Three days in to my trip and I finally have a moment to write – it is a testament to our whirlwind experience in Barcelona. There have been awe-inspiring moments and frustrating moments, and moments of beautiful cultural connection. But perhaps best to start at the beginning.
Eating like Hobbits
I came to the realization on this trip that when traveling, we end up inevitably eating like hobbits. From our departure on Saturday evening, we ate the following meals in the next 24 hours:
- 1st dinner (at PHL airport)
- 2nd dinner (on the plane)
- 1st breakfast (on the plane)
- 2nd breakfast (at LHR airport)
- Elevensies (at LHR airport)
- Strangely, no lunch
- First dinner (a failed attempt in Barcelona – more on that later)
- Second dinner (more successful, in Barcelona)
The most notable of these was the 2nd breakfast and elevensies at LHR airport. For the first time EVER, I found myself with access to a premium lounge during a layover (thanks to a new credit card.) It was one of the things I was most looking forward to for the trip, and it did not disappoint! Upon arrival at Heathrow at 9:30am local time, we made a beeline to the No 1 Lounge. We had access to showers, free wifi, unlimited breakfast and lunch buffet, coffee, and bar.
Me with my UK Glamour and coffee
Keith classin’ it up with some cognac. At 11am. Don’t judge, we’re on vacation!
I was beside myself, and am now completely converted – this is the only way to travel. Next stop: business class! Sigh. Someday.
Our hotel in Barcelona is wonderful – right in the middle of the Gothic Quarter, with a mini-kitchen, Nespresso coffee maker, and waterfall shower – thanks Hotels.com for the free nights! Soon after we arrived, we met up with my host parents from Grenoble, France – when I let them know we were coming to Spain, and would love to see them, they said, “Mais bien sur!” They had never met Keith, and seeing as how they had heard me skyping with him 10 years ago in their home, it was high time. The meeting was adorable, as Keith speaks no French, my host dad speaks no English, and my host mom speaks only a little English, heavily accented.
After catching up and exchanging news and gifts from both sides of the pond, we set off for dinner #1… and that is where my relationship with Barcelona began to get complicated. The restaurant we were going to had been highly recommended by a former student of mine, but, after walking for 30 minutes to get there, we found it was CLOSED. Since my host parents are no spring chickens and we were all hungry, we stopped at the first place we passed on the way back, which ended up being quite expensive and with fancy, attempted-fusion tapas. After spending $15 each for a bottle of wine and a few bites apiece, we headed back.
A few bites of tapas clearly was not going to cut it for Keith (and I was still peckish myself, and irritated to boot.) With a recommendation from our hotel, we headed to a local tapas place called Sensi for dinner #2 – and with MUCH more success, I am happy to say! The food was so delicious, that Keith made this face when he dropped the last bite of his dish on the floor:
We sopped our bowls clean with the crusty bread provided. So, taken altogether, our first few hours in Barcelona were a draw, but finished well.
Day 2: Let’s try this again!
The next morning, I spent several hours at my company’s center in the city. Keith and I attended a course on Barcelona history, and happily fell upon a lecture on modernisme, Gaudi, and Picasso – a perfect preview for the things we were planning to see. Afterwards, my colleague Cesar took us for lunch nearby where we experienced calcots for the first time. Calcots are exactly in the middle between a scallion and a leek – more substantial than a scallion, not as tough as leeks, and nowhere close to a ramp. They are at the end of their season in this time of year, and are eaten grilled, peeled, and dunked in this amazing red pepper-tomato-almond sauce that I am not addicted to and must find a recipe for.
After bidding adios to Cesar, we headed up the Paseig de Gracia. We poked our heads into El Nacional, which was a beautiful architectural space home to about a dozen different eateries. If we weren’t so full of calcots we would have had a coffee, but full as we were we left without tasting anything.
A bit further down the street we came upon one of the most famous sights in Barcelona – the Block of Discord, featuring 3 modernisme: At number 35 is Casa Lleò Morera, designed by Domènech i Montaner; a little further along is Casa Amatller, designed by Puig i Cadafalch; and finally, Casa Batlló, a work by Gaudí.” must admit, I knew very little of Gaudi before coming to Barcelona, but am newly fascinated and impressed. He rejected the “unnatural” forms of perfect geometric squares, triangles, and so on in favor of more natural forms – waves and trees – and used light and the beauty of nature in his works. We would see this again the following day, at Sagrada Familia and Park Guell.
After the Block of Discord, we made our way to the Mercat des Encants, a well-known flea market in northwest Barcelona. This, unfortunately, was a bit of a wash. There was a goodly amount of junk (I’m talking small mountains of used remote controls), and what WAS good was too big or fragile to even think of bringing back.
After our first successful trip on the Barcelona metro, we met up with Francoise and Daniel at La Boqueria, the central market off of the main thoroughfare, Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas was a bit too much like Times Square for my sake, but I haven ever yet met a market I didn;t like, and La Boqueria did not disappoint. There was more meat – mostly cured pork – than I have ever seen in my life, with btuchers carving fresh slivers at every other stall. Pig noses and feet, a veritable Eden of fresh fruit, and sweets galore.
We picked up some meat, cheese, bread, empanadas, (which were everywhere, interestingly) and olives for dinner, then supplemented with some Spanish wine from the grocery store on the way back to the hotel, where I also found my beloved calcots sauce, which I introduced to Francoise and Daniel. We feasted in my and Keith’s hotel room, and Francoise was so pleased. She said several times it was as if we were in another life – 10 years after living with them, we pick up as if no time has passed, in another country. (Admittedly, I’ve seen them a few times since, but still.) Which brings me to my next point…
When in Spain… speak French!
Despite all the practice I did with Duo Lingo before I left, the language I’ve spoken most since arriving… is French! It’s wonderful to speak it again, of course, and Francoise very kindly (though wrongly) says I have not lost my abilities at all. But when we try to order food or ask directions, often the Spanish-speaker will revert to English, not French, and then someone has to translate for someone, and sometimes I forget which language needs to be translated and just end up repeating the phrase in the wrong language. Not to mention the fact that when I have discussed plans with Francoise, I keep forgetting that Keith does not know what was planned, despite him sitting right next to me. Though he heard everything, of course he didn’t understand a word. So the language center of my brain is twisted in a French-English-Spanish pretzel at the moment.
More to come…
I’ll stop here for now and finish up Barcelona later… thanks to some photo upload problems this has taken much longer than it should, and I am already woefully behind. Hasta la proxima!