Category: spain

Barcelona, day four: …or from the coast of barcelona

01

Monday, December 31st 2012:

Waking up on New Year’s Eve in Barcelona.  I’ve always wanted to celebrate a new year in a foreign country, check that off the list.  Again, downstairs for breakfast at the hotel.  We then went up to the roof to take some photos and take in the view.  Time to go out into the city and see as much as possible on our final day in Spain.  Way too much to see.  This was a really good day.

bar pinoxto

We started off at Mercat de la Boqueria and bought some more fresh fruit juice.  All the vendors sell it and it’s really worth trying, just €1.  I wanted to check out Bar Pinoxto, I had heard only amazing things and I was hoping we could swing by later for some tapas.  We then cut across La Rambla and headed towards the waterfront through the Gothic Quarter.  Taking our time wandering the narrow streets, maps left back in the room.  Finally at the coast, I wish we had checked out this part of the city earlier, it’s really beautiful.  Bright daylight coming up, sailboats, blue water, the sun in our eyes.

circuswaterfront

We walked north along the harbor, wanting to check out El Born.  We passed by a circus seemingly forgotten by time.  Freakshow banners, faded tents, ancient train cars waiting for a few Euros from passer-bys with a penchant for nostalgia.  Walking west back into the shade of buildings and alleyways, we wandered through La Ribera.  A much more upscale Barcelona, high-end stores and design shops.  We spent an hour or so getting lost, turning back every time we found ourselves amongst the souvenir shops.  Finally stopped into a cool little cafe for some coffee and wi-fi, Elsa y Fred.

arczoo

Next we walked over to the Arc de Triomf to follow that road back towards the center of town.  It was a beautiful day, sunny and 70 degrees.  We walked through a park and found ourselves at the Barcelona Zoo.   We had nothing to do so we decided to check it out.  Definitely worth it.  It’s easily one of the best zoos I’ve ever been to.  Every animal you could possibly imagine.  The geography makes it pretty special, giraffes and elephants with ancient buildings and mountains far in the distance.  We spent a couple hours wandering around and then it was time for lunch.

portes

I picked up a map and saw that we were pretty close to 7 Portes, the restaurant we tried to go to a couple days ago.  Again, the roads in Barcelona can be confusing.  What looked like a straight road back to the waterfront took us out to the middle of nowhere.  After about an hour I found an ATM and hailed a taxi.  There’s no way I would have found it by just walking.  We had to wait about 30 minutes and then we were seated.  It’s upscale, seems to attract mostly tourists and wealthy locals.  Bread, olives, mixed salad with mustard vinagrette, monkfish soup (one of their specialities), seafood paella, a bottle of Rioja wine.  All amazing.  Little placques above the booths show you were some famous guests have sat.  Lauran Bacall, Che Guevara, Salvador Dali.

grapes

We then followed the street back to La Rambla, walking again past the boats and waterfront, sun setting.  We went down into a Metro station to see if they had a photobooth.  They did, simple souvenirs.  Earlier in the day I read about the Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes on New Year’s Eve when the clock strikes midnight.  You eat one grape on each of the church bell’s rings for good luck.  We went back to the market and most of the stalls were selling them seperated into little bags or plastic Cava flutes covered in cellophane, we bought two bags, moving on.  Stopped at a party supply store to buy noise makers and a plastic gold crown.  Back to the hotel for a nap.

hotelparty

Wake up.  We went out and spent about an hour wandering around and shopping.  Then it was back to the hotel to get ready for the night.  The hotel put a bunch of free bottles of Cava on ice in the lobby, so I went down and grabbed two glasses.  We drank them on the roof and then went out to find something to eat.  I had three places I was dying to try, all closed.  It seemed like the night was going to be a bust but then we found Artisa, just a little cafe in the Gothic Quarter.  We ordered two sandwiches and a bottle of Cava to go.  We decided to just bring them back to the hotel and drink and eat in our room.

craziness

At about 15 minutes to midnight we went outside to walk to La Rambla.  Things were already starting to get pretty crazy.  About a block from the hotel some drunk teenagers rounded the corner and threw something at Marissa that hit her face.  Deep breath.  We pressed on, grapes in hand.  The streets and the park were shoulder to shoulder with people.  Everyone seemingly already black-out drunk.  Bottles of Cava ready to be sprayed, older tourists uncomfortablly huddled in store fronts.  After taking a few photos, we decided to just go back and celebrate by ourselves on the hotel roof.  I hate crowds like that.  We drank the rest of the Cava on our balcony and watched everyone stumble home.  Then it was time to for a very brief sleep.  We had to be downstairs to grab a taxi to the airport at 4:30AM.

home

Long flight home.  Barcelona was amazing.

