Sunday, September 27, 2015

Freixenet Cava Factory Tour

When I was growing up in Philadelphia, my parents would sometimes buy Champagne to celebrate New Year's. Even though it's been way over 20 years, I can remember that they'd buy Freixenet.

Oh, and, by the way, "Champagne" is called Cava in Catalunya (and Sparkling Wine in California). At the time, I didn't know the difference; it was all Champagne...

So, anyway, the Freixenet Cava factory is only about a 45-minute train ride from Barcelona. Time for a visit!

There's a whole wine-and-Cava growing region just outside the city with many different places you can visit. Codorniu, which I went to a few years ago, and Freixenet are located near the village of Sant Sadurni d'Anoia. Both offer similar tours where they teach you about Cava and walk you through some of the storage and production areas. Although the Codorniu buildings are more beautiful, the Freixenet's underground storage areas are also very cool.

I got lucky as my tour was in English. Score! The guide did a good job explaining the different types of grapes and Cavas. I think I know enough now that I have some reference and can actually absorb the information.

This time I learned the difference between the sugar content of the various Cavas and Champagnes. Not that sweeter is better or worse but only Brut Nature has no added sugar, which I often prefer because it's dryer. I never really knew why until now.

It was pretty late in the day when I did the tour and the production and distribution facilities were closed (although I'm really not sure if they're ever included on the tour). We did get to see some old production methods and equipment in one of the underground rooms.

A barrel-storage area on our way to the tram for our ride back up to street level:

Freixenet and Codorniu have similar offerings and prices. Freixenet wins for their tasting/tapas bar and convenience (right next to the train station) but, like I said, Codorniu's Cadafalch-designed building wins for beauty.

There's also a bunch of other wineries and tasting rooms around Sant Sadurni d'Anoia, which I haven't yet visited. When you come to see us, you could easily do both factory tours in the same day. Hint hint!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Casa Lleo Morera

Just up from Plaza Catalunya, on Passeig de Gracia, is a block called la Manzana de la Discordia (literally the "apple of discord" but meaning something like "the mismatched block") where there are several Modernist buildings. The most famous of which is Casa Batllo and next door to that is the lesser-known but also beautiful Casa Amatller. At the other end of the block is the Casa Lleo i Morera, which was just renovated and opened to the public not too long ago. Again, using our local's 50% off coupons (got love that stuff), we went for a guided tour.

It's a bit hard to tell in this photo but the building's facade is full of sculptures of things like dragons, flowers, and even high-tech items of the day such as the camera, the phonograph, and the telephone. If they did the building today, they'd probably only have to have a sculpture of a smartphone.

It's been a while since I've written a story about a particular house or building but this one merits it. Like its neighbors, the house started out as an older, much plainer building. Remodeled in 1902 by Lluis Domenech i Montaner, who also did the incredibly-ornate Hospital Sant Pau, the Hotel EspaƱa, and the even-more-incredibly-ornate Palau de la Musica Catalana (yes, there's a theme here), the house is, well, pretty amazing.

At street level looking in the front door.

Domenech i Montaner was chosen by Francesca Morera i Ortiz to redo the house after she inherited it from her uncle. Unfortunately she died and her son Albert Lleo i Morera, who was not only a doctor but a researcher and inventor, added his touches and lived in the house with his family.

A sitting room and, through the doors, a larger living-style room.

Situated at the corner of two streets, the house's first floor wall is all glass, which allowed both lots of light in as well as the family to be (well) seen from outside. The local term for the floor above street level is "la planta noble", or the noble level (or floor). The Lleo i Morera clan were certainly living large.

The royal view out towards Passeig de Gracia and the cross street, Consel de Cent.

Probably the most surprising feature is the Eusebi Arnau designed sculptures depicting "The Nurse of the Child King", which is a Catalan children's story. It's, if I remember correctly, about a nurse who cares for the prince but wakes up to find him dead. She then does several things to gain God's favor so he'd help her. Depending on the version being told, the prince either ends up alive or dead. Lleo i Morero chose this theme to honor his second child who died not long after birth.

The reception area of the house where you can see the nurse and the prince:

At the other, more-private end of the house is another of the highlights, a stained glass atrium and sitting area. Beyond the glass wall is a large outdoor patio.

As we were just about to head out, the guide pointed out a section of wall where the tile mural had been left unfinished due to a large piece of furniture blocking access. If you look at the photo below, you'll see blue-and-white tiles just above the wood-paneled wall. It's really not that big of a deal but it reminded me that, no matter what job you're doing, it's the details that really matter. After all these years, what's noticeable is the tiny part the artist didn't finish...

Oh, and Diana pointed out that the repair job was a bit Ecce Homo. I loved the analogy and am laughing even now while writing this. Remember kids, details.

I'm constantly amazed at how many things there are still to see in such a relatively small city. If you haven't been here yet, get on it!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Modernist-Era Bar Crawl

Like most cities, Barcelona is divided into a bunch of different neighborhoods (districts), each of which developed at some point during the city's approximately 2000 year history. There are newer, semi-suburban areas like Vall d'Hebron. Places that used to be different towns, like Gracia. And many more. Each has its own feel and, for many, a typical architectural style that matches when they were built up.

Probably the most iconic areas are the old city (Ciutat Vella), which dates from even before Roman times, and the Eixample, which grew during the 1888 Barcelona Universal Exposition era. The Eixample in particular is known for its many Modernist-style buildings, which include famous building like Casa Batllo and La Pedrera among thousands more. (Oh, and in case you haven't been here or aren't familiar, Modernism is what Art Nouveau is called in Barcelona.)

One district that's not as well known for Modernist-era buildings is the Raval. This neighborhood developed just outside (or, to the left of) Barcelona's second, "newer" city wall, which ran down where La Rambla is today between the older Gothic and newer Poble Sec neighborhoods.

So when we recently found a Friday night Modernist tour and Raval bar crawl in a locals-only discount pack, we couldn't resist.

The Raval has always been working-class and, more recently, a bit hippy/artsy. It was (is?) known as Barcelona's red-light district complete with bordellos, sketchy drinking establishments, dance halls like La Paloma below, and other places you'd prefer your teenage daughter not go.

Many of these businesses developed as people began to have the time and money to eat and drink outside the house. Stuff we take for granted, such as restaurants and bars, didn't become "a thing" until the mid-1800s. The nearby Rambla and Passeig de Gracia are probably the best examples of this societal change in Barcelona.

Even today, I'd venture a guess that the vast majority of Barcelona natives rarely go to the Raval. It's still has a somewhat-bad reputation and remains, well, let's say, a bit "rough". One of our stops was at the Bar Mariella, which is located right in the mix of what gives the Raval its reputation. An old artist-and-absinthe place, it bills itself as the oldest continuously-operating bar in Barcelona.

Like pretty much every other bar in Europe, Hemingway used to hang out here (that guy got around!) as did a bunch of other famous folks in their day. Who knows if that was/is the case, but today it seems to be mostly drunken students and tourists. It's intentionally un-renovated complete with peeling paint, black sticky muck on the "decorative" liquor bottles, and a flavor you can, umm, taste when you walk through the door.

The tour included a drink of our choice at the last bar we visited, the London Bar, which is just up from Palau Guell. I, of course, opted for the absinthe, which included getting to watch the dramatic preparation process.

Absinthe, if you haven't had one, is something like a flaming Jagermeister. Here's a video of the preparation:

Even after living in Barcelona this long, I am still learning so much about the city's history, which our excellent guide brought to life. Now, onto the next tour!