If you have read Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s bestseller, The Shadow of the Wind, you have experienced Barcelona, Spain, in one of best ways possible. The atmospheric novel leads the readers through the bylanes of the Catalan city, creating an exciting premise for your visit to Barcelona.
The spires of Sagrada Familia, a pet project of Catalonia’s most celebrated architect Antoni Gaudí, are visible from several miles away. It is only upon reaching the famous incomplete church though, that you notice the snaking queue of tourists waiting to buy tickets to enter the monument. Upon asking around for a better time to visit, a kind local lady wondered aloud about why people were willing to spend hours on the Sagrada Familia, when the rest of the city, too, bore vestiges of Gaudí’s genius. And off she sent me on a Gaudí tour, which involved gazing up at many buildings across Barcelona, and ended up with a local band’s gig inside the grand Park Güell. Casa Batlló, which can also be toured from the inside, is a fascinating structure as well, born out of Gaudí’s distinct and iconic style of twists and colour. For a refreshing swim and a cool can of beer, head for the Mediterranean waters. Barcelona has a long beachfront, and on a summer day, it may seem like half of city has abandoned work and camped out at the beach.
Barcelona is a city of art. That’s not just due to the Museu Picasso, or any of the several art installations across the city. A window grill in a common house will surprise you, as will the pavement pavers. The modern designs of new buildings, juxtaposed with the traditional ornate street lamps, make for fascinating photographs. But to get a glimpse of the art form that is quintessentially European — illegal wall graffiti — catch a metro train to Barri Gòtic, the Gothic Quarter. It took me a while to notice that the artists had taken utmost care and sprayed paint only over wooden doors and walls. The stony face of the structures was left untouched. That is because the stone facades, unlike the wooden ones, were centuries-old, and irreplaceable. Evidently, these were some pretty patriotic artists who spared a thought to preserve their city’s history.
Barri Gòtic is part of the old town, and can be a confusing labyrinth of narrow streets. The tiny boutique shops here are a great way to dodge the afternoon sun, and you can score decent knick-knacks for cheap. Reserve at least a couple of evenings to enjoy spicy jugs of sangria at one of the many tables that occupy either sides of the most popular pedestrian street, La Rambla. Spend half an evening at Las Arena, a former bullfighting ring that was converted into a shopping mall. The rooftop viewing platform in the mall provides good views of the city and houses a restaurant. Take a stroll to the famous Montjuïc singing fountain can be a good post-dinner activity. Barcelona is the perfect city to go club-hopping. The best — and also the most expensive — clubs are the beach-facing ones in La Barceloneta, a city neighbourhood. Latest chartbusters and potent cocktails promise to make partying nights unforgettable.
1. Pickpockets love Barcelona; keep a close eye on your belongings.
2. If you are lost in the non-touristy parts of the city, look around for general stores. Most owners of such local shops are Bangladeshis, Indians or Pakistanis, and love to get an opportunity to converse in Hindi. Rest assured you will receive detailed directions.
3. Several airlines fly to Barcelona with a stopover in the Middle East or other European cities, where you can convert rupees to euros.