Category Archives: Spain 2011

The One With Chocolateria de San Gines – Authentic Spanish Churros in Madrid

During my grand Europe tour in January last year, I had but one night and one day in Madrid. Back then I couldn’t wait to get out of Madrid; I was still reeling with the devastation of losing my iPhone to pickpocket the night before.

It was only after I have bought the earliest available train ticket to Barcelona that I decided, hey, I had a couple of hours to kill. So why not take in some local delicacies?

That was how I ended up at Chocolateria de San Gines.

Chocolateria San Gines

The location was not that reassuring. The cafe was located behind a church, still within a tourist zone (read: pickpocket heaven), so I wrapped my jacket tightly around myself and walked in.

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The One With La Sagrada Familia – The Greatest Catalan Icon Of Our Time (Really)

One of the definite highlights from my Europe trip last year was definitely the awesome La Sangrada Familia, the last work and arguably the most impressive of all Gaudi’s work. I didn’t knew it at that time, but the whole structure is like a giant chocolate cake dropped from heaven right onto Barcelona.

Consider this shot taken from a vantage point at Park Guell later that day:

At Park Guell Of Barcelona

The cathedral was so out of this world, you couldn’t possibly miss out that misshapen structure on the skyline of Barcelona.

(And yes, I know I look damn cool in this photo, thank you very much, hehe)

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The One With Europe ’11 Day 12 – The Church, Stadium & Park Of Barcelona

At Park Guell Of Barcelona

If there is one temptress of a city in Europe, whom seduce you with gorgeous places and great places, Barcelona will be it.

I couldn’t be more blessed with the weather, allowing me to visit some major sights in the city on my second day here. In between spots I get to see some of the more rural part of Barcelona, where in the midst of nondescript but equally beautiful public housing (did you know they also have flats here?), you have a culture/sport/nature spot.

Isn’t that amazing?

– Visited the awesome La Sangrada Familia, the last work and arguably the most impressive of all Gaudi’s work. Just seeing the facade from the outside was already an amazing sight. There is no other word for it. The whole damn church defies every law known to humankind.
– The inside was equally jaw-dropping but in very different ways. Towering columns, amazing use of natural light, intricate stained glass panels… everything was deliberately created the way they were, and for good reasons
– In the workshop I discovered the many wondrous inspirations Gaudi used for the church. Now if there is one type of architecture which I could truly admire and indulge in, it would be his
– Next up was the Barcelona football stadium. Where I get to see the FIFA World Cup, the stadium, the golden shoe, the vuvuzela…
– … and I learned who Leo Massi was
– … and then I became a Barca myself
– Right after the stadium, made my way to Park Guell. I had no idea how the park will be spread out, and it was totally useless to follow the crowd for they are going every different direction. So I just followed my feet… upwards. Towards the vantage point of the park
– At where I was rewarded with this amazing skyline of Barcelona. I was lucky that the sky cleared up and I can see everything clearly; from the port, to La Rambla, to La Sangrada Familia. Barcelona, without a doubt, was a beautiful city
– From there I carry my weary feet back to the hostel for a spot of… laundry. Doing what a local might do.
– Then out for tapas at Catalana. Walked like some 5 km to get there. Amazing food, easily the best Spanish meal I had. Trained home.

In bed by twelve. Dead tired but dead satisfied. Ooooh wait till you see the photos.

The One With Europe ’11 Day 11 – First Day In Barcelona

The Skyline Of Barcelona

After the horrifying experience at Madrid, I can’t deny that I approached Barcelona with much caution. Ever the alarmist, I stored everything valuables – from wallet to camera to keys – in the inner pockets of my new Celio jacket (which incidentally has layers than I thought). I slung my backpack protectively across my body, and placed it in front of my body where I can hug it.

In short, I looked like a freaked out tourist suspecting everyone around him like a would-be robber.

