Bye Bye Barcelona – Day 10

Just like Rome, we saved our last day for shopping and relaxation. We needed  to take it easy for our trip to Paris the next day. The night before, we did a little research on discount shopping and stores that sell Balenciaga bags. Who knew Balenciaga bags were so hard to find in Barcelona? I did find one at this one designer handbag store, but it wasn’t the size I wanted, so I passed it up.

Barcelona Tapa Tapa Iberian Ham FriesBarcelona Tapa Tapa Chorizo

After a late start, we decided to grab lunch at our favorite restaurant at the pier, Tapa Tapa. It was such a beautiful day, we had to sit outside along the water. We ordered more food at this particular meal than at any other meal during this trip. That’s the problem with tapas, you can easily order way too much. We had the patatas bravas (of course), iberian ham with a fried egg on top of a bed of fries, endive salad with smoked salmon and dill dressing, chorizo sausages and a plate of fidua (paella with vermicelli noodles). For drink, I had a cup of peach juice and K got the orange. Our last day in Barcelona and we JUST discovered that the chorizo is AMAZING. Dang! We could’ve eaten this every day! The baby chorizo was so flavorful and spicy. It definitely did not taste like any chorizo I’ve had at home.

Our first stop on the shopping agenda was Bershka on Passaig de Gracia. Bershka is a Spanish clothing store owned by the same company that owns Zara. Both stores are very similar, but I found Bershka to be a little cheaper. I copped a brown faux leather belt and a black lacey cardigan for $38 US. Not bad for Europe.

We were also severely under-prepared for the cold weather in Paris. Travelling with a small carry-on had it’s limitations – we couldn’t pack heavy coats! We realized we couldn’t afford authentic European clothing (stuff you can’t get at home), so we headed for Zara. There I got a white sweater with elbow patches and a navy peacoat. That was about $80 US altogether. K got a very sleek-looking black trench. Little did we know we were still very unprepared for the cold weather to come. I’ll get back to that in my next post.

Barcelona Escriba Hot ChocolateBarcelona Excriba Pine Nut Balls

At this point, we had walked up and down the Passaig de Gracia all the way from the Avinguda Diagonal to Plaça de Catalunya and worked up a hunger for some hot chocolate. We found another hot chocolate place, Escriba on La Rambla, in one of our travel books. We were very much tempted to go back to Cacao Sampaka, but we forced ourselves to try something new. We ordered 2 large cups of hot chocolate and 2 marzipan balls covered in toasted pine nuts and honey. In comparison to Cacao Sampaka, this hot chocolate was grainier. The pastry sounds better than it tastes too. I was expecting a crunchy outer shell, but the entire ball is very soft. It might’ve been better with a peanut rather than pine nut crust.

So, after our snack, we headed back to the apartment to pack and call it a night early. We needed tons of shuteye before our trek to our last stop, Paris!

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We dilly Dali in Figueres – Day 9

Barcelona Figueres Dali Museum Lady

Our day trip from Barcelona consisted of Dali, Dali and more Dali. We took the slow train to Figueres (1.5 hours), where the only main attraction is the Dali Museum. Yes, it’s another art museum. But this isn’t like any kind of art, this is Surrealism. Fantasy.

Barcelona Figueres Creepy Sculpture

The few Dali sculptures in the courtyard in front of the museum gave us a taste of what’s inside the museum. Dali was clearly on drugs, but when he was asked the question, he answers, “I am the drug… take me.”

Barcelona Figueres Dali Museum Cadillac

The entrance of the museum leads to a round room with a 1941 Cadillac that rains on the inside when you insert a coin. For some reason, Dali created a lot of coin-operated art. Behind the car is a boat 50 feet in the air holding Dali’s partner, Gala, with tears made out of condoms hanging below.

Barcelona Figueres Dali Museum Abraham Lincoln

When we made our way up the ramp, we entered the theater with a huge painting of a half naked man with a cracked skill and doorway through his ribcage. To the left, there is a painting of a nude Gala overlooking a balcony. If you look through the coin-operated telescope, or just squint your eyes, you can see the face of Abraham Lincoln.

This is just a taste of what’s in this museum. You have to see it for yourself. Rick Steves even says that this is probably the most interesting museum in all of Europe.

Barcelona Figueres Meat Combo Lunch

Before we headed back to Barcelona, we stopped for a mediocre lunch at a cafe near the museum. I had a Spanish omelette with croquettes and a side salad, while K had the meat combo consisting of a 12 inch hot dog, a pork cutlet, a hamburger patty topped with fries.

