Eating Our Way Through Spain

Grab a Sangria!
First Sangria

Andy Note: This is a long story. Our vacation was ten days, and it might take that long for you to read this novella. Feel free to jump around, just look at the pictures, or go ahead and grab a sangria or three, a plate of “Jamón ibérico,” that’s Iberican ham to you English reading folks, and follow our journey of eating our way through Spain, and not running with bulls.

Hola! Where Are the Zombies!

Quick Jumps to…
San Sebastian
Bodega Donostiarra
Running of the Bulls
Park Guell, a.k.a. Whoville
I Had What Phil Had
La Sagrada Familia
La Barra de Carles Abellan
Montjuic Castle
Montserrat Monestary
BarCeloneta Sangria Bar
Complete Photo Album
Elephant Cloud in the Sky
Elephant Cloud from the Plane

It’s funny how a song, a taste, or a smell can bring back a memory, and on a recent excursion to Spain a smell, well, that was a memory I had never thought I would experience again. It occurred in Pamplona, for the running of the bulls, but we’ll get to that part of the story later.

Hello, Bilbao!

We left our humble abode in Chicago, had a quick layover in Munich, Germany, took a short flight to Bilbao, Spain, and all I could think as we were making our way through Bilbao airport was that this place would be perfect for some kind of zombie apocalypse movie. One of the window panes looked like a cart had rammed into it, you had to go to the special holding area if you were an international passenger, and then it was to the catacombs to secure your rental car.

Rental car secure, no zombies, it was on to San Sebastián!

Just Like the Amazing Race, but With Technology!

Here’s a helpful hint when it comes to travel in Spain: Get a car with navigation and ignore Google Maps.

In preparation for our travels I recommended to my wife that she print out directions. She obliged, and there we were, in our rental car, in a land of a different language, armed with written directions. I was supposed to navigate, I looked at the printed word, and said, “Let’s see if this car navigation works.”

To San Sebastian We Go

We got the directions plugged in, the map looked similar, and on to San Sebastián we went. Happily the nice lady in the dashboard knew exactly where she was going. She was able to do simple things like direct us to stay on the main road instead of exiting the highway, going through the exit roundabout, and then re-entering the same main road. Yes, somehow Google decided we should exit at every exit, go around in a circle, and get back on the highway.

My wife, bless her soul, was able to pay attention to the driving while my head was on a swivel looking at the scenery, shirking my navigation duties at times, and happily she safely got us to our hotel in San Sebastián, the Hotel Arrizul Congress. It was a quaint place, we were early, so they stored our luggage and directed us to the parking garage where, at the third sub-basement, I felt safe if the zombie apocalypse that would begin in Bilbao ever made it to San Sebastian.

Time to Explore!

Here’s another helpful hint when it comes to travel in Spain: Ask the hotel staff where to go.

We had done some prep work for our travels, the normal Trip Advisor and Rick Steves stuff, but nothing turned out more helpful than asking the people who live there where you should end up. When we asked as the front desk of the hotel what we should head off to see, the nice lady pulled out a map and pointed out the shopping area, the “Old Town” area, and then nicely circled the “this is where the locals eat” area, with a grin hinting, “You should go here.”

Tapas Time

And so we did. First stop was Ramuntxo Berri, a little restaurant where our first Sangria of the trip was consumed and a nice round of tapas. As we still had a few hours before our room would be ready we found a gelato shop and then…

Would You Look at That, and Those!

Zurriola Beach - San Sebastian, Spain
Zurriola Beach – San Sebastian, Spain

This only being my second trip to Europe, and my first near a beach area, the quick recollection that Europeans aren’t nearly hung up on nudity as Americans are took hold. Yup, as I saw the first one it occurred to me that my little feller hasn’t seen the sun since I ran out of the house, naked, when I was about five years old. There was that first one, then another, and another. Alrighty then, guess I should get used to seeing “that” at the beach. And then there were “those,” as yes, sunning one’s self with whatever amount, or lack of clothing you desire, is perfectly acceptable.

