What's New in Spain
In the decades following Franco's dictatorship, Spain became a hot travel destination largely because of its beach resorts. Recent decades has shown that the country has far more to offer, including cutting-edge cuisine and exceptional wines, stunning historical and modern architecture, and fabulous art, film, and fashion. This is some of what's new this year.
Since 2009, when FC Barcelona brought home every trophy a Spanish soccer club could acquire—the domestic Triple Crown (Liga, King's Cup, and Supercopa), the UEFA European Champions League cup, and the FIFA Club World Champsionship—Barça has remained the acknowledged best fútbol team in the world. Archrival Real Madrid denied them the King's Cup in 2011 but Barça had its revenge, winning the Liga again by a comfortable margin and knocking Madrid out of contention for the Champions League—which it went on to win again. The contention of these two great clubs is sure to light up the 2012–2013 season as well.
Art All Over
In early 2011 a stunning new center for the fine arts, film, and music opened in Avilés, on the Asturian coast. With Woody Allen as the honorary president of the film program, and Stephen Hawking and novelist Paulo Coelho on the international advisory board, there is sure to be an interesting calendar of events. The year 2011 also saw the inauguration of the Carmen Thyssen Museum in Málaga, in the restored 16th-century Villalón Palace. The museum houses some 230 works originally from the collection of Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, donated by his widow.
There are plenty of regional air connections in Spain these days, but the national railway's high-speed AVE trains are stiff competition: prices are about the same, but with trips like Madrid-Barcelona clocking in at two hours and 40 minutes, the AVE is the fastest, most comfortable way to go. A new portion of the AVE system was inaugurated in 2010, connecting Madrid with Valencia; Spain now has more high-speed track in service or under construction than any other country in Europe.
Traveling by car? In March 2011 Spain announced it would cut its highway speed limit to 110 kilometers per hour from 120 (to 68 mph from 74); this was in part a bid to cut down on traffic accidents—which it has, dramatically—and to save gasoline in the face of rising crude oil prices provoked by the upheavals in Libya and other Arab states.
In 2010, the Catalan Parliament narrowly approved a bill to ban bullfighting in the region (a similar ban has been in force on the Canary Islands since 1991); the more conservative regions of Madrid, Valencia, and Murcia reacted with proposals to give the "sport" the legal status of a protected cultural heritage. Like anything that even remotely touches on the question of Spanish identity, this is a politically hot issue; animal-rights activists have an uphill battle ahead.
A work in progress since 1882, Gaudí's Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona was formally consecrated in November 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI. In April 2011 a would-be thief accidentally set fire to the crypt beneath the church but the damage was quickly contained and soon repaired. Still a long way from a fully functioning house of worship—construction is expected to take at least another 30 years—the church remains a major tourist attraction
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