|Date:||September 2, 2000|
With the lights off, this room is *DARK*. In the middle of the night, I waken to hear someone fumbling at the doorknob, and can't see a thing. Adrenaline surges before Brigid announces that she's gotten up for a midnight excursion to the facilities, but can't find the light switch! Eventually, we get back to sleep.
Breakfast at Hotel Nouvel is on the 5th floor, between 8 and 10:30. It's 9:30. We hustle to wash, dress, and climb. Breakfast is a roll, jam, slices of nondescript cheese & luncheon meat, plain or lemon yogurt, sugar pops or corn flakes, milk, orange juice, pears, and tea or coffee. The pears taste a lot better than they look!
We visit the desk, to determine whether we need to shift rooms. While reception tries to decide, we meet Bob and Reiko, fellow tour members.
We go over to Plaça Catalunya, to the El Corte Inglés department store, in search of drinking water and grapefruit. Indeed, there is a SuperMercado in the store, and we find what we are looking for, along with some peaches and pears. (The peaches don't ripen until we get to Madrid, several days later. They're mealy, dang it!)
We return to the hotel to drop off the grapefruit, and encounter a jazz band along the way. These guys are pretty good, and they are accompanied by several older gentlemen who dance for the crowd. One of them asks Brigid to dance with him, and she can't seem to figure out how to say "I don't know how to dance!" en español. So, they enjoy a dance. Unfortunately, we have no small bills or change yet, so we have to leave our thanks verbally.
Near the hotel, we find a tiny ice cream shop. It ain't Venice, but the variety is fabulous, and the flavors are quite good. Sampled so far: mango (very good), pistachio (ok), and raspberry (best).
Then we take the Bus Turistica to the various sights of the city. Most interesting: Sagrada Familia church, designed by Gaudi in the 20's, and under construction ever since (We'll see more of this tomorrow); The Palau Naçional de Monjuic (this impressive building contains the Museu Naçional d'Art de Catalunya); the Plaça d'España nearby, with its Campanile San Marco-inspired spires and central monument; Port Vell, the old port of Barcelona, with many aromatic and mouthwatering restaurants.
We get back to the hotel at 3:30. Since the tour begins at 6, we take the time to do a stroll on La Rambla.
La Rambla runs from Plaça Catalunya to the Columbus monument at the old port, a little over a kilometer. There's a wide pedestrian walk, filled with various kinds of vendors and artists. These folk are divided into zones:
Petshops (birds, hamsters, rabbits, salamanders, mice, etc.);
Flowers and plants (including blue-dyed roses);
Buskers in outrageous costume and makeup, mostly striking poses and hoping for some coins;
Cafés serving seafood and paellas and flautas (sandwiches on long, narrow rolls);
Craft shops with fans, jewelry, hand-painted temporary tattoos, caricaturists (including a particularly good one).
Halfway down La Rambla is the Market. This is a full-service market. Produce, abbatoirs (including pigeons and skinned rabbits), florists, dried & candied fruits and nuts, coffee/alcohol bars, everything. This ain't no tourist hangout. The locals are here in full force. Everywhere, you see haunches of Iberian ham. There are two main kinds: Jamon Serrano, and then the really expensive stuff, from pigs that are fed exclusively on acorns.
At the hotel, we meet the group, led by Susan and Tooraj ("On, Tooraj" pronounced like "entourage"). I introduce myself to the group right off, by dropping a chair on my foot! Okay, so Russ is the klutz of the group. To assist the leaders in avoiding leaving members behind, we are to buddy-up with someone with whom we are unlikely to hang out. Jack I. proposes buddyship. I take a look at his height, and decide to grab this bargain: He'll be a snap to locate! Brigid and Reiko pair up.
After the orientation, we walk to the cathedral, to try to catch a Catalonian music/dance by local everyday folks. It's a traditional dance called the Sardana. The ring dance looks complex. The music (largely led by oboe-like instruments) is very catchy, and it sounds like it can go on forever. Every time you think they are done, a solo instrument plays a bridge and we're back on again. Eventually, it starts to rain, and nobody in the band is inclined to play another bridge! We head over to La Rambla for a tapas dinner (at a place opposite the market, "El Choquito", to the left of the entrance to the "Erotic Museum").
Bread slathered with garlic & olive oil, and rubbed with tomato;
Tortilla de patata (egg & potato omelette, an inch thick). Brig really digs this dish -- she's such a sucker for eggs;
A salad wth a little tuna, hard-boiled eggs, olives, and greens;
A fabulous platter of shellfish: black mussels, clams, boiled shrimp, grilled huge shrimp, fresh water shrimp, crayfish. (Jack's wife, Kathy, is unsettled by the eyes on all the shrimp.)
A platter of fried fish: clams, tiny fish, and calamari rings;
And, of course, sangria.
We join Susan on a trip (via the Metro) to the fountains in front of the Palau Naçional. These huge, computer-controlled fountains play in sync to music. It's a beautiful light and water show, all to the strains of american movie music.
We Metro back to Plaça Catalunya. The Metro is very well designed, with lamps indicating the train's progress on the route map over each door.
Back to the room. This South African grapefruit is bitter as heck, but the figs we bought at the market are sugar-sweet.