Barcelona: Our Version of “Savory Breakfast”

On day three in Barcelona, I stole a few hours again from Suanne.  I wanted to be there for the start of Stage 7 of the Tour de France (Barcelona to Andorra).  The race was supposed to start at 9AM and so we thought we be smart and stake our spot at 8AM.

We got ourselves a great spot.  It was the first turn after a 1km ride down the avenue.  I was pretty pleased with the spot except for one problem.

It was the procession and the floats that starts at 9AM.  We had to wait until 10AM before the race started.  It was a long wait … two hours!

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The race ended in no time.  All the riders rode past under 1 minute.  Gosh … we waited 2 hours for 1 minute of action.  Oh well … at least I was right there.

Suanne was very patient with me. She was quite hungry because we had not had our breakfast yet that morning.  I know because her stomach gives a mean growl when she is hungry.  LOL!

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So we just randomly go into one of the many restaurants along the Paral-lel Avenue.  We selected the one with English menu displayed at the entrance.

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We are getting into the habit of getting Cafe Con Leche.  So we had that again.

We learned that Spaniards have a very different meal times that the rest of the world.  For instance, they have TWO breakfasts.  The first one is a simple pastry and coffee and the second one is known as the “savory breakfast”.

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I don’t know what “savory breakfast” really mean.  I attempted to ask the waiter about this but he doesn’t speak much English.  So we just made up our own version of “savory breakfast” by selecting items we thought were “savory”.

I told the waiter that we wanted a Pork Loin with Cheese Sandwich.  Lost in translation … instead, we were given an egg sandwich instead.  We had no complain because to our surprise the sandwich has ripe tomato in it.  It was very much like the Pa Amb Tomaquet we had the previous day.   (more…)

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Barcelona: Le Tour de France

I could not believe my eyes when I saw the yellow banners in Barcelona.  I knew that the Tour de France is going on but I did not realize that they had chosen Barcelona for the stage outside France.  Not only that … TWO stages were held in Barcelona.

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It was Stage 6 (Gerona to Barcelona) and Stage 7 (Barcelona to Andorra) that involved Barcelona.

I love cycling.  I used to cycle 40+ km to work almost every day of the week.  I stopped doing that ever since I had a wipe out two winters ago and ever since then, my Giant TCR-2 road bike had been sitting on the bike stand at home.

When the Tour de France was going on in summer, I would go to work late because I wanted to watch each stage to the end.  That was when Lance Armstrong was reigning supreme.  Guess what … Armstrong is back on the Tour again this year and I am not going to miss this chance of a lifetime.

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Look at those toned muscles.  It was a good thing I decided at the last minute to bring along the 70-200L 2.8 lens with us on this trip.  Along with the 1.4x extender and with the crop body of the Canon 40D, I had quite the reach I needed.  The long lens was heavy to carry around on vacation but it sure paid off.

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Well, my lens was not nearly as long as the many professional photogs we saw.  This guy’s lens must be 300mm?  400mm?  Must have cost a fortune.  Suanne will never allow me to buy one of those.

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Our hotel conceirge was extremely helpful.  He spent 30 minutes helping me find a great spot to watch.  I was so impressed that even though he did know much details of the Tour in Barcelona, he did the research on the internet with me and plotted painstakingly the entire city route where the tour will pass.  So with the custom map he gave us, we went to the foot of the Columbus Monument.

We were there about 1 hour before the scheduled arrival of the leaders.  I like this spot because the cyclists will need to ride through a double curve around the monument and then ride on a straight wide avenue.  For one hour we did not budge from our spot because once we move, it gets filled and it will be impossible to get a railing side spot again.

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The wait was not too bad because there are lots of entertainment before the peloton passes by.

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The sponsors have floats and throws out freebies.  Suanne was pretty good catching them.  She got a nice keychain from the French Gendarmarie (military police) and a cap from Skoda which she proudly wore through the vacation.

Her trick?  All around her were guys and Spanish guys do not fight with girls.  Suanne literally grabbed the cap from a guy’s hands and he let her have it.  There are advantages being female in Spain.

