Sunday, March 30, 2014

Barcelona - Day 3

Eggs.  The building is covered
in eggs.
Dali makes you work for it, I have to say.  And if I'd been on my own, this trip might have been Dali-free.  Which would have been a shame, in the end.

Sunday morning we felt nearly as bad as the late-night football partiers.  Possibly worse, because I think they were still sleeping.

We'd looked up the train information the night before, but I think the combination of wine and sleepiness didn't really work well together, because we misjudged the train time, and we got to Placa Catalunya, bought our 33 euro ticket, caught the train to Sants station and missed the Figueres train by 5 minutes.  That would be the train that runs about once every 90 minutes on Sundays, so we spent over an hour of a gorgeous day sitting underground.  Waiting to take a 2 hour train ride to see a museum in a town that we were warned had nothing else to recommend it, especially on a Sunday.

Upside down boat with tears

By the time the train arrived, it was nearly 3 p.m.

I'd had almost no sleep the night before -- standard weekend partying plus football meant voices and drums and shouting literally all night.  I heard people saying "good night, good morning" at dawn when they started home.  Visions of Singing in the Rain wandered into my fevered brain . . . "I don't want to say good night."  "So say good morning!"  Delirious, that's what I was.

There's not much in Figueres but Dali, but when you get there, he's worth it.  In a way completely different from Gaudi, he's a silencer.  There's just so much going on, so much over-the-top creativity, so much incomprehensible, beautiful, just slightly insane art that you just have to open your eyes, shut off your brain and go with it..

Dali ascending to heaven

When asked if he was on drugs, Dali famously said, "I am the drug.  Take me!"

I feel like I did.

We saw everything there was to see, and then some.  The train back to Barcelona was shorter, but felt longer, because we were now physically tired, mentally wrung out and, of course, HUNGRY.  Again.

We got off at the Passeig de Gracia because it was closer to the apartment than the end of the train line, and started walking.  As a final treat, we ran smack into Casa Batllo, a Gaudi building that was on my list.  One photo, and my camera died, but I stood there in the dark looking at its lit windows and glittering tile roof and just smiling.

Squint, and it's Lincoln.  Don't, and
it's a rear view of Dali's wife.
One thing Gaudi shares with Dali: a sense of playfulness.  They can be dead serious about their work, and I'm sure they both were, but they didn't want the person looking to see the work, only the joy.

After a brief rest and a glass of wine, we went back to Placa Reial and tried a different restaurant.  Patatas bravas again, to restore us while we waited for our paella.  It's always nice finding a new way to eat potatoes.  Mixed paella this time, seafood, beef, sausage and chicken.  It worked better than I expected, but I think I still like plain seafood best.

Looks like an interesting conversation
However.  After finishing, I looked at Mario and found him sadly considering the empty paella pan.  "I'm still hungry."  "So am I," he said.  We briefly considered coffee and dessert, but didn't think that would hold us, so we paid the check and went through the archway toward Colom again, for two more tapas, another beer and sangria, more conversation with the waitress who had waited on us the night before (and talked about her love of football, and leaving Poland to follow the Barcelona team).

Sunday night was quiet.  The bar on the corner was closed by the time we got back, and the other one shut down by midnight.

Sleep, without earplugs.  Bliss.

The bottom fringe is . . . espadrilles.

The Mae West installation

Doesn't everyone have this in their

The man himself

Friday, March 28, 2014

Barcelona: Food

I'm embarrassed to admit that I did not take ONE PHOTO of any of the spectacular dishes we consumed over the last week.

I would place my order, think about it, even go so far as to put the camera on the table . . . and then remember, when the plate was bare again.  Oops.

To make up for it (or possibly because I couldn't consume this food), I took a lot of photos at the open air food market, one of my favorite places in the city, and a few shop windows.

The Boqueria, or the food market, is amazing.  And it was near our apartment, which meant we wandered through there several times during the course of our stay, each time finding new things to sample and bring back to the apartment.

Stall after stall of meat, cheese, fruit, vegetables (look at the size of those tomatoes, my winter-deprived friends), all kinds of spices, peppers, seafood -- I love finding things that I've never even seen in person before, much less cooked, like those sea urchins -- and yes, oddities like that head-of-a-whatever there on the left by the pig feet.  Calf?  Sheep?

