Valencia – Barcelona’s Mellow Neighbor to the South

September, 2017

CLICK HERE FOR 5 PLACES TO VISIT IN VALENCIA

Valencia truly took me by surprise. The direct and inspiring mix of historic and modernistic buildings and sites was nothing that I would ever expect from a city so rich in history. With many activities for all ages and a very laid back atmosphere, its no wonder it has become such a hot spot for expats to move to. Barcelona has been known as a trendy destination for years which I will admit, is a great city, but now, just 4 hours south by auto, is an amazing place to take in.

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The city bikes are a convenient addition to any easily guided city. I did not have the chance to ride one here as I believe they are for locals only as in Barcelona and NYC. Nonetheless, it is a positive check for sustainability.

Some food facts for everyone – the famous Spanish dish, paella, is from here as is the drink, horchata.

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Paella is traditionally made with rice, chicken or rabbit, spices and beans. Seafood has become very popular in the paella arena. I personally am not a huge paella fan. I prefer the smaller tapas or pintxos, but I will always try the local dish. Horchata is a creamy beverage made from the local tiger nuts – not the nuts from a tiger. I have seen bars mix this with rum. The drink Rumchata is not the same as it is made from a rice product. Both are tasty though for that type of drink and also refreshing mixed with a cold coffee.

I had taken the Alsa bus down to Valencia (12 euro) and rented an Airbnb which was listed as “Entire Flat”. When I checked in, to my surprise, the owner was living there. I then read the “Host” description over again online, and noticed at the bottom under “other notes” or whatever it was labeled, that the owner did share the common areas with the guest. Um, would we not all say that is called a “Private Room”? I did give her a good rating and added in my 2 cents on that note.

No big deal as she worked during the day, but I did have an issue with her smoking while she was there and she always kept the windows closed, so I, kept my door closed. She was very nice though, and I was happy to have a comfy bed and a close walk to town.

The first and most noticeable city feature was the wide streets, I mean, like big, wide streets. There are 3 lanes going each direction on the main streets and very few smaller streets in the center. As I continued walking, I past by the bullring. Ole!

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At the time, there were no bull fights, only live concerts, which you can imagine with the acoustics of a round building, would be pretty fantastic. Bull fighting is not legal in Catalonia, but thankfully, Valencia is not in Catalonia. I will definitely attend a bull fight upon my return.

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Next to the bullring is the main train station, which was celebrating its 100 year anniversary (notice the white banner on the right side of the building).

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I was on my way to grab a small tapa and a glass of vermouth. The weather was a perfect 26C and sunny. My normal attire of shorts and a short sleeve shirt were choice for the entire visit. After I enjoyed some people watching and my vermouth in the outside terrace of a cafe, I headed to find the info office to buy my day pass to the City of Arts and Sciences. This amazing complex bridged the gap between the old and the new. And if you are from the US, new is pretty much all you get. Tomorrow I would visit the modern Star Trek like complex and maybe be beamed up? Scottie, can you read me?

Valencia was host to the Turia river that ran through the center where old Roman bridges crossed it until the 1950s. After the flood of 1957, they decided to make a change to river direction to avoid this catastrophe again.

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The river was forked above the city and now the river takes two paths around the city to the sea. Where the river used to be is the Turia Gardens – an amazing set of parks and outdoor activities center. Take a jog, walk, bike or any of the other city events that happen throughout the year. What a transformation and I praise the city for being proactive!

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The Roman bridges are still intact and used for normal auto traffic.

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The vegetation was very diverse. Flora from different parts of Africa now call the Turia Gardens home.

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The tree above is growing up through the bottom of the bridge. How amazing is that?

