Tag Archives: Spain

Too Much Fun and Where to Eat in the Boqueria Market, Barcelona, Spain

The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria in Barcelona, Spain, is a food and wine lover’s paradise. It is one of the best tourist attractions in the city. Here, your eyes can be bigger than your stomach. So, watch out!  Most dishes are huge enough to share by two people.

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Remember you can always order more. Unless you take a grazing route through the market nibbling on cheese, red wine, raw oysters, crusty bread, Spanish ham, olives and the most divine desserts I’ve ever seen.

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On our first full day in Barcelona, we roamed the market in search of El Quim tapas bar (recommended by friends) and never found it until after lunch.

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The allure of plates of fresh cooked shellfish was too compelling to dismiss. We scouted the restaurants to determine which one was the most packed with locals and settled on El Cochinillo Loco (The Crazy Pig), which we walked by thrice before deciding.

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The fresh shrimp, langostinos, clams, oysters, mussels, octopus, squid, sea bass and other unidentifiable frutos del mar were piled high and our eyes got bigger just looking.  So, we waited for two seats to open up and sat between two local couples immersed in platter sharing. It was 2:00 p.m. Boqueria_49 Best-11By 4:00 p.m. we had finished our sangrias, had too many leftovers, and become best friends with our lunch neighbors.  We were happy to divide the remains with them since we couldn’t carry out to our hotel!

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Then, one couple ordered a bottle of Spanish cava (sparkling wine) while the other bought a basket of fresh organic strawberries. The strawberries landed in the sparkling wine. Of course! I have many more photos of all of us hugging, laughing and giggling, too many to publish here.

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I can’t imagine a better way to get a cultural immersion and practice Spanish than to share lunch and a bottle of wine with Ines Natera, who works at the Universidad Politecnica Catalunya and her husband.

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Then, my sister reminded me we had a dinner reservation three hours later at the Michelin 1-star restaurant Alkimia. How were we ever going to get our appetite back? Since dinner doesn’t really start until 9:00 p.m. we were hopeful.

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So we said goodbye to our friends and set out for a market walkabout. By now, our eyes could not deceive us and it was easy to pass by the chocolate covered berries, the nougat, the dark chocolate coated orange rinds, and the custard tarts… (well, not really)

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the freshest fruit, bottles of sweet red vermouth, mounds of crustaceans, farm vegetables, sardines, anchovies, and every imaginable food gift perfect for a special friend (or yourself).

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To walk it off, we took a circuitous route back to our hotel through the medieval old quarter of Barcelona bordering La Rambla, and then into the narrow streets where locals were celebrating Sant Jordi Day with gifts of flower bouquets for sweethearts and books for beaus.

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We didn’t take home the emu eggs or crustaceans or pintxos or tapas. We did bring home Catalunya olives, vermouth, Iberian ham, super ripe stinky goat cheese, and lots of chocolate.

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And, what did we do on our last day in Barcelona. Stock up with a final visit to the Boqueria market, of course, followed by a run through the basement food section of El Cortes de Ingles at Placa Catalunya. Can you tell? I’m in love with Spain (second to Mexico, of course).

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Boqueria Market Eateries

  1. El Quim (Located mid-section of the market on one of the center aisles. It’s a very small bar. You could miss it. Great tapas.)
  2. Bar Central. There are two locations in the market. I like the one with long bar in the back.
  3. El Cochinillo Loco, Portico Sant Josep 6-8, Tel. 93 119 19 54

Footnote: Since returning to Oaxaca earlier this week, I haven’t done much except sleep, eat, visit with a few friends and venture out for a few afternoons in search of wifi service. I have none at the casita, so my communication is limited. I’m sitting in the wonderful fresh breeze at Tierra Antigua Restaurante in Teotitlan del Valle, with a delicious lunch and internet. Hallelujah. In celebration of small wonders.


Bilbao, Spain: The Guggenheim Museum and More

Jump to now, North Carolina, USA, where I am this weekend for Becky and Al’s wedding. She is a Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat friend. (Registrations for 2016 are coming in. If you want to attend, make your reservation soon.)


And, now I’m going backward in time: To choose and edit more Spain photographs from the recent trip. My sister and I made it a point to go to Bilbao to see the spectacular Guggenheim Museum designed by architect Frank Gehry, opened in 1997. It was well worth the three-night stay on many levels.


The New York Times thinks so, too. They just published 36 Hours in Bilbao, Spain. They have covered Bilbao and surrounding Basque country in several travel publications. Bilbao is in the fold of a river valley ringed by mountains.


