For me it is hard to say “Barcelona” and to not involuntarily think Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe and the 1992 summer Olympics. Barcelona is such an amazing city that its name genuinely deserves to reverberate when you say it!
We didn’t know what exactly to expect from the city, but all it took was the drive from the airport to our hotel to get us rearing to go! It was a long flight from South Africa, but not even that could stop us. An hour nap, a quick shower and we were out and about! For the next couple of days we maintained this pace – it is such a bustling city, with so much to see and do and the people never seem to sleep! Across from our hotel was a wonderful little restaurant which was constantly filled with locals and seemed to open just about all the time. I remember one evening we went to watch a Spanish guitar duo in this old church just off Portal de L’Angel and we got back to our hotel at about 11:00. Not feeling like going to bed yet, we decided to pop over to the restaurant for a drink, thinking that we’d probably have to be quick, before they closed. No ways – they were packed and people were just starting to order food! That’s definitely one of the reasons I enjoyed Barcelona so much – the people there eat so late! (Hubby and I are famous for eating late; whenever our parents visit I always feel so bad, but despite our best efforts, it seems we never manage to get food on the table at a respectable time!) That evening we drank sangrias and Spanish beer and had some fantastic tapas; white anchovies served in vinegar (I can’t find this anywhere in South Africa!), some fried calamari, gambas (prawns sauteed with some garlic), patatas bravas (diced potatoes with aioli and a spicy tomato sauce) and some toasted bread, rubbed with tomato (pan con tomate). A feast! Just the kind of snack food I love.
I found Barcelona to be a city of contrast. In a way I expected to see the Gaudi influence everywhere, and I was really surprised when everything wasn’t all strange angles and mosaics! However, when you do come across it, it is really mind-blowing. What an imagination he must have had to envision the famous La Pedrera chimneys! I loved it! Not far from there we were lured into a little side street restaurant by a waiter professing that their restaurant made the best mojito’s in Barcelona. We were not fooled but sat down in any case as site seeing is a tiring business and we could do with the rest! While the mojito was definitely not the best I’ve ever had, the meal certainly made up for it. We had a lovely starter with mussels and the main was simple, but so good – Spanish beef, cooked to perfection, served with chips. The flavour in the meat was fantastic and very different in taste to South African beef. Delicious.
And don’t forget the beautiful Parc Guell, where you can really see Gaudi’s style with different shapes and structures and building materials. The mosaic work was spectacular. I loved the morning we spent there. Standing at the edge of the main terrace you have the most amazing view over the city, right to the blue Mediterranean.
But see, that’s the contrast – when you are in the city, you can’t think that there is a beach close by and when you lie on the beach, how can you imagine that there is this massive city behind you when all you hear is the sounds of the waves gently breaking on the shore? It felt as if we were somehow cheating when we had a beach day; just lazing about in the sun. With so much on offer you feel like you should be out there, rushing to see everything at once, but now and then you just have to put your feet up and do nothing; to build up some strength for the next round… or lunch at the very least! And talking about lunch; what would a visit to Barcelona be without trying some of the world famous Spanish paella! Starving, we staggered from the beach to go and find the perfect paella. It was everything I imagined it would be… and more! Wonderful fresh seafood, great flavour to the stock, and the rice… oh, the rice. What a wonderful flavour and texture; a bit crusty at the bottom and served in a paella pan, just as it should be!
And as important it is to tick off the paella, you have to tick of Gaudi’s masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia. We went very early one morning and sunlight was streaming through the windows. It was quite surreal; it is something that I have seen on tv so many times before and to walk there with my own two feet was really special. Because we were so early it was nice and quiet and the only noise you could hear was the sound of a chisel on stone. I closed my eyes and imagined what it must have been like when the stone masons of old were chipping away at blocks, building the marvellous cathedrals of Europe. We went to top of one of the spires (worth the 10 minute wait to go up with the lifts) and the vistas across the city was breath-taking. Being so high up, seeing all the detail and the vision of all those who contributed to this magnificent structure up close was mind-blowing. I felt very fortunate to be able to see this 8th wonder of the world in the making – it was started in 1926 and the estimated completion date is only 2026. Wow.
After gawking at the incredible Sagrada Familia for a couple of hours, we worked up quite an appetite, but because there is so much to see and do, we decided to just grab a quick coffee and sandwich at a sidewalk café. On the menu was a “Bikini”; a toasted ham-and-cheese sandwich! No idea what inspired the name! But with a cup of coffee and my bikini in hand, we were good to go and as usual, we scoured the fresh produce markets around the city. However, this time it was the supermarket around the corner from where we stayed that impressed me most. Upon entering, it did not look all that big – until I found the escalator to the lower level. The downstairs area was entirely occupied with great fruit and veg and the most amazing array of seafood I have ever seen in any supermarket! I could not believe it! (And I’m sure the employees at the shop also thought it was unbelievable to see someone taking pictures inside a supermarket!)
Barcelona was an amazing place; both hubby and I commented about the feel of the city, the energy, the friendly people and the few things I’ve mentioned here are but a drop in the ocean of all it has on offer. Definitely worth many more posts!
But for now, I will leave you with the words of Freddie and Montserrat – Viva Barcelona!