Home is where the heat is.

All that remains is to document the journey home. From a sunny 16C BCN to a humid 37C BNE via AMS, PEK and CAN. Pip and I had slept poorly following lashings of richly prepared, rich food and red wine and our intention of rising early quickly went out the shuttered windows. When we eventually struggled up and made some coffee and tried to eat as much of the accrued food as we could it was nigh on 10am. Our deadline had always been noon – when Anna from the agent had said she would arrive to take the keys. Packing, cleaning and checking under things had been carefully timed to allow showers at the latest possible moment – we had about 33hrs travel ahead.
Anna arrived at 11:30am and swept through the apartment in about 2 minutes taking one set of keys and calling out behind her for us to leave the other keys on the table, turn off the heater and close the door behind us when we left, which is exactly what we did at midday. Out on the street with our luggage, we had already planned for catch the subway to Placa Catalunya and the the Aerobus to the airport, which again is exactly what we did to find ourselves at the airport at around 2pm, a full three hours before our KLM flight to Amsterdam. Terminal 1 at the Barcelona airport is very large and the gates are very distant, but the place is filled with shops to keep the mind of the nervous traveller occupied I guess. Our luggage was consigned straight through to Brisbane, so our purchases, which were moderate but several, needed stowing amongst our carry on gear. We had coffees. We had lunch. We sat at the boarding gate for a while till inevitably it was time to commence the marathon.
Flight 1 to Amsterdam was only 2.5 hours and was on KLM, so refreshment was in the form of rye bread sangas with cheese and or ham (not Jamon – just plain old ham like we have) and, if you wanted it, Heineken. Flight uneventful – service pleasant – seats comfortable. We arrived at Schipol airport with a tight schedule to keep, but we had the boarding passes for the next leg, so we just had to find the right gate and not be distracted by the fabulous airport. I really wanted to wander off onto the transit forest for a rest under a tree, but time is a cruel master and there was barely time to stop for a beer near our gate and take a picture of a clog display as proof of Dutch stopover. Two sips into the beer and the flight was called – a large queue was forming for the security check, in case we managed to purchase something explody in the transit area and munger young expressed concern at the two large cylinders people were entering – those new full body scanning thingys that can see through your clothes and detect the number of fillings you may have. After the scan, you wait on the other side till the guards get a stylized, no naughty bits graphic of the hot spots they need to paddle and frisk you in. Probably highly effective, but painfully slow. We boarded flight number 2 – back on no smiles China Southern, which interestingly was going to Beijing on the way to Guangzhou, a fact that wasn’t mentioned on our tickets. We were also slightly apprehensive at the fact that neither the Barcelona or the Amsterdam checkin counters had been able to print number young son’s boarding pass for the Guangzhou – Brisbane leg of our journey. 15 hours of non smiling, officious service and impossible to understand PA announcements. Pip had the misfortune to be seated separately and next to not one, but two babies, who luckily turned out to have wise, pharmaceutically prepared parents. This flight delivered us rather unceremoniously to the tarmac at Beijing airport where the temperature was 1C. We were separated onto the tarmac into the thick smog and into buses with the other ‘in transit’ passengers and driven to a shed some 10 minutes away, where we were ushered in and could see that we were going through a customs/emigration point. On the plane, we had been offered emigration cards, but told they weren’t necessary for transit passengers – au contraire – China is obviously running some kind of boost the tourism numbers scam by emigrating transit passengers and issuing them with two month entry visas. Questioning the officials was useless – they had no idea what we were asking and rather than calmly