A September 1999 trip
to Barcelona by actonsteve
Quote: Once in a while you visit a city and curse that you were not born one of its inhabitants. Barcelona is one such city with fantastic architecture, amazing nightlife, and a history that blows you away. Everyone should visit one of the most magical and happening cities in the world......
Hotel | "Hostale Cisneros - and the Eixample"
It was situated only a few minutes walk from La Ramblas and near to the wide Gran Via des Corts Catalanes where the entrance to the subway was situated near the Universitat. The Eixample itself was beautiful. When 19th Centure Barcelona began to expand out of its Gothic quarter (Barri Gotic) it enabled new architects (notably Gaudi)to experiment with modernism. The grand boulevards are a pleasure to stroll with cars forced down avenues on either side and the centre given over to pedestrian walkways with palm trees. Gaudis modernist buildings are dotted all over the Eixample. There was a beautiful grey and purple building on Passeig de Gracia which looked like a piece of confectionary.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 19, 2001
Corner Of Carrer Aribau And Carrer Arago, Eixample
Attraction | "The most famous street in Spain - La Ramblas..."
The best way to reach it is from Placa de Catalunya. This elegant square is flanked by the cream coloured balconied buildings on its west side and the gunmetal sheen of El Corte Ingles on its east. This is the hub of Barcelona with hundreds of people coming and going (ye gods, the Catalans are good looking). It is worth a look for the statues and fountains in its centre and at its southwest reach is the start of La Ramblas.
This tiled streets stretches 1 1/2 miles down to the Port Vell. It used to follow the course of an old river, hence its kinks and turns, before being paved over in the 19th century. Cars are forced down one lane on either side and so the central area is full of promenading people and palm trees. The start of La Ramblas is a wrought-iron fountain which stands there unmoved by the mass of humanity moving around it. Even for ten o'clock in the morning it was a hell of a show...
The upper La Ramblas holds a pet market. I took a close look at the stalls and they revealed cage upon cage of songbirds, rabbits, hamsters, tortoises and tanks of fish. They must be very hot in the Spanish heat. Not far away were performance artists who came to life when a few pesetas were dropped in the tin. Nearby were flamenco dancers which were attracting a crowd with their clicking castenets.
After the pet market comes the flower market whose wares could be smelt from yards away. From here the streets branch off into the Barri Gotic and the Placa Reial and La Ramblas was crowded with newstands, restaurants, cafes where tired tourists were enjoying a paella. Then it covers pavement artsts and trinket stalls before it finally opens out at the harbour. The great soaring Monument de Colom (rather like Nelsons column) points out to see and the glittering harbour is now at your feet. My favourite story about the statue was when the 1898 war between America and Spain broke out over Cuba, a crowd gathered angry at Colombus for discovering America....
I can guarantee that each day that you spend of your holiday in Barcelona, you will find excuse after excuse to start or finish your day along La Ramblas...
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 19, 2001
La Rambla (Las Ramblas) Pedestrian Mall
The Port Vell starts where La Ramblas ends and the Barri Gotic touches the seashore to create Rambla del Mar. Around the monument de Colom a small market is set up and the cream coloured baroque of the Reial Drassanes could be seen. But most of the crowds follow the continuation of La Rambla across the shiny high-tech bridge to the Port Vell. In its centre is a new shopping centre/entertainment complex called the Maremagnum. Surrounded by sailing ships this is most welcome and the view on the far side of the old wharves and still water was in contrast with the bustle of Rambla del Mar. The indoor shopping centre contained restaurants, FC Barcelona shops and tapas bars and contains CINE, IMAX (which was good) and the impressive L''Aquarium. On its far side is the Moll D''Espanya walkway (taking you past an 19th century submarine) which leads to more marinas and yachts. You can walk all the way to Barcelonetta and its fish restaurants from here.
But the highlight for me was L''Aquarium. Rather expensive at 1400 pesetas - this was a wonderful couple of hours and a very high-tech aquarium. You enter through a tropical forest into rooms shrouded in darkness. I couldn''t help but notice the natural behaviour of the inhabitants. Not surprising as their habitats were painstakingly recreated. Catching my eye were small fish eating starfish, anemones, lionfish and a tank full of squiggly octopi. But the best part was a gargantuan tank full of mullet, moray eels, tarpon, saucer fish (silver, big and as flat as a pancake) and a number of huge bull sharks. The tank was so big that a moving walkway carried you through a perspex tunnel and you could watch the bristling teeth of a bull shark as it swam above you. Now what shall I have for dinner tonight....fish?
To reach it is easy as it forms a narrow maze of alleys and streets stretching from La Ramblas in the west to the Parc de Citudella in the west. From the north it can be reached from Placa de Catalunya and the Porta del Angel (with its small market) and from the south where it touches the port at Rambla del Mar. This is the most seedy part of the Barri Gotic called the Barri Xines and is infested with petty crime and prostitution. Catalan nationalism is at its most fervent here with most balconies draped with the red and yellow flag of Catalonia. But to me it is the most authentic with apartment blocks going back to the time of Charles V built on streets so narrow they are nearly touching each other.
Most tourists head straight for La Seu - the great gothic cathedral. Coated with the grime of age the iglesia is squeezed between narrow alleys and is only its facade is only visible from the Placa de Sant Jaume. Inside it is impressive with a great soaring knave and statues of the saints that light up when money is deposited. An arcaded cloister with a tropical garden is in its centre and contains a pond with a gaggle of honking geese. But to me the highlight was at the front of La Seu where on the Placa de Sant Jaume the semana, the national dance of Catalunya, was being performed. This expression of catalan pride was banned under Franco and now tourists can join in with locals as they hold hands and dance to the music.
