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Trip Report La Vacanza (quasi) perfetta - Rome and Barcelona Trip Report

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Almost one year had passed since my last trip to Italy when that old familiar feeling started to grow again - you know, the one that tells you it's time to book the plane ticket. So book the plane ticket I did - but not just to Rome this time. I have an ongoing love affair with Rome, as anyone who has read my trip reports already knows. I still love Rome more than any other city in the world and always will, but I didn't want to grow old having only really seen one European country, so I decided to add a second destination to my trip.

Barcelona was that destination. I stumbled upon Carlos Ruiz Zafon's books a few years back in Italy, having never really heard of them in the United States. His descriptions of Barcelona, his sweeping story lines and his compelling characters were enough to make the city of Daniel Sempere and Fermin Romero di Torres my next choice. Zafon's Barcelona is full of mystery - I wanted a dash of intrigue in my vacation.

And so the destinations were set. Round trip flight from Philadelphia to Madrid (one day in Madrid), flight from Madrid to Rome with five days in Rome and a flight from Rome to Barcelona with three days in Barcelona before taking the train back down to Madrid for the flight home.

Next: Madrid on Jet Lag

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    Before you read any further, I want to be sure not to disappoint you. In the past, my trip reports have grown increasingly more heavily focused on restaurant details - and I'll give them to you, no question about that. But I have recently become (shhhhh....I have to whisper it) vegan. I decided to relax my restrictions during the trip to a purely vegetarian diet because I knew it would be virtually impossible to find vegan food while dining out in restaurants.

    So there will be no duck or foie gras or beef or anything else animal in this report, but I think I still found some really good places to eat and some very good dishes that even meat eaters will enjoy. And I'm pretty sure I ate at a few places that are 100% off the tourist radar by complete accident...but we'll get to that later.

    Madrid. I had hoped to sleep on the plane ride over since I only had one day in the city, but a wailing newborn kept me from that, so I am afraid I arrived in Spain in what can only be described as a serious mental fog. The flight landed at 7:15 AM Madrid time and it was still completely pitch black outside, no hint of a sunrise. This threw me and my internal clock completely off as I thought I'd be arriving to at least partial sunshine. Even after disembarking, getting a cab and getting to the hotel (Melia' Barajas), it was still totally dark outside. Very unexpected.

    Speaking of arriving at the hotel, the Melia' Barajas was perfectly adequate as a one-night stop. Near the airport and within easy walking distance of a metro stop, it was clean and reasonably priced at around $90 a night in December. I was able to check in at 8 AM and went to my room to drop my things, take a shower and get ready to go back out for the day, sleepless as I was.

    The helpful front desk workers helped me navigate to the subway system (really easy - one street to the metro stop) and from there it was a few short line changes before I got off at the Tribunal station in downtown Madrid.

    The plan was to walk from Tribunal down Calle Fuencarral towards the Gran Via and Puerta del Sol before cutting over to the Paseo del Prado. (not looking at my notes so I could be messing up these names). Well, I got off at the Tribunal stop, but could not find Fuencarral very easily, so I spent a good 30 minutes enjoying a random wander through the neighborhood surrounding the metro stop.

    Guidebooks and even the forums say lots of things about the extremely high amount of petty crime in Spain, so I was extra vigilant, but I have to say I didn't find Spain any different than Italy in terms of taking advantage of tourists. Anyway, I generally try to avoid taking out maps in public for this very reason, but that also causes me to wander aimlessly around neighborhoods for 30 minutes out of sheer stubbornness. :)

    After making it down to the Puerta del Sol, I found a place for some churros and chocolate for brunch. According to the sign, there was a "master churro maker" on staff, and the tables were all full with some nice little heaters, so I took all these things as a good sign. I ordered the plate of churros and a cup of the standard hot chocolate (madrileno) and it came quickly. It was quite tasty, but also very sweet. I wasn't able to finish, but I enjoyed the taste and the time to sit and people watch in the plaza. Churros and chocolate were 4,70 euro. While at the table, I took the time to consult my map in secret.

    Back on track in terms of direction, I walked toward the Plaza de Cibeles on the recommendation of a friend to go to the Bank of Spain building and also to go up to the overlook of the city. From above, you really get a sense of how huge and sweeping the city truly is. After my panoramic view, I walked down the Paseo del Prado. I hadn't actually PLANNED to go to the Prado museum (even though I'm a museum lover), but the timing seemed good and it was a little chilly and rainy, so I decided it was worth the 12 euros for the ticket.

    The Prado has an amazing collection of art, but do you remember how I got absolutely no sleep on the plane the night before? Well, I had so little sleep and so much jet lag that Velasquez paintings started to look like Dali. The faces were all melting and drooping. I took that as a sign to leave the Prado and hunt down some lunch.

    Let me tell you, Fodorites, this was not easy. Yes, there are a million restaurants in Madrid. Trying to find one that had something (anything!) vegetarian on the menu was a bit of a challenge. I must have consulted the menus posted at at least ten different restaurants before I decided that my only choices were going to be Spanish tortilla and patatas bravas. I finally entered a nondescript little bar and ordered just that. And my tortilla came with ham in it (I don't think that really surprised me) but the albarino wine was very good and the potatoes were enough to fill me up.

    With enough sustenance, I walked back to the Puerta del Sol, doing a little window shopping on the way. I took the metro back to Barajas and walked to the hotel in a now steady rain. Given the gloomy weather, my inability to hunt down food and my now overwhelming exhaustion, I fell asleep at 6 PM. After all, my wakeup call would come at 3:30 AM...

    Next: Rome on slightly less jet lag

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    I always enjoy your trip reports, Nnolen, and I'm very much looking forward to more of this one! You were a trooper to see as much of Madrid as you did with no rest. It's hard to rally once you start getting that Dali feeling.

    Btw, not sure where in PHL you are, but if you have the chance you must try Blue Sage in richboro (bucks). It's vegetarian but they always have lots of vegan choices, too. It's a great little place.

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    Looking forward to reading more. Rome is my favorite city as well - big, noisy and beautiful. It is also where my parents met - my sister and I were very close to being Romans as opposed to New Yorkers.

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    Arriving at the airport at a ridiculously early hour is never particularly fun, and Madrid was no exception to that rule.

    I was flying RyanAir from Madrid Barajas to Rome Ciampino (for 19 euro - love cheap airlines) and the flight was set to leave at 6:30 AM. I already knew I'd have to get my boarding pass stamped since I wasn't a EU citizen. Of course, Madrid had the lovely idea of making two separate lines - one to get my passport checked and one to drop off my luggage. Sigh.