My walk had lasted several hours and I was hungry and thirsty. I was not in the mood for simple tapas – I craved fish and chips….and a Guinness beer. Irish pub? Yes please. Thus far, my day had been a solo day with few or no interaction with humans. I sat outside on the terrace of Finnegans of Dublin. It turns out I came at the happy hour. Fish and chips with a beer was 6 euros. Done! Sitting next to me were some Germans and we struck up a conversation. Germans have always seemed fun and positive people when I meet them abroad. We drank some beers and decided to meet later that night to play billiards. I went back to my room after a few hours to get a shower and change clothes. Tomorrow I was going to spend all day at the City of Arts and Sciences. There are many old Roman remains in the old city. I decided to spend my time in awe of the new. Traveling Europe, I have visited many old ruins in Tarragona, Athens, Rome, Cyprus to name a few. Change was needed.

I met the Germans in the famous del Carmen area of town. We walked around in the warm air and started off at a busy bar with retro 90s music playing. Gin and tonics all around. Spain is such a different vibe than I grew up with. People converse a lot. No one is just sitting and staring at pointless tv shows. They are talking to each other. We met many people that night and I cannot tell you where everyone was from but it felt like a UN assembly with cocktails and music. We hit up a billiards spot and shot pool for a few hours. Not sure how but we ended up at some older aged dance club. The cougars were like vultures and we were the prey. The smell of perfume from my college years are apparent. The over done makeup and shiny dresses were a scene. What a night!

I awoke the next day, rested and anxious to take on this mammoth place. I purchased the super touristy 24 hour hop on/hop off bus ticket to get me around town. Those of you that read my posts and know me, know that I am NOT a big fan of the tourist globbing or hording areas that make most cities seem like Disneyland (which I do love because I expect it). But, the turistic bus does take you everywhere in the city with multiple routes to choose from and further gives you choices of places to come back to and explore.

I sat on the upper part of the bus with no roof and took many photos along the ride. The wind blowing on my face and through my hair felt cool and cleansing in a way as it battled with the sweat from the humid air.

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As the City of Arts and Sciences grew closer, my excitement became a curious necessity. What in the world is this doing in Valencia and what would I learn? My expectations were mixed. I knew I had to find out.

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Starfleet Command, Lt. Peccia reporting for duty.

I continued shooting photos on the upper deck as we circled around to the entrance. At times, I hung off the side on turns holding on to the bus with one hand and shooting with the other.

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The newest addition (above) will be a meeting and concert hall. What? Really?

The movie Tomorrowland, starring George Clooney shot some scenes here as well as Doctor Who episodes.

My first stop would be the Oceanographic. Not a traditional aquarium, it has both, large tanks with fish and also a topside area with seals, birds, frogs, flora and a dolphin show. The largest in Europe. With no nets or structure to keep the birds and other small species around, they still spend their days here enjoying the 5 star amenities their relatives abroad are jealous of.

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I walked the planks that lead the way for people to view the various species of wildlife swimming in the clear waters or birds stretching out their long wings before they sit and watch us for what seems as an eternity considering the larger birds rarely moved – only turning their heads to figure out where we were walking to next. One area had hundreds of mossy lily pads spackled across the water like a blanket that was woven together in small green furry pieces. Frogs started to appear. Or it is possible that they were there the entire time and I didn’t look close enough to see them as they exhibited chameleon like attributes. The cranes were large with a wingspan of 3 meters. They did not seemed bothered in the slightest of our intrusion into their world. I smiled knowing this fact. As I continued walking around the different habitats, I came upon the otter pond. Three otters swam quickly back and forth together until the were tuckered out and pulled themselves out of the water just enough to lay on the dry land and catch some sunshine. They were friendly and talkative. Truly fascinating to see these creatures living in an open air environment.

I made my way to the ramp, taking me below to the lower level. Here I saw the shark tank, beluga whales, manatees, seals and many other smaller ocean species in tanks. I have visited many other aquariums around the globe so most of the smaller fish were nothing new to me. Back in the US, I owned several salt water aquariums so it was fun to see fish varieties that I had owned – clownfish, angelfish, eels, wrasse and other colorful fish.

