Posts Tagged 'travel'

along barcelona’s kebab trail

We arrived in Barcelona straight from the Veneto countryside and the winding streets of Venice. The city immediately hit me with its endless stretching avenues, crowded streets, chain fast food, cars, vespas. It felt like stepping back into reality after three weeks in some faraway land called Italy. We retreated into our hotel room that afternoon and napped a long nap.

Barcelona streching into the hills

Barcelona streching into the hills

By midnight, we woke up from hunger and began our journey through Barcelona following our stomachs.  We headed towards las Ramblas, a pedestrian strip bordered on both sides by one lane streets  and touristy shops. There we found empanadas, Estrella for one euro, hash, “anything you like” being sold by men of Middle Eastern or North African descent. I saw small clusters of girls standing together and only realized they were prostitutes when they slipped their arm around a man or whispered something in his ear as they walked by. In an American city, a street like this may be one to be avoided, but in Barcelona it made for a strange, but lively place to walk and hang out at night.

Eventually, we headed off las Ramblas, through an arcaded plaza, onto a side street, and straight into a kebab diner. Kebab, one of the three main food groups in Barcelona, is readily availabe especially late at night and consistently better than the other two food groups: ham sandwiches and tapas. (Expensive tapas though is another story and quite good). The kebabs were not overly greasy like the ones in New York and filled with  interesting ingredients that varied from diner to diner. That night we hungrily wolfed down our first kebab with some distinct looking hummus and slowly enjoyed our second at another diner serving kebab with red cabbage with a can of Estrella.

For lunch the next day, doner kebab with green olives on a less crowded side of las Ramblas

For lunch the next day, doner kebab with green olives on a less crowded side of las Ramblas

The next day, following, a lunch of doner kebab with green olives, we headed off in search of a place to sit and watch Barcelona. On our meandering path, we walked past a shop advertising vintage sunglasses which had just reopened after siesta . I had decided earlier in the trip that my only personal purchase would be a pair of good sunglasses, so we went in.  What we discovered was a small room filled with shelves of glamorous, flashy, intricate sunglasses. As I looked through the shelves, the owner brought out  boxes filled with even more sunglasses from which he picked out specific ones to try on .  The owner whose name I forget is a young guy in his twenties. He told me that he always loved sunglasses and began collecting them seriously around the age of 19. He was particularly loved those from the 60s, 70s, and 80s and now takes trips to find vintage sunglasses to sell in his store.

Everyone looks cool in sunglasses by Police from Wilde Vintage

Everyone looks cool in these sunglasses by Police from Wilde Vintage

I finally decided on some ridiculous, super glam 70s pair for 65 euro.  As I payed for the sunglasses with cash I borrowed because of debit card issues, I looked up and saw the top shelves lined with super chic vintage bags and the glass case by the door filled with large, bold earrings. The guy has impeccable taste. I took a few bags down from the shelf but restrained myself and swore to come back the next day with a full wallet. Unfortunately, I passed the store during siesta hours and no purchases were made.  When in Barcelona, Wilde Vintage is a must.

Leftover from doner kebabs with delicious fresh tomatoes. A dog came up and licked up the mess for us.

Leftover from doner kebabs with delicious fresh tomatoes. A dog came by and licked up the mess for us.

We finished our 6th and 7th kebab (within 36 hours) in George Orwell plaza. We sat and looked at two old shirtless men standing on their balconies with their stomachs hanging out.  It seemed like New York in many ways; dense, gritty, endless, diverse,  filled with people whose crazy past lives you cannot begin to imagine, but without New York’s ambitious upward drive. As we sat there, someone’s black dog came sniffing by and eagerly lapped up the grease from our kebabs and then trotted along on its way.

Europe is full of small balconies like these. It's less structurally demanding, more practical, and inhabitable than our standard balconies in America.

Europe is full of small balconies like these. It's less structurally demanding, more practical, and inhabitable than our standard balconies in America.

We skipped Gaudi and went to see Mies van der Rohe's famed Barcelona Pavilion which was surprisingly worth the all the talk. Afterwards, we saw Joan Miro Foundacion by Sert but were too hungry to venture further than the gift shop.

