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Barcelona And The Woman Who Knows It Best

Maria NadinaOf all the tour guides we have encountered over years of cruising — and all have been varying degrees of good at their craft — no one was better than Maria Nadina.

For us, she is the First Lady of Barcelona.

It's not just because she speaks six languages, all of them (as near as we could tell) with clarity and eloquence. It's not just because she seems to have time to answer every question about every part of her adopted home. It's not just because her smile and her personality put a good face on Barcelona.

It's for all of those reasons.

It goes without saying that Maria is delighted at the growth of cruising her city has experienced (in case you hadn't heard, Norwegian's 4,100-passenger ship the Epic is the latest to make Barcelona home). It's good for her business.

She lives in one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and anybody who has been there surely knows why. We were smitten on our first visit, before we ever met Maria Nadina.

Yet she knows better than anyone that a city needs balance, and sometimes Barcelona can seem too touristy.

"Sometimes," she worries, "it's not so good for the locals, as all the industry seems to be oriented to tourism. And local services are somehow abandoned."

Abandoned never applies to her clients, of course. She will show them La Sagrada Familia, the church that may never be completed. She'll enlighten you with the La Sagrada Familiachanges to Barcelona, starting with the biggest modern-era one that came with the 1992 Olympic Games. She'll tell you about where to go in Las Ramblas, the legendary shopping and eating core of the city. She'll educate you about the legacies of Picasso, and of Antonio Gaudi, who designed the church that nobody can finish and who lies under it. She'll tell you the good and the bad, just like she does about the impact of tourism.

It was the Olympics that brought Maria to Barcelona from Belgrade, although she also enhanced her credentials by conducting cruise tours in Brazil, Alaska, the Caribbean, Mexico and Argentina. When she settled in Barcelona to stay, Maria built her business — Barcelona Code — to the point where she offers cruise passengers at least half a dozen varied tours, inside and outside the city.

And at the end of it all, she still finds that in her beautiful city "every daily walk is enough dose of inspiration for the next work of art in my glass and mosaics workshop."

As you can see, there's nothing shallow about this First Lady of Barcelona.

Today at portsandbows.com: The best of Bordeaux

Holland America Oosterdam
7 nights
June 1, 2014
AnchorageGlacier BayHainesJuneauKetchikanVancouver
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85
www.hollandamerica.com

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