La Bella Barcelona

Premier Magazine (South AFrica) - - Contents - Text & Im­ages © Michèle Meyer

From an aisle seat I had to bear watch­ing bro­ken bits of Barcelona flash by the air­craft win­dow upon our ap­proach. Even in dis­ori­en­tat­ing puz­zle mode her beauty bade me to ig­nore ir­ri­tated neigh­bourly glances and sim­ply stretch and stare.

On this Spring morn­ing, the view over the cap­i­tal of Cataluña brought to mind an at­trac­tive woman, well aware of her charms, flirt­ing with an en­tire beach of ad­mir­ers. Set lan­guidly against the fright­ful blue sparkle of the Mediter­ranean, her curves al­low glimpses of ar­chi­tec­ture and green spa­ces el­e­gantly dis­played among soft hill­sides.

Be­ing spat out by an air­port bus onto the ex­panse of Plaça d’es­panya is slightly sur­real. One mo­ment part of the traf­fic bus­tle on Gran Via, the ma­jor west to east artery of the city, the next duck­ing amidst a mael­strom of pedes­tri­ans sidestep­ping con­fused tourists and their lug­gage. The tall twin red­brick Tor­res stand­ing guard at the edge of the plaza act as a re­as­sur­ing land­mark to those very new­com­ers clutch­ing for­lornly at city maps.

Ease of ori­en­ta­tion and nav­i­ga­tion around Barcelona de­cid­edly adds to its travel haven rep­u­ta­tion. Us­ing the punc­tual Metro is a breeze. Walk­ing wins as means of get­ting into the groove of any city. On ma­jor streets here pedes­tri­ans en­joy wide, often ex­clu­sive walk­ways lined with trees fil­ter­ing sun­light through green leaves. The safety of cy­cling lanes along­side these cater for the in­creas­ing pop­u­lar­ity of bi­cy­cles as an eco- and park­ing-friendly way of scout­ing Barcelona.

Our first ac­quain­tance with the city was an af­ter­noon walk through Mon­tjuïc. From the twin tow­ers on Plaça d’es­panya flows a dra­matic view of the way up­hill to the mag­nif­i­cence that is the Na­tional Cata­lan Art Mu­seum. Cas­cad­ing foun­tains and a gush­ing wa­ter­fall flanked by count­less steps draw the eye to the trea­sured mu­seum. Milling on the stairs in front of the mu­seum, crowds be­hold the beauty of Barcelona from this el­e­va­tion.

Beyond lies the Olympic Cir­cle, its el­e­gant sta­dium in­au­gu­rated in 1929 open to the pub­lic. Stand­ing qui­etly and small, re­gard­ing the empty stands brought a sud­den aware­ness of hu­man spirit and its de­sire for con­quer­ing. Brass im­prints of the shoes of sport leg­ends like Se­bas­tian Coe and Rafael Nadal dot­ting the side­walk lend a sa­cred air to these quar­ters.

Barcelona has a habit of lur­ing one into al­leys with ta­pas bars lined up like lanterns on a string after a bout of sight­see­ing. One’s main con­cern is de­cid­ing which bar to stum­ble into. Se­lect­ing a few ta­pas from the plethora of en­tic­ing tit­bits ex­hib­ited on every bar counter does prove to be daunt­ing. Own­ers are pal­pa­bly proud of their fare, con­tin­u­ally cast­ing an eye to en­sure that pa­trons are well-fed and never thirsty. Burly beers and won­der­ful wines seem to en­hance even the sim­plest ta­pas in­ter­lude. Barcelona does not bant, and she is all the more de­sir­able be­cause of that.

A sunny Satur­day begs for ram­bling along renowned La Ram­bla. Start­ing early from Plaça Catalunya, the broad, tree­lined lane was fairly empty still. How­ever, as the morn­ing wore on and we wove in and out of in­ter­est­ing lit­tle coves along the way, the Ram­bla filled with throngs of peo­ple rev­el­ling in the crisp weather. Lo­cals and tourists alike seemed to sim­ply

soak up life on La Ram­bla. Gaz­ing at my tired feet at some point my heart nearly stopped as I spot­ted a small tile signed by the mae­stro Joan Mirò. I had to kneel be­fore Mirò and cap­ture his mag­i­cal mem­ory hid­den in the crowd.

When in Barcelona, get­ting to a mar­ket is a must. Right on the Ram­bla sits the most iconic of all the pop­u­lar mar­kets in the city, La Bo­que­ria. Dat­ing back to 1217, the place breathes the an­cient spirit of trad­ing in sea­sonal produce and tra­di­tional treats. Try­ing not to gape is a feat. Hun­dreds of stalls com­pete for at­ten­tion in the bus­tle. Cher­ries, fan­tas­ti­cally fat red toma­toes, and heav­enly or­anges are en­tic­ingly dis­played among beau­ti­ful broc­coli and fresh eggs of every pos­si­ble hue. Le­gions of whole legs of jamón hang on steel hooks, while fish and shell­fish to feed a na­tion jos­tle for space on packed ice. Did I men­tion sausages and salamis? And oh, the cheeses.

Reach­ing Port Vell where Barcelona em­braces the sea to make space for her renowned harbour, the im­pos­ing Colum­bus mon­u­ment tow­ers against the blind­ing sky. Over­whelmed by the myr­iad of sights ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing the day, we gave in to a gas­tro­nomic im­pulse and fell onto an un­for­get­table paella while polishing an earthy Rioja.

Be­cause much of the charm of Barcelona lies in breath­tak­ing ar­chi­tec­ture in the city and its sur­rounds, a city bus tour of­fers the ideal op­por­tu­nity to take in a bulk of im­pres­sions. Pass­ing by ex­tra­or­di­nary sights, such as the pi­o­neer­ing La Pe­dr­era by Gaudí, his awe-in­spir­ing un­fin­ished La Sagrada Fa­milia tem­ple, and visionary vast­ness of Park Güell im­pressed the ex­tra­or­di­nary na­ture of the cre­ative spirit of the city on my mind. We passed the three main beaches, envy-in­duc­ing lux­ury shop­ping dis­tricts, and strolled the per­fectly man­i­cured labyrinth of Horta.

Seven days were not nearly enough. I am con­vinced that seven weeks might be more am­ple to have one’s fill of the be­guil­ing la bella Barcelona, Queen of Cataluña.

On this Spring morn­ing, the view over the cap­i­tal of Cataluña brought to mind an at­trac­tive woman, well aware of her charms, flirt­ing with an en­tire beach of ad­mir­ers.

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