I had never been to Barca before and a few things struck me immediately. In contrast to many Asian cities there is a distinct dearth of skyscrapers. We climbed up to both Montjuic and Park Guell and the vista is one of predominantly low rise buildings. This is from La Sagrada Familia.There is a labyrinth of old, narrow streets and alleyways yet finding your way around seems easy enough. There are plenty of landmark buildings by which to orientate yourself and in the popular tourist areas everything is reasonably well signposted. I love exploring the old parts of any town and Barcelona was no exception. It is ethnically quite diverse and I like that.
I was surprised at how little English I heard although we got by well enough without Spanish or Catalan. There were plenty of Russians, Germans and Chinese. We met some very pleasant folks from the US and enjoyed their company at dinner one evening.
The Catalan flag was everywhere and you can feel the sense of identity. And of course memorabilia for FC Barca can be found all over the place. Sadly we did not make it to the Camp Nou.
And there are buskers and sadly beggars in abundance. Some of the buskers are very good and I threw a couple of Euros in the hat for a few of them. One young girl was an excellent violinist and I was happy to listen to Harpo for a while.I was quite irritated by the number of people who would pose with these performers then give nothing. They didn’t get off so lightly with the street artists, who dress in strange garb and move only when a few coins are donated. It looked hot work and I am not sure how rewarding it is. Nevertheless I would rather see people do this and make an effort than to simply sit and hold out a plastic cup. Some of these performers seemed quite mature. Unemployment makes no allowances for age.
I have already mentioned the number of smokers in an earlier post. I don’t make a moral judgment but in many countries smoking is in decline and it was in stark contrast that we coughed and spluttered our way along.
The architecture is wonderful. I love the old buildings, interspersed with the oddities that Gaudi created. If La Sagrada Familia is synonymous with Barcelona today it is with justification. We spent a few hours here including a trip to the top of one of the towers. It is an extraordinary building – still under construction – and the way the light bathes the interior is quite enchanting. We did visit the Casa Batllo, another Gaudi building and it is certainly a curiosity. I had 2 issues with it. It was extremely expensive to go in compared with virtually other tourist site. Perhaps the reason is the fact that it is in private ownership. Secondly, it was very crowded and we were there in March. We chatted to the hotel manager about the crowding as early as March and he said it was a school break week. Nevertheless, if this is what Barcelona is like in March I don’t want to go in peak Summer. It must be unbearable.
Despite my frustration with Casa Batllo, here are some images that hopefully illustrate why it is so popular. You will have to excuse the slightly awkward perspectives and angles. You take what you can get in a crowded house with little room to manoeuvre. I need a tilt-shift lens.
One of the best things about Barcelona is the ease of getting around. It is largely flat and the public transport is superb. We bought a ten trip ticket and it was good for the metro, the buses and even the funicular railway up to Montjuic. There are also plenty of good places to eat at reasonable prices. We liked Bar Lobo near our hotel and Tapas 24.
I will continue the tour of Barcelona soon but leave you with a shot I liked from Park Guell, which, in contrast to Casa Batllo, was excellent value for money and highly recommended. But go early to avoid the crowds.