Inside the Basilica and the very special Black Virgin Mary..
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Sunday, May 24, 2009
We love that the place we're living in has a kitchen. All the restaurant food here has not been that affordable and in keeping with our budget, we buy wonderful produce and cook a delicious dinner. :)
Cochinillo Asado (Roasted suckling pig) - It was cooked perfectly. Crispy skin and tender juicy meat. We're seriously considering making this our new Thanksgiving tradition..forget the turkey! Hello lil piggy! :)
On another night, Elgin made us salad and monkfish.
Monkfish - YUMMY! tender boneless fish that tasted like lobster!
Monkfish - YUMMY! tender boneless fish that tasted like lobster!
Thursday, May 21, 2009
This is our last week in Spain and we're back in Barcelona. We're staying in an International Guesthouse somewhat similar to a homestay because the couple lives in the home, yet rents out 3 of their other rooms. Their names are Vicky and Diego. Sweet, young couple that has a wonderful operation going on here for international travelers. We found them off Craigslist!
This week we're just taking it easy -- going to the beaches, visiting the local markets, and walking down streets we've never walked.
We went to beaches that are near our place and also took a day trip to more beaches in Sitges.
We went to the Boqueria and ate at one of the bars. We had razor clams, baby octopus, calamari, and a mixed seafood ceviche. All very delicious!
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
This week is the celebration of the San Isidro Festival. There are a lot of events going on and we chose to go to the following ones below.
Pascalles de Los Gigantes y Cabezudos de Madrid
- It was basically a parade with giants and big heads. It reminded me a little bit of the Bay to Breakers since you can walk in the parade with the band and the characters. All the locals would stand on the sidewalks, and then some would just join in and walk with them or behind them. So we decided to march along with them. It ended in a plaza and everyone joined around to watch these huge costumes dance around. Then there was an announcement to initiate all the festivities of the week.
Bailes de salon en los Jardines de Sabatini
- This was dancing in the park. We got there at 7pm when it started and we knew we were probably too early because we were with all the senior citizens. Good for us though because we were able to grab a table by the dance floor. From 7-10pm, it was free dancing to a great mix of music from the 20s - 50s era and then at 10pm, the big band orchestra and professional dancers came out. There was a short performance, a taught dance, and then more dancing with the orchestra playing. It was very romantic under the stars in the garden in front of the Palacio Real. Another great part was observing the single people get their dance on. One man would begin dancing on the dance floor by himself, and then a lady would go out to dance with him. It was that easy. And if the lady didn't think he was a suitable dancer, she would immediately move away and dance by herself. It was great to watch! I must say though, the Madridlenos really know how to dance, ballroom and all.
- This was a comedy show spread. It was not in any language really, more like silly stunts and magic. There was this one act of a very silly Englishman that was doing a more mature show than he should have knowing it was family oriented with a whole front row of children. Let's just say he talked about and played with his "balls" alot.
Cien Punaos de Rosas - Zarzuela en el centenario de Ruperto Chapi
- This was a musical play in the Plaza Mayor. It was a huge production setup with several chairs outside to watch. We got their too late for seats but stood outside the gates to watch the show. There was a live orchestra in a pit too! The music was pretty good, but I think the acting lacked a little since I didn't figure out the story line very well. I'm still not sure what it was entirely about.
Yet, we did walk aroud the Plaza Mayor at eat a deep fried calamari sandwich. Pretty tasty!
