Back from Barcelona: Nikki's trip report

Feb 28th, 2007, 03:18 AM
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Back from Barcelona: Nikki's trip report

My husband Alan and I have just returned from a week in Barcelona over the February school vacation. We live in Massachusetts, where there was a two-inch thick coating of ice over our driveway the day we left. The weather had been frigid and we were hoping that Barcelona would be a taste of warmer climes. No boots, no parkas.

We were right. During the week we sat in sidewalk cafes or on benches outdoors, watching people walk by all bundled up in coats and scarves while we felt it was positively balmy. We lunched on seafood outdoors at a harborside restaurant; enjoyed drinks on a terrace on Montjuic overlooking the city spread out at our feet. We saw people lying on the beach, and one person even in the water. We figured it couldn’t be colder than Cape Cod in June. We weren’t tempted ourselves, however.

We explored sights high and low, ate three new types of clams within three days, attended performances of piano music and modern dance, ate our way through the Catalan food glossaries in our guide books, took busses, taxis, trams, subways, and cable cars to get around. We spent a pleasant hour sitting on a bench on the Rambla de Catalunya taking pictures of people’s feet. And on the last day we discovered that the best hot chocolate and croissants in the world were being served on our doorstep. Who knew?

This trip was planned in a little over three weeks. We had not expected to travel over this vacation. Circumstances suddenly arranged themselves so as to make it possible, however, and I scrambled around the internet looking for airfares to a city we could book for a reasonable price at a very late date on the most impossible travel weekend in Boston. Barcelona came up a winner, with a flight on Alitalia connecting through Milan.

To get in the mood, and between the guidebook reading and internet surfing, I watched “L’Auberge Espanol” (fun to watch with a lot of scenes shot at Barcelona landmarks) and “All About My Mother” (overly melodramatic for my tastes but set in Barcelona as well). I read “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, which was very enjoyable and filled with Barcelona streets and addresses. I had been to Barcelona for three days last summer without my husband so many of the locations were familiar to me even before this trip, and I recognized more of them during our week there.

Guidebooks I found helpful were:

Maribel’s guide to Barcelona downloaded from www.maribelsguides.com
Time Out Barcelona
Fodor’s Barcelona
Let’s Go Barcelona
Eyewitness Travel Barcelona and Catalonia

Our flight was uneventful, just the way we like it, but the Alitalia plane was old and there was no seatback video. I can’t sleep much on planes, but music and podcasts on my iPod and finishing up “The Shadow of the Wind” kept me relatively happy. When we landed in Barcelona, we scrambled at the ATM to put together cash for our apartment rental, which was payable on arrival, and we took a taxi to the apartment.

I had rented an apartment I found on line: http://www.habitatapartments.com/pedrera.htm. It turned out to be a great choice. The apartment is located on Rambla de Catalunya, a semi-pedestrianized street lined with trees, benches, cafes and shops on the best corner in Barcelona (just a guess; of course I haven’t tried them all) just a block away from the Gaudi landmark building La Pedrera.

The apartment is in a somewhat odd-looking modern building with an elevator and a very helpful doorman. There is a bedroom that can be closed off from the rest of the apartment with sliding doors or left open. Two twin beds are fastened together to make a king sized bed. Lots of closet space in the bedroom. The bathroom has a walk-in shower with gorgeous handmade tiles, and light comes in through glass bricks that face the living room but which are opaque for privacy. The entire front of the apartment is a wall of sliding glass doors with metal shutters overlooking the street. It was warm enough to leave the doors open at times. If I ever return to Barcelona, I would be very happy to rent this apartment again.

When we arrived at the apartment, the cleaning lady was still working on it, and the rental agent suggested we go out and come back in an hour. So that is what we did. We went out into the street and began the infinitely rewarding process of exploring the neighborhood and deciding where to go for lunch.
Nikki is online now  
Feb 28th, 2007, 04:00 AM
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I'm enjoying your report. I've always wanted to visit Barcelona.
travelgirl2 is offline  
Feb 28th, 2007, 06:09 AM
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We leave for Barcelona on March 9th. Timely report!
missypie is offline  
Feb 28th, 2007, 06:54 AM
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Nikki, how fabulous!

I'd been worndering where you were these days, and I'm so glad you posted about Barcelona. I think it's great you were able to put this trip together so quickly and that circumstances permitted you to take it. Do you and/or your husband speak Spanish?

More please!

Thanks,
BC
bookchick is offline  
Feb 28th, 2007, 07:13 AM
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Hi Nikki

You are making me want to go back to Barcelona! I really enjoyed my time there and would love to return to see the things that I missed the first time around.

I'm looking forward to the next installment of your report. Glad you had a great trip and safe flights!

Johanna
gracie04 is offline  
Feb 28th, 2007, 07:53 AM
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I also read "Shadow of the Wind" and enjoyed it.

You might also like "Zorro" by Isabel Allende. Part of the book is also set in Barcelona. It's a wonderful book.
sdfamily is offline  
Feb 28th, 2007, 10:27 AM
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Thanks for the comments and encouragement. I want to keep writing until I'm done, so I don't forget anything. I forced myself to begin this morning, knowing that once I posted the beginning, I would have to continue.

