Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Barcelona Pension Review
I just spent 2 nights in Barcelona's Pension Bahia on Carrer Canuda, 2 with many rooms facing La Rambla itself. My room did, in fact, something which gave me some concern upon checking in but the first night's street noise was greatly dampened thanks to the double-pane door to my little balcony.
Guess I hadn't realized there was no elevator but I don't usually ask since I'm capable of toting my luggage up the highest heights - so far. The pension is on the 5th floor by American standards. In Spain, it's considered the 4th floor. Regardless, with luggage or not, it's a good hike. But if you're young or fit and price is important, you can feel good about staying at Pension Bahia.
The pension itself is much like many other traditional pensions in Barcelona in that its housed in an old building, somewhat in need of renovation but many older buildings are like this.
The rooms are not large but my bed was wide enough, although a bit short for my 6' 1" stature. That's normal not only for me but also for the short, Spanish beds. My mattress was a little "springy" but I was comfortable sleeping on my side with the two new, comfortable pillows.
Blankets, sheets, and towels were all clean as was the floor, shower and in-room sink. The sink and shower is IN the room, not separated by a divider, so some people traveling together may have privacy issues with this. There was no toilet in my room but other rooms do have them. Shared toilets are down-the-hall with sink and another shower and are cleaned daily. There are three shared toilets in the pension.
I really thought the toilet situation/location would be an issue for me but it wasn't. No, I couldn't take my time and fiddle around, but "making quick work" of my business wasn't unpleasant either. I found that I really could wait for longer periods of time to use the bathroom than I thought - and so when I really had to go I could go - and finish - quickly.
You do, however, always have the anxiety of having someone "try" the locked door, you have to say the bathroom's occupied, and you then wonder if they're leaning up against the wall while waiting or if they went back to their room. That doesn't make for a relaxing period of time when you need nature to take its course.
Plus, this morning I had to pass through a large group of 20-something girls sitting around having their breakfast. They all looked up at me when I exited my room into the breakfast area and I had to (somewhat) push myself past those whom were sprawled casually across the aisle. But that was an unusual occurrence, I have no doubt, and they've since checked out. And thank goodness too because 2 or 3 of them were in the room next to mine and they were QUITE vocal until late at night, talking in high pitched voices and constantly laughing. The walls are not at all thin, but with their volume, it was hard not to hear them.
And while you can hear the Las Ramblas traffic and, maybe, more raucous pedestrian groups through the double-pane windows, it's so muffled that it doesn't bother at all. What you CAN hear is the passing metro, coming and going every 5 minutes or so, very gently shaking the walls and windows, but only somewhat and it's not enough to become annoying.
The breakfast is good enough. They offer the toast with butter and marmalade, a packaged donut and muffin, as well as a glass of orange juice and coffee. I only ate the toast and drank the coffee and juice and left the muffin and donut behind - just because I don't eat those things. But for a breakfast included in the price of the pension, it was a nice addition to an already affordable room for a couple nights.
For those seeking budget lodgings and well-located on the upper Las Ramblas, Pension Bahia could be a good choice for you.
More photos of/from Pension Bahia in Barcelona:
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Barcelona Hostal Review
Barcelona's Hostal Martina, located in the elegant Eixample district, is one of those "hostales" which makes you wonder, "Why haven't I stayed here before?"
Because after you stay once, you're likely to return again and again after you experience its rich elegance.
First of all, it's a "hostal" and not a hotel. It's considered "budget lodging" and not luxury. Some may equate it with a bed and breakfast, in fact - if they serve breakfast, and Hostal Martina does.
The building is a perfect example of Modernisme architecture, built in the very early 1900s. The entrance, the staircase, the tiled floors and high ceilings are all evidence of that.
The rooms lack decoration but the 12-foot molded ceilings, sometimes colorfully painted, and mosaic tiled floors give each room a style all its own. (the room in these photos was mine!!)
For functionality you have a large, comfortable bed (unless you're a single) and new pillows, tall luggage rack and hangers, and, in most rooms, an old fashioned, full bathroom.
Breakfast is also available if you like. The "full breakfast" offered cereal, sandwich, yogurt, toast with butter and marmalade, coffee and juice but I only had the toast with coffee and juice. It was more than enough for me.
I spent two nights in Hostal Martina in Barcelona and, in fact, it was my second visit in 4 years. The owner, Maria, remembered me from my previous visit and we had quite a long chat upon my arrival about the hostal business, the economic crisis, website building, and the expansion of Hostal Martina from one floor to two, adding a fully equipped apartment as well.
She gave me the grandest of grand tours of the rooms which were empty at mid-day, many of which had an enclosed gallery or a balcony, large enough to put a small table and chair. Many rooms had colorful stained glass windows.
And since this is an OLD building and the hostal has the original thick plaster-and-brick walls, don't expect to hear any noise from your neighbors. I didn't notice any street noise either through my floor-to-ceiling length doors with wooden shutters.
