Monday, February 4, 2008

Birthday (1) - Preparations

In life, it’s always important to have a Plan B. My father never tires of telling me this. Really, I think he’d probably be happy with a reasonable Plan A, but since he often doesn’t much like Plan A, he emphasizes Plan B.

This Sunday, Dad, I’m pleased to tell you that a Plan B (well, actually Plan C) was not only conceived, but was carried out with great success--well, quite good success, which is your best hope for Plan C.

Sunday was my birthday. My first birthday in Barcelona. A lot rides on first birthdays in a new place. In a sense, birthdays away are a measure of how well you’re adapting and it was important to me to have a good plan. As it happened, I ended up with several.

Plan A: Since in Spain it’s customary to throw your own birthday party, invite all available friends in Barcelona for grand birthday lunch at home. Impediments to Plan A: Of the handful of friends I have in Barcelona, none were planning to be around on Sunday.

Plan B: Check into expensive hotel and spend the day being pampered. Really, what I envisioned were clean sheets, a television with many channels and somebody bringing me things to eat whenever I picked up the phone. Impediments to Plan B: After making a reservation at Gran Hotel La Florida for the day, spasms of fear over impending destitution forced me to cancel the booking.

Plan C: Pamper myself with food and celebrate by participating in Carnaval festivities in Barcelona and Sitges. There were no anticipated impediments to Plan C; however, preparations were required.

Prepartions comprised, first, a thorough cleaning of my apartment on Saturday with the goal of giving myself the gift of freshly laundered sheets; a bath ready tub (I never take baths, but who knew what kind of strange impulses might overtake me on my birthday); and a sparkling, organized kitchen, in which it would be a pleasure to cook. Second, a trip to the markets: the Boqueria (Las Ramblas, Barrio Gotico), Barcelona’s most famous market, for fresh strawberries, red currants and what I refer to as goose berries, but what are really a mysterious orange fruit that no one can ever confidently name; and the artisanal food market (pictured above), which takes place every second weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) in front of Santa Maria del Pi (Barrio Gotico). At the latter, tasting all sorts of interesting and yummy things at each stall, I bought two types of goat cheese, walnuts in acacia honey, membrillo (quince) paste, tomato and vanilla confit, chestnut marmalade, a piece of traditional Catalan cheesecake and some dark chocolate. I also picked up fresh flowers and a bottle of pretty decent if slightly tart Syrah, the latter on the recommendation of a sweet shop boy.

As final preparatory acts before I went to bed on my birthday eve, I set the table for breakfast and I shaved my legs. Who knew what might come to pass.

(To be continued in the next post.)


Anonymous said...

Never a bad idea to shave your legs... its like my mother always telling me to be sure to wear clean underwear, never know what is going to happen :)
I am also a Canadian girl, however living in Canada, but visiting Barcleona this weekend, for 10 days - any advice? Already looking at your restaurant recommendations...Thanks!

Barcelona Food Girl said...

Hmmm...advice. Yes, always keep an eye on your purse and keep the valuables that you don't need with you in the hotel safe (best way to ruin a holiday is to be robbed and, unfortunately, it does still happen a fair bit in Barcelona). You'll need a piece of ID with you if you want to make credit card purchases in shops; most people want a passport, but will settle for a driver's license if you don't want to carry the passport around.

Among my favourite sights are the Sagrada Familia, Picasso Museum, MACBA and Parc Guell. If you go to see Casa Batllo, make sure you go on a sunny day, the charm of the use of light in the building is wasted otherwise. Nice places for a glass of wine: La Vinya del Senyor and Bar Mut. Good places for tapas: Cerveceria Catalana (be patient for a spot) and (I hear) Cal Pep...I've never managed the line-up at the latter. Lovely terraces for lunch: Agua and Merendero del Mar. Reservation worthy: Comerc 24. For a break, try the bunuelos (bunyols in Catalan) and cafe con leche at Forn de Sant Jaume on Rambla Catalunya--lots of seats outside this time of year and quite warm enough for us Canadians. Shopping: there's a lot of high end shopping around Paseo de Gracia and Rambla Catalunya, but my favourite spots are on the side streets around Placa Rius y Taulet in Gracia; if you're wandering around Gracia, Placa Virreina is very atmospheric for an outdoor glass of wine. And, don't miss the markets, especially the Boqueria; they're a lot of fun and you can pick up some of the freshest and best food there.

Feel free to email me at if you're looking for anything more specific. : )

Barcelona Food Girl said...

P.S. Lunch is often the best time to eat out as most places offer a "menu", which is typically three courses and a drink for 8-12 euros. The quality of the menu varies, but I find, if I have the whole thing at most places, I don't have to eat for the rest of the day. Ask for it if it's not offered. Also, keep an eye on eating times, most restaurants close for breakfast at noon; open between 130 and 400 for lunch; and open again between 830-930 and 1130 for dinner. If you're hungry during the in between times, tapas bars will usually be able to offer you something. Most stores are open between 10am and 2pm and again from 5pm to 8 or 9pm.

Barcelona Food Girl said...

More thoughts: If you're here for 10 days, buy an ArtTicket. For 20 euros, it allows you access to 6 or 7 top sights. I think it ends up paying off even if you go to just three. You can purchase it at the Tourist Centre on the south east corner of Placa Catalunya or at the covered locations (I think the Pedrera and the Picasso Museum sell it). You can also buy walking tours of the city at the Tourist Centre, which some of my friends have really enjoyed. Also, I'd recommend picking up a TimeOut pocket guide for 2008--their recommendations and commentary are among the most timely. In terms of the metro and buses, the T-10 ticket (10 trips for 7.10 euros) is probably the most economical. Also check out, for restaurant and other recommendations.

Anonymous said...

i'll be in barcelona for 4 days from feb 20-23...any idea if the artisanal food market will be running that weekend, or will i miss the boat? it sounds right up my alley!

also, any tips for chocolate/pastry shops would be greatly 3 week tour of europe is very chocolate-focused. cacao sampaka and oriol balaguer are at the top of my list, but i'm sure there are many more...

Anonymous said...

one other thing...
any idea if the caganers are still available anywhere in the city, or are they purely a christmas specialty?

Barcelona Food Girl said...

I think you may be out of luck with the market, but go by and check, Santa Maria del Pi is a lovely church, just steps away from the Boqueria market (which you should put on your list) and there are some good cafes around. Caelum, which is a tea shop, is nearby and offers all sorts of confections made exclusively by nuns (I'll be posting about it soon). Xocoa is another ubiquitous Barcelona chocolate shop, similar in nature to Cacao Sampaka. I also like La Campana (I've written about it under No Ordinary Nougat) for chocolate as well as turrones...try the raspberry truffle. You should also check out Espai de Sucre in the Borne, an avant garde "dessert" restaurant.

As for the caganer, I really don't know. It is typically sold at Christmas, but I have a feeling that you might find a shop in the Gothic area that offers caganers for sale year round. I've also heard that you can buy the caganer on-line. I'll post a comment if I can find out where.

Barcelona Food Girl said...

Also, one of the best chocolate tastings I've had was at Comerc 24--6 amazing chocolate desserts accompanied by three non-chocolate. Oh, and don't forget the Museu de la Xocolata (Chocolate Museum) in the Borne!

As for pastry shops, stroll along Rambla Catalunya...there are a few good ones along there, including Mauri, which is quite well known.