    Regardless, I made it through the check-in process and then proceeded to ingest the worst cheese sandwich in the history of ever, accompanied by a not-bad cafe con leche. It was enough to get me going at 4 AM.

    Nothing of import happened on the flight, and I landed at Ciampino at 9:05 AM, a little early I think. After collecting my luggage, I walked outside to get a taxi. Still a little tired, I didn't even notice the taxi had no meter, but when the taxi arrived at the Campo dei Fiori the driver only asked for 35 euro, so I didn't feel too badly extorted. (I looked it up later and 30 is the norm from Ciampino to the centro storico).

    I had called the apartment owner from the airport, and she was waiting when I arrived. The apartment I rented (called Cappellari on sleepinitaly.com) was so, so wonderful. Absolutely the best apartment I'd rented so far. Besides its incredible location on the corner of the campo, it was up only ONE flight of stairs and it was very cutely decorated and furnished with every single thing you could want. I highly recommend it.

    After going through the business of keys and wi-fi, I unpacked my things and had a good look around. From the windows in the bedroom, I had a direct view out to the Campo. It was a little rainy that morning, but it didn't change my plans or my appreciation of the sight. Finally I was ready to go down to the campo to buy some provisions.

    From the very last fruttivendolo at the back corner of the campo, I purchased clementines (in season), pomodorini from Sicily, bananas (okay, not very Italian), and cicoria. From the little market that's in the corner building right behind them, I got some espresso and milk. And from the forno on the opposite corner (near the entrance to via cappellari), I got some ciabatta and a few cornetti alla marmellata. After my sad cheese sandwich at 4 AM, this food was like a revelation. Cornetti, fruit, and caffelatte.

    After my first substantial repast, I headed out into rainy Rome, dodging the umbrella sellers along the way. Nevermind that I was holding an umbrella...when I pointed this out to one of them, he ingeniously said "this one is bigger." Touche', umbrella man. Touche.

    Down the Via del Corso it was for my first passeggiata. I really like wandering this section of Rome, especially around Christmas time. First, all of the streets are strung with brightly colored lights and there are beautiful Christmas trees in every piazza. Second, the street is completely ruled by pedestrians. People are out and about and either window shopping or shopping for real. The stores are crowded and the smell of roasted chestnuts hangs in the air. A delight for all the senses.

    I made my first stop at Calzedonia. This was not unusual for me. It could perhaps be considered a little strange to make a pilgrimage for tights part of your visit to Rome - but they have so many colors! And patterns! Anyway, eleven pairs of tights later, I was back out on the Corso. The walk took me up to Piazza del Popolo before I turned around, headed down Via Babuino and took a look at the Spanish steps before crossing down Via Condotti back to the Corso.

    I knew I'd be going out later with a friend of mine from Rome (post dinner - around 10 PM), so I decided to pick up a few things for dinner at the apartment. I had a lovely dish of pasta with red sauce and fresh mozzarella cheese and an escarole and tomato salad, along with a nice white wine from Lazio. (I also found soy milk at the supermarket, so I was very excited!)

    After dinner, I went out for some gelato. I decided to finally, FINALLY, try San Crispino. It's in Piazza della Maddalena, right near the Pantheon. I had the San Crispino flavor (honey), and the walnut and dried fig flavor (small cup, 2.30 euro). I put the first little spoonful of honey in my mouth and wanted to cry. Why had I been wasting my time at lesser gelaterie these past few years!?!?! You must try it if you haven't.

    At 10, I met my friend at "the toy shop on the corner" in the Piazza Navona. Well, there are two toy shops on corners in Piazza Navona, so after wandering around for about 30 minutes looking for each other, we finally managed to meet. We spent a little time in the piazza looking at the bancarelle di Natale (the christmas stands), and then we went off the piazza to a little place called Tapa Loca to have some sangria and to talk about the few years that had passed since we'd last seen each other. It was quite nice. Another walk around the Piazza Navona and it was time to double-cheek-kiss and say goodnight.

    As I walked home through the Campo, I watched the drunk youngsters and thought about how happy I was to not be doing THAT. :) I slept well that first night in the apartment. The windows in the bedroom (which basically overlook the campo and a fairly rowdy bar) were double paned. I still probably would have heard external noise, but my lovely little white noise app on the iphone managed to drown out any residual drunken yelling, and I had a great night's rest.

    Next: Movies and an unexpected free concert

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    Sunday was absolutely the best day that I had in Rome. It was one of those days so magical that you briefly hallucinate about finding a job and moving all your belongings halfway across the world just so you can have more of those magical days. (Then, generally, you realize that vacation is much more likely to be magical than daily life).

    Today I finally made it to Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza! This small church, only open Sundays from 9 AM to noon (and part of that time is taken up with mass, and they won't let you in during that, as I found out) is supposed to be one of the jewels of Baroque Rome. It was built/designed by Borromini (who made the baldacchino at St. Peter's) and the crowning glory of the church is the cupola, which is not round but incorporates other geometric shapes. It's definitely worth a stop if you are in the area at the time (it's very near Piazza Navona). The courtyard is very idyllic and the inside of the church is clean and white and stunning.

    Giddy at finally having seen Sant'Ivo, I wandered down Corso del Rinascimento. I was heading towards the movie theatre in Piazza della Repubblica, but along the way I found the BEST bookstore. It was called Libreria Serendipity. I loved the name, but also the feel of the shop. Tiny, with only two "rooms" to speak of, books were crammed and stacked absolutely everywhere. Admittedly it was probably not smart to buy 8 books knowing I'd have to carry them around Rome for the rest of the day, but I did it anyway.

    I window shopped up the Via Nazionale with the Romans, ending at Termini (where I swear things have gotten shadier over the past few years) and looping back around for lunch at Cotto. It's open on Sundays and is near the theatre, but I'm not sure I'd tell you to go looking for it. I had pumpkin gnocchi with sage gorgonzola sauce, a glass of Frascati wine, water and coffee. The gnocchi were a little gummy, the sauce was decent, the wine was divine. Not a terrible deal at 23 euro, but again...not my favorite.

    After lunch I still had a little time to kill, so I wandered around the Nazionale. Passing by Saint Paul's Inside the Walls, there were some guys handing out flyers. Normally, I avoid these men like the plague, but the guy talked to me and said "free concert" tonight and I stopped and talked to him for a bit. He said the church choir was going to be giving a Christmas concert at 6:30 PM and I should come back. I said I would and really meant it.

