• Barcelona 2016 Day 8

    Nov 5, 2016

    A calm morning with final bits of packing and a quick visit to the bins with our waste. Chris and I tried valiantly to put things in the right bins, almost immediately finding out too late that’d made a mistake and not actually put our things to recycle properly. It wasn’t long before we left so I sat down to squeeze a bit more into the diary. Finally we left in a staggered fashion to check that the apartment entrance door was open before we locked our keys inside.

    We didn’t travel far before we reached the café for the morning breakfast. But it was all the way over the other side of the road! We took a glance for a table, but were ushered into the back room, where we gladly took up the middle of the area with our luggage. I got a meal of bread and Serrano ham, with an Americano for breakfast. The room was very warm. We took some amusing photos of us all to pass some of the time. Chris popped to the loo and announced that it smelt like roast chicken when he came out. He had to quickly clarify that he meant the room, not the toilet.

    I was more careful to duck in the corridor when we left, having lightly brushed my head on the ceiling on the way in. The trials and tribulations of being 6’6”. We set off again in the direction of the Arc de Triumf to explore another area of the park. We found a fountain with a number of golden statues around it. A small dog was very excitedly running up to the edge of the fountain, pausing and looking back at its owner, almost asking if it could go in! (Can I!? Can I!?). We were all willing it, but it was quite happy to sit and wait while the owner attached its lead.

    We soon sat at a caravan café to watch the world go by. It wasn’t long before a ‘Bubble Man’ showed up armed with his sticks and a string to bring a plethora of bubbles into the scene. Small children quickly gathered around to jump around, beaming smiles, trying to pop all of them! What a lovely sight.

    I settled down to read some more of my book. But Alex was keen to get a coffee now. We had just been discussing donating a little something to the ‘Bubble Man’, which would help us to get rid of some of the change but also being charitable. I offered up my wallet ‘horde’ of coins to the pile. Chris then handed the pile to Alex saying “For your coffee” along with holding him his paper cup for the bin. Alex promptly stood up and put all of the coins into the man’s collection hat. Chris was a bit annoyed and said to Alex he’d given his share of the coins to go towards Alex’s coffee, which bemused me as I thought it was the plan. We had a good laugh at this with egging on repeated jeers for repeating the explanation for both sides of the story.

    We continued to the end of the park and looped around, eventually settling on a bench to find somewhere to eat. Alex found a Chinese restaurant, which it turned out offered cheap beer, and a €6 buffet. I opted for pork, pak choi, and Tofu. There looked to be something resembling sweet and sour chicken, but Alex warned me after his first mouthful that it was fish. Must have been quite a shock tasting that after expecting chicken!

    I wasn’t able to finish mine but we had to head back to collect our luggage. There was a moment of mild panic whilst we correctly entered the cod for our luggage and the door would not open. Despite the sign saying ‘Open gently’. It turned out that it needed a gentle push before the door fully unlocked and a we were able to open it and get our luggage back.

    We took the Aerobus (ayero booz) back to the airport with a smooth check in and breeze through security. We noted that the shops weren’t going to be accessible from the departure gate (D), so we went down to them first to kill some time as we had arrived with plenty of time to spare. We went off in the direction of Duty free first. Some of the gin was well priced, but the Whisky was not! Having plenty of Gin already waiting for me at home I didn’t want to buy any, and having spent my last euros at the Chinese to pay back Alex and Steph for my portion of the first big shop, it’d have been difficult. After seeing some places upwards of €3 for a coffee we opted for McDonalds - in the city itself you could get a coffee and a croisannt for €1.70. I finished my book whilst sat at the table. Noting an in-joke in a message from the last page to send to Kirsty, which would automatically send when I landed and got signal.

    On the plane about 3 people seemed to have sat next to me before taking off. The last one made me laugh when his closed tea cup popped open when the cabin pressure dropped to the 8,000 ft.

    All in all a fantastic trip. Very grateful to Chris for lending me his pen. It made it until the last sentence for the diary before giving up the ghost!

  • Barcelona 2016 Day 7

    Nov 4, 2016

    Today was another leisurely start with no firm plans for what to do. I was rather tired so this was fine by me. I gave me some much needed time to catch up with the diary and a chance to chat a little to Kirsty while she made her way into work. I decided after finishing half a day of writing that I would get ready to go out in case people decided to go somewhere. Just as I’d finished getting ready I noticed that the front door was open and the guys were all standing there about to leave. It turned out that they had been discussing in the living room while I was reading Goldenhand and thought that I’d heard it all.

