Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Barcelona - first impressions*

I'm back from Barcelona - and I loved it! Not straight away but we got there in the end.
As with my Marrakech series, Barcelona is going to be another four parter:
  • First impressions.
  • Survival tips.
  • Amazing art and gorgeous Gaudi.
  • My secret Barcelona.
So to kick us off - written the morning after we arrived:

Barcelona - my first impressions

Everyone I know who has visited Barcelona, has loved it.

What was I expecting?
Well, I knew it had a football team who hammered Manchester Utd. (so I decided not to mention being an adopted Mancunian).
I knew it hosted the 1992 Olympic Games.
I knew that Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé sang an operatic homage to it.
I knew there was a beach.
I knew that the food was supposed to be excellent.
I knew that you had to watch out for pick pockets on La Rambla.
And I knew about Gaudi, and that people seemed to come back from Barcelona with photographs of weird wavy buildings and a cathedral (work in progress) that looked like a melted sand castle.
Although we had just over 24 hours to explore - all in all, I had very high hopes for Barcelona.

While there are some cities which you fall instantly in love with – and then slowly tire. For me, Barcelona took a while. But once seduced, I loved it with a passion and left way, way too soon.
It all started very well, when we were met by a sculpture of a big fat horse at the airport, which looked like it had been blown up from behind by a bicycle pump. The tone was set for a city which I imagined to be crammed full of artiness, weirder than Salvador Dali’s moustache.

While I’d been talked out of taking my bikini and sun dress by my friend Gill – the January weather forecast promised 15 degrees and sunshine.
It lied.
We popped up from the metro station at Sagrada Familia (The Gaudi Cathedral) like little meerkats, the sky was grey and it had just started to cry big grey dramatic tears. A big sad jester’s hat, covered in scaffolding, cranes and netting greeted us.

And our ‘menu del dia’ lunch sounded much better on the menu than it was in reality – seafood mush – mushed into mushy red peppers and watered down wine.
Still, we pressed on regardless and bought a two day ticket for the ‘hop on – hop off’ tourist bus.

As we worked our way along ‘the blue route’ through the north of the city (Eixample), with its wide avenues and commercial office blocks, universal apartment buildings and shopping district, I was finding hard to feel the love. Sitting on the top deck of a bus with my hat pulled down over my ears and scarf pulled up to my ears, listening to a commentary which waxed lyrical about Barcelona’s year round mild Mediterranean climate. In reality my face looked more like a wet bank holiday weekend at Thorpe Park.

After tripping over my flares which had soaked up the Barcelona puddles like blotting paper, we were so cold we were forced to resort to a department store in Catalunya Square to thaw out.
I was in a proper grump. I could have been anywhere. I had no desire to take photos and felt no inspiration to write.
But we gamely soldiered on, changed routes and jumped on the ‘red route’ bus.
And this was the point when Barcelona slowly started to seduce me.

As we wound our way through the more historic parts of the city and up onto Montjuic and through the Olympic park, the weather cleared, the light changed and suddenly Barcelona seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. No longer were we driving through a two dimensional grey uninteresting city, but one which, like the fat horse at the airport had been inflated from behind with a bicycle pump. Before my eyes the city grew luminous and interesting.

With Barcelona laid out beneath us, I now wanted to get off at every stop. And as the sun went down and the shadows stretched out like Gaudi’s Cathedral, the city woke up and came out onto the streets.

The port was buzzing and suddenly there were giant lobsters, massive mosaic heads, Christopher Columbus on a huge column pointing towards Italy and other crazy random art installations on every corner.

Wrought iron lamps lining the streets threw a warm yellow light onto the top deck of our Barcelona tour bus – and me? Just like the city, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. After a rocky start I felt both excitement and panic - excitement for the day ahead, and panic that there just wasn’t going to be enough time do this beautiful, unique, crazy city justice.

The first flutters which showed that I was slowly starting to fall in love.

*Please note I visited Barcelona in January 2012, which will have influenced this review. Most people would choose to visit later in the year.

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