Here we are in Barcelona – again. Our fourth trip to this wonderful city. It seems you can’t keep us away from Spain. This time Barcelona is our start and end point for a trip that will take in Valencia, Madrid, San Sebastián and the Picos de Europa.
Given our multiple visits in just a few years, we are saved from the need to be energetic tourists. Instead, our time will be dedicated to mooching around, with some specific sights thrown in. And of course, surprise, surprise, lots of eating.
We arrived late at night on Monday, after some 21 hours of flying and 4 hours of hanging around airports. And then we had to stand in the Customs line for 45 minutes (that will teach us to arrive on a Bank Holiday). To say we were tired and longing to be horizontal would be an understatement. It was with great relief that we found Danny from Casa Consell still waiting for us at 10.45pm. A quick tour of the property and we flung ourselves into bed and beautiful oblivion.
We take more notice of our lodgings in the morning. The room is compact, but spotlessly clean. Warm and cosy. Hot water in the shower, just don’t try and move around too much as space is rather restricted. The staff are friendly and helpful, and the location is excellent as we can walk everywhere, or jump on the Metro around the corner. After a basic but adequate breakfast we hit the streets. Our agenda today is simple – find a coffee, organise our train tickets, lunch, visit the Sant Pau Hospital site, dinner.
So, first the coffee – Nomad Coffee Lab in El Born. A café latte for me, and double espresso for him, whilst we admire the barista at work.
Before heading to the train station we have a wander round the El Born market – which isn’t actually a market anymore. Once upon a time it was the largest undercover market, but the grand size proved to be its undoing as the area ultimately could not sustain a produce market of this size. It eventually closed down and fell into disrepair. Plans to restore the space and turn part of it into a Library were halted in 2002 when excavations discovered extensive remains of the medieval city that once occupied the area. It was decided to protect the ruins, and display them to the public. So now the massive iron market roof provides protection for the original city that sat on this spot.
We then head to Estació de França, as we know from experience that it is usually pretty empty and thus easier to get tickets. We decide to use the machines rather than struggle with our inept Spanish through a small hole in the window. Probably the wrong decision as the machine seems to understand that we are ignorant tourists and sets out to make the transaction as difficult as possible – it lurches between being very touch sensitive to not responding to touch at all; instructions are hidden from immediate view; make a mistake and you have to start all over again; put the debit card in the wrong way and it cancels the transaction altogether. Suffice it to say it took us well over 40 minutes, and one very sore finger from screen poking, to buy 3 train tickets! Even now I’m not sure we have the correct ones, but we shall find out.
So shattered were we that we had to immediately repair to Casa Delfín for lunch, and it did not disappoint – grilled sardines, meatballs with peas & wild mushrooms and a spinach, pear, Stilton & pinenut salad. Washed down with a glass or two of wine. Buena, muy buena.
We try and recall what has been added to the Sagrada since our last visit. Maybe the frilly arches on the front? Whatever it is, it continues to be an awe inspiring piece of architecture. But today we are only passing by.
Our goal is at the end of Av.de Gaudí – the very beautiful Art Noveau Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, also known as Sant Pau Recinte Modernista. The hospital was built between 1902 and 1930, and was the brainchild of the Catalan Modernista architect, Lluís Domènech i Montaner (who also designed the glorious Palau de Musica Catalana). In its day, the hospital was cutting edge and was designed by Montaner to provide light, beauty and open space to the patients. It operated as a hospital up until 2009. Now it is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is still undergoing restoration. It is just beautiful – if only modern hospitals followed the same design aesthetic.
By the time we get back to the vicinity of our hotel we have probably walked well over 10kms, and I’m tired, hungry and thirsty and therefore, slightly testy. I spy a haunt from earlier trips – Reserva Iberica. Pete takes no persuading for a sit down, a glass of cava and a tasting plate of jamon. That is just what I needed! Spirits restored.
