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Archive for June, 2014

Saturday, May 31, 2014- Beverages in Barcelona, Spain at Granja M Viader off Las Ramblas

Jamie says: After our delightful market experience, we continued our walk through Las Rambas.

Our walk continued

Our walk continued

We made it to the end- to the rear side of the Christopher Columbus statue. (What a way to be greeted!) We waited ever so patiently for a little kid to finish playing on a lion statue so we could have our photo opp.  K and I “rode the art,” according to my Uncle’s Facebook response to the picture. Hey, it was fun!

Get excited!

Get excited!

We worked our way around to the front of the statue…

Back side of the Christopher Columbus statue

Back side of the Christopher Columbus statue

…and crossed the street to see the port…

Port of Barcelona

Port of Barcelona

…with all the sail boats. It was quite peaceful.

Peaceful port

Peaceful port

Then we looped back around to make our journey back through Las Ramblas. I was exhausted! The idea of walking back actually seemed daunting. My legs were ready to call mercy from all the walking. I would bet we averaged about 10 miles of walking a day. Who would think walking on vacation would wear me out more than the Body Pump classes and triathlon training I was doing at home!

Along the way back, we stopped at a Rick Steve’s destination, an old fashioned parlor called Granja M Viader.

Granja M Viader- join us for a cold milk, parlor-style

Granja M Viader- join us for a cold milk, parlor-style

It had charm and character.

Back in time...

Back in time…

I ordered, and was excited to have, a glass of plain milk. (I missed my daily glass or two of milk.)

Good ol' plain milk

Good ol’ plain milk

K went for the chocolate milk, which came in a cool bottle. I took a sip. It was good, too.

Reminds me of the look of a Yoo-hoo

Reminds me of the look of a Yoo-hoo

K and I took the milk bottles home for souvenirs. Weeks later, though, we both realized we were missing our bottles. Customs must have taken them!

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Saturday, May 31, 2014- Dinner and dessert in Barcelona, Spain at Mercat St Joseph off Las Ramblas

Jamie says: After our truly magnificent afternoon at La Sagrada Familia, the ladies ventured off to walk Las Ramblas, a nice long street with a car-free, paved sidewalk on steroids in the middle, flanked by roads on either side and restaurants, shops and businesses beyond the roads.

Las Ramblas

Las Ramblas

The paved part runs a good stretch of distance and has tons of interesting vendors along the way, but my favorite stop, hands down, was the market- Mercat St Josep to be exact. The bustling energy of the market was contagious.

Mercat St Josep- visible from a walk down Las Ramblas

Mercat St Josep- visible from a walk down Las Ramblas

Step inside the market, and you’ll find row after row of culinary delights and earthly treats.

Row after row of vendors

Row after row of vendors

There’s even meat hanging from the sky.

Meat vendor

Meat vendor

I suggested we walk up and down every row, starting at the one all the way on the end (orderly me). I was intrigued by a place called Organic Barcelona.

Organic vendor in the market

Organic vendor in the market

The bright ground spices on the top of their “tacos” (looked like a burrito if you’d have asked me) were appealing.

Their vegetarian tacos looked quite beautiful

Their vegetarian tacos looked quite beautiful

I ordered one and they brought us a freshly squeezed OJ.

K and OJ (haha, it rhymes!)

K and OJ (haha, it rhymes!)

We decided we’d share the meal and make it a food walk. Out came the “burrito” with a plethora of sides. (Is that dyed rice really organic?) It was good- got my veggies in.

Colorful taco explosion

Colorful taco explosion

But the fun really began was we turned our walk through the market into a chocolate walk. First stop, La Torroneria, a fine chocolate shop. For some reason, I had my eyes on candied oranges half dipped in a thick chocolate. I wouldn’t say I’m normally an orange/chocolate person, but today I was intrigued. And for good reason, they were delicious!

Candied oranges dipped in chocolate

Candied oranges dipped in chocolate

I also went for a truffle. Although they appeared expensive per kilogram, the cost for a couple was totally reasonable.

Chocolate! I went for a dark chocolate truffle, too.

Chocolate! I went for a dark chocolate truffle, too.

We all enjoyed our chocolate treats.

Mom and her candied orange dipped in chocolate. Great choice!

Mom and her candied orange dipped in chocolate. Great choice!

And the walk continued. The vendors were each so unique. Check out this egg stand.

Super cute egg stand

Super cute egg stand

And there were foods, like dragon fruit, that you would never see in this quantity in the States.

Dragon fruit on the go anyone?

Dragon fruit on the go anyone?

The rainbow of colors from the produce stands was picturesque!

