Wednesday, August 31, 2011

boisterous and breathtaking barcelona

Our August adventures culminated in lively Barcelona. To travel from Valencia, we again took advantage of the high speed train service, this time, taking close to three hours. The additional travel time was quickly excused by the glorious scenery of the Mediterranean and beach villages to which we were treated for most of the journey.

By this stage of our four week trip, energy levels had dropped somewhat, and coupled with our leisurely downtime in Valencia, we were a little taken aback by the heaving Las Ramblas crowds which greeted us as we exited the metro tunnel. Fortunately, our accommodation was only a short walk away and once we arrived, we immediately appreciated the space, sunlight and amenities (kitchen and washing machine!) offered by the self-contained apartment we had selected - a welcome change from a hotel room. Once settled, we made a bee line for the Boqueria fresh food market on Las Ramblas to source provisions. Using our best pigeon Spanish (which had slightly improved since our arrival in Madrid), we successfully purchased some delicious produce for the next few days. A brief detour to the basement food hall in El Corte Ingles in Plaza Catalunya sorted us out in terms of non-perishable items (and also dashed Dave’s hopes of avoiding supermarkets for an entire month).

Visiting Gaudi’s major pieces of architecture was at the top of my list whilst in Barcelona so we set aside a day to take in these sights. We were left breathless by the enormity of La Sagrada Familia (which remains under construction) though after surveying the extremely long entry queue (including many World Youth Day pilgrims!), we elected to move onto two of Gaudi’s residential masterpieces, Casa Batllo and La Pedrera. The latter provided us with an extraordinary journey through a recreated apartment in period décor and a very detailed museum collection of Gaudi’s achievements. It was the museum tour which prompted us to also include a visit to Park Guell, originally designed by Gaudi for residential living and now a public art space comprising several unique pieces of his architecture. With a staircase to rival the climb up to Montmarte in Paris, Park Guell provides visitors with an exceptional view of Barcelona city and is well worth the climb!

The wonderfully long days and light nights of the European summer allowed us to take in the beach village of La Barceloneta in the evening. The water was cool and refreshing but much calmer than Australian waters – we both agreed it was more akin to swimming in a lake than the ocean. With the steady stream of food and drink vendors weaving through the crowd, there was little need for us to leave our plot of sand, so we enjoyed several hours gazing at the water, and people watching, until the sun went down at around 8pm. We were particularly amused that the drink vendors switched beverage offerings at sunset – in place of the esky full of cold beers, they now carried trays of freshly made icy mojitos to whet the palates of beachgoers. While tempted to indulge, we instead opted for a helado (gelati) at Vioko on Passage Joan di Borbas. I had been directed to this boutique chocolate shop by the Wallpaper Guide (this was about the only decent recommendation it gave - I am definitely a Lonely Planet girl) and while it seemed oddly placed among the strip of very touristy seafood restaurants, it was well worth the visit. No longer able to ignore our tightening waistbands, we shared a violet gelati which was silken in texture, delicately flavoured and coloured in the most vibrant shade of purple I’ve ever seen in an ice cream!

On the final night of our trip, we treated ourselves to an a la carte meal at a terrace restaurant overlooking one of the Gothic Quarter’s many plazas. Ordering entrée and main instead of fast-paced tapas gave us the opportunity to warmly reflect on all of the wonderful moments we had enjoyed over the past month.  We chose summery options for entree - a plate of grilled prawns and a beetroot carpaccio with rocket and goats cheese.  Mains were a more carnivorous affair with Dave ordering an old favourite - rib fillet with roast potatoes, and a champagne sauce.  I was a little more adventurous and selected a pork fillet with foie gras encased in filo pastry, with a manchego cheese souffle and sour cherry sauce.  All of the meals combined fresh ingredients in an uncomplicated way and were beautifully presented. A delicious crema catalana, the Spanish equivalent of a crème brulee, with a perfectly crackling top and ribbon like inner custard, was a particularly memorable way to end both the meal and our culinary journey through Spain.


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