Birthday in Barcelona

Ann: It's been ten years (!) since my last trip here. I was in Granada for a summer research project, and slipped away on most weekends for jaunts all over Andalucía and other parts of Spain. It's not without anticipation and nostalgia that I came back to teach part of a short biology course!

Day -3 The trip from Boston to Barcelona went fine but for a minor glitch at the end. I hopped into a cab to get to the Airbnb apartment. Seeing that I was obviously from out of town, the elderly driver made sure to double check the address I gave him. Unfortunately his well-meaning precautions were met by the idiosyncrasies of this particular street, as the building per, its street number, clearly didn't exist between its neighbors. I was tired and a tiny bit exasperated, but this only seemed to magnify the driver's anxiety and indignation. Before I knew it he'd recruited a host of bemused stander-by's to ask for directions... This tiny pandemonium brought to mind the time I got lost in Granada and accidentally summoned a bevy of grandmas from their evening stroll... I really do love old Spaniards.

Day -2 Bon dia Barcelona! My daily walk to the course:

The institute is located in the Barceloneta neighborhood along a picture-perfect beach that stretched out for as long as the eye can see. After the morning session we enjoyed pastries and espresso from the terrace. 

Day -1 The course seemed to go well. And off we were, to lunch together at the seaside Asian fusion restaurant Shoko.

It was also Chewie's birthday today, and his last day of blood-bank service rotation. Tomorrow he would join me here!

Chewie: December 2, 2015, the day I officially turned 32 was also my last day of clinical service for the foreseeable future. Ann had left me alone in Boston a few days ago for a meeting in Barcelona. What better excuse did I need for a little bit of an escape and adventure?  So I found myself on a trans-atlantic flight to join her in the land of jamón on our first non-dive vacation in a long time. 

Day 1 The red-eye on Aer Lingus was smooth enough and despite the poor in-flight movie selection, I stayed awake for most of the flight to Dublin. A short lay-over later and I was Barcelona-bound. At the airport, I spent far too long trying to exchange some USD for Euros (so cheap now!) at a "commission-free" but truly terrible rate. Definitely charged everything I could onto my credit card for the remainder of the trip to conserve these expensive paper bills. 

As it was my birthday trip, Ann had already thoughtfully planned out most of the itinerary ahead of time. We strolled through the beautiful Gothic Quarter, peeking into bookshops and seeing for the first time (for me) authentic tapas bars pretty much everywhere. The need for caffeine brought us to a pit-stop at a random small tapas bar where we had a handful of oysters and two espressos. It was also here that I found love at first taste: jamón. Little did I know how much those hand-shaven slivers of porky, nutty goodness would latch onto my taste buds and subconsciousness. But that's a post for another day.

We happened upon the Picasso Museum and spent a couple of hours fulfilling Ann's annual museum tolerance quota. It was really interesting to observe many of Picasso's early works, how his style developed over time from the broad strokes of sombre-colored figures, through a growth period of blues and dabbles in pointillism, and finally, settling in the abstract cubism that came to define his later years. The iterative nature of his creative process was apparent throughout. Ann was relatively well-behaved throughout the visit.

No photos were allowed within the museum itself, so we'll have to make do with Ann's interpretations:

Afterwards, we visited the Basilica Santa Maria del Mar, a Catalan Gothic cathedral. Inside, we marveled at the beautiful stained glass, and visited the crypt (meh) and the roof (awesome views of Barcelona).

We eventually made our way to La Rambla, one of the famous tree-lined boulevards with numerous shops, restaurants, and home to abundant pick-pockets (which we thankfully avoided) and La Boqueria. It's a large public market filled with butchers, fruit and produce vendors, and fishmongers. Here we bought more jamón (for breakfast, of course), had a paper cone-full of chorizo for 1 euro, and ogled at the multitudes of dried peppers, spices, and mushrooms, wishing that we could bring some back to the US.

After a mid-afternoon siesta to refuel, we made our way back through the wending streets to Viana Barcelona, the first of many fine dinners. The stand-outs from this small, sleek, and reasonably priced restaurant were the fresh fruit cocktails and the patatas bravas, made just perfectly crispy with sweet potato for a pleasant surprise.

Day 2: Today was a truly Gaudí day. We paid homage to the eclectic works of Antoni Gaudí, visiting Casa Battló and Casa Milà before finishing at the majestic Sagrada Familia. Throughout the day, I was struck by the anachronistic aesthetic of his work that is meticulous yet whimsical, fantastical and organic. The massive scale of the Sagrada is simply awe-inspiring and breathtaking. I'm not sure what else to say so here are some pictures (top from this trip, bottom from Ann's visit in 2005)  that likewise do not do justice to his work. Just go visit.

Note how the light filtering through the back side formed a cross. Depending on the time of the day, it lets in variously 3 (holy trinity?) or 4 dramatic rays to highlight the Virgin. Ann was astounded by the transformation of the last 10 years. Projected completion date: 2028, more than 140 years from the start!

We rounded out the night at ABaC Restaurant, a two Michelin star establishment. Dinner was a gastronomic counterpoint to the architectural feast. It was a tour de force of sixteen courses lasting nearly four hours that challenged our expectations, stretched our bellies, and tested our endurance. Highlights: the deconstructed Bloody Mary appetizer and sea-bass steamed table-side. Somewhat of a miss: the spherified oyster brine, a bit overwhelming. Overall a very memorable experience!

Feliz cumpleaños!

Day 3: We escaped the big city for the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey, painstakingly built and re-built over centuries atop some peculiar rock formations. Ascending the mountain by a cable-car was an knee-shaking experience but returned an unforgettable view of the surrounding landscape. While waiting for the abbey to open, we went for a short hike in the nearby hills.

Back in Barcelona, lunch was BOMB. We lucked out for two seats at a tapas bar in the busy, cosmopolitan neighborhood of Passeig de Gràcia, with a view of the fresh seafood of the day, and the giant paella pan from which the chefs ladled generous portions of lobsters and squids atop the saffron colored rice. We had no business being hungry, but over-ate anyhow.

We ended the trip with a return to Gaudí at Park Güell. En route we unexpectedly came across 8 flights of escalators going up a narrow street.  

A whirlwind trip, tiring, but fun. Here are some of Ann's favorite photos:

And a quick video: