I feel like calling it the City of Angels, maybe because there is so much Gaudi and his spell is cast over the whole city? If there was no Gaudi would as many people visit Barcelona as they do today? It does have nice beaches, great food and an interesting history, but so many European cities do. What makes it so different? Gaudi……this coming from an Architect so maybe I am biased.
We arrived to Barcelona on a hot Summer’s day, our hotel located in the Gothic area and ‘Old Town’ near the port.The hotel seemed luxurious as it had air conditioning, something our friends in Valencia were lacking, and knew a good night sleep was awaiting us that evening. It was still early though, plenty of time to explore. First the roof top bar overlooking Barcelona.
We could see Gaudi’s mark on the city from way up here. Next walking through the small back streets of this gothic area seemed like a maze. Tall buildings seemed to encompass us with only small flickers of sun making it through the narrow distance between them.
Hunger hits. Not a problem, there are so many little bars that sell pinxtos small appetizer/tapas foods served on bread. So we stoped and loaded our plates.
It seems to be a continual occurrence that whatever place we decide to eat at suddenly gets extremely busy after we arrive. Needless to say that paying our bill was a struggle. Others came in, ate and then also waited to pay, I would say 30 minutes is a conservative estimate. We did finally make it out of there during daylight though and decided to walk to the beach. Our map actually cut off before it hit the water so we thought keep walking that way and we should reach it. WRONG. What we reached was an exact copy, or should I say that Darling Harbour is an exact copy of this port. Aquarium, Imax, Shopping mall, Food vendors, little trains. Tourist town to the max. We needed to get out of there quick smart.
So we did a loop, did not see any beach and walked back to the small alleys to get lost some more before finally making it t the hotel, tired, hot and wanting showers.
I looked up restaurants for that evening and we decided on a bar called “Bar del Pla”. Remember it. Write it down somewhere and go. Go early or be prepared to wait. We went at around 8pm (on a weeknight) and nabbed the last table available, again. People walked in and then back out the front door disappointed, a good sign that we are in a good place.
First up are tomato bread and roast chicken croquettes. Ok. BEST CROQUETTES IN SPAIN. You saw it here first. BBQ chicken, roasted, oven, cooked flavours are all here inside creamy, crunchy goodness that is a croquette. No chicken chunks, the whole filling is chicken mixture and the crumb is evenly cooked, not soggy, not falling apart. Perfection. Smiles all round. Tomato bread next. Wow. The vibrant red was not lying when that flavour hit our tongues. This is what a real tomato tastes like, but better as it is mixed with extra virgin olive oil and crusty bread. What could be a better combination. Again, you saw it here. BEST PAN CON TOMATE.
We are living it up tonight. The next two dishes we had to take recommendations from the helpful staff. Smashed eggs with Chorizo is like fried eggs smashed but they must be cooked over a low heat as they are soft and have no crispy sides at all. The chorizo was super super strong and did need the eggs to balance the flavour hit. Together smeared on bread. Heaven.
Last savory dish the scallops with green sauce and pine nuts. Scallops are just a hard ingredient to work with. They over cook at the blink of an eye, cool down rapidly and can taste bland if not cooked well. These chefs know how to cook up some scallop. These gigantic mummas were soft as butter and melted in our mouths. The dill sauce just enhanced the creaminess of the scallops, which were hot I might add.
Ahhhh with perfection comes food comas, naturally. Did I mention we had ‘a refreshing salad’ too? It didn’t matter as Chris HAD to order dessert. I just HAD to eat some too. Gelato. Simplest dish of the night. Chocolate, vanilla and Lemon and mint sorbet. They were all incredible but the lemon mint was so interesting and like a cocktail in our gelato. Refreshing in more ways than one and when mixed with vanilla brought back childhood memories of summertime spiders.
Chris can we come back tomorrow? He said yes. It was like a marriage that should last forever. Us and Bar del Pla.
Day 2 started off with a walking tour of Gaudi. The first building we visited was Casa Batllo in the ‘ritzy’ part of town. No teeny tiny alleys but instead wide roads where light is only hidden by trees and shops galore, especially the further away from the Port you get. Near Casa Batllo the road is boasting the likes of Zegna, Burberry and Jimmy Choo.
The beauty and uniqueness of this monument adds colour and breaks up the rigidity and repetition that the street possesses. Gaudi was the first to embrace the natural forms in more than just a handrail and ornaments.
The detail inside and leaves me in awe and wanting to replicate these mosaics in my house, but no time to dwell on that we are ushered onto the next building, Casa Mila. Unfortunately this one was under repair and the whole façade was boarded up. Finally, the last building on our tour, the grand Sagrada Familia.
What a structure it was. Unfortunately it is also under heavy construction which is forecast to be finished in approximately 15 years. We were so glad that we had a local guide to tell us all about the differing facades. Firstly the façade that was finished just after Gaudi’s death and one that only he had designed. It is the passion façade which is dedicated to Jesus, Mary and Joseph from the Angels telling Mary of her pregnancy to the birth of Jesus in many different scenes. The sculptures are all very organic with flowers and leaves an integral part of every scene. The reason for this is that in the time of Gaudi people thought that with the fast paced life post WWII that people will loose nature and forget what it was like, and this is why it was integrated into the architecture to remind us what it was like.
The second façade is the passion façade and symbolizing lead up and death of Jesus from soliders coming to arrest him, then Jesus carrying the crucifix to him being crucified. Although Gaudi did leave detailed information of what each scene should have, it was the interpretation of a new sculptor who had the job to finish this façade. The sculptures are much more rigid with their hard edges and are lacking life. Although it is very cold it is also beautiful.
We decided to save the interior tour to another day when our stomachs weren’t commanding so much from us. Off we went walking the few kilometers back to the old town and to the food markets. After Madrid we were inspired to try as many in Spain as possible. The Mercado de Santa Caterina was a very different experience to that in Spain. Although it is a building I have studied in Architecture classes, seen many photos of due to its interesting roof, it is not what we expected. A market for the people is the best was I can put it. Fresh seafood, meat, vegetables and fruit. No cafes, tables, bars to get some take away food or sit down at for a glass of wine. There was one or two nice restaurants on the edge of the markets but not cheap options at all. We ended up at a simple café just out of the markets for a sandwich and salad. Lunch and the afternoon were quite non eventful other than some shopping and more wine at a wine bar.
Day 3 was the day we had booked in a wedding photo shoot through the streets of Barcelona and also another of Gaudi’s amazing site, Park Guell. Our morning was simple hitting up our local coffee joint which is probably the only boutique roaster in Barcelona and was like finding gold. No longer did we have to worry about having bad coffee every day, now we could go and order our Americano and Cortado (long black and piccolo) and enjoy…We then stood in line to see the Picasso Museum which thankfully is in the Gothic area so we did not need to walk far. If you go please do me a favour and get the Audio Tour, you learn so much more about Picasso and also his artworks which adds to the appreciation of the tour. Lunch was a simple sandwhich and salad again, we were saving room for a nice dinner at Bar Mut.
So while I got hair and make up done for the shoot Chris went off for some beer, wine, CROQUETTES at Bar Del Pla and a Vodka, but he came back empty handed with nothing for me.
The photo shoot was great, hot but great. Our photographer, Gabby from Enroute Photography was helpful and told us exactly what to do, and what not to do! After nearly two hours in the gothic area we headed up to Park Guell where ‘the shot’ I wanted was waiting. Park Guell reminds me of Gaudi meets Willi Wonka as the park looks like it has edible gingerbread houses and candy everywhere. People had started to clear out as we were there right before it closed, waiting for that sunset shot. Well here are some of the shots we got. Worth it? I think so.
