Barcelona: Montjuic, Venue of the 1992 Summer Olympics

You know, I am proud to be living in a Olympic city.  In just a six short months, Vancouver will become one of the few cities in the world who would have hosted an Olympics.  Fine, it is Winter Olympics that Vancouver is hosting and not the level of stature for the Summer version … still.

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The one place I wanted to visit at Montjuic is the main Stadium which hosted the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

This stadium was actually first built to host the “alternative” Olympics as a protest to the 1936 Berlin Olympics because of the rise of Nazism.  That alternative Olympics did not materialize for some reason.

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We were  expecting to see a large stadium.  It looked like it is even smaller than Vancouver’s BC Place.

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We also saw the cauldron that held the Olympic flame for the duration of the events.

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I still remember how they lit the cauldron … and how nervous I was that the archer would miss!  Check out the youtube video above.

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We next went to the Olympic Museum just next to the stadium.   (more…)

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3rd Spanish Meal: Having The Best Sandwich in the World on Montjuic

Besides trying to eat six meals a day like a Spaniard, we wanted to spend the day on Montjuic.  Montjuic is roughly translated as Mount Jews and is the highest point of all hills that surrounds Barcelona.  Montjuic is also the site where the stadiums of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics are located.

We guessed that there would not be much in terms of good food in a place like that.  So it was just perfect that we get something for the trip to Montjuic.

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So we went to the Viena Cafe to buy the “Best Sandwich in the World”.  No kidding … New York Times called the sandwich at Cafe Viena in Barcelona as having the best sandwich in the world.

It is in this New York Times article that Mark Bittman said

But this gets a little technical; let’s just say it’s the best sandwich I’ve ever had.

Alright, it was controversial when Mark Bittman wrote that but for what it’s worth, things written by the NYT is very much taken as a gospel truth.

OK, NYT also said that the Zen Chinese Cuisine in Richmond is also the “best Chinese restaurant outside of China”.  We went to that restaurant (blog here) before it closed a few months later!  So, there you go!

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We went to the Viena Cafe which is located on La Rambla, just a short walk away from the La Boqueria.  Sure enough, the entrance has that Mark Bittman quote of the sandwich.

We expected that this is a large sandwich shop, but it wasn’t.  It was more like a bar than a sandwich cafe with no sandwiches on sight.  We did not remember the name of the sandwich and thought we just go in and ask for “the best sandwich in the world” to go.

The folks did not quite understand English and embarrassingly, I had to stand next to the counter and repeated a few time quite loudly that I wanted the “best sandwich in the world”.  I drew quite a few amused looks from the people around me.  Suanne withdrew behind me trying to hide under my shadows.

They made the sandwich at the kitchen.  It was about €7 each.  We did not want to open up the bag to peek at it as if by doing so, the moist sandwich will dry up and make it no longer the best sandwich in the world.  We did not want to put it also in the backpack lest we end up squishing it flat.  The distinctive yellow Cafe Viena paper bag to be hand carried with pride and on show to everyone.  Oh yeah … it was that precious.

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With the Best Sandwich in the World in hand, we made our way to Montjuic.  The journey itself is quite interesting.

We first took a driverless shuttle train which is part of the Barcelona Metro system.

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We then took the gondola to get to the castle on top of Montjuic.  The gondola ride is extra but we did not have to pay because we had the Barcelona Card.

The ride gives us a commanding view of the city of Barcelona.  The city is flat with lots of low rise buildings of uniform height.

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Out of the low rise buildings you could clearly see the landmarks.  The above is the Sagrada Familia with the 8 of 18 towers completed.  When completed, the middle tower will tower twice the height you see above and will be just 1 meter shy of the height of Montjuic.

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The fortified castle was built during the 17th century and had been undergone a few expansions to what it is today.  It used to be a prison and the site of a number of high profile executions.

There were nothing much to see here other than the commanding view of the city.

We found a nice grassy area to have the best sandwich in the world.  We were saying to ourselves this is perfect … the view was beautiful and the weather was cool enough to sit outside the shade.  Opening up the bag, we found this …   (more…)

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2nd Spanish Meal: Breakfast at Mercat La Boqueria

We went back to La Boqueria because we wanted to check out the market in the morning.  The last time we were there, it was in the late afternoon and half the market was already closed.

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We are going to look for food, specifically for our 2nd breakfast.  It was supposed to be a “savory breakfast” and consisting of items like the potato omelette or sandwiches.

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We were right.  There were a lot of food outlets here.  All of them are small with bar style seating.

