Hommage to Catalonia



Everytime I go to Barcelona, and look up at the beautiful, high, Belle Epoque buildings, it is difficult not to think of George Orwell and internicine snipers shooting each other on all sides of La Rambla.

This said, Barcelona is a beautiful city.

Yet another madcap visit abroad, hugely over-estimating my physical capacity, but still the pleasure of offering the family a three day visit to Barcelona and a much needed exeat from Burgundy’s dysfunctional climate.

Leaving Duplo and the infant Georgette in the capable hands of Bertrand and Yason, we sped off into the night, arriving in Catalonia at six in the morning. In a vain detour to find a coastal fishing village for breakfast, I discovered the rather beautiful Catalonian countryside in the crisp light of dawn. Breakfast finally consumed, we arrived in Barcelona at nine; were able to check in and leave the car at the hotel and to trek off into the centre of town.

It’s a great city for the wheelchair bound, every kerb leading down and onto and across, seamlessly, the tarmac of the road. Rarely have I seen so many fellow crippled paraplegics in such a small area. Paraplegia seemed almost the norm.

Foodwise, the object ot the trip was fish, and fish in any form. But mostly, it transpired as tapas. Our first stop, for lunch was the historic restaurant of XXXXX, in the Barri Gottic. Madeleine’s (salty) paella was accompanied by squid rings, an obligatory plate of octupus, delicious green peppers and others I cannot recall. A bottle of anonymous Catalan white was crisp and bienvenido.

The afternoon was mostly spent in extreme indulgence – to my girls. Brandy Melville was an obligatory stop, along with Urban Outfitters and god knows how many other international retail emporia. Gaspard and I mostly drank Cokes and beer and waited. It was hot, we stayed inthe shade and listened to jazz.

Mostly while reflecting on the endemic phenomena of “euro-trash“.

Barcelona is an amazing tourist destination; the number of tourists is overwhelming. As many as 9 million tourists visit the city per year, for a population of 1,5 million. That’s a lot.

And beyond the city’s beautiful archtecture, and a handful of great museums (Museu Picasso, MACBA, etc.) it is a retail paradise. All the major international brands, H&M, Zara Desingual etc. have multiple sites and as I sat outside one, Urban Outfitters on the Placa Catalunya, the utter idiocy of so many struck me: of a Saturday afternoon, all these young, international tourists could have been in Copenhagen, Paris, Rome or Luton. It didn’t really matter where, because the shops are all the same. It is a curious thing, to travel thousands of miles and spend your afternoon doing the same thing you could do at home.

As ever, who am I to judge?

Anyway, after a refreshing swim back at the hotel, we were off to the Ciuta Vieja to re-find the Bar Celta (passim) for a feast of fishy tapas.

IMG_0666 (1)

Really good, fresh, mineral and dirt cheap.

This time no Gypsy Kings, but it was buzzing again and the fishy delights were foisted upon us in an endless stream, first with a couple of beers and then a bottle of delicious Ribeiro Galician white.

The choicest of the evening? the tiny baby octopi. The surprise of the evening? the bill. We had gone  a bit mad, and I feared the worst;  but all this was ours for a trifling 99 euros, obscenely good value, extravagantly good fun.

Plan cadastral


Sated we ambled our way back to our hotel across the Bari Gotic, via some lovely ice creams, and found our beds. Forty three hours without sleep, I was ready.

At a civilised 9.30 we were out of the door and off to La Rambla and yet more food tourism at La Boqueria market, breakfast was had but little bought as we were off to the Museu Picasso for a little culture…I had not been for more than twenty five years and it occupies a large a spacious palacio wedged between the Barri Gotic and the Ciuta Vieja. Kick-off at eleven was good as the crowds were not yet up and the pre-booked tickets avoided the already lengthening queue. It’s a great collection, spanning his whole life from his first portrait at thitteen in the 1890’s to the final works in the 1960’s.

It is interesting that particularly older artists, of the Renaissance or even eighteenth centuries, have their opus summed up in relative paucity iof work (how many Leonardo’s in all survive? Michelangelo even less, Goyas, perhaps a couple of hundred in all…) But Picasso was prolific, in medium, subject and quantity. I guess he lived a long productive life, but the sheer mass of work is overwhelming. …And there is so much that would look just great on my walls! (interestingly, the previous week had seen a sale at Christie’s in New York of Picasso and Miro prints; I was sorely tempted to invest in a couple, which you can still pick up for a few grand. After this visit I slightly regretted my reticence).

Madeleine and Gaspard soldiered on bravely for an hour and a half, and after two I joined them in the cortille and we wheeled off to the hotel to sit out the mid-day heat. Gaspard swam for a couple of hours. Célestine and Madeleine strode off for more retail adventures.

In the evening we ate at Sabadell in Barcelonetta, overlooking the marina, with Elodie’s cousin, Valérie. More squid for the young, black ink paella for Elodie and me, and a rather regretted languoustine carpaccio for Valérie. Regretted that I had not ordered it, rather than that it wasn’t any good I should underline. I was rather pleased with my pronunciation or Rias Baixas (thank you Victoria Moore) for the wine.

IMG_0709I stoically demurred from more ice cream, and before a parting of the ways, Valérie showed us a couple of secrets of the upper bowels of the Barri Gotic, behind the cathedral and into the era of the Catholic Kings. Gaspard listened to some reggae and then we got some sleep.

Sunday was more calm, a stroll down La Rambla and breakfast in a café before hitting the beach. We took the car and headed north of Barcelonetta, north by about a kilometre, found a disabled space immediately and you cannot but marvel at the level of disabled adapted space – long ramps down to the beach, down the beach and on to the sea, and not to mention the disabled changing rooms and loos. Yes, France has a long way to go.

Elodie and I opted for the bar, the children for the sea. We spent a pleasant few hours at our table, a leisurely lunch, no pressure to consume too much and none to move on. Barcelona, and Barcelonistas take laid back to its fully horizontal state.

Before a final evening fish frenzy, we toured the town by car. It was traffic free and our Gaudi tour took in the Sagrada Famiglia and others. We arrived too late for the Parc Guel, but arrived just early enough at the fantastically chaotic La Paradeta, to assure ourselves a table without an interminable wait.

Perhaps Barcelona’s most popular fish restaurant, with locals and tourists alike, it’s essentially a no frills, fish stall with a kitchen. As you enter you order what you want from the mountain of fresh fish: polpa, calamar, lobster, razor clams, clams, gambas, oysters (and on it goes) and say how you want them cooked. Three choices: raw, fried or grilled. All that we had, we had grilled.

You go to the bar and choose your drinks and get your table. You are given a little buzzer, and each time it buzzes to you go to the kitchen to get yor next round of fishiness. All burning hot, and fresh as fresh can be – bar straight out of the water.

It reminded me of Boston’s Durgin-Park; you don’t go there for the decor, or the service. But the fish is top rate and it was great place to end our tiny trip. Too early to hit the road and I was going to need a few espressos, so we hung around the old town some more, ate a final ice cream, (I admit to a scoop of lime sorbet) before collecting our bags and hitting the road to France just before eleven.

A mid morning siesta near Montpellier saw us back home in Brognon by ten. Three days and two nights sur place. It was a good trip, and Barcelona is really a great place to go.

As summer holidays go, 2016 has been unmemorable; Elodie managed an extra week down inthe  Luberon, but so as not to err again, good god, 2017 is already booked: two weeks of far niente in the hills above Greve in Chianti.

And Elodie wants to go back to Barcelona in November. What the lady wants, the lady, generally, gets.

About matthewhayesbrognon

Wine Merchant
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