Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hetzky postaveni

I so admire unusual hats and the courage to wear them.
I am glad to see this young man has joined my crusade to bring back hat wearing as a sporting adventure.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Barcelona Friday - Last Day

So Friday, our last day, Mrs wanted to see any Gaudis she had missed, and criss-cross the old-town just looking at the shops next to THE La Rambla.

So she said, “that’s an apartment building. How much do you think it costs to live there?” Well, note that it’s on Passeig de Gracia, the Rodeo Drive of BCN. I said “maybe we could live across the street in the plain building, where we could SEE the Gaudi, that would be better, wouldn’t’t?”


Mrs likes the Gaudi, I like the Gawdy. All the small picturesque shops did n’t really catch my eye, but this big display in a big store, did. I personally believe the world cannot have too many rubber chickens.

I caught this display, too. I have in mind that I would be providing a service to show fashion windows from all the cities I visit, but I haven’t conquered the technical photographic issues of glass-glare.

I had some shots in Naples that were fascinating but almost wholly unvisible because of the glare. I haven’t seen a window of fashion in PRG, yet, that I wanted to snap.

I also hate graffiti, just the gang-tagging, but I love the streetart. These are some samples from just around our hotel I snapped that last day.

The first time we had gone to El Congrejo Loco, the crazy crab, we had seen people finishing up lunch as we went into dinner, but we didn’t understand that. Now you’d think the crazy crab would be some dive with corrugated tin walls and license plate decorations, but it is a very elegant dining hall, with 3 different rooms on two levels.

And now we were educated, cultivated BCNn diners, so we walked around all morning, denied ourselves any tapas, and wound up at the Crab 2ish, on the acceptable early end of lunch. I had come back, not for more barnacles, but for other new dining experiences.

I started off with cockles, steamed open then doused with olive oil and lemon juice. They were salty little boogers, almost as much as the barnacles. We had a nice little sauvignon blanc to wash them down.

Mrs got something they called a daily lunch, a fixed menu, salad, soup, salmon, and tira misu. The salad, she loved of course. The soup she doesn’t remember much about, except that she will have it again if I take her back to BCN . . .8^) . . .

The salmon she remembers very clearly . . . 8^D . . . it’s apparently hard for restaurants to get the right judgment for grilling salmon, where the outer crust is, er, crusty, but the meat inside isn’t dried out, but at the Crab, they do know.

Meanwhile I was noshing on my sea-cucumbers . . . they weren’t anything like I expected . . . for one thing I thought they’d be the size of land cucumbers, but they’re much smaller. And I tho’t they’d still look like cucumbers, in some way, but apparently they strip off the skin to reveal the squid-like animal. Squid-like is the best description I can come up with . . . they’re sort of briny and rubbery like squid, so sauté ‘em up with a little virgin olive oil, you can’t go wrong.

But truth to tell, they didn’t fill me up . . . I had tried to order a salad but the waiter didn’t understand, he just kept saying, “si, si, madam will get a salad”.

Well, while I’m looking at Mrs eating her salmon, one of the waiters comes by with a platter of barnacles and offers me the plate. I took one off. It was still cold. I tested the flex. It was like a rubber tube – it hadn’t been cooked yet . . . so I looked back at the waiter, and said, ‘No, gracias, I had these last time”. So he looked a little disappointed and just put them into the iced display case. But our waiter came back by, and he seemed to understand me perfectly this time when I said I wanted something else. A quick reconnaissance of the menu didn’t show me anything else really unusual, so I settled for Fried Tiny Fish.

I tho’t maybe the bones would be cooked out, so I ate the first one whole, but I had to spit back out a couple of large backbones. So the rest I surgically filleted, which is a fun way to eat these little goobers if you get into it.

Mrs was supposed to get a tira misu, but she just was gonna give it to me anyway, but they didn’t bring it, they brought these little sponge cakes with my cappacino, instead.

Then they brought us some complimentary Calvados, skunk-apple brandy . . . a catalan especiality. Like the late lunches and dinners, and the 3 hour mid-day siestas, it takes some adjustment, but we found we could get used to it . . . especially when he brought us a second sample. WhoA!

