In Which I Make It to Almería’s Mercado Central

I thought I’d be out of work today, but, nope, more came in! I still decided to take today off and power through on Thursday so I could go to town today during what I’ve ascertained to be the optimal hours: 10 to 2. I was overdue for a day off and a change of scenery and was out of some groceries that I can’t find at the shop here or at Mercadona in La Cañada. I also needed cash and a top up for my phone and hoped that the Mercado Central would be open.

I managed to be out the door before 10 and got to the bus stop just as a bus was pulling up! I got off at the start of Paseo de Almería, a main thoroughfare, so I could go to the Deutsche Bank. Again, that’s the bank in Spain where I can withdraw money with my Scotiabank card without paying any fees.

There was a Vodafone store almost right next door and I popped in to ask about a phone top up. They were slammed and the attendant told me she couldn’t help  me and to go to a bank! I decided to try somewhere else. No, I cannot top up online because you need a Spanish credit card. I believe that’s for the same reason most countries require prepaid SIMs to be registered against a passport: to fight terrorism by making it more difficult to get “burner” phones.

I then tried a phone reseller that doesn’t just do Vodaphone and she told me that I had to top up with the same amount as I’d originally paid, 20 euros! That was not going to happen since it’s not like I’m out and about that much. If I do stay in Spain through the New Year, then I’ll revisit that question. And as it turns out, you can buy phone top ups at most ATMs. Huh.

The Mercado Central was open!

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The top floor had produce, meats, cheeses, olives, assorted groceries, baking, and a little café.

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It was much “neater” and orderly than the Mexican markets I’ve been to. I was able to look at things without any pressure.

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The café can cook up your purchases!

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I’d hoped to get a second breakfast in town and the café wasn’t intimidating. I ordered a café cortado and toast with tomato.

My coffee came in a glass and was perfect.

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I read the provincial paper as I waited for my food. Like anyone in their right mind, Spaniards are bothered by Trump’s dressing down of the media and what it means for freedom of speech and a free press in the U.S.

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My toast came. The first one of these I had had chunks of tomato, but this was just pulp. Still very tasty, especially with olive oil, a bit of salt, and lots of black pepper! The bread was very nice, kind of like a ciabatta. This is such a good breakfast and I’m so grateful my host introduced me to it.

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One thing I like about eating out in Spain is that you are not rushed out the door. I wasn’t done with the paper when I’d finished eating and there was no pressure for me to leave. I just sat and kept reading till I was done. There was a fascinating article about a man who survived 438 days lost at sea near the Marshall Islands.

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I then went shopping for some produce. No one had grapefruit (!), which, by the way, is “pomelo” here, not “toronja,” but a few people had dragonfruit (pitahaya).

The vendor who had the freshest looking ones had a lot of other nice produce, so I started with him. I asked for a half kilo of cherry tomatoes (had no idea how much that would be, to be honest, but it ended up being the perfect amount!) and he let me sample them. Yum! I wanted a leek, but didn’t know the name, so “the green and white thing to the left of the celery” did the trick. Puerro! He offered to cut off the green part, but I love it, so I declined. I got a few other things, including carrots and onions.

I then wanted some grapes and found a vendor who had some really nice ones. I was again allowed to sample them first.

Then, I headed downstairs to check out the very impressive fish market. I apologise for the terrible pictures!

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There’s a small grocery store on the fish level.

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I’d left home with my little grocery cart, so I didn’t have to carry my shopping. Isn’t my host thoughtful to have provided it? The cart itself is very light and easy to manoeuvre.

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I went back upstairs and ogled the olives for a bit.

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There were some lovely cut flowers.

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I wandered a bit around the exterior of the mercado and found these grocery carts for sale. I like that pink and white striped one!

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Next stop was going to be Lidl. En route, I found some nice artwork at the entrances to two parking garages.

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I found myself on the pedestrian street with the “Washington monument.” I looked for a plaque that would explain it, but there was none.

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Almería is very pedestrian and cyclist friendly. Just follow the red brick path!

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The Lidl here was rather disappointing compared to the one I went to in Sofia. It was mostly a luxury premade goods at a bargain price store and I didn’t find some of the staples I was looking for, like unsweetened almond milk. But I did find some nice cheddar and a vacuum packed roast chicken like I got once in Bulgaria that was very good, so the detour was not for, well, naught.

Like in the Balkans, grocery stores here have a parking space for your cart. You need to give 1 euro deposit, which you get back. When you pay for your groceries, you can put everything back in your big cart or basket, bring it here, and then pack your cart, saving you from having to fiddle with bags. When I shopped in Sofia, I would put everything back into my basket, go to a counter like this, set my backpack on it, and then load up the bag. This keeps the checkout lines moving quickly.

