“Most visits to Spain are trouble-free, but you should be alert to the existence of street crime, especially thieves using distraction techniques. Thieves often work in teams of two or more people and tend to target money and passports.” British Foreign Office Advice
I was rather nervous of visiting the Catalan capital of Barcelona and the pickpocket capital of Europe because the last time that I went there a thief separated me from my wallet and went on a spending spree with my debit card. It was rather like losing a camera on the Athens Metro. I eventually got the money back from the bank but it spoilt the day as most of it was spent at the police station and the British Embassy but I like to think that the whole unpleasant experience taught me a valuable lesson in life and I am much more careful now with my possessions.
Not, however so confident about security that I would want to leave a car there and as I didn’t want to drive into Barcelona we took the train from Girona and arrived mid morning at Plaça Catalunya and emerged blinking from the darkness of the metro station into the blinding sunlight of the busy square with white knuckles gripped tightly around my wallet – still there – a good start!
I had a city map but we were completely disorientated and quite unable to distinguish between north and south or left and right and we circumnavigated the square several times looking for a street name that reconciled with the map until at the second or third pass we found La Rambla which was something so familiar that I can’t imagine how we missed it the first time and so we walked along the most famous street in Barcelona and about half way down stopped at a pavement bar for an expensive beer and an overpriced tapas lunch.
La Rambla is a riot, an eclectic mix of sights and sounds which easily strays from modern to medieval and back with impressive ease. Here are the boutiques and tourist shops, the street statues and entertainers, the tapas bars and souvenir stalls but alongside them are the market stalls and animal livestock sales which would appear to be more appropriate to a shopping experience in the Middle Ages. It is certainly a place to keep a firm grip on your wallet!
We knew that Barcelona in just a couple of days was going to be a challenge so we flicked through the pages of the guide book and ticked off the places that we wanted to see and when we had finished that we reviewed the selection and realised that it would be almost impossible to achieve in the time available. Kim however came up with a solution that would help and she suggested using the open top Barcelona Bus Touristic which is a bus service with three main routes that cover all of the principal sights around the city.
One of the main interchanges was at Plaça Catalunya so we wandered back, purchased our tickets and for no particular reason decided to start with the red route that covers the northern part of the city. We took our seats on the top deck in the sun and soon the bus started to move and joined the Passeig de Gràcia in the Eixample district of Barcelona and heading for Antoni Gaudi’s Casa Milà but only a short way along across the street we saw the most amazing building that also turned out to be the work of the famous architect- the Casa Batlló, recently restored as a museum and now open to the public.
Because we had only just started the tour about five minutes ago we didn’t get off here but I knew that we would definitely have to return.
The bus continued along Passeig de Gràcia past the Casa Milà and then turned right along the grid pattern streets and headed towards Gaudi’s unfinished Cathedral, La Sagrada Familia and still we stayed stubbornly in our seats with a plan to see all of these on the next day but the next stop on route was the architect’s vision of a Barcelona middle class housing development away from the grime of the industrial city, the Park Guell and here we made our first stop.
Actually the whole project turned out to be overly ambitious and the houses were never built but before it was abandoned Gaudi designed and built the infrastructure of roads, terraces and parks and he did himself live there for twenty years before his death in a house that is now the Gaudi House Museum.
As we left I checked my wallet for the hundredth time today and we got back on the bus which now headed further out of the city to the suburbs on the higher ground. At Sarria we got off and explored the narrow streets of a traditional and quiet area of the city where we bought some local cake specialities and found a bar for lunch and a beer and watched council workers erecting lights and decorations in preparation for a festival.
After lunch we rejoined the bus and to my surprise I was beginning to enjoy this method of sightseeing as the route took us through a district of wide leafy roads with churches, monasteries and palaces and then began a climb to a high spot above the city and pulled into a bus stop on the edge of a massive empty car park. This was Camp Nou, the home of Barcelona FC, the largest football stadium in Europe and possibly, by some measures, the largest in the World.
Barcelona FC was founded in 1899 by a group of Swiss, English and Catalan footballers and has become a symbol of Catalan culture and separatism that has the motto – “Més que un club” (More than a club). After its Spanish rivals Real Madrid, it is the world’s second-richest football club in terms of revenue, with an annual turnover of nearly €500 million and after Real Madrid and Manchester United it is the third most valuable, worth €2.6billion.
A lot of people got off the bus here but I wasn’t especially interested in visiting the stadium or the museum and I was certain that Kim wouldn’t be so we stayed in our seats until we reached the next stop where our plan was to change to the blue route which would eventually take us back to the city centre. Half the tour completed and I still had my wallet and we both still had our cameras– we were doing well!
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