There was some Japanese tv show filming a travelogue about Barcelona. The restaurant was in sort of an uproar the whole time we were there about it. All these Japanese creative types running around, the talent strutting around in the gorgeous renaissance dresses, the flamenco dancers, the guitar player, the camera crews, makeup, grips, and so on. You can imagine the show… just like in America . . . they were dancing flamenco together for the fadeout shot I reckon as we left . . .

So we staggered home along the beach esplanade, then La Rambla Poblenou, and packed for an early departure. We watched our last 3 seinfelds, and a movie.

Trip home went without a hitch. We unloaded, then walked down to Himalaya Indian Food for some to-go vindaloo and tandoori. It felt like home cooking, and we had all day Sunday to rest up.

Barcelona Thursday - In Search of Paella

On Thursday, we followed our now usual routine, brekky, puzzles, IHT newspaper – but what about Golf, you ask? I had brought my clubs, and intended to play, but I didn’t plan well. I hadn’t made any arrangements ahead of time and it turns out there’s no courses in BCN, the nearest one was 25 km out of town . . . the nearest one that would answer my emails was 35 km, but I had forgotten my international drivers license, and that was essentially that.

The hotel tried to help me, but a driver would have charged me 300 euros for pickup and return, and altho’ I am willing to hump my bag up and down train stairs in transit, I just couldn’t work up the energy to venture out into the en-english unknown to play. What a waste.

Oh, well. So we were going to hit the sights we liked again, and any we had missed. We could see this building in the distance from the Poblenou train stop, so we decided to walk over for a better look. They call it a cucumber. Only in BCN would this building not be in the top 5 weird shaped buildings . . . 8^D . . .

It’s really tall . . . you can see it from very far away . . . it was a really long walk, as it turned out . . . 8^D. . . but it was down La Rambla Diagonal and it was a beautiful day, so that was ok.

We got there, looked at it, then walked around a huge mall across the street . . . it’s always interesting to see foreign malls they’re the same as US malls, only different. Then we walked past the cucumber again to see it closer . . . it’s painted on the inside, with a million glass panels (I estimate) on the outside.

Our main mission was Paella at Escriba this day. Escriba is only open for lunch, but since lunch is so late in BCN, we had to plan our day carefully. It’s on the beach between La Rambla Poblenou and el Congrejo Loco, so we wound up walking a giant circle from the hotel, to the cucumber, back thru some nondescript neighborhoods to the beach, then back down the beach to Escriba. This discotec was the most interesting thing I saw . . . not quite graffiti, but not commercial art, neither.

Oh, well, this street sign was interesting to us, too. We’re not sure how you say this in Spanish, or Catalan, “yuy”?

So when we got to Escriba it was too early for lunch, we were told, but they let us order some sangria and it was very pleasant to sit out in the sun by the sea and drink sangria, so along about 1:00 they came and took our order paella & salad, and maybe 15 or20 minutes later they brought the salad. I don’t know if you know how Mrs loves her salads . . . when we were in France she loved how many different ways they added fruit to the salads, and the freshness of the tomatoes and lettuce . . . but the French have nothing over on the Spanish, as far as I can tell. Great Salads . . .8^) . . .

But the reason we were here was for the paella . . . I can’t tell you how many times during the week we had passed up other paellas because we were waiting for THIS paella – sometimes they just looked like too much to eat for lunch, but mainly, this is supposed to be the best in town. Mrs was surprised to see that they used risotto instead of rice . . . we had read that they didn’t use saffron, too, like all the recipes say to, but we’re not sure about that . . . it has the color, but that could be something else . . .Oh, it was good, tho!

In my defense, let me say that that paella pan is VERY shallow . . . so I had room for their chocolate tort. Zowie! So good Mrs took 2 bites, despite her iron will.