    So we went together, leaving Steph to recover after feeling a bit more ill. We took a metro to the Plaza España to walk up the hill and see the view across the city. It was rather hazy but you could really see all the landmarks that we had been walking past for the week. From the top we could also see the Olympic Stadium - the rings had no colour (either eroded or never did). As per any free attraction, street sellers and beer sellers lined the area. Chris accidentally turned and trod on one such display. He was very apologetic, thankfully nothing broke and they didn’t ask him for money.

    I felt a couple of drops of rain as we descended the steps. There were actually some outdoor escalators, which I wondered how would fare in a deluge of rain. We had no waterproofs with us - much like the majority of locals. Thankfully the rain held off and we returned to the apartment to see Steph. We planned to get Paella with Tom the evening before, being a local dish. I was quite hungry at this point, and aware of the amount of beer in the fridge that would need using before we left. I helped myself to a can and some Doritos as I wasn’t sure how long it would be until we left to eat. It turned out not very long at all. I got through a couple of book Chapters, Chris also grabbed a beer. So we had to finish those quickly before heading off in the direction of a Paella restaurant, which happened to be next to one of Gaudi’s apartments. I took the group on what I called the ‘scenic route’ - that is to say that we needlessly cross the Diagonal Avenue and back again. I defended this detour by saying that we wouldn’t have seen the nicely architected building if we hadn’t!

    The waiters in the restaurant all wore waistcoats. Being on my last few euros I began to wonder just how much it would come to here as we sat down. Especially given it’s proximity to such a popular and expensive attraction. At €14 it wasn’t cheap, given the poor exchange rate. I opted for water to drink. Chris and Alex shared a jug of Sangria. The food came out on their metal cooking pans. Chris’ was extremely hot to the touch, requiring extra precautions when he dug in!

    Most of my mussel shells were cracked open. Despite this I saw that one would have originally been completely shut. Going by the golden rule of not eating it as it wasn’t openMyself. As did a couple of the others. Shellfish is a force to be reckoned with if it’s bad. The rest was nice, although I would say a touch overdone. The squid was particularly chewy but not unpleasant. One mouthful had the added shock of a broken shell - quite an unpleasant crunch!

    We took a slightly different route back to the apartment by Gaudi’s other apartment, which Steph hadn’t seen yet. It was sad to see beggars outside shops for Louis Voutton, Georgio Armani, and Gucci. A stark contrast to different lifestyles. Back in the apartment I wrote some diary updates and dozed off a little, as did the others. But it was not long before we had to see Tom off on his journey home. It had rained a bit, so the streets were damp - Tom actually slipped over at one crossing. We walked past a bar where I saw a girl slumped in a chair with some sick on the pavement beneath while her friends continued laughing and chatting. I was concerned so made a note to check on the way back that she wasn’t still there, it was only 7pm.

    Some of the landmarks were quite transformed in the night, but it was evident that not many people were out due to the rain. I noticed that far more smokers were out, though that may have been due to noticing it more easily in the cleaner air. I could still see the telltale signs of pollution, as with London, in my nose but not the same for the exposure.

    When we got back Chris and I set about the task of making a carbonara with the market bought mushrooms. It was the first time I’d made one from scratch. I always seem to forget about creme frâiche as an ingredient. It turned out uite well. Steph and I polished off the last of the Gin we had bought on the first day with some added freshly squeezed lime. Then came the sad time of packing. <y socks were still wet from washing so I put them out to dry more. I left my Toothbrush on to charge so I wouldn’t have to when I got home. We all settled down to bed about midnight.

  • Barcelona 2016 Day 6

    Nov 3, 2016

    I woke up rather early today, and decided to use the washing machine and brave hanging it out of the window after a brief spell in the contemplation zone reading my book. Sadly I had messed up a setting, which meant that the spin was slow and resulted in my clothes coming out sopping wet. We set off once again towards the Arc de Triomf. This time, however, we were actually planning on the zoo visit. Would today be the day I saw a Red Panda in the fur, not asleep the whole time, like when I was 6!? It had been quite some time since my last visit to a zoo, I especially wanted to go to this one whilst here as I knew they had the Red Pandas. Zoos are a mixed experience for me. Some things I have no problem with seeing there, but when it comes to certain animals and their conditions, although regulated, I feel a little uncomfortable with. Mostly depending on the size and intelligence of the animals.

