From the very first day we arrived in Barcelona, life for our family suddenly felt exquisitely harmonious and balanced, and remained so for the entire two month duration of our stay. We all felt quite blissed out in fact! That’s the kind of magical effect Barcelona seemed to have on us, and it continues to infuse our memories of the place with a very special energy. And to think, we almost talked ourselves out of going entirely – for fear of pick-pockets. Perhaps they’ve been a bigger probem in the past, when there were an abundance of street perfomers, leading to more opportunities for thieves to catch audience members off-guard – but we didn’t see that Barcelona has much of an issue with that anymore. Phew!
During the day it’s all seriousness and hustle and bustle in business attire, but by night, and I’m talking from like 8:00 to 11:00 or so (later for many), it was totally relaxed, fun, chilled out family and friends time. It was let’s-all-go-socialize-in-the-open-air time. The warm cozy glow was quite palpable and we basked luxuriously in it. These people are open, passionate, real, and welcoming, in such refreshing ways. They also come across as quite tranquil, go with the flow, and sanguine. Such an enjoyable combination! We felt so energized, focused, and even a bit euphoric, as a result. It even inspired Emily to write an amazing song in GarageBand on her iPod, called “I Want to Fall in Love.” We love it when she surprises us like that! Check it out here. We think it’s quite impressive, especially for an 11-year old.
However, oddly enough, our schedule was lackadaisical to say the least. We just kind of stopped caring about daytime and nighttime hours and their traditional functions. We slept when we felt like it, for as long as we felt like it, and stayed awake for as long as we wanted, not really syncing with the rythmn of nature at all. Somehow it just didn’t seem to be the least bit important to us. Unless – we wanted to go sightseeing. In that case, we would try to make a point of getting up and out of the apartment at a fairly reasonable hour, say between 10am to 11am. We did what we wanted, when we wanted, as much as we wanted, and enjoyed ourselves immensly in the process. We managed to experience much of the beauty of Barcelona during our extended stay, while also enjoying a lot of down time in the apartment as well, which we used to dabble in creative projects, work, learn, introspect, read, play games, watch movies, talk, pick out lice, smile at each other, etc.
For transportation, we did try out the metro system a couple times, which was nice. Though, we mostly chose to use Uber for getting around, which we found to be very easy, convenient, and surprisingly affordable. For our family of five it was about the same price as taking the metro, at least in this city. We found the regular taxi system to be a bit cumbersome for our family because we were required to take the bigger, less numerous, and more expensive taxis, since sharing seatbelts wasn’t allowed, and the regular sized taxis fit only four passengers. For those who may not know, Uber is an app through which you can order a taxi to come pick you up and drop you off at the locations you select on the map for the driver. Once you order the taxi to your location through the app, it shows you where the driver is on the map as he’s coming toward you. It also shows his name and photo, and how long it will take him to arrive to pick you up, usually 5 to 10 minutes. Payment is also handled through the app with the credit card on your account. Afterwards, you are sent an email with the cost of the ride and the chance for both driver and passenger to rate the experience. We were first introduced to this service in London and are very glad to have been able to use it in Barcelona. Use our promo code (AWPDN) if you want to try it out, and you’ll get a $10 credit on your account, as will we. :)
There were also the joys of being able to speak and listen to the Spanish language again. We’ve all missed it. Not only that, but we had the privilege of learning more about the Catalan language and people as well. Such a history they have! September 11th, the day after we arrived in Barcelona, marked the 300th anniversary of the end of the siege of Barcelona. It was the festival of the National Day of Catalonia, where hundreds of thousands wave their special flags and celebrate with protests for and against independence from Spain. Throughout the day, there are demonstrations and cultural events in most of the Catalan villages. From our aparment balcony we witnessed thousands of participants in the very crowded street below.
We did see some amazing sights in Barcelona on our sight-seeing days, the most awe-inspiring being the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia. In Brandon’s words, “Oh. My. Gaudí. This building is amazing!! I felt my heart leap as I entered and saw soft colored light filtering in through the stain glass windows onto the tree-like pillars that reach up to the intricately symmetrical ceiling. What an awe-inspiring, breathtaking place this is. Not your typical dark and shadowy cathedral. This place is bright, modern, vibrantly colorful, and lifted my eyes and soul upward, a seeming chapel of light and glory. Gaudí is genius.” It’s our favorite cathedral yet, and one we would pay to enter again. Since it is still under construction, and thought to be completed in the first third of this century, we’d love to go back and see the future progress.
We also saw Parc Güell, another of Gaudí’s creations, with fascinating shapes, tilted columns, and mosaic tiles covering buildings and walls. A remarkable place. It was built between 1900 and 1914 and was officially opened as a public park in 1926. We learned that Gaudí found much of his inspiration from organic shapes found in nature.
We took a bike tour as a family one day, during which we rode around to many different attractions and learned a bit about the history of Barcelona along the way. Our eyes were filled with the amazing architechture of this city all day long. We especially enjoyed all the beautiful facades and balconies decorating so many of the edifices.