We discovered tapas the first day, and in a very big way.  That first night, we were exhausted but determined to stay up as long as possible to put ourselves on local time.  We'd eaten in the afternoon, but decided to take ourselves out to someplace not too far from the apartment for at least some wine and tapas.

Our afternoon snack had consisted of my new favorite food, padron peppers (I brought seeds home!) with sea salt, patatas bravas (lovely potatoes with a garlic/ paprika/mayo sauce), steamed mussels, grilled shrimp, grilled asparagus, eggplant rolls filled with ham and goat cheese, and a few things I forget.

The evening meal was similar, but not.  The restaurant had an 8 tapas meal for 15 euro, and we got one portion and two glasses of wine.

That got us a cheese sampler, some ham (Mario was in his glory -- he loves that stuff!), more patatas bravas, a seafood plate with clams, mussels, enormous shrimp and calamari, and something else that I've lost.  Delicious.  Again.

The next day, after a relatively insufficient breakfast -- I need more early morning fuel than most Europeans, it seems -- we went exploring, and at lunchtime we met our first paella.

Which I now need to learn how to make.  Again, a beautifully photo-worthy meal, and within moments, it seemed, nothing but a black, rice-crusted paella pan.  Maybe that's the best food review of all, that it was so good that it made me forget to take a picture.

On Saturday, we found a lovely little restaurant near our apartment.  We'd already had dinner, but somehow, we were still hungry.  Also, we'd learned just how late the people of Barcelona stay up at night, and it was pretty loud under our windows the night before.  Since Saturday was a big Barcelona/Madrid football (soccer) game, we assumed sleep would be hard to come by, so we stopped after dinner and a walk for another drink and some more tapas (marinated anchovies, which are nothing like those nasty brown salty things we get on pizza), sausage and cheese.

We talked to the waitress there,  who spoke very good English.  Turns out she wasn't Spanish at all, but Polish.  I asked how she had ended up in Barcelona, and she matter-of-factly said, "Football.  The Polish team, I root for them because they're my country, but they suck."  So instead of doing what women have done over the ages, follow a man to a new place, she followed an entire team of them!   She took very good care of us over our next few visits, and always wanted to know where we'd been and what we'd seen that day.

On our last meal there, we had the mixed paella, which we'd also sampled elsewhere during the visit.  This restaurant, though, instead of just adding beef or chicken, used rabbit, which I love.  It made for an entirely different dish, though I have to admit that I like the straight seafood paella best of all.

We've been to Paris, Florence and Bruges, and I have to admit, this is the first time I've come home heavier than when I left.  Considering all the walking we did, that's quite a testimony to the power of tapas.

Barcelona - Graffiti / Street Art

There's a lot of graffiti in Barcelona, but it's not random tagging like at home. It's an art form here, and it's everywhere. I took photos of some of my favorites.

Barcelona - Day 2

Random parade (with Mario in his
new shirt in foreground)
After a very noisy night (it was quiet at bedtime, but the people of Barcelona stay up late and party into the wee hours, at least on our block -- and it was not helped by the echo caused by all those tall, narrow buildings), we slept in until nearly lunchtime.  Or what we thought of as lunchtime, but when we got out on the street it didn't seem late at all.  I guess because those who were still out at 4 a.m. were just getting started themselves.

Saturday was a treat on several levels.  On our way up La Rambla (it seems almost every journey anywhere takes you up, down or across that street), we ran into a parade.  I'm not sure what it was about, but it was fun to watch.

After a quick breakfast, we stopped at three fabric stores recommended by a sewing friend who lives in the city.  I bought two pieces of fabric at one of the shops, which mostly specialized in remnants.  These were both deeply discounted because they were winter fabrics, but I won't get around to sewing them up until at least next year anyway, so I considered that a win/win.

Arc de Triomf (with obligatory palm trees)
Mario visited a huge comic book shop called Norma.  Not being of the comic book persuasion myself, all the shops look alike to me, but he browsed happily for the better part of an hour.  (I'm sure he can't tell the quality of one fabric store over another, but he always comes along for moral support -- and to act as my shopping sherpa, if I need one).

The comic book store was near the Arc de Triomf, which is at the head (or the foot?) of the Parc de la Ciutadella, so we had a wander through there, and wore ourselves out a bit.  We decided it it was time for an early lunch.  At a small place near the Arc de Triomf (which, by the way is totally different from Paris', being smaller, made of brick and altogether warmer), we had Spanish beer and seafood paella, our first of the trip.  I can live without langoustines (or crawfish or crayfish or whatever you want to call them), but they're Mario's favorites.  I think they're too much work for too little meat, personally.  But it was delicious -- scallops and squid and tiny clams, and saffron threads everywhere.  The most gorgeous color.

