I felt like a zombie as I limped into the lobby of the Le Meridien Barcelona. I needed a shower and sleep, and I needed it now. The transatlantic flight had not been good to me and I managed less than an hour of sleep. I approached the receptionist foolishly hopeful that my gold status would work a miracle and my room would be ready at 9am.
She rudely explained that I had arrived very early and there was no possible way a room could be ready.
“Not even with my gold status?” I asked with a smile.
“No,” she replied and sent me on my way with no hope that the room would be ready anytime soon, no plan on what to explore in the area, not even a return smile.
I sat in the hotel lobby and tried to piece together the shattered remnants of the day I had planned prior to leaving for Barcelona. That day started with a nap and a shower. I shifted stuff from suitcase to day bag and glanced through my guidebook. I knew where I needed to begin but didn’t at the same time. I didn’t even know where the hotel was on the map.
I approached the second receptionist who had a much kinder soul. She was hopeful that a room would be ready in the next two hours and handed me a map with a route she highlighted that began with a couple of options for breakfast. Thus, I started the journey of eating my way through Barcelona.
My Two Breakfasts
My first stop was the Mercat de la Boquería, Barcelona’s largest food market. At the front of the market are several fruit stands selling juices, freshly squeezed, for a euro. I bought a mango coconut juice and began my traditional Barcelona breakfast as I walked the aisles of the market during its busiest time of the day.
It was one of the most impressive food markets I’ve seen and makes me jealous that we lack anything near this quality or quantity in the United States. Chefs and families alike lined up at the fish, meat, and produce stands shopping for the day’s meals. I longed for a kitchen in my hotel room to bring home a haul to cook.
I sipped the juice as I roamed. It helped to rehydrate me but my ass was still dragging. I could barely command my legs to walk. Left foot then right foot became difficult. I finished the juice and headed for Carrer Petritxol, a street lined with milk bars and chocolatiers. It was where both the receptionist and guidebook suggested I continue my local breakfast with churros and chocolate.
I strayed from tradition and passed on the hot chocolate. I needed caffeine mainlined into my bloodstream and opted for the closest alternative – an espresso. The churro was crunchy and sweet with a sandpaper texture from the sugar. I didn’t love it.. It wasn’t poorly prepared. There wasn’t anything wrong with it. I’m just don’t possess a sweet tooth.
While I ate, I glanced at my phone to see if I missed a call from the hotel but wasn’t receiving any signal. An hour and a half had ticked by since my arrival. I hoped the caffeine would fuel me for another hour, and I headed over to Catedral de Barcelona, a glorious display of Catalan Gothic architecture.
I was overcome with the beauty of the church, which was begun in 1298 and finished in the 14th and 15th centuries, and had a brief Jesus moment. I’d been through a lot in the last 24 hours from my wife’s second ultrasound (the one where we learn the sex) to the tiring journey overseas. It was tough to leave her, and him, behind. But I had to remind myself that this trip was for their future. I bowed my head in prayerful thanks for the many good things in my life.
I walked back to the hotel and the room was ready. I took a long shower under the rain faucet, slept for two hours, and spent another hour gathering my wits. I emerged a new and hungry man.
A Simple, Yet Exquisite Lunch of Jamón Ibérico de Bellota
A follower of the blog emailed me prior to my departure and said that I had to eat at Casa Alfonso for the best jamón in Barcelona. It’s where her grandfather would go when he sought out the caviar of jamón, Jamón Ibérico de Bellota.
In Spain, jamón is served with almost every meal. Most of that jamón is Serrano. While Serrano is good, it’s only the gateway to the best of Spanish ham. Many establishments serve and sell jamón Ibérico. The main difference between Serrano and Ibérico is the breed of pig. Ibérico comes from a black pig, which more closely resembles a wild boar than the white Serrano pigs. While this is a step above Serrano, it’s still not Ibérico de Bellota. The difference is that the pigs for Ibérico de Bellota are free range and eat on foraged acorns (bellota). These two factors make a huge difference in the quality of jamón. The acorns create fatter pigs with more antioxidants allowing for a longer curing time for the meat.
Of course I ordered the Jamón Ibérico de Bellota. It was worth every cent of the 15 Euros I spent for a half order. The meat was perfectly sliced to paper thin and melted in my mouth. It was sweet and nutty with just the right amount of salt. Each slice left me begging for more. I slowly savored my jamón with nibbles from tomato bread and house-cured olives. The salt and the brine from the dish was a perfect match for the glasses of cava I sipped to wash down a lunch that was simple perfection.
Belly full and a few glasses of cava into the afternoon, I began my brief walking tour of Gaudi’s Barcelona as outlined by Frommer’s Day by Day Barcelona and stumbled towards La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s famous cathedral that is forever under construction. Since I didn’t have time to tour the cathedral, I walked its perimeter snapping a few photos and admiring the details that poured down its sides. This theme repeated itself as I walked by La Pedrera and the Block of Discord. I paused outside of each building to admire the bravery and boldness in the architecture but lacked the time to explore the interiors.
Dinner at a Local Cava Bar
With the assistance of the hotel concierge and a reader of this blog, Nancy from Luxe Family Travel and I had planned an evening of tapas bar hopping. Those plans were derailed when we walked past El Xampanyet and the crowd of locals that spilled into the street. We knew we had to stop.
There was nothing fancy about the bar. The walls were covered in tiles that looked like something out of a Spanish grandmother’s kitchen. The pictures all looked dated, as did the marble tabletops and zinc bar. Yet, the crowd still crammed into the close quarters so tightly that at one point someone nudged our table trying to squeeze by and sent one of our plates careening to the ground.
Miraculously, we found a table and asked the waiter to deliver tapas until we told him to stop. The food wasn’t even great, but the atmosphere elevated the meal to one that I would recommend for an authentic Barcelona treat. We feasted on pickled anchovies that were lacking; salmon and mayo spread on a crostini that oozed the freshness of the sea; tomato bread that needed crunch; tuna over pickled artichokes; grilled calamari over sundried tomatoes (Why doesn’t everyone grill calamari?); beef that at first I thought was over salted but then realized was perfect with grilled roulette peppers; and crunchy, spicy, fried chickpeas. We also split a liter of house cava.
I was happy and full and ready for bed, and then Nancy ordered dessert. I was so tired that I don’t remember what we ate nor did I even to capture it on camera. I even think I was too tired to chew it.
I finally staggered into my room around midnight exhausted. As my head crashed to the pillow, I reflected back on a day that didn’t go as planned. I didn’t get to see or do the touristy things that attract most people to Barcelona. Yet, it was still the perfect day. I experienced Barcelona as The Wandering Gourmand should, through food and drink.