04.01.2013 - 06.01.2013 12 °C
Hello again everyone! I am finally getting caught up after a hectic and adventurous holiday season. Hope your new year has started out the right way!
A little bit more Spanish culture for you to start things off: Christmas is obviously (this is a very Catholic country) of the utmost importance here in Spain, but they actually do a cool thing that I wish the US would incorporate. The sixth of December is the day that the Bible tells is the day that the Three Magi (Kings, whatever they were) came bearing gifts for Jesus. Here in Spain, that day is yet another holiday, called Los Reyes (the Kings). It is on this day that the children receive their gifts from the Kings, and in fact since the sixth fell on a Sunday this year, children had school off on Monday as well. I was informed that this was so that they would have enough time to enjoy their new playthings. Duh. The nice thing that this does is separate the religious aspect of Christmas from the consumeristic aspect of Christmas, which I think oftentimes gets drowned out in American culture.
The reason this holiday affects me, and hence the reason I am explaining it, is because each year in the evening of the 5th, cities throw huge parades to welcome the kings to town (think Thanksgiving day parade with Santa at the end). The main focus of the parade are the three huge floats carrying each of the three kings, but second only to that is the candy theme running through the parade.
From huge candy balloons to flatbed trucks rigged with candy-pults (which were actually quite dangerous, flinging hard candies everywhere, but the kids in the front were dialed in: I saw many a full candy bag as we left), this was clearly kid's day. There were even people walking around with clipboards and huge long lists of names. I asked a fellow bystander what they were, and they explained that they were the lists of the good kids for the year. Kids could go up and find out if they had made the good list (I didn't see any crying so I assume they all passed), at which point they would avoid the dreaded punishment of... wait for it... coal! See we do have some traditions in common! The bringers of the coal came in their own float at the very end, as to make sure that their dirty faces and mellow song would be the last thing to stick in childrens' heads!
But of course the kings were the heros of the parade. The way it works here in Spain is that children write a letter to their favorite king, and then drop it in the nets of the helpers working with that king. With such huge crowds, you can imagine that collecting all of the letters is no easy task, except that they helpers were often outfitted with ridiculous crane-like backpacks that allowed them to reach over the crowd and leave no letter behind. (This is the best photo I got, you'll have to take my word for it that there's a net attached to the crazy contraption!)
The Kings' floats were by far the biggest and most elaborate. Each of the kings was seated in an elegant chair, surrounded by huge flowers displaying their associated color.
The woman that I talked to explained that the King Balthasar is the kids' favorite, since he comes replete with an escort of (mechanical) giraffes, elephants and african drummers. Sold me too!
Although it amounted to a long while standing, the parade was one of the highlights of my time in Spain. It was a spectacular example of a unique cultural difference between Spain and the US, and yet I was still able to see the joy and wonder for the young kids (and occasionally their parents) that we associate with Christmas. Great night!
I was lucky enough that weekend to check off another major landmark from my Barcelona checklist. A friend from a different part of Spain was visiting, so I decided to go with the to La Sagrada Familia since I had not yet been. A short history of La Sagrada Familia: Construction began in 1882 and was Antoni Gaudí's baby. He worked on it diligently until his death in 1926 (less than a quarter of it had been finished). In fact his death is a tragic story: he was killed after being hit by a tram in the city. He had spent his every penny on the church and since he looked like a beggar, the bystanders to the accident refused to help. He received aid too late and perished. After his death, the construction relied on private donations and progressed slowly. In the 1930s during the civil war in Spain, a group of anarchists get into the studio in the basement of the church and burned many of the plans, leaving many of the finer details undefined. The project was suspended until the 1950s at which time new architects were hired to continue. Since then construction has progressed slowly. In 2010 the interior was finally finished, and the Pope came to consecrate the church. As of now, the project is scheduled to be completed in the 2026. Guess I'll have to come back!!
The exterior of the church is simply stunning. The intricacy of the sculptures on the two finished façades is mind-blowing. One represents the birth of Christ and the other the Passion. I will append a photo here, but really it does the entire work very little justice. Take a look on my Flickr page for some more photos too! http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasclift/
Let me say first of all that I had heard some mixed reviews about going inside the church. It is certainly the most expensive church I have visited, but I reminded myself that the construction is now entirely dependent on entry fees and I felt better. You can also see a fair amount of the curch from the exterior.
Now, I have seen a lot of cathedrals since I got to Spain. Every city here has a Cathedral and they each have their own claim to fame. So while this wasn't my first rodeo, suffice it to say it might as well have been. The inside of the church is absolutely incredible and well worth the money. Gaudí was always looking to nature for inspiration and so designed the inside of the church to represent a forest, with the huge pillars mimicking tree trunks and branching limbs reaching toward the ceiling. It was also the most well-lit church I have seen so far. Stained glass was everywhere, so I assume the colorful mosaic of light I saw scattered across the church is present all day.
As part of the entry fee, tourists get access to a museum dedicated to the close connection Gaudí had with nature, that inspired so much of his design, as well as a museum dedicated to the creative process of the man who designed the church. Overall, the experience was incredible and absolutely recommended!
So I think finally I have caught back up! I am looking forward to one more relaxing weekend before venturing to France for a week to ski in the Alps and poke around Geneva, Switzerland! So unless something momentus happens this weekend, I'll look forward to seeing you again right here in a few weeks!!