Barcelona Day 18 – Last day, Passadís de Pep

We began our last full day with a small breakfast on our roof deck, a bird-of-paradise blooming for the occasion.IMG_6803 IMG_6804 IMG_6805

First stop was a quick peek into the Museu de la Xocolata (Chocolate Museum).  Jen had been withstanding the siren song of the place for a couple weeks now, as it was on our way into the Barri Gòtic.  And you might recall from an earlier post that the apartment we’d rented with our friends (the “Edgars”) earlier on the trip was called “The Chocolate Apartment,” a reference, I suspect, to its proximity to this museum.   IMG_6808

Steves’ guidebook refers to the museum as mostly a venue for their remarkably ornate chocolate sculptures, many of which begin as store-window displays for Easter or Christmas, so we just ogled the chocolates for sale and vowed to stop on the way home to buy some. IMG_6809 IMG_6810

Jen thought maybe we could enjoy some chocolate-con-churros here, but they only sell cups of the warm chocolate, no churros.  Didn’t seem to bother this customer, who knew the counter salesperson, and we suspected that spooning the rich dark elixir was a daily ritual for him. IMG_6812

A last stroll down the Passeig del Born — artsy boutiques, funky shops, and cafes and bars on the ground floors, pretty apartments above.IMG_6814

One last peek into the beautifully simple and tranquil Santa Maria del Mar. IMG_6815 IMG_6817 IMG_6819 IMG_6821

There are ancient fountains everywhere in the old town, all drinkable — but we didn’t partake.IMG_6823

A view back down Carrer de l’Argenteria toward Santa Maria del Mar.  The brilliant sun  streams into the squares and with the right angles, down the streets of the old town, beautifully highlighting churches and other buildings.  IMG_6824

We stopped into the Viceroy’s Palace, a 16th century building which currently serves as the archives of the Crown of Aragon.  Among them is the 1491 Santa Fe Capitulations, a contract between Columbus and the monarchs about his upcoming sea voyage, and then later his contract for his share of the spoils of the new world.  Ironically, Columbus’ discovery of new trade routes made Barcelona’s port less important, and soon the royals moved elsewhere, leading to a long decline for Barcelona’s economy and growth.  We got a kick out the ending phrase for several of the paragraphs: “It pleases Their Highnesses…”  (We began to use the phrase for each other’s preferred activities during this last day of touring.)IMG_6826

Close-up of the original of the aforementioned ending phrase.IMG_6828 IMG_6830

Ancient mimes began to reappear.  We suspected they were driven out during the great 2013 Inquisition (the Mercè festival).IMG_6834

Another of the beautiful, public fountains.  The blue-and-yellow tiled addition (1918) to this older fountain decorated what was the last watering stop for horses leaving town.IMG_6836

This fountain was right at the western edge of the old town, next to one of the old walls (depicted) which separated the town from the former stream (La Rambla) right outside the walls.IMG_6837

We stopped back into the Boqueria once more, even though we already had reservations for lunch elsewhere, just to check out the great variety of fish and meats, hoping to remember the names of all the different kinds of seafoods.   Pinotxo’s was packed as usual.  We even swung by Quim’s, and wouldn’t you know it, just as we got there, two seats opened up at the counter.  But we held off for now.IMG_6838 IMG_6839 IMG_6841 IMG_6842IMG_6843

We headed south from the market, passing through Plaça Reial again, and then to La Mercè church, which we had passed before, but it had never been open.


One of the most popular churches in the town, it houses the Virgin de La Mercè (Our Lady of Mercy), the patron saint of the city, who legend has it, freed the town from a plague of locusts in 1637, and is honored annually by the Mercè festival (last week).  City sports teams (e.g. soccer team Barça) customarily sing hymns of gratitude here after championship victories.La Mercè

La Mercè church is a bit too baroque for our taste, but it has a very interesting altar element.  You see that brightly lit rectangle behind the altar?IMG_6855Well, standing there looking up at it, I suddenly saw several people up there, walking right past the seated statue of the Virgin Mary.IMG_6849Jen didn’t see it, didn’t believe me at first, and thought I was either “having a vision,” or just had low-blood sugar.  Jen awaits her own vision.

Then we found the passageway back to “the Virgin’s Chamber.”IMG_6853 The virgin's chamber

This seemed and felt bizarre, to be up here looking down.  I mean, what were those church designers thinking?  Was this to help you feel what it was like to ascend into heaven?View from the virgin's chamber.

Beautiful marquetry on old door in the church.IMG_6854

Continuing our walk towards our lunch restaurant we passed one of the stand-up, “local” tapas bars down on the Carrer de la Mercè.IMG_6856

We stopped into the ornate, giant Correos y Telegrafos (Post Office) building, and saw this old telegraph service bicycle.IMG_6857

Still having a little time before our lunch reservation, we found ourselves in what must have been the baggage store district, and Jen bought a new red-and-black backpack (made by “Benzi” — in Spain, the saleswoman assured us).  This part of town, close to the harbor, must have at one time included a market area.  There were many old — some tilting — columns, supporting ancient wooden beams.IMG_6858 IMG_6859

Also loved the fun tilework on the underside of many of the Barcelona balconies.


