A Simple Shopping Trip

Last week I started back to work at New Relic’s Barcelona office. Located downtown in an area call L’Eixample, I’ve been transiting (mostly Metro) between there and our flat in El Poblenou (more details forthcoming!)

On Thursday Amber sent a list of nine things, and asked if I’d grab them from the store on my way home. A bus ran from near the office, past a major shopping center I was familiar with within talking distance of our flat. Easy!

Since I only had a laptop bag, I snagged an unused paper bag from the lunchroom, patting myself on the back for my forethought to avoid buying a new bag at the store (cue ominous music).

Outside, not only was the bus line nearby, it was literally steps from the door. This whole urban living thing was really coming together.

Shopping rubbed off a little of that shine, though, as I worked down Amber’s list. First off, shopping in an unfamiliar, large grocery store is always grounds for some mild frustration. Compounding that, Spanish groceries aren’t arranged quite like the “standard” layout in the US. The differences are subtle, but real. For instance, the baking soda (bicarbonato de sodio) was with spices, but the the baking powder (pulvo de hornear) hid out with the boxed cakes eight aisles away. Ibuprofen isn’t even available at grocery stores, only at separate pharmacies. I did manage to find peanut butter, a nice touch given how often I’ve heard that held up as a strictly American thing.

Packing the paper bag full, I headed into the kilometer walk home. About a third of the way there, a familiar sensation began, missing since my arrival in Spain. Was that drizzle? The sky did hang low and cloudy, but I’m from Oregon. A little rain doesn’t scare me.

Cue the downpour.

I wasn’t about to let this spoil my outing, though. Worst off I’d end up wet, but if it stopped afterward it might even cool things down. But as my clothes soaked through, drips turned to small streams from my hair, and a thick fog smeared over my glasses, I noticed a problem.

The front corners of the paper bag were softening from the rain.

I clutched the groceries closer, craning uselessly to shield them. Picking up my pace, I was certain I could make it down the rambla and home before things got dire.

Wrong.

The bag disintegrated all at once. Half of my groceries flew from my arms like angry magnets, scattering on the pavement. Glass shattered. With my left eye flaring (yeah for detached retinas!) and fog over my glasses, I could hardly see the extent of the damage. As I clutched the remains of my groceries, I didn’t even notice for a moment that the bag of flour had burst open. My entire right leg was plastered wet and caked in white.

  

A kind stranger saw my predicament and said in relatively clear English, “That’s not going to work.” Um, yeah, agreed. He immediately offered to run and grab a bag, though. Almost on his heels, someone else offered me a large reusable bag. I thanked them profusely as I tucked what remained into the bag. Flour and broken egg smeared everything.

With the surviving items finally safe, I picked up the broken glass I could, gripping them in the soaked shreds of my brilliant paper bag, and tucked the lot in the nearest trash can before scurrying the rest of the way home.

Shopping… easy as pie!

Eating in Barcelona: Part I

Being the family that we are, we’ve all been looking forward to the food in Barcelona. I mean, Cora asked for salami and green olives for her second birthday party. This part of the world aligns very well with our family palette.

Almuerzo a Enrique Tomas

Enrique Tomás de Glòries

We reached Barcelona in the middle of the day and immediately we didn’t have a US->European power adapter for Amber’s CPAP. Oops! Fortunately, a shopping mall, Glòries, was in walking distance of the hostel. So our first expedition was a Spanish mall. 😂 A mall is a mall, and although plenty of the brands were unfamiliar, it gave the whole family a sense of familiarity.

Why is this in a blog about food in Barcelona, you might ask?

The lower level houses a space called El Mercat. It’s filled with small shops and stalls with higher-end food products. We stopped at Enrique Tomás for jamón, chorizo, olives, and lemon Fanta (which the children are obsessing over). It hit the spot and covered it in salty, cured goodness.

ARTEspañol

Friday we viewed our first flat on Avinguda Diagonal (more on flat hunting in Barcelona soon…. you know, once we’ve found one!) Obviously the effort left us hungry, and in the whole week we hadn’t yet sampled that Spanish mainstay: paella.

A quick search nearby turned up ARTEspañol. I don’t know whether it’s particularly authentic–felt a little touristy, lots of bull fighting decor–but wow was it the meal we needed at that moment.

They had kid-sized paellas with chicken that after minor prompting the children inhaled. Amber and I split a larger paella with chorizo and pork ribs. The richness of the rice, that lovely crispness. Yum.

I look forward to trying a seafood option next time. I’ve also had the Valencia (rabbit, snail, and chicken) recommended by my cousin Hannah. Clearly, there’s more paella in our future, and the future is bright!

