Category Archives: Spain

Barcelona to Girona

October 16, 2010

I am very happy with my silicon earplugs! They truly block out about 80% of the noise. I sleep very well in spite of the revelry that lasts until 2am. But everyone else suffers. H says that the earplugs hurt so he doesn’t use them. And the Hartleys don’t find them as effective.

I wake up and I can’t believe that it’s 9am; our alarm malfunctioned—and we are to check out at 10! We scurry around and are actually ready to go in 45 minutes. Cat fixes us all breakfast and we rehash the night before. H says: What the drummer lacked in skill he made up for in stamina. Cat says: H doesn’t say much at breakfast but what he says is good! At least the sewer smell has substantially gotten better.

The check-out lady arrives and speaks French (she’s from Morocco). So Cat gives her an earful about our problems. She also says that no one has complained about the noise. Oh, I give up on all this turmoil!

Our 1st stop on the way home is a great factory outlet mall. Clothing is France is incredibly expensive! And clothing sales are heavily regulated. The idea is that no retailer should have any advantage over other retailers. So clothing sales are only allowed on a few authorized days of the year—everyone has sales at the same time. This is the place draws both Spanish and French shoppers.

I buy a few L’Occitane items (a bath and skincare line from Provence that I particularly like) at greatly reduced prices; and H buys two Timberline shirts (regularly 60E for 15E). We were happy with our reduced-price purchases that we bargains even with the current exchange rate. We also make a stop at Starbucks for coffee, hot chocolate and pastries. This 11am coffee and pastry stop each day is getting to be a nice habit!


Girona is our next stop. We have a quick tour of the town’s medieval centre.

Girona street

There is really a lot to see: Roman ruins, a cathedral and historical museum. But those sites must wait for another visit. We search for a place for lunch as we wander the streets and alley-ways. Catherine eschews the 20E menu restaurants—she remembers how inexpensive Barcelona was. We finally find a little place off the beaten path, Bar la Pedra (18 Carrer Mercaders), that has the 10E menu Cat has been searching for.

Our 1st course was a delicious salad: greens with a nice large slice of goat cheese, apples, bacon, walnuts, small dried berries or grapes and the dressing was olive oil and reduced pomegranate juice. For our 2nd course, Stephan had squid with rice and the rest of us had cannelloni stuffed with meat and béchamel sauce. Both courses were delicious! The wine tasted like it was the “paint scraped from the walls” as Stephen said. So the guys ordered beer. Dessert was not exciting—purchased ice cream cups with coffee liqueur for the 3 of us and Stephen had peaches in syrup from “a tin.” But for 10E each it was very good for Girona.

Last thoughts on Barcelona:

  1. Very clean city
  2. Few beggars; no homeless
  3. Friendly people
  4. Don’t need to know much Spanish; most people are happy to communicate in English
  5. Not expensive—10E lunches including a glass of wine are not uncommon
  6. Very colorful graffiti and garage door art
  7. Best market in the world per the Hartleys—I think Stephan said they’ve been in nearly 30 countries (it’s best market we’ve ever seen but we’ve not been around the world)

We arrive home at 6:30 and look forward to relaxing for the evening. It is lots colder than when we left. We even have to turn on the heat. But we sleep like babies with only the noise of the wind.


In Barcelona III

October 15, 2010

My silicon earplugs worked perfectly but everyone else had a terrible night. I sent an e-mail to the owner complaining. How could she rent an apartment over a nightclub??!! I also called the apartment manager because the Harleys’ bathroom had a horrible sewer smell. Oh, brother…

We started our day with a walk along the harbor and the beach. The beach was very inviting; it must be packed in the summer. There were industrious entrepreneurs sculpting sand-art hoping for a few coins for their efforts. (We gave up a few coins so it works.) The weather was lovely—sun peaking in-and-out of the clouds. We stopped and had coffee and pastries.