Jen sizes up a Catalan paella pan.IMG_6862

Having built up an appetite, we were excited to finally return to El Passadís del Pep.  Back in 2004, we had had a wonderful lunch here, and were looking forward to a repeat performance.  Down a narrow passageway just off Pla de Palau, Passadís del Pep is one of those places where they will give you a wine list, but they don’t bring you a menu — they just bring you food, plate after luscious plate of it.Note waiter at left trimming bellota. The Torelló family have been making cava since 1395, for 24 generations! Almejas (clams) marinera con jamón; also Jamón de Bellota to the upper left

This is Vicente García.  He was our waiter nine years ago, and in our email reservation I had forwarded an old picture we had of him from 2004.  He was happy to see us again.Vicente García & Jen

Chef Joan Manubens is the brother of “Pep,” the guy who runs the famous Cal Pep tapas restaurant a few blocks away.  Joan started the restaurant 30 years ago with the help of his brother and their mother, Pilar.  This is the old (2004) picture we had of Joan and Vicente.  Joan and Vicente (2004)We asked the two old pros to repeat their pose.  Older, but better!Joan and Vicente (2013) -- older, better, happier.

Cañaillas IMG_6871 IMG_6872 FrituraGamba-girlGambeta salteada Pimientos de Padrón Calamar

Young Russians at the table behind Dave objected to their first seats and changed tables to a much larger one, rarely took eyes from cell phones, ordered bottles of vodka, ate bananas they’d brought, and had the staff rolling their eyes with their very specific menu demands. On the plus side for the restaurant, when we empathized with our waiter, we learned that they had ordered a 500Euro bottle of wine.IMG_6878 Cigalas con Cebolla Gambas (earlier smaller ones were "gambetas")

We will return again someday to El Passadís del Pep.IMG_6889

Sated, we rambled out into the shaded streets, the tower of Santa Maria del Mar providing a welcome orientation.IMG_6891 IMG_6892 IMG_6893

This eternal torch, the Monument of Catalan Independence, honors the 300-year old massacre of Catalan patriots by Bourbon King Philip V (ruling from Madrid), after a 14 month siege of the city ending on September 11th, 1714.  From that day, the king outlawed Catalan language, culture, and institutions, including universities, and demolished 20 percent of the homes in the nearby fishermen’s quarter to build the Citadel (where Parc de la Ciutadela now stands) to enforce his rule.  Built by forced Catalan labor, and taxes, Philip’s Citadel was at that time the largest fortress in Europe.  Catalans still say when heading to the toilet, “I’m going to Philip’s house.”IMG_6896

Back in El Born, Jen spotted a funky fashion store and did some shopping while I amused myself snapping selfies in the dressing mirror. IMG_6897 IMG_6898

Jen’s Xoco-alarm ringing, we headed back to the Museu de Xocolat.  Inside the same building was a very interesting photography exhibit on post-war Barcelona.  The Spanish civil war (1936-39) preceded WWII, and Franco encouraged Hitler to test the latest German warfare technology by bombing parts of Spain — most notably Guernica — to further Franco’s regime.IMG_6918IMG_6906

Franco effectively hijacked the Catholic church, promoting nationalism in a well-publicized “Communion of 20,000 men” in Barcelona on the esplanade below the Arc d’Triomf. IMG_6909 IMG_6910 IMG_6911 Note the suspicion on almost every face, despite the smiles. IMG_6917

The war photos were sobering.  But outside, the sun was still shining…IMG_6901

…dogs were still sleeping peacefully….IMG_6900

…and moms were still picking up their children from school, always a sign of new life and hope.IMG_6905

We spent the evening packing, ready to move on, but with a still-growing list of reasons to return to Barcelona.  It pleases Their Highnesses.

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Barcelona Day 17 – Caixa Forum, Hospital de Sant Pau, Cervecería Catalana & Jorge

We spent a relaxing morning on the terrace, and planned our day.IMG_6672

First stop was to metro back to Montjuïc, to see the Caixa Forum.

The beautiful Art Noveau building, designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch (a name we’ve seen before as one of the big three architects of the time along with Gaudí and Domènech i Montaner), was commissioned in 1912 by industrialist Casimir Casaramona to house his textile factory.  Puig (pronounced “pooch”) had also earlier designed Casa Martí (aka Els Quatre Gats), as well as one of the “Block of Discord” residences, Casa Amatller.  The factory showed off the Moderniste design in an industrial context, but only functioned as a factory for about seven years, operated as a warehouse for some time afterwards, then served a long stint (1940-1992) as a police station under Franco.  Drawing inspiration from a romantic vision of a medieval castle, Puig Cadafalch used traditional wide bricks, and included many wrought iron flourishes.

IMG_6675 IMG_6676

From the fun, undulating terrace floor there are great views of the entire complex with its fanciful brick towers, and of nearby Montjuïc.IMG_6677 IMG_6678 IMG_6679 IMG_6680 IMG_6681 IMG_6682The towers were special water towers — Casaramona’s previous factory had burned down, and these towers were built so that the textile workers could get to the water in case of a fire. At the time, they were a very modern and unique safety feature. The factory also lacks smokestacks — it was the first electric, rather than coal-fired, factory in the city.Poor attempt at a selfie-phoon pic (reflection) IMG_6688 IMG_6690 IMG_6692

Cool comfy furniture inside the cultural center.IMG_6694 IMG_6695

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We decided to cross town and head east via metro to check out the Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Sant Pau, designed in 1905 by Moderniste architect Domènech i Montaner as his answer to Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia.  Domènech had earlier designed Casa Thomas (1898) (which we saw in post “Day 13” now housing the Cubiñá store), his own “Block of Discord” residence, Casa Lleó Morera (1902), and had begun the famous Palau de Musica Catalana (1905 -1908).  Now a UNESCO World Heritage site (along with the Palau de Musica), the hospital complex was fully functional until 2009, and is still under restoration for use as a museum and cultural center.

