Tag Archives: Spain

Missing Barcelona

I’m not saying that we missed Barcelona—we definitely “hit” it.   But we miss it now.   What a wonderful city!  From the great public transportation, to the food, to the lively night life, to the architecture and design—we loved every minute.  Even though this was not our first time in Barcelona, it was the longest time we’ve stayed in the city, and we started to feel like we really know the place now.  But, of course, there are so many Barcelona’s.

We stayed in a small apartment that we were able to rent through a company called “Easy Flat Barcelona.”  They have several apartments for rent on a short-term basis –and this one was ideal.   Clean, comfortable, modern (except for an elevator straight out of Moulin Rouge) and right on La Rambla, just steps away from the Plaça Cataluña, the biggest crossroads of the city.   The apartment is one bedroom with a sofa-bed in the living room, which came in handy as our son joined us for a few days during our stay—that made it extra-special. We got lucky once again, and the October weather was mild.    We all were surprised by how crowded with tourists the city was, even during this “shoulder season.”  I guess there is really no slow period in this high-energy city.  www.easyflatbcn.com

We concentrated on Gaudi architecture this trip—visiting the Palau Guell, Guell Park, Gaudi’s futuristic sub-division that was too far ahead of its time to be successful,  and of course the “block of discord.”  We also visited the Sagrada Familia cathedral—Gaudi’s unfinished work that may be completed in our lifetimes—but perhaps not.  Unique in all the world, it’s a place that must be seen to be believed. Last spring we had visited the Cathedral as well, and the photos of the cathedral posted here are from that trip, when the weather was colder but clearer. This news program gives a great overview: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50142539n.

A highlight for us was a visit to the Caixa Forum, a terrific museum in a former Modernista warehouse.  It  was recommended to us by the Massachusetts neighbors we happened to bump into  in Palermo—great tip!   We would not have known that the Caixa was having a special exhibition of Pissarro’s works unless they’d told us.   It absolutely blew us away—67 beautiful Pissarro’s on exhibit, and the best examples of the artist’s work I’ve ever seen—just incredible.   If you are fond of impressionist, this exhibition alone would be worth a trip to Barcelona.aOne new experience was to visit Barcelonetta, the beach area that has enjoyed quite a renaissance in recent years.  Although no longer really beach weather, the promenade was still busy with people walking and cycling along the waterfront on a beautiful fall day.  We found a really great no-frills  restaurant there Bar Villoro—we chose it because it was the only one where lots of locals were dining—large groups of men eating and drinking and playing dominoes, business people having lavish lunches and wine, and we three American tourists.   I immediately started talking to the owner because his resemblance to my late Uncle Felipe was startling.   He assured me that all his family is in Barcelona, so he could not possibly be a long-lost relative.  But he took care of us as if he were.   We had some of the best rice dishes we’ve enjoyed in Spain.   A real feast as the photo will show.   Two bottles of wine and some after-dinner drinks too—it was a low-key day after that–we all needed a siesta!

Another memorable meal was at Les Quinze Nits on the Plaça Reial.   Every day when we were in the area, we saw the long lines to get in, but we managed to walk right in and get a prime table on November 1, since it was a holiday and the lunch crowd was late getting started.   Timing is everything!   We enjoyed a starter of mixed fried fish and seafood and two great entrees—one of hake and one of fresh tuna.   Now we know why people line up.  We had a great three-course lunch with wine in an ideal location for 45 Euros!   Quite a bargain, and the food lived up to the hype.

We did our share of tapas crawls in the evenings as well.  A couple of our favorites were Basque-themed.   Even in independent and proud Cataluña, the Basque style of cooking and eating has caught on.  You can imagine the craziness on the streets—especially on LaRambla, for Halloween.   Another  post will include a video of a bicycle “parade” –shaky as it is while being jostled  and almost knocked down in the festivities.

On the day we visited the Palau Guell, one of Gaudi’s first significant architectural achievements, we walked the couple of blocks from our place and walked through the incredible building—just the beginning of a career that would transform Barcelona.   The whimsical chimney decoration on the roof is that last part of the tour, and we were lucky enough to time it perfectly with a gorgeous sunset over the city—better to be lucky than clever.   We adore the photos from the rooftop.

