Thursday, June 28, 2012

Last Day in Barcelona

We decided to try the Cervezeria Catalan for dinner. This is a top-of-the line tapas restaurant, near the Passeig de Gracia. On the way there, though, it was clear that we were all a little tired and cranky. The kids took a nap, but needed more time to rest after all the sun at the beach, and my parents and I were also a little tired.

The tapas on display looked amazing:

We thought Shayna might get the squid tapas, but she didn´t:

By the time the waiter reached my mother, he had decided we had ordered too much food, so he advised us to wait until our meals arrived before ordering more. While many of us were comfortable sharing various dishes, my mother has rather clear likes and dislikes and most of the kinds of tapas we ordered contained things she didn´t like (e.g., rare beef, ham, mushrooms). She liked the stuff zucchini blossoms and the grilled asparagus, but we called the waiter back to order a more substantive meal for her.

On the way back, we took a detour to see the Casa Mila. It was after 8:30 though, and we wanted to get back to watch the match between Spain and Portugal.

On the way, we passed a bar/cafe, so Matt and I stopped to watch, while the rest went home. I got Matt some water and I had a beer and we watched the first half, while the bar cheered for Spain. At the half, we walked the 10 minutes back to the apartment. The game ended up going into overtime and then to penalty kicks, which Spain won. They had dominated the game, so they really deserved to win.

When we got up this morning, Matt wasn´t feeling well. Both he and I got rather badly sunburned at the beach yesterday. While we were careful to repeatedly apply sunscreen, the lotion was only SPF 15. This morning, Matt´s stomache hurt and he didn´t want to get out of bed. We finally realized it was sun poisoning.

With Matt, Shayna, and my father sleeping in, my mother and I left to tour the Casa Mila, one of Guadi´s famous modernist buildings. An apartment block, he was careful to build in light shafts so every room could have natural light. There are no straight lines in the building.

From the roof, there are spectacular views of Barcelona. This is the Passeig de Gracia:

The Sagrada Familia cathedral, as framed through archictectural elements on the roof:

The smaller turrets are chimney tops, the larger ones are water tanks.

The hills surrounding Barcelona:

Another view of the distinctive water tanks and chimneys. I thought they resembled chess pieces, but my mother thought they looked like helmets from Star Wars.

The tour continues through one apartment decorated to look as it might have 100 years ago.

The dining room:

I loved these sea-creature inspired tiles. The entire Passeig de Gracia is lined with them, so I keep telling the kids to step on the Kraken:

Beneath the roof but above the apartments are a series of arched areas known as the attic:

The lobby continues the ornate, somewhat nautical theme:

When we came back at 10:30, we found that Matt wasn´t merely tired but sick. Dad stayed back to keep on eye him, while my mother, Shayna, and I headed to the other major Gaudi building: the Casa Battlo.

On the way, I stopped by a pharmacy and used my broken Spanish to get some stuff for Matt. I said: "I was at beach. I have pain.¨ I pointed at my red skin and said "ow! ow! Cream?" She gave us some ointment with aloe vera.

The Casa Battlo is just beautiful. Very nautically themed.

Here are the doors to the salon:

This little alcove with a fire place as a seat for two people on one side, and their chaperone on the other:

The chandelier in the salon

The picture window facing the Passeig de Gracia:

There are strange sea shapes on the back patio:

The fantastic shapes ocontinue on the roof with this garlic shaped monument:

And this dinosaur shaped one, which hid the water tanks:

Elaborately decorated chimneys:

Each floor had two apartments, eached marked by a letter in a nautical shape. This is Apartment E.

As in Casa Mila, there are beautifully designed light shafts to bring light down to all rooms.

This double pillar partially blocked the entrance to the patio, but not clear why.

Mom, Shayna, and I had lunch at Qu Qu. They ordered salads, while I had a series of tapas. The final one to arrive was a trio of mini hamburgers with different toppings: mustard, onions, and cheese. I asked Shayna if she would like to try any and she chose the mustard. There was a lot of horse radish in the mustard and it was clear she was rather shocked by how strong it was. She handled it fine, though.

Afterwards we walked back to check on Matt. He was doing a little better, so my father and I walked to the market to buy him lunch. They didn´t have prepared sandwiches, but if I brought a roll to the charcuterie, they would fill it with manchego cheese and jamon iberico. We made a second for my father, and bought some apple tarts to go with them.

Back at the apartment, Matt was feeling better from the lotion and ate half the sandwich. Then we all took a nap.

