After a semester packed with traveling, Rome is the last trip of my abroad experience over the last three months. Up to this point, every place has displayed their own unique flavor; be it in the food, the people, the architecture, the parks, the countryside and coastline, the street design, and much more. Out of all of the cities I have written about, Rome gave me the most jaw-dropping moments of all.
A phrase coined by Danielle Steinberg, my travel companion, is a perfect way to describe Rome:
Walking through Rome is like walking in a giant 3-D History Book.
I am still trying to comprehend the number of incredible things there are to see in Rome, making two days not even close to enough time to see it all! We spent our time walking the entire city, seeing sites including: The Coliseum, The Forum, The Pantheon, The Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo, Piazza del Capitoline, Spanish Steps, countless other churches, piazza's, Gelato stores and, of course, The Vatican, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's Basilica. Every corner we turned there was another picture moment of architectural wonders, ancient sculptures, Roman columns, and other artifacts that date back thousands of years. 'Breathtaking,' is an understatement.
To think that people existed there so many years ago, wearing robes and leading an ancient way of life, is hard for me to visualize, especially as I stand there taking photos with a piece of technology that wasn't even in their realm of imagination. This was the first jaw-dropping moment, where I wondered what people 2,000 years from now will be taking pictures of, as they compare what our generations mark is on earth. Maybe at that time there will be time-capsuls that can bring them back to Roman times.. who knows!
Aside from the ancient ruins, the Vatican provided me with some more moments of wonderment. Throughout mine and Danielle's education we have learned about famous paintings that were created hundreds of years ago. We have learned about the difference between paintings and frescoes, the important biblical symbols that many artists infused into their artwork, and most of all about the artists themselves and how they each left their mark. We took a guided tour through the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, and were able to lay our naked eyes on pieces of history created over 500 years ago. The experience felt fake, and I couldn't believe that I was looking at the originals! I was trying to picture Michelangelo as he laid on his back for years going blind from dripping paint, day after day without taking a break, and without ever taking a single paycheck. It was such a surreal feeling that I am curious to know if, where, and when, I will feel that again on my future journey's.
The finale of Rome was climbing the steps to the top of St. Peter's Basilica. Once we reached the 'cupola,' we gazed out over the entire city and could recognize all the places we had spent hours visiting. The only bummer of our Vatican experience was we missed Pope Francis by ten minutes!! We were not aware that he was going to show up, we were just unlucky with our timing unfortunately.
My final trip of the semester was a fantastic one, leaving me on a cliffhanger wanting to see more. This semester puts into perspective the vast amount of places in the world that are worth traveling to, which would take an infinite number of lifetimes to see. Hopefully my next major traveling experience will be in a completely different place, maybe Asia, or Africa, which would expand my worldly view into uncharted territory.
This past week I took a trip to Madrid, the capitol of Spain, an experience I have been looking forward to the whole semester. Not only was I excited simply because I enjoy exploring new places, but it is also the first time I would truly experience “Spain.” I say this because, as I discussed in my post about National Day of Catalonia, I have been living in a region of Spain that had developed its own identity years before it was overtaken by Spanish rule. So, although I have been in the political boundary of Spain, it is arguable that I have not really been immersed in true Spanish culture. I was eager to go to Madrid because I was curious to compare similarities and differences between these two major cities in terms of architecture, street scape identity, parks, food, people, etc.
RENFE-AVE (Bullet Train)
Olivia and I decided to spend the extra cash to experience the Renfe- AVE “Bullet Train” from Barcelona to Madrid. If you take a regular train between the two cities it takes over 8 hours, but with the AVE, the trip is a fraction of that time and is only 2 hours 45 minutes! It tops off at a whopping 300km/hour (186 mph) and is an incredibly smooth ride. The terrain goes whizzing by at such high speeds that the landscape up close is blurry, and it is almost impossible to see the utility poles passing by. The ride was memorable, and the people we met on the train from NYC were nice to talk to and compare our travel experiences. I asked where else they have been, and they said they had traveled to Israel, among many others destinations. I told them I had taken a 5 week trip in high school to Israel, Prague, and Poland, and it turns out that their children took the IDENTICAL trip! This is one of the reasons why I enjoy striking up conversations with anyone, because you never know the things you have in common until you say, “hello!”
