Luc: Stop and look up to the top of Hotel Colón. See that balcony up there, that’s our room.
Alison: Are you sure? This is exciting … top floor. OK.
After entering lobby, then exiting from elevator on their floor.
Alison: This hotel is so quiet! See, I’m even whispering.
Drumroll! Get ready for the countdown …
Luc: Like I told you, even if we did get here a bit early, it was worth the wait. You’ll see.
Alison: Key in the door. Ooooh! I like it. The calm green walls are nice. And the room is a big change from the room we had in Agropolis – remember, you kept hitting your head on that slanted ceiling? And check out the bathroom … plenty of counterspace for all my stuff…
Luc: Forget about that, come here. And don’t even think about unpacking! Come here and look at this.
Alison: Woah! When you said balcony, I thought it was just a place for you to stick your head out the window for a smoke. This is amazing! It’s bigger than the room! And we are right up there with the cathedral steeple.
Luc: Yeah, one reason I got this room. Right across from La Seu. See that guy working wayyy up there on the scaffolding? Small as an ant! Now look down over the side. You can see the entire square. I think it’s called Plaça de la Seu. And that’s where we are going to have coffee tomorrow morning – that place with the outside tables, just across the plaza next to the cathedral.
Alison: Man, we have to use this balcony to the fullest. Maybe have lunch out here with some hams, cheeses and wine from the market.
Luc: Excellent idea. Now let’s open that bottle of wine!
Luc chilling on the Hotel Colón balcony with Barcelona's La Seu Cathedral in background.
Alison: And I’ll get those cherries, too.
Luc: My only bummer about the room is the TV: fully digital with all the connexions (DHMI, RGB, VGA, etc) and Internet access. BUT, everything is software locked. Can’t connect my iPhone to watch the movies we brought along (hey, my Spanish ain’t bad but on the other hand not that good) unless you pay – and I thought I’ve paid enough with this room with the terrace – Hotel Colón is a bit expensive, but hey.. once in a while why not. (So much less money to spend on Alison’s shopping budget, he, he he).
Barcelona is a food city. Go hungry and open-minded. The best meal you have may be tapas from a beachside café. But also do some research in advance to ensure you don’t always drop into to the first restaurant you see – as there are many. Sponteneity can lead to both hits and misses, as long as you are willing to take the risk. We were.
c/de la Plata no 3
Luc: Hah! I knew we could find this place again!
Alison: I’m amazed. It’s a labrynth around here. Looks like they are re-opening after remodeling. Hope that’s a good sign. It is our first real meal here.
Luc: Hmmm. Well, let’s still try it. I like the look of it, and besides, we get a free cocktail to help them celebrate.
Alison: You are usually really good about picking places…Ah, let’s do it.
And later, after meal is served, and first bites taken….
Luc:: Hmmm. My food is really salty.
Alison: Mine, too. And you know if I think something is salty … What a bummer, as normally my pasta (see image above) should taste great, with the grated reggiono, mushroom sauce, fresh peas and balsamic vinegar.
Luc: Sorry sweetie! Looks like I didn’t do so well this time.
Alison: It’s not your fault! Besides, we got days to eat good food. It’s only our first night.
El Pi Antic
Plaça de Sant Josep Oriol (Oça del Pi)
Click image for beautifully mapped directions to Barcelona restaurant El Pi Antic.
After a rainy morning spent touring La Seu Cathedral, then exploring, we came upon a charming restaurant tucked deep in the area bordered by La Rambla, Puerta Ferrisa and the cathedral.
Housed in the Palau Fiballer, circa 1571, El Pi Antic has all the warmth and amenities of an old time tavern. Just what we needed to warm our bones and fill our empty stomachs.
Alison: I think that must be the owner. He seems to be greeting all the regulars. Oh my god, did he just change his shirt in the middle of the restaurant! A little too much intimacy!
Luc: Mais, non !
Alison: Mais, oui ! And how would you know, you weren’t looking that way.
Luc: Sigh. Can we just order? There is a table d’hôte for 12 euros. Let’s try that.
