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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Spain: Flying from Seattle to Barcelona

It was Sleepless in Seattle … we hardly slept the night before.  It was partly because the bed at the cheap $49.99 hotel room we stayed in was as hard as a rock and partly because we were excited.  It was more like due to 90% excitement and 10% bed issue.  Yeah, yeah … it felt like it is our first visit to Disneyland when we were kids!

The flight from Seattle to Barcelona was at 8AM.  We took the motel’s complementary shuttle to the Airport shortly after 5AM.  We wanted to get to the gate with plenty of time to spare because being standby passengers, I was afraid we get processed in the lowest priority. The shuttle to the airport was not really complementary because we tipped the driver $2.  He was a nice guy and helped us with the bags and all.

We went through the normal staff check in.  They issued us the boarding pass with no seat assignments.  We had to go thru security and all that to get to the gate … and then endure the agonizing wait until the last moment before they issue us the real boarding pass with seat numbers.  If the flight is full, well … we go out and wait for the next flight … the NEXT DAY!  So we were quite anxious up to the point when they issued us the passes.

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Seattle’s airport is beautiful.  I did not recall seeing it this way the last time we travelled via SEA.  They have floor to ceiling glass wall looking out to the tarmac at the eating tables area.

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After clearing security, we had one hour.  So we went to get some breakfast.  Really, we were not in the mood to eat.

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The Verona Scramble sounded good and ordered that.  It came in a box and looked really unappetizing.

I saw them making it.  The scrambled “eggs” were already all mixed and beaten up in a pail.  They just scoop the mix and make it on the griddle.  That is American efficiency for ya!

It costs $6.55 USD and came with a slice of bread on the side.   There are potato wedges and “scramble eggs” with green onions, tomatoes and sausages.  Not too good.

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Suanne got her breakfast from Starbucks.  The  Cafe Mocha was USD $3.70.

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The Chocolate Chip Scone were USD $1.35.  It was really dry.

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We got on the plane without a problem.  The flight to Barcelona took a total of 13 hours in all with a 1.5 hour stopover in Philadelphia.

US Airways has one of the worst record for flight delays and to no surprise to us, our flight was delayed.   (more…)

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McDonald’s Angus Third Pounders in Burlington, WA

ChowtimesNoWord32x32This post is written upon free coupons from McDonald’s. We are not paid for this post.

Our flight to Spain was from the Seattle-Tacoma (SEATAC) Airport.  Flights from the US are way much cheaper than if one flies out from the Vancouver International Airport.  Frankly, I don’t have much of a choice of the departing airport when it comes to staff travel.  Flying from SEATAC is the cheapest they could route me.  Otherwise it would have been about $200 more … per person.

It was very much down to the wire.  He he he … Suanne was quite nervous but I knew our travel services will come through.  On the day before our scheduled departure date, we still had not had the e-ticket issued.  We only received the e-ticket about 18 hrs before our departure time.

Lots of Hotels and Long Term Parking along International Blvd
Lots of Hotels and Long Term Parking along International Blvd

Since our flight is in the morning the next day, our plan is to drive to the SEATAC Airport the day before and stay the night in one of the many motels around the airport.  We chose one that has a night stay with discounted long term parking.  Found one that had crappy hotel rooms but at least the long term parking was cheap at $8 per day.  One tip about the long term parking in the hotels in SEATAC — you can actually bargain with them on the posted rate.  We had our parking reduced to $8 from $9 per day.  All long-term parking and motels provide free shuttles to the airport.

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Our original plan was to have a nice lunch in Seattle at Mae Phim.  But because by the time we gotten the e-tickets in our hands, it was already too late.  So we decided to just take it easy and take a slow drive and just settle for burgers.  We stopped at the McDonalds outlet in Burlington along I-5.

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If you remembered, McDonalds sent chowtimes quite a number of McDonald’s Angus Third Pounders coupons last month (see our post here).  We have given away all we had except for two.  So we used that.  To our slight dismay, this coupon is only for the sandwiches, not the meal deal.  Oh well, at least it was free.

For those of you who received the coupons from Suanne, have you used your coupons yet?  Let me know what you think.

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The Angus Third Pounders are only officially launched in the US.  They are not in Canada yet and if you see them here, it is probably under trial or test or whatever they call it.  The Angus Third Pounders came in three different different offerings:

  • Deluxe
  • Bacon and Chesse
  • Mushroom and Swiss

The sandwiches alone costs $3.99 USD.

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One thing we noticed differently is the bun.  They are much better tasting than the normal ones.   They are toasted sesame seed buns and are sweetish and soft.   (more…)

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Spain: Gastronomic and Cultural Summer Vacation 2009

Ola!

Or more correctly put ¡Hola!