After the the aquarium, I wondered around the grounds above and landed at the Dolphin show. Similar to Sea World, they trained these intelligent creatures to dazzle us with an array of fancy aerial tricks. And dazzled I was. It was a nice relaxing break from walking all day and coupled with a refreshing beer and roasted chicken, I was loving it. The show lasted 45 minutes and now I needed to get walking again to get the blood flowing after the meal. The Hemispheric was the next stop on my map. It was built for one purpose only, IMAX cinema. I showed the ticket agent my day pass and they gave me the 3D glasses which also came with earphones built in. The cinema itself had no speakers or soundtrack aloud for the show. Pretty cool. The screen was 3 stories tall and you were careful when climbing to your seat not to lose your balance or you could wind up falling forward and down three rows. Very steep. The movie was great. A documentary narrated by Capt. Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) about the planned trip to Mars which I had no idea was not that far off. Test flights, plans and simulations have been underway now for many years. Well done show.

My final stop was the Science Museum. Honestly, not too much to be said here. There were some interesting hands on exhibits which seemed built for both adults and kids. This was located on the second floor. The first floor of the building was occupied by city offices. I thought, wow, not a bad place to work at in terms of the awesome futuristic buildings surrounded by tropical pools.

I was done for the day and needed to eat. But where? I walked back towards the city in the Turia Gardens. The breeze wisping through the grounds rattling the leaves on the trees. People riding past me on their bikes and kids playing in the grass. This city is a true spectacle. Once I reached a familiar bridge, I walked around for a bit and found a nice Mexican joint with a terrace. I ordered what looked to be a very healthy burrito. The place’s motto was “Healthy Mex”. While I waited for the food, I sipped on a very refreshing Corona with a lime. In Spain, lemons are plentiful and thus they put lemons in the Corona beers. Growing up the in US, limes were the norm. I made sure to ask for a lime. I learned my lesson in the past, lemons do not taste good in a corona. What do you know, more Germans sitting next to me. I struck up a conversation with these worldly travelers. They were in town for another 4 days and then off to Granada. They were younger men and excited to hear about my life in Barcelona. They wanted to return and visit me sometime. Not a problem, I said. I invited them for a beer tour and I didn’t have to twist their beer drinking arms. I was only in town for another day so I gave them my metro ticket good for another 24 hours. I wasn’t going to use it tomorrow as I was leaving so I passed it forward. The burrito was delicious and I could not finish it so it looks like I have a late night snack option for tonight.

I changed clothes and headed out to the Internations event being held at an upscale terrace bar in the marina area. I have been to many Internations events in Barcelona and was very curious to see if Valencia would match up. I took a cab as the event was not that accessible via metro or bus. Fine by me as I was running a little late, terrifyingly I cannot seem to break that habit. The cab dropped me off curbside and I made my way up to the bar where I could see people mingling out on the terrace. People looked happy and I felt a nice vibe. A more relaxed vibe in comparison to the big city mentality of Barcelona. Valencia thus far had the relaxed, laid back feel to it. Refreshing and stress free. I counted around 30 or so patrons, perfect amount. Ages were 30+. I popped over to the bar and got my hands on a dirty vodka martini. Perfect go-to drink at an upscale bar to start the night off with. I made my rounds and I ended up chatting with, you guessed it, a German. Does Valencia attract Germans this much? I guess so. His name was Ralf. He works with teakwood on large yachts. Boat owners all over the globe like teakwood because of its resilience to water rot and salt. He meets with wealthy boat owners and they pay insane amounts of money for a tiny scrap of this amazing wood. Music was playing on the terrace of the bar and some people attempted to get their groove on or so it seemed. I had brought my Nikon D5200 and took some fun photos of us.

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A small group of us headed out after the event to grab a few more drinks in the marina area. Most places were closed as it was not summer season and it was later in the night. Ralf was nice enough to drop me at my Airbnb. The next day, I took the bus to Benidorm – a resort beach city 45 min south built for the Brits.

More photos of the trip here.

Ralf and I still remain friends and I have visited him in Valencia. I highly recommend visiting the home of paella if you get a chance.

