Given how little sleep I had gotten, it was perhaps not surprising that I slept in the following morning. Thankfully I had not missed breakfast and enjoyed the fresh and healthy breakfast buffet that had been laid out on the terrace. But it wasn’t long before I was out the door and on my way to see the sights. My first stop was Plaça Reial (Royal Plaza) in the Gothic Quarter, which was a beautiful, palm tree-filled square, lined with restaurants and bars housed in historic buildings. From there, it was a pleasant walk through winding, colourful streets over to one of Antoni Gaudí’s fine works, Palau Güell.
It was one of many commissions he completed for the wealthy industrialist Eusebi Güell. I loved the whimsical nature of the Catalan modernist’s style–curves and colour punctuating the relatively austere interiors (there wasn’t much furniture left in the house, so it was predominantly empty rooms). The stunning receiving room was meant for receiving high class guests and had little windows on the upper floors, which could be used to get a peek at what the guests were wearing when they came in (and allowing them to make any sartorial adjustments as necessary). It wasn’t a huge mansion, so it was relatively easy to get through.
The rooftop made a particular impression, topped with what looked like bizarre cake pops, with colourful ceramic pillars. I basked in the sun for a bit, admiring the weird little sculptures, before making my way out. I figured it was high time to indulge in some tapas, and I made the walk down to a renowned tapas bar, Quimet & Quimet. It’s tucked in an out-of-the-way neighbourhood and looks like it could actually be a wine shop, at first glance, as its walls are lined with bottles. Opened in 1909, it did originally start out as a place to sell wine. They often served it with a small bite like anchovies or olives, as a selling point for customers. Four generations later, it’s still in the family (I believe I was actually served by the current proprietor, “Quim”).
It’s a tiny, standing room only kind of place, so I grabbed a spot at the bar (one of the pleasures of solo travel is it’s relatively easy to squeeze in and get spots at restaurants, since they only have to accommodate you). I perused the lengthy menu while enjoying a glass of sangria and ordered foie gras and mushrooms (naturally), anchovy and cheese, blue cheese and red pepper, salmon with yoghurt and truffled honey, and mushrooms and cheese. Most of these were montaditos, which are tapas served on a baguette-like piece of bread. Being at the bar, it was great to watch them prepare each one fresh, and they were all divinely good. I am now fully in love with tapas…relatively cheap and super delicious. I’ve said before when eating out at a restaurant that the appetizer is often my favourite part of the meal, and that I’d be happy to just eat a meal of appetizers. It’s a smaller portion but often packs a bigger flavour wallop than a main course, and a place where chefs can be a bit more inventive and take risks. Tapas is my meal of appetizers! I happily munched on my foods, washing them down with plentiful, inexpensive sangria.
From there, I hopped on a bus and made my way over to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. I wasn’t actually planning on seeing the art but rather just admiring the building. I’d spotted it getting off the metro when I first arrived in town, but as I was laden with luggage, didn’t have the chance to really investigate. It’s definitely an imposing building, perched atop Montjuïc hill. Despite the availability of escalators, my MPC training kicked in, and I opted to take the many stairs up the hill (my health app later informed me that I climbed a total of 26 floors throughout the day. Huzzah for working off those tapas!). I wandered around the shaded grounds and admired the stunning views of the city from its promenade.
I made my way back to the Gothic Quarter and over to the Basilica de Santa Maria. What I didn’t realize at the time was that there is actually more than one Basilica de Santa Maria. I saw the Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi, which was lovely enough, if not fairly simple (by my fairly lofty cathedral standards). The well-known cathedral, however, is Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar. Alas, something for the next time I visit!
Per the recommendation of my host, I’d made reservations at a restaurant just a block away from my B&B, called 9 Nine. My “early” reservation of 7:30 pm meant I was the first diner to arrive. The menu was actually a prix fixe, so I was able to choose 3 tapas, a main and a dessert (that plus 2 glasses of wine and a glass of cava for 33 Euros is pretty good!). Since I seem incapable of not eating croquetas, that was naturally my first choice, along with baked egg with foie gras, and prawns. The prawns thoughtfully came with serviettes to wipe one’s hands off, and I spent a good deal of time cracking and peeling the shells off (handling hot shellfish is not my area of expertise). My main course consisted of grilled Iberian pork with three sauces and actually came with a hot plate (a heated plate-like slab of what could have been cast-iron) so that I could finish the meat off to my taste. It had been cooked rare/medium-rare, so all it took was a few seconds on the hot plate, and it was perfect. It proved to be an entertaining activity to break up all my consumption. To end the evening, my server recommended the chocolate dessert–an excellent recommendation–as it was a heavenly molten chocolate cake. The whole meal was superb, and I had definitely consumed far more than was probably good for me. Mercifully, it was only a short waddle back to the B&B.