    Then, the movie. I have to say, I wasn't overly thrilled by the choices in the theatres this time, but I picked the best of the worst and saw a movie called "La Famiglia Perfetta" - premise is that this lonely guy hires a group of actors to be his family for Christmas. It was relatively mindless, but cute.

    Being over of the other side of Rome, I decided to find Santa Maria della Vittoria in order to see the famous Bernini statue "The Ecstasy of St. Teresa". Coming out of the Piazza Repubblica, it was a short few minutes on foot to locate the church, which was itself beautiful. Bernini's statue is located in the front, and was everything I thought it would be and more. Sometimes a piece of art just takes you in and you can't move - you must absorb absolutely everything about it - that was this piece.

    Walking out into the late afternoon sunshine, I was so blissfully happy to be in my favorite city on what was turning out to be a perfect day. With still two hours before the concert at St Paul's, I went to the Palazzo dell'esibizione on Via Nazionale. I had been REALLY looking forward to the Robert Doisneau exhibit they have on display, and it did not disappoint. Doisneau of course captured the iconic kiss photograph that so many college girls have hanging on their wall, but there was so much else to the exhibit. If you happen to go, I don't want to give anything away - but as you first walk in, there are a series of photos along the front wall. Try to guess what the people are doing before you look at the placard. :)

    Finally it was time for the concert. I have to admit, I wasn't expecting much. The words "church choir" conjured up memories from my childhood that were not musically pleasing. However, the church was lovely and quiet, and as it got closer and closer to 6:30 I noted that the pews were completely full. The program included a series of Argentinian Christmas hymns which were punctuated by a few Brazilian pieces for accordion and percussion. The musicians were incredible! I so enjoyed listening to all the pieces and was happy I'd taken time earlier to talk to the man with the flyers. (Side note: St. Paul's Inside the Walls is also known as the immigrant church in Rome, which I thought was neat.)

    After the concert I was good and hungry, so I decided to find Open Baladin. I'd looked at their menu online (on the suggestion of a Roman friend) and they had a few vegetarian options as well as an AMAZING selection of craft beers. This is one of those places that I don't think the tourists have found yet. I don't think it's for them and I don't know if it will become such a place. Menus only in Italian, everyone in the place Italian. When I arrived there was a huge crowd outside the door and I asked the doorman how long the wait was - he said probably an hour or more. When I indicated I was alone and would happily sit at the bar (where I could see an empty chair), he let me in. (Advantage of traveling solo!)

    I wanted to try some of the beers produced by Baladin, and I was stuck between the Noel and the Noel Vanille. I asked the bartender which was better, and he said that the Vanille was a rather strong vanilla flavor, so I tried the regular Noel. Dark and rich, the beer tasted like figs. It was also a dangerous 8% abv (well, dangerous because it didn't taste like 8%). I ordered the veggie burger, visions of Boca Burgers dancing in my head. When it came, it was perfection. A fluffy bun, a thick slice of breaded eggplant and an equally thick slick of buffalo mozzarella, with a light coating of basil aioli. So good - time for another beer! Again I asked for a recommendation, and ended up with Winterlude, a lighter beer than the Noel but still packing a punch and tasting (to me) of cardamom. Completely satisfied for 18 euro. Really, I can't say enough good things about this place. (on Via degli Specchi)

    My stack of books also opened up a conversation with a gentleman who recommended I check out Libreria Fahrenheit 451 on the Campo dei Fiori. Sometimes I forget there are shops behind those fruit stands! I vowed to check it out before I left. After that, it was home for a little slice of panettone before falling asleep for the night.

    Tomorrow: Vermeer and the Bello ma Scemo (handsome but dumb)

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    Hey SashieZ,

    Thanks! Yes - I speak fluent Italian. This is the sort of luxury you get when you've been to a city a million times and you know you'll be back a million more...

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    >>"bananas (okay, not very Italian)"<<

    They're a lot more Italian than pineapples, which Italians eat by the ton, or beer, which is becoming all the rage in Italian tourist destinations. There is some banana cultivation in Sicily and Calabria, but it is most likely the ones you ate in Rome were imported.

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    Great report!

    Here's a full BBC documentary about Bernini's masterpiece The Ecstasy of St. Teresa. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95_7l87prmI

    Her standing in Spain speaks tons of the people and Spanish catholisism. And at least some 60 barefoot carmelite monasteries/convents around Spain. The nuns are among other things known for making fabulous cakes which can be bought through a revolving wooden door that hides the sisters from the customers. I can at least recommend the baking skills of the carmelite nuns in wonderful Antequera (Málaga)...

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    Monday morning had me awake at 8 AM, a fairly early hour for vacation. I went down into the campo and refreshed my supplies of fruit and vegetables - and while I was at it I picked up a few cornetti alla marmellata (a serious weakness this trip).

    After breakfast, I went out for a walk up to the Quirinale. On the way, I stopped into Sant'Andrea della Valle. This was one of those churches I had walked past a million times but never actually gone into...so this time I went in. The first chapel to the right was covered with a mysterious red sheet, beneath which two sets of legs danced back and forth in some secret employ. Checking out the sign next to the chapel, I noted that the chapel would be home to the church's nativity scene, which was set to be unveiled on the 24th of December. I knew I'd be gone by then, so I asked the woman in charge of setting up the nativity if I could take a sneak peek. She excitedly told me that she thought it would be ready that very same night and mentioned that I should come back then, so I put it on my list for later.

    I was actually heading to the Scuderie del Quirinale, the museum that is part of the Quirinale complex. They had a Vermeer exhibit on and I've always been a lover of Vermeer paintings, so I paid the 12 euro entrance fee to the exhibit. I knew there wouldn't be *many* Vermeers (after all, he only painted around 35 works), but I have to admit I was a little disappointed by which ones there were. The first painting I saw upon entering exhibit was the best. I got a chill just seeing that red shutter popping out on "The Little Street". The other highlight was the girl in the red hat, which I'd already seen at the National Museum in DC a few years back, but which was good to see again. A few of the others were not his signature style (Allegory of Faith, Saint Praxedis) and still another was only attributed to Vermeer. Overall, I didn't regret spending the 12 euro but I wasn't as enthralled as I had hoped to be.

    After touring the exhibit it was getting close to lunch, so I thought I would hop over to Via di Ripetta for a quick lunch at Buca di Ripetta. I'd eaten there a few times before and thought that I would go back again. However, when I arrived at prime lunch time, the restaurant was absolutely deserted and I noticed that the menu was exactly the same as last time I'd been (and I probably would have ended up ordering the same thing), so I went a bit further up the street and found someplace called Al Gran Sasso, which was packed to the gills with lunching Italians.

