Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Climbing and Beaching

I've been in Barcelona exactly one month.  In that time, I've settled all my foreign residence paperwork, set up both my home, classroom and finances, made friends in teachers, climbers, hikers and dancers, figured out the public transportation system and bought a bicycle for getting around town, opened a public library card, and taken Catalan lessons.  (I know the library card is random, but to own one really makes me feel like I live here.)     

 I've written the introduction to my Barcelona Essay.  As soon as I have my job dialed in (the first day of school is tomorrow....agh!), I will have completed my intro, and will move on to the body of this essay. I am looking forward to settling into a rhythm, for work to feel less all-engrossing and overwhelming, for my mind to be enough at ease that it can drift to the things I moved here to do: find the inspired, adventure, create...   

I've been through a roller coaster of emotions that come with EVERYTHING in your life being new, barring yourself.  And thank goodness you have yourself, because that is exactly who you lean on when you feel down and distressed.  The personal growth is immense as you learn about yourself and your cultural ties, but these lessons are not handed to you on a silver platter, and only with a little distance in time does hindsight pat you on the back.  At the time, it's exhausting.  There is no surplus of transition energy.  True, it does get easier in many ways the more you do it.  You learn more about the logistics, to be flexible, that everything always works out in the end, and that the associated feelings are only temporary. But the exhaustion feels a bit like scar tissue.  This time around, I've wondered how many more big moves I have in me. 

One thing I have learned a lot about in this international teacher's lifestyle is self-soothing, having both honed my awareness of what I need, as well as added tools to my toolkit. This blog entry is about just that, namely two of the things I have found access to in Barcelona that fill my happy cup: climbing and spending time by the sea.

Last week, I found an indoor climbing gym, and even though it costs four times as much as the one I frequented in Ankara, I bought a short-time pass in order to train and meet other climbers.  It didn't take long.  Thanks to the notice board, I hooked up with three other climbers last Sunday, a guy from Madrid, a guy from Mexico, and a gal from Brussels. The common language: English.  We rented a car and drove 30 minutes to Montserrat. It was dirt cheap, 10 Euro per person including gas, much cheaper than it cost to split gas to drive to the local crag outside of Ankara.  

We didn't enter Montserrat through the crowded monastery area. Instead, we drove through a village, parked at the end of the road, and hiked in. Ah, how many times have I driven to the end of a dirt road and hiked towards mountains? It's like home.

The rock is conglomerate. It's weird. I've never climbed on anything like it. It looks like there are lots of features to hold on to, but don't be fooled. Holds are small, and sloping.  Nonetheless, I was happy to jump on climbs at the level where I left off last spring.  Just another note-to-self that there's no reason I should be plateauing at 5.10a/b if I can do them when out of climbing shape. 

Both times I have been at Montserrat, the weather plays tricks on you.  It threatens on and off all day, but the shade is welcomed by climbers.

As we left the climbing area at the end of the day, we stopped in the village to have a beer and a sandwich before heading back to the city.  As the Madrid climber said, every village next to a climbing area  has a climber's bar. It's like this in Spain, Turkey, and Montana.  In fact, not only are the village scenes near climbing areas the same, so are the climbers.  It was the only bar open on a Sunday night, and you could pick out the climbers instantly, especially next to the elderly men playing dominoes.  By the way, the elderly men in Turkey play a domino-like game called "okey."  It's all the same, and extremely comforting.  

 The other activity I can't get enough of is the beach. And my favorite combo of activities, is taking a bike ride to the beach.  Barcelona is very bike-friendly, and drivers are tolerant of bikers.  There are designated bike paths along many of the major roads. It's so easy to find your way around safely. Especially with lights like these to guide your way:

This is my ride to the beach. It takes me 20 minutes from my apartment.

I get to ride through the Arc de Triomf, triumphantly.

It's quite crowded when you initially hit the beaches at Barceloneta, the closest beach area to downtown.  Also, there tend to be a lot of tourists standing in the middle of the designated bike path staring at their maps, so you have to be good and weaving in and out of crowds. But you can ride your bike north or south along the bike paths and soon arrive at unpeopled beaches.  Here's heading north:

 I love these little restaurants on the beach!