Shaka & Shack

I’ve heard lunch is often the big meal of the day here, and that’s been working well for the family in the July heat. Thursday we set out to visit New Relic’s office in Eixample, but first we needed lunch. Along the way to the Metro we’d spotted a restaurant with signs reading “Burger Bar.”

Personally I’ve found hamburgers to be a hit or miss when traveling in Europe. By the same token, much of that experience was a couple decades ago (eek!) in the UK. When Amber suggested we try lunch at this Burger Bar, I agreed with reservations in my heart.

My concerns proved unfounded. The place, actually called Shaka & Shack, had nice juicy burgers alongside small portions of thick fries. To my delight, mayo and ketchup were both offered with these fries. Apparently Amber didn’t know my deep love for mayo and fries, probably from my time visiting Belgium. So good.

The staff was friendly and helpful. All around I’d go again, and given the proximity to the hostel it seems very likely to happen.

Wonder when the cease and desist from a similarly named large burger chains in the States is coming, or if this corner of Barcelona is distant enough to avoid the litiginous corporate eye. 😰

More to Come

This first week we’ve mostly explored with a focus on finding a flat. All the walking, figuring out transit, etc. has stretched the family’s energy. By the time we need food, dining out or searching for cool places has been out of the question. As we settle in more, expect more Eating in Barcelona reports!

Exploring Barcelona

The plan for the week was exploring various parts of Barcelona to prepare for renting a flat. Overall it went well. We also learned a lot about our family limits for tramping around in the unaccustomed heat!

TwentyTú

That first afternoon we taxied to the hostel we’re staying at, TwentyTú. This has proven an economical way to settle for a couple weeks while we sort out the flat.

The staff has been super friendly and helpful. There’s TV we can hook our new Nintendo Switch up to, much to the children’s joy. There’s free WiFi, much to the adults’ joy. It’s walking distance from a major shopping center, which has proven key for obtaining the stuff we didn’t pack. It’s even a long walk from some of the neighborhoods we wanted to visit, and a shorter walk to the Metro (aka subway).

Nearby is the Torre Glòries (formerly Torre Agbar), a convenient landmark to navigate by. Cora calls it the Tile Tower because although the picture doesn’t capture it, it’s quite colorful.

On the walk to the store we found a cool playground space. Because of course, what you need when on foot is a way to run around more.

Playground near Torre Glòries

The hostel has also let us start acclimating to a smaller space, since the room is basically a hallway width in front of bunk beds 😉

Gràcia

Gràcia is a neighborhood north of the city center. We explored it on our first full day out. It’s got a lot of the classic feel of Barcelona, without as much bustle and traffic as the city center.

A long walk through the neighborhood, and we could easily see ourselves living there. The number of parks around impressed us. In particular we relaxed in Parc de les Aigües. Not only did this have shade and multiple play structures for the kids, it also sported green parrots chattering wherever we went!

A green parrot in Parc de les Aigües

We stopped for food along the way, some basic cured meats. It was there Asher discovered he loves boquerones (anchovies) with vinegar. Really he just gobbles them down! He’s not keen on his pictures being public, but there’s a great video on Facebook if you want to befriend either of us.

As our first full day exploring, we overdid things significantly. The kids were done by about 3/4 of the way through the 5 miles (8 km) of trooping.

El Poblenou

The next neighborhood was El Poblenou, aka the new village. Further east of the city center, it’s out of comfortable walking distance of New Relic’s office in Eixample, but a quick Metro ride away. Learning our lesson from Gràcia, we planned out a much shorter walk.

Poblenou definitely maintains the feeling of a smaller village in the big city. We walked down the lovely Rambla del Poblenou, a calmer alternative to the larger Les Ramblas in central Barcelona. One flat we’d seen online was right on the ramble, and it was easy to imagine ourselves living there.

Cora en la Rambla

“That is hard work for me to hold it that long.”-Coraline

El Poblenou’s other big attraction is the beach. The Rambla runs right down to the Mediterranean sand, a mere 5-10 minute walk.

The kids absolutely loved the beach. The water was cool, but comfortable to play in for a long time. Such a change from the Oregon coast! It also afforded our first major sunburn of the trip.

Eixample

In the latter half of the week we dropped in at New Relic’s Barcelona office to say hello and check out the area right next door. Emerging from the Metro, Amber immediately ooh-and-aah’d at the surroundings. This was all the charm, architecture, and urban feel she’d been imagining in Barcelona.

