Spain

Barcelona: Make it Quick!

Beautiful Barcelona is full of surprisesA while ago, my parents bought me a Christmas trip to Spain, so instead of spending my holidays with them, I embarked on a ten-day trip to the land of flamenco, fantastic food, amazing beaches and Picasso. The last two days of the trip were spent in Barcelona or “Bartha” as it is affectionately known by those who live there. By that point of the journey, I was rather exhausted; our tour director was a bit authoritarian and her obsession with forced seat rotations on the tour bus and threats of having to replace the expensive triple batteries in our ‘whisperers’ - devices that are used to listen to lectures - were getting a little old. I also had enough of her detailed lectures on the production of olive oil; I could have had a PhD in the process by the time we reached Barcelona! But all that frustration melted away as son as we entered the city on our overheated bus; it was amor at first sight. The windy streets, amazing architecture, great food and wonderful atmosphere were enough to energize anyone and everyone on the tour. The best part was that we had a day of freedom to explore the city on our own.

There were so many things to see and do that it was difficult to pick a jumping point. With its towering spires visible from so many places around the city, Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, the cathedral for which Spain is globally known, was as good a place as any to start. The hype of this amazing structure is not the least bit overrated; the 45-minute wait was more than worth it. The amazing, intricate designs of the building and the unique structure and energy of its insides are overwhelming. I have seen my share of buildings and cathedrals in Europe, but this was by far the most vibrant and mystical. There is an unexplainable mystery and power in Gaudi’s design. It consumes you and forces you to think about life and our purpose on this earth.

La Sagrada Familia: Definitely worth the hype

One of my other favorite parts of the city was Las Ramblas, a large pedestrian street lined with shops, entertainers and people. Put a coin into any of the performers’ hats and you will not be disappointed. They ‘come alive’, as it were, and perform tricks, dances and any number of other unique shows. They may even pretend to chase you down the street.

Las Ramblas is also home to La Boqueria, a huge indoor market that serves as the perfect place for lunch. It was packed for the Christmas holidays, but I still had an amazing pizza and two fresh smoothies. The smoothies were only one euro each and the flavors were unbelievable, with the shops offering up concoctions of any combination of fruit that you want!

The best part about Barcelona of course is simply walking around the city. It’s lively, friendly and windy, and - just like in Venice - it’s easy to get lost. That’s what makes it so exciting! You never know where you’ll end up and don’t worry; as friendly as the city is, someone will surely come to your rescue and guide you back to where you need to go.

After spending two days here, I completely understand why so many people come to this amazing place to study and never want to leave! Though my time in Barcelona was short, I was fortunate enough to be able to hit some wonderful highlights. If you are heading to the city for a quick visit, there are definitely a few things you won’t want to miss. You could begin, as I did, with a stop at the Sagrada Familia and then head to Casa Mila/La Pedrera, the ‘other’ Gaudi House, a fairly recently renovated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Strolling the Ramblas, of course, never fails to disappoint, though beware the pickpockets that tend to congregate in the area. A visit to Guell - a park designed by, you guessed it, Gaudi - is also a must, as is a sit down to a feast of tapas with seafood. The bottom line here is that a trip to Barcelona, even a short one, can and most assuredly will be a fantastic one as this city offers up surprises and wonders around every corner. Be sure to walk around the central city and other locales, and don't be afraid to explore. You won't be disappointed!

About the Author

Alina Volper has a strong passion for travel and adventure. She is a French/Russian/ESL teacher residing in Pittsburgh, USA. In her free time, she is a writer of non–fiction stories about her life and family growing up in a Russian/American environment. Check out her published stories on amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Grape-Stories-Russian-America-ebook/dp/B007HEXOXC  and her videos at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0RT4TL1KISA.

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 Full name: Kingdom of Spain

 Population: 47.04 million (CIA, 2012)

 Capital: Madrid

 Largest city: Madrid

 Area: 505,370 sq.km. (195,124 sq. mi.)

 Major languages: Castilian Spanish,  Catalan, Galician, Basque

 Major religions: Roman Catholic 

 Monetary unit: Euro

 GDP per capita: US $30,600

 Internet domain: .es

 International dialling code: +34

 Source: CIA World Factbook