Barcelona, 2015

Because the main grant had ended that was supporting our twice a year project weeks, the organising people decided to mix things up a bit and have us piggy back on another conference that was Europe based. The hope was that it would allow more European collaborators to join in without the expense and time of flying out to Utah, USA. In the end, I think that the Boston contingent was still the largest, but I was happy to get a chance to visit Spain for the first time. The work week was shifted so that we'd have a stretch before the other conference started to get our work done, which meant having to be there and ready to work on the Sunday night. I'd grabbed an Air Canada flight after verifying that North American airlines were okay to charge to the grant (the London, Ontario crew were flying on the same airline after all), though as usual for flying from the east coast of the USA to Europe, it was a red eye. I came in just under two days early to adjust to the time zone and to get some touristing in, pumping all of my friends for the top things to do in Barcelona and pre-buying a lot of attraction tickets through the super easy online interfaces. I even found an opera that I could go to. :-)

Friday June 19, 2015

I had a mid afternoon flight so I worked from home in the morning and got myself organised to head to the airport for my 3pm hop up to Toronto before the red eye over to Spain. Since I've been a loyal airline member for years, oh, and it was an international flight, I had a free checked bag, so I went with a larger suitcase with some room to bring back souveniers. :-) I checked in my last bit of code at just past noon, made myself lunch, took a bath and double checked that I'd closed up my apartment for a decent time away. My taxi to the airport was waiting for me when I got downstairs. It was muggy out, luckily the air conditioning was good. We hit some Cape traffic, but there wasn't a line to check in my suitcase. The attendant had to correct me with my destination city, he wanted Toronto instead of Barcelona but it wasn't clear if I'd have to pick up my suitcase there or if it would be checked through. I was leaving through the small lounge area in terminal B that the smaller Air Canada planes use, it looks like they've finally installed a scanner there instead of just keeping the metal detector. :-/ I was ready to go through before 1:30 for my 3:05 flight, but I hung out before security for a while since there wasn't much on the other side of it. I had a larger person sitting next to me (they were using a belt extender) but the seats were big enough that we didn't overlap much. It was a bumpy ride going up to cruising altitude and coming down from it, but smooth while we were up there.

We landed early and I had an easy connection to my European flight. I walked through terminal E, past a desk where they verified my destination, no security. Gate E69 was a bit hidden, but they had one of the good wifi hot spots there, and I was enjoying listening to Lovecats and Fame over the speakers in the open and airy lounge, out of the way of people rushing around. Once I'd found it and checked in online for any updates, I hit up Marathi for dinner, getting sag paneer and a potato salad (had to ask for a receipt, getting into business travel mode). They announced a gate change, I think swapping with the flight to Edinburgh, so I made my way to the new (busy) gate and settled in with my laptop to pass the time until boarding. I wanted to take some photos off of my camera's memory card so that I could take all the pictures in Spain, so I got on that and sent some FB messages to while away the time. I also had some time to read my book while waiting.

Got on the plane finally and was a bit worried at the height of the very tall dude behind me, I wasn't able to put my seat back very far before crunching his knees. I had a sound sleeper beside me at least, but still definitely prefer getting a two person row rather than three for red eye flights. The flight attendants were renting out iPads to watch movies, I would have needed to download the Air Canada app on my phone in order to use it, but passed on the potential for movie watching in favour of trying to sleep. Just as I was about to take a melatonin pill they served my requested Asian vegetarian meal (sweet potato with aloo ghobi). After I was done eating, I put in ear plugs under my noise cancelling headphones and settled in to doze, getting sleep on and off as we winged across the Atlantic. The views out the window as we left Toronto and again as we passed over the maritimes were gorgeous.

Saturday June 20, 2015

They woke me up to offer breakfast, asked for the fruit plate option and asked for hot tea. There was an announcement that we had 1.5 hours to go before landing, these shorter overnight flights are horrible for even attempting a full night's sleep, so much time is taken up getting up to and down from cruising altitude and then feeding us. I might try going back to Virgin with the food on demand. We had a bumpy landing in Spain and there was a horde of people at passport control all trying to funnel into the lines, but at least it was generally moving. I got stamped in with no talking by the officer and my suitcase came out quickly. I grabbed some cash from an ATM and checked out the options for getting a bus into the city near my hotel. The line was long, I was feeling jet lagged, and I could expense it, so I went over to the taxi line. I got a female driver who spoke very little English, but she was able to get my to my hotel okay once I showed her the address, it was a fast drive.