    I waited outside a few minutes for a table to open up, enjoying a few minutes with a friendly neighborhood dog. When I entered, the menu choices for the day were written on little chalkboards placed at the table. I decided to get the Provoletta al origano (pan fried cheese) and the fettuccine ai funghi porcini along with water and a glass of the house white wine. The cheese was really delicious, especially when paired with the bread to break the saltiness up a little bit. It was a good choice, although I could have done with only one piece of cheese (the serving included two enormous pieces).

    It was right before the fettuccine were served that the bello ma scemo came in with some friends. Clearly regulars, they went straight to a corner table and sat down, ordering the house red wine, steaks, pastas, etc. One of the men was so handsome - movie star handsome - that it was hard not to look. At any rate, then my pasta came and I was able to redirect my attention. :) The fettuccine tasted and looked made in house and they were dressed simply with the porcini mushrooms and an olive oil sauce with a fresh sprinkling of parsley. To die for. When I was almost near the end of my plate of pasta, the owner of the restaurant went over to the table where Mr. Handsome and Co. were sitting, and the conversation that followed was...interesting.

    Mr. Handsome began telling the restaurant owner (who's name is Ugo, according to the full restaurant name card) how he could make more money. "Tourists love bad food as long as you give them a lot of it. Look at **** (name of restaurant nearby). That food is disgusting and the place is always packed. And you should have a terrace; they like to sit outside. You need more room here. Tourists are how you'll get rich." Ugo listened calmly and quietly, didn't disagree but didn't agree either.

    I felt bad for Ugo. Like, an overwhelming sense of sympathy for this guy who had a really great restaurant but who maybe didn't feel appreciated. He wasn't getting the tourists, his regulars thought he needed a new strategy. I don't know, but I felt compelled to tell him that I thought he was doing just great. I wrote him a little note, telling him that there were things in life that couldn't be bought and sold and that integrity doesn't go unnoticed. Then I thanked him for a perfect meal.

    I was trying to give it to him surreptitiously and then slip away, but he insisted on reading it which was a little embarrassing (not the least because I'd admitted to spying, haha) but he thanked me, shook my hand, and asked me if he could keep it and hang it in the kitchen.

    I walked home in a very pensive state. After a nap and a bit of relaxation (watching some terrible movie with Renee Zellweger), I went back out for the evening activity. I first passed by Sant'Andrea della Valle to see the finished nativity. It was very cute, with a running stream and a working mill, and if you stood there long enough there was a sunrise followed by a sunset and the appearance of stars. When I walked back outside, a choral group was wandering the streets singing Italian christmas songs - all in all it was very festive.

    I had an early dinner at Ginger on Via Borgognona. I had seen it earlier in my wanderings on this trip and was interested enough in what I saw to return. Ginger featured a lineup of salads, sandwiches and smoothies made of organic ingredients. It was busy with groups of shoppers and I had to wait to be seated before eventually being seated at the bar. Normally I don't mind this, but it was also sort of a service area where they were passing things back and forth and it was really annoying that I had been put there and wasn't given a table. Overall the service was less than friendly - almost like the restaurant was too cool for school.

    The food was good, and was nice and light after the heavy lunch. I had the Insalata Colonna, which was mixed greens, spinach, pear, walnuts and a taleggio cream sauce. I also had a Nicole smoothie made of orange, carrot, pear and mint. These two items were 17,50 euro. Was it good? Yes. Was it 17,50 worth of good? Debatable. However, if you're looking for something light and trendy near the Spanish steps, it's not a bad option.

    I ended the evening with a gelato at San Crispino, this time pairing the dried fig and walnut flavor with crema alla pantelleria (a liquor based cream flavor) on the gelato server's suggestion. Another winning combination that ended the day on a high note. Of course, walking past the Pantheon while I ate it didn't hurt either. :)

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    FF - I've bookmarked al gran sasso for our trip to Rome in Feb and I'll do my best to get there and sample Ugo's food.

    re the presepe, we saw the most lovely one in a little church we happened upon just off the corso vittorio emmanuale - the church was set in a triangular courtyard, and the presepe exactly mirrored it, except that the figures were all C18 - there were the priest, the prostitutes, the smart people coming to church - it was just delightful.

    as your trip goes to prove, it is so often the unplanned things that ones sees that are most memorable.

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    annhig - your comment made me recall a quote from Fabio Volo (Italian author) - "nulla e' piu' duratoro di una cosa provvisoria." Nothing lasts as long as something that is temporary.

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    It is now inevitable that must return to Rome this year . . . too many recent trip reports luring me back. I recall my glee in finding Sant'Ivo open one afternoon after numerous attempts to viist. Enjoying your report, nnolen.

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    I was supposed to meet up with some other friends this next evening for an expats event (there's a really active group of people from other countries that now live and work in Rome), but the date ended up being wrong so plans fell through a little bit at the last minute. I wasn't feeling particularly well, either, so this ended up being a pretty low-key day.

    I was on the hunt for two things today: small-batch gelato and Asterix and Obelix figures (for a friend), but lots of aimless meandering was also on tap. I started out in the Fahrenheit 451 bookstore on the Campo before passing through to Via dei Giubbonari to check out the clothing shops. There are always two shops there that sell the colors that are in style for the season and pretty much only those colors. In case you are wondering, heather and wine or heather and hunter green were the big color combinations this time around. Then it was over to the Via del Governo Vecchio to poke around in the vintage shops and one-off boutiques before crossing over to Piazza Navona.

    I walked up from the Pantheon on Via della Scrofa (which eventually turns into Via di Ripetta) looking for a gelato place run by a guy named Claudio Torce. I was working from this list:
    http://tavoleromane.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/201206_tascabile_gelato.pdf of the best gelato places in Rome. I had already tried San Crispino twice this trip and was looking to try a few others. When I eventually found Piazza di Monted'oro, the gelateria was closed for the winter. It was a huge bummer - and I assumed that the other locations were probably also closed, although I could be wrong.

    I had never really explored this exact little corner of Rome before, so I enjoyed poking down the little streets and alleys and looking into the shops. I came upon a French bookstore and thought it was likely they'd know where I could find Asterix & Obelix figures and in fact they directed me to a French-run toy and comic store farther down Via di Ripetta called L'Aventure.

    The shop owner was most decidedly French and spent the whole conversation we had switching back and forth between French and Italian. The store is really cute and I found it enjoyable even though I personally am not interested in cartoons or comics.