The Guggenheim Bilbao is a radical departure from its backdrop, a medieval city near the Atlantic, once a manufacturing powerhouse going through a reinvention of identity. The region is Basque. They speak Basque. Their soul is ancient, deep. Gernika (Guernica), where Franco and Hitler bombed the living daylights out of the town. Pablo Picasso captured the horror in his famously stark painting, which I saw last year in Madrid. The town is only 25 kilometers north of the Basque capital of Bilbao.

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In Bilbao, stay in the medieval old quarter along the picturesque Nervion River. You might choose, as we did, the wonderful, clean, comfortable airbnb apartment owned by charming Luisma aka Bidebarietasiete Bilbao. He provided coffee, French press, a bottle of wine and fantastic hospitality.

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This was a block away from the picturesque river, walking distance to the Guggenheim (or take a nearby tram) and just steps from incredible gourmet cheese and wine shops, and great tapas bars. Try the yogurt with sweetened carrot puree. I loved it.


Our intention was to do a day trip up the north coast of the Bay of Biscay along the Atlantic to the coastal town of San Sebastian. But, there wasn’t enough time. So, we are saving this for another trip. Throughout the region are Michelin star restaurants worthy of attention, small villages tucked into mountain valleys unchanged by centuries, narrow, cobbled walking streets flanked by tall, colorful stucco buildings adorned with wrought iron curlicue balconies trimmed in flower baskets.


At the Guggenheim we were mesmerized by the architecture, which many consider to be THE attraction.  We were permitted to take as many photographs as we wanted of the building. No photos of the art installations were allowed.

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The special treat was a temporary exhibit of Nikki de Saint Phalle‘s Nanas and other works, there until June 7, 2015. What do these images of women represent? Find out by clicking on her name.


It’s not just about being black, white, fat or thin. It’s about how we think of self and our role in the world.

BilbaoGehry28-3 Out on the street (I walked 16,000 steps this day), you come across pastry shops like this one with lines out the door. I wanted to … indeed … indulge, but the line was too long.




A Glimpse of Dali’s Jewelry: Surreal Glitz and Glam in Figueres, Spain

As you may have guessed, I’m back in the U.S.A. recovering from jet lag in my sister’s NoCal home, though missing my morning cup of Spanish espresso. Fuerte. Muy fuerte. My body is still in the state of “Does anyone know what time it is?”

We love those ruby red lips to wear. Would you?

We love those ruby red lips to wear. Would you?

Memories of Spain are swirling in my brain, especially the glitz and glam of Salvador Dali’s gem encrusted jewelry creations on exhibit at the Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueres, a 15-minute train ride beyond Girona.

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Dali’s relationship with his place of birth is powerful, deep and intense. He rescued and restored the burned out theatre across from the church where he was baptized, and where he held his first exhibition as a painter. The museum is his personal design based on his own aesthetics.  It holds the representative range of all his works created during his lifetime.

The connotation of limp clocks. You guess why.

The connotation of limp clocks. You guess why.

This is why you go to Figueres and then on to Cadaques-Port Lligat, to explore the persona of Salvador Dali as translated through his art and antics.

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The museum brochure advises visitors to take any circuitous path through the museum if they wish — there is no chronological order to a visit. You get to create your own surreal experience, according to Dali’s non-plan.

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Travel Tips, What We Did and Should Have Done

Car Rental: we rented a Europcar online in advance and picked it up at the original downtown Figueres train station knowing we wanted to drive north along the Costa Brava. Fortunately, we arrived at the old station. We didn’t realize Figueres has two train stations, one for the AVE high-speed train and the older downtown station that serves mid-distance (older) trains. So, when we wanted to return to Barcelona on the AVE, we had to return the car to the original station and then take a taxi to the high-speed station. An added expense of 17 euros. Europcar does not serve the Figueres AVE station. To get to Cadaques on public transport is difficult.

Dali Theatre Museum_24-19 Dali Theatre Museum_24-4Sleeping: we booked and pre-paid for a charming bed and breakfast country inn online in advance using Booking.com. We thought, oh, great, a countryside experience. The inn is about 15 minutes beyond Figueres in a small rural village with one pub/eating place. We arrived early evening with the intention to spend two nights, but the inn was located on the curve of a main side road with constant traffic, so with little sleep we decided to leave the next morning, visit the museum and head for the coast.

