Sunday, January 01, 2017

That's a wrap, 2016!



If you have been alive in the US, there’s never been a year that rocked the country to the core as 2016. We all hoped that Trump would be gone by Iowa Caucus and the adults could continue. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be and we went from ecstatic optimism on November 7th to dark depression on November 8th. We lost some of our greatest inspirations such as David Bowie, George Michael, and Prince. I wrote about David Bowie, who someone said was like an old boyfriend. George Michael and Prince were in the soundtrack to my high school and college years. We debated over what the heck is “Father Figure” about and my sister and I parodied “I Want Your Sex” with “I Want Your Granola.”

However, we need these bitter moments in order to value the sweet moments in our life. I want to remember 2016 for these special ones.

Year of Travel

In 2015, I flew to Kentucky for 2 days and we drove 7 hours to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. This year, I had many good opportunities. Even when I travel for business, I try to make a few hours to do personal sight-seeing so it doesn’t become only about work.

We were in Portland, OR for a week, so we went into the city a few evenings. I was able to check out Powell’s bookstore and Voodoo Donuts. On my trip to Tampa, our attempts to go to the beach didn’t work out, until a few hours before my flight. We went to Joe’s Whiskey Bar for lunch and could enjoy the blue water of Florida. I went to Salt Lake City, UT and we had to check out the Mormon Temple and buildings. Of course, the mountains around city was just beautiful. I made a second trip to Portland in December, which was too brief to enjoy anything.

Our biggest trip this year was to India for 3 weeks. We spent two weeks in Mumbai with family and we had a chance to recharge our body and spirits. It had been at least 7 years since my daughter and I had gone, so it was wonderful to reconnect with family. Our 12-year-old nephew and I found a common interest in Harry Potter and spent an evening working on spells. It was great meeting cousins from Chicago and friends from Pennsylvania who were visiting too. We tried out cool restaurants and strolled the malls as well.

Another week was spent in Leh, Ladakh, India. This deserves its own blog (coming soon), but it was a week of adventure. We overcame our fears of heights and dingy toilets, and realized altitude sickness is a real thing that doesn’t go away after 5 days. We rode camels in the desert, climbed through ancient Buddhist monasteries and slept in a cabin by a turquoise lake. 

On our way back, we stopped in Paris for 24 hours (again, blog post coming soon). We took walking tours and my favorite moment was having breakfast at a boulangerie in Place de Victor Hugo. The bread, the café! C’est la vie merveilleuse!
 

Experiences

If you’ve read my blogs, you’ll know I’m an enthusiastic Obama and Hillary Clinton supporter over the years. With this crazy political year, I got to participate in a few of the rallies and had amazing once-in-a-lifetime experiences. 
  • In June, Bill Clinton, Gabbie Gifford and Mark Kelly came to speak at a local school. I was excited to shake Bill’s hand over the crowd, just a touch.
  • My sister and I waited in line for 3 hours to see Hillary Clinton and Katy Perry perform. Her music ended up being in my head during the whole election and aftermath.
  • My friend and I took our daughters to Philadelphia to join 20,000 others to greet the Obamas and the Clintons, as well as Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi.
More posts about the Election are on my other site.
On personal front, we enjoyed celebrating weddings for close friends (wait, how did we become ‘that auntie and uncle’ at the wedding?) and welcomed babies into our families.

My family has gone through a lot of medical challenges with my father’s health, and it’s one more year that we’ve been blessed to have together. I’m always inspired by my father’s spirit to keep on writing, no matter what and my mother’s strength and focus to keep everyone going. In February 2017, they will have their 50th wedding anniversary, which is unbelievable (oh yes, the 50 years was such a breeze!)

Oh yes, “The Gilmore Girls”! I spent my summer watching the series every evening after work; I found it relaxing and bit of escapism to see a daughter who was so diligent about everything (sorry, mom of teen snark). We finally got Netflix to watch "The Gilmore Girls" update. I’ve also fallen for “The Crown” and “Grace and Frankie,” they’ve become like friends.

