Day 104: Casa Batllo.

Have you ever seen those stout, multi-faceted candles made with all kinds of crazy colours and objects mixed throughout the wax?  Sometimes I wonder if watching one burn wasn’t part of what influenced Antoni Gaudi in his architectural style, famous examples of which can be found throughout Barcelona.  Probably the most renowned and fascinating ‘regular’ building bearing his distinctive distorted trademark is Casa Batllo, on Passeig de Gracia, in the heart of the city.

While I have briskly walked by this incredible building dozens of times, I have never bothered to wait in the usually lengthy queue to see what treasures its cavernous walls might be guarding.  Until today.  Like peeling back the layers of an onion, the complementary audio guide continued to point out increasingly interesting features and anecdotes about this jaw-dropping structure.

From the first banister right through to the magnificent elevator shaft, and from the dining hall with its outdoor terrace to the celebrated rooftop chimneys, not one corner of the house was without unusual charm and awe.  I kept thinking about what a pain it would be to paint a house like that, without a single straight wall in the place.  You could never build it nowadays in North America, as they don’t make drywall in mosaic shapes and sizes.  It truly is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.


After spending a good amount of quality time wandering throughout the many levels of the house and its curiously placed upper level gift shop, we proceeded to walk by the equally stunning Casa Calvet, which now houses a restaurant of the same name, along with a set of exclusive apartments, the lobby of which is apparently off limits to photo-snapping Gaudi enthusiasts.  Or so I’ve heard.

The afternoon did not seem complete without a walk through the ever-evolving Sagrada Familia church, Gaudi’s ultimate, unfinished gift to the city, which, after much deliberation and consternation by the Catalans, is finally nearing completion.  It is simply unbelievably breath-taking, and captivates the imagination of all who enter.  It also includes a nice exhibit that explains some of the natural world’s influences on Gaudi’s work.

I consistently return to see this structure every time I visit the city, and am constantly amazed by the progress of the decades-long finalization project.  The cathedral continues to hold the title of the number one tourist destination in all of Barcelona, and with very good reason.  It humbly defies every principle of straight lines construction, leaving you to contemplate what other things you take for granted that you might want to re-examine.  Simply put, it takes out of the box thinking to a whole new level!


Sadly, there was not time to visit Parc Guell today, which remains a magical place close to my heart, and truly unlike any other on earth.  If you are planning on visiting Barcelona someday soon, and you have a little Gaudi fetish, these four places should be more than enough to help you scratch that itch for some time.  Enjoy!

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Day 103: All New Tapas in Barcelona.

So much goodness under one roof!

It’s no secret that I love food.  And the more bite-sized, flavourful taste sensations that you can put on a table full of friends, accompanied by some good wine, the better.  Spain, in my humble opinion, has got this particular gastronomical art form perfected – and it’s known as tapas (or pintxos, depending on the region).  With a bountiful selection of produce available such as can be found at the 12th century Boqueria market, inspiration is always close at hand.

Having spent a good deal of time in Spain over the years, primarily in Barcelona, I have had a chance to sample many of these tasty concoctions, and have been rarely, if ever, disappointed.  If you like something, great – order another!  If not, well, no big deal – it was just a mouthful anyway.  For the commitment phobes in the crowd, this is the Rolls Royce of dining – it simply doesn’t get any better than this.

Step inside and prepare to be dazzled!

So I burdened myself shortly after returning to this fabulous city to see if I could enjoy a meal consisting entirely of brand new to me tapas.  While the enormity of the task seemed daunting at first (oh the hardship!), I felt confident that the friendly bartender at Divinus was up to the challenge.

First up?  A gorgeous ‘bite’ of smoked salmon stuffed with goat cheese, skewered with a giant prawn and cherry tomato served on a canapé toast.  Smoked salmon is surprisingly not very common in this country, which is pretty well the only reason I can think of that I had not come across this particular combination before.  Don’t worry, it was accompanied by a delicious glass of vino tinto.  Divinus is a civilized institution, after all.


