(Barcelona.) Visiting Barcelona in summer sounds like a good idea: Enjoy a pulsating city's cultural highlights, and profit from the Mediterranean Sea at your doorsteps. If you are already on the old continent and don't want to take another plane (or fear some secret service has put you on a no-flight list for visiting the wrong website/listening to the wrong music/ordering the wrong books online... just kidding), you might take the new high speed train connecting Paris and Barcelona in no more than six hours. Doing so, you'll arrive at Barcelona Sants station, and this is probably the closest you'll ever get to seeing the "true", the "authentic" Barcelona.
For the past decades, the locals have turned old town areas Gothic Quarter and El Born into some of the world's largest tourist resorts. Choosing your hotel here means, you'll hardly ever see any natives throughout your stay. If you hear a word in Spanish, you can be pretty sure it's tourists from another part of the country (excuse me: a Spanish person visiting Catalonia, independence is a sensitive issue). Booking a hotel in another part of the town will still drive you here at night, you probably won't know anywhere else to go.
The theme parks - or city quarters - offer impressive remains from the ancient Roman city walls, and, more important, an endless number of bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops. It's actually difficult to find anything else than bars, restaurants and souvenir shops in El Born or the Gothic Quarter. The city council might have exaggerated a bit on the licenses. But should you enjoy sipping rum cocktails on your own, undisturbed by other people, just enter. There's at least one bar for every tourist. Literally.
There's no lack of hotel rooms and hostels either, and you can expect really good value for your money. Even if you don't have the means to stay at the "W", you will certainly find something cheap and clean. Having killed no more than one single cucaracha in a Spanish hotel room is a personal record for me. But then again: It's Catalunya, not Spain. And it was not even a real cucaracha, but more of a bonsai-centipede. Whereas the critters in the harbor, outside the hotels... Let's just say, mice are cute that size. Authentic Spanish (da-n: Catalonian, again) cockroaches with much of cojones; they won't back away, but defend their trashcan to the very last. I've seen a homeless guy with only two fingers left on each hand (a lie, actually, but conceivable). Who now thinks the words "shoes, strange shoes", wins some positive vibes and an imaginary B-movie award. In any case, personally I prefer our Parisian rats, partly out of a feeling of general solidarity towards all mammals. With a proud Parisian Seine rat you can confer on equal terms, call them by their (fore-, middle and family) name, and ride one home after the last metro's gone. Only watch your dog, if he's anything below Mastiff size. But back to Barcelona: If you think, Thai Tapas Fusion Cuisine sounds like a great business idea, kindly contact Artlife Magazine Investor Relations.
Barcelona has at least three more attractions to offer: The world's second best Football club (after your own supported team, that is); the castle on top of Mont Juic mountain, from where you can enjoy beautiful sights over city, sea, and harbor, with always at least one descending airplane in focus (the airport is right behind the cruise ship terminal); and Gaudi. Antonio Gaudi, the late 19th/early 20th Century architect whose style may only be compared to Austrian Friedensreich Hundertwasser's (who, evidently, was born much later). In one word: organic. Buildings like skeletons of voluptuous fat fairy-whales. Gaudi's masterpiece is Sagrada Familia cathedral, decades after his death still a work in progress. To put it simple: This the most impressing Christian church in this world. Even for an atheist. This building lives, and breathes and carries joy in every stone. The exact opposite of the Spanish inquisition, full of plays of light and lightness: Finally here is one church that is not a dark place, and nevertheless sweats spiritual dignity out of every stone.
The genius architect's other works, spattered all about the city, are no less impressive. Whole Barcelona seems like an open air museum for his oeuvre, Güell Park, Güell Palace, Casa Batlo,... the list is long, and there's no reason not to follow all the other tourists and visit it all. Well, there might be one reason: all the other tourists. And where is Gaudi, there are also pigeons and crap selling Indians of the immigrant caste. In every European tourist area you'll find these two today. Thirty years ago, the Indians were upper middle-class born Hippies selling their stuff to pay for a trip to India; a hundred years ago, the pigeons were rats. Progress.
Almost everywhere in Barcelona you'll find remains from the 1992 Olympics, the first truly sustainable games in history. Even the ice skating tracks have been converted into Metro stations. Excuse me? Those were Summer Olympics? And ice-skating is not done with Flip Flops? But it works so perfectly well, without any effort, or intention - or ice - even!
Barcelona is actually a very sporty town. On arrival, the untrained guest might wish for some more metro stations, and that they would stop pulling your leg in joining two stations in one. Changing trains includes a 20 min walk inside the station, no matter which station. And it's hot down here, the air chose the only natural thing: don't move. Yet, for us, there are stairs. Everywhere. This might be just another Gaudi influence: Whenever you could do a straight line - don't. Break it up, five meters down, then up again. There is always room for stairs.
