Barcelona, Spain 2008

Wednesday 2/13/08

We start our 6 day Barcelona vacation with a day in New York City. We love this city and every time I come back I am reminded of how much I liked living here. Our flight leaves tonight from Newark, so we decided to take the train down from Albany yesterday and make a pre-Valentine’s Day evening of it. Well, since I really don’t do Valentine's Day proper, I guess we just took advantage of the time to try a restaurant that we have both wanted to try for a while. Since we lived here in fact. There are some standbys that never disappoint that I also look forward to (mmmm…Empire Szechuan), nonetheless, the time was right to try The Blue Ribbon Brasserie. I don't remember where we heard about it for the first time, but it is known as a restaurant popular with the after-work crowd of chefs. I don't know much about the history, but if I remember correctly, the owner/chef is highly regarded for her inventive recipes and never disappointing turnout. Before going, I looked up some reviews online and basically wanted to make sure the place was still there. Of the 22 reviews I looked at, one guy was disappointed by a miscommunication regarding his reservation for his party of 6, and another commented that the prices were getting a bit steep (but admitted she couldn’t stay away). We called to make our own reservation and were told (at 5:30pm) that they do not take reservations for parties of less than 5, and that if we showed up later than 7:30pm we should be prepared to wait. We high tailed it down there, because there is nothing worse than waiting in line for a restaurant too small to let you wait inside, where you stand outside and mill about on the sidewalk. And with the 40 degree weather, we would rather just find a place more local. Anyway, we walk in at about 6:15 and see there are about 15 tables in the room with only one filled! We are seated immediately, of course, and are served a loaf of crusty bread with butter as we order pre-dinner cocktails. I start with my usual Tanqueray Gibson. We consider the menu and decide to split an appetizer and get our own salads and entrees. The menu lists escargot as an offering, with no other explanation. That’s a no brainer for us since El and I usually order escargot on any menu regardless of preparation. The waiter takes this opportunity to advise us that their escargot recipe is a bit different from most other places, lest we are expecting the standard garlic butter sauce. He says that the escargot are served in a veal stock and port wine reduction with apples, candied yams, bacon, mushrooms, and served on top of toast points. Intrigued, we are not dissuaded. I try the leek vinaigrette salad and opt for the duck breast with turnip puree, Brussels sprouts, beets, and an orange sauce. I love duck, but do not make it very well. So I frequently get it in restaurants. In my life there have been many memorable meals, three of them were duck. The escargot and salad arrive at the same time. The salad is a little small for the price. I don’t mind small portions, but $10.50 for a salad smaller than a deck of cards was a little steep. The vinaigrette was nothing special. Good, just not a standout. Basically, it was a steamed leek with some julienned carrots for texture slathered with dressing. It was a different salad than usual, just a little pricey for what it was. The escargots are fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. I don’t eat candied yams, so El grabs them and leaves the bacon pieces for me in trade. I pull a toast point which has been soaking up the stock and port reduction and cut it up to put with forkfuls of the rest of the dish. We agree this is an inventive recipe, very different from the usual garlic butter preparation and are impressed with the staff’s forethought to "warn" us of impending culinary standard deviation. While waiting for the next course, El remarks how we had arrived at the right time as now every seat is full and there is a waiting line at the small bar area with overflow patrons doing the sidewalk shuffle outside waiting for their table. Next comes the entree, duck breast with above mentioned additions. Excellent is good adjective here. The breast was done very well and tasted of being grilled on a barbeque. Crispy, not dry, on the outside, and moist on the inside. The presentation was such that the breast was sliced thin and fanned out with the orange sauce drizzled over the top. A couple Mandarin orange slices for garnish. The turnip puree was a little boring and the sprouts were a lot boring. Well steamed, but no sauce or additional flavoring made for an underwhelming side dish. The diced beets were added for color more than flavor. At the end of the meal, El and I were both pretty full. To get a dessert would have been a disappointment as there was no way we could enjoy more without digesting a little. We got the bill, which, at $120 was pretty reasonable for this city for what we got. I really liked this place and am glad we finally made it. I appreciated the preparation of all three of my dishes and hope to go back someday to try it again. Did I mention the escargot were fantastic? We stroll uptown from SoHo as the light rain has subsided a bit, so now it is just cold, not bitter so, but brisk. We head to one of my favorite pubs from the old days when I first lived in New York in 1992-93. It's a place called "the Peculiar Pub" on Bleecker between Thompson and LaGuardia. The place has a few people in it. They offer a substantial beer menu and is one of the places I had come to appreciate and develop a palate for beer. I ask for a draft Pilsner Urquell, but to no avail. They only serve it in bottles. I pass and opt for a Gaffel Holsch draft. It's pretty light, but drinkable. This turns out to be a nice half hour pit stop for us. By now we are ready to find a dessert place. With no particular place in mind we know of a place near where we are staying and figure that to be a last resort. As we walk through the East Village and get up near Union Square we see a place called Max Brenner: Chocolate by the Bald Man. We cross the street to look at the window display and check the menu hanging by the door. It looks like just what we are looking for. We decide to try it. The place is full and we have a 10 minute wait. We browse the menu while we wait. Fast forward to our selections. I get hot milk chocolate with coconut flavor. It is served in a "hug mug" which is basically an oval shaped, handleless cup, where the idea is that you hold the cup on each side and pour from the spout in the front. I love this flavor combination. It's like having an Almond Joy in a cup without the nuts! The coconut syrup is a tad too sweet, but not to where I can't finish it. My entree is called a Max Brenner "concoction". It is served in a glass container shaped like a small milk can with a wide base and a narrower neck. The "concoction" is a layer of puddinglike milk chocolate, topped with a layer of banana toffee cream, topped with a dollop of whipped cream. On the side is a small bowl of wafer balls which are like chocolate covered Rice Krispies, and biscotti. This dessert is really good. Again, a little on the sweet side, but nothing I can't handle. The bill runs around $15 per person, but it was a really fine way to end our dining experience for the evening. We exit the chocolateria to see it has started raining again. We make our way to the closest subway and call it a night.

