Barcelona, 89+ degrees at night. Not much can take the edge off of that sort of humidity and heat. But after wandering around for hours looking for a specific ice cream place Berkley found in the Barcelona city guide, we stopped into a random gelateria that looked like it was homemade. The ice cream was decent, but the fact that it was ice cold was AMAZING. We are getting better and better at finding inventive and novel was of cooling off, ducking into a cellphone store (they seem to have to coldest stores), eating ice cream, and asking for cups of ice at a restaurant just to name a few.
For our last day in Barcelona, we decided we were going to eat cheaper. Barcelona is pretty expensive for food. So, what did we eat? La comida turca! We had Kebap (Kebab). We didn't have any recommendations, so we just headed in the direction we intended on going anyways, and stopped at the first kebap place we found. It was alright. It had some weird toppings. For example, I've never seen corn, bell peppers, or olives stuffed into a kebap sandwich. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't what I remembered. And it wasn't, great.
We then headed off to the port in search of the aquarium. Seth really likes aquariums, and had read that the one in Barcelona is one of the biggest in Europe. It turns out that Europe doesn't have very big, or exciting aquariums. So, that was a bit of an anticlimactic, turn. It looked like it was going to be big, because the building was really big, but it turns out that the size was for the IMAX they had inside. Oh well.
We, then, set off walking in search of the beach. I don't think I'd ever been to the beach in Barcelona. It was pretty, but overrun with people. We walked along the beach for a bit, before heading to a park. The park was pretty neat. There was this really big fountain, with cool statues. It was nice to have some space that wasn't packed with people.
We thought of going to the Picasso museum, but when we got there the line was enormous. I hope we're not missing out on a lot of things because of the huge lines. But, I can't justify waiting in line, in intense heat, when there are so many beautiful architectural gems surrounding me. Picasso is going to have to wait for another day.
By this time, our legs were in a world of hurt. We'd been walking so much for the past week, that our legs felt as if they were going to crap out. Wonderful terminology, but that's how it was. We remembered seeing a cheap massage place directly around the corner from our hotel, so we walked right in! They led us back a long hallway with doors on either side. We were placed in this little curtained room where we could see down the hallway. Luckily Seth and I were together, because immediately after we sat down we both started to notice something was a little off. Just as we sat, we noticed a young guy being led down the hallway by one of the women, and as he's walking down the hall he begins to unzip his pants. The Lady stops him and ushers him into a room. A few minutes later an older gentleman is led from a room, in only a towel, past us to take a shower, then is led back to the room. This happens multiple times. We were in a happy endings massage parlor. Oh man, I never expected to find myself in one of those. And, I didn't even catch on. Seth had to put two and two together for me. Anyways, we were there for their legitimate business, so we soaked our feet and received massages. Both of our 'masseurs' had a quirk. I had the girl with nine and a half fingers who kept answering her cell phone, and at one point left for a few minutes to run outside, while Seth had the woman who sat open legged wearing short shorts and no underwear. As we sat, we watched middle aged and older men file in to this massage parlor. Wow.
We were a little hungry so we went to kebap place number two. This one was much better. We both ordered doner plates with fries, some kind of slaw, and a 'salad' consisting of shredded lettuce some olives and a slice of tomato. They gave us a 'spicy' (for Spain) sauce, and a white sauce that was reminiscent of ranch dressing. Delish! And our meals for the day cost at least half the price, probably more than half, than the rest.
The next morning we left for the airport to meet Sloane. Our cabbie got us there in record time, not without putting our lives in peril every other block and a half. We found Sloane wandering around a duty free shop with ear buds plugged into her head. YAY!! It was so nice to see her after a whole year! Commence catching up process!
The Ryan Air flight was hilarious. The entire time we sat in the airplane they were trying to sell us something. They didn't stop at food, they got creative. Perfumes, jewelry, lottery tickets! It was one after the next of, "please buy our crap!" Maybe that's why you have to pay for luggage and are only allowed one small carry on (a small purse is included in that one item), the plane is so heavy from all the crap they are trying to sell you! Either way, the flight was easy and we had more leg room than some of our other flights so far.
