EUROPEAN,

WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS [#WTMH]

ACU BIEN TRAVELS: WTMH Barcelona City, Catalonia, Spain

Gus Franklyn-Bute Editor-in-Chief

Where The Magic Happens (#WTMH) is a series of lifestyle articles about cities and places around the global that imbue a sense of magic and mystic, seen through the eyes of ACU|BIEN people: staff contributor, readers, associates and specially invited guests. As personal life journeys, they give voice to how ACU|BIENers see the world in which they life, travel and work, tracing their footsteps, hops, skips and jumps, and building a travelograph of the Caribbean peoples’ on-going voyages around the world.

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There is something magnetic about any city where its scenery is divinely framed by coastlines and rising hills, where rivers run free. Barcelona, capital of the autonomous region of Catalonia in Spain’s north-eastern quadrant, is just that – a charmed, hallowed metropolis that baits the senses. When your birthright boasts a vista that gazes out onto the Mediterranean Sea, your northern frontier is the French Pyrenees, punctuated by Andorra, with València and Aragón to the west and south, one begins to comprehend why Catalonians have every reason to believe they are special people, a blessed realm in the Iberian Peninsula.

‘One of the Great Mediterranean cities, redolent with history, so bold and modern, animated and inspired… a city that sparkles as much at night as in the full light of day,’ is how one guide book succinctly describes Barcelona. ‘Famous for its main avenue, La Rambla, for its bars, its museums and its enthusiasm for life.’ [1] Indeed, Barcelona vaunt bars, cafes and restaurants like Brooklyn, NYC breeds churches. So irresistible are the culinary options, ACU|BIEN recently succumbed, and is unapologetic, to devouring two consecutive and very different lunches – in one day!

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#WTMH | 5

  • 1. Opulent history and architecture, yet exhaling beautifully grounded ‘arrogance’ with bold embrace of modernity and receptiveness to new ideas
  • 2. Offers a gastronomic savoir-faire, without being “lickrish” (“craven” as Jamaicans would say]
  • 3. Practical, well- designed streets, safe and easy for pedestrians. Love the chamfered junctions and sensible, pragmatic use of public space
  • 4. ACU|BIEN “City Cool” – beautiful people, growing cosmopolitan mix of races and cultures. Home of Barcelona FC (Barça)
  • 5. Mediterranean climate and pace of life ‘island people’ understand

An early November escape around the Mediterranean may be an ideal elixir in combat to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for those of us who steups (chups) at the rude, imposition of stoic, lingering winters that arrive like tiresome friends – you know the ones who turn up, yet again, at your doorstep empty-handed, uninvited, never knowing when to leave. Temperatures on average flit between 19° C/66.2 F and 11° C/51.8 F in November, an ideal range to transition from warmer summer climes (if you have been so lucky) to the encroaching season ahead of dank, ‘me-nah-go-out’, sunless days.

Barcelona is divided into 3 main districts

1. Ciutat Vella (Old Town)
One of Europe’s most pervasive medieval clusters replete with 14th century mansions. MUST SEE: Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) | Famous La Rambla | Parc de la Ciutadella | Parc Zoològic | Rejuvenated waterfront/marina | Baśilica de Santa Maria del Mar | Museu d’Art Contemporani


2. Eixample
Barcelona’s claim to the greatest collection of art nouveau buildings in Europe is hard to dispute. The style in Catalonia known as Modernisme, flourished after 1854 with the new expansion (eixample) on a rigid grid system of streets, with chamfered corners to allow buildings to overlook junctions and squares. MUST SEE: Antoni Gaudi’s spectacular Sagrada Família | Quadrat d’ Or | Casa Milà | Passeig de Gràcia shopping | Rambla de Catalunya dining

3.Montjuic
Think about Fundemento Supremo Dame Montserrat Caballé, then of the Games of the XXV Olympiad and further, one of the greatest Olympic songs ever, “Barcelona” by Caballé and Freddie Mercury, and one begins to understand Montjuïc’s significance to the Catalonia. Hosting the 1992 Olympic Games placed the district on the international map, and Barcelona has subsequently benefitted from the surge of international-class sporting facilities. MUST SEE: Plaça de Espanya | Font Màgica (Magic Fountain) | Palau Nacional | Estadi Olímpic de Montjuïc | Poble Espanyol

