Posts Tagged Barcelona

Airline Rankings Around the World

We ended up flying on 8 different airlines during our 30/40 World Tour, since we booked our flights individually.  Below is our ranking of airlines from best to worst.  This is not meant to be a comprehensive study; it’s merely our impressions from the economy flights we experienced during the summer of 2011.

View over New Zealand

View from our flight over New Zealand

  1. Air Emirates (Mauritius to Dubai; Dubai to Munich)
  2. Air New Zealand (Auckland to Nouméa)
  3. American Airlines (DC to LA)
  4. United Airlines (Madrid to DC)
  5. Qantas Airways (Nouméa to Sydney)
  6. Air Mauritius (Melbourne to Mauritius)
  7. Air Pacific (LA to Fiji; Fiji to Auckland)
  8. Air Berlin (Munich to Barcelona)

To learn the price of each of these flights (ranging from $137 to $946 per person), see the previous post on the cost of our trip.  But price did not directly correlate with a positive experience on an airline.

Air Emirates

Air Emirates flight attendants

The signature red hat and sweeping scarf of the Air Emirates flight attendants

We were so impressed with our Air Emirates flights.  The uniform of the flight attendants with the red hat and sweeping white scarf is quite striking and exotic.  When we first boarded, I wondered about the practicality of such an outfit.  But after we were airborne, the hats came off.

The Air Emirates food was delicious.  I’m sure you’re laughing about delicious airplane food, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Perhaps it’s because I haven’t eaten hot food on an airplane in years!

The personalized entertainment screens for each seat were the best of all of our flights.  The screens were the biggest of any airline and provided on-demand entertainment options including movies and games.

Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand was another of our favorite airlines.  Their economy seats were beautifully passenger centric.  The back of each seat had a drink pouch that fit my water bottle perfectly.  It’s so easy and obvious, but I’ve never seen it on another airline.  I usually have to stuff my bottle into the magazine compartment, which forces the whole pocket wide open and takes up far more space in already cramped quarters.

We also loved the personal entertainment screens for each seat, and both watched Cedar Rapids at our own pace.  I started my movie slightly earlier than Mr. HalfFull, so I was pre-laughing at all the funny parts.  Finally, he asked me to pause so that he could catch up and we could laugh together!

I think it’s wonderful when airlines let you play and pause your own movie.  You can sleep when you like, use the restroom whenever, and still catch the full movie.  It’s so nice to be in control!

American, United & Qantas

I don’t really have any strong feelings one way or the other about American Airlines, United Airlines, or Qantas Airways.  I’m also not married to that specific order.  All the flights were fine; nothing stood out to me positively or negatively, so they are all nestled in the middle of my list.

Air Mauritius

Air Mauritius only issues paper tickets.  Enough said!

Air Pacific

Air Pacific

Our Air Pacific flight landed early in the morning in Nadi, Fiji

Air Pacific ranks toward the bottom of the list because of their carry-on policy.  We specifically purchased our bags to be compliant with carry-on size restrictions.  But we had no idea that Air Pacific also has a weight restriction for carry-on bags.

I’ve never had my carry-on bag put on a scale.  But our bags turned out to be too heavy, and we were forced to check them.  I think this may have been because it was a double-decker plane which required more attention to avoid being top-heavy.

I don’t particularly mind checking my bags if I don’t get charged an extra fee.  But the problem was that we had packed with the intention of carrying our bags, meaning that we had our rain jackets rolled on the outside and other items clipped to the outside of the bags.  It’s stressful to repack a bag at the ticket counter with a line of people staring me down for being ill-prepared, especially when I thought I was perfectly prepared!

The other problem with Air Pacific is that they don’t have a regular counter in the LAX airport, so we couldn’t check in when we arrived from Washington, DC.  We we returned to the airport hours later, the line was frustratingly long and we didn’t get the seats we wanted.

Air Berlin

AirBerlin plane

Air Berlin was our least favorite airline of the 30/40 World Tour

Our original plan was to travel via train through Europe on a Eurail pass.  But for our specific plans, it wasn’t cost-effective or a good use of our time.  So we decided to book a budget flight from Germany to Spain.  It was our worst flight of the trip.

It included our only airport layover and our only flight delay.  Double whammy!  Plus, the children on the flight were unbearable and my sandwich was inedible.

In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t as bad as it seemed at the time.  Perhaps our recent awesome flights on Air Emirates skewed our judgement.

 

  • What’s your favorite airline?
  • Have you had a delicious airplane meal?
  • Do you know of another airline that still only uses paper tickets?
  • Have you had a carry-on bag weighed?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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Motorbikes Around the World

I started riding motorcycles in 2006, back when Mr. HalfFull and I were single neighbors.  He would often see me practicing in the parking lot, and thought that my motorcycle phase wouldn’t last long.

Boy was he wrong.

