Excerpt from:

Amsterdam - Barcelona Journal

September 1999

Barcelona - Spain


September 11


Country Profile



The Fantastic is one of 2 smaller ships and has a "Carnival Cruise" type atmosphere - mostly Spanish and Italian spoken. Best coffee since home! Around 1:30 p.m., we were sitting in the lounge with 2 people playing "techno" music - he on brass (sax and flute), she on keyboard and guitar - doing phonetic vocals and very good at it - waiting to debark. There were no taxis at the pier, so a good hike with luggage out past customs. Very hot day out, called for taxi, quick ride up Barcelona's La Rambla to Hotel Toledano. Stunning architecture! This will be fun. Small but very clean room with French windows, firm beds and bathtub! By 6 p.m., had finished a much needed batch of laundry, ready to siesta.  Up by 7 p.m., we headed up to Placa de Catalunya, checked out the tourist info office for a good map, sat in the park and watched the world pass by. We found that we were near to the Battlo, so walked up the wrong street, then cut across to Passeig de Gracia and up. What an incredible sight - truly breath taking - out of dreams - full of sky and sea and beauty. It was well lit on all the balconies - peeks at carved wood doors, bowed internal elements, vitrine in colors to match the exterior tiles - an ice cream castle! We crossed the street for another view and found Tapas y Tapas where we dined on shrimp, bruschetta, pan, beef, mushrooms, pasta salad, mixed olives along with a nice full-bodied Rioja. Around 10:30 p.m., we dropped back down to the Placa de Catalunya and caught the Moon Express for an hour long tour of the city - past great architecture, the palau de mar, gothic cathedral. Stopped for an ice cream on the way back to hotel at 1 am. Wondrous first day in the grand city that is so like Paris and San Francisco!   

September 12


10 am rise and walk La Rambla - stop at Dunkin Donuts for coffee and a roll. Took a side street toward Barri Gotic past small shops, tall buildings with fanciful wrought iron balconies. Took a few turns here and there to find ourselves in Placa Real - nice square with lots of good smelling bistros, then on to Placa St. Jaume - toured Casa de Ciutat (open free on Sunday) - great gargoyles. Not far away, through a tall dark alley where a flutist played, we came to the Cathedral in the center of the barrio. Sitting in the square in front, still enjoying the fine strains of canonical flute music. It is a cool corner to stop, cats play on the ground and in the walls below us. People wander past. A stop in at the Hard Rock after buying a charming hand made "olive dish" from a local artisan, gave us a cool refresher. We next took the Metro up to the stop nearest Guell Park - it was not all that close and gave us a couple of miles uphill (very steep) to get to the park. It was worth the effort and proved to be a true gem - huge public bustling place with delightful colors, an ingenious irrigation system, great columned pavilion, miles of paths and an outstanding view of the city - all the way to the sea. The walk down was much easier, bus to Placa de Catalunya where we found troubadours and ladies dancing. A brief clean up at our hotel and off to dinner - tried the Nuria on the recommendation by several guide books - bland, pedestrian and touristy. Had a good coffee at Il Roma later - peeked into Café de L'Opera for its Nouveau interior - very loud and busy. On the way back to our room, we heard some good guitarists and spotted several gypsy tarot readers.   

Guell Parc Medallion

The mosaics in Guell Parc are plentiful


September 13



Dark clouds to the north - bright sun here. Found La Vaca Paca for brunch with their all you can eat fresh salads, good grilled meats, pizza and strong coffee for 985 pesetas each - menu had paella and also great variety for vegetarians. Our first stop was the Moderniste Office where we bought a pass and guide book for 600 pesetas. We'll be back for their tour - but first, off to La Pedrera. We peeked into the downstairs areas of Casa Amatller and Casa Battlo on our way. At the Pedrera (or Casa Mila) they show excellent videos, slide shows, restored apartment with furnishings of the period. Stunning panoramic views from the top. Steps up and down all around - fluidity of space. Good architectural models of Gaudi's other work and nice mis en scene slide shows. Stopped for a Hagen Daz to cool off. Finished the afternoon with our tour of Casa Lleo Morera - ornate woodwork in floral motifs - carved and inlay - vibrant stained glass windows around dining area. St. George theme in archway. We had viewed the lower level of Casa Amatller earlier, our guide pointed out its blend of Modernisme and Moorish architecture - exterior with animals and gothic gnomes hold the "new" cameras and musical instruments. Then Battlo with its varied spectrum of blue tiles that darken as they climb the interior walls - soft curves in ceilings, spine-like Now at 9 p.m. off for tapas and cava at La Tramoia. We had the Catalan specialty of snails (29 of them), bread (brushed with olive oil and rubbed with tomato), cheese and tomato cold salad, mushrooms in garlic and parsley, and a bottle of Cellars Juan Mestre Tiana "Brut Nature" (a very toasty, brut with deep gold color).  


