Sitting pretty along the shores of the Mediterranean as an old Spanish song proclaims (Que bonita es Barcelona, tierra del Mediterraneo), Barcelona, the capital of the Catalonia region of Spain, is one of the Iberian peninsula’s top cities. A port of call, embarkation/disembarkation port on Mediterranean cruises, and beginning or ending point of many Trans-Atlantic repositioning cruises to and from Fort Lauderdale and other U.S. ports, Barcelona came into the spotlight during the 1992 Olympics that it hosted. It has much to offer cruise passengers.
A great walking city, its many attractions include Las Ramblas, one of Europe’s finest and most colorful pedestrian streets a few steps from the elegant and fountain-filled Placa de Catalunya (Catalonia Square, a starting point for hop-on/hop-off sightseeing buses and site of El Corte Ingles, a major department store). Las Ramblas is filled with cafes, street entertainers including mimes, and kiosks selling fresh flowers, crafts including birdcages and bird houses, nougats and candies, gelatos, periodicals and souvenirs. Tip: As in any major city, it is important to guard your belongings against pickpockets, particularly in touristy areas like Las Ramblas.
Another must-see in Barcelona is the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) Basilica, a monumental church by world-famous Modernist architect Antoni Gaudi, that, although still unfinished, dominates the landscape and has become a symbol of the city. Gaudi, born in 1852, worked on it from 1883 until his death in 1926. Its interior features beautiful stained glass and a “forest” or tree-shaped columns. When it is finished, the basilica, consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, will have 18 spires.
An attentive observer of nature where he found his inspiration, Gaudi has a style that incorporates curved walls and roofs, parabolic arches, twisted columns and spiral chimneys into highly symbolic structures, often creating shapes and forms inspired in animal bones, trees and plants, and frequently utilizing recycled broken bits of ceramics, pottery and glass. Among his Barcelona creations are Parc Guell, a park/garden complex on a hill with architectural elements, and among other highlights, a long snake-shaped bench that curves itself around the perimeter. Other Gaudi points of interest are on the picturesque street Passeig de Gracia: Casa Batllo (dating from 1904-06, and themed to St. George and the dragon, with a distinctive dragon on its roof) and Casa Mila (also known as La Pedrera), with a series of stone “curtain” walls, calcareous on the exterior, painted on the inside and dating from 1906-12.
Other Barcelona highlights include the Gothic Quarter with its impressive 13th century cathedral, the Columbus Monument near the sea and cruise terminal and with a statue of the discoverer pointing towards the Americas, and the hill of Montjuic, with its castle and great views of Barcelona. The Picasso Museum, with a collection of works by Pablo Picasso, one of the 20th century’s most important and prolific artists, co-founder of Cubism with Georges Braque, is a draw for art lovers.
In addition to city tours, popular excursions offered by cruise ships include day trips to Montserrat, a 4,000-foot-high peak 30 miles northwest from Barcelona with a 16th century monastic complex and a statue of La Morenita (the Black Virgin) that is venerated by many Catalans. Tour offerings also include excursions to Gaudi and Picasso sites, culinary programs and flamenco dancing shows..
Local flavors not to be missed include “tapas” or small plates of appetizers including local ham, olives, cheese, potato omelets, calamari and more that can be washed down with a glass of “sangria” or one of the excellent Spanish red or white wines in bars, cafes and restaurants throughout the city. “Paella,” a yellow rice dish with seafood, chicken, sausage and other ingredients, though invented in Valencia, is delicious in Barcelona as well. Among breakfast favorites are chocolate brioches, “churros” and “porras” (the latter two are fried pastries that Barcelonans like to have with their coffee particularly on Sunday mornings after partying all night on Saturdays).
Nightlife offerings include flamenco shows and live guitar music at various establishments. Many ships spend two days in Barcelona, to enjoy Barcelona’s vibrant dining and nightlife comfortably and to maximize sightseeing time, some passengers take a room at a central location in the city. Among the many options is the Majestic Hotel & Spa on Passeig de Gracia, within walking distance of Placa Catalunya, Las Ramblas, and Gaudi’s Casa Batllo and Casa Mila, among other points of interest.
Cruise lines that visit Barcelona and/or sail from the city, include Azamara, Celebrity, Costa, Crystal, Cunard, Holland America Line, MSC, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, Silversea and Windstar.
IF YOU GO – For additional information on Barcelona, visit www.spain.info/en.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun