Sunday, 17 January 2016

Dora in Barcelona: my second solo trip abroad

Dora in Gaudi Museum

Since I can remember I have always wanted to visit Barcelona. I have always liked the very sound of the word B-a-r-c-e-l-o-n-a. It sounded so grand to me and conjured up the picture of an elegant lady (doesn't the word sound a bit feminine and whimsical?)or a majestic and glamorous place. Barcelona is a very old city in which you can feel the weight of history; it is actually haunted by history. You cannot walk around it without perceiving and feeling it. It is full of splendid architecture, incredible stories and stunning landscapes. Barcelona is breathtakingly beautiful. It is a dream destination for art and culture lovers. It has got all you need for perfect holidays: insanely good food, great shops, beautiful sandy beaches, staggering cathedrals, palm and orange trees, gorgeous hills, cable cars, fairy tale architecture, fabulous parks and glorious weather. It is full of music, first-rate tapas bars, great flavours, flowers and glistening fruit. It is incredibly vibrant, charming and colourful.  It is spirited and irrepressible. It is a city with a character and charisma! A very stimulating place to visit. I had a wonderful time in Barcelona. I needed a break from reality and rainy, gloomy English weather and sunny Barcelona instantly awakened me from my winter hibernation/somnabulism.

Panoramic view over Barcelona from the outside of the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (Barcelona National Art Museum of Catalonia). The museum is situated on the top of Montjuïc Hill. 

I decided to visit Barcelona in January to avoid heat. I arrived at El Prat airport on the 11th of January and the moment I came out of the terminal I had to shield my dazzled eyes against the Spanish sun's brilliance. I spent 4 full days in Barcelona and the sun was shining almost every day. The sky was cloudless most of the time, the air was fresh and breezy, the temperature just about right for me: +15/16° C. It was sunny, bright, and pleasantly cool. Very refreshening and rejuvenating. Ideal weather for intensive walking, parks & hills touring and relentless exploring of the city. My hotel was located in central Barcelona -  on one of the most popular shopping streets in the Gothic Quarter, a 5-minute walk from the Rambla and the cathedral, 15-minte walk from Placa de Catalunya (Catalonia Square). Placa de Catalunya is a strategic place in Barcelona. It is the central place where the old city  (Barri Gótic and La Rambla) meet.  It is the starting point for all Barcelona hop-on hop-off City Tour Buses. Aerobus service has its stops at Catalonia Square too. Thanks to the fact that my hotel was conveniently located in close proximity to Placa de Catalunya (right at the heart of the city) I could see Gothic catedral, Picasso museum and famous La Boqueria market on the first day of my trip. I was able to stroll lively La Rambla and El Raval as often as I pleased and could immerse myself in the enchanting architecture of Barri Gótic quarter every day. 


Panoramic view over Placa d'Espanya Barcelona from Montjuïc. Placa d'Espanya is one of Barcelona's most important and biggest squares.

If you are visiting Barcelona for the first time, here are some tips to make you trip easy, convenient, smooth and most of all enjoyable.

1). Take a good guide book with you. I strongly recommend Barcelona City Guide (Insight Guides series). It has got full-colour, easy-to-follow detailed maps of all Barcelona quarters.The Best Of section at the front of the book contains all the top sights. The Places section details all the attractions worth seeing. I found Insight Guides Barcelona Guidebook the most indispensible item during my travel. I am a great walker and enjoy active sightseeing. In my humble opinion, walking is one of the best ways of getting around Barcelona, which is not really physically that huge as I had previously thought. Despite being one of the largest cities on the Mediterranean (population 1.6 milion), Barcelona is a pretty easy place to find your way around. In effect, it is a series of self-contained quarters or neighbourhoods (known as barris) stretching out from the harbour, flanked by parks and hills.  The guide book with great, detailed maps in it was a great resource to help me plan every day in Barcelona and to explore the city on foot. 


2) Book your accomodation in the city centre. Staying in a centrally located hotel or hostel will save you lots of time whilst finding your way around the most important sights. You can find really inexpensive accommodation in the heart of the city. Barcelona has an excellent range of accomodation, with high-end luxury hotels and a varied spread of midrange and budget selections. Depending on the season you can pay as little as 15 to €25 for a dorm bed in a youth hostel. If dorm living is not your thing (it is not mine) but you are still looking for a budget deal, check around the many pensiones (small private hotels) and hostales (budget hotels). These are often family-run, small-scale hotels. Whilst looking for an inexpensive accommodation in Barcelona the word hostale was putting me off. I couldn't help associating it with a loud, squalid youth hostel. The word hostale   couldn't be more misleading though. Some hostales (small hotels) can be actually immaculately maintained gems. An example of such a gem is Hostel Fina. I based myself in Hostel Fina for 5 nights - and paid only €92.50 for enitre stay (€18.50 per 1 night). I booked single room with its own shower and toilet. The room was small but cosy and most importantly - spotless. The hotel is conveniently located on Carrer Portaferrissa street - a stone throw away from famous La Rambla and Barri Gótic. A better location could scarcely be imagined - close to major sights and the old city; perfect area for exploring on foot; good nightlife and dining options. 


