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Hola Barcelona

Right now it is close to sunset at the end of our first full day in Barcelona. I’m lying on the couch of the charmingly twee Casa de Billy, while the roar of traffic comes up from the Gran Via. It has a more elaborate name, but all the signs just say Gran Via, one of several wide boulevards cutting pencil-scratch straight across the whole city. We are two blocks from Plaça Espanya, and about 10 blocks from Las Ramblas.

Today was about walking, and to a lesser extent about food. Since it is the Done Thing, we strolled up to Plaça Catalunya and then down to Las Ramblas and thence down to the marina. Which was on the whole underwhelming. It’s a nice enough boulevard, but purely lined with all the “hey, this is where the tourists come” shops. It’s there, we’ve done it, but a definite “meh”. On the other hand, the adjacent Barri Gòtic was great. It’s the oldest part of town, a medieval maze of tiny streets and alleys, with the cathedral and several churches tucked in, punctuated by gorgeous Plaça. We started from the port end, and everything was closed up – it appears to be wall-to-wall clubs and bars that only open at night. A little further on from there we passed into the hipster zone, and then further into a patch of nice boutiques and small galleries.

Near the cathedral was an art market, and in one of the loveliest squares – Plaça de Sant Felip Neri – was Museu Del Calçat. Which is the guild hall and museum for the shoemakers guild, apparently being on this site since the Middle Ages, and manned by an attendant from the Confraria de Sant Marc Evangelista who had also been there since 1202. For 5€ it’s a great little museum.

Lunch was tapas, of course, at La Alcoba Azul, tucked away near Plaça Sant Jaume. Awesome food, cool and dark, with a great relaxing (and hippy) vibe.

Some things we noticed today:

1) There are a lot of dogs about (although not in the bars and shops like in London), of a startling variety of breeds and sizes. We’ve seen three cats. One fat and possibly feral strolling the boulevard. One going for a walk on a leash in Barri Gòtic. And one peering down from a third floor window box.

2) there is some sort of election or referendum campaign in progress, with some theme around Catalonian independence, and there are Catalan flags everywhere. I would not be surprised if the province split from Spain qua Spain.

3) we bought a Spanish phrase book, and some language guides. Which turn out to be distinctly Castillian. Which is slightly problematic as the region is Bilingual, with Catalan quite different to Castillian, and the Castillian spoken here with a different accent.

4) there are a lot of vacant offices and shop fronts, a stark indication of how deep in the poo the economy is here

5) while the roads a busy, and full of taxis, there are a lot of mopeds, scooters and small motor bikes around. There are also a lot of cyclists, but I suspect that’s because we are in the tourist area more or less – I must have seen a dozen different bike hire places in the small area we traversed, including some nifty electric bikes. Fortunately not the Segways we saw American tourists getting around on though.

Right now we shall have a late Siesta, then head out in search of more food. Touch wood better than what we found last night, chosen randomly and found to be pretty ordinary. I doubt I will be disappointed. Tomorrow, probably the Picasso museum.

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