Magazine cover worthy?

Magazine cover worthy?

Spiky fruits, fruits of playful shapes, brilliant colors. It’s like a playground and museum for foodies, here.

Unique produce

Unique produce

I continued to stop at a few chocolate shops and buy a piece or two to sample along the way.

Another truffle here... a chocolate-dipped orange there...

Another truffle here… a chocolate-dipped orange there…

The final chocolate stop of the night was a great one. The nice lady provided us with free samples on top of our purchases. Great customer service!

The final chocolate shop of the night

The final chocolate shop of the night

What a night! But it wasn’t over. Our walk down Las Ramblas continues….

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Saturday, May 31, 2014- Lunch and a coffe drink in Barcelona, Spain at Taberna Rincon De Leon and a little counter service restaurant near La Sagrada Familia

Jamie says: Wow! Words cannot describe how breathtaking Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia is. The church is “always under construction,” but this does not detract from its grandeur and beauty. The “sandcastle” church is a must-see destination.

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia

The endless intricacies of the East side’s stone exterior are impressive, with a Harry Potter-like feel.

Intricate detail on the exterior

Intricate detail on the exterior

I found it quite interesting how the opposite facade of the church’s exterior has a different feel, while both tell the story of our Catholic faith. The west side is less intricate, but still magnificent. (Compare the picture above to the picture below.)

Exterior of the opposite side of the church

Exterior of the opposite side of the church

I was impressed with the outside of the church, but it was the inside that stole my heart. The ornate, sky-high ceilings were beyond beautiful. The tree-like columns, unique.

Ornate ceiling

Ornate ceiling

The crucifix on the alter was different than anything I’ve seen before- the swaying wheat and hanging grapes, representing the body and blood of Christ; the lighting; and the jelly-fish like awning.

Unique crucifix on the alter

Unique crucifix on the alter

My favorite aspect of the Sagrada Familia was the colorful, bright lighting streaming in through the stained glass windows. It was fairy tale- like.

The light coming in through the stained glass windows produced playful and bright colors

The light coming in through the stained glass windows produced playful and bright colors

The greens and blues, reds, yellows, and oranges captivated me. It was hard to peel my eyes away.

Spectacular stained glass windows

Spectacular stained glass windows

Even the staircases were playful with their spring-like spirals. I can now see where the word “gaudy” comes from, although it’s hard to believe that Gaudi himself was a simple and prayerful man with few possessions.

Spiral stairway

Spiral stairway

Even the back door was impressive.

Door with faith-filled words

Door with faith-filled words

We were all awestruck by this spectacular church. It’s truly unfathomable. The Sagrada Familia was truly one of the most spectacular pieces of work I’ve ever seen. It was surreal, unimaginable. Gaudi, you did it- mesmerized us all.

My family, awestruck

My family, awestruck

Afterwards, we were h-u-n-g-r-y. K and I split from Mom and Dad and came across Taberna Rincon De Leon, walking distance from La Sagrada Familia.

Taberna Rincon De Leon near La Sagrada Familia

Taberna Rincon De Leon near La Sagrada Familia

We sat at the bar for quicker service. I think it’s so cool how they have purse hooks at the tapas bars and at the discotecas.

Purses (and backpacks) here

Purses (and backpacks) here

We ordered a couple of tapas from the bar, including salty olives…

Salty olives

Salty olives

And a seafood salad.

Seafood salad

Seafood salad

On the way back, K found an open, counter service restaurant with NesCafe. It was mucho dinero for a tiny amount.

K and her NesCafe outside La Sagrada Familia

K and her NesCafe outside La Sagrada Familia

Ever-so-graciously, and without prompting, I volunteered to help her out with this sweet, thick coffee drink. I’m such as good sister…

NesCafe- brings me back to Italy!

NesCafe- brings me back to Italy!

What a day- and it’s not even over!

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Saturday, May 31, 2014- Lunch in Barcelona, Spain near the Gaudi House

Jamie says: Today was the day to visit the Sagrada Familia (and the Gaudi House)! We bought our tickets ahead of time and avoided the ridiculously LONG lines. (If I had to pick one attraction to buy tickets for before your visit, I would highly, and I mean highly, recommend the Sagrada Familia.) We arrived at the Sagrada Familia for our scheduled tour of the Gaudi House, but soon realized the Gaudi House was not at the Sagrada Familia, but in Parc Guell- another part of town! The taxi driver misread the ticket. Yikes. We quickly grabbed another taxi and made our way to Parc Guell. We ascended the path to the Gaudi House.

