I first visited Barcelona in 1986 as the whole country was still coming out from behind the darkened doorways of Francoism. Many areas were not advisable to wander into & it really was more than a bit dusty in parts, although, the intriguing Modernista facades always shone. Nothing quite like the first time you come across the strange ironwork and ocular windows of the Modernist architects on the Passeig de Gracia.
The beach, such a welcome place to snooze after a long sunday lunch, was still a far cry from the Miami-esc promenade, busy with young & old on an assortment of wheeled gadgets that it is today. The glittering Fish building (which looks more akin to a male bedpan to me) was only a twinkle in Frank Gehry’s eye.
Eleven short years after the the death of Generalissimo Franco the stage was being set for the 1992 Olympic games high up on Montjuic in the shadow of the castle where so many many political prisoners had wound up in the not too distant past. The city was receiving a thorough rub down, new high tech infrastructure was being put in place, to run along beside ancient funiculars & street cars. In Catalunya’s capitol, a city steeped in history & tradition, there were still superstar matadors in the lobby of the swish hotel where I was staying & you could happily potter around Gaudi’s Parc Guell (Antoni meeting his own demise by one such tram, a mere 80 years earlier) unmolested by the hoards.
Nearly three decades later, that doesn’t make me an ancient traveller, just means I started early, VERY EARLY! Myself & Mr W are just back from what is fast becoming our annual if not, at a push, bi-annual visit to my retirement destination of choice, AGAIN, not for a long time I just like a plan & I plan to retire early, very early!
The renovation continues, with the unveiling in 2013 of the newly restored Mercat del Born. A bit of a contentious reveal bearing in mind the amount spent & the continuing ‘crisis’ that cripples. However the neighbourhood bars, shops & restaurants which are also undergoing a large dose of reinvention & rejuvenation do seem to be benefiting from the pull of the hungry masses & it’s become necessary to be bold in the ways of jostling to secure an ancient vino barrel on which to prop your Vermut & Aubergines fried with honey, in heaving bars such as the lively Bormuth.
There’s an increasing emergence of brunch spots in Barcelona, particularly in the more dare I say ‘trendy’ parts of El Born & El Poble Sec with places such as Caravelle, Elsa y Fred, Taranna, Suculent & the excellent Picnic popping up to offer a more relaxed less drawn out eating experience. Possibly as a result of the bright young things travelling to the States, down under & the UK, there’s a shift, and finding incredible fresh fried green tomatoes or crisp caesar salads, accompanied by inventive juice combinations on menus is fast becoming a piece of cake, of which, the carrot in Taranna was excellent!
Eggs are good, the Spanish are always good with an egg, didn’t fancy the large emu one we saw a man buy in the market mind you, but my Revuelto (scrambled eggs) in Elsa y Fred which came with thin slices of salty Manchego atop was superb. Bread is better, forget thin slices of baguette that come in a basket & accompany everything, we feasted on in Santa Caterina market a bake so dense with yeasty ferment it was like a pint of micro brewery ale in a doughy form, manna.
Not really really the last word in tourist information just little things we like to do.
The view from the top floor of El Corte Ingles, Placa de Catalunya. A real 360° treat.
For those that like your public swimming pools bleachy clean this may not be for you, but for those that are happy to keep flip flops in place until the dive in, the view from the former Olympic outdoor swimming pool, as featured in the recent TV ad for a certain model of Ford, where a diver plunges through open doors into the water below, is well worth the hike up the hill. A welcome reprieve from the heat of the day, the panorama over the city is a sight to behold, just be warned if you’ve had one too many cafe con leche & you need to go, holding your nose in the changing area is the best advice I can offer. It is faded but it aint ‘arf grand.
Whilst your there you could also have a pop in to the wonderful Fundacio Joan Miro for an arty hit.
For a free taster of modernist attention to detail visit Vincon, next door to La Pedrera on Gracia. Upstairs is the furniture section of the store, housed in a modernist mansion there is an outside terrace where you can easily take pictures of the roof detail of its more famous neighbour. Back inside there are still remnants of days gone by as the original door furniture, tiled floors, wooden casements & even kitchen hearth are still in place.
