La Pedrera, designed by famed Barcelona architect Antoni Gaudi, is hard to miss on Paseo de Gracia, one of the city's most beautiful streets. (Rosemary McClure / For The Times)

I hopped back on the bus and then hopped off at some of Gaudí's other works: the apartment block La Pedrera, his hillside development Park Güell, and beautiful Casa Batlló, designed around a symbolic battle between St. George and the dragon.

Other Modernist buildings drew my attention, especially the city's lavish concert hall, Palau de la Música Catalana (the Palace of Catalan Music), designed by architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner.

It was completed in 1908 and is considered one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world. Its façade is circled by mosaic pillars and brick arches, its ornate foyer adorned with spangled tiles, its concert hall climaxing in a huge blue-and-gold stained glass skylight that showers the auditorium with natural light.

A zest for the city

I had spent a week studying the city's art and architecture: Picasso, Miró, Gaudí and the Modernistas. It seemed that these men, in what is one of the most traditional countries in the world, made an art of being nonconformist and so gave Barcelona permission to be different from the rest of Spain.

I'd also explored the city's thoroughfares and learned about its people. I strolled La Rambla, the pedestrian mall that runs from the Mediterranean to the center of the city, I shopped at Mercat de La Boqueria, a cavernous open-air market, and I toured the waterfront and beaches. What had I missed?

I asked that question of Cynthia Fusillo, an American artist who has lived in Barcelona nearly half her life. Fusillo's recent work has been life-size figures made of sand, dirt, leaves and other natural substances, often combined with her poetry.

She wasn't the first artist I'd queried, but the others were reserved. Not so Fusillo, whose appreciation of the city bubbled over. "The people, the weather, the food," she said. "La Rambla — the idea that you can walk right down the heart of the city. I love the Gothic Quarter; I love Gaudí — it's all wonderful."

And like Puig, Fusillo is inspired by Picasso.

"I love the Picasso Museum as much as I love him. I used to take a big book of his work to bed with me. I feel like he's one of my ex-lovers."

It wasn't the answer I'd expected, but it didn't surprise me. Fusillo's zest for the city was like the city itself: bold and unpredictable.