Barcelona is a city of energy and intensity. How can this be said? It’s an entirely emotional judgment, based on the local colour and the vibe of the streets.
It also possesses great humour, evidenced by art, graffiti, people sculptures, quirky lampposts and random signs. Spotting these tiny details is as much fun as visiting the more well known monuments. It’s all part of the game and this game is most heavily influenced by the father of Barcelonan – indeed Catalan – design, Antoni Gaudi.
We are staying at the Mandarin Oriental on the Passeig de Gracia in the L’Eixample neighbourhood. Over the road, at number 35, 41 and 43, are three stunning examples of modernist buildings (of which there are said to be about 143 scattered around this city). But the one that really matters, Casa Batlo, is right over the road. Salvador Dali described it as an immense, crazy multi-coloured mosaic – and he was right. But it’s also a much more personal building and visiting it is like meeting someone of immense importance, coupled with great charm… a sight not to be missed.
Staying at the Mandarin Oriental, with a Manolo Blahnik shop to the left and Tiffanys to the right, it would be easy to assume that this is a city for the well-to-do. But Barcelona is far more inclusive than that and it’s easy to join the party even if you only have a few coins jiggling in your pocket.
Start by checking out the action on La Rambla. This wide boulevard runs through the heart of the old city, neatly dividing the Barri Gotic neighbourhood to the east from the El Raval to the west.
Some accuse La Rambla of being too touristy, but surely they are missing the point? The non-stop colour of jugglers, human statues, whistle, hat and sunglass vendors, rap dancers, pavement artists, flower sellers and candy hawkers is as much part of Barcelona as the dignified silences in its ancient churches.
Along the sides of La Rambla are sturdy metal chairs. Grab one and take time out to simply people watch for 10, 30 or 60 minutes. This will give you time to gather your energy for your next free, if slightly more frenetic experience, a visit to the Mercat de la Boqueria– the produce market situated slap bang in the centre of La Rambla.
Yes it’s crowded, yes the tourists love it, but hey, so do the locals. At the entrance is the best display of fresh fruit you will ever see. Fresh pineapples, oranges, pears, mangos, coconut and grapes are whole, sliced, cubed , crushed or juiced into irresistible ice confections .
Further along the fruit gives way to groceries and olive oils before the central fish stalls appear, with every manner of creature bearing a fin or a shell on display. Then it’s the turn of bread, cakes and confectionary vendors before you reach the very democratic and hugely popular Bar Central where tapas and beer or cava (champagne) can be enjoyed for a few euros. You might also linger for a coffee.