06.02.2014

BARCELONA, BARCELONA

BARCELONA, BARCELONA, Bahar Sinem Özkesici Ünal | 06.02.2014

Barcelona is a city that combines Mediterranean warmth with European modernity, and further captivates you with its natural beauty, cultural wealth and makes you feel constantly as if you know the city as if it were your own. This is the city that gave rise to the architect Antoni Gaudi, Joan Miro, and Pablo Picasso, and even today it remains a global center of art. For me, this is city where my family has lived for 15 years and it is like a second home to me...

When you go to Barcelona, don't make the mistake of thinking you're going to classic Spain. Barcelona is a Catalan city, not Spanish. The people of Barcelona are from a different culture with a different language as well. In the course of everyday life, the people of Barcelona tend to speak Catalan with one another, and only use Spanish as an official written language. They'll only reply to you in Spanish if you're a foreigner who doesn't speak Catalan.

On the streets you'll never see flamenco dancing and in the arenas you'll never see bull-fighting. This is because the Catalan state protects animals and bans what they view as cruelty to them. Arenas that used to be busy are now closed, or have become museums or shopping malls. Catalonians are a hardworking people: while there are siesta hours for some, Catalonians typically work through siesta much more than happens in the south of Spain. The Catalan economy accounts for quite a large portion of the Spanish economy as a whole and is a wealthier city than the entire rest of the South.

Especially for those of us that are art-lovers, this city is as good as an open air art museum. Wherever you go, on every street corner, there is some artist at work or some new piece on display, and all the while everything is kept in pristine condition.

Transportation from the airport to the city center is very easy in Barcelona. Even if you'd prefer not to use taxis, there are shuttle buses and trains. Price-wise the most reasonable option is to just take the train for 20 minutes into the Sants station in the city. From Sants you can quite easily take the metro to anywhere in the city that you want to get to.

Places that you absolutely have to see include: Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, La Ramblas Avenue, Placa de Catalunya (Catalan Square), Casa Milla, casa Battlo, Casa Amattler, Plaza Espana, Mont Juic, the Cathedral, the Picasso Museum, and for football enthusiasts of course no visit is complete without a visit to Barcelona's famous Nou Camp Stadium... In order to see everything Barcelona has to offer, you really need months upon months to see everything in this city. Even though I've been going back to Barcelona for 15 years (3-4 times a year), there are still plenty of things I've yet to see and new surprises await my every visit.

In order to visit the magnificent artist Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, you should definitely make sure you go during the week and very early in the morning. Even during the week there are massive lines around the entirety of the great artwork. It's probably not necessary to tell you that quite a large number of these crowds are large tour groups. :) When the work was first begun it was known as one of the ugliest pieces of artwork in the whole world, and now it's known as the exact opposite. This masterpiece blends together half as if it were a skeleton and the other half like a melted wax. Meanwhile the work is actually still ongoing, Gaudi was unable to finish the work in his lifetime, apparently it would take another 50 years to finally complete it!

If you're going to use the metro to get to Park Guell, take the train from the hubs of either Passeig de Gracia or Diagonal to "Lesseps". Even though the nearest stop is Lesseps, from there you're still going to have to walk a bit. It's probably best to check on the map before you head out to make sure you walk in the right direction. Because it's such an important tourist destination, it occupies an important place in every map of the city you'll find. Here you'll see stonework and ceramics worked into fantastic works, and you'll fall in love with the houses that remind you of Hansel and Gretel's cake house. Inside the park are even the houses of actual artists.

La Ramblas represents the main avenue of the city, as Istiklal does for Turkey. La Ramblas comes from the root of "to ramble," and therefore is obviously perfect for aimless wandering. The avenue begins from Catalan Square and goes all the way to the marina. Along the road you'll see various mimes, musicians, and trinket-selling markets dotting the street. On the right there's the Mercat de la Boqueria, a fruit and vegetable market with fruit plates to die for, and is the perfect resting spot for a delicious tropical fruit juice while you walk along the avenue. I absolutely guarantee you'll love walking the entirety of La Rambla. For people who have an interest in night life, La Rambla is the place to be. This street is busy 24 hours a day. At the end of the street is "Colon", which features a statue of Christopher Columbus, showing the route that Columbus took to "discover" America. Right in front of that is the marina. The marina has a very modern design, with a wooden walking path with something resembling a small island in the middle of it. There you'll find the Mare Magnum, inside of which is a 3D cinema and an aquarium, as well as a shopping mall and food court. When you look out at the sea don't be surprised if you can see massive fish with even your naked eye. Many of these are just mullet, but because fishing is illegal these mullets grow to huge sizes, almost as big as humans!