Time For a Tour

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the beach was just full of naked folks, but for me, the generic American, it was a little shocking. It also made me wonder why we are so hung up on nakedness. No one there seemed to care, so why should I?

Beach time over we found this little “train” that would take us around
San Sebastián, got the generic guided tour of the city, and finally found ourselves back at the hotel for check in.

When in San Sebastian… Pinxtos!

Settled in and unpacked, it was time for the tradition of San Sebastián, pintxos. Pintxos are kind of like appetizers just sitting there on a bar for you to partake in. Generally they are smaller than an order of tapas, kind of a “one bite” kind of thing.

This time we ignored the suggestion of our hotel staff and made it over to Old Town, I mean, we did need to see more than just where the locals ate, and Old Town is a neat area of San Sebastián.

Who Wants Some Pintxos! - Gandarias - San Sebastien
Who Wants Some Pintxos!

There was one recommendation that came up consistently for pintxos, Gandarias. We made our way across the river, got ourselves in the door, and proceeded to stand there like first-time tourists, not really knowing what to do, nor how we were supposed to order these things.

“We’re new. What do we do here with the pintxos?” The bartender looked at us like we were the dumbest people on earth. “I give you plate. You put pintxos on plate. You give me plate. I tell you how much. You pay. I give you plate back.”

Pintxos Time at Gandaria's - San Sebastian
Pintxos Time!

So we did. We put pintxos on our plate. We gave the bartender our plates (and ordered some Sangria), he told us how much, we paid, and he gave us our plates back along with our drinks.

Gandarias’ pintxos were pretty darn tasty I must say, but we didn’t want to fill up in one place so we decided to try a different method to find good pintxos around Old Town – We wandered around, looked inside places, and asked for a plate, put some on a plate, handed the plate to the bartender, to gave us a price, we paid, and he gave us our plate back.

This was mostly a mistake.

Sunset in San Sebastian
Sunset in San Sebastian

While Gandarias was a great pintxos spot, we should have checked out more online reviews before checking out other places. Yea, we hit a couple of other bars, both came up way short of Gandarias in the pintxos department, so we decided more of a dinner was in order. Where to go? Back to the local’s area, and this time Bodega Donostiarra.

Bodega Donostiarra

Squeezing our way into Bodega Donostiarra, the place was packed. This was a good sign.

After a short wait a table opened up, we perused the menu with our Google Translate app (Yea, we were the dummies who didn’t ask for the English menu), and settled on Merluza a la brasa, also known as grilled hake, as well as Tortilla recién hecha de patata, also known as the potato omelet. Oh yea, don’t forget dessert, the Copa Bodega, the Bodega special dessert (foam custard with biscuits and cream ice cream).

While we didn’t make it to any of the three star Michelin restaurants in San Sebastián, nor any of the one star Michelin restaurants for that matter, damn, Bodega Donostiarra served some tasty fare! No wacky molecular gastronomy, and don’t get me wrong I am a lover of molecular gastronomy, but this was just a completely satisfying meal, with frantic service, leaving one with a full-bellied walk home.

We’re Doing It Wrong

It was too short a stay in San Sebastián, only about 24 hours allotted on this leg, but we needed some sustenance prior to our drive to Pamplona. Where to go? Let’s not risk it, let’s get back to Bodega Donostiarra.

American Portions

Taking some table spots outside we perused the English menu this time, and like most Americans I suppose, ordered way too much food. There was a giant plate of ham as well as Huevos a la brasa (pisto, patata, jamón, chorizo y huevos), that’s grilled eggs with ratatouille, potatoes, ham and chorizo.

Then we looked around.

With the place being mostly locals, yup, most everyone else there had a small plate of ham, maybe some cheese, and a glass of wine. Many of them were in groups, chit-chatting away instead of stuffing their faces, and even the older lady, who sat by herself, only had a little plate of ham, a piece of bread, and a glass of wine.

The other thing? They all looked healthy.

