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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Day 6 Barcelona Trip Review 2010

I slept kind of late, later than I wanted to, until about 9:30am. So I got myself up, dressed in yesterday's clothes, ran a comb through my hair and headed out to an old wooden-everything café across the Plaza de Goya. There, I ordered the "pan tumaca" - which I had to pronounce twice and even then they didn't understand me so I just said "pan tostado con aceite y tomate". THAT, they got. Man, I must be losing my touch.

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 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).

Ke? Bar Barceloneta
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.

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