One of the buildings we saw that day was the Palau de la Musica Catalana, a music palace incorporating many different building materials, such as exposed brick, glazed tiles, glass and iron. It has many stained glass windows and even a stained glass skylight, which is in the shape of an enormous drop of light. There are about two thousand large ceramic roses in different colors adorning the ceiling, and there are also many amazing sculptures and mosaics incorporated into different parts of the palace. Brandon and I enjoyed a nice evening concert there a few weeks later. The music was so incredibly beautiful, and played with such passion and precision. The performance included works by Bartok, Beethoven and Mozart. I especially enjoyed listening to the playing of violinist, Gidon Kremer, absolutely exquisite and moving.
During another fun day out, we visited The Poble Espanyol (Spanish Village), which is located on Montjuïc hill, a ten minute walk from our apartment. It was built for the 1929 International Exhibition to showcase Spain, and contains architecture representing each province. Every building is a copy of a real building. There are lots of restaurants and shops, and only foot traffic is allowed inside the village. The four builders, a team of two architects, an engineer, and an artist made many trips around Spain to take photographs and get ideas. They visited 1600 towns and villages in Spain, and erected 116 buildings of different architectural styles. We had a fun time walking around exploring the streets and shops. There is even a monastery located in a secluded, quiet part of the village, surrounded by trees, with a breathtaking view of the city of Barcelona.
And, of course, there’s the food! I’ve already told you so many of the joys of this city, and I still haven’t even mentioned the food. Wow. Wee. It is something to be savored. There are something like 6,000 restaurants in this city. I mean, we only ever so lightly tickled the surface of possibilities in this area, obviously, but we did have some mighty happy tastebuds, to be certain. Barcelonians eat lunch between 2pm to 4pm, after which restaurants close up until around 8pm. No one actually begins to contemplate eating the evening meal until around 9pm, however. We enjoyed the cuisine very much. Here are some traditional recipies, if you’d like to try some out at home. The international options are many and exceptional as well. Lots of restaurants deliver, and we had some pretty high quality Italian, Indian, and Sushi food deliveries, to name a few. During one of our meals out, I had a memorable tomato, spinach, and brie crepe from Creps Barcelona, a genuine Breton creperie that offers crepes and galettes hand-made every day according to the traditional recipe. They also play really fun jazz music. We went to the one on Carrer Calvet, located next to Diagonal and Francesc Macià.
We even found a grocery store that delivers, El Corte Inglés. We placed our orders online and enjoyed having them show up at our front door the next day, or whenever we scheduled the delivery. We especially enjoyed the cured meats, like Jamon Serrano and Chorizo. We also had chocolate mousse cakes delivered from the grocery store, which we enjoyed. However, once we arrived back in Ubud and indulged in our favorite treat of Heavenly Chocolate Mousse Cake from the Bali Buda restaurant, we were reminded which one takes the cake, so to speak. ;)
There was one food experience in particular, that Brandon and I enjoyed together, which is far and away one of the best dining experiences we have ever had. We splurged on a meal out at the amazing Cinc Sentits, meaning ‘five senses’ in Catalan. We chose this restaurant because of its Michelin star, good reviews, and convenient location – about half an hour walk from our apartment. We each ordered the Sentits tasting menu, which included variations on the restaurant’s classic courses. We also ordered a wine pairing to share between us, of exclusively Spanish and Catalan wines from small boutique bodegas. We were served appetizers like Iberian pork sausages with paprika, stuffed olives, leak soup, carrots with shrimp and licorice, and delicious bread with olive oil to match. As main dishes they brought things like an amazing chive and meat pastry, corvina with pine nuts & garlic and raisins & chard with toasted buckwheat, and a beef and potato dish with herbs. For dessert they surprised us with a carmelized apple with white chocolate ice cream, Catalán toffee, a banana muffin, an almond crisp, and an orange marshmallow.
Good thing Brandon recorded the food we ate with his meticulous record keeping, otherwise I wouldn’t have remembered much of anything, other than the fact that everything tasted like we’d died and gone to heaven. Perhaps all the perfectly paired wine had something to do with that as well. They gave us copious amounts, which left us a bit unsure of our ability to walk ourselves home afterward, but we did indeed make it back just fine, and quite happily I might add. Upon our arrival, I promptly laid down and had a scrumptious nap without interruption, and Brandon got straight back to work improving his business while battling a bit of a bad headache – go figure.
The day before we left the Clark home in the UK and flew to Barcelona, our friend Martin talked to Brandon and I about his passion for those types of foody experiences. I don’t know that we would have taken advantage of this marvelous opportunity otherwise. So, a huge shout out to Martin Clark! As he is also our wine education expert, we thought of him as we sipped our favorite wine from this experience, called Nou, which means ‘nine’ and also ‘new’ in Catalan. Specially made for this restaurant, and so very delicious, it was definitely a highlight of our meal!
