Posts Tagged ‘Barcelona’

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Drinking and Eating (in that order)

If I’ve given any impression that Ken and I are using this vacation as an excuse to drink alcohol, allow me to point out that, unlike the locals, we are waiting until the afternoon to get our drink on. Apparently, beer is a breakfast beverage here. Not just beer, though. Wine and cava (like champaigne) seem also like a matter of course when workers stop by the bar for a pastry and a sip before shuttling off to work. The only local we’ve been able to hit up with our questions about this (and any other matter) has been Estafania (E), whom—you may recall—we met in Seville. We described to E how, back home, working for our employer, ordering a beer with lunch would reflect very poorly. She expressed surprise in hearing that, and explained (because we asked) that there was no restricted drinking age when she was growing up—she seems to be around our age. She said that now the legal drinking age is 18 but that it is not strictly enforced. If teens want to buy alcohol, they’ll just as easily find a place that will sell to them. We agreed that attitudes between our two cultures regarding alcohol are very different.

Today marks our last morning in Barcelona before we hop a flight to Bilbao.

This morning’s meanderings led us to two markets. The markets here are truly wonderful affairs that fill me with jealousy. A lot of the stalls repeat what’s around them. You find the usual suspects—butchers, fruit & veggy stands, cheese stalls, nuts, & the like. It’s not so much the variety but the specialization and preparation of what’s available that blows me away.

Let’s talk specialization. What I’d never seen until this trip is all the market stalls devoted to just eggs. Eggs in every variety (chicken, duck, phesant, ostritch, or emu; speckled, white, yellow, blue, or brown; dirty or clean; hard boiled or fresh) stacked up in numerous stalls in each of the large markets we’ve visited.

Wandering the neighborhoods, it seems the shops frequently follow a model of specialization. We’ve passed many stores in the neighborhood devoted to fresh fruits and vegetables, something I’ve never seen in the states. There are, of course, a lot of butchers around everywhere, too—Spanish being the carniverois cuisine that it is. Supermarkets are few. Folks wheel tall totes to the various neighborhood specialty shops and market stalls to check everything off their grocery lists. Supermarkets are harder to come by than in the states and are far less expansive where they do appear.

Back to the market and its meat stalls. They make no attempt to cover up the source from whence their wares come. The animals on display are recognizable. We passed by many suckling piggies and the disembodied heads of their parents. Offal is on offer. Skinned rabbits abound. The chickens have not lost their heads. I love to browse the meat stalls, and clearly there are not too many to support demand. While I remain abivalent about my own willingness to process the animals I eat, I’ve long found our own grocery store meat counters conspicuously sterile. I have to remind myself that beef and pork come from cows and pigs. In the states, conscious eating is making a comeback. In Spain (and, I’d wager, much of Europe) it would seem no one needs reminding what real or slow food is.

One final word about the markets on what makes me covet them: the fruit stalls offer prepared fruit and juices. Why aren’t the produce stalls in Pike Market hip to this brilliance?! Confronting you as you approach is a wall of grab-and-go containers filled with differing, delectable mellanges: coconut pieces, cactus flower slices, papaya, strawberry, pineapple, cheeries. We ate them all this morning pre-breakfast, arranged in one container with a little fork—a cornicopia of fresh fruit for 2 euros. Later we sprung a couple euro more for fresh juice made from one fruit stall’s inventory. (I had coconut pineapple, and I’m ruined forever from enjoying the bottled stuff!) Usually, I can’t buy fresh market foods on these trips because I lack the means to prepare it myself. We did buy this morning because the stall had prepared it. Even cured meat stalls and cheese stalls have this notion, some of them arranging little paper jackets of sliced sausages or cheese curds.

To sum up, I will not tire of these markets and look forward to comparing these Catelonian markets to their Basque brethren when we arrive in Bilbao and San Sebastian for more drinking and eating.

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Casa Mila

Tapas of the day: Bomba and Chorizo Gallego. Both were delicious. Oh, and a huge pitcher of sangria, strong like Mel makes it (Irene is drunk, shh…).

Today was the day we were going to take it easy. After hitting four museums yesterday along with the castle atop Montjuïc we were due a slow day.

We started it out with our second round of churros and chocolate of the trip. The first time the churros were hit and fresh and made-to-order but the chocate was not what I was lead to believe Spanish chocolate should be. This time the churros were lack luster but the chocolate was the thick, pudding like consistency it should be. Between the two we have had one satisfying chocolate con churro experience.

Our major tourist attraction for the day was La Pedera (Casa Mila) an apartment building designed by, you guessed it, Gaudi. We bee-lined for the roof again and then slowly worked our way down.

After we did the block of discord (as Rick Steves calls it) and then walked up the Rambla de Catalunya. Paying an expensive call on Muji (google it).

We spent the afternoon strolling down by the beach. A lot of strolling. It was hot and the beaches were full of sunbathers in various states of undress. Not that I was looking at the topless women mind you…

We made it as far down as the clothing optional section (oddly, and dissapointingly, it was mostly men who opted out) before turning around.

Irene has poured the last of the very strong sangria and I’m less than sober (I won’t say how much less) and so I will end here. Tomorrow afternoon we fly to Bilbao and then on to Basque country. See you there.

