Giddy Up Europe

Germany, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Greece, Italy, Vatican, Monaco, Spain...

Monday, August 15, 2005

Barcelona, July 25 - 29

Boys and girls, I finally found my way back to Spain since the summer of 2000 when I was in high school. Railing it down the coast and through the Pyrannies, we made it into Barcelona pretty late at night. Barcelona has lots of Gaudí works, including buildings, a park, and the Sagrada Familia. Las Ramblas is the main thoroughfare where there are shops, cafes with al fresco seating, mimes (but really, they're just posers), artists, guys who sell cans of beer at night, club promoters, and tons of tourists. You take that down toward the water where there is the Monument of Columbus pointing the wrong direction, Barceloneta (the marina area with an aquarium, clubs, and shops), and a bridge that dissappears between 1:00 and 7:00. Oh, and check your Spanish because you're in Catalán country, folks. Paella (mariscos), sangría, cerveza, and tapas are the specialties. ¡Por arriba, por abajo, por al centro, por al dentro!

Here's a closed-roof market right off Las Ramblas. They offer fruit, vegetables, seafood, meat, and have tapas bars for you to grab a bite while you shop. Check the dude on the right.

Here's a sample of Antonio Gaudí architecture. He was into naturalism, so his stuff is pretty funky.

And here's another building that now has a Gaudí exhibit, but I didn't go in.

So here's one of the things that you should go to when you're in Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia. It's a cathedral that was started in 1882 under the direction of Antonio Gaudí for 40 years until he was run over by a streetcar. Kind of a gruesome ending, however, he was buried in the crypt of the Sagrada Familia. But it's really the most interesting look at a cathedral you will ever see since it is currently under construction. Its naturalistic form is completely different from those you will see at any other cathedral. Every time you come back to see it, more and more will be added, however you will probably not see it completed in your lifetime. Since construction began in 1882, roughly over 50% of the entire structure has been built. Strange to see a building that was started before your grandparents were alive and will not be done until your grandchildren are old and grey.

Here's the Passion Facade, which is basically done. It will be one of three facades depicting the life of Christ and shows a fairly haunting view of the Passion.

For the admission fee (reduced for students), you really get the best value around for sites like these. When you enter, you get into the nave and see laborers constructing what will be original portions of the cathedral. There are technical engineering drawings, CAD designs, and force diagrams posted. The pillars supporting the nave were conceived using trees as a model, going along with the naturallistic style.

Here is one of the bulletin boards in the nave showing inspiration for the design, including hyperbolloids, CAD images, predesign, and actual photos of construction. Do you mechanically engineer? Well, I guess this really is civil. Bastards.

Here's the Nativity Facade, which is also basically done. It includes animals chiseled out of the walls and inside the cathedral, there is a room, where you can check out metal molds used for the design. But more importantly, capri pants! I got them in Greece, but I think they're a little long. And I only brought white socks.

You can walk up the spires to the bell towers and check out a view from almost 100 meters. Takes a little while to walk up, since it's single file, but the few seconds you get to look out while you are between spires is really sweet.

Here's a free body diagram showing the distinct buttress design of the Sagrada Familia. I guess this is really a force diagram, though.

If you go down into the museum below the cathedral, you can see real engineers at work with hard hats and everything. Here's an architect behind glass working on some scale models.

What will it look like when it's all said and done? Well, there's a model for that too.

Gaudí also designed a church that utilized an innovated hanging model. Basically it's a wireframe model that has little sacks and is upside-down. This allows gravity to determine the most efficient design using the least amount structural material. There's also a theater that shows a short film about the cathedral and Gaudí in several languages. It's a lot of fluff, but air-conditioned!

Well, there's also Las Ramblas where a lot of mimes go to entertain and make a quick euro. Some just stand around and do a little dance and pose for a picture if you give them change, but the good ones, like this one of Charlie Chaplin have an interactive routine going on.

There are also artists that will paint portraits of you. This kid is getting his for 50 euros, which is like 65 dollars. Pretty pricey. But the final outcomes do look pretty good, but I think they take a couple hours to complete.

On any given night, you're also going to want to come to the Barcelona Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. At least to check out the amazing water fountains that run upto it on Montjuïc. Barcelona being right along the water does have it's benefits.

Going up the escalators and turning around from the last picture, you see the Font Mágica (here lit up in red) and the fountains going down to the Plaza España. It's kind of like Vegas and the lights change color, the sprinklers rotate, and the water is sychronized to classical music.

