Today, I decided to explore more of Barcelona, heading to the east part of town – the Born neighborhood. The area is upscale, filled with beautiful shops and cultural sites. On the walk over, I encountered the Palau de la Musica Catalana, the opera house / symphony hall. The building is absolutely beautiful, although you have to see a show or take a guided to tour to see most of the architecture (again, apologies for photo quality as my primary camera is broken).
Most notable are the beautiful stained glass components of the windows and decor – I’m told that the ceiling in the performance space has similar glass details, making the ceiling appear to sparkle.
From there, I continued on into the heart of Born. The walk is beautiful – lots of winding streets which then open into wider boulevards, shops with creative storefronts, and buildings with beautiful decor.
The best part of exploring Born was having moments of magic where I’d pop into a beautiful little square that hadn’t been visible until a moment before I entered it. One square like this was Plaza Sant Pere de les Puel-les, which also had a beautiful church. The church was one of the least ornate I’ve seen so far in Barcelona.
From there, I wandered to the Parc de la Ciutadella, where I was surprised to see a beautiful Arc de Triomf.
From there, I wandered the beautiful back streets back into Born until I started seeing signs to what seems to be the main drag in Born, housing the Picasso Museum. I headed there, assuming I could squeeze in the museum before lunch.
However, as with everything, it was swarmed with tourists waiting in the ticket line. So, regrouping, I realized there was a museum directly across the street, in a beautiful building.
It turned out to be Barcelona’s Museum of World Cultures (essentially an ethnographic museum) with an absolutely amazing series of exhibits – including from cultures I haven’t often seen represented in these types of museums. My favorite exhibits were the African, Pacific Island and Afghani exhibits.
After the museum, I enjoyed lunch at an upscale tapas bar called Tapea, enjoying burrata with tomatoes and a Catalan pasta dish, with noodles covered in cuttlefish ink and creamy garlic butter sauce.
After lunch, I continued to wander back towards the Barric Gotic to pack before heading out on my tapas tour with Devour Barcelona this evening.
The walk was beautiful, with even more intriguing facades, alleys and arches, and foliage. Of course, there were more beautiful churches to behold as well.
I love the colors of the buildings in this district as well. I can definitely see why Barcelona is a backdrop for fashion photography.
On the way back to my Airbnb, I took a minute to look at the walls of the main cathedral, see the Roman walls which are still standing, and enjoy the remains of a beautiful old Spanish house.
Then, on to my Devour Tour of Barcelona’s history and best tapas bars. Devour is a company relatively local to Spain, but which has amazing reviews – and, after my tour this evening, I plan to book the tour in Madrid for the evening I’m there!
We wandered the Barri Gotic, but thankfully didn’t visit any of the tapas bars I’ve been frequenting. We started at Bar Pi, which means means “Pine Tree” in Catalan – and, in fact, the church and square actually do have a pine tree motif! There’s also a live pine tree in the square to the side of the restaurant. Sadly, I didn’t take a photo as we were just getting to know each other as a group of 8, but we got off to a great start (everything to share):
- Cava, Spanish sparkling wine produced from a certain grape to compete with French Champagne; rather than restrict it to a region, anywhere in Spain is ok to produce Cava, and therefore its sold at a lower cost
- Vermut, the fortified wine drink I enjoyed in Gracia yesterday; our tour guide confirmed that this is differnt than the Vermouth made by Martini Rosso for Martinis
- Spanish omelette – each of these restaurants has a different version
- Manchego cheese – standard
- Two types of Spanish cured pork, including chorizo and spicy Catalan sausage
- Iberico ham – this was a standout, as its incredibly expensive. They feed artisinal Iberico pigs only acorns and then cure the hocks in the air for up to five years, so the meat has a very different flavor than Serrano ham, which is typically packed in salt. You can tell if a ham hock is legitimately Iberico because they have black hooves
Then, we wandered for about 40 minutes touring different historical sites. For example, the Roman wall / aqueduct which is still standing.
Then, we proceeded to one of the main castles and the Catalan historical archive, where they’ve created really interesting memorials to the family trees of Spanish royalty, by way of mobiles stretching up to the ceiling.
