Monday, June 07, 2010

barcelona day two

No alarm clock this morning. Yeehaw.

We strolled down the ramblas to cafe zurich for a quick coffee then on to the Boqueria market for a look around. The presentation at every single stand was astounding. Each stall a rainbow of colours, seafoods, blackened legs of ham, chocolates, nuts, sweets, veg. We started with a little paper cone full of croquettas of salt cod. In the end, Kiosko Universal got our vote for lunch. We shuffled a stool or two to make room for ourselves (occasionally having to get up to let the next shift in under the counter). The stand was an island, three men hustling inside a bar lined with glass shelves and white platters of fresh seafood; on the outside of the glass, a U of happy people perched on stools, oily fingers clasping glasses of beer or wine. We ordered a couple of glasses of Cava, a bubbly white wine perfect for daytime, some tiny little clams, razor clams, all fresh from the sea thrown on the griddle with a splash of oil and some crystal salt. Then some calmar on a bed of fresh fries. As soon as any of it came off the griddle, our man behind the bar squeezed an oil & garlic & parsley emulsion over the whole thing. OH MY GOD! On the top of the bar was a huge rectangular plate of mixed mushrooms which we couldn't resist. Again, fried in oil and perfect and delicious. A few chunks of hearty bread to soak up the last drops.

We wandered back to the bicycle rental place where the new attendant, upon hearing that we were from Quebec, hit us with a very interesting (post-cava) but long-winded talk about separation and the oppression of the catalan people by the centralist spanish government. We rode through the Barri Gotico, a maze of narrow alleys with foot-deep wrought-iron balconies lined with flowerpots and washing hanging overhead. Every alley hits you with a new view of the city, impossible-to-resist hidden corners, glimpses of spires, stone arches. A little shopping at Camper (can you come to Spain and NOT go to Camper?). Sandals for me. Metrosexual running shoes for my hot husband. Past the statue of Cristofol Colom pointing toward the new world and down to the sea. Then along the beach crowded with topless and occasionally naked spaniards, wandering masseuses, and very pink and very drunk brits. Bike paths abound, we rode on through La Ciutadella park and back up to the hotel for a snooze. Siestas are so civilized.

Awoke to the lovely sounds of an accordeon playing in the street.

Off to Cal Pep, our first choice for dinner, where we decided that having people standing in line behind you while trying to enjoy dinner wasn't what we were looking for. The long walk in the new shoes back across town into Parallelo to find Quimet y Quimet, a tapas bar that has been handed down from Quimet to Quimet since 1914. Brother and sister man the place. An eight-foot long bar, a pair of square-foot round tables in the middle of the floor. No seating. The fifteen foot high walls lined with floor to ceiling bottles and their posted price by the glass. We nudged our way into a spot at the bar and watched Sr Quimet concocting tapes. Little rounds of bread topped with sour cream, salmon, tapenade and a generous drizzle of honey. "Any advice for us?" I asked a Spanish trio on our right. Take whatever he tells you to take" was the answer. "He makes the best tapas in Barcelona!" Wil ordered a couple of glasses of cava and pointed to something on the bar, a practically liquid round of sheep's milk cheese. Sr. Quimet spooned a heap onto a round of bread and topped it with a few sweet, pickled chestnuts. Then a mixed platter of fish and one of seafood. Slices of salmon, sardines, bacalao, hot-smoked slices of tuna, smoked oysters with little piles of tomato salsa & tapenade, the other plate razor clams, calmar, and tiny little clams. We chatted with our neighbours, Teresa, her brother and her husband, who was a gypsy. She was born in Valencia but her parents moved to Barcelona when she was six months old. She and her family obviously did not share the bike rental guy's feelings about Catalunya and its need for independence. "We refuse to speak Catalan" they said. Teaching only Catalan in school makes us backward and keeps us from moving forward. When I asked her questions about what was on her plate, she handed me little slices of things, a thin slice of bright orange cheese, a chunk of blue, a little cube of manchego. We bought them a round of beers, they countered with a round of cava.

She tut-tutted Wil when he put down a tip on the bar. One euro is more than enough, she said. Four is criminal! We walked back, sandals in hand with my new-shoe-blistered feet, through a neighbourhood completely different from the other side of the Ramblas. Clusters of muslim women with strollers chatting while their older children pushed scooters in the deserted streets. Halal and shawarma shops testament to the big north african population. Past black-as-night African vendors with their Dolce & Gabbana handbags or sunglasses laid out on square sheets with ropes tied to the four corners, one hand ready on the rope to pull the whole into a tidy bundle for a quick getaway? Sunburnt brits in white tube tops and floral flipflops.