 3)Buy AeroBus ticket online and print it at home. AEROBÚS is the official shuttle bus service that connects El Prat Barcelona Airport (Terminal 1 and Terminal 2) with the city center ( Pl. Espanya & Pl. Catalunya) in 35 minutes. You pay 5.90 for single ticket and €10.20 for return ticket. The return ticket is valid for 15 days after validating the outward journey. Your printed return ticket will be replaced with a paper ticket by the driver once you get on the board of the AeroBus. 

4) Get Art Ticket (Barcelona Museum Pass). If you read my blog you must be into art & museums and Barcelona is to modern art what Greece is to ruined temples. Barcelona is exceptional for the quantity and quality of exhibition venues and is a sheer delight for any visitor interested in art. Art Ticket is a must when visiting Barcelona. It saves your money and time as it allows you to skip the line and cuts out the need to queue and wait. For convenience and speed the best way to buy your museum pass is online purchase. You pay 30€ online then print your Art Ticket and exchange the printed voucher for your Barcelona Art Passport at the ticket desk of any Art Ticket museum. As simple as that. 

With Art Passport you save 45% on the normal admission price. The Art Passport is valid for 12 months. It allows you to visit the 6 most popular museums in Barcelona, including Picasso Museum, Fundacio Joan Miro, Fundacio Antoni Tapies, Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, CCCB and MACBA. 

Six great museums in greater detail:

1) MACBA: The Contemporary Art Museum of Barcelona. 

MACBA is gigantic and impressive. It is a great, rotund, white bastion of contemporary art. Located in the bohemian Raval area, two minutes walk from PLaca de Catalunya, its iconic main building designed by Richard Meier, features captivating exhibitions for art lovers and a permanent collection of more than 5,800 works.

2) CCCB: Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona. 

CCCB is is situated right next to MACBA. CCCB is housed in a labyrinthine building and was set up as a force for social, urban, environmental and cultural development, and has a full programme of striking, thought-provoking and frequently futuristic exhibitions, talks, music and videos

3) Fundació Antoni Tapies

The museum was created by Antoni Tapies, leading 20th-century Catalan artist to promote knowledge of modern art. The Fundació houses one of the most complete public collections of Antoni Tapies' work, and organizes activities and temporary exhibitions on contemporary art. The Fundació Tapies is housed in a pioneering Modernista building (completed in 1885). The building, designed by Domenech i Montaner for the publishing house Editorial Montaner i Simón, combines a brick-covered iron frame with Islamic-inspired decoration. Tapies crowned it with the meanderings of his own imagination, a work called Nuvol i Cadira (Cloud and Chair) that spirals above the building like a stormy cloud or wreath of wind. There is something sinister about the wilderness of wires suspended above the building. The creation is quirky yet thought-provoking. 


4) Museu Picasso.

The setting alone, in medieval stone mansions, makes the Museu Picasso unique. The pretty courtyards, galleries and staircases preserved in these old, stone buildings are as delightful as the collection inside. 
The collection concentrates on the artist's formative years, yet there's enough material from subsequent periods to give you a thorough immpression of the man's versality and genius. Above all, you come away feeling that Picasso was a true original, always one step ahead of his time, in his search of new forms of expression. The collection includes more than 3500 artworks, largely pre-1904, which is apt considering the artist spent his formative creative years in Barcelona. It is important, however, not to expect a parade of his most popular works (works representative of his best-known periods. The holdings at them museum reflect Picasso's years in Barcelona and elswehere in Spain, and what makes this collection truly impressive - and unique around many Picasso museums around the world - is the way in which it displays his extraordinary talent at such a young age. Faced with technical vituosity of a painting such as Cilencia i caritat (science and Charity), for example, it is almost inconceivable that such work could have been created at the hands of a 15 year old. 


5) Fundació Joan Miró.
Joan Miró, the city's best known 20th-century artistic progeny, bequethed this art foundation to his home town in 1971. The museum's buildings, designed by close friend and architect Josep Lluis Sert, are crammed with seminal works, from Miró earliest timid sketches to paintings from his last years.

The foundation rests amid the greenery of the hills and holds the greatest sngle collection of the artist;s work, containing around 220 of his paintings, 180 sculptures, some textiles and more than 8000 drawings spanning his entire life. Only small portion is ever on display.



6) Museu Nacional D'Art De Catalunya.

From across the city, the flamboyant neobaroque silhouette of the Palau Nacional can be seen on the slopes of Montjuic. Built for the 1929 World Exhibition and restored in 2005, it houses a vast collection of mostly Catalan art spanning the early Middle Ages to the early 20th century. The high point is the collection of extrordinary Romanesque frescoes. 

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