Barcelona: where history and culture meets the Nou

By | Category: Travel destinations

Robin Nowacki combines culture and cuisine with football on a visit to Barcelona – the capital of the Catalonian region of Spain

To some Barcelona speaks of associations with Columbus, Picasso, and Gaudi, to others it is the Nou Camp Stadium and FC Barcelona, one of the giants of European football.

For someone like myself whose interests on school reports were listed as “poetry and football” my visit to Barcelona had to combine all these elements. I was accompanied by my son George – appropriately both a History student and an Arsenal fan.

Roof top swimming pool at the stunning Hotel Catedral

 

Staying at the modern but beautifully refined and designed Hotel Catedral – we were conveniently situated in the heart of the City in the Barri Gotic or Gothic Quarter – a marvellous warren of mediaeval alleyways with, at it’s core, Barcelona’s magnificent 14th century cathedral.

The heart of Barcelona: the Barri Gotic

Barcelona has been for centuries one of the Mediterranean’s most important ports: it was from here in 1492 that Christopher Columbus left the newly unified Spain on that most famous of sea voyages to discover the New World.

 

Five hundred years on and Barcelona was once more at the centre of world events when the Olympics were staged here, by which time the city had become an important cultural, commercial, and sporting centre – rivalling, and in the view of most Catalonians – surpassing the Spanish capital – Madrid.

 

What is more Barcelona’s splendidly diverse architecture, rich artistic heritage – both Picasso and Salvador Dali thrived here, together with it’s attractive location – between high forested hills and the blue Mediterranean Sea, has led to the Catalonian capital becoming Spain’s most visited city. Once there the transport system is simple and easy to use, however many of the city’s main attraction are within walking distance.

 

Perhaps the best place to start a Barcelona tour is at the Placa de Catalunya, from here a long broad avenue – the famous La Rambla – runs for a mile down to the harbour.

 

Colourful and lively both by night and day, this is Barcelona’s favourite meeting place where, under the shade of the plane trees – clowns, fortune tellers, musicians, tango dancers, and others entertain those sitting at tables sipping a cold el vino or la cerveza.

Street entertainer at the famous La Rambla

 

At La Rambla’s end the statue of Christopher Columbus crowns a 60 metre high column where visitors can climb stairs to gain a splendid view of the historic Old Port and new promenades.

The Museu Picasso is a just few minutes walk from the Cathedral in the Barri Gotic, where the creative genius of this famous Spanish artist is celebrated in an incredible collection of 3,000 works of art – mainly from his early life.

Mention Barcelona to any architect and the words Art Nouveau and  Antoni Gaudi will come to his or her lips, and it is perhaps Gaudi’s legacy in the weird and wonderful shape of  La Sagrada Familia which is the image that today most symbolises the city.

 

This unfinished masterpiece of poly-chrome mosaics and sculptured forms dating from 1882, towers over the streets of the Eixample (Extension) area of the city, and nearby another Gaudi classic is to be found – the Casa Mila, probably his most avant-garde creation.

Spectacular views of Barcelona

On a hill in south central Barcelona lies the Montjuic – an area of parkland offering both leisure activities and culture. The 1992 Olympics were centred here, and there are a number of interesting attractions including the Fundacio Joan Miro – an exceptional exhibition space.

 

This is a monument to the artist Miro and his friend, the architect Joseph Lluis Sert, both from Barcelona, but who lived much of their lives in exile during the period the fascist dictator Franco ruled Spain. One of the highlights here are the bright Miro sculptures on the roof space.

Spectacular views of Barcelona

Nearby a cable car carries people high across the harbour with spectacular views of Barcelona to where docks give way to beaches and the blue Mediterranean.

 

Football at the Nou Camp
With match tickets easily booked online before we left the UK and delivered to our hotel (all at a reasonable price compared to England’s Premier League), my son George and I headed to the nearest Metro joining the huge crowds heading for Barcelona’s majestic Nou Camp.

 

Robin and son, George, at The Nou Camp - the home of FC Barcelona

Soon we were wondering at the massive scale of the famous stadium – holding 95,000 football fans, and then at some of the world’s most famous footballers as they displayed their dazzling skills on the brightly lit green pitch. FC Barcelona usually play on Sunday nights at the Nou Camp.

 

Eating out
When eating out it is best to stick to set menus offered by many restaurants, as they are often half the price of going a la carte.

Love at first bite in Barcelona

While in Barcelona, try Catalonian specialities such as Arros Negre – black rice with squid in it’s ink, or Croquetes Cassolanes – home made croquettes containing salted cod, ham, or chicken.

 

George enjoys Catalan cuisine

 

Head for Tasca ‘El Troupezon’ to experience an old, atmospheric, and busy bar offering such fare in the Barrie Gothic. A number of popular restaurants are to be found around the port area, many with pleasant quayside settings. However for better value and good home cooking, ask directions for the nearby back street Terra Nosa in Almirante Churruca 4. But, in the end, Barcelona is a feast for all the senses!

 

 

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