Nearby along Carrer Boqueria (where a lot of cheap hostales are based) is the exqusite Placa Reial. This is the most beautiful square in Barcelona - a 19th century Italianate plaza dotted with fountains, palm trees and and iron lamposts (designed by Gaudi)When we were there a coin market was being held and tourists and locals milled around watched over by the Guardia Civil. The restaurants on Placa Real was fabulous and we enjoyed garlic bread, fresh olives and pollo paella in the sunshine for a very reasonable price.
The Barri Gotic continues eastwards until it hits the Parc du Citudellla. The eastern half is a little less touristy and seedy and contains the Museu Picasso. I had had my fill of art in Madrid so I didn't go in but the narrow lane that houses it - the Carrer Montcala was very atmospheric. If you need a breath of fresh air when touring the Barri Gotic then head for Parc du Citudella. A great Catalan Arc de Triomphe stands at its northen edge or you can simply lay down by the boating lake and listen to the finches chirrup in the palm trees above you...
The Templo has its own metro station on the yellow line and getting there won't cost you any more then 150 pesetas, or you can walk there from anywhere in the Eixample and take in Gaudi's other creations such as Casa Mila and the Parc Guell. The templo is the creation of one man, Antoni Gaudi, who started his lifes work in 1890. He lived on site until his death in 1926 and each successive generations leaving their mark on this unique building. When you leave the subway station the western facade of the Templo immediately comes into sight. Try and cross the road to the small plaza directly opposite as there is a better view of the coffee-brown towers reaching into the sky. Each tower is topped with a jewell-like star and its stark modernist profile is topped with surreal carvings and angles. Was there a touch of madness in the make-up of Gaudi to create such a building?
The best advice I can give you once you have paid your 500 pesetas is to head for the elevators. If you don't, you will go through the interior of the Templo very quickly and before you know it you will have finished. You will have to join another queue but once you reach the top there are fantastic views of Barcelona reaching down to the sparkling meditterrean. Once back down, the interior of the catedral is very disapointing. Sunlight will illuminate a vast dusty construction site where only sections of the completed modernist ceiling can be seen. What you forget is that cathedrals take hundreds of years to build (York Minster took 150)and what we are seeing now is part of the process, best to come back in 2026 and see it when it is completed. To get the most of out of a visit have a look at the museu (museum). Here are Gaudis original sketches, models of the finished version (with towers in the centre as well, making it look like a porcupine)and a workshop where stonemasons worked upon detailed carvings.
After a lunch of sangria and paella I checked out the recommended Museu Catalunya. Situated on the Moll D'Espanya this is housed in an old warehouse and is a good museum telling the story of a country within a country. Nationalism makes me nervous, but this was a intelligent museum,and if the Catalans had a talent for picking the wrong side during their history - it certainly showed here. This was a museum made by Catalans for Catalans and there was very little in Castilean, let alone English. But they will give you a guidebook in your native language and allow you to explore the high-tech exhibts. First, the Romans built Barcelona then it became part of the Caliphate of Cordoba only freed after the reconquisita. You were allowed to explore Moorish and Medieval Spain on CD-Rom's and audio-visual exhibts. It was only an independent country for a 100 years before being swallowed up by Ferdinand and Isabella. But as history progressed its talent for picking the wrong side showed. In the war of Spanish succession it had the choice of a weak Spanish monarch or a strong French one - it chose the weak Spanish one and had the bejesus cannoned out of it by the winning French Bourbons. In the Spanish civil war it had the choice of a weak republican army or a strong nationalist one - you can guess which one it picked. Francos retaliation was particularly severe on Barcelona and thousands headed for the French border.
I would recommend this museum to anyone who wants to get at the bones of Barcelona. Food for the mind, and a good interlude before you hit the nightspots of this extraordinary city later on...
To reach there is easy from the centre of town. The train station underneath Placa de Catalunya will whisk you to Estacio Sants and from there it is another forty minutes to Sitges. Barcelona has a zonal system and Sitges is in zone four, when you get to Estacio Sants watch the boards for the trains to Vilanova -and simply get off at Sitges. Spanish trains put the rest of Europe to shame along this stretch of coast. For a start they are double-decker and take double the number of people then normal trains. Classical music is piped aboard and you can relax watching the mediterrean glide by with it's whitewashed houses and palm trees.
From the station you can get a taxi (black and yellow cabs)or simply walk to the beach or centre of town. Dotted with hidden luxury hotels and private guesthouses - Sitges is an elegant little town. It's buildings are whitewashed and you will pass narrow streets, hidden courtyards and streetsigns made of azulejas (colourful tiles) The main tourist drag is Carrer de la Paralellanes with its restaurants, banks, shops, bars and discos and south of this is the pretty Placa Industria. This is the centre of the nightlife in Sitges, which can get pretty wild, and the famous 'Parrots Pub'. From here it is an easy walk down to the beach with its long esplanade Passeig de la Ribera. The beach is everything you expect it to be with toasting couples, outdoor showers and rows and rows of sunloungers.
Sitges is a magnet for the outrageous and alternative lifestyles are the norm. If you feel like bearing all there is a nudist beach on the western side called Platja del Mort. Hidden amongst coves and inlets is a pretty beach backed on by hills where you can join in with people who want to do the same. But Sitges is famous as a gay resort and really comes alive during the summer. The main hub is Parrots pub where all nationalities congregate before heading off to the clubs. The best thing to do is to go with the flow and join in the fun. Nothing can beat strolling home, happily drunk after tasting the nightlife in Sitges with your feet aching from dancing all night and then watching the sun come up over the Meditterrean...
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