First stop was a quick peek into the Museu de la Xocolata (Chocolate Museum). Jen had been withstanding the siren song of the place for a couple weeks now, as it was on our way into the Barri Gòtic. And you might recall from an earlier post that the apartment we’d rented with our friends (the “Edgars”) earlier on the trip was called “The Chocolate Apartment,” a reference, I suspect, to its proximity to this museum.
Steves’ guidebook refers to the museum as mostly a venue for their remarkably ornate chocolate sculptures, many of which begin as store-window displays for Easter or Christmas, so we just ogled the chocolates for sale and vowed to stop on the way home to buy some.
Jen thought maybe we could enjoy some chocolate-con-churros here, but they only sell cups of the warm chocolate, no churros. Didn’t seem to bother this customer, who knew the counter salesperson, and we suspected that spooning the rich dark elixir was a daily ritual for him.
A view back down Carrer de l’Argenteria toward Santa Maria del Mar. The brilliant sun streams into the squares and with the right angles, down the streets of the old town, beautifully highlighting churches and other buildings.
We stopped into the Viceroy’s Palace, a 16th century building which currently serves as the archives of the Crown of Aragon. Among them is the 1491 Santa Fe Capitulations, a contract between Columbus and the monarchs about his upcoming sea voyage, and then later his contract for his share of the spoils of the new world. Ironically, Columbus’ discovery of new trade routes made Barcelona’s port less important, and soon the royals moved elsewhere, leading to a long decline for Barcelona’s economy and growth. We got a kick out the ending phrase for several of the paragraphs: “It pleases Their Highnesses…” (We began to use the phrase for each other’s preferred activities during this last day of touring.)
We stopped back into the Boqueria once more, even though we already had reservations for lunch elsewhere, just to check out the great variety of fish and meats, hoping to remember the names of all the different kinds of seafoods. Pinotxo’s was packed as usual. We even swung by Quim’s, and wouldn’t you know it, just as we got there, two seats opened up at the counter. But we held off for now.
We headed south from the market, passing through Plaça Reial again, and then to La Mercè church, which we had passed before, but it had never been open.
One of the most popular churches in the town, it houses the Virgin de La Mercè (Our Lady of Mercy), the patron saint of the city, who legend has it, freed the town from a plague of locusts in 1637, and is honored annually by the Mercè festival (last week). City sports teams (e.g. soccer team Barça) customarily sing hymns of gratitude here after championship victories.
La Mercè church is a bit too baroque for our taste, but it has a very interesting altar element. You see that brightly lit rectangle behind the altar?Well, standing there looking up at it, I suddenly saw several people up there, walking right past the seated statue of the Virgin Mary.Jen didn’t see it, didn’t believe me at first, and thought I was either “having a vision,” or just had low-blood sugar.
Still having a little time before our lunch reservation, we found ourselves in what must have been the baggage store district, and Jen bought a new red-and-black backpack (made by “Benzi” — in Spain, the saleswoman assured us). This part of town, close to the harbor, must have at one time included a market area. There were many old — some tilting — columns, supporting ancient wooden beams.
Also loved the fun tilework on the underside of many of the Barcelona balconies.
Having built up an appetite, we were excited to finally return to El Passadís del Pep. Back in 2004, we had had a wonderful lunch here, and were looking forward to a repeat performance. Down a narrow passageway just off Pla de Palau, Passadís del Pep is one of those places where they will give you a wine list, but they don’t bring you a menu — they just bring you food, plate after luscious plate of it.
Chef Joan Manubens is the brother of “Pep,” the guy who runs the famous Cal Pep tapas restaurant a few blocks away. Joan started the restaurant 30 years ago with the help of his brother and their mother, Pilar. This is the old (2004) picture we had of Joan and Vicente. We asked the two old pros to repeat their pose. Older, but better!
Young Russians at the table behind Dave objected to their first seats and changed tables to a much larger one, rarely took eyes from cell phones, ordered bottles of vodka, ate bananas they’d brought, and had the staff rolling their eyes with their very specific menu demands. On the plus side for the restaurant, when we empathized with our waiter, we learned that they had ordered a 500Euro bottle of wine.
This eternal torch, the Monument of Catalan Independence, honors the 300-year old massacre of Catalan patriots by Bourbon King Philip V (ruling from Madrid), after a 14 month siege of the city ending on September 11th, 1714. From that day, the king outlawed Catalan language, culture, and institutions, including universities, and demolished 20 percent of the homes in the nearby fishermen’s quarter to build the Citadel (where Parc de la Ciutadela now stands) to enforce his rule. Built by forced Catalan labor, and taxes, Philip’s Citadel was at that time the largest fortress in Europe. Catalans still say when heading to the toilet, “I’m going to Philip’s house.”
Jen’s Xoco-alarm ringing, we headed back to the Museu de Xocolat. Inside the same building was a very interesting photography exhibit on post-war Barcelona. The Spanish civil war (1936-39) preceded WWII, and Franco encouraged Hitler to test the latest German warfare technology by bombing parts of Spain — most notably Guernica — to further Franco’s regime.
We spent the evening packing, ready to move on, but with a still-growing list of reasons to return to Barcelona. It pleases Their Highnesses.