April 17, 2016
A good night’s sleep, a light breakfast and we were ready to hit the pavement on this beautiful sunny day. Since yesterday’s afternoon plans were interrupted by a lengthy (and well-needed) nap, we decided that today we would walk La Rambla, aka Barcelona’s Champs-Elysees. A wide pedestrian-only boulevard (actually a series of boulevards strung into one), this is where locals and travelers alike go to see and be seen.
Once a grand stroll, it is now a bit grittier catering to tourists, rather than the locals. A few flower stalls still exist, but most have are now stands where you can buy trinkets, souvenirs, and the local team’s soccer jersey. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful area to walk because the architecture is still there, and people-watching can be an art form unto itself.
We ventured down the Grand Via, past the roundabout with the fountain in the middle (a crucial landmark for us to locate our hotel), and down to the Placa de Catalunya, Barcelona’s version of Time Square, but without the neon. Ringed by Art Deco buildings with playful fountains and statues placed here and there, this is where all the transportation meets – the Metro, buses, airport shuttle, etc. and where locals go to watch soccer matches on big screens (they love their local team despite their losing streak) or to demonstrate. There was a group demonstrating today, but it was a very quiet affair and they looked more like campers having brunch than activists.
After walking through the plaza, we ventured onto the Ramblas, along with thousands of other individuals out for a Sunday stroll. Plane trees line the boulevard providing shade here and there, which was a great compliment to the slight breeze due to our proximity to the sea – otherwise, it would have been hotter than blazes. We stopped into the 17th Century Baroque Betlem Church in time for the end of mass. It was cool inside and the acoustics were wonderful even with the congregation’s slightly off-key singing.
Back outside, we came across La Boqueria Market, the city’s largest marketplace. Unfortunately, it’s closed on Sunday, so we weren’t able to witness its liveliness. While we might have time to come back tomorrow, locals say not to go on Monday because nothing is fresh – Tuesday is better (but we leave on Tuesday). Perhaps on another trip.
Further on down, we turned down an alleyway which branched out into another plaza, Placa Reial, which was in full swing with its Sunday coin and stamp market. There were hundreds of little old men trading and selling collectibles – maybe I should have kept up my childhood stamp collection. Back out on the Ramblas, the next section was full of street performers, particularly human statues, and was home to the wax museum, which we did not visit. This was also the area we were advised to be careful about pickpockets – we made it through with no incident.
The Ramblas ended down at the waterfront by the Columbus Monument. Apparently Columbus came to Barcelona in 1493 after his trip to America; however, it baffles many why Columbus is so revered in Barcelona when his discoveries started 300 years of decline for the city as Europe became more interested in the West than in all things Mediterranean. Furthermore, no one is really sure why the statue of Columbus is pointing in the direction of Italy.
The waterfront is very pretty, except for the huge shopping center built into the harbor. We stayed away from the throngs of shoppers and sat for a while watching people feed the seagulls, despite signs saying not to, and the sailboats coming in and out of the harbor. The seagulls were very cheeky strutting up to us looking for a handout and then, when they realized they were getting nothing from us, with a toss of their beaks, they’d move onto the next unsuspecting victim.
Soothed by the sea, we walked halfway back up the Ramblas to where we had seen a sign pointing in the direction of the funicular up to Montjuic (Mount of the Jews). As many of you know, Steven loves funiculars and we try to integrate a ride in one on each major trip. This funicular was supposed to take us part way up the hill where we could take the cable car up to the castle perched on the top. Operative words being – was supposed to…
We walked along the narrow roadways in the direction the sign had pointed. We came to a Metro stop indicating that it was the funicular stop. We looked and looked, but nothing pointed us to the actual funicular. Then we saw a sign for a “funicular bus.” Why would we take a bus to the funicular we pondered. We crossed the street to the bus only to find a sign saying that the funicular was undergoing its yearly maintenance from November 2 to April 24th. Steven’s face fell for this would be the second major city (the first one being Budapest) in which we’d missed the funicular by a week due to maintenance.
Although foiled in his quest, we boarded the bus for a ride up the hill. Since Steven missed out on the funicular, I swallowed my fear of heights and boarded the cable car for the remaining ride up to the castle.
The views of the city below were spectacular. Montjuic is a popular place for outdoor family parties, which means a lot of children running around. But it’s also a nice place for a picnic at the top overlooking the harbor and the Mediterranean. We will keep this in mind for the next trip. It does, however, fall short in the category of available restrooms.
As the day was getting long, we decided to take a bus down Montjuic to Placa Espanya. On the map, it appeared that where the bus would let us off would be mere blocks away from our hotel. The map lied, or we are just really bad with figuring out distances on maps.
We walked and walked and walked, sat on a bench, and then walked some more. In fact, we did the walk/sit on a bench sequence several times until we found a Starbucks that provided a cool drink and a much needed WC. And then we walked some more.
At some point, one might have thought we’d throw in the towel and hail one of the 11,000 taxis in the city, but no, we pushed on and on. Not sure what the exact distance was for this portion of the day, but all-in-all, we walked more than 7 miles according to our pedometer. Yep, my puppies were barking by the time we got back to the hotel. The Cotton House was an oasis, with an offer of cold water and a sweet as we walked back in the door. And then I napped.
We decided on an early dinner (i.e., before 9:30 p.m.) as we need to be up a bit earlier tomorrow. After checking Yelp and narrowing down our choices based on all the restaurants closed on Sunday (which is most of them), we chose Ciudad Condal, a tapas bar, which had good reviews, particularly for its paella. It was a relatively short walk to the restaurant and we didn’t have to wait long for a table.
The hostess was nice enough; the servers, not so much. While in New York years ago, I had the “pleasure” of being served at Carnegie Deli by the Rudest Waiter in New York (yep, there’s a contest for that). However, he had nothing on the waitress we had tonight. She wasn’t taking guff from anyone, particularly the table next to us – a young American couple who ordered several more items than what the waitress thought they could eat. She literally cut them off and said no, you can’t order anything more until you finish what is on your table. And then she looked at us with a challenge in her eyes. I eked out that I wanted paella. She said no.
Well, at least it wasn’t that only I couldn’t have paella, they just didn’t have any today, or risotto, or anything else with rice. Is there a rice shortage I don’t know about? She proceeded to hand us a list of the tapas of the day, in Spanish. With nothing looking familiar, I accessed the data on my phone to google the names of the dishes so we weren’t ordering anything icky – like fried anchovies – yuck. We stuck with a prawn skewer, a torte of sautéed artichokes, the Cannelloni of the day, a beef tenderloin baguette, and a pork loin and Brie baguette. We chose well and, apparently, not too much because our waitress didn’t snarl at us, much. As we left the restaurant at 9:00 p.m., we saw the line beginning to form – we were happy we came for our “early-bird” dinner.