Barca aka Barcelona aka BCN.. and what a futball team.. I am back baby, I’m back! Paella, wine, jamon, sangria, beaches and Spaniards

So, before I begin into the usual day to day experience, I think a little more heart felt detail should be thrown in here. When most people travel with one other person as opposed to a group, it is a special dynamic. We all have different moods during certain circumstances. I’m sure you all agree.

Stacie and I went thru this a few times. Nothing crazy but we are both stubborn people when it comes to arguments. In the end, who really cares? As the trip progressed, we rarely had any spats. And this is no different if it would have been a guy traveling with me and not a female. Arguments will arise because people are people. That’s how we were built. You just have to know when to say “What are we even talking about – we are in Europe!”. What are we, the 2 stooges?

I guess my point is, if you have never traveled to another country with someone, make sure it is someone that has your back and will talk thru things if there are issues that arise. Your co worker that you may have had drinks with a few times may not be the best go-to person for a 2 week backpacking trip to Europe or Asia. Maybe take baby steps and go to Cancun first. Cancun is like going to Miami – people from the states or Britain are the tourists. Couldn’t be any easier of a place to start off with. Your trip is only as fun as the people you are with. Now for me that is a little different as I have traveled many times solo. People often ask me, “how do you travel by yourself?”. This question often stumps me as I cannot understand the question. Do I not have 2 working arms and 2 functioning legs? My passport is still valid – no reason not to travel.

Please remember that you can click on the pics to enlarge them. 

My solo travels have allowed me to meet so many amazing people around the globe for whom some I visit every year and talk to every week. They are what really opened my eyes and broke my “USA is the best” shell. From my buddy Nyoman in Bali –

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to my friend Carshina and her brother in St Lucia –

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or my Italian friends Vito and Laura whom I lived with last year in Barca –

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and we can’t leave out the boys of summer from Erlaboom, Germany –

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and Eivand the Great from Norway –

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You are all what makes traveling such a spectacular and needed part of life. Bless you all! I love you….

Now enough of the mushy stuff and on to Barca for some jam packed beaches and the most cosmopolitan city of Europe!

As many of you know, this is now my 3rd trip here and last year I lived in a flat for a few months. This city never gets boring nor can you see or do everything in a month – hell I was there for 60 days last year and didn’t even see half of the major sites including the amusement park atop the mountain or see the amazing Museu Picasso. There is so much to this city and I am only here for 4 days.

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We got to the airport in Rome and waited for the Ryanair counter to open as we could not check in online – some weird international thing. Once the counter opened they looked at our itinerary and told us we were at the wrong f$cking airport!…. What? Turns out they were right. The taxi took us to FCO and our flight was out of CIA. So we paid the fee and took a flight out of FCO. While we waited….hhhmmm.. let’s get a drink.

We sat down in the not really a bar and I ordered a whiskey coke and Stacie a vodka soda. After 15 min or so as my mouth profusely started to dry up, the waitress came and told us they didn’t have whiskey. I looked at her and said “really?” as I glanced at the whiskey bottle on the shelf behind the bar. So I walked over with her and pointed it out to the bartender. You see, in most of Europe, the bars will serve you a glass with whiskey and a bottle of Coke. They will rarely mix it for you. I assume that is where the confusion lie.

WP_20150720_17_22_13_Pro Stacie talking shop. Turns out her parent company manages many airport bars in Europe. Do I hear a transfer in the future? 

Is this for real? – McLobster? God help us.

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We slowly tanked our super gasoline premium strength drinks and headed to the plane. It seemed very interesting to me as we always seemed to be taking a shuttle out to the plane and boarding up air stairs on the tarmac. I guess Ryanair and Easyjet got the shaft when it came to getting a jetbridge. It did make the boarding faster once we got to the aircraft or maybe the buzz from the drinks made it seem like that. Either way most of our flights we sat in the rear of the plane.

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The flight was short and Stacie zoned out to her music while I while I watched some music vids and had some vino. We arrived in Barcelona around 8pm and took a cab to the apartment. I had found us a flat for 80USD/nt. Located pretty central to Plaza Espania and Catalunya. By this time we were ready to unwind a little and maybe walk the city a bit. The flat was nice and roomy. Very similar to the flats in Roma. Pretty amazing to think you got a kitchen included. Full suites for this price!