My hotel was right off of a major road (Diagonal, many lanes, with a centre divider, easy to spot on maps), but the entrance was on a side street that was much quieter (you could walk through an open air mall food court to get to the main street). The lobby was very strongly scented, I was holding my breath most times when I would go through. My room wasn't going to be ready until 3pm, so after taking advantage of the free wifi, the lobby bathroom to wash my face and freshen up a bit, I converted to tourist mode and checked my bags to head out to wander.

I ran into my co-worker Sonia as I was heading out and we walked together until she broke off to look for a cafe to work in. The hotel buffet had closed at 11am, minutes before I walked in to see if I could get some food. I had pre-purchased a timed ticket to look at the Sagrada Familia for that afternoon at 2pm and had time to walk instead of taking the subway to the Monumental stop. Walking along the big main road toward the turn off to the unfinished Gaudi cathedral, I stopped in at an organic supermarket to get some food (peach juice, gluten free muffins and some gouda) and eat in their cafe area (one level down from the supermarket area). I also went up to their restaurant area to use the bathroom since I still had a fair ways to walk to the cathedral. Continuing on, I spotted a lounging giraffe statue at the intersection with the famous pedestrian walkway Las Ramblas, it didn't look too crowded at that point so I turned down it to check it out for a bit, then walked back across to the main Diagonal. I spotted a cute t-shirt with the printing "I get paid to swagger" but it was black on white so I passed on buying it as a joking present. :-)

I finally made it to the park next to La Sagrada Familia and was able to nab a spot on a shady bench to recover from the hot walk. I realised I was feeling dehydrated and grabbed some water at a convenience store (losing my bench spot immediately, it was busy with people waiting to go into the cathedral). I got to the gate at exactly 2, timing my walk from the hotel perfectly. :-) The guards passed me through the turnstiles, and then there was a short line for picking up the audio tour necklaces. I was confused for a bit, they'd apparently swapped around the entrance location since making the audio tour and it started on the other facade (Passion, while I went in the Nativity side). It was pretty crowded inside, but it was amazing with the light streaming in rainbows through all of the stained glass windows. The centre of the cathedral was roped off for a quieter section of pews where people could pray. I had to wait for one elevator of people to go up the Passion tower and then I was crowding in with a small group and an operator to head up and up and up. Then we climbed more stairs to get to the tower lookout. It was a gorgeous day with clear views across the city to the water (as well as down into the park where I'd rested) and I got to see the details of the toppers on the upper levels of the cathedral. There was an open bridge that was a bit scary to go across, especially edging around people, but I kept one hand on the ceramic mosaics of the wall and made it through (helped that it was short). :-) Back down via some stairs and the elevator and I got reoriented onto the audio tour order to finish it up now that my time slot in the tower was past. There was no access to the crypt where Gaudi was buried. I browsed through the gift shop, grabbing some post cards and was out by 3:30 with a bit of beauty fatigue.

I walked back to Diagonal and had to stop for food. I found a cafe, La Danesa, on a corner with a patio hemmed in by trees and with just enough shade to refresh me and had a lovely outdoor meal of quiche, tuna salad and tea for 8 Euros. It was the perfect touristing relaxing moment. I'd also had a timed entry ticket for La Pedrera/Casa Mila and despite it being a bit further off of Diagonal than I'd thought, I made it right on time. It was fascinating and beautiful with multiple courtyards, a multilevel roof and attic. I also got to see an apartment with furnishings as well, it must have been amazing to live in this building. My camera battery was dying but I decided to go on to Casa Batllo since it was nearby (no advance ticket required either), and I was able to conserve my battery power to get interior pictures, just none of the facade as the camera died for good as I came out.

Casa Batllo was totally sea themed, it was awesome. The video tour was taking advantage of localising the device and putting overlays on what you turned it to look it. It had skylights turning into sea turtles and swimming away, vents morphing into gills, furniture overlaid on bare rooms. There were blue tiles and glass in so many shades everywhere, more catenery arches in the attic, tiled chimneys on the roof. I loved it. :-) I did every single bit of the tour, completely enchanted. Coming back out into the street I noticed that the tiles on the sidewalk continued the sea theme as well.