Looking forward to a new year where my intention is to step out of my comfort zone more often and  engage with new people, as well as maintain connections with the old friends. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

My Other Blog Site

Just letting readers know that I have my other blog site to check out: Laptop Prophet

Both blogs are active, in addition to Dancing Leaves.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Hieronymus Bosch "Garden of Earthly Delights" Interpretation

Hieronymus Bosch, a Dutch painter from the Middle Ages, had painted the "Garden of Earthly Delights". I came across this interactive exhibit of the painting and am obsessed. Why couldn't every painting of significance have an interactive narration like this? They have two options - a narrated tour through 15 key sections, or Freely Explore numerous hot spots on the painting where audio notes are presented. Zoom in. Listen to the audio. Click on other links. The experience is absolutely lovely. It's like being in a museum and listening to the curators on the headsets, except you don't have to fuss with the back and forth buttons on the device.

This is a perfect mix of art history and technology. This is what online galleries need to do.

Also, I'm personally blown away by the details in this painting. We zoom into the details and everything is perfectly shaded or positioned, and has significance. When you zoom into the details, you see the mermaid and the mer-knight in the middle of the water. There are the birds in different sizes and performing different activities. Who..How.. Why? I can imagine this becoming full time mission for historians to dissect these components, all the while enjoying the beauty of the painting.

Yes, I'm obsessed.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Portland Visit Reviews

I'm returning from a week in Portland, OR for a business trip and did get to explore around a bit. Here's a recap for future reference.

Where we ate: 

Swagath

The first night, we hit Indian food. I was excited since I had been traveling the whole day and just arrived to a rainy and chilly Portland. For me, Indian food is comfort food. Get me some naan and dal, and I'm good to go!

We went to the one in Hillsboro and I loved the rich ambiance. There was a painting of an elephant that I wanted to steal because it was so amazing. The chairs are heavy wooden antique style, that require 2 hands to move due to the weight. Copper tins abound. Definitely an impressive place.

For the menu, it had pretty traditional options. I liked that they did have a section where you pick your chicken/lamb/shrimp, and then select the style of cooking (karai, tikka masala, etc). The samosas were freshly made. We requested varying degrees of spiciness so that could be adjusted.

I skipped the gulab jamun because I only eat my mother's recipe. However, the masala chai was warm and creamy. The lassi is served in a tall milkshake glass, so that's a good sized portion.

Jake's Crawfish
The next night we wanted something more traditional to Portland. Jake's has been there for 110 years and right in the heart of the city.

The menu is predominantly seafood so I'm assuming vegetarian requests would be off-menu. The selection of seafood is varied and they identify the region that sources the product. I had a blackened salmon (swordfish was out) and the dish was enjoyable. Personally, I wasn't blown away, but it was a good solid dish. My colleagues did enjoy their selections.  We were looking to get regional specialties for Northwest, which we did.


Red Star Tavern
Now we've ventured toward Pioneer Plaza area. Streets are lined with high-end and low-end shopping, movie theaters, hotels and restaurants. It was raining that evening (surprise, surprise). We couldn't really walk around so we ducked into a Hilton and asked the concierge for restaurant recommendations. He suggested we check out Red Star Tavern for the Northwest regional cuisine. Umbrellas out!

Their website says: "Farm-to-fabulous, organic, local, and meticulous preparation with West Coast cachet -- it’s all here."

Definitely a beautiful chic place that has a male vibe to it. Dark furniture, secret bookcase to a private room/speak easy. I ordered a Saint 75 cocktail (Aviation gin, elderflower, lemon, sparkling wine) and it was delightful (Isn't that the only word you can use when you have sparkling wine?).

Their dinner menu is pretty tight. Barely one page of content. They have small plates, sides, entrees. There are nods to vegetarians. The Oregon rock fish was very good and flavorful. Two colleagues chose the Chef's dinner, which included starter and desserts.

