohammed and Amine, who had moved into our room. You know what this means…more French!

Barcelona Monday

Natalie and Katya were heading to Toulouse so after I helped them check out (due to lack of English) I headed off to the Sagrada Familia. I’d bought my tickets online as I was going up one of the towers and they had a set time for this. It was so lucky I did as the line was around one and a half sides of the church! I felt quite smug waltzing up with my ticket. Unfortunately, I had failed to notice that there was a time restraint on when I could actually enter the church so had to wait round for 15 minutes. As I was doing so who should I run into but James, an Aussie from Lyon! I knew he was in Barcelona (I’m pretty sure 95% of the exchange students had headed to Spain for the holidays) but it was still pretty amazing to run into each other! Unfortunately he didn’t have a ticket so decided to come back really early the next day. After we’d caught up though my fifteen minutes were up and in I went.

For anyone who doesn’t know, the Sagradi Familia is Antonio Gaudí’s masterpiece; a basilica begun in 1882 and such a monumental project that it is still unfinished; not helped by the fact that it is relying on donations to be completed. It’s expected to be finished in 2030. It epitomises Gaudí’s modernista (= Spanish art deco) style. It was really interesting to learn about Gaudí’s interest in nature and plant forms and you could really see this on the inside where all the columns were like trees, as well as the outside which was covered in plant and animal scultpures. I also found it interesting to learn about the mathematic forms he had used in his designs, not that I really understood them! But it was amazing that someone could come up with all this, let alone a hundred years ago. I was there for three hours in total, although by the time I got to the museum at the end I had kind of had enough.

After getting some lunch I headed to Placeig Gracia, one of the main streets in central Barcelona with some of the most impressive architecture as this is where the bourgeoisie chose to build their apartments to show off all their wealth back in the day. I carried on my  Gaudi immersion and visited La Perdrera and Casa Batlló, his two other mst famous buildings. I couldn’t go into both so I picked Casa Batllo as I liked it better (it was colourful!). The whole inside had been turned into a museum and it was once again fascinating just to see how Gaudi thought about absolutely everything. Once again I got a friendly Spanish lady who seemed to have a Japanese exchange student to take some photos.

Thenn I got back to the hostel and hung out with the Algerians and Maria, a German girl in our room as well. We eventually went out to look for some food at around 9:30 and in true Spanish style got home around midnight. The food was pretty disappointing but it was a fantastic evening; everyone was hilarious and the fact that the common language was English (a bit challenging for certain members) meant I had the job of translating. By the time we actually went to bed it was nice and early.

Barcelona Tuesday

This was my last day in Barcelona so the group insisted on accompanying me on what I wanted to do (whereas I kept insisting that they should do what they wanted). We went to the MNAC, the Museu National de l’art de Catalunya (National Art Museum of Catalonia) which is most famous for its collection of Romanesque frescoes which have been transferred from old churches around Spain and installed in the museum. They had a good general collection through Gothic/Renaissance/Baroque and modern art, and I, once again, took the liberty of giving a few art history 101 lessons. En français!

After that we split up and I set off to accomplish the things left on my list. First of all I went to Le Mercat de la Boqueria, a famous permanent market similar to les Halles in France. I got some food for lunch and for the train the next day. Then I headed to the beach as I figured it would be the last one I’d see for a while so I should make the most of it! I was suprised by how big the waves were. Then I headed to the Cathedral and back to the hostel. That evening Barcelona was playing Real Madrid at Camp Nou, and although I don’t care about sports at all, if I were ever to go to one football game that would probably be it. If only I had know about it earlier (and also planned my Spanish trip earlier) and had been able to score a cheap ticket! Mohammed, however, had bought a ticket on the black market for €260 so off he went and Amine went with him and hung around outside or something. Maria and I tried to find somewhere to have food and watch it but it was actually impossible! After an hour we gave up and bought a kebab, stood outside eating it watching the TV through the window and then went inside at a scody cafe and bought a drink just for the sake of it. My sprite was €3.40; bloody daylight robbery! Barça lost 3-1 which was a bit awkward, so we headed back to the hostel to wait for the boys. It turned out the new inhabitants of our room were Madrid supporters; unfortunately nothing exciting went down as we were hoping.