But even at that state of mind, I couldn’t help being awed by the spectacular that Barcelona has to offer. It’s easy to see why this was one of my friends’ favourite city in Europe:
– Cobbled alleyway and charming old buildings made the Old Town of Ciutat Vella a joy to get lost into. I couldn’t do it in Morocco, but I let myself be swept by the crowd across Barcelona
– Plaza Catalunya is like any large square in the world, with the minor distraction in the form of flocks of pigeon. But what with the sprawling La Rambla right next to it and affectionate Spaniards kissing each other goodbye, I felt like in a arty romance film. Cue the rising sun and flying pigeons, minus the poo
– The morning crowd of La Rambla. Even as I hugged my belonging closer to me, I peered cautiously at the setting up pantomines (?) and stall owners. Everything was fresh, new and rejuvenating with its hues of colours. Like they are hoping for a good today. Even the tortoises on sale poked out their heads and peered curiously at this excited stranger
– Detoured from La Rambla and ended up right smack inside Mercat de la Boqueria, a bustling market. Everything is huge here – from cured meat to seafood (oh god they like it so big) to whole suckling pigs to mountains of fruits. And only in a Spanish market you’ll find bar to serve you pints of foamy beer, if you need it that early in the morning
– Tourists were milling about Plaza Reial, but for the life of me I couldn’t see what’s so interesting with that fountain in the middle. Maybe I was at the wrong place
– So I sauntered up to the center of the old town, where Barcelona’s political heart was at. Got distracted along the way with many shops. Spent more time than I should here. But oh Starbucks how I miss ya.
– There was a peaceful protest outside Palau de la Generealitat. The sight of the colourful protesters, policemen and dancing bunnies (it was some tourist thing) was kinda ironic in a comforting way
– Buskers. They were everywhere. And not one of those who strummed a few chords on their guitar and calling it a show. These buskers have real talent. Many offered albums of their own creation. Their audience are an appreciative lot. I guess with the sunshine and cold weather, the catchy music – from jazz to “Spanish guitar duo” – put everyone in good mood
– Museums. Barcelona is full of it. I am not a museum person. So that explains the lack.
– The Roman Wall. I was there captivated by some gigantic bubbles show (yes I was that impressionable) and didn’t realise I was at a World Heritage Site. Hah.
– Second calamari meal, this time at the delightful Mercat de Santa Caterina. If I ever run a restaurant business, it will be like this. Open kitchen, bustling chefs, delightful wait staff, plenty of nature. It was difficult not to enjoy a meal here. The food, needless to say, was one morsel from being perfect.
– Anxious to soak in some culture and history, I went into The Cathedral and Esglesia de Santa Maria del Mar. The Spaniards appear to like their churches soaring skywards. The higher, the better. As a result a natural hush permeated over the visiting crowd like a silencing cloak. It was almost magical.
– The port of Barcelona was a wide collection of mooring yatches. Harumph. There are many wealthy people here, I suppose.
– After a quick nap in the hostel, I ditched my map and went for a unguided stroll around La Rambla, following the Saturday crowd. Ended up at El Raval, the answer to everything hip and young and cutting-edge of Barcelona. Throngs of students made way for dinner at small, local cafes, while shops offering second hand goods, designer bags, Inca costumes (?!) and many others dotted the whole place
– After dithering for hours and a delightful chocolate waffle later, I settle for yet another paella dinner. Hmmm. Was okay.

The weather on my first day here has been great. Let’s see what the second day holds!

The One With Europe ’11 Day 9 – Disasters From Marrakech To Madrid

Plaza del Sol

Woke up from an unsettling slumber (the wind was howling through the medina and I kept thinking someone was knocking on my window in the middle of the night) to a rainy morning in Marrakech. Despite the gray sky and wet everything, I was grateful for the weather to have hold itself up for the past couple of days as I made my way through Fez, Meknes, Essaouira and Marrakech.

