In a world where everything is fairly routine, out-of-the-ordinary experiences are the sparks that brighten your life and keep you going. These occurrences are unplanned yet delightful surprises. I happened upon one of these ‘sparks’ in recent weeks.
When we travel we plan reasonable sight-seeing options while still leaving time for relaxation and the possibility of out-of-the-ordinary encounters. We didn’t know it at the time but on our fourth day in Barcelona, Spain we would be surprised with one of these experiences.
The day before we went to the Picasso Museum in the Gothic Quarter, which looks more like the ‘Europe’ that North Americans imagine, complete with many historic buildings. The old narrow cobblestone alleyways darkened by lofty stone apartments add to the ‘gothic’ vibe. It was an area that we had to explore in more detail. So we returned to the Gothic Quarter the following day.Read more: When Out-of-the-Ordinary…
As we wandered up and down the cobblestone alleyways we eventually came to an expansive square surrounded by restaurants, boutiques and gelato shops (yum!). Our taste buds reminded us that it’s about lunchtime. That’s where the daily search for a restaurant began. Experience has taught us not to eat at restaurants close to popular tourist attractions. They are usually pricey and the food is nothing special. When looking for a restaurant you must choose one where people are eating, especially locals. It’s also a good idea to review the menu both for options and price (we’re pretty thrifty). This can be quite the endeavour, especially in a new country. We walked for 20 minutes, almost finding a restaurant, but my husband remarked, “Let’s keep looking before we decide on this one,” so off we went.
The twists and bends down the alleyways had us disoriented. At this point I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to find our way home. As we turned down one of the small alleyways darkened by the stone apartments above, multicoloured flags zigzagging across the alley caught my attention. I walked over to an open door where the flags were hung outside. Inside, a tiny bar the size of a bedroom. A local sat underneath a string of colourful tags. A couple of wine barrels acted as tables. “Excuse me, could I see a menu please?” The bartender, a friendly guy passed me a menu with extensive drink options and a few food choices. A quick glance over the menu and I knew that this was our spot. It had local charm and was away from the crowds. It was nice to finally sit down and enjoy some food and drinks.
We ordered local beer and snacks – toast, tomatoes and olives (a nice light lunch, leaving more room for gelato). The bartender served us our drinks and a variety of homemade pickled olives. If I were a food blogger I might be able to break down the distinct taste of each variety. They were delicious none-the-less. While we waited for the rest of our food to come we were caught up in the overall vibe of the bar. The space felt old, like it could tell a few stories. The wood ledges, bar and chairs were dark-stained and had that beer-glazed ‘sticky’ look. It smelled like beer and an aged basement. The washroom locked with a pulley system made from a weighted bottle and string. Everything was pieced together with weathered charm.
When the food finally came the bartender inquired, “Do you know how to eat the toast and tomatoes?”
“Umm, I’m pretty sure I do!” I replied in my mind.
“May I show you how we eat this in Spain?”
“Of course,” I smiled.
“First take the slice of fresh garlic and rub it on the toast. Then take the tomato and squeeze it over the toast letting the seeds and juices drench it. Now drizzle a little olive oil and season it with a pinch of coarse salt. Enjoy!”
I have been eating toast with tomatoes most of my life, but I have never tasted it like this before. It was incredible. A lot of our flavour in North America comes from condiments – bottles of pre-made ‘stuff.’ This was fresh with no preservatives and so flavourful.
Once the last bite was had, the bartender invited us to partake in a Catalonian tradition: “Write a wish on one of the coloured tags and string it with the several hundred others above the bar. Your wish will be burned, and when the smoke rises to the skies…maybe, just maybe, it will come true.” We accepted the invitation, made our wish and hoped it would come true. We left the charming tiny bar refreshed by our experience. We could not have asked for a better one.
Swimming at San Sebastian Beach, Gaudi’s art, and the food were all highlights of our trip, but a quaint bar down a thin and mysterious alleyway led us to the friendly bartender who invited us to experience his culture. We will cherish this simple and unforgettable ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ experience for the rest of our lives (and change the way we eat toast and tomatoes).