Leaving the fog, freeze and grey of Paris and entering the sun, warmth and bright blue of Barcelona was a mixed sensation. Being lovers of the freeze, we were both disappointed to lose the euro-winter we sought and excited to see the bright colours and sheer style of Barcelona. Even the drive from the airport took us past architecturally interesting modern buildings and the striking Estrella Brewery. The cab driver even reflected the change in atmosphere – a friendly chap in a fetching beret, quite willing to try and chat to us despite our obvious deficiency in the Spanish stakes (and don’t even start on our Catalan deficiencies).
We had arranged to be met by Blanca or Clare and before too long, Anna turned up and took us up to our apartment; agreed to meet us again on the day of our departure and vanished into the street below. We are most impressed with our apartment. Lovely tiled floor and tastefully distressed walls and doors with a small balcony looking out over the street in a typical apartment building of the area. So, with accommodations sorted it was time to head out into the street and poke around the neighbourhood.
Our favoured first stop on occasions such as this is always the local supermarket, even if just to moan about the crap deal we get in those at home. Oh, and to marvel at the alcohol prices – 12yo Cardhu Single Malt for $28 (shut up!). We also have a marvelling session at the range, price and quality of the produce available – you know, just standing in the aisles weeping and pointing…
Still slightly in the throws of jet lag, it wasn’t really a choice for any of us to do anything other than sink earlierer into bed.
The morning bought us Barcelona. It also bought us another Metro to conquer and a market to visit. Metro conquering first – and what a fine Metro it was to conquer. Modern clean and easy to figure out, it bore us swiftly to La Ramblas and we then bore ourselves swiftly to the Boqueria. We’ve read a lot about the Boqueria in the last few months and it didn’t disappoint as a fantastic market. Pip went photo crazy. I must say, in terms of Jamon, this place is the epicentre. There are a lot of legless piggies roaming (crawling?) the Iberian countryside, although it’s probably extremely fair to say that the other bits of the piggies are probably piled high at other stalls around the market. All manner of animal parts, fishes, fruits, vegetables, juices (including blood), breads, nuts, spices, nougat, salami, pâté, whole bunnies still in the fur, turkeys, ducks, chickens… are available for sale. Quite fantastic really and quite crowded. We took coffee and madelaines in the midst of this and discovered that the coffee we really wanted is called ‘cortado‘ – a short coffee with hot milk on top.
From the market, it was out onto the street and into the gothic quarter – old Barcelona. Beautiful narrow streets; funky shops and bars and the way to the gothic cathedral. Yo – full gothic man! Spectacular cathedral complete with American woman throwing herself at my feet at the exit – well, she’d probably call it tripping on the door frame, but I know.
Lunch was our first Barcelonan tapas experience in a tastefully decorated bar next to a table of Melbourne family. Cheese they said – manchego with fig jam of course; prawns they said – in garlic we got; ham and a cold dish they said – Jamon and Russian salad was delivered; beer I said – a huge stein of Estrella was delivered. We could learn to like this kind of lunch, hell – we already have. More walkies after lunch, through the shopping streets and up to the Placa Catalunya where after ogling the pretty fountains and the ice skating rink, ’twas time to fall on our sore feet and dive into the subway for a quick trip home and a siesta.
Headed out about 7:30 for a quick turn around the neighbourhood and bumped into a market on the main street – followed the market along a few blocks, then followed our hungryosity into a local bar a couple of blocks up from our place. Had one of those western movie experiences when you walk into the bar and all the cowboys stop and stare at you, then go back to their normal business. The waitress showed us to a table and didn’t need to explain that she had no English, so we stumbled through an order that bought Eamon a steak and chips and us a combination plate for two which surprised us by including a plate of patates brava and fried squid and a platter of chargrilled animals – half a bunny, half a chicken, a whole sausage, steak and a pork chop. Not an elegant place, but a real local bar and despite the lack of anything green to despoil our plates, a tasty and huge grilled creature selection served with an aioli that burned your mouth from soooo much garlic. We headed home in a garlic cloud and crammed into our tiny elevator to be home by 10.