Friday, July 27, 2012

Wrapping Up Barcelona: A Little of Everything

Light show at the Magic Fountain.

  It's the last day of vacation; what do you do?

  Do you get one last day of rest and relaxation? Or one more day out and about seeing the sights? It was our last day in Barcelona, so we planned a little of both.

  Anyone who has been out pounding the pavement, knows how tired your feet, back, and legs can get after just a few days of sightseeing. Who knew being a tourist is almost as tough on your body as playing professional basketball can be?

  So our plan for the last day in Barcelona was to relax, have an easy morning, and then get our final afternoon of sight seeing in on the hillside that overlooks the city, Montjuïc .

Linda and I in the Olympic Stadium!
  Linda and I had found a plaza in the El Born neighborhood the previous nights, that we thought had a fun atmosphere, and still was a little off the beaten path. We wanted to have lunch in this plaza.

  One of the things I try to avoid while traveling are tourist traps. I don't like visiting the TGI Fridays of the world, or settling for 'cardboard box meals' (you know, the meals that look like they could have come out of a box, or heated up in the microwave), or the like.

  Places like TGI Fridays, or the Hard Rock Cafe, are restaurants I used to crave in my first few years in Europe. I don't necessarily miss 'American' food anymore when I'm abroad. Instead I like finding little local restaurants or cafes, where you're more-likely to find some specialty food from the region.

  We picked out a little cafe that had a wide variety of food, and settled in for lunch outside in the plaza. Towards the end of our lunch, there was a group of neighborhood kids playing stick ball. As we finished lunch, we watched as they played. On one of the plays, there was a foul ball, and the ball popped up behind the kids, and got stuck in the window bars about 9 or 10 feet off the ground!

  It reminded me of the days playing whiffle ball in the front yard with my brother, only to lose the ball in the huge hedge that resembled the Green Monster.

Linda rescuing the ball for the neighborhood kids!
  The kids tried and tried to get the ball, but it was out of their reach! Lucky for them, Linda came to the rescue. She ran over, and helped them get the ball, so their afternoon of playing stick ball could continue!

  After a relaxing morning, and easy-paced lunch in El Born, Linda and I made our way up to Montjuïc .

  The hillside to the northwest of Barcelona was the site of most the 1992 Olympic games.

  The '92 games are the first Olympics that I really remember watching as a kid, so it was pretty special being able to see the grounds. We made our way to the Olympic Stadium, which happened to be prepping for a Bruce Springsteen concert.

  I was very tempted to run down onto the track and run a lap on the track famous by Gail Devers, Carl Lewis, and others. I might have made it around, but am pretty sure someone would have hauled me off before I crossed the finish line.

Montjuïc Castle.
  To my surprise, Montjuïc wasn't very busy. It was a nice change from the packed streets of Barcelona. We had a nice walk through the Olympic grounds, and around the National Art Museum of Catalonia (MNAC), taking in the views.

  We took a tram ride further up the mountain to the castle overlooking the Port of Barcelona and the city.

  I had gotten a suggestion to watch the fountain show at Magic Fountain that started once the sun went down. So we had a several hours to kill before the fountain show would begin.

  Here's where the day turned a little bizarre, and definitely memorable. 

Atop Montjuïc Castle.
  There was an arena near MNAC that was shaped like a basketball arena. Naturally, we thought that might have been the arena that the Olympic games were played, and where BCN played hoops. So we wanted to explore. If it was indeed the arena where the Dream Team won the gold medal in 1992, that was something I wanted to see!

  As we approached the arena, it became clear it was not an athletics arena, but a mall!

  On the top of the mall, around the Arena, there were restaurants, and like many of the attractions in Barcelona, areas that provided you with fantastic views of the city. From the top, you could look up towards the MNAC, and see a little different perspective of the city. Not just the view looking down onto the water, like many of the other vistas provided.