Thursday 2/14/08

Our flight doesn't leave Newark until 8:05pm, so basically we have a full day to kill in NYC. El wants to visit with her mom and I find something else to do. I decide to walk down to SoHo again to catch a movie. I have 2 hours until the film starts so I grab a bite a few doors from the theatre at a little diner called Sugar. A simple veggie omelet, home fries, toast, and a cup of coffee. $6.50 plus tip. Can’t beat it. I head to the theatre to see Lust, Caution, a film that I wanted to see when it was at the Spectrum, but missed it. The theatre was nice and empty. Movie was not nearly as good as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Brokeback Mountain (all by the same director). Afterwards I head back to the apartment and await El to go to the airport. We opted for the Airtrain option which has worked in the past to get us back from JFK. It's a train package where you take a regular commuter train from Penn Station to a special, airport only monorail station which is "supposed" to take you to the airport terminals. However, this sort of failed. The commuter train worked, but when we got to the monorail station we were informed that the monorail was broken down and that no trains were going to any terminals and that we should prepare for this to be a long journey to the planes. In retrospect, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Of course, we didn't know that at the time and just hoped that someone would direct us properly. This is where I was disappointed in this system. The people whose job it was to let us know what was going on were not very informative and the answers that they did give tended to be vague and nebulous to the point that you had to repeat what you thought you understood to another agent to see if you got it or if they corrected the statement. I get it, stuff breaks, I know, I just figured that the people paid to be the face of the Airtrain would have made better announcements on how to deal with the situation. About how to catch the replacement shuttle bus etc. They didn't, and because of it, I am certain there are some people still standing around the monorail station trying to figure out how to get to the terminals. Anyway, we made it to the airport and checked in without issue. Even the security check was painless. Heading to the gate we run into the daughter of two of the people we will be visiting in Barcelona who is on her way to surprise them. She is excited and I start to think...this is going to be a fun trip. We board in 10 minutes and I hope for an uneventful flight.

Friday 2/15/08

Mom and dad meet us at the airport and are excited to tell us of what they have learned of the city since they arrived two weeks earlier. They take us by bus to the hotel, drop us off and arrange to pick us up for tapas later. El and I are able to grab a few hours sleep in the room. We are staying at NH Hotel Duc de la Victoria. The place is great. Hardwood floors, very comfortable beds, quiet street (I have heard bad things about staying too close to La Rambla). The TV selection is a little weak since we only get one channel in English. It's CNN, but we didn’t come here to watch TV now, did we? Mom arrives at 8pm to take us to a place they have already eaten at earlier in the week. It is a place called Bar Jai-Ca Tapas that Gary discovered last year in Barcelona.

I order an Estrella Damm beer. It's certainly decent enough. Gary does most of the ordering of the tapas. He keeps the food coming. As a table, we got several dishes and the seven of us shared them around. Gary ordered a lot of fish based dishes that I wasn't really interested in. I certainly could have gone inside and ordered for ourselves, but I didn’t, so I shouldn't complain. I really like one dish called “patatas bravas” which is deep fried or roasted potato chunks served with a spicy, paprika sauce and a mild, creamy sauce (like mayonnaise). Other tapas included anchovies in oil with olives, and chacos which we really don't know what it was. It was like squid, but it was solid, like a scallop. It was breaded and fried. It was good, but a little salty. He ordered deep fried baby octopus salad which I liked and deep fried anchovy skeletons which I didn’t try (I wasn't going to get involved with that nastiness!). I eventually asked for a shrimp recommendation from the waitress and she bought a plate of deep fried shrimp with heads on. Ironically, it wasn’t the heads that bothered me, but the shells. The shrimp were too small to be peeled, but too big not to. Too much work for not enough payoff. The place was nice and the waitress certainly sporting enough to put up with our tables' banter. It was a nice reintroduction to the tapas bars and a nice way to catch up with the Jones family who we haven't seen in awhile. We leave around 10pm and El and I take the metro back to the area of the hotel. First stop, a pub called Jules Verne.

They serve no food, but do have cider for El. I ask for a repeat of the beer we had at the last place. Waitress says "no". I settle for "any Spanish beer" to which she suggests a Corona. I try to explain that mass produced Mexican beer does not qualify as Spanish, but it falls on deaf ears, so I resign to a Stella Artois, which is fine, but I'm not ordering an Estrella Damm in Brussels if you know what I mean. The Pink Floyd song "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" plays in the room. This is enough to keep me interested in the deep cuts to come. I take the opportunity to sort the Deck of Secrets and plan the rest of our evening. As the Pink Floyd is replaced by club/trance music, we down our beers and move on. The Deck Of Secrets is a clever product that we discovered in Australia. It is essentially, a deck of 52 cards that are city specific and every card is a different establishment for that deck’s specialty (eating, drinking, shopping etc.). We found that they offered a deck for Barcelona, so we went armed with a deck highlighting 52 drinking holes ranging from upscale to downscale at best. Each card has a photo of the place, a brief description, and a neighborhood map on the reverse. We use the maps to group bars in the area we are in or going to.

Our next stop is off Calle Jerusalem called the Bar Ra. I don’t see any Egyptian connection, but it was a little out of the way and tricky to find, so we stay. El has a couple neighborhood places picked out, so we will likely eat here and continue our beer intake elsewhere. We decide to get more of a dinner here. The menu at the door is in English and Catalan. When we are seated we are given menus that are in Catalan and Spanish. El does much better than I do with those languages. Could I order something with the amount of Spanish I know? Yes. But, just to be safe I run back out to the door and quickly choose from the English menu, so as not to miss something. We order Thai spring rolls and mesclun salad to split. The spring rolls arrive with a side of Thai chili sauce. They are average. The presentation is nice and the flavor fine. El's first reaction to the salad is "goatey" referring to the slice of cheese on toast served atop the mesclun. With that comment, I renege on my agreement to split the portion and eat the spring rolls solo. The plate garnish of a drizzle of balsamic vinegar is a nice addition. They serve us two breaded and deep fried mozzarella wedges with what tastes like a blueberry and balsamic vinegar dressing. A nice touch. The heat from the chili sauce starts to tickle my throat, but not to the point of being uncomfortable. I go with an Indonesian satay for an entree. It arrives on cross stacked skewers with peanut sauce on the chicken, basil aioli drizzled on the plate and two skewers of cherry tomatoes and pineapple wedges. It is quite tasty and very filling. They do have the Estrella Damm beer and I get a glass. We are quickly reminded of the smoking situation that we have come to expect of European cities. Many people smoking, very little circulation. It is always interesting to us to note that at this point it is 12:20am (albeit on a Friday night) and the restaurant is full of patrons with no signs of slowing. This turns out to be a nice pick by the deck, for the food, not necessarily for the drinks. We plan to move on. A rousing rendition of Happy Birthday sung in Catalan is our cue to exit. We head around the corner to a place called Dos Treces. We walk into a crowded bar area with some seats, but the area is filled. The music is loud, teen pop, which should have been our first clue this place wasn’t for us. We head downstairs to the smoking floor which is a bigger room with worse music (monotonous dance beats)! But we find a couple of really comfortable leather chairs just outside of the smoky room where we sit, continue our Scrabble game, and wait for service. The music is horrible and we get ready to move on. Just as we are about to get up, a server comes and we order a Moritz beer. The label says Barcelona, but the taste says "Coors light". I will push to press on sooner than later.

