Summertime is officially here, like it or not. Warmer days mean I am in no rush whatsoever to turn on the oven. Just the thought of it makes me sweat. As much as I love a good berry tart, sorbet is the perfect answer to […]
Month: June 2014
Seldom featured in guidebooks, less publicized locales are a favorite of mine. You could say I have quite an interest in fringe sights. We tend to seek out the weird and unusual and will go to great lengths to find something different. The best part is most of the places are unassuming and peppered amongst the usual attractions. Sometimes it’s a creepy tour, a crypt, or even just a long forgotten plaque on the wall signifying a secret past. If you’re at all interested in seeing a less touristy Barcelona, keep reading.
/1/ Basilica Sants Just i Pastor
Pl Sant Just, 6/ Barri Gòtic/ website/
Nestled in a quiet square in the Barri Gòtic, Basilica Sants Just i Pastor is referred to as Barcelona’s oldest church. The Gothic structure dates from the 1300’s and was built upon the original spot of the Romanesque church, none of which remains today. From the outside, the basilica is quite unassuming and blends peacefully into the compact plaza. Venture inside and not only will you be impressed with the beautiful stained glass and Tarragona marble columns, but head towards the back of the church to the small chapel to see the eerie altar of the Souls of Purgatory.
/2/Shield of the Inquisition
Carrer dels Comtes near Museu Frederic Mares Plaça de Sant Iu, 5-6
While visiting the Catedral, take a walk to Museu Frederic Mares located right around the corner. It’s not what’s inside, rather, check out the wall along the museum on Carrer dels Comtes. There is a shield indicating that this spot was once the location of the Spanish Inquisition.
/3/ Catedral de Barcelona
Pla de la Seu/Barri Gòtic/website/
An impressive Gothic church at the center of Barri Gòtic is the Catedral. Also referred to as Santa Eulalia, patron saint of Barcelona, for whom this cathedral is dedicated. Her relics are entombed in the crypt beneath the altar. Wander around and you will find interesting reliefs of animals, cherubs, saints, and skulls alike.
/4/ CCCB (Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona)
Montalegre 5/Raval/ website/
Less an oddity and more of a creative cultural space dedicated to exhibitions, films, education, concerts, and promotion of arts research, the CCCB is located in the Raval neighborhood. Currently, there is an exhibition called Metamorphosis highlighting works from the Brothers Quay, Starewitch, and Svankmajer. It’s an extensive peek into the bizarre and fantastical worlds of early animation, costume design, cinema, personal collections, and madness. I highly recommend a visit if this sounds like your thing. It’s worth the time and whatever you do, don’t rush. Eat lunch or something prior to entering so you can take your time and just when you turn a corner and think it’s over… but wait! There’s more! You won’t leave disappointed- maybe just a bit horrified.
/5/ Calle Josep Torres 20 (House of the Devil)
As the story goes, in 1892, a wealthy business man named Augustin Atzerias, fell upon hard times. His business was near bankruptcy and in desperation, he made a pact with the devil and sold his soul in exchange for money. As all good stories go, Mr. Atzerias bought a winning lottery ticket and hit it big time. To hold up his end of the bargain, he honored the devil by crowning the doors and some windows with demon heads. Unfortunately, the grand house is abandoned today, which is a shame since it has one of the fancier facades on the block, not to mention, all the sinister heads adorning it’s doorways. When we passed by, there was a sign hanging on the building and it looks like a developer is going to turn it into multi-unit dwellings and the devil heads along with the house’s storied past will be gone forever.
I’ve never been overly excited about Spanish pastries; it was always all about the savory aspect of the meals that excited me. However, I’m happy to say, after this recent trip, I have been converted. Thanks to our penchant for walking around trying to get lost in various neighborhoods and generally traveling on foot, we stumbled upon some bakery gems. For all you with a sweet tooth out there here are a few sugary treats that kept me happy and satisfied during our time in Spain.
Bomba de Nata (doughnut with whipped cream and sugar)
Coca de pinones (pine nut pastry)
Bunyols (anise flavored fried dough)
Travel souvenirs, hmmmm? How about an “I heart (insert destination here)” tee shirt , a keychain, snow globe, bumper sticker, or even better… shot glasses with the name of the restaurant or town to add to that collection? These kinds of souvenirs can all be fun reminders of the vacation of a lifetime, but instead of trolling the souvenir shops I hit the markets. I am looking for unique food items mostly produced in the region I am visiting and when it comes to Spanish food, I’m like a crazed person on a mission to get the best quality I can find. After all, if I love it and am darn sure I can’t get something comparable at home, I’m not leaving without it. And you think I’m kidding…
La Bretxa is the market to go to when in San Sebastián. Here, you will find the freshest seafood (unless you are pulling fish from the ocean yourself), an array of high quality meats, cheeses, spices, fresh fruits and vegetables, dried goods, pickled condiments, and the list goes on. As an added bonus, the vendors are very knowledgeable and helpful. Just ask nicely and try to speak Spanish, however feeble.
I went to Bretxa with specific items on my list that included a jar of bonito in olive oil. Last time we were in SS, I regretted not bringing any home. After all, I was eating an ample amount of it at the tapas bars and what better way to savor the flavors of vacation while at home?
As it turned out, we met a very nice man while I was in the midst of grilling the vendor on the difference between brands and quality and whether or not they needed refrigeration, blah blah blah. And do you know what? In a few minutes of conversation with him, we found out how to make the bonito ourselves at home. Priceless information that I plan on putting to use soon.
I want to remember this trip for as long as possible and treat my palate to the flavors I love. *This is just a fraction of what I hauled home:
Larte Idiazabal cheese (smoked): Number one on our must get list. I’ve written briefly about this cheese here but it really is the best tasting and does not get more local than a family farm on the outskirts of town where this artisanal cheese is produced. A superb Basque country cheese. Stay tuned for the Larte post and video which is in the works.
Sherry Vinegar: Although not a product produced near San Sebastián, sherry vinegar is a true Spanish pantry staple and good ones are difficult to come by at home.
Piquillo Peppers (from Lodosa): Roasted red pepper with mild smoky flavor, not at all spicy.
Guindilla Peppers: Curvy, green, and elongated, this pepper is a touch spicy and sweet. They are served as pintxos, called the Gilda, usually with anchovies and a green olive.
Pimentón: Powdered version of one each, sweet and spicy.
*Not pictured here is more cheese, chorizo, and a sizable hunk of 5J jamón. Thanks to US customs, we were relieved of the excess baggage of meats. In the coldest and rudest way possible at the Philadelphia airport, our vacuum sealed meats that we took such care to refrigerate throughout the trip and pack for the journey home were simply tossed in the trash. Just like that. And the rude little man just walked away after an over-the-shoulder remark, “no meats allowed”. Funny that “no meats are allowed” because I saw a lot of jamón packed the exact same way as ours was in the Duty Free shops at the airport. You know, the shops where they diligently package the liquids separately and every purchase has a sealed bag and receipt and it all looks so official. Well, think twice about forking over a bundle of money for that superior jamón because it just might not make it out of the airport.
Located right outside of San Sebastián in the picturesque town of Lasarte -Oria, is Restaurant Martín Berasategui. Impeccable in technique and creative in presentation, the tasting menu spans 1995- 2014 and features a compilation of old and new dishes. The dining room is beautiful with breathtaking views […]