We then caught a taxi back to the harbor’s shop area; did a little shopping; enjoyed Sangria; and headed off to the market so that I could video the experience. We looked for available seats at the market’s tapas bars for our lunch but it was hopeless. So we wandered away from the market along the many little streets and finally found Dostrece, a small little place with a 10E lunch menu.

We started with a great zucchini soup and nice bread with a red bell pepper dip (roasted red peppers pureed with garlic and olive oil). Catherine had a vegetarian rice dish; I had meatballs and mashed potatoes with tomato sauce; and H and Stephen had chicken brochettes with couscous. The chocolate pudding for dessert was great—it had South American spices added: all for 10E each including a glass of fairly good red wine.

We took a taxi to Montjuic, the hill overlooking the city centre. This area was chosen as the stage for Barcelona’s 1929 World Exhibition. It got a face-lift later for the 1992 Olympics and was renovated then again in 2000. We visited the Poble Espanyol (Spanish village) —116 houses located on 5 acres. Each house is a reproduction of one of the numerous architectural styles from all the regions of Spain. I stop at a jewelry store specializing in amber and find a beautiful bracelet. The beads are a mosaic of different colored amber. It’s mine!

We then walked down hill to view the Museum of Catalonian Art housed in what was the main pavilion of the 1929 Exhibition. The Font Màgica (Magic fountain) flows down on a series of terraces from the front of the museum. There is a lights-and-music show at the fountain in the evening but, unfortunately, it was not flowing when we were there. From the museum you can look down the hill and see the Avenue of Queen Maria Cristina with all its monuments and fountains that are laid out before you.

After a 7 hour day we caught a taxi back home. The plumber arrived to fix the sewage smell problem—at least the owners were attentive to one problem. We did get an e-mail about the night-club. They were shocked to hear about the noise! No one has ever complained! Yea, right… So we are supposed to call the police if it happens tonight. (Which we did to no avail; the revelry lasted until 2am.)

In Barcelona II

October 14, 2010

Ah, peace and quiet last night! Today is a “Gaudi” day. We are exploring a few of the sites of the city created by the incomparable Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona’s most famous Modernista artist. Modernism (Catalan Art Nouveau) became popular at the end of the 19th century.

Breaking with tradition, artists experimented with glass, tile, iron and brick. The building decorations are a collage of nature images, exotic Moorish or Chinese themes, and fanciful Gothic crosses and knights to celebrate Catalonia’s medieval glory days. Barcelona is an architectural scrapbook of Gaudi’s galloping gables and organic curves. He immersed himself in each project, often living on-site. (Rick Steves’ Barcelona)

Our first stop is Parc Guell, a 30-acre garden that was to be an up-scale housing project when Gaudi designed it. It is now a beautiful outdoor space with stairways and columns decorated with mosaics of broken glass and ceramics. There are huge mosaic lizards, snakes and other images from nature—many of them bordering comfortable seating areas all over the park. There are terraces and paths surrounded by columns and retaining walls that were built from what looks like clay stones—they look very nearly natural. The “Hall of 100 Columns” is a stunning space that was to house the community’s market.

We visited the Gaudi House and Museum—Gaudi’s residence for 20 years. Among lots of interesting items on exhibit in the house, we were able to see quirky Gaudi furniture including a carved wood “love-seat” of sorts. The two connected seats were just off-set from one another—very interesting.

After a nice coffee and pastry break, we set off for Sagrada Familia (Holy Family Church)—an unfinished landmark church that is Gaudi’s most famous and persistent work. He worked on this project from 1883 until his death in 1926 (he was run over by a street car while walking and reading—an early example that multi-tasking does not work). The construction continues today (the Spanish civil war destroyed work already completed and delayed further construction) and is probably going to take another quarter century or more to complete. Since Gaudi’s death the completion of the church has been guided by Guadi’s vision but designed and executed by other artisans and workers.

The church is a must-see! The more recent construction includes a façade illustrating the Passion of Christ. It is very modern-looking and created by Joseph María Subirachs using Gaudi’s original vision. It is in stark contrast to the façade completed in Gaudi’s lifetime, the Nativity façade, which includes Gothic–style symbolism and the Modernista approach.

