Wednesday, October 31, 2007
The grimmest of this year was also marked by the sudden and tragic passing of two individuals: my dear Hippo's mother and my brother-in-law's father both in the past week and both had their funerals on the same day on difference sides of the Atlantic. Meanwhile, across the Pacific, my father celebrated his 68th birthday on the exact same day. Aware of these losses, I am sure that he views life as precious. A realization made more acute when death seems to strike so unexpectedly.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Monday, October 08, 2007
We took the elevator up one of the towers, taking in spectacular sites of giant fruit topped spires before walking down these 257 steps. Both Ms. Foodie and I had to pause on occasion because of some slight vertigo and to enjoy the views from the windows in the towers.
Another memorable moment was the protest by Spaniards and Buddhist monks in Spain against the Juta regime in Burma. We did not learn that this was part of a co-ordinated world wide action organized by Amnesty International until we watched the news that evening.
Gaudi's playful nature is apparent in these sentries (disguised chimney stacks) on the roof of the Casa Mila or La Pedrera (the quarry). When Gaudi first unveiled this design, some critics described the apartment as a collection of bland stones. Hence, the nickname of "the quarry" was adopted for this building.
One little know fact about Gaudi was his death. Gaudi was local celebrity in Barcelona at the time he was the architect of the Sagrada Familia. He lived and worked in the neighbour close to his beloved structure. On his way to work one day, he was struck by a tram a block away from the Sagrada Familia. He was taken to a hospital where he eventually died. His body lay unrecognized for three days!
After days of eating Spanish food, I had to make a break for an Asian meal in Barcelona. All that oil, heavy sauce, and deep fried foods can make this Asian girl hungry for a bowl of noodles. So it was off to a Japanese restaurant called Udon for a satisfying bowl of beef ramen.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
That evening, we had easily the best meal in Spain at Cal Pep. We arrived at 9pm (early by Spanish time) and did not get a seat the bar until 10pm. The usual one hour wait is normal at this restaurant (and we were warned about this at many reviews of the place). However, we were served several glasses of white wine and beer while waiting. It also give us an opportunity to observe the dishes being served. This turned out to be valuable as there was no menu. There is one posted outside of the restaurant but none was given when we were seated. Dishes of baby octopus stewed with chicken peas, whole prawns grilled with heads on, calamari, lightly battered and deep fried artichoke hearts, baked white fish, stewed clams, floated by. Our heavenly meal was washed down with house white wine. To complete this culinary experience, I had Calvados and Ms. Foodie has some pistachio ice cream. Drunk, full and happy, we stumbled home which was thankfully less than 300m away.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Sadly, most of the museum's exhibits were under renovation at the time of visit and would open in about 2 weeks. Bad planning on our part. However, we did have fun with the existing installations.
I didn't think I would be impressed by Bilbao's Guggenheim. Very big and frankly industrial in nature, what was the fuss about? In fact, it has been 10 years since Frank Gehry's design was made real here on the banks of the Nervion. This controversial structure has been hailed as the first real wonder of the 21st century and vilified as a cheese factory or giant cauliflower.
Love it or hate it, the Guggenheim has transformed Bilbao itself. In its first year of construction, this city of 450 000 citizens was visited by over 700 000 peoples from around the world. I did think the structure ultimately was quite beautiful. It is very different from the rest of the architecture in Bilbao making it quite a spectacle. However, the industrial products involved in the contruction give a nod to Bilbao's past. As a bonus, Sir Norman Foster designed subway (the most modern in the world) has the trains gliding across rails embedded on a green lawn. Very cool!
This photograph is of the remnants of muslim influence in Toledo. Part of the Mezquita de las Tornerias i.e. a modest mosque now part of a house of arts and craft display.
As Ms. Foodie and I wandered through the wet cobblestone paths of Toledo, we contemplated the demise of this once cosomopolitan city. From the remains of the Mosque (Mesquita) de las Tornerias to the horseshoe arches of the Synagogue de Santa Maria La Blanca, and to the tower of the Church of Santa Tombe, the moorish influence is seen everywhere.
When we returned to Madrid, Ms. Foodie suggested dinner at Casa Minga. Recommended by Frommers, Chow Hound and other foodie website sites, this restaurant had but a few things on the menus: cider, roast chicken and the grilled peppers with tuna. All were quite excellent but as Ms. Foodie rightly pointed out, the cider tasted a bit rustic (or in my words like a barnyard!).
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Segovia is perched on a hill and the Cathedral of Nuestra Senora de la Ascuncion and of Frutos (no kidding) dominates the city's landscape. We wandered through the old Jewish quarter (which was abandoned when all the Jews were expelled from the city in 1492), Casa Del Sol (slaughter house), town square, several old family houses with their coat of arms emblazoned over the doorway, converted synagogues, medieval city walls and many gates.
Along the way, we did stop for some tasty tapas at Jose Maria bar, a favourite among the Segovians. After the pork mini-sandwiches and pickled sardines with onions (washed down with beer and red wine), it was off to the Alcazar.
The Alcazar of Segovia is believed to be one of the inspirations for Disney's castles. This is what the local tourist board would have you believe. Nevertheless the tall spires do evoke an air of fantasy. Whether Cinderella or Rapuzel inhabited these towers is subject to debate. The central crenallated tower of Juan II is definitely of Moorish influence though.
When we returned to Madrid, our long lost bags had arrived. To celebrate, Ms. Foodie and I went out for more tapas. In this case, the local house wine which was sweet accompanied with sweetbreads (or if you like pancreas fried up). Yum Yum. The Spanish do know how to live. Rising late, eating well and partying late into the night.
Monday, October 01, 2007
This was the fuel we needed for our day's walking exploration of the Spanish capital. Walking through the old city from the El Rastro (old market) where we saw may strange foods including the below photograph of bull's testicles which is considered a delicacy to the Royal Palace. There was the Plaza Mayor (grand old civic centre), multiple churches, and even came along one of the homes of Cervantes too.
After a late lunch (everything is later in Madrid) at two o'clock, Ms. Foodie and I set off to take in some culture at the Prado. Las Meninas was a highlight along side other splendid works of Velasquez. There were plenty of Goyas (hopefully all real ones) and El Greco. For me the real surprise was Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. The Flemish master must have doing some serious drugs when he painted that work.
After a brief rest at the hotel, and learning that our luggage was at Madrid Airport, we set off for delightful supper at 10pm (everything is later in Madrid) at Restaurant Platero. The host was very gracious and his recommended dessert of vanilla ice cream crusted with a sugar top and then flambe with Grappe was simply to die for. It confirms my opinion that Spain is a truely civilized country with Grappe flambe ice cream for dessert and chocolate and churros for breakfast.