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Spanish cured ham (Jamón Ibérico) is well known worldwide. They are sold and consumed in specialist shops – Jamonería – in Madrid.


One such store situated just off the Puerta del Sol named itself Museo del Jamon.


Its location suggests that it is a touristy place, but surprisingly, it was packed with locals or domestic tourists.


One can have a sandwich with any ham in the shop.


Platters with specific kinds of ham (jamon iberico, jamon serrano, lomo etc), sausages and cheeses.


There were many kinds of ham and various price points.


It reminded us a little bit of the sausage shop on the top floor of the KaDeWe in Berlin. Click here to see 100’s of sausages on display.


The whole leg of ham is typically placed horizontally on a Jamonera and thin slices are hand cut and lifted individually.


The little inverted umbrellas collect the fat dripping off the leg of ham.


We saw several jamonerias in central Madrid but wondered if they are also set up in other parts of Spain.


This is a big one and does not appear to be touristy.




While in Madrid, we hopped inside the Realmadrid official store on Calle del Carmen, just off Puerta del Sol.


We are fans but not dedicated Real Madrid fans.

realmadrid-6Only Perfect Counts.


This is the place to buy the official kit and gear.



I liked the various designs of the official ball.


Souvenirs galore.


Champions League cup. We took pictures holding it in one of the final match. Click here to see it.


Our open top bus tour took us past their home stadium – Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.


Yes, this is sports tourism.

We spent a few days in Madrid after Donostia-San Sebastián. The Museo Nacional del Prado had just put on a special exhibition that marked the 5th centenary of the death of Jheronimus Bosch – aka El Bosco.


This represents the greatest number of Bosch’s works ever to be assembled.


Each ticket entitled one to enter the gallery at a set time (our time slot was 18:30). It was indeed a special treat. Bosch’s most important triptychs were shown free-standing in order for both the fronts and backs to be visible.


Photography was not allowed in the gallery. What you are seeing here are printed cardboard tiles of The Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych (El jardín de las delicias), center panel, hence the white dots.  The museum sells a reproduction of this painting in the form of a set of tiles that can be hung on the wall.  These pictures are taken from a set that was hanging near the entrance of the museum shop.

Some of the text below came from an interactive storyboard on the Prado’s website, click here to see it – it is illustrated with several other paintings by El Bosch.


Jheronimus Bosch was born around 1450 in the town of ’s-Hertogenbosch. He took the surname of Bosch from the last syllable of the city’s name. His real name was Jheronimus van Aken.

In his paintings, Bosch represented the obsessions and anxieties of men and women of his own time in a masterly manner. All details were carefully planned by the painter and are seemingly meaningful.


His work is known for its fantastic imagery, detailed landscapes, and illustrations of religious concepts and narratives. The theatre had a notable influence on Bosch’s work. Many of his paintings are organized in the manner of stage sets.


Bosch’s imagery struck a chord with Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí.


Apparently René Magritte and Max Ernst both were inspired by Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights.


Moralists during Bosch’s era believed that it was woman’s—ultimately Eve’s—temptation that drew men into a life of sin. There are 31 females in the central pool surrounded by about 100 males performing stunts while riding on fancy animals in an endless, circular path.


Some critics have interpreted the triptych as a warning on the transience of earthly pleasure. Based a medieval mindset, the sumptuousness of Bosch’s description may have been intended to convey a false paradise, filled with transient beauty.

The general consensus is that his art reflects the orthodox religious belief systems of his age.


Another interpretation posits that the triptych’s center panel portrays a joyous world when humanity will experience a rebirth of the innocence enjoyed by Adam and Eve before their fall.


The exhibition showed studies based on infra-red and X-ray which reveal the creative process showing the surprising changes that Bosch made between the start of the under-drawing and the completion of the pictorial surface.


Bosch enjoyed enormous success in his lifetime and his works were regularly copied and faked. Most of his work were destroyed during the Protestant Reformation. Attribution has been especially difficult; today only about 25 paintings are confidently given to his hand along with 8 drawings.


Pintxos and tapas are usually eaten in bars or taverns as a small snack while hanging out with friends or relatives; thus, they have a strong socializing component, and in the Basque country they are regarded as a cornerstone of local culture.


It is also very convenient for tourists too. Our previous post (see part 1 here) showed various platefuls of pintxos we had along our way to some sightseeing destinations – a market here and a museum there.


The photos shown here were all taken during one lunch period at the bars and taverns located in the old town (Parte Vieja) of San Sebastián-Donostia.


