Wandering through Barcelona, you never know what you’ll find...
Mercat de la Boqueria
Any stroll up the Ramblas should include a stop into this busy market. Although it sells mostly fruits, vegetables, and raw seafood, the wares are beautifully arranged and a feast for the eyes. Around every one of its twisty corridors is another shop filled with olives, pastries, fish, or fowl. Those whose eyes are bigger than their stomachs can feast on nuts, dried fruits, and candies by the kilo, or indulge in some goat’s milk cheese and fresh-baked bread for an afternoon snack. Don't be intimidated by a lack of Spanish or Catalan - you can accomplish a lot by pointing and smiling. This is one of those "only the locals know about it" kind of places. Most visitors to Barcelona walk right by the entrance, never noticing the teeming horde of native Barcelonians busily shopping for their dinners just steps from one of the most touristy streets in the city.
Passeig de Gracia
I suppose the Passeig de Gracia is an upscale version of Las Ramblas - as the Champs d'Elysee is to the Boulevard St. Michel. The usual pricey subjects such as Armani and Chanel were in attendance, as were what I can only guess are the European equivalents of Banana Republic and the Gap. We stopped in Mango, where I'd done well years ago in Paris, but found that everything was made of stiff-looking polyester. One of Spain's more notable clothing exports, Zara, disappointed also, with collections that seemed to be inspired by the military and by United airlines stewardesses, circa 1976. Occasionally, however, our grim attempt at shopping was pleasantly interrupted by a Modernist-style building, whose outlandish curves and colors outshone any of the curves and patterns we saw on the other pedestrians. The real reason to visit the Passeig de Gracia is the architecture, a topic on which many other guides have already waxed lyrical in other journals.
Sant Jordi's Day and a Glass of Cava
We had the blind luck or misfortune (depending on your perspective) to be in Barcelona on the Diada de Sant Jordi (St. George's day), or Lovers' Day (April 23). Local tradition has it that men must give their beloved a red rose and in return, women buy their man a book – although political correctness has set in over the years, making it acceptable, though less common, for women to give roses and vice versa. All day long, the streets are crowded with vendors selling individual roses in fancy wrappers, and tables overflowing with used or new books. This ends up being a very bad day to be looking for English-language books to read on the plane home, as we were. However, we stumbled upon a piece of Barcelona life that most tourists probably miss altogether, and it was fun to be given cava and roses while waiting on an endless bookstore line!
Cava, if you're curious, is the local equivalent of champagne, although it technically can't be labeled as champagne because it doesn't come from the Champagne region of France. Like so many other sparkling wines, it suffers from an inferiority complex that the local tourist board tries hard to conquer through canny advertising and low prices. The Penedes region, north of Barcelona, produces the best varieties, and you’ve probably even heard of Freixenet, the Rolls Royce of cavas.