This would be a good place to experience those dishes you see on "Top Chef" (now, what exactly is a Hamachi Crudo with apple, fresno chile, carrot, salmon roe?)

Paley's Place
For our last proper meal in Portland, we stumbled upon the northwest area of Portland with rows of restaurants and bars. We had lots to choose and randomly picked French cuisine at Paley's. This restaurant is inside a house, so it has a cozy atmosphere. Of course, when it's cozy, you need to wait for a table. Fortunately there was a spot at the bar and we could try out some wines and their cocktails. Their Bermuda Triangle was warmed rum and cider, nicely mixed with cinnamon and lime. On a cool evening, this was good way to warm up.

The menu doesn't have any vegetarian options, so I'm sure one would need to request off-menu. There's creative meat options for sure including sweatbreads, escargots, rabbit and marrow. For the sides, the roasted beets were fabulous and I need to know the recipe so I can make it every day. Colleagues loved the lamb special.

The one odd thing for the group was the vegetables were served as a 2nd course, while we thought of them as a side with the entree. It threw some people off, but the staff was understanding to our expectations. By the way, the staff was uber-attentive and the bartender was charming and knowledgeable. They work hard to make it a good experience.

Voodoo Doughnuts
We're not just doing fancy schmancy restaurants. We're doing doughnuts, baby!

I had a running corny joke with my Portland colleague for so many years. Whenever we had a conference call, I'd say "I'll bring the coffee, you bring the donuts." So he had told us they had a famous place in Portland and they did maple bacon donuts, were on the Food Channel, etc.

When I learned I was going out there, I told everyone I must go to Voodoo Doughnuts. So, we had that on the agenda every day and finally made a stop Wednesday evening. We all chose different ones - Rice Krispies and peanut butter atop chocolate frosting, a mango tango cream, a maple bacon and one covered in mini M&Ms.

 I was excited by the ambiance too - the large doughnut  on the ceiling is outrageous. If you visit their site and click on their Doughnut list, they have all their crazy flavors noted.

By the way, the next day a colleague grabbed a tray of doughnuts from another bakery. Those were spectacular too! Portland takes it's doughnuts seriously.

What We Did

Powell's Books
So, it's not just about eating. The next essential element for life - at least for me - are bookstores. Someone directed me to Powell's and we are grateful.

I don't want to describe the store because I won't do it justice. It's not slick and shiny. It's laid out in a fashion that must be learned by experience of walking through the shelves. Yes, as first time visitors, we were lost and weren't sure which level was coming and going, and where exactly are adult fiction. They tried to color code sections, but we were still not sure.

Because of the labyrinth-like layout, there's more discovery allowed. Turning a corner, you don't know what it means by Film Books until you land there and see books about so many movies and filmmakers. Being a used and new bookstore, the collections are vast and you're more likely to find an out of date book here than on Amazon.

I was tickled to see books I had heard about recently online or on the radio. Now, I could finally hold them. Because I'm traveling and my bags were quite full, I had to restrain myself from buying any excess books.

My greatest find was poster book of Sanjay Patel's deities. As I was telling my colleagues about it, I just embraced this book and said "It's mine." Fortunately it lay flat in my bag so the packing wasn't an issue.

As I browsed around, I was floored to see a huge book case of books by journalists. Then, I made a bee line for the poetry books. To see so many Pablo Neruda books on the shelf was amazing. I sat down on the concrete floor and almost cried touching all these books. I snagged "The Captain's Verses."

My colleagues also found books that they were looking for and more than they expected. I know we didn't finish the store as we had run over after dinner and they were closing at 11. 

Until next time, Portland! 




Bowie - Being a Hero Forever and Ever



Oh not, not Bowie!

The news on Jan 10th of David Bowie’s death shook the world. Obviously, other artists have passed away, and you feel a bit of nostalgia and sorrow and commemorate with a quiet “RIP So and So” in your Facebook status as a salute. With David Bowie, that would not do. 

