Back from Barcelona: Nikki's trip report

Mar 1st, 2007, 05:55 AM
  #21  
 
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Enjoying your report. Gotta pack those dark colors, I guess.
missypie is offline  
Mar 1st, 2007, 06:18 AM
  #22  
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Dark colors?

Thanks for all the comments. In answer to some I might have missed:

Set Portes does not seem to me to be a tourist trap. There are indeed tourists there, but there were plenty of locals as well.

Zorro? Really? I'll think about it.

Great to see you too, Claire, and after reading the article you referenced I can reassure you that neither Alan nor I went barefoot in shorts or miniskirt.

I hope everyone enjoys their upcoming trips (and relocations!) to Barcelona.

After reading the description of my dinner at Cinc Sentits, still to come, you will see one of the reasons I want to return.

Ole indeed, Mimi, I wouldn't mind some more.
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Mar 1st, 2007, 11:19 AM
  #23  
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We had reserved our table at Cinc Sentits by telephone the previous day. At that time there was only one opening for the entire evening, so I would recommend reserving further in advance. This restaurant is located at carrer Aribau, 58, and the telephone number is 34 93 323 94 90. The website has menus, photographs of their dishes, and on-line reservations: www.cincsentits.com. Both Alan and I agreed that this was one of the best meals we have ever had at a restaurant.

We decided to make this our all-out splurge and ordered the chef’s tasting menu. For about two hours, they just brought us one exquisite small dish after another. The first thing was a welcome shot with layers of maple syrup, chilled cream, cava sabayon, and rock salt. We were given instructions to drink the thing in one gulp. While it was much better than it sounds, and my husband liked it a lot, it was not my favorite thing. Next was an individual porcelain spoon full of foie gras, perhaps crushed nuts, and violet marmalade. After that came the foie gras coca, caramelized on a thin pastry crust and sprinkled with chopped chives. We both agreed we could have had a lot more of that.

There were walnut rolls, olive rolls, and white rolls. Then we were served exquisite prawns from the Costa Brava, cooked simply with oil and salt, and we were instructed to eat the tails, then to suck on the heads. The next course was rockfish suquet, potato puree, and artichoke heart in a dark fish broth. Then came the Iberian suckling pig cooked “sous vide”, in a bag under water, for 24 hours, then grilled to crisp the skin before serving, and served with two textures of apple in a red wine reduction. We both took one bite of this and thought it would be great to come back the next day and just order a full plate of this for each of us.

The cheese course was a Catalan goat cheese with crystallized ginger. Then came the first dessert: four textures of lemon, including cake, cream, ice cream and lemon foam with vodka. Next came a chocolate crocant with praline ice cream. We were instructed to alternate the chocolate with the ice cream in order to cut the richness. It sort of worked. The final item was a chocolate truffle and sugared passion fruit.

We did not make it back to this restaurant to try the things on the menu we had missed, although it did occur to us. The lovely woman who described the dishes to us (in perfect English, since reportedly she and her husband, the chef, lived for many years in Canada) said that a significant number of people actually do come back for that reason.
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Mar 1st, 2007, 11:29 AM
  #24  
 
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My, my , my, what a meal! Do you care to share the price of such a feast?
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Mar 1st, 2007, 07:02 PM
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Yum!
travelgirl2 is offline  
Mar 1st, 2007, 09:07 PM
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Nikki,
I'm really enjoying your trip report. Can sympathatize with you about your feet--mine "went out" in Barcelona too--so much walking, but it's such a great way to see the city.

Thanks for sharing your adventure.
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Mar 2nd, 2007, 01:08 AM
  #27  
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Missypie, we paid something like 200 euros for the two of us, including wine for Alan and sparkling water for me. This is possibly the most we have ever spent in a restaurant. It was possible to eat there for significantly less by choosing a less expensive tasting menu or simply ordering a la carte. Our tasting menu incurred a supplement for the shrimp.
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Mar 2nd, 2007, 01:09 AM
  #28  
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Thursday morning we headed out to the Museum of the City of Barcelona. Our goal there was to see the underground remains of the Roman city. This museum is extremely well done. All cameras, bags and purses must be placed in lockers before entering the museum. There is an audioguide included with admission and an excellent short film about the growth of Barcelona in English.

