Sunday, December 29, 2013

Barcelona - Day 1 La Rambla - November 23, 2013

Feeling a little queasy I asked, "Este es pollo?" (Is this chicken?)  , "No, Senora ese..."  ( I later realized the Spanish word I couldn't translate was 'rabbit').  It was 2001, and this was my second European vacation.  After my first successful Western Mediterranean cruise the year before,  we eagerly signed  up for the Eastern Med.  Three days before we had departed from Rome and were now in the Spanish countryside just outside of Barcelona.  After touring the Cordorniu cava winery (Spanish champagne), our tour stopped for lunch at a local inn.  As we were led to our seats I passed a waiter wheeling in a large ham...with the former owners hoof and hair still attached.  The same waiter was now standing in front of me with a platter of tiny legs with tiny bones that was obviously not chicken. This was my first introduction to Spain.

As I scanned the crowd for the driver who would take us to our Barcelona home for the following week, I thought back 12 years to the single day I had spent in Spain.  As a more seasoned (and I hope sophisticated) traveler,  I now knew the 'ham' I had seen was an Iberico ham, net worth in the neighborhood of $1500 USD.  Also, while I may be considered a 'picky eater' in the US, in my 13 years of travel I had gotten much more adventurous, having enjoyed wild boar in Italy, local goulashes in Vienna and Prague as well as blood sausage in Ireland (ok, maybe 'enjoy' is a stretch with that one).  This trip was my chance to redeem myself gastronomically, culturally and historically to the Catalan capital.

La Rambla stretches from la Placa Catalunya (Cataluyna Square. Catalonia a region in northeast Spain has its own language, culture and tradition.  Barcelona is its capital) to the Mediterranean sea.  In between is a large, tree lined boulevard designed as as pedestrian zone; cars are secondary and forced into narrow side lanes.  La Rambla is home to shops, restaurants, street performers, artists and literally dozens of flower and bird stands.  It is here along with Passeig Gracia, Barcelona comes to stroll.  It would be our home for the next week at the La Meridien Barcelona.

Like real estate, travel is all about location, location, location.  From our La Rambla hotel we were within walking distance of the Barrio Gotico (Gothic District which housed both the Barcelona Cathedral and the Picasso Museum), la Eixample (literally 'The Expansion" Barcelona's Modernisma district with its buildings by local son, the famous architect , Antonio Gaudi), la Bouqeria one of the largest open air markets in all of Europe,  as well the beaches of Barcelonetta known for its many nightclubs and restaurants located along its boardwalk.

After check in at the hotel, we headed out for a tapas bar.  Tapas (or 'little plates') are prepared appetizers and are often enjoyed with cava (local champagne) or sangria - we happily enjoyed both.  Feeling the effects of both the cava and jet lag, we headed east towards the Mediterranean, where the great boulevard ends. There, high on an obelisk and pointing out to sea, is the statue of Christopher Columbus. (an Italian who finally received  funding for his explorations by the great Spanish King and Queen Ferdinand and Isabella, departed from Barcelona harbor August 3, 1492).  I stood in front of the statue, with the same view of Columbus, towards the new world.   As a very amateur genealogist, I am often amazed at all the people all over the world who had to meet, fall in love and have children so I could some day be born.  What Columbus did was even bigger without him literally billions of people would never have the same opportunities I know I often take for granted.