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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona Movie Review Summary

Yesterday, I finally saw the (written & directed) Woody Allen movie, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (official website link at left - not Firefox-friendly, though). It was good! Not great, but definitely good.

The movie stars the Allen-fave Scarlett Johansson as "Cristina", Rebecca Hall as "Vicky" (who doesn't even get top-three billing!), and Spaniards Javier Bardem & Penélope Cruz - who has the smallest role of all and yet gets SECOND-billing. The latter surprises me only somewhat. Rebecca Hall, while lesser known, has every bit of time onscreen as Scarlett Johansson but her name is lost in the "Also appearing" credits at the bottom of the movie poster.

But this isn't your typical Woody Allen movie. First, Allen doesn't act or narrate the movie. GOOD! I think most moviegoers these days are a bit tired of the fast-paced dialogue and neurotic character of him. He definitely knows how to write, though, and wisely - yet curiously - chose a young man's voice to narrate the film. We never find out who this man is. Just a narrator!

For movies like this one, knowing I'd have to someday review it, I purposely shielded myself from video clips, reading other reviews, or talking to friends about the movie. But still, while most of the film takes places in and near Barcelona City - as well as some scenes in Oviedo - I'm surprised by the lack of "buzz" for this movie here in Spain. And Spaniards absolutely LOVE Woody Allen. This seems to be his second home, constantly being honored with film-related awards and seemingly constantly playing his clarinet in big concerts in San Sebastian and other northern cities.

Movie Summary:

Vicky & Cristina, both American east-coast, big-city 20-somethings decide to go to Barcelona for the summer - each with their own reasons. Vicky, an impetuously wild spirit, wants to clear her head after yet another stormy and failed relationship. Cristina is having one last adventure as a single, goal-driven and responsible woman before getting married to the "perfect-yet-boring" man.

Vicky & Cristina meet bold Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) at a Barcelona restaurant after Vicky continues to stare at him from their table. He's a free-thinking, socially and sexually liberal painter with a fiery past - and ongoing - relationship with his ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz). Juan Antonio walks over to meet them and immediately invites them both to fly to Oviedo for a weekend of wine-tasting, sight seeing, and threesome sex. Cristina is shocked and rejects him but Vicky is intrigued. Still, they both fly to Oviedo with him in his friend's 4-seater plane.

During the weekend, circumstances shift. While Vicky becomes sick and stays in bed from an existing ulcer, Cristina falls for Juan Antonio and has a beautiful, profoundly romantic experience with him, forever changing her concept of love and dedication.

The movie continues and Cristina comes to her senses, re-committing herself to her visiting fiance. Vicky's health improves and she falls more deeply in love with Juan Antonio, moving in with him to his house/painting-studio, and Cristina never shares her secret love affair with Vicky.

It's while Vicky is Juan Antonio's live-in-lover that suicidal Maria Elena first appears, recently released from the hospital for a near-overdose of pills. She's tortured and also an artist (cliché??!!), still deeply in love with her ex-husband Juan Antonio. Due to her fragile condition, Juan Antonio invites Maria Elena to move in with them. Shocked, Vicky reluctantly agrees.

Days pass and the three of them grow close. They live the stereotypical bohemian life in the rural art studio with impassioned painting, deep discussions, and two-way, three-way, heterosexual, and lesbian sex with interchangeable partners under the same roof.

Everything goes perfectly well for awhile but surprisingly it's Vicky whom removes herself from the situation, saying it's just too-much for her, and she decides to travel France for the last couple of weeks of the summer. Shortly thereafter, Juan Antonio and Maria Elena are left alone again to their stormy and self-destructive ways as a couple. Maria Elena leaves.

Juan Antonio reconnects with Cristina who can't stop thinking about him and her eye-opening experiences with him in Oviedo. With Cristina's fiance playing golf with friends, she meets Juan Antonio one more time, not having to wonder forever if HE was the ONE for her. They're interrupted by drunken and crazed Maria Elena who's carrying a gun and threatening murder and-or suicide.

