If you’re brave you can view our photos. Warning: do not view when hungry!
Please don’t make us leave! Maybe I should stay and get a job at the Mercat Santa Catarina with the boy who sits on his Facebook page all day. Our flight left the Barcelona airport at 7 am, so we had to be there at 5, which means our car came at 4:45, which means we got up at 4. This is where being a triathlete comes in handy—I am pretty good at jerking awake, grabbing all my stuff, dragging myself to the start line, and slogging through a long race.
Once we got to the airport and dealt with the uber-cluster that is Lufthansa, we settled into our first of 3 airplanes for the day. The 22 hour journey home gave me a long time to reflect on our trip.
Favorite Activity: canoeing the Dordogne, seeing the Tour de France
Favorite Meal: La Recreation in Les Arques with the Hinckley family
Favorite City: tie between Cadaques, Spain and Beynac, France
Favorite Hotel: Hotel Casanova in Barcelona
Favorite Purchase: a necklace with handmade ceramic beads
Funniest Moment: I said (in Spanish) to the hotel maid in Cadaques, “I have trouble understanding your Spanish.” She said (in Spanish) “That’s because I’m speaking Catalan.” Then she said (in Spanish with great enthusiasm), “How’s Obama?”
Favorite Museum: Dali museum in Figueres was my favorite museum, but the Cezanne Picasso exhibit in Aix-en-Provence was my favorite exhibit.
Most Annoying American: At one point in France it was John. I was getting a little tired of translating. We were outside a restaurant and I was describing every item on the menu to him: rabbit with mushrooms, roast chicken, grilled calamari, etc. It went on and on and I was so tired of reading menus to him every time we ate. Finally I finshed and he said, “Thanks! It’s in English right over here, but you did a really good job!”
So all in all, a great trip. The flights home were fine. John and I are both gifted with being able to sleep on the plane. I usually fall asleep as soon as the plane starts its taxi to the runway.
It was a little hard getting off our 8.5 hour flight and onto a 5.5 hour flight. But that’s what it was. I called Autumn from DC, and she offered to bring the dogs and dinner to the house. Cindy and Larry offered to bring a 6 pack. So we got home, and there were our kitty, our dogs, our friends, some food, and some refreshment. I can’t tell you how happy that made me. Perhaps the most meaningful part of a trip is coming home to people you love.
When we woke up this morning we were moving pretty slowly. Is it possible to have too much fun, food, and festivities on a vacation? If so, I think we were butting up against the limits. So we took it slow getting ready for our day—our LAST day of touring. Day 18 would be one long day of travelling.
One pressing thought was presents. Did we buy enough? There were lots of people who helped us make this trip happen, and we wanted to make sure to bring a little something back for them. So we decided we would take the subway to the waterfront to look at the Mediterranean one more time, then walk up through El Riberia for some good gift shopping.
Years ago the waterfront had been one of the seedier areas of Barcelona, but the city soaked a lot of money in it for the Olympics, and we were really impressed with the infrastructure there at the beach—a huge boardwalk with lots of restaurants.
We were also pleased that the population at the beach was so varied. There were lots of seniors sunning and playing games in the sand. An example of this was the four 70-something men in speedos playing some type of racquet-less tennis game. It was about ten AM, so we figured the kids were all still in bed.
After touring the waterfront, we walked towards the Mercat Santa Caterina, where we were told by our Cinc Sentits waiter we would find a gourmet foods store where we could buy some ******** to take home for some friends. Sorry, can’t tell you what it is until the presents are delivered! As you know, I have never met a market I did not like. And though this was much smaller than the Boqueria, I got that same “market” thrill I always do. Maybe I should work in a market some day? They really make me happy, probably because of my interest in whole foods/local foods movements.
So we found the gourmet foods store, and as we walked in I noticed that the young clerk was reading his Facebook page. I thought that was pretty funny. Then a really loud, really big American man came in like a dust storm and started demanding (in English) to taste a bajillion different olive oils to find the one $10 bottle he would take back home with him, all the while exclaiming that California has the best olive oil in the world. This was one of those moments I was glad that everyone we met in France and Spain thought John was Scottish and I was Norwegian. Despite the drama, we found what we came for, then realized all this shopping was making us hungry.
