24 October 2010
Such A Beautiful Horizon
I am, as I've said before, a lucky bugger. Well, provided you see a succession of low-paid journalism jobs as "luck", that is. Regardless, I seem to have stumbled into an existence where I pretty much get paid to do things I enjoy.
One of the most enjoyable of these - to some extent - has been the travel. This last year or so I've seen places I never expected to visit, and forged connections that have opened all sorts of interesting doors. I might occasionally gripe about itineraries but I hope I don't do that too much, or too loudly. Saying that, it is utter bliss when an opportunity arises to combine "work" - the quotation marks issued by pretty much everyone I know - with some proper downtime such as this week's all-too-brief jaunt to Barcelona.
It's 20 plus years since I'd last been to this welcoming city. It won't be 20 plus years until I go back. Admittedly I might not be able to afford the luxury of La Gran Hotel Florida next time but, as lovely as that was - it's on a hill overlooking the entire city - I'm pretty sure I will be able to afford the thing that gave me the most pleasure on this trip. That, inevitably, was the grazing around assorted bars and market counters. As we discovered a few years ago in New York, if you really want to get a feel for a place, you don't get it from the tourist attractions on your checklist. You get it from just hanging out.
Having sent out a message on Twitter asking for recommendations, I had a long list of places people thought I should go. After due consideration, and with the greatest thanks and respect to those kind contributors, I ignored all the advice and, together with Mrs L, we just roamed from Parc Guell down to the sea, stopping off whenever we were feeling peckish and allaying fears that places we chose might be "too touristy" with some faultless logic: what the hell, we ARE tourists.
First stop was, probably inevitably, the Boqueria and a couple of dishes with the lunch crowd at the bustling Pinotxo Bar. Elbow to elbow with market workers and business types, we savoured a cold beer while making quick work of tender baby squid with beans and a small dish of mixed mushrooms, all mopped up with fork, fingers and crusty bread.
That fuelled us for an hour or two of pleasant bimbling along La Rambla, enjoying the architecture, the crowds and the odd street entertainers (glad to see London hasn't quite cornered the market in people who are really good at standing still). Looping around, we headed slightly west, towards the Museu d'Art Contemporani through some rather studenty streets and squares, when the ramshackle charms of Bar Restaurant Romesco caught our collective eye. Perching at the counter, we wolfed through cold Estrellas, a "Catalan Salad" - essentially a regular salad topped, gracelessly but brilliantly, with chorizo, ham and other sliced meats and grilled prawns that came dotted with fresh garlic so pungent it almost burned.
It set us up for another hour or two of pottering, through boutiques and cathedrals and busy squares, before the lure of cold beer tempted us once more. Sadly, as we sipped, we learned that the kitchen had just closed, so the leg of jamon we'd spied behind the bar stopped looking tempting and started taunting. That meant the first place we found after that served jamon was going to get a new customer. That turned out to be the Taverna del Bisbe, where, contrary to some of the reports via that link, we had a very pleasant hour or more. Friendly, relaxed and, most importantly, capable of serving up jamon aplenty.
Plans to finish with pudding and sweet wine somewhere were scuppered by the lack of stomach space so, instead, we collapsed back in our room, enjoyed a little of the candied fruit we'd purchased earlier and fell asleep feeling a little bit more "Barcelonan" than we'd started the day.