“Everything you can imagine is real.” So said artist and legend Pablo Picasso. It was true for him – and it is true for Barcelona, the vibrant city the Spanish painter once called home.

A young Pablo moved to Barcelona with his family at the tender age of 14. Spending most of his formative years here, he intermingled with the hip, new bohemian crowd that was bursting with new ideas and breaking out of conventional norms. The city forever changed Picasso. And it will forever change all who visit.

See modern-day Barcelona through Picasso’s eyes – and even many of his preserved hangouts.

El Quatre Gats is one of the most exciting stops. Artists of all types frequented this artist-owned, avant-garde café, which opened in 1897 and quickly became a popular hotspot among modernist circles. Picasso was often here with his friends, where conversations were said to swirl around wine, women and art with piano music being played in the background fast and furiously. Concerts, art exhibits, literary gatherings and other performances were frequent and kept the atmosphere lively. In 1899, Picasso designed the cover art which is still used on the menu and held his first one-man show in the main room in 1900. Another well-known painting, “Ramon Casas and Pere Romeu on a Tandem” painted by café co-owner Ramon Casas, was painted specifically for the interior of El Quatre Gats. Currently hanging in the National Art Museum of Catalonia in Barcelona, a copy still takes centre stage in the café. The inscription reads “To ride a bicycle, you can’t go with your back straight,” befitting the spirit of a bar who took inspiration from Paris’ famed Le Chat Noir café. Take a page out of Picasso’s playbook and pop in for a drink, food, or El Quatre Gats’ specialty – “food of the spirit.”

Carrer d’Avinyó is now a hipster hangout with high-class stores but in the turn on the 20th century, it was one of Picasso’s hangouts – and back then, Barcelona’s red light district. In 1907, Picasso would go on to paint five nude prostitutes from a brothel on this street – and change the face of art forever. A masterpiece that has left a profound impression on generations of artists, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is widely considered to be the painting that begat Cubism. The ladies and the brothel are long gone, with fashionable stores like Happy Socks and American Apparel now in their place. Shop while you take in the history of one of art’s most indelible images.

The Musee Picasso, right in Barcelona, shows an impressive collection of Picassos, the best anywhere of his early years and the most in his native country.

Picasso ultimately moved to Paris in 1904, but Picasso continued to be inspired by Barcelona all his life, returning several times until Francisco Franco took control of Spain in the late 30’s. Known for some of his powerful political works (and notably Guernica), Picasso vowed not to set foot in Spain while the fascist dictator remained in power. He stayed true to his word, never again returning to his homeland even as he continued a series of anti-Franco works.

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