Wednesday, May 26, 2010


We have accomplished two key details which are helping not only with our goals but our routine...Language school and a gym membership. Recovering from surgery and learning how to habla Espanol are two wonderful things around which to arrange your schedule.

We found our language school while out on a stroll with our friend Rick - I think we were on our way to Bar Celta, again. Tapas! Cava! Pulpa! Can't get enough of that place!

The signs out front indicated a language school, but it looked more like a bookstore, with the Spanish version of Hank Jenkins in mod clothes behind the counter, swaying to the Smiths. Bingo! Home! There is a hallway at that back of the bookstore that leads to a whole school -- multiple classrooms, office, bathrooms, the whole shebang.

We trooped in, and not only were they friendly, affordable, and awesome, but we could both start on Tuesday (25th May). Two days of classes and I'm thrilled. Being able to roll my r's is a real blessing, and having crazy patient and funny teachers is a second. Sean is in a more advanced class, and is learning how to string his much-more-advanced vocabulary together correctly.

Our gym is called Holmes Place and is just a jaunt away. They have loads of classes that I have yet to be brave enough to try. My Espanol doesn't cover physical directions or parts of the body yet. Ha! I'm going to give the Pilates classes a try as I think I fake along OK in that one. Then again, maybe trying to survive the 'Body Combat' class would do wonders for my command of the language. Ahem. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

songs about buildings

The buildings in Barcelona are a varied, gorgeous bunch. Of course there are the famous Gaudi and Modernisme buildings (photos on flickr to follow I'm certain), but for now I'm completely taken with the mid-19th century buildings in the Eixample and around that are just plain pretty. Lots of plaster work and detailing that might have been reserved for the interior are exterior. Balconies, balconies, balconies! The iron work on the lamp posts, railings, and doors is wonderful. Speaking of doors, it seems the bigger and more grandiose the entrance, the smaller the doornob. It's kinda cute. Below are a few I like -- Rick Abruzzo has inspired me to quit being shy and start carrying around my big Rebel, so better shots will be sure to follow. Plus, it has stopped raining, so not having a case for the Rebel is less of an issue. Yay!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Barcelona update 2: previously, on Soccer...

The delay in updates can be entirely blamed on me, with the help of some sweaty Manchego cheese (or perhaps an unlucky bad mussel picked by me not Sean). I have been out of commission BIG TIME since last Tuesday night (the 11th). I haven't felt that profoundly hideous in I don't know how long. Extended remix of nausea much worse than recovering from anesthesia. Food poisoning is no joke. I mostly feel incredibly lucky that during our time in Thailand, Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, Miami or anywhere else we've travelled I've been AOK. For this to be my first round of food hell is pretty great. Sean bit back any frustrations at losing his travel buddy, and took good care of me until I could get back up to speed.

BUT! While I didn't have the stamina or sea-legs to make the train ride into the mountains for the BBQ we had been invited to, by the time 7pm rolled around I was feeling a little antsy to go out. Awesome! We had been told that the Barcelona home soccer team, FCB, had a game that night to secure their #1 spot, and that the traditional party zone for fans was Placa Catalunya right by our flat. Awesome! After determining that the TV in our place was in fact a stage prop and only received the Blue Screen of Nothing, we headed out into the world to find a screen to watch the game. Along with 10's of thousands of other people, if not hundreds. We even saw a golden retreiver with a special dog baseball hat in BCN team stripes. After a healthy wander we settled down into a street cafe table by the Arc de Triumph (below) and watched the end of the game over some cokes and fried things. M80's, car horns, megaphones playing a 1940's big band sounding version of their fight song, kids singing along, retired ladies in team-colors afro wigs, scooters honking out the fight song with flags mounted on the back....its was wonderful. Soccer fans are of any and every demographic you can think of, and they all put their back into it.

Recharged by our rest and libations, we headed back to ground zero, Placa Catalunya, to see the party in full swing. And it was. I think the cops were mostly there to help the merchants pack up their stalls and get out without getting trampled. It was a very well behaved, positive crowd. Kids were on shoulders, everyone made way for the prams, the Grandpas weere singing along, and the teenagers were getting drunk and flirting.

After being awash in the collective huzzah for awhile, we rolled back for cocktail hour on our terrace to watch the antics roll by. It was great.

