Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Colonia Guell

On this past Sunday, I went to Colonia Guell with some friends. The highlight of the town is an Antoni Gaudi-designed church but I thought that the town itself as well as the church each deserve posts of their own so I'll write about the church on another day.

The Colonia Guell is just east of central Barcelona (and north of the airport). It was the idea of Eusubi Guell who was the owner of a textile mill in Barcelona in the late 1890s. (Eusubi was also the patron of the Gaudi-designed Park Guell.) During an expansion of the business, he decided to move the company outside of the city to an estate he purchased. His goal was to create a positive environment and improved living conditions for his employees by having company town where the workers could live in nice housing, have good schools, and access to leisure and cultural activities, including religious services at the Gaudi-designed church.

Excluding the beautiful church, the town has some great architecture both in the houses and the factory buildings and is worth a visit. There are a bunch of modernist (among others) details to be found and it's easy walk around the whole town in a couple of hours.

When walking into the town from the nearby train station, you first see the walled factory, which I believe, unfortunately for a factory-tour glutton (me), you are not able to get into. It looks as though some of the buildings have been modernized and are in use and others look like they were knocked down at some point. The buildings are very cool and are constructed from brick in the style of the time.

The first house (at least I believe it is a house) you see when getting into the housing-area of town is this gem. There was no plaque that I could find to get more information. The highlights include the cool style, the interesting chimneys, and the sunken garden in the front (left side of this photo).

Most of the houses are town-house (row-house) style. One of Esubi's desires was that employees wouldn't have to live in an apartment-building setting that was common in the factory towns of the time. There are various styles but most are two-story and some have a small front patio.

As with a couple of the above photos and the photo below, it appears that management also "benefited" from the social experiment that is Colonia Guell. This one is a particular gem...

And finally, as one of two official photographers on the trip, and the writer of this blog, I get to share this photo of me "just taking a timed photo" and then jumping on the laps of my unsuspecting friends while waiting for the train home. Thanks for the great day Diana, Gema, Andrea, and David. What's next on the to-do list?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sasquatch 2

During my first visit to Barcelona in February, I happened to see a guy walking around town like it was the middle of summer on a nude beach. When I did some quick google searching back then, I found out that it's really not illegal to be naked in public unless you're causing trouble. The search results for "naked guys walking around Barcelona" include lots of images for one particular older guy that has "shorts" tatooed on his body. Well, yesterday while down at Port Vell, I finally saw the famous naked guy of Barcelona:

Umm...let's just say that if I had his "build", I might consider walking around naked too. :-) By the way, the police definitely knew the guy and just stopped for what seemed like a chat.

For me, it was akin to bumping into a movie star or some other famous person like the time I saw Harry Perry skating in Venice Beach (Los Angeles). If you've been down to Venice, you may have seen him skating around playing his electric guitar:

LA is actually a great place to spot famous folks. For example, I once saw Spock himself sitting in his Jaguar behind me at a red light. Every one that has lived in LA has star-sighting stories but probably none are quite as exciting as seeing Barcelona's own sasquatch!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Nagasaki Peace Park

This post is about my visit last spring (2009) to Nagasaki.

The Nagasaki Peace Park was created in 1955 as a memorial park and is located near the site where the second atomic bomb was dropped during World War II. This photo was taken on a hill that has a great view of pretty much all of Nagasaki. The park, and bomb hypocenter, is located in the greenish area that I've circled in red:

At one end of the park is a very large statue that was created by Nagasaki sculptor Seibou Kitamora. A great deal of symbolism is represented by the figure. For example, the raised right hand points to the sky where the bomb came from (symbolizing the continuing threat of nuclear weapons) and the outstretched left arm points to the earth itself (symbolizing the hope for eternal peace).

Towards the center of the park is a fountain that was installed to memorialize the people who did not die immediately from the blast but later died from dehydration. The story goes that a nine-year-old girl named Sachiko Yamaguchi was searching for water after the bombing. There's a plaque nearby with her words: "I was thirsty beyond endurance. There was something oily on the surface of the water, but I wanted water so badly that I drank it just as it was."