A scenic climb to the Gaudi House

A scenic climb to the Gaudi House

And arrived at a pink house! After seeing his other designs, I guess I should have expected something outside the ordinary from Gaudi…

Gaudi House Museum

Gaudi House Museum

We powered through a self-guided walk through the house (honestly, you didn’t need too much time there), and spent some time walking through Parc Guell. The view of the Gaudi House from above was cool, too.

Hilltop view of the Gaudi House

Hilltop view of the Gaudi House

We rocked a selfie…I can’t help but think of my Uncle Peter who, I swear, invented the selfie long before it was popular. Oh, and he was also the first person I know who gave up the family land-line for all cell phones- a man way ahead of his time. I digress.

J, Mom, and K (and the Gaudi House)

J, Mom, and K (and the Gaudi House)

We got just the right amount of time in Parc Guell and the Gaudi House. We made our way down the hill and grabbed a quick to-go sub which was proudly marketed as such (although the English translation didn’t quite  match up with “to-go” but we got the picture.  (I credit K for her great idea to grab one.)

Bocadillo on the run

Bocadillo on the run

We were determined to get to the taxi in time for our “13:15-13:30” touring of the Sagrada Familia. After all, that was the spark for our trip to Spain!

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Saturday, May 31, 2014- Breakfast in Barcelona, Spain at Hotel Indigo

Jamie says: Late last night, K realized we were missing the top sheet for our bed. We laughed historically about it and K made a call to room service. At the last minute, K started laughing and threw the phone over to me. I made the request through gasping laughs. I couldn’t breathe. We felt like middle schoolers making a prank call. I fell asleep instantly (after we received our top sheet, of course), still embraced by my robe. I slept like a baby and didn’t move the entire night- ultimate comfort.

I woke up early ready to eat. I ventured downstairs for our hotel’s breakfast.

Hotel Indigo- have a seat, it's time for breakfast!

Hotel Indigo- have a seat, it’s time for breakfast!

Of all the breakfast buffet options, I craved cereal.

Cereal options

Cereal options

And I enjoyed limitless bowls of it. I started with puffed sweetened corn cereal and opted for the cold “soya” (soy) milk, safely tucked away in the bar, over the room temperature whole milk. I topped it with walnuts for a nice crunch and to fill me up. It had the perfect amount of sweetness. I grabbed a mixed fruit cup and went back for the last one.

Sweetened puffed cereal with soy milk, walnuts and a fresh fruit cup

Sweetened puffed cereal with soy milk, walnuts and a fresh fruit cup

Next, I went for the sweetened cocoa puff cereal. It was chocolately and turned the soy milk into chocolate milk. I was super satisfied.

Cocoa cereal- round 2 of cereal

Cocoa cereal- round 2 of cereal

Dad joined me…

Dad- happy with his breakfast options

Dad- happy with his breakfast options

They had a plethora of gluten free options.

Gluten free breakfast plate at Hotel Indigo

Gluten free breakfast plate at Hotel Indigo

I grabbed a tea with him to be social. (Dad’s the morning tea drinker, and Mom’s the morning coffee drinker.)

Tea time

Tea time

The rest of the family started to trickle in soon after. (I guess you’d say it was a progressive family breakfast.) We were excited about our plans for the day…

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Friday, May 30, 2014- Dessert in Barcelona, Spain at McDonald’s

Jamie says: My “second stomach” opened up, and the Golden Arches called my name- for the first time in ages. A McDonlad’s McFlurry was in line- with lots of chocolate. I ordered a chocolate McFlurry with Oreos and Peanut M&Ms. It came out as vanilla with chocolate sauce (instead of chocolate ice cream) and the toppings. Regardless, it was chocolate Heaven- and I loved it.

I went for it- McDonald's McFlurry, Spain-style

I went for it- McDonald’s McFlurry, Spain-style

We walked the block of discord, a strip of unique, seemingly out-of-place houses. My favorite was a Willy Wonka-like residence by Gaudi called Casa Batllo. It’s playful and trippy architecture was surprisingly captivating.

Gaudi's work- he's awesome!

Gaudi’s work- he’s awesome!

K stopped to pose by an interesting street bench, appropriate for Gaudi-style seating.

Hi, K!

Hi, K!

Afterwards, we walked to the Placa de Catalunya, a plaza near the start of Las Rambas, and enjoyed the fountains. We were then ready to call it a night. After all, we did have a super sweet hotel to go back to.

Just another building on our street corner...

Just another building on our street corner…

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Friday, May 30, 2014- Dinner in Barcelona, Spain at Tapas 24

Kathryn says: We found the stairway to tapas heaven in Spain.