Casa Amatller houses the center for modernisme


September 14



Woke late again and headed out to Barri Gotic to see and tour Montaner's opulent Palau de la Musica Catalana - a high point of the Modernista movement. Raw bricks trimmed with ceramic tiles and molded flowers on parabolic arches - dark wood doors open to a large foyer with a "peopled" mural (not typical of the style) just inside - gold tones in clear glass, lanterns, tiles from the stairway fascia - marble, plush carpet. After a film history, we climbed the stairs to the main hall - incredible tile work with an Egyptian theme - papyrus columns to the second balcony ceiling, vibrant vitrine - sculpted front over stage representing the Catalans and the Classics - grand German pipe organ - Deco half sculpture and half mosaic ladies surround the hardwood stage - great acoustics - double balcony above stage for use by chorus in large productions. This theater is still used today for around 100 concert performances each year We dropped in to Casa Calvet to see the beautiful wood work designed by Gaudi - the lower floor was once offices, has been preserved and is now used for dining areas. Caught a taxi back to Palau Guell. While waiting for our tour, we stopped to have a snack at Casa Joan nearby. It's a clean and inexpensive place where I had a tasty garlicky squid with salad and Mike had tender rabbit with fries, this with an El Coto Rioja, followed with some coffee. Again, I must consider how fine life can be. Our entrance to the Palau Guell was still some time away, so we stopped into the Bosc de Fades - a bar with the feel of an enchanted forest ala Disneyland. Also checked out the fanals (lamp posts which were one of Gaudi's first designs) in the Placa Real. It is the first rain we've seen in more than three weeks - now stopped, the afternoon is cool and breezy - a most pleasant respite from the dry 80+ degree weather we've had since arrival. The sky is still gray and the Placa is a pleasant open space with a fountain and few crowds at this time of day - colonnaded with shops below and apartments above as is typical in this city. There is little at street level except shops and restaurants. Stopped into Barcelona's oldest Herbaliste shop in the side Alley of Bacardi for some fresh chamomile before returning for our tour. At Palau Guell, we started in the lower level carriage and stable area with its sturdy forest of brick columns that for the support for the building. Climbed back to the entry - fine rosewood - ingenious light panels, mirrors - up to the "chapel" that did double duty as a music salon (still had the old organ made of cherry and mahogany). In to the family dining room, and salon hall, up 127 steps to the roof top with its 20 tiled chimneys - the largest of these has cut outs which appears as the stars and moon on the ceiling of the main salon and others relate to fireplaces and the kitchen. All were recently refurbished (using antique tiles) by a variety of Catalan artists. Their only change is that one chimney has a tribute to the '92 Olympics on one of its four sides - all the rest are done according to the original plans. On our walk back up La Rambla to the hotel, we stopped in the lobby of the Hotel Oriente, then Casa Beethoven, and lastly the enormous La Boqueria Mercado - everything from fresh fruits to nuts, fish, meat, vegetables, herbs, wines, olives - a true visual treat. Our evening was exhilarating, we craved a good hamburger, so went up to the Hard Rock (about a block around the corner from our hotel). It had been drizzling on and (mostly) off all day. We had a nice show of lightening (later we found it was in excess of 10,000 strikes) and thunder, but it was dry out when we left. By the time we finished eating, it was blustery and torrential. We waited half an hour (with no let up) before we chose to make the "dash" back - arrived soaked, floor all wet, but now showered, dry and very glad we didn't go farther away for dinner. We had heard that Barcelona's weather can be changeable at this time of year! p.s. great burger and fries! Sometimes you just NEED to have some plain food. Hope tomorrow is clear. Palau Guell Mosaic Tree Chimney