Then, we went to Saint Felipe Neri square, which is a place of deep quiet in the middle of the bustling gothic quarter. Interestingly, we heard a lot about Spanish history, including stories about the Spanish civil war. They would drop bombs on Barcelona and other cities, and one landed in this square – you can still see the areas where the church was partially ruined by the bomb drops.
After this, we went to a cute, 5-table restaurant, where our tour guide demonstrated how to drink wine from a carafe that has a spout! The most amazing thing about these small bars is the fact that they haven’t changed in so long – this one opened in the 1940s, and still has the same menu of 7 items, and only sells 3 wines (each from a giant barrel): white, red, rosé. We also tried local specialties, such as fried anchovies and tomato, olive and onion salad (with delicious olive oil, of course).
Most notably, all of the wine in these bars is provided in nameless bottles like the one in the photo – they just pour it from the massive barrels for you. Then, we headed to the final bar, where Picasso is said to have traded his paintings for food after the Spanish civil war, when his father and he moved from Malaga, in the south of Spain, up to Barcelona. On our way, we passed signs we were in an old area of town, including the early road signs which display which way streets were for carriages which would have been driving through town.
Although the restaurant has changed management, they haven’t changed the decor since the 1960s, and also still have giant barrels of wine on display. Here, we tried additional specialties, like patatas bravas (potatoes with ‘spicy’, aka spiced, sauce), ham croquettes, green pea and mint croquettes with honey, and a pork stew. We finished the meal with creme Catalan, which is essentially creme bruleé, but with cinnamon and lemon instead of vanilla flavoring.
We also learned a great deal about Barcelona and Catalonia as a region, including:
- Barcelona has existed since the Roman times (established in the first century); the Moors, when they invaded, named it Barceluna, and now the name has stuck
- The Barcelona waterfront has changed over time; the Gothic quarter would have been beach-front in Roman times, but later on, this was migrated southward. The quarter of Barceloneta was established to provide housing for the folks who were displaced by the water line
- Barcelona suffered significantly during the Spanish Civil War, with many Catalonians migrating northward into France by foot; however, Franco declared those individuals as non-Spanish, so they weren’t able to prove citizenship and became essentially a displaced refugee people in limbo
- Barcelona was also significantly bombed during the Civil War, by both the Italians and the Germans (as a test-bed of sorts)
- After the Civil War, Barcelona tried to restore itself, finally succeeding in the 1990s with the Olympics; they moved in sand from the Sahara and created a beach front as part of the attraction of the city, which before had been trash dumps
- Now, Catalonia has tried to establish its own independence, offering a similar referendum process to what Scotland did with the UK; however, unlike the UK, the Spanish government rejected the referendum, and the politicians who proposed it in 2017 have remained in jail since (their sentencing is this week at some point)
- Approx. 50% of Spain is in favor of the Catalonian independence, and they’ve demonstrated this by doing a lot of peaceful protests, such as creating a 2 million person human chain from Barcelona to Valencia, stretching a distance of 215 miles
- Catalonia independence day is next week, and to prepare they are practicing a variety of cultural events, including building ‘human towers’ (in the spirit of collaboration, one of the primary Catalan attractions in Barcelona is the building of ‘human towers’, in which families essentially stack members; in Catalonia there are apparently 70 teams representing different cities in the region and they compete against each other; Barcelona alone has ~15 or so teams, each made up of family members)
Tomorrow, on to Andorra, a country I’m extremely excited to visit! Thus far, I know only a few fun facts, including the fact that the country is 1/5 the size of Rhode Island and approximately 2.5x the size of the Washington, D.C. metro area. My guide was thrilled that I was going to visit and provided a couple fun facts:
- Back in the day, Andorra used to be a place where you could speak Spanish, French, Catalan and a variety of local dialects, as well as use the money of both Spain and France. When the EU took shape, they adopted the Euro to make things easier; however, to avoid taking sides by choosing Spanish or French as a national language, they instead chose Catalan
- Many of Andorra’s seasonal workers are from Latin America, coming from countries like Chile and Argentina, as the hemispheres mean that ski season in Andorra and ski season in South America don’t overlap, so they can work ski resorts year-round if they split time between countries
- Many ‘Spanish’ singers and athletes decide to become ‘Andorran’ when they realize they can evade taxes by doing so
I can’t wait to see it for myself and explore!