Thursday, April 28, 2011

Could Barcelona be just about the best city in Europe to visit?

                 A beautiful visitor to Montserrat

When you have traveled a lot, many people ask what is your favorite place to visit. This is always a hard question, as rarely do we not like somewhere we have traveled. However, a good test of a favorite is whether we have made a return trip to the destination. A few years ago we enjoyed a Mediterranean cruise and it happened to start with a couple of days in Barcelona, Spain, a favorite beginning of many cruises. At that time we thoroughly enjoyed our short visit in Barcelona, and always thought it would be a great place for a more in depth visit.

This thought became a reality this fall, when we booked a full week in Barcelona. So what makes this city worthy of such an investment in time and travel? The city has all the characteristics of what great travel is all about. It is walk-able and the Spanish citizens enjoy being out on the streets at all times of the day and night, so it is a great people watching place. There are wonderful sights to check out with the influence of the architect Gaudi and the city having been made very clean and safe as a result of the Olympics a few years ago. Barcelona is known for its cuisine so there is great eating and socializing.

Barcelona is located on the northeast edge of Spain on the Mediterranean Sea. It is proud of its Catalan heritage and language and the citizens consider themselves Catalan first and Spanish second. Because of its geographic location the weather is pleasant with very few extremes. Our visit in October had constant temperatures in the high 70’s. You can always enjoy a city in more depth when you conquer the public transit system. Walking into a subway and trying to figure out how everything works is always somewhat intimidating. The subway stop near our hotel was an important one with two lines crossing so they had people who were very helpful in showing us how to buy and use the ticket system. We bought a multiple day ticket so we were good to go all over the city, thus gaining access to many interesting unique tourist sites.

As you know from previous articles, I am a big believer in taking a city tour on the first full day after arrival. Barcelona has two excellent choices with hop-on and hop-off open top bus companies. This gave us the orientation we needed and gave us the options for later exploration. Even without exploring out from the city center there are wonderful things to do in the downtown area. The city center is bisected by two amazing boulevards. The first is La Rambla, which is a pedestrian walk along the edge of the Gothic historical quarter going from the main city square (Plaza de Catalunya) to the waterfront. Thousands of people walk it, sit in sidewalk cafés, and enjoy the ambience of street performers and some of the best people watching in Europe. The second is the magnificent shopping boulevard called the Passeig de Gracia which goes the opposite direction from the Plaza. This magnificent tree lined street rivals Paris’ boulevards for shopping and beautiful unusual architecture. Many of the Gaudi buildings are on this street.

We had enough time on this visit to spend a day on a tour outside of the city enjoying exploration of the Catalunya countryside. Our all day tour started with a visit to one of the famous local wineries, the Torres family estate winery. Needless to say we sampled even though it was about 10 in the morning and brought back some to sample later. Next it was on to the famous mountain area of Montserrat and the remote Benedictine Monastery at the top of the mountain. We arrived at the monastery by an excellent modern cog railway. It is quite a tourist destination and the Benedictines are reaping the benefits of tours, shops, and restaurants. The views from the mountain are spectacular and worth the visit. We then drove around the mountain range on roads certainly not built for 40 passenger buses, and then on to the seaside town of Sitges which is about 50 miles south of Barcelona. This is the summer destination of the wealthy and chic Barcelona citizens. It is a gem of a beach town with great beaches, historic homes, shopping, and beachside seafood restaurants. This is a place you would like to return to for a longer stay.

In my next article I will share with you our favorite Barcelona sites and why you must visit this easy to enjoy city.

(Published in Summer 2010 issue of ABA Senior Lawyers Division The Voice of Experience Newsletter)

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