Monday, February 8, 2016

BARCELONA: NEW YEAR'S EVE AFTERNOON

From Parc Güell we caught a cab down to La Pedrera (aka Casa Milà), Gaudi's iconic apartment building which you've probably seen pictures of dozens of times, without knowing exactly what you were looking at. Fortunately, this time we only had an hour's wait until our timed entry -- just enough time to stroll around the corner for a bite to eat!

Now that's a BIG BEER!
 We began our tour on the roof-terrace of La Pedrera, with its storm-trooper-like chimneys...


and an amazing view of Gaudi's masterpiece-in-progress, Basilica de La Sagrada Familia.


Next came the attic, where residents used to have storage/laundry space, but which is now a mini museum.


Finally, we actually got to tour an unoccupied apartment, which has been furnished as it might have been in Gaudi's time. The most amazing thing about this building is that it has two large interior courtyards that extend from ground level to rooftop, and each individual apartment circles around one of these courtyards, allowing each and every room to be infused with natural sunlight!





I'd move here in a heartbeat!


On the ground floor there are two arched entries with gorgeous sculpted gates and, in the early days, horse-drawn carriages would enter through one gate, drop off passengers, follow a curved ramp down to the underground stables (now a parking garage), then circle back up to retrieve their passengers and leave through the other gate. Rather innovative for its time, don't you agree?


From there we strolled down Las Ramblas to the "block of discord", to take a peek at a few other unusual houses, including Gaudi's Casa Batlló, with it's dragon-like roof.


We wound up the afternoon having tea in the rooftop cafe of El Corte Inglés, a department store in Plaça de Catalunya.


Then it was time for our siesta!
  

Sunday, February 7, 2016

BARCELONA 3: TOO MUCH CANDY

Barcelona is a city so filled with eye candy that it's near impossible to keep from snapping pictures nonstop. Even more difficult is trying to narrow all the photos from each day down to the best of the best, so that my readers don't fall asleep midway through a blog post. (Yes, I do remember how boring it is to look at someone else's vacation photos) For this particular day in Barcelona, which happened to be New Year's Eve, it wasn't just difficult, it was impossible! Finally I realized it would have to be divided into two posts. Alas, even so, I'm crying over all the beautiful images I will have to omit.

On that morning, after another gray and mushy facsimile of a British breakfast at our hotel, we grabbed a taxi and headed off to Parc Güell -- Antoni Gaudi's early iteration of a master-planned community.


Unfortunately, this one never really took off during his lifetime, and only two houses got built, neither designed by Gaudi. It seems the housewives of that era, what with transportation being what it was at the time, refused to move so far away from all the shops and businesses. It wasn't until the city became so crowded and fetid that it was killing people, that the wealthy made their mass exodus to the suburbs. Still, it made for a fabulous park!

The park is divided into two areas, the larger of which is a public park, open to all. The other, the Monument Park where the famous undulating mosaic bench is located, requires an entrance fee. We got there as soon as the park opened, and got in line to purchase timed-entry tickets for that section, only to discover that the next available entry time wasn't until 3:30 that afternoon. If this is their off-season, as the guide book claimed, I'd sure hate to be here during high season! We abandoned the ticket line to go exploring in the public areas, and ended up feeling not even the tiniest bit deprived. I hope you enjoy the tour!



Hmmm, do I hear flamenco guitar coming from up there?


The house Gaudi lived in for 20 years still contains some of his gorgeous free-form furniture.
Color-Mad!
The Serpentine Bench, Seen From Above
 Only thing we didn't like about the park? The fact that it was chock full of selfie-obsessed tourists!


Helpful Hint: If you ever do go here, and seeing the monument section of the park is important to you, purchase your tickets in advance online.

Friday, February 5, 2016

SIMPLY SCRUMPTIOUS CAULIFLOWER

I tried a great recipe the other day, which originated with Martha Stewart, but came to me via favorite blogger NieNie. It's one of those wonderful one-pot meals, just perfect for this time of year. The only bad thing about it was that pretty much everything in it was white, as was the inside of my Dutch oven, so it wasn't very photogenic. But, what it lacked in beauty, it made up for in taste. Try it, you'll like it!

ONE-POT CURRIED CAULIFLOWER RICE

4 tsp. vegetable oil
1 large (?) head cauliflower, cored and cut into 1 1/2" pieces
salt and pepper 
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cups basmati or other long-grain white rice
4 tsp. (?) curry powder
1 can (15.5 oz) chickpeas/garbanzos, rinsed and drained
2 3/4 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400F. In Dutch oven heat 2 tsp. oil on med-hi, add cauliflower and cook, stirring frequently, until browned in spots. Transfer to a plate and season with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper. Add 2 tsp. oil and onion to pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add rice, curry powder and chickpeas. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until rice is coated, about 2 minutes. Add broth and cream and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Scatter cauliflower over top, but do not stir in.


Cover and bake until rice is tender and liquid has been absorbed, about 15 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.