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After an hour of entertainment, things gets more formal.  Security got tighter as they controlled the people from crossing the streets.

And then from the distance we could hear the roar getting closer.  There were a lot of cheering the past hour but this roar was decidedly different.

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To a lot of people’s surprise … (more…)

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Barcelona: Paella and Tapas for Dinner

One of the quest we had coming to Barcelona is to dine at El Bulli.  No, we were not one of the lucky 8000 diners selected this year (out of 2,000,000 reservation requests!) to have the privilege to dine at the world’s best restaurant.  I thought since I am here I give my best shot.  Who knows right?  I could get lucky that someone with reservation might all of the sudden cancel their reservation.

So, our quest starts on day two in Spain.  We made phone call and sent email begging them if there is anyway they could accomodate us.  After all, we came all the way from Canada … pretty far, please?  This to and fro with El Bulli went on for THREE days.  I am gonna tell you if we got a table … not now … in a few days.  I got to post this in sequence.  LOL!

For now, we’ll share about the traditional Spanish food we had.

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Dinner for the second day were simple affair.  We had been snacking way too much too.  We were not too hungry but we had already decided exactly what we wanted to eat.  We have a list of Spanish cuisine dishes that we have to check off — so that we know what else we are missing.

We quite randomly went into one that we thought is frequented by Spanish and not tourists.  Heavens, I don’t even know where this restaurant is.  There are so many in Barcelona that you will not go hungry.  Most of them are small outlets.

And most of them are filled with SMOKE too.  This one is, much to Suanne’s disappointment.  She does not have much choice.

Also many of the restaurants in Barcelona also has a jackpot machine or two at the entrance.  Gosh — gambling, smoking and drinking is something you don’t see a lot of in Vancouver.  Wait till these Spaniards come to Vancouver … they’ll suffer.

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Did you know that Sangria is Spanish?  I read somewhere that this red wine punch originates from this part of Spain and very popular during the hot summer months.  The restaurant did not serve their Sangria (€3.90) in a pitcher like how it should be traditionally.

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Suanne obliged my suggestion to pose with the Sangria.  You know, it is kind of obligatory to pose with the food we eat, like the way you pose at the sights you visited.  That is chowtimes for you.

That was solely for show only.  She took a sip and declared she did not like it.

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She had tea with lemon (€1.35) instead because she was beginning to develop a sore throat from all the travelling and lack of sleep.

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We ordered a small personal sized Paella.  This is called Paella Mixta.  As you know, I am a fast learner when it comes to languages.  Mixta means “mix” — and I remembered it the first time I heard of the word.  I think I have a natural knack for languages, particularly Spanish don’t you think?

This one is €11.40.  It was the FIRST time … (more…)

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Barcelona: The Picasso Museum, The Chocolate Museum and The Barcelona Cathedral

We spent the day criss-crossing the city of Barcelona.  It is the result of not having planned the day’s itenary.  So I randomly decided that our first place to go to for the day is to focus on the part of the city called the Old Town.

Our first stop is the Barcelona Cathedral.  After all, cathedrals are often the most imposing structure in European cities and towns.

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The Barcelona Cathedral was under restoration works.  The scaffolding obscured the exterior architecture of the building.  But it was still open to the public because the renovations is limited to the outside.

The Barcelona Cathedral is located in an area called the Old Town where the streets are narrow and a confusing maze.  It was hopeless using the map.  It took us a few wrong turns before we found our direction.

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The Barcelona Cathedral is a Gothic (French) style place of worship.  The Gothic architecture is characterized by it’s high vaulted pointed ceilings.  This allows cathedrals to be built without thick solid walls to support the massive structure.

This cathedral took 600 years to completely built.

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It must have been in existence for some time already but this is the first time I came across modern votive candles like these.  Instead of wax candles, this is entirely electrical.  Drop coins into the box and voila!

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The Barcelona Cathedral is also the church where the first Indians brought back from the Americas were baptized.  There is a sculpture of the event outside the walls of the Cathedral.

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We next headed to the Chocolate Museum.  Chocolates had been and is still today a popular drink in Spain.  Chocolates are native to South America.