    One of my errands complete (but still stinging from the missed gelato), I decided to head over to Via Margutta to try Il Margutta, a vegetarian restaurant that's been in operation for quite some time. The staff here was very friendly and the waitress advised me that they had two options at lunch - the a la carte menu and the buffet. I asked her which one she would recommend (thinking she'd say a la carte, honestly) and she said the buffet was more "sfizioso" , so I decided to get it. I am not normally a buffet person, but when in Rome...

    The buffet was certainly abundant. A selection of cold dishes and salads and a selection of hot dishes along with soups, fruit, and juices. I tried the pasta in some sort of cheese sauce (very good), the bread (which tasted too much like yeast), the roasted mixed vegetables (good), broccoli (good), eggplant "meat"balls (really good!), radicchio salad (okay), eggplant parmesan (best thing I had there), the borlotti bean soup (which tasted like a bowl of refried beans), and the mixed fruit cup (which burned my tongue - underripe kiwi?) Along with my meal, I was able to enjoy a selection of Christmas music by washed-up 90s singers like Michael Bolton, which really only added to the experience. :)

    This place was quite popular at lunchtime, possible because it was fast (serve yourself), the items rotate frequently so they're fresh, and the cost was only 12 euro. While it was okay, I wouldn't really say I was jazzed about it. I needed some good gelato and I needed it stat. I walked for awhile down Via del Corso before cutting over to the Pantheon to find Gelateria Grom. Located on Via della Maddalena (not too far from San Crispino), I was initially a little suspicious because it is a chain. http://www.grom.it/eng/gelaterie.php

    When I walked in the door, I was intrigued by their flavor selections, which were very seasonal and included choices like panettone and marroni glassati (glazed chestnuts). I went with the panettone and crema come una volta (egg cream the way it used to be). It was really, really good. I would put it on par with San Crispino (although to really compare I would have had to try the same flavors at both places). The cream flavor really was deliciously rich and creamy and the panettone flavor was abundantly studded with candied fruit. They also clearly outline the ingredients of the gelato, indicating which flavors are vegan or gluten free or whatever other dietary concern/question you might have.

    After lunch and gelato a trip to the grocery store seemed safe. I was still feeling a bit under the weather so I decided I'd have dinner at home. I picked up valeriana (lamb's lettuce), olive oil, more passata di pomodoro, some basil, a bottle of Frascati and a little bit of chocolate for dessert. Once home, I relaxed and had a good time cooking and enjoying the best of Italian flavors. Although I didn't do too terribly much today, it was a good day for relaxing and trying to refocus my energy - after all, the next day would be my last in Rome before traveling on to Barcelona for three days. I needed to gather my strength.

    Tomorrow: 101 nativities

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    Funny you mention Fabio Volo - I had picked up one of his books based on one of your previous reports, got sidetracked and never finished it. I'll have to get back to it! Good way to practice my crummy Italian.

    Still following along and enjoying.

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    Thanks to all who are reading!

    My last day in Rome was to be dedicated to purchasing all the things I needed/wanted to but hadn't gotten around to yet, seeing the 100 Nativities exhibit at Santa Maria del Popolo and going out with friends for a last Roman dinner.

    I woke up for my usual breakfast (you already know by now) and then headed out to hunt down all the magazines I wanted to buy. I love to cook, and one of my favorite things to do is buy cooking magazines while I'm in Italy and then take them home to try out the recipes. I found a few at the newsstand in the Campo and picked up a few others later in the day. In order, my favorites are: La Cucina Italiana, Cucina Moderna, Cucinare Bene, and Sale & Pepe. I picked up a vegetarian cooking magazine, but most of the recipes looked (frankly) kind of gross and I found plenty of vegetarian/vegan recipes to choose from in the regular cooking magazines.

    (Side note from trip report: Since returning home I've used the magazines to make a potato and endive gateau, polenta with pumpkin sauce, mushroom and cashew croissants, and lentil and buckwheat stew. They are all good, and I was happy to add some items to my vegan cooking repertoire. Still have many more to try!)

    After dropping my purchases off in the apartment I headed over to Santa Maria del Popolo in Piazza del Popolo for the 100 Presepi exhibit. I'd seen the flyers and signs all over Rome that week, so I thought it was worth a view - and I'd also never gone into the church of SM del P. The admission price was 7,50 euro and there was a little display area right before walking in that talked a bit about the nativities and the exhibit.

    While I don't subscribe to a particular faith (though I was raised Catholic), there were two major reasons I decided to go to the exhibit. First, the nativity I saw at Sant'Andrea della Valle was so intricate and complex that it made me want to see other examples and, second, I had seen that some of the nativities would be made from "unusual" materials, so there was also a curiosity factor. After entering the exhibit, I saw nativities of every conceivable material: pasta, bread, citrus fruits, kitchen utensils, ostrich eggs, and cornhusks. Nativities with lights, sounds, and hundreds of moving parts. Nativities from many different nations all over the world - and in fact one of the most interesting things was seeing how the faces in the nativity reflected the citizenship of the nativity maker. Overall it was a worthwhile exhibit full of creative ideas and painstaking detail.

    I also stopped into the attached church of Santa Maria del Popolo since I hadn't seen it before. Featuring works by Bramante, Rafaello and Bernini, it was of course quite lovely and was quiet at that time of the morning. I walked a bit around the surrounding neighborhood before walking back down the Via del Corso and cutting over towards the apartment. I still had a fair amount of food left there, so I decided to lunch at home so as to not be wasteful. The cold was still nagging me, too.

    After lunch and a nap, it was time for my last passeggiata, my last dinner, my last Roman evening for at least another year. I dressed warmly since the weather had grown increasingly chilly over the past few days. Still too cold upon hitting the street, I stopped and picked up a super cute hat to keep me a little warmer before going on the hunt for orange juice and cold medicine. As a side note, I love Italian pharmacies. I love that you can go in, and tell them what's wrong with you and get medicine that actually works, over the counter, for a reasonable price.

    I was to meet my friends at 8:00, a little earlier than usual since the car was coming at 5:30 AM to pick me up and take me to the airport, which meant a 4:30 AM alarm. Our meeting point was again set for Piazza Navona near the toy shop. 8:00 came. Then 8:15. Then 8:25. I lived in Italy for a few years, so I understand the concept of Italian time, but when your alarm is going to go off in eight hours and you haven't eaten dinner or packed your suitcases yet? Your window for waiting grows slimmer.

