Friday, November 11, 2011

spain week

Not too bad: It only took me about 12 days to post enough trip photos for another weekly post. (Actually writing the post, however, took much longer...) This was the week of Spain—continuing in Barcelona and finishing in San Sebastian.

That Saturday, our second full day in Barcelona, we had a very busy itinerary. I had planned for us to visit all the main Gaudi sites: Casa Batllo, Casa Mila (La Pedrera), Sagrada Familia, and Park Guell. Somehow we managed to get to them all, although our feet were very tired by the end. I also ended up with over 900 pictures—by far the most of any day on this trip.

The first stop after breakfast was Casa Batllo. Of the two Gaudi-designed apartment buildings we visited, this was the one I was most looking forward to seeing, mostly for its whimsy. It's colorful, has a roof that looks like a dragon's back, and the balconies look like skulls. It didn't disappoint, although I did wish that I could have spent more time in there, with a tripod and no other tourists.

From there, we walked over to the other apartment building, Casa Mila. We saw the rooftop with its chimneys and made our way more quickly through the attic's exhibits to the apartment. It was a little different from visiting Casa Batllo, because Casa Mila's exhibited apartment still had its period furnishings. That was cool to see, but I preferred the bright colors and polished wood of Casa Batllo's interior to the more muted, natural palette of La Pedrera.

Next, we took the subway to the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's grand unfinished church. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from the interior, having seen video of people walking amongst scaffolding years ago. But the main part of the church is mostly finished now, so it was clean and open inside. It was also huge and quite angular—all sorts of cool. The craziest part was looking at the church from the outside and then seeing the pictures and models of what it's supposed to look like when it's finished. It turns out, those huge towers that have been the focal point for so long are actually going to be the "short" towers. There are even bigger ones being built in the middle.

So once we had seen the big church and gotten some lunch nearby, we took a bus to the side entrance of Park Guell. The park was supposed to be a housing development back in the day, but it never really took off. Now, it's one big photographer magnet. There are several areas, each just begging for pictures. While I had no shortage of images to choose from for the shot of the day, I chose one of the ones that showed both a close up of the mosaic work (of which we saw lots that day) and a bit of one of the gingerbread-like houses (which drew my attention when I first saw pictures of the place). It's also one of the shots that feels less like something I've seen before from every photographer who visits the place.

Oh, and that night we had a fancy tasting menu dinner at Cinc Sentits. Everything was very good, with a couple standouts, but I think the meal got overshadowed by some of our other dining experiences on this trip.

260/365 gaudi day

The weather said rain for Sunday, but we went ahead with our plans for the day anyway. We walked down the Ramblas, took a quick detour to see the Placa Reial, continued down the Rambla del Mar, and walked around the port until we got to the beach in Barceloneta. There was a little extra wandering as we (I) had trouble decifering the map and figuring out which street lunch was on, but we found it eventually. We got a nice table under the awning at Suquet de l'Almirall and proceeded to share a delightful seafood paella.

And then it started raining. Soon, it was pouring, and most of the tables on the patio got rained out. Our table was one of the few that stayed dry, except that the wind started blowing rain onto my back. Steve and I switched places while he had an espresso, and we debated whether it was better to stay put and wait it out or try to walk to the metro station. We decided to walk, and we got drenched. Or rather, Steve got drenched, and I got drenched from the knees down. We had one umbrella, which I carried to keep my camera bag dry. Of course, by the time we came up from the subway by the hotel, it had stopped raining entirely. We could have gone and done more stuff that afternoon, but we decided it was a good day to do our first load of laundry in the hotel sink. (Good thing too, because it took an entire day to dry.) At dinner time, we went out again and got some good food at Paco Meralgo.

261/365 beach day in barceloneta

Monday was our last day in Barcelona, so it became the day to do the things we had missed on previous days. Luckily, I hadn't filled up the day's itinerary very much in advance. We began with a nice little wander around the Barri Gotic, near the cathedral, to catch a couple spots on the Rick Steves walking tour that we hadn't found on Friday morning. After that, it was off to the El Born neighborhood to begin Monday's assigned sights with Santa Maria del Mar, one of the churches that supposedly inspired Gaudi's Sagrada Familia. Lunch came next at La Torna in the Santa Caterina Market, followed by a visit to the Barcelona's museum of chocolate to see the fancy chocolate show pieces. Since we were nearby, the Parc de la Ciutadella and the Arc de Triomf were checked off of the to-do list from Sunday. All we had left then was a mid-afternoon dessert at Bubo, back in El Born. We thought about going to Barceloneta again to look around the streets, which we had missed after the rain on Sunday, but I was ready to go back to the hotel and be finished with the walking for one day. That is, until dinnertime. We went to La Taverna del Clinic and had what was probably our favorite meal of Barcelona. (Thanks to Brett for the recommendation, since we might not have made room in our schedule for it otherwise.) It was a nice little neighborhood restaurant with some interesting twists on the Catalan classics.

