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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Barcelona 3D Video Virtual Tour

The people at (Barcelona apartment rentals) contacted me recently to let me know about a 3D Video they had made about Barcelona using Google Earth technology.

And while I don't usually promote such things unless I spontaneously find them on my own - and you all know that to be true, this video was really so impressive and innovative that I wanted to share it.

Above, you'll find a 10-minute "virtual tour of Barcelona" video about Barcelona, narrated in English, using Google Earth. The male and female narrators discuss what's being seen in the 3D Video as they zoom around Barcelona, giving you a very good feel of the layout of the city.

Below, you'll find a "teaser" of the same video. Enjoy!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Barcelona-Real Madrid "El Clásico" 2010/2011 Season

Spanish Division leader Real Madrid faces Barcelona for the first time this season. This classic match up couldn't be more "Clásico"! Barça trails Real Madrid in the division by only one point - but position is not the only thing at stake here; PRIDE rules all, and Madrid hasn't beaten its rival since 2008. This'll be even harder to accomplish in Barcelona's Camp Nou Stadium, in front of a sold-out crowd of nearly 100,000 screaming and singing fans from both sides; mostly from Barcelona.

So Real Madrid hasn't beaten FC Barcelona since 2008. That's a long time. That's shameful. And that hurts. But under the direction of the new coach, Jose Mourinho, there's new hope along with newer, higher expectations for this matchup. They say this is a new-and-improved Real Madrid team. They say this time they will face-up and conquer Barça, a perennially power. They say a lot of things. The proof is in the play so let's see what happens Monday night at 9pm. The Spanish leader Real Madrid and Barcelona are separated by only one point going into this season’s most important game and both are in great form.

The fans are rabid on both sides as well - and not only for their team to pull ahead in the Spanish Division, but also because this is a pay-per-view event. Don't THEY know we're in the middle of an economic crisis?? This means many fans will gather at local neighborhood bars, pack living rooms to divide the cost to watch live on TV, and in front of computer screens searching the Internet to see if they can watch live online for free - or otherwise.

This is the first of two games these two leading teams will meet each other this season. The next will be in April and who knows where either will stand at that time - probably swapping leading positions with every game. And since this "El Clásico" is played in Barcelona's Camp Nou Stadium, where the attendance could potentially reach nearly 100,000, the phrase "hostile environment" has never seemed more appropriate. Should Real Madrid beat Barça IN Barcelona, expect car fires and riots in the streets. Hope shop owners remember to board up their windows.

Who will rule the pitch, "Scoring-Machine Messi" or "Pretty-Boy Ronaldo"? (to be fair, Cristiano Ronaldo is the current league scorer, leading Lionel Messi by 1-point) We'll all see soon enough.

Enjoy the game! But remember there's a lot of season left to be played - and another meeting in Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in April 2011.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Santa Caterina Market in Barcelona

The Mercat de Santa Caterina, in Barcelona's Ciutat Vella district's Ribera Quarter, is truly a new-age wonder.

The "Mercat" (Catalán for "Market") first opened in 1848 on the site of the former Santa Caterina convent. It was closed for many years before its grand re-opening in 2005 - not far away from its original location - with a new roof, new design, and new everything.

It's "new age" because the public market is ultra-modern, ultra-stylish, and ultra-useful all at the same time. It was also "new age" at its building as it was the first covered market at its time in the 1800s.

The new/old-age market is enormous with not only the pre-requisite fish, fruit, cheese, and meat stands but also bars, small restaurants, and even a large supermarket - which seems a little counter intuitive for a "traditional" market. But this is NO traditional market, afterall. One look at its colorful, undulating roof dispels all those notions.

Take a look at this video of Mercat de Santa Caterina by StudioBanana.TV.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Spain-Holland: World Cup Final 2010

Spain-Carles-Pujol-goal-against-Germany-World-Cup-2010.jpgWhether or not you believe in clairvoyant "Pulpo Paul", the 2010 World Cup Final match featuring a strong Spanish Team and the respectable Holland team will no doubt be exciting tomorrow/Sunday night - 8:30pm Spain time, 2:30pm New York Time.

No other World Cup game has been as important as this one. This time it's for the World Cup Title, one which has eluded Spain for literally an eternity. And as with all previous World Cup games, Spain's passionate fans will be glued to their television sets in living rooms, bars, and big-screen TVs in plazas throughout the country.

Just today, as with previous late-round matchups, lines are long at supermarkets with carts full of liter bottles of beer, soft drinks, and snacks, all stocking-up for the biggest sporting event of Spain's history. LITERALLY! As the saying goes, "It doesn't get any better than this."

If Spain wins people will be spilling out of their homes and local bars, joining like-minded Spain-Soccer-Worshipers on the streets, horns will honk all night, flags will be waved from the highest heights, and media coverage will likely last a week at least.

See how people are watching the game or celebrating the win (or lamenting the loss) on BarcelonaMan's Barcelona WebCams and MadridMan's Spain and Madrid WebCams. It also appears that will be broadcasting the World Cup Final live online.

