Category Archives: Out and about

So bored with this winter weather event

So I went to work on Friday, with a bag packed in case I decided to stay in DC.  There were a grand total of three people in my end of the building.  In fact, I had no idea there were as many as 100 people (out of 2,000+) in the office until 12pm, when the building closed and everyone except security was expected to leave.

In the end, I decided that I’d rather be snowed in at home, where I could be bored among my stuff for entertainment rather than in a hotel or couch-surfing.  Which is just as well, since the Pens-Caps game was postponed.  Actually, I was kind of entertained by the email that the Marc Train/MTA sent out in the afternoon (before the ANA-Caps game was postponed) that basically said, “The last train out leaves at 7:40p. We are not holding it for the Capitals game.  Be on the train or find your own way home in the snow.”  Not literally, of course, but that was the subtext as I read it.

So I took the 12:20p train home, which was PACKED.  When I boarded at 12:05, the last of the seats were being taken and by the time it left the station, the aisles were impassable in some cars and the vestibules were full, too.

Got home in time to run a couple of errands, including a run to Cafe Poupon for emergency rations.  (Seriously, croissants make being blizzard-bound so much better.)  They were closing early and were pretty much cleaned out of everything.  The only croissants left were ham and cheese (fine by me), with a few other pastries and a couple of quiches.  Lorelei said they were surprisingly busy, mostly people stocking up.  (Hah! I’m not the only person who likes to have Emergency Croissants on hand.)

Charles St in snow

Standing in the middle of Charles St., no cars to be seen.

I went out Saturday when NOTHING was moving except the snow.  I stood in the middle of Charles Street and probably could have made a snow angel without worrying about being run over.  The major streets had seen a plow (plough?) at least once but two or three inches of snow had accumulated since, and most of the cross streets hadn’t been touched.  On Sunday, I cleared the 20″ of snow that had accumulated on my balcony.  The power went out in my building; it was weird because everyone lost power to the stove and microwave and kitchen lights, but not to their hot water heaters, refrigerators, other outlets, etc.  BGE took care of it pretty promptly, which I appreciated.

snow pile

You have to walk in the street to get to the sidewalk on that side of the street. But the city said not to shovel into the street, so piles are going to appear on corners.

Today the streets are slightly better, and a fair amount of sidewalk has been cleared.  Feeling stircrazy, I walked down toward the harbor, and ended up having lunch at Cazbar (I’d highly recommend the pumpkin soup).  There are two lanes cleared on most of Charles Street.  Which would be great if people didn’t keep trying to park in a parking lane that isn’t clear yet, effectively reducing traffic to about 1.5 lanes.  There’s a giant snow pile on one corner that’s at least 9 feet tall.  Monument Street has not been cleared at all. I’m hoping that things will be closer to normal tomorrow.

Stuck

There is actually a car hiding under all that snow. It’s plowed in on the street side and shoveled in (the sidewalk was very well cleared by the business owner) on the sidewalk side. And the temperature has been high enough to cause melt, followed by freezing overnight. That’s not going to be fun to dig out. Unless maybe it gets towed, but I’m not even sure how they’d get it out to tow it.

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DNF’d and abandoned

I took two books with me to read over the holiday weekend.  One of them came back without having been read.  I left the other one behind in Chicago after reading about 40% of it. Maybe the Brother-in-Law will read it, or maybe it will be added to the discard/donate pile there.  The DNF’d book was Half-Dead Resurrection Blues by Daniel Jose Older.  I liked the setting (Brooklyn) but I never really cared about the narrator, Carlos Delacruz, or felt any particular urgency about the main conflict or mystery.

On to the next book, I guess.

~~~

Went to Improvised Shakespeare while in Chicago.  The title thrown out by the audience was “The Jeweler’s Daughter”.  The actor playing Edmund (among other roles) was channeling Richard III.  And the ladies of the court were funny, as was the naming of the nine security-guard orphans.  I would go again just to see what the cast come up with.

