Sep 17

Barcelona 2017: Random fun

Sometimes the best fun when you’re traveling is the random, unplanned fun.


On our first day, we saw from our apartment what looked like a castle on a hill. “That’s a church,” our host’s sister told us. “And an amusement park.”

Huh? At first I thought maybe her English was off, but of course she was right. Our apartment wasn’t far from the foot of Mount Tibidabo, home of Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor

— and an amusement park. Of course we had to visit.

Part of the fun was taking a funicular up the mountain (although the whole ride one woman decided to stand and face us, and on my other side, another woman kept getting up and looking anxiously around, for what I don’t know). The church itself was, well, a church. We didn’t go to the top since that was another five euros on top of the park admission. The view from the park itself was amazing enough:

In my old age, I’ve become scared of heights, but I still rode this fucking thing. I kept my eyes closed and hung on for dear life most of the time, but I still rode it. We also visited the haunted house, what they call Hotel Krueger, although it was nothing like a hotel. The line was hella long, and people would sometimes burst out screaming and running.

So was it scary? Kind of. It was more about the anticipation of someone jumping out at you (there was no physical contact, thank goodness). One guy in our group was like the canary in the coal mine: he’d jump or scream, and then we’d see the scary thing.

The only thing that really startled me was the little person. There were two oversized dolls, but it turned out one wasn’t a doll, and he casually jumped down from the shelf and started following us. Eek!

We also rode the log flume (the first drop wasn’t bad but the second one, I ended up hanging onto my friend for dear life) and the “Russian mountain” roller coaster (see more about the language of roller coasters). That was scary but fun.

Barcelona Aquarium

Not the biggest aquarium I’ve seen, but still a nice time. The highlight was definitely the penguin feeding and watching the penguins swim back and forth. At the same time I worried that they didn’t have a big enough pool to swim in.

Torre Glories

We kept seeing this phallic-shaped building from a distance and finally one day went to see it up close and personal.

Formerly known as Torre Agbar (Agbar is the name of the company that once owned it), it’s 38 stories high and was purchased by another company just this year and renamed after the nearby square. Its nicknames include “the suppository” and “penis-building.”


I didn’t go to the beach during our first visit so I felt compelled to do so this time around. While I’m not a fan of the sun — I basically turn into one big freckle — I had a lovely time.

It helped that we went to a gay nude beach. While they were plenty of in-the-buff dudes and a few heterosexual couples, there were no kids, which meant peace and quiet. I didn’t get naked but I did get in the water. Here’s evidence:

The Mediterranean is very salty. Who knew? (Lots of people probably.)

Besides getting a good dunk and reading, I also had an aperol spritz, which knocked me right out. I fell asleep for a good 20 minutes.

Gigantes y cabezudos

Our second weekend happened to fall on La Merce, a big annual festival honoring the Virgin of Grace, the patron saint of the archdiocese of Barcelona. One of the festival’s features are gigantes y cabezudos, which translates as “giants and bigheads.” Made of papier mache, a gigante is kind of a cross between a costume, a puppet, and your worst nightmare.

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We saw a couple in action on Las Ramblas, and after that I was obsessed. Just by chance one day we passed this place, which has a whole bunch of gigantes on display in their courtyard.

During the festival, we saw the gigantes dancing around again, and I visited the Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi, where the oldest ones are kept in a glass case. Unfortunately because of said case, it was hard to get a good picture.


Walking around, neither of us could resist taking pics of the great graffiti.

Here are some of my favorites:

Want more Barcelona? Check out my posts on museums and eats and drinks.

Sep 17

Barcelona 2017: Eats and drinks

Second only to museums when I travel is trying new things to eat and drink. Barcelona was no different.

La Taverna del Born

This place was special if only because it was near our apartment and the first place we ate. I was starving and ordered too much food: croquettes and patatas bravas. I also got the first of many cappuccinos:

Teresa Carles

My friend is a vegetarian and when he finds a veggie place likes, he tends to go back a lot. Hence, our two visits to Teresa Carles (which we went to on our first trip to Barcelona as well).

We went there for dinner on our first night. I got the pappardelle with red pesto and a glass of white wine:

So good.