After the shoot we got back to the hotel and stripped just to cool down, but not for long, redress in more comfortable clothes for dinner. Bar Mut is not a restaurant you can find a lot of information on, its website only has a weird 25 minute long video which is more about the characters and their stories than the food. We got there and were sat up at the bar.
The menu was a board which were hard to decipher as it was in Catalan and not Castellano, which is more familiar to Chris and I. We were told some specials but just let the waiter recommend as we really did not know where to start. First came out croquettes which we were sure were to be pulpo but actually tasted plain. Definitely not pulpo in there, just crispy goodness and creamy filling. Well enjoyable nonetheless but nowhere near Bar del Pla.
Next was carpaccio of egg or a very runny yolky thin omelette with prawns and crispy noodles. YUM. We were instructed to mix it all together so it would be a plate full of crunchy, creamy seafood goodness. There was no point plating it up between us, I ate straight off the plate.
Fullness was kicking in right here, mind you I did eat the majority of that egg dish. I just love eggs! We had a break before our whole fish was displayed to us, cooked in a copper dish, prior to being filleted. It was enormous. The fish was emitting aromas of white wine, butter, herbs and garlic and those potatoes might just looked like cooked potatoes but they had soaked up all of those delicious juices.We ate and ate and ate until we could ‘ate’ no more. This was one of those times where you have used up your dessert stomach for mains and therefore dessert was not an option.
We found it incredible that large tables were coming in to dine at 11:30pm, but in Europe this is so normal. I will admit that when their main came out, the Chateaubriand we had serious food envy as we had not had a good steak in quite a while and wish we had ordered the meat. C’est la vie. We were full, satisfied and ready for a nice long sleep.
Day 4 we went for a long long walk. This walk started with us looking for breakfast, since we slept in and missed the hotel buffet. I remembered seeing a nice bakery but when we walked and walked and walked and still could not find it we gave in and just sat down at any regular bar for ‘brunch’ as it was now midday. I watched the waiter make us coffee. My long black was over extracted then the button was pressed for another extraction on with the same coffee. I was cringing everytime I glanced that way and wished we were back at the boutique roaster. To my complete surprise it was not bitter and it was drinkable but probably knowing how it was done made me not enjoy it.
We decided to find the beach so at least we could say we saw it. If we thought it was hot on our wedding shoot this was another level of heat. We walked and walked trying to hide in the shade of trees, which in the central gardens were not plenty.
We also could not exit the gardens how we had hoped as the Zoo blocked us out so we walked around the zoo then the Parliament blocked us out and geez look where we ended up, right back where we entered, wasting time and energy. So we walked AROUND the gardens now and looked out for public transport to the beach. Nothing, so we walked a bit further. We were ecstatic when we saw the light rail as the light rail in Valencia took us right to the beach so we hoped for a similar situation. Nope. It would take us 200m down the road to the final stop. We ended up walking the rest of the way to the beach. It was a beautiful beach with real sand and not pebbles.
We were kicking ourselves we did not bring our costumes with us. When we set out in the morning we did not know where we would end up. The heat made us think silly things like ‘let’s go in the water in our clothes’. Easy for Chris who had already stripped his shirt off and could easily jump in in his shorts. We walked along the beach back towards the centre until I realized I was getting a shorts tan. AHHH isn’t that something men only get? I had to get in the shade asap. Now we were done with the beach and on our way back but were on the look out for a 95 bus which would go near our hotel. Many buses past us and when the 95 did we ran to the next bus stop only for the bus to leave 3 seconds to early. Nooooooo. We walked back stopping for lunch and coffee then collapsed in our air conditioned hotel room for a quick rest then were up again to go to see the insides of Sagrada Familia which we were booked in for at 5pm. The plan was to do the church then go get dinner and watch the Spain vs Holland game.
