Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spring Break Part III: Barcelona!

On day 7 (Saturday) we had a flight from the tiny little Grenada airport to Barcelona. The flight was only about an hour, but there really doesn't seem to be any other way to go between the two cities.

This time, we didn't stay at a hotel, but in a private apartment. I really liked the freedom of this. Obvious draw backs are that you only get one set of towels for your stay, so no fresh towles every day. But it had a cute little balcony and two twin beds and a futon, so it fit all of us comfortably. The freedom was really great as well. We had a full kitchen! And next door was a cheap little grocery store, so we kind of went to town on the food. Kristen's a great cook as well, and I enjoy cooking with her, so we did a TON of cooking, as you'll see.

Mom had bought a beautiful tapas recipe book in Grenada, and the first thing we did in Barcelona was take advantage of it. The first things we made in Barcelona (because there is a lot more cooking to be done) were: york ham and Manchego cheese (cheese from the La Mancha region) tortilla; stuffed red peppers with crab meat and cream cheese; a dish of garbanzo beans, chorizo, onion, and bell pepper (which I loved to call a salad, and Kristen continually pointed out that it is not, in fact, a salad); and sauteed zucchini.

To curb our wino appetite, we drank cava on the side. Cava is a sparkling wine from the Catalonia region, which is the region where Barcelona is found. Even the most expensive cava is cheaper than the cheapest champagne it seemed. And it was delicious! I'm starting to question why I chose to study French and not Spanish...

It was already night time, so we figured we would go out for a bit to see the town. We walked down a large boulevard just at the corner of our street, called Las Ramblas. In the distance ahead of us, hovering in the sky above the city, we could always see this lighted church that looked kind of like a castle; I couldn't take my eyes off it. We stopped in a cool lounge for another glass of cava, though after getting our order, we watched the bar tender making another drink that was sangria made with cava and fresh fruits. Definitely should have gotten that!

The next day (day 8 of our trip), we slept “in” (9am). For breakfast we had strawberries, left over tortilla, oranges, and coffee. Since it was the first Sunday of the month, many museums were free. We went to the beautiful Catalan museum (Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya) which was located in the National Palace, which was built for the 1929 World's Fair. The museum covered art throughout history from the Catalunyan region. In it there was a gorgeous exhibit on Romanesque church frescos. These frescos had been isolated in the Pyrenees which caused them to be cut off from the Spanish style and take more from the south and central French style and they were similar to a style used in manuscripts. All of the art was found in old churches and what makes the exhibit unique is how they try to recreate the outline of the churches so that when you look at the frescos you can try and envision how they were meant to look.

There was also a great Gothic and Renaissance art collection. There were beautiful altar pieces and artwork from these time periods. We were all astounded by the attention to detail in the pieces. There were some paintings where the fabric on the clothing looked so real, you could almost touch it.

The view from the museum was also great. It’s up on a hill overlooking the city. It’s also located near the metro stop Espayna where there is the city’s bull ring.

We then hopped back on the metro and headed to the gothic quarter. There was a cool little market selling organic and locally produced products. Some of the things they sold were marmalades, jams, artisanal chocolates, organic cava, bees wax, and honey. The market was located in a pretty little square under the Basilica del Pi.

Then, we went for Basque tapas at a place called Irati that was delicious! I ate crab and mayo on bread with shredded hardboiled egg whites, red sweet bell pepper stuffed with cod and breaded and fried and served on toast, and shrimp wrapped in melted cheese and ham and breaded and deep fried and served on toast. For drinks we had Txocoli, a sparkling wine from the Basque region.

Afterwards, we headed back to the apartment to rest up. Kristen and I used left over crab and creamcheese with mixed pepper mixed in from the night before and, inspired by the tapa I had, we boiled eggs and sliced and chopped them and pan fried some bread and served the crab on the bread with the egg on top. So delicious and very, very easy!

We tried to go to the Picasson Museum but since it was free the line was massive so we couldn’t go in. So instead we headed to the marina around sunset. There was another street market where we got to try really yummy handmade candies (kind of like the Haribo candies, but much, much nicer). It was jelly-like on the inside.

We then walked down to the beach. I put my toes in the Mediterranean Sea for the second time!

We then walked to the gothic quarter. There is a cool little bridge in this quarter on the Carrer del Bisbe Irurita. The buildings also have gargoyles coming off of them and the streets are winding, so you really do get the feeling the area came from medieval times, which is when many of the buildings were built.

Randomly, we stumbled on two male opera singers who were just unbelievable. There was a whole crowd around them, filling the tiny narrow streets surrounding the small square they were singing in. With the stone buildings and gargoyles hanging above them, it was quite an unbelievable sight.