(Click on the video to see what 300km/h looks like from the AVE)
A TRASHY SITUATION
So we made it to Madrid before noon, prepared to find our Hostel called U-Hostels, and then conquer the city. Our first impression of Madrid was an unfortunate one, due to a strike that is currently being had by the Trash/ Maintenance Force over wages. As soon as we stepped out of Atocha Train Station, there were trash cans overflowing with garbage piling on the ground, litter lining the streets and blowing in the wind, more debris stuck inside the tree pits and gutters, all as if the city had been abandoned! It essence, it was, and still is “abandoned,” and could last through X-mas. It is actually an interesting predicament that I have often thought about: how quickly would a city become undesirable if the garbage trucks stop working, and the street sweepers stop sweeping? The answer = VERY quickly. I was disappointed that this was the current situation as I heard Madrid is usually a very clean city, but I was hoping to not let the trash spoil my day! (Pun intended) Thanks to a friend who is studying in Madrid who informed me prior to my arrival, I was not caught by surprise.
TOURING THE CITY
After two days of tireless walking around all of Madrid, we saw nearly all of the well known sites. As two landscape architecture students both interested in urban planning, we meandered through various neighborhood streets to get a view of Madrid aside from the main tourist locations. In addition to the sites, we of course spent some time shopping at the many tourist shops, and enjoying some local food at the best restaurant called “El Tigre.” For 15 Euro, we had 8 beers, and 4 full plates of stomach filling Paella, Bravas (Steak fries), croquettas (better versions of our cheese sticks), bread with spanish ham, cheese, other ingredients, and more. You basically just pay for the beer, and they continue to bring you food until you say stop! I rarely say no to food, but this was such a good deal that my idea of a cheap/ hardy meal is now changed forever. The best part is, the restaurant does that EVERY day, it wasn’t just some special they run on a random day of the week. Cheers to that!
One drawback of Madrid is it's signage, which is very lacking for tourists who know nothing about the city. In Barcelona for example, there are signs at almost every corner pointing you in various directions to the sites in the area. Our experience with navigating Madrid was not an easy one, often times confused if we were headed in the right direction. Through all the traveling I have done in my life, this city was one of the most difficult to navigate with a map. We eventually got our bearings and had a better time on the second day.
RIO MADRID - WEST 8 PROJECT
We also made it a point to visit the Rio Madrid project, which was recently completed by the well-known landscape architecture firm West 8. We made it to the site at the most perfect time of day and time of year. The sun was setting, allowing the rays to hit the fall trees at a sharp angle to illuminate them with a red and orange glow. Many leaves have already fallen, blanketing the ground with colorful leaves.
The mosaics on the ground at RIO Madrid remind me of the paving techniques I saw in Lisbon a couple weeks ago. The limestone and basalt stones create a contemporary mosaic of abstract flowers throughout the entire site. The custom benches wrap around the paving pattern to create a seamless transition from ground plane to vertical, which also have a dual purpose as the planting bed for trees and shrubs. This project easily became one of my favorite pieces of urban LA design, and is a great example of how good design can be simple and sophisticated at the same time.
In terms of overall architecture, the city’s buildings seem more majestic and royal that those in Barcelona, are less “Gaudi,” and have more formalized decorations. Also, their are fewer parks than in Barcelona, but the two major parks are MASSIVE. Casa de Campo is park that is 5 times larger than Central Park in New York City, and Retiro Park is so big you need to visit multiple times to gain an understanding for its sheer size. Madrid also has much more topography change than Barcelona, however not as much as Lisbon. Despite this, there are no overlooks to view the city from above like in Barcelona, and you need to go to the lookout decks in various buildings to get the panoramic view that all travelers are after.
After speaking with the NYC couple on the AVE train and a Spanish local at the hostel, Olivia and I decided to extend our trip one day in order to take a day trip to Toledo. Toledo is an hour bus ride to the south of Madrid, and was once the capitol of Spain many years ago. It’s old buildings and fortress walls sit up on a hill, surrounded on three sides by a river with rocky terrain. We spent a few hours walking the streets, viewing the sites, and were quite surprised at how small of a city it is. You look at the map and think it will take a long time to walk from one end to the other, but before you know it, you’ve traversed the city in less than an hour. We did not go into many buildings because most of them cost money, and due to planning this trip spur of the moment, our knowledge of the best sites was lacking. I once read a quote about traveling:
“Tourists see the sites they came to see, and travelers see what they see.”