~~~

Walked the Bloomingdale Trail, which was nice.  I’m assuming that housing values around the trail skyrocketed.  It was fascinating to see the gentrification, which is still going on.  If I had realized that I walked right past Mindy’s Hot Chocolate, I would definitely have hopped off the trail to get a second helping of the Mexican Hot Chocolate.

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Let there be rejoicing across the land

A.  Stanley Cup Playoffs begin TODAY!  I’m excited.  And I’ve priced tickets to Saturday’s Game 2 twice (#sleepisfortheweak, I can get to Easter dinner Sunday, no problem) despite reminding myself that they aren’t necessary in the month preceding Paris.  Ridley posted an awesome comparison of the playoff teams to romance novels at Love in the Margins.  I kind of take issue with some of her editorializing about why to love/hate particular teams, but I like her romance choices.  (Among other things, do not get me started about Iginla “deserving” a Cup, alright? That’s a specious argument that could also be applied to Alfredsson, too.)

B.  I’ve got reservations in a macaron-making class in Paris.  And at Le Cinq.  And grounds passes/Court 1 for two days of Clay Court Magic at Roland Garros. 

C.  On the reading front, I’ve finished two books.  Within a single week.  That hasn’t happened in months!  Rejoice for me, fellow genre fiction readers!  Well, only one of them is genre fiction, but still. 

The books in question:  Andrew Conte’s Breakaway: The Inside Story of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Rebirth and K.A. Mitchell’s Bad Influence.  Conte’s book and its description of the arena/moving drama made me wonder:  if Lemieux sold and stayed in Pittsburgh while the team went to Kansas City, would Sidney Crosby still be who he is?  I mean, yes, the raw talent was there, but would he have developed the same way without living with the hockey legend for years?  And if ownership had changed, would he have been pressed to return to hockey sooner rather than being able to stay on IR until his brain case actually seemed healed and he could skate without being dizzy?  Also, Ray Shero, ILU and your lamenting the cost of Dupuis once Hossa was injured.  If only you knew at that time that he’d turn out to be the best part of that deal in the long term.

Bad Influence – I really liked it as I read but need to go back and re-read to appreciate it.  But I loved the Old Bay ice cream and chipotle chocolate ice cream.

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Sunset at the Fort

Monday morning was dreary and overcast, so I did not take my planned walk to the fort. The day may have cleared but I was too busy for the walk (an hour or more, depending on route and whether I do a lap around the fort). It was approaching dusk by the time I set out. The fort was closed, but I got to enjoy a gorgeous sunset of orange and magenta over south Baltimore.

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A little windy today

The wind is brisk today. Lots of beach-goers have their umbrellas at sharp, 20* angles, with a flap anchored by sand, to create a shelter from the wind and blown sand. The sun feels good and the waves are crashing nearby.

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Enjoying the sunshine at the Fort

Saturday was a gorgeous day. In the morning, I walked down to Fort McHenry with a packed lunch and an old blanket. Stretched out in the shade and enjoyed the sunshine and people-watching. Below you can see the view from my spot, including the Key Bridge.

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Adventures in public transportation and pedestrian motion

+  I’ve signed up for the Planned Parenthood 5K run.  I’ll be walking though.  I only run when I’m late for the bus or train.

+  You should check out the adventures of Beth as she prepares for a 100 mile charity bike ride.  Inspired by her posts, I’ve rented a bike from my local bike shop (haven’t owned a bike in years, only ride at the beach) and am contemplating buying a used bike.  Maybe.

– What did I do to my ankle?  I don’t remember wrenching it, but clearly I’ve aggravated my old ankle injury (the result of my cat trying to kill me, tripping me as I walked down the stairs), because it is grossly swollen.  Elevated and iced.

~  Walked around the World Trade Center last night.  The memorial pools are quite lovely, and I’m curious to see how the museum turns out.  Our NY regional office used to be located in the WTC complex (not in the towers) and had to relocate; it’s pretty unlikely that the office will move back, given the build out in the “new” space we leased.  I’m curious about the rental terms and incentives that will be offered for new tenants.  Surely there’s some cachet and it’s prime real estate, but the tenants of the original buildings have moved on and I wonder how many of them are interested in coming back.

