Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Knowing when to take it easy

These past few weeks have been utterly hectic.  We have been going at a constant pace...going, going, going...with the gut instinct to just see everything as fast as we can because we're technically visitors in a foreign country and that's what you do, right?  You see every last thing you're able because you have to leave soon.  Well, we realized that we have a little over three months left in this beautiful city and that it's enough to take it easy and to visit a new sight every few days and not feel bad if we decide not to do a darn thing (except eat chocolate-filled croissants) that day.  So, last week we did just that.

We decided to first visit the Columbus statue that is located at the very foot of La Rambla (the part that is nearest the ocean).  It is said that the statue is pointing East towards Genoa (although not true), the city of his birth, much to the chagrin of all us tourists who think it makes for a nicer story if he were pointing to Terra Nova.  He is literally just pointing out into the vast expanse of ocean, making certain that we all know that he was a great navigator. 

I wish I knew what this building was.  I liked the moon behind the building so I took a picture of both.  It is situated near the statue.

Surrounding the statues are 8 lions; 4 staircases surround the monument and each staircase has 2 lions flanking it.  Des made sure that I took a picture of him at every single lion.

A standing lion...Des didn't want to go underneath it alone because of "poop."
Pointing to the next lion he wanted to pose in front of.

Much to our dismay, we weren't able to go up the monument because it closed at 3:30pm.  Our guidebook said 7pm, so we thought a nice, leisurely stroll down La Rambla at dusk would be perfect.  That way, we could watch the sunset and the city's lights.  Next time, look up information on internet first.

Dejectedly, we decided to take an alternate route home through the heart of El Raval.  Even though every single guidebook says that this is a sketchier neighborhood, we really feel safe in this little multicultural community.  I mean, we don't go down creepy-looking alleyways or anything, but we feel entirely safe walking TOGETHER (I still won't walk through the bottom half of El Raval alone at night) through the neighborhood up to our apartment in the top half of El Raval.  We made sure to walk through The Rambla del Raval so that we could see Botero's Gato del Raval.  Botero is my favorite Colombian artist (probably my favorite artist of all time), so to get to touch one of his pieces was a special treat for me.

Yep, Des is starting to push me away when I kiss him.
I can't wait to take Des to the Museo Botero in Bogota.  It's my favorite museum in the entire world.

On our way home, we stopped and had some drinks at Kasparo, a cafe/bar that is in the same plaza (Vincenc Martorell) where we have our playground.  We let Des play in the playground while we ordered our drinks (cava (Spanish champagne) for me, a beer for Bill, and a hot chocolate for Des).  You have no idea how wonderful it is to be able to do something adultish while your child has the time of his life on the swings.  I know some of you don't condone drinking, and a mom who admits to drinking around her kids is kinda weird, but it's a part of the culture I grew up with and darn it, if a single glass of champagne makes me happy, then I'm a better mother for it, although my greatness as a mother is inversely related to the increasing number of said cups of cava.

On Saturday, we went to Poble Espanyol, an open-air architectural museum located on the mountain of Montjuic.  It is a village that was built for the World Fair in the 1920s that was supposed to showcase the typical architecture from each province in Spain.  It was supposed to be torn down after the Fair, but it was the most popular attraction at the fair and so was left to stay.  As you walk through Poble Espanyol, you could visit several shops filled with artisanal foods and crafts from the different parts of Spain.  Although we got there late in the day when many of the shops were closed, we still walked around before we had dinner and saw the flamenco show.

There are orange trees all over the city.  We decided, while waiting for the show and while nobody else was around and looking, that we would take some oranges to munch on.  Des was so happy to be able to grab one (I think he sensed our excitement over breaking the rules).  Well, it goes to show that one shouldn't take what isn't theirs because we bit into the most sour, disgusting orange ever.  They must make it so that they are inedible to prevent people like us from stealing them.  

A building typical of Aragon.

For Christmas, Billy's brother Dan got us tickets to see what is arguably the best flamenco show in the city: El Tablao de Carmen.  Included in the price of the ticket was tapas and drinks, plus the performance.  I was worried that the tapas wouldn't be enough to quench my hunger, but they were!  And it was delicious and they gave us a pitcher of Sangria, which made me super happy.

See pitcher of Sangria?  Mmmmm...and then they gave you a little cafecito at the end of the meal so that you could sober up a bit for the walk down the mountain to the metro.  Thankfully, they seated us in the back of the room so that Desmond wouldn't disturb other guests.  It proved to be a blessing in disguise because I could stand up and see better without blocking anyone's view and Des could play on the ipad without bugging anyone (he has special kid earphones that he uses with it).
The view from our table and the small stage up on the front.