The hostal has free Wi-Fi interenet as well, a nice plus for today's traveler. I certainly used it happily.
Upon arrival, my room was spotlessly clean, towels perfectly folded, bed made and inviting. I still can't get over the floor tile and molded ceiling I had in the bedroom. Just amazing.
As I said, it's located on the Carrer de Bailen, 42, in the Eixample district, the part to the "right" of the Passeig de Gracia and very near the Plaza de Tetuan (metro by the same name). It's about a 10-15 minute walk to the Plaça de Catalunya. The neighborhood itself is almost completely residential and totally safe, there are a few bars and restaurants, cafés for breakfast or an evening drink and snack. Some of the surrounding buildings, including theirs, forces the pedestrian to stop ever 20 seconds and look up, marveling at the architectural wonder you have before you - but these places are everywhere in the Eixample.
Upon entering the building you're immediately hit with an "oh my God" moment with (literally) sculptured walls, pillars, and fresco-like paintings. It's definitely worth taking some photos.
But that's not all, there's also a beauuuuuutiful light-and-air "space" inside the building's entrance, worthy of a postcard which, in fact, is shown on the Hostal Martina website. An elevator can take you to the first floor if you have luggage (in the US/Britain it would be considered the second floor) or you can walk up the original marble staircase to the door marked "Hostal Martina".
There are more rooms to the hostal on the second floor as well. Chances are you won't have ever stayed in a "hostal" with bigger, more architecturally elegant rooms than at Hostal Martina in Barcelona.
More Photos of Hostal Martina in Barcelona:
Monday, March 29, 2010
I awoke today at 8am, much earlier than I'd hoped, but felt rested. Time to get my "stuff" together. But NOT before breakfast. So once again, I throw on yesterday's clothes and head down for breakfast, this morning choosing another bar on the same bloc, I walk in and the Spanish/Catalán bar tender looks at me like I'm a foreigner. Ha! I order a "pan tumaca" with coffee. He asks me to repeat the order, I do, and he still doesn't understand me. So I say, more simply, a "pan tostada con aceite y tomate". THAT he understands. So I have my breakfast in peace at the bar and then go back to the pension for a long morning getting my stuff ready for the day's travel.
Not quite sure how I'm going to get through the morning before my 3pm train but decide to find a nearby coffee shop to kill some time. And that's just what I do after my noontime checkout.
I found a bakery/café called "Fleca els Angels" at Plaça Àngels, 4, in the upper El Raval neighborhood, not all that far from my pension. Luckily, there was a table in the back corner where I felt comfortable with my suitcase and shoulder bag as I drank my coffee and croissant. There, I spent the better part of an hour writing postcards - so they'd have the Barcelona postmark.
It's time to go at 1pm and and I'm a little nervous knowing I'll have to use their restroom before leaving, me with my suitcase, shoulder bag, and jacket - which won't all fit in the bathroom with me. So I tie the shoulder bag strap around not only the suitcase handle but also around the back of the chair, making it at least a little more challenging for any would-be thief. So that's how I left all my worldly belongings behind, in a public space, while I was behind closed doors - for exacly 25 seconds. And DON'T think I washed my hands, either. And there they sat, everything where I left them. Untouched. And yes, I ALWAYS wash my hands after using the restroom. Something, as I've found, is a rarity in Spanish restrooms at bars or restaurants - or anywhere else for that matter.
Now it's about 1pm, I mail my postcards, and go to a place I'd seen before on my route to/from the pension. It was called Restaurante El Sol, on the Carrer dels Tallers, 75, which has a good-looking menu del día. I've found it's more affectionately known as "Restaurante Pedro y Manolo". This is my kind of place; no-nonsense, very friendly and casual, and a lunch menu for 9 Euros. Can't beat that. Although they have a dining room in the back I put myself next to the open door facing the bar with my suitcase back in the corner, inaccessible to anyone.
Good thing I wouldn't need to use the restroom while here as it's up a narrow staircase and can't imagine having to carry all my stuff up there. Nope. I'm good.
I choose the paella, which was good, and the oven roasted chicken (which turned out to be fried chicken) with potatoes. The chicken was only a little dry inside a little olive oil took care of that. Besides, how can I complain for 9 Euros?! I opt for the red house wine, skip the dessert, and have coffee at the end. It was a good, big lunch.
Time to head to the metro station - which I do at about 2pm. I feel a bit of anxiety for the time, but that quickly passes as I realize the metro will take about 20 minutes maximum and 2 minutes to get through security to my train at Sants Station. This is just what happens - EXCEPT I went to the wrong waiting area, realizing my mistake about 10 minutes before the train leaves and still get there with 8 minutes to spare. Isn't traveling by train great?
My tourist-class car is about half full upon leaving but fills to the maximum in Zaragoza, the only stop along the AVE Barcelona-Madrid route. There's a group of 8 teenagers SEATED in the middle of the aisle in the section between train cars where the toilets are, all playing cards and shouting for the good-or-bad of the game, smacking each other on the head and making all the passengers' heads turn whenever the car doors open. Passing-through passengers literally climb through the game and it never occurs to the kids that they're in everyone's way.