The area is a bit touristy but it became famous partly because of the pintxos bars here. The beach, waterfront and some of the city sights are just a few minutes away.

We were doing a kind of bar-hopping, except that the main objective was to try different kinds of pintxos.


If you search, there are lists of the best pintxos-tapas bars in this part of town online.


We stopped by Ganbara which is one of the better known tapas/pintxos bar. It was packed and nearly impossible to place an order.


Cool sparkling white wine on a hot day.


Ganbara piled their special ingredients on the counter – mushrooms and peppers.


We ordered their famous mixed mushroom with egg yolk. It is so simple and delicious that we have made a note of the idea and will try to replicate the dish at home.


We had jamón ibérico in croissant – it was light and yet fatty, salty too.


We also had the spider crab baked tart and chorizo sausage roll. The idea of the tart sounded more interesting than its taste. The rolls were however divine.


All were accompanied by skewers of something sharp and salty – olives, pickles and anchovies.


One of the other places where we stopped do not display the tapas dishes on the counter. At Borda Berri, another well-known tapas bar, the items were all listed on a board. As far as we saw, few items were served on a stick here.


We ordered the mushroom risotto – Arroz “Bomba” con hongos.


We also tried grilled octopus – Pulpo a la plancha con Membrillo.


And we ordered Oreja de cerdo con romescu (pig’s ear). The photo looked rather dull so we are skipping it here.

It was fun eating lunch this way, albeit a bit hectic. Everything tasted great here.



While visiting Northern Spain, we had several opportunities to try pintxo. A pincho (literally “thorn” or “spike”) or pintxo (Basque) is a small snack, typically eaten in bars, traditional in northern Spain and especially popular in the Basque country.


The first place we went was in Bilbao which is not a touristy spot. There, we paid 1 euro per piece.


Pintxos are related to tapas, the main physical difference being that pintxos are usually ‘spiked’ with a skewer or toothpick, often to a piece of bread.


They are served in individual portions and always ordered and paid for independently from the drinks. The main differences, apart from the local ingredients, is that in southern Spain one would get a tapa for free with a drink, while one pay for pintxos in the North.


We also had a few sticks of pintxos at a cafe, sitting in the middle of a square in San Sebastián-Donostia. These were really disappointing – for a start, the bread were not even toasted !


We also had a snack of pintxos at the cafe inside the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao (see photos below).


Each item had an explanation of what were in it, in Basque, Spanish, English and French.

White tuna and vegetable pasty – 3 euros


Anchovies with Bilbao-style ratatouile – 2.5 euros


Stuffed egg and prawn – 2.5 euros


Roll with goat cheese, celery and sofrito – 2.6 euros


The other place where we had pintxos was in Madrid. Lizarran is apparently a chain of restaurants specialized in tapas/pintxos.


It was located in a touristy area and the prices were almost twice or 3x that of the other place in Bilbao.


We wondered if tapas is free and pintxos are not, does it mean drinks are more expensive or smaller in southern Spain ?


More pictures of tasty snacks to come.



The largest gallery in Guggenheim Bilbao is the Arcelor Gallery which measures 30 meters wide and 130 meters long (98 ft × 427 ft).


The gallery houses Richard Serra’s monumental installation “The Matter of Time” – eight pieces of torqued ellipses made of weathering steel, weighing a total of 1034 ton.


That is more than 100 ton per piece, and we walked among them without thinking much about our safety, as the pieces are standing by themselves, balanced without support.


We were intrigued as we wander into each of the gaps wondering how the “walk” will finish – where will we emerge ?


Or is there an exit ?


There were groups of kids running around the pieces, playing hide and seek.


The surfaces of each piece bear different weathering treatment – some looked like etching by acid and some looked scratched.


What we wrote below is taken mostly from the museum’s web site.


The metal sculptures are “unexpectedly transformed as the visitor walks through and around them, creating an unforgettable, dizzying feeling of space in motion. The entire room is part of the sculptural field.”


“As he has done in other sculptures composed of many pieces, the artist has arranged the works deliberately in order to move the viewer through them and through the space surrounding them.”


“The layout of the works along the gallery creates corridors with different, always unexpected proportions (wide, narrow, long, compressed, high, low).”


“The installation also includes a progression in time. On the one hand, there is the chronological time that it takes to walk through and observe it from beginning to end.”


“On the other, there is the time during which the viewer experiences the fragments of visual and physical memory, which are combined and re-experienced.”


