Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Muffins fait-maison

Tried my hand at baking for the first time.

Muffins au banane et noix de pécan... miam, miam!!!
Followed the recipe here. It was surprisingly easy. And they turned out to be not bad at all for a first time.

Will try with blueberries next. :)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Gaudi, Picasso, Miro and Rio's Barcelona

After almost three months of being a full-time mom, I just felt like giving myself a well-deserved break and catching up on my list of places to visit, so I decided to see the nearest in my list -- Barcelona.

Bed for one -- very tiny, but clean
The cheapest direct flight I can find is via vueling. It's quite cheap for 129 euros return trip. It would've been even cheaper had I booked far ahead in advance instead of only one week to go. There wasn't enough time to prepare and I didn't have a map or a guide book, so I just consulted Google Maps for the usual itinerary of must-visit sites.

From the airport (El Prat Llobregat), it is quite easy to reach the city center via the RENFE train at Terminal 2. Then you have to get off at "Sants" or "Estacio Sants". I was a bit confused when I took the train because I didn't see any station by the name. Instead I saw one that says, "Barna Sants". It's good I had the instinct to follow all the tourists who got off at this station. Apparently, it's the short name for "Barcelona Sants".

Some canned tuna in a salad and nothing-out-of-the-ordinary prawn tapas -- you know you're not in France anymore when the food is just not as good as the ones you get for the same price.

très original!
Getting off at "Sants", I transferred to the blue line (L5) and got off at "Sant Pau/Dos de Maig" station, where my hotel is just three blocks away. It's right next to Hospital de Sant Pau and La Sagrada Familia, which is quite fortunate for me.

The next day, I headed off to La Sagrada Familia, a short walk via Avinguda Gaudi. I booked my ticket online and I got there at 8:30 am. There were still very few people at the time, so I took the opportunity to pose for a pic as soon as I saw a fellow Filipino who would take my pictures. It's one of the hassles of traveling solo. It's difficult to get a nice picture of yourself. I was queuing at first with my new-found Filipino friends, until I found out much later that there is a special entrance for those who booked on the internet.  and there was no line at all.  Oh well. I had a feeling there was something like this for me, but I wanted to chat more with the Filipinos.

Well isn't that my name on the column? :)
The Filipinos that I met at La Sagrada were taking the tourist bus which costs 24 euros. It seemed good, but you cannot switch to other buses going to other routes, so I thought not. Instead I took the T10
with me, myself and i at Parc Guell
train/metro/bus card which offers 10 rides for only 9.25 euros, quite a good deal if you're only staying three days and you don't have enough time to visit all the museums. Otherwise, you're better off with the Barcelona Card or the ArtTicketBCN card.

Ip next in my itinerary was Parc Guell. From La Sagrada metro, I got off at Parallel station to transfer to the yellow line (L3) and then got off at Vallcarca. It was a long walk and an uphill climb going there. I didn't know the park was quite huge. I wanted to see the Gaudi House Museum inside but I didn't have enough time because of the long walk going there, so I just contented myself taking pictures close to the tiny houses that are actually souvenir shops.

It's crazy crowded at Parc Guell

From Parc Guell, I took the Lesseps Metro and got off at Poble Sec station going to Fundacio Joan Miro. This was instructions from Google maps. The walk was sooo long and mostly uphill going
Bit too much exercise for somebody recently pregnant
towards Montjuic Park. At one point along Carrer de Blai, there was this woman in an apartment balcony yelling something to me in Catalan. I thought she was one of those scammers I read in some web sites about traveling to BCN, so I didn't pay attention and kept walking.

It was almost an hour when I finally reached Joan Miro museum.Ii was a bit disappointed because taking pictures weren't allowed. Though, I would still recommend visiting this museum as they have a vast collection of the artists work.

"Couple d'amoureux aux jeux de fleurs d'amandier", in English: "Lovers playing with almond blossoms"
this is the model for the one Miro created at La Défense in Paris
btw, it was prohibited to take pictures so don't follow my bad example

this is me being moody
Going to the Picasso museum from Joan Miro I decided to take a different route because the one from Google maps might take me there longer. I just followed the directions to the nearest transportation by following the arrows along the way. Et voila, after a few meters, I found myself at the "Fornicular de Montjuic" that connects to the yellow line metro. I then got off at Jaume I station to reach Museu Picasso via Carrer de la Princesa.

The obscure plaque at the Museu Picasso entrance
The Picasso Museum was tucked away discreetly in a very narrow street. The building was quite unimposing and there was just a small black plaque that announces it's the Picasso Museum. I was a bit disappointed with the limited art work inside. There were only a few from The Blue Period, which is my favorite among his works.

Although, upon reading the leaflet in the museum, I found out this is his only museum in the world that was built while he was still alive.  Most of the pieces in the museum were donated by his good friend/secretary, Sabartès.  It also has an extensive collection of his "Las Meninas" series.

The station that is right below La Boqueria, a famous market along La Rambla
sweets inside La Boqueria
From the Picasso museum I headed off to La Boqueria, a famous market along La Rambla by getting off at Liceu metro station from Jaume I. I bought some sweets at La Boqueria and then walked along the famous La Rambla towards Plaça Catalunya.

At 8PM, I went back to the hotel to get some rest and then headed back to Avinguda Gaudi for some dinner and to get a good nighttime view of La Sagrada.

 I wasn't disappointed because it looked spectacular:

This definitely needs no caption at all

Gelato con les schtroumpfs (the smurfs)
I would say that a day touring around Barcelona wasn't so bad at all, if all you need is a quick break like me. But I suggest having more than a weekend, because there's definitely a lot more to see.  It is also a good city to visit for a solo traveller.  The streets have plenty enough signs to guide you around when you are quite close to a place of interest. The transportation system is excellent and the people in the streets were quite helpful, although some of them do not speak English at all.  They all speak Catalan, btw, which is quite different from Spanish.

Food was not so good if you're on a tight budget and only willing to spend less than 10 euros for each meal.  I only found out about this upon complaining to my husband when I returned home about the food being really crappy.  He said, I should've been spending more than 10 euros to get a really decent meal anywhere in Europe.  But I told him this is not the case here in France, to which he just shrugged his shoulders.

Now my Spanish-French friend back in Singapore, who once lived in Barcelona, told me I should've asked him for some tips on the good places to eat. Well, I’m going back with hubby and baby some other time, so I’m definitely going to need his tips next time, so I don't find myself eating at Mc Donald's.

Hospital de Sant Pau, right next to my hotel
Despite all the warnings on some travel web sites concerning pick-pockets and scamming thieves, I found the city quite safe and not scary at all for a solo female traveler like myself. But I guess, it helps to look smart and to look like you know where you are going, and to look like you're NOT to be messed with.

Desigual shop along La Rambla
one french guy actually said, "Everytime I pass by Desigual,
I want to cut open my stomach and
throw my innards at the shop's window"...
hmm... I can understand why.
Back at the airport on the way to Toulouse, I went to the self check-in machine to get a boarding pass. I was quite surprised to find out I can actually choose a seat for free! Good thing I didn't book a seat online where they charge extra.

From the plane above, the south of France was a lovely patchwork of land.  It's just so beautiful.  and you can immediately tell it's Toulouse down below when all the buildings and houses are a warm and welcoming rustic red.

Barcelona was a refreshing weekend break, but Toulouse is definitely the loveliest place on earth and it's definitely home.