Next up was an incredible platter of monkfish carpaccio.  Yep, you read that right.  I’m glad that it’s not my job to slice the raw monkfish so incredibly, delicately thin without tearing it, because let’s face it – my patience does not lend itself in that particular direction.  It came with some small, canapé crackers and olive oil to allow you to be the artisan of your own individual bites.  I did not shy away from the task.  This was hands-down the best thing I ate over the course of the evening, basket of bread aside.

Third offering was a little bit out there – razorback clams.  These particular shellfish are not for the faint of heart, and are an acquired taste.  Being a fan of calamari, octopus and eel already, I managed to enjoy the elongated creatures that were well steeped in garlic butter.  My dining companion, however, gave them a pass.

All in all, I hope you managed to savour these joyful bites of deliciousness vicariously through my photos, and perhaps get inspired to try a few bite-sized creations of your own.  Accompanied by a yummy bottle of Rioja, of course.  Saludos!

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Day 102: 1000 Tastes of Toronto.

Mmmmm… Food!  Does anyone else associate Luminato with tasty treats, besides moi?  The festival runs from June 8-17, and, in between spectacular events showcasing visual arts, literature, music, and magic, you will also find some of the city’s best morsels being provocatively touted at the Distillery District June 9-10.  Sponsored by President’s Choice, the event surely has something to whet even the fussiest of appetites.

I decided to saunter down to the 1000 Tastes of Toronto today for a few farewell bites to remember the city by, as a pre-cursor to my flight to Spain this afternoon.  As much as I am looking forward to gorging myself on tapas and sangria, it’s hard to beat the tremendous diversity and quality that this city has to offer in the way of food.  Plus, there’s no time like the present to get in one last preparatory walk in the midday sun to ensure I bring a suitable sunburn base with me to Spain.

It was impossible to miss the signs nudging you towards the beautiful grounds as you approached the Distillery.  The fact that the roads were closed to traffic was also a good indication.  I merrily sauntered down Mill Street past the plethora of booths catering to the variety of palates in this city, gazing longingly at the dishes in front of each customer sitting at the long communal table.  This was going to be good!  The wood-burning oven that Queen Margherita Pizza toted with them was certainly a crowd pleaser.

I made my way into the grounds and was not disappointed.  Right in the middle of the main street was the huge PC 1000 Plates display, where anyone can write their favourite childhood food memory on a biodegradable styrofoam plate, that then gets put up on the wall to be shared for everyone to see.  It was lovely, and did a fine job to get the saliva juices flowing.  I rounded the corner and took advantage of the Water Wheels stand that sold a reusable plastic cup for a loonie, with endless refills.  Nice!  That was all the motivation I needed to indulge in some of my favourite decadent treats.

Up first was, of course, a little serving of poutine from Poutini’s.  I mean, who can resist?  There were plenty of other tempting treats along the way, including fish and chips from Chippy’s, and oysters from Rodney’s Oyster House.  I followed it up with carrot cake doughnuts and a raspberry ice cream bar from LPK’s culinary groove.  What’s not to like?  Delicious!  Hopefully, this will keep my memories of home alive over my upcoming adventures walking the Camino.  Wish me luck!


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Day 101: Russian Doll Painting Workshop.

The lofty goal…

You know what time it is – why, Super Saver Saturdays, of course!  Today’s voucher for a Matryoshka Russian doll making workshop (paid $35, retail value $110) took me all the way behind the no-longer-iron curtain, which has apparently moved to near Yonge and Sheppard, into the world of painting Russian nested dolls.

I, for one, was completely unaware that the funky hollow wooden doll that comes apart in the middle to reveal a whole extended family, of which I was given a set as a child, had such a rich history to it.  Like many Russian hobbies, it also had a name that was a whole lot of fun to say when shooting vodka – at least, so I’ve heard.

The blank canvas.