Spanish flags are EVERYWHERE; hanging from every third window or balcony, car antennas, bus mirrors, and even from power lines! For an American, this would be a (nearly) normal sight. But in Spain, a country deeply divided by politics, it's an oddity to see so many of them away from government buildings.

But national sports break down barriers and united people regardless of their beliefs. Of course, this only goes for those whom enjoy sports. Spain has a very strong anti-sport contingent as well. These people see this worldwide "diversion" as a waste of time, resources, and media, all siphoning desperately needed attention away from more important social, environmental, and political issues. I can understand and appreciate their argument and they carry weight.

The header goal by Catalán Carles Pujol last Wednesday, lifting Spain over Germany, brought my neighborhood to a euphoric level. Car horns were honking (for hours!), people in the street and adjacent windows shouting, and everyone enjoying a common experience. That's really something. Even I, watching the game at home, had moist eyes - and I don't really even enjoy soccer/football/fútbol all that much. It was an emotional moment. Shame they're so few and far between in that game.

Tomorrow night's game is big and I won't miss it for anything. It'll make history for either team, neither of which has reached the World Cup Final game. EVER!

Pulpo-Paul-chooses-Spain-to-win-World-Cup-Final-2010.jpgPeople everywhere are talking about Spain's chances, their favorite players, their belief or disdain for "Pulpo Paul", and what a win will mean for Spain. Will it mean anything apart from a new trophy and Champion's Bragging Rights until the next World Cup competition in 4 years? Probably not, but that's sport for you; pure entertainment, hobby, and diversion. Plus, it gives us something happy to talk about instead of the world's problems. No one wants to face those.

But for this moment we're all together, enjoying a common goal, sharing a beer, biting each others' nails, and hugging the sweaty stranger next to us when David Villa, Carles Pujol, Andrés Iniesta, or (other) puts the ball in their opponent's net. If we win, great. If we lose, well, we can then go back to worrying about the world's troubles.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Barcelona Pension Plaza de Goya Review 2010

Pension Plaza de Goya
Barcelona Pension Review

My final two nights in Barcelona were spent in the Pension Plaza de Goya, located in the Eixample District (left), just outside of the El Raval neighborhood on Carrer de Sepulveda, 187 and facing the Plaza de Goya. The Universitat Metro station is just around the corner from the Pension Plaza de Goya. Very convenient.

One morning I encircled the entire block and counted no less than 7 bars/café offering breakfast. A nice neighborhood and so-well located just outside of El Raval with easy-access to the Gothic Quarter and everything else. Across the street from the pension is the beautiful, old (1914) "Centro Aragonés" building which is home to the Teatro Goya.

If I hadn't known better I would've thought this pension was actually, instead, the Pension Casa de Goya (just a block away on the Plaza de la Universitat), where I'd spent a couple nights four years earlier. Their similarities aren't coincidental, either, as the two are owned by the same people. The building, the reception area, the rooms and decorations are virtually identical - and that's a good thing because I had such a good experience at the Pension Casa de Goya as well.

At mid-day, upon arriving and shown my room, I was profoundly pleased. While only a double with two large-and-long single beds, it was very spacious with a large sofa, fit to sleep a third person. The room was filled with sun and the floor-to-ceiling balcony doors were open. Next to the bed was a mini-refrigerator and a electric pot to boil water, packets of coffee, tea, and sugar at the ready for an cup of something hot. A very warm, pleasant greeting. I liked the room immediately.

And what's the first thing you do in a room like this? That's right. You go directly to tour balcony to see what kind of view you have. And that's just what I did. The view was nice, looking out over the Plaza de Goya. This is one block from the Plaza de la Universitat which, obvious by its name, is right next to the University of Barcelona so the area is busy with university-aged people. A very young crowd walking about on the streets going to and from class. And I saw very few tourists in this area, almost none, which was nice.

Although right on the Plaza de Goya, I was never bothered by traffic noise whatsoever. And the walls were thick enough so I hardly noticed anyone in the adjacent rooms. My first concern was having a room across from the reception desk but I barely noticed. I could, however, feel the passing underground metro trains but it was gentle and never became annoying.

The bed was very comfortable and, fortunately, long enough for my taller-than-Spaniards stature. The modern, wall-mounted flat-screen TV had all the normal TDT (Televisión Digital Terrestre) channels. Interestingly, mine was programmed to display in "Original Version" so I happily watched "The Simpsons" in English while laying in bed one night. The bathroom was big, modern, and adequate.

Pension Plaza de Goya is well-located, modern, comfortable, inexpensive, and sure to meet your needs.

More photos of the Pension Plaza de Goya:

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Barcelona Pension Bahia Review 2010

Pension Bahia
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 Martina Review 2010

Hostal Martina
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

Day 7 Barcelona Trip Review 2010

Today, Thursday, is my last day in Barcelona. It's only a partial day so I can't do any sight seeing as my train leaves from Barcelona Sants Train Station at 3pm so I can't go far. Plus, I have to check out of the Pension Plaza de Goya no later than noon.

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 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.

Thanks for following along with BarcelonaMan!

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.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Day 5 Barcelona Trip Review 2010

FINALLY! A completely sunny day in Barcelona from beginning to end!!

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

palacio del 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.