Now we can hold out until the Spanish meal time of 9pm – well almost. We arrive at Tapas 24 at 8.45, but still have to queue. The customers all appear to be tourists like us, but when we finally get a stool I get chatting to the young Spanish man sitting next to me. He is from Salamanca, and tells me he always comes to Tapas 24 when he is in town for business. He says that the locals stay away until around 10pm, when they know the tourists will have departed.
Our tapas is a mixed bag, some great, some not so great. The highlight is the tomato salad, followed by the char grilled Iberian pork loin:
The squid roll and smoked mackerel are okay, but the Crab & Avocado salad – the most expensive dish of the lot – is bland and uninspiring. Disappointing.
I am now well and truly ready for bed, so we relinquish our stools to the next customers and walk around the block back to Casa Consell and much needed sleep. All in all, a terrific day in this gracious city.
Wednesday morning the sky is grey and rain is predicted – not a good prediction as we are booked to do a 3 hour walking tour with Barcelona Architecture Walks, however the rain holds off until the end of the walk, and even then is just a light drizzle. The theme of our walk is Barcelona & Urbanism, and we learn all about Ildefons Cerdà, the inventor of the science of urbanism and master planning. Cerdà was responsible for the grid design of Barcelona, which he envisaged as an egalitarian city dominated by open spaces. Unfortunately, the final city design was compromised by developers, by the desire of the wealthy to have visible and tangible evidence of their wealth and by the Catalan disdain for anything that was imposed on them by the central Government of Madrid. But, enough of Cerdà’s design was maintained to make Barcelona the very liveable city it is today.
After 3 hours on our feet we need a coffee and a sit down. So when the walk ends we hightail it back to the Mercat del Ninot that we had walked through to get to the meeting point for our tour. A coffee at one stall was followed by lunch at another, Perellá – specialists in cod, but it was the dazzling array of olives that originally attracted our attention:
We were served by a charming young man with excellent English. Turns out he was from Mexico – came here to study cinema, fell in love, married and is now working in hospitality to make a living. Also got chatting about Spanish wines with a couple of local ladies, who were enjoying a glass of cava, or two! They agreed I knew enough Spanish if I could order the alcohol. A thoroughly enjoyable luncheon break – good food, good wine, pleasant ambiance – only locals, and not very many of them.
Ambled back to the hotel, through different streets and laneways. Pete is getting to know this city very well. I think he has walked most of it. Idled the remainder of the afternoon away at the hotel, escaping the light drizzle and cool breeze, which cleared up in time for us to emerge for dinner.
Our choice tonight was Santa Gula, in the Gràcia district, thanks to blogger Foodie in Barcelona. And what a great choice it was – a small space (if you go, you must book – we saw several parties turned away), with friendly wait staff and interesting, well executed food. We had a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Would happily go again to try out other dishes on the menu.
Thursday morning dawned bright and sunny for our last (half) day in Barcelona. This afternoon we are catching a train to Valencia. How should we spend the morning? Hmm, I know – let’s have a coffee and then brunch to sustain us for the 3 and a half hour train trip. I warned you that this visit would involve lots of eating!
So, we wandered down into the Gòtic district to Satan’s Corner, a coffee shop we had discovered last year. We lingered over the coffee, studying the map of Barcelona and applying our new knowledge about the urban planning that created the city. Quite fascinating really.
It was still too early for brunch (wouldn’t want to peak too early), so ambled at random through the laneways of the Gòtic area before emerging into the throngs promenading along La Rambla. A street we prefer to avoid however was necessary today as our brunch destination was Kiosko Universal at Mercat de la Boqueria, recommended by the Barcelona Architecture Walks people and Foodie in Barcelona.
Their speciality is seafood, but we started with grilled vegetables and assorted mushrooms before launching into a plate of baby sardines, followed by garlic prawns – both as fresh as can be, and simply cooked, in lashings of olive oil (perfect for dunking the delicious bread into). All washed down with a glass of cava.