Old Rag

Ms. HalfEmpty rides her Ninja with Old Rag Mountain in the distance and Mr. HalfFull’s antique BMW on the side of the road during their honeymoon

Just Married on Skyline Drive

Mr. HalfFull shows off his “Just Married” helmet along Skyline Drive

He joined me with his own motorcycle license in 2009.  We even spent our honeymoon riding throughout the curvy mountain roads and fall foliage of Virginia on our red motorcycles with red helmets.

Basically, I created a monster.  Mr. HalfFull had no interest in motorcycles until he saw me riding, and now he’s completely addicted.

In fact, he’s on his 3rd motorcycle in as many years.  His first 2 motorcycles were red, and we matched nicely.  But he just got a new orange one this summer.  What a show off! =)

While we were on our 30/40 World Tour, we did not ride motorcycles.  But Mr. HalfFull would often ogle over them and snap photos as we traveled around the world.

Mr. HalfFull thought it was super cool that the postal workers in New Zealand use motorcycles to deliver the mail in both rural and urban areas.

NZ Postal Worker

NZ Postal Worker between Napier and Taupo

Postal Motorcycle in Auckland

Ms. HalfEmpty with a postal motorcycle on the sidewalk in downtown Auckland

Police Moto in Sydney

Motorcycle policeman in Sydney on a sport bike — not your typical American police moto!

Honda Cafe Racer in Manly

While spending the day at Manly beach (near Sydney, Australia), Mr. HalfFull was mesmerized by this Honda café racer waiting at a stop light.

Motorcycle at the beach in Mauritius

People drove their motorcycles right up to the edge of the beach in Mauritius

Motos @ Palau de la Musica Catalana

Motorcycles and mopeds were a common site in Barcelona, as seen here outside the Palau de la Musica Catalana.

Moto in Madrid

After visiting the Egyptian Temple in Madrid, Mr. HalfFull spotted this beauty walking back to the subway.  He spent a great deal of time walking around it and telling me about the features.

I enjoy riding as long as the roads are interesting and the ride isn’t too long.  I also appreciate beautiful motorcycles, but I don’t really care about the specs or customizing my own bike.  Mr. HalfFull and I are just different breeds…in more ways than one!

  • What activity did someone take up after watching you?
  • Have you ever inadvertently created a monster?
  • What catches your eye and demands photos when you travel?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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Coffee Around the World

Mr. HalfFull got his photo op around the world. Now it’s time for mine.

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know I drink coffee.  In fact, when I ventured around the world on the 30/40 World Tour:  Quest for Passion, I found that my passions are coffee and napping.  I learned this through various opportunities to enjoy them and be deprived of them.  Undoubtedly, coffee and napping are essential to my life.  Deep, I know.

Let’s take a photo tour of my coffee encounters around the world…

Capitol Grounds lattes

I was armed with a latte from Capitol Grounds on my very first flight out of Washington, DC.

Fiji, our first country on the 30/40 World Tour, was not coffee aficionado friendly.  At our first coffee stop, they tried to tell me that Coke was just like coffee!

Ms. HalfEmpty eats breakfast

Much of my time in Fiji was spent on primitive islands with instant coffee.  Quelle horreur!

I didn’t get real coffee until our final night in Fiji when we checked into Sofitel and I had an amazing cappuccino.

My coffee experience in New Zealand was the complete opposite of Fiji. New Zealand has the most coffee roasters per capita of any country in the world.  They take their coffee culture very seriously; even gas stations have espresso machines with baristas, and no one serves drip coffee.

Coffee @ Mecca Stonehouse

My first full day in New Zealand included a latte (and internet time) at Mecca Stonehouse in Mission Bay outside Auckland.

Blogging in Paihia

I seem to always have coffee while on the netbook, including here at Paihia wharf.

Volcanic Latte

We learned that coffee drinks come from volcanoes at the museum in New Plymouth.

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

I even had a coffee in hand outside the Te Papa Museum in Wellington.

Circa Theater

Later that same day when we went to see a show at Circa Theater, just across from the museum, I had another coffee.  Zoom to see me drinking it.

New Zealand was perhaps the best coffee country on the 30/40 World Tour, but the French-speaking countries like New Caledonia weren’t bad either.

Café Malongo in Nouméa

While waiting in line at Café Malongo in Nouméa, I considered my espresso order.

Change in Nouméa

After using bills to buy coffee, we count our change in Nouméa.

Coffee at Le Surf Hotel

Once again enjoying coffee with a side of internet at our hotel in New Caledonia.

Coffee School

When we reached Sydney, Australia, I considered joining coffee school, but decided I didn’t have enough time.

Australian Parliament

I brought a cup of joe with me to the Australian Parliament Building in Canberra.  They wouldn’t let me bring it inside, but I had no problem devouring it quickly!

Phamish in St. Kilda

The coffee drink and coffee netbook seemed to pair well at a restaurant called Phamish in St. Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia.

Heidelberg Train Station

After visiting our new Australian friends in Heidelberg (another suburb of Melbourne), I waited for the train with coffee in hand.

