Reasonable Timelines

This morning, we had two missions. Mission the first: good churros with chocolate. Mission accomplished, thanks the helpful mini-guide that Sandra gave us yesterday. We took the metro to Xurreria Trebol and ate a healthy breakfast of fried things dipped in liquid chocolate.

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Mission number two, of equal importance, was to visit the Sagrada Familia church, Guadi’s not-quite-done-yet masterpiece. Kat hasn’t been impressed with the Guadi architecture that we’ve seen around Barcelona, but was properly astonished by this place. Having visited a lot of churches across Europe, this was an unexpected delight. The outside is impressive, but the inside is the real shock – the colored light, the lightness of the columns, and the organic feel of it all. There was quite a bit of wide-eyed open-mouthed staring upward. Truly worth the 150 years of work. We hope to visit again one day when it’s done.

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The museum below the church is another revelation – a chance to see the evolution of Guadi’s thinking about the space, as well as the process by which it was designed. The “hanging models,” built from little sandbags suspended on strings to determine the exact angles for the arches, were brilliant and stunning.

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After our time in Sagrada Familia, we were feeling pretty positive about Gaudi, so we struck out for Park G├╝ell. Intended as a housing development for fancy people, it was a flop and ended up a public park. We didn’t realize that you need advance tickets to enter the most Gaudi-rich section, so confined ourselves to the more nature-rich part. But we had cheese-puffs, so all was forgiven.

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We lounged, listening to some buskers, me reading while Kat sketched. Eventually, our stomaches started demanding non-Cheesy-Puff food, so we took the metro back into the city. Having had churro-success thanks to the guide book earlier in the day, we followed another recommendation for lunch at Casa Lucio. By far our fanciest meal of the week, and also the best. The waiter spoke very patient Spanish, and we had a remarkable fig salad, a fried-egg, mushroom and potato dish, a mango-jamon-pate plate, and an amazing cheese-prune dessert. It was a suitably European 2 hour lunch, and we loved every minute.

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Our final cultural stop of the Museum of the History of Barcelona. It’s essentially an extensive walk of archaeological excavations, from the Iberians to the Roman era, through the Visigoths and on into the Episcopals and the Moors. It’s a very well preserved site, with a lot of “daily life” buildings well documented and easy to understand. And it goes on and on – you’re walking beneath a palace and a lot of city streets as you stroll up and down through time.

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Then it was time for one last gelato before catching the metro home for a night of snacking and catching up on work. Kat pulled all the couch cushions, pillows and blankets onto the patio to build a complete nest, and we enjoyed the cooler evening and beautiful sky until nearly midnight.

Making up for lost pounds

Up until today, we’ve been living pretty healthy lives in Barcelona. Plenty of walking, and only eating small tapas and sane amounts of pastry. Clearly, this situation could not be allowed to stand. Enter the Culinary Backstreets Made By The Mediterranean tour.

We met our tour guide Sandra at Santa Catarina Market. It was a private tour, scheduled to run from 9:30 until 3:30, so we knew we were in for a lot of snacking.

Before we get into the play by play, an admission: we were so busy eating, we kind of forgot to take pictures of the food. Time to take away our foodie cards.

Things started off with a torta, a spanish potato/omelette combination. This one was done perfectly – the potatoes and eggs blended to a single texture, and the whole thing is lightly fried. We took a tour of the market – Barcelona has a market in each neighborhood (18 in all). Some of them actually have a modern supermarket within the market, for canned goods and other non-perishables. One interesting find – the egg sellers sorts the double yolk eggs separately, as the folks here love to fry those.

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The market is full of deliciousness – sea food, amazing meats and cheeses, and a huge assortment of vegetables and fruits, as well as a lot of ready-to-cook items. We tried cod fritters, olives, and cherries. We learned that Jamon Iberico comes in a variety of qualities, depending on whether the pig foot is white (ok quality) or black (better) and whether it’s from the front legs and shoulder (good) or the rear leg (great). The market also has a display of the archaeological history at the site – from a roman settlement to a series of monasteries to a series of markets.

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From the market, we went just a few steps to a shop for breakfast number two – this time, meats and cheeses. One of the most interesting meats was a sausage that’s made with eggs.

