Friday, January 25, 2008

Barcelona!

I promise that I won't overdo the exclamation points this time, but Barcelona was exceptional.
Stacey was scheduled to attend the Bread & Butter fashion tade show last weekend, so I decided to join her for an extended weekend trip. With her mother visiting us in Amsterdam, babysitting duties were covered.

Barcelona has perhaps eclipsed other cities as my favorite destination in Europe. Revitalized for the 1992 Olympic Games, the city is the shining jewel of Spain. Everything that makes a European city great can be found here: Incredible cuisine, a vibrant nightlife, architecture that leaves you breathless, bustling markets...and plenty of sunshine!
After landing at the airport, I boarded a free, clean, and convenient train and soon connected to the city's subway system. As soon as I emerged from the station in the heart of the city, I knew that the trip would be magical. First, I had to shake off the dust with a glass of Sangria at a tapas bar next to the hotel. Stacey soon met me, and we shared another glass before heading out to meet her enchanting co-workers for a delectable dinner at a locally-owned restaurant that sat on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea.

On Friday, I managed to slip through the gates of the trade show with Stacey (don't ask!). As with any huge international trade show, the booths and products displayed seemed to go on forever. Multiple levels of the main exhibit hall displayed sportswear, fashion lines, denim, and accessories from across the globe. A big "wow" factor.

The rest of the day was spent wandering about the city, weaving through tiny streets, ducking in and out of shops, and satiating our appetite for food and drink. Say what you will about the cuisine of the rest of the world...Spanish tapas deserve their place near the top of the heap.

In the late afternoon, we headed north from the city to the Parc Guell, enjoying the famed architect Antoni Gaudi's incomparable tiled creations--benches, sculptures, rooftops, and caverns. 

The view of the entire city was remarkable.

The walk back to the city center took hours and numerous food and drink stops, culminating in one of the many small plazas of the Gracia neighborhood where we enjoyed a meal adjacent to a magnificent bell tower. Needless to say, we slept well that night.

More adventure was on tap for Saturday. But first, we enjoyed a late breakfast/early lunch in the Born district (yes, more tapas!). From there, we walked along the famed La Rambla, enjoying people-watching as much as anything. La Boqueria, Barcelona's enormous food/produce/meat market is the most spectacular I've ever seen. If you're familiar with Amsterdam, think Noordermarkt on steroids x 100!

Onward we went, again heading to higher altitudes, this time to an incredible cathedral that sits high above the city, accessed by a series of trolleys and trams. The views? To say "breathtaking" would be doing the English language a grave injustice and perhaps making the understatement of the century.

I should mention at this point that our traveling companion for the weekend was a good friend from the States and a co-worker of Stacey's, Sam Halvorsen, whose infectious laugh made the journey always fun. 
Plus, she's got a knack for finding just the "right" souvenir at gift shops! ;-) 

A long night out was ahead of us on Saturday. We kicked off the night by attending an incredible flamenco dancing show. I'm normally very skeptical of tourist-oriented shows, but this one was first class, at nearly bud
get prices. The music, the singing, and mostly, the dancing were done with a passion rarely seen with stage shows, and virtually
 every aspect of the show was performed with precision and professionalism. And the Sangria kicked ass, too.


videoPerhaps it was the Sangria, but after we left the flamenco show, I felt a tear form in my eye and a lump in my throat as we looked up at the incomparable Sagrada Familia. It's beauty is challenging to put into words. 
Remarkably, this intricate masterpiece of a church was begun in 1882, and construction continues to this day, with its finish projected sometime around 2026! The sight alone of the magnificent structure is inspirational.

We had an amazing time going to a number of fun night spots, at one time wedging ourselves into an impossibly small aisle with a Danish friend of Sam's who lives in the city. But again, the bed felt comfortable at the end of the evening.

Like any great adventure, this one came to an end all too quickly. If you have never visited Barcelona, I suggest you make reservations sometime very soon to discover, as we did, one of the more incredible destinations on the European continent.

Click HERE to see ALL of the photos we took in Barcelona.

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