The visit to Guell part was also great—although there was one unpleasant surprise.   It seems only a week before we arrived, the city started charging admission to enter this formerly-public park.   A huge mistake, I think.   We spoke to someone who told us that they receive 10 million visitorsto the park each year, and that the city was being greedy by closing most of the park to the public and charging admission, even to locals.   Even within the park itself, there are still rope lines and additional admission charges for certain buildings.   A real mess.  The lines were long, the staff disorganized and as confused as we were.   Hopefully, they will work these kinks out soon, or acquiesce to the local pressure to return the park to the public.

La Boqueria market adds yet another chapter of “food porn” to our collection.  What an amazing place to visit and to sample food from the many stands and booths serving everything you can imagine—hams, sausages, empanadas, seafood, sweets, the works.   A wonderland for foodies—and again, just steps from our door on La Rambla.

The best part for us, though, was being able to explore Barcelona with our son.  We’ve been traveling a long time, and were starting to miss the family.  Having one family member come to us was a wonderful treat!

From Barcelona, we picked up the Ryndam for our long slow trip back home.   Will 14 days on a ship be too much down time?    We’ll keep you posted.

Click on a thumbnail and use the arrow to scroll through the Barcelona pictures.

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Bilbao–Capital of Vizcaya

Before we get to Bilbao, I have to mention the gorgeous drive along the coast road from Donostia.  We stopped in a few places for photos, but really felt like there was a painting around every bend.  This is just one example of the views along that wonderful drive.

We had fun for a few days in  Bilbao.  The highlight, of course, was the incredible Guggenheim museum.  It’s amazing how the genius of Frank Gehry united the river and the city so perfectly.    We saw lots of tourists like us and even wedding parties taking their photos with the museum as background.

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As for the art—well—apologies to contemporary art fans—but a lot of it left me cold.  We enjoyed Richard Serra’s work The Matter of Time, part of the permanent collection, with the enormous scale working so beautifully with the building.   The “baroque” installation was an interesting juxtaposition of old and new, though maybe a bit contrived.  But the featured exhibition by the late Catalan artist Antoni Tàpies: From Object to Sculpture (1964–2009) seemed to me like an excuse for art historians to write thousands of words of nonsense.    I’m sure I’ll be accused of being anti-intellectual for that statement.   Oh well, for me, sometimes a pile of plates is just a pile of plates.  Sorry!pile of plates

Aside from that, you may have seen our facebook post on the Txikiteo in Bilbao.  We were delighted to see the lively crowd in the old town, where it was PACKED both night and day for a tapas crawl.   People of every age and demographic gathering in the bars, spilling out into the streets, singing, eating, talking.    At Kasko, where they had one of the best pintxos selections, including carpaccio of octopus with potatoes and foie gras with sour apple puree, and others, made it hard to leave, even though we tried to sample just two pintxos at each place.  IMG_0722

Then we got caught up—at least I did—with a group of men singing scores from American musical comedies.   When they realized I knew the words in English, I became very popular.   Nothing like singing, loudly and badly, with a group of cute drunken Bilbaoinos.

It was a great time in Bilbao, and it did my heart good to see that the city was clean and safe and being reinvented a little each day.   So different from the depressing city, under the fascist Franco, that I remembered from years ago.   Public transportation was excellent.  We took a bus from the airport to the city center for about 3 euros, and the tram circling the city is inexpensive, quiet, and clean.   Ray managed to pick up a pretty girl on the tram—typical of him!   Here is her photo, but I don’tDSC04529 think he got her number.

When we got off the tram at the stop nearest our hotel, we ended up in an enormous demonstration for amnesty of Basque political prisoners.   There were tens of thousands gathered, with helicopters above, bands, people chanting and handing out flyers.   Funny, though, the mood was more like that of a street festival than a political rally.  We enjoyed being there–and really got to see the passion of the Basque people demonstrated once again.

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We’ve been so busy this week in the Veneto, and I promise to post more soon.  We’ve been staying in B&B’s – a new category of lodging for Italy since 2000.   Each place is better than the last—and the costs have been super-low.  Who knew you could stay in Venice for about 70 Euros a night?   We expected very little and got a great room and private bath in a fantastic location    But we’ll do some more posts about the Veneto later this week.  Not that there’s much we can say about the beauty and magic of this region—but we’ll check in nevertheless.

