There’s some­thing de­light­fully crazy about Barcelona Lots of cul­ture – and we mean the su­per-fun kind

Winnipeg Sun - - ENT-SHOWBIZ - TRACY MCLAUGH­LIN

BARCELONA, Spain — Af­ter spend­ing a wacky, whim­si­cal, fun, sen­sory-over­loaded week in Barcelona, my group of four women de­cide we wanted to find sou­venir T-shirts that said “Barcelona made me do it.”

We could not be­lieve how this city en­er­gized us — and maybe brought out a lit­tle of our she-devils. We rarely rested — and we didn’t want to.

Smack in the city cen­tre

Our jour­ney starts with un­pack­ing our suit­cases at a most ex­cel­lent and el­e­gant place to stay right in the cen­tre of this smok­ing-hot city, Iberostar’s Paseo de Gracia, a his­tor­i­cal build­ing across from the Plaza de Catalunya, where huge foun­tains grace a park area, pi­geons seem tame and peo­ple-watch­ing is too much fun.

Be­ing in the city cen­tre, you can feel Barcelona from the first mo­ment.

Out­landish and an­cient

From the ho­tel, it’s a short stroll to the city’s ori­gins, the Gothic Quar­ter, steeped in 2,000 years of his­tory, built on the site of a for­mer Ro­man colony. Roam the labyrinth of an­cient, nar­row wind­ing streets where it feels like an­other world, and imag­ine an­other civ­i­liza­tion that walked the same path.

In the heart of the dis­trict is the huge Barcelona Cathe­dral, which has a stun­ning court­yard. It’s ridicu­lous here — ev­ery­where you look is an­other photo op.

Listen to the mu­si­cal echoes of a flute, harp and other in­stru­ments. Take a mo­ment to sit on a bench and listen to these gifted play­ers. Many are talented poor, but more of­ten these street artists are univer­sity-ed­u­cated mu­si­cians from all over the world, here to share their love of mu­sic and make a few euros to help fund their travel bug.

“I love to play and I feel I’m giv­ing some­thing beau­ti­ful to the peo­ple, which makes me feel good,” says Roi Co­henno, a clas­si­cal pi­anist from Is­rael, as he plays an evoca­tive tune on a melod­ica.

The out­ra­geous Gaudi

Cas­tles with rooftops that re­sem­ble the spiky spine of a dragon? Walls that look like green dragon scales? Pil­lars that re­sem­ble bones?

Wan­der these streets and gaze at the amaz­ing and bizarre build­ings de­signed by world-fa­mous ar­chi­tect An­toni Gaudi. This guy must have been a real char­ac­ter — ec­cen­tric, and like the won­der­ful friends I am trav­el­ling with, he had piz­zazz and a pas­sion for break­ing the rules of the mun­dane. Some of his cre­ations look like cas­tles. Oth­ers like some­thing from an­other world, with steeples de­signed to re­sem­ble the spiky spine of a dragon, bal­conies with wrought iron twisted into spooky masks, and rooftop crests full of colour.

His struc­tures through­out the city are radical de­signs that broke by­laws at the time. Al­though he was bril­liant, he oc­ca­sion­ally failed cour­ses in school. (That makes me feel bet­ter.) Tour guides tell me

when the di­rec­tor of his Barcelona ar­chi­tec­ture school handed him his de­gree, he said: “We have given this aca­demic ti­tle ei­ther to a fool or a ge­nius. Time will show.” Turns out he was a ge­nius.

Let the guides take you for a two-hour stroll and help you get into the mind of Gaudi and the world he lived in at the time. Hu­mor­ous and in­formed, the guides love their jobs and know their his­tory.

Eat crazy

We ate at au­then­tic tapas restau­rants off the beaten track — as you must in Barcelona — en­joy­ing things like rooster crowns, tuna belly and cod cheeks, paella with black squid ink and crispy oc­to­pus ten­ta­cles. At El Na­cional, the hand­some wait­ers are also en­ter­tain­ers and they sing and bel­low out to the cus­tomers, which made me laugh.

