Thursday, 18 August 2016

August 9, 2016- We celebrate our 8th Wedding Anniversary, Picasso Museum, More Spanish Food, Las Ramblas, La Ribera, Rooftop Infinity Pool at Our Hotel, Dinner at City Bar & Restaurant at Our Hotel, the Warmth of the Spanish

This morning we prepared to go out at a leisurely pace, feeling very tired. The mattress in our room is more comfortable than the Costa mattresses that we had for the past week, but still not very comfortable. Also, it is quite loud in the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter) any time of day or night. However, you can’t beat the location of the Grand Hotel Central Barcelona for sightseeing and for really feeling the old part of Barcelona. It puts you within walking distance of most of the main sights (at least the ones that we wanted to see) unlike the W Barcelona, which while heavenly, is more geared towards relaxing by the pool or on the beach, as it is more out of the way.

We left the hotel and found a café to have a late breakfast/early lunch (we had something to eat earlier in the room from the organic grocer across the street, but not enough for a lasting sightseeing meal).

We then walked about five minutes to reach the Picasso Museum (it's very near to the hotel). As we approached the Picasso Museum, we saw long, long, long lineups (it was about 11:45 AM). We were so relieved that we had booked our tickets online the day before (they tell you what times are available and you book a time that you will show up at the museum) and therefore didn’t have to wait (there’s a separate entrance for online tickets). We sailed right into the museum without a wait (there wasn't even a lineup of people with reservations).

Outside of the Picasso Museum (no photos are allowed inside of the museum).

The museum apparently has about 3,000 works by Picasso (we did not see that many on display, so no doubt a lot of it lives in storage just like the artwork at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria). There was a special exhibit of engravings and prints by the artist. It’s easy to see why his paintings are so powerful when one sees how well he could draw and convey a potent meaning or feeling with just black and white and sometimes with just a few lines (like his charming doodle of his Dachshund, Lump). It has a lot of his earlier works, but a very good selection. It was wonderful for April and Bill to be able to see this museum one year after they visited the Paris Picasso Museum, which holds a lot of his other works. We both very much like his work and his style, so it was an enjoyable couple of hours.

After leaving the Picasso Museum, we wandered through the Gothic Quarter and then towards the very, very touristy boulevard of La Rambla or Las Ramblas (depending on if you consider it to be one boulevard or a series of shorter streets) in search of a late lunch (or on time if you’re a local).

The doors here are jaw droppingly beautiful.
Street art on the streets of the Gothic Quarter.
We settled on a restaurant on Las Ramblas that had paella, as Bill had not tried it before. We had gazpacho, fries with aioli, and seafood paella.
A misunderstanding over whether we wanted two small Coca Colas or a large one (we thought a bottle and two glasses) led to this giant mug of Coke with two straws.We thought it was kind of weird, but it was our anniversary.

Seafood paella.
They really know how to cook seafood in Barcelona.
We then wandered down Las Ramblas to the Mirador de Colom or Columbus Monument (built to celebrate Christopher Columbus for the Universal Exhibition in 1888). It is a circular column jutting towards the sky with Columbus at the top (reportedly pointing towards the New World or as our driver to the airport would tell us the next day, showing anyone who didn't like Barcelona where they could damn well go instead), surrounded by many mighty lions. The beautiful lions had many people climbing onto them to pose (we didn’t think the lions would have appreciated being ridden, so we just stood beside them. This monument is at the seaside end of Las Ramblas.

Follow the crowd down Las Ramblas to the Columbus Monument.
Columbus monument at the bottom of Las Ramblas.

The lions around the monument are awesome.
Fear me, little humans.
We walked up Las Ramblas, looking in a few of the touristy shops until we tired of being jostled or stuck behind slow pokes. In Canada, we have a big "personal space" bubble, but in Europe being right up against someone or shoving them seems to be acceptable. After three weeks away, we were tiring of this.
Beautiful buildings at the bottom of Las Ramblas.
Las Ramblas would be much more beautiful as a boulevard lined with trees if it wasn't brimming with tourists.
We turned off Las Ramblas and lost ourselves in La Ribera (or "The Shore," this area used to be seaside until construction built up land in front of it, it is part of the old part of the city), looking in increasingly less touristy shops, as we went further into the maze of narrow little streets. We had a very strange yoghurt/ice milk concoction with topping mashed into it in the late afternoon (it took the woman 10 minutes to create just one of our ice milk things).

We wandered back towards the hotel in Barri Gotic around 6:00 PM, while church bells chimed around the city.