Good Shepherd of San Sebastián Cathedral
He Didn’t Look Healthy – Good Shepherd of San Sebastián Cathedral

I looked at my wife, as I sat there with an over-stuffed belly and food left on the plate, and whispered to her, “We’re doing it wrong. Look at all of them. They have tiny portions, a glass of wine, and seem to be enjoying life. Here I am, wasting food, and hoping my belt makes it through this trip.”

Yea, I’m thinking for lunch I should take a little bottle of wine with some ham and cheese. I’m not sure if the company would go for that, but you know what, I would probably be happier, chit-chattier, and just enjoy the rest of my day a lot better.

Oh well, I took my belly full of food, my wife and it was time for Pamplona!

Some Recon and Eating in an Empty Restaurant

Do You Know the Way to Pamplona?

It would have been nice to stay another day or two in San Sebastián, but we had some driving to do in order to get to our next stop, Pamplona.

Be Careful Out There!

Once again the nice lady in the dashboard was dead-on with the directions, and the nice lady sitting next to me did a great job negotiating the “at the roundabout take the second right,” “at the roundabout take the second right,” “at the roundabout take the second right.” Yes, roundabout after roundabout after roundabout eventually led us to our hotel. We got settled, changed into our white outfits with red bandana, and it was time to scope out where our balcony for the running of the bulls was so that the next morning we wouldn’t be late.

Someone Is Not Dressed Appropriately

Our hotel was about a 25 minute walk to the old part of town where the bulls run and, as we walked, the guide books weren’t lying, everyone was dressed in white with red bandanas.

I mean darn near everyone.

Sangria Party in Pamplona!
Sangria Party in Pamplona!

Getting closer to town the crowds grew larger, and then, suddenly, it was just a sea of people, in appropriate attire, although many an outfit had now turned pink from being drenched in Sangria from the partying going on.

Too Much Partying

The amount of this partying was completely insane, or so I thought, and all I could really think was “Holy shit! This is crazy!” I also thought that next time I need to show up sans camera gear and just be there completely for the fun!

We strolled the streets through seas of people, and found our balcony spot secure in the path we would take the next morning. There were tents of souvenirs, an area where you could sample food from the across all of Spain, and people of every age enjoying themselves.

Dudes in Pamplona Calling me, "Soso."
They were calling me “Soso.” I think it means “Awesome.”

We walked around much of Pamplona eventually finding ourselves back at our hotel, and discovered a nice restaurant right across the street that was just opening. We had the place to ourselves for about half an hour until the local folks began to arrive for dinner.

American Dinner Time in Spain
American Dinner Time in Spain

All of the walking was tiring, but it did allow us to witness that the San Fermin festival wasn’t just going on in the old part of town. All across the city there were little parties happening in the myriad of parks along the way. It was nice seeing everyone just enjoying themselves, partying it up, but nothing would prepare me for the sights and smells of what was to come the next day.

A Smell Takes Me Back

The Party is Over in Pamplona. For Now.
The Party is Over in Pamplona. For Now.

Getting up the next day at a crazy hour, we had to be at the door to our balcony around 6:30AM, they were going to let us in at 7AM, and the bull running was at 8AM. As we strolled back into town the revelers who were partying the night before, and who didn’t care about the running of the bulls, were stumbling and bumbling their way back to their sleeping accommodations.

Time to Clean Up

It was like the walking dead. I remember that style of walk, and I was about the age of the people we walked past on the street when I had partaken in that same walk. Part of me wished I was that age again.

But then “it” arrived. That “smell.”

Hosing Down the Pamplona Streets
Hosing Down the Pamplona Streets

The memory of the aftermath of many a fraternity party from my younger days permeated the air as the smell of liquor, sweat, vomit, and who knows what other bodily functions began to penetrate my nostrils. If the aroma didn’t bring back such great memories it probably would be enough to make me want to vomit at times, but there I was, smiling, knowing the level of partying that must have been going on the night before.

It was awesome.

Our travel to the balcony area let us meet a few other couples who were there to see the running of the bulls. They were drawn to us by our certainty of where we were going as well as our conversing in English. All were amazed at the level of drunkenness, smell, and filth.