FINALLY, after about 20 minutes of this ruckus, the angry, 50-something train attendant sternly throws them out, marching them all past me, presumably to their seats. I was wishing he'd throw them OFF the speeding train! I thought, man, ONLY in Spain would youngsters brazenly sit in the aisle, totally blocking pedestrian traffic and never think they were causing any trouble. Not their problem, after all. My dad would be proud hearing me repeat his words, "Kids these days."
The nearly 3 hour train ride speeds as I work on this blog and look over trip photos, never once looking up to see what awful Hollywood action movie they're showing on the monitor. My only "break" has been to use the restroom once in the car's "Play Space".
My train arrives in Madrid about 30 minutes from now but we're still traveling at nearly 300 Km/h over flat terrain. It's cloudy, yet again, but I'm happy to be returning home. I only wish my time in Barcelona could've offered nicer weather to get better photos for BarcelonaMan.com. that I'm a bit disappointed. But it was still interesting. I saw some new things, made some new contacts, tried some new pensiones, and the Alimentaria Barcelona 2010 "scene" was definitely an experience. I can only hope to return to Barcelona again soon.
Final Barcelona Thoughts:
We've all read the cautionary tales about rampant crime, pickpockets and prostitution in Barcelona. But in all my 6 nights, 7-days there I didn't once experience or witness any crime of any kind - but I did see only a few prostitutes. (Remember, prostitution is legal in Spain) Besides, what with the rain and cool temperatures it wasn't exactly "hooking weather".
The food was good enough although my standards aren't exactly high. I rarely choose higher-bill restaurants. Lunches were nearly always basic foods chosen from a "menú del día" and dinners mainly consisted of a couple of "raciones" or "tapas" and an equal (or greater) number of beers to make up a lighter dinner. Just good food at good prices and in comfortable environments.
The weather rarely cooperated. Keep in mind I visited March, clearly part of the rainy season, but coastal forecasts are always unpredictable. Next time I'll try returning in the autumn after the tropical summer passes, when it's less humid yet still green.
Look soon for individual reviews on Hostal Martin, Pension Bahia, and Pension Plaza de Goya, each posted in this chronological order, one entry per day. At the very end I'll also post a number of new photos not yet seen in the previous blog entries.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
So there I sat at the old, wooden bar and ate my toast with a café con leche while watching the cute, blond, Eastern European waitress and less-cute Italian bartender do their chores. The table area was full of mostly old guys reading their papers and drinking coffee. More than once one of them (seemingly) secretly came to the bar to order a coffee with a little liqueur poured in. Good for them - at 10am.
Back at the Pension Plaza de Goya, a little nervous for the late hour (10:30am) - I'm always nervous in the late mornings when I'm still in the pensiones/hotels because you never know when/if the cleaning staff will barge in to clean your room and catch you naked. Thankfully, this never happened during my Barcelona stay. In fact, it's never happened to me in my life. So why does it make me nervous? I know. It's irrational.Showered, things put away and in their place (I also like to have everything packed away so the cleaning staff doesn't have to work around it), dressed and off I go. I feel obligated to return to the Alimentaria Food and Beverage Expo - since I went to so much trouble to go, but my days are few and "BarcelonaMan" is more about BARCELONA than the expos it hosts. So fine. Off to the bat cave!! Errr.... to the metro station! (insert cheesy action music here)
Exiting the metro at Plaza Espanya, I find myself facing the forever-being-renovated old bullring, the "Arenas de Barcelona". I don't think they'll be using it for bullfights, however, as they're putting a dome on top and bullfighting is now no longer popular in Barcelona City.
In the distance you see the hilltop Palau Nacional, home to the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC). In the foreground you have the twin towers which "frames" the endless museum-bound boulevard nicely. The MNAC is someplace I'd never visited so this was my chance. Luckily, there were escalators to the top but took some of the stairs, making me feel like Rocky Balboa - until my knees hurt and I got back on the escalators.
The view from the MNAC entrance is really beautiful and wide. Shame it was another cloudy, hazy, relatively crummy day so, again, my photos are relatively useless for BarcelonaMan.com but serve me well for memories and this blog. Couldn't quite make out Mount Tibidabo from here, either.
So in I go, dodging the large tour groups of youngsters (they were everywhere, of all ages groups), and got my free pass to the museum. I was impressed with all collections in the expansive museum: Romanesque art (my favorite), Catalan art nouveau, modernisme, Gothic, renaissance, baroque, as well as works by Picasso, Dali, El Greco, and Velázquez.