For dessert my friend got some kind of cake. I didn’t really like it. The icing was not icing. But I guess you can’t have everything.

Our second visit we both got salads, Italian for him and goat cheese for me, and shared a bread basket.

I guess a salad was “healthier” because of all the vegetables, but the serving of goat cheese was, um, generous shall we say. It was also delicious.


My friend was excited about trying this vegetarian place for the first time, but then it turned out to be one we ate at on our last visit. It was still good though. I got what they called “brunch,” a delightful assortment of different sweet and savory eats:

The only thing I didn’t like were the kiwi. They were incredibly sour.

Casa Lola Rambla

A random pick after a long day at the amusement park (more on that later). We both felt like paella, although I was a little worried that it would be a huge serving that I wouldn’t be able to finish. But the portion turned out to be perfect.

The rice was black instead of yellow and was infused with flavor. I only wished there had been more shrimp and other seafood. Of course paella wouldn’t be complete without some sangria.


Another favorite haunt was this bakery on Carrer de la Princesa. Their specialty are these incredible-looking cinnamon rolls in a multitude of flavors.

Our first visit they had matcha and red velvet, which we found out later was a rare occurrence. My friend got a matcha and I got a red velvet. While the matcha was good — very matcha-y — the red velvet didn’t really taste like red velvet. It was just sweet. Maybe it would have been better with a cream cheese icing.

However, my friend was hooked and kept going back. (It helped that the guy working was cute and very nice.) He was hoping for matcha but they never had them again during our visit.

La Xocolateria

While my pal was addicted to Demasié rolls, my poison was chocolate croissants. I tried a few random places, and while they were all good, La Xocolateria, which was near where we stayed, took the cake.

I went one day and asked for my usual. Luckily the guy behind the counter spoke English and offered a hazelnut. At first I said no, but then thought twice and decided what the heck, I’ll try a hazelnut.

I thought it would be similar to the almond croissants from La Boulangerie, but no. When the guy said “hazelnut,” he meant Nutella. That’s right: a croissant oozing with Nutella. Cue angel chorus.

Nutella croissants are definitely not something I want to be eating all the time, but I was curious if any places in New York sell them. Epicerie Boulud seems to be the main one although I don’t know if I’ll go out of my way to get one from there.

Raco Hofmann

We had brunch one morning at this little cafe that’s part of a theater. I had a yummy ham and cheese croissant sandwich and a cappuccino.

Satan’s Coffee Corner

We hit this spot for brunch one morning mostly because we were intrigued by the name. Turns out the food is really good too, not to mention my cortado:

My friend and I ordered polar opposites in terms of healthiness: a kind quinoa porridge with fruit for him and sausages and biscuits in gravy for me. He did, however, eat one of my biscuits.


Sometimes takeout is just easier, and this Greek place was right up our alley. I got the lamb and beef burger patties with all the fixings: salad, sauces, pita. It was a lot of food for not a lot of euros (unfortunately I can’t remember how much it was). I also got a can of stuffed grape leaves.

Mercado de la Boqueria

We had heard from a few people that this market was a must-see, and indeed it is, even if just for the spectacle of it:

But while it was huge, it was kind of the same thing over and over. Meat, fruit and juices, tapas, seafood, again and again, with a few egg, dried fruit, empanda, and candy stalls sprinkled in. Still, it was fun to wander up and down the aisles.

In terms of eats, I got a little cone of chorizo, quail eggs, and patatas. Turned out it was mostly lettuce filling that cone. A bit of a rip off. However, the fresh fruit cup I also got was amazing.

Santa Caterina Market

I had read online that this market was similar to Boqueria, only smaller and less crazy. It was indeed smaller, but maybe because I went on a Saturday, still pretty crazy. I liked my food better: three oversized croquettes, chicken curry, gorgonzola and nuts, and goat cheese. I liked the chicken curry best, but I don’t know if that’s because it was the first one I ate and I was hungry.

Bar Marsella

This absinthe bar was recommended to my friend. It’s supposedly the oldest bar in Barcelona and was frequented by the likes of Hemingway, Picasso, and Gaudi. While you can tell the decor was once interesting, even beautiful — especially the chandeliers — now it’s pretty rundown. However, the absinthe was still effective.

