Spain – Viva La España
Spain. There is something about it that makes you fall in love. I don’t know if it’s the people, the language, the music, the food or the vibrancy that’s in the air or all of these things combined but it definitely swept me off my feet.
We arrived in Barcelona by TGV train from Paris and had a short stay en route to our destination on the Costa Blanca along the western Mediterranean (east coast of Spain). Barcelona was pulsating with life and I was amazed at the number of people in the streets. Paris calmed right down after the Christmas and New Year crowds departed but in Barcelona it seems like it never stopped. We asked a local if it’s busy like this all year and he said that now it’s “empty” compared to the crowd of the holiday season a week ago, “there is no one here” he said. Empty? There are thousands of people around.
We stayed at an SPG hotel, Le Meridien, on the corner of La Rambla in a very central location. Not having been here before I wanted to experience it upfront and center and this hotel was certainly located in the heart of things. When we return here in a few weeks we have an apartment in a residential area waiting for us, and it will be more like the “living like a local” experience that I am looking for when travelling. But today it was a short stay and I wanted a hotel right in the center.
A rented Audi was waiting for us at Europcar at the train station, a long term rental for our entire stay in Spain. We were warned that the La Rambla area is not suitable for driving, with its narrow one-way streets and bus-only lanes. We are pretty adventurous (and my husband was driving) so we drove there anyway and really had no problem with the driving except that our trusted GPS took us to another 111 La Rambla address. Apparently there is more than one La rambla in Barcelona. Realizing that we are not where we wanted to be we stopped by a line of taxis and asked the drivers how to get to our hotel. An intense conference between two of the drivers ensued and we were soon provided with perfect directions drawn on our map that delivered us to the hotel within a few minutes without any problem at all. I couldn’t believe how helpful and pleasant they were. But why was I surprised? Every encounter in Spain has been pleasant.
We checked into a top floor suite at Le Meridien with a wall of windows overlooking this gorgeous city and after “roughing it” in European apartments (they do not necessarily live up to North American comforts) the luxurious hotel room seemed like heaven. Comfortable mattress, crisp white bed linen, soft, fluffy giant pillows, beautiful bathroom, large walk-in closet. The room was clean, uncluttered, spacious and bright and I barely wanted to get out. The Hotel’s sixth floor has a small spa and an outdoor patio with a few lounge chairs from which you can enjoy a view of Barcelona’s rooftops. I spotted several rooftop patios with potted plants, trees and outdoor furniture indicating that there is an outdoor living culture here (didn’t see much of it in Paris).
We did go out however and walked around La Rambla but saved exploring Barcelona for later in our trip when we return here for a two weeks stay. The stay at Le Meridien was lovely in every respect. Staff was friendly and helpful and the breakfast, included in the room price, was beautiful. We loved getting up in the morning and settling in the ground floor dining room looking on La Rambla. The table was beautifully set and I only missed a table cloth (they had place mats). Coffee was brought to our table in a stainless steel French press, piping hot. Hot milk came in an individual small glass milk bottles, very attractive. The breakfast buffet was beautiful, with pastries and breads, eggs made to order, fruits, muesli, pancake, local charcuterie, all beautifully presented and generously served. The spices in the image on top were set out for the omelette-making chef. I have to learn about local spices. We lingered over breakfast enjoying the street view and a very freshly squeezed OJ probably made from Valencia oranges that are in season now. We enjoyed our short interlude at Le Meridian and I would stay there again if the opportunity arises.
The drive from Barcelona to our Costa Blanca destination along the coast was beautiful. We drove more than 4 hours south and passed giant resort towns that seemed like ghost towns, empty of their summer inhabitants. In season this must be much like the French Riviera. Very interesting.
We are settling in the house we’ll call home for the next few weeks. European homes are always an adjustment, often lacking the luxuries we are accustomed to at home. We can make it work though and use this as our base to explore the area. I am hoping to do more cooking here and learn something about Spanish cuisine. I have Claudia Roden’s book “The Food of Spain” on my iPad, and intend to use it as a guide.
Tune in for more on the adventure in Spain. I wish you were here.