It took a road trip to rouse me from my blogless torpor. West-southwest, out of the clutches of the Alps. More precisely: to the sea of the ancient Romans, mare nostrum, the Mediterranean. Though my preference is for leisurely soaking up the ambience of a place, strolling, visiting the markets, reading the newspaper in the local language (regardless of my level of understanding), from time to time it’s invigorating to shift into higher gear. Since TC and I only had 9 days and a lot of kilometers to cover, there was little time to linger and stop and photograph the drainpipes. What a whirlwind of a trip!
Much of the way to Barcelona is along the beaten path from our perspective: Padua, Piemonte, Menton, and the Côte d’Azur. We entered into new waters as the autoroute split at Narbonne and we headed south instead of west. The hills once peopled with Cathars reminded me of Croatia. I discovered the pleasant, modestly touristy town of Collioure nestled at the foot of the Pyrenees just before the border with Spain. Our stop coincided with a market day, and we were treated to our first locally grown strawberries of the year. A soap, spice, and herb vendor was slightly richer after we left his stand. Then it was off across the border, first along the winding coastal road with incredible views of the sea, then back to the highway to buy us more time in the city.
If you had asked me a month ago what I associated with Barcelona, I would probably have answered Gaudí, swarms of 20-year-olds studying abroad, the 1992 Olympic Games, and a brightly colored ceramic magnet with a picture of a guitar that I have in my kitchen (a gift many years ago from a friend who had visited the city). That picture has naturally changed. With less than three days in Barcelona, we decided to limit our scope to the beach and then the older part of the city, just waving to the Sagrada Familia in the distance. Barcelona’s beach to the east of downtown is impressive and stretches on and on. As we moved inland from the Barceloneta neighborhood, I was happy to look up and notice we were strolling by the llotja, a building I had recently read about in the history of the Mediterranean I have been working through at a leisurely place. Back in the 15th century when the Catalans ruled the western waters of the Mediterranean, this was the seat of the commercial tribunal and an important business center. Nearby is the El Born district, full of shops, cafés, and restaurants. Plaça de la Llana (Wool Square) is located not far away from a yarn store. It took great will power to keep myself from buying some beautiful blue Spanish handspun yarn. The Barri Gòtic district just to the west overlaps nicely with the original Roman settlement of Barcino. I drank a coffee leaning back against one of the original Roman walls in the back room of a charming cafe.
As for culinary highlights, I got to try pan amb tomàquet, a toasted bread rubbed with tomatoes, sweet peppers, and garlic, and an empanada catalana from the empanada stand at La Boqueria market that had a delicious filling of potatoes, spinach, raisins, and pine nuts. I looked longingly at the calçots (green onions that are grilled and served with romanesco sauce) for sale, but since I had no access to a kitchen and didn’t see them on any of the menus of the restaurants we went to, tasting them will have to wait until the next time I visit Catalonia. We stocked up on ganxet and genoll de cristo beans, two regional varieties.
The time passed by too quickly, and soon we found ourselves back on the road, stretching our legs in Aix-en-Provence and then watching the sun set in Juan-les-Pins on the French riviera. After a brief visit to the Musée Picasso in Antibes, we strolled through yet another market, the Marché Provençale, and sampled the olive tapenade (without anchovies, the vendor responded brusquely to my query, stating that only in Marseilles would anyone add anchovies to olive tapenade) and a delicious tomato pesto labelled bagnettou d’Antibes. Like the line at the Musée Picasso in Barcelona, the line for socca at the market was too long for us. We lucked out, though, and on our way back to the car, we found another place with socca to go – and no line.
I hope you too find a nice place in the sun to admire the view and savor something tasty. May this spring bring you many enjoyable experiences and much inspiration.