Monday, October 17, 2016

Spain 2016- Part 3 Barcelona


Preface:  This post turned out to be much longer than expected. I tried to create hyperlinks to the art, food and shopping sections but apparently, that is over my head.

Carl found a loft through Airbnb that looked really interesting so we booked it for six nights. It was located in the Gothic district (Barrio Gotic). We arrived by train around 10:30 pm and got in the cab line. Our cabbie drove like a maniac and I seriously thought we were going to get into an accident and die before getting to see the city. He dropped us close to our building where we were greeted by the owners who stayed up until 11:00 pm to show us our space. (After spending time in Spain, we realized that we were probably interrupting their dinner.) We were on the second floor of a building dating from the mid 1800s and located above the oldest existing market in the city. We didn't know at the time, it was also above a bar. More about that later.

The beautiful old door leading to our loft
Although the loft slept 6, we had the whole floor to ourselves. Plenty of room to stretch out.
I remembered from the listing that there was a red refrigerator...just like home!

And on the desk, a vintage Olivetti typewriter. Also,  just like home.

A nice spot to lay out the maps and travel books to plan our stay.
By this time into the trip, I had ceased doing daily journal entries so what follows is not in chronological order but, rather, by subject matter.  It makes sense to start with architecture.

Gaudí . Everyone told us we would love his work. Everyone was right. Gaudí 's work was influenced by his passions in life: architecture, nature, and religion. He considered every detail of his creations and integrated into his architecture such crafts as ceramics, stained glass, wrought ironwork, forging and carpentry.  He also introduced new techniques in the treatment of materials, such as "trencadis" which used waste ceramic pieces. Under the influence of neo-Gothic art and Oriental techniques, Gaudí became part of the Modernista movement which was reaching its peak in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Our first Gaudí experience came as we walked through Park Guell. The park was originally part of a commercially unsuccessful housing site, the idea of Count Eusebi Guell, one of Gaudí 's benefactors.
The intention was to exploit the fresh air (well away from smoky factories) and beautiful views from the site, with sixty triangular lots being provided for luxury houses. Ultimately, only two houses were built, neither designed by Gaudí. It has since been converted into a municipal garden.

Entrance to the park. The roof resembles soft serve ice cream, bringing Dairy Queen to mind.
Mosaic sign that spells out Guell
The focal point of the park is the main terrace, surrounded by a long bench in the form of a sea serpent. The curves of the serpent bench form a number of enclaves, creating a more social atmosphere.

We also visited La Pedrera,  also known as Casa Milà.  It was built for the married couple Roser Segimon and Pere Milà and was the last civil work designed by architect Gaudí. Construction took place from 1906 to 1912. Casa Milà is the result of two buildings, which are structured around two courtyards that provide light to the nine stories: basement, ground floor, mezzanine, main (or noble) floor, four upper floors, and an attic. The basement was intended to be the garage, the main floor the residence of the Milàs and the rest distributed over 20 apartments. The resulting layout is shaped like an asymmetrical "8" because of the different shape and size of the courtyards.

One of the most notable parts of the building is the roof, crowned with skylights, staircase exits, fans, and chimneys. All of these elements, constructed out of brick covered with lime, broken marble or glass, have a specific architectural function. Nevertheless, they have become real sculptures integrated into the building.

The top apartment has been fitted with historically accurate furniture and accessories to reflect how it looked at the time. The attic space is dedicated to the design aesthetic of Gaudí.

The exterior of La Pedrera.  Note the ironwork design that was inspired by seaweed.



Sculptures on the roof that are actually chimneys.
Roof sculptures on left resemble warriors or robots
Views from the rooftop of La Pedrera. Note the touristy garb.


The servant's work room recreated in the top story apartment.
The nursery with its beautifully filtered light.
Gaudí looked to the natural world for architectural ideas.
Python skeleton
 My friend and former Barcelonina, Cristina, suggested that we visit Illa de la Discordia, a block of buildings designed in a variety of architectural styles. Block of Discord – is the most famous collection of modernist buildings sharing the same facade in Barcelona located in Passeig de Gràcia between calle Aragó and calle Consell de Cent. At number 35 is Casa Lleò Morera, designed by Domènech i Montaner; a little further along you come across Casa Amatller, designed by Puig i Cadafalch; and finally, Casa Batlló, a work by Gaudí.

Illa de la Discordia

Detail from Casa Amatller

Detail from Casa Batlló

And, finally, the incredible Sagrada Familia. Construction of Sagrada Familia commenced in 1882 by architect Francisco Paula de Villar with Gaudí becoming involved in 1883 after Francisco resigned as the head architect. Taking over the project, Gaudí transformed it with his architectural and engineering style, combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms. Gaudí devoted his last years to the project, and at the time of his death at age 73 in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete. Five generations have already witnessed the temple’s rise in Barcelona. Construction continues today and could be finished in the first third of the 21st century.