Needless to say it was crowded.  It just happened that a couple was just about to leave when we walked past the above stall.  Good timing.

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This place does not look like they serve “savory breakfast”.  Anyway, since people are having this in early morning, I guess we’ll have the same too.  The food on display at the counter is so enticing.  Look at the prawns …

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… and the octopus.

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Despite the crowd of people, they sure worked very slowly.  Sitting at the bar looking at them preparing just the orange juice, it took them like 5 minutes to get that prepared.

One thing we noticed about the orange juices we had in Spain, they are all freshly squeezed orange juice.

We ordered a little something as snack.  We ordered the … (more…)

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1st Spanish Meal: Desayunos

We wanted to spend most of our day visiting the area around Montjuic.  Montjuic is the site of the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics.

It is also the day we are going to eat-eat-eat-eat-eat-and-eat.  That is going to be a lot of eating.  Contrary to our readers’ impression, we are not big eaters.  Really.  Honest.

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We took a leisurely stroll to around the neighborhood where our hotel was.  Our hotel was not in a touristy area and so the restaurants here are very much patronized by the locals.

The one we went to was just around the block.  It was like almost all local restaurants, people are smoking inside.  We only decided to eat here because there were no one smoking outside at the patio.

The folks here does not speak English at all.  But over the last few days, we learned a bit of Spanish … he he he.

Clearing my throat, I confidently say “Hola!”.  The owner replied “Hola!” and proceed to speak Spanish.  Ahh … but I know what he was saying to me.  He said we could either take the tables inside or outside.  I know because he was pointing to the tables inside and the outside.  I smiled and said “Gracias!”.

So far so good.   (more…)

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Barcelona: Spanish Meal Hours

The theme for the fourth day of our vacation in Spain is “Eat Like a Spaniard!”  We were going to attempt the meals that the people in Spain have.

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At home in Canada, we eat three main meals a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner) with small snacks in between if needed.  However, according to our travel guide, the people in Spain have SIX meals!

This is how their meals are laid out.   (more…)

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Barcelona: Tapas in Txapela

There is one more important Gaudi that we wanted to go to.  We could not locate Park Guell, a garden which Gaudi designed.  We took the Metro all the way to the nearest station and then found out it was another 1.5 km walk.  We had enough for the day and turned back, heading back to Plaza de Catalunya.

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We had tried tapas in a pub before and Suanne hated all the smoking.  Near the Plaza de Catalunya we found one that has much lesser smoking and the place is more airy.  It looked busy too, but at the same time, it also looked very touristy.

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We had the option to get seated by the tapas bar or the tables.  In many places in Spain, the prices for eating at the bar and at the tables are different for the same food.  The bar prices are cheaper.

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We opted to get seated at the tables.  It’s more comfortable … and we don’t have to deal with eye contact with the bartender … and we don’t have to chat with our neighbor.  Spaniards are chatty and they will talk to you in Spanish!!  Not this time, we were dead tired and just wanted to have a quiet, take-it-slowly meal … and catch up with our notes.

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I had beer, Suanne had water.  I don’t really like to drink beer.  I only ordered that so that I don’t look wimpy.  LOL!  Believe it or not, after just half a mug of this, my face will turn bright red and will take at least 1/2 hour to clear.  Suanne ALWAYS bug me about it … “Honey, your face is red again.”

Oh please … not too loud.  The next table could hear!

I can’t quite figure out the pricing of beer here.  The waiter asked if I wanted the 0.4L for €2.95 or the 0.5L for €3.95.

BTW, €1 is about CAD $1.60.

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This is a touristy tapas restaurant alright.  The menu is available in the language you want.  They have it in German, French and what nots.  On the tables are paper mat printed with numbered pictures of the tapas they have.  The translations are on the menu.

We have an order sheet (like dim sums in Richmond!) to circle what we wanted.

The food are more pleasing to us.  Suanne said she likes this better.  I just think that this is watered down and presented better for tourists.  Anyway, here are some of what we had.

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The Pintxo Octopus (octopus in Vinaigrette) was €1.70.  It was particularly nice with the chopped onion, tomato and peppers.

The prices here felt cheaper to us because at the other places, the prices of each dish is about €4.  However, the serving here is much smaller and often bite sizes only.  We actually like it better with bite sizes because we get to try more types of tapas.

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The one above is called Igueldo.  It is made of tomato sheets and lined with a Catalan cheese called Atura.  €1.70.

The cheese was quite mild tasting like mozarella.  We like the cool and refreshing taste. (more…)

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Barcelona: Guess Where We Had the Tarta de Queso

After the whole day of walking, our feet were killing us.  We looked for somewhere to rest and get a drink.  We wanted somewhere simple.