After watching the film, we descended in an elevator to the excavations below the streets of the city. There are walkways suspended over the ancient streets and foundations with numbered stops for explanations of the various aspects of Roman life revealed by the old stones. We saw separate buildings built specifically for processing fish, oil, and wine. We saw houses and the foundations of early churches. The most unusual fact revealed by this tour: in Roman Barcelona, people left containers in the street outside their homes with the expectation, indeed the hope, that passers-by would urinate into them. The urine was then used to disinfect and clean the laundry, mixed with ash and lime.

We left the museum and walked toward the Placa Saint Jaume. I stopped into a shop selling pottery and bought two dishes for making crema catalana, an oil cruet made of recycled glass, and a decorated plate. Time for lunch. We ducked into the first place we found with an available table, which was a tiny coffee shop with a bar and just two tables. As we were leaving, the waitress warned me to be careful with my purse in that neighborhood.

We walked along the carrer Call, the ancient Jewish quarter. Turning right onto the narrow carrer Sant Domenec, then onto the even narrower carrer Marlet, we stumbled upon the newly restored Major Synagogue of Barcelona. The entrance is tiny, and the doorway so low we had to stoop to climb down the steps into the basement space. It wasn’t until 1987 that a paper was published proposing that this was the site of Barcelona’s ancient synagogue, and in 1995, when the property was going to be sold and used as a bar, one of the people investigating the building’s history purchased it with the hope of renovating and preserving it. The space was renovated in 2002 and opened to the public as a museum. Services are held for special events. The building had been used as a synagogue until 1391, when the Jewish community in the Call was attacked. For a small donation, we got a tour and an explanation of the history of the Jewish community in Barcelona. There is a very informative web site: www.calldebarcelona.org.

When we left the synagogue, we walked toward the Rambla, and headed toward the market La Boqueria. Impossible to walk through here without taking many photos of the amazing fish, meat and produce stalls. Everything looked so intriguing that we purchased slices of jamon iberico (cut by the shop girl with a large knife from hams hanging from the ceiling), small sausages, and bread to have in our apartment. And then we stopped at the Kiosk Universal, a counter restaurant in the market, for a couple of dishes to tide us over until dinner. We had a plate of great garlicky wild mushrooms and a plate of razor clams cooked on the grill. At this point we were running short on appetite and cash, so we headed back to the apartment.
Nikki is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2007, 02:09 AM
  #29  
 
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Just got back from Spain two days ago. One of the places we visited was Barcelona. It was fantastic. Being a major city, I expected everything to be pricey. I was pleasantly surprised. If you got to a tapas bar slightly off the main routes, beer is just as cheap as anywhere. Try Care del Opera in Las Ramblas for excellent value food and drink.
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Mar 2nd, 2007, 02:31 AM
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That should have said, "Cafe Del Opera"
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Mar 2nd, 2007, 03:40 AM
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Hi Nikki.

Your trip to Barcelona sounds wonderful.

I never thought that reading about sucking shrimp heads at 7:00am would make me hungry, but there it is.
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Mar 2nd, 2007, 08:06 AM
  #32  
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Thursday night we had tickets to a concert at the Palau de la Musica Catalana. I purchased tickets on line at the venue’s website: www.palaumusica.org. We saw a twenty-year-old Catalan pianist named Lluis Grane play his concert debut in a program of music by Albeniz, Liszt, and Prokofiev. This was an absolutely wonderful night out. The hall is stunning, in a moderniste building by architect Lluis Domenech y Muntaner. The stained glass skylight kept attracting my gaze when I looked away from the pianist on the stage. The room is covered with over-the-top sculpture and so many decorative roses that it looked like someone had been practicing their cake decorating skills on the ceiling. It felt right to see a young local pianist playing music by Albeniz, written around the time of the moderniste movement, in such a space. The pianist played very well in an extremely difficult and interesting program, and was called back for three encores. A fine debut.

Friday morning we headed out toward Barceloneta with the object of taking the cable car across the harbor up to Montjuic. We took a taxi but at Placa Catalunya we found our way blocked by a demonstration. Honking horns, people marching with placards, chanting. We had to drive around the demonstration with much traffic and several blocked roads. No idea what the demonstration was about, but it ended up being a much longer cab ride than we expected. We did end up at the cable car station, however, and we bought round trip tickets to Montjuic. It is also possible to buy tickets to the World Trade Center tower, at the halfway point of the cable car.