The inside of the HUGE church is breathtaking!!!! The columns, the ceiling mosaics, the incredibly colorful and modern looking stained glass windows were a surprise. Also a surprise was how much work is in progress. There was large machinery in the church and several cranes above the spires. When Gaudi undertook this lengthy project he said “My client (meaning God) is in no hurry.”

After our amazing visit to the Sagrada Familia, we go to the 3rd Gaudi site of the day, Casa Milà. Rick Steves describes the façade of the building as a “roller coaster of melting-ice-cream eaves” with incredibly elaborate wrought iron balconies. This is Barcelona’s quintessential Modernista building and Gaudi’s last work before dedicating his final years to Sagrada Família. From the street we see people on the roof but from our vantage point at street-level, we never imagine that the roof is so interesting. It is a fanciful, undulating space with 30 chimneys disguised as multi-colored medieval knights. We also visit an apartment that is done up in the style a well-to-do family might have enjoyed in the early 20th century. The attic has a museum where you can see models and videos of Gaudi’s work.

We are ready for lunch and we find a very traditional café, La Bodegueta, which means wine cellar (100 Rambla de Catalunya)). The wait was to be 5 minutes—but this is Spain! So the wait was more like 30 minutes. But this place had character! We had Spanish sparkling wine (cava) and “tomato bread” (sliced fresh bread with the juice and a little pulp from a tasty tomato) while we waited, inhaling the cigarette smoke (this is Spain!). For our 1st course C & S had paella; I had a nice salad with cheese; and H had cooked spinach. For our 2nd course, we all had a very thin, grilled slice of beef and French Spanish fries. The beef was a bit chewy and the fries were a bit soggy but, honestly, it was all good because it fit with the ambience of the place.

We were running out of gas—or I should say that H & I were running out of gas and were ready to head home (it was to be an 8 hour day in the city). But our last stop was the big market to make our purchases for a seafood dinner at home. It was about 6pm by the time we got there and it looked like all the seafood vendors had packed up for the day! But we found one lady who we remembered had the most varied shellfish selection the day before so we felt like we were in luck. We were not so lucky because she was helping a customer that she clearly knew and her customer was buying a lot—a “perfect storm” for her to be engaged for a good long time. The “yacking” went on forever! Interspersed with the gabbing, she is yelling at people who are poking at her seafood. If other vendors had been open we’d have been out of there in a flash. In fact a couple other potential customers walked away.

Finally it’s our turn. Cat orders small razor clams—the shape of a straight-razor (for those who remember straight-razors) and about 4 inches by ¾ inch. The lady tries to weigh the clams on one scale and goes on and on about how it’s broken. So she switches to the other scale. Next are “tellines”—really tiny (less than an inch) clam-like shellfish. Once more this lady, who just likes to hear herself talk, tries to weigh the tellines on the broken scale yakking to herself about how it’s broken (because we aren’t responding to her at all). So lastly Cat selects some small clams. You guessed it! Here we go again with the broken scale. All this time more people are walking away. All I can say is that it’s a good thing the seafood we purchased from her was fantastic—otherwise I would have would have returned another day to poke at her seafood and drive her crazy!

Speaking about poking the seafood—Catherine and I laughed till we drooled poking at the razor clams in the kitchen at home. The living clams droop out of the shell and if you poke them and they snap back into their shells they are alive. A few of our dying razor clams drooped/sagged out of the shell like something I don’t want to further discuss in polite company. But it sure made us laugh like nuts.

So we had a delicious dinner of 3 types of clams—all delicious especially the razor clams. We also had great asparagus with balsamic vinaigrette. And of course very nice Spanish wine.

The club below us was open—we prayed for a quiet night but I was “armed” with silicon earplugs. They worked GREAT for me; I immediately fell asleep in spite of the craziness downstairs and slept like a baby.