apologizing for the delays and stupidity of the processing we were undergoing, they got angry and told us they did things differently here. Meanwhile the crisply uniformed girls processing passports performed a kind of hand-ballet, half turning and rotating documents with flourishes and multiple stamps and origami precision – each one identically processed and hands returned to crossed on the counter after completing every one. After this farce was completed, airline staff invited us to climb three flights of stairs to, “Rest please” in a room with not enough chairs for everyone outside a larger empty room for the first class and business passengers. There was no information available – no flight board – zip – nada. We waited for far too long according to those who thought they new the schedule until the little blue bus reappeared and we were bussed back to the tarmac next to our plane, which had been cleaned and had the blankets, pillows and headsets removed for what was now, we figured, a domestic Chinese flight of 5hrs to Guangzhou. Not the sort of treatment well received by those who’d already been traveling 22hrs straight. The journey to Guangzhou was not improved with the addition of local meals, which were largely inedible and, to add insult to injury, sans alcohol.
Our arrival at Guangzhou continued the farce. Again, halfway along the air bridge a flight attendant with a roll of yellow dot stickers was motioning for those who’d travelled from Amsterdam to descend to the tarmac to collect their luggage – ours is consigned straight through to Brisbane we advised. We were yellow dotted and told to wait. After much discussion amongst the staff, we were told to descent to the tarmac anyway and squished into the bus, which drove us to a terminal where more staff were waving their arms and motioning for those traveling to Sydney to go here and those traveling to Melbourne to go there – Brisbane, we enquired? Blank looks and more discussion – wait there. We didn’t have a lot of time here and we knew that we still had to get a boarding pass for number young son, so we did the only honorable thing and bolted. We raced thought the arrival hall asking every Information attendant for directions to the Transit Desk and receiving blank stares until we almost found ourselves out on the footpath in downtown Guangzhou. We ended up entering the airport as if we were coming in from outside and went to the international departures hall, where we finally found a checkin counter and a guy who was happy and capable of helping – he printed the boarding pass and directed us to the international departure gates, where the queues started again. First the security checks and a couple of stamps on the boarding cards and a good read of the passport and a bit of hand-ballet before the toughest checks we encountered – they actually go through your bags – then the customs hand-ballet again, because naturally as we’d been given a visa to enter the country in Beijing, we had to be processed as leaving the country in Guangzhou. Tired and near beaten, we arrived at the boarding gate with a half hour to spare, only to be offered a 500ml water in a shop for the equivalent of AUD$10. We weren’t that thirsty. Goodbye China – couldn’t even get a laugh out of your badly translated signs.
8 short hours of which several were actually spent asleep and slap in the face heat – we’re back in Bris-fizzle.
Lessons learnt:
  1. Would not fly China Southern again – too unfriendly; too difficult to understand what’s going on, and; too going through China – we got the feeling that we’d be totally screwed if something did happen. Also thought that if China wants to be a world player, they need to accept that English is the Lingua Franca (like it or not) of international travel and stop pretending that they know it. I don’t pretend I know Chinese (or French or Spanish or often even English) because I can understand two or three words.
  2. Barcelona is beautiful.
  3. The Catalans eat a lot more Jamon than I could have ever imagined.
  4. Italy still holds the coffee crown. While the Spanish have a bar culture that is Italy’s equal, their coffee is severely let down by the milk.
  5. I need to select walking shoes more carefully.
  6. Never carry rovello mushrooms into a crush of people.