It was becoming overcast, but after the hot day and given how humid it was, we were overheated. We wanted to cool off and try out the hotel’s rooftop infinity pool. We donned our swimsuits and put on one of the two sets of robes in our room (this type of robe was comically small and way too short for both of us and it reminded us of our anniversary in Noboribetsu in Japan where we had been openly laughed at by a hotel employee who pointed out that we needed the “extra big size” robes. It’s true that we’re not the size of people here and we regularly tower a head over others. Bill discovered that his size M in Canada is XL in Spain). We went for a swim, admiring the sweeping views over Barcelona towards the sea. It is a gorgeous view, but the pool is a lot smaller than we thought it would be from the photos. Nonetheless, few people were in the pool because it was cloudy and cool out. We used the free drink tokens given to us on check in to have a soft drink/sparkling water.

The rooftop infinity pool at the Grand Hotel Central Barcelona.
8 years of marriage and we're still smiling.

Back in our room, we warmed up again with a shower and dressed for dinner. We decided to just have our anniversary dinner at the excellent downstairs restaurant in the hotel, City Bar & Restaurant, where we had had lunch the day of our check in.

We had no trouble getting in for dinner at 9:00 PM without a reservation. The dining room was subdued. Quiet music lulled dead tired tourists into an almost comatose state. Fine by us, we were grateful it wasn't the deafening dining room on the Costa Fascinosa (oh and the food was edible!).

We wait for our first dish to come.

We had some bread, while we waited for our pre-appetizers. A pre-pre appetizer that we hadn’t ordered arrived, a sort of goat cheese ball. We had fresh anchovies and chicken croquettes for pre-appetizers. For an appetizer, April had Caesar Salad with chicken breast (excellent with bits of crisp chicken skin as garnish), while Bill had lobster and avocado cannelloni (very inventive and fresh). For mains, April had over roasted prawns (so fresh you could practically taste their last moments in the ocean) and a side of excellent French fries and Bill had sirloin steak (he said that this was one of the top three steaks in his life).
Pre-pre appetizers.
Fresh anchovies, one of the pre-appetizers.
Chicken croquettes, another pre-appetizer.
Lobster and avocado cannelloni, an appetizer.

Caesar salad with crisp chicken skin and chicken breast. Yum!
Baked prawns so fresh April felt like a sea otter.
A perfect sirloin steak.
While we had dinner, we again admired the fine olive oil provided for dipping the bread in (we devoured the bread, hungry from sightseeing all day and then swimming). April asked the host or restaurant manager if we could buy a bottle of this oil from the restaurant. He said that it was made from Catalonian olives (this explains why April’s search for Spanish olive oil that reminds her of Barcelona has been fruitless, we must get the stuff made with other olives in Victoria). He said that we could buy it at many shops in town. April explained that we were leaving the next day and asked if we could buy it from the restaurant. He agreed that we could. April asked how much and he didn’t answer and disappeared as if he were going to check. We were confused, but continued with our gorgeous meal.

Before we asked for our cheque, the host dropped off olive oil in a tote bag to April. She didn’t look inside, presuming that that was what was in the bag. Free drinks arrived for us, but they were alcoholic, so we politely refused. When we asked for our cheque and received it, we couldn’t see a charge for olive oil on it (even though the host or restaurant manager was there when the bill was prepared). We were puzzled, as we walked up to our room. There was a clink from within the bag that April carried and she then realized that there was more than one bottle of olive oil. The kind host or manager had given us two bottles of their fine olive oil to take home with us with the sweet parting words that he hoped that we would “think of them when we used it.” What a warm people. And so different from our experience in other parts of Europe. We were genuinely touched. We will definitely think of our wonderful time in Barcelona and the warmth and kindness of the Spanish people every time we cook with that delicious olive oil.

Before bed, we organized a bit for packing the next day, April wrote in her travel journal, and we both wrote on a Picasso postcard each that we had bought at the Picasso Museum earlier and gave it to each other as an anniversary card. We had both chosen cards to have an iteration of Picasso’s dog, Lump, on them- we are missing our little kitty.

"El Piano (1940)" by Pablo Picasso- April gave this postcard to Bill.
Las Meninas (afterVelazquez, 1948) by Pablo Picasso- Bill gave this postcard to April.
We were about to settle down for sleep, when there was a blinding flash (through our black mesh drapes) and then suddenly, almost immediately, a boom like a canon firing. We both practically hit the ground, expecting the worst in troubled Europe. April had forgotten how suddenly and without warming thunderstorms come on in Europe. Bill had only ever experienced the sudden drenching rainstorms (not the deafening thunderstorms). We peered out our window, behind our mesh drape, low to the ground, and saw that no one on the street was running or screaming. They all seemed calm. Then it happened again and with the observation of now swiftly falling rain, we determined that it was a storm. Evidently it was time for us to go home. We’re done.

It was loud on the street that night (even though it was a Tuesday) as revelers walked down the street, outside our hotel carousing until almost dawn. Even through double-paned glass, they were loud.

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