Wednesday, April 24, 2013

HBO 24/7 - NFL Draft Edition

In my normal role as a management consultant, my projects often involve helping clients earn more money.  Sure, sometimes it's a bit more complicated, with fancier buzzwords thrown around, but generally, I help clients become more successful.

Today, I'm giving away a valuable money-making idea for free.

HBO 24/7 - NFL Draft Edition

Some of you may already know what this means (and are already nodding your heads in agreement).  But for others, some more detail is required.

HBO has produced and broadcast a couple programs that follow sports figures through the preparation for a major contest.  They follow NFL training camp in Hard Knocks, NHL practices in 24/7 - Winter Classic Edition, and boxers as they prepare for a major fight in another version of 24/7.

The programs are extremely well done, taking us behind the scenes of our favorite sports (assuming some people out there are into boxing).  They let us see athletes in a different light, and the program has gravitas like crazy thanks to Liev Schreiber's narration.

It also has moments of hilarity, like Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau shopping for Christmas presents.

What's also nice about this show is that it actually makes sports marginally interesting to my wife (who very much enjoyed the Flyers-Rangers 24/7 season)

So, given that HBO has had success with these documentaries, how have they not gone back to the well to tap the NFL Draft mother lode???

Since you'll never get participation from an actual NFL franchise to get inside their preparations for the draft, you'll have to go from the players angle.  But that's OK, these guys are actually interesting!

Why couldn't you identify 5-6 prospects of ranging talent levels (e.g., from potential 1st rounder to potential undrafted free agents), and follow them leading up to the draft???  There's so much preparation going into the draft on the player side, you'd have to be able to get good material.  And the culminating event naturally has a ton of drama anyway.

Let's not forget that ESPN and NFL Network are climbing all over themselves to put out more stuff on the draft.  NFL Network even has a show CALLED 'Path to the Draft', which is just more scouting and talking heads.  Why not put something a little more intriguing on???

ESPN's got several networks to air a show, and now with 30 for 30, an established documentary brand.  They just aired a documentary on the 1983 NFL Draft, which I watched intently, and that happened 30 years ago!!!

NFL Network, while it doesn't have the documentary production chops, certainly has the air time and could help open up a lot of access.

HBO could continue to expand its 24/7 franchise, although they might not have money to spare with all the CGI dragons they've got going on.  But I can't imagine Liev Schreiber is on an exclusive retainer.

Final summary - people would watch this show, and it would be better than endless talking head 'analysis'.  Admittedly, it would be more expensive, but I'm sure it could pull in more than its fair share of unique viewers.

So networks, there's your idea.  Go and make some money.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Yahoo Sports iPhone App

I saw this article today which details why Apple and Yahoo are involved in discussions.

The purpose of the talks: to make more Yahoo-branded apps default apps on the iPhone

Already, there are two Yahoo-branded apps on every iPhone – "Stocks," and "Weather."

The article goes on to describe that Yahoo Sports could be a potential content source for an app.

In short, I think that's a great idea.

Because as I started to think about my smartphone and how I use it, I started coming to the realization that I really don't do much with it in terms of sports.  I use my phone all the time, for just about everything.  But in the sports department, my experience still leaves much to be desired.  Most specifically, in the general sports news area, which I find particularly lacking.

And that seems weird to me.  Maybe I'm just not exploring new apps enough (I doubt it), but I'm a younger-ish male that's very into sports.  If you were running a marketing research study on sports-oriented young men, I think I'd fit the bill...

 - I have or have recently had digital subscriptions to multiple sports leagues (MLB, NHL)
 - I pay additional charges for increased sports programming in my cable package (RedZone, of course)
 - I have or have recently purchased a sports-related app for my smartphone
 - I participate in fantasy sports
 - I listen to online radio/podcasts relating to sports news and analysis

So yeah, I'd say I'm into sports.  But when it comes to general sports news, I really don't use my smartphone all that much and I'm trying to figure out why that is.  My theory is that it's because I don't have a good killer app for that use case (general sports news).  And so when reports indicate Yahoo might make one (and apparently their new Weather one is pretty good), that would make me happy.

But let's examine how I use my smartphone for sports...because I'm not sure I'm right.

I have a Sports folder on my iphone, and I have a couple apps in there. What apps do I have?  and What do I use them for???

 - Yahoo Fantasy Football: Technically a lie, because I delete it in the off-season.  But my fantasy league runs through Yahoo (don't they all?) and I use the app to obsessively update my scores each week.
 - 97.5 Fanatic: This is the app for one of the local Philadelphia sports talk radio stations.  I listen to it rarely, particularly when big news breaks and I want to hear what everyone back home is saying
 - Stitcher: This app also isn't technically in the sports folder, but the podcast radio application is one I use frequently to listen to ESPN's podcasts, so it's partially a sports app
 - MLB at bat: Used heavily during baseball season to listen to Phillies games, watch Phillies games, watch highlights, etc.
 - ESPN ScoreCenter: This is my general sports app.  It should be what I use to check up on scores, news, etc.  The only problem is, I hate it.

