Trip Start Sep 30, 2009
27Trip End Sep 08, 2010
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Where I stayed
Our first stop in Spain was Madrid
Madrelinos have a different eating schedule than Americans. Lunch is the main meal of the day and in the evening, tapas are consumed at various bars as you make your way to dinner. I have no idea how these people can eat so much and yet remain skinny. Tapas dining suited us as we liked the variety of flavors in small portions that allowed us to try so many different types of food. Aside from traditional cuisine, Spain has been rising in the Michelin rankings due to its very inventive molecular cuisine. The king of molecular cuisine is undoubtedly Ferran Adria, but his restaurant El Bulli is closing this year for an indefinite amount of time, hence reservations were impossible to obtain (I've been trying for a year). The next best thing was to eat at La Terraza del Casino, where his protege and the head of El Bulli's Catering presides. The meal presented us flavor and texture combinations that we had never had before, such as bourbon sorbet made with liquid nitrogen, jamon iberico foam, deconstructed olives, parmesan ice cream sandwiches, lemon meringue prepared with liquid nitrogen
Following Madrid, we headed up to Bilbao in the Basque region. This is the home of the famous Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Bilbao. The architecture is the attraction as the collection inside pales in comparison - it is mostly pieces from the permanent collection in NY that are in rotation here. When we were there, they had an Anish Kapoor restropective, which was very thought provoking.
Bilbao, itself is the Pittsburgh/Cleveland/Erie of Spain. Once a rundown industrial port, the town has managed to revive itself through art and architecture. It's as if the town mandarins decided to call every Pritzker prize winning architect still working and ask them to design a building for the town. Now the town gets roughly 7 million visitors a year. Pretty good for a town of 350K permanent inhabitants.
The best tapas, or pintxos as they are called here, we had were in Bilbao. Being close to France, you can see the influence of French cuisine in the cuisine. Foie gras on toast with fig preserves was one of our favorites. Langoustine salad with caviar on toast was another.
After spending three days in Bilbao, we took a train along the foothills of the Pyrenees to Barcelona. The city is young, vibrant and full of merry makers. One of my cousins lives in Barcelona, so it was nice to have a semi-local show us around the town. Our favorite museum was the Museo Picasso. Being from Catalonia, Picasso donated a great many sketches, preparatory drawings, sculpture, and paintings to the city when he passed away
The other famous museum here is the Fondacion Joan Miro. Set up on Montjuic and overlooking downtown Barcelona, the museum presents the artists six decades of work. If you are fan of Miro's art, you will be happy to know that towards the end of his life, he strove to find the simplest way to express his ideal. There are pictures of him drawing figures into beach sand with a stick and then watching the waves wash them away.
Barcelona was also the site of an ancient Roman garrison, Barcino. It is here that Augustus Caesar founded a retirement garrison for some of his soldiers. Underneath the city hall where Ferdinand and Isabelle received Columbus following his famous trip to the West Indies, are the ruins of Barcino. You can tour the town via the touring walkways suspended over the site. Given its location on the Mediterrean Sea, Barcino was famous for making garum. Garum is the juice of fermented fish. To SE Asians you will find this very familiar, as it is very much like Vietnamese "nuoc mam nhi" or Thai "nam pla." The Italians still make a version called "Colatura di Alici." According to the museum, garum was a favored seasoning of Romans. This production brought great wealth to Barcino. Walking around the museum, you can see the major components of the production line that was used.
You can't write about Barcelona without mentioning Gaudi. His highly individualist designs pushed the barriers of Modernism. One of his most famous buildings is the still unfinished Sagrada Familia. Sadly he was hit by a street car in 1926 and died a few days later. The city is still trying to finish the cathedral and hope to have it done by 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of his death.