At the end of their summer in Barcelona, Vicky is still searching for unrealistic love but Cristina's concept of love and passion is RE-defined forever - yet she presumably goes back to marry her "perfect man".

BarcelonaMan's review:

The movie's end is, at least for me, left with nothing but untied ends, something "they say" shouldn't be done in a Hollywood movie. But Woody Allen movies are rarely your typical Hollywood fare - so in that regard it's a positive thing. The point of the movie is not necessarily to simply entertain but to cause us to question love and passion, how they are or should be, how fleeting love and passion are in a relationship, and the differences between "loving" and "being in love."

Barcelona Sights Seen in the Movie:

We really don't see much of Barcelona. It must be difficult filming someplace where there are LOTS of people milling about at all times. For this reason, most scenes are either close-up or far-away. We see just a bit of Antonio Gaudi's Parc Güell (the painted tile mosaic lizard), a bit of some of the rides of the Tibidabo Amusement Park and a hazy horizon of Barcelona City below, Gaudi's Sagrada Familia towers and 2-seconds of the inside roof, 10-seconds from atop Gaudi's Casa Mila - La Pedrera while walking among the chimney pots, a brief closeup scene of looking at birds on La Rambla, and a couple no-dialogue scenes of Vicky taking photos in the Barrio Gótico.

Final Thoughts & Observations:

"Vicky Cristina Barcelona" is worth a look and it will make you think a bit about the concept of love and relationship. I have to say that while watching this movie I thought several times, "Ho! Every place they live, all the restaurants where they eat, all the sights they see are just too perfect!" They're kindly housed in the mansion of friends-of-American-friends in Barcelona's outskirts, but they also stay in a beautiful, historic, 5-Star Hotel de la Reconquista in Oviedo City, but also attend an intimate, romantic, 8-person wine-drinking, outdoor-gazebo-setting private performance by a Spanish guitarrist which made me say, "That NEVER happens unless you know the guitarrist personally!" Apparently Juan Antonio is an insider with such things. The movie's music is pretty good, with Paco de Lucia's "Entre Dos Aguas" played at least three times in the movie.

Movie Trailers:


Thursday, August 14, 2008

10 Best Terrace Bars in Barcelona

The below is a translated article from a 9 July 2008 publication:

Sunsets, shade, and lots of cocktails in the 10 best terrace bars in all of Barcelona

20MINUTOS.ES. 09.07.2008 - 21:01h
Puestas de sol, sombras y muchas copas en las diez mejores terrazas de toda Barcelona

1. Terrace of Restaurante Spiritual.

Address: Museu Marítim. C/ Avinguda de les Drassanes, s/n. Tel.: 93 317 52 56.
Comfort (1, uncomfortable; 5, very comfortable): 5
Aesthetic (1, not very nice looking; 5, very nice looking): 5
Views (1, few good views; 5, wonderful views): 1
Relaxing (1, very relaxing, 5, very active): 3
Prices: Beer: 2 euros | Soft drinks: 1,75 euros | Mixed drinks: 8 euros.

2. Terrace of Textil Café

Address: Museu Textil. C/ Montcada, 12. Tel.: 93 268 25 98.
Comfort (1, uncomfortable. 5; very comfortable): 3
Aesthetic (1, not very nice looking. 5; very nice looking): 2
Views (1, few good views. 5; wonderful views): 3
Relaxing (1, very relaxing. 5; very active): 4
Prices: Beer: 2 euros | Soft drinks: 2 euros | Mixed drinks: 5 euros.

3. Terrace of Hogar Extremeño de Barcelona.

Address: C/Portal de l'Angel, 4. Tel.: 93 302 40 70.
Comfort (1, uncomfortable; 5, very comfortable): 3
Aesthetic (1, not very nice looking; 5, very nice looking): 3
Views (1, few good views. 5; wonderful views): 1
Relaxing (1, very relaxing; 5, very active): 1
Prices: Beer: 1,50 euros | Soft drinks: 2 euros | Mixed drinks: 5 euros.