ESPN ScoreCenter has never really satisfied me as a general sports app.  If it were a girlfriend, I would've stopped calling it years ago and hoped I never awkwardly ran into it at a party.

But I still have it.  Why? Because it's ESPN...this is supposed to be their thing!  General sports news =  ESPN, it's an identity burned deep into my brain since I started watching morning SportsCenter in middle school.

But I really don't like using the app.  At all.

 - Every time I open it, it seems to take forever to load/update scores
 - I tried using their in-game push notifications, which seem like a great idea to keep you up to date instead of checking the phone every five minutes.  But I found I never really enjoyed them, and customizing when they get sent is kind of a pain
 - The thing has cross-promotions out the ying-yang.  I get that they have multiple properties/apps, but I'm really not interested in Streak for the Cash, thanks
 - There's no integration of video for each game's highlights.  MLB does this very well (and maybe leagues won't let ESPN do this)
 - There's not great integration with the ESPN personalities I actually want to hear from.  I certainly am interested in what ESPN personalities have to say.  I follow some on Twitter, I listen to their podcasts often.  Why can't I get their articles popping up in here?  What good is all this coverage if I can't access it?

From a company that once launched its own mobile phone and was at least attempting to be in the technology vanguard, why can't they do this better???

I don't particularly care why they can't, but if Yahoo Sports, who has a decent reputation as a news organization (see their investigative work into the Miami and USC cases), I'd be thrilled if they can put something together that will actually get me a more entertaining experience.  Then I could delete ScoreCenter from my app library.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Tweeting and the NFL Draft

This week, after what felt like an extremely long drought, the NFL returns from it's admittedly brief TV hiatus to reclaim the eyeballs of U.S. sports fans.  The event is the NFL draft, a once largely ignored process which has been transformed by the collective production budgets of ESPN and NFL Network into a three-day media extravaganza.

What's great about the NFL Draft?

For NFL geeks like myself, there's a lot to like.

 - Unique Competition: A football game pits two teams against each other.  And although the strategies are complex, you only have one opponent.  The Draft is a simultaneous competition against every other team in the league at the same time.

 - High Stakes: The impact of a well-executed draft can set up your team for years and become the cliched example that future writers will refer to as a great draft.  That 70's draft from the Steelers, the 90's draft for the Cowboys....No other day has as much potential to help your team achieve sustained success as draft day.

 - Transparency into Philosophy: Unfortunately, as fans we don't get to listen in on our favorite team's player evaluation discussions or free agent negotiations.  We hear about signings and releases after the fact.  But in the draft, we see those decisions taking place in real-time, and are allowed just a bit of improved visibility into a league that avoids transparency more than a Cayman Islands financier.

Also, we get to make fun of the Jets

But that's not to say there aren't downsides with watching the NFL Draft.  Leaving aside the fact that my wife can barely tolerate actual football, she completely loses her mind when I try to explain to her why I want to watch a bunch of guys sit and talk about future players for 12 hours. (I also ignore the fact that the majority of the players selected won't ever make a big difference in the league)

Putting marital conflict aside, there is one other thing that's bothered my about watching the NFL draft recently. 


The biggest moments of intrigue at the NFL draft are the seconds as the Commissioner (or his representative) steps to the podium to announce each selection.  There's such potential which each card bearing the name of a player.  Is it the guy expected to go early?  A guy no one's heard of? A guy with an absurd choice of outfit?

But lately, thanks to Twitter, ESPN, and the NFL Network, no one has been surprised about an NFL draft pick in years.

That's because as the clock ticks down and the commissioner gets ready to announce it, one of their reporters "breaks" the story of which player is going to be picked.

I'm putting quotes around "breaks", because it not only ruins all the fun of watching the selection, it's also just about the lamest breaking news possible.

I know reporters obsess about being first to the story (sometimes even more than actually being right), but being first by a few seconds really stretches the idea that you're providing a valuable service.  What's the marginal utility from having that knowledge for an extra 20 seconds?

If we're trading stocks, I get it.  But this is entertainment we're talking about.  A great comparison would be if, during the Oscars ceremony, one of the Ernst & Young auditors leaped out onto the stage and screamed, 'It's Argo!!!' right as Best Picture nominees were being read.

Information that does nothing but destroy any sense of drama from the event, which by the way, is why most people are watching.

You could argue that I should avoid Twitter to prevent this sort of thing, but its extending into TV coverage as well.  I can consistently recall ESPN announcers like Chris Berman making sure the entire audience knows who'll be picked in a very similar fashion. (They'll also show players talking on their cell phones, which is the same thing)

Collectively, the media really doesn't understand what fans are looking for, and has this misguided notion that we give a crap who confirms it first, when all we're looking for is the chance to see Jets fans shocked and appalled with genuine surprise.

Or at least, that's the way it used to be.  But it looks like our collective prayers have been answered...