We skipped Gaudi and went to see Mies van der Rohe's famed Barcelona Pavilion which was surprisingly worth the all the talk. Afterwards, we saw Joan Miro Foundacion by Sert but were too hungry to venture further than the gift shop.

It's easy to forget that Barcelona has a beach. It's nice, but bring your own beer. Estrella costs 2 euros on the beach.

It's easy to forget that Barcelona has a beach. It's nice, but bring your own beer. Estrella costs 2 euros on the beach.

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half truths about venice

There were warnings before I left for Venice: I hope you are good with maps, it’s impossible to navigate.  You’ll get hit on a lot.  The food is terrible there. It’s so hot, you don’t even need clothes.

The warnings, it turns out were true, but somewhat inaccurate.

It was blazing hot our first day in Italy as we dragged our luggage up the hill in Monselice, but cold enough for long pants and sweaters for the rest of the week. My only pair of jeans which were unfortunately white became increasingly colored as I sat at the end of streets eating pizza next to the rio or in the shade of a church in a large campo sketching (dirt, grease, graphite = irreversible stains).

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Jackets, scarves, long pants and warm cappacinos to shield against the cold. In Padova outside a surprisingly good illy cafe. Photo credit: Reem

The Venetian men, for the most part, greeted with a  “ciao bella”  and a genuine smile which felt complementary and unthreatening as they glided by on their boats. Far less questionable than anything that happens in Brooklyn or the Bronx.

Depending on your luck, a young handsome Italian with stylish sunglasses will call "ciao bella!" to you from his boat.

Depending on your luck, a young handsome Italian with stylish sunglasses might call "ciao bella!" to you from his boat.

As for navigation, Venice is quite impossible to navigate with a map but not impossible without one. We found that walking in the general direction of something with the sun as our guide was a far less frustrating and more colorful way to get around Venice given ample time, comfortable shoes, and willingness to enjoy ambling into dead ends. When time, shoes, or lack of patience was a factor,  a few  ‘Dove Campo ____?” set us back on the right track. But more often,  pride was in the way of asking, so we wandered through rhythmic changes of dark and light until we came up that bright open space we were looking for.

An attempt at an artistic map of the streets I wandered down off one of the biggest campos in Venice. The city is small streets some as wide as one person connected by small square and big plazas.

An attempt at an artistic map of the streets I wandered down off one of the biggest campos in Venice. The city is small streets some as wide as one person connected by small square and big plazas.

When it came to food, the best and worst of my trip were both in Venice. The worst:  pizza in  Campo S. Margarita at a cafe with orange chairs. It was undoubtedly on the same level of New York Public School lunch pizza – the thick and flavorless crust, bland cheese, sauce reminiscent of tomatoes only because it is red.  There were other terrible things in Venice like places that charge 4.50 euro for a cappacino or gnocchi with salmon that could have only come out of a can.

On our last night in Venice,  I was brought to a tight, cozy place called Osteria ai Quattro Ferri just off of Campo S. Barnaba. The menu was all italian, hand written which made it all the more impossible for the Californian couple next to us to decipher with their electornic dictionary (they were actually much more versed in the ways of Italian menus and explained a few things to us).

I have no pictures of food at Quattro Ferri sadly or a sign or anything! When we went back for lunch the next day, a waitress dog was there as the watch dog for the restaurant. He was my favorite dog of the trip: dignified and loyal. Here he is asking for a stomach rub.

I have no pictures of food at Quattro Ferri or a sign or anything! When we went back for lunch the next day, a waitress' dog was running around the restaurant looking dignified and alert. Here he is asking for a stomach rub.

We gave our order to a tough looking Italian hostess for mista verdura and a pasta that we pointed to at random. The grilled mixed vegetables were deliciously flavorful. The  pasta we choose was apparently spaghetti with tomato sauce and small-lobster like crustaceans (or were they large shrimps? I forget) In my memory, however exaggerated it may be, the tomato sauce was magical,  richly infused with full  seafood flavor, and good with the house red wine. Somehow the food, the atmosphere, the waitresses made me feel as if I had reached some small nook that existed there because it is Venice and Venice is wonderful and not because it is  good business to feed hungry travelers.