I arrived in time for the video presentation on examples of Russian painting styles throughout the ages, which proved to be quite interesting.  We were also entertained with a brief video that showed the handcrafting of the raw dolls themselves in Russian woodworking studios.  We had plenty of tea and traditional Russian biscuits known as priyanik (for the rich) and sushki (for the poor) to nibble on throughout the day, while Russian music played in the background to help release our inner Raphaels – or more like Picasso, in my case.

Practice makes… a good start.

Nathalie was our instructor, and she smartly coached us on a few techniques that we first attempted on paper before trying to put them into actual practice on our blank wooden dolls. It didn’t take long before some of us strayed completely from the traditional style to paint our own unique masterpieces.  I mean, I did try some of the things Nathalie painstakingly showed us again and again on paper, but somehow, they just didn’t quite look the same on the rounded dolls, go figure.

The class masterpieces.

While a couple of the girls in the workshop did follow the instructions almost to the letter, and produced some lovely pieces (Nathalie informed us that we would probably only be able to complete painting one or two dolls in the four-hour workshop), I managed to finish all five of mine.  Curiously, no one else tried to claim them as their own, but they did all enthusiastically comment on their uniqueness.  I don’t know, I’m pretty pleased with them.  I mean, let’s be honest, they could have turned out a heckuva lot worse!

My beautiful, well, original at least, creations.

All in all, it was a fun way to spend an afternoon, doing something completely different that made you use a part of your brain that might not get exercised very often.  I felt transported out of my usual surroundings, forgetting my day to day life, and was able to concentrate on a small family of shiny objects.  Plus, I got to take home my beautiful creations, and contemplated which one of my friends or family members should be so lucky as to receive this very personalized homemade gift.  Could it be you?

Let them eat cake. Or sushki.

Mmm… cookies!

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Day 100: Own and Wear CROCS in Public.

Okay, it’s time for another confession.  While I am a far cry from a fashionista, as I typically let trends pass me right by, keeping more to a classic style (read between the lines here: this voucher queen is frugal!), I just can’t stand it when people wear CROCS out in public.  There, I’ve said it.

You know the ones – those round-toed, plastic clogs with all the holes perforated on top and the plastic strap around the back of the heel that some children have taken to bedazzling with little pins?  Maybe it’s the flashback to the jelly shoes of the eighties, to which I had a similar allergic reaction; it’s hard to say.  I mean, if people want to wear them at home or in their garden, by all means – I get that they are undoubtedly comfortable and water-resistant.  But, much like pyjamas, some things are simply not meant to be worn outside the confines of your own property.

Well, after all my rantings about these landfilling plastic concoctions, today, I got schooled.  Apparently, CROCS have evolved.  I mean, not exactly in the same way that human beings have, you know, from amoebas and monkeys and whatnot, but CROCS have managed to expand their repertoire.  True story!  I actually stepped foot inside the mother ship – the gigantic store on Queen West, near Spadina – and did not immediately burst into flames, as any reasonable person might expect from all these years of blasphemy.

Who knew CROCS were so much like rabbits, and had multiplied into so many different colours and styles?  I even found a pair of wedges that would pass for regular footwear, without the telltale ugh-factor.  And – drumroll please – I actually bought them!  But it didn’t stop there… I further rose to the challenge, and wore them outside my house, in public!  And the world did not collapse unto itself and implode, as any reasonable being may have anticipated.

The strangest part was that they were both somewhat stylish and comfortable at the same time, which, as all women know, put them into that divine intervention segment of female footwear.  I even showed them to a group of girlfriends who had gathered that evening to bid farewell to one of the gang who was making the move to the nether-regions known as suburban, chic, Oakville, and they were all as surprised as I had been to learn the deep dark secret of their origin.

So the real question here is, will I wear them again in the company of strangers?  The surprising (at least to me) answer is, yes!  I am no longer ashamed to admit it: my name is LaLa, and I own a pair of CROCS (keeping in mind that they are not of the classic clog variety – I’m afraid some gulfs are simply too wide to bridge… As we all know, that would be right up there with wearing hip waders to work, which, unless you’re in the fishing or disposal business or you’re one of the guys from Mythbusters, is just inappropriate).  Any questions?

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