EuroTrip 2013: Barcelona

Although it arrives about six months late, this post concludes our trip to London, Paris, and now Barcelona.

Gal and MeganOn Day 6 (Saturday), we headed to Paris’ Orly airport (hooray for avoiding Charles de Gaulle!) to fly to Barcelona. It was a quick two hour flight. The easiest way to get to or from the airport in Barcelona is the AeroBus (A1 or A2 depending on your terminal), which goes to Plaza Espanya and Plaza Catalunya. We took the bus to Catalunya and switched to the Metro to go to Barceloneta for our “hotel”, Residencia Campus del Mar. We actually stayed in a university dorm, which also rents out single and double rooms on a daily basis. Our room was the largest of the trip (yet cheapest, at ~80 euro), and included a small kitchenette. It was about a 10 minute walk from the Barceloneta metro station, and about a five minute walk down to the beach (through some narrow streets with several bars and tapas places).

La Rambla At the hotel, we met our friend Gal, who was stopping in Barcelona for a few days to travel with us before going on to a wedding in Italy. Our first afternoon we fell for a tourist trap tapas restaurant near our hotel, where the waiter convinced us to try the “menu del dia”, which included several courses of mediocre meat and seafood. Afterwards we wandered around La Rambla and the Bari Gotic. La Rambla was packed with tourists from near and far. The gothic quarter’s old crooked streets were also fairly busy, but we were able to find a place to sit in a plaza to enjoy the afternoon. Later we found our way to La Catedral, where we sat and listened to spanish guitarists and opera singers.

Bari GoticCatedralEnjoying (or providing) entertainment in the cathedral's square A peak into a kitchen

At Taller de TapasAmazingly, we were able to keep to a true spanish schedule, and only headed out to find dinner around 8:30. We went to Taller de Tapas, an excellent tapas restuarant. We had patatas bravas, croquetes, pan con tomate, chorizo, and smoked beef. And a few bottles of wine. It was all quite delicious, and deifnitely worth returning to. The waiter was helpful and spoke good english. Apparently there are several locations, including one on La Rambla (we went to the Comtal location). It turns out that this is the same restaurant as Megan and I had been to on our previous trip in 2007. We loved it then, and we loved it this time too!


Our plan the next day was to take the cable car up to Montjuic, a large hill on the side of the city that hosts several museums, gardens, and the olympic park. However, we changed our mind since we didn’t think we would have enough time at one of the musuems that was closing early because it was a sunday. Instead, we headed back to La Rambla to try to visit Palau Guell, a townhouse mansion built by Gaudi for one of Barcelona’s richest familes (it is free on Sunday, but they only offer tickets at a few times; we got ours at 3PM). The house has spectacular architecture, and the audioguide did a good job explaining the sights. I would have liked to learn more about the history of the area and its inhabitants–we overheard a walking tour in the street explain that the area used to be Barcelona’s red light district, but that by building a magnificent mansion in the middle of it, Gaudi and Guell hoped to clean up the area. The home was incredibly ornate, with intricately designed wooden ceilings, tilework, stone columns, etc. It is also the only home I’ve been to with its own mini-church and (not-so-mini) organ. The home is also quite large, and the tour took us from the carriage house below (lined with wooden bricks to deaden the sound), up to the roof which was topped with typical gaudi curves and domes.

On top of Palau Guell

Delicious!For dinner, we headed to Casa Delfin, another excellent tapas restaurant (which apparently is owned by the same group as Taller de Tapas). We had a mix of tapas and main dishes, including slow roasted lamb and a beef stew. I had the stew and it was excellent. Our waiter was kind enough to help us practice our spanish, even though his English was clearly far better than our Castellano. I would definitely recommend returning! It is a little less classy than Taller de Tapas, and felt a bit more authentic.

On Day 8 (a Monday), we took the train to Montserrat, a monastery in the mountains about one and a half hours from Barcelona. It is easily accessible from the Espanga metro stop, from which you can buy a combined ticket including the train to the mountain and either a funicular or cable car ride up to the monastery. It also includes additional funicular rides higher in the mountain to the various walking trails.


Cable Car to MontserratWe arrived at Montserrat just in time to rush into the basilica to hear the boys choir, which sings daily at 1PM (do the kids go to school?). It was nice, but the place was packed with noisy people, so we could only huddle around the door. We bought some cheese and wandered partway up the hill to a scenic overlook to have a picnic lunch. The location is quite beautiful. The mountain is covered with strange looking rocky outcroppings that make it look un-earthly. The monastery has a large complex of building nestled between two ridges, from which you can walk, funnicular, or mountain climb up to a set of trails among the peaks. Scattered throughout the area are several other old church buildings, which make the area very picturesque. We rode the St. Joan funicular up, and then walked for about an hour down to the Flats de San Michel and eventually back to the monastery. We had planned to hike down by the Sacred Cave, where shepherds once found an image of the Virgin Mary, but the paths aren’t very well marked, and we weren’t sure how much time it would take. Instead, we bought some chocolate at the gift shop and rode the cable car back down to the train.

