Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Valencia and Barcelona




After leaving Granada (which could have been my favorite city thus far - the consensus is still out), we traveled about 6 hours north along the Mediterranean coast to Valencia. Valencia is not as flashy as some of the other Spanish cities in which we´ve been, but is trying hard to progress quickly into the 21st century.

We started with some exploration time near the coast, and explored the work of Santiago Calatrava, a great architect and native of Valencia. He was commissioned to do a massive project in the city to connect broad boulevards along the city. Similar to the idea of Frederick Law Olmstead´s Emerald Necklace in Boston, Valencia is being connected across the city by a series of parks. It has begun with a beautiful Opera House and a new Aquarium, as well as a Science and Art Museum. Some of the work looks somewhat like the Leonard Zakim-Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge. Calatrava´s first work was actually creating the Milwaukee Art Museum, which is on an earlier blog post from two years ago. My parents live there, and so I have been there several times!

We continued with a tour in the morning
 of historical Valencia, which includes Medieval Walls and moats, beautiful cobble-stoned streets with cafes and restaurants, and it included a visit to Valencia´s Cathedral. It was a gorgeous church, and was completed over the length of several generations and eras; therefore, each entrance to the church is reflective of different styles of architecture. In addition, the Church claims to have Jesus Christ´s Holy Grail (think:
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).

We had some free time and quickly boarded the bus to Barcelona, the site of the 1992 Olympics. Barcelona is quite different than other Spanish cities for several reasons - there are fewer very tall buildings 
but still retains one of the highest population densities in all of Europe, is rivaled only by Paris and Rome for its pickpocketers, and lacks the Moorish/Muslim influence in culture and architecture that Southern Spanish cities possess. Instead, there is more Roman and Baroque influence in their culture. In fact, they do not speak only Spanish, but another language called ´´Catalonia,´´ a blend of French and Spanish.

We had a tour of several parks in Barcelona and I learned a lot about the artist Gaudi, an incredible artist who used nature, animals and plants for his inspiration. He felt that since God created nature, that his art should reflect that intersection of art, architecure and nature. The incredible thing - he used land and buildings as his works of art. Some parks in Barcelona are known as ´´Gaudi parks´´ and some buildings are ´´Gaudi buildings.´´ Hi
s incredible architecture and art is colorful and so inspiring - an incredible mind.

Finally, we were able to spend the afternoon in some cafes along the Passeig de Garcia - the Fifth Avenue of Barcelona. We did some serious people-watching and some serious café-con-leche drinking along the broad avenue. We did some watching around La Rambla, a beautiful
pedestrian walkway along which there are vendors, flower shops, boutiques, stores, cafes and stores. What fun!

Tomorrow, I leave for the Barcelona Airport on my own, hopping the Barcelona Metro and taking the Aérobus to the Airport. Cross your fingers my minimalist Spanish can take me home to Boston!