Barcelona/Bilbao Wednesday

After saying my goodbyes the night before, I had to leave the hostel at  6:30am to get my train to Bilbao, which arrived at about 1pm. The trip was pretty good, I slept a bit.

The main reason I was heading to Bilbao was to visit the Guggenheim museum there and to see a bit more of Spain, as I felt that if I just went to Barcelona and Madrid I couldn’t really say I’d ‘done Spain’. For anyone who doesn’t know, Spain is made up of many autonomous regions, many of which have their own languages which are official languages in the region as well as Castilian, which is what we mean when we say ‘Spanish’ – for example, Catalan in Catalonia (where Barcelona is) and Basque or Euskara in the Basque Country wehere Bilbao is. Basque is a very strange language which is most closely related to Finnish and Hungarian, so is nothing like Spanish at all. The Basque country is one of the regions which most strongly wants to become independent from Spain, and there have been incidents with the ETA (the extreme separatist group) in the past. Visiting Bilbao, it wasn’t very surprising to see why. I knew the language would be different but it was quite amazing travelling on the train to see the countryside change from what you’d expect from Spain to what really looked like a Central European country, complete with snow! (Not actually in Bilbao though). The architecture was completely different, with a lot of wooden buildings.

I spent most of the afternoon on the first day wondering around the old city, where the hostel was. The hostel was quite different to Barcelona; it was very new and had much bigger common areas and things to do (and bathrooms with showers that actually had a door!) but the bedrooms themselves were very small. I was in a room with one Japanese boy who spoke very little English. From what I could understand he’d been in Spain for 30 days. I’m not quite sure how that worked out as he didn’t speak Spanish either. Oh well, he didn’t get up to any raucous activities so that was fine by me!

Bilbao Thursday

Today was the big day – off to ‘El Goog’! Before though I went up the cable car with Daniel, a German from the hostel to get a good look at Bilbao. unfortunately it was pretty misty so none of the photos turned out very well. It was actually bigger than I was expecting though! Then we went to th emuseum and it was very exciting to see it, and see Jeff Koons’ sculptures outside which I’d learnt abotu way back at shcool. Once again, no photos inside. All the exhibitions were very modern stuff, some more interesting than others, and a whole floor was shut for renovations. I enjoyed being at the museum itself more than seeing the art there. Yet another ‘museum of the world’ I can tick off my list. After grabbing some pinchos (Basque tapas) for lunch I headed to the Museao de Bellas Artes (fine arts museum) which was interesting but nothing spectacular. Then I hung out in the common room, tried to do some swotting for my test on thrusday (unsuccesful, quelle surprise) then headed to bed as I had another early train the next morning.

Bilbao/Madrid Friday

The train trip was uneventful again, I had a Spanish lady sitting next to me for some of it so I chatted to her for a bit, slept for a bit, and listened to my ipod. I arrived in Madrid at around 2pm, but it was another hour before I made it to my hostel. The metro was horrible! Think sardines. I eventually made it, dumped my stuff, then headed out to museum number one – the Reina Sofia. This was mainly modern stuff, again some more interesting than others. The pièce de resistance was, without question Picasso’s GuernicaThis is one of his most famous works and I’m sure many of you will have heard of it even if you don’t know the first thing about art. I remember my history teacher at school mentioning it on numerous occasions. Typically, photos were allowed throughout the museum except for the gallery with Guernica and some of Goya’s etchings, and the ‘attendant’ there was taking her job pretty seriously so I wasn’t taking any risks. I’ve attached a photo below. After that I found some food and hung out with the three French girls who were in my room, before getting an early night.