Montserrat Montserrat

You can take either a cable car or funicular up to the monastery, each leaving from a different (but well named) train station. The cable car is definitely more scenic, but the funicular has the advantage of getting you back down to the rail line earlier in its route, dramatically increasing your chance of being able to get a seat. Unfortunately, we were not so lucky, and ended up standing for the 1.5 hours back to Barcelona. We took the second to last train (leaving around 6PM) and got to be amused/annoyed by the loud antics of a gaggle of teenage spanish girls for much of the ride.

Taverna Can MargaritFor dinner that night we headed to Taverna Can Margarit in the Poble Sec area. Unfortunately, we reached there around 7:45…. far too early for a restaurant in Barcelona to be open for dinner! We ended up having to wait until 8:30PM before they opened. We were all exhausted and foot sore though, so sitting on some nearby steps and watching young spanish hudlums was fine entertainment. When the restaurant did open, we were first invited to taste some of the house wine. The waiter pointed us to some small glasses and some big casks of wine, and left us to ourselves! Taverna Can Margarit The wines were nice, including one very strong white that tasted more like a liquor. For dinner we had some of their small plates (asparagus, sliced meats, manchego), but unfortunately none of it was that exciting. For the main course, however, we had their braised rabit, which was truly delicious. It was indeed a rabit (including half its head, teeth, and brain), but perhaps the best parts of the dish were the incredible carmelized onions and roasted garlic. I ate about 12 cloves of garlic, which in retrospect may have been a mistake. Sorry Megan.

Montjuic gardens On Day 9 (Tuesday), we took a different cable car, this time from Barcelona’s port up to Montjuic. This provides a nice view of the city along the way, and costs 11 euro. Montjuic is filled with gardens and paths to various museums and a castle. We walked to the Fundacio de Joan Miro, and observed some strange modern art. As modern art museums go, it was fairly good, but that isn’t really my style. The fountain spewing mercury was pretty neat though.

Afterwards, we walked down the mountain through some pretty, terraced gardens. If we had been smart, we would have brought another picnic lunch along. Instead, we hungrily headed towards la Boqueria, the main market just off of La Rambla. It is packed with people and stalls selling fruit, meat, fish, and various snack foods. We bought some empanada type tarts and some fruit juice, which made a nice meal.


In the afternoon we took the metro to La Sagrada Familia, the most impressive church / alien fortress I’ve ever been in. Started early in the last century, Gaudi’s architectural masterpiece still has a ways to go before it will be finished. However, there had been significant progress (at least on the inside) since Megan and I had visited it in 2007. At that time, the nave was empty rough stone, while now it is filled with decorated columns and beautiful stained glass. We ooh’d and ahh’d before taking a trip up one of the towers, followed by a claustrophobe’s nightmare down the winding staircases.

Sagrada Familia interior

Sagrada FamiliaSagrada Familia

Luckily, we had planned ahead and bought tickets online, which meant that we were able to immediately enter the church grounds. Others were not so lucky, and the line wrapped around two and a half sides of the (very big) church. There was no line at all for those with online tickets!

Sagrada FamiliaSagrada FamiliaSagrada FamiliaSagrada Familia

P1020265After getting our fill of soaring columns and parabolic arches, we headed to a fine wine store where Gal purchased some undoubtedly delicious (and expensive) wine. We also visited their specialty food store and bought some manchego cheese, dried chorizo, and serano ham—ever so delicately sliced off of an aged leg. We took it home for a very quick dinner before heading to the Palau de Musica de Catalonia, for spanish guitar concert. The concert hall was extravagantly decorated with scultpures and mosiac tiles. Unfortunately, while our box seats gave us an exceptional view of the stage and the performer, they were very tight on leg room. I resisted the urge to put my legs over the lip of the balcony as we listened to a range of songs, some classic guitar pieces plus others by Bach and Mozart. The guitarist was able to make amazing noises out of his guitar! While others (*cough* Gal *cough*) thought the encore piece, (classic spanish guitar melodies periodically interrupted by the themes of pop songs) was too cheesy, I thought it was pretty awesome.

On Day 10, we reached the part of the trip which was why we’d actually come here — Megan’s conference. Gal left for the next leg of his trip to Italy. Megan spent her days at the conference center while I worked in our dorm and visited some researchers at the Barcelona Super Computing center.

On our last day we headed back up to Montjuic so that we could walk through some of the gardens we had missed. We visited the old fort which looks over the sea port to repel invaders, but also provides a good view of the city (and in fact the fortress was mainly used to imprison political dissidents for a while). Currently, it provides excellent views, as well as the opportunity to imagine you are firing the cannons at the gigantic cruise ships parked in the harbor below.


Overall, our trip gave us a great taste of three different cities and three different cultures. We look forward to exploring them all more thoroughly in the future!

Birthday Dinner

Last weekend we celebrated Megan’s birthday with dinner and some friends out on our porch. We were lucky to have a fairly cool evening and the bugs stayed away at least for the first part of the meal…

I should have been better about taking more pictures of the people and food, but I was busy grilling.  Megan also made a chocolate almond cake topped with cheesecake topped with dark chocolate frosting with raspberries on the side that was every bit as delicious as it sounds!  Here are some of the recipes so that I can repeat them some other day.