Lesson learned:  the Newark Airport Hilton isn’t really close to anything.  Not even the airport.  All the hotels near the train station were booked, the hotel closest to the meeting was not great, and our travel office wouldn’t authorize a hotel in Manhattan since the meeting was in NJ.  I thought: it’s a Hilton, how bad can it be?  The hotel is fine…but the shuttle to the AirTrain to the train station then on to the Path train to get to the meeting was a little ridiculous.  Considering my usual commute, that’s saying something.  Also, the morning shuttle fills up very quickly, which is not good.  (The 6am was full already when I arrived at 5:45.) I might stay there again if I ever fly out of Newark but not for any other purpose.

+  After the meeting, I had a few hours to kill before my train home.  Told my boss I was going to do some shopping.  I think he thought Macy’s.  No, I went to The Strand instead 🙂

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Centerfield

This year is the 20th anniversary of Oriole Park. I’m hardly an impartial judge, but I do think the stadium has aged well. Two or three hours spent in left field (my preferred locale) on a sunny Sunday is one of my favorite spring/summer pass-times.

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Shiny pretty – Indian Wells 2012

My original plan was to arrive in Palm Springs on Tuesday evening, do touristy things on Wednesday and Thursday, then be a tennis glutton over the weekend before going hiking on Monday and heading home on Tuesday.  That is not exactly how things worked out.  Because of a work-related trip to Florida, I ended up not making it to Indian Wells until Friday afternoon.  After dropping my bag, I headed off to catch as much of the morning session as I could.

 

Looking toward the Santa Rosa mountains from the west side of Stadium 1.

The tickets I was assigned based on my pre-order were end of the row, west side of Stadium 1 at the loge level, right at midcourt.  Although my photos don’t look very good, the seats are by far better and closer than comparably priced seats at Flushing Meadows.  I’m totally spoiled.

First up (second, really):  men’s doubles with Novak Djokovic and Victor Troicki playing Feliciano Lopez and Marcel Granollers.  As tennis journalists have observed, Indian Wells is one of the few tournaments where highly ranked singles players also play doubles.  After the opening day of the main draws, doubles tend NOT to make it onto Stadium 1, and as a result the doubles give die-hard fans of the big names a great opportunity to see them play up close on the outer courts.  But the first round matches for the #1 and #2 were on the main stage.

Following the doubles was a WTA match; feeling somewhat lazy, I stayed in Stadium 1 and watched, rather than explore the outer courts.  Victoria Azarenka played the unseeded Mona Barthel, who gave her a run for her money.  After watching (listening) to a live match, I have to join all the tennis observers who question Azarenka’s insistence that her grunt (wail/shriek) is a natural part of her game that she can’t help.  It begins as she is winding up to hit and continues until the ball is bouncing in her opponent’s court; it seems like gamesmanship to me, especially since there was a stretch of hits in the second set when Azarenka was silent.  But Barthel choked and Azarenka got hold of the match…after 3 hours of baseline rallies and horrendous serving.

Following that was Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish playing doubles against Jarko Nieminin and Florian Mayer.  The Americans lost badly and did not take it well.    Then more doubles, this time Rafa Nadal and Marc Lopez playing Zimonjic and Llodra, the #3 seeds.  Nadal/Lopez won, much to the disgruntlement of their opponents, who were unhappy with the scheduling.  And after that was Petra Kvitova, reigning Wimbledon champion, playing Barbora Zahlavova Strykova, which I skipped since I had been awake for 24+ hours and was exhausted.

Saturday:  Being slightly more organized, I printed a copy of the OOP and plotted where I would go.  I didn’t actually stick to the plan, but did see some good matches.  But first, I checked out the practice courts where a huge crowd was gathered to watch Rafa Nadal practice with Fernando Verdasco.  While I’m a huge fan of Nadal’s game and his demeanor or character, my interest in HotSauce is somewhat more shallow.  He’s terribly pretty.

