It is now a couple of months since I got back from my 5 week trip in Europe, and I am constantly reminiscing about the wonderful food and lifestyle I enjoyed every day there. Being busy back at work, it is nice to think back to my trip, try and recreate dishes that I had during my travels and start thinking about where to next!
Everyone seems to ask ‘So what was the highlight? Where was your favourite place?’, but I really can’t answer that question. I had so many great moments each in Madrid, Barcelona, Uzés, Milan and Venice, which I will share with you. Of course nearly all of these involve food, but there are a couple of other things too!
First stop Madrid. Hot, sunny, picturesque, sociable and lots of smokers. With only 4 days in the Spanish capital, I regrettably only managed to gain a snapshot of this incredible city.
Eating well in Spain should be cheap. The best food is the 1 euro tapas you eat standing at the market and the simple tortilla and beer you have for lunch at the local taberna. I found it a little hard to navigate where to eat and drink in Madrid, but I ended up having a great experience at every place I chose due to a combination of the food, staff, customers and atmosphere.
Taberna de la Daniela
Plaza de Jesús, 7
I had the most delicious late lunch here after a long day of walking and visiting the Prado. I ordered a draft beer and was served it alongside a little plate of sautéed chickpeas. I had to restrain myself from gulping up the whole plate, as it was the most flavoursome, simple dish I had ever tasted! I chatted with the lovely waitress who helped me with ordering, deciding upon a jamon croquette and the tortilla. Both were just fantastic, and again, unbelievably flavoursome! The whole lunch cost less than 15 euro and left me very satisfied. Apparently they have other locations, but I really enjoyed this place sitting up at the bar.
Calle Mayor, 2
This absolutely packed little bakery was a fun experience, filled with all sorts of people and languages making it quite entertaining. I stood next to an older Spanish lady who looked rather glamorous eating her croissants and milky, sugary coffee. She noticed me trying to grab the ‘proud’ waiter’s attention, and snapped at him for not serving me (well, that was what I could gather from reading the non-verbal communication). He was very pleasant to me after that! I ate my tasty Napolitana de Crema with my espresso and really enjoyed watching the theatricality of the whole place.
Calle Amor de Dios, 12
Unfortunately I couldn’t get a table during my stay in Madrid, but I told my parents to try as they were arriving the week after me. They went twice and would have gone again if they could! I have heard nothing but praise of this simple establishment, and my parents could attest to it all. I look forward to another trip to Madrid so that I can eat here! The menu changes daily depending what is in season and good at the market. I first read about it on http://spanishsabores.com/ which was a useful blog when I was in Spain.
Museo del Prado
This is one of the greatest galleries in the world, and was one of the most captivating, inspiring experiences I had during my trip. I can see why Picasso stopped attending his art school to spend hours absorbing the masterpieces and drawing and sketching here. It is rather overwhelmingly large, so take the advice of the art director and focus on the Spanish masterpieces and get it done in 45 mins (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/travel/14culture.html). It also gets busy, so go first thing or in the evening.
El Retiro Park
Spend a couple of hours strolling through this magnificent park, be sure to take a look at the Crystal Palace.
The Royal Palace
The collection of tapestries and Stradivari instruments is magical! These are items you would really not see anywhere else. It is worth a visit, and you also get lovely views of Madrid. Don’t miss a walk in the surrounding area and gardens, it’s a really lovely spot.
My next stop was Barcelona. The city that everyone I speak to seems to just love. My heart stayed in Madrid, but I certainly enjoyed a lot of things in Barcelona, particularly because of the proud Catalan heritage, but I think the unsustainable tourism there was a bit overwhelming at times. Perhaps my two weeks there was a bit too long…
Mercat de la Boqueria
Go early! That is my only recommendation. If you arrive at 7.45-8.30 you will get to enjoy breakfast and watch the market stall holders finish off unloading their produce. It also is useful in seeing what suppliers look slightly dodgy and which look better. You will also see the flocks of pigeons walking over the dried fruit and nuts – something I always guessed happened but seeing it in the flesh is something else! I recommend having breakfast at Pinoxto, where the lovely old, Juanito will serve you the absolute best cortado and Catalan breakfast you could imagine. My favourite dish there is the chickpeas and omelette, but save a bit of room for the crispy divine pastries that arrive at about 8.30 – they are truly spectacular.
Bar del Pla
Carrer de Montcada, 2
A modern tapas bar/restaurant where you can sit up at the bar or at table with a glass of wine and order some excellent dishes to share. The menu changes regularly with the seasons, so ask the incredibly friendly staff what they recommend. I had some pan con tomate, cured tuna (which looked like prosciutto) and tomato salad and crispy oxtail with foie gras. All wonderful! It’s in a great area and gets quite busy, so put your name down and have a wander or stand and have a glass of wine out the front until your table is ready. The wine list is extensive and the staff are very knowledgeable, so enjoy trying some interesting wines.
All things Gaudi
Gaudi’s bulidings are beyond famous, and for good reason. They are truly the most inspiring, unique and distinct buildings in Barcelona, and a real feat of the human mind’s potential for creativity and innovation. I must recommend experiencing as much of it as you can, especially visiting Park Guell, the Gaudi Museum, the Sagrada Famigilia and also walking past Casa Mila along Passage del Gracia. Be sure to visit early in the morning, as it becomes very crowded later in the day. For Park Guell, you must buy a ticket and people are allowed entry every 30 minutes, and once you leave you cannot reenter. Afterwards, go to the Gaudi Museum and there you will learn about the man himself and experience the home in which he lived. The Sagrada you must book in advance, so plan that a week or two before your visit. Still under construction and doing so as a result of donations, the Sagrada is slowly coming together and to me is the greatest & most beautiful church or building I have ever laid eyes on. I so look forward to going back again to see its development. Don’t dare miss going inside – book your ticket!
Mercat de Santa Maria Caterina
This was a market I first visited for breakfast before heading to the Picasso Museum. I sat at the bar at La Torna and had an excellent cortado and fried eggs with cheese and pan con tomate. Of all the pan con tomate I had in Spain, this was my favourite. The thin baguettes they use are so fresh and delicious. It was also one of the best coffees I had in Spain. Apart from this café for breakfast, I can’t comment too much on the market itself, but from walking through it a few times, I can say that the selection is extensive and the tomato stall in particular is so varied and impressive.
Although incomparable to the Sagrada Familigia, it is still worth a visit to Barcelona Cathedral. My favourite part is the gothic cloister out the back where 13 white geese are kept (13 because it is understood that Saint Eulalia was 13 when she was martyred). It is a very pretty, peaceful garden and a nice break from the busy Gothic Quarter.
El Born Centre de Cultura i Memoria
This archaeological site is a fascinating place to visit and provides so much information on the history of Barcelona, including the market places, the Spanish Succession and the Seige of 1714. After my visit I had lunch at EL 300 del Born which was very nice. They serve a variety of culturally significant dishes which you can enjoy over a beer or wine.
Cafe Granjer Viader
Carrer d’en Xuclà, 4-6
This hidden historic little cafe is fantastic and located just around the corner from Las Ramblas. I loved coming here for a coffee and their Crema Catalana. They have a great variety of pastries, cheeses and cured meats so you can have just about anything you want. They are also the inventors of Cacaolat in 1931, a drink that you see everywhere that people enjoy hot or cold.
Carrer del Baluard, 38
This is a wonderful bakery located in the Barceloneta area. The pastries are just divine, and the bakery fills up with locals and vistors alike from early in the morning. The smell drifting down the small streets of Barceloneta will hit you from blocks away and lure you in.