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

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

Dec 29th, 2012, 07:28 AM
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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.
nnolen is offline  
Dec 29th, 2012, 12:54 PM
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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.
annhig is offline  
Dec 29th, 2012, 01:02 PM
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Your report is taking me nack to Rome, for which I thank you. I'll be with you all the way.

Yes, the Ecstacy of St. Theresa is a once in a lifetime experience!
taconictraveler is offline  
Dec 29th, 2012, 06:15 PM
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I hope you realize that I meant to say "back to Rome.".
taconictraveler is offline  
Dec 29th, 2012, 08:15 PM
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Thanks, taconic. I understood.

I'm really going to try to write up a few days worth tomorrow.
nnolen is offline  
Dec 29th, 2012, 08:20 PM
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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.
nnolen is offline  
Dec 30th, 2012, 02:19 AM
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nnolen - i like that - thanks! I'll try to remember it to impress my italian teacher!
annhig is offline  
Dec 30th, 2012, 05:38 AM
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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.
ellenem is online now  
Dec 30th, 2012, 07:05 AM
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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....ile_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
nnolen is offline  
Dec 30th, 2012, 01:02 PM
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What a great day. Sometimes it is nice to spend a day meandering.
willowjane is offline  
Dec 30th, 2012, 01:31 PM
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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.
jmct714 is offline  
Dec 30th, 2012, 06:13 PM
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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
nnolen is offline  
Dec 30th, 2012, 09:12 PM
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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!
sarge56 is offline  
Dec 31st, 2012, 01:16 AM
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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?
annhig is offline  
Dec 31st, 2012, 01:19 AM
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found it!


it appears to be open until 7th Jan, and has been very popular, to judge by the length of the queue shown on 26th Dec!
annhig is offline  
Dec 31st, 2012, 01:50 AM
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The official site on Presepi 100 in English: http://www.presepi.it/index_eng.html
Alec is offline  
Dec 31st, 2012, 03:30 AM
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well done, Alec!
annhig is offline  
Dec 31st, 2012, 04:43 AM
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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.
nnolen is offline  
Dec 31st, 2012, 05:31 AM
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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.
nnolen is offline  
Dec 31st, 2012, 05:58 AM
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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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