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December 25, 2012

I Could Eat Here

We had seamless flights into Barcelona, a friendly cabbie, and an on-time arrival at our apartment. One of the other tenants let us in so we could stow our luggage in the hall and get off the street to wait. And wait, and wait some more. The apartment agent had told me he'd have someone there at 10:15. that time had come and gone, so Larry tried to call the number we'd been given. No dice. Wondering if there was a problem with our phone, he wandered down to the hotel on the street, where the kind clerk tried on his phone and then let Larry use the wifi to send an e-mail. Contact was finally made, with the agency person being under the impression we'd be arriving at 12:00. Ah well, we got in, and got a nice bottle of cava to boot. The apartment is in the Borne, in a renovated building just down from Santa Maria del mar. Spacious, clean, comfortable. BCN Gotic, apartment 44. http://en.bcngotic.com/apartments/barcelona_a_19.aspx

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We walked around a bit, exploring the alley-like streets in this medieval corner of Barcelona. Lots of people were around, and some restaurants, bars, and small grocery stores were open. We listened to the lovely music coming out of Santa Maria del Mar, and eventually settled into a table at Origens on Passeo del Born. We shared a variety of dishes, the standouts being the wild boar stew, and canellones.

Nap time, and then we went in search of some simple groceries, getting bread, cheese, chorizo, tomatoes. The boys didn't feel like going out, so Larry and I walked around a bit, admiring the tapas displays, friends having drinks outside, and bundled-up people having a Christmas stroll. The temps were in the upper 50's, and most people were dressed as we do in New England when its in the 20's.

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We landed at Euskal Etxea, one of the pintxos (Basque tapas) places in the neighborhood. The bar was filled with plates of goodies on slices of bread, held together with toothpicks. You grab a plate, toss what looks appealing on it, order a drink, and jockey for a table or a place to stand. We adored this--lots of little tastes, occasionally someone comes around with a plate of hot offerings, great people-watching out the open doors. At the end they count toothpicks to determine your bill. Eight pintxos, 2 glasses of wine, 20 euros. Placeta Montcalda,3, El Born, Barcelona.

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Another glass of wine, some British tv with the boys, and to bed.

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December 26, 2012

Ancient and Moderne

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I love cities that from chance (or more likely sheer lack of funds over the centuries) have retained their medieval centers. Walking the narrow streets where sunshine barely glances down between the crumbling stone buildings gives just a glimpse of how it might have been to live here, centuries ago in crowded conditions without artificial light or plumbing. The whiffs of trash these days must have nothing on the 14th century. Thank you for indoor plumbing, Amen.

We began our day with a walk over to the Museo de'Historia de Barcelona, near the Cathedral in Plaza del Rei. In a reconstructed palace, you take the elevator downstairs to where Roman streets and buildings have been excavated. Defensive towers, laundry, homes with mosaic floors, dyeworks, garum and wine-making shops, all with explanations via audioguides included with admission. Just above is the remains of a 4th century church, and still above exhibit space on Medieval Barcelona.

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From there we followed one of the walks through the Barri Gotic in our "24 Great Walks in Barcelona" book, through the old Jewish Call and the narrow streets behind the Cathedral. We wandered over to Port Vell to sit in the sun for a while.

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Lunch was at the starched Senyor Pallarda, where groups of Spanish extended families were still celebrating Christmas. I loved seeing three generations of women treating their matriarch to wine and all the fried food she could eat. She looked to be near 100, so fooey to the nutritionists. Lunch was good (and on the expensive side), but frankly, I enjoyed the informal experience from last night more.

After putting our feet up for an hour, we bought subway tickets (One of Barcelona's great bargains) and headed up to Casa Batllo. I had bought tickets online, but the printing process got scrambled. An e-mail exchange with the folks in the office told us to bring our receipt to the guard at the entrance and we'd be on the VIP list for entry. So we showed up, and naturally were not on the list. And this being Spain, we got waved in anyway.