Down a hill from the center of the Peace Park is a small open area that almost seems like an after thought. There are only a couple of small signs that tell you what's there. This monolithic sculpture is located below the exact point where the atomic bomb was detonated (the hypocenter):

11:02 a.m. August 9, 1945. Nagasaki, Japan. 73,884 dead and 74,909 injured out of an approximate population of 240,000. It is said that an additional 70,000 died within five years and that there are side effects still being felt today.

Thanks to Yo, a Nagasaki-area local, for being an incredible guide and for teaching me so much about an amazing country and culture. Arigato!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


About 45 minutes from Osaka is the "town" of Kyoto. The small-feeling city of 1.5 million people is probably best known for the climate treaty that was originally ratified here...but, once you've been to Kyoto, you'll only think of the huge number of amazing temples and shrines. This UNESCO World Heritage Site and former capital of Japan is just chock-full of well-preserved, pre-World War II buildings due to the relatively light bombing of the area during the war.

I went to Kyoto in the spring of last year but only saw part of the city. I jumped at the chance this time to go back and see some more. For this post, I'm using pictures from both trips.

During my trip last year, I visited the famous golden temple Kinkakuji. The top two floors of the temple are covered with gold leaf, which is very impressive in person. It was originally built in 1397 as a retirement villa but has been rebuilt several times due to fire damage. The grounds of the temple are made up of several very scenic ponds and Japanese strolling gardens, which are probably worth the visit on their own.

My next stop was the Kiyomizu-dera temple that is built on the side of a hill overlooking Kyoto. Due to its being surrounded by tall trees, the entire complex has a feel of a series of tree houses. The buildings are spectacular to look at and are even more impressive when you find out that not one nail was used in their construction.

When you look down from one of the many "patios" built along the sides of the buildings, you realize just how high up you are. The substructure is, at least from an engineering point of view, just as beautiful as the buildings built on it.

Something I just recently learned is that there is a saying in Japanese akin to the English saying "take the plunge" (as in making a commitment). It says something like "to jump off the platform at Kiyomizu". Apparently, if you survive the jump, your wish would be granted. About 85% of the people who have done this have survived...

As I mentioned, the temple is above the city on a hillside. You can see a lot of Kyoto from the various buildings and platforms. I didn't get the chance to see the view at night as I'd imagine seeing all the lights below would be impressive but the day-time view was nice.

The Kiyomizu-dera temple gets its name from the waterfalls that run through the complex. Kiyomizu means roughly "pure (as in clean) water". One of the falls that goes under the main part of the temple is divided into three channels and during your visit you get the opportunity to drink some of the water with a cup on a long stick. Each channel's water signifies either wisdom, health, or longevity. It is considered selfish if you drink from all three but two is okay. I didn't realize the significance of the three channels while I was there and only drank from one. It's obvious that I didn't drink from the wisdom one... I wonder which one it was...

In another area of Kyoto, there's a neat bamboo forest that you can walk through. I liked the white bamboo most:

Inside the bamboo forest is a tea house that's included in the price of admission. I'd love to live in a house like this:

Here are some photos that show other random cool/amazing/beautiful buildings that I came across in Kyoto:

When I left Kyoto and headed to Nagasaki last year, I took the Shinkansen (the Japanese high-speed train). You don't realize how fast you're going while on the train because it's so smooth and quiet. It isn't until you notice how blurry everything that is close to the train looks. Here's a picture as it approaches the station:

And, because of my addiction to Japanese food (and as some have requested), here's a food-porn photo...a shot of my bento that I had on the train:

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cup Noodles Museum (Osaka)

If you look through the posts in whereisdarrennow, you'll see that I've had some pretty amazing experiences this year. Some have been super fun, I've learned a TON, and I've met some great people along the way. Today's post falls into the super-fun category.

