When napkin sticks to
Ice cream cone, what choice is there
But to eat paper?
When napkin sticks to
Ice cream cone, what choice is there
But to eat paper?
Looking sharp in our new hats, Rachel and I browsed a few more shops in the Gothic Quarter before stopping for lunch at a restaurant called Momo, the name of which, reflected in glass amused me greatly and would actually make a great restaurant name. Omomnom…
Full of paella and sangria, we continued in our pursuit of Spanish souvenirs be returning to La Vientinueve, which we had visited during our first day in the city. Since we’d purchased a suitcase to bring home our wine, that meant we also had space for shoes and other items. La Vientinueve has a plethora of adorable dresses, skirts, and accessories, but the shoes are the real stars of this shop–colorful, unique, and made in Barcelona. Rachel tried on one pair and quickly determined those were the ones for her. I had a little more trouble making a decision.
I think I surprised everyone in the store when I finally made up my mind and only bought one pair (along with a dress and some sunglasses). Truth be told, if money and packing real estate had not been concerns, I could have easily gotten about five pairs (*pats self on back for exercising restraint*).
We hit a few more shops then headed back to the hotel to drop off our treasures and clean up before our much-anticipated fancy dinner that night at Monvinic. Unfortunately, the restaurant didn’t quite live up to our expectations. First, in order for one person to do the tasting menu, everyone at the table has to order it (which isn’t unusual, but I’ve never understood why this is the case), and they said they could not do a vegetarian tasting menu. Anyhow, I ordered an asparagus salad and the morel stew. Since I’d asked about vegetarian tasting, the server was nice enough to inform me that the morel stew had veal broth in it, which was not mentioned on the menu (again, not unusual in that regard) but that they could prepare a vegetarian version of it. Great!
One of the purported strengths of this restaurant was the extensive wine list and the sommelier to assist in pairing wine with food. The sommelier came along and first asked if we were thinking of getting a bottle or ordering glasses. We told him glasses, thinking perhaps we could dry a few different things that way. Then he asked if we wanted red or white. I said I liked both and was open to whatever he thought might go best with the food I ordered. “Red or white?” he asked again.
“Well, I guess I probably favor red somewhat, but I’m flexible.”
“Red then,” he said and began scrolling through menus on his iPad. “I would recommend this Tempranillo…”
“Oh…” I said. He’d hit on the one type of red wine I know doesn’t agree with me. I like it just fine, but after a few instances of having one or two glasses of it and being very sick the next day, I’ve learned to avoid it. I laughed and gently explained, but the sommelier seemed to take personal offense at my rejecting his suggestion. He turned again to his iPad and recommended another wine (the type of which escapes me) and I said that would be great. When Rachel asked what the sommelier would recommend with her order, he again seemed shocked and confused that we would want to order different things. Why this should be an odd concept to a sommelier, I have no idea. Ultimately, Rachel just said she’d have the same thing I’d ordered.
The wine, whatever it was, was good. I’ll say that much, even though I had been less than impressed with the process of getting it. My asparagus salad was also excellent. When the main dishes arrived, I was rather put off to see a large fried egg right in the center of my morel stew–another thing that had not been mentioned in the description on the menu–and this one I can fault them for. I’m a lacto-ovo vegetarian, so technically, I eat eggs, but only if I can’t taste them. I’m down with eggs baked into cookies or cakes, but I despise the taste of eggs more than anything else I can think of. I ate around the egg, and the rest of the stew was quite good. I know could have sent it back, and I probably should have, but for whatever reason, I didn’t feel like the bother. We declined looking at the dessert menu, instead deciding to cut our losses and go out in search of gelato and found it at Gelats Dino.
Not quite ready to call it a night yet, we strolled around with our cones and decided to seek out the Arc de Triomf, which we knew was somewhere in the vicinity. Besides, if I saw one in Barcelona, I knew I’d only need one more to have a collection. Since we’re apparently gluttons for punishment, we consulted Google Maps, which then seemed to indiscriminately pick directions for us to turn at random times. We literally went in circles until we finally spotted a sign on the street that pointed us in the right direction, and we found the Arc…triumphantly!
After four nights in our hotel, I finally was able to remember which switch on the wall next to my bed corresponded to the bedside lamp and which controlled the room’s main lights. With this accomplishment, Rachel bestowed upon me the title Queen of Spain. It’s possible she does not actually have the authority to grant such a title, but I had no readily available proof that she didn’t, so I gladly accepted it.
