Sunday, March 31, 2013

Barcelona: Land of 1 Million Parcs


First off welcome to Barcelona! You should know that it is pronounced BarTHelona. Most of the words with 's' soft 'c' and 'z' sounds in the Spanish (only Spain, not South America, Mexico or other Spanish speaking countries) vocabulary are replaced with the 'th' sound. If it sounds like you have a lisp while saying it, you are thaying it correctly. For instance: 'gracias' becomes- grathiath. Get it? Got it? Good.

For those of you who know me, know I studied at SUNY-ESF (or the State University of New York-College of Environmental Science and Forestry, placing it in the Guinness book of World Records for the longest university name in the world). I am still featured on the college website leaving a lasting legacy. ( -Half way down on the right side. I am in the Scooby suit.)

I majored in Landscape Architecture, obviously, and was drawn to the school due to its, literally, world renowned 'off-campus' program. Our off campus semester was totally unique in that we didn't go to another university to take classes, but rather we wrote a study in the second semester of our fourth year, which we were then to carry out in the location of our choosing. For instance I studied in Australia and compared the "Sense of Place in Waterfront Resort Design". Sound like an excuse to go to Australia swim in the ocean and stay at sweet resorts? Well you are absolutely right! However I did get a lot out of my study aside from a sweet tan.

There is an excellent faculty at ESF and they come visit you during your off campus to answer questions, help you with your study, but I believe primarily to take a paid trip to an exotic locale. There is a certain professor who, although this is just me speculating, I believe bribes students to ensure a Barcelona group each year. He then accompanies this group every year to Barcelona and has become quite the expert on the city.

After visiting Barcelona for only a day, it easy to see why anyone, especially a Landscape Architect, would come back to this place year after year. It is an absolute mecca for designers of all backgrounds. Barcelona (as mentioned on the 'Barcelona Bus Turistic') is 'constantly changing to ensure a better quality of life for not only those living here, but tourists as well.'

As I walked through the city the first day blog after blog popped into my head. I could easily do a blog for each park! The titles flooded my brain! Parc Güell: Just a 'Gaudi' Walk in the Parc, Ramblin' on Las Ramblas, View from the Top: Montjuic in a Nutshell, Plaça Catalunya: In the Middle of it All. A blog for each park? As the great female African American pop culture icon of our time said: 'Ain't nobody got time for that.' (

It is very refreshing to see the amount of well designed public places in Barcelona and how great the range of styles is. The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya which is housed within the Palau Nacional has an incredible grand plaza lined with countless fountains leading up to it.  The sheer size of this place is awe-inspiring.  There are wide open plazas in front of massive Cathedrals in the Barrio Gotic. Las Ramblas is an incredibly wide pedestrian mall lined with small artisian kiosks bordered by one way street traffic and flanked by stores. Parc de Diagonal Mar is a fantastic modern park that meanders 'diagonally' from the beach inland along stone pathways, over elevated bridges and boardwalks, around water features and under unique shade structures. Port Olimpic is in the middle of the 'Olympic Village' from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and showcases shops, restaurants and a beachfront boardwalk the stretches on for miles. Of course you cannot forget Parc Güell. Another of Antoni Gaudi's works, although it had originally been planned as an English style housing community before the funding was cut short. It shows that maybe, just maybe, some architects know a little bit about site design. :)  The following are pictures showing a few of these places.

Plaza in Front of Palau Nacional

Las Ramblas
La Rambla (waterfront)
Mercat off of Las Ramblas
Parc de Diagonal Mar
Shade Structures and Stone Path

Wood Bridge and Lighting
Earth Berms in the Sun
Gigantic Metal Slides for Children...or Adults
Port Olimpic
'Sustainable' Building Model
Port Olimpic and Beach

Parc Güell

THE Gaudi Lizard
Handcrafted Columns and Bench
Stone Wall and Stairs Amidst Lush Gardens
One Happy Landscape Architect

This is only a sampleing of the public spaces within this magnificent city. It is really great to see the preservation of the historic areas as well as the support and incorporation of modern art and architecture. The way they intertwine is quite marvelous and creates a unique fabric that makes up the city that is Barcelona.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sevilla, Spain: City of Tile and Stone