I grabbed a to go cup of tea from Starbucks for the walk back to my hotel, it was still warm but I was trying to stay on the shady parts of the street to avoid having to reapply sunblock. My hat helped a lot, and I had my cargo pants stuffed full of all the bits and pieces I'd wandered around with and postcards I'd picked up. I also moved my camera case to my belt so that my shoulder wasn't being irritated by the narrow strap. Made it back at around 8 in the long golden hour and checked in at the desk to pick up my suitcase and get my room key. Tina, Ron and Sandy were there, getting ready to leave for supper. I didn't want to delay them as I freshened up so waved them off and headed up to my room to finally unpack and take a breath in a quiet space.

I decided to walk toward Undead Dark Club to make sure it was still there (their web page hadn't been updated recently, though some Facebook events were making me think it was still active, like the one I was planning to go to that night once it opened at either 11pm or midnight). I wasn't hungry yet, so I ended up walking to the club's location and found the sign, then back almost all the way to the hotel before stopping to eat. I saw Sonia all dressed up and heading out but she didn't see me waving from across the street. I ended up at a place called Glamer on Deu i Mata since it looked busy enough to be good but not so busy that I'd be cranky. I sat at the counter looking out over the sidewalk seating and my gin and tonic order came in a huge goblet. :-) I read a bit of the Spanish newspaper about the longest in orbit female astronaut. I had a veggie burger that sounded good on paper but was a bit bland (the bun could have used some toasting as well), but the gin and tonic kept me happy. :-)

After dinner I went back to my room and double checked the club's event page and saw that the music was going to be more on the EBM side than gothic, so I changed into a more stompy appropriate outfit. Undead Dark Club had listed two start times, 11 and midnight, so I delayed a bit and got there at 11:45, to find it still closed up. I back tracked out of the small side street and sat on a bench on the bigger street for a while killing time on my phone by typing up my day. That kept me busy until 12:30 when i saw some people in black with strappy bits hanging off of them go by and decided to investigate the door status again. It ended up opening at 12:35am, running until 6am! I took ruthless advantage of my jet lag (and the residual gin bounciness) to get there and stay for a bit over a couple of hours of dancing. I think I might have been the fifth patron in the door, behind a foursome. I had to do a slow circuit around the dance area, a rectangle with a raised area at the back, past the narrow bar area, since the smoke machine was up so high that I literally couldn't tell the extent of the room and if there was anything beyond it. I danced first when a song called to me then went over to explore the bar. I'd paid a 10 Euro entry fee and it came with two drink tickets, mostly good for beer, but i was able to trade both in for one gin and tonic. I nursed it through lots of dancing, observing the goth/industrial archetypes that populate every club I've ever been to. :-) I got a second G&T for 8E cash and continued with my dancing. No one bugged me, I think I only exchanged words with the bouncer and the bartender. Three guys were there together and they had good rhythm, but little stamina, not dancing for a full song. I stayed until quarter after 3(!) when I got sick of all EBM all the time and was back at my hotel by 3:30 to shower and finally fall into bed at just after 4am. I probably should have had more water. My hotel bathroom was super neat, a half enclosed shower with glass and a rain head, then a long and deep tub perfect for soaking.

Sunday June 21, 2015

I had set an alarm for noon to make sure that I woke up at some point, and managed to get up after only hitting snooze once. :-) I had to put some moleskin on my feet to protect the places where I'd rubbed my feet raw dancing the previous night. I checked with the hotel about having to do something to differentiate my personal vacation stay from my business stay, and they said I could just stay in the same room, with two bills, score. I'd noticed a lot of cheap breakfast options the day before, so I headed out of the hotel to forage, grabbing a chocolate croissant and water from a corner bakery, eating by Les Cortes subway station on a bench. The subway ticketing system only had 2 day ticket options for all you can ride and I wasn't going to use it enough, so I got a one ride ticket. The subway was really easy to navigate, I was almost wishing I'd tried the day before to save my feet a bit!

