Wednesday : Too Much Time in a Museum and Tomato Bread

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The cultural thing that Barcelona (and hundreds of other southern European cities) has of a morning coffee and pastry is one that I think I could get very used to, but I’m very cultured like that so I doubt that this will surprise anyone.

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A chocolate croissant, which cost about 80p from the cafe, and I very responsibly didn’t have a coffee (so much for the cultural thing I’ve only just mentioned) as I felt energetic enough. I’m more into decaff coffee, but I didn’t dare start asking about that in case that was a complete faff for the staff in these cafes.

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Bev stalking the counter in the cafe, I suspect looking for things to complain about.

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Walking up to the Plaça de les Cascades in what looks like the blazing sun, but the heat was relatively moderate.

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This was another cultural highlight, the National Art Museum of Catalonia, a marvellous museum that took Bev and I over four hours to meander around. She likes modern and contemporary art, I like the medieval stuff and Ross spent ninety minutes outside, but we all have our favourite things.

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More about this gallery elsewhere at a future date as I took endless photos again, but it was well laid out and a reasonable number of the exhibit descriptions were translated into English. The first part of the ground floor exhibits are these collection of wall paintings which they managed to remove from the interior of churches, in this case from the Boí Valley in Northern Spain. It’s quite a fascinating process of how these paintings are peeled off the walls, I imagine fraught with danger for those conservators involved.

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What beautiful images of angels. There some medieval representations of Jesus, angels and other Godly figures which are, to the modern day eye at least, just odd. But to me the fascinating part about anything surviving from the medieval period is wondering where it has been over the centuries, and in the case of religious art, just how many people have been inspired by the item’s imagery.

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Striking, this is one of the later wooden carvings in the museum, dating from the last quarter of the seventeenth century.

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A ticket to the gallery includes a visit to the roof.

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The gallery is in a building known as the Palau Nacional (National Palace) which was constructed in 1929 for the Barcelona International Exposition. They’ve slung a load of walkways over this glass so allow visitors to access the fine views from the top of the building, and I tried not to look down for too long. There is a limit to even my bravery.

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There were some magnificent views from the roof which this photo didn’t really capture. The mountains (or gentle slopes as Dave Morgan would say) tower over the city at the rear.

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The Sagrada Família looms large across the city, its unique beauty shimmering across the carefully laid out grid pattern of the streets.

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Back into the gallery (much to Ross’s excitement), a very reasonably priced lunch at the on-site cafe. This is a concept that seems much rarer in British museums and galleries, where they try and charge about £8 for a coffee and slice of stale cake.

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I like a nice triptych and this is a contemporary stained glass version, designed by Francesc Labarta (1883-1963) and the partnership operated by Rigalt and Granell.

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There was something quite mesmerising about this 1925 artwork by Salvador Dali entitled ‘Portrait of my Father’, especially given that he painted this when aged just 21.

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I liked the roots of this tree, which is located by a road which, like the gallery, was laid out for the 1929 Exposition. I assumed that the tree is of a similar age to this and can tell some stories of its own.

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I was quite museumed out, so there’s only way to resolve that and that’s a quick visit to a craft beer bar, this is Abirradero. They’ve got Untappd screens, so that was a positive first sign and Bev seemed overly excited about them. The service was engaging and polite, with the bar not being particularly busy.

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All suitably modern although I’ve realised writing this that a disaster has taken place that I appear to have forgotten to list one of my two beers here on Untappd. An unforgiveable error….. Bev switched to wine here for reasons unknown…..

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I’d come here again, but that was true of nearly everywhere that we went in Barcelona. I think we would have been tempted to eat here if it wasn’t for that slight restriction that I’d already booked somewhere else. This was one of the relatively few craft beer bars that opened in the afternoon, something I was very appreciative about.

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Although we’d booked something for later on, Bev and Ross needed some emergency food. I limited myself to a sausage croissant which feels like a product that Greggs should sell, lots of potential there.

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Plaza Reial, apparently home to some of the city’s most famous nightclubs, not that I was tempted to visit any of them as I’m far too old for that. And, anyway, they’re unlikely to sell the decadent craft beer which I demand.

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Ross demanded to go to another craft beer bar, which was fortunate, as I had found a suitable one, Kaelderkold.

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There was only just enough space at the bar for us here, although there was a quieter room at the rear. The service was polite and there were a range of interesting beers across a number of different styles. I had the temptingly named Banoffee Disco from Caravelle, a pastry stout with banana and vanilla flavours. I very much liked the sound of that and it was a decent beer, although the tastes weren’t quite as rich as I’d have ideally wanted. There were a few banoffee flavoured things in Barcelona and Bev didn’t realise that this culinary innovation comes from near Eastbourne, the beating heart of British cuisine.

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Mercado de La Boqueria, which is more touristy than the other markets we went to, but it is located off Las Ramblas and so that’s perhaps inevitable. There are more drinks and snacks to go here reflecting the tourist edge, but it still seemed a vibrant and busy location for locals as well.

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I do like octopus, but it’s perhaps not the most visually appealing and I wouldn’t fancy trying to cook it.

