Saturday, April 16, 2016

Sagrada Familia & Park Guell: Exploring Gaudi's Art in Barcelona

Anna, Martin & Sapna - Park Guell, Barcelona
So, I've finally started to visit the more touristy parts of Barcelona, a year and a half after moving here (I was waiting for people to visit who hadn't seen the sites!) Anna and Martin were in town for a couple of days last weekend, and Anna had never been to Spain before,  so I showed them around a bit.

Friday we headed to the Sagrada Familia cathedral - and wow - you must go inside. It's well worth the 15 euros (I found out afterwards that residents can apparently get a special card to get in free anytime. Of course, I'm sure this requires a very Spanish, long, drawn-out bureaucratic form-filling session, but I'll do it!). I  took Anna and Martin to the Montjuic Magic Fountain, La Flauta tapas restaurant and Mirabe restaurant, all three of of which I went to a few weeks ago when my parents visited.  Another tapas suggestion I have is to head to Carrer Blai in the Parallel neighbourhood - it has streets full of great tapas places (where Anna, Martin and I had tapas and wine Friday night).

For Park Guell, which we checked out on Saturday, I'd suggest getting the guided tour (or, get the guided tour for Sagrada Familia which we didn't). It helps to have some background info on Gaudi to guide your trek around his artwork.  Here are a few facts I remember:

  • Antoni Gaudi's style honored both religion and nature -  hence the bright, vibrant colours  and religious symbols throughout his work
  • Gaudi is buried in the crypt of the cathedral, which has a very different artistic air to the main floor
  • Park Guell was supposed to be a home for 60 families, but only two of the houses designed were actually built. There is one family that still owns a house in the Park, although this will eventually become government property
  • The ceramic lizard is most photographed part of Park Guell; there are various theories as to why it exists
  • Many of the symbols came from animals in Greek and Roman mythology
  • The Park is spelled with a "k" because its inspiration was a British garden
  • Some of the trees are Austrian
  • The benches are specifically curved in a way to encourage conversation among many people
  • The Sagrada Familia is not finished yet, but not because of a lack of money! The city actually does not have enough space to build the ten remaining buildings in Gaudi's plans. While they once hoped to complete it 100 years after his death (2026), who knows when it will be done!

Other than that, I'll let the photoshoot do the talking. Nice to see you again, Anna and Martin and enjoy your trip back to Oxford!

Check out the slideshow below. If you're on a mobile device that does not support Flash, please remember to click here for my Flickr Pro page and see the album that way. 

Stay tuned for a post on Anna G.'s birthday celebrations - and then hold on a bit, because the next six weeks are full of intense PhD analysis ;)

Monday, April 04, 2016

Two Days in Switzerland: A Taste of Perfection

Last weekend, I jetted off to Switzerland to visit Sean,  as a much needed break from the chaotic inefficiencies of the beautiful, yet sometimes much too frustrating, country in which I live. I'm lucky to have such amazing friends- Sean treated me to an all-country train pass for the weekend, which meant we could go on any bus, train, boat, tram and funicular in the country! If you're a resident, you can get this for 300 euros per month (58 euros more and your dog can come, too!)  While this may seem ridiculously high, this is pocket change for the Swiss, whose  average salary is 5979€ per month, and average salary for professionals ranges more like between 8000 and 9000 per month.

Lucerne view
 Yes, yes, it is more expensive to live there - but not that much more; the Swiss have the highest disposable income in the world!
So, Sean lives in Fribourg at the moment. On Friday we checked out his small, historically (and currently) religious town and had dinner with his roommate, who was an interesting, kind man to have dinner with. He's not a priest- but he's part of the church and has "robes", so he works there. We had raclette!!! Mmm!!  I can finally speak French fluently again, so I was so, so, happy to practice it!  

We also went over to Neuchatel so that I could get a feel for their campus - I didn't have a chance to talk to anyone, but I got a flyer for their Language Sciences Research Group. Visualize it!!!!

Neutchatel View
Then, we tried to catch the Funicular in Neuchatel to see the view from the top, but it was closed!! We took the bus instead though, and the view was worth it.  We missed the funicular in Fribourg too, which was closed for repairs. We also tried to go to Rigi on the scenic cog-wheel trains, but they hadn't started summer hours yet so we just missed the last one! We took a boat tour in Lucerne instead.
Saturday morning we headed off to Bern, 20 minutes away, to check out the German part of the town. We went watch shopping (totally unintentionally). My seven year old watch needed replacing anyway - so I splurged on a Mathey-Tissot  watch, which you can see below. I'm super picky with watches and Sean (who has a great fashion sense) said "how about this one?" - and it was perfect.  Only 150 euros and the sales guy knew the meaning of customer service. Bliss!!!

Fribourg street sign: "The street of loyal wives and perfect husbands" Yup, I like it!

My airport macaroon splurge...
This post  would be remiss without mentioning the food - GOOD bread, GREAT cheese (raclette), spatzle, chocolate, macaroons - mmmm!

Also, I've made a pros/cons list comparing Barcelona and Switzerland. **Disclaimer: this is partially based on experience and partially on educated guesses from what I've heard from others...

Barcelona Pros
  (Cons for Switzerland)
Switzerland Pros 
(Cons for Barcelona)

The weather!!!
The beach and the ocean!!!
The people
Mediterranean food
The culture – loud, but fun!
Fairly big city with lots to do

The money
The job opportunities
LESS stress (because things work!)
Great bread!!! (think: Germany)
Too quiet
Teeny little “cities”
Organized (instead of complete chaos)

Here's the slideshow! Check out the beautiful views (I did my best in the rain!). If peaceful, idyllic scenery, harder-to-get-to-know people and "too perfect" are the cons I must put up with for an amazing salary, efficiency, research funding, and a society that "works" and is an hour flight away from all of its cons, I'm in! 

Next time I'm in the country I'll definitely look up the Swiss family I was an au-pair for in Morges in 2004. Oh, the memories!  Let the Switzerland research stay (and eventual post-doc) search begin!  A bientôt! 

Note: If you are on a mobile device that does not support Flash, please click here to view my Flickr album, click on the first photo and flip through!