Going back the way we came, at the other end of La Ramblas is Catalan Square (Placa de Catalunya). This is a huge area, around which is seating with flocks of pigeons and sculptures dotting the square. The sculptures around the square depict some of the Catalan heroes of the independent movement led by General Franco against the Spanish king. Every exit of the square leads to a different center of the city. On one end is a street that leads to the cathedral. All along the road are a wide variety of stores for those who are interested in shopping, and especially along this road one can find the biggest brand names for some of the cheapest prices you'll ever see. At another end of the square is the road that leads to Passeig de Gracia.

Casa Battlo, Casa Amatller and Casa Milla are all right on top of Passeig de Gracia. In the period of Gaudi, the wealthy of the period competed for who had the most beautiful home. As a result, all of the houses are unique and the houses built by the most famous artists and architects of the period are right here. Casa Battlo and Casa Milla were built for the wealthy Battlo and Milla families, and designed by Gaudi himself. After Casa Battlo was built in such stunning fashion, the Amatller family demanded that another famous architect design their house. Each house is more beautiful than the next. Aside from these, almost everywhere in the city it's possible to see the beautiful houses that have been commissioned by the wealthy of the city.

Places to see in the city just never end. On the Cathedral end of Catalan Square, walk towards the cathedral and just past it you can see the Picasso Museum, the artistic masterpiece that is the Musica Katalana building, and in the side streets there are some lovely little cafes to stop and have a cup of coffee.

Right next to the parliament on the left of the road leading to Mont Juic are the huge wooden doors opening the entrance to Poble Espanyol. This could even be called "little Spain." Inside are typical Spanish houses built to almost the original size and you can walk around all the gorgeous streets. One can spend a lovely relaxing time in this neighborhood. After leaving Poble Espanyol if you walk towards Mont Juic you'll be almost at Olympic Stadium. The stadium was used for 1992 for the summer Olympics despite the fact that it was originally built all the way back in 1927. In front of the stadium are other parts of the entire Olympic complex that were designed for all the various sports (Park Olimpic). Also here is the telecommunication antenna that was built by the famous Spanish architect Kalatravra (Telefonica). It's so elegant that one thinks of it directly as a work of art rather than a functional antenna. At this point I think it's necessary to quickly reference Freddy Mercury's fantastic Olympic song "Barcelona", :) what a great song that was! After leaving the stadium you can see ahead of you the tower of Mont Juic, though I have to say that I'd recommend you take a taxi to get there at this point. From the castle down to the marina there's a cable car that you can take, and in point of fact from the marina you can take the same car up to the top. For those who are interested in seeing where kings of the time lived, the castle is free to walk around in. Of course for the most part the castle was made for defensive purposes so it doesn't really resemble a full palace in any real way, unfortunately.

After this region you should head over to Port Olimpic. During the Olympic Games this neighborhood was turned into a residential district for the athletes, with buildings similar to inns being built for them. Now these buildings have become chic and expensive residential homes, and it's one of the more expensive and desirable parts of the city. On the side facing the sea you'll see two skyscrapers that remind you of the Twin Towers. These are called Mapfre and were built for an insurance firm. Right in front of the skyscrapers is the famous "Golden Fish" (Peix), which got its name because of how it sparkles in the sunlight that shines directly upon it. Around this neighborhood are many restaurants, cafes, hotels, casinos, and a huge beach. Especially in the summer this region is packed with people, for the beach as much as for everything else it offers. In front of this one's eyes tend to be caught by the W Hotel, which was designed by the famous architect Riccardo Bofill and looks similar to the Dubai sail hotel.

If you venture further along into this part of the city, you'll see the botanic gardens around the back of it (Park Ciutadella). Inside is the Zoology Museum, where you can walk around the pond, hire a boat, see a life-size sculpture of a Mammoth, and there's even a very large, lovely pool. As you exit out of the park at its upper portion you'll see the Arc de Triomf, which was originally built as the door for triumphal parades. This is yet another of the historical things one absolutely has to see throughout the city.