 

Proof of Holland

The view

 

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…there goes a monkfish

This is the end my friend – the final full day in Barcelona. We need to start the day with a hearty breakfast at the Kiosko Universal in the Boqueria. This is the place we have watched each time we’ve been in the market, with it’s piles of mixed mushrooms high on the counter. We tried to get their early and our cunning ploy worked and we got stools up at the bar. The locals tend to start their days with all manner of seafood and cava, but the thought of champagne and clams for brekky just didn’t do it for us. Instead, the fried eggs. They come with bacon, or mushrooms or just with patates (read chips). Of course the experience is the show behind the counter – there’d be 30 or so people sitting round the bar and the waiters write down nothing. They call their orders to the chefs, they make coffee and serve tapas and they remember the lot when comes the time to put the bill down in front of you. Pip chose the mushrooms, which came with two fried egs and chips. I chose the bacon, which came with two fried eggs and chips and Eamon chose the patates, which was just two fried eggs and chips. Apart from Pip’s mushrooms, with which she was very happy, Eamon and I were a little disappointed with our choices which were rather oily to put it mildly. Still the coffees were good and the bread – oh the bread here! – was fabulous.
We left the Boqueria on a mission to complete some last minute purchases and a determination to try and avoid the same places we had already been (what’s the point in going over old ground) which was harder than you might think for we had racked up an impressive number of kilometers traversing this ol’ town. We turned to the resort of the desperate – our city map – decided that if we headed to the north east, there was an unexplor-ed district called El Born we could head for. This is roughly the area we stayed in in our first visit to this City all those decades ago and had been an oversight this time round.
What an extremely pleasant surprise – El Born, like so much of Barcelona – has undergone a rejuvenation and was chockers with elegant bars and restaurants, bright, funky shops and a lively street scene. We roamed, ambulated, strolled and rambled for several hours and came upon (yet) another market, this time the stylishly re-designed Santa Caterina Market. Another house of Jamon. Santa Caterina has been beautifully re-designed with a amazing, wavy timber roof and a facade of stylised packing crates – much brighter and shinier that the Boqueria; much the same stock as the Boqueria, but maybe a little less of the spirit of the Boqueria. Still, another Barcelona gem. Not too far away, an even ‘nuther market, Mercad El Born is closed for renovation and looked quite similar to the Mercat Sant Antoni that we had seen closed for renovations a few days ago. I’ve got to ask how we, at home in Brisbane, have developed such a different and markedly less interactive and communal approach to shopping. We have one or two struggling, tiny fruit shops and butchers and bakers standing around the giant Coles and Woolworths temples of mediocrity and corporate greed. Again, our sheer expanse and desire for low density has dissipated our sense of community and disabled the viability of small businesses and encouraged the giants with their expansive car parkery to flourish. There are glimpses of local markets and successful local shops in some of the higher density, urban suburbs, but by and large they’re upmarket reinventions thoughtfully designed and conceived for an upmarket clientele. Ooh! I think I digress!
Meanwhile, back in Barcelona, we were watching a group of buskers performing trad-jazz classics and wondering how the hell you busk with an upright piano, while we consulted our Barcelona subway app to find the nearest Metro station and the route home. Once home and rested, number young son thoughtfully requested to be allowed to remain at home with a pesto pasta, while Pip and I decided to farewell Barcelona with a meal in a ‘nicer’ type of restaurant.
We waited till a respectable 8pm before heading out and walked to the main drag for to hail a cab and head back to the Placa St Jaume, which we had decided would deliver us the kind of restaurant we sought. We were thus delivered and set out to re-trace our steps of a few days ago, to an area where we were sure we had seen some likely venues. Half an hour’s roaming and we came to El Gran Cafe, which seemed just the shot. A beautiful looking, French-style cafe with waiters in long white aprons, a reasonably priced menu and, a, you know, elegant vibe. All white linen and huge wine glasses; waiters with ear-pieces; campy maitre-de; Ned Flanders on the piano – we’d struck restaurant pay dirt.
After carefully choosing a Rioja from the middle of the wine list – a temparanillo pinot blend he said in a posh accent – we decided to share some codfish croquettes before choosing an entree each and a main course each. I went with the vibe of the place and opted for the cream of lobster soup followed by the monkfish, costa brava style, while Pip chose a duck leg with truffled potatoes and shoulder of kid. I chose the monkfish because I had seen it on display in the various markets we had wandered through over the last week and had been taken by its ugliness – huge mouth filled with sharp teeth – and the fact that it was a white fish that was cut in cutlets, like mackerel. It was the consistency of a tender steak in that it didn’t flake like other white fish and it was chewy, but not tough. Costa brava style was baked with potato on top. Our food was terrific, but again, the performance of the staff it was that kept us amused. Señor Campy Maitre-de was having issues with one of the waitresses and they were arguing and wildly gesticulating until Señor Floor Manager entered the scene to shush them and disappear upstairs with them. Señorita reception was having issues with Ned Flanders, who played for a few minutes then need to stand at the bar for a drink for a half hour, hiding behind a pillar – so there was more gesticulation and terse pointing to the piano. There was a large group of similarly suited gents in the basement – Pip reckoned on 70 or so on one big table – and their hapless waiter seemed to be serving them all by himself, up and down the stairs from the kitchen to the basement five plates at a time for a long time. It was all extremely entertaining. After the altercation between the Maitre-de and the waitress, they kept passing each other over-courteously with lips pursed, each one holding individual briefings with the other staff on the floor. Ned Flanders eventually re-appeared at the piano and played some Sati extremely well, before needing another refresher, and Pip and I ate every scrap of extremely delicious food on our plates and drained the extremely well-chosen wine before I moved on to a coffee and lemon and lime cream, which was really like yoghurt but extremely yummy. Despite the histrionics, and probably partially because of them, we had a beautiful meal in fine surroundings that marked the end of a lovely week in a gorgeous city. 

