Tuesday, September 29, 2009

First anniversary

Actually, we got to Marseille a year and eleven days ago, and we hadn't even found our current apartment a year ago at this time. And the not-so-prompt beginnings of the blog? Well that was just under 10 months ago, but who's counting?

The point is, by some measure, we've been here for a year. So to celebrate our first anniversary in France, we went to Spain!

James had a conference in Barcelona, so I met him there and we stayed a couple of extra days. Museums, beautiful buildings, sites, food (thanks to Ann and Dalen for their recs!), music. It was great!

I took the bus for a cool 60€ round-trip. So what if it took more than eight hours to make what Google calls a 4h33mn drive? It was cheaper than driving and, overall, pretty pleasant.

I had been a little worried about the notification on my ticket that for the comfort of other passengers there would be no eating aboard but, clearly, eating was allowed ...

So I did not feel guilty eating the sandwich I had made, over the bag I had brought it in.

I had not been worried about the other half of the notification on my ticket that there would be no smoking on board. Like the proscription on eating, though, the rule was not strictly enforced. There was smoking on board, but only by the driver and only with his window open. He also sang along in something like harmony with the chorus of Cher's Believe. Not an easy feat when you think about the synthesized vocals in that song. He deserved a cigarette or two.

And at the end of it all an ultra-stylish, but budget hotel was waiting for me.

Day 1 (for me ... James was still conferencing)
At the base of Monjuïc is the Plaça d'Espanya, which marks the entrance to the pavilions of the International Exhibition of 1929. Right on the Plaça is the Arena de Barcelona, built in 1900 in the Moorish style.

It used to be a bullfighting ring, but is now being turned into a shopping center with the help of that big crane.

Here's a view up the hill to the Palau Nacional, built for the International Exhibition.

The Palau Nacional now houses the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC), which is a huge collection of the art from Catalunya from the 11th century to mid-20th century. The coolest part, even though it's generally not one of my favorite periods for art, was the Romanesque collection (11th - 13th centuries). From this link, you can see samples of art from these rooms, but what you'll see doesn't do it justice.

Basically, back in the early 1920s it became apparent that a great deal of art from the Romanesque churches of the region was being sold to foreign collectors. In order to keep the art in Spain, The Board of Museums had it removed from the churches and reconstructed it elsewhere. To do that, the paintings (or what remained of them after 700 years) were cleaned, then covered with lime casein (which seems to be some kind of natural paint?), and then fabric. Apparently this allows the painting (or by a related technique the painting and some of the plaster behind it) to be stuck to the fabric and pulled off the wall. It can then be reattached to a new wall in a different place, which is what you can see at the MNAC.

So as you walk through this section of the museum, they have it set up so that it's like you're walking through these Romanesque churches.

It was cool.

On the way up to the Palau Nacional, you walk by the Metalurgy Pavillion, which has this really cool facade.

You will also walk past the extremely beautiful Mies van der Rohe pavilion.

The original was the German pavilion for the 1929 Exhibition and, following tradition, was torn down after the Exhibition ended. It was rebuilt in the mid-80s.

Here's a view back at the Plaça d'Espanya, most of the tourists cropped from the photo.

Here's another view from the Palau toward Gaudí's Sagrada Familia in the center-left of the picture (which, I'm sad to say, looks like a dying spider with its legs in the air in this picture) and the Torre Agbar, by Jean Nouvel, on the right (the shiny, blue-gray torpedo-shaped tower). The Torre Agbar was supposed to reflect the shapes Gaudí used and at the same time echo the form of the mountains at nearby Montserrat.

On my way home, I stopped by Barcelona's Arc de Triomf, built in the Moorish style for the 1888 Universal Exhibition.

And here's James looking out the back of our room onto the terrace and up at the rooftop of the Pedrera.

Then it was time for dinner. Or almost.

As it turned out Cal Boter, an old-school Catalan place off the beaten track, didn't open for dinner until 9pm. So when we got there at 20h45, we gave our names and went to get an apéro at a nearby bar.

At 9:15 we went back and they were ready for us.

Seared foie gras with roasted peppers and eggplant on a Catalan style flatbread in the foreground and mushrooms stuffed with a salt cod-potato-garlic mixture. Yum!

Filet with porcini mushrooms (not the most attractive of presentations, but mushroomy and beefy and very tender).

