After breakfast, we packed and loaded up the car….not an easy task when you have a subcompact and need to stuff 4 passengers, 4 suitcases, 2 carry-on’s and 2 laptops in it. It took a little creativity, but with my feet resting on our overnight bag (as my knees neared my chin) and a suitcase in the back seat, usurping the scant space between Kris and Paul, we started out on our journey.
Our first destination was Barcelona. I had printed the directions provided on the hotel’s website, but they left much to be desired, “If you are coming by car, it is easiest to enter Barcelona via the Ronda del Litoral, take the exit for Port Vell, go up the Ramblas and park in the car park at Plaza Cataluña.” I’m sure these are excellent directions….. provided you know where the Ronda del Litora is…..which we didn’t. No problem….I pulled out the directions furnished by Google. Hmmm…..they showed us coming in from a completely different direction. It was obvious …..we were on our own.
As we came to a critical highway junction, Google directed us to the left…..so we veered to the right…..ending up on a highway that skirted Barcelona before heading out to parts unknown. Paul, ever the naysayer, was flipping through every piece of paperwork he had in his possession trying to find a way to get Craig back on track. Kris, ever the optimist, was sure we’d find it. I was in Kris’ camp. As the highway wound it’s way around Barcelona, like a beacon in the night, we spied the magic words, “Ronda del Litoral” then, as if on cue, “Port Vell.” Paul relaxed and put his paperwork away. We exited the highway, drove past the Columbus Monument and turned onto Las Ramblas, a narrow one-way road paralleling the wide, pedestrian walkway of the same name. We passed our hotel’s street, turned right at Plaza Cataluña, entered the underground parking lot, parked the car, rolled our luggage over to the hotel and checked in. Whew….we had made it!
We stowed our luggage and started our sightseeing with a stroll down Las Ramblas. First up, a stop at a tapas bar. We felt like kids in a candy store as we eyed the myriad plates of savory bites spread before us. We selected a number of delicious morsels (at only €1.80 a piece, we were living large) and washed them down with a little Spanish wine.
With hunger alleviated, we continued our walk down Las Ramblas…..Paul and I dueling all the while. With competing guidebooks in hand, we flipped back and forth in a valiant attempt to resolve who’s book was the best…..neither of us were willing to capitulate, but a truce was called when we agreed that anything found in both books would be well worth our time.
The Ramblas, a wide walkway of shiny black and white stone tiles, is lined with themed stalls…..as you amble down toward the port, the first ones you see are the souvenir stands, followed by booths selling birds, fish and other small animals, then florists, and finally, restaurants.
Peppered along the way are some of the most clever street mimes we’ve ever seen. We took some detours along the way…..to La Boqueria (a covered market with aisles and aisles of colorful produce, seafood and some of the most corporeal cuts of meat we’ve ever seen) and to Plaza Reial, where we were greeted by the lively sound of German Oom-pah music…..a large band in traditional German costume was just finishing a concert. We were disappointed to have missed it, but our disappointment didn’t last long. The band walked along Las Ramblas with us, stopping to play whenever the mood struck.
Las Ramblas ends at the port, but our walk wasn’t yet over…..we were in search of liquid refreshment. We continued to stroll along the port….there were lots of boats but not a bar in sight. Finally, just past Roy Lichtenstein’s “El Cap de Barcelona” sculpture, we spied a series of restaurants….surely one would have a bar. Yes! Our drinks arrived on a large tray holding four bottles of soda, four bottles of liquor and four glasses. The waiter poured the booze until he was told to stop…..the same price regardless of when we said “when”…..then we added soda to suit our tastes. You gotta love a country that lets you decide.
We toasted to a successful day and then made plans for dinner. Both of our guidebooks recommended the nearby Cafe De L’Academia so off we went in search of it. With three different maps, we were confident it wouldn’t be hard to find. We were wrong. With maps in hand, Paul pointed one way and Craig pointed the other. Kris and I were in the odd position of having to choose sides. Hmm…..do we stay faithful to our men? After a moment’s hesitation, we scrutinized the remaining map and decided to cast our fate with Craig. And a good decision it was……within a few minutes, we were standing in front of the restaurant. It’s interior was warm and welcoming…..but totally booked…..so we were led to a table in a small plaza across the street. Within the narrow lanes of the medieval Barri Gotic and the protection of it’s tall buildings, the wind and cold were kept a bay while we feasted on delicious plates of acorn-fed ham, pastas, Catalan sausages and a mélange of desserts.
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well” ~ Virginia Woolf