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We came upon this restaurant which looked familiar.  So we went in and since they have really delicious looking pastries too, we ordered some.  Suanne gravitated towards the Tarta de Queso as always.  Alright, it is cheesecake but the words name Tarta de Queso sounded cooler.

It was served somewhat fancy considering that we did not expect a place like this to do that.

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I had a simple pastry.  Loved the way they served this.  You may think that … so what?  This is nothing unique.  It sure is considering where we had this.  We had this in, believe it or not, … (more…)

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Barcelona: Guess Who We Bumped Into At Casa Mila

It was a long day.  The day started off with waiting two hours for the start of the Tour de France.  And then we went to the Sagrada Familia which we waited for one hour to get to the top of the tower.  And we went to Casa Batllo where there are no chairs and Suanne wanted to listen to every commentary on the audio guide.  We were dead tired.  But still we continue to walk to another famous apartment designed by Gaudi.

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The Casa Mila is one of the more famous of Gaudi’s apartments.  Like Casa Batllo, Casa Mila is over 100 years old.  It is amazing that after all these years, this building looked like it was 10-20 years old only.

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The lines turned me off.  This is going to be another agonizing wait to go in … not to mention having to deal with the boring narations on Gaudi’s architecture and designs.  Suanne said we should go since we are already here.  I said I am OK waiting for her at the street benches … and that was that … she is not going to go in herself.

I wanted to take a complete picture of the Casa Mila.  We crossed the street to a center median and while I was taking a shot, Suanne nudged me and whispered.  “Honey, look who is standing next to us”.  I turned around and oh wow … it was … (more…)

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Barcelona: Casa Batllo

Right after we visited Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia we next went to the Eixample district of Barcelona.  This is where there are more Guadi’s works.

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We took the Metro and exited at the Plaza de Catalunya end of the Passeig de Gracia and walk along the most expensive street in Spain.  This street has all the big names in fashion LV, Gucci, Armani … you name it.

You don’t have to be rich to shop here.  You could also get brands like Giccu, Arnami, VSL along the street for a fraction of the price in the stores.  Take a look at how the peddlers holding to the strings.  One hint of trouble, they will be able to wrap everything up in no time.

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We went to Casa Battlo.  This is one of the few masterpieces of Antoni Gaudi and was built over 100 years ago (in 1907).   (more…)

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Barcelona: The Sagrada Familia

The theme for our third day in Barcelona is Gaudi.

In most of my conversation with friends who learned that we are going to Barcelona, the one word that very often comes up is Gaudi.  Gaudi is the celebrated architect in Barcelona.

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His most famous work is the colossus and massive ambitious Sagrada Familia.  The Sagrada Familia is a Roman Catholic church which started building in 1882.  This makes it 120 years already in construction.

The Sagrada Familia (meaning Holy Family) is unlike any church you will ever seen.  It is jaw dropping just looking at the immense structure and the intricate sculptures.

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It was late morning when we got there.  You really need to time your visit because the Sagrada Familia is the most popular tourist attraction in all of Barcelona.

We joined the line to get in at the 75m mark.  They have markers to let visitors know how long it will be to get in.  The line moved quite fast so it was not so much a problem waiting in the hot summer sun.

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The entrance for the two of us costs €35.00.  That include the extra of a Guided Tour and the lift to the top of one of the towers.  The Guided Tour is available in multiple languages and are limited to certain times of the day.  I think there is one every 3 hours or so.  We were fortunate that there was one that starts in 30 minutes.

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When completed, the Sagrada Familia will have a total of 18 towers.  So far only eight towers are completed.  All of the eight completed ones are the smaller towers.

The 18 towers will symbolically represent the Holy Family of the 12 apostles, 4 evangelists, Mary and Jesus.  Eventually, the main tower representing Jesus will tower twice over the other towers.  Even at this scale, it is impressive.  I can imagine how the Sagrada Familia will be church of all churches.

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When completed too, the Sagrada Familia will have three fascade.  They are named Passion, Nativity and Glory.  The Passion and Nativity are currently completed.

Our tour starts at the Passion entrance which depicts the suffering of Jesus leading to his crucifixion.

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The sculptures were done many many years after the death of Gaudi and is the work of another sculptor.  They are controversial even when it was completed in the 1980s.

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The tour guide pointed out a lot of the symbolic sculptures that were not apparent to us.  For instance, the above Soduku like grid of numbers.  Can you figure our what that means? (more…)

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