I used to think, as is usually the case with ballet, that flamenco is all about the female dancers.  However, I was proven wrong.  I enjoyed watching the male dancers; the power of their performances was almost overwhelming.  It definitely got my adrenaline pumping.

Flamenco isn't just dance.  It is also the music, the singing, and the clapping.  It evolved from a mixture of southern Spanish and Romani (gypsy) influences.  Although a purer form of flamenco was performed on the stage, in it's "purest" form, flamenco is rather simple in that it has one person playing guitar and usually just one person singing and one person dancing, usually improvising as he or she goes along.

One of the female dancers.  If I could wear a dress like that every day, along with a rose pinned to the top of my head, I totally would.  I would just shake my butt all day long and swish my ruffles about.

It was an amazing and inspiring experience.  Thanks, Dan, for the wonderful Christmas present!
The next day, we decided that we should do something fun for Des.  Maribel left us a coupon for a free admission to the science museum, Cosmo Caixa.  I've been to many science museums in my life and this is one of the better ones I've seen.  It is immense and there is so much to see and the exhibits are very interactive.  Des had a great time.  If we go back, we will gladly pay the 3 Euros for adults that it costs to get in and go when it is less busy.

Cosmo Caixa is housed in a building a the top of a hill that was built in the early 1900s.  They kept the facade intact and expanded it to house all of their exhibits and a 3D imax screen.

In front of Cosmo Caixa.

An exhibit about microbes, situated ideally next to an exhibit about epidemics.  The public health nerd in me was geeking out at all of the old public health propaganda posters and artifacts.  So awesome.  

The stick thing to the left is an actual Amazonian tree that has been preserved and brought back to Spain.  It is about 6 stories tall and there is a winding ramp that goes around it.  Des had the best time running down the ramp.  I think this was the funnest time he had at the museum.  Billy told me that we should just save our money and stick with doing free things like going to the playground by our house.  I told him that I may have needed the museum more than Desmond does because I can only sit and watch kids play at the park for so long.  This lady needs some mental stimulation as well.

Des kept wanting to touch this reproduction of a neanderthal.  I didn't know how to explain to him that these weren't monkeys, that they were our ancestors and that this particular one had died.  But that it was all fake and they weren't really real.  

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And then, there was a replica of an Amazonian forest (el bosque inundado) where you could walk through and see all sorts of birds and animals (including one giant capybara) indigenous to the Amazon.

Picture courtesy of Desmond.  We were glistening with sweat while we were in the inundated forest.

Ha!  Another picture taken of Desmond.  This time it was of us on our way back from the museum, worn out after so much walking around and chasing a toddler and losing him and finding him and chasing him again.
OK...this post is way too long to include all of the food that we ate, so that will come later.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Our little slice of torta

We have carved out a nice little niche for ourselves here in this corner of Barcelona.  We are getting used to the lack of central heat in our apartment (we consistently wear sweaters and socks in our apartment all the time.)  You may smirk and think that we have it easy since we're living in 53 degree winter weather (while you're freezing your little tushes off in temps of single digits); however, when it NEVER gets warmer than 53...even in your own apartment...it starts wearing thin little by little.  Also, where we live, in the old part of Barcelona, we never get any sunshine due to the height of the buildings.  So we could walk around for an entire day and not feel the sweet warmth of the sun on our shoulders.  Too bad we aren't going to be here to fully enjoy spring/summer.  I hear it's the best.  

We've also grown accustomed to doing our food shopping on a 2-3 times-a-week basis because 1) I can't carry the equivalent of a Costco shopping trip in one go from our supermarket (Carrefour) to our apartment, 2) Des is usually with me when we go food shopping which, as we all know and can appreciate, is a freaking nightmare (candy?  Mami, candy?  Pees?  Pees, Mami, candy?  Candy! Candy!! Candyyyyyy!!!!!) so our trips are relatively short, and 3) everything is teeny tiny compared to the stuff in the States.  

What I used to view as "problems" here have actually been blessings in disguise.  I used to lament the small size of our refrigerator (shown in the background in the picture below.  The top half is the fridge and the bottom half is the freezer) and how it could only hold so much.  And I would lament about how fast we would go through our 1L of milk (and by we I mean Billy and Des because I rarely drink milk.  Smells like udders.)  So, what does this all amount to now?  We buy a lot of fresh fruits and veggies from the Boqueria market close to our house which we have to eat relatively quickly because of lack of space in fridge and lack of storage space in kitchen in general.  I also tend to cook more vegan/vegetarian dishes because meat is more expensive here than in the states (especially beef) and although there is an abundance of fish here, I'm not sure I'd know how to skillfully cook it and I would hate to waste my money on over- or undercooked fish.  Worst thing ever.

