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Report 1969: Five Wonderful Weeks in Northern Spain

By caplanco from Colorado, Fall 2011

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Page 8 of 10: Barcelona

photo by MEC

Juan at Pintxos Bar in Boqueria market

Another easy drive. We tried to stop at the well-advertised La Roca Village outlet mall, but were unable to find it. Once off the Autopista there were no signs directing you to the mall. We later discovered that the mall is closed on Sunday, so even if we’d found it...

Joan and Elisabet greeted us and took responsibility for our bags as the apartment was not yet ready. The reviews raved about the young couple who own the apartment, and I confirm that they deserve the praise. So off we went to the Sants train station, returned our faithful Leon, and took a taxi back to the apartment. To our pleasant surprise, all of our bags had been brought up to the apartment. Joan was there to show us everything we needed to know and point out nearby places of interest and restaurants on a map.

Then we set out to find the Sardanes dancers that M had seen advertised in a brochure. We found it on one of the grassy boulevards and thoroughly enjoyed watching the variety of people in this simple but complicated circle dance. Some of them had the special white espadrille shoes that are traditionally worn for the Sardanes. Purses and bags were thrown into the center of the circle and people just broke in and joined hands. At one time there was a very large circle and about four smaller ones all going on. The band was great, a variety of ages, and the music was lovely. It was a moving experience to see the tradition of this community event.

Afterward we walked back and stopped at the closest of the three placas within walking distance of the apartment and had a light dinner.

Our first stop the next morning was the “i” and we decided to walk to Placa Espanya. We then walked, walked, and walked. We stopped at the old synagogue and the Call area and shops in Born and Raval. M was very interested in taking a cooking class – preferably one that would teach him how to make some of those award-winning pintxos. We’d seen information about Cook and Taste and went there only to find that the class was filled so M put his name on the waiting list. The class they offer is for a more traditional menu (gazpacho, paella, etc.) with an optional visit to Boqueria Market the morning of the class. We asked Marta for lunch suggestions in the area and she said to go to Senyor Parellada.

It was a good suggestion. Senyor Parellada is a lovely old traditional Catalan restaurant with excellent food and service. It looked formal with chrystal chandeliers, waiters in black coats, good art and lighting, but waiters were low-key and friendly. Marco even had his photo taken with M. We shared gambanettas in garlic oil a la planca. M had rabbit with almonds and peaches, cava and I had black rice with a mix of peas, seafood and meats in it, vino blanco, café cortado (€37.50).

We stopped at the Palau de la Musica to buy tickets for a guitar concert (€56). Our final stop was the MACBA (free for seniors) which we found to have better contemporary art that we’d seen at the Guggenheim. It is an interesting stark white angular building with interior ramps to the floors. You get different perspectives and angles as you walk up and down the ramp. We stopped for groceries on the way home, and were exhausted by the time we got there.

On our last trip to Spain we did not get to Parc Guell so we planned to spend a good chunk of time there. Our son had been there several years ago and wanted us to take a photo of the ‘drago” for him, which we did. The drago is fascinating as no two sections are alike. The mosaics which cover it are glorious. We went into the Gaudi house museo which has rooms filled with furniture. The designs of the furnishings are true Gaudi, and it is mind-boggling to think of the craftsmen that carried out those designs. The park itself was a bit of a disappointment. I expected grass in the drago area and found, instead, sand, which was covered with sellers of everything from scarves to sunglasses, etc. We walked up ramp and stairs, sellers all the way, enjoying views of Gaudi buildings and Barcelona. At one spot there were some young musicians playing Spanish guitars and we paused there for a rest. It was very warm and we decided not to go any further.

There is an interesting small theater in Gracia, Teatro Lliure. I’d read about a concert there performed by a well-known Catalan singer and pianist, Maria Del Mar Bonet and Manel Camp. We bought tickets and the young man who sold them to us seemed hesitant. “You know, it’s all in Catalan,” he said. We assured him that we were aware of that and considered music to be a universal language.

That evening we went to our local placa to have tapas at Sureny which was listed in Time Out as having gourmet tapas such as tuna marinated in ginger and soy sauce. In spite of good reviews on Trip Advisor, we do not recommend it. It cost €28.67 for three very mediocre tapas and a glass of cava.