The elevator ride up the tower was punctuated by nervous comments in several languages about how high it was. I was surprised to hear one of the people commenting was Alan. There was a great view from the top, but the windows were all closed, so it was difficult to take photos; they all would have to be through the glass. The ride in the cable car also provided great views, but once again there was only a small open window and unless one was standing right at that window, it was difficult to take any pictures. At the World Trade Center, some people entered and exited, but most stayed on until we reached the end, at Montjuic.

Just outside the cable car station, there is a café with a spectacular view. We basked in the sun, ordered drinks, and thought about how life is good. Not wanting too much of a good thing, though, and starting to think about lunch, we left after finishing our drinks and took the cable car back down to the port.

I had printed out recommendations for several seafood restaurants in Barceloneta. We ended up at Suquet de l’Almirall, at Passeig Joan de Borbo 65, tel. 93 221 6233. Sitting on the sunny terrace, we started with a plate of assorted fried small fish, shrimp, baby squid, and I don’t remember what all. This was accompanied by the wonderful tomato bread we got everywhere, and I think this might have been the best version of it that we encountered. Alan ordered a plate of something translated as pointed sea snails, which turned out to be whelks. My first experience of whelks was two years ago at the racetrack in Brighton, England. I didn’t like them a whole lot better this time and made Alan eat all but one of them by himself. We then got an order of fideu (which is like paella only made with vermicelli instead of rice) and an order of meatballs with shrimp and squid (or was it cuttlefish? and just what is the difference anyway?). More bread to sop up the gravy? Yes, please. Dessert? You’ve got to be kidding.
Nikki is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2007, 11:28 AM
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Oh, the Palau de la Musica is my absolute favorite building in all of Barcelona. I have attended a concert of some sort each of the three times I was there. Problem is each time I would find myself watching the walls, columns, ceiling as opposed to the show. I love the music muses on the back wall of the stage and how their faces and instuments are dimensional. Anyway really enjoying your report.
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Mar 2nd, 2007, 11:47 AM
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It sounds like you had good fortune with restaurant choices. Were you able to read the menu in Catalan or Spanish, did some places have menus in English, or did you use a menu translator?

I've looked up some of the websites of the restaurants that have been recommended on this board; they have an English transalation on the web site, but I always think that I'll never be able to find the really yummy stuff on a Catalan menu.
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Mar 2nd, 2007, 01:27 PM
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Some restaurants had English menus. Others had just Catalan, and we figured it out with a little guessing and a little help from waiters and a couple of guide books with food glossaries. None of this helped me figure out we were ordering whelks, though, even though that menu was actually in English.
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Mar 2nd, 2007, 02:50 PM
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I guess the problem was that they translated the menu with a bilingual dictionary . I have four..and none of them has the word "whelk" or "whelks" on it. But yes , they say "sea snails" which is a pretty easy translation of our "caracoles de mar"
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Mar 2nd, 2007, 05:55 PM
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We took a bus back to the apartment. Alan walked to the Sagrada Familia church, but I had seen it last summer and stayed in to get ready for the evening.

We had tickets that night for the Gelabert-Azzopardi Dance Company at the Teatre Lliure on the lower slopes of Montjuic. This theater is in a building that housed the Palace of Agriculture in the 1929 Exhibition. I bought tickets on the web site: http://www.teatrelliure.com/. We had seats in the front row, and since the stage was not raised, this was a perfect vantage point for an intimate view of the modern dance performance. The program was a new work called “Orion”, based on principles of science such as the big bang, Darwin’s theory of evolution, and cognitive neuroscience. We had fun trying to figure out just what was going on at any point in the dance. Were the two guys dressed alike and dancing the same steps supposed to be the left brain and the right brain? Was the line of dancers at the end supposed to be the emotions, the intellect, and the instincts all working together like the final number in “A Chorus Line”? Who knows, but the dancing was interesting and well executed and I really enjoyed it.

Saturday morning we planned to go to Tibidabo, the hilltop behind Barcelona that overlooks the city, for the view. First, though, we went to the pastry shop across the street from our apartment, Maury, which is a very pretty space with tables for eating inside. I ordered hot chocolate and a croissant. The chocolate was so thick that a spoon stood up in it. Is this legal? Can you drink this stuff in public? How did we wait a whole week before we discovered this place? After finishing breakfast, we went to the counter at the front and bought small sandwiches (lox and cream cheese, who knew that was a thing in Spain?) to have later, as well as bags of cocoa to try at home. Then we headed out.

