Friday, October 30, 2009

Dining in Barcelona

Barcelona is a gourmet's paradise. The displays of tapas and pinchos made my mouth water. Although the term "tapas" is pretty well known in the United States, I had not heard the term "pinchos." There is a difference. Tapas are appetizers which are shared among those dining together. The term originated from the verb "tapar" or to cover. It comes from the old habit of covering a glass of wine with a slice of bread or ham to keep out the insects. Pinchos are individual tasty morsels with toothpicks in them. When you eat pinchos, your bill is determined by how many toothpicks are left on the plate.

At any rate, I had far more delicious tapas and pinchos in one trip than I could possibly count. Steve and I were lucky to be accompanied by Sharon Assis, who knows the terrain in Barcelona. She and her sister, Sandy Velikonja, introduced us to Orio, a warm and welcoming tapas bar at Ferran 38 located close to the Grand Central Hotel in the Gothic Quarter. Not only did we savor shrimp and deep fried pinchos filled with choice ham, bacon and cheese, we also had no trouble drinking a smooth Paisajes VII Rioja.

On our final evening in Barcelona, Steve and I had another excellent dining experience at Taller De Tapas on the Rambla Catalunya, where we discovered Catalan tomato bread (pa amb tomaquet), a favorite snack in Catalonia. We liked it so much that we barely saved enough room for our tuna and lamb entrees. It's simple fare but it sure is tasty.

Friday, October 16, 2009


When I travel I make a point of participating in an activity that helps me to understand the culture of the country or region I am visiting. So when in Barcelona I decided to take in a flamenco show which included a buffet dinner of many tasty traditional Spanish dishes. Tablao Cordobes, located on the vibrant La Rambla, puts on a spectacular show. From the front row, I was able to get a very personal view of the intricate and dazzling moves of the flamenco dancers who were exhilarating and sexy in their colorful costumes.

You can either book dinner and the show or the show only. However, you have a much better chance of getting a front row seat if you book both dinner and the show. The showroom is a small, intimate setting and the seats aren’t tiered so getting a front row seat is important in order to appreciate the talent and power of the flamenco dancers.

More photos of Tablao Cordobes
Photos of La Rambla

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

La Sagrada Familia

Barcelona has many unbelievable sites but if you have time to see only one you must go to La Sagrada Família. I was virtually awestruck. Begun in 1882, it is only sixty percent complete and is expected to be finished in 2026. Before I toured La Sagrada Família I wondered how an unfinished church could be so dazzling. It is the exquisite way in which Gaudí depicts the story of the birth of Jesus in the Nativity façade and the death and resurrection of Jesus in the Passion façade. The ornate figures on the façades are carved with such delicate and intense detail that I was drawn in to the story in a mysterious way that has never happened to me in any other church or cathedral.

Inside the church, Gaudí’s use of space, light and stone which gives you the feeling of being under an immense forest canopy is extraordinary.

If you go, be sure to take the audio tour. I don’t think it’s possible to appreciate La Sagrada Família in all its glory without hearing its incredible history and the stories that make its walls come alive.

More photos of La Sagrada Família

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Modernista Heaven

We had a good idea that Hotel Astoria was well located when we booked it but quite frankly we didn’t realize it was located in the middle of Modernista heaven in the Eixample neighborhood. Everywhere I looked I got an eyeful of some of the most unusual buildings I have ever seen by such renowned architects as Antoni Gaudi, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and Lluis Domenech I Montaner. I can’t remember how many times I stepped off curbs without seeing them because I was so busy gawking at such marvels as the rippling gray stone façade of Gaudi’s La Pedrera (the Stone Quarry ) which is studded with ‘seaweed’ in the form of wrought-iron balconies.

The Manzana De La Discordia (Block of Discord) was the most outlandish example I’ve ever seen of “keeping up with the Joneses.” Three wealthy neighbors were intent on outdoing each other as they were building their dream homes so they each hired one of the most famous architects of the time (Gaudi, Puig I Cadafalch and Domenech I Montaner) to design them. The end result was three very eclectic houses built right next to one another. Gaudi’s weird-looking house of the dragon stands next to Puig I Cadafalch’s medieval Dutch looking Casa Amatller, which is next to Domenech I Mantaner’s more rounded Casa Lleo Morera. It would be interesting to hear what the city planners in Bellevue thought about this concoction of grandiose homes.

While walking down Avinguda Diagonal, I was struck by the numbers of motorbikes and bicycles. They are very popular because there’s absolutely no place to park. What really struck my fancy was watching a nice-looking woman in a tailored white suit and high heels getting on her motor bike and taking off down the street. She has more guts than I do and I’m no wallflower!

As Steve and were strolling down the Passeig de Gracia (the Rodeo Drive of Barcelona), we saw many sidewalk vendors selling knock-offs of high-priced designer merchandise that was sold at the upscale stores (Gucci, Chanel, Coach, Prada, etc.) that lined the street. Apparently, selling knock-off goods in this elite neighborhood isn’t allowed as we saw one of the sidewalk vendors quickly gather his purses (which were chained together) and run as fast as he could down the street. He escaped but the police ended up with the purses. I thought about making a deal with the police for a great price on a “knock off” handbag but stopped short before I got myself in trouble. I just thought it would be funny to go home and tell my friends that my bag was a real “steal.”

More photos of Barcelona's Modernista Creations
Photos of Gaudí’s Park Güell

Welcome to Barcelona!

Steve and arrived in Barcelona yesterday after spending close to 12 hours in an uncomfortable seated position in a long narrow aluminum tube in the sky. After claiming our luggage, I was thankful that I had arranged private ground transportation. I’ve done this numerous times for my clients but this was the first that I had arranged a limo for myself and Steve. Was I ever glad I did. Our driver was waiting for us with a smile, helped us with our luggage and shared his stories about growing up in Barcelona on the way to the hotel. When you arrive in a new city under the influence of jet lag, it sure is nice not to have to think about negotiating for a taxi.

Hotel Astoria is a charming boutique hotel well-located in the Eixample neighborhood. We arrived at noon and were thankful that our room was ready for us because we were just dying to do such things as brush our teeth and take a nice hot shower. We were also grateful that the water pressure in the shower was generous and hot as we felt pretty grubby after a very long day of traveling. I just love to feel the hot water streaming over me as I slowly begin to relax and rejoice about arriving in an exciting new city.

Newly refreshed, we decided to explore the streets of Barcelona……

Photos of scenes from Barcelona

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fun with Chopsticks in Japan

At an Oktoberfest last week, I was telling stories about my first visit to Japan in 1998. My dear friend Etsuko Nakamura, agreed to be my guide. One night in Tokyo, Etsuko brought me to a restaurant where only the locals go. I was the only hapless tourist in the place. Although I had become pretty proficient eating rice with chopsticks, I couldn't for the life of me pick up with chopsticks the fishballs in my soup. Each time I tried, I managed to get the fishball closer to my mouth but it always ended up plopping back in the bowl.

Sensing that I wasn't feeling great about the chopsticks getting the best of me, the waitress quietly said something to Etsuko. When I asked Etsuko what she said, Etsuko started laughing and said, "It's okay to stick it." At which point I stuck the chopstick in the fishball and was happy for the rest of the evening.