La Bella Barcelona
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.