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* H A P P Y  *  N E W  *  Y E A R  *

W i s h i n g  – y o u – a l l – t h e – v e r y –  b e s t – i n – 2 0 1 4  ! !

As the end of 2013 is upon us, we are taking a look back at some of the places we visited. The places are organized in reverse chronological order and there is a part 2 to come tomorrow. Some of the trips are business trips and some are vacations.

Click on the link to jump to the posts – there are usually a series of related posts per location, they are uploaded around the same time – you can discover them easily in the calendar at the bottom of the post.

December 2013

We just came back from a cruise in the Caribbean sea on Celebrity’s Reflection. This was taken in San Juan, Puerto Rico – one of the ports of call. The pictures will be up here soon.

2013 review-1

The cruise started and ended in Miami – we spent a few days at the Epic Hotel, downtown Miami

2013 review-2

Barcelona, Spain in October 2013

2013 review-3

Sao Paulo, Brazil in October 2013

2013 review-6

Jungfraujoch, Switzerland in September 2013  (posts to come in 2014)

2013 review-4

Near Interlaken, September 2013

2013 review-5

Lavaux, Switzerland with VL in July 2013

2013 review-23Glacier 3000, Switzerland with YS – July 2013

2013 review-21

Lac Liosin, Switzerland with YS – July 2013

2013 review-19

Chambery, France with IT in July 2013

2013 review-20

There were 7 separate trips in this second half of 2013, and another 7 trips in the first half – see next post.

Camp Nou (“New Field”) is the home of Barça  – FC Barcelona (Futbol Club Barcelona), Barcelona’s football team. The stadium is open to the public and is a major tourist attraction of the city.


I went with my colleagues on the last day of our conference in Barcelona. The camp is located not far from the city center.


The club is owned by its supporters. According to Wikipedia in 2013:

It is the world’s second-richest football club in terms of revenue, with an annual turnover of $613 million and the third most valuable, worth $2.6 billion.


There was no tour guide. We just walked along a marked path through the building and along the pitch. Occasionally, we see a guard to prevent people from straying.


The motto “Més que un club”  means “More than a club” and reflects the club’s role in the identity of Catalan culture.

campnou-7The building of Camp Nou commenced on 28 March 1954, took three years and ended on 24 September 1957. It was last renovated in 2005. It has a capacity of 99,354 making it the largest stadium in Europe, 11th in the world.

campnou-6We toured their changing room – it looked a bit spartan given its status. We all doubted if the team really use it, maybe it is used by the visiting team.

campnou-2Hot tub and showers.

campnou-3Prayers before  and after the game! This chapel is located just steps from the ramp leading up to the pitch.

campnou-4Next to the chapel is a TV studio.

campnou-5Commentator’s box at the top.

campnou-9The stadium houses the club museum which shows hundreds of clips of matches on demand.


Camp Nou has been used for many concerts – including U2, Three Tenors, Michael Jackson. The pope John Paul II celebrated mass in 1992.


On display in the club museum are the various trophies the team won over the years, since its founding in 1899.

campnou-14A fan souvenir store lies at the end of the tour. Just outside the store are these giant posters of the team’s current players. In 2013, according to Wikipedia:

The all-time highest goalscorer for Barcelona in all official competitions is Lionel Messi with 327 goals. He is also the record goalscorer for Barcelona in European and international club competitions and the record league scorer with 223 goals in La Liga.


Nike, Qatar airways, Audi are the major sponsors – can’t miss them really.

campnou-16In 2000, fans were polled concerning the stadium’s name. Of the 29,102 votes the club received, a total of 19,861 (68.25%) preferred Camp Nou to Estadi del FC Barcelona, and thus the official name was changed to the popular nickname.

The W Barcelona is located at the western end of Barcelona’s artificial beachfront. It is one of the taller buildings in the city and certainly the tallest and most recognizable in the downtown waterfront area. The architect, Ricardo Bofil, created a nearly 30-story tall building that is shaped like a sail.

