So MikeyFox & I, people who abandoned life in a big damn city due to our aversions to a, people and b, all the things that go with people decided to go on an impromptu trip to Barcelona, the most populous city in Catalonia, with a population of over 1.6 million folks and 2nd largest city in Spain. During an unseasonal heatwave. A daft idea? Probably, but I was holding onto what shreds of sanity I still have like the last slip of soap in the bath, and MikeyFox really needed a break from work.
We were lucky enough to find a cheap place to stay in the l'Eixample (Catalan for 'the extension', where Barcelona expanded into surrounding towns due to the increase in the population), where the streets are arranged in regimented blocks with chamfered corners (which makes crossing the road a bit strange). many of the buildings in the area were designed by Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi was not only an architect, he was also a skilled craftsman adept at ceramics, stained glass, ironmongery & carpentry. He also pioneered Trencadís - making mosaics with broken tiles & shards of ceramic. His mosaic works are scattered all over Barcelona. He was heavily influenced by nature, and his buildings are undulating, surreal & beautiful. Everyone will tell you to visit the Sagrada Familia, his still unfinished magnum opus, but I'd recommend the Casa Milà, also known as La Pedera (Catalan for 'the Quarry', though it looks more like Neptunes Summerhouse). Built 1905-1912, it's a breathtaking piece of architecture, with it's curves like lapping waves & balconies like tangled seaweed.
Barcelona is one of those places that will give you a crick in the neck. Everywhere you look there are mosaics on fountains, buildings & pavements, elegant ironwork on doorways & balconies, stone carvings on buildings & things that make your breath catch in your throat. Even the pavement beneath your feet is richly decorated. Everything from giddy swirls, block prints of flowers or hexagonal tiles that fit together to create seascapes of corals & starfish.
You could spend weeks just walking around, and never tire of what you saw. It's a wonder we did anything but stumble through the streets, open mouthed. But we also visited museums, galleries & the delightful l'Aquarium de Barcelona (which I'll save for another post, along with the Herboristeria del Rei). We explored tiny little streets & alleys, and I dragged MikeyFox into far too many little herbalists & tearooms, while he shepherded me into vegetarian restaurants & tavernas, and nearly lost sight of me forever in the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria (locally known as la Boqueria)
There have been street markets in Barcelona since 1217, but la Boqueria was built in 1840-1853 (the plans being constantly modified & adapted). If you want to eat it, la Boqueria has it for sale. There are stalls piled high with beautiful fresh fruit & vegetables (some I've never seen before), candied whole fruits, nuts, strings of chillies, spices, herbs, cakes, breads, pastries, tapas, meat, fish (and benthic horrors that were too much for MikeyFox, who retreated to a juice bar for some aguas frescas).
Eventually I was tempted out of the market (albeit with an armful of xerimoya, kaki, tamarillo & kiwano) with some horchata. Horchata is everywhere in Barcelona, a refreshing iced drink made with almonds, sesame seeds or most commonly tigernuts. It is an unusual drink, milky but without containing milk, with a sweet nutty flavour & a slightly gritty texture. There are many stories as to how it got it's name, my favourite being the story of when James the 1st of Aragon (calm down, not that Aragon, the one that's in north-eastern Spain) first tried is, he exclaimed 'Açò és or, xata!" ('That's gold, darling')
Fear not, dear readers, there will be more horchata, as I have recipes!
As usual, I haven't returned with the usual sort of souvenirs. My case was crammed full of dried herbs, chocolates, chia, polvorón (a crumbly shortbread), tea, dulce de membrillo (quince paste), herbal soaps, black rice, artichoke pate & all sorts of little bits & pieces, many of which will be making their way to friends over the next few weeks
Until next time!