On one of the many gray rainy days in Paris, I sought out the warmth and comfort of sun. Morocco was too far away to go for lunch, but Maison de Couscous is in the 14th, only a metro ride away. I found it a bit funny to see a roaring fire on the tv screen facing the dining room; it was as if everyone was pretending we were someplace warmer, using any means possible. The restaurant is a bit off the main road Alésia, so it’s easy access by metro Alésia, and the servers are welcoming and friendly. They had a big sign in front saying that all the couscous dishes included all you could eat couscous and vegetables, so the very reasonable under 15 Euro menu is an even better bargain if you are a big eater.

Since I love lamb, I tried their lamb, but found it a bit bland and dry, even though the serving of meat was quite large for Paris. The vegetables and broth were resonant with aromatics, but I longed for more depth, complexity, and salt.

I found my perfect couscous with their Merguez sausage couscous, savory, spicy, and absolutely addictive. The sausage added the depth and complexity I longed for in the lamb version and as large as this portion was, I managed to finish the entire plate. Their merguez was the best I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve eaten many many links of merguez!

I only ate about half the large plate of couscous because I was so enamored by the merguez and vegetables.

By the time my dessert pastry came I was glad it was a tiny morsel of sweet date in a honey soaked sesame topped crust.

The also offer ice cream, but I think the little bite of date or in this case, pistachio in honey soaked filo, are far more satisfying.

Finding a small neighborhood spot with nice people and excellent merguez couscous is like finding a ray of sunshine among the rain clouds; head towards it and enjoy it.

The only time I go to a church on Sunday is when I’m visiting one as a tourist. Even though I’ve visited Paris too many times to count, and lived here now for over a year, I had never gone to Sainte Chapelle until one rainy gray cold morning last month. It is next to the Hall of Justice, so the side by side juxtaposition means entry is strictly controlled by the gendarmes; be prepared for TSA level screening because the entry allows access to both depending on the day of the week.

The Hall of Justice

The entry to Sainte Chapelle is under renovation and has only a small gift shop and this small section open to the public.

Even in the stained glass, the the proximity of “church” and “state” is a theme is played out in both the history of France and in the art in Sainte Chapelle. The stained glass comprises more of the structure than the stone in the building which was finished in a record breaking 6 years time in 1248.

The exterior does not convey the magical light the stained glass gives from within, especially on a gray rainy day.

The breathtaking 15 panels are one level above the entry, so after climbing the steps (the pic was taken looking down from the top),

you reach the main part of the church which looks like this on the outside

but the inside is magically different

with sculptures of each of the apostles in between the glass panels which depict various scenes from the bible.

Spending time inside this “colorful lantern” has a wonderful magical effect of making the gray skies outside disappear:)

On my last day in Barcelona, I went to the Fountain of Montjuïc. Originally I was going to go up to see the light show that night, but with a transportation problem, dinner plans, and club hopping all vying for my time, I opted for the afternoon. Everything works out in the end, and twilight ended up being a perfect time to enjoy the fountains with no crowds :)

Barcelona was a beautiful break from the gray rainy cold of Paris, and I’m sure I will have another rendez-vous soon with this delightful town :)

There are many ways to get around Barcelona, from the old fashioned horse and carriage,

to the modern electric car, but my favorite was simply to walk.

The modes of transportation are the only things that offer both old and new; construction of modern buildings around historical monuments abounds.

Before starting my day, I tried a second cafe

that had the nicest service

with good coffee, excellent freshly squeezed orange juice, and mediocre croissants

but a good apple pastry (according to the person who ate it and let me take a picture).

A few metro stops away, I saw this bakery, which looked fantastic, but there was no way I was going to start my day on the metro without breakfast.

I had a cone of Iberico in La Boqueria from Mas, but I saw that they also have stand alone stores.

Walking can lead to unexpected discoveries, like this shrine near Park Güell,

or these passageways

some leading into courtyards.

As dusk fell, it was time for dinner. Gilda has great reviews in the Gothic Quarter, and since it was a few blocks from where I was staying, I made a reservation through The Fork, which gives diners a discount on two tapas and a main course. The welcome and ambiance are warm, and the artwork is for sale, making it a showcase for artists.

I chose the ham croquetas for one of my tapas and was surprised at how big they were, there was definitely enough to share. As for the croquetas, they used quality ham and I would certainly order these again.

The garlic prawns were my favorite bite of all, lightly cooked and slightly spicy, I wanted to make a meal of them!

