Two years ago this week Ethan and I went to Spain, where I had never been before. He had been engaged to speak at a conference in Barcelona, and we took advantage of that fact to snatch a tiny little vacation. The conference put us up at a hotel we would almost certainly not have chosen -- the W, which is perched on a curl of land at the very edge of the sea. When we walked along the beach and looked back at our lodgings, the building evoked a billowing sail open to the wind.
When we are at leisure, we tend to spend our days walking. We walked miles every day, all over the city. We snapped photographs of building facades and architectural details and glimpses of the city life unfolding all around us. Every so often we stopped for a coffee or a glass of wine, and then we set off on foot again. One of the places we made sure to visit was the open-air market. I love breathing in the scents of whatever is local -- fresh fruits, or burlap bags of spices, or the briny harvest from the sea.
Seeing how the people shop, and what they buy, and whether they haggle, is one way to get a sense for a place. I have loved Makola Market in Accra, Machane Yehuda in Jerusalem, the Great Market Hall in Budapest...and now the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria in La Rambla. After strolling its aisles and admiring everything from navajas to hanging Spanish hams, we bought good bread, sharp sheep's-milk cheese, fresh strawberries, and a cup of pomegranate seeds for an impromptu picnic.
One of my favorite food discoveries in Barcelona was pimientos de padrón. (They're not unlike shishito peppers.) They were placed before us on our first night there, and I ordered them everywhere we went thereafter. They were prepared incredibly simply: just roasted or fried in olive oil, and sprinkled with flakes of good sea salt. Most of them are piquant but not spicy -- but some of them are quite hot, and they look exactly like the milder ones, so eating them is a kind of culinary roulette.
As resplendent as the market is, in all of its colors and shapes, the work of Antoni Gaudí is more so. We visited a private home (the Palau Güell) designed and created by Gaudí, and marveled at underground vaults with spiralling stairs and rooftop whimsies in the shape of giant tile-mosaic fruits. On the morning that Ethan was speaking at the conference, I visited Gaudí's inconceivably gorgeous Sagrada Familia, still under construction. (I wrote about that at the time.)
On the last day of our trip, we went up into the hills to visit a museum dedicated to the work of Joan Miró, and then took a cable car to the high vantage of Montjuic. From there we could see the whole city spread out beneath us -- from the downtown, to our distant hotel on its spit of land, to the working port where shipping containers were stacked like giant Legos. By the time we took the cable car back down, night was falling. We descended into the glow of the city's lights.
I'm taking advantage of the #throwbackthursday / #tbt meme -- which usually involves posting old photos on Thursdays -- as an opportunity to write short snippets of remembrance.
Related: Unexpected gifts, about meeting my parents for breakfast at Heathrow as I was on my way to Barcelona.