My Favorite Destinations…Barcelona

by Diana Hechler

(June 3, 2003) What do Emperor Augustus, Christopher Columbus, and the Olympic Games all have in common? They all enriched the history of this venerable Mediterranean port -- and the 1992 Games sparked an absolute renaissance! Palm trees and a balmy climate are just the beginning.

If you like the idea of houses with curvy walls, houses with bizarre rooftop chimney gardens, and cathedrals that seem to drip down from the sky, then follow the Antonio Gaudi trail when you visit. Architect extraordinaire, Gaudi left behind the above-mentioned houses (must be seen to be believed), plus his most remarkable work-in-progress: The Sagrada Familia church. It’s still a work in progress; in fact the interior is one big construction zone…hardhats required! Serious Gaudi-ophiles should also make the trek to the Parc Guell to see his big lizards. Memorable.

Those with a classical bent might want to visit the Museum of the City’s History (Museu Historia de la Ciutat). Enter from the street and press the elevator’s “down” button. Underneath the modern streets lie extensive remains of Roman “Barkino”, including laundry shops, wine-making stores, streets, and ancient houses. Apparently, life was pretty good back in the old days. Afterwards, ascend and pursue the history of the modern cathedral right next door. Like much in Barcelona, they’re right on top of each other.

Barcelona also offers impressive artistic credentials, due to the success of local modern artists like Joan Miro, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Picasso. Picasso and Miro each have their own museums, and daytrips north to Dali’s house in Port Lligat and the unique Dali museum in Figueres are easily arranged.

Definitely leave time to ramble down the Ramblas, a long, long pedestrian thoroughfare that runs from the central Placa de Catalunya down to the water, ending near a statue of “uber”-voyager Christopher Columbus. Along the way, you’ll pass through the “birds” section, the “flowers” section, and the “artists” section, with plenty of opportunities to separate yourself from your money, if you wish.

Did I mention food? Eating in Barcelona is a real treat, as long as you don’t mind starting dinner at around 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. (Expect lunch to begin at 1 p.m. with most local diners strolling in around 3 pm.) Mediterranean cuisine with a Catalonian twist prevails. If you need to eat earlier, tapas are ubiquitous for pre-dinner munchies and one could even flit from bar to bar, sampling the local wares instead of waiting for a full dinner later on.

If you really want to explore off the beaten trail, a one-hour excursion south will bring you to Tarragona, lush with palm trees, a slightly-faded seaside ambience, and an assortment of Roman ruins: an amphitheater, a forum, and a museum full of Roman antiquities. Tarragona served as one of ancient Rome’s 3 administrative centers in Spain during the height of the Empire.

If you’re traveling with kids, board the elevator at the Christopher Columbus Column (foot of the Ramblas) for a bird’s eye view of the harbor and lower city. Also, check out the Museu Maritim with its life-size replica of a galley.

Diana M. Hechler, D. Tours Travel

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