July 31, 2010

R&R - Stockholm 2010

I haven't been posting a lot of rambling, descriptive essays from here in Stockholm. There's a reason for that.

As for fourth city in this six-city tour, I'm using this week as time to scale back, sleep more, plan less, and take a moment to recharge. Stockholm is the perfect city for this -- it's modern enough to be nonchallenging and easy enough to simply loll about with no real urgency.

Oh, I'm still walking the neighborhoods, but not nearly putting in the hour-long treks I did in Barcelona. I'm still ridiculing the national art museums, but have skipped a couple because they seem so typical. I'm still checking out a few veggie restaurants, but only if they seem exceptional.

Amid all the usual chores, mostly, this week, I've been going to movies.

Movies? Yeah. A superb cinema is right around the corner from my hotel, so that helps. But also, going to the movies is something I've always loved, but it's not something that I'm able to do in Kuwait (for many reasons I'll eventually talk about). This is my chance to see some summer blockbusters and wrap myself in an activity which brings me great joy.

So, I'm not the avid adventurer here in Sweden that I've been in the previous cities. Yet, this is exactly what I need.

July 30, 2010

My Only Swedish Friend - Stockholm 2010

Travel Gods' Latest Joke - Stockholm 2010

I take this little video as dig at a growing trend in this tour. (See here, here, and here.)


Hmmm. The travel gods don't like to be taunted. So...well, they tease back. Thirty minutes later:

Minimalism - Stockholm 2010

Why bother with city planning when you can just reduce it all to the basics?

"Guess Why" Contest - Answered! - Barcelona 2010

Here's the photo from a previous post:


Most of you suggested either some weird reading habit of mine or that I was covering an air vent. Both are WRONG. Sorry, ladies and gents, we have no winner.

The real reason why I tape a map of Barcelona to my ceiling?

Situated above the door is a light. More specifically, what the staff labels the "emergency light." Okay, fine. Except that this light never turns off --24/7 it shines down. Now during the day, I barely notice, but at night? Well, it's like a full moon settling in my room. As bright as, well, a huge nightlight. Bright enough to keep me tossing and turning, like I'm subjected to some sleep deprivation experiment. Ridiculous.

So, after two nights of torture, I tape up the damn map. Afterwards, I slept for 9 hours straight, uninterrupted.

Wacky Videos – Whoops, Wrong Stop – Stockholm 2010

Well, well ...


...and then I see this?

July 29, 2010

Not This Again! - Stockholm 2010

Echoes of Amsterdam?

Going Down and Down and Down - Stockholm 2010

I have to admit, this metro intro caught me completely by surprise.

I Know It When I See It - Stockholm 2010

Another city ... another modern art museum.

Wait! Don't leave. I have something different this time.

All I need to say about modern art, I've said here.

This time, I decide to create a project of my own. It's entitled "The Viewers" and instead of focusing on the merits (or lack thereof) of what is consider both modern and art, I turn my eye towards the people who pay to witness. More accurately, I turn my camera on the people who stroll around the half empty rooms staring at objects without a hope of understanding. You know, people like me.

Exhibit #1
Is That What I Think It Is?

(It's a little difficult from this far away, but the object in the painting should be familiar to all you ladies out there. Here's a hint. It's made of fuzzy white cotton and has strings attached.)

Exhibit #2
Illegal Activity


Exhibit #3
Studying

Exhibit #4
In Trouble With The Law


Exhibit #5
Do You Know What This Means?


Exhibit #6
Body Language


Exihibt #7
Skin Heads vs. Art


Exhibit #8
Polka Dots and Stripes


(Note: You may purchase a signed, numbered original of any of these photos for $5,000 each. Cash only, please.)

Caught in the Act - Stockholm 2010

Here's indesputable visual independent proof I rode those rollercoasters.


By the way, here I am back in 2003 (I think?) doing the same sort of thing.

July 28, 2010

What the... part 2 – Stockholm 2010


When I first saw these chips, I think "Swamp" flavor? Like some sort of moss and muddy water distilled into a spice-like glaze? Oh yum!

What the ... – Stockholm 2010

One of the rides at the amusement park was:


Obviously this translates into Wild Mouse. Except for one little problem I have:


What is that? That's supposed to be a mouse? Really? I mean in what warped parallel universe?

It's more like a monkey. Actually like a monkey-mouse hybrid. A semi-intelligent pet that can ride bikes but also chews on insulation and electric wires.

I suppose the female version of this genetic mutation has to wear lipstick to enhance her ability to entrance the unwary male human passing by. Oh the crazy hi-jinx then!

Hermitage Vegetarisk/Vegan Restaurang – Stockholm 2010

A tiny place in Stockholm's Old City district, but easy to find, Hermitage doesn't seem to offer much promise judging from the outside. The interior doesn't change that opinion.



Small and crowded, but bustling, there are maybe 10 tables squeezed into a single room. Eaters are elbow to elbow, with many having to loll about on the street waiting for an opening. I go ahead and plow on in – I'm hungry, I'm curious, and I've got a blog to write.

For lunch, Hermitage offers a curtailed menu, mainly a variety of salads that will be made to order, but this is not their mainstay. The mob is here for the buffet. It offers a reasonable variety: rice, falafel, salads, beans, hummus, and the usual suspects of peeled and cut vegetables. I have to admit, the place smells delicious; it reminds me of a Thanksgiving Day kitchen with competing aromas.

I pay for the buffet (90SEK or about $15) and dig in. Here's what I end up with:


The bread is obviously fresh-baked. The other selections are cooked perfectly...there's no complaint of blandness from this meal, (like this place) although I'll admit there's nothing exotic here: no brazed tofu steak with peppercorn or maize casserole with a hint of chestnut. Nope. This is hardy, cold weather, put some meat on those bones food. No fooling around. Lots of carbs. Strong, easily identifiable tastes forming a certain home-cooked quality that's endearing.

Simply stated: it's comfortable, good food.

When it comes down to the basics, that's all I ever want. Hermitage easily delivers.

Now for the desserts. I have basically the same choice, but in different flavors.


I choose the raspberry because I like the color. The tart is not overly sweet; in fact, I doubt any sugar is used. It's the naturally fruit that brings a nice zip to each bite.


So, overall? Good food. Nice dessert. Excellent price, coming in at a grand total of 150SEK or about $20. Typical for a large city. Hermitage is not a standard sit-down restaurant and that's a bit disappointing, but they do a great job at creating an community atmosphere and a certain sense of belonging. My main complaint is they need more space – I know, I know, so easier said than done. But in the end it's the food that matters. I give them 3 diamonds.

Oh, one last thing. This restaurant has one of the weirdest light fixtures I've ever seen. I mean all those wires trailing out in every direction. And what's that metal spring at the top? It makes me afraid.


My rating: ◊◊◊

disclaimer

Positive/Negative – Barcelona

Time to rate Barcelona, based on my week here.

Overall Opinion:
After a lackluster stay in Amsterdam, I'm worried that my travel energy is waning. Maybe I'm burnt out? Maybe I'm a homebody? However, Barcelona set me back on track. This is an easy Pos/Neg review to write, because most of it is already written. It's simply a series of links to previous posts; sort of an internet “I told ya so!”

As for my overall opinion? I love this city – a week was barely enough time to modestly discover the beauty and peace that is so seldom found in modern life. Barcelona offers that and so much more. I am greatly impressed. In fact, it is seriously challenging for a position in my Top 5 Cities That I Love . It has definitely found a place on my list of retirement possibilities...I'll be returning to this city to explore more, to revisit some of my favorite spots, and to discover if I've possibly found a place I can call home.


Positives
  • Beauty, Architecture, Walkability, Atmosphere, and more – Barcelona has all this in such variety. like I said here
  • Energy – this city throbs with good positivity. Yeah, it has its hazards like all large, modern communities, but overall I find nothing but good feelings with each outing.
  • Food – the veg restaurants are good, but you know, I find great food with almost every stop. The outside tables along the length of La Rambla are wonderful. A delightful way to slow down, enjoy the passing parade, and take a moment.
  • A City for Its People – what I enjoy the most is that Barcelona seems to be loved by its inhabitants. Unlike NYC or London, Barcelonans are out in force every day, mixing with the tourists, and other locals, and enjoying the city they've created. There may be hidden oases of the “real” Barcelona, but I don't get that feeling. This city is so great, everyone is in on it.

Negatives

  • Running – I feel a bit silly even mentioning this, but my first day of running was pure frustration. The grid work of Barcelona's streets are beautiful, but the constant stoplights and gaggle of people make running through the center of the city almost impossible except in the extreme early mornings. That's not fun. However, after visiting the beach on Friday, I discover this is an ideal location – the boardwalk snaking along the beach is gorgeous and uninterrupted. Though I don't have the time, I can easily picture a brisk 5km run here, and then a dip in the sea. Nice.
disclaimer

Ups and Downs (and some side-to-sides) - Stockholm 2010

I'll let the videos tell the story.






July 26, 2010

Final Goodbye - Barcelona 2010

I believe it's obvious Barcelona has given me something:

Loose Ends – Barcelona 2010

My week in Barcelona was so crazily busy, I haven't had the time to post everything I want.

Ah, so what.

Here are some photos and videos that don't necessarily deserve a post of their own. Enjoy.









Wacky Videos – Why Doesn't Anybody Listen! – Barcelona 2010

Timeout for Cuteness!!! - Barcelona 2010

Travel Gods Have Spoken … and I'm Not Listening – Barcelona 2010

Here is the plan, with an intro video all ready and prepped.


Here is the result:


Okay. Okay. They wouldn't let me do this. Now I can't ride the cable car. I get it. The travel gods don't want me doing scary heights. It's never wise to argue with them, but dammit, I'm not gonna stop trying.

Subtlety – Barcelona 2010

Barcelona is the 3rd city in my European City Summer of 2010™ tour. On my first day of walking around, I'm feeling tired, strung out, achy, and a bit bored with the same activity of step after step. After London and Amsterdam, my dogs are barking.

