When I was planning summer research in Barcelona, I knew there were two big logistical unknowns I needed to tackle in order to be able to get work done: find childcare in an unfamiliar place and find a livable neighborhood. I looked first on Air BNB through some neighborhoods that were familiar to me when I came here back in 2010 with my husband and older daughter. Most of the Air BnB places were extremely pricey, and I later learned that Barcelona has been in a legal battle with Airbnb about the thousands of apartments being rented without licenses, which locals perceive as a problem because of the transience of the vacation renters and their noisiness. In the month we were in Barcelona, I could see how drastically things had changed since we visited back in 2010. The number of tourists to Barcelona has skyrocketed – an estimated thirty-two million came just last year. 30,000 people per day disembark for the day from cruise ships alone. The collection of pedestrian streets known as Las Ramblas (the name derived from the Arabic word for a dry river bed), is now so crowded you can hardly move. My older daughter, who was two back in 2010, had loved watching the human street statues, but now it seemed like there were fewer of them and they were harder to see amid all the crowds.
Since Air BNB had proved so expensive, I found an apartment to rent for a month through a site for academics, where people who are going on sabbatical put their homes up for rent. I had first done a search on the Internet for childcare options, and randomly through this blog about a family living overseas, I learned about a multilingual daycare for kids in the neighborhood of Poblenou, which also had summer camps. The administration was very responsive when I wrote to them and said they could find places both for my toddler and my nine-year-old, and I used that to narrow my search for apartments in the same neighborhood.
And what a wonderful neighborhood Poblenou was! We had an apartment a five minutes’ walk from the city beach, where there was also a skatepark and the people watching was unparalleled. There are definitely tourists in Poblenou, but not as many as in the other parts of Barcelona, and it felt very livable – Mediterranean ocean breezes, lots of cute shops and restaurants, and great streets for walking. That doesn’t meant the residents of Poblenou are any happier about tourists, as you can see from the many signs that people drape over their balconies complaining about how out-of-control the tourist industry has become. (This is in addition to the many flags we saw for Catalonian independence).
But we tried to be respectful, quiet, and unobtrusive, and since I was doing fieldwork about immigration, I hope that I wasn’t quite in the same category as the tourists, since I was focused mostly on going to non-profits or visiting immigrant neighborhoods where tourists definitely wouldn’t go.
At night, the sun was still up until 9:30 or 10, and I loved going for runs on the beach and walks down the Rambla del Poblenou with my kids. We had our favorite fruit and vegetable markets, great cafes, restaurants, tapas places, and supermarkets, but here are a few I managed to take pictures of. At least every other day, when on the run, we got ourselves Argentinian empanadas at Tio Bigotes, which has several locations throughout Barcelona. They were delicious – more like a calzone than the kinds of empanadas we have everywhere back in Florida – and filled with things like cheese and onion, hummus and corn, and tomato and basil.
Then there was Nabibi, the organic/ecological/largely vegetarian restaurant that actually catered my children’s school lunches every day. They had a fixed price menu del dia that was a delicious way to get back on track with healthy eating if we found ourselves getting in a rut of eating too much delicious bread and tapas.
Witness, for example, these first courses, along with lemon/ginger water: farm eggs scrambled with tomatoes (hard to explain how amazing these were) and gazpacho. Also, they had the most incredible chocolate mousse I have ever tasted, served in a cute little jar, and I meant to go back and beg them for the recipe, but I never got around to it.
I also really liked Sundown Lebanese restaurant on the Rambla Poblenou, where you could eat outside, and which had a delicious kibbe (Syrian bulgur wheat with ground beef torpedoes) and a decent falafel platter (pictured here).
The pizzas were also delicious at Siamoquá, also on the Rambla Poblenou, an Italian place owned and run by an Italian family:
We had so many other favorites… the Chocolate Box for ice cream, the Granier bakery for pao de deus and coffee next to the subway that we’d hop on every morning, Bon Preu supermarket, Santa Gloria bakery, also for breads and coffee… bread was a big theme of the month, especially for breakfast, when I wasn’t eating yogurt with muesli (from the Dia supermarket) and fresh strawberries or blueberries.
There was also a decent Mexican place on Calle Bilbao where we went for my daughter’s ninth birthday… and we liked their nachos so much we decided to just recreate them on our own. “Nacho night” became a much anticipated event, and we ate them on the balcony of the apartment, looking down over the park below. I taught my student SJ how to make them, and we prepared them enough times together that I hope she can make them on her own and think of me.
First we would spread a layer of black beans on the bottom of a baking dish (sautéed onions, garlic, cumin, beans, and water cooked and mashed together), then tortilla chips, then whatever cheeses we could find, melted for about 10-15 minutes in a hot (400?) oven. Once the cheese was melted, we created other treasure lodes of nacho deliciousness: guacamole (mashed avocado with lime juice, salt and cilantro, when we could find it) and salsa (tomatoes with their seeds removed, chopped with a quarter of a chopped onion, lime juice, salt, and cilantro).
I already miss our nacho nights, just as much as I miss strolling down the Rambla Poblenou for all its other culinary and people watching delights. Poblenou is under my skin now, and I hope when I go back that it won’t have met the same fate as the Ramblas in the center of Barcelona – so overcrowded that it has expelled all sense of local sociability. Poblenou, I miss you, et trobo a faltar!