Barcelona: Where friends come together

Posted in Monthly, Travel at 6:49 am by Pasha

I can’t imagine being without friends in Barcelona, a city where people share nearly everything from apartments to Tapas and Sangria.

Our Spanish holiday began with a unique Christmas in Salou, a coastal city about an hour south of Barcelona. We rode bicycles along the rugged burnt-orange cliffs that meet the turquoise Mediterranean before it melts into an electric blue. Rays of sunshine sparkled on the water like they were tinsel on the sea.

Our traditional Catalan lunch was fresh; we indulged in clams and mussels drenched in wine, squids stuffed with pork and local fish in sweet caramelized onions. The siesta between 5pm and 8pm is a necessity instead of luxury in Spain as the grand lunches and Cava (Spain’s Champagne) leave you full and sleepy.

On Boxing Day we took the Renfe train to Barcelona. The packed railway cars chugged along the coast playing tag with the alluring body of water. It was hard to look away, not because the Mediterranean is seductive, but because in the other direction all you see is factories. It hurt my eyes in contrast to nature’s fierce beauty.

Once in Spain’s super-hip city, second largest only to Madrid, we met up with my best friend Jill and her partner Raf and checked into our apartment. It was four stories up and looked over a main pedestrian thoroughfare in the Barri Gotic district and had sensational views of the Cathedral Square. One must opt for an apartment over a hotel in Barcelona as the markets have ample fresh produce and a vast selection of meat and cheese, making the kitchen a useful room.

We explored La Rambla first as it was just around the corner from our square. Street performers turn the area into a stage. My favorite was a simple mime who sat painted white on a toilet. Or maybe it was the Indian who did the the YMCA with our group. The caged pigeons that vendors sold along the road are a bit of an oddity; I wondered if it was ignorant tourists or smart Spaniards who bought them.

Al fresco dining on La Rambla is a must, maybe a bit overpriced, but worth it for the lively people watching. However, these meals in Spain can be inexpensive, as small Tapas and large sangrias are meant to be shared.

After the night’s siesta we ventured out for more al fresco dining and Tapas. After dinner we went to a highly recommended bar, L’Ascensor. It was the best we visited during our holiday.

L’Ascensor served Mojitos with gobs of mint and corn nuts instead of peanuts. Classically nostalgic music, like The Allman Brothers, added to the ambiance of old friends transported to a far-away land.

On the way home we found saucers to twirl around in, like we were doing the ‘egg roll’. Children in Barcelona are lucky, for the saucers were great fun.

Early the next day we ventured to our little local market, which I thought was better the well-known Mercat de la Boquería. We bought an obscene amount of brie cheese for less than €4 and a hunk of local salami and chorizo sausage. Breakfast that morning was glorious.

We visited la Boqueria later in the day. The sprawling covered market was indeed impressive; but the build-up by tourist books and newspaper articles let me down. Boqueria left me wanting excessive variety and freshness. I found my local market to be more practical and every bit as fantastic as the crowded and touristy la Bouqueria.

After strolling along the harbor and that evening’s siesta we craved seafood and made our way to Can Majo (highly recommended by all) in Barcoloneta, the beach area of Barcelona. I fixed my Paella craving while our counter couple ate a whole salted sea bass that was de-boned table side. We celebrated with a bottle of local Cava and conversation you can only have with great friends.

We saved the best of Barcelona for our last day. After a long walk through the city, we landed at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya in the Parc de Montjuïc. The monumental building is surrounded by the Olympic Stadium, Magic Fountains and Arenas de Barcelona. Even with cranes and construction muddling the view, you can see mountains behind Barcelona and the city expanse from the Museum.

But my favorite, decidedly our favorite amongst the four of us, was Park Guell by Antoni Gaudi. The famous architect, whose claim to fame is the Sagrada Familia, should be better known for the park. The Sagrada Familia, which has been in construction since 1882, showed the ugly face of religious capitalism with queues for the pricey tickets around the block.

On the other hand, the Park Guell is a free display of Gaudi’s work that is far more absorbing (well … entrance to his house isn’t free, but the park is every bit as lovely.) Mosaic art work lines tiled benches and in each piece of broken crockery and pottery there is soul. The extensive nature trails lead through palm trees and cacti. The houses look as though they are made from pastel colored candies and the design lines are wavy and playful.

The view from the peak of the park is breathtaking as you can see the city in its entirety, from the top of the Sangrada Familia to the Barcelona Bay.

Chatter over that night’s Pinxos (similar to Tapas) slowed as three days in Barcelona can drain even the best of friends. Still we laughed heartily at the Cafe Bilboa, where we had enjoyed several light meals during our stay. The Cafe had become our neighborhood haunt, and Barcelona had become like a little home.

It is always sad to say good bye to an amazing city; and even harder to say farewell to your closest mate. But the next day we departed with cheer, as Christmas had been joyous and we promised to make our New Year’s the same.


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