Guest Writer: Martha Cox-Stavros
Table of Contents
- 0.1 Planning New Things for a Family Holiday
- 0.2 A little personal history before taking the Family Holiday
- 0.3 Taking an informal poll on the Family Holiday
- 0.4 What has changed in Spain?
- 0.5 Do some walking in Barcelona
- 0.6 Posting Photos of Family Holidays
- 1 Barcelona for Families
- 1.1 Where to Stay in Barcelona
- 1.2 Stay in an Airbnb or other apartments
- 1.3 Where to eat lunch when you visit Barcelona
- 1.4 Historical Walks in Barcelona
- 1.5 Salmorejo Recipe to take home after your Barcelona Family Holiday
- 1.6 Best Churros during Barcelona trip
- 1.7 A little something about the Author:
Planning New Things for a Family Holiday
When packing for a Family Holiday to Spain I decided I would make it my goal to try at least one new thing in each of the cities we visited.
A little personal history before taking the Family Holiday
But let me back up. I first traveled to Spain in the summer of 1990, and while I already had a crush on the language my two weeks there left me utterly head-over-heels in love. I returned often over the next few years while working in educational travel. Eventually, I moved to an apartment in Madrid to work as a tour manager. In total, I spent almost four years in the country in less than a decade.
But I hadn’t been there since the summer of 2000 – 19 years ago! Now I was returning to what I still think of as a second home, this time with my husband and two teen daughters in tow. I couldn’t wait to show them all the things I’ve talked so much about; architecture, art, plazas & parks, and of course, restaurants and food.
Taking an informal poll on the Family Holiday
Initially, my daughters suggested that I plan the entire itinerary “because you’re the expert Mom!” But I didn’t want the burden of responsibility – it was important that they contemplated what they most wanted to see. In an informal poll I learned the following:
1. Eldest daughter was very interested in Gaudi’s architecture. Barcelona, you’re in.
2. Husband declared that if he traveled to Spain and didn’t visit the Alhambra he would never forgive himself. Granada, mi corazon, ¡allí vamos!
3. Youngest daughter, a big fan of Game of Thrones recalled my mentioning that The Kingdom of Dorne was filmed partially in a royal palace in Sevilla. So the capital of Andalucia was added to the list.
4. I was willing to go anywhere but especially had to see how my adopted city of Madrid had fared in the intervening two decades. And thus a two-week itinerary took shape.
What has changed in Spain?
In the months leading up to our departure, I tried to restrain myself but wasn’t totally successful. Every now and then I would slip and an “I can’t wait until you see X!” or “We have to taste Y in the south.” or “You are going to be amazed at the Z.”
I was nervous that I was overselling it, or that they would tire of Spain before they even arrived. Then my husband casually mentioned “it has been almost two decades since you were there. Things might have changed.”
I pointed out that of course, I expected some changes, but in a place where neighborhoods were defined by settlements of different waves of peoples (Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, Arabs, take your pick) many many centuries ago, I’m confident much will still look the same.
So what had changed? Many predictable changes had taken place as they mirrored similar evolutions in our home culture: far fewer phone booths (only spotted two in two weeks) since everyone now had mobile phones. Far fewer cigarette smokers, and more obvious restrictions on second-hand smoke exposure.
There are far fewer smokers in Barcelona now
This was a Very Good Thing – when I lived there I regularly encountered smokers not only in the predictable places – walking on the street, in restaurants/bars, etc., but also inside restaurant/office restrooms, on metro platforms and in the metro cars.
I also saw more tattoos. Lots and lots and lots of tattoos. No judgment, but I couldn’t help note the increase since I saw so many people with freshly-inked calves, biceps, or shoulder blades – made obvious by the signs of healing and in many cases, saran-wrap coverings.
Do some walking in Barcelona
I also noticed a significant decrease in homeless or down-and-out individuals. And despite my multiple warnings to my family regarding the highly developed expertise of pickpockets in Europe I rarely felt concern for our safety (or that of our belongings).
Lastly, Segway tours. In Every. Single. City. Didn’t try one though, because walking 8-10 miles a day was how I justified the immense quantity of tapas that I enjoyed.
And what had stayed the same? Most physical settings appeared unchanged (see comment above re: many centuries of civilization.) Ditto for art museums, and of course cathedrals and other monuments.
Beyond those elements my favorite parts of the culture prevailed: the focus on family & relationships, the penchant for the evening paseo, and an unwavering appreciation for good food and drink.
