Land of the siesta: Barcelona
The country of Spain is characterized by idyllic, slow paced life, that begins late, slows down into a siesta in the afternoon, and runs late into the night. If you are traveling to Spain, put away your fast paced furore, or you will end up being frustrated with the early closing stores and the laid back pace of the Spaniard. But it is the Spanish perspective- move slowly, eat well, relax and enjoy yourself, that gives the country and its people so much character.
Spain is an upbeat and exciting country, with the pace of life ranging from the hip and modern Barcelona and Madrid, to the quaint and idyllic Seville and Figueres. The moors of Granada, the Basque country and the getting off the beaten train, the ports of Valencia and the tomato throwing festival La Tomatina of Bunol are some of the many things to do in Spain.
Spain is much affordable as compared to some of the other western European countries. A two bedroom hotel room can be as economical as 60 Euro a night in the hip and metropolitan city of Barcelona. Dormitories and hostel are even cheaper, at about 15 to 20 Euros a night, and are usually very well equipped with all the modern amenities.
Spain, officially, the Kingdom of Spain is a western European country located in the Iberian peninsula, and it is this proximity to the Mediterranean that defines pretty much everything, from food to culture to travel to the climate to the people in this country. Barcelona has a Mediterranean climate, which means mild, humid winters and warm, dry summers. Barcelona is located on the Northeast coast of the Iberian peninsula and the mountain range of Collserola forms a scenic backdrop for this vibrant and lively city.
Barcelona, the capital city of the autonomous community of Catalonia in Spain is the second most populous city in Spain, the first being the capital city of Madrid. Finding its origins as the Roman capital of the county of Barcelona, Barcelona later merged with the kingdom of Aragon, forming the modern day Catalunya or Catalonia. Even to this day, important Roman relics are displayed in Plaça del Rei underground, as a part of the Barcelona City History Museum, the MUHBA; the typically Roman grid plan is still visible today in the layout of the historical centre, the Barri Gòtic, or the Gothic quarters. Some fragments of the Roman walls are now incorporated into the cathedral of the Basilica La Seu, which was said to have been founded in 343 AD.
The Barri Gòtic, or Gothic quarter is the centre of the old city of Barcelona. Many buildings date from the medieval times, and the plans can be found in the MUHBA. The modern Catalan architecture, related to the movement of Art Nouveau, or the modern arts in the rest of the Europe developed between 1885 and 1950 and has left an important and indelible legacy on Barcelona. Many of these buildings are now world heritage sites under UNESCO and protected and preserved as such. Especially remarkable about the city of Barcelona are the works of Antoni Gaudi, the Modernist Catalan architect with an individualized and distinctive style. Most of his works are located in the city of Barcelona with over seven of them being under the cover of World Heritage sites, along with his magnum opus, La Sagrada Familia, the immense, and as yet unfinished church of the Sagrada Familia, which has been under construction since 1882, and planned to be finished by 2026. The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia is an expiatory church devoted to the holy family, which is being built by private funding and donations, and it was consecrated and proclaimed a minor basilica by the Pope Benedict XVI.
Gaudi’s work was influenced by his passions in life: architecture, worship and oneness with nature and religion. He considered every detail of his creations and integrated into his architecture such crafts as ceramics, stained glass, wrought ironwork forging and carpentry. He also introduced new techniques in the treatment of the materials, such as use of waste ceramic pieces. These influences can be found in his other works, such as Casa Battlo, a private residence he designed, part of which has now been converted to a museum for Gaudi enthusiasts. La Pedrera shows off his love for the curves and non linear nature of his surroundings. With his works, he earned the nickname of ‘God’s architect’, and devotees and followers have been calling for his beatification from the Church.
Other sites of major significance around the city include the Gothic basilica of Santa Maria del Mar and Santa Maria del Pi, the Columbus monument and many others. Museums dot the city and many of them are of important artistic significance. Spain’s favorite son, Salvadore Dali also belonged to the Catalan region, and lived in his majestic mansion in picturesque town of Figueres, complete with cobblestones and cliff views and walks along la Ramblas for shots of café. Figueres is but a short train ride from Barcelona and must be visited. Born in the oceanic town of Cadaques under the shadow of the mountain range of Collserola, the Spanish surrealistic painter, sculptor and artistic bent his artwork to bend the mind of the observer, known for his striking and bizzare images. Dalí’s expansive artistic repertoire included film, sculpture, and photography, in collaboration with a range of artists in a variety of media.
Parc Güell is another one of Gaudi’s masterpiece, situated on the Carmel Hill, which is a public park system, composed of gardens and architectonic elements. Park Güell is the reflection of Gaudí’s artistic plenitude, which belongs to his naturalistic phase. He put into practice a series of new structural solutions rooted in the analysis of geometry. To that, the Catalan artist adds creative liberty and an imaginative, ornamental creation. In the design of Park Güell, Gaudí unleashed all his architectonic genius and put to practice much of his innovative structural solutions that would become the symbol of his organic style and that would culminate in the creation of the Sagrada Familia.
Once you are done absorbing the art and history of the city, you will realize that the culture of the city is tightly intertwined with the culture and atmosphere of the city. Take a walk down La Rambla and sip on some Basque country wine, made locally in Spain, and you will come away questioning your love for the French wines. Walk over to the beach of the Mediterranean sea, the San Sebastia beach, or the beach of the little suburb of Castelldefels, and eat some of the best Saffron flavored Paella at one of the shacks on the beach, rich with fresh catch of the day in crustaceans, crabs, prawns, sea bass, which goes together marvelously with a glass of chilled white wine. Go on a bar crawl, late at night, in this city that never sleeps, and sample the best Tapa Spain has to offer. Prawns fried with garlic in hot butter, stuffed olives, mini grilled cheese sandwiches flavored with truffles, the options are endless, all of this washed down with generous helpings of the best regional wines.
Barcelona is famous for its partying, late-night eating and drinking, and amazing historic streets, history literally littered on the strees. Learn to sleep until 10 pm, and eat dinner at midnight, just like the locals do. Visit some museums, they are the best in Europe and enjoy the Spanish – Catalan lifestyle like nowhere else.
Getting to Spain: Air India flies from all major cities to Paris, where, via codeshare with Air France, one can get a connection to Barcelona, Madrid and all other major cities of Spain. All major airlines flying to europe also offer similar connections with fairs starting from Rs. 55,000/-.
Travel within Spain:
Air: All major cities are connected by airports and domestic airlines such as Iberia express and Canaria airlines fly between all these cities
Train and Road: All major cities have domestic train connectivity as well as are well connected by road, should you want to take a bus, or drive, if you have an international driver’s licence. The driving lane discipline is opposite to that followed in India.
Within cities: There are buses, trams, metros, ferries and taxis, which run almost all hours of the day.