Ham it up

P1000349We slept in a bit, then went down for a big breakfast. In Paris we had a small apartment, so we just grabbed whatever to eat. Yulia booked us a very nice hotel here in downtown Barcelona, and it includes breakfast. A lot of hotel breakfasts are cut fruit and coffee, but this was amazing. There was fruit, pastries, several types of eggs, bacon and Ham. If you aren’t familiar with Spanish ham, you are missing out. Ham is serious here.

We had tickets to visit Park Guell at 1:00, so we went to just shop and see the town a bit before our appointment. We were told that the St Joseph Market was the one no to miss, so we headed there first. On the way, we saw a sign for “The Jamon (ham) Experience” I am not making this up, they really do take ham serious here. It turned out to be right next to where we walked the first day, so we had missed it by a few steps. The market was filled withstands of fresh fruit, spices, fish, and of course, ham. Yulia and Sasha tried some fresh pressed juice, I was just trying to figure out how to sneak an entire ham leg back through customs.

We circled a bit just to look, then started winding through the back alleys and small streets to check out the shops. Each street seemed to cluster shops together, a set of dress shops, a set of music shops, pharmacy grocery, etc. By accident, we ran into Bodegas, one of Hemingway’s old bars. It was early and the day, and closed, but I was hoping to drop in for a drink later in the week.

We caught the metro over at Plaza Catalunya, which was actually pretty confusing. Some of the metro stations are shared with local service trains, and this led to a maze of tunnels and kiosks. Once we figured that out, it was easy to get on the right metro to take us up to the park. It wasn’t clear which station was closest to the park entrance from the map we had, so we kept our eye on the tourist arrows at each station, then jumped off once we saw the arrow to the park. It was a hot walk to the park, but We found a street that had escalators up the steepest parts that led to the park gates. We came in via the side gate, which turned out to be right by the cafe. We ducked in there first, for some air conditioning, ice cream, and a beer. Everyone else had the same idea, the temperature was really rising, so it was a mess. I had to fight my way to the front to pay and get the beer. Yulia and Sasha got their ice cream right away, and were almost done by the time I got back through the crowd. Not sure what the Spanish term for “Goat Rodeo” is, but that’s what it looked like.

Cooled down, we went to the plaza at the entrance to start our tour. Park Guell isn’t a Park in the traditional “my dog poops here” sense, it was originally a planned community by Gaudi (and borrowed the term “Park” from the British usage for a garden community). It was supposed to have a plaza, small homes, and a central gate. The homes were never built, but Gaudi did live here, then it went to the city. They planted gardens in the empty spaces, and now it is an actual park, but with gates to keep the dogs from pooping here.

It is a beautiful example of Gaudi’s work, soft organic shapes along the buildings covered in Catalan tile. Bright colors everywhere. The small gate houses open to the courtyard, which has stairs leading up to a colonnade above. Houses were supposed to be along each side, but were never built. The colonnade was to be a open market. Unfinished, it feels empty, but it still amazing. Halfway up the steps, there is a bench built into a seashell-like structure. One of the things I have noticed about good architects is that everything, especially benches, are well thought out. Frequently, a built in bench is there for the view that the architect intended. (If I remember correctly, I learned this from Frank Lloyd Wright’s home.) We sat in the bench and had an amazing view through the spires of the gatehouses of the city of Barcelona below. We just enjoyed this for a bit before walking further. We followed the planned tour route until it dropped us back at the gate. I would love to know what this was intended to look like finished. There is so little and so much here at the same time.

We went out the main gate and followed the street down the hill. We still had another day on our tour bus tickets, so we caught the bus back to the center of town. We already saw this part of Barcelona, so we were basically just talking a free ride. I kept listening to the tour, and eventually we caught up to the parts we missed the first time. The bus took us along an older street in downtown, and the trees turned to palm trees. The tour tape said that wild Parrots frequently next in these trees. I told Yulia to keep an eye out, and in a little but we could see and hear parrots flying around. They were small and green, and if you didn’t know to look you would probably miss them. I’m pretty sure that was our first time seeing wild parrots. It was hard to not be excited.

The bus dropped us off at Plaza Catalunya, and we walked back to the market for a small snack at one of the vendors. We just had a few drinks and some tapas, but everything is so cheap and fresh at the market. From here we headed back to the hotel.

We rested a few hours, then headed out to dinner. Tonight we were going to a Flamenco and Tapas bar. These can get pretty touristy, so we had to trust the advice of the front desk of the hotel. This was at Tablao Flamenco Cordobes back on La Rambla, so it was just a short hop to and from the hotel, which was also good. We got there early, and had a nice table on the second floor by the window. We had a nice view of the street, and the activity as everyone passed by. Behind us, we could here the show going on, as they do three a night. You could hear the clapping, stomping and singing muffled through the doors. The tapas and drinks were all in the price, and the food was surprisingly good. We asked for wine and they just dropped off a bottle. That’s my kind of service.

Once our show was ready, we were moved from the dining room to the theatre, and we got seats to the side with a good view of the stage. They brought us more drinks (of course) and started the show. I really don’t know a lot about dance, but this was a mix of traditional singing, Spanish guitar, and dance. It was great. Apparently this was meant to be similar to traditional Flamenco you might see at a large family gathering, but there was no way for me to tell if that was right. It was great however. The dance was beautiful, both men and women. At once point, the dancers took a break, and they had a trio of guitarists on stage doing traditional songs. I thought this was the best. Eventually all the food and drinks took hold, the show wound down, and we left. It was late enough that the sun was down and the moon was out. It was a beautiful walk back to the metro, and we were done for the day.