Sunday, November 21, 2010

Buenas Dias Barcelona!

I’ve lost track of dates, times, everything. I’m in my happy place. Just as it was meant to be. And still lovin’ Spain. We’ve made it to Barcelona, but more on that later…

Seville was absolutely charming. By spending 4 full days (about 2 more than any guide book recommends), we were able to walk all over the town, see all the sights, snoop in any shop that caught our interest, make a few purchases, sit for café con leche and a sweet, have a good lunch and relax at night in the apartment.

The apartment was perfectly located in the heart of the old city district. Narrow cobblestone streets allowed for either pedestrian traffic only or maybe one-way vehicle traffic. This kept it perfect for exploration on foot. Didn’t ride any transport until we left for the airport. We only had one day of rain, so the weather even held out for these adventures.

We did the tapas thing and frankly neither of us was impressed. Just ok. Lots of fried stuff, mostly the same offerings in each tapas bar. Overrated. But the beer and wine tasted just right! We finally treated ourselves to a highly recommended place for lunch, just as we were in need of a really nice meal, and it delivered-4 delicious courses, great service, for about $20pp. Gracias.

We saw the Cathedral, the Palace, a flamenco show, and WAY too much of Plaza Alfalfa. I’ll never think of the word alfalfa again w/o it reminding me of Seville-with a smile. See, despite all the maps, it is very easy to get lost. And we did. Multiple times. And we always seemed to end up in Plaza Alfalfa. So we just made it our Ground Zero.

Bought some chic black tops for our leggings, a bit of funky jewelry, and found the Convent of San Leandro for sweets. Most of the convents (and there are a LOT of them, as well as churches) sell sweets to help the nuns make some dinero. The San Leandro nuns have a window w/a wooden turnstile (which fills the window-you cannot see inside). You ring the bell, put in your money, turn it to them, and they turn it back w/whatever they’re selling that day-all boxed up and stapled shut. You have no idea what you’ve just purchased! We opened up our box later that night at the apt to find that we got sugar encrusted chestnut paste-one of the traditional Christmas sweets of Spain. One was enough and we had ½ kilo. Well, it wasn’t about the sweets anyway, it was all about the experience.

Somewhere along the way that day I set down my package of jewelry and a sweater poncho. I had absolutely no recollection of where I could have left it. We backtracked to the possibilities, but alas, the bag was not to be found. Fortunately the purchases were not expensive and it was just stuff. I was more disturbed about not having any idea when I set it down. Felt like my brain had been a bit muddled the entire trip-get it together Lynn.

Adios Seville, you’ve charmed us, but we still had Barcelona to explore.

Our Barcelona apartment is in what is called the Born area of the old town. Again, great location, but a bit daunting upon arrival. It’s dark when we get here, we’ve got a sweet old cabbie who’s determined to get us as close as he can, not knowing exactly where our street is-it’s blocked off to vehicles, so he drops us off and fortunately a couple blocks later, we find our address. We’ve got the access codes, and we’re in! OK, so they warn you in the website that it’s 5 flights of stairs, no elevator. Even knowing this, it was quite the challenge to lug our 25+kg bags up these high-ceilinged floors. It was rather dark and dingy. Hmm, what have we got? We get into the apt and it appears aptly named Born Rustico. Feels very rustic. It’s on the roof and the floor slopes badly in many places. (Upon further inspection, after initial impact wears off, we note that it’s been very well put together-great nice touches everywhere-it’s actually really charming). Anyway, we get ourselves in and a bit settled and need to figure out dinner, so we pull out our guidebooks to find anything close to where we are. It’s dark, we don’t know the area and our cabbie told us to be careful as it isn’t a safe area. Great.

We decide on a place just a couple blocks over. Just outside the apartment, Miek sees a guy walking toward us with his zipper down and penis hanging out. Fortunately I’ve missed this, but now I’m concerned about what I’ve done to Miek-will she be ok staying here? This has not been an auspicious beginning to Barcelona, to say the least.

Well, the restaurant is packed and there’s a line to eat at the long bar, so we get in line, since we don’t have a good alternative. And boy are we happy we did-hat a fun evening! We end up sitting next to a couple from New York who just arrived also and are on their honeymoon. While we’ve been waiting, we’re watching what everyone is eating, what’s being cooked, and we know what we want as soon as we sit down. This is no quick lunch counter-you are not pressed to move along, in fact, they encourage you to have something else, coffee, dessert perhaps? Miek and I share a number of absolutely delicious small plates-fried artichoke, calmari, chard w/garbanzos, sautéed mushrooms, tuna tartare. We also share back and forth with the couple next to us-so our tasting expands to their selections as well. The wine goes down smooth and quickly. Pep himself (restaurant is Cal Pep) is there, talking, joking, managing the bar/counter. We watch the cooking in front of us. The people waiting in line right behind us want to know what we’ve ordered (just as we did when waiting ourselves). Feels like a party. Such fun! Barcelona, you’re growing on me.

The apartment looks much better in the morning-the charm is working and it’s actually very well put together-just a funky space, that’s all. We get out our guidebooks to plan our day-noting that we need to take advantage of things open on Saturday that will be closed Sunday and/or Monday. We head on over to Las Ramblas-the 1 mile long pedestrian boulevard from the port to the main square of the city. Las Ramblas is full of performance art, other artists and tons of people. We also quickly discover that you’ve got to divert from Las Ramblas to wind thru the narrow walkways of the Barri Gotic area to really experience Barcelona. We search out places we’ve read about-La Bouqueria Market, the costume/magic shop, the herborist, and a fabulous artisanal cheese shop where we sit and have a cheese tasting (with a touch of wine, of course). A bit more shopping behind us (Miek-you look fabulous in that chic new coat), a bit of rain, and we finally sit down for a coffee at Quatro Gatos to rest our weary legs/feet. Refreshed, we head back to the Cathedral, taking time to explore it and the rooftop view. Sit for a bit (it’s warmer inside)before heading out to see if the dancing is going to happen. Every Saturday evening, in the square in front of the church, there is a music ensemble (and it was quite impressive last night) that plays for the Sardana dancers. This is extemporaneous dance where circles are formed, place purses, coats in the center, you clasp hands and the traditional dance ensues. Charmed again. At one point there were no less than 10 circles of dancers in the square-some of about 20 people, some of just 4. Obvious veterans of the dance-all grey-haired-help teach the tourists/novices the steps. What a delight!

We head back to the apartment via another shop on our list-where we’ve once again got timing on our side, and this sweets shop is making that hard candy that has intricate designs in the middle-know what I’m talking about? We watch them make it in front of us, then taste after they’ve stretched and snapped off small pieces. Have to make some purchases (will the candy canes stay intact for Christmas stockings?) before heading back to the apt.

Full day of walking around gives me a new perspective of our neighborhood-sweet shops all around, well lit, don’t feel the least bit unsafe-just be vigilant like in any large city. This is working out just fine.

We have another wonderful meal for dinner-our most expensive dining has been in Barcelona-with the most expensive-wine and dessert included-for about $70pp. And the food here is fabulous. Unlike Seville, this is food to write home about. Oh, right, I just did!

Again, I’m loving this apartment thing (did laundry, sitting in the living room typing this over a cup of coffee while Miek sleeps in) and having the time to not rush, just take our time, explore what we want to see/do, and we’ve been on the same wavelength so it’s been very easy to travel together. Hamdullah.

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