Latte Art in Melbourne

Loving the latte art at a café in Melbourne before our flight to Mauritius.

Turkish Coffee in Dubai

Enjoying turkish coffee in Dubai with Sir Expat

Coffee in German Biergarten

Coffee in a German biergarten on Lake Starnberg with my cousins. Yes, I know you usually drink beer in a biergarten, but we had done plenty of that the night before!  Don’t I look just like a beermaid, but with coffee and less cleavage?

Coffee @ Marianplatz

Any time of day is a good time for coffee — even late night at Marianplatz in Munich.

Lunch @ Barcelo Sants

A cappuccino complemented my 3rd course of lunch nicely at our hotel in Barcelona, Spain.

  • Do you try to limit your coffee intake?
  • What things/actions are essential to your life?
  • Do you have any coffee location recommendations for me?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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Adventures in Overnight Train Travel

Barcelona Sants Train Station

Remember how hard it was for us to buy train tickets in Spain? That may have been a foreboding sign for our upcoming overnight train trip.

We tried to book a sleeping car with an actual bed, but those were all reserved. We ended up getting Perferente tickets, which is first class. Keep in mind that there are 2 classes (Litera and Turista) worse than ours as you read.

Barcelona-Sants Train Station

We arrived at the train station early, assuming that the train would just be stopping for a few minutes to pick up passengers in Barcelona before continuing on the journey. In our limited train experience, you need to be on the right platform at the right time, or get left behind. But as an American, much of the tempo of Spain is slow and train travel (especially the ticket buying process) is no different.

In all fairness, we didn’t give them much of a chance to be fast by booking the 9-hour overnight train instead of the 3-hour day train, which is three times more expensive.  Once again, we learned that you get what you pay for!

When we approached the entrance to our platform, we were told that it was too early to get our bags scanned and to come back in an hour. We grabbed a bite to eat and then looked for seats in the terminal. There were very few seats, and most of them were in the middle of the shops, not near the platform entrances.

While we sat, I used the time to edit photos on our netbook. After several minutes, a young man with a large rucksack approached Mr. HalfFull to ask we would watch his bag while he went to brush his teeth in the bathroom.

Red flag! Huge alert! Don’t they always tell you to never leave your bags unattended, and never to watch a stranger’s bags? Of course, Mr. HalfFull being a good guy, agreed to watch the bag.

After the guy returned, Matt decided to use the bathroom before boarding the train. But he couldn’t because there was a fire in the men’s room! It seems like a strange coincidence that the guy with the rucksack was just in there and didn’t want to be weighed down by his bag. I have no proof; it just seems very suspicious.

Finally, it was time for us to check in and get our bags scanned. This too, was different than the US. Granted, I haven’t ridden a domestic train in a while, but I’ve never seen baggage scanners for trains. The Barcelona scanners were a complete facade of security. We were required to place our bags on the conveyor belt, but no one was watching the screen! Plus, they didn’t require passengers to walk through metal detectors either. So it all seemed like a waste of time.

We proceeded to walk to the correct platform number, but were shooed to a section of seats. I was very confused by this. There was no explanation (not that I would have understood it in Spanish anyway).

Eventually, a man carrying a sign reading Madrid told us to follow him. So everyone grabbed their luggage and proceeded to follow this guy to the other side of the baggage scanner, past the ticket windows, past the shops, and out onto the street. I had no idea what was going on. I thought we were supposed to be boarding a train on a platform beneath where we had been sitting, but now we were walking back out onto the street!?!?

So remember all that heavy-duty security? Anyone could have joined our group walking through the terminal. So much for being secure!

Bus to ???

The man with the sign lead us to a bus. What? A bus? I thought we bought train tickets. Some of the Japanese passengers freaked out and started yelling about the train. I’m not sure they ever got a sufficient answer due to language barriers, but eventually, they too, boarded the bus.

The other problem with a bus is that all our luggage was underneath us, only accessible from the outside. This made me very uncomfortable since we had been repeatedly warned that thefts are common. We had no control of our luggage, but people on the outside had direct access.

Eventually, the bus started moving. We were driving through the city of Barcelona. Mr. HalfFull seemed to think that we were not heading toward Madrid, since he had guided us through the city all week. Eventually, we got on a highway. I began to panic as I wondered if we were taking this bus the whole way to Madrid. It didn’t have a bathroom! I really wished I had gone at the train station.

The bus drove farther and farther from the city lights until we were in a desolate area with a tiny train station 40 minutes later. Woo hoo, we were going to ride a train! Relief flooded over me and my bladder.

To this day, we still have no idea what the bus was about. But we think that perhaps there was some sort of labor strike, which may also explain the fire in the bathroom.