This loss permeated through so many people. I have been deeply moved and burying myself in David Bowie videos and songs for the past weeks. I wiped away tears watching a tribute on TV at the gym. This was no ordinary celebrity. This was someone so integrated into our fibers we had to feel his loss.

If you’re not an out and out David Bowie fan, that’s ok. His music is not for everyone. However, you must give him credit for the influence and inspiration he gave so many people in music, fashion, literature, and any part of life that needs permission to have freedom of expression and self-identification. Without Ziggy Stardust kicking off glam-rock movement, we would’ve missed the 80’s New Wave to Lady Gaga. There wouldn’t be the edge in pop and rock theater. We would've perpetuated a cycle of straight forward Beatles and Rolling Stones. The world wanted and needed over the top performance artists to provoke the norm.

I believe one of the reasons everyone was so shaken is because Bowie had always been there, and we just assumed he would always be there. His music has been playing in the background of our lives. I missed the whole 60-70’s Ziggy Stardust phenomenon, so I knew him as the blond and elegant 80’s David with the baggy suits with shoulder pads. To be honest, I thought “Let’s Dance” was overplayed and “China Girl” was too silly. Then there was the Mick Jagger duet on "Dancing in the Streets," which seemed like the craziest combination.

Since it was the 80's artists that were influenced by him, I stepped away from the new stuff and went backwards. Duran Duran had remade his "Fame," which I enjoyed. However for a remake, it was too close to the original.

I learned of “Space Oddity” through Peter Schilling's song "Major Tom." I remember Kasey Kasem on American Top 40 radio show telling the story of how David Bowie sent Major Tom into space, and Peter Schilling brought him back years later. I am always intrigued by the concept of artists playing off each other. In college in the late 80’s, I had to seek out the original recording of “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie, since Vanilla Ice had captured the riff.

One of my favorite movie soundtracks is for the musical “Moulin Rouge.” I listen to the songs all the time because I love how modern pop songs are diced, spliced, and glued together for a vintage story. A favorite song is the Elephant Love Medley (sung by Ewan MacGregor and Nicole Kidman). The main chorus is “we can be Heroes, forever and ever,” as he tries to convince her character to give love a chance. I pulled it up the other day and realized how many lyrics from Bowie’s “Heroes” are actually integrated into the Moulin Rouge version. After further research, I learn David Bowie is on credits for “Nature Boy.” This is a perfect example of those moments you love him without knowing it. 

 There’s also an elusiveness to David Bowie that also makes him fascinating. He’s not out and about seeking attention for the sake of attention. He knew when to show up for fabulous parties and events. He seemed like the guy that only needed to wave his hands to bewitch and enchant.

There’s a quote from circulating online that the world is 4 billion years old, and we existed at the same time as David Bowie. It’s interesting because I thought of something similar when Princess Diana died. She will become a legend and won’t be remembered as a real person. It's these larger than life individuals that need to be remembered as humans.

Now we will have to tell stories about David Bowie not as a person, but this Starman wandered to our planet, lived among us and sprinkling his magic. This is our last dance.. under pressure.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Impressions of Barcelona (Memories, Travel Tips and Links!)

So life brought us back to Spain two years after our trip to Madrid. I had written about my experiences with Madrid and recommendations for Madrid. We were actually considering a number of vacation destinations such as Caribbean islands and alternately Germany and Czech Republic since it matched work obligations. However, we really wanted to go back to Spain and see Barcelona, which we always felt we missed.

My relationship with Barcelona started with the 1992 Olympics, and then a conversation with my manager in 1995 who studied there. She told me about Gaudi architecture and all the beautiful art around the city, and I was hooked. I was reading about it, watching every travel channel show about Barcelona. It's ironic that I ended up in Madrid first because I did not care to go to Madrid. Of course, I fell in love with Madrid too.

