A Taste of Barcelona

The best way to experience a culture is to experience it through the food. As such, most of my trips include several culinary adventures.   Spain was a fantastic place for sumptuous wines and tantalizing delectables!

Red wine with lunch during my Barcelona Area wine and food tour

Red wine with lunch during my Barcelona Area wine and food tour

It wasn't intentional but for my trip to Spain, I participated in a lot of small group tours. Small group tours are usually groups of about 6-8 people at most and it is fantastic, I noticed you get a more personalized intimate experience through small group tours and there is this feeling of exclusivity that come with these types of experiences. I was happily the 5th wheel on a small group food and wine tour. On this tour we experienced a sumptuous breakfast at the base of Montserrat. After breakfast we drove up to Montserrat ( I was actually lucky enough to go to Montserrat twice during my stay in Spain) to explore, drove down to the other side of the mountain where we had a fantastic lunch and then finished the tour with a wine tasting Parés Balta vineyard/winery. Moral of the story here is when you travel and you have an opportunity to take a food tour......DO IT! It is always a great time and gives you an opportunity to really immerse yourself in the culture. 

Tour Title: Small-Group Tour: Traditional Food and Wine Day Trip from Barcelona

Booking site: Viator (my favorite booking site/app)

Duration: 10 hours

Cost: $135

Cultured Americana Tip: It's always fun to extend your travels as much as possible. As such, when I go wine tasting during my journeys I always have wine shipped back home. I will admit that this is expensive but such a worthwhile treat. My tradition is to share the wine I've tasted with my guests at Thanksgiving dinner. 

 

 

 

I ordered several bottles of the wine from he Parés Balta tour. The wine arrived just in time for Thanksgiving. I was looking forward to it and found out I was pregnant! :-) No wine for me!!!!

I ordered several bottles of the wine from he Parés Balta tour. The wine arrived just in time for Thanksgiving. I was looking forward to it and found out I was pregnant! :-) No wine for me!!!!

Onward to find the world's best chocolate cake! Next Stop Bubo. Somewhere along the way I learned that the award for best chocolate cake belonged to a bakery in the El Born district of Barcelona. Of course, I couldn't say I experienced Barcelona without collecting that chocolate cake eating experience. 

I continued my culinary expedition by taking a paella making class with a lovely woman named Marta who teaches the classes in her lovely apartment. I found Marta's class through eatwith.com. It was great being welcomed into a local's home. Cooking classes are another wonderful way to immerse oneself in a country's culture and come home with a new skill. Although I travel to meet locals, cooking classes also give me an opportunity to meet fellow travelers which is also fun. I was so glad I took the paella making class because I wanted paella my whole time in Barcelona but I couldn't get it at restaurants since the minimum serving was for two. By taking a cooking class I had an opportunity to learn how to make paella and had a group of people to share the experience with. 

The lovely Ms. Marta putting the finishing touches on the paella!

The lovely Ms. Marta putting the finishing touches on the paella!

Last stop in my search for culinary delights was La Boqueria. Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria is a large public market. I have been to public markets of course but this was like nothing I had ever seen. It was so big, beautiful and colorful. Marta from the paella cooking class suggested we buy saffron and paprika as souvenirs so that is exactly what I did.  Now I have a taste of La Boqueria when I make egg, chicken and countless other meals I make at home.  Barcelona and the surrounding areas were such a amazing culinary escapade! Buen provecho. Enjoy your meal!

Minnesota: A Big Piece of Americana!

Labor Day 2015 I decided to get a big ole slice of Americana......Minnesota! I have been going to Minnesota annually since I was in high school but it is only somewhat recently that I realized it is my favorite place to spend Labor Day weekend. When I explain to people I am on my way to the Twin Cities they are surprised like I'm too cool to be going there. I will address that in this post. Let me start by saying Prince is from Minnesota.... Prince is cool.... Therefore Minnesota is cool. So purify yourself in lake Minnetonka and hush your mouth. (Purple Rain quote for those of you that don't know) 

Found this cool painting of a purple motorcycle near the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis. I assume it's inspired by Purple Rain

Found this cool painting of a purple motorcycle near the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis. I assume it's inspired by Purple Rain

So what to do in The land of 10,000 lakes in September? How about some art?? Yes art! A couple of Labor Day weekends  ago I took my first visit to the Minneapolis Institute of Art. This is where I experienced my first Kehinde Wiley painting. This is a must go destination for art enthusiast.  I didn't hit up this spot on my recent visit but I did visit Franconia Gardens Sculpture Park and Minneapolis Sculpture Park.