 

Santa Caterina Mercat

Santa Caterina Mercat 1

Kiosko Universal

Buskers

El Gran Cafe

Monkfish

Greek is the word

…and a final word from Barcelona, where spent a quiet Epiphany holiday. Number young son chose to sleep the day away and Pip and I went for a short walk. Our short walk was not uneventful and featured an older lady face-planting on the road, which was quite terrible really. We dashed over to help her as she lay face down on the road having tripped on the rubber bollards that separate the bike lane from the road to discover her quite bloody and still gripping the King cake and gifts she was obviously taking to her family – half the city was out with cakes and large wrapped gifts and the other half, I assume, was waiting for them to arrive with King cakes and gifts. Our poor lady was bleeding profusely down her lovely cream coat and over the gifts she had with her, another man and I helped her up and took her to a seat, while others called the ambulance and some got tissues from a nearby cafe to hold on her nose, which was expanding and darkening at a surprising rate. We couldn’t provide a great deal of assurance given our lack of the ability to say anything, but kept patting her on the shoulder and looking concerned. She gave the other chap her daughter’s number and he called to explain what had happened and that the ambulancia was on its way. A woman who had grabbed the tissues gleaned that we spoke english and explained her hatred of the bollards, “Bicycles should not come first in the City…”. The klaxon horns sounded, the paramedics arrived and muttered something that sounded like ‘face trauma’ and proceeded to strap her into the gurney, at which point we bid our best wishes and farewells and continued on our way.
We walked on through a rather uninspiring part of the City and Pip decided that she would most benefit from an afternoon nap, so she shot down the subway and headed home, leaving me to explore. Just around the corner from the Subway Pip shot down was a marvelous vista – a wide avenue, lined with fountains and two large towers framing the Museo Nacional de Catalonia way up on the hill behind the mythical, magic fountain which is a source of great pride to Barcelonans. I headed up the avenue, conscious that behind me was the old bullfighting arena, now emasculated and renovated and the venue for “Grease – The Arena Spectacular”. Was it wrong to think for a fleeting moment that perhaps just one little bull might have been saved and let loose during Teen Angel. 
The climb up to the Museo, which is on the lower part of Montjuic, near the Miro foundation was grueling and I was constantly in fear of a shoelace getting caught in the escalators, but happily I completed the ascent incident free. The Museo is a fabulous and huge building with a stunning, (should that be ‘simply stunning?) view and an enormous auditorium inside. I didn’t see any of the exhibitions, rather explored the public areas and the bookshops and plonked myself down in the cafe on the front terrace with dozens of others and a salami roll. There’s were buskers and I was entertained by so much more than the music – you gotta love an amplified guitarist playing spanishy versions of popular 1980’s hits on his special guitar with no body and such very sincere and animated emotions – he also looked a bit like a beardy, chubby Mick Molloy. And it was free.
I took a different path down and ended up in the back blocks of the Poble Sec area on a bearing to the Paral-lel bit of the City and stumbled a upon a pedestrian street rich in a restaurants and bars, which was appealing given it was a holiday night. I found a restaurant that had been recommended, but sadly it was closed for the holiday and only open for lunch on Saturday – crossed off the list. I was reaching the 10km limit that my trick ankle seems to have set for itself and decided to head home via the subway, where I found the sleeping household. Number young son has been opting to stay in in the evenings allowing Pip and I some freedom to roam restaurants, so we fed and watered the teen and headed back to the area I had declared ‘discovered’ that afternoon. We found a retro-groovy restaurant (you know, like the young people like) and stayed there even after we learned that it was a Greek restaurant. It was good and tasty Greek – excellent dips and bread, Jamon wrapped around rocket on cheese and bread and a nice wine, and particularly lovely croquettes of blue cheese and pine nuts. Heading home we dropped into the chicken shop on the corner.
The chicken shop on the corner was Pip’s discovery of the day. It seems that chooks and potato are part of the Epiphany Day ‘thing’. The shop has a wall of chickens – I guess inspired by Phil Spector – in that there are two floor-to-ceiling rotisseries – that is, each rotating row of chooks is has another on top of it. Not too amazing in itself, but the amazing part is in the drip tray at the bottom. The dozens of chooks cooking above drip their fatty, juices into a trough at the bottom which is filled with potatoes – soaking/cooking. Pip described how a man ordered some and a cooked chicken was shoved in to the bottom of a foil container whereupon potatoes were scooped (and not with a slotted spoon) onto the top of the bird with a few extra labels of chicken juice for good measure – lid on and deal done. A definite OMG (or OMD as it is here – oh mio dio) moment. Our visit to the shop was for desserts, not chicken and spuds. A foil tray of Dulce de Leche, which is basically cooked condensed milk, a foil container of creme Catalan and a merangue thing best not described here.
Last full day tomorrow.