Going up a little closer and it looks like a volcanic eruption.

Even closer. Ever see "Ocean's Eleven?"

Yeah, I took a ton of pictures of the fountain, but here you get to see that lots of people sit, watch, and relax. Also, the people are tiny, so you get an idea of how big the fountain actually is.

And here's finally a really close one with me in it. Some Australians took this for me and were confused when I started talking to them in Spanish.

So I hit up the waterfront, Barceloneta, and checked out the discos a couple nights. Here's a shot from Star Winds of some girls that asked me to take their picture. The one in pink actually is the one who signaled me to take it, but she seems a little unprepared for picture taking. Yeah, they were wasted and the guy in the background thought it was hilarious. The discos in Spain don't light up until maybe two or three in the morning and go until six or seven. I had to walk past some prostitutes going home that night and even had to fight off a pickpocket. Good times.

Barcelona is also where Allison and I went separate ways. I stayed in Barcelona for a couple extra nights, while she went to London. But out last night out we went tapas hopping and had a lot of sangría. We went out to about three or four places, had a couple liters of sangría, though she might have had to drink some of mine at the end. We had alcachofas, mejillones, patatas bravas, calamari, chorizon, and champiñones. Possibly more, but I don't recall. It was a good time and we saw a clown performing with the passersby at one of the cafes we were at. He was a heckler and made fun of tourists, but the locals had a good time scaring him, stealing his stuff, and even biting his ass (which he wasn't a fan of). Tubes is in Europe! Text me.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Nice and Monaco, July 23 - 25

Passing through La Spezia and Pisa (didn't get to see the Leaning Tower), we took the train along the coast to Nice, in France. We got to Nice at around 4 pm, so Allison and I decided to take the TGV about 20 minutes to Monaco and stayed there for a couple hours. Monaco-Monte Carlo is a small sovereign region located in France that apparantly was never conquered. It's got the Prince's Palace and the Casino Monte Carlo, which is kind of amazing and you just want to stand outside and watch the valets park the ridiculous cars that come through. There was also some sort of international underwater breath-holding contest (at least that's the only conclusion we could come to) at the outdoor pool right along the marina.

Nice is really a vacation spot and there are a good number of tourists hitting the topless pebble beaches. Yes, there are tons of topless girls and no one really cares. You can parasail, go on banana boats and just generally beach it. There are a couple sites, but for those that hear there are more exciting things than laying around on the beach all day and eating out at night, don't listen to it. The beach is awesome.

Here's a shot of Monaco from the marina. In fact, this is the pool as they were setting up for the underwater thing. Apparantly it was fairly exciting as there were a decent amount of people watching. Right behind this shot there was a small fair going on with games and food (cotton candy and churros).

Here are some of the go karts that they had going on for the kids. There was also another track with things that looked like bumper cars. I guess they get them started young in Monaco, considering they have crazy racing there. If you look around town, the roads look like race tracks and hard turns have white and red rubber corners. There was also a Ferrari that you could get a personal tour of the city for 35 euros.

If you head up to the Prince's Palace, you get a nice view of the city and can view the Jardin Exotique or the Prince's rare car collection (which was closed because we got there late). If you want to head into the casinos, though, dress appropriately, because you won't be able to get in. Also, for the Casino Monte-Carlo, prepare to pay ten euros just to get past the lobby. Allison and I go to know the lobby pretty well before deciding not to shell out a ten spot.

The casino parking lot is pretty sweet, I have to say, and people stand across the street just watching the cars pull up. The valets just step in a drive random Ferrari's and Bentley's into the lot. Not too shabby. Right outside the main entrance, in this picture, there's a Ferrari, Porshe, Bentley, and Rolls-Royce chilling outside. Ridiculous.

I just so happened to have bought a Pinnocle deck (by mistake) for Europe, so all we could play was Euchre. However, it came in handy for Monaco because it has eight aces. That's right, eight aces. Money well spent.

So here's the beach in Nice, I believe I was at the Ruhl Plage (there are about a dozen beaches lining the coast). Go for a dip in the water to cool off every now and then because it's really hot and the water's so nice. Just take easy steps back on the pebbles. Your feet probably aren't used to it.

This is right above on the Promenade des Anglais, which runs along about half of the beaches, I think. I decided to walk down the entire length of the promenades, which took quite a while. But you can see beach volleyball courts, jeu de boule courts, and parasailers.

