Sagrada Familia: A Church That Gets Atheists Excited

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You have probably seen this Gaudi building in a variety of films, particularly those that address the destruction of the world, and make a montage of all the great parts of our society which are going to be lost in our impending doom. Sagrada Familia is usually one of those buildings, and with a few pictures, it is easy to see why.

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Looking at the exterior of the church, the first thing I noticed was a depiction of some men gathered around  interesting fish men:

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I wouldn’t say that I know a lot about the bible, but I would have remembered hearing about the fish men who went to give the baby Jesus a set of pearls. My first thought was,  “These don’t belong on a church.” But they do. The church incorporating them struck me as very open minded and culturally progressive. Gaudi. What a guy.

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The massive line stretching around the corner to get inside looks daunting at first, but is more than worth the usually 20 minute wait. The interesting outer structural features of fish men, a lizard, turtle, and a variety of other obscure stone depictions are a big hint that the massive and imposing shape of this modern Cathedral is intriguing for a day long wait. In the words of the musician Moby, “I would wait in line for this.”

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On the inside everything changes. The statues are gone, and the walls become a soft white stone bathed in different warm and cool colors from the stained glass window. Everything looks very pure, like what the inside of a saint’s mind is probably supposed to resemble.

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My favorite part though was the stairwells. Standing underneath them, or at just the right angle, they look like an infinity of seashells, or a variety of other interesting every day objects. Going further with the natural world blending into the material structure, the columns supporting the building are designed to look like trees. The bases begin wide, and then get narrower towards the top. I was blown away.

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But this church isn’t even finished yet. It is 100 years in the making, and still looking for contributions to keep construction going. The vast majority of my knowledge is that they need to add another spire, but it could be much more. Take my advice, put it on the bucket list, visit it one day, and find out. Then come tell me about it 🙂

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Barcelona and Gaudi: Surrealism in the European Buildings

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Park Guell is one of those excitingly, Alice in Wonderland kind of places, that I only thought existed in video games or movies. Then I saw it firsthand. It was designed by Gaudi, and like most of his work, acts as a blending between the natural world, and the structures of our civilization. I like to think this is the sort of tip of the tongue feeling every body gets when they consider how badass his park is.

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Located towards the mountain range that borders Barcelona, the park offers a sprawling view of the city, and a unique view of Gaudi’s especially striking Sagrada Familia:

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Barcelona, and most would argue modern architecture, would not be the same without the influence of Gaudi. His influence is all over Barcelona, which has found a way to make the abstractly functional intricacies of Gaudi’s style look professional. The architecture is a major reasons why Barcelona is my favorite European city. It gives off the feeling of being in quasi science fiction video game.

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It is very easy (and I must say I am also guilty of this), to decide to party all night every night, and never get to see much of the city. This is a big mistake. Even if you are half asleep, a visit to Sagrada Familia, and at least one of Gaudi’s apartments is a must. You will kick yourself later if you don’t.

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If you decide to go (and you cant miss it if you are staying in Barcelona), wear some durable walking shoes. It is a bit of a hike to get up there. Taxi’s are always in service, and great if you have the money to spend, or are experiencing a disability of some kind. But I prefer to think of it as just another great excuse to see more of the city on foot, stop for some refreshments with a friend, and replace a trip to the gym with an experience. Some might call it a little crazy to walk that far, but I like to think of it as moderately extreme.

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Eating in Switzerland: The bottom of the Swiss Cheese

At the bottom of the Swiss Cheese, I feel like I need to talk about some food. The cheapest way to go through Switzerland is by making your own food. Most hostels have cooking facilities because they recognize the cost.I spent most of the time eating cheese tortellini.

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Cheese tortellini is not the worst way to go. Most meals cost around 25 dollars, even for something as average as McDonalds. The Swiss have a great economy, and this is why citizenship to their country is the hardest to get in the world. Unfortunately, it is also why it is one of the most expensive.

If you want to live cheaply in Switzerland, it is best to do it self sufficiently. Buying your own food, even if it means eating cold granola for a day, is cheap. But there is also another way. There were several places, one of which sold braughtworst sausages on the side of a village road, another was a grocery store. The food was cheap in both places, particularly so in the grocery store. Though it may not feel the most authentic buying cheap food from a place like the massive grocery store, it will keep you living out of a backpack, or a briefcase longer than the traditional Swiss restaurants. (But eat out at least once because cooked food is very comforting.)

Cutting the Slopes of Space and Time While Skiing

No sheep were harmed in the making of this film (not just a random sentence).
So I just upgraded to a pro bundle, and now have the ability to post movies! I took this during finals week this December, when Colorado had one of its only big snow storms. I apologize for the lack of music, I still don’t know the finer details of iMovie yet. We were cutting the ropes at a small local mountain named Eldora (nicknamed Helldora by most who ride there (they get a lot of ice sometimes)). The slopes were full of dingers, or little rocks and stumps which put marks on the bottoms of a ski/ snow board, but we had a lot of fun on the fresh snowfall.

The Heart of the Swiss Cheese

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First of all, Who knew that lizards lived in the mountains of Switzerland? Even if it might actually be a salamander (I am no biologist), their presence in a cold mountain range was baffling.