Overnight Train to Madrid

When we boarded the train and entered our 6-person compartment, there was already an older couple nestled in. Somehow, they must have known about the location of the train and avoided the bus ride. This couple had gotten so comfortable that they took over the entire compartment. None of their luggage was on the overhead racks; it was all across the seats and floor. Plus, they had each taken one side of the car in preparation to stretch out across 3 seats per person. Well, we ruined their ideal situation.

Mr. HalfFull proceeded to lift their luggage into the overhead racks, so that we could enter the compartment. They took one side of the compartment with 3 seats and we took the other. Not too bad; it still seemed like we could get some sleep before arriving in Madrid.

But then another man arrived. He was quite a loud, gregarious fellow. I know loud and gregarious; after all, I live with Mr. HalfFull! But this guy may have also been partially deaf, which made him even louder. Or perhaps Spanish is just a loud, boisterous language. He chatted up the other couple for quite a while. It was a rather animated conversation. Eventually, the loud guy left and we all went to sleep.

The chairs slid out into a full reclining position with your legs on the floor. It wasn’t super comfortable, but it was a much better angle than an economy plane seat. On the downside, the seats were old and some of them didn’t lock into place.

Unfortunately for us, the loud guy returned to slumber around 1 or 2 AM. I can only imagine that he was consuming copious amounts of alcohol elsewhere on the train. He was still loud and quite odoriferous. Of course, he sat right next to me. He was so drunk and/or his chair was so old that he ended up sliding all over the place. He would be mid-sentence and his chair would slide out from under him into a full recline. It was kind of funny, but also a bit scary because he was older, intoxicated, and not a small man.

Finally, the car got quiet again and we were falling back asleep when the snoring started. This was fully reclined, open-mouthed, drunk snoring. It was so loud. This old man was relaxed! He got so relaxed that he started talking in his sleep and at one point threw his arm across me. I freaked out and threw it back at him like a hot potato!

Later that night, we got a 6th compartment-mate. This guy was young, but was also a drinker. He slid in late at night with the lights off.  We were all back to sleep when suddenly, the overheads lights abruptly illuminated and a uniformed train officer was standing in the doorway.  The officer only asked the young guy for his ticket, and summarily kicked him out of our car.  The officer didn’t even speak to the rest of us.  I wonder where that kid was supposed to be sitting or if he was even supposed to be on the train.  Another young kid tried to take that same seat later in the night, but he too was removed by security.

Needless to say, there wasn’t much sleep that night between the people in and out, the snoring, the odors, the fugitives, the lights, and a random arm landing on me! We did save a night of hotel expenses, but I’m not sure we would do an overnight train again.

  • Would you watch a stranger’s bag?
  • Has your travel ever been affected by a strike?
  • Do you have much experience with train travel?
  • Have you endured an overnight train?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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In Search of the Perfect Postcard

Since the beginning of our 30/40 World Tour, Mr. HalfFull was searching for a postcard.  Not just any postcard.  No, he was quite particular.  It had to be a musical postcard.

Landscape postcards are easy to come by, but music?  That’s quite another story.  With all the late night kava drinking and guitar playing, Mr. HalfFull was sure he would find one in Fiji.  But that was not to be.  No big deal, it was only the start of the trip, and we had plenty of countries left.

While staying in New Zealand for 3 weeks, we saw tons of postcards.  Again, beautiful landscapes.  But nothing music inspired.

In Australia, we thought we would certainly find a postcard featuring a didgeridoo.  But alas, no.  The same was true for New Caledonia, Mauritius, UAE, and Germany — no music postcards.  But now we were in Spain, the final country on the 30/40 World Tour.  We were running out of time to find the perfect postcard!

You may be wondering why Mr. HalfFull needed a music related postcard so badly that he searched high and low all over the world.  If you know him personally, you are aware that he does not play an instrument.  Trust me when I tell you that you don’t want to hear him sing.  So what’s up with the music postcard???

9:30 Club

Back home in Washington, DC, we occasionally attend concerts at the 9:30 Club — a standing room only venue for up to 1200 people.  My first 9:30 Club concert was during my lindy hop days in high school.  I saw Indigo Swing open for Big Bad Voodo Daddy.  I even got a backstage pass, and thought I was the coolest.  But I guess I arrived a bit too early because when I opened Indigo Swing’s dressing room door, the singer didn’t have his pants on yet!  (I was okay with it…he was hot.)

Even though Mr. HalfFull wasn’t in the area until his 30s, he has a long and storied history of shows at 9:30 Club — Digable PlanetsOur Lady PeaceGomezAngels and AirwavesSlightly StoopidThe Good, the Bad and the QueenGavin DeGraw; Rusted Root; Luke BrindleyThe Bravery; G. Love & Special Sauce; Tenacious D; Foo Fighters; and Wolfmother.  Together we have seen Pete Yorn, Stereophonics, and Good Charlotte at 9:30 Club.

Since Mr. HalfFull is on the 9:30 Club mailing list, he knew about Ye Olde Mailbox.  Each month, the club selects the best hand written letter or postcard mailed to Ye Olde Mailbox, and prints it in their monthly Volume newsletter.  The winner receives 2 tickets to any 9:30 Club show.