In short order, we do press on towards another place from the deck. It’s a small shop called Ménage a Trois. We enter as they are closing and pass on the offer of taking a beer to go. We decide to try again another day. We head back to La Rambla which is where most of the action is. We are really, at this point, just looking for a dessert kind of place. One where we can get a coffee and something sweet. We stop at a little gelato shop called Patagonia that serves gelato and crêpes downstairs on street level and has a drink lounge upstairs. We head up and get seated. I order a hot chocolate and El goes back downstairs to surprise me with a dessert selection. The hot chocolate arrives, and although it is no Max Brenner, it is pretty good (if a little steep at 4 Euros ($6) a cup). It is served with a side of unsweetened whipped cream, which is good since the drink seems to have plenty of sugar in it already. El returns with a crêpe. Mine has chocolate and peanut butter in it. It hits the spot. I don't usually get crêpes since they aren’t on the menu of places I frequent but I like them all ways and this one is good, with a few moments of hilarity as the tines of my plastic fork begin to snap one by one as I try to hold the crêpe to cut with my plastic knife. I spend some time retrieving the tines that broke off and by the end of the portion laugh at the stump at the end of a handle that used to be a full fledged fork. Together with the hot chocolate, a nice end to our first night in Barcelona.

Saturday 2/16/08

I wake at noon on Saturday and get ready to explore. We have decided that the 5 day unlimited transit card is our best bet for now. We head to the tourist information center at Plaza Catalunya to buy the transit ticket and inquire about walking tours. We have had such good luck with walking tours that we want to try again. Barcelona seems to have a very bike friendly culture and the tours are mostly by bike. We ask for and get a walking tour brochure, but the bikes are looking like they cover more area. We will try to do that tomorrow. Mom wants to do the bike tour too, so we head to their apartment to set a plan since we do not plan to see them until after the tour leaves on Sunday. We try to use our metro tickets for the first time. El and I use two adjacent turnstiles. We both put or tickets in at the same time. My turnstile turns and I walk through. El’s remains locked. She tries again, but it fails again. Just then a gentleman walking through sees we are having an issue and points out that we are using the wrong ticket slot for the turnstile that we want to go through. Basically, we are inserting our tickets in the right hand slot, but should be using the left slot. As the man walked through he has moved on. I am through and El’s ticket is not allowing for another swipe so soon after the first one. She winds up just walking around and through the handicapped entrance. We then realize that when we both inserted our tickets, her ticket engaged my turnstile and my ticket engaged the turnstile for the man who pointed out our issue, leaving El standing stranded. Now we see the error of our ways. When we get to the apartment they are not home, so we get food in their neighborhood at a restaurant called Magda. An obvious Middle Eastern falafel place with standard Middle Eastern fare. We order a hummus to split, a falafel each, and a shwarma to split. Heineken is the only beer offering. (Mmmm...hummus and beer for breakfast, how, well, how different than I am used to…and the reason I am on vacation). The food arrives almost immediately. This is one of the smallest restaurants we have ever eaten at. The food is decent. The hummus does not have as much garlic as I am used to. The falafel is good and crispy. It may have been cooked a few seconds too long, but it is not dried out. The falafel are covered in sesame sauce, which is a little bland, but acceptable. The shwarma is served over salad, where I am used to a bed of rice. It too is slathered in sesame sauce, it is good. El and I goof on the interior a little and take a picture.

We catch up on our journal writing and will head back to see if mom and dad have gotten home yet. If not, the plan is to walk back towards the hotel and explore some of the Eixample district. As we arrive to the apartment, they come back from market shopping. After a couple hours of olives, cheese, and wine we decide to go to the Temple Expiatori De La Sagrada Familia.

One of the

must-do's for us.

I don't remember even hearing about this place until we started planning this trip. Basically, it is a pretty ambitious architectural project for which Antoni Gaudi was the principle architect/designer. The church’s construction began in the late 1800's and is still ongoing today.