Nadal & Verdasco practice, IW2012, 10 March

Being a poor photographer, I have very few photos of both players on court at the same time. Nadal & Verdasco, IW 2012, 10 March.

 

Ivanovic played a good match against Johanna Larsson, followed by Roddick’s three setter against Kubot, which he won, much to the joy of the American crowd.  I watched a bit of Djokovic’s singles match, then headed out to Court 4, where due to walkovers and withdrawls, the fourth match of the day was played fairly early:  more doubles from the Spanish team, but this time Ferrer/Ramos were soundly spanked by Paes/Stepanek.  (Stepanek was wearing a diamond patterned shirt in shades of turquoise that I probably would have thought loud and tacky, but Verdasco’s heinous highlighter yellow and orange kit gives better perspective on how truly bad some outfits can be.)  Then back to Stadium 1 to watch Wozniacki win (meh), Dulko flounder in the face of Sharapova, and Andy Murray inexplicably fall apart vs. Guillermo Garcia Lopez.  (Is it IW? He got knocked out last year by Donald Young in a similarly disappointing fashion.)

David Ferrer warming up

Sunday:  This was the day for more Spaniards, or for Spanish-speaking players.

First, I forgot my hat and had to stop at the pro shop to buy another.  There were a LOT of options.  (And yes, I really had to: sitting in the sun for 8+ hours without a hat would’ve ended badly for me.)  Following that, I made an early circuit of the practice courts, catching glimpses of Marcos Baghdatis, Li Na (or Na Li? I’ve seen her name both ways), and Sam Stosur, among others.  And Nadal again, this time without Verdasco but playing opposite Marc Lopez and getting advice from Francisco Roig.

The Australian qualifier who’s had a good spring, Marinko Matosevic, tried to hang with Juan Martin del Potro, but couldn’t in the end, and Nadal made short work of JMDP’s compatriot, Leonardo Mayer, on Stadium 1.  Heading out to Stadium 2, Feliciano Lopez was being thoroughly schooled by Baghdatis.  Afterward, David Ferrer handled Grigor Dimitrov easily; although I can see why people would call him “Baby Fed” based on his effortless-looking movement, he seemed to lack drive or effort when he got behind.  But what do I know?  Then Christina McHale upset Petra Kvitova, again to the delight of the partisan crowd, and Milos Raonic made short work of Carlos Berlocq.  Heading back to Stadium 1, Federer disposed of Denis Kudla easily (I was surprised that Kudla won 4 games in the first set actually).  And then Pennetta played Radwanska; the first several games of the first set took forever, it felt like.

View of the valley from one of the viewpoints on the novice trail, Mt. San Jacinto park.

Monday:  okay, I planned to hike in the morning and go window shopping in the afternoon.  I did go hiking, and took pictures.  But instead of shopping, I decided to go watch more tennis, all on Stadium 2.  The very lowest/closest seats on Stadium 2 are reserved and are sold out in the pre-sale, unavailable to fans who are buying one-off tickets.  But by hanging around and moving strategically, I ended up in the front row on of the general admission section, right at midcourt.  (You’ve got to be ready to move quickly during change overs and between matches.)  Stan Wawrinka has a beautiful one-handed backhand, yet I don’t much care for his game otherwise.  Simon doesn’t have a single “amazing” component of his game, but he’s consistently good and troublesome to other players, and he just wouldn’t go away, wearing Wawrinka down and frustrating him.  Following that, Mardy Fish played a very uninspired match against Aussie Matthew Ebden, whining about lack of care when he tripped and skinned his knee and then complaining when he was penalized for an inappropriate cheer while a point was still in play.  (Apparently he didn’t recall Serena Williams getting a similar call at the US Open last year, and gave the umpire an earful.)  Ana Ivanovic needed three sets to dispose of Ksenia Pervak, who refused to go away and made Ivanovic work for the match.