My two hours spent there were very enjoyable. In fact, I can't remember the last time I enjoyed an art museum more! There were a few foreigners there but not many, maybe because of its location, causing the visitor to travel by taxi, bus, or metro to get there - and then walk.If you have the energy, it's certainly worth the trip and the view is very nice too - nicer on a nicer day, of course. You can even take photos of the works of art - without flash, mind you, and no matter how many time some of the foreign tourists were told they continued taking photos WITH flash, presumably because A) they didn't speak Spanish OR English, or B) they didn't know how to turn off the flash mechanism on their cameras.
It's now about 1:30pm so I decide to walk through the Montjüic Park, the location of the MNAC, and reach the Poble Espanyol. I'd been here before but since I was in the neighborhood I decided to visit again, maybe have lunch there. My Press Card was good, again, and they waved me through the ticket aisle. It seemed much of the Plaza Mayor, the main plaza of the Poble Espanyol, was the personal playground for 500 small children, all running about and shouting, chasing each other and kicking balls here and there.
Further away from the plaza were small groups of teenagers, all eating their home-brought sandwiches while other couples smooched passionately on steps. As I said, I'd been here before many years ago and enjoyed it more this time, MAYBE you always enjoy things more when you know you're not paying for them. I spent a good 45 minutes walking about, not going into any shops or buildings except for the working glass-blowing factory. That was pretty cool.I'm done. I'm tired. ..... SO WHAT'S NEXT?!? Something a little more low-key, maybe.
Through the twin towers of "Avila" I cross the street, waiting for the hop-on-hop-off Barcelona Bus Turistic which comes in about 10 minutes. I flash my card, they wave me through, and the mostly empty tour bus goes uphill and passes the squiggly Torre de Calatrava communications tower, the Olympic Stadium and Olympic Museum, and get off at the Plaza de Dante. There, I get the Teleférico de Montjuic, riding with a group of Asian teenagers who didn't stop oooh-ing and ahhhh-ing over the views of Barcelona down below, snapping off photos like crazy.
There at the top we disembark, finding ourselves at the base of the Castell de Montjüic, the fortress at the top of Montjuic which usually offers beautiful views of not only the port of Barcelona but also the coastline. Not today, however. It's hazy and hardly worth being there so I took 3 or 4 photos as proof and got the Teléferico de Montjuic back down the way I came, meeting the Hop-On-Hop-Off Barcelona Bus Turistic immediately.
My plan was to get off a couple stops later to take the cool, high, suspended teleferico from the foot of Montjuic, going over water to the tip of the Barceloneta. But since I could see no cars running I just stayed on the bus, getting off at the Marina Port Vell and immediately went "inwards", essentially going up the middle of "Barcelona profound", avoiding the marina-facing posh bars and terrace restaurants. I was looking for something "authentic" for lunch and I don't know if I found it but it was still good.
Passing through the Plaza Poeta Boscá of the Barceloneta, I soon thereafter found a tiny little bar-restaurant called the "Ke? Bar". It was more bar than restaurant but they did have a tiny dining room in the back. The front, bar section is where I entered and immediately felt comfortable. This is a hippy-ish bar, old, worn-out sofas and cushion-covered beer kegs. The barmaid, Sofia, is probably nearly 50 and greeted all her regulars with a kiss as they walked through the door. I think she was from Argentina. She urged me to take the sofa to eat the "Manu" sandwich I ordered with a beer (actually, 3 beers in total).
The "Manu" consisted of york ham, cheese, lettuce, mayonnaise and tomato. It came with avocado too but ordered mine without. It was quite good and a bargain at less than 10 Euros total (including the 3 beers - or was it 4?). Better yet was they had free Wi-Fi internet so I was checking email and doing what I could - which was the same as 3 or 4 others sitting around the joint. One regular, "Pierre" (yes, he was French, and yes, that was his real name), continuously asked the barmaid to translate things for him and to "secretary" his calls in Spanish. At first I thought he worked there - or was the owner - because he kept going behind the counter to get things, pens, paper, drinks. But at the end, Pierre paid his bill and left so apparently he was just a well-known client, a local expat.
I like the Barceloneta. It's very small-town-ish, very mixed ethnically, and well-known for its nightlife - AS IS my next stop, the EL BORN district. El Born is a very nice neighborhood and has a lot of charm. Similar to the Gothic Quarter for its narrow, winding streets and stone buildings, El Born is upscale compared to the Barceloneta. It has more stylish, modern, fusion-type places but also a few good, no-nonsense local places - which is what I always seek. You know what? I'm tired of touring. Let's relax and have a few beers and things to eat. So that's just what I did. At only one place in Barcelona did they give a free tapa with my beer order. Barcelona, as it becomes quickly evident, is not known for their tapas culture, not free nor otherwise. Barcelona, however, does have several popular Basque pinxtos places which are popular with the locals.
After a couple of real bar-bars, I found myself at the entrance to the Picasso Museum at 6:30pm. I'd been to the Picasso Museum in El Borne before but this time it was just after dark, the illuminated old stone patio and pillars are beautiful. The museum is REALLY something! I don't remember it being so interesting. Maybe it was because I'd already consumed 4-6 beers in the previous 3 hours - or maybe not - but I really enjoyed it! But if you know Picasso's work, its incongruence takes on a whole new dimension after bar-hopping.