These photos do not do justice to the experience of walking between these steel structures – go to Bilbao and see it for yourself.


By the way, a couple of the pictures here are placed not in its natural orientation.

Our earlier posts about the museum are here and here.

This blog posts will cover what we saw inside the Guggenheim museum Bilbao. An earlier post talked about the outside, click here to read. Here is another view of the Simpson-ish model of the building.


Let’s take a look around inside. There is a normal-looking, rather warm and cozy, education center.


A cafe with a giant painting.


In the atrium, looking up …


The upper floors or ceiling, if you can call it that …


The main galleries are spacious.


Tailor-made space for an installation by Jenny Holzer


There is a gallery specially designed to house Richard Serra’s monumental The Matter of Time – we will have a separate post later on it.


We saw two special exhibitions – one exhibition is about Louise Bourgeoise’s Cells series- the creator of the giant spider (Maman) outside the museum. Much of what we have written below came from the museum’s site.


Over her long career as an artist, Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) developed concepts and formal inventions that later became key positions in contemporary art; these included the use of environmental installation and theatrical formats, and the engagement with psychoanalytic and feminist themes.


Cells is a series of architectural spaces that deal with a range of emotions. a collection of 60-plus pieces of work created over two decades.


Cells present individual microcosms; each is an enclosure that separates the internal from the external world. In these unique spaces, the artist arranged found objects, clothes, furniture, and sculptures to create emotionally charged, theatrical sets.


I(Chris) found the pieces intriguing, claustrophobic and surreal … the Cells reminded me a bit of the world created by Rene Margritte’s paintings.

The other exhibition is Andy Warhols’ Shadows – created with the assistance of his entourage. It is a collection of 102 silkscreen canvas, placed side by side in an enormous space.


According to the museum’s web site, “The “shadows” alternate between positive and negative imprints as they march along the wall of the gallery.”


“Far from replicas, each Shadow corresponds to a form that reveals, with precision and self-awareness, its space, directing the viewer’s gaze to light, the central subject of the series. In focusing on the shadow to devise light—that is to say, sparks of color—Warhol returns to the quintessential problem of art: perception.”

We think the museum curator is being rather generous here.


Venturing out onto the terrace, we found Tulips by Jeff Koons – a bouquet of multicolor balloon flowers measuring more than 2 meters tall and 5 meters across.


It is nowhere as endearing as the Puppy out in front of the main entrance.





San Sebastián-Donostia is well known for its collection of Michelin-star restaurants (at least 16 stars in one city, just behind Kyoto – see our visit to Arzak here).  It also has a fair share of popular fun restaurant such as Va Bene, just a couple of blocks from where we were staying.


It’s a burger joint. Va Bene sounds Italian to us but it might also be Spanish (feel free to comment below). Its full name might be “Va Bene Disco Burger” (see sign below).


Behind the red bar is a DJ setup and racks of vinyl LPs – may be it turns into a disco after dark.


There is a disco across the street, we imagine these places would be packed after dark.

The interior is mostly painted firehouse red and packed wall to wall with American signs from the yesteryears. Norman Rockwell posters galore.


They have a Coca-Cola bottle dispenser and assorted vintage knick-knacks, except everything looks shiny and brand new.


This is really a complete package of Americana that is designed to create that warm and fun environment.



The menu is extremely flexible, every ingredient can be combined with every other ingredient in different combinations.


One of us tried the white toast with Spanish ham and cheese.


We went during lunch. It was not busy but a stream of people kept coming in.  This place is not far from the beach so this kind of American fast food must be popular.

While visiting Donostia-San Sebastián, we took a day-trip to see the incomparable Guggenheim museum in nearby Bilbao. The express bus route between the two cities is well-run, frequent and comfortable. Much of what we have written below came from the official web site.

A model of the building in the museum


When the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao opened to the public in 1997 after a 4-year construction period, it was immediately hailed as one of the world’s most spectacular Deconstructionist buildings. It will be celebrating its 20th birthday next year. Click here to see the official site.


On approach, one is greeted from a distance by Jeff Koon’s Puppy – a giant West Highland terrier carpeted in flowering plants. According to the official site, “Puppy employs the most saccharine of iconography—flowers and puppies … Koons designed this public sculpture to relentlessly entice, to create optimism,and to instill, in his own words, ‘confidence and security’ … as it stands guard at the museum, Puppy fills viewers with awe, and even joy.”