Another wonderful day in Barcelona. Our first morning stop was the Boqueria Market which is a feast for the senses. We had cortados and a kind of apple strudel pastry at the famous Pintxos Bar (€7). Smiling Juan, the owner, served us and we took a photo with him. Walked the market, enjoying the sights and sounds, then stopped at Quim for a morning snack of fried artichokes. Beware - they were already sold out at 11am. So we had really good chiporones frito instead. Cava and cana at 11:30!(€14.10)

We took a worthwhile tour of the Teatro Liceu, the second largest opera house in Europe (€9). It is very beautiful and it also has a lovely gift shop. Continuing our cultural stops, we decided to go to the Museo Picasso first, then have lunch, since we were going to the guitar concert that evening. On the way M’s phone rang and Cook and Taste called to say they had an opening on Saturday and M was thrilled.

The Picasso Museum was as wonderful as I remembered (€9 per person). The temporary exhibit showed how he was influenced by older artists in Paris, such as Van Gogh. The permanent collection is also great, especially the Meminas series. By that time we were done, it was after three. We’d read that he seafood restaurant we wanted to go, La Paradeta, did not close until four, so off we went. Of course, the kitchen was closed when we finally found it. We were starving and tired when we found La Vinya del Senyor, a wine and tapas bar owned by Senyor Parellada where we’d had the good lunch. There were no vacant tables outside so we sat at the bar and enjoyed anchovies, olives, foie, meatball, little cannelloni, and three glasses of cava between us (€37.30).

That evening we heard a fabulous Spanish guitarist, Xavier Coll, in the most spectacularly beautiful building I have ever been in. It is hard to describe the Palau de la Musica. The stained glass domed ceiling, the ceramic posts, each one different, the ceramic roses on the ceiling and walls and, most stunning of all, the music muses on the stage walls that almost come to life as the top part of each one is actually three dimensional when lighted. Coll played four different guitars from different eras and explained as he went along. The second half was just Coll in concert. His encores were a tango and his singing and playing Granada. He voice is operatic.

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah was on Sept. 28. Before we’d left home I had contacted the reform synagogue in Barcelona to see if we could attend services. I submitted all the necessary documents and we received information about what would be available for non-members. I responded that we were interested in attending a service and the community dinner. I contacted them again, via email, when we got to Barcelona; I never heard back from them as to the times and locations of the events. We had participated in Jewish services in Florence and were looking forward to the Barcelona experience.

Since it was not to be, we celebrated our New Year at Barceloneta. But first, I spent the morning shopping for gifts – and getting lost on my way back. I finally found a policeman who had a book listing every street in the city with accompanying maps. He told me I’d walked about 10 blocks in the wrong direction and set me straight. So if you ever get lost in Barcelona, find the nearest policeman and his very helpful book.

We had become experienced Metro users, so getting to Barceloneta was easy. Our choice for lunch, Can Majo, had a 45 minute wait for terrace seating. Be sure to reserve ahead if you want to eat on the beach. It was a beautiful day with a nice strong breeze, so we did an impromptu take off the shoes, roll up the cuffs, and walk on the beach. It is a huge beach with fine white sand.

Can Majo was finally ready for us. M ordered anchovies and a “platter of seafood with lobster” for a main and I ordered small scallops for a starter and grilled turbot for a main. Olives and tomato bread were brought to start with our bottle of vino blanco. The anchovies arrived, then this huge plate of cold mussels, berbecherros, other weird shells, clams, a couple of gambas, with a crab on top. We shared. My scallops did not arrive. When the waiter came to clear our plates, I complained that there had been no lobster on M’s platter. He explained that the lobster would be coming as the chef preferred to serve the cold first, then the hot. And sure enough, a huge plate of lobster and gambas arrived, as did my grilled turbot. Fortunately, the scallops had been forgotten. M was in heaven. (€97.47)

We walked on the beach promenade after lunch. They’ve really turned this area into a very lovely place. Twenty years ago it was pretty seedy. Now it is mainly high rise apartments, but not much of a neighborhood feeling that I could see. There is a great big shimmering metallic gold fish on top of a building at the end of the promenade by the casino; never found out what it is.

