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Friday, March 26, 2010

Day 4 Barcelona Trip Review 2010

I'm exhausted - but in a good way! Sure, my shoes are super comfortable but the soles aren't very thick so that's taking its toll on my feet. Slept pretty well last night here at the Pension Bahia after the 20-something group of girls went to sleep. I also woke up earlier than my alarm sounded because I hear people moving around in the hall, presumably checking-out. No problem at all, though. I threw on some clothes, ran a comb through my hair, put on some pants but left the slippers and pajama top on and went out my door to the breakfast area - right outside my door.The breakfast was complete but I only ate the toast with butter and marmalade and drank the coffee and juice and left the donut and muffin to the suit-wearing guy sitting at the next table, presumably not Spanish, and so tall he couldn't fit under the table to eat. I had to wonder why a suit-wearing man was staying at a pension but maybe he was working at the Alimentaria - or just attending it as I was. I didn't wear not silly suit, that's for sure.

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!!

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