Sunday, September 25, 2016


Upon arrival in Barcelona, we stopped at our apartment  (near Plaça Catalunya) and left Sandy there with all of our luggage and went to turn in the car. The drop-off point was nearby and our walk back took us by the Apple store. We were told that it is one of the biggest. 

We settled into our apartment and enjoyed a bottle of wine and some snacks provided by the Rental Agency. Then we headed out to checkout, El Nacional, a very “in” place with a collection of stylish, foodie oriented restaurants and bars. It is very popular and busy. Still we were able to get seated within a few minutes. Pat had a flatbread with roasted tomato slices, mozzarella and arugula. Bill had a ham, cheese, and spinach flatbread sandwich. We washed them down with a bottle of wine from the Ribera region of Spain….the wine was quite fine and it provided a bit of a math & language lesson. The name was listed as “Squared 3” on the front, and “Tres al Cuadrado” on the back label. We would have said “3 squared”.

Thursday morning we caught up on the blog, finishing with Costa Brava. Then off to a local pizza / burger place for a break from tapas. Muccis offers a large selection of Pizza by the slice. We each got two slices. Bill had a glass of wine and Pat got sangria. 

After lunch we wandered around the quaint, narrow back streets of Eixample (the “new part” of Barcelona constructed in the 19th and early 20th century) and Bari Gòtic (the “old part” / medieval quarter). We decided to have no plan and just wander along whatever street or alleyway attracted us. It was fun. We found a few interesting shops and some appealing views. Then we returned to our apartment and started a new batch of laundry. Exciting eh?
A view of the cathedral
Mercado Santa Caterina
On Friday we met up with Carolina, our guide from “Skip The Line Tours Barcelona”.The tour combined an overview of Barcelona with a Tour of works by Gaudi. Note: Gaudi is known for his Modernista architecture. Modernists is the word they use in Catalunya for fin-de-siecle (works from around the end of the 19th century) that share the influences of Art Nouveau but took a distinctive turn here, especially the flamboyant works of Anton Gaudi. There’s a fine article about this at: 
A key point they make is "Some people find Barcelona's architecture too kitsch, too ostentatious, but whatever else it is, it certainly isn't boring, and all those symbols, decorations and mind-boggling shapes certainly love a camera lens!"

Despite our Gaudi emphasis, we started with an overview tour. We headed down La Rambla to the St Joseph Mercado / La Boqueria and wandered through the stalls admiring the wide variety of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and other edibles. Carolina, of course, pointed out some of the most notable stalls which have been there for decades, including a stand where the proprietor has also been there for decades.
Colorful shots of the mercado
Later we crossed La Rambla and entered the Bari Gòtic for a look at the Old Jewish Quarter. 
A bit of the decor of an eyecatching building on La Rambla.
Note dragon & umbrella. We have no explanation for this. 
We also noticed the official Spanish and Catalan flags (left) and
the flag of the unofficially independent Catalunya (right)
We next stopped at the Cathedral, started in 11C and completed in 1890. Note: This feels like the start of a trend given that the Sagrada Familia has been under construction for more than 100 years. (More on that later.) The cloister is particularly refreshing with it’s gardens, fountains and geese. (The geese were originally an alarm system to warn of intruders. Now they are there to maintain tradition.) 

The next stop was the beautiful Palau Musica Catalana, a spectacular modernista music hall built between 1905 -1908 with a recently completed expansion that adds not only more beauty but protection for the original structure. The brick in the photo below is part of the new structure. We later noticed that it surrounds parts of the original structure leaving the original beauty visible although somewhat obscured.

The remainder of the day focused on Anton Gaudi’s amazing creations. We moved on to the Eixample, the area built around the end of the 19C and start of the 20C. First stop: The Block of Discord, with several notable houses designed by Gaudi and his peers. While viewing these houses, Carolina pointed out the wrought iron lampposts that incorporate seating. 
Top facade & roof of houses on the Block of Discord
Wrought iron lamp post with built in bench.
We moved on to visit the La Pedrera / Casa Mila apartment building, noted for it’s unusual curvaceous facade and its rooftop forest of chimneys designed as warriors and fanciful towers. We walked among the “statues” and enjoyed the views of the rooftop and the city.  One of the apartments displays some of Gaudi’s objects of inspiration (photos from around the world  and shells and other objects from nature) and the tools he used to turn them into the designs for his buildings.

These chains hanging in loops from the ceiling demonstrate how Gaudi designed some of his curvy works.  Below the mirrored version shows what would become towers. The engineering-side of both of us really appreciates such creative solutions.