We made it to Venice without event. We ended up being the only people on the bus heading into Maestre. This is probably because most people like to stay in the Venice city center, and not the mainland, when they visit Venice. There are no gondolas in Maestre. But, then again, there are no canals there either, so why would there be gondolas? Ok, I messed up. In all the confusion of finding a place that worked for the three of us, I booked us a hostel in the wrong area. But the room was sufficient and we got our own bathroom. Speaking of the bathroom, it appeared as if the entire room was the shower, toilet and all. Eventually, we let Sloane be the pioneer of that adventure. Anyhow, we checked in, alerted the proprietor that we would only be spending one night at her establishment, and found the bus into 'the real Venice'.
Holy tourist trap Batman, I think we're in expensiveville! And I didn't know it was so hot in expensiveville. There was a point where we were in the shade, standing still, and I could feel the sweat dripping down my back. Let me put it out there, that I'm not a sweaty person. I don't drip sweat (my trainer can vouch for me on that one). But, It was pouring from my body. I have never sweat so much, without doing any physical exertion. I was quite impressed. So, we headed off, down some random street, alley, I don't know what they call them, sidewalk? After much shopping around for the best price for a pizza, we sat down and sucked it up when we could walk no longer. Two coffees and some crackers didn't last long. The pizza was ok, but the beer was wonderful. And it made for a tipsy Berkley. Think about it, coffee for breakfast, tons of walking in intense heat, and sweating buckets, of course I was effected by a beer. Fun times. But I sweat that out quickly and was no longer tipsy.
We wandered around the city, feeling like rats in a maze, simply following obscure signs to reach an old building, bridge, or cathedral. Turn after turn of designer stores and stores filled with Venice chachkies and memorabilia, packed with hoards of slippery, slimy, smelly tourists. Our next decision was an easy one, we had to get out of cities.
After seeing integral points of interest, like the Rialto Bridge and San Marco Plaza, we ended up ducking into a little bar that had wifi to check out some details for the upcoming days. The guys who worked at the restaurant were friendly and spoke English. We took advantage of that. Don't worry, they took advantage of us, too! Eighteen euros for three beers! Wow. In Madrid, and apparently Huesca, you get a beer for one euro and they bring you something to eat as well. Man, oh man.
Since we had decided that we wouldn't be in Venice long, we decided we needed to have one italian meal. We wandered around looking for a place that looked good, but wouldn't kill our wallets completely. We ended up accidentially finding one of the places I had written down from some guide book. We tried one of the local traditional dishes called sarde di saor, marinated sardines, fried, with some sort of citric sauce on top. It was pretty good. Sloane and I both ordered a pasta, and Seth ordered the cuttlefish in ink. The unanimous decision was that Sloane's pasta carbonara was the winner.
After a very long and winding walk to the bus station we decided to get lost. Well, not really, but we did get a little turned around. When we couldn't wander any longer, we stopped to ask some outdoor dining patrons if they knew where we were supposed to be going. They were more than happy to help us, which would have been great if we spoke Italian. Though Sloane and I can mostly understand the language, when they use so many words and utilize so many hand gestures, it becomes confusing and its easy to get distracted. I got some directions and was ready to head off, when I walked up to Sloane, deep in directional conversation with another man. He finished talking and drawing little maps on his hand, and we paused before smiling, thanking the man, and beginning to walk away. Then we realize this man is following us. He's walking us to our hostel! He insisted, so we walked with a wonderfully helpful man to our hostel with fairly little words, because we couldn't say anything. But, we thanked him profusely when we turned the corner onto our street. So nice!
This morning we woke up early to head to the market before the city awoke. Well, there were definitely people milling about on our way to the market, but I have a feeling they never went to sleep. If you're wearing a tiny dress, splashing water at a boy at 7am, you probably never went to sleep. Either way, we made it to La Boqueria in time to watch the vendors set up. Seth took a ton of photos, after I asked and schmoozed the vendors of course, before we could have a bite. The endless stalls of produce, meats, cheeses, and other delectable food items were amazing, and extremely fresh, but after walking around the market for an hour and a half I needed food before I began to get cranky.
We had breakfast at Bar Pinoxio. It was amazing. Buitifarra, the local sausage, and pan con tomate first, then delicious cuttlefish with white beans. That was amazing. The cuttlefish was full bodied, sweet and savory at the same time. I could eat that every morning for breakfast. And let's not forget the cafe con leche and glass of cava. Delish!
