Monday, August 1, 2016

Trip to Barcelona, Spain (July 2016)

Spain... Espanya... A country of passion, bull fighting, Flamenco, tapas, siesta, Costa del Sol, Seville, Alhambra... and Barcelona!!!

Spain is one country, but like many other countries, it has several regions that are distinctively different, or as they claim to be different, from others. The Catalonia is one of such regions. It is located in the southeastern part of Spain and Barcelona is its capital. Catalonia has 7.5 million inhabitants and Barcelona 1.6 million, the second largest city in Spain.

Kristin and I had an opportunity to visit Barcelona this summer. Since both of us speak Spanish and like the Latin culture, this visit was more meaningful to us than other places. Hola!

Spain is a big country with a total population of 48 million, pretty close to S. Korea. But its land size is 506K sq. km, approximately five times large than S. Korea's 100K sq. km.

Spaniards are a proud people. For a good reason. Spain once reached out to the external world and established the world's strongest and largest power: The Spanish Empire. This empire flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was the foremost global power at that time. The Spanish Empire was called "the empire on which the sun never sets."

But, the sun was beginning to set in Spain from the late 17th century when the Habsburg Spain was transitioned to the Bourbon Spain. Spain has changed its governance to constitutional monarchy in early 19th century and to the democracy in late 20th century. Even in the 20th century, Spain had the dictator general Francisco Franco who ruled from 1939 until 1975 when he died of heart attacks. After his death, Franco's hand-picked successor Juan Carlos, however, changed the governance to a democracy which has since remained. Nonetheless, Spain has never regained its previous glory.

Spain appears to be a Christian nation, but Islam is deeply rooted in the culture. Arab's influence began early. In the 8th century A.D. the Arab Islamic power, mostly from Moorish people from the North Africa, conquered pretty much all of the Iberian Peninsula. Their ruling and influence continued for centuries until early 16th century when the Habsburg completed the Christian Reconquista and consolidated various kingdoms into the Spanish Empire, so called the Hapsburg Spain. Under this Islamic ruling for 800+ years in Spain, Spain has adopted the Islamic culture significantly. No wonder people say that Spain is an Islamic state.

At any rate, our visit to Barcelona was somewhat limited because we are scheduled to come back to Spain to explore more in September 2016. It means that we intentionally avoided some of the most popular places to be surely explored in September, including Sagrada Familiar and Park Guell where you can experience Antonio Gaudi's architecture.

From the metro station, we saw La Monumental Bullring, the largest bullfight ring.

We walked up to the National Museum of Catalan Arts and enjoyed the fountains on the way up.

We visited the Barcelona Olympic Park. Barcelona hosted the 1992 Summer Olympics with great success and it put the city on the world stage again. Barcelona was supposed to host the Summer Olympics in 1936, but due to the Spanish Civil War, it was held in Munich instead.


We found one surprise at the park. Hwang, Young-Jo won the gold medal in marathon at the Barcelona Olympics. Apparently, the Kyungki Province of S, Korea sponsored a monument to commemorate Hwang's victory and to solidify the brother city relationship between Barcelona and Kyungki Province. We visited the main stadium and several other places that were used for the Olympics.

We reached a lookout point and we were able to see the Spanish Port with a bird's eye view. It was eye-opening and breath-taking. We tried the Spanish Sangria, which a diluted version of fruity red wine.

The representative food for Spain is tapas, a variety of dishes of small portion. Several people can order and share them. We enjoyed them wherever we ate. Pulpos came highly recommended and we accepted the recommendation. These are a few samples:

Poble Espanyol de Barcelona is a museum of architectures that prevailed in Spain over time. It is a place where you can experience the architecture of various times. But what appealed to me more was various sculptures that are spread around the place. We experienced the art works of Picasso as displayed inside Pble Espanyol.

Magic Fountain of Montjuic is located on the way up from the Monumental Bullring to the National Museum of Catalunyan Arts. Montjuic is the name of the hill. It shows a variety of shapes and even in color at night.

Christopher Colombus was the pioneer who trusted that there would a new world beyond the Atlantic Ocean. He set sail and discovered the Americas. He is considered a hero in Spain. There is a Colomn that holds the statue of Christopher Colombus at the top.

We met at a downtown plaza where we could find twin water fountains. They were performing water dances with timed display and projection of water shoots, along with changing colored lights. It was fascinating.

Each city has pedestrian walks, but none of them is as famous as La Rambras in Barcelona. This area restricted only to pedestrians is packed with famous bars, cafes, restaurants and retail shops. Naturally, the street is crowded with tourists. When tourists are gathering, so are thieves. Barcelona is known to be the second worst city for tourists, next to Naples in Italy, due to the sophisticated skills of those who make a living out of pick-pocketing. We were warned enough to hold onto our bags and pockets so no one fell prey to them. However, I do not think we enjoyed strolling the street. La Rambras.

We went there to watch the famous Flamenco Show. In a small place and on a small stage, a couple of dancers and four musicians made our Flamenco experience unforgettable. I could sense the passion and thrill that two dancers projected out of their facial expressions and body languages.

We made an excursion to the Montserati Mountain and Monastery. The rocky mountains must have erupted after volcanic activities because the mountains stood out in otherwise flat plains. I also found out that the monastery is one of the starting points for the famous Camino de Santiago. The Monastery houses a statue of Black Madonna in its basilica. The mountain had two funiculars: one going down to Santa Cova and the other going up to Santa Rosa. We took both, but the one going up to the top of the mountain and coming back down was thrilling.

With disappointment at Nice Beach, I had lower expectation for the Barcelona Beach. Surprisingly, Barcelona Beach had yellow sand and the width of the beach was bigger than Nice. So I was not as much disappointed as in Nice. But it was still quite crowded and I did not feel like getting myself into the water. I found a table in a shaded cafe and enjoyed ice cream instead.

All in all, Barcelona is a beautiful city. Everywhere you go, you can find artworks exhibited on the streets, at the corner of buildings, in the parks and even in restaurants. Barcelona is a city of art. We thoroughly enjoyed it. I look forward to visiting the city again in September. - Jeffrey

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