 

Guitar
Museo 1
Museo
Greek

Bearing Chooks We Travel Afar…

We’re on the eve of Epiphany. The Three Kings are coming to town. Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar are rock stars in this part of the world at this time of the year and tonight is their big gig. Tonight’s the night all the kiddies get their gifts or their coal if they haven’t quite made the grade behaviour-wise. There are parades all over Spain I understand and the one here in Barcelona is somewhat of a doozy. We’d heard about the parade and been looking forward to it since we arrived in Barcelona and had appropriately slept in to refresh our weary bones and strengthen our combined resolve for the night ahead. 
We would undertake a leisurely stroll from our apartment along the Via de les Corts Catalanes where we were pleased to find a craft market underway and even more pleased to encounter a Churreria serving a fine and potentially sickening range of Churros and Churros-based products. Naturally we ordered a cone full and waited for the next batch to cook. Sadly, these donut-like, fried extrusions are only sold by the quarter kilo – oh well. We continued along the market thrilled to see little bowls of crap for sale at nearly every stall – for a few euros more you could purchase a large bowl of crap. I guess this has something to do with the little crapper that locals sneak into their Nativity scenes, but I wonder whether it would need to be declared at customs?
We walked on into the Bari Gothic and the Rambla before stopping in a quaint little Placa to eat pasta and quiche, which sustained us on through a few (thousand) more shopping streets until we found some more specific information on the route and timings of the parade. Into a nearby market, we decided to purchase a chicken to cook for dinner and Pip some rovello mushrooms to experiment with. Chickens in the window here are wholus-bolus – not cleaned – so the man went through a routine similar to the one the wabbit lady went through yesterday. Chop – head gone. Chop – feet gone. At this point, he started to wrap the chicken and rattled off some Spanish to which we responded with vaguery and he, kindly, he made gestures that indicated he would commit hara-kiri for us. Oh – remove the CHICKEN’s guts! Yes please. Slice – chicken opened. Rip – innards removed. Delicate cut – some gland or other whipped out. Chicken wrapped and bagged and we off to the vege stand. Every thing is harder without language. Even buying a spud. The vege stand was one of those daunting market stands where a lady is sat in the middle controlling the flow of money in exchange for produce. Do we touch the asparagus? Do we help ourselves to spuds? These are not straight forward questions in foreign countries. We waited till instructed to touch the asparagus and the spuds and then strained our ears to try and gain some semblance of the machine tune numbers the lady was about to spit at us – you can’t just proffer €20 notes for everything, eventually you have to understand a bit. The rovello mushrooms are brown and the underside is flecked with green, like blue cheese, but you mustn’t handle them too much or they turn green and you wouldn’t want to pay €16.50/kg for a green mushy. Pip bought two (they’re quite large).
We were now packing a number of bags some containing chicken and we had to choose whether to stay out or go home and then come out again for the parade. This was a decision that could only be made over wine and beer in a delightful little bar in a pleasant, tiny Placa, entertained by a pair of groovy boys with a guitar and a soprano trumpet and a repertoire of 70’s standards. We had wine. We had beer. We had coke. We hadn’t decided. More drinks – this time with some cheese and bread – would help us decide. In Barcelona, cheese means Manchego. If the menu or blackboard says ‘Queso’, read Manchego. I’m sure they sell it in singles. The cheese did help us decide because it was now too late to go home and come out again. This we knew because little lanterns with candles in them had appeared on our table.
We had made the important decisions watch the parade as it passed the top of La Rambla in front of Placa Catalunya – surely that would a quiet place to see it. We got there at about 6:45pm and took up a position about 8 in from the front. The crowd grew and grew. At 7:30pm, we spotted some movement at the far end of the Placa, but that was simply more police – it was apparently their night too. Eventually the parade appeared and crept towards us. Lights and design and costumes were fantastic. Lollies being catapulted into the crowds, which by this stage had become a huge crush – and remember we were toting a chicken and “gently does it” mushrooms. The parade took about an hour to pass and was only halfway along its route – there would be some tired monkeys on those floats by the end. Glad we saw it, but as we rolled along with the crowds into the Metro afterwards, that old soriness was welling up the back and ankles. Pip still cooked the chicken which was uncommonly delicious, perhaps due to a good pummeling in the crowd, but not the mushrooms which did not seem to enjoy the parade as much as we did. We will see if they recover for tomorrow.
Dinner at 10:30pm is reasonably late even for us, so bed was most welcome and I, for one, slept the sleep of a rock, and not one being tumbled along in a glacier.

