Morocco/Spain diary: Day 20

Thursday, 2 October, 2014. 20:12

We are sitting at the restaurant Bon Marisc on the Passeig de Joan de Borbo, which runs along the marina waterfront in Barceloneta, the seaside and beach suburb of Barcelona. We’ve spent all day walking to get here, and are about to enjoy some paella to finish the day off. The restaurants along here all seem to be open early, catering to passing tourist traffic, with spruikers encouraging anyone waking past to sit down and eat.

We began with the alarm at 08:30, giving ourselves a bit of a sleep in, since 07:30 felt really early yesterday. After showering, we left the hotel, deciding not to have the hotel breakfast, which costs something like 18 euro each. Instead, we found a small bakery/cafe called Forn del Cel, where we got a caña (a long roll of pastry filled with custard) and a croissant cereales (essentially a whole grain croissant), plus a cappuccino for M. and an orange juice for me, for a total of €6.90. I even used the right word for juice this time: “zumo”.

Pastry breakfast
Breakfast at Forn del Cel.

From there we walked across towards Plaça Catalunya, the top end of La Rambla. On the way we stopped at a post office that we walked past, to mail the two Starbucks mugs we bought in Madrid and Barcelona to Allison. We had to take a number and wait to be served. The woman who served us spoke only a tiny bit of English, but we managed to get the mugs into a box and addressed and paid for. I tried to ask if we had to fill in a customs form, but she seemed to say that it wasn’t necessary because we were sending it by standard post, and not registering it. Hopefully they’ll make it okay! Once done, we continued on to Plaça Catalunya.

This is a big square with a series of statues all around it and a fountain on the northern side, surrounded by the buildings of the city and in the far distance the hills which surround Barcelona. It was also full of tourists, including huge long queues waiting to get on open topped city tour buses. From here we began our walk down La Rambla, a walk which would be punctuated by many detours and so take us most of the day. La Rambla is a broad, tree lined boulevard, with a pedestrian path down the middle between opposing single lanes of traffic. There are shops along both sides of the road, and stalls with various things on the pedestrian part. The path is crowded with people, and apparently one of the top pickpocketing hotspots in the world, so we took care without stuff.

Ready for a dip
Fountain and statue in Plaça Catalunya.


We walked down the street, enjoying the parade of passing people and sights, until we passed the Liceu, the Barcelona opera house. Here we turned left into the Barri Gotic, the old medieval part of the city, consisting of narrow twisted streets with old buildings pressing in on all sides.The first stop here was La Manual Alpargatera, the shop which invented espadrilles, the rope-soled shoes now popular the world over. M. wanted to buy a pair, and ended up getting one pair of sparkly ones from this shop, and another pair of more casual ones from Toni Pons just two doors down.

La Manual Alpargatera
Buying espadrilles in La Manual Alpargatera.

Shopping done, we poked our nose into the Església de Sant Jaume church. It was a bit gloomy inside, but a brilliant sunbeam entering the cupola windows above the altar illuminated the interior beautifully.

Església de Sant Jaume
Església de Sant Jaume.

Then we headed back across La Rambla to the Mercat de la Boqueria, a large fresh food market. We planned to buy some fresh backed bread, plus cheese and sliced meats and maybe some tomatoes here, to assemble ourselves a makeshift lunch. We quickly discovered, however, that there was no bread to be had. The food was all fruit, vegetables, meats, seafood, and sweets – no bakers selling bread at all. There were, however, stalls selling fruit juices in multiple wonderful flavours and colours, so we got a bright pink coconut and dragonfruit juice to drink while we looked around and absorbed the atmosphere. Some places were selling food ready to eat, so we bought some empanadillas, a carne picante (“spicy meat”) for me, and a pumpkin, cheese, and nut one for M. These were good, but not large enough for lunch. So we picked up some other things as we wandered around: almonds, dried kiwifruit (five pieces this time, not six kilos), and then some empanadas at a place which heated them up for us, a spinach one for M. and a chicken one for me. Then we just got some fresh fruit to round things off, an apple for M. and half a dozen fresh figs for me. The figs were deep red inside and sweet, better than ones I’ve had at home, but not quite as good as the ones in Morocco.

Mercat de la Boqueria
Mercat de la Boqueria.

Once done at the market, we crossed La Rambla again to find a cafe on the way to looking at the main gothic cathedral of Barcelona, known as La Catedral. We found one in the plaza in front of the Iglesia de Santa Maria del Pi, where M. got a cafe con leche and I got a sparkling mineral water. We also made use of the toilet.

Since we were at Santa Maria del Pi, we decided to go in and have a look. It is an old, looming 14th century gothic church, made light by the many stained glass windows, including a huge rose window above the entrance. Admission included a couple of small museum rooms with displays of treasures such as ornate silver processional crosses, gold chalices, and so on. A door led to the church garden, but this was in the process of being renovated and was just a mass of building works.

Catedral altar
Santa Maria del Pi.