My loyal companion:

And on lazier days, I take the train to the beach, or go with girlfriends who have a car.  :)

On stressful days, I find myself daydreaming about the next time I can get to the beach. It's pure therapy!

I am looking forward to the more equanimous place I'll be at after several weeks of school, and, in the meantime, am grateful for the rock and the saltwater!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Walk in the Collserola Hills

My school is located in what's loosely known as La Zona Alta, or the "High Zone." This is the topographically high part of the city which pushes up against the Collserola hills.  My school is specifically in the neighborhood of Sarria, home to the serious money in Barcelona. Only since the turn of the 20th century have wealthy families settled here to build their expensive residences. Sarria is also home to several schools besides our own.  

Today, after orientation, a couple new friends and I hiked up the side of Tibidabo, the highest point in these hills (512 meters).  It is named after the biblical story of the devil trying to tempt Christ by taking him to a high place and saying, 'I will give you all this if you fall down and worship me.'
This is the Temple Del Sagrat Cor (The Church of the Sacred Heart), Barcelona's answer to Paris' Sacre Couer, but with a more modernista influence.  Hard to tell, but it's one church on top of the other, and the top is surmounted by a huge statue of Christ.  There's an amusement park at its base (which was featured in Vicky Christina Barcelona).

Cottonwoods already changing color!

My school is right in the middle of this picture.  I am blessed once again with nearby running/hiking trails for afterschool-decompressing.

This is Fabra Observatory, a modernista stargazing facility.

 Mediterranean pine and Prickly Pear cacti.


Views to the sea.

A cute restaurant-y area we walked down to for a drink and tapas.

Walking back into the city to catch the subway home.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Gracia Fiesta

The Fiesta in my neighborhood started a week ago, and it's still going.  Festivals back home last 2 days, maybe 3 days tops.  But in Barcelona, 10 days.  Thank goodness new teacher orientation hasn't been too demanding this week, because the festival gets rolling after siesta and goes until sunrise each day. These guys know how to sustain a party.  As each evening progresses, people get progressively more drunk, and the streets more messy.  But thanks to millions of tourists pouring money into this city, every morning, city employees sweep the alleys, operate street cleaners, and paint over the last night's graffiti. And we start again.  

These are some pictures from my walking around with my friend/colleague, Sandra, as well as from attending a pica-pica with my roommate (the pica-pica tradition entails a potluck of snacks to be eaten before heading out on the town).  

Each street competes in decorations, using recycled materials. Each competing street gets together in the preceding week to prepare, and on one given night during the fiesta, they pull tables and chairs into the street, and eat a communal meal together. 

Here are some pictures of the competing streets.  Pretty impressive, actually.

This street was decorated in some kind of back-to-school theme, which, personally, I was not ready to be around yet. But best of luck to them in the competition!

This street displayed a paper mache Mozart and some classical musicians:

Sandra and I stopped to watch a fireworks display in Placa de la Vila de Gracia, the sparks at times coming a little too close for our level of comfort.

A crepe break:
The piratey street:

Here's Sandra on Verdi Street, the street that usually wins the competition every year. This year, they had an underwater theme going on: mermaid tails and octopi were hanging below sea foam-like recycled goods.

In my picture-taking mode:

 Placa de Vila de Gracia, my nearby plaza, decorated in matches and matchboxes:

From my friend's pica-pica party, we had a great vantage point over a plaza for people-watching and listening to the local Catalan bands perform in the fiesta.  My roommate and her friend who is visiting from Ireland:

We watched a human pyramid form and walk down the street. A little kid wearing a helmet was the last to climb up. 

Out to eat in Gracia at a yummy Argentine restaurant:


Ridiculous amounts of meat:

I'll end with a short video taken from my balcony just after siesta.  No, it's not gunshots you hear.  Only fireworks...  Sometimes, early in the morning we're awakened by a Catalan marching band performing down our otherwise silent and empty street. Thank goodness for those denser-than-dense wax earplugs I brought with me from Turkey.