Sunday, March 14, 2010

Viva La Barcelona!

Ahhh, Barcelona-- the land of Gaudi, tapas, fashion, Barca FC, and home of the famous La Ramblas -- is definitely one of Europe's most visually stunning city sitting on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. I still recall watching the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics as a 10 year old child and thought where is this place, it's so beautiful...I must go one day!

That day came during the summer of 2004 when my friend and I went to visit her sister who was "studying" abroad in Barcelona. It was a quick visit, too quick in fact. At that time I didn't realise how much there was to do and see in this fantastic city. Oh well, another time I suppose...

And then, Keenan and I received an email from our couple friend from California asking us if we wanted to spend a weekend in Barcelona as part of their second visit to London, we couldn't refuse! I've been dying to go back to Barcelona for some time now! Definitely a memorable trip with great food, wine, and wonderful friends -- it was great fun!

We booked an evening flight out of Gatwick and met our friends at our rented flat near Plaza de Catalunya (the very top of the Ramblas) around 10:30pm and headed straight to dinner at a nearby tapas restaurant called Ciudad Condal. Dinner of tapas, cold Estrella beers, and more tapas stretched until 1:30am -- I was impressed that our friends were still awake having just arrived from San Francisco. Good job guys!

Saturday we woke to glorious blue skies..."blue skies smiling at me, nothing but blue skies do I see!" Such as beautiful day in Barcelona. Keenan and I relished every minute of the sun. We started our morning with a quick dose of caffeine at Cafe Zurich and made our way down the Ramblas where you can find everything from pet stores, tourist junkets, florists, and street entertainers. Just beware of pickpocket whilst strolling down Barcelona's most famous boulevard.

Cafe Zurich:

La Ramblas:

La Boqueria:

The four of us stopped at La Boqueria Market, a must-see while in Barcelona. It wasn't even 11am yet and we were already devouring jamon and seafood coquette. We enjoyed the display of fresh tomato, courgette, lettuce, strawberries, mangoes...why can't produce look like this in England? Although Borough Market is still my favorite (I'm bias, I know).

Back on the Ramblas, we visited Gaudi's Palau Guell which is currently under renovation and then made our way down to the marina for a view of the sea. Oh how I wish I can splash around the water and lie on the beach. Far in the distance, you can see the uber-posh W Hotel at the very end of Rambla de Mar.

La Boqueria:

Inside Palau Guell:

Rambla del Mar/Marina:

At the marina:

We then made our way to La Barceloneta, the neighbourhood known for its sandy beaches and Frank Gehry's modern 'Peix d'Or' aka fish sculpture. It's an interesting structure, and best seen a from afar. By now we were hungry for more tapas and thanks to my friend's diligent research, we had a yummy lunch of bombas at La Cova Fumada, a busy (and tiny) family-run restaurant. Delicious!

Beachfront and Frank Gehry's Fish Sculpture

The boys are hungry:

The menu @ La Cava Fumada:

Keenan enjoying the sun:

We spent the rest of the sunny afternoon at Parc de la Ciuaudella, wondering around the neighborhood of the well-heeled La Ribera, admiring the Cathedral de Barcelona, and taking some 500+ photos.

We sat here and enjoyed this view (and blue skies):

Arc de Triomf:

Cathedral in Barri Gotic:

After a gorgeous stroll through narrow alleyways in my favourite neighborhood Barri Gotic, we indulged in some sweets...churros and chocolate at La Granja (thanks M for the recommendation). A match made in heaven...fluffy churros dipped in thick chocolate. It was so yummy that I had to send Keenan out for a second batch of churros; Keenan didn't mind (you get the churros three stores down and eat in at La Granja).

Xurros de Xocolata

La Granja:

Two amigas enjoying their churros:

The jetlag caught up with my friends so we spent Saturday evening at the flat, drinking wine, eating more jamon, and enjoying the company of great friends. But the boys did enjoy a little evening 'bromance' stroll along the Ramblas, while the girls relaxed back at the flat. As if the big lunch and snacks weren't enough, the boys went for dinner at a nearby pizza joint.

Barri Gotic, Barcelona:

On Sunday, the weather was not so nice...overcast and grey with rain in the evening and well into Monday. Our sightseeing plan was to visit the Moderniste architecture of Antonio Gaudi, Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch along Passeig de Gracia in the posh neighbourhood of L'Eixample, and then make our way up to Gaudi's Parc Guell. Barcelona is absolutely delightful for this city! A must-see on your European tour, IMHO.

