Saturday, August 29, 2015

Sopar amb Estrelles: Dinner Under the Stars at Mount Tibidabo's Observatori Fabra

Barcelona city view from Mount Tibidabo
Sopar Amb Estrelles at the Observatori Fabra was a beautiful event we attended on Tuesday evening for a belated birthday celebration for Andrés.  The Observatory is located at the top of Mount Tibidabo, with a perfect view of the city. I didn't know anyone who had been to the event before, but it had excellent reviews online - the evening's festivities and charming ambiance definitely didn't disappoint!   The link above details the dinner under the stars program, which takes place only in the summer months, until the end of October. It's a romantic, beautiful and classy soiree that begins with a reception where you are given a glass of cava on arrival and have half an hour to marvel at the views.  

While you watch the sunset, you are served an appetizer (caviar and tuna for the carnivores; veggie chips and eggplant hummous for me)  followed by a three course meal prepared by a relatively well known chef called Miguel Guimera, the head chef of the Paradis restaurant in Barcelona. The Paradis catering group is the official group for the FC Barcelona Football club.  Andrés had the Observatory Menu and I had the vegetarian version, of course.  

Photos of Sopar amb Estrellas Observatori Menu are definitely worth taking a look at (the link is to their own Flickr set). For the main course, they serve Bacalao fish with olives and oranges (truffle risotto for me) and for the dessert, we had a beautiful cold mousse/icecream type dessert - check out the photo in the link above; it's hard to describe! I had ordered the celebration package, so we received an extra glass of cava and a delectable piece of chocolate cake.  Happy Birthday, Andrés!
Telescope from 1904 - Europe's oldest telescope still in use!
During the latter portion of the meal, a funny South American man presents a few interesting facts about the solar system and the moon, in particular. The Real Academy of Arts and Sciences runs the observatory and is actively involved in space research there, so it was interesting to look at the moon from their point of view! Then, there is a tour of the history of the Observatory, and then an explanation of the historic pieces on display in the museum room. Finally, we had a fantastic view of the moon from a giant telescope that you have to take a flight of stairs to reach! There is also a beautiful terrace where you can check out the view again.  I love Barcelona - it's gorgeous!  I feel so lucky to be here!

Barcelona night city view from Observatori Fabra

Sapna & Andres at Observatori Fabra Sopar amb Estrelles, Aug 25, 2015

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Festa Major de Gracia: Barcelona's Biggest Summer Festival

Festa Major de Gracia is the biggest summer festival in the city, so Anna G, Cristina and I decided to check it out on Thursday, the second last day. Neighbours who live in 18 streets in Gracia, most likely via a neighbourhood organization, choose a theme and create a fantastic display outside their apartments and balconies, above the tiny, winding streets of this beautiful and historic neighbourhood. The link to the festival above shows the advertisement posters for each street, if you'd like to check them out! Gracia is a bit of an artsy neighbourhood - where I took my art class at Espai Medusa actually - so it's a perfect fit.

Carrer Verdi, which displayed a beautiful Japanese theme this year, has won first prize 9 out of the last 13  years the festival has been running, this year included.  The runners-up were Carrer Fraternitat, with a monster theme and Sant Antoni, with a Paris theme - I don't remember now if that's the same one that had Moulin Rouge or not - but the reanactment of Moulin Rouge was artistic. Carrer Mozart won for best use of recycled materials, which was also beautiful.

Next year I will definitely visit all the streets, bring my proper camera (looks like my mobile camera has now officially died and will not take photos anyway), and attend the festival on the first day when the displays are new and have not been trampled through by thousands of people ---and on the last day, when they apparently have a fireworks in the street type of display where you should wear old clothes, because you are likely to get them singed by sparks.

Japanese dragon, Carrer Verdi

Sapna, Anna G, Cristina - photo credit to Anna!