Barcelona is fantastic.

Sunday, June 06, 2010


Our tearful departure from Abercorn wasn't nearly as difficult as I expected (except for me!). The kids, now with Mia & Kai, waved us off as I snivelled and bawled in the car. The flights were seamless, except for one AC employee telling us that checking our bags in would not hamper our attempt to get on an earlier flight, only to find out five minutes later that we couldn't possibly get on an earlier flight if our bags were already checked. Thankfully, it was the only hiccup.

Despite all my best efforts to sleep on the flight — coughing up for the stupid, fleece-covered donut pillow, the black satin eye mask, the 50 decibel earplugs, not to mention draining my parents' pharma shelf of some major tranquilizers — I still only managed to get in an hour or two. I ended up curled up on the floor (which elicited a "well... aren't you flexible!" from the stewardess as we deplaned.)

The trip into Barcelona was fun — figuring out the quickest and cheapest way in on the train. We wandered up the Rambla de la Catalunya and found our little hotel (Praktik Rambla) tucked into a non-descript facade. The young receptionist was lovely but our room wouldn't be ready until at least noon and it was only 9. Aargh. She handed us a free umbrella for the spitting sky, we left her with our bags and headed out. We stopped in to a little bar/resto next door and pulled up a couple of stools. Delicious, creamy cafe con leche with a yummy little crunchy sandwich — a lot like a ciabatta with slices of serrano ham and cheese. We strolled down the tourist-choked Rambla, a gorgeous, wide pedestrian avenue lined with vendors — of postcards and souvenirs and songbirds — that leads all the way to the beach.

We were impressed with the strings of Bicing bikes (like bixies in Montreal) strewn all across town but were disappointed to find that they weren't available to tourists. We opted instead for a pair of black witch-in-the-wizard-of-oz bikes. We hopped on and headed over up to Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's freakish cathedral. We didn't brave the interior, the line-ups were just too long. Sundays in Barcelona are quiet. No traffic to speak of. A perfect introduction to pedalling around the town.

We made a quick stop at the place next door for a beer and a taste of one of their yummy tapes. A piece of bread covered with a mahi-mahi mousse, topped with aa fresh anchovy and a little pickled pepper and a yummy platter of mixed olives. mmmmm. Quick, oh-so-delicious nap at the hotel. The room is lovely, a strange combo of classic and modern, fifteen-foot high ceiling with elaborate plasterwork, painted in black and white stripes with the addition of an ultra-modern bathroom housed in a mirrored box in the corner of the room. Every inch of floor covered in beautiful tilework that changes from room to hall. Our little balcony overlooks the Rambla. Feeling seriously lucky. After our snooze, we climbed the hill on our bikes (puff, puff) to Parc Güell, the crazy multi-level park with a killer view of the sea designed by Gaudi and where he spent his final years. After the climb up to the park, we cruised back down through the lovely labyrinth that is Barcelona.

Later on to Taller de Tapas for a bottle of rosé, a plate of octopus and potato in olive oil and paprika, buñuelos, little deep-fried croquettas of salt cod (I couldn't help thinking of us crowding around Ana Maria's frying pan on those lucky days on Wilson avenue) and last, but definitely not least, a plate of a variety of fresh mushrooms fried in olive oil and caramelized garlic with parsley. Spectacular food. We returned the bikes, bought a brick of Torró d'Alacant - almonds, honey, sugar and egg whites, my new favourite sweet thing and then home for a little R&R and then off to supper at 10!

We searched high and low for a place we'd read about but we couldn't find it. Instead, we settled into a couple of chairs on the sidewalk outside a cute little family place on a corner. With nary a tourist in sight, which is no easy feat in Barcelona. A bottle of cava open on many tables. We had fresh grilled sardines (which are in no way related to the goopy, oily mess that comes out of the can), a fish soup (which couldn't have been more different from the Mexican version) a thickish, tomatoey soup with chunks of white fish and rice. A little green salad, lettuce, tomatoes and onions with a bottle of oil and a bottle of vinegar brought to the table. And slices of chewy baguette. All rounded off by a bottle of chilly cava.