Not only did I admire his works of art but also reading about his life in Málaga, Barcelona, a year studying in Madrid, and Paris. He lived a surprisingly long time for an artist, whom usually die young because of their vices. But not Picasso. He didn't seem to be your typically tortured genius. FYI: No photo-taking allowed in the museum but you can take them in the patio/courtyard - which is, in itself, photo-worthy.
Across the street from the Picasso Museum is the Basque bar, "El Xampanyet" (video link), where I tried three "pintxos" with a large beer. The place was popular but with a high percentage of foreigners, not surprising for being across the (pedestrian) street from the museum. It was good and the three older bartenders were all Spanish or, more politically correct, "Catalans" (I'm guessing they were locals).
After the pintxos I meandered about the district and found myself in the City Hall Square and Plaça del Rei where I took several nighttime photos of the illuminated buildings, the latter of which was nearly deserted, eery, and cold with my all-stone surroundings.
After consuming in two more local bars, ordering finger foods to complete my dinner, I made my last-stand in a bar which publicized Wi-Fi Internet access. There was one quiet couple seated at the bar and a girl on one of the sofas with her laptop computer, typing away. I ordered the beer in Spanish and the bartender served it up. After I thanked him, he returned to his conversation with the couple - IN ENGLISH! Turns out I stepped into an English bar. Actually, as I found out later, the bartender was Irish but grew up near London. The couple at the bar were English too.
Oh, my. I'm not a fan of English OR Irish bars in Spain, I avoid them like the plague, in fact, but my beer was already sitting in front of me so fine. I asked the Wi-Fi password and started checking email. Soon after, he started telling the couple that he'd attended TWO revival tour shows of the British Punk Band "The Sex Pistols". I, believe it or not, was a Punk (light) in my day, "The Sex Pistols" being my favorites, so I joined in the conversation - something I rarely do at bars. Odd thing is, I REALLY enjoyed myself, for which I later felt ashamed, and swore never to go into another Irish/English bar again until I was in Ireland or England. Done. Pact made. Still, I gave the bartender a good tip simply for being a Sex Pistols fan.
Finally I reach the Ramblas once again, take a few last photos and get on back to the Pension Plaza de Goya where I went to sleep early. Tomorrow, I return to Madrid but expect a blog entry for that day as well.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
And I truly took advantage of it, deciding NOT to go to the Alimentaria Barcelona Food & Drink expo. It was evident immediately. The morning was almost warm as I'd finished my breakfast at Pension Bahia and decided to go to the Mercado de la Boqueria to take some photos and have a coffee at the Bar-Restaurante El Quim.
Upon arriving at the market I realized I'd left my camera in the room. Hmph. The day wasn't starting out well but I made the best of it and ordered a coffee at the popular aforementioned bar. Lots of locals eating there at 10am, some even drinking wine, and I sipped my hot coffee amid the market bustle and surrounding merchants ordering the same over my shoulders.
Since I didn't have my camera I wasn't going to waste my time so I went back to the pension and called ahead to the next pension, Pension Plaza de Goya, to see if my room was ready. It was so I checked out of the Pension Bahia and walked 20 minutes to the other pension, my last lodging establishment of this trip. Another 2 nights here. It was an easy walk, crossing La Rambla and walking to the end of the Carrer de Tallers through the El Raval neighborhood. I was hot and sweating a bit when I arrived but my room was ready and I was glad for that.After taking a few minutes to admire the plaza from my balcony, I stripped off my sweaty clothes, hoping they'd dry by the time I went out again for lunch. And they were.
Now it's about 1:15pm and I make my way back the way I came through El Raval, and went back to the Bar-Restaurant Elisabets - which is in all the guide books and even the maps. And since it's so well known there were several tourists having lunch but several locals as well. I took a seat towards the back with the full-bar view and decided to have their Menú del Día.There were 5 choices for the first course, 5 choices for the second course, 5 dessert choices, and it came with bread and beer, wine, or water. I ordered the Fideua for the first, the solomillo al roquefort for the second course, and, of course, the Crema Catalana for dessert. GOTTA order the Crema Catalana while I'm here in Barcelona whenever it's offered. Oh, and I also chose the half-bottle of house wine.
The total was 10.75 and it was all good. The fideua was much different from that you get in Madrid, which is a normally macaroni paella - instead of using rice. Here, it was simply fried noodles with a dollop of mayonnaise on top. Interesting. The tender solomillo steak pieces with roquefort sauce and sliced mushrooms was very good too. The house wine was decent and very drinkable. But the crema catalana was the best. I enjoyed my lunch while writing postcards to friends - a typical tourist activity over a meal - and chatting with the Catalonian waitress about how TYPICAL we tourists are after she gave me a smirk when seeing me take photos of my food.