I really needed more shopping time so we went to wander shops in El Born before our 2:00 lunch reservation at Monteil. There are great little boutiques in the Artisanal area and the craftspeople are at work in the shops. Everything from gorgeous clothes (oh, to be a size 4 with lots of money) to toys, to handmade shoes, etc.

I’d picked Monteil for lunch based on things I’d read on Trip Advisor, as it appeared in none of my other information. Good choice! It is very small, so reservations are necessary. We decided not to do the €50 tasting menu as we didn’t like what was on it. In most places everyone at the table has to do the tasting menu, and everyone gets the same dishes. We designed out own tasting menu as we shared everything. For starters with our cava, M had cream of leeks, like vichyssoise with leeks and hazelnuts, and I had vegetable raviolis with a fabulous vegetable cream sauce. We were both humming away. Entrees were covina (fish) with artichokes in a seafood stew for M, and suckling pig for me. This suckling pig was perfection with crisp skin, juicy tender meat, and great seasoning, pink peppercorns and juniper berries surrounding it. It could be compared to a chicken leg with thigh attached, and the little baby hoof was still there. We each had an accompanying copa suggested by the waiter. Mine was a fruity white from Malaga, and M had a dry white from Catalonia. There was no way we were not going to have dessert, so we shared a fabulous coconut sorbet on a round of rice pudding with strawberry sauce poured around it. Service was excellent; waiters spoke English and were truly happy that we were enjoying our lunch. M had a chat with Marco, the owner along with the chef, and liked him, too. (€108.95)

The concert that evening at Teatro Lliure was very interesting. We had tapas and cava at the upstairs bar before the performance (€11). The pianist was quite good and so was the singer. Born on the island of Majorca, introduced in Barcelona to Catalan musical traditions, and then hit by censorship under the Franco regime, Maria del Mar Bonet has since become the spokesperson for Mediterranean song. She is obviously well-known by many who cheered when she sang certain songs which she’d written. We recognized some of the music (Embraceable You; Lover Come Back to Me) even when she sang in Catalan. She received the 1992 National Prize awarded by the Generalitat de Catalunya (Catalan Government) for popularizing Catalan folk music. The pianist, Manel Camp is Head of the Department of Jazz and Modern Music of the School of Music of and an Adviser to the National Council for Culture and the Arts Adviser to the National Council for Culture and the Arts. Much of the sounds were repetitive – it would have helped if we had a translation of the lyrics – and they did an occasional jazz/blues as well. At the end, there were about four encores after the audience random clapping turned to regulated rhythmic clapping. This was obviously a pattern as the performers could have chosen to not come back, but they chose to do so. Anyhow, a pleasant and different concert evening.

Michael had elected to add the market tour prior to the cooking class so he was off to Boaueria the next morning. I enjoyed a quiet morning and then went to the placa and had a “Shepherd” (don’t ask me why) salad or lunch outside at Amelie. The salad had greens, bits of chicken which had been marinated in a mild ancho sauce, bits of pineapple, and onion (€13.10).

M got back around four; he’d had a good time, especially touring the market and tasting several different kinds of jamon iberico. Joan and Elisabet came at six to give us back our deposit. They are charming folks and I’ll add to the good reviews they’ve received. Later that evening, our last in Barcelona, we took the garbage to the placa and had a final gelato at Pl. Republic.

Some general observations about Barcelona, which we loved. There are lots of families with kids everywhere. Dads seem to be involved. Kids are in the restaurants late, especially on weekends. After school there seem to be many grandparents looking after the kids, maybe while Mom is making dinner? The placas are filled with kids after school, having a grand time, free play. One group of boys had a set of boxes that they were using creatively in a game. Sometimes the moms are having café while the kids play. It’s a lovely sight, and one we seldom see in Boulder. There are still a lot of folks smoking here, mainly younger and mainly women which makes me sad to see. There are lots of bookstores and books stalls in the city. There are many older people (who may actually be younger than we think and just look older) using canes or wheelchairs and with helpers. I’ve also noticed that many public buildings have elevators for the stairs.

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