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I love Art Nouveau, and Casa Batllo hit all my buttons. Organic shapes, nature-inspired motifs, intense color, curved wood, natural light. The tour with audioguide climbs up and down the building, although since three floors are still lived in you don't see the entire house. Even the light shaft is a work of art, with luminous blue tiles.


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Tapas crawl around the apartment for dinner. Hit Euskal first. Much busier than the night before, but we snagged one of the wine-barrel tables outside for a glass of wine and a few pintxos.. From there we wandered a bit away from the throng, landing near the Santa Caterina market at a little place called El Atril at c/Cardera . What I liked about this spot was you ordered the tapas, getting them right out of the pan instead of sitting getting soggy on the bar. Got the classics--patatas bravas, piementos padron, chorizo, another mystery sausage, pan con tomate. Yum.

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December 27, 2012

Market, Futbol, More Walks

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We walked over to the nearby Santa Caterina market. I'd been told this is more a "real" market than Boqueria has become, where local people actually shop and there aren't gaggles of camera-wielding tourists. Like me. It was awesome---a good variety of stands but not so many as to be overwhelming, lots of little old ladies brandishing shopping bags, and friendly, patient vendors.

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Oh, and all your bacalau needs can be met here.

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We followed a line of old ladies to the butcher who had many kinds of jamon, including a rack of several Iberian "black hoof" hams on a revolving rack. We made our selection, and she spent a good five minutes carefully slicing, throwing bits of gristle and whatnot into a little bin, and laying out the thin slices of ham on waxed paper.

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We also got two kinds of Spanish cheeses, two kinds of tomatoes, potatoes, and some fruit. The fish in the stalls looked amazingly fresh, so we got a pound of glistening tuna for dinner. On the way back we got bread and a few pastries from the bakery across the street from our apartment, and were set for breakfast, snacks and dinner.

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The boys were burning to go to Camp Nou, the Barcelona soccer stadium and Museum. I sent the three of them off, and I spend an enjoyable time just roaming around by myself, stopping for a glass of wine. I was looking for some particular turron for a colleague who grew up in Spain. The neighborhood shop I went into only had factory-produced ones, but the nice lady there gave me the name of a shop where they make their own.

I went back to the apartment to wait for Larry and the boys, had some bread and cheese..they finally called after 4, from Montjuic. They had gone for lunch after Camp Nou, then took the funicular to Montjuic.

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I went down the street to the wine bar with my knitting, had another glass of wine and watched the world pass by.

The boys returned, and Larry and I went out for a walk. All the stores in el Born were open for the evening, lots of trendy little boutiques with beautiful displays--and no one inside buying. I found the yema tostada turron that Kat wanted, so at least I was contributing somewhat to Spain's economy. Went home, threw the tuna into a hot pan, sauced it with some chopped tomato-garlic-mayonnaise, served with bread and more tomatoes, and called it dinner.

Tomorrrow, the Sagrada Familia, then a long walk through the "new" area of Barcelona.

December 29, 2012

Gaudi and Friends

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Larry and I ran over to the Santa Caterina market early for more breakfast food. After feeding and caffeinating everyone, we took the subway up to La Sagrada Familia. You can read more about Gaudi's work-in-progress here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagrada_Fam%C3%ADlia


We had bought our tickets online a few days before, including audioguide and admission to one of the towers, timed for 11:30. No lines, had said the website. Right.

The lines snaked around the building, some for those with tickets, some for those without. Young uniformed people were attempting to keep order, but each time someone told their sad, sad story, they were permitted to jump the line. And then another uniformed person would shoo them back. It was very amusing chaos. We flashed our 11:30 tickets at a young woman who ushered us into a line, and then her supervisor told everyone to go elsewhere. She shrugged, and said to us "my boss." Heh. Eventually, we got through the turnstiles, raced down to the kiosk for our audioguides, gawked at the very Deco-like Passion facade for a few minutes, and entered. Larry and the boys went to the elevator for the tower, I started the audioguide tour.