IMG_6704 IMG_6706 Mosaics and murals depicting the history of Catalunya decorate many of the buildings IMG_6708 IMG_6709 IMG_6710

The Hospital de Sant Pau was originally founded in 1401, when six small medieval hospitals merged.  (One of those was the ancient hospital and medical school with interior gardens that we had walked through last week in the Raval.)  Domènech’s new Moderniste complex occupies a site the equivalent of 9 blocks of the Eixample, with eight individual pavilions decorated with mosaics and murals outlining Catalunya’s history, and various other buildings surrounded by gardens, all connected by underground tunnels.IMG_6711 IMG_6712

We ducked into the church on the grounds, a wonderfully serene, clean, light, and inspiring space.IMG_6713 IMG_6714 IMG_6716 IMG_6717 IMG_6718 IMG_6719 IMG_6720 IMG_6721

Namesake graffiti artist tagged one of the exterior columns.IMG_6722 IMG_6723 IMG_6724 IMG_6725

It was lunchtime.  Where to today?  It was such a nice day, and we wanted to spend more time in the Eixample, so we metro-ed back west again, to the Diagonal stop, to find one of the guide-recommended restaurants over near the Pedrera.

We thought we’d see what the scene was like at Cervecería Catalana, another tapas place that was listed in TripAdvisor as often overcrowded (but for good reason).  Luckily we quickly found a couple of counter seats and ogled the fresh seafood and various tapas under the glass.  We were very excited to see a “timbal de verduras y mozarela,” a mouth-watering, cylindrical pile of vegetables on the top of the counter.


They had the white anchovies in olive oil and vinegar that we just love.


Also very much enjoyed (foreground) this “montadito de gamba y calamar”.IMG_6734

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Senyor Pepe held sway over this side of the restaurant.  There was a second, much longer counter on the other side, run by four younger workers.IMG_6744

The place was buzzing constantly, with locals who knew Pepe stopping in for a quick bite on their lunch breaks.  About halfway through our meal, a man sat down next to us and I eventually ventured back into my español, asking him for help in naming some of the various seafood combos behind the glass.  He was very friendly, and we wound up spending about an hour discussing (in Spanish and English), Catalan independence with Senyor Jorge Andreu, a photographer, and self-described “Spaniard from Barcelona.”  Jen later described him as being kind of like a Democrat in Texas, and he helped us to understand that not every Catalan is for independence.  He thought that a referendum would likely result in a 50-50 toss-up, because even though perhaps 60-70% are pro-independence “en els seus cors” (in their hearts), they know it is not practical.

Jorge proudly told us that Catalans are very hard workers (12 hour days), much more so, he felt, than those in Andalucia:  “En Andalucia, they say, ‘Oh, it’s so hot, it’s so hot…’ and they work 5, 6 hours. ”  But he felt that the Catalans were pushing way too hard for independence, in everything, especially education, and not considering the economics of such a plan.  Schools and universities teach only in Catalan, and exams for college are in Catalan.  “A single accent mistake results in minus .25 points!”  Jorge has sons and worries that they are not getting enough Spanish and English education — only one hour per week of each.  And it costs 1000 Euro/month(!) to go to a school that teaches in English, making it difficult for families (and therefore businesses) speaking any other language but Catalan to relocate here. Jorge’s own English was very good.

He shook his head about the Catalan politicians, who snubbed the Americas Cup representatives when they were here, asking them “what will you give us to host your events,” rather than providing incentives.  He joked that the Catalan National Day, September 11th, being a day that commemorates “la retirada i la derrota” (retreat and defeat) of the army, ironically celebrates the negative.  “No es una problema, pero es una problema!

Despite all this, Jorge joked about it all as well, and is proud to be a Catalan — well, a Spaniard from Barcelona. He certainly characterized for us the friendliness and kindness of the Catalan people.  See some of Jorge’s really beautiful photographs here.

Dave and the friendly "Spaniard from Barcelona", Jorge Andreu

We set off again in search of more moderniste architecture in the Eixample, staring up at tiled and ceramic-faced façades with ornate wrought-iron balconies, and peeking into lobbies.

IMG_6748IMG_6753 IMG_6759IMG_6755IMG_6756

One very friendly concierge proudly showed off his elevator, one of the oldest in Barcelona.IMG_6751

Carved and painted stucco lobby walls; beautiful lamps Carved and painted stucco lobby walls

We came to one mansion, Casa Garriga i Nogués, built by architect Enric Sagnier for the banker Rupert Garriga Miranda, and now housing the Fundació Francisco Godia, with one of Spain’s greatest private art collections.  Godia was a businessman, race car driver, and art enthusiast.

