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     Volume 5 Issue 113 | September 22, 2006 |

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Straight Talk

Barcelona in a Day!

Nadia Kabir Barb

The thought of going to Barcelona was really not even registering on my mental radar until a few days ago when my husband asked me if I wanted to go to for the weekend. Normally my inclination would be to say 'no' as it was too short a notice, difficult for the kids and a million other excuses to avoid disrupting my daily routine. But a very persistent voice in my head kept telling me to be a little impulsive and throw caution to the wind and pack my bags, bundle the kids up and take that flight. And to my husband's surprise and the total delight of my children, that's exactly what I did I packed my bags, bundled the kids up and took that flight! Before I knew it I found myself soaking in the sights and sounds of the city of Barcelona.

At first the city itself seemed reminiscent of any other large city in Europe but as you look a little closer you find that it has a charm of its very own. Barcelona is situated in the north eastern coast of the Iberian Peninsula and has the benefit of being located by the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. So one of the first things we decided to do was take a boat ride and absorb the wonderful combination of sun and sea while being able to enjoy the skyline. As we sailed around the port, we passed two cruise ships, one being The Queen Mary 2 which was so incredibly huge that it was rather intimidating in size especially compared to the catamaran we were in! It reminded me of the Titanic and I had flashes of the disaster going through my mind so when I was asked whether going on a cruise was something I would consider the answer was a very hesitant 'maybe'!

stBarcelona also happens to be the second largest city in Spain in both size and population. That should put things in perspective when I say that trying to see Barcelona in a day is a formidable task in fact an impossible one at that. And as expected we only managed to see the tip of the iceberg (I can't get the Titanic out of my head now!). To add to its many attributes, it also happens to be the capital of Catalonia, one of the 17 autonomous communities that make up Spain. There are two official languages spoken in Barcelona: Catalan, generally spoken in all of Catalonia, and Castilian Spanish not that I would have known the difference as my spoken Spanish is dismal to say the least.

Something that all the travel guide books and brochures will tell you is to take a stroll down Las Ramblas. And in true tourist fashion, we found ourselves ambling down one of the most famous streets in Barcelona. Las Ramblas is a road that spans about 1.2 km through the very heart of the city centre with Port Vell (a cruise port terminal) at the southern most end and Placa Catalunya at the northern most end. Placa Catalunya is a large central square (although technically it is actually more circular than square!), and has fountains, sculptures and greenery in the very heart of the city. A huge part of Las Ramblas is pedestrianised and just as the hotel pamphlet had mentioned, we were able to see all the stalls selling jewellery, souvenirs, knick knacks and a vast number of other items. Then there were people painting portraits and caricatures, restaurants, bars and cafes spilling out onto the street, and street performers along with the thousands of other people who were promenading up and down the Ramblas like us. Supposedly the street is buzzing with people even into the early hours of the morning but that is something we did not get to find out first hand!

The other 'must see' in Barcelona is 'La Sagrada Familia' (The Holy Family) which is a large Roman Catholic Cathedral still under construction. It is the last, and possibly the most extraordinary, of the designs of the famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. The Sagrada Família was planned in the late 19th century and construction work, under the guidance and supervision of Gaudi began in the 1883. Gaudi worked on La Sagrada Familia for over a staggering 40 years. Although Gaudí died in 1926 and the construction was in a large part unfinished and parts of the building were damaged in the Spanish Civil war and also plans of were also burnt during that time. However the construction as it is now, is based on some recovered plans made by Gaudi and also modern adaptations. The outside façade was so fantastical and intricate; you could have spent hours scrutinising the various designs and sculptures. The inside was in part full of scaffolding but the parts of the cathedral that were completed were nothing like any church or cathedral I had ever seen before. There was a lift that took you up to a higher viewpoint but as we had the children with us who seemed less than enthusiastic about looking down from such a great height, we decided to view things from ground level! The 45 minute queue to get into the lift might also have played a role here. The theme of the ceiling of the building was that of a forest canopy. The pillars resembled tree trunks and the top the foliage. Gaudi was very much influenced by nature and this is reflected in a lot of his work.

The next stop for us was a place called Park Guell another Gaudi creation. All I can say is I have never come across architecture like that of Gaudi's. He really did think out of the box and come up with designs that were devoid of straight lines and were full of curves and movement. His 'almost surreal design style which established him as the innovative leader of the Spanish Art Nouveau movement. With little regard for formal order, he juxtaposed unrelated systems and altered established visual order. Gaudi's characteristically warped form of Gothic architecture drew admiration from other avant-garde artists.' This was very evident when we walked around Park Guell. Some of the structure we saw were almost fairytale like and could have been straight out of Hansel and Gretel! The entire park was full of amazing stone structures, mosaic tiling and fascinating buildings. As you enter the park, there is even a fountain with a mosaic dragon sculpture lending to the magical feel of the place. We could have spent hours in Guell but time was a factor and reluctantly we had to head back. Even as we drove back to the hotel, amongst the modern buildings or the Gothic ones we were able to identify Gaudi's work as they managed to stand out.

I was disappointed not to have been able to visit the Picasso Museum which contains an important collection of his early work. But then there were a huge number of other places that we did not manage to see. There just was not enough time to do everything we wanted to but at least I can tell myself that as far as a daytrip to Barcelona goes we did pretty well!


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