While ESPN and NFL Network will compete fiercely for audience this week, they have once again come together for a gentleman's agreement on the subject of tipping draft picks. Both networks have pledged not to show images of players on the phone in the green room at Radio City Music Hall. In addition to that, both networks tell that they will tell staffers not to report pick-by-pick selections on their Twitter feeds prior to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announcing the picks on the podium. The Twitter edict will extend into the second round of the draft. Teams have 10 minutes to pick in the first round, seven minutes in the second round and five minutes for the rest of the draft. 

"Our fans have told us they would rather hear from the Commissioner and I think it is a better TV show when we speculate and let the Commissioner do it," said ESPN NFL senior coordinating producer Seth Markman, who oversees draft coverage for the network."

I haven't been this excited about a TV Sports innovation since the yellow first down line!

Finally, the networks understand that tipping picks ruins their coverage.  Although its funny that the two networks involved have to essentially collude to keep from ruining their own shows.  It implies ESPN or NFL Network have incentive to cheat and start tipping picks...but for me, if I knew only one network was reporting picks early, I'd actually change to the OTHER provider.

Fortunately I won't have to worry.  Although this raises some interesting questions about what reporters who don't work for ESPN or NFL Network will do (unbound by twitter restrictions, will they go nuts and succeed at gaining more followers?  can ESPN'ers retweet them since its technically NOT reporting?), and it also raises the question of what exactly Adam Schefter will do during the draft when he can't tweet all the picks, I'm extremely excited for it.

My wife, less so.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Spain Trip Report and Photos - Barcelona


Thursday officially marked the beginning of the end for our Spain voyage, as we took a Vueling flight from the tiny Granada airport over to Barcelona for what would be our last three night stop.

Our flight proceeded without incident, which was all we were hoping for with a discount European carrier, and after arrival we hopped on a bus for the Plaza de Catalunya, near our hotel on Las Ramblas.

The weather was a great welcome to the city, as it was a gorgeous sunny day as we left the Plaza and made our way downhill to the Le Meridien.  We were excited to be back on the SPG bandwagon after our tiny Granada hotel, but our excitement was short-lived when they informed us our room wasn’t ready.

We checked our bags and before headed out into the city, I used the wi-fi to check some work emails (which I can’t remember but I’m sure weren’t critical at all).  Clearly they were less important than going out into the sun to check out Las Ramblas, the major thoroughfare of Barcelona.

As with every other part of our journey, our guide book came complete with a Las Ramblas walking tour.  The tour promised to take us through some of the more notable areas of the strip, while also reminding us that pickpockets lurked around every corner.

Shortly after we set out on our walking tour, we made our first tapas pit stop at Tabera Busca Irati.  The tapas bar, located a block off Las Ramblas, was highly recommended in our guide book.  But, as we walked by, we noticed there were absolutely zero customers inside.  That absolutely gave us pause, but the promise of more montaditos proved too tempting.

Once inside, we familiarized ourselves with the way they do business there.  It’s essentially a self-service buffet, with plates of tiny tapas arranged delicately on top of the bar, each held together with a toothpick.  When you’re all finished, the bartender simply counts up your toothpicks.

It was a great system, one that somehow hasn’t been bankrupted by some kind of toothpick smuggler who sneaks them all out without paying.

Collectively, we made a nice pile of eight toothpicks (one from a regrettable tuna-based montadito, which fooled us yet again).  I had assumed it was chicken, which continued to be my downfall.  For future Spain travelers, assume nothing you see on a tiny sandwich is chicken, it’s not that big a thing there!

With a nice mini-meal to get us started, we continued on down Las Ramblas and started wandering in and out of various shops along the street.  More specifically, we were checking out souvenir stores.  I’ve never really understood souvenir stores.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand what they’re for, but I’m consistently amazed at how EVERY country’s souvenir stores can have the same stupid joke and marijuana themed T-shirts.  It’s uncanny.

In another interesting twist, all the souvenir stores were managed by Indian employees.  Not sure exactly how they came to dominate the souvenir racket in Barcelona, but they all spoke pretty good English, which was helpful when evaluating which marijuana themed T shirt to buy.  All kidding aside, we were looking for some specific soccer souvenirs, and despite our valiant efforts, weren’t able to find them in the first 10 stores we checked out.

After taking in the energy of Las Ramblas, we went back to our hotel, where our room was finally ready.

If I remember correctly, I had used some of our Suite Upgrade nights when we booked the room, so we were expecting big things from the hotel room.  To say it delivered would be an understatement.

Our suite had what was essentially a full living room, complete with the first of two full bathrooms.  After moving through the living room you entered the bedroom, which had a massive closet area and its own massive bathroom.  The bathroom was big enough that it came complete with its own TV and remote, which is a nice touch for when you can’t bear to be out of earshot for even a second.  But the best feature of the room was its enormous terrace, which stretched along the entire length of the living room and bedroom.  It came complete with two chaise lounges, a full couch, and table and chairs.  It would have been perfect for entertaining if we had any Spanish friends.

My wife really loved the terrace, and at least once I day I’d have to yank her off the couch because we had to go do something fun.

The only issue we took with the room was that they gave us two double beds.  It seemed odd for such a suite to have two beds, and when we asked the staff to put the two together and make them one regular king-sized bed, they seemed a bit bewildered.  Maybe they just don’t have big beds in Barcelona, but eventually we got it adjusted.