In Barcelona

October 13, 2010

The Hartleys slept like babies! So it was their good fortune to insist that we take the master bedroom. The back bedroom, I guess, is too far away to be affected by the nightclub craziness. Well, that made me feel much better. So I make a note: find earplugs today.

Today we explore the Barrie Gòtic (gothic quarter). We begin our day back on the Ramblas. The incomparable La Boquería market is open and we go to take in the sights of this incredible covered market (on the site of an ancient monastery). We’ve never seen this variety of seafood—some of it still crawling around or twitching. The produce vendors have produce from around the world that is beautifully displayed or cut-up in convenient ready-to-eat packages (fork included). There are even more kinds of wild mushrooms than we saw in France—the wild mushroom populations must now be entirely depleted. Goats heads with the freshest looking eyes, big tongues, whole baby lambs, a huge array of sausages, huevos del toro (bull testicles—yum!), full legs of the local smoked ham (with the hooves attached), plus of course the “usual” meats. There are vendors that just sell eggs of all colors and sizes. Juices of every fruit imaginable lined up in ice ready-to-drink. Olives, jams, prepared foods, cheeses, breads—you name it; they’ve got it. We have NEVER seen a market like this. This alone is worth the trip to Barcelona! We vow to come back and make a seafood dinner at home.

The next stop of the day is the Cathedral of Barcelona where most of the construction took place in the 14th century. The inside supporting buttresses provide walls for 28 richly ornamented chapels. There is an “ambulatory” floor plan—it encourages worshippers to amble around to each chapel. The individual chapels were sponsored by local guilds that competed with each other to see who could provide the most ornate chapel.

Each chapel honors a saint. Having been brought up a Catholic I thought I knew almost all of the saints. It was important (maybe obligatory) for all elementary school children to study The Lives of the Saints. I may have only focused on the gory stories but I did not recognize 80% of the saints honored in the chapels. The high altar of the cathedral sits upon the tomb of St. Eulàlia. I must have missed her story (and it’s a gory one). In memory of my mom we lit a candle at the chapel of St. Joseph.

The cloisters area adjacent to the cathedral includes a lovely garden with fountains and geese. The 13 resident geese (in memory of the 13 times St. Eulàlia was tortured by the Romans—how did I miss that story?) act as an alarm system to the monk in charge. The geese are a big tourist attraction.

It has been threatening rain so a stop at a nearby café, Restaurant Allium for hot chocolate and churros is welcome. We are told that the churros must be dunked in the hot chocolate and the combination sure is good. The server was especially friendly and told us that they did a nice tapas lunch. Maybe we’ll get back there…

Next stop is the Picasso Museum  which is housed in several connected Gothic palaces. The collection is presented chronologically from age 12 through 75, although most of the pieces are from his earlier years. The narrative through the rooms focuses on his “periods”—the blue period; the rose period; etc. Stephan says that “Picasso has more periods than a woman!” HA!!! In spite of the period weirdness we all enjoyed the museum.

It’s after 1:30 and we are hungry for lunch. We find a nice restaurant and have a great, inexpensive 3 course fixed price meal for less than 10E. Stephan starts with, he says, a delicious vegetable soup. The rest of us start with a salad of salt cod and broad beans—it was great! Then we all have a plate of 2 kinds of small sausages and wild mushrooms—also very delicious. The pièce de résistance is profiteroles for dessert. These profiteroles are filled with whipped cream. We find that normally in France they are filled with ice cream. I prefer the whipped cream! Cat says that the real profiteroles have whipped cream and that she will make us a pile of them when we get home. That’s maybe the only reason to leave this beautiful city of Barcelona.

It’s been a long day out and we’ve walked a long way. We get home and snooze on the sofa for an hour. It’s getting toward 7pm so we must make a decision on dinner. We had hoped to get back to the market for seafood but it’s too late. We head out to a wine shop and a small grocer and create a great “picnic” dinner of cheese, Spanish dried ham, tomato and shallot salad, bread and, of course, Spanish wine.

It’s Wednesday night and it appears that the nightclub is closed. Yippee!