Aug 18, 2016

Barcelona Saturday

We were going to make an early start of it Saturday, but as wiped as we were, we just missed the end of breakfast at 10:30 when we headed out. First stop was a few doors down: Gaudi’s El Pedegral (€20 adults) a.k.a. Casa Milá. It was a good time to go, we didn’t have to wait much at all for the elevator or tickets. There were lots of visitors already but it was still possible to take photos without people in them.

How can I describe what an intriguing delight Gaudi’s works are? Is it enough to point out that the biggest attractions in Barcelona are the works of an architect who was working less than a hundred years ago? We spent a long time roaming the undulating roof and admiring the sculpted openings for chimneys, drains, ventilation etc. It was a beautiful sunny day and the strong sunshine was perfect for shading the sculptural forms. The hundreds of thin brick arches supporting it in the attic made me think about today, it could be not be even marginally economic to build in this way with the current European standards of workers wages.  Especially for an apartment building.

We took the subway to Mercat de Santa Caterina on the outskirts of the gothic quarter. This is a public market hall by spanish architects EMBT who architecture superstars in the mid-noughties. In the vein of Gaudi, they also constructed a mossaic-covered organically undulating roof over the big market hall, but structured it rather conventionally. We marveled at the crowded meat counter selling specialty spanish suasages and cured hams and moved on.

Next stop was a return to Gaudi, the Parc Güell, which, if you come by subway, requires a lot of walking to get to. In the eleven intervening years since I was there, Barcelona has become even more like Disneyland: a timed entry ticket city. Even, as I was shocked to learn, Parc Güell, which closed off access to the area around the famous lizard steps and massive terrace. The fee is nominal- a US movie ticket price. But when we got there a little after one, they were effectively sold out for the day and most of Sunday.

We decided to check out what we could see in the garden and it turned out to be quite a lot actually. Old, giant agave in craggy, Seussian planters, nice views of the city below the hills, the blue of the mediterranian, and the giant W hotel tower on the coast (which one American tourist hilariously misidentified as a “Westin”).

It was pushing three so we decided to get a bite to eat for lunch so we took a leisurely stroll down the hill back into the city and then hopped the subway to Barceloneta. This is a very tightly gridded neighborhood sitting on a small peninusla between the harbor and the sea. It’s fantastic. It’s full of 5-6 story apartment buildings which shade the narrow streets from the hot sun while the cool breeze from the ocean blows through. A few small cheap shops, a bunch of tapas bars and restaurants, some liquor stores, a market hall, a church and plaza. In short, a perfect neighborhood for a beach.

The NYT named a tapas bar in one of thier famous “36 Hours in x” peices, and that was our destination, actually not all that far from the subway station and located at the head of one of the quiet narrow streets running the length of Barceloneta. Jai-ca. We snagged a small tiled table. The door glass was so heavily tinted and the place was so austere from the outside, Saori thought it was closed. Fortunately for us, they were not.

The service was not so great. Even for Europe. The crowd at 3pm seemd to be a mix of tourists and locals, more towards the tourist side, but we still found a seat. Seafood tapas and cold Estrella Damm beer were the order of the day. We started with a plate of fried baby squid which came out quite promptly actualy, and was followed by this kind of Catalan bread which was like a light cibatta, lightly toasted and spread with tomato and really really good olive oil. Then came the salad, which was tuna fish on fresh sliced tomatoes with sliced onions, and the fried whitebait, which was revelatory in a zingy vinegar marinade and a crispy fried coating. Finally, steamed mussels. And everything washed down well with the lager beer.

It was supposed to be a snack since we had dinner reservations, but it was all too good. We paid (so, so cheap!) and walked a short distance to the beach, where we kicked off our sandals and strolled up to our shins in the mediterranean. We walked along the beach, all the way to the giant copper fish by Frank Gehry, and then we walked back along the club storefronts lining the beach. We still had some time to kill before dinner, so we crossed Barcelonetta once more and settled into a beer at a craft brewery “Black Lab” not too far on the Gothic Quarter side of the intersection. We had a leisurely beer there, and then sauntered back into Barcelonetta for dinner at Barraca.

Barraca was another pick from the NYT “36 hours on the beach in Barcelona” and it is quite literally across the street from the beach. We were there right on time, precisely when it opened for dinner, and snagged a window seat on the second floor terrace. We were still a little warm from the beers we had been drinking since Jai-Ca, so we stuck with sparkling water. Barraca was also a seafood restaurant, which also catered heavily to tourists, but it really didn’t bother me that once more we were sitting next to a table of Americans and a table of Germans. I’d much rather go to a delicious tourist trap than a mediocre local dive. And the food was so good. We ordered some kind of white fish dish which came with a seafood sauce with white beans and mussels, bonito tartare, and cerviche for dessert. It was great, but we were so stuffed. We decided to stroll a bit to bajar la comida and of course we instantly run into more gelato. So we had to bajar la comida a little more which turned into walking all the way back to the hotel. Naturally, a little exhausted by the time we got back.

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