Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Barcelona: Gastronomy and Gaudi
When I think of France, I think of wine and food. But many believe that Spain is now taking over from France as the gastronomic centre of Europe. While I’m sure the French and Italians would disagree, there is no doubt that there is a great focus on food here, and lots of different approaches to having a meal.While we are all familiar with tapas, I wasn’t familiar with ‘montaditos’ or canapés. They are very much like those served at receptions and are very popular in Barcelona restaurants which have them on the counter, and you just help yourself. When it comes time to pay, the server counts the number of toothpicks that were holding the canapés together. As Jessica Brown Duncan, our host for an evening on the town pointed out, in Vancouver a lot of those toothpicks would end up on the floor. But not in Barcelona.
Jessica took us to a number of tapas bars where our meal consisted of an ongoing variety of small dishes. Along with bottles of cava, we had pieces of bread rubbed with tomato and garlic, anchovies, smoked herring, various olives, smoked salmon, cheeses, stuffed peppers, slices of ham, slices of ham, did I mention slices of ham….and on it went. We shared some with a Danish architect and his wife, who I met at our small stand-up table, and after an hour, I couldn’t believe anyone had any idea how much the whole thing should cost. But the server showed me a piece of paper with some numbers written on it, and it was all quite reasonable and I paid. The bill included the 8% VAT. Tipping seems quite informal here. We’re told servers appreciate 5 to 10%, but it is not expected.
While eating and drinking is a favourite pastime, so is Gaudi. It’s hard to believe but 84 years after his death, an architect is Barcelona’s top tourist attraction. His works include the unfinished La Sagrada Familia, the famous cathedral surrounded with tower cranes on the Barcelona skyline, which is reportedly Spain’s most popular monument. It is now scheduled to be completed in 2026, the 100th anniversary of his death.
A few blocks from our hotel on Passeig de Gracia were La Pedrera, with its curvaceous walls and decorative wrought iron balconies, and Casa Batllo, one of the most impressive houses I have ever seen. While I was familiar with both buildings from my days at architecture school, I didn’t really appreciate Gaudi’s brilliance until I visited the buildings in person.For me, one of the most interesting Gaudi works was Park Guell, a subdivision; yes a planned 60 lot residential subdivision on what were once the outskirts of Barcelona. Patterned on the Garden City movement that was intended to bring people closer to nature, only the common areas and two houses were built before the project fell into financial difficulty. Today the site is a public park. But the entry walls, town square and much of the stone aqueduct and pathway systems were completed. As these photos hopefully show, it really was quite fantastic. It might have been even more fantastic for Sally if it hadn’t been 38 degrees on the day we visited!
Touring Gaudi’s works and around Barcelona, I couldn’t help but notice how much more architecture is celebrated in Europe when compared with North America. While one might say Gaudi was an exception, I have seen some very imaginative new buildings that I will write about in future posts. In the meanwhile, suffice it to say, both Gaudi and gastronomy are two great reasons to visit Barcelona.