Sagrada Familia

Detail of the doors of the Glory Facade. The doors tell the story of humanity and the paths to eternal happiness. Created by Josep M. Subirachs and features the text of the Our Father in Catalan surrounded by its central phrase in fifty different languages as an expression of brotherhood among cultures.

The Passion Facade

The Nativity Facade

City view from the tower tour

Temple interior
There is so much incredible architecture in Barcelona that I had a hard time putting my camera down. Here are a few more of my favorites.

My first glimpse of Gothic architecture

Wrought ironwork on balconies in the Art Nouveau style

Beautiful facade on unknown building. Also loved the colorful pennant.

Cascada Fountain at Parc de la Ciutadella

I know. That was a lot of architectural pictures. I did my best to be selective but it's hard when we were surrounded with so much beauty.

On to art. One of my favorite experiences in Barcelona was the Picasso Museum.  We arrived before it opened and the line wasn't long. There was a little rain that day but not enough to keep us from our plans.

Museo Picasso houses one of the most extensive collections of artworks by the 20th-century Spanish artist Pablo Picasso.

Since the museum didn't allow photography (even non flash!) , this is the extent of my photos.
The museum had a lot of his very early work including sketchbooks and paintings he did as an adolescent. There was also an incredible collection of pottery. Since I couldn't take photos, I'll share a photo I found on the internet of my favorite painting from the museum. I bought a collection of four prints from this series that I'm framing for my studio.

The Pigeons, Pablo Picasso, Cannes, 1957

“El Peix” is one of the best known and most striking landmarks on Barcelona’s seafront. Its gold coloured stainless steel surface shines under the Mediterranean sun and changes appearance depending on the angle of the sun and the current weather conditions. The area is called Barceloneta and we spent a good part of the day enjoying the seaside and modern buildings.

"El Peix" by Frank Gehry
Detail with turtle and birds at the entrance to Casa Ardiaca, located next to the Catedral de Barcelona. It took quite a bit of research to find the information on this but glad I did.

Loved the detail of the snail on this park planter

Grafitti and murals everywhere! This one was at Park Guell

When the storefronts close for the day or during siesta, it's like a gallery of painted metal doors. Makes not shopping much more enjoyable.

Another closed storefront
Eating and shopping is up next. For whatever reason, I continuously forgot to take pictures of food. I think I was just too hungry. We enjoyed the food but by this time we were getting a little tired of ham, cheese, bread and fish. We searched out Italian and other Mediterranean restaurants and were happy to find plenty to choose from.

Before we wolfed down the hummus and pita (Our second time at Tallas de Tapas)
Always with the wine and still water
They all ordered burgers so I had to take a picture.
The gelato was amazing although I didn't have any at this particular shop. Just loved the addition of the macaron.
 There was shopping. Not a lot of shopping but some. We were lucky to happen upon a very cool outdoor flea market on Saturday. I was almost afraid to take pictures because I got yelled at in the Paris flea market and more recently, at La Boqueria, the Barcelona open market. I could have stayed for hours but Carl had other ideas. Most of all we did a lot of window shopping. Because the storefronts and windows in Barcelona are pretty spectacular.

Nice collection of vintage jewelry and religious medals.

Sort of like a fancy antique mall but everything was closed. Damn siestas. We had just seen the original of that Picasso print at the museum- Pierreuse with Her Hand On Her Shoulder, 1901.

Lovely traditional window dressing

Fun and colorful shoe store
Speaking of shoes...Barcelona, and Spain in general, has a huge sneaker culture.
So that pretty much sums up the Barcelona slice. Getting back to the loft we rented. Yes, we realized our first night (early morning) there was a bar down below. There was non-stop drunken noise until around 3:30 every morning. We got little sleep. We did, however, visit the bar a couple times and found out the bartender made a mean Manhattan, as evidenced below.

Carl at The First Cocktail Bar

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Spain 2016 - Part 2 San Sebastian


Ah...San Sebastian! We arrived by train from Madrid and hailed a cab to the hotel. Love at first sight as we spied the beautiful horseshoe shaped La Concha beach.

La Playa de la Concha
View from our room at the Orly Hotel
Carl and I first heard about San Sebastian from our friends Greg and Tina.  On June 6,  2012, as I listened to their description of the city's beautiful beach promenade and their meal at Arzak, I made a note in my iPhone. It is the oldest note on my phone and I suppose now I can delete it.

There was so much to see. We loved the beautiful art nouveau architecture, the cobbled streets of the old town, the long, wide beach promenade and the surrounding hillsides. There were beautiful architectural details at every turn, amazing large iron sculptures at both ends of the horseshoe-shaped beach and a collection of restaurants and bars in the old town that kept calling to us all day long.

Laid back but sophisticated...strolling through the Old Town
The Basilica of Saint Mary of Coro. The bells chimed on the half hour.


