Wednesday, 12th June 2019 – Barcelona, Day 2
We hit the ground running first thing in the morning, rattled through the work at a great pace, and finished everything by around 16:30, to our great surprise. I think we’d all expected to need longer but we were all pretty well focussed and it’s amazing what you can do if you try. Thus freed, we all split up in various directions to go and take a look at whatever took our fancy. I’d got a pre-booked ticket for the Hop-On Hop-Off tourist bus and was keen to try and get the lie of the land, ahead of having the full day to be a tourist on Thursday. K from the Danish office (DK), L and S (also from the Copenhagen office) decided they would come with me. We picked up the Red route bus from the Plaza de Catalunya and settled in for a 2 hour tour of some of the hopefully interesting stops around the city.
The red route is described thus: “Covering many of the city centre attractions, the Red Line is the perfect place to start. Begin in the very heart of Barcelona and hop on our open-top bus at Plaça de Catalunya. From here you’ll travel along Passeig de Gràcia, with its luxurious boutiques. As you continue, you’ll pass by some of the most important sites of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics on Montjuïc Hill. Here you can also visit the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya – renowned as the home of the world’s best collection of Romanesque art. As the route comes to an end, you’ll pass through the Medieval Gothic Quarter – hop off here and be sure to visit Plaça de Rei, where, legend has it, Columbus met King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella after he returned from the New World.” It was advertised as taking 2 hours, which meant we’d not have time to hop off anywhere, but it would provide an interesting overview of one part of the city, and as I was basically fact-finding to see if Lynne and I should visit Barcelona this would help increase the information I had at my fingertips.
The tour (as with the blue line) is considered to start, if a hop on hop off tour can really be said to have a start, at the Plaça de Catalunya, where the airport bus had dropped me off the previous day. It’s a grand open space but overly full of pigeons for my liking, the flying rats swarming around to be fed by tourists. In London there’d be a bloke with a hawk keeping them away; here there’s a woman with a high pressure hose constantly washing away the evidence of the birds’ presence. I suspect the man with the hawk is probably cheaper and more efficient…
From here the bus turns up the Passeig de Gràcia, passing the mad modernista (art nouveau) buildings including the cluster known as the Illa de la Discòrdia (the Casa Amatller by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, the Casa Batlló by Antoni Gaudí, the Casa Lleó Morera by Lluís Domènech i Montaner and the Museu del Perfum) and on the other side and a little further north, the Casa Milà “La Pedrera” also by Gaudí, all of which would have to wait for another day and more time for a proper exploration.
From there the bus turns on to the Avinguda Diagonal, and while it doesn’t take in all 11km of it, it does get quite a long way down it. A colleague later found some aerial photos of the city, and the way this avenue cuts across it is really quite remarkable. I haven’t check to see if there is a Barcelona Half Marathon (I’m sure there must be), but if there isn’t that would be an impressive looking course, if boring as hell for the runners because it’s dead straight. These days it’s the financial hub as well as the high-end shopping hub apparently.
We only covered about a quarter of the street before turning off towards the main station, the Estació de Sants, and some rather drab modern architecture. S was starting to think this was a bit of a duff route, and didn’t change her mind for a while. There is a apparently a park with a lake and everything but you can’t actually see it from the bus. It’s lined by some rather odd turrets, the purpose of which I certainly couldn’t fathom. It’s also close to a modern “hard square” that the city seems to have started building/clearing in the 1980s. Oh, and apparently this statue is also a slide!
Things started to get much more interesting after that though, as the bus started edging towards Montjuïc, the glorious green space to the south west of the centre (which also used to host a Grand Prix for a handful of years until 1975). First though, we passed through the Creu Coberta. This is actually the Carrer de la Creu Coberta, which is full of shops, and thus not of massive interest to me. a major commercial street with family-run shops that specialise in textile products, shoes, leather goods and perfume. The Hostafrancs Market, inaugurated in 1888, might be of more interest because I do like a good food market. The more interesting thing was the massive statue, Woman and Bird, by Joan Miró and standing in the Parc de l’Escorxador (Slaughterhouse Park) which is indeed where the cities slaughterhouse used to stand.
The Plaça d’Espanya, up next, gives you a number of options to explore, but again we really didn’t have time to get off and wander about. There’s a rather fine fountain, which was built for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition by Carles Buïgas, and was restored for the 1992 Olympic Games. Nearby are several buildings of massive interest, and by now I was fully convinced that Lynne and I really need at least a long weekend in the city, if not longer than that. Over to one side was the old bull-fighting ring which has been converted into a shopping centre but is still mightily impressive from the outside, whatever you think about bull fighting (for the record I’m against it).
At stop 8, the Barcelona CaixaForum you can see the Pavelló Mies Van der Rohe, an exact reconstruction of the building designed by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe and Lilly Reich to represent the Weimar Republic at the 1929 International Exposition. There is also the fabulous (at least from the exterior) CaixaForum itself, inside a vast Modernista factory designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, where there are art exhibitions which I wasn’t going to get to this time round.
We then passed the Poble Espanyol, which we were told contains a collection of the various construction styles to be found throughout the Spanish regions, as well as the Fran Daurel Museum which houses a collection of contemporary art, including works by Dalí and Picasso among others.
All very impressive, but probably not as imposing as the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, inside the vast Palau Nacional, which is a lot more modern than you might expect, dating from the 1929 International Exposition though it looks as it it’s been there a long longer. The road up to it helps the impression of majesty in no small part. I rather suspect that the inside is pretty majestic too, with what is claimed to be the world’s best collection of Romanesque paintings and Catalan art.
