I have traveled for many years, trekking across mountain passes in war torn countries, hacking my way through jungles filled with butterflies the size of postcards and wandering in big cities where the metro is more complicated than performing brain surgery. But there is one place I always seem to return to. A place where you will find magic and history around every corner, Barcelona. On any given day, you''l find people out for a stroll along the Rambles, even very late into the evening. No one is in a hurry here, they are simply enjoying the pace of life. Something the Spanish call "La Marche". Taking a long walk late at night with the family, spending an hour or 2 dining out, or actually enjoying your shopping at the local market is all a part of the unique Spanish culture. Of course if you visit here, you simply have to get into the swing of things. Everyone gets up early and works until mid-day. Then everything shuts down until late in the afternoon. The shops and restaurants stay open well into the evening and the Spanish like to stay up late. Don’t attempt to sleep in till 11 and then find a restaurant open for lunch.
While Spanish cultue is unique in many ways, the Catalan culture goes one step further in making this place truly different. The Catalans are a fiercely independent and proud people. During the Spanish civil war, they gave the Nationalists a very hard time, and Franco responded by banning all Catalan books, names and language. There were many executions in retribution too. You can, in fact, still see the bullet-holes on the exterior walls of Plaça Felip Neri (in the old quarter) when a number of Oratorian monks were shot. After the fall of Franco, the people were again allowed to practice their culture in the open. If you dine at a typical Catalan restaurant, you’ll notice that the tables are like a giant picnic bench, where everyone dines together communally. You sit next to whom ever else is dining that evening, and just go with the flow.
The Old Town (or Barri Gòtic ) has been the heart of the city for over 2000 years. Christopher Columbus was received here by the Catholic Monarchs after his first voyage to The Americas. The area is filled with amazing architecture and there are little plazas everywhere, filled with fountains, cafes and palm trees. All over the city you will find the footprint of Barcelona's darling, Antonio Gaudi. He not only created the madly fantastical Sagrada Familla, but also several houses, benches on many streets, water fountains and lamp posts. If you make it to Barcelona, be sure to slow down, feel the heartbeat of the city and really look closely. There truly is something new around every corner.