W views-1

I had a room on the 20th floor where all these pictures were taken. Here are the views.

W views-2I have to say the beach is pretty ugly – the sand was rough and it just looked messy from atop. But given its proximity to downtown Barcelona, I am sure the city’s residents are not complaining.

W views-3

The beach starts from Port Olimpic, marked by Frank Gehry’s “Peix d’Or” sculpture (brown fish-shaped object in the middle of the photo below), and ends at the W.

W views-9

The Barceloneta boardwalk is located in the midsection of the beach. Torre Agbar in the background.

W views-8

Barceloneta is known for its boardwalk, nightclubs and numerous touristy restaurants.

W views-10

On the city side of the inlet, from left to right are Carrer del mar (an extension of La Rambla), Maremagnum mall and the city’s aquarium.

W views-4

The Carrer del mar (in the middle of the picture below) is the place where during our last visit we ran into a couple of scam artists (we did not fall for it) – read the post here.

W views-5

Torre Sant Sebastià is the terminus of the Port Vell Aerial Tramway; opened in 1931, it connects La Barceloneta with Montjuïc across Port Vell.

W views-6Apparently, there is a very good restaurant at the top of the tower.

W views-7

One of the tram stops is at the World Trade Center.

W views-11

Opposite the W on the city/harbor side is a dock full of monster yachts. Who owns these yachts ?

W views-12

At dusk.


Barcelona is one of the busiest cruise ship port of call in the Meditterranean.

W views-15The pool area of the W hotel is right next to the beach.

W views-14The 4-5 story long building with green glass on the left houses the headquarters of the Spanish casual fashion brand – Desigual – check out their super colorful website.

If you missed it, there is an earlier post about the interiors of the hotel.

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I (Chris) attended a week-long business conference in Barcelona. The organizer chose its venue at the “W” on the city’s waterfront !

The hotel is built on land reclaimed from the sea during construction of a new entrance to the harbor.

W Barca-1

Upon arrival, there was a long line to check-in. It was almost 4:30pm. When I got to the reception, they offered me a room on the second floor or a higher floor if I waited.

W Barca-5

Second floor ? No way ! So I waited and they called me 45 minutes later and voila, a room on the 20th floor.

W Barca-2

The location of the hotel is stunning, being located at one end of the city’s sandy beach. The curtains are powered and opened/closed by remote control.

W Barca-3

I got a room facing the west side of the city with a view of the cruise ship terminal. Rooms on the other side has the view of the city and the beach.

W Barca-8

Instead of a mini bar, they provide premium liquor and a cocktail kit (at exorbitant prices).

W Barca-4

The guest room is in fact quite small but with a strategically placed mirror and the big window, the room did not feel cramped.

W Barca-6

A lot of thoughts have gone into the design of lighting in the bathroom and showers. They even provided Philip’s mood light system.

W Barca-9

As a brand, the W hotels are all made to look hip and clubby. Neon red is used everywhere. This is the corridor leading to my room.

W Barca-10

The lobby is kept relatively dark and is lit only with a wall of LEDs  above the 7-floor high atrium, even during the day.

W Barca-12

The lobby bar has a DJ.

W Barca-15

The hotel’s computer system went down on checkout day. So there was another line. They have a “Whatever” desk in the lobby to provide concierge services but most of the time, the staff was helping out at the reception desks.

W Barca-11

Overall, I think the hotel’s interiors (guest rooms as well as conference spaces) are well designed and the services are adequate. The front desk operation could be better organized, however. More photos from the W to come in our next post.

We wrote many posts after our last visit to Barcelona in 2011. Just search the blog using the Barcelona tag. Or try these links to our posts on architecture: CCCB, sights: Sagrada Familia, and food: alkimia.

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The following incidents happened a year and a half ago when we were visiting Barcelona (the post was half-written and forgotten in the draft folder).


