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An Exploration of Barcelona - Away with Words

By Martin HigginsMonday 29th June 2015

In March last year we held a competition to find an aspiring travel writer to send on-board Allure of the Seas as our very own guest blogger. Our competition winner Martin Higgins, and his girlfriend Emily, will be spending one month travelling around the beautiful Mediterranean while visiting some of Europe’s most loved destinations from Barcelona to Florence on our 7 night West Mediterranean cruise.


Read about their exciting adventure with the latest edition of Away with Words.

Barcelona is a city that tells a story of wild passions and nationhood, mixing modernity with historical romance and great architectural beauty. It has its own language, dance, and traditions, which separate it from the rest of the world – it has all this, and I haven’t even mentioned the patatas bravas yet!
The global success of this Catalonian narrative is everywhere too; in the most touristic barrios like Ciutadella and the Gòtic Quarter. It is in the silhouette of the Agbar tower, and down the pedestrianized streets where the multitudes flock in the summer months, such as Las Ramblas.
Agbar Tower Barcelona
Yet there is another history to be derived from this ancient land, which is imperceptible to the untrained eye and ear – you just need to know where to look, to witness how the statute of autonomy informs the sense of unity and pride in this community, and you can appreciate the real essence of life here.
Gratefully, I had a tour guide with an encyclopaedic knowledge of these streets, and someone who lives and breathes the beauty of his homeland through his work, capturing each new vibration and perspective with his camera. Like this.
Barcelona Streets
Albert Barrut, my photographer and tour guide for the day, was waiting at Encants market for my arrival.
First thing I noticed on my way there was the iconic roof erected above the sprawling flea market – which was like honey-comb sharpened to a point against a cloudless sky.
This structure has been forged into a geometric fortress, with clean lines and reflective surfaces – but remains open and inviting likethe Guggenheim museum in New York City.
Ponited Roof Above Flea Market Barcelona
This was to be the epicentre of my search of the real, living Barcelona.
There I found beautifully arranged stores and shop fronts in the open-air market place, like this stall selling antique glass, vials, old cola-bottles and siphon glass.
Martin Higgins Flea Market
The shop owner noticed I was camera-shy, gauche and lacking in hand and foot co-ordination. Elvis is the only medicine for these symptoms, so he gave me a caricature to hold.
I found a wealth of vinyl to sink my teeth into.
Martin Higgins Vinyl
Or you can dust off your dancing shoes, and enjoy the sound of computer music if flicking through vinyl isn’t your thing.
Barcelona Music
You can be as active as you want to be, rooting through the bric-a-brac, Spanish comics, old military paraphernalia, and washed-out denim, or you can just perch on a straw bale outside with friends, sampling some of the local cuisine from the caravan pop-up stalls.
Barcelona Pop up Stalls
Barcelona Food Truck
I discovered a man living my perfect life, sat in the middle of the hustle and bustle of this busy walkway – taking in the atmosphere, sipping sweet tea in the shade - this Mozart of sitting down, this salamander of stillness.
Barcelona Man Sitting
Change is not always a damaging force. Not here, where the spirit and creative energy of whole new generation is surging up from the margins, a biological indicator of an emergent youth culture in full flow. The very opposite of cultural stagnation.
This eruption out of the creative spaces, the art studios, cafes, galleries, and record shops – is a new phenomenon here. In the shop fronts and the hip clientele it is attracting, the rockabilly dress sense, the live music – it takes me back to my first forays into Camden Town.
Barcelona Women in Flea Market
Next we ventured inside the Museo Del Disseny – a piece of design genius in its own right, to marvel at the graphic designers, and the collections of decorative and author-centred art. Here I am channelling my inner MC Escher on one of the beautiful metallic escalators.
Martin Higgins in Museo Del Disseny
Contemplating the hybridisation of toilet and bike design here…
Martin Higgins in  Museo Del Disseny  Bike
Albert has a keen eye for a rare photo opportunity, and he sat me down in some kind of 2001: Space Odyssey themed waiting room. That arrow leads to the cryonic hibernation pods.
Martin Higgins Sitting Down
Then it was outside into the sunshine again, to sit on the steps in front of Glories station, to soak up the views as well as the sun.
Martin Higgins Sitting on Steps
Just a short walk around with Albert, I was building a picture of Barca I’d only read about in Orwell’s Homage To Catalonia and The City of Marvels by Eduardo Mendoza.
Barcelona Statues
It’s not all window-smashing, anti-austerity marches right now, as has been painted in the media.
The local communities I found were in high-spirits, and many were outside, celebrating with each other in public street parties, which are commonplace this time of year. These massive papier-mâché effigies of kings and queens are a symbol of the more traditional side of civic life. Each community has their own patrons they worship.
Then f led me to my favourite place on the tour, a quiet haven in the crash and clang of a busy metropolitan city, where soft light floods down the renaissance buildings, and the sound of running water can be enjoyed.
Barcelona Fountain
A hauntingly beautiful space called Plaça Sant Felip Neri, rich with history and perfectly preserved. Those pot-holes in the wall behind me are the scars left behind by shrapnel after a deadly explosion during the Spanish Civil War. On the 30th January 1938, a bomb was dropped on the placa by the nationalists, which killed 42 people – many of whom were children sheltering in the basement.
Famed architect, Antoni Gaudi, was also a parishioner of this church; and was on his way to this exact spot in 1926 when he was knocked over and killed by a tram.
Then it was off to El Born, where I could sample some authentic local tapas, including the much vaunted patatas bravas, which I can verify are even better when washed down with some of the local beer.

 Images courtesy of Albert Barrut


Words by Martin Higgins



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