We reach Barcelona mid-morning on a Friday and head straight to Catalunya where we had rented an apartment, just off the bustling La Ramblas. This is the central Boulevard, lined with souvenir kiosks, street vendors, human statues as well as cafes and dinner shacks that sprout up in the evenings. Strolling along we see the famed Miro mosaic on the pavement of the Pla de l'Os.
We are on a family holiday and there was a lot of exitement in the air as our extended family joins us from different parts of the world. We catch up on the latest family gossip as we settle into our centrally located apartment. Soon we are off to explore the vibrant city. Having being cautioned that Barcelona is the pickpocketing capital of Europe we make sure that we don't ignore the occasional tugs at our bags in the crowds.
This time we walk on La Ramblas all the way to the Christopher Columbus statue, stopping at the market place to try the fresh juices, cured meat and seafood and check out some of the amazing variety of foodstuff on sale. Some of us are so excited to see the vibrant display of colours that we just could not keep away the cameras - all of us were taking pictures.
From La Torre De San Sebastian we take a cable car ride to the Montjuic Mountain. The picturesque aerial view of the city along the coast is breath-taking. Strolling through the winding cobbled streets we visit some places of interest and sample the famous 'pinxtos' the Basque tapas, ubiquitous, as it is one of the gastronomic delights of San Sebastian.
Our dinner stop was at a much recommended restaurant famed for its culinary delights and eye catching interiors and we were pleased. The restaurant is famous for its snails but we weren't tempted to have any. The seafood, especially the grilled fish, calamari, paella and the seafood chowder were fabulous. The teetotallers had non-alcoholic Spanish mocktails and others had Sangria, a traditional alcoholic punch. There were some musicians that serenaded us with popular Spanish songs and in between told us amusing facts about the many nook and crannies of the place. Quite an experience!
Our Catalan guide is passionate about the history, art and architecture and we take in a lot of interesting facts about Gaudi, Picasso and the historic buildings in the Gothic quarter which gives it an old-world charm. As we are not that keen on the run-of-the-mill stuff, we wander through the by lanes, and stumble upon quaint stores where we pick up some beautiful souvenirs.
The Museu Picasso in Barcelona is very well laid out and provides deep insights into the evolution of Picasso's painting style. The works here chronicles his transition - the naturalistic, experimental phases to developing his own distinct style. Picasso had strong links with Barcelona as his dwellings and studios were in the Ciutat Vella neighbourhood.
Next on our 'must see' list was the Sagrada Familia, Antonio Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece. It is a marvel. A brilliant and devout Gaudi combines religious and nature inspired curvilinear Gothic Art Nouveau designs and the magnificent Basilica is the dream of genius.
The passion facade on the rear has straight sharp lines that evoke the feeling of pain and suffering that Jesus experienced. Gaudi has sculpted himself in one of the scenes.It was started 130 years ago, and is an ongoing labour of love.
One group decide to go to a tapas bar where they serve plate after plate of tempting treats like bombas, grilled octopus, garbanzos, foie gras with mushrooms etc. A mouth-watering variety of cured meats like Chorizos, butifarra spiced with paprika, garlic etc are also on the menu.
Camp Nou is where some of us head to catch some footballing action on Saturday night. The home team's star studded line up reads like a who's who in footballing: Messi, Neymar Jr, Iniesta to name a few. The atmosphere in the nearly packed stadium is awesome. We join the excited supporters and enjoy the experience to the hilt - cheering, clapping, making waves and chanting along.The thundering applause and exciting roars of the restless fans were still reverberating in my mind for a long while. What a night!
Churros, the fried choux pastry sticks served with melted chocolate and dusted with cinnamon sugar is a breakfast favourite here. It's not exactly a dieter's choice, but the calories can be momentarily ignored .We then hop on the sightseeing tour bus and stop at places that take our fancy. Wandering around leisurely gives us time to take in the sights and sounds and do some shopping in between.
The last of our halts, the Poble Espanyol Spanish village is an open air museum showcasing Spanish architectural styles, all brought together in great harmony. The Refugi 307 is a vast underground shelter built to protect the people from bombs. Local arts and crafts have been exhibited, with some demonstrations of innovative ways of using traditional techniques to create objects that bring out the best of the workmanship. These workshops make us value and appreciate the time and effort the artisan puts in to create the handmade objects. The shops display Spanish made ceramics, jewellery, clothes, accessories and a range of gift items.
Tickets for a flamenco show were already booked in advance and we live an authentic experience of fabulous folk music and dance performance at a small, intimate venue inside the village. The show pays tribute to the great flamenco dancer, Carmen Amaya, born in the gypsy quarter of Barcelona. She made her debut in 1929 before King Alfonso XII which is site of the Tablao, where we watched the foot tapping dancing and traditional music fuse harmoniously to display the talents of the singers and dancers. A mesmerising show!
The Montserrat Mountains is home to a Benedictine Abbey and we opt for a train journey followed by a cable car ride up to the mountains. It is picturesque and as the cable car climbs higher the fog covers everything and we get a feeling that we are riding the clouds.
The chapel in the Abbey is the most famous religious shrine in Catalonia. There is a Romanesque statue of the Virgin called 'La Moreneta', which means 'The little dark-skinned one'. Around 1 p.m. we listen to the music of the famed Montserrat Boys' Choir and hear their angelic voices filling the huge church.
We then go further up on one of the funiculars (cliff railway) with the steep sloping tracks going high into the mountains! Great fun, irrespective of the weather! The view from the top was extraordinary- awe inspiring topography - stretching up to the coast on one side and the snow-capped mountains on the other. It was a clear day with a large expanse of blue skies and a smattering of clouds floating through.
An eclectic collection of 13th - 20th century paintings adorn the walls of the Montserrat Museum. These include works by El Greco, Caravaggio, Picasso and Dali. Middle Eastern Biblical objects, Byzantine and Slavic icons are also on display. The visit to Montserrat is truly unforgettable and it is just needless to say was one of the highlights of our trip.
Before leaving Barcelona we take one last walk along the boulevard and drink from the famous fountain at the top of La Ramblas. Folklore says that you will always return to the city, if you do so. Though not superstitious, I drink from the fountain as I have fallen in love with Barcelona.