2009 TNT Travel Writing Awards entrant.
Autor: Sara Allen
Travelling down the highways in Spain, you will be quick to notice the massive bull billboards. You might smile. Think of bull fighting. The bull is well loved in Spain but the billboards have stories all of their own. The billboards once advertised Grupo Osborne wines and the popularity of the massive bulls meant that they stayed on after the government banned billboard advertising. Local legend has it that couples wanting to increase their chances of conception should have sex under the billboards.
Though Spanish politics has spilt the country in more recent times, there can be no doubt that Spain is a vibrant country with a vast treasure trove of things to see and do and Barcelona, the hot Mediterranean capital of the Catalonian half, should be on the top of the cities to visit (even if you just want to see the home of ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’).
Initially settled by the Romans, Barcelona has grown to be a cultural capital with some of the most spectacular modernist architecture to be found. Loved by tourists and locals alike, this is a city where you can party all night, explore all morning, siesta in the afternoon and do it all again from nightfall.
Most aircraft carriers fly to one of Barcelona’s three airports – Prat, Girrona and Reus. Each of these are between 1-2hours from Barcelona. Alternatively, coach travel from London may be the cheapest option.
Whilst many travellers opt for party central hostel Kabul, Centric Point Hostel is also centrally located with a full calendar of social events and prices start from 16.90euros for an 8 bed dorm with ensuite. The salsa and flamenco nights and trip to the legendary Pacha club at 2am (which sported a complete Pirate ship back when this writer attended) are highly recommended.
If you have limited time to see Barcelona, you should start with a stroll down the main strip La Rambla – a smorgasboard of street performers, food and scams. Avoid taking part in anything that involves money because the tourist you just saw win is inevitably part of the scam too and you cannot win. Pop into the market La Boquera off La Rambla and feast your eyes on every kind of food ranging from lamb heads to tomatoes, from lollies to fruit. The fruit is reasonably priced and you can’t go past a fresh juice for a few euros.
If you wander down the end of La Rambla, you can climb up the Christopher Columbus monument and gain yourself a great 360 degree view from across the harbour to Mountjuic and even see the spires of the unfinished Sagrada La Familia – this has been in construction since 1882.
Sagrada La Familia, if you can fit in a visit, is the final work of architect Antoni Gaudi, a modernist who included many designs and shapes from the natural world in his work. He died after being hit by a tram in front of Sagrada La Familia and the date expected for completion – 2026 – will be the 100 year anniversary of his death. The church has eighteen bell towers – representing Jesus, Mary, the twelve apostles and the four evangelists. The church is intricately patterned and sculpted and from any angle of the church, in construction or otherwise, you can see an array of beautiful stone carvings.
Should you miss the church, you can find Gaudi’s influence across the city from the street posts to houses like Casa Batllo (located down the street from the hostel) to Guell Park (at the back of the city) which is almost cartoon-like in its designs. Casa Batllo is a skeletal design using bone shapes for windows and ventilation operates through a fish inspired gill system. Take a look with an audio guide to see this unusual and clever building completely.
Modernist architecture is not all there is on offer in Barcelona – take a walk to the Barri Gotic (meaning Gothic Quarter in Catalan). This is the area to see old Roman ruins. If ancient history is your thing, take a look in the Museu d’Història de la Ciutat de Barcelona where you can have a look at Roman ruins from houses to laundromats and see how the city has developed from there.
The Cathedral of Santa Eulalia is also in this area and magnificent example of Gothic architecture. Saint Eulalia is a co-patron saint of Barcelona and a young virgin martyred at thirteen years old in Roman times. Her body is interred within the cathedral (you can see her crypt) and thirteen geese are also kept in the cloisters in her memory.
Such sights are only a portion of what is on offer in Barcelona and Mountjuic offers additional attractions such as a the military museum, a park, view of the city and the 1992 Olympic site. You could also visit the Picasso Museum or the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary art or even just chill on the kilometres of beaches.
Doing tours can be an excellent way of fitting some of these in. The city offers hop-on-hop-off tours or you can do a Fat Tire Bike Tour for a more energetic tour of the city. The best tour is the night bus which can be booked through the City Information offices. Prices start from 18.90euros. This tour explores all the attractions by night, spectacularly lit with coloured lights from Gaudi’s works to the massive Torre Agbar and finalising with the best sight of all – the Magic Fountain of Montjuic.
The Magic Fountain is a display of water fountain sprays and coloured lights all accompanied by classical music. It certainly earns the title (“magic”) and is a truly beautiful way to end off a night in Barcelona.
Sipping a glass of Sangria and nibbling Tapas or even a massive bowl of delicious Paella, you’ll leave Barcelona with the knowledge that the Spanish do life well – culture, clubbing, food, drink and most importantly, siestas!