“A change had come upon Barcelona since my previous visit. Then there had been little sense of danger by daytime….Now however, harm hung on the air like a rancid smell” – Ted Walker – ‘In Spain’
It didn’t take very long for the tour bus to arrive and we took seats again on the upper deck as the vehicle made its way towards one of Barcelona’s great public squares, the Plaça d’Espanya at the foot of the hill of Montjuïc and which was developed in 1929 for the World’s Fair Exhibition.
Barcelona went to a lot of trouble to host this event as it was almost in some sort of competition with the Andalusian city of Seville which hosted the Ibero-American Exposition in the same year and in preparation for that built the Plaza Espana as a showcase for Spain and its regions. To compete with this Barcelona constructed a whole new boulevard and exhibition palace and the Palau Nacional which is now the National Art Gallery of Catalonia.
Declining to get off at either of these two stops we carried on a little further up the slopes of Montjuïc and then got off to visit Poble Espanyol which was also built for the 1929 exhibition and is a sort of Frankenstein’s monster with various bits of Spanish architecture and heritage stitched together in one open air museum. Whilst this may work at Beamish in County Durham in the UK which restricts itself to the North East of England or St Fagans in South Wales where the exhibits come from a relatively small geographical area it is quite something else to try and bring together all of the differing cultural heritage of a country as diverse as Spain into one setting and succeed.
I found it to be a rather odd sort of place that aspires to celebrate the various regions of Spain but, for me anyway, failed to effectively capture the spirit of the country and it isn’t really a museum but rather a collection of shops and restaurants claiming to sell and serve regional specialities. For anyone who has been to Disney World EPCOT World Showcase you will probably know what I mean.
The Disney view of the World doesn’t include Spain in the World Showcase, which is an oversight if you ask me, but if it did then something like Poble Espanyol would be exactly what it would most likely look like.
An interesting thing about Poble Espanyol is that it claims to introduce the visitor to the heritage and culture of each of the Autonomous Communities of Spain and yet it only showcases fifteen of the seventeen and as we left I couldn’t help wondering why the Canary Islands and La Rioja didn’t rate a mention or at least a shop?
Returning to the tourist bus we were driven now past the Olympic Stadiums, the Museum of local artist Joan Miró and then down to the seafront and the World Trade Centre which turned out to be a huge shopping mall so after thirty minutes or so in there we walked through and towards the beach area of Barceloneta which was busy today and decorated from one end to the other with sun beds and brightly patterned parasols so we didn’t stay long.
We were now at the seafront end of La Rambla so we checked and secured our wallets, purses and cameras and walked along it keeping a constantly vigilant eye open for all of the pickpocket tricks that we had read about and I had previously been a victim of.
We were completely paranoid, two bags of nerves, eyes swivelling madly from side to side and showing suspicion of anyone who came within a metre or so of our personal space and we were glad that after about half way along we were able to leave the boulevard and turn towards Barcelona Cathedral – not Gaudi’s unfinished Sagrda Familia but the medieval Gothic Cathedral that stands in the heart of the city. It was a good cathedral and I came away with the nagging thought about why Gaudi thought that Barcelona might need a second?
After the Cathedral there was only one last place to visit and this was the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Palau de la Música Catalana which was designed and built in the Modernista style at the beginning of the twentieth century and has today become another symbol of Catalan nationalism.
It had been a long day and by now we were all touristed out so we cut back across La Rambla and through the University area back to our hotel whilst all the time looking for somewhere suitable to eat later. My preference was for a chic looking bistro but nearby Kim took a fancy to a restaurant with a distinctly artisan character and I think that even at this early stage the decision was already made.
And so it was and we returned there later and enjoyed a very good meal at an exceptionally reasonable price although back at the room later when I reviewed the day’s expenditure I think I discovered the reason why, because they had forgotten to charge us for the bottle of Rioja that we had enjoyed as an accompaniment to the excellent seafood paella.