BARCELONA, Spain –– A 40-minute walk from our hotel, including one wrong turn, finally brought us to our restaurant in el Raval district, about 20 minutes late for our 8 p.m. reservation. We found the lights out and the door locked. A man greeted us. He said they had a problem with the water and were closed. He had reserved a table at a nearby sister restaurant—but because of our tardy arrival that table had been taken.
After this unpromising beginning, we and our traveling companions enjoyed one of our most memorable and enjoyable dining experiences ever at a third tiny restaurant nearby. It appeared that we were the only table of tourists in the place – out of perhaps 10 tables, all full by 9:30. Our server, Martila took perfect, motherly care of us and delivered croquettes, focaccia with smoked salmon, and marinated artichokes with pepper marmalade as starters. The food, including our main courses of very fresh fish, was among the best ever, but the service and atmosphere combined to make the meal one we will long remember.
Food is near the top of our list of what we liked about this remarkably livable city. A shopping tour of Mercat de la Boqueria preceded a cooking class at Barcelona Cooking. Here, chef Candida Cid demonstrated proper technique and supervised us and our fellow students as we prepared our lunch of typical local dishes, including Paella, and an incredible butternut squash soup. A couple of tasty and fun tapas meals and an enjoyable dinner in a lively little restaurant in our hotel’s Eixample neighborhood reinforced our assessment that Barcelona is a culinary standout.
Our other favorite things about Barcelona: renowned local architect Antoni Gaudi; our hotel, Olivia Balmes; and the city itself–its neighborhoods, its pedestrian-friendly boulevards, its architecture, its efficient Metro and its fun-loving and friendly residents. We walked narrow winding streets of the Bari Gotic and el Born neighborhoods; checked out the Picasso Museum that features his early work; strolled the broad bustling La Rambla; ambled along the beautiful waterfront. Gaudi’s works including Park Guel, Casa Mila and Casa Batllo decorate the city like outlandish baubles, but seduce viewers with intricate charm.
It was Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s still-under-construction masterpiece that stole the architectural show. Begun in 1882, Gaudi took over as architect in 1883 and continued working on the project until his death in 1926. He called it the “expiatory church” meaning built entirely with donations, and today’s construction is funded by visitor fees. To us this vast, yet somehow intimate structure is a living work of stone sculpture. It was meant to inspire awe, and it does.
Our time to depart came too quickly. We are scheduled to board the AmaDagio in Arles, France, following a train journey to get there, but at his point a sudden change of plans was required. Check back and we’ll bring you up to date.