Friday, January 29, 2010

La Boqueria - A Foodie Mecca

If you are a foodie, chances are you have heard of Barcelona's foodie mecca, Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria or simply La Boqueria. I first heard of it from Andrew Zimmern's show, Bizarre Foods. La Boqueria is located at the Ciutat Vella district of Barcelona with entrance from La Rambla not too far from the Liceu metro station.
The entrance alone titilates the senses.
Here's why Andrew was drawn to the market. They sell heads, testicles, brains, and a lot more that falls under the category of bizarre.
Some people might consider this bizarre as well.
How about this? This looks like a fun way to fillet a fish right? I am guessing this one's a bacalao.
Barcelona is a busy seaport and the fishing is good. Some shell fish I have not seen before.
The sweetest stall in the market- literally - it sells candies, chocolate confections etc.
Olive oil - took a bottle home.
Mushrooms look yummy and so pretty.
Foie gras - took a small package home :)
They have a wide selection of cheese - took three small packages of cheese home.
A taste of bacalao, a good snack while exploring the market. They have a stall that sells a slice of pizza and a glass of wine - sweet!
Friendly storekeepers like this one who with her very little broken English and our almost non-existent Spanish and zero Catalan we managed to stay and "chat" with her and found out that it's a dream of hers to visit San Francisco because she has heard a lot of good things 'bout the city from friends. I guess both cities have a lot of similarities that both cities' residents would enjoy and appreciate.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Museu Picasso

I had Sagrada Familia as my must visit. My husband had Picasso Museum.
On the second day of our stay, we planned to hit Park Guell and Picasso Museum. It was a day of art overdose :) After getting back to Las Ramblas (we keep coming back here) from Park Guell, we decided to go to the museum on foot. Taking the train and the bus on our first day, I was eager to explore the city on foot.
I saw a lot of narrow alleys like this one. This leads straight to the museum. The guy in blue (on foot, not on bike) was actually in a few of my pics. I didn't realize that until I was sorting all the pics to post here. Do you think he's a local thinking I'm a crazy tourist snapping furiously?
Finally we found the entrance. On the left is the ticket counter, on the right is the stairs that lead to the second floor (or first floor by European standards) museum. The museum I found out is housed in five adjoining medieval palaces. Sadly, no photography allowed. I could have shown you that one luxurious room that appears as if it was used as a parlor in the old days. I really wanted to shoot the room which after all had no paintings on it, but I played it safe and obeyed the rules.
I hardly knew who Picasso was, but the museum has extensive collection of his works. My full attention was captured by his works. I am ashamed to admit this, but when visiting museums, I never really pay attention to the written words, or explanation, description, etc. I am a visual learner, but here it was different. We spent a lot of time going from one room to another, reading voraciously on the descriptions of every picture. We had an amazing time.
Below is a gift shop, no surprise there. I had a marvelous time browsing through all the Picasso related items for sale.
From prints to mags, from tees to pens and a whole lot more - they have everything you wanted to bring home :) They made sure of that.
Being a first-timer in Europe, I was in awe of the medieval architecture.

Love all the stone and arches. Sorry about the sub par quality of these photos. We used up a lot of batteries in three days in Barcelona alone, and we haven't even got on the cruise yet. Which means we had a lot of photos that didn't really turn out well. Photos captured from dying batteries just doesn't turn out pretty, duh!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

MNAC (Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya)

When we took the hop on hop off bus, our plan was to stay on the bus until all the spots have been seen and only then would we "hop off" to take a closer look. But when we spotted the domes of this structure, we couldn't resist hopping off.
This is a beautiful structure. Did not go in as we were pressed for time, but we managed to spend time exploring it's grounds.
From the museum, this is the view of Placa d'Espagna.

The museum sits high on a hill or something that we could see the rooftops. I always wanted to to be high enough to see the rooftops :) I know I'm that shallow!
This wide staircase has a vibe of Gaudi with all the tile mosaic on the both sides. I don't know if they were Gaudi's. Behind the benches is an escalator, we took that instead of the stairs.
This is the back of the museum. Couldn't help taking a shot as we hopped on another bus.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Placa Catalunya

Placa Catalunya is a large square in central Barcelona. It has an area of about 50,000 square meters. The plaza is filled with many statues and fountains, although I can't believe I haven't really gotten any good shots of any sculptures, my bad. Placa Catalunya is surrounded by other tourists spots and shopping and dining destinations.
It's just not a square if there are no pigeons to feed, isn't it?
Again people are warned of pickpockets in this place. Three days and three nights of coming here I did not see it packed enough that a pickpocket artist would do his/her thing undetected.
This is looking towards Las Ramblas.
Francesc Macia monument at night.

The fountain at night.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Las Ramblas 2: Tapas Crawl