The restaurant was quite busy by then with their lunch rush, with new arrivals, still . . . even tho’ it was 4 pm. By the time we attracted a waiter’s attention and got the bill, then walked back to the hotel, along the beach then La Rambla Poblenou, it was 5 pm. We just stopped at a little grocer around the corner and got some wine and some nibbles for later and retired for the evening: some seinfelds and a movie. . . I think the way the Spanish do it, is they have this lunch, then a siesta, then they go back out and party hardy late into the night, but the way we do it, we are in bed by 9pm . . . 8^D . . .

Barcelona Wednesday - Museum Day

We knew Wednesday was going to be rainy. So we called it “Museum Day”. I got my golf umbrella out of my bag, and after our normal breakfast, after I had breezed thru the International Herald Tribune, printed Marilyn’s puzzles off, & torn out the crossword from the paper, and she had finished them we set off in a heavy drizzle.

We sorta knew where we were going . . . Marilyn had sussed it out from her books and maps: the National Museum of Catalunya – that is that part of spain that doesn’t like to admit it’s part of spain . . . 8^) . . . they speak catalan here, not really Spanish . . . sometimes when I would try to use my pidgin border Mexican for even simple pleasantries, they would get a very quizzical look on their faces . . . they never say buenas dias, they say Hola! They never say adios, they say Adio. . .

The museum, it turns out is at the top of a hill they call Mont Juic, which means Mountain of the Jews. We could see the museum ahead of us, but like a mirage, it just seemed to keep getting bigger and further away no matter how high we climbed – I mean: It IS a mountain. There’s a funicular up to the top, but we didn’t bother to locate it, because we didn’t realize . . . 8^D . . .

and that museum is HUGE . . . 2 of the permanent exhibit halls were closed, Thank God! Or we might not have finished. . . The exhibit they had labeled Gothic was full of old church art they have rescued and re-installed there. . . like frescoes and stuff from alcoves and walls that they have recreated, but just left the original stuff without restoring it. The one that blew us away the most was this picture of seraphim with eyes on their hands and wings: f-r-e-a-k-y! Bot a poster of the angel with the eyes from the gift shop for 3euros. Bargain
They had a numismatic exhibit, several centuries of gold and silver. . . culminating in the tin & paper euros in the last case . . . ooops! The rest of the exhibits were interesting tho’ unremarkable, full of people we have justifiably never heard of . . . probably essential to the Catalunyan psyche and all, but not . . . us . . . they did have a couple of picsassos, natch, and this one Dali that I would say was not representative . . . 8^D. . . just a rather ordinary, if well-done, portrait.

So we walked back down the mountain in the rain, then ventured over to a tapas bar that marilyn had found in the neighborhood from her book. We were so tired, hungry, and wet we were almost on our last legs before we reached it,
Quimet I Quimet.

It had a very unimposing appearance from the street, and inside, there were tall tables but no chairs. They had a very impressive collections of wines, olive-oils, and staple varietals on all 4 walls, but it felt a little claustrophobic. We were drawn like moths-to-a-flame to the food cabinets, the glassed-in deli-style offerings they made their tapas from.

A young woman offered to help us, and we just said, “you do it”, so she made us some plates . . . we couldn’t help but point and ask for stuff anyway, it all looked so interesting . . . she didn’t mind: Anchovy-wrapped-Olives, roasted red peppers, little spicy green peppers, artichoke hearts, pickled cucumber (but NOT Pickles!), sun-dried tomatoes, sardines, tuna, cappellini onions. Then she made actual tapas dishes for us: smoked salmon on toast with roasted pepper for one and salted cod with dried tomatoes on the other. The wine was a very inexpensive catalunyan native. We liked it so much we took a bottle with us.

Well, that was good, and it ought to have been enough but we wanted more, so we got two more tapas. Basically we picked the main ingredient and she filled it out. We asked for shrimp -?- prawns -?- langostini -!- ahhhh! This came with sun-dried tomato, cream-cheese and caviar. And mussels: they came with bruschetta tomatoes and caviar.