I(Chris) lived in NYC for many years (even before Giuliani became mayor) and had not been a victim of crime.  I walked through Times Square with thousands of tourists daily for the last 10 or so years and had not witnessed a pickpocket or mugging incident.  But in Barcelona, for just 9 days, we had three stories to tell.  They all happened on Barcelona’s fairly modern, brightly lit subway platforms.


No crime was committed in the first incident.  One night when we were changing trains at a station in the city center (Urquinaona), after we reached the second platform, Sis whispered to me that three men at the end of the platform followed us and looked at me in a suspicious way.  Well, there were a lot of people changing trains but when I casually looked over,  I agreed with Sis’s assessment.  The three men pretended they do not know each other, yet they kept walking up and down the platform, exchanging glances.  The train arrived, we got on, and that’s the end of the story. Perhaps we were oversensitive?

The next night, we were taking the subway home and had to change train at another centrally-located station (Pg. de Gracia).  As it was late, the platform was rather empty.  When the train door opened, I stepped onto a carriage after Sue. Sis was behind me.  Suddenly, I felt someone tugged at my bag and Sis said to me, “Be careful, someone is trying to pick your bag !”  I looked at my shoulder bag with the camera and wallet and it was halfway unzipped.  It all happened very quickly.  A man who was standing at the landing of the carriage got off the train immediately as the train door closed.  I was half-way to becoming a victim.  This pickpocket was apparently operating solo. I stared at him and he stared back as the train was leaving the station.


Sis explained: when the door was opening, there were plenty of space on one side to board the train. But this man cut in front of her as I was stepping on the train.  She then saw him reaching into my bag.  So she slapped the hand and raised her voice. She was my heroine.


On our last day in Barcelona, Sis had already left a day before. Sue and I were doing our last bit of sightseeing.   It was around noon, when we walked down the stairs onto a platform at the Verdaguer station. I noticed three guys in smart street wear standing near the entrance, just like any typical young European tourist. But all three were looking at me at the same time – and just for a little bit too long – which seemed a bit unnatural – did I look strange or something ?

As the train pulled in, we noticed the three guys running towards a door.  I told Sue to avoid using that door and used another one further down.  After the last two incidents, I learnt to not rush onto the train but to hang back so that there is nobody behind me when I step onto the train. As soon as we were aboard, we heard people yelling and a woman screaming. These three guys were trying to take either a camera or a handbag from this Asian couple – we only saw them struggling with something that had a strap.  As the doors were closing, the gang got off while holding onto the thing and the couple would not let go – so they all ended up getting off. We did not see how it ended but there were hardly any one on the platform as the train was leaving.


Asian tourists are every where in Europe  and particularly the nouveau riche  – they love to splurge and flaunt. Many are walking around with armfuls of famous brand shopping  bags  – marking themselves as easy fat targets.


Another incident which happened on the same Barcelona trip was described in an earlier post – Close Encounters of the Shifty Kind. Check it out.

All the above pictures were taken in Barcelona, although the train platforms in the picture were not the ones where the incidents happened.

Ah, the joys of travel.

In addition to the wearable jewelry (covered in the last post), Dali also made many pieces of jeweled objet d’art, which are also on display at the L’espai Dalí·Joies, e.g., this flower with petals shaped like grasping hands.  I do not know if it has any function (I somehow doubt it) but it is exquisite nevertheless.  It can make a very expensive stand for hanging rings and earrings – literally, blings on blings.

To find out more about this collection, goto this web page of the La Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí.

Close up of the grasping hands with ruby nails.

The elephant with spider-like legs appeared in several of his pictures. The piece really works as an object and the Indian gemstones look much better than painted. The hugh crystal it is carrying on its back makes the legs so much more precarious.

He apparently made many bejeweled crosses.

Quite a collection.

After our visit to Dali’s theatre/museum in Figueras, we wandered next door to a new gallery showcasing his creations.  This gallery shows a collection of thirty-seven pieces of jewelry in gold and precious stones and twenty-seven drawings and paintings on paper that Salvador Dalí made in designing the jewels between 1941 and 1970.