Alison: It’s a lot of food. Sardines, fried calamari with french fries.Then paella. Plus dessert. Ah, why not?
Luc: That is very good. We will have to come back. You aren’t going to finish your sardines?
Alison: It is just too much food! I think they must get tired by the time dessert comes around – what did you get, a cup of pre-packaged ice cream? My flan was OK, a bit watery. But, hey, who cares. It was just what we needed.
Esparteria 9 El Born
Have to admit we missed a big opportunity: Finding a Barcelona restaurant/club that played traditional Spanish guitar. There is an Guitar Festivalthat runs from Feb. 21 -June 10, 2010, featuring concerts by Quimi Portet, John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension and Paco de Lucía. So to forgive ourselves for this major oversite, here is an amazing performance by M. de Lucía circa 1970s.
We did find a Barcelona restaurant with great atmosphere that served traditional Catalon dishes, setting was rustic and cozy – like a big cavern with the front opened to the street and the stone walls crammed with shelves of pottery of all sizes.
Alison: I am so happy we found a restaurant that specializes in Catalon dishes. I mentioned that I worked with someone who is from here, Sylvain Amoros. I want to share with him the meats and cheeses we tried: Boll, Cleda, Urgelia.
A blurry Luc and Alison enjoying an evening at Bogeda La Tinaja. Great atmosphere with authentic Catalon food.
Luc: This is a lot of food!
Alison: I am hungry. And you know how much I love cheese. What do you like the best?
Luc: This sausage is my favorite. Nice and spicy.
Alison: I wonder if those pots are for sale…Let’s ask the waiter.
Luc: Told you they wouldn’t be for sale.
Alison: Well, how was I supposed to know they date to the 16th century and that a representative from the church makes a monthly trip to take inventory.
Luc: And what a bummer that they lost so many in an earthquake … I’m going to ask someone to take our picture.
Marinated octopus topped with spicy paprika at Restaurant Sailor.
Luc: Enough shopping and browsing. I’m hungry! Let’s wind back toward the hotel. This boulevard has some good places. And it’s good for people-watching
Alison: I like this place. Restaurente Sailor. It has nice big white umbrellas, and the sun is starting to get kind of intense. Plus it reminds me of what one of those Monaco seaside cafés would be like. I watch too many movies.
Luc: Try this bread with the tomato and olive oil spread. It’s amazing!
Alison: Yum. That bread is so soft. I could eat this for lunch. Think I will get sardines. They are so good here.
Luc: For an appetizer, I’m going for octopus! After that treat at the Ibiza Medieval Fair, I am craving this stuff. And I am going to get the iberican ham.
Alison: So, what’s the verdict?
Luc: This was soooo good, I may want to come back!
Rambla Catalunya 27
Luc: After walking around all day and going to the museum, I am exhausted. Plus its starting to rain again. Where should we eat? I don’t think I can go any further. Here, this looks good. Let’s just try it.
Alison: I don’t know what really sounds good here. I think I’m going to just get smoked salmon and capers.
Luc: I am going to try the crab salad and the squid.
Verdict: The salmon and capers was fine. Nothing amazing and a bit thin. The crab salad and squid were downright awful. In sum, La Botiga is more style than substance.
Vila Joiosa 54
Frank Gehry's Le Peix on Port Olimpic
One afternoon, we took a long walk on the Barcelona beach and the board walk, stopping to check out the yachts parked in the harbor – marvelling how much money it took these days to even get the boat out of the harbor.
On Port Olimpic, we checked out a huge fish sculpture, whose coppery glint is like a siren call, you have to get closer to it. And when you do, the apparent lushness of the scales that lured you transforms into bare bones wire.
The Peix fish sculpture was actually designed by Canadian Frank Gehry for the 1992 Olympics and measures 35 x 54 meters. Our photo doesn’t do the size justice but then perhaps it is because competing against Spain’s two tallest buildings, the Hotel Arts (Gehry was of the architects) and the Mapfre tower.
We strolled through a nice park, where Luc took a photo of a woman on bench holding an umbrella to shield herself from the sun.
