(Don’t forget to click on the photos to see them in full view)
A city bursting with colour and Mediterranean pizzazz
Our first destination was Barcelona and while we had some plans for the week we were open to surprises, excited and ready to discover!
Plaza del Sol
We had to wait until mid-afternoon to check in to the hotel so went to explore the small Plaza del Sol, one of the loveliest plazas in Barcelona. Lined by hotels, bars and trees, bare of leaves in the early spring afternoon, Plaza de Sol was constructed around 1840 with a ‘floor’ of marble; and as the sun infused the square, so it filled with people.
A favourite hangout of the locals from the district of Gracia, where we were staying, it is from all accounts a great place for an evening out to drink beer and listen to local guitar music. Buskers came into the square as we ate our delicious lunch before wandering back to our apartment which overlooked the city and provided us with a great view of La Sagrada Familia, often called the Gaudi Cathedral, rising high above the surrounding buildings.
We visited it a few days later but, in the meantime, we had a plan for our daily activities in this beautiful cosmopolitan city we had heard and read so much about.
Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar
Our first planned outing was to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar which sits near the port and the Gothic quarter. The Basilica is a 14th century, Gothic-style church with soaring columns, grand and colourful stained glass windows and three naves.
Although churches in the pure Catalan Gothic style are now gone, except for this magnificent beauty, churches constructed in the middle ages often took a century to build with several architectural style changes. This Basilica only took 55 years to complete and combines harmonious proportions that create a serenity leading to a sense of openness and airiness.
Being near the port, it was a church used by the merchants and seamen of Gothic Barcelona and many private tombs are seen on the floor of the Basilica. From the turrets and the roof, there is a 360ᵒ vista of Barcelona which also offers an impression of the close narrow lanes and old-world buildings stretching away to the more modern suburbs towards the hills and inland from the coast.
Finding food in Barcelona
That evening, we wandered down a street nearby our apartment to an alluring tapas bar we had passed the previous day hoping for some nice dinner in what appeared to be a very funky bar–La Pepita.
It was crowded and cheerily noisy in a way that gives the vibe of good food, nice wine and a great time. The walls were adorned with scribbled signatures lending the place a somewhat grubby but loved look! They were able to accommodate us at a booked table that was not needed for another hour and we enjoyed some traditional tapas food and wine before we navigated our way through the heady, rowdy, packed-in clientele of the bar en route back to our hotel. We decided that, if at all possible, we would return there for another delicious meal before we left town. Overall, we were very satisfied with our first days back on Spanish soil, where Manfred could put his long-practiced Spanish language to good use.
Culture and dance
Wishing to experience as much of the culture of this colourful city as possible, the following day we headed to the Gothic Quarter where Barcelona has its origins. We landed in a famous street—La Rambla—from where we wandered into the market and bought fruit at one of the many stalls.
Tapas bars and flamenco shows
This long wide street borders on another fascinating, slightly dodgy area called El Raval, where, after hanging out in a quaint bar El Jardi, in one of the many plazas, we found our way to a tiny bar, ’23 Robadors’, to go to a long-awaited flamenco performance.
These tiny flamenco bars hold a small audience and we were not disappointed with the powerfully emotional performance of the dancer and the accompanying musicians. Later, as we exited the narrow lane onto the main street, we marvelled at the late night ‘going’s on’ in this shady district we had entered a couple of hours earlier to ensure we were treated to an authentic cultural experience of the gypsy heritage so well known in Spain.
La Sagrada Familia
A trip to Barcelona would not be complete without a visit to the famous ‘Gaudi Cathedral’ La Sagrada Familia where we joined other tourists wandering the large cathedral marveling at the insight of Catalan Architect Antoni Gaudi who constructed this monumental building. On his death in 1926, only one-third of this beautiful Gothic and Art Nouveau creation was completed. On the outside and up on the steeples, almost 100 years later, it sports extremely high cranes that are part of the ongoing building project.
Gaudi is buried in one of its crypts below the dizzyingly high, unfinished, totally amazing structure.
Not only is it a massive structure that stands out from all corners of the city, it is like a beacon amongst the buildings all over Barcelona.
The colourful stained glass windows shed bright light into the large interior while patrons and pilgrims sit for meditative prayer and quiet time in areas set aside for those who wish to contemplate and not just be a tourist.
Joan Miro Museum
On our last day in this thriving vibrant city we visited the Joan Miro Foundation, a museum of art. Miro (1893-1983), was a world-famous painter and sculptor and a very important Catalonian representative of the genre of surrealism – presenting art that was seen to be unconventional rather than that of the rich bourgeois. He made many associations in the world of art including a long-term friendship with Picasso.
We knew some of Miro’s work but were awed by others that we were not familiar with and the diversity to which his art extended. We came away with a newfound appreciation for this diversity and enjoyed seeing the groups of school children being introduced to and educated about art in the natural setting of the museum.
With architectural features developed by one of Miro’s close friends, the cubistic white shapes allow for optimum light penetration where the art can be enjoyed from many angles and rooms. From the rooftop, almost all of Barcelona can be viewed; and near the pool, the view is frequently photographed as visitors line up to capture the memory of a visit to this iconic art space.
Tapas bars of Poble Sec
Having taken the metro up the hill to the museum, we made our way back down on foot so that we could wander to the tapas bars in the area of the Poble Sec. As we approached, we passed a very small bar brightly painted in shocking pink. We barely paid attention but as we wandered down a side street, we both felt the pull back to ZaZa.
We came into the tiny dining room and sat at a table under a row of wine bottles, perused the menu and ordered from the owner-chef who had opened his bar just about the time of lockdowns. His business survived thanks to the window-in-the-wall ability to provide tasty takeaway meals until he could fully open up his restaurant. We chatted with the other customer and the chef about the satisfying flavours of the delicious food and as we paid and left we praised his tapas bar as one we would always remember.
The presentation of the food was rustic but with great attention to detail and the accompanying wine matched perfectly to create a food palate of great beauty and flavour.
That evening as we prepared to leave for the countryside and another wonderful adventure, we ate at the ‘little sister’ restaurant of La Pepita—MiniPepita. Offering the same food, vibe and décor, it did not disappoint and we had another delicious meal before packing and retiring for the night.
The next day we would ‘head for the hills’—come with us to explore!
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