Barcelona, day three: correcting mistakes, appreciating everything

parc guell

Sunday, December 30th 2012:

Today started quiet.  Breakfast downstairs at the hotel.  Eggs, bacon, fruit, coffee.  We decided to just wander around and get lost for a while, bought some fresh juice from the market.  I had heard you could buy advance tickets to La Sagrada Familia from certain ATMs at Caixa Catalunya banks.  We tried a few but there was no English language option.  A couple we couldn’t even enter because of homeless people setting up camp in the lobby.  Back to the hotel to get ready for the day.

la sagrada familiala sagrada familia

“For the first time since I had been in Barcelona I went to have a look at the cathedral–a modern cathedral, and one of the most hideous buildings in the world. It has four crenellated spires exactly the shape of hock bottles. Unlike most of the churches in Barcelona it was not damaged during the revolution–it was spared because of its ‘artistic value’, people said. I think the Anarchists showed bad taste in not blowing it up when they had the chance, though they did hang a red and black banner between its spires.”
– George Orwell on La Sagrada Familia, Homage to Catalonia, 1938

I used the hotel’s computer station to finally buy advance tickets for the church and print them out.  I can’t stress this point enough:  buy tickets before you go!  We then walked back to Plaça de Catalunya to get on the Bus Turistic.  I would have rather taken the Metro or a taxi but we bought the two-day pass and I didn’t want to waste it.  We got off on the third stop, La Sagrada Familia.  It’s amazing.  George was wrong.

This time we walked right up to the front and got in immediately.  I’m not sure what to write about it.  You really just need to see it for yourself.  If you think the exterior is impressive, the interior will blow you away.  Impossibly tall ceilings, columns reaching up and breaking into tree branches near the roof.  Abstract expressionist stained glass, dizzying spiral staircases.  We spent a couple hours just standing around staring up.  Walked out a doorway to get a good look at the nativity facade.  From far away it looks like melting rock, up close expertly carved figures and angles.  Just go.  It’s the work of an obsessive genius and I can’t wait to go back in 20 or so years when it’s finally completed.

04

Before getting back on the bus we walked around to try to find somewhere to eat.  There are lots of touristy restaurants around the perimeter of the church, but I liked the looks of this little hole in the wall right across the street.  Walk down a few steps, order a sandwich from the stacks in the glass box, grab a beer from the cooler, take a seat.  It was just nice to sit for a while and talk about what we’ve seen, what to do next.  Super cheap, perfectly decent food, free wi-fi, just what we needed.  Back to the bus to give Park Güell another shot.

parc guellparc guell

We got off at our stop and totally walked in the wrong direction.  We could’ve walked five minutes up the next street, but I mistakenly took us on a forty minute detour up some very steep streets.  Not that big of a deal.  Right before we both lost our minds we saw the back entrance to Park Güell.  Sweaty, thirsty, tired.  The park is amazing and I’m sort of glad we walked in the way we did.  When we finally made it to the iconic front steps it was completely overrun with busloads of tourists.  I’m guessing it would be best to go first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds.  The park is beautiful though, definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me.  We sat and grabbed a couple glasses of wine from the cafe near the front.  Walked up one of Gaudi’s twisting towers to check out the ubiquitous gift shop.  The sun was about to go down so we just hopped in a taxi and went back to the hotel.

07

Things just got lazy and relaxing at this point.  The previous day was so stressful, and Gaudi is a lot to take in.  We spent some time just bumming around our hotel room, still too early to go out to dinner.  We went back to La Central and spent an hour looking over every book on the shelves.  Just wandering aimlessly, getting lost, turning down narrow alleyways, taking stupid photos in front of graffiti.  That’s the best way to spend time in Barcelona.

08

For dinner we went back to Julivert Meu.  Normally I would try to avoid repeating restaurants on a trip, but we were tired and hungry, and it’s a very comforting place to eat.  We ordered the tuna with piquillo peppers again.  The Spanish are masters at canned seafood.  Don’t be surprised when the tuna you order at a tapas restaurant comes from a can, it’s amazing and unlike anything you’ve had at home.  This time we also ordered some sort of potato tapas and anchovies along with another bottle of cheap Rioja wine.  That’s it.  Time to pass out.  Tomorrow we’ll finally check out the waterfront, something we should have done days ago.