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Since I still didn’t have much in the way of groceries, I decided to go to the “Carrefour Market” on Almería that I’d passed on the way to the Mercado. I took a different route there to see more of downtown.

I liked the contrast of that very neat apartment building and the mess across the street.

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Found the lovely San Sebastián church.

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There was a neat tree out front.

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This contrast of architectural styles reminded me of Sofia.

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Love this pink building!

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The Carrefour Market was tiny and had almost nothing, which surprised me. I thought I must be missing something since there wasn’t even regular milk. So I asked and was told there were two other floors! Oops! The basement had junk food and drinks, the main floor had the deli, some dairy, produce, and premade foods. Upstairs was what you would normally find in the centre of a grocery store.

They had piles of almond milk, but none without sugar. Since I found sugar-free cereal, I decided to go with a container of sweetened milk and was pleased that they had a the same brand I could sometimes get in Yablanista as it really tastes like almonds. I’ve had bad luck with some brands being very chalky. The big Carrefour had the sugar-free in the brand that I like and can get in Canada, the US, and Mexico (Almond Breeze) and I’m kicking myself for having bought only the two containers.

One thing I was super happy to find was another jar of Tikka Masala sauce! I also scored some whole wheat pasta (surprisingly hard to find), and a pizza with barbecue rather than tomato sauce (surprisingly popular in Spain) for just 1.50 euros.

It was about 1:30 by this point and I was hungry again. I went to the bakery area to get something to munch on while waiting for the bus and selected an empanada with curried chicken. The clerk offered to heat it up for me and said that if I paid for it right there, I could eat it right away at their lunch counter rather than wait. Awesome! It was a little light on the chicken, which didn’t surprise me, but the curry sauce was really yummy and a flavour I haven’t had in a very long time.

I then paid for my groceries and loaded my cart. It was full! But I do have to note that I’d bought a pack of toilet paper at Lidl (on mega sale), and that took up quite a bit of space!

When I’d left home this morning, it had been very damp and cold after a solid 24 hours of rain. By the time I came out of the supermarket, it was warm and sunny — ice cream weather! So I stopped at the heladería I’d discovered my first time in Almería and asked for a small scoop of “cheesecake.” The server was very generous! Calories don’t count in such circumstances! I found a bench and took my time savouring my treat.

The bus stop was just a couple of blocks later and I came up just as my bus was pulling up. Talk about good timing today! Since I had my cart, I had to stand all the way home, but I was able to lean against a wall, so that was fine.

The cat was sitting on the roof of my host’s car as I came around the corner. When she saw me, she let out a very indignant meow since I was an hour late giving her her 1PM treat! So I did that before unpacking my groceries. She’s curled up against me now, so I think I’m forgiven!

Here’s my gorgeous dragonfruit:

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What a lovely day it’s been! I’ll pay for it tomorrow, but it’s done me a world of good. Almería was a whole other world between 10 and 2!

Before I close out this post, I want to make something very clear. Frustrated as I am by the Spanish schedule, I have to emphasise that I really like Almería!!! It is a beautiful city with a very walkable downtown core, lots of green spaces, a super friendly population, good public transportation, and an affordable cost of living. If I do manage to eventually move to Spain (easiest country for me to get residency and eventually an EU passport), even without having seen much more of this country, I could very well imagine myself in Almería. It ticks a lot, if not all, of my boxes. I still can’t believe I was fortunate enough to get this sit!

I Can’t Believe What I Found Today!

I was running out of fresh veg today and the little shop here didn’t have what I wanted. I did a general search for supermarkets, with the intent to look for one near my bus route. I didn’t need a hypermarket today, but I wanted something a bit bigger than the shop here. Suddenly, I remembered that Alicante had a supermarket that would be perfect for my needs, Mercadona. So I decided to pop that into Google and see if there was one more convenient to me than the Lidl downtown (which I haven’t been to, but was my likely destination).

When a result for Mercadona popped up, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was 2KM away. Two measly kilometres! There had to be a catch! A catch like, say, the road there not being pedestrian friendly

I set off around 1:00 with my grocery trolley. The directions were simple and actually took a shorter route  on foot than by car. My destination was La Cañada (not Canadá — accents are important!).

I skirted around the base of the airport and soon had to turn off onto this road, where I immediately felt as though I was in Mexico.

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Before I knew it, I was in La Cañada after traveling a pedestrian-hauling-a-trolley-friendly road! It’s a full service community, with shops and restaurants and all services! I cannot believe my host, who seemingly thought of every detail, didn’t think to tell me to check this place out!