Barcelona Tapa Tapa Artichokes

Back in Barcelona, we shopped a bit before we headed for a light dinner at Tapa Tapa on the Pasaig de Gracia. I had to have my patatas bravas and I wanted to try the fried artichokes. Second time in a row, I was not disappointed. The lightly salted artichokes were crispy and tender.

Barcelona Cocoa Sampaka Hot Chocolate

Barcelona Cocoa Sampaka Desserts

Now for the best part of the day. Dessert. Barcelona is said to have some of the best hot chocolate in the world. I did a little research online and found Cacao Sampaka in the Eixample district. When we walked into the restaurant, we were told that they would close in 10 minutes but we could come in for a quick drink. We got 2 cups of hot chocolate with some lady fingers and some kind of sugar pastry. As soon as we got our order, we were told we only had 2 minutes left. We chugged the hot chocolate and ate our desserts like no tomorrow, but we loved ever second of it. The chocolate was super thick, rich and creamy. It was like drinking a chocolate dipping sauce. I also tasted a hint of cinnamon and other spices. Before I left, I purchased a bag of the hot chocolate mix for my bro and sis-in-law as well as a box of chocolates for my parents. The hot chocolate mix was just as good as the one at the restaurant.

Soon after, we made our way back to our apartment in Barceloneta.

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The Other Barcelona – Day 8

Believe it or not, there are other things to see in Barcelona besides Gaudi’s architecture. From old churches, to museums, to the ruins of a castle – this is what we did on day 8 of our vacation.

Breakfast: Forn Gotic

Barcelona Chocolate Croissant

It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t start the day with a chocolate croissant. So, that’s exactly what we did. We found a super cute bakery in old town and got a hot dog wrapped in pastry dough and a chocolate croissant twist. This chocolate twist was probably the best chocolate pastry from our entire trip. Soft, fluffy and filled with TONS of chocolate. Yum!

Picasso Museum

Barcelona Picasso Museum

Since we stayed over in Barceloneta, we decided to start with the closest destination, the Picasso Museum. There are a few Picasso Museums out there, but this one is the most extensive. This museum houses more of his early works but walks you through the evolution of his artistic style from realism to his blue period to cubism. Or, what some would say, how he became crazy. The most interesting part about this museum is the Las Meninas exhibit. Picasso took a painting of a royal family by Diego Velázquez and painted a series of 58 interpretations.  Each painting is a deconstruction of the original and he even paints the same thing multiple times. It makes you wonder, “What was going on in this guy’s head when he did this?”

Lunch: La Boqueria

Barcelona La Boqueria

It was about lunch time after this, so we headed down La Rambla to the famous La Boqueria, Barcelona’s largest farmers market where you can buy meats, seafood, bread, and pretty much anything else you can think of. What was unfortunate was that we weren’t really hungry for a real lunch. We did get fruit juice, kiwi and mango, from one of the many stands. That was thick, fresh and delish, but way overpriced. I think it might’ve been a puree of the actual fruit. We were looking for something else small so we could say we ate here and we came across some fried salt cod at one of the seafood stands. That was really good actually. I thought I wouldn’t like it because Andrew Zimmern makes it sound so unappetizing on his show, but really it’s just dried, salted fish that has been reconstituted, battered and fried.

Barcelona La Boqueria Cured Meat Stand

Barcelona La Boqueria Fruit Juice

Barcelona La Boqueria Candy Stand

Barcelona La Boqueria Seafood Stand

Barcelona La Boqueria Fried Salt Cod

Palau de la Musica

Source PalauMusica.org

From here, we walked past the very old Gothic Cathedral to check out the Palau de la Musica, a concert hall designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, a rival of Antoni Gaudi. We took an hour tour inside to see the colorful glass ceiling that dips down into the hall like a raindrop, truly unique for a concert hall. The purpose of using glass in the structure was to bring in natural light. I would totally recommend this tour if you visit Barcelona. Only downside is that they don’t all you to take photos inside. I took the picture above from their website.

Mies van der Rohe Pavilion

Barcelona Mies van der Rohe Pavilion

The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to Montjuic (translation = “Hill of The Jews”). Nothing much is here besides the fact that it owns commanding views of all of Barcelona. We took the metro to the bottom of the hill and worked our way up, starting with the Mies van der Rohe pavilion. We decided to skip the popular National Museum of Catalan Art because we were a little museumed-out at the time. Entrance to the Mies van der Rohe pavilion cost us 4.50 euros each, and let me tell you, it is a waste of money. I’m a huge fan of mid-century-modern furniture so when I saw this during my research, I wanted to come here. You’d probably recognize his most famous piece, the Barcelona chair. That’s pretty much the only thing in this pavilion, 3 Barcelona chairs. Rohe did build the pavilion itself, but you can admire that from the outside.