Sagrada Familia is an incredible church not only for the sheer size of it but Gaudi’s mind and creation is just brilliance. Every single piece of glass, every column has a meaning and a need. I cannot even try to explain why things were done but here are a few photos which will try to show you the generous that is Gaudi.
When considering where to watch the game that evening we needed a large screen and dinner so we could get a good spot early on in the night in front of the screen. The place I went a few nights before was okay, not great but worth a try. We were definitely early as it was not terribly busy yet. We ordered our meals, both hungry for hamburgers after walking for miles earlier that day. Our hamberguesas came out and were not what we expected. A hamburger patty with two fried eggs and hot chips. Well not quite what we expected but we were hungry and devoured the plates. Well the bar did get packed and then we were glad we did not go to the Irish pub up the road as you could hardly see the screen there were that many people. We were comfortable at our table enjoying wine right in front of the screen.
There is nothing to say except Spain are terrible and the locals were walking out of the Bar at half time. Not quite the experience we wanted watching Spain play in Spain.
Our last night was a let down but we weren’t finishes with Barcelona quite yet.
The next day we went to pick up our hire car we would have for the next 10 days. Today we were driving it to Granollers, only half an hour outside of Barcelona to watch the Moto GP.
Picking up the car was ok, although it was not the car we had booked, it was much larger and also not manual like requested but automatic with the stop start at the traffic lights. The integrated GPS was a bit delayed when in a busy city so it took us at least half an hour to get out of Barcelona city and onto a highway. Once we did the GPS was fine and directing us like it should. Well. Granollers is not a sight for sore eyes. A small town which gets busy once or twice a year for the Moto GP and maybe the F1 too. Our hotel would have been close to the race track but a lot of roads had been closed so that traffic was directed in and out of the race track on only a few roads. We raced to see the qualifiers but as we were walking in after parking we could hear the crown go wild as it had just finished. If roads had not been closed and our GPS not so confused we would have made it. What can you do. We watched the Moto3 qualifiers then walked around to see the merchandise.
So if we thought that getting out of Barcelona was bad, getting out of the race track was probably 20x worse. We were not moving. Our hotel was a 10 minute drive away. It took us an hour to just get on the highway, then another 5 to the hotel. By this time we were hungry so drove straight into the town for dinner. It was 6:30pm at this stage. We went to the main square, found a restaurant and sat down. Unfortunately we were told that dinner does not start until 8pm so we only had the small bar menu to order off. It didn’t look to appetizing when I went up to have a look a the options. I ordered a few things including chorizo, potatoes and tortilla. Chorizo was served in a pool of oil, the potatoes were ok but the tortilla was still raw. We nibbled then went to the bar next door for a wine. The bar also happened to have a tv and world cup games on, so we stayed there all night and had simple snacks to get us by. Not a gastronomic experience at all.
Race day we were up early to get a good park and watch warm ups. We were also worried about the traffic getting there. No problem, it took 10 minutes and we got a good park as the car park was not full yet. The effects of this wouldn’t hit us until later in the afternoon.
The Moto GP however was full of excitement. Valentino Rossi lead for the first half then Marquez came to first and Pedrosa in second. After this is was like musical chairs and they kept changing but the local Marc Marquez won in his home town and the crown went wild. We did not stay to listen to the interviews post race as we did not want to be in a long line driving home.
Well I think it was inevitable. We were at the back of the car park and actually did not even leave the car park for at least an hour. In hindsight we should have done the shifty like everyone else and push in on the side. The whole drive took us an hour and a half to get out and into town. A lot of people were driving back to Barcelona so we were happy we were going back into the small town.
We were experienced today so went for a pre dinner drink and waited until a nice restaurant opened at 8:30pm. Finally we had a proper dinner of steak and slow cooked lamb and we enjoyed every bite. Unfortunately my stomach did not appreciate the sudden change to super rich food and I was not feeling too well that night!
Thankfully the next morning I was better ahead of our 5hr drive to Saint Sebastian……but that is another story.