We bypassed the handful of outside tables on the sidewalk and went down the steps of Barcelona’s Tapas 24 into a cozy inside nook that was perfect for a rainy-night, off-the-beaten-path stop for tapas and drinks.

Street view of Tapas 24.

Street view of Tapas 24.

Stairway to tapas heaven.

Stairway to tapas heaven.

Tapas 24 quickly became one of my top two meals of the trip.

We went for dinner around 7 p.m. and it was hopping. Good luck getting a high-top table or seat at the bar if your party is more than one. But we didn’t seem to mind the 25-minute wait once we tasted their offerings.

Their lemon beer on tap was a light, refreshing, sweet summer drink that went down easily. It reminded me of Lienunkugel’s Summer Shandy.

K enjoying a delightfully light, refreshing lemon beer.

K enjoying a delightfully light, refreshing lemon beer.

But the real pleasers here were the fresh-made, savory tapas that tasted as scrumptious as they looked. A-plus for flavor and presentation here.

I took a Hail Mary attempt at ordering from the Spanish menu before realizing they had an English one, and I was pleasantly surprised.

I highly recommend the pork tacos, which came with the ingredients separate so they wouldn’t get soggy.

Fresh, savory pork tacos.

Fresh, savory pork tacos.

The shredded, tender pork dripped in a curry-like marinade that woke up my tastebuds with flavor. A green sauce on the side and carmelized red onions with cilantro perfectly complimented the pork on the soft, miniature corn shells.

A tasty little taco.

A tasty little taco.

Because you can never get enough pork in Spain, I also ordered a pork chunk dish that was ever-so-lightly fried and dotted with guacamole sauce, peppered with a paprika-like spice and topped with onions and garnish on each. The flavors were so succulent and sophisticated. It was an eye-closer. (That’s a big deal for me.)

Crispy pork chunks bursting with flavor.

Crispy pork chunks bursting with flavor.

Mom chimed in with another finger-lickin’ picking’ — bruschetta. Rustic bread with a crunchy crust and a softer inside nicely absorbed the olive oil a soft, crushed tomatoes.

Crispy, rustic bread with olive oil and tomatoes.

Crispy, rustic bread with olive oil and tomatoes.

Jamie jumped in with a healthy choice that ended up being a culinary beauty. Tender, white asparagus were slit open and filled with a seasoned white mayonnaise sauce. This gourmet treat really surprised us with its presentation. Brigh-blue edible flowers and darker purple pedals lined the top, as well as orange shavings.

Beautiful white asparagus.

Beautiful white asparagus.

Dad’s gluten-free pick was boiled white potatoes served with sliced ham and drizzled with olive oil. It was simple and satisfying.

Simple and satisfying potatoes and ham.

Simple and satisfying potatoes and ham.

Because I was sitting right in front of the dessert display, I worked up an appetite for a sweet ending to the meal.

View of our bar seating.

View of our bar seating.

The waiter recommended this dense pastry filled with custard and topped with plenty of powdered sugar. It was rich. Although I like dessert, the savory dishes beat out the sweet one this time.

Powdered, stuffed pastry.

Powdered, stuffed pastry.

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Friday, May 30, 2014- Chocolate in Barcelona, Spain at Hotel Indigo

Jamie says: Hotel Indigo in Barcelona was modern (ironically, more modern than Hotel Moderno in Madrid), bright, heavenly, trendy (think IKEA), and luxurious.

Mom checking into Hotel Indigo in Barcelona

Mom checking into Hotel Indigo in Barcelona

We loved the colors, style, and even the bathrooms. Dad was practically ready to install the fancy water faucet in the home bathroom as soon as he got home.

Swanky and modern lobby!

Swanky and modern lobby!

Once K and I got to our room (they only had rooms for two so by default we got our own “palace!”), we were in Heaven. The room was huge with dark wood and silver accents. There was a large picture of Gaudi’s work above the bed. We later soaked up the luxury like crazy. K and I doted over the intricacies of the room. We found soft lengthy robes and wore them like princesses, slipped the slippers on our feet, and celebrated the fact that we got to stay here for 4 more nights. We raved over the comfort of the king-sized bed. It was pure bliss, true luxury.

K and I were in love with this room. We felt like princesses!

K and I were in love with this room. We felt like princesses!

We had a balcony with a overlooking the bustling yet beautiful street and our own little patio table.

Our beautiful patio and balcony view

Our beautiful patio and balcony view

And the excitement carried on. There were chocolates to be had and bottled waters and OJ in the fridge- and some of the best little shampoos, conditioners, body washes, and lotions on the planet. (You better bet I saved the extras. I might even try to order them!)