I had a timed ticket for Park Guell and had written down directions on how to get there from the not very close at all subway stop at Vallcaraca. It was a hot day, I was ambling, but I'd left lots of time. They'd put in an escalator on one steep hill to help the crowds get up to the top of the hill where the park was situated. There was a fairly constant stream of people making their way to the entrance, but the park was fairly spread out and didn't really feel too crowded. I found the entrance line for the 2pm entry, and it was a good thing that I'd prepurchased my ticket, walk ups were being told the next available time was after 4pm. They were keeping a strict control over the number of people inside the park, no re-entry was allowed once you were in. I think I was again not at the start of the laid out walking tour, but was able to figure out where I was after walking down a curving ramp toward the other entrance at the bottom of the hill I'd just climbed. :-) Lots of grottos and rough stone as well as mosaics and riots of colour, it was gorgeous. Very warm though! I spent as much time as possible in the shade, wishing I'd managed to bring along an umbrella or parasol. I was running out of steam near the end of the walking loop and only gave the fancy garden a cursory glance, seeing a riot of colour in the sun drenched beds. I decided to go back via the other subway station, stopping for a frozen yoghurt and some fruit along the way to refresh myself a bit.

I took the subway back toward the area with the shoe shops that I wanted to visit - my sister had given me a shopping list at a store that she had loved (interestingly it was a store that originated in Argentina, I could have gone into one branch when I was there), and I had found a New Rock store near it as well, bracing my credit card for a big purchase. Unfortunately it turned out that Sunday shopping wasn't really a thing and both stores were closed up for the day. :-/ I was annoyed because I could have hit both stores the day before when I was in the area visiting the Gaudi sites, but I'd mentally assigned Sunday as my shopping day. I was getting a bit frustrated, and had taken a wrong turn in the Boston like maze of streets, going the wrong way around a large square with many streets coming off of it. I was also hungry, so decided it was time to stop and eat. Again, had a bit of a search for something that was open, but found a great vegetarian restaurant by chance. I had a delicious black rice dish with vegetables, aoli and balsamic vinegar. The litre of water I sucked down was also blissful, very much needed, as was the peace and quiet of sitting in a darker cool place for a while. Then it was time to head back to the Catalunya subway stop to go back to Les Cortes to walk to my hotel and get ready for the kick off meeting for the short week of work.

I changed into my dress pants and a nice top but left my hat and going out stuff in my room, not really knowing what we were going to be doing, but did grab my purse at least. In the downstairs lobby (near the front desk) I found another participant but then heard Claire and some other people talking in the upstairs lobby (at the level of the plaza that connected to the shopping centre and Diagonal). We went up to join them and stood around chatting for a bit, but then I spotted Steve, Sandy and Ron downstairs. Tina had collected people in the project room or elsewhere and came downstairs with a group, and we ended up taking over the lobby to do a round of introductions, standing in a big circle. I was wary of the potted cactus behind where I was standing and shifting a bit to relieve my feet, it took a while to get through everyone, there were about 40 of us who had arrived "on time" for the kick off. There was some consultation with the hotel staff and they found a place that would seat all of us for an early dinner (they eat very late here, our project week activities were set up to take account of it, starting later, with a 2 hour meal break, then more work until 7 or 8).

We all walked around the corner to Piscolabis on Diagonal, I didn't have time to run up and get my hat, so I tried to stay in the shade as much as possible on the trek over. Confusion abounded over the menu options, though I was sitting next to the guy from Madrid who was translating for us, and across from the grant PI so I had half a clue at least. I managed to get my stuff on a separate bill to avoid the alcohol dance, but there was also some confusion over the free drink the group was getting. It was some cava at the end, not the cocktails, but then the first drinks all ended up on one bill, along with the bread orders, so they did a second version, and one person ended up covering all the extras (Ron) - it was all going to come out of various grants this time so it wasn't going to be worthwhile to have one person submit everything. I had the gin and tonic marinated salmon steak cubes with blinis, it was so good. The artichoke tarte tatin was horrible, all spikey and it got stuck in my throat. I ordered the patatas bravas to kill the taste, but I still found a spike in my mouth after brushing my teeth later. I had the fresh squeezed orange juice in lieu of a cocktail, but the waiter didn't hear me asking for water. My bill came in just under 20 Euros anyway, I'd be willing to go back there again by myself. I loved how the beer came in just small or large servings, nothing in medium. :-) My head started pounding though as everyone was getting louder as the evening went on. I left to head back to the hotel as soon as I settled up my bill, at around 9:30 or 10pm. I looked up the shoe shop hours once I was back with my room's wifi, I could go after we wrap up work tomorrow. I also planned to sort out opera tickets the next day, assuming there were any left. I'd tried to get Sonia to say for sure if she'd go with me, but was still waiting on an answer.

