Small Plates

Last night the Marquette Warrior and I had dinner at a restaurant called Amada.  It’s one of those tapas places that offers a number of “small plate” options that the diners can share.  (In our case no sharing occurred because the MW is a strict vegetarian and I go for meat options, so we didn’t quite fulfill the restaurant’s intent.)

Tapas restaurants have a good aspect and a bad aspect.  The bad is that there are lots of choices, so you end up carefully scrutinizing the menu and spending a long time thinking through your order.  The good is that you end up with very tasty food that is always well presented and served in moderate portion sizes.  The result is a fine meal where you don’t get plates groaning with food, and after you’ve cleaned your plates — which both the MW and I did, with relish — you rise from the table feeling satisfied but not uncomfortably stuffed.

We’ve got a problem with food waste in this country, and some of it results from unconsumed food left on plates that were overfilled at the outset.  At tapas places, that isn’t an issue, which is another advantage to the tapas model.

Eurotrip 2011: Barcelona

The Sagrada Familia.

My 3-month global Eurail pass hasn’t made train travel as easy as I hoped. Often, I’ve had to pay for my train rides – usually 2-10 euros – because tickets are only free on trains that don’t require reservations. A limited number of seats are set aside on each train for Eurail pass holders, and they’re often booked up, forcing you to choose between paying full price for a seat or changing your plans.

I chose the latter option when I learned that all the Eurail-designated seats were taken on the night train from Paris to Barcelona. Roland and I decided to book a flight rather than pay 170 euros each for the train. We found a flight on ryanair.com from Beauvais, a small town only a short, cheap train ride from Paris, to Barcelona for only 70 euros each. It seemed like a great deal at first, but I lost my enthusiasm for it when the airport security made me throw out the shampoo, shaving cream and body wash I had been using since the beginning of the trip, as well as my harmless tableknife.

The Mellow Eco-hostel

In my last post, and in the review I later posted on hostelworld.com, I wrote that our hostel in Paris was the worst I’d stayed at. We must have been due for some good luck, then, because our hostel in Barcelona, the Mellow Eco-hostel, was the best-run hostel I’ve stayed at. It was like a model hostel used to teach new hostel employees what a hostel should be like. There were plenty of showers and bathrooms, the staff were friendly and knowledgable about Barcelona, and the kitchen was fully-equipped with cooking equipment and all the ingredients (vegetable oil, butter, etc.) that you need but are unwilling to buy when you’re only staying somewhere for a week. There were many good hang-out areas, including a patio with an excellent view of the city, and the vending machines had cans of Estrella beer in them for the very reasonable price of one euro. I knew it was a winner when they got us two glasses of ice water when we arrived. Finally, Roland got to stay somewhere that showed him how good a hostel could be.

My only complaint is that to get to the hostel from the metro station, you must climb up these 162 steps:

The 162 steps to the hostel.

After travelling alone for almost two months, it’s been difficult to adjust to having to compromise with Roland on what to do, what to eat, and how to get places; but a little compromise is good while traveling. Roland has introduced a few changes to my routine that I’ll continue after we part ways in Madrid, such as making tuna fish sandwiches for lunch instead of eating the bread and tuna separately. Roland is a much better cook than I am, so nearly every night in Barcelona we cooked pasta with chicken and tomato sauce and chopped onions, carrots, broccoli and zucchini. The night we didn’t cook dinner, we went out for a tapas dinner with plates of potatos, promisciuto, calamari, chicken, olives, and something called “bombas.”

Our tapas dinner.

Roland also persuaded me to go to more art museums than I would’ve gone to myself. Shortly after arriving in the city we went to the Joan Miro museum, which proved to be my favorite of them all, to see the collection of colorful, abstract, emotional paintings and sculptures by the local painter. Afterwards we headed to the nearby MNAC museum of national art, where there was a Courbet exhibit that Roland wanted to see. Later, we visited the Picasso museum, which didn’t impress me much. Although I like Picasso (who was from southern Spain and spent a lot of time in Barcelona), it seems like most of his great works have ended up in other museums. Almost none of his cubist paintings were there. I thought that the most interesting paintings in the museum were the ones he did in his early teenage years, which were so realistically painted that they would hardly look out of place on the walls of the Louvre.

My favorite works of art in Barcelona were the buildings of Gaudi. Gaudi was a Catalan nationalist, and his architectural style seems to have the same wild, colorful vivacity of the paintings of Miro and other Catalan artists going back to the middle ages. They are strikingly beautiful in Barcelona, but they would look out of place in any other city. Unfortunately, his buildings have become the most popular tourist spots in Barcelona.

Gaudi's Casa Battlo apartment building.

The Casa Mila.

Gaudi’s most famous project, the Sagrada Familia cathedral, is still under construction despite having been designed in the late 19th century. Of all the cathedrals I’ve seen on my trip, it’s my favorite. I like the colorful fruits at the tops of the spires and the stonework that looks like the inside of the cave. It communicates a more friendly, optimistic, personal feeling than most cathedrals.

The Sagrada Familia.

I’d been warned that Barcelona had an uncommonly large population of pickpockets (Roland’s aunt had her purse snatched there), but I saw no evidence of crime during my visit, apart from a woman who took a few metro tickets Roland had mistakenly left in the purchasing machine. The metro was exceptionally clean and well run – I never had to wait more than few minutes for a train.

Roland and I spent the first half of our last day in Barcelona hiking up one of the hills on the outskirts of the city, where there’s a beautiful cathedral next a rudely-situated amusement park. We spent the rest of the day at the surprisingly clean beach, full of immigrants selling cold beers for a euro, where I went into the water for a while so I could say I had swum in the Mediterranean.

The view of Barcelona from the cathedral.

The beach.

Eurotrip 2011: Rouen, Le Havre and Paris

Eurotrip 2011: Paris

Eurotrip 2011: Nice and Marseille

Eurotrip 2011: Venice and Milan

Eurotrip 2011: Interlaken

Eurotrip 2011: Florence and Pisa

Eurotrip 2011: Rome pt. 2

Eurotrip 2011: Rome pt. 1

Eurotrip 2011: Palermo

Eurotrip 2011: The Journey To Palermo

Eurotrip 2011: Santorini and Athens

Eurotrip 2011: Athens

Eurotrip 2011: Istanbul