June 23, 2012 Barcelona Spain Europe

The International City Guide: BARCELONA

Guides from around the world: Barcelona On my second visit to Barcelona I decided to do something different: I decided to write this edition of around the world review, minute by minute, as much as my phone battery allows it. I wanted to describe every aspect of the experience without forgetting any details.

Last night, leaving Beirut to Barcelona, I was stopped at the airport by many persons, starting from the driver, to the security officers than the duty free salesmen asking me: "what are you going to do in Barcelona? They lost yesterday". Yes, unfortunately, the Barca team, and after losing with Chelsea last week, and ending a 2-2 game yesterday is out of the UEFA competition.

Anyway, lets keep sports apart and dive into this city. This is my second time in Barcelona, first time was by sea and now by air, discovering two access doors which I loved alike. Everyone is cool, smooth and running fast. You don’t feel the restrictions and the many rules other capitals have. I grabbed one of the yellow and black taxis and was at the hotel in less than 10 minutes as he was driving like a Formula 1 driver. They have an issue with driving around the city but anyway they do it very professionally.

This time, I am staying at the Hesperia hotel and convention center. One of the highest buildings in the city, the Hesperia is a trendy hotel managed by the local NH group of hotels. I was given a room on the 21st floor, overlooking all of the Barcelona’s monuments. What a chance! From the room, I have a view on the Olympic city, the Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia cathedral, the city’s suburbs, the shipping port and the surrounding mountains. Every aspect of the hotel is perfect from the technology implemented, to the room amenities, the free Internet, their Michelin starred restaurant and more. The best thing is that for the first time ever, I see rooms like this: You open your hotel room, and reach the walking closet and the bathroom. The rooms’ door comes after. So, coming directly from the airport, you can stop for a shower before going cleaner into the room.

Didn’t have time to try EVO, their award winning restaurant, but can say that it should be great as it is on the 29th floor with an awesome 360degrees view, and that the overall food experience I had during my stay was very good. Its 10am, and am eager to go discover what I still don’t know of this city. I bought a 24hours open-bus tour as I do in all the cities I visit and running fast.

Taking a taxi from the hotel, I asked him to drop me at the Placa De Catalunya, the heart of the city. There, you shop at the famous Corte Ingles -the ABC mall of Spain- or walk through the main pedestrian street, The Rambla or be wiser and ride the city tour buses discovering all important spots to know without forgetting any detail.

In the city of music, sports and fun, the city tour bus is divided into three different trajectories covering the four corners of the Gaudi's town. Here you breath Gaudi, eat Gaudi, think Gaudi. Gaudi's art is everywhere so you have to like it in a way or another. Jumping into the blue bus, I toured the north part of Barcelona passing in front of many important touristic destinations like the Passage de gracia where modernist houses are concentrated designed by Gaudi, the Egypt museum, the FCB stadium-the biggest in europe, the Sagrada Familia, the palace gardens, the Tibidabo mountain and the universities district.

The most iconic monument here is the Sagrada Familia which Gaudi started at the beginning of the 19th century and is still in construction to date.

This tour took already two hours; it was time to grab a bite. Walking along the famous Rambla I felt like stopping at Mikel Etxea Restaurant. A restaurant serving local specialities part of the Hotel Oriente. A sidewalk cafe, one of this places where you eat on the street with everyone watching you dig into your plate. I ordered the seafood Paella: a local specialty, with a draft beer who turned to be a 1 liter huge cup that took me an hour to finish. It was neither a fine dining lunch nor was served by friendly waiters as the language is a gap but the Paella was simply delicious. “Paella is a Valencian ricedish that originated in its modern form in the mid-19th century near lake Albufera a lagoon in Valencia, on the east coast of Spain. Many non-Spaniards view paella as Spain's national dish, but most Spaniards consider it to be a regional Valencian dish. Valencians, in turn, regard paella as one of their identifying symbols”: A ten over ten. An aldente cooked rice with a mix of lobsters, shrimps and mussels makes you want to eat more and more.

