domingo, 25 de febrero de 2007

Las Ramblas - Part II

The Rambla is crowded day and night with tourists and locals alike. The famous newspaper and magazine stands are found all the way up and down the street. This famous street is actually 5 'ramblas' in one. First you have Rambla de Canaletes, named after an old fountain that used to be here. As legend has it, if you drank from the fountain you would one day return to Barcelona. The second part is called Rambla dels Ocells, named for the bird market that lines the street. As you walk down, you can hear birds of all colours and shapes twittering and chirping away. La Rambla de Sant Josep is the next stretch, which is full of many flower stalls, which is why another name for this part is the Rambla de les Flors. Next we encounter La Rambla des Caputxins where you can find the old theatre I mentioned above.

Besides the flower stalls, bird markets and newspaper stands you also encounter the artists near the bottom of the Rambla, painting caricatures of passersby and local artists selling their creations. There are also the infamous men playing the shell games on the street. Apparently you have to watch it around them. Some say that while you're watching intensly at the game, another game is going on...pickpocketers after your wallet!

One of the most amazing parts of Las Ramblas are the people that are painted like statues all along the street. They stand perfectly still until you throw a coin or two into thei bucket and then they come to life. So far I have seen a bronze indian, a silver pixie, a red devil, a silver mermaid and a man that looks like he is made out of iron who rides his bicycle along with his skeleton crew when you throw him some change.

Of course, one more thing that Las Ramblas has, and that's the open air cafés serving people paella, sangria and so much more. Always an interesting place to sit and watch the world go by!

Las Ramblas is truly a hodge-podge of people, sights and sounds. Some can be touristy, with the sex museums and the McDonalds, some are gorgeous like the buildings and the trees, but there's always something going on here whether it's 4pm or 4am!

Las Ramblas - Part I

I thought I would take the time out today to take a few shots of Las Ramblas. This walking boulevard is the main 'rambla' of the old city and is about a 5 minute walk from the apartment. This is probably the most famous street in Spain and when you walk along the tree-lined 'street' you can see why.

Las Ramblas runs from Plaza Catalunya, the huge square which is the transit hub of the city centre, all the way down to the harbour where the statue of Columbus stands on a huge pillar pointing across the sea to the New World. La Rambla gets its name from a stream that used to run along here, and the Arabic word is 'raml'.

This street divides the old city in half from north to south. On its eastern flank is El Raval, my neighbourhood. On the west side you have the Gothic Quarter. Beautiful old buildings adorn each side of the street and the beautiful Teatre del Liceu is one of my favourites. Along this street is also the entrance to the Boqueria Market, which I will definitely write about another day!

jueves, 22 de febrero de 2007

El Raval - Part I

I took some time out today to take some pictures of my neighbourhood. The area is called Raval and is in the old city. The word 'raval' comes from an Arabic word describing the one-time suburban sprawl of this area to the south. This area has been a home for centuries for prostitutes and bohemians alike, and in the 1920s was famed for its brothels, cabarets and taverns. Even Picasso lived here for a while on Carrer Nou de la Rambla. By the 1960s many of the brothels had shut down, but was still a rowdy post when the American fleet came to port. El Raval was brought into the walls of the city in the 14th Century and in the 19th Century the walls were torn down and the streets that replaced them still trace the old boundary.

This neighbourhood received a bit of a boost with the construction of the Museu d'Art Contemporani Barcelona or MACBA (see 2nd picture). A lot of trendy little bars and shops have since sprung up around here. For all of you Torontonians, it definitely has a 'Queen St W' feeling to it, although there is so much more at play here in this 'barrio' ('barri' in Catalan). The mixture of modern boutiques and art galleries with old bars and tavernas (5th picture) adorned with art nouveau signs and stained glass is truly wonderful.

To the south of Carrer de l'Hospital, you get more of a North African and Pakistani vibe. Halal meat shops are everywhere, as well as tonnes of cheap phone and internet stores.

The new Rambla de Raval (4th picture) is also being built through the neighbourhood, which is a beautiful walking boulevard adorned with palm trees. A new centre for film is also being built as well as a new area for housing. You can definitely feel the neighbourhood changing right before your eyes.