There was a Tapas place nearby that was in the blogs and guidebooks, but hadn’t made our top list of “must-go” meals. But it was close, so he headed to Taller de Tapas. The prices were good, so we ordered a lot of food. Let’s see. Potatoes with eggs and chorizo, paella, grilled squid, tomato and anchovy salad with beans, and salt cod fritters since we had not tried them yet. The food was good, but I think we had been very spoiled throughout the trip so it was not a “wow” meal for us.
We went back to the hotel for a little rest, then headed back out to complete our shopping. That night we had our tasting dinner that was included with the package. It was at Mexiterranean, which was a fusion restaurant combining Mexican and Mediterranean flavors. John commented that it was a good “gateway” meal to get us back home. We started with drinks in the bar (also part of the package) and I told the bartender “make something fun.” That he did! We had strawberry mojitos, which were so refreshing and had a nice level of sweet and fruity taste.
The rest of the dinner went like this: tapas trio with ceviche, bruschetta, and chicken torta; sea bass with guacamole; Iberian pork with ancho chile; and gasp! a brownie with ice cream. The waiter was nice enough to bring me Tiramisu instead because my second least favorite food behind lima beans is brownies. I hate brownies. The tiramisu was good though. So this was a fun dinner, and a good way to end the trip since we could walk upstairs and go straight to sleep.
This morning we decided to do the Barri Gotic walking tour from our book Barcelona day by day. We walked two blocks to the Universitat subway station, switched lines at Urquinaona, and got off at Jaume I. We headed straight to La Catedral, but we decided not to pay the 12 Euros to go in. It was very pretty from the outside, though, and I’m certain it was just as lovely inside. I liked the Barri Gotic, more than La Rambla for sure. There were lots of tiny stone walkways lined with boutiques and restaurants, with a church, museum, or Roman ruin tucked here or there.
But the real thrill for the day was our 2 pm reservation for lunch at Cinc Sentits, the restaurant that I really wanted to try. The reviews all said that the chef created cutting-edge fusion food, which happens to be my favorite. I was smart enough this time to ask for a copy of the menu so here goes:
five spiced “Marcona” almonds
cantabrian anchovy and fig batons
house-marinated gordal olives
maple syrup, chilled cream, cava sabayon and rock salt
porcini cream and micro greens
PAN SEARED SCALLOP
sunchoke puree, onion escalivada reduction
IBERIAN PORK JOWL
green apple risotto, rosemary, pistachios
transparent gazpacho, fried bread
36 hour sous vide, carrot, beet, parsnip
pink peppercorn ice, pickled watermelon peel
APRICOTS FROM THE MARESME
chamomile ice cream, pistachio cake and streusel
My favorites from the tasting were the mushrooms and the pork jowl, but everything was delicious. In comparison to the meal at Hisop, I have to say I liked Hisop better because every single course was a hit. At Cinc, I was not a huge fan of the watermelon (though it could be said that was a “freebie” since it was really just a palate cleanser). I think the flavors at Hisop were just a little more supising too. I did love our meal at Cinc Sentits. The transparent gazpacho was so interesting because somehow the chef packed a lot of tomato flavor into a clear broth.
What would you do after a lunch like that? Siesta! We went back and had a nap, then got up to enjoy the cool evening with a walk around the posh shops along the Passieg de Gracia. We ended up at Velodromo, a new tapas bar that was recommended to us by our waiter at Cinc Sentits. Still full from lunch, we ordered 6 oysters and monkfish. I have to say that monkfish may have been the dark horse of the trip. I did not have high expectations because the place had a “bar” quality and I thought I would get “bar food.” But we asked the waitress what to order and she said monkfish and it was so tender and tasty.
We walked home in the beautiful cool air. Perhaps all of this wonderful food is curing me of my “attack reaction.” I felt happy and safe; even well cared for.
Well, it looks like that’s it for the running. I feel guilty because my friend Christina ran every day while she was in Barcelona. But she’s a better woman than I am! We’re walking so much each day that my feet really hurt. I have a physical therapy session planned for August 4 to deal with my arch pain. So I need to lay off the AM jogs. I thought about wearing my GPS to log the miles we’re walking all day, but let’s just call them 5 milers. I think we’ll be okay.