When I decided to go to Osaka, I did a little research into things to do. One of the items that immediately caught my attention was that you could go to Nissin Foods' Instant Ramen Museum and actually make a serving of Cup Noodles! What are Cup Noodles (formerly known as Cup O' Noodles)? They're those famous Styrofoam cups that contain some dried noodles and a little flavor packet that allow you to just add hot water. You've definitely seen and eaten them before:

Cup Noodles were invented in Osaka, Japan, in 1958 by Momofuku Ando. As a result of post-war food shortages that were still happening, he experimented with trying to provide a low-cost, easily-available alternative to fresh-cooked ramen. He spent several months researching and testing how to make and preserve noodles that could be packaged and cooked later. The result of his testing was named Chikin Ramen [sic] and originally came in a bag. It wasn't until later that the ubiquitous cup was introduced, which allowed for a single-use, prepare-and-serve package. Here's the original product configuration:

When you go to the Instant Ramen Museum, you have the opportunity to make noodles from scratch. You also get to decorate the packaging and get sent home with some souvenirs. It's basically set-up for kids but is very fun even for adults. In an entirely-too-much-detail way, I'll show the entire process.

First, you get a little bag of flour, some oil, and water, which you mix up in a bowl:

Once it's been mixed to a good consistency, the dough gets rolled out over and over again to further improve consistency:

The pressing continues in a small, hand-operated machine:

You then cut the noodles and weigh out 100 grams per serving:

Factoid: Foreign-language teachers in Japan are required to be native-speakers of the language they teach. For most Japanese kids, this is their only first-hand experience to gaijin (non-Japanese). The kid to my right in this photo asked me (in Japanese) if I was an English teacher. I said Japanese. :-)

The weighed out portions of noodles are then deep fried to remove the moisture. The museum has a small kitchen staffed with fairly entertaining and helpful folks. I'm not sure how many non-Japanese they get here but I'm guessing it's a very small number.

Next, you get to express your artistic side by decorating your soup's packaging. Umm...yeah...I'm probably the only adult in the entire room that didn't have kids in tow...

The Instant Ramen Museum is an absolute must-visit if you find yourself in Osaka one day. It's located a quick train ride away from the center of the city...just make sure to make reservations as it's usually full on the weekends. Here I am with my soup along with Momofuku and his invention in front of the museum:

I'm honored that this post is featured as a part of the July 2011 japingu J-Festa blog festival.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Osaka, Japan

First off, before you ask, yes Jim, yes Chuck, I was really in Japan this last week so this post is current. Good. Now that that is done...


I love Japan.

Out of every place I've ever been, no where else has quite the mix of old and new, tradition and lack of tradition, east and west... It's my poster child for what I call the "intersection of cultures". I use the term for any place where you find dramatically different influences that are at work in the same physical location. Some examples include places like Istanbul (intersection of east and west as well as Christian and Muslim), southern Mexico (Mayan/native and Spanish), and, believe it or not, lots of places in southern California and New York city (too many influences and cultures to list but how about the one time in Orange County (California) when I had a chicken-teriyaki burrito from a lunch truck owned by a Guatemalan guy?). In short, any place that could be called a cross roads of the world.

I spent this last week in Osaka, a city that I hadn't been to during my first two visits. Osaka is the second largest city in Japan and, although there are around three million people living there, it feels much smaller. As with all of Japan, it's incredibly clean and orderly. There's no trash on the streets, no graffiti anywhere, and, compared to everywhere else in the world, crime-free. The city is known for its cuisine (like Okonomiyaki) as well as its Osaka accent, which I guess is very tell-tale in Japan. Here are some city skyline photos taken from the Osaka Castle:

The downtown area of Osaka is a great place to stay because there are tons of places to see and fun things to do. One area that is fun at night is called Namba. It's full of stores and restaurants and is great for checking out the locals. I know this sounds funny but, the place is full of Japanese (and Koreans to a lesser extent) people. Wait. Let me try to explain. In most of the larger cities in the US for example, if you're "downtown" you'll see people of all different ethnicities and probably have some people from other parts of the world. In Osaka's case, there just aren't a lot of non-Asians running around the area. My guess is that it's like 1 Gaijin for each 1000 "locals". This picture gives you an idea of what the area is like:

