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About A Week: Barcelona In December

Peter Hinchliffe recalls a visit to busy, bouncy Barcelona.

He was reading an academic journal. She had her nose in a heavyweight novel. Occasionally they sipped mineral water. Minutes passed by, and the middle-aged couple exchanged not so much as a glance.

Yet no one in the crowded Café Ferran in Barcelona found the couple's behaviour unusual. Catalans live their lives in public, even when engrossed in the printed word.

They have the weather to lure them out of their homes. There we were on a December eve, with the temperature near 60 degrees, and the city was on the move.

Hundreds of miles to the north English folk huddled indoors, making do with Coronation Street and East Enders to give them hints of how other folk might live.

But in balmy Barcelona the paseo was in progress. The evening stroll-around. The Plaça de Catalunya and its surrounding streets were crowded with locals, all eager to see and be seen.

Christmas decorations were minimalist. Simple white bulbs outlined fir trees and reindeer. There were no bearded Santas ho-hoing on every corner. Instead there was kaleidoscopic selection of street theatre.

A politically incorrect blacked-up trumpeter did a rousing impression of Louis Armstrong. A pavement pianist rattled out Chopin. A lone kilted piper hauntingly played Flower of Scotland.

There were model Father Christmases - Papa Noels - in some store windows. Seasonal food was eaten on December 25. But gift-night comes for young Catalans in January when they awake to discover that the Reyes Magos, the three wise kings, have visited during the night to tuck gifts into tiny shoes.

Among the throng parading in La Rambla, the main thoroughfare, were visitors from every nation. The city is a year-round tourist magnet, particularly so in December for northerners in search of winter warmth.

There’s an abundance of must-see attractions, in particular the Sagrada Familia cathedral which has been a-building for more than 100 years and is nowhere near completed.

Antoni Gaudí was appointed architect of the cathedral in 1883 and spent the last 40 years of his life directing the creation of a structure which might have been designed by an imaginative Walt Disney artist impelled by strong religious convictions.

Prepare to get dust on your shoes if you visit Sacrada Familia, the world’s most astonishing building site. The interior is all work, noise and scaffolding. Giant cranes swing oddly-shaped blocks of stone and concrete towards the heavens.

Gaudí was asked why his church was taking so long to build. “My client is in no hurry,’’ he said.

Visit also the Picasso museum. It’s in a 15th Century palace, set in a maze of narrow alleys which lead you back into history, hinting that you could bump into Christopher Columbus round the next corner.

Pablo took his first artistic brush-steps while studying in this city. There are 3,000 of his works in the museum. You’d need a lottery win to buy one of them.

Satiated with art and architecture select one out of the scores of tapas bars in the city. Point to the tasty food of your choice. Order a refreshing Damm beer to go with it. Then reflect on the sobering thought that Catalans know more about how to enjoy life than you do.

My kind of town, Barcelona is. Especially in a grey English December.

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