Special of the day at the first restaurant I passed: rice and octopus. I went out for tapas last night and had calamari, so I wasn’t tempted.

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The Mercadona was exactly where Google Maps told me it would be. It had taken absolutely no time to get there. It was almost like a mirage!

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But I didn’t go in yet, wanting to see what other treasures I might find.

Like this one-stop shopping for all manner of certificates and licenses: medical, driving, firearm, private security, nautical, and… dangerous animals.

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I passed a lovely church.

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And an interesting fountain.

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Near the end of the main street, I popped into a Chinese restaurant to ask for a menu. The server gave me one to take with me in case I want delivery (free with orders of 10 euro). I’m not at the point yet with my Spanish where I’m ready to do that… But she also pointed out that there is an eat-in special on weekdays for less than 8 euros for three dishes, with dessert and a drink with lots of choices and the menu is available between noon and 4:30! My clients are currently trying to kill me, but as soon as things calm down again, I look forward to going for lunch of a cuisine I haven’t had in months at a time of my convenience!

Coming back towards the supermarket, I popped into a “Chino,” a type of store my host gave me a heads up about. They are the equivalent of a dollar store/pound shop/Waldo’s, where you can find almost anything for a very low price. I’ve been needing a small sewing kit since I got here to mend a few things and forgot to pick one up when I went downtown. The store was immense and like Ali Baba’s cave. I found exactly what I needed for just 90 cents.

Then, I went into the grocery store to get what I needed. It was large and had a lot, but very little exotic-type products like you’d find in a hypermarket, so I’m not regretting my trip to Carrefour at all. I don’t even think they had almond milk. The produce section was a bit dismal, to my surprise, however. Everything looked fresh, but there was little selection. There is a dedicated produce shop almost right across the road, so hopefully it’ll be open if I go back during the week. But I got what I needed today, some zucchini and sweet potatoes.

They were out of carrots (who runs out of carrots?!), but the produce manager pointed to some packages of prepared veggies that had carrot, leek, onion, celery, and what I think are turnips for just 1.25 euro, which suited me better than getting a huge bunch of carrots. I’ll be able to slice all of that up and put it around a chicken to roast at the same time.

I was also able to stock up on raisins. They were a bit pricy, but needs must. There was a shop marked “dried fruits” a little ways up the road that I’m hoping I’ll find open next time I go as I’m going into prune withdrawal, haven’t had any lucky finding some, and this place will be my best bet.

I’ve only got a little more than a month left here, but even with just that short span of time, discovering La Cañada is a game changer, if only to have a place to pop in for lunch during the work day without having to take the whole afternoon off!

Into Almería (Or Your Intrepid Blogger Hikes Up to Another Fortress)

I finally managed to get away to Almeria today! I’ll pay for it tomorrow, but it was long overdue. I have to remind myself that I had the “trou d’cul en d’sous du bras” all of last week. Google Translate can translate that phrase literally for you if you’re curious (hee hee), but it basically means I was lethargic.

During the week, there are buses to Almería every 16 minutes from a stop a block from where I’m staying. I headed there around 11:55 and a bus came at about 12:05. The cost is only 1.05 euros one way and the trip takes about 15 minutes. So the only reason I might not be going often is too much work, not the cost or the length of the trip!

It was a proper city bus with not enough seating, but since I was one of the first on, I got to sit the whole way to downtown.

My host took the time to show me not only where to get off, but also where to get up and ring the bell for my stop. So I had no trouble getting orientated at the other end. My plan was to get a map at the tourist info centre (my host provided one in her “welcome kit,” but I wanted something I could scribble on and scrunch up), find a Deutsche Bank to make a withdrawal, and then check out the castle.

The Deutsche Bank ended up being on my route to the info centre and very near the bus stop. So convenient! The budget has reset since it’s a new month and I took out my allowance for this month, a little less generous than normal since I planned to do a big shop with  my credit card. So now, I can stop freaking out that things are 1.5 times what the price tag is and just enjoy myself since as long as I don’t spend more than I have, I’m right on budget.

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I haven’t had an ice cream since the Balkans besides the one on a stick in Alicante, and was really in the mood for one today. Just past the bank, I saw a giant ice cream cone sign that led me to this ice cream parlour. Gelato was 1.90 euros for a small scoop. In Mexico, I would have use the word “sencilla” (single) to indicate I wanted one scoop. Here, you have to literally say, “one small scoop” (una pequeña bola). I went with Ferrero Rocher. Yum!

