Monday, October 31, 2011

La Boqueria

One afternoon, we took some time wandering around the Mercat de Sant Josep, which is right off of La Rambla.  The place was mobbed, both with tourists and locals alike. 

This market originally opened in 1827.  It was closed in 1835 and then rebuilt in 1840.  Some of the stalls and vendors are 3rd and 4th generation.  

 Since it's so centrally located to one of the main tourist areas, it's probably the busiest and most well known market in town.

The seafood was fresh out of the sea, some of it was still moving sitting on the ice!

Along with food stands selling everything from vegetables and fruit to rabbit and seafood, there are also several bars scattered throughout the market.  Some were serving meals, and others were simply a gathering spot for friends.

We had these peppers at dinner on Sunday night and they were absolutely delicious!

Despite the huge crowds, we had a great time exploring La Boqueria.  The European markets are so special, and really great places to visit when you're traveling!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Gaudi tour of Barcelona

Antoni Gaudí, an architect from Catalonia, Spain, designed and built several very distinguishable buildings throughout Barcelona.  He was famous for his highly individualistic and unique style.  When you ask people what you should see in Barcelona, the Gaudi houses and church are the places they most recommend.

Monday morning, bright and early, we went to La Sagrada Familia.  Construction on the church began in 1882, and they are still working on it today, following Gaudi's original plans.

We printed out our tickets on the computer before we came, which was a lifesaver - we were able to walk up and go right in.  The tickets we had came with the audio guide, which we all thoroughly enjoyed.  The church is massive and gorgeous, but with the audio guide, you get so much more information about the design and thought behind each thing.  Every facet of the church had some significance - all the way down to the pattern of colored glass in the windows.

The symbolism in the church, relating everything back to Catholicism, is just amazing.  There are 18 bell towers, which symbolise Jesus, the Virgin, the four evangelists and the twelve apostles. The church has 2 completed facades.  Facing west is the Passion facade, dedicated to the passion, death and Resurrection of Christ.  The east facing side, or the Nativity facade, is dedicated to the birth of Christ.

The interior of the church is completely different than what you'd expect after seeing the exterior.  It really almost takes your breath away it's so gorgeous.

This is the other side, the Passion facade.  These pictures just don't even do it justice.

We paid the extra Euros to go up in the tower.  It wasn't too much to see but was still really cool - it's an active construction site.

We had an elevator ride up (on the Nativity side) and walked down (tons and tons of very tight spiral stairs without a railing!) and my parents went up on the Passion side with an elevator ride up and down.  Definitely good to know for next time!

This is a must stop for any Barcelona trip.  It was one of my favorite things of the week.  But go early, and print off your tickets!  When we left, it was really getting crowded inside and the line was literally wrapped around the block, and it's a big block! 

After a fantastic lunch (more on that in another post), we made our way to our next Gaudi stop of the day - the Casa Batlló.  This house has so many different parts to it from the bone shaped columns, the mosaic facade, huge windows, roof, and water colored atrium inside, I could go on all day about it. 

While the entrance fee is a little steep at 16 euros, this is a very cool house.  It's a very extensive tour of several floors, the back garden, and the roof.  Again, the audio guide is well done, and very helpful when looking at the different rooms through the house.

Also on Monday, M and I took a bus up to Park Güell, another Gaudi project.  The park was originally planned for a housing community, but at the time was too far out of the city and sales were not successful.  Eventually the land was turned into a park.  Gaudi didn't believe in leveling out land, so there are lots of hills and stairs, and the entrance almost feels like you're walking into a fairy tale.

We took a bus up to the top and walked down - it's not a long way to walk, but is straight up hill...and after a long day, it was nice to take the bus.  Then we walked all around the park and back out the main entrance.  There are cabs waiting to take people back to the main part of town, but we just walked (downhill this time) back to the metro station.

The park was quite busy, full of locals and tourists plus college kids and street vendors along with lots of runners.  The views of the city are beautiful, I definitely recommend making a stop at the park and taking in the scenery.