And then the match that filled the stands:  Nadal/Lopez (2010 champions) played Dolgopolov/Malisse (2011 champions).  Although the crowd was clearly pleased to see Nadal, everyone got big applause.  Everyone, players and fans alike, seemed to have a great time at this match: there was some extremely good doubles tennis being played on court, but it wasn’t as tense as a match on the big stage.  Each team just looked like they enjoy doubles and playing together.  For more on it, check out Tignor’s post here.

General observations:

+ I’ve said it before:  tennis is a sport that is 10X better live than televised.  The rallies are faster, the hits harder, the crowds engaged.  And sitting in the sunshine while watching isn’t bad either.

~ Watching the women and their kits made me wonder what’s up with the shorts worn under the skirts.  (FWIW, when I play, I wear gym shorts, so I have little experience with the tennis-wear sold by the big name sponsors and manufacturers.)  Yes, Rafa has the wedgie problem.  Roger adjusts his hair.  A-Rod adjusts his shoulders and his package.  But almost uniformly the women are constantly pulling at the shorts under their skirts.  If these outfits have been designed for these athletes, shouldn’t they be less irritating or less prone to riding up?

~ Also related to the women and their clothes: how is it possible to make women who are incredibly in shape look dumpy?  Kvitova’s kit somehow manages to emphasize what little body fat she may have around her abdomen.  And Mona Barthel (and others) looks positively skeletal — you can see her ribs very prominently as she reaches up to serve.  And the Adidas kit with the weird ruffle/puff thing at the hem is really not flattering on anyone, not even Ana Ivanovic, who among the most beautiful people I’ve ever seen.

 

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Barcelona: a city I’m going to want to visit again

The longer I go without writing up a travel narrative of some sort, the less likely it is that anything will be written at all.  I’ve got all kinds of notes in my travel moleskine, but they don’t count really.

While I had a general idea of things that I wanted to see in Barcelona, I had no itinerary or set plans.  Generally, on non-beach vacations in which I go to a destination, I do research in advance and compile a list of things to see/do, and then let circumstances dictate the order in which I see them (or not).  In this case, circumstances (also known as the perfidy of PHL and USAirways) dictated that I lost a day due to flight delays and missed connections, and also that my luggage arrive forty eight hours after I did.  My tentative plan to take a day trip to Figueres, Sitges, or Montserrat was lost with that extra day.  Oh, well, that just means I’ll have to go back, right? 🙂  I did get to tick off most of the big ticket items on my list though:  the Picasso Museum, the Sagrada Familia, the Olympic stadium, various works by Antoni Gaudí.

Baltimore to Philadelphia to Heathrow to Madrid.  The Iberia Airlines fellow who had to deal with those of us whose luggage was left in Philadelphia by USAirways (!!!) was very patient with both the problem and with my Spanish.  Took the Vueling shuttle on to Barcelona.  Both Iberia and Vueling fly out of the new Terminal 4 at Barajas; it is quite lovely architecture/design, but a long haul from the other terminals.  Landed in Barcelona and took the bus downtown to the Plaça de Catalunya and then walked to the hotel.   It was after 10pm and I’d been awake for more than 24 hours at that point, so I was out like a light.
 Sunday:  My tentative plan was to find breakfast, and then check out the Museu de Calçat (Shoe Museum) and Museu de la Xocolata (Chocolate Museum).   Walking down Passeig de Sant Joan toward the Arc de Triomf, stopped in at Forn Oriol and had a lovely croissant and cafe con leche.  (Drinking coffee is something I only do while traveling; I couldn’t say why exactly.)  Anyway, I passed the Chocolate Museum and decided to scope out the Shoe Museum first and save the Chocolate for the afternoon.  Walking toward the museum, which is located near the cathedral, I ran into a parade of sorts:  groups of school children and parents marching along, playing musical instruments, accompanied by figures.  They aren’t floats but are structures that a person carries, and they are known as Gigantes.  The streets in that area are pretty narrow, at least in terms of accommodating regular pedestrian traffic as well as a parade.  After some delay and a wrong turn, I found the Shoe Museum…and it was closed for renovations.  Wound up making my way back to the cathedral square and into the cathedral, which was emptying after the end of morning services.  Beautiful internal flying buttresses.  The crypt of Barcelona’s patron saint, Santa Eulalia, is below the altar, but there was a very long line.  Rather than join the queue, I admired the stonework and stained glass, and then made my way back outside.