What you get is half of the glass of the potent stuff, two sugarcubes, tiny forks, and a water bottle to share. We uncapped the bottle and poured the water over the sugarcubes before realizing a small hole was pierced in the cap and you were supposed to use it like a squeeze bottle.

I got pretty drunk. Like, I could barely walk in a straight line to the bathroom. Luckily we weren’t too far from our apartment.

Bun Bo Vietnam

We first saw this place when we stumbled upon this famous kissing mural:

Then on one of my solo wanderings, I stumbled upon it again and decided to give it a try. By then it was the last day of my trip and I was craving Asian food. I got the bun, or rice noodles, with chicken. It was good overall but the vegetables kind of sucked: wilted lettuce. I don’t get it because their produce is really good. I also got an aperol spritz and for dessert, tapioca pudding.

Which kind of looks like pasta with a red sauce, but I believe that’s cinnamon. It was tasty.

Porch snacks

While eating out was fun, having meals at home was also lovely. We’d sit on the porch, eat random things, drink the wine our kind hosts left us, and read or write postcards.

One night when I was on my own, I ended up having most of a pizza I had bought from the supermarket along with half a bottle of 10 euro rose. Ah, vacation.

Up next: random fun.

Sep 17

Barcelona 2017: Museums and culture

As you might know, every year for the past several years, I’ve had the chance to go to Europe. I thought it might not happen this year, but then I suddenly got a message from my friend about Barcelona.

I’ve been to Spain once, back in 2014 when we spent two weeks in Madrid and a couple of days in Barcelona. So I was excited to see what I had missed and to revisit some favorite places. And as with all my trips, some of those favorite places were the museums and other cultural spots.

La Sagrada Familia

During our last visit to Barcelona, we skipped La Sagrada Familia. We walked past it, but saw how long the line was and said forget it. Plus it was so frigging hot. This time we got the tickets even before we left.

In case you didn’t know, the Sagrada Familia is famous for its distinct Gaudi-esque style. Construction began in 1882 and is still going. It’s supposed to be complete by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.

It was less crowded than I expected but still pretty crowded. We did a very quick walk through the church before going to the tower we had picked, the Tower of the Passion. Our other choice was the Tower of Nativity, but I read online the Passion one was slightly higher and perhaps gave a better view.

The view certainly didn’t suck:

After our time in the tower, we did an audio tour of the church itself.

I love how Gaudi incorporated his love of nature into his work.

Jewish Quarter and Ancient Synagogue

I loved visiting the Jewish Quarters of Paris and Prague so I thought I’d love Barcelona’s too. However, there wasn’t much to it, although we did get to see the oldest synagogue in Spain. It was teeny tiny because, back in the day, synagogues could only be as big as the city’s smallest church.

Museum of Design

We didn’t have plans to go to this museum, but it was in the vicinity of something else we wanted to see so we thought what the heck.

Because we hadn’t done research, we had no idea the David Bowie exhibit was there. I enjoyed it. Of course I loved all the different outfits, but I also liked learning about how he infused storytelling and his fascination with space in his songs. I mean, duh if you already know about Bowie, but I didn’t.

After I came home, I learned that the Bowie exhibit will be at the Brooklyn Museum early next year. My friend and I are so cutting edge.

Center of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona

Before we left I did some research on what exhibits would be open while we were there, and found this one on Bjork at the Center of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB).

While I’m not familiar with her recent music, I’m still a Bjork fan. Back in college I was really into the Sugarcubes, specifically their Stick Around for Joy album. She was so incredible and devastating in Dancer in the Dark. Plus I love that she’s just an all-around nut.

I really liked the exhibit. Back in 2015, the MoMA had a form of it, which was widely panned. I didn’t go to it so I’m not sure how it was different, except, as The New York Times says, it included “ludicrously infantilizing and tedious” audio narration.

Thankfully there was none of that at the CCCB. The exhibit was divided into four parts. The first was a room playing her video for Black Lake on opposite walls and with surround sound. We were encouraged to walk around. I really liked the song, which seems to be about her split from the artist Matthew Barney. (Of course afterward I went down the rabbit hole of that relationship. He seems like a tool.)

