meta name="p:domain_verify" content="8b08da541f8a920e6 Marie Z Johnston: Barcelona - Day 2

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Barcelona - Day 2

If someone were to ask, I would say that the most important piece of advise for anyone traveling to Barcelona is: DO NOT eat breakfast at your hotel.  Beat it out of there, head to the nearest covered mercado and slide onto a stool at the busiest cafe you can find. 

Coffee in process at the Universal
Our first morning in Barcelona, we bee-lined it for breakfast to Kiosko Universal in the Mercado Boqueria.  A variety of ready made tortillas (a type of omelet bearing no resemblance to the Mexican tortilla) were waiting for the hungry in a hurry

Potato, mushroom or jambon tortillas
We opted for the farm eggs with jambon which came served on potatoes generously 'drizzled' with local olive oil.  The juice was squeezed to order and the coffee delicious.

Not enough olive oil? No worries, a bottle is provided
Given that my traveling companion shares my same interests, it was not difficult to arrive at our prime directive for the day:  tour the city, see as many markets as we could and eat whenever the fancy stuck. The Mercat de L'Abaceria Central in the Gracias quarter was an easy stroll and an excellent place to begin after our fortifying breakfast.

Mercat de l'Abaceria
Yay! People use carts in Barcelona too
The fish market
Purchase books on the honor system
So much produce, most of it from Spain
The sea snail salad has my attention
Spring lamb sold by halves

The weather on the day of our arrival was marvelous, not so the next morning.  It was rainy, cold and damp. Having been to Barcelona once before and enjoyed the on again/off again   double decker tourist bus, we bought a ticket with the idea being that we'd swoop into a few of the important sights and wander the more obscure neighborhoods while protected
from the elements in between. 

Be forewarned:  Don't bother with this bus unless the weather is wonderful and you can sit outside.  The inside seats are horrible due to the fact that you can't see out very well because of an exterior graphic overlay on the windows and a design intended to support the upstairs portion of the bus, not encourage visibility for the downstairs passengers.  We rode around patiently, got on and off a couple of times and then abandoned that program entirely after reaching Monjuic, home of the botanical gardens. After a brisk walk arriving at a hill top cafe with majestic views overlooking the city.  We, like most, sat inside to enjoy the unobstructed view.

Imagine how fabulous a spot this is in warm weather - and crowded
This is also a swell spot to hop aboard the Funicular for a sky view of the city, it will  take you well past the tower, seen in the photo above, down to the bay.  We chose to descend the hill on foot, along the winding paths and through the gardens.

Ancient trees in Barcelona's Jardi Botanic
A little earlier in the day we had jumped off the bus looking for one specific Tapas bar in one specific square, the Placa del Sol, which we eventually found - but not the Tapas bar.

Placa del Sol

Sol Soler on the Placa del Sol
Hungry once again, we peeked inside every little cafe on the square, turning our noses away from those serving pizza or displaying plasticized menus with photos.  This paid off by our eventually finding a funky little hole in the wall, with hipster types working on 'projects' in the window, little plates of deliciousness beside their books, a chalk menu out front and strains of cool music reaching out to the street. 

We were warmly greeted by the young man behind the counter who did his best to explain (in a broken blend of English, French, Spanish and Castillian) what Catalan specialties were being offered that day and the selections of local wines by the glass.

Finally, resorting to pointing and laughing and hoping to have understood each other, we settled into a table across from the bar to watch and wait for what would soon arrive.

The book-keeper worked at a table beside us
We really liked the (un-photogenic) chicken wings and the stuffed peppers
This old tile floor has seen a lot of traffic
Along with the bill came 2 shots of delicious 'fortified' Catalan cream
After our walk down the hill through the (muddy) botanical gardens, we made our way through the winding streets dodging puddles and umbrellas finally ducking into a neighborhood bar close to our hotel that we hadn't noticed before. A moody place with

Martini in the making
comfortable couches, low tables and dramatically lit statues of the Buddha and other deities, funky music at a conversation friendly level and an attractive, cordial staff. We stayed awhile, warming up before heading out into the weather which had taken a turn for the worse. 
Shelter from the storm
Fortunately, dinner time wasn't far off and since we knew where we were returning to, the walk there was more exploratory then nonstop. One of the places we stopped into was Papabubble, an artesanal caramel store.  What drew us was the sign saying Artisenal, though apparently it's a franchise.  None the less, it's impressive.

Drawn in by the light, colors and shapes

She is cutting the passion fruit candies by hand

Not sure exactly what happens here, but it yields the most delicious candy
and the sensational candy colors and shapes decorating the place lured us in... also the young woman behind the counter chip, chip, chipping away at long red tubes with bright green centers.  She handed us one and it tasted exactly of passion fruit. Among the many exotic flavors made are bergamot, mango, and cantaloupe along with all the usuals.  And they are beautiful as well as delicious, looking more like Venetian glass than candy. 

Men at work in the Cal Pep kitchen
Things were hoping by the time we made it to Cal Pep, nary a stool was empty and people were already leaning against the wall waiting their turn. Fortunately, the wait wasn't even long enough to finish the glass of white wine we had been handed by an accommodating waiter and we slid into an end seat against the wall and out of the hub-bub. 

They do drink a lot of draft beer at Cal Pep
This time we had an idea of what we wanted to order, starting with the fried squid, which as it turns out, has more than calamar going for it
Whole little fish keep the squid company and are eaten head to tail
Razor clams followed, as well as fresh spinach with FRESH garbanzos (that just can not be  found in Paris) some croquettas, a grilled steak and potato dish all followed by dessert.  Fabulous.

Razor clams and do you see the shrimp in there with the fish and squid?
Spinach with FRESH garbanzos, which are NO comparison to dry
Pudgy croquettas filled with potatoes and cheese
Our dinner companions at the bar were very nice, we traded tastes of a couple of dishes making the evening all the more companionable. As we left, well past 10:30, more hungry people arrived to fill the empty seats.  They've built quite a loyal, and well deserved, following at Cal Pep over 25 years! I've heard that Chef Pep has another establishment in Barcelona, an actual restaurant, and that it's pretty terrific too...

After the scrub down
By now, some places had closed down, kitchen doors opening to the street letting in the cool night air.  

The night streets of Barcelona are quite busy with people walking about
We didn't have too far to go, on this our last night in Barcelona, so we dawdled and enjoyed the night sights.

To be continued...

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