4. Romantic Garden of Ateneu barcelonés.

Address: C/Canuda, 6. Tel.: 93 343 61 21 .
Comfort (1, uncomfortable; 5, very comfortable): 5
Aesthetic (1, not very nice looking; 5, very nice looking): 5
Views (1, few good views; 5, wonderful views): 1
Relaxing (1, very relaxing; 5, very active): 1
Prices: Beer: 1,60 euros | Soft drinks: 1,30 euros | Mixed drinks: 3,50 euros.

5. Terrace of Restaurante Portinyol del Museu d'Història de Catalunya

Address: C/Plaça Pau i Vila, 3. Tel.: 93 221 17 46.
Comfort (1, uncomfortable; 5, very comfortable): 5
Aesthetic (1, not very nice looking; 5, very nice looking): 4
Views (1, few good views; 5, wonderful views): 5
Relaxing (1, very relaxing; 5, very active): 1
Prices: Beer: 2 euros | Soft drinks: 2 euros | Mixed drinks: 4 euros.

6. Terrace of Cafè d'Estiu

Address: C/Plaça de Sant Iu, 5-6. Tel.: 93 310 30 14.
Comfort (1, uncomfortable; 5, very comfortable): 3
Aesthetic (1, not very nice looking; 5, very nice looking): 5
Views (1, few nice views; 5, wonderful views): 3
Relaxing (1, very relaxing; 5, very active): 1
Prices: Beer: 2 euros | Soft drinks: 2 euros | Mixed drinks: 5 euros.

7. Terrace of Mirablau

Address: C/Plaça del Doctor Andreu , s/n. Tel.: 93.418.58.79.
Comfort (1, uncomfortable; 5, very comfortable): 5
Aesthetic (1, not very good looking; 5, very good looking): 5
Views (1, few good views; 5, wonderful views): 2
Relaxing (1, very relaxing; 5, very active: 1
Prices: Beer: 2,80 euros | Soft drinks: 2,40 euros | Mixed drinks: 6 euros.

8. Terrace of Torre Rosa

Address: C/ Francesc Tàrrega, 22. Tel.: 93.340.88.54.
Comfort (1, uncomfortable; 5, very comfortable): 5
Aesthetic (1, not very nice looking; 5, very nice looking): 5
Views (1, few good views; 5, wonderful views): 5
Relaxing (1, very relaxing; 5, very active): 5
Prices: Beer: 3,50 euros | Soft drink: 3,50 euros | Mixed drinks: 7,50 euros.

9. Terrace of Miramar Bar del Hotel Florida

Address: C/Carretera de Vallvidrera Al Tibidabo, 83 -93. Tel.:
Comfort (1, uncomfortable; 5, very comfortable): 5
Aesthetic (1, not very nice looking; 5, very nice looking): 5
Views (1, few nice views; 5, wonderful views): 5
Relaxing (1, very relaxing; 5, very active): 5
Prices: Beer: 5,80 euros | Soft drinks: 5 euros | Mixed drinks: 13 euros (IVA not included).

10. Terrace of Hotel Duquesa de Cardona Terraza del hotel Duquesa de Cardona.

Address: C/Passeig de Colon, 12. Tel.: 93 268 90 90.
Comfort (1, uncomfortable; 5, very comfortable): 5
Aesthetic (1, not very nice looking; 5, very nice looking): 5
Views (1, few nice views; 5, wonderful views): 5
Relaxing (1, very relaxing; 5, very active): 4
Prices: Beer: 4,50 euros | Soft drinks: 3,50 euros | Mixed drinks: 10,90 euros.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Rain Relieves Barcelona Drought - a little

It's been raining in Barcelona for much of the last two weeks and more rain is forecast for the coming 10 days. The region welcomes the water-filled skies with open arms, open mouths, and open umbrellas. And with good reason! Barcelona is in a full-scale drought alert. Many reservoirs are at 20% capacity, decorative city fountains have been turned off, and water prices have risen substantially. Bars and restaurants are even charging for tap water.