The second part was a 360 degree virtual reality “experience” of Stonemilker. It was fun because she would disappear from view, you’d turn, and there she’d be.

The third part was VR again, but I couldn’t watch it. It was Mouth Mantra and it gave me motion sickness so I kept my eyes closed the whole time.

The fourth was also VR but Bjork was basically animated as a moth or fairy (I can’t remember the songs), and in that case seemed like she was really there. At one point I had no idea where she was. I looked down and she was at my feet. It was weird. Plus you had these gadgets where you could “draw” on what was basically her vagina. (Oh Bjork.)

The last part was just all of her videos. I watched one, Hunter, which was so weirdly charming. Those two words sum her up, I think.

Fundacio Joan Miro

We took a funicular up to Montjuïc (or “Jewish Mountain,” named for the remains of a medieval Jewish cemetery found there) to see this museum dedicated to Joan Miro. I enjoyed it since I enjoy most museums, but I can’t say I really “get” his work. The only photograph I took was off this TARDIS sculpture by a different artist.

We also visited the Montjuïc Castle, which wasn’t that impressive. But you kind of have to go if you’re there, and it’s only five euros.

To get back down, we took the cable car. That was pretty fun and not too scary.

National Catalonia Art Museum

This was my favorite museum the last time I visited, mostly because it was a very trippy experience. I had walked about five miles in 90 plus degree heat to get there and was delirious from thirst and hunger. Plus you have to go up what felt like three escalators just to get there, and once you do, it’s this incredible view of the city. In front of the building, there are all these waterfalls, and at the foot, the Magic Fountain.

This time was less trippy. The weather was cool, overcast, and raining off and on, and we didn’t have to walk very far to get there (we came from the cable cars from Montjuïc). Instead of a chocolate muffin with frosting inside, I got a croque monsieur, which kind of sucked, although I ate the whole thing.

I liked the art though. I love how the medieval section, with its church artifacts, feels like a church. This time I went through the modern art wing, which I thought I had missed last time, but it turns out it wasn’t open when I was there. My favorites were the art nouveau furniture and decor.

Gaudi Exhibition Center

This was the last museum I went to during my trip, and it was a spur of the moment decision. I really liked it, and not just because it provided A/C and peace and quiet on a hot and crowded day. It focused on what inspired Gaudi, and included an audio tour with price of admission. What I found most fascinating were the the 3D renderings of his models that were never built.

Next up: eats and drinks!

Aug 14

The flight home

I was stressed about getting to the airport, but YP found out about the express bus and it was super easy.

Getting through airport security was another story. I didn’t realize I had to take out ALL my electronics, including plugs, chargers, and my headphones. I had to go back through the scanner twice more. However, luckily they didn’t make me go to the end of the line, and plus this nice American kid explained it all to me, having experienced the same thing himself.

Going to my departure area was also a pain. Between a tram ride and the walk, it was over 20 minutes. This woman approached me asking a question in Spanish. I said in English, “Are you going to the U.S.? Then you need to go to area U.”

“U?” she said. “Like you and me?”

At first I laughed, but then she wouldn’t get away from me. She stood RIGHT next to me on the escalators. Like she was pressed up right against my backpack and kept saying stuff like, “You and me, we’re the same.” She held up her passport but it was EU, not American so I had no idea what she was talking about.

Maybe it was mean of me but I totally wanted to ditch her. It was hard enough to figure out for myself where I was going. At first I went the wrong way, and when I turned around abruptly she was right on my heels. Then I walked off really quickly, knowing she wouldn’t be able to keep up.

I made it to my gate with about an hour to spare. I had time to go the bathroom, get something to eat, and pick up a couple of things from the duty-free shop. (I wanted to use up my euros but I wasn’t able to.)

Compared to my airport experience, the flight itself was a dream. It was Iberian Airlines and really nice. The plane seemed new, and each seat had a fancy entertainment center. There were so many free movies. On top of that, in a row of four, it was just me and one other woman, both on the aisle.

