Thursday, 10 May 2018

"I had this perfect dream..."

"I had this perfect dream..." as it goes in Freddie Mercury's Barcelona and indeed, when I am huddled by the fire in January after two daily dog walks have left me damp and dispirited, my dream is usually not some white sandy beach, turquoise sea and clear blue skies - though I'm not saying that it wouldn't be nice - but a cafe or bar with street-side seating in the warm spring sunshine sipping a cappuccino or even better a glass of something pink and alcoholic in Barcelona.

I know bucket lists are supposed to be full of exotic, undiscovered and distant destinations but my bucket list, which is, like so many things in my life, a work in progress, has an eclectic mix of old and new destinations and the ones that I love, where I have been really happy, are always included for another a visit. I think we've been to Barcelona five times now and each visit shows us another side to this bustling, stylish Catalan city. And this time was no exception. Brilliantly, and by a serendipitous fluke, the Barcelona ATP Tennis Tournament falls fairly and squarely on our wedding anniversary so no surprise that this event is a massive favourite of ours.

But first, easy to get to from Leeds Bradford and an obliging taxi ride from the airport, we opted for an Airbnb centrally located for the four of us because on this trip we were joined by our tennis buds, Nigel and Sarah Mou - a smidgeon of Greek there! Great location near to one of our two favourite tapas bars but four floors up with the sort of lift that would not have been out of place in Thoroughly Modern Millie! Anyway perfect for us and very well fitted out though my beloved would have liked a bigger bed and there was a fair amount of clinging to the edge of the precipice on either side in the middle of the night!

Our two favourite tapas bars are Cerveceria Catalana on Carrer de Mallorca, literally a spit and a bit from our Airbnb - a buzzy mix of suits and tourists and whether you're sitting outside or standing six deep at the bar pointing at the amazing array of tapas, it's all good. And our other favourite is Irati which is an altogether smaller affair, snugly squeezed between tourist shops on a narrow street not far off Las Ramblas. Here you help yourself to cold tapas from the bar and then prepare for the diving hands when the hot tapas emerge from the kitchen at the back - these are the best! Each tapas has a cocktail stick and the bar staff tot up the sticks when you pay the bill. As ever, fab food and a bottle of rather nice red came to 62 euros for the four of us. Can't be beaten...

The tennis in Barcelona is my favourite of the smaller tournaments we've been to. Each has its own character but there is something friendly and welcoming about the Barcelona tournament. We were booked into men's quarter finals so four matches of the best of three sets including a masterclass from Rafa. And when in Barcelona, he gets the kind of welcome from the crowd that Sachin Tendulkar gets from a home crowd in India. Three top 10 players in action and the weather was perfect. Two minutes from the court to a glass of cool beer - it can't be bettered.

No trip to Barcelona is complete without a visit to La Sagrada Familia - the stunning, and constantly evolving Gaudi cathedral. This is my favourite of all modern buildings. I don't have the words to describe the light inside from the many, many stained glass windows or the incredible ceiling which sparkles and glistens above our heads with each carving and image around us perfectly symbolic. That it is still being constructed to Gaudi's specific plan nearly 100 years after his death is surely the greatest mark of respect of the people. And each time we visit, it shows a new treasure. Find somewhere away from the crowds to sit and contemplate. You won't be disappointed. Top tip: book before you go as the queues can be massive.

There were lots of other joyous bits of our long weekend including two very reasonable pairs of shoes for moi and some delicious meals including Tomate/Fan Ho and a lovely if very windy walk down to the Marina. Also new to us was the magnificent Fonta Magica of Montjuic where the fountains nearly match those of the Bellagio in Las Vegas and play to Barcelona by the much-missed Freddie Mercury and Monserrat Caballe. And not forgetting my must-have Cosmopolitan at a rooftop bar - yeah! All that was missing was one more day. We'll be back next April - love it!

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