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Barcelona

Barcelona loves to indulge in the fantastic. From the urban carnival that is Las Ramblas to buildings with no straight lines; from wild festivals to even wilder nightlife; from bronzed nude beaches to a beloved white gorilla named Floquet, the city pushes the limits of style and good taste in everything it does, with amazing results. As the center of the whimsical and daring Modernisme architectural movement, Barcelona holds fairy-tale creations that are like no other buildings in the world; as home to three of the most well-known Surrealist painters, Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, and the lovable Joan Miró, even Barcelona's most famous art is grounded in a reality alternative to the one that the rest of us know.

The time is now for Barcelona. In the quarter-century since Spain has been freed from Franco's oppressive regime, Barcelona has led the autonomous region of Catalunya in a resurgence of a culture so esoteric and unique it is puzzling even to the rest of Spain. The city has prospered and given itself a major makeover that began as preparation for the Olympics in the early 1990s, but was so successful that the image-obsessed Barceloneses have kept it going. The result is a vanguard city squeezed between the mesmerizing blue waters of the Mediterranean and the green Tibidabo hills, flashing with such vibrant colors and intense energy, you will see Barcelona long after you have closed your eyes.

Barcelona is a gateway: the gateway to Catalunya, to Spain, to the Mediterranean, and to the Pyrenees. Pack your swimsuit and your skis, your art history book and your clubbing shoes, and don't worry about the fact that you don't speak Spanish: neither does Barcelona.

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