We, then, headed up one of the main streets to see some of Gaudi's architecture. His work is the main reason I love Barcelona. I mean the food is great, but with how expensive it is, I would go somewhere else. Gaudi is amazing. After seeing La Pedrera and other beautiful buildings, we went to the piece du resistance, La Sagrada Familia. Now, you all know that Seth is my 'favorite sight'. But, if we're talking about seeing 'the sights' La Sagrada Familia is my absolute, hands down favorite. I think the fact that it is part of the past, present, and future all at once is some of what draws me to it. I love that I've been to visit it multiple times, and each time something is different, just as it has been for the past 80 or something years, and just as it will be for the next 30. It's absolutely amazing. Though I really want to go inside, the line was, also, amazing, and we weren't up for it. Perhaps if we wake up early enough we can head over when it opens.
We, slowly, made our way back to our room, stopping for some ice cream on the way. It's pretty hot, and we're doing a lot of walking, so the ice cream hit the spot. It was late enough in the day that we spent the rest of the day lounging around on the patio of our B&B drinking the bottle of Catalan wine and munching on mercado treats.
As a treat for our last morning in Madrid, we decided to visit Chocolateria San Gines for churros con chocolate. The churros are crisp and the chocolate is thick. I used to go here with friends after a long night of dancing and drinking, and it really hits the spot. This morning, the place was more empty than I've ever seen it. Normally you have to wait for a table, because it's so packed. So, churros, chocolate, and coffee. It was a nice start to the morning. I liked dunking the churro in the coffee, then the chocolate. Yum! We, then, went around the corner to La Mallorquina to pick up some empanadas for the train ride. I wanted to get the empanadas de atun (tuna), but they were not available, so we got something similar filled with bonito and paprika.
We then walked through the city one last time on our way to Estacion de Atocha to catch our train. Though our seats didn't have a window (bummer) we stole glances through everyone else's and it was a pretty ride. We were able to see a bit of the Spanish landscape, and catch up on some photo business to pass the time.
We found our lodging pretty quickly, after getting to Barcelona, and hung out for a bit to catch up on some much missed time in air conditioning. We, then, headed out to find some dinner. The place we are staying (BCN Fashion House) has some guide books so I found us a few options nearby. We accidentally had our allotted 'nice meal' for the week, but it was worth it. Iberico tenderloin (Iberican ham tenderloin), croquetas de pulpo (octopus croquets), pan con tomato (toasted bread rubbed with tomato and garlic), and Catalunian wine. It was all very tasty.
After dinner, we roamed the streets admiring the buildings and the very interesting groups of people. It seems like there are many more tourists from outside of Spain here, in Barcelona, than were in Madrid. Who knows? Also, we were wondering about the size difference between the two cities and we assumed that Barcelona had more inhabitants. Though it seems more crowded, the guidebook says that Madrid has more people. Hmm...
We had a horrible night's sleep. It was so, so hot in our room, and we're having pillow problems. It turns out that I bought the winner travel pillow at the airport, thank you Brookstone, and between the heat, the caca pillows, and the jet lag, we barely slept. But, somehow we fell asleep in the wee hours of the morning. When we woke up, it was about 11:30. We figured we could still make it to Segovia for the day, but wanted to run a load of laundry first. That was a mistake. We tried everything, but the washer kept going, and wouldn't let us extract our clothes. We ended up giving up on Segovia for the day, and spent the day relaxing around Madrid.
For lunch, we wanted atmosphere, so we went to the most touristy place in the city, Plaza Mayor. There's a Plaza Mayor in every town and city in Spain, as it just means biggest plaza, or main plaza. This being the most famous, it is packed with tourists, and rightly so. It is a beautiful place. But, where there are tourists, there are inflated prices. What would have been a meal of about 5 euro anywhere else, was about 30 there. Serves us right. We'll never eat at a tourist attraction again! But, like I said, nice for ambience and people watching.
Then, we went on a mission to find delicious olives. We ended up walking towards where I used to live, Anton Martin, to visit the market where they have a wide variety of freshly brined olives. As with anything in a foreign country, at any moment a storefront is likely to be closed. So, we ended up finding some canned olives in a little store instead. But the walk was not for nothing, we bought some of my favorite candies in one of the stores I used to frequent. Gumi huevos (gummy eggs)!