Cabrito with roasted potatoes. It was delicious -- even I thought so and I tend not to be fond of the goat.

All accompanied by a Rioja, which we hadn't had for ages, and finished with a coffee. (It just felt a little late to start dessert at 11:30 ... but not for a coffee, if that makes any sense at all.)

Day 2
After a leisurely morning and brunch, we walked along the Port Vell (the old port) over to the Ramblas and wandered up the Ramblas and through the Barri Gotíc. Of course we had to stop at the Mercat de la Boqueria.

Where we got delicious fruit juices: guanabana and dragon fruit.

We went to the Cathedral, Saint Eulalia, which is mostly covered in scaffolding making for a poor picture. However, you can take an elevator up to the roof and walk around on some of that scaffolding.

In Parc Güell we decided to play "Where's Waldolisa?". You probably will find me because as I look at this picture it sort of seems like a good portion of the thousands of other tourists who were at the park cleared out of the frame right at the moment James snapped his picture.

There were so many people there you couldn't really take any pictures of most of the structures without having 100 strangers in the photo. (Seriously, try counting the number of little heads in that photo -- 100 easy!) Besides, those are things you've probably all seen or seen pictures of before. Here are a couple of pictures James took of items less photographed.

The chain links in this gate were soft, not rigid:

After all that sightseeing, and French-speaking (we ran into some tourists who needed help) we needed a snack.

Tapas at Tapaç24. It's a low-key, basement tapas bar owned by a celebrity chef with a much pricier and more famous restaurant to his name. The tapas were very tasty, but the service was extremely poor.

"Bikini" with serrano, mozzarella and truffles.

Croquetes of jamón ibérico.

We also ordered some fried anchovies. However, these never came. And our waiter didn't bother to tell us that they were out until we asked for our check and he noticed that he'd never brought them. Sigh.

Dinner that night was at Ann's recommendation, somoRRostro. The food was fabulous, the restaurant was very attractive and the staff were extremely friendly and poured water and replaced silverware with a flourish. If only I had video.

I do have some more no-flash photos of our food though.

Purple potatoes with marinated mackerel and parmesan mayo.

The 'mayo' was just a smear on the left side of the plate (under the fennel).

Sautéed sepia with toasted rice sprinkles.

"Hake" (and by that I mean monkfish because they ran out of hake) with shitakes, asparagus and sweet garlic.

Monkfish three ways: potatoes, sizzled jamón ibérico and kale.

Chocolate cake (very good) with its foam (an unfortunate mint chocolate) and mango ice cream.

Financier with seasonal fruits and a sweet wine sauce. Also, those little white cubes are marshmallows.

Mmmmmmm ...

Day 3
One thing that was really remarkable about Barcelona was the number of tourists. Now, it's not so surprising that there would be tourists at tourist sights, but the sheer number of tourists, nearly everywhere, was astounding. We were tourists, and it still felt like there were tons of tourists there.

This is a picture of Casa Batlló, and there are about 50 people standing outside in line to get it. It's already open.

We went back to Montjuïc and walked around the outside of the Palau, through the Olympic park and then went to the Miró museum (no photos allowed).

We enjoyed the gardens behind the ethnological museum. As did these other tourists who decided to hang out for a while discussing the ins and outs of lily pads.

We went in the Pedrera, but couldn't go on the roof because of rain. So no close-ups of those chimneys over James' head in that picture out of our hotel.

Since it was not quite 9:00 and too early for dinner, we decided to go to a classical guitar concert in the Basilica Santa Maria del Pí.

And then it was time for dinner.

On a Sunday night at 10:30pm, pretty much nothing is open in Aix. Not so in Barcelona. Things are still hopping.

Fried anchovies.

Pulpo a la plancha with patatas bravas.

But wait, there's more!

As if two people could eat any more (I didn't even include everything -- did I mention that I think we gained weight in Barcelona?), there was still Monday morning before James' flight and my bus. The highlight was another juice drink (and the manchego and serrano we bought for later!).

Blackberry and guava-coconut-vanilla.

So here's to another year!

1 comment:

Jessica said...

What a fantastic travelogue! Brava! Why is no one commenting?? I am so glad you took pictures of all the food. The juice drinks kind of remind me of your bubble-tea thing. Man, the anchovies and the pulpo look SO good.

Also, I found Waldolisa. :)