Bat detail
Our main goal for the day was the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's enormous, incomplete church.  (They expect it to be finished in 2026, the 100th anniversary of his death).

I'm not even sure what to say about Sagrada Familia.  Gaudi has silenced me, scrambled my brains so that when I try to articulate what I saw, all I get, even a few days later, are fragments of brilliant color, rays of light from the ceiling like the fingers of god, those marvelous tree-form buttresses.  Lots of photos, few words.

Three words that will pop into my head every time I think of that church:  "Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!"  Why, you ask?  Well, let me tell you.

We were waiting in line for tickets, and there was a group of American girls in front of us.  One of them was complaining about the combination of sun and her hangover, while another one wanted to know what Sagrada Familia was.  The third told her it was a church, and then she asked what all the words were up on the front.

You can see "Sanctus" (or Beetlejuice)
on the towers
"What words?" said hangover girl, squinting.

"See?  It says 'Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus,' up there."

Silence from the group, as they all considered the mystery.  Finally one girl says, "I don't know what it means, but it must be important.  They said it three times."

"Why is that important?"

"Well, anything you say three times is important.  Think about Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!"

Crucifixion - over main entrance
This would be the one time in the history of modern civilization where checking your phone might have saved you from looking dumb, ladies.

More walking, more food.  We ducked in for tapas when it started to rain, and I had another plate of my new favorite pimientos de padron (peppers cooked in olive oil with sea salt, dead simple and delicious).  When the rain stopped, we started walking again, and found that the storm had left us with a gift.

Back at base, naps were well earned.  I dreamed of stained glass and floating light.

We didn't get moving again until nearly 9, but that seemed okay.  Somehow, we were hungry again.  Is it the thought of such an abundance of food nearby that makes me constantly hungry?  I won't be able to try everything before I leave, but my stomach is willing to try.

Before we left, we had a glass of wine and the last of the strawberries.

It was good that we started late -- we knew it would be even louder than the night before, because the Barcelona/Madrid football (soccer) match was that night, and we could only assume that everyone would either be celebrating or drowning their sorrows, equally loudly, and equally late.  We decided to stay up late, out late and tire ourselves out to the point where we wouldn't hear it.  (Besides, in addition to the corkscrew, our thoughtful host also provided earplugs!)

Look at that light!
We walked all the way up La Rambla and back again, unable to decide what we wanted.  We sat down in one restaurant, but when we got the menus, the prices were higher than advertised outside, so we left -- let them trap other tourists.  There's always got to be one restaurant like that, and you don't need to overpay for good food in this town.  It's everywhere.

In the end, we stopped at a place called Colom (Columbus) very near our apartment.  They were crowded, and the tables seemed to be speaking ten languages at once.  Everyone looked happy, and the food smelled amazing.  Also, there was no one out front trying to tempt us in.  I don't like being herded, even if the food will be amazing.  Let me look at the menu and make up my own mind.

More Spanish beer (Estrella Damm) for Mario, and my first sangria -- way better than anything I've had at home, less sweet but still fruity.  Tapas:  garlic olives, marinated anchovies (surprisingly good and nothing like those nasty salty pizza toppings), patatas bravas and some kind of spicy sausage.

Angels on high - nativity side
of the church
The garlic breath would be monumental, but since we both ate it, neither of us cared.
Modern stained glass - not always my thing,
but these colors!

Rain on vacation = not always a bad thing

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Barcelona - Day 1

Wall fountain in the Bari Gotic

Philadelphia - New York - Barcelona

This was the least prepared I've ever been for a vacation.  I bought a guidebook only a few days before, leafed through it, decided to read it on the plane.


The flights went well.  Philly to NY left a few minutes late; we got into JFK with just enough time to trot to our gate.  We were the last two people to board.

Graffiti behind bars

A change of route and strong tail winds got us into Barcelona almost an hour early.  We had time for coffee at the airport, then found the Aerobus and got off 30 minutes later at Placa Catalunya -- where apparently every city bus, tour bus, regional and metro train lets off.  It was busy, even early in the morning, and as we soon found out, Barcelona doesn't really "do" mornings very well.