I can't wait for the world cup.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Barelona Update 1

We have left the pesto and gelato behind! Spain, ahoy. We grabbed a cab in the port of Barcelona to our temporary digs on the Avinguda Paral.lel in the Poble Sec district. Which, by the way, is a really neat part of town. We're right up against the foot of Montjuic, and there are both narrow old streets and wide thoroughfares with bike lanes, lovely trees, cafes and crazy traffic. The street layout and planning here is really excellent (at first blush..we'll see how I feel once I actually mount a bike).

We are staying in a student residence - it's like a dorm for adults. Our room is tiny, with one chartreuse wall, a large window, and a bathroom not unlike what we had on the ferry. It's sort of what I imagine a space pod built by IKEA would look like. We have access to a cooking lounge, with our own little bin & shelf. It's doing the job, if not beautifully. The roof deck with pool and stunning view kinda makes up for the IKEA space pod, though.

There are tons of tourist flats listed on craigslist and (thank you to Sara Roca, without whom we would never have found that site), but getting anyone to RESPOND to emails was producing some stress. Our reservation in the spaceport ends on the 14th. Sean, however, being a techie and deeply interested in shady phone stores, scored us a local cell phone and the ability to call people rather than email. This was the way to go. We found a flat that sounded OK and called the folks up. Turns out it's a lovely dude named Joan who had already rented the one we were calling about, but happened to be in his car near us, and would we like to see a smaller flat in the Gothic district? UM, YES PLEASE. So we raced downstairs and Joan pulled up in his RAV4 and off we went.

Joan loves San Francisco (everyone we meet who asks where we're from gets all happy about SF), and wants to take his boyfriend who has never been there. We encouraged him in that notion. It was also a happiness to me that our money was going to a Spanish gay couple.

The flat is a little more than we wanted to spend and a little bit smaller, but who freaking cares! It has an 'American kitchen' (which just means open plan, not in a closet), washing machine, bathroom, terrace, and is furnished. I suspect sean and I will be sleeping on the double futon not the two twins pushed together. I can only see tragi-comic results from THAT situation.

Side bar - our keys look like cattle prods. Serious triple dead bolts on everything which makes me happy. More pictures soon!! I've been slacking on the photos as I'm fighting off my first round of 'food that your body hates' - fevers, chills, emissions, oh my. But I'm on the mend. I blame the mussels.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I'm on a BOAT!


Sometimes, you do something because it sounds like too much fun NOT to. Even though you know it's going to be a slightly strung-out aging beauty queen, not the young lady in the advert. Or, the photo of the food is going to be way better than the food itself. The same is true with Ferry Travel -- taking an overnight ferry from Genoa to Barcelona sounded too absurd and romantic to skip. Grandi Navi Veloci got our Euros and our time. It was an adventure to say the least. The boat reminded me of a Ghost Ship version of the love boat - the pool was shut, the casino closed, half the guest cabins were roped off, the carpet was worn but clean-ish, and the wooden stairs were warped, cracked, but still sound. Our beds were freshly made, but the sheets had been washed almost to transparency. We were undaunted! We had an outside berth with a view! WE WERE ON A BOAT!
Plus, watching the overloaded lorries and caravans pile into the belly of this boat was almost worth the fare alone. Unbelievable piles of bikes, sinks, lawn chairs, and lord knows what else were stacked and lashed to the top of anything with wheels. When we booked online the route said Genoa - Barcelona. Turns out the route is Genoa - Barcelona - Tangiers. It was a richly varied and highly motley crew of fellow passengers. German ladies traveling solo, French families, Moroccans of every walk, lots of random bands of men smoking and talking in sandals and soccer jackets, a few conspicuous techie nerds, and us. The Ferry is MUCH cheaper than flying, faster than the train, and apparently oddly compelling to a wide range of folks. Mostly men. And traders with caravans packed with crap headed to Tangiers. No one checked our papers EVER. Leaving or arriving. Wild. Rather nice not to have to take your shoes off, for once.

I had purchased some 'frizzante bianco' in Genoa at a grocery store (carbonated white wine in a bulbous bottle which is actually very tasty) which we cracked open and had in our cabin out of plastic cups. We feasted on the green beans and pesto we had procured at the same time as well. Living large on the Ghost Ship!

