It is one of the most exquisite and beautiful cities you could ever visit, and the easy-going, Mediterranean lifestyle that the Catalans abide by will appeal to North Americans who kill themselves with a 60-to-80 hour work week.
It is also a city where the locals take soccer very seriously. As I came to learn, FC Barcelona's motto més que un club (more than a club) are not empty words, but instead a firmly-held religious belief that millions of Spaniards in one of the most Catholic countries in the world live by.
Some of my favourite memories of Barcelona:
Soccer talk over chocolate and churros. A long-standing aversion to hot chocolate was overcome when I stumbled into a local coffee bar and ordered the hot, syrupy chocolate drink with a small plate of the deep fried churros (Spain's answer to the doughnut). Chocolate and churros became my routine breakfast while in Spain, as I poured over the sports dailies and eavesdropped on the patrons in the coffee bar talk soccer.
Montjuïc. The best views of the city can be enjoyed from the castle high atop this mountain. A visit to the nearby Olympic complex and stadium where Espanyol, Barcelona's other first division team plays, was amazing, as was the stroll down the steps the lead from the stunning Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya down to Plaça d' Espanya.
The Camp Nou. This is one amazing place to watch a soccer game. My first visit to this amazing stadium - Barcelona's 4-0 win over Valencia in a startling display of Total Football - left me speechless. The crowd is so passionate and yet you get the feeling as though you are watching play or a classical music concert, as opposed to a soccer match. The FC Barcelona Museum, tucked inside the bowels of the stadium, was another personal highlight - even more so than the Picasso Museum.
The food. I don't think I've eaten so much pork (serrano, iberico, pata negra, and chorizo) in my entire life. Also yummy were the seafood paella at the Shrimp King restaurant alongside the beach, and fresh rabbit and carbonzos paella at a café around the corner from my hotel. The wide array of tapas at the Taller de Tapas restaurant just up the street from the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar where I feasted on spicy octopus, pinchos, stuffed peppers, and wild mushrooms. The fresh cod plate I enjoyed just two places down at l'Argentina. A bountiful platter of fresh fish and seafood I wolfed down at a tiny restaurant a block or two away from Casa Batlló.
Park Güell. Architect Anton Gaudi is one of the city's most famous sons - alongside Picasso and Dali - and he has left his considerable fingerprints all over the city, most notably with La Sagrada Familia (a breathtakingly beautiful cathedral) and La Pedrera and Casa Battlo (two amazing apartment buildings). But for me, his most beautiful contribution to the city is this stunning park where you can wander aimlessly for hours.
Doing nothing at all. A sunny afternoon spent on a comfy bench at Plaça de Catalunya with a good book (Nick Hornby's About a Boy) and a cold beer as school kids play a pickup game of soccer in the middle of the square.
Strolling down La Rambla. The city's main strip is a beehive of activity at all hours of the day, especially after a FC Barcelona win. Visits to Plaça de Sant Jaume and leisurely walks around the Bari Gotic and Ribera neighbourhoods were just as rewarding.
El Clasico. A rainy, cold night at the Camp Nou did little to quiet 96,000 screaming, fanatical Spaniards who packed inside the venerable stadium to watch FC Barcelona beat Real Madrid 2-0. Being able to attend the greatest derby in club football was something I won't soon forget, much like my entire trip.
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