In this particular instance, we were travelers simply enjoying the act of walking around this very old city. I took too many photos, as usual, because every corner there was something cool and interesting to snap a picture of. Scroll through some of my favorites in the slide show above
I enjoyed the trip to Madrid and Toledo, and glad that I saw another side of Spain that I was in search for. The next trip is to Rome, Italy in a couple of weeks. For now, time to get some work done on the project! Cheers!
The last two weeks have been everything BUT Barcelona and the project. It was time to take a break from the hard work and visit some cool places around Europe. Last week a few of us headed up to Ireland for five days and finished the week in Amsterdam. This week I traveled to Lisbon, Portugal with my mom who came to visit for the week. It was fun navigating all of these unfamiliar places, as well as going on a number of day trips and learning about the different cultures. Along the way I met some interesting people, feasted on the local cuisine, and enjoyed some tasty drink.
Ireland quickly became one of my favorite places. From the friendly people, the delicious traditional meals, the live Irish music, the ridiculous coastline, the unpredictable and crazy weather, the vibrant and frequent rainbows, and the best tasting beer on earth, it was a great time! During the five days we went to Galway for one night and took a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher, went up to Northern Ireland to the Giant's Causeway and stopped in Belfast on another day trip, toured the Guinness Storehouse, explored Dublin, and much more.
On our day trip to Cliffs of Moher the weather was atrocious! The heavy wind caused the little bit of rain to feel like pellets smacking you in the face! Despite the latter, the coastline in Ireland is jaw-dropping. The Cliffs of Moher are 200m (over 600ft) of 90 degree rock faces jutting up form the Atlantic. Don't go to close to the edge!
Another part of Ireland that I marveled at was the history that lies there. The castles, monesteries, and countryside villages date back hundreds and hundreds of years. Our concept of history and distance are much different than the people here in Europe. While speaking with a guy from Manchester, England, who I met at Isaac's hostel in Dublin, I became aware of something that made me ponder...
...When an American gets in their car, we don't think twice about driving a few hours here and a few hours there as we skip across state borders and go for five hours without thinking twice. 200 miles to us....who cares. Now, ask a person from Ireland about driving the same distance, and you've just gone across the entire country and gone straight off the coast into the Atlantic. America is a big place, 'nuff said.
Now lets talk about history/ time. In America, many people would consider one hundred years a long time. It depends on who you talk to, of course, but the point is that our concept of time is VERY short compared to the Europeans. One hundred years to them is like a blink of an eye because the history here is so rich, dating back centuries before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. As I see roman walls, medieval fortresses, and royal palaces, it is hard to believe that people actually existed there so long ago! It is odd to me to think that the same place we got to by a gasoline guzzling tour bus to snap photos of a rickety rock structure, is the same place that humans had to protect themselves from invasion! Imagine that, living during the time when the barter system was used to trade goods and services, and swords were used for protection!
I very much enjoyed the time I spent in Ireland and would highly recommend it to anyone looking to travel to Europe. Hostels are cheap living, and are also great for meeting cool people.
Amsterdam for me was a short day and a half visit. But, it only took one step out of Central Station to feel how unique of a place it is. The bicycle culture is fascinating and is unlike anything I've ever seen! The canals, brick buildings, windmills, countryside, among other things... make it a place I need to go back and spend more time in the future. We rented bikes and toured around most of the city, biking through the center of town, Vondel Park, along the Amstel River for miles, and more. One of my favorite parts are of course the canals. Not only do they function as the city's defense system from flooding, but they come hand-in-hand with bridges which are all over the place! Everywhere you turn is another spectacular photograph, especially at nighttime when the water reflects all the lights. I will be go back one day without a doubt and give Amsterdam the time it deserves!