Plaza de Espana

Hello, hello, hello!  Since the last post we have covered some serious distance.  We crossed the ocean to our second continent and have been cruising throughout Spain for over a week now!  We flew into Madrid and spent a few days there.  Despite mixed reviews from other people about Madrid we found it to be a fantastic city. Andrea and I realized that part of our enjoyment of this city was the extreme contrast after travelling within South America for a month and a half.  We really did enjoy ourselves but only 2 short days later we moved on to Toledo.  This was a much smaller city, very medieval.  Small streets, smaller alleys, and even smaller sidewalks.  It was easy to get lost, but that way we were able to explore that much more, even if by accident.  After three days and some excellent tips from our gracious hosts (another excellent AirBnB location) we made our way from Toledo back to Madrid and then took a six hour bus ride to the southern city of Sevilla (or Seville in English). 

Sevilla is another old city in Spain filled with incredible beauty.  The amount of old stone and brick buildings is overwhelming.  Every alley and every turn unveiled to us another beautiful building.  There is stone everywhere, stone building walls, old stone columns, cobblestone streets, stone bridges, and stone pillars incorporated into wrought iron fences.  It is simply beautiful.  Check out the following pictures of the different uses of stone throughout the city.

Stone Pillars at Plaza de Espana

La Catedral

Rear of Catedral
Notice the Arab Influence in the Shape of the Windows
Center Right

Stone Light and Fountain Outside of La Catedral

Celtic Influence at the Walls Surrounding the Alcazar (Palace)

After walking around for a little while longer I started to notice something else: color.  Little tiles incorporated into walls, columns, and benches.  I started to see more and more.  I had never seen tile used this much outdoors anywhere else!  Even the Arab and Spanish influence on this area was evident in the tiles.
There were simple colored tiles installed in sidewalks, street name tiles embedded in the side of buildings, elaborate colorful mosaics, and even pieces of alternating white and blue tile installed as coping on a 12” curb planter.  It was beautiful and unique.  In Buffalo the use of this much tile would most likely not work, as the fear of vandalism, or the impact of weather would undoubtedly cause designers and clients to shy away from using it.  The main thing that surprised me was the use of tile as coping.  Edges of walls, curbs and railings are typically ‘protected’ by metal ‘skate stoppers’ to prevent skaters from grinding on them. They would certainly not be accentuated by the use of colorful tile.  I do realize that this was installed a long time ago, but even still people realize that it is important and do not damage it in any manner.  It was really interesting.
On our second day we went over to the Plaza de Espana which was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 which was held in the adjacent Parque de Maria Luisa (you can read more here if you like: Plaza de Espana-Wikipedia).  I had never seen more ceramic tile in my entire life.  I had even thought about doing an entire post about this plaza.  It was incredibly ornate and the ornate building surrounded a large fountain and beyond the fountain was a gigantic park!  Sheer beauty.  The pictures that follow are taken throughout the city to show the wide range of places where the tile was used.

Stone and Tile Feature in the Alcazar Gardens

Tile Clad Ballisters on the Bridge Railing at Plaza de Espana

Castle Tile Detail at Plaza de Espana
Tile and Stone Bench at the Alcazar Gardens

The Tile Coping!

Sevilla was amazing, but as is the theme to this trip: On to the next!  Sevilla by morning and Barcelona by night.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pushing my Comfort Zone

Alright readers, brace yourselves.  I am gonna drop a little introspection on you in this one!

So in the six weeks we have been traveling (count em, 1,2,3,4,5,6, double the 'accepted yearly equivalent' of 'a lot' of paid vacation time in the US) I have had a lot of time to think about a lot of things.  The past, the future, my career, my hobbies, nature, traveling, each place we visit, but most importantly I have thought a lot about myself.  I have tried to drill down on what makes me tick: what I like, what I don't like, and what I am passionate about.  You know, those deep cliche questions that we don't have the time to address in our day to day lives as we rush from our house, to work, to the gym, to the grocery store and home again.  I would like to share what I have come to learn thus far.