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
We took a day trip to Segovia by bus. It took about 90 minutes. Segovia, what a beautiful city! It's most famous for their conchillo asado (roast suckling pig). The lil piggy is born, fed its mother's milk for 21 days, and then ready for the oven. We ate at El Bernadino. We had the pig and the famous white bean stew. It was deeee-licious. I'm pretty sure the restaurant servers had never seen the bones cleaned off that good before. Elgin says it was his highlight of Spain. :) While grocery shopping one day, we even saw a quarter of a baby pig sold in the pork section for less than 10 Euros. Hopefully, our next place in Barcelona will have a sufficient kitchen for us to play around and cook a nice dinner!
we saw the Aqueduct, the Cathedral, and Alcazar castle. My favorite was the Alcazar castle that was known to influence most children books stories like Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel. The original castle of all castles for fables :)
Sunday, May 10, 2009
In Madrid, we're staying at the Hostal Salamanca. It's quite nice. We have a queen bed, desk, lamp, tiny tv connected to corner of the wall, closet mirrors (did i ever mention that there were very few mirrors in bedrooms of Japan?, alarm clock, and a nice window that leads to the outside (not like the place in Barcelona). The maid here doesn't knock before she goes into your room. We got woken up a couple times in the morning from the noise of jingling keys. Now she knows that we wake up late and to not bother us so early. But I don't know why I actually saw her knock on other people's doors and not ours. hmmph!
Anyways, there's 4 other bedrooms on our floor and 2 full bathrooms. We got to see some of the other rooms on the floor, and we really do have the nicest room. Our room door exits to the living room area that has 3 couches, a 4-person dining table, coffee table with old torn up magazines, and a medium big tv that I don't think is cable tv. The tv has about 10 channels, most of them are either tarot card readings or commercial ads. Oddly though, the tv channels in our room are NOT the same as the channels on the living room tv. We don't know what's up. There's wi-fi internet available, but no computers or anything. So we use our laptop, but there's only 1-3 bars of signal on our floor. Elgin walks around the floor with the laptop to try to get a good signal, but it pretty much sucks.
We're probably staying at this hostal the longest because we're staying here for 2 weeks and who really does that right? We did interact with a couple of the other roommates a few times. There was this one Spanish rocker couple that really bothered us. The guy had the dirty shaven look with long wavy hair and arm sleeves of tattoos. You knew when he was talking because you could hear it through the walls. It's a type of voice that resonates. The girl had somewhat big hair and always wore short skirts and off the shoulder shirts. They would leave their stuff in the bathroom area and the living room area. It just looked messy. You knew when they were going to shower because they would turn on the bathroom lights, turn on the water, and leave the water running and bathroom door open for 10 minutes or so before they would both go in the bathroom. What a waste of water! Then when they sat in the living room with us, it's like a PDA show. Public Display of Affection on the couch, standing at the fridge, looking outside the window, and even grabbing keys to open their room door. It wasn't even just hugs and kisses, it was like "Get a room!" type of inappropriate lovin'.
But then again, we've noticed that you can see a lot of couples making out anywhere in Spain. From ages 10-60 or so, heterosexual and homosexual, no kidding..really..full on making out (tongue and all). They could be sitting outside the Prado Museum on the grass, sitting on a bench, standing next to an ATM, next in line for the groceries, or just walking and stopping every other few steps. What's in the water?
Things we've seen so far -- we went to the Royal Palace, Plaza Mayor, Plaza del Sol, Caixa Museum, Prado museum, and Botanical Garden.
Things we've eaten so far --
La Bola restaurant: madrileno stew (chickpeas, bacon chunks, and white noodles) tripe stew (blood sausage, fatty tripe, and chorizo), spanish ratatouille (very tasty diced veg dish), and catalan spinach (raisins and pine nuts)
-- for being so well known for their food off tourist books etc, it was ok and pricey. Our server was kind of ridiculous. And it's cash only.
El Rey de Tallarines restaurant: salad (mixed lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, and tuna completely drenched in dressing - after Elgin was done eating it, there was half a bowl of dressing left), stir fry shrimp noodles, stir fry pork, bowl of white rice (surprisingly served luke warm), and a soup bowl of noodles with vegetables -- this Chinese restaurant is known for their hand pulled noodles. It was decent and tasted good, but pricey compared to our Chinatown prices. We were having some stomach problems and thought some white rice and noodles would help settle our tummies.