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My good friend Victor whom I had met last year in Barca was the head bartender at the Hard Rock Cafe and per tradition on this trip it was our first stop. There was no way that I wasn’t going to stop in and see one of the coolest guys in Spain. And so we did just that. While at the HRC, we met this really cool couple from Norway. And they happened to also know Victor from visiting last year. So we made plans for dinner the following night. Hey, the more the merrier. A few drinks and shots later and we were pretty wiped and ready to rest up for the next day – for tomorrow we were going to one of Victor’s favorite local restaurants. Amazing Paella and wine, sounds right up my alley.

Being back in Barcelona feels great and very comfortable. It is the one place in Europe that I really know the city and its layout. The subway is easy to navigate, the major sites easy to find and it is so international that you are never really an outsider. The appeal of a place like this is just that – international and open to all. The culture, Catalan, isn’t Spanish but it is. And who really gives a damn about the politics if it truly doesn’t effect me? This part of Spain has been wanting independence since the photograph was invented. Just like Texas…. Good luck guys!

The next day was a bit hazy at first. We slept in late and grabbed some sandwiches from a local quick food place across from the flat. Not anything to write home about but something to at least give my body some sort of sugar and energy to keep me going until we grab a beer and real food. I will admit that I felt pretty proud that I have not eaten at a Subway in years. And the chuckle I get inside myself whenever I see one never gets old. Who would ever truly believe in their gastrosoul that a 6 inch 3$ sandwich has any real value at all? Open your eyes people. When you are exploring a new city in Europe, why disrespect your body and soul in such a horrible fashion? I would rather eat jamon and cheese from the local supermercat.

We were meeting the Norwegians and Victor for dinner and I wanted to show Stacie around Plaza Espana and the Arenas.

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It is basically just a large indoor mall transformed from an Arena. It is really a mind trip. Look at the picture.. You would never guess there are stores inside.WP_20150722_007

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Barcelona is such a crazily spread out architectural stew. The buildings are old and you see some out of the ordinary structures that always make you ask questions or google them to ask “what the hell is that?”. And they really are out of know where. You turn a corner and bam!

One really out of sight aspect of the places I have visited in Europe is the lack of damaged cars driving the streets. In the USA I am used to seeing at least 3 or 4 cars a day with multi colored panels or missing parts on the car. Maybe the US likes to have banged up vehicles just as much as nicely washed and detailed cars. To be seen is to be seen? huh Who knows…

Dinner was at a local restaurant just a km or so away from the Plaza. Victor made the reservations as this spot was pretty well known for the paella.

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The food was pretty stunning. I have eaten Paella many times in Spain but not like this. They serve it in large pots when the table is full as it was. Take a look at the shrimp. My God these are robustly huge and why don’t I ever have them on my plate back in the states? Do we really think the farm raised pre-cooked shrimp we eat is actually tasty? Maybe my travels have made me a food critic. Either way I am in shrimp heaven. After we drained the wine and took our last inhale of rice and shrimp, we headed back to our flat to indulge more nightcap beverages and just have fun.

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Yes, we are using small espresso mugs for shots of rum. I had just met Ruben the night before and he was your typical young and funny Swed. He has the same cocky attitude we all did as young 20 somethings running around town. And it reminded me of how much older I am. Most of my friends are younger than me which makes life even more fun. The energy that I have usually comes with others that share the same passions and spontaneous events. Thank you for another amazing night and hasta luego to Ruben.

We only had a few days left and I was really needing some beach time and so was Stacie. Let’s do this! We took the very reliable and cheap metro line down to Plaza Catalunya and walked the rest of the way down Las Ramblas and thru some alleys of shopping heaven until we reached the harbor.

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Sailboats you say? My dream and someday you will see Capt. Dan at the helm. But for now I will have to just swim and enjoy the buoyant and crisp waters of the Med. A place with so much mystery and history and of course floods of bikinis and sun seekers crowding every inch of this picturesque oasis.