I didn’t sleep at all but watched three and a half movies: Veronica Mars, American Hustle (much of which was censored so parts of it felt disjointed), Captain America 2, and part of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

The only uncomfortable part of the flight was after we landed. We were told many times not to get up until the captain told us it was okay to do so. Two airport officials with surgical masks came on and questioned this family (I’m guessing they were Afro-Spanish). At one point a stewardess, also masked I think, took away this water bottle that was stopped up with a paper towel. The family, which had two little boys, were escorted off the plane first by the masked officials.

All I kept thinking was Ebola, but maybe one of the kids was sick (one of the bathrooms smelled really bad and then was out of order) and because we were coming in from another country, that was just standard procedure?

It was weird. But I guess they would have told us if it was anything serious.

The next leg of my journey was tough. The only good part was that I had ended up not checking my suitcase. The woman in the Madrid airport warned me that I’d have to pick up my bag and get it through customs before getting on my connecting flight. I don’t know how I would have made it. I had to get through customs, then schlep to another terminal, then go through security AGAIN. At least this time I knew the drill.

I made it to my gate about half an hour before boarding. I had time to pee, get some food (this fruit cup really hit the spot), and be surprised that everyone spoke English.

I don’t know why I ever thought O’Hare Airport was nice. It’s shitty and not air conditioned well.

I thought the flight 4.5 hour to my city would feel endless but I was so exhausted I fell asleep several times. We landed on time, 7 PM, which was 4 in the morning Madrid time.

But my journey still wasn’t over. I still had the subway, and it was during that 45 minute ride that I felt REALLY exhausted and kind of sick. But at least it wasn’t hot, my car wasn’t crowded, and when I got to my stop, I caught the one cab waiting at the cab stand. By 9 PM, almost 24 hours since I left Madrid, I was home home home!

I was so happy to be back in my own place, my fatigue didn’t even bother me anymore. I washed up (thinking about that gross bathroom), set an egg to boil for a late dinner, and called Mom. We spoke very briefly.

I had lentil soup with an egg for dinner (it tasted particularly flavorless after two weeks of salty food) and watched a bit of Midsomer Murders. By 10 PM I was losing consciousness.

I fell asleep fast and at one point woke up and had absolutely no idea where I was. I even had trouble finding the bathroom. I was feeling around in the dark: is this it? No, that’s the closet. Crazy.

I was pretty awake around five this morning. I did my favorite morning routine: have a nice strong cup of coffee (Spanish coffee from the airport, which was really fucking good, wish I had bought more) and PBJ toast, and read. Then I caught up on work emails and worked out. Ten minutes on elliptical and then a three-mile run after one of the treadmills became free.

The early morning walk to the gym was so nice.

I thought about going into the city, but it’s already three now so that’s not happening. Maybe I’ll go tomorrow, or at least the grocery store. I have enough regular food but not enough snacks.

I’m pretty tired now. Think I’ll watch the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special and then have an early dinner.

Aug 14

Back in Madrid

In Barcelona, I was dreading the subway ride from our hotel to the train station, but I surprisingly remembered how to get there since I had lead the way the first time. Again, the train ride was lovely. We ended up sitting next to each other, and we both dozed most of the way.

I felt more comfortable once we were in Madrid. I prefer hot and dry weather as opposed to hot and humid, and it was great that the hotel YP picked was very close to the apartment we had stayed in, which meant it was super close to the train station.

We had asked for two twin beds but they gave us a double. We asked to switch rooms, and they ended up putting us in a suite with two twins AND a Murphy bed. YP took the Murphy.

While YP went to pick up his matador outfit, I headed out to the Naval Museum. But it was closed — d’oh! I wasn’t sure what else to do. At first I wandered around aimlessly, looking for a restaurant since I was pretty hungry. But nothing appealed to me, or else I felt too shy to go in by myself. I ended up in the supermarket section of VIPS and picked up some Asian noodles and a yogurt. I went back to the room, ate, read, and watched Midsomer Murders.

It was during this time I realized the A/C wasn’t working. At first I was okay, but then I got so warm I had to open the windows.

After YP came back, we went to meet the apartment swapee for a drink. It was then that I realized how starved we both were to talk to someone who was not each other, and in English to boot. The swapee was very nice and it was fun chatting with her. That was also the first truly leisurely Spanish meal we had. We sat outside, had drinks, and ordered food in fits and starts. (As always I ordered too much.) The swapee had brought her dogs. She held the smaller one in her lap while the bigger one hid under the table and leaned its body against my legs.

