We flew into Barcelona on Tuesday night, an hour trip from Nice.
Our taxi driver from Pakistan told us we were lucky to get him; he speaks five languages fluently and can communicate well enough in three others. He said that few taxi drivers know English, although many locals know both Spanish and Catalan, a regional dialect in this part of Spain. (side note: our taxi driver says his parents and wife still live in Pakistan; he joins them during the slower winter months; and, despite what we might read, nearly all of Pakistan is quite safe).
All of the political talk here is about Barcelona and a large area of coastal Spain (Catalonia) making a serious effort to secede from the rest of Spain. They are even talking about moving their revered soccer team to a French league.
The last time Greg and Sue were here three years ago, they faced head on a phalanx of baton waving riot police, dressed and helmeted in black, and black armored vehicles, as they walked Las Ramblas, one of the most famous pedestrian promenades in the world. The police were trying to shut down a demonstration by anti-capitalists.
But, on Wednesday all we could see were tourists and locals enjoying one of the most beautiful cities in the world. All during our first three weeks of European travel, even many other Europeans raved about how nice Barcelona is. It is very clean, safe and has a very modern feeling, perfectly blended in with the older construction. And, there are manicured squares and parks and wide boulevards for cars, bikes and pedestirnas.
It is a large city, and we covered a bit of it on Wednesday, having our best walking day of the trip, over 17 miles under bright blue skies. We finished the day with cocktails at a beach bar as a large red moon rose over the Mediterranean Sea.
There is some quirky stuff, led by the late architect Antoni Gaudi’s personality. His modernist approach, even in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s, created some houses, a park and a prominent church that stand out as major sights in this city.
Sports are important here. Barcelona has a popular European soccer team and was given a boost when it hosted the 1992 Olympics. Some of the venues are still intact, but the biggest benefit occurred along the beach when older industrial buildings were removed to make way for a better looking city. The city is located on the Mediterranean, and the land was transformed into beach property that propelled Barcelona to the top of the list for best beach city in the world. The brownish beach sand has to be replenished every so often though.
In the morning, shop owners are out cleaning sidewalks and windows, making this the cleanest city we have visited in Europe.
Barcelona has some very busy boulevards, fueled by an active cruise port, lots of tourists from all over, and locals who take advantage of the generally great sub-tropical weather, many restaurants, bars and shops over a wide section of the city.
Our hotel is across the street from a significant fruit and vegetable market. But on Las Ramblas, one of the most famous markets, which has extensive seafood, meat, and flowers, in addition to fruit and veggies, is open early and closes late. Wednesday at this central Boqueria market, we saw more kinds of fish and shellfish than we knew existed; meat purveyors were thin slicing, with only a knife, prosciutto and fine hams and placing the results in dozens of pre-packaged containers; and stand after stand offered pre-filled fruit juices piled high in very bright colors.
In another part of the city, there was a massive two-story flea market crammed with people. And, the waterfront was lined with the largest collection of people selling illegal bags, unlicensed soccer jerseys and all of the other junk that mostly northern African vendors peddle all over Europe. Tapas and pizzerias seem to lead the way in cuisine, but there are food places everywhere.