Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Trip of a Lifetime - Las Ramblas

Las Ramblas is this gigantic pedestrian walk down the heart of Barcelona...from Placa Catalunya to the Columbus Monument by the sea. It's maybe a mile to a mile-and-a-half total...about 30 minutes if you walk pretty much straight through and don't look at anything.

But why would you do that?

There is so much to SEE...for example...dozens of the most elaborate street performers I have ever seen...each trying to out-do the next with the intricate nature of their costumes (take levitating Buddha-guy up above)...

There are carts set up with people selling small animals (birds and rabbits), beautiful flowers (MUCH cheaper, bigger variety, and in far better condition than any floral store I've EVER seen in the United States), tourist trinkets and name it.

Plus, the sides of the streets are lined with interesting shops, bustling markets, and tempting restaurants.

And then...if you're not satisfied with turning loops on Las Ramblas, you can take a twisted side street and explore the narrow alleys of Barcelona...ending up in the Barri Gotic, or in tree-lined neighborhoods lined with balconies overflowing with flowers and supporting the days laundry...out to dry...

Our favorite stop on Las Ramblas was St. Josef Market...La Boqueria.

It was a crowded, bustling, shouting, shoving, eye-popping mecha of food and produce that made our heads spin and our stomachs rumble. Carts upon carts of the most delicious looking produce and meats and cheeses I had ever fact, carrying some fruits and vegetables I had NEVER seen...except maybe in pictures.

And everything was gigantic in size (cherries only slightly smaller than golf balls), shiny and ripe...without the wax and polish they put on fruit and vegetables in the States to make them look appealing.

These edible gems needed no make-up artist...they were GORGEOUS.

You could have traced us all over the market without ever seeing us...just by following the sound of my voice, saying over and over again: "LOOK at THIS!! Have you ever seen ANYTHING like it???"

Fresh pink fish, legs of famous Spanish jamon, freshly plucked chickens, pigeons, doves, and pheasants, nuts and seeds, stacks and rolls of beautiful milky cheeses wrapped in thick rinds, olive oils and vinegars, spices and herbs, homemade wines and sangrias...but by far, my favorite carts were those with the chocolates...

Rows upon rows of decadent chocolates...covered cakes and pastries, melty bon bons and truffles, little chocolate teacups filled with espresso...the chocolate-covered cherries were so liqueur-ed  that they burned a bit as you sipped the filling around the cherry...the caramels were thick and rich...and Jason had a piece that was some type of chocolate-covered coconut-cream cake that quite literally melted in your mouth.

Even after all our adventures...he still claims that as the best thing he ate the entire trip.

In La Boqueria, we also found our favorite little tapas spot...we wandered in the first day and had such a great experience that when we had a bit of free time the next day that found us back on Las Ramblas...we headed straight there for an afternoon meal.

Plates of tapas, bowls of ensaladas and soupas, lined the bar. The staff was patient with our broken Spainsh...and humored us as we insisted that we try at least one of EVERYTHING. And just when we thought we had tried it all...each item being better than the last...they brought out different plates!!

There were patatas bravas...stuffed mussels...pork skewers with roasted jalapeno peppers...marinated squid... grilled anchovies on a roasted red pepper strip and pinned to slices of thick, soft bread...salads of feta, tomatoes, and chickpeas in a fragrant, rich herb-infused oil...soupas loaded with seafood and shellfish...

Need I go on?

If you can waddle away from the bar (we eventually did) can continue your walk, soaking in the sun and incessant Spanish chatter and calls of vendors until you end at the Columbus Monument...a giant statue symbolizing the return of a triumphant Columbus to Spain.

It's architecturally gorgeous, but seriously politically incorrect...with images of the Native Americans that he "brought" back with him, kissing the feet of the Spanish monks and nobles...looking every part as the "uneducated savages" they were profiled as.

It's also rather ironic...the return of Columbus marked the end of Barcelona's heyday as the main port for commerce and trade in Europe. With a new continent to plunder and pillage...all eyes turned away from the East and towards the West...and the ports closest to the Atlantic would take Barcelona's place in history.

Still, it's a beautiful end to your walk...and for only a few Euros, you can ride a small elevator to the top for fabulous views all around Barcelona.

Or, you can just head back up Las Ramblas to try and catch all the sights, sounds, smells, and adventures that you missed on your way down.

You know you want to...

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