Last 10 hours.

Catalonia,  The  Virgin and A Full Moon.

As we head down the street with the church is behind us, I look on the map and notice that on route to the Park we are going to pass a bullfighting arena. Bullfighting, one of the more offensive human past times (in my opinion) has been banned in the Catalan State of Spain. I say Catalan, because it is an important part of the whole equation, we are not really in Spain right now, we are actually in Catalonia or at least that is how the Catalans feel. The history of the Catalans go back centuries and they even have their own language.  A good example is that streets signs here a don’t have the word CALLE for street, instead  they say CARRER which is Catalan for Street and so on. Remember at church? The service was in Catalan, and they will even try to give you menus in Catalan – which drives the Spanish nuts. The language itself? It is derived from a Pig Latin if you will, a mix of Italian, Spanish and French and was spoken on either side of the Pyrenees mountains. If you look up the history of Catalonia, it is a long one, Andorra, one of the smallest countries in Europe and established in the 1200’s official language is Catalan. It lies between the borders of France and Spain and the Catalan people in these parts are the direct descendants of that ancient world. For 100’s of years as the Peninsula invented itself and principalities divided, a people always get caught. Franco banned the language of Catalan and pretended the people  never existed but for years there was an underground movement to keep the culture and language alive and in 1975  the Catalans were freed after Franco rule and have been fighting for their identity since.  In the last 30 years, it seems they want to really get it all back and not even speak spanish anymore! Barcelona is a Catalan City but don’t think you can’t speak spanish… you can.  One major way they have attempted to set themselves aside from the rest of the country they just recently BANNED bullfighting. If you are of Spanish descent, you deem bullfighting as a right and an honor for those who spectate it and those bulls and fighters who participate in it.

In July 2010 the state of Catalonia passed a vote that by January 2012 – The sport of bullfighting would be officially banned in Catalonia. The rest of the Spain feels that it was a bold move by the Catalans to set themselves apart from a very tradition that the Spanish see as a basis of Spanish culture!!! As we walk by the old arena it sits waiting for its new fate. (Maybe Madonna should throw a concert there? I feel sad. This time I am not sad for a culture to lose a time old tradition, but sad for all the noble bulls that spared their life for a hungry spectator on a weekend afternoon. I could get into it, yes, they fed the meat to the orphans, the bulls have a better life than a dairy cow etc, but for me, it is the very idea that for PURE entertainment, an animal is tortured and killed for the sake of entertainment. It is insane and simply BARBARIC!  I feel the world is a much more civilized place without it, at least Catalonia is. I am beginning to take sides with the Catalans and consider studying the language! VIVA CALATONIA!  My first word is Carrer which means Street.

Here she is: Placa del Toro Monumental.

A Place of Torture? A Place of Sport? You choose but you need to go to SPAIN if you want to see a bullfight, not Catalonia. 🙂

As we walk towards the Parc de La Cuitadella we pass under the Arc de Triomf! I told you this was Paris with Palm Trees! And we head down the center towards the Park. It begins to rain. Maybe is was the tears I felt for the bulls or maybe it was just rain… Quietly I think it is the tears for the bulls.

To take cover from the rain, we run into the beautiful Estacio Terme o de Franca! (the train station). They have a bar there called what else “The Station” and we find a couch in the corner. After a juice, you won’t believe this but we PASSED OUT and took a 2 hour nap while the rain hit the ceiling of the structure. Can you Imagine?  A Nap? It was purely heaven and when we were through? We got up, and kept going! With only a few hours left we decide to grab a Beer and a Salad and plan our final hours.

Princesa 23 is a great place if you want to take a break from Manchego and Ham. Here we found a delicious light meat free meal and it is right downtown, which started to get pretty busy!

Veggies and a Refreshing beer. Perfect!

From there, we walked along the Marina and the city was BUZZING! Beautiful buildings, monuments and people!

Waterfront Monuments

This boat is a replica and just returned from an around the world sail!

Original Docking Center...

Me and Christopher, Pointing to the New World!

As the day starts to come to a close, we have a few things left we want to do!