We used the Barcelona Card which gives us a 30% discount on the entrance fee of €4.00.   (more…)

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Barcelona: Catalonian Breakfast at Bracafe

We woke up early on our second day in Barcelona.  We had a good sleep … did not realize how tired we were after all the travelling and going sightseeing while dealing with jet lag.  It was going to take some time to get over the jet lag.  Most people will take one day to get over each hour of time zone difference.  There are nine hours between Vancouver and Barcelona.

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We wanted to have breakfast at where the locals eat.  We walked the streets around the hotel looking for one and found one not far away.  It was a pleasant cafe.  When we were poking our heads into the cafe, the staff beckoned us to come in.

Language was lesser of a problem here as one of the staff speaks English.  He knows we are tourists and without having us even asking, he helped us with suggestions.

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Cafe Con Leche — strong and creamy.  We love it!  The Spanish people takes their coffee seriously.  In every restaurant we went to, even hole-in-the-walls, has an espresso machine.  As a matter of fact, during the entire vacation in Spain, we had not come across a drip coffe maker.  Vancouver’s coffee seems so pathetic compared to their Cafe Con Leche.  I would think the Spaniard laughs at coffee from Starbucks!

The waiter told us that Cafe Con Leche means coffee with milk.  The word “Con” means “with” in English and “Leche” is milk.

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The waiter recommended that we have a very Catalonian breakfast … the Pa Amb Tomaquet.  We just called it Tomato on Bread.  It is just a simple toast and yet so deliciously fresh.  It is easy to make too.  When we came back to Vancouver, Suanne had been making this for breakfast at home too.

It is just toast.  You just rub a ripe (it is important it is ripe) tomato on it and then drizzle it with olive oil.  You can add a little salt for added taste.  Simple.  You should try it at home.   (more…)

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Barcelona: Tapas in Bar Castell Near La Rambla

I read somewhere that one should avoid eating at the restaurants that front La Rambla.  They are tourist restaurants which often means that it is overpriced and lacking in quality.  A dead give away is the menu and signs in English.  So, we avoided those places like plague.

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Instead we were advised that we should duck into one of the many side streets along La Rambla.  Indeed … it was a whole new area to discover.

We were looking for a tapas bar for our dinner.

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We peeked into one that looked lesser like a tourist spot.  My criteria is … the customers must look like locals and that the staff can’t speak English.  This one met the criteria.  Bar Castells is the name of the bar.

They had a number of tapas on display at the bar.  We made our order by pointing and hand signs.  Oh yeah … I grunt a few English words too to mimic human communication.  We got by.  They seems to understand.  I think they had seen the likes of us before.

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The bar was unbelieavably smokey.  Unlike Vancouver, there are no non-smoking laws here.  They don’t even have a non-smoking section.  Suanne wanted to turn back but when I told her I don’t know how to cancel the order in Spanish, she had no choice.  Everyone seems to smoke here.

We went to the empty back section hoping that the air is cleaner.  It was better.  But only for a while.  Before long, this section gets filled up too and EVERY table have at least a packet of ciggies on it!  Suanne was horrified.

One thing we were sort of glad … we were the only tourist looking person here.  Everyone looked like they are locals, speaking Spanish and in working attire and all.  Boy, Spaniards does talk very loudly in this restaurant.  It is like they are talking for the neighboring tables to hear.

Oh, I forgot.  The people in Barcelona are not Spaniards and do not speak Spanish.  They insists that they are Catalonians and they speak Catalan.  Not that I can make out the difference after half a day in Barcelona.

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The waiter came by asking what I wanted to drink using the universal hand signal for drink … you know, the thumb to the mouth.  A little shake of the hands means alcoholic drinks, I suppose.  A steady hand must have meant non-alcoholic.

I learned an all important word during the flight to Barcelona … Cerveza.  So, I ordered a Cerveza.  It seems like no one ask for one by brand.  When you ask for a Cerveza, they bring a Cerveza.  Strange thing too … when they brought me the cerveza, they pushed the “sal” next to the beer.  I wasn’t sure if they meant for me to have salt in my beer or they was just moving it and happen to move it next to the beer.  Rather than looking like an idiotic tourist, I did not use the salt.  I did not see anyone else in the surrounding table did.

