Monday, October 03, 2011

Barcelona Diary (Sep 2011) Las Ramblas

  Las Ramblas in Barcelona is a large pedestrian street lined with restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops, flower kiosks and bustling with tourists, locals, hustlers and performing artists from almost every genre.

Depending on whom you ask, you will be told that the promenade is either a "must-see" or "to be avoided at all costs". I tend to fall in the former category.  While Las Ramblas abounds with pickpockets, Pakistani men wanting to sell you their Chinese-made toys and over- priced restaurants with bland food, it's a MUST for people-watching!  And that's not all, Las Ramblas is dotted with some beautiful turn-of-the-century buildings like the Liecu Opera House (our apartment was right next door to the Opera) and the Boqueria Open Market, it also has some amazing art deco sculptures.

The very crowded Las Ramblas, tree-lined Las Ramblas, the nerve centre of Barcelona.  
At one end of Las Ramblas is the huge Place de Catalunya and at the other end, the old port.  It would take you no more than 20 mins to walk the entire length of the promenade from end to end.

As I mentioned, some old and beautiful buildings line Las Ramblas.  This patisserie here is called "Escriba" and every morning I would step inside for an almond croissant for breakfast, although Escriba is better known for their life-size chocolate models of famous personalities!

Human Statue 1 - Las Ramblas

Human Statue 2 - Artist - Las Ramblas

The human statues, on their little homemade plinths, are a huge attraction on Las Ramblas.  People constantly want to pose with them.  Some can stand absolutely lifeless (in the most difficult poses) for hours together and some are constantly entertaining.  Many are waiters, or actors that wait while they look for the perfect acting part.  Las Ramblas simply wouldn't be Las Ramblas without these human statues.

One of the highlights of Las Ramblas was its open air market, Mercat de la Boqueira.  After I was done buying my croissants at Escriba I would dash into Boquiera for some fruit juice.  Boqueira is home to every conceivable fruit, sea food and ham and is an absolute feast for the senses.  And if you understand Spanish it's an ideal place to eavesdrop on recipes!  I was watching people buy mussels, it was so funny how everyone seemed to have his or her own way of cooking the mollusc!

Boquira photos courtesy my good friend, Anjum Poonawalla.

Remember when I said a walk down Las Ramblas yields unexpected surprises?  Well, here's one!  A modernista dragon designed either by Joan Miro or Gaudi ( I can't remember) for a former umbrella shop.  Las Ramblas is full of little gems like this one...but you have to look for them...a veritable treasure hunt!

Modernista Dragon designed for a former umbrella store.  Las Ramblas is full of excellent finds like this one.

Another interesting building on Las Ramblas, the Eglesia de Betlem
...notice the beautiful green-capped portals and relief.

La Riera Baxia, El Raval.  
El Raval is a neighbourhood bordering Las Ramblas.  Unlike Barri Gothic or the "Old Town" which still maintains its medieval charm, El Raval is an edgier neighbourhood with artists and immigrants from Pakistan, Indonesia, East Europe and Morocco filling the apartment blocks down its streets. La Riera Baxia (image above) is a street in El Raval well known for its vintage stores. I was lucky enough to buy a Valentino bag here.

The streets of El Raval are very colourful both literally and figuratively.  Throw a stone and it's bound to land on a graffiti-splattered facade.  This is a really great neighbourhood to explore if you enjoy street art!

Housing project El Raval

El Raval, because of its proximity to the City Center is destined for greatness.  Infact, it's a district in the throes of transformation.  However, at the moment, it is a barrio of great contrasts.  Turn in to El Raval from Las Ramblas and you're suddenly accosted with high end boutiques, restaurants,cafes and art galleries..but walk to the other end and you see crumbling housing projects or dilapidated buildings in narrow alleyways.

Barri Gothic Square. Close by and housed in five adjoining medical palaces is Museu Picasso which is well known for its collection of Picasso's early works.   The image above is a reprint of Picasso's "Self Portrait with a Palette" from 1906. (Unfortunately, you don't see the palette in this print )

Monument to Christopher Columbus:  At the Port or Harbour end of Las Ramblas is the impressive Columbus monument. Although still debated by some, most scholars are convinced that Columbus was a Catalan. The monument marks the spot where Columbus stepped ashore in 1493 after returning from his voyage to the Caribbean bringing with him six Caribbean Indians.