I was not looking forward to South America.  Before we started I truly wanted to go right to Europe and begin our trip there.  I was not sure why, but the thought of visiting South America (aside from the Galapagos) made me truly uncomfortable.

I now believe I know why.  I didn't know a lot about Ecuador or Peru, and due to that fact alone I envisioned it as a dangerous place with none of the refinements that I felt I needed to feel comfortable.  I had heard that we could be mugged in certain places we were going.  I also knew that most of where we would be in S.A. is considered a developing nation and although not totally clear on that term, I didn't like it.

This led me to my two first realizations.  I have come to realize that I like the United States and New York for all of the things you can expect as a citizen.  For instance, I like sitting on my couch browsing Amazon for things I don't really need on my iPad as I watch Blu Rays on my over sized TV all while eating chips and salsa.  I also like the accessibility of everything.  For example if I want a ham at 3:30 in the morning, I can cruise over to Wegmans, buy one, and go home and bake the thing!  Secondly, I realized that the excess in the US is out of control.  Why is it necessary to build a brand new building for a McDonalds or Starbucks when there are so many abandoned strip malls and buildings.  In addition, why the heck do we have a CVS across from a Walgreens across from a Rite Aid, across from a Starbucks across from a Starbucks, across from a McDonalds across from a McDonalds?!  I am at a loss as to a reason for this.

Upon our arrival in Guayaquil, Ecuador, I immediately felt uncomfortable.  I realized later after arriving to several other new places at night, that this REALLY throws off my perception of a place.  I tried to nip this feeling of discomfort in the bud as I didn't want to spend four months of my life in 'uncomfortable exploration'.  I talked with Andrea a bit during our first day in Guayaquil and was able to find some relief in this discussion, coupled with a quote from a friend's Facebook page.  The quote read as follows, 'Everything you want is just outside your comfort zone.'  There have been several times that this saying has rung true, insert realization number three.  The discomfort of something new, something different, something you may be unsure of, is nothing compared the benefits you reap when you put yourself out there and go for it!

A brief story to reinforce this point.  We were in Quito, Ecuador, and me being sick took away from a lot of my experiences there.  However, it was our last night and I was feeling better.  Andrea had taken care of me while I was sick, and had been itching to do something.  She had read in an Ecuador guidebook that there was this neat street named Calle La Ronda in the 'Old Town.'  This was apparently a narrow street that had a ton of character with loads of restaurants and shops that were great to visit at night.  She had also read that the 'Old Town' was not night.  Commence discomfort.  I was just getting over being sick, and that night she wanted to head to the part of Quito that wasn't night?   I know a few of you (my closest friends) are probably like, 'Seriously Drew, grow a set, who is the woman in this relationship?'  I have this to say to you:  'I have a set, now shut up and leave me a lone.'  Anyways, away we went.

It was awesome.  The street was beautiful, with unique shops selling Ecuadorian wares and foods.  Doorways that led through buildings and into beautiful courtyard restaurants inside.  What a sight!  We had the best meal of our stay in Quito, bought some overpriced chocolate, and settled down in a cafe for hot chocolate (cocoa with chili).  We were enjoying our time in the cafe when we were approached by a girl no more than seven years old trying to sell us something.  We reluctantly told her we were not interested, and she eventually walked away.  A woman nearby told us, it breaks her heart to see the young girls selling candy and cigarettes on the street, but if you buy things you are just reinforcing this practice.  We began talking with this nice woman, and came to find that she was from Peru, but now lived with her husband and kids in Minnesota.  She was ecstatic to hear that we were headed to Peru the next day and wasted no time in providing us with a list of 'Must Do/Must Try'  items in Peru.  We thanked her, exchanged contact information, and parted ways.  You really miss out on these experiences if you can't step out of your comfort zone.  (Side note:  We are happy to report that we have tried just about every suggestion she gave us, and each one has been amazing!  Thank you Jessica!)