We took a short lunch break (more tapas, this time at the nearby Txapela). The placemats served as menus and order forms.  There was a menu in multiple languages to provide supplemental details. It wasn't phenomenal but it was fine (and quick).

We then headed off to Park Güell. The park was designed as a central square and market place for a planned community conceived by Eusebio Güell who later donated it to the city of Barcelona when the houses didn’t sell (no one wanted to live so far, roughly 2.5 miles, from the city center.)

For the Park, Gaudi’s imagination ran wild. The intended covered marketplace is a forest of columns with a sparkling cave-like ceiling. The roof is an open-air terrace with a view of the city. The terrace is surrounded by a fence of surprisingly comfortable seating. All is decorated with a blanket of colorful mosaics made of broken tiles and glass. A friendly ceramic lizard greets you as you go up the stairway. There is so much more but it’s better for you to see it than for us to labor over describing it. Below are a couple shots, we suggest going online to find more.
"Candyland" comes to mind when you see the entrance to Park Güell

The friendly lizard that greets visitors. 
The columns and ceiling of the intended marketplace. 
Combined decorative wall / bench that surrounds the upper terrace
Our last stop on the tour was the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, a work in progress since 1882 with a target completion date in 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's passing. With the 5 taller central spires and 4 spires along the front remaining to be completed it may take a little longer. It is still a masterpiece of architectural design. 

There are three grand façades: the Nativity façade (east side), the Passion façade (west side), and the Glory façade (south side). Gaudi sketched out the plans for each. The Nativity facade was completed earliest and is hence more truly reflective of Gaudi's plans. The  Passion facade is, however, equally impressive.

Four of the eight existing spires
Nativity facade - sorry, it is hard to capture the detail, but trust us, it's detailed and impressive!
One little (unexpected) detail of the facade that appeals to techies...
each column, row, 2x2 square, etc of this plaque adds to 33
Detail from the Passion facade
Gaudi’s design brings both color and light inside. Through the day the colors change from blue and green (representing morning and spring) to red and yellow (representing sunset and fall).

Inside lit by colored glass and sunlight.
After the long day we returned to our apartment for a brief rest and an evening snack of wine selected from a few very nice wines that the Rental Agency provides ..along with a price list) and nuts & fruit that Roger & Sandy had picked up at the Boqueria Market. Then off to Tapas 24, another new and popular venue recommended by our rental agents. After a short wait we were seated. We enjoyed the tasty "Russian Potato Salad" (fairly typical potato salad with tuna added) and excellent, tender lamb k-bob accompanied by the house red wine.

Saturday morning we worked on photos and our blog. Later in the morning we headed out for some shopping. Pat visited every Desigual store along La Rambla and one or two more. She found a nice shirt and a pair of jeans. Once she learned how well she likes their pieces she felt bad that she hadn’t stopped at them in other cities. But later she learned from another fan that their prices are much better in Spain & Portugal. She will likely seek out a few more of their stores in Lisbon. Actually she probably won’t need to try hard. They tend to be in all the top shopping locations.

We had lunch at La Taverna del Bisbe (Grilled Padron Peppers, a meat Bomba - a deep fried potato ball with a dab of meat inside, Gambas al Ajillo - shrimp sautéed in olive oil and garlic, and some roasted vegetables with sesame sprouts; all accompanied by a nice tempranillo). After lunch we went to the Palau Musica Catalana (Palace of Music) for a tour inside. What an extraordinary venue for all types of music?! The decor is stunning and the acoustics are outstanding. It was interesting to learn some of the innovations used to improve on the original acoustics, such as perforations in the seat bottoms so they empty seats would provide similar acoustical response as a full one.
The main stage
Columns on the balcony
Another inside view of the Palace of Music
We stopped at the Nespresso store to restock on cartridges...I was quite impressive and also intimidating.  And we had to take a number to get served. We decided to go to a nearby corner store and get a knock-off cartridge.

The Nespresso Store
Later we joined Roger and Sandy for a snack and some cava while we caught up on each other’s day. (Sandy had been shopping for jewelry supplies.) Keeping with the nutritious theme, we (Pat & Bill) went to one of our many nearby pastry shops to pick up sweets (a cream filled croissant and a wedge of chocolate filled pastry). Very tasty. Roger and Sandy took a more sensible route by visiting a nearby Vegan restaurant.