The biggest "Don't" in Barcelona: When you see a man sitting on the floor, on the street, at a bus station or on a metro train: resist your natural reflexes, and DON'T drop him a coin! Locals do like this. Probably exhausted from taking the metro.
To enjoy the heat you could take the bus up to Mont Juic (it's really nice up there), or lie down on the beach. There even is a nudist beach a bit more down to the east. Or so they say, as I was unable to locate it. But every tourist guide tells about it! Never mind though, as topless is standard even on the most central beaches. So is the trash in the sea, mostly plastic bottles and toilet paper.
Relaxing on the beach, visitors learn to appreciate the soundtrack of Barcelona: "Cerveza-beer, aqua-beer, cola!...Cold beer, warm beer...Mojito, fresh Mojito". Somebody should record it and add a house beat. After dark the lyrics change to "Cerveza-beer, marijuana, cola!", occasionally varied to the discreet classic "You want something?". It makes you feel at home no matter where you come from.
One insider tip: If at 33°C/91°F you don't feel like dressing in cocaine-white button-down shirt, dark double-breasted Brioni suit, and massive Budapester shoes (some say "sawn-off cowboy boots") - as a guy, women are just perfect in that little black dress, no underwear - in order to be granted access to one of the posh harbor clubs (Opium, CDLC, etc.), and neither feel like socializing with plebsy college kids on a binge on the other, the bad, side of the bridge - then just keep on walking. The beach bars stay open at night, and some of them even employ their own DJ. It's really relaxed there; you may choose to sit down in a chair and enjoy an overpriced cocktail (yes, when you pay 3.80€ for a Mojito in El Born, 9 Euros at the beach are overpriced, even with the views), or bring your own beverages and get your bum sandy. A clear "Do".
Picasso Museum's current exhibition is called Yo Picasso - I Picasso -, and shows a collection of auto portraits. Located in Gothic Quarter (where else?), the visitor cannot miss the Picasso Museum for the masses queuing at any hour of the day. Probably it's a good idea to come here on your first day in Barcelona, to get a nice tan during the waiting hours. If you have cynical tendencies, you might ask yourself, why wheelchairs and accompanying groups - no matter how large these are - are allowed to pass the queue. After all, THEY are seated, aren't they? (Business idea #1332: Rent-a-granny.)
Pablo Picasso was one of the most prolific painters in art history, but his works also are also a must for every self-confident museum in the world. Not to forget the many masterpieces in private collections, not only a disinterested pleasure for their owner but also a crisis-proof investment. The biggest collectors and institutions share the best works. This museum is not one of them. Barcelonan Picasso Museum owns no truly famous paintings, no key works of the artist's career, or to put it in marketing speech: Even to the outspoken expert, this little gem offers new insights and unhoped-for discoveries.
Such the Academic Studies, Pablo Picasso made in 1894 at the age of 13(!); or Science and Charity from 1897 equally proving the artist's technical skills and mastery of classical painting at a very young age. It would have simply been too boring for him not to revolutionize art in his later life.
The series Las Meninas profits from a privileged presentation with lots of explanatory panels. We learn, the maestro created it between August and December of 1957 as an interpretation of Velazquez' Les Ménines (1656), keeping the atmosphere while rearranging the motives. Now, wouldn't it make perfectly sense to show a small reproduction of that original, or a photo at least, to give us the chance of understanding the similarities and differences? Picasso Museum doesn't think so.
The Yo exhibition is nice, but not overwhelming either. Auto portraits in different styles, all his life Picasso was fascinated with his proper face. True to reality or to his fantasy, there are works as different as a funny Self Portrait with a Wig (1900), a Cubist Self Portrait from 1907, and the Self Portrait upon Learning of the Death of Apollinaire (19) catching an instant like a photograph.
Let's face it: most visitors in here won't ever have seen another art exhibition in their life. This is rather an attraction for rainy days than a serious art institution. As such, Picasso Museum is a true cash cow, and the personnel is keen on supporting Barcelona's economy as much as they can. Any visitor who dares taking a photo will experience an army of fierce wardens' full wrath: "NO PHOTOS" (...buy posters, postcards and catalogues instead)!
Summary: I am convinced Barcelona is a beautiful city full of the friendliest people on earth. Only for a stranger, it's difficult to meet them.
Yo Picasso, 31 May-01 September, 2013, Picasso Museum, Barcelona
Barcelona, the city, since around 230 BC-?