My Search for Bagels in BCN

Each morning, by 7, there would be a line out the door of the bakery across the street. Forn de Pan. People would be rubbing their eyes and skimming La Vanguardia for whatever scandal the king was getting into. The customers would walk out with bags of baguettes or pastries for breakfast. Bars would turn their lights back on around the same time. The usuals would pop on in and order an espresso and talk about how they slept, over a plate of eggs and red sausage and baked beans.

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That seemed to be the only option for breakfast throughout Barcelona. Really sweet. Like a dessert. Or really salty. Like a dinner. There didn’t seem to be an inbetween.

My morning routine palate started to miss the treat of those bagels my mom would drive an hour away to buy. Where they had lines as long as those for the croissants across the street. Where were the bagels in Barcelona? Any small bakery I came across, I stopped in and browsed. I’d take my time and hold up whatever line there was. I’d walk out with a chocolate croissant.

Even my boyfriend who was abroad with me was searching around. He lived on the other side of the city. His own grocery store. His own local bakery with a line out the door. Even the bars that opened for breakfast didn’t have anything on the menu.

Our search couldn’t stop. Each and every day we continued the search, leaving early for class and wandering around finding new shops to explore.

UAB Sant Pau Campus Interior at Guinardó metro stop

UAB Sant Pau Campus Interior at Guinardó metro stop

Our satellite campuses were on the yellow line. One was at Guinardó. There was a mini mart with avocados and other fresh vegetables and fruits in plastic crates. The back had a wall of prepackaged bread like Pepperidge Farm, Sara Lee or Wonder Bread. But no bagels in a plastic sleeve.

Further down the yellow line, off of Girona, there was a café next door to our other campus. All the other students went there for coffee and crowded the shop because of its convenience. There was a large island in the middle of the café with baskets spread around filled with assorted baked goods. But only pastries and loafs of hard crusted breads that could beat like a weapon. We left with a coffee and walked back to the metro stop, heading home in defeat.

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We soon found advertisements of Dunkin Donuts. Or Dunkin Coffee as it’s known there. The ad had a large cup of coffee with the logo and a bagel, stuffed tight with cream cheese, right on a poster down in the subway. Conveniently placed, there was a Dunkin Coffee at the Universitat cross over from the red to purple line underground. We eyed up the stand. The shelves were covered in donuts. We asked for bagels. We explained we saw an advertisement. Dunkin Donuts was a staple of my bagel diet back home in the United States. But I should remember, this was Dunkin Coffee. And Dunkin Coffee does not carry bagels. Great advertising. We got on the yellow line and made our way to the Girona campus.

Every day the teenage students that went to school nearby would stand outside in a large pack and skateboard around and share their lunches of chorizo baguette sandwiches wrapped in tin foil. One particular group was crowding just at the foot of the metro entrance in the way of the escalator.

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I could see a girl head inside the store that they were also crowding around on their lunch break. She came back out with a coffee and a baguette. We never noticed the bakery, every day on our way to class. The sign up top in yellow capital letters read FORN DE PA PASTISSERIA. We put out hands up to the glass to cover the glare and looked in like children at Christmas eyeing toys.

Baskets were filled with assorted breads, just like the café down the street by class. But there, in a basket filled to the top, were the holey rolls that we craved to put in a toaster and brown to the point of being a crouton. We opened the door fast almost hitting one of the teenagers crowded around. A little woman behind the counter poked her head out and asked what we wanted. We pointed to the basket of bagels. We said we wanted them all. She went over to basket and again asked how many. We looked her straight in the eyes. All of them. Every one.

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            We ignored the fact we had class, already late, and prepared to eat bagels. We took the metro back to my apartment. Went upstairs and cut the first one in half and placed it in the oven to toast. It came out brown and sounded crusty, ready to break. I got out a butter knife. And realized we had no cream cheese.

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Souvenirs to Bring Back Home from Barcelona

Catalan Cava

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Similar to French Champagne, but generally cheaper, the most well known brands of Cava are Freixenet and Codorniu. From Barcelona, there are a variety of wine and cava day tours you can choose from online if that is that type of thing that interests you.