Francisco Godia in a Formula 1

After climbing the grand interior staircase, we headed out a door to the back, which gave us the opportunity to see one of the immense interior spaces of Cerdà’s original design for each block of the Eixample.  Real estate speculation unfortunately consumed many blocks’ spacious, airy interiors in the 20th century.  This building had a huge deck with an art installation, but the block’s buildings that surrounded the bright inner space felt like they were far away, giving a great feeling of open space.

IMG_6772 IMG_6773 IMG_6774 IMG_6775

Beautiful stained glass for the billiards room.IMG_6782

Wonderful collection of artwork, including these wooden statues, looking very whimsical outside of their religious context. IMG_6784 IMG_6785 IMG_6788

There were several of the haunting, dark melancholy paintings by Isidre Nonell, whose work we first discovered in MNAC.IMG_6786

(Can’t remember artist of this mysterious self-portrait.)IMG_6787

Fantastic palette portrait by Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamín.IMG_6789

¿Y qué es esto?  A Passat wagon?  N.B. We love our old (’05) Passat wagon — it’s our 2nd one — and were glad to see they’re still making them over here.  They stopped making them in U.S. several years ago.  [This photo/Passat ad dedicated to our friends Terry and Mary, who are on their 3rd Passat wagon.  Looks like you can get a 4th one here, guys!]


Almost home, dear reader.  One last stop, once again at El Corte Inglés, even though it was getting dark, to check the view and sunset from their cafeteria/bar, over a cava (Jen) and gin and tonic (Dave).


Amazing what exposure adjustments can do:IMG_6797

The view over Plaza Catalunya.IMG_6798 IMG_6801


Bona nit!

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Barcelona fun facts — Poop!

In one store window, we finally spotted “the shitter”.


This will require some explanation.  “The shitter,” known in Catalan as the “Caganer” is a figurine depicted in the act of, well, you can guess.  Used in Nativity scenes(!), this “fecundator”, whom nature calls even as the Messiah arrives, dates back many years, at least since the 18th century and some suspect longer (16th century sculptures of him exist).   The wiki has a long explanation of it, and some hilarious possible reasons for placing the Caganer in a scene which is widely considered holy.  Here are two of my favorites:

  • The idea that God will manifest himself when he is ready, without regard for whether we human beings are ready or not.
  • The Caganer reinforces the belief that the infant Jesus is God in human form, with all that being human implies.

Another fun fact: In 2005, the Barcelona city council provoked a public outcry by commissioning a nativity scene which did not include a Caganer. Many saw this as an attack on Catalan traditions. The local government countered these criticisms by claiming that the Caganer was not included because a recent by-law had made public defecation and urination illegal, meaning that the Caganer was now setting a bad example. Following a campaign against this decision called Salvem el caganer  (“Save the caganer”), and widespread media criticism, the 2006 nativity brought back the Caganer.  Of course, now there are Caganer statues of every personage you can imagine: Salvador Dalí, Barça’s futbol stars, President Obama, Queen Elizabeth, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Einstein, Spiderman, SpongeBob SquarePants, etc.  (How many can you identify in the above photo?)  Maybe now with 3-D printing, even you could…

Apparently, Catalans can have a strange affinity for things scatological, particularly around Christmas.  There is another “caga” Yuletide Catalan tradition, the Tió de Nadal, or more simply called Caga tió, a Yule log (tió means log).  From December 8th (Feast of Immaculate Conception) until Christmas, children give the tió something to eat at night and cover it with a blanket to keep warm, and then on Christmas, they sing a special song “Shit, tió, shit”, and hit it with a stick until it “poops” gifts and sweets.

Tió de Nadal

Caga tió!

From wiki:

“Caga tió,
tió de Nadal,
no caguis arengades,
que són massa salades
caga torrons
que són més bons!”
Shit log,
log of Christmas,
don’t shit herrings,
which are too salty,
shit nougats (torró)
which are much better!

Hey, don’t knock it.  That torró nougat (made of honey, sugar, egg whites and almonds) is pretty good.  Really, you can’t beat it with a…(sorry).

Wait there’s more!  La Rambla, the famous wide tree-lined boulevard that runs down to the sea, separating the Barri Gòtic from El Raval, is built over what was once a sewage-ridden stream – La Caganell (“shit stream”) — running outside the original Roman walls of the city.

And in the late 19th century, there was a famous French comedian, Joseph Pujol, who went by the name of Le Pétomane, a French derivation from the verb péter (to fart) and “mane” (maniac).  He became a well-known entertainer – a “flatulist” – and could apparently perform many popular songs – including O Solo Mio and Le Marseillaise.   The Catalan link to this famous French farter is that crazy Catalan artist, Salvador Dalí, who had his own particular fascination with excrement and flatulence.  (e.g. Dalí journal entries: “Because of a very long fart, really a very long, and let us be frank, melodious fart, that I produced when I woke up, I was reminded of Michel de Montaigne…” and “Again this morning, while I was on the toilet, I had a truly remarkable piece of insight. My bowel movement, by the way, was perfectly exceptional, smooth and odourless…”)  Anyway, Dalí loved the flatulist Le Pétomane, considering him “the world’s greatest unknown modern artist.”


Inflated with all this specialized Catalan inside information (ahem), I had begun last week with our touring team by talking them through a Catalan toast: Menja bé, caga fort, i no tinguis por a la mort!  English translation: “Eat well, shit strongly, and you will have no fear of death!”  Given the various gastro problems some of us experienced, maybe we should have used this toast more often.

