A short break from the English winter to the warmer climate of Barcelona, Spain in February 2006 sounded like an excellent idea.
After leaving London Luton Airport on a dull day to then fly to Barcelona and just before landing you look out of the window and see the end of the Pyrenees Mountains, the Mediterranean coat and the city itself.
The airport is located by the sea, but unlike Nice in the South of France you actually taxi around the airport for a considerable time before the plane arrives at one of the two terminals.
There are excellent bus connections to bring you into the city centre. You need to allow plenty of time to make your connections, particularly in the rush hour or if there are road works as there were in February.
Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and one of the most important ports in the Mediterranean; it's an eclectic mixture of Gothic, 'modernist' and contemporary architectural treasures.
Once there whenever possible try walking around, the place is so beautiful with elegant buildings. When you need to see the tourist attractions further from the city centre take the underground rail network or the bus.
All around are excellent view points and in the centre at the Placa Catalunya (where the Tourist office is located and a stop for the airport bus) is the Department Store El Cortes (National chain of Spanish department stores). Take a trip up the escalator to the 11th floor restaurant and enjoy the panoramic views.
A short bus ride will take you to its most famous landmark is the Sagrada Familia church. Although not consecrated as a cathedral yet, no doubt when completed it will become one. The fairy-tale like building in the northern part of the city centre. Its creator, Antoni Gaudi, commenced work on it in 1882 and concentrated all his energies on it until his untimely death in 1926, when he was run-over by a tram. The Sagrada Familia is still under construction and may take another 50 years to complete. You can visit its interior and take a lift to the top of the building and enjoy even more panoramic views
Gaudi was born in Reus, in the province of Tarragona in 1852 and was the undoubted leader of the 'modernist' movement that began in the second half of the 19th century.
If you want to see some of the most original buildings, which took the art nouveau concept to new heights, head for the L'Eixample area, to the north-west of the Ramblas (La Rambla) in the Barri Gothic area (Barri Gòtic ), a stone's throw from the port.
The Barri Gothic 'quartier' is the oldest part of the city; a mix of narrow streets and beautiful squares and for lovers of Tapas bars, a paradise. The Taverna Del Bisbe, close to the Gothic cathedral, serves wonderful grilled fish such as calamars, which you can wash down with excellent Rioja. Jardi is a 2-star hotel in this area, which is clean, welcoming and will not burn a hole in your pocket. It's located in Plaça Sant Josep Oriol 1, Barri Gòtic.
Just of La Rambla in a small square is very interesting restaurant called the Taxidedermista that apart from having excellent cuisine has a part glass floor between the ground floor and the basement below. It is spacious, comfortable and welcoming. It's unusual to find memorable risotto outside of northern Italy but this eatery has found the formula. The pumpkin soup with spinach and mushroom garnish is magnificent, too.
If you are staying centrally unless you are full of energy for a long walk is a must to visit GUELL PARK in the north ot the city has wonderful views of Barcelona and the sea beyond. Another Gaudi masterpiece appeals to kids of all ages and, importantly, includes the house where Gaudi lived for many years, replete with the original furniture – also created by the master architect / designer.
LA BARCELONETA at the sea was a shanty -beach before Barcelona was awarded the 1992 OLYMPIC GAMES. It was part of the Olympic Port area for the water sport activities of the Games and is close to the Olympic Village. There is a cluster of good, medium priced tapas bars and restaurants on the beach, including Agua, a neat restaurant that serves delicious food just a metre or so from the beach. There are two "twin towers" (but not identical twins) that are by the Port Olimpic that formed part of the Olympic village. You can also take a cable car ride from this location.
After a good evening meal whilst wandering around the Barri Gòtic try and find the L'Ascensor bar in the middle of the Barri Gothic quarter is an intimate little bar, ideal for a nightcap to finish the day's visits. Named after a "Lift – Elevator" you actually enter the premises via an old static wooden and glass lift from the 1930's
L'Eixample, north of the Barrio Gothic and west of Las Ramblas, is the district where most of the 'modernist' buildings of Gaudi and his contemporaries Puig and Domenech i Montaner created their original buildings for their clients in the second part of the 19th century. Definitely worth visiting.
TOUR AGBAR, CATALAN MUSIC MUSEUM – Musica Hall is another superb piece of modernist architecture, created in the early 20th century by Lluis Domenech i Montamer. Although in February there were tours and concerts being held, it is too hot to be open during the hot months of the summer.
PLACA REIAL, close to the Ramblas, is elegant with its palm trees and elegant arcades.
CAMP NOU is home to the FC Barcelona club, currently the best in Spain and also winners of the 2006 UEFA Champions League in Europe in May. On the flight back from Barcelona there were several fans going to the match against Chelsea in London that night – A very cold west night, but they had left the warmth of this great city for the cold of London with high spirits and in good voice and even the immigration officers at passport control at London Luton had smiles on their faces. Maybe not had they been Chelsea fans as Barcelona beat them and also another London club – Arsenal in Paris to become the UEFA Champions of Europe.
Several days away in February – fantastic. To be eating out (admittedly under a gas heater and wearing a coat) at 11.00 at night in February. Drinking the Spanish version of a gin and to nice. Plenty of gin with ice and some tonic! Wearing a short sleeve shirt at lunch at the beach restaurant at La Barceloneta and the one time it rained it dried up within a few minutes and then to return to a wet and cold South of England.