Barcelona: August 17 2010
We tied up at Marina Port Vell on August 1 and walked and walked....and walked some more (www.marinaportvell.com). Barcelona has a big footprint in both population and land area with 1.6 million people in a 39 square mile area which makes it the sixth most populated city in the EU, and the largest on the Mediterranean coast. We strolled the medieval alleys of both the Gothic quarter and El Born, promenaded on the Rambla shaded by plane trees and soaked up the summer vibes along the old port which ends at Barceloneta beach. Our first practical activity was to get up and running on the Spanish phone system. As always it took 3/4 of a day with return visits to the Vodafone shop followed by several calls to the help desk. However, by the end of the day we were once again connected to the world...hopefully staying connected through to the Canary Islands (they're Spanish). Plus we had a few boat projects started like minor zipper replacement on the full enclosure and replacement of the dinghy hoist ropes. Barefeet was spruced up and we were off to meet Hugh and Fran at the airport (August 3). It was great to see them as they materialized through the frosted, sliding glass doors of customs. Gosh, they look great! Restaurant Oblo, just steps from Barefeet, provided a great patio for pizza and salad before venturing further into town (carrer de l'Escar 10-16). A lone guitar player provided haunting melodies that filled the tiny gothic alleys with lovely song. It was a magical introduction to Barcelona.
La Sagrada Familia is the "under construction" temple of architect Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926)...practically the symbol of Barcelona. Construction began in 1882 and is expected to be completed in 2026...yikes...how does the vision stay together?! The structure looks like a sand drip castle that is layered with symbolism...from the birth of Jesus to Christ's passion and death...all ornately crowded with flora and fauna including the "tree of life" with white doves. We gaped at the sight but could not rationalize waiting in a line that rivaled Space Mountain at Disneyland (August 4). Instead we wound our way to the Parc de la Ciutadella...the site of the 1887 and 1888 World's Fair. As a student Gaudi had a hand in creating the monumental fountain, Cascada, surrounded by gardens and lakes (he has many works scattered around the city). It was a tranquil place to catch up on each other's lives. But then we had to regroup for Chris' dentist appointment (ph +34 932279824, Rossello 132). Yes, that root canal from Thailand is still causing problems. Chris went for a chat with a local dentist, x-rays in hand...and returned 1.5 hours later one tooth lighter and clutching antibiotics and pain killers. Eeek! Not feeling up to a meal Chris stayed on the boat while Erin, Hugh and Fran had dinner at 7 Portes (www.7portes.com). 7 Portes has been fine tuning its recipes since 1836 and our taste buds were quite happy. Sorry Chris missed it but we will gladly make a return trip. This was our first real introduction to Catalan cuisine..."born out of the cooking of the Romans who occupied the area for almost 700 years and later enriched by invading Visigoths and Moors followed by French and Italian merchants and immigrant restaurateurs" (Coleman Andrews from Catalan Cuisine, Europe's Last Great Culinary Secret). We had tender broad beans flavored with mint and olive oil; bread smeared with tomato and drizzled with olive oil; luscious paella with rice, chicken, sausage, clams, mussels, monkfish and prawns; succulent lamb chops; all finished with fresh strawberries...yum.
Barcelona is the capital of the Catalan region of Spain. However, most Catalans consider themselves Catalan first and Spanish second. Catalonia has its own language, cuisine, art...and autonomy as of 1978 via the Spanish constitution but ever pushing for greater self-rule. We struck out in search of this culture within a culture with a bit of shopping (August 5). First stop was the enormous Boqueria Market on the Rambla. It is the largest market in Europe with stalls and stalls of fruits, vegetables, fish, beef, poultry, pork, sausage, ham, eggs, mushrooms...even a tiny Latin stall with jalapenos, chipotles and refried beans. As with most of Barcelona the Boqueria used to be something else...in the case of the market it used to be a convent...that burned to the ground in 1835. And as Robert Hughes describes it, "Hang me for a gluttonous atheist if you will, but compared to the increase of human happiness afforded by this great market, the loss of a couple of convents is nothing (from Barcelona - The Great Enchantress)." Barcelona is serious about its food. Then it was a bit of rambling through streets with lamps that more closely resemble gorgeous earrings rather than functional infrastructure. We stopped in at El Indio where we found hand towels and textiles (Carme 24). The place has been going since 1870 and still has the cashier behind an ornate wooden pulpit...and rippling floor tiles are smoothed by a carpet cover. Back to Barefeet for sundowners and we had margaritas (limes from the Boqueria) aided by a new lime squeezer compliments of Lino and Phyllis. Fantastic guys, this squeezer makes quick work of juicing. Thanks!
