By all accounts, Barcelona seems to be the perfect city. There is enough historical significance to warrant a local legacy, the architecture is absolutely stunning, there are festivals all year round celebrating anything and everything, the local cuisine is to die for, there are more than enough beaches for you to take your pick, the nightlife is buzzing no matter what day of the week … in fact, if you choose to ignore the small fact that it is the home of a youth unemployment rate disaster, the capital of the Catalonia region of Spain might just be the place of fantasies.
There is magic in the air in Barcelona. You will feel the almost tangible energy of the city crackling in the air the moment you step out of your hotel room after you have freshened up from your journey. The atmosphere is contagious, a lifestyle so different than what you are used to that it is more than easy to fall under its spell.
Firstly, bear in mind that Barcelona is not a representation of the rest of Spain. Locals are offended when labelled “Spanish” and would rather be referred to as “Catalonian.” They speak Catalan, not Spanish, and have gone as far as banning bullfighting in the region so as to detach themselves from the typical image of a Spaniard. However, also bear in mind that most of Barcelona's population, especially the one circling around the city centre, does not include many Catalonians at all. Instead, the populace is made up mostly of tourists and young Europeans who are living and/or working in Barca.
So even if you're looking for the true essence of Catalonia, Barcelona may not be the perfect representation. But if you don't mind the global population coupled with the Spanish flavour that definitely lives up to the hype, Barcelona is the place to be.
Now, coming back to the "Spanish" flavour. When Bangladeshis go overseas they are usually struck by how punctual and organised everything is. Well believe it or not, here is a lifestyle that is even more laid-back than the Bangladeshi one!
Lunch does not start before 2.30, dinner is a celebratory affair at around 10pm, and if you end up venturing out to the nightlife before 1am, you will definitely be asked, "What is wrong with you?" Locals are seen haunting outdoor restaurants in the summer as late as midnight, happily munching on their dinners, whereas in other parts of Europe the waiter will throw you out after 10pm.
The best thing to do in Barcelona is probably to "get lost". Long, parallel roads like the famous La Rambla will ensure that you will end up walking in the opposite direction that you're meant to at least once during your time there. This happened to us more than we care to admit, but what we do admit is that losing our way was the reason we grew so attached to this beautiful city, as we were able to discover all its nooks and corners. What street are we on again ... Rambla, Gracia, Gran Via, Catalunya, Diputacio? It's all a big, messy, but absolutely glorious blur.
Lose yourself in the Gothic Quarter, where the architecture and the narrow cobbled streets that still retain their Gothic feel somehow despite all the tourists, will take your breath away. Stumble upon La Boqueria, Barcelona's legendary open-air food market, full of fresh produce and traditional sweets...and whatever you do, don't miss the fresh fruit juices, especially my personal favourite, the pina y coco. Do La Rambla justice and make sure you thoroughly ramble up and down this street, munching on tapas (finger food of Spanish origin) as you take little breaks during the day and marvel at all the street performers who come out after sunset.
Admire the singularly unique and glorious creations of architect Antoni Gaudi, especially La Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell. Say hi to the Ballearic Sea by visiting Barcelona's ridiculously crowded beaches which are more about people-watching than enjoying the sea. Make your way to the Palau Nacional and watch the sun setting over this splendid city as the fountains dance and a different kind of magic starts to happen.
Land on the savvy Passeig de Gracia and take your pick amongst all the tapas bars. And if you're feeling adventurous, go crazy on the sangria and find out what International DJ is playing in Barcelona tonight ... because someone always is.
So what is the flavour of Barcelona? Is it the tapas and sangria? Is it the delicious, unapologetic, rich hot chocolate accompanied by crispy churros? Or is it the youthful atmosphere in the city, convincing you that despite what might be going on in the real world, it's “todo bien” (“all good”) in this beautiful bubble?
No matter what it may be for you, or what it was for me, the city will always cast its special spell and make you fall irrevocably in love.
Going to London? Why not make a stopover at Barcelona? Ryanair sells flights for as little as 30 Euros if you're lucky. Make sure you choose Barcelona El Prat as your airport because the other ones are far, far, far away from the city.
Choose accommodation that is near the La Rambla or Gran Via to make the most of your visit.
Beware of pickpockets in crowded areas. Barcelona is known for its huge pickpocket population.
For the best tapas, visit the tapas chain “Txapella”. There's a lot of variety for you to try out and the prices are very reasonable compared to other restaurants.
For some good old European shopping, head to Maremagnum for the best brands and most reasonable prices.
Buy an “Hola BCN” transport ticket that will give you unlimited access to the metro and buses for a set period of time depending on how much you spend.