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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Spain -- Barcelona 8.7.09

                                     * Park Guell                                             * Sagrada Familia

                                     * Casa Batllo                                           * La Pedrera (Casa Mila)

                                     * Taller de Tapas                                  * Robbery on Calle Princesa y Calle Montcada

Friday 8.7.09 -- Gaudi day, and a very wrong night

Today is Gaudi day. We are hitting all the sights designed by Antoni Gaudi.  We tried to leave the apartment early so we can enjoy relatively mild weather in the morning.  We took the metro to Lesseps, and transferred to bus 24. Bus 24 dropped us off in front of the Park Guell's side entrance.  

Park Guell is a park like no others.  It is full of imagination and fairy-tale like. We passed casa museu Gaudi, and walked to the esplanade, lavishly decorated with colorful shattered tiles.  Walking down the staircase, we passed by the pale, quiet, and cool pillared hall, and came to the front entrance of the park.  It was impossible to get a clean shot of the iconic lizard.  The crowd was everywhere.  Eventually, I gave up, and accepted that people in the backdrop would be part of the deal. 

From the front entrance, we hailed a cab to Sagrada Familia.  The taxi ride cost us about 6 euros, which was totally worth it considering the alternative was walking under the hot sun to the metro station and not to mention the time we saved.  Sagrada familia was easily spotted with heavy construction surrounding it.  There was a long line at the entrance.  We probably waited a good 30 minutes before going in. There are sooooo much on the facade of the church that the self guided audio really helped us to navigate some of the details of Gaudi's design.  We were constantly looking up that we all desperately needed neck messages by the end of the tour.  There is still so much work needed to complete Gaudi's vision of this church.  I wonder how long it would take to finish.  I did feel good knowing that the admission fee we paid were going towards the construction though.  We spent a good 2.5 hrs at Sagrada Familia.  Before we knew it, it was past 3 o'clock in the afternoon.  We had to hurry out to get some lunch before the restaurants close at 4 PM.  We randomly picked a restaurant nearby for a simple lunch and much needed break.  From there on, we took another cab to Passeig de Gracia to see some of Gaudi's residential buildings.  


The cab dropped us off in front of La Pedrera (Casa Mila).  It was probably 5 PM at the time, and there was a very long line of people waiting to get in.  I asked one of the staff members how long the wait would be.  She told me it would probably be another 45 minutes, and suggested to come back after 6 PM as the crowd would be thinning by then.  D, E, and I decided to walk two blocks to see Casa Bastllo first.   Paseig de Gracia was a very pleasant avenue to walk on with beautiful window displays, high-end retail stores, clean and spacious sidewalks, and amazing mansions along both sides of the avenue. 


Casa Bastllo was an apartment block remodeled by Gaudi and Josep maria Jujol from 1902 to 1906.  There was not a single straight line in this apartment building.  The attic and the roof terrace were the highlights of the building.  I also enjoyed taking the tiny small old elevator down from the top.  It felt like I was taking the submarine diving into the deep sea.  In the middle of our tour, D was not feeling well all of a sudden.  It was probably the combination of exhaustion, dehydration, heat, and the alcohol from lunch.  She decided to go back to the apartment to rest, as E and I continued the rest of the tour. 

After Casa Bastllo,  we went back to La Pedrera.  There was still a line, but it was much shorter.  After 10 minutes, we were at the ticket booth.  With only a little cash in hand, I was trying to pay the admission by credit card.  The staff requested to see my ID.  Unfortunately I forgot to bring a copy of my passport and had to use cash (not happy).  After getting the tickets, we entered the building with the x-ray machine checking visitor's belongings. Once cleared, we passed through the courtyard and were instructed to begin our tour by taking the elevator to the fourth floor.  

The staff member in front of the elevator asked to check our tickets again.  With a water bottle, a guide book, two sunscreens, a pair of sunglasses, a camera, a cellphone, all the tickets stubs and receipts stuffed in my bag, I could not find the ticket!  It was a long day, and I started losing my cool.   I was mumbling "why checking the tickets again?? Didn't I just go through the x-ray? What the heck??? Where was the darn ticket?? I just had it 5 minutes ago!!" I was getting quite agitated as I was going through my bag.  

The lady at the elevator said to me, "If the staff at the ticket booth recognize you, I can let you in." which irritated me even more. I mean, I would have to go back to the ticket booth and get them to voucher that I did pay the ticket 5 minutes ago??? What a pain in the neck!!  Poor E had to witness the whole thing and quietly smiled by my side to show that not all Asian women are bitches, you know. Anyway, good thing that I found the ticket soon after and was allowed into the elevator.  So, for all of you out there, if you visit La Pedrera, hang on to your tickets before you enter the elevator!


I absolutely adored La Pedrera. It was clearly Gaudi's work, but it was also apparent that he designed the building with a woman in mind.  There were many natural elements Gaudi applied beautifully in this building.  The roof top with trencadis- covered ventilation shafts sculptured like medieval knights with their helmets on.  It was like these shining knights protecting the castle where their Queen lived.  The colors on the walls and ceilings of the courtyard, and the arched staircase and tree-like columns made you feel like you were walking into a secret garden. It was such a lovely building!  

By the time we left La Pedrera, it was after 8 PM.  We headed home to meet up with D for dinner.  On the metro, E asked me what day it was.  I told her that it was August 7.  She could not quite believe it and asked me if I was sure.  I told her, "Yes, it is one day after my birthday, I am pretty sure."  E could not wrap it around her head that we did so much since she arrived yesterday at 2PM.  I had to agree with her, but there was still so much to see, so much to do that I was not sure if we would have enough time for all of it.  When we got home, D was feeling much better and was ready to come out with us to hit the town. As D and I were getting ready, we chatted about how much I enjoyed Barcelona and how much this city has to offer.  