After taking in the sight of our new home in Barcelona, we set back out to enjoy the rest of the day.

In an attempt to get immersed in some more culture, we headed straight for a museum.

The museum of Chocolate (xocolata).

When we saw that was something that actually existed, it was obvious we’d have to go, given my wife’s proclivity for all things chocolate.

We walked over to the museum, paid the entry fee and began checking out their ‘exhibits’. 

Honestly, it was no Prado.

The ‘exhibits’ talked a bit about the history of chocolate, but mostly, it offered a chance to look at dozens of different chocolate sculptures in all kinds of shapes and sizes.  There were chocolate caricatures, an elaborate chocolate bullfight scene, even a chocolate replica of the Sagrada Familia cathedral.

But you weren’t allowed to eat any of them, and that limited its value (at least to me)

At the end of the tour, we got some chocolate bars, which made the admission price a bit more reasonable.  The tour end also deposits you right into the connected chocolate store, in case you were a bit inspired.  For us, the free sample bars were enough.

Because the chocolate museum didn’t sate our desire for culture, we stepped things up a notch with the Picasso museum, which was just a short walk away.

The Picasso museum was definitely our favorite art museum of the trip.  In part, it’s because the structure of the museum allowed us to see works from each stage of Picasso’s career, with a fair amount of commentary on how he developed as an artist (the commentary was written on the walls, as we weren’t about to do another audio wife had had enough of the audio guides).

It was very cool to see works from all his respective periods.  We particularly enjoyed his take on Las Meninas (the original version of which we had seen in Madrid), so much so that we got a refrigerator magnet version of it to bring home with us.

We were in the museum sometime in the early evening, and it wasn’t overly crowded which was a nice adjustment from our other museum trips.  It gave us a little more space to take our time and not feel like we were part of a high school field trip.

Fresh off our exposure to culture and the arts, it was time to eat again.

Fortunately, we were in luck, as a highly recommended tapas bar was a short trip from the Picasso museum (ok, it wasn’t really luck, we had planned it that way).

Of all the tapas bars we visited in Barcelona, El Xampanyet (which I may have spelled wrong), was by far our favorite.  It was crowded and loud, full of customers struggling to gain a beachhead at the main bar where a good number of employees in matching shirts scurried around serving all types of stuff.

The bar, like most tapas places, had a large set of food options to choose from.  All of them (minus the giant delicately arranged mound of anchovies) looked like winners to us as we pushed in to get some prime real estate at the bar.

In the absence of any clear instructions, and no printed guides, when we finally got close enough to get the attention of a bartender, we just asked for their house cava to start.

Once the drink orders were placed, our bartender, who had to be in his 60’s, just started to suggest food for us.  Did we want this?  Did we want some of that? Obviously our answers were always yes, who were we to turn down food? 

It was clear he had done this once or twice before.

We had a series of small dishes, the best of which were small red pepper s stuffed with cheese.  I think we could’ve eaten a whole bowl of those (we actually may have, I wasn’t keeping track).

The fun atmosphere of everyone having a good time was infectious, and it made us wonder exactly whether anyone in the place was actually a local, or whether it was just all tourists like us.

We got a partial answer to that question when we struck up a conversation with the two Americans next to us, one of whom it turned out also lived in Chicago’s Gold Coast and was a cousin of one of my wife’s co-workers.

Yeah, so maybe not so many locals.  But still, it was a really fun time.

A couple of glasses of cava and a bowl of stuffed peppers into the evening, we left and found our way to Taller de Tapas, yet another tapas place where we would have our actual dinner.  Again, we ordered an assortment of small dishes, this time trading the cramped quarters of El Xampanyet for the relative serenity of the outdoor plaza.

I can’t remember exactly what we ate there, and I’m not sure whether that’s a reflection of how good the stuffed peppers were, or how strong the cava was.  But with another meal behind us, we headed back towards the hotel.

After a stop at the concierge desk to inquire about reservations for some Gaudi sights the next day, we realized another walk along Las Ramblas might be in order before turning in.

The street was bustling with all types of people (mostly tourists and vendors), as we took in the scene around us.  I took note of a small run-down fast food place because of their well-located pizza cone display (that’s right, pizza in cone form!).  Not to be outdone, my wife noticed a big Carrefour supermarket and started having visions of aioli to bring home for our U.S. potatoes.

You might wonder how we could even think about food after the day we had.  To that I’d respond, don’t worry about us, we’re professionals.  And to demonstrate our skills, we stopped by a gelato place on the way home (one that actually crafted your dessert into the delicate shape of a flower).

With that dessert, we could finally turn in for the night, enjoying our soft SPG beds (even if they were two doubles pushed together).


Our first morning in Barcelona gave us the chance to sample another SPG breakfast (again, because it had been so long since our last meal).  Not much difference here in a different part of Spain, although in this part of the country (or at least this hotel) they put sugar on their churros, which was a big hit.