 

Mirindi

Churreria

 

Parade1

Parade

Parade 3

Bar

I’m too sexy for my short black…

I’ll be the first to admit – I got cocky and paid the price. Feeling pretty good about my new found language abilities in the coffee ordering department, I confidently strode through the door of the local Cafe Diamanté and ordered “Tres cafes – dos cortados y un cafe con leche”, straight forward enough in Inglese, but in espanol – somewhat more confusing. You see, in my casual aloofness and attempts to appear tres cool, I forgot to factor in that tres cafes would translate as three short blacks. We were presented with our six coffees and a snigger from the barman once he realized what had happened. What? Of course we drank them.
As it turned out, 6 coffees put us in good stead the day ahead – a journey to the tippy top of Montjuic, where there is a Castello, and then part way down, where there is a Fundacion Joan Miro, a gallery that Pip and I visited on our last trip here in 1986. Our subway tickets were good for the funicular, which leaves from the estacion Parral-lel and is drawn up by cable to Mirador (it’s just like the subway, only built on an angle) and without a driver. At the top of the funicular, it’s new tickets for the cable car that takes you rest of the way to the Castello. We’re not usually high things tourists, but this cable car looked quite new and dare I say it, safe. The Castello at the top has spectacular views of the whole city and down the coast to the airport across the port. It also has a bloody history through world wars and civil wars and Catalan uprisings and it’s also very sparse. Locals seem to jog up the hill, or cycle – we were happy with the cable car.
The cable car delivered us back to the main road on Montjuic well within walking distance of the Fundacion’s queue. Being 14, number young son’s art appreciation has not developed beyond the ‘why does modern art looks like kid’s painting’ phase, but our dearest hope is that like Mrs Marsh’s chalk – it does get in! So we explain and expose and provide reading material and, I’d like to start flash cards, but maybe I’ll wait a year or two before I snap the chalk and see how much has been absorbed. I’m fairly confident the absorption method worked for number 1 son. The Miro museum is very special, right down to the architecture of Sert, but the Miro works and the historical information about each one is exceptional. We spent hours there.
Eventually we had to put the fun back in funicular and head down the hill and into the centre to search out a particular sandwich recommended by our host who advised that the New York Times had voted it the best sandwich in the world. We searched out a bar called Viena on La Rambla and trooped in to wait for a seat at the bar while we perused the menu for the flauta d’iberic. We got our seats; we got our sangha and we enjoyed them and the waiter show that those behind the counter put on. Fabulous bread and sliced Jamon are an ideal combination.
Once again, foot soriness struck it’s crippling blow (to me anyways) and home was calling. Feeling adventurous, Pip had determined that we were gonna woast a wabbit which would purchase from the supermarket, but instead we were sidetwacked into a beautiful gourmet shop called Casanova’s, which had the requisite bunny carcasses in the counter. We chose one and lady behind the counter set about it with a cleaver – cutting off the legs; the head – “do you want that?” , “No thank you”, in tiny voices – liver, “No?”, but we did keep the kidney, cause we’re international gourmets we are.
Pip woasted the wabbit to perfection and we gnawed the tiny bunny bones clean. All in all a successful day, but after those 6 coffes, we thought we might just stay up a little longer.
Viena exterior
Teleferique
Funicular
Fundacion Miro
Viena interior
Miro

