Saturday, March 28: Barcelona

I began today reading emails and Facebook, and Twitter, and the newspaper headlines over a cup of coffee in the hotel restaurant. Facebook reminded me that one year ago at this time, I posted birthday wishes to my son. I figured they knew what they were talking about, so I posted birthday wishes anew and carried on, believing that today was March 29. Of course it’s not (and last year I posted at night, the day before, because I had scanned a photo). In any case, vacation is taking its toll. We only have tomorrow, and leave early Monday morning.

Today we went to the Picasso museum.  He was born in Spain and spent much of his adolescence here in Barcelona. The museum isn’t as big as the Picasso museum in Paris, but it does have about 3,800 of his works. He set this museum up during his lifetime ( in 1963) and his widow donated more to the collection after his death in 1973.

It was overwhelming to see this huge chunk of his work, and I’m not sure all of the collection was even displayed. I enjoyed seeing how his style and focus changed through his life. If I lived closer, I think it would be great to be able to look at even just a wall at a time since it is too much to take in in just a few hours.

From there we walked around in that part of the city, went down to the water for lunch, bought a new piece of luggage to hold everything we have bought over the past two weeks, and ended up at a very small leather goods store, owned by a husband and wife.

Roger wanted to buy a belt and the selection displayed was nice,but not exactly what he was looking for. Rafael, the owner said he’d make a belt and brought out a nice piece of leather. He asked us to come back in two hours.

So we walked around, window-shopped, actually shopped, people-watched, and came back for the belt a little early. Carmen, his wife welcomed us back with excitement. She dragged two chairs out for us to sit down, gave us water, Spanish magazines to read, and opened Google translator on her laptop to help us communicate. We found out that she and Rafael have also been married for thirty years, and that they’ve had the shop for 28. He makes beautiful briefcases, purses, wallets, and other goods and seems to do well.

We talked for a while and eventually the belt was ready. After we said goodbye, they asked where we were going next. I said we were going to dinner, but we were not sure where. Carmen jumped up, waved to her husband, and escorted us to a really nice tapas restaurant about ten minutes away. We were sort of amazed that she brought us in, walked us downstairs, and showed us the unique setup before hugging and kissing us goodbye and returning to Rafael.
We enjoyed dinner at this place we never would have found on our own, and sat with a nice couple from Frankfurt who were there for a long weekend.

Tomorrow we need to wind things down: pack up and prepare for an early start for our journey home on Monday.

Adios,
-Susan

The clever restaurant Carmen led us to. You walk up and select with tapas you want, then they write up a bill based on the number of toothpicks you've placed in a holder on your table.

The clever restaurant Carmen led us to. You walk up and select the tapas you want, then they write up a bill based on the number of toothpicks you’ve placed in a holder on your table.

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At the waterfront after lunch

At the waterfront after lunch

At the leather shop. I wish the photo with Carmen had come out. She was adorable and so kind.

At the leather shop. I wish the photo with Carmen had come out. She was adorable and so kind.

At the Picasso museum today

At the Picasso museum today

Monday, March 23: Laguardia, Spain

I had heard it raining overnight, but was surprised to see it was snowing this morning. Yesterday it had been sunny and warm south of us and now, in the Rioja wine region of northern Spain, it was much, much colder.

I haven’t bought any clothes for below-freezing temperatures, but bundled up with what I have. Our plan was to walk to the gated entrance to the village (it turns out our hotel is right outside it, maybe a ten-minute walk) and check out Laguardia. We couldn’t do that because the snow turned to pouring rain. We waited it out, then drove to the entrance and dashed in through a gate.

Laguardia is over a thousand years old and is like another world. Surrounded by huge stone walls, it is easy to see how it provided the people of the city safety from attack. What is remarkable is that 1,500 people live there in these modern times.

It is a totally inclusive walled village made of blocks of stone. By “totally inclusive” I mean that the people never have to leave the walls of the city and few, if any they have cars. There are shops, restaurants, bars, services – it seems as though they have anything they need.

As soon as I dashed in, I marveled at the narrow stone-lined streets. I couldn’t take pictures since we were running in the rain. We were not really sure where to go since there are just doors within stone walls. Everything looks very similar. Some doors are people’s homes, others are businesses. There are no storefront windows, so you have to know where you’re going. This posed a problem because of the rain, since we couldn’t just walk casually around. And of course we had no idea where we were going.

We ducked into one tiny shop that had some nice sweaters displayed near the open door. The saleswoman/owner was nice although she spoke almost no English. She was able to direct us to a great restaurant after I bought a sweater there, and we dashed up the street because it was still raining.

After a delicious lunch, the waiter suggested we check out the restaurant’s cellar. Underneath the entire walled city are wine cellars. They have been separated under businesses and homes now, so are not connected as they were when they were first built as one huge place to safely store the village’s wine. It was interesting to see the small connected rooms that snaked underneath the building.

Tomorrow we are going to tour a winery and check out more of the inside of the walled village. We are hoping it is not raining or snowing so we can walk around.

Adios,
-Susan

The old and grand restaurant where we had lunch today.