It was also notable for getting stopped by an older American man who noticed my shirt read ‘Chicago’ on it.  When he looked more closely and realized it was a Chicago Booth shirt, he said he was very impressed.  So that was nice.

Apart from that, the breakfast was uneventful.  Which was a good thing, because we had a full day of activities and didn’t need to burn ourselves out early. 

The night before we had made arrangements with the concierge to buy advance tickets for two Gaudi sights, La Pedrera (a residential building/Gaudi museum) and the Sagrada Familia (a still-unfinished cathedral).
Maybe we should take a step back.  Who is this Gaudi guy anyway?

Basically, from what I can understand, he’s the only architect in the history of Spain, he built every building in Barcelona with his bare hands, and he single-handedly ended the Spanish Civil War.

That may be something of an overstatement, but the guy is like the most famous architect in Barcelona’s history, and designed a ton of the area’s biggest sights.  Chief among them, La Pedrera and Sagrada Familia.

For our busy day of sightseeing, La Pedrera was up at 9am, and Sagrada Familia at 3pm.

The two buildings were located in different parts of the city, and so we thought the best way to get to those and other sites was the hop-on hop-off tourist bus.  If you’ve been in any city of significant size, you’ve seen them around, the giant buses loaded to the gills with tourists?

It seemed like a pretty decent way for us to get around.  There were a couple different routes that both swung by Plaza de Catalunya.  The buses make the rounds constantly, stopping at all significant points of interest (and a few insignificant ones).  Included on the bus is an audio jack for a recorded audio tour (I guess it’s a cost savings measure so they don’t need individual guides with microphones on each bus).

The buses had decent reviews, and we figured it would be the best way to maximize our sightseeing time, so we bought tickets for the day (My wife wondered whether it was worth it to buy a 2-day pass, but we eventually agreed one day made more sense).

We hopped on the bus, and La Pedrera was one of the first stops.  As we approached the building, we realized the advanced online purchase was well worth it.  The line of visitors waiting for tickets was massive, but we slipped by them and got in.

This was our first exposure to Gaudi, in an apartment building designed and built in the early 1900’s.

We started off on the rooftop, which was a crazy array of multiple levels joined by staircases and intricately sculpted chimneys. 

It’s hard to explain just what it looks like in words, although the easiest way might just be for you to imagine a rooftop designed by Tim Burton (that might not be completely respectful to Gaudi’s craft, but who knows, maybe he would’ve loved Beetlejuice)

We explored the rooftop and really enjoyed the atmosphere.  It struck us as a great place for a cocktail party if we ever had to host one in Barcelona.

From the roof, we went down into the attic of the building, which included a whole set of models and exhibits on Gaudi and his work.  In that brief session, he became the architect we are now most knowledgeable about.  

But the other major sight to see is the apartment on display itself.  The apartment is an exact replica of what it would’ve been like in the early 1900’s, complete with furniture and accessories.  It was like touring an apartment in the past (although unlike our last replica apartment tour in the Lower East Side Tenement Museum of New York, this would’ve been for really wealthy people)

For something from the 1900’s, it looked surprisingly livable.  Spacious, with lots of light (although they hadn’t discovered central air or stainless steel appliances by that point).  It was really cool to see how people would’ve lived back then (or at least how the 1% would’ve lived).

As we left, we walked up to the Block of Discord.  Essentially, a row of houses with completely different architectural designs right next to each other.  And yes, one of them was Gaudi.

As we stood outside, we tried to figure out our next move.  We didn’t have to be at the cathedral until 3pm, but we still had several hours until then.

It was a little hot out, and a little uncomfortable standing around.  This is exactly when my wife decided to sit down on a bench and sat right in freshly chewed gum.

That was definitely not a high point.  Anytime you have to wipe your wife’s butt on the sidewalk in the middle of pedestrian traffic, things get a little stressed.

We had a little bit of a freakout, but we survived, eventually setline on a plan for the day.

We were going to get back on the bus.  And we were going to go ALL THE WAY AROUND.  That way, we figured, we could see a ton of the sites of Barcelona, and get dropped off right at the Sagrada Familia.

It was sunny out, and we wanted to see the city, so we figured what could possibly go wrong?

Turns out, a lot of things.

Here is a list of problems you can expect to run into when you decide to take a city-wide bus tour.

  -Traffic: Apparently, people in Spain don’t know how to drive.  And when you get a bus trying to make its way through all the main streets of a city, it’s not that simple.  That’s despite the fact that it’s the middle of the day on a weekday.  Remember…Europeans don’t work.

-Weather: Yes, it was a bright sunny day.  That’s great when you’re taking a short walk or a 15 minute car ride.  But when you’re sitting on the upper deck of a bus for hours and you start baking.  That’s a problem

-Audio Guide: What seemed like a great idea, an audio guide to explain to us the sights, turned out to leave much to be desired.  The audio guide just wasn’t very good, not pointing out any particularly interesting facts.  The best example was when the bus passed by the beach, and the audio guide encouraged us to look away from the water to a set of 150 empty flagpoles.  Those empty flagpoles, the audio guide explained, once held flags from all the nations represented at the 1992 Olympics.  And they remain empty still today.  Thrilling stuff

All in all, we rode the bus for 2 hours, checking out lots of Barcelona sights, but never actually getting off the bus until it finished its loop.

We still weren’t close to our 3pm admission to the cathedral, but god were we thirsty.

We were close to another tapas placed called Tapa Tapa, but spent most of our time their drinking as much agua as possible.  We probably looked a little worn out to the staff, a sweaty American mess with gum stuck on us. 

We took our time at lunch, because we had to get back on another tourist bus to get over to the Sagrada Familia.  Fortunately, we only needed to go a few stops (and it took much less than two hours)

Similar to our last architectural stop, advance tickets were a big help, as we again slipped past a whole bunch of less-prepared tourists.

The Sagrada Familia itself is an amazing structure, with an absurd level of detail everywhere you looked.  Gaudi’s masterpiece, it remains unfinished (he died as it was being worked on), but his designs were so ambitious that it continues today.  Part of that is because the funding only comes from money they can raise through ticket sales etc., so that may explain why it won’t actually be finished until 2016.

But like the Death Star in Return of the Jedi – the Sagrada Familia is both incredibly imposing and fully operational (no word on whether it can destroy planets).

It may be partially due to comparisons to all the other cathedrals we had seen in various cities, but this one blew them all away.  Maybe it’s because it was designed/built in the last 100 years, but I could’ve walked around the building for hours (that actually may have been what we did).

I haven’t done many architectural tours, so maybe my perspective is limited, but this was one of the first buildings that just completely blew my mind in terms of its scale and design.

Almost enough to convert to Catholicism (just kidding)

Although we didn’t splurge to go up in the towers, our trip really gave us an appreciation for Gaudi’s work.

But as if we hadn’t seen enough of him, we then hopped back on the bus (remember this was the second route), and took it up to Park Guell, an outdoor park designed by, you guessed it, Gaudi.

The park offered a bunch of unique sculptured lawns, steps, and fountains, while providing some great overlooks of the city.  It was neat to see, although there were so many people it made it a little difficult to get around.

Were we more ambitious, we could’ve ventured deep into the park.  But the long day of sightseeing was wearing on us.  So after relaxing in the park for a while and enjoying some good sitting time, we decided to make the trek back toward the hotel.

That meant a final leg on the tourist bus, this time with the foresight to get some water beforehand.

The last part of the bus ride exposed us to a bit more of Barcelona (we saw the FC Barcelona soccer stadium, which was kind of neat).  But perhaps most critically, it got us back to the hotel after over 3 hours of bur ride time and over 30 stops.

We were glad we didn’t buy the two-day tickets.

Arriving back near our hotel, we embarked on another trip, but this one only had two stops.  And it wasn’t on a bus, it was on foot.

It was a ‘Sweet Walk’, from our tour book, and it took us past a couple of candy/chocolate stops where our lack of fluency wasn’t an issue.  Just point, pay, and eat.  That worked very well for us.

But the sweets, while satisfying for my wife, weren’t really my thing.  I had a hankering for something more savory…something that I had seen the other day.

Yes, that pizza cone.  I still wanted it.  And when we returned to the tiny storefront on Las Ramblas I saw them sitting in the display window, quite possibly the exact same ones I had seen yesterday.  I don’t even remember how much it was, but it was worth every penny (or Euro).

But my hunt for the pizza cone ended up costing me in a way I hadn’t expected.  No, not indigestion.  But the pizza cones were sold very close to a supermarket, and my wife wasn’t about to let us go by another time without stopping.

You see, whereas I had been on a quest for the pizza cone, my wife had been on a quest to find aioli.

Now, this is a point worth discussing.

Over our time in Spain, my wife had grown incredibly fond of patatas bravas (or basically, French fries in Spain).  These fries often came with aioli for dipping, which my wife found enchanting beyond all reasonable expectations. 

I tried to reason with her, after all, the aioli was just mayonnaise, and a common topping for fries in Europe (thinking back to my mayo coated fries in Amsterdam).  My wife was sure that this aioli was very different, and that we would absolutely not be able to buy it in the U.S.  I told her she was nuts, it was just garlic mayo, and you could get it anywhere (even Kraft makes a version of it).

But she was undeterred, as she dragged me into the supermarket to search for the ‘magic’ aioli.

Fortunately, supermarkets in Spain aren’t all that different from the ones we see here in the States.  Of course, that meant there were dozens of aiolis to choose from, and my wife was struggling as to which one was the ‘right’ one to buy in mass quantities and bring back home.

This was tough for me to bear, knowing full well that there was almost no difference between any of them.  But my wife persisted, even to the point of asking someone who obviously didn’t speak English (and didn’t even work at the store, my wife just assumed).

Eventually, some very nice English-speaking Spanish guy helped her out.  He patiently helped my wife sort through her aioli options, and over maybe 10 minutes, helped her find the ‘right’ one.

God bless that nice young man.

We bought three jars (which as of this writing, remain unopened in our kitchen cabinet)

The grocery trip provided an unusual segue back to the hotel, where we showered (and my wife lounged on the terrace), before we headed back out for the night.