Franconia Sculpture Park:

29836 St. Croix Trail Shafer, MN 55074

Hours: 365 days a year (even in the winter) dusk to dawn

Cost: FREE!! 

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Love this clever use of our old "boom boxes!" All of our junk transformed into this interesting masterpiece!

Love this clever use of our old "boom boxes!" All of our junk transformed into this interesting masterpiece!

Tuskegee Airmen sculptures created by the late artist Michael Richards. Richards lost his life in World Trade Center art studio on September 11th. This installation is a permanent fixture at the garden

Tuskegee Airmen sculptures created by the late artist Michael Richards. Richards lost his life in World Trade Center art studio on September 11th. This installation is a permanent fixture at the garden

Next Art stop! Minneapolis Sculpture Garden!

Loring Greenway, Minneapolis, MN 55403

Hours: 8:00 a.m-6:00 p.m.

Cost: Free, paid parking lots and meter parking are located at the park

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is one of the largest sculpture gardens in the country. However, as of Summer 2015 art installations are being removed from the park as part of a two year renovation project. We we were still able to see the main attraction, The Spoon Bridge!

The Famous "Spoon Bridge"!

The Famous "Spoon Bridge"!

So what do we eat around here??  

Keys Cafe- There are several locations of this forty year plus institution throughout the state and I would describe this place by saying the  food is old fashion Americana at its best. Their tag line is "the food you grew up with". If you require carefully artistically plated cuisine on tiny white dishes with the word "fusion" in the name this ain't it. I said It's Americana! Like Norman Rockwell Americana! In fact, there are Norman Rockwell or Rockwell-esq artwork  in the restaurant and on menus. More art!! Additionally there are humongous Peanuts gang statues outside the restaurant. Peanuts are cool right? Their creator Charles Schulz is from Minnesota! Cool!! Right! I digress, this place has good ole American staples like pancakes and omelettes that individually are the size of your large American plate! I believe Keys Cafe is open for breakfast and lunch. It's the type of place where I would probably just go for breakfast only. 

Next door to the Woodbury Keys Cafe location, we found a large yet quiet authentic Italian restaurant. called Sole Mio Ristorante. We had the pleasure of meeting one of the owners, an Italy native. She explained that the restaurant is a dream she has shared with her husband.  We dined on fresh bruschetta and spinach gnocchi 

The final restaurant I'd like to mention is Parella Italian Restaurant located in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis. The area is hip with vibrant restaurants and great shops. After dining, you may want to walk off a few of those extra calories by heading over to Calhoun Lake. For my Oakland readers, Calhoun Lake reminds me a lot of Lake Merritt.  One lake down. 9,999 to go! 

A few  other must sees and pointers:

1) Mall of America- I have been here a million times and have sworn to never return. However, if you are visiting Minnesota the biggest mall in the United States is worth a visit. It has an amusement park, tons of shops, and even a wedding chapel! I just can't do malls but if you can.....this is a must see destination for professional shoppers.

2) Minneapolis Theatre District- About five Labor Day Weekends ago my dad took me to see Wicked. In addition to enjoying the play, I really loved the vibrant energy of the Minneapolis Theatre District. Check it out!

3) Minnesota State Fair- The Minnesota State Fair which lasts about 12 days every Summer and ends Labor Day is the fair to take down all state fairs! It is the second largest state fair (Texas is first) and has amazing food, live entertainment and was noted by Country Living as being the among the most family friendly fairs with the best educational exhibits! Add this to your itinerary if you plan to be in Minnesota around Labor Day!

4) This would not be a proper Cultured Americana travel post without telling you where to get coffee. Here is a tip! Avoid Starbucks when traveling. Don't get me wrong, I visit Starbucks often but it isn't where you want to go when you are out exploring coffee of the world. Opt for one off coffee shops or a local chain.  In Minnesota, that will be Caribou Coffee! Go for no other reasons to sip Caribou with the locals and tell your friends back home how Minnesota does coffee!

5) Accommodations: I can't give you a lot of help here. I always have top notch lovely accommodations while I'm in Minnesota. I stay with my family which is always a joy. If I didn't have family in Minnesota, I might check out homeaway.com to see if I could rent an apartment or house near one of Minnesota's many many many lakes! 

I hope you have learned a little bit more about Minnesota! Don't dismiss it as "some tiny midwestern state!" It's a great state with plenty of experiences waiting to be collected! I would love to hear other "must-dos" in Minnesota so please feel free to comment!