Palau Guell has some colorful chimneys


September 15



Stopped for coffee and pastry at Le Fornet, one of the little bakeries we spotted yesterday - tasty and fresh. Took a cab to the Museu National d'Art de Catalunya - Museu d'Art Modern. Dropped off at the far side of the Parc de la Cuitadella, we had a nice stroll across the park, past the lake and to the museum with its collection of many of the Catalonian artists from late 1800's and 1900's - of these, we especially liked the very early Miro "Exhibition on a Corner" - so far from his later style. Of special interest, was the furniture and fixtures from some of the residences built by the Modernistes (saved from Battlo, Lleo Morera) - fine inlay work, fluid brass and glass lights, tables, chairs, a salon suite (very Deco by Homar's furniture in Lleo Morera). An exquisite private "chapel" and models of several buildings. On exit, we stopped at the cascade fountain area, then continued through a market where we obtained olives, cheeses and bread. We sat across from the Justice Buildings as we dined, then went up past the Arc de Triumph to catch a bus to Sagrada Familia. Sagrada Familia is unusual to say the least. There's a lot of new construction going on in an attempt to continue the work begun by Gaudi, but the new façade has a harsh angular feel (despite the arches) because of its modern sculptures. The old side already seems ancient - more of a gothic nightmare than a divine inspiration. It lacks the harmony and Tonight's outing took us to Placa Real and Le Quinze Nits where there was a huge line and no sign of diners finishing up, so…around the corner to Calle Fernando and the Restaurant Chino International with fresh ingredients, Shanghai style and open seven days a week. Good meal at a fair price. From there we headed up the street to above Liceu-Sant Pau, and found the old Marsella Bar. Owned by Scott, a big, friendly guy from L.A., this is one of the last places in town that serves Absinthe. A note to those unfamiliar - be sure you have no health contraindications - it can be dangerous. Other than that is hot (55% alcohol), it has a pleasant and light anise flavor. Our return up La Rambla had a good harpist, a so-so flamenco guitarist and the usual gypsy fortune tellers.  

New Spires

Sagrada Familia is "work in progress"


September 16



Morning coffee and pastry, then off to Hertz - way off in a neighborhood we haven't seen before. It was an easy exist to Avenue Diagonal and to the A-2. This took us through the new part of town - lots of steel and glass, large businesses, industrial fringe, suburbs. Our first stop was Codorniu with buildings dating back to 1659. We had a tour of the gardens before entering the cellars. There we heard an explanation of the process, size of the facility, etc. Then we rode a tram through a small part of the miles of caves - they had names on them much like city streets. A final stop at the bottling line provided some excitement as a bottle turned sideways on its way through the "freezer" and set off several bottles that followed into explosions of effervescence. After that, we returned for a taste of their Brut Cremant and wished we could sample others.  After a few passes through Villafranca, we found the road to Torres Winery. Here we tasted their white and rose table wine (both available in the U.S.), both were tasty. The white had a good nose, light straw color, dry clean finish. The Rose was a more floral nose, peach pink, medium dry, clean finish. Our third taste was the 1995 Reserva Cabernet - vibrant fruity nose, deep garnet color, well balanced fruit, spice and wood, dry clean finish - 85% cabernet and 15% tempranillo. The lands between Barcelona and this great cava and wine country are verdant - dotted with houses, villages, olive groves, vineyards. Quite picturesque, a wide valley accented by the Montserrat to the northwest. Dinner at Le Quinze Nits was less than expected - the food was over salted and bland, my veal with onions had scorched in the pan and was tough, dry and tasted like pot roast. Mike's parallada steak with Roquefort was not filet as he was told, but flank steak with manchego cheese. Service was abhorrently rude. All this after waiting an hour in line to get a table - the house tinto (red wine) was barely complemented by the ultra acidic vinaigrette on the salad. Almost everyone complained of poor quality food and service. As luck would have it, there was an open table at Café L'Opera on our way back to the hotel. We sat to enjoy a rich double espresso. Between the lively atmosphere and charm of Art Deco ambiance, our evening was saved by a most pleasant respite.  

Family Home

Recent photos of Codorniu and Torres are seen in the Catalunya on the Road Gallery


September 17



Off to catch the 9 a.m. train to Figueres. Strike delays us to 10:25, so up to Passeig de Gracia for a coffee at Il Caffe de Roma and sitting across from Battle watching the colors shift in the morning sun - pretty as a jewel. The train is on time - smooth ride past a variety of views - the urban industrial near stations to rural orchards and agricultural in between. Sunny day with some clouds to the north. What can I say about Figueres? If you're a Salvador Dali fan, you can't miss it. If not, check out his work in a local library because there's not much else to do in town. Any taxi ride costs 800 pesetas by day and 1700 pesetas by night. The Teatre-Museu Dali holds a little bit of everything - from sketches to oils, lithographs, furniture, jewelry, sculptures, even a Cadillac! Great ovos (eggs), good humor, a bit crowded at times. As fans, we easily spent three hours without retracing our steps - saw everything - forgot to eat. Mind boggling art from 1918 to 198?. Pleased to see C's lithograph on the wall with some of its companion pieces. Lots of great things! Mythology series - fond of the Medusa and Argos Back on train to Barcelona to arrive by 7 p.m. Walked from the Renfe station a block west and down a couple of blocks to L'Estanq which carries a nice selection of Habana cigars (excellent prices). Picked up a few, then started to look for a place to eat around 8 p.m. We found Txapela Taverna. Here they offer pictures of the food and a menu with descriptions. Seven tapas each and a bottle of Finca Resalo (Ribera) Negro wine - we were well fed and ready to head back to our hotel. Great fun, great day!  

Cafe Art

Figueres is best known for Salvador Dali's Teatre-Museu


September 18



Last full day in Barcelona! Started with coffee and pastry at La Fornet, got some cash, sat in Placa de Catalunya watching the people, tons of pigeons, workers setting up for a concert and whatever else starts tonight. Hopped the bus for Les Arsienes to see Casa Vicens - what a nice use of tile and brick - squared facades almost Moorish looking with a gorgeous palm leaf iron entry gate. Prettily planted garden, nice balcony patio - owner left the gate open (smiled and said hello) to let us have a peek inside. A short walk to the corner and we caught a taxi up to Park Guell. By saving our legs, we were thus able to take the circuitous walk around the park. It serpentines past gardens, trees, some sculptural details here and there. At the top, we came to a path under the aqueduct that led to Casa Gaudi Museu (where Gaudi lived while working on the Park). It's a charming two story with good sized entry and salon on the ground floor - bedroom, office and bath on the top floor which had a nice view across the park to the sea. We went through Gaudi's personal garden and under a long parabolic arbor covered in vines, then rose to the aqueduct to pass above the great rippling plateau area, then began down hill on the opposite side of the park, crossed a lower section of aqueduct before exiting. Just around the corner, down the street on the left, we stopped to eat Conejo Al Monte, pizza and beer. A bit further down the hill we caught the #24 bus back to Passeig de Gracia where a two block line of bookseller stalls had offerings in all areas of interest for good prices. We stopped in at Pans for a cold drink, now in our room. As we passed Placa de Catalunya, covered stands have appeared and the streets are blocked off We packed almost everything and are set for tomorrow. So, took a taxi to Eglise Santa Maria del Mar to find La Vinya del Senjor where we tasted a cava, a white, and two red wines. From there, we taxied back to Passeig de Gracia where we (again) stopped at Tapas y Tapas to enjoy a bottle of Paxtet brut with fried scampi, olives and mushrooms in garlic and parsley. We walked back to our room hoping to find an Italian gelato place, but it was closed. Calling it a night.   

Iron Gate Detail

Casa Vicens is a great example of modernism


September 19



Well, it's time to start heading home. We went out for coffee and pastry before settling our bill and took a taxi to the airport. On the way, when stopped at a traffic signal, we had a good look at the bullring. It's a good time to get out of town. Not only is the Placa de Catalunya closed up and blocked off for the fair, but also the streets in the area are due to be closed by 11 a.m. for the Tours d'Espanya bicycle race that is coming through. At 10 a.m., the crowds were already very dense. Athletes were out doing specialty displays. There's also a large Union convention coming in this evening. Now sitting in Barcelona airport waiting for check in at Virgin Express to fly up to Brussels - have an hour before boarding. Already thinking about getting home, Deli, Cass, the Crones, my own bed, my own pillow, fresh salads, tomatoes, crisp cucumbers! It's 5:21 p.m., and we're sitting in Brussels Nord train station - next stop Amsterdam. We flew from Barcelona into the Brussels airport, caught a quick train (below the airport) to here, have about 15 minutes to spare, getting hungry. We had no chance (or change) to eat. We met a nice Nederland couple on the train who enjoy travel and art as we do. The ride through Belgium was pleasant with much chat, scenery a blend of French and Dutch. The couple had been to Brussels for an Andy Warhol exhibit. They detrained in Roonsdaal and we continued on towards Schipol airport through the rich agricultural and dairy lands of northwest Nederlands, past Rotterdam, The Haag. After a shuttle to our hotel, we checked in, then returned to the Schipol station (again below the airport), caught the train to Centrum, where we caught #5 bus to Leidseplein -  just like we knew what we were doing. We returned to the Palladium for a last glass of wine, carpaccio of smoked salmon, spicy chicken satay and fries. Last stop was coffee and chocolate cake at the Bulldog. (Just to round out the circle.)  Back to the room by 1 a.m. to rest and get ready for the long journey back to California.