As someone more familiar with the delights of the Aegean region of the Mediterranean, the prospect of traveling further west to visit Barcelona and the Catalan coast was eagerly awaited.
Barcelona itself is a stunning city, and we soon found ourselves sat outside a small restaurant by the sea, sampling a most enjoyable and inexpensive toast with Serrano ham. This was to prove a regularly repeated experience during our stay, and whilst the Serrano ham itself was always delicious, the secret of the experience really lies in the toast, which is ‘rubbed’ with a raw half tomato and seasoned before serving. Sometimes, a cut clove of garlic is also smeared across the toast as a flavour some embellishment.
We also went to a delightful ‘upmarket’ restaurant where we were offered a glass of ‘Cava’ – ‘on the house’ – as soon as we were seated. This drink was most enjoyable and our waiter took great pleasure advocating that ‘Cava’ was a special Spanish sparkling wine that only came from Catalonia. However, we detected a little disappointment from him when we ordered a bottle of the same Cava to accompany our meal. (From a subsequent cursory look at the wine list, we couldn’t help but notice that ‘our’ Cava was the cheapest at 16 euros a bottle, with everything else was over 30 euros.)
Compared to the Greeks, the Catalans are especially organized and take great pride in this. The 1992 Olympics massively transformed Barcelona and its infrastructure. Unlike Athens, Barcelona emerged as a completely different city as a result.
This city is amazingly tourist-friendly and includes the usual bus tours, walking trips and museums found in most cities; however, they are better organized and coordinated than most.
What also makes this an outstanding city is Antonio Gaudi's unique architecture.
Gaudi's creativity is present everywhere; in the parks, building facades, rooftops, and the extraordinary landmark cathedral of the Sagrada Familia.
Without him Barcelona would be, well, less important visually. It was everything we had anticipated. You also have the Picasso museum within 5 great medieval houses in the center of Barcelona. A great city, great people, and not a cigarette butt on the ground!
What really impressed us was the feeling of the city; the bustle, with citizens as well as tourists enjoying its cosmopolitan atmosphere. Every bar tender seemed to be Irish. We met a large number of South Americans living, working or visiting. Fortunately I speak Spanish, but no Catalan. When I lived in Madrid years ago and visited Barcelona, Catalan was a banned language, not anymore; signs are in Catalan, Spanish, and maybe English. They are very nationalistic and you get the feeling that it is a separate country and one they are very proud of.
The food is great! Being by the sea, the seafood is delicious and fresh. Nevertheless, we have a warning for you: every restaurant has a variety of paellas, however, none that we tried were particularly good. Every food has it’s home, and paella comes from ANdalucia in the south of Spain, not from Barcelona. We did have other wonderful food, including traditional tapas and jamon Iberico.
After Barcelona we drove north to the Costa Brava to visit some friends in Tamariu. While there, we drove to Cadaques to visit the Salvador Dali house. It is made up of 5 fishermen’s cottages, accumulated over more than 30 years. You start to better appreciate Dali after this visit; his home is a masterpiece and is creative, theatrical, playful, and ingenious and the gardens and rooms are magical, and so carefully thought out, wtih wit and fun in every corner. It shows not only his great love for his wife, but also for the area in which they lived. It was one of the best moments of our trip.
Going back towards Girona and Palafruell and Tamariu, there are many medieval towns and wonderful rustic farmhouses, all beautifully maintained; no neon signs or discotheques, discarded plastic water bottles or cigarette butts on the ground.
The cleanliness of the countryside as well as the towns was a revelation. I do not want to go on and on about this, but it impressed us all. We love Greece and would not trade it for anywhere else, but we could use a bit of the Catalan discipline. Perhaps they are a bit obsessive, but it was nice not to see rubbish lining the country roads or people tossing unwanted stuff from their cars.
We did have a couple of problems, other than the paella; the coffee was terrible and there was not the great choice we have in Greece, but it was cheap, as it should be.