O N T O U R: Barcelona
Barcelona must be one of the best served continental cities from the UK with easyJet alone offering flights from Bristol, East Midlands, Gatwick, Liverpool, Luton, Newcastle and Stansted, seven departure points. Its popularity is not surprising; the sunny Mediterranean is just two hours flight time from London. The ultra modern airport lies 15 minutes from the city centre, say E15 by taxi. Barcelona has hotels galore but be warned the city can be incredibly busy. ABTN used the Eurostars Grand Mariner for its base, this brand new luxury hotel well up to its five star rating. The smaller cruise liners moor next to the hotel. Sitting right in the middle of the old harbour it cannot be missed and is a perfect location. It is part of a new complex including the Word Trade Centre.
The capital of Catalonia (with its own language and ways of doing things) dates back at least 2000 years and flourished during Roman times and since at least the 13th century has had its own fortified harbour, a major Mediterranean seaport. True it hit the doldrums during the Franco era but since the death of the dictator it has marched forward as one of the great cities of Europe with 1992, the year when it most successfully hosted the Olympics, the obvious turning point. The Olympics proved a catalyst for the rejuvenation of the whole city, with new stadiums, a revitalised transport infrastructure and the athletes village turned into a major housing project. The momentum has continued ever since typified by its popularity with the British.
As a holiday centre it has it all with four kilometres of glorious Mediterranean beaches, excellent shops, fine restaurants and some of the world”s most exciting museums. Barcelona is one of those places where even the less energetic can find their way to interesting places. Walking tours are very popular in an essentially flat municipality with the notable exception of the Montanya de Montjuic parkland/hill that dominates the city. Try the cable car that goes to the castle at the top. The views are stupendous.
One of the best ways to see Barcelona in a simple way it to take the tourist bus, the blue route passing the quayside, connecting and overlapping with the red route along the Avenue Diagonal, Barcelona”s major commercial thoroughfare. Each route takes two hours. In all the bus stops at 26 points and the pass is for 24 hours from the time you start. For sports fans it is particularly useful as the two routes cover the Olympic Stadium (blue route) and the Nuo Camp, the 110,000-seat home (compared with 67,000 for Old Trafford) of Barcelona Football Club (red route). The red route takes in the more inland sites including the "unfinished" church of Sagrada Familia, designed by Antoni Gaudi. In 1891 Gaudi was commissioned to complete this building on which work had already begun. Originally intended as neo-Gothic the church designs were changed considerably by Gaudi. Unfortunately he died in 1926 leaving the church to be competed. Also designed by Gaudi is the Park Guell, created by using shapes that harmonised with the world”s leading design capitals (red route). The park also includes a remarkable museum, the former home of one of the founders of the modernistic era, born in 1856.
Less than a few hundred yards (metres) from the Columbus memorial, at the very centre of the old quayside, is the start of La Rambla. This is one of the great walkways of Europe with its flower stalls in vivid colours and fruit market, the wide avenue leading up to the Gothic Quarter and the imposing Cathedral sited in an area of cluttered alleyways and medieval buildings. The nearby Bishop”s Palace features a 12th century medieval courtyard with large windows known as ”flaminguero”. Keep walking. Somehow the Catalonians have successfully managed to bring together traditional medieval structures with some fine example of seriously modern architecture.
A ”must” in Barcelona is the Pablo Picasso Museum (blue route), even if you are not into art. The museum holds the most important collection in the world of the work from the artist”s early life and features major works from both his Blue Period and Pink Period. Born in Malaga (which also now has a Picasso museum opened by the King just a few weeks ago), he studied at the school of School of Fine Arts in Barcelona and, whilst he lived mostly in Paris, Barcelona has always been an essential link in the Picasso story.
The city has countless museums covering all tastes including the old Royal shipyard which has been very cleverly converted. If you think long haul economy air flights can be somewhat cramped consider those poor souls chained to the seats of the galleys that plied the Mediterranean one thousand years ago. Some were volunteers! There is a full size example in the museum. No loos on board.
Plan for at least three days to cover Barcelona, and with even that time you will only just begin to gain a feel for the city. And eating, the choice is staggering. There are supposed to be 3,000 restaurants.
The Thomas Cook Guide is perhaps the best reference work on Barcelona, although easyJet themselves cover the city well on their website. And there is always the Tourist Board. http://www.thomascookpublishing.com