#1 go buy cookies at the famous cookie shop! #2 get a sangria and #3 eat a paella. We manage to get all 3 and more!

I don’t have a sweet tooth and even I went crazy for this haven of fresh cookies and candies called “La Cure Gourmande!” What is so funny is that it is a french joint but it is SOOO good. I stocked up on cookies for my family and even tasted a few items! From Strawberry Cookies to chocolates it is all good!

Guilty Pleasures!

After the cookie purchase we are hit with a huge crowd! Manuel askes what it is all about and it is for the procession of Mary that is hitting the streets. I get excited. I have never really seen this, actually, and in SPAIN? Opus Dey is alive and well here and I am excited for what we are about to see. We zip up our pockets and purses because pick pockets are most certainly on the loose, actually pick pockets in barcelona are the norm and you should ALWAY mind your pockets and bags… ANYWAY – we head toward the Rambla and low and behold! There she was!!! The Virgin Mary. The pious paraders around her were wearing KKK like costumes, ones I have only seen in the movies! Their dark green cone shaped headress/masks were menacing and freaky? I thought, if you are going to be pious, show your face? Why is it in religion that they want everyone to cover up the body that we were given? To hide? To cover? That never made sense to me! Pious people should run around NAKED! and do it in the name of GOD! 🙂 still we stayed and watched. There were processions like these all over town due to it being Good Friday. On the news that night, there was footage of even the most notorious followers that whip themselves into a frenzy emulating Jesus’ walk towards crusifixtion. It is totally insane. I know that if there was a God, he would not ask you to do anything like that. I think he would just really want you to be kind to one another. This example of rightish religion in the end in my opinion is alienating. Religion more and more as I have travelled causes more trouble than  peace and it starts to make me a little angry. I picture myself stomping the procession and pulling the hats off the cowards that pretend to be something else. Instead I let them be. I am passionate but not THAT dramatic! + I have not had my SANGRIA yet! We all waited with bated breath and then the music of the marching band began. The float began to shake, backwards and forwards, candles would go out and reignite and the procession began. It was a strange sight. Here are a few pics!

Lifelike rendition of the Virgin. The Candles would go out and then Restart. It was Actually a Little Freaky.

Afraid to Show your Face? The Leader of the Pack!

The Procession Leads with the Masked Attendants and Ends with a Small Marching Band

The Band

There were a bunch of these happening around town, after the procession passed we decide with the little time we had left to stop chasing the Virigin and find our other religion! HA HA that is drinking good Sangria! We did so at the famous Placa Reial! This is a favorite spot amongst everyone! We found a seat at DO and ordered 2 sangrias stat! As the world walks by we sit and relax and soak in the last of what day light has to offer. The sangria is delicious and the glass is big enough to dive into. At this point you look around and think. LIFE IS PRETTY GOOD.

The "placa"

The Sangria!

Our last stop today and in Barcelona is the very old establishment of Los Caracoles, which means the snails… you have to walk through the bar and then kitchen to get to the tables and it is filled with tourists and locala. The white coated waiters are attentive and the food selection enormous. It is good friday and I am thinking a shellfish Paella and Manuel his last order or Solo Meo Beef. After a few glasses of wine and some really good food we are cooked. We leave the restaurant full and happy and start walking towards a good place to spot a taxi.

The Bustle of Los Caracoles

The Kitchen!

Walking back toward the water front I look to the sky and notice that the moon is sitting just there, slightly above the eye line. Bright and happy I take in the whole scene. Barcelona – oh sweet city, you have taken me in, embraced me  and now are dismissing me with a moon light kiss! Gracias! What an amazing place! I’ll be back soon!

Love, Stephanie

Moon Over Barcelona!

Barcelona – day 2

Gaudi Day!

Gawdy Park, Gawdy Church!

