Hi! I came home Monday night and have been busy meeting up with a friend who's back from Canada. The weather's wet and cool here and friends who saw the tan lines on my feet and wrist were surprised at how dark I've become. The sun in Spain, Italy and France is fierce and daylight hours are long (the sun sets at about 10:30 pm) and since it's odd to use an umbrella (although in China, umbrellas are also called yangsun (sun umbrella) besides being called yeesun (rain umbrella)), we had to brave the sun every day with our maps and sun block.
Although I've been away 2 1/2 months, I was never homesick. Okay, once, only once, I wanted crispy fried whole fish bones on with soy sauce and white rice. Otherwise, I was reluctant to leave Europe, especially continental Europe.
I have to jump to my trip to Barcelona because my daughter has the memory card for most of the photos taken on my first trip around Europe. She's now melting in Shanghai. She was at the Expo today and she told me that it's an awful experience: long long lines and people run to the pavilions the minute the gate opens, afraid of not getting in. The average pavilion takes 3-4 hours to queue with the Saudi Arabian one taking 7 hours. In 40 C heat and humidity.
Anyway, Barcelona. Of all the cities I've been to in the last 2 1/2 months, I'd want to go to Rome, Barcelona and Paris again and in that descending order. Paris was good but maybe I expected too much. I enjoyed Barcelona but Yi expected more. The only city that was above our expectation was Rome. Everything in Rome is on a grander, bigger scale and nothing failed to disappoint. We even found the best ice cream in Rome. And many other bests.
Yi's friend Cheryl, also an archi student, came with us to Barcelona. The first place we hit was The Ramblas, a busy pedestrian walk lined with shops on both sides that ends at a beach. Off The Ramblas too are many narrow streets and shops, each so Spanish and exotic. We hit Picasso Museum straightaway, Yi and I being big fans. When I was younger, I couldn't appreciate the guy who cut up his women in his pictures. But now, I find his paintings interesting. I was bored with renaissance paintings--SO boring. Picasso paintings, they take a bit more thought. Still, I was a little bit disappointed because many of his famous paintings are not in the museum. They are probably in other museums and in private collectors' hands. And the guy paints some pretty kinky paintings that I still can't figure out. Like the one with the squid and the fish. I love his sketches the most, so brilliant.
I saw small protests and demonstrations everyday. I envy their freedom.
Spain reminded me of home in many ways. Look at how colorful and gaudy their flower arrangements are. Another way they are similar to Malaysians is they work slower. It takes longer to get served, or your change back and when you get it, make sure you count because Barcelona is where I was short changed twice and taken around the city by a lady cab driver for 25 minutes on a ride that should only take less than 10 minutes.
This is where he ended up after Hollywood.
How can you not love a city that stops at 4 pm for tapas and wine? Everywhere you go, whether restaurant or little bars, there's tapas. By definition, tapas are little munchies--jamon, anchovies, olives etc--on a small plate but now most fancier places offer individual pieces of beautifully assembled cocktail canapes (help, what are they called again?) at 1.50 to 1.80 euros per piece.
Rick Steves' Europe was our guide and he recommend El Xampanyet, a family-owned and run tapas bar off The Ramblas. It was packed, standing room only.
Spanish baguettes are lightly smeared with fresh tomatoes and olive oil (yum!). We had a selection of salami and a plate of seafood with artichokes, each plate of tapas about 4 - 5 euros. A glass of house wine only 2.50 euros.
Ever seen yummier-looking jamon/prosciutto?? Spanish ham ROCKS!
Anchovies are usually white and lightly salted, not like the brown salty anchovies we get in cans here.
I found Barcelona fun and romantic to walk in.
One jug of very good sangria for 9 euros gave 6 glasses of the potent stuff that turned the three of us into giddy, drunk sillies. I was afraid that we won't find our way home.
This was THE BEST PAELLA and by which I'll now rate all paellas against. Ever eaten food that makes you realise that you've always done it wrong? This was it for me. I used to be proud of my paellas until I ate this. Now I have to re-learn cooking paella. We ate paella a couple of times after this but none could compare. This pan of paella took about 30 minutes to arrive which should mean that they cooked according to orders and not re-heat the paella from a large pan which can be the case in many restuarants.
The paella wasn't over-loaded with chicken and chorizo and seafood, my daughter reminded me (am guilty of that). Every mouthful hit me with the loveliest flavor, texture and taste. Just heavenly. The rice was still slightly nutty inside (biggest revelation to me) and not soft or soggy even though there was a good amount of liquid clinging it. The saffron was strong and very fragrant while the seafood was fresh and had a fried aroma, unlike bland boiled seafood. I read in a magazine some time ago that authentic paellas have no peas. and this paella was devoid of peas The only slight flaw was that the rice at the bottom of the pan was not toasted until crispy and browned. Still, the excellent taste and flavor made this a paella to remember and lust for. Paella orders go according to per serving. At 11 euros each in this restaurant, this was for two, so 22 euros although it fed three of us quite adequately. I'll tell you the name of the restaurant when I find the card.