 
 

Counting the Seats 2, 3, 4, 5

January 3th: The day for the Camp Nou Experience. FC Barcelona’s home pitch is Camp Nou, not far from where we are staying and even though I’m not the world’s greatest football fan, I can recognize the importance of this stadium in the big footy scheme of things. Our tickets had been purchased in advance from the Tourist Centre in Placa Catalunya and it was decided then that only Eamon and I would venture to Camp Nou – Pip being even less the world’s greatest football fan than I. This left us with an syncing issue – Pip would venture off into the great Barcelona unknown solo and we would meet her several hours hence in a retro, no phones feat of strategic planning. We also needed to visit the bank on the corner and pay the rent into our host’s account – also an intimidating activity with no knowledge of local banking customs and armed only with the bank details on the screen of my phone. To steady our nerves for the banking ahead, we veered into the bar next door to the bank on the corner for coffees and pastries. Steeled and calmed by caffeine we pressed the red button on the door of the bank and trooped in like the Marx Brothers out of a lift only be faced with a bank that resembled a lounge room with two staff sitting behind desks and a few natives milling about in a free-form queue. I gave the woman who served us my best, “Sorry I don’t speak Spanish – Do you speak English?” and was relieved to hear her answer, “Yes. Of course”. Problem over – rent paid. All that stressy build up for nought.

Pip went her way and number young son and I went our’s to the Metro and to not too far away estacion Collblanc, about a kilometer or so from the stadium. There are actually a number of stadiums in the complex and only the smaller ones loom into view as you climb up the hill towards them which left us ready to be underwhelmed until the real one appeared. As far as stadia go, Camp Nou seems quite intimate for a 99,000 seater. Very steep sides and only one side covered, but still quite intimate until you see someone high up on the other side looking ant-like. The tour starts in the Museum – a large dark room filled with artistically under lit  items of football historical importance and a trophy cabinet that lined the entire room and was filled with 2m high trophies. The walls were all touch screens and, like Tom Cruise in the Minority Report, you could expand and zoom and close and open pictures, movies and documents. I suspect that there is a minor nuclear power plant somewhere powering this museum.
After the museum, the FC Barcelona Experience moves you out for a teaser of a look at the stadium from half way up the grandstand, then takes you down into the guts of it – down through the press rooms and the well-appointed dressing rooms (featuring spa baths and ice machines and massage tables in sparkling new condition) and finally down the players tunnel, where after stopping in at the tiny chapel, you can continue down, with the sound system blaring out crowd noises and drumming and screaming fans into the dugouts on the sideline. It’s actually quite goose-bumpy heading down there with all the noise, even though you know it’s an empty stadium. After mucking about in the dugouts and taking pics for ages, we headed back up into the stands and even higher into the glass-fronted press box that is suspended from the roof of the stadium. Here the sound system blares out commentary in many languages and the video screens show the press in action including my special favourite, the guy who yells, “Goooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllll!”. After the press box, the tour, surprisingly ends up in the FC Barcelona Megastore, about the size of your average IKEA and filled with hundreds of eager fans queuing to have their names affixed to the back of a red and blue jersey and almost all I suspect, opting for the number 10 of Leo Messi.
But for us, the Megastore experience held no magic and the time was fast approaching for our rendezvous with Pip at the designated rendezvous with Pip point – corner of Diputacio and Passeig de Gracia. We had several Metro trains to catch and about a 700m walk between two lines in about 15 minutes, but had wisely built in a half hour buffer before Plan B (the meet you back at home plan) kicked in. We emerged from the Metro and walked 10m to see Pip heading over the road in a remarkable feat of travel rendezvousing.
Lunch was on all our minds and particularly a filled roll of some description – the bread here is spectacular, not too heavy, crunchy and flavour-full. Rub a bit of fresh tomato on it and fill it with Jamon or cheese or vegetables or tuna and you have a delectable lunch, which we did.
Pip noticed that the restaurant downstairs had opened for the first time since we had been here and we determined to eat there this evening – it looked real noice. We further determined that number young son would be happy to eat a supermarket pizza and stay upstairs while Pip and I went to restaurant – Restaurant Mediterrani. This was an evil and extremely successful plan. We enjoyed our food immensely – a shared dish of ‘Important’ Potatoes, served with clams and a delicious broth; Pip chose a duck leg served with truffle, and I opted for steak, which was sliced fillet on a bed of gnocchi in a beautiful truffled broth with tiny onions. All this washed down with a lovely Rioja and followed by Catalan Creme for Pip and a superb Lemon Cream for moi. Really, the boy wouldn’t have enjoyed himself. 