Olympic Stadium

Barcelona Olympic Flame

Next, we headed off to the Olympic flame for the 1992 summer Olympics. K and I thought we’d go by to check out the flame and the stadium. A few shots here and there and we were off to the next site.

Castell de Montjuic

Barcelona Castell de Montjuic

Over by the Joan Miro museum, there is a cable car that takes you up to the Castell de Montjuic. The cable car is so much fun. It’s suspended in the air and it takes you to the top of Mountjuic. Castell de Montjuic is a 17th century fortress, but later it was used as a prison. When Franco came along, it was the site to numerous executions. The castle itself is pretty cool. There is a drawstring bridge! When you get inside, there’s really nothing to do but admire the views. On one side, you can see the harbor and on the other side, you can see all of Barcelona.

Barcelona Montjuic Cable Car

Barcelona Castell de Montjuic Tunnel

Barcelona Castell de Montjuic View

From the top of Montjuic, we walked all the way down to Port Vell over by Barceloneta. This pier was renovated for the ’92 Olympics and is now home to a big shopping center.

Dinner: Tapa Tapa

Barcelona Tapa Tapa Fidua

K and I had dinner here at a touristy spot, Tapa Tapa. Believe it or not, but this became our favorite restaurant in Barcelona. We had a variety of tapas – patatas bravas, brie and truffles on a toast, Iberian ham and cheese croquettes, and the Catalan favorite, fidua (think paella but with vermicelli noodles instead of rice). Oh man, there was not one thing I didn’t like. The patatas bravas were very crispy and complimentary with the spicy mayo on top. The brie and truffles on toast was hot and gooey from the oven. Who doesn’t love that? The croquettes were something new for us. A crispy breaded coating and a creamy and cheesy mashed potato center filled with pieces of salty ham. I could eat these all day and that would be dangerous. And now, the best for last – the fidua, or fish noodles. I have to find this dish in San Francisco or I may not live. It has the same salty, saffron flavor as paella. This particular version was made with fish stock and they top it off with tender, succulent shrimp. They even serve it with a little dish of mayo. What? Why mayo? Well, I added a little dollup of it and wow. Think of all the flavors I mentioned above but in a creamy sauce. Oh, so good.

Barcelona Tapa Tapa Port Vell

Barcelona Tapa Tapa Croquettes

Barcelona Tapa Tapa Patatas Bravas

Barcelona Tapa Tapa Brie Truffles

Image Gallery

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Oh My Gaudi! – Day 7

Our first full day in Barcelona was all about Antoni Gaudi, a Catalan architect during the Art Nouveau period famous for his unique and modern designs. Casa Batllo, La Pedrera, Sagrada Familia and Park Guell… we did it all. Brace yourself, this was a long post to write.

Casa Batllo

Barcelona Gaudi Casa Batllo

We started the tour off with Casa Batllo on the Passeig de Gracia in the Eixample district. I found this the most interesting building out of the day. Yes, even more so than the Sagrada Familia. Words alone cannot describe this building. You have to check out my photos below. The exterior looks as if a sea monster is swallowing a pile of bones. The interior, on the other hand, is so peaceful and serene – from the rounded windows to the curvy staircases. Although there are no straight lines in the building, every angle and curve was designed with the purpose to bring in natural light. The building is so modern and scientific, yet Gaudi remodeled Casa Batllo in the early 1900s. Even to this day, there’s nothing else like it.

Barcelona Gaudi Casa Batllo Stairs

Barcelona Gaudi Casa Batllo Light

Barcelona Gaudi Casa Batllo Windows

Barcelona Gaudi Casa Batllo Light Shaft

Lunch: Caffe Fiorino

Barcelona Caffe Fiorino Ham Sandwich

We stopped for lunch at Caffe Fiorino. This is what I love about Barcelona. You just sit at a bar stool and pick what you want from the dozens of little pastries and sandwiches on the counter. We got 2 sandwiches filled with Iberian ham with 2 caffe con leche – all for about 6 euros each. This is the best kind of meal when you’re on vacation – tasty and cheap.

La Pedrera

Barcelona La Pedrera Exterior

Next, we went to La Pedrera, another apartment designed by Gaudi off of the Passeig de Gracia. This building was still pretty cool, but not as fascinating as Casa Batllo. But I think it’s because you don’t get to see much of the interior of the building since it’s still occupied by residents. We were only allowed to view the attic, the rooftop and a restored apartment decorated by previous residents. La Pedrera is more like a museum to all of Gaudi’s work. The attic, where the museum is held, looks like the inner ribcage of a snake. Check out some photos below.

