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Barcelona: City on the Sea

Barcelona is a city of marvellous contradiction. From the gothic ostentation of its historical centre, to the sleek metal lines of its urban skyline; here we have a city that embraces both its past and future with equal verve. Barcelonas rich cultural heritage is apparent and celebrated everywhere, but what makes the city so vibrant is that it does not content itself with such past successes. Unlike some other European cities I could mention, Barcelona is in no way a monument to itself; it is still very much a living, breathing city. It doesnt surprise me at all to learn that it was rated 13th in the Innovation Cities Global Index, or that it is the 16th most liveable city in the world. Of course, it is at the forefront of European contemporary art, presided over as it is by its great artistic forefathers, Gaudi and Picasso.

Gaudi: the Gingerbread Man

No trip to Barcelona would be complete without a visit to Gaudis masterwork, the great imposing Sagrada Familia, or Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family in English. Although still unfinished, the building has been declarated a UNESCO World Heritage site and consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI, and for good reason. It is one of the most extraordinary buildings in the world, if not indeed the most extraordinary. Still in construction since 1882, the Sagrada Familia is one of the most imaginative interpretations of gothic architecture ever created. Although fascinating enough, its outer shell doesnt even suggest the radiant beauty of its inside. In fact, from looking at the outside, you would be forgiven for thinking the inside would be dark and perhaps even a little frightening, although impressive (gothic architecture has never been known for its friendliness). But in fact, the inside is full of a beautiful interplay of light and colour that perfectly reflects the brightness of Barcelona itself. It suggests not a mournful contemplation of life beyond the grave, but

a joyful celebration of spirituality. The fact that the building is still in construction reminds me again of how culturally vibrant the city really is; even its most well-known icon is still a work in progress. Park Gell is the second most-visited of Gaudis architectural achievements in Barcelona. Here, you will find not just a park, but one of the strangest, most hallucinatory gardens you are likely to visit in your life. Of course, if you know Gaudi you wont be surprised at all to find giant blue lizards and curving gingerbread walls. The park also contains the house where Gaudi himself lived with his family from 1906 to 1926, although he didnt design this house himself. It is now the Gaudi museum and contains several of his artistic works, although there is an entry fee (entry to the park is free). At the summit of the park, youll find possibly the best view of the city in the whole of Barcelona, stretching right down to the sea, and many local buskers and artisan crafts spread out to be sold to tourists. When evening comes, there is a general celebratory atmosphere here that is wonderful to behold.

Squid and Jazz: Barcelonas Night Life

After a long days Gaudi appreciation, its time to sample the culinary delights of Barcelona along Las Ramblas. The Mercat de la Boqueria, just off Las Ramblas, is open late and needs to be seen to be believed. Providing almost every kind of sustenance known to man, including eel, squid, sheeps brain, tropical fruit and saffron, it is a feast for both the eyes and the appetite, and contains a bar to refresh yourself mid-way round. After this, theres nothing else to be done but hit the tapas bars, and Barcelona provides a wealth of options. On almost every street, youll find a bar that serves food, and the standards are extremely high. It is, in fact, rarer to find a bar that serves no food at all. Usually at least a few tapas dishes will be on offer. As a city on the sea Barcelona is known for its seafood, and the many variations of tiger prawn and squid dishes are not to be missed.

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