 

Chapel
Camp Nou
Camp Nou
Me and him

I was born a Rambla-ing man…

The weather here is beautiful – about 14 or 15C during the sunny days and down to 8 or 9 at night – and that put us in the mood for walking. I’ve mentioned before that Barcelona appears to sport an Jamon driven economy and with that in mind we headed for the Sant Antoni Market, a few blocks from our place. Apart from more hams, this market promised less tourists and more ‘get down and dirty’, in your face kind of market and I’m sure that’s what we would have got if the Mercat wasn’t closed for renovations. Still, not being ones o waste the opportunity for a quick coffee, we nipped into a nearby cafe and expertly (for we can order expertly now) ordered dos cafes cortados, cafe con Leche for the lad, a chocolate croissant and, we found it hard to believe – a xuxos! Yes – our first encounter with the deadly xuxos since 1986 and oh what a catch-up it was. These little fried, hollow, crunchy donuts filled with Catalan creme we’re everything we remembered them to be – happily, number young son has a dislike of custardy desserts and didn’t want his portion.
After re-composing ourselves and paying the ridiculous €6.50 for 3 coffees and two pastries, we headed back out into the street and got about half a block before a beautiful window of canned food caught our eyes. This was something of problem for us because the beautiful shop (inside was even beautifuller) was run by the first man we had struck with absolutely no English. Our problem of course, but we so wanted to buy things we had to ask for and things we had to scramble around in the iPhone app for the words for that all we could communicate was that we were sorry. Pip’s sorrow led her to grab a beautiful paper cone filled with something that she couldn’t ask about which she bought and which, when we opened it out in the street, we still didn’t know what it was. It smelled like dried meat and it looked like grey sawdust – so we put it back in Pip’s back till we got home to do some research. The road we had chosen took us past chic micro-breweries and bars and on into the electronics section of town, where number young son had a conniption until he could spend that burning money in his pocket on a pair of headphones. 
We walked on through beautiful lanes and streets; passed by dozens of shops decorated by legs of Jamon alone; drooled at the bakery windows; and, tried to spot the little crapping man that Barcelonans place in their model nativity scenes. (I kid you not – look it up). Our walk took us back through the gorgeous lanes of the Bari Gothic section which is filled with funky shops selling everything from high fashion to dope seeds, oh, and goth clothes by the bucket load. Oddly, I haven’t seen any Goths around. We criss-crossed the Rambla and worked our way down until the cool shops started morphing into phone shops and the corners started to be adorned with impossibly blonde ladies – leaning. Seizing an opportunity to undertake a swift u-turn we headed back up where belonged in the area where impossible blonde is replaced by impossible cool and places like Casa Camper, a hotel by the famous cobblers, draw longing looks from all who pass. Late lunch at a tiny delicatessen and more walking back up to the top of La Rambla in search of ice creams and a seat by this stage. Damn – the dog boy again. Instead of ice cream, we chose to sit at the extraordinarily large Cafe Zurich at Placa Catalunya and sip afternoon coffees and it pleases me to report that number young son has developed the taste for it – I was beginning to wonder if there was something wrong with him. It’s like school – you tell yourself that all kids develope at different rates, but you can’t help but wonder…
We shopped at the immense supermarket beneath the immense El Corte Inglese, rather than the tiny Mercadona around the corner from our house hoping for dinner inspiration, which eventually came in the form of pork chops and eggplant. On a macabre note (from the Australian perspective at least), the piglet and the bunny can be seen in all their forms in the Catalan supermarket – whole and wrapped in plastic, Laura Palmer style; whole and roasted in the deli window; logtitudanally halved and vacuum-packed in the meat section; minced into either sausages, salami, pâté, terrine, pie or a myriad other salumi. Laden with groceries it was a natural choice to cab it home (the cab cost about the same as the subway for the three of us) and prepare a recovery evening at home – well, all this walking needs foot and leg maintenance.