Monday, 1 February 2010

Brilliant Barcelona!

One of the places that continued to be mentioned as a place we must visit was the Spanish city of Barcelona. From Paris it’s an overnight run by train, which we boarded with much anticipation at 8.00pm. Being quite an old train, the sleeper could have been a little more comfortable, but we eventually arrive safely in Barcelona at 8.30 am. Despite its size the city was relatively quiet and an over night down pour had left the streets glistening as the sun broke through for a new day. This was considerably different from the grey skies and cold days we had only yesterday left behind in Paris.

 We walked to our hotel, which was nicely positioned on the most popular street in town, Las Ramblas. From here we would later enjoy all of the daily action of this wide and leafy boulevard, with its numerous souvenir stalls and plenty of street performers (well, if you can call standing like a statue a performance). These interesting characters seemed to be positioned every few metres and came in all forms … everything from Edward Scissorhands through to a man disguised as a human pot plant! Each seemed to have a steady stream of tourists eager to have their photograph taken alongside them, for a small donation of course. In any case, it all seemed to add to the relaxed and happy nature of Las Ramblas, which made it such an inviting place and with Sangria in hand, it was certainly a great place for us to soak up the atmosphere of this bustling city.

As with most cities we visit, Jules is always keen to seek out the best places for food and it wasn’t too long before we found ourselves in the local market (Mercat de La Boqueria) with its delicious assortment of fresh produce, much of which would find its way into the many surrounding tapas bars, which we also thought was our culinary duty to explore. Back on the streets, we marveled at the range of interesting architecture that can be experienced around every corner. Of course the famous Gaudi buildings are legendary, but there are also some wonderful architectural delights that reveal the cities diverse architectural past. We were amazed to discover that Barcelona has its very own Arc de Triomf, which is far less formal than the one in Paris, but no less impressive. A favorite area was Barri Gotic, which is the centre of the old city of Barcelona and is a wonderful labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets and tall medieval buildings. This is the Gothic quarter of the city with plenty of charm and character. On one of the days we were there, a cool wind was sweeping through so we headed to the nearby Placa Reial, which would provide a warm and sheltered haven. The square is like a little piece of paradise with it’s palm trees and ornate street lamps, all surrounded by a beautiful arched façade … simply a perfect place to sit in one of the cafés, sip a coffee and sketch, which is exactly what we did!

Over the years, Barcelona has been the venue for some notable world events. The 1992 Summer Olympics certainly provided the city with a number of modern structures and stadiums as well as a wonderfully clean and efficient underground train system. This enabled us to move easily around the city and we even went as far a field as to visit Montserrat in the rugged mountains surrounding Barcelona. Earlier events such as the World Exposition of 1923 had also created a number of significant landmarks. From Placa Espanya we ventured passed two large and distinctive towers to view what remains from the event. For me, the Barcelona Pavilion by Mies Van Der Rohe was a building I had really wanted to see and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The building was originally part of the German section of the exhibition and represented new modernist (led by the Bauhaus) developments in architecture. Over 80 years after the event, it still remains one of the world’s greatest and most influential buildings with it attention to minimalism and stylistic purity. While the Spanish Pavilion is far more traditional, it still exists and was designed to represent regional styles of the period. Today it provides an important centre for local arts and crafts, with many practitioners working directly on sight and we particularly enjoyed wandering around and viewing the artists at work in their studio and picking up the odd piece.

Our time in Barcelona passed so quickly and we could well understand why so many people had recommended this city to us. The local Catalonians had been so welcoming and despite it’s size, we had found it to be a very relaxed metropolis, with so much to offer … and we had only begun to scratch the surface! It remains one of our favorite cities and our voices are certainly added to the chorus of people who continue to sing its praises.

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