I am not much of a church enthusiast, but since it is only a few blocks from the apartment and suggested by guide books as a place not to miss, the opportunity was there. There are some aspects I enjoy, but for the most part I have a seen-one-seen-them-all attitude when it comes to churches and cathedrals. This was no different. I strolled through the main room and walked though the museum underneath that is heavy on the drawings, sketches, and Gaudi’s models etc. That was kind of interesting showing some of his inspirations and you also get an idea of what some of the church will look like if and when it ever gets finished. Anyway, the four of us went our separate ways and I write this as I wait at the meeting spot. One of Gaudi’s visions was that the entire Bible be sculpted around the outside of the building. I will say that some of the sculptures depicting religious scenes on the outside of the building look downright sinister. I like that, but understand that that is one aspect that people have expressed disappointment in. We head back to the hotel to ready for the evening. It doesn’t take long, we just gather our maps, and will-call paperwork for the concert. We are going to see Steve Earle and Allison Moorer at Sala Bikini. We find it on the map and choose our route. The subways are very clean and look nice. We have no problems with our tickets. Finding the club, that was another issue. We had the address and found the street easily enough but the actual club has no markings and the oddest entrance I’ve seen in a while. Since the doors weren't open yet, we walked by it three times before we figured out that the six people standing around talking were actually the beginning of a line. After about fifteen minutes, what looks just like the front door on the Millennium Falcon opens slowly. Complete with hydraulic pistons and all. The crew of doormen gets the velvet ropes set up and we file in. Down a couple of hallways we find the will call booth and pick up our tickets. We make it into the main room which is just a modern looking club. We get our standing spots and update our journals. Allison Moorer comes on first, around 8:45. The crowd is into it, but I am mostly unfamiliar with her work. She says that her 6th album is coming out this week. She is a one-woman performance. All of the songs are acoustic and very slow. She has a good voice with a between song banter delivery that could rival the talk shows on NPR. Sadly, there are no seats here and we are literally falling asleep on our feet. I recognize zero songs. Luckily, a quick half hour and she is off. The place gets very hot, very fast and we are struggling through Steve Earle's 2 hr set without water. His performance is much better than Allison's and he even calls her back to the stage to join him for a few tunes. I decide that, for me, Steve Earle would be a great opening act. If he could condense his set down to 45 min or so, it could be all killer and no filler. One of the disappointments for me was about half way through the set Steve called out a turntable scratcher to play background tracks and play some rap-style beats to accentuate his performance. Unfortunately, about a quarter of the set uses these effects and sort of brings my opinion of the show down. After the show we decide to walk to a metro station stopping for a bite and some wine. I have decided to start concentrating on drinking wine as the beer selections are not as good here as they are in other countries. Conversely, the wine selections here are better than most other places. When in Rome...I guess. We see many closed places in the neighborhood we walk through. We come upon a place called La Longa. The place is virtually empty except for a waitress standing in the glass door who unlocks it as we approach. We ask if they are open, expecting to find they have just closed. Surprisingly, she answers in the affirmative and we are seated. We are given menus that are only in Catalan and I recognize very few words. After a few minutes we order a bottle of white wine called Albarino 2006. The waitress speaks to El and I recognize the words "salat" and "carne". El confirms that I would like a salad. I am agreeable. Problem is we don’t know where "carne" fits in. We are soon served a plate of toasted baguette drizzled with olive oil and a salad. Mostly iceberg with some hard boiled eggs and tuna. I guess a makeshift salad nicoise. We eat the salad and by the end are actually comfortable enough to leave and get to the metro. Alas, I ask El what she thinks the sounds from the open kitchen are as we hear pots clanging and food sizzling in a skillet. As we finish up the salad, we turn out to be correct in our perceptions. The waitress delivers a plate of 'carne" to each of us. It looks like a roasted turkey leg to me served with what looks like a small turkey wing. I ask in the negative, not "pollo"?. The waitress smiles, shakes her head and says “no”. As she walks away, I still don’t know what it is. We start eating the mystery meat which is not bad. It looks like white meat even though it looks like a leg portion. Again the waitress comes by and I reaffirm "no, pollo?". She says no again, so I ask “gobble, gobble?” as I point to the meat. She looks at El and says “Baa, Baa”! Then, she and El speak a little and we get the confirmation that this dish is a baby lamb leg with a side of rack of lamb on which the ribs have not even fully formed. Now, I am not a lamb eater at all, but this meat was so tender and mild in flavor that I was really impressed. El explains that the lamb is milk fed and slaughtered before it has eaten grass, giving it the white meat characteristics. Of course I would never have ordered it, but here it was, a dish we may or may not have agreed to order, and it was really, "not that bad". It is served with a side of fried potatoes which hit the spot. After paying the 72 Euro bill, we leave and continue towards the metro. El has all of the Deck Of Secrets arranged in order from closest to the hotel to furthest. We get off at the Liceu stop and start making our way back towards the hotel. The first pick is a bar called Zoo. I remark to El that most of my favorite places are dark, dingy, beer joints, but the deck is designed to make all of the bars attractive and inviting. We find the alley that Zoo is on but can't seem to locate it. In the meantime we pass a place called Tequila. I jokingly do the Pee Wee big shoe dance and realize it's actually AC/DC "It's A Long Way To The Top If You Want To Rock And Roll" playing in the bar. We had to go in. It is a smoky, dark, loud, disgusting place and I absolutely love it. Sin City then The Jack followed by selections by Iron Maiden, Pantera, Nine Inch Nails not to mention the pair of head phones hanging over every barstool for your listening pleasure. We each get a glass of white wine. It doesn't matter if it's good or bad, sometimes the place is defined by what the serve, and rarely, as it is here, defined by the atmosphere in which they serve it. We decide to hang here awhile and catch up on our journals. I won’t be in a hurry to leave, but we are running low on the cash that we brought for the evening, so it may be over sooner than I wish. I know that if given the chance I will probably stay here all night. A song comes on that I do not recognize and I seize the opportunity to bow out knowing that if I don't go now, we could very well be here all night. We leave and almost immediately find the original place we were looking for, Zoo. It's a small place and as we walk in we hear very loud Spanish jazz in strict opposition to the loud metal we had been enjoying at Tequila. Anyway, we are greeted and seated. We order a bottle of vino blanco and a bowl of olives. It's very interesting to me that in general I cannot stand the taste of green olives. I find them unpleasantly bitter and almost never eat them at home or out. However, I LOVE the green olives in Spain. I learned this when we went to Madrid a few years ago and we would get the olives as tapas at cider bars. They just seem to have a less bitter brine. Anyway, these are no different, great olives and a bottle of Vernier white wine for 7.80 Euros. OK, this is cheaper than one glass of Coke and a glass of water at the concert tonight. I think I have made the right decision to move to wine. My watch has been running slow this trip and so I didn’t realize the lateness of the hour until the bar workers started putting the chairs on top of the tables and turning up the dimmed lights. It's 3am and everyplace seems to be closing even though there are still a lot of people on the streets. Feeling the effects of the wine, we head back to the hotel and call it a night.

Sunday 2/17/08

Feeling more than a little hung over, we wake up and head out for a much needed breakfast. We head a block from the hotel to get breakfast at El Mos Forn De Pa/Pastisseria. I get a cafe con leche, chocolate croissant, and a bikini sandwich grilled ham and cheese. Nothing special, but it certainly hits the spot. The plan today is to see the Picasso Museum and head to mom and dad’s for dinner around 4 pm.

At breakfast we consult our maps and guides and realize we can walk to the Museum. The sky looks a little overcast. Just to be safe, El suggests I grab my rain gear (which I do). Not needing it yet, we walk to the museum. We first hit the gift shop for some postcards and inquiring about tour tickets. We are pointed in the right direction. We check our bags (required) and get in line which is long, but seems to move quickly. We get our tickets and confirm that taking pictures inside is prohibited. We move swiftly through the temporary and permanent collections. Evidently, a lot of the collection is on loan from elsewhere and that is what we are seeing today. After the museum which takes us about an hour, we head to the metro to get a train to Verdaguer to go to mom and dad’s for dinner. We nibble on snacks all afternoon. Mom suggested I check out a restaurant that is on their block that has a poster advertising an escargot (cargol) festival. We find the place and go in to ask about the details and set up a plan to eat there tomorrow night. We had run out of olives so El and I are on a mission to find some. Most every kind of shop is closed today, but we do find a small tapas bar. Our plan is to eat a plate of potatoes bravas (with the spicy paprika sauce), drink a glass of white wine, and then order some olives to go. Everything works out, except the restaurant has no to-go containers, so they improvise. A coffee cup for the olives works. We head back to the apartment for dinner. Mom has bought some roasted chickens and made some bean salad, steamed green beans, and sautéed some mushrooms. All very good and the white wine has grown on me and I am enjoying it. After dinner mom announces that she will treat all of us to an Irish coffee at the cafe downstairs called George's. We all go and enjoy a very good cup of Irish coffee. We swap some funny travel stories with the Jones'. After this we head to the rooftop of their apartment to share a bottle of cava which is like champagne. We sit out for an hour or more, but it really it is getting cold and eventually starts to rain. El and I need to get back to the hotel to be ready for tomorrow. Unfortunately, the metro is closed and we have to wait for a night bus. Luckily, our hotel is near a major bus stop, so we don’t wait long for a bus. It takes us direct, and we agree it would have been too far to walk if we had to. By now it is raining pretty hard and I am thankful we grabbed the rain gear this morning. We return to the room and get ready for tomorrow, when we plan to start by seeing the exhibit "The Bodies".Monday 2/18/08 We wake up refreshed on Monday morning and wait for mom and dad to pick us up at the room. Our plan today is to see the "Bodies" exhibition and to eat dinner at the Restaurant Diagonal for the escargot celebration. We may take advantage of the time this afternoon to split up and head in our own directions. El has some shopping that she wants to do and I would like to check out some record stores. Without wanting to wander to figure out a breakfast plan, we just go back to El Mos for breakfast. Cafe con leche mucho leche, a vanilla croissant, and a ham and cheese on a baguette. It is more of a sandwich than a grilled cheese. All as decent as yesterday. We stroll down La Rambla towards the waterfront stopping along the way at a knife shop on a side plaza. La Rambla is busy with a lot of hawkers trying to get you to come in and sample their wares. But, if their wares don’t include used CD's, I most likely won’t be veering from course. The sky is overcast and it is drizzling a little. This turns out to be a good day for the "Bodies".

