21 December 2011

Barcelona


We are very fortunate to have close friends living in Barcelona and get to go there very often. I am frequently asked where to go and what to do there so here they are just a few personal favourites.... 

Every visitor has to start with a wander along the Ramblas it's very touristy but has a buzz and lots of entertaining buskers and the bird market but beware pickpockets !! Pay homage at the high temple of all that is best in Catalan produce, the famous Boqueria Market. If you're peckish which you will be after surveying the dazzling array of foods on offer try the snacks at Pinochio. Further along the Ramblas is Palau Guell a Gaudi palace recently reopened after a major restoration and at the end of the Ramblas the Maritime Museum is housed in a beautiful range of medieval workshops has a lovely restaurant with daily specials. 

Wander around the Gothic Quarter El Borne - it's achingly trendy! Don't miss the Picasso Museum off Calle Montcada and Santa Maria del Mar church Barcelona's XIV Century Gothic gem. Nearby you can pop into a Basque tapas bar for "pinxos" tapas where they charge by the number of cocktail sticks you have gathered at the end. There's a good one, if a bit touristy on Calle Argenteria alternatively you can lunch at the Hotel Neri a beautiful old courtyard house. On the other side of the Ramblas Raval is full of ethnic shops and despite drastic regeneration projects is still a lot more edgy. Spot the ladies of the night at all times of the day. 

Out of the tangled knot of the medieval city wander through the elegent and airy Example, the nineteenth century grid iron urban extension divided by the Passeig de Gracia - don't miss the Gaudi buildings, Casa Batllo and La Pedrera. Both have apartments open to the public which are fascinating. There are great rooftop views and iconic Gaudi chimney pots on the Padrera. There are also always free exhibitions at the Caixa in the Pedrera. Go into the nearby Vincon shop which again has fantastic modernista interiors and see especially the fireplace on the first floor ! The other Gaudi  not to be missed sights are of course La Sagrada Familia still under construction, the nave is now finished and pretty impressive (you can buy timed tickets from Servi Caixa on line and skip the queues!) Park Guell, his brave but ultimately unsuccessful attempt at landscaping and town planning and the Ciutadella Parc built for the 1888 Exhibition where he worked on the fountains when very young and before he developed his distinctive style. This is my favourite park it's full of atmosphere! I particularly love the old hot houses beside the Geological Museum. At the top of Passeig de Gracia pop into the Casa Fuster Bar for a quick refreshment! It's another breathtaking Modernista building. Modernista is a sort of Spanish Art Noveau / Arts and Crafts style popular at turn of 20C. If you like it then see what's on at the Palau de la Musica and try for tickets or just have a look around, there are tours, it's a fantastic Modernista Concert Hall off Via Laietana and very Important in the story of Catalan cultural revival and nationalism.

For some fresh air spend the day on Montjuic. Take the cable car from the harbour or start at the Plaza Espanya dominated by the Montjuic Catalan National Museum a cultural Palace built for the 1929 Exhibition.  Don't miss the iconic Mies van der Rohe  pavilion so beautifully serene and moderne! A Bauhaus triumph packed up and lost for many years! In the evening the "Font Magica"  are wonderfully entertaining - they're kitsch but charming! Nearby The Caixa Forum Exhibitions are free in the Casamora a beautiful old and splendidly converted textile factory. 


Also on  Montjuic you can see Calatrava's sculptural telephone mast and the site of the 1992 Summer Olympic Stadium which did so much to put Barcelona on the map. There are fantastic views everywhere you look. Further along is the Fundacio Miro, lunch at the restaurant there (Book in advance). 

Tibidabo is the name given to the other range of hills which overlook the city and well worth another day! The views are absolutely spectacular!  Tibi dabo - Latin "to thee I give" is what the devil allegedly said to Jesus Christ in the desert in a failed attempt to tempt him! You can pop into the Hotel Florida for cocktails on the terrace or visit the Tibidabo fun fair, it boasts the second oldest Ferris wheel in Europe after the one in Vienna featured in "The Third Man"  Take the historic tram and funicular which runs at the weekend. Climb to the top of the church tower nearby for spectacular 360 degree views over the surrounding countryside. Speaking of Vienna there is a wonderful Viennese style Coffee House beside the fair. 

On a Sunday afternoon everyone heads to the harbour front at Barceloneta. There's a small market and many many restaurants. Continue to the end for Cocktails at the rooftop bar in Hotel W. You need to  dress smart No sandles! but they do Excellent Mojitos - ask for a Dirty Argentinian! This is the European flag ship hotel of this chain and is an iconic sail like building built out into the sea at the end of the harbour.

If all that hasn't exhausted you try your luck at haggling in Encants flea market where there are a few interesting antique / brocante shops around. Get the tram or Metro to Glories and follow the crowds but if it's too warm and the heat is getting to you head to the beaches at Marbella for a dip instead - no need to bring swimsuits! 

Getting around on foot is easy or you can sign up to the Bicing bicycle hire system. Taxis are cheap, friendly and numerous.  Say Catalan 'Bon dia' as a greeting and they'll be even more friendly. Alternatively you can buy a 10 journey "carnet" T-10 ticket at any metro station its the best value and works on buses as well. The metro service is very efficient and air conditioned but when you land take the aerobus from right outside  the airport terminals to Plaza Catalunya via the plaza Espanya it costs a fraction of the taxi fare!

Oh and before you go read Irish author Colm Toibin's account of history and life in the Catalan Capital  "Homage to Barcelona" It will help give you a real feel for the city and it's people.

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