Tapas, Tinto Y Tennis Ole!

Barcelona Travel Blog

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A sun-kissed Mediterranean metropolis, Barcelona holds nothing back when it comes to living the good life. This smart and sassy city has been blessed with idyllic geography, a rich and colorful culture and if that weren't enough, really really good wine. The endless bars and restaurants appear to have an equally endless supply of patrons to match. Barcelonans dine late into the evening and continue the party into the wee hours at trendy clubs and fashionable bars. I suppose the extra time is needed as it is difficult to choose between the brilliant vino tintos (red wines) and the equally dazzling vinos blancos (white wines). The best part about the vinos is that they are almost always accompanied by tasty two- bite treats called tapas. Back in the day before air conditioning although depending on where you go it might still be that day, a lid was used to cover the wine glasses to keep out the flies. This lid, usually a piece of bread, gradually evolved into the scrumptious snacks known as tapas. What I want to know is where did the flies go? Are they back in the wine or on the tapas?

Gaudy is a word frequently used to describe the art and architecture by unsuspecting tourists. Unbeknownst to the guy in the Hawaiian shirt, he is not that far from the pin. He may also be unaware that his fellow visitors are using the term to describe his outfit rather than the buildings. The illustrious Antoni Gaudi designed many of the famous landmarks around the city. His colorful and somewhat unusual work is from where, you guessed it, the word has originated.

Barcelona or "Barca" as locals call it is the capital of the semi-autonomous region of Catalunya. Incorporated most unwillingly into the Spanish state almost 300 years ago, the Catalans speak their own language in more ways than just verbally; they sometimes use hand gestures. Their zest for life easily translates into a fine sporting tradition that includes the Summer Olympics and the Football World Cup. The Real Club de Tenis Barcelona 1899 is home to one of the longest standing events in the city. Founded in 1953 the Trofeo Conde de Godó, now officially known as the Open Sabadell Atlántico, is held every year in late April. Considered to be a smaller or lower prestige event, its 56 draw makes comparable in size to Masters Events such as its neighbors Monte Carlo and Rome. The classification of "International Series Gold" is a nice way of saying "ha ha, Monte Carlo and Rome are better than you".

The Catalans don't seem to mind that this is not mandatory tournament and therefore many of the top players will not be participating. They know that leaves more room to stack the draw with home grown talent. More than half of the qualifying draw and a third of the main draw consisted of players from Spain, several of whom are "local boys". Attendance at most tournaments usually gets larger as the draw gets smaller. What many visitors including myself will learn when visiting this region is that Catalans rarely conform to the ways of others. Perhaps it was their nationalist pride that brought spectators out in droves on Monday and Tuesday and then turned off the tap once most of the hometown favorites were eliminated. Then again I might be reading too much into this theory. Thursday May 1st was Labor Day in Spain and most Barcelonans went on vacation for the long weekend.

The Real Club de Tenis is located in a pleasant upscale neighborhood on the western edge of the city. Excepting the monstrosity of center court, the facility is quite a bit smaller than what is perhaps best suited for an event this size. Upon seeing the size of the crowds on the early days I was almost petrified to think of how they were going to squeeze all those people into such a tiny venue. Unlike myself, the organizers must have already predicted the opposite trend in the attendance, for I saw no effort to add extra port-a-potties on day three. American visitors will likely find this particular situation a bonus (I'm speaking of the diminished crowds and not the port-a-potties). The Catalan fans are generally a considerate and polite lot, but do heed caution if you see Nadal coming. You might have a better chance of escaping unharmed from the bullring than from this melee.

A better place to get a close-up of Nadal is at the tournament host hotel, Melia Barcelona. This five star establishment offers modern well appointed rooms at reasonable prices. I realize that $225 USD per night may not seem all that reasonable to some. Once you have done some price comparisons with the same caliber of hotel in Rome, Paris, and London or for that matter anywhere in England, you might just change your tune. Shopping and a multitude of fine restaurants are within a short walking distance from the hotel. Don't worry if you can't remember if you were supposed to turn right or left, either direction is a winner. Lodging at the host hotel is a fantastic opportunity for fans to get to see a different side of their favorite players. All but the handful of players that live locally stay at the tournament hotel. While you might catch them eating breakfast in the hotel restaurant, don't expect to see anyone wearing fuzzy slippers.

Visiting a foreign tournament is like killing two birds with one stone for any tennis fan. As we Americans know, vacation time is short so you may need to double book from time to time. There is no better place to start than Barcelona; just don't bring the book because you'll have no time to read it.

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photo by: fivepointpalm