By the way, there's been a bit of rivalry in my family about Barcelona versus Madrid. I actually feel like choosing between Madrid and Barcelona is like choosing between New York and San Francisco - amazing cities in their own right. Each city has its own vibe.

We spent 6 days in Barcelona and it was not enough since we did not go to all the museums and every Gaudi building tours. We actually planned our week because we know that time slips away when you're on vacation. With Barcelona, there's advantages to planning ahead because there are museum cards and online ticketing. So if you know what you'd like to see, you can actually save money. We're there for too short a time to just "wing it" and waste hours in line.

What We Did

Segrada Familia
This is once in a lifetime experience. And, even if you do come again in this lifetime, it's going to be a different building since it's still under construction.You could spend hours just looking at the architecture, the carvings, the stained glass. It's definitely a magical experience to stand inside the church and feel the colored light and the eminence presence of spirit, of the artists and worshipers.

Tips:
1. When you order tickets online, you will be asked to pick a time slot. You need to be there at that time. They won't let you in 10 minutes early. Once you're in, you're in and can take your time inside the church.

2. Do not do the Towers if you are not comfortable with heights or the idea of being in a 5x5 room with 8 people who speak different languages and have no clue, and only a narrow staircase with room for one person to descend. There's an elevator that takes you up and we had the option to take it down. My sister had gone 2 years ago and said elevator up was the only option and she descended the stairs, which was claustrophobic.

Frankly, I don't see the point of the Tower tour because the design of the Towers is for a priest or a monk to climb the stairs. Not a bunch of tourists. They ask you not to take any bags and provide lockers.

It's better to go to MontJuic and see the most stunning views of the city. Gaudi said he did not want the towers to exceed the height of MontJuic to be respectful of nature's dominance. 

Parc Guell
It was my dream to come to Parc Guell and I unfortunately did not have the experience I wanted. My plan was to take a picture on the benches for my Facebook profile. I thought the benches were part of the 'free' area, but it's actually not.

First note is that our tour guide said that the metro stop Vallacare was closer. What he forgot to tell us that it's steeper. There was an intense, San Francisco 45 degree climb to the top. Fortunately, there are escalators, but it is quite steep if you're not in physical shape. As it turns out,there is the Lesseps which is slightly further, but flatter!


We arrived at 5 pm, and were in line for tickets. Someone told us at 6:15 there is free entry. Wow, if we can save almost 30 Euros for 3 of us by waiting 1 hour, why not? We walked around, enjoyed the cafe and returned at 6:15. However, we did not realize the sun would be set and there would be a full moon! There was no lighting and actually quite dangerous. I could not find my family and we were walking down unlit steps with strangers. The Park should actually NOT let people come in after dark.

We would've paid our fees and enjoyed the architecture. It's much too dangerous if there is no lighting. The Parc should actually consider adding lighting and offering a reduced night fee because it would be quite beautiful. (I've duly sent my note to the Parc Guell admin, but they said it's a UNESCO site and cannot be altered with lighting)

Gaudi Tours
We took a walking tour of Gaudi architecture with Running Bean Tours. We started in Placa Reill and covered Palau Guell. We took the metro to Casa Guell and Casa Mila (La Pedrera), and another to Segrada Familia.Our guide Miguel was knowledgeable and patient enough to give lessons on getting around with the metro. The purpose of the tour is to become familiarized with the history and the buildings, and having a local as a guide, we picked up other tips about the city.

Unfortunately, we did not tour the interiors and rooftops of the buildings on this trip. Next time!

Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic)
We stayed in this area, so we became comfortable here. I wanted to note we took a walking tour with Orange Donut and our guide Aleksandra was very good. She was passionate about history and pointed out different aspects of the city's background and Roman roots. The tour was about 2 hours and as Barcelona resident, she had lots of suggestions for where to eat.