Spiced Chicken and Grape Skewers

These were fun because most people haven’t had grilled grapes before. They go really well with the chicken, and their juiciness makes up for the fact that I tend to overcook everything when I grill!  This is pretty much identical to the recipe from the Food Network.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1 pound chicken breast, cut into cubes
1 1/2 cups green grapes
8-10 skewers

  1. Whisk together the oil, lemon, garlic, and spices in a small bowl.
  2. Pour over the chicken and let marinate for 30 minutes (I kept it in a plastic bag for easy mixing).
  3. Alternate grapes and chicken pieces on the skewers
  4. Grill for about 3 minutes per side

Veggie Kebabs

A simple vegetable marinade with some middle eastern spice that goes well with the grape chicken above.  This recipe is also similar to one from the Food Network.

2 bell peppers
1 onion (I forgot to do this)
1 zucchini or summer squash
a few handfuls of grape tomatoes
1/2 container of mushrooms (not sure how big the container was…)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper

  1. Chop up all vegetables into skewerable shapes, cut mushrooms in half
  2. Place vegetables on skewers
  3. Whisk together all marinade ingredients
  4. Brush marinade over vegetables and sit for 10-15 minutes
  5. Grill for about 3 minutes per side

Deluxe Israeli Couscous

This is basically the recipe you get on the back of the box from Trader Joe’s Israeli Couscous, but it is even better if you use their Harvest Grains mix since it has couscous and a few other colorful grains as well:

1/2 cup chopped onions
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 tbsp butter
1 stick cinnamon
1 bay leaf
1/2 package TJ’s Harvest Grains(or just Israeli Couscous)
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup dried cranberries
optional: lemon rind, parsley, etc
(Note: this is from memory, and may be wrong… if in doubt, follow the package)

  1. Fry up 1 tbsp butter and the pine nuts until golden (2-3 min), then set aside.
  2. Add remaining 2 tbsp of butter and fry up onions until tender
  3. Add cinnamon stick, bay leaf, and couscous. Fry 5ish minutes, stirring occasionally
  4. Add chicken broth and salt and bring to boil, then reduce to low heat
  5. Wait until liquid is all absorbed (10ish minutes)
  6. Turn off heat, add pine nuts, raisins, cranberries, and any other goodies you can think of

Back Porch Farming

I’ve been farming virtual popcorn on this blog for a while now, but this year Megan and I decided to try our hand at some plants for our back porch.  The term porch is a bit generous, it is more likely an empty concrete swimming pool sticking off the back of our townhouse, but at least it is outside!

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Gal’s Departure

One of our good friends and former roommate, Gal, was recently deported back to Israel due to visa issues. To commemorate his departure a group of us had a farewell dinner with a ton of good food and a liquid ton of good wine.

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Farm Fresh

Two weeks ago was the height of cherry tomato season at our farm share.  My roomates and I gathered about 9.5 pounds worth of tomatoes! Delicious…

They were all gone by the end of the week.

Independence Day

On July 4th, Megan, Gal and I had a picnic lunch at the top of Mt. Holyoke. Unfortunately the weather was quite cloudy, so the views weren’t as nice as normal, but at least it didn’t rain on us. At the top of the mountain is an old hotel which used to be quite the hot spot, hosting guests like Abe Lincoln and some famous opera singer whose name I forget. The state turned the area into a park in the 40s, and it is now a small museum. We toured the hotel, had some sandwiches, and wandered along the ridge for a bit, enjoying the scenery. Continue reading

Barclay Farming

In late may Megan and I headed down south for her cousin’s wedding in South Carolina. Along the way we made a few stops, the first one in New Jersey to visit my family. My dad gave us a tour of his vegetable patch in the community gardens at Barclay Farms. I didn’t see any popcorn sprouts (they grows in small, microwavable bags, right?), but lots of other things were starting to come up.

More Food

Time to chronicle more delicious meals.

  • BHD #13: Filip made pig with baked sliced potatoes
  • BHD #14: Tim made Yaki Soba
  • BHD #15: Filip made cod and Emily’s (in)famous rum cake (which has no rum in it, but lots of vodka)
  • Intermission: Tim and Filip realized they had been cooking too often
  • BHD #16: Gal and Avigail made a kosher meal with orange and apricot chicken, asparagus, and fresh baked challah

The Dinners

The Diners

Amherst Farm Shares

My housemates and I are planning to get a farm share at a local CSA (community supported agriculture) this summer. The main options I’ve found for the Amherst area are Simple Gifts Farm, Riverland Farm, Brookfield Farm, Stone Soup Farm, and Foodbank Farm. Here is some info on each one.
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An Eater’s Manifesto

For my birthday I received In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan.  The book covers how the American diet has changed over the last century, mostly due to influences from processed food companies. It is more than a little disturbing how much control these companies have gained over government health advice, and in turn, over our diets. Pollan argues that the food companies are increasingly trying to push processed foods into consumers’ shopping carts since they can be made more cheaply, and allow for a higher price markup, than regular food items. Pollan’s suggestions for a healthy diet make sense to me: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Continue reading