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