Barça Gear

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Jerseys, socks, shorts, hats, bags. You name it, you can buy it with the FC Barcelona logo on it. Barça gear makes the perfect gift for the soccer fan, or just general sports fan in your life. If you’re not really into wearing sports paraphernalia, like me, you can always try to score tickets to the big game and keep your tickets as a memento. If that’s not enough, check out the FC Barcelona Museum located next to Camp Nou.

Unique Holiday Paraphernalia

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The elfish looking thing pictured above is the Caga Tío (Cacka-tee-oh), translates to “poo log” and I guess can be considered the Catalan equivalent to Santa Claus. The idea behind the Caga Tío is kind of long and complicated, so to make it short the log is kept by the children of the household throughout December. They hit it with a stick and sing to it so that it will defecate Christmas presents. Sounds fun, right?

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The Queen on her throne, if you will, is another holiday tradition referred to as caganer (as if one poop reference wasn’t enough for one holiday). These porcelain poopers come in many forms, from the more traditional peasant to the Queen of England or Obama. They place these somewhere in the nativity scene for the children to find (maybe pooping in the manger?). It’s seen, though, as a sign of good luck rather than of disrespect to any certain religion.

Camper Brand Shoes

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Camper shoes are pretty cool. I had never heard of them or seen them until visiting Barcelona and, in fact, I’m not really sure if they’re considered cool in Barcelona. What I do know is that, whether they’re considered cool or not, they must be pretty comfortable or something because they are literally everywhere in the city. And even though I only have women’s shoes pictured they make shoes for men too!

Porró

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Porrons are glass wine pitchers that, to me at least, kind of look like a mix between an Erlenmeyer flask and a watering can. I don’t know too much about their anatomy except that the top can be sealed with some type of cork and the spout is tapered so that the wine will have minimal contact with the outside air. The goal is to get the wine in your mouth and not all over your face like the guy pictured, but whatever works.

Books and Roses

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If you happen to be in Barcelona on April 23rd, you’ll be lucky enough to experience La Diada de Sant Jordi (St George’s Day). It’s celebrated similarly to how we might celebrate Valentine’s Day in the U.S. Thousands of stands line Las Ramblas as well as other streets selling books and roses. Historically men gave women roses and women gave men books, but a mutual exchange of books or roses is also common.

WARNING: Don’t Buy The Sombreros!

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If you visit Barcelona, the chances are that you will walk down the famous Ramblas as least once. Not only is this crowded webbing of streets creeping with pickpockets, but it’s also lined with vendors that sell some really weird or just generally crappy stuff. Most of them sell things like Gaudí magnets, which is fine if you’re, say, a magnet collector, but the most annoying thing that they sell on Las Ramblas are the SOMBREROS. Like think about it. Not only are sombreros not Catalan, they’re not Spanish either. They’re a Mexican hat and Barcelona isn’t anywhere near Mexico. So, don’t be the fool walking down Las Ramblas in a sombrero.

So let me know…What do you think are the best souvenirs/gifts from Barcelona?

The Definitive Ranking of Barcelona’s Grocery Stores

7. Dia

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Dia kind of reminds me of a gas station convenience store in that it’s fine to grab a candy bar and a beer there, but you probably want to head to a bigger market for your eggs, milk, cheese, etc. Undoubtedly the cheapest on the list, you get what you pay for with Dia.

6. Carrefour

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I don’t know what I have against Carrefour. Coming from the US, you’d think I’d love it since it’s practically a Super Walmart, but I don’t know it just doesn’t seem to fit.

5. Suma 

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Some might argue that Suma and Carrefour should be switched on this list, but I have  developed a soft spot for Suma given that I lived above one for 6 months. Similar to 7/11 in the US, I spent many nights grabbing a bag of these bad boys on my way back from night class from my friendly Suma cashier:

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4. Mercadona

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I went to school near a Mercadona and as obnoxious as it was to lug my groceries on the metro, I loved this place because it had like a giant conveyor belt that transported you between floors and it played this crazy jingle on repeat:

3. Bonpreu

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Something always seemed so fancy about Bonpreu… like even the name. It was just like a really bougie Mercadona. Each Bonpreu has two separate entrances: one for regular shopping and one for their fancy bakery. They even have a gluten free section, so I guess this place is comparable to a Wegmans and I like Wegmans.

2. El Corte Inglés

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So what you’re looking at is a department store with I think 7 stories. Pretty much every floor sells something different and in the basement is an amazing grocery store. It’s pretty pricey, but it also has an international foods section, pretty upscale meats and cheeses, and other impressive options.