We made our way down La Rambla, a wide pedestrian avenue with outdoor restaurants, souvenir and flower vendors on both sides.  Made a note to come back and look at the bulbs and seeds before we went home; I always like to return with something for the garden.

This was our first time staying in an apartment, which we located through Airbnb.  The host met us in front of the building and led us up three twisty flights of stairs.  He didn't have much English, but between Mario's high school Spanish and a lot of good will all around, we managed to sort things out okay.

Barcelona's cathedral
The apartment was cute, not much bigger than our bedroom at home, but well thought out:  a double bed near the window with a glass block wall separating it from the kitchen/living room area, and a T-shaped bathroom with a tiny square shower, a sink and a toilet tucked into a narrow tunnel a little less than 2 feet wide.  The things you have to do to make an old building work!

After a brief nap, we went in search of lunch.  We were staying in the Bari Gotic (the Gothic Quarter), the oldest section of the city, and there are tons of winding, alley-like streets, all seemingly crammed with interesting places to eat and drink.  We found an interesting paella place but lost it and finally ended at a tapas restaurant.  Afterward, we easily found the paella restaurant.

Post lunch and much refreshed, we wandered around our neighborhood, saw the Cathedral (from the outside; it was too nice to go indoors so soon), found our way back to La Rambla and walked down to the port.  On the way down, we saw a couple of living statues -- the copper cowboy was my favorite -- and ran into a small antique/flea market near the Columbus monument.  We walked the area, admiring all the boats and the gorgeous blue sky (stunning after this endless gray winter) and determined how to get over to the beach.  Decided to save it for later, but at least the geography was straight in our heads.

It really is that blue!
One of the interesting things about Barcelona is the graffiti.  At home, the assumption would be that a place covered in graffiti is dirty or dangerous, but that's not the case here.  The shutters on every business are covered in art; so are most flat surfaces, it seems.  It's not random tagging like at home, though, and the total lack of trash on the streets makes the graffiti seem like part of the scenery.  Which it is.

I took photos of my favorites, some of which will appear here.

Living statue on La Rambla
As we were crossing a street, Mario spotted an archway between two buildings and said it looked like a market.  It was!  We'd found La Boqueria, totally by accident, and I shot some wonderful food porn photos while we gathered a few odds and ends to take back with us.

It's a wonderful thing having a stove and a fridge when there are markets like this around.  It's one thing I've always missed when we've gone to Paris, and the food market in Florence was absolute torture without a kitchen.

Now armed with cheese, ham and a kilo of heavenly strawberries, we headed back to base.  On the way, we picked up a couple of bottles of local wine, just so that it really felt like home.  (Our thoughtful host had included a corkscrew with the kitchen equipment).

Another short nap, and we were ready for another meal.  We ventured out at 8, realizing it was a bit early for locals to be eating, but our stomachs weren't yet on Barcelona time.  The lovely arcaded Placa Reial was only a few blocks away, so we walked there and toured the selection at all the outdoor restaurants before choosnig another tapas menu.

Restaurants - Placa Reial
We sat outside in the dusk, with the umbrella heaters whooshing all around, listening to a woman play piano in the middle of the square, drinking wine and feeling very far from home.

It wasn't a bad way to feel.

I'm back!

At the Port - the beach is just around the corner
A little jet-lagged, a little wide-eyed and wondering at all the sights and sounds and smells -- and tastes -- I've experienced over the last week, and nearly capable of telling you all about it.

Highlights: tapas, Gaudi, the beach, paella, sunshine,
palm trees.  And tapas, did I mention tapas?

Lowlights: none, really, other than the joys of air travel.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Bon Voyage

Barcelona's man-made beach
Wow, that crept up on me!  Today was the busy day - finding the European electrical adapter, unearthing the guidebook I bought a while back and forgot to look at, gathering the euros a friend picked up for us, doing laundry (why were all the clothes Mario wanted to take in the wash?), making sure there were enough cat and chicken supplies to keep bodies and souls together for the next week.

Gaudi lizard in the Parc Guell
All that taken care of, we got ourselves packed, made dinner, drank a couple of glasses of restorative wine (can't leave it to waste away in the fridge, right?) and now we're just winding down.

Our flight leaves tomorrow at dinner time, but we're taking the day to sleep in, try to shift our internal clocks a little toward that five-hour difference awaiting us.  A big late breakfast at the local diner, a few quick errands and then off to the airport.  We've checked in online already (the best travel invention ever in my opinion; anything that reduces time spent in lines at the airport is fine by me), and I think we're all together.