Ok.  That’s it.  I’m pooped.

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Barcelona Day 16 – Old Town, Suquet de L’Almirall

A quiet Sunday morning on the local plaza at the bottom end of our street.  Joanet is a low-key little bar/cafe.  The guy in the yellow, behind Jen, is a regular.  The funny coincidence is that our first morning in Barcelona we had breakfast at a cafe outside Santa Caterina market, and this guy seemed to be running things there. Jen thought he looked kind of like a Catalan Gerard Depardieu, gone to seed. And then after we moved apartments, he showed up at our local place!Hey Edgars, remember the Catalan Gerard Depardieu (right)?  Turned out to be a regular here at Joanet's.

Breakfast bocadillos and cortados.Bocadillo with Spanish omelette, and with jamon y queso The eyes widened further after the cafe con leche was consumed IMG_6521A public watering hole/ laundry spot outside Santa Caterina market, dating back a hundred years or so to the site of a convent.Fountains de Sant Caterina

We had become aware over the past couple mornings that the Sant Pere clanking bells had gone silent — guess that adjustment last week from six-minutes-after to on-the-hour was just too much for the old bells.  Love the look of the bells in lacy-wrought iron structures above the old stone towers.Now silent bells of Sant PereAn antiques/flea market in front of the cathedral. Antique market in Catedral square IMG_6531

Some of the thirteen white geese kept in the cloister of the Catedral of the Holy Cross and St. Eulalia.  The story goes that St. Eulalia was 13 when she was martyred.


Sign of the times?  Barcelona’s tourist business sure didn’t seem in ruins.IMG_6539

Floor tombstones in Santa Maria del Pi.IMG_6540 IMG_6543The return of the gegants! These are very old ones, hidden inside the cathedral’s bell tower during the time churches were being torched and rescued decades later.Santa Maria del Pi giants (see plaque in photo below) Santa Maria del Pi giants (see plaque in photo below)IMG_6546

Went down Carrer de la Boqueria again, which meant another pass by Jen’s favorite scarf store.  Christmas is coming after all.IMG_6548

We once again found ourselves in the Plaça de Sant Jaume, the town center for events (remember the Dance of the Giants, Blunderbusts, and Castellers?), which is also the center for demonstrations.   This well-executed one was to raise awareness of dolphin suffering (

The Generalitat, across the square facing the Ajuntament Another street cleaner

The Ajuntament (Barcelona’s City Hall) is open to the public only two Sundays per month — which happened to be when we were there.  The ground floor was full of artwork, and this old car.

IMG_6558IMG_6559 Sculpture by Pablo Gargallo (saw Ballerina sculpture of his in MNAC)IMG_6582

The first floor up houses the grand Saló de Cent, where the Consell de Cent (the “one hundred”) met from the 13th to 18th century.  It is used now only for special events — including weddings. IMG_6561 IMG_6563 IMG_6564

The bat symbol is prevalent in Barcelona (remember the bat on the tower on the roof of Palau Güell?)  The heraldic use of the bat in Valencia, Catalonia and the Balearic Islands has its origins in a winged dragon that crowned the helmet of the Kings of Aragon. IMG_6565 IMG_6566

Saló de la Reina Regent, where town meetings are held.IMG_6570It was interesting to see ports for headphones/electronics carefully built into the old wooden desks. They are the rectangular wooden bumps you see below.IMG_6567 IMG_6568 IMG_6569

IMG_6571Murals showing various Barcelona guilds — fisherman, shepherds, a man with a large bag of nuts.  Note the footwear.IMG_6580Barcelonans doing the sardana. IMG_6581

A wonderful docent, Marc, in the Saló de les Cròniques (below), explained that the beautiful black and burnished-gold murals depict the Catalan invasion of Constantinople and the murder of Roger de Flor, as described in the chronicles of Ramon Muntaner (1270 – 1336), a commander in The Catalan Company.

The murals were painted in 1928 by Josep Maria Sert i Badia with silver and gold leaf to further illumination in low light. They reminded us of the Diego Rivera murals in Rockefeller Center.

IMG_6579IMG_6578Our helpful docent, MarcIMG_6573 IMG_6575 IMG_6576 IMG_6577

We happened upon a special exhibit of wonderful sketches of Barcelona by various artists.IMG_6587IMG_6583 IMG_6584 IMG_6585 IMG_6586

A beautiful day, we headed towards the beach, along with many other Barcelona sun worshippers.

Joan Miró head IMG_6596IMG_6598

Our true Barceloneta destination was another of our friend Rob Wilder’s recommended restaurants, Suquet de L’Almirall.  IMG_6602

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Starter: Sardine ceviche with mushrooms and carmelized onions.IMG_6607IMG_6609

Jen decided on the Catalan version of paella called “fideuà”, made with small noodles instead of rice.  The fideuà that day was made with lobster.  I went for the “suquet,” a Catalan stew (and the restaurant namesake) with rice, also made with lobster, and mushrooms.Our friendly waitress, Adelina, who didn't want her picture taken, had a friend show us our dishes before cooking, but got caught in this photo (right).  Sorry, Adelina! IMG_6612Fideuà with lobster; dollop of aïoli to the right Suquet with lobster and mushrooms

The suquet was very good, bouillabaisse-like, but the texture and complexity of the fideuà, with lobster-infused flavors, was even better. And it came with a dollop of light, very white aïoli that really enhanced the dish.


