Un Americano y un cafe amb lait…

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Or, Barcelona bars & cafes.

An Americano is also un grande cafe solo i.e. a large black coffee. A cafe amb lait (which I pronounce by pretending it is a cafe au lait) is a milky coffee. It’s important to get these things sussed early on. Dos cervesa, por favor is easier but also less important. Also, the latter is in Espanol rather than Catalan. Here, in no especial order, are some of the bars and cafes we visited.

Cafe Zurich
At the top of Las Ramblas, this is an old-school cafe. So old-school that I can’t even bring myself to call it “old-skool”. This was where we tended to end up when we needed a little pep up mid afternoon/early evening. The coffee is excellent but the real joy are the waiters. We had plenty of fun playing “spot the waiter who is merely in his 30s” as the majority were older. They were all fast, slick and professional. When I ordered dos cafe amb lait, y un torte he ran down a list with practise, doubtless guessing I would go for the chocolat. When it arrived he handed me the slice of cake and gave the chap a small fork as “you may have a little”.

Cafe de l’Opera
Another old-schooler, more old time waiters but this time halfway down Las Ramblas. It has some lovely fin-de-sicle interior work and a great chocolate lime green paintjob.

Cafe Schilling
In the Gothic quarter, this place has dark wood furniture and peeling distempered walls along with quite a metro crowd stopping in for a drink or two. The service is variable but the bar snacks are delicious. They did a superbly filling vegetal sandwich with goat’s cheese, along with a great hummous option. The beer is Damm, which is fine, and the coffee was good.

Milk bar toilet decor Cocktails with serious punch, and very filling bistro food. They also did good veggie food, happily producing dishes sin pollo for me. Another good interior, dark and mellow, with comic book pages decorating the toilet walls and velvet curtains hiding things. The second visit was a bit let down by an Irish bar bore and his pal but we just moved on.

Not a bar or a cafe but an Indian restaurant. This is one of my “known places”, somewhere I go back to when I return to a city. That’s often on the first night, when we’re still settling in and I don’t feel like searching out some place in a backstreet. Milk, for example, is up a narrow backstreet and the chap was suspicious of my map-reading until we found the place.
Placa Villa de Madrid, where Govinda is, was all dug up when I was last here in 2001. Now the rennovations are finished part of the square is still excavated, revealing remains of the Roman city beneath.
Govinda does a mighty fine Thali, and the owner will spice the meal up for British diners. A medium here is a mild back home, mind.

Everywhere else we stopped in were just cafes or bars near where we were when we got hungry. As always, I enjoyed a fair few queso bocadillos, which is my default choice when faced with little or no veggie choice. Barcelona is a city which suits grazing: you can wander for hours and nearly always find a place to stop when you have the need. And I love any culture which doesn’t eat till 10pm at the earliest. (She says about to go downstairs and start cooking at 9pm.)

At some point, I shall rave about modernista architecture. However, in the meantime here is footage of the Magic Fountain playing up to Rachmananov. I love this thing with a childish glee. You may be able to hear my little squeaks of amusement.

What I Did On My Holidays, Part 1

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Or, there and back again.

We went to Barcelona by train. Not out of some Grauniad-reading eco-smuggity but because it is just much more enjoyable than spending three hours at Gatwick. Also, due to the usual arcane train rules, it worked out cheaper to travel to Paris on Eurostar first class.

We started the journey with the Misery Line, however, getting the Tube from the chap’s to Waterloo. Security, even with the patdown I got, is just so much less stressful on the Eurostar. No standing in long snaking queues wondering why the people holding you up hadn’t noticed the large multilingual signs telling you to remove your jacket, belt and shoes. Then we were whisked at slow speed past Battersea and at slightly higher speed towards the channel, being given champagne and a pretty good late lunch. The trolley dolly was so camp he should have been in Ugly Betty.