I went to Venice three times this summer. Once for the first time as a day visitor, another as a night-life partier, and for a third time as a passerby whizzing through Venice on my way somewhere else. Each time the city seemed to unfold and fold back in different ways reavling that what I had thought was truth to be untruth or at best, half-truth.

homeless or nomadic?

This summer has been an endless cycle of packing and unpacking. Packing up studio to storage, packing a  suitcase to Italy, Spain, packing boxes to move out of the Bronx, packing a duffle bag to Boston, Amherst, Myrtle Beach, Hanover, packing a backpack to Winston-Salem. I’ve managed not to stay anywhere longer than two weeks. Perhaps it’s a sense of freedom derived from a certain feeling of homelessness after moving away from Pelham Parkway, the Bronx, Rhinelander & Fish Ave after 16 years (my entire life in my America). Or maybe just a youthful nomadic yearning?

In any case,  the following series of entries (hopefully, there will be more than  one) is an attempt to distill, reflect on, express all that travelling in a somewhat cohesive manner.

05-25-09 (1)

italia

adventure one: due to weather, anisha and i are rerouted from delta to alitalia on a direct flight from boston to roma then to venezia. it was more fun this way in the end i think, and no one’s luggage was lost.

at the roma airport, my first observation of italy was more than half of the men were wearing suits and the jackets and pants fit them well whatever their body shape may have been. and the fabrics! everything from heavy cotton to linen and a whole range of blacks, tans, and pale blues. they look good.

adventure two: from the airport, onto a bus to venezia – mestre where essentially all the venetians live. we find the train station using a combination of english and broken spanish. at an automated machine, we buy the ticket five minutes before our train is supposed to leave, but we have no idea what platform until we ask a girl with punkish piercings. we sprint up and down two flights of stairs getting from platform one to platform nine with two backpacks and three suitcases between the two of us to find the doors to our train closed. except for one. we run again, throw our luggage in and jump on about 10 seconds before the doors close.

adventure three: on this very hot day, we get off at monselice, an hour south-west of venezia outside of padova. we know the hostel is at the base of the hill, so we walk towards it (there are no directions from shun when we spoke with him briefly from a pay phone except “i know it’s hot, but i would like you guys to walk from the train station to the hostel). after dragging our luggage across not very smooth cobblestone for 20 minutes, we arrive near the town center and there is shun having a nice salad in the shade. and so begins the veneto experience.

wanderlusting

In a few weeks, I am leaving the country for the first time in five years. Five years is too long.

Five years ago, it was Paris, Biarritz, and the beginning of the Santiago de Compostela trail. I usually spend a good portion of the day in my head daydreaming about something or mulling over some specific moment or exchange with someone, but while I was in Paris, I did not daydream even once. I was physically and mentally there. I did not realize it until we were leaving Paris on the train to Biarritz.

This summer, it is three weeks on the Veneto Experience in northern Italy with the enigmatic Shun + a week somewhere else. Suggestions for the somewhere else?

google driving path between towns

The towns I will be staying in, connected by Google driving paths

For me, it’s not about the architecture or Italy but act of traveling, learning to be a traveler, explorer and observer. I want to come back understanding how to observe and more, to come back needing desperately to travel again. Hopefully, it will inspire me (and give me courage) to work abroad after MIT. That is the dream, anyway.

The most appealing part of the Veneto progam is that Shun encourages us to go through Venice alone. Being alone and being in cities is my childhood in some ways and the two combined is always wonderful.

Appropriately, I’ve already bought my moleskine – sketchbook paper, bound in portrait orientation. I would be very proud of myself if I filled the whole thing while I was there.

In the next chaotic and rushed two and half weeks, thoughts of walking through streets in comfortable sandals and hot weather with a glass of white wine at the end of the day will be keeping me going. Ah, the vino will be so great!


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