Posting Photos of Family Holidays
I post pictures when I travel because I so enjoy following along vicariously when friends travel So imagine my delight when my college friend Andrew Tolentino texted me while we were in Spain and asked if I’d like to contribute something to Dish Our Town.
I thought about it for about, oh, maybe a nano-second? Then texted back saying I would LOVE to! I hope that he doesn’t regret the invitation because what follows might just be more than he bargained for.
Barcelona for Families
Where to Stay in Barcelona
Stay in the Raval Neighborhood
We started our trip in Barcelona and settled into our apartment in the Raval neighborhood. Now a thriving multi-ethnic residential neighborhood, Raval was not somewhere I would have stayed 20 years ago. The ensuing years had been good to the area, and we benefited from the central location by walking almost everywhere.
Stay in an Airbnb or other apartments
Late in the afternoon on arrival day we were out wandering the Barri Gotic (Gothic quarter) to sample a variety of tapas. Youngest daughter proclaimed croquetas de jamón as delicious. She is not quite as adventurous an eater as the rest of us, so it was a relief to know that a staple of the traditional Spanish tapas menu was now on her list of pre-approved foods. Also on the list is tortilla de patatas, the Spanish egg-potato omelette that we prepare now and then at home.
So we knew she wouldn’t starve! Navigating the narrow winding streets is always an adventure, and eventually, we made it back to Las Ramblas and visited Mercat San Josep (St. Joseph’s market), known locally as “La Boqueria.”
We prefer to stay in apartments when we travel so we can visit local markets for supplies to have for dinner in the evenings. We enjoy browsing and the interactions that you have with market culture.
Favorite items from La Boquería included gorgeous fresh figs and three types of olives: cheese-stuffed, pickled-garlic stuffed, and lemon spiked. And it was not an easy decision – there were numerous other tempting options.
Browsing the stalls in the market and negotiating with one another over what to buy would become a regular ritual that repeated itself in each city we visited.
Where to eat lunch when you visit Barcelona
Morelia in Barcelona
Memorable restaurant meals in Barcelona included a menu del dia (fixed multi-course midday meal) at Morelia, an Argentinian restaurant in the Born neighborhood. Eldest daughter & I ordered the pescado del día (fish of the day) and she was momentarily taken aback when the fish arrived whole, with head and tail attached.
I showed her how to remove the extraneous bits and fillet the fish and it was delicious. We even splurged on the outside table (patio seating is often priced slightly higher for prime real estate) so we could enjoy some street musicians and the view of the Born Cultural Center while eating.
Historical Walks in Barcelona
Following lunch, we went in the Cultural Center. Listed as a Local Heritage Site the market building was the first of several cast-iron market buildings built in Barcelona and opened in 1871. (Cast-iron architecture is a key element in the Catalan modernist style of architecture exemplified by the work of Antoni Gaudi and others.)
The Born market eventually became the wholesale produce market for the city but closed in 1971. Initially slated for demolition, the public outcry resulted in preservation efforts to save the building. In 2002 work began on what was intended to be a provincial library, but extensive ruins from the medieval city were discovered underneath.
Walking through the building to see the ruins you can imagine what daily life was like in the early 1700’s, before the local population dig in their heels to resist the Bourbon King Philip V at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession. They held out for over a year before falling on September 11, 1714.
In order to keep the Catalans from rebelling Philip V razed a large area and built a military installation called the Ciutadella. Later the land was reclaimed for public use and includes a beautiful park (Parc de la Ciutadella) designed by Josep Fontserè. Since the Born Culture and Memorial Center only opened on September 11, 2013 (99 years to the day after the city fell to Philip V) this stroll back in time was a new experience for me.
And given its history, the center serves as a memorial to the Siege of Barcelona and therefore important source of pride for Catalan culture and resistance. For more information see the multi-lingual website: http://elbornculturaimemoria.barcelona.cat/en/
Where to Eat near Sagrada Familia
Another fantastic meal came after visiting Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia at Zed. The eclectic decor is more evocative of a friend’s private home than a restaurant. The menu was similarly varied, and my husband wanted to try salmorejo. I hesitated. Why would we try a seasonal summer puree with origins in Córdoba whilst in Barcelona? We were heading to Andalucia in just a few days.
We were heading to Andalucia in just a few days. He ordered it anyway and it was excellent. Fortunately, this is what happens on a fun family holiday in Barcelona.
