Written by: Jovanka Ristich
Date: 18th December 2015
My first trip to Barcelona, back in the spring of 1993, did little to make me recommend it to other city break travellers. I found it seriously lacking in more than one arena. Good food was hard to find with most of the restaurant offerings being tasteless tourist pulp; the bed in the hotel in the central of Las Ramblas was lumpy and uncomfortable especially as I was several months pregnant and seemed to spend a lot of time in the room due to the interminable siestas when all the shops and museums were shut.
I found Gaudi gaudy with only the Pablo Picasso and Juan Miro museums of any interest. The newly built stadium for the Olympic Games was a novel attraction, but not one that had much to say to me personally.
And, to cap it all, it snowed for the first time in over two decades which also meant I was shivering cold having packed for the 20 degree temperatures that had bookended the week of our visit.
But, fast forward to December 2015 and it was a totally different city that greeted me.
The main reason for making this visit at all was at the insistence of my daughter who is currently calling Barcelona ‘casa’, living there having attained her degree in Spanish this summer. Had it not been for her wish to show her parents Barcelona our desire to revisit would not have been rekindled, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
This was a totally different experience. We found Barcelona fascinatingly elegant with much to see and do, great places to eat and all under the smile of a wonderfully balmy 16 degree winter sun.
Here are a few highlights:
THE HEALTHY HOSPITAL – If you think we now know more about healing than before, think again. The Art Nouveau Site is one of Barcelona’s newest places of interest and is home to the Hospital de la Santa Creu I Sant Pau built between 1902-1930. The ground breaking principle behind these ‘City within the city’ buildings is the recognition that patients need space, tranquility and beauty in order to best recover and improve. Today the result is a beautiful series of buildings and gardens, as beautiful on the inside as on the exterior.
MODERN ART IN AN OLD SETTING – Whilst the queue to see Pablo Picasso’s home & gallery snaked into infinity, for me the more intriguing, and closely situated MEAM Museu Europeau d’Art Modern, went unnoticed by most visitors. This, for me, is always a good reason to pop in and I’m so glad I did. The Gallery is home to beautiful, original works of art of a variety of disciplines. It is a little known gem of many facets, set in a charming old city centre building.
ECO BUYS – Barcelona is ahead of the game in regards to its eco credentials. It’s a great place to seek out unusual environmentally friendly purchases like a visit to the shop that sells unusual and practical bags made of boat sails, or the shoe shop that sells handmade shoes made not only with natural organic fibres, but old rubber tyres – soleRebels.
ORGANIC & RAW DINING – For a city that sells Eco products, it’s only natural that it should offer equally ethical cuisine. Healthy, organic food abounds with a smorgasbord bakeries offering mouthwatering bread and pastries, coffee shops pouring sublime coffee and most welcome of all restaurants that go all out offering not just vegan and gluten free menus, but raw food as well.
- Several highlights are Flax & Kale which proves you can offer this type of cuisine on a high volume culinary level: Woki Organic Market and El Café BlueProject which has the added attraction of incorporating a contemporary art gallery.
CYCLE OF LIFE – If walking isn’t fast enough for you, and you want to cover greater distances in shorter periods of time, hiring a bike is the best option. London has a lot to learn from Barcelona as the city offers cycling as a pleasurable rather than a life threatening mode of transport. There are safe, wide cycle lanes aplenty across the city complemented by a variety plenty of cycle hire outlets.
Coincidentally, one of the best tapas restaurants we ate in was called La Bicicleta illustrating Barcelona’s combined love of cycling and great food.
BALCONIES, CERAMICS & MOSAICS – When indulging in a city break, I love nothing more than to take in building facades, and, nothing gives me more pleasure that seeing balconies especially the ones that are cocooned in glass, and imagining sitting there with a glass of wine, a good book and looking out over the city below. Barcelona has these in abundance – true architectural heaven.
GETTING AROUND & AROUND – I was very impressed with the underground. The trains and the stations were clean, easy to navigate, uncrowded and an affordable option. All journeys cost approximately one Euro.
The train system was equally impressive being both fast and comfortable i.e lots of leg room with reclining seats, resulting in very civilized overland travel which was how we chose to reach the lovely ancient city of Girona in just over half an hour.
GIRONA – A DAY IS NOT ENOUGH – A day trip doesn’t quite do this hill top settled city justice. An ancient religious melting pot, Girona offers historic, photogenic churches and buildings, winding, ascending and descending, car free streets speckled with gardens, cafes and shops. This is my kind of town. Very easy on the lens.
GREEN IS THE COLOUR – And, everywhere you looked, despite it being so close to Christmas, there were trees which you can imagine providing verdant, leafy summer shade, as well as the ubiquitous parks, gardens, patios and flower filled pots.
BEWARE – DOG DEPOSITS – But not everything is perfect here, especially for someone like me who prefers to look at cities by turning my eyes skyward. The Spanish, whilst loving their canine companions are also loath to clean up after them, so beware,and be careful where you tread as you can very easily get more than you bargained for.