We have been making about 3-4 meals a week and eating lots of yummy leftovers.  We have limited our dining out to mostly during lunch or to having tapas at dinner so that we could cut back on our spending.  This past week, we have been living off of about 30 euros a day (doesn't include rent or bills, but does include all food, transportation, and sightseeing costs...mostly just food :))  Our goal is to try to see if every week we could beat our last week in how cheaply we live.  This will only happen for the next month or so because once people start visiting us, we're going to want to start spending more money on delicious food.

Crappy picture...but I am enamored with the amount of mandarin oranges that is sold here.   And I love that they keep the leaves on them.  We eat about 3-4 oranges each per day.
 Our apartment is roughly 100 square meters, which is much larger than most of the apartments we looked at in the old part of Barcelona.  It has 2 bedrooms, a dressing area, a living room, bathroom with separate toilet, and kitchen.  There is a "portero," a doorman, named Jose who is the nicest guy we have met in Barcelona so far.  He is so sweet with Des and delivers our mail to us personally (by the way, did y'all know that if you live abroad, the great American postal service will forward your mail temporarily for free?  We are doing it for a year).

Yes, he's about to pick his nose.  Des has his own bedroom and he actually loves spending time in it.  We put the small amount of toys that we brought from St. Louis in there and Maribel, the owner of the apartment, showed us these cute little planet balls that we hung because gosh darn it...my son's room will have SOME science in it.
Our little space heater.  Every morning, I would take an orange and split it up into the little pieces and then place them on top of newspaper or magazine paper that sat on top of the heater.  I would go about my day as usual and then after an hour or two, would come back and stick them in the freezer for a few minutes.  The heat from the space heater would dry the outer skin out so that when you bit into one, it would crack/crunch and then release the cold juice from the inside.  

At the Boqueria Market, looking for cumin.

 We have a cozy little balcony where we sometimes sit and eat croissants (with chocolate in them) and drink the (pretty crappy) coffee (crappy because I make it and I'm still a novice coffee drinker so I'm not sure how to make a good cup of coffee) and just sightsee.  It looks out over our little street, Carrer de Gravina.  It also is one of the few places in the apartment where we could get some sunshine for just a few glorious hours.

Unfortunately, there are like 5 pastry shops within a 4 minute walk from my front door.    Des and I have very tiny amounts of willpower when it comes to sweets, but I will report that, as with any situation where you are constantly bombarded with something, you kind of get used to it and the sights and smells of all the pastry shops don't hit me beautifully in the heart/gut/soul as they used to.  This picture is of the best of the bunch: La Mistral.
Eating a meringue half the size of his head.

 As I've mentioned before, I've looked at a lot of the family- and kid-centered websites from Barcelona and through one, I found mention of a little place sort of close to us (a 15-minute brisk walk) called La Marelle.  It is so cute...it's run by this French woman named Alex and she holds kid-centered art and craft classes there during the week.  The space is also open at other times as a place for parents to sit and have coffee and eat some treats while their kids play with the multitude of toys strewn all over the place.  Des loves it there and even though it is chaotic, I love that he's surrounded by children and parents speaking a multitude of different languages.

Des on his favorite bouncy horse toy at La Marelle.
In an arts and crafts class at La Marelle.  Do you wanna know what he says to little girls (and women...especially the women who work at the corner markets and give him pops)?  Hola Guapa (it comes out sounding like "Oa Gapa," which means, Hi Beautiful.)

 We are lucky to live just a 6-minute walk to a humble little park near our favorite bookstore (La Central del Raval) and from 3 cafes with outdoor seating that surround it.  Although we are lucky to live so near a park, it isn't close to anything like the parks we used to have in our little town of Maplewood, MO.  Maybe it's the American penchant for bigger is better, but these little parks are so...little.  There isn't much equipment and each one we've seen just has dirt covering it.  I guess it's back to the basics and the realization that kids don't need a lot to have a great old time.  Picture below proves it.

Go ahead and click it and enlarge it.  Des's smile will brighten up your face for at least a few seconds.  You deserve it.

 Another few minutes walk in the opposite direction and you have what looks like a quintessential European cities...complete with large fountains in large plazas surrounded by beautiful large buildings.

Plaza Catalunya.