We began our day with breakfast at the hotel, which, I don’t believe I’ve mentioned before was the Ayre Hotel Gran Vía, but owing to some humorous garbling in my brain, we had come to refer to as the Ariana Grande Hotel. Anyhow, the breakfast buffet was good, despite being somewhat treacherous (at least for a grace-challenged person like me) by tables placed too close together. It included chilled cava, so we could see no reason not to make ourselves mimosas to toast my coronation. There was a minor incident when I pressed the cappuccino button on the magic coffee machine and received only hot milk. Eager to remedy this grievous error, I pressed the espresso button, which delivered the sought-after caffeinated liquid but caused my cup to overflow and created a bit of a mess. How thoroughly embarrassing on the first day of my reign!
Next on our itinerary was a visit to Park Güell. To get there, we climbed numerous hills and roughly half the stairs in the world. In the middle of one of the staircases, we encountered a man who apparently thought it was the perfect time and place to initiate some sort of packing reorganization project. He had taken the contents of several plastic bags (bottles of soda and sundry items) and spread them out across most of the width of the steps (-1 point for lack of self-awareness, dude). All that aside, Park Güell was really cool and made me feel vaguely like I had stepped inside a Dr. Seuss book, albeit with less rhyming.
When we finished exploring the park, we set off in search of snacks, persevering through additional skirmishes with Google Maps and managing to evade a woman on the street who seemed to be trying her best to light us on fire with her cigarette (-1 point for lack of self-awareness, -1 point for attempted incendiarism of pedestrians). But it was all worth it, for, to the victors went the churros!
Since my vacations tend to feel incomplete without a visit to a local hat shop, we went next to Sombreria Mil. Upon entering the store, I knew I was about to undertake a marathon of trying on hats, so I removed the hat I’d been wearing, stuffed it into my purse, and got right to work. A few minutes in, while attempting to extricate a particular hat from a stack, I knocked over a foam mannequin head and sent a different stack of hats toppling to the floor. Then, in trying to tidy up that mess, I managed to drop the hats I’d been holding from the first stack. A shop employee rushed over to tend to the situation. Although I apologized profusely, she simply shot me a death glare and went about restoring order.
I shrugged it off, thinking that perhaps she was just having a bad day, and again began my quest of determining which hat would come home with me. Rachel also continued to try on hats, even though she’d all but decided she was going to buy the first one she’d tried on (which, I do have to say, was adorable). All this time, I couldn’t help but feel that the shop-tender was still giving me the stink-eye. Granted, I was a bumbling tourist who’d knocked some stuff over. Some righteous annoyance at me was reasonable, but I wasn’t sure I deserved the amount of ire conveyed by her glowers. After several minutes of this, I finally made eye contact with her, confronting her glare, and giving her a look as if to say What?!
“Could you open your bag, please?” she snapped.
That’s when it hit me. She must have glimpsed me stuffing my hat in my purse after entering the shop and thought I was stealing. “Oh!” I said, opening my bag wide and pulling out the hat. “I was wearing this when I came in!” I held it out for her to see, practically inviting her to examine the sweat stains and feel the slightly gritty film on it from being accidentally immersed in the sea the previous day. The woman’s face relaxed, she apologized, and the rest of the shop visit passed very pleasantly. Rachel and I both left with new (fully paid-for) hats.
We had a tour booked for Sunday, so there was no sleeping for 11 hours that night. I awoke after having dreamed of getting a sunburn, so I slathered on sunscreen despite the heavy cloud cover. As we readied ourselves to got out, I discovered that the hairdryer in our room, which had been fine the day before, no longer funtioned. Actually, that’s not entirely true. It worked, but only for approximately three seconds at a time. I sighed, pulled my hair back, and gave a wave to my secret surveillers, as I was now sure that somewhere, people were messing with me. In fact, they were probably going to steal my awesome Super Meerkat idea and make millions. 😦
We got on the tour bus that took us to Montserrat. Unfortunately, a thick fog obscured much of our would-be view, but that was actually kind of cool in its own way.
By early afternoon, some of the fog had cleared, and we got to see some of the previously obscured scenery before we got back on the tour bus.