I love tapas and I've always been dreaming on doing a tapas crawl in Spain. Now that the occasion presented itself, I wasn't going to say no. We did the crawl. At least tried to. A tapas crawl is when you go from one place to another sampling what their specialty is. However, we could only manage to stop at two restaurants in Barcelona and 3 places in Madrid. On one night, all we could do was order a variety of tapas in one place and just stayed there. I don't know if that would be considered a tapas crawl, but for the sake of this post, it is a tapas crawl.
Specials are posted so it's easy to see if you want anything. This one for instance offers tapas, paella, and drink for E7,95 not bad at all.
The very best gambas I have tasted. It's simply grilled shrimps seasoned with salt and pepper and sprinkled with olive oil and sitting on a mound of potato wedges. I have never had very fresh shrimp as these before. I can still taste it.
They have pricey plates like the combination seafood platter, but boy oh boy, it's worth the price. This plate was something like 28 euros.
Common tapas fare: potato in aioli, meatballs, pulpo, and shrimp salad.
The famous paella. While I am a rice eater, I'm more impressed by the paellas I have tasted in the Napa Valley. I want my paella a little drier than this :). It's very good though.
No reason to omit dessert when doing a tapas crawl. Here we each ordered Crema de Catalunya, a custard-like dessert with brulee topping. Very good and tasty. My husband was able to recreate this dessert and we served this over Christmas and last Saturday when we had friends over.
There's beer . It's San Miguel Beer. Now I don't know if this one's Spanish or this is the one from the Philippines. A little thing I noticed in Barcelona is that they never serve you water. If you want water they will bring you bottled water and charge you for it. So we either had beer, wine, or even coffee for dinner.
One restaurant offered sangria in their combination meal.
More beer. Who says no to beer?
The length of Las Ramblas is dotted with outdoor seating like this from restaurants across the road. Burger King is empty, as it should.

Another observation I had is that people eat slowly, taking their sweet time, staying in their seats long after they were finished with their meal, then order coffee or another glass of wine. Everyone is relaxed, even the waiter on a restaurant we went to was busy texting and fiddling with his phone/gadget and in no hurry to attend to customers, and no body was in a hurry to eat anyway.

I thought we offended one restaurant when we were in a hurry to leave immediately the minute we downed our drinks. The waitress asked us if there was something wrong with their food and why are we leaving so soon (we were there nearly an hour and had four tapas, a plate and two drinks). It must have looked strange to them that we didn't stay longer and sipped some coffee. We reasoned out that we needed to sample the neighboring restaurants offerings :)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Las Ramblas 1

Las Ramblas is a pedestrian thoroughfare spanning the length of 1.2 km starting in the north at Placa Catalunya (said to be the center of Barcelona) and terminating in the south at Port Vell (by the Statue of Columbus and where the cruise lines are docked). On each side of the pedestrianized Las Ramblas Blvd are two narrow one-way traffic roads.

Las Ramblas is a shopping, dining, people watching paradise in the heart of the city. Attractions include live perfomances, human statue , artists ready to draw your portrait or caricature, artists at work, souvenir shops and lots of restaurants boasting of their famous tapas and American fast food chains - I spotted McDonalds (menu is different), Subway, Burger King (in Madrid I saw someone downing a burger with beer inside the restaurant, so I don't know if they have beer on the menu), and Starbucks. I know of one who have stayed in Barcelona at the same time as us and went to McDonalds for breakfast the whole time and complained that they don't have the same breakfast menu. Cannot confirm this because I only glanced at the menu and how very limited it was when my thirst asked for a sweet tea from Mickey D.

Accommodations along the Las Ramblas are aplenty in the form of hotels, hostels and apartments. Although newcomers/visitors are often warned that you cannot get sleep when you stay along this bustling boulevard. Who needs sleep when there's plenty to do 24-7 in this place?

Shopping along the Las Ramblas can be a bit pricey. It is after all a touristy place, so expect to pay higher price. If you are staying for a few days and need some necessities, I suggest that you go to grocery stores off the boulevard and you'll stretch your euros further. Just across the Placa Catalunya for example is Cortes Ingles which is a mall and was suggested by writings online that it's much cheaper there. I did not go there, thinking it was a mall. I wasn't a mall rat to begin with and I have no intention of spending any time at all in a mall while in Barcelona. But I did shop for pasalubongs (gifts) at a grocery store near where I stayed and there was 2 to 3 euros difference in the pricing.

It is accessible via the metro system. Three stations service Las Ramblas (Catalunya in the north, Liceu midway, and Drassanes in the south). So easy to reach.

From my readings for this post I learned that Las Ramblas has a seedy and nonseedy side. Apparently the south side, near the port, becomes some kind of a red light district at night time. I have been to the south side at night three times and never saw any prostitutes, or I just can't tell which is which :)

Most travel writings on Las Ramblas warn people of pickpockets and scam artists. My take itt's not just in Las Ramblas that we should be careful of. Pickpockets and scam artists are every where in the world. They go where people, tourists or locals alike, congregate. It's up to the traveler to be aware of his surroundings, his wallet at all time. It's just a matter of common sense. I think Las Ramblas gets a lot of plaque for this, but it shouldn't be. We weren't victimized in Las Ramblas, although a bunch of kids try to surround my husband who was carrying a backpack inside the train. My husband just said in a loud voice, What are you doing? There is nothing in there but sweaters, you wanna see?

Entering Las Ramblas from Placa Catalunya
Shooting everyting in sight - buildings and people
There's a church, who's name I did not get.

Headless seems to be very popular here.
More street performers/artists/statues?
LOL big time on this guy. High on originality, don't you think?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Playing the Tourist

The visit to Barcelona brought out the tourist in me. I played the role to the hilt. And one of the touristy things we did was to buy a ticket to the hop on hop off bus, as I have mentioned at the beginning of this Barcelona series. I must say that it's a wise move to do this, especially if you have very limited time to stay in a city.

Here are some more of the sights I have seen and snaps I have taken while the bus was in motion.
A very interesting sculpture near the port.
Love urban street scenes.
Didn't I tell you I love street scenes?
Wide thoroughfare with fountain at the end, do you see it?
Entry to the zoo. Did not get a chance to visit.
I cannot remember exactly where this was. For most of that day, our first whole day, the sky was overcast and the temp was mild.