Dali Theatre Museum_24-9Visiting Dali Theatre-Museum: If you arrive early, parking is plentiful in the adjacent garage. We didn’t need tickets in advance here but you might depending on season and time of day. The main entry is opposite the church on the square. Don’t miss the jewelry exhibit. It’s easy to miss since the metal door is obscure and is through a separate entrance. Your museum ticket includes admission to this part, too.

Dali Theatre Museum_24-11 Dali Theatre Museum_24-22Dali’s wife and muse, Gala, appears in many of his paintings. In this one, above left, is she fragmented or defined as floating eggs? Eggs as Dalian symbolism appear everywhere.

Recommendations: In hindsight, I would stay two nights in Girona, rent a car there, drive to Figueres in the morning and go directly to the Dali Theatre-Museum, and then go on later in the afternoon to Cadaques and spend at least three to five nights there.  It takes about an hour to drive from Figueres to Cadaques and road signs are good, although the road is narrow and curving. Pay attention to the roundabouts. It stays light until well past 8:30 p.m.

Dali Theatre Museum_24-7Salvador Dali is an enigma to me. I see and understand his creative genius. I question his non-political position in the face of two wars that destroyed his country and most of Europe. Surrealism was both an art and political movement. By eschewing politics, did he further his artistic career more than any other contemporary? More than Picasso or Joan Miro?

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Many in the arts world called Dali a fortune seeker, greedy.  In response, he created the Avida Dollars necklace, shown above left, as a snub to the critics.  His jewelry is one more testimony to his creativity and skill to reimagine the ordinary in a spectacular way. And, what can we say about those ubiquitous eggs?

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Let’s just create a Cadillac that rains on the driver and passengers each time the umbrella that floats above opens, to say nothing of the ship that floats alongside in the air. A buxom figurehead adorns the car hood, protecting all who ride.

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Where is your imagination?

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Artist Salvador Dali at Port Lligat, Girona, Spain

Port Lligat on Spain’s Costa Brava, is a niche in the rock wall coast line of the Mediterranean Sea, just around the bend from Cadaques. This tiny fishing village is where surrealist artist Salvador Dali lived and painted for most of his adult life.


We ended up here more or less by accident, since we had booked no hotels in advance between our visit to the Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueres and our last three nights in Barcelona before returning to San Francisco. Our only plan was to rent a car and go.


This was both wonderful and a mistake. Wonderful because our path took us to Cadaques and Port Lligat, two glorious, sun bathed Mediterranean villages hugging two coastline coves.  The mistake was, without planning, we hadn’t bought advanced tickets for the Dali house admission, so we didn’t get in.

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No matter! The gardens and views are amazing and there are plenty of surreal sculpture installations to capture the imagination, including a baby grand piano spilling its guts.


The house is perched on a rock hill overlooking the sea. It is studded with olive trees, outbuildings, patios and flowers planted in teacup pots. Videos give visitors a complete art history into Dali and his wife Gala’s life here, along with all the idiosyncracies of his controversial life, politics and religious views.

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In front of the swimming pool, designed a la a surrealist’s view of the Alhambra palace complete with lion fountains, a Pirelli tire sculpture frames the famous Mae West lips sofa. All visitors take their turn posing on the sofa for a photo.

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Dali and his wife Gala bought the small fisherman’s cottage in Port Lligat from his childhood nursemaid. He developed and expanded it over the years, and it became the place he retreated to. The rock outcroppings of place take on surrealistic forms in his paintings.

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Lips are a Dali icon. In the 60’s he made ruby studded gold lips worn as a pin. If you want, you can buy a glass knock-off in any of the affiliated museum shops along with moustache adorned t-shirts and Dali-designed perfume bottles. The man was definitely an entrepreneur who capitalized on his reputation and his talent.

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The surrealists discredited him. Leftists disowned him. Priests embraced him. Socialites basked in his aura. Hollywood gave him entrée. He appeared on the cover of Time Magazine at age 32. Sigmund Freud was his hero.


Art critics weigh in about his apolitical position of the Spanish Civil War. Some say everything he did was sexually and psychologically motivated. Others say he was an exploiter and showman. He was said to have applauded Franco’s assassination of his good friend, poet Federico Garcia Lorca as a surreal moment of life.

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Whatever you think of Salvador Dali, his work is astounding and a visit to his birth place of Figueres and the Dali Theatre Museum is a must if you go to Barcelona. It’s only an hour north by AVE fast train going 200 km/hour.