This being our third neighborhood exploration, we tightened up the routine. Basically we were sold already, so we just visited DelaCrem, an exceptional gelato shop our friend Aitor had recommended (heartily agreed!) The only question with Eixample is whether finding the size and noise profile we want in the hub of the city.

“Ew, tourists”

Bussing from Eixample home proved a good plan. Although I find it less direct than the Metro, it helps the kids engage more seeing the city versus cruising through dark tunnels.

Three Neighborhoods, No Answers Yet

This week has yielded a better feel for our new city. All the neighborhoods we visited definitely met the criteria we’re looking for… now to visit some flats and actually find a place to live!

(Small administrative note… we’ve been using Marco Polo to keep up asyncrhonously with friends. If you’ve on there (or want to be!) send us a message. It’s like Snapchat for families and grown-ups)

PDX 🛬 OAK 🛬 BCN Tweetstorm

While heading to Barcelona, I decided to tweet a few things out. Rather than venting frustration or weariness, of which there was plenty, I highlighted good things that happened. Enjoy!

Reaching Barcelona

Well, after that last post you’d have expected that we had things all locked up before we went to our farewell picnic on Saturday night.

Hahaha…

The picnic was a huge success. We saw people from many different aspects of our life and shared food, memories, and hopes for the future with them. The event drew quite a crowd, as you can see from this lovely group photo:

We left with huge warm feelings our hearts… and packing to do. Back at Anthony and Kat’s (our friends who graciously loaned up their basement since leaving the house we’d been renting), we got the kids down and got to work on those last couple loose ends. Our flight was early the next morning, so we planned to leave at 4:30. Any guesses how much sleep we got?

Zero!

Yep, we worked the night through, stumbling and tired, but determined to get all the things packed up and buttoned away.

Our beloved friend Kat got up with us in that dark morning hour and took us in our van to the airport. (We’ll be finally selling the van in September when we’re back around in Oregon while getting visas finalized). Tears and hugs were shared, and then we were off to get luggage checked.

Did I mentioned we had a lot of luggage?

Huge pile o' luggage

Amber did a spectacular job of keeping the bags under weight, evenly spread, and tightly packed. But moving your entire world still amounted to an impressive pile. Thank goodness for curbside check-in at PDX!

TSA Pre also paid its way handily. Even with the kids in tow, we slid past security with only one forgotten pocket knife to slow us down.

The first leg was a short hop to Oakland. By a miracle, we ended up in the first row behind business class, which meant the under-seat space was larger than average. Good thing, because our carry-ons pushed the limits of what many would willfully lug down narrow plane aisles. Before we knew it we were landed in Oakland, off the plane, and picking up our luggage.

Picking up luggage? Why couldn’t they just check through? As you may have gathered from our earlier discussion on plans, things have been rather fluid around when we’d actually leave. We’d bought cheap OAK -> BCN tickets, but had been expecting/hoping to already be in San Fransisco getting our visas issued. Hahaha, nice try. So at the last we bought tickets on Alaska Airlines to cover the PDX -> OAK leg. Did those end up being on a shared airline that could check through? Nope! Thus we found ourselves back in possession of the mountain of luggage in Oakland.

No problem, we’ll just wheel over to the Norwegian Air desk, check in most of it, and cruise on through the all those services behind security, right? Nope. Turns out, the front desk for Norwegian only opens 4 hours before their first flight… the 4pm to Barcelona we were on. It was roughly 9AM, we we had hours to sit with our train of luggage carts out where only one restaurant greeted us. We shuffled bags around and made use of the time, but everyone was tired, hungry, and ready to leave that airport by the time we actually checked in.

We were excited to have upgraded to the Premium Cabin on the long leg of this flight. To get the flexible scheduling and baggage we needed, Premium was only a few hundred dollars extra per person, so we splurged. Norwegian is a budget line and the equipment was clearly second hand (from Arik Air apparently?) Many of the integrated controls didn’t work properly, the reclining seats clattered relentlessly when in motion, and the crew handed out iPads for the in-flight entertainment as the screens were mostly inoperable (3/4 of ours wouldn’t respond to the remotes at all). But, and it’s a huge but, the space was AMAZINGLY WORTH IT! I actually slept 5-6 hours on a plane y’all! That never happens, and sure helped smooth the remainder of the day after landing Barcelona.

Since our flight left Oakland at 4pm, we ended up in Barcelona about noon. Customs was a breeze, and we found ourselves grabbing a taxi in the heat of the day to the high-tech hostel we’re spending our first couple weeks at while we hunt for a flat.

As it was the middle of the day we did a little exploring, but I’ll save that till next time and rest content that the Clarks have arrived in Barcelona!