Boqueria blueberries played a role in our American pancake breakfast as we fueled up for more exploring (August 6). Barcelona is brimming with all sorts of museums from perfume to maritime to art to textiles. I counted 42 museums in the index of our guidebook alone. We took the aerial route to Montjuic and the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC) via the Transbordador Aeri gondola. We swung above the port and were deposited part way up the peak of Montjuic. The views were spectacular. And since we had been walking around so much we could figure out the areas that were laid out below us...very cool. Montjuic's forests and parks are a nice contrast to the bustling urban city below...and were the focal point for the 1929 World's Fair and the 1992 Olympics. Many structures still remain from the World's Fair, including the building which houses the MNAC. It took us two visits to take in its massive collection of Catalan art from 12th and 13th century Romanesque mural art rescued from churches in the Pyrenees to 19th and 20th century modern art of the modernisme movement with works by artists such as Fortuny, Picasso, Dali, Casas and Gaudi (www.mnac.cat). It was easy to see the museum at our own pace with dozens of comfy sofa rest stops scattered around the museum outside the exhibit rooms. The Maritime museum was also interesting, despite renovations which greatly reduced the boats on display (August 7). The museum structure is the actual medieval civic architecture of Barcelona's shipyards...back before the sea had receded when the water's edge was at the doorstep of the shipyards.
The dinner hour is later here than we are used to so we "cheat" and arrive at restaurants at about 8pm (or we eat on the boat at 6pm). Els Quatre Gats crossed our path as we meandered through the Gothic Quarter one night (Montsio 3, www.4gats.com). The restaurant has been a legend since 1897 when Pere Romeu hoped "to bring the most bohemian traces of Paris to Barcelona." And he did. It is a place with delicious food but doesn't take itself too seriously...and has been a meeting spot of painters, poets and musicians for decades. During lean periods several artists donated their artistry in exchange for a meal. For example, Picasso provided a painting for the cover of the menu and Ramon Casas provided whimsical murals (originals are now at the MNAC). Yet another Gaudi creation is Parc Guell (begun in 1900). It is a woodland area with sweeping views of Barcelona peppered with Gaudi creations such as the gingerbread-style gate houses, 4 foot long lizard and bench said to be the longest in the world. All are creations of broken mosaic collage. The place was packed but enjoyable to wander the dirt paths and spy surprises around every corner (August 8). We followed the Gaudi park with Gaudi buildings as we walked home along Passeig Gracia. Gaudi was definitely not idle as wealthy residents tried to outdo each other with building projects of more and more spectacular design. Casa Mila is an undulating apartment complex without a single straight wall or right angle...most of the apartments are still private homes. Casa Battlo was originally built as a town house. The common theory is that the building represents the legend of St George and his dragon (St George is the patron saint of Catalonia). It is not much of a stretch to see the scales of the dragon in the roof tiles and shape or St George in the turret. Wow - these buildings are really amazing.
We have enjoyed the food of Barcelona so much that Fran and Erin took a Catalan cooking class (www.catacurian.com). Our class of five followed our instructor Alicia around the Boqueria Market as we gathered materials for our class (August 11). We returned to Alicia's apartment just off the Rambla and created amazing dishes; however, I definitely had my doubts after first hearing our menu. We made roasted padron peppers, mussels with garlic and rosemary, Catalan fish stew and, for dessert, yogurt with orange blossom water (this was decadent despite sounding "healthy"). The aromas that filled the air were tantalizing from the beginning. And cooking in a terra cotta cazuela de barro felt like we were being let in on a few Catalan cooking secrets. We left in the afternoon feeling like we could (and would) repeat these recipes at home. But not tonight because it was our last night together with Hugh and Fran. We strolled through Barceloneta and out to the beach before settling into a pizza restaurant with a wood fired oven. We had such a great time but now Hugh and Fran must return to Boston and we need to head to the Balearics.
