Back in February we decided to jaunt over to Spain, particularly Barcelona to visit friends who have been living there since August. I had never been to Barcelona, and this would be Lenny’s third trip, both of us were excited to see everyone we had been missing, and I could not wait to take a new culture in. Not knowing much about Barcelona besides Gaudi, and the promise of good food, I dove in without any preparedness. Now, this is completely not like me, but I figured we were in good hands with our friends who were living as the locals. After a long flight over, we dropped bags off at the apartment, grabbed a good European coffee (yes, we love coffee over there) and headed out for a long leisurely Tapas lunch at Cal Pep with our friends Will and Evelyn. This Pan con Tomate was my first introduction into my love affair of the tomato bread.
My first impression of Barcelona was as we began to land, and that was that it was rather modern. More modern than other European cities I have flown into. Barcelona, is the second largest city in Spain and is the capital of the autonomous community of Catalonia. It is home to three-quarters of the population being Catalonia, while only one-eighth is that of Spain. It is quite evident throughout Barcelona, giving it a rather liberal as well as rebel culture; which we really enjoy. Not only could you feel which neighborhoods had a strong presence by the flags which were flown, but also Catalan is still spoken and studied in schools. It has a feeling of old meets new, which means there is a little someone for everyone to enjoy, whether history, culture or lazing around is your idea of a perfect holiday.
Unfortunately, our time in Barcelona was only five days, which proved to be too short of a trip. We did not want to overload our schedules with a tourist agenda, as we were there to spend time with our friends, so our days were spent wandering the city, taking in sites, and eating long lunches and late dinners. Definitely a lifestyle I could become accustomed too. My favorite neighborhood was the Barri Gothic with it dark and dingy alleys, and hidden gems tucked away. Perfect for wandering around, loosing yourself and enjoying a small bite of tapas and wine. Another neighborhood that we enjoyed losing ourselves in was the Gracia, which has more of a residential feel, with old world charm tucked in and around alleyways, old crumbling buildings, and pieces of history scattered about. Great neighborhood markets, and gems of restaurants were found there.
We felt honored to have been able to enjoy Giants Parade, and well as watching the Castellers perform one lazy Sunday afternoon. If you are not familiar with either, you will definitely want to see both, as they are only two charms of Barcelona. The Giants Parade is made up of huge puppets of kings, queens and other nobles, and they wander the streets of Barcelona, performing. The huge puppets tower of humans, as they dance, spin and put a smile on everyone’s face. It was really amazing to see. The castellers are performers who make human towers; it is out of this world. This Catalan tradition began at the end of the 18th century in Tarragona, when rival groups began to compete by constructing different kinds of human towers. It is really something to watch as they scurry up on each other’s shoulders building these towers.
Other highlights in Barcelona included:
- Barcelona Bus Turistic – I have been traveling with Lenny for over 10 years, and this was the first time I heard about him liking bus tours. We took this particular tour, and it was the perfect way to become acquainted with the city and areas to come back and visit later on. Book your tickets online to save a little money.
- La Sagrada Familia – became somewhat addicted to the art and architecture of Gaudi during this trip, and this modernist masterpiece is a must see. Buy your tickets ahead of time to avoid waiting in line, and possibly not getting in, as well plan to arrive early and spend at least half of the day wandering around and taking it all in. It is really spectacular, and we are hoping that we live a lifetime to see it’s completion which is slated for 2026, 150 years after being started.
- La Catedral – the cathedral of Barcelona. We only walked around the immediate area both in the evening and during the day, and it is gorgeous. We peeked in but the crowds were taking over, and we decided to save it for the next trip. I love old churches, and this cathedral did not disappoint.
- La Rambla – a pedestrian thoroughfare that is worth the walk for the people watching alone. Tuck into the small streets and alleyways for more of a local feel with regards to food and drink. Most places right on the walkway are a bit tourist.
- Merca de la Boqueria – a food lovers heaven, as well as one of Europe’s greatest produce markets.
Restaurants – we enjoyed and would go back to.
- Castell De Xative Restaurant – outstanding Valencia style paella, located in a quite neighborhood. Be sure to eat all the crusty bites off the bottom of the pan.
- Goliard – is located in the Gracia neighborhood, and we had an outstanding lunch there. They offer a fixed price lunch menu for about 20 euros including a glass of wine per person. I am a picky scallop eater, and these were cooked to perfection. Outstanding service.
- Cal Pep – was our first meal in Barcelona, and consisted of many tapa styled dishes featuring the freshest seafood. They basically seat you, ask if you want wine, and if there is anything you do not like. Then they feed you generously with what is fresh and available that day. Great spot for a long leisurely lunch.
Restaurnats – we didn’t get a chance to try but want to next time.
Back to the food, and in particular this Pan con Tomate. The food in Barcelona was spectacular from the freshest seafood, salty hams, roasted peppers and cheese, to the mouth-watering gin and tonics. Yes, I did say gin and tonics, which happened to be the “it” drink in Barcelona. Everywhere we went, that was the drink of choice, over sangria, wine or beer. We found it amusing, but didn’t let it stop us from enjoying a few here and there. Pan con Tomate was a dish that is typically served with every tapas meal, and if it wasn’t brought to us, I would order it. It is also called Pan a la Catalana and is one of the most famous dishes from Cataluna. Simple crusty bread rubbed with garlic, tomato and olive oil. After a bit of research after coming home because I was obsessed with this dish, I found out that it is typically enjoyed at breakfast as well as with tapas. Now we enjoy it as a snack, light lunch or alongside a bowl of soup or salad as a light dinner. I can just imagine how much more delicious it will be when tomatoes are in season this summer!
Though our trip was short, we loved the passion as well as pride that was felt throughout Barcelona. A city that was rich in history as well as culture. Don’t worry Barcelona, we will be back as we feel we only tasted a small part of you, and there is so much more to enjoy. Until then …..
If you enjoyed this post on Barcelona, please check out our other photos from the trip. We hope you enjoyed this journey with us.
Recipe: Pan con Tomate
In Spain, they use a certain type of bread and tomatoes for this recipe, the bread is a bit drier, and the tomatoes are rubbed on the bread. Unfortunately, I could not get the right bread here, and tomatoes are not quite juicy being out of season and all, but after a bit of tweaking, I nailed it! Typically, as mentioned the tomatoes are rubbed on the bread and not grated but this is the only way I could get the juices from an out of season tomato.
- 1/2 baguette, sliced in half and then cut into 6 pieces
- 1 large garlic clove, peeled
- olive oil
- 2 ripe tomatoes
- maldon salt
- Preheat the oven to 475.
- Lay the bread slices on a cookie sheet, and place in the oven. Cook for 3 – 4 minutes until dry, and lightly toasted. Keep an eye on it as you do not want it to burn.
- Remove from the oven, and set aside for 10 minutes to cool.
- Rub the garlic clove over the top of each slice of bread.
- Lightly drizzle with a little olive oil.
- Using a grater, grate the tomato over the bread slices.
- Drizzle a little more olive oil, and sprinkle with some salt.