Between Madrid and Barcelona, it is only three hours via high-speed AVE train. But the differences in the cultures of the two major cities of Spain are so distinct that Barcelona could very well be in another country.
It’s not only in the languages spoken (Spanish and Catalan). While Madrid has a cosmopolitan, ultra-sophisticated vibe, Barcelona’s is highly eclectic. It seems the city lives and breathes the Arts. Art is everywhere in Barcelona and it shows in the architecture, the music, the festivals and theater, even in the way the locals dress. (It’s quite possible to stay in Barcelona for only a few days and be seduced enough by the Arts that one goes home resolved to start wearing colorful trinkets and embroidered tunics to one’s job at a bank. )
Barcelona’s La Rambla is probably Spain’s most famous street. It is a pedestrian mall with kiosks selling everything from flowers to art prints to magazines, Real Madrid/FC Barcelona scarves, ice cream, birds, souvenirs and the aforementioned trinkets.
Portrait painters hold court in the area and many street performers, in elaborate costumes and often surrounded by awestruck children, attract the attention of tourists looking for a quick photo op.There’s a lot of (window) shopping to be done along La Rambla and four hours in the area only convinces one to go back later to check out more of the merchandise.
Brick-and-mortar shops, such as the one above, are also found along La Rambla.
Of course, there’s La Boqueria, one of the world’s most famous food markets and regular haunt of famous chefs, restaurant owners, and ‘foodies’ from all over. (I bought a tiny ounce of saffron and some other spices and felt like a foodie myself, hehe.) There is such an abundance and variety of food supplies in this market to astound even the most experienced cook.
For those whose experience is more along the lines of eating, food stalls entice with samples of jamon, bread, cheese, olive oil, etc. The place is swarming with people but is clean and well organized.
Most streets adjoining La Rambla (together they are referred to as Las Ramblas) are just as busy. This is the street leading to the Plaça Sant Jaume (St. James’ Square), the Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya (Palace of the Government of Catalunya) and the City Hall of Barcelona.
Just off the main street is the Plaça Reial or Royal Plaza, a popular gathering place surrounded by cafes and restaurants and a usual venue for night concerts.
We end our la rambling here. (Although La Rambla stretches for more than a kilometer to the Barcelona waterfront, I was too busy checking out trinkets that I failed to take even a single picture of the area.)
(But! More of Barcelona, next.)