Madrid Saturday

Today was the day all my hopes for Madrid were pinned on: museum day! I started nice and early at the Prado, which is definitely up there in the top-tier of museums (in my humble, professional, opinion). As well as a lot of Spanish art it had a huge collection of works from antiquity to the 19th century,not from around the world but from throughout Europe. I saw so many works that I had studied! Particularly some of the most famous works from the Northern Renaissance which was one of the first movements I ever studied, at school – van der Weyden’s Deposition, Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights and Seven Deadly Sins, and Durer’s ‘stylish’ self-portrait (anyone who was in my class will know which one this is). Goya’s Third of May, Naked/Clothed Majas and Velázquez’ Las Meninas were other highlights.

After spending most of the day at the Prado (and having to buy lunch there; not a happy bunny) I headed to the Thyssen-Bornemisza. This museum isn’t generally as well-known as the Prado and the Reina Sofia but I definitely found it more interesting than the latter. It is the private collection of the late Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza, recently added to by his wife, and spans from the 13th the century to very postmodern stuff. If anyone’s heading to Madrid and keen to pay their cultural dues but don’t really have the mental capacity for one of the big overwhelming ones I would definitely recommend the Thyssen as it has such a wide range of movements and styles and a fair few masterpieces as well. It was the only one that wasn’t free for students though. It also had a temporary exhibition of Impressionism from Corot to van Gogh which looked very promising but wasn’t really worth what I paid for it.

After that I filled in some time at the Caixa Forum (not as cool as Barcelona’s one), reclaimed my bag from the hostel and then headed of to meet Genna, one of my school friends studying in Madrid and who I was staying with for the rest of my time there. She had just been in Milan for a week and literally just arrived from the airport, so we were both pretty tired. This resulted in just a ‘quiet’ night of tapas and sangria until 3am…

Madrid Sunday

After a well-earned sleep in (the first in soo long), we got up around 2pm and headed out to meet some friends of Genna’s. After a makeshift lunch of rice, sausages, egg and veges in bread, we headed out to the Campo del [something I can’t remember], a vacant outdoor area which the locals have transformed with graffiti, haphazard wooden structures and communal vege gardens. It was a very cool place and we listened to live music there all afternoon. We did a big grocery shop and then hosted dinner for Genna’s friends who’d had us for lunch.

Madrid Monday

Genna had uni and there wasn’t really anything left that I particularly wanted to do so I was really just filling in the day. In the end I went to the Palacio Real and begrudgingly paid to see the inside just for something to do! After that I walked around the centre of town and visited the Calle Serrano, the high-brow shopping street – sadly Manolo Blahnik seems to have relocated since my Lonely Planet was published. After that I can’t really remember what we did; just relaxed for the rest of the day until Genna went out but I stayed in to get my A into G for my early departure.

Back to the real world

After my morning flight back to Lyon it was straight back into the real world of uni with a seemingly endless stream of tests, including the infamous 30 minute exposé (worth 100% of my grade) as previously mentioned. Pretty happy that’s over! Now I just have to write a pesky dissertation comparing Sophocles’ and Jean Cocteau’s versions of Antigone…anyone wanna help with that?

After a pretty boring two weeks back at school I finally did some exciting stuff this weekend; finally reuniting with the ANZAC crew after about a month apart – needless to say we had a lot to catch up on! On Friday night we recreated our gourmet pizzas (red onion/capsicum/cherry tomato/pumpkin/bacon/chorizo/mozzarella/rocket), preceded by snacks and two giant baguettes’ worth of garlic bread (SO GOOD) and followed by chocolate fondue and fruit. Let’s just say I didn’t need to eat for a while on Saturday. Then we regrouped again on Saturday night for some pre-St Patrick’s Day festivities, a classy wine and cheese evening, with Jamie’s Otago friend Peter and his friend Matt who were visiting from Switzerland where they’re studying. We attempted to round out the weekend paying a suitable tribute in the Irish pubs in Vieux Lyon, but they were absolutely dead! Even the one with a huge helium balloon display had absolutely nothing going on inside, not even any tables we could have sat at. Bizarre. We think they might have been building up for the evening. Nonetheless we soldiered on and despite the disappointing lack of live music had a pretty good time. I guess good company = good craic? I then headed home, worked on this and avoided doing my dissertation. It’s going to be a fun week…

Hasta luego!