Now it's about 2:30pm and I make my way to Plaza de Catalunya where I get the metro to the Sagrada Familia Temple. It was a perfect day for it. Not hot, not too windy, and not cold. It was my 3rd visit to Antonio Gaudi's temple but was more there just to take photos so I didn't rent the audio guide this time. The sky was perfectly clear and blue, making a striking solid-color backdrop for Gaudi's color schemes. I waited about 30 minutes to take the elevator to the top, took in the views from the different towers, squeezing by photo-taking, backpack-wearing tourists, and then walked down the super-duper spiral staircase to finish.
Now I'm done. Tired. My feet hurt. First I'd thought to go over to the Alimentaria expo late in the afternoon but thought better of it. Instead, I took the metro to the Gothic Quarter and started winding my way up and back, up and back, zig-zagging a path towards nowhere in particular - and getting there was half the fun. I stopped at two bars for a sit-down and a beer. One was modern and empty. The other was old, very old, and a bunch of elderly men were playing dominoes in the wooden booths. There was no one at the bar or eating in the back. It was a beautiful place, all wooden, and full of earth tones. This was my kind of place. And since I didn't fit in there, I got a number of stares, not only by the domino players but also by the bar tender which served me the beer. I thanked him, drank it, and left immediately. A 3-minute beer - a new BarcelonaMan record. What I really needed was a stool and there were none at the bar.
I turned a corner and BOOM, I was at the rear entrance to the Barcelona Cathedral where I entered into the beautiful gardens. Now it's about 6:30pm and the light is low, making interesting sunbeams across the plant-filled cloister. There were geese (or large white ducks) swimming in the pool, tropical fish swimming about, and birds singing above. As the sun fell, the soft lights came on and people began lighting votive candles, presumably for not only the Virgin Mary or Jesus Christ, but also for the upcoming Holy Week. Soft, far-away chanting could be heard (but was probably coming from tiny speakers tucked away in the corners).
Next, I spent the next 30-40 minutes on the inside of the Barcelona Cathedral. I know I'd been here before but this time, for some reason, it was more special, I was in no hurry, and it was quiet, very few people were inside.
My time in the cathedral was really special. In fact, I was moved by the experience. I'm not a religious person but I found myself somewhat emotional by the art, the history & age, and the size of everything. And, now, just after dark sundown, the illuminated ceiling was something spectacular. Upon leaving I crossed the San Jaume square and sat on a bench for about 20 minutes to admire the structure. It was nice and I felt very peaceful.
It's getting late and I'm a little hungry so I decide to head back through El Raval to Pension Plaza de Goya and get a ham and cheese sandwich on the way - when I realized I have a 10:45pm Flamenco Show at the Palacio del Flamenco. Oh, goodness. I'm beat and would rather be in bed at 10:45 than sitting at a flamenco show until midnight - THEN walking back 8 blocks. Sure hope I can sleep late tomorrow morning.
The flamenco show at Palacio del Flamenco was very good and I enjoyed myself a lot. My V.I.P. seat was along the left side, maybe 3 tables from the deep, wide stage, so I had a wonderful view. The seating area is modern and elegant and most everyone seemingly had just finished their dinner when I arrived for the show. Palacio del Flamenco is located on Carrer Balmes, 139, very close to the DIAGONAL metro station in the upper Eixample.
The flamenco show began with three yellow-dressed ladies, all standing in preparation for the number, when the music started. They remained motionless for a good 60 seconds until they began. The music was perfect, so rich that I was certain it was a recording. But HOW could they possibly use recorded music for a flamenco show, I thought. They wouldn't. Then the curtain rose very slowly, proving to me and the full-house that there were real musicians playing live music. Wow, they were great and I was impressed. All the while I was wondering where I could buy their music.
The flamenco show itself lasted about one hour and fifteen minutes and never ceased to entertain. There were maybe a total of 7 different "sets", all without a break. The featured dancer, a woman dressed in all black, was REALLY something. She danced alone but used the entire stage. Truly impressive. A real professional, as was the entire guitar-playing, singing, and clapping group. I was in Flamenco Heaven!
I took note that the woman playing the violin in the group, I'm CERTAIN, was German-born Lisa Bause of the Barcelona-based, 4-woman flamenco folk band Las Migas, whom I saw in Madrid at one of last year's Suma Flamenca concerts. She's very talented.
The below, taken from the Palacio del Flamenco website:
A show of the purest flamenco
Currently Palacio del Flamenco is offering a show called “El Duende del Palacio” (The goblin of the palace) presented by a cast of 15 artists on stage. Flamenco singers, dancers, guitar players and other musicians are offering a powerful staging and musical event. A journey through different types of Flamenco provides the Flamenco lover with the opportunity to participate intensely in this art performance while the amateur audience will be able to enjoy a wonderful and unforgettable Flamenco night.
