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Barcelona: By cable car, bike, or on a stroll

NORM GOLDSTEIN
associated press writer
FILE - In this July 27, 2009 file photo, FC Barcelona supporters invade the pitch of the Camp Nou stadium during the presentation of their new soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Sweden in Barcelona, Spain. Writing on grandstand reads, "More than a Club". (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez, file)
AP | AP

BARCELONA, Spain – By metro, tram, bus, bike, car or on foot, taking in the streetscapes, panoramas and often-startling architecture of Barcelona can make for a full itinerary. But while you’re here, you’ll also want to check out what’s inside – art, history, and of course, tapas and wine.

Start with an overview of what awaits you by taking a cable car from the top of Montjuic, a 700-foot (200-meter) hill, down to the port. The trip provides spectacular panoramic views of the city and the Mediterranean Sea.

Or opt for the less imposing but equally enjoyable cable car (teleferic) ride up to the top of Montjuic from the city. It can be reached by metro to a funicular that connects to it.

It is on Montjuic that tourists congregate on the steps of the National Museum of Art of Catalonia for yet another bird’s-eye view of the Barcelona area.

Nearby are the Olympic Stadium (originally built for the 1929 Great Exhibition and refurbished for the 1992 Games), gardens, the Spanish village, a Miro museum, and at the top, the Castell de Montjuic, an 18th-century fortress.

Choices are numerous for getting around. Barcelona residents are encouraged to use bicycles and the city has set up a system whereby they can pay a fee for access to bike racks throughout the city, pick one up and drop it off elsewhere. As one local put it with understated pride: “It’s really very nice.” Visitors can rent them, too.

There are miles (kilometers) of bike lanes set aside for the pedalers, although motorbikes still seem to be more popular.

But walking may be the most enjoyable of all for the tourist. This is a spacious city, with wide avenues flanked, in many areas, by narrow side streets. It has neighborhoods that vary from the medieval Old City, including Barri Gotic, Raval and Ribera, to the more fashionable Eixample, which touts the iconic Sagrada Familia church and the unusual, cylindrical Agbar Tower.

Shopping? Walk on Passeig de Gracia in this area.

Best known, though, and best seen, is Las Ramblas, the verve center for tourists from all around the globe, many of whom come off cruise ships, which only in recent years have made Barcelona a Mediterranean port call. Las Ramblas is a promenade that runs from Plaza de Catalunya to the port and is lined with stalls selling everything from postcards to parrots. It is street theater with mimes, magicians, acrobats and, at times, the Spanish equivalent of the three-card monte shell game. As a tourist attraction, though, it is mobbed with gawkers and hawkers, and thus presents opportunities for petty thievery.

It has its share of cafes along the way, or you can stroll all the way down to the port where a monument to Christopher Columbus (Cristofor Colom, Catalan spelling, or Cristobal Colon, in Spanish) stands 197 feet (60 meters) high overlooking the marina, the beach and the sea. It was to Barcelona where Columbus made his triumphal return after his 1492 voyage to America.

If you’re a camera-toter, you’ll be filling up your memory card. Barcelona is, above all, a visual city, an urban easel for the creative artists that Catalonia is famous for (and proud of), beginning with the architect Antoni Gaudi, whose stunning works can be seen throughout the city, topped by the still-in-progress La Sagrada Familia, designed as an 18-tower church telling the tale of the Holy Family.

Innovative sculptures and street art of various styles dot the urban landscape. “Woman and Bird,” the creation of Joan Miro, a Barcelonan painter and sculptor, stands in the Joan Miro Park. More of his work is on display at the Miro Museum on Montjuic.

The American Roy Lichtenstein’s “‘Barcelona Head” (1992) stands at the waterfront.

A collection of the early works of Pablo Picasso, born in Malaga, Spain, is in the Museu Picasso in Barcelona.

A museum devoted to the artist Salvador Dali is in his birthplace of Figueres, about an hour and a half north of Barcelona.

And you can’t forget the shopping. It’s available everywhere, on fashionable boulevards, street kiosks, serendipitous side streets and the occasional flea market.

Barcelona is in northeastern Spain and as a Mediterranean city enjoys mild weather most of the year. Thus, there is a proliferation of outdoor cafes throughout the city, providing another attraction: the food.

Tapas and wine is a popular lunch duo. Tapas are snacks or appetizers and there is a variety of them to go with the beer, wine or sangria, a red wine with fruit juice. (It is a combination that has been imported into many American metropolitan eateries.)

Paella, a dish of rice with chicken and seafood, is a traditional offering.

We sampled some other tasty dishes at Los Caracoles (“The Snails”), a popular restaurant in the Gothic neighborhood that offers a wide variety of seafood and roasted meat dishes with accompanying side dishes and salads. As is true in most Mediterranean areas, the restaurants don’t open for dinner until 8 or 8:30 p.m. A lively nightlife begins late.

If you’re sports-minded and your timing is right, you might try for a ticket to a Futbol Club Barcelona soccer game. The games run August-May, and Spain’s team won the European cup earlier this year, becoming the first Spanish team ever to win three major trophies in one season. Known affectionately as Barca, the pride of Catalonia, plays at a stadium that seats 110,000 and is said to be the biggest in Europe.


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