The Monument to Alfonso XII in MadridThat’s why we booked the Gotico Brunch Tour with Barcelona Food Tour guide Kaye Arcilla. We wandered around the Gothic Quarter sampling sugar-coated anise-flavored doughnuts called bunyols de quaresma; dunking crispy, freshly fried churros into thick hot chocolate; sipping peppery, first-extraction Spanish olive oils as though they were fine wines; and indulging in Catalan sausage, cheeses, and thinly sliced, ultra-premium jamón ibérico— which tasted like prosciutto but better. As if all that wasn’t enough, we also ate a multicourse, sit-down lunch at Tapeo, which reinvents classic Catalan tapas with dishes like eggplant with honey and grilled octopus with pureed chickpeas. Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter Of course, we didn’t skip all of Spain’s best-known highlights. In Barcelona, we happily got lost in Gaudí’s colorful and surreal confection of a house, Casa Batlló, and visited the Picasso Museum, which vividly illustrates Picasso’s transition from traditional artist to Cubist master. In Madrid, we toured the eye-popping, opulent Royal Palace, and watched, transfixed, as flamenco dancers and guitarists performed on an intimate stage. But we also took Chloe’s museum fatigue into account when we scrapped plans to visit the Prado and ventured far out of town to Faunia instead. In fact, a willingness to be sidetracked served us well. Being in Barcelona on April 23 was an unexpected treat because that’s the day that Catalans take to the streets to celebrate their patron saint, Sant Jordi (or Saint George), who famously slayed a dragon.
Aimless wandering allowed us to stumble upon a farmers’ market in tucked-away Plaça del Pi, where we chatted with local farmers and chefs, and discover a street musician whose haunting Spanish guitar reverberated off the ancient cathedral and the narrow alleyways of the Gothic Quarter after dark. Of course, serendipity is sometimes the result of inconvenience. A taxi strike meant we had to walk from our hotel to the subway station in the rain with all of our luggage and Chloe’s wheelchair in order to catch a train to Madrid. But doing so sparked conversations with helpful and friendly locals whom we otherwise wouldn’t have met. In fact, one of those new friends recommended lunch at the 150-year-old restaurant La Bola in Madrid, where we dined on cocido madrileño, a rich traditional meat-and-chickpea stew that’s cooked for hours in a clay pot. We got the very last table (most of the restaurant was taken up by a private party of locals), and Chloe was gifted with a miniature pot as a souvenir from the waiter. So, no, we didn’t see Sagrada Familia or the Prado Museum or have a guidebook-perfect trip to Spain. Instead, we had a trip that was perfect for us.