Alison savoring the peppers at Cavamar Tapas Bar.
After our long walk , we stopped at Restaurante Cavamarfor a cold beer. Seats at the beachside restaurant are a premium, and to stay, we had to order food. Quickly scanning the Cavamar menu, I impulsively ordered “hot small green peppers.”
Alison: These are pretty big for “small peppers.” Mmmmm check out the sea salt.
Luc: Wow! And I mean WOW! You have to try these. They are amazing.
Alison: Not too hot?
Luc: Not at all.
Alison: Ohhh! These are better than French Fries! And that healthy, green taste.
Luc: I am going to make these at home. The recipe cannot be that hard.
Alison: This is perffect with the beer. And I wasn’t even hungry!
Luc: Good job, Alison. Out of all the good food we had at Barcelona restaurants, his may be the best thing we’ve eaten the whole trip! And for just 11 eros (2,50 each beer; 6,00 for the pimentos del padron)
Alison: Given the size of the island, there really is no excuse not to take and Ibiza Island Tour. And there are about five options. Our Island Tour left at 8 a.m., and returned at 6 p.m. Cost is reasonable at $45 Cdn a person. Just don’t get suckered by the promise of some pit-cooked meal of regional meat savouries. What you will likely get, as we did, is a paper plate of baked chicken and a potato with your choice of soda or tap beer served up at one of the requisite tourist stops. Lemon meringue pie extra.
Luc: Ya, and sitting on plastic chairs around a round wooden picnic table in 30 degree sun in a courtyard that is 10m x 10m with a so “amazing view on a rose garden.” Some English entrepreneur really drink too much tea. Avoid. In Portugal, for 150$, we did hired a professional tour guide with her Mercedes to drive us from Porto to Lisboa with several stops, one of them at a farm (with meal and local wine). Try this formula in Ibiza. Good trick, ask the hotel’s concierge.
Alison: But food is really less than secondary to the chance to experience the island backroads and hear about what makes and breaks its key industries of tourism and agriculture. Our trip featured 5 stops: Las Salinas, Sant Josep, Portinatx, Sant Antoni and Santa Eulalia. Each are unique in landscape and personality.
Las Salinas Alison: Outside of Ibiza Town/Eivessa, the first site of interest was Las Salinas, both a resort town and home to salt mines. We got a look at the large, open flat salt beds and walked up an abandoned rail leading to an old mine. Most interesting was hearing the guide explain the process of how salt is made.
If you crave a beach but want more solitude, this is the best choice. The environment is relaxed, almost sleepy. A charming town. I really liked it. Our guide said it is a celebrity haven, mentioning some famous names that own villa vacation homes.
At one point on our way to Sant Josep, the guide pointed to a heavy mist settling over what she had hoped would have been a magical view of the Spanish mainland. Usually the fog isn’t so heavy, but given the region, really varies. No matter, it was still enchanting.
San Josep Church organ pipes.
Sant Josep Alison: High on a hill. Stop was mainly to see the church, built in 1731. But I could not take it inside for long. Really musty, moldy smelling. Did not seem healthy to stay too long. Luc stayed on to take some photos, while I did some window shopping.
Luc: Glad you mentioned this, because I was gonna make this precision.
Alison: There is a gold trinket store nearby, but prices are high. Some attractive stores with a selection of crafts and home items, but was not really interested.
Sant Antoni Alison: Have to admit, was sorely disappointed once we entered what is the second largest beach resort on the island. Tone was set by what could best be described as a distorted, wintergreen Life-Saver smack dab in the centre of town. Turns out there was even a contest (ouch!) to determine the best design. The monument, entitled “Columbus’ Egg“ has a story. But sorry folks, we could not, would not, photograph it. Even after three opportunities, same conclusion: No way.
Begs the question: So who has his sperm?
Not such a bizarre question, given that in our relatively short vacation history, we have been to two other locations that boasted of having appropriated one or another of Columbus’ body parts, one particularly specific about having, well any how … Should this be a criteria for our next vacation? A unifying thread cross our future posts?