Here's looking the other way down the beach from the Promenade des Anglais. This time with me in it.

I watched about a half dozen pairs go parasailing because it was hilarious to watch these three beach boys haul in the tourists.

They played a ton of Jeu de Boule on the promenade and there was some sort of tournament going on while we were there. If you've never seen it, it's pretty amazing how accurate these guys are. It's basically a mix of shuffleboard and horseshoes and it's played on gravel. Oldtimers in Stuttgart also played it at the park outside the university.

These were the best mimes that I've seen in Europe. They're a good pair and work well together. The silver guy has a gun to try to entice you to pay more (fake of course) and they hold different poses really well. When you pay them, they pose with you. If not, they don't budge. One kid gave the bronze one a fake coin and the mime got pissed because he noticed immediately. Don't try to screw them!

These are the Germans that we met in our hostel in Nice. We hung out with them during the nights, having a beer or two, and they were pretty funny. That's Markus, Klaus, and Ben, I believe. Let me know if I spelled your names wrong, guys. I practiced my German a bit. Good times.

After leaving Nice, we went through Montpellier to Barcelona, so I decided to take a picture of a door sign. Poussez means 'push' in French, in case you didn't know. And in this case, I believe it's a silent z.

I'm about to leave for Piedrafita de Cebreiro in the north of Spain to do about 150 km of the Camino de Santiago with a girl I met here in Madrid, Sarah. It should take a week to hike from there to Santiago de Compostela along the pilgram's route, give or take, and I don't know if I'll have any internet access. The entire trail starts from Roncesvalles, France and takes over a month to complete by foot. You can also go by bicycle or on horseback, and I hear that there are even trails from the Netherlands. I probably will have little to no internet or phone access. I'm going to update a little since my bus isn't for another ten hours, but if it's the case that I can't get online, I'll see you in a week. Buen camino.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Florence and Cinque Terre, July 20 - 23

Boys and girls, I have booked my reservations for Venice (I'll be there for six nights, one of which I am thinking about sleeping at Marco Polo Airport because I arrive at midnight and would have to pay a lot to get to my hostel which will cost me an extra night's worth, to sleep like five hours) to chill with Tubes and possibly his immediate family. Twins! Well, it will be nice to see Venice, seeing as it is near the city of this update, Florence.

Florence is a crazy artisan city in the way that Vienna is a musical city. All the greats studied and worked there, including Da Vinci and Michaelangelo. It's expensive to get into museums and there aren't really student discounts, which sucks. But it does have sites like the Ponte Vecchio (The Old Bridge), museums like the Uffizi, Michaelangelo's "David," and the Duomo. It's a pretty sweet town and reminds me of Heidelberg, however, I have since learned from a German in Nice, France that there are tons of cities like Heidelberg that are unknown. In any event, it's pretty expensive, but there is a decent cafe and bar scene at night.

Allison and I managed to meet up with a fellow Pi Kapp, Solarz, from Miami (Ohio), who was doing a study abroad there similar to the one we did in Stuttgart. So we went out with him and some of his friends one night and went sightseeing with him the next day. Pretty sweet considering I only met him a couple times on road trips and such. But it's really nice to meet people in different places, such as Europe. It makes you feel connected to the rest of the world since during the trip, I've not really had time to know what's going on in current events, save a few. Giddy up.

Here's a shot of Florence and the Arno River at sunset taken from the Piazza Michaelangelo. There were plenty of tourists checking out the sight as well and a bunch of street artists trying to sell stuff.

Here's the Palazzo della Signoria downtown with a replica of David out in front. Yeah, Europe's all about al fresco dining.

If you want to check out some Italian Gothic architecture, you should head over to the Cathedral, or Duomo, preferably early in the morning to avoid crowds. Well, go to all tourist traps in the morning or an hour or two before closing, unless you want to queue up ridiculous amounts. Queues? Whateve's man!

Or better yet, head up into the dome in the Duomo and gaze up. It's huge inside and you can look down into the nave and see how cool it really is because of how open it is since there aren't supports.

Climbing up, you can get outside and take a look all around Florence. It's really a cool spot to hang out at for a little bit, and everything's so bright!

Here's Allison, me, and Solarz outside on top of the Duomo.