Eat at Zed after a visit to Sagrada Familia
For the uninitiated, salmorejo is a cold soup comprised simply of tomatoes, olive oil, bread, garlic, and a splash of vinegar. I like to call it “gazpacho’s thicker cousin” if that helps you to envision the dish. But while it sounds simple there are a few caveats: the tomatoes must be high quality and flavorful. That is the single most important thing when considering making salmorejo!
I live in New England, and grew up looking forward to planting season as soon as mud season showed signs of drying up. (In New England “mud season” comes between winter & spring.)
Once you’ve tasted a homegrown tomato plucked from your own garden it is hard to go back. Even now we plan oodles of them every year, and by the time the season is over, I am in mourning and refuse to buy tomatoes in the grocery store until maybe the end of February or March. But I digress.
How to make the best Salmorejo soupPrint
An easy to make cold Spanish soup, using a few simple ingredients. A typical starter in the southern region of Andalucia, Spain.
Fresh Vine Tomatoes 3-4
Spanish Olive Oil 1/2 cup
Bread 1/4 loaf
garlic 1–2 cloves
vinegar 1 tablespoon
Scald tomatoes in boiling water and dip into ice cold water, then peel.
Add garlic, bread, and olive oil.
Blend until emulsified into an lightly pasty texture.
Excellent with a crisp white Albarino. The final blending with the olive oil emulsifies the soup while the bread thickens and the result is a thick paste of velvety deliciousness like nothing you’ve had before.
- Category: soup
- Method: blend
- Cuisine: Spanish
- Serving Size: 8
- Calories: 250
Keywords: soup, cold, tomatoes, garlic, bread, olive oil, simple recipe, Spain, Andalucia, Barcelona
Enjoying a serving of salmorejo is made all the more sublime if you eat it in the south of Spain, in the same Andalucian heat that gave the tomatoes their gifts. At Andrew’s first taste he literally closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair to savor. Once he recovered he was surprised when I summarized the recipe for him.
He couldn’t believe that it was so simple. Indeed, all of our dishes at Zed were outstanding. In fact, we had such a great meal that I was shocked when I saw the kitchen on my way out – not much larger than your typical suburban kitchen where we live north of Boston, and devoid of a freezer or microwave! Yet they manage to turn out creative dishes based on a “market to table” philosophy that yields amazing results.
Best Churros during Barcelona trip
Our last culinary highlight in the capital of Catalunya was an evening of churros y chocolate. There are numerous places to get them (all over the country in fact) but I had a specific destination in mind. We love watching food & travel shows as a family and had seen several different episodes of a number of series in preparation for this trip.
Granja Viader in Barcelona
In episode 5 of the PBS series “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having” Phil Rosenthal travels to different cities and samples food. In his visit to Barcelona he spends considerable time with Albert Adrià. I had hoped to have a meal in one of Albert’s (note the use of the first name – wishful thinking) local restaurants, the circus-themed Tickets. Alas despite trying to make reservations two months prior to departure we were not able to fit it in.
So I had to at least visit Granja Viader where Albert takes Phil for churros y chocolate. Located just off the tourist trail between the Ramblas and the Raval neighborhood, a plaque outside proclaims Graja Viader a historical establishment. Walking through the door feels like stepping back in time, and even Pablo Picasso is said to have relaxed at the marble tables with a cup of thick hot chocolate.
Granja Viader has been open since 1870
First opened as a dairy in 1870, the business has been in the same family for five generations. You can read more about their story here: http://www.granjaviader.cat/ There are all kinds of sandwiches and desserts available, but I plead with you to try the churros & chocolate; crispy hot fried dough strips and the cup of thick, dark, not-too-sweet chocolate to dip them in. The perfect ending to our last evening in Barcelona.
What to Drink in Barcelona
Luckily the next day we were flying to Granada in the mid-afternoon, so we had time for more tapas and cold beverages. This was when my husband had an epiphany; when paying the bill, he realized that his frosty mug of beer was cheaper than our daughter’s lemon soda. And so began his own love affair with Spain!
A little something about the Author:
Martha Cox-Stavros is endlessly curious about the people, places, and food of the world. She has two decades of language teaching under her belt and is excited to be starting her 5th year teaching Spanish in a small public school in Massachusetts. Martha loves to grow, cook, and eat food. She spends most of the winter counting down to when she can start planting. In addition to travel and food Martha enjoys practicing yoga, singing, and working in the garden. But most of all she loves living with her husband and two teen daughters (and two cats, two birds, and a couple of fish) on beautiful Cape Ann, Massachusetts.
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