Monday June 22, 2015

The official start was 10am, I think I took advantage of the convenience of the hotel buffet for breakfast, sitting by myself to wake up slowly when I wasn't quite up to interacting with the head honchos in my lab. :-) When I submitted my expense report, I had the form tell me that I'd exceeded the allowance for breakfast for this meal, the 24 Euros blew past the 20 dollar limit. I was glad that I'd noted others eating there and didn't feel too bad about putting in an explanation for why I went over for that meal. We did the quick project summaries first off and then dove into work until 3pm when we got a lunch break. I walked across the plaza to the mall and looked for some reasonable options in the food court. I found Sonia with a group of other French speakers and we tried to settle on a place to all eat together. They went into a meat heavy place and I bowed out to find something that would work better for me. I ended up getting a fish dish at Ribera Manero, counter ordering and then picking it up to eat at a communal long table under a sky light (with a few families around me) and then heading back a bit before we were to start again at 5pm. I was getting antsy as the end time of 7 seemed to get closer oh so slowly, but soon the clock freed us.

I threw my stuff up in my room and decided to wander off on my own to check out one of the recommended restaurants, Chez Coco, a ways down Diagonal. I got there before 8, they'd pretty much just started serving dinner, I was early again. :-) I took a table on the patio, surrounded by trees, under a lattice strung with lights. There was a French group out there and an English wedding or engagement party so it was nice to have some background noise that I could understand as I ate by myself. The food was delicious, and not too expensive (but it still felt fancier than I'd usually go on a work trip). Their specialty was oven roasted chicken, I got the tandoori sauced version and it was amazing with the basmati curry rice working well with it. I indulged in some tiramisu for dessert, but the chocolate powder dusting the top of it was so abundant and fine that it was dangerous to my lungs - I breathed in wrong a couple of times while taking bites and had to pause to cough it out again. But it was delicious other than that. :-)

After dinner, since it was still early, I decided to walk for a bit to try and find Aigua del Carmen. It had come up on a search for Barcelona craft cocktail bars, and it was just off Diagonal. There were lots of people strolling along the main road, and at one point I spotted a wallet on the ground. I asked a tourist couple in front of me if it was theirs, but no. I made it to the street with the bar a bit before 10pm to see that it was closed, and decided to wander for a bit to see if it would open at 10. I circled the block a couple of times, at one point spotting a tall pale dark haired bartender at another bar that made me think it might be goth friendly, but then couldn't find it again when I gave up on Aigua del Carmen opening, it was kind of mysterious. There were people lined up outside of a restaurant waiting to get in and eat, and I was feeling a bit shifty wandering around the area, so I decided to bail and head back toward a tiki bar close to my hotel. It took about 45 minutes to walk back, I was definitely getting my walking in on this trip. The Kahala Tiki Bar reminded me a bit of Bovine in Toronto, lots of low dark wood and nooks and crannies with tables. I sat at the bar and tried a couple of drinks, but found them a bit watered down and not really what I was in the mood for that night (I wanted something elegant in a martini glass, not a flower festooned rum drink in a tiki mug). It was just a block or two to the hotel from there, so I was soon back and in my room before midnight.

Tuesday June 23, 2015

I went back to the mall for breakfast, scoring two tiny croissants fresh from the bakery. Walking back across the plaza, I noticed the hotel patisserie was also open and I got a large almond croissant from them with my tea. I wrestled a bit with the remote printing set up to try and get my opera ticket printed out but had no luck. I couldn't print it from a general use computer in the lobby either, it wasn't responding to any web site requests. The customer service representative who gave me the log on information said that she'd print it and deliver it to the room for me if I emailed it to her.

Today was a bit overwhelming noise wise, there were lots of simultaneous meetings going on around me and it was hard to concentrate on my coding. I was at a table with a French speaking contingent, so that was distracting since I could mostly understand them. I delayed my lunch break a bit to get some quiet coding time, and then went over to the mall again to check out the food options. I ran into Sonia again and she was looking for her group of people who were already seated at a restaurant and saving a spot for her. She invited me along and we wandered a bit before realising we were on the wrong floor. Tapas et Cafe was way at the other end of the mall, the directions were confusing. We slid in with the others and got our orders in, but the staff missed one dish, so a few people split theirs to avoid waiting for the new order. The staff wasn't very friendly, there was some grumbling as we went up to split our bill. I had a decent chicken tikka on basmati rice with an ubiquitous bottle of water. Sonia had been invited to go see the fireworks for the Saint Joan festival that evening so I was going to be on my own for the opera that night - fine with me, I got to pick the seat that I wanted without worrying / debating prices or location. :-) Back to work for the afternoon, using up a lot of coins on a slice of ricotta cheesecake as an afternoon snack, and I made sure to wrap up on time at 7 since the opera was going to start at 9pm and I had an errand to run beforehand - the shoe shop that my sister wanted me to visit was going to be closed the next day for the holiday and I didn't think that I'd have time to visit it before my flight on Thursday. Luckily it was at the same subway stop as the opera house, so it was all going to work out. Except that I still didn't have my ticket print out. I had to go down to the front desk and wait while they looked for it, but finally I got it just when I was getting worried that I wasn't going to be able to make the show.