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The Betlem Church, originally built in 1671 to replace an earlier building that had been destroyed by fire.

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The church’s interior, which is a single nave with some grand side chapels located on each, well, side.

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Although the church’s location makes it popular with tourists and visitors to have a look in, there was a calm feel to the interior, a little bit of peace from the bustling nearby streets. Bev wasn’t surprised and delighted that they only have the electric candle things rather than actual candles, and although I can understand that I’m sure it’s safer, I agree that it’s not quite the same.

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The interior is a little plain in the nave, but this is unfortunately a legacy of when the Baroque interior was lost in 1936 when a fire was started during the Spanish Civil War (which perhaps explains the lack of real candles). Unfortunately, a series of churches in the city were set on fire in 1936, including Sagrada Família.

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After the wanderings around the market and the church, it felt only appropriate to go and look for some craft beer, this is Beer’linale.

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We were able to take the last three seats along the bar. Bev sat down and got politely told off by the barwoman for sitting in a space where two young men were (I think she just said two men, referring to Ross and I, but I’m sure she meant young) before it was realised by an only slightly annoyed Bev that we were all in the same group. They had a beer flight option which I only realised afterwards, but that’s a common problem of mine, I rush in and excitedly order craft beer without considering all the options. I suppose the best solution is to spend more time in craft beer bars practising my slow and steady ordering skills.

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Plenty of interesting choices, I started with the refreshing NEIPA Bosedi Tuule from Garage Beer, which we had visited the previous evening.

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A 12% imperial stout, this is the Terra Cremada (or Burnt Earth) from Ctretze Pyrenees, a local brewery. Rich and pleasant, although perhaps lacking some intensity of flavours. I’m not normally one for sitting at bars in busy venues, but that was pretty much the only seating option here.

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Bev thought that this was stunt food, designed just to look appetising and not actually be served. It transpired quickly that it was very real.

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The seafront of Barcelona, but we explored this a little more later on during the week. It was becoming quite overcast, something that I was pleased about because I like cold and miserable weather.

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That’s a talking point for any seafront, the La Gamba sculpture. Perhaps Great Yarmouth or Gorleston should treat themselves to something similar, although I suppose that they’re getting a new bridge (when my friend Liam has finished it) and there’s a limit to how much excitement the denizens of any settlement should be given.

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Fond memories of the evening meal location, another The Fork 50% off meal, this time at Palomino.

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Free olives, I was sold already at this point, but I’m cheap like that.

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Needs must….. I didn’t complain.

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Bread and cheese. This understates that a little, as I decided that the tomato bread was one of the best things I’d eaten in weeks and I ordered more. The Spanish cheeses were also intriguing, but I was far too focused on the bread. It was delicious if I haven’t mentioned that, crusty bread with a tomato paste. I accept that someone wouldn’t win Masterchef with this dish, but it’s tasty comfort food and very moreish.

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Bev and I ordered a series of items between us, letting Ross get on with whatever he was ordering. These are the four soft cod rocks in the foreground and the spicy meat Bomba at the rear. I was still thinking about the tomato bread though.

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The calamari which I was pleased melted in the mouth rather than required chewing. The meatballs came with cuttlefish which isn’t something that I’ve had before (the cuttlefish element rather than the meatball element), the nearest I’ve come to that is giving the calcium rich cuttlebone to budgies. Anyway, I’ve now decided that I’d order cuttlefish again, and I’m not sure how to describe it other it being a step up from squid. This is one of the restaurant’s specialities, and it suitably surprised and delighted me.

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Tiramisu, suitably moist and the flavour was appropriately coffee-like. On another issue of the Spanish and their late night eating, this is quite handy for booking bars and restaurants with my very Britishness, as it means venues are often not that busy at 19:00 and there are plenty of offers on. However, the cultural element of families going out late to eat is a very pleasing one, and I’m very sorry for all the British stag groups who sullied the atmosphere of the city. The people of Barcelona are, unfortunately, no doubt used to that though.

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They gave us a free shot of something at the end, although I can’t remember what it was and I’m not sure that I actually knew at the time either. This was another restaurant that I felt was well run, with the young staff member being personable and conversational, as well as knowledgeable about the menu. That last element was very useful since Bev asked several hundred questions about the menu, but Ross and I didn’t say anything about the Spanish Inquisition…. The prices were moderate to start with, so felt like a bargain when they were 50% off, with the environment being informal and comfortable. Definitely recommended.

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Well, it feels wrong to dwell on this so I’ll cut this explanation down to Bev posted her ticket not in the slot for tickets, but actually into the machine itself. A member of station staff kindly came over and fashioned a device to get the ticket back out, I think they appreciated the challenge and something a little different to do from the norm. Ross and I didn’t say anything of course.

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We decided against walking back to the apartment since it would take around 90 minutes (we worked on the principle that walking back for an hour was fine, but further than that was a little too much), with the Metro journey taking just a few minutes. The information displays here are clear, the trains run frequently and everything seems to just work well.

And with that, another day that Barcelona impressed me. I’m coming back to this city soon and I am unanimous in that.