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A morning zip around the Old Town would leave any seasoned traveller low on energy. Having crawled to bed at 5.00am gleefully relieved of nervous energy following live coverage of President Barack Obama’s triumphant victory and “Four More Years”, meant a late afternoon snooze was essential to ready oneself for Barcelona by night. The stroll along Passeig de Gràcia for window shopping notes in preparation for the real mission, leads to Rambla de Catalunya and its dinning possibilities. The array of bars, restaurants and cafes offering a range of fine fayres from sophisticated feasts to tapas from fresh ingredients, hastened the appetite. Dining at MasQMenos was a chance to indulge in some light Iberian delicacies.

  • Coca: Jamón ibérico bellota, mozzarella y rúcula
    Superior Iberian cured ham, mozzarella and rocket
  • Boquerones en vinagre
    White anchovies in vinegar
  • Pimientos rellanos de questo fresco
    Stuffed peppers with cottage cheese
  • Café con leche
    White coffee
  • CAVA: Sumarroca Brut Reserva

#WTMH | DINING NOTES
| Cocas are a specialty of Catalonia with variations from the Balearic Islands. In basic form they are made from yeasted dough, usually enriched with tad of olive oil or traditionally the lard of Spain’s beloved pigs. After rising, the dough is pulled into long ovals and topped with some of Spain’s best vegetables, meats or fishes (or any combination of the three). Finally they are topped with a healthy lashing of Spanish olive oil.

| CAVA, a delicious accompaniment any time of year, adds particular balance to a meal in the coolness of the November evening. This sparkling wine is made in the same way as French champagne, undertaking a second fermentation in the bottle, and is one of Catalonia’s most valued exports.

| Keep smartphones, wallets and those designer handbags safe when dining al fresco. The cambrer kindly and very smoothly suggested caution about leaving a smartphone in view, particularly when approached by strangers. “There are very quick”, he mused. Nice touch!

| Rambla de Catalunya, Eixample, has a central promenade brimming with al fresco dining options. On either side is a seemingly endless array of shops, boutiques, restaurants, cafes and bars.

#WTMH | RECOMMENDS
Perhaps one of Barcelona’s best kept secrets, Born-Ribera is a lattice of alleys, passages and narrow roads in the self-contained small gothic style neighbourhood. What was once the heart of the city (El Born) and the waterfront district (La Ribera) is now a fashionable bohemian quarter of boisterous cafes and restaurants, hip taverns and design boutiques, festooned with renaissance palaces and cultural icons such as the Museu de Picasso on Carrer Montcada. El Born is only about 10 minutes stroll away from both Las Ramblas and the beach.

Cafe-Kafka-El-Born1-318x212By mid-afternoon it was time to pause and obey the urge to entertain the appetite. Finding a table in the path of single shaft of sunlight beaming through the thin cloud cover at “Sandwich & Friends”, an outdoor café that offered ‘The Gourmet Sandwich Experience’ seemed the ideal spot. Two ladies had also spotted the same table and in true ACU|BIEN style we conceded the seats and made new friends.

Settling for a canapé of steak and peppers, fried potatoes oliolio, café con leche followed by a cold beer was just perfect, leaving a little room for that optional dessert.

#WTMH | FOOTNOTES
| A
CU|BIEN loves Barcelona’s attitude and character as it simultaneously respects and celebrates its past, yet passionately embraces the new, and a enjoys a freedom of expression that drives creativity, innovation and change. Barcelona parades beauty and value in the juxtaposition of old, new, young, conventional and undefinable.

| There is something very refined to see groups of labourers (judging by their work uniforms), mostly men, huddled together in a very sophisticated, relaxed manner, laughing and dining over tapas and small glasses of red wine in the Barcelona afternoon. Their enjoyment and pleasure over a light snack is a commonplace activity in Barcelona, and one not readily witnessed in a trendier quarters in London, or New York.

| Barcelona, we are weak to your embrace.

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[1] Barcelona & Catalonia, Dorling Kindersley Ltd, London, 2005, p15
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24 November, 2012

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