We flew to Barcelona and were immediately struck by the beauty of the city so close to the sea and so very green. Our hotel the El Palace, had originally been built in 1929 as a Ritz and ritzy it was. It had a handsome entrance that opened up to a grand lobby lounge and then this huge area continued to a marvelous tented room called the Winter Garden. This was where we ate breakfast.
stunning lobby at el Palace
the garden terrace for breakfast
The hotel was the extreme opposite of the one where we stayed in Madrid, The Urban. See suddenly70.ca/2019/09/07/spain-and-other-wonderful-locales-pt-1/ for a complete discussion of that trendy smart hotel. We loved the elegance and grandeur of this one in Barcelona. Our room was traditional with a small princess balcony, and the bath was the original roman style bath from the old hotel. Naturally I used this with much delight stepping down stairs to the deep recess of the tub.
tub empty and full
back seat of the limo
I forgot to mention that we were picked up at the airport in a car organized by the hotel. I always choose the least expensive option, but it was not available, however, for the same price they sent a Mercedes Maybach Exelero. Now I had never heard of this vehicle and frankly from the outside it looked like any luxury sedan, but on the inside it was full of deluxe comfort treats with pillows, and sliding sunroofs, and drinks etc. etc., and apparently it is over $200,000. On top of that, our driver was a fun guy from Canada who now lived and worked in Spain, and he pointed out all sorts of sights in Barcelona as we headed to the hotel.
As is our routine when we arrive in a new city after a flight albeit a shortish one, we had a wee rest and then wandered the streets near the hotel, and then went to the charming rooftop terrace for drinks and tapas. There was an inviting pool there except for some noisy kids playing in it. I knew I would have a future rendezvous with that pool.
the pool lit up at night
They speak Catalan in Barcelona as well as Spanish. Barcelona is part of Catalonia, and Catalonia is one of 50 provinces in Spain and contains the municipalities of Girona, Tarragona, Lleida and Barcelona. Barcelona is known as the capital of Catalonia while Madrid is the capital of Spain. Even though Catalonia is part of the Spanish nation, it is a distinct region that, like any other, has its own customs that make it unique. There are many perceptions of Catalonia on the national and international level that do not fairly embody its complex cultural elements. These make it truly distinct from other areas of Spain. There are quite a number of cultural details, language, and social activities that are good for foreign visitors to be aware of. If you want to delve further, check out this Catalonia hyperlink.
If you have been following my blogs, you know that Charles and I love food experiences. I had booked a very special restaurant for the night after our arrival, but had asked the concierge to recommend a typical local one for our first night. On all our trips I have learned that after travelling, we do not enjoy an ornate, intricate dinner, but just something simpler.
the long bar empty and then…
He sent us to Botafumeiro a noisy, upscale, fish restaurant, frequented by native Barcelonians. We chose to sit in the bar area at the front of the restaurant because I love sitting in bars and watching people, and this bar was exceptional. It was long and brass and well you can see a picture of it below.The menu was filled with fresh seafood items, and Charles chose cardinal prawns which were delicious and a bright red. I chose spider crab in its shell with sauce. I really had no idea what it was, but it sounded good and it turned out to be savory and delicious.
Now this restaurant is known for its Iberian Ham and strange as it may seem we then ordered a large plate of this delicacy. In my previous blog I wrote at length about this amazing ham. At this restaurant they served the very finest where the pigs eat only acorns, or bellota ham. Turns out this was a pretty expensive dessert; well I think the waiter was a bit shocked that we wanted it at the end of our meal. It was served with fresh butter and incredible bread and we enjoyed every morsel. I can still sort of summon up the taste. Yum. See:suddenly70.ca/2019/09/07/spain-and-other-wonderful-locales-pt-1/
The next morning we had breakfast in the beautiful Winter Garden where a sumptuous buffet was offered with everything from traditional eggs and bacon to sushi and miso soup, to smoked fish and marvelous pastries. This large impressive room gave the impression of being in an outdoor garden in the late 1800’s with a black and white tiled floor and massive plants growing everywhere. After coffees we went to the lobby where we met our tour guide for the day, chosen by the hotel concierge. He is Catalan and his name, Carles, like the Spanish Carlos or English Charles. I had asked for a walking tour, mixed with short taxi rides to specific sites.