For more modern architecture one should look no farther than Forum and its surroundings. You can see the work of many of the most world-renowned architects in this district. The Torre Agbar, which bears a resemblance to the "Gerkhin" in London, was designed by famous architect Jean Nouvelle. Macba, Casa Camper and the Gas Natural building are also all fascinating works for those who follow trends in modern architecture.

If you have enough time, there are many pretty towns outside of Barcelona that are easily and cheaply reachable by train. One of these is Sidges, which features both a significant amount of history, is on the sea, and is even quite popular for nightlife. Quite a few famous people own houses right here. In order to get to Sidges you have to get on the train from Barcelona Sants Station in the direction of "Vilanova". This is a lovely town with colonial architecture during the period when colonialists were returning from South America. It as well has history, beautiful narrow streets, gift shops galore, seafood restaurants and fantastic beaches where can spend the whole day.

Again, if you have the time and you like fun, especially if you've come with children, I highly recommend you take the trip to Tibidabo Amusement Park. Tibidabo is sort of like a Disneyland on the top of Tibidabo Hill. There's a standard entrance fee and after that both young and old can spend as much time as they want enjoying the rides and entertainment the park offers.

I highly recommend that you try a typical Spanish dessert that you'll find in every cafe called Churroz. It's very similar to the Turkish dessert "tulumba," only without any syrup. Essentially it's delicious fried strips of dough and when you put hot melted chocolate next to it the taste is exquisite. Again there are Catalan specialty desserts, one of which is called Crema Catalana. It is similar to the French dessert crème caramel and the way its made in Barcelona is delicious. It's definitely worth it to try that dessert as well. If you start to get really hungry, you absolutely have to try the typical Catalan Paella, made with seafood. The rice is infused with Saffron which is mixed with mussels, shrimp, octopus and other delicious seafood. If you like fish, the main fish of Barcelona is Bacalao, or I recommend you go to Sephia and have some of their calamari. Of course, another part of the food culture in Barcelona is the Tapas. These are similar to the Turkish Mezes: many many different kinds of foods and tastes all on small plates so you maximize the number of different tastes you have in one sitting. You can have it next to main courses or as appetizers, as you wish. Especially for Tapas, there's a restaurant chain called "Tapa Tapa" which is quite nice. In general, Catalonian cuisine puts seafood with everything and as a general rule, seafood is much cheaper than in most other countries (including Turkey). As a result, if you like seafood, this is the place for you and I recommend you eat as much seafood as you can handle during your trip to Barcelona!

Barcelona is a shopping-lovers heaven. There are millions of places and brands that I could recommend for shoppers. Popular Spanish brands like Massimo Dutti, Zara, Mango, Stradivarius, Bershka are of course popular all over the world, but are nonetheless much cheaper in Spain. You can find these brands in almost every single region of the city. However, I'm of the opinion that of these, the most unique and special brand is Desigual. This brand is for both men and women alike. It uses a lot of patchwork patterns and has a style that is totally original and totally its own. Desigual actually means "unequal". The prices are slightly higher than other brands but if you love to look good and to look different, the prices are worth it.

There aren't as many shopping malls in Barcelona as there are in Turkey, for the most part people shop at boutique stores and on the street. So as not to destroy the aesthetic of the city, shopping centers tend to be placed outside the city center, so that you can find them in places like Cornellia or Viladecans. If you're looking for outlet shopping, near the town of Gava in "Barnasud" and Casteldefels I can recommend the mall of Corte Ingles. Also the surrounding areas are good for tourism, especially "Alcampo". The biggest chain stores inside the city are the Corte Ingles. These are the equivalent of what YKM or Boyner are in Turkey. For me I think the boutique stores you see on the street are the way to go. You can find a lovely, narrow little street with a lovely little boutique store that keeps up with all the latest trends. Around Catalan Square and its surrounding areas, on Passeig de Grace avenue, and around the cathedral there are tons of these small little streets dotted with lovely boutique stores.

Ultimately, Barcelona is a great European city that people of all ages and all types can enjoy. However long you stay in Barcelona for, you'll always have a good time and you'll always want to come back.

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