We had to agree that, especially on that somewhat cloudy date, it still made us feel positive.


The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation selected Frank Gehry as the architect. The curves on the exterior of the building were intended to appear random; the architect said that “the randomness of the curves are designed to catch the light”.




Located next to the Nervion River, the building uses primarily titanium, limestone and glass as the construction material.


It has been characterized by architectural critic as “a fantastic dream ship of undulating form in a cloak of titanium,” its brilliantly reflective panels also reminiscent of fish scales. Frank Gehry’s work has often been associated with the fish form – see our post on Gehry’s Berlin conference center – Axica here.


It is possible to walk all the way around the Museum, admiring different faces from each perspective and also a number of artworks installed outside.


One can’t miss Louise Bourgeoise’s Maman – a giant nine-metre-tall bronze, marble and stainless-steel spider, created in the 90’s.


The museum cost $89 million to build. The museum was opened as part of a revitalization effort for the city and it became a popular tourist attraction helping to generate millions spent on hotels, restaurants, and shops. The city collected taxes from tourist spendings which are more than what it paid for the building cost.


The interior “is designed around a large, light-filled atrium with views of Bilbao’s estuary and the surrounding hills of the Basque country”.


Inside the Hall, visitors access the atrium, the heart of the Museum with curved volumes and large glass curtain walls that connect the inside and the outside.


The atrium is flooded with light and covered by a great skylight. The three levels of the building are organized around it and are connected by means of curved walkways, titanium and glass elevators, and staircases.


See our next post on the artwork exhibited inside the museum.


We went to Donostia-San Sebastián in early June. It is the European Capital of Culture for 2016.


Historically, it is a resort town, located in the Basque Autonomous Community, an area with its own local language – Euskara (basque in basque)apparently unrelated to any other languages in Europe.


For several days, the sky was overcast and judging by the number of bathers on the beach, the sea might be a bit cold (we did not try the water ourselves).


Mount Igeldo and  Santa Clara island in a distance.


This is after all the Northern coast of Spain and not the sunnier Mediterranean side.


It has one of the best in-city beaches in Europe. The beach is flat and deep.


One can sunbathe and swim right next to major historical buildings and churches.

Zurriola Plage


La Concha Plage, Mont Urgull in the background


La baie de La Concha and La Concha Plage


Paseo de la Concha


At the eastern end of the Paseo and the beach.


The city sits at the mouth of the River Urumea. Zurriola Bridge and mouth of the Urumea.


The Kursaal Congress Centre and Auditorium was designed by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo and completed in 1999. It is the home of the San Sebastian International Film Festival.


The complex is stunning at night. During the day, it is a bit of a contrast from the 19th century buildings in the area.  But it’s not an eyesore since it is really isolated on the waterfront.


We would love to spend more time here and enjoy the festivities of the European Capital of Culture but we had to do a day trip to the nearby Bilbao – posts to come soon.

The city has a great website here if you plan to visit.












After all that Russian art that came before this post, we thought a post about a hearty meal is apt.

El Asador de Aranda is a chain of steakhouse in Spain that are well-known for their suckling lamb roasted in clay oven. We went to the one in downtown Madrid on Calle de Preciados. Given its central location, it is a bit touristy but we were hungry and a bit intrigued by its appearance.


We suspect the restaurant wants to replicate the ambiance of a castle and therefore surrounded the entire dinning space with heavy wooden panels – the kind one expect to see in a church or a court of law.


The almost-medieval decor gives the impression that the restaurant takes its food seriously, the old-fashioned way.


We trusted their statement despite its touristy location.


They claim to have over 50 years of experience in slow-roasting suckling lamb – their slogan is “el cordero como ya nadie lo cocina” (lamb like nobody cooks it anymore).


We ordered the touristy basics – started with sangria and gazpacho.


All good.


The steak was good. Probably because they showered it with salt flakes just before serving.


We order their specialty – a leg of lamb  – which they show you and then cut up into pieces. It was certainly very tender, but the steak was better if you ask me.


Here is the clay wood-burning oven and somebody’s order of steaks and half a lamb.


We are so used to going to the supermarket instead of the butcher – it is a bit startling to see a whole animal on a plate.


Reliable and recommendable. The chain’s website is here.

They have quite a few restaurants around the country, three in Madrid, three in Barcelona, and three in Aranda de Duero (a small town just north of Madrid) where they started.



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.

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.

If there is an ad below here, we have nothing to do with it.


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.