Sunday we slept in. After breakfast we made our way down La Rambla to Palau Güell. This was Gaudi’s first architectural work, designed for the Güell family. It is an impressive but mostly unfurnished residence with entertainment areas including a pipe organ, and spaces for an orchestra and choir. There is a lot of ornate iron work and woodwork, and less free flowing concrete inside. On the other hand, the roof is a precursor to that of La Pedrera, and flows between various levels and features another forest, this time of tiled christmas tree shapes.
Looking up at the pipe organ at Palau Güell
Some of the wrought iron detail
On the rooftop - a bat and the mosiac christmas trees (below)

We then headed to Barcelonetta for lunch snapping a few photos along the way.
Is that a happy lobster???
Piece by Roy Lichtenstein
We decided to eat at Matazem del Porto based on the breadth and general appeal of their menu.  We were very happy with our fried artichokes, crinkled potatoes (potatoes that are boiled briefly and later fried in deep fat), Bomba de Barcelonetta (another potato ball, this time with cod fish), and sautéed calamari. All went well with the Albarino, a nice Spanish white wine.

After lunch we wandered over to Parque del Ciutadella and then headed back to the apartment. We all needed a rest, but Roger, who was fighting a cold needed it most of all.  After our break we all went out to the Vegan restaurant that that Roger and Sandy had previously discovered.
The citadel at Parque del Ciutadella
Monday we joined a small group tour to Montserrat, a nearby mountain noted for it’s serrated shape (the name means serrated mountain), it’s Benedictine Abbey and it’s sacred Black Virgin statue. There are several options for reaching the top…a gondola, a cog railway, a road, or a long hike. We stopped at the lower gondola station for our first view before making our way up the serpentine road to the site. Our guide showed us the highlights before leaving us to explore on our own. We walked up the small canyon at the back of the site and found several interesting views over the church and other buildings with the valley as a backdrop.

Montserrat Abbey with serrated mountain in the background
Bill with Montserrat Abbey in the background
After another short walk we shared our snack with two scrawny cats and headed back to the church to listen to the “Escalonia”, the Montserrat boys' choir. Truthfully, it was interesting but for us the place (the buildings, the mountain, and the views) were far more spectacular.
This is the Black Madonna...a treasured relic of Montserrat
The Boys Choir
After the performance, the tour took us down the other side of Montserrat to the Penedes Wine Region and to a small cava producer, ArtCava. The guide, one of the three founders, was very entertaining and knowledgeable. Our visit included seeing a 1000+ year old Olive tree, touring the old homestead (built in the early 1700’s), and a discussion on making sparkling wine including riddling riddling is the process of carefully turning the bottles and raising while also slowly changing the angle so that the spent yeast ends up in the neck in preparation for removing it. We were quite impressed with their riddling racks. We got to sample three styles / levels of Cava, brut, extra brut and brut natural. They all were very fine, but we preferred (and bought) the brut natural (which I am drinking as I write this.)

View of Montserrat over the vineyards
A 1000 year old olive tree (per archaeologists)
The riddling racks, designed to turn the bottles 1/8 of a turn each time
Upon our return to Barcelona, we rested a bit and went out for a light bite at Muccis where we shared a small quiche and a spicy beef empanada. Both were very tasty.

Move day again. Roger & Sandy had an early flight to California. We got to take it easy. We originally planned to drive to Sitges (south of Barcelona but very near, so near in fact that we are including it in our Barcelona posting). While in Barcelona, we discovered the MonBus service, a direct bus between Barcelona and Sitges. And, wonder of wonders, the bus originates just one block from our Barcelona apartment. Equally wonderful, the Sitges apartment manager collected us at the bus stop and took us to our apartment. Very easy, no rental car required.

We went shopping for some necessities and discovered a very appealing restaurant for lunch, Davallada's. And what a lunch! The 18.50€ menu included, four!! starters to share (Patatas Bravas with dollops of a delicate mayonnaise and romesco sauce, Pimientos Padron, Mussels, and a Salad). Pat had Fideuà described to her as a Catalan Paella for her main and Bill had hake (as a steak not fillet and quite good). It turns out that fideuà is made with short lengths of dry pasta called “fideus” (basically short vermicelli) that are first browned in olive oil, then simmered in a rich fish and shellfish broth. It’s a sort of cross between risotto and paella. The resulting texture combines soft and crispy noodles and is incredibly addictive, in Pat’s opinion.

The meal came with a beverage. We chose the white wine.  While pouring us two of the largest glasses of wine we’ve ever seen, the waiter explained that it was a local wine and if consumed in Catalunya, no tax applied. Oh, and we got two equally large refills! The wine, a macabeu and white ganache. Very nice.  All that was followed by a plate with four desserts (creme catalan, cheese cake, spice yoghurt sweetened with honey, and panna cotta with a chocolate base & blackberry topping). And did we say the food was outstanding and the price 18.5€ each. Oh, we had to pay extra for the cafe espress. We immediately made plans to eat there again.  
We spent one day exploring Sitges. The old town has a wide selection of restaurants, bars, markets and shops, tourist trinkets to clothing. The main beaches are divided by a peninsula with the local cathedral. Others are divided by breakwaters. The beach on the north and of town (pretty near our apartment) is clothing optional but it is away from the main tourist center. 