We make our way walking down La Rambla to the Maritime Museum where the exhibit is. I have heard great things about it, but I think New York City may be the closest it comes to Albany. Basically, if you aren’t familiar with this exhibit, it is a collection of human bodies preserved in various ways to physically illustrate the composition and mechanics of the body. As you work your way through the exhibit, you start with the skeleton and muscles. As you move along you see highlighted systems such as the central and peripheral nervous system, the digestive system, reproductive, and cardio-pulmonary systems. One of the most striking displays in the exhibit was where they injected a corpse with red dye, completely replacing all of the blood in the body. Every drop. The chemical then hardens and is bright red. Then, they use some method to disintegrate every part of the body except this hard, red dye. What is left is the entire body’s blood system with no other elements of the body, yet it still keeps the complete human form. It took us about an hour to go through it and I am pretty sure that I enjoyed it more than others in my group. Nonetheless, I was happy to have done it. Afterwards, El and mom head off shopping and I head to a street that was recommended as having several CD shops and the like. It is off of La Rambla and is called Caller dels Tallers. This was a good street. Lots of shops and music stores. Ranging in in-store playlists from Sepultura to the Kinks to Avril Lavigne. I find some good deals and am struck by the amount of vinyl for sale and more importantly, the amount of customers flipping through the offerings. I don’t buy any vinyl as these days my vinyl listening has dwindled and has been replaced by my vinyl liquidation. Still, a couple of CD's in my bag makes the trip to Tallers worth it. The rain has picked up a little and I decide to duck into a tapas bar for a glass of vino blanco and a plate of olives. What is it with these olives? I just love them. Every bar seems to offer them. Some plain, some soaking in brine with garlic or onions or capers or other additions or combinations. The plan is for El and I to meet at the hotel around 7 pm. We will change and go to the restaurant by mom and dad. There is a concert tonight that we do not have tickets for, so it was only a backup if there was nothing else going on. I tend to find the concerts in Europe to be a bit on the expensive side compared to home. Our dinner plan is for sometime after 8pm, and at this point I have about a half hour to get back to the room to meet El. I will finish my second glass of wine (@ 1.90 Euro) and head back to the room to get ready for dinner. We shower, dress, and head to mom and dad's apartment to meet them for dinner. After a glass of wine, we head down the Restaurant Diagonal. So named for the street it is on, we enter at 9:15 and are the first patrons for the night. We look at the menus, but honestly, the Catalan is not easy enough for me. Again, I recognize some words, but can't grasp the gist of the preparations. I know it's shrimp, I just don't know how it is prepared. Dad asks for an English menu which they do provide. El has really been impressive with the translations and general communication with the people here. After some conference and discussion I order, a salad, a seafood paella, and escargot in spicy red sauce. First comes the salad. Pretty boring. Just lettuce, peppers, and some olives, and one radish. The next course is the escargot. It is some sort of snail festival after all. Mine is delivered and could probably be best described as escargot fra Diablo. Snails in spicy tomato sauce. Sincerely one of the finest preparations of snails I can remember. Absolutely fantastic. Usually an order of escargot is between 6 and 10 pieces. My plate is easily 25-30 snails! The largest order I have ever been served.

El gets a plate prepared grilled with olive oil and salt. Another preparation new to me. Her plate dwarfs mine and had at least 60 snails on it! I had to take a picture. There were no shell holders, just wooden skewers used to extract the gastropods from their shells. The paella was served in an individual portion. It was OK. A little fishy for my tastes. But, maybe that's how they do it here. I can’t get over how great my snails fra Diablo are. I wind up eating every one. Everything else in this meal is secondary. The escargots make the meal very worth it, but the consensus is that for a restaurant located so close to public markets, the ingredients used in this meal seem to fall short of what they could be. My dad always told me, “you don’t go to a steakhouse to get seafood, and you don’t go to a seafood place and get a steak”, so I am thinking that I am at a celebration of the snail, that is what I should judge the meal on. After the dinner, we go back to George's which is the coffee shop located downstairs from mom and dad’s apartment on Calle Valencia. Mom and dad are so excited by the Irish coffee here, so we order a round and wrap up our evening with them. El and I head to the metro and while we wait for the train, check out the Deck Of Secrets. We find some places in the area of Urquinaona metro, but at the last minute decide to take the metro one more stop to Jaume I, to go back to the tequilaria from Saturday night. They are open although most other places on the street are closed. We go in to find we are the only customers! We order our vino blancos and journal while we continue our Scrabble game. Being the only customers, I request Saxon on my way to the bathroom. On the way back to my seat, I pop my head in the DJ booth and say "por favor". The next song is "The Eagle Has Landed". This is followed by, Ride Like The Wind, Crusader, Frozen Rainbow, Midas Touch, and Denim and Leather. At this point another patron comes in and requests Sepultura and my run of Saxon ends as quickly as it began. We stay here for awhile and watch the gentleman next to us use his headphones and proceed to sing (or try to) his heart out. He means well, but he is no singer at all. We actually decide to leave wishing we had our video camera with us for comic relief. We want to stop at a dessert place on the way back to the hotel. It turns out to be closed, so we call it a night.

Tuesday 2/19/08

Weather permitting we want to take the bike tour. Mom tried to take it last week, but the leader said there had to be a minimum of 2 people, so mom said she would wait to see if we wanted to do it. We got up at 10 and got ready. El runs to El Mos and gets a croissant and water for us to eat while we walk to Jaume I plaza to meet the guide. Mom picks us up at 10:45 and it starts to rain a little.