In the plaza in front of the cathedral a stage had been set up and many, many people were gathered to watch.  Different groups of school children in costume performed dances and played music.  Next to the stage, several rows of tents had been erected, and various artisans were selling jewelry, candy, ceramics, leather goods, and handmade children’s clothing of natural cotton and wool.  I watched a glass jewelry artist demonstrate his craft, and admired the gorgeous ceramics of Pau Costa.

The Museu d’Història de la Ciutat (City History Museum) was nearby; it wasn’t on my list but the sign caught my eye.  Am glad I entered — this museum is all about the city’s history as a Roman outpost in Spain.  Instead of going up, entrants go down to the excavation below the building, where mosaics, chambers, ancient walls and roads can been seen.  I particularly loved the wine-making section, with its various vats, and one area in which the pattern of stonework looks like parquet flooring.

Roman wine-making facilities

Then the Museu de Frederic Mares.  I don’t really know what to think of Mr. Mares, except that today he would be considered a hoarder.  His collection includes loads of pipes, glasses, cigarette cases, keys, ironwork, sculpture, theater programs, playing cards, menus, cigar bands, fans, etc.  The ground floor is devoted entirely to sculpture; the collection of crucifixion sculptures is a little morbid; the rooms are lit by motion-sensitive fixtures, and I found it quite creepy to be suddenly plunged into darkness among the JCs who had been separated from their crosses.  Going up, you can see a variety of collections, as well as a study with a sizeable book collection and more scultpure, this time more modern.

Barcelona's beach

Monday:  One of my colleagues is planning on taking a Mediterranean cruise leaving from Barcelona next year, and asked me to scope out the W Hotel for her.  After breakfast at Forn Oriol again, I walked through the Arc de Triomf and  the Parc de la Ciutadella and along the edge of the La Barceloneta neighborhood, admiring the marina, until I hit the beach and could see the W in the distance.  Lots of seafood restaurants — poor planning on my part, none of them were open to try 😦  Then the long walk to the Museu Maritim, which is under renovation right now, but even the partial visit was good if you are interested in Barcelona’s history as a sea port and also the history of the shipping/sailing business.  Then up Las Ramblas: kind of tacky and over-touristy.  Worth walking up once only , unless you are interested in visiting the opera or the Boqueria.  The Boqueria was a madhouse, full of tourists and of regular people shopping for food.  The butcher stalls had beautiful cuts of meat, many that are not found in the average grocery store in my area:  tripe, pigs heads and feet, kidneys, etc.  The fruit and vegetable stalls almost all sold small cups of freshly squeezed juice, and I enjoyed  the mango with orange.  Right at the entrance, one sausage/ham vendor sold pintxos — meat lollipops of different types of ham and sausage.  Yum.

Sausage and ham stall at the Boqueria.

Fruit and nut stall in the Boqueria

Walking up Avinguda del Portal de l’Àngel, several jewelry and craft stalls were set up, including the glass jewelry maker who’d demonstrated his craft on Sunday.

View of the city from the top of the Castell de Montjuic

Tuesday: Took the bus up to Montjuïc in the morning and spent the entire day there.  The bus doesn’t go all the way to the top, where you can find the Castell de Montjuïc, but you can walk up.  It’s good work for your quads and your lungs…or it was for me.  If you have any sense (unlike me), you’ll take the funicular up from the metro station.  The view of the port and the rest of the city is gorgeous, and the fortifications have nice grounds and a small display on the history of the Spanish Air Force.  Taking the funicular down, it’s a short walk to the Fundació Joan Miró and then further on to the Olympic Stadium and a small sports museum.  Along the way, you cross a small walk of fame where the footprints of Lance Armstrong, Alberto Tomba, Pau Gasol and Rafael Nadal can be seen.

