I’ve just spent a week visiting Barcelona. I’d like to say that I did a whole bunch of research before setting off, but to be honest, I’m not that great at research. For example, I managed to get through an entire University degree without stepping inside a University library.
Plus, I like a place to surprise me. I asked you guys for your tips, and you supplied them in plentiful fashion. Barcelona’s tourist board, who hosted me so splendidly on this trip, sent me over a whole bunch of stuff too.
But none of this meant that I really knew the following things. I was ignorant… now I am less so. Yay for travel!
Barcelonés, or Barcelonians, aren’t exactly Spanish
Ooh, I’ll start off with the contentious one first then. Sure, Barcelona is *in* Spain. But it is in the Catalan region of Spain, a region which has its own language, own culture and… if the local population had its way... its own borders.
A basic study of Spanish history probably would have helped me out here, but I was never that great at history, particularly after spending two very dry years of my teenage life studying in great depth the Russian revolution of 1917. Something about reading the account of peasants being tyrannised in a frozen wasteland just turned me off history.
So, whilst officially Barcelona is a part of Spain, there are hints everywhere, from flags to language, even to domain names ending in .cat rather than .es, that really, the locals consider themselves somewhat separate. I’m sure there’s a whole world of politics and history here that I could get bogged down in. Instead, let’s move onto other, less contentious and more tasty subjects.
Lunch is a somewhat lengthy affair
I’ve never really travelled in a country which has that Spanish themed approach to lunchtime. I thought the French took lunch breaks seriously, but they really can’t hold a candle to the Spanish.
Lunch time starts a bit later than I was used to (turning up before 1pm raised eyebrows.. try that in France and you’ll be lucky if they still have a plat du jour left), and runs.. well.. until dinner time as far as I could see.
The other thing is that the traditional concept of starters and main courses isn’t the standard here. Possibly because tapas is so popular. Instead, meals consist of two slightly smaller main courses, followed by dessert and coffee.
Food is also incredibly cheap, by Western European standards anyway. It’s not hard to find a meal that includes first and second dishes, dessert, coffee and a beverage, for under 10 euros. No wonder everyone eats out all the time!
Barcelona is a seriously popular destination
I had a vague hope, when planning my trip for early April, that i would be able to miss the peak visitor months of the summer, when visiting European cities is… well... a bit of a chore.
And, when we blearily stumbled off the train at 8am on a Saturday morning, the wonderfully deserted narrowly winding streets of the Gothic Quarter were reassuringly empty. We had Barcelona to ourselves!
Of course, the reality wasn’t entirely in line with this first impression. Pretty much any city is largely deserted at 8am on a Saturday morning. As the day wound on, and people started to wake up, it became rapidly apparent that Barcelona is an incredibly popular destination. The major sights were always crowded, as were the streets, restaurants and even the parks!
It wasn’t really a problem – a city is a place of people after all. It was just a little busier than I had imagined for April. Good news for the tourism economy though. I’ll be writing a post on my tips for surviving a European city in summer soon, although in the case of Barcelona, the tips will probably apply year round…
Barcelona is eminently walk-able!
One thing that really stood out about Barcelona, which isn’t always the case with large cities, is how easy it is to walk around.
Sure, there is an awesome public transport infrastructure, with all modes of transport offered, from trams to buses to a metro and even bicycles. But for me, the best way to experience a city is on foot, and Barcelona is a city that is just so wonderful to experience from the pavement.
It has distinctly separate districts, all of which have their own character and beauty. The aforementioned Gothic Quarter is all tiny maze like passageways framed by looming buildings.
There’s the gorgeous beach fronted Barceloneta. There’s the Eixample... full of beautiful art nouveau buildings in a modernist style. Something for everyone, and all just so easy to get between! A walkers haven.
St George is not an exclusively English Saint
For most of my life, being English, I have been living under the misguided impression that St. George was this English chap who slayed a dragon, saved a princess, and gave us a national day that we largely ignore.
Then I visited Barcelona, and discovered that St George is also the patron Saint of Catalonia. Some further research has indicated that he also happens to be the patron Saint of nine other countries, including Portugal and Germany, as well as four cities including Venice. This was a chap whose dragon slaying abilities clearly travelled well. He was also Turkish.
Unlike the English, for whom the St. George flag only really appears when we want to celebrate our football team being dire, the Catalonians really revere this guy. He appears all over the city in statues and artwork, and his national day is a seriously big deal. Poor old St. Valentine doesn’t get his own day in Catalonia – rather, St George’s day is the day to celebrate love. After all, what’s more romantic than a day celebrating a bit of princess saving and dragon slaying.
On St. George’s day, it is popular tradition for men to give women a red rose, which symbolises the blood of the poor slain dragon, and for women to give men a book, which symbolises knowledge. These days, what with women being allowed to read and everything, the exchange is more balanced, with everyone getting everything. Which seems fairer.
So that was some of what I learnt in Barcelona! More posts will be following on the subject of this wonderful city. In the meantime, if you’ve got stories to share about what you’ve learnt on your travels, or any feedback on this post, do hit up the comments below!