Originally, we had planned for me to take the kids on the cable car, but that didn´t seem likely to happen. I looked through the guide book and realized what to do. "Who wants to go to the Museum of Chocolate?" I asked. I heard a weak "I do," coming from Matt´s room. I said I would leave in 15 minutes. Unsurprisingly, both were ready by then.

It took a little while to find my bearings, but eventually we got to the museum. When I mentioned the Picasso Museum was nearby I heard a loud, moaning "no!" from Matt.

Both kids loved the fact that their tickets for the museum were dark chocolate. Basically, the museum is a tourist trap designed to sell chocolate to tourists, but it worked for the kids.

Here´s Matt in front of a chocolate statue of Tom and Jerry:

And here are Matt and Shayna in front of a version of Gaudi´s dragon from the Park Guell, made out of chocolate. No problem getting them to smile here:

Afterwards, I took them to the cafe and said they could either have something to eat or to drink. Shayna and I had the hot chocolate (Shayna said it made her feel very European), while Matt had the cold chocolate shake.

I tried to interest them in a repeat visit to the Mercat de Bosquiera, but they weren´t interested and we went back to the apartment.

I´m out of time. I´ll finish this when I return to the States tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sun, Sand, and Flamenco

Another beautiful day here in Barcelona. I woke up this morning to clear skies, warm, but-not-yet hot temperatures, and no humidity.

I think I´ve figured out some of the problems I´ve been having posting photos to blogger and facebook, and I managed to get all the ones I´ve been missing up in this post.

Here´s the surprise photo I took of my colleague Marie and myself the other day when I bumped into her as I left the internet cafe. She´s an accomplished photographer, as well as an historian, and she gave me pointers on how to take a better photo of myself with my iPhone.

I also wanted to give you all a sense of what our apartment in Barcelona looks like. Here´s a shot of the kids at the breakfast table.

We are staying about two blocks from the Girona metro stop. There´s a beautiful flower and plant market just a few blocks away.

I´ve been thinking a lot about Barcelona as a city, and in some ways it reminds me a little of Paris. It´s because in the region we´re in, all the buildings are roughly the same height (5'6 stories), in the same style (late 19th century with lots of wrought iron), and the streets have broad sidewalks lined with trees. While the building style is different from Paris, they are similar in the common neighborhood feel.

For some reason, I wasn´t able to post this photo of the Sagrada Familia that I took the other night when Matt and I went to see it at dusk.

Yesterday evening, we had tickets to a flamenco performance at the Palau de Musica Catalan. We went back to Divinus, where I decided to get the chicken and veal paella. It was excellent. Matt was a little concerned when they only brought a single dish of that paella (mom got one without veal, Shayna had the vegetarian), but the waiter explained that they had simply combined the two chicken and veal paellas into a single dish, and gave us plates to divide it.

Afterwards, they took a taxi to the theater while I took the 15-minute walk. The area around the theater is called the Ciutat Vella, or old city. Lots of narrow lanes with small bars and shops, with people hanging out their laundry.

The theater itself is a rather Gaudi-esque (not by him) ornate fantasy

The interior is even more elaborate:

Dad and Matt misread their tickets and thought they were on the first floor. In fact, we were one floor above. We were in the first row and the views were fantastic.

The ceiling of the theater:

The performance was flamenco music, with a septet of musicians, one traditional singer, two operatic singers, and two flamenco dancers. The music was exceptional, though I was a little too tired to fully enjoy it. Shayna and my father loved it. Matt was a little bored.

Afterwards, I decided to walk back rather than try to squeeze five people into a cab. A block from the theater, I saw the entrance to the metro and thought "why not?" The metro only stops two blocks from the apartment.

I figured they would be surprised that I arrived so quickly, but they were all caught up in other things.

Partly because it was a late night, partly because we were going to the beach the next day, my mother told the kids there would be no set wake up time in the morning. Both kids were overjoyed. I woke up at my usual time of 7:30 and read my email, and then showered. Around 8:30, I headed out to the market to stock up on necessities (like orange and apple juice) and also rolls and coffee.

On the way back, I passed a demonstration. About two dozen protesters carrying a large banner and small signs, blocked the entire street to traffic. From what I could make out, they were protesting cuts in social services due to the austerity plans. Then it was back to the apartment where there were intimations of stirring.

The plan for today was to go to the beach. Barceloneta is the closest beach and it has been very well ranked. By 10 am, all the kids were up and after Matt and I watched some Tom Lehrer and Monty Python skits, we left for the beach. The metro ride was only four stops and direct. The closest stop to the beach is at the harbor; from there, it´s a 15-minute walk. If you wanted an umbrella to sit under, it was 6 Euros; if you wanted a lounge chair to sit on, it was another 6 Euros. I suggested to my father to get the two umbrellas next to each other, but when I got back from buying a sandwich for lunch, I found he had only reserved one umbrella and no chairs.

