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Barcelona recommendations


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#1 Wilfrid1

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Posted 15 July 2004 - 08:02 PM

An open letter to two esteemed members who are making their first trip to this, one of my three favorite cities, later this summer. Veterans might wish to skip the "obvious" section:

Obvious things to do:

Gaudi. You should set aside half a day just to see Gaudi's works. The Sagrada Familia is the most famous, but I find there's not much to see when you actually get there. It's most striking seen at a distance. La Pedrera, his weird apartment house, is good, and if it's open go up to the roof (also, some other great apartment facades are nearby, including his Casa Battlo). Go inside the Palau Guell in the Barri Xines if it's open and take a look around. But donít miss, above all, the Parc Guell. It's a subway ride plus a walk, or a short taxi ride, but it's a total Gaudi environment - a park he designed for a wealthy benefactor. Disneyland as conceived by a conservative Catholic mythologian. Spacey.

Tibidabo. Do the tram car up to the basilica overlooking the city. The basilica itself is not thrilling, but the view is great. Better still, if you follow the road that runs around the left hand side of the basilica (facing it), a five minute walks brings you to spots from which you can look in the other direction - inland from Barcelona. Lovely views of the countryside. There's a bar with terrace seating in front of the basilica, if you need a bit of black pudding or something.

Montjuic. This is the other mountain overlooking the city. Unless you hate Miro, you should spend a couple of hours at the Fundacion Miro. You can also walk around the Olympic stadium area. If you consult a map, there's a pretty easy walk down from the summit which brings you past the old palace, which is now a museum of art (always closed when I've visited - maybe you'll be lucky); again, great views as you descend.

The Picasso museum in the old town, but on the far side of the Via Laietana from the more popular part of the Barri Gotic, is essential if you like Picasso.

Barceloneta. This is the gritty, social realism bit of the trip, even though a lot of the old seaside bars were torn down before the Olympics. This is a long-ish walk from the center, but gets you to the city's only beach. On the way, you pass plenty of seafood tapas bars. When you get to the beach area, do explore some of the sidestreets to get a glimpse of what ordinary working life in Barclona is like. I've visited some of the bars around here at night, but they are home to simple, drunken fisherfolk, and I was aware I was the only tourist. Fine in the day-time, and the beach is okay for swimming.

Barri Gotic. Most of your time should be spent simply exploring the Barri Gotic, the largest preserved mediaevel city zone in Europe (forget Venice). Walk endlessly down tiny alleyways, looking at antique shops, bars, and food stores. Inexhaustible. There are a couple of streets where the kids get a bit lively at night, but personally I think you can walk the Barri Gotic twenty four hours. Barri Xines on the other side of the Ramblas - I suggest taking a walk around in the day-time to get your bearings. The sidestreets can be dark and creepy at night, and there were still a lot of stray drug users around last time I looked. On C/de Escudellers, near Los Caracoles restaurant (you can't miss it - there are chickens roasting on a spit outside), look out for a big store selling really good ceramics and houseware from various regions of Spain. Once inside, look out for windows in the floor. They reveal a cellar downstairs which is a wine bar - good list by the glass, and plenty of hams and cheeses to sample. Late hours around the Barri Gotic, you'll find countless small spaces which you wouldn't notice shuttered during the day are actually modernistic cocktail lounges, each with its own idiosyncratic design - these are spaces for drinking rather than eating tapas.

Placa Reial, a square just off the Ramblas, is worth looking at - Gaudi designed some of the lampposts, and there's usually some street entertainment going on - but avoid the bars and restaurants. Over-priced and touristy.

One more thought. A side-trip to Monserrat is a good way to spend half a day. It's an easy train ride, followed by a spectacular cable car ascent. The alleged point of it all is the basilica dedicated to the "black Virgin", and associated souvenirs. What makes it worth while is climbing up beyond the church to higher parts of the mountain, where you get wonderful air, amazing views, and some peace and quiet.


Less obvious things to do:

In other words, I worked these out without much help from guidebooks.
The Museo Federic Mares, near the Cathedral, boasts an endless collection of religious statuary. Everyone knows that. Less obvious is the little Museum of Everyday Life which is upstairs from the Virgins and angels. Odd opening hours, so check, but this is a terrific collection of everyday objects from Barcelona's belle epoque. Children's toys, timepieces, snuff-boxes, shaving kits, household items - you name it - an endless display of good taste. Nearby, look out for the Salo de Tinell, once a royal chamber - it's the most beautiful example of an arched gothic room (oh, I'm no good at describing architecture - it's a lovely space to take a peek at).