262/365 wandering the barri gotic

On Tuesday morning, we got up early, checked out of our hotel, and took the subway to Sants Station to catch our train to San Sebastian. We arrived around 1pm, walked from the train station to our pensiĆ³n, checked in, and found lunch nearby. Then, we set out towards the beach to explore for a while. The main part of the city is built around a bay, lined with a beach (or two) and a promenade. On each end is a mountain. We walked to the right, past the port/harbor to the foot of Monte Urgull. It was hot, so we didn't want to commit to walking up the trail to the Christ statue at the top. Instead, we went to explore Old Town with its shops and pintxo bars (their version of tapas). 

At the end of the day, we returned for some pintxo hopping. Despite having several bars on my list, our "hop" was pretty stationary. We went to A Fuego Negro, which had rather inventive pintxos, and found that there were several things we wanted to try. The one pintxo per stop rule? Made to be broken, right? We got a spot at the bar and took advantage of it. We did go to La Cuchara de San Telmo after that for a couple things, but it wasn't as exciting as A Fuego Negro.

263/365 san sebastian

Wednesday was the day of our fanciest meal of the vacation. San Sebastian has a few 3-star Michelin restaurants, and after some research on Chowhound, I decided that Akelare would be the best one to visit. It was up on Monte Igueldo—a very reasonable taxi ride away from where we were staying. I had gotten us a 1pm reservation, so we had a nice big lunch, sharing one of each tasting menu. (There were two.) Lots of seafood and some really creative presentations. I probably drank more wine than I needed to, but it was all very good.

When we got back in the late afternoon, we went out for a walk along the beach, to the left this time. We walked toward Monte Igueldo, saw Miramar Palace and the other beach, and eventually reached the Peine del Viento sculptures at the end of the path. I knew that the ironwork of the balustrade in the picture above was one of the city's symbols, but our pensiĆ³nkeeper told us that this was another. Sure enough, I saw stylized drawings of it on a sign or two around town. Good enough for the picture of the day.

Later, we went back to A Fuego Negro for a light dinner. We were going to try another pintxo bar from my list, but between them being pretty crowded and the menus not appealing as much, we just went to our favorite again. Totally worth it.

264/365 peine del viento

We took a bus to Bilbao for the day on Thursday. The main draw was the Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Gehry. However, we decided not to actually go in the museum... They don't allow pictures inside, or bags as large as either of my camera bag options, and we're not the biggest museum people anyway. I was actually content to walk around the building and take pictures outside. Not visiting the museum also left us time to walk down the river and see Bilbao's Old Town. Despite the drizzly/misty weather, it was a nice walk. The Old Town was somewhat similar to San Sebastian's, but the river and the contemporary architecture along it were an interesting change from San Sebastian.

265/365 bilbao

Another day trip was on my itinerary for Friday, this time to the small town of Hondarribia, but we decided to stay put in San Sebastian instead. We weren't in a big hurry to do more traveling, and we needed to do some laundry that afternoon. That left us the morning to see a little more of our corner of San Sebastian, and we quickly found ourselves at one of the trailheads for Monte Urgull. We had already climbed up one steep set of stairs to get pictures, so why not walk all the way up to the Christ statue? Part of the way up, we got a nice view of Santa Klara Island and Monte Igueldo, which was a pretty easy choice for picture of the day.

For lunch, we found that A Fuego Negro was open, so we went there one last time to get some more of our favorites and try one more new thing. Then, it was laundry time. We packed up our laundry and walked across the river to the neighborhood of Gros. We had to wait a little while for a washer to free up, but we got our load washed and dried. (And we got some ice cream and pictures up the river while we were waiting.)

Dinner that night, and the previous night for that matter, was a bit underwhelming. We went to Ni Neu on Thursday night and Bodegon Alejandro on Friday night. Both seemed like they were trying to be fancy and foodie-friendly, but the quality wasn't consistent enough to justify the relatively high prices, especially at Bodegon Alejandro. I took pictures of both meals, but I'm only posting the pictures from the meals that we liked for this trip.

266/365 little island

That about covers it for Spain. On to Italy in the next post!

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