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Capital of an ever-more-autonomous Catalonia, Barcelona continues to thrive as a cosmopolitan, bilingual (Catalan and Spanish) city in love with everything avant-garde.
A Tale of Two Cities
Having languished for centuries in official "second city" status in the shadow of Madrid, Barcelona's drive to excel, create, innovate, and improvise is largely a result of its ongoing obsession with eclipsing its eternal rival. Even within Barcelona, a healthy sense of national identity goads designers, architects, merchants, and industrialists to ever higher levels of originality and effectiveness. Ever since 1990, when the International Olympic Committee announced that the 1992 Olympic Games were to be held in the Catalan capital, Barcelona has been booming with pride and confidence in its ever brighter future as (finally!) a bona fide European capital recognized on its own merits.
Cuisine: Haute and Hot
Since Ferran Adrià's northern Catalonian phenomenon El Bulli closed, chef d'auteur successes in Barcelona have proliferated. With some two dozen superb restaurants winning international recognition and more on the way, keeping abreast of the city's culinary rock stars can be a dizzying pursuit. Direct Adrià disciples Sergi Arola at the Hotel Arts and Carles Abellán at Comerç 24 still compete with Adrià precursor Jean Louis Neichel. Rising stars such as Jordi Artal of Cinc Sentits, Jordi Vilà of Alkimia, the Torres twins at Dos Cielos, or Jordi Herrera of Manairó join established masters Carles Gaig and Mey Hofmann in a dazzling galaxy of gastronomical creativity. Meanwhile, carpetbaggers like the Roca brothers from Girona, Raül Balam from Sant Pol de Mar, or Martin Berasategui from even farther afield in San Sebastián have opened award-winning hotel restaurants in, respectively, the Omm (Moo), the Mandarin (Moments), and the Condes de Barcelona (Lasarte). Younger restaurants such Saüc, Caldeni, Coure, and Hisop are producing streamlined contemporary cuisine even as Tickets, the latest Adrià creation, launches an über-creative new tapas venture.
Design, Architecture, Fashion, Style
Now that the city's haute-couture status is increasingly seen as biting at the heels of more established design superstars such as Paris and Milan, present-day Barcelona more and more resembles a carousel of postmodern visual surprises, from "cool hunter" Brandery fashions to dizzying architecture—Jean Nouvel's Torre Agbar gherkin, Norman Foster's giant erector-set communications tower on the Collserola skyline, or Ricardo Bofill's Hotel Vela (Sail), the W hotel's nickname, looming over the waterfront.
Barcelona's always amazing FC Barcelona soccer juggernaut seemed as if it had peaked in 2006 when a hirsute athlete with an Olympic overbite named Ronaldinho led the team to its second European title … but the best was yet to come. Former star midfielder Pep Guardiola and an almost entirely homegrown team of stars dazzled the world in 2009, winning the triplete, or the trifecta: the Spanish Liga, the King's Cup, and the Champions League European title. With star player Leo Messi only in his mid-twenties and the farm system producing a steady supply of new players committed to Barcelona's razzle-dazzle style of attacking, creative play, 2011 proved to be nearly as apotheosic as 2009 with brilliant Liga and Champions League victories. What is certain, with or without championships and even without coach Pep Guardiola, who stepped down in May 2012, is that the creative choreography and the dedication to exciting, offensive soccer is here to stay.
With a new airport terminal, a behemoth new waterfront hotel towering over the Mediterranean, the new AVE high-speed train connection making once-distant Madrid into a little more than a Barcelona suburb, Barcelona is again on the move. City planners predict that the new AVE terminal at Plaça de les Glòries will someday shift the city center eastward, and that the new Barcelona hub will surround the Torre Agbar and the Fòrum at the Mediterranean end of the Diagonal.
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