I knew that wouldn´t be enough, so I sat under the other umbrella and waited for the guy. He eventually came and I told him I wanted that umbrella and a chair. He was temporarily out of chairs (I was 3rd on the wait list), but he could rent me the umbrella then. Matt wanted to go swimming, but I told him I wouldn´t go until I had my chair. In the meantime, my mother decided to get a chair as well.

10 minutes later, we were all set. Matt and I went swimming, while Shayna and my mother sat on the chairs and my father walked. I think Shayna was a little put off by all the women who were bathing and tanning topless. The water was clear and warm, though too calm for Matt´s (and Shayna´s) tastes. Matt and I played catch with a water ball. After a while, we played a game where he pretended to be a goalie and I had to throw the ball past him. We played that for quite a while.

After about an hour, we came out (after I promised Matt I would go back in later), and Matt, Shayna and my mother went to the grocery store to buy sandwiches. After they were done, Matt and I went back into the water. Matt asked me if I thought Shayna would come in, and after a lot of pestering I said that I thought that she would wade into the water, but not swim. In fact, that is what she eventually did, wadingup to her waist.

Around 4 pm, we all were out of the water, and changed into our street clothes to head back to the apartment. They are all showering and napping now. I´m not sure what our plans are for tonight (other than watching the big Spain v Portugal game, starting at 8:45 pm, hour time).

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Chance Encounters

Here´s a shot of my niece and nephew at La Mercat near La Rambla in Barcelona. I meant to post this yesterday.

After I finished posting yesterday´s entry, I came out of the internet cafe and ran smack into Marie, a colleague of mine in the History Department, and our specialist in medieval Spain. We knew we were going to be Spain at the same time, but thought that our trips to Barcelona wouldn´t overlap. As it happens, she forgot something and had only returned to Barcelona that day to retrieve it. She was just heading to the train station and so we briefly chatted along the way. I have a great shot of the two of us, but it didn´t upload yet, so I will try to post it tomorrow.

I asked her if she could recommend a good restaurant, so she gave me two. We chose the closer of them: Origens. Their menu is like a cooking magazine, with each entree featuring small photos of all the major ingredients and a brief recipe of how it´s made. We all loved our meals and my father wants to go back to try other things.

Afterwards, we walked up to see some Gaudi buildings. This famous building by Gaudi is part of the so-called "Discord Block" on the Passeig de Gracia.

My mother describing the history of the building to my niece and nephew:

After we got back to the apartment, Matt and I went to see La Sagrada Familia at night. Matt wanted to see it lit up. Here we are in the park in front of it:

We came back as a group this morning, walking about 15 minutes from the apartment to get to it. We waited about half an hour in line, vigilantly defending our spot against a group of French tourists who tried to cut in front of me. We walked around the outside of the cathedral (which is still under construction), and then went inside. Apparently, they´ve made a lot of progress with the cathedral, including finishing about a third of the stained-glass windows.

We knew that my other nephew, Josh, would be in Barcelona today, but we didn´t know what his schedule would be. He´s traveling through Spain, France, and Italy with his 10th grade class. Sure enough, we ran into him at the cathedral:

One of Matt´s friends, Ben, was also on the trip with Josh, so Matt and Ben had a chance to catch up:

Matt was pleased to see his 9th grade Spanish teacher:

Matt, Shayna, and I decided to take the lift to the top where we could see the cathedral under construction, and the spectacular views of Barcelona:

Afterwards, we came back down, found my parents and left.

After we left La Sagrada Familia, we walked a block away and had lunch. It was too hot to sit outside in the sun, and almost all the covered tables were taken, so we ate inside. I have to say, I wasn´t that thrilled with the meal, but everyone else was pleased.

We took two taxis to Parc Guell, a Gaudi-fantasy construction on a hill top above Barcelona. The entrance has the "Hansel and Gretel" houses, which give you a sense of the overall style of the place.

We made our way up the site, ultimately resting under some umbrellas and watching the crowds and the view. At one point, all the guys selling trinkets started to run as a mob past us. Apparently, the police had arrived. Eventually we made our way back to the entrance. We tried to get a taxi that could accommodate us all, but they wouldn´t take us out of the queue. In the end, we walked down the hill and grabbed a bus.

When we reached the intersection of Passeig de Gracia and Valencia, they all headed back to the apartment, while I walked down and picked up The International Herald Tribune. I walked to the cafe by the apartment, got a cappucino, and read the paper.

Tonight, we´re going to the theater to watch some a flamenco dance and music, so they´re all napping.