Again, to me, it was awesome!

What level of drunkenness you may ask? The easiest answer is the recollection of a dude with a half-full bottle of Jack Daniels. Yes, Jack in Spain. Wandering around he was a pretty happy dude, but then he saw it, in a pile of garbage destined for the trucks – A half-full bottle of Coca-Cola. My man dug right into the garbage pile, pulled out the bottle of Coke, and an ecstatic look of glee filled his face as he now had mixer.

As much fun as he was having, that was a level I had never seen.

Street Sweeping Pamplona
Street Sweeping in Pamplona

Drunk folks were everywhere, and the cleanup of the streets prior to the running of the bulls is fairly crazy, and one must be on your toes, sometimes literally. It stars with dudes with brooms pushing the garbage into piles, then the collecting of said garbage into large containers, then it was pass number one of the street sweeper.

Enter the water truck with a dude holding what might as well have been a fire hose, hosing down the streets. He didn’t care the direction he was spraying, and if you were in the way you would be a mess of street filth and water. While he was finishing up here came the street sweepers again, more hosing down, more street sweepers, and repeat until the streets were clean.

Five Seconds of Summer. Okay, Maybe Eleven Seconds

Running of the Bulls Emergency Preparations
Running of the Bulls Emergency Preparations

Dodging drunks, street sweepers, and gross water spray, it was finally time to get to our balcony, just off a family’s living room, and secure some watching. A nice little spread of breakfast sweets, hot chocolate, coffee, etc., was there for our bellies, and people jockeyed for position.

John is Ready to Run!

One of the folks in the group, Marianne, spotted her husband, John, who, I suppose, decided mere weeks earlier that he was in the best shape of his life, or he just decided he would run, and she was slightly nervous. A band went by, the ambulances were in position, the medics had a pow wow, the police did one final clearing of the streets so the dude with the leaf blower could dry off the street, and finally the runners were allowed back to take their positions in the street below.

One Man Asking For Trouble - The Running of the Bulls
One Man Asking For Trouble – The Running of the Bulls

8:00 AM came, the rocket signified the bulls were set free to run, and it was time to peer down the street.

Bearing Down - Running of the Bulls
Bearing Down – Running of the Bulls

Finally the crowd erupted, the bulls appeared, I was snapping pictures all along, and just like that the bulls came, the bulls were below, and the bulls were gone.

Into Dead Man's Curve - Running of the Bulls
Into Dead Man’s Curve – Running of the Bulls

Eleven seconds. Yup, from my first picture of the bulls, to them rounding dead-man’s curve, it took eleven seconds.

A lone steer came through, after the main bulls vacated, and it was time to assess the carnage. Across the street two people were being attended to. One dude looked to have a scrape on his forehead while another looked to have busted up the back of his head. Me, I started flipping through my pictures, and was almost horrified.

In Harms Way - Running of the Bulls
In Harms Way – Running of the Bulls

In the shot lie a person, with red all around their head, as the bulls ran right past. “Oh my God, it looks like their brains are all over the street!” I looked closer, still slightly horrified, but then looked at some of the other photos in the series.

Just Missed - Running of the Bulls
Just Missed – Running of the Bulls

Turns out said person was a female, with dark red hair. Luckily a follow-up picture showed her on her side, with hair flying all around. Phew!

The Best Damn Churros, Period.

Get Thee to the Churreria!

An experience of a lifetime over for us, the bulls were finishing their journey, and it was time to be off to find some churros. Yes, maybe that sounds weird, but rumored to be in Pamplona is the best churro place in the world, Churreria The Mañueta

Down a street there was already a line for a place with two subtle signs, “Churreria” and “Roscas Especiales.” Yup, that’s all you get when trying to find the churro shop.