The steak and fries were a disappointment after the rock star prawns. I ordered the steak very rare and it came out pink, but not red. It came with a peppercorn sauce, but it lacked flavor and I was glad there was salt and pepper on the table. The Belgians are known for great fries, and they did not disappoint on this plate. Service was a bit hit and miss the night I was there; they had a problem in the kitchen and it affected the wait staff who forgot to bring me a steak knife, added a charge for bottled water I did not order, and neglected my discount from The Fork*. All remedied in the end, but a reminder to always check your bill before paying it. My total with a glass of wine and the discount came to 20 Euros or about $23 for quality food in a nice atmosphere.

The strolling the Ramblas after dinner

I passed the Gran Teatre del Liceu where they were getting ready to open for an evening of Opera.

I was about to turn in for the night when my host invited another house guest and me to a Couchsurfing event at Polaroid Bar, literally next to our place. I’m glad I accepted the invitation because I met people from all over the world, including Latvia, Germany, Italy, France, and of course the US. It was a Couchsurfing event, so we got discounted draft beer, and even though I don’t usually drink beer, it was better than the wine and the sweet mixed drinks, so I had my first beer in years here for the incredible price of 1.50 Euros (less than $2) for a pint!

On another night we went to Juanita Lalà, which had much better wine, and very loud music, but a great patio and enough space for some South Americans to strut their dance moves. We left when the place emptied at 3 AM, and headed to the Placa Reial to go clubbing but all three places we tried to get into were full or had monster lines!

After getting some snacks at the local market, we headed back around 4AM, but we weren’t the only ones out. I felt perfectly safe out that late with other people, but if I had been alone, I would definitely stick to the main streets and take a taxi if I was coming back from or to the Gothic quarter.

*Note : They had a problem with my US credit card, so bring cash or an EU credit card.

Barcelona rivals Paris for the sheer beauty of its buildings.

This is a hotel near Diagonal and Casa Mila

that resembles a castle.

A post office in the Gothic Quarter

whose interior

is as mesmerizing as a museum.

The justice building is less ornate, but still stately.

Everywhere I walked, there were intriguing styles,

sometimes right next to famous landmarks like the Casa Batlló,

or along the Ramblas.

The street lights

and street tiles in the Eixample district, both had rich details.

Now apartments and offices, many buildings are meticulously maintained

and you never know what may be beyond an open door

or behind an ancient window.

Residents are proud of their culture and their language Catalan,

and their rights to use natural substances

even as ingredients in ice cream:)

Some signs are meant for the tourists, but that doesn’t make them any less true!

One of the most famous churches in the world is Gaudi‘s unfinished Sagrada Familia. The church is so widely visited, it has its own metro stop in Barcelona.

Even coming out of the metro, you are greeted with art.

As with any popular tourist destination, it’s wise to buy your tickets online because the line in the rain was four blocks long on a weekday in the Winter. Count on at least an hour wait on week-ends and in the Summer.

Another option is to buy a tour which allows you entry through a special gate with much shorter lines.

Since I didn’t take my own advice to purchase my entry in advance, I literally walked around the entire structure

astounded by the details.

There was a much shorter line at the Cathedral of Barcelona,

and since it is in the middle of a neighborhood, there was an antique market in the square facing the church.

The style here is classically gothic, both outside

and inside.

This is not just a tourist destination, but an actual church, with prayer areas and confessionals, so a strict dress code is enforced (no shorts, bare arms, or tank tops), and student groups may not enter through the main gate. There are areas where no pictures or videos are permitted, so if you go please respect the rules as a guest here.

The astounding amount of gold in every one of the niches

was bedazzling to behold.

The stained glass on a rainy gray day

added a warm colorful light to the interior.

This section in the center of the church was off limits to visitors and from the map it looks like it is where the choir sits

with an elaborate staircase to the upper portion.

My favorite part was the cloister

with stone sculptures

and 13 geese :)

Barcelona has always a port and they added a beach to make it even more attractive to the flocks of tourists who come to enjoy the temperate weather and escape the cold (like I did). Port Vell is home to many pleasure boats, a mall, an aquarium, the tram to Montjuic, restaurants, a marina with sports venues, and commercial interests.

The walkway from the end of Las Ramblas is a beautiful way to reach the MareMagnum shopping Center

and this floating sculpture reminds you to relax as you enjoy the port and marina.

After all my sightseeing and walking, my legs and feet could not take the long road to the other end of Port Vell along the street Passeig de Colom

or by the beachside path behind the neighborhood of Balconeta,

so John Paul used HIS legs and feet to pedal the path for only 15 Euros or about $17 USD per person, it was well worth the cost (thank-you for the treat David).

Arriving at the beach without pain was priceless, as was the view.

The other end of the Port is also home to the museum of Catalan, and these yachts

all empty, sitting as if they are waiting for Summer.