You think Spaniards Catalonians drink their beer with salt?

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Bread was complimentary, I should think.  It does not taste fresh and is dry.  It tasted like it was made in the morning.   (more…)

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Barcelona: La Rambla and Mercat La Boqueria

After a couple of hours of nap at the hotel, we had to drag ourselves out of the bed.  There is a nine hour difference between Barcelona and Vancouver.  It was at about 4PM in Barcelona which makes it 9AM Vancouver time.  I could deal with the jet lag easier because I am used to it but it was harder for Suanne.

We had not done any planning at all before this time.  I did some reading up of our Spain travel guide book during the flight.  Right up at the front section of Barcelona was La Rambla.  That was what we did.

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We took the Metro to the busy Plaza de Catalunya, the center of the city.  La Rambla is a very popular 1 km long pedestrian mall that stretches from Plaza de Catalunya to the Columbus Monument.

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It is a delightful street.  The pedestrian mall is lined with trees which provides respite from the hot Spanish summer sun.  Lots of entertainment all along the street.

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La Rambla is popular with both tourists and locals.  While there are lots of souvenior stalls, there are even stalls that sells pets.

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The Font de Canaletes is the most famous drinking fountain in Barcelona.  There are drinking fountains throughout Barcelona but this one everyone knows.  Story has it that for everyone who drinks from this fountain will one day come back to Barcelona.  I told Suanne to drink from it if she wants to come back to Barcelona again.  She refused to drink from the public fountain.

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The part we enjoyed most about La Rambla is the La Boqueria.  This is also known as Mercat St Josep but everyone refers to this place as La Boqueria.  The history of this public market dates back 800 years.

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La Boqueria is always teeming with people.  This is a good place to see and taste the food and ingredients of Spanish cuisine.

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This is where we learned our lesson as stupid tourists.

Spanish summers are hot.  The thermometer was about 37-39C on most days we were there.  There was a fruit drinks stall at the entrance of the La Boqueria.  They looked so good and refreshing.  So we got one without so much thinking of how much it costs.  The sign said €2.50 and they asked for €2.65.  So we paid right?   (more…)

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Barcelona: Getting Around Barcelona (and Our First Spanish Meal)

We got to Barcelona — finally.

As much as Suanne feeling that the vacation started when we crossed the US border, it is only when we landed in Barcelona that I feel the vacation really got going.  After all, Suanne has put everything on my shoulders.  She said that she is leaving it entirely up to me to do everything … she is there only for the ride.  I am the tour guide, she is the tourist.  She got the better deal.

Here is some self explanatory trivias for you which I got from Wikipedia.

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

In terms of cities, Barcelona ranks #11 in the world.

It did not take us too long to clear immigration at the newish looking Barcelona airport.  We travelled light with no checked in baggage.  When travelling standby, you don’t want to have the mess dealing with retrieving your baggage in case you don’t get to board.

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Getting from the airport proved to be easier than we thought.  Due to the lack of planning, I had earlier been prepared dole out some bucks (or rather euros) for taxi ride to the hotel.  I was really expecting it to be expensive too.  For some reason I do not know, many airport taxis in the world have surcharges making it more expensive than normal.  Do you know the reasoning behind this?

The Information counter at the airport speaks perfect English.  We were directed to down an escalator and there was a stand with a bus waiting.  The bus shuttles to the city very often and costs a few euros.

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The shuttle bus last stop was at the main square of Barcelona.  It is called the Plaza de Catalunya.  It is like the Barcelona city center.

Having got off from the bus, we needed to get some bearings on where we are and where the hotel is.  The bus driver was of no help because he speaks no English.  So, we went to the Information Center office at the Plaza de Catalunya, lugging our bags along.  We were not so conspicious because there were tourists doing that too.  So, yeah … we blended in alright!

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At the Info Center, the folks there were helpful.  But that place was super busy and (more…)

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