Having had enough Gaudi to last us a couple of days, we waited until Wednesday to visit his other house, Casa Mila.  After waiting in line and paying our 17 euros for entrance and the audio guide, we headed inside.  Casa Mila, an apartment building, was originally built for the wealthiest family in Barcelona, and takes up a full city block.

These are made of broken Cava bottles!
It was very crowded when we visited, and very hot up on the roof, which is the main thing to see.  It's really gorgeous up there and was the best part of the house.  The huge statue looking pieces on the roof were designed as ventilation towers, not just as decoration.

While the roof is great, the rest of the house was disappointing, especially for the entrance fee.  There is 1 apartment furnished, but not with furniture he would have had, but set up as a typical 1920s apartment.  The audio guide had some interesting things about the roof, but then walks you through a mini-museum of different models in the attic.  Compared to La Sagrada Familia and Casa Batlló, there's not much to see.

Before our trip, I didn't know much about Gaudi, and I imagine that's how most people are.  His creativity, or insanity however you look at it, is remarkable.  The amount of work and detail that went into every little piece of anything that he had his hands in is just incredible.  The painstaking details of the mosaics on the house facades, throughout the park, and on the towers of the church is unmatched. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Our first day in Spain

I've been going back and forth about how to recap the 2 weeks we spent in Barcelona and Provence...I don't want to do a day by day, step by step overview (for your sake and mine!), so I'm going to organize it a little differently.  But, with that said, I'm going to share all of our first day there, because it was really one of the best. 

IAD - JFK - Madrid - Barcelona - train - metro - walk. 

It was quite an ordeal to get to our lovely apartment, but we made it, backpacks and all!  I was most excited about this day for several reasons - one, we had finally made it to Spain after years of talking about it and 2 - my wonderful friend Emily and her husband were meeting us there from England!  Timing was perfect - as we arrived at the apartment, they came walking up from the other direction!

Once we dropped the luggage off and freshened up a bit, tour guide M took us off to get some delicious tapas for lunch at Pura Brasa

While Emily ate her hamburger, the rest of us had calamari, scrambled eggs, blood sausage, grilled fish and more.  A few pitchers of sangria and tons of food later, we wandered off to explore.

We happened upon this great market, right around the corner from where we were having lunch!

Olives, onions, and other antipaste type items in these enormous barrels.

Tons of different types of tea

A wood burning fire pit, just set up in the street!

Amazing paellas in enormous pans

After the market, we wandering around this square a bit, stopped for a quick espresso recharge, and then headed towards the beautiful museum.

The Museo Nacional d'Art de Catalunya is beautiful and very grand.  It's housed in the former "Palau Nacional" at the foot of Montjuïc.  We didn't care to go in, but did walk up to the doors for the view back down the hill. 

After wandering around the grounds, we headed back to freshen up before dinner - after the long redeye flight and hot day, we were grateful for that!

Dinner at Vinateria del Call was fantastic.  Probably my favorite overall meal in Spain.  It wasn't the fanciest or the most expensive, but it was just the best of everything.  The restaurant was tiny...and slightly complicated to find in the old Jewish Quarter of Barcelona.  Walking through the old, tight, stone streets felt like we were on a movie set, it just didn't feel like it could be real!

The wine was delicious and very inexpensive.  We asked for suggestions on local Catalan wines, and had a great white and red. 

The food was tapas style, and we ordered at least half of the menu by the end of the night!  The gentleman who waited on us was great fun.  We started with meats and cheeses, which were amazing.  Then we had at least 2 rounds of dishes come out, maybe 3 - fried peppers, chorizo, croquettes, fish, tomato bread...and so much more.  We ordered desert, then had a glass of port, and then he brought us a special sip of a cordial, Ratifia Russet.  Mom got the name of it and a store to find it and bought a bottle to take home! 

The food and wine were wonderful, atmosphere cozy and inviting, and company perfect!

We said goodnight to the parents and powered on, determined to get some Barcelona night life in with our friends.  After a bit of a walk and (ridiculous) search for absinthe, we gave up and settled on an Irish pub with plenty of beer!  Emily and I chatted while the boys played darts, and enjoyed our time together!

After grand hugs and goodbyes, we got into separate cabs, heading home.  They were leaving the next day to head back to England, and we had some sightseeing to do!