(continuation of our European trip)
Our hotel, Oriente Atiram, had what they called a breakfast lounge, which was more akin to a breakfast extravaganza. Because we’d reserved the “cheapest” room over some travel site, our room didn’t come with free breakfast, but we realized it was worth paying for the breakfast in the hotel rather than using up valuable time looking for a place to eat… and debating over the merits of each possible selection.
The hotel is in a square building with a large central courtyard. A glass roof was placed over the courtyard, and the breakfast lounge built beneath it. The resulting area is very serene with the wall painted eggshell white and the “outside” plasterwork painted pewter blue. Sunlight cascades down, making it even more inviting.
Spread across several tables was the food. The food! Trays of fresh fruit, including cut melons, pineapple, berries, and a variety of amazing citrus (it’s Spain after all), trays of pastries and cakes (at least a dozen varieties), trays of cheese (heavenly chunks of brie, soft mozzarella, and other local cheeses), hot and cold cereals, yogurt, scrambled eggs, trays of cold cut meat (ham, prosciutto, and other common Spanish meats), sausages, variety of breads, espresso machine, carafes of fresh squeezed juices, milk, and every type of spread and jelly you can imagine.
If that wasn’t enough, they have a special every day. We ate breakfast at the hotel three times, and enjoyed their “Catalan Corner” and “Special Cakes” specials.
Besides enjoying the food – I primarily ate fruit, CHEESE, pastries, espresso, and orange juice – was the fun of observing others. Across from us one morning must have been a British couple because all they ate were stacks of toast with jelly. Another morning, a father and son got plates of food, including whole tomatoes, which they ate with their cheese and meats. I’m sure people were looking at Rich and I, thinking “Those Americans. You’d think they’d never seen food before!”
Abstracts, Boats, and Insights
The museum is in the Reisals Drassanes (Royal Dockyards), considered the largest, resorted shipyard in the world. The 13th-century Gothic building is gorgeous, and more akin to a church or civic center than a shipbuilding facility. We arrived at the museum before it opened, giving us time to wander around the lobby, which had intriguing automatons of sea creatures made from repurposed metals and other materials. When you waved your hand in front of them, they started to move. They were very clever and amusing.
While getting the tickets, we started a conversation with another man in line. He was a New York real estate attorney, visiting friends in Barcelona. While touring the museum, we bumped into him several times, and later he followed us to the Picasso Museum. With his being from New York, the conversation quickly turned to his opinion of Donald Trump. Incredulously, he’d had several meetings with Trump, and as he spoke, his eyes seemed to tear up, not from happiness, but trepidation.
The only positive he could offer about Trump was that he’s very personable, and he embraces people as if they’re best friends. He spoke of several real estate dealings with Trump in which mendacity played a large role. In one instance, Trump asked for a meeting to gather information about the corporate tenants in a building. The next day, Trump issued a press release lauding his association with some of the tenants, even though he’d never met them, and until the day before, didn’t even know their names.
The lawyer also warned about Jared Kushner, saying he couldn’t be trusted. He commented on Kushner’s father going to prison.
It was insightful (and enjoyable) talking to the lawyer because he knew various other celebrities, including Martha Stewart.
When we weren’t talking politics, we sauntered through maritime museum, which was very interest and fun to explore. The first gallery focused on children’s toys, and featured hundreds of model and toy ships, including ones made from paper, walnut shells, and other inexpensive materials.
The next gallery was a combination of navigation, shipping building, and the history of European maritime history. Much of the gallery was contained in open and stacked shipping crates, which you walked inside to see the exhibits. Some of the shipping crates opened to show a video of a person speaking with subtitles below. For instance, there was a Jewish man from the 13th or 14th century who talked about Sephardic Jewish communities and their role in cartography. Another speaker, a woman, was a modern-day stevedore who talked about containerized shipping, and the process of loading ships using cranes.
The size of the museum, enables them to display large ships like a full-sized replica of Real, the Spanish galley and flagship of military leader Don Juan de Austria in the Battle of Lepanto. The largest battle in history between galleys, the naval engagement took place on October 7, 1571 between a fleet of the Holy League, a coalition of European Catholic maritime states arranged by Pope Pius V, financed by Habsburg Spain and led by admiral John of Austria and the fleet of the Ottoman Empire in the Gulf of Patras. What makes the battle extraordinary is number of galleys and galleasses (larger ships) in the battle.
The coalition of European nations had 409 galleys, 12 galleasses, 40,000 oarsmen and sailors, and 20,000 soldiers. The Ottoman Empire had 222 galleys, 56 galleasses, 37,000 oarsmen, most of which were Christian slaves captured in previous battles, 13,000 sailors, and 34,000 soldiers. To put into perspective the number of men and ships in the battle, a modern-day Flight IIA destroyer, which is 509 feet in length holds 23 officers and 300 enlisted soldiers. The Real was just 200 feet in length with 290 rowers and 400 sailors.
The largest galley of its kind, the Real was built at the Royal Shipyard in Barcelona, and was decorated to befit the royalty of Don Juan de Austria, the illegitimate son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Painted in the red and gold colors of Spain, the galley had numerous sculptures, bas-reliefs, paintings, ornate lights on the bow, and other embellishments, evoking religious and humanistic themes.
