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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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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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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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Parc y Jardin

We visited two different gardens in Barcelona. The first, Parc del Laberint d’Horta, was near our hostel. While we were in the labyrinth, there was a group of developmentally disabled adults who were thoroughly enjoying their outing. There was also a large group of school children. From their vantage point above, the kids shouted to us (in English!) which directions we should turn. We pretended not to be able to hear them well and took many wrong turns, which resulted in shrieks of dismay.

The second garden was on the coast, overlooking the cruise ship docks and was called Jardins de Mossèn Costa i Llobera. It was full of cacti and palm trees and exotic (to us) flowers. We stumbled across it by accident while looking for the way to a funicular.

The last picture in this series was an accident, but we liked it a lot.

31
May 2012
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Views from Above: Barcelona

Views of Barcelona from Park Güell and Sagrada Familia.

31
May 2012
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Feet Up Hostel, Barcelona

We arrived in Barcelona on the overnight train. The bunks were sold out, so we were sentenced to sit upright for the eight hour journey. We watched a golden sunrise over fields, palm trees and the Mediterranean as the train crawled the last leg along the coast towards the city. A few photos were attempted, but it was quickly abandoned in favor of soaking up the beauty of this new place. We had only traveled 300 miles, but Madrid felt just as far away as Iowa.

Our hostel was on the northwestern edge of Barcelona. It had good reviews on hostelworld.com and was priced a few Euros less than the massive party hostels closer to the center. Plus, it was called Feet Up Hostel and they had a hammock. So, clearly, this was where we were going to stay.

We spent six days there and it was truly a home away from home. We met some wonderful people, had great late night conversations in the courtyard, cooked dinner most evenings in the kitchen and ate it on the rooftop, and had coffee and pastries at “our” neighborhood bakery every morning on our way to the metro.

30
May 2012
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May 2012
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Food in Madrid – part 1

Tortilla Española, bocadillos, calimares, olives, boquerones, olives and very cheap wine. And ham. Oh, the ham.

30
May 2012
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Places to Eat

Our time in Spain would not have been nearly as enjoyable if our friend Crissa had not given us a list of must-eat foods. Also, Alicia’s friend Alicia (not a typo) recommended a great pastry shop, La Mallorquina, which ended up being only two blocks from our hostel and one we would return to almost daily. Here are some photos of places where we ate (and some places we just poked our heads into).

30
May 2012
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Street Performers

Madrid is the home of many street performers and musicians, ranging from an old lady singing karaoke at the bottom of a subway escalator to scary baby clowns that frighten children.

30
May 2012
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Almudena Cathedral

Santa María la Real de La Almudena is right next to Palacio Real, so it was an easy decision to take the time to visit. For a European cathedral, it’s brand-new (glasses on one of the figures in the relief sculpture on the main exterior doors is an easy giveaway). Construction began in 1879, and after a big gap in construction during and after the Spanish Civil War, it wasn’t finished until 1993. The facade was designed to match the palace.

23
May 2012
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Virgen de la Cabeza de Madrid

On our first day in Madrid, we heard a procesiona in the distance and followed our ears to the source.

23
May 2012
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The ground is lava.

Here is a park we found while wandering along the Manzanares River in Madrid. It is the perfect playground to host a really challenging game of tag. Or “the ground is lava.” (Everyone has played that before, right??) We mostly lounged in the big rope web.

-A

23
May 2012
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Misc in Madrid.

Strolling through Parque de Retiro. The vertical garden. The Egyptian Temple of Debod. The courtyard at the Royal Palace. Tony waiting in the rain for the photographer’s vision.

18
May 2012
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Madrileños

Random passersby from our hostel window. People at Plaza Mayor. Dog walkers. Restaurateurs on their smoke break. Weird old dude throwing bits of meat to stray cats and pigeons. A random juxtaposition on a metro platform. And our favorite sight, neighborhood guys giving each other BS in the bar on their lunch break.