No, bookchick, neither of us speaks Spanish, although I did learn a few words while lining up outside my elementary school in New York in the 1950's. And I can count to ten. But I brushed up on the phrases in the back of the guide books in both Spanish and Catalan. Unfortunately, what was more likely to come out when I was flustered was the Italian I tried to teach myself a couple years ago.

Now, where was I?
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Feb 28th, 2007, 10:27 AM
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Ah, lunch. We ended up in a nondescript looking place with the word “cafeteria” in the name around the corner on carrer Provenca. The menu was entirely in Catalan but we figured out enough to order lunch. I had a beautiful plate of shrimp carpaccio with green pasta, and Alan had some wonderful fresh calamari. It’s that first meal in Europe that makes me look at Toto and realize we’re not in Kansas any more. By now it was after 2:30 but the place was filled with workers on their lunch break. So we were already getting into the rhythm of the Barcelona day.

Which we followed with a siesta back at the apartment. We awoke in time to meet a friend for drinks at the Ateneu, a private cultural club and library in the old city which had figured in “The Shadow of the Wind”. The building is a beautiful old world relic. The café (members only) is reached by going upstairs and through a room full of old men playing chess. We brought our drinks out into the garden, where we sat and talked until it became too chilly.

We wandered through the streets of the Gothic quarter, passing the cathedral, which is surrounded by scaffolding. The cathedral is the site of a series of pictures I still have somewhere from my summer travels in 1972, when a friend took a picture of me taking a picture of a second friend who was taking a picture of a third friend. A moment recorded for posterity in triplicate. I did not attempt to recreate the shot on this occasion, although we did stop to sit on a bench and contemplate a map.

It was around 8 PM, and the narrow pedestrian streets were crowded with people leaving work. The shops were closing, although we stopped into Art Escudellers, a small branch of a larger store selling crafts from all over Spain. We purchased a set of beautiful handmade glasses.

Our goal was dinner at Set Portes, where I had a paella and grilled fish last summer that I had been tasting in my mind ever since. When we arrived there was a line of people waiting outside. We spent about half an hour waiting and were then seated. Everyone around us seemed to be getting paella, and we did too, filled with meat and seafood. We started off with a plate of jamon iberico, salty and sweet and melt-in-your-mouth good, and a dish of escalivada, grilled eggplant and peppers, smooth and smoky. Too full for dessert, we took a taxi back to the apartment and called it a night.
Nikki is online now  
Feb 28th, 2007, 10:40 AM
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The food at Set Portes sounds great. (I just ate a power bar at my desk for lunch.) Set Portes was listed on someone's list of "faded glories" so I've been concerned about it being a tourist trap.
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Feb 28th, 2007, 11:09 AM
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Olé, So that's where you've been. Welcome Back!!
cigalechanta is online now  
Feb 28th, 2007, 11:14 AM
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Nikki, loving your report and your writing style. Thanks for posting.
Mary_Fran is offline  
Feb 28th, 2007, 11:19 AM
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Nikki, I was just there for the first time last month and fell in love with it. What a great city!

Loving your trip report.
BostonGal is offline  
Feb 28th, 2007, 11:43 AM
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Muchas gracias Nikki as we'll be there in May.
M
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Feb 28th, 2007, 01:16 PM
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Enjoying your report Nikki. Particularly the detail about the restaurants. We leave on March 16 for Barcelona so I am interested in all the details. I guess I should get back to finishing "Shadow in the Wind", just haven't had time to pick it up.
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Feb 28th, 2007, 02:13 PM
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Am too enjoying your report. Last time in Barcelona was 2003 but am in the beginning stages of a planned move there. So I'll be hanging on every word of your report. Wowie-Love the apartment!
laartista is offline  
Feb 28th, 2007, 05:17 PM
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It seems like Barcelona is a hot destination these days. Hope you have a great trip, missypie and mikemo.
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Feb 28th, 2007, 05:18 PM
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and jgg.
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Feb 28th, 2007, 05:49 PM
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Tuesday morning I woke up bright and early. And went back to bed. Around noon, we decided it was probably a good idea to get out of the house so we hunted up some lunch. Around the corner was a tapas bar that looked wonderful and had been recommended, but there was a long wait for a table. So we decided to try that place later on, and we grabbed a table outdoors right outside our apartment, at La Bodegueta, Rambla de Catalunya, 100. Inside, there was a crowded basement wine bar, and outside, there were tables set up along the center island of the street. We ordered a sandwich of chorizo sausage, an order of patatas bravas, and an order of tortilla. The tortilla is a potato omelet, and I was surprised that it arrived cold. We didn’t know if that is how it is supposed to be served or not.

After lunch, we walked to La Pedrera, the apartment block designed by moderniste architect Antoni Gaudi. We waited a short time to buy tickets, which included an audioguide to the exhibits. First on the tour is a museum in the building’s attic explaining the principles of Gaudi’s architecture. Alan’s reaction to the vaulted space was that he wanted to live there. From the exhibit area, there are stairs up to the roof, which is ornamented with fantastic shapes covering chimneys and stairwells. The last part of the tour is an apartment on the top floor, which has been furnished in the style of the time. Curves are everywhere in the building, outside and in. There are few if any straight lines or right angles. We spent hours exploring this building.