  As we looked down, immediately in front of the mall, we noticed a group of guys playing a game on a field below. There was no ball, but it was obvious there was a pattern, and a game was being played. We stood atop the mall, a couple hundred feet above the field and watched. Linda and I tried to figure out the point of the game, but both of us had trouble figuring exactly what was going on.

Snack time!
  So we decided we needed a closer look. We headed down to the field to take a seat on the grass and watch. First, we stopped inside the mall's movie theater and bought some popcorn. We needed something to snack on while we watched!

  There were teams of four or five men. One team would surround an opposing player, and engage him in wrestling-like action. Whether it'd be an attempt to tackle his leg, or just a fake attack. Once a player was engaged in action, the chase was on -- for the attacked player to return to his team's end of the field before being tackled by his opponent.

  The game we were watching had one stud in particular, who was quite the showman too -- he even did a back flip at the end for our benefit. They could see Linda and I watching and marveling at the newly discovered game, so I guess they wanted to make sure we were entertained. Here's a quick video of the action:

  The game is called Kabaddi. Google it. I'm sure there are aspects of the game we misinterpreted. 

Magic Fountain from MNAC.
  Our last dinner in Barcelona was less-than-stellar. We couldn't find anything that looked appealing in the vicinity of Magic Fountain. So we ended up in a hotel sports bar that happened to be showing the EuroLeague Championship (basketball).

  For those of you who don't know, the EuroLeague is considered the second best basketball league in the world (behind the NBA). The Champions League of basketball, if you will.

  While we were eating dinner and watching the game, a group of Americans gathered behind us. They immediately began ragging on the game being shown: insulting the players, the league, and in my opinion, the countries involved. They were very loud and obnoxious about it, and it quickly got on my nerves.

Magic Fountain behind.
  Not only did they have no idea about the particular game being played, or the EuroLeague in general, but they were extremely disrespectful. It's situations like that where I cringe because I know that's how we, as Americans, get our bad reputations abroad.

  I couldn't hold my tongue, and listen to the loud bashing for long. Unfortunately, I don't think my words were really heard, but at least I let my feelings known.

  It was finally dark, so Linda and I made the short walk back across Plaça d'Espanya to Magic Fountain for the light and water show. And what a way to finish our time in Barcelona!!

  The sidewalks and stairways were packed with people, as everyone took in the show. The display reminded me of a Disneyland laser light show combined with a water show in Las Vegas. It was a fun, colorful, unique, and memorable way to spend our last evening in Barcelona!

  Our final day in Barcelona certainly was a little out of the ordinary. If you had told me we would spend a couple hours sitting on the grass, eating popcorn, and watching a game I had never heard of, I would have said you were crazy.

  You can get a little bit of everything in Barcelona, and our last day there proved just that. But it was a memorable one to say the least.

  I enjoyed Barcelona, and all the variety and culture it had to offer. I hope to travel back one day, to further explore the things Linda and I did see, and to visit the places we didn't make it to this time around.

  As always, enjoy more pictures below! If you've been, what are the things you appreciated about Barcelona?


Pretty palm tree!
Looking down from MNAC.
Inside Olympic Stadium. The torch!
Linda's turn!
At the '92 Olympic Site.
Looking into Barcelona, from the tram.
Barcelona from the tram.
Barcelona from the tram.
Port of Barcelona, from Montjuïc Castle.
Linda atop Montjuïc Castle.
Looking onto Barcelona from Montjuïc Castle.
Atop Montjuïc Castle.
The Arena.
MNAC from the top of the Arena.
Watching the Kabaddi game from above.
Kabaddi training.
Magic Fountain.
At Magic Fountain.
Magic Fountain.

Monday, July 23, 2012

My Philosophy: Be Versatile

Blogging, the old fashioned way.

  Last week I had the chance to sit-in on a Trainers Round Table where various professionals discussed their training philosophies. Although I am not a trainer, the topic got me thinking, and thinking broader than just the scope of training.