Breakfast was an unhurried affair in the courtyard of Darr Attajmil, with the waiter-slash-hammam man, Brahim, served me endless cups of coffee. After checking out he led us to a taxi which will take us to the Aeroport some 12 km away for 80 dirhams. Which was fine, until the driver tried to extort another twenty dirhams from me “for the luggage”. But unlike the naive me who got conned for some cobra photos, I gave him a disgusted look, said no and firmly turned away.

Yay me… until an hour later when I discovered that my Easyjet ticket to Madrid was booked for the day before! I panicked, and immediately tried to purchase another ticket for the same flight today. It cost me another 1500 dirhams, but I was grateful I didn’t make the shocking discovery only upon checking in. I was also happy that I had the girls with me, whom seemed to have gotten used to the careless me and helped me to sort things out. Thank god for small mercy, that’s all I had to say.

At the custom the officer flipped through my passport and casually asked for my Spanish visa. Second panic of the day! What visa? I said I didn’t need a visa, and he raised an eyebrow before sauntering off to see someone else. I was panicking right there at the counter, couldn’t believe how screwed up I was. But all was well, I was waved through… though there was a disquiet in me that I may need a visa to enter Spain.

Of course, like many things I worried about in my life, my fear was unfounded. The flight to Madrid by Easyjet was miles better than Ryanair. After a fuss free check in, the journey from the airport to the hostel, located at Plaze de Opera, was somewhat long but not difficult. The hostel itself was bright and cheery. I was sharing room with three ladies, two whom are Koreans (I assumed from the books they are reading), but as I was staying only for one night, I didn’t make the effort to be friendly apart from the hellos and byes.

Later that evening I ventured into Arenal, a wide pedestrian street stretching between Opera and Sol metro stations. Immediately I realise that my flimsy Giordano turtleneck, why in a colour I love (purple), would not be thick enough to keep me warm. After trawling through some shops along Arenal, I settled for a cool looking but a size too small black wool jacket from Celio.

Hey, you would suffer for fashion too.

Dinner was seafood paella (I learned that the yellow colouring came from saffron, one of the most expensive spices in the region) and beer. Beer! Oh how much I miss you. After a drought of alcohol in Morocco, the pint over dinner was almost welcome.

After some probing into the state of lethargy that I was in, I decided to throw caution into the wind and went for a night out at Chucea.

Then disaster striked.

It was only eleven when, after venturing into some decidedly unfriendly pubs and clubs, I decided to head home. I was consulting my snap of the local map (I didn’t want to carry around my Lonely Planet at the clubs) on my iPhone, a man stopped me and started to jabber at me in rapid Spanish. I thought he has been drunk as he was holding a cup of what looked like red wine. I told him I don’t speak Spanish, and in the state of overfriendliness I was in (the demenour I put on when I go to clubs, alone), I asked him where was the metro station. He took his time to point the way, which I suspected about. Then when I tried to leave, he kept talking to me. A car passed by with a group of yelling teens, and I briefly looked up, somewhat distracted.

It must have been then when my iPhone got lifted from my pocket.

As I walked away firmly from the man, some twenty steps down the road I realised my pockets were empty. I didn’t bring out my passport (thank God), and I kept my wallet inside my new jacket. Only my phone was in the front pocket, and to my shock I realised I must have been a victim of a pickpocket. I quickly retraced my steps to the spot, but of course the man was gone. I looked on the ground in case I dropped my phone, but it was late at night and I couldn’t see any signs of it.

I was beyond devastated. The iPhone, apart from containing many personal information, was my one lifeline to my life on the go. After making my way to the hostel, I immediately logged online and changed all my important passwords – Google, Facebook, Dropbox – and then alerted my friends in Hong Kong to help me to cancel the line. Many speculated on what happened to my phone, some even called but to no avail despite the ringing phone.

It was close to three o’clock in the morning when I finally accepted defeat and the fact that my iPhone is gone. Less than a year into service. Tomorrow I will go to make a police report to claim for insurance. With a troubled mind over what the thief can do with my personal data (SMS-es, WhatsApps, and other apps can have discriminating information), I went to sleep.