I am really falling in love with this city, everything is so fresh and relaxing. Even the language that I don't understand is musical and soft. After lunch I decided to visit the famous fish, meat and vegetables market place: a piece of art! A market of colors pumping with life. As much I describe it, you won't understand the feeling, maybe the pictures will. Merchants selling their best produces, displayed artistically. Wines, cheese, fruits, vegetables, meat, pork and chicken are a la carte.

Now was time to move to the red tour: the red tour might be more interesting for some as it travels along the cost, the harbor, the cable car, the Placa d'Espanya, the museum de Catalunya and many others important things that are a must-see.

How can we do business in such a vibrant city? Tomorrow is a new day where my lectures start, don't know if I will be able to focus with many more things still to be visited. On my next day, and after finishing the duties I had, I met an old friend of mine from Saudi Arabia and decided to rent a convertible car since the weather was nice. We drove around the city for a while before stopping at The Placa De Catalunya as there were many things we didn’t discover yet. That night we stopped to have dinner at a new place we discovered by mistake but that appeared to be fantastic. “Woki”, the organic market is an organic shop, restaurant, sushi place, dessert and fresh fruits haven. It’s a total solution nicely built to cater for customers seeking piece and healthy food. The menu is printed on a news journal, and that was issue#1.

As the night was getting to its end very fast and the parking closes its doors at midnight, we had to move fast. We walked threw the Placa to the old town. A very old town reminding me of Bruges and Prague. An old city with pedestrian narrow streets interconnected and all reaching the famous Placa Reial: Plaça Reial (In SpanishPlaza Real, meaning "Royal Plaza") is a square in the Barri Gotic of Barcelona. It lies next to La Rambla and constitutes a well-known touristic attraction, especially at night. On the plaza are a large number of restaurants and some of the city's most famous nightclubs including Sidecar, Jamboree or Karma. It is also known for its many outdoor venues and is a popular meeting place during the summer and the annual La Merce festival in September, when open air concerts take place, and during other celebrations such as New Year’s eve often being very crowded.

Third and final day and it was time to discover the luxurious aspect of Barcelona. Rambla De Mare, Marina Port Vell or the Marina Village. Reaching the Marina village we parked at the Arts Hotel: A blissful retreat, cultural hub, meeting space and fine dining destination rolled into one. A place where exceptional service comes as standard, just a few minutes from the city center. There you can play at the Gran Casino of Barcelona, walk along the beaches or stop at one of the many restaurants for more local cuisine discoveries. Choosing the Barnabier restaurant we asked for some seafood that we enjoyed a lot. A local place, where local customers attend, offering delicious local specialties.

To end that journey, we had to pass by the famous Barcelona football team stadium, and take couple of pictures on the stadium’s grass. The tour is very interesting as it takes you into the last hundred years of the club, their victories, the interactive area, songs, music, changing room and open air stadium.

Recommendations:

  • One of the best hotels in the downtown area: The Arts Hotel.
  • A great trendy hotel at mid-route between the city and the airport, stay at the Hesperia Tower Hotel.
  • I would stay away of the Tapas, as they contain lots of ingredients and lots of Garlic, so allergies and side effects can occur quickly.
  • The Open Bus tour is a must.
  • La Rambla is the hub of fun and enjoyment.
  • Arrive at the airport more than two hours before your flight as the airport is very big and very interesting. From the official FCB shop to many other possibilities, you will enjoy your time.
  • Many local artists produce live on the streets, take a walk around the city specially at night and you’ll have a guaranteed entertainement.

As I thought that the journey was coming to an end, and o the way to the airport we stopped by the Placa Espania where the musical colored fountain show plays by the hour. It’s a simple fairytale. Thousands of tourists gather around the fountain to enjoy latest tunes played along a water and light show.

After thinking that my favorite capital is Paris, now you know that Barcelona is my favorite and a place I would love to live in one day.  

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