Barcelona Diary

i’ll be honest, weeks leading to my trip to Barcelona in fall 17, i was quite nervous as in what to expect on the streets due to catalonian referendum and the upheaval that followed. i imagined being caught in the midst of molotov cocktails being thrown around, buses lit on fire or military tanks rolling by to intimidate protesters – yes, i admit i blame my OD imagination on years of hollywood indoctrination of my mind with war movies and political dramas and i’m happy to write that during my short stay in this super chill city,  i simply witnessed a group of protesters singing beautifully to free prisoners from Madrid government in the shopping district of las ramblas. & that is my cue to rant a little; unless you are a shopaholic, it is safe to not include las ramblas in your itinerary — that hood reminded me of retail nightmare that is 34th street – herald square. there is nothing catalonian about this entire commercial district, most brands are american, most stores here including restaurants are either playing elvis presley or american top 40. like excuse me if i don’t like seeing american shit on my travels abroad, i hail from new york city, i travel so i can escape the normalcy.

IMG_9673protestors singing peacefully at las ramblas

it was quite a smooth journey from the airport to greater el born neighborhood where i stayed. i hopped onto the aerobus/shuttle bus towards plaza catalunya and got off there to walk a scenic 15 minutes towards ronda sant pere. the landmark arc de triomf, some good cafes, restaurants and 24hour deli made up the radius so all necessities i needed was a walking distance away. past couple of years in my limited travels, i have learned that it is key to choose a neighborhood that compliments a traveler’s character.

 

chic dining area & me chilling at the balcony

 

night stroll around arc de triomf

as a passionate foodie traveler, i hunt for good food wherever i go. barcelona didn’t disappoint – well with the exception of that one time when i ordered soft tortillas and there was a mix-up. i tried catalonian tapas at a joint called granja la catalana — had prawns (weird aftertaste) with lemon+mayo and tiny lamb chops (very flavorful & juicy). i feasted on meat+seafood paella at bontapa and tried stuffed potatoes for tapas — the latter tasted like alu’r chops, a popular delicacy in the bangali cuisine. i ordered soft tortillas one time choosing the option of a ‘platter’ and not a wrap, but was served the saddest-looking fried egg instead. that was quite a bummer but i was so drunk on estrellas that i didn’t even care to complain to the waiting staff.

 

barcelona eats

as a person with deep interest in history, architecture and art, visiting antoni gaudi’s creations were clearly on my itinerary. i started off the gaudi-journey with a visit to park guell first and then to the magnificent la sagrada familia; the latter being one of those peak experiences of my life. to reach park guell from las ramblas, i hopped onto green line L3 metro towards trinitat nova and got off at vallcarca stop. the walk to the high altitude entrance to passatge de sant josep de la muntanya in park guell was an interesting, long one with many short breaths.

 

two escalators to reach the top & view of the long steep walk 

upon entry to park guell, i was expecting artistic brilliance and grandeur of sorts but walking around the sandy path, i was accosted by whimsical, playful creations. the intricate mosaic tile work and stonework at the terrace were my favorites and the rest of the park seemed more like walking around alice in wonderland.

 

IMGP0328

the terrace walls

 

mosaic tile work

 

me & el drac

i’m still kinda on a rut on how to process my experience at park guell other than feeling that the overall architecture was underwhelming and highly overrated. i know i need phd in gothic art and modernista to criticize gaudi’s work but hey, calling it like it is – i wasn’t feeling the whole hoopla. oooopsie! anyways, i couldn’t wait to get out of park guell fast enough and head towards la sagrada familia since i was slated for 430pm visiting time slot. walking to metro station from park guell is a solid 20 minutes at normal pace and the train ride is another 10 minutes. i’d also recommend getting an audio guide to know the history and background of gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece and spain’s most revered cathedral.

 

 

exterior – the intricate artwork & statues are magnificent

 

interior – when all our senses & emotions are engulfed in awe

 

 

 

 

 

“the sun is the finest painter” – antoni gaudi

 

 

the sacrifice of christ

when i walked into la sagrada familia, i was enthralled. i wanted to get rid of my bag, my gadgets & sit on the floor, stare up into the arch and dome while taking it all in. the art, the genius, the seriousness of gaudi’s devotion to his faith is absolutely infinite. christianity and all the noble deeds and sacrifices of christ seemed to be the guiding light and inspiration behind every nook of storytelling here and one does not need to be religious or secular to feel the power displayed all over. i was here for a good few hours because i was in barcelona primarily to visit the grand unfinished finale of gaudi’s life as an artist. To quote the narrator on my audio guide, la sagrada familia is the “unique expression of christian faith rendered in stone.”

IMGP0314what’s the difference between arc de triomf in barcelona & paris?

other observations of this chic city – catalonians are soo damn beautiful! street fashion there is really off the charts. women and men of all ages are dressed impeccably from head to toe. i seriously could have easily people watched for hours & i’d bet my kidneys that not one single ensemble would have been a disappointment. barcelona was the first city i visited in spain and i learnt pretty quick that spaniards have a staring problem – whether i was riding in the metro, or shopping at some store or walking around aimlessly, people there stare at you, checks out your outfit and to my surprise, usually smiles at you. so yeah, i learnt to respond with ‘hola’ numerous times just because i felt like it was the nice thing to do & i don’t mind adhering to different etiquette.

one of the mishaps i did have was i couldn’t find my way to gothic quarters, my GPS failed me. i look the train to universitad zone and after walking back & forth next to a highway, i had to take the train back to el born because i was just confused & really lost. also, i didn’t want to be walking around at nighttime with a perplexed look on my face so yeah, i kinda chickened out and returned to my safety zone. but one day, i do plan to return to barcelona to visit monteserrat and gothic quarters, preferably at daytime. until next time, gracias barcelona for introducing me to estrellas & shout-out to the 24hr delis for making a girl from queens feel at home.

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Cries from Syria

so HBO released this much awaited documentary on Syria and its been few hours but i’m still recovering from the impact of it.

please, i beg of you, if there is a beating heart and a conscience in you, kindly watch #criesfromsyria. all this fucked-up, nonsensical, racist rhetoric from all right-wing politicians around the globe focusing on this singular most magnified humanitarian crisis will sound exactly that, FUCKED UP.

the roots of how the revolution started is eerie, heart-wrenching. following multiple revolutions that arised in tunisia, libya and egypt during arab spring, syrian children started painting “you are next, dr. bashar” on school walls. slowly, those same children were kidnapped and brutally tortured to death by assad’s army.

delivering the tortured corpses of these children to their families, especially the mutilation of limbs and genitalia of 13yo hamza al-khatib led to a collective rage and massive protests by the syrian people against the regime. before you know it, there are multiple leaders and activists leading peaceful marches in all major cities. one activist that really stood out to me was giath matar. he led protests in the city of daraya and he appeased to syrian soldiers with flowers and bottle of water. ofcourse, his fate was later sealed in the brutal hands of syrian army, who tortured and killed him after keeping him captive for three days. even his burial shrine was guarded by soldiers for days after because of the sheer, symbolic power matar embodied.

i shiver while i try to write a recap of this harrowing documentary, like that’s how much i have been affected watching cries from syria. the issue of syria has been on my peripheral vision since arab spring but the severity of the civil war that has been continuing for 6 years now has always been a contained background noise. for an individual like me whose heavily invested in american politics, israel-palestine conflict and other subcontinent issues, syrian war seemed a confusing, never-ending saga that american mainstream media simply ignored. the average person around me doesn’t give two shits about wars in middle east, famine in somalia, tsunamis in asia etc etc. most (if not all) privileged citizens of the first world nations are apathetic to the extremes of inhumanity. we have blinders on good days, we indulge in frivolous pop culture bullshit, we spend shit load of money to keep sane and maintain some typa lifestyle. but also to be fair, many of us are embroiled within the confines of domestic fuckery, whether the issues deal with racism, healthcare, police brutality, sexism, women’s heath rights, citizens rights under NSA surveillance etc etc.

we are kinda living in a pretty fucked up country ourselves. our current government is barely functional, our election was the grand puppetshow mastered by putin, a rapist is the current Potus.. like just thinking about the current climate makes me want to cry. however, so as not to digress, the major difference between us and syrians are that none of our cities are under siege. there are no blockades to food and aid. our government doesn’t have the army breaking down doors, kidnapping children or killing protestors in broad daylight. cnn tends to make it seem like america is heading to war when clashes erupt between protestors and cops or store windows being broken etc. matter of fact, America isn’t in any civil war and these candyfloss journos should take notes from brave reporters who actually live amidst actual wars. we think that as a nation, we are heading towards a fascist regime but we haven’t yet and most probably, we won’t either. but syrians are under a gridlock by a war-criminal of a leader who uses chemical weapons against his own people while UN and the leaders of the “civilized nations” just mourn behind closed doors.

my head hurts, it is snowing outside, i’m sitting comfortably on my bed pondering how far-removed i am from the atrocities, pain and suffering felt by many millions of women, children, old people and men right now. i know i don’t have the power to do much but donate to trustworthy organizations, spread the word on my useless social medias, call up my inept congressmen and google adoption policies. i feel so obsolete, so paralyzed to be born into privilege of freedom, education, comfort and yet not knowing how to utilize this for the greater good. i want to be more proactive, i want to gain more knowledge, i want to remain steadfast and compassionate and i sure in hell have ample raging vocabulary to obliterate anyone who dares spews hateful rhetoric on syrian refugees.

but is any of this enough? what is the tipping point in a story with monsters and dead children? what is the endgame of beautiful, old cities bombarded to rubble and ashes? what is the power of the muslim ummah if the muslim leaders themselves are the actual apostates? so many what ifs, all i can feel is a dejected “what the fuck, God?”

please visit http://www.criesfromsyria.com to learn more, to donate, to be involved. #criesfromsyria is one hell of an hour and a half documentary directed by evgeny afineevsky. you will definitely cry, you will understand patriotism, you will surely cherish freedom.

61-Hani-CharafIn memory of Giath Matar – picture from The Resurrection Project by Jaber Al Azmeh