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I wandered a bit trying to find the tourist info centre, which is at city hall (ayuntamiento, just like in Mexico).

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I was greeted there by a young man who was very enthusiastic about his job. By that, I mean that I had a hard time understanding all the wonderful information he had to share, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him to slow down. He circled things on my map that were numbered, so I can refer back to the legend for anything I missed. I did understand his directions to the fortress, the a few different museums, the port, and more, so it’s not like I wasted his time at all. I didn’t realise there would be so much to see here!

Off I headed to the fortress, Alcazaba.

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I had to go through old town Almería, which reminded me a lot of Mexico, but with much narrower streets!

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What a brave soul to be driving an RV in this part of town, and not a small one either!

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Sleep to rest, sleep to dream. But what I liked were the shadow children on the wall.

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I finally found the entrance to the fortress!

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Up I went, enjoying the increasingly panoramic view of the city. This was a much, much, much, much shorter climb than that in Kotor and Alicante!

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I made a new friend! She came right over for a cuddle.

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The pine tree seems rather lost!

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There’s a whole other section to the fortress, but I don’t think you can go there.

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This water feature reminded me of London.

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Translating and summarizing from an informational placard, Alcazaba is located on a hill that dominates the whole city and  bay. Its location is clearly strategic. Since its origin, it has been the seat and residency of those in power. Inside, buildings built over the course of six centuries are found layered. The history of the fortress is intimately tied to the city of Almería, which during Islamic times was one of the Mediterranean’s most important ports.

The site is interesting in that a lot of it has been reconstructed and is very neat, but there are still plenty of ruins to poke around in.

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This garden was really lovely!

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I thought that I’d reached the limits, but then I found a way, to the left, off picture, to get to that tower in the back. The site felt immense!

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They rebuilt two Arab homes in the traditional style to give us an idea of what they would have been like.

I really like the Arabic style with its inner courtyard, a style that I’ve seen in Mexico and which heavily influenced the construction of the house I’m in now. I really hate the Western style of house where you open the front door and, voilà, there’s your whole life on show. I much prefer the Arabic style that has a transition from public to private space. The house I’m in now is actually exactly what I’m hoping to find in Mérida and so the bar is going to be set very high!

So this is the patio/inner courtyard:

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Toys in those times are not unlike “Western” toys. They were miniaturized versions  of tools the children would use when they grew up.

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This would have been the hammam (baths):

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I initially thought these were cat paw marks in the flagstones!

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The ceiling!

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Now, I’m heading up to the south tower.

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It was past two by this point and I still had my shopping to do and work as well, so it was time to go. I was able to take a different route back to the entrance and found some lovely tile and stonework.

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I wonder if anyone ever gathers dates from these trees.

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If it wasn’t for the street being so narrow, I could have been in Mexico here.

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I had about a 2KM walk to the Carrefour grocery store. Google Maps did a mediocre job of getting me there, but I passed some interesting things along the way. I noted that all the businesses except for a few restaurants were closed for siesta. It is going to be very tricky to time future trips into Almería. I think between 10AM and 2PM will be my best bet.

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Wow, talk about flashbacks to walking the Mall in Washington D.C.!

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I eventually made it to Carrefour, a major European hypermarket (one-stop shopping like Super Walmart, but with higher end and pricier goods). I knew that Carrefour wouldn’t have the best prices, but it would have the best variety. I had a budget of about 100 euros, 150CAD, and wanted to buy enough to get me through the month, minus a few perishables and meals out. I doubted that was realistic (150CAD does not go far at all in Canada), but I’d see how it went.

I went through the entire store very slowly, enjoying being able to read the labels and ingredients, and added up my purchases as I went along to keep myself on track. It quickly became evident that my budget was actually… generous. I was shocked! I got everything on my list and was even able to add luxury items, like frozen pizzas and a jar of Patak’s tikka masala sauce (I cannot believe they had that!!!)! I took advantage of a lot of three for two sales (hence the pizzas… and the vanilla pudding) and came out of there for just 88CAD!

Part of me thought, hey, you’re taking a taxi home, so go back and get more stuff. But another part of me thought that I’m only here another six weeks. So I’ll see how long this lasts me and do another shop at the end of the month if I need to.

Checkout took ages because their computer system crashed as the gal went to hit the total button! I thought she was going to have to rescan everything, but, thankfully, no.

Before going into the store, I’d made sure there was a taxi stand out front, which there was, so I had no trouble getting one. I’d gone to the company’s website and calculated the cost of the ride would be just under 10 euros, well worth it to get my frozen stuff home quickly! The driver and I had a bit of a laugh as we came into my neighbourhood because I didn’t know the one ways, only how to get around on foot. But, thankfully, I got us here with no detours. The cost was exactly what the website had estimated!

The cat was waiting for me by the door and let me know just how mad at me she was for missing her 1PM treat and being late for her 4PM treat. So getting her those treats was my first priority before putting everything away!

Next, I made an early dinner since I hadn’t had lunch because I’d had eaten a large brunch of veggie stir fry before heading out. I went for rice and curried chicken (Patak’s). YUM! I haven’t had curry since Plovdiv so the flavours were very welcome. I could tell that the sauce, made in England, would be different from the sauce I get in Canada, spicier and less creamy, but it was still very yummy and satisfying.

I’m so glad I finally broke the ice on going to Almería. At less than 3CAD round trip, I hope to make it in at least once a week, if not twice, depending on my work schedule, and take my time exploring and getting to know downtown. It seems like a very lovely and liveable city. My setup here feels a lot like where I lived in Mazatlán, being in a pretty much full service small beachfront community, but with a large vibrant city a very short distance away. I’m rather sad I’ll only get six weeks, not months, here!

Ambling Around Barcelona

I ended up with a ton of work due tonight because I forgot to tell the client who sends me stuff on Fridays that I’d be traveling tomorrow. Thankfully, my jobs were easy, so I decided I would do one of them in the morning, go out and walk until my feet hurt, and then come in to do the other one. I got to work around 9AM and was ready to head out at about 1PM. It was cool and very overcast, so I pulled out my cool weather clothes and made sure to pack my umbrella!

My only plan for the day was to visit a beach and then just amble around and see what I could find. But first, lunch!

I headed towards the marina area, stopping first at the same place as yesterday for a coffee. I would normally have given up on coffee so late in the day, but I’ve been on such a late schedule here I figured it wouldn’t matter. I sipped my magic bean potion as I walked very slowly behind a huge gaggle of school kids blocking the entire sidewalk and was glad to be rid of them around the monument to Columbus.

These trees were by the monument and I was not the only person photographing them. They are Ceiba trees, just like we find in Mexico. I’ve just never seen any there that look so roly-poly!

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They have beautiful flowers.

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Barcelona has a couple of cable cars. Very $$$ to ride them, of course.

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I wonder if this is the world’s second biggest lobster.

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I got to the turnoff to head towards the beach at about 2PM, which is right bang at lunchtime for Spaniards. So I decided to head inland to find lunch and then return to the water when I spotted this restaurant across the street:

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Ooh. I haven’t had conveyor belt sushi since Eugene, Oregon! I hurried to the nearest crosswalk and doubled back to the restaurant to see if they had a lunch special. Yes. 12.53 euros for all you can eat with a drink, including beer. That’s only 19CAD, a bargain! I did a quick review check and any less than five-star reviews were by folks who admitted they came very early or very late, so the food wasn’t as fresh. I went in and was seated at the best table in the place — the first stop after the kitchen.

I dug in, knowing I wouldn’t need to eat again today. I focussed on the sushi, but did try a few other tidbits, like noodles and gyoza (dumplings). The salmon nigiri (bottom right) were were the best I’ve ever had, with the fish fresh and the rice perfectly seasoned. I could not believe what a deal I was getting. I like this format better than the all you can eat in that the portions are smaller and so you can get a bigger variety of stuff. With all you can eat, you’re committed to a large roll of whatever, plus you have to wait for your orders.

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What a wonderful find and a great experience. I love stumbling on places like these!

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I then headed back to the waterfront to find a beach. Here’s the museum of Catalonian History. Like most museums, there was a hefty admittance fee and a long line up. I have no regrets about my trip to Barcelona being mostly spent ambling somewhat aimlessly as I’ve been spoiled by the non-touristy Balkans.

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I’d rather like to rent a Ferrari for a day… 🙂

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I loved the last line on this sign:

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And tah-dah!

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Can you imagine how long this journey would have taken in ancient times?

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I sat there for a long while, studying my map before setting off again.

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“We are and ever will be a refuge city.”

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The number of refugees Barcelona has welcomed.

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There were some amazing sand artists at work.

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I’ve seen these signs all over the parts of Barcelona I’ve visited. Half a roasted chicken with potatoes or a whole one. About twice as expensive as in Mexico, but Mexican chickens tend to be scrawny, so this might not be a bad deal, although I’d rather have rice than potatoes.

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Exterior window blinds like in Belgrade.

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This was an interesting building. It belongs to a natural gas company.

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These signs always make me laugh. How many people had to drink the water or swim in it for the sign to be necessary?