When we left La Pedrera, we stopped into a pharmacy across the street. I was surprised to see bags of herbal teas touted as cures for everything from high blood pressure to wrinkles. I thought those might be fun gifts, but I wasn’t sure what U.S. customs would think of bags of dried leaves. There were also all sorts of creams and lotions bottled under the pharmacy’s name, but I didn’t really know what I would do with such things, so we left without purchasing anything.

Our next stop was a small grocery store, where we picked up fruit and other provisions for the apartment as well as some odd canned goods (octopus! squid!) and paella seasoning to take home.

For supper that night we went to Cerveseria Catalana, carrer Mallorca 236. This was the place that had been too crowded for lunch, and it was crowded again in the evening, so we waited and ended up at an outdoor table. While it was getting cool, there were heaters which kept it pleasant to eat outdoors. We had seen the exciting array of food lined up on the bars inside, and decided to eat a meal consisting of many tapas.

With the waiter’s help, we figured out the menu and ordered a fabulous assortment: small hard-shelled clams with two feet, artichokes sliced thin and fried, wild mushrooms sautéed in garlic and olive oil, long green onions called calcots with romescu sauce. The ubiquitous pa amb tomaquet, which is grilled bread rubbed with garlic, tomato and olive oil. Prawns skewered and grilled. Small pieces of rare grilled beef fillet (called veal on the English menu but called solomillo in Catalan), served on small pieces of grilled bread with a whole small pepper (not a hot one though), all held together with a toothpick. A plate of fried sardines. And for dessert? One crema catalana (like crème brulee) with two spoons. Alan said the good part was it was just Tuesday.
Nikki is online now  
Mar 1st, 2007, 12:42 AM
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Hey, Nikki! So far sounds so good. It was awesome seeing you and meeting Alan. I am glad you had a week of beautiful weather. Today is also incredibly sunny.

I was reading the column "la fatxa" in BCN WEEK (http://bcnweek.com/fatxa36.html), which talks about "guiris" (foreigners. . . not despective. . . just a qualifier) and how they dress for summer when it is "winter" here. Hilarious!

Glad you got away from the cold for a while and looks like you enjoyed yourself. Keep writing!
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Mar 1st, 2007, 05:42 AM
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Wednesday morning we got out of the apartment at a more reasonable hour, with the goal of taking the bus turistic. The bus stopped in front of La Pedrera, just a block from our apartment, and we bought tickets on the bus. We took the southern loop, which goes to the sites on Montjuic and the waterfront. The top of the bus was somewhat chilly when we were moving, and a black cloud threatened rain, but the sun won out by the time we got off the bus at the monument to Columbus. There was a jovial group of men having their picture taken holding a banner proclaiming the glories of the Liverpool Football Club. We walked along the waterfront toward an old sailing ship that turned out to be the Santa Eulalia, a three-masted schooner maintained as an exhibit of the maritime museum (Museu Maritim). After enjoying the view and the sunshine for a while, we walked back past the Columbus monument to visit the museum.

The Museu Maritim is housed in the Drassanes Reials, the wonderfully preserved medieval shipyards. An audioguide is included in the price of admission. Old ships, replicas, models, maps, dioramas, and figureheads comprised the exhibits, which were interesting and well displayed in the great space.

We got back on the bus and rode around the waterfront, getting off again at the Pla del Palau, near the Born neighborhood. We walked through this neighborhood, which is rapidly gentrifying and filled with small, interesting shops. I wandered in and out of several jewelry stores and escaped without actually purchasing anything. Whew. I wanted to go inside the Santa Maria del Mar church, but it was shut tight. We passed an internet point, the first I had noticed since we arrived, so I ducked in for half an hour to do some e-mail.

By the time we arrived at the Picasso Museum, which was our goal in this neighborhood, my feet were shot. I had visited this museum 35 years ago, and it seemed bigger now. Most of the galleries had no benches, and I wasn’t able to enjoy the exhibits very much because of my need to sit down. I did get to look at many of Picasso’s childhood works (signed P Ruiz rather than Picasso) and several paintings from his blue period and rose period. Next time I would hit this museum when I was fresher rather than at the end of a day of touring. It is housed in a beautiful set of mansions on an evocative old Barcelona street.

We left the museum and walked down the carrer Princesa. While Alan went inside a store to deal with a malfunctioning sim card in his phone, I sat outside on a bench in front of a store selling many types of carnival masks. While I waited, I heard and then saw a demonstration on the nearby Via Laietana. Honking horns, people marching and chanting, carrying signs. I couldn’t tell what the demonstration was about, though. The demonstration had passed by the time Alan came out, and he probably thinks I made the whole thing up.

We walked up the Via Laietana and passed a store selling kitchen appliances in the colors of the Football Club of Barcelona. Then we passed a bar with a sign advertising the televised match that evening between Barcelona and Liverpool. That explained the men with the banner down at the Columbus monument earlier. We went back to the apartment and rested up for our 10:00 dinner reservation at Cinc Sentits.
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