Notice the clock face in the eyeball and the flock of birds forming a woman’s face (above). The same piece at a different angle (below)

I like Dali’s paintings but after a while, the novelty wears off and the magic fades a little.  But not with the jewelry he designed, I suspect, perhaps the bling makes a longer lasting impression.

Some of the pieces are motorized and move !  The middle portion of this heart-shaped piece rises and falls slowly but rhythmically.  A bit creepy actually.

The wings on the piece below flap slowly.

Gala (his muse, long time girlfriend) is featured above (back of her head) and below.

There is a face behind the giant piece of gem (below).

I guess only he can pull off these designs. Pearly whites !
More pieces from the exhibition in the next post.

One side trip we took while we were in Barcelona earlier this year was a visit to Figueras.  The only reason to visit that place is the Dalí Theatre-Museum (El Teatre-Museu Dalí), the largest surrealistic object in the world. I came to see this place many years ago but did not mind revisiting. It has a geodesic dome, gold-colored mannequins, and a dozen giant eggs on top, while the perimeter wall is studded by an array of croissant-like baked products.

It occupies the building of the former Municipal Theatre, a 19th century construction which was destroyed at the end of the Spanish Civil War. On its ruins, Dalí decided to create his museum. This inner courtyard is to me the most interesting space.

Inside this classic American car, is a mannequin and a sprinkler system which can be turned on by inserting coins into a slot next to the driver.  The effect is raining inside a car. Surreal ?

There are rows of waving gold-colored  faceless mannequins which remind me of the Academy award statutes.  High up is a boat dripping thick drops of blue liquid, and beneath it a fat lady standing on a black car.

Several pieces are massive, occupying several floors  …

Lincoln ??

The museum was a bit of a let down, especially the paintings. The pieces do not seem as impressive and I believe the best are displayed elsewhere. Perhaps I had too high an expectation – likely a by-product of only vaguely remembering how I enjoyed the previous visit.

The patches of feather on the wall behind the bust are stuffed pheasants and those black dots on her face are painted ants (below).

Below is a construction of Mae West’s face as viewed through a lens while standing on a platform.

The painted ceiling of a room depicting Dali and Gala going to heaven.

What turned out to be more interesting is what lies next door, an exhibition of jewelry designed by Dali.  Next post.

Comerç 24 – a chic restaurant at a hip location – as some publications described this place. Friends and colleagues recommended this place too. We managed only a reservation for lunch. This place and several other “24” restaurants in the chain in Barcelona are very popular with tourists and locals alike. I believe this is where the “24” empire started – the name of the restaurant is its address, i.e., Carrer del Comerç No. 24, in El Born.

The chef – Carles Abellan – was a protege of Ferran Adria at El Bulli (just closed at the end of July 2011).  According to a book about him and his food that was lying around in the restaurant (an autobiography I assume), he wanted to be a rockstar. After many struggles and false starts, the story ends with him serving dinner to Mick Jagger during his Rolling Stone tour.

Although the restaurant is all at street level, it is all artificially lit (can’t tell day from night inside), a bit like a club.

We did not order from their set menu, instead we ordered à la carte.

This is a freebie appetizer but it was really tasty – it is a “cigar” with crisp spring roll skin with a basil leaflet at the end and soft fillings – the soup was also excellent.

There are many asian-influenced tapas at the creative or high-end restaurants in Barcelona.  Alkimia (the other restaurant we visited with a tasting menu) had a few Chinese-style dishes.

This is their specialty – egg shell filled with custard-like stuff that was truly full of flavors.

The staff cleaned the kitchen top to bottom after serving lunch – a truly dynamic kitchen as we witnessed all the frantic activities from prep to serve, and then scrub.

For this trip to Barcelona, we bought a 2-day ticket for those open-top tourist bus which circle the city.  There are three loops: one goes to the North as far as the city’s university and Camp Nou (FC Barcelona’s stadium); one goes west up to the Montjuic hills and comes back down near the harbor, and the third loops around the east side in a new part of the city – Diagonal Mar.  It is so named because the Avinguda Diagonal which cuts across the entire Barcelona from the Northwest, ends here where it meets the sea and the mouth of River Besos.  The area is captured by one of my pictures taken while we were landing.  Click to see a full screen version of the photo. The triangular Edifici Forum is clearly visible.