Well that put us over the top . . . we still had the Miro museum to go, and it was apparently back up on the MontJuic, so we decided to fortify ourselves with some cappacino. I knowledgeably asked for some Crema Catalunya, but all they had was cookies (postreses). . . OK! I had to have an armagnac, too, once I spied a few bottles on the upper shelves. The one she poured for me was – I kid you not – Loung Doung Armagnac. Very nice indeed, but I cant find a reference anywhere on the internet, now, so I got the name wrong to some degree.

So, we hiked slowly back up the hill to the Miro Fundacio. It was a madhouse. There was some tour group of school kids had just pulled up, but eventually we got in. I was pleased to see that – unlike the Picasso museum, they allowed cameras . . . I mean, with the glare & reflection of the glass on the photos they’re no use to anyone but me. But I like being able to just snap the photos then decide later whether they’re worth keeping or not.

This one here caught our eye because – if nothing else – of that little star in the bottom left corner . . . just a little round yellow glow with the thin ink drawing in it . . .I don’t know why, I just like it . . . that motif shows up in a lot of his paintings, but this was the best one . . . they didn’t have it in the gift shop our I woulda bought a poster. . .

There just something so essentially cheerful about Miro, it’s hard to take him seriously but he was a very serious man . . . the little blurbs in the museum made that clear from the discussion about his experiences during the wars.

So we saw signs for the funicular leaving the museum, and took it back down MontJuic. Totally worth it. Then we trained back to the hotel for a little siesta before dinner. This picture is from La Rambla Poblenou near our hotel. It’s a pleasure to amble on La Rambla. . .8^D. . . We had a disappointing dinner that night, not good enough to talk about. We just ate and went back to the hotel. Watched our Seinfelds and the movie Dave and went to sleep. Marilyn said, “it was a perfect day! We got everything done!"

Barcelona Tuesday

Marilyn promised a big day tomorrow, so we agreed to get up a little earlier.

It wasn’t the COD (crack-of-dawn) and we weren’t the first into the breakfast room, but we were pretty much alone, even until we had finished . . . I had no competition from pre-teens for the computers, as I usually did, to print marilyns puzzles, it was so early.

Today was one we’d been looking forward to, buying picnic-ables at the big market of La Rambla, then lunching at the big park designed by Gaudi. But first there were to be two stops I had picked out of marilyn’s books . . . she still had to find them – how to get to them – but she let me pick them out as activities. These were two shops over on the “good” side of La Ramba, in the tiny old-town streets & alleys

The first was a hat shop . . . I just like to look at hats, but I saw this broadbrim Tororeador’s chapeau that I had to have: it’s my combination tororeador / Frank Lloyd Wright / Franz Kafka look. The also had the bull-fighter’s hat that looks like mickey mouse ears, but I had no interest in that. Marilyn always looks, too, but she didn’t buy any hat.

The other place was a cutlery shop that has an amazing array of scissors, knives, trimmers, and shavers . . . I didn’t buy anything there, even tho’ I’d tho’t that I was more likely to buy something there than the hat shot before I’d seen either, but it was interesting. Since we had gotten an early start, we took our time wending our way back to the market, then leisurely made our choices, then took the train over to the park. We didn’t plan well, tho’, took the wrong route into the park, thru the back way, so we had to climb over a huge hill to get to the picnic tables, and we were already tired and hungry from walking all morning, so when we got there we just fell onto lunch like a pack of wolves.

We had these mini-bottles of wine we’d bought at the grocery store just for this picnic, some bread we’d taken from the breakfast buffet (just like Mom taught us . . . 8^D . . . ), some fresh squeezed exotic fruit juices, some fresh fruit, olives, foie gras, and green cheese (pesto/provolone) from the market.

Tho’ we were quite hot from our hike, by the time we’d finished eating we were almost cold – it was windy up there.

Down below us was the gaudi park, and we could hear the cacophony of the children and the street performers and vendors all while we ate. A very merry and chaotic sound.

There’s a large ovalular plaza where those people gather, surrounded by these odd gaudi balustrades, walkways, buttresses and vistas. I just don’t see how the wacko got permission to build stuff like this . . . it’s great that he did, but didn’t he have to get it approved by some parks commission or something? How did he get the financing to build this stuff this way?