All in all, I have come to realize a lot about myself.  I realized on our last big trip in Australia that if I have to travel on a boat after dark and the seas are rough, I may throw up.  Therefore, working on a boat may not be my best option.  I realized on our trek to Machu Picchu, that an adventure guide, although it may mean you are climbing mountains and hiking all the time, you WILL do the same trip four times a month in rain or sun.  In addition, if you are a guide on a certain trek and you have four jerk clients you are stuck with four jerk clients for four days!  No thanks, I will hike and climb on my own accord.  I've also reinforced to myself how important nature is to me, and would like to find ways to get more involved with preservation.  Lastly, but not least, I have really come to believe that I am truly happy with the career I have chosen for myself.  I am a Registered Landscape Architect.  I get to create places that will be enjoyed by people for years!  I get to be creative, solve problems, and provide solutions that work in harmony with the environment.  Now that is pretty cool.

So the moral of the story is, if your put yourself out there every now and then (and yes mom and dad, within reason) you may not only get a heck of a lot in return, but you may just learn something about yourself too!


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Aguas Calientes, Peru: A Walkable Town in the Middle of the Andes

The small town of Aguas Calientes is also know as the gateway to Macchu Picchu.  Accessible by foot, train and apparently helicopter this gem is tucked into the Andean Mountain range but not hidden by any means.  It is a simple 4 hour train and bus ride from Cusco to arrive here, however a large percentage of the visitors here arrive by foot.  We took a slightly different route.  After a 3 hour van ride, a 33 mile bike ride, a night in Santa Theresa, Peru and a 6 hour 14 mile trek through the jungle of Peru we arrived in Aguas Calientes.  I expected a very touristy, overpriced, and weathered town.  However I was pleasantly surprised!

Aguas Calientes from Putucusi Mountain

This little town is quite impressive.  The selection of places to stay, shop and eat is massive and very diverse!  As the town is inaccessible by car you will not find motor vehicles here, aside from the buses headed up to and returning from Macchu Picchu.  However on the main street in town, Avenida Imperio de los Incas, you will find significant train traffic.  This is the main source of human (and goods) transport to Aguas Calientes (aside from one's own feet).  PERURAIL ( has a corner on the market for getting travelers in and out of this gateway to the Lost City of the Incas.  Trains come and go on this street all day long.  The train from Aguas Calientes to Cusco on PERURAIL is a bit pricey, but after taking this train myself, I have to say it is worth every penny!

Avenida Imperio de los Incas and Train
(From Above)
Avenida Imperio de los Incas
(From Street Level)
At the 'foot' of the town the mighty Rio Urambamba roars through the mountains.  The smaller Rio Aguas Calientes dissects the town into north and south parts but provides for a very unique use of bridges to link both sides of the town.  The natural topography of the mountainous landscape dictates the layout of the town and the streets within.  Therefore the streets at the bottom of the town follow the river, and the streets at the top create a sort of outline of the base of the mountains.  Please see the basic map below to get an idea of the town's layout.  However this map does not cover the entire town, nor does it illustrate the seemingly hundreds of side streets and alleys that the town possess!


The town is remarkably pedestrian friendly.  Although the grades of about 80 percent of the town are quite steep (forget about ADA compliance here folks) , due to lack of vehicular traffic walking the town is incredibly easy.  All of the streets (read: wide sidewalks) are constructed of concrete unit pavers.  There are even places where multiple colored pavers are used to create patterns resembling Incan art.  The aforementioned bridges are located intermittently along the river and allow for cross access at these select points.  Each bridge is slightly different in color and construction, and they provide for a unique route to cross the river as well as unique views up and down stream.  Each side of the river is lined with shops, restaurants and places to stay.  Each of these services really benefits from the location and beauty of this river.

View Downstream (Rio Aguas Calientes)
Downstream View and Walkway
Another Bridge and Local Workers Transporting Goods
Up and Down the Steep Slopes
Although a small mountain town, Aguas Calientes seems to truly recognize the benefit tourism has on this place.  Aside from the stores, restaurants and hotels there are narrow alleys, several plazas with information about the history of this place, fountains, and even the stormwater drainage has been designed to be exposed and act as more of a water feature than simple enclosed water transport.  There are so many small details that make this place interesting and accommodating.  Although simple in nature all of the elements within the town work together to create a unique experience for all visitors.