This sculpture is called “The Faces of Barcelona” and sits at the Balconeta/Gòtic end of Port Vell because there are many facets to life here and every neighborhood is different.

John Paul (he says his father was a Beatles fan) suggested Salamanca Silvestre for paella and the display in front was so tempting, I decided to try it.

They have a patio overlooking the beach, but since I came at night, I went into the dining room which was quite formal. Many different patrons were dining in the restaurant, including a family with two small children who were casually dressed, and two very demanding Asian tourists who seemed to have mistaken Barcelona for Paris or Rome because they wanted French wine and Italian pasta in a Spanish restaurant. There was also a Spanish “Godfather” who ate in the corner table by himself, catered to by everyone of the staff members. He was served without a menu (no, he wasn’t the owner) and he never looked up from his mobile phone aside from acknowledging the staff (yes, I was afraid to take a picture of him)!

They served me sliced sausage as an appetizer gratis, and delivered tomato bread to the table. Even though I didn’t really want it, I tasted it and I regretted that decision for two reasons, 1) it was nothing special, and 2) once I ate a slice, it was an additional Euro on my bill. They also tried to sell me a half bottle of wine instead of a glass, but relented when I said I could not drink that much, and they added a charge for bottled water which I never ordered. Even though I spoke some Spanish, they knew I was a tourist, so be aware of how they might pad the bill.

I ordered a salad before my paella and was shocked at how copious it was when it arrived! It could easily have been shared by four people and the waiter graciously said in Spanish, “Just eat what you can.” I could have easily made a meal of this, with tuna, green and white asparagus, olives, corn, tomatoes, and romaine lettuce. I would recommend this for your meal if you want a light repast under 10 Euros ($12 USD).

John Paul said that Silvestre, the owner, was also known as a philanthropist giving away food to the poor and homeless who came to his restaurants. I ordered the mixed seafood for 18 Euros or about $21 USD. The calamari, clams, mussels and rice were addictive, but I found the langoustine and shrimp over cooked. I might order a mixed meat version next time so that the chances of overcooked shrimp would be eliminated. Nevertheless it was a good paella, not the best I’ve ever eaten, but certainly not the worst.

A wonderful finishing touch were the complimentary limoncello and cake they served me before my bill, to sweeten the memory of my meal :)

Two of the most famous buildings by Gaudí are literally a four blocks away from each other, Casa Milà also known as La Pedrera & Casa Batlló. Both are UNESCO Heritage sites so the regular entry price of a little over 21 Euros or $24 USD supports the maintenance and preservation of these landmarks.

Casa Milà (Metro: Diagonal) can be visited at night and you can even have dinner inside, which may be a very touristy thing to do, but it would also be a very unique experience.

Casa Batlló (Metro:Passeig de Gràcia) is a place I’ve dreamed about, although in my dream I could see the sea rather than gray rainy skies….

The entrance gives an enchanting glimpse of the whimsical lines in every room.

There are thoughtful surprises like a small skylight to add natural light to a dark corner

and doors designed with vents to naturally control room temperatures.

Even the ceiling has texture, and the glass designs above the doors and entries are different colors depending on which side you are facing.

Windows

and doors are unlike any you may have seen before

with views and shapes that invite you to smile:)

There’s a large terrace

with a view of the back of the house

and the interior has a skylight and smaller windows on top to regulate lighting on each floor.

Tiles don’t curve, so the corners are actually made of pieces made to look like they bend.

Some of the structures actually do bend, like the stairs to the roof

and the air vents on the top floor.

Mosaics made the chimneys works of art

and some portions are references to the story of St. George and the Dragon

with small look out “windows” that face Sagrada Família (obstructed now by an apartment building).

Ecology was important not only in regulating the light and heat of the house, but also water. The roof has a room which collects rainwater!

It’s great to have good dreams come true :)

The Barri Gòtic of Barcelona is the old town with narrow winding streets and hidden food gems. If you want to eat with locals instead of tourists, get lost in the maze of the gothic quarter and go where you see no menus in English. The tapas place on this street was so packed I never got a chance to try it, so I guess I just have to go back to Barcelona:)

Some signs reminded me of a place I know well.

I even found a vegan deli called Gopal, which had tasty (no meat product) burgers and salads that were exactly what my upset stomach needed one afternoon. I would avoid the fries which were covered with a big spoon of a vegan mayo and literally swam in oil.