Plaza Catalunya.
 Depending on how far we plan to walk that day, I sometimes will wear Des on my back while sightseeing.  Since I haven't done an ounce of exercise besides walking, it makes me feel that I'm accomplishing some cardiovascular activity while going about my day.  But I tell you what, it is hard work carrying around a 30 pounder.  Makes me long for the days when I would just wear him in the maya wrap all snuggled up against my chest.  Ladies, take my advice.  Planning to be a mom and worried that you will never travel?  Do as much of it as you can with your little baby because the little babies grow up to be kicky, whiny, growly, amazing little beings with a will of their own and it becomes very difficult to just pick them up and go anywhere.  So do it now!

Oh, what?  This little old building?  It's nothing...Just the Petit Palau, an architectural gem, just down the street from me.  No biggie.

 So pretty much, we live in a cool neighborhood and are slowly assimilating and acclimating to our lives here.  We are even starting to incorporate "Vale" (an almost ubiquitous word that means the same as OK) into our lexicon.  Even Des is starting to say it, although it sounds like "bolly bolly."

Thanks for reading my silly posts!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Culture Shock has set in

We just finished our second full week in this beautiful city.  One thing that has struck me the most is the cultural difference between Spaniards (los Espanoles/Catalanes) and other Spanish speakers (los Latinos - from everywhere else but Spain).  I belong to the latter group and the cultural differences between my culture (Colombian/Dominican/American) and that of the Spaniards who live here is quite striking.  I expected to feel more at home in this European country than any other European country.  However, people here are a bit more reserved, a bit more "European," than the Latinos that populate the other part of the Western hemisphere.  For example, in Colombia, every child learns from the get-go to greet everybody.  "Buenos Dias" and "Buenas Tardes" becomes one of the first things a child learns how to say and the first thing they say upon seeing someone for the first time that day, whether it's grandma or the lady at the supermarket.  However, when I do the same here and follow up with a "Como esta?" (How are you?), I'm given blank stares, as if the prescribed flow of employee-to-customer relations has been disrupted.  Usually, I'm greeted with a less-than-enthusiastic "Hola," followed by the command, "Dime!" which means, "tell me!" (what do you need/want).  I'm sure it's not them being rude, but being used to living in an American service-oriented culture and being raised in a (maybe overly) polite Hispanic culture means that I have some skewed preconceived notions of how a society should work...or maybe it is that people here just aren't that polite.

The woman from whom we rent our place, Maribel, is from Southern Spain and she tells us that people from there are a lot different than Catalan people.  She says that the popular notion of the hot-blooded Spaniard comes from the Andalucia region (where flamenco, guitars, oranges, and mosques-turned-churches-turned-castles all reside).  A person from Catalunya is more reserved and keeps you at arm's length, but the saying goes that once you have made a friend of a Catalan, they are your friend forever.  I don't think that will happen for us...we aren't going to spend enough time to befriend these cold Spaniards...but here's to hoping we'll leave this country having made a few life-long friends.  It's always nice and I always like to leave those sprinkled around the world.

OK...so, our second week was a ton better than our first week because we actually caught up on our sleep (or at least I did...I've been waking up before 8 on my own several days in a row now.  I haven't done that since I was a kid).  Our first major outing for the week was to the Museo d'Historia de Barcelona.

You can see the beginning of the second arch that wasn't preserved on the uppermost left part of the standing column.  These walls date back to Roman Empire times and used to surround the (smaller) city of Barcelona (Barcino to the Romans - pronounced BAR-kee-no).

You could get lost in the Barri Gotic...just like we did.  We have yet to get data plans for our phones, so our navigation consists of Google Maps directions written on paper, just like we had to do pre-google maps and Mapquest.  However, look up Barri Gothic on Google Maps and you will see that there are so many winding streets and alleyways that you can easily get lost even with directions.

Entering Barri Gothic.

Part of the column and wall that surrounded the city in Roman times.  Right near the one entrance to Barri Gothic are metal sculptures that spell out B-A-R-C-I-N-O.  Des is leaning against the O.

I would die for a courtyard, replete with fountain and mosaic tiling, in my house.  

Once you enter the museum, you go down a bunch of steps to an actual excavation site of ancient Barcino.  I guess that the museum actually used to be a church, which used to be part of a palace, which used to be the part of Barcino that was closest to the outer wall surrounding the city.  Those holes in the ground were big containers that were used to either store wine or to make this weird delicacy (called grummum?) that was made out of fish offal mixed with other stuff.  
Oh, and also learned that people would pee in these little aqueducts in the road, which led the urine into a room where laundry would be done in the town.  The urine would provide the ammonia necessary to bleach linens when combined with things like lye.  Pretty smart.

At the end of the museum, there is a permanent cinema technology exhibit.  Might sound too technical, but I tell you.  It is not boring.  It's fascinating to see how the "moving picture show" came to be, since puppet shadow boxes in the 1700s to the Lumiere video cameras of this past century (shown in this picture).  