We all have rain gear, so we are good to go. We get to the plaza and there are a few different companies represented looking for takers for their tour. We find the guy that mom saw a few days earlier and he is with Fat Tire Bike Tours. There turn out to be seven participants for the bike tour. We head back to his shop to get our bikes and drop off our bags. The bike style is not like I am used to. The handle bars are pretty wide and the seat is tilted back a little. It was kind of like a cross between a ten speed and a Huffy. As I take my first hard turn, I realize the handlebars are so low that my leg blocks the wheel from tuning. At our first stop, I ask the guide to adjust my bars for me. He does, but tells me he will leave them a little loose in case they need to be readjusted. It took a few minutes to get used to, but we managed. Basically, the guide leads, we follow, everyone stops, listen to a spiel, repeat. The guide has a good sense of humor has some good anecdotes. He takes us through the Barri Gotic to look at some churches and point out some architecture. Then we head out towards the zoo. I can’t help but feel like Kermit the Frog riding his bike in the Muppet Movie. We head up to Sagrada Familia stopping at the only currently used bullfighting ring in Barcelona. We stop at a plaza with the steps on which Christopher Columbus asked Isabella for permission to explore the new world. Then we head down to the Olympic village, down the beach, to a restaurant/bar near the beach called Foc, where I ask for cafe con leche mucho leche and get a plate of potatoes bravas. The coffee is exactly right and the potatoes are good, but spicier sauce would have been good. Everyone on the tour gets along well and trades travel stories. It is a fun stop at Cafe Foc. We then head back to the Barri Gotic to finish up the tour. I liked the tour and the guide had a good personality. My only complaint when comparing to the walking tours we had taken in other cities was the fact that between stops the guide is inaccessible, so if you think of a question, you have to hold it until the next stop. Walking tours seem much more immediate and flowing and this seems, by design, to be more (literally) stop and go. The bike tour cost was 22 Euro each. The walking tours were 11 Euros. I think good arguments could be made for each method and we are glad we did it, but would probably take the walking tour if given the choice. As the tour winds down, my butt is killing me. The tilt of the seat was terrible made the ride truly uncomfortable. After the tour is over we head back to moms apartment on Valencia. We want to do a quick email check and get or game plan for the evening. We get all accomplished and El expresses that the only disappointment on the bike tour was that she did not see a Gaudi house. Sue tells us that there is one very close to one of the metro stops we can use to get back to the hotel. We make that plan. We get off at Passeig De Gracia and locate the house she spoke of. It was kind of funny as you are walking down the Barcelona equivalent of 5th Avenue where all of the buildings look like they belong whether they are older or newer nothing stands out as odd, until you get to the Gaudi house.

This one is Casa Batllo and it was designed to look like a dragon. The windows are made to look like skulls and the roof like the scales on the dragon’s back. They offer tours, but we agree there is no need for a tour. A few been-there, done-that photos and we are off. We stop at the information center to get a train schedule for the train to the airport on Thursday. I understand that part of the system is under repair and the train is running for free until the end of the month. We move on and return to Calle Des Tellers. I go back to one of the shops I was in yesterday. I am only there for a few minutes and El and I head back to the same pub I sat in yesterday, called Groucho. We got a glass of vino blanco and a bowl of olives (olivas). I start today’s journal and El starts on some postcards. After an hour or so, we decide to try that bar/cafe Ménage a Trois again. This time it is open and we each get a coffee. I try cafe con leche mucho leche again. It is not as good as the coffee at Foc, bit it is workable. We head back to the hotel and get ready for dinner. The plan is to meet mom, dad, and the Jones’ on the platform of the Liceu metro stop that we can walk to so they don’t have to spend another 4 metro fares to come to the hotel. We meet as planned and head to dinner at Tapioles 53. We arrive at 8:59 for a 9pm reservation. We are a table of 6. There are three other tables of two this evening. We are greeted by the chef, Sarah Stothart, who we have read is an inventive chef from Australia who has opened this place in Barcelona. Her love and use of local ingredients should make for an interesting fusion as well as a quality meal. We are seated and told that the sous-chef has fallen ill and because of it, there will be limited menu choices. She gives the table a plate of chunked bread. She made it today and it has just come from the oven. It is served along with a bowl of olive oil and a bowl of mixed Egyptian spices. The idea is that you dip the bread in the oil, then dip the bread in the spice mixture that will then stick to it. She rattles off some of the individual components, but names them as she remembers them and the explanation seems disjointed. "There's cumin and salt…the menu is one price for the food- a flat 38 Euros each…some cinnamon and sumac…I'll take your starter and entree order now and we'll do dessert later…oh, and some coriander…” (and some others I failed to note). Tonight she has one assistant, but it seems like he does everything except cook. Having never been here I don’t know how smooth the operation runs with the sous-chef. It seems that (there has to be) a lot on the chef's mind and it shows. She is trying to present everything in terms of choices and highlights, and then run back to the kitchen and then give equal attention to each of the other tables. An amazing feat to be sure, but if the assistant could have done something more to support the chef maybe it wouldn’t have seemed so rushed. El and I have seen this method work at The Basement Bistro (a restaurant near Albany). It seemed like she was under a lot of pressure and we felt it. Basically, you choose one of two starters, one of two entrees, and one of four desserts. El got the opposite of my choices and we did share a little of our entrees, but I did not experience her choices as I did my own. We order our starter and entree and dad gets the wine list. We start with a bottle of cava for the table. Cava is the sparkling wine, like champagne. We get a bottle of Xenius 2003. The rest of our group loves the cava, but I think it tastes like any other champagne to me. I sip it, they drink it. When dad orders a white that is not chilled, he works with Sarah to pick a red and alternate white for the table. We get a bottle of Les Brugueres 2006 for the white drinkers and Bai Gorri Crianza 2003 for the red drinkers. For the starters the choices are a beetroot soup or a southern French salad. I choose the salad.