This first picture is from the edge of the plaza looking down at the main gate. In the distance, on the left you can see the gaudi cathedral towers, and beyond that, some big towers at the beach, then the ocean. Gaudi wanted the sailors to be able to see the towers as they came into port . . . I guess he didn’t visualize that most people would fly in . . .

This is the other view, from the main gate looking back up. Those columns at the top of the stairs support one end of the plaza, at least a couple of acres, and that’s kinda surreal place in-and-of-itself , , ,

This area is so big, you don’t realize at first how many people are loitering around there . . . when you add in the pathways running around the plaza, out of site, back up onto the hill, in the trees, there is some serious space here, and all defined with this odd architecture.

It all sorta looks the same, but totally different, if you know what I mean . . .

This is almost half-way down this, verandah / hallway that leads away from the plaza. Behind us here, in the alcoves are several sidewalk vendors we didn’t want in the pictures.

I don’t know what the “nubs” on the wall on the right are: water basins? Flower pots?

Something else that amazes me are the columns on the outside here, incredibly intricate but I should think very susceptible to weather erosion, but the were all still perfect, either perfectly maintained, or else perfectly resistant.

We got home later afternoon. Totally exhausted. I think this must’ve been pizza night, since I have no pictures . . . while I am perfectly willing to admit that BCN may have excellent pizza, I would say that our sampling of “Telepizza” was not one of those excellencies . . . but it was very little effort, and we had our movies and sit-coms to entertain us.

We were content . . . Wednesday would be museum day . . . that would be enough culture to allow us a little mindless entertainment.

Monday Barcelona -- Working

So Monday was programmed as a “down” day . . . I tho’t I’d kinda monitor my colleague doing all the work, but there were so many problems I was in there too, getting my knuckles scraped and my fingernails dirty, if you know what I mean . . . we had a quiet breakfast down in the lobby, absent the screaming hordes of kids and sharp-elbowed grannies, mrs got her puzzles, and we were content to retire back up to the room and put out the Do Not Disturb handle on the door.

Some time before 1pm, we were able to take a quick lunch break. We just dashed back over to La Rambla Poblenou for a lebanese lunch where we’d eaten the first night. I had pork chops and eggs . . . it was good, just not very exotic, even tho’ we got some dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), too . . .
Then back up to the room to finish up the work I had devoted the day to . . . all in all, it went well enough, it just seem to take up more time than one day . . . maybe because it was the best day all week . . .the sun was glorious . . . perfect golf weather . . . not so good for pecking at a laptop . . . 8^/ . . .
When I finally finished we both had cabin fever, so we rushed out just to do something, anything . . . first we went to a book store, La Casa Libre, which I had to admit was the best book store I’ve been in years . . . even tho’ the English section was a small part of the store, the selection of books they had was amazing, such variety and so unusual . . . not like the chains in the US. I bought 3 books: The Master and Margarita (actually, translated from the Russian – very weird), White Tiger (by an Hindu author), and Manhattan Transfer, by John Dos Passos. . . . all for less than 40euros . . . what a bargain . . . 8^D . . .
Then we went over to a tapas bar marilyn had found in one of her tour books, the 24. We just beat the after-work-rush, and got the last table for 2 . . . after only a little delay, they brought us a bottle of Spanish sparkling wine and some starters:

the ubiquitous bruschetta (best we had in BCN), a mix of olives (best we had in BCN), and some toasti-style sandwiches they called Bikinis, I guess because they cut off the crusts of the grilled ham-&-cheese . . .

all that was great – as I say, the best in BCN in its class, but I was in what I call “Lupe” mode, after my friend who will eat ANYTHING, so . . . the weirdest thing I saw on the blackboard menu that I could make out was Calamar a la Ramsus de Tinta which I took to be squid cooked in its own ink – I didn’t tell Mrs what it was except calamari . . . 8^D . . . I tho’t it would be like a soup or something, but instead, it was “something-like” fried calamari, with the ink in the batter . . .