Sipping in San Sebastian

We are now in Venice after 5 weeks in Spain. Additional wine posts will be much shorter since our wine drinking  in both San Sebastian and Bilbao often took place in Tapas (in Basque, Pintxos)  bars where we were drinking the house reds. About 1 to 2 Euros a “copa” (glass).  Some were better than others, but all surprisingly good. We drank mostly reds mixed in with an occasional Lambrusco and of course, Txakoli,??????????????????????????????? which is a Basque white wine poured from very high so it aerates as it hits the glass. It is slightly fizzy and very refreshing.

One bottle we ordered on our first night in San Sebastian(Donostia) was a2006 Vina Alberdi Crianza that was magnificient at 18 Euros in a restaurant near our apartment, Oliyos.IMG_0658

So far in Venice we have had some good house reds but the full bottles have been young and not particularly memorable. Also much more expensive than in Spain. We have found one wine shop that retail wines more reasonably but I don’t know any of the vineyards as I do in Spain. Will have to do much more research. Italy never used to list wines by grape varietal but they do now and it is kind of strange to see Italian Cabernets and Merlots. We had a Pinot Nero last night that was drinkable but overpriced for a 2011. I hope we will do better when we get to the country outside of Venice.

IBARRANGELU–Who says you can’t go home again?

Ibarrangelu, Bizkaia (Viscaya), Spain

I don’t expect anyone else to understand how moving it is to visit the place where your grandparents and great grandparents were born, to re-visit  old family and friends, and to feel that deep sense of personal history through the place and people.  A few of my American relatives have had the same experience, so they know. Ray seems to understand how I feel, amazingly.  I’m so fortunate to be able to share this with him!

PLEASE do click on the first image and toggle through – it is really special and worth the time.

Ibarrangelu, population 600, is one of the most beautiful places you will ever visit.   When I have been away a long time, I start to think that I’ve over-romanticized the memory, that the actual place will disappoint when next I see it.   However, it EXCEEDS my memory—its beauty is matched only by the warmth of the community.  We were both so moved to be able to be here again.

When we drove past Laida and Laga, the two enormous beaches for this tiny town (and yes, tourists, crowd them in July and August, crowd being a relative term to local Basques) I felt I’d forgotten how beautiful a beach could be. Rocky cliffs, green rolling hills, clear blue water, and soft pink sand, all here where mountains and sea meet.  Here are pictures of me overlooking the beaches of my youth.    In October, the weather has been warm and there were still surfers in the water, though the waves were only a meter or two.

In 1984, the entire Busturialdea-Urdaibai region, where this gorgeous area is located, was declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve.   So the beaches, hiking trails, coves, campgrounds, marshes and meadows, forests and rivers create a natural paradise.   If you are a birder or naturalist, you MUST spend some time here.   www.busturialdeaurdaibai.com

The family home is still there, although it was completely rebuilt about 20 years ago on the original foundation stones.   Here is a photo with family included – Tia Carmen, cousin Maria Dolores, her son Andoitz.   A couple of the “girls” I used to hang with in my teenage years stopped by to say hello as well.

Back to the personal—my cousin Joaquín has a restaurant at Laida beach, just next to the campgrounds.   After 33 years in business, he has built quite a following, and employs nine people, including his sister and nephews.   Of course, in true Basque tradition, we were invited to have a meal, and spent a few hours at table eating and drinking the wonderful locally produced food. Maria Dolores joined us, although her husband was working and couldn’t be with us—he’s in one of the photos at the house though.      They even can their own tuna for the salads!   Everything local, everything sustainable, everything house made.   The wine was produced nearby but not house made, and we made quite a dent in their cellar, as well as enjoying some traditional after-dinner beverages.   We told Joaquin he is a bad influence.    But boy, did we have fun!

