Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Barcelona 2014 - La Sagrada Familia

Gaudi's masterpiece - La Sagrada Familia is so famous, it needs no introduction. Started in 1882 under architect Francisco de Paula del Villar, Gaudi took over the project 1 year later at the age of 31. From then on, Gaudi devoted his life to the construction of the church. He changed the original design drastically, and what we see today is the result of Gaudi's unique vision and of course the hard work of many architects, artisans and craftsmen who have laboured on the building over the years. The church is still unfinished. It will probably be finished in 2026 - about 144 years after the construction started.
It is very difficult to see the exterior of the church in its entirety as it is surrounded by other buildings. And of course the building is still unfinished so you still see the construction cranes and scaffoldings. Luckily it is the interior where most of the magic is. To beat the long queues you can buy special tickets that allow you to jump the queues.

The carvings at the entrance to the church are so fine and intricate. You can also see the changes in style over the years as new generations of artisans work on the building. 

Once inside you will be in awe by the beautiful and unique vision of Gaudi, and marvel at the skill and the dedication that must have gone into making the building a reality.

The forms and geometries are so complex that it is hard to imagine how Gaudi worked out the designs. Nowadays of course the the architects who work on the buildings use computers.

Don't miss the museum at the basement of the church which contains models and displays showing the processes that Gaudi and the construction team has gone through in building the church.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Barcelona 2014 - Barri Gotic

The area East of La Rambla is known as Barri Gotic - the Gothic quarters of Barcelona. This is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Barcelona, and many of the buildings here date from Medieval times. You can spend days here wandering through the maze of narrow streets, full of surprises at every turn. Many interesting cafes, restaurants and shops are hidden within these streets. Picasso lived and worked in Barri Gòtic from 1895 to 1904 - that is why you will find the Picasso Museum here in the Gothic Quarter. Joan Miró - the other great Spanish painter, was born and lived here during his youth.  

The narrow streets of Barri Gotic hide many hidden gems.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Barcelona 2014 - Cafe Ocana at Placa Reial

We love Placa Reial so much there we went back there several times for lunch and dinner. Cafe Ocana is a cafe located at one corner of the square. It is a really beautiful venue which pays homage to José Pérez Ocaña - an activist, painter and defender of freedom during Spain's Transition and in the 1970s. The interior space has been meticulously restored, retaining most of the existing structures and ceiling. A full mural on the end wall provide the stylish modern touch.

The menu - printed on recycled newsprint, is the most beautiful I've seen.

The cafe serves modern Spanish cuisine including Tapas, salads and sandwiches and a small selection of mains. The focus is on fresh produce simply prepared to let the ingredients shine. As we had completely no idea about the food at this venue - we asked the waitress for recommendations and she gladly helped to select all the items.

Our dinner started with some Tapas selections - the ubiquitous Pan Con Tomate came first. The bread was really good - and the fresh flavours of tomato and really good olive oil was great. 

The sandwich with  eggplants and peppers and yogurt so was another very flavourful dish.

Tortilla Ocana Style - the tortilla was beautifully made, and potatoes were very tender and given some kick with a sprinkle of paprika on top.

Salad of tomatoes and cheese. Another simple-looking dish that is packed with flavours.

Serrano Ham with Fried Egg.  So good. 

For mains we had the Entrecote with Potato Puree and Roasted Peppers. The beef was perfectly cooked.

The other mains was Fish of the Day -  it was a pan seared cod served on smashed potatoes and a tomato salsa. Great cooking. 

French Toasts with Caramel Ice Cream. It was a surprisingly good dessert and a great finish for the meal.

The food at Ocana is simple but expertly executed. Besides Ocana Cafe, there is also Bar Club Ocana - a bar and lounge in the vaulted basement space, and Apotheke Ocana - a cocktail bar with an amazing carved wooden shelf behind the counter. This is a special venue you wouldn't want to miss in Barcelona.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Barcelona 2014 - Lunch at Le Quinze Nits

Placa Reial is one of the most prime locations in Barcelona. Most of the F&B venues here are of the premium variety - so expect to pay top dollars. However there is one restaurant here with reasonable prices and generally good reviews - Le Quinze Nits. The name translates as "15 Nights" - not sure whether it refers to the long wait that precedes getting a table as mentioned by most reviewers. This restaurant has a no-booking policy, and I was quite lucky to get in for lunch without waiting - though the restaurant fills up very quickly.

The set lunch menu is 19.90 Euros for 3 courses - quite reasonable, so that was what I ordered. Appetized was a Caesar Salad. It was quite nice with slices of poached chicken and generous serving of mixed greens. The dressing was nicely balanced. 

The main was a Pan Seared Tuna with Pumpkin Puree. The tuna was very fresh and tasty - with a gingery pan sauce topped with deep-fried julienne ginger. The pumpkin puree helped to round out the dish.

Dessert was Crema Cremada - the Catalan version of Creme Brulee. It was not so memorable.

Le Quinze Nits is part of a chain of popular restaurants in Barcelona serving good food at reasonable prices. You can also check-out their other restaurants -  La Fonda, Flamant, Balthazar, La Polpa and Miu dotted around the city.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Barcelona 2014 - Placa Reial

Another big attraction along La Rambla is Placa Reial - the Royal Plaza.  Apparently it was originally the site of an old Capuchin monastery that was burnt down in 1835. The city acquired the site with the intention of building a theater, but later changed their mind and developed a square instead. It was a wise decision, as this is a really beautiful square surrounded by neo-Classical buildings and filled with majestic palm trees.

The buildings surrounding the square are all 5-storey tall and arcaded. These arcades are perfect for cafes, restaurants and bars. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Barcelona 2014 - La Boqueria Market

One of the big attractions along La Rambla is the La Boqueria Market. This is a covered market that is housed in a cast iron structure in the Spanish Modernist or Art Nouveau style. Unlike the Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid which is a gourmet market concentrating on prepared food, the Boqueria is a market for fresh produce. It is much bigger and a lot more chaotic.

If you love chocolate you are in luck. Right at the entrance of the market is a huge chocolate stall with the biggest chocolate selection I have ever seen.

There are several mini-restaurants inside the market that have become famous and extremely popular. One of the most popular is El Quim, and the other one is Bar Pinotxo. Try getting a seat at either one during their service - it is almost impossible.

Having had no luck at El Quim or Bar Pinotxo - I was wandering around looking for other options and came across this pie shop with a dizzying array of pies, pasties and empanadas. I bought a couple for lunch and they were delicious.

Another great snack you can buy at the market is Jamon. Many of the Jamon stalls sell small portions - some conveniently speared on a stick so you can eat them while walking around.

La Boqueria is a market that you definitely want to visit with a hungry stomach. The variety of food on offer is endless - even the most picky eater will find something here to sate their appetite. What a way to enjoy the tastes of Barcelona.