Getting to Museums
There were two options - Barcelona Card and the Museum Card. There were 3 of us with different tastes in museums. However, we decided the 'must see' for us were the Miro and the Picasso. Therefore, the Museum Card would not have been useful as you should see at least 3 to make it worth the cost.

The Barcelona card includes train tickets as well as museums, and a discount only on the Gaudi buildings. So if we got a 2 day pass, it may be cost effective, but we're forcing ourselves to see a lot of museums in 2 days. We actually got the T10 metro card and shared it between ourselves (one person passes through and hands over the ticket to the next person). For us, we stayed in the Gothic Quarter the first 2 days and we did not need the metro since we walked everywhere.

Fundacio Joan Miro
This is located in MontJuic and we ended up walking uphill from Plaça d'Espanya. That was quite an intense walk, and they do have escalators. I read later someone said to take a cab. That's an option too.

This is a beautiful building designed by Miro to blend into nature, and the views of the city are amazing. The collection is vast and the audio/video guide is a must. Frankly, his work needs the explanation and there's a deeper understanding of the work, once his inspiration and intentions are understood. In addition to audio, it's also a screen on the device so they display other art and photographs not necessarily on display. There's also a short film about Miro that is worth watching. The museum ends with an embrace from other artists who were friends of Miro and/or influenced by his creativity.

For me, to gain freedom is to gain simplicity. So, in the end, a line, a color is all that’s needed to create a painting. - Joan Miro

Museu Picasso 
Remember the scene in "National Lampoon's European Vacation" when they had only 15 minutes to see the Louvre? After getting lost through the gothic alleyways (thank goodness for GPS!) we managed to find the museum. However it was closing in 45 minutes. We decided to let it go and come back in the morning.

I'm a Picasso fan, so I was eager to see this. I've seen a lot of exhibits in the US, and have been to the Picasso Museum in Paris. The first part about this museum is the building itself. There's a beautiful staircased courtyard, and just beautiful architecture. Wait, I forgot. This is Barcelona, could we expect any less?

What was exciting to me about this collection was Las Meninas. This is Picasso's attempts at recreating Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez. When we were at The Prado in Madrid, we had seen this painting; the audioguide had been in depth about the analysis. So, it was fantastic to see Picasso's artistic process and the progression to achieve this parallel classic.

Side note: Picasso's "Guernica" is at the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid. Again, powerful masterpiece and worth seeing. 

Flamenco

So, when the Picasso museum was closing, we were disappointed and bit grumpy about trying to figure out our next plan. Let's just walk around the old neighborhoods. A gentleman beckoned us from a doorway. There was a flamenco show starting now. Not later, now. At 6.

This was Palau Dalmases, a beautiful old palace with a courtyard as you enter. The decor was beyond eclectic and like a museum. (Check the site's gallery for pictures)
For the entry fee, we got one drink (sangria, anyone?) and front row seats to a fabulous performance. The artists were wonderful, and captivating. The only issue we had was that it was 1 hour performance and artists took a 10 minute break. It was small and intimate and just amazing.

So, it lifted our mood immediately.


Food!
I can't figure out the food in Spain. It's simple. There isn't a lot of spices and there isn't a lot of fancy treatment to the ingredients. So, why does it taste so wonderful? Slice of manchego and bread is wonderful. Sangria is always plentiful - tart and delicious!

Dinner:
Our favorite restaurant was Les Quinze Nits in Plaza Real. We found this place randomly, and tried it on our first night. Since we stayed in the area, we came back 2 more nights for dinner. Actually the last night in Barcelona, we walked from the waterfront to this restaurant because we knew it would be perfect.

The food was delicious, and the prices were quite unbelievable. I've never see lamb or swordfish on a menu for less than 13 Euros. The focaccia is insane, or you can have some Spanish olive oil and bread.

Sit outside, have the sangria by the pitcher and just enjoy Barcelona moments.