We weren’t planning on eating for a while, so the first activity on the agenda was heading over to the Plaza de Espana for their fountain and light show.  We took a cab over there (we had had enough of mass transit for a while), and after hopping out walked a ways up to the plaza.

Regularly during the evenings, the fountain would come to life with a water show supported by brightly colored lights and music.  Akin to the Bellagio fountains, but a bit flashier and without Las Vegas porn slappers advertising hookers.

We sat and enjoyed the show after waiting a little while, which was nice to see.  Unlike the Bellagio, you could get extremely close to the fountains (perhaps because Europeans are held to different liability standards).

After the show completed (the finale may have been set to Queen’s Barcelona), we decided to walk over to a building we had seen earlier on one of our drives (or long bus rides).  It looked like a bullfighting ring, but one that had been updated and transformed into some kind of mall as part of a gentrification type of project.  Imagine a mall at Wrigley field, and that’s what you’d have.

But as I had suspected, the roof level of the bullring had been turned into a set of bars and restaurants with a path running along the circumference.  For a nominal admission charge, we went up to the roof and walked a few laps.  It was a pretty cool building, and gave us great views of the city (and the Plaza we had just visited, which we could pick out easily from the giant light beams emanating from it)

They were definitely nice views, and we got some pictures before heading back town to find our tapas restaurant for dinner.

Lolita Taperia was our destination, and when we found it we asked to sit outside.  Shockingly, the restaurant was almost closing their kitchen, so we were actually a bit limited in what we could eat (for the first time in maybe all of Spain).  We still managed to scrape together a decent meal, but couldn’t help noticing that everyone, everywhere, was watching a soccer match on TV.

This wasn’t just any soccer match, as when we past restaurants you could see that they turned their TVs around so everyone sitting and eating outside could see.  It was as if the whole city (besides us) was watching.

I knew it wasn’t the World Cup, or the Euro tournament.  And I had looked into trying to attend an FC Barcelona match but knew they weren’t in town, so I was a little confused.

But the city was definitely into the game, as occasionally while we were eating or as we left the restaurant you’d get a brief interruption of massive cheers/air horns/etc.

But since we didn’t know exactly what was going on, we essentially shrugged our shoulders and caught a cab back to the hotel.

Only the cab couldn’t get back to the hotel.  Police were blocking everything around Plaza de Catalunya due to outbursts of celebration.

As it turned out, that soccer match allowed Barcelona to win its league title, and the people had taken to the streets to party.

We got out of the cab and walked through the Plaza down Las Ramblas, and encountered what must’ve been hundreds of people cheering and celebrating.

People were hanging off lightpoles, setting off fireworks, and singing whatever song is the anthem of FC Barcelona (No, I don’t think it was that Queen song again).

It was really pretty cool to get to walk through, although a bit strange to be so disconnected from the victory everyone else was thrilled about.

We hung out around the revelers for a while taking it in, occasionally woo-hoo’ing to appear like we were part of the crowd.  We did that until we weren’t sure it was safe to be there, what with the hastily set off fireworks and all.  I took some videos with the phone to make sure we captured the moment, and we headed back to the hotel to get some sleep.


Saturday brought with it a bittersweet feeling, as it was our last full day in Spain (thank god, exclaimed the weary readers)

After such a busy day sightseeing on Friday, we had Saturday left relatively open.  What would we do with our time?

Fortunately the weather was cooperating once again and our options were open.  We didn’t have a formal plan, and we mutually agreed that we’d go to no more museums.

So we started off with a return to souvenir shopping, back at the Indian-managed shops along Las Ramblas.  This time we persevered, continuing our search for some specific items (a towel with a bull on it, a soccer scarf, etc.).  Eventually, maybe by the 23rd store, we managed to find one of the items we were looking for.  So we were still on the hunt, but one item down.

We walked down Las Ramblas all the way to the beach, which was a pretty long stretch, but it was nice outside and it allowed us to visit the aforementioned 24 souvenir stands.

One thing I had seen from a distance and had been interested in doing was the cable car ride that took you from the beach up on top of Montjuic (I forget it that means Mountain of the Jews, but it seems like it should).

We got to the cable car stand at the beach and found ourselves looking at a long line.  Undeterred, I reasoned that since we didn’t have plans that day anyway, it would be worth the wait.  We tried to guess how long each cable car trip (that began and ended here at the beach) would take.  That got us wondering how many cable cars they actually had.

We looked up at one as it was coming in, and saw it emblazoned with a big “II”.

Wow, eleven, I thought.  That must mean it goes pretty quick (or they had suffered at least ten significant accidents).

So we waited in line, and saw the next car come back to the station.  This one had a giant “I”.
Then after a while the next car returned, with a “II”.

Oh, I realized.  It wasn’t an eleven.  It was a two.  There were only two cars.

This was going to take a while.

But as I said, we had nothing else to do, and the promised aerial views of Barcelona appealed to me.  So we waited for quite a while before finally getting to the front of the line and earning a spot in the elevator to the top of the tower.  But that only awarded us the last spots in a long line around the top level of the tower, so we waited some more.