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Viva la Barcelona

The thing about having crap accomodations is that, instead of returning to the hotel room to relax, you make more stops for beer. That is, if you’re us. What happened—you may ask—to all that red, red rioja you were intending to consume on your Spanish vacation, Irene? It’s not served cold. Beer is served cold. Sangria is served cold (and with ice!) Wine is served as it should be: at room temp. The temp for us visiting Seattleites is Hot. Actually, Bacelona is refreshingly cooler than the south of Spain proved to be. Still we are seeking the shade and religiously applying our sunsceen daily. But cold beer helps, too.

We have an Art Pass. Like gluttons at an all-you-can-eat buffet, we are out to get our money’s worth. This afternoon’s cerveca was tapped at the Joan Miró museum, at which (even before the beer) I gained a modicum of respect for him and his work.

Yesterday was spent in the company of Gaudi (Sagrada Familia and the Park Güell) and Picasso (Picasso Museum). I’d like to think everyone appreciates the work of these artists. Visiting Barcelona feels a little like a pilgrimage, for Gaudi’s sake! But visiting these places reminded me how true artistry can come off as obvious and easy-looking while it is based on a profound mastery of one’s craft. Miró, it seemed, never excelled at representational art before turning his visual language into play. I don’t know if this has anything to do with how I’m just not into him. But this is what I think—of those who respond to practical questions about their work, their health, their relationships, “…you just don’t understand! I’m an ARTIST!”—they’re full of shite. You got to know your craft. Artists are craftsmen. And craft means discipline. That said…It’s their whimsey that moves. And, after our lineup with the Art Pass, I’m inspired to play.

But right now, I’m inspired to sit. Still composing this little ditty of a blog entry, I’m sitting with Ken now in the evening waiting for the Font Màgica to do its Thing. We walked (till our legs nearly mutinied) to land at the only indoor eatery within blocks and blocks and blocks to offer a bright and inviting, nonsmoking space in which the waitstaff looks at us funny when we even attempt Spanish. In the cool of the evening in this air condiditioned place, we order Rioja, and it comes ice cold. After the show at the Magic Fountain, we’ll take the metro back to our hyper cool neighborhood (The Born) to our hovel of a hostel, check in with the world via wifi, and pass out in our unairconditioned room while the locals start their evening meals. Viva la Barcelona! We love you. Sincerely, me.

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A day of Gaudi

It is a truth of any trip to Europe that something you really wanted to see will be under scaffolding. And sure enough when we got to the Sagrada Familia there was scaffolding everywhere! What a bummer!

We got there about a half hour before it’s opening time of 9am and all ready a small line had formed out front. Upon entering we immedietaly headed for the elevator on the Nativity Facade side of the cathedral. It whiskes you up one of the completed bell towers from where you can get an impressive view of Barcelona and a pretty up close look at some of Gaudi’s actual work.

The inside of the cathedral is very impressive in it’s incomplete state. It’s chaotic and noisy and a hive of workmen in active construction. What is complete is amazing. They hope to complete it in a couple of more decades.

We ate some mediocre vegie payala in the shadow of the cathedral and then took the bus up to Parc Guall, another Gaudi construction. It was packed with people and tacky crap vendors all congregating at the entrance and on the terrace overlooking the city. We didn’t linger long as it was getting late in the afternoon and we wanted to squeeze in the Picaso Museum as well.

I enjoyed this Picaso Museum much more than the one in Paris. The progression from his early representational works through to his early forays in to cubisim is very well laid out.

The weather here remains slightly overcast and in the low 80s. Very pleasent.

For dinner we took a little break from Spanish food at Udon which promised noodles & fun.

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La Rambla

Barcelona is cool. So cool in fact that I’m regretting my decision not to bring a jacket. The idea of a jacket would have been absurd before now. It’s a bit of a nice break from the heat we’ve been experiencing.

On the 9th floor of the El Court Inglase department store is a cafeteria overlooking the Plaça de Catalunya and has a spectacular view of Barcelona. Best of all it’s free.

We have been in the habbit this last four days of heading back to our hotel in the late afternoon to recuperate and rest up for our eveneing paseo and dinner, but our hotel here in Barcelona is a bit of a dump so we are finding other places to relax. The shocking thing us that it’s only 10€ less a night than our four star hotel in Valencia. We had no idea how good we had it.

Today was laundry day again, and although it wasn’t a drop off service, it was quite painless. There were a couple of attendants there to do most of the work for you. So about an hour later we were done and ready to hit the city.

We headed to the Plaça de Catalunya and set off on a walking tour of La Rambla. The book warns that this is prime territory for pickpockets and scam artists. Didn’t seem that bad to me.

We did however see some one performing the shell game scam. Are there still people who fall for this? How could there possibly be any one who would? We saw him standing around with his cronies then suddenly he puts down the board and his friends start acting like they were random passers-by lured into the game. And just like that a crowd had formed. I suppose they must find some suckers or they wouldn’t keep doing it.

Tomorrow we get up early to got to the Sagrada Familia. Got to get there when it opens otherwise we could be waiting in line for the elevator to the roof for two hours.

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