I then traveled to Lisbon, Portugal with my mom for a few days, and took a day trip to Sintra. Lisbon is a picturesque city that has a vintage feel to it and differs from Barcelona in many ways, notably the topography, language, and architectural style. Barcelona is FLAT, until you reach the mountains around the perimeter. Lisbon is everything BUT flat. Within a minute of getting out of the taxi i saw steeper slopes than I've seen in all of Barcelona. Another stark difference are the stone mosaics that cover the ground throughout the entire city. The white colored Limestone blocks create the backdrop for the dark gray Basalt stones which form intricate patterns. The red roofs of the buildings, which can be seen from a number of vantage points throughout the city, reminded me of my visit to Prague when I was in high school.
We took a day trip to Sintra to see Palacio de la Peña, which is about an hour north of Lisbon. I was very impressed with the bus driver who navigated some intense switchbacks heading up the mountain to the palace, especially since it was a one lane road and we had to constantly yield to smaller vehicles. Peña Palace is very colorful and decorative in the style of nineteenth century Portuguese Romanticism. Each bedroom was built in a different style and with varying techniques of concrete, stone, wood, and frescos. In 1995, Sintra Hills, where the palace and park are located, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It was an enjoyable few days in Portugal.
Now in Barcelona and time to get back to the grind of working on the project after two weeks of memorable traveling! It all came and went so fast, as always.
The Goal of "site analysis" for my project was to gain a general understanding of the design components of each street type. By adapting the grading system that was developed by Frank Jaskiewicz, I was able to evaluate each of the 9 sites based on a list of ten principals that contribute to the pedestrian experience. In addition to the nine principals I described in my earlier post, I added a tenth: Organization as well as re-defined 'Enclosure/definition,' and, 'Physical Conditions."
Enclosure: Jaskiewicz described this as the edges of a site, and the degree to which the edge is complete. I will be considering enclosure as scale. A wide open site with a large width will be one extreme, while a tight and claustrophobic site would be the other. (Site 1: Gran Via de les Cortes Catalanes, and site 5: Rambla del Raval, are the most open sites, while site 3.2: Carrer de la Cera is the tightest)
Physical Conditions: Jaskiewicz broadly explains this as, "anything else that plays a role in pedestrian experience." For my study, physical condition will focus on the materials used, and their condition. A site that lacks a variety of materials and/ or shows wear and tear, would receive a grade of 1, while a site that uses a wide range of materials and/ or is in immaculate condition would receive of 5.
Organization: The degree to which traffic lanes for pedestrians, bicycles, and vehicles are provided. A site that has very distinct moving lanes for all three would receive a grade of 5, while a site that has no lanes would receive a grade of 1. (Sites 1 and 3.2 are the upper and lower extremes once again.)
Completed Evaluation Sheet
I have evaluated all the sites based on the ten principals, and can now easily compare the sites just by looking at the numbers. Things to take note of are rows that have similar marks across the board, and more importantly, rows that have a range. The categories with a range are the important ones to keep in mind as I move into Phases III and IV, because they will most likely be the cause for any behavior changes I may find.
FC Barcelona has for a long time been one of the most talented and successful "futbol" clubs in the world. The team was originally founded by a group of Swiss, English, and Catalan players in 1899, led by a man named Joan Camper. For over 100 years this team has been the pride and joy of Barcelona and a symbol of Catalan culture. There is a phrase written on the seats in Camp Nou, the FCB Stadium, reading, "Més que un club" (More than a club), representing that ideology.
In terms of overall official titles won, FCB has the most with 83! They have been impressive victors, winning a total of, "22 La Liga, 26 Copa del Rey, 11 Supercopa de España, 3 Copa Eva Duarte and 2 Copa de la Ligatrophies, as well as being the record holder for those four competitions. In international club football, FCB has have four UEFA Champions League, a record four UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, four UEFA Super Cup, a record three Inter-Cities Fairs Cup and a record two FIFA Club World Cup trophies."
In 2010, three players Messi, Iniesta, and Xavi, were selected as the three "best players in the world," all while playing for FCB. Lionel Messi is widely regarded as the best overall player in the world, and perhaps the best player of all time. He is quite an amazing player to watch because of his very fast speed and ball skills, and is sure to make your jaw drop at his goal scoring prowess.
We had the pleasure of being in attendance for FC Barcelona vs. Real Sociedad last night at Camp Nou, their impressive stadium that can fit nearly 100,000 people. It is the largest stadium in Europe, and the 13th largest in the world in terms of capacity. We witnessed three goals within the first 25 minutes for Barcelona! The final score was 4 to 1.