One last thing—the Village Church was called “the Sistine Chapel of Basque Art” by the leader of the Sistine Chapel restoration team—see attached article.   I remember that when we attended Mass here, I marveled that such a magnificent 16th Century church was built in such a small village.   You may have seen other altars like San Andres’ but the polychrome oak ceiling is unique and marvelous, especially after restoration in the 1980’s.  Here is an article about it:

http://www.elcorreo.com/vizcaya/v/20130726/costa/capilla-sixtina-vasca-20130726.html

A great send-off!

We should have posted this one nearly a week ago–but we’ve been busy traveling!! Our last day in Estepona was a great beach party!  Cloudy weather made for gorgeous skies and allowed us to leave the sun for awhile and hang out at Chiringuito Lolailo where we enjoyed their Sunday barbecue.  Check out the video in our previous post–what a great time!

The friendly owner and staff make you want to stay and stay.  And we did!

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Others who made our time here great are server Neichy (from Cuba) and master of the barbecue, Zaggy (from Pakistan).  Check out Neicy’s moves in the video below!

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The beach cooperated by offering a cloudy day and beautiful skies.   A fitting farewell beach party for our time on the Costa del Sol!

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Ten Things We Love About Estepona

Estepona, on the Costa del Sol, was our home and launching pad for the month of September.    Our apartment is a very short walk to two beaches, has harbor and sea views, and everything we could possibly need, including a fully-stocked kitchen and great modern bath.  And the real kicker is an indoor garage—quite a luxury for this part of the world and a great convenience for all of our side trips.  This marvelous location made it easy to visit Marbella, Torreguardia, Benalmadena, Malaga, Córdoba, Sevilla, Jeréz, Ronda, Nerja, and Antequerra, with plenty of beach and relaxation time in between.    We will definitely be back—maybe to stay someday!

Ten things we love about Estepona:

IMG_0451   IMG_0430IMG_0435 Fresh Fish-grilled over an open fire     IMG_0404  IMG_0431

1 -The chiringuitos (beach bar/café’s)  – Great inexpensive food, casual  toes-in-the sand atmosphere, and  fun!  Most have grills that they’ve made from old fishing boats, where they grill freshly-caught fish over an open fire.   Yum.

2 – The Paseo – Every evening, people of all ages and nationalities take their evening constitutional.   I especially enjoy the older ladies, often in groups, hair done, earrings on, dressed up and strolling along the beach promenade, which stays fully-lighted until the wee hours.

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3 – Playa del Christo – steps from our place, with clear, still water and views of Gibraltar.   Swimming here (Ray) or walking the beach (Anita) for the morning cardio workout sure beats the treadmill.

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4 – Three sizes of beer – Caña, Jarra, or Pinta.   Ray used to call me the “queen of the half beer” because I rarely finished a whole one.  Until now.  He gets a pinta, I get a caña, everyone’s happy.

5 –The hours –  Most places serve breakfast and say “Buenos dias” until 2 p.m.   Afternoon really isn’t until after siesta.  And the sun doesn’t set until 9-ish.

6 –The Wednesday farmer’s market –  Fantástico!???????????????????????????????

7 – Roundabouts – People complain about all the roundabouts—but when you don’t really know where you’re driving, it’s great to have a second chance at the right turn.  Or when you’ve gone the wrong way, it’s so much easier to go back a step.   Plus, they cut down on four-way stops and traffic lights.roundabout

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8 – The old town.    Pretty, lively– a real Spanish town, not touristy.  Full of murals, sculptures, and fountains.  Lots of nice bars and cafés with TV’s outside facing the patios and sidewalks for watching fútbol matches. Great for a tapas crawl.

9 – Menu del dia      Most places have a fixed price menu from between 8 and 12 Euros.    Three courses, sometimes including a drink and/or coffee.   It’s cheaper than cooking! (although not as much fun)

10 –de la Mar   Café, bar and restaurant, just around the bend from our apartment in the Puerto Deportivo.  Every morning we’ve been taking advantage of their free Wi-Fi, drinking their delicious coffee, occasionally enjoying a nice hardy English style breakfast, and visiting with the friendly people there—both staff and regular guests.  Owner Mar remembered our names and our orders after just one day-and she does that for everyone, in several languages.  Kat is our regular server most days—she is sweet and funny and we’re going to miss seeing her smiling face every day!   PS: they also do drinks, tapas, dinner, etc.  A great home base for many of us.