Destinations / JOURNEY
ON M Y FIRST visit to Barcelona, as a young man, I spoke no Spanish, barely glanced at the architectural wonders of Antonio Gaudi for which the city is famous and devoted most of my short time there attempting (with no success) to convince dark-haired Catalan beauties that I was
the American boy of their dreams.
On my second visit to Barcelona, at a more seasoned age,
I could mangle Castellano, I ran the checklist of must-see
sites and with the dark-haired American beauty who had
become my wife I ventured north to the Costa Brava, whose
gleaming beaches, warm Mediterranean waters and welcoming hill-town ambience stayed with me long after I left.
I vowed to return.
A decade later, on my third visit to Barcelona, I arrived
on the far side of 60, able to hablar muy bien, still in the
company of that same adventurous beauty and possessing
a desire to be less of a tourist and a more of a local, which I
intended to do by absorbing as much of the taste and the culture of this fiercely proud Spanish province as a I could in 10
days — half of that in Barcelona, half along the Costa Brava.
That means we ate as much as we could, we walked even
more and, to quote a favorite song, we stayed up very, very,
very, very late.
IT IS 10 O’CLOCK ON A SATURDAY NIGHT. I am waking
up from a long nap, intent on beating down the jet lag that’s
dogged me all day. I slide open the door that connects my
room in the hotel Le Méridien to its terrace and a whoosh of
balmy air greets me. I step outside, peer over the wall and
see, far below, a river of humanity flowing along La Rambla,
Barcelona’s main pedestrian drag.
Even at this hour, the expansive, cacophonous boulevard
is awash in tourists and locals, carrying them on foot, on
bike, in bus and by car from the city’s waterfront to its most
prominent square, Plaza Catalunya. The tide rises and ebbs
as day turns into night, but never stops.
In a few minutes, I am part of it, bound for El Born, a one-time wholesale district that in recent years has emerged as
an edgier alternative to the well-worn paths of its northern
neighbor, the Barri Gòtic (the Gothic Quarter). Here, the
familiar flavors of tapas are fused with influences of non-Ibe-rian cultures; the glow of small cafes emanates from narrow
alley ways, signaling adventure ahead, and the crowd becomes
younger and more hormonally fueled as the night lengthens.
“You must eat at Sensi,” said a friend from Marin who had
beaten us to Barcelona by a couple of weeks.
Small, dark and imbued with palpable aromas of olive oil,
spices and red wine, Sensi fed us plates of beef filet, tuna tartare with wasabi, a pot of squid stew thickened with mashed
potatoes and stir-fried veggies — a menu reflecting its international ownership. The trilingual waiter filled our glasses
again and again with a rich, savory Rioja.
By evening’s end, which was well into the next morning,
I had eaten and drunk enough to invite the Belgian owner to
visit us in San Francisco and then do the same on the street
with an attractive woman from Finland and her Colombian
boyfriend whom my wife and I had met outside the restaurant afterward. (I’m still awaiting their calls.)
with the Cathedral
of Saint Mary in the
center, as seen from
the Passeig de la
Muralla; the old city
walls. This page:
Sunset on the beach
at Calella on the