Everyone's heard of the friendly, fun-loving, fiesta-mad Spaniard so it is with great excitement that we boarded our plane for Barcelona, but as we found out in Paris, stereotyping can be dangerous and misleading. The Parisian, we found out to our relief, is not rude as everyone, including travel writers, would have us believe, but it was time to put the Spanish people to the test!
I guess our first mistake was to think that all Spanish people are alike. Spain is made up of many distinct regions and Barcelona is the capital of the Catalonia region of Spain and thus home to the Catalans who do not like being called "Spanish". They have a distinct culture and language and following the death of Franco, the region was granted political autonomy by the new democratic government. Going by the Spanish stereotypes it would be safe to say that Barcelona is probably the least Spanish city in the country.
Sadly, the Catalans do not get very good press in the rest of Spain. The Spanish people see them as being fiercely nationalistic, mean and unfriendly. When we asked a Catalan friend to explain why this may be so, he said that Catalans were a reserved people who took time to make friends and that reservedness is often mistaken for being unfriendly. He seemed to think the Spanish habit of embracing anyone and everyone as a new best friend was tacky and superficial! :)
We weren't there long enough to make an accurate observation on the Catalan character but I will say they seemed very reserved - they would speak only when spoken to and at times seemed rather abrupt, but their dedication to style, looks, aesthetics and so on is admirable! Barcelona is, without a doubt, a confident, progressive city - one that preserves its past proudly but which is also tirelessly self-inventive. If you read its history and observe its architecture it's plain to see this is a region of proud, confident people who are not afraid to think outside the box. I'm going to post pics of some of the buildings we saw around Barcelona and you can judge for yourselves.
The drive from the airport into the city was quite interesting with the thriving port on the right and the beautiful Montjuic cemetery in the hills on the left. The cemetery seemed to run for acres and acres (I read later that it was 57 acres of cypress forest) and is a resting place for some of Barcelona's most elite citizens and also a fabulous place wherein to observe architecture of many different styles and periods. However, what's challenging is the lack of information on this cemetery in most of the guide books. Turns out the Catalans don't like to take tourists to this place because they consider cemeteries morbid and the idea that a cemetery can be a tourist attraction is rather distasteful to them. Still, if one has the time, I think it might be a great place to visit for the art (the mausoleums are truly wonderful) and also for the beautiful sea views. Unfortunately I only saw fascinating glimpses of it from the taxi.
For more photos of the Montjuic Cemetery go here
Today Barcelona has a truly awesome waterfront, which wasn't always the case. Until a few years ago, the city had turned their backs on the water (literally) with all the development taking place away from the sea. As a result, the beaches were grimy and areas of bad repute and the harbours were home to cargo and container trade only.
Over the past two decades dramatic changes have taken place along the waterfront. Cargo ships have been moved to the south of the city and old dockyards have been given facelifts and now serve as promenades or parks. Beaches have been cleaned up and landscaped.
Beach in Barceloneta.
Barceloneta was once a scrappy fisherman's village but it is now furnished with landscaped beaches, boardwalks, terraced outdoor cafes specializing in seafood, fountains and so on. I took this picture just to get a glimpse of the original Barceloneta.