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Insider's view · Europe · spain · Barcelona

Insider's view: Nicolas Estrada

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Insider's view: Nicolas Estrada

Nicolas Estrada is a jewelry designer. Although he was born in Colombia, Estrada has called Barcelona home for the last twelve years now. His book, "New Rings: 500 Designs from Around the World", came out last year and features 591 rings created by almost 300 of today's best jewelry designers. Radical, innovative, gorgeous, challenging, conceptual, abstract - are just a few words that describe this visually colorful story about the ring: as both a work of art, and as a symbolic object that reveals something about its wearer. Estrada's works have been exhibited in galleries in Europe and America, and just last year he happened to participate in the exhibition "Conceptual Jewelry", held by the Riga jewelry gallery "Putti". Estrada's works are not classical objects of adornment - they are rather more like pieces of art. One of Estrada's signatures is liberal use of motifs tied to weapons and other violent themes. "For me, jewelry design is like therapy. I lived in Colombia, where cruelty was everywhere - from the 1980's and right through to the end of the 90's, my city was one of the most brutal in the whole country. With drug cartels, bombs... we were always surrounded by violence. I had to free myself from that somehow, and I did it through jewelry... and my weapons don't fire." The weapons theme began as a school project, for which Nicolas decided to make jewelry from violent toys of the kind that are all around us - they can be found in any toy store. "The idea was: how long are we going to continue playing like this? Consequently, this jewelry is both therapy and a social critique."

In speaking about Barcelona, the designer says that he loves the city most of all for having allowed him to do what he has always wanted to do, not what others have tried to force upon him.

"Before I came to Barcelona, I did what everybody expected of me - I had to be a businessman, head a company, drive a certain car and live in a certain neighborhood. I came here to get a master's degree in marketing... and I became a jewelry designer. This is a city without limits - you can do what you want to do. In my opinion, Barcelona is a wonderful place for people to find themselves. Because it has everything - artists, businessmen, rich people and very poor people - all of the colors. A rapper next to a yuppie. Naked people and people dressed very expensively - nobody judges you, nor do they pay you undue attention. And they also don't worry themselves about why you've come here.

Barcelona is very small, but at the same time, you can meet people from all over the world here. Colors, languages, almost always sunny... It's really easy to get around, and Barcelona itself is in a very strategic location: in 45 minutes, you're already in the mountains; a bit less, and you're at the seaside. It's also a very convenient place to live. Housing rental rates, for instance, are much better than in Paris, London, New York or Tokyo. You can find anything to suit any budget. If you come here with the wish to experience the best seafood in all of Spain, you'll get it - but of course, at a corresponding price. But if your wish is to have a great lunch for seven euros, you can also get that in Barcelona.

Traffic jams in Barcelona never last more than half an hour. But the most fantastic thing is that the city is in a constant state of renewing itself. Right now, for example, there's an active war on cars - and a campaign to popularize public transportation, bicycles and motorcycles. There's a really good public bicycle network - Bicing (www.bicing.cat) - the bicycle stands are adjacent to metro stations and bus stops. So, all you have to do is get out at your metro stop, take a bike, and continue on with your daily errands.

If you have just 24 hours to spend in Barcelona, go to the Old Town and just let yourself get lost. For me, it is still the most beautiful part of the city, in spite of all of the tourists; I've lived in this city for twelve years already, and I always discover something new: a street that I didn't know about; a building that I've never seen before. It's a very magical and very beautiful part of the city.

The best time to go to Barcelona is at the end of May, beginning of June. It's already warm (the swimming season officially starts on May 15), there aren't that many people around, and the prices are still relatively low. Or, come at the very end of summer - in September. August is extremely hot, but at the same time, a really good month as well: the city is practically empty; the locals have all gone on holiday. Only the tourist spots are operating, it's easier to get around, and the city has a completely different - un-rushed - rhythm."

Nicolas admits that he is most in love with the Barcelona that is a little bit anarchistic, a little bit underground, and definitely - not expensive. These are a few of his favorite spots:

Some of the best tapas: Quimet & Quimet
Poeta Cabanyes 25, 08004

Best pizza: Bella Napoli
Margarit 12, 08004

Great restaurants with a lunch menu:
El Sortidor - Placa del Sortidor; www.sortidor.com
En Ville Barcelona - Carrier Doctor Dou, 14; www.envillebarcelona.es

A great restaurant by the beach:
Gallito - Passeig del Mare Nostrum, 19; www.gallito.es

A good bar for drinks and hamburgers:
Apolo Diner - Vila i Vila, 60 - 62; www.apolodiner.com

A loud and lively nightlife can be found at Carrer de Blai: "this street is in Poble Sec, the neighborhood in which I live. It's always loud here, there are always people about, and everyone is always in a great mood. It's kind of a meeting place - with mostly just locals; tourist rarely wander in. The most fascinating thing is watching the interactions - between those that have lived here for generations, and those who have moved here just recently."

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