  Not just, what is your training philosophy? But, what is your philosophy, period?

  How do you live?

  Here's mine: Be versatile. Be well-rounded. Expand. Get better.

  Continue to challenge yourself, your body, your mind.

  While my life may lean heavily towards athletics, and more specifically, basketball. I am working at broadening my horizons, and learn new things. My blogs are a reflection of that. I have variety of topics that I'm genuinely interested in, and continually trying to learn more about.

  Be versatile.

  That's how I play basketball. That's how I train.

Bird & Magic: Stat-sheet-stuffers.
  In basketball, I grew up thinking the more versatile I could be, the better. Partially, because I thought that was the most fun way to play. I thought it was boring to go stand in the post, and wait for a guard to pass you the ball. So I developed guard skills. And didn't have to wait for anyone. I focused on my entire game. Not just shooting, or any other particular aspect.

  I have always admired players who could 'stuff a stat sheet' as they say. Players who could do anything on the floor. Players like that, those are the players you're unable to forget. That's how I tried to play as a kid, and that's how I continue to play now.

  In training your body, if you continually work the same muscles, in the same manner, they wear down, grow tired, and injuries may occur. The exercises become less and less effective. At the same time, the muscles you neglect, weaken. Not to mention, you get bored doing the same things over and over.

  Whereas if you train your body in a variety of ways, you're constantly using and developing different muscles. Your body will hold up better, and be more efficient for day-to-day use, and wear and tear. Take a different class. Go for a swim. Spice your workouts up a little!

Do something out of the ordinary!
  In every regard, it's easy to do what we are good at, and ignore our weaknesses.

  I naturally can run longer distances better than I can sprint. So I force myself to do a sprint workout at least once or twice a week in the off-season in hopes that I will become better at it (as well as reaping the benefits of interval training).

  If there is something you want to learn to do, read about it! If you are curious about how something works, research it!

  By working to become versatile, weaknesses can turn into assets.

  On the flip side, there are times when I come across an opponent on the basketball court who clearly has ONE thing she does exceptionally well. And she's unstoppable at it.

  Just like there are people who are extremely successful in the business world because they can do one specific thing better than anyone else. 

  So sometimes I question, is it better to excel at just ONE thing, or proficient at MANY?

Make yourself anything you want!
  Be a 'Jack of all trades', or specialize?

  With all of my worldly experience (tongue firmly implanted in cheek), I still think it's a no-brainer. The more versatile you are, the better. In every aspect. We don't want our brain, or our muscles, wearing out from doing the same thing over and over again, do we?

  Be versatile. 

  We all have different talents, and different interests. And we're never too old to learn something new, or try something new. We can better ourselves, and redefine ourselves at anytime. Being well-rounded keeps things fresh and new, and exciting (no ruts!). It constantly challenges your comfort zone.

  People may have put me into the 'she's a basketball player' box long ago. And that is definitely true. But I think there are several other boxes I can wiggle myself into as well. Don't be put into one box. Be undefinable.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Barcelona Day 2 -- Las Ramblas and Busy Barceloneta

In front of Las Ramblas.

  Onto day two in Barcelona!

  What had originally appealed to me about Barcelona was the fact that such a big, lively city can also located right on the shores of the Mediterranean. To me, this combination made Barcelona the perfect vacation spot.

  You have the historic sights of Gaudi Park, Las Ramblas, Montjuïc, while also being minutes away from relaxing on beautiful sandy beaches.

  And even though Linda and I had just spent four days on the incomparable beaches of Sardegna, both of us desperately wanted one last afternoon relaxing on the beach. We thought a Saturday in May would be perfect.

Tree-lined Passeig de Gràcia.
  But before we hit Barceloneta for the afternoon, Linda and I had a few sights we wanted to see first. We jumped on the metro, and headed in the direction of Passeig de Gràcia and Las Ramblas.