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Torre d’Aigües (water tower).

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I’m starting to notice some linguistic similarities between Mexico/Spain and Quebec/France, with the younger country holding on to a purer form of the language while the older country is starting to have a lot of anglicisms. For example, Mexico has “alto” signs and you look for estacionamento, while Spain has “stop” signs and you look for parking, just as Quebec has “arrêt” signs and you look for stationnement, while France has “stop” signs and you look for parking.

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Dead end.

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Here’s the natural gas building again.

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By this point, I was completely disoriented, off my map, and Siri helpfully told me I was in “Barcelona, Catalonia.” I had to ask a local to orientate me towards the Old City!

Here’s the natural gas building again. It’s really interesting!

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I found myself for the first time in my travels since June in an area that made the hair on the nape of my neck stand up. Turns out there was a reason for it.


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“No tourist apartments.” My host told me about this the other night. Barcelonans are unhappy with tourists moving into residential areas through sites like Airbnb and behaving badly. I was told that if anyone asks, I’m her friend and a guest, not an Airbnb customer. Now, I know I’m not at all the kind of tourist this sign is warning off, but it did nothing to make me feel welcome and I was glad to return to a main boulevard.

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More interesting exterior window shades.

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I was surprised that this one appears abandoned.

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Ah, the name of the abandoned building. I found an article on the Catalan Wikipedia (who knew there was such a thing) and between it and Google Translate I learned that in 2008, major deficiencies within the building were found that halted renovations as there is not enough money to restore it properly.

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Entrance to the Parc de la Ciutadella. It’s near the beaches and my map indicated it had some interesting buildings, so it seemed like a good place to end my day.

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It is the home of the Barcelona Zoo.

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There are abandoned buildings on it from the 1888 Universal Exposition. This one is called L’Umbracle.

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And another building called the Castle of the Three Dragons.

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And an abandoned museum.

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That had huge chunks of rock outside of it, all labeled.

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This is L’Hivernacle, a greenhouse for tropical plants during the exhibition. It is a contemporary of Paris’ Eiffel Tower.

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The Castell dels Tres Dragons was the café/restaurant for the Universal Exhibition.

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I liked these chameleons at a non-functioning fountain in front of the castle.

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Here’s the Arch of Triumph I saw the other day, from the other side.

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Toilets in Catalan are lavabos, which, spelled exactly like that, are bathroom sinks in French…

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There’s that gas company building again. 🙂

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I just love these details at the top of the castle!

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Hommage to the Universal Exposition.

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It was getting late, so it was time to head home. I wanted to do a withdrawal and found a Deutsche Bank on my exact route. How convenient!

Vicki, I found your toad!

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This sounds like a great deal if you’re not a nervous nilly like me.

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The one-way system in the Old City made more sense to me at intersections between wide and narrow streets. So here, you would turn onto the wide street from the narrow street.

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I liked both the shape and colour of this building.

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I decided at the last minute to make a detour down Barcelona’s famed pedestrian walking street, La Rambla, since I hadn’t taken any pictures of it.

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With all due respect to Barcelona, anyone who has ambled down Plovdiv’s Ulitsa Knyaz Aleksandr, Belgrade’s Ulitca Knez Mihailova, and/or Sofia’s Vitosha Boulevard would find La Rambla laughable. I didn’t see anyone who looked like a local and all the restaurants served the same overpriced menu, a far cry from the bustling pedestrian streets I encountered in the Balkans where locals truly live and restaurants are of very high quality. There is a pedestrian street just a block from my flat that is much more like what I’ve become used to.

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I couldn’t resist taking a picture of all the goodies in this window. They don’t look real!

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Here’s “my” pedestrian street waiting for the sun to go down to come to life.

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Here’s a map of my day:

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I’ve had a lovely stay in Barcelona! Next stop, Alicante.

Walking Tour in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter

There was some commotion here late last night, so my plans for an early night and morning were dashed. I got up around nine and by the time I’d done my morning online stuff and dressed, it was time to head out for my tour at eleven. I hadn’t had coffee since I’m out of powdered milk and it didn’t make sense to buy a litre of milk for the short amount of time that I’m here or drag a container of powdered milk around with me. So I budgeted to have my coffee out this week and therefore, that was my first stop this morning.

My street terminates at Avinguda del Paral·lel (Parallel Avenue), so named because it is parallel to the Equator. Remembering that this is my nearest major intersection would have saved me a lot of grief yesterday as I would have just needed to make my way back there and then look for that café where I had breakfast! But anyway, I knew it today. I walked along it for about a block keeping my eyes peeled for a “cafe para llevar” (coffee to go) sign and spotted one quickly. A delicious Americano with a splash of milk was 1.50 euros (2.30CAD). Ridiculously expensive by Balkan standards, but still slightly better than I’d pay in Canada.

