As soon as I stepped off my flight from London, onto the tarmac at Barcelona Airport, I was amazed how this beautiful land was a mere 90 minutes away from grey, cold and drizzling London. Instead, here, the sky was blue, the sun was shining and actually had some warmth to it! I shedded my scarf and replaced it with sunglasses.
I eagerly absorbed the scenery, beautiful Gaudi architecture and buzzing plazas, beautiful fountain with an eclectic mix of cuisines, reflecting Barelona’s mixed heritage. Spanish bakeries serving hot, delicious fresh bread, cafes serving churros and traditional Spanish hot chocolate, pizza places, Moroccan restaurants, tiny, traditional tapas bars and traditional Spanish restaurants serving the iconic paella-that is of Barcelona.
Barcelona is the capital of the Catalonia region in Spain and is Spain’s second most populated city, with a population of 4.7 million, including regional areas within its administration. It is located on the North East of the Iberian peninsula, facing the Mediterranean Sea. Its population includes inhabitants of Catalonia, other Spanish provinces, and also immigrants from Italy, Pakistan, China, Ecuador, Bolivia and Morocco.
After checking into my Hotel Viaggi and changing out of my London gear into a light sweatshirt, I stepped outside into the crisp autumn sunshine and put on my sunglasses. I was famished and my first port of call was finding somewhere to have lunch.
I was craving paella and stepped inside a restaurant called Dreta D’Eixample where I ordered the seafood Paella. Paella originated from Valencia, with the traditional version of Paella being the seafood paella. Seafood paella includes mussels, cuttlefish, lobster, prawns and bomba rice and is seasoned with tomatoes, garlic and paprika and cooked in a seafood broth, made of shrimp heads, bay leaves and onion. The waitress brought me some hot fresh bread which I ravenously polished off whilst waiting for my paella. It came and it was hot, flavorsome and crispy on the top, filled with fresh prawns, mussels, scallops and chicken.
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately!), having a small stomach and having already partially filled up on the delicious bread, meant that I was full after eating just half of it-as well as not wanting the main thing that I would gain out of this trip to be a few kilograms. I rationalized that I needed to spread out the calories within the churros, hot chocolate, pizza, paella and bread over the four days and decided to walk off my big lunch.
I walked through the Plaza Catalunya, passed the many cafes, pizza places, gelaterias, souvenir shops and boutiques and into Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas is a vibrant, buzzing outdoor pedestrian area stretching 1.2 kilometres and connecting the Plaza Catalunya with the Christopher Columbus Monument at Port Vell. It is dotted with outdoor cafes, souvenir shops and lined with trees. It has several short streets running off it, including Rambla de Canelettes; the site of the Canelettes fountain, Rambla dels Etudis; a former Jesuit University, Rambla de Sant Josep; the open air flower market, Rambla dels Caputixns; the former Caputixn monastery; now predominantly the Liceu Opera House and the arts centre of Rambla St Monica.
I was drawn into La Boqueria markets, with tiny, traditional style tapas bars at the entrance; where people sat on bar stools at the tapas bar and were served tasty bites of sardines, meatballs, calamari, meatballs and garlic prawns. As I entered further, I was amazed at the sights around me. I was surrounded by stalls left, right, front and back serving every type of food you could imagine. Such bright colours and in such abundance! There were stalls serving fresh fruits and vegetables, a vast range of fresh juices; even with flavours like coconut, all kinds of cured meats such as hams and salamis, fresh seafood, a smorgasboard of cheeses, featuring Spain’s famous manchego cheese, big juicy olives and antipasto features like sundried tomatoes, gelatos, nuts and marzipans, chocolates, fresh breads and stalls serving hot empanadas. My mouth watered at the sight of it and if it weren’t for the fact that I had already eaten lunch, I would have gone beserk.
Mental note: must come here for breakfast tomorrow. Not wanting to become obese or to turn this into an eating holiday, I reluctantly left the markets and headed East towards the El Born.
In contrast to the buzzing, vibrant atmosphere of Las Ramblas, in particular, the Boqueria markets, El Born featured classic Gaudi architecture, narrow cobbled streets, quaint outdoor cafes serving speciality gelato, churros, hot chocolate and coffee, tiny, traditional tapas bars, boutiques and speciality stores specialising in handmade soaps and candles, jewellery and clothing. Wanting to keep reasonably fit, I also walked through Citadel park and along the lake as the sun set, which houses the Military Church of Barcelona, Catalan Parliament and contains many sculptures and pieces of contemporary art, as well as Barcelona’s zoo.
The Cascada is at the north of the lake was first inaugurated in 1881 and was amended in 1882-1888 and put on display; with the intention of it resembling the Trevi Fountain in Rome. The park also has a bandstand; Giora de la Transexual Sonia; dedicated to transsexual Sonia Rescalvo Zafra. She was murdered there by extremist right wings in 1991.
By this time, I was ready for dinner; but paella twice in the one day seemed a bit much. I browsed the various restaurants in Dreta D’Exiample, located in the city centre a short walk from Las Ramblas and Plaza Catalunya. A Spanish waitress was standing at the door, holding menus and asked me something in Spanish. Not understanding, she tried in English, explaining the dishes and emphasizing the freshness of their seafood. Impressed by her efforts and assurance of the seafood’s freshness (something definitely lacking in the UK!), I decided to give Taller de Tapas a try. I was so glad I did. Whilst it had the rustic atmosphere of a traditional tapas bar, it was comfortable, had a large range of tapas and main dishes, as well as desserts. Tapas consists of a wide range of appetizer sized dishes, served cold (such as olives or cured meats) or hot (such as sizzling garlic prawns or ham and cheese croquettes).
It originated in the middle ages, when inns and bodegas served small portions of food to travellers as the journeyed through the difficult roads around Europe. Original tapas dishes were chorizo and bread and tapas has since evolved, through the influence of the Roman empire to include sweet chilli peppers, potatoes and tomatoes. Today, there is a huge range of tapas dishes, with popular ones including spicy meatballs, ham and cheese croquettes, garlic prawns served sizzling in a cast iron pan, olives, cured meats and spiced potatoes. In Spain, dinner is typically between 9pm and 11pm, so it is common for people to stop of at a Tapas bar for a snack after work, before dinner.
I ordered a goats cheese salad, ham croquettes and battered fish. The goats cheese salad was crispy and delicious, with a nice touch of quince paste and vinaigrette on the side, which went well with the crispy rocket, juicy tomato and sweet, rich goats cheese. The croquettes were golden and crispy and the fish was fresh, crispy and not oily at all.
Under the firm belief that no meal is complete without dessert, and feeling impressed and satisfied with this place, I decided to round off the meal with crème catalan, a traditional dessert originating from the Catalan province; similar to crème brulee. Delicious! Melted in my mouth! I walked back to my hotel, enjoying the bright lights of Plaza Catalunya.