Barcelona, Tapas and Las Ramblas

Day 4-5

I arrive in Barcelona just in time for siesta (4-6pm or so). My hotel couldn’t be better located, about 2 blocks from the Las Ramblas (an avenue of 5 streets filled with shops, outdoor cafes and other attractions) and a 2 Euro taxi ride from the train station. The Hotel Meson Castilla is a 100+ year old home converted to hotel, so has lots of quirky charm – my room is tiny with a door that opens to a courtyard of sorts for fresh air. Perfectly acceptable and quiet.
When I finally venture out, the crowds are overwhelming. As are the shops. It will be tough to decide, do I shop? Or do I sightsee? Well, tonight – I shop…then a late dinner of salad caprese (fresh tomatoes layered with mozzarella cheese and drizzled with pesto) followed by Paella, a Catalan specialty of saffron rice with squid, chicken, sausage, whole langostino and vegetables. Topped off with a caramel flan (known locally as crema Catalan as it originated here) and whipped cream. Yum.

My only full day in Barcelona starts out slowly, as I’m feeling the ravages of the 12km walk yesterday. I get my bearings by shopping – at the Les Corte Inglés. This is the largest department store I think I’ve ever been in – I stopped at the 9th floor (but it went on). They have everything from dog food to designer handbags and pianos. My purchase – a set of castañuelas (castanets – a traditional Spanish musical instrument used by flamenco dancers) and a harmonica for my sons. The clerk tells me in halting English that he is from Cuba and his family lives in Miami.

Next stop, lunch! My goal is still to visit a few attractions – the Picasso Museum and maybe the Sagrada Familia (Guadi’s unfinished cathedral), but my energy is still lagging.
Tapas (little meals) are perfect for this time of day – so I try a little Tapas bar just next to the Barcelona Cathedral. I feel a little silly taking pictures of my meals, but – hey! I’m an American…so no one notices. Cod Croquettes, Greek salad and bread rubbed with olive oil and tomatoes go down well with the local drink – beer and lemonaid. This is certainly a better version of beer – light and refreshing.

It’s only a few blocks now to the Picasso Museum. I’m not really a big fan of his cubist art, but the exhibit is a revelation. The progression of his art from the tender age of 14-15 (his portraits and classical art at this age are breathtaking) to his later years is fascinating – well worth the visit. Afterwards, in search of a Metro station – which seems to elude me – takes me to the port then to the monument of Christopher Columbus (the plaque is engraved En Connenoracion del IV Centenarid del Descubriniento de America – roughly translated – “In Commemoration of the 400th year Anniversary of the Discovery of America”) Come to think of it, some of us owe our very existence to Spain! This marks the entrance to Las Rambles. I forgo all other plans and stroll the wide avenue; an utterly unique experience. This is part carnival, part social commentary and completely Spanish. The flower stalls are overflowing with color (some of these stalls have been owned and operated by the same families for years) – and the outdoor market! Such an abundance of perfectly ripe fruit and vegetables, whole fish of every variety, ham and cured meats hanging evenly, candy, chocolate – you name it – even egg shops, dried chili stalls and a live rabbit & chicken vendor.

I take the siesta again today…then finish the evening at a hole in the wall with lamb crispy lamb shawarma and falafel pita. It’s after 11 pm – so I head back for my last night. Have to get up early tomorrow for the 7 am flight to Malaga!