  We walked the entire length of Passeig de Gràcia (we affectionately nicknamed it P.G. to avoid and embarrassing pronunciation disasters). You could find a lot of high-end shopping, and more architecture by Antoni Gaudi along the tree-lined boulevard.

  Passeig de Gràcia is also considered the most expensive street in Barcelona. Since I'm one that can never pass-up the swoosh, one stop we had to make was at Nike Barcelona when we strolled by it.

  Passeig de Gràcia eventually runs into Plaça de Catalunya, the square where old Barcelona, and the newer city converge. From Plaça de Catalunya, Las Ramblas begins. The kilometer-long avenue might be Barcelona's most well-known attraction.

  We walked from Plaça de Catalunya towards the harbor, stopped in at a Starbucks, and then continued people-watching and perusing through the kiosks as we made our way through the pedestrian mall.

The entrance of La Boqueria.
  There's a large public market called La Boqueria where we stopped to find some food to take with us to Barceloneta. The market has a long standing history in Barcelona, as it originally dates all the way back to the 1200s.

  Beautiful fruit and vegetable stands, flower shops, and makeshift-restaurants run throughout the jam-packed covered market.

  We were enjoying exploring the maze that was the market, until we came across the meat stand and encountered the lamb head with its eyes peering right at us. That was our cue to take our fresh fruit, and head towards the beach.

  If the Alghero beaches were relaxing and peaceful, Barceloneta was the polar opposite. I have never been on a beach so jam-packed and busy. We tried to find a spot that was off the beaten path, but that proved to be impossible.

Busy Barceloneta.
  Eventually, we settled on a spot smack in the middle of all the action -- since there really was no spot OFF the beaten path. We tried to relax, but the constant hassling from vendors trying to sell cold drinks, scarves, hats, and anything else imaginable, made relaxing a little difficult.

  Linda and I both were quickly annoyed, but we made-do, and tried to enjoy the sunshine and the water.

  That was an interesting beach to sit on for the afternoon. Saw a couple things I didn't care to see, such as both men and women turning Barceloneta into a nude beach. Yikes!

Linda in the water.
  Needless to say, we didn't last too long on Barceloneta, and set back out onto Las Ramblas. I found some pretty jewelry made by a local woman, that I bought for myself and brought a pair of earrings home for my mom as well.

  Evening came, and it was time for dinner! Once again, tapas and sangria were on tap. Linda and I enjoyed the neighborhood we had eaten at the night before, so we head back down to Barri Gòtic to find another restaurant to try out. We wanted to find a place to sit outside, but unfortunately everywhere we went the patios were full.

Got some gelato!
  We settled on semi-hole-in-the-wall, that had a wide variety of things on the menu. I had a traditional Spanish Tortilla and, after days of tapas, sandwiches, pizza, and pasta, a much-needed salad. The sangria, as could be expected, was awesome!

  Linda was determined to taste the Spanish beer, but was having difficulty finding the list on the the menu. She asked our waitress, 'donde esta el beer?' as I died laughing at our attempt to speak a little Spanish.

  We wandered in and out of the streets, looking for a second cafe/bar to stop in, but weren't having much luck finding one that caught our eye. I must have been having a particularly tall night that night, because the constant comments from strangers quickly got on my nerves.

  As we continued walking, ice cream was starting to appeal to me. And since we couldn't find a cafe that enticed us, we settled on some gelato -- never a bad way to end a night!

  Day two in Barcelona was a little wacky, but we saw some fun sights on Las Ramblas, and some unfortunately unforgettable things in Barceloneta. But wacky makes for memorable, which is exactly what you want vacations to be!

A short Barceloneta video -- so you can see the madness. And more pictures below!

Gaudi architecture along Passeig de Gràcia.
Plaça de Catalunya
Linda along Las Ramblas.

Inside the market.
Barcelona Harbor.
Sitting on Barceloneta.
Streets of Barri Gòtic neighborhood.
Barcelona at night.