There are some great kitschy store fronts. You can see giant crabs, waving octopuses, and the huge face of one restaurant owner:

And what photos from Japan would be complete without your futuristic, Blade-Runner-cum-Times-Square-style, giant advertisements photo:

Osaka's a cool town. You definitely get the traditional, eastern feel while you're there but you also get to see the modern, "western" things too. On the trad side, there's the older architecture, some traditional clothing, and things like the Osaka Castle. On the newer side, there are the armies of white-shirted-attache-bag-toting salary men, over-packed subways, and huge underground "cities" with your mandatory Starbucks and McDonald's. In other words, the perfect intersection of cultures that I continually seek out.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cesar Manrique - Lanzarote

Once in a while you come across an artist whose work you don't appreciate until you've seen it a couple of times. While in Lanzarote, I had this experience with the work of Cesar Manrique who seemed to be single-handedly responsible for the artistic and architectural feel of the island. To be honest, I didn’t realize that the work I’m going to show was all created by the same person until I went to the final site.

My introduction to Manrique’s work was a visit to the Mirador Del Rio, which is a look-out point on the north end of Lanzarote. It is (475 meters) above sea level and is the highest point on the island. It overlooks the ocean and a small island called La Graciosa. What makes this site special isn’t just the view from the top, which is WOW, it’s also the Manrique-designed main building. The building takes advantage of both the geography and geology of the mountain it is on and from the outside looks like a part of the mountain itself. It’s an amazing building on an amazing site that I didn’t really appreciate as much as I should have while I was there.

Here’s part of the view:

And here are some photos of the outside:

And a couple from the inside:

Next, I visited the Jameos del Agua, which I can only really describe as an entire entertainment complex including a bar, restaurant, and amphitheater built inside and around a lava tube that also has a lake in it. Wow. I know. A lot. The same less-than-intense-appreciation thing happened to me here. I noticed the beauty of the site as well as the cool architecture but I didn’t really see it for what it was—as a part of something bigger.

This is the lava-tube-lake area:

and a really cool bar area:

and a view of part of the complex and ocean beyond:

The next stop on the island-wide tour was a visit to the Jardin De Cactus. It seems ironic but the day I was there was the hottest one and it definitely felt desert-like! The really interesting part of the gardens was the way, once again, where Manrique ties the site’s geography/geology into the architecture of the buildings. In this case, the site, walls, and buildings are built in and into a large depression in the ground. One of the highlights is the wall surrounding the entire area. This site didn’t lend itself as well to photo taking but here are two overview shots:

The part of the Manrique tour that made all the pieces fit together was a visit to the house that he designed and built for himself near Arecife on Lanzarote. The house is located on top of a lava flow from the eruptions of the 1700’s (the same ones I mention in the winery story). The main floor of the house is a “normal” style of house although it’s normal only in that it has square rooms with beautiful features designed by an artist of Manrique’s caliber. I think the highlight of the house is how he’s connected it to several subterranean lava tubes and voids. It’s difficult to adequately show the house and spaces below but here are some attempts…

Outdoor pool area:

Subterranean lounging area (the palm tree is growing up through a hole in the roof):

And a view into one of the subterranean rooms from an opening in the floor in one of the rooms in the “normal” part of the house:

and one last room with his Woman With Her Shadow sculpture:

What made all the pieces come together for me were the various displays throughout the house that showed his painting, sculptural, and architectural work. His work is also on display all over the island in the form of his buildings, lots of signage he designed, and wind-activated sculptures that he designed and the community built. This photo shows three of the wind sculptures—the first being the obvious one front and center. The second is the white one in the background just to the right of the main one. The third one is just above and to the left of the left-most palm tree (it looks really small in this photo but is probably 20 feet tall). It’s hard to make out but is what I’d call a “wire-frame” design.

Once again, a very cool chance encounter with something I would have probably never come across any other way. Manrique and Lanzarote are an amazing pair. The scenery of the island and his creativity make it a picture-perfect paradise.

Thanks again to Bernar for being a great host and Gemma for being our part-time tour guide.