Boqueria Market. You wonít miss this - the main food market on the Ramblas - but in addition to drifting around the stalls, remember that this is a great place for breakfast or a snack. There are a number of tapas bars in the middle of the market, among the stalls. Choose one which has a view of something interesting - like the fish stalls, where experts gut and serve vast quantities and varieties of seafood - get up on a stool, order a beer and a slice of tortilla, and you can watch the market at work at your leisure. I could do this for hours.

Once you've explored the main part of the Barri Gotic, centred around the Cathedral, and stretching essentially from the big square, Plaza de Catalunya down to the waterside, consider crossing Via Laietana - going towards the Picasso museum. Wander around the backstreets here. It's an old part of town which is definitely not touristy. There are some great little bars here where you can drink for almost nothing, and eat good seafood tapas. I could take you to them, but addresses I don't have. But it's not a large area, so it's worth a look. I don't believe it's dangerous, but it's a working class neighborhood, so I'd dress down (generally, I have never found Barcelona dangerous, but petty crime is everywhere - pickpockets and bag snatchers - so arrange your valuables accordingly; and particularly beware being surrounded by "gypsies" giving you flowers - I just yell at them and walk into the street).

Drinking:

El Xampanyet. Most guidebooks mention this little cava bar a few doors from the Picasso Museum, but you need to know how to make the best of it. It opens for a brief time, early in the evening. My book says 6.30, which sounds about right. You should get there right away and belly up to the bar. They bring out tray after tray of delicious morsels - anchovies, butifarra catalana (white sausage), ham, etc - served on small slices of bread . You can point and order. I find the artisanal cava a little sweet (think Babycham), but the cider's not bad. Friendly service from people who've been working there many, many years. Obviously combines well with a trip to see Picasso's blue period.

El Portalon. I regard this as the essential Barcelona bar. It used to be a typical bodega, but now it's about the only one left. Like El Xampanyet, quirky opening hours - evenings only - and it's hard to find. But if you follow the curve of C. Banys Nous, looking for number 20, you'll track it down amidst the expensive antique stores. It looks like the inside of a barrel. Excellent tapas (try the deep fried artichokes and the snails), dirt cheap wines drawn from the cask, and some real atmosphere. For a sit down meal, the specialty is fideu - essentially a paella, with vermicelli instead of rice.

If you've any interest in twentieth century art, don't miss having a drink in Els Quatre Gats, down a little street called c/Montsio. It was the nightclub at which the Barcelona avant garde gathered around the turn of the century, including the young Pable Picasso, who illustrated the bar's newsletter and made many drawings there. It's a true landmark (http://www.tamu.edu/...os/quatref1.jpg). There's a dining room, but I;ve only ever dropped in for a glass of wine or acav to admire the art work. (Website: www.4gats.com)

Bar Pastis is Barcelona's version of the French House. Take C/Santa Monica, a turning off the Ramblas a little down from the Barri Xines. After dark, unless they've been moved on at last, you'll find a cluster of cross-dressing hookers at the entrance to the street. They won't bother you, and you'll be irresistibly reminded of British wrestling greats like Jackie Pallo and Adrian Street in full regalia. You'll see the lighted sign above Bar Pastis on the right. It's a dark, smoky little boite, with perpetual Edith Piaf and Charles Trenet playing, and the obvious drink is absinthe. Open very late.

Another bar which is a personal favorite is Padam! Padam! It's a tiny place at c/Raurig 9, just off c/Ferran, and you have to be buzzed in. It's small, friednly, and a bit of an Edith Piaf theme bar, but usually has interesting art exhibits. I suppose the clientele tends to be "mixed".

Non-alcoholically speaking, you should start at least one day with hot chocolate and churros. My favorite is a bar in one corner of Placa San Jaume. This is the square which has the local government building on one side, and the regional parliament on the other - you're bound to pass through it a lot. Walking away from the Ramblas, this hot chocolate joint is in the far left hand corner, on the square. Beyond it, a narrow pedestrian street leads uphill, along which you'll find a couple of good wine stores and groceries, and two cute hole-in-the-wall bars which are good places to take a morning coffee.


Tapas bars:

All over town, of course, but you'll find a concentration of popular ones along C/Avinyo, which runs from C/Ferran down towards the water, and especially along C./Ample and C/Merce which are parallel streets near the bottom of Avinyo. Also, if Scott gets homesick, there's a pub on Avinyo (or possibly the parallel c/del Regomir)which shows soccer and serves Guinness. In fact, if La Barca are playing, the streets are deserted, and everyone goes to a bar to watch the game.