We also feel very fortunate to have had a lot of quality time spent with friends in this city. The Gibsons, who we first met in Bali several months ago, arrived in Barcelona for a few days during our time there, and we hung out with them as much as possible. Our girls and their daughter had so much fun playing together and the adults enjoyed some really wonderful conversations. We had a few meals together in our apartment and visited the Picasso Museum with them. We even had a sleepover at our apartment one night! It was the silver lining of an unexpected experience, which involved missing a scheduled train departure to their next destination. We also enjoyed time with them taking in the sights, smells, and tastes of La Boqueria food market, where we first sampled the delicious traditional Catalan treat called, Catànies. We liked them so much we bought more at a different shop later, as we were walking around town.
Here’s the Wikipedia description: “A chocolate sweet typical of Vilafranca del Penedés and some other near towns that is made with marcona -a prestigious Catalan type- almonds, toasted and covered first by caramel and afterwards by a thick lay of white chocolate or a mixture of almond, hazelnut and milk. Finally they are covered by a thin lay of powdered black chocolate, sometimes mixed with a little bit of invisible sugar. They are often given as gifts or eaten for example with coffee, after a meal.”
We also spent time with the Gibsons at Ciutadella Park, where the adults enjoyed some nice long conversations and the kids were completely absorbed in their own type of fun at a small playground, just a couple steps away. Such an enjoyable and relaxing afternoon. Another highlight for the kids was when the adults bought pigeon food and they were able to feed the birds in Plaça Catalunya. Later that same night, our family tried out some Spanish churros and chocolate, before heading back home to bed.
Also, as luck would have it, we were coincidentally in Barcelona at the same time as our friend, Alex, who we met a few years ago in Peru, during our volunteer work together at Aldea Yanapay, in Cusco. Originally from Athens, he is now working in Nigeria, and was on vacation for a meet-up in Barcelona with his lovely girlfriend, Nena. It was such a pleasure to meet her. We had a relaxed meal with them both one afternoon, along with a very thought-provoking conversation – chatting about things like travel, life in Africa, spirituality & religion, archeology (Nena’s an archeologist), the value of ritual, healing, mindfulness, and quieting the mind. It was so enjoyable to spend that time together!
We also met with the Mack family who have two boys, similar ages to our two oldest girls. On a whim, we went together with the boys and their Mom to Labyrinth Park, a historical garden which is the oldest of its kind in the city. Right next to the entrance of the park is an old palace, incorporating both neoarabic and neogothic design elements, which we stood admiring for quite a long time. There is also an ancient medieval watchtower in the complex, and the hedge maze that gives the park its name is made up of 750 metres of trimmed cypress trees, with a statue of the god Eros in the middle. We all had fun getting lost inside the Labyrinth, and did manage to find our way out eventually. The entire garden was enchantingly beautiful. I’m so glad I stumbled onto learning about it online, and that we could enjoy paying a visit with our new friends. Afterward, we ate a meal together in a restaurant close to our apartment and engaged in an ample amount of stimulating conversation, before turning in for the night.
We also had the good fortune of meeting with some new local friends, the family of Jennifer Wells and her partner, Rubén, along with their son and daughter. They invited us to their home on the mountain for a celebration of Halloween, along with many other friends. Halloween isn’t traditionally celebrated in Spain, but it’s beginning to catch on in a few areas. We went trick-or-treating together to a few houses in their neighborhood in the woods, which made a perfect backdrop in the darkness for the spooky holiday. We even saw some wild boar along the road! We met back at their house afterward for a delicious meal, enjoyable conversation, fun sparklers, and entertaining music. We were in such great company with this group. They are very inclusive, gentle, festive, welcoming, and kind people. On the way home, Emily even said it was her best Halloween ever!
Our fun with this family didn’t end there, however. Lucky us, we also spent a fun-filled afternoon with them walking around town near our apartment. We stopped at a market and bought some cool rocks together before ducking into a bakery to purchase a traditional dessert called, ensaïmadas, which we took back to our aparment to eat together.
Ensaïmadas are a traditional spiral shaped pastry, produced in Mallorca, Spain since the 17th Century. The dough is made of flour, sugar, eggs and fat and is stretched out by hand until it is paper thin. Then, it is spread with a filling of pumpkin jam, known as ‘angel hair’, or left plain. It is then carefully rolled up and left to rest, before curling the filled dough tubes into a spiral. They are allowed to rise overnight to be baked the next morning.
After our ensaïmada we ate some hearty lentil stew together, which I’d prepared the night before, and we enjoyed it along with some delicious sourdough bread which our friend, Jennifer, baked and brought along to share. It was so good! And, since lentil stew pairs quite well with the Sangre de Toro red wine we found at a nearby convenience store, we added that to the table as well. We then indulged in a parfait-style dessert experiment of mine, which included fresh rasperries and blueberries, chocolate mousse, custard pudding, and whipped cream. Since the chocolate mousse portion called for just a little bit of brandy, we had lots leftover, which we sent home with our friends, but not before I tried another experiment of mixing some brandy and red wine together to see about the taste. I was pleasantly surprised! Our friend, Jennifer, says she now thinks of me everytime she deglazes something she’s cooking with the brandy… which means she ends up associating me a lot with caramelized onions!
So, here we are at the end of the post, summarizing a stay of two months, in one of our new favorite cities. Enjoy Brandon’s beautiful photos and video below. Is anyone ready to hop on the next plane to Barcelona? Please take us with you!