Hotel chocolates

Hotel chocolates

K and I chillaxed (a combination of chilling and relaxing) on the bed and ate chocolates. She ever so kindly got out her Madrid chocolate and shared it with me. Now that’s love. Mom came and joined the “hen house” festivities. (Does anyone else call an all women’s gathering a hen house or is it just my family using the “hen” terminology?- hen house, a hen’s ear…why do we like hens so much in my family…)

K's amazing chocolate from Madrid

K’s amazing chocolate from Madrid

We were living the life. And for once, I didn’t want to leave the hotel. It was the place to be.

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Friday, May 30, 2014- Lunch in Barcelona, Spain at the Music Museum

Jamie says: From the taxi, we boarded a train to Barcelona. It was a little sad leaving Hotel Moderno, our awesome hotel in Madrid, which I would highly recommend for its unbeatable location, atmosphere, and kind front desk staff. The three hours on the train passed pretty quickly. I slept, Kathryn made friends with a local who so kindly helped us find a taxi with ease, and Mom and Dad, well, I’m not 100% sure what they did since they were behind me, but I believe they enjoyed the beautiful scenery (including mountains and windmills in action).

View from the train from Madrid to Barcelona

View from the train from Madrid to Barcelona

We dropped off our luggage at our new hotel and walked to the Museum of Music. We had lunch at the beautiful little indoor patio-style restaurant with glass windows. It wasn’t open at first even though they said it was, but they soon opened up for us.

Dining at the Museum of Music- 2nd floor

Dining at the Museum of Music- 2nd floor

The first course was the bread, which came out in a basket. You got to choose which roll you would like. I chose one that had whole-grain potential. It was good.

You pick- your bread that is

You pick- your bread that is

Then came a little bowl of colorful veggie chips.

Reminded me of Terra chips in the US

Reminded me of Terra chips in the US

The strawberry salad was good. I asked them to hold the “foie” (or as I just learned- duck) from my salad which they did, but they also forgot the caramelized pine nuts, which I would have liked to try.

Strawberry salad- but it had a fancier name

Strawberry salad- but it had a fancier name

I couldn’t stomach the paella (I think it had squid ink). My dad liked it, though.

Not your typical paella- that's squid ink, I think

Not your typical paella- that’s squid ink, I think

I ended up attempting to eat Dad’s chicken dish. The mashed potatoes were delish, especially with the apricots on top, but the dates were too sweet for me after eating fruit all morning and the chicken legs were raw (ew, I don’t do well with raw meat).

Good mashed potatoes, raw chicken

Good mashed potatoes, raw chicken

I tasted (but after the raw chicken wasn’t in the mood for) the yogurt and fruit dessert which was quite interesting- shaved frozen OJ and red berries on top of yogurt. Overall, the food was super fancy, but not a highlight.

Fancy yogurt and fruit

Fancy yogurt and fruit

It was time for the tour of the Museum of Music!

Museum of Music

Museum of Music

The concert hall was spectacular. We enjoyed the tour and the aesthetics. I felt bad for K, though. She accidentally deleted all her trip photos from her camera. We came to discover later that she could potentially recover them- and once we got back to the US, she did! Wish we could have foreseen that then.

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Friday, May 30, 2014- Breakfast in Madrid, Spain at Starbucks

Jamie says: I was exhausted last night but woke up quite refreshed. Today is departure day from Madrid. It almost started to feel like (a vacation) home where you get to know your way around. I packed in the dark and waited for Starbucks to open. (Yes, the Starbucks coffee shops in Spain don’t open early like in the US, opening time is around 7:30/8:30 AM!) I walked over to the Starbucks for a cup of milk. When the barista asked for my name, I said Jamie. He paused for a while. I then said “Jaime” and he got writing quite quickly.

Jaime, the Spanish Jamie

Jaime, the Spanish Jamie

I enjoyed my hot milk (didn’t know I was going to get it hot but it was good!) with a splash of decaf coffee and a couple of Kashi granola bars I brought from home. For the price paid for a cup of milk, you could buy a gallon of organic milk in the US. But it was worth it. It’s interesting how the pricing/conversion from Euros to dollars can be deceiving. Everything is more expensive here.

2nd floor of Starbucks in Puerta del Sol

2nd floor of Starbucks in Puerta del Sol

I enjoyed my window view and then returned to the hotel to catch the taxi with my family. Adios, Madrid. It’s been awesome!

Quiet morning streets in Madrid

Quiet morning streets in Madrid

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