The wine was very good, and had a terrific color, which we tried to capture, but in the photos it kept looking more yellow than the pretty, pale pink that it was.IMG_6618

Straw hats were available if desired, for any sun spying through the umbrellas.IMG_6620 Cute little side-tables were provided for bags

There are so many dogs in Barcelona (and very few cats it seems), and dogs in the art and architecture, that we decided on a new “-ism” for Barcelona: “Perro-ism,” the Age of the Dog. IMG_6632

We learned that with enough wine, Jen could speak dog-Spanish.  Unfortunately, when the sausage link-leashed perro responded in dog-Catalan, Jen was flummoxed. 

Wonderful lime/lemon sorbet.IMG_6639 IMG_6643

Our friendly host, Joan (“John”), and waitress Adelina (who didn’t want her picture taken) took good care of us.IMG_6646

Unfortunately, Quim Marqués — another of José Andrés’ friends — was at one of his other restaurants that day.IMG_6652

A perfect late summer repast.  Thanks Quim/Joan/Adelina.IMG_6655

We passed the famous “7 Portes” restaurant, but didn’t expect we’d get around to visiting this one on this trip.  Another reason to return…IMG_6660 IMG_6661

Lush El Born window treatment.IMG_6662

Jen loves our tree

We rested back at the apartment, and then worked into the evening.  At about 10:00, we tried unsuccessfully to find an Italian restaurant nearby, where we might get a salad.  (Seems salads are not really pushed much or even offered at many places.)  But it was Sunday night, and many restaurants, including Fernando’s recommended Mandarosso, were closed.   Ended up at the ever-reliable Elsa y Fred’s.  Que lastima.


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The non-stop, all-the-same-height waitresses of Elsa y Fred’s.IMG_6670

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Videos in blogs

Blog reading tip:

Some readers have told us that they haven’t seen the videos in the posts.  It turns out that the emails of the blog posts just show a movie as if it were a still photo (like the Train of Barbies in Maxo’s studio on the last post).  To see videos on the posts, click on the title of the post in the email, which takes you to the web site itself, where you can tell which ones are videos because of that big red arrow on the picture.  Mouseover text (when you position your mouse over a photo and a yellow text box pops up) also only shows up if you go to the site itself, and not in the email.

[If you didn’t see the casteller movies of them going up (and down) on the “Day 11” post, you might want to revisit that one in particular.]

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Barcelona Day 15 – Ca l’Isidre!

Saturday was first overcast day in a week.  Humid.

We ate breakfast at a bakery on Comerç, La Bocamel. Dave’s español started to kick in, and “jugo de naranja” (orange juice) tripped from his tongue like he was just out of a 9th grade Spanish class.


We had a very good pastry (“ensaïmada” from Majorca) with a most unfortunate resemblance to, well — see for yourself.  IMG_6346

Some sweet local color.


Local graffiti of the screeching green parrots. When we rented a house in Provence with friends (2012), we were audio-terrorized by the neighbor’s pet peacock, Edgar (leading us to dub our travel group  “The Edgars”).  We’re now thinking there is some noisy bird theme to our travels.IMG_6348

Does this mean that riding a bicycle in Barcelona is like gambling?IMG_6349

We stopped into Maxó Rennella’s studio on our street, Portal Nou. We’d passed by it many times and were intrigued. The artist, born in Argentina, seems quite productive, organized, and creative.  He’s also very friendly and invited us into the back of the store to see his work space, and talked to us about his art.

The Train of Barbies circling overhead was a real hoot.

He takes great photos of Barcelona and makes them into 3-D artworks with open windows and doors.


His creativity extended to old cameras,Barbie dolls, colored pencils (there were even colored pencils sticking out from ceiling), and other “found” objects.

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Maxó in his studio — hanging from the ceiling are hundreds of glass jars holding supplies.


I thought he looked like Johnny Depp; Dave went with Dalí.


We headed towards Sant Pau del Camp on the western perimeter of El Raval. The oldest church in Barcelona, this St. Paul’s used to be outside the walls, in the fields (that’s the del camp part).  It originally dates from the 900’s, but has been sacked and rebuilt a few times.


It’s supposed to be lovely, with a 13th-14th century cloister.  It’s also supposed to be open until 1:30, but was closed when we got there at one. We walked around it on the outside, through a little, not so nice park (the street, near the Ramblas of the Raval, is pretty shabby).

So there we were, a bit sweaty, plans up in the air, but hey, it was lunch time, and Dave discovered we were actually in the neighborhood of one of Barcelona’s top restaurants — and one at which our friend Rob said we could drop his name:  Ca l’Isidre. Despite our less-than suave attire, we decided to try our luck. We found the restaurant less than a block away, but the door was locked.  We turned away as someone from the kitchen exited a side door, and just as a well-dressed, white-haired gentleman was arriving at that same door. Dave initiated conversation with the man in Spanish, first asking when the restaurant opened.  He said in 5 minutes, at 1:30.  Dave thanked him and the man started to go in, then turned and asked if we had a reservation.  Dave said no, but that his friend knows chef José Andrés, who knows Isidre, and his eyes opened a little.  “I am Isidre,” he said, and smiled, and then said that his daughter studied with José, and began naming José Andrés restaurants around the U.S.  All of his conversation was in Spanish or Catalan, and Dave tried to keep up.  He motioned us in through the side door, then led us through the kitchen and into the restaurant, where he proudly pointed out a beautiful yellow cake on a side table.  “Cheesecake,” he said in English.  “My daughter made it…in the moment.”  He seated us at a cozy table near the front.

