Spain Episode 2: Barcelona

Barcelona suits my style.  If I had the opportunity, I’d move there in a moment.  The pace of life is different in Barcelona, not harried and hassled, not lazy.  Just right I’d say.  The day we arrived in Barcelona, it was 11:00 or so in the morning.  There were people still having breakfast in the cafes.  Granted, it was the weekend, but I couldn’t help but already like the place.  I’m a night owl, so breakfast before 11:00 on the weekend is painful anyway.  Work happens in the morning, and then in the middle of the day, about 2:00 in the afternoon, stores and restaurants shut down and then open back up again at 5:00.  Everyone takes a break.  Dinner is late.  I asked a cab driver if people ate dinner at 7:00 and he laughed, “Only tourists”.  Most Spaniards in Barcelona don’t eat dinner until 9:00 or so, and that meant that everyone was out at the local cafes during that time.  I love the pace of life in Barcelona.

Besides the overall appeal of the pace of life, there are lots of things to see and do in Barcelona.  There are terraced gardens on the edge of the city that were designed by Gaudi.  The gardens are unique patterned steps up the mountain. I have never experienced gardens like that anywhere else.  There was also supposed to be a castle on the same mountainside, but we kept climbing through the gardens and then further up the road and never found it.  I kept asking locals in Spanish how much further the castle was.  They would answer, “Cinco minutos”, “Five minutes”, but we’d climb on and still not arrive at the castle.  The next local would give us the same answer.  The elusive castle remained five minutes away.  In addition to the gardens, Gaudi also designed a cathedral, La Segrada Familia, which is still under construction.  It’s architecture has been handed down from architect/artist to architect/artist since Gaudi’s death in 1926.

In addition, the Gothic Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter is a must see.  The cathedral, which was finished in 1448, is of Medieval construction and breathtaking in size as well as detail.  My husband, Jim, was much more impressed with the Gothic Cathedral than La Segrada Familia.  I even stayed for a mass because I am Catholic, and I felt as if was watching something out of a movie about the Middle Ages, complete with incense.

We walked through a local neighborhood to a market to buy olive oil, and noticed all the Catalonian flags flying from apartment balconies.  The people there are proud of their Catalonian heritage and were quick to tell us when the food was a local specialty.

Much as I loved the gardens and cathedrals, I loved the food.  We had fish for lunch at a seaside café one day and paia at several local places including a paia house.  Paia always seemed to be served with sangria.  Usually paia and sangria was 16 Euros per person with a two person minimum.  I didn’t have any paia or sangria in Barcelona that I didn’t like.  It was all good, all delicious, all the time.  We wandered Las Ramblas at night.  Yes, the Ramblas is touristy, with almost a carnival like atmosphere with all kinds of street vendors selling things like toys and treats, but all the shops and cafes were locally owned and the tastings delicious.  There is a store/restaurant on the Ramblas that specializes in Iberian ham.  We had the ham with local cheese and bread prepared the Catalonian way with tomato and olive oil.  All the varieties of ham we tried were delicious.  If there had been any way to bring some Iberian ham back to the States, Jim would have.  We bought some Iberian ham when we got back home, but of course, it wasn’t the same.  Spain is a true culinary adventure.  No wonder that on the travel channel, Anthony Bourdain, has said that some of the best chefs are coming out of Spain.  Viva Espana indeed!