    I eventually gave up waiting and headed to dinner on my own. (I found out later they came at 8:45). I hadn't had a pizza yet this trip and it was what I wanted for my last meal, so I headed to Pizzare' on Largo dei Chiavari. Pizzare' is Neapolitan pizza, not Roman, but that's the kind I like. Pizzare' was having a quiet night, cold as it was, and when I walked in the chef and all the waiters were standing near the front door chatting. When I was asked how many, I replied that I needed a table for one. When my pizza was delivered, it was in the shape of a heart. "From the chef," said the waiter.

    Maybe to the chef and the waiters I looked like I was alone, but I really wasn't. There were no other people with me, but I was having my last dinner with Rome. Enjoying the sounds and the smells and the flavors and the sights that it had to offer. That's the thing about Italy for me - even when I'm alone there, I never feel alone. The city is a presence that keeps me company and, in it, I am never alone.

    I went back to the apartment to pack, knowing that I'd be leaving all too soon. At 5:25 AM, I picked up my bags and walked down the steps to the Campo to wait for my car. In the darkness, the vendors were beginning to set up for another day of business; someone had built a bonfire in the square to ward off the morning chill and it glowed warmly. The car came; we were headed out of the city when Rome gave me her last Christmas gift. For the first time, I saw the Coliseum at night - and in front of it stood a brightly lit Christmas tree.

    Next: Barcelona

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    nnolan, I always have a near-nervous breakdown when I have to leave her. I feel the same way... I never feel alone in Rome. I hope to be there soon. Loved your trip report. Thanks for the detail on restaurants. I'm making notes!

    ellenem- I hope to be in Rome in late spring. Hope we can meet up for a meal! :)

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    As a side note, I love Italian pharmacies. I love that you can go in, and tell them what's wrong with you and get medicine that actually works, over the counter, for a reasonable price. >>

    FYI, the same applies in France and the UK. [I suspect you know this, but others may not]. I suspect it applies throughout Europe, though fortunately i have not had the need to consult pharmacists in every country I've been to. does it not apply in the US?

    nnolen - I've loved your trip report, thank you for sharing your Rome with us.

    BTW, do you have a link for the exhibition of presepi?

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    You guys were busy while I was asleep! :) Glad you found the info for the exhibit. Yes, until Jan 7 because Jan 6 is La Befana/epiphany, an important part of the Italian holidays.

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    Barcelona:

    I arrived in Barcelona around 9:00 AM on the same morning that I left Rome. This part of the trip would certainly be quite different - I was staying in a hotel, it was a city I'd never seen before, and I would be experiencing it with a friend. The sun was shining brightly and as soon as I walked out the airport exit I could tell that it was significantly warmer here than it had been in Rome. I hailed a taxi and in my (barely) passable Spanish I asked the driver to take me to the Hotel Acta Atrium Palace, which was located on the Gran Via.

    Driving through town I was immediately struck by how different it looked from either Rome or Madrid, which I'd seen earlier in the trip. The boulevards seemed wider, the buildings seemed predominantly newer...visually it's a very stunning city. The cab arrived at the hotel and I hadn't even noticed my friend was waiting outside until I opened the cab door. We jumped up and down and squealed like idiots. It'd been six months since we'd seen each other since he was now teaching in a different country.

    We retrieved my bags and went up to the room, which he had been in since the previous night. After putting my things down and talking for a bit, I realized I was quite hungry since I'd gotten up and eaten so early. We "planned" to just wander down towards the Barri' Gotic, and a few blocks from the hotel we happened upon a little bar with sidewalk seating, so we sat down and ordered some patatas bravas, tortilla de verdure and white wine. It was 10:30 in the morning. (context) We ate and drank and chatted and generally had a quite wonderful time.

    Our snack complete, we continued on to Barri' Gotic and eventually ended up near the Catedral de la Seu, Barecelona's cathedral. In front of the cathedral was a cute little Christmas fair with booths that were selling nativity figures, gifts, and oddly painted smiling logs (which I later found out are also called sh*tting logs - odd little tradition, that). Upon arriving at the entrance to the Cathedral, we noticed that it cost 6 euros to enter the church which we decided to forgo for the moment.

    When we walked back down the cathedral steps, my friend was approached by a group of catalan teenagers who wanted to interview him about American christmas traditions. I apparently, did not look American so they largely ignored me. This happened twice - apparently some sort of school project for English class. After the cathedral, we cut over to Las Ramblas and ended up by the boqueria. I just HAD to go in, right then and there. Quite large, it was filled with so much delicious looking food and produce, including quite a few bars and tapas places right inside the market.

    It hadn't been that long since we'd eaten, but the food looked very tempting indeed. i ended up with a wrap from the organic place along the back wall. The owner of the stand was from Pakistan and we talked a little bit about that before I decided on a particular sandwich. I thought I would just be getting the sandwich - no. Wrap, couscous, rice, olives, salad, sauteed veggies, and sauce on top of the whole thing. It was more than I could have eaten even if I were ravenous! When i sat down to give it a try, everything was absolutely delicious. For 10 euro, this is definitely a great place to go - especially if you're looking for something vegetarian. My friend got the falafel and was equally pleased. We also picked up a bottle of wine from one of the shops along the outer wall of the market and had an impromptu "picnic" lunch in the boqueria.

    After a fair amount of wine, starting at 10:30 in the morning, my friend decided he wanted a haircut. Right then. So he asked the falafel seller where he could get a haircut and he pointed us around the corner to a good cheap place. We found it, and the shop was bilingual Spanish/Chinese. It was one of those odd and interesting experiences that you don't forget easily. :)

    Hair cut, we walked back out to Las Ramblas and up towards our hotel by way of the Plaza Catalunya. At this point we were both quite tired from the day and we were hoping to nap, but our energy got the better of us and we ended up FaceTiming friends from work before getting ready to go back out again.

    For dinner, we went to Glop, which was right around the corner from the hotel. Honestly, I wasn't expecting much based on the name. "Glop" just sounds...unappealing as a name. We ordered a bottle of red wine and an arugula and parmesan salad to share. I ordered a plate of manchego cheese and a plate of grilled vegetables while my friend ordered the steak. Of course we also got pan con tomato (love this stuff) and a bottle of water. The food was decent, and while there weren't many vegetarian options on the menu I was able to come up with something. Combined with the pan con tomate, it ended up being more than enough. All that food plus the bottle of wine came to 55 euro, which was pretty reasonable.

    Although we had planned to go back out after dinner, we were both pretty spent, so it was back to the hotel room for an early night and a subsequently early morning.