The show is made up of original choreography acts including soloist acts. The night begins with the unique and enthusiastic performance of our flamenco group. The guitar and the sound of the palms accompany the "taconeo" and the movement by the “bailaores” that introduce to us in this enthusiastic world.
In our show also, you will be able to see some classic Spanish dance acts with the intention to offer a glimpse of the wonderful ones and varied dances of flamenco
The music, created originally for this show, is interpreted live giving rise to a full picture of plastical beauty, light, and strength. The improvisation between the musicians and the bailaores, makes the show different day to day.
BarcelonaMan can easily recommend seeing a flamenco performance at the Palacio del Flamenco in in the upper Eixample district of Barcelona.
During my walk back, I was tempted to go out, "hit the clubs", and dance Sevillanas 'til dawn. Nahh.... I had another full day tomorrow so I headed back to the Pension Plaza de Goya to get some shut eye. Which is just what I did.
Friday, March 26, 2010
So I showered, shaved, and got dressed, leaving Pension Bahia at about 10am for the Alimentaria Barcelona 2010 Food and Beverage Exposition. Got the L1 metro from Plaza de Catalunya to Plaza de Espanya. There, I got the local train line L8 to the Plaza de Europa/Fira, accompanied by hundreds of suited professionals, no doubt attending and/or going to "make business" with the exhibitors. So I got off the train and just followed the crowd - and what a crowd it was at 10:30am!
Walking in to the exposition hall was a bit daunting. There must have been 20,000 people standing around all in different lines, trying to get tickets or accredited or something! Finally I asked one of the information helpers where the PRESS check-in was and he directed me downstairs. Whew! I could avoid these long lines! Got downstairs and there was a long line there - but shorter than those UPstairs. I waited... and waiting... and waiting for at least 30 minutes, those issuing the press name badges took at least 5 minutes per person and the very attractive, professional, made-up Spanish woman in front of me was complaining all the time about how disorganized it was. Maybe she was right but I didn't care, I was just happy to be exchanging small talk with her during our wait.Finally got my badge with the big "P" for "press" with attached neck strap and made my way upstairs and through the hordes of people STILL waiting in line. Thank goodness I didn't have to pay for this. If I had, I'd have been REALLY upset. But wait. It gets better - and in a good way.Each "pabellon" or section of this exhibition hall is enormous, probably bigger than a regulation football or soccer field. There are FIVE sections in the entire place so just imagine the acreage we're talking about.
The first "pabellon"/section I entered was the international foods, foods from all over the world. Seemingly every country was represented here and all offering samples of their cheeses, olive oils, plantain chips, honey, sausages, and anything else you can imagine. Here I got several samples while the exhibitors interacted with me, hoping I was a would-be distributor for their foods which, in most cases, still weren't being sold in Spain. When I showed them my badge and told them I was "Press" you could see their faces drop. Poor things. I noticed the USA had one of the larger displays as did France.
The next "pabellon"/section was ALLLLL Spanish food products. Ahhh... I was in heaven. Really! Imagine walking into a hall of this size and every single stand was offering you Spanish cheeses, chorizo, jamón/ham slices, olives, dunk-this-bread-in-our-extra-virgin-olive-oil stands by the dozens, Cantabrian sobaos and quesadas (a GREAT display in the shape of a mountain village house). It was in this section, "pabellon 2", where I essentially had my lunch.
I'm already really tired and my feet are aching but I ventured into the "pabellon"/section 3, drum roll please, which was totally dedicated to.... mind you this is a football-field-sized space... Spanish wines and liqueurs!!! BELLY UP TO THE BAR, BOYS, and TRY to walk a straight line after this visit! That was probably the mind set for many visitors but I was nervous.
Sure, it was enticing, inviting, and was oh-so-tempting. But I wondered, "How does THIS work??" I mean, I didn't see any money changing hands so the drinkers weren't paying for it. But (nearly) all those drinking were suit-and-tie wearing gentleman and, maybe, they were simply "making business" with the wine companies, testing their wines to see if they wanted to distribute them. Who knows. But every exhibitor had several tables in their space and more often than not there were 4 business-men sitting around, all chatting, all drinking, and all eating jamón and cheese. Did they know each other? Were they making deals with the producer?
Other exhibitors had larger spaces and it literally looked like a night club; tables had lamps, the raised wood floors had a dark varnish, the display was impeccable. Did I dare venture into this unknown world? I didn't.
I did, however, see a more inviting space which had 4 long counters with large "WINE TASTING" signs, constantly replenished wine glasses so I felt those were safe. But I didn't try these either. Everytime I would start near a bottle an attendant moved in my direction so I backed off, scared off. The people who WERE testing them were really testing them! They'd pour in a half-inch of wine, sniff it, hold it up to the light, check to see if it "had legs", swig it, then pour the rest out into the nearby sink receptacle, rinse out their glass with the crystal pitcher of water and move on to the next bottle. This was too much for me so I kept on. Maybe tomorrow I'll have more courage.