To continue in this smutty vein, we came across the most offensive holiday postcards I have ever seen. And some of the sleaziest sex toys. Not that we sought this stuff out. The postcards are right there in the sidewalk turnstyle, so effectively mixed in with the “normal” ones that you literally flinch when your hand inadvertently brushes one. Take a wrong turn in what appears to be standard min-mart and whooah! Ceiling to floor Halloween erotica.
Alison: The portion of the trip from Sant Antoni to Portinatx was beautiful. We went through the country region of Es Pla de Corona. Winding hilly roads with orchards of olive, apricot and almond trees. And a bird’s-eye view of some amazing villas. Much of the area is protected, with landowners restricted from further development. Preservationists are highly sensitive to protecting wildlife and forestry and putting in place measures that guard against soil erosion – a serious concern. At one time, the area’s youth could not make a living and were forced to leave to find work, some selling the family land.
Our guide pointed to the large vats near all the houses, confirming that they are used to collect rainwater, which is purified and used by the occupants. Additions were often made to accommodate two-to-three generation families under one roof. Restrictions now prevent such additions, the major renovations evident in some of the work done by wealthier homeowners coming prior to this law.
Portinatx S'Arenal Petit Beach, Ibiza, Spain,
Portinatx Alison: Next stop as North as you can go on the island. About 30 kilometers from Ibiza Town. Was not sure what to expect. Looked fairly consistent to what we had seen so far. Fishing boats in small, enclosed bay. Hilly town with small selection of tourist shops and cafes. There are three beaches in Portinaxt: S’Arenal Gros, S’Arenal Petit and Playa Porto Beach. The first two are very nice, but we were hoping the 10-minute walk to get to the cliffs at Playa Porto would bring something new and different. And it did. Really lovely. Scrubby landscape, rough rocky hills. Definitely happy to have worn tennis shoes to help in bounding from one rock to another – and to get traction. Not so easy posing for photos in shorts. Like sitting on coral, hence my pained expression.
Sent Luc off to an area two levels over to get a “perspective” photo. Then proceed to lose him. With his khaki shirt and shorts, he seemed to blend right in … plus the sun was right in my eyes. I resort to calling out to him, asking him to wave his arms. Finally, two skinny leggies in whites socks and deck shoes come into view.
Santa Eulalia Alison: Slower paced than Ibiza Town or Sant Antoni, Santa Eulalia is charming. Great for families. Our stop was brief, affording a quick stroll down the main square and a peak at the boardwalk. Then it is back “home” to Hotel Garbi in Ibiza Town. All in all, a very good investment. Learned some interesting facts about Ibiza and saw the countryside first hand. Great guide who deserved more than she received from some of the participants who did not tip.
Alison: 12-hour flight Montreal-Paris-Barcelona-Ibiza/Eivissa. Final destination: the Hotel Garbi located right on beautiful Playa d’en Bossa beach. And a nice comfortable bed to lie vertical.
Hotel Garbi deserves its four-star rating.
We nominate "Garbi Green" as a new Crayon. Purple is the hotel's other signature color.
Am a bit buzzed. Had what every movie buff dreams of on the Air France flight: Nonstop new releases. I’m in heaven and naturally did not sleep at all. Great way to start our vacation! Seriously.
Luc: Yes, all new releases but, besides the movie Nixon, they were mostly chick flicks to the great enjoyment of Alison. Luckily for me, I had my iPhone loaded with war and action movies.
Alison: Major jet lag hits me on Barcelona-Ibiza leg. Snoooooze. After a 15-minute cab ride, we arrive at Hotel Garbi. Exhausted.
Hotel Garbi balcony: Our corner of Playa d'en Bossa beach. Note cigar lower left ...
Once in our hotel room, I hit the bed for an hour. Luc hits balcony for smoke. Note that in the hotel shot online featuring balcony and view of sea, the “sell” for him was the microscopic ashtray on the terrace table…
Luc: See guys, that’s your reward for doing all the search and travel arrangements. It all comes down to the fact that I smoke. Well, mind you, I had a few good cigars on that balcony.
Alison: Hotel Garbi is super clean. Staff is friendly. But the initial impression from the outside (especially at night) is Vegas Casino. And it turns out we arrive during the last days of an annual police biker convention. Lots of leather. And ’80s rock.
We are in room 321, near corner so there is a view of the sea, the pool and the poolside restaurant. Get sun all day.
Room is nice. 2 closets with shelves! Yahoo. Improves chances of not getting into arguments, though I find Luc has tendency to find any open surface and fill it with clothes while his suitcase remains jaws open on the floor.
Amazing fruit display at La Boqueria Market. Click image to access all Barcelona Photos.
Our Barcelona, Spain travel photos features landmarks like La Rambla, La Seu, La Boqueria, Plaça de Catalunya, the Jean Miro Foundation and Frank Gehry’s Le Peix. Admittedly, we spent a lot of time in the Barri Gotic neighorhood.
And if you are interested in food, we also took photos of some of the yummy Catalonian dishes we ate. Sadly, we did not have a camera on us when we impulsively ducked into a tapas bar to escape the rain and enjoy an an early dinner feast. You will have to be content with the photo of our dual menu-placemat. ;)
And the photo of our favorite treat, taken at Cavamar Tapas Bar. Eaten on the patio with a great view of the beach. Walking along Port Olimpic, we stopped for a mid-afternoon snack of cold beer and a bowl of hot, sea-salty green peppers, or pimentos del padron.
We liked those tapas peppers so much, that Luc bought five seed packets when we got home! We gave two packs to our close friends. Unfortunately, Luc’s first crop didn’t take. Luckily, our friends had such a huge harvest that they came over two different times with a big bag for us to share.
We then cooked up batches of grilled green peppers coated with olive oil and sea salt. And had a great time. It was like being in Spain again, sigh. One caution: These peppers are not normally hot. In fact, they are actually pretty mild. But apparently the peppers get hotter as they ripen. That added a bit of fun. Who would be the next one to pick the hot one? Gulp! But it was well worth it!
For those who enjoy agrotourism, an Ibiza island tour is a must. Our tour featured 5 stops: Las Salinas, Sant Josep, Portinatx, Sant Antoni and Santa Eulalia. The tour really brought out the character of Ibiza and enriched our trip.
A history of the landscape and the people
Learning about Ibiza history was fascinating, starting with the tension between the wealthy landowners and poor tenant farmers. Most farmers struggled for land ownership and independence. They were often forced to send their children elsewhere. The option was either poverty or the opportunity to earn a living and survive.
Ironically, many of the children who left Ibiza to seek a better life lost their birthright. Eventually, land ownership reverted to the farmers as a means of equitable distribution vs. monopoly. But the rightful heirs were either unreachable, or sold the land for a fraction of its true worth based on their belief the land was worthless.
Rocking along on the tour bus, we came across fields of almond trees, apricot orchards, vineyards, bee colonies and salt flats. For an insight into what life was like for prior generations of almond farmers, read Two farmers’ wives reminisce about their childhood. Three cheers for the Association of Ecological Farmers of Eivissa and Formentera, who serve as island preservationists. Since 2002, the association has been working to encourage ecological agriculture on the islands to preserve the integrity and of Ibiza’s landscape.
On the lighter side, Ibiza’s carefree party spirit can be attributed to the ’60s hippy invasion. And to accompanying members of the jet set, who lent the island a lasting sheen of luxury, allure and refinement.
Alison: What trip is complete without some shopping? I say this with no hesitation: Travel shopping is a cultural experience. And Barcelona shopping did not disappoint.
Luc: I don’t know about that. Having 3-hour session of looking at women’s clothes is not precisely cultural in my view. I wonder why Alison likes to travel. When we get in a new city, the first thing she spots that has the most interesting cultural curiosities are shops. And she’s right, “Barcelona shopping did not disappoint – her,”not me!
Alison: You know I have an amazing radar … We can be out in the boonies and I will somehow sniff out the one farm in miles that not only makes goat’s cheese but also sells a line of specialty skincare products – or that one store in the rural town that sells handmade soaps and balms. What can I say? It’s a gift.