Old School Churro Making - Churreria The Mañueta
Old School Churro Making – Churreria The Mañueta

We got there rather quickly, thank God, because the line isn’t the fastest, and it grew quickly. The anticipation swelled as we got closer, and there it was, this place with a slightly updated purchasing area, but if you peer into the kitchen area, damn, it looks like it is back from the 1800’s, complete with fire stocked oil pots. About the only thing that looked modern in the kitchen area was the churro dough extruder that they used to put the dough in the oil.

We stood in line, were offered a sample from Mr. Mustache, and took our bag of goodness out of the stench of old town. One should not eat these churros around the smell of booze and pee. Finding a spot with clean air, I will happily say, right now, we devoured the best, damn, churros in the world.

They were completely worth the wait.

All Those Drives Back Home Were For a Reason. Who Knew?

Rock & Toll to Barcelona

With bellies full of churros it was time for a drive that reminded me of years ago when I had to drive from Chicago, Illinois, to Lorain, Ohio, to visit my folks. Yup, it was time to depart Pamplona and head for Barcelona!

The Village of Pueyo, From the Highway
The Village of Pueyo, From the Highway

The drive time would be about 5 hours, the same as my drive home used to be, and there were toll booths, yes toll booths, complete with tickets you secure at the first booth, and utilize at the later booth. There were flatlands, which reminded me of the farmland of Indiana, and at times there were rolling hills, actually quite scenic, that had me recollect the change in elevations that occurred as one traveled across Ohio to the East. I saw stone material companies in Spain, and while sure, they were destroying mountains, Illinois had the quarry companies where you can see giant holes in the ground, created by man. About the only differences were some actual mountain-looking areas in Spain, and deserted towns that look like remnants from the middle ages.

Smiley Shed in Toledo, Ohio
Pay Your Way to Zaragoza

My wife found it boring, but it took me back and the only thing missing in Spain was a shed with a smiley face on it to brighten my day!

We Need Some Grub!

First Tapas at Cervesería Catalana
First Tapas at Cervesería Catalana

Barcelona was the final stop on our tour of Spain as my wife had some work to do, but we got there early enough to have some fun! I successfully navigated the streets of Barcelona, thank God it was a Sunday, and we returned our rental car both with the satisfaction of having driven in a foreign land.

We made our way to our lodging spot, and while now secure in our little bed and breakfast, it occurred to us that all we really had so far, this day, were some pastries at breakfast, the world’s best churros, and some trail mix and dried apples. What we needed was a good meal and some gelato.

Second Tapas at Cervesería Catalana
Second Tapas at Cervesería Catalana

As luck would have it we were able to get an outside table at Cervesería Catalana who served us up a tasty mix of tapas and yummy Sangria. The bonus? On our way to the restaurant we spotted Emilia Cremeria, a gelato shop. We opted out of deserts at Catalana as we now had gelato on our minds, and Emilia satisfied our need for something cold, creamy, and tasty. It was finally time for bed!

It Rarely Rains in Barcelona

It Rarely Rains at ⁨Park Güell⁩
It Rarely Rains at ⁨Park Güell⁩

With one of our free days to explore Barcelona, this day was supposed to be all about Antoni Gaudí. The morning we had booked a tour at Whoville, I mean the Park Güell, planned to walk about the city for spell and get some lunch, and then head to the Sagrada Familia where the sun was supposed to be streaming through the stained glass windows.

Whoville in ⁨Park Güell⁩ from Gaudi
Whoville in ⁨Park Güell⁩

The skies were kind of dark, but every weather app I had mentioned a smattering of showers and then mostly clearing. Even when we lined up for our tour the guide mentioned that it rarely rains in Barcelona, and upon further research Wikipedia mentions there might be two days of rain in July.

I believe both of those days were packed into this Monday.

Gaudi's Most Comfortable Bench - ⁨Park Güell⁩
Gaudi’s Most Comfortable Bench – ⁨Park Güell⁩

The tour was nice enough, although it would have been better with blue skies and sun, but we got to learn how Gaudi was really ahead of the times when it came to conservation and the environment. We also learned of his disdain for corners, thus all edges were rounded. He designed some of the most comfortable, hard benches, complete with their own drainage system, he created a giant rain barrel that filtered the water for the plants and fountains, and had a great vision for a city of nature that most no-one at the time wanted.