Finally, we got our shot and climbed in the cable car, right in front of the ‘Driver’.

Now, I use the term driver loosely, because of all the cable cars I’ve been on (at least a couple), I’m still not clear on exactly what the hell the driver does besides open the door.

On our trip across the sky of Barcelona, the views were really pretty cool, but I couldn’t help be distracted by our driver (or conductor, or operator), whatever, who was on his phone playing Words with Friends.  Wasn’t he supposed to be keeping us from plunging to our deaths?

I guess maybe there’s not much he has to do.  But it certainly seemed like an easy gig.  The ride was definitely not very long, although it did provide us with great views from above.


The cable car arrived at the top of the mountain, where we disembarked and were met with a really nice overlook of the city.  Now, this was our third or fourth nice overlook of the city if you’re keeping track, so the marginal utility of this one was a little low.  It was certainly nice, but we stood around for maybe ten minutes before declaring it a success and getting back on the next cable car ride back to the beach.

Once we returned to the base station on the beach (which an even longer line than when we arrived), we headed towards the crowded area of the beach for lunch.  Trying to choose between a dozen or so touristy tapas places was extremely difficult, but we finally decided on one that offered giant glasses of sangria.  It seemed up our alley.

With our giant sangria/cervezas, we ordered some food, including our first attempt at Pimiento de Padron.  The dish is a plate of fried and salted peppers, many of which are completely harmless, but a couple of which are really really spicy.  The idea was to make it a fun game of Russian roulette.

Well I ate all the peppers, and didn’t find a single spicy one.  I guess I won.

After our meal, we continued with a long walk down the beach.  We saw the Frank Gehry fish sculpture (he’s probably the other architect we know besides Gaudi), we also saw a ton of souvenir vendors, beach parties, and a good number of topless women.

We found a nice spot on the beach and laid out for a while, both of us dozing off at one point or another (but not long enough to attract pickpockets, apparently).  Our naps did preclude my wife from getting a massage on the beach, but I think the nap had the same effect.

After shaking the sand off, we walked back to our hotel, again making the rounds to souvenir stands in search of befitting presents.  My wife spotted a nice FC Barcelona towel and successfully negotiated a 20% discount.  Hooray.

But it wasn’t the towel prices that scared me the most as we headed back.  It was the turtle prices.

You see, right smack in the middle of Las Ramblas are dozens of kiosks selling all type of stuff.  Most are your standard tourist fare, souvenirs, flowers, etc.  A great exception to that however, was the La Ramblas pet kiosk.  A kiosk selling all different types of animals, no doubt to tourists who will soon have to sacrifice them at customs.

It wasn’t just the location that was a bit odd about this outdoor pet store.  It was also their assortment of animals.  They had everything!  Birds (including baby chickens and ducks), fish, rabbits, chipmunks?

And most especially, tiny tiny Tortugas (Spanish for turtle).

The absolute cutest thing we saw on the trip, was an aquarium filled with tiny tiny tortugas, each about the size of a quarter.

My wife was desperate to have one, despite my citation of our strict U.S. customs policies against foreign flora and fauna.  Although they were exceedingly cute, at least my wife did some due diligence.  Of course, the clerk only spoke Spanish, so it was a bit tricky.

My wife:  “Cuantos anos las tortugas?” (Translated, it means "how old the turtles")

Clerk: “Cuantos anos?” (Translated, it means "how old?")

My wife: “Cuantos anos viven?” (Translated, it means "how old they live?")

Clerk: “Quarenta o Cincuenta” (Translated, it means "40 or 50")

My wife: “Oh my god!”

My wife didn’t realize that acquiring a turtle would be a 40-50 year investment!  Turns out turtles live a long freaking time.

That’s longer than a lot of people!

We got a ceramic turtle magnet instead.  It’ll eat less.

After our purchases, we returned to the hotel and packed our suitcases (or rather, I packed, my wife went out on the terrace and pouted that vacation was over).

But we still had one last night in Barcelona, so we were planning on making it a nice night.

First, we went back to El Xampenyet for a repeat of the other night.  More stuffed peppers and drinks and more crowds. 

After the cocktail hour we headed over to our reservation at Montiel.  The restaurant, one highly recommended from our friends, was our fancy night out in Barcelona.

The food was extremely good, and ironically, we ordered the tuna (which was the best we had in Spain).  It was the only tuna we ordered on purpose, and it was really really good.

We ate late, and walked around the city back to the hotel for our last night at the hotel.  If may not have been super action packed, but we had a really great last night in Barcelona.


This was, as my wife describes it, the worst day of the trip.

Of course it was, as it basically involved a cab to the airport and a couple plane flights.  Barcelona to Madrid, and Madrid to O’Hare.  The only thing in between were some last tapas at the airport (bocadillos de tortilla espana) and burning off the last few Euros at the vending machines.

Just like that, our vacation was over.  But thanks to this blog and some nice pictures, we’ll hopefully remember it for a while (and use it to plan the next trip!)