Homage to Catalonia
Barcelona is the capital city of Catalonia, in north eastern
Spain. It’s great beauty – and convenient location on the Mediterranean coast –
make it one of the most popular destinations on Mediterranean
It’s not quite like the rest of Spain, either: not quite so laid
back and relaxed. There’s always a buzz about the place. Perhaps that’s because
the people aren’t like proper Spaniards. Most of them would describe themselves
as Catalan rather than Spanish, and it’s best to be careful exactly how you
would refer to them in public in case you cause offence. The situation is
rather like that which exists between Scotland and England: not many natives of
Edinburgh would thank you for calling them English. In political terms, the
comparison is less apt. Barcelona and Catalonia in general have less political
independence from Spain than Scotland does from England, and, although the
Catalans don’t cause as much trouble for the government in Madrid as do the
notoriously restive Basques further to the north and west, they are still very
much their own people with their own culture and identity.
A major part of that identity is shaped by the sea. Many outsiders forget that
Barcelona is a major seaside resort with some exceptional beaches and water
sports facilities that were redeveloped during the 1992 Olympics. But if you’re
calling in as part of a cruise you probably want to do more than simply lounge
around – there are plenty of opportunities to do that on board ship!
Barcelona is an interesting mix of the ancient and modern. If
you’re interested in visiting the gothic heart of the medieval city you really
should check out La Rambla and Barri Gotica. Not only are these areas fully of
winding, atmospheric streets of medieval buildings, they’re really lively too:
street entertainers and buskers contend for an audience in La Rambla,
particularly, and a whole morning’s entertainment is sometimes to be had simply
walking down one street. Not all of this part of Barcelona is so pleasant,
however: if you have kids you might like to avoid the area of La Rambla past
Plaça Reial where the quarter degenerates into a red light district with all of
the seediness of Amsterdam or London’s Soho, but none of the charm.
There’s much else to see though. The unfinished cathedral of La Sagrada Familia
is one of the defining symbols of Barcelona: the spires of this amazing piece
of modernist/gothic/baroque architecture are an unforgettable sight. The
building is also an apt symbol of some of the quarrelsomeness of the Catalans.
Work began in the early twentieth century – and the place still isn’t finished.
The original architect, the great Antoni Gaudi, died in the 1920s not long
after which a hiatus was imposed by the coming of the vicious and bloody
Spanish Civil War. When work started again the various groups involved couldn’t
agree how Gaudi would have wanted the Cathedral to be finished. Today, some
sort of consensus seems to have been reached – although the city authorities
are still rather vague when people ask about the expected date of completion.
One popular local theory has it that the La Sagrada Familia is deliberately
being kept in an unfinished state because the modern legends that have grown up
around its building are worth more tourist dollars than a completed church!
The other major highlight of Barcelona – especially if you feel
like getting away from the oppressive heat of the midday – is the Picasso
Museum. It’s not too far from where your cruise ship will probably be docked in
the city’s port. The place is part museum and part art gallery. Even if art
isn’t usually your thing you’ll probably find that some of the major works on
show – many are from the artist’s famous ‘Blue Period’ – are arresting and
Streets of Barcelona
If you’re staying in town for lunch or even for an evening meal, you’ll find
Barcelona has some wonderful cafés and restaurants. Bear in mind that the
locals tend not to eat their evening meal until around 9pm. If you can’t wait
that long, there are plenty of places that cater for the eating habits of
Americans – but be warned that you’re not likely to enjoy the same quality of
food and service as you would in a more authentic Catalan eatery. The local
cuisine is worth trying - especially the kind of “surf and turf” combined
seafood and meat dishes for which Catalonia is famous. The meat or fish is
usually served in some sort of highly flavored and piquant sauce and washed
down with local beer or red wine.
In many senses, Barcelona is the most Mediterranean of
Mediterranean seaports. If you have not cruised this
sea before, it is a perfect first port of call to get an introduction to
southern European lifestyles, cuisines and manners.