I don’t know what’s inspired me to write about a slow weekend in Barri La Ribera, Barcelona. Maybe it’s because it’s finally warm out, which puts me in the mood for the plates I ate there. Or maybe I’m in need of a rest and to restore to the sense of calm and contentment. Yesterday I had a little meal that recalled one I’d had in my flat that included the famous jamón ibérico de bellota. If we can’t travel, we can cook (or, in this case, not cook).
Coincidentally, in getting links for this story, I happened upon an Atlas Obscura virtual event to make your own vermut, so I will be doing a fun Zoom later on today.
Running on fumes
My first Saturday in Barcelona found me running on fumes. It had been a year since I’d left the country, and I had gotten so excited by all the new sights that I just kept walking until I broke myself. Heading back to my flat Friday night after an evening at Bodega 1900 (that lovely experience is a story for another time), I knew that I needed to cool it for a bit. I decided to embrace the quieter Sundays of traditional Barcelona and use it to get some rest.
A fantastic flat
My flat lent itself to a leisurely day in. A unique loft space, owned by an artist currently traveling in Africa, was located on sleepy Carrer de la Victòria in Barri La Ribera, part of Barcelona’s old city, just out of range of the typical tourist jaunt, in an area populated by artists and immigrants. The listing had charmed me, and when the artist’s friend jiggled the keys simultaneously in both of the old locks (the keys were tied together with a length of string just long enough to be able to do the move at the same time) and opened the door, I nearly burst into applause.
On the ground level of the building, the flat had a rickety ladder leading to a loft with the bed and bathrooms, the kitchen and living space was located in the back. It had a small, dark terrace that looked up to the balconies of the other buildings. As it was hot, I left everything open most of the time, and I could hear people going about their lives, cooking, watching fútbol matches, and talking. Looking up, I could see laundry and Catalonian flags. Most of the day, the area was fairly quiet, but come early evening, you’d hear all the gates lift and shops would open, and everyone would venture out.
Not a bad place to spend a lazy Sunday
With exposed brick and ancient, peeling walls, this was the kind of place that just didn’t exist back home. The owner traveled frequently and had left little souvenirs everywhere, along with kitschy bric-a-brac and art. There was no TV, except for the ancient one on display. I had to wear shoes everywhere, and the shower was a joke, but I was in love. While I had an intense fear of missing out on a day of holiday, I felt that hanging out for the day in such a place would not be wasted.
Except for the scary stove
There was just the question of cooking. You see, I was absolutely terrified of the stove, fueled by propane from an orange tank (each morning, a gas man walked down the street each day, banging the tanks, so if someone needed a new one, they could exchange it). To use the stove, I had to flip on the gas, and then figure out how to light it. My host’s friend had showed me how to do and had warned me that it could be very dangerous. I believed him. So while I wanted to cook, I decided that I should plan for the eventuality that I might not.
La Boqueria and the quest for jamón ibérico de bellota
On Saturday, I ventured to La Boqueria, Barcelona’s legendary food market, which you simply must visit. To get there, I crossed La Rambla, and that was the extent of my adventures there (really, while I do believe that when visiting a place, one should do at least some of the touristy things, La Rambla just doesn’t seem worth it. Pickpockets galore, terrible food, and nary a Catalan word to be heard).
La Rambla, 91, 08001
At La Boqueria, I wandered the stalls, purchasing olives, cheeses, boquerones (fresh anchovies) and jamón ibérico de bellota, the famous ham from pigs who spent their lives feasting on acorns. The phrase happier than a pig in shit should be replaced by happier than a ibérico pig feasting on acorns.
Unlike just about everything else I had in Barcelona, that ham was eye-poppingly expensive for a precious few shavings, and the woman who sold it to me gave me the worst look when I did not quite have exact change (it’s a thing—I don’t understand it, but I know enough to exchange bills at a supermarket or something if I want to be able to buy anything in much of the Eurozone).
I also picked up some spices I wanted to bring home with me. Shopping complete, I got some lunch and had a glass of wine off to the side of the market (where I spied the Catalonian version of a Dunkin’ Donuts).
