Destinations / JOURNEY
THAT’S WHEN THE WALKING
BEGAN. Like all great cities — New
York, Paris and San Francisco come
to mind — Barcelona is an assemblage
of urban neighborhoods. Over the
next several days, sometimes following the Gaudi trail, but more often in
search of sustenance, we explored all
corners of the city near and far.
En route back from the Sagrada
Familia, I scarfed down patatas
bravas while seated counter-side
at Tapas 24, a bing-bang-bam,
New York–style lunch spot; I gorged myself on pinxtos,
the Basque version of tapas, which were piled in colorful
pyramids at Sagardi, while navigating the Gothic Quarter;
I returned to El Born and scored seats one night at the
super-popular Tapeo, where the meal began with traditional
padrones (pepper seared and salted) built into an orgasmic
potato salad infused with salmon roe.
I rose early to take photo walks and to search for caffeine. On one of these ventures I found myself in the Raval,
Barcelona’s version of the pre-gentrified East Village in
New York. Only blocks from the tourist kitsch of La Rambla
I walked into a church plaza occupied by about 20 young
homeless men. They could have been cloned intact from the
denizens who sprawl on the Haight-Ashbury’s sidewalks —
slightly out of it, dirty, tattooed and pierced, accompanied
by unfriendly dogs and hardened in the face by the unforgiving needs of the street.
Across from the church, a painter’s scaffolding erected
in front of a building served as a homeless high-rise. Several
older men had created condos of cardboard beneath the scaf-
fold, using its bars and pipes as a frame. One tier up, a younger
man had made his home
on the wooden planking.
I offered them all a
loud and hearty buenos
dias but kept moving
when all I got in return
Down the street,
Middle Eastern men
were opening their bars,
tobacco stands and clothing shops for day. They
stood in their doorways
and exchanged cross-street commentary with
each other. Just beyond,
a wide plaza opened up.
I expected to see elderly
men there taking the
morning sun, but, surprisingly, the corners were occupied
by a half-dozen prostitutes, dressed Vegas-style in glittering
miniskirts and towering pumps. Several dark-skinned men,
pimps no doubt, watched the women from a distance.
They, too, ignored me. At a corner cafe, I grabbed an outside
seat, ordered a cortado (expresso with milk) and took in the show.
The beaches and hill towns of the Costa Brava north of
Barcelona have none of the excitement of the Catalan capi-
tal — and that is how it should be. They are antidotes to the
excesses of Barcelona.
An hour-and-a-half drive in our rented diesel sedan
brought us to Hotel Aigua Blava, a labyrinthine complex of
rooms and suites that occupied a vertiginous point about
100 feet above a rocky inlet.
There are bigger, broader and sunnier beaches south
of Barcelona (Sitges, for example), but to me they lack the
charm, coziness and idiosyncrasies of the small, wooded
coves of the Costa Brava.
This page, top to
bottom: The Hotel
Aigua Blava on
the Costa Brava;
nighttime crowd at
Bar Lobo in Barcelona;
view into the kitchen
at Sensi in Barcelona.
Opposite, from top: A
cove in Aigua Blava;
tapas shack on the
beach in Barcelona.