Despite its elegance, life on a galley could be horrendous if you were an oarsman. Most of which during the Battle of Lepanto were Turkish slaves, prisoners of war, or convicts who were chained four-by-four to a bench for months on end. Evidentially, the stench from a galley could be sensed before it could be seen.
Today, the replica of the Fear is contently sitting under the grand gothic arches of the Barcelona Maritime Museum. Rich and I walked around the ship twice, in awe of the beautify of the paintings, length of bowsprit with a golden Neptune figurine on the end, and the amazing woodwork. The oars were gigantic, extending twenty or so feet out from the sides of the ship.
Unfortunately, tours of the ship weren’t happening when we visited the museum. It would have been interesting to stand on top and look down, imaging the ship navigating across the ocean, and being lead into an epic battle in the Mediterranean.
Because there’s lot to see in Barcelona, we zipped through the museum in a few hours, and then head to the Picasso Museum. The attorney from New York joined us, which was fun to get more “dirt” on Trump.
The museum is housed in five adjoining Catalan civic gothic style palaces that date from the 13th and 15th century. They buildings were built around a central courtyard with outdoor, open stairways to the upper floors. Spain is very warm in the summer so having a private courtyard makes it pleasant to open windows without worrying about people to look in. The drawback is in incremental weather, you need to ascend and descend stairways that are exposed to the elements.
I’m initially explaining the structure of the Picasso Museum because I didn’t like Picasso paintings before I visited, and liked them even less after leaving. Rich was considerably more open-minded. Even so, he was equally amazed that Picasso’s simplistic interpretations – often doing dozens of paintings of the same subject – are considered masterpieces. Okay, some of his paintings are interesting, especially during his blue and cubist periods, but then he launched into what I felt were childish renderings.
What we both found thought-provoking was the evolution of his work from skillfully drawn and painted pieces to simplistic shapes and blobs. Here’s a collection of portraits, in which you can see the evolution (or devolution) of his work.
The museum is the most extensive collection of Picasso’s work with 4,251 works exhibited. We purchased the audio tour so we could gain an insight into the paintings, and with it being dreary outside, and Rich struggling with a cold, it was nice to wander through the museum for a few hours.
Udon Noodles Fueled our Continuing Adventure
Afterwards, we wandered into the Gothic Quarter, the center of the old city of Barcelona. There’s a mix of stone buildings, some from medieval times, along with the remains of the squared Roman Wall. The streets are very narrow, many closed to vehicular traffic. The street plan is labyrinthine with streets opening onto squares, anchored by a church, palace, or public place, such as a market.
I loved meandering through these streets because you never knew what you’d find, the breadth of architectural styles, the frenzy (and sometimes quiet) of people, a peek-a-boo of a lushly landscaped courtyard, and the excitement of finding yourself beside a notable historical site. There was also a wealth of places to eat with proprietors standing in the doorways, coaxing you inside.
Without any coaxing, we chose a Japanese-themed restaurant, decorated in reds and blacks with long community tables. We were directed to the end of one of the tables, and ordered large bowls of steaming udon noodles and vegetables. Yum!
Prior to our European vacation, we ordered Barcelona Passes, which provides free and reduced admission to dozens of museums, sites, and attractions. One was the Chocolate Museum (Museu de la Xocolata), which was on our way to our next destination… kinda’.
We had to ask for directions several times in that the streets radiate out from central squares, and like the spokes of wheels, it was difficult to know whether we were on the right spoke or should be on the next street over! And because the buildings are multiple stories, you can’t easily discern what’s on each street.
Nevertheless, we found the museum, which is connected to a large chocolate shop. We were initially asked where we came from, and then handed two candy bars with an American flag, and QR code on the back. Scanning the code, we passed through a turnstile into the museum.
Along with presenting the history of chocolate, the museum showcased chocolate-making equipment, serving dishes, and how chocolate has been used in beverages and cooking, such as mole (Mexican sauce made with chilis, spices, nuts, and chocolate). Around the peripheral of the museum were large glass display cases of sculptures and dioramas made of chocolate, many by well-known chocolatiers. It was enjoyable walking through the museum and learning about the various types of chocolate.
Our next stop was the Domus of Sant Honorat, a heritage site, which is part of the Barcelona City History Museum. We also wandering through the part of the museum, but with most of the displays were in Spanish, so we did more walking, hemming and hawing than comprehending. Although, it was fabulous seeing the older buildings, especially a large hall, which was once part of royal residence.
Here’s a virtual tour of the main museum, featuring the Barcelona Haggadot, the Jewish Spender of Catalan Gothic exhibit. We went to the Jewish Museum the following day, which I will write about later.
You could spend all day visiting the 15 sites, which comprise the museum. And our next stop of the day was one of them, Park Guell. Before adventuring to the park, however, we wandered through other parts of La Rambla, passing by metal roll-up doors, which opened to garages, private courtyards, or maybe storefronts. Many of these doors were painted in bright colors, patterns, cartoons, and motifs akin to graffiti. It was fascinating walking along the streets and seeing a mix of doors into residents, courtyards behind wrought iron fences, bustling stores, and painted garage doors.