We started by going into the metro for the first time. We entered at the Diagonal metro station, which was just a block from our apartment, with the intention of catching the train at the connecting Provenca station to the Av. Tibidabo station. There were automatic ticket machines at the bottom of the stairs, and we bought four tickets to go and to return. Then we followed signs through a tunnel to Line 7 and attempted to put our tickets in the turnstiles. They were rejected.

There were no visible people working in the subway station. There was, however, a box with a speaker and instructions in English to push a button for help. I got a woman who said to wait a minute, and a little while later a young man showed up and looked at our tickets. He told us that they were not valid on the FGC trains, which was our line. They were only valid on the metro trains run by the TMB. I was confused, as I had thought these lines were similar to the metro and the RER in Paris, which have interchangeable tickets within central Paris. Evidently I was misinformed. So we bought two new tickets at the machine in this station, and they worked.

We took the train to the Av. Tibidabo station, where we waited for the Tramvia Blau, the blue tram that goes up the steep hill. This tram and a house along this street figured prominently in “The Shadow of the Wind”. Beautiful mansions line the street, but most of them appear to be taken over by businesses or institutions and are no longer private residences.

When we reached the end of the line, we expected to take the funicular to the top of Tibidabo, but it wasn’t running. It was covered with scaffolding and appeared to be undergoing repairs. Oh, is that what the tram conductor was trying to tell everyone? Never mind, we went into the great bar with a view, Mirablau, and enjoyed drinks overlooking the city. An hour later we took the tram back down the hill. Since we had those metro tickets that wouldn’t work on the trains at that station, and since I was pretty sure they would work on the bus, we took a bus back to the apartment.

Sadly, this was to be our final night in Barcelona. I spent the rest of the afternoon organizing and packing up. Then we went for an early dinner at the Cerveseria Catalana, where we were able to get a table right away. Nobody in Barcelona thinks of eating at the absurdly early hour of 6:30. We tried some new things and repeated some of our favorites from our previous meal there. I asked if they had the little clams, not remembering the name in Catalan. The waiter said they did, and we were given a plate of tiny clams the size of fingernails, cooked in butter and garlic. This wasn’t what we were expecting, but that’s all right, another kind of clam to add to the repertoire. We got the wild mushrooms again, the tomato bread, the solomillos, and the fried artichokes. But this time we also ordered a plate of manchego cheese and an order of escalivada (grilled eggplants and red peppers, this time formed into a cake and covered with goat cheese). We need a place like this near home. It might be a little difficult to get the raw ingredients, though. We walked around the corner to our building but sat outside for a while watching the people starting to go out for the evening.

We tried to go to sleep early with varying degrees of success, since we had a taxi ordered for 5:00 Sunday morning. As we drove through the early morning streets to the airport, we passed groups of people still out from the night before. I get tired just thinking about it.

Our flights home were uneventful again, just the way we like them. And when we got back to our driveway in Massachusetts, the ice had even receded a bit. Who could ask for more?
Nikki is offline  
Mar 4th, 2007, 11:43 AM
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Hi Nikki, great trip report! I'm missing Barcelona and the whole of Europe as I write. Love the pictures too. What is the loaf of bread with the fish? Makes me want to go now, if only I didn't have to deal with school and work (and that project at work).

Sigh...
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Mar 4th, 2007, 12:32 PM
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You really know how to write a trip report, Nikki! Your detailed account and pictures (and, oh, that food...) helped me to relive our own trip a few years back. How lucky to have attended a performance at the Palau de la Musica - we were fortunate enough to have taken a guided tour there, and I've often wondered how audiences were able to concentrate on the show, given the spectacular setting. We stayed at a small hotel overlooking Las Ramblas and not far from the market; we stopped (I would swear...) at that very cheese stand you pictured several times to buy something to have with our evening Cava as we watched the street performers from our hotel balcony. Ahh, the memories...
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Mar 4th, 2007, 12:38 PM
  #40  
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I have posted photos from the trip at http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=...&h=1&y=-o3uxdp.

mcnyc, I didn't actually take the shot of the sandwiches topped with fish; my husband did. But we didn't try them, and I don't know what they are called.
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