I changed into a nice skirt and blouse and headed out to walk to the subway at Les Cortes. I stopped at a bank machine to get some more Euros but it gave me 20's and 50's. so I had to use my credit card at the subway since I'd used up too many coins earlier in the day. There were already sounds and sights of fireworks, including a young girl throwing things on the sidewalk and stomping on them to make them pop as she walked along with her parents. One of the open plazas I passed had a huge bonfire for Saint Joan's festival as well. I was a bit jumpy already, the night in general was a test of my nerves. :-) I was grateful that I'd scoped out the shoe shop already, no wrong turns this time getting to Agua Patagonia. I did make it there just before they were to close at 8 and they confirmed that they were closed the next day, so I was rushing a bit to find the shoes that Sue wanted. I ended up mistaking the brand name for the specific shoe and seeing a wedge that looked right, but neglected to double check the picture and item number that she's sent me when I got excited that I'd found the last one in her size. Luckily when I confessed she said to send them to her anyway and she ended up liking them well enough. There were some shiny boots and interesting cut work leathers but I didn't feel like I had enough time to browse before having to get to the opera. I was already feeling a bit self conscious about walking into the show with a shopping bag too, but at least it was only one shoe box sized instead of New Rock boots sized (skipped that store totally, my credit card thanked me).

Walked from the shoe shop to the Palau de la Musica Catalana, there were people setting off fireworks that would shoot up and detonate with a bang, I was jumping a lot. The venue was a bit confusing, I came inside opposite the box office area and had to walk through it to trade my paper ticket for another ticket, then come back in to go into the main performance area. The building is heavily inspired by Art Deco sensibilities, it's gorgeous with so much detail everywhere you looked. I could see some lights blooming behind the stained glass on the upper floor as the fireworks went off over the course of the night. I had a seat on the floor, it wasn't sold out and I had a good view. They were performing Carmen, which I was seeing for the first time. The spurned wife had a great voice, as did the rich suitor, Carmen and the soldier were unfortunately overshadowed. The woman who was singing the part of the best friend would have made a good Carmen as well. I had to be a bit careful not to hit my bag with the shoes, tucked under my seat, as it would rustle too loudly during quiet parts. But then the fireworks would go off and drown out the singing so I stopped worrying. :-) There were a passel of young teens / older kids in the performance as well, they seemed to be having a ball.

Coming out of the Palau, I managed to get completely turned around, even with my map. I ended up walking almost to the beach where the main fireworks were being set off, seeing the Arc de Triomph before realising that I was going the wrong way. Whole squares and plazas were obscured by gunpowder smoke as people set off personal fireworks, it was kind of trippy (I was also getting pretty tired, and hungry). I finally located a different subway station and was able to make my way back from it to Les Cortes and from there back toward my hotel, done with shoe shopping, opera and fireworks for the night. :-) I'm glad that I let my Facebook friends convince me to go to the opera, it's always nice to see a performance in a new city. The Undead Dark Club was having a special holiday night called Night of the Witches, but I wasn't up to going to it and then working sleep deprived the next day. I was tearingly hungry though, and despite it being midnight, I had a few options for places to eat. I stopped in at La Llimona about halfway back to my hotel for tapas since I figured it would be fastest. The food was okay, but filling which counted most: anchovies, patatas bravas, mushrooms, mushrooms and prawn. The festival still seemed to be going strong as I finished my walk at around 1am (the next day was a holiday for St John the Baptist), I could hear fireworks from my hotel room.