Waking to cloudy skies, we make a note to bring an umbrella… our first stop today is Parc Güell. We hail a taxi and drive through the most beautiful neighborhoods. I decide that Barcelona is a very livable city.  The balconies are filled with clay pots of green plants and palms, the awnings of all colors hang over cafe tables of life. It is a shame to me that Balconies in NYC are normally dead with life. In europe the enclaves designed on balconies are normally small pieces of heaven in the sky and I have always admired that.  There is a mix of old and new buildings that make up the neighborhoods and as the taxi starts climbing a hill I notice that the streets are SPOTLESS and wonder when in an education system does a human realize their impact on the world around them and how a simple decision of throwing something in a garbage can effect the world around them – then I realize – the Europeans still don’t have a throw away society YET. People take their coffee at the coffee bar –  not to go! If you look in a trash bin in NYC it is usually TO go Coffee cups (from starbucks) bottles from soda or water and togo containers. It is kind of depressing!  It is Good Friday, a holy day for Catholics and National Holiday. Businesses and Banks are closed but Tourism is huge here and apparently Easter weekend is a popular time for tourists so most everything is open as far as attractions: ie – restaurants, museums and shops so we are in good shape.  As the taxi climbs we arrive to the entrance of the park. “What is this? The North Pole? You immediately feel that elves are going to pop out  and start dancing! Welcome to Parc Güell. This park was commissioned Eusebi Güell who was interested in building a park for the aristocracy of the area. When commissioning the designer of  the park who else but  Gaudi was asked to do the job. Gaudi even lived in the park for years in one of the structures that he built here.  This park holds specialties like the longest bench in the world and has a series gingerbread structures that transports you to a fairy land!  When entering the park we actually look for a ticket booth but the policeman assures us there is no fee. This is a public park for all to enjoy! How lovely!

Today with these dramatic skies and the city just in front of us, the scene is a site to remember. I found the parc to be very inspirational. The kind of place you can’t be in a bad mood in. I would guess that Gaudi’s idea when building this park was to make sure all visitors were uplifted and imaginations drifted!  Here are some images of a park that is a must see when visiting Barcelona.

Park on Columns

Breathtaking Gardens. The Vegetation was Gorgeous!

A View from the Bench

The bench Stretches 1100 Meters

The Home Where Gaudi Once Lived

Traveling through the park you can’t even imagine how big is it! In addition, it is set on a hill a pretty steep one! For whatever reason, you never lose your breath or get tired – it is amazing! This park gives you a sense that anything is possible and at the top –  the view is incredible. When we reached the top –  to our right was Muntanya de Montjuït to our left the downtown and down the center?  Oh My God! what the heck is that??????????  “It’s HUMONGOUS!”

What IIIS that? It's the Temple of the Sacred Family and it is the symbol of Barcelona! Designed by you know who!

Love, Stephanie

My oh My!  What People Build for God.

For whatever reason, I forgot about the 1 building that defines Barcelona and it is the Temple de La Sagrada Familia! We decided to walk to it from the Parc.

Barcelona is the best city to walk in actually… Somehow you don’t get tired? Isn’t that crazy? Of course I was wearing good walking shoes, I packed my bag as light as possible and did not buy anything along the way – that always helps but seriously, walking from the Parc Güell to Downtown was easy! It also helped that we were walking down hill. From the Parc – you can take pretty much 1 or 2 streets and you hit the Temple. The walk down was beautiful. It was quiet and there were a few places open. We stopped for  a coffee and a water at a local cafe and even enjoyed walking down the middle of the streets sometimes due to so little traffic. Rounding the corner the sun comes out and it suddenly warms.

We reach the park adjacent to the Church and took a minute to soak it all in. At first,  I was shocked. It’s HUGE. AND it’s under construction? That’s strange?

First, yes you guessed it, Gaudi had his hand in the design and signed onto the project a year after its first year under construction. Gaudi worked on the project from 1882 – 1926 the year of his death. At this point, the church was less than 1/4  complete. With the combo of gothic architecture with curvilinear forms  this structure is truly one of a kind. You will find nothing like it in the world and if you live to see it in its completion there will still be nothing like it.  Gaudi created a structure that is personally? Kind of Creepy!!!!  I was shocked to know it was not even done and although you will see a ton of pics of the church with the cranes superimposed out of it, the church is UNDER CONSTRUCTION and today, it being good friday,  I think 1/2 the christian world was  in line to go and see it. I was shocked at the buses the people the structure! The whole scene!