Barcelona La Pedrera Ceiling

Barcelona La Pedrera Rooftop

Barcelona La Pedrera Staircase

Sagrada Familia

Barcelona Sagrada Familia Nativity Facade

We made our way over to the Sagrada Familia, probably the most famous building in Gaudi’s collection. The Sagrada Familia is Roman Catholic church that has been under construction since 1882. The detail that has been put into into this church is amazing. From afar, the church looks like a pile of melted wax, but as you get closer, you can see the very detailed carvings on each façade. From baskets of fruit to Jesus on the cross to turtles to the nativity scene – it’s no wonder the expected completion date is not until 2026.

Barcelona Sagrada Familia Jesus Cross

Barcelona Sagrada Familia Inside

Barcelona Sagrada Familia DetailPark Guell

Barcelona Park Guell Entrance

The day is still young! We hopped on the metro to Park Guell. The story behind this community is kind of funny. Gaudi built it as a commercial housing site, but it turned unsuccessful and was later purchased by the government as a public park. Now, it attracts thousands of visitors a day! Gaudi actually lived on this property and his home is now the home to the Gaudi Museum, definitely not worth it if you went to the other previously mentioned buildings. The park was undoubtedly ahead of its time, which is probably why it was unsuccessful. When walking through the weird rock formations, it felt like I was in gingerbread land. Very cool.

Barcelona Park Guell Rock WallDinner: Bitacora

Barcelona Bitacora Fried Anchovies

When we finally got back to the apartment, we ate our leftovers from the night before. K is a dude and wasn’t satisfied with his small portion, so we went out for some late night tapas at a quiet local bar in Barceloneta called Bitacora. We got some patatas bravas, fried anchovies and pan con tomate (bread with tomato, a classic tapas dish). Food was mediocre – bread was stale, potatoes weren’t crispy and eating an entire fish, bones ‘n all, was a little intimidating. But, it was fun people watching and pretending to be a local.

Barcelona Bitacora Pan con Tomate

Barcelona Bitacora Patatas Bravas

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En Route To Barcelona! – Day 6

Hola! This is the day we left for Barcelona. Once we checked out of our FriendlyRentails.com apartment in Rome, we headed for the Fiumicino Airport.

We flew Vueling, one of the many small jetliners that fly within Europe. I was so nervous for this flight since I’ve read loads of bad reviews online – flight cancellations, luggage restrictions, etc. But, everything worked out.

The transportation from BCN to Barcelona is very easy. They have a bus called the Aerobus that takes you from the airport to 3 different locations in the heart of the city, all for about 5 euros per person.

We also purchased the 3-day Barcelona Pass at about 35 euros per person which gave us discounts on museum entrance fees and free usage of the metro.

The apartment we rented was located in Barceloneta, kind of like their version of Fisherman’s Warf, only quieter and more residential. There are tons of hidden restaurants in Barceloneta, but I have no idea how they make any money. Every restaurant we passed by was nearly empty except for a few touristy restaurants along the water. I’m guessing it’s the time of year.

Barcelona Apartment Inside

We rented a studio apartment through Rent4Days.com. This apartment was the nicest place we stayed in throughout the entire trip. It was clean, modern and comfortable.

Barcelona Rey de la Gamba Paella

Barcelona Rey de la Gamba Chocolate con Churros

The first night there, I was exhausted, mainly because I had just caught a cold. So, we decided to take it easy and call it a night early. We were lured into one of the touristy restaurants, El Rey de la Gamba, on the water by a persistent hostess. I was eying the mountain of fresh seafood being devoured by 2 little Japanese girls at a table nearby. And before we ordered, the smell from a large platter of fried seafood passed by us. This place is going to be good. So after a quick review of the menu, we ordered a chicken and shellfish paella and a small plate of patatas bravas (fried potatoes with a creamy tomato sauce). This was satisfying. This was the reason why I wanted to come to Barcelona. For the relaxation, for the food, for the experience. The paella was the best I’ve ever tasted. Better than the Spanish Cultural Center in SF and way better than Girard’s Paella in Pacifica. The rice was so flavorful and aromatic and the seafood was fresh and buttery. The order of paella was so large, we took half of it home and saved it for dinner the next night. To top off the meal, we had an order of chocolate con churros, a classic Spanish dessert. We dipped the freshly fried and sugar-dusted churros into a large cup of thick hot chocolate and licked our fingers clean. Te quiero Barcelona!

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