1. Mercat de La Boqueria

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It would probably be a crime not to put this at #1. Although it’s closed on sundays, this huge public market off of Las Ramblas has an extremely diverse selection of fresh foods that you will have trouble finding elsewhere. I had my first experience with dragon fruit here!

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Montaditos

I happened to live close to the center of the city. Right outside Plaça Catalunya. There were all kinds of shopping options at that main hub. They were all really fancy and expensive and I rarely bought anything. There were also plenty of places to eat. Candy stores and themed restaurants and bars dedicated to ham or tapas. My favorite were the patatas bravas. A heaping pile of potato squares or wedges covered in a spicy mayo sauce. They always came out with tiny plastic forks, about the size of sample spoons at ice cream shops. You could always take your food and eat out in the streets. There would be tents, covered if it rained, and large heaters stood like guards set up in the corners of the tent. 

                  I would always stop at this one little shop on Rambla de Catalunya. It was a franchise that sold a variety of little sandwiches. Actually, they sold 100 different variations of these little sandwiches. There’s apparently one of these 100 Montaditos in the DC area.

                  While in Barcelona, and you would eat outside on the street, gypsies and beggars would often pass you by. There’s a high unemployment rate in Spain. There would be a homeless person on about every block when you walked on the street. They held out a can and shook it but usually sat in silence. They might have a sign that explained their situation. But they were more in your face on the metro, or when you were eating.

                  They were all so tan sitting in the sun all day. They looked blistered and sick, and it felt like I was recognized each day on my way to class. It felt like I was the only one they looked at.

                  “Why aren’t you helping me?” I felt bad.

                  One girl in particular I still always think about. She was young. She didn’t even look 18. She was small and close to the ground. She had an old wireless piano that had a faded sound and she crouched on the ground, hunched over to press the buttons and sing along. Her voice was out of key and she yelled rather than searching for a tune. You’d walk by and she would sing to you. Angry and scared.

                  Alongside her every day was her dog. He was skinny like the girl and slept next to her. He never barked. He was only ever cuddled up against the sidewalk, trying to find some shade. They were always outside 100 Montaditos. She must still be there today.

                  She had a fanny pack and would walk her dog up and down Rambla de Catalunya. She looked so alone. She was too young.

                  Everyone that passed would try and avoid her, walking around her piano. Before I left for the US, I stopped to give her my change after getting lunch. She stopped playing her piano for a moment. The dog looked up from his sleep. She didn’t look at me. Only counted the money and ran inside the sandwich shop to see what she could buy:


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On the concrete, the gypsy girl’s dog panted, cooking in the Barça street heat, asleep beside an empty bowl. Her feet calloused when she danced in the eating tents. She sang in tongues and I checked for my wallet. They muffled my order over the speakers. After checking my ticket I was handed my sandwiches inside at the counter and settled back in my seat with a beer to cool off. The gypsy now blanketed her dog. He panted dryer. Her skin glazed sweat, the sun kiln-hot. She sat up. The dog crawled toward her lap. She smoothed its hair in the wrong direction. My beer foamed out its head when she stood again for another bout of dancing and singing. She took a chair from my table and slapped its wired back to drum. Others around were talking about her. I looked at her white eyes looking back. She was as small as my children with those hands. She kept clashing the chair back and chanting until I stood up with my tray. I finished my beer. Her mouth opened as if to bite but instead her dog barked at the passing man brave enough to leave her a bag of sandwiches. She tore past tin foil. She backed against the sidewalk wall and threw her dog a slice of meat. He ate it raw and licked the ground where it had laid.

Mes Que Un Club

One thing that always amazed me about the city was the fútbol club with the likes of Messi, crazy fans in blue and red, and Camp Nou stadium that boomed often. The first time I went, Barça scored three times in about five minutes. It was an amazing display of skill, but the fans in the stadium also lit up my experience with loud chants and horns and flags in numbers. Even outside the stadium in the streets and in bars was there just as much support. It was a different feeling, but everyone had their back for the team and felt like they had some part in a win or a loss:


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Cannon blares quake from the apartment rooftop as the winning goal gets scored. Outside Barcelona, underneath the orange street light of the hot-night city, the beer begins to flow from the taps, faster than the water beneath in the sewage system. The bar floors bend as the home crowd celebrates, pounding up and down with their chanting feet. They sing in pride as one bartender hugs his son, cries in his wet and worked apron.