Ports are also fascinating for reasons entirely un-naval (although all the gantries and ships and wooden sail boats are nice). We watched a scenario play out at the auto-loading area where a young nicely dressed man tried to argue with 5 Polizei on behalf of his friend (in the Polizei car) and (we guessed) his fancy ride. Other fancy men showed up with papers which failed to impress or change the outcome, at any rate. Lots of gesticulating, pacing, moaning, and papers being passed around. Good entertainment for the uninvolved. Fun to make up stories about why's and what's.

We have since landed safely in Barcelona, and are ensconced in our 'residence hotel' of sorts. It's like boarding school for traveling adults. A small, simple modern room with a bathroom not unlike what we had on the ferry, a cooking lounge down the hall with assigned drawers in fridge & pantry, and a laundromat downstairs. We will contact our friends of friends and begin the Housing Hunt in the morning. In the meantime, Barcellona is totally crush-worthy. We found a wonderful atmospheric bar, had a walk in the rain, found a late night 'stuff store' and procured cups for our room and laundry soap etc. Buh. pretty tired but very happy to be here.

Friday, May 7, 2010

If ever you need to eat dinner in Genoa

More on Genova/Genoa to come, including the fabulously tortuous street layout, but first a quick word on FOOD. Italy is an obvious slow food/foodie mecca. Less known is the fact that 1 in 20 children test positive for celiac, and most Farmacia's stock 'senza glutine' biscuits and snacks, and better restaurants will have options if not the best risotto of your life.

That said, it is still a thrill to have a waiter bring you your own special basket of gluten free buttery crackers to go with your wine while your partner has the most delicious looking foccacia you've ever seen. True story. At i Tre Merli restaurant near Via Garibaldi in Genova. We went two nights in a row and ate ourselves straight into eupohoria. Our waitress waved at us from the back of a scooter after night one. I suspect we are easy to spot. Did I mention the rice based pasta with fresh pesto and green beans, or the carpaccio with fennel & walnuts? no? How about the custard fritters with bitter chocolate sauce and coffee mousse? no? Well there. Mentioned. Oh my lawdy, was it ridonkulously wonderful on the senses.

Their website is here.
Needless to say, if we are ever in NYC, we are hunting down one of their pods on our continent.

Monday, May 3, 2010

business suits, rain, and risotto

Milan Milano! We had a lovely train ride through the plains of Lombardy, caught some cat naps, and arrived in the big, beautiful, very Mussolini Milano Centrale Statzione.
It was, however, May 1st. May Day. Italian Bank Holiday. Everything was shut. After checking into our hotel and having a nice long wander through the Giardini Publici, our bloodsugar levels headed for the basement. It's really amazing how your brain function slows and decision making becomes...well, less decisive. We finally found a restaurant called Brickoven which was not only open, but full of people eating delicious food. Sean got foccacia and a dish called the 'Don Pedro'. I had risotto w/asparagus and shrimp. Victory! With the bonus of wonderful eavesdropping and people watching while i worked through my half carafe of red wine.

I failed to take any photos of our lovely hotel, the Best Western Felice Casati, but they had two major things working in their favor: Umbrellas for guests, and senza glutine breakfast options. I do love yogurt, but sometimes you want a vector for all that Italian butter, jam, and Nutella. See note above about bloodsugar. Gemma di Riso was my new best friend.

Day Two in Milan was a nostalgic journey back to the neighborhood we lived in when I was a kiddo - well, the second one. Largo Zandonai 8, right by Piazza Wagner, a public market full of wonderful Italian produce, cheese, meats, and candy. I absolutely MADE Sean eat some foccacia for me and tell me how completely awesome it was. It was awesome. There is also a wonderful cafe right there, Buonarotti's, but the pastries didn't tempt a now-full-Sean, and I could do nothing but PINE after the baked goods. I did find some wonderful 'senza glutine' biscuits to take back to the room at a grocery store, though. Small Victories. Then it was off to find the (ever elusive) DHL shop..."behind Rinascente". We found it, and grabbed some food before heading onto the roof of the Duomo. Even if you are an atheist existentialist like Sean, the roof is a stunning place from which to view Milan.

Also, cutest Fiat's ever in Milan. And lots of tiny tiny lorries all over charming us. Sean would love one. Scroll down for a sample!