In 2010 it was announced that the church was 50% complete. 50% Complete??? What more can they do? Well apparently lots more. It is already on the world heritage list as one of the worlds greatest structures on earth and it is set for completion in 2026 – the centennial of Gaudi’s Death.

Here are so pics for your to enjoy or get creeped out by. I did not go inside. The line to get in was hours long –  With just 48 hours in Barcelona total, we opted out and decided to come back another time to see the inside.

There She Is!

Old Section Next to the New Section!

The Holy Trinity Gaudi Style

Sun Coming Through!

Daunting Details! Every Square Inch is Thought About - Considered and Designed.

Just as we were leaving the Area I turned to take a look at it one more time. I stopped and took it all in. Incredible what people build for God isn’t it? i think about all the resources that we we put in one structure. I bet all the money, the time and the people it took, could solve hunger in 1 or 2 countries around the world. I shake my head and move on down the road towards the next beautiful part of the city the Parc de la Cuitadella!

Love, Stephanie

Barceloneta for a Tapas Dinner and an Evening walk.

The sun set late! 8pm was dusk!  We start to get hungry and Manuel knows exactly where we are going to go for dinner. Just before though, we stop into the Basilica de Santa Maria del la Mar. Here we sit and watch the Good Thursday Mass that is taking place, we leave because we can’t understand a word! The mass is in Catalan! I’ll get to that a little later.  Still we soak in the scene and it is beautiful.

Basilica de Santa Maria de la Mar, Evening Mass on Good Thursday. 8pm

After a dip in the holy water we decide it is time to eat. Barcelona is a waterfront town. In some ways walking around town you would never know it and then it hits you. Just after the Basilica and down a narrow street is the huge city marina.  Behind the marina where the land juts out a bit is a section of town called Barceloneta. It is here that the fisherman lived, where people hang their laundry out to dry and has a Napolitano feel to it. Walking the evening streets, you hear the washing of dishes behind lace curtains, the barking of dogs and the clacking of glasses, forks and knives. Faint noises from televisions and even people yelling from room to room, this neighborhood is very much alive with residents of the last 50 years. We walk through the Placa Poeta Bosca and see a game of soccer by a bunch of 10 year olds… as we zig zag our way around we find our destination.

Best Tapas in Barceloneta Cerveceria El Vaso de Oro!

Tapas is a way of life. Just like NY delis, there is a tapas place on every corner in Barcelona. Funny enough, they don’t take up much space and are usually long narrow bars where you stop in for either 5 minutes or 5 hours depending on what you want. Vaso De Oro as been around for a while and it is BUSY! In general –  Tapas is usually served by men and many of the waiters will even cook some of the dishes behind the bar which makes for a really loud and cozy environment. They are actually called Cerveceria’s which literally means Beer Joint and there are plenty of cold beers on tap.

The Tapas Scene...

The typical white jacketed waiters are quick and if you don’t get your order in within about 10 seconds they move onto another set of customers. We are surrounded by locals and tourists that each have an insatiable appetite for tapas. When we arrive the bar is full, we squeeze into a nook on the side, order 2 Riojas and some starters and wait for a seat at the bar. Within minutes we get 2 spots and just in time for the first tapas to arrive. It is a split between Manuel and me – I wanted the Peppers and He the Solo Meo which is some cut of beef he swears is like nothing you ever tasted. Then the Fois Grois showed up fried with Onions, then the Almonds, fresh bread and Manchego Cheese and the Green olives that have a fresh nuttiness about them. I am realizing that there is not that much to eat if you don’t eat fish, meat, pork or poultry. Still the servings are perfect and the wines keeps flowing!