The old men stand up with their canes and shake hands, congratulating each other with smiles. The aged and tired men then open up to chug the rest of their beers, pouring fast like a tap, and walk home together in sidewalk silence. On the street, they huddle under the corner lights as if planning an attack on the goal before the start of the half, but they plan on whose apartment they will stop by first.

When they break and go into their upstairs like a sub out for play, it is time to prep for sleep with their wives who have waited up with coffee to hear. Their wives smile and kiss them on the forehead like a quick kick at the net before they dream again about the past feeling of a winning power over rival Madrid, now when a whole city shared with them the glory and honor of history made that day.

La Diada

September 11th is much different in Barcelona than in the U.S. 300 years ago, this past Thursday, the country of Catalonia lost its independence to Spain. Every year, throughout the region of Catalonia they celebrate their lost country in hopes of independence. This year brought the biggest celebration, with around 2 million gathering in the streets of Barcelona, to promote a notion to vote for independence, like the issue going on in Scotland. It was even recognized as a world record. But I could not be there. The people and patriotism of Catalonia, when I went in 2013, were so amazing to witness. I have a lot of respect for their goals and support their mission toward independence:


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This year my father says I will be able to vote. He tells me this as he wraps me in a flag and holds me tight through the crowds. There is too much red and yellow around to move. On Gran Via we are stuck by Universitat. The rest of the city meets with us to celebrate our independent dream. Over two million, my father says, are here with us. The flags of Catalonia fly up toward the trees and sway hard in the wind, reaching for the apartment balconies. There is no traffic today. The crowds tunnel throughout this street and intersect at Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes, continuing up Diagonal. It is a giant red and yellow stripped V across the city. It’s calling for our vote. We call it Via Catalana. We stand and protest for our country waiting to gain our independence. It’s been 300 years. This year, if the plan passes, my first vote could be for our independence. We want that vote. We want our country back, my father tells me each night. All in the crowd start to sing and chant out the national anthem, pushing away the protestors in support of a greater Spain. We push through the crowds and see bakery vendors with red and yellow cakes. My father buys me one and tells me to eat it proudly. My grandmother trudges along slowly behind us against a walker. She prays to herself, waiting to see a separate Catalan nation herself. She is old and has to stop, turning her walker into a chair. I wait with her in the shade of a flag above us. I offer her some cake. She takes a bite and says how sweet it does taste.

Urquinaona

Barcelona has the best metro system around. It was the first time I had ever used public transportation like that, but it was so easy to learn. The trains were always on time. But there was always a crowd of people. Some of them looked like they lived underground, tattered and begging, giving their back story of how their family needs money for food. They would sell lighters and cards. They would get in your personal space and ignore your requests to back away. It was a tight space that you couldn’t escape immediately. It made me think of what would happen if a beggar didn’t stop:


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This man was touching my son. Michael held tighter to my hand and his blue backpack slid down his shoulder. The man was on his knees using a thumb to comb Michael’s hair and the other hand was searching through his pocket. “Euros per gastar-los. Por favor. Deniro!” He was on at the yellow line three stops back and I saw him slipping down the metro cabs. He would sit with women and their groceries, hold their hands and grab at baguettes. His pants were frayed like that beard. One eye was slate gray and lazy aimed now at Michael. I hunched down holding the man’s shoulders and Michael jumped into the corner of the door backing out. “I can give you nothing, hermano. Lo siento.” He sat across my son and threw his head on the floor. “Cigarrillo. Cigarrillo. Encendedor?” I reached inside my pocket, sifted out my pack and rolled the tobacco. I told Michael things were fine and let him lick the paper. I put in the filter, got out a match and held the two in front the man’s nose. The line was stopping at Urquinaona when the doors beeped and stuck open, “Only if you get off, ahora.” He took the cigarette and limped off the car before the last call rang. He looked for the exit and flowed into the crowded current, lighting up on the escalator. I picked up my son when we hit the next tunnel and rested his backpack against my calf. I told him, “We will stop for orange soda and jamón. Do not tell mama.” He held my neck and kissed my cheek saying yes.