It's unfortunate that this sport does not have a following in America like it does here!
Correfoc (Fire Run)
La Mercè is an annual festival in observance of the patron saint of Barcelona. It has been an official holiday since 1871, but has been celebrated since 1667 during the middle ages. There are parades, traditional "Sardana" dances, human towers called "Castells," a fire run called "correfoc," fireworks at the beach, speeches, drum lines, over 15 concert stages around the city, trapeze performances, and a lot more.
For five days every year, the city of Barcelona turns upside into a huge party from September 20th to the 25th. In addition, the festival is a way to say goodbye to the warm summer months, and hello to the cooler months of fall and winter. It is overwhelming how much there is to see and do during La Merce, and the coordination it must take to pull everything together is incredible.
"Correfoc" (Fire Run)
This fiery feature of La Mercè stems from 'Ball de Diables," a type of medieval street theatre. During the rule of Spanish Dictactor Franco, much of Catalan culture was banned including the Correfocs and even their native language. With Franco's death, the city of Barcelona didn't waste any time and filled the streets with fireworks and celebration once again.
"Dressed in red and black, wearing horns and masks, ‘colles de diables’ (groups of ‘devils’) dance amongst the crowds accompanied by loud music, waving sparklers, firecrackers, and roman candles, spitting fire into the crowd." (Sourec: http://www.anglophone-direct.com/Correfocs)
In addition, there are dozens of "fire beathing dragons and beasts," which spit fireworks in all direction. People love to go up and try to get a picture standing right next to one of them.
It is recommended that you wear long pants, long shirt, hat, and even goggles because you can get burned by the fireworks. As you can see in the video, people are not shy when it comes to the fireworks. This went on for over 3 hours!
"Castells" - Human Towers
At Placa de Sant Jaume, the Human Tower festival occurred around noon. Never thought I would witness this in person, let alone stand next to the formations! The teamwork, concentration, patience, coordination, and insanity needed to construct these towers is mind blowing. I saw about 9 towers get constructed, and I even witnessed one of the towers collapse. It was truly terrifying, as kids and adults were falling upwards of twenty, maybe even thirty feet. No one was seriously injured to my knowledge. They have been doing these towers for over 100 years!
(Video footage on the way)
Click on the link for a comprehensive explanation of the "Castells." I suggest watching the video at the very bottom of the page, the 2x8, it is the most difficult structure to cleanly construct. Look at the pain in the guys faces at the bottom!!! Craziness!
Site #1 -- Gran Via de les Cortes Catalanes
Phase II of my project is site analysis of the built characteristics. In order to do this with some continuity I will be using a grading system that was adapted from an article I read by Frank Jaskiewicz titled, "Pedestrian level of service Based on Trip Quality." Jaskiwicz gives a comprehensive lost of aspects that influence the quality of the pedestrian experience. He deals with origin of pedestrian feelings, why we may choose to use a particular path, and why we may or may not feel comfortable while being there. There are nine categories that Jaskiewics says can both inhibit and enhance the pedestrian experience, including:
2. complexity of path network,
3. building articulation,
4. complexity of spaces,
7. shade trees,
8. overhands/awnings/varied roof lines, and
9. physical components/conditions.
To give an example from the latter in further detail, Jaskiwicz describes "enclosure" as a principal that, “Measures the degree
to which the edges of the street are defined,” He focuses on two street types: the well-enclosed street, and the poorly enclosed Street. When a street is well enclosed, a motorist naturally feels a ‘narrowness’ that causes them to drive slower. Not only does the actual risk of accidents decrease but a pedestrian’s perceived sense of safety is significantly higher. On the contrary, poorly enclosed streets cause rapid driving speeds, higher risk of accidents, and hazardous situations for children at play, pedestrians, bicyclists, etc.
Jaskiwicz then devised an evaluation system that puts a quantitative grade on the pedestrian experience based on the nine categories. With one (1) being very poor, and five (5) being excellent, it is possible to establish an idea of what is working and what is not working at a given site. Not only is this a helpful indicator of the condition of a pedestrian area, but it can also help point out where improvements can be made.