Isidre and Jen

There was only one man seated at a table when we arrived. Even though we had seen few people dress up for restaurants in Barcelona, we felt embarrassingly under-dressed for such an elegant setting: linen table cloths, art-covered walls, white-coated waiters. But in a few minutes, we weren’t thinking about that at all . . .

A waiter appeared with a large plate of mushrooms, showing what went into a special seasonal dish.


He told us the orange ones are particular to Catalunya.


After a few minutes, a woman came over and introduced herself as Nuria, Isidre’s daughter, who was also the sommelier, the pastry chef, answers the phones — she laughed and mimed mopping the floor as well — at least during this time of “the crisis,” she said.  Jen explained our relationship to Rob/José.  Nuria didn’t know Rob, but knew of him, and raved about José Ramon.  She asked us about what foods we liked and didn’t, and recommended dishes.

The kind Nuria and Jen

She asked us if we would like to start with a special cava.  “I invite you,” she said, a phrase we’d heard before: it means the person is offering it for free, as a gift. She was completely charming and lovely to us for the entire meal.

She explained the philosophy of Ca l’Isdre: simple, classic Catalan dishes, using only the best, freshest, local ingredients, simply prepared — no sauces, usually just olive oil, salt.

The meal began with anchovies and pa amb tomate.

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As the sommelier, she was very passionate about the wine, bringing us a white Priorat that she said comes from a small production and is the second-highest rated white in Spain.  She said she championed this vineyard early on, and so is able to get a good supply.  The vineyards are the highest ones in the hot Priorat area, so the air is fresher and cooler, and she said the vines are cultivated as they are in Burgundy, and completely organic. The grapes are macabeu (also called viura) and grenache. We thought it was great.


Isidre tended to many of the patrons, most of whom seemed to be regulars.


We were also given a plate of this beautiful, almost translucent, lightly smoked meat that looked like bellota, but was beef.

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After these few starters, we knew were in for gastronomic bliss.  It turned out to be one of those magical moments that the gods sometimes grant to us on our excursions.  We’d somehow walked into a tsunami of awesome culinary karma, and were going to wallow in it.

Amanida de tomaquet amb ventresca: scooped-out local tomatoes with olive oil, salt and capers, with a special kind of canned tuna  (it was definitely not Starkist!).

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Nuria was so kind and took special care of us.  “It is my business.  It is my pleasure.”  She told us of her family – four sisters — one of whom makes a special olive oil.  Nuria is the only one who stayed in “the family business.” She said that when she was just a little girl, her father took her with him to the Boqueria in the mornings, when he went to choose the restaurant’s food for the day. Her mother does all the flowers for the restaurant. It is a family restaurant, very much about the service, with a wonderfully warm and inviting feel.


Carpaccio de tonyina “Balfegò:  special tuna from Tarragona, 180 kilometers south of Barcelona.  We might not have all these facts straight, but we believe that Isidre, who stopped by our table many times to check on us, said that the tuna gets shipped to Japan regularly, and that he has four Japanese students cutting it for him here.  Nuria is topping it with olive oil from the Costa Brava (north of Barcelona).


Cep en Papillot: the special mushrooms, cooked in paper, with bits of foie, then served out by the waiter and topped with the cooking juices.

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Dave in aroma heaven.


Red prawns that come from just the area of Costa Brava, Barcelona, and Tarragona. Nuria encouraged us, strongly, to eat the heads, and the patron dining alone at the table across the way watched us and mimed his technique as well to encourage us.  You break the head off while holding the broken end up, like a cup, and use your teeth to squeeze everything out, including the salty/sweet liquid inside. It was delicious. Nuria also said that the famous chef, Ferran Adrià, makes dishes using only the heads.


Nuria, in yet another role, plays concierge, giving parking directions to a customer.


Cabrit al forn Ca l’Isidre: (goat shoulder with small onions), a long-time restaurant specialty and highly recommended by Nuria. It’s a stew that is cooked for three hours


Nuria’s famous cheesecake, naranja (orange) essence, with sarriette. Light, light, light.


Isidre gave the customers behind us special attention, carving their goat stew, and then sitting down to eat with them.  We figured they were family, and Nuria nodded that they were like family — they were customers who had been coming to the restaurant, twice a week, for forty years. The man was a lawyer, quite famous “in his time” she said, and he would bring clients during the week, and his wife on the weekend.

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Dave said he wants (needs) one of these pearl napkin/bib clasps.

Dessert: okay, fabulous prawns, paper-thin beef, butter-like tuna — all good.  But this dessert? Amazing. A cleaned out brown egg, set in some stone chips in a glass. The top is a light, frothy, eggy foam, and with your small spoon you dig down into the bottom and come up with warm, bittersweet chocolate and it all mixes together in your mouth. Heaven.



