The Train in Spain

With a nod to Lerner and Loewe, the train in Spain stays mainly in the plain. It’s faster that way — going up and down mountains slows the train too much.

We traveled from Barcelona to Madrid to Seville to Granada by train. The first two legs were the longest, and we took the Spanish high-speed train, called the AVE. This was our first time on a high-speed train. We rode this train, shown here in the Madrid Atocha station.

AVE train
AVE train

The trip from Barcelona to Madrid took 2 and a half hours to travel about 400 miles. Each car has a display showing the train speed. The highest speed I saw was 301 km/hr.

The AVE has comfortable seats, large windows, and two seats on each side of the aisle. All five trains we rode were on time — so much better than Spanish trains years ago. The ride is very smooth when you’re seated. But when you stand up or walk around, you’ll notice that the train moves enough so that you feel wobbly. There was a Spanish movie, and they distributed free earbuds.

We purchased promotional tickets for the AVE two months in advance. The promotional tickets are less than half the price of the full-fare tickets, but they sell out, so it’s best to purchase them when they go on sale 60 days in advance.

We liked the AVE so much that while in Spain we decided to take the train from Seville to Granada, instead of driving. We also added a day trip by train from Madrid to Segovia.

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Barcelona Food

After arriving in Barcelona on Easter Sunday, we ate pintxos (a Basque form of a tapa) at Euskal Etxea, a pintxo bar near our apartment. You find a seat, get a plate and order drinks from the waiter, and take pintxos from the bar. Each pintxo is meat, egg, or vegetable on a baguette slice, held together with a large toothpick. When you’re done, the waiter counts the toothpicks to figure the bill. The pintxos were good, but biting sideways into the baguette slice can be hard on the gums.

Euskal Etxea
Euskal Etxea

The next morning we took a bus and tram to a shopping center to buy groceries at Alcampo. We found the store, but the shopping center was closed except for restaurants. Alcampo is a Spanish discount chain, like an American Costco; we like to stock on groceries when we rent an apartment. We had encountered Easter Monday holiday on a prior trip to France; the Catalans and other provinces near France also celebrate Easter Monday, we learned after we returned home. We wound up having an excellent napolitana (Catalan pain au chocolat), coffee, and a jamon (ham) sandwich at a Starbucks in the shopping center. Many Barcelona bakeries sold pain au chocolat and croissants.

On Tuesday, everything was open! We looked at the Santa Catarina marketplace near us, walked the Ramblas, and had lunch at La Boqueria marketplace. The first stand sold jamon, a Spanish dried ham.

jamon vendor at La Boqueria
jamon vendor at La Boqueria

The price on each leg is in euros for a kilo of meat. We had a sample from the jamon on the right — the meat nearly melts in your mouth. The minimum order is 100 grams, which costs 16 euros ($21).

At a nearby stall in La Boqueria, we saw these hanging jamons, with the prices per kilo. Note the cost (the jamon serrano on the right is less expensive than the jamon iberico).  Jamon iberico de bellota, which has a purplish color, is from pigs that graze on acorns in oak forests of southern Spain.

hanging jamons
hanging jamons

After seeing a lot more jamons, we noticed that the jamon iberico de bellota has a black foot and the jamon serrano has a white foot. Looking at the the picture of the first stand, notice that it sells the less expensive, white-footed jamon for the same price that the second vendor sells the more expensive, black-footed jamon iberico de bellota. Perhaps the first stall you see in the market has higher rent and prices…

We ate a grilled seafood platter and crema Catalana at Bar Central in La Boqueria. Starting from the top, left-hand corner, we have clams, squid, two kinds of fish, razor clams, and prawns. We hadn’t noticed razor clams before — they were very sweet.

mixed seafood platter
mixed seafood platter

We also order crema Catalana. Like the French creme brulee, this crema Catalana has a creamy egg custard with a torched sugar glaze.

crema Catalana
crema Catalana

On our last day in Barcelona, we took a bus to Barceloneta, Barcelona’s beach, for paella at Can Majo, a highly rated seafood restaurant on the beach. Our splurge meal in Barcelona, this seafood paella for two has shellfish, rice, peppers, and saffron. We’d like to say that this paella was great, but it wasn’t as good as memories of paella in Barcelona long ago, when the paella was so good that we returned for more on the same trip.

paella at Can Majo
paella at Can Majo

And we had salads at our apartment.

We had good food in Barcelona, but it wasn’t great, especially considering the price. Barcelona had the most expensive food and lodging on our trip.

We noticed a stronger French influence in Catalonia than the rest of Spain: the Easter Monday holiday, the breakfast breads, and the crema Catalan dessert. We ate pain au chocolat or croissants every day in Barcelona, figuring we wouldn’t get them this good outside of Barcelona (we were right). And Catalonia had their version of French art nouveau movement.