Super Salamander

The tour was over, and it would have been nice to stay, but, alas, we probably should have used Spanish weather apps because those United States’ versions we had turned out to be completely wrong. Yup, the downpours that would continue throughout the day began. It was time to exit “Whoville” and head to someplace indoors, someplace we could eat, and that someplace ended up being at a location with some fine Sangria in an area called La Boqueria, just off La Rambla.

I Had What Phil Had

Quim De La Boqueria

As luck would have it, a few days before our trip to Spain, TV dude Phil Rosenthal was on a podcast I listen to, Noah Kagan Presents. Now I knew of Phil Rosenthal from his days of being the man behind “Everybody Loves Raymond,” but little did I know he had this food show, first on PBS as “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having,” and now on Netflix as “Somebody Feed Phil.” During the podcast Phil mentioned that the archives list every restaurant he visited for the shows. I was curious, any chance he went to Barcelona?

Holy shit, he did!

There, on an episode of “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having,” was Barcelona. So, between packing and planning for our trip, I told my wife there was a show we needed to watch.

Two Fried Eggs with Baby Squid - El Quim de la Boqueria
Two Fried Eggs with Baby Squid – El Quim de la Boqueria

While most of the restaurants from the show were already booked (Dang it, Phil, why couldn’t you have been on Noah’s podcast about three month’s earlier), we took a shot at finding El Quim de La Boqueria, one of the shop restaurants at La Boqueria.

We arrived before they opened (who opens for “breakfast” at Noon?), and people were already sitting on the few stools surrounding the place, even before the metal shutters were opened. My wife and I secured our spot and waited.

Quim Marquez Making the Eggs - El Quim de la Boqueria
Quim Marquez Making the Eggs – El Quim de la Boqueria

With the show being a few years old, would they still have it, 2 fried eggs with baby squid?

They did.

We ended up with the eggs, slow-cooked pork rib, and some of the best Sangria we had while in Spain.

Sure, we ate too much, but we didn’t care as it was worth it. Thanks Phil for the recommendation!

Like Home, Then Better Than “Like Home”

Bier Cab
Bier Cab

Still with some time to kill, and worried about the weather, my wife, who loves me very much, and knows I love her very much, and also knows I love beer, suggested we hit a couple of places with beer. CocoVail Beer Hall is the perfect spot for Americans who want to feel as if they were back in America, but for a better selection of beers from all over, I suggest Bier CaB. I had beer from Spain, even one from the good old U. S. of A, but I was just worried that, with my propensity towards darker, high alcohol content beers, I might be too tipsy for God. Why? After the beer joints the next stop was La Sagrada Familia.

This Is What The Alan Parsons Project Was Singing About?

Sagrada Familia
Sagrada Familia

My introduction to La Sagrada Familia comes from the song, by the same name, by The Alan Parsons Project. The intro references Antoni Gaudi, and the church, and how it may never be finished.

After seeing the cathedral, I agree – It may never be finished, at least not it the vision Gaudi had.

The Crucifix at Sagrada Familia
The Crucifix at Sagrada Familia

In any case, making our way to La Sagrada Familia, I had one concern, namely hoping that the next burst of rain would hold off until we made our way through the line to the entrance which was outside. Luckily we made it inside, complete with our recorded, guided tour, and it was time to see one of the most impressive feats of architecture I have witnessed.

The Crucifixion - The Passion Facade - Sagrada Familia
The Crucifixion – The Passion Facade – Sagrada Familia

The thing is Gaudi started his vision of the church back in the 1880’s, and for me the most spectacular part was the area that was completed when he was alive, before modern machinery, cranes, lifts, etc, The Nativity Facade. It is a wondrous wall of stonework dedicated to the birth of Christ. There was Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, and a soldier throwing a baby, depicting the story of the Massacre of the Innocents from the book of Matthew in the bible. Weirdly wonderful.

