|A story in pictures of the trip.||
Gastronomy Tour of Spain
two more views courtesy of the hotel
that incredible 1000+ ft pool flowing under the glass wall on the far left
Here we are in La Born at the entrance to the Roman fortification. The larger stones on the bottom date back to 1 AD, and are ruins of the original walls. Above the large stones are smaller ones, added during medieval times. To the left are ruins of the aqueduct that supplied water to the people inside. Directly behind me is . . .
a large Picasso mural - one of the rare public displays of his artwork.
The elaborate stained glass entrance to the boqueria market, the oldest food market in Barcelona. It attracts thousands of visitors daily.
The fresh fish and meat stands offer a complete selection of ingredients for any recipe, . . .
and the fresh produce and condiment booths have everything else anyone could need for an incredible meal.
And speaking of incredible meals, this restaurant, Citrus, provided our first meal in Spain.
With Jon Haggis (of Globe Trotter TV, and one of my fellow journalists on the trip) and the Minister of Tourism in front.
L'Orangerie courtesy of the hotel
|April was the month for an
unexpected journey. On the 20th, an old customer called with a culinary
question. She was invited to go to Spain as part of the "Year of
Food, Cuisine and Gastronomy" promotion sponsored by the Spanish
Tourist Office. They wanted her for her travel writing experience, but she
called me to ask if I could bring her up to speed on the food part of the
trip. She knows I write a column for Ulster Publishing, and happened to remember
one in particular, on the Spanish dish, Paella.
All the culinary information I offered her was very well received by the tourism office, and she was set to go on the tour. Unfortunately for her, she became very ill the next day, and had to decline. Since the trip left on the 23rd, this was an extremely last minute cancellation, leaving the tourism office in a bind. She told them of my assistance, and suggested I go as a replacement. I was stunned when they asked me. In fact, I am still in a state of disbelief that it happened at all. It was such an impetuous thing to do, but I accepted. Could you say no to an all expense paid, week-long gastronomy tour of Spain? I couldn't! And therein lies a story.
There were five of us, four New Yorkers and a Miami girl, all but myself experienced international travel writers. We had a representative of the Spanish publicity office in New York accompanying us, a bus driver, and a different guide for each event, or leg of the trip. We were a small group, and quickly became close, so it seemed less like an exhausting tour, and more like a few friends with an unlimited expense account having the time of their lives. At least that's what we told ourselves. It was hard work, but somebody had to do it.
The travel was first class all the way, so the 9 hour plane trip went smoothly. Especially in the new Iberia Airbus A340 600. Maybe you've seen the ads. It has spacious cabins, and seats that recline to almost flat, so sleeping on the overnight flight was possible. Between the Champaign, (or rather the Spanish version of sparkling wine called cava) two full meals, endless wine and cocktails, and an entertainment system that included so many options that none of saw the same movie, or even heard the same music, I managed to squeeze in some shuteye. It was a good thing I did, because after a connecting flight from Madrid, we arrived in Barcelona in the morning with a full day of events planned.
First stop, Gran Hotel La Florida. It is the newest of the David Stein Group of five star hotels, perched atop Mount Tibidabo, one of the two mountains overlooking Barcelona. The hotel is spectacular, with six stories of exquisitely appointed rooms, a full spa, excellent restaurant, and a stainless steel infinity pool that is so big it overflows outside and around the front of the building before it seemingly spills off into the Mediterranean far below. Early the next morning, when the manager graciously opened the pool for me, I would swim under the glass barrier and surface in the chilly 45 degree temperature to watch the daybreak through the rising mist. But for today it was a great place to catch our breath, just barely, before we began the first of six heavily scheduled days of sightseeing and eating.
And that is exactly what it was. Just on the first day we had a bus tour of the modern city, a walking tour of the narrower streets in the Gothic section, a stroll down the treed public thoroughfare of the Ramblas to the incredible boqueria market, and then on to more narrow streets of Old Town, accompanied by a guide steeped in the local history of Barcelona who filled our brains with centuries of information. We saw medieval cathedrals, Roman ruins, and modern art cheek-by-jowl as we strolled mile-after-mile through the beautiful city. The sights, the sounds, and the smells were equally overwhelming, and the people-watching was fantastic. Especially on the Ramblas, where I thought the mimes in outlandish garb were "statues" until one, as Don Quixote in a suit of armor, moved his lance, delighting the crowds with a great photo op of a startled American tourist (me). It was all in good fun, and for a small fee I had my picture taken with him too. Fantastic! Somehow during all this we managed to keep our luncheon date with the Minister of Tourism at a traditional Spanish restaurant called Citrus.
You are probably familiar with the concept of Tapas, those little dishes of bite-sized nibblers in all flavors and colors that Spain is famous for. Well, once we were seated, the waitstaff defied tradition and brought huge plates of Tapas as part of a tasting menu for this popular eatery. We had cod dumplings, Cantabrian Anchovies, ham croquettes, fried vegetables, eggs with string potatoes, fried artichoke, fried squid "a la andaluza" and the most delicious Iberian "acorn" ham (translated as "ham to die for") I've ever eaten. As we finished one plate a new one quickly replaced it, and they were so good I ate as if there were no other courses to be served. But, of course there were! We went on to multiple entrees of fish and pork, and, encouraged by nonstop servings of bread and wine, completed the meal with a single dessert - that is, if you call a generous taste of each of the restaurant's fabled desserts on one plate a single dessert!
Dinner is served very late in Spain -- oh, you're not ready to hear about more food yet? OK. But, if you think about the miles we walked, you'll realize we were ready to eat again when we got back to the hotel. But first - I showered in a room big enough to accommodate an entourage, and dressed in a room that dwarfed it, before walking out onto one of the decks off my suite to view the 180 degree panorama of Barcelona blinking below me in the chilly evening light. At ten I went down to L'Orangerie, chef Daniel Bausa's domain, and the award-winning restaurant for the incredible Gran Hotel La Florida. In keeping with the "Year of Gastronomy" theme, Chef Bausa created a special menu around the food of the month. April was asparagus, May strawberries, and so on. We had asparagus, both green and white, right through to the last course of asparagus flavored ice cream. Since one of the regions we were scheduled to visit is featuring snails in July, I'm glad we were there in April.
Our small group was seated indoors due to the earliness of the season, but the outside terraces around the pool would be inviting on a warm evening, with the twinkling stars, and the city lights far below providing a fabulous backdrop. I had to tear my eyes from the view to admire the restaurant's vaguely oriental decor, very stylish in a minimalist way, with, oddly enough, not an orange tree in site. Oh, but the food was there -- plate after plate of wonderful food! We had spirited presentations, complex flavors, and fantastic wines, all seasoned with the invigorating conversation of my fellow travelers, the hotel public relations representative, and even the hotel owner, who originally hails from Brooklyn. He joined us for a brief toast to the chef, and to the success of our unbelievable trip. After our aperitifs I was exhausted, but sorry to see the evening come to an end.*
It was like that every day, as we toured Catalonia's Costa Brava, or wild coast, with different hotels, different menus and different chefs, all vying to present the most memorable vista, or meal of the entire trip. And you know something? They all succeeded magnificently! That is what makes Spain, and the friendly Spanish people, so great.
So - now you know why the shop was closed and I was unavailable the last week of April. My apologies for disappointing so many customers, but a week of being treated like visiting royalty in five-star hotels, with chefs of international renown preparing an endless succession of nouvelle cuisine recipes using all native Catalan ingredients, was the experience of a lifetime (and then some!!) But now, exhausted and stuffed to the gills, and with a cholesterol count in the stratosphere - I'm baaack!
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