Another Big Red Bus

August 16, 2015 - Barcelona, Spain

Breakfast wasn't included in our hotel booking, and we were too mean to risk the elegant looking dining room, especially with the whole of gastronomic Barcelona waiting for us. So we ventured off into the Carrer San Pau, the little street where the hotel is situated, turned right and into La Rambla, about half a block away. At that hour of the morning (not early) it wasn't too crowded, and looked very attractive, with its flower stalls and souvenir booths almost covered by the hugely tall trees  tht line the wide walkway in the middle of the road - one lane of traffic in each direction. I thought 'Las Ramblas' must mean something to do with walking, but it turns out to mean dry river beds. It's the part of Barcelona that everyone goes walking on, anyway, whatever it means.

We had decided on the usual introductory tour on the Big Red Bus, and the nearest stop was the Placa de Catalunya at the top of La Rambla. Before we actually arrived there we were seduced into Bar Nuria, a pleasant-looking cafe with a very wide entrance which, on a warm, sunny morning seems more attractive than a dark and narrow one. We each had an Americano with milk, and Max had two croissants.

We thought it would be a smart move to find the Julia Travel Office, the starting point for tomorrow's tour, as I had read reviews on the Viator site which complained about the difficulty of finding where tours set out from. Personally, I think whoever made those complaints didn't read the info that Viator sends with its tickets - very comprehensive. Anyway, we fairly easily found the tour office which is opposite the magnificent Palau de Musica building - although we didn't go in, you can see some of the famous stained glass from the outside. Having introduced ourselves to the friendly girl behind the counter and confirmed that we are indeed on tomorow's tour, we retraced out steps to find the bus.

The Placa de Catalunya is a large, buzzing square, with buses waiting on two sides. We joined a queue and then found we could buy tickets from an ambulatory ticket seller, which we did, and he told us to go to the other side of the square as we wanted to get the Red Route first and go around the old town.

The first startling building the audio-guide draws your attention to is Gaudi's Casa Batlo, built as a private house with a wavy facade, balconies like skulls and columns which look like large leg bones, complete with knees. Unfortunately we only caught a glimpse of it through the trees that line the street - the Passagio de Gracia. Several of the floors are open to the public and it is on the list for my next visit to Barcelona. (Ha ha, dream on, Margie - got to pretend you'll live forever.)

The bus actually stopped outside the next Gaudi house - the Pedrera, meaning 'quarry'. also called the Mila. It is probably his most famous piece of domestic architecture, and is topped with mosaic-covered 'chimneys' which look like something you might see in a dream but never in real life. The building itself has a curved facade, with wrought iron balconies like no other wrought iron balconies you'll ever see. Another visit for next time.

The bus travelled for some distance down an elegant, wide, treelined street caled The Diagonal, past the Station (Barcelona Sants, where we had arrived), past the old Bull Ring which is now a shopping centre as Bullfighting was banned in Barcelona in 2010. After that, we travelled up Montjuic, so named, it is thought, because it was once the site of the Jewish cemetery. It is a vast area of parkland, developed as the site of the huge Barcelona Exhibition of 1929, the centrepiece of which was the  National Gallery of Catalonia. Other museums and galleries were built at the same time, and further development occurred with the building of sports for the 1992 Olympics. Apparently there are restaurants, nightclubs and other centres of attraction throughout the area but oddly enough we weren't tempted by any of them. Perhaps it's somewhere in the Montjuic area that Zack spent New Year's Eve a few years ago.

We noticed a funicular railway leading up to a cable car and decided that was one attraction we would indulge ourselves with.

The bus then took us down to the port area where we noticed two massive cruise ships, and our audio guide told us that Barcelona port is now one of the biggest in Europe for cruise ships as well as being a large commercial port. The whole seafront area was also redeveloped for the 1992 Olympics, with the addition of a promenade, the Olympic accommodation village and 'beaches'. We caught a glimpse of nice yellow sand and turquoise water, AND spoke-to-spoke umbrellas, sunlounges and about a million sunbathers.

Rahter than going back to the Placa de Catalunya we decided to get off the bus near the Cathedral and walk back to the hotel through some of the little side streets. First, though, we came to the Cathedral Square where there was a little market, and people dancing to music played by a band. I had read about the traditional Catalonian dance performed on special feast days outside the Cathedral (in Robert Hughes's book on Barcelona, I think) but today it seemed to be mostly for tourists. On a wall facing the Cathedral is a black and white mural, one of those lovely line drawings by Picasso which looks (at first deceptive glance) as if it could have been done by a child.

We wound our way back to the hotel through the narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter and decided to have a little sleep. Having fun is so tiring, especially in 34 degree heat.

We walked back to Catalunya and caught the Blue Route bus a stop before the Placa. The first part of it took us again past Casa Batlo and the Pderera, then through the Gracia district which we were told was abuzz with community festival, decorated streets - much fun to be had by all. Perhaps the commentary was recorded a few weks ago, or in anticipation of next week, because it looked very sleepy. We also passed the Park Guell which Gaudi had in mind as a housing development - he lived there in the only finished house with his father until he moved to the crypt of the Sagrada Familia - but it turned out to be one of those developments that never happened. No doubt the money ran out.

We wound through more tree lined streets until we came to the Monastir de Pedralbes (I've no idea, if you're asking) where the bus decided it would go no further. Some passengers decided just to wait for the next one, but we wandered up the cobbled street to the outside of the monastery, the entry on one side, a walled garden on the other. It seems there are still a few monks - nuns? - in residence, but it is now open to the public for tours.

We wandered back to the dead bus, which coughed into somblance of life and trundled off round the corner, but we caught the next one soon after. We passed the huge stadium which is the home ground of the Barcelona Football Club - Barca (pronounced Barsa) FC. Gasp with amazement! Can seat 100,000! Nearly as many as the MCG. By the way, if you speak Catalan, you say 'Barselona'. If you speak Spanish you say 'Barthelona'. I'll stick with Catalan myself.

We passed down the other end of The Diagonal, apparently one of the more glamorous of the Barcelona shopping districts, and got off the bus where we had got on. Altogether both trips were well worth doing and gave us a much better idea of this fascinating city.

Max:  We thought we deserved a swim and perhaps a beer at the terrace bar on the roof of the hotel. We ordered beers and sat in the shade of an umbrella for a while before taking a refreshing dip in the pool. You couldn't really call it a swim as it was only two strokes for the length. We tried to be good pool users and washed off the sweat under the outdoor shower before going into the pool and the shower water was refreshingly cool, especially in the wind. The pool was a touch cooler and very relaxing and we were surprised to find it was salt water.

We returned to our drinks and ordered some Patatas Bravas which are potato wedges roasted in a spicy oil and adorned with sour cream and paprika. As that seemed almost enough to replenish our energy we ordered another beer and some guacomole and corn chips. The girl who looked after the bar today was the same one who suggested the tapas for us last night and we asked her where she learnt her English. She laughed a little and told us she was from Manchester. As she relaxed and talked to us her Mancunian accent became much stronger and obvious rather than her normal almost Spanish accented English.

Our beers and nibbles were sufficient to satisfy our hunger while the swim and sitting in the fading daylight was enough to unwind and we were ready for bed, and it was only 10pm.


The view down Las Rambles
A quiet little Carrer
One of the two converted Bullfighting Arenas
One of Gaudi's designs
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