Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I hate flying. And I don't particularly relish staying in hotel rooms. Being a tourist is not a favorite pastime either. But I still love to travel. What I really like is being in a place. Letting the effects of a place slowly seep into my awareness, slowly take over my senses. At times one must kick start that process by being a typical tourist, bus tours and all. But that's just a primer to really starting to know a place. Travel is ultimately about discovery. Discovery of a new place, culture, language, food. There's a mysteriousness to uncovering, and exploring a new city, a new country. I don't know Spain the way I do France. Before this recent trip, I'd been to Madrid for a day before flying to the island of Mallorca for a week long wedding. Mallorca was total, complete heaven. I could have stayed and never left. That trip was long ago. Being back in Spain for an extended period of time allowed me to re-discover and discover more of this wonderful country. I'd definitely like to spend more time there.

After my year long stay in France when I was eighteen, I went on a three-month tour of western Europe by train. I saw almost all of the western European countries except for Spain. It was the late 70s and it was still this fairly unknown place with a recent quasi-facist past . And it was far away; stuck down by itself along with Portugal. It just didn't quite fit into the big geographic circle I was making through France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Greece, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Scotland, Ireland and England. And on return trips I never quite made it there either. I didn't know what I was missing.

France, as stated in my last post, is still my home away from home, my self-adoptive country but I do have a new appreciation for Spain and the Spanish. Robert and I found the people to be warm, friendly and open. There was a sort of laissez-faire attitude that was very comfortable to us. Barcelona was a dream place. I had heard that it was. With Gaudi leading the Modernist movement, and building amazing buildings like the Sagrada Familia cathedral, the city couldn't help but be dream-like. The food followed suit. Bold, direct and vibrant. I learned how to eat and order tapas (finally!). The city is dotted with cervecerias on every corner. They're open morning, noon and night. Stop in for a cafe con leche and a montadito of egg and potato for breakfast, go back in the evening for beers, sangria and five or six tapas dishes. I'll be writing more about our food experiences as soon as I am over my jet lag and back on track but some of the delicious things we ate included: tortilla (potato omellete), patatas bravas (fried potatoes in spicy red sauce with garlic mayonnaise), pimientos del padrón (deep fried peppers), montaditos (little sandwiches with all manner of ingredients), oxtail stew, grilled shrimp and much more (to be revealed).

One of our favorite places, a block away from our amazing hotel, was Cervesería Catalana. Always busy with people spilling out on to the street. Traditional tapas; very well prepared. Our first night, and our initiation into ordering tapas, was at Cervecería Ciudad Condal. A big, bustling place with a wait for a table. After we were seated at a corner table in the back of the restaurant, we both looked at our all Spanish menus then at each other: what now? Robert speaks Spanish fluently and I can easliy get by. It wasn't that the menu was in Spanish; it was that we had no idea what the things listed on it were. The very nice waitress (used to clueless tourists) offered to bring us an assortment of dishes. It was perfect. Just enough, not too much. All amazingly delicious. We'd managed to successfully order and eat tapas in Spain. We walked off into the warm night, sated and happy. We were falling for Barcelona fast. By our third and final night it was full on love. I now understood why everybody raved about this city. Our final night in Spain was spent in Madrid, and it was another love fest; a magical city that felt a bit like London due to the cool, damp weather and a bit like Paris in its vast grandness. We both liked it all over again. Spain was quickly becoming a new favorite European country. One we'd both like to explore further.

¡Buen provecho!

Watch this spot for more about our travel and food adventures in Spain (and France).

My Status: Robert and I returned home on Saturday, June 6. I am recovering from jet lag, getting caught up and wishing I was still in France and Spain!

Upcoming Posts: France and Spain: more detailed blogs about food and travel adventures in France and Spain. The Wedge Salad: a recipe, the origins of the salad and of Iceberg lettuce.

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  1. Glad you enjoyed Barselona! We loved our stay there too!

  2. Thanks 5 Star! It was truly a great trip. Barcelona is amazing. Wish I was still there eating tapas!

  3. ..."tortilla (potato omellete), patatas bravas (fried potatoes in spicy red sauce with garlic mayonnaise), pimientos del padrón (deep fried peppers), montaditos (little sandwiches with all manner of ingredients)"...

    You visited HEAVEN?

  4. You had me drooling at your photo of the jamon iberico! I'm glad you had such a wonderful experience in Spain. I am dying to go spend a week or two there. Good luck recovering from the jet lag, it always takes a week or two to feel 'normal' again.

  5. Thanks Jo & Phoo-D!

    Jo - you have no idea! That's only scratching the surface. I'm holding out for a more in depth post. The patatas bravas I could eat forever... so yum yummy.

    Phoo-D - that picture was taken at the Boqueria - the huge, daily outdoor market. We had an amazing lunch sitting at a tapas bar right in the market. A post is coming soon! You really must go! (I forget if you already been or not?)

  6. Hi Charles!

    so happy for you guys, it sounds like you had a wonderful trip and amazing food.
    can't wait for the next post!

  7. Charles, please tell me you at least got a sliver of that Iberico. I don't know what it is about that picture, but it just screams "Food Porn" to me. It's a breathtakingly awesome site to see all of those delicious smoked hams hanging there like that.

    What a great day you described. And you put any experience in a new place into words perfectly. Bourdain once said that the only way to fully get comfortable in a new country is to just jump in. Find that one off-the-beaten-path hole in the wall, and tuck in and absorb the locals. It's a brave leap, but it beats the touristy stuff that everyone seems to migrate to every time.

  8. Thanks Afaf! Always appreciate your comments - we had a great time. New posts coming this week.

    And thanks Phil! Appreciate your very kind comments as well - always! I am sure I ate some Iberico somewhere a long the way as it was all ham all day in Spain. That pic is from the open air market off La Rambla - an amazing place. And I'd say Bourdain is a man after my own heart. That is definitely the best way to experience a place. More coming up!

  9. When we were in Barcelona two years ago our fab hotel concierge recommended those two places and we couldn't have been happier. Ah to be in Espana. Your home away from home is France, mine Spain. I've lived in both countried, yet my corazon always returns to Spain. Must be that I speak Spanish fluently. You must speak French, oui?

  10. Thanks Alli. Yes I do speak French - I lived in France for a year when I was 18. So great that you know those restaurants. We got very lucky in making our choices. Yes, France is my home away from home but after visiting Barcelona and Madrid, Spain is running a close second. I really liked Spain a lot. I totally get why you like it so much!