It arrives with a single lettuce leaf with a slice of soft boiled potato, Spanish ham, a poached egg, and marinated artichoke hearts. The dressing was an emulsion of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard and maple syrup. The salad topped off with a slice of fresh tomato. This was certainly a new salad to me, with the traditionally breakfast components as part of the salad. I liked the dressing very much but I thought it would have been nice to have a bowl or serving dish of dressing to add more if desired. Instead, it came pre-dressed and was certainly workable. For entrees the choices were a Greek leg of lamb with lemon juice, garlic, white wine, and egg yolk sauce over sticky white rice. Having had my first ever acceptable lamb experience only three days earlier, I was not willing to take that dive. Instead, I opted for the pumpkin pasta with mustard and sage infused butter, topped with parmesan of half cow and half buffalo milk. The dish arrives with about 10 pumpkin crème raviolis drizzled with the sage butter and sprinkled with the parmesan. My issues here were one minor and one major. The minor issue being that the cheese was served on top of the dish. I would have liked the opportunity to determine how much fresh shaved parmesan cheese was applied to the raviolis. The major issue, for me, was the sweet nature of the ravioli filling. This pumpkin filling was very sweet. I heartily prefer my ravioli filling on the savory side. Given the choice I had to make, I don’t think I would have changed my selection to the lamb. But, in retrospect the maple syrup addition to the salad dressing, then a pumpkin filling that was on par with a pie filling for sweetness, capped off with a sweet dessert selection, for my money, was sadly a misuse of spice. I really enjoyed the Egyptian mix, so I know Sarah does not shy from the exotic, I was just a little disappointed by the consistently sweet offerings. Save the pumpkin aspect, the dish was otherwise decent. The pasta was done well and the sage butter was good enough. I shared some of my raviolis in trade for a bite of El's lamb. It was certainly not offensive, but it was no milk fed lamb. Mom wants to know if my trying it and not finding it repulsive, constitutes the beginning of a culinary revolution for me where I will eat lamb now. Negative. Lamb categorized as "not repulsive" does not necessarily translate into the beginning of a friendship between me and the beast. As far as I am concerned, I am pretty well lambed out for another 38 years. The dessert choices are an olive marmalade ice cream, a blood orange sorbet, a "super" fresh made bread pudding, and I failed to note the fourth choice. I chose the bread pudding. It is served in a small coffee mug and is very good. It has a lot of vanilla and spice in it and has been baked with sugar that has caramelized and gives the dish a great crunchy texture. We ask to order coffee with the dessert, but are asked to wait until after the dessert, so as not to mix flavors. After the dessert round, I get a cafe con leche mucho leche which is good. The table opts for a round of Grappa in the absence of Sambuca. We conclude, say our thank yous and leave full and swaying down the street. To sum, I liked the meal. But, I think that the circumstances of the evening and the company may have more to do with why this will be a memorable meal rather than the particulars of the food itself. I don’t know what would have been different if Sarah had her sous-chef and it is possible that the accolades I had seen and read about Tapioles 53 allowed me to expect more than I should have. Specifically, I thought that the pointing out Sarah's passion for fresh and local ingredients would have come across. I'm not saying that we didn’t get fresh and local offerings tonight, but we have been to other places that will highlight some key ingredients (tonight we offer tuna that was flown in from Hawaii this morning, the pizza is topped with herbs from our own garden, I was going to buy the scallops, but when I saw how great the shrimp looked I bought them to serve to you this evening etc.). Barcelona has so many great food markets where it seems a chef really could get the cream of the crop in terms of offerings and someone excited by local ingredients should be able to translate that passion quite easily. Really, the company was great and the experience as a whole was wonderful even if some of the components that would be considered major in any other meal couldn’t put a damper on this one. After dinner, El and I head back to the Barri Gotic for a nightcap. Still feeling groggy from the Grappa we go back to Tequila where I make more requests for Saxon as we both catch up on our journals. We each get a vino blanco. He plays Princess of the Night, And the Bands Played On, and Never Surrender. During the latter a group of younger people come in and request Red Hot Chili Peppers and System of a Down. God, I feel old! We use this as our exit cue. Earlier in the night our conversation included a discussion of Absinthe. It is still illegal in Spain, but we were told of a place that does serve it underground. I did not write it down, although I am keen to try it at some time. Anyway, this bar has a sign behind the bar that reads "Absente 4 Euros". I point the sign out to El who impulsively orders a serving. The waitress returns with a bottle that looks like Blackhaus, and clearly does read "Absinthe" on the label. I suggest we call off the order before the pour, since this is NOT the absinthe I am looking to experience. Also, the bottle states 140 proof. Alas, she pours and passes the shot glass to El who sips and passes it to me. I sip and am surprised by how smooth it is for that high of an alcohol content. I explain to El that what I have seen of absinthe usually comes in an unmarked bottle, and requires the sugar cube melted over a slotted spoon to cut the undrinkable bitterness. This looked like some company was trying to cash in on the absinthe market without actually selling absinthe. I have no other explanation at this time. Afterwards we head back to Patagonia for a crêpe and hot chocolate. It is the same as the other night when we went. We weave back to the room and settle in for a long night.

Wednesday 2/20/08

This is our last full day in Barcelona. El checks email while I shower and get ready for the day. Our first stop is a quick breakfast at La Porta Ferrissa which is on, coincidentally or not, Calle Portaferrissa. I get a ham and cheese sandwich, a chocolate croissant, and a cafe con leche mucho leche. We sit and eat and write out all of our postcards. We learn that a tobacco shop is where you buy stamps. We finish the cards and head to La Bouqeria

which is a pretty famous open market right off La Rambla. The colors are amazing.

The food looks so fresh; in fact a lot of the seafood like shrimp and clams are still crawling around. The market is about a city block and offers everything culinary booth by booth. There are fishmongers , a cheese person, a citrus person, chicken, nuts, olive and olive oil sellers. As you move through the market you see some very specialized booths and some more general. One booth had only hot peppers and one just a few spices. Some of the meat booths were general butchers, but some were only chickens or rabbits or suckling pigs. A great place to walk around, but since we leave tomorrow El gets a can of first press olive oil to take home. We head back to Barri Gotic and find a little chocolateria to get a hot chocolate and catch up on our journals. We decide to head towards the Montjuc section to walk around for the afternoon. We take the metro from our closest stop, Liceu, and get off at Paral-lel. From this station you can take the Funicular to the Montjuc section. I’m not really sure what exactly is in the Montjuc section, but the worst thing that happens is that we walk around, grab some tapas and some wine and head back to the hotel. Our flight tomorrow is at 10am, so we need to get back to pack and make it an early night. We take the funicular the one stop. It’s sort of like a cross between a subway and a cable car. This turns out to be a much less impressive trip than the funicular in Prague. Nonetheless, we get off to find ourselves in the Olympic park overlooking the city. It is a nice view and the stadium is up on the hill. We tool around for a bit, but everything seems closed and there is no indication what is going on when it's open. I am assuming not much goes on at the stadium unless there’s a concert or something. We decide to stand at a bus stop until we are picked and since we have a transit pass, we figure we can just take it anywhere and then navigate a return. A bus comes shortly and makes its rounds around the Olympic park. We pass by the MNAC, but decide not to go in. I am not much of a museum person and would rather just walk through the area. Soon, the bus makes a stop at Plaza Espanya which we heard about "the naked man" here. From what I think I understand about it is there is a guy who is heavily tattooed, maybe all over, but specifically in the mid-section. So much so that he walks around the plaza with no clothes on, but does not appear stark. Certainly something to try to catch a glimpse of in terms of local celebrity. The plaza is a little chilly today, so we both wonder aloud if he only comes out in the warmer weather. We look at the fountain and other distinctive features of the plaza before moving along to find some tapas. We walk a few blocks off of the plaza to a restaurant called La Tartana. We just get a plate of potatoes bravas, a plate of olives, some jamon Iberico and two vino blancos. This should hold us over until the next place. There is also a tobacco shop next door that may sell stamps. Hopefully he will be open after we finish here. The potatoes bravas have a mild mayonnaise sauce without the spicy aspect. El remarks that this dish has been a little different every place we have gotten them. The olives are what I have come to expect. The jamon...well, this country is known for their ham curing. It is available in most places that sell food. At the market today I was tempted to buy a slice or two of the best (read most expensive) ham, just to see what the big deal is. I didn’t get it though as we pressed on. El orders tapas of the Jamon Iberico. I have no idea where this fits on the quality scale of hams. I mean there were hams at the market that I saw that ran upwards of 200 Euros per kilo (that’s somewhere around 150$/ pound for ham!) this is 8 Euros for an 8 inch plate of shaved ham. We agree that it is pretty good ham and that it is not very salty, but again don’t know if this stuff in considered really good or average stuff. I think it is average, but if I was told it was great I would believe it. I don’t think I would pay extra money to order it again. El also remarks how the quality of the bar food here is better than we are used to at home. The amount of fried food at home makes for diminished offerings. Between french fries, jalapeno poppers, mozzarella sticks, chicken wings etc. It's all fried. Here the tapas, which are the bar food offerings, are more toward the non-fried varieties. A plate of ham, a bowl of olives, and a plate of oven roasted potatoes and bread with a fresh chopped tomato are welcomed alternatives. We have journaled enough here and prepare to pay and press on. Maybe the tobacco shop is open. We are in luck. It is open. We buy our postcard stamps and walk around the neighborhood. We wind up on Creu Caberta and and stop at a cafe with tables to sit at called Il Cafe Cacao and I order a cup of coconut flavored hot chocolate. The hot chocolate here is more like a sipping chocolate than the warm milk base that we are used to. It is very thick and has the consistency and taste of pre-set pudding. It tastes ok and you can stand a spoon in a cup! In fact sometimes if I let my hot chocolate sit for a few minutes it starts to form a skin. It is not the best I have had here, but it will surely do until we move again. In fact it looked like she mixed a packet of powder with steamed milk to make it. While we enjoy our sipping chocolates, we get all of our postcards stamped up and ready to mail. We leave and stroll some more. El asks where the post office is to mail our postcards. We are directed and keep strolling towards the metro and post office. It starts to get cold and so we make a plan to return to the hotel, pack and get ready to leave, and then go back out if we desire. All plans go well and we head back out for our last night in Barcelona. We think we may try to find a paella place and split an order. We stop at a bar/restaurant called Neyras Restaurant. We get a glass of vino blancos and a plate of olives. Catch up on journals and get ready to move on. We start waking aimlessly, which although all turns out alright, could potentially have been a problem. We wound up walking through an area that was for the most part closed and devoid of restaurants or bars that would be open. The streets turn to alley ways and we see a shimmer of lit up store fronts. When we get there, they are all internet/phone shops. Like the phone offices we had to use in Germany a few years ago. There were several older teenagers and young twentysomethings hanging around and getting louder than the scene required. As El and I stand in the middle of an intersection we realize that there really is no place to go if trouble erupts and that if we don’t look like tourists, we don’t know who does. We walk with a purpose and get out of there. We round the block and continue towards what could be a clearing. We arrive at an area with some bars and restaurants and although the first one looks really weird, the second has a sign out front that advertises paella. I am not looking for the best paella in Barcelona, just good paella in Barcelona, preferably not on La Rambla. We head into what turns out to be a Chilean Restaurant called Hugo Restaurante.