I left Alimentaria at about 4pm, my feet really hurting now and the hams and cheeses taking their toll. I was thirsty too. So I got back on the train-metro combination to the Diagonal metro station on the Passeig de Gracia and stopped in to an Italian café for a coffee to lift me up - while sitting down. Thankfully, they had free Wi-Fi internet so I checked my email and sent messages to friends.
Rested, I went STRAIGHT for the nearby "La Pedrera"/Casa Milà, another Antonio Gaudí designed building. This is the one with the skull-shaped chimney pots on the roof. Cha-ching! Another free entry with my Press Card, 10 Euros saved. It wasn't raining, only sprinkling, so the chimney pots took on a "bleeding" look. Eery! After the roof I looked over the attic displays and then downstairs to "the apartment" and out I went to take photos of the building's façade.
Now down the Passeig de Gracia and here I am, AGAIN, at the Casa Batlló, the place I visited the day before but took all my photos in LOW resolution. Ugh! Thank goodness I don't have to pay the 17.80 Euros entry. They gave me the audio guide because it's included in the entry, but I didn't use it this time. I just whisked my way around and took all the same photos I took before, the hour of the day was about the same but this time it wasn't as cloudy as yesterday, and (now) wasn't raining either so that shed a somewhat different light on today's photos as compared to yesterdays. I think I like yesterday's better. Hmph. Oh well. At least on the roof the photos are a little brighter. This time I went down to the ground floor in the old wooden elevator. That was cool.
Now I'm REALLY tired, man. Not so hungry but it's about 7pm and I should eat something. But first, I went to see my long time buddy Artur at the Hostal Marenostrum. Artur is the son of the family who owns/runs it. And there he was at the reception desk when I arrived. We went back to the dining room to talk about "the business", internet, the crisis, the hostal business, advertising, and other stuff related to the travel industry. He a nice guy, 20-something, very tall and thin, good looking with long hair, and knows the business. I'd stayed at his hostel 4 years ago for a couple nights but for this visit there was no space, they were completely booked for the Alimentaria exposition. Good for them. They deserve it. They're located RIGHT ON the left side of Las Ramblas at the Liceu metro station, and just in front of the Miro painting on the ground of La Rambla. My balcony room overlooked this the last time.
Said my farewells to Artur and walked into El Raval, looking for something to eat and - almost more importantly - something to drink. And I did just that. It seems THIS IS THE NEIGHBORHOOD which has all the typical bars and cervecerias!! I passed two of them on Carrer Sant Pau, the same stree on which you enter the Hostal Mare Nostrum, just around the corner from Las Ramblas. The place I settled on was an oh-so-typical bar, just like I like them, FULL OF LOCALS. I was sure I was the only NON-neighborhood person there. The clientèle was mixed ethnically but this is just how El Raval is. The waiters behind the bar were both Spanish and "other". Mine was totally Spanish, 60-something, and joked around with all of his well-known regular clients - whom were an average age of 65 - minus me, of course. The people at the other end of the bar, towards the door, were much younger, and there was a small child playing around too. No tourists. Not one. Maybe, only me. It was called "Restaurante Pollo Rico" (click for website and funny music video made there) and they specialize in roasted chickens to-go but they have absolutely everything you could imagine. They even have a dining room upstairs but the bar is on the ground floor. It's kitsch, eh, very typical, working-class people in there - and WORKING in there, laborers having their evening beers and meals. Then there was me. My bartender was so nice, joked with me a little.
I ordered the "chipirones fritos" and it came with fried potatoes. "Chipirones" are small squid, very similar to "chopitos" - which I love - but these were nearly identical. The waiter later said I could have ordered the grilled "pulpitos" for one Euro less at 5 Euros. I was inquisitive so he took 6 of them, grilled them himself, poured some olive oil over them, and served them to me for me to try for free. They were good, a little chewy, and probably healthier than the fried "chipirones" which, my bartender admitted, was half flour. He was right, of course, but the "chipirones" were very good too and the 3 "Estrella Damm" beers I ordered went down easy too. I paid my bill, came to about 11.50 Euros, and left the change for the bartender. I expected a warm, "See you later!" but he was involved discussing something with one of his long-time clients and didn't look up. Still, it was good food at good prices and good, friendly service from a waiter who clearly enjoyed his interaction with the public. I felt at home.
And it was home I found myself 10 minutes later, back to my Pension Bahia. The clerk greeted me out in the stairway as she smoked here cigarette. A jovial, older woman. From the 3rd floor up we chatted about how if the 5-flights of stairs didn't kill me I'd probably be stronger for it. In my room, the bed was made, my towels were changed, and everything was in order.
Have to change pensiones tomorrow in the late morning to Pension Plaza de Goya. Not looking forward to moving again but that's the name of the game in my business. It's good for me to try as many "hostales", "pensiones", and other lodging establishments as possible so that I may give good, firsthand reviews to those interested. Speaking of reviews, check out my review of Pension Bahia coming soon. Good night!!