The area has undergone extensive re-development from a poor, industrial corner of Barcelona to a planned, open, mostly residential area.  When they ripped up the railway tracks in the industrial zone, some were left as sculpture on the median of one of its main streets.

The area is filled with new architecture, started by the Olympic village which was located here.  Then came the hotels on the beachfront designed by famous architects.  The area boasts several world class hotels, class A office buildings, a public park, the largest convention center and shopping center in Catalunya.

The low lying blue building above is the Edifici Forum, designed by Herzog & de Muron.  The white structure is very new and unknown to me.This building below I believe is a biomedical research center.

There are two towers joined by a large base that share this facade.

I wonder how the window frames work, it looks as if they are sliding and have blinds that can be adjusted.One of the hotels next to the conference center.

Edifici gas natural by Enric Miralles.  Notable for the horizontal block that sticks out.

One iconic sight we missed here is the fish sculpture by Frank Gehry which sits in front of the Hotel Arts on the beachfront.  I was inside one of his fish-inspired architecture last year in Berlin. Follow this link to the earlier blogpost.

A few more pix of the buildings.

Pavelló Mies van der Rohe was originally designed as the German Pavilion for the 1929 International Exposition.  It was rebuilt in 1986.  I came here the last time I visited Barcelona (in the 80’s) – I did not expect anything to change and nothing has changed.  Nor does the design look dated or any less modern in 2011.  Timeless design !

The architecture is very simple and yet its proportions, alignments, choice of materials are brought together perfectly to create a series of beautifully serene pristine spaces.

It really deserves its reputation as an icon of modern architecture. It also houses the Barcelona chair – another iconic piece.

Soon after we arrived, the sky opened up and it poured.  The pavilion is located at the bottom of the Montjuic hills.  The sights here are far apart and there were no shelter. So we were trapped and waited for almost an hour and a half before the rain subsided. We had time to slowly discover the magic of this space – one reason I liked it is that while it is modern, it does not feel cold or mechanical, rather it allows nature (or natural light) to come in from various directions, making the place feels humanly comfortable.

Standing around, staring at the sky or the empty spaces afforded by the minimalist architecture, the effect was a lack of visual clutter whichever way you look, which invited introspection.  I imagine that this effect is particularly meaningful for those who live in big cities, who are constantly bombarded by people, signs, etc. It feels weird thinking about this place which looks the same as it did before but I became a different (at least older) person already.

To kill time, we composed and recomposed our pictures of the details of the pavilion.  As the pavilion is of a minimalist design, we exhausted the details in a few minutes of shooting.

While we were waiting, Sue struck up a conversation with a couple from upstate New York.  The lady was from Central America and joking about her inability to understand any Catalan despite being fluent in Spanish. By chance, we met them a few days later at a museum downtown  (MACBA).  We also met a young backpacking American student who proudly announced that he is majoring in architecture at U Penn, and how wonderful is this design. Duh.

The book shop is in that corner.

Finally, when there was a pause in the downpour.  We ran out and up the hill to MNAC (the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya) and spent the rest of the day there.

Alkimia – one michelin star.  The name of the restaurant comes from the Arabic word “al-kimia” (the art).

We arrived at 8:45pm, 15 minutes after our reservation, having misjudged the distance from Vinçon.  Alkimia is located “midtown” in Barcelona.
So we were a bit out of breathe but the serene atmosphere and warm towels helped put us in the mood for a gastronomic experience.  The homemade bread sticks came as two long sticks resembling twigs in a vase.

We chose the menu Alkimia – their namesake tasting menu.  The lighting in the restaurant was awful for photos. Color balance is a disaster, so please bear with me.  Below is a sample of the dishes.

They started with three appetizers – all good but could not remember what they were at the end of the meal.

