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!

Spain Episode 1: Ibiza and Mallorca

Ibiza and Mallorca are both Spanish owned islands that embrace the essence of Mediterranean culture.  The port in Ibiza is dominated by a 16th century fortress, Almundaina,  which is on a high hilltop overlooking the water.  Of course Ibiza is also famous for its beaches and its nightlife.  Since Jim and I are geeks, we were fascinated by the fortress.  We walked up the hill to the fortress around the outer walls to the chapel at the very top.  The chapel is a good representation of Renaissance architecture and style with paintings and works of art dating to the 1500s and 1600s.  We then walked back down the hill through the original village inside the fortress walls.  Small shops and apartments, including a couple tiny bars just big enough for a bar with a few seats lined the winding cobblestone streets.  The few cars that drove through the village beeped so anyone walking could jump into doorways and let the cars pass.  As Americans, we were fascinated by the narrow cobblestone streets and giggled every time we had to jump into a doorway to allow a car to pass.

Once we had walked back down through the village, we had a lovely lunch and white sangria with a stem of rosemary at a local café.  The white sangria was refreshing and flavorful.  I decided that we just had to see the beach, even though beaches are not Jim’s favorite.  We found some local people who were really friendly and were headed near one of the closest beaches, so we shared a cab and went to the beach nearest the port.  Considering I live in Florida and frequent beaches there, I was curious about the famous beaches in Ibiza.  The view was certainly different, with rocky hilltops lined with colorful buildings.  Sangria was the drink of the day, and Jim and I each had a couple of red sangrias on the beach as we enjoyed the view.  Other than the fortress and the beaches, Ibiza is famous for it’s nightlife.  It’s a haven for famous DJs and parties, and the parties go all night long.  While we were there, Paris Hilton was going to DJ at a club at 3:00 a.m..

We went on to the island of Mallorca and we loved that island even more.  We went on a tapas tasting tour and tasted the food and sangria at three places.  We ate seafood tapas at a restaurant where the fishing boats were docked.  Men were busy nearby mending their nets.  Tiny fish were breaded and fried whole like fish fries, which I liked, but Jim wasn’t so sure about.  Then there were fish croquettes and octopus.  Jim liked the octopus better than the fish.  Next, we went to a place where we were served a potato and egg frittata and bread and sausage along with swirled bread with powdered sugar on top again with red sangria.  I later learned that my Latin friends in Florida call those pastries Mallorcas.  At the last stop, we had two different kinds of breads, one with soft cheese and another with smoked salmon and more red sangria.  The seafood and pastries were all delicious, and the sangria was all fantastic.  You just can’t go wrong with sangria in Spain.  It’s all good.

After the tapas tasting, we toured Mallorca’s cathedral, which was built in 1300.  We were both fascinated by the flying buttress construction, and the stone work outside.  Inside, self guided tours were offered with a device and headphones.  Multiple languages were offered, which is helpful.  We took our time and enjoyed perusing the priceless artwork, gold goblets and crosses that are now on display, but had been used in masses there for endless years past.  The vastness and richness of the cathedral was amazing to us as Americans.  For anyone who loves history, the cathedral is well worth a visit.  We also stopped by a castle high on a hilltop overlooking the town, and were also fascinated by the arches and stonework there as well.

Ibiza and Mallorca are two islands well worth visiting.  Should you be near Barcelona, there are high speed ferries that go between Barcelona and the islands under the Balleric Company, so they are not hard to access.  We would love to go back and visit Mallorca again.  When you visit, be sure to drink as much delicious sangria as possible.  To do anything less should be illegal!