    The vultures looked much bigger than you see on TV documentaries. Alex mentioned just how large their wingspans were just before one started to stretch its out and display for us, as if on cue. We watched a couple of them picking at the carcass of something with a tussle going on as to who got dibs. Noting quite how far the poo was outside the cage I took a step back. This was quickly validated by one of the two doing its business in the direction of the cage edge. Thankfully not reaching outside, but enough to show quite how it all got there.

    We stopped by the dolphins, one of which was not bred in captivity. The zoo had adopted a policy to not take in dolphins from the wild. Another thing I was quite pleased to hear was that they no longer did performing shows for an audience. Although in some respects I can see the training being fun for them, it is still unnatural. I find this to be a positive reflection of the expectation from the public thanks to the evolution of culture and society.

    Naturally, for me the highlight was seeing the Red Panda. When we approached it I couldn’t see any out, but there were several wooden huts stuffed with hay, which I would guess that some were asleep inside. I let the others know then that they were actually nocturnal. Slightly disheartened I walked away, only to be called after by Chris who had spotted one up in the tree, difficult for me to see under the low canopy. Just as I crouched to take a photo of the red fluff ball on the branch it popped its head up from buried within a huge fluffy tail. It gave a brief glance around, looked at everyone, yawned and licked its nose before settling back down again to sleep. Perfect timing for me! I would have loved to seen some playing but that was special in itself!

    Sadly Tom was not so lucky with the Jaguar, which did not show itself but remained in its hidden area behind the enclosure door. Chris, however, was fortunate enough to see the Giant Anteaters in action. Perfect opportunity for some photos. We passed by huge giraffes, which dwarfed the rhino and elephants, which somehow seemed smaller than I thought. The hippos seemed quite content to float about blowing bubbles. A bison decided to stamp, leap, and generally flex its muscles as we went past. This transported me back to seeing them in the wild in Yellowstone.

    After the zoo we reunited with Steph who had been out in the sun reading and listening to music. There had been a loud wailing child for a long time, which had irritated her. We walked to Oporto (Portugese) restaurant, where I mistakenly asked for veal, confusing it with venison - it was delicious all the same. We just about made it to the Gaudi Cathedral (Sagrada Família) in time for our 3pm booked time slot. Security spent some time checking through bags. Straight after being let through we were struck by the intricate designs. There was a Welsh lady that was well spoken who asked for a photograph of her by one of the green doorways. In the conversation surrounding this we let her know that Gaudi had died long before it was finished, to which she responded “Oh shit! Is he dead!?”, which we found to be quite amusing given her demeanour!

    Walking in through the door took my breath away. The vaulting and stained glass appeared so orderly in comparison to the outside. The place was huge, despite so many people wandering around there was a big sense of space. Possibly this could be due to the lack of seating in the place. Most other cathedrals that I’ve been to have a lot more seating inside. The central Jesus hanging was impressive with the vibrant colours from shining through the stained glass windows the room was lit up spectacularly.

    The smaller alcoves to the sides were impressive enough on their own, but the sheer size of the spectacle as a whole would be difficult to put into words. Unlike the other cathedrals I’ve visited in the past the windows didn’t have any scene depiction despite the intricacy. Though part of the interior had netting it still shone brilliantly through giving a glowing aura. Here I also lent my camera to Steph again so that she could get some enjoyment out of some photography, despite having her camera having been stolen. I had been backing up the photos that I had taken religiously ever since the event so that it would only be material possessions lost, not the photo-documentary.

    I spent some time just looking up at the ceiling, as it was equally colourful and impressive. The interior stone had a much more uniform than the colour of the exterior. I would love to return when it is all finished and all the cranes and scaffolding have been removed. There is a museum underneath as you exit. Showing Gaudi’s work and the engineering involved making it. It included a 1:25 scale model of what the finished cathedral would look like. I can certainly see that the final form could be better appreciated from the outside at a bit of elevation.

    We left after a walk through the now relatable gift shop. Chris and I got some Ice cream, Steph helped me to pick out a cinnamon flavoured one that was delicious. We went home to drop some things off. We’d decided earlier that tonight was the night for Tom to experience the, now fabled, pork dewlap. We ordered a selection of tapas which included 2 portions of the dewlap, which took the waitress by surprise - she cautioned us as to what it was. me and Alex went for the Gin of the day, Beefeater 24 with pink grapefruit garnish. Chris had a Piña colada. Steph had the Kahlua Alexander cocktail. a little later I was intrigued by the rest of their Gin selection. After asking the waitress what she recommended (her favourite was, as mine, Hendricks). She then suggested that I went with Ophir and offered me a chilli garnish, which loving hot food, I accepted gratefully. The bill came to a whopping €40, over half of which was for the Gin. I rather enjoyed them both, the Ophir was very interesting with just how much it had a black pepper aroma and flavour.

    We swung by another Gaudi Apartment on the way back from the cathedral, which paled in comparison, and at €34 entry it was more than enough to just see from the outside. Tom made some Nachos with avocado, cheese, and salsa under the grill when we were back at the apartment - despite just having had the tapas including the melt in your mouth lamb.

  • Barcelona 2016 Day 5

    Nov 2, 2016

    Today was a day mostly for Tom. He was happy to have a chance to go and visit the huge football stadium and pick up some souvenirs. This meant another journey on the Metro for us. However, as we weren’t joining him in the stadium visit we were planning on spending some time at a café. Just outside our Metro stop I spotted a local market, which we briefly went into. It was more of an everyday local market, but there was still plenty of variety on offer.

    After this we went off in search of ‘Green’ on Google maps. We found one to be lightly lined with flowers outside a school. But all in the shade. I wanted to make the most of the sun while we were there so I ‘gently’ encouraged the others to sit in a spot in the sun. We had not been sat there for long before the flies had become a nuisance and we moved on again.

    We had given Tom instructions on where to meet us after he was finished. We gave his Phone some much needed TLC so that he was able to download the area for offline use. The café was called ‘The Family Room’. The seating, it turned out, was actually on a slow road, with a small amount of traffic passing through. There was no curb either, so it felt rather like you needed to breathe in as the cars and vans went past. I had opted for the seat with the most sun, but it was not long before the shadow had crept over the table. We ordered some nice food and I spotted a lovely looking tea infusion, which turned out to be what Steph had her eye on too. Rooibos and Vanilla were the prime flavours in my palate, which I kept the cardboard tab of (Manhattan - Sansisans).

    Steph suggested playing Bananagrams just as the food was ordered. We managed to get through one game as the food arrived, which took up all available space on the small tables. We shared some of the bread and Humous that Alex ordered. This was much nicer than the ‘Tesco Express’ restaurant. Rather than risk my Kindle being stolen I had taken the Wired magazine that I had liberated from work as it was on offer! Alex, the great eater, also ordered a quinoa burger to much on. Not long after that Tom appeared around the corner - just after we had begun to speculate when he might arrive.

    The plan for the afternoon was to visit the Gaudi cathedral. It turned out that on Wednesdays and Thursdays it was half price entry for under 30s so we fully intended to capitalise on this. It took a while to get there despite taking the Metro. It looked very much like an active building site from the road side. We set off to walk around the outside to take it in. The detailing was very intricate, but to me it looked like quite a combination of styles which was further accentuated by the different ages of the materials it was made from. Sadly our journey was in vain. The number of tickets available each day was limited, which meant that we really needed to pre-book, which would give as un allocation for entry time.

    After a brief visit to the gift shop for some postcards we returned to the apartment. Being British, expert queuer it was a little saddening to be pushed in front of three times whilst in the queue to pay, amplified by how the others were waiting for me outside.

    We spent some time relaxing at the apartment before heading out again to the ‘LOCAL’ restaurant, a rather difficult name to search for online. The food there was lovely and the staff were friendly. There was even a brass band door (the squeaks it made were uncannily like the a trumpet). We shared a bottle of wine between us along side a plethora of Tapas dishes. One interesting ingredient was a pickled carrot on some serrano ham on toast. I managed to pick an olive, chilli, and pepper bravas sauce which was quite in contrast with the other bravas sauces that we had enjoyed so far on the trip. It’d be nice to find out how to make it back home to bring some more variety to my cooking.

    We ended the evening with a trip to Bar Centro, opposite the apartment. They claimed ‘Craft beer and eccentric food’. On walking in there was a mild, but definitely present smell of sewage, but in seeing that many tables were occupied I took it as a sign that it would be worth it. I tried a Russian Velvet stout, which had a lovely vanilla aroma. I thought it would be the best as it was; not only the most alcoholic, but it was also made in Spain itself. I pocketed a coaster as a souvenir, as the monkey logo was fantastic. We ended the evening with more codenames before heading to bed.