Japanese lanterns

Sumo Wrestler @ Carrer Verdi, Barcelona

Carrer Fraternitat

Carrer Mozart
One of my favourite aspects of Barcelona is the different neighbourhoods - they actually seem like mini-towns or cities; it's like Barcelona is a city of mini-cities, all with their own style. Apparently there are festivals in different neighbourhoods too, but I have yet to check them out.  Festa Major de Sants is going on now, and it's only a 10 minute walk from my house, so I'll have to walk over there with Kiara and see what we find. I promise that next year's post on Festa Major de Gracia will be much better - and include a slideshow of all the streets!  

I love living in Barcelona. Mental note: Do not plan to actually get any PhD work done in August.  This "the whole city is on holiday" atmosphere is much too contagious. There are guilty piles of pilot data analysis which absolutely must be done before my real data collection the weeks of September 14th and 22nd - on my desk (well, on my figurative desk - memory sticks and computer files are more like it). 

Don't worry, you haven't missed the "special event" I've been on's on Tuesday (a birthday surprise for someone who could potentially be readng this, so my lips are sealed until my next post ;)

Stay tuned!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Sunset Picnic at Montjuic Park with My Lab: A Beautiful Sunday

My beautiful Lab/Shepherd cross Kiara and me

Anna G. and Kiara
Puppy water bottle
 Last Sunday evening, Anna G and I decided to take Kiara to Montjuic park for a sunset picnic. Just a few minutes walk from Placa Espanya, this is a gorgeous park that is mostly known to tourists for its magic fountain, which I'll get to at the end of this post. When Sean and I went to Montjuic in early June during the day, it was nearly empty. Anna and I were also surprised at how few people there were around 8pm on a Sunday.

Here's a tip:  Don't be lazy, and take the stairs as far up as you can go.  It's like a mini-city up there. We stopped at the fields outside the Olympic Park, where Kiara actually PLAYED BALL. She hasn't done that all year and I thought it was because my little baby is almost six and just didn't want to run around like crazy after her CCL - Canine Cruciate Ligament - leg surgery  in England last year. It turns out she just needed REAL fields, not the small parks that are surrounded by roads and beaches and cars and too many people. She was chasing and fetching and returning the ball like a little puppy :) I love my pup so much...I am SO lucky to have her, and the best part of summer is having more time to spend with her. By the way, this is how K drinks water: straight from the  1.5 litre water was empty fast!!!
We had a fairly healthy picnic - Anna made potatoes with herbs, and I made a chickpea spinach tofu salad; we had a bunch of fruit for dessert, which Kiara eagerly waited for! Oh, and wine, of course. We are in Europe - wine is a given!!!
Sapna and Anna selfie
Healthy Picnic at Montjuic Park

Sapna and Kiara at sunset/twilight

Sunset at the artistic Montjuic Olympic Park
Okay, so the part about Montjuic's Magic Fountain -the tourist trap that is beautiful, but just TOO full of tourists. It's a colourful fountain show that happens Thursday-Sunday evenings at 9pm from March to October , and Fridays and Saturdays the rest of the year. I had seen it several times already, but this time, we just happened to be walking Kiara down the hill when it was on.  It is a MUCH better view from up there and there are no tourists tripping over their own feet trying to take pictures in the dark!!! It's also very romantic with the lights and the night view of the city, so I've mentioned it to Andrés and we'll definitely be doing a sunset picnic here in September, once I return from the two weddings, day in the English countryside with Juliet  - remember when we had a  girls' weekend at Juliet's parents' Tudor home in Bury St Edmunds?- and seeing Benedict Cumberbach in Hamlet in London with Alexandra.

Montjuic Magic Fountain - View from top of the hill
Montjuic Magic Fountain - view from the touristy part
I will have to get pilot data analysis done before I leave in a couple weeks - eek that will be a crazy week - but so far this summer has been amazing. Stay tuned for a special event - now moved to the 25th - that I'll definitely have an incredible update post on!!!

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Piano & Painting A Decade Later: My Return to Artistic Childhood Passions

Yamaha YDP-142 and my audience
Have you ever stopped a hobby and regretted it years later? Every time I heard the piano over the past decade, I kept wondering why I had quit. After completing Grade 9 Piano  - the second highest level- and corresponding Music History 5, Harmony 4 (composition theory) courses at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada, I stopped playing this beautiful instrument at the age of 19. My excuse back then was the stress and intensity of the exams on top of university and work/internships and tutoring - but I think the truth is that I needed a change of scenery, a change of routine.