Yet again, Elgin and I have been grocery shopping and trying to do our best with only a fridge. We really need an oven or microwave here. We just noticed that at the grocery store, people that buy a lot of groceries have their food stored in large blue bins and delivered to their homes directly later that day. pretty cool..
Whoever wants to do some business out in Madrid, they should really open a self-service laundromat, because there isn't one for miles!
Saturday, May 2, 2009
We're staying in the Sweet BCN Home in Barcelona in the north side of the Eixample area. Our hostal is interesting --(note: it's not a hostel) we have 2 twin beds in our room with a small sliding window that leads to the shared dining room space outside our room. We can hear anything and everything that happens outside our room and outside the building. There's one shared bathroom on our floor and the shower door only goes half way past the tub. I still don't understand why shower doors don't go all the way across. There's this one European couple staying next to us and everytime they walk in the hallways or hang their clothes outside, we know because we can smell them. Very musky, I tell you!
My sister Francine and her boyfriend Alex met up with us in Barcelona for a few days. We saw several buildings and parks designed by Antonio Gaudi that were all very lovely. We went to the Chocolate Museum, Picasso Museum, Las Ramblas, several catedrals, etc...
We did find out fast that food here is not that affordable. The euro to the dollar really made our chances of eating well on a budget a bit hard. So lately, it's just been supermarkets and sandwiches everyday. They sure love their bocadillos and tapas here. We ate at the Sagardi tapas bar where the tapas are lined at the bar with toothpicks through each one. You get a plate and when you're done eating they charge you by the number of toothpicks. Each toothpick tapa was 1.70Euros which is about $2.35 dollar. The tapas were not that big. We did splurge on a few meals here though. We ate at Inopia, the tapa restaurant owned by Ferran Adria's brother. We loved it! We ate at a traditional Catalan restaurant Les Quinze Nitz well known by several tour books because there were over 100 people lined up for dinner 30 minutes before the restaurant opened. And I must say, service was quick and our food was delicious. There was still a line of 50+ people when we left at 10pm. Amazing!
On another night, Elgin and I decided to try Dos Palillos, an asian tapas restaurant owned by Albert Raurich (who was the Chef de Cuisine for elBulli from 1999 to 2007). The restaurant was good, but extremely expensive and overpriced. We had 4 dim sum shrimp and pork belly dumplings that were made as well as Yank Sing and it cost 7.50Euros = $10.35!! Then 1 japanese mini slider burger for 4.90Euro = $6.75 (i'm pretty sure it wasn't made with kobe beef)! I think that's high way robbery right?! Anyhow, we tried a few things on the menu, and left for McDonald's to satsify the rest of our hunger.
Top 10 things we've noticed about Barcelona so far:
1. There's a lot of dog piss and shit lying on the ground - we are always watching the floor warning "POOP!"
2. Catalans like to wear their pants ultra-low because we've seen a LOT of crack. Both men and women. Women also wear these pants that are extremely baggy and have a very low inseam -- thai style of some sort??
3. They love their yogurt - Danone aka Dannon was created in Barcelona - their supermarkets have very large sections of yogurts
4. Pizza is not good here (period).
5. Food is very expensive here - even cheap food is not cheap. Locals think it's expensive and they stopped tipping.
6. The tour book says that people here eat lunch from 14:00 - 16:00. It's not true, most places are actually closed at this time and only serve bocadillos and some tapas.
7. They siesta for more than a couple hours. I'll see some stores closed for 4-5 hours in the afternoon.
8. Barcelona has a reputation for pickpocketing, but it still feels safer than NYC. Even though we just saw an unsuccessful pickpocketing crew in the subway today.
9. They love their futbol! This past weekend was a game between Barcelona and Madrid and we heard gun shots and canons go off every time there was a goal. It was actually really scary.
10. Bocadillos (mostly baguette type sandwiches), tapas, aceitunas (olives), anchoas (anchovies) and jamon (cured ham). -- yes, it's true, we miss our rice and noodles :(