Barcelona, day two: a series of beautiful mistakes

firstjpg

Saturday, December 29th 2012:

I’m in no way a seasoned traveler, still a greenhorn.  But I do know that certain things come with traveling: one is you’ll probably get a stomach ache (pack some Pepto), the other is that things don’t always go smoothly. You get stressed out, overwhelmed, there are ups and downs, it comes with the territory.  This was that sort of day.  Looking back through photos now, it was a great fucking day, but that’s exactly what it was: just one day.  We backtracked and re-did everything I screwed up this day on days three and four.  Okay, we’re all on the same page?  Let’s get into it.

casamilabus

Mistake #1: Skipping Breakfast

We woke up and decided to skip breakfast.  We walked down to Plaça de Catalunya to find the Bus Turistic.  Okay, this is something I would have never normally done.  I hate being herded along with the tourists. But Marissa’s friend said it was worth checking out, so we did.  We decided to buy a two-day pass.  Basically you hop on the bus and it takes you to all the spots you’d want to check out in Barcelona.  You get off, take your time, see the sights, and another bus will be at that spot in 5 minutes.  I hesitate to say this but…I recommend it.  It’s a bargain and super convenient, but just get a one day pass.  It’s definitely worth spending one day in barcelona being a super tourist this way.  You can take what you learned and build on it the following days.

We got on the bus and climbed up to the open roof.  Off on the second stop to see Gaudi’s Casa Mila.  First things first, cross the street to grab a coffee at Starbucks.  We took some photos of Casa Mila, Marissa bought a couple postcards at the gift shop.  We decided not to go into the building just yet, too much to see.  While waiting for the bus we checked out Vincon, this really amazing sprawling design store.

sagrada

Mistake #2:  Not Buying Tickets In Advance

I couldn’t wait to get back on the bus.  It was getting more crowded at this point, around 10:30am.  I knew the next stop was La Sagrada Familia.  A building I first learned about in an introduction to architecture course in college.  A building I’ve always dreamed of seeing.  We got off and took a hundred photos, just dumbstruck by the scale and beauty of Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece.  The line to get inside was wrapped around multiple blocks and we didn’t buy advance tickets.  Decided to move and try again the next day.  Don’t worry, I’ll get back to it.

notpaying

Mistake #3:  Not Paying Attention

Back on the bus.  When you buy your ticket they give you a pair of headphones, you plug them in and the narrator gives you a little history lesson about what to expect at the next stop.  I didn’t plug mine in.  We got off on a stop that i thought was for Parc Guell.  I was wrong. We walked up a steep hill and couldn’t figure out where it was, miles away.  It was still a really beautiful walk.  At this point not eating breakfast was catching up with us.  We decided to just get back on the bus and go back to the hotel.  Waiting through about ten more stops.

Back near our hotel, hungry and fed up.  We walked into a little falafel restaurant on La Rambla.  I could call this a mistake but it wasn’t so bad.  Sometimes you just need to eat.

marcat

No Mistake:

We went back to the hotel for an hour to rest and take showers.  Then it was back to the street to explore.  We spent a couple hours wandering aimlessly through the Gothic Quarter.  One minute on a busy street filled with souvenir shops, the next a quiet alley strung up with drying laundry, the next a towering church appearing from nowhere.  There were a bunch of street markets set up and I spent some time flipping through old records and antiques.  We stopped in to a small cafe and had some gelato.  Just taking it easy.  On the way back to the hotel we finally walked through Mercat de la Boqueria.  This is something we’d repeat at least four more times.  You have to visit the market, right off La Rambla, it’s amazing.

lost

Mistake #4:  I have no idea where I am

It was about time for dinner and I decided to try and check out a couple places I had heard about in La Raval.  Again, the streets in Barcelona are really confusing.  The maps I had didn’t help much at all.  We wandered down through the dark abandoned streets, gangs of kids skateboarding, shady characters trying to sell me drugs, prostitutes eating falafel while trying to look sexy.  We walked into a couple of cool looking cafes but both didn’t seem to be serving food.  Sometimes trying to be a local just doesn’t work out.  We found an upscale tapas joint and ordered some wine and cheese, sat with two older British ladies, tried to shake it off.  Back to the hotel.

sleep

Mistake #5:  Not knowing when it’s time to go to sleep

We asked the guy at the front desk where to get some good seafood paella.  He wrote down a couple options and we decided to grab a taxi and head to 7 Portes.  We should’ve walked.  There was a long queue and the weight of the day was really starting to catch up with us.  We decided to just call another taxi and go back to the hotel.  Again, we’ll be back to correct this mistake.  But now, time.  to.  sleep.

Barcelona, day one: welcome to catalonia

photo

Friday, December 28th 2012:

Wide awake early at the Hotel des Grandes Hommes, still in France.  Downstairs to check out and pay some unexpected breakfast fees.  I had called down the previous night for a taxi back to the airport and it was there waiting for us out front.  Goodbye Paris.  I loved you more than I thought I would, I’ll definitely be seeing you again.  Security and passport control with Air France was a breeze, we were in our terminal reading the International Herald Tribune after about ten minutes of fumbling over passports and luggage.  “New York Herald Tribuuune!” Some early morning daydreams of Jean Seberg, excited to be moving on, really high spirits at this point.  We grabbed a couple sandwiches from Paul, amazing as far as airport food goes, and boarded the plane for the short flight to Barcelona.  Heading to Spain for the first time.

