Going from the frigid Paris streets to the Mediterranean coast makes for quite a transition. Both the weather and the attitude of Barcelona are much more temperate. After arriving late yesterday evening, we asked our hotel concierge if he knew of a good restaurant close by. He said, "Yes, go outside, make a left, then go into the first place that looks good." I almost laughed out loud. He wasn't being a jerk, but he wasn't kidding either. The idea of listing the best restaurants in the neighborhood isn't something the locals are interested in doing. Yelp? Please. Don't embarrass yourself in Spain.
We walked through the narrow and brooding alleyways of the Gothic Quarter until we happened upon a wonderful tapas spot and squeezed our way into the bar. "Hay una lista de las bebidas?" asked my wife, hoping to glance at a drink menu. "No," said the waitress. "What kind of beer do you have?" I asked, speaking Spanish with a French accent and tripping over all my words. My brain had yet to make the switch. "The kind that comes out of the tap," she answered. Again, no trace of sarcasm, but really making it clear she had no interest in the details either. My wife ordered a glass of cava. What kind? The kind they had in the fridge. I ended up with a glass of vermouth. Which vermouth? The dry one. "We have a sweet one, too," our bartender said, giving me the choice. "Esta bien," I said.
This is my kind of place. Barcelona is drinking to drink. Pretense with your food and alcohol is absolutely not allowed and will be dealt with quickly and curtly.
After a week in Paris we said to ourselves, "I've never been to Spain. Have you? No? We've never been to Spain." How hard can it be to get a train ticket to Barcelona? Not very hard, it seems. Six hours later (after non-stop beers and gin and tonics in the bar cart) here we are drinking cava and dry vermouth in the Gothic District, nibbling on olives from the bar. I wasn't planning on taking photos tonight, but I couldn't help snap a few iPhone shots.
Compared to Paris everything in Barcelona is a flat-out bargain. Everything on this table cost as much as one glass of Champagne at a nice restaurant on St. Germain Boulevard. No joke. This place is just dangerous, both for my cholesterol and my liver. More thervetha please.
The Latin Quarter of Paris is known for its student life, long streets full of tiny bistros, and its lovely open air market on the Rue Mouffetard, which Hemingway joyfully referred to in his memoir A Moveable Feast. We were definitely in the mood for a moveable feast ourselves, hoping to snack our way from the 5th back to our hotel.
Cheese please. And some Chablis. Actually, while you're at it, just bring us the bottle.
Getting old in Paris means you only get better looking. The older ladies on the streets of the 5th were bringing it, putting the young university kids to shame.
Bringing it. Furs, colors, shoes, baguette.
Time to refresh. From now on when I order Campari out I want my own private little ice bucket and my own canister of spritzer. A man could get absolutely spoiled here.
I have been to a lot of department stores in my life. San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York, Chicago, Miami, London, Berlin, Munich, Rome, Venice, Florence, Stockholm, Taipei, Tokyo, you name it. Because I love to shop, I've been to a mall in many a major city all over the world. That being said, there is no store I have ever visited that even comes close to the Galeries Lafayette on Haussmann Boulevard in Paris; not in sheer beauty, design, variety, selection, grace, elegance, price—not on any level. This is the great shopping experience the world has to offer, in my opinion, and the view of Paris from the roof is even better than from the Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre. Just look at it!! Are you kidding me?
Don't care about men's or women's fashion? Don't worry. Just go across the street to the Lafayette building dedicated almost entirely to food. I always thought the KaDeWe building in Berlin had a stunning selection of gourmet food, but the Galerie in Paris just destroys it. Three floors of nothing but food products from all over the world. Right when you walk in there's a Petrossian counter and mini-restaurant. I looked at my wife and said, "Why not?" When isn't it a good time for caviar?
Most of the producer counters have little tables set up along side so you can do a little dégustation while you're perusing the products. Considering a tin of the high-end Petrossian stuff runs a whopping 1200 Euros per canister, it's nice to have the option of ordering a small sampling. We both got the French caviar plate, served with picked veggies, romaine with dressing, bolied potatoes, crepes, and 12.5 grams of expensive fish eggs with your choice of Champagne or ice cold Russian vodka. My wife did the bubbly, but I did the vodka. That was a first-time combo for me. It does pair wonderfully.
Got an extra 930 Euros to spend on a jar of black truffles? They're here if you want them, just down from the row of hanging Spanish Iberico hams for 650 per leg. It's a veritable wonderland of haute nourriture.