Estacio Franca Main Hall Having once been caught out by the change in timezones, I’d given us lots of time to cross Paris to Gare D’Austerlitz. As the Metro train swooped out onto a bridge crossing the Seine, I could see the Eiffel Tower through the girders. I’m fairly sure my travels with my family, which also entailed many a trip across Paris from Gare D’Nord, have taken me to Gare D’Austerlitz before but it may just be the curious familiarity of major rail terminii at night. There’s always an orange sodium fuzz and too much echo in the marble hallways. There was a rather 70s bar, suitable for a beer or two before boarding the Trenhotel aka the Night Sleeper.

I love sleeper trains. Really love them. There’s something just too fascinating about falling asleep looking at one world and waking in another. We went Gran Classe, which got us a private ensuite cabin, dinner including drinks and breakfast. Whilst at dinner our beds were made up for us, complete with chocolates with pictures of trains on them left on our pillows. I kept waking in the night and quickly recalled the trick to watching the night landscape: keep the curtain pulled, put your head under and you can see things beyond the glass. I gave out a small squee as we drew into Perpignon, as it was a place I’d used in H101. As we crossed the Pyrannes we went close to the coast, and there was a moonlit view down into a bay. On a sleeper, you can imagine that only you will have seen that moment unlike the shared vistas of daylight travel.

When we got to Estacio Franca (after more H101-related eeping from me), we locked our bags up and strolled into the city ready for more cafe on Las Ramblas.

The journey back was similar yet different. I warn anyone going not to drink the beer in the bar at the Estacio Franca. Really nasty. There’s also the sad realisation that you are heading home, so rather less excited midnight wakings to look out of the window. And the drop in temperature was more noticeable, with my toes feeling the cold Northern European air. We breakfasted as the train ran along next to the Seine through, arriving back into Paris with plenty of time to get back for lunch in London with Smith and Robson. Then I got on a train back to Devon and was sitting on my sofa with a bag of chips less than 24 hours after I’d been in a bar in Barcelona.

It’s not the fastest or even the cheapest way to travel, but you gain a sense of distance and of change which planes just don’t give you. Also, there was champagne included, which always sweetens a journey.

Details of how to travel from London to Barcelona are available on the fabulous Man in Seat 61 site, which provides me with many happy moments of idle speculation (“ooooh, they’re opening the silk route…”). We booked via RailEurope.

We did mention at the time of booking that I was veggie but this info didn’t appear to reach the actual train companies (something which I’ll be sending an email about). The Eurostar always carry a spare veggie meal but I was ticked off for not having mentioned my special dietary requirements. The Trenhotel doesn’t carry a spare, but I had the ensalade for a starter and the soup as a main which was yummy. I emailed Elipsos re the meal before we returned and they changed my booking. However, I didn’t enjoy the proper veggie options as much as the make-do stuff I’d had on the way down. The starter was a much heavier salad, and the main a plate of grilled aubergine and courgette which I could have done better. The breakfast was different as well, being some heated egg and cheese thing instead of those well known meaty foods of pain au chocolat and fruit. It’s possible that the veggie food is lovely – the chap had to send his chicken back as it wasn’t heated properly so the crew was definitely less good – but I think in future I’ll ‘forget’ to book veggie and just workaround from the normal menu.

All my photos are now available on flickr: photos tagged barcelona07. I’ll do Montserrat and architecture and bars in future posts.

Sorry…where was I?

Sunday, 11 February 2007

Ah, yes. Barcelona.

Just back from a longish trip. Yesterday afternoon I was sitting in the sun on Las Ramblas, sipping sangria. It is a rather gauche thing to do, but very satisfying. We dined in Barcelona, as the train slipped northwards through the suburbs towards the Pyrannes. Breakfasted as the sun rose over the Seine to the south of Paris. Lunched in London and, less then 24 hours after pulling out of Barcelona I was having chips for supper on my own sofa back in Devon. It may not be the fastest way to travel but, by the gods, it’s civilised.

Flickr photos to follow.

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