The Postcard

Mr. HalfFull really wanted to win, and thought a music inspired postcard would certainly speak to them.  Little did he know how hard it would be to find!

Our last day in Barcelona, before our overnight train trip to Madrid, we wanted to tour the Picasso Museum.  But when we arrived, the line was around the block.  We were really looking forward to spending the day in air-conditioning with beautiful art, not outside in the heat and humidity.  Disappointed, we walked away and visited some shops in the alley.

And…WE FOUND IT!  After 7 countries and 2 months of travel, Mr. HalfFull finally found his musical postcard.  This one featured flamenco, and reminded us of the show we had seen 2 nights before that inspired Mr. HalfFull to dance in the streets.

Ye Olde Mailbox postcard

Mr. HalfFull’s music inspired postcard sent to 9:30 Club

lunchtime concert @ Pg. Born

Rockin’ lunchtime concert on the street in the Born district

As we left the postcard store, we stumbled upon a band jamming on the street in the Born district.  Was this a sign that our postcard was a winner?  How serendipitous!

The Verdict

When we returned home from our 30/40 World Tour, we discovered that our postcard was printed in the 9:30 Club newsletter!  We used our free tickets to see The Kooks later that year.

Sometimes persistence really pays off!  Thanks, Mr. HalfFull.

  • Have you searched the world for a particular item?
  • Have you ever gotten a backstage pass?
  • Do you enjoy live music?  What was your favorite concert experience?
  • What do you think of Mr. HalfFull’s postcard?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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Encounters of the Strange Kind

Barcelona street performer

Street performer on La Rambla in a costume inspired by Guillermo del Toro

Encounter 1: La Rambla

We saw many street performers in Spain.  Most of them didn’t perform so much as pose in outrageous costumes.  As we walked down the tree-lined promenade that is La Rambla, we stumbled upon a rather intricate and scary costumed man.  The outfit was really quite impressive and almost dared you not to stare!

Encounter 2: La Rambla

Afterward, I had an unfortunate encounter on La Rambla.  Remember how I told you about my “poop finger” in the United Arab Emirates?  For those of you who recently joined us, “poop finger” was a henna tattoo with a blob of brown on the end of my finger.

bird poop on foot

Poop on Ms. HalfEmpty’s sandaled food on La Rambla

My encounter on La Rambla was not with a tattoo artist, but with a bird.  A bird who gave me “poop toe.”  Poop is a really funny word until someone else’s is on you!

Ms. HalfEmpty after "poop toe"

“Poop toe” made Ms. HalfEmpty super half empty!

“Poop toe” did not help me see things half full.  I was a grossed out Ms. HalfEmpty.

Of course, it wasn’t a total disaster and was much easier to remove than “poop finger,” which took weeks to fade.  But it still made me feel gross.  All day, I thought about when I could get back to the hotel to disinfect my foot and shoe.

Encounter 3: The Subway

Burger King ad in subway station

Spain thanks us for a heart attack on a bun

On our way back to the hotel via the subway, we saw a huge billboard underground thanking America.  Well, you’re welcome Spain!  How lovely.

It all seems pretty awesome…until you see the full advertisement.  It’s a Burger King ad for the Rodeo Whopper.  Instead of raw onion, they put fried onion rings INSIDE the sandwich!  Of course, the sandwich also contains a beef patty, cheese, bacon, and the oh so American barbecue sauce…wait, don’t forget the mayo.  Yes America, thanks for spreading unhealthy eating and obesity to the rest of the world.  Nice work!

dessert @ La Masia Del Rocxi

Ms. HalfEmpty with EVERY dessert @ La Masia Del Rocxi

Encounter 4: Dinner

That night for dinner, we went to a lovely restaurant, La Masia Del Rocxi.  I think menus are one of the toughest things to read as a tourist who is unfamiliar with the language.  There is so little context, and each word counts.  Sometimes in my own country, I have to ask my waiter what a particular word on the menu means.  Perhaps it is a special cooking technique or even a spice I’ve never encountered.  The potential for unknown words is endless.

Now multiply that potential by my lack of Spanish and you have a nightmare for my server.  We asked so many questions about the menu and tried to scope out dishes on the tables of other diners.

By the time dessert rolled around, I think we had fully exhausted our waitress.  She didn’t even ask us what we would like or bring us a menu.  Instead, she brought us EVERY dessert!

Encounter 2 + 4

I guess you win some (dessert), and you lose some (poop toe).

  • What wacky street performers have you encountered?
  • Have you been pooped on?  Where were you?  How quickly were you able to clean it?
  • How do you feel about the Burger King ad?
  • Have you had trouble communicating at a restaurant?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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Flamenco Fires Up Mr. HalfFull

El Poble Espanyol

Just a sample of the beautiful buildings inside El Poble Espanyol

As a former dancer, I thoroughly enjoy dance performances. What better dance to see in Spain than Flamenco?

cat chilling @ El Poble Espanyol

Even the cat finds a peaceful place to nestle. There is no wheeled traffic at El Poble Espanyol, nestled in the natural surroundings of the hill at Montjuïc.