  • Spaghetini with seafood
  • Simple … white asparagus

  • Pickled oysters with glazed pork cheek, saute spinach

  • Cuttle fish with ink sauce and ginger
  • Prawn “a la mano” – roasted bayleaf and clove

  • Fish of the day with onion and black olive
  • Special chickpeas with “a la llauna” codfish

  • Morels stuffed with meat ball
  • Beef with spring vegetables and mustard seeds

  • Cream of carrot with orange
  • Baked apple with black chocolate and eucalyptus ice cream

This is not on the menu but every one in the restaurant got a plate.My overall impression, which was reinforced by a visit to another popular restaurant, is that the cuisine in this international city is at currently all about Asian flavors.  I enjoyed the taste but to me, it lacked novelty.  Nevertheless, Alkimia is definitely worth a visit.

While having lunch at Casa Danone (<– see earlier post) we noticed these designer-branded bottled water by Evian.  Since they were placed behind us on display, we took them down and photographed them against the white seatings.  Evian is one of the brands of water owned by Danone, their other well known brand being Volvic.  The co-branding exercise with Evian is interesting because Evian is already a well-known brand. To distinguish itself even more (?), it is associating itself with fashion designers, in opposed to sports superstar.  I imagine the concept here is Drink it for Beauty and not Drink it for Performance.

Paul Smith has a website to promote the above bottle –

Jean Paul Gaultier did it in 2009.

The designer’s input is obviously limited to the bottle, and only limited to the graphic design.  The shape of the bottle has not changed. I wondered who initiated the co-branding idea:  Evian or the designers, I say likely Evian or more accurately Danone.

Beside the Brumisateur shown below, Issey Miyake also has designed a graphic for the bottle but I did not see it in Casa Danone.  Apparently, if a customer spends more than 100,000 yen in a Issey Miyake store in Japan, the customer receives a free bottle.  Issey has a site devoted for their 2011 launch –

I can’t wait for the next marketing gimmick.  Perhaps, the year of the bottling can be used in marketing.  They are using one designer a year now.

Incidentally, Evian-les-Bains, the city where the spring which producers the mineral water is located only 25 minutes by boat from where we live (Lausanne). We should visit and drink their tap water for free.

Danone – the French yoghurt giant – runs a restaurant !  Actimel, Activia … their brands.

We were looking for a place for lunch in a business area of Barcelona (Av. Diagonal near Pl. Francesc Macià) and came across this place.  It was around 12ish and it was pretty empty because the Spanish don’t eat lunch until 2:30pm – it is the norm.

Obviously, it is a place designed to showcase its history, innovation and products.  A vintage delivery van was on display – never knew yoghurt was sold or delivered that way.  Somehow I expect the Swiss would have something like that.

By the look of the white spa-like decor, the food was expected to be light and healthy. It wasn’t that light but tasty it was. We really enjoyed our meal there.

Cute presentation of a risotto. Nouveau …

They even had a meat-and-potato dish that suited me.

Dessert, of course, was made with yoghurt. But I ate it before taking a picture.

They also sell different kinds of yoghurt (frozen, drinks, etc) with many choices of toppings.  Wish they open one near us.

Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família is the full name of this Barcelona landmark in Catalan.  Translated, it is essentially the Holy Family church.  It was consecrated and proclaimed a basilica by the pope in November 2010.  Construction started in 1883, Gaudi – the architect died in 1926, and the work has been continuing up to now.  The estimated completion date ranges from 2017 to 2026.

I visited this place in the late 1980’s and the interior of the church was non-existent. The picture above shows the Nativity Facade – one of the three entrances, the earliest completed entrance.  We used the new Passion Facade to enter this time while the third Glory Facade is still under construction.  Below is the door of the Passion Facade.

The inside is another world. Fantastical to say the least.  It is neither modern nor traditional; it is enigmatic.

The layout is traditional but the interior architectural elements are radical –  there is an interesting mix of Gaudi’s signature biomorphic styling, modern geometric floral shapes, traditional stained glass windows and arches.  No doubt that this is recognizably a church but it is full of surprises.