Closer to the apartment, there are a lot of little 'plazas' and squares (see 3rd picture), with lots of cafés and restaurants. It's perfectly heaven sitting in the square, having the best coffee you've ever had and quietly reading a book in the afternoon sun.
My favourite place near the apartment is in the Plaça de Vincenç Martorell (see 1st picture). A simple walk in this neighbourhood can lift your spirits and transport you to another time and place...truly magic!

martes, 20 de febrero de 2007

Views from the Terrace

I just thought I would add some more pictures of the apartment, this time of the terrace, which we have access to. You can see quite far in 3 directions. To the southwest, you can see Montjuic (Jewish Mountain), the National Art Museum (MNAC) and the Torre Calatrava communications tower (see fourth picture down).

To the north, you can see the hills that rise up to the Zona Alta. I have been told it's where the rich and famous live in Barcelona (see second picture). At night there is a beautiful cathedral on top of the hill that is lit up every night.

If you look over the side of the railing, you can also look south and see some of the port and the cable car that zips tourists along from Montjuic to Barceloneta (see first picture). Today was a bit hazy, so you won't be able to see much.

The last picture in the group (third picture) is looking west. This street leads to the new modern art museum and the neighbourhood of San Antoni. All of the apartments look beautiful at night, casting warm light onto the streets below.

Apparently the trees on the street here turn pink with blossoms in the spring. Can't wait to see that! Of course, it feels like spring to me already. The weather has consistently been around 15 degrees give or take 3 degrees or so. One thing that's great is the amount of sunlight here too. It never seems to be that stone grey that you get in our long Canadian winters!

Just to let you know, if some of you are squinting to see the pictures you can click on them for an enlarged view. I think we will have some good parties up here in the summer!

domingo, 18 de febrero de 2007

Carnaval 2007

Yesterday was Carnaval here in Barcelona, and what a party it was! The night started late, as with everything here. My roommate Ernesto invited his friends over. Our group consisted of Otto, me, Pedro, Ernesto, an Italian guy named Marco and Edgar (in first picture, from left to right). After a few drinks, we ran at a brisk pace to the Metro station called Passeig de Gracia. To get there, you have to walk up Las Ramblas, through Plaza Catalunya and up the Rambla de Catalunya. As usual, the city was full of people, yet this time there were a lot of people dressed up as pirates, witches, vampires and of course, the odd drag queen!

We finally made it to the the station and went down into the Metro where the 'rodiales' (regional trains) are. Tonnes of people were waiting for the train in a variety of costumes. The train arrived, which was a mini-party in itself. The ride took about 30 minutes, and then we all piled off the train.

Sitges is a beautiful seaside village full of lots of winding streets. The streets in the centre were filled with people drinking, dancing and having a great time. The first bar we went into was more like a taverna. Drag queens were on top of the bar, singing and banging their tambourines. The place was wall-to-wall!

We only had one drink and then headed to another bar, which was thumping out lots of house beats. Across the street, was Pachita, an offshoot of the famous Pacha bar that originated in Ibiza back in 1966. Back then, it was a hippie scene, but has slowly morphed into the dance music scene. You can visit it here at

We went to a few more bars, but ended up at a great space called 'Mediteraneo'. The music was amazing and it was also wall-to-wall. I seemed to be very popular with the drag queens! Anyway, it was a great party, and at about 4am we all headed back to the station. Everyone was pretty much destroyed on the train home, but what a great time for my first Carnaval!

sábado, 10 de febrero de 2007

My Trip to Penedes Wine Country

Another great day here in Spain. Hard to believe it's February with days like these. My friend Rosa, who I met on the Internet last year, had invited me to an 'excursión' to Penedès wine country, inlcuding a typical Catalán meal called a 'calçotada'.

I left the house at around 9am (after a quick café con leche y croisant!) and headed west on the Metro to Hospitalet, a borough just outside of the Barcelona city centre. There I met Rosa and Román (pronounced Rom-AH) where we waited for Tomass, an Italian friend of theirs. Tomass soon showed up and we headed for the hills in the car.

The day couldn't have been more perfect. Blue sky without a single cloud! The countryside along the way was stunning. Green arid hills with terra cotta coloured earth. This is prime wine-growing country, so the hills are peppered with small grape trees. The champagne here is called cava, since France has the exclusive right to use the word 'champagne' due to the region where it comes from there. We actually passed the Freixenet vineyard, which a lot of you will remember from many New Year's gone by.

We soon got to our meeting point, which was a little town more or less near Tarragona, southwest of Barcelona. There, we met 5 girlfriends of Rosa's, all super-friendly. We took a short hike up the hillside, with amazing rocks and crevasses and soon came upon the caves famous in the area. After paying the entrance fee, the guide soon had us going down the long, dark, narrow tunnel into the belly of the mountain. Fresh water ran along small waterways and millions of tiny stalactites were everywhere. These tiny wonders of nature grow only millimetres in hundreds, if not thousands of years, so needless to say, we weren't to touch anything!