El Poble Espanyol is a fake town that was built in 1929 to showcase various regions of Spain for the Barcelona International Exhibition.  The goal was to create a model Spanish village with the main characteristics of all the towns and villages in the peninsula.  This design included 117 buildings, streets, and squares reproduced to scale.  The facades were only meant to survive the six-month duration of the exhibition, but the area was so successful that it still stands today.

El Poble Espanyol is quite charming with large open squares, small alleys, and quaint storefronts. Some of the stores and studios have resident artisans painting, sculpting, creating stained glass, working with leather, and more.

woman building guitars @ El Poble Espanyol

A woman builds guitars inside one of the shops

leather worker @ Poble Espanyol

Artisan working with leather in another storefront

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

shards of glass around edge of Poble Espanyol

Even the security system (shards of colored glass on top of the exterior wall) is artistic

One of the strangest physical features of El Poble Espanyol was the shards of colored glass on top of the high walls to act as artistic barbed wire. How creative!

The place has enough twists and turns to require a map. We circled through a few times enjoying the architecture before we found the small alley in the Andalusia region with the Flamenco show at El Tablao de Carmen.

tapas at flamenco show

Sangria and tapas of manchego cheese, cured meats, and bread — delicious!

Since we had just eaten a huge lunch, we opted not to do the 3-course meal. Instead, we enjoyed tapas and sangria.

 

female flamenco dancer

The teenage flamenco dancer

male flamenco dancer

Manuel Jimenez “Bartolo” is the artistic director at El Tablao de Carmen and started flamenco at age 8.  Sounds like Mr. HalfFull has some serious catch-up to do!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The performance highlighted the various forms of flamenco — music (guitars and drums), song, and dance.  The dancers performed with such emotion and absolutely commanding claps.

The tabalos have historically served as an artistic school and a springboard to fame for young artists.  So in addition to the more seasoned performers, we also saw a girl who seemed like she was just a teenager, but she too, was an expert performer with seriousness beyond her years.

pretend flamenco dancer

Mr. HalfFull pretends to be a flamenco dancer

We thoroughly enjoyed the performance, so much so that Mr. HalfFull was striking poses in the street on the walk home. His ferocity was compellingly hilarious! He was also inspired to learn to play flamenco guitar. We’ll see when that happens…

  • What types of dance do you enjoy doing and/or watching?
  • When do you think Mr. HalfFull will take up the guitar?
  • Has a performance inspired you to learn a new skill?


sculpture garden @ El Poble Espanyol

I found some dancers in the sculpture garden!  But I think these were perhaps ballet or modern, not flamenco.

hand rail statue in Cervantes Alley @ Poble Espanyol

Even the handrails are topped with sculptures like this one in Cervantes Alley

Poble Espanyol

Gorgeous view up in El Poble Espanyol

Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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The Unending Lunch

El Asador de Arnada oven

Mr. HalfFull gets a closer look at the clay oven @ El Asador de Arnada

We’ve been telling you about our 3-course meals in Spain, but this one takes the cake! Mr. HalfFull read about a restaurant called El Asador de Aranda, which brings traditional Castilian gastronomy to several locations throughout Spain. The photos featuring clay ovens and legs of meat on the wall enticed Mr. HalfFull to experience this manly palace of meat for himself.

lamb & pork at El Asador de Arnada

Mr. HalfFull salivates over our lamb and pork lunch entrées

Of course, this restaurant also had a 3-course lunch with wine. Since our language skills are limited, a predefined menu is a deliciously easy way out! This was advertised as a 3-course meal, but 3 courses it was not. The food and alcohol just kept coming and we were continually surprised.

grappa & cookies

The surprise licorice grappa and cookie course

We ordered lamb and pork to split (because we’re cute like that). It was so much food already, but then they brought grappa with cookies. Oh wow, MORE alcohol? Wasn’t a bottle of wine for 2 people at lunch enough? Of course not!

We ended up finishing the whole bottle of licorice grappa. Do you see the size of that bottle?

cava

Ms. HalfEmpty with the glass of cava she declined, but received

Then they offered us cava. I declined and they proceeded to bring us glasses of the bubbly white wine. How could anyone refuse Castilian hospitality? I guess it’s just not possible.

empty grappa bottle

With an inebriated smile, Mr. HalfFull holds up the empty victory bottle!

By the time we left, we were stuffed and drunk. I could barely move and definitely couldn’t walk straight. I think I was rather giggly as well. But Mr. HalfFull had a day of sightseeing planned. So he dragged his wife along the streets of Barcelona.

siesta shades

Ms. HalfEmpty stared longingly at the siesta shades as we departed El Asador de Arnada

I really needed a siesta after that lunch and enviously spied the yellow siesta shades hanging from a nearby building.  But we had a lazy morning and lunch was our first departure from the hotel that day.  So perhaps I hadn’t really earned a siesta.

