Thursday, May 16, 2013

sitges & barcelona {photodiary}

I know I'm so late with this, but finally getting some warmer weather in Boston has me thinking of our trip to Sitges and Barcelona back in September.  I even wrote most of this back in September, just never got around to posting.  Well here it is:

One of the perks of having been a consultant is the travel.  Not the weekly boring stuff, but the global trainings in Europe. Work has sent me to Nice, Prague, and now Sitges for training, and I have taken full advantage by tacking on vacations following each - Cinque Terre and Rome after Nice, Venice after Prague, and most recently a few days in Barcelona.

Day 1 of vacation - Friday
Training finished around 4pm and after rounds of goodbyes it was officially vacation time!  Adam had flown out to join me, and after a day at the pool was showered and ready to party.  I smuggled some final snacks from training (leftovers) and we headed off into Sitges to explore the beach, the city, and find some good food!

Sitges is a beautiful little beach town with an interesting mix of architecture - some houses were very Mediterranean feeling while others felt somewhat Asian influenced and others sort of retro modern, looking like cruise ships. We walked along the beach to the center of town and found a grocery store where we got a few lemonade beers and some wine to enjoy after dinner.

It was apparently a festival time of year and a large group of children drummers were putting on some sort of performance.  We grabbed a tapas dinner at El Pou, a highly rated spot known for putting out interesting twists on more traditional tapas.  We had a bottle of wine, bravas (starting our obsession), artichokes, wagyu beef burger, wagyu carpaccio, and Catalan style bread which is served with an olive oil and tomato spread. Soooo delicious! We were brave and walked back to the hotel, which involved scrambling up some sketchy dirt path, but we made it unscathed. We finished off the evening with wine on the balcony.  

Day 2 - Saturday
I had originally planned to spend the first full day of vacation in Sitges, but since we got an early start on Friday we didn't feel the need to explore town again. We took the lazy vacationer approach and gorged ourselves at the breakfast buffet.  After sufficiently over eating, we tried to rehydrate and lounged by the pool, taking full advantage of late checkout.

We finally said goodbye to Sitges and the beautiful hotel and jumped in a cab to Barcelona. We got into the city around 3 and set up shop in our new home for the next few days, Hotel Cram. It's a cute modern spot with very compact but well designed rooms which maximize space well, using built-ins, lots of mirrors, and a unique round bathroom.

Without much of a plan, we ventured out into the city, heading towards the water. We checked out the Placa Catalunya, which is essentially in the center of the city and the main transit hub. From here we took Las Ramblas all the way down to the water, taking it all in - the locals who sit and people watch, the guys selling annoying noise makers, and loads of tourists. Right at the water is a monument to Christopher Columbus. Some of this area seems to be newer construction, including a floating dock, a shopping center, and all sorts of stuff.  

Who sees us in the above photo?

Heading back north again, we cut into the older part of town and essentially wandered wherever looked interesting.

Dinner was at Rubi, a bar / tapas place owned and operated by some expats - two British guys and an Argentinian server.  They just recently made #3 Barcelona restaurant on tripadvisor and were in the midst of adjusting to an uptick in business.  Tapas were Asian fusion and really good. We had mojitos, spring rolls, a cheese plate, Thai chicken, and pork. The Argentinian guy gave us some great tips on what to do, since it turns out we were in Barcelona for one of the big annual festivals, Merce. 

Day 3 - Sunday
We were super lazy and slept in pretty late, but finally made it out to see the castelleres, essentially human castles. This was so incredible to watch. Basically a whole bunch of people would stand on each other, stacking up to a few floors in height with smaller and smaller kids towards the top.  These little 5 year olds would shimmy up this structure of people, pause to wave from the top, and then it would all come back down just as quickly. I guess groups from the region all come to Barcelona to compete for who can stack the highest. Crazy!

After we were sufficiently impressed, we wandered off to check out some fancy shops and grab a bite to eat.  We ended up getting some pizzas and a completely overpriced lemon soda but I was famished so it was worth it. We were going to try to make it up to Guell Park but decided to reroute and go to La Sagrada instead.  We didn't get tickets to take the tour or anything, but it was certainly an impressive sight. I'm not sure how much I like Gaudi's style, but its worth seeing. Kinda looked like it was melting. And was a bit dark and ominous while historically beautiful. 

We decided to head back to the hotel to rest, but made a pit stop at Starbucks because we are such Americans. I realized how different basic behaviors of Americans and Barcelonetas are - we wander around staring at iPhones holding Starbucks cups, hile they just walk and talk and.. just be. Everyone was staring at us haha. Oh well no shame. 

That evening there was a fireworks parade running down towards the beach, where there was a fireworks display.  (First photo from earlier in the day)

We saw a lot of the parade and headed down towards the water but decided we would rather eat a good meal than watch fireworks and get stuck in the crowd. So we went to Tapeo for dinner and had an amazing time.

The steak was sooo amazing, again inspiring our home cooking shortly after returning home.

Day 4 - Monday
We set out to walk to Guell Park for real this time, which was about a 45 min walk from the hotel, up a gradual incline. The plan was to go to the market off of Las Ramblas to grab the makings of a picnic then go on our merry way, but because of the holiday it was closed. Boo!  We looped back to a bakery we had spotted a few days earlier and grabbed a loaf of Catalonia bread and an apple pastry. At our local convenience store we got assorted cheeses and a package of chorizo.
It was quite the walk but I liked taking it all in and seeing some of the less touristy parts of the city.  Coming up to Guell, we were filled with lots of anticipation, always feeling like we were reaching the peak, but then it would continue to climb. Views of the city were amazing, but the park itself was much more dirt path and cactus than the grassy expanses I had imagined.

It was hot and we were hungry so we found a picnic bench and had our meal. With the exception of some unwanted visitor bees, it was sooooo good.  That pastry was to die for. And if you know me, that much meat and cheese = bliss. Simple pleasures. 

We explored the park for an hour or 2 then headed back to the hotel. This walk back seemed so much shorter and easier, probably because it was downhill. I enjoyed the doors inside doors and graffiti art.

We sat on the roof of the hotel armed with iPads, drinks, and some olive pretzel sticks.

We set off with a bit of a plan for dinner, only to find most places closed, again because of the holiday. We stumbled up one a place I recognized from tripadvisor and went with it since the fixed menu sounded good and we could sit outside. Bellies full and a bottle of local wine in hand, we went back to the hotel happy with our trip.

Day 5 - Tuesday
Last day!  We slept in and didn't try to do anything in the morning really. We showered and checked out, heading to Placa Catalonia to grab the airport bus. We stopped by the same bakery to grab some snacks on the way - a ham and cheese croissant, which - again - was to die for, and a prosciutto and tomato sandwich. We happily ate on the bus and took our time in the airport.  
On the flight to Zurich I was disappointed not to get my turkey and cheese sandwich like the flight over, but we got some cute single serving ice creams. And on the long haul flight we witnessed some arguments over who deserves to sit in an empty row of seats, watched movies, drank a lot of wine, had some chicken, then took a cab home and made some late night rice with soy sauce and sesame oil. Happy.

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