That night we went to find more places to tapear (eat tapas). Seth needed to try patatas braves, and pulpo a la galiciana and he needed to ingest more JAMON!! The first stop was to my old stomping ground, La Zapateria. This was the first place I went to eat the first time I visited Madrid, and was my favorite place when I lived here. I learned that one of the reasons I probably liked it was because of their wide variety of vegetarian options. But those vegetarian days are over, and the chorizo was good!
We went to a few places after that, but finally ended up at Las Bravas. A sort of chain, but they have amazing brava salsa. It's a red tomato based sauce with heavy amounts of paprika and a touch of spice. It's really tasty and it's drizzled over thick chunks of fried potato. Delicious! We also ordered the octopus (pulpo). This is one of my favorite treats. They serve it in olive oil, sprinkled with paprika and coarse salt. It was so tender and full of flavor.
We woke up the next morning, with the help of an alarm, and went to Segovia. Though we had a bit of an adventure following Alberto's handmade map to the train station, we made it just in time for a bus. The ride was short and easy. We walked through the town to get to their beautiful, old, roman aqueduct. It's one of my favorite sights in Spain. Our plan was to see the castle and eat cochinillo, roast suckling pig. We did half of that. Though we have been excited to try the local dish of cochinillo, something about the bus ride over made us a bit car sick, and devouring a fatty baby piggy didn't seem like a good idea. But, we made it to the castle, and that was beautiful. It is said that Walt Disney modeled his castle to look like the one in Segovia. There are definitely similarities.
After wandering around Segovia for a while we made our way back to the bus station, where we caught a ride back to Madrid. I believe we both nodded off for some time during that trip. After dropping off our things at Alberto's place, we headed to the nearby store to pick up the ingredients for tortilla, a spanish omelet of eggs and potato. It was a really cool market where three different vendors sold different products, a nice collaboration. And, the best part was, it was super cheap. The cost of food in Spain is amazing compared to the US, especially Los Angeles. For about 7 pounds of potatoes, 2 onions, a pack of chorizo, and 12 eggs it was about 6 euros, which is about 10 dollars. If only...
We then had to do a bunch of horrible planning/arranging of trips. The internet was down at Alberto's house, so we had no way of contacting anyone, including ticketing agencies and train stations. And, we had to swap our train ticket to Pamplona for one to Barcelona. After waiting till the last minute, we couldn't wait for Sloane's friends to pull through in order for us to go to Pamplona. It was either sleep on the streets (with all our stuff) or cancel Pamplona. So, we went to the train station to buy tickets to Barcelona. That took a long time. We had to find internet to see if we could Skype with the ticketing agency, but the sounds in the train station were too loud. We ended up writing them a letter to cancel our tickets, and we're hoping that they go through. And we bought (after a million little problems like our tickets not coming out of the machine after payment) tickets to Barcelona.
Finally making it home, Alberto began to teach Seth how to make tortilla. That was fun to watch. Our plan is to find people to teach us a recipe (well, more like teach Seth a recipe) to bring home. This was our first. We, then, feasted on our two tortillas along with jamon, olives, and cheeses with Alberto's two roommates, Jorge and Ruben. It was a nice way to spend our last evening in Madrid, having dinner with our amazing hosts.
Mahou pronounced MAO like cow, a very easy drinking lager that cools you off in the 31 degrees celsius heat. For you American readers thats the low 90's, and keep in mind air conditioning is typically reserved for stores here in Madrid. To escape the heat we ducked into El Neru, near Plaza Mayor in Madrid. This is a tapas bar in the style of the region of Asturias in the north of Spain. We enjoyed more than a few glasses of Mahou and with every round they bring you pinchos (a small order of tapas on the house). We ate queso de cabrales, a stinky, salty, spreadable sheep's milk cheese, the most amazing chorizo that either of us have ever consumed (chorizo a la sidra), slightly salty and incredibly flavorful, and as a special treat our friend Alberto treated us to a bottle of sidra. This amazingly fun drink to pour is also refreshing. Although made from apples it's not overly sweet like most other ciders i've had.