From this church, we walked over to contrast it with La Catedral, a huge structure begun in the 12th century. Admission is free before 13:00 and after 17:00, but we followed our guidebook’s advice and paid six euro to enter during the afternoon, when there are far fewer people inside. Apparently lots of huge tour groups go through in the free periods. We found the interior pleasantly sparse of people, with no large groups at all. The soaring ribbed arch ceiling supported by graceful stone columns was beautiful, the walls punctuated by odd bits of stained glass, though not as much as Santa Maria del Pi. There are numerous decorated chapels around the walls and a large choir section in the middle, with wooden seats for the various knights of the Order of the Golden Fleece, each topped with a carved wooden spire, arrayed around a central space full of pews. Wide stone steps led down in front of the main altar to a crypt. This was closed off by iron gates, but you could see in to an elaborate tomb topped with a stone sculpture in repose.

La Catedral wide view
La Catedral.

Off to one side of the cathedral were the cloisters, around a beautiful courtyard, green with palm trees and other plants. The cloister alcoves contained more chapels, and there was a set of rooms for which we had to re-show our entry tickets. These contained treasures of the cathedral – more paintings, chalices, crosses, vestments, and so on. The garden centre of the cloisters also contained a large goose pen, with a dozen or so big white geese drawing the attention of some of the visitors. Further around the cathedral was access to the roof via a tiny lift which held eight people. An attendant counted off exactly eight as we crammed into the lift for the ride of to level 3, where a second door opened to let us out onto scaffolding and wooden walkways which had been erected to allow us to walk over the central part of the roof. The view across the city was wonderful, and the cool breeze even better, as commented on by an American couple who were next to us.

Catedral rooftop
View from the rooftop of La Catedral. La Sagrada Familia is visible on the right.

After returning to the ground floor and completing our circuit of the cathedral, we emerged into the bright sunlight again. We walked around the cathedral to head down a narrow calle and find the Temple Roma d’August, the remains of the ancient Roman Temple of Caesar Augustus. These are just four remaining Corinthian columns, thick and heavy, on a three metre high platform, which supported the temple in the middle of an old Roman forum here in central Barcelona. All the rest of the Roman construction is gone, and replaced now by apartment buildings. The columns are not visible from outside the surrounding building, and form part of an inner courtyard, with people’s windows overlooking them. Access to the courtyard is free for visitors.

From here we continued walking back towards the shoe shops we’d visited earlier, but this time with hot chocolate in mind. The recommended cafe of La Granja was there, and we entered the gloomy wooden premises to find a table at the back. I ordered “dos suiss”, and only afterwards remembered that our guidebook had said that this referred to hot chocolate with whipped cream. I hastily went up to the bar where the woman was preparing them and changed on to a plain chocolate for M. I also ordered a serve of churros for dunking. The chocolate was actually a little disappointing, tasting a bit watery, but the churros were fine, sprinkled with lots of sugar to sweeten up the bitter hot chocolate.

La Granja morning tea
Plain chocolate and with whipped cream, at La Granja.

After this, we returned to La Rambla to continue our interrupted stroll down to the waterfront. By now the midday sun had moderated and it was a pleasant walk with gentle late afternoon sunshine. We reached the end of the esplanade and the giant column with bronze statue of Christopher Columbus on top, flanked at ground level by eight lions. The view from here of the hills around the city was pretty good. We continued walking across the Rambla del Mar, a boardwalk across the water to a marina area with a large shopping mall on it, then walked through that to the Barceloneta neighbourhood.

Walking down La Rambla
Walking down La Rambla.

Barceloneta used to be the fishing village, and some ships still tie up there, but now it is a walk along the harbour front lined with touristy restaurants on the landward side and amusement park rides and attractions on the seaward side, ending at the beach on the Mediterranean Sea. By the time we got there, the sun was setting, painting the sky pink with a few wispy clouds. We saw a few people with beach towels, obviously having had a dip, and there were still several people lying or sitting on the dark orange sand. The guidebook said there was an excellent ice cream shop near here, Vioko. We walked around in search of it and eventually found it after looking down the wrong street. I had a cup with crema catalan and vanilla flavours. The vanilla was amazing – rich and dark yellow, with strong vanilla flavour. The crema catalan was custardy and had a lot of cinnamon in it, also delicious. M. bought a block of chocolate from the same place as a gift for her parents.

We went to look for the restaurant Cheriff, recommended as a very good paella place, but it turned out to be closed for renovations or something until the end of October. So we went back to the main strip to brave the row of touristy seafood restaurants. At the first one we found, Bon Marisc, a woman started trying to entice us in, and I asked if they had much for vegetarians. She said yes, they did a vegetable paella, which was exactly what we were looking for, and which I hadn’t seen advertised at any of the other places we’d walked past already. So we sat down and ordered that for one, and a paella del marisco for me, plus a glass of sangria each.

Seafood paella
Seafood paella at Bon Marisc, Barceloneta.

The sangria came in huge balloon glasses, with a straw, and we sipped as we waited for our paellas. These came in iron pans, still hot, which we scooped out onto our plates ourselves. The paellas were both good, and less salty than the one we had in Madrid, so on that score better. Mine also had the fun of mussels and pippis in the shells, and two large prawns. Although we started eating at 20:00, the only other people in the restaurant were retiree tourists, and one younger couple who were also tourists.

After dinner, we caught the Metro back to Rocafort station, just a block from our hotel, and ended the day.

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