Dwayne-in-Spain's Stay, Mainly Entre Planes
February 7 - 26, 2015 / Madrid & Barcelona, Spain
It turned out that our three weeks in Spain inspired both Tricia and I to start a blog post at the same time....so this blog post is a bit of collaborative effort.
Out of Africa
Our visit to Tanzania was "a sort of homecoming" for us, having worked there between 1998 and 2002. We were pleased with how much Swahili we were able to resuscitate, and it was great to go a bit "deeper" culturally after 3 months of just getting by in Turkey.
We were also grateful to have the support of the World Renew Tanzania team, who helped us with bookings, let us stow our extra stuff (e.g. winter clothes) in their office storeroom, and set us up with some volunteer assignments that we could plug into very easily.
Overall, it was a great way to revisit Tanzania, to contribute to their work and to see some old friends and familiar places. The children seemed to take everything in stride, and they managed well during the days we were volunteering when they had to make friends quickly (and briefly :-( ), or even to fend for themselves for a day during our last workshop.
But after two months in Tanzania, it seemed like it was time to either settle down or go.
We left hot, humid and dusty Dar es Salaam on February 7 at 1:45 am, changed planes in Cairo, and then pulled into Madrid several hours later. It took a bit longer for the last of our bags to catch up with us, but all was fine in the end.
Madrid - Part 1
Walking out into the Madrid airport (MAD) felt like we were on the set of the LEGO movie: crowds of people moving between multiple floors on moving sidewalk-ramps, escalators and elevators, sleek space-age trains and espresso-coffee-vending machines. An hour train ride later, we found our Air Bnb downtown and made ourselves at home.
Why Madrid? Well, partly because Madrid is the last stop of our Aeroplan ticket -- we'll fly home from here in July -- but also because Madrid is close to a few other places that we'd like to visit (e.g. Barcelona, Morocco, France). Although the shoulder season, February turned out to be a great time to go there because the weather was cooler and the line-ups were much shorter than they would have been during the high season.
Knowing that we'll be coming back through here, we were content to wander around and take a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus to get an overview of a city. However, the tour bus narration consisted of a lot of jazz fusion muzak interspersed with obscure factoids about architecture and the royalty that commissioned it. A bit dry, I'm afraid, and after a while, the names, dates and styles started to just overflow our jet-lagged brains.
Madrid certainly plays the role of impressive, imperial capital, and it will be interesting to visit it again in the summer when it's hot. But our main objective this time was to make it to....
Barcelona. What a city. It really warrants a fanfare. Please watch the video below before continuing....
We spent two and a half weeks in Barcelona, and it was wonderful. The two Air BnB apartments where we’ve stayed were in very pedestrian-and-bicycle friendly neighbourhoods, close to subway stops, and within three banister-slides to cheap-but-good-red-wine, espresso, and all the groceries we needed. It reminded us a lot of Montreal, and indeed there is a strong separatist movement that very nearly resulted in Catalunya becoming an independent nation last year.
Barcelona has small, angled streets like Istanbul, minus the steep hills, and a great mash-up of Roman, Renaissance, Medieval, Gothic, Romantic, Modernisme / Art Nouvelle, Post-Modernist, Post-Colonial, Hyper-Post-Modern-Meso-Whatchamacallit styles.....Okay, I’m obviously not an architect, (although I do have the glasses….). But we’ve really enjoyed Barcelona’s joyous cacophony of styles, angles and colours.
La Sagrada Familia
The highlight for me (Trish) was the Sagrada Familia. What a space! I have been wow’ed by buildings before (Ste Chapelle in Paris, the Aya Sophia in Istanbul, and even the Skydome J), but the Sagrada Familia actually brought me to tears. It’s astonishingly beautiful, especially inside where the stain glass windows really shine.
The architect behind the Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudí, certainly makes you rethink our propensity of making walls straight! His apartment blocks, churches, cellars, - all his buildings take their cues from nature, and are full of spirals, parabolaoids, and lots of sticky-outie bits. He certainly wasn’t shy about adding flashes of colour, and even words on his buildings. It’s like he built with exuberance.
Barcelona is the home of Isaac’s (current) favourite team, the celebrated “Barça” FC , led by Messrs. Messi, Neymar and Suarez. Their logos are everywhere you look and it seems that half of the tourists that come to town are making the Haj (pilgrimage) to Camp Nou, their home stadium (capacity 95,000). Every coffee shop and bar plays the games where the fans watch in silent concentration (and perhaps, prayer).
Months and months ago, as we were preparing for this trip, Isaac had said he really wanted to see an FC Barcelona match, so it was great to be able to get out to a game, right around the time of his 9th birthday. It was especially fun, given that Barcelona won. 5-0! Isaac was able to recall all of the highlights for days afterwards.
Barcelona also seems to have a museum on every block, and we managed to visit:
- the Picasso Museum, which houses many of his earlier works;
- the 1 Dia / 1 Foto exhibit 365 photos of life in Barcelona in 2014 at the Centra de la creativitat, Arts Santa Mònica;
- the Museu de les Cultures de Mon, a kind of old-school anthropological museum;
- the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, another massive collection of Spanish and Western European art;
- the Maritime Museum of Barcelona, which included a huge Spanish galley;
- the Museum of History of Barcelona for an overview of the development of the city from a small, Roman village to a city of 1.6 million;
- the Caixaforum, where we saw an exhibit celebrating 25 years of Pixar animation;
- the Museum of Design where we saw a temporary exhibit of 99 Projects for the Real World.
Zoe and Dwayne also had a chance to see the opera, Carmen, at the Palau de la Musica, an Art Nouvelle gem.
And best of all, we were able to celebrate Isaac's 9th birthday with another vagabond Canadian family, Paul, Laura, Ella and Wesley, as well as Tricia's mutual friends, Julie & Sam with baked macaroni and cheese and trifle. It was great to have some other kids around for the party.
Looking back, our three weeks in Spain was really an “easy” part of our trip:
- Moving around was easy,
- Most things worked, with exception of the WIFI at one apartment;
- We felt safe, and the city was very clean;
- We stayed in two great apartments with lots of space -- after often squeezing into one room in church guest houses in Tanzania,
- We happened upon lots of fun free local events (including Carnaval!),
- We loved all the tiny streets and public squares (plazas)
Trish also speaks passable Spanish (Castilian), so that really helped with the day to day errands, even in a Catalan speaking area.
Of course, we’re aware that Spain faces lots of issues -- there’s a colonial legacy that paid for all of this opulence, and we primarily saw a touristy part of a country facing 23% unemployment since the last financial crisis. But oh, it was nice to travel in a place where the hassle factor is so low.
Mais maintenant.....on to Morocco!
A few photos
Our time in Barcelona, of course, included taking some pictures. Here are a few. Click on them to see them in a larger "lightbox" format.