And I tried not to drag you all over Barcelona shopping … but I am sure I tried your patience at the espadrilles shop…
La Manual Alpargatera
Alison: This shop ranks right up with the Gaudi museum in terms of a must-see in Barcelona. La Manual Alpargatera has some history behind it, having started as an espadrille workshop in the 1940s, just after the end of the Spanish Civil War. And by the look of it, so do the nanas who pass back and forth from the client to the stockroom, quietly serving each customer one at a time.
Luc: Magic word here: ONE at the time. And that lasted hours before we eventually got out of there with 20 Euros’ worth of purchases. <roll eyes>
Alison: At first glance, the shop appears, well, a bit colorless by Barcelona standards. But that misperception was soon dismissed. Coming in from a brightly lit day, it took only a few seconds for the contents of the main display cases to come into focus. And there they were, in all colors of the rainbow: pink, purple, orange, red, green, bright turquoise and baby blue. And in all styles, from the classic flat and wedge heel with ribbons to ankle strap.
There isn’t a foot –man, woman or child — that can’t be fit by the expert eye of the sales ladies. And if you ever wondered where good service went, you will find it at La Manual Alpargatera. These women are in no hurry. And that’s a good thing when you are faced with so many choices. A word of caution: Plan to spend an hour or more if there are more than two customers in the store.
Once settled on one of the wooden benches, I was quickly measured and my color choices vetted by my salesperson. No black for you, she said, with a decisive shake of the head. Then lifting a long hook from the wall behind me, she swiftly brought down selections from a wall crammed floor to ceiling with espadrilles. Apparently the flat ones are stored here, the fancier ones in the stockroom.
At the reasonable cost of 7 and 12 euros, I picked up three pair of espadrilles: aqua and purple flats and baby blue wedge laceups.
Alison: I love, love, love this store and issue a formal plea for Massimo Dutti to open in Montréal.
Apparently, Massimo Dutti is the high-end sibling of Zara, which does have shops here (sigh). Massimo Dutti offers style and quality at a reasonable price. Even Luc was inspired to pick out items for me to try, and only lost patience toward the end of two hours of marathon shopping. I bought a beautiful white peasant shirt with intricate detail, a cool tooled leather belt, butter-soft suede shorts and my first pair of great skinny jeans.
Shameful as it sounds, part of the reason I want to go back to Spain is just to go back here again. There are several Massimo Dutti stores worldwide. Again, just not in Montréal (sigh).
El Corte Inglés
Alison: El Corte Inglés is comparable to Les Galeries Lafayette or in Berlin’s legendary Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe), but perhaps not quite as upscale. I went in an emergency search for leggings, as it was getting cold and rainy, and I had not packed more than one pair of pants. A wonderful salesperson recommended Wolford velvet leggings. These leggings are amazing and a real wardrobe travel staple. Well worth the investing a few more dollars when you consider the quality.
Luc: Dang, you got a good memory for stores Alison. How come you always ask me where this photo or that photo was taken…? Is it what one may call “Selective memory”? ;)
Alison: We had been looking for a place to buy gifts for our cat-sitting friends, and luckily happened upon Art Escudellers, a shop packed with beautiful ceramics, tiles, decorative glass, gardenware and jewelry.
Luc: Also bought a men’s leather and silver bracelet there. Very nice. Alison: You can easily come away with affordable gifts, no problem. What’s hard is not loading up on the beautiful pottery and dishes. Art Escudeller locations map: La Rambla 96, Escudellers 23-25 and Escudellers 12.
Barcelona Airport Shops
If you have any euros and/or energy left, the Barcelona Airport shops are well worth your time, including La Perla, Lacoste, Diesel, Adidas Nike, and, yes, Massimo Dutti and Zara.
We missed a number of great options for Barcelona shopping, some which would have made valuable additions to our many wonderful souvenirs (literal and figurative). We were disappointed by the recommendations in the Lonely Planet book. Best advice: Do online research in advance and intersperse between site-seeing and museum outings.