Sunday, October 17, 2010

Beautiful Barcelona!!

I had a tough decision to make - travel to Eindhoven in the Nethelands with Eric and bunch of computer scientists OR meet up with friends from Minnesota in Barcelona.  I think I made the right choice.

 Gaudi building near our apartment
On Tuesday I flew from Porto to Barcelona and met Julie, Ann, Sue & Bobbi at the large apartment they had rented for the last leg of their 2 week Spanish extravaganza.  Despite the fact that all 4 women were sporting some serious germs and plenty of cold & flu symptoms, the atmosphere was charged with energy and I was happy to join them for the grand finale of their trip. 

Wednesday's weather was questionable, so I decided to take a train to the Salvador Dali Museum in Dali's hometown of Figueres, north of Barcelona near the French border.  After the theater in Figueres was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, Dali made a proposal to the mayor to rebuild the structure and house a museum of his own work there.  It's a spectacular PINK building and a work of art itself.  Giant eggs and gilded human figures adorn the rooftops.  Inside, Dali created amazing installations and spectacular gallery spaces.   Although he is best known for his paintings of melting watches, that was just a tiny fraction of his diverse body of work.   He loved to play with illusion, symbolism, self-portraits and images from science, nature, religion and popular culture. 

Salvador Dali Museum
nude Gala watching the sea
**squint at the painting to see a familiar famous face**

On Thursday we went to the Freixenet winery where their bubbly cava and still wines are produced.  The guided tour was fun and informative, but my favorite part of the tour was the free sample at the end!

me and my new best friend

Ann & Sue survived the quirky Torres winery tour

The tour at Miguel Torres was a bit more like a scene from Willy Wonka as we boarded a little tram and drove past strange multi-media displays.  Words cannot describe the experience.

Thursday night's dinner was unlike any dining experience I've ever had!  El Celler de Can Roca, located outside Barcelona, is one of the top restaurants in the world and has been awarded 3 Michelin stars - 3 more than any other restaurant I've been to, that's for sure! 3 brothers, Joan, Josep & Jordi Roca are the chef, sommelier and pastry chef.  The restaurant is a simply decorated space with rocks (rocas!) and other natural elements used to create a soothing and elegant atmosphere. The service was fabulous and we felt totally relaxed, even though it seemed like we were much too young and silly to be there.

silky & gorgeous figs with foie gras

But truly, the food was the star of the show.  Just to give an idea of what it was like, as soon as we sat down we were given glasses of the house cava to sip while our first "snack" was presented. A server brought a beautiful bonsai olive tree and set it in the center of the table. Dangling from the branches of the tree were green olives stuffed with anchovy and glazed with olive oil caramel. The olives were hanging on tiny hooks, so we just had to reach in and tug at an olive then pop it into our mouths to experience the contrast of the briny anchovy with the sweet, salty olive enveloped in caramel. It was amazing and a multi-sensory experience I won't soon forget. 3 hours, 7 "snacks", 8 courses & 9 wines later, we emerged happy and overloaded in every possible way.

Julie plucking her first olive
Sue fell behind with the wines

On Friday, Julie & I went for a healthy dose of Antoni Gaudi.  Park Guell, Gaudi's failed attempt to create a one-of-a-kind housing community, is lively and full of fanciful Gaudi-esque features.  It's a wonderful spot to wander and watch people. 

La Sagrada Familia
(photo "borrowed" from the web)
Our last touristy stop of the day was Gaudi's magnificent unfinished basilica, La Sagrada Familia.  We bellied up for a tour and had a cheerful, informative guide who obviously loves this church AND Gaudi's genius.  Gaudi lived to see one of the facades finished but died (smushed by a tram) before the rest could be completed.  Thanks to a flood of attention and money after Barcelona hosted the 1992 Olympics, work continues and the interior is nearly finished but the facade may not be done for another 25-30 years.  Next month the Pope will consecrate the space and it can then be used for public worship, 118 years after the first stones were laid. 

the gorgeous "trees" inside the basilica
Our final dinner together was punctuated by laughter, cava sangria (my new favorite), good food and adorable waiters at Tapas Place.  Bobbi, Sue, Julie & I enjoyed piles of paella, clams and garlic shrimp.  It was the perfect finale to a wonderful trip.

Bobbi and Sue highly recommend Tapas Place

I have known Julie since my chemical engineering days at the U of M.  23 years ago, to celebrate our college graduation, Julie had a wacky idea to take a 2 month trip to Europe.  That trip changed my life.  At the risk of sounding a little too cliche, it honestly changed the way I looked at the world and how I saw myself and my opportunities. When I came back from the trip I dumped my "almost" fiance (I used to say that we were semi-engaged), stuffed my engineering diploma in a drawer, started the math education program at the U of M, continued to travel and never looked back.  If it weren't for Julie and our low budget, high adventure trip, I know that I would not be married to my prince charming Eric, would not have had so many other wonderful travels and certainly would not be living in Europe now.  So, as I sipped those last few drops of sangria surrounded by hunky waiters at Tapas Place, I drank a silent toast to my friend Julie.

sipping cava with Julie

To see more photos from our trip, click here:   Barcelona photos!!


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