Monday, 15 August 2011

Short Holiday In Barcelona

"Barcelona!" sang Freddie Mercury. And he was right: Barcelona!

I spent the last week on holiday in Barcelona with my girlfriend. As she had understandably expressed a degree of discontent with my plans to travel for years, we arranged some months ago for a lovely holiday. Arguably, my last couple of months have been somewhat of a holiday, enjoying days of tennis and afternoon drinking, but she's been immersed in a world of criminal defence which seems to occupy her days entirely, except for evening bursts of watching a program called "NCIS". NCIS is some kind of forensic/Navy/crime drama from America, in something like its ninth series, but as it appears on various channels for several episodes at a time at various stages during its numerous series, my girlfriend watches it in no coherent order and herself admits doesn't quite know what's going on. So for both of us it was a great relief to escape evenings of NCIS and go to Barcelona.

Holidaymaking, therefore, and not Wonder-spotting was order of the day, although I couldn't help but notice that one of the Wonder candidates on my list happens to be in Barcelona: the Sagrada Familia. Started in the late 19th Century, this church is still under construction and with no set date of completion, although likely within the next twenty years, when it will become the tallest church in the world. Cranes still dominate, but even decades from completion it is Barcelona's primary structure and so swarms with tourists day and night. It was designed by the architect Antoni Gaudi, and is a fantastically original structure, with spires and bulges and awash with sculptures.

It even has Richard Branson.

Gaudi fairly dominates the city, and has several other buildings that make an immediate, startling impression, so distinct and original they are. He also designed a park - Park Guell - which was packed full of quirky structures and colourful mosaic designs. It's fair to say I was hugely impressed with Gaudi, whose architectural style is like none other I've ever seen, with a playful irregularity underpinning his creations.

Anything by Gaudi was among the highlights of my short five-day trip, but there were more conventional delights too, such as the beach or eating food. The beach, in fairness, was not really my idea, as the prospect of sitting on a beach in the middle of blazing sunshine and thousands of other people does not usually appeal, but my girlfriend insisted that she had to acquire a tan for impending bridesmaid duties.

We chose our spot well - surrounded by lots of naked men. This was very unintentional, and the extent of the nakedness only realised once we'd settled in our small patch of sand. I had fully expected lots of topless ladies - and happily was not disappointed - but did not expect a fair smattering of entirely nude men, all of whom were joyously uninhibited about parading their wares. Lack of shame for one's body should be admired, I suppose, but when the majority of these very tanned Adonises were at least 70 years old, it was hard to admire much else. My girlfriend was particularly taken with one old man, who she frequently exclaimed had "nothing there!" and I must admit a peculiar affection for the shambling pot-bellied pensioner - fully nude - who ambled around at great leisure, chatting to fellow sunbathers and smoking a fat cigar (not a euphemism).

While my face and lower arms are very used to the sun, the rest of my body (I was wearing shorts, I should hastily add) is not, and it turns out my application of suncream was woefully lacking. I managed to miss entire patches of my upper body, all of which promptly burnt to a crisp and became red enough to make my girlfriend wince upon sight. Days later, it's faded into a peculiar sickly-brown colour, and looks very like large blotchy bruises. Thus I have learnt my lesson regarding sunbathing - don't do it.

The food in Barcelona was as excellent as you'd expect from a world-class cosmopolitan city, and tapas and paella entertained many afternoons and evenings. However my favourite was the all-you-can-eat Japanese seafood restaurant on our final night, in which I tripled my bodyweight in sushi. I didn't realise until the end that one section, in which I'd been happily munching the seafood raw, was designed to be flash-fried by the chefs opposite, but luckily this didn't result in me evacuating triple my bodyweight later that night.

For me, a good way to sum Barcelona up would be by its traffic lights, as experienced by a pedestrian. Mostly on a grid structure, Barcelona's streets were very pedestrian-friendly, and the traffic lights seemed to always work in our favour. It always appeared that we were "in-sync" with Barcelona, and hardly had to wait to cross busy roads. Indeed, unlike most cities of the world, cars weren't allowed to dominate, and pedestrians always felt favoured. This meant that despite the crowds, things always felt relaxed and unhurried. This extends not to the traffic system but to all of Barcelona - it feels a very natural, unforced city with a natural confidence. Busy, but not harrassed; relaxed, but never dull.

I'll of course be visiting Barcelona again, when giving a full visit to the aforementioned Sagrada Familia. I look forward to the revisit.

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