17
May 2012
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El Peluquero

The mop was due for a mow by the time we got to Madrid, so I decided to check out this little place close to Plaza Mayor. The first chair that opened up was closest to the window and looked like it belonged to the patriarch of the crew. He was just tall enough to look me in the eye while I was sitting in the chair and he knew about as much English as I knew Spanish.

I rubbed my hand over the top of my head, showed him about a half-inch between my thumb and forefinger and said “un poco.” Then along the sides and back, reducing the visual measurement down to 1/16 of an inch and said “mucho poco.” He smiled and nodded, combed a bit to size up the situation, then started working a few choice snips with his right hand without any guidance from the comb in his left.

His wall was covered in photos of what I assume were locally famous guys, some looked like politicians and soccer players, all sitting in the same vintage chair I was in. He started in with the buzzers then immediately stopped, removed the attachment, showed it to me and said “tres“. I pointed at the bare buzzer, which received a concerned look, so I pointed to the hair behind my ear and said “Uno… dos… tres…” slowly dragging my finger up the side my head. He nodded giving a big smile of approval and got to work.

Back to studying the photos… There was a smaller one in an older frame that wasn’t grouped with the others. It didn’t quite have that vintage orange haze that you could replicate on Instagram, but was a little out of focus and maybe 40 years old. It showed three men all wearing white smocks, one quite a bit older between the other two, and the short one on the left looked a lot like a 25 year old version of the same peluquero who was just finishing up the tightest taper fade I’ve ever received.

17
May 2012
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Shot from the hip: El Palacio Real de Madrid

There are a lot of reasons why you shouldn’t take photos in museums. Maybe most of them are valid. Hundreds of thousands of flashbulbs on a daily basis can degrade the art. If you take a picture, maybe you won’t buy a postcard at the gift shop, thus depriving the museum of additional revenue. Maybe your photo-taking distracts from your (and your fellow visitors’) experience. Maybe your photos are only crude captures of masterpieces. Maybe people will see your lame photos and decide they don’t need to see it for themselves.

El Palacio Real de Madrid (the Royal Palace of Madrid) doesn’t allow photos, probably for most of those reasons above. We kept the flash off and our backs to the security guards. Here are the photos that weren’t too blurry or partially obscured by the ropes that keep the the fancy stuff safely out of reach. It’s amazingly ornate. If you’re ever in Madrid, it’s definitely worth the entrance fee. And buy a postcard while you’re at it.

13
May 2012
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Los Amigos

In Iceland we spent two nights in a guesthouse, two nights Couchsurfing, and one night in a hotel. In Scotland we stayed with friends in a historic mansion. Spain has been all hosteling so far. By popular request (hi mom), here is what it’s like to stay in a hostel.

Los Amigos Hostel on Calle de Arenal, between the Sol and Opera metro stops, and is on the fourth floor. It’s just a few blocks from El Palacio Real and Plaza Mayor. From what we can tell, it has 50 or 60 beds. Rooms have anywhere from two twin beds to six bunks. The smaller rooms have their own bathroom, but the bigger rooms all share a co-ed community bathroom. Your bed includes a fitted sheet, a top sheet (sewn together at the bottom, kind of like an unzipped sleeping bag), a pillow, and a comforter with a duvet. The rooms all have lockers and you can either use your own padlock or rent one. Toast, cereal, tea, coffee and milk are served in the morning.

You can upgrade to a smaller room that has its own private bathroom, but we found that you felt bad taking a shower or using the bathroom for any extended period since you were still sharing it with other people, so we have been just staying in the 12 person room and using the co-ed bathroom. The shower stalls go down to your ankles and are deep enough that you can hang your clothes on the hook inside without them getting wet. Everyone is very respectful, so it’s not awkward at all.

The place isn’t spotless, but the housekeeper is sweeping and mopping and cleaning most of the day, so it’s about as good as it’s going to get with that many people coming through. It reminds me of camp in that respect.

We really like staying here. It’s actually pretty cosy. The front desk staff are all so friendly and speak English so they can help us out when we need it. Sometimes people come in late from partying and make too much noise, but that’s to be expected at any hostel. We didnt do much research, we pretty much just showed up and asked if they had two open beds. So that’s where we are.

02
May 2012
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