I was doing the Old City/Gothic Quarter free walking tour with Runner Bean Tours. We met at the Plaça Reial by the fountain. This was the first such walking tour for which I was strongly advised to book in advance. While I liked the “just show up” format in the Balkans, it sometimes made for very large groups. By booking in advance, Runner Bean Tours knew to have a few guides.

This plaza made me realise where Mexican colonial architecture comes from!

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There are two of these lamp posts designed by Gaudi. There were originally six, but four were stolen. Our guide, Ruth, couldn’t come close to positing a theory as to how anyone could manage to steal lamp posts!

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Ruth, who is originally from London, UK, majored in Hispanic studies and really knew her stuff. There is no way I can come close to recapping her tour or sharing everything that I learned today. I did jot down a few notes on a map she gave us, so I will have the odd tidbit.

Just some general notes in no particular order:

  • Barcelona dates back to a Roman settlement from 15BC.
  • Catalonia was one of many kingdoms that eventually joined together to become modern day Spain and it was once a vast Mediterranean trading empire. The Catalan language is spoken as far as Italy (Sicily or Sardinia). But Catalonia declined at the end of the 15th century when another part of modern day Spain started trading with the New World and Catalonia was forbidden from doing so.
  • April 23rd is the Catalan “Valentine’s Day,” when it is traditional for a man to give the woman she loves a rose and the woman to give him a book. This stems back to St. George (yes, the same St. George of England), who supposedly slew a dragon and where its blood fell, a red rose grew.
  • The flag of Catalonia is yellow with four red stripes. The legend of its origin is that a hero without a coat of arms was mortally wounded. So a leader who wanted to honour him plunged four fingers into the wound and then dragged the four bloody digits down the yellow shield to create a coat of arms or insignia for the hero.

Off we went to our first stop, the Basílica de Santa Maria del Pi. You don’t have déjà vu, I shared photos of this one yesterday. So Saint Maria of the Pines. A fisherman in this region lost his boat and felled a pine tree to build another one. In the tree, he found the face of the Virgin and so he built a shrine to her.

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This is the flag of Catalan independence. Yes, that star in the blue triangle is a nod to Cuba, with which Catalonia has strong relations.

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We continued on to the medieval Jewish quarter, El Call, where the ancient synagogue was found in the 1980s. A tiny portion is available  to visit below street level in the building in the background with a lamp sticking out of it.

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The streets here are so narrow that there is a one-way system. Exit…

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And entrance.

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We learned all about how the Jews were massacred and driven out of Barcelona by a mob who thought the Jews had caused the bubonic plague. We were asked where they went and the answer was.. the Balkans. It was kind of neat to get this side of the story I heard over there. There was a lot more about Jews and the Spanish Inquisition, but I can’t do justice to Ruth’s narrative.

In the Plaça Sant Jaume, you find Barcelona city hall and…

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the Palau de la Generalitat, which is the seat of the Catalan government.

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We moved on to the rear of the cathedral.

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Next, we went to the cloister of the cathedral and Santa Llúcia’s chapel.

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Santa Llúcia was a 13 year-old-girl who refused to renounce her faith and was subjected to 13 tortures as a punishment. This is why there are 13 white geese (symbolising her purity).

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Next stop was the Plaça Sant Felip Neri. This is one of those stops that was really interesting and that I would never have known about without a guide. The church is original to this place, but the building beside it was moved there brick by brick.

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This building was also moved brick by brick to this site. You can see from the shoes that it used to house a shoemaker’s workshop.

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The church still shows damage from the Spanish Civil War. Ruth gave us a really good primer on that, but I couldn’t even begin to sum up that convoluted history, so reminiscent of more recent Balkan history…

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I saw this style of church a lot in the American Southwest, including the Alamo.

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I appreciated this design on the underside of the balcony.

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This is one of the rare places in Barcelona where you can see remains of the original Roman walls. There were 76 of those square towers.

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This would have been the original gate into the Roman settlement.

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This building is arguably the ugliest in Barcelona (and ironically the seat of an organisation related to architectural design), but the point of interest is the murals by Picasso showing important parts of Barcelona’s culture. These giants and the people are castellers and form a tower. It sounds a lot like cheerleading pyramids, but more insane, and is a major deal in Barcelona.

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Here’s another thing I would never have found on my own, original Roman columns.