Tapas
Spain is all about the tapas. If you don't walk carefully, you might trip over a tapas bar and you'll end up with a cerveza or glass of vino in your hand. I wish Americans had the tapas culture instead of the happy-hour-with-fried-appetizers. The beer is just lighter and easy to drink. I'm actually a white wine drinker, but I practically downed a bottle of Rioja in Barcelona. The sangria is just heaven.

The tension in the family was that beer and wine is 1.50 Euro. My daughter's Fanta is about 2.50 Euro. So, we had to tell her that we couldn't buy her soda all the time, and she fought back with us being 'alcoholics' for having wine every meal.

So one of our tour guides had pointed us a street between the metro stops Paral-el and Poble Sec.It's a great street of tapas bars, which have tapas for 1 Euro. And, these are pretty healthy portions! It was a lot of fun to pick out which ever we wanted and then pay by the toothpick. Our guide had told us that the key was to move between bars. We only went to 2 spots and were quite full!


Monserrat
Montserrat is absolutely beautiful and worth the effort to see. The climb to the top is via cable car or railway.

We took the cable car at the request of my daughter and husband; I had to suck up the fear of heights on this!It takes only 5 minutes to shoot to the top. We had 20 people with us on the journey up, and only the 3 of us on the journey down.

The views are incredible and the monastery is beautiful. We went inside the basilica, which houses the a "black Madonna". We didn't realize that there was a line that allowed visitors to see the Madonna up close. Our line was lengthy and there were worshipers who had come especially to see her. It was actually quite moving experience for us. Just as we reached the alter, a school choir concert began. Their voices sounded heavenly in the vast basilica!

Alongside the "main street", there were local farmers in a line giving out samples of fresh cheeses, jams, honey, and nuts. We had a lot of fun trying different samples and were tempted to buy some cheeses. However, we weren't sure of restrictions taking it back to the US. After I came home, I saw similar cheeses for $50, while these were 10 Euros for a wheel.

Travel Tip: 
We took a train from Plaça d'Espanya to Monserrat. We actually had printed notes from these 2 sites:
Barcelona Tourist Guide
Montserrat Tourist Guide  

And, yes, it was quite confusing! Check the train schedule and give yourself extra time to navigate through the train station. There are assistants for helping you buy the tickets from the kiosk.

It is generally cooler in the mountain so prepare accordingly.

The restaurant at top is a cafeteria style. We had picked up sandwiches in Barcelona, and just had some hot coffee and other extras.

Make the Most of Your Visit to Barcelona
  • Stay local. We stayed 3 areas: Barri Gotic, Avinguda Diagonal near shops and restaurants and last one by the water, near large mall. Switching hotels is not always fun, but we were happy we got to explore 3 different vibes. 
  • With the Barri Gotic, it was great having a hotel nearby where we could crash for a bit, get recharged and then back to exploring the neighborhoods.
  • Be ready to walk. Have your lotions and powders, and a little soap to wash your socks in the hotel room. Bring knee braces and insoles as you will be walking on cobblestones for hours. Being overly prepared, I grabbed an Ace bandage just in case of sprains. 
  • While we loved the Barri Gotic, it does get a little 'creepy' at night. Some nights are hopping and people are everywhere. And, then other nights it all shuts down fairly early. Also, if you have GPS on your phone, it is quite helpful as you're navigating through the medieval labyrinths of streets. Even if you ask for directions, it's quite confusing! Else, try to stick to main streets and save adventures for day time.
  • We followed a walking tour in a guidebook through Poble Nou neighborhood. We weren't too impressed until we stumbled upon cool sculptures at Parc de Diagonal Mar and also saw a small statue of Mahatma Gandhi. 

Language
I studied French for years into college. I lived in NJ, so I've got a little Spanish under my belt. In Madrid, I felt confident that if I stayed on for another month, I'd be golden (rather dorado)! Welcome to Catalyuna! You can try to speak Spanish, you can may be speak French to get by. "Good Morning" is "Bon Dia". Or just skip it and hope for English.