Solo Meo & Pimientos

Tapas Heaven

After our dinner we move onto an old neighborhood restaurant that has been passed from generation to generation. Founded in 1921 Paco Alcalde has served the locals population traditional fish recipes for years. It reminded me of a sort of old fish joint in Cape Cod. Pictures on the walls, fishing nets as decor  and bright lights. It is about 10pm and we walk into to say hello. Manuel came here all the time when living in Barcelona and wanted to see if the same group was still there… Sure enough they were and we were welcomed with open arms. We shared wine and had a custard dessert while we caught up on the local gossips. Jamal who is Morrocan just got married, the owner complains that his son is not taking over the way he wanted to, the Bartender behind the bar from Urguary is counting his days to retirement and the cousin at the door will keep that post till the day he dies. The Paella and fish dishes keep coming out of the kitchen and the cooks are the mothers and grandmothers that are easily over 70 years old. I urge you to take a walk through Barceloneta and have a meal here! We promise on our next trip – we will have a paella with them! After many hand shakes and hugs we realize we spent over an hour there! We say our goodbyes and are off to the marina for a night cap.

The Reunion! Friends at the Paco Alcalde in Barceloneta!

Our final stop is Cafe Foc. Yes FOC. and it is pronounced “Fuk”. The mix here is an unusual one. Many locals and lots of Boaters. The weather is cool and it is not the season for  sailing or boating, still the marina attracts all sorts and many of them are here tonight. The irish coffees are divine and we meet a few people behind the bar and at the bar. An 11 year old blonde girl sits at the bar and hassles the waiter as she watches him make mojito after mojito. I realize that kids are not even allowed to sit at bars in the US and this is what makes Europe so different I also wonder if it is so good for a kid to learn how to make mixed drinks so early. Isabelle immediatley starts  talking to me too while she pulls out a piece of paper from her pocket that literally says “If I am lost please call this number.” The paper is written in English and Spanish and I learn the girl lives in the Canary Islands with her mom – who is sitting outside. I tell her to try smell the mint that they are making the mojitos with and she is shocked at the smell. “Can I show my mother?” as she runs out and shoves a big sprig of mint in her mothers face.  She switches from English to Spanish on a dime as she tells me of kids pulling her hair in school because she is platinum blond. At this point I think she deserves the chocolate egg I bought at Mauri, so I give it to her and she devours it. The I realize she just took candy from a stranger! I tell her to go find her monther and I decide to finally listen in on Manuel’s conversation which is actually with an adult. Meet Angel Pascal who has an enormous beer and plate of ham in front of him. I wonder how he is even going to eat all of it! He is a food critic and gives us a list of places to check out for food. We only have 3 meals left in Barcelona if you include breakfast and I write a few down. He gives us the low down on real estate and the gossips of the city which he says, even though there is a recession the market has risen! Barcelona is HOT!

Pascal and Manuel at Cafe Foc.

The night comes to a close as we are exhausted. We must have walked 15 miles today and more to do tomorrow. Good night Sweet Barcelona! Can’t wait to see what you have to offer tomorrow!

Good Night from Barcelona!

Love, Stephanie

This little piggy went to market…..

For those of you who are wondering if I had just one little bite of the best ham in the world, I did not. I stuck to my guns, because frankly, after 20 years of refusing meat, I don’t really have an interest in it, still I wonder if I am missing something….. maybe just a little something. Enter Jamon Iberico… The ultimate Spanish experience.

The truth is?  I can’t really imagine a Spain without its beloved Jamon. You can’t imagine a Spain without it, because it is literally EVERYWHERE. From the moment you land at the airport those famous legs are hanging in every window. Think of all the curtains that could be hung instead! But seriously, there are stores dedicated to the thin slices of piggy heaven and even special knives to slice it just right and wooden ham holders that angle the leg just right for each cut. These guys cut this ham in thin slices identical to carpaccio.  Did I mention that the hoof is always attached to the leg? Oh yeah it is. Those little black feet. I can almost hear the pitter patter of the hooves as they hesitate their way into slaughter, still somehow it is all palatable or acceptable or something like that. I suppose it is more honest if you do show the hoof – after all it is no secret that meat is the muscle of a once living animal right? I told someone that once. I said it just like that actually – “Meat is the muscle of an animal.” The person I told this to, was shocked. I asked them – “What else would it be?” and their response was. “Meat?”