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    I awoke first on Friday morning so I quietly slipped into my clothes and headed out to find us some breakfast. Right around the corner was a cute little place that was open. (I originally tried to go to a grocery store but they were all still closed at 8:30 AM). The little shop was called La Something Pa (bread) and I picked up two containers of mixed fruit, a coconut water, 2 cafe con leche and 2 brioche for 11 euro. The shop also featured fresh bread, freshly squeezed orange juice and a lot of other delicious looking items.

    After breakfast in our room, we got ready and headed out. Today was the day we would take the Shadow of the Wind walk, what I had come to Barcelona to do. We started out by heading up the Passeig de Gracia to the corner where Gaudi's Casa Batllo' is located. From there, we headed down Passeig de Gracia past Plaza Catalunya and into the Puerto de Angel. A tiny street cut off to the side, Calle Sant'Anna, which is where the Sempere & Sons bookshop was located (in the novel - in real life there is no bookshop there). That took us over to las ramblas again, where we headed down past all the shops to Calle Arco del Teatro, the street where the Cemetery of Forgotten Books is hidden in the novel. Then it was down to the statue of Christopher Columbus before looping through the Barri' Gotic to a few other sites.

    While in the Barri Gotic we stopped at Euskal Etxea for lunch, somewhere that had been recommended to me by a friend from Barcelona. It was a tapas bar, and we ordered a few glasses of white wine (which I think may have been Cava instead of white wine) and were allowed to peruse the appetizers and choose what we wanted. At the end, they counted the sticks on our plates to determine the price.

    Upon first glance there didn't seem to be much for me. I found a cheese sandwich (bread and cheese), a little tart with goat cheese in it, and a bread slice with a different kind of cheese. That appeared to be all there was for me to eat, so I was a little disappointed. However, when I went back in to refill the wine, I asked which dishes were without meat and they pointed out at least three more things that I could try. I took one of each. :) After this, they also came out to our table with a selection of warm meatless tapas. They were really quite nice and helpful about it.
    Four glasses of wine and our fill of tapas was somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 euro, and the atmosphere was really fantastic. I highly recommend this restaurant.

    After lunch, we finished the walking tour by ending at 4 gats, a restaurant that is famous in its own right but is also part of the novel.

    I had gotten to do what i wanted to do all morning, so I agreed to follow my friend's selection for the afternoon. He wanted to...duh duh duhhhhh...ride the double decker tourist bus.

    This is NOT something I would normally do. I studiously avoid looking like a tourist, or at the very least I attempt to, but I went along for the proverbial and literal ride. 24 euros per person, the bus had two lines going around the city. We got on the blue line first, which took us to Sagrada Familia where we got off and walked around for quite some time. I had been really anticipating seeing this and it was, of course, spectacular, but much of the facade was covered with construction netting and scaffolding, so I didn't see as much as I might have hoped.

    Back on the bus, the blue line route took us up to Parc Guell and then down through the Gracia and Sarria' districts before heading back towards Plaza de Catalunya. We were PLANNING on switching to the red line at Plaza Catalunya, but it had gotten very cold on top of that bus and we were not dressed appropriately for it. We decided to pop back to the hotel to put on our cold weather gear before getting back on. However, when we got back we both realized we were pretty tired and needed a rest, so we pushed the red line back to the next morning. We were hoping to relax for a bit, but it was then that the ticket fiasco occurred.

    I had tried to book my overnight train ticket from Barcelona to Madrid via the Internet before I even left the United States (weeks before, in fact), but the Renfe site would not accept my credit card. I tried it again from spain on this evening, but I never even got that far. When I logged into the site, I saw the message that the train I needed was completely full. No more seats. None. And the high speed train cost 150 euros and I would have had to get up at an ungodly hour - I'd done that enough this trip...but I didn't know where to go next.

    My friend suggested looking at buses, and I took a look online and ran into the same problem - it wouldn't accept my credit card information. The overnight bus was filling up quickly - as I sat there, the available number of seats went from 14 to 11. We decided to hightail it over to the Barcelona Nord station to buy the bus ticket in person. Clearly we were not the only people who had this problem or idea. The station was packed, and I heard more than one person get turned away because of a full bus. Finally I got to the front of the kiosk line and I put in my information and received my ticket. I'd be leaving the next night at 11 PM and arriving in Madrid the following morning at 7 AM. It wasn't my original plan, but I was just happy to know I'd be in Madrid in time to catch my flight.

    My friend also couldn't get his hotel room to book for the rest of his stay (credit card info again didn't work) so we ran across to the other side of the Eixample to book him two nights at the Axel hotel. This whole process was exhausting and stressful, so we decided to just decompress with dinner somewhere nearby. The hotel recommended Matamala on Rambla de Catalunya. I'm always a little wary of places hotels recommend, but I was too tired to care.

    The place was very cute and trendy looking and had a 0 km philosophy, meaning they tried to source as much of their food locally as was possible. I had a glass of the white wine and my friend the red, and we ordered pan con tomate and the little green peppers as appetizers. I had the veggie lasagna as an entree (so good! not Italian tasting, it had a different flavor entirely but was so yummy) and my friend had a salad and the fish soup. The total for dinner was 52 euro and was definitely worth every penny. It was delicious. Another low key evening, but it was great for us.

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    On Saturday I again went over to La Pa for breakfast. I felt like a pro now since I could work the coffee machine without help. ;) Today, I picked up a ham and cheese brioche for my friend and a cream brioche for me (to die for - so good), as well as fresh fruit, cafe con leche and 2 bread flautas to bring with us on the picnic lunch we planned to have later on Montjuic.

    We had to check out of the room before leaving for the day, but the hotel kindly allowed us to leave our bags at registration to pick up later. We then walked down Las ramblas to La Boqueria to pick up the rest of our items for our picnic lunch. We hit up a deli stand for 2 kinds of ham and 2 kinds of cheese (9,50 euro), we got a generous bunch of mandarin oranges (less than one euro), and a bottle of red wine (4 euro). Our picnic supplies procured, we went back to Plaza Catalunya to get on the red line tourist bus.

    This took us through a different area of the city - Sants station, the Plaza de Espana, MNAC and up into Montjuic where we eventually got off at the Miramir/Jardins stop. This stop had fabulous views of the city of Barcelona on one side and views of the Mediterranean on the other, all in the setting of a lovely manicured garden. We took pictures of the city, the view stretching beyond the Sagrada Familia, and of the sea before settling down to our picnic lunch. The cheese was fabulous, the bread was perfect, the wine was lovely and the mandarins were a perfect dessert. We sat and talked up on the mountain, taking in the panorama of lovely Barcelona.