Another day, we decided to indulge in Desmond's inherited sweet tooth (finally...something he and I could bond over!) and took him to the Museo de Chocolate in El Borne.  But first, we absolutely needed to get something to eat primarily because I was hangry and didn't want my hunger to affect my loving relationship with my husband and son and to affect my willpower at the chocolate museum.  We decided to go to Bar del Convent, which is literally right next door to the museum.  We've read about the charming cafe online and how parents love it because it's spacious and has kids' toys available for the kiddos.

The outside seating area.  Stunning, isn't it?  There is also a large courtyard (to the right of the picture) with plenty of space for children to run around while the parents have some cafe amb lloc (cafe au lait in Catalan).  The food here was pretty tasty: I had the quiche and Billy had a bocadillo (sandwich).  They usually have a plato del dia (plate of the day), which consists of salad, main course, and dessert/coffee, but we got there a bit too late.
Here is the courtyard of the Bar del Convent at night.  The bar/cafe is straight through those doors and the museo de chocolate is to the left of the picture.

In the Museo, they showed the history of chocolate making and how it originated in the new world (usually made as a bitter drink) and was taken back to the old world (where Europeans' palates couldn't take much of the bitterness, so they added fat (milk) and sugar to sweeten it into a version of what we all know and love today).  Also displayed in the museum was artistic pieces made out of chocolate.  Above is one artists rendition of the Pieta.  

Los Pitufos!

New Orleans needs a chocolate Louis Armstrong sculpture.  Maybe we'll have something similar for our vow renewal ceremony.

 Also, when you buy tickets to the museum, they come in the form of chocolate bars.  Totally made the price worth it.

Finally, we took another afternoon trip to see the Disseny Hub, an innovation and design museum.  We boarded the L3 metro towards the Palau Reial (also the exit to get to Camp Nou, FC Barcelona's stadium). As we walked into the gardens that led into the museum, we saw that the museum had been moved to a new location (new location?  What???  Where???)  Since we still did not have any wifi on our phones, we couldn't do a quick check to see where it was and how to get there.  We debated going back home, but decided to stick it out and go to the Ceramic Museum (we both yawned when we read "Ceramic Museum.")

On the grounds of the Palau Reial.

We took the elevator instead of the stairs.  If you go here, take the elevator.  It's one of those old-fashioned ones with a cushioned seat and one of those doors that you manually have to close so that it could go up or down.

Example of 15th century ceramics with the royal family's coat of arms.  Lots of ceramics were inspired by those made by Muslim artisans.  

Once in a while, Des does actually get bored in museums.  I guess ceramics aren't his thing.
Although there are some examples of beautiful craftsmanship (see the two pictures above this one), there are some pieces that make you wonder how much money the owner paid to commission something like this.  Either the artist was that bad or...

the subject was that awful looking.

At first glance, you think, oh, nice-looking plate...Good detail of the knight's (?) suit...and then you take a closer look at his sinister face.

Precursor to the Guy Fawkes mask.

The museum has interesting pictures sprinkled throughout the exhibits of past visitors "enjoying" themselves at the museum.  Such as this one.

Take a look at this closely.  Go on.  What do you see?  Is that poo coming out of that guy's bare butt?  And is he playing a tune while it happens?

And what do you think is going on here?  The first recorded instance of pantsing.

We actually had a great time at the Ceramics Museum.  There were several beautiful ancient and contemporary pieces and I learned a lot about the different types of ceramics.  Makes me want to plaster them all over my future kitchen wall.  Especially if they look like the last two pictures.  After the ceramic museum, we decided to stop into a placed called Pudding, which is a restaurant/cafe aimed at kids and teenagers.  Don't let that stop you from going, though.  It is amazing.  The decor makes you feel like you've entered an Alice in Wonderland circus show, minus the freaks, but with an English tea shop twist.  

This is the "kids'" area, at the back of the restaurant and down a level.  You could barely make out the red and white striped cloth that covers the entire ceiling of the upstairs portion.
I loved this wall.  Seen as you're walking down the stairs.

They had a little play area with Legos and trains that immediately drew Des's attention.

There is also a giant blackboard so that kids can write and draw.  If they're into something more digital and less analog, the cafe lets kids borrow ipads while they are there.

We ate underneath these giant mushrooms.  We ordered the menu del dia (Billy had a hamburger and I had quiche, again, with a delicious side salad and some dessert for around 11 Euros each...a bit pricey, but they also have menus that only include the main dish or the main dish with salad).  There are also all sorts of children's books in different languages and table and board games.  

And that was the main happenings for this week for this little family...until next week!