Spain does not screw around when it comes to its cuisine. People know where this stuff comes from, knows what the meat is attached to and savor every bite.  From manuels’ first sandwich to the end of the trip – I was confronted about very 5 minutes with the hanging ham and hoof.

One after the Other. Ham. Hanging on a Hook.

First and formost, we are talking Iberico ham, NOT serrano ham, the difference is in the pig and the attached black hoof. Second, the Boar is black, has very little hair and are descendants of ancient boars that have roamed the Peninsula since we began writing it all down on CAVE WALLS! (Serrano hams are pink and hairy.) Third, in order to reach Iberico ham status it needs to go through a few steps to get there and Iberico ham is divided into 2 groups. Ones that eat traditional grass and corn and live a normal pig life  called Jamon Iberico and  and the others that eat grass, corns and ACORNS  and live in the Oak preserves called Jamon Iberico de Bellota.  The bellotas can double in price due to its intense flavoring of the meat (eating all those dam acorns). In addition, the acorns add a ton of delicious fat to the pig  – which is a very important part of the curing process.

There are farms and families that have been growing theses boars over time. The process lasts a longer than I could ever expect. In the case of the Acorn easting pigs which I am most interested in, they graze all summer and at 10 months are let out  to the mountainside to feast on acorns that have dropped from age old Oak trees protected by the government! The boars LOVE them and can double their weight  in just a few months.  It is not only the acorns that they feast on that enhances this special meat, it is the air, the land, the natural elements only found in the hills of Spain that boar farmers swear make all the difference in the world. At their time of slaughter, if it is a family owned farm, it might be that it is considered a sacrifice. Somehow, when an animal becomes a sacrifice, it becomes an honor for them to be killed and and honor for those to enjoy it. In the larger farms, it is not too clear how exactly they are processed but have heard that they do the best they can in the sacrifcing process, doing if quick and painless. (I don’t believe this somehow). Immediatley after slaughter most of the boar is processed into sausage and such, all the typical things you might think of, but it is the legs that are spared any kind of prcessing at all! They are salted immediately and the curing process begins. The regular hams for about 2 years and the “belotta” hams which means “acorn” for even longer. Whether on a small scale in a small family farm in a mountain village or a large farm, the hams at this point need to be hung outdoors (with a roof) to start the process. Fresh air must be present and the hams are hung to literally transform. Fat drips off and as the meat heats and cools and heats and cools. In most cases the leg will lose over half its weight and in the case of the belottas, due to the acorn antioxidant and the curing process, the saturated fats are actually turned into health mono – unsaturated fats that are high in oleic acid. The only other fat that has higher olei adid is actually OLIVE OIL!  Holy shit! and the Ham is healthy too????

I could go on, but you get the drift in short: The ham is fucking good. The economics of this sliced meat is daunting for a country the size of Spain. Forests are protected so that the acorns can be eaten. Wooden ham holders are produced, knives are invented and so on. Even more interesting is the ham was illegal to bring into the US for decades. The US decided that the spanish slaughterhouses were not up to USDA standards, (probably becuase there was not enough bleach on the premises) and Spain even built factories to meet those standards (which we are know in the US are despicable) for some reason I don’t think it could be worse. Rumors that maybe the slaugher houses in Spain had dirt floors instead of cement or wooden processing chambers instead of stainless steel. Still the new factories were built for US export. I find this a little weird, since hams have it WAYYY better in Spain than in the states. I am going to get to the bottom of this one. Even the fact the Boars graze on about 4 acres of protected land per animal and never go to FEED LOTS is a start! –  hardly a factory farm conditions. Anyway, in 2005 the US approved that that years batch would be approved for entry into the US in 2008 and did so. They arrived with the black hoof attached but the US immediatley decided that the feet were unsanitary and insisted that they start arriving with the hoof cut off. So if you do get Iberico ham in the US it is sans the foot. Loses the romance entirely doesn’t it? I would think that the Spanish air in a Spanish city like Barcelona puts the cherry on top of the experience entirely. If you want Iberico Ham, come to friggin Spain.

Virtually nothing left!

For the Purpose of Decoration and Curing, Hang HAM!

and more ham...