Mediterranean Diet

In February researchers at the University of Barcelona released a large study showing “about 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, and even drink wine with meals”.

This study is significant because 1) heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease are directly relevant to people, 2) the Mediterranean diet was easier to follow than a low-fat diet, and 3) people on the Mediterranean diet had less heart disease than those on the low-fat diet. “The magnitude of the diet’s benefits startled experts. The study ended early, after almost five years, because the results were so clear it was considered unethical to continue.”

We’re trying to follow the Mediterranean diet. A dinner at our Barcelona apartment is shown below. From left to right, there’s (red) wine, legumes (peas) and pasta with extra-virgin olive oil, raw vegetables (lettuce) and strawberries (fruit) , and extra-virgin olive oil to dress the salad. The small serving of jamon iberico and the pate are red meat and are to be limited.

Barcelona dinner
Barcelona dinner

The questions below tell you how well you’re following the Mediterranean diet, from table S1 of the study appendix. Our dinner had no dairy, carbonated beverages, or commercial pastries! At other meals we did eat nuts and sofrito sauce with pasta.

Foods and frequency of consumption Criteria for 1 point
Do you use olive oil as main culinary fat? Yes
How much olive oil do you consume in a given day (including oil used for frying, salads, out of house meals, etc.)? 4 or more tablespoons
How many vegetable servings do you consume per day? (1 serving = 200g – consider side dishes as 1/2 serving) 2 or more (at least 1 portion raw or as salad)
How many fruit units (including natural fruit juices) do you consume per day? 3 or more
How many servings of red meat, hamburger, or meat products (ham, sausage, etc.) do you consume per day? (1 serving = 100-150 g) Less than 1
How many servings of butter, margarine, or cream do you consume per day? (1 serving = 12 g) Less than 1
How many sweet/carbonated beverages do you drink per day? Less than 1
How much wine do you drink per week? 7 or more glasses
How many servings of legumes do you consume per week? (1 serving = 150 g) 3 or more
How many servings of fish or shellfish do you consume per week? (1 serving: 100-150 g fish, or 4-5 units or 200 g shellfish) 3 or more
How many times per week do you consume commercial sweets or pastries (not homemade), such as cakes, cookies, biscuits, or custard? Less than 3
How many servings of nuts (including peanuts) do you consume per week? (1 serving = 30 g) 3 or more
Do you preferentially consume chicken, turkey or rabbit meat instead of veal, pork, hamburger or sausage? Yes
How many times per week do you consume vegetables, pasta, rice, or other dishes seasoned with sofrito (sauce made with tomato and onion, leek, or garlic, simmered with olive oil)? 2 or more

The researchers haven’t had time to determine which parts of the Mediterranean diet are responsible for the results.

Catalan Modernisme and Domenich i Montaner

Lluis Domenich i Montaner is a Barcelona Modernisme architect whose use of color make his work more accessible than Gaudi’s.

From our apartment in Born-Ribera, it was a short walk to his Palau de la Musica Catalana (Catalonia Music Palace). As with the cathedral, we walked by often to check out the lighting.

Palau de la Musica Catalana
Palau de la Musica Catalana
Palau de la Musica Catalana
Palau de la Musica Catalana

Color and design continues inside. Note the painted brick arches on the ceiling.

Palau de la Musica Catalana gift shop
Palau de la Musica Catalana gift shop

Domenich i Montaner also designed this hospital with Moorish windows and trees.

Hospital de Sant Pau
Hospital de Sant Pau

The Palau and Hospital won Barcelona’s Best Building awards in 1909 and 1912. They were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

Barcelona Cathedral

This April we visited Spain, landing in Barcelona and proceeding to Madrid, Seville, and Granada. Staying in the old town, we walked by the cathedral every day. With a nod to Claude Monet, here are some photos of the Barcelona cathedral at different times of day.

At 1 pm, the sun is nearly overhead and the facade and tower are in shadow. The sky is bright and washed out. Without side lighting, the facade and towers are relatively flat.

Barcelona cathedral at 1 pm
Barcelona cathedral at 1 pm

At 3:45 pm, the center tower has side lighting, so we can better see features that stick out and are lit. The four columns on the facade protrude from the facade and are lit. There are some figures on the columns. The sky is more uniformly blue.

Barcelona cathedral at 3:45 pm
Barcelona cathedral at 3:45 pm

At 6 pm, the sky is a deep blue. The columns on the front of the cathedral are lit and cast shadows to the left. The front of the three towers are lit. The design above the doors stands out.

Barcelona cathedral at 6 pm
Barcelona cathedral at 6 pm

The sky is bluest when the camera is pointed 90 degrees from the sun. The photos were taken with the same point and shoot camera, without a polarizing filter to darken the sky.