That night, our last in Madrid, we both had a terrible night’s sleep. It was too warm, even with the windows open, and plus it was very noisy. After a while I put in my earplugs, which helped some, but then I was awake at six. I got maybe three hours of sleep.

Aug 14

Barcelona, Day 3

After a good night’s sleep, I was up early.

I had breakfast again in the hotel (which YP had thought was free but it wasn’t, oh well). YP had plans to go to the beach. I was tired of the sun and plus I had my period so I headed back to the Ciutadella Park to visit the Barcelona Zoo, which was about to close when I went the night before.

El pinguino, up close and personal #barcelona #barcelonazoo

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Of all the places I went to, the zoo at 19 euros was the most expensive. But I think it was worth it. It’s enormous, and I was there for almost three hours. Still, the animals’ enclosures seemed really small, like they had barely any room to run around. But I guess that’s what a zoo is and why some people hate them.

Why hello there #barcelona #barcelonazoo

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Afterwards, since it was still early, I made the schlep to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, or MNAC.

I could have taken the subway, but I walked the almost-hour instead, figuring that would be a good way to see the city. I didn’t get lost but I’m sure I used a lot of data on my phone.

On my way I passed the Gardens of the Grec Theater. It was really neat but again it was so hot and sunny so I didn’t stay for long.

The MNAC is so crazy. It’s high up on this hill, and you have to take about four outdoor escalators just to reach it.

The view from the National Museum of Catalan Art #barcelona

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By the time I did, I had such a headache. I took an Aleve but it did nothing so I think I was dehydrated. I started drinking water like crazy and also had a yummy blueberry muffin before heading inside. Delightful surprise: the muffin was full of frosting.

I enjoyed the museum although I was SO tired. I sat as much as possible although there wasn’t much seating. I was pretty good about seeing everything and listening to as many audio descriptions as I could.

The ceiling at the National Museum of Catalan Art. #barcelona

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'Sup? #barcelona #art

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When I finished it was only about five so I thought I’d try to see the Magic Fountain. I discovered that it was only an eight minute walk away, but thought, How the hell am I going to figure out how to get there?

Then I realized it was at the foot of the museum. Dehr.

The Magic Fountain at the foot of the National Museum of Catalan Art

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Then began the long schlep back.

Unlike in Madrid, it’s very easy to find places to eat in Barcelona. Things don’t seem to shut down between two and eight, and there’s lots of takeaway. So I had many choices for dinner.

Where did I end up? At a hamburger place next to the hotel. YP had had a veggie burger there, and he said it was good. I did not have the veggie burger. I had a hamburger with blue cheese and grilled onions, and it was GOOD. It was also enormous. I thought I wouldn’t be able to eat the whole thing, but I did, along with most of the fries.

Aug 14

Barcelona, Day 2

We started the day with a late breakfast at Brunch & Cake, which was adorable. I had something to eat earlier so I wasn’t super-hungry, but I was still able to have a cortada and one slice of coconut bread (YP had the other).

Coconut bread with carmelized pears #barcelona

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Afterward we went to check out Sagrada Familia. It was a bit of a schlep and again it was sunny and humid. The cathedral was really cool, but there were soooooo many people. I thought YP might want to stand in line to go in, but thank God he didn’t.

Next up was the Museu Picasso. On our way there we ran into La Monumental, an old bullfighting arena that’s now a museum. (Bullfighting has been banned in Barcelona since 2010.)

The museum itself was dinky and just okay. The fun part was going into the empty arena, standing in the middle of it, and going “backstage.” It was even more fun because by then we had been to an actual bullfight — and besides the museum fee, we didn’t have to pay for a tour.

There was quite a long line for the Picasso museum. We waited for almost an hour but at least we were in the shade. When we finally got into the museum, YP went through it quickly and took off to do something on his own. I got the audio tour and listened to almost everything.

On my way back to the hotel, I munched on a piece of yummy pizza, then stopped in the Barcelona Cathedral. This time I was ready with a little jacket. But it turned out I didn’t even need it. There were plenty of women in sleeveless dresses and tops, and both men and women in shorts. What a crock. At least I didn’t get duped into buying a shawl like the girls I ran into as I left.