The Intense Organization Week 
For the first time in a long time, I have had a few weeks off to organize/sort out my life while actually knowing where I will be for the next three years  - very different to my panicked job search/scary debt accumulation 6 month period in Oxford in 2013-early 2014, or various frantic visa-motivated trips to Canada and back to Europe over the past three years.

I spent the first ten half days, while still working on my PhD the other half, super cleaning and boxing away any ugly decorative pieces and dishes that came with my furnished 'muy bien equipado' apartment (such as a picture of a lemon, a picture of Mother Goose looking avians, extra plastic chairs, horrible bedding and Nutella drinking glasses) and storing them in IKEA boxes on the terrace shelf. I also chucked the 25 year old TV into the bottom shelf of the cupboard. I have my own stuff from the UK. Thank goodness for the terrace shelf - without it, my place would be a mix of their juvenile yet eclectic style and mine.

Sidenote: - I LOVE Ralph Lauren towels - and always have. I thought I had guiltily fallen into a marketing trap, so I went shopping and asked advice at El Corte Ingles, looking for towels of the same softness and coziness  - not showing them the brand. Turns out RL towels ARE super good quality - and other brands that quality are the same price. Time to wait for xmas super sales ;)

The Piano

Then, I bought this beauty with my 30th birthday money I'd been saving for a good use and a bit extra:

The Yamaha YDP-142 semi-portable digital wonder -with all three pedals, full 88 graded hammer keys, and an adjustable bench. I won't detail the hell of bench assembly, but let's just say that piano bench manufacturers need to make instruction booklets!!  My shopping experience was quite simple due to my budget, but I have to say the YDPs beat the P-Series in my opinion because they have integrated pedals; the P115 now comes with a full 'pedalera' attachment, but by the time you add the stand, it works out to exactly the same price.

 Also, Musical Fuste lost my business because of their pushy sales manager - the actual sales  guy was incredibly helpful - but all of a sudden the owner arrived and they were pushing for me to leave a deposit and buy the P115 THAT DAY because oh-my-goodness they may run out and they are closed for holidays next week for a month so it might not deliver on time. So, I told them as abruptly as I could in Spanish that I wasn't about to buy a piano in 5 minutes. I headed over to Union Musical. They had the Yamaha version of the Kawai I had tried out at Musical Fuste and let me play around.

The ironic part is...I bought the piano that same day!! This place is actually open all summer, too.

In store, I was super embarrassed at my lack of ability to play, and just tried out a few chords and basic scales; I had the owners play pieces so I could hear the different sounds of the brands of pianos, explaining that it had been 10 years since I touched the instrument.

But guess what?!! As soon as the piano was delivered, with a book of 50 songs, I opened up Fur Elise and I could play it. Yup, my piano skills are of at least Grade 4 level ;)  I have some practicing to do to get back to beginning Grade 10. Oh, and apparently I have one very intent audience member - she calms down instantly when I play the piano and she lets me put the headphones on her - that's saying a lot, since sunglasses and hats get pawed right off. Looks like I'll need a second pair ;)


I can't claim that I used to paint regularly, but I did take one oil painting Van Gogh copy class in the winter of 2005 and continued making my own paintings for a year. So I decided to check out Espai Medusa's free trial class, and the owner convinced me to give acrylics a try - they dry faster, making it easier to work on every day and much less complicated to transport to and from class. So, I am currently working on a copy of Edward Hopper's 'A Room in New York'. Below is a photo of the original and where I am so far. Two, three hour classes left - hopefully I can finish it!
E. Hopper's 'A Room in New York'

My in-progress copy of E. Hopper
Clearly, I have some learning to do about shadows, colour-mixing and making people look more real :)

Anyway, I will get back to my fun-filled Sunday now and start pilot data analysis on a weekday - tomorrow...? I seem to be in holiday mode now. Stay tuned for Montjuic sunset picnic pictures and a post on a special event I'll be attending in less than ten days!