Due to my inebriation, the rest of the afternoon is a little fuzzy; I was walking around in a haze. I’m sure Mr. HalfFull imparted various cultural and historical facts to me, but I can’t regurgitate any of them. I was just concentrating on standing upright.

Of course, he picked this day to show me Gaudí buildings. Ordinarily, Gaudí buildings look strange and dreamlike with their roots and treelike limbs protruding this way and that. But these buildings seemed to blend quite well with my stupor.

Casa Batlló by Gaudí

Casa Batlló by Gaudí looks like the type of fantastical building you would see in a drunken stupor

pedestrian deaths

In Barcelona, 1 in 3 deaths in traffic accidents are on foot

I was lazily walking along, dragging behind Mr. HalfFull until I read a sign painted on the crosswalk in the street. After staring for several seconds and working through my pretend human Catalan translation engine, I realized it said that 1 in 3 traffic accident deaths in Barcelona are pedestrians. I sobered up quickly.

 

 

  • Do you and your significant other split meals?
  • Would you drink the whole bottle of grappa?
  • Have you been served an unending meal?
  • Would you be able to sight-see after such a lunch?
  • Do you think the sign on the crosswalk causes more pedestrian accidents than it prevents while people stop in the road to read it?
Gaudí building

Gaudí buildings are surreal

tower @ Passeig de Gràcia

beaufitul tower @ Passeig de Gràcia

Gran Via Corts Catalanes

Gorgeous architecture at Gran Via Corts Catalanes

giraffe statue

Just another seductive giraffe statue laying in the street. Perfectly normal.

bull statue @ Gran Via Corts Catalanes

What self-respecting city doesn’t have a statue of an anthropomorphized bull?

Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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Wandering Through Barcelona

You may be wondering if we did more than sleep and attempt to buy train tickets in Barcelona.  Yes, we did!  Eventually, we ventured out of our hotel to see the sights.

Barcelona side street

Many of the homes in Barcelona had shutters or fabric siesta shades to block out the afternoon sun. I love that the culture is so focused on naps!

When we first left our space-like sleep chamber, we ended up on a nearby side street with various fruit shops.  We would stop into one and buy something that looked deliciously ripe.  Then we would go outside to eat it just in time to visit the next shop.  I’m sure the store clerks were annoyed that we were only buying one piece of fruit at a time, but it saved us from carrying anything (and saved the environment from one more bag).

Ham Shop in Barcelona

I’ve never seen so many legs on display!

We did not enter the meat shop on the same street as the fruit stores.  But we did spy through the window.  Leg after leg of meat hanging by the hooves was quite a sight to behold.  Legs of meat aren’t as immediately edible as fruit, so it wasn’t so practical to pick one up on this outing.

Our initial process of sightseeing was basically to wander.  We had a map and general direction in mind, but stopped whenever we saw something of interest.

Perhaps our tanned skin made us look a bit like Spaniards or perhaps we carried ourselves with purpose.  But it was a bit comical when other tourists would ask us for directions as we wandered.  We didn’t even speak Spanish!  (Incidentally, this also happened to me on a trip to Mexico.  Natives would start speaking to me in rapid fire Spanish.)

CaixaForum

A neat line of mopeds and motorcycles in front of CaixaForum, a social and cultural center in Barcelona. Moped drivers were quite the daredevils, darting in and out of urban traffic!

I thoroughly enjoyed our somewhat aimless walk. We saw some beautiful architecture and panoramic views of Barcelona as the sun set.

near Place St. Jordi

Ms. HalfEmpty pauses amidst the beautiful scenery near Place St. Jordi

As we started walking back toward the hotel at 10:30 PM, I felt a rumbling in my tummy. That 1 PM lunch wasn’t going to keep me full forever!

We stopped into a restaurant and asked to be seated outside.  It was such a lovely summer night.  We had just been in winter in the southern hemisphere for much of our summer and then experienced the extreme heat of Dubai, so night in Barcelona was just the right temperature for dining al fresco.

But we were the only people outside and the servers looked at us funny when we asked.  Maybe they were annoyed that were creating more work for them.  Outside is a longer walk with more doors.

Palau Nacional de Montjuïc

Mr. HalfFull and Ms. HalfEmpty below Palau Nacional de Montjuïc. Fortunately, we captured Mr. HalfFull’s good side in this self-portrait! But both of my sides are good, so that’s why I’m centered. =)

After our 3-course lunch, of course we had to have a 3-course dinner.  Again, this one came with wine.  We had recovered enough by this point to partake.  But there was SO. MUCH. FOOD.  Just look at the appetizers they served us!  We still had 2 more courses after that.

appetizers in Barcelona

Ms. HalfEmpty starts another 3-course meal with appetizers. Yes, those are JUST the appetizers for TWO people!