We got up without an alarm (thank heavens) and went downstairs for the first of our breakfasts at the hotel. It was so nice to have a carafe of coffee after weeks of the café allongé we had in France, which is basically espresso but brewed with more water. We also had croissants, egg pie, and fruit.
Then we took our first adventure on the subway. Here I had my second “attack reaction” of the Barcelona trip, which I attributed to still being a little uptight over being attacked in Marseille. We were buying tickets at the machine when a man came up behind us and said “What is the problem?” I’m not sure where in my mind it made sense that he might rob us, but for a moment I was terrified. Soon I realized he was recommending that we buy a different type of ticket that would give us a discount. I decided to take this as a life lesson: always prepare yourself for kindness.
The first “attack reaction” had happened the day before when John stopped in a store just for a moment as I walked 2 blocks back to the hotel. At a stop light two men in front of me turned around abruptly and said, “Hablo anglais?” I clutched my purse and prepared to lie. I guess I nodded a little because one of the men said, “Oh thank goodness. We’re lost! Do you know where La Rambla is?” That’s when I realized they were two American college kids—not low profile pickpockets. I sure hope that after a few theft-free days in Barcelona I’ll be back to normal. I have traveled with composure in much more dangerous places.
So we took the subway, which was clean, efficient, and fun! I love trains. It was about the 100th thing on the trip that made me want to move to a new city. We got to the Sagrada Familia, where we paid 12 Euros to get in (I’d like to know who wrote the rule that everything in Europe costs 12 Euros). I am not even going to try to describe this to you. The best thing I can tell you is go pay your 12 Euros and see the thing. Gaudi was killed by a tram car before the building was finished, and then many of the plans were destroyed in the Spanish Civil War. But to visit this place is to live for a short moment in Gaudi’s brain, which is as strange and brilliant a place as I’ve ever been.
We continued the Gaudi tour by walking down the Passeig de Gracia where he has several buildings, all the way down to the Boqueria. Have I told you lately how much I love markets? If I had only seen the Boqueria, my trip to Barcelona would have been worth it. Our first stop was at Pinoxto, a tapas bar teeming with people even at noon, which is well before most people eat lunch. We ordered two dishes: squid with white beans, and garbanzos and blood sausage. So delicious. Then we walked around the market some more. There’s nothing more exciting than the artisanal cheeses, the colorful fruits and vegetables, endless varieties of meat and fish. I don’t even need to buy anything to enjoy a market. It’s a gift to simply look. We made our way to the second recommended tapas bar in the market: El Quim. We ordered the seafood platter and thank heavens we did. This is certainly one we would love to recreate at home: razor clams, mussels, fish, shrimp, oysters.
Back at home it was time for a nap, and then massage appointments. I thought about asking Javier to spend all 45 minutes on my feet. I didn’t, and the massage went well anyway. Then John came in for his massage, and I sat outside in the courtyard listening to a person practicing the clarinet in a neighboring apartment as I lounged in a hammock staring at the blue sky.
That evening we went for dinner at a tapas bar John read about in the New York Times and was dying to try. We got there at 8, but we had to wait about 45 minutes to get a seat. It was so worth it. We had eggplant with molasses, olives, potatoes bravas, and olives with anchovies. We walked home and read for just a bit before falling asleep.
We woke up very tired in Girona. Since our room was quite nice, we decided to just have ourselves a rest instead of hurling ourselves into action. Our only agenda item was to drive to the Barcelona airport where a car was picking us up at 1 pm to take us to our hotel. We rested for a while, then got a coffee and a croissant, then checked out and hit the road.
Samantha was a bit of a pain on the route. We saw plenty of signs that said airport, but she always wanted us to go somewhere else. I have to admit I was really looking forward to packing Samantha away in the suitcase and dropping the Golf off at Avis for 4 refreshing car-free days in Barcelona. John did a great job driving, and Samantha did a great job directing us, but it was pretty tiring all that hopping around.
Soon we found the Airport and the Avis rental area and dropped off the car. Goodbye Golf! Goodbye Samantha! And Christian, our driver, was right there to meet us. He was very friendly and spoke perfect English and told us all about local trends in the economy and politics. I had a little bit of a hard time relaxing at first because I was so used to navigating that I kept feeling like I needed to tell Christian which roads to take. But in no time we were at the hotel, and Christian told us we made a good choice because the hotel was hip and close to everything—right near the University in the Eixample area.