Today was the first day that Barcelona began receiving shipments of water from the Spanish city of Tarragona by way of Panamanian-flagged tanker ships. Future ships will come from southern France. This will help quench the thirsty residents of Barcelona. But this is just the beginning of 3-months of such water tankers to dock in Barcelona's Port. However great this shipment appears to be, it will only provide Barcelona with a tiny 6% of their monthly water consumption.

But the ships are only a small part of a bigger solution. Roughly 180 Million Euros is being spent to construct a water pipeline from the Ebro River to bring water to Barcelona until a desalination plant - which would be the largest in Europe - is constructed in May 2009.

Let's all hope the rains continue in Catalonia/Catalunya/Cataluña. We all enjoy a green Barcelona and our human cells need H2O too!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Barcelona Drought: water pipeline to Barcelona

The worst Barcelona drought in 50 years continues - and no relief in sight from the cloudless Catalonia skies - the Spanish and Catalonia governments agreed to build a 60km pipeline from the Tarragona region to the Catalonia Capital of Barcelona to supply the city with water.

Oddly, at least to me, the water taken from the Tarragona region is water from the Ebro River which apparently goes to waste due to inefficient irrigation systems. Wasted water is of no use to anyone - except for the natural water cycle - but emergency use can be put to the 50 cubic hectometres of water they expect to pump.

Plans to divert water from the Ebro River to Barcelona, which seem like a natural albeit temporary solution, have brought protests from the Murcia and Valencia regions. A new desalinization/desalination plant will to go into operation in a year's time, giving much relief to Barcelona and the Catalonia region. The Catalonia government also plans to ship water by freighter from France and other parts of Spain.

Desalination seems to be the best long-term solution of them all - but it might be wiser if it took water not from the Mediterranean but from the Atlantic ocean if the proper permits can be acquired and the west-to-east Spanish water pipeline can be built. They do it for oil so why can't it be done for water?

The answer to the above is probably simple: MONEY. OIL is much more valuable than water. Humans NEED water to survive. We've already proven that we can live without oil although it'd be difficult.

Catalonia water reserves are at about 20% of lower in most of the reservoirs and the cost of public water usage as risen, causing restaurant and bar owners to charge for tap water or only serve bottled water.

If the cost of water goes up we can assume the cost of Catalonia-brewed beer, Catalonia produced soft drinks, and even Catalonia Cava will rise too as their principal ingredient is, you got it, H2O.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Barcelona AVE Train to Madrid Now Open

The high-speed AVE train connecting Madrid and Barcelona was finally completed and its first official trip took place on 20 February 2008.

Media outlets all of Spain ran a story about it including multi-page articles on the topic with graphics, photos, interviews, and (at least) one newspaper even made an interesting "stop watch" comparison, step-by-step, of Train Travel to Barcelona versus Airplane Travel to Barcelona. I'll discuss this later.

A 16-year wait has finally come to pass. FINALLY! The first high-speed train run between the two cities arrives ahead of schedule and more than 70,000 tickets have ALREADY been sold for future trips. Wow. That's incredible.

The Nuts-and-Bolts:
There are 17 trains going in each direction per day, from Barcelona Sants train station to Madrid Atocha train station, with a total capacity of 13,498 passengers per day. The best/fastest travel time is 2 hours and 38 minutes but other AVE trains take 3 hours or up to 3.5 hours. Check for schedule and prices (up to 62 days in advance). Until last Friday, the fastest Barcelona-Madrid train trip took about 4 hours. Stops from Barcelona include Tarragona, Lleida, Zaragoza, Guadalajara, and Madrid. Top speed is about 300 kmph but average speed is only about 200 kmph. Seating configuration for the upper, "Peferente class", where one can plug-in their electronic device at their seat, is a "thin" 2 x 1 - one seat on one side of the aisle and two seats on the other side, all seats face forward. Tourist class seating configuration remains the typical 2 seats on each side of the aisle and no electronic device plug-ins available. I believe all seats face forward in tourist class too.