Ceiling, Cathedral of Barcelona #barcelona #spain

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At the hotel I charged my phone and rested a little, then went to Ciutadella Park, which was just a five minute walk away. It was pretty nice with lots of people running, doing CrossFit, and yoga. For those reasons, as well as the vegetarian restaurants, banned bullfighting, and transvestites I kept seeing, Barcelona reminded me a lot of San Francisco.

After the park I checked out a couple of cool buildings (the Palau de Musica Catalana and Palau Guell) and then had sushi for dinner. It was above average.

I slept much better that night.

Aug 14

Barcelona, Day 1

Off the Barcelona!

I was a little worried about schlepping to the train station with all our stuff and the possible madness of getting through security and all that, but it turned out to be a breeze. I kept remembering how it was taking the train from Paris to London, and only afterward remembered that was from one country to another.

We had a lot of time to kill so we sat in a cafe. I had (yet another) cafe con leche and a delicious chocolate muffin. I don’t know if it was any different from a chocolate muffin in the U.S., but it seemed yummier.

The train ride was absolutely lovely. YP made sure to get us front-facing seats, and we each had a window. Plus the woman next to me got off early so I had a whole row to myself for most of the time.

I listened to music, daydreamed, and had (yet another) mixto sandwich plus cafe con leche in the cafe car.

Three hours on a nice train is the perfect amount of time. Long enough to enjoy yourself but not too long before you start to feel antsy and bored.

Getting to our hotel from the train station in Barcelona was a bit of a pain. Plus it was sunny and humid. After we had a late vegetarian lunch, YP went back to the room and rested and napped for like four hours.

In the meantime I went to the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, mostly because it was the only museum open that day. On the way I passed the Barcelona Cathedral (as I would a million times during our visit). There was a sign saying that shoulders had to be covered, and that day I was wearing a sleeveless dress. A lady tried to sell me a shawl, but I figured it would be easy to go back another time so I said no.

T-shirt art at the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art #barcelona

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The museum was nice and, as museums are in New York, over air-conditioned, which was nice at first but then it was freezing. I watched this short documentary on a Welsh professional wrestler, although I drifted off a couple of times.

Footsteps above, at the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art #barcelona

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I went back to the room to charge my phone and found YP still napping. I stuck around for a little while, then headed back out. I tried to visit the library but it was closed by the time I got there (a recurring theme), and then had ramen for dinner

Ramen break after more than a week of Spanish food #barcelona

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It was very pretty but tasted just okay. Still, it was a nice change from tapas and ham and cheese sandwiches all the time.

I got back before YP, who had gone to another vegetarian restaurant for dinner. I showered and relaxed with old episodes Midsomer Murders.

While I couldn’t hear the street noise, I didn’t sleep well that night. Too many cafe con leches I think.

Aug 14

El Rastro, bad sardines, bullfighting

On this day we checked out El Rastro, the flea market.

It was interesting and fun to walk through it, although neither of us bought anything. Along the way I stopped for a plate of fried sardines —

— which turned out to be a bad idea since later they gave me an upset stomach. It was either the sardines or the cafe con lech, although I’m pretty sure it was the former.

While my stomach was upset for only a few hours, for the rest of the trip (and even now), the thought of seafood made me ill.

After the flea market, YP headed off on his own (I forgot what he did) while I returned to the library. This time it was open, yay!, and the exhibits were free.

One was of the history of the library and another was about this Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa. Those were both in Spanish, but there was another, bigger exhibit about Spanish influence on America which was also in English. The exhibit was pretty good but conveniently left out anything on genocide.

That night we saw a bullfight.

Plaza de Toros, Bull Square #madrid

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Somehow it didn’t occur to me that a bull — or bulls, it turns out — would actually be killed. I thought the matadors would play around with the bull but in the end it would be okay.

It was not.

Six bulls in total were killed. There were three matadors, each of whom took two turns. While watching the matadors stab the bulls was difficult (there’s a lot of blood), even harder was when the guys on the horses came out and the bulls charged the poor horses who, blindfolded, just stumble blindly, having no idea what’s going on.