We walked to the check-in, and were greeted by Carmen, the lovely receptionist who had been very helpful with our booking. We purchased this hotel package through www.luxurylink.com so it came with breakfasts, massages, free drinks, and a dinner. We have used the auction site before for reserving places in Costa Rico, St. Lucia, and Thailand. It has always been wonderful. We were anxious to see our new home for the next 4 nights, and Carmen walked us upstairs to the room.
It truly exceeded our expectations! It was a gorgeous suite with 2 bathrooms, a living room, and a huge bedroom with a King bed and floor to ceiling windows. We were so happy we decided to splurge for this relaxing last part of the trip. We took a few pictures, got freshened up, and went for a walk to get some Tapas!
After a light snack of Tapas, we came back and had a quick nap. Then we walked to La Rambla—the crowded tree-lined pedestrian mall so famous with tourists. And tourists there were. A few too many for my taste. But we found a Desigual store and I bought two dresses and John bought a shirt, so the trip was a success.
After shopping, we came back to the hotel and showered to get ready for our reservations at Hisop. We were really looking forward to the tasting menu at this innovative and hip restaurant. We ate an incredible 8 course meal that started with a gin and tonic oyster with horseradish foam, and ended with a special morel mushroom crème catalan with passion fruit ice cream. I think that was the best dessert I ever had. Loved it! We were full and tired, so we took a cab home and went to sleep!
We got up this morning and went for a little run to see Salvador Dali’s house. Let’s just say it’s super cool and I want to live in it. I really want to live in Cadaques, period. What a gorgeous little place. I am so glad we came to visit.
After our run we had breakfast at the hotel then drove to Figures where we waited in line for about 45 minutes to see the Dali museum. While waiting, I bought a bottle of water from the Dalicatessin. So glad they have a sense of humor here!
Well, the wait was so worth it. Though it doesn’t even begin to house all of his work, we were absolutely amazed by his creativity and depth of artistry. From modernizing Roman and Greek images, to creating a sculpture out of an old Cadillac, to a Hologram called “First Cylndric Chromo-Hologram Portrait of Alice Cooper’s Brain,” the museum was full of inventive and crazy items. The museum should not be missed. We caught a little lunch before leaving for Girona, our last stop before Barcelona.
Our hotel in Girona was recommended in the tour guides—it was literally right in the center of town; in fact it involved a harrowing drive onto a pedestrian street. We really liked Girona a lot. We rested for just a moment, then started walking through the Jewish quarter—the oldest part of town with very close buildings and shops. We ended at the Cathedral, which was started in 1416, and has the widest Gothic nave in the world. It was truly breathtaking. On the way back to the hotel for a rest, we stopped at the store Desigual, which I fell in love with back in Arizona when I saw a lovely skirt that Isabelle had from the store. I tried on a dress but it was way too big, so it would have to wait for Barcelona. We got some ice cream and headed for a nap.
After a rest, we walked back into the Jewish quarter and happened upon a little wine shop where about 20 people had gathered outside. The shop keeper was serving wine out of his little store front, and a crowd had gathered to enjoy the tasting. We had to be a part of that, right? So we both got a glass for 1.5 Euro, and had fun in the street drinking our wine and people watching.
Dinner that night was tapas including stuffed squid, black rice with seafood, and mushroom cannelloni. We thought about going one more place before turning in, but we were spent, and went back to the hotel and read for just a few moments before falling asleep. Beautiful day, beautiful town. I would really recommend it.
This was our fourth day of skipping a run, since we woke up in Sete and it’s very congested and hilly with no good paths out. Plus, we took a nice long walk in the morning to the fish market, and then up to the Musee Paul Valery, where I went to his gravesite. That means I can write off my trip for poetry research right?? It was a nice morning, and we left town at about noon to head to our next spot, in Spain, Cadaques, which was about 2.5 hours away.
As soon as Isabelle my French tutor showed me the first picture of Cadaques, I knew I wanted to go there. It is a little seaside village with lots of artists, she said, and it has the home of Salvador Dali. So we headed out of Sete on the beach road, past the areas where I used to go sunning when I spent a summer at the Universite de Paul Valery in Montpellier in 1989. It was a cloudy and windy day, but we got our feet wet in the Mediterranean before heading off to the autoroute.