Finally, we were all showered, changed, and ready to party!  D wanted to check out the night life scene in Barcelona and we were happy to participate.  So far, I had been the one reading up the guidebook, leading D & E around the city hitting all the sights.  However, getting lost for 2 hours last night, D & E quickly realized that my brain shut down when the sun went down.  My input was not to be trusted after 8 PM.  They took it upon themselves to study the map.  It was the first time I saw both them reading the guidebook since we arrived in Barcelona.  I joked that it was a historical moment, and documented it with photos and videos.  

At 10:15PM, we walked out of our apartment and headed towards Calle Argenteria for Taller de Tapas.  The restaurant was packed.  We sipped on Sangria while we waited, and got the seats at the bar after 20 minutes.  The friendly Italian waiter helped us with the orders: Gambas al Ajillo (grilled prawn), salt cod fritters, razor clam, Pimientos de Padron (green padron peppers - we loved this dish, most of the peppers were very mild), Pulpo a la gallega (braised octopus, super delicious!), Choricitos a la sidra (Chorizos braised in Ausuria cider, the sauce was really yummy), Esparragos a la plancha (Grilled green asparagus -- just throw in there for the daily required fiber intake), Patata Bravs (Fried potato, classics), and a bottle of cavas for us to share.  

We were fed, relaxed, and had a great time.  The Italian waiter reminded D not to hang her purse on the back of the chair, as the restaurant was open to the sidewalk, and anyone could walk in and snatch the purse.  

To top off our delicious meal, we ordered two more desserts: White & Dark chocolate mousse and mato de "drap" d'Ullastnet con miel de Montseny (creamy fresh goat cheese from Ullastret with honey and pine nuts).  The mato dessert did not look much at first sight, but once you tasted it, it was over!  The cheese just melted in your mouth, and the hint of honey and combination with pine nuts were to die for! It really put a perfect ending to this meal. 
While we were waiting for the check, we took a few more pictures.  The friendly waiters working at the bar wanted to be in the pictures,  I started noticing a trait.  There were two guys honking their car wanting us to take pictures of them while we walked on La Rambla. Two servers in Can Majo from my birthday lunch just stood next to me while my picture was taken.  Even the male staff in the ticket booth or security guard at the x-ray were playful with us.  The guys we encountered here seemed friendly and pleasant.  And the same was true when we traveled to Madrid. 

We walked out of Teller de tapas around 1AM.  We were a little tipsy and in high spirit.  Not knowing much about the Barcelona night life, we checked out a few bars we passed by.  The bars we saw had similar vibes with some bars in east village and west village in New York City.  Casual and low key, some were noisier and smokier than others.  We did not stay in any of the bars, and continued walking home on Calle Princesa.  Calle Princesa was the main street in El Born.  At 1AM, there were still many people around.

At one point, I was walking ahead of D and E.  All of a sudden, I heard D screaming.  I thought D and E were having too much fun.  

As I turned around, I saw a guy running into the Calle Montcada and D screamed "I just got robbed!"  

My heart skipped a beat and started pounding really fast.  This can't be true. The street felt so safe! We were literately 2 blocks away from our apartment!  I quickly walked towards D and E. D frantically told us that her iphone, cash, credit card, debit card, and the only set of keys to our apartment were all gone!  

We learned that this guy was walking behind D and E.  As D and E were approaching the corner of Calle Princesa and Calle Montcada, the guy grabbed D's purse strap with both hands, forcefully pulled it down from her shoulder, ran into Calle Montcada, and disappeared into one of the even smaller streets.  People stood on the corner watching, as the whole thing went down.  No one moved.  According to witnesses, the robber was young and well dressed.  He wore a white shirt and blue denim.  Some girls thought he was with us and played a joke on D.  For the rest of the night, I hugged my purse so tight that my arms were sore.  

Three local guys were kind enough to land us a much needed helping hand.  They felt sorry for what had happened to us, and told us that this type of crime was not uncommon on Calle Princesa.  It probably happened once every day.  One guy helped us to contact the police.  Another guy accompanied E to the smaller streets hoping to find D's purse.  With my local cell phone, I was able to help D cancel her credit card and debit card immediately.  I called our landlord since we were locked out of our apartment. I also called E's sister as she happened to visit Barcelona at the same time.  But I could not get in touch with neither one of them.  The police called back asking us to go to the station to file a report.  There did not seem to be anything else the police could do for us.  They did not even send a police car over. 

It was after 2 AM, We had nowhere to go. Two of the guys said goodbye, and the third guy took us to his friend's bar and tried their phone to see if we would have a better luck with the land line.  It worked! We got in touch with E's sister and got the address of her hotel.  We hailed a cab to the hotel.  Just as we arrived at the hotel, the landlord called me back.  He told us that he would come by the apartment to open the door for us in 30 minutes.  We went to the hotel to say hello to E's sister and D borrowed the phone to call her husband.  We were all kind of numb and in disbelief about what had happened.  As we were sitting in the lobby waiting for the taxi that the reception called for us, it occurred to me that D had her camera in her purse too.  When I broke the news to D, that's when she finally broke into tears, not because of the camera, but all the precious pictures and memories that were lost forever.  

We eventually got home around 3AM.  We were exhausted, but none of us were able to sleep.  We did not know why D got picked as the target of the crime.  It could have been any one of us, and there was no way we could have stopped it from happening and fought back.  If last night was the extreme high, tonight was the extreme low.  Our emotions were all over the places as if we all had 10 shots of espressos at once.  Finally I suggested that we each say a prayer to get centered and calm our nerves down, which seemed to have helped.  We put the lights out attempting to get some rest, but none of us were able to fall asleep.  

It was a long night.  A very long night on the dark side of Barcelona......


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