The Museu Nactional d’Arte de Catalunya is nearby, and is worth a visit for the view of the city from the front steps and for its collection of romanesque art harvested from small Catalan churches early in the 20th century before the works could be dismantled and placed in private collections.  I enjoyed the romanesque art but enjoyed the glasswork, painting and sculpture of the upper floor more, especially the metal sculpture of a dancer and of Don Quijote by Julio Gonzalez (I think) and the stained glass of Joaquim Mir.  There’s a temporary exhibit on history of coinage in Catalunya that’s quite interesting, and also a display of the engravings of Marià Fortuny

This doesn't look like chocolate, does it? A model of the sculpture from the Parc Güell.

Wednesday:  At last, I made it to the Chocolate Museum!  It’s relatively small, but takes a couple of hours to get through because of the number of displays and several short videos covering the history of chocolate, its social and political effects on Barcelona and Spain, and its manufacture.  Sprinkled in among the more standard museum-like displays are some amazing chocolate sculptures with a wide variety of subjects ranging from Barcelona itself, to the Sagrada Familia, movies, Don Quijote, a bullfighting scene, cartoons, and religious figures.  There’s an amazing Pieta in chocolate even!  I liked the model of the dragon of Parc Güell.

The Picasso Museum is worth visiting if you are a Picasso fan, I think.  I can appreciate his later work but actually like his earlier work more, especially the two portraits of women in mantillas.  It interests me, though, that he did his own iteration of Las meninas.

There’s a textile museum and a precolombian art museum in the same neighborhood, which I meant to visit but never made it back to.  Also in this neighborhood is the Church of Santa Maria of the Sea, a smaller church with lovely gothic interior.  It looks dark and dour from the outside but is surprisingly light inside.  The ceiling is still marked from a fire early in the 20th century.

Stained glass panel in Casa Amatller

 

Thursday:  Thursday was the day for Modernisme.  First to the Block of Discordon the Passeig de Gràcia.   I find the exterior of Casa Batlló to be somewhat disturbing – all the balconies look like masks to me, like faces looking out from the building.  Loved the stained glass wall of Casa Amatller.  Then on to the Sagrada Familia, which is huge and awesome (in the dictionary sense of the word).  The nativity facade is so incredibly ornate and busy, and it contrasts amazingly with the passion facade…which makes sense since they were executed by different people.  The stained glass is gorgeous, as are the corkscrew stair cases, and medallions on the ceiling, and the columns that fly up toward the roof like young trees.

Stained glass at the Sagrada Familia

After admiring the church and going through the display in the basement, I headed up Avinguda Gaudí toward the bus stop to get up to Parc Güell, being too lazy to hike that far.  Stopped for lunch at a cafe.  Had the fish of the day.  The waiter warned me that it was boquerones, a word I recognized as one I should know but could not define.  Sardines.  They were quite good — breaded and fried so they tasted crunchy and salty — and reminded me that I should keep an open mind about things and not just assume I won’t like them.  Because if I had remembered that boquerones meant sardines, I’d’ve gotten the pasta instead and missed out on a tasty meal.

The bus to the park included some scenic views.  I was very impressed by the driver’s skill at maneuvering the vehicle up and down narrow, one-way streets that were cramped with parked cars.  You are dropped off near the top of the park and can walk up or down.  I did both, and very much admired all the tile work on the benches, and the ginger-bread-like appearance on the buildings at the base of the park.

The real dragon sculpture of the park.

Friday:  Had to walk by the Mercat de Santa Caterina, if only to admire the colorful roof in person.  Once again was struck by the number of bicycles, mopeds, scooters, and motorcycles in Barcelona.  Seemed like there were many more of them than cars, and people of all ages could be seen riding them.  Then on to the Palau de la Música Catalana, which was absolutely worth the price of admission.  The guided tour was in English, but the guide spoke French, Catalan, Castilian, and some Italian as well, so he answered questions in a variety of tongues.  The stained glass was breathtaking.  This was an almost accidental stop — not entirely because you have to buy a ticket in advance — but wasn’t on my original plan, and it turned out to be my favorite sight of all.  Just utterly gorgeous.