Carles offering insights
Carles was a tremendously knowledgeable guide with a wonderful sense of humor, and many questions, for us. Some of these questions were in a multiple-choice format and some of the answers were ridiculous, but fun. We were certainly kept engaged. Our hotel, ideally situated in the center of the city was a perfect place to begin our early morning walk. Not 10 minutes from the hotel we saw the incredible first of many Gaudí architectural works in Barcelona.
the Gaudí look
Gaudí, is known as the greatest exponent of Catalan modernism, or Modernisme in Catalan, a cultural movement which appeared at the end of the 19th century, around the time of the Industrial Revolution. It had a lot in common with other cultural movements of the period, such as Art Nouveau. Please read the hyperlinks if you are interested in additional information and details of these architectural styles.
Gaudí’s works have a highly individualized, one-of-a-kind style. Most are located in Barcelona, including his main work, the church of the Sagrada Família, which we visited near the end of our morning tour, and which I will try to describe a little later on.
His work was influenced by his passions in life: architecture, nature, and religion. He considered every detail of his creations and integrated into his architecture such crafts as ceramics, stained glass, wrought ironwork forging, and carpentry. He also introduced new techniques in the treatment of materials, such as trencadís which used waste ceramic pieces.
even the store windows are stunning on the main street
We strolled on the Passeo de Grazia, one of the major avenues in Barcelona, and one of its important shopping and business areas, containing several of the city’s most celebrated pieces of architecture including the Casa Milá or Pedrera, a magnificent apartment building by Gaudí commissioned by a family called Milá. Carles told us about this imposing edifice and we marvelled at its uniqueness. You can see the pictures below. We walked a little further and viewed the Casa Batiló, There are few straight lines, and much of the facade is decorated with a colorful mosaic made of broken ceramic tiles. The roof is arched and was likened to the back of a dragon or dinosaur. Both of these magnificent, curvy, incredible buildings are very close to one another, and it is truly a wonder to see them.
many interesting views at the park
the serpent and other curvy things
We then caught a taxi to take us to Park Guëll. The Park Güell is a public park system composed of gardens and architectural elements located on Carmel Hill. I quote from Wikipedia,‘Park Güell is the reflection of Gaudí’s artistic plenitude, which belongs to his naturalist phase (first decade of the 20th century). During this period, the architect perfected his personal style through inspiration from organic shapes. He put into practice a series of new structural solutions rooted in the analysis of geometry. To that, the Catalan artist adds creative liberty and an imaginative, ornamental creation. Starting from a sort of baroquism, his works acquire a structural richness of forms and volumes, free of the rational rigidity or any sort of classic premises. In the design of Park Güell, Gaudí unleashed all his architectonic genius and put to practice much of his innovative structural solutions that would become the symbol of his organic style’.
So there you have it for the park, in grand terms, but that does reflect the feeling one has when you arrive there. It is worth it to check out the hyperlink I have provided because the park is an accumulation of many architect’s visions and it is hard to believe the area had begun as a high end housing project. Of course there were lots of people, but there was also room to move around and look at the marvellous views, and touch the amazing curvy walls and sculptures. Carles knew where to take us and how to dodge the crowds. It was hot and sunny and we needed an umbrella from time to time, but the experience was exhilarating.
Then we grabbed another taxi and Carles quizzed us as he did on our first cab trip. He would ask a question and then provide three multiple choice answers, one of which was usually hilarious, but we learned all kinds of things and had fun on our way to our next stop, Sagrada Familia, the pinnacle of Gaudí’s artistic endeavours. Sagrada Família, is a large unfinished Roman Catholic minor basilica in Barcelona, Catalonia. Designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926), his work on the building is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
model of the Sagrada and the one in brown shows what is actually completed
in the 3D studio
On 19 March 1882, construction of the Sagrada Família began under architect Francisco de Paula del Villar. In 1883, when Villar resigned, Gaudí took over as chief architect, transforming the project with his architectural and engineering style, combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms. Gaudí devoted the remainder of his life to the project, and he is buried in the crypt. At the time of his death in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete.
After we arrived near the Basilica, we took a break at a nearby café for coffee and for me, my new Spanish love, coca cola with lime, and we chatted about what we were going to see. The area is breathtaking and of course there are always crowds, but Carles knew ways to come and go there and get the tickets, and also what the highlights were. The immensity of the site and the magnificence of the dare I say church are almost overwhelming. So we moved through carefully always following Carles’ lead, and naturally taking many pictures.
outside above, then inside and some prayer
When you say the expression a work in progress you have to be referring to Sagrada, because no matter what they predict it will most likely never be finished. That is its charm. In fact, we visited a studio within the church that is a 3D building area for the next plans of construction. When originally asked about the length of construction for the church, apparently Gaudí answered, ‘my client is not in a hurry.’ Indeed!