PRICES: 119.50 Euros is the general, Tourist Class price for the trip. Yikes! But buying your ticket on the web (which proves to be confusing and difficult to foreigners visiting Spain) costs only 47.80 Euros. Preferente Class prices are much higher. General ticket price is 179.30 Euros one-way. No cheaper, web-purchase tickets are available for this class. Breakfast is included in the morning, Preferente Class tickets. Before the AVE was open for business, I'd made this trip once using Preferente Class service but didn't find the "free breakfast", slightly larger seats, and somewhat more-nicely-dressed attendants to be worth the huge difference in price.

The ESTRELLA Barcelona-Madrid night train still exists, taking about 9.5 hours and costing as little as 38 Euros one-way.

Comparisons of Train travel versus Plane travel from Barcelona to Madrid have been made and both sides both win and lose - depending on the passengers objective.

If price is the deciding factor, AVE train travel wins, costing about 58 Euros less than airplane travel - including presumed taxi costs from/to train-station/airport.

If speed is the deciding factor, airplane travel wins, taking roughly 25 minutes less than AVE train.

If comfort is the deciding factor, BarcelonaMan claims that train travel wins over airplane travel. Why? Train travel involves faster lines in security, less standing/waiting for the actual trip. Plus, on long-distance trains you have a greater range of motion, more space per seat, wider aisles and more abundant, larger restrooms. There's also a selection of recorded music "stations" to which to listen with the free, provided earphones as well as at least one movie. Not sure how they'll show entire movies on the new shorter/faster train routes though. And maybe the best thing about train travel is.... The Bar Car, almost always open, is ready to serve the passenger breakfast, lunch, snacks, sandwiches, beer, or coffee while standing at the bar or along the large windowed walls, providing oftentimes wonderful views of the (in this case) FAST-PASSING countryside. And the "Captain" never saids, "Please return to your seats. We're experiencing turbulence."

The Alternative: Bus Travel from Barcelona to Madrid: The trip takes between 7.5 and 8.0 hours and costs between 27 Euros and 37 Euros. The bus company making this route is ALSA. Saves 10-20 Euros but takes, ugh, 4-5 hours longer. My lower back tightens just thinking about it.

Watch the sparkly 6-minute RENFE Barcelona-Madrid AVE video at or immediately below with nice music and visuals. No language spoken but Spanish textual details are given regarding the trip.

The Down Low: If one can make their purchases via the website (one must first create an account and have prior personal contact with RENFE, verifying your account at the train station), it can really save a lot of time and add to the comfort and pleasure of the trip - including the same at your destination. There's nothing worse than arriving for your "Trip of a Lifetime" all tired, worn-out, and stiff from a long trip - like how you feel after getting off an overseas flight. I can't imagine spending 8-12 hours on an airplane, landing in Madrid or Barcelona, and then taking an 8-hour bus ride or getting on another airplane shortly thereafter.

Enjoy Spain's Wonderful Train Travel Network!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Barcelona Malaga High Speed Train plan set!

After MUCH ado about nothing for the last several decades, lots of talk and little action, Development minister Magdalena Alvarez has finally revealed top secret plans about the upcoming Barcelona-Malaga High Speed Train (AVE) connection.

The greatest surprise of the aforementioned announcement is that the AVE train will not pass through Madrid. Talk about cutting out the long-standing middle man! How will the affect Madrid's commercial standing? Probably not too much. They may lose some money on the sandwiches and coffee they would've otherwise sold during the 35 minute layover but that's probably about all.

The "Direct Train Line" (which includes several stops along the way) will shave off 5 hours from the otherwise exhausting 13 hour trip between the two cities.

Currently, there are only two trains per day making this route; one leaves Barcelona at 8am and the other is a night train or "Train Hotel", leaving Barcelona at 9:30 at night and arriving in Malaga the next morning at 9:49am. I can't bare to imagine how I would feel after sitting for 13 hours!! At the very least on a train you can get up and walk around somewhat casually, go to the dining/bar car, have a sizable toilet in which to do your "business", and movies and recorded musical stations - in Spanish. But still, it takes its toll, I'm sure.

No projected date has been set yet for the grand opening of the Barcelona-to-Malaga train line. My guess is it won't happen for another 10 years - but at least now they're more seriously considering it.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Barcelona Drought - Water Delivery

Barcelona's drought continues to worsen and drastic steps must be taken.