it didn’t really have an off-flavour or anything, but there’s not many real-black foods, but this is one of ‘em . . . Mrs unselfishly let me eat most of these, myself, while she worked on the Spanish wine . . .
Well, that was a pretty light dinner so I felt entitled to a dessert . . . but I didn’t just want chocolate again . . . and they were hyping something on the menu called Crema Catalunya, that is, not Crème Brulee, but the same sort of desert per this region of spain that is rather determinedly not Spanish . . .

very nice . . . even if a little ordinary . . . cracking the shell on a crème is one of those things that never gets old, like cracking a 3 minute egg in an egg-cup or popping bubble wrap, if you know what I mean . . . .
So, satisfied that we had accomplished the minimum for the day, despite how I had squandered almost all the daylight working, we headed home to watch our 3 seinfeld episodes and a movie before we fell asleep.

Barcelona Sunday - Gaudi Day

So. The next day, Sunday, was Gaudi day. So we got up early-ish and braved the rowdy crowd at the continental breakfast . . . some of those old ladies and children had sharp elbows around the croissants and cereals, if you know what I mean . . . it takes some determination to fight your way thru . . . they didn’t have an International Herald Tribune on Sunday (just a weekend edition that comes out on saturday), but the hotel did have a “business centre” with a PC and a printer, so I could grab Mrs’s sodokus and crosswords everyday, anyway. She’s just not right, till she’s polished them off, but all I can do is drink coffee without spilling it on myself.

Then Mrs navigated us thru the train system to La Familia Sagrado, where the Gaudi Cathedral is . . . they’ve got 8 towers up now after 150 years, 4 more to go. It’ll be something when it’s finished . . . we just kept saying, “they should bring Cecil (My civil-engineer Step Dad) in on this, he’d finish it up in only 50 more years . . . 8^D . . . “.
The other thing, is it all looks like stuff my friend willie mc in Kerrville would do. The inside columns are all made to look like tree trunks and branches, everything is “organic”, made to look like native flora and fauna from the local region. But still, now, all around the floor are huge pallets of cement mix and mortar and plaster and plastic sheeting and dust . . . lotta work left to do. The styles of the ornamentations out side don’t look consistent, either, some look classical, some look art-deco, some look “modern” – I guess when your project stretches out like that it’s hard to keep consistency . . . 8^D . . .
Well, nothing takes it out me (and my old knees) like walking around a hard cement construction site for a couple of hours, so I started whining for lunch.

Mrs consulted her book for a place nearby and we headed off. Found it, but it was closed, for Sunday or forever, I don’t know. But we doubled back to a place we had seen on the way, Amelia. It wasn’t tapas, but it did look like a little mom-and-pop restaurant, so after perusing the menu, we went in. It was empty, but then again it was only 1 pm, so it could’ve just been too early for the Spaniards to lunch . . .
Mrs got this salad and proclaimed herself entirely satisfied . . . I HAD to have Gorgonzola Ravioli, tho’, with green pesto . . . drubbadrubbadrubbadrubba . . . if that’s not the most sinful thing I ever ate, I don’t know what. . . .
Those were just the starters . . .

For the main course mrs had this seafood soup. I’m glad the restaurant was empty, it would have been too embarrassing otherwise, the nummy-nummy sounds she made while she ate it.
I on the other hand, merely had shrimp brochettes, which were good, but after the orgiastic ravioli I’d already had the prawns seemed almost mundane . . .

the roasted peppers almost did me in, tho’, we can’t get anything like that in PRG, and I had tears in my eyes it was so good – wasn’t THAT hot . . . 8^D . . .

we had a wonderful light white wine with this all, came in a funny shaped bottle, but I didn’t get any information on it. It was catalunyan, tho’, for which we have developed a positive prejudice.
Oddly enough, that seemed to have finished our day for us . . . we staggered to the train, then staggered to the hotel for our siesta, and just never got going again – oh, well, it was a vacation! Tho’ I could hear my mother scolding me “There’s plenty of time to sleep at home!” this is what we did . . . Just as well. I had to work Monday all day, and I needed to fortify myself . . . 8^) . . .

We just watched some Seinfeld shows and a movie I had brought on my computer. That was fun, too. . .