At Cera 23, you must try a starter called greco and a main dish called ham of the cow — it was so good we al­most wept.

These restau­rants are both must-tries, as are La Pepita and Su­cu­lent.

Be daft and get lost

Don’t worry about get­ting lost in Barcelona (I did, more than once), as tak­ing a cab is cheap and the cab driv­ers are friendly folks. I have read re­ports on travel blogs that cau­tion tourists to stay away from taxis — I dis­agree. I got lost lots, took cabs across this vast city, and the rate was never over 12 euros.

I also en­joyed chat­ting with the driv­ers in my bro­ken Spanish. They are lively peo­ple and hard work­ers — many travel from small vil­lages out­side the city to make a liv­ing. Not just cab­bies — ev­ery­body here was friendly. They hug and blow kisses and I al­ways melt when I hear them speak in those rich Spanish and Cata­lan ac­cents.

Wild and weird art

Yup, there it is, an­other weird ge­nius: the pe­cu­liar Pablo Pi­casso.

Barcelona has world-class mu­se­ums and art gal­leries. I checked out the Pi­casso Mu­seum, which shows more than 4,000 of his works. This crazy ec­cen­tric loved to break all the rules of art. In his day, peo­ple thought Pi­casso’s art was pretty weird and even his teach­ers would scold him when he was a youth, never be­liev­ing he would be­come world fa­mous.

Go wild at night

In the Gothic Quar­ter and the tree-lined me­dieval dis­trict of El Born, you can crawl the labyrinth of al­leys to find natty lit­tle bars and hid­den hot spots. Nightlife in Spain starts ex­tremely late.

Our last night in Barcelona ended with a bang at Carpe Diem — ooh la la, this is one of the hottest clubs in the city. Our bar­tender, the gor­geous Fabio (hon­estly), helped us get ad­vance tick­ets. The place is glit­ter­ing with colour, great mu­sic and a packed dance floor. We danced to­gether and some­times charm­ing hom­bres joined us. Most amaz­ing was that this club opens up to a stun­ning beach where glit­ter­ing lights flicker across the sea. I had as much fun danc­ing on the beach and peo­ple-watch­ing as I did in this amaz­ing club. I saw a gen­tle­man swim­ming stark naked but no­body seemed to mind.

Along a beau­ti­ful board­walk right next to it are other leg­endary clubs: Opium, Shoko, Cat­walk and

So­tavento.

Whoops, we ac­ci­den­tally had too much fun, again. When we re­turned to our ho­tel, I looked at the clock in my room and asked it out loud: “Are you kid­ding me?” It was 6 a.m.

Sleep in!

There are so many places to en­joy the nightlife here that it’s worth sleep­ing in just so you can stay up ex­tra late. Like most places in this city, break­fast is served un­til noon, which is per­fect for guests who ac­ci­den­tally stayed up too late the night be­fore. The brunch ta­ble is filled with fresh fruit, cheeses, the best smoked salmon, the best crois­sants and dan­ishes, fresh-squeezed or­ange juice — and all that is be­fore you or­der from the break­fast menu.

As we sipped our cof­fee and hooted about the night be­fore, we won­dered at the vi­tal­ity we had.

“What is it about Barcelona that gives you so much en­ergy?” my friend An­drea asked. “It’s like it brings out the she-devil in you.”“ah, but she’s a good devil!” Natalie chimed in.

TRACY MCLAUGH­LIN PHO­TOS

There is a stun­ning view across Barcelona from the rooftop of Iberostar’s Paseo de Gracia.

Roam Barcelona’s labyrinth of an­cient, nar­row streets, know­ing an­other civ­i­liza­tion walked the same path.

Gaudi’s ec­cen­tric Casa Batllo is just one of the ar­chi­tect’s bizarre and beloved works in Barcelona.

Roi Co­henno, from Is­rael, per­forms out­side the ma­jes­tic Barcelona Cathe­dral.

The ar­chi­tec­ture is fa­mous, but don’t forget Barcelona’s nat­u­ral beauty, from its lovely beaches to its green moun­tains.

Make sure to try tapas, like these rooster crowns at Su­cu­lent.

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