Wednesday June 24, 2015

I was definitely grateful for the 10am start time today, it was feeling like I was barely having to adjust to the time change with the later days. It was a holiday today and most places were closed down, the mall was all locked up when I went over to rustle up some breakfast. Luckily the hotel pastry place was open and I ended up running into Noby there and sharing a table. I went with a more substantial breakfast this morning since I wasn't entirely sure how easy it would be to find lunch, a salmon sandwich with my earl grey tea. Our project week was running in cooperation with another conference and we had had to grab badges yesterday so that we'd be allowed up into the working rooms today. There was a barrier funneling people into the registration desk this morning and people finishing setting up their booths. I spotted Steve talking with someone standing near a robot from Kuko and it turned out to be an old lab co-worker of ours who'd come over from Germany to work with us for a while, and then gone back. It was a little bit awkward trying to unexpectedly catch up with Cyril in the middle of the presenter hall, but it was good to see him (he'd sent me pictures of his kids when they were born so I'd kept a bit of tabs on him). He was presenting the robot with his co-worker Anna so I was also introduced to her. The hall in front of our meeting room was filling up with exhibit booths and over the course of the day we'd get conference attendees wandering in to try and use our wifi after they saw us set up and working. We were having connectivity issues as seems to happen at about a third of these events - every time we're in a new space, the facilities are overwhelmed with the bandwidth our group needs.

With the mall closed up and limiting my lunch choices, I went to Miss Sushi on our hotel side of the plaza, sitting at an outdoor table in the shade. The weather had been universally sunny and warm on this trip, it was a pity I was working so much! I'd managed to not have any sushi yet, despite Barcelona being on the Mediterranean, which I guess isn't so big on producing tuna or salmon. :-) I ordered the combo for one (eventually, I think there was only one server, or maybe two, split between the inside and outside seating areas), the roe and nigiri were good, but the salmon roll with cheese was odd. Tina wandered by and asked for my review of the place as she was thinking of eating there for dinner tonight. I watched kids playing soccer in the park, running over the burned spots from the fires and fireworks last night. Going out to eat by myself is an exercise in patience and entertaining myself.

At 4:30 we did the project reports, wrapping up the formal part of the week a bit early so that people could catch flights. The project week was cut short by the conference, though we were encouraged to register for it, it definitely didn't feel like we had enough time to make a lot of progress on all we wanted to get done, but at least we got a lot of great starts. Switching to a shorter format for one of these twice a year meetings is going to take some getting used to, though the bonus of meeting in Europe will take some of the sting off (unfortunately for 2016 I already have a conflict with the proposed dates).

I needed to get more of a workout in than just walking all over the city, so I went to the gym after wrapping up at the work room. I wasn't hungry or rushed, so I indulged in a nice long workout, and somehow it was almost 9 when I finished, then almost 10 by the time I finished indulging in a nice long soak in the amazing tub in my room. I changed into stretchy pants and a work top to go out and find dinner, and found a scrum at the hotel's front desk with people asking about open restaurants. I was going to go back to the tapas place that we'd done our kick off dinner at, but on my way there I ran into Tomas, Andras and their coworker. They invited me to join them at Fragments Cafe on Concordia plaza where there had been all the bonfires and parties. We got a table inside though, and found more of our project week and some conference people at two bigger tables nearby, I guess the hotel was directing a lot of people there. We shared the buratta when I convinced the others that it would be delicious, and I had clam tagliatelle since I was super hungry after my workout. I skipped the lychee panna cotta since the others didn't feel like having dessert though. Two of them shared a huge steak, and we had no trouble splitting the bill four ways since the individual total was still under my budget (though higher than what I'd had personally) and no one had any alcohol. Tomas is a riot, he was coming up with wilder and wilder excuses to not present his paper tomorrow (he was something like third author, the main one had been a student who left the lab, then his supervisor told him to do it instead of doing it himself). I shared the story of my disastrous first conference paper, with food poisoning right after the key note speaker. It was a fun evening, would eat with that group again. They were all from a Canadian university so that was a bit of a bonding element as well.

We walked back to the hotel together and I split off to go to my room and pack. I was still wide awake and feeling a bit melancholy about it being my last night in Spain, so I went down to the lobby bar to read and have a drink since I didn't have to work in the morning and my flight wasn't until almost 1pm. I was there from 12:30 to 1:30am and slowly sipped a delicious Pimm's Collins flip type drink.