Narrow Stairs and Alley Accessing
More Restaurants and Hotels
Plaza Prinipal
Water Feature Alongside Sidewalk

Main Water Feature at Center of Town

Exposed Stormwater Channel

Exposed Stormwater Channel
 and Constructed Water Falls

At the end of the day almost everyone visiting Aguas Calientes is doing so in order to reach Macchu Picchu.  With views like it any wonder why?



Monday, March 4, 2013

The Shared Streets of Miraflores, Peru

Greetings from Peru!  I am currently sitting on a balcony overlooking the beautiful city of Cusco, Peru sipping a cup of tea and watching the sun slip behind the mountains that surround this place. After 4 days in Miraflores (an upscale and westernized suburb of Lima) of busy city life heavy traffic, fast people and a big day of paragliding the slower pace of Cusco is quite welcome! I mean look at this view!

Cusco, Peru
From Hostel Samay Wasi                           

However, my focus for this post is on Miraflores and its incorporation of shared streets within the city.  Let me elaborate,by shared I mean the same travel corridor is used by normal vehicular traffic, public transport and pedestrians.  Let me begin by saying alot of traffic in Lima is nuts!!   I believe the people of the greater Lima area pride themselves on complete disregard for safety, and their ability to make up traffic rules as they go. For instance, in Lima when a road is striped to be 3 lanes wide this just means if drivers straddle the lines...instant 4 lane road. In addition, brake lights simply indicate to drivers behind the braking vehicle to honk and abruptly swerve around them even if that means going off of the road and tearing through a dirt and gravel parking lot.   I would not advise the the rental of a car in Lima, however if it is unavoidable, a solid insurance rider is a must.

Not all of Lima is awful in terms of traffic.  There are several streets that are less hectic and constructed to accommodate pedestrians and even provide enough separation to help them, feel safe from the city traffic. First off Malecon Balta. This road travels north south and stretches from the inland center of Miraflores to the coast. The coast in this area is different than most. The ocean meets the land at about 1000 feet below the elevation of the city. The area is built up on top of a rocky cliff, but Malecon Balta splits off to serve both the areas at the top and base of the cliff.

The Coast of Miraflores

The route to the base of the cliff side city is particularly beautiful. The road curves around providing a beautiful view of the ocean. The street is made of cobblestone and some flat pavers were installed in the areas for the tires to provide for a smoother ride. The wide median has nice light fixtures and curbed planters. The pedestrian access along this corridor is separated from the traffic by lawn and plantings. In some places the sidewalk is even elevated to provide further separation from the vehicular traffic.  This is a beautiful place to walk and at the end of the stroll you reach the Pacific Ocean, not too shabby.

Malecon Balta

Regular Sidewalk with Retaining Wall
Constructed Conditions Change based on Space Available

Tree Lawn and Elevated Sidewalk

Curbed Median, Lighting, and Curbed Planters

View from Left Side of Malecon Balta

Overall Street Section View
Left to Right: 6' Sidewalk, ~18' Travel Lane, 5' Width Curbed Cobblestone Median with Planters and Lighting,
~18' Travel Lane, 6' Tree Lawn, 10' Elevated Sidewalk

Bridge over Malecon Balta at Sunset
Lower Portion with Ocean Access
             The other road I would like to highlight is more centrally located within the city.  Av. Jose Pardo travels west to east and is an extremely busy vehicular corridor. This stretch of road connects two traffic circles or 'ovalos' and is lined with the common city fare of banks, condos, restaurants, and offices. There is a very wide median separating the two sides of vehicular traffic and provides pedestrians with a central walking corridor surrounded by trees, shrubs and lawn. It is not possible to forget 100% that you are in the middle of the bustling city but the walk is quite pleasant.

Av. Jose Pardo
Central Pedestrian Walk
Looking East
Central Pedestrian Walk
Looking West
Miraflores surprised me and although the traffic was insane, the atmosphere and people made for a very nice stay!