While in Barcelona, I will be using this system as a guide for site analysis. Each site will be graded based on the 9 categories by Jaskiewicz, as well as a 10th item that I added to the list. "Organization," of pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular spaces is a crucial piece that affects pedestrian behavior, especially in Barcelona. A "5 -- Excellent" would mean that each mode of transportation has their own clearly defined spaces, while a "1 -- Very Poor," would be the opposite.
Once I have completed the evaluation for each site, it will be time to study the pedestrians to understand how their behavior may/ may not change in the different sites.
Let the analysis begin!
If you would like to take a look at the article by Frank Jaskiewicz, click on the button below!
Left my mark with a rock sculpture
Vielha is a small town high up in the Pyrenees just 25km from France in the Val D'Aran (Aran Valley) region. We stayed in a nice hotel called La Vall Blanca, which had a view of the mountains. This town is popular during the winter months due to the fantastic skiing in the area, but is also great for hiking in the warmer months. The mountains are stunning, jutting thousands of feet in all directions with jagged rocks and snow capped peaks all over.
During our stay we went to most of the local shops and had some delicious meals at a couple restaurants/ bars. We ordered a traditional Spanish desert called Chocolate Con Churros, which are spanish doughnuts dipped into tasty melted chocolate. On Sunday we went on a long hike towards a peak called Tuc De Molieres, which involved some of the more steep terrain I've ever attempted to navigate. The views were spectacular, and the glacial runoff water was pure and refreshing.
Chocolate Con Churros
The thing about Vielha, and other small towns, is that most people do not speak any English. Since we were so close to the border of France, everything was in Castilian Spanish, Catalan, and/or French. Communicating with the locals really tested our spanish knowledge.
Story time. On Sunday, we took a local bus one stop past Vielha to Conangles. In order to get back to Vielha after our hike towards a Tuc De Molieres, we had to catch the only bus back at 18:42 (6:42 pm). Funny, because the bus drove right past us as we were standing there!!! After a failed attempt to hitch hike back to Vielha, we decided to go into a "hut" called 'Refugi de Conangles." Inside was a nice lady named Elana (sp?) who, again, spoke little to no english. I was able to speak with her about our predicament, and she was kind enough to call a taxi to come pick us up. It was a confidence boost for my spanish speaking abilities!
Overall, it was nice to get away from the big city and experience a completely different side of Spain. At the end of the excursion, it was time to head back home....to Barcelona.
Click on the photos for a larger view, and a glimpse of the breathtaking scenery!
View from our hotel room
"Arriu Nere" -- Stream running through town
Roadway just before the 5km tunnel leading to Vielha
Glacial runoff in the valley below
At around 2500m
The forecast for tomorrow will be quite interesting here in Barcelona. While us Americans will be remembering the events 12 years ago on 9/11, the Catalonians will coincidentally be in the streets celebrating National Day of Catalonia which started back in 1886! This year is important because the politics for independence have become more heated, especially since last years rejection by Spanish Government to hold a vote. Should be an interesting experience.
The flag you see in the photo is the independence flag. Normally, the Catalonia flag is just the red and yellow stripes, but the blue triangle and star represent independence.
Source: Institut Cartogràfic de Catalunya
As I mentioned in the criteria list for site selection in my earlier post, one of my main goals is to study pedestrians in the old city as well as the newer development. I have come across a great webpage that summarizes the evolution of the urban planning here in Barcelona quite well. It goes back to the Romans all the way up until the last decade. If you are interested in reading through this brief, and dazzling, summary, you can click on the button below.
As you can see from the image above, there is a stark difference between the old city and the grid system. Our apartment is conveniently located exactly on that divide in a neighborhood called "El Raval." For a city that began before the age of automobiles, pedestrian usage was always, and still is, a priority. Nowadays, there is a matrix of pedestrians, automobiles, and bicycles using these streets together, causing interesting interaction. (Please see Nate and Will's pages for their studies on these two aspects of Barcelona's transportation network)
The key to my study is to see how that interaction changes at each of these sites, specifically from a pedestrian's perspective. I will be a part time observer looking in, and part time performer of social experiments. I am curious to see what types of behavior changes I find, if any, as I go through the sequence of sites. Stay tuned for results within the coming months. Patience, all in due time!