Now that I have your attention, I would like to diverge back from the wildlife and into some a little more moderately extreme adventure.

Switzerland is a country where citizens take their lunch break and go base-jumping, and the best way to transport a cow is by using a helicopter and a harness. While everybody doesn’t have what it takes either financially or emotionally to do a base jump, they do offer other fun ways to hang vertically off the sides of a cliff. Via Feralta is a fun and relatively safe interactive way to explore the Swiss Alps, and your limits (to a moderate extent). The Via Ferralta is essentially a high ropes course through the mountains, where you dangle safely on the side of a 200 foot cliff, cross bridges under waterfalls and walk on suspension bridges that span massive gorges. An interested traveler can rent out a harness with the necessary ropes, and a helmet for a pretty low price (around 50 dollars for the whole deal). These are in fact very necessary, because you will soon find yourself hanging in a situation like this:141

There is also the option of renting a guide to take you through the mountains, which is definitely a go to if you have a fear of heights, and money is no issue. As a pair of college students, we figured a guide was a little superfluous. Then we encountered a section that almost killed us…

The trail began easy enough, where we were hooking onto the different cables running adjacent to 100 foot cliffs. It felt a lot like hiking, and I began thinking of how I wanted my money back, because nobody needs a harness just to hike.

Then we reached the edge of a cliff, where a series of ladder rungs led from where we were standing, to the corner of a vertical abyss, and I was soon dangling 200 feet in the air. My desire to have my money back was replaced with the wish that I had spent more on the best possible equipment.152

Holding onto ladder rungs, drilled into the sides of the mountain, hopefully drilled in for good, makes for an awkward picture taking predicament. But how could we live with the fact that we had been clinging to the side of vertigo without taking a cool picture to remember the whole thing? Really makes one appreciate a go pro.

Via ferralta has all of the thrills in rock climbing, without most of the danger. The fun of a high ropes course, with the thrill of being high. Really really high. For the most part we were enjoying a safe excursion that went between clinging to the sides of a cliff, and being safely at the edges of a cliff. Then things got exciting.144

Our trail stopped abruptly, and was replaced with a platform facing a 300-foot cliff. 3 cables ran in a parallel line over the gorge to a platform on the other side. We stood scratching our heads for a moment. There where no written signs, instruction, or even an exclamation point to say that what we were doing was closed, broken, the wrong way, or insane. The road had literally just ended without warning. We were now faced with the puzzle of crossing a 300-foot gorge on 3 parallel wires.

To add an extra dimension of mystery while we thought about the best course of action, the clouds surrounding us would temporarily block our view of everything but the platform from our sight. We were both left thinking, “What is it going to be like halfway across this thing, when a cloud comes through and blocks everything out?” Not the place to have a panic attack.

Despite our best attempts at a thorough investigation, nothing turned up that suggested we had taken the wrong route. We could tell that it wasn’t a zip line, because it curved upwards on the other side, and getting caught we be the kind of awkward long-term wedgie situation that nobody wants. The only possible way of crossing was across the top of the three wires.

Soon Spencer was mounting the cables, “I think that we are supposed to start out sitting down, and then stand up like halfway across.” He said, while he clipped both ropes of his harness on the two outer cables, and sat on the middle wire.

“Yeah Spence, that’s the only way that really makes sense.” I said somewhat sarcastically, “But I’m beginning to think we should have gotten a guide. I cant believe they don’t have a sign anywhere around this thing. The trail led right to this spot. How do they expect people to know how to do this?”

“Well this has to be the way.” He told me, “People do this all the time. It is in the advertisements all over town. It cant be that dangerous” (kind of an extreme thing to say casually).

Hung over George was hoping he would back out. I didn’t need this right now. Then he started sliding. Next thing I knew, he was halfway across, bouncing 30 feet up and down through the air, and temporarily disappearing in the mist. He even tried standing up a few times, god bless him.

When he gave me the thumbs up on the other side, I couldn’t help but think that

I was going out to never come back, just because I really didn’t want Spencer telling people he had crossed, while I had stayed back. I clipped into both of the cables, said a Hail Mary, and began to scoot.157

It was halfway across that I realized that I may never get to be in a situation like this again in my life. Weak breezes would come and bounce the wires 30 feet up and down, which began to have a small lulling effect. I took in the panorama around me, the 300 foot drop below, mist to my left, and a small waterfall to my right. I noticed something strange about the waterfall, and began looking more closely.

On a very secure footbridge stood two astounded Via Ferralter’s, gaping at the stupid college kid balanced on a wire showed me that we had taken the wrong way. If I could have brought myself to take a hand off either wire, I would have taken a picture. The image is still seared into my memory.

Safely on the other side, and feeling both victorious and defeated, we met the tourist and guide who had found the right way. One of the men was a French tourist had made the wise decision to get a local guide through this treacherous and misguiding trail.

He translated from the guide that we had just taken a broken part of the Via Ferralta, which had been closed for the past 10 years. Then he emphasized that what we had done was so stupid that we were very lucky that we had not died. We walked away looking ashamed, and then gave each other big high fives and hugs when we were out of view. What a stupidly amazing experience.