Thursday June 25, 2015

I got up at 9am, after hitting the snooze button once. I wanted to sort out mailing my postcards that morning, the hotel didn't have stamps so I asked for a tobacconist who the guidebooks said should sell them. I got some vague directions and probably messed up, I ended up going around a few blocks before finding a place that was open. I was able to use my rudimentary Spanish (classes taken before going to Argentina) to get a European stamp to mail a postcard to Ben in Germany, and five for the USA. I walked back to the hotel and for simplicity went back to the hotel cafe for breakfast again, getting the same breakfast even, a salmon sandwich and tea. I took it up to my room to eat and get in a last bit of alone time before plunging into a day of travel. I took my travel cup of tea down to checkout with me, noted that my buffet breakfast came to $30 with taxes. I was able to walk out of the front door and get into a taxi to the airport, no fuss and a quick drive. I noticed a neat moving sign on the top floor of a building, I'd never seen anything quite so complicated, it felt a bit Bladerunner-ish. I also noticed a guy on a scooter who had a crutch tucked in with him, ready to use when he had to abandon his wheels.

There was a line for bag check, but security was quick. A random airport officer did a passport check while I was checking in my bag, asking questions about why I'd been in Spain. Past security there was a mall area down some escalators in a consumerist valley like place, so I went there to kill some time and see if I could use up some final Euros. The MAC store had lots of tempting things, but all of them were for more than the cash I had left. There was a store called Mango that had some neat clothes, but I wasn't feeling like juggling my carry on bag while trying stuff on. The passport line was the slowest of all, then I had a bit of a walk to my gate, going around a few sides of the terminal. It was airy and open at least, though the washrooms were oddly hidden in a free standing metal sided long rectangle between the walkway and the windows. I grabbed some almonds and a bottle of water from a machine to use up my coins and we boarded soon after.

I had a quiet seat mate and finished my book, Burnt Shadows. I went back to the bathroom to get some body movement in during the long flight, I'd sat too still on the way over and had been stiff on landing. I had to dig out my second book from the overhead bin as well, I always feel super awkward doing that and worry that I'm going to drop my bag on someone's head, but I mananged to avoid that this time at least. :-) My specially requested Asian vegetarian meal only had a spieced lentil salad to qualify it as Asian, rice, mushrooms and carrots as the main dish, some lovely melons and (seeded) grapes as dessert. The bread was inedibly dry though. I nabbed the En Route magazine in my seat back for the North West Territories rafting trip and the German booze hike. The flight was mostly smooth, with just a tiny bit of turbulence. It was a nice change to be flying on a sunny day for the full flight rather than at night for most of it, though the view downwards was mostly just ocean glinting between some clouds. I listened to my music while reading as well so that I'd have something coming through the noise cancelling headphones to help mask the plane drone.

My Canadian transfer city was Montreal this time around, and the transition to my US flight was confusing. There was a long line to answer how many checked bags we all had, mostly because people travelling in groups forgot who had been handed the bag check claims for all the bags when they left their origin points hours ago. Staff were pulling passengers with soon departing flights up to the front, so the line would stall for long periods of time as certain flights made it to the pulling stage. It was a frustrating and poorly managed bottleneck. Then there was another unlabelled lien for customs and immigration with no Nexus booths. I was desparate to go to the bathroom by this point so I guiltily used a handicapped stall before joining the next line, and finally spotting the Nexus machine after waiting in line for a bit. I was able to get my green card to scan after a few tries, always frustrating since they only have the instructions for the passport on the machine and the bar code is on the back of the card, not the front of the passport pages. The border guard was snarky about my handing him my documents one by one after he didn't say which ones he needed. I just cannot win, if I hand them all over, I get someone snarkily handing me back something. He also took my manually filled in form after I gave him the Nexus print out, again, never know which ones they want, it's supposed to only be one or the other officially I think? Ugh, it was a mess. I made a quick stop in the duty free shop to grab some more Ungava gin, then found my gate, and scoped out places to get food and water. I found a counter where I could eat my take away food and charge my phone, I just had time to do both before we boarded. I had a French business man next to me in my seat near the reare of the small Jazz plane. No issues with the short hop south, and my bag came out fairly soon, though I stood reading to distract myself from the pushing crowds around the conveyor belt. There wasn't a line for the taxis, my bag went into a bit of an odd trunk (back of a mini van like thing with a hole in it) and my trip home was slowed down by a bit of traffic at just before 7pm. I ended up staying up until 11pm before I had to crash, but I had to be up for work the next day anyway. I ended up buying a new Samsonite suitcase the next day for business trips (or other trips where I need a sturdier bag to check), my current luggage was definitely getting pretty battered.

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