I had been flip-flopping about our summer vacation this year right up to the last moment.  Suanne and I had three weeks to ourselves in July when both Arkensen and Nanzaro were away at their summer camps.  We know we wanted to go somewhere … originally thought of Spain (Barcelona-Seville-Madrid) and then China (Beijing-Xian-Shanghai).

I was unbelievably busy at work leading up to the date.  I was putting in 12 hrs a day at work which left me with no energy at the end of the day other than to sleep!  It was just two working days before the trip that I finally decided to go to Spain and put in my paperwork for staff travel.

The tipping point on the decision between Spain and China was safety.  Especially with zero planning, I thought I better not risk ruining my vacation.  You see, my friends at work scared me by saying that crime is common and told me about horror stories where taxi drivers take their foreign passengers to a remote highway, rob them and left them there.  THAT does it — Spain it is.

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It was really a hit and miss with just two days to go.  At my company, we had travel arrangements between airlines for staff travel privileges.  These privileges is generally referred to as Interlining and is available only to employees.  So, I booked with Open Skies Online (http://openskiesonline.com/) and went with the $470 return flight to Spain which includes a 3-night accommodation to Spain.  This is quite a steal, right?  The only caveat is that we get to travel only on space-available basis.  The sector is not a problem as the planes do not normally fly full.

The only plan we had made prior to travelling is the flight from Seattle to Barcelona, return from Madrid to Seattle and the initial nights of hotel in Barcelona and Madrid.  Nothing else was planned — I don’t even know how to get from the airport to the hotel.  We just had to wing it (again!) this time.  Suanne amazing managed to project calmness over my procrastination … I knew she was anxious that we might not make it out of Vancouver!

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We got booked on US Airways … flying from Seattle to Barcelona with a brief stopover in Philadelphia.   (more…)

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Amsterdam Series: British Airways from Amsterdam to Vancouver

Hey all, hope you enjoyed my series on Europe as much as I had enjoyed blogging about it. This is my last on the series and will focus on the flight back home.

I took the British Airways flight from Amsterdam with a transit at London. I was really glad to be on my way home.

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I like British Airways — definitely more than Air Canada which I took the last time I went to London. Oh yeah, I forgot to share about some weird thing about the Brits on flights — at least on the flights I was on. When the plane landed on Heathrow, people actually claps! I guess it’s something they do … so of saying the pilot did a great job or something … *shrugs*

What I like is having your own video display on your seat. That way I have a choice of movies I wanted to watch. Forget about the computer games … they were crappy.

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So, bye bye London and Europe. I think I’ll be back again as long as I am in the same job. Although the hours were irregular, one of the perks of this job is that I get to travel.

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My fav drink … tomato juice. One thing I notice … my Asian friends mostly does not like tomato juice. I can’t really figure out what it is. Asians will drink orange juice, watermelon juice, but not tomato juice. Just the other day in a friends gathering, I made Bloody Caesars for everyone and guess what, none of them were even half-finished.

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Amsterdam Series: Schiphol Airport

Well, it’s time to go home. I was becoming homesick and just can’t wait to get home. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time but I am missing terribly home cooked food, my own bed and the family. The last day in Amsterdam was just spent downloading my pictures, post process them and plan out the blog entries. Boy, that was a lot of work — I had thousands of pictures and sorting them out was no mean task.

I got to Schiphol about two hours before departure.

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Schiphol is one of the best airports in the world having won numerous international awards. It is not only an airport but it is also has a major train station underground. On top of that, Schiphol also has a large shopping plaza with a supermarket.

Did you know that Schiphol actually lies on a lake? It was once a lake but over the years have been drained of the water (yup, major part of it was done using windmills).

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Checking in was very fast. I was somewhat afraid they would charge me for excess weight for my luggage since my first leg of the way home was to London. British Airways are very particular about the luggage weight for flights intra Europe. They only allowed the excess baggage weight because I had an onward ticket to Vancouver.

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Amsterdam Series: City of Canal and Bicycles

Two things that you will never fail to notice in Amsterdam is canals and bicycles. Being an avid cyclist myself, I had always known that Amsterdam is the most bicycle friendly city in the world but what I learned was an eye opener.

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More about canals and bikes after this short commercial about food.

Almost everywhere I go I see fast food outlets called Febo. This is a chain of self-service fast food. The food is cheap and just perfect for tourists who just want to grab a quick bite to satisfy the hunger pangs.

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Their food is sold in a coin operated machine. You just drop the correct amount into the slot and which releases the door. It’s a very simple concept and an excellent idea for a high traffic tourist spot.

Hmmm … I have never seen this in Vancouver before. Maybe it’s a good idea for someone to introduce this in some place like Gastown.

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