Anyway, you'll want to walk up and down all these streets. El Tropezon on Regomir is a good place to order chunks of octopus, cut fresh from a whole, huge beast. You'll also see bars advertising chorizo al diablo - bits of spicy sausage flamed with local liquor. Don't miss Bar Celta la Pulperia on c/de la Merce, a popular but spacious bar specialising in fried seafood tapas. Nearby is a small tapas bar which specilaises in cooked ham from the Canaries, served with little boiled potatoes. Unusual. Also in the area, you'll find several Asturian-style bars - you can't miss them, they have lots of heavy wooden beams, and specialise in cider, strong blue cheeses and an alcoholic milkshake (essentially) called leche de pantera, or panther's milk.

Restaurants:

I'm not the best person to ask about the new wave of Barcelona restaurants. You've probably read plenty about them, and if you have specific questions, other members can probably help more than I. I was going to Barcelona a long time before this trend happened. Indeed, I would caution you that, until recently, Barcelona was not a great restaurant city. The best eating has always been in bars, and from the market, and some of the old-time restaurants you see in every guide book can be big let downs. I really would avoid some heavily promoted places like Quo Vadis (if it still exists), Los Caracoles, Agut D'Avinyon and Amaya (the tapas bar is fine, I'd give the restaurant a miss). Set Portes, down by the water on Passeig d'Isabel - go if you have time; it's like Rules without the game, and it attracts many Americans and Japanese, but it's a lovely old room and the food's okay. In fact, if you're going to eat paella, eat it here. The roast kid is another option.

My top recommendation, which is missed by most guidebooks, is the closest thing Barcelona has to a St John's. It's the Ateneu Gastronomic (www.ateneu.com). Just off C/Ferran, about five minutes from the Ramblas, it's a plainly decorated restaurant (with wine bar attached), at which the husband and wife proprietors offer dishes researched from the city's history and ingredients carefully sourced from the Catalunyan countryside. They also have a wine list which focusses on local co-operatives. Since it's a very reasonably priced restaurant, I strongly recommended a full blow out. First, choose from the "para picar" (for picking at) menu - artisanal sausages and cheeses, good foie gras, and various hams with toast. Then appetizers - look out for local wild mushrooms, or even a thistle salad. Meat or fish (specials often involve re-creations of mediaeval dishes). Cheese with honey is a good dessert. This is the place I go to for horse tartare! The wine list is such that you will probably be able to order the most expensive bottle on the menu without a second thought. I've never had trouble getting a table in the restaurant without a reservation.

A more conservative recommendation is Ca D'Isidre, down a little sidestreet, C/les Flors, off C/de Sant Pau which runs straight through the Barri Xines. This is a small, smart dining room, offering quite sophisticated Catalunyan cooking. This doesn't mean lots of ingredients on a plate, but quite conservative, well-executed dishes - sauteed baby eels, followed by a simply roast or braised piece of meat or fish. Excellent cheese tray. Popular with diplomats and well-heeled visitors. I managed to walk in, but it may be wise to reserve.

I also quite like Can Culleretes, up an alleyway in the Barri Gotic - the oldest restaurant in the city. It reminds me of traditional restaurants in Rome - a simple dining room with paper tablecloths and matter-of-fact service. But some of the dishes, like the braised partridge with spinach and pinenuts, are pretty good. This is not a fancy place, and it is old-fashioned.

That'll do for now. I hope other members will add to, or indeed criticize, these recommendations.
Elect-a-lujah

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If the author could go around the place hitting random readers with a rubber hammer, the Pink Pig would still be worth a visit.

#2 hollywood

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Posted 16 July 2004 - 04:18 AM

A person could do worse than listen to you on Barcelona and Maurice on Paris. Good stuff. OK, and Slapsie on London. [OK, before any one chimes in: a person could go broke following Cabrales around Paris. :D ]

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#3 cabrales

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Posted 22 July 2004 - 02:23 PM

OK. I've figured out what a nice accompaniment to Barcelona (and my first experience at EB) would be. There are trains of roughly 4.5-6 hours from Barcelona to either (1) Montpellier, a good place to drive to Michel Bras, or (2) Toulouse, which is within 1.5 hours of Michel Trama (a three-star I have never visited). :lol: Obviously, Jardin des Sens would be a possibility in Montpellier, for those who like the restaurant (myself excluded).

In Barcelona, I'm targeting Casa Calvet -- a restaurant inside a Gaudi-designed building, with Gaudi-designed interiors! :o

What are the relative merits of the following:

Alkimia
Hisup
Comerc 24

#4 Wilfrid1

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Posted 22 July 2004 - 02:40 PM

Or there's a train to Madrid to try La Broche.