By all means have a peak in La Boqueria market, it is breathtaking, but if you actually want to shop for fleshy tomatoes, ugly fish & more varieties of cured meat than you can shake a bread stick at, in addition to sitting at a bar counter relishing an eye popping array of market fresh tapas, without the feeling that a mugging or at least a proper fleecing are imminent, head directly over Las Ramblas to the wonderful, colourfully roofed Santa Caterina Market. La Torna is a favourite pit stop, try the Tonyino, loin of tuna with sweet slow cooked onions.
Santa Caterina is also a good place to stock up, if your like me & have a slight obsession with smoked paprika.
Pick up picnic makings, from Santa Caterina, wander through El Born, and head over to Parc de la Ciutadella for some respite from the heat under the parakeet filled trees. Over by the west gate beyond the magnificent fountain and past the mammoth! You may even find yourselves involved in a game of ping pong on one of the public tables.
On Barceloneta, be savvy, leave the reddening throng and dip down the side streets. The narrow roads are on a grid system and will always lead you to the sea eventually. Whilst you're winding your way through the barrio, look out for La Cova Fumada, our favourite place for bar leaning, homegrown wines & Arengue (very salty salt cured herring reminiscent of pirate food) you’ll see it before you reach it, it’ll be the tiny hole in the wall with the large crowd outside.
L’Ostia in Catalan can mean “bloody amazing” and whilst on the old fisherman’s quarter of Barceloneta what you will find at the self named restaurant L’Ostia, are bloody amazing tapas and small plates. The Salt cod with white beans that I had were definitely up there in my top 10.
For Vintage shopping, head to Riera Baixa St near Sant Antoni to pick up some still well priced vintage bargains. There is a burgeoning vintage scene in Barcelona but it’s still enough in it’s infancy to uncover treasure at very reasonable prices. Lailo in particular has an amazing collection including everything from the ruched seersucker swimsuits of the 50’s, sailers caps from Cartengena to costumes from the Barcelona Opera. In my romantic mind, I picture the incredibly informative señora who runs the shop from behind piles of bags with lovely snaps, as a former wardrobe mistress of the ballet Russes when Picasso designed the costumes for Diaghilev, this however would make her approximately 110 years old so probably not either flattering or feasible. Her daughter perhaps? I hope so.
If you decide to have a climb to the top of Sagrada Familia, which I firmly believe should be on everyone’s bucket list, reward your efforts by sating your thirst with a trip to the nearby Casa Mariol. Mr W is a Vermut man I’m more of a Rosado kinda girl, either way an excellent selection are on offer, accompanied by some wonderful goats cheese in fruity olive oil or gigantic olives stuffed with anchovies & peppers it’s an excellent way to regain equilibrium, whilst watching a constant stream of locals coming in to refill their plasticos from the barrels along one wall. The opposite is full of bottles of the same only smartly labelled in what Mr W would probably describe as playful typography, I just like the colours. I think I might also have a soft spot for Casa Mariol as the wines are produced very close to our house in Catalunya & they remind me of home. Salud.
Just discovered that the fine offerings from Casa Mariol feature on the wine menu at Jose Pizzaro, guess we’ll just have to pop along for a taste just to make sure that they travel well & a reminisce, shame!
For a peak at a Gaudi masterpiece without the enormous crowds found at Casa Batillo or La Pedrera, you might head to the slightly lesser known Palau Guell. Built for Gaudi’s benefactor Eusebi Guell & his family, this gem has recently been restored and only opened it’s doors to the public in 2012.
More shopping of a vintage kind, well more the flea market kind actually. Els Encants has moved into it’s shiny new home. Expect to jostle, haggle and marvel at some of the odd merchandise on offer, from headless dolls to beautiful etched glass, all beneath the undulating bronzed roof, which, as you approach gives you a fun house view of the markets goings on.
I know I know once again W&W landed in a major city and ate & drank their way around. But isn’t that what life is about? Great food, good wines, long walks through winding streets marvelling at architecture & art both antiquated & contemporary, breathing the air, the sun on your face making your freckles appear, laughing with friends, being tongue tied & giggling at your bad pronounciation, falling in to bed weary with a slight Vino fuzz, until you have to be back on that Easyjet flight back to actuality that is.
I’ve mentioned a few of the people & places we love, but if the wind should be carrying you to Barcelona any time soon, be in touch, I’ve got pocketfuls of favourites and I’m more than happy to share.