Floor detail in apartment of La Pedrera

 

And then to visit Casa Milà, also known as La Pedrera, an apartment building designed by Gaudí.  The public areas include the roof, which has a variety of levels and very distinct furnace vents; the attic, which is ribbed almost like the hull of a ship (inverted) and has a museum-like display of Gaudí’s work and furniture; and a model apartment of a middle class family from the early part of the 20th century.  I especially admired the hardwood floors in the apartment, which had a variety of patterns, and much of the furniture, which was very Art Nouveau.

Sculpted furnace vents of La Pedrera. A little creepy and mask-like IMO.

Saturday:  Walked up the Paseo del Prado and observed very long line to get into the museum at opening, and more people queuing.  Walked on to the Museo Naval, which was quite interesting.  Although it overlapped a little bit content-wise with the Museu Maritim, it focused more on the state-owned navy and colonies rather than shipping as an industry.   Then to the Puerta de Alcalá where I hopped the metro to Puerta del Sol.  Did some people watching, didn’t buy a pair of shoes that I’m now regretting (purple crocheted heels with large ribbon at the back of the ankle), walked up Calle Mayor to the Plaza, then bought a slice of the brazo de nata from La Mallorquina and took it back to Retiro Park to enjoy in the sunshine.  Watching the joggers and football players in action made me feel vaguely guilty that all I’d done was walk all day…but not guilty enough to join them 😉  After enjoying the sunshine for a while, I headed to the Museo del Prado for several hours.  The more often I see Goya’s Family portrait of Carlos IV, the more I appreciate it.  And the same for El Greco’s Caballero de la mano en el pecho.

Window display at La Mallorquina on the Puerta del Sol

Mini palmera

Food:  As I mentioned earlier, there is an abundance of cafes, bakeries, and bombonerias in Barcelona.  In addition to Forn Oriol’s lovely croissants, I enjoyed the palmeras at El Molí Vell (photo) and ogled the sweets at Fargas and La Colmena.  In terms of dining, Alfonsina grills a great steak (says the woman who seldom eats red meat) and has a charming atmosphere; the owner/bartender sometimes plays tango music and sings along.  La Rita, which was recommended by Rick Steves book, offers very good food at an extremely reasonable price.  The only truly bad meal I had was at the restaurant at the MNAC: overpriced, located in a freezing venue, the salmon was overpowered by the cheese with which it was stuffed, and the white beans were pureed and served cold, ick!  It also didn’t help that they were piped into shapes and sprinkled with purple sperm sprouts.  The view from the restaurant down into the city was gorgeous and what diners really are paying for there.

Further on the food note:  I love Fanta.  But only in Spain.  And I was less than impressed by the hot chocolate I had at a highly recommended place in Eixample — it was too pudding-y, and tasted very starchy rather than chocolatey.

Transportation:  Once again, the AVE rocks.  I’d tried it several years ago for Madrid to Sevilla and was impressed but was even more impressed on and after the trip from Barcelona to Madrid.  The max speed I noticed was 301 kmph.  Gorgeous scenery for the most part, and a clean, comfortable new train.  Nicer than the Acela, which is the best the US has to offer for train travel.

Guidebook:  Not impressed by Rick Steves’ guide, but I am probably not the target audience.  It’s written more for someone doing a big trip with only a couple days to spend in each city or region, so it only hits highlights and makes relatively few recommendations.  It was helpful when figuring out which bus to take to Montjuic and Parc Guell, but generally I find that I prefer Lonely Planet and Eyewitness Travel books.

Random observation:  I bought a hat for The Chemist, who has begun collecting them, at a hunting supply store.  The somewhat disturbing feature of the store was that although it purported to be a hunting store, most of the guns and manuals I saw were handguns.  For hunting?  Uh, okay.  Hope he likes the hat.

 

Photographs all by JMC.  

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