I tried to go to Comerc 24 once, but failed to find it. :huh:
Elect-a-lujah

***Every Monday***At the Sign of the Pink Pig.

If the author could go around the place hitting random readers with a rubber hammer, the Pink Pig would still be worth a visit.

#5 SFJoe

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Posted 22 July 2004 - 03:47 PM

It's stale advice, but I had a lovely meal at Gaig a while back.

Two good wine shops: a branch of the Madrid/Paris Lavinia, big, fancy, and grand; and also Vinoteca Vila, run by local hero Quim Vila.

#6 Matt

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Posted 24 July 2004 - 03:37 AM

I've written about Comerc 24 elsewhere and I personally think it a very good restaurant. Lunch at Ca L'Isdre and dinner at Comerc 24 were at completely different ends of the scale when it came to style of cuisine (and restaurant interiors) but both more than made up for my disappointing meal at EB

Incientally, Wilfred, its on Comerc, number 24 :)
I had trouble finding it as well, the road numbers seem to reset themselves halfway up the street

#7 Wilfrid1

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Posted 26 July 2004 - 01:34 PM

Er, yes, that's the address I thought I headed for. I think there might be two streets called Comerc, but I was never sure... :(
Elect-a-lujah

***Every Monday***At the Sign of the Pink Pig.

If the author could go around the place hitting random readers with a rubber hammer, the Pink Pig would still be worth a visit.

#8 cabrales

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Posted 13 September 2004 - 08:02 AM

Wilfrid -- If you haven't yet completed your latest trip to Barcelona, I'd suggest booking Alkimia. It's not far from the sagrada Familia, and Jordi Vila is cooking well. For 40 euros, one gets either (1) a chef's tasting menu "surprise", or (2) a choice from the menu of 2 appetizers, 1 fish dish, 1 main course and 2 desserts, with cheese being a possible substitution for one of the desserts). Nice dishes included: Anchovies with a fresh tomato, onions al dente, recuit (spanish cheese ice cream salad; sauteed ceps with fatty pork neck meat. Dining room team assistance was appropriate; white minimalist decor; short, but appropriate, wine list.

#9 SamanthaF

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Posted 05 October 2004 - 06:37 PM

Sorry I haven't posted this sooner - but this is a massive THANK YOU to Wilf for the 1st post.

We didn't buy a guidebook for our trip, we just took the free maps the hotel offered and kept Wilfs post. :D

It was the most handy thing to have touring Barcelona.
Okay, they can tell me "miso butterscotch" until the cows come home, but I say it's toffee and I say the hell with it. This is the goo an eight year-old wants to find in the middle of a candy bar. No adult in their senses wants it creeping up on their pig parts.
Wilfrid at The Pink Pig.

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#10 ginger milk

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Posted 06 October 2004 - 08:03 AM

It was the most handy thing to have touring Barcelona.

Apart from me. God knows how you'd have got on alone :D

#11 Wilfrid1

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Posted 06 October 2004 - 02:27 PM

Not asking for ten thousand words, but if you have time to divulge anything you especially liked or disliked, I'd love to hear.
Elect-a-lujah

***Every Monday***At the Sign of the Pink Pig.

If the author could go around the place hitting random readers with a rubber hammer, the Pink Pig would still be worth a visit.

#12 Vanessa

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Posted 06 October 2004 - 02:29 PM

Well they did, didn't they :D

Although I noticed one restaurant report that didn't appear on these pages :huh:

v
...it actually comes down to what thrills you - Hugh Johnson

authenticity is a fog that recedes just when you think you may be getting near it - R Schonfeld

The most political act we do on a daily basis is to eat - Prof J Pretty

this city without boundaries we all share - zigzackly


#13 Wilfrid1

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Posted 06 October 2004 - 04:54 PM

Sorry. That'll teach me to use active topics all the time.
Elect-a-lujah

***Every Monday***At the Sign of the Pink Pig.

If the author could go around the place hitting random readers with a rubber hammer, the Pink Pig would still be worth a visit.

#14 bolderite

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Posted 08 October 2004 - 08:28 PM

Any lodging recommendations? Specifically, has anyone used an agency to rent a flat for a week? I have found a few sites but would love a first person reco for Barcelona as well as renting a house in Costa Brava.
muchos gracias.

#15 Vanessa

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Posted 08 October 2004 - 08:50 PM

I can't help you there, but anyway, welcome :D

v
...it actually comes down to what thrills you - Hugh Johnson

authenticity is a fog that recedes just when you think you may be getting near it - R Schonfeld

The most political act we do on a daily basis is to eat - Prof J Pretty

this city without boundaries we all share - zigzackly