Modernista Art Nouveau Walking Tour:

Being silly in front of Casa Mila (La Pedrera):

Designed by Gaudi, Parc Guell was originally planned as a development project with houses, schools, and shops. The project was a commercial failure and what is left today is a whimsical park with mosaic-clad benches perched on top of a hill overlooking Barcelona. We spent a few hours walking around this leafy and eye-catching park. I highly recommend Parc Guell; it is by far one of the most intriguing public parks I have seen to date.

The next stop on our list was the Picasso Museum. Since it was the first Sunday of the month, the museum was open free of charge all day (hooray!) but judging by the long queue, we decided to have lunch first at a nearby restaurant before touring the museum. Lunch at El Xampanyet was excellent; we feasted on Iberico jam and Manchego cheese; salted cod and anchovies; and rounded out the meal with biscotti dipped in Amaretto liqueur. Oh yes, of course, we also had their sparkling wine too. Tummy filled with goodness, we enjoyed the rest of the day at the museum with Picasso's finest collection.

Tapas @ El Xampanyet:

On our way back to flat to rest our feet, we also saw the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar, a beautiful Catalan Gothic church, the Roman walls, Placa Reial (they say it is a meeting point for drug users; can't imagine, it is a beautiful square), and a quick walk through the El Raval, the seedy-turned-funky/bohemia neighborhood on the other side of the Ramblas.

Santa Maria del Mar:

The Roman temples:

Inside the temple:

Placa Reial on our way to El Raval:

Museau d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, El Raval:

Dinner (yes, dinner; time to eat again) was at Taverna Mam i Teca, which is highly recommended on Slow Food Travel. They also have an impressive display of liquor, but I think the boys were saving their liver for the bottle of Lagavulin Scotch in London (thanks for the gift BG!). We didn't do tapas this time, rather each of us got our own entree of veal, Catalan sausage, tuna salad, and beef. Unfortunately, it was rainy...very rainy that evening, so rather than roaming the streets of Barcelona in the rain, we went back to the apartment, shared some good laughs, and fell asleep to the sound of the rain, and praying for the rain to go away.

Taverna Mam i Teca:

On Monday, we experienced a freak storm in Barcelona -- it was snowing! Yes, it's March and it was snowing in Barcelona and needless to say, freezing cold! Yes, Keenan is indeed eating his own words so be careful what you wish for. The snow made our trip memorable, but unpleasant only because we didn't pack proper clothing or shoes. My purple suede flats were ruined. We stood in the queue at La Sagrada Familia, Antonio Gaudi's best known masterpiece, along with some 200 other people whom all looked miserable. The church is still under construction; and a bit underwhelming for the price you pay (10-12 Euros) in my opinion, although the museum was okay and you get to see Gaudi's tomb.


La Sagrada Familia:

Inside La Sagrada Familia:

Snow in Barcelona, 8th March 2010

We enjoyed one last meal together in Barcelona, at Cafe Sant Joan for homey Catalan food before going back to London (we took separate flights). If it wasn't for the freak snowstorm, we would have loved to have a second lunch at La Boqueria -- we have to fill-up for a long 1hr 45min plane ride back to London! It was a wonderful weekend in Barcelona! Thanks for the good times BG and LT, but lucky for us, our friends stayed another five days with us in London. More to come soon.

All photo credit goes to my friend, the amazing photographer, LT.

Restaurants we ate at whilst in Barcelona (all very local places), also thanks to LT!
Ciudad Condal, Rambla de Catalunya 18 (M: Passeig de Garcia)
Cafe Zurich, Placa Catalunya 1 (M: Catalunya)
La Boqueria, Carrer de La Boqueria (M: Liceu)
La Cova Fumada, Carrer Baluard 56 (M: Barceloneta)
La Granja for Churros in Barri Gotic, Carrer Banys Nous 4 (M: Liceu)
El Xampanyet, Carrer Montcada 22 (M: Jaume I)
Mam i Teca, Carrer Lluna 4 (M: Sant Antoni or Universitat)
Sant Joan, Passeig Sant Joan 65 (M: Tetuan)

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