On our way to the winery, we passed by the Saint Bernard Convent, which naturally sparked in me a mental image of Saint Bernard dogs dressed in habits. We also passed a ferreteria, which is Spanish for hardware store, but what came to my mind was an eating establishment for ferrets. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could weave all my goofy mental images from this trip into one story…
The sisters of Saint Bernard Convent are shocked to discover that their storeroom has been robbed! Someone has taken the entire supply of brandy that was kept on hand to refill the little barrels around their necks. A few of the pooches trot down the road to the ferreteria to ask if anyone there had heard or seen anything suspicious in the area. The ferrets tell the sisters that they hadn’t noticed any unusual activity, but they still want to help, so they call on their cousin, Super Meerkat. She uses her truth-seeing powers to uncover the thief and return the brandy to the Saint Bernards.
I would totally watch this movie.
Before long, we arrived at Parés Balta, where we toured the grounds and sampled some of their wines, all of which we wanted to take home. Our tour guide referred us to a wine price sheet that also listed shipping costs by destination and number of bottles. She was also sure to note that they also sold suitcases at the winery and would pack up any purchased wine to minimize the chances for breakage en route. I must say, this was a pretty brilliant move on the part of Parés Balta. Whereas shipping 6 bottles of wine to Chicago would have cost €98, the suitcases were €20. Sold! As a bonus, there would be room left in the suitcase for some shoes we’d seen during the first day of the trip.
Went to yoga class
Tonight: free bonus produce
I had briefly toyed with the idea of setting an alarm for Saturday morning so Rachel and I could get a (relatively) early start and make the most of the day, but I decided against it— we probably needed to catch up on sleep to feel our best. With the blackout curtains in the hotel room closed, I had no clue as to the time when I awoke. I rolled over and looked at my phone. Holy moly! We had slept eleven hours! Ah, well, maybe with such a good night’s rest, we’d have our jet-lag licked.
Before we headed out for the day, I went to retrieve some of my cash from the room safe, but when I keyed in the code I’d set the previous night, the safe merely beeped at me and did not open. I punched in the code again with the same result. I tried again with a different set of numbers, thinking that I was miss-remembering and had used something other than my usual hotel safe code. More beeping. No opening. I sighed and decided to deal with it later. Someone at the hotel would be able to help…or we’d be forced to stay in Barcelona forever because the safe held our passports. Either way, it wasn’t urgent at that moment.
We left the hotel in search of some breakfast (or at that point, more like lunch), unwittingly embarking on our first of many Google Maps Follies. On Friday, our navigation efforts had been fairly successful, all things considered, and I’d attributed any minor hiccups to our lack of sleep and jet-lag. But that Saturday, we discovered that even Google Maps gets confused by roundabouts, which further supports my position that the damn things really should not exist.
After turning around a few times and thoroughly confusing ourselves, we abandoned our attempt to find our Plan A destination and sought a different café as Plan B. We managed to find that one, but it was closed for the holiday. By then, we were rolling with the punches and quickly devised Plan C. This took us back toward the dreaded roundabout. We ignored Google’s directions until we had traversed the circle of peril, then waited for the app to recombobulate. From there, things were somewhat better—only a few times were we told to turn where there were no roads. When we had (according to Google Maps, which I was rapidly losing faith in) almost reached Plan C, we happened by Plan A. Go figure. We took a look at it but decided to continue on to Plan C (since it was so close) and eat at whichever place looked more inviting. Plan C—also known as Cometa—won out. Coffee, ginger orange juice, and delicious sandwiches for the hard-fought win!
After eating we walked over the Barcelona Cathedral. Thankfully, navigation was not an issue because all we had to do is look up toward the towers to know we were heading in the right direction.
We’d read up on the cathedral beforehand and, although we were both wearing sleeveless dresses, we’d come equipped with clothing to cover our shoulders and respect the establishment’s dress code. Indeed, there were guards at the entrance enforcing the code (as well as people just outside selling scarves for anyone who came unprepared). I donned my wrap and went in. Although I tend to be the first person in any room to feel chilly and the last to get overheated, it was June in Barcelona, so it was hot. And humid. And it’s amazing how weighty a thin shawl can suddenly feel in such an environment.
The cathedral was beautiful, but before long, sweltering discomfort began to detract from the experience. Around me, I noticed several people who had bucked the customs and shed whatever garments they had put on before entering. I shot them the stink-eye, felt just a little morally superior, and fanned myself a little harder with the cathedral map. We got a reprieve from the heat when we took the elevator to the top of the building and got to enjoy a nice breeze along with the lovely views.
Purportedly, the cathedral is home to a unique unicorn gargoyle, but we couldn’t find it (maybe we should have consulted Google Maps!. After a while, we had to halt our search in favor of seeking out hydration and electrolyte replacement.