I guess in the past the horses had no protection and so were often mauled to death. Now they have what looked like padded armor, which can’t prevent all injuries, I imagine.

But, and this is weird, I still got into it. The matadors were all elegant with their cape work, and sometimes they got so close to the bulls. It was pretty exciting.

The etiquette was interesting as well. People were very respectful, only cheering and clapping when they were supposed to. No one got rowdy. There was feeling of respect for a very old tradition.

Aug 14

The Bullfighters’ Tailor

On this day we rented a car and drove to this place on the outskirts of Madrid so that YP could buy a matador outfit.

You heard right.

At first he thought he could get one in the city, but it turned out that place didn’t sell whole outfits. So it was off to this other place, which wasn’t far from El Escorial, the “historical residence of the King of Spain,” according to Wikipedia. We figured if the matador outfit place turned out to be a bust, we’d have another thing to see.

The place wasn’t easy to find. We got lost a couple of times but eventually ended up where we thought his place should be. But all we saw were little apartment buildings and office parks, very much a suburb.

Finally, YP found someone who pointed us in the general direction. Unfortunately, there was no sign, at least not that we realized at first.

Señor #JustoAlgaba is that you? I think it is. Compare: http://instagram.com/p/sDWHJFhFyW/ via @yonkey

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It turns out that graffiti likeness is the tailor, Justo Algaba, himself, and the building behind it, number 23, is where his store is. But like I said, we didn’t know that at the time. All we saw was that the gate to the (empty) parking lot was closed. I thought YP would want to scale the fence. Luckily he found a buzzer and kept trying numbers until someone answered.

“I was looking for Senor Justo Algaba?” he said.

After a brief pause, a deep male voice answered,”Vale” (which basically means “Okay” or “Fine), and, to my amazement, the gate opened.

Because it was siesta time, the building was almost empty, but an older gentleman on the second floor spotted us on the stairs and waved us up.

Senor Algaba’s “store” certainly didn’t look like one. There was a mural of matadors —

Celebrity matadors #justoalgaba #madrid

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— a bull’s head —

— and a display case with outfits, but that was all.

Later YP Ptold me that Senor Algaba took one look at him and came out with an outfit (second-hand) that fit almost perfectly.

While the WF got fitted with a vest, jacket, pants, shirt, socks, hat, and shoes (it’s a complicated outfit), I relaxed on the couch under the bull’s head and read. I was glad I had brought my book.

YP also later told me that the tailor has been in business for the past 40 years, and has outfitted in addition to famous matadors, the likes of Sylvester Stallone and Latoya Jackson. However, like I said, his store was very modest. Someone else might have photos of themselves with various celebrities, but he did not.

He was also insistent that everything about YP’s outfit be just right. YP said something about using his own shirt and socks, and the tailor replied, “No, no, no.” YP knew it wasn’t because he wanted to sell him more stuff; he just wanted it to be perfect.

And while I didn’t understand a word he said, I could tell he was very gentlemanly. When he pointed out the restroom for me, he sort of escorted me in the right direction.

After we were done, YP had me take a photo of him and the tailor, and it was totally cute.

Afterward, Senor Algaba said, “Very good, very handsome.” YP said, no you look handsome, and the tailor said no you, and they went back and forth like that for quite some time.

Senor Algaba wanted to fix a small tear in the pants, and offered to drop off the outfit at the store in Madrid for YP to pick up later in the week. He also suggested that instead of spending hours in a restaurant that we get sandwiches and stuff from the vending machine downstairs, which, in our starved state, was fine by us.

My sandwich — a croissant “mixto,” ham and cheese on a croissant — was actually pretty good. We ate in the car and then were off to El Escorial.

I was very tired but I really enjoyed this. It reminded me of Versailles (except much less crowded) with rooms set up like how they were in the past, paintings, sculptures, and a crypt (you know we love a good crypt).

The drive back to the city was less smooth than the drive out. The GPS was fucked up and we kept getting lost. On top of that both our phones were running out of battery.

To make a long story short, after much effort we figured out rental car return was in the general parking lot.

We were so exhausted, we ended up just eating in the train station.