As far as Barcelona goes, Plaza Catalunya is at the centre of everything. The airport bus terminates here, The Ramblas starts (or finishes) here, Passeig de Gracia definitely starts here. Barcelonians go here to celebrate and to protest and on the odd occasions do both. The Indignados sat here patiently waiting for a new political dawn (good luck with that). FC Barcelona send their open top bus through here when they win trophies. Every visitor to Barcelona at one point or another stands in its centre squinting at a cheap tourist map and trying to get their bearings. Some of them don't even get their pockets picked while they're doing it. Indeed, Plaza Catalunya is so fundamental to the city that you must be wondering why an up-to-date, topical, finger-on-the-pulse blog like the BigBarcelonaBlog didn't produce its first entry about it. I'm actually wondering that myself.
|Where you will arrive and what you will arrive on.|
Anyway, to save those new arrivals the squinting, let us put ourselves in their position as after having read the BigBarcelonaBlog's post on getting from the airport they now find themselves alighting from the bus with the adventure of a new city in front of them – just to be clear I am not excluding the reading of this blog by wealthier persons who may have taken a taxi, hired a car or arrived in an open top bus carrying a trophy (hello, Leo – I can dream, can't I?) but this blog remains a staunch friend of the working man (or woman) and is determined to see things from their point of view. Apart from work that is. I don't know anything about that.
As all good pantomimes teach us, you should start by looking behind you. There may well be a pickpocket. In which case clutch your bag firmly to your bosom shout “Ladron!” loudly. Do not, as is easily done, in your confusion shout “Lardon!” as people will simply think you have a pressing desire for bacon.
But let us be positive - sometimes the pickpockets will be having their EU mandated siesta (Pickpockets can only work a maximum 40 hour week and must take regular comfort breaks – UKIP don't tell you that, do they?) and you will arrive unmolested. In that case what you will see behind you, as you look to the North, is Barcelona's most prestigious superstore El Corte Ingles. It's big, grey and windowless and as far as I'm concerned could double as the Ministry of Pig Iron in one of the ex-Soviet Republics. I'm guessing Gaudi didn't have much to do with its design. El Corte Ingles literally means The English Cut and was so named because, at the time, English design was synonomous with all things stylish. That gives you an idea of just how old it is. Nowadays as the endless British hen parties sway and stagger unsteadily in front of it The English Half-Cut would probably be more appropriate.
|El Corte Ingles : Working that pig iron ministry vibe|
If you went down either side of El Corte Ingles you would find yourself walking to Urquinoana. But we're not going to do that. Instead turn to your left. Now you are looking inland and, as Led Zeppelin so rightly observed during their long, long ascent of the Stairway to Heaven, we get a feeling when we look to the West. In this case the feeling is that we're looking at the start of the Passeig de Gracia. This is the correct feeling. Remind yourself to amble down it at some point during your stay but only after reading the entry in the BigBarcelonaBlog about it and thinking how funny it is. Please note just reading it is not enough.
|The beginning of Passeig de Gracia|
The other street leaving from Plaza Catalunya and heading West is the Rambla de Catalunya. Note that despite its name this street is categorically NOT Las Ramblas (we'll get to them in a minute) though you could obviously be forgiven for thinking so. Naming this street in such a way that it invites confusion and practically ensures many a hapless tourist will wander down it fruitlessly looking for human statues is just another example of the Catalan sense of humour. A quick rule of thumb if you are walking down a street from Plaza Catalunya with the word Rambla in and you want to know whether you are in fact on the right road is to look up – if you can see a large hill in the distance you are going the wrong way. The Rambla Catalunya is in fact a very nice street, wide with a pretty pedestrianised bit in the middle where you can have a coffee and watch the world go by etc. Sadly, it does suffer from being right by its more illustrious parallel neighbour. Kind of the Cristiano Ronaldo of streets – very good but just not the Messi de Gracia if you see what I mean. Nevertheless it is definitely worth a stroll if you have the time.
Continue revolving. You are now facing South, the direction, continuing my impropmtu rock'n'roll theme, Jimi Hendrix's Joe headed after shooting his lady down (in his defence, he caught her messing round with another man. However, I still think he could have given couples therapy a try). Should you head South you will not find yourself in Mexico where a man can be free but instead in Plaza Universitad where a man can get a degree (or a woman if someone hasn't shot her). Plaza Universidad is well worth a visit later in your stay (keep an eye out for the spectacularly inept skateboarders trying and failing to do even the most basic tricks).
Turn, turn, turn (I just can' t stop) once more. Now you are facing East and the sea. To your right is Las Ramblas (you my take a detour to my entry about that here). Opposite Las Ramblas is Cafe Zurich which is now such a popular Barcelona meeting point that people arranging to rendezvous here often fail to find each other amidst the swarming crowds of other people meeting. Should this happen to you, don't despair because you can always approach one of the similarly let down other people instead. Who knows what it could be the start of? Maybe a relationship or perhaps a lawsuit – it's the not knowing that makes it so exciting. Moving right round to almost complete the circle, straight ahead (you're still at the bus stop looking towards the sea) is the Portal de l'Angel which takes you into the heart of the Barri Gotico (you may take a detour to my entry about that at some point in the future when I've written it.)
|Where so many dates have failed to start!|
That pretty much covers it for basic orientation which will hopefully allow you to stride of purposefully in the right direction before the pickpockets get back from their break (OK, I will fess up to the fact I made this up. However, I am trying to actively promote positive stories about the EU because otherwise thanks to crazy "Call me Dave" Cameron Britain might have a referendum and vote to leave. And I'll lose all my free movement rights and have to go and live in Kendal again. And what would I do then? Imagine the BigKendalBlog – one post about mint cake and then you're screwed. I can't let it happen.)
A brief pause for an interactive quiz. Only two of the three street signs below actually inform you that you are on Las Ramblas. One is a cunningly designed Catalan trap. Can you spot the imposter?
Answers at the end.
Before I go I should say a brief word about Plaza Catalunya itself. It is not one of the world's great squares and nor is it one of the highlights of a visit to Barcelona but it is nevertheless very pleasant usually not being too crowded and containing both trees and fountains. The trees will sometimes have young people holding banners sitting in them which makes for a nice change and the fountains will often be merrily chucking up water faster and higher than a hen party can chuck up last night's lager.
Answers to quiz:
If you said...
A) You are a buffoon.
B) Still a buffoon.
C) You may be a buffoon but I have so far been unable to prove it.
D) You need glasses, you buffoon.