Many people come to Florence to hit up the Galleria dell' Accademia, which houses David. And really, that's all you come to see there. Pretty steep at eight euros. But there are some unfinished works there, which are nice because you can see his progression and there is also a digital model of David that you can manipulate. It is a pretty awesome sculpture and it's huge. He took over the block after another sculpter had already started using it and the detail and anatomical accuracy is amazing. No photos! =P

But here's what you really want. You can be David, up close and personal.

Here's a shot of the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence, spanning the Arno and built in 1345. It's got tons of shops and was a place where many marriage proposals took place, so jewelry shops started openning up all over it. Hi guys!

Here I am in the middle of the Ponte Vecchio having another tourist take my picture. I think it was the only bridge in Florence during World War II that wasn't blown up.

Cinque Terre, July 22

On a whim and the advice of Jane back home and Solarz, I took a day trip to Cinque Terre, which is about three hours away by rail. Its name comes from the fact that it's made up of five small towns along the Mediterranean and you can hike from one end to the other. I started at Monterosso, as seen here, and made my way along the mountainside to Riomaggiore. Including stopping in the towns for a little bit, it took about six or seven hours, though the hike itself is only like four.

It was ridiculously hot and the sun really bares down on you, but here I am shortly after I started hiking. There are vineyards all over and Cinque Terre produces wine from each small town. Bring water because you're going to need it and there won't be any between the towns. I drank like four or five liters just hiking around.

The second town I came to was Vernazza, which was an awesome place with a tiny sand beach. The beaches were so small and people really just hung around on the jetties and rocks, tanning themselves. Some tourists, but still a really great spot to vacation. It still seems relatively untouched and you can get rail passes to hop around from town to town, as the trains run right along the sea.

Here's a shot of the beach in Vernazza when I got there. I was pretty spent after the first 90 minute hike in the blazing sun (it was about noon), so I hung out in the town for about an hour and rehydrated myself a lot. For better or worse, there was finally a sand beach Along the Mediterranean. Most beaches you come across are pebble beaches, which means that most people don't go for strolls on the beachside because it hurts too much. Right behind this shot is a small square with some nice outdoor cafes. Definitely a nice place to come vacation and get away.

I saw some two euro gelato and decided to get some because it was so hot and I needed to cool down. I guess they make some pretty decent ice cream products in Italy.

The next stop was Corniglia and about halfway through the next 90 minute hike, you see a sign for a free beach that points a couple hundred meters down a steep, almost non-existant path. The sign has autographs of many Americans and their colleges, saying that they've been there. So I decide to go down and after about 30 minutes and skidding down, getting lost as there are virtually no other signs, I make it to this nude beach. But there are mostly guys over 50, climbing around the pebbles and pillars. It was exactly like the movie, Planet of the Apes, the original of course, except it was all nude people. Kind of trippy and I left after a couple minutes. I decided not to take any pictures. Anyway, after climbing all the way back up to the path and heading toward Corniglia, you find it to be really chill and there are little grocery shops for you to refuel, so I bought some peaches.

The 40 minute walk to Manarola is much easier and you get to walk along an actual path that's fairly level. As you can see, there are just people laying all over the jetty and rocks, as there was not really a beach.

If you decide to go to to Cinque Terre, they have their own wine products that you can buy from each particular town. I don't know if you can purchase them elsewhere in Italy, but they are reasonably priced. Don't know how it tastes, though.

The super easy 20 minute walk to the final town, Riomaggiore, runs you past the Via dell' Amore, where many a proposal has taken place. It's actually not that romantic aside from the fact that it's this secluded place along the sea. There is graffiti and etchings of people stopping by, which makes it look somewhat dirty. Anyway, I guess it's one of the more well-known sites in Cinque Terre. There are also some sweet public picnic areas where you can be alone with your peoples.

Finally, you hit Riomaggiore, which seems to be the most modernized town of the five (if you can really say that). They have lots of good eats and it's a good starting point if you want to hike further up the mountain. Way up, that is. Anyway, I was trying to take another self-picture here, which for some reason was not happening, but this gorgeous Italian girl comes up nd asks me in Italian if I wanted her to take my picture. She walked down the path and then I looked around and she was nowhere to be found, even though you can see pretty far down the winding catwalk. Maybe I was hallucinating. It had been a long day in the sun, but if you stop to look out over the Mediterranean as the sun is setting, which is the whole time, everything is peaceful. Your body is exhausted, but you feel so good, even though your muscles are spent. It's hard to explain. And then you have a three-hour ride back to Firenze. Buon viaggio.