We were back with the modern again at the next stop, the Anella Olímpica, the Olympic Ring, built for the 1992 Olympic Games, and now home to one of the city’s largest sporting facilities, inside the Olympic Stadium. This was actually built in 1929, then updated for 1992. I’m told its mechanised structure meant it could be transformed into an artificial sea for the Indoor Windsurfing Championship. On the other side of the road, though not fully visible from the bus, is the Bernat Picornell Pools, a complex opened in 1970 and then remodelled for the 1992 games.
Next we arrived outside the Fundació Joan Miró stop, a building designed by Josep Lluís Sert. It exhibits 14,000 pieces by Joan Miró, many of them preparatory sketches of his projects. The foundation is surrounded by the Laribal Gardens, full of Arabic-inspired fountains and waterfalls, and containing a stone amphitheatre, the Teatre Grec, built in 1929 from an old stone quarry on Montjuïc Mountain. Noticeable from the air when I was flying in were numerous quarries, so I guess it’s no surprise that some alternative use might be made of one once it had served its original purpose.
The one thing I really hadn’t expected in Barcelona was a cable car (in fact, more than one). There’s one on Montjuïc, the Telefèric de Montjuïc, which takes passengers up the mountain to Montjuïc Castle. By all acounts it’s a lot easier than walking, especially in very hot weather. The castle dates from 1640, but most of what’s there now is mid-18th century. I’m sure it would be worth a look, even so.
As we started back down towards the city again, I noticed that people obviously thought it was clever to dropused earphone sets onto the top of bus stops. They were everywhere, in greater or lesser quantities. I wondered if someone went round and collected them up every so often. They must or Barcelona would be knee deep in them by now.
I seem to have missed the Jardins Costa i Llobera, though that may be because what you can see of it from the road is just the occasional cactus.
We were getting towards the end of the tour when we stopped off at the World Trade Center, probably to let the cruise ship passengers bugger off to their great big ships, having failed to see Barcelona properly and not having spent any money in the local economy. You may have guessed I don’t really approve of that sort of tourism in the slightest, having heard complaints from locals in a number of places now, and having been bowled over and barged out of the way by the cruise ship passengers visiting Stonehenge last year because they “were on a schedule”. Anyway, enough of that.The WTCB is “a business park in the form of a ship bathed by the Mediterranean Sea in the Port of Barcelona” it says in the guides. I just thought it was a big building, nice enough if you like that sort of thing, but it wouldn’t be among the things I would remember later. What I would remember is that there’s another cable car over the harbour…
There’s a very tall column, with a statue of Christopher Columbus, pointing out to sea, close to the former Royal Shipyards that now houses the Maritime Museum of Barcelona. From here we could have walked up La Rambla from the bottom end headed towards our hotel, but I was saving all of that for Thursday. We were on our way towards Port Vell, the Old Harbour, which was very run down before the urban renewal program prior to the 1992 Olympics. Now it’s full of shiny yachts (floating gin-palaces as my later father-in-law would have called them), people selling stuff illegally, and the Maremàgnum (a mall containing shops, a multiplex cinema, bars and restaurants), an IMAX cinema, and Europe’s largest aquarium.
There’s also some interesting public art, including the whimsical smiling lobster.
This was all on the way to the Museu d’Història de Catalunya and the Port Olímpic, neither of which really provide much to see from the top of a bus. I was also starting to run out of steam about now, and was winding down towards going back to the hotel to try and round up anyone who needed to know where the evening’s restaurant, the Mont Bar, was. I know, because the guidebook said so, that the museum would tell me all about the evolution of Catalan culture over the centuries, and that the 740 moorings in the marina were created as part of a plan to regenerate the entire coastline of the city before the Olympic Games by creating a large recreational and restaurant area and the residential area of the Olympic Village. The stop is at the bottom of Torre Mapfre and Hotel Arts, the twin skyscrapers that make up the easily recognised skyline of Barcelona’s coast.
There were three stops, left, including the Zoo, which is next to Plaça dels Voluntaris Olímpics, a modern area that sprang up when the the city fathers decided to transform an industrial wasteland into the Olympic Village. From there we passed the Parc de la Ciutadella, where I’d been for a run in the morning before work, finding it quiet, beautiful and full of parakeets at that time of day. It’s a huge park laid out on land previously occupied by a military citadel which in 1888 hosted the Barcelona Universal Exposition. Now, it contains the Catalan Parliament Building and Barcelona Zoo. As I discovered the following day, it was much bigger than I’d thought. Oh, and it has its own Arc de Triomf.
For its penultimate trick, the bus stopped by the Barri Gòtic, top of my list for the following morning. The Gothic Quarter is the historic nucleus of Barcelona, where you can see sections of the Roman wall that surrounded Barcino along with columns of a temple dedicated to Augustus built more than 2,000 years ago on the summit of Mount Tàber. There’s also the Jewish Quarter and Plaça de Sant Jaume, which is still home to government bodies, but the real interest for me was in the civil and religious Gothic buildings, the Cathedral and the Plaça del Rei, the Eglésia de Santa Maria del Pi (Church of Saint Mary of the Pine) and the Basílica dels Sants Just i Pastor (Basilica of Saints Justus and Pastor), built over a Romanesque church and is considered to be the city’s oldest.
I almost certainly wouldn’t have time for all of it, but I’d get round what I could. I had an overview now, and I knew where things were!