Next, it was time for the first dessert – a very odd pastry. This was a dry pastry, topped with pine-nuts, and made with chopped up fried pork skins. It wasn’t sweet … mostly just odd.

Next, obviously – second dessert – horchata and nougat. Nougat is all over Barcelona, and is apparently a holiday favorite.

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We also popped into a store that roasts and sells a wide assortment of nuts, plus lots of other delicious snacks. They do all the roasting with an indirect wood-fired roaster, which was quite a thing to behold.

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From there, we journeyed out to Barceloneta, one of the newer neighborhoods. Made with infill, it’s the home of the fishermen and (mostly) the beach-bound tourists. Our first stop was a small bar for potato bombs (potato and meat, in a ball, fried and topped with aoili and spicy sauce) and grilled squid with white beans. It was all amazing, and it was the kind of place we might have been a bit intimidated on our own.

The tour then took us down to the harbor, and out to a restaurant next to the fish auction. You have to clear a security checkpoint to get there, so it’s definitely not tourist-friendly. Today’s catch was fried anchovies and small shrimp. We ate far too many of both. As an aside – normally they have 5 or 6 people on this tour, so we were eating for a crowd.

By this point, we were getting pretty full, but this just amused Sandra. Time for cod! Whereas in Portugal, cod is the national food and is everywhere, in Spain it’s considered a high class food. It’s a much higher quality, and much more expensive. The most common preparation is to do it in a simple salad with some oil and vinegar. That’s what we had at this stop, along with some homemade vermouth.

Finally, the walk took us to an artisanal grocery for more ham, more bread with tomato, Cava (their non-DOP-infringing version of Champagne) and an amazing fried and custard filled pastry.

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Suitably comatose, we found a park bench to collapse on for a few hours.

After literally drooling on ourselves and mumbling incoherently for a while, we got up the energy to visit the Picasso museum. While the museum doesn’t have any of Picasso’s most famous works, what it does have are many of his early pieces, and his sketches and studies. This gives a fascinating insight into the amount of work and iteration that went into each piece. You also get to see what a talented traditional painter Picasso was, before taking his turn towards cubism and modernism.

While walking from the museum to the metro station, Kat spied a jeweler’s bench peeking over the second story of a small shop. In we went. Joel was fantastic and his work was incredibly sculptural with a strong use of multiple planes. After exchanging information and buying a gift, he sent us along another path to more artisan shops. One lovely leather wallet for Kat later, we were finally headed back home for the evening, where we spent the rest of the night on our patio.

Tapas and Powerpoint

Catching up a bit – haven’t blogged the last two days, as they’ve been work days for both of us. I spent the time in sessions at the conference, and Kat’s been working out of the apartment. The conference was fascinating, though I don’t bore you with details (UofM folks: I’ll bore you separately).

Kat enjoyed mornings of water color painting and children’s book writing on the terrace until the sun snuck up around 10 am. Then it was inside to the AC and the desk job for AGI. Interestingly, this is the first time she’s been working in the same time zone as her project coworker which has made communication far easier. Due to the time difference and the Great Heat of the summer sun we’ve been working until around 7 pm every day.

We did manage to get out a little bit in the evenings. Monday night, we followed Rick Steves’ walk through the Gothic Quarter, which winds through lots of the oldest streets in the city. Barcelona is (obviously) a very old city, and the Gothic Quarter takes you right back to Roman times. One of the things that makes the city so much fun is that it’s not frozen in time. While the Renaissance snapshot of Florence is great, Barcelona has many more layers on offer. It’s a jumble of Roman, Renaissance, Modernist, Fascist, and everything else.

Our walking tour included a stop for Orxata – Horchata. While fundamentally similar to the Latin American drink, here it’s made with tigernuts and has a very different flavor – it tasted like candy.

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Tuesday night, we went to the “Eixample” neighborhood, which is home to the most drippy of the Gaudi buildings. Our first stop was Vom Fass for some balsamic vinegar. We sent a long time tasting and chatting with the owner (?) of the store, who was willing to talk to me in very slow Spanish (though he spoke English just fine). He insisted that Kat could understand him if only he spoke slowly enough and gestured appropriately. It was a very welcoming experience.