After the tour we hiked into more vineyard fields and it was great to feel the sun on my face. As we walked, I took turns talking with everyone. We headed back to the village and got into our cars and headed for the restaurant. After asking for directions once or twice, we finally got there!

The restaurant was called 'Restaurant can Serafi', which is on the main road between Puigdàlber and Vilafranca, and we were about to have an amazing meal. The restaurant was filled with that wonderful smell of a roaring fire in the oven. We were first served fresh thick pieces of bread. With the bread in hand, first we rubbed the bread with a freshly cut piece of garlic. Next comes the drizzling of the olive oil and then you rub a fresh tomato over the bread, gently squeezing out the juices. Delicious!

With the bread, we were served amazing red wine from the region, and it came in small decanters with a long spout that jutted out on one side. The tradition is to pour the wine into your mouth, being careful not to touch the spout. Let's just say, thank goodness for the bibs they provided!

Next came the fire-roasted green onions. There aren't the small ones that we get in Canada, they're the larger variety. You have to grab the onion where the flesh begins in one hand, and with the other hand you gently peel away the outer layer. You then dip the onion into this amazing sauce, which was sort of creamy but had a roasted pepper flavour to it. Delicious and wonderfully messy! You can see the long onions on the table in one of the pictures to the left.

Next came the main dish, which was a few small pieces of meat, a potato and some white beans. Yes, I did indulge in this feast, for all of you that are wondering! This main dish was served with chilled cava, which tasted delicious.

A perfect meal all around with good company and lots of chatter and good cheer. On one side of me, people were speaking Catalán, and on the other side of me people were speaking Castellano (Spanish). Tomass and I spoke to each other in English, even though he's Italian.

After another wonderful coffee, we all went outside for some fresh air, and were greeted by a stunning sunset, with the sky lit up in gold and auburn. After exchanging a few photos and phone numbers, we all piled in the cars and headed back to Barcelona. What an amazing traditions, new friends and of course new adventures!

jueves, 8 de febrero de 2007

The Apartment

I have finally added some pictures of the interior of the building. One shot is of the staircase. This is actually looking down. The walls are plastered, I think, with a beautiful pattern all the way up the building. You will see another shot of the interior shaft of the building. This runs all the way up from the bottom. Some of the rooms of the other apartments look out onto this area, which is quite common in Barcelona, although all of our rooms face out onto the street.
There are 2 pictures of my room. As you can see, I haven't fuly unpacked yet, but it's nice and big! I just painted last week in a nice taupe/sand colour...really nice and fresh. Ernesto, one of my new roommates, and I painted the hallway this colour as well. Everything is looking really great!
There is one picture of the kitchen. It's kind of small, but it gets a lot of light in the day. Then again, everything is smaller in Europe...fridges, stoves, cars, etc. You really only use what you need, which is great from an environmental perspective. There is a small iron contraption bolted to the outside window in the kitchen to hang our clothes to dry. Really quite fun and charming to do this! Unfortunately I have a limit of how many pictures I can have per entry, so this is all I will post for now.
I went to see 'Babel' last night at the theatre, which was an experience. For anyone who has seen the movie, they will know that the film contains many languages and is subtitled, even in the English version, so it was quite a 'trip' hearing English one minute and then reading Spanish subtitles for the other scenes in Japan, etc! The popcorn, which is called 'palomitas' here, was great. There are a few theatres that provide films in an un-dubbed version, so I will be able to see lots of films. Anyway, it's amazing how much I can now understand in Spanish as time goes on. Soon I will be able to watch anything. Ernesto says that one day I will dream in Spanish, and that's when you know something has switched over in your head!
Well, that's all for now...lots more to come on this great adventure.

martes, 6 de febrero de 2007

My New Home

Well, I've finally moved into a new place in Barcelona. It's in the Raval neighbourhood, which is southwest of the main Rambla walking boulevard. It's on a beautiful street and the nieghbourhood has quite a Bohemian feel to it. I'm just 2 blocks from the Boqueria Market and 2 blocks from the MACBA museum.
Our apartment is the top row of shuttered windows and my room is on the corner. We face southwest, so we get lots of light all through the day. Right now it's about 15 degrees in the day and 10 degrees at night. As you can see, the door to the place is massive and beautifully carved. The entranceway is definitely cathedral-like and dramatic. Quite spooky at night!
I have some more pictures of the interior, which I will post soon. Finally have a place to rest my head!