After finishing our meal, we laid down on the sidewalk and rolled back to the hotel.  No wait, that’s just what I wished we had done.  We stumbled home full and happy, ready to sleep in preparation for another day of eating our way through Barcelona.

  • Do you make an effort to buy fresh fruit while traveling?
  • Do you prefer to see meat in small packages or full legs with hooves?  Do the hooves freak you out or is it a good natural reminder of the source?
  • Do you prefer to wander or have a plan while traveling?  What about in life?
  • As a tourist, do you ever get mistaken for a local?
  • Do you seize opportunities to eat outdoors?  Even when everyone else is inside?
Palau Nacional de Montjuïc

Palau Nacional de Montjuïc sits atop a hill with a beautiful view of the city below

view from Palau Nacional de Montjuïc

Panoramic view of Barcelona from Palau Nacional de Montjuïc

view from Palau Nacional de Montjuïc

View of gorgeous towers as seen from Palau Nacional de Montjuïc at sunset

Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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Train Ticket Turmoil

Our first morning in Barcelona was spent in our space-themed hotel room at Barceló Sants.  When we finally emerged at 1 PM, we were famished and opted for the nearest food — the hotel restaurant.

Lunch @ Barcelo Sants

A contented Ms. HalfEmpty prepares to enjoy her 3rd lunch course — dessert and a latte

We were the only patrons and weren’t sure if we were early or late for the lunch hour.  After a few misunderstandings due to our limited non-existent Spanish, we were seated and enjoyed a delicious 3-course lunch.  I think wine was included in our meal (as we later learned is customary with 3-course meals in Spain), and our server was quite shocked when we declined the carafe.  She didn’t know that we were still recovering from Germany.

Since we had gotten up at 1 PM and just finished lunch, it was time for siesta.  When in Spain, do as the Spaniards.  You really can’t get enough sleep!

The main reason for including Spain on the 30/40 World Tour was to attend VaughanTown.  It’s an English immersion program for Spaniards in various locations throughout Spain.  The program (including 4-star-hotel accommodations and meals) is free for native English speakers, who are there to help increase the fluency of Spanish business people.

Before meeting up with the VaughanTown group in Madrid, we planned to spend 4 days in Barcelona.  We figured that it would be easiest and perhaps cheaper to get our train ticket from Barcelona to Madrid while in Spain.  So obtaining those train tickets was on our agenda.  We were staying above the train station, so how hard could it be?

It was so much harder than we ever imagined.  But we had an inflexible schedule at this point and needed those tickets.

Our first attempt was online.  Mr. HalfFull was able to see the various times and prices.  He decided that a slow overnight train was our best option because it was less expensive and would save us on a night at a hotel.  He tried several times to book it online, but our credit card never seemed to go through.

At this point, we weren’t too worried.  We just headed down to the train station to buy tickets at the counter.  We saw one area with about 10 windows where people took numbers and waited to be called.  It seemed rather crowded, so we went to the shorter line on the other side of the station.  After waiting for our turn, we were told that this line was only for same day tickets and we needed to wait in the other line.

Sleeping in Train Station

If you had to spend all day in the train station, you might take a nap too! Never miss a siesta…that’s my motto.

Too bad we just wasted time in line, but no big deal.  We went over to the other line and took a number.  Then we discovered that there were 150 numbers in front of us!  It was already 4 PM and unlikely that all those people would be served by closing time.  Plus, we had sites to see.  We decided to try again via the website from our hotel room in the evening.  Hopefully, the site would work better this time.

Mr. HalfFull was so nervous about us not getting to Madrid on time that he stayed up all night trying to use our credit cards on the website.  He even set an alarm to try at various hours to see if that made a difference.  But the transaction always failed.  (We later learned from comments online that only cards issued in Spain will work.  It would have been nice if the website had that info!)

Worrying is usually reserved for me.  Mr. HalfFull is generally the one who tries to ease me out of my tizzy.  But the roles were reversed!

Barcelona-Sants train station

Efficiency was not the strong suit of the Barcelona-Sants train station, but at least Hotel Barceló Sants was right above it, so we could visit often during our ticket quest.

We finally decided that the only way to ensure that we get tickets and don’t spend all day waiting in the train station was to be in line before the ticket counter opened at 6 AM.  Apparently, a bunch of other people also had this idea.  Fortunately, it wasn’t another 150 people.

With tickets in hand, Mr. HalfFull was finally able to relax.  Travel within Spain is not as easy as you might think.  We’ll tell you the tale of the actual train ride from Barcelona to Madrid in an upcoming post.  For now, let’s just say it was certainly another adventure.

  • Do you make travel plans before leaving home?
  • Have you had difficulty with your home country credit card in a foreign country?
  • Have you experienced a painfully difficult time purchasing tickets abroad?
  • Are you surprised that Mr. HalfFull was losing sleep over our tickets?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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