The Massacre of the Innocents - The Nativity Facade - Sagrada Familia
The Massacre of the Innocents – The Nativity Facade – Sagrada Familia

As the weather was crappy, there would be no cramped elevator rides into the spires, but that was okay because just wandering around the church, seeing the immenseness, and viewing the impeccable detail, was fascinating as it was.

Of man-made buildings, it will probably stand out as one of the greatest things I have ever seen.

Hello Michelin Man, Carles Abellan!

With our stay in the city complete it was time to change accommodations to a location on the beach, and finally some nice weather!

Chef Abellan Shows How It's Done
Chef Abellan Shows How It’s Done

My being somewhat of a food snob, the fact that the hotel had a restaurant, La Barra de Carles Abellan, with a Michelin Star rated chef made me slightly giddy. A phone call was made, a dude answered the phone, and my request for a reservation for two for that evening was met with hesitation. He said, “Can you make 7:30?”, and in my head I’m thinking, “I’m an old American. Dude you can seat me at 4PM, and I’d be happy.” Rather than replying with what was in my head, I answered, “That would be great! See you then!”

Watch Your Food Being Made at La Barra
Watch Your Food Being Made!

The restaurant is laid out with a variety of cooking areas. In the center of the counter area where we were seated is the grilling location where the meats are cooked over lump charcoal. Every now and then, especially when stoked, a spray of sparks darted around the area. It was fun, like being at a backyard barbecue! Along the wall is another food prep area, by the windows you find the bartender, and on two, giant TV’s you can watch the magic happening in the kitchen. Yes, from the time your food order gets printed in the kitchen to the plates arriving at your table, you can see the staff scurry around preparing your meal.

The wait staff was fantastically helpful explaining the variety of food choices. We skipped going right for a cocktail, instead having some of the chef’s blended wine creations at the beginning of our meal.

Tsukiji Oyster - Las Barra From Carles Abellan
Tsukiji Oyster – Las Barra From Carles Abellan

I had never slurped oysters before, so I figured this was probably a great place where I wouldn’t be grossed out by an oyster, and the Tsukiji Oyster was fantastic. The Galacian Cockles, La Barra Style were tasty, and the Grilled Stuffed Squid with Spicy Egg Yolk had no rubbery texture at all.

Tiny Mushrooms

Damn, those tapas were fantastic, but some main dishes were also in order. The server recommended the “Great Wall” Red Mullet. I had never had mullet before, it was cooked to perfection and had the cutest, little mushrooms in the salad “base” of the dish. Entertainment was also on tap as we were watching our Garlic Shrimp Rice being prepared on the giant TV’s, and as one of the staff almost messed it up we could see Chef redirect him the correct way of preparing the dish.

Garlic Shrimp Rice - La Barra de Carles Abellan
Garlic Shrimp Rice – La Barra de Carles Abellan

People pay extra to have seats in the “kitchen,” but this experience came without the added expense!

While my wife was finishing the best Sangria she had on the trip, and I was working on my “El Estibador,” a cocktail that somehow incorporated IPA beer syrup, there was no way we were skipping dessert. Upon the slightly odd recommendation, we skipped my normal “dive right into anything chocolate,” and went with the Brie Cake with Melanosporum Truffle. Sure, Melanosporum is a fancy word for black truffle, Périgord truffle or French black truffle, and the thought of just “brie” seemed weird, but this was one of the best desserts I’ve had.

Relaxing with full bellies, it was fun watching Chef Abellan train what appeared to be a newer staff. He directed some of the servers how to stand with pride, he explained some of the finer points of adding spices to the dishes, and was doing what he could to whip everyone into shape. Very personable, we chit-chatted with the Chef a bit, before heading back to our room to rest for the next day.

Have Fun Stormin’ the Castle!

The next day found us with a morning and afternoon to kill. We killed most of the morning sleeping, grabbed a late breakfast, and watched a toddler pee on a tree. It was quite exciting. We needed, however, something to do for the afternoon.