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From there, we followed another Rick Steves tour of all the modernist architecture, before ending up at a Galician restaurant for some pulpo gallego and caldo.

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Right now, we’re sitting on our terrace, enjoying some morning coffee and yogurt, catching up on work. We’re doing a guided food tour today, focused on sea food. This is our first tourist day so hopefully we’ll have a lot more to report later on.

Mustache Admiration

First things first, it’s really hot in Barcelona in July. Like, high 90s and totally still. We began the day early, before it was too sweltering, sitting on our terrace watching the Swifts diving around for breakfast. Then, it was off to the train station for the trip to Figueres, home of the Dali Mausoleum. Dali designed and curated the Mausoleum himself, mixing his work with some of his favorites by other artists.

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It’s a lot of fun, with some interactive (coin operated) pieces and plenty of weirdness. Kat’s favorite pieces were a series of paintings by a close friend of Dali, Antoni Pitxot, who painted stone and lichen.

After the Dali museum, we wandered Figueres a bit, grabbed some lunch, and visited the regional museum (it’s a bit .. sparse) and the toy museum. Which is essentially the Museum Of Reasons Your Parents Are A Little Broken … toys used to be really weird. It didn’t help that the muzak in the museum was haunting, depressing xylophone music.

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After being suitably creeped out, we circled back to the Dali Jewels exhibit, which collects a series of jewelry pieces he designed. Kat was blown away – both by the quality of the work, and the sheer amount of gold. Many of the pieces were articulated and even automated, like a gold heart that “pumped” its jeweled core. Not a lot of practical pieces, but plenty to impress.

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By this point, we were feeling a little overheated and worn out, so we claimed a bench in a park, broke out our Kindles, and read / snoozed for a while. Then it was time to take the train back to Barcelona. We took it easy tonight, taking the metro to a tapas restaurant, then strolled the Ramblas for some churros with chocolate.

Now it’s time for infinite sleep.

Cured Pig, Noisy Hogs

A pleasantly uneventful travel day brought us from Minneapolis to Amsterdam (on a practically empty plane) and then on to Barcelona. Aside from a small hiccup when the airport ATM ate my card and refused to return it, things were perfect.

We made it to our AirBnB around 6pm, and met our host Andres. This apartment is the place he was born, though thoroughly updated. It’s in a newer part of town (close to the conference) and directly across from the soccer stadium.

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The first order of business was a trip to the grocery for snacks – Jamon iberico, cheese, the important things.

After a nap, we set out for a little bit of exploring. Andres clued us in to “Harley Days,” a massive gathering of Harley Davidson aficionados. It seemed like an apropos way to spend the fourth of July, so we set our course for the Plaza Espana.

It was a loud, leather-clad, country music blasting kind of event. Which was a little funny.

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We got some food and listened to the band, did some people watching, then made our way home. Now it’s time for some serious sleep, so the fun can begin in ernest tomorrow.

Kat and Colin: Worldwide and Always On

As has seemed to happen fairly regularly in recent years, we’re celebrating the fourth of July with a trip to Europe. Spain actually, and Barcelona specifically. This isn’t strictly a “fun” trip – I’ll be presenting at Edulearn 2015, and I’m looking forward to my first educational conference in quite a few years. However, fourth of July flight costs meant it was substantially cheaper to extend the trip a bit, so we’ll get to have some fun. Kat’s never been to Spain, so we’ll be loading up on churros and chocolate, drippy buildings, and tapas.

We’re sitting at the Minneapolis airport right now, but will be heading for Amsterdam shortly with a quick turnaround to Barcelona. We’ll get to Barcelona on Saturday afternoon. For the family members who like to know such things, our flight schedules are below. If you need to reach us, email, call, or text!

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7/3/2015 MSP to AMS Delta Air Lines 164

7/3/2015 MSP to AMS Delta Air Lines 164

7/4/2015 AMS to BCN KLM 1673

7/10/2015 BCN to ATL Delta Air Lines 115

7/10/2015 ATL to MSP Delta Air Lines 1124