My journey into Belgium lasted 2 days. I’d spent the last month in infectiously miserable weather. Day after day had cunningly gifted me nothing but hail, storms, grey clouds and half a day of sun. At the end of my second day in Brüssels, I was sick of the rain, grey skies and cold winds. I couldn’t speak french, nor dutch in a country that speaks both. I took the first flight out of Brüssels I could get to the land of sun – Catalonia. To be honest I had misgivings about heading to Catalunya again, the first two times I’d been through I hadn’t thought much of Barcelona – indeed I much preferred Madrid. Sidney was determined to prove me wrong, with some fierce catalan spirit and backing from our little catalan family, my third visit in Barcelona began.
I met up with little red riding hood (aka Sidney) at El Prat and boarded the train for town. I’d met Sidney (through my mate Conor) a year ago in Barcelona along with her little Spanish family – Juan, Tono and Clara. The other half presented themselves in a warm friendly fashion, especially Maryam, Carlos and Oriana. Instantly I was welcomed into their home as one of their own and from the start I was another brother from another mother. They are my little international Catalan family, and I do miss our family dinners over the lounge table.
I’d say the majority of my time in Barcelona was spent eating. Can you really blame a guy when you have delicious food at every corner? Clara and Sidney blamed me for their tight fitting jeans. I kept hearing cheeky comments of ‘Gordo’ from the pair of them everywhere I went. Go to have some Morcilla? Gordo. Want to have some paella? Gordo. Ben and Jerry’s anyone? Gordo. Sitting down in a park? Gordo. Falling asleep? Gordo… Loudly and proudly I defied this nickname, after all, isn’t food for eating and sharing? If the saying goes that you are what you eat, then food is life right? No one in their right mind can deny, when rolling with me, they’ll never go hungry!
The following day we lazily strolled up the winding hill of Sants-Monjuïc – the Olympic grounds of Barcelona. The almost monumental columns of the Olympic grounds, along with clever curvature of the entry point to the stadium is very reminiscent of the Greek idea of building. With the mountains hazing in the distance, it fired up my romantic ideas of the original first Olympics all those years ago, although the telecommunications tower stands out like a busted thumb. The botanical gardens are cleverly splayed across the way downhill towards the Museu Nacional d’art de Catalunya – but unfitunately the gardens were closed. I did end up with a stellar view of Barcelona from the front of the national museum though, and with the mountains backing the city, it makes for an impressive sight – little did I know there were other magic viewpoints in Barcelona to be exposed over the coming days.
Retiring to a park bench, we pulled out a pair of clinking glasses and a bottle of wine out of Sidneys bag and happily sipped away in the warm catalan sun, while overlooking Barcelona. Finally, after a year of winter, I was able to feel the sun on my face without freezing mid sip – the weather had me grinning from ear to ear. With a small group of golden oldies behind us playing a game of bocce, and the sweet red wine warming me up on the inside I could’ve sat and chatted long into the evening – if the call to food hadn’t stirred my stomach powers to service.
Food. Great, wonderful, glorious food. Mood changing stuff, the tapas was peace mongering weaponry. Greek yoghurt and honey truffles. Ceviche (raw seafood soaked in lemon). Burrata (a way better version of fresh mozzarella). Pop a la gallega (octopus done the Galician way). Torrada de salmó marinat (salmon with Greek yoghurt and truffle honey). Timbal Morcilla (toast with Morcilla, Apple and goats cheese). Ouys trufays amb patates I – (truffled eggs with morcilla). You get the idea. We ambled to Oriana’s place, stomachs packed to the rafters with red wine and tapas.
I had a slight mishap on the way to Oriana’s house to celebrate her birthday. After wrapping myself up in a Christmas wreath and carrying her present, I knocked politely, muttering ‘Feliz compleaños’ (happy birthday) all the way to her door. The door opened and I took a knee, bowed my head, presented her with my gift and a loud and proud ‘FELIZ COMPLEAÑOS’ before walking inside and thanking her for inviting me.. only to be turned out a minute later. I was at the wrong address… a door down and a stomach full of laughter later, Sidney and I found the right door and re-enacted our play with great success. Try, try again…
A score of days spent sleeping in until lunch, is a score of days well spent for a worn out foodie. Lunch (as all meals are) is an important part of the day, and one must be well rested to take on such endeavours. Besides, is this not the country of siesta? So after eating my pasta with homemade tomato sauce, I wandered off into the cool curve of Barcelona, sticking to the streets I didn’t know. I wondered where every person was going on my walk towards the waterfront – it looked like they all had a mission to carry out. The waterfront exposed itself by an ocean of white masts bobbing left to right. I circled down a bright red walkway onto the concrete and palm docks. Creamy white clouds reflected off the water as the boats bobbed in harmony together while the water played the strings.