Bellota Up Front and Center

In celebration of the ancient Ham I said a small prayer for them at the basilica.  Whether you are in favor of it or not there is no dispute that the Iberico Ham is here to stay for for that I wish them the most painless and happy life and quick death. Still you never know. With the recent ban on bullfighting in the Catalonian state, things actually might change! That is what am writing about next!

Love, Stephanie

48 Hours in Barcelona, Spain.

Paris with Palm Trees.

Running like hell to Penn station I ask myself, why did I just not take a car service!! But I am taking the flight with a working pilot who takes the NJ transit, so I go along with it.  Manuel (the pilot) calls me and says ” there is a 4:29 train that I must to get on no matter what.”  I look at my watch and realize I have 12 minutes to get from 23rd and 6th Ave to 31st and 7th in gridlock traffic (initial thought: Is this why people travel in those horrible velvet track suits?  second thought: Shit, I am going to have to run.)  After a quick talk with my taxi driver the traffic light turns green and we have a break! The Cabby cruises and gets me to 29th and 7th where I throw him a saw buck and start to run for it.

The phone rings and  I answer while running, “Track 2 darling, go straight to track 2.”  – I hang up, throw my phone in my bag and start screaming my way up the sidewalk.

As I see the large MSG sign,  I am getting close, I “run” at the “don’t walk” signs avoid getting hit by cars 2 times and manage to hit everyone I pass with my 3 small carry on bags.   I get to the top of the escalators at Penn Station and  opt for the stairs. (it’s got to be faster.”) Half way down, I realize I am about to fall and break my leg when I pull myself together for one last push! This is the point  when I just start screaming  “Track 2!!!!!!! Where is TRACK 2!!!!!!!!!!!!”

At 4:28 and 50 seconds, I jump on the train. The conductor looks at me like nothing is wrong and the door closes behind me.  I made it. I am sweating but I made it. I start looking for Manuel and have a third thought (Buy a track suit).

Newark Airport which has slowly become my favorite airport is really easy to get to by train and even though I can be spoiled sometimes, it really is the best way to get out of the city during rush hour. With a hop and a skip a quick check in and a  breeze through the employee security line we head our separate ways. Manuel to check the weather and do paper work, and me to go to order a saki, take a benedryl and eat some white rice. I feel the combo of starch, antihistamine and alcohol will do the trick to calm my nerves, I forgot to write that I actually get nervous flying and this is my 9th post.

The gate  is chaos and I don’t even hear them calling my name, Manuel comes out and hands me my boarding pass.  Low and behold!  2F!!!  It’s my lucky day!

I check into my seat and head towards the cockpit to  say hi to the co-pilots and get the rundown on weather. All looks good so far as I notice all the buttons and lights I try not to think of it.  I head to my seat and sit down and buckle up – I opt out of the champagne welcome drink, I had had enough saki.

Staring out my window the announcement begins…… “This is your captain speaking…” and all of a sudden my neighbor perks up!

“I am not a really good flyer you know”… as she says hello and looks into my eyes for a little help.

My response is “ I’m not the best flyer either, but today, you are in great hands…”

“Oh? Why?”

“Cuz that’s my boyfriend on the PA and he’s the pilot! He will answer all the questions you have about flying and calm your nerves.”

Meet Karen: Karen is on a much needed break. Her eldest child has chosen to see the world and invite mom for a bit of the ride – which includes this stop in Barcelona.  Karen is proud of all her 3 girls and tells me, now that they are getting older she wants to start traveling again.  After a few moments, Karen decides it was fate that brought us together. 2 Catholic school girls side by side drinking some wine and just talking. The take off was smooth as silk and our view of NYC was breathtaking. it was dusk, the sky was orange, the bright lights of the city illuminated the ground beneath as we both agree a red wine is in order. Let the vacation begin! We had a blast and enjoyed every thing that biz class had to offer. After the ice cream, I try to sleep a little.

My attempt to capture the Manhattan Skyline.

