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Travel

It’s So Hard Not to Love Barcelona

The Barcelona Cathedral.
The Barcelona Cathedral. PHOTO | MARTIN GICHERU | TECHWEEZ 

The Mediterranean Sea floats into view — grey-blue like the arched back of a sleeping mammoth — as the plane begins its descent into Barcelona, the Spanish city made famous by the football club named after it.

Those with a palate for the finer things in life also know Barcelona as the home of some of the world's best wines, thanks to the vineyards of Catalonia, the region that claims Barcelona as its capital.

Although it is today a modern European metropolis, hosting such global events as the World Mobile Congress, Barcelona is an old city, having been founded in 10 BC, when it was known as Barcino.

Back in the day, it only measured all of ten hectares, but today, one will need to ride in a train, or taxi — there are no Ubers — to make it from one end to the other.

Barcino would later change its name to Barcinona, or Medinat Barshaluna, when Arabs controlled it between 711 and 801AD. In subsequent years, it became rich and populous and today, it attracts sojourners of all persuasions just as a light does moths of all shades.

Flying into Barcelona from mainland Europe, one gets the impression that the descended wheels of the Airbus are reaching out, like outstretched toes, to tickle the calm sea.

Soon, the beaches glide into view but quickly pave the way for the numerous fuel storage tanks that sit like diodes on a motherboard.

Car yards

These, too, soon recede to be succeeded by the expansive car yards and the open fields that stretch out on either side, ready to embrace the visitor as the plane lowers its body and kisses the runway.

On the main airport building, white san serifs that stand out against a gun-metallic background calmly inform you that you are in Barcelona, the city whose coast Bob Dylan eulogised in his song, Boots of Spanish Leather.

There are only two ways to relate to Barcelona; either you love her, or you love her hard.

“It ticks all the boxes for me,” said Morris Lane, a 65-year-old British tourist, who also confessed that there was nothing he enjoyed more than walking the streets of Barcelona.

Even in the chilly weather of the last winter days, he would be out and about, in shorts and a T-shirt, enjoying his walk.

“I am no colder or warmer than you are," he told me, glancing at my jacket.”

Temperatures were hovering at about 15 degrees centigrade and a breeze was blowing gently from the sea. All was well with our world as darkness enveloped the edges of the city. After all, we had just downed several jugfuls of Sangria. Our spirits soared like gulls.

 Huawei exhibition space

The writer with a security officer at the Huawei exhibition space at the World Mobile Congress. PHOTO | MARTIN GICHERU | TECHWEEZ

Travel writing

The problem with travel writing is that it gives a reader only a slit-eye view of the traveller's experience.

There are many nooks and crannies worth exploring in every city and Barcelona is no exception.

And one of the places worth visiting is the Barcelona Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia. Here you can pose for a photo with an hold hag in traditional costumes, her face covered in white chalk, her lipsticked mouth puckered as though offering a kiss. Of course, she will then haggle over her fee for the exemplary service.

“It is not forr me,” she said to me. “Forr my little Alphonso.”

Not far from the cathedral is the Museu D'Historia De Barcelona, where the city's history is ossified. As the sun sets, the museum casts its shadow on the open space near the exit. Here, it is not uncommon to find small bands of families sipping red wine from long tumblers, not far from the shops that sell memorabilia for the many tourists who visit the city. This is in keeping with the city's long tradition.

The people of Barcelona started making wines as far back as the third century BC. Back then, even children were allowed to partake the elixir of joy, because it was believed to have both medicinal and nutritional value.

What's more, adults were allowed to quaff as much as half to three quarters of a litre a day.

Now, of course, depending on one's appetite, the cap has literally been thrown out of the window. It is, after all, a free city. However, the complex architecture that supported the wineries of millennia gone by are embalmed in the museum, a living testimony of the hard work that the wine makers of Barcelona used to put in to prepare the drink that was a fundamental part of the Roman world.

Hospitality

Incidentally, wine was a symbol of hospitality as well as an integral part of religious ceremonies in Barcelona in the olden days.

Today, sharing a drink in a restaurant with friends or toasting at a corporate event recalls the age-old tradition that still live on.

“One of the traditions that Spain is most widely renowned for, and most proud of, is precisely the production of high quality wines,” said the Spanish ambassador to Kenya, Javier Garcia de Viedman, in a note to the Business Daily.

“It is no surprise that Spain is the world's third biggest producer of wine, only after Italy and France."

Besides the wine, Barcelona also offers the visitor the opportunity to sample its instantly prepared Sangria. All for a good time.

The only thing you must do in Barcelona is to order food, especially an offering “fresh from the sea”, that is not on the menu. My friends and I made that mistake and it set our gracious host back 100 euros per head.

At an exchange rate of 110 shilling to the euro, that was the equivalent of Sh11,000 per head.

Oh, and if, by any chance, you happen to be in Barcelona in February, ensure you get yourself a ticket to the World Mobile Congress where global brands like Huawei congregate to showcase the advances they are making in the world of technology. This will blow your mind. Ok, not literally.

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