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I really hadn;t known what to expect from the interior of the basilica. I was familiar with photos of the Nativity facade, with its crowded, textured layering of organic forms and Christian motifs. The interior was striking for it's elegance and restraint--pale stone, curving shapes, "tree"-like columns, beautifully-designed stained glass windows of carefully chosen tonal shades. The Glory facade and that portion of the interior are still unfinished. Near the Nativity facadde exit is an interesting exhibit on how natural forms were used in Gaudi's plan--trees, spirals, honeycombs, crystals.

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Afterward, we wandered through the crowds and shops selling Made-in-China "Spanish" junk to find a cafe I'd seen mentioned on Chowhound.It looked like a typical cafe in a tourist area (photos of foods on sidewalk signs, greeting waiter at the door), but there were old men eating at the bar, one of my good signs. The day had turned warm, so the boys wanted to eat at a sidewalk table. There was a 10.50 euro Menu de Dia, which three of us chose, Dan wanted a meat paella. I started with an obviously homemade vegetable soup, which tasted like something my grandmother might have made. Larry had mussels in a tasty sauce; and Evan had rice topped with an egg and a light tomato sauce. My main course was a delicious veal and potato stew, Evan had chicken croquettes, and Larry had the best, tender quail in an onion and olive sauce. Definitely a good place to remember--Gaudi Xamfra, Carrer de València, 443 (near c/Marina) http://www.xamfragaudi.com/

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Larry, Dan and I wanted to do the Modernista Route walk through the tourist office, Evan chose to rest at the apartment. After braving the crowds and traffic in Plaza Catalunia we met the guide and got the radio headphones which let us hear her. She led us on a long walk beginning on Las Ramblas (ugh, what a zoo), where we often had to push through the crowded streets to keep up with her while listening to her somewhat scattered commentary. The Eixaimple (Expansion) district has huge blocks, heavy traffic, lots of shops and restaurants--feels somewhat like parts of the 6th in Paris.

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The guide didn't offer much detail of explanation of what we were seeing, though did give some basic background on the cultural and artistic times. Still, it was worth having someone else look at the map for a change, and we probably would not have found these buildings on our own or known which lobbies we could access.

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Back home, wine, and an easy repeat dinner at Origens down the street.More cannelones, yum.

December 30, 2012

La Boqueria, Museos, Barceloneta Lunch

Early Saturday morning, Larry and I walked over to La Boqueria, Barcelona's iconic food market. It was a nice change to walk deserted streets in the Gotico.

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What was cool about going so early was the market wasn't as terribly crowded as it gets later in the day. Even so, the well-known tapas bars were three-deep in people waiting for a coveted space at the counters. Loved seeing people drinking wine and eating shellfish at 8 in the morning. Next time in Barcelona. (we're saying that a lot this week) We bought more cheese and tomatoes, saffron and smoked paprika, and two small steaks for the boys' dinner. Beautiful stands of produce, fish, meats, cheeses...you can eat very well in Barcelona.

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After breakfast, we headed over to the nearby Picasso museum. Along with everyone else in Barcelona who were standing in a long line. We went to Plan B, walking over to the Museum of the History of Catalonia near Barceloneta. Surprisingly inexpensive for a Barcelona sight, brand new and with signs in three languages--Including English. Spread over two floors in exhausting detail were interesting displays in chronological order, from prehistoric times until the present. As Larry observed, "there were wars, then peace, then social and economic upheavals, then wars, repeat for 1000 years." City and country life, technology, politics, economic systems, the arts, all explored through artifacts, reproductions, creative displays, and text.

We wandered over to Barceloneta, the harborside neighborhood. There were many restaurants overlooking the marina and beachside road, but we walked a few blocks inland to find a place I had seen mentioned. We found Jaj Ca, a little local bar with good smells coming out the door. We managed to grab the last empty table in the crowded, noisy space. No menu--you talk to the waiter, or go look at what's on the bar and coming out of the kitchen. We ordered gambas (large shrimp), patatas bravas, pequillo peppers, grilled sardines, grilled chorizo, and marinated anchovies. Each dish was amazing. I have never had shrimp so sweet, simply grilled whole then bathed in garlicky herbed oil. The boys loved the fish so much we had to order a second plate of them. All this, plus two beers and two glasses of wine was 35 euros.