Turning a corner, we found ourselves in front of a large open air market, housed inside a building. Doing a bit of research on the internet, I suspect it was La Boqueria. Originally in front of one of the gates of the old city wall (Pla de la Boqueria), it was where farmers would sell their fruits and vegetables.
Today, it’s sensory overload with at least two hundred stalls, judging by the lay-out their website. The variety of booths is amazing from poultry, game and eggs to charcuterie, red meats, offal, dried fruit, fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals, seafood, salted fish, olives, preserved foods, cheese, breads, pastries, nuts, candies, gelato, fruit juices and smoothies, wine, cookware, fresh and dried herbs, prepared foods, and tourist items. Plus, they have cafes and bars inside the market.
The sensory overload, at least for me, was the refrigerated cases of snails, cockles, giant octopuses, squid, sea cucumbers, lamprey, eel, bowls of pickled herrings, sardines, frogs, goat heads, goat meat, roosters with their heads and feet attached, rabbits, animal heads and hoofs, brains, intestines, tongues, tripe and vital organs from steer, lambs, pork, sheep, and other critters.
I did thoroughly geek-out on the amazing colors and combinations of fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, eggs (all sizes from quail to ostrich), herbs, candies, breads, and prepared foods, including cut fruit, savory and sweet pastries, and smoothies. Check out their gallery and video on YouTube. This video is in Spanish, but presents the experience of walking through the market.
Unique Park with a Great View
Park Guell is hefty walk from La Rambla so we took an underground train, and emerged in a bohemian neighborhood with a mix of buildings, including newer, multi-story apartment buildings, modest houses, and small shops. We passed by a car dealership in a squatty 1970’s style building with European economy cars inside. The area is one of the most densely populated in Barcelona, and is considered hip with a mix of young professionals, artists, and older Catalonians who proudly display Catalonian flags in their windows.
Interestingly, in 1900, businessman Eusebi Guell commissioned Antoni Gaudi to build Park Guell, which was to become a residential area for wealthy families. However, the project was halted in 1914, owing to issues with getting building permits. At the time, only two houses had been built, once resided in by Guell, and the other by Gaudi. In 1969, the park was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
We’d read in advance that we’d need to walk up quite a few stairs to reach Park Guell, which is located on Carmelo Hill in the Sierra de Collserola mountain range. A few stairs were an underestimation. Not only was there staircases, but escalators, which dissected the apartments and shops on both sides.
After huffing up the stairs, we reached an opening into the park, a gravel trail, which further zigzagged up the hill. The scene at the top, however, was worth every gasp of breath. You can see across Barcelona to the sea with Sagrada Familia towering over many of the buildings around it. It was spectacular to watch the setting sun reflect off the buildings, and experience the city start to turn on lights as night descended.
We’d planned to watch the sunset from Park Guell, but when we arrived, the sun was already inching down the sky so we ska-dabbled through the park, skipping past the area where you needed to pay (Monument Zone), and following the trail to the top of the park. We snapped some selfies and pictures of the city, and then trotted down the trail to see the rest of the park.
Designed by Guadi, who took his inspiration from nature, the picnic area and viaduct has dark brown structures like chunky stalactites and stalagmites in an underground cave. In another area are terrace walls, which look like the roots of large trees. We saw doves roosting in these structures as the sun started setting.
Although…. looking at the pictures on the internet, taken in the bright sunlight, these structures were composed of stones (or possibly sculptured concrete) and meant to resemble trees. See what happens when you visit a place at dusk!
While snapping pictures, we conversed with a couple from Southern California. The husband restored churches, and was excited about the opportunity to visit the many churches in the area to better understand European architecture and building techniques.
Even though we didn’t pay to see the Park Guell Monument Zone (partially because it was closing within half an hour), we were able to zoom in with a camera to capture the interesting mosaic, columns, terraces, and buildings. And with the it being dusk, we never could have taken a picture like this one!
As darkness replaced light, we scrambled down the trail and staircases, which lead to the street. We walked a short distance back to the metro, and took a train back to La Rambla. Hungry from our adventure, we settled on Bar Mirinda, an outdoor café on a side street. We both ordered salad, which are very large. Mine had a warmed block of soft cheese in the middle that when eaten with the greens, nuts, and dried fruit in the salad was heavenly.
Rich’s salad had ham and other goodies. The produce is so fresh in Barcelona that a salad can be a majestic meal. Plus, we enjoyed the music from a wandering minstrel singing Spanish folks songs. There was also people watching, and just unwinding from a busy day.
After an obligatory cup of café con leche, we wandered back to our hotel, passing by a small open-air market, which had several stalls of candies. I begged Rich to let me buy some. The small bag of assorted chocolates we picked out ended up costing around 20 euros. I stashed them in my suitcase, and when we got back to Washington, we indulged in one or two chocolates a night. While expensive, they were dramatically tastier than boxed chocolates in America.