No matter. When you walk in the main cathedral space it is overwhelming and awe-inspiring. Photos can’t capture the enormity and majesty of the place. We spent a great deal of time inside and also outside marvelling at the architecture. You can pass all day there and never see it in its entirety. So my pictures will have to suffice. Naturally, as we moved from area to area, Carles gave us the history, anecdotes and masses of information about what we were viewing. Certainly, this was the highlight of our visit to Barcelona and of our entire Spanish trip. Please check out the hyperlink as there is so much history there, and it is definitely worth a careful read.
trying to capture the beauty
the wow factor
We parted ways with our brilliant tour guide, Carles Cabo, and headed back to our hotel and a much needed nap. Before our trip I usually book some special restaurants for us to sample and the one I chose for that evening was indeed unique. I had found mention of it on the Internet, where else? It fascinated me. So I booked it. Enigma is its name and the restaurant is much like what the word means, a mystery. It has a very strict reservation policy where you must book and pay a deposit of 100 euros per person. This is refundable and also will go toward paying for the dinner, which is not inexpensive. I booked two months in advance at exactly midnight Barcelona time that was 6:00 pm in Toronto. It is popular, and I knew exactly when I wanted to go. You receive an access code and password, which adds to the mystery factor. The menu is seafoodcentric, with only a small amount of meat, and no babies or baby carriages allowed and the meal is expected to take almost 4 hours. I learned all this before hand.
When they first opened no pictures were allowed, but now it is different. So I only had a handful of reviews to go by and a lot of trust in the magic of the famed chef, Albert Adria. The décor I learned is as whimsical as the restaurant itself with cloud-like ceilings made from wire mesh that changes color and translucent resin walls that look like waterfalls. Still, the colors in the rooms are silvery and relatively muted. The overall affect is meant to feel dreamlike to visitors who pass through the labyrinth of rooms. Apparently, Adrià spent around 3.2 million euros on renovations ($3.43 million USD).
When we arrived and put in our code we went upstairs and arrived at the main space that is named Ryokan where we had peach water and lemon verbena and they queried us about allergies, alcohol preferences. Then we moved into La Cava where we were served 5 small dishes one of which included caviar and blini, another, Iberian ham and truffle. In each space there was one maybe two other couples. Then we went into my favourite, La Barra, which was a cold seafood bar with an amazing female chef who sliced paper thin pieces of squid, served us lobster claw and roe, among other dishes, then we moved into La Planxa , where a hot grill blazed and we were served tiny roasted corn, and delicacies like rabbit tamale, wagyu and egg yolk, oyster and Iberian ham. Finally we arrived at a room entitled Dinner. There we had wagyu paté en croute, curry and strawberry, aged lobster. All in all we had 40 small dishes and were served beautifully and quietly. At the very end we went into a speakeasy bar for a cocktail and some snacks, just in case we were still hungry, and we were also served our bill and waited for our taxi, after I picked Charles up off the floor.
We were in awe. It was all so magical and delicious and we knew it was a never to be repeated meal, unless we took a mortgage on the house. Only kidding of course. It was all worth it and probably less expensive than a meal at a high-end restaurant in New York or Toronto.
always find a market
The next morning we had a lazy breakfast, took a long walk on La Rambla, the Gothic area and very long street lined with trees, and then we visited the Church of Santa Maria del Mar, as Charles is always interested in anything seafaring, and it was beautiful. It was getting hot and humid in the afternoon so we headed back to the hotel for a long recovery nap and decided to cancel our dinner reservation at a Michelin Star restaurant as we had certainly done our eating the night before. Instead we ate on the delightful terrace of the hotel, where a breeze blew gently and the stars could be seen in the sky over the rooftops of Barcelona. We shared tomatoes and bread, grilled turbot, and simple mashed potatoes. Then we had a glass of Carlos Primero brandy that we had discovered in Madrid, and a lovely sleep.
Morning arrived sunny and warm and I went for a wonderful swim by myself in the empty pool. Heaven. We then packed and eventually headed off to the ship for our upcoming cruise filled with warm feelings for Barcelona.
More Spain to come and also a visit to Tangiers. Please join me.