The first consideration is to ship water to Barcelona - by ship - from the French from the Rhone River in Marseille, France. Other considerations include receiving shipments of water from the Tarragona or even, more drastically, a desalinization of Mediterranean waters from Murcia.

10 years have passed since the Barcelona region has experienced such low levels of rain. But Barcelona isn't the only city or region which has had so little rain. Most of Spain has had the same problem in 2007.

The Catalan government continues to ask its residents to conserve water. If drought conditions continue when the summertime dry season arrives, the region will be in a desperate state.

In 2009, Catalunya hopes to start its own desalinization program for its citizens use. The desalinization plant would be located between Barcelona and Tarragona. What would this do to the water levels in the Mediterranean? Aren't special permissions required from the European Union or the neighboring countries?

So when in Barcelona, don't expect to be offered a glass of tap water in area restaurants. Besides, it's not the custom in Spain. You have to request water. And be sure to specify TAP water ("agua de grifo") - if that's what you want - or your waiter will bring you bottled water. Or just avoid the whole issue and order wine!!

Be sure to read the article entitled, "Drought and Desertification of Spain".

Saturday, January 5, 2008

La Cabalgata de Reyes de Barcelona

It's that time of year again when the Cabalgata de Reyes Magos passes through Barcelona City - as well as through the different districts in smaller versions. The parade is a celebration for tomorrow's Reyes Magos de Oriente holiday when these Magic Kings bring presents to all the good girls and boys.

At 5:30pm today, the "The Three Wise Men" - Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltasar - arrive in Barcelona's Portal de la Pau.

The annual Christmas parade starts at 6:30pm at the Avenida del Marquès de l'Argentera and will pass through Via Laietana, Plaza del Àngel, Urquinaona, Calle de Fontanella, Plaza de Catalunya, Calle de Pelai, Plaza de la Universitat, Ronda de Sant Antoni, Calle de Sepúlveda, Vilamarí, Lleida, Rius i Taulet, and, finally, the Fuente Mágica de Montjuïc. The parade ends at approximately 9pm.

While the tens of thousands of children await the arrival of the Reyes Magos de Oriente - and the 15,000 kilos of tiny candies thrown their way - little do they realize this is costing their parents (and the City of Barcelona) 400,000 Euros. Wow! I'm totally in favor of tradition and annual Christmas parades but 400,000 Euros!! (source)

Also, this is the first year in several decades which TVE, Spain's national television station, will NOT be broadcasting Barcelona's Cabalgata live. Instead, TVE's news magazine program "España Directa" will televise Barcelona's Cabalgata in delayed broadcast. But to watch the Cabalgata LIVE in Barcelona you'll have to be tuned to BTV, Barcelona's local television station.

One can watch BTV live online - IN CATALÁN language - on the internet via the BarcelonaTV link on BarcelonaMan's Barcelona Radio, TV, Music, and Movies page. The broadcast begins at 4:40pm.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Barcelona Bus Drivers Strike

The bus drivers strike in Barcelona City ends tomorrow - for now.

The strike, with dates of 21-24 December 2007 and 2-4 January 2008, is coming to an end. The bus drivers, whom work 6-days per week, are asking for a 5-day work week. Seems fair to me. But with that, no doubt, will also come a lower weekly salary.

Barcelona also has the metro, thankfully, but with the entire city depending on the already busy metro system, PARTICULARLY during the holidays when people are most on the movie, this a not very positive alternative. Many older persons prefer buses to metro and can't afford taxis - although it's probably the taxis whom benefiting from this conflict.

A number of Barcelona bus drivers are being blamed for sabotage of the 54 buses operated by "scabs". "Scabs" are people whom go against the strike and work instead of striking. Bus stations were also vandalized with spray paint, expressing the wants of the strikers.

How do you feel about the bus strike in Barcelona? Share your views, opinions here. It's unfortunate workers must resort to striking but, of course, employers are typically slow or apprehensive offering "more" when they can get away with less.