There is nothing better than a good neighbor in the sky. We both attempted a snooze and started chatting again as soon as we woke! We are descending into the Barcelona area and the weather seems to be holding up. We were expecting rain. After perfect landing, a painless pass through customs and a flawless meet with the crew van, we are headed toward the city and there is ZERO traffic! It is Easter weekend and we are expecting it to be a little quieter than usual –  most business are already closed! It is Thursday morning about 10AM.

Buenes Dias Barcelona – The first 10 hours.

The tip envelope gets passed around for the driver as we drill her for information on the beat of the streets. We are all relieved that restaurants will be open and same with the stores.  We arrive at the Melia Melia Hotel we freshen up and head out to the local mall and market to grab a glass of Rioja and a sandwich before our siesta. As we pass through the open mall and markets I am already noticing all the ham and I need to gear up for. The market is busy and the realization hits me, I am in a major meat eating country. Manuel’s breakfast is Iberica Ham on fresh toasted bread and mine is a melted cheese sandwich with shredded tomatoe on it. A sort of stick to your ribs kind of breakfast. We wash it down with a delicious Rioja. It is about Noon and it begins to pour – we rush back for a siesta before we explore the city!

Manuels' Breakfast of Champions!

At 4:30pm, we wake. The rain had let up and after strategic layering of clothing (the weather was cooler than expected!) we head out.

First part of our walk is on the Avinguda de Diagonal. We are headed east toward the old city and the beaches.  I immediately feel embraced. The air is cold and crisp and the damp city streets shine. The sun begins to peak through the clouds and the Sycamore Trees’ young bright green leaves dance in the light wind. I particularly notice the Sapphire Palms that line the street.

Their sage colored palms juxtapose the incredibly ornate and classical architecture – then I realize Spain was spared in World War II and what luck for that. Every building has a soft beige hue to it.  I decide it is Paris with Palm trees. I see older distinguished couples holding hands, children on scooters, young mothers and fathers, teens and adults, bicyclists, shopper and tourists. I also see lots of Hams hanging in the windows! and when I say Ham, I mean, the Ham is attached to a hoof! But I will get to that a little later.  The shops bustle – each window is decorated for Easter and I can’t stop taking photos, mostly of the trees against these beautiful buildings.

Trees and classic architecture. Likely scene here in Barcelona.

We take a right hand turn on Rambla Catalunya and start heading closer to downtown waterfront.  Admiring all the windows, there is one store we can’t pass up  and it is Pastisseries Mauri Pastelerias Mauri.  The windows are filled with huge chocolate eggs, and the most amazing chocolate scenes.

The Window at Mauri - Established 1929

From jungle themes to sport themes and even smurf scenes, this establishment it is busy selling its Easter goodies.  The wood paneled store has been there since 1929 and we decide it is a perfect time for a café con leche.  Delicious and rich the with whole creamy milk I savor every sip. Starbucks eat your heart out. No matter what you have done, you can never take the place of an old school patisserie in Europe. EVER.

Ornate ceilings and wood paneled walls.

After our coffees and the purchase of small chocolate egg, I snap 100 photos for my mom to see. She being German, she can look that the details  of every chocolate and appreciate the work.

Me in front of the Cafe Mauri!

Gaudi Influence, Gawdy Buildings. Uno, Dos y Tres MAS!

Barcelona has a playfulness about it. First, there are Art Installations everywhere and  the influence of the Gaudi is a way of life. This is where the term “Gawdy” was born, representing an anything goes that is born and bred here. The main public buildings that you visit are much more inspirational than the typical beauty that you find in Old Europe. The Music House is a great example and so are even private balconies that you will see around town.  If Tim Burton was on the light side, this town would result.

I can’t put my camera down as we soak in the town. As we start to get lost through the streets and head closer and closer to the water front.  Manuel has me on a full tour and this is what we see. This is the First 10 hours of Barcelona, we did not stop walking!

Palau de la Musica Catalana

Ancient Wall near the Cathedral

The Cathedral

God is in the details…

Happy Dog in Town Center!

Young Spring Trees and Classical Architecture.

Wandering streets that are mostly now all pedestrian traffic!

Next stop – Tapas dinner in Barceloneta!

Love, Stephanie