( Mike’s travel notes from Newstalk ZB’s Jack Tame Show.)
Why has Barcelona emerged as one of the main European gateways for Kiwis?
The surge in Kiwis entering Europe through Barcelona has been quite spectacular in recent years, and it’s for a couple of reasons. First, both Emirates and Singapore Airlines fly from Auckland and Christchurch via Dubai and Changi, direct into Barcelona. But the city has also emerged as a principle port for Mediterranean cruises. Over a dozen cruise companies offer cruises from Barcelona, so that has really supercharged Barcelona as a gateway destination.
The average traveller only spends 48 hours in Barcelona. Is the Sagrada Familia still the most-flocked-to sight?
No question, Antoni Gaudi’s unfinished colossus is Barcelona’s landmark attraction. Although, just before he was killed by a tram, he rather prophetically said, My client is not in a hurry.” ( The client being God, of course.) I first visited the church 14 years ago, and the progress since then has been quite pronounced. Last year, the lavish interior was finally finished, and is open to the public. But on the exterior, only 8 of the 18 spires are finished. It’s actually a Christchurch engineer who is overseeing much of the project. The good news is, a final completion date has now been set in stone. 2026, which will commemorate the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.
What about La Rambla? Spanish poet, Federico Lorca famously said La Rambla is the only street in the world, which I wish would never end. And on a soupy summer day, it can feel like it is never-ending. But yes, this leafy promenade, that rips through the city , down to the harbour throbs with buskers, street theatre, flower stalls and al fresco bars. I know that all the guide books explicitly warn tourists that La Rambla is rife with pickpockets. Personally, I don’t know of anyone who has been mugged. Make sure to pop into the Boqueria market, consistently voted one of the world’s best. It’s 900 years old and the colourful abundance and variety of produce is absolutely lip-smacking. If you want to learn how to cook Catalan style cuisine,the market recently established a cooking school for adults and children. You can easily book on line. www.boqueria.info
What about Barcelona street food? What are the signature tastes?
You can’t beat the chocolate dipped churros! Deep-fried churros, with a dipping cup, filled with thick chocolate. Pure decadence.Have a glass of cava, the local sparkling wine, with a bocadillo, or filled roll, for lunch. Malindros, the local sweet baked cakes, are great for an afternoon snack. And of course, for dinner, have a tapas based dining experience, with a variety of Catalan tasting plates. Their seafood rice dishes are fantastic.
Make the effort to see Parc Guell.
Well of course, Gaudi, was the godfather of the Modernistas, which was Barcelona’s take on the art nouveau craze. His most outstanding buildings are all located in one city block, called the Block of Discord. Lots of whimsy, and flights of fancy. But, it’s Gwell Park, just north of the city on Carmel Hill, that will really knock your socks off. Gaudi unleashed full-tilt fantasy in the design of this park, complete with Hansel and Gretel gate houses, elaborate mosaics and animal sculptures, like giant glazed dragons. Its a world heritage site and a must-see.
Check out the Olympic nostalgia on Mont Juic.
All of the main Olympic venues from ’92 are on MontJuic, including the outdoor swimming pools. And here’s something quirky – pop into the main entrance of the pool complex, and you can take a photo of the Danyon Loader wall plaque, immortalising his silver medal performance. It’s great place to have a swim, by the way. MontJuic also has a Spanish village called Poble Esapnyol, which showcases all of Spain’s architectural styles. It’s a wee bit tacky, bit interesting nonetheless.
What about the Magic Fountain show?
Built for the World Fair 90 years ago, Font Magica is the grand daddy of water features, that spawned all manner of imitations, including that Bellagio fountain in Vegas. Kids love it. It’s loud, its splashy and techni-coloured, and attracts 4 million tourists a year.
Ultimate city view, from Tibidabo Hill?
Yes, one quick last tip. If you are travelling with kids, take the blue tram from the city centre up the mountain to Tibidabo Hill, which is home to the city’s vintage theme park. But it’s the unblemished city-wide views that are breathtaking.