Looking up at the ceiling … the effect is mesmerizing !  I think the word kaleidoscopic does sum up the experience pretty well.

On one side of the transept is a stainless steel-glass elevator with exposed shaft and a stack of spiral staircase.  I think it can be used without much re-work as a part of an alien mothership in a sci-fi movie.

A closer look at the symbols on the ceiling – they are modern but I’m sorry, they reminded me of those symbols on tarot cards.

The alter is fenced off and above it is suspended a crucifix and a technicolor parachute.

So much has been written about the architecture and the history of this church so I will not repeat them here.
All I can say is that this church is awe-inspiring.  I will come back in another 20 years to see if it is finished.

We took a day-trip out of Barcelona to visit Salvador Dali’s museum in Figueras.  Down the street from Dali’s is a museum of toys (Museu del Joguet de Catalunya).  It is a fairly well run place with lots to see, including toys that belonged to famous Spanish people.

What startled us were the dolls from early 20th century that were on display in the museum.

Why are they all looking to one side ?

Chucky’s bride ?

Night at the Museum !

Just the opposite, the devil looked much less treacherous, almost hilarious.

They looked collectively paranoid with that distrustful, almost submissive, sideway glances.All of them have hands with out-strectched fingers (due to I presume primitive manufacturing) –  and they look menacing, as if they are about to grab or strangle someone.  The way they are displayed makes it look like they are levitating.

This doll looks stunned but she has a cool denim-like dress.

Even the toy pets looked dangerous or evil.

This is one of two urban stories that we want to share about Barcelona –  in both, we almost became a victim but luckily escaped.

Our return flight home was in the evening so we still had time to walk a few more miles in Barcelona before leaving for the airport.  IT had already left a day earlier. We initially decided to go and check out the aquarium by the port, but by the time we got there, we had about one hour or so before we had to leave for the airport.  Yes, we certainly could have done it.  One hour?  Hah!  It’s too much time: by now, we are used to fast paced walk and whipping our heads around to catch as much as we can at the same time.  However, we didn’t want to rush through the aquarium.  So we decided to sit outside on a bench, have an ice cream, soak in the sun and relax.  We sat on a bench you see in the picture below.

Then two girls approached us each holding a notepad.  One stood next to me (Sue) and the other next to Chris and started a conversation.  They asked where we were from, whether we were visiting Barcelona, etc.  Then the girl next to me showed me a note pad with two logos/pictures on top along with some explanation written in Spanish and English.  She explained that they work for an organization that helps poor children in the world and the handicapped people.  She pointed out the 2 logos on the paper (seriously terrible copies, by the way): a UNICEF logo and a picture of a person in a wheelchair.  Below the logos and the description of the “organization”, there were three columns:  Signature, Nationality, and a third one which she partially hid with her fingers, but I can see that it was Donation Amount.  To help the poor children in the world and the handicapped people, can we please sign and put our nationality next to the signature.

Are you serious?  Do we look like we were born yesterday?  UNICEF?

Before we can say “eff” off with a smile, the men selling purses on the street ran from one end of the plaza to the other in a rush.  It was a bit startling because the area was nice and peaceful then all of a sudden there’s yelling and 5 or 6 men all running in one direction with large sacs.  We all turned to look at the men running.  The girls stopped explaining, turned around, folded the notepad in half, stuffed it under their T-shirts and casually walked away from us.  Not even a good bye or talk to you in a little while, they just walked away as if we weren’t even having a conversation.  Then we notice a police cruiser slowly driving around the plaza.  By this time, the girls approached a snack stand and stood in line as if they were going to buy something.  When the cruiser drove away, the girls moved away from the snack stand and took out the notepad again.  Chris and I were laughing at this point.  Chris said “You should have told them you work for UNICEF” (we know where their HQ is in Geneva).  That would have been perfect, no?  Why didn’t I think of that?  Crap.  Anyway, we started to tracking their movements while continuing with our ice cream.