Once my stomach calmed down, I headed over to Bar Celta Pulperia. This tapas bar specializes in tapas from Galicia, and they serve their wine in bowls :) They pour the first bowl and you refill as often as you like (they will tally up the total at the end). There are three long counters with choices of  traditional tortillas (in Spain this is a potato quiche), sausages, fried fish and seafood like calamari or shrimp,

potatoes, croquetas (fried potatoes with crab, cod, ham, or cheese),

razor clams, langoustines, and the best baby octopus, all grilled to order in garlic and olive oil.

The razor clams were tender and fresh, but only whetted my appetite for more,

like the grilled baby octopus, which was the best version I’ve ever eaten.

I love smelt but these were too big and fishy (I found much better ones a block away).

Of the croquetas, I preferred the cod to the ham, even though both were good.

The total for two of us sharing four tapas with four drinks (the sodas cost twice as much as the wine which was only 1.20 Euro a bowl) was 36 Euros or about $42 USD. The plates here are fairly large portions, so order as you eat, or just get a plate of the grilled octopus and head a block down the street to La Plata, which only serves four tapas, and of course wine

served in thimble sized glasses, a pour into your mouth carafe, or bottles.

The smelt here were delightful, small, crisp, hot and lightly salted. If it’s the only tapa you eat in Barcelona, order this at La Plata!

I ordered the anchovy on tomato bread drizzled with olive oil that would make all of you saying “Ew!” right now change your mind about anchovies! The grand total for two tapas and a thimble of wine was about 6 Euros or $7 USD.

After all these savory bites, I had to try something sweet, so I went to Chulapio, a crepe bar. I know, you can take me out of Paris, but I still need my French food. The owner here is half Mexican and half French, so his crepes are authentic, but his presentation is more tapas style so bites can be shared. A glass of cava with a sugar crepe was less than 7 Euros or $8 USD, and I had great conversations with the three other people in this tiny homey place.

It was still light outside, so a stroll around the Plaça Reial was next on the menu:)

Winter is cold and rainy in Paris, but Barcelona is only a 2 hour flight away and about 10 F warmer, so I decided to finally go see all the Gaudi buildings and try the food I’ve heard so much about in person:) I have friends who go to Barcelona as often as Los Angelenos go to Las Vegas, so they suggested I stay in the Gothic area or Barri Gòtic, which is the old town and literally a few blocks from Port Vell, the Ramblas, and the beach. I found a great place on Air BnB with a marvelous host, but whether you prefer a five star hotel or a youth hostel, there are plenty of options in all price ranges.

This statue of Columbus marks the waterfront at one end of Port Vell and one end of the Las Ramblas, the famous walking promenade similar to Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade.

Since I arrived around midnight, I asked my host where to go for coffee and croissant the next morning (you can take me out of Paris, but I still need my French breakfast)! He couldn’t remember which corner café of two nearby was the best so I tried the closest one on Carrer Ample.

Café au lait with a perfect flakey sugar topped croissant on the terrace was only 2.50  or $3 USD, which would not even buy an espresso in Paris, and if you add a friendly smiling waitress, you have a priceless breakfast:)

I was the lone person on the terrace at 9 AM, but I walked by later and saw it filled around 11 AM.

The café sits on the square with the Basilica de la Mercè

Carrer de la Mercè borders the other side of the church and has some of the best tapas bars.

Having had breakfast, my first stop was Park Güell. I knew it was a huge place so I wore flats, but if you are going, I recommend you wear hiking shoes or boots because the trails are steep, rocky and uneven. I saw several people with canes and admired their sheer perseverance. You could easily spend all day here.

The lines at the ticket offices at the site were long, so if you are coming by metro, buy your tickets at the station or better yet buy them online. If you are coming by metro, keep in mind it is at least a 10 minute climb uphill to the park, even if you use the escalators on the streets.

This is just part of the walk uphill from the metro, yes you must go to the top of the picture to get to the park entrance!

These are some of the groomed stairs in the park, but the steps are uneven stones, so use the handrails!

Once you make the trek up, you are rewarded with views like this of the Sagrada Familia

and Tibidabo on the other side.

The natural landscaping is functional as toilets are now built into the rock formation:)

The lookout point

with mosaics of different colors and shapes

at every curve is one of the most popular spots.

There are several other attractions at Park Güell and you can buy a ticket for the Gaudi House Museum separately or with the entry into the Monumental Zone. The rest of the park is free:)

Some people have left locks on fences here like they do in Paris, hopefully the weight will not cause the same problems it does in Paris….

Palau Güell is the first house Gaudi designed and you can see how he created coach entries in his soon to be famous curved stye

although the straighter top portion belies the hold of conventional form on him :)

Twitter

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Pinterest

Follow Me on Pinterest

Blog Stats

  • 26,810 hits
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 63 other followers