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We didn’t actually even get to the beach until 330pm or so and I had to explain to Stacie why it doesn’t matter how late you arrive at la playa. Back in WII the King of Spain along with Mussolini and Hitler, agreed that the 3 countries would have the same time of day so that they could communicate without having the burden of daylight savings. This is the reason it doesn’t get dark until 10 pm during the summer months. This was the most confusing idea for me to grasp on my first trip here. So cool – stay at the beach all day and I mean all fracking day!

While the Pakistanis, who seemed to control the beverage sales on the beach, delightfully kept replenishing our mojitos, I basked at the sultry and sexy that today had to offer on this temperature perfect day. I find it intriguing that who much more comfortable Europeans are with their bodies – topless, small tiny bikinis. Why is the human body not considered as excepted as a sign of beauty in the USA? Who cares at this point, I’m on the beach – in Barcelona! More Mojitos please?

The swim was the best I had had so far on this trip. The beaches here are quite addicting – Pakistanis serving you bottomless mojitos while music plays EDM in the background, Europe sweet home. Good bye now playa, it’s time for us to part for now.

Once we woke up and left the flat, Stacie wanted to know what to see today. Sagrada Famiglia sounded like the perfect choice as it is and has always been the largest historical site in Barca. Such a perfectly sunny day – you decide for yourself.

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Sagrada Famiglia is a cathedral or church designed by the famous Anton Gaudi. His work is infused all over the city. He has been dead for a while now. When asked before he died “If you die, how will you complete the building?” He responded “God will make sure it gets completed”. And today donations poor in from many investors – common people and wealthy. Maybe God does listen.

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We didn’t take the tour and decided it was time to meet Vito and Laura, my old flat mates for something. I am not sure what the plans are – Vito said to be ready for anything. OK!

They met us at our flat for a quick drink and some cheese before heading out. I was so happy to see them. I had missed them. This was Vito – A guy who one year earlier was eating breakfast with Laura before work and in walked his flat mate with a broken hand and soaking wet. He didn’t hesitate to assist and grab a bag of ice. The next day he took the flat mate all around Barcelona to different doctors to get xrays done and the hand examined. One doctor was even sarcastic saying ” Yep, it’s broken” in Spanish to Vito who took offense and told the doctor that this wasn’t a funny situation. Finally Vito and his flat mate went to a hospital per doctor’s orders for further xrays. Unbelievably, the xrays did not show a break in the finger bad enough to require surgery or any form of dislocation. Vito was my hero that day and I was going to thank him again tonight for his selflessness. Yes, I was that flat mate.

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We went to a festival in Poble de sec. This was so much fun! Bands playing on stages in alleys and there are these tapas style eats that were so diverse. Small bread slices with anything from smoked salmon and salsa to a burger with cheese to calamari with a pepper sauce to chocolate deserts. Even whole cooked shrimp. Remember what I told you about the fresh whole shrimp in Europe. It’s no joke here either!

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My time in Barca was nothing short of passion. It is a true testament to life – people and culture are still what makes this world survive. Vito and Laura were among some of those that I truly wanted Stacie to meet. Stacie will never forget the pinchos – the small tapas in the pictures, and nor will I. Oh wait, I will be going back and eating those next summer or maybe sooner.

Vito and Laura are both from Italy and speak Italian, Spanish and English. They got lucky with the Spanish as it is similar to Italian. They have lived in Barca for many years now and still drive back home to get some home made Italian food and fresh spices. I had the privilege of eating the fresh dried oregano and pasta while I lived with them. It makes you wonder how restaurants like Olive Garden still exist. The cliche masses may need a wake up call of epic proportions. Who wouldn’t die for fresh hand made pasta and Grandma’s fresh dried herbs. Well, this is how it is in Spain and Italy. My heart beats a little faster when I breathe the air here.

I will miss you all..

Now it is off to Warsaw, Poland to see one of the greatest rock bands of all time – AC/DC.

ciao!

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Above – farmers market daily on Las Ramblas

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Gaudi Park

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