I've lunched and am now rambling around the neighborhood that surrounds my hotel when I notice something. Wow, that building across the street is actually quite beautiful. Another block down and I stumble on a plaza, with fountain, benches, and a small artful statue. Quite stunning in its simplicity and tree-lined way. I cross an intersection and pause to look up the road – the buildings are aligned symmetrically as the road slightly slopes upward, framing the cars and people walking in that direction. In the distance is a small mountain, with of all things, a castle atop. The scene has stopped me in mid-crosswalk.

I spend the next couple of hours walking some more. Well, more accurately, walking a little, sitting a little, walking some more, sitting some more, etc.


Suddenly a thought pops in my head ... this city is more than a few unique buildings. There's a plan here...something thought through long before my visit. In fact, nothing about Barcelona seems rushed. Now, I'm not talking about how well preserved some monuments are – though that is true of some of the more famous buildings. And I'm also not referring to the city planners suddenly deciding to revamp/upgrade an abandoned pier with restaurants and casinos and high-end penthouses to rope in the cash crowd.

Somehow, over its development, Barcelona has thought through the practicality, function, and art of each street. Somehow, over the decades (should I say centuries?), the people of Barcelona came together and agreed a a specific esthetic: open public spaces, streamlined design, integrated facades, and a handful of genius touches of brilliance. This city is created not in a haphazard, slipshod way, but with a unified vision.

Wow. This is not accidental. An elaborate thought process is in motion and I'm just beginning to see. And it's amazing.

Of course, no way can I capture all the cool stuff I saw in my hours and hours of walking. Yet, here's a few highlights:






What really strikes me the most is their use of open, clear-line-of-sight, public space.




The city is filled with these areas, creating a sense that you're not boxed in, squeezed between walls of buildings. If you've been to NYC or London, you know exactly that feeling I'm referring to: sometimes you're at the bottom of a cage, unable to see a way out. Barcelona is just the opposite. It gives you room to breath. It provides places to sit and relax. It's a city of the living.

Another video to prove the point:


This city is not a place where Barcelonians live, but an adjunct of who they are. It reflects past (and famous) generations and also the present. The city is kept immaculate. You can see a real pride in the craftsmanship of each building; the trade workers here must be such a tight knit community, each adhering to a set of rules set forth 100 years ago as the city grew.

Again, that's amazing.

Beach Blanket Bingo – Barcelona 2010

It's mostly overcast but I head to the beach anyway. Great idea! No really. No snark intended.

Less than 10 minutes on the metro takes me from center city to Bareloneta Beach, a public access area right on the Mediterranean. But this ain't no city slacker beach. This place is pristine.

A gorgeous boardwalk is lined by small cafes/pubs/restaurants on one side and smooth dark brown sand on the other. From the edge of the walkway to the surf is about 80 meters (50 yards) of uninterrupted gentle slope. The length of the beach goes on for at least 3 kilometers (almost 2 miles).

I didn't bring my camera because I was going swimming and didn't want to worry about anything ashore. However, I went back the next day and discovered 2 things:

  1.  It's not only tourist that come here, but the locals love the beach.
  2. Good thing I went on Friday as it was only mildly crowded then. Saturday morning (when this video is taken) is wall-to-wall semi-nakedness.

Wow. I am impressed by both visits.

But, of course, I cannot be out in public without some strangeness following me around. For my day at the beach:
  • A German tourist came out of the surf to join his group sunning behind me, and he starts sneezing. And then doesn't stop. He has to sneeze, methodically, one-at-a-time, every couple of minutes, continuously for over 30 minutes. He lets one loose and laughs. Wait for it. Just another moment. Sneeze! Laugh. Wait for it... Yeah, it grows to be really annoying.
  • Why is it that the only topless women I ever see at the beach are the 65+ year olds, straggle around the shore like they're lost, and slightly drooling. When I see them walk by, I want to yell, “Be careful! You could trip on those things!”
  • Okay, Spain is very very Catholic, meaning most everyone keeps their swimsuits on. Yet, this is still Europe so a few of the women decide to forego tan lines. Yet, sometimes the guilt/modesty of religion conflicts with the freedom of nakedness, as I witness this the 20-something year old woman lying next to me. When she arrives, she goes through an elaborate process of putting on her bikini top while still wearing her bra. Then, out of modesty, when her swim top is secure and double-checked, only then does she remove her bra. Okay, that's fine. I understand. I don't even care. Then why, oh why, after that show does she proceed to sun topless 20 minutes later, for all the world to see? I'm not complaining, just trying to understand. I don't blame her for letting those gorgeous puppies out to play, but why the modesty dress rehearsal at the beginning?
  • Some guy stands a few meters away and faces away from the surf while he holds his palms upwards. Then he rapidly clenches and unclenches his fists numerous times for 5 minutes. Is this some sort of mantra exercise. The group he's with ignores the whole scene, as if this is something normal? C'mon. You gotta say something like, “What's the deal, McNeal?”
  • Lastly, I'm casually scanning the beach and see the back of some really knock-out woman. She has on a rocking swimsuit and long black hair and my thoughts drift towards more animalistic tendencies. Then she turns around and I realize she's 14 years old. Maybe 13! Oh my gawd. I spend the next 15 minutes scrubbing my brain with mental bleach.