Saturday, July 25, 2009

not your usual travel journal - PART 5

Me, walking in Barcelona

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

* * * *

May 29, 2009

"Flavors of Catalonia"

IT'S OFFICIAL: Barcelona is my second favorite city. (My first is still Hanoi.)

This I decided when I tasted the wonderful tapas of the Txakolin (C/Marques de l'Argentera 19), a bar which served unpretentious Basque-style tapa selections like cured ham, crab salad and everything in between (baby eel included). Of course, there were anxoves (anchovies), escopinyes (cockles), bunyols de bacalla (salt cod fritters), calamars a la romana, panadons d'espinacs, pernil (seasoned pork), pescaditos, popets (baby octopus), and many more.


Because I was sitting amongst the real locals, served by a friendly waiter named Pablo, and holding hands with MSP the love of my life, everything imperfect about the old tapas bar seemed just right -- the cheap homegrown wine that went perfectly with everything we put in our mouths, the odd way we had to save the used sticks in a small shot glass (to be counted later for la cuenta or the bill), and the constant laughter of half-drunk Catalonians who hang out here after a day at work.

"Importante!" said the other old waiter who spoke no English, pointing to a piece of bread I didn't eat. It was essential to the tapa experience, he seemed to motion. This bully of an old man was both scary and endearing, and I quickly stuffed the toasted pa amb tomaquet in my mouth. Two hours and some 30 euros later, MSP and I were drunk. We walked back to our hotel, helplessly inebriated and feeling really, totally free.

"We're drunk in Barcelona!"

* * * *

A night of tapas and wine was the perfect cap to a whole day of sightseeing, which wasn't hard to do in a beautiful city like Barcelona. Everywhere we went, there was art.

To maximize the day, we took the Bus Turistic (21 euros per adult), which enabled us to see the whole city from a top deck in about an hour or so. Once we decided which stops were worth checking out, the real fun began.

The first stop was naturally in the Eixample district, near our hotel. CASA BATLO was one of Gaudi's most popular structures. The beautiful facade (the curved iron balconies and those fantastic chimneys!) was unlike anything; it looked like a dragon, as it was meant to commemorate St. George's dragon-killing spree.

Casa Mila as seen from the top deck of Bus Turistic

Everyone who knows me know that I am a minimalist in favor of "visual silence." Gaudi???? I was ready to get appalled. But surprisingly, there is nothing "gaudy" about Gaudi's works. In pictures they look overdone and tacky, but in person, they are actually meticulous and tastefully executed. Even MSP (who is apathetic when it comes to architecture) was floored. As true converts to Catalan Modernisme, he and I braved the lines to Gaudi's most prominent work, the Sagrada Familia.

Gaudi devoted what was left of his life to this magnificent structure, which gives me goosebumps. After he had put all of his money into trying (and failing) to finish it, he went from house to house begging for more. Twelve years later and it still wasn't done.

It was during construction in 1926 when Gaudi was killed by a tram. Some people say that he was run over because he suddenly stepped back, admiring his work.

* * * *

In Motjuic, we stopped by Fundacio Joan Miro, where we got lost for hours just looking at his Surrealistic style. Every painting had vivid colors and fantastical form. The museum has a restaurant, where we enjoyed modern Italian-style comfort food. I came home with a Miro print for my bestfriend's aunt, a former United Nations employee who lent us maps and materials for this European adventure. We also got a windup Pintacuda :)

Barcelona is a compact city, making it great for walking. We particularly enjoyed Les Rambles (or La Rambla), the historic avenue leading to the sea. It was a nice respite from the tiring shopping MSP did in an airsoft shop (airsoft in Barcelona?? Who knew right???).

MSP figuring out if the fountains are just for dogs. It turns out, they are for humans, too.

La Rambla was the heart of the city. There were entertainers, flower stalls, vendors selling caged birds, and news-slash-souvenir stands along the tree-shaded central walkway.

A performer in La Rambla

Another performer

We passed Mercat de San Josep (La Boqueria) - a nice, clean marketplace selling fresh fruits, meats, fish, and everything you'll ever need to feed yourself. There was also the Gran Teatre de Liceu, which is Barcelona's opera house. When it started to get dark (which is around 10pm in Spain), we decided to treat ourselves to a more proper dinner in a restaurant serving perfect paella.

Our Barcelona schedule was jampacked but pleasant. Of course we also passed by Placa d'Espanya, the Estadi Olimpic, Barceloneta, Port Olimpic, Monument a Colom, Futbol Club, Parc Guell, etc., but we didn't linger and instead chose to spend more time in the places we had real interest in. It would have been nice to go on daytrips to Catalonia (Montblanc, Girona, etc.) but we didn't have time, and we had to stretch funds for three more cities - Madrid, Avila, and Segovia.

That would be PART 6 - the last leg of our GREAT EUROPEAN ADVENTURE. I will be all about:

a. castles
b. flamenco
c. churros
d. and of course...BULL FIGHTING!