Yogurt with Orange Blossom Water: 8 oz Greek yogurt; 1/4 cup sugar; juice from one orange; 7-8 Tablespoons orange blossom water; orange zest for garnish. 1) Mix all ingredients except the orange zest. 2) Cover and put in freezer for 2-3 hours. 3) Stir the contents of the bowl every now and then. 4) Serve in Martini glasses garnished with zest.
Back to just the two of us and we continued with boat projects; service the windlass, stainless cleaning, reinforce anchor chain run, shell repair...and dinghy fix (August 11). Hhhhhmmmm. One of our dinghy tubes seems to have a slow leak and it is quite deflated after only a couple of days. We have connected with "Boat Doctor" Rutger who has had the dinghy taken away for diagnosis (+34 608362 957, www.boatdoctor.eu). Now we just have to wait and see...tick tock...but we are ready to get out to the islands. Oh well, diversions are plentiful in Barcelona. For example, Erin has put her new cooking skills to work and successfully recreated much of her cooking class menu (August 13). Yum, mussels are solidly in our future! Plus, we wandered over to the neighborhood of Gracia near the Fontana metro stop (August 14). Our initial goal was to find Hibernian Books because the whole inventory of the shop is secondhand English language books (17 Montseny, www.hibernian-books.com). What we found, in addition to the bookstore, was an exciting neighborhood gearing up for a week long fiesta...Festa Major de Gracia (www.festamajordegracia.cat). Wow, what luck! We returned the next day for the start of the festivities (August 15). The whole neighborhood felt like a carnival with bustling squares, food and drink vendors, musicians, all ages mingling together and decorated streets. Neighbors get together working all year on decorations for their street (decoration themes are a closely guarded street secret until unveiled). The streets will ultimately be judged and prizes awarded. They were amazing...a cabaret, dinosaur forest, cartoon land...all spread literally from one side of the street across to the other.
A bit more provisioning and we were ready for the islands. But not before we had one more visit to La Bombeta (3 Maquinista, Barceloneta). It is a small, casual place serving tapas and sangria. Clearly a locals place with "We don't speak English - but we have Bambas Balls" painted on the wall in Spanish (we think the Spanish version is a bit more colorful). Lines outside the door are common and service is friendly. Bombas were amazing (fried potato balls stuffed with meat and covered in a spicy, garlicky sauce) along with white asparagus and mayonnaise (sounds simple but tastes divine), creamy ham croquettes and fruity sangria. The dinghy was quickly returned and two leaks were plugged (August 17). Phew! There is a Catalan-style Scalloped Sausage and Potato casserole in the fridge and tomorrow we are off to Menorca...113 miles away and a single overnight passage.
Scalloped Sausage and Potato Casserole (Crazy for Casseroles by James Villas): 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted; 1 cup soft breadcrumbs; 8 medium sized red potatoes, boiled in skins until just tender, drained and thinly sliced; 3/4 lb smoked sausage (Catalan chorizo sausage), thinly sliced; 8 large hard-boiled eggs, sliced; salt and black pepper to taste; 1 cup sour cream; medium-hot paprika to taste. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spoon 3 teaspoons melted butter into 2-quart casserole and sprinkle with 3 teaspoons breadcrumbs. Arrange a layer of sliced potatoes evenly over the crumbs, then a layer of sausage and finally a layer of eggs. Season with salt and pepper, then spoon 4 teaspoons of crumbs and 4 teaspoons of butter over the eggs. Continue to layer remaining ingredients, ending with crumbs and butter. Spread sour cream evenly over the top, sprinkle with paprika and bake until golden brown...about 1 hour.