Meeting up with Sidney for a glass of wine we sought after our Irish compatriot Conor, whom we found down on the same waterfront I had been on not hours earlier. In the company of new friends we summoned a few beers inside us before we sought out a few more delicacies – potato chips covered in paprika and valentina sauce and galician licor café (couldn’t tell you what’s in it except it’s delicious, served on ice with a hint of alcohol on every smooth sip). Absolutely killer potato chips, I couldn’t help myself, and ordered another 3 servings of the gobsmacking valentina potato crisps.
If there is a way to be greeted, then it’s with a huge tasty bowl of nacho’s and a michelada… Sidney, Clara and I munched down a huge plate of nachos, washing it down with Micheladas (spicy tomato juice and beer) and made our way to meet with our Irish contingent whom were close by. Chasing the sunlight up another hill on the other side of the city, the international unit made their way up to the place known as the bunkers. I contemplated climbing the radio tower, until the security made their presence known. Another adventure thwarted by the authorities. However, the group was rewarded with excellent 360 degree views over Barcelona, and watching the sky change colour, we laughed and sipped on beers in the cooling weather. As the sky darkened we dawdle our way through Gaudi’s park (a large arty park on the higher hills of Barcelona, to seek out some mouth watering Thai food and salted caramel ice cream. Actually that was just me looking for the ice cream.
If you are actually reading this, you may be wondering why all I did in Barcelona was eat, drink and be merry… well why not?! I was in great company the entire time, surrounded by great food the entire time, and wanted to enjoy the warm catalan sun. I do love a hike and being in the mountains, but Barcelona was a nice change of pace from the biting cold of the last few months in Northern Europe. It was warm… so warm, like being dipped in a liquid form of sunlight. It was the perfect recline before I was to venture into the rupturing craziness of Morocco, which was only days away now.
One evening, at the place I called home, Clara got busy whipping up some Escalivada – a traditional catalan dish. Consisting of aubergines (eggplant), bell peppers, onion, tomato, garlic and olive oil, it’s a party on your tastebuds. Levelling layers and layers on the toasted bread we munched through almost the entire tray – I could say it was love on a plate. My mouth waters just recalling the epic array of simple, but amazing flavour on my tastebuds. The soft textures of the melt in your mouth vegetables on the crisp tostades… I know what I’ll be asking for when I return to Barcelona.
Now all this speak of food, well it was making me hungry, and Sidney and Clara understood this all too well. So after a walk into town and a drink with Maryam, some cheap Argentinian steak rolls were looking almighty promising. After biting into some delicious chimmi-churri down at the beach, I took the opportunity to eat one of the highly talked about rolls Clara had been munching down at the beach. I don’t remember chewing much of it, it was gone so quickly it may as well have been a cold beer. Firing up my tastebuds meant only one thing… home made Paella.
I’d been drooling over Paella my whole time in Barcelona, had actually meant to get some but somehow it had evaded me. Sidney, being the patient, caring, kind person she is, had put up with my Paella antics long enough to take me down to the seafood shop in downtown Barcelona, for some mega prawns (langostini’s) and crayfish. After walking out with a few kilo’s worth, the Paella was on… I hung about at the stove like a hawk, watching the action happening and annoying the hell out of Sidney while she weaved her magic latina fingers over the stove top.
Soon enough a huge, steaming pan, full to the brim of Sidneys brand of Paella entered the room. Fat prawns poked their heads out of the yellow rice while glorious smells wafted around the room. All the kids seated, we ate together as a family, sharing blissful paella and wine on the comfy couches around the small table. I was really going to miss the atmosphere of this home, my feeble attempts at speaking Spanish with Carlos and Tono, the catalan education from Clara and Sidney, and the bright sparkle of Maryams eyes and cheeky grins while skating through Barcelona’s streets, and most of all the laughter!
Across the straits of Gibraltar, Africa awaited…