We order the mixed paella and a bottle of house white wine. They serve us a plate of bread with a fresh tomato sauce with olive oil and onions and pepper flakes. It is very good. The vino de la casa blanco is also decent. Santa Rita Una Medalla 120 Sauvignon Blanc. We await our main course. Even though the paella is not what I envisioned, it was certainly decent. Mussels, shrimp, calamari, and some chicken and pork. I took the seafood and gave El the meat. It was all decent. While we sit and discuss our dinner, we look at a map to find we are a lot farther away from our hotel than we originally thought. We are so far out that we are near a metro stop that we haven’t passed before on our trip except on our bike tour. It looks like we are a metro stop farther than Verdaguer that we used to get to mom and dad's apartment. We order our bill and plan to head back to our neighborhood near Urquinaona to find a dessert place and call it a night. We head towards the metro and quickly lose our way. We wind up on a side street and spot a place called Pony Cafe that is open. We go in, for what turns out to be one of the worst cafe con leche mucho leches on the trip, but the place is quaint and we still have some time before the metro card expires. It s 11pm and the metro card will expire at midnight. We will find the metro when we finish our coffee and get to a dessert place in the area of the hotel and wind out for the evening. As we ready to leave, another patron comes in for a drink. When we ask the bartender for the nearest metro station, the customer chimes in and gives us directions to the Arc de Triomphe

metro and take it back to Catalunya metro near the hotel. We walk for a couple of minutes like we are on a mission, when we just decide we will go back to Patagonia. Then, at the last minute we make a decision to go back to Ménage a Trois. If they are open, we get coffee and dessert. If they are closed we go directly to the hotel and call it a night. Behold, they are still open. Unfortunately, no desserts are available. Therefore, we we settle for dos cafe con leche mucho leche and call it a night. It is now close to midnight and we have to be up at 6.Thursday 2/21/08 We get up and checkout. The weather has held up, so walking to the Passeig De Gracia to catch the train to the airport is not a problem. Finding the RENFE station...that’s another story. The RENFE is the commuter rail that brings people in from and out to the suburbs, but only has a couple of stops in the city center. I remember that the station at Passeig De Gracia was long, in that there are several entrances up and down the Passeig. We obviously go into the first entrance. There are no down escalators, so we carry all of our luggage down the stairs. At the bottom, we realize this is an unmanned entrance to the metro. At this hour there is no one to ask quickly, but we check the map, which shows a RENFE station at the farthest entrance, three blocks up. So, we carry our bags up to the street level and walk three more blocks. When we get to the entrance, there is a RENFE logo on the sign, we repeat the carrying of the luggage downstairs. We ask someone for direction to the RENFE station and are pointed to track one. Once we get in the area, there are uniformed station personnel that are handing out complimentary train passes for the airport. I had heard from the tourist info desk, that part of the RENFE system was under repair, and that for the month of February, the train to the airport was free. Our train arrives at 7:20, and looks to be on time. It is and we are on our way to the aeroport. The train takes about half an hour. It appears that there is more to the airport train, but that is what is under construction or repair and we have to take a shuttle bus to terminal. It's all fine and the price was right. It's now around 8:00am and it took us about 10 min to check our bags, about 1 min 15 seconds to get through security, and 2 minutes to get through the passport control. We sit at the gate waiting for general boarding at 9:45. The plane ride home is uneventful.

In Conclusion

I think that every city has some redeeming qualities and given the opportunity to visit anywhere in the world you could probably, well, El and I could probably find something fun to do anywhere. Barcelona is a city that I don’t hear that much about in terms of a destination city. I mean I don’t know very many people who say that they came to Spain and went to Barcelona as a destination. More likely if they had been here, it was in conjunction with another city at least or just for work. I am glad we came and experienced Barcelona and had mom and dad not had an apartment here, would probably not have even hit our radar. There is a lot of great stuff in this city and we have met some fun and friendly people during our time here. In retrospect, I would have liked to crammed everything we did into three days and spent three days in another city. No one seems down on Americans and everyone is friendly and welcoming. I can’t say that Barcelona is an extraordinary city that shouldn’t be missed by any world traveler, but if you are ever in the area, it’s certainly worth the stop in.