I doubt I'll be posting to the blog from Barcelona - our apartment does have wifi, but I'll only have my phone with me, and I hope I'm too exhausted by food and wine and sightseeing and, oh, walking on the beach in the sunshine to write anything.

La Rambla - near our apartment
There will be many, many photos on my return.

And yes, for those who know me well, I do have a list of fabric stores and flea markets. Who do you think I am, anyway?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Something Old, Something New

Most of you probably know that in addition to my handmade shop on Etsy, I also have a vintage shop.

Being the last in a line of long-lived, packratty women has an upside and a downside.  The upside is I got a lot of good stuff; the downside is I got too much of it.  I can't believe I said that, but some time in the last few years, the amount of stuff that's arrived in my house has started to weigh me down, and I realized I wasn't actually getting much pleasure out of owning it.  There was so much, I couldn't actually differentiate between what I loved (and would use, if I could find it) and what was just there because it was theirs, and too good to throw away.

And that's why they had so much of it - it was too good to throw away, and far, far too good to ever actually use.

The vintage shop came about because of this.  It adds an inconsistent cash flow to my already inconsistent budget, but it's not so much about that as finding new homes for all these objects - clothes, jewelry, far too many hats, gloves, shoes, knickknacks (good god, the knickknacks these women had!) and so much more.

I also bought my house with an attic that had never been cleaned out by the prior owner, a situation I'm only slowly remedying.  When I made an offer on the house, she offered then to have it emptied for me, but I'm no fool.  I knew that stuff would either go into a dumpster or into someone else's home, so I said I'd deal with it.  It's one more thing I'm doing with myself while I'm not "officially" working.

The other thing I love about vintage is the same thing I love about good handmade - you can see the care and the skill that went into the making of these old pieces.  I've made patterns from vintage garments before I've sold them along (they weren't my size, but the patterns can be graded to fit me at some point when I get around to it), and the construction is beyond anything I've learned.  The same with the jewelry - good vintage rhinestones are far nicer than anything that's made today.

I leave you with pictures of a few of my favorites here just as illustration.  Some of these have been sold, and some are still in the shop, but all are beautiful, well made and worth passing on to someone who will care for them.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Vacation Sewing

Very happy with my stripe matching
down the side!
I knew I'd have to get some in before we left.  I hadn't intended to, but the stash took over.

Actually, it started with the gray striped t-shirt (which is not coming on vacation - Barcelona is warmer than Philadelphia, but it's still not t-shirt weather).  I had made a top from that fabric years ago, and had a good bit left.  I wanted to use it up in one of my recycled t-shirt scarves, then I realized how much there was, and that I could make myself a shirt and then use up the leftovers.  So I did.  I did a little breath-holding when I bound the neckline against the stretch, afraid I would manage to stretch the shirt when I matched it with its non-stretchy binding, but it worked.  I wanted the stripes to run in a particular direction, and I wasn't planning on taking no for an answer.

The other two tops were deliberate vacation sewing.  Both the striped tee and the vertical striped top are from one of my favorite and most used patterns, KwikSew 3338.

I bought the black and silver striped fabric at a shopping expedition this summer with sewing friends Claudine and Andrea, and I almost left that remnant behind because I thought I would have to piece it to make it work.  I didn't realize at the time that it was a four-way stretch fabric, and therefore I could use the stripes running vertically instead.  Since there was a limited amount, only the front is striped; the rest of it is solid black.  The neckline is bound in black as well.

The last top is another version of Tessuti's boat-neck tee, except with a round neck, bound in black, and the sleeves in black.  Fabric limitations again: the lovely soft animal print didn't run to sleeves, and it's also relatively lightweight, so I was afraid it wouldn't work well in a tighter-fitting piece like a sleeve.

All these were accomplished one night last week when I was unable to sleep.  I went to bed at midnight, stayed there for an hour, trying very hard to sleep, and eventually gave up and went to the workroom and started cutting out tops.  They lingered on the table until yesterday, when I finally got around to threading the coverstitch machine to do all the hems.

So now I have a few new pieces to take with me on vacation.  I love knits; they pack small.  And I pack small, so we're perfect for each other.

Confession:  the reason all three of these tops are black/gray combinations is because I was too lazy to re-thread my machine, and I looked for fabrics that would work with my lazy thread choice.