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“Centennial of the birth of the outstanding folklorist Joan Amades i Gelats. To all the lovers of the traditions and customs of Catalonia. The president of the government of Catalonia.” Two days in Barcelona and I’m already translating from Catalan! 😀

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Now, we’re at the Plaça del Rei (not to be confused with the Plaça Reial) These are medieval ruins of a palace and watchtower. It was also the site of a cemetery for not only people who were executed, but also their executioners.

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This basket would have held firewood for nighttime illumination.

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We moved into a more working class neighbourhood with the street names telling us what businesses were on that particular stretch. This is the street of the silversmiths.

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I don’t have any decent shots of our final stop, Fossar de les Moreres, because of the throng of people. It actually had nothing to do with this church. Instead, look at the bottom left, with the red thing arching up. That is an eternal flame symbolising a crushing defeat of the Catalonians in the 18th century.

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It was almost 2PM at the end of the tour and I was beyond ready for lunch. Off I went to find a menú del día. I must not have been in a good part of town for that as I saw few signs for them and what I saw was expensive or poor value. I wandered for a bit as the sky started to spit and then it began to properly rain.

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The store of miracles.

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Just as it began to rain hard enough to be annoying, I found lunch! Or rather, lunch found me. I normally avoid touts, but when I was approached by one at the end of a narrow alley who said that they had an English menu inside, I ignored my rule as they weren’t trying too hard to bring in tourists and the restaurant was practically invisible. Their menu was 11 euros and did not include a drink, but the options seemed hearty.

It had been almost six hours since a meagre breakfast, so I decided to have the most substantial option for each course. I was brought a lovely portion of fat green olives to nibble on as I perused the menu. I’m so glad I like olives now! I started with a decent spaghetti with meat sauce. The second course was two small grilled sausages that were amazing and served with a side of cannellini beans cooked in garlic. So simple, but so delicious! The food was definitely a step up from what I had yesterday. They had more options for dessert and I asked for something with chocolate, getting a small square of thin layers of chocolate cake alternated with thin layers of chocolate mousse. I was happy with my lunch.

Next, I decided to wander by the waterfront. I will go to a proper beach tomorrow!

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The Mirador de Colom, a monument to Christopher Columbus.

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Customs.

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Park of the three chimneys.

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Vicki, I found your purple scooter to go with my pink one!

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Here’s the bar/café where I had my coffee in the morning. Molino is a windmill.

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I had to take a picture of this Burger King offer just to show that the U.S. does not have the monopoly on over the top fast food options!

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I got in around four and had to do a couple of hours of work. To my surprise, I got peckish around eight, so I decided to go check out the pedestrian street a block from my flat. It was starting to get quite lively with the bars serving tapas and pinchos, both being small snacks. I’d like to eat tapas at some point, but they are an Andalusian food, not a Barcelonan food. So I’m happy to wait until I get to Almería (which is in Andalusia) to try them, where they should be cheaper anyway.

After wandering the street for a bit, I decided after passing a kebab place that a doner was exactly what I was in the mood for as I could take it to go and at 3.50 euro (about 5CAD) it wouldn’t be too much of an indulgence. The guy making the sandwiches was moving at a quick pace until my order, but there was no one behind me. So he stopped for a bit so we could chat.

This is something I missed so much in the Balkans, those superficial quick conversations with the people I met during my day. It was definitely better when I left Bulgaria and met so many more people who spoke English but here, I know I can walk into any business and be able to read the menu and talk to people without having to ask first if they speak my language. Like in Mexico, I’m fully aware of how much work I have to do to reach fluency, but my oral comprehension has improved exponentially since the fall of 2014.

It was a very lovely second day in Barcelona! I was looking at the long lines outside popular museums, like the Picasso, and really not feeling cheated by my not being able to treat Barcelona like a vacation. I am getting so much out of the city by living like a local, taking it slow, and just walking around.

I have a largish job to do tomorrow, so it will be a shorter final day exploring the waterfront. I’m leaving at 11AM on Friday to go to Alicante, which is a bit more than halfway to Almería. The train there, while cheaper and faster than the bus (!), is more expensive than my flight was from Skopje! So in hindsight, I realise that I would have been better off financially to stay in the Balkans longer and fly straight into Almería. Live and learn. But would I have gotten to Barcelona otherwise after my Almería stay? Not likely… Alicante will thankfully be much less expensive (25CAD a night versus 43 for a private room in a hostel right downtown). After that, just one more expensive bus or train ticket and then no housing or transportation fees for seven weeks. Phew!

(I can’t believe it’s 12:30 and another super late night for me. I really don’t think that the Spanish sleep…)