We hadn’t planned on going to the beach because we are no longer sun worshippers. But, we needed a respite from visiting so many cities (Barcelona, Bilbao, Granada, Girona, Figueres) and historical/architectural points of interest.

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Cadeques turned out to be the perfect place to settle for three nights. I would recommend longer. Five days wouldn’t be too long! More on Cadaques to come. Everything about being in a white-washed Mediterranean village is true. In Spain, it’s even more true because of the food and the people, to say nothing of the leisurely strolling and shopping.

Dali_27-23 It’s a dog’s life, too. Not just for Salvador Dali.

Dali_27-7 Dali_27-22And to know and feel the Mediterranean, I took off my shoes and put my feet in the beautiful, clean, clear water and walked the curve of the shoreline.




Why Visit Girona, Spain?

Girona_38-23Girona, Spain, is a half-hour north of Barcelona Sants station by AVE bullet train going at 200 km per hour. It catapulted us into the Middle Ages.


It has the best preserved medieval Jewish neighborhood in Europe dating from the 8th century with an outstanding museum atop an archeological dig that contains a mikvah. There is an investment by the Spanish government now in historical Jewish tourism. Spain is offering dual citizenship to Sefardim who want to reclaim their past.

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Until the pogroms of 1391, Girona was a center of Jewish intellectual life in Spain where Kabbalah Jewish spirituality fully developed from its roots in southern France.

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By 1492, with the Expulsion Decree and the start of the official Inquisition, Jews had either converted to Catholicism or left for France, Amsterdam, Turkey, North Africa, towns along the Adriatic Sea and the New World. No Jews remained in Spain.


According to our expert Barcelona guide Dominique of Urban Cultours, the Spanish Jewish community there was mostly decimated in 1391. Surviving in Girona are tombstone fragments from Montjuic cemetery and artifacts of Jewish ritual and daily life. In Barcelona, cemetery stones were used for foundation construction of 15th century church and government buildings.


Girona boasts an amazing gothic cathedral dating from 1038 A.D. with an impressive, wide nave, second only to Saint Peter’s in Rome.

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The stained glass windows spill colored light into an otherwise dark, stony and austere interior. It speaks of early European Catholicism where the so-called chair of Charlemagne commands attention.


From the top of the cathedral steps, you look down onto a lovely square, perfect for resting, sipping a glass of Estrella beer with tapas appetizers.

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During the Spanish civil war, 1936-1939, the figures of the twelve apostles that flanked the side entrance to the cathedral were destroyed. Their intricate crowns are still intact, and one can imagine …

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Girona’s old town flanks both sides of the beautiful Onyar River, connected by bridges. It is walkable, accessible, filled with narrow alleyways, hillside steps, ancient porticos, smart shops filled with designer clothes and accessories, excellent patio cafes and Catalunya flags flying everywhere.

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The sentiment for an independent Catalan state is strong. It feels and smells old world.


Two days here are not long enough!

Compared with Barcelona there is not the crush of tourists although there are plenty of European visitors. We heard French, Italian, Czech, German and Russian, plenty of Catalan and Spanish. Not much English!

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We had an amazing dinner at Massana, a one-star Michelin restaurant, our best in Spain. We saw the restaurant sign and rang the doorbell to what we discovered was a private dining room. Chef-owner Pere Massana emerged in his kitchen whites to personally guide us to the actual entrance.

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Our welcome was warm, service outstanding and engaging. Food spectacular. We opted out of the tasting menu — too much food late at night (most restaurants don’t open until 8:30 p.m.) and instead ordered an entree and dessert. Otherwise, we would have lingered until well beyond midnight!

The meal was preceded by three taste treats to whet our appetite: fresh goat cheese topped with rosemary, mussels marinated in orange vinaigrette and a fois gras yogurt topped with crunchy flashed dried ground corn. This sure beat the chocolate coated fois gras popsicle we had in Granada at overrated La Fabula that was part of an over-the-top tasting menu.

FullSizeRender This chocolate hazelnut extravaganza tasting plate was my dessert at Massana. So chocolate-y I couldn’t eat it all!

We were astounded that Chef Massana followed us out to the street to personally thank us for coming, asking how we enjoyed the meal! Memorable. Sincere.

After a good night’s rest at Hotel Nord 1901 we took the afternoon train to Figueres, rented a car and drove to a 15th century village where we stayed overnight in a converted farmhouse. Then, on to the Dali Museum where I will post about his surrealist jewelry designs next.

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Today, we are resting in the Mediterranean seacoast town of Cadaques, Spain. But, I can’t get magical Girona off my mind.