photo2

We arrived at Barcelona El Prat Airport around 2:35PM.  Picked up our bags and walked outside, no security, no passport control.  Got in one of the cool yellow and black taxis you see all over the city for the short ride to the hotel.  The streets are super confusing in Barcelona, the driver had to type the address into his GPS, look at an old paper map, and make a phone call before he knew where to go.  We checked into our hotel, Casa Camper, highly recommended.  It’s located in the El Raval area, just about a block from La Rambla.  A little about the hotel:  Each guestroom is divided by the hallway into two seperate areas.  The bedroom is in the back of the building to cut down on street noise and the sitting area overlooks the street below.  The bedroom has a window with an automatic garage door you can close at the push of the button.  The sitting room has a hammock for afternoon naps.  Oh, and in the lobby there is a self-serve snack bar open 24 hours, everything totally free.  Really cool hotel.

central

We then went to McDonald’s.  Again, a strange choice for our first meal in Barcelona, but like I talked about in Paris Day One, it was really good.  It might turn into a sort of arrival ritual for every new country.  We ate our food on La Rambla across from Plaça de Catalunya, feeling like an Amish couple dropped into New York City for the first time.  I knew very little about the city’s layout when I booked the hotel, but I had read plenty about La Rambla.  I knew I wanted to see it, but I had no interest in spending a lot of time there.  So super cool hotel, but if I ever go back I think I’d stay in El Born or the Gothic Quarter, just somewhere a little more removed from the craziness and crowds.  We went back to our room to regroup and make some plans for the next few days.  Stopping first at La Central, a pretty amazing bookstore across the street.

photo3

Time for an early dinner.  Our jetlag was starting to fade away, but still not enough to match up with traditional Catalan meal times.  Everyone in Barcelona eats dinner around 9:00PM.  Earlier in the day we saw a cool looking tapas restaurant just a short walk from the hotel and luckily it was already open, Julivert Meu.  This was a good find.  It wasn’t recommended by anyone and I didn’t see it in my Lonely Planet guidebook.  Really traditional, rustic-style tapas.  We sat down and ordered a bottle of Rioja wine for €9.  My favorite thing about Spain, you can get an excellent bottle of wine in a restaurant for cheaper than a glass back in the states.  Tuna with piquillo peppers, Catalan tomato bread, three kinds of omelettes, chick peas with ham, assorted cheese plate.  The waitress  gave us a little demonstration on how to make the classic tomato bread.  Take a grilled piece of crusty bread, rub on a whole garlic clove, crush on half a tomato, add some salt, a little olive oil.  So simple, so addictive.  She brought us some complimentary Crema Catalana for dessert.  We happily accepted as we poured out the last sips of wine.

barcastells

We were feeling pretty good at this point, buzzed wandering out into the street.  Walked around and looked in some shops.  If you like shopping, you’ll love Barcelona.  It was only about 10:30PM but we were getting pretty tired.  I wanted to sit outside at a cafe and drink a beer, not yet ready to go to sleep.  We went into Bar Castells, again just down the block from our hotel.  This was my first experience with the Catalan language.  People in Barcelona speak either Spanish or Catalan, sometimes both in the same sentence.  I could not understand the bartender at all.  Finally with some gestures and pointing I was poured a beer and I enjoyed it out in the alley.

last

Back to the hotel to check out the view from the rooftop terrace.  A good first day in Barcelona.  Towards a slower pace.

Paris & Barcelona: a sort of disclaimer

So I just got back from 10 days in Paris and Barcelona for Christmas and New Year’s.  I originally planned to write about my trips to Peru and Mexico first, but those will have to wait.  I want to get this trip down while it’s still fresh in my mind.  I’ll have the first post up tomorrow, but for now here’s a little disclaimer I typed into my iPhone a few weeks before this last trip began:

Okay, so I assume most of you reading this have been to Paris.  It seems to be one of the first places Americans travel to abroad, a jumping off point.  Well I’m going for the first time and I’m going to be seeing just about everything on the tourist trail.  I know most travelers scoff at anything touristy, but these are things that need to be seen.  If you moved to NYC after college and haven’t been to the Empire State Building or Coney Island, you’re doing it wrong.  The side streets, the dive bars, the small cafes with no signs, they’re all great but you’re still not seeing the whole picture.  You’re isolating yourself.  So my first trip to Europe.  I’m going to the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, The Louvre.  I’ll be in Paris again one day and maybe then I’ll scoff and complain about tourists, making sure to only do things off the beaten path.  But first things first.  Let’s see the big sights with cameras slung around our necks, fanny packs full of maps, travel guides in our hands.  Right now my mind is full of Henry Miller, Hemingway, Gainsbourg, Gaudi, and Guy Debord.  teenage dreams, everything is romantic.

After Paris is Barcelona.  Yeah, expect a photo of me smiling in front of La Sagrada Familia.