The Massive Sagrada Familia
The Massive Sagrada Familia

My wife did some searching for things to do, and a short cab ride later we were in the funicular, going up a mountain to a fortress that at one time protected Barcelona.

Yup, it was time for a visit to Montjuic Castle.

Montjuic Castle
Montjuic Castle

The castle was pretty much what you would expect a castle to be. The first version was built in 1640 as a military fortress, after a few upheavals it was destroyed and the new version was built, and whereas it was supposed to be a fortress, history says that for the most part it ended up a prison and place to torture folks. There was what used to probably be a moat, a drawbridge, and giant doors to protect the castle.

Guard House - Montjuic Castle
Guard House – Montjuic Castle

Inside was now fitted with museum rooms, but for me the most exciting thing, and I don’t know why, was getting to the top of the castle and going into the guard towers in the corners.

Busted Noses and a Short Virgin Mary

Another day over, another day just begun, and it was a trip to Montserrat Monastery.

The Black Madonna of Montserrat
The Black Madonna of Montserrat

Located about an hour outside of Barcelona, the easiest way to get to the top of the mountain is this thing called a rack railway which, to me, seemed kind of like an elevated train from Chicago carved into the side of a mountain. Our bus dropped us off at the station and a short ride later our tour guide let us know about some of the history of Montserrat. She explained the various times it was conquered, and why, if you toured the stations of the cross, some statues were missing noses while other statues were just missing.

Statue Missing a Nose - Montserrat
Statue Missing a Nose – Montserrat

With the guide letting us roam on our own, the first destination was to head into the very ornate Basilica of Montserrat and see “Our Lady of Montserrat.” It’s a small statue of the Madonna and Child, and is one of the few, original, Black Madonnas.

The statue is just over three feet tall, so it’s really kind of tiny, and as the story goes, to protect the statue, it was hidden in a cave and became darker in color due to the candle smoke from visitors to the cave.

Cross on the Top of the Hill
Cross on the Top of the Hill

We saw the statue and then headed outside to tour the stations of the cross where we saw the broken noses and really, kind of odd, replacement “statues.” An extra hour or two to check out Montserrat would have been nice, but it was time for a late lunch, and then we got to take the scary bus ride down the mountain.

Why Didn’t I Google Map “Sangria” Earlier

Sangria and Tapas - BarCeloneta Sangria Bar
Sangria and Tapas – BarCeloneta Sangria Bar

With our trip beginning to wind down, my wife and I both wanted a last, decent Sangria. The normal bars in the W Barcelona didn’t serve the greatest Sangria, so I searched the Google Maps for “Sangria.” What popped up a short walk down the beach? “BarCeloneta Sangria Bar.

I said, “Honey, it’s a sangria bar. We should go there!”, and what we discovered was this cute, little vegan restaurant.

The Beach of Barcelona
The Beach of Barcelona

Tucked away down a street in “Barceloneta,” all I know is maybe it was a good thing we didn’t find it earlier, although I also was kind of sad, because similar to the La Barra sangria, their sangria was wonderful. They had six different version with alcohol and two non-alcohol versions of sangria, and even though I’m not vegan, their menu looked yummy.

I had the “Denise,” my wife had the “Venus,” we shared a plate of great tasting tapas, and sadly had to be on our way.

Adios España!

Planes, A Train, A Bus, and An Automobile

Why the Pooping Magnets?

While we hated to leave, it was time to head back home. Barcelona airport treated us well although I still don’t understand the magnets and statues of things pooping. My experience in Germany is still just in airports as we had our layover in Frankfort and got to take a fun train ride between terminals, and an uneventful flight to Chicago left with no train, it’s still being fixed, so we got a bus between terminals to get us back to our car.

There was joy in the house as Milo, our little bundle of doggy joy, realized it was us who had come in the door. He yelped, spun around, yelped some more, jumped up, spun around some more, and finally we felt at home.

A wonderful adventure had come to a close, and now it was time to plan for the next one. Anyone up for some Kokkinisto, or maybe rēwena, or maybe tsukemono pickles. Who knows where we’ll end up!