This man was their next mark.  He listened to their spiel but said no (see the hand gesture?) and walked away.  He wasn’t born yesterday either.

Then we saw the girls approach this nice Asian couple.  Unfortunately, they were born yesterday.  They handed over some cash to the girls.   Don’t give me any flack for not stopping the girls taking money from tourists.   By this time, we left the bench and was walking towards the subway – we had to retrieve our luggage and head to the airport.  The couple were far away and by the time we noticed the girls, they were already forking over the money.  But you know what?  The girls left smiling (duh!) and so did the couple, believing that they did some good for the poor children and handicapped people in the world.

Moral of the story?  When people ask for donation without proper ID  (e.g., holding a shoddy piece of paper with a photocopied logo of a charity on top), don’t give it to them. And don’t feel bad about not making a “donation”.

Vinçon has a graphic design business and naturally they design their own bags for the shop.  Here is a selection of the bag designs over the years – the first started in 1972.

In case you just joined, check out my two earlier posts about Vinçon’s shop in Barcelona, selling small design products here and furniture here.

According to their web site:

“the firm’s graphic designs have been constantly evolving, its packaging being the most characteristic element. Vinçon bags are part of the iconography of the city, and have turned into cult collectable items.”

I like the fun design of 1985 and the illusion of 1988.

Well, with a design like the one in 1992, it must have been quite unforgettable. The 1995 design is created by the artist who made the famous piece  “I shop therefore I am.”

The bag even captured history.  Goodbye peseta 2001 – the euro started circulation in 2002.

Cute, simple and relevant.

The most current design 2011 … “I came, I saw, Vinçon.”  We certainly did that on this trip.

We saw some of the bags framed and hung on the walls in the shop. To see all the designs, go their website here.

While we were touring Barcelona on one of those hop-on-hop-off tourist buses, we stopped here for a quick lunch when we were changing bus from one route to another. This restaurant is located just outside the historic Poblenou cemetery and opposite the church that was used as a multi-denomination place of worship for the Olympics athletes.

This neighborhood Poblenou was an industrial area until they re-gentrified parts of it (renamed as Diagonal Mar).  In the few blocks that we explored, we saw factories with workers in overalls having lunch in groups.  We were a bit shy to go into those restaurants as there were no menus, so we came to this restaurant which had menus clearly posted. There is a tourist menu on the left with pictures – greasy fried egg, sausages, fried potatoes …

On the right is the menu of the day from which we ordered.  The set menu offered one dish out of three courses.

  My first course was Gazpacho Anduluz, which was the first one of many I had since we landed.

The food is not fancy but it is solid – which is that you would expect from a non-touristy, working class neighborhood.

Dessert was crema catalunya (Catalan Creme Brulee) and flan (creme caramel).

This is a view down the street from the restaurant.  One of Barcelona’s landmark, Torre Agbar is just up the street.

A closeup of this landmark. Click on the photo below to get even closer.

This is a continuation of an earlier post about Vinçon.  Now, we go upstairs where Vinçon sells furniture, indoor as well as outdoor.   The outdoor pieces were shown in a patio at the back.

The patio is a tourist destination in its own right as it offers an unique view of the back of Casa Mila. As you can see, it is much tamer than the front (see earlier post about Casa Mila here).

Loved the mosaic-tiled floor.

Some showrooms include a bay window or a covered veranda that faces Passeig de Gràcia and lets in natural light.  It felt very cosy and lived-in.

I said I would compare Driade in Milano with Vinçon in Barcelona in my earlier post about Driade. I am completely undecided … Driade has the more dramatic pieces while Vinçon’s are more user-friendly.  Driade is smaller and its layout more confusing. Vinçon has a wider range of mechandise and more spacious showrooms.  There is however some je ne sais quoi with Driade, possibly a boutique feel, while Vinçon is an emporium.  If I can afford it, I will buy from both !

I had wanted to buy this kind of book storage for a while … saw them in Design Within Reach in the US.