Lunch was in the apartment and dinner was at Santy’s where we enjoyed a bacon & onion flammekueche (a super thin, crunchy pizza style crust with white sauce base and toppings), roasted mushrooms with gorgonzola and walnuts, and a very light creme caramel.

Sitges Cathedral in early morning. Note: The crane "photo bombed" Bill.
In the time he was setting up this photo, it swung around and stayed there.
Carving at the top of a column of one of the oldtown buildings. Very detailed, as were the other three near it.

Top row: Lunch day 1 in Sitges - The "Menu" at Davallada's
Bottom row: Dinner day 2 in Sitges - Roasted mushrooms, flammekueche and lcreme caramel at Santi's

Next morning we were off to Tarragona (known as Tarraco in Roman times) by train. We wandered much of the city, visiting the Mediterranean Balcony (for views, but mainly saw shipping traffic), the Roman Amfiteatre, and the Catedral Basilica de Tarragona before encountering the information office where they suggested we also wander the top of the Roman Walls (Murallas de Tarragona) and visit a display with scale models of the Roman city.

Top Row: Bill under low arch of the Roman Wall, Pat sitting on the wall, Remaining arches in the old fortress.
Lower Row: The Roman Amfiteatre,  Part of the RomanFortress.
Shots of the huge cathedral which includes a chapel to Saint Michael and an image of Guadalupe (lower left).  Lower middle is a colorful house decorated with painted flowers and images of local heroes. Lower right shows banners depicting the key characters in the Santa Tecla celebration.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant located in the old Roman Forum area. We had a vegetable and salt cod salad, scrambled eggs with mushrooms and asparagus, and the some yummy broad beans (fava beans) with ham. It all went very well with a local Tarragona wine made from Tempranillo and Merlot.

We returned to Sitges and after a short break we went out just before seven to investigate the noise around our apartment. We encountered a procession forming just around the corner and armed with cameras we staked out a spot and took several hundred photos of the hour plus event. Lots of fireworks, dancers, and musicians preceding the sacred Santa Tecla statue being moved from the local church to the cathedral.

The parade starts with 6 large Moixiganga "giants'  (mojigangas in Spanish are large paper mache figures common in San Miguel) representing local heroes (3 couples). We didn't figure our just who the heroes are. There are also "dwarfs". 
Next come the dragons...spitting fire at all the parade watchers.
Then there are the dancers, and finally Santa Tecla (lower left). Also notice the youthful Saint Michael being held by dancers in the center photo above.

We took a little break (snooze), had a snack and at 10:30 we headed down the beach to the other side of the cathedral to watch the fireworks. Spectacular display and another several hundred photos to sort through.

In the morning we wandered off to see the children’s version of the parade. They are definitely trying to keep the tradition around St Tecla a major fiesta in the Costa Dorada. Lots of young (very young in some cases) participants in all aspects of the parade practicing for future Sant Tecla festivals

Yep, the kids really do repeat it all including the mojigangas and fire-spitting dragons.
Around noon we headed out to see some see the Castellars build human pyramids. But first there was repeat of the previous night’s parade, this time in and around the town square. 

Finally the Castellars arrived. We watched several pyramids materialize. 

Speaking of lunch, we returned to Davallada's and shared the 4 appetizers again but this time we and selected Black Rice and Sea Bass as the main courses.  Pat had red wine with her Black rice and Bill had white. We had some excellent sorbet (orange cream) for dessert before returning to the apartment. During lunch we had an extensive conversation with a Russian couple next to us, mostly about wine. They were from St Petersburg, had lived in Washington DC and currently live in Moscow.

After a rest we ventured out to pick up some supplies and got caught between more parading characters complete with the usual fire spitting dragons and a thunder shower. We came back a little wet.

We had a quiet day in Sitges after the Santa Tecla Festival (literally and figuratively). We prepared for our departure to Porto (Portugal) and took a break for lunch at Charla, great Italian food. Lasagna for Bill and Eggplant for Pat preceded by caprese with great fresh mozzarella and accompanied by Negroamaro, red wine from Puglia. We had cheese cake with fig for dessert and expresso. 

Tomorrow: Off to Porto.