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We rolled back to the Picasso museum, and this time only had to wait a few minutes. It's a strange collection--lots of his early works, and then Bam! It's 1954. I did really enjoy the rooms of all his studies of Velazquez' Les Meninas. And the museum is housed in a gorgeous old stone palace.

Home to rest. Made dinner for the boys, then Larry and I went out for a pinxtos crawl and some wine.

La Pedrera

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We had booked tickets online for our visit to La Pedrera, Guadi's apartment house building that has a small portion open to the public. As expected, there was a huge line at 10:45, but showing our tickets to one of the guards worked its magic and we were allowed to skip the line. They had two options for the audioguide, a 40 minute of a 1.4 hour one. We opted for the shorter one, although as we discovered, the commentary is not very informative or interesting.

The visit begins in a beautiful lobby nad courtyard, with swirling colors, stone and ironwork, open to the sky. The interior rooms in the building had windows into this courtyard.

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The visit continues on the roof, with similar fantastic forms and built-up chimney stacks as we had seen at Casa Batllo. It's a shame they've put up this ugly wire fence. You need to carefully watch your footing as you walk around, as there are lots of little steps and in the bright sunlight when you're concentrating on the views and the rooftop shapes they can be difficult to see. Hey, it's not a vacation in Europe unless I have a near-fall.

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These green glass mosaics are from cava bottles.


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You then go down to the attic of the building, where there are interesting display of Gaudi's work, mini models, and some hands-on activities for children. I liked this case of natural objects which inspired Gaudi.

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One of the apartments has been restored and furnished to look as it might have when the building was completed. Love the plasterwork, windows, and light throughout the spaces. And huge, luxurious bathrooms for the time! The gift shop had some nice books, and I got a lavishly illustrated book on Gaudi's works. In retrospect, it would have been useful to have had this at the beginning for the week to enrich what we were seeing.

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Afterward, we took a walk to find more Moderniste buildings, which I'll detail in the next entry.

January 1, 2013

Last Day, Walking and Gawking through Eixample and Gracia

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We followed Walk 18 backwards in our "Great Walks in Barcelona" book, up through part of the Eixample and into the Gracia neighborhood. Loved all these buildings along Carrer Gran de Gracia, which looked like a prosperous city neighborhood with many shops and people strolling.

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This part of Gracia felt like a "regular" neighborhood, not a tourist in sight. And there were many little passeges between the big avenues, and we also passed two covered markets, unfortunately closed on Sunday.

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We happened into a large group of people enthusiastically swing dancing in Placa de la Virreina, very cool. We stopped into a cafe for a light lunch of tasty sandwiches and beer in one of the cafes in the Placa.

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We walked a bit further, and found Casa Vincens, one of Gaudi's first residential commissions, built for a tile manufacturer.

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Took the subway home. Larry and I went out for an early evening walk through Parc de la Ciutadella, which was full of people strolling, using the playgrounds, visiting the zoo, enjoying being with their families on a nice Sunday.

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Home to finish some shopping (in the wonderful spice store for more saffron and smoked paprika, and some chocolates) and to begin packing. Sad.

For dinner, the restaurants in the neighborhood were packed, so we went a block further past the end of Passeo del Born to some new places that opened across from where the old Born market is being turned into a museum. Landed at the very stylish Llamber, at Carrer de la Fusina, 5. The menu is modern Catalan tapas, lots of creative dishes meant for sharing. While some of the dishes were really good (salmon carpaccio with ginger ice cream and coriander; a special of a little crock of favas and pork stew; a sushi-like marinated bonito) a few others just didn't work for me. (fois gras with corn, with the foie served icy cold; pork rolled around an extremely sour cheese) It was also the most expensive meal of the trip. Still, an interesting option for when you want to move away from traditional tapas yet don't want to go up to the Eixample where most of the modern Catalan restaurants re located. http:
//llamberbarcelona.com/

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Goodbye, Barcelona. We'll be back.

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Oh, if anyone might find it useful, here's the Google Map I put together of places we planned to go. https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=203608144991816870682.0004c72b4e628bb5ee955&msa=0


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