We then continued to wander through the gothic quarter and headed back towards the apartment. On the walk back, we passed the Basilica del Pi, where we had seen the food market earlier. There was a line outside the church, so we asked a young Spanish guy at the front what was going on. Apparently there was going to be a concert in twenty minutes. The musician Xavier Coll was to be performing on several different classical Spanish guitars. I convinced everyone to go, even though there seemed to be some uncertainty. Well, it was absolutely amazing!!! It was in a small gothic chapel in the church, so it was a very intimate setting and also very cool, with stone walls and high vaulted arches. Coll is apparently a very famous classical guitarist. He played on four different guitars from four different time periods: Vihuela (Renaissance), Guitarra barroca (Baroque), Guitarra romantica, and Guitarra modernia. The whole thing was so wonderful and spur of the moment. We were all so glad we decided to do it! How lucky!

The ninth day of our trip, Monday, was a more relaxed day. Just to make you jealous, I’ll tell you what we had for breakfast: fruit, scrambled eggs with brie and ham, and toasted baguette with salmon and cream cheese. We then headed to the Sagrada Familia (“Sacred/Holy Family”). This basilica is the master work of Antoni Gaudi, the great artist and architect of Barcelona. You can see many apartments and parks done by Gaudi, but the Sagrada Familia is his most ambitious work.

Gaudi began working on the Sagrada Familia in 1883. Gaudi died in 1926 and less than a quarter of the basilica was actually completed. After his death, there was some dispute about whether or not to complete the basilica at all or to leave it as is. Finally, after the Spanish Civil War, building began to recommence. The pretty expensive fees you pay to enter are “donations” to the construction and completion of the cathedral. The cathedral is built through private donations only and it is believed to be completed in 2026, the centennial of Gaudi’s death. We took a tour that was very interesting, and the guide explained to us that while it may seem that the progress has thus far been very slow and therefore it is not possible to complete the basilica by 2026, in fact thanks to findings of Gaudi’s drawings and new technologies, they are able to build at a much faster rate than Gaudi was able to build it.

Gaudi had a very unique and interesting style of art. The Sagrada Familia was both gothic and Art Nouveau. The outside of the building is quite cool. The oldest part of the basilica is my favorite- it looks as if the structure is made of wax and is melting in the sun. Inside, the massive columns spread out above you, like giant trees. In fact, Gaudi was greatly influence by nature and the columns are meant to look like trees and give the impression that one is inside a great forest.

There are many interesting and great details about the basilica, and if you do go, I greatly suggest getting an audio guide or taking the tour. There is a video in the crypt/basement of the church, where you will also find an exhibit on Gaudi’s method and the science behind his architecture. If you don’t have a tour, I would suggest going straight to the movie and watching it first. It gives a lot on the history of the basilica and Gaudi’s methods.

We also did the climb up to the top of the basilica. It is also extra, but well worth it. Up there, you have an amazing view of Barcelona and an up close look at the top of the basilica. You can also see just how high the builders go to continue the construction of this massive piece of architecture.

After, we headed to the apartment for lunch. We made some shrimp and had leftovers. I don’t think I’ve talked about shrimp yet. Apparently we Americans eat our shrimp very differently from the rest of the world. We like our shrimp without the shell, the head, the legs, and the intestines. If you’re having a meal that has a need for small shrimps (such as the Basque tapas I had had earlier in the week), they will already be all cleaned up. But, for the most part, when you buy shrimp, they have the whole thing, and if you get a seafood platter, it will also generally include the works. It’s quite messy business, and I have friends here who tell me “sucking out the brains from the head is the best part!” It makes eating shrimp quite a bit of work, but it’s still just as yummy! Besides shrimp, we also had the chickpeas and chorizo “salad,” stuffed red peppers (still more!), hand cut potato chips with an aioli sauce that Aunt Martha bought at the market. Oh, and we topped off 2 bottles of wine!

Feeling happy, we decided to walk towards the water by going down side streets instead of Las Ramblas. There was a cool market similar to the Mercado San Miguel in Madrid, except a little more “grungy” and less high class. There were some cool and yummy things there, like fruit drinks, gelato (I had a gelato with cookie and Kinder egg!), and cool candies. There was also a meat stand with very strange/different kinds of meat: bull balls, penis, and tongue!

We continued down the side streets, passing the statue of Columbus, heading towards the marina for sunset. We then headed back up to the apartment to have more wine and to pack. So sad to leave Mom and Aunt Martha! There is still one more part of my trip in Spain to come! Kristen and I spend two more days in Barcelona and then head off to Madrid, where I do a day trip to Segovia.

Photos of Part 3: