Thursday, January 19, 2017

Más España! – Our Spanish Staycations: October 9 to 25, 2016

This post is being launched from Golfito, Costa Rica where we remain waiting for new house batteries to arrive from Miami. It is a flash-back post about the portion of our two-month Spanish sojourn spent "staycationing". We rented two different apartments in two very, very, very different places and enjoyed la vida española in both. 

Barcelona, Catalunia – October 9 - 18

Barcelona is a Favorite City for many and last year, when tourists abandoned Paris by the thousands, Barcelona became a Favorite City for Practically Everyone. Even in October, a month into the shoulder season, it was freehkin’ jammed.

We managed to fall in love with Barcelona anyway.

A Few Of Our Favorite Things:

               "Our" Apartment: Via Airbnb we rented all but the master suite (which was unoccupied – just unavailable to us) of a charming apartment on the seventh floor in an older building in the Eixample (“Eye-sham-plah”) area of Barcelona. The apartment was roomy, comfortable, quiet (for a major city) and offered a sliver of a distance view of the Mediterranean.

On The Horizon - Our Mediterranean View!

[Travel Tip: Those cute little apartments with charming floor-to-ceiling windows opening onto plazas and streets full of cafés and restaurants? Keep a grip on your romantic nature and remember that sounds coming from those streets and plazas - even those you may consider charming at 9 p.m. (friends meeting to begin a night of tapas and wine, music spilling from restaurants and motorcycles with handsome couples coming and going) - will be annoying as hell from midnight to 4:00 a.m.. Consider renting on the fifth floor or above if you like to leave windows open – reminder: small apartment can feel “close” without air movement -- or rent a place with heat and air which will permit you to shut those charming, huge windows.]

Eixample is a lovely part of Barcelona not too near and not too far from the city’s tourist attractions. Within a short walk we could window shop along Avenida Diagonal, view charming early 20th Century buildings,

Charming Big Windows -
With Catalan Flags In Many!

Barcelona Balconies

dine in just fine restaurants and shop for meals at home in several grocery stores. 

The Hospital Clinic metro station was a block away and from there we could get anywhere in town. [Travel Tip: Use the subway – it’s efficient, relatively self-explanatory, cheap if you buy a re-fillable pass, safe and clean. Just like a real city!]

               The Salon Nautico 2016:  One afternoon we decided to wander the waterfront and see if we could identify the marina where some sailing compadres had kept their boat for a year or so (thanks for the Barcelona info Dave!).

So Many Sailboats!

As we wandered toward the marina we saw there was a boat show in town. The next day we wandered happily through the show for hours looking at beautiful, brand new sailboats we can’t afford.

Beyond Our Means

Happily for our psychic health, after a full day of window shopping we concluded that Abracadabra may not be sleek and new, but she’s our sturdy girl. And between the two of us, we know damn near every inch of her!

               The Maritime Museum: And of course, there was a maritime museum. The museum in Barcelona is housed in the former royal shipyards, a dramatic setting for the museum's displays of boats, reproductions and models. 

They Built Ships Here? 

Replica of the Flagship At The Battle of Lepanto
(Photo By Martin Roysher)

A Model
(Photo by Martin Roysher)

The museum includes reenactment videos that offer a personal perspective on different aspects of Barcelona's maritime heritage. And there is a really fun display about toy boats.

Wind That Key, Kids!

Perhaps best of all on a day of pouring rain, the museum restaurant is very good.

But a warning for sailors of a certain vintage: there are a few exhibits that made us think: uhm, that's in a museum?!

Does This Mean Abracadabra's Chart Plotter Is A Museum Piece?

               Palau de la Música Orfeó Català (Palace of Catalan Music): We highly recommend hearing a concert at the Palau (thanks for the recommendation, Wendy!). It is a beautiful example of modernisme (Spanish: modernismo; English: modernism). [Side note: Modernisme refers to artistic and literary styles practiced in Latin America in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. In Barcelona it’s most often used to refer to an architectural style that is similar to Art Nouveau.]

The Ticket Booth of The Palau

Modernisme Details - They Loved Their Tile Work
(Ticket Purchaser - A Complete Stranger)

Attending a concert is a great way to enjoy the spectacular interior of the Palau though one can also pay for a tour of the interior. We heard two young artists: Joaquin Arrabal Zamora, who played contrabass with a piano accompanist. Interestingly, a contrabass can be the primary instrument in a Schubert sonata. The second performer was Daahoud Salim, a very energetic pianist. We enjoyed the evening, but couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for the performers. It must be tough knowing that most of the audience was more interested in the venue than the performances. 

               Spanish Civil War Walking Tour: A highlight of our stay was a walking tour offered by Iberian Nature Tours. Our tour guide, Catherine Howley, introduced us to a part of history we knew very little about.

Catherine With a Poster For the "People's Olympics"
Held In Protest Against The 1936 Summer Olympics Held In Nazi Germany
The People's Olympics Were Interrupted By The Outbreak Of The Civil War  

During the Spanish Civil War Barcelona was held by Anarchist and Communist groups that opposed Franco’s fascists and, sadly, eventually began fighting against each other. The whole city bore the brunt of deadly Axis assaults and over a thousand were killed during a series of bombing raids in March of 1938.

Bombing Evidence That Escaped The Falange Regime's
"Urban Renewal" Efforts

After the fascists defeated the Republicans in 1939 many refugees fled Barcelona for France. Some were forcibly returned to Francoist Spain; others were interned as Communists by the Vichy government or pressed into work details; and many were eventually sent to German death camps. A few escaped imprisonment by going underground and joining the French Resistance. Thousands of people were swept up in one war and then another for ten long years.

Many Republican supporters escaped to Mexico or South America. The United States refused most who had fought for the Republic (remember, this was a popularly elected, though left-leaning government) on the basis that they were -- love this phrase: premature anti-fascists. Code word: communists.

During our time in Spain we saw very few museum exhibits about the Civil War or the forty years long Franco dictatorship. This lack of public discussion suggested to us that Spaniards haven’t yet come to grips with those devastating events. Even this tour is run by British residents of Spain, rather than by Spaniards whose families suffered through those times. 

                Cathedral: Because one does, we visited the city's Cathedral. 

It’s beautiful.

Gothic Arches - Must Be A Cathedral

It’s home to some lovely pieces of art.

An Annunciation - Yep, A Cathedral

It’s also a modern, bustling financial enterprise.

Big Screens

Post Cards To The Left, Praying To The Right

A Few Of Our Not Quite Favorite Things (Warning: Tourist Heresy Here!):

               Sagrada Familia: Antoni Gaudi, a well-known practitioner of the modernisme architectural style designed the Basilica Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia (the Basilica and Expiatory Church of The Sacred Family). He died in 1926. The church is still under construction. Those in charge of the project promise it will be completed in 2026. 

Cranes Surrounding Us

This church is not a building of elegant simplicity.

But it is A Place To See in Barcelona, so we went. Along with many of our fellow tourists.

Seeing A Place To See

Bryce enjoyed one of the four entrances to the church – the one depicting the passion of Christ. 

Molly, not so much. An art-knowledgeable friend suggests that this negative reaction may be due to something as simple as the weather or time of day  - that we might have appreciated the beauty of the light disbursed into the nave by the windows had we visited on a sunnier day. 

For whatever reason, Molly just could not get past the construction zone aspect, the audio guide's adulation of Gaudi (she suspects he was an unpleasant zealot) and the hordes of tourists. Maybe she was just hungry. The death knell to her experience was watching two women taking selfies in front of a depiction of the crucifixion. Really – in front of the crucifixion? She’s not even a practicing Christian and she found that creepy.

Many others disagree - they love this place and wax poetic about the design and light and etc.. You may, too.

Bryce Observing

But make reservations – you will be sharing this experience with others.

               Park Güell:  The “monument zone” of the park is another place on the Gaudi Trail. And another source of aesthetic disagreement among the crew of Abracadabra. Molly thought some of the structures were quirky and humorous. Bryce, not so much.
Our best laugh: The audio guide's description of the park made it clear that the park began life as a failed residential real estate development! Gaudi’s primary patron, Eusebi Güell, got the Gaudi-designed front gate, two gate-keeper’s cottages and market built . . . and no one bought a single lot (well, Güell and Gaudi had houses there). Güell’s family later gave the whole thing to the City. Can't help but think there was a charitable tax deduction lurking in the story somewhere . . . 

The buildings and other structures in the monument zone are of the modernisme style and are charming in a quirky, Hobbit House / Hansel and Gretel kind of way (so says Molly anyway). The tile roofs are particularly amusing - a play on the classic Mexican tile roofs that can be found in Puebla.

A House For A Gatekeeper Named Baggins?

Extreme Tile Design

Immediately outside of the monument zone is the house Gaudi was living in at the end of his life. One of Gaudi's disciples designed the house and it contains some Craftsman-ish looking furniture designed by The Guy. It is very pleasant and worth a visit.

Classic Style - Both The House and
The Captain's Wardrobe

[Travel Tip: Visitors can wander the park without making a reservation but a visit to the monument zone requires a time-specific entry ticket. Do not run late and attempt to eat your picnic lunch on a bench within the monument zone. Verboten. You may be able to sneak into the little café inside the lower entry gates (those the tours use) and eat your picnic there. Note that the guide insisting that you can’t eat at all within the monument zone will not tell you about this café even if you ask in Spanish whether there is any place you can eat your lunch within the monument zone.]

              La Rambla: The Rambla (rambla, Spanish for dry river bed) is a pedestrian walk named for the dry river bed  which preceded the road which preceded today's pedestrian walking zone. The Rambla passes a lot of beautiful old buildings that can be seen if you look above the crowds.

Dragon. Umbrella. Why? No Idea.

And it passes by one of our favorite things in Barcelona – a restored Roman Necropolis (about 100 yards off The Rambla, through the Passatge de la Ramblas):

Those Romans Were Everywhere

But as for La Rambla itself: Tour books wax poetic about how one can pull up a chair at a café on La Rambla and “watch Europe stroll by”. Well yeah – only it’s like watching “all of America” at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. You may see a lot of people that you wouldn't want to know any better drinking violently colored, fishbowl-sized alcoholic beverages and smoking furiously. 

But as every visitor to San Francisco must go to Fisherman's Wharf at least once, visitors must wander La Rambla at least once. And who knows - you might like it. Something brings all those people there. 

All of Europe - And A Bunch of North Americans,
Chinese and Australians Too!

We had a better time wandering in other parts of the city.


Surprise: We Liked The Marina!

And Because There’s Stuff We Never Got To:

Despite all the favorite things and not quite so favorite things we packed into our nine-night stay, we barely scratched the surface of what Barcelona has to offer. There are dozens of museums and great restaurants and tapas bars waiting for our return, not to mention a thriving current arts scene we barely explored. Even more Gaudi-designed buildings to tour. Must go back! 

But we left because we had arranged for a second staycation: 

Lubrín, Almerìa – October 18 – 25

From Spain’s second largest city we flew to Almería, where we were met by a taxi arranged by our landlord which took us to the village of Lubrín. Lubrin is not large in anyone’s definition: population less than 2,000 souls.

We had rented a little one-bedroom casita and were planning on doing some more hiking and some relaxing. During our week in Lubrin we managed to fit in both. [Note: the link above is the Airbnb listing for the casita. We booked through a hiking website but the Airbnb site has clearer pictures.] 

Our landlord had created great little hiking guides for six circle routes through the hills surrounding Lubrín. We took two of the walks/hikes:

Bryce Consulting The Guide

Urban Vista

Rural Vista

And then we realized that, because it was the very end of the dry season every place near Lubrin was going to look very similar. Very Sergio Leone. 

So we began to concentrate more heavily on the relaxing-and-enjoying-village-life portion of the program.

Bryce Enjoying One Of The Two Restaurants In Town

Yes, Harry Potter. But In Spanish.

We both really enjoyed our visit to the Lubrín weekly market. [Note: We were busy buying and carrying vegetables and failed to take pictures. There are a couple of nice market day pictures on the Airbnb link above.]

Winding through the narrow streets and buying from ladies who had set up their tables of vegetables that morning reminded us of market day in Mexico. Well, until we got to the guy with a dozen different kind of olives. Hmm. Something Mexico is missing: olives. And then we bought possibly the smallest, but tastiest chicken ever from a guy selling rotisserie chickens from a rotisserie van. Not something we say often – but that chicken was better than any we purchased in Mexico.

Molly’s educational experience during this week (not everyone can read Harry Potter in Spanish) was learning how to make coffee using what the British call a “cafetiere”.

A Cafetiere

She read Internet posts. She watched You Tube videos. She was ready. The trick, she learned, is creating pressure in the bottom of the pot, which forces steam through the coffee grounds and up into the upper coffee chamber. The next step is important: take the pot off the heat and close the lid before there is a coffee eruption. Got it.

For several mornings we had okay coffee and Molly began to feel quite confident in her cafetiere skills. 

Until we invited the property manager, a charming Australian named David, to join us for dinner and offered decaffeinated coffee with dessert. Molly used the package of coffee left in the kitchen that was clearly marked: decaffeinated coffee. She followed the procedures and . . . without warning the cafetiere erupted violently and sprayed coffee everywhere (really, everywhere – even the ceiling!)

David ran for a bucked and mop and all was put to order fairly quickly. But Molly went to bed that night completely mystified as to what she had done wrong. In the morning – when the light was good enough to read the really, really tiny print on the package of decaf she had used -- she saw that the coffee was . . . soluble. Say what you will about American packaging notices but at least when the package contains instant coffee it says so in readable letters! 

Note to self: Never, never trust the British when it comes to coffee!

Our Next Post (Unless Something Exciting Happens In Golfito): The Greatest Hits of Southern Spain

1 comment:

  1. I love your blogs, Molly, as they transport me right there! I'm so pleased you enjoyed the Palau, and enjoyed your descriptions and reactions to the sights of Barcelona. When we visited a couple of years ago, after 40 years, I was shocked by the hordes of tourists in October. Places like Parque Güell had been special, quiet spots when I was a university student, and now were like Disneyland attractions needing hours of lining up. We decided not to even go inside. It's good you took the time to explore other parts of Barcelona, and it's impressive you even learned how to pronounce words in Catalán. ¡Buen viaje!