San Sebastian City Hall
The Maria Cristina Bridge crosses the Urumea River
Carl on the promenade
Peeking through the wrought iron fence that lines the promenade
La Concha Promenade is unquestionably one of San Sebastián’s most characteristic features. It is a seaside promenade bordering the famous Concha Bay, shell-shaped as indicated by its name in Spanish, with two beaches (Ondarreta and the Concha) and an island (Santa Clara.)
There's nothing like taking off your shoes and walking on the beach
Impressions in the sand
Walking along the promenade is one San Sebastian's great joys

Maria Cristina bridge
Maria Cristina bridge
Architectural detail
A ceramic tile sign in Old Town


On a fashion note, I designed a tunic several years ago with vintage souvenir scarves from Spain.  So, it seemed appropriate that I would wear it since it even referenced San Sebastian on the top right shoulder.

Finally! The perfect opportunity to wear my tunic.
See! San Sebastian on my shoulder.
On the day before we left, we walked from one end of the horseshoe to the other and up the hill to the statue of Christ at Monte Urgull.  At each far end we saw beautiful iron sculptures.
El Peine Del Viento - Sound Frozen in Time
Construcción Vacía (Construction Vacant) Jorge Oteiza created this work in steel in 1957 more than half a century later and remains a benchmark in the field of contemporary art

The short hike up to Monte Urgull was peaceful, cool and quiet
The hike offered beautiful views of San Sebastian






Another gorgeous view of the bay
Monte Urgull is the most significant historical heritage in the city. Located in the very center of Donosti, it is usually only discovered by its inhabitants as a place they visit with out of town visitors. Being out of town visitors, it was most definitely on our itinerary.
On this hill standing in the heart of the city, in addition to privileged views, you will find the "History House" Casa de la Historia,  and remains of the walls and canons, witness to the city’s military past.
The museum included wonderful vintage posters
The statue of Christ at the top of Monte Urgull. There's only one way to see it up close.
Yes, for us, it was all about the food. Everywhere we looked we saw pintxo bars and cafes. One of our biggest transitions was dinner at 10. It never really felt right. But when in Spain...  Our second night we had dinner at midnight.

More fashionable strollers
Late dinner at Casa Tiburcio
Sample pintxos fare
A highlight! Spotted Anthony Bourdain touring Old Town. To date, it's my highest rated photo on Pinterest. Thanks, Tony!
(Take note of the gentleman in the rear. You'll meet him later.)

Mercado de San Miguel is a large, indoor marketplace
Jamon everywhere you look
Carl peruses the market
Snacks to go









Another suggestion from Greg and Tina- cheesecake at La Vina Cafe.
The regular portion includes two pieces. IT. WAS. SO. GOOD.


The highlight of our time in San Sebastian was lunch at Arzak. Let me correct that, it was the highlight of our trip.

The restaurant, situated at the top of a hill in San Sebastian, has been in the Arzak family for generations, but it was charismatic chef Juan Mari who revived the menu to make it what it is today. Now 74 years old, Juan Mari still oversees the kitchen while his talented daughter Elena runs daily operations.


Everything from the signage, to the menu to the flatware was exquisitely designed
Arzak’s extensive offering includes multiple tasting menus and an à la carte, with specialties such as the Red Space Egg with a skin of red peppers, pig trotters and mushrooms, and seabass served on top of a tablet computer with moving images of the sea. A special feature of many of the dishes is the crunchy element – dishes such as Big Chocolate Truffle with candyfloss, carob, cacao and chocolate have a range of textures, including the signature crunch.
Ready for the life changing meal
Here are a few photos from our meal.  There was much more than this.
Txistorra with Beer and Mango served atop a scrunched beer can
Marinated prawns on lemon grass and mint served with unctuous preparation of beetroot and crunchy with krill.
Red "space" egg cooked at 65 degrees C, red peppers, cereal ferments and crispy pig's trotters.
White tuna with green melon waves served with jackfruit sauce
Grilled monkfish together with pecan nut paste and hieroglyphics forms of pumpkin and chickpea
The final dessert offering- beautifully designed candy eggs served in a cage.
The lovely Chef Juan Mari agreed to a photo with us after our meal. Do you recognize him now?
On our last day in San Sebastian we learned of an art installation called "The Mile of Peace" It was a mile long exhibition tour, designed to create an open space for reflection and participation on peace and its reversal: war, violence and armed conflicts. Situated along the banks of the Urumea  River,  it included photographs and quotations encouraging world peace and acceptance of all people. The route is based on the idea of the river as a metaphor, a natural border, and the bridges built as objects to overcome this geographical division.

A quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.
My favorite part of the installation was a mural created by children from all over the world
World peace from a child's point of view
Hope you enjoyed San Sebastian! Next stop- Barcelona.