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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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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Rome – Day 5

The last full day of every city were our “free” days. We used this day to visit the places we didn’t get to see and to shop.

Rome Il Fornaio Pastry Window

We started the day off with some Italian pastries from Il Fornaio, a cute little bakery in Campo de’ Fiori where we stayed. They had hundreds of different kinds of pastries ranging from biscottis to freshly baked bread. After making one of the hardest decisions in my life, I chose the sfogliatelli, a flaky pastry filled with a citrus ricotta cheese. I searched all over Google and I cannot figure out what K got. It was some kind of biscotti filled with a fig biscuit. In addition, we got some waffle cookies and amaretti cookies. My pastry was amazing. It was light, crispy, fluffy and sticky. But, the best items we purchased were the amaretti cookies. Light, crispy biscuits that just melted in my mouth. Yum!

Rome St Peters Basilica Inside

As I mentioned here, we weren’t able to go into St. Peter’s Basilica. Monday was our free day and it’s free to visit St. Peter’s Basilica, so we took the metro over to Vatican City for attempt #2. After an hour wait in the rain, we were in. Words cannot describe the feeling being inside this church. This is the most beautiful church in the world and all other churches I’ll see here on out will never compare. You have a church built and designed by Michaelangelo. You have an alter built by famous sculptor, Bernini. You have the tomb of St. Peter dead center of the church. Things couldn’t be more perfect.

Rome St Peters Basilica Tomb

Now for the cool part… We were able to take a tour of the tombs under the church. There they have every pope in history buried starting from St. Peter himself. Even the recently deceased Pope John Paul II. I’d love to take a tour of the catacombs underneath, but that tour must be reserved months in advanced.

Rome Porchetta

Next on the agenda was the Mouth Of Truth. But before that, we must eat lunch! We headed over to Piazza di Pietra for lunch. We found a cute little cafe that happened to sell porchetta. I’m a fan of Roli Roti in SF, and I had to try authentic porchetta. I ordered a plate full of it while K got a ham and brie sandwich. I was actually really disappointed with this porchetta. It was cold and the skin wasn’t crispy at all. On top of that, it was way too salty and too strong in rosemary flavor. So, disappointing. But, K’s sandwich was bomb. I ended up stealing half of his while he finished my platter of porchetta.

Rome Mouth Of Truth Sam

We hopped on the metro to the Circus Maximus stop to see the Mouth Of Truth. You probably don’t know this, but I’m a huge Audrey Hepburn fan. I’ve probably seen every movie she’s ever made. One of which was Roman Holiday where she plays a princess that spends a day in Rome. In one scene, she’s visits the Mouth Of Truth with Gregory Peck. This scene put the Mouth Of Truth on my agenda. I must stick my hand in this mouth. So, we did! Right after a whole tour bus of Chinese people.

Rome Bad Pizza

For dinner, K and I tried to go to yet another Anthony Bourdain restaurant in Campo de’ Fiori, but we were denied since they were fully booked. Not my proudest moment, but we ended up at a terrible Italian restaurant with a  help-yourself coke machine. Note to self, never eat at a restaurant with a coke machine. K had the spaghetti bolognese while I had a margherita pizza. Although, it wasn’t really a margherita pizza. It was more like an overly-cheesy pizza with halved grape tomatoes. Definitely not what I was craving. I must be eating pizza in the wrong places because every pizza I had over there was terrible. From what I’ve tasted, San Francisco has better pizza than Rome. The pasta was good though, and a large portion at that. I love how every single order of pasta we got, the noodles were al dente. I love al dente pasta.

Rome Via dei Condotti

So for our last night, we thought we’d finish it off with the same walk that started it off. The Rome night walk. Again, we made our way from the Spanish Steps all the way to the Pantheon and then Piazza Navona. We even took a stroll along the Via dei Condotti, the expensive shopping street in Rome that leads up to the Spanish Steps. Tomorrow, we head for Barcelona.

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