We then took the metro toward our next destination, La Sagrada Familia. It was truly amazing. I’ve visited my fair share of beautiful churches—Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and St. Paul’s to name a few—and what I can tell you is that La Sagrada Familia is astonishingly beautiful in a totally different way. Somehow its disparate styles blend to harmonize, rather then creating a discordant mess, and the tree-like columns on the inside make you believe you’ve entered an enchanted forest.
After visiting two churches that day, we decided it was time for just a little bit of debauchery, so we stopped at Marmalade, where I ordered, what else but the porn star martini. It was seriously one of the most delicious cocktails I’ve ever had.
Next, we had dinner at Sésamo, which was beautiful and delicious from start to finish.
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a supermercat to get a bottle of wine to take with us. I mention this only because these shops were all over the place, and I simply must share the mental imaged they evoked in me. Every time I saw one of the signs, I thought Super Meerkat and pictured a meerkat with a cape and perhaps a little eye mask. Naturally, her special power is super vision, such that she can see people’s thoughts, even from way across the prairie. You cannot hide the truth from Super Meerkat!
When we returned to the hotel, I called for help regarding the room safe. A man arrived at our room promptly, and I quickly reiterated the problem to him.
“Do you know how the safe works?” he asked.
Considering that I’ve used many a hotel safe and that the instructions are clearly printed (in English) on the front of the safe, I was pretty sure that the problem was not user error. Then again, my mind hadn’t exactly been razor sharp the previous day. “Well, I thought I did,” I said with a smidge (OK, maybe slightly more than a smidge) of defensiveness.
Long story short, the hotel employee got the safe open and walked me through the process of setting the code, after which time it seemed to work properly. I still swear I’d performed the same steps the day before, so I opened my mind to the possibility that hotel staff members (along with those at Google Maps) were messing with Rachel and me, secretly recording our gaffes for entertainment purposes. Anyhow, since the safe was working, we no longer had the can’t-get-to-our-passports excuse for staying in Barcelona indefinitely. Thankfully, we still had several days of vacation left.
We began our final full day in Ireland with breakfast at Herbstreet in Dublin. My waffles with fresh berries and clotted cream were delicious, despite the fact that I strongly feel that clotted is one of the least appetizing words in the English language and really has no place on a menu.
After breakfast, we went to Trinity College, where we saw the Book of Kells, which was pretty amazing and a tough act to follow. But I could have sworn I heard a choir of angels singing as I entered the Long Room and beheld more old books than I could likely read in a lifetime…although I do enjoy a challenge.
Our self-guided walking tour of Dublin continued with stops at Christchurch Cathedral and Dublin Castle. We intended to visit the Jameson distillery, but it turned out to be closed for re-development.
We had also planned to tour the Kilmainham Gaol, but we didn’t plan quite well enough–tickets for the day were sold out by the time we arrived. Since we were all ready there, we perused the museum there for a while, and that was quite interesting.
From there, we headed to the Guinness Storehouse, where we took a tour and had drinks in the Gravity Bar, which offers 360-degree views of Dublin. I’ve taken quite a few brewery tours in my day and the brewing of beer occurs regularly in my kitchen, so frankly, learning about the brewing process is not all that interesting or novel to me. That said, I really enjoyed the Guinness tour. The building itself and the exhibits are impressive, and the tour was structured so that, for the most part, you could go through at your own pace.
At the conclusion of the tour, you have the option of (after brief instruction) being able to pull your own pint or to have one pulled for you in the Gravity Bar. We opted for the latter, mainly because I figured (incorrectly, as it turned out) that the bar might have options other than Guinness. Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of Guinness (*gasp*!). I don’t hate it–it’s just not my thing. I think it has something to do with the fact that when I look at it, I expect something chocolate–not something with hints or notes of chocolate but rather some serious, deep, dark chocolatey goodness–and am invariably disappointed. And frankly, the assumption that everyone who takes the tour and is not a child would want a Guinness seems a bit short-sighted, but oh well. I drank a little, and my companions finished my portion.
After loading up on Guinness-themed souvenirs, we sought out food at Against the Grain and then headed back to the apartment to pack up. Packing is never particularly fun, and according to my FitBit, we had racked up more than 30,000 stops that day, so a couple of beers seemed well deserved. As we drank and packed, we pondered exactly what had compelled us to buy quite so much beer. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but there was no way we were going to finish it all. Ah well, hopefully the next occupants of the apartment enjoyed it.