I thought it was pretty awesome as is, been when asked his opinion, Hubby said "More curry, less cauliflower." So, next time I make it, I will probably use a smaller head of cauliflower (I had trouble getting it all in the pot!), and not only will I up the amount of curry powder, I will probably add our favorite spice trifecta - 1 tsp. ground cumin, 1 tsp. ground coriander and, of course, a dash or two (or three) of cayenne. Some like it hot!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

SHOP SHUTTER ART

One thing I loved in Barcelona was the louvered metal shutter that every shop pulled down over their glass windows and doors each night, to keep people from breaking in. They were covered in graffiti for the most part, but there were a few exceptions. The ones where the owners got proactive, and covered them in paint themselves? Well, those seemed to be graffiti-free. Here are just a few that I spotted.



Those first two were so enticing that I spent several days trying to find my way back to them, in order to see what was inside. It was worth the trouble!




Some were artistic, some were just ads, and some were pretty darn funny.





I loved them all!
 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

WHAT'S A BEDROODIO?

A bedroodio is what you get when you carve a little bit of space from the corner of your bedroom, and turn it into an art studio. This is what mine looks like.


I had a choice. I could have a larger space downstairs in our basement-like man cave or guest room, which you must go outside and down an uncovered staircase to reach, or I could use this tiny space in my tree house bedroom filled with sunshine. No contest, right?  The best thing about it is that I'm never far away from it, since our entire living space here consists of only three rooms and a bathroom. I stop by that drawing table a hundred times a day. Even if I only stop to stare at the work in progress for a minute, it gets the wheels turning! I probably never would have considered doing this, or even considered buying such a crazy-ass house, if I hadn't had a crazy-unique neighbor back in Midland, named Annamarie Mootz. She taught me that it was okay to break the rules and think outside the box when it comes to how you utilize whatever living space you have. I will be eternally grateful for that lesson!

I thought about cleaning it up before I took pictures to show you, so it would look like the ones in the magazines. But, then I decided to be honest. The truth is, this is about as clean as it ever gets!



The piles around the edges of the table are forever creeping towards the center, and I only break down and clear away the clutter when they finally meet in the center, and there is no longer any room to work!


Right now I really need these piles scattered about me, for they are all the bits and pieces that I gathered along the way in Sudan and Spain. Whenever I walk past the table, I let my eyes drift over them, then start pulling out one piece here, another piece there, until finally, I end up with a new page in my travel journal. Pages like these.







I love my little bedroodio, which seems positively luxurious compared to the Wee Little Studio I started out with about four years back. Just goes to show, there's always room to be creative, if you want it bad enough.

Monday, February 1, 2016

BARCELONA 2: SWEET STREETS & CHURCH MUSIC

I should probably warn you right now that we are not your typical tourists. As a rule, we don't do churches and museums, or run around trying to get pictures of ourselves in front of all the famous monuments. We used to travel that way, each thinking that's what the other wanted. Fortunately, we finally admitted to one another that neither of us was having any FUN, and gave ourselves permission to do things our way. And, both being introverts who thrive on time alone, we also gave ourselves permission to balance time together with time apart -- to do those things that interest us, but not necessarily our sweetie pie. We also discovered that we hate packing and unpacking, and driving from one place to another, trying to fit too many towns into too short a time. What we love is staying in one place, preferably a walkable city with lots of nooks and crannies to explore, and lots of cafes from which to people-watch -- which is why we chose to spend the entire week in Barcelona, instead of trying to cover all of Spain. These days, we actually love our trips together!


So, on our second day in Barcelona, we set off down Las Ramblas to take a tour of Palau Güell, the "palace" built by Antoni Gaudi for his great benefactor, Eusebi Güell. Have I mentioned that Gaudi's color-mad architecture is one of our main reasons for choosing Barcelona? You can expect to see lots of it in the coming posts. This was one of his earlier projects I think, before he fully broke from tradition and started making up his own rules as he went along, but you got glimpses of what was to come.



We also explored La Boqueria market, which we passed on our way there.




After our tour we went back and had lunch at one of the cafes behind the market -- fried baby squid and a Spanish tortilla (fritatta) for me, more tomato bread and Iberian jamon (ham) for Hubby.


Then it was time for a parting of the ways. That morning, on our way to Palau Güell, we came up behind a little tour group. The guide was pointing down one of those tiny little side streets, saying "There. That is where you will find the best chocolate!" I had to go back and check it out, right? So, when John went off 'splorin' with his camera, I opted to head back to Carrer Petritxol, aka The Hot Chocolate Street.



I was too full from lunch to try the super-rich hot chocolate or churros, but I did manage to "force" down a slender slice of candied orange dipped in dark chocolate on one end, from one of several confectioners along this street. Yummmmm!

On my way back to the hotel I cut through Plaça del Pi, and spotted a sign outside the little basílica there, which tempted me into breaking our "No Churches" rule. So after a rest and a quick dinner at Taller de Tapas, we returned to Basílica Santa María Del Pi for this.


The talent and the acoustics were phenomenal. The backless wooden pews? Not so much!