As we drove we spotted license plates, Italy, Fance, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Great Britain, Ireland, Romania, and, finally, a semi truck from Hungary. John joked that they were shipping in Vizslas. I can see why they would they are such sweeties! Just ask Autumn and Jeff, who are sleeping with our Vizslas in the bed as I type!
We got off the freeway at Figures, and passed the touristy beach towns that Isabelle had warned me about. The resort town of Roses looked just like Nueva Vallarta in Mexico, which is to say, it was to be skipped. To get to Cadaques one must brave a mountainous 2 lane 12 km road that then drops into an idyllic cove of white-washed buildings with red tiled roofs and blue shutters—it looks like Greek islands. Well worth the drive, and we were so happy we passed the resort towns as Isabelle had advised.
We headed straight for the beach where we had tapas right on the water. Some razor clams, gorgeous olives, and potatoes. Then we walked around for some sightseeing until John felt a nap coming on, and we returned to the hotel where he took a siesta and I wrote a little bit, catching up on a few days of the blog. When he woke up, we walked some more. There are tiny pathways with restaurants along either side, and we tucked into one and had some cervezas, and the waitress brought us some free octopus ceviche. Yum! It was pretty hilarious because they were playing the Spain show with Gwenyth Paltrow and Mario Batalli on TV. Isn’t that redundant? I thought. Finally, we found another seaside restaurant and had Tapas and Sangria again overlooking the water. It was so delightful, and we both commented how we would love to spend more time in this seaside village. Like maybe a year or two?
Wow. That was a long day of travel. There’s nothing like getting your period right before your 22 hour transatlantic journey (sorry boys, I know that’s TMI). But the day of travel was worth it since the tickets were free. We flew from Phoenix to LA to Philly to Frankfurt to Barcelona. It’s pretty amazing that the only delay was on the last leg. Thank heavens! And it was only 20 minutes late. We didn’t have a layover longer than an hour. We did a lot of running from gate to gate. We got to the Barcelona airport and it was really nice—brand new. Went straight to Avis and picked up our VW Golf. It’s a cutie! It will serve us well for 18 days.
We started driving, relying on our Garmin Nuvi 275T to get us to the hotel in Mataro. When booking our hotel, we chose the town on the water right off the freeway but outside of Barcelona because we knew we would be exhausted and in no mood for crowds. All went well, even thought the Garmin thought we were in Madrid for about 10 minutes. We got to our hotel in only 20 minutes of driving. We went for a walk, exploring all the back streets and shops, then we ate some Tapas and had a bottle of Rose for $15 total. Then we went back to the hotel for a 2 hour nap. Well needed!
We have kind of a promise to run every day, not only because we plan to eat, but also because it is such a great way to explore. So after our nap we went for a 3 mile jog (really! it was slow!) by the beach. It was so beautiful, with lots of people strolling with their dogs and lots of others running and biking or eating at seaside restaurants. We circled up around the harbor, then back through the city center to our hotel.
After a shower, we walked to a Jamon restaurant where we ate tapas—manchego, and some ham John really wanted to taste. They feed the pigs nothing but acorns, and I’m not sure of the science, but it tastes really good! Tomorrow morning I think we’ll run a the beach again since the breeze is so nice, then head up to Carcasssonne. I posted more pictures on another blog site I’m trying out at pcmasuedu.shutterfly.com I’ll take a vote and see which one you like best.
As many of you know, my decision not to have children stems from several ideologies: political, environmental, philosophical. But I’ve just bumped up into another one: emotional! I had to drop off my “children” today to Autumn and Jeff’s. And while I know they will be so well taken care of, and I’m so lucky to have friends who are willing to help facilitate me having a completely selfish and decadent get-away, I just feel like I’m falling apart. Can you imagine if my children were human and not canine? Can you say breakdown?
My mother used to say to me that she wished I would have children just so I would know how deeply she loved me. Well, Mom, Rooster and Penny are all it took. It’s hard to believe we will be leaving tomorrow morning. I can hardly picture being in a new place and out of this heat, and away from my pups!