Isidre joins his friends for a bite, and Nuria also stops by to chat.

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Cortados, and then a post sweet.


Jen texts reports to Rob Wilder.


How could you care about how you are dressed, when you feel so fantastic on the inside? After you have been so cared for?   Thank you Isidre and Nuria, (and Rob and José).

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In a fog of food and wine happiness, we walked through the Raval, and through the gardens of the ancient hospital and medical school we’d visited a few days before.

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A very old wisteria vine, woven around an iron fence and bending the iron.


MUI: Museuming Under the Influence.  A walk through MACBA, (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona), trying to figure out modern art (the Priorat was probably a help). The building, by Richard Meier, is a great space.


A pacifist work by Antoni Miralda, a Catalan multidisciplinary artist, who studied at MIT in the 1970’s.  (Dave: I liked playing with toy soldiers when I was kid.  Why didn’t I think of that?)

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Some of Tàpies’ sand paintings.

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It was dark when we left, and, as usual, the square was full of skateboarders — it seems to be one of their favorite places in the city.


We headed over to a local bar, Bar Almirall, reputed to be Barcelona’s oldest watering hole, founded in 1860, for a cerveza to cap off the day.


Dusty bottles lined the top shelf.IMG_6504

Hasta mañana!


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Barcelona Day 14 – return to MNAC

We decided to return to MNAC (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya), on Montjuïc, since we didn’t really have enough time to see everything the last time we were here.  A great policy on the MNAC ticket allows you two visits to the museum within a 30 day period.

Pursuing the Dream by Miquel Blay i Fabregas, carved marble and cast bronze.


Blay also collaborated with that famous architect of the period whose name we’ve seen before, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, when Domènech designed the Palau de Música Catalana.

Spanish/Catalan point of information: You might have noticed the long surnames.  This is because the traditional convention for surnames consists of the family name of both the father and the mother, joined with an “i” (or “y” if Spanish), which means “and”.    The first part of the surname is from the father, and the last part is from the mother.  Often names were just shortened, dropping the maternal part.   However, in 1999 a “gender equality” law was passed, allowing surname transposition, subject to the condition that every sibling must bear the same surname order recorded in the Registro Civil (Civil Registry), but there have been legal exceptions. From 2013, if the parents of a child are unable to agree on order of surnames, an official decides which is to come first.  Can you imagine?

Picasso’s baptized name was Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Crispiniano de la Santísima Trinidad, a series of names honoring various saints and relatives; added to these were Ruiz and Picasso, for his father and mother, respectively, as per Spanish law.  As a child, he signed his paintings “Pablo Ruiz,” using his father’s surname; but in 1900, when he was nineteen, he chose to use and retain his mother’s last name, Picasso.

Anyway, back to art.

There are some great MNAC moderniste furniture exhibits, as well as paintings and sculpture.


A brilliant example of the close collaboration between furniture/interior designers and architects of the moderniste period is this collection designed and built by cabinetmaker and interior decorator, Gaspar Homar, taken from the house of Dr. Lleó Morera, one of the “Block of Discord” houses designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner.  These furnishings, distinguished by the fine woods and complex marquetry, decorated the main parlor where the Morera family received people on “visiting days.”

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Gaspar Homar’s 1903 Settee with cabinets and the marquetry panel “La sardana”.


Dragonfly lamp.


Blue glass flower petals surround the bulbs of this lamp.IMG_6299


This oratory was designed by Joan Busquets for a family home in 1905.  Personal chapels — like the one in Palau Güell — were popular in turn-of-the-century Barcelona.


Fine ironwork for the oratory.  The bright lamp is shown in detail further below, with glass flower petals wired around the globe.

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This painting reminded Jen of her Smith reunion parade, in which everyone wears white — and colored sashes.

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Loved the masterful depiction of fur in this one.


We also repeated our lunch venue, Oleum, since we did not know of any other options around the Montjuïc complex.  Best part was dessert, a riff on the classic children’s after-school snack (bread, chocolate, salt, and olive oil) that Josep had told us about the night before.  Sure beats graham crackers.

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This oil on cardboard painting, Paloma, by Isidre Nonell, I found hauntingly beautiful.

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One fun room held murals that once decorated the wine cellar of Galeries Laeitanes, another artist/intellectual hang-out during the Noucentisme period, largely a reaction against Modernism.  Xavier Nogués painted the walls of the cellar, where people could taste wines, with cartoonish little drunkards, shown satirically, immortalizing the human weakness.  (Made us thirsty.)

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Gran Ballerina, 1929, by Pau Gargello

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A room of photo-journalism photos from the Franco period.

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An entire room dedicated to Barcelona-born, expressionist iron-working sculptor, Juli González i Pellicer, another artist who met and hung out with Picasso in Els Quatre Gats.

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At the rear of the museum is a huge auditorium/exhibit space which once held an ice-skating rink.

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We’d exhausted our art intake for the day, and still hadn’t seen the Tàpies exhibit or returned to our favorite part of the museum, the Romanesque section.  But we figured we could come back once again before we left the city.

Jen’s cold had her now sniffling non-stop — she even took one of the decongestants I had picked up for myself at the farmacia days before.  It takes a powerful wallop for Jen to take meds for a cold, so we just stuck close to home for the evening.

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