Destinations

Basking in Barcelona

oariko Nissen finds a new favourite city

Although I don’t speak a word of Catalan, I knew Barcelona and I were going to be very good friends. My cousin Hannah agreed with me as we strolled up beautiful Las Ramblas, the Spanish city’s famous pedestrian-only road.

The area around Las Ramblas has stalls selling everything from flowers to pets to charming paintings. Wandering away from the busy main street, we ventured down a back street full of locals scanning the shops for winter bargains, but I was much too distracted by the beauty of the buildings to even glance in the shop windows. We decided to take advantage of a free walking tour and met our guide by the fountain in the Placa Reial.

This is one of the city’s most beautiful squares and features famous local architect Antoni Gaudi’s first works – some attractive circular lampposts. our guide took us through the Gothic quarter of the city, starting at the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia. Here we viewed the tomb of a 13-year-old female martyr who was crucified for her Christian beliefs. After she was mysteriously re-clothed in the night, the Romans thought she had come back to life. They were so outraged, they put her body into a barrel of knives and rolled it down a hill. After she was decapitated, a dove flew from her neck – dramatic or what?

As we passed through slim alleyways, we heard that most of the buildings in this area were built with a narrow top where the servants used to live. In the event of a fire, their need for escape was considered less important than that of the tenants, who usually lived on the second floor with more room and bigger windows. Today, however, most people want to live up higher for maximum sunlight.

Hannah and I found ourselves fantasising about our future lives in Barcelona and the predicament that we too would face when choosing an apartment in a prime spot. Soon we arrived at the old Jewish quarter. It was once kept separate from the rest of the city but today is a popular area filled with character. It’s easy to imagine the people who have walked these streets over the centuries and in my mind I have a scene from Shakespeare’s oerchant of Venice. And yes, I do realise that play is set in Italy but, well, it is still Europe after all!

After seeing most of the Gothic area of Barcelona, it was time for lunch – always a special part of my day! We returned to Las Ramblas and surveyed the many lovely restaurants where you can dine al fresco. After spending a little too long analysing the menus, we finally sat down and I ordered seafood paella. When it arrived, I was a little disappointed with the mussels and the prawns, which are only half the size of New Zealand ones. But there’s something special about experiencing a paella in its motherland.

After lunch the streets fell quiet for siesta time so we figured when in Rome – or in this case Barcelona – we should do as the locals do.

on our next and final day in my new favourite city, we headed to the ouseu National D’Art Catalunya, located on the famous oontjuic, which translates as “Jewish mountain”. This hill rises high above the city so after climbing to the museum entrance, we were greeted with scenic views. More importantly, at that moment, I spied a stand selling freshly baked croissants and hot chocolate. Before entering the museum, we perched on benches overlooking the beautiful view and enjoyed our winter warmers. Inside the museum were many beautiful Catalan works from the 19th century to the 1940s. I particularly loved the Picassos.

In the afternoon, we caught the metro across town to see Barcelona’s most famous attraction, Sagrada Familia, the cathedral designed by Gaudi. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is the most attractive building I’ve ever seen.

It towered above us and all I could do was stare up at its spires in wonder. The design is incredibly detailed and some parts appear to melt away while others reveal angels and saints. Gaudi died about 80 years ago but the rear of the cathedral is still being completed by a team headed by Kiwi architect Mark Burry.

That night, we returned to Las Ramblas for a final glass of sangria, though I have to say that “glass” is a loose term for a vessel the size of my head. And as we reviewed our Spanish experience, we vowed it would not be our last.

**Factfile

**Get there For information on flights to Spain, visit www.expedia.co.nz for a variety of airline and route options. For useful information on weather, transport and upcoming events, visit www.bcn.es/english/laciutat. **

Languages** Barcelona is the capital of the province of Catalonia and both Spanish and Catalan are spoken there

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