After La Boqueria, and back in La Ribera, I scurried to the little market around the corner from me for bottled water and other supplies, and wine at the excellent Bodega Maestrazgo, recommended by the guest book in my flat. I also got some bandaids at the local farmacia, because blisters (I now always travel with enough bandaids to cover my entire body a few times over, but I haven’t really needed them since). On my way home, I saw men shouldering giant plastic water containers (the water in that part of Barcelona, while technically potable, tasted awful).
Sant Pere Mes Baix, 90, 08003
A quiet Saturday afternoon
I spent part of the afternoon on the terrace of en Aparté ,a café in Plaça de Sant Pere, a quieter square right near where I was staying. In the early evening, I wandered over to nearby Parc de la Ciutadella for some people watching and enjoyed some open green space after spending a lot of time in the warren streets of the old city.
c/ lluís el Piadós, 2, 08003
An art exhibition with connections to home
On my way back, I happened upon the Blueproject Foundation, which was holding a reception for its exhibition “Little Is Left to Tell (Calvino after Calvino).” Calvino, an Italian writer, was to deliver a lecture series at Harvard in 1985 on what he thought would be the concepts on the new millennium. He died before he could travel to Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the US (right down the street from where I live now).
The exhibition had contemporary artists working with the concepts: “lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, multiplicity, and consistency.” The exhibit had works grouped in pairs, exploring his concepts. I wandered through the exhibit and had a glass of wine, thinking about how small the world was.
Carrer de la Princesa, 57, 08003
A slow meander back
I meandered back through El Born. Had I found an open table at one of the bars, I would have happily taken one, but I did not. So I got home, opened the bottle of rioja, and listened to music. While I felt a bit sheepish staying in on a Saturday night in a city known world over for its nightlife, I also felt utterly content.
Thankfully, not everything was closed on Sunday
In the morning, I attempted to use the stove to make coffee and failed. I was relieved that the guidebooks were wrong when they said that Barcelona completely shut down on Sundays and that Café Savona could provide me with a cortado and a pastry. While not completely shut down, the streets were definitely quiet, and I took a leisurely stroll around, and then headed back Carrer de la Victòria.
Carrer de Sant Pere Més Baix, 82, 08008
Unintentional, and heavenly, slow travel
And I just hung out. I read, took a nap, looked at my pictures and caught on some messages from friends. Something happened as I sat in that living room. I relaxed,and felt more like myself than I had in years. I can’t say why, really, but I think it had something to do with letting myself slow down and take in the space. Instead of trying to pack each moment of my holiday full of new sights, sounds, and smells, I got to know the barri, and the flat. In the moment, I felt transformed, from the manic pace of work and life, back into the stillness that comes with being at peace. I think often of those moments, on a makeshift sofa in Barcelona.
Perhaps the best lunch I’ll ever have
When it was time for lunch, I got out my supplies and arranged them on some plates. I opened the white I’d bought, as it seemed more suitable than the rioja for my repast.
I started with the olives, followed by the boquerones. Finally, it was time for the jamón ibérico de bellota. Would it taste as good as was advertised?
Oh, dear reader. It was unlike anything I’d ever tasted—the complexity at the first moment made me wonder if I’d made a mistake, but then it just gave way to pure deliciousness. I ate slowly, savoring not just the jamón, but also the day.
A local evening
After relaxing a bit more, I did venture out a bit, stopping again at en Aparté, and then wandering the barri, slowly. Relaxed. Content. I slept that night better than I have in years.
The next morning, I figured out how the stove worked and set about once again on exploring Barcelona.
What’s your experience with slowing down while traveling? Of Barcelona? I’d love to hear in the comments.
Since my 2015 trip, Barcelona’s populace and government have taken an increasingly dim view of tourist rentals. With strict rules in place, it’s important to check to ensure that your flat is licensed. Given the outcry over tourist flats, it may also be wise to consider a hotel these days.
Sundries for you!
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