    When our picnic was finished, we got back on the bus to continue down towards the port and into the Barri Gotic, where we got off the bus to walk back to the hotel. We needed to retrieve our luggage and move it to the other hotel. The new hotel didn't seem too far when we'd walked it the previous day, but suddenly with luggage it felt like a million miles away. We should've taken a cab; lesson learned.

    We cleaned up and I took an extra long shower, knowing I wouldn't see a shower or a different set of clothes for the next 24 hours or more. We wanted to have tapas and people watch, so we headed back to a bar on the Gran Via that we'd seen earlier and that was incredibly busy. It was called Ciutat Comtal - the inside bar was busy, but there was an empty table out on the street, so we snapped it up and situated our chairs to look out at the passing crowd.

    We ordered a bottle of cava to celebrate our last night and a successful trip, along with an order of patatas bravas to help soak it up. It was relaxing and the cava was eminently drinkable. After a few hours of cava and conversation, we headed off to dinner. My friend was tiring of Catalan cuisine (I wasn't there yet), so we went to a Chinese restaurant in the Eixample called Out of China.

    It was cutely decorated and the dining room was quite large. Since it was still early, there weren't many people there but many more began to trickle in as the hour grew later. I ordered the veggie dumplings followed by the vegetarian meatballs with peanut sauce , and my friend ordered the spring rolls followed by the duck. The food was good, but I was a little surprised by the meatballs. They were tasty, but it was literally just four meatballs on a plate. No rice, no nothing. For 9 euro, I felt like it wasn't a good price and there was also nothing to break up the flavor which, after the second meatball, started to taste overly sweet. I was not a huge fan of those meatballs, but everything else was very good.

    Our dinner complete, we went back to the hotel and I picked up my belongings. My friend walked me to the nearest taxi stand and off I went to the bus station. I had about an hour before my bus, but I'm chronically early for everything and I didn't really know how the bus system worked. The bus pulled in at about 10:40 (scheduled to leave at 11) and we loaded our bags into the bottom of the bus before boarding. We departed on time, and luckily the bus was quiet so I was able to get some sleep. The arrival in Madrid and my flight from Madrid to Philadelphia all went without incident.

    I liked Barcelona very much. It is beautiful, stately and sweeping and modern and progressive in many ways. I enjoyed the food and the architecture and the friendliness of the people. I would consider returning in the future. I was happy with my decision to try a new country on this trip, and I think it's likely that I will do so again the next time. It will be Italy plus somewhere else, and I think I will end the trip with Italy instead of beginning it so that I always have my "home" to look forward to.

    Thanks for reading, everyone. I'll be happy to answer any questions or give more information if I have it.

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    Hi N. I had exactly the same reaction as yours on my arrival at the empty Buca di Ripetta, but I went on to discover Enoteca Buccone a bit further down the road.

    Thanks for all the interesting details - your favourite cooking magazine titles have been noted.

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    Shadow of the wind is one of my favorites! Great trip report, i have never been to barcelona and have thought of extending our italy trip to add it on. Thanks for the report.

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    Willowjane - you definitely should! Barcelona was a beautiful city. Have you read Zafon's other books? I tore through Prisoner of Heaven earlier this month. Couldn't put it down and gasped out loud more than once!

    Tarquin - yeah, I have eaten at Buca di Ripetta before (more than once) but just something about that totally empty room this time...

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    nnolen - i do so wish we'd taken the HOHO bus in Barcelona! we stayed in a hotel near the magic fountain [Hotel Fira-Palace] and though it had certain advantages [large rooms, quiet, out of the tourist hurly burly] it was a long walk to the nearest metro station at Plaza Espagna, and an even longer walk when we got there as the `'correspondences" [don't know the spanish for that] were veeerrry long.

    consequently my over-riding memory of Barcelona is of my sore feet.

    i'd quite like to go back, but I'd want to stay somewhere more central.

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    Thank you for a great afternoon read,
    I will be going to Rome for the first time next summer and I too am a non meat eater, and a bookstore lover-so I took notes-

    clicked on your name and saw I can now go to Rome with you again-yeah-happy.

    btw-lovely thing you did writing the note to the owner of Al Gran Sasso.

    Went to Amazon to read about Carlos Ruiz Zafon-where have I been? Is there an order I should read these books in?

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    Willowjane - you'll have to let me know what you think of Prisoner of Heaven. You'll probably let me know in two days because you won't be able to put it down. :)

    Annhig - yes, a central location was really beneficial. We could have walked pretty much everywhere.

    Fabulous France - that's how I felt when I found him! I had never heard of him in the US (and still don't much, apart from people i happen to convert ;) ) I think Shadow of the Wind should come first, followed by Angel's Game and then Prisoner of Heaven. According to Zafon, time is irrelevant and you can read them in any order, but I don't think I would have had the same perception if I'd read Prisoner of Heaven first because it would have killed some of the surprises.

    Oops - I'm turning this into a book thread.

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    Euskal Etxea is the restaurant/pintxos (not tapas!) bar at the Basque cultural center in Barcelona. It's run by people from San Sebastián, the gastronomical capital of Spain if not all of Europe. All about going for pintxos in food crazy San Sebastián: http://www.todopintxos.com/home/home.php?lang=en

    According to Ferran Adria (El Bulli), the world's most renowned chef during the past decade, San Sebastián is the best place to eat in the world "in terms of what you can get at any place you happen to walk into". And some 16 Michelin stars in this small city. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2005/mar/13/foodanddrink.shopping2

    European capital of culture 2016.

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    Thank you for your trip report - I really enjoyed it.
    I think it's a good idea for you to visit another city along with Rome. Can I suggest Prague, Amsterdam or maybe Istanbul? You have probably been to Paris.

    And good for you on becoming a vegan. I'm sure it was difficult considering the foodie you are. Although my husband and I have cut down on meat, we (more me) can't give it up completely.

    Happy New Year all!

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    I know this is not a book thread but Wow! I didnt think it could be as good......i love the style of writing. Thanks nnolen for encouraing me to read this, i had a very pleasant few days and now i have to catch up on housework!:):)

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    SashieZ - hope you enjoy the book!

    As far as the vegan thing goes, I took PETA's 30 day vegan challenge fully expecting to go back to eating meat when it was finished...but I just couldn't. And anyone who has read previous trip reports knows that I absolutely loved duck and beef and foie gras and everything else animal, so it was a big change for me.

    I won't say anything else for fear of sounding preachy or freaking out the omnivores, but I just really can't picture eating meat ever again because of what I learned and experienced in those 30 days.

    And yes, I know it's yummy. Trust me - it's the first thing people want to say to you when they hear you don't eat animal products. :)

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