The old and grand restaurant where we had lunch today.

The wine bar was not open when we were there in the late afternoon, but it was interesting to see the setup. We may go back tomorrow evening to see what it's like with people there.

The wine bar was not open when we were there in the late afternoon, but it was interesting to see the setup. We may go back tomorrow evening to see what it’s like with people there.

A sweater and pashmina I got today in the walled city

A sweater and pashmina I got today in the walled city

At lunch today

At lunch today

The caves underneath the restaurant. Wine is stored there, but it is also a wine bar at night.

The caves underneath the restaurant. Wine is stored there, but it is also a wine bar at night.

Monday, March 16: last day in Madrid

Today we went to the Prado, the main national art museum in Spain. They are featuring a Goya in Madrid temporary exhibit, but the classic (Goya and Velasquez) masterpieces were what we wanted to see. There are over a thousand pieces of art on display (out of a collection of about 7,500) at any given time, and the building is (of course) huge.

As soon as we got there, a tour guide approached us and asked whether we wanted her to show us around. I was apprehensive but the price was right so Ana escorted us through the museum.

What a wealth of very interesting information she shared! There is no way to take in everything in the hours we planned to be there, but Ana showed us the highlights, or the must-see works. She had details and trivia about each one and I found it all fascinating. I left there thinking I may take an art history course, and that I want to learn more about the Spanish royal family. Some of them were characters and I haven’t read any Spanish history in decades.

Next we went to the barrio de La Latina – the Latin neighborhood of Madrid. It has narrow streets, old shops and restaurants, and is buzzing with people and action. (There’s a picture below of a street performer who looked like a gold statue. He was just sitting in front of a chess board. It was only after a few minutes that he stared out and revealed the whites of his eyes. He drew quite a crowd and I wondered how many hours he sat there motionless.)

We had lunch at a little Latin cafe and did a some shopping (to include the peach-colored sweater pictured) then headed back to the center of the city. Dinner was light: some tapas (small plates to share) and a bottle of wine at a restaurant near our hotel.

Tomorrow we pick up a car and drive toward Lisbon. We won’t make it there in one day, but I’m not sure where we’ll stop. I’ve really enjoyed Madrid!

Adios,
-Susan

After dinner tonight

After dinner tonight

Cafe con leche is why I'm awake right now, at one a.m.

Cafe con leche is why I’m awake right now, at one a.m.

A very-believable street performer posing as a statue.

A very-believable street performer posing as a statue.

Sunday, March 15: Madrid

Sunday, Madrid.

(We are here until Tuesday morning, then we pick up our rental car and begin driving – to Lisbon, then back into Barcelona, stopping all along the way. We have to finalize our route there, and may figure that out later today.)

It is nice weather to walk around Madrid, and that’s what we’ve been doing. That, and drinking more coffee than I ever drink in an effort to get myself on Spanish time.

Last night we had a delicious dinner at a restaurant sort of close to the soccer stadium, Asador Donostiarra. We shared some Spanish wine and appetizers first: prawns, anchovies, croquettes – and could have left it at that.
But, no. We ordered more food.
Me: squid. Him: steak (cooked at the table, which was interesting) . We should have left it at that and I certainly intended to. I had seen nothing chocolate on the menu, and mentioned that to the waiter as my excuse for skipping dessert. He told me they had chocolate cake in the kitchen and it was fantastico, and that I had to have some. Backed into a corner, I heard myself say “Really? Great! Uno slice, por favor,” as Roger ordered rice pudding.
It turned out the cake was good as he claimed, but it turned out I was glad we didn’t skip dessert. The young couple sitting next to us got chatty after agreeing to take our picture. They were on a weekend getaway from their home in Israel and were very interesting to talk with.
(This is known as Justifying Dessert.)

Today we went to the Museo Sofia, a contemporary art museum in a beautiful, very old building. It was fun, but some art just annoys me (did those colored wood pieces really need to be under the protection of glass?) and causes me to ask myself whether I could have made a name as an artist had I just realized a painting can be finished after drawing just a simple line down the center of the paper.

Tomorrow: the Prado museum!

I bought a couple of shirts/blouses this afternoon (but am nowhere near being wardrobed) and we had lunch at a very good tapas place. I’m loving Spanish food! Since I’m eating so much of it, I need to find and buy running shoes, shorts, and a bathing suit pronto, then put them to work!

Adios,
-Susan

This painting could be of me: jet lagged (still), eating too much (this will continue), and physically inactive (must change that).

This painting could be of me: jet lagged (still), eating too much (this will continue), and physically inactive (must change that).

I should have glued down my kids' creations and sold them!

I should have glued down my kids’ creations and sold them!

At dinner Saturday evening.

At dinner Saturday evening.

Welcome

On March 13, I left for Spain and Portugal. I carried one suitcase. It only contained toiletries.

Yes, that’s right. The only clothes I have brought on this 17-day trip are the ones I wore on the plane. Packing was amazingly stress-free.

My plan is to buy clothes as I travel. That may or may not be the smartest idea I have had in a long time. Regardless, this blog will document my trip.

Thanks for reading and sharing!

-Susan