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Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Toulouse

On Saturday in Toulouse, we attempted to go to Carcassonne, but when we got to the station, the train tickets were sold out. So we bought our tickets for Monday instead, and wandered around town. We came across Cathédrale Saint-Étienne, pushed open a huge door and stepped into the dark entryway.

The Cathedral was cold and damp, dimly lit by the grey morning skies, and the carved stone floor was easy to trip over as it had been worn down unevenly by millions of footsteps over the last thousand years. Of all the houses of worship in Europe, it’s not considered a jewel of either art or architecture (in fact, it is considered to be rather oddly cobbled together over the years), but we were still in awe of the tangible saturation of time and devotion.

14
Jun 2012
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France

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Toulouse Hospitality

In January, Tony scheduled a tattoo appointment for May 11 in Toulouse. An old friend of his happens to live there, so he emailed her to see if she would like to meet us for coffee while we were in town. Sharla, her husband, Laurent, (and fancy kitty friend Eugenie) ended up hosting us for five days. Despite the fact that Tony hadn’t seen Sharla in over a decade, Alicia had never met her, and neither of us had met Laurent, we had a great time. Sharla took us to a sorta-almost-secret spot to look out over the city, to a great crepes place, and on an evening walk through the park. Also, she makes really, really good granola.

Laurent’s parents, Jean-Pierre and Anna, were determined that their son’s American guests would have the opportunity to sample the best of French cuisine, so they hosted us for lunch on Sunday. After meeting their teenage and half-century old tortoises, we had champagne and sampled a variety of canard delicacies. There was magret séché de canard (salt-cured duck breast), three types of duck sausage, crispy fried duck skin, and some foie gras Jean-Pierre potted himself. Then came wine and salad and delicious cassoulet, which featured more duck sausage and duck legs. Then five different types of cheeses, ice cream and chocolates for dessert, and a sampling of the sole remaining bottle of Laurent’s grandfather’s homemade plum liquor.

It was a marvelous feast and we enjoyed every bite. Toulouse duck is far and away more delicious than any wild Mississippi River duck. Thank you Sharla, Laurent and family very much for your kind hospitality!

(The dinner photos in this post are courtesy of Jean-Pierre.)

13
Jun 2012
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France

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Xampañería

For several days in Barcelona, we had been lamenting the fact that it would be a long time before we could walk down a street and see a familiar face. Alicia said, “I just want to run into someone I know today. Anyone. Wouldn’t that be so nice?” Late in the afternoon of this particular day we were tired and getting a little cranky. After walking way too far to check out the zoo, which ended up being more than we wanted to pay for “maybe this will be cool” late afternoon entertainment, the decision was made to just go back to our hostel on the opposite end of the city.

The closest metro stop was a few blocks away at Barceloneta. We walked less than a block and a familiar face showed up! That lightly bearded face belonged to Kristian who works at our hostel. When you meet him you feel like you’ve known him for years. Case in point – he immediately introduces us to Michael and Panos, whom I assumed were old buddies of his, but it turned out that he just met them at a Greek restaurant earlier that day. He was taking them to his favorite place, which he only referred to as the xampañería and invited us to come along. I had no idea what a xampañería was, but it sounded like a place where they serve champagne… so yes, let’s go there.

Five minutes away from where we met, he took us down a quiet, seemingly unused block to an unmarked bar with people literally spilling out the front. Kristian dives right into the crowd and forms a channel for us to push our way to the back and find a counter to lean against. The interior is unpretentious. A few cured whole hams hang from the ceiling among the industrial light fixtures and a large wooden sign revealing the name of the mystery bar – Can Paixano.

His xampañería turns out to be a cava bar. Cava is Catalonian champagne. It is pink, bubbly, delicious, costs about €1 per glass, and it’s the only thing served at Can Paixano other than the small plates of cheese and hot sausages they pair it with. Michael brought us up to speed with Greek politics. Kristian told us about leaving his home country of Cyprus in search of adventure elsewhere, which currently finds him in Barcelona. We told him a relatable story.

12
Jun 2012
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Spain

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Barcelona: Streets and People

A collection of people and street scenes in Barcelona, including a minor peaceful protest we encountered and a huge banner demanding that a leader of the protests be freed from jail. We loved the city and all of the unexpected beauty around every corner.

06
Jun 2012
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Spain

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Edible Barcelona

Most of these pictures are from Mercat St. Josep. You’ll see our favorite cheese (tetilla gallegago look up the translation if you want to learn a fun new Spanish word), bountiful produce and seafood, racy chocolates, “our” neighborhood bakery, and the harsh reality of delicious animal products. For our veg/vegan friends, we included two shots of some graffitti you might like.

05
Jun 2012
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Beach and Paella

We only had a few days left in Spain and still had not eaten any paella. So we spent a day walking the beach and picked a nearby paella restaurant at random. Alicia is not a big fan of invertebrates, but we both definitely found the pile of rice and tentacles and shells and tails and legs the be among our most delicious experiences to date.

05
Jun 2012
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Parc Güell

We visited Antoni Gaudi’s Parc Güell one evening. We started at the top of a very large hill (a series of escalators were very helpful in getting us there) and watched the sun set, then wound our way down to the main terrace. It was a fun end to a long day.

05
Jun 2012
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Sagrada Família

Sagrada Família was one of the places we knew we had to visit this year, even before we had any sort of an idea where were going or when. After a good night’s sleep, we headed down to the center of the city and planned to do nothing else that day.

It was gorgeous. We spent the entire afternoon with our necks craned back, staring at the column forest, the impossibly complex facades, and the tiny details of the relief carvings in the doors.

Sagrada Família has been under construction since 1882 and is scheduled to be completed in 2026. We’re thinking it would be worth a trip back to see it.

02
Jun 2012
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Spain

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