Barcelona is one of Spain´s most fascinating cities. There are so many aspects of Barcelona, it is difficult to know where to start. Football and its ongoing rivalry with Real Madrid C.f., the centre of the Catalan independence question, culture, history, tourism.. where do we start?
Camp Nou is the epicentre of sports in Barcelona for football mad fans, seating almost 100,000 spectators. Just down the road, the Palau Blaugrana was built in 1971 it was extended in 1994 and now seats over 7,500 people instead of the original 5,600 sports enthusiasts, including roller hockey, basketball and handball. In 1992 the stadium was used during the Olympic Games and was the venue for a number of events. Camp Nou, though, is a “must visit” for football aficionados. It is the biggest stadium in Spain for capacity and the largest stadium in Europe.
The independence question has been a hot topic for many years. Simon Harris’ book “Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective” gives a good, clear historical insight into the argument. Essentially, could Catalonia become independent and how does this question compare with the Scottish independence question? The Spanish (and the Catalans) have an inherent interest in the subject, and you will hear the subject being discussion voraciously in bars in Barcelona as you will the Scottish question in bars in deepest nationalist Glasgow. The economy is always at the forefront of any nationalistic argument… can the area in question survive on its own?
Barcelona has its own distinctive culture. It is a very cosmopolitan city yet proud of its history, despite repression by the Kings of Castile and el Generalissimo during the Spanish Civil War. Both Spanish and Catalan languages are spoken, children are brought up as being bilingual, and the city is home to a number of World Heritage sites, including the world famous “Sagrada Basilica” sacred basilica which stands proudly in Carrer de Mallorca, and has divided the citizens of Barcelona for many years, some of them being afraid it may detract from the official Barcelona cathedral. A cathedral must be the seat of a bishop, and the basilica did not achieve that recognition. The construction of the Basilica continues to this day, unfinished since 1880, but is already a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.
The history of Barcelona is well documented, and during your visit you can see many sites. Enjoy the famous, or infamous, Las Ramblas. Some say this is overcrowded and overpriced, but you cannot visit Barcelona without visiting Las Ramblas. The barrio of Raval is just off Las Ramblas and has an ambience all of its own. It is described in guidebooks as not being the cleanest and safest parts of Barcelona, but we stayed in a little hotel, the Abba Rambla Hotel. The hotel staff could not have been friendlier and took great pains to explain, with the aid of a map, which areas were “no go” zones. The square on which it is located (Calle Rambla Raval) is a delight with many small bars and restaurants which charge a fraction of the price of those in Las Ramblas, just 500m away.
Tourism is big business in Barcelona. Some residents feel overwhelmed by visitors and seek to exclude them at certain times of the day from the local markets so they can do their shopping without the shop keepers pushing up prices. They have certainly got the marketing right, and it is the first destination in the world to have achieved the status of being a recognised sustainable tourist destination. Transport in Barcelona is a mixture of walking and cycling (34% of the population use this mode of transport) with 100% of buses adapted and only 26.5% of the population using private transport. It would be interesting to make a comparison with London on this basis…..Barcelona wants everyone to enjoy the city while respecting the environment. Considering sustainable tourism should be at the heart of every traveller´s experience. That is why we arrived by train and walked everywhere!
Simon Harris: “Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective
Paperback: 300 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (24 Oct. 2014)